Monday, August 3, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of August 3, 2015: Back to Work Plans!!!

Although we school year-round, I haven't written these weekly work plans since March. First, Will was being extremely defiant about doing her work, so I made plans only for Syd for a while, and left Will to read and putter and mind her own business. After a few weeks of that, Will wanted to work again, so I began to make daily plans for the children on a dry erase board.

The daily plans worked really well, and I would still be doing them, except at our family meeting yesterday we discussed several school issues--what foreign language should we study, who wants to learn a musical instrument, how is the schedule working for everyone, etc.--and I learned that both children would prefer going back to weekly plans. In addition, Will would like a five-day school week with fewer assignments per day, and Syd would like the four-day school week that comes with having more assignments per day, so the weekly work plans allow me to set up a Friday school day that consists entirely of independent work; Will can complete that work on Friday, with minimal assistance from me (so that I get more of a break), and Syd can work ahead throughout the week and have Fridays free.

Will also promised to help me make my work plans every Sunday, so yesterday she collated math assignments and researched educational ipad apps while I fleshed out our week:

Add to this a few daily chores, consisting of whatever I especially need done that day, and a daily book for each kid, non-fiction or a living book, on whatever subject I think is interesting--this week it's a lot of horse books, a couple of art books that focus on mosaics, a picture book of the Trojan War, and an interesting how-to-write-stories book.

Memory work this week consists of the World War 1-era poems that the children are memorizing--"Anthem for Doomed Youth" for Will, and "In Flanders Fields" for Syd, and daily work on their foreign language of choice, beginning Tuesday. Next week, I'll likely add the state capital and main islands of Hawaii.

MONDAY: We'll be back at our weekly volunteer gig today after two weeks off for traveling and day camp. I consider that service learning, and count it as part of our school day.

In math this week, Will is still working on decimals, and Syd is finishing up a four operations review and then working a little more on graphs.

I don't know how really essential word ladders are, but the kids enjoy them, it's a puzzle, and it gets them thinking about vocabulary and spelling in a new way.

For our World War 2 unit study this week, the kids have timeline figures for 1939 to put into their World War 2 notebooks, and then one evening this week, Matt will give us a lecture on the events of 1939. It would never have occurred to me, but the children, especially Will, LOVE these history lectures by Matt. And since he minored in history, he enjoys them, too, and he's good at them.

One funny thing that both children wanted written into the schedule, as discussed at our family meeting, is play time with each other. I've never denied them play time, nor asked them to stop playing to do something else if it wasn't absolutely necessary, so I'm thinking that this is more of a recognition by them that their time together is important, important enough to be on the schedule. When I asked them, during the meeting, how long they thought that they'd play together each day, their estimates were both around 2.5-3 hours. Cute little kids.

TUESDAY: I don't really have a unit on mosaic art planned, but my Girl Scout troop made a large outdoor mosaic as a service project for our local food pantry a few weeks ago, and the kids enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd introduce them to a couple more mosaic-making activities, and a little of the history behind the art form. I'd wanted both kids to make mosaics using dyed beans inside clear CD cases, but I could only score one old case of just the kind that I wanted, so I think that I'll also set out my button stash and and let each kid choose a bean mosaic in a CD case or a button mosaic on canvas.

Our library has a Mango Languages account, so we can learn, like, a billion foreign languages for free online. Both kids expressed interest in continuing Mandarin (which was a shock to me, as I hadn't gotten the impression that they'd super enjoyed their classes last semester), but both also expressed interest in learning Hawaiian before our October trip, so after we set up their accounts, I'll let them play with both before I ask them to commit. This will then become not a school assignment, per se, but a part of their daily memory work study.

The volume measurement and conversion activity with Will went so well that I'm going to do it again, this time with grams. This time I'll also include Syd; she can help with measurement, and Will can do the conversions. I've got several large batches of dyed rice that I think they'll have fun working with, and unlike the volume measurements, we can keep these permanently in Ziplock bags. Yay for making our own math manipulatives!

WEDNESDAY: Syd has a few Girl Scout Junior badges that she's already been working on, but this will be a good time for Will to look through her Cadette book and choose something that she's interested in. I like to turn their badge work into mini unit studies, so I'm excited to see what she'll choose. Syd will likely continue working on the activities for the Jeweler and Detective badges that she's begun; we lost our decoder wheels in the move last year, so that activity might be a fun one to try next.

Both kids still enjoy Magic Tree House Club, and I can't say enough about the way that their teacher, Ms. Roni, keeps the kids engaged while adding geographical, historical, and scientific context to each Magic Tree House book. This month's book is A Good Night for Ghosts, so I imagine that the children will learn a lot about New Orleans and Louis Armstrong during their club meeting.

The children also enjoy the children's LEGO Club that meets monthly at our public library. It involves group work and problem solving... and LEGOs! Even though something like this would be an extracurricular activity for children in schools, for mine, I incorporate it into their school day, simply because any structured activity takes time away from unstructured activities, and I consciously limit the hours each day that the children spend following someone else's agenda.

THURSDAY: I count Park Day as part of our school day for the same reason. Yes, it's just a playgroup for homeschooled children, but it's not the same thing as free time. It also takes hours, and Will has horseback riding class after it, so if I had them buckled down on schoolwork for the entire morning, then when would they chase butterflies and pick peppers from the garden and play LEGOs and look at stuff under the microscope (this, by the way, is a list of the activities that the children have done so far this morning; we haven't yet started school, because who would interrupt THAT?)?

I LOVE these customizable maps from Megamaps, and I use them all. The. Time. I printed out a 3x3 map of the Hawaiian islands, and the plan is to have the children watercolor the ocean, then label the islands, the state capital, and some of the destinations that we know we'll be visiting in October--Pearl Harbor, Volcano National Park, perhaps Mauna Kea, the southernmost point in the US, etc. Later, the children will be adding other destinations, sites of historic note, and geological features.

FRIDAY: The kids never use the tons of educational apps on our ipad, and it rarely occurs to me anymore to ask them to, so for a while we'll be going on a little weekly tour of our apps, I suppose. We can delete the ones that the kids don't enjoy, and it'll hopefully help me remember to assign the others where they're relevant.

Syd requested that we study dinosaurs some more (I swear, is there ever a time when we're NOT studying paleontology?), and that reminded me that although we completed most of our fossil unit last year, we did not ever get around to actually cleaning and displaying our fossils! No better time to remedy that than now.

Correspondence isn't the truly substantive task that it used to be back when handwriting and sentence formation were major skills, but it's still useful to keep in practice, and when both children owe letters, anyway, then it's a fine time to review handwriting and sentence formation.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY: Often we've got extracurriculars or special events on the weekends, but this weekend is totally unscheduled, which is also nice. We need to reinforce the chicken yard, and the kids have been wanting to make caramel apples for some random reason, and there's always something good playing at the drive-in next door.

And that's our week!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Amazing Adventures of Tagalong Catdog

We met this sweet kitty back in January, when she politely came up to the porch and meowed for some supper:

I gave her that supper, of course, and then it became part of the kids' daily chores to make sure that Tagalong, as we named her (it was Girl Scout cookie season then, as you might recall), always had food and water. I didn't think she was abandoned, as she was a healthy weight and didn't have the look of a stray; I figured that she was simply a neighborhood roamer, a cat with a family who wasn't averse to hitting up another family for regular snack-times. I mean, you've never seen a more friendly, loving cat than Tagalong; clearly there was someone out there who was treating her right. Our own Spots, you might remember, was infamous for this in our old neighborhood, and even had people who would let her into their houses for a nap on their heating vent.

As winter moved into spring, however, it became clear that if she had some other families out there, she didn't like them as much as she liked us, and she became a fixture in our yard. I put her photo on our town's Lost and Found Pets Facebook page, although nobody on that page or in the newspaper had ever reported her missing. Matt wanted to drop her at the animal shelter, but Syd became hysterical every time he brought it up; those months that Spots was lost last year were hard on everyone, especially this kid who just wants everyone and everything to be happy.

"We can keep her for now," we finally decided, "but she is NOT coming into the house."

It wasn't long after that declaration that I let her into the house. I mean, of course. After that, she spent most of her days completely blissed out on a pillow on the couch, looking comfier than any cat has ever looked before.

The drive-in doesn't open until summer, so we don't see the owners for much of the year, but early in the season, one of the owners, Mark, stopped by to chat. As we're hanging out on the driveway discussing whatever, Tagalong comes strolling past. Mark stops mid-sentence, his mouth hanging open, then says, "CATDOG?!?"

Mark and his family live on a farm a few miles from us, and they have a lot of animals, but Catdog, a large grey tabby, was Mark's special pet. She always seemed to know when he was about to go somewhere in his truck, and she'd jump right in for the ride. But Catdog had gotten lost sometime in the winter, when Mark was working in a different state and relying on his kids to keep things going back at the farm, and nobody had ever been able to find her.

It turns out that during that winter, his boys had taken the truck over to the drive-in to check on it one day. That night was the first night that Catdog never came home to them.

The next day was when a friendly grey tabby came to our door and meowed for some supper.

We'd kept their cat for them for four months without them knowing, right next door to their own drive-in. Catdog had never had a chance to even see Mark, because I make all the animals come in on the weekends before the drive-in opens; I'd shooed her inside, some days, just as Mark was pulling in next door to prep the concession stand and open the gates.

Mark didn't want to take her back from us, because we'd had her so long and the kids clearly loved her:

But I could tell that Mark loved her, too, and frankly, our two cats never did get used to her, and bullied her something fierce. What would they all three do shut up in our house together while we enjoyed our summer travels?

Anyway, she just wasn't our cat, although we sure did love keeping her for a while:

Tagalong finally went home with Mark a few weeks later, and although she didn't want to go (we had to shut her inside an old birdcage of Mark's to get her to go with him), he reports that she's happy as a clam now and back to her usual business.

Our Spots wasn't as lucky as Tagalong when she got lost last year; she did a lot of roaming, and had gotten pretty wild by the time we found her again. She'd clearly also been treated right by a lot of people, however, and the person who called us about her said that she'd been hanging out in his neighborhood for weeks, living off of handouts. As happy as I was that Spots had some help during the time she was lost, and that we had help finding her, it also made me happy that we got this chance to take care of someone else's cat for them, too, to feed her and love her and keep her, it turns out, close enough for them to find her again.

It's lost cat karma, y'all.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ravenden Springs

We don't always make it down to my family's yearly meet-up in my grandparents' hometown in the Arkansas Ozarks, but this year we did. Ravenden Springs is a very small town, probably what you imagine when you imagine Arkansas living, and the small country cemeteries around it contain almost all the ancestors that we know.

abandoned church at one of the cemeteries that we visit

Not a direct ancestor, but if he's an Allison and in this cemetery, then I'm related to him!
We bought crayons and sketch pads to do headstone rubbings, but Syd also liked to copy them.

This is my great-grandfather, who died when Pappa was between the ages of my two kiddos. When he died, Pappa had to leave school and go to work full-time to support his mother and siblings.
I should mention that the kids, though they were troopers, were bored to tears during this trip. They come by it honestly, at least, because I remember these trips as among the most boring events of my childhood, battling for the honor with visits to my great-great aunt (six-hour drive to St. Louis, sitting for the rest of eternity in her apartment flipping through a Norman Rockwell coffee table book, six-hour drive back home, with ZERO sightseeing during the entire duration of the trip. Seriously, people. We were in St. Louis! Take me to the freaking zoo, why don't you?!? Or maybe, I don't know... the ARCH?!?). 

I, however, now that I'm grown, really enjoy revisiting each cemetery and special spot in this small town:
The list of graduates of the Class of 1944 from the Ravenden Springs school, which taught all grades in a single building. My grandmother's name is at the bottom of the list.
Part of the old school building is now used as a town hall.
Another part of the building is used as the town library.
 We also get the chance to meet up with the distant relatives who still live in the area, as everyone comes out to the same cemetery on the same day to clean it up, put flowers on the graves, and visit.
One guy brought a bunch of his family's old photos. 

I love looking at all the details in old photos. Check out that kid's dress! And their dolls! And that guy's fedora! And that little girl's giant hair ribbons!
This is definitely one of the traditions that made my family what it is, one of the defining aspects of my family, and it's the centerpiece for a lot of what I want my children to know about what it means to be a part of our family. Things like yes, your great-great-great grandfather did fight for the Confederacy. We can go visit the battlefield where he fought on our next trip.

Yes, all these graves do belong to very young children. They're your Pappa's brothers and sisters.

Yes, many of these headstones are homemade. Store-bought headstones are very expensive, so many people made the headstones for their loved ones themselves. See the carving marks?

No, there wasn't always a store here. This used to be a field where your Pappa worked every day when he was your age. No, he didn't go to school. Remember all those brothers and sisters? He had to earn money to take care of them.

Look, here's your Nana's grave. You didn't know her, but she made the best peanut butter cookies, and she always put cherry icing on top.

Yes, I know you're bored. Get out of the car anyway and come look at more old graves with us.

Yes, you are getting on my nerves, actually. Go have your cousin take you to poke around inside that abandoned church for a while.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I probably will be buried here on top of this mountain, too, a million miles from everywhere, just to make you come back every now and then and keep remembering for me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

We Painted the Deck Furniture Crazy

This deck furniture is nothing special. It came with the house, so had been sitting outside on the deck for at least four years before we bought it, and it sat outside for another full year before it occurred to me to do anything with it, and that only happened because one piece of it, two chairs connected by a table in between, completely broke apart in my hands as I tried to move it to a new spot.

Can't have the deck furniture coming apart in one's hands, or under one's butt, now can we?

The furniture clearly needed paint and sealer, but I didn't want to paint all that by myself. Will painted one chair last year (and that one's holding up great--thanks, Will!), but that experience was tedious enough to teach her that she did not want to paint all that, either.

So let's make a list:

  1. The deck furniture needs to be painted.
  2. Nobody wants to do the job.
  3. The paint does not need to be cute, because the furniture is nothing special.
What can I do to tempt the family into helping me simply get paint onto deck furniture?

I'll tell the kids that we're going to CRAZY paint it!

Before the kids were born, Matt and I spent a summer on the porch of our rental house, taking turns reading to each other from the porch swing and crazy painting my mother's old rocking chair. We painted it in a riot of colors and patterns using Matt's old art school acrylics, and although the rocking chair was ugly as hell, we had a fabulous time together doing it. How nice would it be to recreate that happy memory with the kids?

Will helped me prime all the furniture (thank goodness for our paint sprayer! Watching her contentedly prime this furniture gave me the realization that after this particular project, I just need to hand a kid a paint sprayer to get anything that I want painted. Next time!), and then I brought out all our craft acrylics and all our artist acrylics and explained to the kids that we could paint all the furniture however we wanted, doing whatever we wanted. Syd immediately then, of COURSE, chose the ugliest technique in existence:

Splatter paint. UGH!

Oh, well. All that matters is that paint is on the furniture. It does NOT have to be cute.

Process not product, My Friends! I just have to remember process, not product.

And maybe that particular chair will need to be repainted next year, darn.

Neither kid had bottomless levels of enthusiasm for this project, but they were happy enough to come out and paint off and on for a few days running:

I even got Matt to paint with us a couple of times!
Notice that in this photo, Syd is actually painting the driveway, not the furniture. Sigh...
 The finished furniture, all painted and sealed, is not going to win any beauty awards--

Especially this one. Ugh!
I added some image transfers to this one, just for fun.
--but it's all got paint on it, which was the point of the process. I got plenty of help putting that paint on, I got everyone to work together a couple of times, and everyone is able to take ownership of the final product.

And we'll have more fun with it next year when it turns out that we have to repaint that one chair, because oops, I forgot to seal it!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

World War 2 Unit Study: The Kids Interviewed a World War 2 Veteran

The kids and I took a very brief trip to Arkansas last week. The trip's purpose was to assist family, not to visit and sightsee, and so it wasn't the most fun for the kids. I had intended to take them to a brand-new water park in my hometown, but it rained every day. They longed to see their favorite aunt, but there was a death on their uncle's side of the family, and so she had to be with them and never got to take the kids for snow cones. We spent hours in a hospital waiting room, and more hours in a physical rehab center's room. We received the very sad news about the death of Will's chicks. On vacations, I tend to spoil the kids with new and exciting things to see and do every day, so this wasn't the type of trip that they're used to.

Nevertheless, family did what they could to make it fun for them, of course. Upon our arrival, my mother presented the children with a huge stack of coloring books, which kept them both--even Will!--quite happily entertained for much of the time. My aunt left a bag of dress-up clothes for Syd back in our bedroom--darn it, we forgot to bring those home with us! And on the way to Arkansas, we visited not the zoo, which we had intended (so. Much. RAIN!!!), but the St. Louis Science Center, which is always a huge hit:
Syd was like, "I don't get it," so I said, "Lift up your left leg"...
This sensory illusions exhibit was awesome, but super frustrating to visit with this kid, who likes to have the correct answer at all times, does NOT like to be "tricked," and insisted, at every single station (except that mirror one, which genuinely wowed her) that she was not fooled.
I love myself a good zoetrope!
Okay, THIS was super cool! We have seen catenary arch models to build at every single science center we have ever been to, but never before have we seen this horizontal, gridded version that allows you to really study the mathematics!
Cross-beams are very important. I want to swing back, later this summer, to an earthquake unit that we briefly hit a while ago, and one of the things that I want to emphasize in this unit is earthquake-proof construction.
If there's a fossil, this kid will find it.
The science behind the atomic bomb! We'll be coming back to this near the end of our World War 2 unit.
I would LOVE to have a windmill on our property.
Our local museum is a member of the ASTC Passport Program, which means that we can use its membership card to get free admission to tons of other museums all over the country, which we do a lot. Some other member museums do not act terribly happy to see us and our free admissions come in the door (Lowell Observatory, I'm looking at you!), but the St. Louis Science Center has always been notably welcoming. On this day, the membership clerk told me, "Today, you're OUR member!" It felt really good.
In Arkansas, the children were also able to complete the one assignment that I have been looking forward to the most in our World War 2 unit study. Seriously, I was more excited about this than I am about our trip to visit Pearl Harbor in October!

In Arkansas, the children interviewed an actual World War 2 veteran. This man stormed the beach in Anzio, Italy. He liberated Rome. He served with both Darby's Rangers and General Patton.

He's also the children's great-grandfather.

Although we haven't yet delved deeply into World War 2, the children have had an overview, so they had the context to prepare several questions each for Pappa. I videotaped the interview, because I knew that this was something that I, at least, was going to want to remember forever. We can also watch it again later as the things that Pappa mention in the video come up in our studies, giving me the ability to translate for the children, for it's an unfortunate fact that just as Pappa has a hard time understanding the children--he's hard of hearing, and they talk quickly and don't enunciate with care, and I suspect that the audio frequency of their voices is a little too high for him--the children have a hard time understanding Pappa--he speaks with a Southern dialect, something that they only hear from me when I'm upset, and he often doesn't wear his dentures, making his enunciation also challenging. Their sincere attempts at communication can quickly become farcical if I'm not there to help.

I do not expect you to watch all 16 minutes of the following interview, as it suffers from unsteady camera work at times, when I get too focused on the interview and forget that I'm holding it, and my loud translations for Pappa are uncomfortably close to the camera's microphone--sorry! You can skip through, however, as Pappa says some really interesting things, and the children manage to draw out of him some stories that I had never heard before, and, yes, he 100% tells the children details that are not at all appropriate for children. The answer to Syd's question about horses in the war? Yikes. And the answer to her question that wanted to know if Pappa ever rode in a tank? Well, you can hear my whispered "Oh, my God," just fine in the video:

I really wasn't sure how this interview would go. Pappa didn't always like talking about the war--I remember being rebuffed when I was Will's age and tried to ask him questions very similar to hers--but as he's grown old, he seems to have come to relish telling these stories. And now that we've done it, I cannot recommend this activity enough. If you have kids, and if they know someone who fought in a war, any war, have your kids interview that person. Give them a lesson on that war, let the kids come up with interview questions completely on their own, and then have the kids conduct their interview, and you tape it. They'll ask questions that you never would have thought to ask, and they'll be told details that you never would have been told.

And one day, that war that their interviewee fought in, well, everyone who fought in that war will have died, and their interview will be a valuable piece of remembrance of the war, and that soldiers's place in it. That soldier's experience will never be forgotten, thanks to your kids.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Thirteen, and Eight

Thirteen sweet, gentle, funny chicks. Taken care of, spoiled, and doted on by their girl. Rewarding her with plenty of love of their own. Flocking around her wherever she was, roosting on her knees, laying in her lap like feathered little babies:

Early this week, as the kids and I were sitting in a hospital waiting room in Arkansas, waiting for my mother to come out of outpatient surgery, all 13 of Will's chicks were killed in their chicken yard. 

The chicken yard is well-secured, as is the chicken coop. There's a door between the two, however, that isn't well-secured. The chicken yard is meant to serve only as the chickens' range when we're out of town and the coop door is closed, but while the babies were too young to introduce to Fluffball and Arrow, they've been staying in the chicken yard, using our old, smaller coop, and Fluffball and Arrow, of course, free-range during the day, and are locked into their coop at night.

I knew that the little connecting door wasn't secure, and I knew that we have predators in our area, but that connecting coop door is only unsecured in the daytime, and raccoons and possums are primarily nocturnal predators.

Until they're not.

Poor Matt held onto the news of the chicks' deaths for a full day, not wanting to upset us while we were away, but on the way to visit my Pappa in the facility where he's rehabilitating from a broken hip I called him, and his response when I told him that the kids wanted to know how the chicks were caused me to immediately pull over and demand the story. Basically, he said, "Let's talk about it later." When someone says that to you, you obviously immediately stop what you're doing and demand to be told what's going on.

The kids were both devastated, of course, but Will... that kid's heart was broken, of course. She'd poured herself into those chicks. She carried a chick or two with her everywhere. She caught bugs for them. She sat with them and just watched them, for hours, all the time. They meant so much to her, and the knowledge that they'd all been killed was a hard blow for a little kid.

If anything, I'm just thankful that we were out of the state when it happened. We'd have been away that morning, anyway, at our weekly volunteer gig, and then we'd have come home to the wreckage, ourselves, and I never would have been able to keep the kids from seeing it. Matt, who was merely fond of the chicks, was himself terribly affected by the carnage--the babies that had hidden in their little nesting box in the coop and still been torn up, the feathers everywhere, the blood. It was awful.

If only chickens weren't so sweet, so gentle, so funny, and didn't have so much personality, so that one was able to not become attached to them.

The kids bravely carried on with our visit to Pappa--they even interviewed him about his experiences in World War 2, and did a masterful job of it--but while we were visiting Matt called me again, with more news. 

The hatchery where we'd mail-ordered those chicks? It's actually on our way home from Arkansas. Like, exactly on our way home. We pass right through the small Missouri town where it's located. And Matt had called them. And yes, they accepted walk-in orders.

I didn't know what Will was feeling, how her grief over her chicks was working with her sorrow over possibly not having chicks again until next spring, so I put her on the phone with Matt to hash it out. She walked back into the room after their conversation still very sad, but confident that yes, she wanted more chicks, and yes, we should go get them on the way home.

We had to change a lot of plans to make it happen, but the St. Louis Zoo will always be there, and with strict timing and very minimal pee breaks, we were able to screech up to the doors of Cackle Hatchery a full 30 minutes before they closed.

The clerk there was a freaking rock star who, once I'd explained the situation, totally took over. She suggested that we buy chicks that had been hatched that day, so that she could pack them up for the remaining six-hour drive just as she'd pack them to be mailed. She wrote down the list of breeds that Will wanted, came back with the ones that they had, then took out their catalog and showed Will similar alternatives to the ones that they didn't have, and let Will choose from those. I told her that we wanted one rooster, but only if there was a breed known to be gentle with people, and she said that there was, and she got him for us. He'll grow up big, too, so hopefully he can help us keep his flock safe, and give the kids some more chicks next spring.

We drove another six hours, listening to audiobooks and eating peanut butter sandwiches, with the kids watching my TomTom and switching whose lap the box of chicks got to sit on exactly every hour. We got home at 1 am to Matt, who had the brooder all warmed up and ready for us. We unpacked the babies, dipped their beaks in their warmed water, and then all sat around and admired them for another hour before we dragged ourselves to bed. 

We tried to be easy on ourselves the next day. We read, painted deck furniture, we loved our new chicks, and I did a LOT of cooking on account of I'm from the South and that's what we do when we're sad. We also bought a live animal trap, and we did this:

I was actually outside reading at about 6:30 am when I heard the trap spring, so this raccoon could definitely have been our daylight predator. When I heard the trap spring I tore around the side of the garage, loaded for bear, ready to kill whatever I found with my bare hands, until I actually stood over the trapped raccoon and saw its little paws covering its muzzle as it cowered, its big eyes looking up at me all scared. Raccoons are psychopaths when faced with captive chickens, but damn was it cute.

Matt drove it outside of town to live in the woods by a lake. It can make an honest living there without murdering anyone's pets.

So, here are our new babies:

I was a little surprised that Will deliberately chose only eight chicks this time. She loved her thirteen, but she also learns from experience, and it didn't take long to see that these eight chicks are much easier to care for than our thirteen were.

The chicks aren't really old enough to pose for their formal portraits yet--if you look closely, you can still see the egg tooth on some of their beaks!--but here are a few pics of them. I still think that the kids look sad in these photos, but not as sad as they'd be, I think, with empty hands not cradling feathery little puffs of fluff:


And yes, fine, I'm totally smitten, too, especially with this one. I named her Hedwig:

It's selfish of me, but I'm willing to admit that I don't want the kids to learn these lessons. I don't want to have to see their faces break when they're told that a loved one has died. I want them to live charmed lives, never feeling loss nor grief, never having to mourn.

But what would be the point of that? Never let them have chicks, because they might die? Never go visit far-flung family, because the children will miss them when we leave? It's too late for that, anyway, so let's just let this lesson be enough for now. Let's just let this flock of chicks grow up safe and healthy, doted on and loved by their girls. Let's let them be just as sweet and gentle and funny as the original thirteen were, let them learn tricks that are just as cute, let them love the kids just as much, follow them around just as faithfully, trust them to keep them safe and never have that trust betrayed.

We'll have another lesson sometime, I know, but let's take a break from these types of lessons for a good long while yet. Let's let these tender hearts heal and grow a little sturdier first.


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