Last month we picked up a big batch of fertilized eggs from farmer Bryan for our annual Easter chick sale. The proceeds from sale will pay for food for our laying hens for a whole year, which cuts down on Dan’s propensity to speculate about the expenses that went into each and every egg that we eat.
In addition to the care of chickens, it turns out Farmer Bryan is also a chicken photographer (see above photo). There aren’t a lot of chicken photographers around. It’s a real niche. Dan had an uncle who was a cow photographer. Another niche.
Farmer Bryan also has an awesome barn which houses an awesome ping-pong table. Which blew Charlie’s mind. He questioned how an individual who lives on a farm could possibly have a ping-pong table when everyone knows people who live on farms are poor?
Dan answered this understandable question with a very enlightening lecture on farm subsidies. I am not sure farm subsidies really apply in the case of a second home hobby farm with 50 chickens. But Farmer Bryan does have a really great apple tree so maybe.
The ping-pong table is not the only mysterious thing on the hobby farm. There is also an outhouse which is exciting, and a big skull on the ground way to the outhouse. It looks like a skull from a big ox, or something decorative one might see on a ranch in the wild west. Miss P did not think it all that mysterious, casually pointing it out on her way to the outhouse and explaining, “Farmer Bryan killed that dinosaur.” A real Sherlock that one.
Retrieving the eggs turned out to be the simplest part of the Easter chick sale. My indoor hatchery was an uphill battle this year. After I set up my incubators, we got worried that the slight smell might make it’s way up to the Watkins’s room and give Johanna a headache or worse, so to be on the safe side we decided to move the incubators. But where to set up shop? Of all people, my neighbor Patty, who is knows by friends and family to be an animal not-lover, offered her basement for the hatching of 100 chicks (Two batches of 50). If that isn’t love….
The hatch started on a Friday night and by Saturday Patty was hooked, spending several hours in the miracle of birth basement watching the hatch. Only after the first 50 hatched did I realized that the basement would be too cold for them once they left the incubator. So Patty, being in too deep to turn back now, agreed to let them have the upstairs bathroom. After all, what are a mere 50 young chickens in the bathroom between good friends.
All weekend after the hatch, Patty entertained a stream of friends and relations stopping by to see her bathroom full of chickens for themselves. No one can believe it!
One of these visitors was Melissa, the new kid on our block. She is something of a local celebrity due to her very popular blog: thefauxmartha.com. Last week I saw her out being photographed with her cool bike. In the snow. For a magazine. She is also on Instagram. Do you know how many Instagram followers I have? 65. Do you know how many she has? 65,000. She joined Patty and me in the basement to watch the hatch. And to take some pictures. For Instagram. I was (briefly) so proud.
But pride goes before a fall. After the hatch, Melissa was helping me settle the chicks in a big tupperware with little feeder and waterer, and for some reason the waterer wasn’t level so I tried to wedge it into the corner tighter. Then the reason it wasn’t level sort of squirted out. It was a former chicken. That was awkward.
But other than the embarrassing incident with Flat Stanley, which was not exactly what Melissa was wanting to show her 65,000 Instagram followers, the hatching and selling went quite well. Although, I did have one hatch in my pocket. That was a rush.
I was throwing out the duds (or the eggs that never hatched) in the woods across the street, and one of the eggs started squeaking, so I put it in my pocket to try to keep it warm. On my way back to the house I felt little claws scratching my leg. Sure enough, instead of an egg I pulled a chicken out of that pocket. And he lived to tell the tale. But only for 24 hours. The next day right in the middle of telling it again, that chick keeled over dead. I guess the shock of his birth story just overcame him.
To my relief I managed to sell all the chicks before they got too stinky. The same cannot be said of the food in our house, which, as Johanna’s health has worsened (see her Caring Bridge update here) has become altogether too stinky. While we had already stopped cooking supper in the kitchen, we were still doing some basic things like breakfast inside the house. We have now, out of necessity, moved all food related activities to the front porch and set up a little dining area there. It is very campy. Also very cold. And every meal upcoming meal (and they upcome so frequently) is like a riddle to be solved: where to cook it and how to get it (and all of us) onto the porch at the same time without the smell wafting into the house. I have many options due to the most touching response of our neighbors. No sooner did word of the situation get out than I had keys to the five closest kitchens on the block. One friend said people don’t do that here in the city. But I guess they do. I have the keys to prove it!
Below: Annie eating on the porch (photo by Melissa).
Today Miss P turned six. I am so happy for her. We celebrated her birthday on the porch, with pancakes for supper and space heater (it was snowing). Miss P is such a spunky little thing at home who has no trouble keeping up with her sibling Joneses (as seen in the videos below). But you never know what your child’s school personality will be until they start school. In the words of her teacher: “Mary would never make a peep.” Mary seems quite determined not to call attention to herself at school. She rarely asks for help, and wouldn’t dream of checking out a library book. Naturally, she has forbidden me from bringing cupcakes on her Birthday. But she LOVES kindergarten. And I love having a kindergartener. The perfect age. I wish I could always have one.
Did anyone else receive an auto-generated slideshow last week on Facebook in honor of “Friend Day”. Random pictures from my Facebook account were set to music and there was a message on each picture like: “Remember these friends?” and “Your friends are awesome!” Since the only pictures I ever post are of the children, they pretty much dominated my Awesome Friends slideshow.
I have no problem with my small circle of four friends. I questioned, however, if Annie would include me in her list of friends, when she asked me last week, “Mom, have you ever played with me?”
And do you know, I don’t believe I have! I consider it a small victory that she just now noticed and it has been three years. It is all thanks to my other three awesome friends who have done that job for me. I don’t feel too bad since I never played with them either. I only got away with it because I started with twins who played with each other saving me the awkward role of playmate to that first child.
But although I don’t play with them, we do enjoy a variety of other activities together, including ice skating. Dan’s Christmas present to me was an ice rink in our yard. He approached the project with his usual thoroughness, beginning with several months of online research and a lit review. Then began the planning/measuring/marking/drawing phase. Then there was the zamboni building week. (I never really understood the zamboni but it involved a lot of pvc pipe, a big beach towel, and 60 tiny holes). Because you wouldn’t want to find yourself with a fine rink and no zamboni! The final implementation phase was not without setbacks, but the results, seen in the video below speak for themselves.
Dan has found real fulfillment in his new role of zamboni man. Most every night, whether the rink needs attention or not, Dan suits up and heads outside to patch tiny cracks, and resurface the ice. He stays gone so long! No matter the temperature, he said it is so peaceful out there, listening to podcasts, hose in hand. I personally, don’t know how he can tear himself away from his awesome friends who are partying inside the house, but I think he is really going to miss his after dinner routine when the ice melts.
In addition to maintaining his ice, Dan has recently taken up the sport of trapping mice. I think he finally got tired of me whispering at all hours of the night: “Did you hear it?” Now he sets his traps in the attic before bed and it is quite exciting in the morning. When they least expect it, one child or another comes up the stairs and sees only Dan’s legs dangling from the hole in the ceiling and they holler, “Dad’s checking his traps!” Once he caught two mice in the same trap. Bob and Cheryl. That was a real high.
Our winter is passing quickly between the ice-skating and the mouse trapping and our newest pastime: dining out! Those who read the Watkins caring bridge site (caringbridge.org “Johanna Watkins”) are aware that she has developed symptoms of anaphylaxis in response to the smell of food. She is in such a weakened condition that it has gotten to the point where we can no longer cook in the house. I tried setting up a “porch kitchen” with a microwave, electric skillet, etc. but even that was too stinky, so we are taking our show on the road and eating everywhere but home. One of our favorite haunts has become the teacher’s lounge at Hope Academy. You should try it. You can heat your food up right there in the microwave and then run around the halls for a while with your awesome friends. I don’t know why we never tried it before. We have also enjoyed once or twice a week restaurant dining thanks to generous gift cards from friends. Last week we received a mysterious 100 dollars on our front porch with a note to “bless our children” from an anonymous friend of the Watkins. So I have let them order a few actual kid’s meals (instead of an adult meal split four ways). They find kids meals are a blessing on many levels including the beverage level. Not that an adult meal split four ways is not a blessing. It is, but it comes with four waters. Sometimes a kid’s meal even comes with a cookie. Imagine.
Dining out is only one of the many blessings that has come to us by way of the Watkins. Johanna’s cheerful sister and brother take turns coming over to help with her care and have become dear friends. Charlie gets to pal around with his teacher who is rubbing off on him, I am happy to say. He told me last week, “Me and Mr. Watkins are obsessed with learning”. The little things we have given up (such as grocery shopping and doing dishes, ha!) are vastly outweighed by gain every day. It is a pleasure.
One month ago Elisabeth made her own count-down calendar on which she counted the days left until we set up our Dickens Village. Our Dickens Village was a gift to us from our dear neighbors Bob and Kathy. Bob and Kathy lovingly collected all fifty seven pieces (plus shrubs, hedges, and trees of the forest) over a period of thirty years and then, of all things, gave the entire collection to us!
Last year was our first year to enjoy our miniature village. We set it up in the dining room, but arranging and rearranging the little scenes proved to be so distracting for me (at its peak causing a grease fire on the unattended stove) that I decided to move it upstairs where it twinkles merrily on our bookshelf in the hall.
At long last, Thanksgiving arrived and after breakfast Dan began toting in the large tupperwares that house the 57+ boxes that house the 57+ pieces. Setting up the little village with all it’s cords, light bulbs, street lamps, figurines, skaters, carolers, and trees of the forest is a little like giving birth. When it finally ends you swear you will never do it again. But by next year you have forgotten all the pain, and the prospect of a hallway full of twinkling lights greeting you when you get up to go to the bathroom in the night, spurs you to open 57+ boxes and start the whole process over.
It was a good thing I wasn’t planning on any serious Thanksgiving cooking since the majority of the day was spent setting up the village. We decided not to roast a turkey this year for two reasons. A. Mrs. Watkins is allergic to turkey, and we desired neither to taunt nor sicken her with the smell of the roasting bird. And B. None of the children like turkey, nor do I. Dan is the only one who likes turkey (but not a lot) and that is a lot of meat for one man who doesn’t like turkey very much. What a relief to be released from turkey roasting and instead chained to a flank steak on the grill for a mere twelve minutes per side.
I say the children don’t like turkey because that is what they told me last year when I roasted a turkey. Only today when I didn’t roast a turkey they suddenly experienced a burning love for turkey. Fortunately, Patty has not been released from turkey as I have, and so I sent the girls down the block after their steak dinner. They came back with little turkey “to go” plates. Which they enjoyed very much.
We have a lot of meat confusion generally. Not just remembering what kind of meat we like but also what kind of meat we are currently eating. I was mortified this summer when we invited Charlie’s first grade teacher and his wife for a fine teacher appreciation dinner, and Miss P asked very seriously with a mouth full of steak, “Is this really meat from a monkey’s bottom?” Apparently, her nice sirloin steak resembled something she had seen that day at the zoo. When I assured her it was not, she held out her plate and said, “Well then gimme some more of that good chicken!”
Prompting Charlie to correct her, “Miss P, steak is not chicken…it’s pork.”
The confusion extends to other food groups. Yesterday, after a big lunch, the kids went poking around the kitchen looking for something to eat (NOTHING makes them as hungry as a big meal), and found grapefruit.
Miss P: “What is grapefruit?”
Charlie: “Miss P, you don’t know about grapefruit? It’s the most AWESOME vegetable!”
I would tend to agree with Charlie. It is the most awesome vegetable.
Below: Miss P identifies with another carnivore.
By age seven, I think most children have realized that their teacher doesn’t live at school. It comes as a shock. Do you know what is more shocking than learning your teacher goes home at night? Learning that your teacher will be coming home to your house.
That is exactly the shock young Charlie received in September when I told him the news: Mr. and Mrs. Watkins, Charlie’s new second grade teacher, and Elisabeth’s former first grade teacher, would be moving in with us. Not moving into our basement, but moving right into the bedroom down the hall. Charlie took the news in stride. He had just one question, “Will Mr. Watkins be riding home from school in our van?” When I told him he would not, Charlie became very flustered, “Then HOW will he get home?”
Another shock: teachers not only go home at night, they have their own cars, and drive them.
Well let me tell you it is handy to have your teacher right down the hall. If Charlie begins to panic because he is unsure about his homework, I just remind him he can ask his teacher who is pouring himself a cup of coffee just a few feet away. Handy!
The Watkins moved in rather suddenly, when they discovered mold in their apartment* and reported it to their landlord who very abruptly decided to terminate their lease rather than remediate the mold. We had only a week to convert the girls’s bedroom (a little suite really) to a mini-apartment of sorts for the Watkins, where they will live until next summer when they look forward to moving into a condo they are in the process of purchasing.
When I say we converted the room, I mean “we” in the loosest sense of the word. It was actually a rather large posse of Hope Academy teachers who moved all the girls belongings into Charlie’s room, then made the cutest tiny bedrooms for Elisabeth and Miss P each in their own walk-in closet, set Annie and Charlie up in bunk-beds, re-organized all the clothes, toys, furniture, books. Then, they stripped the carpet from the old room, painted the room, and meanwhile, babysat all four children for a whole weekend so I could preside over the process from a comfortable chair.
This is why I can never leave Hope Academy. Who would care for me in my hour of need? If I ever fall gravely ill, there is no doubt in my mind these people will have my back. I have seen it with my own eyes, as they have risen up to support Mr. Watkins with food, and prayers, and donated vacation time, as he supports Mrs. Watkins who is battling a terrible disease (with grace and courage).
Dan and I were reminiscing the other night about the many unusual people who have lived with us and started making a list of names which totaled exactly thirty. It has been so valuable for our children to grow up with such a diverse group of people to love them. But I think this may be the greatest privilege of all: to do life with someone who is living joyfully, without fear, in spite of great suffering and uncertainty. Those Watkins, they laugh in the face of danger.* And they live and believe, right in front of our children, that we already know the end of the story. “If the Resurrection is true…then everything sad is going to come untrue!” -quote from Tim Keller, who was quoting Lewis, who was quoting Tolkien. What more could I want for my children?
*One symptom of her disease is respiratory distress which was exacerbated by mold in the old apartment. Although Mrs. Watkins has confessed to me in confidence that shortness of breath may be due not to her lung disease but to the handsomeness of Mr. Watkins!
Each of the girls have been monitored by our pediatric ophthalmologist, because Charlie’s little vision issue (eyes crossing) is often hereditary. Much to my surprise, Annie was diagnosed with her own vision problem this summer. I had no reason to suspect she was having trouble seeing. It has always been her hearing that is in question due to her remarkably loud voice!
Dr. Pribila broached the subject of Annie’s need for glasses with a very extensive introduction and explanation of the situation ending in the phrase, “So I think she needs glasses.” Which he said very quickly and quietly while wincing like I was going to hit him!
He was visibly relieved when I clapped my hands and exclaimed how cute she was going to be. (I feel a little guilty about that).
He was understandably nervous that he might get whacked with my purse due to our rocky past relationship. When we first noticed Charlie’s eye crossing he had just turned two. I remembered that newborn baby eyes cross, and assumed that it was not a worry in a toddler. When Dr. Pribila not only told me it was a worry, but that we were going to have to patch his eye for four hours a day, I confess I burst into tears and stormed out and I think he might have heard me say: “I wish we had never come even come here. We were doing just fine until we met you!” It does not excuse my behavior but I had been wrangling three toddlers two and under for two hours in the doctor’s office and was pregnant and everything seemed overwhelming at the time including eye patching an active two year old.
Due to his level of concern we saw him every few weeks for a year or so and I did apologize and he and I have laughed about it since. I have not even considered whacking Dr. Pribila with my purse for many years. And how could I not feel so fond of anyone who considers my children’s beautiful eyes as fascinating as I do. So he had no need to fear breaking the news about Annie’s glasses, but I understand it was probably a little PTSD.
And the glasses are every bit as cute as I knew they would be. There is something about them that gives her the effect of a very squatty lady. Yesterday a stranger commented, “Oh she looks like an adult in a little tiny body.” Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love her more, she goes and gets glasses! Dan and I can just hardly keep from swallowing her whole.
I decided this fall to use one of my free mornings while Annie is in preschool to volunteer an hour in Elisabeth, Charlie, and Miss P’s classes. When I initially mentioned my Monday morning availability to the teachers, Charlie’s teacher cautioned me that Monday’s the students are very busy with classwork and if I was hoping to do some tutoring and connect with a needy child,as most volunteers are, that would not be a good block of time to do so. I quickly set the record straight. I have no desire to connect with a needy child! I just want to drink coffee and cut with scissors and stare at Charlie for an hour.
I love being a volunteer. I love it more than any job I’ve ever had. I love it so much that I now have Annie’s carpool drop her off at Hope after preschool so I can stay and keep on cutting and glueing and staring at my children. It’s so relaxing!
Annie usually moseys in about the time I get to Elisabeth’s class. For a while I was stashing her under the teachers desk with a stack of picture books, but the teacher noticed and invited Annie to pull up a chair and join Elisabeth at her desk. Annie blended right in, scribbling diligently away on a little notebook. She was such a good second grader, that she was invited to come to second grade any time. It has become a favorite haunt of hers. She only betrays her age (3) when I tell her it is time to go home. Yesterday she hung onto the doorframe screaming, “NOOOO I don’t wanna go! I don’t wanna go!” while the students politely look away.
Yesterday I discovered the laminator. I may never go home.
And not to brag, but when Charlie’s teacher saw how many math bingo cards I laminated and cut in one day he declared me a “Beast”. I have arrived.
Below: Annie goes to second grade.