Thursday, December 28, 2006

Portrait of little sister by Scotty

Roll Call

The chickens have taken to hanging out close to the house around dusk lately because they are hoping for a handout of kitchen scraps. Over the last few days they have started to line up on the greenhouse stem wall as though they are reporting for duty. Their interest in people food also allows me to get very close up portraits of them.

One of the aggressive Buff Laced Polish roosters, a.k.a "Tackle Puffy Head."

A Cuckoo Marans hen. These hens lay beautiful dark brown speckled eggs.

A Gold Laced Wyandotte with a Buff Orpington.

Scotty's parts box

Scotty is quite proud of his collection of "parts." Over the years he has disassembled many a thrift store toy or old machine and has amassed quite a collection of gears, washers, motors, wires, and the like. He has great plans to use them for all kinds of inventions in the future. He really likes looking at them with his grandpa, who has his own collection of parts.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Solstice celebration

To celebrate the return of the Sun and the longer days to come our homeschooling group gathered at my house Thursday. The kids made sun ornaments while the moms made gingerbread, pomander balls, popcorn and cranberry garlands, stew, wassail, and bread.

Susan made a little mother and child out of pipe cleaners to put in our solstice cave. The Sun Baby was made of a sparkly golden pipe cleaner that Crystal had given us.

We built a little cave out of building scraps and decorated it with some pine boughs and the garland. Then we put the figures inside and at the moment of Solstice (5:22PM here) we filled the cave with candles and sang a little song to welcome the return of the sun.

Afterwards we came inside and watched the candles burning out in the cave from the warmth of the house. We played music and made a lot of noise in the tradition of Yule.

Winter in New Mexico

Many people don't realize that our area of New Mexico is indeed a seasonal climate and we have real winters here. OK so maybe they aren't like a Minnesota winter (thank goodness) but we do get cold temperatures and the occasional winter weather. The nice thing about when it snows here is that it is relatively rare so it's a huge thrill for all. A week ago we had a wonderful winter storm come through. This is the same storm that messed up Denver so badly and delayed millions of Christmas packages. The kids were just bouncing off the walls with excitement. We stayed home all day and watched it come down. When it was all done we had six inches on the ground!

Chris came home from work early because in this town everything shuts down after just a couple inches of snow. It's so funny coming from Illinois to see 24 hour news coverage of a couple inches of snow. All the news crews go out and get video of cars having slid off the roads.

The fields were framed on all sides by frosted trees. It was really beautiful. Even the piles of building materials in the front yard looked pretty!

Chris and the kids went out and played for quite a while.

Remembering how wonderful it felt to come inside for hot cocoa after snow play when I was a child, I had some warm and ready for them to drink by the wood stove when they were done.

Speaking of the wood stove, I have to boast that although we have had below freezing overnight temperatures here since October we didn't need a fire in the stove until December 14th. Before that our only heat source was the sun and our passive solar house.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Some recent photos by Scotty

Some recent photographs by Eliza

Two big goals achieved

Last weekend was my big flamenco recital. Two years ago I attended this very same recital and, having never danced flamenco before but always wanting to, decided that it was time for me to start. I hoped that someday I could perform flamenco in a recital like that and it finally happened for me!

The other fun thing that I did related to this was making a dress to wear. I have been fortunate enough to inherit some sewing supplies from my late grandmother and I have been feeling very connected to her lately as I have taught myself to use a sewing machine. True to form, rather than starting with something simple I decided that my first project would be modifying the wedding dress that Grandma had made me to make a flamenco costume. It turned out pretty well only because the design of the dress cleverly hid all my crooked seams! Here I am in my dress.

And here's the view of the stage from Chris and Eliza's seats on the third day. I'm the tallest one on the stage, male or female. Can you find me? Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Eliza wore her fancy skirt to the performance. Scotty decided that it wasn't for him so he didn't come. Here is Eliza outside the theater with a statue by a famous local artist.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wonderful homeschool play group day

Yesterday was our homeschooling group's first day at Wells Park Community Center in Old Town. What a great time we had! The community center staff was courteous, friendly, and helpful and really made us feel welcome. They have a game room, a gym, a large activity room, a great playground, a large grassy field, and even a stage! We had brought a lot of our own board games and indoor toys for the kids but the Center manager told us we didn't need to do that--they have a whole closet full of games we can use. They also let us use the basketballs in the spacious gym.

One of the best things about yesterday was that we had a huge turnout. Sylvia counted 19 kids total and there were at least 10 adults. The kids ranged in age from 2 to 15. As I've come to expect at homeschooling gatherings, there was a natural flow to the day as kids moved from one activity to another, some indoors, some outdoors, creating games, mixing ages, and for the most part getting along really well. I always marvel at the argument that our homeschooled kids are missing out on "socialization." Which scenario is more like "the real world": 19 kids of all ages and 10 adults interacting with each other, creating, solving problems and working together OR one adult and up to 30 kids of the same age stuck in a room together with the adult trying to control the 30 kids (who for the most part are not allowed to interact with each other anyway)? After all, many of us were told in school "you're not here to socialize" weren't we?

With two new families joining us there was a good group of little girls playing for a while. Eliza is at the front of the photo with her head turned. Notice the haircut!

Eliza's friend Jane gave her a note.

Holly, one of the teens, hamming it up for the camera on the slide.

The Center's train set was a big hit.

A view of the big grassy lawn.

One of the surprises of the day was that Scotty and Spencer (usually like oil and water) actually played together!

Checking out the Yugioh and Pokemon cards.

The big gym was a huge hit. The little kids especially loved the spaciousness of it and had a great time running and shouting.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Free range eggs

Our experiment this year with free range chickens has been a challenge but is now proving to be totally worth the effort! We purchased 50 heritage breed chicks early this season. We trained them to roost in a wheeled roosting box with a 1/2 inch wire mesh floor that acts as a portable fertilizer-mobile on the pasture and lawn. After culling more than a dozen roosters and suffering some losses to predation and other miscellaneous causes we are left with about 10-12 laying hens and another 7 or 8 roosters (still too many) who have all been doing really well over the last few months. The chickens all have free range over the entire farm during the day. They spend a lot of time in the tree land eating bugs. There is still some green grass out there despite the freezing weather so they are getting some greens too. And we supplement with kitchen scraps and grain daily.

One problem we are having lately is with some roosters getting too aggressive. The three Buff Laced Polish roosters we have are absolutely beautiful but they have become little attack chickens. The kids are now too scared to go out in the yard with the chickens any more, and while it's been a nice break from having to supervise them catching and holding chickens we really don't want to have a situation where the kids can't go out into their own yard! Scotty has been learning how to handle the rooster attacks but Eliza is just too young to get it. Besides that, the roosters have been ganging up on the hens too much and I worry about them getting hurt. So unfortunately our "yard art" (the beautiful, funny looking Polish roosters) will have to go.

Here's the flock getting their grain and scraps in the yard.

Every evening they all come up to the front of the house (maybe because it's warm there) and pick through my no-till kitchen garden. Sometimes they even come "knock" on the doors and windows. With all of our huge South facing windows it makes for great Chicken TV.

This was taken from the front window.

The best thing about the free range chickens though is the EGGS! Wow, I've never had such delicious, rich, dark-orange eggs. And since nothing good comes without some effort, of course the hens have decided to lay their eggs all over the place. It's like a treasure hunt trying to find their nests, which they seem to move regularly. But what great fun for the kids! We have started observing their behaviors and watching where they go to try to figure out where the nests are. Scotty has expressed some interest in quantifying the numbers of eggs we get (inspired from the movie Chicken Run I think) and drawing graphs of egg production so I think we'll put together some kind of data sheet that we can fill out daily that records hen behavior, location of nests, and egg production. Hey, the boy is a third generation wildlife biologist after all.

Even more fun than finding the eggs is eating them. Scotty has learned how to cook eggs from his Nonna and really enjoys doing it (and telling me how to do it right). I hope the pictures do them justice--those yolks really are incredible.

Pokemon trainers

The kids have recently become very interested in the world of Pokemon. What I have learned (from them) is that Pokemon are little monster type things that have different kinds of powers. They can evolve to more advanced creatures and they can also be trained by their owners. There is a card game, a TV show, and there are video games. The kids have a couple of plush Pokemon toys and several other imaginary Pokemon that only they can see. Eliza (sadly) no longer refers to herself as a bird--she is now a Pokemon Trainer.

I love these photos because they each look just like their Pokemon!

Scotty with Chikorita

Eliza with Pikachu

Jam session

Here's an example of the many spontaneous jam sessions that occur around here. Whenever Chris picks up an instrument one of the kids (usually Eliza) runs to get something to play. Here is a duet of recorder and unplugged electric bass.

The boy in his element

It doesn't get any better than this!