Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bent, Folded, Spindled, & Perforated

In other words, if this is routine surgery without any complications whatsoever, I realllllllly do not want to mess with any other sort.

I'm recovering well, thank you, and that pesky little organ that was making life so difficult has probably been incinerated by now, gallstones and all. Much to my dismay and occasional amusement, I've found that I really don't spend all of my days loafing around on the couch or websurfing. Those are the amusements I allow myself when I'm done cooking, cleaning, cleaning, cooking, feeding ducks, feeding children, doing laundry, figuring out a cheap and effective indoor clothesline when the dryer fails and it looks like it's going to be doing a rendition of Noah's Return outside, waging feeble warfare on the mounds of paperwork that pop up like well-fed Tribbles, and trying to manage a scaled-down version of Christmas that's going to make everybody happy without bankrupting the already cashless. (Hint: lots of cooking, sewing, knitting, and crocheting.) Much to DBS's amusement and exasperation I tried to get back in the swing of things the day after my surgery, the result of which was me flat on my back for a couple of hours, napping away. And I slept all the day after that. Do I learn? No, because yesterday I decided it was time for me to start cooking and cleaning and cleaning and cooking again...and I developed a fever and a large spot of exhaustion. After 18 years DBS knows I'll only gnaw through duct tape should he try to employ it, so gentle exasperation and constant reminders that he's home to take care of me and maybe I should let him....? are just about the only weaponry he's got. He uses it with surprising effectiveness. He got to string the emergency clothesline in the garage, bless his heart, and he's been swinging around my 50 pound bags of duck feed without complaint. He usually enlists a Banshee on rotating basis to collect eggs in the morning and he corrals escapee ducks with enthusiasm. I still have to cook every once in a while but he's been doing the dishes. Unfortunately he has to go back to work tomorrow, but fortunately I'll be able to hobble along without him for at least a shift. We've got plenty of leftovers and the only cooking I HAVE to do is gingerbread cookies. And maybe brioche. As well as maybe sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies and....

Well, geez, it IS Christmas!

We're spending Christmas Eve with relatives, and on Boxing Day relatives are supposed to come here. Christmas Day is just for DBS, Banshees, and me, toasty in pjs and absolutely content that we do not have to travel anywhere for anybody for any reason. We get to stay home and enjoy the heck out of each other. I may have to declare an internet-free day -- DBS and I both have serious addictions -- but otherwise I look forward to watching the Banshees enjoy the gifts their doting relatives have bestowed upon them, the Santa surprises, and the stuff they've crafted for each other this month. Then I'm going to retire to the kitchen for the Christmas feast: roast duck this year, I think, but the rest of the menu is still open. I need more ideas for vegetables other than potatoes. Hm.

Tomorrow has a very simple, loose, and open plan, despite what my cooking intentions might be. I have to a. get up, b. let ducks out of Chez Quackers, c. feed children, d. do laundry, e. knit. Knit a lot. I have the rest of a sweater and an entire blanket to knit before December 25th. It's possible. I can sharpen a couple of broom handles and use Very Thick Yarn for the blanket and be done before it's possible for me to panic too much. Really.

Next year I'm planning this whole crisis thing better.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

If It's Friday Then It Must Be....

There's a mossy old joke that originated with the traveling tours that promised to visit X amount of countries in as many days as whatever the original X was. Of course such itineraries are bound to produce a little exhaustion-induced confusion, so it's no surprise that one woman turned to her traveling companion and asked just where the heck they were. Her friend consulted the guidebook and said, "It's Wednesday, so this must be France!"

I have days like that without ever leaving my own tiny geographical area. Heck, I have had days like that without ever leaving the house -- they were particularly plentiful when I had three children in diapers. We won't even go into that infamous Lost Weekend when everybody came down with a rotovirus, except to mention that the children were considerate enough to time their active bouts of illness with the exact schedule of the washing machine. At this hazy remove I can't remember if they got sick just before or after the dryer buzzer went off, but the timing was nothing short of uncanny. DBS and I didn't sleep for 48 hours. I didn't know I was capable of heroics like that before I had children.

This week we were catching up on immunization shots and physicals and I managed to schedule the children on the same day, although at two hour intervals. I figured we'd go in, get the first one done and over with, have lunch and then get the other two done. Everybody has "Go Bags" stocked with books, stuffed animals, and knitting so I can enforce some sort of recreation on a child the minute they mutter, moan, or wail "I'm bo-o-o-o-o-o-ored!" No, this isn't my first rodeo. Why do you ask? Anyway, I love my pediatrician. We get Banshee #1 in and she asks the nurse if it would be possible to get the preliminary requirements of the physical out of the way so our return trip would be that much quicker. That almost immediately morphed into: "Let's get them all out of the way at once!" Now imagine three wiggly, giggly children, one oversized Momma Bear (that's me!) and one petite pediatrician all stuffed into one itty bitty examining room.

Now, part of the reason we were doing physicals in the first place is because of some paperwork I have to keep in my homeschool files. Yes, I could do the waiver but what the heck -- I wanted to see if everybody was healthy enough to run around the front yard, and if there were any underlying issues I hadn't caught. As long as we're at the doctor's anyway we might as well get a couple of i's dotted and t's crossed, no? So the doctor asks what school the Banshees attend and I tell her the name of our private school, and EB pipes up (very proudly, I've taught that gal well) that we're homeschooled.

Okay, I'd be lying if I said that didn't curl my toes a little. We aren't doing anything illegal but a concerned medical practitioner can make a bit of trouble if they get the wrong idea, and a small room with three wiggly children isn't my idea of the best place to gently educate someone as to California private school law. Fortunately she took it all in stride, which is good, because wrangling Banshees in tight corners under deadlines tends to get me focused on just that -- which means I sound like an utter idiot on just about every other subject. We did clear up the misapprehension that I was filing the medical papers with the school district. She looked very confused when I said I didn't have to, but I gave her the short-hand version (I run a private school and the paperwork is something the state wants) and that cleared things up. Now, the state doesn't require that I file anything but the Private School Affidavit, but under the private school statutes there are a few things I do have to keep on hand in my own filing cabinets. Check one more of those thingies off after this week.

I took everybody out for lunch as a special treat, then we had to go back and do a little routine labwork. Note, the girls have turned into Screaming Meemies over shots and bloodwork, but the boy found it all very fascinating. I'm making DBS take them all the next time...mainly because I have a very twisted sense of humor and I'd really like to see how he'd handle it. (Probably very well, because he's a good father. But I'd likely need to serve him up a double-helping of one of my stronger homebrews when he got home.)

We finally get home from our odyssey and I make -- I do not request, I do not ask, I do not suggest, I make the Banshees run around in the front yard for a couple of hours. I don't quite lock the front door on them, but every time they come in I tell them to go back out unless they happened to be dying of dehydration in front of my very eyes. They had just spent about 7 hours either cooped up in the car, the doctor's office, the lab area, or a restaurant. That much coiled energy concentrated in three small bodies is going to trigger an event of some sort, usually of a Catastrophic Nature (go ahead, ask me how I know.) I curled up in a ball on the living room floor and tried to breathe deeply. Thank goodness we don't have to do this again for a few years.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Just Here To Stock The Refrigerator

Okay, and maybe wash dishes and take an occasional run with the vacuum cleaner. Also included in the house-spouse package is a fully-functional and frequently eccentric cook. But teacher? I think I just threw that towel completely in. LB, who just turned 6, has become a reader. Oh, she's not up to Pride and Prejudice quite yet. In fact, she's still inclined to put in what she thinks ought to be there instead of what is actually printed on the page. But even so...she hasn't just memorized what Mom says when we get to particular pages. When she stumbles over familiar words in unfamilar places, it's because she doesn't quite yet have confidence that her identification is right, but I can see that tentative i.d. take place. And today she pulled out long-dormant flash-cards and began quizzing me on them. (It usually goes like this: "What's this one, Mom? Well, how is it spelled? B. E. D. How do the letters sound? Beh-eh-dd...bed!!" Followed by much jumping around and excited squealing.)

I am well and truly flummoxed, but in a good way. I've been thinking for well over a year that I really needed to sit down and teach this child how to read. I'd gotten books at CHN's Expo; I faithfully collected Dr. Seuss; I pulled out my childhood Matt-the-Rat books; I even bought Dick and Jane and ever once in a while I'd vow to have formal lessons and set reading times. Well, anyone who knows me knows that schedules and I don't even exist in the same material plane. We read together when we have time, but I swear that my instruction for this child has been minimal and nearly all at her pace. Which is, by the way, slow enough to make glaciers take note.

So when I bounce into the living room a couple of days ago, ready to spit fire because once again every Banshee in the house has decided to Ignore Their Chores despite being reminded about them, oh, every thirty seconds -- I'm not quite annoyed enough to miss that LB is holding her precious Dick and Jane book as if she really wants to stash it under the couch in a hurry but she's too far away for that option. Hm. That's the look EB gets when I catch her reading two hours after she's been put to bed for the evening. As soon as LB figures out that I'm not mad mad anymore, she curls up on the couch and quite happily rips through three or four Dick and Jane adventures.

My baby is reading. Reading!! Naturally I had to call my father and have her read to him. He's proud of her and he's proud of me, and he's a really good sport and a very patient man.

I'm still marveling. It's a miracle. Possibly all the more so because the older two Banshees learned how to read at a public school and I never really connected with what happened there. I faithfully performed all of the rituals that the public school wanted me to, helped to fill out endless worksheets and coloring sheets and cutting-out-only-to-glue-back projects. They spent whole weeks on letters and then simple words, learning to adore their never-wrong teachers while simultaneously figuring out that I was an eevil person better to be avoided before I inflicted more homework. I came away from the whole experience firmly convinced that giving kindergartners hours of homework and pretending that it's no big deal and that the endless piles of paper shouldn't take that long to do, is truly a horrendous practice that should be abolished as soon as humanly possible. These are five year olds, for goodness' sake, they aren't cramming for the entrance exam to Harvard.

And yet, in the back of my mind, I was always convinced that nobody could learn how to read without these elaborate and endless exercises. Learning how to read was the result of a rigid schedule and insistent routine. I just knew I was failing my youngest child because I couldn't make myself do to her what was done to her brother and sister. I can be a miserable person to live with; I really don't want to be a miserable teacher to deal with. It was so easy to put off formal education; there was always one more episode of Judge Judy to watch, after all, and a magazine article to work on -- oh yes, and that math worksheet site that the Banshees would beg for every so often -- and the brush-clearing to work on, not to mention the soap batches to cook up, or that NaNoWriMo is coming up again. There is always something to do around here, even if it does look suspiciously like inspecting the inside of my eyelids for cracks.

I've resisted the term Unschooler forever and three days now, mostly because what I do is done out of sheer laziness, but I think that I may have become one without realizing that was what was happening. As a household we're filled to the top with learning opportunities, but unless it's very important that they learn something right now (which doesn't happen as often as you might think) I don't try to stuff any education down their throats. They get curious, they ask me, I say I haven't the foggiest notion, they ask me to Google it. I get asked if they can play with the human brain before breakfast (my Dad got them one of those models that has detachable organs. What can I say? It came in very handy when EB asked where the stomach goes on a human being.) MB catches ants on a piece of tape so EB can look at them with her new microscope (Dad again.) I've had to threaten to take the lightbulbs out of their rooms and hide all of the flashlights since they insist on reading well past midnight when they aren't supposed to.

Yes, they have days when they conspire to drive me crazy. There are days when I consider re-researching Ebay's policy on selling children at auction. There are days where the only reason we all make it in one piece to the other end is because they're in the living room rotting their brains out with endless Disney dvd's and whatnot, and I'm in the back room knitting to one of my court shows. I suspect that every family has those days, no matter where any member happens to be educated or employed. I'm just grateful that I know how to knit, and that the door locks.

And then there are the days when I walk into a room and my 6-year-old rattles off the book she's taught herself how to read. Those are the days when I just cannot manage to get my feet back onto the ground, no matter how hard I might try.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Happens When I'm Not Paying Attention

LB teaches herself how to read.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

About That Schedule Thingy...

Actually, the schedule thingy is working out pretty well, thankyouverymuch. It isn't perfect and we're falling off of the wagon often enough to need bungee cords, but what the heck. It's a start

Fer instance -- and I have at least one friend who understands this very, very well --the kitchen is clean. Not perfect clean, not eat-off-the-counters-clean, not yet, but clean as in there is not one dirty dish in the entire room and it's been like that for days. DAYS.

I can't tell you how much that means to me. Me, who, I kid you not, once went more than a year without having all of my dishes done at the same time. Granted, I'd just birthed three children in four years and I guarantee you that messes up your brain like nobody's business, much less your housework. But still. Progress, little itsy bitsy progress is being made and it's actually staying made. I impress myself.

When I started laying out The Schedule I knew things were going to have to get switched and swatched and swapped around. Since we weren't doing anything in any sort of order, I maintain that it's bloody well impossible to figure out what the natural order is supposed to be before you dive in and start creating it. So clearing out the dining room got bumped to just after morning dishes (natch!) and just before picking up the living room. And I had to postpone the whole thing for a couple of hours because everybody but my preternaturally diurnal boy is sleeping in later than I realized. Whee! (He should be, I know he should be, I can tell by the shadows under his eyes that MB needs sleep, but the boy's eyes fly open when the sun hits his windows and there's nothing that can be done about that. I can a. spike his morning milk, b. put blackout curtains up, c. move his room to the sunset side of the house, or d. adjust the schedule to fit this child's rhythms better. A. is ethically questionable and probably illegal, B. requires sewing and we haven't gotten as far as reorganizing my sewing cabinet yet, C. is impossible unless I want to give up the master bedroom (and the spouse would object even if I didn't), so D. looks like the winner. I swear, when they all graduate into the big wide world and have apartments and lives of their own, I'm sleeping for a week. Then I'm going to get up, fix a big breakfast, clean the dishes, and go back to sleep for another week.


Having the kitchen clean has sort of naturally lead to having the dining room table cleared off -- we've had more meals together as a family this week that I can remember in a long, long time. And I've found the paper mache materials, so goodness' knows what sort of trouble we're going to get into next week. Probably not too much, considering that I haven't cleared my desk yet and that's where the balloons are (first project is going to be wrapping wet, gooey, sticky strips of newspaper around a balloon in an effort to make a small piggy bank. Yes, I know, but the point is not to have a functioning bank, it's to have fun.)

We've been getting rid of books to the point where our local library cringes deeply when they see us coming. We don't just have a stray bag or two of books, we have bins and bins and bins of books that have come up short in the must-have-them competitions. I don't like getting rid of books, it goes against every instinct that I have -- BUT -- there are 5 people living a fairly small house. Something's going to have to go, and as I'm fond of telling the children, some 15 or 16 hours of labor (distributed among three births) and no painkillers...I'm not giving them up for anything.

The anesthesia-free births were not my idea, thanks. I hate pain, I'm allergic to pain, I don't want to feel pain if I don't have to. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against me. Ladies, those of you who do natural childbirth willingly -- y'all deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor.

But giving up the books has proven less painful than I believed it was going to be. There's something about having room to move, space to set projects down in, open shelving to put things back on -- ooh, I get tingling feelings up and down my spine. We'll never be spartan around here, but The Schedule has been a wonderful idea.

Let's hope I can keep going with it!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In Lieu of Everything Else I Have to Do

I have in-laws coming tomorrow and a house that looks like it ought to be condemned. I'm too old for all-nighters but it looks like I've signed up for yet another one.

Oh yeah. And I have a tie that I need to knit before tomorrow.

All of this pales beside the horrible and unavoidable conclusion that I came to earlier today:

I have to get on a schedule. I have to. Because apparently MB desperately needs his every footstep dogged until he gets impulse control (yeah, wasn't that the thing that powered the Enterprise? It makes even more sense when you realize that this tyke does everything at warp 10.) So in between frantic knitting and sewing (oh yeah, promised a knitting bag too) and cleaning, I have to put up a schedule that the two of us can keep. EB and LB are just going to have to go along for the ride.

Worser and worser: MB is a morning person. So this schedule is going to have to start on his time and I'm going to have to be there to supervise. I mean, I'm actually going to have to be conscious. Life is unfair.

On the other hand, maybe this will get the house clean. Finally. Because if this doesn't do it, it's time to call Niecy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I've had one of those months today

Or to be more honest, there's been a bunch of little things that have conspired over the last few days to drive me right round the bend.

There was the feed store incident. Possibly incidentS, depending on whether you choose to view it as a series of bad decisions or one major CF that extended for the better part of a month.

Mind you, up until recently I realllllly loved this feed store. Here I was, ordering tons of exotic foodstuffs for a bunch of backyard quackers and these people never turned a hair. I could put up with the occasional misstep between the people working the counter and the people in the back lot who actually knew what was going on. And dealing with a woman with an IQ lower than my chrysanthemums was actually kinda cute for a while. Anybody over the age of 22 could have seen that this was going way too well, right?


Well, I didn't see it coming and I probably should have. Heck, one of my friends and fellow duck-wranglers stepped all of about once into the place and decided to buy her feed elsewhere. At the end of June I dropped by and ordered a couple of bags of the usual, expecting to pick them up the next week in the usual manner. Come next week and the feed isn't there. I'm not unduly worried because I always keep a bit on hand for emergencies, and I was assured up, down, and sideways that there had been just a teensy error and that the feed would be coming in the next week. Yah, sure, and remind me never to step up for a friendly game of three-card-Monty either. But I bought, at least I was trying to . I wasn't terribly happy; my reserves were wearing thin and I was going to have to put the ducks on a feed they weren't ready for, but hey, the friendly people at the feed store said that it was just an oversight. How bad could it be?

It didn't arrive yet again. This is when the infamous word "Minimum" first cropped up -- as in, "We have a minimum amount we have to order from the distributor" -- but the food was going to be in within a very short time. Trust us. The woman at the counter even promised, cross her heart and hope to die, that she would order it week. So it would be there the following Friday. Before her order date had rolled around I was out of everything I could in good conscience feed a duck, so I came in a couple of days early looking for a substitute to tide me through. It isn't a good sign when the person who told you just five days earlier that she would personally order that feed for you and that it would most certainly be in fairly soon gets a panicked look on her face when you walk in the door. It seems that there was more to this "Minimum Order" than met the eye; evidently they needed to order three pallets' worth of feed at one swell foop or they couldn't order at all and, for the kicker, they only had two pallets' worth of order right then. But, but, but, she hastened to say, she was going to try to stretch that and get the order in Tuesday and if she couldn't she would call to say there was a problem.

Yeah, I know I should have gone to another supplier at this point. But I really wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, ya know? I'm a grade-a, boiled in the wool sucker for that sort of thing. I didn't get a call. I called back Friday, got Ms. Dumber Than A Chrysanthemum who asked me to call back in 15 minutes so she could go check. And the telephone stayed busy for more than the next hour....

At this point even I am beginning to get suspicious. So I tromp my weary bones down there and find a bright and chipper woman behind the counter that I've never seen before, who announces in cheerful tones that the order had gone out late the last Tuesday and so it wouldn't be in for another week. She was very astonished when my voice dropped a couple of decibels and about half an octave (it does that when I see red) when I announced in NO uncertain terms that they had just lost a customer. Ms. DTAC was handling another customer and she seemed to think that I was out of line for being just a wee bit irate so she replied in an irritable, what is YOUR problem voice that the order had gone out late and that it would be here next FRIDAY. Um. Yeah. And what are the ducks supposed to eat in the meantime, lady, cake? After all of my care and planning and research and a couple of months of feeding them what I've determined to be the best I can feed them, the whole shebang has been whammied by a bunch of people who can't find their backsides with both hands and a map. I've been feeding them chicken scratch, turkey crumbles, and in desperate moments, cat food. I'm sure most of them will be just fine but that isn't the point.

So yes, I did go find another supplier. They're farther away and more expensive, but I'll put up with a lot for a reliable source. I also found a back-up supplier just in case. My learning curve may be a bit steep, I could be called a tad slow, but I do learn eventually.

But I worry, especially now. One of my Silver Appleyards, a heavy-weight breed, has gone lame on one leg. He has a swollen joint that is starting to balloon into a swollen leg, and I wonder if this would have happened if he'd gotten the right nutrition at the right time. I don't think I would have been so stressed if these ducks were over six months old; that's pretty much as grown a duck as you're going to get. It's just because they do grow so quickly and have so many thing to develop in such a short time that this situation has gotten under my skin. A couple of the other heavy breed ducks are showing a little wobbly on their pins. It could be that this is just a condition endemic to the bigger bodied ducks; it could be that the Appleyard somehow got injured and is just not recovering the way he should be. Either which way, I've got a hard decision to make here soon if he doesn't start improving.

Did I mention that the more I deal with Windows the more I love Linux? Even though I'm pig-ignorant of even the Linux basics? A little while ago my favorite anti-virus software announced an upgrade. I've never had a problem with this company before, so I go ahead and upgrade. Only it won't work. It suggests that maybe I need to update my windows software, so okay, I do that even though I haven't in forever and three days because every time I do I have problems forever with the things little and large the update manages to screw up. The anti-virus still refuses to work -- it's now suggesting that it can't play friendly with a couple of other programs I have -- and a couple of days ago I realized that the Windows update removed my financial program. Gone. I can see the files, I can even find traces of links on the computer, but I cannot, cannot get the program to run. Windows giggles coyly and says that I can't get there from here. In fact, there doesn't really exist. Agh.
Since I only use the program as a glorified checkbook balancer, I wondered if there was anything out there that would work as a patch until I got my new system (ha! considering the current financial situation) put together and running. Well whaddaya know, financial freeware. It's double-entry, which takes some getting used to, and since all my backups are worthless (something about the computer seeing but not seeing my former financial program) I'm having to type each and every financial transaction I can find...but you know, I could get used to it. I'm still going to have to spend the next two months faithfully glued to a monitor to figure out every glitch and gotcha -- but hey, that's how I learned most of what I know about computers and the internet to begin with.
But O for the day when I'm finally confident enough to ditch windows altogether. I am going to party so hard DBS is going to nickname me Britney.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Whereupon I Pick Up My Jaw Once Again

Really, when you ignore children's education as much as I do then the general expectation is that they're going to grow up dumb as earthworms. I'll admit to being a mom who uses the Visual Lobotomy for a little peace and quiet to get other things done. When the Banshees howl that they're bored, I tell them that they have four choices: Reading, Writing, Math, or Laundry. I got a lot of laundry out of that before they wised up. (I've sinced added "Running Like Fiends Around the Front Yard i.e. P.E. They aren't naive enough to go for the weeding-as-fun routine.)

So when did EB turn into a voracious bookworm? We live together, don't you think I would have noticed that going on under my nose? MB's obsession with history (as long as it's Titanic's history), geology (as long as it's a volcano or a black smoker), and the Solar System is phenomenal (Got Black Holes? No? Darn!). LB is still unable to read but appears to be making a bid for Family Bard. Or possibly author for soap operas. Sometimes the boundaries are a little fuzzy.

No, no, no! They aren't supposed to be this...well, well-educated. They're supposed to have the IQ of a philodendron.

Of course, then it hits me: my initial philosophy of teacher as facilitator as opposed to prison guard is working out just fine and the doubts that I'm having are just the internal scripts left over from my public school experience. I gathered together the resources and had the wisdom or the infinite degree of addled luck to let them be bored out of their noggins every once in a while. The Banshees aren't picking it up in the linear fashion that I did, but it's trickling into their brainpans nonetheless. I feel all puffed up with pride and infinitely humble all at the same time. My kids. Wow.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I could kill for chocolate; willing to maim for naked barley

And thank goodness there are laws against such things, for I am a law-abiding citizen. Or at least I've managed to fake it pretty well over the years.

It's amazing that I've gotten very little done today and still manage to be utterly exhausted at the end of it. I've got the temporary duck enclosure up for the Big Ducks (ungrateful wretches) and the little ducks and the TubDucks are now out in the greenhouse. I came to the unwilling conclusion that the temporary enclosure can't be an overnighter because I really have no way of making it secure. I've been assured that there are owls in the area and I know that there are coyotes...not that the greenhouse could keep out a coyote when it couldn't keep out the ex-dog, but I'd like to discourage where I can. So until Duck Row (why do I keep wanting to type Duck Row Records?) is done, I'm going to be transporting 13 very unhappy and uncooperative Quackers from greenhouse to enclosure and back again. And I will report right now that an unhappy Quacker is a very loud quacker, unless it's a drake. In an unscientific poll, it appears that our Cayuga drake is still very much in residence (there was some doubt after the earlier fatality).

Sir Edmund Hilary is getting very fat and also very opinionated; it appears that SEH is almost certainly a white runner and most def'nitly female. Ghiradelli (the chocolate runner, of course) is a shy duck but also a quacker so there we are, two female runners and three undeclared. TBA is coloring up nicely but I don't know enough about the various duck colors to declare for one side or the other and the duck's voice hasn't broken either. Every other day I change my mind about whether I'm going to be the proud owner of a drake or a duck -- and let's face it, folks, TBA is hands-down my all-time favorite. Spoiled rotten wretch AND the duck knows it. Still, of all of the feathered critters in the back yard, the runners have been nominated Most Likely to Die of Old Age.

To my dismay, I'm learning the hard way that close quarters can lead to complications. Some of the ducks appear to be almost bow-legged, some severely so. I'm hoping that larger quarters will undo some of that damage but it's a very faint, slight hope. None of the runners are affected, thank goodness, but damn, I hate learning from the school of hard knocks. It's not fair on the critters involved. It could also be that large-breed ducks are prone to this sort of thing; the smaller the duck in the affected population, the less likely they are to be affected, and of course the runners are the lightest breed I've got.

The Saxony and Silver Appleyards are tanks. Huge, and the oldest aren't even a month old. I can just imagine what they're going to look like in November, full-feathered and market-weight (cue Jurassic Park theme). The Cayugas are developing their famous green-over-black sheen and the ungrateful, feral beasts are gorgeous. The Khaki Campbells and Golden Hybrids are virtually indistinguishable except for size and a slight difference in bill coloration (okay, I've officially gone round the bend...I can tell them apart by the tips of their bills??)

Of course, all of the Banshees want their very own ducks. I have told each and every one of them that they would have to earn the duck with extra chores around the house, that they'd have to earn the feed as well, and that they would be expected to help keep the duck areas clean and build the cages for their individual ducks. LB is too young to wrap her brain around the subject and EB hasn't shown that much interest in the work aspect, but MB was very much on-board. He got up first thing in the morning to help clear the back yard and just couldn't do enough. Now, if the boy wants a duck that bad, I'm willing to let him earn it -- but I did feel honor-bound to inform him that a duck can live up to twelve years and that once it was his, he was responsible for it for as long as it lived. Once he added up how old he would be if the duck actually lived that long, his enthusiasm dimmed just a bit. Actually I'm impressed with the outcome, since so many people can't wrap their brains around that bit of logic. I know I wasn't prepared for a cat to live for nearly two decades, but here she is, deaf and wobbly and still very affectionate. I figured it was worth the effort to drum it into somebody's skull that sometimes pets can live for a very long time. It's why I'll never get a tortoise or a parrot, thanks very much.

Right now I'm content to have the ducks as my hobby with the Banshees along for the observational opportunities. As with every other thing I've ever done with the Banshees in tow, I don't know how much they're going to learn; I'm not even sure exactly what they're going to learn. Sometimes you can be 100% sure that you're showing them one thing and then find out much later that they saw something completely different. It just works that way. I know when my mother raised poultry way back when, she would probably have bet that I would never, ever follow in her footsteps. Ever. And yet here I am with children and household and poultry and incipient vegetable garden, among other things.

There are differences. I, for one, will never raise snails. Life is too short to pursue the wily gastropod. Head cheese is not on my menu of to-do items (although mozzarella is a possibility). She never had a loom or a spinning wheel. I make soap and brew beer (okay, I should brew beer. I have everything required to brew except for maybe time.) She may have been a rough carpenter but she was way ahead of my skill set with a skill saw -- on the other hand, I'm a better welder. She drew well, painted well, cast bronze -- I need considerable help just to draw a straight line. Still, the crux of the matter may well be how she chased her dreams. Nothing (except for Calculus) seemed impossible to her, given enough time and effort. We had our issues and our disagreements and far too many things were left unresolved between us, but this is one attribute she passed along that I am grateful for: We never quit learning because there is always something new to learn. Oh, how I hope I can pass that on to her grandchildren.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's Too Early In The Morning To Run Screaming Into The Night

We've gotten our annual love-letter from the county and now have about a month to get rid of the brush. The good news? DBS has finally figured out that maybe, just maybe, weeding early and often might stave such love notes off and that he is now miraculously available to do this once a week. I checked fingerprints. He's definitely not a pod person....

To be fair to the man, he's never been a yard-work person. He still thinks we ought to put a heavy kill-all-growing-things poison on the back-yard or, failing that, just put down asphalt. He reluctantly agreed that 1. we have growing things, i.e. Banshees, and poison probably isn't the best thing to start generously strewing around and 2. asphalt is prohibitively expensive with the back yard as large as it is. Besides, now we have ducks and they don't do any better on the blacktop than the Banshees do. It's just one of those things. (Besides which, there's reason number 3, otherwise known as these "solutions" wouldn't make Mom happy, and we all know that if Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Also just one of those things.) Several things have conspired against him -- one of which is that busting his rump once a year is not his favorite pastime. We are finally reaching the point where we know know that we really can't afford outside distractions anymore and he's the type that likes to stay busy. The fact that whenever a parent blinks, a child grows six inches is also a factor. Did I also mention that we have done the Bohemian, ignore-it-all-and-let-time-figure-it-out method of housework/yardwork to the point of utter exhaustion and we're in the mood for matching towels...that we can find??

Oh yes, and let's not forget the $5 gas and the staple food prices that have tripled in the last six months. As if we could.

So the ducks that I asked for in order to have something to feed perfectly good tomato worms to are starting to sound like an interesting proposition. And the garden that I've been promising myself for the last twelve years might actually become a viable option. I might be able to swing that pressure canner for Christmas, if I'm realllllly lucky. DBS has stopped growling when I start shopping for real estate that we can't afford, because he knows I'm basically looking for a small homestead in an area where I don't have to worry about getting a permit for the livestock. (Did I mention that I've been looking at miniature cows? Everybody has a dream; mine involves miniature Jerseys.) All of this adds up to something that I have been wanting forever and just about three days: a family that is beginning to look inward for the ingenuity to keep themselves busy and entertained instead of outward to (rather expensive) distractions. My dream is to spend several hours in the garden poking at the green beans, or tending ducks, or painting the house....just about anything other than wasting that time staring at a screen. I've already threatened the ducks with Tolstoy. They appear to be unimpressed. Maybe they know something I don't!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Storm Before The Calm Before The Really BIG Storm

As I write I'm listening to the final rustlings of our latest hatch. Two weeks ago we had 15 viable Saxony eggs; yesterday 7 hatched out. Today there are two more to add, for a total of 9, and a couple more that have broken shell and will probably hatch today for a grand total of 11. Of the four that haven't pipped, two were actively trying to break the inside membrane (gotta love that candler!) and two were...well, they weren't viable anymore. It happens. I'm still deciding whether to help the unpipped eggs hatch out, but my rule thus far has been that they need to at least crack the shell before I do midwifery. I'll candle again today to see if they've at least broken through the membrane and we'll just have to see from there. By the end of today we are going to have all of the ducks that we're going to get this year, and more than we genuinely need.

11 Saxony, hatched onsite
9 Saxony from Holderreads
2 White Runners from Holderreads
4 Silver Appleyards hatched onsite
2 Indian Runners hatched onsite
3 Chocolate Runners from Metzer
9 Cayuga from Metzer
3 Golden Hybrid from Metzer
2 Khaki Campbells from Metzer
45 ducks
- 1 Cayuga (died of unknown causes)
- 1 Chocolate Runner (drowned)
- 1 Chocolate Runner (sold to friend)
42 ducks on premises. As in, right now.

For the love of little green apples, what was I thinking?? Thank goodness there are too many of them to name, otherwise I'd be in real trouble! So far only a relative handful have been handed monikers, and only the Indian Runner ducks have been labeled Untouchables. Of all of the ducks so far, the Indian Runners have the most personality. They chatter constantly and they're insatiably curious -- which sort of means they fit into the rest of the household just fine. I haven't gotten the courage to sex any of them yet; here's hoping for majority female.

The Banshees have decided that the 4H thing looks sort of interesting, so I'm going to have to get off of my own tail-feathers and get proactive about it all. DBS still thinks the ducklings are cute but is starting to get this glazed look in his eye. And everybody has decided that if a duck goes to the chopping block, only Mom is heartless enough to go through with it. Of course that means I get stuck with plucking duty too, but such is life. I know down makes great fill; I wonder if feathers can be composted....

DBS is going on vacation here in a couple of days and we're going to spend the first part of it getting permanent duck housing put together. He's probably going to spend the rest of it with his feet up, ice tea in hand, while I go about clearing brush and (finally) breaking ground for the garden.

Personally, I'm finding that the ducks are wonderful motivators. My master bath, which has been an impromptu nursery for newly arrived and just-hatched duckies, has been cleaned of more than the top layer of grime for the first time in ages. Gradual dust and mayhem I can handle; duck dust and mayhem on top of everything else is way too much. My back yard is getting shaped and played in because I have to be out there at least a couple of times a day to check on the web-toes. I may get that garden in this year after all.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Just A Reminder

Cute fuzzy ducklings don't stay small forever. In fact, they don't stay small for very long!

Sir Edmund Hilary, left, hatched May 25, 2008
Ferdinand, right, hatched June 3, 2008

That's just 9 days' difference, folks!

Friday, June 6, 2008


I have been told it's mean, evil, and not-nice to be so quiet on my blogs. People worry about me. (Heck, I worry about me, and I know what's going on!)

Ahem. I have spent the week wondering where in the merry name of all distracted universes the time keeps going to. I wake up. I go to bed. In between there's generally 12 to 18 hours of something going on, but I'll be double-jiggered if I can always remember what it was. Written down in black and white pixelations it just doesn't look that impressive. Wake up. Wander into the kitchen. Try to figure out what to feed Banshees that doesn't involve A. cooking or B. cleaning or C. cleaning, cooking, and then cleaning again. Give up and go for option C. Put TubDucks in the tub. Clean out the Saxony bin. Check on the outdoor ducks to make sure they have clean water, lots of food, and oh yeah, count heads to make sure everybody made it through the night. Interlaced between all of this moments of "Quit doing th-- I said quit doing that! A dozen times! WHY ARE YOU STILL DOING IT??

I don't know.


Turn the Saxony eggs in the incubator and wonder if obsessive observation will get the pitifully few remaining Appleyard eggs to hatch. (It won't, but that has never stopped me.)

Catch up on the internet news, including my multiple email addresses. Realize that I have an issue due very very shortly and No Authors. None. Well, one, but he submitted early and I would run off with him for that alone but his wife and my husband and our collected offspring probably wouldn't understand. And I'm probably not his type anyway.

Go play with the ducks.

Untangle Banshees who are using sophisticated logic techniques for situations that are highly illogical. Wonder if drinking is still an option. Decide that yes, it is, but only if I'm drinking unsweetened ice tea so concentrated it could fill my ink catridges without anybody noticing the difference.

Go play with ducks again. Let the Banshees play with the older ducklings. Wonder why lunchtime went by without me noticing it or fixing anything for it. Well, the offspring aren't complaining (that's what the full fruit bowl is for and the sliced home-made bread over there on the counter. And they know how to get into the vegetables in a pinch. They aren't going hungry, just waiting for me to notice that nothing hot has gone into their maws for a while now.) Fix food, wonder if I should call it lunch or dinner or just nourishment at this point.

Spend more time on the internet researching washing machine options. A. repair, B. replace, C. replace and figure out how to dismantle the old machine in as destructive a manner as possible. A will cost nearly as much as B and DBS won't let me consider C. Something about zoning restrictions. Pah.

quit doing that I told you a thousand and one times that you are NOT supposed to bop your sister with a pillow because she doesn't want to watch the same movie you want to watch and have seen if I must remind you at least 8 times over the last two days. she's entitled to a turn and I'm entitled to a rest and I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT ANYMORE

Watch as LB comes into the room completely oblivious to my presence, stop, plop her book down, try to spell and sound out several words, and then pick the book up and wander off, blissfully satisfied that she's worked something out. Figure out fractions with EB with the aid of a cookbook. Figure out that the reason MB can't recount any incident with any accuracy (or indeed, at all) is because he needs to re-enact the scene in his head and sometimes with his body before he can remember it. Melissa is right; this is a kinesthetic child. He'll probably have to learn his fractions while bouncing on a pogo stick. Decide that a pogo stick is better than bungee cords. Decide that I'm thrilled to finally notice that he needs to be physical when he's remembering and I'm also the world's most incompetent mother not to have noticed it before. Here's hoping children are as resilient as everyone tells me they can be.

Decide that frontloading washing machine from the local dings'n'dents shop will be just perfect. We just won't be able to drive any further than the end of the driveway for a couple of months. Oh well, that gives us time to get used to the bicycles.

Tell the gentleman (term very loosely used) from the cable company that YES I know I'm cutting off the cable t.v. and WHY is because I can't afford it anymore and by anymore I mean under any circumstances you care to name unless you are offering it to me for free. Repeat this three times and then threaten to get very very irritated. Goodbye and have a good day to you too, buddy. I am keeping the internet connection because I need the internet connection, but we do not now and never have needed needed the television set. It's a pacifier, it's a brain sucker, I lose entire days to it, and yes I'm going to miss it enormously. Feeding the children and keeping the lights on is more important than whether we get to see another rerun of whatever it is we seem to be watching right now, though. Gas = $4.32 a gallon. 50# flour = $34 when it used to be $14. Cable =/= necessary, thanks very much.

Run all over the middle part of my very large county, because if I'm going to waste the gas to get to the middle part of my very large county, I'm going to do as many errands as is humanly possible so I don't have to come out again to the middle part of my very large county. But at least everything that needed to get done has gotten done and the Banshees have new pairs of shoes to show for it all.

Now I have to get all of the Banshees to bed because, after all, I only announced that they would have to go to bed at 9 p.m. half an hour ago and nobody could be expected to remember or heed that. And after that I've got to fix the toilet -- again -- but at least it's a very old, very familiar, and very cheap fix that generally stays in place for a few years.

And I'm going to ignore doing dishes tonight in favor of egg-watch, because two of the Appleyards have finally decided to pip their eggs and announce their intentions of joining the world. Sleep? Should. Probably won't.

Tomorrow we do all of this (or something incredibly like it) all over again.

I should be skinnier than I am.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Oh, Yeah. THAT'S Why I Hate Software Updates

And for the record, I'm not talking about my Ubuntu Linux setup. It has its own issues, but updating and erasing links like nobody's business is not one of them.

Oh yeah, and a special thanks to the new version of the virus protection that refuses to update, scan, or uninstall itself. It's been swell. Really.

I'm going to spend the next goodness knows how long trying to remember url's and proper blog titles and I'm going to have to do it sober because good parents don't let their Banshees see them fold under frustration...and even if I wait until they go to bed, hacking this computer to pieces and holding the screaming, squealing bits of shattered hard drive up to really powerful magnets is something I want to remember in the morning.

I don't know exactly how one becomes a computer geek -- I rather suspect that suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous software is part of it -- but when I figure it out, I'm coming down with a case of full-throated Wagnerian Valkyrie-Geek-on-Steroids.

Also known as: the more I deal with Microsoft, the more I love Linux.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dinner and Mashed Potatoes

I told the Banshees that I was going to name the new ducklings Dinner and Mashed Potatoes. They seemed to think that those were inappropriate appellations, I can't for the life of me think why. So, for the record, they are now known as Sir Edmund Hilary and To Be Announced, TBA for short.

Left: TBA, Right: Sir Edmund Hilary

Sir Edmund may or may not be accurately named, genderly-speaking, but temperamentally it's dead on. I've never known a duck so determined to get to the top of things and he/she is very nearly as curious as a mongoose. TBA is much more laid-back.

For the record, Sir Edmund is the duckling pictured in the cup and among the eggs , and the duckling that EB is holding is TBA. They're even cuter in person.

But I still think we should have named them Dinner and Mashed Potatoes.....

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Thumping! A Bumping! A Wild Alive Scratching!

"My egg!" shouted Horton. "My EGG! WHY, IT'S HATCHING!"

Of course, I was out ordering duck food and buying bedding so I missed the whole thing! But that's all right, the Banshees and DBS got to see it all. I may have to tie anchors on them before a strong wind blows them away on their cloud of bliss....

What A Difference A Day Makes

24 little hours....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Almost There

On occasion a duck will hatch and still not have absorbed all of the egg yolk. (This can be due to too high a temperature or an over-eager midwife. Poor Quacker.) When this happens, you're supposed to keep the duck as still as possible and as humid as possible. Hence, measuring cup and wet paper towels and tucked back in the incubator as soon as the photo op was finished. This one is now out of the measuring cup and the rest of the egg but its belly button is still a bit distended. I'll rest a lot better when everything is where its supposed to be.

Egg Number 2 is a-rockin' and a-rollin' and we're expecting great things tomorrow. I get the funniest feeling that this one is going to be a dark duck, which is cool -- it's LIVE duck that I'm really rooting for.

The hatching of Egg Number 1 was marred by the loss of one of the Cayugas. We don't really know what happened, but given the set of symptoms we're worried about the rest of the Quackers. It could have been a bit of moldy feed and a particularly vulnerable duck, or it could be a contagious disease and the possibility of losing the whole flock. Now I'm nibbling the other set of fingernails up to the elbow. If everybody is still healthy in seven days I'll let out the breath that I'm holding right now.

More pics tomorrow if Hatchling Number 1 has continued breathing and will hold still long enough. They're called runners for a reason, folks!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Guess I Won't Be Getting Sleep Tonight

Day 28

Okay. The timeline for hatching ducks is 28 days. Give or take a day or two. I just have to keep repeating this to myself and save the liquid depressant celebration for later, after they are well out of the shell.

But come on, already.

This really is no lesson to impart to the children, staring obsessively at a styrofoam box while picking incessantly at my nails. You're in there, I think, I know you're in there and I'd love to help. Just crack the [expletive(s) deleted] shell and I'm on it.

Okay, I'll wait until it's clear you're not going to make it on your own.

For all of you purists out there who insist that ducks get out of their calcium cages themselves I'm going to point out that I'm going to ignore you. Don't bother telling me that I would be doing the absolutely worst thing possible. These are going to belong to a backyard flock, it doesn't matter if they're less than perfect. I'll also point out that I have midwifed ducklings before -- granted I was twelve or thirteen at the time, but the operations were successful and the poultry all thrived until Mom put them in the stewpot. It can be done. Some of the tidbits I've pulled off of the web in the last six weeks leads me to believe that a perfectly healthy duck or chick might not make it out of the egg because of less than perfect incubation. And darn it, I can't stand to think that a thin (to me) bit of shell is all that stands between life and death. Especially since I've already lost so may otherwise viable eggs to my less-than-perfect home-made incubator. These runners are the last of 13 eggs (6 Appleyard, 7 Runner) that went into that system; I'm going to fight tooth and nail to see that they have a decent chance.

There are highlights to leaven the anxiety. There is some very busy pecking away at the inside of the shell; all I have to do is hold it up to my ear to hear those changes. A couple of days a go it was peck..........peck..........................peck. Today it's like a little featherweight jackhammer in there. I want out, I want out! And there's an addition: peeping. Every once in a while I hear little tiny chirps.

I candled the whole incubated lot yesterday since we're far enough along to see some sort of growth on all of the eggs. I had to throw out 13 of the 36 I had in there, including one that had started to develop but then the shell got cracked. You couldn't see it without a strong light on it. There were one or two that were iffy-looking but I saved them anyway on GP. Because, as luck would have it, when I was candling the two runner eggs that I thought were dead...turns out one of them isn't. Granted, the egg isn't in optimal shape. It has much more airspace on the inside than it should, but that critter is making a go of it. Tap, tap, taptaptaptaptap. I want out!!

28 days. It's a guideline, not set in stone.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chewing Fingernails Up To The Elbow

I have but one viable runner duck egg. I've been using my nifty new candler on it, that's how I know it's still viable.

Yesterday I could see the duckling moving a little.

This morning it was a very active little wriggler.

This evening it had pierced the inner mebrane, a necessary first step for breaking out of the egg.

I'm hoping tomorrow it will manage to get a beak out of the shell.

Oh yeah. And I'm a nervous wreck.

Did I mention that hatching can take days?? I think I'm going to pull out that dog-eared copy of Good Omens, pull out a chair next to the incubator, and make like an expectant father.

Pics to follow if I'm not shaking too hard to get good ones.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Alas, still just 24 hours long

We didn't get to the fair.

I haven't done a lick of housework.

Park day was accomplished and we've all decided to shift it two hours earlier next Sunday because it has become the High Desert's usual imitation-of-eternal-damnation-on-a-skillet hot.


The most Important Part, of course

The Banshees have their very own bicycles. Whee!

One Cloud is Often Lonely

To quote Richard Adams, of Watership Down Fame. It sounds a lot better than omygodomygodomygodomygod....

Which may be translated, by those who have known me for any length of time, as stuffing 48 hours-into-24 again.

Today, DBS's one day off this week, we have 1. bicycle shopping, 2. park day, 3. possibly the county fair, and 4. more housecleaning. Of course DBS won't be participating in at least two of those events but the Banshees and I will be. Tomorrow morning I will roll over and eye the ringing alarm with much disfavor. I won't be able to ignore it because of the cheeping, squeaking, peeping crew in the bathroom. They're like babies everywhere; they do nothing but eat and sleep and make noises and messes and demand attention. Also like babies everywhere, they're utterly adorable even when up to their eyeballs in the latest round of mischief. However, unlike the Banshees, these little quackers are getting thrown out of the house next week when they start to get stinky. I'll get my bathroom back!

I have a confession to make: I actually bought a smidgeon of curriculum last week. Specifically, I bought Saxon math for homeschoolers. Right now I'm poking at it gingerly with a long, long stick, hoping it doesn't blow up on me or bite me or something equally unpleasant. It's a fairly pricey bit of work but I finally came to the conclusion that I need a bit of structure when it comes to teaching math and the Banshees will just have to lump it. Yes, they're miserable right now, moping and whining "Mom, can we have math now? How about now? Now?? Please? You said...."

Some days it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints.

Friday, May 16, 2008


I ordered 15 ducks. I got 15 ducks, but it appears that the order was skewed just a little -- I got 9 Cayugas instead of 8 (their famous extra in case of fatality). Obviously I was missing something else somewhere.

Based on body configuration, that Chocolate Runner evidently is not a Chocolate Runner. So they're sending me a Chocolate Runner and a Surprise Duck breed TBA next week. Wheee! I love surprise packages! I'm just going to be a little worried until they get here safely: there's a reason why most hatcheries will send no fewer than 10 at a time.

A friend loaned me the 4H poultry package. I like the looks of it and if I can persuade the Banshees that it's a good idea (and if they believe me) then we might be joining up. I like the idea of showing the ducks off. Even if we don't officially join I may just have them run through the program anyway -- there's a lot to learn there, and I'm evil, mean, and sneaky when it comes to getting knowledge into tiny craniums.

I also learned from the horse's mouth, as it were, that I cannot bring a cow onto the property unless I have an educational permit. When I had the dog shot and tagged I asked Animal Control about backyard bovines. Evidently there are 'agricultural' zones in our fair city that don't require any sort of permits, but I'm in a special license zone. If we ever get around to being able to afford that cow I'll start investigating what hoops I have to go through to get the permit. Considering the price tag on Buttercup and Barbeque though, it will be at least 15 years and another property before I can even begin to think about affording them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ducks: The Sequel

You knew I wasn't going to able to leave this alone, right? I was getting used to the pitter patter of webbed feet, the cheeping and the peeping and the red light of the brooder lamp turning our bathroom into something like an extra from Amityville Horror: the (poultry) Obsession. So I called Metzer Farms and groveled. (Actually, I didn't need to grovel much; the ducks I wanted were either in wide demand or the amount I wanted was so small that the extras could come my way.) Without further ado, let's meet the new flock.
In The Tub
Fifteen ducks. Fifteen. Yes, I need my head examined.

One of the new Cayugas: 6 females, 1 male, 1 undecided.

Golden Hybrid 300 Four of these little ladies.

Queen Bess, Chocolate Runner

Just one, and she already has The Royal Attitude

Khaki Campbell

Aristophanes (not pictured) and Lysistrata

And shall I mention that I finally found a place that would sell me White Runners? Because they have a minimum order of 10 and the White Runners are for the spouse, who doesn't care whether they're male or female, I ordered 2 of his ducks and 8 Saxony ducks. I'm hoping that I get at least one female with the group so I can start a breeding bunch there. Big duck, the Saxony. I know they have big eggs.

How do I know the Saxony can produce humongous eggs? Umm....

Well. The home-made incubator didn't do too well with the temperature regulation. I'm sure that it would have if I could have been there 24-hours a day to keep careful watch, but I have three children and a spouse and a large parcel of land, not to mention the other projects that keep me busy (and shall we throw in the fact that I do need sleep every once in a while??), so the temperature swings on that critter got very wild and wide. I'm trying to save the four remaining runner eggs, but the original Silver Appleyard eggs are toast. They're supposed to hatch out this weekend and I can't bring myself to bury them before then, but come Monday morning they're gone.

Which brings me to my DBS's dental visit last week. He sat next to a woman who was knitting, something he happens to know something about because he's married to a woman who knits. Obsessively. He asked her what she was knitting, she said "A scarf," and he said that his wife knitted too and she was working on a shawl. In the course of the conversation he mentioned that his wife was raising ducks, and she said, "How interesting. I know a couple of women who are raising ducks!" She told him that she raised llamas, that she spun the fiber and used the yarn for items that she sold on Etsy. He said that was great! And by the way, his wife also had an Etsy shop that she might have heard of -- MadWoman Soaps.

Whereupon she looked at him and said, "'re Stephanie's husband?!?"

Hello, Marti. Forgive me for butchering at least part of that story, I'm sure.

Marti in her infinite generousity gifted us with an incubator and I promptly set about filling it up with eggs. First, the four surviving runner eggs. I don't know if they're going to make it but they were only in my incubator for a week, so there's a chance. Then there were the 13 Silver Appleyards I ordered to make up for the ones that I have a sneaking suspicion I've lost. And then I went absolutely barking mad and ordered some Saxony eggs. I won 12 at an Ebay auction and the woman sent me 19. WOW. If I'm counting correctly that's 36 potential ducks. If I get a 60% successful hatch that's 21-22 new ducks.

(We shall respectfully pause while the author runs around the computer area like a headless bit of poultry.)

Well. There will be a bit of culling going on here come Thanksgiving. I will send the offspring and DBS to the mom-in-law's and promptly become very, very sick. But I shall also be up to my freezer-top in roast duck and in these days of rising food costs, that's no small thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Doesn't Get Grimmer Than This

Today our dog ripped the greenhouse netting to shreds, pulled the ducklings out from under the wire netting, and mauled them to death. It was hard enough finding the pitiful little bodies. It was worse when the children demanded to see them. How do you hide one of the more bitter realities of life from your babies? Should you even try? The dog was being a dog; the protection that I thought was adequate was not. I chose not to hide the consequences from them; I didn't see how I could, given all that needed to be done to deal with the situation.

How do you deal with a child's heartbreak when they realize that Mommy can't sprinkle magic dust and make everything all better? My five-year-old still seems to think everything is going to be all right in the morning. My seven-year-old is angry with the dog. My 8-year-old wants everything to be a nightmare she can wake up from. Oh my darling dearest heart, would that it could be so.

My husband made an executive decision on his way home after hearing the news. He called his mother up and our dog now has a new home. My MIL thinks of this canine as her first grandchild, so it will be a good home, probably better than this one in many respects.

I feel awful. I feel awful that I didn't protect those ducklings better, that I wasn't there to rescue them. I feel awful that we're getting rid of the dog, who has been with us for so long and really is a good dog. I feel horrendously guilty for feeling glad that we're getting rid of the dog. Conflicted is not even the beginning of this feeling. Some time in the night the tears will finally come and I will weep the ending to this terrible, terrible day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Other Events That Cause Moms to Run Screaming Into the Night

When I candled last night to make sure that all of the remaining eggs were okay, it turned out that they weren't. I still have a couple of Silver Appleyards that are just (pardon the pun) ducky, but the rest of the eggs have quit developing and are getting very dark. I'm going to candle again tonight and if there isn't any movement, deep-six the unfortunates. Bah. Those temperature swings were bound to take their toll but I was hoping down through my toenails that they wouldn't. I also had to get rid of a runner duck egg that simply wasn't developing; that's not nearly as heartbreaking as having to make the call on something that had already shown potential. Some of the runner ducks are showing development but I couldn't detect heartbeat. I'm gritting my teeth and hoping that at least one duck out of the dozen I've been cultivating manages to hatch out. I don't want to be posting that "And Then There Were None" piece. I also accept that Mama Nature, while resilient, is a tough, unsentimental anthropomorphic personification who is willing to throw in the towel when circumstances demand it. I, however, am terribly sentimental and not at all tough. Hatch, darn it.

I wonder what the going rate on kidneys is? Because trading one for one of these:

is beginning to sound very appealing.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Candling: An Important Point

Candle your eggs.

Candle ALL of your eggs.

I didn't candle the runner duck eggs. The suspicious looking one that I was going to candle tonight blew up before I could. The smell is not insignificant, but I've had three babies -- I am comfortable with my ability to handle the smell. It's the bacteria load that's been put on the remaining (hopefully) still-viable eggs that's got me chewing fingernails up to my elbow.

St. Vidicon, meet St. Francis. You think you guys can work together on this one?

For Colleen, Because I Said I Would

And for Bobbi, Because She Asked

The repurposed greenhouse with its new tenants....

Khaki Campbell duckling

Cayuga duckling

Saturday, May 3, 2008

10 Reasons Why I Love the United States Postal Service

They called me Tuesday to pick up a box of peeping, squeaking ducklings that had been shipped out Monday. All of them healthy, happy, and not terribly sure about the strange woman who chirped at them all the way home.

A breeding pair of Khaki Campbells. 8 Cayugas -- 6 females, one male, and an extra that hasn't declared itself yet. (The hatcheries sometimes ship an extra in case of mailing mortality.)

Since they aren't feathered yet and it's still cold in these parts (newly-hatched quackers need about 90 degree temperature to feel comfy), they're spending the nights in a Rubbermaid storage bin and their days in my tub under the cosy red light of a brooding lamp. They've grown like weeds in the last few days and their tail feathers are starting to come in.

The last parts for my hoop house have also come in; no excuses now, I have to build that duck run.

Monday. Today I have a field trip to CalEarth that is part of a birthday party for a friend of the Banshees. Sunday I have park day with another friend of the Banshees. Monday I ship Banshees off to a babysitter (who happens to be the mother of two of the Banshees' friends) and I get a few blissful hours where I can concentrate utterly and wholely on a project.

Yeah. Homeschoolers. Unsocialized. Totally.

Adventures in Candling, part 2

Like an over-anxious grand-mama I've been hovering. This morning I candled and stared at the dark mass, wondering if it was a duck or if the poor egg had been stressed past the point of viability.

Movement. Is it a heartbeat? A duckling turning over in it's sleep?

It's a little webbed foot, actively swimming in the heart of its shell.


Monday, April 28, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

It's quiet.

That's an elusive quality in this household. I'm enjoying it. I'm hoping to enjoy it for a while but I'm sure the universe and Murphy will conspire against me and MB will coming chirping down the hallway in a minute, entirely too energetic for this time of day. But it has been quiet for a little while, at least. I could get used to this.

I've had to set the alarm clock (horrors!) to 5:30 a.m. every day in order to turn the duck eggs. The Banshees have been staying up later and later these days; last night they didn't get into bed until a quarter to 10. The lovely, albeit unintended, side effect is that they're starting (finally!) to sleep in of a morning and I have all of this wonderful, wonderful stillness going on. I could so get used to this.

In fact, I may have to go out of my way to keep cultivating it. One of the difficult things about being a stay at home AND homeschooling Mom of three is getting any down time, any down time at all. This deprivation can and has lead to all sorts of stress issues with the current Mom in charge and I've been wondering rather desperately how to get Me time in a household that doesn't have an extra minute to squeeze anything out of. Then I do a stupid thing like bid for hatching eggs, the winning of which absolutely and unequivocally means that I have to get up early in the morning -- and I find this unexpected peace on my doorstep. I'm not a morning person. I'm not, I'm not, I'm not.

But for this, I'm going to try very hard to be one.

I'm going to try very hard to keep the kitchen spotless, so when I get up in the morning I can throw together a cup of tea without waking anybody up.

I'm going to keep the knitting by the reading couch, so I can have an hour or two of uninterrupted work on the Bridal Faroe (I don't have a bride in mind and may never, considering the learning curve and its aftereffect, but the thing is Big, and the perfect shade of cream, and it looks lacy despite being plain ol' garter stitch, and more than one knitter has asked me about my friends' and family's current wedding schedules when they see it.)

I can do the quiet little chores that always seem to go to the wayside when attempting to keep three Banshees awake, alive, and aware.

One of them appears to be awake now (LB, wow, I would have lost that office pool!) so I'll have to go now. But oh, it's been a lovely couple of hours.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Whereupon One Homeschooling Mother Tears Her Hair Out and Runs Screaming Into the Night

Or something like that.

Keeping a steady temperature on this little modified icebox of mine is turning out to be a bit of beggardly headache. It wants to go high, it wants to go low. It only wants to stay at a steady 99 degrees if I am actively staring at the thermometer. The minute I don't it strays anywhere from 95-105 degrees and I start another set of gray hairs. And I shouldn't do that, because the Banshees aren't going to have any of the fun of turning me completely snow-white when they hit adolescence -- a treat that my parents have earned, even if the Banshees have not.

Oh yes. I got more hatching eggs today; I bid on five and the woman generously sent me seven runner duck eggs. I was hoping I could call the color since she advertised having white runners, but there's nothing in the fine print that says the bidder gets to choose, so I'm hoping that one of the hatchees of this batch is a nice, snowy white. I'm not planning on telling the Dear Beleaguered Spouse about this...I can trust that y'all can keep a secret?

But this is The Last Batch, because summer is coming and we don't have working a.c.. It's hard enough keeping a steady temp without taking on a scorching ambient temp as well. It's just as well since I really do need to get into The Wilderness and carve out a duck run/tomato patch. I'm getting day-old ducklings next week and they're going to need to go somewhere to keep them out from under the dog's feet.

It's been fun watching the Banshees' faces light up when they're told that something warm and feathery and alive might come out of this little egg, and seeing their reactions when they glimpse the inside of the egg during candling. All those little bitty blood veins running hither and yon, and DBS swears that if you look closely enough you can see the tiny avian heart beating. We're hoping to get usable pictures tomorrow, knock wood. One week down, three more to go for the Silver Appleyards.

I still have to wait.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Adventures in Candling

1 bright flashlight
1 egg that's been in an incubator at just about four days
1 overanxious, hovering, inexperienced midwife
mix gently in a darkened room.

Wow, those look like blood vessels....!

DBS really does think I've lost my marbles, but the Banshees ooohed and ahhed and thought this was the coolest event in the whole wide world. I wasn't supposed to do this until Sunday, but you know how things get! I can hardly wait. But I have to. Another 3 1/2 weeks.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I was going to write something incredibly insightful and witty. I have about three drafts' worth of insightful and witty in the can. It just isn't working out; I get to the sixth paragraph and feel defeated because none of them are worth a tinker's dam and surely not worth any of you wasting your time on.

I figured it out today (or rather, dear beleagured spouse figured it out. He's brilliant that way.)




and I'm afraid it's of the "completely whacked out of her head" variety. My friends tell me it's because I try to put 48 hours into the average 24, but that's not it. Lots of people raise children, keep a picked up house (note that I'm not going for immaculate. I'm going for being able to see carpet again), have a yard that won't lose a peck of peeved pygmies, run a newsletter, crochet, knit, spin, repair floor looms, brew beer, make soap, keep up with 52 varieties of tomato (not a typo: I really did write 52 varieties of tomato), raise citrus trees -- in the high desert, where winter temps routinely dip below citrus-killing temperatures -- and do battle with a fence-eating grape vine. Not to mention the times when I squeeze in teaching fractions and phonetics to various momentarily-still offspring.

Dear beleagured spouse points out that I just built an incubator for the duck eggs that are arriving tomorrow, so add junior electrician and all-around handyman to the list. And the fence. I need to rebuild part of the fence. We won't even mention the tomato house/duck run that I'm architeching in those spare few moments I manage to cadge now and then.

I mean, people do this all of the time and manage to do it well. What's wrong with me?

As you value your existence, do not attempt to answer that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sometimes They Remind Me

Let's face it. One of the top five reasons for me, personally, to be homeschooling could charitably be called laziness. I've never figured out why learning is supposed to be a difficult process. I know that my years in public school had me convinced that learning was equivalent to sweating blood, having night terrors, or being audited by the I.R.S. ...but in the 20+ years (and never mind how many + years there might be!) I sort of figured out differently. What I know, I mean what I really know know, is stuff that I learned myself. This was knowledge that I went after like a shark in a feeding frenzy, or stalked with the patience of someone who enjoys watching rocks grow. Test me on anything I was taught in high school and I might come up dismal; test me on what I taught myself and the rodeo is on.

Still, I have those days. Those days when I wake up and realize that all my children do, all day long, is watch the Science/History/AllDayEveryDayScooby Channel, or poke around in the back yard, or read books that feature dancing rabbits. I have the almost irresistable impulse to sharpen a slew of pencils, sit them all down at the kitchen table at 8 a.m., and teach them calculus. That I myself have never taken calculus and that the Banshees are still in the single digit age realm should be clues numbers one and two that my panic has caused me to be semi-delusional. I panic and I have not now, nor have I ever been, a good thinker under such situations.

Now, let's introduce you to MB. That's the middle child, the one I swear would be on half a dozen medications for ADHD if I'd left him in public school. He's outgoing and energetic and in the last six months or so has taken his native story-telling abilities to new heights. When he gets into a subject, he gets into it with spelunking gear in hand. He's going to dig and delve and immerse himself in his current interest. He bites into it and gets lockjaw. (I will go on record here that it's all from his father's side of the family. I certainly never display these characteristics. Just ignore what I said in the opening paragraph. I get interested to an obsessive degree; my spouse gets interested to a degree that would have most OCD patients shaking their heads.) What's interesting about MB, however, is that he will then follow you around the house and pour out everything that he's just processed. Constantly. For days. And he never seems to breathe. It isn't always accurate but he's doing a credible job for his age. We first noticed this when he latched onto the story of the Titanic; he now has books and models and a dvd about Titanic and won't pass up an opportunity to learn something new about that boat. (Yes, we do have a multiplicity of doting grandparents. How could you tell?) He lectures about not only the Titanic but Britanic and Olympic as well. (If you didn't know Titanic had sister-ships, now you do. Did you also know that there was a passenger on Titanic that was working aboard the Britanic when it sank?)

MB studies stars and galaxies and has nightmares about black holes swallowing up the solar system. (Yes, we've told him this is unlikely. Now we need to get back up sources -- but if you're going to teach someone to question experts, they're going to start with the nearest ones.) Today he rushed into the room, breathlessly spewing everything he'd just learned about volcanoes. Without breathing. Finally I asked him if we were going to have to get him as much material on geology as he's got on Titanic. I think I can safely interpret the reaction as "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" I told him that we would have to test drive a few books from the library, and that some of them were likely to be books written for grown ups. Did he, I inquired politely, feel up to the task of tackling grow-up books? Yes, he said, bouncing. Okay, I said. And then, as he turned to leave the room, he started humming the theme from Superman.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Signs and Portents

My spouse, poor man, has learned over the years that sometimes seeking shelter and riding out the storm is the only way to survive. Despite all propaganda, it isn't necessarily when I'm moody or irritable. Moody and irritable he understands and can handle. Usually all it takes is a large bag of chocolate and a litte alone time. He knows about wanting alone time and huge chunks of dark chocolate'n'blueberry bark. He lives with the Banshees too. He knows. It's my enthusiasms he dreads.

It's the days when I want to dig up the entire back yard and plant every variety of tomato in the Tomato Grower's Supply catalog (and believe me, that's quite a few.)

It's when I want to tear the fence down and replace it during one of his rare vacations. (It would be perfect! He gets to watch the kids while I do basic maintenance. What isn't to like?)

It's when I decide that the megalithic greenhouse that I'm dreaming of is just a tad on the small side, and while we're at it, let's add a larger heater as well.

It's when I opine that I need $$,$$$ to start a business. I like making soap. A lot. And I've had my eyes on this gear forever.

It's when I latch on to the monolithic dome website like a radioactive leech and start trying to teach myself architecture, layout, and interior design all in a single afternoon.

These are all signs of the impending apocalypse as far as my beloved spouse is concerned. I know I'm not going to get to do half of these things. Heck, my drawing alone is enough to teach me heaping amounts of humility. My mother could draw. I can weld. They're different skill sets and I despair that I'm ever going to get spatial relations down (on the other hand, I did teach myself to knit. It took me 25 years, but I did it!) I'm not going to get to plow the back forty with three small children on the property, not without chaining them to something large and heavy, a practice CPS actively discourages. And I know, because I handle the family finances, that $$ on soap gear is stretching it, much less !$$,$$$. I know it, and he knows it, but somehow he just can't relax about it.

Perhaps it's because I can't stop talking about it. My dh is a practical man; when he develops an enthusiasm he researches viability. If he can't do it, he develops a different enthusiasm. Me, I learn for the sake of learning. So it's unlikely I'll ever have the resources to pull together a coherent and cohesive monolithic dome drawing, let alone ever have the cash to build it. I'm going to know exactly how to put one together anyway. Just 'cause it's neat. And just because I have never known just what knowledge is going to come in handy somewhere down the road.

I had a nephew once ask me what I intended to do with all of the "useless knowledge" that I had accumulated. If he had started speaking in Javanese I don't think I could have been more startled. Useless knowledge? There is such a thing? But he was all of maybe 14 at the time, raised in a much different household than I was, and goodness knows the young man has his own personality and way of looking at the universe.

But still. Useless knowledge?? That just isn't possible. There's knowledge that I don't have a specific use for but that doesn't make it useless. If nothing else it makes me positively lethal at Trivial Pursuit. However, it's also very true that, as I said before, that no one ever knows when some small bit of knowledge, some kernal of learning, is going to synthesize with something else to create pure genius...or at least, the solution to the problem at hand. It has happened to me before. Carrying around all these disparate enthusiasms and boundless curiousities has helped me look at everything from raising children to raising Cain in a whole new way. New engineering feats aren't always born from numbers and isometric drawings; new scientific breakthroughs are as much about flights of poetic inspiration as they are about the known laws of physics or molecular bonds.

I'm not going to cure cancer. Heck, I can't even get the tomato seeds to germinate when I want them to. The house will never be a la Martha Stewart; it's a rare occasion when I can see a flat patch of counter space. But I have this boundless enthusiasm for learning and I hope, I wish, I want to be able to pass that enthusiasm on to my children. They may be the ones who have those marvelous, miraculous, legendary breakthroughs -- or they might be the inspiration for the person who will. They may be thinkers and poets and philosophers that have no great fame beyond their own family circle and as long as happiness and content are part of that circle, there is every reason to rejoice. Just as long as they inherit my love of learning, my enthusiasm for figuring things out -- their father's tenacity in the face of obstacles -- as long as they keep striving to learn more and loving every minute of the journey, then I will count myself a successful parent.