Up With the Chickens

Raising children and chickens on a little buffalo farm

Move Over Elf on the Shelf. The Wise Men are in the House.

This article has been reblogged at my new blog, Charming Farming.  Scroll down to read the whole thing…

We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf, but I’ve read about them on the Internet, and I think I get the idea. Sometime in the weeks before Christmas, this little guy makes an appearance. His job is to keep an eye on the kiddos for Santa – to see who’s being naughty and who’s being nice. But at night, when everyone is sound asleep, the elf goes around causing mischief. The next morning delighted tots wake up and find Santa’s helper has been very busy. I’ve seen pictures of shelf elves drinking syrup from a straw, wallowing in a bag of powdered sugar, and playing Candy Land with Woody and Buzz. I’ve read blogs where parents offer elaborate suggestions for elf antics. One even suggested having the family’s elf sneak around at night swapping the clothes in all the closets. I can assure you, any elf of mine who tried that would himself relocated to the bottom of the Goodwill pile.

But as I’ve said, we don’t have an elf. Oh we love Santa. We write him letters, leave out cookies and milk, and even track his Christmas Eve journey on the NORAD website. At least we used to. This will be the first year that none of the kids even pretend to still believe. Ouch!

Anyway, it’s not that I’m anti-elf, but we do try to keep the spirit of advent during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It might come as a surprise to some people, but mad rushes to the mall, festive parties, and feisty trouble-making elves are not traditionally the way Christians have prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Traditionally Advent has been a time of prayerful reflection as the Church prepares to meet her Lord, not only as a baby in a manger, but also as King of kings at the end of time.

That’s not to say our family doesn’t have fun Advent traditions. We just try to keep the focus on Christ. So instead of a scampish elf roaming about in search of trouble, we have wise kings roaming about in search of Baby Jesus. And instead of Mommy and Daddy having all the fun, everyone gets a wiseman to move/hide. Admittedly, the Magi aren’t as zany as the elves, but they can still turn up is some odd places. And anyone who comes across a wiseman is expected to say quick prayer, then set him back on his journey.

No, you won’t find these guys getting into the Christmas cookies, but they do wind up in some odd places.

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I wonder if he’s looking for a gift of spices.

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Maybe this is how he got so wise – reading.

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I see animals, but I don’t think this is the manger.”

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Just hanging with the guys.

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Here Here for Beer Bread!

 

So, The Boy, our oldest son, Jack, will be leaving for college in approximately a year and a half.  I’m starting to panic.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want him to go.  I remember the words my mother said to me as my high school graduation was approaching, “I’m so sad you are leaving.  But I’d be sadder if you were staying.”  It was time.  She knew it.  And I knew it.  I feel the same way about The Boy.  I will miss him everyday, but I want him to go on and experience new things.  And of course I want him to move toward an independent, happy life.

Still, I find myself feeling a little desperate as the time grows shorter and shorter.  Have I taught enough lessons?  Have I said enough prayers?  Have I cooked enough meals to make him mildly homesick when he’s at college?  Just the other day, I assured him that I would visit him at school and bring some home-cooked meals.  His reply?  “I don’t get that many home-cooked meals now.”  WHAT? IS HE JOKING?  IS THIS SOME SORT OF TEEN REBELLION DESIGNED TO PUT DISTANCE BETWEEN US?  IS HE TRYING TO KILL ME?  I can assure you.  I cook – well and often.

The thing is we live in the South.  Here people associate home cookin’ with fried chicken, fried fish, fried okra, fried pies, fried potatoes…you get the idea. I do occasionally make a mean biscuits and gravy, another southern staple.  But I don’t do fried.  I love fried food, I just don’t tend to fix it – my mother was the same way.   Anyway, after The Boy’s cutting remark, I have turned up the heat, literally in my kitchen.  I’m still not frying much, but I am making a whole slew of other homemade goodies, cookies, pies, brownies.   Last week I made a pot of potato soup and a pot of chicken noodle soup.  And what goes better with homemade soup than homemade bread?  Luckily I remembered my Daddy’s recipe for beer bread.

I don’t know if this is one of those recipes that everyone knows, but it should be. It’s such a quick and easy way to have homemade bread any night of the week. It isn’t ideal for sandwiches, but it’s perfect as a side or with a bowl of soup!  And it only has three ingredients!

3 cups of all purpose flour

3 table spoons of sugar

1 beer (12 oz.)

Mix four and sugar together. Slowly mix in the beer.  Let stand for about ten minutes.  Bake a 350 for 50-60 minutes.  When you take it out of the oven you can run an stick of butter over the top for added yumminess.

I certainly hope The Boy sees the errors of his ways.  I do cook.  Homemade bread proves it.  And so will the extra pounds we will all gain in order for me to make my point!

 

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New Blog…

No better than I’ve kept up with this blog in recent weeks, maybe now isn’t the best time for me to be starting an additional blog.  But I am.  As the mother of two teenagers, an eleven year old, and an emerging reader, I am realizing more and more how important it is for me to be aware of what my kids reading.

Actually, when they were small, I was very selective about what we read.  I selected their picture books, not merely on the basis of their entertainment value, but  based on what these books  could add to my children’s lives – beauty, truth, or humor.  This ruled out a lot of what passes as children’s literature.  Still, we spent hours cuddled up together reading and talking and laughing. (I still try to read to The Littles every night and will continue as long as they’ll let me.)  I’ve tried to instill in all of my children a love of good literature.  Yet, now that they are selecting books and reading on their own, they are naturally drawn to popular fiction.  Fortunately, a lot of popular fiction is very good – but a lot isn’t.  To help me know what I want them to read, what I don’t want them to read, and what questions some of their reading might raise, I’ve started a book review blog.  My goal is not to tell other people what their children should and should not read, but just to give parents a heads up about what’s out there.

So far, I’ve only reviewed two books, but I’ve asked some friends to contribute as well.  I’m also working on the blog’s appearance.  For example, I’d like to include a photo of each book’s cover, but I’m not sure about copyright laws.  (I’ve still got a lot to learn about blogging.) In time, I hope we will have a nice collection of reviews for our readers. Please check out my new blog.  And be sure to click on the ABOUT tab to learn more about why I started whatkidsarereading.wordpress.com .

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An Open Letter to My Son’s Teacher…

Dear _________,

First of all, good luck.  Your job is to spark the imagination and hold the attention of a room full of kids, many of whom have been electronically stimulated since the womb and others who are jacked up on the 32 oz. Dr. Pepper they had for breakfast or who are in the process of crashing from it.  They have never really learned to spell (thank you, Auto-correct) and they can’t do math in their head because they carry a calculator at all times (thank you, smart phone).

I can’t speak to the issues and difficulties of every child in your classes, and I know there are those whose needs will be far greater than my own son’s. I consider my boy to be a pretty average teenager.  As such, he will seem bored in your class.  Oh how I wish that he would come home and ramble on and on about what you’re reading or the experiments you’re conducting or the formulas you’re solving.  But he won’t.  When I ask what he learned at school today, he’ll say, “Nothing.”  I’ll make you a deal.  I won’t believe him when he says he did nothing in your class, if you will believe me when I tell you that I did not raise him to drink a giant Dr. Pepper for breakfast.

I adore this boy, and I believe he is a pretty good kid, but I’m not the kind of mother who thinks her child can do no wrong.  Please never hesitate to tell me if he misbehaves, disrespects you, or steps out of line in any way.  However, do not feel like you need to report to me if he misses an assignment or makes a bad grade on a test. I will not be checking his grades online on a weekly basis.  He knows our expectations.  We trust him to be responsible for his grades and to maintain a high GPA. If he is struggling in your class we will encourage him to meet with you.  If necessary we will meet with you to discuss how we can help him at home.  But it’s his job to tell us if he’s struggling, and he knows this. It isn’t your job.  You have enough to do. And it isn’t our job to constantly check up on him – nor does this do him any favors. No one will hover over him in college or in his career someday to make sure he doesn’t mess up, and we aren’t going to do that now.

Fortunately, he’s a pretty good student.  At the least, he’ll do what he has to do to get by – that is to make the grades his father and I expect.  Sadly, he’s not likely to go to go far above and beyond.  So please, make A’s and B’s hard to get.  He won’t work hard on his own, so you’ll have to set the bar high.  If your expectations are low, I can assure you he will live up to them.

It’s not that he’s lazy.  You should see him work on his old Jeep or practice his favorite sports.  He just doesn’t really like school. Sorry. However, please don’t assume that his lack of interest means your efforts are wasted on him. They aren’t.  Years ago, when he was small, we prepared the soil of his mind and soul to be fertile ground for learning and spiritual growth.  We limited television.  We read to him religiously.  We engaged him in conversation often and about important things.  Now we are counting on you to plant the seeds in that soil.  It’s possible that Macbeth or cellular mitosis or World War I will capture his imagination and these seeds will begin to sprout right away. I’ve seen it happen before.  But it’s also possible you will never see the fruits of your labor. Labor anyway. Please.

He isn’t on fire with a love of learning, so he’ll be less fun to teach than the kid who can’t wait to get to your class each day.  He isn’t struggling to get by in school or in life, so you’re heart might not automatically go out to him like it will to the kid with no friends or whose dad took off last week, but my average teenage boy has as much potential as the kid who reads the Complete Works of Shakespeare for for fun.  And at times, because being a teenager is just plain hard, he will have heartaches and difficulties just like the lonely kid with the bad home life.  In other words, my average kid is special too. Don’t coddle him.  Just please don’t overlook him.

Be assured that you will be in our prayers as you touch the life of our boy and so many others.

Sincerely,

The Boy’s Mom

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Something Fishy Has Been Going on Around Here

Well, we are back from our trip to the gulf.  I owe my parents a huge debt of gratitude.  They were heroic in their efforts to keep all our livestock (including the buffalo) alive for all seven 105 degree, rainless days. And they were successful – almost.  After about four days, The Littles wanted to call home and talk to their grandparents -of course.  After telling my mother all about the waves, sand castles, and dolphins and after asking about the rabbits, dogs, and chickens, Chet asked,”How’s my fish?”  Uh oh. Fish?  I forgot to ask them to feed the fish. In my defense, considering the usual murky condition of Speedy’s fish bowl, it’s no wonder his existence slipped my mind.

But low and behold when we walked in the door today, there was Speedy (or a reasonable facsimile) swimming around in a bowl of crystal clear water. “Wow!” Chet exclaimed,”Speedy looks better than ever!”  Which is pretty remarkable since the nearest pet store that sells goldfish is 60 miles away.  My children are very fortunate.  They have the world’s best grandparents – and a farm-load of happy healthy animals.

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Six is a Crowd…

We have four children. That’s not exactly a baseball team, but it is nearly double the national average of 2.3 children.(One site I found has that number at 1.9)  I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s most frugal person. I’ve never been good at bargain hunting or coupon cutting, so I almost feel a little funny writing a “how to save…” post, but here goes…

When I hear people say they would like to have more children, but it’s too expensive, I usually argue that with some budgetary gymnastics and a lot of hand-me-downs, raising a large family doesn’t have to cost a fortune. And while my gymnastics skills still need some work, I do believe it – until it’s time to take a vacation!

Vacations are just  plain expensive.  Before we’ve crossed the county line, I’ve already spent money on new clothes (For some reason I always think everyone has to have new underwear for a trip.), travel snacks, games and movies for the car, and dog boarding. I’ve also usually spent a small fortune on new baskets, bins, and containers for my pre-vacation, over-the-top, get everything in order house cleaning – but that’s a whole other post. My point is, it costs us a lot just to get out the door.  And to make matters worse, the world of travel is designed for two groups – couples and families of four. Every family vacation package and deal I’ve ever come across is tailored for a family of four. And flying any place? Airline tickets for six people? Forget it.  (Until we rack up enough miles with Hal’s new mileage plus Visa!  Good thinking, Hal.).

So, we limit our travel – which isn’t too painful because let’s face it, traveling with four kids is a ton or work too – and when we do take a trip, we usually use www.vrbo.com . With this site we can book a house or condo that sleeps six, and it less expensive than paying for the two hotel rooms that are usually required. Also, with a condo or house, there’s always a kitchen. We save a lot of money by cooking at least some of our meals when we travel.

This year we are headed to the beach. We have a great beach house at a lovely resort, but we were only able to get it for five nights. To compensate, we decided to take an extra couple of days on our way to the gulf and see some sights. The problem, of course, is that two extra nights on the road could end up costing us almost as much as our beach house. Fortunately, I found a website just for families like ours (and larger)! Thanks Six Suit Cases!

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Rethinking Thinking…

I’ve always been fascinated by learning styles. You know, the concept that all of us fall into one of three categories.  We are either visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.  I love this idea!  It makes so much sense to me, and as a homeschooling mom and a teacher, I’ve always found it thrilling to find a way to tune into a particular child’s learning pathway. So this summer when I found out one of my grad school classes was on learning styles I was thrilled – I didn’t expect to have my whole way of thinking about learning called into question.

One of my assignments is to write a paper debunking the concept of learning styles. I’m still working on it, but it turns out, there is plenty of evidence to suggest we’ve all bought into bogus idea.  And when I look around at all the manipulatives, games, gadgets, and gizmos (many of which I bought when I was homeschooling) created and sold to cater to various learning styles, not to mention the various books, articles, and workshops being produced on the subject, I have to admit that learning styles has become its own multi-bazillion dollar cottage industry.  In other words, there is a lot of money to be made by keeping the learning style myth alive.

Lest I sound like a conspiracy theorist, I am not suggesting that someone has made up this whole concept just to make money.  In fact,  just as there is a lot of evidence debunking learning styles, there is also a lot to support the idea.  For now, I’m still on the fence.  Still, this is kind of huge because a few days ago, I didn’t even know there was a fence.  I just took learning styles for granted.   If I find out this is all a bunch of nonsense, I’m sure going to feel silly about mummifying that GI Joe when the kids studied Ancient Egypt – actually, I won’t.  That was a ton of fun!

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To have your way of thinking about thinking challenged, start with the video link above.

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C.Q.C…..

I’m not a great housekeeper. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy a clean house or that I don’t want to be a good housekeeper. I do and I do. But for some reason, clutter stacks up, laundry piles up, and dust gathers. I work hard at keeping my house tidy, but I don’t seem to be able to stay on top of my household chores with the seeming effortlessness that some other women do. I could blame it on too much time blogging or on Pinteresting. But many of my tidy friends blog and Pin too. My kids’ crazy schedule? My friends with scrubbed floors and spotless kitchens have kids too. My two hour daily workout? Ha! I wish!

The fact is those women – the ones you can drop in on any time and they don’t feel the need to explain why there is laundry on the dining table or a tequila bottle on the front porch (actually that one is a pretty good story) – those women got the organization, time management gene. I did not. My mother has it.  Her mother had it.  But somewhere there must be a recessive disorganization gene in my family, and I got it.  Yes, I’m blaming the ring around the bathtub and the layer of dust on my mantle on genetics. I’ve heard worse.

At least I’m not throwing in the dirty towel (that was probably left in the bathroom floor for a couple of days). Instead I am constantly devising plans to try to make my housework more manageable and the messes less overwhelming. Some of my plans, like saving all my 37 loads of laundry for one day (and night) a week, have been a bust. Others, like getting a house dog to snarf up crumbs off the kitchen floor, have been a great success.

This summer I resurrected an old system I used when I was homeschooling, and I must say it is making a big difference, especially now that the children are older and can take on even more responsibility.

First of all, each of the children has a chore chart. Duh.  I know other families have used them for years, but we get busy and forget ours.  Not this summer!  Some chores are daily others are weekly.  Either way, it’s simple.  You don’t get to go swimming or have friends over unless your stuff is done.  And we are big time summer party people.  I want almost everyday to be a party in the summer.  For this to happen, people have to be able to come over without me suffering ignominy and disgrace.The brilliant thing about the new and improved chore charts is that they include some important jobs that I don’t necessarily think of as house work,  and that I rarely seem to get to – like watering the houseplants or cleaning the bird poop off the front porch.

Another clutter breakthrough –  each child has a zone (the kitchen, living room, etc.) By the time Daddy gets home, everyone must have his or her zone tidied. Sometimes, when stuff begins to pile up and get on my nerves during the day, or if we are expecting company, they have to do a ten-minute tidy to get their zones looking spiffy.

The charts and the zones have been a tremendous help – easy solutions that we will continue into the school year. But by far, the biggest coup over household drudgery has been my C.Q.C. policy. C.Q.C. stands for CHEERFULLY, QUICKLY, AND COMPLETELY. No whining. No fussing. No complaining. No dawdling. No slacking.  Of course it is normal for kids to grump when they have to do chores – normal, but not acceptable.  I think sometimes we as parents get so used to the stereotype of the “typical American kid” that we sometime accept behaviors and habits (whining, eye-rolling, sass-mouthing, etc.) that are at best disrespectful and at worse are forming habits in our children that will make them unpleasant adults – we’ve all worked with these Debbie Downers and Negative Neds. I do not want my children to grow up thinking it is their right, privilege, and duty to complain about things they don’t want to do.  I want my children to learn that cheerfulness is a virtue. You don’t have to like scrubbing the toilet.  You just have to act like you do!  If one of my blessing begins to complain, I simply shout through my teeth C.Q.C.!!!!  No, not really, I lovingly remind (sometimes with threatening undertones) that if a job is not done cheerfully (or at least in pleasant silence) it isn’t done well.  This simple set of letters has made daily chores go much more smoothly.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Of course this new system only solves part of the problem of daily chores.  The children are efficient, reliable, and pleasant…if only I could leave ALL the housework to them!  Oooops, I guess that didn’t sound very cheerful!

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Mommy’s Favorite…

Every year on Mothers Day, my children are forced to battle it out for the title of  Mommy’s Favorite.  That might sound a little twisted, but it is actually really fun. Well, at least it’s fun for me, and it’s my day, so everyone has to do what I want.  Mommy Trivia!  In the spirit of this wonderful holiday dedicated to the appreciation of mothers, I will pit child against child in a test of their love for (or at least their knowledge of) me.  The older they get the more difficult it is to come up with questions, but there are still a lot of things my kiddos don’t know about me. Here are this years’s questions.

1.  What is Mommy’s current favorite song?

2.  If Mommy could only eat one dessert for the rest of her life what would it be?

3. What is my dream dog?

4.  What color were my bride’s maids dresses?

5. What was my major in college?

6. Name one place I worked in high school.

7. Name three of my high school best friends.

8.  What was the name of my college sorority?

9.  Where did Daddy and I go on our first date?

10. If I have another baby boy, what am I naming him?

Good luck to all participates.  May the best child win!

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Sharing My Dreams…

Yesterday Cat and I sat by the river tossing pebbles in the water and enjoying God’s creation.  The sun seemed to have healing properties – melting away all my stress and baking out all my impurities.  Clearly Cat sensed the magic of the moment. Eager to make the most of our time together and strengthen our mother/daughter bond, she turned to be with her enormous, questioning blue eyes and angelic face and asked, “Mommy, what would you do, if you knew you could not fail?”  My answer was honest and immediate, “Buy a lottery ticket.”

Perhaps this wasn’t my finest parenting moment.

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