Thursday, December 30, 2010

Page 2

When we arrived in Los Angeles--bright eyed and a bit overwhelmed by the size of the place--our first mission was to find a place to live.  We had no idea where to start looking, but we had a general idea where the campus was and where my office was, so we somehow settled in San Gabriel, within walking distance to the Clearman's North Woods Restaurant, where we often enjoyed a burger, red cabbage salad, and cheese bread.  (We stopped for lunch at this same restaurant 13 years later, when we passed through LA on our way out of California for good--a fitting bookend.)  

A look though the newspaper for an affordable apartment was our first clue that we were no longer in the little leagues.  In northern Michigan, we had both paid around $100 a month for a room.  In LA, we were shocked that we were going to need to shell out more than $400 a month for an apartment.  In one of those apartments, we saw termites floating in the toilet and realized that we needed to adjust our baseline.  I don't remember exactly what we paid for our first apartment--I think it may have been closer to $500 a month--but I do remember it was on the second floor of a indistinct complex.  It had two rooms and a very small kitchen, and we decorated it with two lawn chairs and a blow-up mattress.

I went to work immediately, and Tom filled his days building a resume and scouring the paper for jobs.  Since we had only one car, Tom drove me to and from my office.  

Shortly after we moved in, a neighbor knocked on the door and invited Tom to play poker.  George was very tall, fair, mustached, and he smoked a pipe.  He managed a local Friendly's, I believe, and was desperately in love with a Mexican woman whom he was trying to bring to California.  He and Tom became fast friends and often spent afternoons lounging around the pool. I don't recall George being a good influence on Tom, but I do recall that he made killer potstickers. 

Another set of neighbors, a couple from India, recently had a baby.  The woman often knocked on our door to chat or to bring us Indian snacks.  She also often paced back and forth in front of our living room window, singing to her baby.  I have to admit that we sometimes didn't answer the door when she knocked, as it was difficult to bring her visits to an end. 

About two weeks after we settled in, Tom was in a Kinko's getting resumes copied.  When he walked out of the store, he saw that "some poor fella's parked car had been hit."  Then he realized it was our car, totaled by a guy who only tell Tom, "I hit car."

Another two weeks later, it rained.  We walked outside to crisp, clear skies and were shocked to discover that we lived about a mile from the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, which we had never seen due to the smog. 

Welcome to LA...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Page 1

June 1987.  I've just graduated from Michigan Tech University, and I'm scheduled to be at USC in Los Angeles for grad school in September.  Tom (not yet Husband) decides to come along. "I've always wanted to go to LA," he says casually.  I don't think either of us gave the arrangement much thought beyond that.  My parents are somewhat glad I'm not going alone.  His parents are reluctant (read: highly distraught with his impetuous decision) but let us take the car they've given Tom.  Neither of us has ever been west of the Mississippi.  

Concerned about my finances, my mother arranges an interview for an LA-based job at the copper and brass manufacturing company for which she works.  The job:  inside sales at a distribution warehouse--a position for which I have no experience.  As a Communications major with job experience as a lifeguard, working at the dorm desk, and writing news releases for the university news bureau--selling copper fittings and tubing to plumbers was a stretch.  But I somehow talk them into hiring me, so we need to leave for LA earlier than we had planned. 

We pack up all our worldly possessions--clothes, blankets, one of the original Macintosh computers (maybe even a Mac II?) and its diskettes, and head out across the country.  Across the country.  An adventure I'd never envisioned myself on.  I don't really know what grand plan I had in mind for myself, but I'm pretty sure it didn't involve being in Los Angeles. In pictures of the trip, we looked like a couple of carefree kids, to be sure.  Tom has a gift for driving long distances without getting tired, and I doze off every couple of hours.  I didn't drive much.       

I do remember going zen when we drove through Kansas.  Those forever fields of warm, yellow wheat, with long trains or tall silos the only breaks in the scene, hypnotized me. We watched a huge thunderheads develop and let loose in the distance.  In Topeka, we stopped for lunch, where we were offered "Kerrs and Kerrs Lite" as beverage choices.  Tom ordered a "Kerrs." 

We pass through St. Louis.  Into Colorado, we see snow on the caps, and we delight in driving through tunnels.  In Golden, we stop at Buffalo Bill's grave site--for no reason, I imagine, other than we were there, and it was there.  My guess is that I had to convince Tom to stop, for he's not generally a sucker for tourist stops, and I am.  In our pictures, he wears a white trucker's cap that reads "America Rocks." 

Across Utah, we were both captivated by the canyons and colors of the landscape, that in places, looked more like a moonscape.  We take a break in Zion, the only national park stop on this trip, and hiked through sandstone cliffs with warm, western colors that danced and changed with the light.  Such a contrast to the forested landscapes of Michigan, where we both grew up.

We are only a day or two away from Los Angeles, where everything contrasts to all the previous days of our lives growing up in Michigan.  Those pages to come...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010



Dearest William: 

In this belated birthday letter for 2010--the year you turned 11--I will tell you why I think you may be destined to become a frat boy...

It came to light yesterday, when you were describing the "Core Olympics" in which your class was participating on the last day of school before Christmas break.  

"I really want to be in the frozen t-shirt contest, where you take a frozen t-shirt and defrost it enough to put it on.  The first one on wins."  

A frat challenge for 11 years olds if I've ever heard of one.  

Backing up in time to four months ago:  It's the middle of August, and you've been at Camp Billings for two weeks.  When Dad, Max, and I arrive to take you home, Mia greets us first.

"Will has been wearing the same sock for a week."  

Notice she said "sock" not "socks".  

Sure enough, when I find you at the tether ball with Baxter, you're wearing one knee-high rainbow-striped toe sock on one foot, a black strip of fabric tied around your other ankle, and your red Crocs.  

"Are other people dressed like that too?" I asked.  They were not. 

Another 11yo frat boy sight to behold.  


One of the things I LOVE about you is that your sense of self and independence is already strong and bold.  You've got your own style, you make your own choices, and you don't really seem to give a flip about what others think. 

That's not to say you're not conscientious.  Your trendy Justin Bieber hair swoosh and your skinny jeans give that away.  

In this, your sixth-grade year, you are holding strong academically and surprising me with a solid performance in language arts--a subject that didn't spark your interest in any way whatsoever in previous years.  I also see you highly enjoying your first year studying French.  

You took up cross-country running, basketball, snowboarding, and swimming this year--leaving taekwondo behind.  You also loved spending days on the lake with Dad on the sailboat or on a board behind the ski boat.  When I watch you groove on piano and your toe taps, mine does too.

You are still an amazing older brother to Max.  The other day, he was struggling with something--I don't remember what--and you doubled back to kindly help him.  Neither Max nor I asked you to help, but you just did it as naturally as any warmhearted person would.  

Finally, about a month ago, I said something to you, and you scowled at me.  Then you followed with a big grin, as if you say, "I was just kiddin' mom."  And I thought to myself...I don't have much longer before that scowl is NOT followed by that wonderful grin.  

I dunno though...I have a feeling that grin is here to stay and will get you far--with both your mom and the rest of the world.  

I love you. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho!

For a couple days now, I've been working on a blog about how to simplify the holidays.  I deleted it, however, because at the end of the blog, I figured out that being spirited isn't really all that complicated.  

You decorate a tree, give some gifts, bake some cookies, plan a few family meals.  Eh voila!  You got yourself a solid holiday.  

Little One is full of cheer and is pulling the rest of the sluggish family along.  He still believes in Santa and has played "Jingle Bells" on the piano at least 80 times.  He has already watched Charlie Brown, Frosty, and  Rudolph.  And he begs every evening to decorate our tree (standing in our house now, undecorated, for six days).  But it's hard to pull everyone together on weeknights, so tonight, Friday, is his night. 

Our shopping is 98% finished, and admittedly, we've fully embraced the consumerism of the season.  I always think we're going to cut back, but Husband rallies with bargains he finds online.  Plus, I don't feel like we bought stuff the kids won't use.  That seems to be an upside to older children--they actually want practical gifts, usually of an electronic nature.  But Will even put a snowboarding helmet on his list.    

I gave up holiday cards a couple years ago for eco reasons.  I'll also cut back on cookies this year because I'm the person who eats the most and needs the least.  The kids cherish decorating my great-grandmother's cut-out cookies though, just as I did as a kid.  (Mia says the cookies are her favorite holiday tradition.)  I have some dough already in the freezer, so maybe we'll just make a small batch and call it a Christmas day.  

So I just need to pull out some decorations, find a good Santa for Max to visit, bake a few cookies--and I have more than two weeks to pull it all off. So why was I looking to simplify? 

I think I actually need to simplify some other areas of my life, not the holidays.  Christmas comes only once a year, and it really does bring out the happy in people.  Plus, I think we have only another two or three years left of the Santa Show.  So it's definitely time for me get on the sleigh and get a shot of seasonal joy.  

Or maybe a bottle of seasonal joy (one with lots of bubbles), a Starbucks Cranberry Bliss bar, and some Christmas tunes.  How simple is that?  Ho, ho, ho! 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Crack in Everything

Feeling a little heavy hearted whenever I see news about Elizabeth Edward's passing today.  What a role model and figure of strength.  

Note to self:  Remember this:  

In an interview, she quoted this from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem": 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering. 
There's a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in.

From her latest book: 

"[When my children] tell their own children about their grandmother, they will be able to say she stood in the storm.  And when the wind did not blow her way--and it surely has not--she adjusted her sails." 

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Dear Max: 

You turned seven 82 days ago, and I missed the opportunity to write you a birthday letter then.  So here goes now... 

Just yesterday, I went to your school library to see if I could find a missing book.  When I told the librarians your name, they both smiled, and said, "We love Max."  They didn't even seem to care that you had lost a book.  I told them that I love you too but that they shouldn't be fooled by your smile.  There's a little rascal in there too.  (See picture above as proof.)  

"He's always so happy," one of them remarked.  "Always smiling."  I confirmed this, and told them that people have been saying this about you since your very early days.  This is truly one of your gifts. 

Also just yesterday, while I was sitting at my desk working, you were carefreely skipping rope around the room.  I stopped and watched you and indulged in the freedom and purity of your kid-ness, and I felt so fortunate to still have that energy in my life.  Your older brother and sister aren't always so free and uncomplicated anymore.  

In the past year, you learned to confidently ride a bike.  You mastered the kneeboard behind the ski boat.  Your reading has advanced leaps and bounds.  Your math mind still amazes me with the things you can figure out.  You started riding the bus after school to the taekwondo studio without Will--a big show of independence.  You marched with the Little League in the Fourth of July parade, and threw candy to only your brother and sister and their friends.  And you kept leaving these notes at my desk: 

During your first second grade school conference, I asked your teachers about your social life. 

"Everybody likes Max," they told me. 

"Yes, but does Max like everybody?" I asked.  

"Well, he's definitely a cat," remarked one of your teachers, suggesting that your social choices were all on your terms.  I cannot think of a better metaphor for you.  

Your older brother is still the center of your life.  You still offer to help me in the garden (which everyone else complains about), and you always reach for my hand when we walk out there.  You organize things, like the kitchen drawer where we keep all the plastic bowls and cups. And you take good care of your fish. 

All this sweetness, then you give me some kind of cool-dude surfer hand gesture in response to some request, and I realize that you are indeed growing up, you won't fit on my lap for much longer, and that jump rope will be too short for you someday very soon. 

Little Man Cat, you are the light of our family, you make us all smile and laugh, and you manage yourself with style.  Keep it real, dude. 


Saturday, November 27, 2010

2011 Special Olympics VT Scarf Project

Knitters and Crocheters Needed
Help make scarves for Special Olympics Vermont Winter Games athletes!

  • Scarf color(s):  Bright green—solid or with white
  • Suggested yarn: Red Heart “Paddy Green”, Encore 054, Berroco Comfort 9752 (washable yarn preferred)
  • Suggested size: 6” wide x 5’ long
  • Suggested pattern, needles: Your choice
  • Deadline:  February 14, 2011

Please send or deliver completed scarves to:
Special Olympics Vermont
368 Avenue D
Williston, VT 05495

Questions? Contact Patty Pasley at or
802 288 9619. 

You can find quite a few free patterns online.  Search on "free scarf patterns". 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pet Raccoons

These will be my last comments about Little Heathens.  Promise.  

Picture this:  1930s, farm in Iowa, cozy farm kitchen lit with oil lamps, kids sitting at a kitchen table doing homework.  With raccoons sitting on their shoulders!  

They tamed them.  Raccoons, of all things.  Tamed to the point where the raccoons would figure out how to open the door latch, sneak in, and sit under the children's chairs during supper, waiting for handouts.  

Is this what my kids would do if they didn't have a Wii?  

The critters also figured out how to scale the porch and sneak into the kids' bedrooms on summer nights when windows were open.  The raccoons liked to sleep with the kittens at the children's feet.  Mother tried to shoo the the raccoons away, but they came back in as soon as she left, so she eventually gave up. 

Can you believe it?  I read this chapter a week ago, and I'm still shaking my head over it.  The author made a few mentions of how the children never received tetanus or rabies vaccines, yet none of them ever contracted any diseases from the raccoons. 

Eventually, the raccoons were somehow returned to the wild--either on their own impulses or occasionally by human intervention (when they were caught picking off chickens).  

A quick Google search shows that while having a pet raccoon is generally illegal today, a fair number of people ignore that fact.  Here's a quote from the website of a person who also raises a couple black bears and foxes...

"Raccoons are amazingly friendly, if raised properly..  Domestic raccoons also do get into mischief.   Larry Lee and Billy Bob was very easy to litter train.

They seem to do better if they have another animal to play with.. However, it seems the older Larry gets, the calmer he gets.. He don't seem to get into as much mischief as he did when he was younger. Of course he still does get into mischief, but not as much as he did when he was younger..

Even though Raccoons are friendly, they are not for everyone. They require a little extra time and patience with them climbing." 

There you have it.  Good advice, to be sure.  Just the same, as much as I love animals, I'll be sticking with pets of more legal and domesticated ranks. 

Monday, November 15, 2010


"Retrospection can be illuminating, it can be numbing, it can be sobering; it can be fruitful, if can gladden my heart, and it can drown me in despair.  But looking back on my early days on our farm in Iowa, I find that I take enormous satisfaction in my memories of the past, and my reflections on how that time, so rich, so satisfying, so fulfilling, yet so undeniably challenging, affected me." 

--Mildred Armstrong Kalish, Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

I just finished reading Mildred's autobiography.  I can't believe how the author, now 80+ years, remembered the copious details she included in her story.  Which got me thinking about my childhood and its rich, satisfying, and fulfilling moments.  Except that I can barely remember what I did last weekend, so my bygone moments are hazy.  Nevertheless, I thought it an interesting exercise to document my own history by recalling events from each of my school years... 

Kindergarten:  I walked to school most days with a boy, Michael Staiger.  If my memory serves me, we walked at least mile, I really can't believe two five-year olds were sent down the road like that to school.  This isn't to suggest my parents were irresponsible; it was just a sign o' the times. 

One morning, the "school is starting" bell sounded, and Michael and I were more than a stone's throw away.  We started running, and I tripped, and ripped open my tights and my knee.  I remember being afraid of getting in trouble for ripping the tights, so I hid my knee (under a scarf?), which probably needed some attention.  When my mom discovered the wound, I didn't get in trouble.  She just cleaned and bandaged me up.

First Grade:  New school, new town.  I only remember a neighbor about my age getting struck by a car on her bicycle.  She died.  

Second Grade:  New school, new town.  In the spring, walking to a babysitter's house after school, a kid named Randy found a dead, half-frozen rat on the playground.  He picked it up and flung it into the group of kids I was with, and it hit me in the back of the head.  Running to the sitters, crying, I fell again, and skinned my knee.  The babysitter washed my hair and had a talk with Randy's guardian across the street. 

Third Grade:  New school, new town.  My lovely teacher, Mrs. Reed, read Charlotte's Web to the class.  We devoured every word.  

My sister, friend, and I decided one day to create a "bouquet" for the school principal.  We cut a plastic milk jug in half, filled it with mud, and poked cattails and various other weeds in it. I think we actually brought it on the bus with us, and I vaguely remember proudly placing the heavy, wet mess on her desk. 

Fourth Grade:  I learned that nose byproducts were called mucous, not snot and boogers.  I remember practicing a ton of cursive handwriting, and my teacher, Mrs. Lovik, was generally hostile.  There was a boy in my class, Mark, who frequently used the word "indubitably."  And I think this was the peak of my stamp collecting years. 

A kid who was a year older than me, Scott Hardy, was murdered while out fishing with his cousin this year.  Some sick man wanted their fishing poles.  I used to chase him on the playground. 

Fifth Grade:  Our class raised enough money to finance a trip to Washington D.C.  I don't remember much about the trip, but I think we even flew there.  Mrs. Dorothy Feick was a amazing and inspiring teacher.  She gave me a handwritten note at the end of the school year that said something about her knowing that I could reach my goals.  I was under the impression that she didn't write those notes to everyone.  

Sixth Grade:  New school.  I remember one teacher using a paddle on bad students.  Being paddled vaguely seems like rite of passage, though I was never on the receiving end.  This year, I fashioned a motor out of a battery and some wiring to earn extra credit and therefore an A+.  My sister decided to test the motor one evening, and it didn't run the next day when I was to turn it in.  I believe I still earned the A+, and I have since forgiven my sister.  (My kids think this is a funny story about their aunt...)

Seventh Grade: In Art class this year, I made candles as an independent project.  Unfortunately, I spilled wax on the counter, and my Art teacher yelled at me publicly. I don't remember him as a nurturing person.  

Eighth Grade:  The apex of a very successful middle-school career.  I was awarded trophies for being the top academic, gym, and art student during all three years.  I was surprised, as my best friend Heidi was more athletic than I, and another girl Gwen, was general thought of as smarter.  Then there was that incident in Art.  

Ninth Grade:  New school--high school.  I didn't quite maintain the overachiever momentum I had established in middle school, but I was still an above average and conscientious student. One afternoon, in Fifth Period, the fire drill bell rang.  Outside, a boy approached us with a Lit test he had pinched from the class he was in at the time.  My girlfriends and I were due to take that same test next period, so we studied it furiously--under the eyes of another teacher unbeknownst to us, who passed her discovery along to the Lit teacher, a nun named Miss Nolan. 

In Sixth Period, after the test, Miss Nolan approached the class with the "steam a-comin' outen her boot heel" (thank you, Mildred Kalish, for this jewel) and said that she knew there were cheaters in the class, that she couldn't believe what she had heard, and that she wanted those cheaters to stay after class and tell her who had shared the test. 

Back into this corner of shame, my girlfriends and I stayed after to hear the wrath of Miss Nolan, yet nobody would step forward and rat out the boy.  Miss Nolan must have proposed some monumental threat, because I clearly remember that boy's name eventually coming out of my mouth and Miss Nolan hugging me for being honest.  We didn't get in trouble, but I'm pretty sure that boy did.  Miss Nolan was quite a lady. We read Great Expectations in her class.   

Tenth Grade: New school due to one of three high schools in town being shut down because the school budget didn't pass.  This led to too many students in one of the remaining high schools, so students with last names starting with A-K went to school in the morning, and L-Z in the afternoon.  I went in the morning, which left afternoons open for all sorts of risky and unhealthy pursuits.  What were the adults in charge of schools thinking? 

Eleventh Grade:  An undistinguished year. I could drive, and I earned money by babysitting and working weekends and the summer at a chiropractor's office.  

Twelfth Grade:  OMG. Homecoming.  My best friend Krystal and I were both candidates for Homecoming Queen, going up against another girl, Tracey Gordon.  Tracey won the votes, which was probably the best outcome for Krystal and I.  I wasn't hurt by the outcome, but talk about unhealthy--people voting for you to win a contest based on some superficial qualities?  I hope this tradition has lost favor over the years.  


That's it.  The abridged autobiography of my impressionable years--
illuminating, numbing, sobering, fruitful, gladdening, and disparaging--and sometimes just plain weird...

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I’m reading a book called Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.  Today, I read the chapter “Medicine,” where the author describes medical care without doctors or over-the-counter treatments—they didn’t have the money for such aid.  Given today’s challenges with and dependence on healthcare, I find the remedies and treatments she describes intriguing, so I thought I’d share some—not to suggest that anyone adopt these approaches but rather in the interest of carrying forward the lore:
  • Bee stings:  Apply baking soda, black mud, or ear wax.
  • Canker sores:  Chew (but don’t swallow) a green pepper.
  • Minor cuts and scrapes:  Apply spider web.
  • Earache:  Have an obliging uncle blow tobacco smoke into the ear and plug it up with cotton.
  • Rusty nail or barbed wire punctures:  Apply peroxide to bubble the poison out.
  • Deep cut: Apply a chaw of tobacco or fresh charcoal.
  • Stone bruises:  Soak foot in extremely hot water 2x/day.
  • Blood poisoning (evidenced by red streak coming from wound):  Soak infected area, lance and drain, apply peroxide, wrap with bandage, low activity.  Repeat soaking, lancing, flushing with peroxide, and wrapping daily until red streak disappears. 
  • Collapsed lung:  Lie on other side.
  • Colds:  Apply flannel packet of hot, fried yellow onions and goose grease to the chest; or eat onions baked in ashes.
  • Wart removal: Peel a medium potato, take it to the middle of a nearby road, place it on a flat stone, and stomp it flat.  Do not look at the stone or visit the site for two weeks. 
  • Child swallowing a bobby pin: Eat mashed potatoes and sauerkraut.  Sauerkraut doesn’t digest in younger children, so the pin will become entangled in the ‘kraut and pass through the body. 
Medicinal supplies in every household:  Vaseline, lard, baking soda, boric acid, salt, camphor, alum peroxide, Vicks, and iodine.

Interestingly, Kalish proudly reports that nobody in the family ever developed a life-threatening infections (I might argue that blood poisoning is threatening), though one horse did need to be put down for developing lockjaw from a barbed wire injury.  Yet in a later chapter, she also mentions that half of her grandparents’ children (four of them) died by age two...

Nevertheless, I think I will stomp on a potato if I ever get a wart. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

That New Math

I sat in a parents' meeting at school this past week, and heard our district principal say that if school looks like it did when I was in school, then something needs to change.  As vexing as this can be, my kids all seem to be learning quite readily, and at the end of the day, it's highly likely they're learning more real-world applications of more current information. 

Case in point:  Last week, I told Mia that Amerigo Vespucci discovered America--a "fact" I clearly remember learning in middle school.  She told me that I was wrong--that the current thinking is that we don't know who discovered America. 

With two kids in middle school, I've seen plenty of superficial differences between then and now.  Desks are often table groups.  Classrooms often don't have doors.  Handwriting is a low priority.  Kids call parents for any reason from phones in the classrooms.  My mom, visiting from out of town, stopped by our elementary school with me last year and was startled by the number of unsupervised kids walking the hallways.  "They don't sit all day at desks anymore," I told her.  
Interestingly, I just recently realized one of the more profound differences:  My kids don't use textbooks.  I've seen math workbooks come home, but definitely no traditional textbooks thick with columns of instruction.  In a different parent meeting, I asked teachers how kids study without textbooks, and I was told they use handouts, class notes, websites, blogs, peer reviews, and discussion.  Textbooks are just too expensive and too quick to go obsolete, they explained.  While this awareness surprised me, the more I think about it, the more interesting it all seems for students.  

That's all I really wanted to say today.  School is different.  Textbooks are history.  And this, which I found in an article on the internet

"Smart grownups don't generally read school textbooks.  Instead, they read newspapers, magazines, and other non-fiction materials, and often talk about them with their friends, coworkers, and families." 

So kudos to schools for channeling the lack of budget into a system of learning that is likely more relevant, colorful, varied, immediate, multi-channeled, and consequently well-received.  I'm jealous. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Will of the Chicken World

I've been raising a small flock of backyard chickens for over fours years.  We joined the trend for the eggs and fertilizer and discovered that we enjoyed watching them scratch around the yard.  My first flock--three hens--didn't like to be handled, but they did run to me when I went into the backyard and yelled, "Hey girls."  If you've ever watched a hen run, they're cartoonish.

The first of the flock met her fate last spring in the jaws of a predator--presumably the fox that had been casing the backyard.  The second just up and died one morning this summer.  This left us with the third, who, by now, was no longer laying eggs.  I struggled with the idea that I was buying organic feed and cleaning the coop for a chicken who wasn't contributing. I was especially not very interested in doing this through a Vermont winter.  Which all naturally leads to the question of a hen "harvest".

I had a difficult time coming to terms with the idea that we could eat our hen.  But while reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this summer (from which I borrow the term "harvest"), I concluded that I had raised my bird in the natural, organic, and local manner in which I want my food raised, and I eat chicken, so "souping" her seemed to be the holistic will of the world.

Side bar#1:  I read the book's chapter on harvesting hens on Labor Day weekend.  Coincidentally, that chapter begins with this: "The Saturday of Labor Day weekend dawned with a sweet, translucent bite, like a Golden Delicious apple."  So the decision to harvest was really tipped by this connection that I was fortuitously reading about Labor Day weekend on Labor Day weekend.  I saw it as a sign.

Side bar #2:  On this same Saturday, I brought home my second flock--five hens and a rooster.  When I put them in the coop, the old hen attacked them.  I saw the feathers sticking out of her mouth as a second sign.

So Husband calls Uncle Hugh, a long-time Vermont farmer and hunter, sharpens his axe, and starts boiling water.  Husband is not a long-time Vermont farmer and hunter, so I'm curious to see how this activity will all pan out for him.

In the meantime, I leave the house for 10 minutes on an errand.  When I return, Husband meets me in the driveway and tells me that Uncle Hugh has already come and gone.

"What?  You couldn't have done all that in 10 minutes?"

"Well, Uncle Hugh picked her up and decided she was too scrawny and not worth the effort."

"Where is she?" I asked.

"Buried in a hole out back."

I asked no questions about how she got in the hole, but I suspect my holistic plan of raising and honoring my food was essentially cut off at the neck.


So my new flock has grown into four hens and two roosters.  Any backyard poultry hobbiest worth a dozen eggs knows that two roosters will lead to problems.  My hen supplier had agreed to exchange the rooster if I decided I didn't want him, but when I went to return him, the guy just gave me another hen and convinced Husband to give the harvest another shot with rooster #2.  "He'll give you a good four to five pounds of organic meat,"  he assured us.  (Given the price of the local, organic chicken I bought the other day at the market, this bird will save us almost $50.)  This is still on the ToDo list.

While I don't think I can help, I'm supportive of the plan because if we have a rooster, we could hatch chicks, expand the flock, and presumably eat chicken as natural, local, and organic as you can get it.  Uncle Hugh says I should help because the process completes the cycle and adds to the appreciation of the bird and the food.  He says you just need to do it once, then it's no big deal.  But I think I need to get through the first bite before I can tackle anything more. I'll let you know how that goes... 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back to the Basics

Dear 200:

I'm coming home.  Life seems to have loosened up its hold--for now at least--and I think I may have the space to spend some quality time with you again.

I decided to start writing again for a couple of reasons.  I missed writing birthday letters to my kids, and on the few times I looked you up to reference some bit of information, I realized that I'm not documenting such important milestones and kid gems as No Flying In Your Underwear and Those Little Green Guys Are at it Again.

I can't promise I'll be entertaining, prolific, or even remotely interesting.  Heck, I don't even know what I want to write about. Husband surely gives me plenty of good material, but he's generally off limits due to matters of marital privacy and such.  I recently threatened Sassy Daughter that I was going to blog about her if she didn't get a new attitude.  I have a feeling she may give me plenty of things to contemplate online as she enters her teen years in just a couple months.  My boys constantly bring funnies to my days, so please just let me humor myself by writing about them.  The gardens and chickens...I actually have a chicken story in the queue.  Then there's just the general life activities that start or fill up conversations:  books, movies, food, projects, cleaning supplies, good deals, and so on.  

It already feels pretty good to be back.  



Friday, January 8, 2010

Trial Separation

Dearest 200:  

So sorry I haven't called.  

T'hing is, there isn't much firing me up lately. Days are rather peaceful and routine, demons are quiet, and yes, I have been a bit distracted with that scarf project and the school's big basket raffle.  Plus, I'm not convinced that all those random details about my life are actually interesting. So I think we need a break from each other.  You know, see how it goes--whether either of us misses the other.  Who knows, I may find that I just need to write; you may find that you just need to be written.  

You've been a wonderful friend and e-therapist, and I've cherished the e-friends and readers you've brought me.  You were there for me on grey days, and you put a spring in my step on pink, orange, and yellow days.  So let's be sure to stay in touch. I have a feeling our paths will cross again someday.  


P.S.  I should let you know that I am planning to continue to see Zone 4 Dirt Chronicles. I'm not choosing her over you; our relationship is just more of a reference thing.  Surely you understand.