Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's the End of the World, I Mean, School Year As We Know It, and I Feel Fine!

When our family entered the world of homeschooling, we had few expectations and high hopes.  Today marked the end of a great year, and I am officially the mom of a 1st grader and 3K-er.  We finished the year somewhat anti-climatically as we have been in review for the past couple of weeks.  Seeing all the pictures of my friends’ kids with tiny graduation hats or creative teacher gifts made me *slightly* jealous but also thankful for everything this school year brought me.
Will also attends a homeschool co-op, and his last homework for his “Under Construction” class gave us a big project to work on that made this week seem a little more climactic.  The project was to design a puppet stage and sock puppet based on a favorite story.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who has known Will for longer than three seconds that he decided to make a storyscape of The Avengers.
In order to do homeschool the way I wanted to do it, I had to accept early on that this was what my house was going to look like for awhile.  We worked in our classroom, but many things we did "spilled" into the rest of the house for various reasons.  Sure, I could have cleaned more and lived with a lot less clutter, but I decided having time to read or watch TV at night was more important in this moment.  There will be a day when we live in an uncluttered house again, but it's not my top priority right now.
Will with his final project
Sock puppet Nick Fury, leader of the Avengers
My very spectacular MIL sent us these blank stick puppets a few months ago, and I hid them away for a rainy day.  They obviously came in handy here.  The assignment only required one puppet, but OBVIOUSLY we had to make all the Avengers.  That's Loki on top of the red building.  Will decided to draw him because he was a bad guy, and he only wanted to make good guy puppets.

While we ate lunch this afternoon, I decided to ask Will a few questions to try to get a feel for how he thought the year went.  His answers are as follows:
On a scale of 1-5:
How did you like handwriting practice? 1
Adding and subtracting? 3
Telling time? 3
Counting money? 5
Reading books? 4 (He also added that he likes it better when I read to him than when he reads on his own)
Writing stories? 5
Making comic strips/collages? 5
Studying geography and map-making? 4
Drawing pictures? 5
Cutting and pasting? 5
Problem-solving workbooks? 5
Logic puzzles? 5
Watching/listening books? 5
Science experiments? 5
What was your favorite thing we did this year at homeschool? Cutting and pasting.
Did you like having Mommy for a teacher? No because you distracted me always.
What do you mean by distracted? Because you were always making me do my letters better.
Are you excited to go to public school for first grade? Yes! 
Why? ‘Cause I’ll make new friends.
I asked Ben what he liked about school, and first he said, “I’m not telling you.”  After I asked Will questions, he changed his mind.  Here are his answers:
What do you like about school?  Coloring and cutting and the computer.
What do you like on the computer? The letter game that you can press the letters.
Do you like learning about colors? No, I don’t like learning about colors.  I know all the colors.
Do you like learning about counting? Yes! (Rolls eyes.)
Do you like learning about shapes?  (Shakes head yes and smiles.)
At that point, he said, “After we talk about school, can we talk about snow?”  I said, “Yes, do you like learning about weather?”  He said, “Uh, yeah.”
Do you like it when mommy reads to you? Uh-huh.
Tell me about one of your favorite books.  Thomas.
How about another one? Chuggington.  And Lightning McQueen because I have a book about Lightning McQueen that has buttons to press, and if you say the words, you have to press the buttons, and if the race is starting, you have to press the red button.
How about a book that you read with Daddy at night?  Hippos Go Berserk.  And Blue Hat Green Hat.
Are you excited about going to your preschool next year?  No.  I’m excited about Legoland and Disneyland.
What was your favorite thing you did in school this year? Drawing.
The thing I feel best about is that none of these answers surprised me, and overall, I feel like my kids are academically and socially on track with other kids their age.  Going into this year, my biggest goals were to be patient and flexible, and I think I passed the comprehensive test with flying colors.  For my kids, I wanted them to end this year with more knowledge than when we started and to be comparable to other kids their age academically.  The fact that they are both excelling in a few areas of the curriculum is an added bonus.  I also wanted them to have fun--because they are six and three, and they have plenty of years to cry over group projects and stress about testing.  The last question I asked Will was “Did you have fun in school this year?” and he emphatically answered, “Yes!  You always make school fun!”  This isn’t really true, but I’m ecstatic that he feels that way.
In the fall, Will will be attending the local elementary school.  We officially enrolled him a month ago, and standing in the hallways with the brightly colored bulletin boards, watching classes of kids walk down the hall quietly in single file behind sweet-voiced teachers made me so excited for him.  He is going to love it.
Ben will start two afternoons a week at a church up the road for his first year of preschool (with additional homeschool instruction from me on the days he's not in school, but that's kind of a no-brainer).  I can’t wait for the first time he comes home with something I didn’t help him make.  He’s going to love it.
I’m going to love it.
Maybe, with the extra time, I’ll even get started on publishing all these books that are sitting on the dusty shelves of my brain.
Thanks for reading, and happy summer!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chicken Adventures: Meet the Girls

We have a lot of testosterone in our house.  When I found out my second son was a boy, I have to admit that I was disappointed.  Another boy?  Including our dog, that meant I would be outnumbered 4 to 1.  And it’s rough being the only girl.  A day in my life=superheroes, cars, dirt, and urine.  Urine.  So much urine.

I’m never invited to guys’ night.  Instead, I have to hang out all by myself with nothing better to do than read books or catch up on Jeopardy or eat massive amounts of cookie dough that I hide under the vegetables in the freezer.
So, in an effort to reclaim my girliness--to make up for the distinct lack of pink and purple and tiaras and ballet--I decided to bring up the estrogen levels in the same way any girl would.

I bought 12 chickens.

For a couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to have backyard chickens.  Motivated by Jonathan Safran Foer’s gripping book Eating Animals, we started changing the way we eat in our house.  We eat a lot less meat and a lot more fruits and vegetables.  We try to eat as local as possible and in season as possible.  Most importantly, we like to know where our food comes from.  
The angle makes it look like the bottom yolk is bigger, but it's not.  The top yolk--from my chickens--is bigger, firmer, and clearly more colorful.  The bottom yolk is from a "local" store-bought egg that probably sat on a shelf for 40-100 days before we ate it.

Before anyone writes me off as one of those people, know this: I’ve already mentioned my cookie dough addiction, and for the record, Doritos are always in season.  We are totally debatably normal people who are just trying to make better choices for our family, but we also have our guilty pleasures to be enjoyed without guilt on occasion.

We are a military family, so the next decade+ will be full of moves, so I can’t settle into farm life the way I probably would under other circumstances--I would LOVE to be completely self-sustaining to know that every bit of food I consume came from my hard work, but it just isn’t possible.  BUT, I can start with chickens and at least know that eggs are coming from healthy, happy, humanely-treated hens who haven’t been pumped full of steroids or antibiotics.

We live on 38 acres with only one family as neighbors, and we were chatting a couple of weeks ago about my desire to have chickens.  The Saturday before Mother’s Day, my neighbor, Mike, asked if I was serious about turning an unused outbuilding into a coop, and by Monday, we had a coop.
This shelter is right outside our house and wasn't being used for anything.  Neighbor Mike made the door out of  some chicken wire and scrap wood he found lying around somewhere on our 38 acres.
Helping Daddy build the door
Between our house and theirs, there are eight boys (the smallest one is tiny, so he was taking a nap) which makes a great construction crew.
I put Ben up here to take a picture, and Will said, "Is Ben trying to poop out an egg?"  Another added bonus to having chickens--more conversations about anatomy and reproduction.

Even though I look like I haven't showered (because I hadn't) in this picture, I wanted to post a picture of me with this chicken-induced smile on my face!
On Wednesday, I contacted two local farmers--two very lovely stay-at-home-moms--who sold me a total of twelve hens.  On Thursday, we had our first four eggs (which I think is a pretty excellent return considering the trauma my girls experienced being uprooted from their homes and transferred to a new place with a bunch of chickens they had never met before--probably not unlike how I felt when I switched schools between junior high and high school).  We had six eggs the next day and eight the next, so I think the girls are starting to feel comfortable in their new home.

Speaking of homes, I have too much pent up creativity to just throw them in a coop.  No, no.  Welcome to:

This is an homage to the epic serial novel, Bleak House, penned by the incomparable Charles Chickens.  I mean, Dickens.  (If nothing else, I hope you are a more informed reader by the end of this post.)
And now, some pictures and bios because I know you are all dying to meet the girls. They refused to line up for individual pictures, so if you want to know who is who, you’ll have to visit, so I can point them out to you.  Their breeds are in parentheses.
From L to R: Erika Buzzard, Feathery O'Connor, Emily Chickensen, and Louisa Lay Alcott.
  • Louisa Lay Alcott (Rhode Island Red): a natural nurturer and motherly hen.  She is clearly the queen of the roost and lovingly keeps all the other girls in line.
  • Feathery O’Connor (Barred Rock): the penultimate Southern lady.  She is quiet and reserved and makes her presence known with compact, deliberate strength.
  • Emily Chickensen (Barred Rock): the shiest of the group by far.  She spends most of her time alone in the corner.  The other hens both fear and are drawn to her dark eccentricity.
  • Erika Buzzard (Rhode Island Red/Black Australorp): the only hen without a literary namesake.  She is named after one of my best friends, who just happens to have a bird as her maiden name, and who is jealous of my backyard chickens and thus insisted I name one after her.  Erika is the only mixed breed chicken, making her the most unique of all the hens at Beak House.


  • Harper Lay (Rhode Island Red): one of a kind and irreplaceable.  She is a hen who wears her morals on her wings as an epic purveyor of good.  Her wisdom is not broad, but deep, and she influences the other hens to think before pecking.
  • Judy Plume (Rhode Island Red): the girls’ girl of the group.  Her juvenile humor allows her to be a peacemaker during girlish squabbles and makes her a perfect social chairwoman, organizing all girls’ day out activities.
  • Maya Angelay (Rhode Island Red): the yin to Judy Plume’s yang, the woman’s woman of the group.  She exudes charm, beauty, and confidence.  Effortlessly.
  • Eggith Wharton (Rhode Island Red): a hen of prestige and privilege, who appreciates the finer things in life while remaining accessible to those who have not had the same opportunities.  She is diplomatic and humble in regards to her position in the coop and maintains positive connections with everyone.  She is also the resident designer of Beak House.
Not a chicken.
My best helper.
Buying flax seed in bulk to add to their pellets.
Me and Dorothy
I love her.
Obligatory crazy chicken lady picture--take note of my new rubber boots.  Who doesn't love buying new boots?
  • Emma Layzarus (Rhode Island Red): a proud and spirited hen.  Her natural compassion and fervor for hen life inspires all who meet her to act on behalf of less fortunate hens.
  • Anais Hen (Rhode Island Red): a scandalous little lady.  Many of the other hens view her as an outcast and a show-off, while secretly wanting to be her.
  • Eggna St. Vincent Millay (Rhode Island Red): a hen who loves her simple home and refuses to be bullied into submission by anyone who does not appreciate her individuality.  She is stubborn, smart, and assertive.
  • Dorothy Bawker (Rhode Island Red): the comedienne of the group.  She is wildly (but forgivably and lovably) erratic, standing out in the crowd with her noise.  She makes friends easily but alienates some by spending far too much time at the water bowl.

We also bought six chicks on Friday, who are named after characters rather than the fabulous writers who created them.  Their names are tentative, as we won’t know if they are actually girls for another few weeks.  The two Rhode Island Reds are Jane Layre and Scout Finch.  The two Barred Rocks are Hester Preen and Katniss Everpreen.  The two Auracanas are Henny Weasley and Hermione Freeranger.

Each day has brought more eggs, and everyone seems to be adjusting well to Beak House.  Eggith Wharton and I are still in the process of decorating, but I will post more pictures soon when I have more to report.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life Is Just a Parade. (Prince)

I was lucky enough to attend a conference last week, where I heard one of my new favorite people speak.  Bob Goff is kind of who I want to be when I grow up--or maybe more accurately, he’s who I want to be, so I don’t grow up.  

Bob told a lot of stories and gave us a free copy of his book, Love Doeswhich was released the same day I heard him speak containing 20+ more stories that will make you happy to be alive.

One of the first stories we heard about Bob was actually told by the conference headliner and organizer, Donald Miller.  Don told us a story about when Bob’s kids were younger.  The family was lazing around on New Year’s Day--you know, the way we all do.  The excitement of New Year’s Eve was over.  Everyone had taken their naps after staying up late, and the kids announced that they were bored.  Bob is not a boring guy.  He clearly doesn’t want his family to be boring either.

So, together, their family organized a parade in their neighborhood.  They put on costumes, made some signs, blew up some balloons, and headed out to invite all their neighbors.  After instructing all their neighbors to come up with costumes and decorations of their own, the plan was to meet in the cul-de-sac where the Goff family lives.  Over time, their neighborhood parade has grown.  A lot.

A few years back, they started picking a grand master of the parade.  One year, the grand master was the neighborhood mailman.  Another year, it was a little boy from Uganda who had come for a visit (that’s another story that everyone needs to hear).  The point is--they picked people who had significance to their lives--someone they wanted to make feel special.

Another person they added somewhere along the way was a parade queen.  Every year, they pick a lady from a local nursing home to wear a sash and crown.  It’s full of honor and ceremony and hullaballoo because again, they want the queen to feel special.  All of the “veteran” queens march together in the parade, laughing and waving together in their royal glee.

But here is the most important part of the parade: no one is allowed to watch.  

Everyone must participate.

He showed us some pictures and a short video of what the parade has become--dozens of people from the neighborhood walking down the street with no one lining the streets.  If passersby see the parade, they invite them to join.

No one is allowed to stand on the sidelines.

Everyone is in the parade.

Coincidentally (or maybe not so), three days before I heard Bob Goff speak, our family attended a parade here in Olympia called the “Procession of the Species.”  The original parade was organized in 1995 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.  Each year, members of the community gather to celebrate during the Spring Arts Walk in downtown Olympia.  

Months before the event, a community art studio is set up where an all volunteer force comes to create and organize.  The result is a 2,000-3,000 person parade of people who are just celebrating life.  There is no public funding, and all the materials are used with the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  The only rules are that there can be no live animals, no motorized vehicles, and no written words.  

As we watched with somewhere around 30,000 other spectators, three days before I knew who Bob Goff was, I kept having the same thought over and over again: I can’t wait to do this next year with the kids!

I want to be in the parade.

I don’t want to watch.

What a tremendous way to view life--a perspective that is woven into the fiber of my being.  In watching the procession and in hearing Bob tell me about both his literal and figurative parades, I received a much-needed reminder.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a few of my favorites from this year’s procession of the species:

This one was a group of parents and kids with a giant sun parachute--the kind you use in P. E.  I never get tired of hearing kids giggle from under the parachute and scream when their parents lift it back up:

No hippie event is complete without at least one unicorn: 
I love that this Daddy polar bear is wearing a fanny pack:

These baboons were hilarious--and great dancers, too.  Please note their rear ends:

This was a MASSIVE group of animals from the African savannah.  It's like a huge hippie safari: 

Make sure you don't miss the guy who doesn't belong in this murder of crows:
 Probably our collective favorite:
 My personal favorite:
 Stilts!  Who doesn't love stilts?
 The ants go marching...
 The award for most creative kid goes to (two pictures for the full effect):

 This guy HOPPED through the entire parade.  Seriously!
 This is some sort of sea life.  A hippiefish, maybe?
 This whole scene was pretty awesome.  Dolphins swimming through a gauzy ocean, complete with a whale with a working blowhole.  I love the ocean!
 I forget what these things are called in real life, but I know you're all thinking the same thing I'm thinking:
 Rainbow trout!  I love the rivers, too!
 Pogo-sticking shrimp:
 Look at the mechanics that went into this one:
 Every ray should have a full brass band:

 Bees on bikes:

 I have no idea what this guy is supposed to be, but when you are that confident, you deserve recognition.
 And the finale was hundreds of monarch butterflies.  So great!

That's it!  Join the parade, friends!