I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Friday, 30 May 2008

and then there was one

It's the amazing disappearing hen show!

What is going on?

Well, the sad truth is that I think we've fed a couple of animals today and it wasn't our intention. I let three hens out this morning, and only one is there tonight. D was home after I took the girls to dance and saw one hen walking around the house, but on his way to the tractor shed noticed something feathery. It was, in fact, feathers - so many that it was easy to confirm that one hen was grabbed by something. Either that, or she's walking around naked. The hen he saw walking around the house was one that the last couple of days had taken to coming when I called her and following me in hopes of a handout. It was cute. But, sometime between when D saw her and when he went to close up the coop, she vanished. No feathers, nothing. Much searching yielded more nothing.

Biddy is the last one. Maybe this was a big game of Survivor:Poultry and I didn't know?

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

birthdays and showers and cakes, oh my

Yesterday my baby turned eight. I'm not sure how I've allowed my little M to be growing up so fast, but sure enough at 6:30 in the morning yesterday, I heard the little elfin footsteps and she crawled into my bed talking quietly about her birthday and accepting our sleepy well wishing, then I could hear her murmuring decisions of which of the gifts sitting on my dresser she would open first. Her strategy all planned, she snuggled in and informed me that eight didn't feel any different from seven. The rest of the day involved watching her new DVD (Enchanted) and different errands to prepare for her party and supper (M's request: fettuccine alfredo with sauteed shrimp, and Neapolitan ice cream for dessert).

I had two cakes to make, one for her party this afternoon and one for a baby shower this evening. The birthday cake started out as a sketch and actually came out looking a lot like the sketch. For her under-the-sea party, we hung green and blue streamers from the ceiling and decorated the table with fish napkins, fishy cutouts, and seashells we'd collected at Myrtle Beach last year. The cake was shaped like a dolphin (prompting speculation that Greenpeace might come after us). The kids had a fun time, and M thoroughly enjoyed her special afternoon.

A shower tonight for my sister Bee (Random Thoughts blog), a baby shower for their soon-to-come three year-old. They are adopting a little girl from an orphanage in South Africa and as the proud parents of two boys had no girlie stuff, and since the fire, no stashed-away baby stuff either. The shower was a lovely celebration of pink and Dora the Explorer. M was happy, since her new little cousin is in "a house full of boys", and needs some nice princessy things. The cake for that was a baby block, much simpler after my dolphin escapade.

And the "oh my" for this post is courtesy of the rat in our chicken coop. On our return from the shower tonight, the girls went inside while I quietly went to the coop, carefully opened the door, slipped inside and snapped on the lights. And I saw it. I had an image in mind when D described it to me - but my image was smaller, a sort of svelte rat that would slip nimbly in and out of the coop, the size 2 of the rat world. This one, however, was huge. It wasn't facing me but slipped into its hole, the size of a guinea pig. A dark gray, fat guinea pig with a long tail that snaked into the hole after it. It's obviously been enjoying the hens' food; if there were a market for grain-fed rat, I think I'd be on to something.

Now I don't mind rodents; I think most of them rather cute. The hamster is adorable, the mice and voles do elicit some pity when they are trapped (and a large part of me wants to catch them live, gently teach them not to eat the food in my shelves, then let them make their way in society), the squirrels are fun to watch. This guy (or girl), however, gave me the creeps. It was just so ... big. And living with my hens. And big. And sauntering away as if it wasn't really all that concerned with me. Did I mention big?

Monday, 26 May 2008

oh, rats

Many, many things seemed to occupy the past week. One of the weeks where I sit down on Monday morning after D goes to work, while the girls are still sleeping, and wonder what just happened?, it's gone so quickly.

School has finished and we're all glad for the break from the books. I'm pleased with the academic accomplishments this year and once again had a great time learning with my kids; they worked hard and learned not just math and grammar and such, but learned about learning itself, from pushing through a problem area to finding the fun in researching and seeing a project through to completion.

Thursday's botany field trip was great, learning about plant taxonomy and edible and medicinal plants from a naturalist. Saturday, while between the never-seeming-to-end rehearsals for Sunday's dance recitals, R and A and I spent an hour at Laurier House, the former home of two Prime Ministers (Laurier and King) and now a national historical site. The house was beautiful and our tour very interesting, especially for A with all she had learned during her Historica project on Laurier.

Dance recitals went well, even though it did eat up our whole weekend and meant we couldn't do the Farmer's Market on Saturday. It'll have to wait for our return from the wedding. The girls danced well, hated having to wear makeup but put up with it, and the evening show was an impressive display of talent from all the dancers in the school.

The girls' recital costumes were obviously not traditional highland gear. For their exams it's all straight highland, but for recital their teacher incorporates the highland steps into a choreographed routine. R and A danced to 'Lord of the Dance' (ok, pretty close. Irish, at least) and M to 'Honey Honey' by Abba. I can't even stretch that one to be Celtic, so I won't try.

My veggie transplants were moved out to the garden despite the onslaughts of blackflies. It looked great until I went out one evening and realized that the chickens like broccoli and cauliflower. At least, they liked the transplants of those that I'd set out. So much for those.

The chickens have decreased in number once again as one fell ill and had to be culled (really, it had nothing to do with retribution for the garden episode). And finally, as to the title of this post: I knew there was a rodent living in the chicken coop, in the space around the chickens' own little area, and had seen a red squirrel darting out of my way. Of course, I figured, that's what has been digging around. But no, as D went out last night he did in fact see a rat. Ew. I knew from the books I'd read that having feed in the barn meant it was just a matter of time before we attracted the attention of rats, and remembered that we'd seen rat poison in one of the unused barns when we bought the place. So, D set a rat trap, which looks like a mousetrap but looks big enough to take out a horse. I'm glad he found out what it was before we have little chicks in there that a rat would go after.

On to this week: getting ready for vacation, final plans for the chickens, squeezing in a bday party for M, and other miscellanea. There's always miscellanea.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

the end, and yet not

School is ending this week. Math is finished today, grammar by week's end. Government study is almost wrapped up and may lead to a field trip next week to downtown Ottawa.

Of course, as with most homeschoolers, the "end of school" is a bit nebulous. We start this Thursday a four-lesson unit study with a group of families on botany and wilderness understanding and survival, all led by a naturalist whose wisdom and knowledge we had a chance to learn from once a few years ago. Over the next four weeks the girls will learn much from field trips and hands-on activities.

Economics is the other non-ending course. The farmer's market starts this week, and after R and I making a batch of pickles to sell, she and D sat down to make a cost analysis of the batch so that she can both determine the selling cost and keep track of her business expenses. It was also a lesson on scrupulous cleanliness in the kitchen, since the product will be going to other people's homes. This week we plan to make several jellies to take to the market next Saturday morning.

Global food production was another lesson gained this weekend, as I talked to a beekeeper at the farmer's market and learned that some so-called Canadian honey is only 5% Canadian, the rest coming from Argentina or China. I had no idea.

And A and I had an overnight away in beautiful Merrickville to celebrate (early) her 10th birthday. It's a tradition we started with R, a night away with Mom in a lovely inn, dinner in the fancy restaurant, talking about the upcoming preteen years and a bit of what she can expect to see happening to herself and her friends. Rather than just "the sex talk", it was an evening and morning of connecting, celebrating the unique person she is, and having lots of fun together. R still talks about her night away, two years later.

So while school "ends" this week and the books are put away, the learning continues.

Friday, 16 May 2008

but it's ok

Today we head into the city to help out with a clean-up day in B'haven. The community association organized this, and since I'd already planned to take the day off school, the girls and I will be pitching in to help the church's community and do our little part for the environment. Could be interesting, both from the "why aren't your kids in school" front to teaching the girls what to do if they find hazardous stuff in the ditches.

The flies continue to be annoying, and mosquitoes are finding their way into the house. Last night's band rehearsal had the added fun of people swatting at them while trying to play and sing. Outside yesterday afternoon, I tried to keep ahead of the black flies while moving rocks from the foundation of the old barn to encircle a small garden on my lawn. I was pleased with the result, took a moment to survey my work, then fled inside. But it's ok, the peace out here is worth the bugs.

School is almost done, work around here is looming especially with our planned trip for Bean's wedding, and I had one of those moments yesterday of freezing and trying to figure out just if and when it could all get done. But it's ok, step by step it all comes together and one job at a time it gets done.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

dipterans, coleopterans, and avians

A sure sign of summer: members of Diptera:Simuliidae (black flies) have arrived in their maddening hordes. I thought they were bad on the weekend? No, no, that was just the advance guard. I spent some time yesterday trying to fix the mower but concentrating on a motor when the little guys are buzzing around your head, in your eyes, ears, and anything else they can get into. I cut the grass with the tractor, where at least I'm free of them for a while, but then when I turned the soil in my garden to get ready to plant veggie seeds and transplants, they had invited all their friends. I'd try to ignore them in hopes that they would disdain my lack of hospitality and leave, but no such luck. I took pity on the dogs, whose ears were a favorite target, and put them inside. After that all the flies came to me and that was the end of gardening.

The other night it was the first emergence en masse of Diptera:Culicidae (mosquitoes) as D and I worked around the pool. Little M was determined to protect us from them so ran about with a butterfly net, and was surprisingly effective at keeping them at bay. But I know, it's just the beginning.

And last night we had our first visit from Coleoptera:Scarabaeidae (June bugs) which used to give me the creeps as they flew into things and generally crashed around. I lived in terror of getting one in my hair. Until we moved here and found that they had nothing on Lecotherus americanus which combine new heights of ugliness with flight, swimming, and the fact that they're easily three times larger than June bugs.

I do not like insects. Well, a few: bees (and it seems, sadly, that our bee-tree is empty this year! While it lessens my concerns on stinging, I do know that our vegetable garden owed much of its success to them), ladybugs (can't help but like them), butterflies (ditto), and dragonflies (gorgeous and fascinating).

And on to the avian side of things: the girls discovered that some robins had made a nest inside one of the barns, low enough that a careful peek could be made inside. They saw eggs last week and yesterday I walked in, carefully took down the nest and saw this:

Four little baby robins, naked and blind. We'll keep watching to see how they fare. I hope the nest is safe from intruders who might do them harm.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

my pogo stick of thought

So many words, so many thoughts in my mind. Can I get them down before they flee forever?

I am currently sweaty, faint, panting, and likely covered with the dust of many years ago. I have just pried out, in two pieces, a log that was the foundation of a former barn on our property. While I dug and pried and wrestled with logs and rocks and dirt and the grass, raspberry canes, and nettles that have used the rotting logs for their nourishment, blackflies circled my head. They buzz in my ears, smash into my eyes, always erratic in their flight so that I can do little but flail my arms about while they mock me. I wave my hat and get a moment’s reprieve, but as soon as I strain at the shovel they return.

But the thoughts: there is something about physical work that gets me thinking in a certain way. It is not concentrated thought, but it often has insights I never get elsewhere. It’s not so much a train of thought as a pogo stick of thought, bouncing, always bouncing, from one topic to another. Sometimes I’ll bounce in one place for a while, but the topic can change as quickly as the blackflies’ return after my hat-swatting.

Thought process #1 was on my weekend. Mother’s Day is tomorrow; I love being a mom and love my husband and my kids. My favorite sort of Mother’s Day involves little except that I don’t have to make dinner. So, with leftover bbq chicken from tonight for lunch and some pre-cooked lobster waiting to become supper, things are looking good. The five of us on the farm after church tomorrow, working together. The blackflies are not invited.

Thought process #2 was on the fact that I have spent a lot of time in prayer these past few days, and pretty much all of it for people who are not me or in my household. The days have been like an open line with God, just talking and asking Him to take care of people who are sick, mourning, scared, frustrated. Asking for Him to comfort, to heal, and generally to be extra nice to these people. Then I thought: isn’t this the point? It’s not about me. Love your neighbor as yourself. But wow, does it feel fulfilling to be having others foremost in my mind. It makes my own petty concerns fade away to their proper perspective. The fulfillment isn’t at all my motivation; I’m not seeking to earn brownie points with them or with God, not going for the gold star on my record, not trying to produce warm fuzzy feelings. It’s just a bonus, and a cool one at that.

Thought process #3 was a more farmish one, and came as I pried the log out. I was removing what someone who lived and died long ago had cut and hewn and laid into place. Whose hands last held it before mine ripped it out? When it was put there, it was not the end of the cleanup of something falling down but the beginning of a brand-new barn. It was fresh wood, not rotten and powdery and covered with grass. It was planned and measured, not pried and yanked. The farm was the family’s sustenance, not a hobby that might make a little bit on the side. Planes didn’t fly overhead, cell phones didn’t ring, and the hundred-mile diet wasn’t a fad: it was what everyone did, and more the ten-mile diet at that. What were they like? Was my barn-builder happy? Was his life a drudgery? Was he a poet at heart, who saw beauty in the sunrise and the swooping sparrows as he went to milk the cows? Did he wonder about the people who were there before him?

The log removed, I found a hinge and part of a latch in the debris and felt vaguely like an archaeologist as I brushed them off and set them aside. Clues, I always look for clues to the history of this place. The story will always have holes in it.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

and then there were four

I wonder if they've noticed that their numbers have dwindled. I don't think so; they seem oblivious. Cheeky is no more, my attempts at helping her having failed and the decision to do the humane thing having been put into action. It really was an uphill battle. Many thanks again must go to D, who very able and quickly dispatched the poor hen. Our eight hens of two summers ago are now four.

They still entertain, they still dig bugs from and fertilize our garden, they still look at things with their perpetual expression of surprise, they still scratch up the mulch that lays on the landscaping fabric along our walkway and strew the mulch all over said walkway. They still run over to me if I have tomatoes. Running chickens still make me laugh. I still like to see their little orange-feathered selves as they walk across the yard or run to chase a moth. They make things slow down, they make things seem simpler. Sounds deep and corny, but it's true.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

not again

Another chicken has ... well, issues. The correct word for it is prolapse, and basically part of her vent (where the eggs come out) has inverted so that what's supposed to be inside is somewhat exposed. It's the same fate that befell Chaos last summer, and we all know what happened to her (just for cross-referencing's sake, it was in June 2007, somewhere around the second week). On the bright side, the girls noticed poor Cheeky's situation before the chickens did and so she still has her tail feathers intact. She's living in isolation now.

I like Cheeky. She's a survivor, the one who got attacked by a raccoon and lived to tell the tale. The one who has walked with a limp ever since and looked at the other hens through eyes that seemed narrowed with contempt that they hadn't faced the dangers that she had. She reminds me of the stock character of films set by the sea, the grizzled old sailor with the patch and pegleg, who nobody listens to until our young hero realizes that he has the clue to the whole mystery. And the camera zooms in on his weathered face as he squints appraisingly, nods briefly as if to show he's seen something that satisfies his search, then begins in a raspy voice: "It was away back, me lad, in the summer of '07. Me and the crew had just settled into our bunks, when in came the 'coon... nigh about ten feet high, he was, eyes blazing... " You know how it goes.

I know, they're destined for the freezer, but I wanted the quick one-way trip, not long, drawn-out living out of the sun because the fellow chickens who should sympathize with your plight will instead attack you.

Can I be a farmer? Do I have the guts (no pun intended) for it? Even at the hobby farm level?

On the Farmers Market front, that's looking good though will require a shift in plans as the guy I was talking to thinks that they're full on the veggie-growers-only front. But, since I had also mentioned grapevine wreaths, he wondered "what else you do" as if we were fellow farmers who had a long list of possibilities. I was pleased, but a bit at a loss. Then he said, "preserves?" Now, that we can do. R and I had a little talk about it and she's game to work with me to make pickles, jellies, salsas and the like. It won't be quite what we were imagining, but it's a start and as the summer goes on we may add some other things, veggies included, to our market table.

At least jam and veggies don't cluck at you and make you feel guilty for picking them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

dirt-digging and mud-slinging

It's veggie garden season again. Seeds that arrived while the ground was white (and deep white at that) have been patiently waiting in their little paper packets but are now getting antsy and wanting to get outside. They told me so, really.

Some have had a head start, and a tray of tomato, pepper, eggplant, cauliflower, and some scrawny-looking lettuce has taken up residence on my kitchen window sill. I do think they are farther ahead than in other years, possibly because this year I took the precaution of placing a kitchen chair in front of the window so that the dogs don't knock the whole load on the floor. Each of the past two years I've had seedlings on the window sill, they've fallen at least once so there's a bit of a guessing game when planting time comes. I guess that adds adventure to the whole thing.

Today, after school I hope to hit the veggie garden, stir up the soil, add more compost to fill up the boxes some more, mark out the grids for planting, and plant some seeds directly, ones that don't mind the cold so much: broccoli, spinach, kale, leeks, shallots, maybe even some beans and peas in hopes that the frosty nights are behind us. I also hope to stake out the garden expansion for this year, for R's foray into the farmers' market. A few extra boxes, that's all, our little contribution to the "Eat Local" movement.

Election update:the Fish and Balloon parties made up their party platforms over the weekend (made up, respectively, by A and R), which have been kept secret from each other and thankfully there have been no press leaks. They will be nominating candidates for the various ridings today and voting in their party leaders. The two parties have thus far been very genteel about it all, with no anti-campagining going on. Then again, it is early into the process and things can get nasty in the final days. A thinks Gadunka will win the leadership of the Fish party, mainly because he's big enough to eat the other Bionocles. The term 'democracy' may need a little more explanation there.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

women in trees

The start of all this must be that I am afraid of heights. I once went on a small climbing wall that A had quickly scaled, then nimbly rappelled down. I started, got weak-kneed and weak-armed near the top, then did reach the top but stayed there, contemplating just how high I was and would I ever get down, and could I really place much confidence in that little bit of a harness around me? I get dizzy atop a ladder. When we visited the CN Tower I stood well back from the lookout, after all, can you really trust it? And looking over balconies in high buildings has never been my thing. Well, unless I'm inching forward on my belly.

Then Seren arranged an event for the women at our church: a day in the lovely Gatineau hills, tree walking. Not hiking among trees, but going through obstacle courses mounted at between 30 and 60 feet up the sides of trees. Huge old beeches, maples, and pine trees had little platforms (oh, so very little and so very fragile looking from the ground!) on the trunks and wires (oh, so thin looking!) extending between. The objective was to go through the course, going from tree to tree via anything from rope bridges, to tightropes, to swinging logs (which I christened the "Swinging Logs of Doom" as soon as I set eyes on them).

I am afraid of heights.

I decided, this will be a challenge and I will defeat it.

And R came with me, being tall enough to take part herself. Over granola for breakfast, we had pledged with a high five to be each other's encourager.

I was scared, I almost froze at a few points, R was near tears and wanted to turn back after the first of six sections. Why did the bridges have to wobble and swing so much? Why did the next log step swing away from me just when I needed it most? Who thought up this insanity in the first place? And if the bridges weren't enough, the zip lines were almost more scary to contemplate since that meant leaving the safety of the little platforms while hanging from a pulley attached to the very fetching harnesses we wore. The platforms seemed much more substantial when one had to contemplate pushing off from them to sail through the air.

But we encouraged, we attacked, and we did it. We did it! Oh, the adrenaline, the calling to each other from the treetops: "you are a warrior woman!", the laughter, the whoops and screams as we flew through the air on the zip lines. Twenty-nine of us went and we all felt like conquerors.

R, after her initial fear, amazed me and I think found courage in herself she hadn't expected. It was a good lesson that sometimes being brave doesn't mean you're not scared, it means you keep going when you are. Soon into the third section, her fear had been replaced with a mix of determination and excitement, and at the end of the day she was thrilled to have done it and so glad she hadn't let the fear stop her.

Another trip is planned for the fall, when the aerial route will be in full leaf and look entirely different in more ways than just leaf cover. After all, it won't look so scary to me. I've done this before, right?

Friday, 2 May 2008

the results are in

Exams went well, and I think the girls are just glad that they're done. Now it's on to recital, which is much less precise and the pressure for exactness is off. R scored a Pass Plus and Highly Commended, A scored Commended and Highly Commended, and M was excited to receive Honors, the highest distinction, for her Primary exam.

And to celebrate post #201, the blog has gotten a makeover. Her look was just getting to be too dated.

Today is school and dance class, and our own little version of the Canadian electoral system, acted out with Bionocles and My Little Ponies. R and A are learning about how the government works, different styles of government, and political parties and policies. Today, with talk of federal constituencies and elections, parties and candidates, it will be the Fish party (Bionocles, since apparently they were aquatic for a while) and the Balloon Party (My Little Ponies), in the ridings of the Couch, Kitchen Table, and Piano. A's little bear Redball may run as an Independent candidate. Basically it will be a fun way to learn, but correct enough that when we shift to talking about the real thing, it will still make sense.

It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch about the election between the Sensible Party, the Silly Party, and the smaller Slightly Silly and Very Silly parties ("that's not a result, that's just a bit of gossip"). Election Night Special, here we come.