Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thought-Provoking "Stuff"

Samuel's Environmental Science homework has set the wheels turning for me, at least. We'll see how his homework turns out. We've only just watched the twenty-minute video and of course the Stephen Colbert interview--much more ahead to delve into.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Society of Orange Animals

A Perfect Sunday

What makes for a perfect Sunday? It seems like a tall order, but here it is:

~Dave made waffles for breakfast. In other words, I lounged on the couch, read our local silly newspaper, drank my coffee, didn't worry about breakfast.

~I got an hour and a half walk with Lady. In the rain. In the sun. It was good. Saw the father of one of Grace's soccer teammates while on the walk, he hailed me as "Grace's Mom". Funny. I am "Sam's Mom" to the football team, as in, "Sam's Mom brought cookies!" I don't mind this as much as I probably once imagined I would.

~Came home from the walk, soaked, so just moved right outside to get the back part of the yard ready for the fence guys. When are they coming? No idea. But all the junk is dug up from under years of dried morning glory vines, Oregonberry shrubs, piles of dirt and rocks. The volunteer elm tree is gone, but its stump is not. Which means it will be back next year. Let the chickens out to enjoy the brief respite from the rain. They had a blast.

~Left-over Beef and Barley Soup for lunch.

~Loads of laundry in and out. Grand plans for baking bread, cleaning floors, all out the window. Curled up on the couch with Moby Dick (really, isn't it time to finally read it?) and a pint of Black Butte Porter. Quiet in the living room since everyone else was watching football. I could get used to football Sundays.

~Baked some chocolate-chip cookies because really, bread can be made tomorrow but cookies are important when people are watching football, playing football, and the butter has been sitting out for days, waiting to be transformed into aforementioned cookies. Sent a bag home with Nick, Samuel's best friend, to share the wealth and lessen the huge amount of cookies now sitting in the bin on my counter.

~Left-over beans and hamburger quesadillas for dinner. Put together by Dave. No cooking! Minimal dishwashing! Hooray!

~Throughout the day, rain, then brilliant sunshine, then a hardy wind that picked up speed and hasn't let up. The birch tree in the back is now mostly naked, a good size branch fell off the sycamore in front but missed the car, leaves are scattered everywhere, the sky splotched with grays and whites and blacks, movement all around and nice and calm inside with our lovely painted walls and toasty blankets to keep us warm.

~And now, a generous glass of wine, chickens put to bed, more football on the t.v., dinner menu set for the week (no beef, we've had enough the past few days, thank you very much), a request from Samuel to make chocolate-chip cookies for the football team since all have been hinting heavily at him the past week for "Sam's Mom" to make more cookies for them. Mrs. Cleaver with wine and Moby Dick and chickens. Why not?

Henrietta Makes An Appearance

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Full Moon Coming

Chickens Minus One

Only Bunny, the Easter Egg chicken, deigned to pose for us. So she gets top billing.

Bunny, Silvia (the Silver-Laced Red Wyandotte), Ruby (the Rhode Island Red), and Gabby.

Henrietta, the Barred Rock hen, wouldn't join in on the first evening out as a new group.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Life Does Go On

Along with all the hullabaloo (to put it mildly) of last week, other things have actually been happening.

~Grace is cantering on her own at riding lessons. In four short private lessons she has calmed her hands, found her seat, can post and adjust when necessary, and has told "Kid" her life story. She also scored two goals in last Saturday's soccer game, including one on the first drive of the game (that I missed, as I was deep into conversation with another mother about... dinner--sigh).
And she is nearing the end of her "training" for the kids' marathon happening on October 30th. She will have run 25 miles over the past two months and will run the last 1.2 miles with gobs of other kids on marathon day.

~Samuel is receiving plenty of accolades about his blocking in football. He has even been able to carry the ball in a couple games, a huge step for him since he is so good on the line, his coaches resist doing anything else with him. And most importantly (from a homeschooling perspective), he is taking charge of his learning. Going to HomeLink twice a week is forcing him to budget his time so that he can get all the homework done. We've had Sunday night meltdowns, of course, but those have helped him understand that his parents do know what they're talking about when it comes to making time for school work. He is reading anything he can get his hands on, at least when he isn't playing with the iPod Touch he bought with his own money.

~Both kids started back to Latin. There has been a great deal of grumbling about this (silently from Grace, quite vocally from Samuel) but I am pleased that they are starting to remember their grammar and vocabulary. Why take Latin? I think it's a great place to learn grammar (in English as well as Latin) and the kids are always happy when they discover a connection between an English word and it's Latin root. And hopefully it'll make language learning a little easier down the road.

~Dave is giving a lecture tonight at the Benton County Museum on "People and Salmon in the Northwest." It is a good lead-up to his whirlwind tour of Sitka, Alaska, coming up in November. There, he'll give a talk, be interviewed on the local public radio station, sign books at the local bookstore, and generally be an integral part of "Wild Week." Four days in Sitka and the best part is that thanks to a lot of willing hands, I will get to go, too.

~I've been baking up a storm of sandwich bread and pot bread, biscuits and muffins. It's that time of year, when soup calls for something crunchy like a good slice of pot bread or a cold morning needs a nice rocket muffin. I have a new 6 quart dutch oven that has been working overtime making huge batches of soup--last night's fare was Lentil Soup with Garlicky Greens. I also have a new crockpot thanks to a crockpot meltdown a few weeks ago. Beef and Barley Soup in it tomorrow night. I bought way too many vegetables at last Friday's market (only one left to go before the end of the season), then received more vegetables from Dave's biking friend, and then got yet more in the form of sweet meat squash from another friend. Vegetables (oh, and a full box of Jonagold apples) coming out my ears. Beautiful vegetables: collard greens, spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, beets, squash, carrots, tomatoes, onions, potatoes of many sizes and hues, cabbage. I will really really miss the market.

~And finally, after the epic sweater adventure, I knitted up a felted wool bag for Grace (who really wants to carry a purse like Mama but is feeling a little self-conscious about the fact that no one else her age is carrying one). With the left-over yarn I made a hat from a Soule Mama pattern.

I want to keep knitting but have run out of ideas for the time. And money for yarn. Of course, Dave has requested a sweater and socks. I'm terrified to tackle either. On the other hand, I got this nifty book in the mail from Powell's (we have gobs of credit) and so I'm thinking of doing a little embroidery for a while, instead. Too many possibilities.

~Finally, the three new chickens arrived last night. Just yesterday Henrietta and Gabby came down to eat. This morning the Rhode Island Red, Henrietta, and Gabby came down, the other two cowered upstairs. Now all are back upstairs. Once everyone comes down, I'll take pictures of them. The fence people are coming next week to put up good, solid fences where we have flimsy ones. Then I'll start letting them out for good chunks of time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Getting Back in the Saddle

It has been a hard week since Wednesday night, but we are moving on, healing as best we can, each in our own way.

Gabby survived the attack with a hurt foot. She is coming down to eat in the late afternoons and seems to enjoy being talked to. Our dear friend-to-the-rescue (who swooped in with her husband Wednesday night to take care of everything as we ran around in shock) gave us her badly hen-pecked chicken, Henrietta. So far the two are on amicable terms but Henrietta is conditioned by bigger, bullying chickens, to stay up in the coop. She hasn't come down yet; this morning, however, she and Gabby are sitting side by side on the roost. Grace says Gabby was cooing. Perhaps these two injured birds will help each other heal? How's that for anthropomorphizing the whole situation to the limit?

Dave screwed down the side of the coop that the dogs knocked off. He took out a small loan from the bank and we had the fencing company come yesterday to give us a quote on finally replacing all our short, flimsy fences with 6-foot cedar fences. We bungied the heck out of the top of the coop and we watch it like hawks (well, hawks who aren't looking for an opportunity to home in on the chicken-ravaging business).

Samuel, who clearly hurts from the whole thing, but is doing it internally, worries every night about the chickens. He checks and double-checks the coop, the fence, starts up at every noise as he tries to fall asleep. He and Grace have a running discussion about what the girls are doing, where they are in the coop, have they eaten, etc.

Grace, who cried all Wednesday night (Dave got displaced as both kids snuggled tight on either side of me in our bed), has taken it upon herself to frequently check on the chickens. Like, every half hour. I finally asked her to give them a little time alone. When Gabby finally came down, Grace sat out there with her for nearly 45 minutes, talking to her, feeding her crabapples from the nearby tree. Our chicken-whisperer, as Dave calls her. At horse-riding Grace told Kid all about the incident because, as she told me, you can tell a horse anything.

And me? I had a great bout with sadness yesterday. I recognize that these are, after all, just chickens. And I know that I really took them to heart as pets, probably more so than I should. I don't have to go on about how I felt about them. This blog, which is supposed to document all aspects of our life, has come dangerously close to being called "Paean to Poultry". Part of me doesn't want to have anything to do with chickens until the spring, when we have our fences and the weather is milder. But our friend Chelee has wisely recognized that of all of us, I'm the one who most needs to get back in the saddle. Which is why we have Henrietta. And why I contacted the woman who sold us the President's wives. We have three new layers coming Monday night: a blue laced red wyandotte, a Rhode Island Red, and an easter egg chicken (no idea what this one will look like, but the eggs should be green or blue or something like that).

I'll post pictures when they finally settle in. And I'll leave the naming of them to the kids.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No Words For It

Four of our chickens were killed by two stray dogs tonight.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's For Dinner?

This is the age-old problem. We all deal with it differently. Sometimes I just don't deal with it. We eat pancakes and pretend it's something exotic.

Mostly I'm pretty hyper-organized (a nice way of saying, "anal") about dinner. I map out the week's meals on my desk organizer on Sunday. I write up the grocery list, put in notes about when to soak the beans, take out the meat, prep the pot bread. I try to take into account the many practices that my kids have to go to--no highly involved dinner plans on a night that I have to get Samuel to football at 5:00, Grace to soccer at 5:30, pick up Grace at 6:30, Samuel at 7:00. Mostly, I only have drop-off duty, though.

So tonight is a good example of me trying to have something interesting for dinner and also juggle the double practices. Before Samuel's practice I prepped the Cheddar Drop Biscuits. Have I made these before? No. But they sounded good. I'm making Lentil-Vegetable Soup for dinner and the Grissini I thought looked really good and easy to make turned out not so good. I needed a backup and instead of settling for grilled cheese sandwiches (or nothing), went with the biscuits. I ran Samuel up to football, got back at 5:00 with time to hurriedly put the biscuits together and stick them in the oven.

Oh, leaving the house with the oven on? With something in the oven? I have so gotten over worrying about it. It's a new oven, it better not start my house on fire. And if it does, we'll go out for pizza.

I ran (okay, I drove very quickly through the neighborhoods, slowing down where it looked like children or dogs might be lurking) Grace up to her practice, came home to pull the biscuits out and start the soup. By this time Dave had got home so I was off the hook for pick up duty. Hooray!

And now the soup is quietly bubbling on the stove, the biscuits are cold (not the best way to eat them) but ready, and I have time to sip on a glass of wine and reflect on the last two hours. Is this worth it? The running, the chopping, the plotting out to the last detail how long it takes to make a dish, raise some dough, simmer some really tasty and healthy soup? Obviously, yes. It takes a heck of a lot of time and energy to make everything from scratch but in the end I see the benefits everywhere. We seldom get sick, we have energy to do everything that we do, we are fit, and we love food. Good food, real food. And do I feel guilty as hell for being privileged enough to not work outside the home, to be able to provide such bounty when so many cannot afford the time to obsess on whether to make Grissini or Cheddar Drop Biscuits? Yes. Yes and Yes and Yes.

This last Sunday's New York Times Magazine is all about food. Some of it is a little too precious (even if I did "devour" the entire article) as in the Michael Pollan bit about cooking for 36 hours on an outside clay oven with other foodies; other articles address the idea of building community through food, whether in Maine or Alabama or Detroit. The idea of handing out slices of homemade pie on a street corner to initiate conversation particularly struck me. Or planting gardens in the middle of the city where once stood empty lots collecting refuse and graffitti. Food is something everyone has an opinion about--why not use it to open up connections, bring industry at a grassroots level to impoverished neighborhoods, ensure that children and adults have a hand in food production, food consumption?

It seems that perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future maybe I can (or will) turn my attention to food outside the home. There must be some way to make it possible for everyone to eat first and foremost. Then maybe some way to make it possible for everyone to think about what they put in their bodies, to take pleasure in creating, and time to create, a meal out of real food. Big, grandiose plans, maybe a little pie-in-the-sky, but maybe one day you'll see me on the street corner here in my little burg, handing out pieces of pie.

Until then, I'll keep working on the home front, one meal at a time.

When Chickens Fly

Martha came out of the egg box long enough to fly up into the crabapple tree. I'm starting to think that Martha is a chicken who marches to her own beat.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Sweater...Finished!

I really wasn't trying to look so serious for such a momentous occasion, but there it is. No smile. Anyway, I'm so glad to finally have finished this sweater. I started in January 2010, took a long break from it to: nurse an ailing wrist; go to Alaska; have a hot summer; refinish the entire living room. With patient help from knitter-extraordinaire Chelee, buttons from my mom, and many (hopefully) hard to see boo-boos, it's done in time for cooler weather.

Hide & Seek

Grace feeding the chickens bread crumbs. Lady is trying to get in on the action, too.

Martha is broody. She is convinced that she needs to sit in the egg box, even when there are no eggs under her. It doesn't surprise me that Martha is the first to do this. She is the biggest, the head chicken, the first to lay an egg. What does surprise me, however, is that she is broody now. My chicken books say that broodiness comes on with the lengthening days. We are definitely in "shortening" mode. Guess you can't always expect a book to have all the answers.

In the meantime, I push my hand under Martha a couple times a day, looking for the egg that may or may not be there. Whether one is there or not, she cackles at me, fluffs up her feathers, and refuses to budge.

Since all the chickens refuse to use the other egg box, and because Martha is hogging the other one, the other girls have gotten very creative in where they deposit their eggs. Gabby lays hers in a window well, nestled on top of some dry leaves and under the protective branches of a cotoneaster. Nancy lays under the broken red rake on the other side of the house. The rake leans up against the house and she has made a nice little bed with more dried leaves.

Ida and Michelle are wild cards. I'm not sure where they lay. I am still only getting about 3 eggs a day. Maybe some of them are on the every-other-day plan. Today, however, as I was hanging out sheets (it truly is a sunny day--cool, but no rain threatening) I heard a big ruckus on the other side of the shed. The "I laid an egg and I'm pretty proud of myself" crowing ruckus. I found a new spot, wedged between some cement bricks, the end of the hedge, and the neighbor's garage. Two dirty, little eggs. And since I can't tell the difference between Ida and Michelle (I need Grace to do this for me) I'm not sure which one did it. One from yesterday, I presume, the other nice and warm from this morning.

And so I see the days spread out before me, a mindful, quiet search every day for my little eggs. It's not a bad image.

Until, of course, I start imagining the snow.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Crazy Fall Weather

I should have known when I got up this morning that the brilliant blue sky, heavy warm air, and perfect calm would not last.

The floors that finally got swept and mopped after days of scattered mud and grass clumps; the blueberry muffins baked for "breakfast snacks" at our local ALE, HomeLink; the laundry that got hung up outside to dry (and then promptly taken back down); all of this could have waited while I got out for a walk. But I figured it would hold. I saw the signs that the weather wouldn't last but I blithely ignored them, happy for the opportunity to get stuff done while the rest of the gang was busy elsewhere. (Who am I kidding... they were watching football in the basement. Not so busy but definitely occupied.)

By the time my bread loaves emerged from the oven, sheets of rain not only replaced the sun, they absolutely shouted out, "No walk today!"

And so now I am tired, having continued on the overly industrious track I started this morning. But I have colcannon sitting on the stove in my beautiful red dutch oven, a glass of Jubelale at my side, and the Sunday NY Times Magazine to read, this week's issue completely devoted to food and communities brought together through food. And then to an early bed with Sherlock Holmes and undoubtedly Fluffy on my stomach, curled into my legs for warmth.