Daily Bread

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I love watching the pigs and chickens eating – their styles are so different. Right now both groups are getting bread with their morning scraps.  The pigs sort and prioritize, though they are not the types to save dessert for the end, exactly. Although things are a bit frantic before breakfast actually gets in front of them (do NOT stand in the way of a pig and it’s bowl – they do not consider themselves responsible for any damage inflicted on their way to the food), once the food is in front of them, and they have established boundaries on personal eating space, they settle down to eat very industriously, because the first one finished is entitled by pig etiquette to go round and help any slower eaters finish their breakfasts.   The chickens on the other hand operate on the basis that there will never be enough scraps for everyone, also that every hen with a scrap obviously has something better.  Therefore hens are compelled to go for whatever is in front of them, and then drop it when they see another hen with something, to give chase.

This morning, I had torn up the chickens bread into small pieces and thrown it into the run before I let the hens out. It’s a bit like watching kids at one of those town sponsored easter egg hunts, where they drop the ribbon and the kids dash to grab all the eggs they’ve spotted while waiting – cutthroat. The chickens pour out of their house, and grab the first chunk of bread they see. And then they have to run for it, because of course, 55 other hens are likely to give chase. The problem then becomes what to do next. Put it down so she can peck at it to eat it? Surely another hen will come along and swipe it.  Finding a good hiding spot is paramount. The hens scatter everywhere, heading for bushes and brambles, tall clumps of grass, anything to hide them for a few seconds of frantic eating. Since they’re all doing the same thing, they aren’t very successful. Many run around for several minutes with their piece of bread gripped firmly in their beaks, unable to enjoy it, unable to eat it. Just owning it.

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The pigs and the hens both spend their days foraging for wild, natural food – bugs, grubs, roots, leaves, etc.  Both are fed commercial feed by us; the hens have free access to theirs, while the pigs get fed twice a day, commercial feed morning and night, scraps with the breakfast meal.  Despite their reputation for greed, well understood when you witness the rush for the bowl – once that initial moment of panic is over, meals are fairly peaceful.  The eating pace is brisk but steady.  Neither pig seems to see the need to go and hide a special treat or eat it out of sight of the other. With normal veggie and fruit scraps, the chickens behaviour is less desperate – it’s not uncommon to see two chickens working on one apple core, for example.

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Interestingly, in their daily foraging, both species operate somewhat similarly.  They root or scratch or explore in more or less companionship.  The pecking order in both species seems to kick in with regard to particularly good morsels, but other than that, the day is fairly calm as the creatures work together, or wander separately, relax with a dust or mud bath, or go and snooze in the shade.  There might be the odd spat over personal space occasionally, and the pigs in particular have moments of playfulness, but generally speaking, peacefulness prevails.

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So what’s with the bread?  Is it because it comes to them rarely?  Does it actually taste better to chickens?  Is just that it’s a change from same old same old?  French white (today’s offering) certainly isn’t better nutritionally than what they forage for (greens, insects, etc), their pellet feed, veggie peelings (normal scraps offering) or even chicken scratch, which is usually a  mix of corn, oats and barley.  If their main food group on a daily basis was a French loaf or two, they’d be very unhealthy and unhappy chickens.

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It struck me this morning, watching a frantic hen dashing around futilely with her piece of bread, that people are far too much like this.  Convinced that the Joneses have it better.  Dropping what we already have to grab for what we think is better.  Or perhaps worse, hoarding what we have, unable to feel secure enough to let go, and at the same time, unable to enjoy what we worked hard to get.  Were we perhaps designed to spend our days foraging in companionship, rather than competing for scraps of bread?

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Bread falling from the sky?  When they first began their exile in the desert, the Israelites were pretty happy to have manna drop into their laps every morning.  But after forty years of it, long enough for the generation who had done the escaping to the desert had died, and the generation who grew up knowing nothing else but exile to predominate, disgruntlement and dissatisfaction set in.  They even believed that their parents probably had a better life back in slavery in Egypt, building pyramids.

Maybe I’m stretching a tad too far here, mixing bible with barnyard.  But tell me you’ve never felt like a chicken with a scrap of bread – no time to put it down to enjoy it, worried it will get taken from you, convinced that everyone around you has something better.  Tell me that you’ve never been like the Israelites with their manna,  developing a sense of entitlement to your daily blessings, so that you have come to take for granted what is good in your life.  I know I spend a great too deal too much of my life worrying about bread and not nearly enough of my day enjoying the plenty in my life.

How I spent Canada Day weekend

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Friday – Graduation day!  Rehearsal for grad girl at was at 8am (thankfully, her best friend offered to give her a ride to the university for that).  I met them back out here at the hairdresser for the hair and makeup appointment at 1130am (along with 6 other grad girls and their mums – it was very convivial). She got into full formal dress in time to pick up aforementioned best friend in her formal wear, to be back out at the university by 345pm for the French Immersion group photo, followed by the full grad class photo at 4pm. The ceremony itself, which was wonderful, ran from 5-8pm, at which point we parents gratefully bowed out of things and left the grads to enjoy the formal dinner/dance and later the dry after-grad event. Back home, the pigs got dinner a little late (and told me about it) and we three collapsed.

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Saturday– I had  taken Saturday day off, an unusual occurrence, and hubby having volunteered to pick up grad girl from the aftergrad at 5am (he can go back to sleep at that time of day – I can’t), younger daughter and I wandered up to the local farmer’s market, where I got a locally roasted coffee and home baked granola bar, and she got a breakfast bun from the 4-H booth. The predicted heat wave had started late Friday afternoon, and was in full force by 10am, so we retired to the shade to enjoy our breakfast and watch the crowd at the market.

Younger daughter and I went to a local U-pick to get enough strawberries for jam.  An hour later, sticky and hot, we had two full ice cream buckets of berries (about 9 lbs) and rewarded ourselves with ice cream cones from the farm market which owns the u-pick. Fortunately, as I was melting from the heat by the time we got home, grad girl had decided that what she really wanted for her celebratory dinner was Chinese food take out. Bliss! No cooking, no clean up. I went early to pick it up, so I could stand in the air conditioning at the restaurant.

Sunday – we took a rare day off from church and had some “quality” family time together – getting ready for a family barbeque that evening, as I’d invited my brother’s family up to celebrate the grad girl. I had a dilemma – the buckets of berries were not going to keep long as the berries were very ripe when we picked them. Make jam today, even though the house is a disaster and we have company coming? Or put it off till Monday and risk being unable to use the berries? Younger daughter and I figured we could whip through the jam in a couple of hours, so we got to it. Three hours later we had 20 jars of jam, and a clean kitchen, but we were just a “little” hot and we still had the house to deal with.

Grad girl and hubby got the back yard tidied up and the grill and picnic area set up. Hubby put his steaks to marinading and assembled his famous greek salad, while I made a very nice potato salad from a Jamie Oliver recipe (no mayo!). The barbecue was true quality family time – lots of laughter and good food and banter. They had brought berries and ice cream for dessert (strangely, I wasn’t all that hungry for strawberries!). Pigs got a late supper again, but also lots of attention, as my niece and nephew hadn’t seen them yet (we might live a few hundred metres apart, but we can go weeks without seeing each other).

Monday – Canada Day! Younger daughter and I had planned to go see the parade in the nearby small town, but I forgot about that when I woke up, and instead got myself dug into thistle hacking before it got too hot. It seemed like the chickens thought I’d finally learned to forage – I was clipping the stems as low to the ground as I could, which made many clumps of grass available for scratching out that hadn’t been due to prickles – and I had an enthusiastic gaggle of helpers murmuring helpfully and darting in and around my feet.

At some point mid-morning, younger daughter appeared to say good morning, and did I want tea (yes, please). I wandered in about 30 minutes later, to learn that the parade was supposed to start just about now. She was philosophical about it, as it was by then very hot again, and would have been blistering at the parade. In the afternoon, she and her older sister (I can’t keep calling her grad girl – all the celebrating is over), went down to my brother’s for a swim in their pool, but before they left, the girls and I helped hubby get our own above ground pool out of storage and set up. After they’d gone, hubby went to town to get a patching kit for the two small holes he’d found in the liner, which meant we had to delay filling it till this evening.

The girls came home wonderfully refreshed, but hubby and I were quite the opposite, so we took ourselves off to the beach with an ersatz picnic of leftover greek salad and water bottles and threw ourselves in the ocean – well almost – we dipped our toes first, and then double dared each other (it was the only way) to go all the way in. Much cooler and spirits restored, we came home to find the girls had fed themselves and were cleaning up the kitchen.

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I spent the evening picking and freezing garlic scapes while hubby got started on filling the pool and setting up the pump.  As we sat in the dusk, slapping at mosquitoes and listening to the bald eagle calling his/her mate, we commented that it was the first time in years we’d spend a weekend doing the sort of things families with Monday to Friday work lives do on their weekends – something we haven’t experienced in years, as I have worked Saturdays since 2006 and he has such erratic and unpredictable hours of work.  It’s not that I want to be a Monday to Friday person, exactly – I usually really appreciate my work schedule that gives me days off in the middle of the week.  It’s just that it’s so rare to for all 4 of us to have time off at the same time.  To us it felt like a holiday.