It’s the eve of the Winter Solstice (it was when I started this) and once again, despite my best intentions to bring the children in a merry line out to decorate a tree with popcorn garlands and birdseed ornaments, someone is yurking up their lunch in the bathroom. And again, this is a good reminder for the New Year: keep a willing heart but low-to-moderate expectations, and remember that anything that happens will eventually be much more funny, at least to someone else.
Right now the expanse outside the window is blanketed in snow, and if I sit in the right place the birdfeeder blocks the septic candy cane. Even in the wrong place, it’s beautiful and regardless, what’s true beauty without a little mephitic outgassing? (wondering now if I’ve scored any special favors with the writing gods for using “mephitic outgassing” in a Christmas letter). Sitting here I’m grateful for all the wonderful friends, adults and children alike, who’ve spent time here over the years, and I wonder how long it will take the kids to realize that the “spiral mountain” of their early days was really a septic field.
The past year has been a whirlwind, mostly of various types of fowl and prepubescent hormones. In April, we made the life-altering decision to get chickens, and after two months of waiting, finally received Shogun the rooster, Frida, Georgia, Artemisia, EmmyLou, Dolly, Ember, Semisweet, Bittersweet, Fluffball, and Nacho. In July, we added 16 guinea fowl, 6 of which were to go to some friends. Of course, all of these fowl needed to stay indoors for about 8 weeks, so for a good portion of the (shall we remind you, HOT) summer we had 27 fowl living in two wardrobe boxes in our small computer room. We explained to the kids that we weren’t going to name the guineas, since they would all look alike, so the kids decided to name them all “Bob.”
At long last, all fowl moved outdoors. The chickens are in the barn, and the Bobs have their own quarters. Due to some unexplained dumbness, we’ve recently realized that the once demure, little mop-topped EmmyLou is, well, actually a large rooster. We’re hoping we don’t need to find the newly-renamed “Louie M” a new home, though we might need to brainwash him into thinking he’s a guinea fowl. The guineas, despite being about as intelligent as dried paint, seem to realize that this is their home even though they’re ranging a ways down the street. Fortunately they’re fairly quiet, especially when you accidentally give “Loud Bob” to a friend.
The chickens will soon be starring in “Moses the Musical” as part of our home schooling endeavor. So far we’ve only completed casting and the scene breakdown, but the project received an unexpected boon in the arrival of the neighbors’ chickens in our barn for winter housing (“Yay Mom, more Jews!”). So, currently, our Jewish chickens are enjoying the remainder of our Solstice cake while the kids play with the Playmobil nativity set Kiran got for not wetting his bed for a month.
On the adult front, Sarath is busy at work trying to court various venture capitalists and has bought a big, orange tractor. He’s also lucky enough to be the first to witness chicken sex. I’m currently writing for a new secular homeschooling magazine, cleaning up vast amounts of fowl excrement, and reading lots of books (currently faves are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, David Almond’s Secret Heart, Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, and the new collection by Stephen King). I’m also proud to say I’m finally able to work in my art room, having finally cleaned it out and repainted after the third Dunstable Artisans' show. Auggie, the old doggie, passed away this fall so we are currently dogless, but we’ve adopted a stray cat named Epaulette, who likes to sit on your shoulder and eat your face.
Wiley, 10, is well on the way to cultivating the “migrant farm-worker” look. He has gotten many favorable comments on his long hair, though so far the girls have only noticed that he’s drooled toothpaste on himself and his pants are stained with chicken poop. His current hobbies are walking around aimlessly making chicken noises, complaining that the Northeast is too cold to grow tropical plants, and having wild mood swings. We’re hoping another bucket of hormones will improve things. He’s close to earning his black belt in karate and has managed to survive a writing class with his friends despite lots of tears and frustration. Even though he claims he doesn’t like to write, he has quite a way with words and a good sensitivity to the nuance of character. This, combined with his seeming inability to do any form of actual work and his basic desire to spend his days at home in his bathrobe and chicken slippers drinking mulled cider or sipping chocolate makes it entirely likely that writing from home may be his only viable form of gainful employment.
Mira, 8, is now finally old enough to take horse lessons. She rides a handsome Arabian named Shaddad, and has learned how to use a whip (apparently there are two kinds of kids—the ones who use the whip all the time, and the ones who don’t, because they know they can. She’s the latter). She’s also gotten her first knife—an 8” carbon-steel Mora, courtesy of a wilderness class she took with Wiley & Sue. Despite being a year young for the class, she carved her own bow-drill set all by herself and is working on making fire. Currently, she’s enjoying taking a writing class and learning cursive. Everything else pisses her off, especially math, because it’s either too easy and boring or too hard (or sometimes both at the same time, just to make things fun for Mom).
Kiran, 5 ½, is wearing Wiley’s clothes from last year and is about as big as his sister. His hobbies are eating, drawing butt-cracks, and collecting faux weaponry. He is extremely annoyed that everyone but him has a really cool knife. We declared him first grade this year so he could be a tiger scout (he’s already as big as the older kids, and mostly plays with kids a year older anyway). Good thing we did, because he’s really cooking with fire. He’s now reading Frog and Toad mostly by himself and not only is he doing ok in his sister’s science class, but is also apparently taking complete notes. He’s already part way through the 2nd grade math curriculum, and can only go faster now that he’s reading. Unfortunately, he’s likely to catch up to his sister fairly quick, which no doubt will go over as well as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
All three children continue to home school because, as they all say, “if we were in school we’d have to work all day.” I’m so proud.
To all of you: may the New Year bring you peace and gainful employment, and may nothing cute or otherwise eat your face.