Sunday, May 29, 2011

Life is Not Fair

Breaking news: Life is not fair.

I have the proof right here. Guess who got warm sunshine T-SHIRT weather and a picnic with the boys this week? I'll give you a hint- IT WASN'T ME! Oh no, I was slaving away at work while Brent and the kids cavorted around Mount Pisgah and basked in the glory of spring's bounty.

Was there any bounty left for me this weekend? I guess not. Brrrr. It was 53 degrees this morning when we decided to brave the looming rain clouds and hike to the summit. Despite a brief downpour, our hike was fine. A BIT CHILLY FOR THE END OF MAY, but other than that things were just swell. Just swell.

Jack made it to the top (!!) and did so with minimal whining, so that was quite an accomplishment. Then he face planted into the mud on the way down and complained and sniffled about it for at least an hour. Life is not fair.

During a recent discussion with the extended family, the topic of embarrassing stories from one's childhood came up. Does it bother you when your parents talk about the dumb things you did as a child? Evidently some parents practice some discretion when it comes to these stories. My dad does not.

Sure, there are plenty of great stories to choose from. Like the Annie dress I just told you about or the time I was so excited to go on our vacation to Lake Shasta that I packed my suitcase weeks in advance and then forgot it at home. I had to wear my mom's dayglo one piece swimsuit whenever I wanted to get into the water. My cousin Jesse let me borrow some tube socks. I think I was 10. The photo evidence of this trip is totally humiliating.

(And the haircuts! Man, I think my parents should be embarrassed for letting me walk around like that. The home perms? What was my mother thinking??)

Also, for reasons that I will never understand, my dad took me to his evening law school classes when I was 4 or 5. (Now that I am the parent of a four-year-old I really have to question his judgement on this one. What the hell was he thinking?) Anyway, I used to bring along my roller skates and practice up and down the halls while he sat through lectures and met with his cohort. Allegedly I once interrupted a VERY IMPORTANT and SERIOUS meeting by bursting through the door on skates and announcing that I had mastered the art of spinning around (or some other rudimentary roller skating move) and I then proceeded to DEMONSTRATE this new skill, much to the amusement of the onlookers who, so the story goes, stifled their laughter and applauded charitably.

Every once in awhile I run into someone who attended this now infamous law school meeting and I am remembered as the girl with the roller skates. (I suppose that's better than being remembered as the girl with the bad perm... but still.)

I am okay with those silly stories, really I am. I like to laugh and if I have to be the butt of the joke, so be it. But what I really can't stand is the stories that involve teen angst. I was not a very happy teenager. Was it the hormones? The bad hair? The acid washed jeans? Who knows, but I do remember being pretty unpleasant to be around.

Most people go through some sort of a rebellious teenage phase and this is often considered a rite of passage. I did plenty of questionable things in my youth and I am certain that my parents worried plenty about me. No biggie, right? I turned out fine in the end. Except that most people reach adulthood and get to apologize or to laugh about these things in hindsight with their parents. And of course I don't get to do that with my mom. She never got to know the adult me- the one who has her shit together, so to speak.

And that really sucks because I think she and I would get along really well. I bet we would laugh about some of the stunts I pulled and she would cringe right along with me when Jack says and does the terrible things that I remember doing when I was his age.

Instead the stories from my unruly teenage years make me feel sad and empty. I wish that I could go back in time and relive those years so that I could have been a better person in the short time she knew me. I definitely have some regrets. Moments that I replay in my mind wishing I knew then what I know now so that I could say or do the right thing. Or so that I could at least say something.

Sometimes I see my own teenage students being total douche bags to their parents and I want to shake them by the shoulders and shout into their faces. But I know they wouldn't listen. I wouldn't have. Some lessons you just have to learn the hard way. Life is not fair.

And so it is with this perspective that I face Jack's all too familiar emotional roller coaster of meltdowns. But I have to operate under the assumption that one day he will get the chance to apologize (should he feel compelled to do so) and that we'll all laugh about his ridiculous temper tantrums (and the fact that we sometimes had to put him IN THE GARAGE during these epic fits). And of course we'll have the added benefit of consulting the blog archives for evidence...

(Before I forget to document this: Sawyer locked himself in the bathroom last week and Brent had to take off the door knob so we could get him out. I had visions of him ingesting some toxic substance or somehow drowning himself in the toilet, but he had spent those ten unsupervised minutes painting his legs and the cupboard with calamine lotion.)

Thanks for reading this far. Wow, things got kind of heavy there for a minute. Now I have a special reward for you! I know what you're thinking- I've perfected the chocolate cherry bread and I am currently en route to your house with a warm loaf of sweet bready goodness. I wish. No, the reality is that I need more of the original chocolate cherry bread (the one from Eugene City Bakery) so that I can do more... uh... scientific recipe analysis and ... uh... stuff. In other words MORE CHOCOLATE CHERRY BREAD, BRENT!

In the meantime I have been totally distracted by the concept of chocolate cherry brownies and I am pleased to tell you that through a process of rigorous baking and subsequent taste testing, I have found the Holy Grail of Cherry Chocolate Brownies. Or at least I am going to share with you the best recipe I could come up with. Get ready to drool.

Nacho Mama's Chocolate Cherry Brownies
(To the best of my recollection my mom did not ever make chocolate cherry brownies. See, again with the regret! I am certain she would have loved these..)

Melt 1 1/2 sticks of butter with 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate
Add 1 1/2-2 cups of sugar
Whisk in 3 or 4 eggs
(I have a theory that more eggs make the brownies fudgier. Foodies, am I correct?)
Pour in 2 tsp vanilla
Add 1 cup flour
Throw in a pinch of salt
Add 1 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
Toss in 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Bake in a buttered brownie pan for 30 minutes at 350. LET THEM COOL, then dive in. You will either thank me or hate me for this recipe. Either way, you should really bake up a pan of these goodies and take them to your parents and apologize for all of the bad things you did when you were a teenager.

Because I'd give anything to be able to share these with my own mom. And to say sorry for a few things, too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I have any medical training whatsoever (unless of course you count my days at Animal Medical Clinic, which you probably should not) and so I am completely unfit to make any sort of medical diagnosis here but I am pretty sure Jack has some OBSESSIVE tendencies which just might also be COMPULSIVE.

Now before you come along and tell me about all of the weird things you did as a kid and assure me that you grew up to a be a relatively sane person and contributing member of society (we will get to that later), let me say that I am aware that kids do odd things. I, for example, had a COMPLETE and TOTAL infatuation with the movie Annie when I was six. Because my parents were the go-outside-and-play-with-some-pine cones type and not the here-let's-watch-another-movie variety of parent, my fixation with Annie started with the record.


Anyway, I loved that freckled little redhead and distinctly recall jumping and twirling around the room in some sort of bizarre dance routine I had concocted and belting out "Tomorrow" at the top of my little lungs. I also remember realizing that I could not do my enthusiastic pirouettes close to the record player or else it would skip. Ah, those good old turntable days.


My mom fed this obsession by making me a life sized Annie doll (creepy, yes) AND a red and white belted dress (!!) so that I could be JUST LIKE ANNIE! Oh how I loved that dress. I wore it every day. You think I am exaggerating, and I wish I could confirm your suspicion, but alas, I wore that dress EVERY DAMN DAY. In the winter I paired it with green cable knit tights, as a sort of pathetic attempt at a Christmas theme, and as spring approached I came to the horrid realization that the sleeves were getting tighter and my beloved white belt was gradually creeping to the north.

It was a sad day indeed when the Annie dress no longer fit me. I don't know what ever happened to that dress but it might very well be the case that it disintegrated upon my final disrobing.

And then there was my brother and his obsession with... he will hate me for this... Presidential Rummy. Nick had this deck of cards with facts about all of the former US presidents. Apparently rummy could be played with these cards if one was so inclined, but Nick just wanted to carry them around and memorize all of the informative little tidbits about each president. To this day I bet he could tell you Nixon's shoe size.

So you see I come from a background of kids doing, well, weird kid things and so I should have been more prepared for Jack and his strange new obsessions: Band-Aids and caterpillars. So what? My kid wants to wear Band-Aids? No big deal, right? Except that this morning, when he was already donning two freshly applied Band-Aids, he asked me to take him to the SKATE PARK so he could CRASH HIS BIKE and get a REALLY BIG OWIE with LOTS OF BLOOD so that he could have EVEN MORE BAND-AIDS! I've seen weird before. This is super weird.

And then there is the caterpillar. I blame preschool for this and their whole learning about animals and nature and seasons and metamorphosis and all of those other things that led Jack to decide he needed a pet caterpillar. And so sure enough on our walk the other night Jack spied his victim, captured the poor unsuspecting creature, and brought it home. Brent helped Jack imprison the caterpillar in an empty peanut butter jar and that's when the real obsession began. Jack named his new pet Sluggy and walked around the house clutching the jar to his chest and telling us over and over again about how much he loved Sluggy and how Sluggy would need to eat a lot of leaves to grow up to be a big and beautiful butterfly. He kept insisting that I look at Sluggy to determine if he, in fact, had grown since-I dunno-five minutes earlier?

It was an exhausting conversation. And it started to have a sort of Danny's-not-here-Mrs.- Torrance kind of feel to it, which was quite disturbing in and of itself.

During one of Sluggy's many weigh ins, Sawyer came along and snatched the caterpillar from Jack's hand and ran away cackling maliciously. I thought for sure Sluggy was a goner. But when I caught Sawyer and pried open his clenched little fist, miraculously Sluggy had survived the entire ordeal unscathed. Well, physically unscathed that is. Who knows what psychological trauma might have occurred during those harrowing moments in the hands of Sawyer.

So Sluggy was fine, but Jack was now on high alert and he almost missed a trip to Prince Puckler's because he could not BEAR the THOUGHT of leaving his beloved caterpillar at home and I DREW the LINE at taking a glass jar, a caterpillar, a blood thirsty toddler, and an overprotective four-year-old out in public for ice cream.

Sluggy slept by Jack's bed that night and first thing in the morning Jack was up and at 'em with the Sluggy talk. I suggested that Sluggy get some fresh air and so Jack took him out into the back yard where he could exercise the prisoner without the threat of Sawyer looming over them. I think you know what happened next, but I will tell you anyway. Sluggy disappeared into the grass and Jack came tearing into the house screaming and waving his arms in some sort of dramatic reenactment of the escape. By the time we made it back around to the back yard there was no sign of Sluggy. I did, however, make an ominous and silent observation that the chickens were pecking around nearby. Thankfully Jack did not make this connection and is still hopeful that Sluggy will come to his senses and return home. In the interim he has requested that we find a replacement Sluggy.

In other news, want to see something gross? Of course you do!

This is an egg without a shell that our Golden Sexlink (yes, that's really what they are called), Hazel, deposited on our deck while we were sitting around drinking beer and eating pistachios with a friend. So see? Come to my house and a chicken might land on your lap at the dinner table or you might get to witness the laying of a freaky shell-less egg. The fun never stops around here! Friends with chickens, have you seen this before? Is this some sort of omen?

A Sunday morning bike ride near the river:

This is how he wears hats. It suits him.

Sawyer mentally prepares to run his first marathon. And he's off!

To be fair, Jack is not the only OCD candidate around here. I think you know how I tend to get kind of ... um... excited? about food and eating and I freaked out last weekend when Brent brought home a loaf of chocolate cherry bread from Eugene City Bakery. OH MY GOD. So incredibly delicious. I've been thinking about this bread ever since then and wondering how I could replicate it so that I could sneak into the kitchen and make it in the middle of the night and eat the entire loaf all by myself. Oops, I mean I've been wanting to make some because it was so good. And then I could share the recipe with you all and stuff. So yeah, chocolate cherry bread, who has a recipe?

I made chocolate cherry brownies this afternoon as a sort of prequel to the chocolate cherry bread. I WILL find this recipe. The chocolate cherry bread will be MINE!

Obsess much? The apple does not fall far, does it?

And so, in the spirit of over disclosure, I wonder if anyone wants to share about a weird childhood obsession- your own or your kid's- so that my Jack might seem a little less eccentric and that I might be reminded that his particular whims are a perfectly natural part of childhood.

Also, if you've got a recipe for chocolate cherry bread, I am all ears.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Happy Spring

It's that time of the year once again when my world starts to spin faster and faster and despite the extra hours of sunlight I still find that there's not enough time to fit it all in. And so I stop answering my phone. And the laundry piles up. And stacks of mail sit unopened on the counter. Spring is in the air, even if the sun hasn't gotten the memo yet, and our lives are starting to shift into summer. This is a welcomed change and soon the pace of our lives will slow into extended vacation mode, but for now spring is lively.

The menu changes from wintery comfort food to salad and chard and new potatoes sweet onion and kale and cilantro based creations. There are many vegetables to chop and the kitchen compost bucket has to be taken out multiple times a day. The chickens are fat and happy and the garden is starting its slow but epic explosion. We are eating well around here, but eating well takes time and springtime dinners get later and later. Oh well, soon nobody will have to get up early for school.

Jack helped with the first rhubarb crisp of the season. Nothing says spring to me like rhubarb crisp and vanilla ice cream. I am usually of the persuasion that dessert is not dessert unless it is chocolate. I make an exception for rhubarb crisp on a spring evening.

Can you see small fingers attempting to abscond with a loaf of bread during the photo shoot? Nice try, Jack.

And then there are the spring projects. Brent planted an herb garden and another strawberry patch for me for Mother's Day and he's been hammering and sawing and measuring and fence building, too. There are more big changes in store for our backyard this summer including a major move of the chicken house and possibly (possibly!) a new patio. These changes come in light of recent chicken escape attempts which have been thwarted by Jack's watchful eye. I have said it before and now I say it again, it's probably a lot easier just to buy eggs.

My work life is also spinning faster in that high energy end of the year tailspin that begins each May. I rarely mention my job here because I once read that the only way to "have it all" is to be totally present when you are in each of your spaces. So when I am at work I am all business and try very hard not let my mind wander back home, and during my time at home I push all things work related into the recesses so that I can focus on my family and my domain. But sometimes these two worlds collide and I lug home a stack of personal narratives to grade at the kitchen table. But then again, I do find that a nice cold beer sometimes makes 7th grade prose more palatable.

Then there are times when the work that I do does enter into that category of things that I truly enjoy. Like sewing costumes for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"- this is work that I do not mind bringing home, but it certainly keeps me busy. Let me tell you something about Shakespeare and 8th graders: this is a magical and hilarious combination. I have had more "And they actually pay me to do this?" days in the past few weeks than I've had during my teaching career. It's good to love the work that you do.

Jack is not quite ready for sweatshop labor yet, but he will be there soon, and then he can help me with those costumes.

These high energy work days are exhausting and sometimes when I get home the kids are climbing the walls and Brent is in serious need of some alone time. When everyone has a bad case of the afternoon grouchies, I load up the stroller with kids and snacks and we head out for some fresh air therapy. Sometimes I run, sometimes I walk, but whatever we do seems to push a refresh button on the day. My mom used to tell me that things always look better in the morning. I think I will tell my kids that things always look better after a run in the fresh air.

On occasion, the grouchiest person will catch a quick nap in the stroller, blanket in mouth and all.

Often on our runs and walks we play Slug Bug (minus the arm punches, of course) and I sometimes wonder if the people driving those little Volkswagens have any idea how much joy their vehicle purchase decisions bring to my kids. They must have some clue when both kids start gleefully screaming and wildly gesticulating, but I have noticed some drivers who seem confused by all of the attention. Our stroller time is also enhanced by fire truck sightings and I get all cheeseball sappy sentimental when the fire fighters notice my kids' small hands waving in the air and take the time to ring that little bell in response. I hope they know how much this simple gesture means to my little people. Again, it's good to love the work that you do.

If we walk to run errands, we pass by several fast food restaurants and the kids never miss an opportunity to yell at the "yucky food place" and complain about the wafting stench of fryer grease. I guess my hatred of all things fast food has left a lasting impression on my kids. I think this is a good thing, but they need to become a bit less vocal in their protest. People in the McDonald's parking lot sometimes stare.

During the middle of the week we had a chaotic episode which I think epitomizes our lives right now. The incident involved a missed 5K, a lost sweatshirt, and a soccer game. In that order. I planned to run a race that evening and so Brent helped me rally and feed the troops while I heaved the stroller into the car. As I hopped through the house attempting to singlehandedly tie my running shoe, my phone rang with the news that the race started half an hour earlier than I had thought. We would never make it. But this mama doesn't get all suited up in her running gear for nothing and so I decided we would run down the bike path to the gym and watch Brent play with one of his soccer teams. The kids seemed agreeable to this idea and we were just about to hit the road when Jack realized he'd left his hoodie at the park that morning. His favorite super-cool-from-the-big-boys-section skateboard sweatshirt that was a birthday gift from Grandpa Curt. In other words MY SWEATSHIRT! I NEED MYYYYYYYYY SWEATSHIRT! Insert hysterical crying which resulted in hysterical hiccuping. And so for the third time that evening I changed the plan and we set off running in the direction of the park. I confess that my stomach began to get that sinking feeling when Jack started to entertain the possibility that his sweatshirt might not be waiting for us at the park. Why would somebody take my sweatshirt? If a kid stole my sweatshirt, I would be mad at him. Kids who take sweatshirts aren't my friends. And on and on. Thankfully as we approached the park, Jack spied his beloved sweatshirt hanging from the bench and I silently thanked the universe and the neighborhood miscreants for sparing my kid that horrible feeling of losing something that you love. Even if it is only a hoodie.

We made it to the soccer game just in time to see Brent in action. When dad scores a goal and we all actually SEE IT, it is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. And so it was all worth it.

And on Friday night we grabbed bikes and burritos and went to the part for a family date night. It was definitely date night at the park and I overheard one couple's obviously first date awkward banter that left me alternately cringing and gagging as I eavesdropped under the guise of pushing Sawyer on the swing. This was a textbook first date conversation topic: If you knew you were going to be stuck on a deserted island, what one thing would you bring? I missed his response (I suppose some child's need was being met or something irrelevant like that) but when she said "Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five" I wanted to lean over and tell her to stop trying so hard. Really? A book that you've already read? C'mon. Get real. Don't get me wrong, I love Vonnegut as much as the next well-read urban hipster, but how about an emergency flare? A life raft? Some food? Booze? When the conversation devolved into what drink you would bring and he said "water" I bit my tongue to keep from yelling at her to ditch this guy, who was obviously not trying at all. I don't think they will have a second date, but who knows. Reason and love keep little company now-a-days, to quote my old pal Will Shakespeare.

But back to my pseudo date: We set up picnic on a bench and the kids scarfed down their dinners and took off on their bikes. Brent and I sat on the bench, dining alone in the peaceful quiet following the wake of our exuberant offspring, and for a moment- a fleeting moment- it was almost like a real date. The boys rode around and around and around the park and the wind carried their laughter across the grass and over to our ears. Right then I wished for my camera- not only to capture the moment for the kids, but to capture our moment for us as well. I caught a small glimpse of our future and was struck by the idea that one day we will come full circle and it will be us alone on the bench every night.

No matter where I am or who I am with or what I am doing I almost always have my camera. I've found that photo opportunities come knocking at unexpected times and places and I hate to be standing there surrounded by beauty and cursing myself for leaving the camera at home. I've heard a lot of people say that the point-and-shoot is the way to go when you have kids, but I never mind dragging around the big guy so that I can get the shot I want. Once you get in the habit of carrying around a camera with you at all times, you almost feel naked without it. Looking at the world through my camera lens has helped me to see the loveliness in everyday moments. And I think that sometimes by capturing the moment with a picture I am more able to recognize its significance. No matter how quickly these moments seem to pass.

When the moments start passing too quickly, as they have been lately, I know it's time to pull up a chair, grab a brew, let those essays wait, and chill the eff out for awhile. Because spring comes only once a year and we all need to kick back and enjoy the hell out of it while it lasts. So happy spring to you, may your days be long and your cups be full and your kids be happy. (And may that sun continue to shine... Please?!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lazy Moms and Potty Talk and Signs of Spring

Edited to add: I'm not sure what happened with Blogger yesterday but clearly there was some sort of catastrophic cyber hiccup that resulted in this post and several comments getting deleted. Oh well. I guess the internet is a fickle friend. I believe the original post was perhaps wittier or more eloquent, but to the best of my recollection it went a little something like this...

I briefly lost Sawyer the other morning. I would love to tell you that this was an isolated incident, but in truth he does tend to disappear from time to time. When I heard his maniacal laughter coming from the deck I knew he'd gotten ahold of the garden hose. I stepped into the pouring rain to behold this sight:

I dunno- this is just so him. So very Sawyer. And yes, underwear again because... Sawyer is a VERY BIG potty using boy.

(Sob. My baby is growing up. But at least my washing machine will get a well-deserved reprieve.)

Jack has been doing a lot of potty talk lately and not the pleasant mind if I use your powder room? kind. He is all about the pee and poop jokes and butts are now the funniest things in the ENTIRE WORLD (maybe I would be laughing more if I had one. Oh you never noticed? I have no junk in my trunk. None. At. All. And for those of you who think that having no butt is better than having a big butt need to think again. At least your pants stay up. )

Anyway, all this potty talk has been driving me crazy but has also generated some enthusiasm about bodily functions and suddenly Sawyer wants to wear BIG BOY underwear and use the potty. So thanks, Jack. I guess. The topic of potty training seems to come up in conversation a lot in my world and so I think I'll weigh in with my own Lazy Mom's Approach to Potty Training. Here goes:

1. Use cloth diapers with your babies. You should do this whether or not you want to potty train early because of that whole not destroying the planet thing. If you do wash your own, though, you will want to get those kids out of diapers post-haste. Trust me.

2. Start whenever you and your kid are ready. Our pediatrician told me not to even think about potty training boys until 2 1/2. Both my boys were ready before that and there you go. I guess you know your own kid best.

3. Put your kid in underwear. Get ready for some accidents. A little pee and poop is really no biggie, especially if you've been washing diapers for the past two years. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, so resist the urge to hover over your child and whisk him/her off to the potty every five minutes.

4. That said, toddlers are like puppies, you take them out a lot. We have always let the boys pee outside and let's face it, boys of all ages enjoy peeing en plein air. I bet girls do, too.

5. We double up on underwear when we go out in public. We always pee before we leave the house.

6. Chocolate chips are a fun reward. Hugs and high fives seem to work even better.

7. Pull ups are diapers. Skip those.

8. Be patient. Rome was not built in a day.

9. This seems like a lot of work. Why is this the Lazy Mom's Approach to Potty Training? Because lazy moms do not want to be changing diapers for the next year. Lazy moms want to get this potty party started.

And the other party that I want to get started? Spring. What the hell, weather?! I've been searching for signs of life, for evidence that spring will eventually arrive. I found some snippets of color that give me hope. Still, actually reaching 70 degrees for once would make me feel even more optimistic.

It is hard to feel springlike when you are still wearing your fuzzy winter socks. Also, just fired up the wood stove, AGAIN.

And then there was Mother's Day. I am sure Brent had some elaborate plans to pamper me and he must have been crestfallen when I decided to head north to spend the day with my dad's family. In the spirit of divide and conquer, I took Jack and Sawyer stayed home with Brent.

Did your Mother's Day brunch start with a round of homebrew? Mine did.

Jack was a perfect little gentleman who ate with us and then played legos and colored as we sipped our drinks around the table. And let's face it, at this point in my life, a sit down meal that is uninterrupted by potty talk or potty needs just might be the best Mother's Day gift of all.

That homebrew was pretty damn good, too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Having Chickens

Petunia Chicken
Marchish 2011-April 28, 2011

Requiescat in Pace, Our Little Feathered Friend

A terrible crime occurred on our back deck last week. Petunia the chicken was savagely murdered by a ruthless possum. Brent and I were busy getting ready for bed when we heard an ominous scuffle out the sliding glass door. We arrived just in time to witness the carnage but were unable to subdue the vicious killer before the damage had been done.

Brent gallantly chased away the offending possum and comforted poor Petunia as she took her final breaths. Meanwhile I cowered and trembled in the house, wringing my hands and being generally useless. Brent disposed of the corpse and cleaned up the gruesome scene as best he could as I continued to be totally inept.

"This is part of having chickens," he told me. I know that he's right and I get that whole cycle of life thing, but it still sucks to see your baby chick ravaged by an evil rodent (possums are actually marsupials, I discovered, but I consider them to be much more rat-like than kangaroo-like and so I will continue to refer to them as rodents with the acknowledgement that this is scientifically incorrect.). It suffices to say I felt pretty traumatized by the whole event.

Luckily the kids were sleeping and remained blissfully ignorant of Petunia's unfortunate demise. Brent and I contemplated telling Jack that she had simply disappeared, but then we both realized that he was old enough to handle the truth, albeit grisly. Also, I did not want to give him false hope that she would be found. That would be cruel. I tossed and turned all night long wondering how we would break the news to Jack. Surely there would be tears. I would need to offer some consoling hugs and perhaps muster up a reassuring little speech about life feeding on life and possibly some carpe diem mumbo jumbo. I was sick to my stomach in anticipation of this dreadful conversation.

When we woke up the next morning I swallowed the lump in my throat and prepared to break the awful news. Brent beat me to it with a simple recap of the events. Jack blinked his eyes a few times as the finality of Brent's words sunk into his brain and then said with more conviction than I thought possible for a four year old, "Dad, we need to GET that possum!"

The perpetrator is still on the loose, FYI. But that rodent better watch its back.

For now the garden hose is our primary line of defense, but if any more chickens meet Petunia's ghastly fate, we might have to bring out the big guns. Metaphorically speaking.

We'll come back to the chickens in a minute, but now I want to show you what a dinner party looks like at our house. On the menu: cheese pizza, peas, and salad. I LOVE seeing my kids cultivate new friendships.

Also, please tell me that thanks to my continuous and somewhat hysterical raving you have already purchased VCFE. Please! Trust me, it is worth the hefty price tag. I use this book almost every day. In fact, I will probably no longer be posting any new recipes because EVERY SINGLE THING I MAKE lately comes from this book. Seriously, buy it. Now.
(Or don't. That's cool, too. Just don't come crawling to me when you need a recipe for kick ass banana oat muffins. Yes that's right, I said kick ass muffins.)

I made a double batch and sent some over to the neighbors. We gobbled a few (okay, more than a few) and I threw the leftovers into the freezer thinking we could toast them later on in the week for breakfasts. Jack was so distressed by the freezing of these muffins that he actually ate a frozen one because he just could NOT wait for the thaw. Thankfully he lost no teeth.

And now to return to the saga of the chickens. Daisy, the survivor of the possum attack, appeared to be suffering from PTSD. She was extra jumpy and fearful and spent the entire day peeping around the yard looking for her dead sister. Anyone who thinks chickens are dumb or don't have feelings is crazy. Watching Daisy's fruitless search was heartbreaking. We had to do something.

Brent consulted with some chicken aficionados and confirmed that Daisy needed a companion bird. These flocking animals need each other and because of that whole pecking order business, hanging with the big girls, Ruby and Hazel, just wasn't going to cut it. So we decided that we needed another chicken and pronto.

The only problem was that a good companion for Daisy would have to be approximately her age and while it is easy to find baby chicks for sale, tracking down a teenage bird is a bit more challenging. But Brent was up to the task and finally located a two month old chicken for sale. In Marcola.

We loaded the kids and the pet taxi into the car and off we went. It turned out that our chicken salesman was a thirteen year old farm kid who raises and sells chickens in his spare time. If there was ever a poster child for buying a farm and homeschooling your kids, he was it. He gave us his business card as we left. A thirteen year old with a business card? I loved him.

This is Penny.

Anyone who has ever attempted to photograph chickens will understand why this is the best I could do. You really can't see her unique coloring from these shots but rest assured I will provide plenty more chicken portraits in the near future.

When we got Penny out of the car and brought her around to meet the girls, Daisy immediately heard her singsong peeps and came running to meet her new companion. They scampered off into the bamboo together to preen and to gossip about Ruby and Hazel. Again, people who think chickens don't have feelings are wrong. This experience totally reaffirmed my desire not to eat my feathered friends.

And so it would seem that the story of the new chicken is over, but there is an epilogue.

Penny appears to be quite an intelligent chicken and it seems she might be teaching the other girls some of her tricks. It didn't take her long to figure out how to get through the hole in our sliding screen door and enter the house. The other day I was washing dishes and a creepy sensation came over me, like I was being watched. I turned to see Penny standing in the middle of the kitchen staring at me with her beady little chicken eyes. Don't get me wrong, I love these birds, but it is super disturbing when they sneak up on you like that.

Anyway, on Sunday it was sunny and warm (can I get a hallelujah?) and so we invited our friends Kate and Aaron over for dinner. You remember my friend Kate? The one with the perfect hair?

They arrived for fish tacos and a few beers and I held their beautiful daughter Nora for so long that my arm felt like it would fall off (where is that muscle memory when you need it?). We had finished up dinner and were sitting around the table when the little chickens appeared at the sliding glass door. Brent went out to put them in the chicken house but as soon as he opened the door, Daisy flew inside. No biggie- I've had chickens in the kitchen before- we just needed to shoo her out. But when we attempted to do this, she panicked and jumped up onto the table. At this point we were all experiencing the strange sensation of laughing uncontrollably while simultaneously freaking the eff out, because really THERE IS A CHICKEN ON THE KITCHEN TABLE!!! I lunged for her and in the ensuing commotion she somehow landed on Kate's lap. Kate's lap which was also holding THE BABY!

Finally I was able to grasp the wayward bird and send her clucking out the door, and I suppose all is well that ends well, but I am not sure that Kate will ever want eat food off my kitchen table ever again.

"This is part of having chickens." Yes, it is.