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.