Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowy Weekend Thoughts

Even though we live surrounded by the mountains, we don't get a lot of snow here. We used to when I was younger, but now years go by and the "big" snow of the year is a couple inches in late February or March. In fact, we have a rule that Justin has to take off a snow day, even if he could get to work, just so he won't miss out on the likely one chance to take the kids sledding.
You can understand then that we now have the attitude of "I'll believe it when I see it" regarding deep snowfalls. And, you can really understand then our shock when it DID snow.

~This shot was taken on 12/18 about 10pm. That's our redbud tree, wrapped in gold Christmas lights~

It is funny. We woke up early Saturday to Whiskey, our chocolate lab, howling for some unknown reason. Then the boys got up and came into our room early. Bouncing on the bed, watching cartoons, snuggling.
In pajamas, about 8am I wandered out onto the front and back porches to snap some photos of the snow.

~8am 12/19 - the top photo is the birdbath out front & the snow-covered chili pot (see the 1st photo) - bottom photo was taken on the back deck, on the table .. FIFTEEN INCHES!!!~

By the time I got back inside, Shannon was done with his cereal and Tristan wasn't far behind. By the time I got to the bedroom, Shannon was in his snowsuit, demanding to go sledding. Like, RIGHT NOW!!! Uh .. no. Mama needs a few moments in the morning. Sledding at 8am isn't on the agenda.
By 9am we were outside. Agendas were clashing. Shannon was determined to head up the street to Salem's Municipal Golf Course -- local mecca for sledding. Tristan was happy about the snow until he found out it was waist deep on him and, while walking is hard, turning around is near impossible. Justin already had the shovel in hand and was beginning to shovel the walk. I had photographer-giddiness and wanted snow shots.

~Top to bottom: Shannon happy about the snow & eyeing the sled; Tristan still happy about the snow, but waist-deep in it; Justin, beginning the "dig-out" ---- agendas are clashing!~

Photography won out. Or maybe the saying is just true: "if Mama ain't happy, ain't no-one happy." The kids were playing in the yard while I wandered up the street a bit for photos and Justin dug. Then the whining started. So, we decided to walk down to Main St. to check things out.
By the time we got back it was close to lunch time and Justin and I were beginning to be at each other's throats. Tristan had to be carried back part of the way, Shannon was still unhappy that we hadn't gone sledding. An impromptu snowball fight did break out, but tears ensued when Tristan got snow on his face and couldn't comprehend that you just can NOT wipe snow off of your face with a snowy glove, no matter how many times you wipe.

The last time it snowed like this, I was in my freshman year of college. This house was still my mother's, and some friends and I came home to crash here and play. Things have changed.

Now, the walks need to be shoveled. The dogs have to considered: Whiskey went out in the snow just fine, but Jomo (who is much bigger than Whiskey) was too scared to go out (he's scared of everything). And then there were the chickens to think of. We covered their tractor before the snow started and had to dig it out and uncover it after the snow stopped. They can handle the cold, but they need a dry place to hang out. And, all the while, we were trying to deal with kids still too young to truly understand all of the above .. AND we're trying to deal with our own agendas and trying to learn to work together to get things done, to communicate better. To not snap at each other. (Fair little note here - I had/have PMS too .. so that made me extra nice to deal with)

In all of this though, we are lucky. We are very, very lucky that these were our issues to deal with, our hassles, our irritants. Interstates around us are shut down. Back-ups 20 miles long. Hundreds and hundreds of people stuck in their cars, needing rescue.
Our electricity stayed on. We had a solid roof over our heads, a warm house, plenty of hot cocoa (made with my homemade hot cocoa mix recipe:, and the joy of each other, knowing we were all safe together.

Life is definitely different living on an urban homestead. We did get to sledding, but chores came first. And, our chickens even decided to lay two eggs for us today (remember - we got none in November & since 12/14 we've only gotten 1 every other day). Tonight, we're eating pasture-raised pork chops with rice cooked in homemade turkey stock, and Justin and I are drinking some of our homebrewed Back Porch Brown Ale. Not a bad end to the weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yes, Virginia

Today I just want to share a link to a blog I follow.

I've read this before, and I love it dearly. I grew up in Virginia and, even though I knew it wasn't so, I somehow always thought the "Virginia" he was speaking to was the State. Somehow I still hear it that way.

I'm posting this to follow-up yesterday's more angry-toned blog.

Believe, love, dream, be kind, be happy, be young at heart, be blessed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasonal Bitchin'

This time of year there is a lot of bitchin. In fact, I think it would stand to reason that there is more bitching about the Season ... or rather the Holidays, than there is actual celebration of the Holidays & Season. And, when that is the case, something just ain't right folks.

~Our "little" tree, all decorated & lit up. The golden glow around it is from the Leg Lamp in the other corner of the room~

Above is our "little" Christmas tree. We have really tall ceilings, and so tall, tall trees are a "must have." Financially this means we stick with white pines because they're cheaper. This year there seems to be a very limited supply of them, and tall they aren't. Ours is still 8' or so, but it just seems tiny in the front room. *waaahhhh* When we began decorating it, we realized this tree's branches were particularly thin and weak, meaning most ornaments are actually hung on the wire of the lights. We ended up only putting one box of ornaments on the tree. *waaaahh* GET OVER IT!!!!
Why do I need to get over it? One, this little tree turned out to be a blessing. This year our dogs are indoor dogs for the first time. More ornaments to attract nosy dogs is something we do NOT need. Also, really importantly, this was the first year we've let the kids help decorate the tree. Our kids are 5 1/2 and 3. We made it through the one box with only one broken ornament, and I think it was just that ornament's time, not so much a slip of hands. But, again, more ornaments were not needed. Decorating with the kids was wonderful, albeit a few "AACCK!! Don't touch THAT ornament!!!" moments since we have several ornaments that are glass and were blown by friends. Decorating the tree should be one of those positive family memories. Let's just stick with the one box before we end up killing each other, ok? Ahh .. happiness.

Pardon me for going all third person here, but Mama Taney is sick of this Seasonal Bitchin'. Really. There should be signs that say "Tis the Season to Bitch and Moan." And Mama Taney ain't havin' it no more!!!
We're ALL broke, ok?? Even million-ba-jillionaires, I'm sure, are complaining and whining because they don't have enough money right now to afford luxury, solid gold, diamond encrusted crappers for everyone on their list. It really doesn't matter how much money you have this time of year, because in your eyes, you don't have enough.And that isn't the fucking point!!! It isn't about money! It's about trying to survive having to be around all your relatives without going insane and starting WWIII. Just kidding. It's about trying to be grateful for those insane relatives because it means you're LOVED. That someone out there in this big blue world is thinking about you and loves you. And you love them. *pardon me while I get my tissue*

After the tree was decorated and the kids were in bed, there was a knock on the door. Due to recent issues with knocks on doors I was more ready to call the cops than curious as to whom might be calling. It was Boy Scouts collecting non-perishable, canned goods for the needy. I gave them organic green beans. Our cupboards might not be over-flowing, but they certainly aren't bare, and even people who can't afford to buy their food deserve to eat organic food.

And there is the other point of the season. To remember that you're warm and safe and the biggest thing you have to do is bitch about the credit card bills you've chosen to rack up to buy gifts. That you have a roof over your head and food in your cupboards. That you have shoes on your feet. That your children are safe and in their beds (or wherever yours may be), but that they're safe, and healthy, and that you're know that they are and you're not praying that they were alive with you this year, or that they can be moved out of the ICU, and so on.

~My kids, meeting Santa, in the snow. I know you've seen this before, but it still oozes of Christmas Spirit when I see it and makes me smile~

It is nearly impossible to not get wrapped up in the commercialization of it all, I know that. I've started throwing catalogs away without looking at them, deleting emails without looking at them. And it feels great .. a weight lifted off my shoulders. Pass the chex mix please!

If you can't get over it, then let me know. I want to make sure to stay the hell away from you this holiday season.

Happy Chickens

We have happy chickens right now. Gloriously, crazy, happy chickens. Why are our biddies so giddy? Yesterday Shannon and I cleaned out their nest boxes and coop, sent the spent straw to the garden, and put fresh straw everywhere for them. This means in the nest boxes, in the coop, and in the tractor. That probably doesn't sound like much of a "woo-hoo" cause for chicken giddiness, but it is.
Normally we rotate them around the yard and so every couple of days they get a fresh green patch of Earth to go at with wild abandon. (did you know chickens have wild abandon?) But now, they're in their "Winter Chalet" ~ which means they're up against the house, tractor eased up next to their little coop, so they can escape the blizzards we don't seem to get around here anymore. They are loving it.
It also means that they have torn their little plot of Earth to shreds already. So, suddenly having it covered in lots of fresh straw is like coming home to find your house/room covered in lots and lots of down blankets and pillows. YAY!

~The "Winter Chalet" - the tractor eased up next to the coop, with the chickens enjoying the fresh straw~

~You know what?? CHICKEN BUTT!!! sorry, couldn't resist~

~Deliriously happy chickens, digging their fresh straw while the sun sets~

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rooskie Yazik

Documenting our unschooling journey is a challenge. Most days if you were a casual observer you would think we're not schooling our children at all. But they are learning, every moment of every day they're learning something new. One new thing they're learning is some Rooskie Yazik ~ Russian.

~Pryvet (hi/hello) from Shannon~

Shannon had really been showing a lot of interest in speaking things in foreign tongues. I use that phrase as both boys have taken to making up their own language as well as actually trying to learn other languages.
While I took Spanish in high school (even went to Spain), I must admit that having Spanish shoved down our throats lately by well-meaning PBS shows and characters ala Miss Rosa has made me rather sick of it. And, I'm also really tired of hearing about learning to speak Mandarin. This seems to be the new "white collar" language that is the subject of moms' conversations whenever a playgroup springs up. There is validity for learning both of those languages, and I won't put down anyone who does but, as usual, our path has led us in a different direction.

Why Russian? Well, I like it. I like hearing men speak it, there is something very masculine about the language to my ears. A kinda sexist statement, but the truth none the less. Also, and more importantly, the boys have a Babushka ("grandmother"). My step-mother is from the Ukraine, meaning one of their grandmothers is fluent in Russian. (For you persnickety folks, yes, we know there is a difference between Ukrainian Russian and Russian) That's just a gem there that can't be passed up!! Justin's grandfather also speaks a little Russian, so there is another bonus.

How have we been learning? Well, we debated a lot on this one. We looked at Muzzy, but heard a lot of bad reviews. Sitting our kids in front of tv so they can watch something in a foreign language over and over and over and over isn't exactly something we go "woo hoo, let's do that!" about. So we asked around. A good friend recommended A free site that teaches you with simple phrases, sounded out by someone speaking them as well as written in front of you.
So far we've learned the phrases: "hello/hi," "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," "Goodbye," "No," "Yes," and "Excuse Me."

I say that we've learned them because we realized something. We couldn't expect Shannon to just magically learn a foreign language by clicking through some cards on the computer and hearing someone speak them to him. He needed to hear them during the day and be able to say them during the day. WE had to learn it all as well. The family that learns together ..... speaks Russian together ~ or something like that.
Submersion is the key. Of course, trying to submerse yourself in a foreign language without a fluent speaker living in the house with you, or around you constantly, is kinda like trying to learn to scuba dive (or at least snorkel) in a bathtub. You get the hang of it, the general idea of it, but it is a much slower process than just being tossed out there to the big blue sea.

And, of course, they still are learning proper English. Or American. And they're still learning manners and etiquette. AND we're Southern. That might not sound like it adds up to anything, but you haven't heard "Da ma'am" (yes ma'am) and "Nyet sir" (no sir) spoken with a slight Southern twang before. This was very evident when my step-mother tried helping us with pronunciation and I had to tell her "that IS what they're saying."
And Shannon, being the big brother that he is, has decided Tristan must also learn proper Russian. The main one is "Yzveeneete" which means "excuse me." Potty humor is naturally something hysterical to the boys, so we have lots of opportunities to use this phrase daily. If Tristan burps Shannon will quickly say "what do you say?" to which Tristan replies "Excuse me." (Point needed here - Tristan will say this on his own, without prompting, but Shannon likes to prompt and boss) Shannon will then look at Tristan and say "In Russian."

And so it goes that we all learn a little Rooskie Yazik. When we've gotten these phrases really downpat, we'll move add another set. No rush, just learning to scuba dive in the tub, we're not likely to find sharks.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Little Drummer Boy

"Shall I play for you!
pa rum pum pum
on my drum.

Mary nodded
pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him
pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me
pa rum pum pum pum
me and my drum."

~These lyrics are brought to you courtesy ~

I'll preface this with the acknowledgement that we're not Christians, though we do celebrate Christmas. It was the fact that I was reminded that it was Christmas that I felt the need to write this blog.

Shannon has been taking drum lessons. He'll be 6 in January, and is doing really well. The lessons occur at 6pm every Thursday. Justin is the musician in the family, and since he's the one who helps him with his lessons, we have to have the lessons after he gets off work. The lessons are 30 minutes long. Not exactly even beginning to push the limits of the noise ordinance in our town (according to the cops anyway, whom I've double checked with).
But, because we do have a neighbor who has decided to hate us, the drums have become the newest issue. The first time we got a phone call screaming and threatening us, the boys were showing their grandparents the drums and were playing for, literally, 5 minutes - it was 6pm on a Sunday evening. The second time, Shannon was showing his uncle what he had learned from his first lesson. He had been playing roughly 10 minutes, and the screaming call came in right before 5pm on a Saturday. After that we decided it was worth the $4.20 a month to block her phone number and put an end to the harassing phone calls and the stress from them.
Remember, this is the same neighbor who hates our flowers (and calls the city about them), hates our garden and the mulch for it, and generally every movement we make. We've tried speaking reasonably with her ... only to be told that no, we don't have the right to live the way we want.

Anyway, last week's lesson went blissfully well. Aside from the back porch light turned on to let us know she was angry. That's one of the signs: she leaves the front porch on all night long (I guess thinking it will bother us since it is near our bedroom window). She turned the back porch light off right before 9pm last week.

This week, another story. The drum instructor is a friend and his girlfriend has become a friend as well, coming over every week to hang out while the lessons go on. She and I were talking in the front room when there was a knock on the door. Guess who ... !!
I politely informed her that there were drum lessons going on. It didn't matter. More threats, more ridiculous accusations. I began politely informing her to get off our property or else I would call the cops. I was told she had hired a detective, she was documenting things, she would file a formal complaint (that's the recurring threat). I told her to go ahead and repeated that she needed to leave our property. She began going on that she had been trying to call us. I finally told her that we had blocked her number because she has been harassing us. This was met with a response of a screaming "YOU'RE HARASSING ME!". I shut the door.

So, with the thought of it being Christmastime, this song came to mind. I couldn't remember the lyrics, just the melody. I looked up the lyrics for this blog and it was the last part of the song, the part I quoted above, that really struck me.
In everything we do, we try to strengthen community ties and bonds. We try to get to know our neighbors and the people in our community. Even when there may be differences of lifestyles, we see that as a welcome opportunity to learn something new, even if that is just tolerance.
It truly saddens me to think that someone would chose to live such a miserable existence. To realize that there really does come a time when there are people you can't try to reason with, that you can't try to work things out with.

I'm not sure where this crazy path will wind up. My bones tell me that this isn't the end of this, that there is more to come.
I do know that I won't let one person stand between us and the life we want to live. There is no way in absolute hell that I will let someone stand between my child and his education.

Music is meant to bring harmony. To quote Plato: Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.
I know that while someone is learning music it can often sound like something needing to be put out of it's misery. But, if you're life is so full anger, bitterness, and hatred that you can't tolerate an almost 6 year old's 30 minute drum lesson once a week ... well then, at this time of year at least, I can see the true embodiment of the Scrooge that Dickens wrote about so long ago.

PS ~ It is quarter till midnight now and the back porch light (which shines into our kitchen), as well as the front porch light are still on. Is this the way you try to upset a tree-hugger, by wasting energy?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ye Olde Salem Christmas

This past Friday was Salem's Christmas Parade. We always go down there, bundling up in many, many layers and taking blankets to sit on & wrap around us. We normally take hot cocoa, but this year it was accidentally left at home. Justin's family has been coming over and watching the parade with us for the last few years ~ a really nice tradition to have.
The day after the parade is always "Ye Olde Salem Christmas." There are activities going on between the Farmer's Market and Longwood Park, but we usually just walk down past the Market and to the library where the real treat is: a visit with Santa Claus!
Every year the Santa & Mrs Claus visit the Salem Public Library. You can sit on his lap and have your photo taken, or you can take your own photo ~ and, of course, you get to tell him what you want! Mrs. Claus reads Christmas stories to the kids elsewhere in the library and there are areas for crafts and letter-writing set-up.
It is always a special time, but this year was made even more special by the fact that ... it SNOWED! We only got a dusting down here, but the timing couldn't have been better!

So, we bundled up in our warm clothes and walked the couple blocks to the library as the snow came down all around us. As we neared the library we spotted a very familiar, but wonderfully surprising sight.

~What to our wondering eyes should appear?~

Santa was outside the library! We talked with him, certain that he must've brought the sudden snow with him, down from the North Pole. Seriously, flowers are in bloom here.

~Budding pink roses covered in the sudden snow~

~The boys posing with Santa as it snows all around~

After seeing Santa outside we headed indoors to look for new books to check out, and return already read ones. We love our library, it kicks some serious library butt! We then waited for our turn to sit on Santa's lap.

~Sitting on Santa's lap~

~Telling Santa what they want for Christmas~

~Listening to Mrs. Claus read a Christmas-time story~

On our way home we walked back by the Farmer's Market. I took more photos of things going on there. Of locally grown veggies and locally made crafts, of wreaths and greenery of all sorts. We got some hot apple cider, definitely a perfectly timed treat!
By the time the boys got up from their naps the snow had pretty much stopped. Today it is already all gone, with only the cold weather and wilted flowers serving as a reminder.
Living in this area of the country, snow is no longer a guaranteed thing. White Christmases are very, very rare. I remember when I was little, getting Christmas trees and there being snow on the ground, but that is rarely the case anymore.
The snow this past Saturday, however little and brief it may have been, couldn't have been better timed. With every snowflake that fell Christmas joy seemed to fill the air. It was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Welcome December

And so we enter the final month of the year. November was an interesting month, that's for sure.
Our Egg Tally: For November we had ZERO eggs! That's right, NADA, ZIP, ZILCH! The chickens still seem to be going through their molting phase, but the only naked spots we've seen are some bellies, and only Ann Bancroft shows signs of really missing feathers (she looks scrawny). The others look like they've had their feathers ruffled a little bit, with pin feathers sticking out here and there, but other than that ~ well, it is strange. So, our Year To Date Egg Tally remains where it was at the end of October - 855 eggs. Still not bad.
The biddies are now up in their "Winter Chalet" ~ meaning we've moved the tractor up to the back of the house and next to their coop, where they can get inside and out of the elements. They seem to really enjoy the indoor life, as every time I go out there it seems they're in the coop .. even when weather is warm. We've been adding extra scraps to their diet, even some black oil sunflower seeds as they're supposedly good ways to add protein to their diet. All of this is supposed to help them get through the molting process and get back to laying eggs. Will we get another egg before the year is up? We'll see!
Another new change: our dogs are now, officially, indoor dogs. When we brought the chickens back out of the garden and into the yard Jomo decided he REALLY wanted to be in the tractor with them. Not attacking them, just one of those curious & jealous puppy things. Of course, this puppy is a year and a half old and a very muscular 75 or so pounds! After attempts to deter him failed we decided it was time to make the switch. This is something we've been wanting to do, but little kids and big puppies don't often play so well together. Toys get stolen and chewed up. Rough housing gets rougher than little hands can handle. It's been a transition period, but we seem to be co-existing well enough. Of course, one other animal did have to move: Logan is now located in the sunroom as Whiskey decided she wanted to play with the dropping pan too much. Like every damn time I turned around. Seriously, couldn't take a shower without them harrassing the rabbit!
Speaking of harrassment, our neighbor has started back up. This time with phone calls when the boys play the drums. We're talking about a 5 1/2 year old and a 3 year old, and we're talking about playing them for 5 minutes (these times are NOT exaggerations!) the first time and 10 minutes the second time. The first time was a Sunday evening, 6pm. The second, a Saturday afternoon right before 5pm. She calls, she yells, she threatens, she hangs up. I've got better things to do lady. So, we added call blocking to our phone line and have blocked her number. For $4.20 a month it is worth it. We can block up to 6 numbers, so hopefully she doesn't have more than that!! Seriously, my life is too good to waste time dealing with an irrational, angry, and hateful person.
And, speaking of good ..

~a common sight these days~

.. this is good! This is one of those soul-touching moments where those damn t-shirts (that secretly I really LOVE) are correct ~ Life is Good.
The drum set is set up and Shannon has begun taking lessons. We're having a little trouble convincing Tristan that lesson time is just for Shannon, as the lessons happen here at our house, but there are always pebbles on the paths of life .. right?
The boys jamming with Daddy is just awesome.
A lot of people, well-meaning family memebers mainly, keep asking the boys what they're learning in homeschool. Well, Tristan is getting the hang of the potty, so that is a HUGE life lesson. Shannon is getting really good at reading, something he wants to do, not something we're forcing him to do. Other than that, we work on math here and there, measure miles driven when we go places, we play outdoors, Shannon builds things, we go to the Lowe's Kids' Workshops, we play music. These are hard things to get people who don't understand unschooling to see as school work. But they, we, are learning. At it's very core and meaning, they are learning and growing every day. And that is a very beautiful thing to be part of, to get to see, to admire.