Friday, May 30, 2014

the only one

Are you tired of hearing about our chicks?  I am sorry.

I am still going to tell you about our chicks today.

It will begin with a bit of a parenting of middle school children moment though.  Just to shake things up a bit.

I want you to come.  The dance we are doing is kind of cool.  I want you to see it.  I just don't want you to be the only parent there.  That would be weird.  Nicholas announced this from the backseat as he remembered to tell me about a miniperformance by his performing arts group as we closed in on school. The morning of the performance.

I swallowed my frustration about this last minute reminder and the bit of homework for me that came along with it.  That I would need to text, call, and email around to a few friends to see if other parents were going, if perhaps their children had remembered to tell them about the performance that day.

Because I was happy he wanted me there at least.

Just don't be the only one.  That would be kind of awkward.  He said as he hopped out of the car in the drop off circle, door slamming behind him.

And I wasn't.  One text, one phone call, and a confusing email later and I had assured myself that there was already a small line up of parents that would be there as well.  And therefore I was ready.  I knew my presence there would not be awkward.  And I am so glad I went.  Because there is something quite wonderful about watching children of this age perform.  The competence and self consciousness and social dance of coolness mixed in with giddy joy when they are enjoying what they are doing.  I got to see it laid out before me for a few minutes this morning.

I enjoyed myself in the back row.  And arriving late as I did, I ran into Nicholas in the back of the room, getting ready to do his group's performance of Irish step dancing and Moorish sword dancing.  As I passed by him, no one was looking.  And I was able to give his flop of hair a tussle unnoticed.  And he smiled unselfconsciously back at me.  And then rejoined his group of friends.

Why was I running late?  Well.  I will tell you.  This is where the chicks come in.  After dropping the kids at school, I had driven like mad across town before the performance to our local UHaul store to pick up a few extra large boxes.  Because I had a project before me when I got home.  And it was a half day at school.  And I needed all the moments I could rustle up when I got home after watching Nicholas step ball change with his lacrosse socks and wooden sword with his friends.

And, looking about the room at the parents and friends with me?  I was pretty sure I was the only one there with a chicken plan for my morning.

The bin Jonathan fashioned for me into a chick brooder was getting a bit crowded.  There was a lot of scrambling and squawking and fluttering going on in there.  Their bodies are growing at such a steady rate.  And they are experimenting with flying and their personalities, including those who seem to have a natural instinct to lead make for a good deal of hootenanny and also a need for some of the smaller chicks to have a bit more space to retreat.  And, it turns out, hanging out under the roosting pole is a messy activity.

Peep needed a bath.

And a warm snuggle while she dried to stay warm.

And so, sideways glance and man-nod public acknowledgement from Nicholas received and returned with my best version of something similar, I dashed to my Subaru and headed home.

I got my materials ready.

Spent a few moments deciding how to maximize space.

And started cutting.

Using the flaps of the box to make the "brooder" tall enough to allow for a bit of flying made it impossible to reach down into the box to tape things together.  So I climbed in.

I used duct tape, until my roll ran out.  And then grabbed the left over packing tape from our last move here.  And reaffirmed for myself that we are never moving again.  And that UHaul boxes will only be used in my home for crafting from now on.

It does say they are designed for multiple purposes.  I am just not sure that this was one of the purposes they had in mind.

I grabbed for the kids' school supplies when my visual spatial skills were challenged and needed to redo a few cuts here and there.  Felt clever when I realized I did not need to run to the garden shed for the yard stick because the edge of the box was just as good for straight long lines.  And tape really solves all problems.

And then, a glance at my watch told me it was time to go pick up the kids.  Which was kind of disappointing because I had not finished yet.  I texted Jonathan partially completed cardboard coffin in the middle of family room.  FYI.  I did not hear back from him, but given that I had not told him of my plans for the day, I wondered how he explained this text to himself.  We had just watched as I Lay Dying last week...

But picking up the kids also turned out to be very helpful.  Because small children fit in boxes better.

And they really do make it more fun, if also more time consuming.  Slightly disturbing but also quite silly photo below.

And only children would think of the things I had forgotten to include.  Such as a label.  Thank you, Julia.

And decor.  

Sideways Michelangelo work here.

All this work and effort and it was soon time for Jonathan to be home.  Who jumped right in.  And installed the heat lamp for us.  

And he procured a large screen from the basement to serve as a lid/cat protector.  Because I still do not go to the basement except in absolute emergencies.

Nicholas showed off his dance moves while helping me install the garbage bag liner for the bottom.

And Elliott and Jonathan fashioned a roosting bar.

And then, we filled it with fresh wood shavings.

And Elliott worked on his Zen Garden skills with a fireplace tool to spread the shavings flat.

And then, one by one, the chicks were placed in their new, for now, home.

And so, as you can see, they are rehomed.  In a bigger, more spacious brooder.

Why do I have The Jefferson's theme song in my head?  Well we're movin' on up....

Like I said, I am pretty sure we are the only family we know who spent a good part of the afternoon doing this.

And I can see why.  Why, sometimes?  Nicholas would like to blend a bit.  And not be the only one.

Point well taken.  We can be a little bit weird.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

a strange and beautiful place

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.*
* all quotes in this post are by Rachel Carson, 
in honor of her birthday today

Toughening up our feet was a job taken very seriously when I was younger.  It's one of those childhood rights of passage that I would hate for all the fancy water shoes and germ fears and lives lived less at the mercy of nature to take away from our children.

Between the pebbly beach of the lake where we spent our summers swimming and the rocky ocean beaches where we spent hours searching in the tide pools, and finding the bottom and grabbing it with our toes when learning to ride the waves, our feet took quite a beating. And our knees as well.

I remember the feeling, at the beginning of each summer, of finally going barefoot.  Of taking off your school year shoes.  And how you could go days before you realized that your left shoe was missing.  Of your feet in bare grass, freshly cut grass, sand, wet and dry, rocks smooth and sharp, for the first time.

Each summer, we would spend some time with family friends who lived a few blocks away from York Beach here in Maine.  At the start of each visit there, I would have to brave the three block walk from the beach house -- down the burning hot paved streets to the ocean, and then over bank, a tippy pokey imprudent scramble created by piled rocks -- to the gaggle of kids on the beach below.

I usually burned, then scratched, then sliced, my feet badly on these first walks.  And then would hide this from all the cooler teenagers on their beach towels, burying my injured feet into the hard sand.  Dip them in the icy salt water of the ocean.  Let them get numb, so I could forget about them while I listened to the chatter of the older kids, learning a great deal.  Later in the evening, I would take stock, assess the damage, clean out my wounds, and dig through our packed toiletry kit for bandaids.  I often kept my injuries a secret, because under the box of bandaids was my father's container of iodine.

This weekend, we spent the day at the beach with good friends. White and pale skin was exposed, legs were bared. Goosebumps covered everyone's skin as the gusts of wind cooled their warm from running and scootering and skipping bodies. And very quickly the shoes came off.
In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.
It was low tide, and there was an enormous stretch of tidal mud flats, with circuitous streams crisscrossing the beach.  The mud was perfect.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

Deep, dark, and sucking.  With that smell, slightly rank, a bit salty, but mostly just good.
For the sense of smell, almost more than any other, has the power to recall memories and it's a pity we use it so little.

I watched the kids from the dry warm sand.  Giggled as Jonathan walked out toward them and tried to snap some pictures.  And got completely stuck in the mud.  And lost a shoe.  Now I better understand the experience of quicksand, he announced upon returning to our group back on dry land.

And I smiled, thankful for the fire back at our friends' campsite and the complete change of clothes that I had thrown in for each child in the back of the Subaru.  So I just let them enjoy being knee deep, elbow deep, chin deep, in mud.

Let it cover them, suck at them, and let them feel the pull of the Maine coast's mud.

Again this year, as they have each year since we moved here, feet a year bigger, legs a year longer, but the smells and the sensations still the same, the kids rediscover the ocean.  Its raw and wild and full bodied beauty. There was a great deal of jumping, splashing, leaping, crossing, figuring, and rescuing to be done out there.

And the water was cold.  Numbingly cold.  I mean, it is only May.  It must have been.

And it was not until they needed a warm up and they came off the mud and up onto soft sand that they began to realize.  They had each cut their feet.  To varying degrees.  Elliott's feet, the youngest and likely therefore the tenderest, looked like he had walked across glass.
It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.

Cleaned off and feet washed a bit with promises to do a thorough cleaning later, they were now in their extra clothing.  Once warmed by the fire, the kids headed off into the woods to play an elaborately ruled game of tag.  Julia ran back a few minutes later.  With pitch in her hair and all over her hands.  I asked her how she got it in there.  And she, talking fast and a bit out of breath from running, said: Well, I was climbing up into a tree to get away from Nicholas who was it.  We rubbed her hands in the dirt to de-stick them.  Dabbed at the excess pitch.  And sent her back into the woods to play.  She ran back off into the sun dappled woods, leaping across the patches of small white flowers that were everywhere.  And disappeared into their game.
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.
A while later she returned, smelling piney but laughing.  Elliott lost his shoe.  In the mud of the creek.  We all followed her out into the woods and found Elliott, hopping on one foot and digging at the mud with a stick.  And his friend, his own shoes at risk as well, was searching about, calling out to him about just where they had been running when his shod foot went in and then an unshod foot came out.  

And then Elliott's shoe hero shouted, Found it!

We grownups made some proclamations about staying out of the mud.  Reminded them that they were already wearing their extra clothes.  And suggested that they stay clear of the creek.  And headed back to the fire.  And I smiled as I walked back through the woods and heard the squelch squerch of the mud again from behind me.  Heard someone run across the creek we had just asked them to stay out of.  And the laughing and the frantic enthusiasm as they each ran in different directions back into hiding.
A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.
So Julia required some snipping and peanut buttering (do you know this trick for pitch in hair?) when we got home.

And Elliott required a good deal of soaking.  His pants, despite my best efforts, are now in the rag bin.  And his feet?  They went straight into that ubiquitous, iconic, multi-purpose Maine Kitchen staple...

The lobster pot.  Julia helped him fashion some healing shoes to speed along the process.

And, parent in this age that I am, I added antibiotic cream and warm clean socks as well.  

The beginning of summer conditioning of winter tender feet.  It is just the beginning of this season, the one that in some ways we are able to get out and in it most.  To feel with our bare skin all there is to feel, including the pain sometimes that nature can inflict.  It's so important to us, because I think, I hope, that there is a connection here, that to want to take care of nature, of the earth?   I do think we need to get in it, let it touch us, let it show us its strength and wildness.  These sensations, these memories, the stories of mishap, they are all a part of the puzzle of wanting to protect it.
The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

reclaiming spaces

Just as I have been wrestling the garden back from weeds, the kids have been outside beside me, reclaiming some of their favorite spaces and areas to play in.  I can hear them talking quietly to each other as they investigate and rediscover places they played last year, the thwack of a lacrosse ball against the barn, singing as they swing in the woods on the hammock, negotiating silly games with extremely complicated rules, building fairy houses, searching for newly unearthed treasures, and staking out new areas that they will be drawn to this year as well.

I found this, in a grove of scrubby trees near the orchard.  They had found some lawn furniture I had taken out of the shed.  And set up.  Clearly, they are ready for visitors.

And as they return to their summer places and activities, I am reminded of just how little is required this time of year for an evening of hilarity.  A bit of warmth.  And a garden hose.  Is all it takes, really.

Wishing you all a wonderful long weekend!  It's going to be a wet one.

Friday, May 23, 2014

chick curriculum...more chick nonsense

It is amazing to us just how quickly our chicks are growing.  The heat lamp has been moved a few inches farther away, their little bodies are getting bigger and heavier and stronger.  

And their sweet little wing nubs are nubs no longer.  They are growing their flight feathers.  Even Tiny.

Some of them can even fly a bit around the brooder box.  Which makes for all kinds of funny sounds and frantic peeping and occassionally panic by Elliott when one of them looks like it is perched to fly out.

Sumo still looks so fuzzy and soft.

But she is keeping these a secret.

Olive prefers to sit on my hand now, rather than to be cupped.

And look at her wings!

And so, with the chicks getting bigger.  And the box staying the same size.  And the kids being a bit worried that they might be getting bored, especially when they tap tap tap their beaks against the sides when the kids get home.  We are developing a 21st Century skills-inspired chicken curriculum that attempts to stimulate their development in ways guided by best practice research.  

Or we just do what the chicks seem to think is fun.

So thinking they needed a bit of time out of the brooder, the kids created a block castle for the chicks to explore and play in.  Complete with their own bird guardians at the gate.

They had quite a good time in there.  They especially enjoyed the buffet.

And then, with all the fluttering and jumping and scrambling in the bin, we decided it was time for them to learn to roost.  So they have been having roosting lessons.

I came up with a quickie solution for a roosting bar.  A tension mounted shower curtain rod from the attic.  And then added a line of masking tape to deal with the adorable but rather pathetic slippage issues.

Of course Possible Rooster was the first to give it a try.  With great success.

Forgive me for what you are about to see.  I couldn't help myself.  They were very patient.

They drew the line at 4, and hopped down.

I continue to entertain myself by trying to photograph them.  I find it quite amusing.  But I have to admit, they are rather unruly subjects.  They may be even harder to get to all look in the same direction, look pleasant, and not scratch themselves than are my three children when trying to get the elusive holiday photo.

Sumo is doing her best version of the Headless Horseman here.  Tiny is a blur, dashing off after a possible snack.
Sumo threatening to take her cuteness and go home, and Olive giving me the silent treatment.  Peep is thinking there is a Possible Hawk nearby.

And our worst moment during the photo shoot.  When Peep decided to try to ride Sumo like a bucking bronco.  Which really didn't go well.

Possible Rooster is still clearly the gentle leader of the motley crew.  And tries to keep them in line.  But it is difficult for her/him.

I can't quite handle the cute of their fluffy bums.

And Tiny is still the most tiniest.

Unlike supermodel photo shoots, the mess left behind is likely a bit different.  I would think.

And Sumo would like you to know that despite Peep's refusal to be a part of the whole counting by chicks ridiculousness followed by the unfortunate bucking bronco incident, she was being very well behaved and patient.

All she wants to know is would you like to wrestle?