Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Snow Track Highway

 We had snow last week and I learned all sorts of things were going on in my yard without my knowledge.

At the north end of the property, I found fox tracks going across the corner leading to and from my neighbors' properties, new ones appeared virtually every day.  They often don't venture far onto the property, and often walk along the northwest boundary which is covered in prickly wineberry vines. The large male fox comes most frequently, and two smaller foxes came along with him once in a while. 


Why the highway? Why there? My husband came up with a theory that seems to fit. On either side of our property are the homes of single male humans, both have a history of feeding stray and/or mooching cats. The cats look pretty plump and well cared for, so I am betting mooching. I think the fox may be benefiting from their largess. Picking up an evening snack of kibble may be the reason for the regularity of their visits.  They are not sniffing out the chicken coop or run, they don't get within 100 feet of either, so they are not waiting to see if we make a mistake in locking up the girls.


We knew they were here at night, just after Christmas my daughter went to get something out of one of the cars in the driveway.  She donned her new holiday headlamp and zipped out the door without turning on the porch or spotlight. There was a child-like scream followed by  more animalistic noises, coming from a very few feet from where she was sprinting (She doesn't walk outside she runs, that's just how she has always been...). She whipped around and threw and crashed herself back into the house (that's what it sounded like from the kitchen) and breathlessly yelled, "What__ was__ that??!!  Her father heard the animal scream from inside the house, and soon we were googling fox sounds, apparently she had startled a vixen, who in turn then more than startled her.

I guess we need to walk the goofy hunting dog around the edge of the property more often.

Squirrel's Last Stand

The snow revealed other stories, most of them don't end well for the squirrels. Apparently, at least three met their ends by a hawk or an owl not far from the fox tracks.  Their tracks hop out into undisturbed snow, there are  spots where an obvious struggle took place and then no body and no other tracks.


Assorted comings and goings

The cats, of course, crossed the yard repeatedly, checking out the bird feeders and heading toward the homes of their favorite middle aged, kibble pouring men. 


Until yesterday, there were no chicken tracks in the snow.  The girls had room service when the temperatures were very low, and when it warmed the door was opened for them to sun themselves, but they declined to get snow on their toes. Finally yesterday, they took their opportunity and ran for the bird feeder rather than their own shelter, snacked for a bit and then hung out in their nest box areas.

 Today, after two days of above freezing day temperatures, the snow is almost gone. No more stories in the snow to read for a while.

Touching back on a previous topic:

Recipe Testing, the good the bad and the really ugly.

So far, for the smoothies we have made one berry/banana/spinach smoothie that tasted great, but looked like refried black beans in the glass. Really ugly.

A golden energy smoothie with steamed carrots, pineapple, oj and honey was next, two taste testers couldn't stand the texture, fibrous was their word, one had two sips and dumped the rest. I thought it was too sweet and the third tester thought it might be too tangy for kids  That one is a no.

The third one glowed green with spinach, bananas, maple syrup and vanilla with ground raw cashews and almond milk.  The flavor was good, but the bananas were dominant.  We know our audience is not crazy about bananas, so the banana would have to be toned down a bit. Maybe a bit of yogurt instead or more raw cashews. This would have to be a Ninja  Power Beverage, Alien Sipper or a Hulking Green Special to sell it to the 6-11 year old crowd. I liked the hint of maple.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snow and Smoothies

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! Three inches of snow and life in MD comes to a screeching halt.  Some of it has to do with temperatures much lower than we are used to and high winds, most everything was cancelled today, as the New Englander in me scoffs. Then I take a sip of decaf, lean back in my chair and unscheduled day...hmmmmmm...the possibilities.

I'll write a blog, make Turkish Roasted Eggplant Salad a la Moosewood, aimlessly watch the birds at the feeder, play in the snow with the dog, and test smoothie recipes that I may do with one of my after school groups--no sense in making the kids drink stuff that's disgusting and turning them off.

Smoothies are very interesting things.  I was going through recipes online yesterday and wondering at the variety of options and thinking--people actually drink this stuff??? There are the standard sugar bombs that are mostly fruit, and some that add all sorts of odd stuff that would require a trip to Whole Paycheck and have questionable flavor, and then there are all those that the authors claim are kid approved.  Hah!!! I don't know where they are finding the kids who approve these things, but they certainly are not the kids who attend the after school programs.  One called for frozen butternut squash, frozen raw cauliflower, and frozen kale, and then adds oat milk, with Medjool dates for sweetness (Have you priced Medjool dates lately??) and a little pumpkin pie spice. So, this parent/blogger is still making baby food, but adding pumpkin spice and feeding it to her 4 year old.

I can already see the looks on the kids faces if I were to attempt to get them to make it.  I can also already hear all the requests to go to the restroom to hide from it.

I skip right past all of the recipes with essential oils, funky mystery protein powders, or anything that smacks of "medicine". I am looking at ones where I start with fruity, creamy flavors and slowly add a little veggie element.  The longer term object is to get the kids to transfer the stuff they learn to home, and if the parents have to buy a million new things, it just isn't going to happen.  A smoothie with fruit with a few salad vegetables tossed in or peanut butter--those might work--but not turmeric, spirulina, maca, and bee pollen.

At our house, we specialize in banana-peanut butter with cinnamon  or chocolate smoothies, they are kid approved, and usually made after said child has not been feeling well and hasn't been eating much, because it's a huge hunk of calories and fluids. If you have a truly "kid approved" smoothie recipe, I'd love to see it, but all the ingredients have to come from a standard grocery store and not be expensive.

I now pause in writing to try one of the recipes.

The chocolate/berry/spinach/banana/yogurt smoothie gets 2 1/2 thumbs up out of three. The half is because the kid is recovering from a really bad cold and can't really taste anything.  She said she thinks she would like it, if she could taste it. I was going to photograph it, but it had the color of refried black beans, maybe a blind taste test would work better. The recipe called for vanilla yogurt, but I only had plain goat milk yogurt, so I substituted that and added extra vanilla and a little of the forbidden--sugar! I didn't have just frozen blueberries, so I did a frozen mixed berry. We generally don't keep ice cubes in the house, so I used a frozen banana to I have said before, I can't follow a recipe. Our blender is showing its multi-decade age, so I blended the spinach and soy milk together first, because I have done this before and chunks of floating greens are not appealing.

Now just to create a nutrition lesson to go with it!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Back in the Chair

It has been more than a year, I know.

Much of the stuff I have wanted to write during this year was not for public consumption, it was for me and only me. I have been ready to write for others again for a little while, but either my schedule or my dead desktop computer got in the way.  Enough of the excuses, I am back and ready to write again.

The important stuff:

My husband found a used 20X zoom Panasonic Lumix  camera, just like the one I dropped in the sand and destroyed, bought it, and gave it to me.  Actually, it is not exactly like my old one, it is the model previous to the one I had.  It doesn't have the GPS on it, which would suck the battery dry, so it is better than the previous one. It looks like someone was given it as a gift and threw it in a drawer, there is absolutely no sign of use on this camera.  Yay! I can play again!!  The cell phone camera just wasn't cutting it for me.

We lost many chickens this year, most of them in one day to a growing fox family.  They were killed on a day that was already horrendously stressful, during a week that I had walked through feeling as if life had punched me in the gut. I came home with the giant hollow inside me and found the backyard full of 3 foot diameter piles of feathers, a separate pile the color of each missing chickie, but one, Ursula, our black Australorp. 

I stood there staring, jaw agape for about five minutes. My neighbor appeared and said she had noticed the piles in the late-morning and offered her condolences. She and I raked up the piles of feathers, so that I could tell my daughter about the loss of the chickens at an appropriate moment rather than have her discover the color coded piles of despair on her way into the house from the school bus. 


Over the next couple of days, we kept waiting for Ursula to come home. She and her "I'm in charge here" attitude never returned. 


We have three remaining chickens, BB the Buff Brahma who is a little slow in every way. She was injured by the fox, but her massive size might have made it difficult for a fox to whisk her away. She has healed, but is especially skittish. Bubbles the Light Brahma, the beautiful and bossy, is top chick, and Effie, the Amerucana, the loner, but by far, the smartest of the bunch, still hangs at the edge of the flock. I just stopped typing for a few minutes to lock them in for the night, they were already on their perch huddled together, ready for another freezing night in their down jackets.


We can't free range them anymore. The fox have found us out. We were resolved not to get any more. Losing them hurts so much, but our resolve has weakened and in March there will be some fluffy little chicks living in our garage, yet again. I think there will be six, which means we will have to find six great female names, suggestions welcomed. We will also need to build an annex onto our run to provide space for the girls.  The projects abound!!

2017 is almost over, the year designation, I know, is completely arbitrary, a human construct, the marking of time beginning and ending is nonsensical, but still I am glad to see 2017 end. Good Riddance.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Messiness, the part I left out

The book on Messiness that I wrote about yesterday covered other types of messiness.  I wrote about them and then deleted them.  After I posted I regretted taking those parts out, I save the biggest chunk I cut, knowing that I needed to say something about it, but it didn't fit in an article about household disorder and the creativity it can inspire.

It has to do with deliberately caused messiness.  Messiness used as a tool for manipulation.  We've seen this employed in the past few weeks, the three AM tweets.  Those were diversionary messiness, messiness to cover, distract from the real issues. It's DT's "look at this outrageous thing I've said, don't read the article on the lawsuit I just settled, it's boring!" situation.  This situation has happened before, whenever a prominent person or organization is under press scrutiny and attention needs to be drawn elsewhere to minimize the actual damage, it happens.  The next time any of these topics are outrageously presented in the news: women's choice, school prayer, flag burning, gay marriage, illegal immigration...anything that gets people really riled up, then scour the news for something that should be front page news, but isn't, because everyone is in an uproar over the hot button issues. It's the movie Wag the Dog, only it's not a movie.

Messiness can be a political weapon.  I expect to see much more of it in the next few years, but I hope I'm wrong.

In the meantime, I probably should clean out the stuff in the back of my fridge.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Messiness and Validation

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Change Our Lives by Tim Harford, was sitting there on the "new" books shelf in the library.  Now given that I struggle with a large degree of messiness, and I am the neatest person in my home, I just had to read this one.  When I brought it home I placed it on my husband's pillow, hoping he'd find validation in his piles of stuff, but he thought it was a not so subtle hint that maybe he should clean up a bit. He clearly didn't flip through the book, yet, I'll see if I can get him to do that. I think he'd enjoy it and I think that many of the readers of this blog would enjoy it, so that is why I am writing this.

Maybe it is confirmation bias that made me enjoy it so much, but maybe not.

The book explains why my vertical filing system actually works, and how my messy desk can provide links to creative ideas, how seeming disasters can lead to leaps forward that wouldn't have otherwise occurred. It talks about how students who set monthly goals and plans actually do better than one who write daily plans, which connects to how I used to plan eight week units of study for my classes by immersing myself into the material, finding art, science, mathematical and historical connections along the way.  I'd then make a checklist of the activities that needed to be covered over the quarter, some writing, additional types of reading...and then I would provide my students with lots of materials, books on every reading level that I could find, art materials that connected, science books that connected, and then gave them time to preview the materials before we began the unit. The direction the unit took was chosen by the questions the kids asked after looking at the materials, not by me sitting at the kitchen table filling out a plan book on Sunday evening.  It was messy.  It was different every year.  It was rich. It was hard. It worked. The kids scored well on the tests. I could never do this today, messiness is not allowed.

The book validates, my messiness, my nest of books next to my bed. The contents of the pile give a reflection on where I am at the moment, several weeks ago the contents were extremely different heavy on environmental stuff, but then, the election happened. There are several on foods around the world written for children, a book on character, a Korean cookbook, a book on small press books, a book on trails, a book on Roger Williams(8x great grandpa)/separation of church and state, a social history of American art, two novels, one for a book club, several seed catalogs, journals and notebooks.  Now how I will create my future with all this messiness?  We'll have to wait and see, just don't eat the stuff in the back of my fridge, read the book, you'll understand.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pleasant Surprises

The trip last month did have some pleasant surprises, Nebraska, for instance.

Previous to this trip, I envisioned Nebraska as a giant cornfield or wheat field, flat with a very slight roll to the land with a big insurance company on the eastern side where Marlon Perkins' spent his time when he wasn't encouraging his sidekick, Jim, to be surrounded by hungry hyenas in an open Land Rover.  Like this:

I had told my daughter that she should watch for when the road was long enough and straight enough and flat enough to be a good art lesson on vanishing points, and Nebraska did have its share, like this:

I was pleasantly surprised about Lincoln, Nebraska.  After going through St. Louis, which seemed run down and completely dug up for construction--Lincoln seemed clean, cared for, appreciated, artsy...not at all what I expected.

While some of Nebraska did fit my stereotype, other parts just didn't fit.  Like this:
Chimney Rock, NE

Court House and Jail House Rocks, NE

Scotts Bluff, NE

Chimney Rock, NE
Scotts Bluff, NE
Scotts Bluff, NE

 It was awe inspiring, it was quiet, it was not what I had expected.  I had read the on-line articles about the area and it had seemed interesting, but it certainly was better in real life.  These formations were along the Oregon Trail and I imagined what it would have been like to have to walk the distance we had just driven and what it was like back then to see these rock formations for the first time, without warning and a bunch of electronic images to give you the heads up of what they might have looked like.

We stayed later than we had anticipated, we went into town right as the skies darkened and decided to find a motel instead of a campground after we found dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  We didn't have room reservations, but we were out in the middle of nowhere and the little town had lots of motels.  Bad move.  We had taken more southerly route to Yellowstone to avoid the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, we were a couple of hundred miles from Sturgis, but that didn't seem to matter.  Between the rally, some small medical conference, and highway workers doing a major construction project every motel/hotel room in the town was booked, except two.  The two most expensive ones, of course. We were exhausted, it was completely dark out--dark unlike most East Coast folks can appreciate there were no cities for hundreds of miles, just a few little towns-- it was about 10:30 PM by the time we found our outrageously priced room/suite at the Marriott, dumbfounded that a place so remote could be booked up.

The next day we turned northward to Agate Fossil Beds, it was hot!  If I were to go again I would try to choose a time more into fall or in the spring, the place seemed fascinating, but it was hovering around a hundred and there was no shade.

We didn't end up taking one of the longer hikes, just a shorter two mile hike, it was just too hot! We spent a long time in the visitor center to make up for it.

In between looking at extinct rhino skeletons and an in depth history about the man who donated the land to the US government for the park and Native American relations. The ranger in the building told the girls about what it was like for the kids who attend high school in the area.  My daughter keeps telling everyone about the kids in Nebraska who are 14 and live more than three miles from school, who can drive to school, because they don't have buses.  The ranger's son was valedictorian of his class and the top 25% in his class of 4 kids.  He received a steer roping scholarship,  despite the fact that he doesn't steer rope and another kid in his class did, because there was the requirement that the student be in the top 25% of his class. They did away with having a salutatorian unless the student had a 3.5 GPA or over.  She talked about how they would patch together sports teams with the 16 or so kids in the school.

The best parts of the trip are often when we go off the beaten path and spend time talking to people about the area we were visiting and their lives, like the day we needed a break and stopped off to look at a Pony Express stop and decided to pop in to the local historical society museum.  We saw a barbed wire exhibit, donated by a man who clearly had a different view on life than many.

We chatted with one lady about her family farm, she seemed hesitant to talk about how many acres her family had in corn and soybeans (which they grow when they have to) and seemed shocked that Maryland would have 4-H and farmers!

Yes, Nebraska was a pleasant surprise.  I was supposed to write about the Black Hills today,oops.  Maybe next time.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Weirdness, sorry

Two people have noted that they have received very old blog posting mailed to them.

I have changed my security, so I hope the weirdness stops.

Let me know I you received anything that seemed odd.