Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chickens, Evolution, Ice Cream and Jackson Pollock

The chickens are starting to look like mini chickens, not dinosaurs with proto-feathers.
Ursula and Lucy


Even Paisley looks like a chicken now!
They have been free-ranging for chunks of time over the past few days, they are still cute and curious.

The science education enrichment project is underway, we've watched, as a part of what we call "dinner theater"( an occasional evening when we will pop in a video to watch over dinner)  Discovery School Evolution with Bill Nye. I've planted books in key spots around the house, so that she is likely to just browse through them.  My favorite, we eat out on the screened porch all summer, I placed the book I was reading out there and underneath I placed two books that I wanted her to look at, making sure that they hung out a bit and were visible. As she came out to eat breakfast I went in to get some juice, by the time I returned she had  opened one of the books and was leafing through it.  We discussed science topics over breakfast.  I went a little over the top and placed a couple in the bathroom, it was too obvious, especially since I won't permit her library books in the bathroom because they might get wet.  She mounted her "do as I say not as I do" protest this morning and I 'fessed up that I wanted her to read them.  I'll put a couple in the back of the car today, I guess I'm not all that subtle, but it works!!  I have been planting books that I want her to read in her room for years, usually while she is a bit too young for them.  They sit there for a year or two and eventually I will find her propped up on pillows on the couch reading them, they have been there so long that she doesn't realize that they are a plant.  Oh, I usually find these books at thrift shops and yard sales for about twenty-five cents each, so the investment isn't very great.

Next week, we are headed to the Natural History Museum, with the thrilling Metro ride first (and last), of course!  We're taking along a friend, whose parents have been given the heads up to the specific focus of the trip.  We'll have lunch in a deli off the Mall and probably stroll the Mall eating ice cream (those of us who can eat it, at least), no need to make it a forced march.  Maybe we'll step into the Hirshorn to see if they still  have the Jackson Pollock up. My daughter has decided that she loves Jackson Pollock, which is great, as long as she doesn't follow him  in his lifestyle.  Maybe we'll use some of the leftover house paint I have in the garage and create something Pollock-esque, I know the painting will match the interior of the house that way! We can run through the sprinkler to clean up.  I digress, but that is pretty much what the blog is about isn't it? My ramblings...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Spontaneous Generation Anyone? Thoughts on Science Education

A few days ago, while my daughter was reading over my shoulder as I was reading the news, some how Neanderthal man came up.  My soon to be middle schooler didn't know a thing about Neanderthals, so we googled a few key words.  She hadn't heard of Cro Magnon or Homo-erectus or any of the others.  We spent some time in discussion about the progression from australopithecus afarensis to modern humans.  We talked about how we share 99% of our DNA with bonobos.  Along the way, I discovered that she had had some lessons on dominant and recessive traits and some lessons on adaptations, but little coverage was given to what happened to the animals or proto-humans if they did not adapt, if they didn't receive a mutant gene that provided an advantage, if their behavior was not flexible enough to change with the needs of the species. They died. Nooooo, can't talk about death in elementary school!!.

Her classes had done lessons on endangered animals, so she knew what extinct meant, but it had not been mentioned when discussing adaptations at school. Extinctions only happen when humans do something they shouldn't (according to the lessons)...despite the fact that 99% of the species that have ever lived are extinct-most died out before humans came on the scene. The extinction lessons always end up with an activity to reduce pollution, so they pick up the trash on the edges of the playground and do a "Reduce, Reuse Recycle" chant. ( "Reduce, Reuse Recycle" is important, and also incorrectly taught, sounds like a follow-up post in the making.)

The teachers were doing the easy lessons,the ones that no parent would ever be offended with (and the ones the district office likes, because the parents aren't throwing temper tantrums in their offices).  The curriculum never puts the puzzle together. The students are not even  made aware that there is a puzzle for them to figure out, everything is taught in such a disconnected way..  They dance around the big "E" word, that people have relegated to the "not polite conversation" category.  I'm going to be impolite. I think Evolution should be taught in schools at a very early age, to everyone. Kids are fascinated by Paleolithic and Neolithic (stone age) man, the schools should use it to their advantage!

Biologists do not argue over whether or not evolution occurs, they flew past that a hundred years ago. What they do argue about is the fine detail in how evolution takes place.  The folks the newscasters dig up who are supposedly from the science community who dispute it (to give equal time to both sides of the argument, when biologists are not arguing about it), enjoy the attention, their 15 minutes of fame, and muck up the science education of an entire nation in the process.  They get their additional advertising dollars and general public gets the science of the bad old days before microscopes and DNA analysis. Spontaneous generation anyone??

My daughter is going to get a little supplementary science instruction over the summer.  We will go to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and watch videos and read books from the library on the topic of evolution, with a special emphasis on human evolution.  It is one hole I can patch, I may or may not discover the other holes in her education that have formed during this "drill for the test" era of education, may it pass soon. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Chickens, Spicy Peppers, Berries and Other Random Thoughts


Ursilla with Paisley hiding behind her.
The chicks have been in their outside coop for four days, they love it!  They had their first taste of pizza crust yesterday, they love that too!  They seem very happy to be outdoors, scratching and eating bugs.  The buffs still pose for the camera and the other two still seem camera shy.
Athena again

Paisley with Ursilla hiding this time.
At almost four weeks old the Buff Orpingtons are becoming fully feathered, Ursilla is improving, and poor Paisley, I guess she is a late bloomer.

They are hanging around inside the run, once they get a good feel for where home is they will get a chance to free range a bit.

Scroll through the pictures, I'll move on to gardening below.

Back yard garden
The back yard garden has its issues.  The placement of the garden was chosen by the previous owners of the house and like most of the trees they planted, it's in the wrong place.  It is too close to the trees and it is shaded too much of the day in the summer,  the sun doesn't hit it until after noon.  On top of that, the trees that it is too close to are black walnut, which are known to send out a nasty chemical, juglone, to kill plants living near them. I'm doing battle with the caterpillars in the collards and the cabbage, the cilantro and dill decided that it is too hot and bolted, the tomatoes are struggling with the limited sun as are the peppers and eggplants. Sigh.
Front yard garden

All this is why I started the front yard garden, which I created by layering organic materials on top of cardboard, as you can see the squash and the pumpkins like it, the watermelons were planted later and are a bit slow to get moving.
The two pepper plants placed in the flower bed are doing great, they get full sun and my husband squirts them with the hose every time he waters his carnivorous plants.  They were supposed to be the two jalapenos, but I somehow got the plants mixed and it appears that one is cubanelle.  This means that one of the ones in the back yard is jalapeno and I may have a bunch of peppers that appear to be sweet frying peppers that may be "Muy Pica!" due to cross pollination.  Oops!

This Italian squash is almost 10 inches long. I swear it wasn't there yesterday!

The blackberries we planted this spring have just a few berries on them, we weren't expecting any this year, so they are a little bonus.

This doesn't look like much but they are oooooooooooooh so cool!  A cultivated variety of raspberry that has gone wild  and provides a border to much of the property, we do nothing but mow to keep them under control. They produce enough berries to send kids out there on a mission to get enough for a recipe, they can sample as many as they want, as they fill my measuring cups and then repeat it every afternoon for about three weeks.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Chicks at Two Weeks

Two weeks ago yesterday we brought home some fluffy little chicks to form our flock of laying hens.  For all the vicarious poultry keepers out there, I am going to post before and after photos.  Cute fluffy chicks at about two days old versus the gawky critters we have now.

Let's start with The Goddess, who seems to be at the top of the pecking order in the group.


Next Lucy, the lowest in the pecking order:


On to Ursula, who is looking a little rooster-like, uh-oh:

And finally Paisley:

They sure can be homely at this point.

They spent their first week and a half in my daughter's room, so that they would be picked up again and again, making them used to humans.  After their digestive tracts matured a bit, they became a bit too fragrant to share living space with us and have been moved into the garage,  In another week, they will be big enough for them to be put outside in their summer coop to eat bugs and weeds all day.  A couple of weeks after that they will free range a bit in the yard.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where is the Girl in TomBoy?

Another post on gender issues, it is that time for me in parenting...I've heard a word that I thought was long dead a few weeks ago:  "TomBoy"..Suddenly, I've heard girls describe themselves and others using this word. Girly-Girl has been around and is used frequently, but tomboy, I thought. had seen its demise, I was wrong. I've heard it from three different children, in different settings  I like neither of these words, because they are an attempt to put a developing person into a box, a category, before they are done exploring who they are. It limits them and changes people's expectations.

The first time I heard the word tomboy was from a girl describing herself.  It made me pause.  Previous to this, I had considered this child to be very bright, active, with a tendency to consider rules to be suggestions rather than mandates. I was taken aback to hear such an old fashioned term applied to someone whom I considered to be quite a modern girl.  Another parent had described her as "a little wild", which pretty much fit, but I found that with a proper adult attitude the rules would be followed.  (She doesn't come by as much these days...I wonder why?)  After not seeing her for a bit, my family attended a school event where some of this girl's musical  accomplishments were showcased.  I thought it very interesting that the self-described tomboy was up on stage wearing a muli-tiered, bright, pink sparkle dress, about as girly-girl as you can get.  I was glad to see that she didn't feel trapped in the tomboy box she had drawn for herself.

The next time I heard the term it was from the girl next door, who was plopped down in "the red chair" by the window, sitting as one should in the red chair, with her legs over one arm and her back leaning on the other.  She used the word tomboy to describe another girl, and she, knowing me, back-pedaled and said, "I know you don't like the term."  I don't recall telling her that, but she has heard my opinions on labeling people in other ways. I talked to her about it for a minute,  about how often a girl could do something considered girly-girl one moment and do something that could be called tomboy behavior the next, and suggested that it all be considered normal girl behavior and let girls paint their toenails with little flowers and climb trees and not judge them (she paints her toenails and climbs trees).

The third time I heard the T word was from my own daughter describing another girl in her class. At this point I thought I had heard it enough. What is it about being on the outer edge of womanhood that makes people so judgmental? There is no girl in TOMBOY, it is a boy's name paired with the word "boy".  It is about a girl's behavior, and noting that it is less feminine than some arbitrary standard.  It is often used as a negative term, especially as a girl grows older.  If we want women to progress and be accepted by society in all the roles that they can possibly play, it is time to stop judging them by a long out of date standard. If they want to collect bugs, dig in the dirt, play football at recess, or whatever other behaviors that were once considered masculine in the dark, old, repressive days of the mid- 20th century, let them and  don't judge them.  Ask to see their collection, the soil horizons, or which position they play, next week they may dye their hair three different colors and wear skirts everyday and the following week they may take their bikes over jumps and build a tree fort.  It's okay, its all girl stuff.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Green Dress of Every Generation

Here it is after 11 PM and my brain is somehow still going, despite the 6 AM run and a busy day.  I went to bed for a bit, my body seemed tired, but my brain wouldn't shut up. So, here I am sitting at the computer, in a quiet house, listening just to the sounds of the moths and stinkbugs throwing their bodies against the screens trying to touch the lamp in the room trying to figure out what to write about.

Maybe I'll start with my desktop background (we change it every few days to whatever image catches our fancy, it creates family conversation), a painting that I really seem to understand.  I don't know if they will throw a conniption if I put it here, but I'm going to, with a reference, of course. The artist is Kelly Reemtson the painting is called Orange, the website where I found the image is
 There is a whole series of these paintings, I love them!

OrangeThe dress the jewelry and all that were all a part of my media upbringing, not my everyday upbringing, but the one that happened on Saturday afternoons when the old movies/shows played.  The women all wore dresses like this, seemingly everyday.  It was the message about womanhood: parties, makeup, jewelry, and men, it all seemed so foreign.  My mom had one of those dresses tucked in the back of the closet, dark green taffeta, it seemed like a remnant of a secret past life.( Now I know it was the maid of honor dress for both my mom's and my aunt's weddings.)  The womanhood I knew from experience was very different.  The adult women I knew wore pedal pushers, sneakers and a shirt.  They poured concrete, chopped wood, cleaned house, cooked dinner, tended the garden, made applesauce, shoveled snow, used the chain saw and spent every Wednesday evening going over the bills and budget.  The party dress didn't figure into it, a little lipstick, but certainly not taffeta and chiffon.  The second part of the painting is the part of womanhood I clearly recognize. Hedge shears, yes and rototillers, crow bars, hammers, screw drivers, they have always been a part of my image of womanhood.  My dad used to chuckle when asked what attracted him to my mom, he answered that he figured that any woman who could shingle a barn must be a good catch. He was terribly afraid of heights, so it definitely was a good thing for him.

I think this is all going through my head because my daughter is now having to shop in the junior department because she is just too darned tall for the girls' department.  Her preadolescent mind is trying wrap itself around all the low cut t-shirts on the racks, the low cut jeans, the dress code that says that she can't wear leggings to middle school, since she has always worn them (she hates scratchy jeans).  The no pockets in women's clothes bothers her as much as me, we're supposed to have a purse with us at all times, I guess. She is trying to wrap around the lists of activities that are considered masculine and feminine.  Sports are for boys? But she has been playing soccer for five years. (Just try to find a card appropriate for a female soccer coach!) Tools are for boys? But Mom is usually the one using them, You need make up and jewelry, but most of the adult women she knows wear little of either.  The weaker sex concept was completely foreign, her response was somewhere in the neighborhood of, "Huh?  Who made that up?"  I think she even snorted  a little.  It is like watching a movie of myself thirty-six years ago.  In thirty-six years from now, will my daughter be writing about the green dress in the back of my closet ( my wedding dress)?  Why does society persist in doing this?  It keeps telling girls that they are ornaments to sit on the shelf, when really life is a lot of work and being ornamental might get you noticed for a few fleeting years, but it is shallow and boring. It is a life on the side lines rather than in the game, or the garden, or in the workplace.  I'm going to stop now, I need to figure out how much lumber I'll need to rebuild the permanent chicken coop.