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*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

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Accidental Gamble

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Yesterday, Cyndie shared a story that required an admission she didn’t want to make. Before I expose the drastic oversight, let me just express how challenging it can be to take care of vulnerable chickens day in and day out. They are completely at our mercy to tend to their needs and watch over them.

Our methods are not foolproof, but as I drove past the barn yesterday when I got home from work, I saw our three hens calmly puttering about and looking healthy as ever. It was a reassuring postscript to the tale Cyndie had woven over the phone a little earlier during my commute.

As she described it, the first hint that something was amiss occurred as she approached the coop in the morning. There was no sound from the hens who would normally be making a ruckus to be let out by the time Cyndie normally arrives. Moving past the coop with Delilah, she headed to the barn to secure the dog and prepare servings of chicken food before coming back to open the doors.

That’s when she noticed some movement in the trees. She didn’t believe her eyes at first, and ran through several possibilities in her mind.

Those were some big birds.

Are they chickens? Could they be from a neighboring property?

No. Those were our three hens. How did they get out of the coop already!?

Cyndie worried that some critter might have compromised the door. She fretted for the health and safety of the pullets housed in the other half of the coop.

Upon arriving to find the locking bar was safely placed on the ledge above the hatch where she normally stores it during the day, she came to the ultimate conclusion that the chicken door on the back side of the coop had been left open all night long. When Cyndie had closed the front door to secure the pullets on Monday night, she had forgotten to close the little sliding door on the backside.

To our great relief, no marauding predators took advantage of her having forgotten one essential step in securing the coop for the night.

I’m pretty sure that’s a gamble she won’t accidentally take again for quite some time.

The process of closing the coop will involve some double-checks from now on, I suspect. Not unlike the step we long ago added, where we open the side hatch every night to confirm no uninvited critters are hiding inside when we close things up.

You might call that one the “possum rule.”



Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2020 at 6:00 am

Autumn Arrives

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The autumnal equinox arrives locally at 8:30 a.m. CDT today. Despite enjoying fabulous summerlike temperatures this week, it is truly beginning to feel like fall. For one thing, the ground is dry. I think the ground has dried out only two times in the almost 8-years we have lived here. This has had a big impact on the way our woods look.

The green vegetation is much thinner than usual. The first colorful leaves are just starting to carpet the forest floor. Soon it will be impossible to see the ground and walking will become a crunching rustle of leaves with every step.

With that feature comes the unmistakable aroma of autumn.

Last night, Cyndie had a little scare when arriving at the coop around dusk to close things up after all the chickens were inside. The net fencing where she has the access point to climb inside showed signs of being monkeyed with by some unauthorized character.

Ol’ Rocky the Rooster might need to grow up real fast in order to protect his brood before they all reach adulthood.

Maybe he already did. Cyndie reported all chickens accounted for, safe on the roosts.

The amount of cover in the wooded acres surrounding the coop is quickly disappearing. That gives the free-ranging hens fewer places to hide, but it also gives any potential predators less cover for sneaking up on the girls.

I spotted a stray cat prowling in our small paddock on Sunday in broad daylight while I was walking Delilah. Our silly dog never saw the cat, but the cat saw us and made a hasty exit, stage left, where it ran up our North Loop trail out of sight.

I walked Delilah toward that direction and watched her pick up the scent and go nuts, wanting to follow the trail. I pulled rank and made her come my way, back to the house.

The Light Brahma pullet seems to be reflecting the seriousness of so much drama happening as the change of seasons launches a new batch of adventures. Their nights are getting longer and the air will soon be getting colder.

In the meantime, we are going to enjoy this agreeable autumn to the fullest.



Written by johnwhays

September 22, 2020 at 6:00 am

Energy Flow

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The intensity of the tug and pull of emotions lately is more drastic because it reflects dramatic extremes playing out, one on top of another. We don’t have time to comprehend the full depth of one calamity before the next arrives to take its place. But with no time between, the issues tend to compound which begins to tip the balance of our energy scales.

I have felt my own energy swaying dramatically from high to low lately, in light of the climate disasters complicating the challenges of coping with the ongoing virus pandemic at a time when repeated white-on-black police violence has brought systemic racism to higher visibility just as the election season revs up the intensity of one-sided fact manipulating.

At the same time, family birthdays and anniversary opportunities have been augmented with measured time among friends, bringing great joy and fulfilling peacefulness.

The glint of familiar eyes; stories of ingenious pandemic-coping accomplishments by strangers who join forces to help others; a slice of incredible lemon meringue pie, served outside after a backyard meal; a playful family cat chasing in circles after a soon-to-be-favorite new toy.

There are always features of good and bad mingling in our everyday lives but not usually with such depth of emotion as we are seeing today. It can become exhausting.

It is more important than ever that we pay attention to that exhaustive impact and put in whatever effort is needed to compensate.

We need to give ourselves permission to not feel our best every minute of every day. Claim some time of your own where you can shut out all news and focus exclusively on yourself and immediate surroundings. Bring some balance back to your energy for coping with the swings in every direction. Refill your own tank by finding a way to give to someone in greater need.

I’ve been thinking about some of the negative news and views of powerful people lately and this occurred to me: Have they not seen “A Christmas Carol? Isn’t it a given by now that selfish and abusive behavior is on the wrong side of all that is right and good?

Where are all our ghosts of past, present, and future when we need them?

There are far too many people in power who need to receive a visit to rebalance their senses of what it is to become one’s best self.

It’s a good day to go find a slice of your favorite pie.

Balance your energy flow!



Written by johnwhays

September 20, 2020 at 10:36 am

Cake Mistake

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Missing ingredient? She swears not. Wrong ingredient? Confident there wasn’t. Overfilled pans? Can’t say it wasn’t, but both to this bizarre degree? Hard to pin down.

Cyndie tried an unfamiliar recipe to bake a vanilla cake for Julian’s birthday. Since it was an untested recipe, she decided to conform strictly to the directions, a somewhat uncommon mode for her.

It didn’t take long to suspect something was amiss.

The batter was boiling over in the oven. Both the six little bunt shapes and the square pyrex pan.

There was nothing very cake-like at all in this failed birthday bake-xtravaganza.









Old ingredients? Nope, she said.

Baking powder or soda? Both included.

Did you mix up the amounts? No.

I want her to try again to see what happens. She has no interest in going near that recipe ever again.

After a quick visit to the grocery store for more supplies, Cyndie went for a layer cake.

It didn’t boil over.

Happy Birthday, Julian!

(And Happy 39th Anniversary, John and Cyndie! It’s a gorgeous blue-sky September day today, just like that day in the garden was on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.)

I don’t remember the weather 32 years ago, because we were indoors in a hospital room. I do remember driving 2-year-old Elysa to the hospital to see Momma and meet her new younger brother.

September 19 is a special day for our family.


This year, we celebrate it with a tinge of sorrow in the shadow of yesterday’s passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Here’s hoping she will still be guiding us all from her continued heavenly perspective.




Written by johnwhays

September 19, 2020 at 9:47 am

Red Leaves

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On my drive home from work yesterday, I accidentally allowed myself to hear news on the radio as it blathered nothing but bad vibes, one after another. It knocked me for a loop that needs an antidote of something hopeful or some promise that better days for all might lie ahead. I can only assume that promise remains somewhere beyond the horizon because it’s not visible to me yet.

I am lucky, though. Home is a sanctuary with Cyndie and our animals happy to greet me when I arrive and the scenery around our house offering a soothing view.

Check out the maple tree leaves turning red over Cyndie’s gardens.

It’s an early adopter.

Surrounded by love in our paradise, I was able to leave the gloomy news behind for the time being.





Written by johnwhays

September 18, 2020 at 6:00 am

Gender Reveal

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We are two months into our third year of buying chicks online and having them shipped through the mail. This year is the first time we have had reason to question the gender of one of the birds. Each day the evidence mounts, pointing to a probability that one of our two New Hampshire chicks is a cockerel instead of a pullet.

Do you see any signs of a difference between these two?









The second one’s face is a little out of focus, but you can still get a general sense of the difference in the wattle and comb and detect the wider chest of the young dude on the left.

Cyndie thinks she heard an early practice crow last week that sounded like a “honk” before our rooster suspicions began to really gel. It was such an uncharacteristic weird sound, she had no idea who made it until we started looking into the possibility we might have a rooster. Cyndie then found some recordings online that matched what she’d heard near our coop.

Looking back, a behavior Cyndie witnessed one night when she got to the coop before they were all inside can be seen in a whole new light. When a Light Brahma and a Dominique straggled behind outside after all the others were in, the big New Hampshire suddenly ran down the ramp and grabbed the Brahma by the back of the neck, pushed her head into the ground, and held it there for a bit.

Then the New Hampshire let go and walked back up the ramp and inside. The other two followed soon after. Cyndie was shocked by the scene and I remember her describing it as seeming like the New Hampshire went out and ordered the other two to come inside. We thought it was just one of the hens being “bossy.”

Based on what we are coming to terms with now, that behavior would be totally in line with the way a rooster would treat the hens.

So, I guess we’ve finally had the question answered for us as to whether we should get a rooster to protect the hens, or not.

All that’s left now is to see if we can guide this cockerel toward behaving kindly with humans and ferociously toward predators when the rooster hormones fully kick in next year.




Written by johnwhays

September 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

Even Higher

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Always pushing the envelope, those chickens. On Monday, when Cyndie went down to close the coop for the night, she found one of the Light Brahmas had figured out a way to get even higher than the 2×4 ledge above the window. Somehow, she got on top of the netted fencing that we installed to separate the adult hens from the chicks.

She wedged herself up against the quarter-inch hardware cloth that serves as the coop ceiling and was positioned such that she looked down upon the three adult hens roosting beneath her.

The tenacity of chickens to violate every installation put in place to contain them reminds me a little of our horses. Every time I installed something I didn’t think they would mess with, the horses would prove me wrong.

When Cyndie spotted that trapeze artist, she was on a phone call, so she left the bird up there until she could get me to assist with addressing the situation.

With darkness fully upon us, we donned headlamps and barged in on the sanctity of nighttime roosting. After rudely relocating the Brahma, Cyndie asked for twist-ties to stitch that area of fencing tightly to the hardware cloth ceiling to prevent subsequent attempts.

When I shut the coop last night, there was no sign that any of them had tried to mess with that solution. Three pullets were up on the cross-beam framing the window and the rest were spread across the two roost branches spanning the coop.

Maybe they were all tired of working to establish a pecking order. When I had visited them earlier yesterday afternoon, that’s all they appeared to be doing. Skirmish after skirmish between an ever-changing combination of pairs played out with shoving, chasing, posturing, glaring, beak-to-beak staring, and occasionally a rare attempt to peck.

There were no “She started it!” statements possible because all of them were guilty.

I saw it with my own eyes.

I’m thinking maybe the balmy gusting south wind had them riled up a bit. As if they need an excuse.



Written by johnwhays

September 16, 2020 at 6:00 am

Puppy Love

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While communing with Cyndie’s family over the weekend, I learned of a wonderful photo captured by one of my fellow Friswold in-laws, Sara (married to Cyndie’s youngest brother, Ben). They are the only other Friswold family with multiple pets in the house. In addition to their three kids, there are two cats roaming the house, (and multiple amphibians and reptiles in a bedroom), and two dogs. Mocha is a 3-year-old mix they got from the Humane Society and Hazel is a 4-and-a-half-month-old rescue puppy.

Given that variety of kid and animal energy, it is easy to imagine the perpetual hum of commotion from ongoing activity constantly underway in the background of their everyday lives. In that setting, it is any sudden absence of activity that causes a person to take notice.

Sara reports just that scenario one day while she was occupied at her computer. She noticed it had gotten quiet and turned around in her chair to glance in the direction of the dogs. This is what she saw:

Puppy Hazel had her paws on Mocha’s chest and they were gazing at each other, nose to nose.

Sara quickly, but subtly, reached for her phone and captured the moment over her shoulder in the split second before it was over and Hazel moved on to other pursuits.

I asked how it might have transpired and Sara said it is not unusual for Mocha to sit upright in that spot and hang a front “arm” over the chair to look out the window. It is assumed that Hazel just took advantage of the position to stage an impromptu up close and personal puppy style greeting.

Everyone who has seen the image has enjoyed it so much, myself included, that I asked if I could share it with my readers, too. Let’s amplify and spread the puppy-love joy it brings.

It’s better than the “chew on everything in sight” puppy energy that is more the norm.

Congratulations, Sara, for the deft achievement of capturing this image in the moment’s notice!

It’s a winner of a photo. Thank you for letting me feature it and your pooch smooches.



Written by johnwhays

September 15, 2020 at 6:00 am

Pullets Aplenty

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We were only away for two days, but upon our return, it was hard to find any signs remaining in our latest brood of chicks that identifies them as chicks anymore. They are reasonably qualified as pullets now, up until they become actual egg-laying hens. After checking on Pequenita and walking Delilah, and then saying hello to the three adult hens, we climbed into the netted front yard of the coop to commune with the young ones.

Last week, Cyndie constructed an added wing to the enclosure, cutting the old net to create an opening to the added space on fresh grass. That area encompassed an old wooden spool to which the girls all took a quick liking.

A cluster of them gathered up there to preen feathers together after the treats ran out that we had been offering up from the palms of our hands.

One of the friendly Dominiques hopped up to perch on my arm. I’m not sure if she was simply showing off about how comfortable she is with us or if she was specifically intending to lay claim on me and garner something of higher ranking over all the others as a result.

I was more than happy to oblige.

Alas, that only resulted in one of the New Hampshires one-upping the competition to show who’s boss by climbing on Cyndie’s back.

Those legs look like drumsticks. Next thing you know, that young one just might surprise us with practice crowing one of these days. None of the other two-month-olds are anywhere close to matching the pace of development of that one.

The other New Hampshire doesn’t have near the comb or wattle growth yet. However, she does have pretty good balance and wing action going for her.

The feather-footed Light Brahma appears to be doing a bit of a shuffle beneath her, doesn’t she? Look at those dance moves, cha-cha-cha.

There was plenty of action inside the fencing with our dozen pullets yesterday afternoon.

It was a pleasing “welcome home” to rural life once again.

Thankfully, no masks required.



Written by johnwhays

September 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

Final Rest

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Under the wearisome pall of constraints in place due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Cyndie’s family orchestrated a laudable graveside service for a small number of family and friends to say final goodbyes to her dad, Fred Friswold, under a mostly cloudy but otherwise dry Saturday. Masks were required and reasonable social distancing requested for the limited 30-minute window of time allowed by Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

We were instructed to arrive at a precise time and remain in our cars until ushered in a parade of vehicles to the gravesite.

The Friswolds have a family plot where Cyndie’s grandparents, her aunt, and her sister have now been joined by her father’s ashes.

In an unfortunate but inconsequential oversight, the canopy ordered to protect from possible rain was missing. The threat of precipitation waned as the appointed hour drew near and by the time we stood as a scattered group to hear various readings and prayers, there were a couple of brief openings in the clouds that revealed blue sky and bathed us in sunshine.

A flock of wild turkeys idly wandered past as if we weren’t there.

Masks served to catch many tears.

From the cemetery, we all drove to the University of Minnesota where the staff of the McNamara Alumni Center –the building Fred and two alumni buddies were instrumental in shepherding to existence– provided a pandemic-constrained space for a meal and program.

It was a day for which I’m confident Fred would approve, partially because only a fraction of the people who would have gushed over his greatness were able to be present so to do.

He touched a lot of people’s lives and impacted exponentially more who never knew him.

I appreciated hearing three different perspectives from people in his world of financial guidance to the YMCA and U of M, as they revealed to me how little first-hand exposure I had to anything but his home and family life.

Fred died in June from a cancer diagnosed the previous December which only compounded preexisting heart and lung ailments. He was clear-minded and fully aware right to the end. In the months since he died, the new reality of his being gone from us was settling in. Yesterday’s events have served to punctuate anew the depths of how much he is missed.

It’s a shame the end of life celebrations are so difficult to hold during a pandemic.

Cyndie’s family did a fine job of achieving all they possibly could under the circumstances.



Written by johnwhays

September 13, 2020 at 9:06 am