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.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eleven Years

Eleven years old,

Eleven years old,

See the happy birthday girl,

She's eleven years old.

She's growing like a tall tree,

As good as gold,

See the happy birthday girl,

She's eleven years old!

She's strong, she's generous, she's terribly smart and hilariously sarcastic, and we're so happy that she's ours. We enjoy her, we take pride in her, and we'd never have dreamed, before she came to us, that this is what a kid could be like. 

We'll be celebrating this beautiful big kid of mine today, this kid who loves chickens and dragons and dinosaurs, reading and horses and her sister, with homemade waffles, a morning-long trip to the library, video games all afternoon, and a make-your-own sundae bar for dinner. 

It's going to be another great year.


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