Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Serious Question...

OK, I have to ask...is it possible to have too many Christmas ornaments? I know that my sisters would instantly scream, "No!" but looking at my tree tonight the thought did occur to me. The thing almost looks like it was dipped in glue and rolled in ornaments, and I have to admit that I did have trouble getting all of the decorations situated on the branches.

At least I come by this honestly, care of my mother. When I was a kid, every year we would all join in decorating the tree. Carefully unwrapping each ornament from miles of toilet paper and stealthily repositioning favorite ornaments that someone else had foolishly hung in the wrong spot. Sometimes this happened to the same ornament two or three times.

There's something about Christmas ornaments that carry powerful memories, so poignant and sweet that just holding one in your hand can instantly transport you back to when you were 8 or 10 years old. My collection has been added to slowly over the years as I search for the exact decorations that I grew up with. Thanks to estate sales, thrift stores and ebay, I've partially succeeded. My tree sports, for instance, two oddly shaped ornaments that look just like the ones we used to call "Ramblers" as children. Not until years later did I think to wonder why we named these particular decorations such an odd name--it is because they were the same pale metallic blue as my Dad's Rambler American, a faithful but boxy little car. My ornaments even have the same stripes as the ones from my childhood, and I call mine "Ramblers" as well. Note to self: Explain this line of descent to my daughter, so she won't suddenly wonder in her later years why the Hell she's calling those damned things "Ramblers". Another fav is a plain red ball from the 50's with a white snowy church scene and the words, 'Silent Night' painted on the side. Nearby are the colorful glass clip-on birds with the fiberglass tails, the fabulous indented teardrop ornaments, the red, silver and blue glass bells, the oversized glass balls with the elaborate, glittered scenes painted all around them and the four color glass church with glittered 'snow' on it's roof.

To these nods to childhood I've added my own special pieces: the ornate set of red, gold and silver plastic teardrops that were attached to the top of the first Christmas gift from my husband, the 24 long, sliver-like glass icicles that are ALWAYS a royal pain to retrieve off of the tree each year, the three small handpainted china bells from an estate sale of a couple named Ken and Shirley who lived down the street from me, the two beautiful tiny glass chickens from my sister, the wooden cat ornament from my sister--it waves it's arms and legs wildly when you pull on it's string--, the delicate snowflake sequin ball from Eva, the cinnamon-apple dough ornaments my 5 year old and I made last year, the three ultra-tiny wooden ornaments that barely cling to the very tippy-top of the tree each year and somehow over the last 20 years have miraculously never gotten lost, the gigantic silver ball that I refer to as 'The Queen Mother'--always the last to be hung, with a large red glittered set of poinsettias on one side and an ornate old-world 'Merry Christmas' in blue glitter on the other. And new this year--a replica ornament of the fabulous 'leg lamp' from the movie 'A Christmas Story', a gift from my husband.

The decorations mentioned here barely scratch the surface, of course. This year and last, it took me three days to finish decorating the tree. Last year I put it down to being ill and moving slow, and to some extent the same was true this year thanks to a sinus/ear infection. But the truth is that decorating the tree is something I really love to do, and taking the time to unwrap each ornament and getting that childhood zing and a smile just by seeing it again and holding it in my hands just can't be beat. The tree will stay up until New Year's Day for my OTHER personal tradition, rising early in the quiet while everyone else sleeps, removing the ornaments and packing them away while watching the Rose Parade. So what if I end up watching the Rose Parade a few times because it takes so damned long to unload the tree, right? Which brings me back to the original question: Is it possible to have too many Christmas ornaments?

Ah, um...never mind--I see a bare spot on the tree. There's room for more. Come to think of it, I'm still searching the the heavy plastic filligree bells and the handpainted pale blue ball with the glittering white snowman on it from my childhood.

Forget I said anything.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Another Christmas...so far!

Well, another day of happiness, Conspicious California Consumer style. Right now I don't care if I EVER see another chunk of that Hellish gray wire that toymakers insist on winding around every toy in weird, inaccessable, unexplainable places. And that damned super-strong clear tape they then cover the stupid gray wire with, as if it wasn't already anough of a pain in the neck. All this while an over-sugared, under-slept, hot-wired 5 year dances and emits high-pitched yowls of anticipation at your feet. Something about this makes my brain just flatline and I lose what little fine motor skills remained in my fingers. Soon the kids are watching me with an expression pretty darned close to pity on their faces. This year I tried to circumvent this somewhat by taking the items out ahead of the wrap session and doing away with the annoying gray wire and tape and placing batteries. This worked fine at home but I still looked bad once we got to N's paternal grandparents home and tore paper there. And we still have another family holiday shinding to go to on MY side of the family. I'll tackle that when the time comes, hopefully I'll have a day to rest up beforehand.

The big hit with N. this year (so far) is the replica stuffed bunny I made, using her favorite, worn-out-to-the-nub toy as a pattern. The problem was that I could only work on it at night after she was asleep, and by then I was so tired and wrung out from fighting a sinus/ear infection that I was making all sorts of weird mistakes--sewing heads on backwards and the like. But eventually New Bunny got done, and N. now carries them BOTH around. The other big hit of the day was the huge--HUGE--34 inches--plastic spider courtesy of our ol' fav, Archie McPhee.

She LOVES things like this--no dolls for her, she's a plastic dinosaur and rubber bug kinda girl. She hauled both the stuffed bunny and the spider along to Grandma and Grandpa's house to share. They looked at us as if we had three heads, but oh, well.

My big hit of the day is the beautiful black and purple velvet dress/blouse that J. got me. It's got dragons on the purple velvet, a lace-up bodice, long, flowing sleeves and a long, draped back the reaches below my knees. It's so cool I don't think I'll ever take it off.

Along with the goodies, we try to get N. to appreciate and savor the season. We check NORAD's website as they track Santa's progress on Christmas Eve. We make a point of reading The Polar Express and The Night Before Christmas. Another treat is to turn off the TV and stereo and turn off all of the lights in the house except those on the tree, then just sit quietly and look at it. I remember as a child doing this-I'd crawl under the dining room table all by myself, take off my glasses and just enjoy the beautiful, blurry, colored blobs. Our tree this year is a nice one, but sadly is too full to allow the hanging of the lead tinsel (NOT plastic, haz mat be damned). Another fun tradition we started, is that every year on New Year's Day when it is time to take down the tree, we each take a pen and write a short note, memory or comment on the tissue that wraps the ornaments. That way we have a fun history of notes to read aloud to each other NEXT year when we unwrap the ornaments. So far we have about 7 years worth of this. My favorite is the one from a few years ago that notes that N. took her first steps that New Year's Day.

Last night we went for our annual drive to look at Christmas lights. I took along a bundle of jingle bells and periodically held them out the car window and shook them in a Santa's sleigh-type cadence. Several times we got small children to freeze in their tracks. The outing to view holiday lights always turns up with lots of strange ones. This year's oddest was the large, expensive McMansion wearing obviously the OLD house's lights. Waaaay undersized and pathetic looking in a amusing way. Interestingly, we started our annual Christmas light hunt armed with a video camera to search out the hideous, tacky houses. We'd tape it to show our family--surely no one would beleive us otherwise--and our snarky, smart-ass comments ended up on the tape. It's impossible NOT to comment when you see some of these (Santa on a surfboard!). The trip got to be popular with the family and ended up becoming a Pointless Family Tradition--just like putting the bows off of the packages on my brother's head.

I've just spent the last 2 hours clipping tags from new clothing, setting up new toys, wrestling other items from their packaging and reading instructions. Our giant curbside trash can is stuffed to the gills, it's maw overflowing with bright shreds of paper and loose strands of ribbon. "A Christmas Story" has been running all day on one of the TV stations, last night they were running "A Miracle on 34th Street" over and over. Today we allowed N. to tank up on as much candy as she wanted, to her cautiously puzzled happiness. Little half-eaten bits of it are gathered in a small dish for tomorrow. I'm sure this is typical and a great reason why school resumes NEXT week.

N. still gets up at a reasonable hour, today was 7AM. We are especially thankful for this when J's sister tells us that HER kids start trying to get everyone up starting at around 4AM. I'd use strap clamps and industrial strength epoxy to keep them in bed if they did that to me.

Time to download today's pictures off of the camera. As an aside, the chickens were NOT amused by the giant plastic spider that N. ran out into the yard to "share" with them. I believe they will need extended therapy after today...

Friday, December 3, 2004

Progress, I Guess...

I HATE it, just HATE IT, when a long-time, favorite store of mine closes.

This time it's Stat's--a floral and craft supply store nearby. It's been a family-owned business since way back, and they have something like 5 locations so I figured they were safe. No such luck.

Stat's was one of those stores that was a teensy bit pricey but always carried way cool stuff, especially during the holidays. I love the old-time glass Christmas ornaments that are painted, glittered or otherwise done up in a fancy way, and Stat's carried literally hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes.

The other night we stopped by on a whim and the place looked...wierd. Open, but not. Then we realized that while some of the lights were on, most were not, and they had very little merchandise inside. We knew then what was going on, but went inside anyway to see what was left.

While we did score some great things at 75% off, it was strange and sad to walk around the empty, cavernous space inside. There was no heat and only a few lights were on. People were talking in whispers to each other, don't ask me why. They had drug everything out of the back storerooms to sell, even things that hadn't seen the light of day in 20 or 40 years. Out of pure sentimental value I picked up a couple of rolls of 1960 era corrugated border paper, it's white and says 'Season's Greetings' in red Atomic Age font with blue Sputnick-style starbursts, the edges of the paper are scalloped to look like icicles. I remember it from my grade school days.

Much of the remainder of the stuff was damaged in some way, which left it looking like decorations for the Island of Misfit Toys--unloved, unwanted and more than likely destined for the dumpster.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Today's Slice...

Well, we are sitting here with the hatches battened down, still waiting for The Big Storm to arrive. It was promised for afternoon drive time, between 3 and 5PM...it still hasn't showed up but the wind is kicking up now and blowing J's sheet music off the amp, where it amusingly enough struck the guitar strings on the way to the floor...music playing the guitar, for a change!

Tonight as my 5 year old daughter was taking a potty break, I CLEARLY heard her singing "YMCA"...she says they sing it at school, complete with hand motions. It gave me a giggle though.

There are currently 4 very large Barn Spiders lving in the nectarine and cherry trees in the back yard. They make huge, impressive webs each night around 9PM and by dawn they have whisked them away and retreated back to their leaves to sleep. I'd been nursing a sincere fantasy about having the twitling who burgled us last year return in the night and become hopelessly entangled in one or all of them while flailing about emitting high-pitched screams. Just like those B-grade horror movies where the heroine runs around at the end opening closets and finding all of her dead friends. Well judging by a wrecked web and a broken off branch of the orange tree the other morning, it seems to at least have partly come true. I consider the broken branch a small price to pay for such inner contentment and karmic rebalancing, and thanked the tree for doing it's bit to physically harm the little bastard while I trimmed off the dead branch.

My vacumm cleaner has reached terminal old age and has broken in three different places, all at once. I'm stubborn and refuse to just trash it though, so in for repair it's going to go. Now if I could only find a few days when I don't need it.

The chickens are suffering through a bout of Fowl Pox, which sounds a lot worse than it is. It's a virus mostly carried by mosquoitos, and other than causing some blister-like lesions on the facial skin of the birds, doesn't do much harm. It does open the door to secondary problems like respiratory infections though, so we'll have to keep an eye on them. It's kind of like when you are a kid and everyone in the house gets chicken pox. The chickens are very aware of their appearance though, and know that they are less than pretty right now. Truth be told, some of them look like little mutants or radiation overdose victims...

Also on the appliance front, my microwave committed suicide today in a very grand fashion when I asked it to make some popcorn. Loud, weird noises and bright flashes made me turn around and then leap for the plug, yanking it and all of the others in the outlet out of the wall. I found a hole burned right through the side of the thing! Good thing I hadn't walked away, it was seconds from catching fire. Stank some, too.

Weird week so far, and it's only Tuesday...

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Olympics And Ridiculous Dreams Of Childhood

Tonight we watched the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece.

The opening ceremonies were simply stunning. We were so enthralled by both the show and what this small country had managed to accomplish that all three of us had sat there watching the teams enter the stadium, the flame lit, the theatrical performances. We were so engrossed, trying to impart the historical importance of the Olympics returning to their birthplace to my four year old daughter that we quite frankly allowed her bedtime to come and go.

Over the last two weeks we tried to sample many different events to watch--NBC got smart and spread various events over their many NBC-owned stations so there was a MUCH wider variety of options--not just the same old mega-popular events. N. did pretty well and was genuinely interested in a lot of it, but I don't know how much of this she'll remember.

Tonight, I mostly watched the closing ceremonies by myself--N. had been put to bed at a sensible hour for a change and J. had wandered off to take a shower, nursing a probable broken toe courtesy of a late-night foray into the darkened kitchen and an unexpected greeting by the immovable kitchen island last night.

As I watched I was surprised to feel myself choking up a bit as they showed scenes of the many amazing victories, failures and strain that the athletes endured. Then it hit me as to why I tried so hard to get my daughter interested in the games, why I got so absorbed myself: I remembered watching the 1972 Olympics from Munich when I was 11.

Still, quiet summertime in Norco, with no air conditioning and the house opened up to every possible breath of fresh air, fans running at high speed. My Dad mostly asleep on the couch as I watched the events. Surprisingly, while the terrible murder of the Israeli athletes towards the end was the prevailing memory of that year, it was also the year that had really fired my every-kid's-wish to somehow, someday, be on that Olympic medal podium myself.

When you are 11 you know that certainly you can do it!

...if only you didn't have to wait until you were older. The problems of being short in height, never having been on a real sports team before and being the youngest child of a large family with admittedly modest means doesn't even enter into it. In my family I learned by watching the older kids--and learned pretty quick not to even dream of playing little league or go out for expensive school sports. My folks couldn't afford it, and what they were able to give us came with a lot of hard work and sacrifice on their part. I think we kids decided privately to ourselves to appreciate what we had, enjoy our family and not whine.

My personal ambition was to be able to compete in the high jump and it had hit me hard. I had seen Dwight Stones in the Olympics and what he was able to do amazed me. Again, never mind that I was lamentably short--even as an adult I don't exactly tower at 5 foot 2--and the high jump bar loomed overhead like a damned skyscraper. I was determined to try. Surprisingly--especially to me--I actually did pretty well and was looking forward to taking the first step along the Olympic road. To me, anyway.

I had been practicing the high jump during P.E. and was screwing up my nerve to ask the coach if I could get at it seriously when--

we moved away.

Not only moved away, but moved FAR away, to a tiny country town where the high school student body numbered exactly 100--for grades 9 through 12. Needless to say, they had no such thing as high jump equipment. When my dad told us of the move I could practically feel any chance of competing draining away from me. Heck, they barely even had a football field, and no track and field program at all. The sports choices for the girls were basketball, volleyball and softball.

I even asked the one girls' sports coach about starting up a track and field team, complete with high jump, and was given a gentle but firm lecture on the small-time budgets of small-town schools.

For a while I tried to practice on my own in the sagebrush-and-fire-ant-infested area up behind our barn. I built two poles with nails every 1/2 inch to hold the bar and marked the measurements on them. My problem was the pit. When you high jump, ya need something large and soft to land in. This is where I was stymied. That town wasn't even big enough to collect old mattresses from. From somewhere I obtained some miserably thin foam padding, cut into weird shapes that was obviously scrap material. There was precious little of it and I had to arrange it juuuuust right to keep from breaking my head. Even then it was woefully thin and eventually, sadly, I had to give up that particular dream. All I was doing was pissing off the fire ants. It's probably just as well and saved me many injuries, failures and disappointments when my lack of height would eventually put a stop to my dream. But I did watch Dwight Stones again in the 1976 Olympics, feeling a kind of kinship with him. We were lucky to even see the Olympics since in our remote area we had three TV stations, and only one was semi-reliable.

Tonight, I was shocked to have that childhood memory and dream of the high jump come roaring back so strongly. I haven't even thought of it in years. It's been filed away I guess, waiting for the chance to pop up. Now that I carry an extra pound or two of scrap metal in my left ankle and have had to give up running in any form I am reduced to watching others strive for that dream. I don't often feel sorry for myself for what has happened to me--heck, if it's the worst thing I'll be lucky--but tonight I do, and it's because I had a huge flashback--being 11 years old and having any possibility in the world open to me. Not only having that door closed, but having it welded shut, still jumps up to bite me at unexpected moments.

I guess that's why it was so important to me to explain to my daughter what the Olympics mean--it's the best of the best, and she won't see them again until she's nearly 9. I hope she remembers something of what she saw this time, and gets to experience that same amazing, breathless, wide-eyed epiphany of possibilities when she gets older. I hope that she trusts me enough to come to me and say, "Mom, can I...?" without any barriers.

When she does, I hope I can remember how I felt in 1972.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

Goodbye, Jack...

Well, just to keep the depression going, we unexpectedly lost Jack, our 8 year old Barred Rock rooster last night. He and Wild Child were a couple, the grand old couple of the flock. He died suddenly but quietly in his sleep less than 24 hours after Wild Child went, and we buried him right next to Wild Child in a bed of roses just like hers.  He had been clearly distressed and depressed, searching for her...I think if it's possible to die from a broken heart, Jack just may have.

The rest of the flock is mostly standing around staring at each other or wandering aimlessly about the yard in clumps. They look at each other as if to say, "Well, what do we do now?" In two short days they have lost their father, protector and lover in Jack, and their mother, matriarch and guardian in Wild Child. The flock dynamic has been thrown into turmoil with no clear successors to either the Head Roo or Head Hen posts.

We are trying to keep them company as much as we can. When we go out into the yard they group around us more than they normally do, even the normally more standoffish birds. I'm trying to adjust to the loss of two long-time and well-loved pets. Anyone who has ever had an older pet, no matter what kind, knows how incredibly cool and laid-back they are to have around. I also can't help but look at the others and wonder who is next. Several of our chickens are older and recent events have left me gun-shy, trying to steel myself to finding another dead bird. It's no fun.

Jack was our household symbol. We use his image and his name in our email, our Internet dealings...so many things. Emotionally I'm a train wreck, but that is, indeed, the cost of keeping pets. It's just hard when such a big bill comes due all at once.

This has not been a good week.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Wild Child Passes

Well, we have lost another one.

This time it was our flock's Head Hen, a lovely Silver Laced Wyandotte with the clunky and graceless name of Wild Child. She gained that name nearly ten years ago when we brought her and her two sisters home from the feed store. Then they were tiny, day and a half old baby chicks with their egg tooth still attached. For those that don't know, on birds the egg tooth is the small, hard tip of their beaks that assists them in breaking out of their shells when they hatch. It falls off within the first three days of life.

The reason she was named Wild Child was because we had given the three chicks temporary names to help us tell the new arrivals apart from each other. We figured that we would come up with real names for the chicks shortly. 'Wild Child' was what we called her since she was a very boisterous chick, running around and jumping on her sisters' heads when they weren't looking.

Unfortunately for her, the name stuck. So Wild Child she became for good and all.

Wild Child naturally took on the position of Head Hen--she can peck everyone else but no one pecks her, she is leader of the flock. She is the one in my previous posts that climbed up on top of the coop, couldn't get down and had to call us out in the yard to rescue her. She was the one who would call out and alert us to trouble in the yard.

The day before yesterday we noticed that Wild Child was refusing food and simply standing, eyes closed, in the shade under her favorite bush. Yesterday was the same, so we knew that something was up and strongly suspected that she was making her exit. She wasn't sick, just old.

I brought her into the house around 3PM and offered her a small dish of goodies, which she looked at but politely shook her head, refusing. Now when a chicken won't eat, something is wrong. Her body temperature had also fallen. I wrapped her in a bath towel and sat with her on my lap for the next 5 1/2 hours, gently stroking her head and talking to her as she slept. I had mixed up a small amount of baby bird handfeeding formula with some other things, and this I gave her with an eyedropper every 45 minutes to keep her comfortable and hydrated. Around 7PM I had gotten up to stretch my legs and as I walked by the back door, I noticed that every single chicken of our flock had crammed themselves up onto the back porch, something they had never done.  Jack, our Head Roo, was in front, looking at me and waiting.  I knew what they wanted and opened the back door so that they could come in and visit Wild Child, which they did quietly and one at a time before filing out again.

Over the final several hours Wild Child got quieter and quieter and we knew the time was near. Finally it was 8PM and my daughter's bedtime. She gently petted Wild Child and told her goodnight and goodbye.

Not two minutes later Wild Child gave a single flap of her wings and died.

We'll miss her. Today the other chickens are wandering about looking lost, Jack is especially distressed. She would have been 10 years old this coming April and was the cornerstone, guardian, mother, flock representative, disciplinarian and matriarch of the flock. She led the group out of the coop in the morning and called them to roost in the evening.

When you have a pet for that many years they are a member of your family, no matter what kind of animal they are. They become as much a part as your personality and entangled in your family history as any other member of your household.

Our most affectionate farewell to Wild Child.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

New Additions To The Family...

Making a simple trip to the feed store can be dangerous.

Pictured here are three of the newest additions to the group of Garden Destructors we have living in the back yard:

These are two small--but incredibly heavy and solid--Dark India Cornish Rock Bantam hens that so far have the unflattering name of "The Tank Girls".  Cornish Rocks are the game hens you see mostly wrapped in plastic at the grocery store.  They are extremely sweet and have that so-ugly-you-love-it quality to their faces--they remind me of the extinct Dodo bird. They are wider than they are tall and have a definite waddle when they walk. They can't climb up the ladder to roost, so we'll need to build a lower perch for them. With their gravely voices, they don't cluck so much as burble.  Their feathers are small yet incredibly soft, and their feathering is tight with little to no fluff.  Think a shot put with feathers.

Here's the other new one--a young White Crested Black Bearded Polish hen, so hungry for attention that she runs up to us and jumps in our lap, or pecks your shoes to get you to pick her up. This behaviour led to the people at the feed store labeling her as not only a rooster, but 'mean' as well. This bird was obviously someone's lap pet before she came to us and doesn't have a mean bone in her body. Also with that huge poof of feathers on her head, she can't see worth a darn.

The new birds are settling in well, and our other birds are taking the new additions in stride. Of course, we have been doing some major league sucking up to the new and old birds with the help of a bag of mealworms--the equivilant of candy (or Crack!) to chickens.

We went to the Orange County Fair yesterday for the last time this year--it'll be gone soon. I'm trying to give our daughter N. classic childhood memories whenever possible and the county fair is an important part of that. Our daughter had a great time; played some games and won a large stuffed red dog (which was actually mostly a 'give' from the carny who ran the booth, she can sucker in adults and wrap them around her little finger like no one's business), rode several rides all by herself which she proudly told anyone about who would stand still long enough to listen, J. had a turkey leg and I had deep fried zucchini (strangely, it wasn't on a stick like everything else) which we shared with N. We stopped by the small animal barn and admired the many chickens and rabbits that were on display. I'm not a fan of the cloven hoofed animals-- when I was a kid we lived a few doors down from a LARGE smelly pen of goats and I still can't get past the smell.

At the end of the evening we loaded the stuffed animal prizes, leftover zucchini, the remains of a cinnamon roll and a black pearl that N. had gotten out an oyster she had chosen, into the car. We had ended up with one lone ride ticket at the end of it all--all of the rides take at least three tickets--which we left on one of the tables of a food booth for someone to find and use.

Today my main job is to search IKEA online to see if they have a decent twin bedstead for N.--she has outgrown her crib so it's 'Big Girl Bed' time--great excitement over that. So it's computer and soak my aching feet time.

Beyond that I'm incapable today. Besides, the Los Angeles county fair opens in a few weeks, can't miss that!

Monday, June 21, 2004

Circuit Boards, Spoiling The Child And A Permafrost Behind

I've decided to spoil my child. Thoroughly and completely.

Not in that horrible, out-in-public-screaming-because-she-didn't-g
et-her-way spoiled...just...kinda indulged. If she suddenly suggests stopping the ice cream truck, so be it. If she wants to go outside and dig in the dirt, where's the harm in that? I plan on keeping her out of school now and then to go to the beach and toss stale bread to the seagulls. My dad used to do this for us once in a while and it's one of my best childhood memories. She's the only child I'm ever going to have, and I want her childhood done right. The one thing I draw the line at is TV and electronic games, both of which suck IQ points away in my opinion.

Yesterday, for example, we decided to go to Disneyland for the evening. We got there at 7PM and kept the kid up WAY past her normal bedtime. Normal bedtime be damned where Disneyland, fireworks and the Electrical Parade are concerned. Every kid should be taken to Disneyland at least once in their lives, stopped by their parents at the front entrance and asked, "What shall we do first?" And then do it, by God.

Her first idea was to go on Grizzly River Run in California Adventure. We had been on it twice before and enjoyed it, and the kid loudly stated, "It's my favorite!" Of course it is, until you mention Star Tours...Roger Rabbit...etc. You get the picture.

However, this was the first time for one unknown feature of this ride. The line was nonexistant and we three had a raft to ourselves, which had us grinning. We whined and laughed at each other for getting splashed.

Until the end.

Until the geyser.

Hey, did you know that every so often the picturesque fake geyser at the end of the ride is turned onto some poor dumb smucks in a raft? And that it is roughly akin to standing in the way of a fire house turned on full blast for about 5 or 6 seconds? To say we got wet is like saying the Mohave desert is a tad warm. Even though my motherly insticts clicked in and I threw myself over my child to shield her from the worst, we were all thoroughly drenched. All we could do was stare at each other and spit water.

Yeah, great idea kid.

Now that we were wet, we decided to share it and see some of the shows. We sat through the Bug's Life stage show (cute, and to my kid's credit did not scare her), the Muppet 3D show, also cute and featured a live chicken!

Next it was over to Disneyland proper for the fireworks. I haven't seen them in years and they have changed a bit, fewer colors but more "ooh-ahh" value. Still very cool and the kid loved it. At the end of the show we were right in front of "It's a Small World" anyway, so on it we went.

Forgetting for a moment how soaked we were.  'It's A Small World' is one of the coldest rides in the park, chilled to approximately 30 degrees.  And it's a leisurely 20 minutes long.

OK, at the end of it my behind is beginning to resemble permafrost. I am beginning to doubt if I will EVER dry out and/or warm up, but at least I had a dry sweatshirt squirreled away for the kid so she is OK. Next we toddle over to the River and grab one of the last primo spots for Fantasmic, another show my kid hasn't been awake late enough to catch yet. Again, to her credit she covers her ears (it's REALLY loud) but gamely enjoys the show. The little girl whom we did not know but invited to stand beside my daughter during the show to watch, lost her nerve halfway through it and scooted back to her dad.

After this it's time to go. 11PM and the kid is claiming NOT to be tired. Yeah, OK. Well, we ARE so it's still time to go, besides which they are closing the park and smilingly but firmly booting everyone the Hell out.

Get everyone home and thaw out first the child and then myself with a warm shower and jammies, and into bed. For a bedtime snack I've gotten a glass of milk and pilfered one of the kids' fruit rollups.

These particular ones feature a 'tongue tattoo'--designs like stars, wavy lines, hearts, etc. printed over the fruit leather in green food color. Lay it on your tongue and it transfers. I unroll this one to find...

A circuit board.


Yeah. OK. I lie there, my tired brain trying to discover what the Hell a kid would find 'fun' about a circuit board. My brother-in-law the sound engineer might find it mildly entertaining, but a kid?

Never mind.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Strawberry Preserves, Home Movies And Personal Injury

One of my favorite thrift stores is closing--this is the second time this year that this has happened, and they are not in any way related to each other. As of June 1st the store is gone for good. It annoys me because THIS one had remained relatively inexpensive and still yielded the occasional Really Cool Goodie Thing. The only saving grace is that this week, their last, they had everything at 80% off. One of the things I scored was an assortment of large canning jars for mere pennies each. Canning jars means, of course...

...that we started off on Saturday with a trip to the local strawberry field. N. always enjoys going there and begins shrieking loudly, "Strawberry field! Strawberry field!" while we are still a block away from it. This makes us giggle and at the same time plead with her for the state of our near-shattered eardrums.

"The Before Version"

The field is nicely kept with a lovely double row of mixed wildflowers on either side of the narrow concrete walkway, flowers that are nearly as tall as I am. Clouds of honeybees wander from flower to flower, intent on the coreopsis, poppies, batchelors buttons and nigella. J. is allergic to bee stings and it makes ME so nervous as he wanders lazily along the path that I have to force myself not to grab him by the collar and seat of the pants and frog-march him quick-time past the flowers. Just beyond the flowers is a small patch of assorted beans, squash and tomato plants, all in various stages of bearing. N. is fascinated by seeing produce on the hoof, as it were.

The prices are a bit stiff but since it's the only game in town, there ya go. They have it down to a science, it's just enough to make a face at but not enough to walk away from. Then a quick stop at the market for Certo pectin, a 5 pound box of superfine sugar and two boxes of new jar lids and bands...well, maybe not QUICK since the store manager, miserable human being that he is, has decided to rearrange the store again. We collar a worker and are told that the canning supplies have been moved from the baking aisle to the hardware aisle.

Home again to the strains of the child begging for a strawberry (No, they need to be washed first--we'll be home in just a minute--I KNOW they smell good, just hold on!). Then it's time to round up the oversized kettles and huge wooden spoons, the neato special rubber coated jar-lifter tongs that make life so much easier and that special nifty flat spoon that skims away any foam that forms. When canning it is important to get everything ready ahead of time, because once you start there is no stopping.

The jars, lids and bands are washed in hot, soapy water and then left to boil their way to sterility in the big black and white spatterware enamel kettle. The berries are washed and piled into a large 1940's era yellow and white Pyrex bowl. N. has been begging to help, so she and I retire to the living room with the sparkling berries where we sit on the floor with them. I remove the stem from one and show her how to hold it in one hand, give it a good squeeze and drop it into the oversized 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup. We work surprisingly well as a team, her little 4 year old self balancing the delight of squishing the berries, with the icky mess it leaves on her hands afterwards. Trying to teach math, cooking and family traditions I go over the basics with her: we need 4 cups of crushed berries, 7 cups of sugar and one pouch of pectin to get 8 cups of preserves. While we work I tell her stories from my childhood of harvesting and canning fruit. The living room survives with no fatal strawberry stains and the kid is sent off to wash up.

Much as N. wants to, this is the part where she is NOT allowed to help, or even be near. The berries and the sugar go into the large stainless steel pot, along with a tiny bit of butter to reduce any foaming. The Baker's Sugar, really just a superfine grind, is neat since it doesn't have the sandy, gritty texture that regular sugar has. Really nice for baking.

After the berries do their bit and boil, in goes the pectin. Another minute of boiling and then it's off to the races. This batch has foamed a bit so it's skimmed, then it's ladeled into the jars within 1/2 an inch or so of the top. Check the jar threads for any residue and then fish a lid out of the pot where they seem to swim away with jerky little shrimp-like movements, slip it into place and then screw on a band. I use a kitchen towel to hold the jar and lid in place while I crank the band on tight. I never does to forget that you've just filled that jar with boiling fruit and grab it bare-handed. The the jar is transferred to the far counter and placed upside down, where it will remain for 5 minutes for the heat to work it's magic on softening the seal of the lid. Same with the rest of the jars. A small bit of leftover jelly from the pot is scraped out of the pot into a little Pyrex dish as a treat for N, and the canning implements are left to soak with hot water. After 5 minutes the jars are turned upright and left to cool.

I take N. her treat of the jelly sample and she is very excited to be tasting the end result of the morning's adventure that she helped with. The sample is also a test to make sure that the preserves will set correctly--not to stiff, not too watery. This batch seems to be fine and I sit to relax a while and wait for the musical "Tink!" of the jars as they seal themselves. It's a sound that always takes me right back to my childhood in Norco, where every summer was a festival of canning peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, quince, assorted vegetables and bread-and-butter zucchinni pickles. The zucchinni yield at our Norco home was ALWAYS, without fail, insane. And my father was determined that nothing would go to waste, so when he bought a packet of seeds, they ALL got planted, thank you--which led to ridiculous piles of zucchini.  We canned and froze as much as we could. I never thought to ask him why he planted so many damned zucchinni plants in the first place.

While the jars cool in the kitchen I sort through some old video tapes that need work. I pop one in that I made for myself and my far-flung family members back in 1993. It's a collection of events I filmed that year, and includes footage of my brother's daughter E. as a baby. Also on this tape is a collection of family photos that I gathered from everyone, videotaped and set to music. The tape has deteriorated some and is in shockingly bad condition. J. and I talk of moving up to DVD format with this stuff and I'm seriously thinking of redoing the photos as I still have the master 8mm tape and the music cassette to work with. Time will tell.

Just we finish watching the video, for some reason known only to preschoolers N. suddenly leaps up and runs through the hallway, slips and fetches up with a truly sickening thud against the doorjamb with her face. She doesn't cry but stands up and walks quickly and directly back to me. My heart is in my throat but I try to keep the panic out of my voice as I get her to come over and let me see what she's done. She points to her upper lip which is already beginning to swell and bleed. OK, she's punched an upper tooth through her lip, not too bad, my inner voice says. I look inside her mouth and swear inwardly at the ring of blood around one of her front teeth--my years as a dental assistant leap to the fore with the cheerful diagnosis of a tooth broken off at the gumline or somewhere up inside the root. As I know from personal experience it's a painful event, especially on the Saturday night of a long weekend within days of a full moon. Any trip to the ER is guaranteed to take so long as to require a picnic basket and a change of clothes. I perform lots of dental exam techniques trying to produce the dreaded tooth wiggle or tell-tale yelp from the child, thankfully to no avail. I do find another cut on her lower lip as well though, and she is entertaining herself by listening to the funny way she talks through rapidly swelling lips. She gets a dose of children's ibuprofen and a popsicle to suck on, both of which do their trick. Seems that this time she was lucky and her lips saved her teeth--time will tell since tooth trauma like this can take days, weeks, months or even years to develop into problems down the road. *sigh*

After such an adventurous day it's time to get ready for bed, during which N. again runs through the house to the strains of both J. and I yelling for her not to.

Another near-perfect-slice day of good times and bad.

Actually, all things considered, today I think the scales have dipped in my favor a bit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Circle Of Life...For Today, Anyway

My back patio is a disgrace--covered in dust and chicken poop it will have to be cleaned very soon. I mentally add it to the list.

Life...and I mean everyday, run-of-the-mill life...is such a fleeting, tiny slice of adventure.

My daughter home sick with a fever and cold symptoms and the accompanying grumpy 'tude, a visit from a very nice city official regarding the dirt on and the weeds under my '69 Plymouth--she said she felt stupid bugging people about it but it was a new thing she had to do. I promised to clean things up and everyone was happy. Later I listened to the guy on the next block rev his Top Fuel dragster at heart-stopping decibel levels for two solid hours while he worked on it, and wondered where the city's priorities were currently being housed. I had a few unladylike ideas. One of my sisters calls this kind of typical City thing a "Cranial-Rectal Inversion".

After that I went out to the back yard a few times to hang out some laundry. Each time I appeared the entire flock of chickens would come running up joyfully, hopefully...but no goodies. Did you know that chickens can look dissapointed? Then the siren call of Patio Cleaning was heard, so I took daughter out armed with sidewalk chalk and plastic dinosaurs plus the boombox and an ELO CD for me. She was no problem but the chickens and the tortoise kept getting entangled in my feet or would go spelunking in the Mysteries of the Open Garage and then would have to be rescued and/or hauled out. The tortoise felt a deep inner need to carefully....slowwwwlllyyy...investigate every tool I was using. She also came back later to play in the hose water when I hosed off the patio,resulting in my shoes getting soaked.

The patio needs revamping, right now it is an ugly and uninviting holding pen for things like the trash cans and the barbeque. I just have to figure out how to use what I have to improve it, and step one was cleaning. On to step two!

After cajoling Miss Grump into ingesting a tuna fish sandwich I accidentally stomp a HARD plastic Disney 'Stitch' toy which cheerfully tries to imbed itself in my bare foot. As I yowl with pain I try not to use any words I'd rather not have a parent-teacher meeting about later on. Where are my shoes? Out back on the porch drying, of course...

After this I load the kid into the car, preparing to descend on the cable company office and fling money at them. Bless my stars, just as I get into the car my husband arrives home and volunteers to go drop it off, the darling. He also mentions that he has a sore back and neck from tossing several hundred pounds of machinery on his back and running it up some stairs. *sigh*

Take confused 4 year old back into the house and spend the next 20 minutes explaining to her what just happened. Four year olds must have Union rules which state that each occurence, question or statement must be repeated 20 times. After that I give up.

Tonight I skip the 5 o'clock news in favor or sitting in the back yard savoring the cleanness of it, blowing bubbles for the kid and playing with the chickens.

One of whom has pooped, right in the middle of my nice, clean patio.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Horrid Tasty Thing

So this afternoon I was out enjoying the waning of the day...the chickens had been fed and were wandering contentedly about the yard...my daughter was playing happily with the bubbles I was blowing.

Suddenly, one of the young chickens darts across the yard over by the coop in what was clearly the furtive "I've got a really cool goodie" dash with three other birds in hot pursuit. Problem is, I haven't handed out anything and it was clearly a large, tasty something that this chicken had in his beak. Off I go to give chase, wondering what the heck they've gotten into NOW. As I join the chicken parade and we all double-time it in circles around the yard, the Tasty Thing is looking more and more like...a fish.

A smallish fish, to be sure...

Wondering how in the Hell a fish has made it into my landlocked suburban yard, I get serious about getting Tasty Thing away from a very determined bird. By now the rest of the chickens have wisely given up the chase since Phoenix has it, and the Head Hen (me) is obviously showing waaaay too much interest in Tasty Thing.

Except now Tasty Thing is actually looking kinda like a human finger...! A decrepit and rotting finger, but still very fingerlike nonetheless.

At this point I pick up my daughter's toy shovel, intent on getting Horrid Tasty Thing OUT of my pet's beak. Meanwhile, my husband, who throughout this entire time has been on the roof working on the air conditioner and has had a ringside seat to this fiasco, is shouting, "What is it? What IS it?!"

"I dunno!" I yell back, brandishing the toy shovel at Phoenix, who has by now taken refuge under the patio table. NOW here comes my 4 year old daughter to 'help', saints preserve us. I make one last, desperate, blind lunge at the chicken under the table and am rewarded with a loud squawk. To my relief the offended bird runs out from under the other side of the table, sans Horrid Tasty Thing. Oh goodie, now I get to play with it.

"Jesus!" I involuntarily yell when I finally get a good look at it.

"What IS IT?!" Again from the roof, sounding anguished and disturbed.

"Uh...." Ugh, necessity dictates that I now look closely at Horrid Tasty Thing, unwillingly assisted by a half-hearted prod from a handy nearby stick.

"Geez, it's a SNAKE!" I call up to the roof. Actually it's just the head and an inch or two of neck/body and judging by the many beak holes in it, is obviously a discarded snack from the local crows...double ugh...

"Where in the Hell did they get a snake?!" from above in disbelief.

I don't know, but I've learned that where there's one, there's more. By the way, my brain whispers to me...where's the REST of Horrid Tasty Thing? Away to the coop I fly, searching for more bits and pieces. To my relief I don't find any, but this is also worrisome since I now wonder if my preschooler will be next to produce a grisly offering. I return to further inspect the decapitated monster, and decide that what it really is, is a REALLY BIG lizard. Great. Lizards we have in abundance and I welcome them, although I much prefer them alive. Much better.

That poor chicken never did get Horrid Tasty Thing returned to him, but I did slip him a piece of pizza crust to help sooth any ruffled feathers.

Ahh, another sleepy day in suburbia...

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Hey, Here's Something New--A Quiz!

OK, everyone else is doing this, so here is mine. Feel free to use it and answer the questions for yourself. :)

1/ Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, find line 4. Write down what it says: adaithermancy: (n) the quality of being impervious to radiant heat. *G* Dictionaries rock!

2/ Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you touch first?: The big, gloriously-ugly 60's ceramic table lamp that my husband hates and I love to distraction. It squats on the desk and takes up far too much room.

3/ What was the last thing you watched on TV?: The news at 5 PM...a CHP officers funeral, which I managed to drive past this morning. It looked like they were mobilizing for Iwo Jima.

4/ WITHOUT LOOKING, guess what the time is: 10:20PM

5/ Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?: 11PM?! *grumbles at crappy internal clock*

6/ With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?: The ceiling fan, the A/C running, the fridge humming to itself.

7/ When did you last step outside? What were you doing?: Just before dark to water plants, feed the animals and play with the kid and chickens.

8/ Ever have a recurring dream? Used to have one where I dreamed that I COULD NOT find a bathroom and I really needed one. I would always wake up before I found one in my dream, thank God! When I realized what was going on I stopped having the dream. Stupid id messing with me...

9/ What was the last thing that made you laugh? The noise my husband made when he accidentally came in contact with daughter's disgusting squishy-rubbery centipede toy thing...I had made the identical noise not 1 hour before when I had accidentally stepped on the thing.

10/ What is on the walls of the room you are in?: Various framed items, clock, a trio of ceramic pheasants from husband's grandmother, a lovely counted cross-stitch piece from my SIL, some wooden wine crate lids from Napa and Sonoma wineries collected on our honeymoon.

11/ Seen anything weird lately?: Everyday, too many to mention...

12/ What is the last book you read?: "Basket Case" by Carl Hiaasen.

13/ If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy first?: House, then fix up the cars, invest, then the real fun--passing out wads of cash to my family and friends. :)

14/ Tell me something about you that I don't know: I've had a tattoo of a little blue rose on my left shoulder blade since 1981.

15/ If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?: Eliminate people's inner need to fight and hate each other over religion.

16/ Can you dance?: In my opinion or everyone else's? Not well, in either case. Just because you can do something doesn't always mean that you should.

17/ Given the choice of anywhere in the world, where would you love to live?: Either Napa Valley or Yosemite.

18/ If you could wish for an unlimited amount of free time all to yourself, without using things like the phone, TV, etc. and no distractions like work, school or kids; how much time would you like to have and what would you do with it? First I would catch up on my sleep, then all of the one million and six unfinished projects I have going.

19/ Lamest guilty pleasure: 70's pop music, the perkier the better!

20/ Favorite childhood memory: Family gatherings where we all sat at the kitchen table and talked, adults and kids alike.

21/ What do you have as a background for your computer desktop? Any sound?: A family photo slide show, no music.

22/ Describe the view from your front door: The driveway which holds my pet '69 Plymouth Fury convertible, the weed-ridden front lawn and a climbing rose that we have been trying to remove for more than a year. My husband cut through most of the root ball with a Sawzall and nearly yanked the bumper off of his truck trying to dislodge the thing. Now it is healthier than ever.

23/ What was the last Stupid Self-Inflicted Injury you suffered and how did you do it? (stubbed toe, bumped head, etc.): Burned my throat after swallowing a mouthful of scrambled eggs I had reheated in the microwave. My doctor actually laughed at me...I don't blame him...

24/ What is the strangest thing on your desk? Besides big ugly lamp mentioned before, a couple of little plastic chickens perched on the monitor.

25/ What is the worst fad you remember and why do you dislike it? If you lived through the 70's you've seen the worst. I'd have to say pet rocks and the return of butt-ugly 70's clothing colors and styles lately.

26/ What annoying habit do you have that you would like to change? My tendency to start a project and then run out of something and set it aside until I get the needed supplies, then start another project in the meantime...and another....and so on. I leave them all out, too, because I'm still working on them, dang it!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Fun With Chickens

While I'm thinking of it, just a few anecdotal chicken stories...


When our first three hens were 2 months old, they were moved from inside the house to the new coop in the back yard. They adapted well and loved their new surroundings.

Until early one morning we awoke to bloodcurdling, wailing cackling from the backyard. Up we leaped and in record time, visions of dying chickens in our heads, ran out into the back yard…to find that a heavy fog had descended and the chicken coop was hidden from view. Of course we realized instantly that this meant to the chickens, the reverse was true and the house was gone! We laughed and made our way to the coop and let out some very confused chickens. They made their way cautiously around the yard and we earned some dirty looks for laughing at them.

Adventures in Coop Climbing

We are spending a peaceful Saturday afternoon in the house, when suddenly we hear loud, plaintive drawn-out cackling from the yard. We dash out the back door to see who's being murdered. To our surprise, we can't locate the hen making the noise. We finally see her—on the roof (10 feet up!) of the chicken coop, yelling at us to GET...HER...DOWN...!!! She had jumped up on a half wall, from there to the top of the fence, to the top of the coop and then discovered she couldn't get down. J climbed up and rescued her and she got a lecture about hopping up on things to explore the world. She has since stayed sensibly on the ground.

New Foods

Trying to be parents to baby chicks is a weird experience at best. They catch on to normal food and water just fine, but to teach them other new foods involves a tedious lot of calling chick!-chick!-chick!, endless pointing, and repeatedly picking up and dropping the tidbit. Our baby chicks love sauerkraut (go figure!) and mealworms. In fact, we discovered (accidentally!) that the small mealworms look juuuuust like another baby chick's toe

Amid pained chick screams we were able to separate the two. My, but baby chicks hold on to food tightly!

Chickens love table scraps, and we have a lot of fun introducing them to new foods. On one occasion it was cooked spaghetti. The problem was, once the bird started to eat the noodle from one end, when they discovered that after one or two swallows, there was a huge length of noodle still to go they would start to panic. Now they are stuck, because they can't cough it back up and they haven't yet learned to bite or break it off-—the only choice is to grimly keep on swallowing. To their utter relief here comes the other end (finally!) but wait—now THAT end is flailing around and slapping them about the head and chest! Agghh! Horrors! And when they try to get away it follows them! I never knew that chickens could run in reverse.

They have since learned to break things into manageable bites...

What's That?

When our bantam hens were about 1 ½ months old, they were running around on the living room floor with the adult chickens for a surpervised meet & greet before formally joining the flock outside. We've found that this procedure helps smooth the waters.

Our bantam rooster was perched on my husband's leg as he lay on the floor watching TV. Unbeknownst to the rooster, one of our bantam babies, Yin, was approaching the rooster from the rear.

Apparently she spotted the little pink 'button' under his tail.

Now--to a chicken, everything is food until proven otherwise.

The ensuing hearty peck to that roosters' nether region made him leap straight UP with a loud, pained squawk. This startled Yin, who ran off. When the rooster came down he glared at us for laughing, then spent the next two hours trying to sneak up on Yin from behind to return the favor. A simple chase and peck on the head wouldn't do—he was out for exact revenge.

He never did catch up with her, although I don't think he ever forgot the insult.

This is the same roo that once chased me into the bathroom after I laughed at him for falling off of a box he was roosting on the edge of. I had to literally climb through the bathtub to hide behind my husband (who was shaving at the time) while the rooster made little dissapointed noises in his throat at not being able to reach me, and that just made me laugh all the harder.

I still carry a small scar on the back of my hand from when he finally caught up with me. Roosters have a very deep rooted sense of dignity, fair play and justice.

Little Kids And The Way Cool Things They Say And Do...

To quote my hairdresser: "Aren't kids just the bomb?!" This was during a discussion we had way back when my daughter was two years old, and the heart-squeezingly cute things they say and do; just to make us adults melt into little twist-'em-round-your-finger idiots. My daughter is now four, but she still is the cutest damned thing--not that I'm partial or anything. I'm trying to savor these times and do what I can to make it last, both for us and her.

Like the other day, nearing the end of a long, tiring 8 hour road trip. Heading south on Highway 395 out in the desert we were going over a long series of elongated dips in the road. While I'm sure these have some serious, somewhat higher purpose of channeling flash floods or keeping truckers awake, to us it became "The Whee Whee Road" and my kid was thrilled no end. She giggled breathlessly, widened her eyes and raised her hands and feet into the air while Grandpa obligingly sped up to try and get the 4 x 4 airborne. When it was over she turned to me and ACTUALLY SAID, "Mommy, that made my tummy silly!" I thought I'd die of cuteness. It also made me think of when I was a kid and my father would do the same thing for us. There was a road--I don't know where exactly--located somewhere near an airport here in Southern California that had a similar series of dips. We also dubbed it "The Whee Whee Road" and for us held thrills akin to a roller coaster.

Then last night in the bathtub, my daughter was playing with her two newest toys, a pair of big rubber lizards from Target. A bargain at 99 cents for both, they have been The Toy Of The Week around here, The Chosen Ones For Now. Suddenly she dipped both lizards in the tub and raised them up coated with bubbles. The she grinned at me and proclaimed, "Sheep!"

God, kids are just the bomb.

Monday, April 12, 2004

You Can't Go Home Again...?

There's something about going home to the folks house for a visit.

I think it's the snuggly cozy feeling of being away from home but in a secure, unchanging place. The fancy glass jar in the bathroom that has held the cotton balls ever since I was a kid. The family stories that are retold at every gathering. The old, odd decorative plate on the wall depicting one of the California missions--with a huge chip out of one edge but painted in such lovely, softly glowing colors! The fact that I know where everything is. And how things at Mom's house are done...how our family washes dishes, takes walks, does laundry--even argues. There is a comforting, set pattern.

Mom is talking in a very decided manner of selling the place this year for a home on a smaller lot closer to town. Since the current place is nearly an acre and is 25 miles over mountain roads from the nearest grocery store, this makes lots of sense. Driving 50 miles over mountain roads in snow because you need a gallon of milk...well, it sucks. It will also mean that we won't have such a large, gnawing worry at the back of our minds every winter when we think of our elderly mother navigating the icy back steps or waiting breathlessly to hear if this years' wildfire has overtaken the house. To be sure, the worry will still be there; but it will be a more manageable thing, not something the size of a 50 foot Norwegian wharf rat.

As to the old homestead...well, it's certainly old, but not the ancestral home. We moved there during my sophomore year in high school and I moved away two weeks after I graduated. But the place DOES have fond memories and genuine historical value, and I'll certainly miss being able to walk through the old barns and point out the hand-hewn beams and square nail construction to my daughter. Couple that with being able to walk out the back door and take a hike in the Sierras, mostly up to the old can dumps that line the fire roads. The can dumps are where people way back when would simply tote their non-burnable items--glass jars, cans, metal, etc. and dump them. The can dumps therefore are now a treasure trove of old bottles slowly turning purple in the sun, vintage beer cans and bottle caps and many other wonderful things--if you come armed with a shovel and stick and are willing to brave the rattlesnakes that have moved in.

Unfortunately it also means that Mom will be unloading a bunch of stuff in a yard sale in order to avoid having to move it. I'm not sure she realizes that I love that beat up old coffee table and matching end tables. Or how I used to gaze at that chipped old plate on the wall done in those luscious colors. Or as a child, the Christmas ornaments that became my favorites for whatever murky reason, and I now prowl Ebay trying to find for my own tree, to pass along to my own daughter. The dining room table I used to crawl under in the evenings at Christmastime and after taking off my glasses would sit, surrounded by all of my stuffed animals, to gaze at the beautiful out-of-focus, softly glowing Christmas tree lights. So many times the things that kids grow up and hold dear in their hearts are the weirdest damned things! My parents would think nothing of throwing out old junk only to hear one of us wail later, "What?! But I LOVED that!"

Even the dorky, old, cheapo glass cotton ball jar.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Vanishing Chicken

Ever had a pet that was too much trouble?

I mean an animal that at the time seemed like a good match, healthy, happy, no problems...

...and once you get it home you realize what a horrible mistake you've made.

OK, maybe I'm overstating it a bit. But not much, I'll tell ya. Such is the case with Houdini. Houdini is a small Bantam hen of indeterminate heritage.

We first got Houdini at a local feedstore that carried adult chickens as well as baby chicks. This place was Chicken Hell. The conditions were horrible. As a matter of fact we got Houdini and Mrs. Black (mentioned previously) on the same day at this place.

Houdini is one of those pets that unfortunately EARNED her name. When we got her home we trimmed their wings and released both new birds into the flock. Everything went fine and they fit right in. Every so often we'd go out into the yard to check on things. After a few hours we suddenly heard an uproar in the yard, the whole flock was yelling their brains out. Out into the yard I ran, thinking that surely someone was being murdered. I stopped short on the patio, looking around for the trouble. Most of the flock was standing around looking alarmed, cackling loudly and staring goggle-eyed at a point over my head. It was then that I realized that there WAS something over my head an looked up. There, perched on the grape arbor 8 feet in the air, was Houdini.

Now, everyone knows that chickens can't fly. Uh-huh.

Houdini flies.

Houdini flies really, really well. Clipped wings or no.

I learned this when I tried to shoo this silly chicken down off the arbor and back onto the ground where any self-respecting chicken ought to be. Houdini responded by cackling with glee as she FLEW about 30 yards to the back fence. Flying like a real freakin' bird with fancy gliding and everything. Now since Houdini was new to us and didn't know where she lived as yet, I could see disaster looming large on the horizon. I got over to the fence as quick as I could and tried to shoo her back into OUR yard. I SWEAR she laughed as she went over the fence into the neighbor's yard. Now this yard is a regular jungle of overgrown plants, bushes and trees, complete with a shed full of junk that overflows into the yard with more piles of junk just for fun all over the place. The people who live there use the place as a weekend party house and are rarely home.

Needless to say getting Houdini back was going to be a nightmare.

So, J. dutifully climbs the fence and spends the next 30 minutes chasing around a wild chicken who is convinced that he means to eat her. When he finally catches her we are seriously considering it. After another wing clipping, this time so short that she could join the Marines, she is returned to our yard and behaves herself the rest of the day until it's time to go out and feed everyone.

A quick beak count comes up one short...Houdini. With heavy sighs and sinking hearts we begin to search. Right about that time our neighbor to one side of us sticks their head over the fence and asks if we are missing a chicken. Yup, there is Houdini, exploring ANOTHER yard. J. again jumps the fence and gives chase. I stand in our yard listening and ready to receive Houdini when J. hands her back. Instead I hear him yell, "No--no---NO!!" accompianed by a wild cackle. Houdini has jumped the wrong fence and gone into ANOTHER yard.

This one has a Cocker Spaniel in it. A bird dog.

Hilarity ensues as J. leaps the fence like an Olympic hurdler and gives chase to a screaming chicken and a yelping dog. I can only stand helplessly and listen as it sounds like all three are killing each other. Quiet falls. I hear J. coming back over the fence and see that he is carrying Houdini's body. Much to my surprise, she is alive. Not only that, she is unhurt. J. tells me that he caught up with the dog/chicken combo just in time and you never saw a more confused Cocker Spaniel whom I'm sure was terrified by having strange chickens and humans drop screaming from the sky into his little world.

Well, we can't clip Houdini's wings any more but we CAN keep her in the coop for a few days to help her learn that she lives HERE now, so that's what we do. This works for about three days until one morning Houdini slips past J. as he is letting the others out of the coop. This seems OK though since she seems to have learned her lesson and meekly stays in the yard for the next few days.

Until Saturday.

On Saturday we again hear an uproar from the chickens and look out just in time to see Houdini sitting gleefully on the back fence, looking smugly back over her shoulder at us. She sits there just long enough to make sure that we've seen her and then leaps down into the junk jungle.

This time no amount of chasing can catch her and she leaps the fence into another yard and dissapears. While we don't want to lose her and there are certainly more than a few things running around at night that would love a chicken dinner, we have to give up for the time being. Our only hope is that she'll get hungry and come home. The rest of the day we spot her here and there. At one point she spent two hours up on the tallest point of the neighbor's roof, walking around next to their air conditioner. We make a few "lost chicken" signs and post them on the next street hoping that someone will call.

On Sunday we get a call, the neighbors say Houdini is in their yard. J. goes over armed with a blanket and after more blood-curdling screams and more than a little cussing, finally returns home triumphantly carrying Houdini wrapped inside it. I help J. mop up the blood on his arms where he plunged them into the Bouganvilla bush that Houdini was hiding in. She seems quieter and more docile now, apparantly she just wanted to see the world a bit.

Ever since then Houdini has stayed in the yard and been a very nice little hen. She doesn't even jump up on the patio furniture and stays sensibly on the ground like a good little hen.

Until she went broody.

One day there was again an alarm call, this time raised by the flock's Head Hen, a wise old Silver Laced Wyandotte. She has one call that she ONLY makes when something is wrong with one of the flock. Today she was making it, loudly, in the middle of the yard. A quick search revealed that Houdini was again missing, and there was nothing to do but wait and see if she would reappear. She did about an hour later, and we figured that she had simply gone exploring. Unfortunately she did it twice more that same week. We realized that what she was doing was going off to lay eggs in one of the neighbor's yards in secret, and when she had a cluth she would vanish for good to go and sit on them. Now even if she did survive nightime predators for the 21 days while sitting on the nest, once the chicks hatched there would be no way for them to follow her back to our yard for food and shelter and they would die.

After a few days Houdini reappeared and this time had surely gone broody. She stomped around all fluffed up and in a bad mood, clucking angrily and pecking any flockmate who got near her. J. lost no time in chasing her down and grabbing her indelicately. Houdini was tossed into the coop, this time to stay until she gave up the idea of nesting away somewhere.

Instead she has finally come to her senses and gone broody in one of the nest boxes in the coop. Hurrah! As a reward for not making us crazy and bound through other people's yards we have given her three eggs to hatch.

Peace once again...for however long it will last this time...

Friday, March 5, 2004

Goodbye, Mrs. Black

Mrs. Black died today.

Peacefully, it seems, and of natural causes. But still a shock for her to turn up missing at nightfall when it was time to close up the coop and say goodnight to our little backyard flock of pet chickens.

A quick search of the garage, where a few months back she had managed to hide and gave us a scare, produced nothing. We found her curled up underneath my daughter's backyard climbing-castle-thing; one of those plastic, brightly colored things that kids love these days. Mrs. Black had no marks on her and seems to have slipped her earthly bounds quickly and quietly with no fuss.

Mrs. Black was a Chicken Hell feed store rescue and had health problems from the start, along with having almost no feathers on her skinny little body. One eye was swollen shut and weeping fluid and she wheezed something awful. Seeing her in that horrible place I hadn't expected her to last long, but couldn't stand to walk away and leave her there. We bought her and brought her home after a trip to the vet for medication. She spent two months inside the house getting well, fattening up and growing feathers. Her eye, which I had doubted was even still there, healed up and turned out fine. She got her name from my then 2 year old daughter, who walked by her one day and said, "Oh...hello Mrs. Black!" Mrs. Black had a quiet dignity and could stand next to you for several minutes before you realized she was there.

We will miss her sweet nature, wall-eyed stare and her raspy-voiced burblings. Just this afternoon she had come running with the rest when I passed out a handful of strawberries and all was right with the world. Just yesterday I stopped on the back porch to give her a quick pet.

I know some people will read this and think, "It was just a chicken!" What most people don't know is how personable, smart and cheerful chickens are and what terrific pets they make.

Tomorrow we will bury her in a bed of cut flowers, under the bay tree by the back fence.

Goodbye Mrs. B.

Monday, March 1, 2004

AAA, Chinese Food & Synchronicity

So today I have to take the kid with me to AAA so I can register my 1969 Plymouth, dragging it out of nonoperational Hell and back on the road again. I plead with my daughter in the parking lot to behave for juuuuust a few minutes in there, at the same time fixing her with a steely, no-nonsense stare. She agrees sweetly.

Fifeteen minutes later we are finally being served at one of the little windows. Little Ankle Biter insists on playing her favorite game, "Run Away From Disabled Mom". I don't have time for this today so I simply follow after her silently, take her hand and march her back to the window to complete the transaction. The AAA girl is trying to explain that since I am re-registering the car a month early, it legally can't be driven until next month unless I want to pay for two years' registration, and if I have it towed anywhere I'll need a permit if any of the tires will touch the street. It sounds a bit like a 9 year old kid has made up the rules to this game of automotive tag, and I'm tempted to ask if I need to shout "Olley olley oxen free!" when the car arrives at it's destination.

Kid meanwhile ups the ante by pulling at my hand to get away while screaming loudly, "I don't WANT to be a good girl!", then kicking the front of AAA's counter. Hard. I finish my business as quickly as possible and drag embarrassing heathen offspring out the door, much to everyone's relief. When exactly did MY sweet child become one of those horrible kids everyone hates to see in public?!

Tonight we decide to go to the local Chinese buffet restaurant for dinner. More lectures to the kid on how to behave like a human being. She again agrees, and actually does better; garnering smiling visits from two of the waitstaff. The only low point was when she threw some cherry Jello at her father and thought it hilarious when it hung on the front of his shirt like a small, red snail. At the end of the meal we each choose and peel our own fortune cookie....and here is the my daughters--no kidding--word for word:

"Try your best to avoid arguing with your elders and superiors."

Pure gold. I swear I'm going to have it blown up to banner size and paper her room with it. Maybe have it tattooed on her forehead. Off to Kinkos! :)

Thursday, January 22, 2004

An Introduction

I'm a wife and mom to one daughter, and our suburban home plays host to various pets...some of which people may think strange to consider 'pets'.

For instance the 35 year old tortoise named Geraldine, currently hibernating on the floor of the kitchen pantry. I'll know when it's time to take her outside again when she starts knocking over the spaghetti. Ah, Spring! With my luck that'll be at 3AM and I'll assume it's a hungry prowler.

Another strange aspect of our pets is the flock of chickens in the back yard, who routinely march in any door open for more than 3 seconds and then tour the house looking for food items dropped by my 4 year old daughter. One of the hens made sure she was remembered this year by sneaking up on one of my sisters and knocking a plateful of birthday cake out of her hands and onto the bird's feathers. Pink icing! No surprise then, that that particular hen's name is 'Bear'. I was going to name her that or 'Obstacle'. You get the picture. What Bear REALLY wants to do is become Queen of the House Chickens and live inside all of the time. Usually she decides she wants this right after a dust bath when her feathers are loaded with dirt. For those who don't know, sooner or later a chicken will remember that their feathers are loaded with 40 pounds of dirt and they will shake themselves like a wet dog. Hilarity (and some swearing) ensues as clouds of dust fill the air and small sticks and stones ricochet off of the cabinetry. Watching chickens is better than watching TV!