Thomas Takes the Spotlight

“We change hens like we change socks,” I mentioned to Abbie about 4 hens ago. Since Lorraine, we’ve had Medina, Julia, Ivory, Victoria, and more. But now we’ve broken the gender barrier, taking in our first rooster.

Bringing a rooster into the house would seem to be a very noisy proposition. Want to wake up at 4am? Want to continue waking up throughout the day? They don’t crow only in the morning, you know.

Well, unfortunately for Thomas, it’s been very quiet. He’s fighting a respiratory problem, and his crow was reduced to a very tiny peep. If I were to translate him into a cartoon, you would see this: A jet black rooster, with a deeply rubicund comb and generously masculine waddle, puffs up his chest, flexes his wing muscles, arches his neck, and gives it all he’s got. Overdub a cat’s squeaky toy.

Not easily dissuaded, Thomas gives it another go. And another. Whether out of habit, compulsion, optimism, or just nature, he is not one to give up.

Thomas, Rock'n'Roll Rooster.
Thomas, Rock’n’Roll Rooster. (Photo courtesy of Jill Meyers.)

Thomas—with 40 other chickens–came to CAS a refugee from a Kansas City meth lab. Meth labs give off very distinct odors, so operators create an olfactory camouflage by keeping animals on the premises. Put that together: The only way to cover up the chemical smell is to create an even larger animal smell. You can easily deduce that Thomas—and any other animal—was poorly cared for. They only wanted him for his feces, and that never makes for a good relationship. As compensation, he received food and all the vapors he could handle.

He’s been at the sanctuary about a year now, and in addition to clean air, food, and water, he’s had daily treatments for his chronic bumblefoot. Now, with this respiratory problem, he’s scored a room in the big house up the hill with two very sympathetic and doting humans.

He’s always been a real gent, and as a houseguest he’s pretty near perfect. He keeps his pen clean, doesn’t fly all over the place, never sullies the furniture. He’s been such a good visitor that I kept him near the kitchen when I taught a class on sauces this past weekend.

It was hard to keep everyone’s attention during class. Thomas is strikingly handsome—the cartoon caricature above isn’t far off—and supremely graceful. Even with his feet bandaged and his laborious breathing, he still moves about in stately confidence. There was more than one sympathetic sigh in the room when I told the class that he wasn’t cooing like a dove. He was simply trying to breathe.

Things improved, however, and within a few days he surprised me with the most remarkable sequence of crowing. I cheered, of course, for it was a great and welcome sound. Loud and proud, and a long time coming.

But it wasn’t just the volume that caught my enthusiasm. It was the pitch and the timing, delivered in precise call-and-response fashion. The call: The opening 5 notes of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” His response: A crow that matched it almost note for note. Each time the riff was played in the song, he responded in kind.

But it didn’t stop there. Next up in my playlist was “Sleepless Night,” from the Kinks’ 1977 album “Sleepwalker.” It opens with a 13-note sequence from an electric piano. I would be exaggerating if I said that Thomas matched it. But it is no stretch at all to say that his crow complimented it in a very musical fashion. All artistic critique aside, the fact remains that he crowed! The crowd went wild!

I played the opening riffs again, to see what he would do, and to listen once more for their semblance to a rooster’s crowing. The similarity is there, but it took Thomas’ responses to make me hear it. It’s not at all like the overt squawk of Link Wray’s “Run Chicken Run.” Thomas, it appears, has more sophisticated taste, appreciating subtlety. Or at the very least, higher production values. (In Link Wray’s defense, it is worth noting that he often recorded his songs in a converted chicken coop.)

So rock on, Thomas. Thanks for the music appreciation lesson, and for the display of grace under stress. Who would have guessed that such a rock’n’roll spirit was hiding beneath all those Liberace feathers?

Kris Carr and her crazy sexy diet thing

Exuberance leaps off the pages of Kris Carr’s latest book, “Crazy Sexy Diet.” It’s an inspiring diet and lifestyle program that she developed to heal herself of a health imbalance. “Imbalance” is her elegantly understated way of referring to the nearly two dozen tumors that had developed in her liver and lungs. In facing this cancer, she determined that she would not engage in battle. Rather, she would embark upon the greatest adventure of her life. Such unabashed moxie is seldom seen, but in this book she puts it in the palm of your hands.

In the book’s Foreword, Dr. Dean Ornish, (founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California–San Francisco) refers to Kris’ approach as being based not on a fear of dying, but on the joy of living. She abundantly demonstrates that contagious spirit throughout the succeeding chapters.

She begins by giving us a vivid contrast. Prior to her diagnosis, she was a jet-setting starlet, eating to be thin, with a list of medicated and self-medicated symptoms and an atrocious yet mainstream convenience-based diet. Once diagnosed, however, she became a self-healing, reflective, iconoclastic “wellness warrior,” empowered by her own educated choices, realizing the strength that resides in a simple plant-based diet, nestled within a meditative and thankful lifestyle. As she states it, “[I traded] my fast-paced New York City party life for…a simple, nature-filled existence in Woodstock, New York. I exchanged road rage for prayer, fast food for fasting, swapped martinis for organic green drinks and a compassionate vegan diet.”

While not everyone can make a physical move as significant as Manhattan-to-Woodstock, each of us can improve other aspects of our lives, which is exactly what Kris demonstrates for us in “Crazy Sexy Diet.”

It’s more than just diet, she is quick to tell us. It’s about a fully-integrated and health-supporting lifestyle. Sustainable healthcare is comprised of yoga mats and meditation sessions, in addition to good food.

The book contains many testimonials, which reinforce Kris’ approach to life. Each chapter contains a review section, which serves as a checklist to someone adopting her prescription. She has a significant posse of guest contributors, from medical doctors to Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the US, from actress Emily Deschanel to Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon. Her writing is irreverent and provocative, without sacrificing meaningful information. Not once does she commit the fatal flaw of preachiness.

This last point is important, for the changes she’s suggesting are rather wholesale. It would be easy for a writer, having once healed herself, to become dogmatic or heavy-handed. Quite the contrary, she is candid about her own deviations, and encourages a compassionate application that considers not only our own flaws, but the feelings of others. Compassion is one of the key items in her diet, it seems.

In presenting us with the path she’s taken, she reminds us that life is a creative endeavor. This is a very important lesson for us all, especially as we see the status quo crumbling before our eyes. It’s time to do things differently.

Dr. Ornish states that “joy, pleasure, and freedom are sustainable.” Kris is a vibrant embodiment of these ideals, and thankfully she’s provided a recipe everyone can follow.

Experiencing Local Love

One reason that life is such a groove in Mendocino.

One of the most satisfying relationships I’ve established while here in the Hudson Valley is the one I have with a purveyor, Kingston Natural Foods Market. It’s no stretch to classify it as a ‘love interest.’

Love comes in many forms, it’s true, and unfortunately the word itself is subject to overuse. I am not one to throw it around with indiscretion. I don’t “love my warm socks” or “love my new phone.” I do appreciate them, I do hold them in regard. But love? No, I save that for truly unique things. I can always buy more socks; the ones I’m wearing now will be forgotten, regardless of how much I might love them today. And the minute a critical call doesn’t go through, well, I don’t really love my phone. There’s no reason to invite such fickleness.

But my relationship with this market is another matter. It is love, derived from many a splendid thing (with apologies to Han Suyin).

Before I get to talking about KNF, let me say a few things about similar love affairs of the past. There are some common traits and behaviors, of course.

When I was in Denver, I had a strong affection for a small shop that sold specialty teas, herbs, spices, and kitchen gear. Owned and staffed daily by Michelle Bontrager and her brother Ethan, Lily’s Kitchen and Garden was truly a unique place. I wrote an article about them for a quickly-defunct arts magazine. By ‘article’ I mean ‘open love letter.’

What I admired about the shop was the sense of ‘connection’ that permeated all they did. From selection of products—they tested or used every single item themselves, seeking worldwide for just the right things—to engagement with customers, to personal attention, to remembering (mentally, not electronically) someone’s tea preferences. The proprietors were deeply committed, not just to their retail space, but to everyone that walked in the door.

As I wrote in the article:

It’s a simple chain of goodwill and quality: Lily’s works with distributors that treat them well. They in turn treat their customers well. The cumulative goodwill translates into high quality experiences while using the products at home. It’s a reminder of the reason merchandise is often referred to as “goods.”

A few years after that article, I moved to Mendocino, California. As if living in a coastal village Paradise weren’t enough, I found several small local shops where I could trade love for love.

For example, Corners of the Mouth is a tiny organic grocer, located in an old converted chapel. Quite apropos, the choir loft contained their bulk teas, herbs, and spices. I would cloister myself there frequently, blending some specialty brews or reading up on some unique herbs. They had the same commitment as Lily’s, expressed in their focus on local organic produce, connection with their customers, and concern for quality. It was obvious that they valued relationships.

I drifted southeast from there, landing in Santa Fe, another local, indie Mecca. From the La Montanita Coop to the truly exceptional Farmers’ Market, I was sustainably surrounded. Due to my role at Tree House Pastry Shop and Café, I was constantly in touch with the farmers, valuing the direct line from their field to my kitchen. There is no better experience.

Coming to the Hudson Valley, with its focus on small, locally supported farms, I felt like I was taking another trip to Eden. As I procure things for the program here at CAS, I find that I’m connecting with growers and seed libraries and markets with the same spirit I found in Denver, Mendocino, and Santa Fe.

Of course. It’s the way that the best work is always done. Person to person, face to face. I need something, I know you provide it, and we agree to an exchange. Trust runs through the entire experience, and our values complement each other. It is apparent—obvious—that we care for each other’s well-being. It is important to us that both parties thrive.

So it is when I shop at Kingston Natural Foods. It was clear from the moment I stepped in the door that it was a place where I’d be happy to trade. You know how it is: once you’ve been in love, you learn to recognize all the signs.

It’s in the first hello, the engaging introductory chatter, the subtle but strong affinity. She (the market, as represented by its proprietor, Jennifer) and I (um, represented by me) find this initial exchange to be beneficial. There will be more.

The same characteristics run through all these establishments: attention to products and clients; focus on doing something well; commitment to clearly-defined core values. Demonstrating—by doing—that every choice makes a difference, and that every dollar spent is significant. Every transaction has a strong identity—I know when I hand over a 20 that it will go through the market to the farm that grew the produce. I know the farm’s name, because Jennifer has posted it with the produce. On any given visit, I might meet the baker who brings that wonderful artisan bread, or the person who made the day’s hot soup, or perhaps the guy who drives the delivery truck.

As I meet these people, I build a social circle. I become an integral part of their lives, just as they are part of mine. I can thank the baker, looking her in the eye, for what she does. She can thank me for buying it. We both can turn and thank the proprietor. We are all thankful for the relationship.

So yeah, it’s easy to call this love. At the very least, friendship—and that is another great thing about trading this way. Every time I go to the market, I get to catch up with a friend.


In writing this piece, I looked to see what Michelle and Ethan are doing these days. It is no surprise that they have transformed their shop into another unique retail experience: Best Tea Time in a Bike Shop

Check out their blog, too.