Sunday Update

Ben and Noah had a great time with dad on the Father/Son Campout this past weekend, despite below-freezing overnight temperatures and Noah falling in the river.  Apparently they went through bags of marshmallows in the traditional “mallow-as-torch” game, and Noah made his own gourmet ‘smore complete with fire-blackened mallows.

The girls got pedicures and dinner and then my sweet mom gave me 18 hours of total solitude, taking the girls home to sleep over.  That was weird and wonderful.  I got all the carrots, radishes, broccoli, more peas, onions and all the potatoes in–7 varieties in all.  So strange to start a task and work it to completion without interruptions.  But of course, we are working on not having the children be seen as interruptions but the project itself, right?

Still, it was great.  We had lots of luck with red potatoes in our first year here, so I did some of those, California Whites, Norkota Russets, and some lovely “All-Reds” with pink flesh.  I talked about potatoes a few years ago, but I am still amazed by the process–a seed potato is just a potato with lots of eyes–you cut each into chunks, at least an inch around, with 1-2 eyes a piece, let them dry in the shade a bit (mine dried in 8 hours with a fan) and pop them in the ground, eyes up.  Each plant can make 6 potatoes, and on many of the seed potatoes, I got six pieces to plant.  Pretty good returns there.

It felt so good to get my hands dirty again, although today I remembered the exhaustion that comes after a farm day.  So tired!  I’m having trouble uploading pics for some reason, so I will do it through email after this post.

Ben is getting into a more pre-teen seriousness, but has finally mastered his paper route (finishes before Scouts without any help from me!) and he’s a good student and a hard worker. I love him so much but somehow am always furious with him. He makes me nuts–probably because he’s so much like I was and I want to spare him the problems I had.  But, I’m trying.  He’s my first little guy and I want the world for him. 

Sophie is a sweet chatterbox.  She helped me get the chick pen split for mother hen to take the other side tonight–not usually a Sunday activity, but I saw a rodent in the coop today because the door was open and was nervous about the chicks being in there another night.  The cats make it so I rarely see those things (alive, anyway) but we do have plenty of fields around us and I know they’re out there.  A rat can eat chicks, although I think the thing I saw scutter by so quickly was a mouse.  But I didn’t want to risk it. Sophie was a great help out there and I really enjoyed her company.  I’m looking forward to more of that.  If I can just keep her home–she is always trying to leave and play elsewhere.  You’ll think I’m being too hard on myself when I say I think it is because we have too much craziness and yelling and inter-kid fighting in our house.  But I think that because she said so much.

Ben and Sophie are starting with a new piano teacher (other than me) next month–we have friends that take from her and she is pretty hardcore, but turns out amazing pianists.  I’m excited about that.  They also are both in Tae Kwon Do–Ben is high-brown and Sophie is orange belt.  They both go to Capitol Hill Academy, which we love, and Noah will start there next year.  I’ve almost finished their website, check it out!

Lucy and Noah do preschool at a popular neighborhood in-home school and go to what we call “Monkeynastics” for some reason.  We’d taken a break for the holidays and are barely getting back to it.  After two weeks in the pre-K/K class, Noah got booted to the 6 YO boy class–he can do amazing things–the fastest cartwheel I’ve ever seen!  Lucy got bumped to the second level Pre-K/K because, they said, “She’s fearless.”  This week we are going to visit a “Twinkle Class” with the local Suzuki violin teacher and get them on her 16-month waiting list. 

I always said my kids would do a sport and an instrument but I have to admit I pick sports that don’t require enormous investments of time or cash.  I cram all the activities on one or two days so I can be a homebody on the others.

Popcorn really is popping all over the trees these days–although not yet on the apricot tree–and Lucy wants to sing that song many times a day.  Sometimes she let’s me sing that instead of Jingle Bells at bedtime.  A nice breather there.

Noah and Ben have their own rooms now, and WOW!  They both have clean rooms!  The roommate situation made for a trashed room 100% of the time.  Apparently they both just needed space.  Finally Noah is free to just build and play cars on his car rug in his own room–it definitely was a good move for everyone.  He is such a little sweetie.

David’s been a bit under the weather but in improved spirits because I am now home to make sure he eats meals and takes vitamins–no kidding, a noticeable change.  I’ve enjoyed having him home an extra week and just want to say that the iPhone is great for a marriage–texting random thoughts, playing the “Words With Friends” app together (you can’t call it Scrabble!), sharing pics of what we’re doing with the kids, or his meal when he goes to a new crazy hamburger joint back East.  Now I ALWAYS know what state he is in–both geographically and mentally.  So, thanks, Steve Jobs!

There’s the family for this week. 

Coming Home

I promised myself that when I finally left the workplace to come back home I’d write myself a letter to remember why it was a good thing.  It’s so tempting to get back into the noise and mess and wonder why I left the quiet pleasantness and good friends for this chaos. 

It’s a sad reality, but I am much better at writing marketing plans than I am mothering and taking care of a house.  (This is why I admire you so much, Carrie.)  I’m not a natural mother–I love my children fiercely, but I don’t “get” children in that way some nurturing types do.  Maybe it was my upbringing as an only child and mostly single mother that made me think child rearing would be a lot quieter, and, well, a lot less childish.  It’s no secret that being home is much harder work physically, emotionally and spiritually than being at the office. 

It sounds like I’m writing the reasons to not stay at home, but I think it’s just the opposite.

There is no wisdom in thinking the path of least resistance is the easiest path, but there is much evidence to the contrary.  There’s a great saying used a lot in my Weight Watchers meeting: “Choose your hard.”  Being fat is hard, dieting is hard.  Choose the hard you’d rather do. 

As hard as it is to be with the kids, being away from the kids is hard.  For me, it was impossible to work without shutting off some of the little maternal instinct I have. I wasn’t parenting the way I had always meant to parent (I know, who does?)

Part of it is probably just my personal psyche–I have a hard time multitasking and shifting gears.  When I’m working my brain stays at work and I have a hard time fully focusing on my home and family.  After being home for a vacation or a long weekend, the reverse is true.  And maybe some moms can shift gears faster and better. 

But for me, I felt unable to prevent compromise on what I wanted my children to be doing and the habits I wanted them to be taught.  And, despite so much argument to the contrary, my children were clearly worse off without even my lame guidance–not just because they pined for me, but because they were left with less guidance and teaching than they needed.  I can see that there was some independence gained, but overall, it wasn’t an ideal situation for them.

Just one day home makes it clear how many teaching opportunities come up in a single day–from the gospel to occupational tasks to civics and government back to more gospel principles.  And the complexity and intensity of the forces facing our children as they come of age is mind-boggling—every lesson they can get will be sorely needed.

Yet another set of lessons lost are the ones they teach me–how to master myself, how to control my words, how to not be a huge hypocrite, how to run a household–how to pray into my life the charity I need to accomplish what I came here to earth to do in the first place. 

And not just self-discipline, but the accidental lessons learned while watching and listening to my children. Their little spirits just amaze me–and there’s no saying that just because I got here 30 years earlier I am so much wiser. (Yet, even with this knowledge, I’m perfectly willing to practice the grown-up double standard far too often.)

Also, in the past week at home, even though I’ve been working more than I ever did at the office, I’ve been able to hear so many great conversations that have helped my love for my children grow in a way that makes it easier to be a parent.  It’s difficult when we only see each other tired and cranky at the end of the day to build what has so quickly begun to regenerate after only two weeks.

I’ve learned that when Noah refers to any extreme of distance he will use the word “tippy”—as in, “the very tippy bottom,” the “tippy back of the shelf.”  Ben and Sophie both need hugs and physical attention every day, several times a day, to help him feel grounded and safe, and I hadn’t noticed that.  Lucy has a rare but hysterical giggle. 

Yesterday in the car, Sophie, Noah and Lucy were planning how they were going to play in the backyard playhouse when they got home–who wanted to be the mom, the baby, and the mayor, and that the mayor had dibs on the stroller this time.  Obviously all of these roles are critical when playing house.  It made me laugh–and sadly, I don’t often laugh with my kids.

Working for those two years was not a mistake–I was led to that decision and led to that fantastic job and we were able to quickly solve some difficult problems, but the moment it was time to come home, I felt it. 

When your time is spent primarily on any one thing, things that interfere with that primary focus are distractions, a nuisance, and a frustration.  When your life is work, other personal projects (a blog!) or even an obsession with a personal problem, the children become the bother.  I wrote a whole essay about this some time ago, but how can I can be expected to actually remember past life lessons more than five minutes?

At the same time, I have a very hard time just sitting down and staring at my children or doing kid things.  I didn’t do a lot of being a kid as a kid, so it feels very forced. However, even with my motherhood-impaired temperament, what I learned when we first moved to our little “farm” is that the slower, “old-fashioned” life can be lived alongside children rather than in spite of them, that I can enjoy what I’m doing and my children at the same time while teaching them important things.

I’m anxious to return to—and re-learn—that life, and spend less time actively teaching myself the latest marketing strategies and more time passively letting life (the Lord) teach me.  Everything is so full of lessons.

So, future self, when you want to run to the quiet safety of an office, run to the garden, kids in tow, and let the chaos escape into the open air.

As a hen gathers her chickens

I promise, I won’t always be about the chicken thing, but here’s an interesting thing I’ve learned.  

If you have read Isaiah at all, and/or the Book of Mormon, it is almost impossible not to look at a mother hen and wonder what the Lord meant when He said He would gather us as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings.  

She literally puts them under her wings.  I mean, I picked her up to count the chicks and make sure none were missing (one ran off and actually spent a whole night outside the coop alone because I didn’t check under her the night before).  And–there were only two chicks under her, yet the hen’s body was peeping.  No chicks falling out–the other two were all tucked up inside there.

Mama hen fluffs herself out huge in order to cover them and protect them–she guides with clucking and wings and, at the slightest danger (which means me), she rustles them back to safety, which often means under herself.  

Such a nurturing image–a very engaged, concerned parent protecting the child both physically and with constant direction and teaching.  God is quite a poet.

Chicken Drama

A few years ago, if you’d have told me that feeding, housing, murdering and cooking chickens would be a daily part of my life in the near future, I’m not sure I would have dared to try chickens in the first place.  But here I am, my first day of FREEDOM (say it Braveheart-style) after quitting the corporate grind (no offense, work pals), spending the majority of the day moving chickens, building a third mobile coop so they can till the garden for me, and trying to solve egg-eater mysteries.

Consider the phrase, “I  had egg on my face.”  I never really had a context for that one–I knew it meant that you were caught red-handed, guilty, or embarrassed.  This is just one of the phrases that hearkens back to when chickens were part of everyone’s daily life.  A chicken with egg on the face is an egg-eater–it’s a capital offense because they generally can’t be broken of it.  I caught a hen eating an egg and put her in jail but she has laid eggs without eating them every day since, so just today I realize someone else could have broken the egg and she was just eating it–what any chicken would do.  So I put two eggs in the nest of my main flock and I’ll be darned if I didn’t go back and find ONE.  And no one else laid today either, or they were all gobbled up.

I suspect this rather aggressive one that looks like a very fat hawk.  She is super heavy and meaty, so I won’t feel too bad if I’m wrong.  Go, carnivores!

Anyway, I need to figure that out soon.

In other chicken news, the eight hens that remain from the accidental clutch that hatched in my shed last fall are finally all caught after being practically wild all winter.  I was going to sell these girls and then keep my old flock, but they actually are laying so much better than the others that I’m reconsidering.  The first three years of a hen’s life are her best laying years (once she starts laying at around 20 weeks), but they can live for 15.  Most make it into the stockpot well before that.

I’m just trying to get in the groove of how to rotate my flocks, since chickens don’t like strangers, so you need to separate flocks.  That’s why I have so many coops–the old hens in the big box with the rooster (our food security animal), the accidental wild hens now in a chicken tractor in the garden, the hens on probation in my “jail” tractor (I can’t tell if they are not laying or eating eggs but haven’t yet condemned them to death.  The big main coop has mama hen and her four chicks (see pictures below).  She only hatched four because I hadn’t read enough about how to manage a broody hen (below) and this was my first time (and hers), so I can’t feel too bad.  Lastly, my sweet four little Americaunas just got their new tractor built today.  I do nothing but feed them and take care of them but they completely freak out anytime I’m nearby, not sure what that’s about.

So my plan is to put mama hen and her four chicks in the new tractor with the store-bought chicks (now about 35 days old), with a wire partition down the middle.  My hope is she’ll get used to them and want to mother them when she sees how pathetic and unlearned they are after living in a box in a dark shed their whole lives.  After a little while I’ll take out the partition and hope no one dies and then I have eight chicks with a mama to be my main layers for next year.  I’ve read that mamas will adopt chicks (or kill them, depending on the mood) and am holding out hope, even though she’s a first-year mama.  I’ve let her go out a bit with her new babies and show them how to dig for bugs–I could watch it all day.

She really does talk to them.  She was growling at me and threatening me one day (as mother hens are supposed to do) until I put down the feed, then she switched to hen chatter and all the chicks obediently came out and did as they were told with the feed.  It was remarkable.  Wish I spoke Hen.

It is gorgeous outside and I could spend every day, all day, out there, but to be honest, I did a really half-baked job of resigning from Access, so I have piles of projects to finish before I can really pull back.

Last but not least, in my effort to take my life back, I’m going to start writing publicly more and moving some of my stuff to this blog so I have one record, including some of the old Mamamelodrama stuff, so forgive me if the post volume starts getting a little excessive.  I’ve been advised to have all my writing in one place, so that’s what I’m doing.  If you’d like to have me take you off so you can switch to RSS or just come visit when you want, just let me know.

I promise, I won’t always blather on about chickens.  But if you do like learning about random chicken-related things, you should check out the “chickens” tag in the sidebar cloud, or read what I’ve learned about eggs.  Fascinating stuff. I can’t imagine life without them anymore.

He is risen!

Happy Easter! Conference is really adding a great spirit to the
holiday. As I write I am waiting for Music and the Spoke word to start
here in the conference center before the Sunday am session starts. Ben
is with us and Davids brother Mike. More later. Starting!