Thursday, December 18, 2014

Resisting The Urge To Word Play With Flocked

White Christmas, anyone? It's never gonna happen, not here, not in Sunny So Cal, where rainfall spins us into a weather phenom crisis, where women don scarves and boots with shorts while nursing their non-fat fro-yos.

Baby, it's not so cold outside, and only a lot full of faux-snow flocked Christmas trees, lights on houses, and our miserable sore throats clue me in... it's almost Christmas! It's not that I am Scroogy, Grinchy, or cynical, it's just that sometimes the holidays, the spirited joy, and decorating fervor, elude me. Some years I wish I could hit a pause button, give our taxed systems a moment to catch up with the dates on the calendar, find the gift tags we stowed safely away, and come to terms with some basic truths...

Basic Truths:

1. Pinning beautiful crafts, and snow covered cabins on Pinterest will not translate into a decorated home, and clean floors.

2. Beautiful rain, welcome and good, also brings mud, sad goats, heap loads of clean-up.

3. The sofa is broken. Not broken-in, cozy. Just broken.

4. The cats are never going to toilet train themselves.

We do have a Christmas tree. And after three days, we even put lights on it. No one ever need tell us, "Take it easy! What's your hurry?" And this year, for the first time since 2004, I bought, signed, addressed, stamped, and mailed holiday cards. My feeling of accomplishment, of old-timey traditional social engagement, is off the charts, and only matched by my feeling of dorkiness, and being painfully aware that this achievement is not that great, that a lot of it was actually slightly botched, and a bit too old-timey. Does anyone remember when Christmas cards were of glitter trees, manger scenes, or mice drinking cocoa, and they were simply dated, and signed? Some people included a personal note? I forgot that this is 2014... and Christmas a season's greetings card is a professional portrait of a family dressed in comfortable sweaters, on a beach, or in the woods. They look amazing. Christmas Season's greetings cards might include a single-spaced printed essay... reflections on travels, promotions, awards, and heroic accomplishments. I love those letters. I've noticed people have their friends' addresses printed on labels. Sheer genius, pure brilliance, and organizational fortitude! If I got my act together, and had all my friends addresses in a computer file, and knew how to print labels... you'd better believe I'd mention it in my single-spaced printed essay on our great year of heroic accomplishments.

We don't have a family picture, all of us looking in the same direction, an in-focus portrait. And as I signed our cards, I reasoned that it's fine. It's more than fine, because Chcikenblog Chickenblog is loaded with pictures. We've been sharing chickens, goats, cats, and us all over the Internet, and I am pretty sure everyone gets a general idea about that sort of thing... how we look, what we do etc. Then I thought, what about the essay, the catch-up letter? And again, I was painfully aware that no one can be longing to know what we've been up to lately. I was fiercely tempted to casually include a small url mention of chickenblog.com, tastefully written in a corner of the card, a gentle reminder, for friends who have never heard that I have been banging my head pursuing a career in writing about all sorts of random topics, and hoping to land a book deal, so I can feed the goats, and put a new roof on our house. But thanks to an article I read {ten things not to flock-up in your Seasons Greetings card,} I knew better than to run a business advertisement in our holiday card. And even as I debated all of these things, I also questioned the value and sense of sharing my internal monologue, here. On Chcikenblog. Chickenblog. Apparently, I am a rebel, even against my own good sense, because, as you can see, I am posting all about my self-doubts, missteps, and goofynesses, here on Chiemcmelblog. {Also, hand addressing and signing fifty cards gave me hand cramps and the after-spasms make it difficult to type, or spell correctly, for that matter. (After-spasms are the post cramp wimpiness you feel when you have forgotten how to hold a pen for long periods of time, and cannot immediately recover from the task, but choose to write all about it for your blog.)}

Also, at 2:30 this morning my brain woke me up to inform me that I did not spell Aunt Margie and Uncle Howard's surname correctly. That I left out the T.

Thanks, brain. For waking me, and giving me one more basic truth... I cannot catch all of my mistakes in time to fix them, but I will always have the predawn hours to be tormented by them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Outside With My Camera Before The Storm

My camera card was missing for several days. As soon as I found it, I knew I wanted to go outside, before the forecast rain, and take pictures. I cannot explain why taking pictures calms me, grounds me, makes me happy. Or, maybe I could explain it, but I'd rather just share the pictures.

Mister Washburn Foo is not going outside. He's been parked on this dining chair all morning. From this vantage point he can serenade the gold finches that come to the feeder, the phoebe bird that sits on the back of the chair.










Did you notice Tasha's nose... the picture where she crinkled it up? What a funny expression. What funny goats... chewing on my apron, untying it, too. I wonder if they know rain is coming. I put more straw in their cottage. The chicas have plenty of food, and they're busy finishing the small bits of grain the goats didn't inhale. Ada is wooly. I was watching for that... for the soft wool to grow under her coarser outer coat. Could we be in for a cold and wet winter? Wouldn't that be grand! The flowers love the rain so much more than my hand watering. After our first storm, I could see how much greener, and more lush the sweet peas and snapdragons became. I spy Maria's bean sprouts... experiments for her Junior Master Gardening Class. This makes me realize I should sow carrot and spinach seeds, before the rain starts... perfect timing.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Five Good Things

Lest anyone think keeping chickens is all glossy photo-ops with darling hens, and fresh eggs, I present: Le Muck! Nothing brings the realities of keeping chickens and goats to light like mucking out the run after a big storm! The ground is slick, thick, slippery and mucky, and the goats nearby bleat plaintively, "Why? Why did water fall from the sky, why? Why is the ground squishy and damp?" Because nothing breaks a goat's heart like water falling from the sky. Poor goats. The chickens, on the other hand, are heedless things, with no concern at all about rain, mud, or muck. The chickens see opportunity... things get uncovered, and discovered when I am in the run with my rakes and boots, and they follow me, eager to see what comes out. They scratch, and peck, and coo contentedly. The compost pile grows, old trees get mulched. Then comes fresh straw, and the goats investigate, happy for the dry spots I've laid before them, and the hens go wild. I used to lay down the straw and decoratively spread it about, until I realized that's a chicken's job! They are experts at spreading straw, and it's a task they love very much. With more storms lined up for this week, I'll be deep in le muck again, soon.

Good Things...

1. We enjoyed a spontaneous and productive Arduino play event this week. We love doing things with our Young Makers Club, Love & Rockets :: Art & Engineering.

2. All that rain that came over the weekend! And more on the way! Goats may not be impressed, but it's pure joy for us drought stricken folks.

3. Cough drops, tissues, soup, socks, and naps... okay, I am reaching, here. A bug has settled in, making some of us miserable. I guess without small comforts, it could be worse.

4. Boots. I love boots. Sunny days, rainy days, mucky days... boots give you what it takes to face the job, or just kick up your heels!

5. Texting with my girlfriends. Staying in touch, sharing news, finding help... laughing!

Maria just came downstairs, covering her eyes, and woefully announcing "I think this must be the headache Alex had, because it hurts so much!" She has the fever, too. Not sure what's made her more sad, being sick, or missing her Winter Concert. More soup! More cough drops! More socks, tissues, and naps! But please, no more bugs! I hope you find the good things in your Monday. We try.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Word From the Chicken :: Cluck





To remind myself that...
Everything has a beginning, a middle, and a new beginning.
And it isn't the end until we stop moving forward.
Still moving forward, here.
And feeling rather clucky about that.
Happy Weekend, friends~
With love, from
Natalie, the Chickenblogger


Friday, December 12, 2014

{this moment}

A single photo, capturing a moment from the week.
A special moment. A moment I want to remember.

:: Inspired by Soule Mama ::

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments, for all to find and see.
An honest to goodness FB fangirl moment, with Pink Martini. Brian Lavern Davis and Maria.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Maria's Shiny Christmas Shop Is Open













My mother makes jewelry. Beautiful jewelry, and she is as generous as she is talented. While she was here, she combined her talents and generosity to pass her skills along to her granddaughter. Delia hit the craft store and set Maria up in her very own cottage industry, teaching not just the basics of making earrings, using needle nosed pliers, and assembling bracelets, but also how to calculate expenses, keep inventory, and price merchandise. Maria absorbed every bit of those lessons, and even with Mister Washburn Foo's eager assistance, Maria was incredibly productive! All those shiny baubles, and more, she made in one sitting, and has not tired of it in the least. Last night she added a few more pair of earrings, before hunkering down to finish her homework.

Speaking of shops, local talents, and small businesses... have you finished your holiday shopping? I certainly haven't... Okay, but it's not too-too late, and it can be an extra gift to our communities, and to artists if we shop mom & pop style. Local is great, but I like to at least consider the independent craftsmen, and American made products. Here are some people and business that are small, great, and open for business:

The ToyMaker... Marilyn Scott Waters, another one of those talented and generous artists, has a new book on the shelves: A Year In The Secret Garden is brimming with her lovely illustrations and loads of activities for the young {and young at heart} gardeners on your list.

In the Fiona Gallery you will find custom art and jewelry, with a caring and heartfelt passion for dogs, and cats... especially dogs! Gina Barbosa also has a very personal keepsake bead company. Sisu Beads are thoughtfully made beads, and Gina is just the talented and sensitive person to help you make these unique memorial pieces.

My friend Jill never lost her fangirl passion for music, and she certainly inherited her dad's entrepreneurial savvy, which is why her Etsy shop, Records and Stuff makes so much sense! They take requests, and make custom orders.

Now for something sweet! I know a young man... just out of high school, actually, and he is putting his heart and good taste into his cottage industry with Mother Tucker's Toffee! Following his Great Grandmother Tucker's recipes, Lucas is building a solid reputation for his delicious toffees, and he'd be happy to ship you a box!

Need an elf in your kitchen this year, someone to help with the baking? Karen's Kookies can do it for you, and with her gluten-free options you are sure to find something for anyone on your list. Those Salted Double Chocolate Caramels are irresistibly good!

Abstract and vivid art, custom orders, too... ArtWork by Janece is an Etsy gallery, open for your shopping pleasure.

Shopping for a watercolor painting, something personal? Visit Art Studio: Yanina Cambareri does commissioned art, beautiful pieces that capture people, and places you hold dear.

Have I mentioned our favorite holiday music?? You are going to want to get up dance, when you hear Pink Martini's "Joy To The World" CD!

{For the record, these mentions are not paid for, not bribed, nor coerced. I am happy to pass along a kind word and support for the busy folks and friends in my life.}

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Up and Dance With Pink Martini

We had our annual Christmas in the City outing... in search of music, art, science, good food, lights... all of the above! This year we may have topped all of our outings, past and future. It was too magical to beat. And for extra happiness, we were able to snag one more ticket for my mom... a fitting gift for the Oregon woman who first introduced us to this marvelous, Portland band, Pink Martini. Maria was a toddling, wee thing when we first started playing Sympathique, twirling in the kitchen, and shimmying in the garden. And for the entire drive to Oregon, and home again, we listened to nothing but the beautiful Dream a Little Dream CD... beautiful, gorgeous, a gem. I make playlists for every mood, party, activity, and season, and I cannot think of many that don't include Thomas Lauderdale and his marvelous band.

The night before going to the concert, I dreamt about going to the concert. It was a very happy dream, and I loved the parts of it when I was, in blog-like detail, describing the band, to the point where I was tearing up, feeling deeply enthused. In reality I was hoping we had good seats, and yes... yes, I was really hoping Maria would be able to dance, stand in the aisle or at her seat, and do what she loves, what she can't not do... dance! And then it happened.

We had good seats. Great, really. And the music was stirring, a thrill. Maria and I squeezed hands, she was singing lyrics. Storm Large sang with the purest, most powerful voice I've ever had the pleasure of hearing in a live performance. She has a presence that is riveting, gracious. She moves with her voice, with the band, and weaves all the parts, the instruments, the words, the players into a compelling composition. Fun was happening on that stage, a playful, skilled, collection of artists, who seamlessly project their passion for the music, and bring the audience along for the party.

And then, Storm Large invited the audience to join them on stage, and her words were barely leaving her lips, when I told Maria, "You can dance!" It was a large venue, very formal... imagine the idea of going up onto a stage, with your favorite band playing, bright lights making looming shadows, thunderous applause filling the air, and not surprisingly, Maria was hesitant, but she was the first to accept the offer and reach the stage, and Storm Large herself, took Maria by the hands and led her up, and they danced!

Behind the band the space filled up, and Maria took a place in the midst of all of it, and danced, danced, danced. Shy at first, but after meeting Storm and taking those first steps, she didn't need anymore coaxing. Maria loves dancing. I don't think she noticed anything but the beat, and her joy in moving to the music. This happened four times! They played favorite songs, like Lily, and Brazil, and I thought Maria might burst when Timothy Nishimoto sang Zundoko Bushi! She tried to shake his hand... she really wanted to thank him.


Oh, it was a big one!

I love this band, and now we will have to sell our home, find a place for the goats, and chickens, and travel the world so we can follow Pink Martini, dance, and be mesmerized by their music. It is a happy fate.

Brian Lavern Davis, keeping the beat, danced with Maria, then stepped in for a picture, too. {And I cannot emphasize enough how warm and friendly everyone was... they keep a busy tour schedule, they're playing all over the world, but in that moment, they played and engaged like they were there just for us. It was lovely.}

By the time they announced they were playing the last song, Maria had pulled me out of the wings to dance with her. I'll never forget our dance, sharing her joy, feeling the gift of that special night.

Before leaving the stage, I wanted to get one more picture of Maria, with the band in the shot... and that's when Brian dashed in, again. And he said nice things to Maria, and then...

Then things got even more fun! Storm Large rocked this photobomb!

Dear Storm Large, thank you. Maria is still glowing, and grinning, still singing, and still thrilled to have shaken hands with you. Your singing moved us to tears and happiness, and we hope we have the pleasure of seeing you again.

Yeah, I'd say we had great seats! Didn't use them, much, but they were great. We had fun walking out to the cars, passing my iPhone between us and delving into the pictures and videos. William, Alex, Max and Bambi were happy for Maria... we all knew it was a really special thing to have happened, but she's a special girl. Improbable as it all was, something about it felt just right, like a happy dream.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Bourbon Pecan Cake Smells Like Holiday Jolly Days







All that butter, and bourbon, those cups of packed brown sugar, and bourbon! Whenever I bake this cake, I feel like the holidays are really kicking into high gear! My mom used to make it for gift giving at Christmas time, and I remember dying for a swipe of the rich batter, when I was a little girl. And the warm, sweet smell filling our home right this very minute? It's nostalgic and tempting, for sure, but it's also a bit of torture, because the cakes won't be ready to eat for at least two weeks! After they come out of the oven, I am going to let them cool, then wrap them in bourbon soaked cheesecloth, and seal them up for a long spell. They will get even more amazing over time, but the wait is brutal!

No tree here, yet. In fact there are still pumpkins at our front door. Seems like time is sprinting, and all of the world and its demands, are pounding at the door, but I just putter along at a mid-century pace... 1800-and-something! The faster everything spins, the slower I move, the deeper I slip into wishful reveries, daydreams, and embroidery, or baking. It's pure denial, and self preservation. I smell the last of the cakes in the oven, and they must be ready to come out... I don't think we have enough cheesecloth for twelve loaves and one big bundt! Alas, I will have to go out into that mad spinning world, again! I am dusted in flour, and ready for snow, or caroling, some jolliness! Must be the smell of all that bourbon, butter, and sugar!