Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reflections on little chicks

Kathy and her little flock 
have been incubating chicken eggs as part of their homeschool  adventures.  It was exciting to cram into their laundry room with the lights out and "candle" the eggs with a flashlight to see the chicks developing through the glowing shell the week before they were "due".  When the first tell-tale cracks appeared on the shells, Kathy called, and many hours later when the first paltry poultry emerged, we hurried over.

The first chick, we are told, burst from its shell like a race horse out of the gate.  We watched the next one as it ev-er-so-slow-ly made it's way out into the light.  The first hatchling would peep a tiny peep, and the egg would wiggle and answer back.  We watched and encouraged and rooted it on, "Come on, little chick!  You can do it!"  Sometimes the first chick would stumble right into the egg and the bump would startle the still hidden chick into a flurry of effort, it's little chirping fervent and fast, though muffled.  It worked away at making a long crack that encircled the egg and would eventually pop open like a lid.

It was exhausting to watch (I was real tempted to say eggs-hausting just then.  I know, lame.  I didn't.  You're welcome).  The next chick puttered at the start, but when it was time for the serious work, he made his way out so quickly I almost missed it.  As each chick would hatch, it would gather with the others near a hatching egg and lay it's little head on it.  If the chick inside the egg peeped, the chick outside would call back.  It was almost like it was somehow helping.

We headed home after a while.  There were more eggs to hatch, but it would be several hours before they got down to the serious rockin' and rollin'.  We headed back that evening to share dinner with Kathy's family and see the progress.  By evening's end the kids had lost interest and only the adults remained gathered around the incubator.  One last chick had been trying to hatch for a very long time.  Instead of chipping it's little starting hole at the side of the egg, it had managed to do so at the very tip of the narrow end of the egg, and somehow it didn't seem to be able to progress beyond that starting hole.  It would wrestle and struggle, but all we could see was the tip of its beak through the unyielding hole as it breathed heavily.  Eventually, it stopped trying.

We got worried, Kathy and I.

We are moms.  That's what we do.  It's in the job description, go look it up.

Kathy had read extensively about the process.  While there is that whole myth "the chick needs adversity (breaking out of the shell) to get strong enough to survive", ultimately the message is true even if the reason is not.  The chick has tiny blood vessels that are still attached to the egg membrane, and as it wrestles and struggles around to hatch, the vessels close themselves off and detach from the shell.  Peel the shell off of them and the chicks could bleed to death.

But I have actually had experience of my own with eggs hatching once before.  On my mission the family we lived with had chickens.  One day 21 eggs hatched.  One did not.  The last chick had been working hard on his shell, but had never gotten far enough to finish the task before it had become exhausted.  The woman we lived with finally just picked it up and started carefully pulling the shell away, one piece at a time.  When I panicked and asked "Won't it die if it doesn't do it for itself?!"  She answered softly,
"At this point it will die if I do nothing."

So Kathy and I talked about it, and we decided to help the chick just a bit.  I cracked a ring around the egg with my thumbnail just the way the other chicks had done.  It didn't seem to help.  The chick was just too tired.  So I carefully pulled away just the top few pieces of shell that would have popped off first.  We replaced the egg in the incubator and with worried faces, said goodnight.  On the way home I began to fret that perhaps by helping I had actually hurt the little chick's chances.  If it died, how would I know if it was from exhaustion, or because I had interfered?

As soon as I saw Kathy the next day I asked, "Did it hatch?"
"It did."  She sighed.

She had lain awake in the early hours of the morning, worrying, unable to go back to sleep.  Finally, she crept down stairs, and to her utter relief the little chick was tumbling around with all the others, 
a pack of peeping puffballs on legs.

At what point as parents do we help?  
When is helping actually hurting?  
What if we can't and won't know until all is said and done, 
years and years from now?  

There are those moments, those terrifying hours when we see that something must be done, but we are not sure if it is better to stay still and let the situation play out, or to step in and pry open the shell.  It is so hard to know the right thing to say, the time to speak up, and the time to simply, 
just wait 
and let them work it out 
on their own.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Leprechaun Trouble

 Last year Ellie set a leprechaun trap.  
She almost caught the little bugger.  I think we ticked him off.

This year he came back.  With friends.

The trouble started early in the day when it was discovered that not only was the toilet water green, 
so was the hand soap and the milk.

We realized we were in for it, though, when the dishes were all upside down in the cupboards, the DVDs were all turned around backwards on their shelves, and there were tiny muddy footprints all over the back patio.  It was clearly the work of two or three of the wee folk, and it looked to me like they had done a jig out there, just to rub it in.

There were stuffed animals that were dressed in people clothes, shamrocks on the mirror, and gold candy wrappers everywhere .  It was getting downright annoying by the time dinner rolled around.  Though we had set a newer and much better trap than last year -glitter encrusted and completely furnished- those Irish Scallywags only ate up the bait (gold wrapped Rolos, I can't blame them), slept in the bed, and left green pee in the teeny-tiny doll house toilet. 

Can you believe they even tried to steal the hamsters?  And they nearly got away with it, too.  It's just a good thing the rope they used to try to capture them with broke.  I don't know what they fed to those poor rodents, because I am telling you the truth that, as I snapped this picture, Nibbles pooped... green.  

(just in case you didn't believe me)

We tried to soothe those rascal spirits by playing some lively Irish music on ye 'ol Pandora Radio, and the heavenly smells of Guys magical corned-beef and cabbage with golden roasted potatoes should have fended them off as well, but Ooooohhhh, no.  They blew up my hand mixer with a big green flash of light, half way through whipping my green cream.  Have you ever tried to whip cream by hand?  It sure reduces the caloric impact come desert time, but it is quite a work out.  

We made Blarney Stones with piles of gold under each tiny rainbow, 
but at the end of the day, the only treasure I found....

Was in Jonah's diaper.  His green diaper.

 I certainly think I deserved more than eleven cents for my trouble.

Beware ye, Leprechauns.  
Ye have vexed me sore this year.  
Rest assured, I swear upon the grave of my good Irish grandmother, 
Mary Theresa Mooney, I'll be waitin' for ye next year.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Um, No, I'm not. But thanks for asking.

Last week I wore a dress to church that I could finally fit into and I was feeling pretty cute.  That is, until a lady walked up and asked me if I was expecting again.  Really?  REALLY?  Who does that?  Doesn't everyone know the rule?  Unless you see the water break, don't ask.  And maybe not even then. 

Melissa called tonight and asked if my last post was a sly way of announcing something.  Something big and round and 9 months in the making.  So, in case you were having the same thought, the answer is 

This is my baby:

And unless God has some other plan, he will be my last baby.  Even if God did have a plan, I wouldn't mind at all if he executed it in some other uterus, and then just let me know when it was time to start changing diapers.  I really and truly wouldn't mind having many more children, but I am kind of not that great at the many-children thing.  I love them, oh, how I love them, but dang, they're messy. 

No, the changes I am talking about have been a result of the choice we have made to homeschool.  At first I told myself I was not going to be one of those wack-a-doo mamas that lets homeschool take over her life.  You know the ones; time line around the living room walls, bookshelves in every corner, a mini-van that vomits library books, and food that doubles as science experiments.

Well, I have the shelves and the book-puking van, but don't have the time line.  Yet.

I rearranged the studio this week to accommodate the new bookshelves I bought at a rummage sale.  Jonah staked out the Core Phase shelves as his own little bed.

What is Core Phase, you ask?  It is where we start out.  It's the basics.
It is the time when we learn:
right and wrong
good and bad
true and false
family values
family routines and responsibilities
the value and love of work.

Those shelves will be filled with games and books and art supplies and, invisible to the naked eye, lots of one-on-one time with mama.

I am in Core Phase, too.  I have to strip down my way of being with the kids.
I am learning to listen to the kids as they teach me what they are ready to learn, 
which is way harder than you would think. 

I am learning to relax.  
Kids don't have to learn something all at once, only once.  
They can learn bits and pieces of it, return to it over and over, and put the big picture all together themselves.  In fact they are pretty great at it.   

I am learning how to inspire.
It is super-de-duper hard, but when done gently and without demands, it is magical.


So, yes, I am changing, but I am not, and hope never again to be, preggers.
Oh, and I'm never wearing that dress again, either.

Friday, March 9, 2012


(The painting I didn't take to the gallery)

There is a perfect storm brewing right now.  So much is happening, that to stop and write would be to miss something.  There are changes happening all around me and in me, and it feels like swimming fast, you have just a flash to catch your breath and your face goes back under the water again.  It's all business.

Last week I completed and fine tuned several paintings, chose one and built the frame for it, typed up an application and in the eleventh hour drove to a gallery.  The gallery owner asked if I was there to submit for the big exhibit, so I handed him my painting.  "Oh, wow..." he smiled as he took it.  Needless to say, I was tickled.  There is no better compliment to me than that first reaction to one of my paintings.  I handed him my application, walked around for a bit, then headed home.  It is always strange leaving a painting.  Like leaving a very quiet child.  Back in the car, I realized I hadn't even taken a picture of it.  I drove home smiling.

Then I waited.

Yesterday the news came.  I have been accepted into a jury selected exhibit to be shown in Downtown Sacramento at the Kennedy Gallery.  I have to paint 25, 8x8 inch paintings.  I have three done, so that takes off a little pressure.  The show is the first of May.  There is a lot to get done.

But believe it or not, this is not the biggest thing happening for me right now, though it really feels like a representation of what is happening.  I feel like I am that caterpillar deep under a layer of silk, or a seed hidden by the earth.  There is so much happening right now beneath the surface.  I am not quite ready to pop out and show the world all the changes, and they wouldn't be that obvious at first look if I did, but things are changing.

Things are definitely changing.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Loaves and Fishes and Tender Mercies

There are many major miracles,
ones like partings of seas and loaves of bread that feed thousands, and those miracles make the big time; we all know about them.  But there are minor miracles, Tender Mercies, some call them.  We had one on Tuesday.  Allow me to share.

We were just wrapping up our semi-weekly Spanish lesson, wherein I painfully guided the children through the worlds slowest and most agonizing game of "Pesca!" (that's "Go Fish" for all you Americanos) (please, if you ever think it will be a great idea to share a language with a child, increasing both vocabulary and conversational skills, by playing "Go fish!"... just save yourself the trouble and go slam your fingers in a car door.  Yeah, it's that much fun).  I was tidying up, (actually, I was just sitting dazed in a chair chatting with Kathy) as 10 children ages Jonah-through-Adam had all run outside to play, dragging with them sundry costumes, hamsters, toys and granola bars.  From my living room window I could see little people in various stages of unstructured play, and all was momentarily well with the world (now, besides my snazzy use of alliteration with all of those fabulous W's, I must point out that in this context, the word "momentarily" denotes a certain foreshadowing.  Crafty of me, huh? bum bum bum baaaaahm...)

The next paragraph begins with "All of a sudden".  Now when I say "All of a sudden", please envision with me a serene, park-like back yard (minus half of the grass), children joyfully playing, ABRUPTLY shifting to a scene from an old Japanese Godzilla movie.   

All of a sudden, children began screaming, first one, then three, then ALL TEN.  And running.  Was it a swarm of bees?  Had a child flipped off of the trampoline and been disgustingly impaled on a yard tool? Was there a murderer chasing ALL of them?

I heard Adam's voice above the din yelling "Toby!  Drop it!!!" echoed by other big-boy voices saying the same.  Then I saw Toby, running with something in his mouth, a sock, perhaps?  A toy?  That wasn't like Toby... what could he possibly? ... The girls screaming reached fever pitch as they trampled each other to get through the door.  And then it hit me...

"HAMSTER!!!!!"  I bellowed and bolted for the door, tripping over sobbing, screaming little girl's along my way.  I didn't have to go far, because as much as Toby hates noise, he hates angry boys even worse.  He came running into the studio and I intercepted him at the stairs.  He was shaking so hard his fur was blurry, and hanging out of his mouth was the back end of a hamster.  A fat, white butt and two motionless little legs were all that could be seen of Charlotte, Tessa's gift from Santa (who we really should have waited to name until after learning She was a He).

My need to stop the carnage over-rode my terror at the thought of the mouthful of hamster guts I may be extruding from Toby's mouth, and I easily pried open his jaw and scooped out the wet fuzzball.  Cupping my hands over it to block the view from little eyes, I ran to the living room, all the while trying somehow to console a hysterical Tessa.  I have said it before, and I'll say it again, thank heavens for Kathy.  This time her heroism took the form of comforting arms for sobbing girls while I examined the some-how-still-alive hamster. 

Though his saliva drenched orange fur looked like  it was covered with blood, a slow and careful going-over revealed no such trace.  The hamster sat in my hands, utterly still and so very stunned, but apparently unharmed.  I checked little arms and legs (pets have arms, ask any five year old), and ever so gently pressed each rib.  No flinching, no wiggly bits that should not be wiggly.  One wet, freaked out, but otherwise alive rodent.

Charlotte, back in his cage, walked around like someone who had just had surgery.  He climbed into his hamster wheel, because, well, there in not much else to do in there, and walked.  There was no nose bobbing, no whisker twitching, but he was alive.  Suspecting some possible internal damage, I told Tessa that Charlotte was not out of the woods.  "If he lives through the night, she will probably make it, and if she makes it through tomorrow, I think he will be fine."  I told her.  I know, we are totally giving this critter a gender identity complex.  It's a work in progress.

Charlotte lived.  It's been 4 days.  Tessa learned many valuable lessons.  She knows now, that dogs can't tell the difference between a squirrel and a hamster.  She knows that if Charlotte has to poop, she should NEVER put her on the ground to do her biz-nis.  And she learned that God is good to little hamsters.

All that screaming curdled my milk.

It was a Tender Mercy that our little Charlotte lived.  Some credit must be given to Toby, who, having been trained as a soft-mouthed hunting dog, somehow knew not to bite down.  But really, I give all the credit to He who knows each sparrow that falls.  The tragedy that this would have been to a little girl I know would have been just beyond heartbreaking.  But you see, we officially reached our quota for chaos in the month of February by the 18th.  We are all full up on crazy here, thank you very much.

As I write this, Charlotte is trying out a new name.  Nibbles.  I like it.  I think the middle name should reflect his warrior spirit and his good fortune.

How about Lucky?