Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Little Music

For Christmas, Sylvie gave me an old Pete Seeger album that's a guitar lesson. It's a peach.

As I was getting familiar with it, Phaedra hung over my shoulder. I suggested she take down the baritone ukulele, which is tuned like a guitar. That means the chords are the same shape minus two strings.

So, Phaedra sat and learned to make the D-chord. Sylvie stood jealously to the side. After much fussing and competing, I decided to get Sylvie a soprano ukulele.

This afternoon I played guitar, Phaedra played the baritone ukulele and Sylvie played the soprano. Ezra watched. I suggested he get the music book. Since he can sight read pretty well, he was playing Frog Went A'Courtin and the rest of us were accompanying, strumming away at a D-chord. It was a pretty idyllic moment.

Thanks, Pete!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Elvis Has Left the Building

I've known Elvis, our rooster, has not been feeling well since the first cold snap. Then, he quit going out to scratch with the hens. His comb faded and he quit avoiding us so strenuously. Then, the other day, he just let Jason pick him up.

This morning he was lying in the same spot in the coop, not roosting, that he was yesterday morning. The hens were being kind enough, which for chickens means they were not pecking at him. I figured he was probably happier with them as he shuffled off, so I let him be. This evening when I went to do chores, he was still in the same spot, but the hens were scratching hay over him so that his back half was covered. He was still looking around, and this seemed wrong to me. I tried to get him to move, but he wouldn't, so I gently moved him to another spot. He rolled over on his side, which is not a position chickens mostly choose, and then the hens began to investigate. SO, I moved him again, at which point he went into death throes.

RIP Elvis- you were a good rooster.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"The Cure" by Ginger Andrews

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking to Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing here in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Interesting Christmas Wish

Sylvie told me that what she REALLY wants for Christmas is a pooper scooper.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Polite Chickens

We have thirty laying hens and one rooster. We have that many to try to guarantee eggs through the winter when even with a light on them, production goes way down. Last year, we did not get eggs from some time in October until late December. I'll admit, it seemed a little unfair to be feeding all those chickens and getting no eggs. The problem was they all molted at pretty much the same time.

This year, I also noticed a dip in production in September, just about the time I agreed to use eggs for a barter. Still, we kept getting enough eggs, and I watched the flock to see what was going on. It was pretty obvious that three or four chickens were molting. A few weeks later, we suddenly got closer to two dozen eggs again. In under a week, we were getting only five and another batch of hens showed signs of molting. And so it has gone the whole fall. Now, I think the last few have almost finished getting feathers and we should go back to close to two dozen eggs a day.

While it has been a little annoying, we have continued to get eggs daily, unlike last year when we had to buy eggs for more than two months while feeding thirty hens. It seems awfully considerate of them to have gone to the trouble to coordinate their molting this way, and they do look prettier with fresh feathers, as you can see in this picture. That poor buff hen lost those hiny feathers last winter when she didn't properly groom herself, and now she's getting more. Don't you know THAT will make her warmer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Drying Laundry In December

I hung a load of laundry outside last week just before a thaw. I had dried three other loads in the preceding days without a hitch. But the thaw brought rain.

I thought, "Ah well, a little rain, a little sun, a little more cold dry weather, the clothes will dry." Most likely they've been dry, or mostly dry, in the past week, but with the short days and our driving schedule, I was not home before dark on any of those days.

Then it rained for two days.

Then it froze last night and stayed below freezing all day.

I brought them in to dry by the fire.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Lone Cow

While I know no cow probably wants to live alone, Violet is handling it pretty well at the moment. I am not seeing any stereotypies to indicate otherwise. We are helping all we can by sticking pretty closely to a schedule that she can count on.

I am hopeful that the new cow shed will be finished by the end of December. This should stay drier in the spring and there is room enough for a couple of cows and a calf or two. For the moment, she's spending all day, every day outside. There's was one really miserable day of weather when we should have let her in the milking area, and if we have more weather like that, she'll definitely have access.

Her milk production dropped by a half gallon between one day and the next about three weeks ago and has not come back up. I'm not sure why. Our plan is to dry her off at the end of January or when we get less than a gallon of milk a day consistently. I am worried that our hay is not as good this year, or something, but it looks okay to my inexperienced eye. She looks healthy, so I am just watching.

We have a nice relationship now. Maybe some people make cows comfortable more easily or maybe some cows are more easily comforted, but it took two solid years for me to feel good about my cow. Now that we're at this place, I think everyone should get to interact with cows regularly. I bet they're even better for your health than a dog.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Delightful Decadent Dissonance

I'll start by saying we do not decorate really until just before Christmas Eve and we take down the decorations two weeks later; it works better in our compact, busy house. And when we do decorate, we do not put up a million lights; we only light the tree. And even for that, I've considered switching to candles.

Still, there is something so very delightful about those houses, especially when it's only one here or there, that go all out on the outdoor decorations. There's this one along one of our regularly traveled routes that we have been watching since Thanksgiving, just waiting for them to put their lights out. They cover maybe 1/2 an acre with different lighted figures and things. As you swing around this one bend in the road, you can see a few, but the house is actually in a kind of hollow, so you only get the full effect very briefly at 50 mph. It's deliciously too much! It's so wasteful and wonderful!

I could tell all my rationalizing, but you'll have to work your own out. May you enjoy one or two excesses in this season!


We have pretty strict screen regulations. There's no tv, and the children are supposed to be nine before they start watching movies. We were more relaxed in other people's houses, but even this has not been an issue since we moved to Vermont.

This worked fine for Ezra. He was delighted when he hit nine and got to watch a movie about once a month with me and Jason. Phaedra was just shy of nine and happy to get to join us. The problem is that that left Sylvie, the only one to not get to participate in what had become a family thing. This felt wrong, so when we took Ezra and Phaedra to see a movie in a theater last year (The Muppets), it seemed only right to take Sylvie with us. And when Jason was taking the older two to see The Sound of Music, Sylvie also got to go.

You see that the genie is now fully out of the bottle. While we've resisted somewhat, we have also made an occasional exception. We watched Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, one of our favorite oldies, and she fretted that Cary Grant and Mirna Loy would divorce. When the older two wanted to see Monsters, Inc. while Jason and I were going on a date, we let Sylvie watch it with them. She cried; apparently her wails drowned out the last few minutes of the movie. We were naturally reluctant when the older two were planning another movie when Jason and I would be away. However, Ezra said they would watch Up and they would comfort Sylvie if she got too sad and that it really was only fair to let her watch it and they would warn her about the sad parts and please couldn't she just watch it with them. We relented; while she tried to stifle her cries and she definitely said she enjoyed the movie, there was still an inordinate amount of tears. So, no more movies.

Advent started this week. One of our traditions is to watch particular movies during December. Jason and I always watch Hudsucker Proxy, and we're looking forward to showing it to Ezra and Phaedra for the first time. We also decided to show them Philadelphia Story. Sylvie heard these plans and got very sad to be excluded.

We talked about it and decided she might really enjoy Babe and Mary Poppins. Both are pretty happy movies, Babe in particular. As a matter of fact, once I thought about how much she would like Babe, we decided to show it to her right away. Remember that part at the beginning when they take all the mothers away in that confinement operation? Well, she started crying then, and pretty much cried for the rest of the movie. She just couldn't believe they fed the piglets with those metal feeders and she couldn't believe that Farmer Hoggett would think that Babe would kill Ma and ... You get the idea.

This past weekend, we watched Mary Poppins. It's a musical, so we knew she would enjoy that part. And she did. She also liked the children and the animation and the bit of magic. She only cried the last few minutes when Mary Poppins is leaving. I understand that; I even tear up a bit. However, she gets SOOO upset, that I think it's too much for her little heart. Still, she wants to be included in at least one more Advent movie. We've chosen to show her either What's Up Doc or Bringing Up Baby, but we are looking for the pitfalls in each. She gets so worried about what sad thing will happen that she doesn't really enjoy the funny parts.

I think we should have held off until nine.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Three weeks ago, I was scratching my head over why Sylvie had not yet launched into reading. She has spent over a year teetering on the cusp, and if you asked me, I would have even said she WAS reading. But still, she had not begun reading box labels, street signs, or anything, really, that I had not put into her hands and said, "Read!"

Three weeks ago, I was thinking about my sister who kind of wonders if she herself might have some sort of learning/reading disability. I was wondering if Sylvie might have similar issues. I was reminding myself that I actually logically believe that anything before nine is completely normal for learning to read, and that my personal freak out point is 13. I was remembering that Ezra was just a little more than 8 when he started reading, Phaedra was pretty close to 7.5, and Sylvie is only now 7.75 years old.

Three weeks ago, Sylvie was definitely better able to read than a year ago. She could labor her way through a page of Peter and Polly, but she was ready for me to take over. She could read a chapter from the Frances books as long as I was willing to help on words she might get stuck on; for example, three pages into the story, she might suddenly forget what AND spells.

Last week, Jason and I were cooking dinner, and I heard Sylvie giggling in the living room. I glanced up to see her reading Ivy and Bean, a book she had declared far too difficult three days before. Now, she was CHOOSING to read it, and following the story well enough to giggle over it. Today, she was reading a book on puppy care and giving me a thorough report on all the things we do wrong with our dogs. In fact, she sat beside me while I sewed so she could more easily read the pertinent paragraphs aloud. She now reads street signs and she reads over my shoulder. She reads the spines of the books while we sit at the table and she reads warning labels.

Now, I am once again amazed at how reading comes. She is the first one I have tried more actively to teach to read. And I am once again convinced that reading is something we make room for, maybe facilitate. I'm pretty sure we do not get to take credit for "teaching" it, any more than I take credit for teaching these three to talk.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Another Reason My Mother Should Have Lived

She would have really enjoyed discussing history with her grandchildren. I always think of her when Ezra or Phaedra or Sylvie comes to me, shocked over the misbehavior of Frederick the Great or giggling over the misdeeds of Robert Hook or sorrowful over the end of King Harold. They each seem to have a personal relationship with characters in history, much the way I remember my mother feeling.

The advantage to this is when they remember history as real people interacting and reacting, they have a whole tableau instead of dates and places. They all seem to then have a better understanding of how these people and events fall in time relative to one another; maybe they do not have the exact date, but they are emphatic that Dante was not a contemporary of Shakespeare, but Galileo was. And when you're trying to teach the arc of history, these are the important parts. When you know who these men are and who their contemporaries were, then you can more easily remember which wars were waged and why and by whom.

Maybe, I am a brilliant teacher with an excellent curriculum, but I do not think I'm all that special. I really think my mother's spirit kissed them each in their cradles and blessed them with this history gift.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Some Finished products!

Here is the skirt and jacket:

She is very pleased. The polka dot is a fabric Stacey gave me; the rest is scraps from various other projects and a costume Phaedra was done with. The jacket turned out very well, in my opinion, though I admit it's a bit over the top.