Summer

It’s been a full summer. Here's the update.

Picking up where I left off… Temperance’s kidding was difficult, and the kid who survived, Kasia, had a rough start. At one week old, it was obvious she was not thriving. The vet determined she had floppy kid syndrome, and likely pneumonia. Floppy kid syndrome isn’t well understood, but apparently the gut doesn't work properly and the kid can’t digest the mama’s milk. The milk becomes toxic and the goat quickly declines. Our vet saved Kasia with several doses of a baking soda, vinegar, water solution that reset her digestive system. After two weeks of very intensive care, including a couple of midnight and early dawn trips to our vet’s house with Kasia in the cat carrier, she came around and turned into a silly, playful goat kid. Our vet told us we’d know she’s healthy when she makes us laugh out loud with her ridiculous antics. Kasia definitely makes up laugh out loud. And just look, is she not the mini-me of her mother?

In other goat news, I have mastered a new skill. Three times a year we need to check the goats’ feces for parasites. For the past two years, I’ve done this by standing in the goat stall with plastic baggies, staring at the goats’ rear ends waiting, willing them to poop, and then scrambling to catch at least a few fresh “berries” to send off to the lab. The first two goats always poop right away, but the third will inevitably hold out for at least an hour. It is particularly unpleasant waiting around in the winter, especially because the minute you decide you can probably just sweep up this pile of hay or shovel out that pile of muck (to stay warm more than anything else), the goat will poop and you'll miss it and, even worse, you might not even know you missed it. But there’s another way. A more efficient way. You can go in and collect fresh berries. That is what I did last weekend. In fifteen minutes, I got what I needed. Why did I wait two years to figure this one out?

We have bees! The queen and her 15,000 worker bees arrived in May and seem to be settling in quite nicely. We see them doing their thing around the garden. Dave does all the work of taking care of them and I watch from a distance hoping they don’t (1) swarm, (2) lose their larvae to the bear in our woods (larvae are a crunchy, protein-packed snack for bears), (3) get mites, (4) get too hot or too cold, or (5) die/leave for some unknown reason. Dave just hopes this hobby fares better on the expense/gain tradeoff than my goat hobby. Maybe next year we’ll get some of their honey…

 

The garden is sadly neglected. But underneath the thick growth of weeds we have a fall harvest ripening: corn, pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. We also have way more garlic than we’ll ever use. But I have to grow that much garlic in order to satisfy my garlic scape pesto cravings. Tonight’s garden chore is making many batches of tomato-garlic soup.

We said goodbye to our old man cat. Alfred was 18 years old. He came to us off the streets of DC when he was three. He was the best cat ever. He was so great, I’ll hashtag that. #bestcatever. This spring he seemed to lose his spark. The vet diagnosed him with “outliving his kidneys and a touch of kitty dementia,” meaning he couldn’t make it to his litter box if he got too far away from it. We finally decided it was time for him to move on to whatever comes next for cats who, as our kids say, are “all done living.”

We welcomed a puppy into our family (unrelated to Alfred's departure, although perhaps not unrelated to Dave’s limit of two furry indoor pets at a time, implemented after we adopted Caroline the cat last summer). Finn is a sweet little lab-mix rescue (anyone want to guess what the “mix” part is?) from Virginia. He’s a good pup, and even though everyone says puppies are a ton of work, I don’t notice it all that much. It’s just another layer of care on top of our already complex schedule, and Finn's routine fits in quite well. He is good in the car, so he keeps me company when I drive the carpools, gets his exercise at soccer practice, and even has a puppy friend for puppy playdates. What I do notice is that I now see the stars every night (at 1:30am and again at 4:30am), and it is awfully nice to have a small being submit to me, and eagerly at that. Unlike the other three small beings in this house who may or may not listen to me. 

Once Finn learns his golden manners, he’ll be a fine dog. 

Having a dog has also gotten all of us into the woods and out on hikes more often (if Finn goes, the kids want to go). Now that they can keep up with us (thanks to Katherine’s 9-year-old strength, Clara’s stamina, and Alexandra’s sheer determination to keep up with the big sisters), family hiking & biking are turning out to be a lot of fun. Perhaps we are finally entering that era of fun family outdoor activity that, according to Facebook pictures of #blessedfamilyhikes, everyone but us has been enjoying for years.

One Goat Kid

Temperance had her babies. One survived, one did not.

As we waited for the big day, I imagined announcing the arrival of baby goats on FB and in this space. “Goat kids are here!” “Welcome baby goats!” I was nervous about my role as “goat doula,” having only watched one goat birth and done a rather limited amount of reading, and I am well aware that sometimes pregnancies/births work and sometimes they don't. But still, I let my mind wander ahead to the image of “at least two kids” frolicking together in the paddock. 

Temperance had her babies early in the morning. The first one took a long time to come out – it made me nervous. Dave called the vet and she gave us some advice, which worked. Kid #1 came out. I immediately put her under Temperance’s nose, and Temperance began licking her right away. The kid perked up, responding to her mama’s care.

Kid #2 came out quickly, but was limp. Maybe she was already gone. Maybe she was stunned by the quick exit. I immediately put her under her Temperance’s nose, but she remained limp. I rubbed her all over, though I know now that I should have focused on her face, maybe even helped with the first few breaths. She never responded, and it soon became clear that she was gone.

Had I not been home when the babies arrived, the second surely would have died. If I had had more experience, perhaps she would have lived. I think it is best if I just leave it at that.

We’re all so happy about the kid who is doing well, and very sad about the one we lost. It’s tricky holding both the joy and the sadness at the same time. But this duality is nature at its truest, and it reminds me of two of my favorite quotes.

The first comes from Eula Biss:

“…the use of natural as a synonym for good is almost certainly a product of our profound alienation from the natural world."

As a reaction to the synthetic and processed aspects of our society’s lifestyle, Biss points out the cultural shift towards epitomizing nature as good; the idea of natural has come to represent safe and benign. But natural is not a synonym for good. Nature may be good, but it is not safe.

Which leads me to the second quote.

I came across this one years ago when I read the Narnia Chronicles to Katherine, and it has stayed with me ever since. One of the characters described Aslan, the lion king of Narnia, to the children:

“Safe?…Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”

C.S. Lewis intended this as a reference to Christianity and God, but for me, it perfectly captures the essence of nature.

Nature cannot be defined by the prototypical duality of good and evil. That is a human phenomenon. But there does exist a duality in nature: the vegetable garden that flourishes, the beetles that devour and destroy; the plants that heal, the plants that poison; the goat kid who thrives, the goat kid who dies. This duality is not the classic good and evil, rather it is one of good and unsafe. Nature is good, but it is not safe.

I find comfort in these two quotes. The goat that thrives and the goat that dies; this experience is the product of a profound connection to the natural world. 

Still waiting...

For all those wondering... no goat kids yet. Everyday I check for signs that labor is near, but the only sign is that my usually affectionate goat is avoiding me. When she see me coming into the stall, unless I have grain, she runs away. I've read that goats can get like this weeks before the babies come. Then again, it could be because I've been chasing her around pinching her tail head to see if her back ligaments have loosened (a sign that labor is imminent).

I had hoped the babies would arrive this weekend, but looking at my schedule for this week, now I hope it's not until at least Thursday. 

In the meantime, we've named our farm! Well, it's not official yet, but once the paperwork gets processed, it will be "Kózka Farm." Kózka (pronounced koozka) means "little goat" in Polish. A nod to our Peace Corps days in Poland. We have this great idea of giving all the goat kids Polish names: Kasia, Basia, Magda, Lukasz, Mateusz... I love Polish names. Our human kids, however, object. I'm sure they're thinking up all sorts of original names, like Dora (we had several chickens named Dora) or Dumbledore. Luckily for Dave and me, those who do the barn chores get to name the goat kids.

Hopefully my next post will be about happy, healthy, little goats.

The Vet Visit

Our wonderful vet, Alison, came with her super cool vet truck to do an ultrasound on the goats to check for pregnancies. After hosting the handsome Romeo Santos for a month, we were hoping at least one of them had kids on the way.

http://alisoncornwalldvm.com/

http://alisoncornwalldvm.com/

Before I get to the results, let me just say that as far as my (human) kids are concerned, Alison’s visits are all about her pickup truck. She has everything in there: refrigerated compartments, vaccines, vitamins, medicine, tubes and funnels for dealing with rumen aches, a portable ultrasound machine, and even a water source with hose for sanitizing her boots after farm visits… and that’s only what we’ve seen. I’m sure she has all sorts of other supplies and equipment tucked away. Whenever she comes, Katherine, Clara, and Alexandra circle her truck in fascination, oblivious to the vet visit that is taking place. If anyone out there wants to make millions, I suggest a “veterinarian truck Lego set.” Can’t you just picture this truck in Legos? 

Alison started by checking Mabeline. I had a feeling Mabeline wasn’t bred since she went into heat after Romeo Santos left. Mabeline loves the bucks, but if no buck is around, she goes for Clementine, and she was pursuing Clementine a few weeks ago.

I was right, no kids for Mabes.

But I had high hopes for Clementine. I know she “connected” with Romeo Santos, and I also really want Clementine to have kids since we separated her from her two boys (Walter and Caramello) when we first got her. Sometimes Clementine stands in the barn doorway wistfully looking off into the distance, and we wonder if she is “missin’ her boys,” as Alexandra says. Perhaps we can make it up to her if she gets to have kids again, and this time stay with them.

But alas, no kids for Clem.

Oh, the disappointment. As fond as we were of Romeo Santos, how frustrating to have no pregnancies after the work, expense, and stink of hosting a buck for a month.

Finally, Alison asked if we wanted to check Temperance. I almost said no… after all, I was sure she and Romeo Santos never connected. As I’ve said, Temperance seems indifferent to the whole reproductive process. I’ve never been able to tell when she’s in heat (unlike Mabeline, who is very obvious about it), and she never seemed interested in Romeo Santos. But you never know with Tempe. Why not just check? Might as well.

Right away, Alison said, “this one is bred with at least two kids.”

Quiet, subtle, sneaky Temperance will be a mama! Just goes to show I have no idea what happens in our barn. If all goes well, she will birth at least two kids sometime at the end of May.

Our own kids are already fighting over who gets to “claim and name” the goat kids. Fingers crossed Temperance comes out with three instead of two.

Pregnant or Fat?

We had the joy of hosting a buck in our barn for a month over the holidays in hopes of getting at least one of our does pregnant. If you don't know anything about goat bucks, well, they're stinky. Really stinky. They fragrance themselves with their own urine in order to appeal to the ladies. Their fragrance permeates the barn and travels on the wind so that you can smell it while walking in the woods on a breezy day. If you brush against the buck (or a doe who has been friendly with the buck) while you are bringing them hot water on a bitter cold winter night, then your coat will smell like buck for days, as will your mudroom, and also your car, especially if you forget to switch out of your “barn coat” during the morning rush to feed the goats before you drive the carpool.

If you get used to the smell after a while (as women are more likely to do than men), then your children will remind you regularly that you do indeed still smell like buck. You will start to feel self-conscious at your kid's basketball games because, although you are used to the smell, you get whiffs of it coming off your boots and realize everyone else who is not used to it can probably smell it too. You worry about the carpool kids being so disgusted by the smelly minivan that you'll lose your wonderful carpool arrangement until the smell fades away. You start to threaten your children with timeouts in the barn when they misbehave (and then have a few weeks of very good behavior).

But you really want goat kids and the one-day effort at the neighbor’s farm last year didn’t work. Having a buck in your barn is supposed to help bring the does into heat. Having the buck for a month helps ensure he will be there when the does go into heat.

So, this fine fellow, Romeo Santos, took up residence on our little farm. I kind of wish the smell could travel over the internet so you could experience it just for a minute. 

Mabeline took to him right away, which wasn’t a surprise to any of us. She has a bit of a reputation that way. Don’t they make a cute couple?

I know Romeo Santos enjoyed his time with Clementine as well, although she was never enamored with him the way Mabeline was. We didn’t see any “connection” between Romeo Santos and Temperance, which also wasn’t a surprise. Although Temperance is the most affectionate of the three, she seems rather indifferent to the reproductive process. But who knows? Maybe they snuck in a moment when no one was looking.

It’s been about three months now, so we have our wonderful vet coming this week to do an ultrasound. She’ll tell us if any are pregnant, and with how many kids. If we have several kids on the way, we want to be prepared. But while we wait for her visit, we can speculate: Pregnant? Or winter weight?

Anyone want to place bets?

Mabeline

Mabeline

Clementine

Clementine

Temperance

Temperance



Happy Halloween

Every year I reflect on how much I love Halloween. I know our culture goes a little overboard on holidays, and this one is no exception, but at the heart of Halloween is creativity, generosity, and community.

Two years ago I wrote about how the duality that exists in humans – the animalistic, gluttonous side and the kind, virtuous side – is mirrored in this holiday, with Halloween representing avarice and All Saints’ Day representing morality.

This year I decided that the duality exists in Halloween alone. Children have the opportunity to imagine themselves into any creative creature they wish: scary monsters, wild (and domesticated) animals, heroes who save the day, and kind, gentle beings who model goodness for all of society. The whole range of human nature is represented in Halloween costumes.

The greed and generosity coexist as well. As these little people tear through the neighborhood collecting as much candy as they can, there is a pause at each house: a “trick or treat”, a moment of connection as the treat-giver admires the costumes, and a “thank you” as the treat-takers acknowledge the gift before going on their way. It is brief, but it is real. The community opens its doors and gives to anyone – good or evil – who asks.

I can’t help but see Halloween as a metaphor for the best and worst of society successfully coexisting. Maybe Halloween is the one holiday that brings out the little bit of optimism in me (thanks to the large quantity of chocolate that ends up in my house), or maybe I just love the sense of community, the mutual understanding, and the openness to all that seems so rare in general, but is so evident on Halloween. 

Whatever it is, I love Halloween.

This year we had a cheetah, a mouse, and a fairy of sorts. 

 

Kids and Racism

Continuing on the topic of social activism and children, one of the most interesting parenting challenges I’m facing is figuring out how to integrate racial sensitivity/anti-bias education into our family life.

Many of our parenting choices are based on the Waldorf philosophy, which places great value on the wonderment of childhood. In practice, and as I wrote last week, this means protecting childhood from the burdens of adulthood so that children can deeply and freely be children. In other words, it feels like a violation of childhood to tell our children that black people are being murdered by police officers. Of course this is an extreme example – we don’t have to tell our children that black people are being murdered in order to bring conversations about race into our daily lives. But even so, I admit it is a struggle for me to talk to my children about race.

However, all the research shows that talking to children about race from a young age is necessary in order to raise anti-bias children. For those invested in the Waldorf world of childhood reverence, this can be difficult to accept. After all, if we revere childhood as a time of wonderment, and as parents and educators we seek to create a warm, beautiful, and loving environment that is protected and secure, then when, where, and how do conversations about racism fit in?

I’ve gotten the impression that Waldorf education, in general, does not encourage overt and explicit conversations about race with young children. It is also fairly common for white parents – whether invested in the Waldorf philosophy or not – to feel uncomfortable discussing race with their children (Derman-Sparks & Ramsey, 2006).

But Rudolph Steiner, founder of the Waldorf education movement, had the goal of inspiring “individuals to take up a path of inner development, and to give practical guidance in creating the seeds for a new culture of true human freedom” (WECAN). This goal not only provides space for racial sensitivity/anti-bias work within a Waldorf approach, it also obligates us to bring this work to our children, especially if we truly want to achieve a new culture of true human freedom.

As I reflect back on the work I’ve done on this issue so far, I realize that I started out with the question “Do we” rather than “How do we” bring racial sensitivity /anti-bias education to young children. Viewing childhood as I do, the idea of bringing conversations about racism to my young children feels uncomfortable. But over the past year, I’ve attended workshops, read books and articles, and participated in discussion groups, and from this work, two main points jump out at me as especially salient in moving from “Do we” to “How do we.”

First, children as early as kindergarten discriminate according to gender, race, and disability. Children are “developmentally prone to in-group favoritism… the attribute they rely on is that which is most clearly visible… once a child identifies someone as most closely resembling himself, the child likes that person the most.” (Bronson & Merryman, 2009, p. 53).

Dr. Rebecca Bigler, a professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin, ran an experiment in a kindergarten class to look at how this tendency for in-group preference plays out. Half of the kindergarten children were given blue t-shirts, and half were given red t-shirts; the children wore their t-shirts everyday for three weeks. The teacher never mentioned, pointed out, or grouped children according to the t-shirts. During the three weeks the children played with each other regardless of t-shirt color; however, at the end of the three weeks, children liked their own color better and believed the children in their own color group were more likely to win a race, be smarter, and be nicer. They also believed their color was a better group to belong to.

Bigler concludes, “We might imagine we’re creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender – they’re plainly visible. We don’t have to label them for them to become salient. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use t-shirt colors” (p. 53).

Study after study shows the same tendency for in-group preference. Regardless of how we view childhood or what measures we take to protect our children from the concept of racism, children will develop biased views according to skin color. If adults and educators say nothing about race children will develop racial preferences.

Second, no matter what measures we take to protect our children from the concept racism, racism is an institution and it is impossible to protect our children from the system that we are all a part of. Here are just a few examples of how my white children will experience the institution of racism:

  • Most of the books and movies my children are exposed to will feature main characters who look like them.
  • When my children go into a pharmacy, they will be able to find Band-Aids in their skin color.
  • My children will be able to shop alone without being followed, harassed, or suspected of shoplifting.
  • Society expects that my children will go to college, and when they are in their twenties, society will assume they are college educated.
  • When my children rent their first apartment, they can be pretty sure their neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to them.

(adapted from McIntosh, 1990)

None of these statements are true for a person of color; and these are just a few examples of how the institution of racism affects all of us, whether we live in a diverse community or a community that is mostly (or all) one race. My family experiences being white as a privilege, but "white privilege" is an unjust system and detrimental to society as a whole; breaking down the institution of racism and achieving racial justice is the goal. In order to succeed, we need to bring racial sensitivity/anti-bias education to our children.

So here I am faced with a duality: on the one hand we subscribe to the Waldorf belief that childhood is to be revered and protected from adult concepts, and on the other hand, research consistently shows that in order to raise anti-bias children, we need to talk early and openly to our children about race.

I am sure it is possible to bring anti-bias education to children in a way that still preserves the reverence and wonderment of childhood. As I dig deeper into this issue, my focus is on the question, “How do we talk to our children about race in a way that feels comfortable within our parenting approach and is effective in breaking down the racial institution that currently cripples our society?”

I don’t have answers yet, but as I said in the beginning of this post, I find this type of question – the kind that calls on a blend of intellectual discernment and parental instincts – to be interesting and inspiring. I am fortunate to be taking on this work with people who come from different parenting approaches – those who hold dear the Waldorf values and those who do not – and who bring a wealth of knowledge about racism, anti-bias education, and childhood development.

I do believe we’ll learn a great deal as we explore this topic and share our knowledge and resources with each other and within our community.

References

Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2009). Nurture shock: New thinking about children. New York: Twelve.

Derman-Sparks, L. & Ramsey, P. G. (2006). What if all the kids are white? Anti-bias multicultural education with young children and families. New York: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (1990) White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Excerpted essay reprinted in the Winter 1990 issue of Independent School.

Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/wecan.php

Kids and Social Activism

Social activism has been an important part of my life over the past few years. Gun safety, public health, human rights, and racial justice have been the topics of conversation around here. My children know I am involved in this work, but we are mindful of the information we share with them.

The question of how much of reality to share with young children recently came up at one of my activist meetings. It is a tricky subject to write about; I hope to place the conversation in context and share my views without coming across as either judgmental or defensive.

In working with other parents on various causes, I’ve come across a range of opinions regarding what to share with young children. Some parents engage their children in social activism from a young age and opt to share all the details of a particular situation; other parents protect their children from these injustices.

To provide some specific examples, here are a few statements that demonstrate the range of both the type and amount of information that parents may choose to share with their children.

  • Some people are treated unfairly based on the way they look.
  • Many people are working to make the world a safer and fairer place for everyone.
  • Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were strong and brave advocates for civil rights.
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated because of the work he was doing.
  • Police have murdered several innocent black men in recent months.
  • There are people who live in a country where the government doesn’t work properly. These people are trying to leave in order to find a better, safer place to live.
  • Millions of Syrians are no longer safe in their home country. They need a new place to live. Unfortunately, other countries are not always welcoming, and it is hard to find homes and food for so many people so quickly.
  • Thousands of Syrians are risking their lives to escape the civil war in their country. Many sneak out in the night and travel in boats across the sea. Many lose loved ones or die trying to escape.
  • Many Americans own guns, but they are not always used safely.
  • Anyone in the United States can buy a gun, even people who want to hurt others.
  • Thousands of people are injured or killed by guns every year; it’s a very real and scary problem.
  • Three years ago, a gunman killed 20 children in their classroom at school. There have been roughly 100,000 gun deaths and nearly a hundred school shootings since.

In our family, we tend not to share the harsh, and in many cases, violent realities of society with our children. For example, we tell our children that sometimes people are not treated fairly because of their skin color and that many people are working hard for civil rights. They know the story of Rosa Parks and they know Martin Luther King was a great leader. But we do not tell them that innocent black men are unfairly arrested, and sometimes murdered, by police officers.

My children know that I work on gun safety legislation to help keep guns safe, and they know that this work can be challenging, but we did not tell them that a gunman murdered twenty children in their classroom, nor have I told them that a gunwoman shot six children in my town’s elementary school when I was a kid.

They know there are people who need food and clothes, and they set aside one third of their savings to share with people who don’t have as much as we have. But they do not know that families who have lost everything are risking their lives in order to escape on rickety boats.

Our reasons for “protecting” our children are not centered on keeping them blissfully ignorant so as to spare them the harsh reality of life. Rather, our goal is to give them a childhood in which they can develop the compassion, skills, and hope they will need to make the world a better place.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about why we take this approach, as opposed to engaging them more fully in our social activism. It has been difficult to try to articulate, but with my husband’s help, I’ve come up with these four reasons:

1. I want my children to grow up believing the world is a good place. I personally don’t hold this belief. As an adult, I tend to see the world in equal parts of good and evil, and I struggle to reconcile the atrocities so many people experience with the comfortable, safe, and blissful life of others. But if each new generation of children can carry a vision of a better world into adulthood, perhaps we will succeed in actually bettering the world. 

2. Childhood is so short and our children will have their whole lives to live in reality. What's the rush in pulling them into it at a young age? I often think of an excerpt from Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting about a little boy who was struggling with anxiety, had difficulty sleeping, and chronic stomach aches. Payne describes his observations of the child’s day-to-day life:

“Their daily lives were colored by world issues. Both parents were avid news followers…Politically and intellectually oriented, they would discuss issues at great length, particularly environmental concerns. From an early age, James had been listening to these conversations. His parents were proud of his knowledge. They felt that they were raising a little activist, a ‘citizen of the world,’ who would grow up informed and concerned…” (pp. 3-4)

When the parents made an effort to hold back on engaging their son in world issues, his stress symptoms disappeared. Payne went on to emphasize the importance of protecting childhood in order to give children the “freedom to be more deeply and happily [their] own age” (p. 5). This story spoke to me: I want to give my children a childhood.

3.     Children can learn the skills they need to deal with reality without being faced with the specific horrors that exist in society. We can teach the importance of protecting communities, helping those in need, and standing up to evil forces through fairy tales and stories. I find that in our family we find ample opportunity to explore and apply the themes of compassion and generosity through sibling rivalry and natural classroom dynamics! Intuitively, this feels more age appropriate than discussing civil wars and gun violence.

4.     We already influence our children so much. Exposing them to the realities of the world at a young age will also result in transferring our own views onto them before they are cognitively capable of questioning and critically evaluating the different points of view. I would rather present them with stories (fairytales, mythology, fables) that embody the forces of good and evil that I am not emotionally invested in. That way they will learn about the world and develop the understanding and skills they need to address real world problems on their own when they are older.

Social activism is an important part of our family life and we want our children to understand the responsibility of participating in society in a way that supports social justice for all. We try to model social activism and humanitarianism, but we carefully consider how to protect their childhood so that they can grow up to be informed and skillful activists as adults.

Kids on a swing

We have a beautiful swing set built into our tree. It has two swings and a bar with rings, so there is a spot for each kid.

Apparently, the two swings have their own good and bad qualities, and Katherine and Clara have each claimed the one that fits them best. Alexandra is usually happiest upside down on the bars.

But after two months at home with each other, the girls have started to fight over who gets which swing and who gets the bar with rings. Some days they all want the same swing, or they all want the bar, or they simply want what another sister has.

Just when they are about to drive me mad with their bickering (and I threaten to take the whole thing down with my handy pruning saw), they’ll find their groove and do this for hours.

I'm not sure it balances out the hours of bickering, but it is pure joy for all of us when they find their play together.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Buckwheat Cookies

This is my new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. The buckwheat flour gives the cookies a nice earthy flavor and goes well with the chocolate, and they aren't too sweet. Plus, they're quick and easy to make and good for gatherings because they are gluten-free. 

1 1/8 cup light buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup chocolate chips

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine egg and sugar and beat with an electric mixer on high until light and fluffy. Add butter and beat on high until combined. Add vanilla and beat briefly. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips

.Drop cookie dough onto parchment baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake at 375° F for 9-11 minutes.

I originally found the recipe here.

Caroline the Black Cat

I’m back!  Kids, my job, the garden, and some exciting social justice work has kept me busy all summer… but I continue to miss this space. Maybe this time I’ll keep up here.

First things first: let’s go back to early June. This pretty kitty showed up in our yard. We assumed she belonged to a neighbor, but day after day she seemed pretty determined to make our home her home. She hung out by our door, meowed on our windowsill, and even followed us on our loop trail through the woods.

After going through all the steps of looking for her owners – the humane society, the local vet, our neighborhood list serve – our animal control officer gave us the go ahead to take her in. So four weeks and a big old “taking in a stray cat” vet bill later, little black cat became ours. The girls named her Caroline and we let her inside.

 

 

 

 

This is Alfred, our old man cat. He has been with us for a long time. Despite his autoimmune disease (Pemphigus Foliaceus – I’m pretty sure the vet pulled that straight out of Harry Potter) and his daily puking, he’s hanging in there, as handsome and regal as always. We love him dearly, but he’s a wimp and always has been.

We kind of hoped that Alfred would on some level be happy to welcome in this sleek, new, shiny black beauty into his life… I mean, what sickly, old man cat wouldn’t? But he cowered and she attacked. Viciously attacked. As in, hiss-screech-jump-on-his-back-and-scratch attack. This went on for a few weeks until we decided it wasn’t fair to Alfred to let Caroline torture him. So she moved back outside. She gets the porch and garden, he gets the house. Both get lots of attention from the kids.

When Alfred moves on to his next life, Caroline can move back in.  But for now, she is our outdoor cat.

And the goats are...

Fat. Not pregnant.

I would say we’re only very slightly disappointed. When I see videos of cute little goat kids I wish we had goat kids on the way. But when I think about the work involved in preparing another stall, building a milking stand, and purchasing milking equipment all within the next 3 weeks, I’m ok with a little disappointment. And when I read about other goat owners dealing with their does’ mastitis and goat kid diarrhea, and I’m relieved we won’t have to figure all that out this spring.

We’ll try again next year – I think I’ll have a better idea of the timing and how to get it done, and we’ll be better prepared overall.

Besides, I’ve found another goat project that will be just as exciting as goat kids. Pictures of these rock-climbing goats made their way into my FB feed the other day.

 

A rock-climbing wall probably isn’t practical, but a goat playground could be…

Goat kids or no goat kids?

Will we have baby goats in two months?

A few weeks after her day at the love chateau, Mabeline seemed to go into heat again, so I assumed she was not pregnant. But now I wonder: is her larger size winter weight or goat babies?

From this angle, she doesn't look pregnant:

But then she'll turn like this and I'm SURE there are babies in there:

The rumen, the largest of the four stomachs, is on the left and often sticks out when it is full of hay, so looking lopsided with a larger left side is normal. But here, Mabeline is looking rather round on the right. I think I read somewhere that goats carry more on the right. But I've also read that there are no visible signs of goat pregnancy during the first three months (Mabeline would be at 3.5 months), and some goats don't "show" at all at any point during pregnancy. Then again, I've seen pictures of pregnant goats with big bumps on both the left and right. Of course we should keep in mind that all of this information has come from goat blogs, so not sure any of it is reliable. 

But still, it's fun to speculate. Pregnant?

Or fat?

I think we'll have the vet come do an ultrasound so we know for sure (yes, they do goat ultrasounds!). It is an investment to prepare for kids (both time and money), and if there's no need to prepare then we'd rather not. But given our lack of experience, we don't want to wake up to kids one morning and not be prepared. So finding out for sure seems like a good idea.

Anyone want to place their bets?

Little Blue Phone

When I left for the Peace Corps in ’99, only a few people had cell phones. The handful of people I knew who had them kept them in their car for emergencies. Texting was not really a thing, and anywhere anytime availability wasn’t really either.

When I came back after my two years in Poland, I think just about everyone had a cell phone. They seemed extravagant to me after living in a dorm room in the school where I taught with a phone that only worked in evenings and on weekends if the school secretary remembered to forward her line up to mine before she left for the day. It was an inconvenience for my parents when they called and the phone would ring endlessly in the school office, but not in my room. They had no other way to reach me. I could make local calls from that phone, but had to walk to a payphone in town to make a call beyond my town limits. I certainly could have gotten a cell phone in Poland, I think they took off there before they did in the U.S., but I didn’t really feel the need for one, and didn’t want to pay for it either, preferring to save as much of my stipend as I could for travel.

But when I came back home, this little blue phone showed up at my door. My dad, who believes everyone should be properly equipped with technology that makes life more convenient, had gotten a family plan and put me on it.

For the first few years, I only used the phone after 7pm and on weekends, when I could call the other three people on the plan (my mom, my sister, and my dad) without using up my limited minutes.

But when David got his own cell, I started using my little blue phone to call him to coordinate meeting up after work or requesting a ride home from school after my evening classes. I also admitted it was handy to have in case of an emergency.

A few years later, I received my first text. I had given the number to a friend who then texted me. I didn’t even know my little blue phone had texting! I started sending the occasional text myself; it wasn’t very efficient because I had to push each button a few times to get to the letter I wanted, but in some cases it was more convenient than making a call.

Eventually, I memorized the little blue phone’s number and started giving it out instead of my landline. I took it with me wherever I went and checked my messages regularly. While others around me started switching to flip phones with cameras and even email, I stuck with my little blue phone. I was used to it and that convenience far outweighed the fancy features a new phone would offer. My dad offered upgrades several times over the years, but I had no need for a new phone. I was happy with my little blue phone, and even more so when just a few months ago, my sister showed me that I could set my phone for smart texting. Whoa. Now I could just type in the letters and the phone would figure out what word I meant. 

I started to notice that I could barely hear the person on the other end, but that was ok. I’m not much of a phone talker anyway. Beside, I got a lot of compliments on my phone with it being 15 years old. How many people can say they got their cell phone when their current college students were five? Not many.

Then, about two weeks ago, I realized I didn’t have any reception near the window in our house where I can usually get two bars. I didn’t get reception in town either, or on campus. Something was wrong. David’s best guess was that the antenna was broken, and that duct tape probably wouldn’t fix it.

Luckily, my dad had a spare phone. It is nearly as old as my little blue phone, but I’d call it an upgrade: it flips open, I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to hear better, it has a little keyboard, and it even has a camera. 

But still, I’ll miss you little blue phone. 

The Rathmore Chaos: An interview with Adam Holt

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend, Adam Holt, about his book, The Conspiracy Game. In just a few weeks, the second book in the Tully Harper trilogy, The Rathmore Chaos, will be available! Once again, I got to interview Adam and ask him some deep questions about Tully Harper, his journey to save his friend, and his exploration of outer space.  

If you'd like a signed first edition, check out Adam's Kickstarter. He is an independent author, and he uses the crowd-funding website for his pre-release. Learn more here!

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The second book in the Tully Harper series, The Rathmore Chaos, comes out March 15. When we left Tully at the end of The Conspiracy Game, he had lost one of his best friends. Can you tell us a little about where The Rathmore Chaos picks up?

Sure. Tully returns to Earth with a lot on his mind. He feels responsible for losing his friend in space. He also feels like a “holstered gun,” in his words: the Ascendant are planning to conquer the Earth, but Tully doesn’t dare to use his powers. He might cause another natural disaster. Fortunately, Sunjay is there to help him deal with the temptation. The story picks up with those two. They’re in hiding, pouring over star maps and looking for Tabitha’s location. The boys don’t have long to find her though. The Ascendant are closing in on them. 

When you set out to write The Rathmore Chaos, did you have an idea of where it would take you, and is that where you have ended up?

Yes. The Ascendant inhabit a very real place in our solar system. Actually, it’s my favorite moon in the solar system, and I chose it from the outset. Its geography lends itself to exploration and action/adventure. I’m certainly not the first sci-fi writer to go there, but NASA has done fabulous research on it the last few years. I wish I could say its name, but that would be a massive spoiler for readers. Tully would never forgive me. 

The backstory of the Ascendant, however, surprised me. I plan to write some of those stories in the coming years. 

In The Conspiracy Game, Tully's relationship with his father and his friends were central in his decision to sneak onto his father's spaceship. Towards the end of the book, a new relationship was emerging: his relationship with the Harper Device. What role does the Harper Device play in The Rathmore chaos? How critical is this relationship to Tully's future?

A great mentor can do so much with precious little time. Professor Dumbledore influenced Harry Potter, but in some of those books, the two of them hardly interact. So it is with Tully and the Harper Device — aka the Sacred. Tully revisits its advice often, but the Harper Device does not try to guide his every step. It “trusts” Tully and lets him act on his own. I think Tully’s dad does that pretty well, too.  

As readers, we have only glimpsed the Device’s power. It has a long and shrouded history. Tully will uncover some of that in The Rathmore Chaos. However, the Device is asleep, and Tully’s powers are therefore unpredictable at best. 

In The Conspiracy Game, Tully and the Harper Device have what I would call a monumental conversation. In my first interview with you, I asked you how your faith influenced your book. Can you comment on how faith influenced this conversation between Tully and the Harper Device?

Good question. There is an undercurrent of mythology and theology in both of these books. So this conversation takes place in a garden. The setting is symbolic. Gardens are sacred places. I had in mind the Garden of Eden and also the Garden of Gethsemane (where Jesus went to pray and was betrayed). So in this sacred place the Harper Device helps Tully process his experience. Once again, he does not tell Tully what to do. He gives him larger, eternal principles to apply to the choices in his life. I really like the phrase “Fight, but do not hate” as a guidepost. The phrase guides Tully, and it comes from my faith experience as a Christian. Jesus called His follower to a radical sort of love. He said, “Bless those who curse you.” That isn’t easy. It’s the kind of love and forgiveness that brings peace out of turmoil, but it demands a real risk of failure. Will Tully take that path, and if so, is it the right one at this time? He puzzles over that quite a bit, as do some of the Ascendant. Not all of them are as evil as the Lord Ascendant, who is their dictator.  As the Device explained to Tully, “They are more like you than you know.” 

What has the Harper Device taught you, as the author, as you've written it into creation and explored its power and knowledge?

If you can’t surprise yourself, you’ll never surprise your reader. Tully was never supposed to touch the Harper Device. He didn’t in my original outline. Then I put the two of them in a room and the rest is history. That scene still surprises me, and it’s fun to read again because I remember thinking, “Tully, why did you do that? That screws up all my plans! Now what’s going to happen?” As an author, I watched my character risked everything for curiosity. I have to do the same thing. 

Can you tell us a little about your writing over the past year? How has writing The Rathmore Chaos compared to writing the Conspiracy Game? 

It was harder in some ways. You will see why when you “descend upon the chaos,” as the Device says. It is one thing to launch a boy and his friends into space on a spacecraft. It is another to send them to an advanced civilization on a distant moon. I drew on mythology, space science, and physics to make it feel realistic and plausible. However, since it was my second novel, some things were easier. The Conspiracy Game was my “first, best effort,” but it drags in a few spots. Reader reviews helped me see that, so I knew how to pace this second book better. Their feedback also convinced me to write in more parts for Little Bacon. Everything is better with bacon, apparently. 

What’s next? 

The book tour. I’ll be doing readings, launch parties, and school visits in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Nashville. Then it’s off to my next project, which is yet to be announced. 

THE RATHMORE CHAOS | BOOK JACKET SUMMARY 

"Tabitha was kidnapped in the Florida Everglades. That's what we told the world, but it was a lie. Now I must find her real kidnappers - the Ascendant - before they return for us all. To do that, I'm going to need a lot of help. And another spaceship. This time it's not for me. It's for the girl that I left behind."

Tully Harper's second trip into space takes him farther than any human on record. Once there, he discovers an alien world full of surprises. He also uncovers the origins of his visions and powers, which he will need in the age to come. 

Face Blindness: Do I know you?

My essay on what it's like to live with Face Blindness is up on Vermoxie! Head on over to read it... then like it and share it, if you are so inclined:-)

Update: Vermoxie is no longer running... so I'm posting the essay here.

Face Blindness: Do I know you?

“Is that the same guy who was just in the last scene?” my dad asks my mom.

“No, dear. He’s the woman’s husband, the one who stole the car,” my mom says of the man on the screen, Colombo’s primary suspect on the hit murder mystery drama.

This was a typical conversation as my family sat on the couch watching 80s TV. Columbo, Dallas, Mash… my dad was always asking my mom to identify the characters for him from one scene to the next.

Now, as my husband and I watch TV, curled up on the couch, it is me who is asking David to confirm who is who.

“Wait, is that the same girl who was just in the restaurant?” I’ll ask.

“No hon,” David answers patiently, hitting pause so he can explain who is who, again. “That’s the journalist, the one threatening to publish the scandalous article.”

These exchanges have always been a part of my life – a normal and necessary component of watching TV. It never struck me as odd that it took the entire first season before I could tell “Vaughn” apart from “Will” in one of my all time favorite series, Alias. David often teased me about my poor facial recognition, but I never thought twice about it. I just chuckled at the similarity between our exchanges and those between my parents twenty years earlier.

But it turns out, my face recognition deficit is real and it has a name: Prosopagnosia. It is defined as a cognitive disorder where the ability to recognize faces is impaired. About two years ago, David sent me the link to an essay written by a man describing what it is like to live with Prosopagnosia. I identified with every aspect of that essay; he could have been describing my life. My dad and I both have prosopagnosia.

I certainly don’t think of it as a disorder, though; it is more of a social inconvenience. And the term face blindness doesn’t really describe what I experience, either. I see faces and I even see details of faces, but I have a very, very poor memory for those details. The threshold for getting a face to stick in my memory seems to be much higher than for the average person. It is possible, though, and there are a large number of people whose faces I can identify instantly, such as my children, husband, close friends, and co-workers I have gotten to know well. Once a face makes it into my memory, it is there for good. A few years ago I reconnected with a high school friend. I hadn’t seen her in nearly twenty years, but I recognized her the minute I saw her, and she looked exactly the same.

But most of the time, I rely heavily on other cues, such as context, hair color and style, accessories such as glasses, clothes, gait, and voice. Of course, everyone uses these cues, but I seem to use them exclusively rather than additionally.

For many years, I was unaware of the fact that I was using these other cues. I assumed I recognized faces, like everyone else. But since David pointed out that I definitely do not fall within normal range of the facial recognition spectrum (and it is a spectrum, just as most cognitive and sensory impairments are), I’ve started to notice that I don’t actually recognize people based on their facial features.

Once, midway through the school semester, a student I had never seen before walked into my class and sat down. I nearly told her she was in the wrong classroom. Luckily I didn’t, because it turns out she was my student, but had dyed her hair from blond to brown over the weekend. At my children’s school, a woman I greeted daily as I walked from my daughter’s classroom to the parking lot simply disappeared from my morning routine. For weeks I wondered why I never saw her anymore, until one day I heard another mom greet the woman I never saw anymore by name on the path to the parking lot. She hadn’t disappeared; she had just cut her very long hair into a bob. In both of these instances, I was astounded by how utterly unfamiliar these women’s faces were to me when their hairstyle changed. I still worry that I offended the woman at school by ignoring her for several weeks, and I wonder how many other people I have inadvertently offended.

Sometimes, my lack of face recognition can be more problematic than simply offending an acquaintance. Once, a man I had never seen before was in our driveway when I returned home from running errands. He greeted me and began talking to my children with a familiarity that made me uncomfortable considering I had no idea who he was. It even seemed he was planning to come inside with me as I unloaded groceries. I grasped for clues as to who he was, rationalizing that I probably did know him. Did I recognize his car? Had he said anything that could at least reveal where we had met?  Finally, he mentioned David’s name and referenced the town he lived in… it was David’s uncle whom we had visited only the week before. He was passing through town and had stopped by our house to say hi. Relieved, I invited him inside.

I have many conversations with people who seem to know me, but whom I have no memory of talking to before. I have learned how to stay in a conversation until some cue in the content of our conversation triggers recognition. Other strategies help hide my lack of face recognition as well. I rarely greet anyone by his or her name. I’ll respond to a “Hi, Karen!” with a simple, “Hi!” because I’m rarely confident enough that I have correctly recognized the person within the first few seconds of an encounter.

I have learned to nod in greeting people who appear to know me as we pass on the street, even if I feel I have never seen them before. I have perfected this nod to pass as either a “Hey, I know you but don’t have time to stop and talk” nod, or a “Hey, I don’t know you, but I’m being friendly” nod, just to cover the bases and avoid offending someone I do know, without coming across as odd to someone I don’t know.

I have learned to accept that I won’t always know who someone is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a nice chat. If I’m lucky, I’ll figure out who it was after the fact, and eventually, the person’s face will cross the threshold of exposure I need in order for it to enter my memory.

Despite the social awkwardness face blindness can cause, it does have its advantages. I excel at out-of-sight and long-distance recognition. From my desk at work, I can identify who is walking down the hall based on the rhythm of their footsteps or the jingle of their keys. When out and about with my husband or children, I am likely to point out a person walking down the street two blocks away, “Hey! There’s so and so!” and I am almost always right, even if it is the middle of winter and the person is bundled up. I can identify people’s voices quickly and accurately based on only a short snippet of a conversation, even if it is someone I barely know. I am also strangely adept at telling apart identical twins; I suppose it is one case in which non-facial features are more useful than facial features.

Most of the time, I don’t think twice about my face blindness. It is simply a part of my life and I have instinctively adapted to minimize the impact it has on my day-to-day. Besides, unless someone gets a drastic haircut or purchases a new winter coat, my recognition strategies are very effective.

I often wonder if any of my daughters inherited this deficit. Over the summer, when my seven-year-old called out in excitement at the Fourth of July race, “Hey! There’s Jacob! I can tell it’s him by his shoes!” I wondered if it was a sign of prosopagnosia, or if she is simply a typical, observant kid who is tuned into the trendy brand of shoes her classmates wear.

Considering I didn’t even know I had a deficit until my mid thirties, it won’t bother me if my children have prosopagnosia as well. I’m sure they’ll adapt, as my father and I have, and if nothing else, those in the family who don’t have it will enjoy a few laughs at our inability to recognize even our most favorite TV characters... or in some cases, our relatives.

Overcoming an obstacle

My biggest obstacle in any fitness program is finding time to do it, but when I dig beneath the typical “I have no time” excuse, I realize I probably do have time, but not for the kind of workout I want to do. What I find most satisfying about physical exercise is the meditative, solitary state I achieve from a long, methodical workout. Bouts of 20 minutes here and there are much less satisfying than a 60-minute run during which I can really sink into my thoughts and get into a rhythm. So while I can surely carve out 20 minutes each day, I’m not so inclined to dedicate that time to exercise, knowing it will hardly be satisfying compared to a good, long run.

But I’m at the point where I have to acknowledge that I’m not willing to give up some of the other stuff I do so that I can go on good, long runs. So, 20-minute workouts it is, starting with Jessie Lucas' Fitness Accountability program.

Jessie is sending me workout plans that focus on the “short burst” technique – shorter duration and higher intensity. When I received her first workout email last Saturday, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to begin this week because I was pretty sure I had done something horrible to my left arm while lifting a 60lb goat into the back of the minivan. (Mabeline did NOT want to leave her true love after their blissful day together at our neighbor’s love chateau, and getting a doe to leave a buck is not easy if the doe does not want to go and the buck does not want her to leave. And have you ever tried to lift a stubborn goat into a minivan? Let’s hope their love was enough to get us baby goats this spring…) So, I sat down to read through Jessie’s workout email, unable to lift my left arm higher than my waist.

But Jessie had outlined several options for the opening 10-minute cardio workout, and I chose one that did not require me to lift my arms. I slightly modified the strength exercises, and then, finally warm for the first time that day, enjoyed a good five minutes of stretching. That was it! 20 minutes of exercise done while my children had their quiet time.

It sure felt good to get in 20 minutes, even if it was only 20 minutes. Doing it three times a week is even better. Then, yesterday I went out for a good hour long, meditative, cross-country ski. I’m pretty sure the long ski felt better having exercised throughout the week, and knowing I’d exercise again this coming week makes the wait until my next long ski much more tolerable.

Want to join me in Jessie’s FREE course, “Make Exercise No Sweat 2015”? It’s not too late – it starts January 22: http://bit.ly/nosweat2015events