Monday, February 28, 2011

Strangers in the Night

1. More Chicken Adventures

El Husbando came into the house around 10 last night and reported that the chickens were acting odd.  Or, to be accurate, odder than usual.  Instead of roosting inside the coop, they had decided to camp out in the run.  This is pretty unusual for our chickens.  Aside from the briefly aberrant behavior of our newbie chickens last September, the birds have been entirely reliable about putting themselves to bed at night, which is one of the advantages they offer over the children. It's not as if the night was one to lure them out of bed, either: cloudy and wet, with temperatures only slightly above freezing. At first, El Husbando thought something was wrong with one of the chickens, who was lying in the snow, but this turned out just to be more weird chicken behavior. Being a man of action, El Husbando picked up the chickens, chucked them back into the coop, collected the day's eggs, and came in to tell me all about it.  Our first thought-- aside from the usual "gee, chickens sure are weird"-- was that something else was in the coop, in which case it was probably a bad idea to lock the chickens inside with it. It seemed unlikely, though, that any non-chicken animal in the coop wouldn't have reacted when El Husbando was stomping around in there counting chickens and collecting eggs.  Still, things didn't seem quite right. so E.H. marched back outside with the flashlight to have a good look around.

A few minutes later, as I was brushing my teeth and thinking how comfy my bed looked, he was back in the driveway flapping his arms at the window to get my attention.  There very definitely was something in the coop, all curled up and cozy under one of the nesting boxes with a bunch of our eggs. He thought it might be a skunk.

OH.  A skunk?  Great.  Now what?  Leave the skunk in there and worry about what it might do to our birds? Try to evict it, and get sprayed? Trap it in its new nest and hope that it wouldn't spray? Would a skunk even eat a chicken, or was it a grass and leaves kind of animal?  We fired up the internet and learned that skunks are, in fact, carnivores.  However, they are also distinctly black and white, and El Husbando was seeing only greyish white fur under the nesting box, no black at all.  Which meant that we had an opossum in the coop. Possums, as we learned last night, are mostly scavengers but will occasionally go after other animals, including chickens. Ah.

No longer afraid of having to smell like skunks for the next few weeks, we decided to evict our squatter.  El Husbando grabbed the tool of choice in this house, a hockey stick, and we went out to play a little possum hockey.  We expected to have to spring out of the way of an angry animal, but this possum did what  possums are known for doing.  He pretended to be asleep.  It went a lot like this:

Prod.  zzzzzzzzzzzz

Prod. Prod.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

PROD.  POKE. SCOOP.   zzzzzzzzzzzzz

At one point, we dislodged him (or her, let's not discriminate) from the nest, only to have the animal give us a look that would make a groggy toddler look chipper by comparison before crawling back under the nesting box and going back to sleep.

A few more strategic prods, though, and we had the possum out of the nest again.  He paused at the door to the coop, which has a 2x4 across it to keep the shavings in, apparently shocked that we expected him to climb all the way over that. El Husbando, not wanting to be rude, assisted Mr. Possum over with a nudge from the business end of the hockey stick. Before departing, Mr. P gave use a look of deepest reproach, as if to say "I wasn't bothering you".  Then he walked-- ambled might even be a better description-- away across the snow, leaving us wondering how on earth he got into the coop.

We still haven't figured it out, although we know enough now to pay attention to our birds when they refuse to sleep in the coop.

2. The Knitting, etc., Update

Crafting around here has been a good news/bad news venture.  First up, some socks for Nate.  I finished the first sock, which is good, but I still have to knit the second sock, which is not so good.  My goal is to be done by March 11, which is a date mostly pulled from thin air, but which can-- with a little effort-- be related to the fact that it is 2011 and I have 11 (or so) projects/goals I have set for myself as part of a group support and encouragement thing over on Ravelry. 


I like the pattern that I finally chose for the socks (good thing), although you can see that it took me two or three repeats to make it come out the way I wanted it to, and now I have to duplicate this mess  design innovation on the second sock (bad thing).  Plus, in the time that it took me to knit the first sock, Nate's feet have grown (developmentally appropriate, but unfortunate as far as these socks are concerned).  This means that the socks will fit him only until the end of winter (if we're lucky), which is too bad.  On the other hand, he won't have a chance to put holes in the socks (as if he could--I knit them so densely that they are more like body armor than cushy socks) and now I can say that I have a head start on Matty's socks for 2012.

On the clearly bad front, the socks from the class I took with my friend Knitting Deb (here's the link to the post about the socks--scroll down a bit)-- which I worked so hard on and was so pleased with and which I finished sooooooo recently--  have done this:


It seems to be the result of premature yarn fatigue:  I used a yarn that is not truly a sock yarn, so it is not reinforced with nylon, and I knit that yarn into a sock that was just slightly small for my feet.  And I love them so I wore them regularly.  I will try to fix it with some sock yarn that matches pretty well, and in the process I'll try to make the heel a little bigger so the socks aren't so stretched on my feet (gah! sock stress).  I'm not sure it will look pretty, though.

On the up side, I have knit a bunch of these little preemie hats:



People (mostly kids, who seem to have fewer reservations about finding out what that lady is doing with those sticks) keep asking who they are for, and the answer (yay!) is that they are for donation to charity, not for any specific baby that I know of. I have finished 5 of them and have a sixth on the needles; they make a great project for long basketball days or when I have to wait for a few minutes for someone to be done with something.  Totally mindless knitting, very quick project, cleans the scrap yarn out of my drawers, and it's for a good cause. And they are just so cute!

Weaving has also been a good/bad thing.  Below is the result of all that warp-winding and recalculating  I was whining about back in January.  I was extremely conscientious in warping the loom (yes, it took a ^%$#ing lifetime) and have so far been rewarded with a well-behaved project. 


Now that all those bits of string are on the loom, the weaving part is going pretty quickly; I can sit down and knock out a few inches of these placemats in half an hour and I'm enjoying the process and the product.

Which makes my table loom project totally different from the rigid heddle project below.  This placemat has been on the loom since some long-gone time in the fall.  I am an inch from the end of the first mat, but I don't like it, so I haven't been working on it.  Which is really dumb, because if I were to sit down for 10 minutes and finish the mat, I could then start the new mat and, in the process, advance the warp enough that I won't have too look at the zig-zaggy vertical stripe thing that is going on down there. Bleah.

photo.jpg photo.jpg

And really, that's all for now. I took almost all of February off from work, which means that, at 11:19 a.m. on a Monday, it's high time I got my boo-tocks in gear.  See you next time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wish Granted

1. Snow Day

I drive a lot. I get up in the morning and drive the kids to the bus.  I drive Matty to and from pre-school. I pick the kids up from the bus and sometimes from school.  I drive the girls to and from practice and games and Hebrew School and birthday parties and friends houses and around and around and around town.  I am secretly concerned that I did something bad, either in this life or a past life, and that, like Sisyphus, I am being punished with a lifetime of driving there and back again in the minivan of eternal damnation. 

Tuesdays are the worst.  There is pre-school, followed immediately by Hebrew School 10 miles away, followed immediately by basketball practice for both girls back in town, with the practices staggered just enough to avoid any possibility of efficient driving or nutritious home-cooked meals.  Most weeks, I find Tuesdays to be a bit too much and I wish for a good snow day so we can take a break.  Sometimes, I get my wish, and you know what they say about that.  As to the wisdom of being careful what you wish for, consider yesterday's itinerary:

8:05 a.m.: Throw kids in car and speed down the driveway to avoid missing the morning bus.  Notice that the driveway is getting a little snowy. Wonder if it is time to plow.

11:30: Give in when pre-schooler declares in firmest manner possible that he WILL NOT be attending pre-school today.

2:30 p.m.: Realize that other children still need to be picked up from school at 3 in order to go to Hebrew School 10 miles away.

2:37: Wonder where eldest child is and if she would like to be picked up from bus rather than walking up driveway in 15 degree weather.

2:39: Notice that eldest child is now visible on driveway, making extra driving pointless.  Demand that both children get in van to go get other children from school.

2:44: Back van out of garage while listening to eldest child comment on depth of snow drifts on driveway.  Skid through first snow drift. Drive directly into second snow drift and get stuck there. Damn van.

2:46 to 2:54: Try a variety of skillful driving maneuvers, including strategic application of colorful language. Simultaneously lament the inability of the damn van to drive through snow deeper than four inches.

2:54: Accept impossibility of freeing van from snow and driving 4 miles to school in the space of 5 minutes.  Call school and beg them to put kids on the bus.

2:55: Send other children inside to have fun while I suffer. Grab keys to plow.  Start plow.  Realize that surprising amount of snow on front seat of truck came in through partially open window. Close window.


2:56 to 3:09: While elderly plow warms up, grab shovel and attempt to dig van out of snow drift.  Drive back and forth in minuscule increments until van finally breaks free of evil snow drift.  Back van into garage, thereby clearing the way for plow to clear the way for the van to get back down the driveway.

3:10:  Begin to plow for first time ever in life.  Immediately get plow jammed in snow drift. Have obviously been upgraded from minivan of damnation to plow truck of damnation. Curse loudly in all known languages.

3:12 to 3:19: Spend two minutes driving back and forth in minuscule increments to free plow from snow drift from hell. Spend five minutes smushing snow drift with plow blade. Mental outlook improves markedly.  Consider writing book touting plow-based therapy regimen.

3:21:  Arrive at bottom of driveway in plow, having cleared drifts from right side of driveway. Note that neighbor is already waiting for the bus and decide to wait also rather than attempting to clear left side of driveway. Use extra time to call husband and celebrate Modern Independent Woman of the New Millennium initiative in plowing the driveway. 

3:22: While talking plow talk with husband, notice sudden and ominous silence as truck runs out of gas.  Truck is now completely blocking end of driveway, preventing all ingress and egress to those, like us, who do not own snowmobiles.  Nearest gas station is two miles away.  Temperature is 15, wind is vicious. Not interested in walking to gas station; probably not able to carry full gas can back from station. No timely solution in sight.  Damn truck.


3:30: Get children off bus.  Try to start truck one last time.  Fail. Demand children don all available cold weather accessories for 1/3 mile walk back up driveway to house.  Administer lecture CWP506 on the virtues of always carrying  your mittens and hat with you in winter.  Lecture starts with infamous line "Do you see now why I keep telling you to take your mittens . . . "

3:40: Deliver children to house. Grab gas cans (empty, of course; damn gas cans) and proceed to trek back down driveway to leave gas cans in car for husband, who will have to pick them up when he returns from work, fill them, empty them into the truck, finish plowing driveway, and return to move his car from the road back to the house. Pray that the issue is nothing worse than empty gas tank.

4:30: Return to house feeling like popsicle.  Issue requisite phone calls & emails letting Those In Charge know that we will be missing from Hebrew School and all basketball practices tonight. Marvel at the lengths to which I will go to avoid driving kids around town.  Settle in to enjoy unexpected time off from new career as taxi driver.

2. More reasons why little kids are fun

Here, just to brighten your day, are Matty's selections for the Valentine's Day cards  and goodies he'll be giving out at preschool next week


Like Band-Aid worship and underwear covered in movie and TV characters, this is one of those things that I love about kids this age.  They like what they like, and are still mostly oblivious to the gender bias of their stuff. At the same time that he's playing knights and dragons or laughing at jokes about people's butts being on fire, there is still a piece of him that loves, without embarrassment, the soft and fluffy stuff.  So he'll be handing out Darth Vader valentines (there's an issue all on its own) and pink boxes of animal stickers. No worries about whether the pink boxes are too girly; no worries about giving girls Darth Vader cards that say "Be Mine."  I got his kindergarten registration information in the mail last week, so I know this era is coming to an end, but I plan to enjoy it as long as I can.  Maybe he'll even save a valentine for me.

Friday, February 4, 2011


1. Daydreaming
It's official: February is here. I don't even need to look at a calendar to know this. I can tell just by the lack of motivation that defines my existence right now. If pressed, I might be able to come up with half a dozen items of business that I should have taken care of already, starting with washing the dishes, turning off the TV that no one is watching, and letting the dog back into the house. There's probably some wet laundry that needs my attention too and I'm pretty sure that both the play room and the basement are entirely blockaded by toys. But, you know. It's February. Why bother even making the list. It's not like I'm going to do any of it. What I'd really like to do is sleep and eat chocolate. In fact, the only things I managed to get done today were the grocery shopping and making brownies for dessert. Neither let me catch up on my sleep, but one involved buying chocolate and the other involved licking a lot of chocolate off of the mixing spoon (yes, after the bulk of the brownie mix was in the pan: I'm lazy, not gross).

On the up side, since I don't use the time for accomplishing anything, February offers a lot of time for dreaming. For all my lack of motivation in winter, I harbor tremendous ambition for my future self. Ignoring the failure of my garden for the last two years, I imagine that this year I will not just plant and tend to my veggies, but will also start the entire crop from seed, build a cold frame for moving my tender plants outside, and harvest and can or freeze anything that my kids don't eat straight out of the garden. (Incidentally, this last bit accounts for the unexpectedly low yield of some of my garden plants, particularly cukes and peas. It was recently revealed to me by one of the parties involved that certain  thieving parasitic residents children of mine have been sneaking out to the garden and stuffing themselves silly on nature's bounty.  I don't know what to do with this information.  Punish the little burglars for their gluttony and sneakery? Praise them for choosing nutritious snacks?  Plant extras?)  Anything I cannot grow myself, I will purchase from my weekly trip to the local farmers' market and then preserve to sustain my family through next winter (says the woman who had her daughter order pizza last night because it was too much trouble to make spaghetti for dinner).  I will also use this spring to get myself into the best shape I have ever been in. Following this miraculous transformation, I will shop for an entirely new, and very fashionable but easily washable, wardrobe and get a good haircut. I will also read all the of books that I've been buying over the last few (ahem, 15 20) years so that I can become a well-read, educated, and politically aware person with sound and interesting opinions on a wide variety of matters.  And I will give my house a thorough cleaning.

2. A perfect winter afternoon

Once I start to add cleaning plans to the list, I know that I'm losing touch with reality. Getting back to the planet I actually live on, Matty, who has been feeling very mommy-ish lately, decided yesterday that he couldn't possibly go to pre-school because he needed to spend the afternoon with me and his collection of Playmobil toys.

The first order of business was to make a dragon hat:



I love the way little kids will wear this stuff all day. We spent the rest of the afternoon making and writing books.


The yellow book is the only one we completed.  It is called "Every Dragon vs. Humans, Except Toothless and His Family."  The other books are for distribution to friends and family, but we have not decided whether they will be original stories or copies of the yellow book, which is destined to be a best-seller.  How could it not be when it includes painstaking artist's renderings of the Fire Breathing Jelly-Fish and the elusive Fire-Breathing Giraffe:


We expect to receive notice of our nomination for a Caldecott award any day now.

In between drawings, we engaged in a little known mid-winter ritual.  Sunny winter days are rare around here, but every now and then, around 2:00 in the afternoon the winter sun pours through the south windows of my house.  My office (or the Writer's Workshop, as it was yesterday) gets the full benefit of this and the only thing to do is find a puddle of sun and lie in it.  Turn your face into the sunshine, close your eyes and imagine for a few moments that you are lounging on the beach in the middle of summer.  Bliss.

3. A little knitting

Up until last week, I would have said that I wasn't getting much knitting done.  This wasn't for lack of actual knitting time.  It had more to do with the fact that two of my projects are scarves and no matter how much I work on them, they don't seem to grow. This left me vulnerable to some knitting indiscretions.  While I was working on my scarves in a way that could only be described as obligatory, my thoughts began to stray to other projects.  The one that turned out to be the pit bull of my knitting world was Springtime Bandit, my first lacy-shawl-thingy. First I dug out the pattern-- which I really meant to knit much later in the year--just so I could take a quick look, a teensy little peek,  at how the thing was constructed.  Then, inexplicably, I wound the skeins of yarn for the project into yarn cakes.  And then, suddenly, I had the needles in my basket and I was casting on, just to see how it would work. That was the end of me.  This project bit me hard and would not let go.  On the first night, I knit my way through the set up rows and the first repeat of the body pattern while we watched a movie. On Saturday, I knit for 6 hours while alternately listening to an audiobook and making sure that my kids did their homework.  On Sunday, I had to do something that was not knitting, due to the hand cramp I had from too much knitting on Saturday. And by Wednesday, I had burned through over 300 yards of yarn and I had this:


This was a thoroughly addictive project, from the yarn (Dream in Color Classy, in Beach Fog) to the way the pattern grows from the two stitches cast on for the center top to the hundreds that make up the outside edges of the triangle.  YUM!  I  would knit the thing again in a heartbeat, and I'm not one to repeat a knit.  We are headed out to a small dinner tonight and I would love to wear this thing, if only I didn't have holes in underarms of my turtleneck.  I suppose most people would get out the needle and thread and sew the stupid things shut, but this is February, after all, and who can be bothered. I'm off to put on a sweater that covers the holes instead.  Good night!