I am a big fan of long weekends, particularly when the weather is nice as it has been for the last few days. We went to lunch with my 14-month old cousin on Saturday, apparently reinforcing some rumor that "Stephen is good with kids" or something like that. He made quite a game of the meal, smashing Goldfish crackers into microscopic pieces before eating them. When offered rice or pieces of a quesadilla, he would close his eyes, frown, bow and shake his head while saying "No." We marveled a bit at how emphatic he was about not wanting food that he otherwise would enjoy -- he made sure we knew that he was not interested. So most of his meal was juice and crackers.

The Fourth of July holiday saw us missing church services again (our attendance record has nosedived since moving within walking distance), but we did make it to the Hot Chicken Festival for the third year in a row. We have since wised up to the notion that you cannot go to the Hot Chicken Festival with the hope of actually getting any hot chicken (I didn't want any anyway). Instead, you go for a hot dog and watermelon, then head out before the throng of people flatten you. It is a great neighborhood event though, and a good example of why we love living over here so much.

Sunday evening we went with our friend Alison and her family to dinner. You probably could have taped that the conversation as a classic example of how both genetics and upbringing shape the individual. We shared stories and countless opinions on topics ranging from national security, health care, education, public works, etc. You know, lighthearted dinner conversation. From dinner, it was another walk to East Park to catch the fireworks as downtown Nashville became a cauldron of pyrotechnics and smoke. We were not nearly as close as we had been in years' past, but the drive home was much faster because of that.

This morning, I got a text asking what to do about dead chickens from Alison. Believe it or not, I am a bit of an expert on the subject. Growing up in a small town meant that we had a very active 4-H program that offered 12-14 year-old boys and girls the opportunity to raise a dozen hens to adulthood, and then sell the top six at auction to put money back into the program. Even the 4-H organizers knew you would probably lose a couple. I am a big fan of birds in general, so I kept the chickens at my grandparents' house. They had plenty of land (and enough free time and materials to invest in a sizable chicken coop), so I would go over there and tend to heat lamps, water troughs and feeding until they got big enough to eat whatever the geese and ducks were eating. On a few occasions, there would be idiot bird that got its neck caught in the fence, effectively removing itself from the gene pool. On another, the free-roaming chicken became an easy meal for a hawk that spotted it out in the open. Very grisly events, to be sure. But, all part of having chickens as pseudo pets.

I call them pets because my grandfather could sit down on an overturned feed bucket, and a chicken would hop right up into his lap. A rooster or two was added to the mix, so there were several generations of chickens until eight or nine years ago when the last of them died off. Incidentally, the Fourth of July was also my grandfather's birthday and my grandparents' anniversary. His brother, my great uncle, died last week. This is always a tough holiday in my family.

But, back to the chickens. Samantha wanted to no part of dealing with dead chickens on her day off, so I grabbed a pair of gloves and headed out. Alison is house sitting for a co-worker who keeps the chickens, and she was firmly convinced that there were multiple homicides overnight. One was missing a head by the fence row, and a tuft of feathers was sticking out of the laying box. I knew how to deal with the one by the fence, but was a bit concerned about what had befallen the supposed victim(s) in the box. I grabbed a shovel and stood back to open the box, making sure whatever had gotten to the first chicken was not still around for another one. Fortunately, the feathers fell out of the box and revealed two, very much alive chickens. One of them had probably gotten its tail feathers caught in the lid. I was somewhat relieved that none of the others were injured or dying, because I was not prepared to deal with that at all.

On now to the now single casualty of the day. Alison was having trouble getting in touch with the homeowner about the proper last rites for the departed chicken. Regardless, it had to be retrieved from the pen (and away from the other traumatized/confused chickens). We got it loaded into a plastic garbage bag and tried to scope out where to put a hole in the ground. A little while later, the homeowner called and assured her that this was not the first time this kind of thing had happened, and that burying it was a bad idea -- coyotes tend to enjoy digging it up and making even more of a mess. We doubled up the trash bag and put it into a closed can for them to take care of when they returned.

My first suspicion was that, like the chickens from my youth, this one had gotten caught in the wire and then the assailant had made quick work of the exposed head and neck. Looking at the fence, it became a bit more clear that whatever had grabbed it had its eyes on a veritable feast of chickens, but settled for just part of one when the fence did not open up as much as it wanted. We piled some rocks back over the damaged hole to at least deter the next attempt. If I owned a house and could keep chickens, I would at least entertain the idea. I already have a pretty clear idea of the trials and tribulations of raising chickens.

When I went to the local Mexican restaurant today, I changed my typical order from chicken to steak. I think I'll wait a while before going back down the poultry route.