Christmas Critters

I had it in my mind to make Harvey and Zion matching toys for Christmas. I wanted to make Harvey a version of the chicken I made for baby Reuben, with a few small alterations. I eliminated the egg channel for ease of sewing and I cut the eyes in one piece rather than two because I found them difficult to line up as written in the pattern.

close up of chicken face

well, bok then.

Harvey opened the bag and exclaimed "Oh! It's a chicken!" He reacted with similar glee to every christmas present, but it was extra cute for the ones I made him.

harvey and his stuffed chicken

Harvey pointing the chicken in the direction of greenery

I also made one for Zion, but because the stuffed version would be as big as he is I made a flat blanket/chicken hybrid.

i have feeties too!

I can't tell if this one ended up weird looking or just weird to photograph. I was trying to get a shot of the feet on the bottom but it just kind of ends up looking like a smushed chicken. Oh well. A blanket doll is more about tactile experience than presentation, after all.

zion and his flat chicken

i'll chew on anything

I also made a toy for our niece Nisia, a pink cow at Dan's suggestion. The cow is kind of a big multi-step project, so I agreed to try only after the sweaters were finished. Dan was so excited about it that his eagerness carried the project through, and I sewed this up insanely fast. The previous cows took three hours to sew; this one I made in just an hour and a half. I didn't pin anything. I just crossed my fingers, whispered "this is a well-made pattern" and hoped the ends would line up on the other side. And with a lot of last-minute grace, it worked.

pink cow

Le Moo

Dan came back from walking Rascal on Christmas morning and I was just about ready to stuff the thing. "Should I give it eyes?" I asked.
"How long will that take?"
"Two and a half minutes."
"Okay, yeah, I guess give it eyes."

Crafters have weird conversations. As much fun as this all was, there's definitely a part of me that's glad December's over.


winter blues

Blue links on the blog, that is, for the new year. Maybe it'll bring some snow. Hold down "shift" and reload the page if anything looks odd. If it still looks odd complain to me because I did something wrong. Or you just don't like my design; I'd like to hear about that too I suppose.

The new look also sees the appearance of Zion, finally, on the little cartoon of us up there above these words. True, he's only a head and hand in Leah's arms at this point, but you have to start somewhere. By the next masthead update he'll be walking!

And as an aside, let me apologize for all the comments spam we've been getting, especially to anyone subscribing to the comments feed (I think it's actually just me, so that's ok). It's not even like we're getting spam for cool products or really dirty porn or whatever; no, it's "dyson vacuum parts", "estate planning", "neck pain treatment"... "KOSHER BEEF JERKY" (capitals in original). I guess the internet is getting old, just like the rest of us.


crafting receipts and vacation's end

Rascal on the couch with his chin on Harvey's Hannukah monster

he enjoys Harvey's Hannukah present

Rascal doesn't know it yet, but vacation is over. For me, anyways; I guess he's pretty much on permanent vacation and you very well may find him in the same spot tomorrow. Harvey will probably have taken back his monster, though: that's the purple object on which Rascal is resting his chin. We're highlighting our own crafting here, but a few awesome people crafted for us too. Well, for the boys, which is all that matters, right?

From Leah's cousin-in-law Arthur Harvey got a knitted purple monster that's a perfect size for toddler hugging, which he immediately did. It was also in his bed its first night home, but as the photo above shows it made its way downstairs where Rascal was able to appreciate the coziness. Our friend Amy crocheted a pair of monkeys for Zion and Harvey, each of which was marked with the appropriate initial. Not only are they super silly and cute, I will also credit them with teaching Harvey his letters. Today he picked out a small wooden 'z' from the box and said, "It's a 'z' for Zion!". Of course, when he says for somebody it means he actually wants to give it to them, which I had to stop: that little letter had choking hazard written all over it! (well, one letter of that phrase, anyways). But the intention was good, not to mention the pre-reading skills!

Speaking of which, I'm not super excited to go back to teaching children who are not my own tomorrow, and my body has chimed in with its agreement by coming down with quite a fever. Leah's sick of me, though, so hopefully a good night's sleep will see me fit and ready for the trenches again. If nothing else I can keep popping Tylenol. Man those things really work; I never would have got this blog post out otherwise! Now to bed.


Amazon fights passive aggresively with your wife so you don't have to!

Dan bought me some shoes for Christmas and I rather untactfully asked him if he was still within his time window to return them. This morning he handed me the packing slip.

passive aggressive return authorization

is ALL CAPS part of Amazon's pull-down menu?

I wonder if that's part of Amazon's pre-populated reasons for return. If so, they probably also include:

"There's just no pleasing this woman."
"What am I a mind reader?"
"Seriously folks, take my wife. Please."


The last of the Christmas sewing

Here's the rest of the sewing I did for Christmas. Mostly pragmatic things. An apron for Dan.

dan in new apron

what's cookin?

Some oven mitts, to replace the ones with the stupid silicone thumbs that keep wearing off, defeating their main purpose of not getting you burned.

oven mitts

already food stained. all is vanity.

I thought making oven mitts was a no-brainer since they seem so easy to sew. Unfortunately the thickness of the heat-proof material jammed my machine like seventy thousand times, making this one of those projects that you just want to be OVER ALREADY but it takes more and more hours trouble-shooting the machine, and then when you give it finally it's like, "Oh. Oven mitts. They must be easy to sew."

I'd probably like Christmas better if I didn't get so frustrated over things.

judy's pillows


I also made some pillows, by request. These actually were easy, though I had to learn a new skill to get the piping in. The piping turned out to be rather fun and I hope I get another chance to add piping to something in the future. I had three special requests this year from non-immediate famliy, these pillows, a skirt that my mom wanted the waistband shortened, and a pair of mittens that needed darning. I feel no small degree of pride that people ask me to mend things. It's nice to make presents without needing to come up with ideas sometimes.

And that's all I have to blog for Christmas! What a relief! I'm feeling a big of post-Christmas depression at the moment. I've been sick for over a week, the baby has been sleeping poorly for a month now, and I'm having trouble getting to that higher altitude of thinking where it looks like I will ever feel normal and rested. At least I can stop sewing on a deadline!


Parenting update

Zion cut two teeth yesterday and then finally slept like normal last night. Which is good because I was about to take him to the exorcist. Which doesn't really exist. In my price range.

Here's a collection of cute things Harvey said recently. To remind me why I have children.

"I want to take my shirt off, mama, to see how my belly's doin!"

"'Can we build a tower?' he said in his curious voice."

"Mama, what you do to your hair?"
"I made it straight. You like it?"
"I like it left."

"Can I read you a book, caboose? It's called 'Jop and Boonin are not ashamed.'"

"We're crawlin!"
"You are?"
"I said, 'Zion, want to crawl?' I said that!"
"And what did Zion say?"
"He said, 'GaGa!'"

"Can you sing Mild He Lays His Glory By, the newborn king song?"

"Can we go to the church that has toys? It's called Bethlehem."


administrative notices

Two things:

First, it has come to my attention that Leah's last post was the 2000th published on this blog (the extra 34 in the entry number were tests or accidental duplicates that have since been deleted). Woohoo! Once again she wins the big showy award. I have more posts than her here... why is it never me?!

Also, I have temporarily made it so we have to approve comments before they appear on the page. Something must be done to stop the flood of spam. Frequent commenters, though, may rest assured in the knowledge that you will be allowed to continue posting unconstrained by any delays... as long as you don't change the name you're commenting under. If you think you should be on that list and you get the "your comment is being held" message, send me an email—in fact, do that if anything in your commenting experience is not to your satisfaction. Sorry, and thanks for your patience!


the beauty of a child

When Harvey was a few days old, he was a pretty good-looking baby. A few weeks later, though, he was suffering from a terrible case of baby acne that left his cheeks red and pitted; between that and his patchy hair there weren't many pictures taken of him for a little while. It is ever thus. Our children are always beloved, but heaven knows they aren't always beautiful.

I sure know I wasn't. The second-grade picture is a reasonable showing, but by fourth I was showing a little too much buck teeth. The "rat-tail" hairdo didn't help me in middle school, nor did the braces and acne freshman year in high school. If Leah is to be believed, though, I made something of a recovery a few years after that.

These days with Harvey the cycle between beauty and... otherwise... is a matter of weeks or even days. He managed to get some good genes from somewhere (must have been his mama) so he's generally doing alright, but as I noted before he tends not to take the sort of care with his appearance that you'd expect from a model. Scratches, food smudges, and plain dirt are long-time occupants of his face, and lately he's branched out to magic marker as well (during the Christmas Eve church service he all unseen applied a very Robert Smith-looking smear of orange around his lips). Worst of all, though, are the weepy eyes that are the most notable feature of his current cold. Not only is the eye-goop and clumpy eyelash look a little off-putting, the irritation (and interrupted sleep!) have given him more droop to the eyes than usual. The J Crew catalog would not have him in his current state. Ah well, he'll soon be restored to beauty.

As for Zion, he's still working the cheeks and the smile, and he's lately added a bit of tongue-sticking-out (not yet captured on film), so he's pretty much set for cuteness. Especially with the cheeks.


why our house did not get clean on Saturday

We would like more time please. There never seems to be enough to do all the things we hope to accomplish, at least if you include sleep in the list of desirable activities. It's working that does it: I'm obviously out of the house for most of the effective non-sleeping hours, and as the only parent home Leah does wonders but still falls short of her ideal productivity. So we tend to greet weekends as wonderful expanse of open useful time stretching out in front of us—just imagine what cooking, cleaning, and even organizing we'll accomplish! Though often imagining is as far as it goes. But we have a good reason for that!

Our excuse is that, when presented with an opportunity to do something fun, we tend to take it. On Saturday, for example, the bizarrely warm weather gave Leah the idea of going to Drumlin Farm; when we invited our friends along it was revealed that they had had the same thought and were about to invite us. The outing was thus clearly divinely ordained, so off we went. Then we brought them home to dinner at our house—unplanned, un-prepared-for—so naturally, rather than getting cleaner, the kitchen (to take only one example) got almost unimaginably messier. (The fact that three of the homemade beers exploded upon opening did not help the situation.) Sure, this afternoon all was made presentable again, but theoretically I could have been cleaning other things had the kitchen already been done.

But never mind hypotheticals. Even if you assume that I could manage two days of solid cleaning, something not really borne out by evidence, what kind of existence would that be?! A clean house is easier to live in, but the real reason we want it to stay nice is so we can offer hospitality, so it would be silly to pass up an opportunity to invite folks by now because we're getting ready for some as-yet-undetermined future visit. Also if all we did was clean we'd be even grumpier when all our work was undone in scarce moments by children and food preparation, as it invariably is.

So. We want a clean house, but not at the expense of fun times. We're working on having both. So stop by any time... and we're now accepting invitations for outings next weekend.


Mama's mittens

The week between Christmas and New Years is the time for a little selfish knitting, at least according to my own one-year-old tradition. One day I'll knit myself a sweater to match the boys, but at this point in my life the most I can handle is mittens.

mitten front

Who do you think made this?

The yarn came from a fantastic tip from our friend Cindy, who yard sales like a superhero and follows Craigslist like it's her job. She sent me a link a few months back about a yarn sale down the street from me. A woman was clearing out her mother's stock of yarn and I got two skeins of the beautiful handspun wool for $3. $3! Isn't that crazy? I'd pay like $30 for that in the store! (And, er, diminishing on the savings I got a whole lot of other yarn too. More than I have shelves, actually. But that's a story for another day.)

mitten back

talk to the thumb gusset

The pattern is Give a Hoot, by Kelbourne Woolens. It is lovely to follow a line-by-line pattern that is not only free but comes out correctly. The shape of the mittens is beautiful even without the front design, and I think I'll use it as my default mitten pattern in the future. Just look at that thumb gusset in the photo above. If that doesn't stroke you right in your desire for perfection then you don't have OCD.

mitten reaching for the door

back into the fray...

The sleeve part is also nice and long, so it's a good mitten all around and very warm and cozy to wear. Almost makes me want to finish the socks I started last summer. But not enough to keep me from sewing baby gifts instead. Ahh for the vacation knitting of last week!


If the revolution happens, you'll have to tell me in person.

I switched to a pre-paid phone plan today, which means text messages and data are off limits. I've been meaning to do it for months, but getting the kids in the car to tackle the verizon store seemed like too odious a task. Fortunately or unfortunately Zion gave up napping last week, and now nothing is more odious than anything else. So now I have a new phone plan, and Harvey loves the mall so much he wants to live there. ("The mall is made out of the Gap!" he says.)

I do not feel like a fantastic parent when Harvey professes his love for the mall, or when I try to stretch out stupid errands in the hopes that I will somehow strike a magical Car Nap Moment. I feel like a good parent when we stay home and play outside and draw and work on letters and read bible stories. I wish I saw as many parents at the library yesterday as I did at the mall this morning. But then again you're supposed to be quiet at the library.


sick transit

Last month our friend Katie wrote a very brief blog post that nevertheless speaks volumes about parenthood. Leah was a little more verbose on the same subject, but the sentiment is similar. Parenting means coming in contact with vomit, more vomit than you have ever had to deal with at any other stage of your life (including college, you young people, no matter how much you and your friends drank).

The worst part of it is—worst for everyone involved—even big almost-pre-schoolers like Harvey don't really know what's going on with the acute stomach pains followed by coughing followed by you-know-what. There's no desperate dash to the bathroom, nor even any awareness that such a thing might be advisable; on the contrary, Harvey associates any gestures designed to mitigate the mess of being sick—sitting up, a towel held in front of him, and so on—with the terror of vomiting itself, so he resists them with all his meager, sickness-addled strength. Or sometimes he's just asleep and gets sick all over the himself and the pillow like earlier this evening. At least he's so wiped out that, as soon as he's cleaned up, he's desperate to get back to sleep.

He's only thrown up twice this evening but he's definitely down for the count—at least now he's sleeping rather than lying crying on the floor, which is how Leah tells me he spent nearly all of the day today. Zion is also sleeping through his own sickness, if by sleeping you mean occupying the bed and crying out in pathetic discomfort every fifteen minutes or so. Leah has been keeping him company since about 6:30 this evening. If she gets any rest in between wakeups it'll be a grand help to her long-enduring cold.

Hopefully a good night's sleep will see us all restored, otherwise heaven knows what'll happen tomorrow!


brief commute report

The commute to work this morning was not pleasant, in any conventional sense. Persistent headwinds drove a mix of snow, rain, and ice pellets into my face, rendering my cheeks numb and raw—but except for my face I was unpleasantly warm, since winter is broken here and the temperature was actually well above freezing. My coat is almost waterproof, but my gloves aren't at all, so with the sweat I was feeling damp from inside and out. There was just enough snow on the path for me to feel a drag and remember how slow winter cycling can sometimes be.

All in all, it was great fun!

out of the box

Today the 3rd graders were asking me if I was going to watch the Patriots playoff game this weekend, and they were shocked and amazed when I told them that I wasn't because we don't have a tv. "What do you do?!" one of them asked incredulously. What indeed! I figure that at this stage of our life a tv wouldn't actually slow us down that much: it's pretty much caring for babies full time lately, and that can be accomplished just as well in front of some quality programing. But of course there's the moral component—how could we possibly raise good little hippies if we let them be exposed to mass culture?!

Another kid had a better question, wondering how under the circumstances I was so well-versed in the characters and settings of Phineas and Ferb. I told her we watched on the computer (not mentioning the questionable legality of the particular method), which of course led other perceptive children to wonder why I couldn't watch the game online. I told them to take it up with the NFL and the broadcast networks, but when I started trying to describe licensing and blackouts they got bored and wandered away.

I've been completely out of the loop this football season, but I did try and catch up with a few of the late-season games via bittorrent; I tell you, football games take a lot of time to watch, even with all the ads stripped out. But when you already know how it comes out and you can pause it indefinitely in the background, it's kind of nice to watch a game in five-minute intervals over the course of a couple weeks. It sure doesn't get in the way of your life like watching it on live tv does! So don't worry 3rd graders, we're doing alright.


small comfort

Leah and I have shared the same comforter almost as long as we've lived together. We bought it, along with our bed, from Ikea when we lived in California a long time ago. In retrospect it was extremely poor planning to buy a bed a month before a cross-country move, but since there was no Ikea in Stoughton back then I suppose it was all for the best in the end: both bed and comforter have served us extremely well over the years. But now there's a problem.

Early in our cohabitation we had a hard time sleeping together under one comforter, and needed separate sets of bedding for nighttime comfort, even in balmy Santa Monica. How we laughed about that even a few months later when the new comforter was plenty big for the both of us, to say nothing of when we welcomed a dog and then a baby into the bed and still found room to spare (relatively). Somehow, though, the same comforter is now once again too small.

I can't imagine what the problem is: Rascal is the same size that he has been and Zion is certainly no bigger than Harvey was just before we kicked him out into his own bed. But somehow now, every night, both Leah and I struggle with trying to keep the edges over us as we cling desperately to opposite sides of the mattress. We've always had to cling, mind, but the lack of comforter cover is new and alarming. Has the thing shrunk? Is Rascal taking up more of it underneath himself in his old age? I have no idea. In any case, we now each have a supplementary blanket to cover the gap. Oh well, at least it's useful when the nights are as cold as this one now!


minor confusion

Harvey was measuring things this morning with a rubber band, which he calls a bandaid. "This costs three and a half inches," he announced for each item. Except for the ones that were fourteen and a half inches, or fourteen three and a half. He clearly has a fine career as a surveyor ahead of him, or maybe a cashier.

I had a grand Martin Luther King Day post planned except we lost our internet this afternoon. Silly Harvey stories are about all I can type on this phone.


on teaching kids faith

"Mama, can you tell me about Jesus?" Harvey asks while I'm cooking dinner.

Most evangelists wait a lifetime for such a layup.

"You wanna hear about when Jesus was born? Or about grown-up Jesus?" I ask.

"Grown up Jesus."

"Well," I say, wondering how much detail I can convey without burning onions. "When Jesus was 30 he went to his cousin John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan river. And when he did the sky split open and a bird came down from heaven. Well, it was like a bird but it was really the spirit of the Lord, and a voice came down from heaven saying, 'You are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.'"

"Can you tell me more of that story, Mama?"

"Well, after that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and was tempted by the devil. Then he came out and began his ministry."

"Can you tell me more bout that?"

"Jesus walked around from town to town and healed everyone he met who was sick, and helped people with whatever they needed, like if they were hungry he made them some food, or if they wanted to know the right way to live he told them what to do, which was to follow him."

"Tell me more!"

"Then the jewish leaders didn't like what he was saying, so they had him killed after kind-of a puppet trial, they killed him on a cross which is called crucifixion."

"Oh," Harvey says giggling. "Can you tell me more of that story?"

"He went to the place where the dead are, and on the third day he rose, which is to say he came back from the dead. He was resurrected. And people say Jesus died for all our sins, and if you believe in him you're what's called 'saved.' You could be saved too if you want, Harvey."

Suddenly Harvey's face turns ashen. "I DON'T WANT TO!" he yells.


poor Rascal

Rascal went to the vet clinic for a checkup yesterday. It didn't go so well: in fact, it got so bad that at one point he was sedated and restrained on the operating table with an oxygen mask over his snout and his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. But don't worry, he's perfectly healthy: the vets just needed to do all that so they could, you know, prod his stomach and look in his ears and things. You know, check-up stuff.

You see, even at the best of times our wonderful puppy is a little neurotic, and he's never what you call pleased when presented with the prospect of anyone he doesn't know touching him; still less with being closed into a small exam room saturated with the odors of other dogs' terror (although I assume they do a good job of cleaning up all the actual pee...). So he wouldn't even let anyone put a muzzle on him, which was a prerequisite for getting near him in a medical capacity. Thus the sedative.

If all had gone well, he would have been sedated right there in the exam room, checked out and vaccinated, and then the sedative would have been reversed by another injection. The vet was very positive about the prospect. Unfortunately Rascal is like a super-villain in that, even when injected with a dose of tranquilizer warranted to stop a dog 20 pounds heavier than he is, he can fight it off for quite a while. And when he finally did go down, he kept fighting to the extent that he started seizuring. So they gave him valium. Here he is completely out of it being brought back to the surgery where they could make sure he wouldn't die while examined him.

Rascal being strapped onto a stretcher by two vet techs

they took off the muzzle because of the seizures

At this point I had already been at the office for over an hour, but while he was pleased to report Rascal's fine state of health the vet also had to tell me that he wouldn't recover from the valium for another couple hours. So I had to go home dogless.

After an hour at home—I was told to wait two hours before returning, but, you know, the half-hour drive each way—I headed back, this time with Harvey along for the ride. When they ushered us in to see Rascal he didn't look like he'd ever be able to stand again, but they assured me that he was coming out of it wonderfully—so much so that they had him well-muzzled up. Apparently the wild snapping part of his brain is the first to come back online.

Figuring he'd be happier waking up with his family, the techs set us up in an exam room with him (and with a movie for Harvey—Snow Dogs, have you ever seen it?). Realizing he was among friends he jumped right up but was very unsteady on his feet, and after I petted him for a couple minutes he laid back down and went to sleep. I think he would have slept all night, but there's only so much Cuba Gooding Jr. I can stand so we woke him up and hauled him out of there. He slept in the car on the way home.

Back home it was kind of scary how out of it he still was. He could walk around but didn't have any fine motor control: he tripped over things and misjudged corners and was just generally clumsy. What with that combined with the strands of drool—the drugs made him forget how to swallow—and glassy eyes, he was quite disturbingly zombie-like. But we got him settled down and he went to sleep again for an hour or so, then roused enough to come upstairs and join us on the bed.

He's still not quite himself yet—he didn't eat his dinner!—but he's much more active and coordinated today, and I'm sure that tomorrow will see him completely restored. That said, I'm not looking forward to next year's checkup. All the staff at the clinic were super-nice throughout the whole thing, but I can't help but think there has to be a better way. In all honesty, I feel the same way that he does about doctors, I just have the social conditioning to hide it!

Anyways, that's how I spent yesterday afternoon.


a formal introduction

I never had imaginary friends as a child; perhaps it was something to do with my total lack of imagination. Harvey is clearly his mother's son in that respect, because he spends big chunks of his day holding conversations with himself or making his toys talk to each other or "reading" wonderfully creative stories from books. Although, when I say it that way you might think that this wellspring of imaginative play means that he can spend time by himself, which is not generally the case: his conversations and stories are so fascinating to him that he wants to be sure we know about them! Also we need to be around to eat the food he cooks, and to ride on trains and tractors with him. Things like that.

Featuring prominently in all this imagination are Jop and Boonin. I argued for "Jopp" as a spelling for the former but Leah got there first, so I guess I'll follow her lead. In any case, I wish I could remember when we started to hear about these two characters. All I can recall is that Jop showed up first and Boonin followed a little while later, but by now they tend to be inseparable. They live under the flower tree in our yard (Harvey makes his home in the hemlocks and the store is beneath the holly), but they spend a good deal of time over at our house. Today they were even there when we were out watching the football game with friends! Maybe they're more base hoop fans.

In the car on the way home this evening Harvey was talking about the pair (that's how I knew I could expect them when we got home; he says they let themselves in). At some point in what was mostly a monologue, we heard the following:

"I'm Jop. And I'm Boonin. And we're Jop and Boonin."

So there you have it. Whether he was influenced in his cadence by the football announcers—he didn't seem to be paying attention but we should know by now that he's always listening—or some other source, it seemed like as good an introduction as any to the pair that play so large a role in our elder son's imagination. I expect to continue to hear more from them in the future


another era's cookery

Since I love both books—not just reading, the actual physical books too—and cooking, it's only natural that I should be drawn to cookbooks. Obvious, right? Of course, I don't like just any cookbooks. No Rachel Ray quick-and-easy generic American food for me; give me the scientific, the ethnic, or the antique. Especially the antique. Not even to cook from necessarily, but to read and marvel at the recipes of yore. I only wish the ones I have went back further, but cooking in the 70s was plenty different enough to be of interest to a historian of culinary trends.

This evening I was perusing The Farmhouse Cookbook, by Yvonne Young Tarr, which was published in 1973. It's a really interesting mix of old-time recipes, alot of them of Pennsylvania Dutch extraction, with trendy modern dishes. Soy sauce is an ingredient in at least one recipe, for example, and glazed ham with pineapple makes an appearance. On the other hand, if you had access to 100 lbs of hams you could also follow the recipe for Farm-Cured Ham on page 140 and, "[l]ike the country folk of the past, ... enjoy this time-ripened delight." Time-ripened here refers both to the recipe and the product itself; I only wish I had room to store that much ham, carefully wrapped in brown paper and muslin bags, on the premises. Ditto the bacon, which also calls for 100 lbs of meat.

I was also fascinated by the recipe for Calf's Head Soup, which I read to Leah. Even though she joined me yesterday in vigorously defending, in principal if not in practice, the use of "mechanically separated meat"—doesn't it seem right to use all possible parts of the animal?—she thought the line could be drawn at brains. In her defense she's never been a fan of brains, but I don't think it's entirely a necessary conclusion that she would resist eating them when they were cooked unrecognizably into a soup. The point is moot, however, because I could no more easily get my hands on a calf's head than I could pig meat in three-digit weights. Although I bet if I asked around at the farmers market...

(David Walbert at Walbert's Compendium writes more knowledgeably than I'll ever manage on the topic of old recipes, and I recommend you check out his blog if you're at all interested in the subject.)


the winter of our discontent

We tend to be sicker in the winter, I find, and despite the lack of actual wintery weather the trend is holding true this year, with a vengeance. Today it was a stomach bug for all the humans but Zion, and he threw up too anyways because, you know, he's a baby and all. I suppose he didn't want to be left out. Leah always feels like the world is ending when either she or the kids are sick (me being out of commission is I think only a minor inconvenience) and this time I think I might agree with her. Good heavens. Nevertheless, Harvey and I managed this afternoon to maintain good spirits despite bouts of vomiting, and if he makes it through the night without getting sick again I may regain my will to live.

old farmers

Harvey likes reading books about pumpkins. Having them read to him, that is; you know what I mean. Other farming-related texts often make their way into our house as well. And I've noticed a pattern: in nearly all cases, when a child in a picture book is described as living on a farm his or her caretakers are grandparents rather than parents. Leaving aside the disturbing question of what happened to the parents (are they dead? drug dealers? financial wizards with no time for their kids?), this shows a disturbing lack of faith in the long-term prospects of American agriculture.

I'm sure there's no slight against farming intended by any of the authors; they just don't expect their readers to believe that a young couple, the sort likely to have a picture-book-protagonist-aged offspring, would willingly tie themselves to the soil for their livelihood. Not that the farmers in the stories seem to be working too hard; it's more the retired-in-the-country-and-fun-to-visit farming. True, there are some good books about farming in the olden days—our last library visit I read Harvey Jane Yolen's Harvest Home—but if you go by most of the books set in the modern day farming is clearly a dying art.

Which it may be, in mainstream culture. But we're fighting the power over here, and we need picture books to back us up and send the right message to our children! One of the rare counter-examples is Nikki McClure's To Market, To Market, which dives right into realistic descriptions of how farmers market vendors grow or make the things they bring to the market. Only there's not much plot to grab you, and the explanations are a little long for Harvey's taste. Oh, he'll listen to them—this child will listen to the dictionary for as long as you're willing to read it to him—but it's not the kind of thing that's going to excite him, either about rereading it or about living it.

So... who knows any children's-book authors?


chicken update

Many people have asked me recently, "So, how are the chickens?"

They're great! I reply. Doing fine. Don't mind the cold at all. Friendly and sociable. So much fun!

"And how are the eggs?" they ask.

Eggs? Oh. They don't lay eggs.

Zilch. Zip. Goose egg, as they say, except, you know, without the actual egg. There's a reason, it seems, that casual backyard farmers don't start chicks in August. My father has been joking that I bought the wrong kind of chickens. The non-egg-laying kind.

But still I try to be upbeat and positive. Look how much they love the snow!

chickens in their run in the snow

snow? we bok at snow.

And how great they are around kids!

zion and chicken

future hippy and hippy protein provider

Then this morning I went out with their usual ration of treats and found only three out of four chickens diving at the dehydrated worms. Um, where's the fourth bird? I looked under the coop... nobody there. I went around the coop to look in through the door. Uh oh. There was the forth chicken, lying in the nesting box, not moving.

"Dan!" I came yelling into the house. "I think one of the chickens is dead. I don't want to check all by myself."

Dan, though already late for work, diligently put on his raincoat and followed me outside.

"She's just lying in the nesting box - i don't know if she's breathing - I didn't want to open the lid on a dead chicken - please look for me," I pleaded rather frantically.

Dan opened the lid of the nesting boxes and shook his head with exhasperation.

"Leah, she's not dead," he said patiently. "She's sitting on eggs!"


the first fruits of those who wait

"Go on broody hen!" he called as he shooed her away. "There aint no babies in here. Go peck! Be free! Live the bachelorette lifestyle!"

And so we have our first four eggs today. Just like that. You can't tell me that isn't magic.