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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chicken Explorers

Chicken pot pie ready to bake

Having free-range chickens has it's drawbacks. Oh sure, the perks are nice. They eat bugs all over the property. Specifically, they've scratched up all the scorpion breeding-grounds next to the house, so we haven't seen a scorpion in 6 months. That's priceless.

The drawbacks are...well....interesting.

I mean other than the random chicken 'fertilizer' left generously on our sidewalks and patios. Since the chickens are free-range, they have access to everything. Yup, everything.

One day Daniel forgot to close the van door. I didn't notice until several hours later. When I went outside to fix the problem, I discovered our van filled with a dozen chickens. They were roosting on head rests or squatting on the floor, with feathers all fluffed up and warm. They actually looked pretty cozy (and I don't blame them for choosing the plush comforts of my leather seats over the sparse accomadations of the chicken coop). In the front seat sat our rooster, Pavaratti. (Honestly, I laughed out loud when I saw him in the front seat, trying to peer over the steering wheel to see out the window.)

It was a trick trying to get them all our of the van, and they sure protested loudly at their eviction. Somehow the stars aligned in my favor and there wasn't a single spot of fecal matter left in my van, just a couple stray feathers. Thank goodness!

Another time we came home from running errands and found the door wide open. Our dog, clever thing that she is, has figured out how to open our door all by herself. Now she can conveniently let herself in whenever she's tired of playing outside. That means more than once she's left the door ajar, and the chickens decided to also make themselves at home. We came home to quite a scene.

Picture the mess left the morning after a crazy sorority party. Now imagine the sorority is the sisterhood of chickens. That's what I thought when I saw the scene. They had partied hard in every room. Luckily, somehow the stars aligned yet again (is that even possible twice in one lifetime?) and we didn't have any feces anywhere other than easy-to-clean tile.

Last week we came home from church to our door open again (darn that dog!). We cleared out all the chickens, but then we heard a rooster crow.

From under my bed.

Nathan lifted up the bed and the boys and I all tried to catch the rooster. Unfortunately he is the most skittish bird in our flock, so of course he dodged our efforts and hid in the farthest corner, out of reach. We finally managed to catch him and toss him safely outside.

Now the flock has learned that our door doesn't latch very well, so they try to push it open on their own. Today we had chicken invaders three times! Each time I chased them out, they gathered on the front step, peeking into the windows while they stood all in a row.

It looks pretty funny, but in my mind I hear them saying to each other, "Just wait a few more minutes until she  finishes her meal and leaves the room, then we'll have our chance! First one to the highchair gets the baby's cheerios!"

(Editor's update: Life is ironic. Yesterday I had typed this post up and saved it for further editing. That very day, Daniel left the van door open -again!- and the chickens spent the day in there. Their muddy feet stepped on everything and the stars were not in my favor. I spent over an hour scrubbing fecal matter off my van seats! ERG!

The best part of this experience was the fact that I discovered the mess as I was heading out to pick up children from school. There was no time to clean it before picking up kindergartners, so all I could do was gingerly lay newspapers atop the fecal matter and instruct the horrified children to sit very carefully on the paper. We pulled into a gas station and I cleaned everything out before heading home. I keep telling my kids they now have very unique stories to tell their own kids about growing up in the country. Thank goodness I can laugh about it all....isn't life just crazy sometimes?)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans

This is a story without words of our visit to the Big Top Candy Shop.

Art Museum Scavenger Hunt

Since we had already checked the boys out of school for dental appointments in Austin, we decided to also play hooky on all other responsibilities for the day and go visit other sites in Austin. Thursdays are a special day in Austin because the Blanton Museum of Art is FREE that day.

Sarah and Matt have been begging me for months to take them to this art museum (Matt even asked for that as a birthday gift instead of doing a party with friends...but his birthday is still months away). Oh boy, were they excited for this family trip!

I made worksheets for them to fill out in the museum. I wanted them to be thinking about the art, not just looking at it and passing by without a thought. I had questions such as, "What story was the artist trying to tell?" "What paintings did you like and which one did you dislike?" "Which ones convey a feeling of anger? Happiness? Sadness? Peace?" "Which one would you like to create?"

I also had an extensive scavenger hunt list on the worksheet. They were to find certain types of art (pottery, sculptures, woven art, wooden art, bone art (yes really. There is a room full of cattle bones as an art piece)) and certain random elements within paintings (different types of animals, babies, jewels, a house, bread, royalty, a cowboy, etc.) Luckily I was a bit familiar with this museum, so I knew some of the specific permanent art exhibits in the collection, so I could give them particular pieces to find along our journey.

Sarah and Matthew were both so thoughtful as they pondered the art. I'd talk with them and teach them how to analyze the piece based on composition and color choice. It was so interesting to see what they noticed.

It was so fun to see how in tune they were to the color cues from the artist. Matthew would say things like, "This painting makes me feel happy because it's full of cheerful yellows" or "This painting makes me angry because of all the red choppy lines and black clouds."

I also found out they despised the same paintings I do (you know, the type of modern art that is just a big splash of black paint on a bare canvas? Yeah....I always think my kids could make one better. Matthew agreed heartily with that opinion. I guess that style of modern art just isn't for me.)

Daniel was bored after 10 minutes. He spent most of the time loudly whispering how his legs were tired (even though I offered to push him in the stroller) and how boring this place was since he couldn't run and shriek. He spent a lot of time just staring at the ceiling, complaining how boring it all was. I think if I stared at the ceiling I would be bored, too. I'm sorry he was too little to enjoy this place, and the older kids were sorry he couldn't be more patient. All well...someday he'll enjoy it.

We visitied our favorite vintage candy shop, The Big Top Candy shop, on Congress Avenue. Nate and I had told the children they'd be given a dollar to spend for having appropriate museum behavior and another dollar for finishing the worksheet/scavenger hunt. Sarah and Matt were delighted. Matthew picked a box of Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and Sarah filled a bag with different flavors of rock candy.

Matt could hardly wait to start tasting the bad flavored jelly beans. He tried them each as soon as we stepped out of the store. That story is told through pictures in my next post.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine Wrap-up

We have some fun traditions as a family for the holiday of love. We always have a pink breakfast (last year Daniel decided it was magical Cupid's food, and he tried to fly after eating his meal. He batted his eyes while looking heavenward during his attempt. Hilarious.). The afternoon snack was chocolate heart-shaped cakes.

We also have Cupid come for a visit. There is a catch, though. Bedrooms must be clean and children must be friendly and kind to encourage a visit from Cupid. We say he's flying around the windows, peeking in to see if he can drop off his suprises yet. I love it when my kids are happy to clean (and boy, didn their rooms need the attention!). It was so nice to listen to Sarah and Matthew help Daniel with his cleaning.

Cupid knocks on the door and leaves gifts behind. Cupid makes several visits and leaves different gifts each time. We have the children take turns answering the door, and that child is in charge of distributing the gifts or treats to the rest of the family. It's so fun and they look forward to it every year (and yes, they know it's me and not a real Cupid, but they enjoy pretending anyway.)

We started a new tradition this year for the month of February. I purchased felt hearts of different colors (each person has 6 hearts of their own color). We have the hearts hanging on our mantle. For each act of service that is rendered, we get to put a heart in a large jar.

The goal is to have all the hearts in the jar by the end of the month. Sounds easy? Each time a child is contentious or disrespectful, they have to take one of their hearts back out of the jar. They have to do service again before that heart can re-enter the jar.

At the end of the month, any family members who have all their hearts in the jar will be going to the theater for a family movie night.

I did this as an effort to stem the sibling contention in our home. I'm amazed it's working. They are so eager to do kind things for each other so they can earn hearts.....and taking a heart out of the jar is an unexpectedly successful punishment. I've been so thankful for the increased harmony in our home.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Force for Change

Matthew and Sarah battle it out over a chessboard

I've been doing a lot of waiting. Waiting....

I have waited for the post-partum fog to clear so I can pick up my pre-baby habits again of excercising regularly (for now, I feel exhausted just thinking about excercising!), organizing closets and deep-cleaning the house (um....I won't even tell you the last time I deep-cleaned....), reading my scriptures with a cup of steaming herbal tea for company (yeah. Now I am lucky it I can snatch a few verses in the morning, or squeeze in a bit of reading right at bedtime. I haven't returned yet to the "deep pondering" type of study. I call it the "Try-to-keep-awake" study. Pathetic, I know.).

I know this time of my life is a special season to enjoy our baby (and the accompanying work: midnight feedings, dealing with his teething pains, endless diaper changes- why did I choose to do cloth diapers?) and it will soon pass.

I know I will miss it, so I'm trying to enjoy this stage of his life as much as possible.

We cuddle and play a lot. But I'm not progressing in other ways....I feel like many aspects of my life are paused, waiting for me to renew my attention (spiritual health, phsycial health, social health, etc.)

I"ve been waiting for the post-partum-baby-season to pass, so I can feel accomplished again.
I realized that I can't wait forever for things to change. I realized the Lord won't just magically make me competent again. It's up to me.

 I need to be the force for change in my life.

I'm trying.

This week I started new projects that I can look at and admire and feel like I DID something with my time. (I don't know about you, but cleaning the kitchen never makes me feel like I have something to show for my time being well-spent. It's all undone in a couple hours when the next meal is prepared. I have a hard time with endless cycle of cleaning. I'm just spinning wheels and getting nowhere.)

I feel so fulfilled when I create something, so that's where I am starting. I haven't created anything beautiful in a long time (not counting those Christmas paintings I made....those were more stressful than fun. Yikees....I just remembered that I haven't posted pictures of those paintings yet. Okay, I'll get on that.)

I am indulging in the creativity bug that has recently bitten me. I'm painting the boy's room (finally!) and decorating it. I made a huge painting (the largest canvas I have ever painted on...I've had it sitting in a closet for YEARS, trying to decide what to do with it) and let the boys each make one painting to hang on the walls.

I"ll post pics after I get it finished (who knows when that will be though? I am the Sidetracked Queen of Inefficiancy!). The children really enjoyed making paintings with me (while I for my part, also ignored the need to make dinner. Leftovers, anyone?)

We painted the walls an energetic green (think of Green Apple candy) and went for a dinosaur theme. 

I'm pleased with how things are progressing in their bedroom and I can't wait to show what we've done. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sherlock Holmes in the kitchen- Part 2

Matthew relays the jury vote to the judge
The courtroom was full of suspense. The judge to rule the case was selected very carefully. The children picked the most 'righteous' looking toy they could find: a white cat wearing a crown studded with pink jewels. (I suppose in the absence of judicial robes, the crown was necessary to inspire the correct level of respect and awe in the courtroom. Makes perfect sense to me.)

The prosecuting attorney had to look fierce and intimidating, so they hired a dinosaur for the task (although how a T-Rex could even reach a keyboard to type up a case is beyond me). Unfortunately for him, the T-Rex was given a girly notebook to record the case. The notebook given to the defendant's attorney was a dignified blue....and the two lawyers had fought fiercely over who would get to use that notebook. The dispute was solved with an arm-wrestling match. Poor T-Rex didn't have a chance.

The prosecuting attorney addresses the court room.
Sarah appropriated doll house desks and tables to provide the courtroom furniture for the attorneys. Matthew was in charge of making the witness he re-purposed a lemonade stand. The judge was given the place of honor atop several couch cushions so she could properly glower down at the court.

The arguements were filled with passion and questioning was rapid-fire. In my attempt to maintain some semblance of continuity, I'm going to color-code each characters words. Here are the players:

BobJohn, the eyewitness to the crime
Sir Scruffyneck, the accused
Honorable Judge Seraphina, the judge
Doberman, the Defendant's attorney
T-Rex, the Prosecutor
Polar bear, the obligatory policeman in the court room

Polar Bear Officer: All rise for the Honorable Judge Seraphina. You may be seated.

BobJohn on the witness stand
Seraphina introduced the case and laid out the charges, then introduced the attorneys.  The prosecutor called his first witness, BobJohn.

T-Rex: BobJohn, where were you on Friday afternoon at 4:00?

BobJohn: (The voice and inflections mimic Kory's interrogation scene from the movie Jack Jack Attack.....if you can imagine that, you'll get the picture. He speaks in a luxurious, drawn out sort of way) Weeeell, I was skipping along on the kitchen counter thinking about my birthday and balloons and whether I should have blue balloons or green balloons or-

T-Rex interupts impatiently: Stick to the crime scene please!

BobJohn: I was thinking to myself when suddenly there was a flash of brown, and a ferocious growl like I've never heard before, then suddenly he was gone and all I saw was the remains of this poor horse. (He sniffles dramatically for effect.)

T-Rex: So you actually witnessed the crime. Can you identify the criminal?

BobJohn: Yes! It's that lion! (Pointing his finger emphatically and leaning part way out of the witness stand to add force to his words.)

T-Rex: There you have it. An eyewitness to the crime positively labeled Sir Scruffyneck as the perpetrator. There is no room for argument.

Now the defendant's lawyer takes a turn to cross-examine the witness. He's the Doberman with bunny ears.

Doberman: BobJohn, you say you saw the crime. How did you describe it? A quick flash of color?

BobJohn: (hesitating uncertainly) Yeeees?

Doberman: If he was moving so fast, how did you get a clear view of his face?

BobJohn: I didn't.

Doberman: (yelling in triumph) Ah HA! How could you be sure if it was Sir Scruffyneck if you didn't even see his face?

BobJohn: (Confidently) I heard his voice. He roared.

Doberman: I have here two voice recordings. Can you tell me which of these two recordings belong to the accused? (He plays the recordings.)

BobJohn: (a bit panicky) Um, must be the first voice, no- I think it's the second voice!

Doberman: (assertively) Your testimony should be invalidated! You can't even tell which voice belongs to Sir Scruffyneck! Your testimony fails, sir!

Doberman jaunts confidently back to his desk while BobJohn quivers with humiliation and is led away from the witness stand. Sir Scruffyneck and Doberman give each other a high-five under the table while the prosecutor glares on. The second witness is called, and this time it is Sir Scruffyneck himself.

T-Rex: Sir Scruffyneck, where were you at 4:00 on the day in question?

Sir Scruffyneck: (trembling with fear) I....(he licks his lips) that is.....I was in.....the kitchen.

T-Rex: Ah-HA! So you admit to being on the crime scene when the victim was killed! Sir Scruffyneck, what exactly were you doing in the kitchen?

Sir Scruffyneck: (glancing around the courtroom nervously) I was.....(hangs his head with shame) I was eating.

T-Rex: There you have it! It's as good as an admission of guilt! (The jury nods in agreement and looks at each other with glee.) Your Honor, I rest my case!

Doberman rises to cross examine the witness.
Doberman: Sir Scruffyneck, what exactly were you eating in the kitchen?

Sir Scruffyneck: (whispering with shame) I ate a cookie. (The entire courtroom gasps in shock. Remember, it's exclusively staffed by carnivores. Eating a cookie is unheard of!)

Doberman: A cookie?! A cookie?!

Sir Scruffyneck: I know, I know! I'm supposed to be a carnivore, but I am vegetarian. Besides, I just adore snickerdoodle cookies! The children left some on the counter after school, and I couldn't help myself! I'm so ashamed! I know proper lions wouldn't stoop to such victuals.

Doberman: You wouldn't have any proof to back up your story, do you?

SIr Scruffyneck: I suppose we could check my whiskers and mane for crumbs.

He is inspected and it is confirmed that he does indeed have snickerdoodle crumbs adorning his face.

The prosecutor loses his temper and yells out indignantly, "You weren't satisfied with just a cookie! You had to eat something more satisfying on your way out of the kitchen, so you snacked on that horse! The crumbs mean nothing!"

The Honorable Seraphina bangs her gavel and demands order in the court, while glowering at the T-Rex until he is intimidated into silence. (Is this the first time ever that a harmless white cat has intimidated a T-Rex? Hmmm.)

T-Rex rises to present his last arguement: Members of the Jury, I wish to draw your attention to evidence A, which is the letter left on the crime scene. It is signed with an "L". What could that mean, other than "Lion"? Sir Scruffyneck left his own evidence that he is the criminal!

Doberman: Jury members. I ask you: when you sign a letter, do you sign it with your name or your species? I know o f no one that signs a letter, "sincerely, Human". A letter written by Sir Scruffyneck would be signed "S.S." or "Sir Scruffyneck", not a pathetic "L". This evidence fails to conclusively point blame on my client.

Time was up in court (actually, dinner needed to come out of the oven, so I needed to wrap things up in the court room). It was time for the closing arguments.

Doberman: (Spoken with feeling) your Honor, my client is vegetarian! He wouldn't eat that horse on a matter of principle! He was merely an unlucky bystander when the crime was committed. Besides, we have only one eyewitness to this crime. Even the scriptures say out of the mouth of two or three witness shall all things be established. I argue that one witness, especially one with such a vague testimony, is not enough to convict my client for a crime. There was no evidence collected at the scene that could incriminate my client, so the only thing compromising his claim to innocence is this one testimony. I suspect the entire thing was mad eup and BobJohn FRAMED Sir Scruffyneck!

The courtroom erupted in confusion. BobJohn's high-pitched voice protested at such a terrible statement. Sir Scruffy neck was loudly affirming his innocence with several 'I-Told-You-So's while his attorney danced with glee around his desk. The jury exclaimed loudly.

Sarah said, "What?! What about the note! Who is this 'L' person if it's not the lion?" Matthew laughed and waved his hand at a large bucket of plastic animals, saying, "It could be a name, like Lincoln! And we haven't even NAMED all those animals! Looks like we've got a lot of work to do tonight!"

 Amidst this confusion, BobJohn stole quietly down the aisle and vacated the courtroom. (Actually, he was kicked under the rug accidentally in all the hubbub.) His absence was not even noticed. The jury left the room to confer and decide Sir Scruffyneck's verdict. They solemnly proclaimed him innocent, and Sir Scruffyneck giggled with relief, thanking everyone for believing him.

Matthew interrupted the happy congratulations to ask with gravity, "But if it's not Sir Scruffyneck, who DID it? BobJohn must have framed him after all! Hey! Where is BobJohn?! Oh NO! He escaped to Brazil!"

Too bad for us. That's outside of our jurisdiction. The best we could do is make "wanted" posters to put up around the police, house, that is.

The next morning the children woke extra early to search for BobJohn.

BobJohn was found hiding undercover (literally, since he was under the rug) and the children triumphantly paraded him through the house. They begged me to do a quick court case before school so they could have peace of mind knowing BobJohn was safely behind bars.

 I obliged with a 15 minute court case wherein BobJohn inadvertently confessed to the crime while attempting to weave a story of lies.

Matthew gleefully threw BobJohn into a metal prison where he languished for a week and wasn't allowed to play with anyone. Matt said, "I think a week is a long long time. That's long enough for a murderer, isn't it?"