Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meet the quail

So far no more quail have hatched, but our little chick from yesterday seems to be doing quite well, and made it through the night. Everyone is more than a little fascinated by it. It is a very tiny chick... maybe an inch and a half long? Little, little, little.

Isn't he a cute little chick? When he peeps it is very loud. I think he wants a friend. I hope another of the eggs hatches. For size reference, that is a lid of a mayonnaise jar filled with regular sized marbles (so he doesn't drown) next to him.

Here's the whole brooder set-up. The reason the light is so odd is that it is a red bulb in that lamp. Evidently it is better for their eyes than regular white light. There is also extremely heavy-duty mesh wire over the top and down the sides. It might seem a bit of over-kill for one little tiny quail. You would think than until you see the 14 pound cat laying on top of the mesh, basking in the heat of the lamp, and enjoying the chick TV show in the box.

J. and I are thinking of naming the quail, 'Q'. It would be in keeping with the whole initial-thing we have going on, plus it has references to both Star Trek and James Bond.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Well, that was fast

A rare, two-post day.


Right after I hit publish, TM calls me from the corner of the kitchen and say, "One of the eggs hatched! You've got to come here!" I will admit to not believing him at first, because he likes to tease. But he was right. In the time it took me to write a blog post, this speedy little fellow had popped out of his egg. I'm sure tomorrow, it will begin to be all-quail, all the time.

I love finding a new author

Still no chicks... we are all beginning to wonder if they will hatch. We aren't completely despairing yet, because everything I've read says that Bobwhite quails can take several days past the official date to make an appearance.

What I really wanted to share with you today was the new (to me) author that I've found.

Am I the only one who has to look at the name of every book if the shelf the books happen to be on is labelled 'free'? A month or so ago, I was in the city building and there happened to be a free book shelf there in the hallway. So I stopped. One book, called The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, looked interesting, though this was based solely on the cover and an extremely cursory examination of  the back. But heck, it was free, so worth a chance.

I was so happy that I took that chance. The Whistling Season is about a one room schoolhouse in western Montana around 1909. It turned out to be incredibly engaging and extremely well-written. It was one of those books you plow through to find out how it ends, while at the same time wanting to read slower to put off it ending. Now I want to go to Montana.

It turns out that most of Ivan Doig's books are set there. Not content to stop at just one, I am now reading English Creek. Also set in Montana, though I think further west, closer to the Rockies. It also takes place at the beginning of the 1940's, so set a little later than The Whistling Season.

I'm enjoying it so far. How can one not enjoy a book where you frequently come across writing such as this:

"No matter what time of day you approached it, the Hebner place looked as if demolition was being done and the demolishers were just now taking a smoke break. An armada of abandoned wagons and car chassis and decrepit farm equipment - even though Good Help Hebner farmed not so much as a vegetable garden - lay around and between the brown old buildings. A root cellar was caved in, a tool shop had only half a roof left, the barn looked distinctly teetery. In short, not much ever functioned on the Hebner place except gravity."

There is solid dry humor through everything I've read so far. I appreciate a good sense of humor and a writer who doesn't take himself too seriously.

So, if you're in need of something different to read, I highly recommend The Whistling Season. It's a perfect summer book, even if you aren't in Montana. Good story, likable characters, humor, good writing, oh, and an unexpected twist at the end.


Monday, April 24, 2017

A tax tale

No chicks yet...

In the meantime, I'm going to kvetch about taxes and Cook County instead. It's no secret that our property taxes are egregiously high. So high, that we have had to go into debt just to stay in this house, and are the single biggest reason J. even started to look for jobs elsewhere in the first place. If I were to tell you exactly how high they are, you would spit out your coffee and ruin you computer or phone, so I won't do that. (But if you wanted to look up approximately how many quills are on a porcupine, the number would be in the ballpark, if a bit low.) We had given up appealing our taxes because it never did any good. The appeal was either denied or was so little as to not be worth the effort.

Enter realtors and lawyers when we started the whole house selling business.

When these professionals saw the tax bill they were shocked. Obscene was one word to describe them. It felt justifying at least. It was also somewhat infuriating to realize that our tax bill was so much higher than the vast majority of the homes in our area. So, with the encouragement of our realtor, we appealed our tax bill again, hopeful that this time the result would be different.

On Friday, we received a notice from the Cook County Assessor's office that our home's assessed valuation should remain as originally proposed. So. Not. Surprising. But as rotten as all that is, it is not actually what I want to kvetch about. No, here's the worst part.

We received the notice that our appeal was denied on Friday. That would be April 21. Since our mail arrives later in the afternoon, that is when we received the notice. On the notice it says that we are welcome to re-appeal. It does not really give much other information other than you need to look at the assessor's website to see when the due date for your township is. Well, when you do look that up, the due date for our township is today. That would be Monday, April 24. You cannot email the appeal. Your choices are to fax, mail, or deliver in person. Pardon the language, but the assessor's office should just send a notice saying, "Ha! Screw you!"

J. did manage to find a fax machine and send in our re-appeal. But what about the property owners who do not have access to one? Or for whom looking up information on a website is not easy? Or who cannot take a day off work to go deliver a piece of paper downtown? This will surprise no one living in this county, but the county doesn't really care about it's residents. Nope, our only purpose is to pony up the money.

But wait, it gets even better. When I called the 'Help' line, I received a recorded message, telling us that a decision on our appeal had been made in the middle of March. Yes, a full month before we received the notice. I'm sure we are not the only ones to be on the receiving end of this tardiness.

Since we have a signed contract for an amount of money well, well below our home's assessed value, all the real estate professionals believe it is a pretty open-and-shut case to receive a reassessment. But, boy, did the county do everything in its power to avoid having to do that. We'll see what happens with this next appeal.

And can I say just how extremely happy I am that our new home is not in Cook county?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Learning curve

So these as-yet-to-be-actual-quail-chicks are keeping us on our toes. I sent J. to the feed store near his work on Friday, and it turns out that people don't generally hatch just four or five game birds at a time. How do I know this? Well, it's because of the size the brooder supplies come in. take a look.

That bag on the left is the food which is fifty pounds. FIFTY pounds! How many people can say that they own fifty pounds of game bird chow? So, if anyone needs some, I'm pretty sure we have some to spare. That bag on the right is the shavings for the bottom of the brooder box. It's not quite fifty pounds, but it is not light, either. We also have a heat lamp and a thermometer and grit. The thing we do not have at the moment is a brooder box.

At first I thought I would just clean out one of the many glass tanks that M. has stored on our back porch. I even brought one into the house to clean it. And then I thought, hmmm, maybe I should check on this. Well, so much for Plan A. It seems that unless the tank is very large, it is neither big enough or well-ventilated enough to house young birds. Well... what do people use? (Yes, I realize that this was probably a question better asked a week or so ago and not the day before the chicks could possibly hatch.) It seems there are several choices. Cardboard boxes are popular, as are large dog crates and large plastic bins. We have a large dog crate, but somehow I don't think Kenzie would appreciate having it taken over by small birds. I am also currently awash in cardboard boxes, so that could be a possibility, but we will have to figure out how to secure something over the top to keep the chicks safe. I do not trust any of the predators (or even some of the children) in my house to leave the chicks alone. They need some sort of lid. We do have some chicken wire on the back porch, so perhaps we (and by we, I mean someone else, most likely J., unless M. happens to stop by) could figure out something with that.

So, tomorrow morning chick watch officially begins, and if anyone close to me happens to have a large dog crate which doesn't have a large dog currently living in it, well, I'd be happy to take it off your hands.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday bullets, April 21, 2017

Another week done, and I haven't packed a single box during that time. I suppose I really need to start thinking about that. I'm in denial. Though we haven't been packing, other things have gone on.

  • We had the first brisket last night, and it was fabulous, if I do say so myself. The caramelized sweet onions that cooked underneath the brisket made a really terrific sauce.
  • For teatime, we have started reading the Swallows and Amazons series. I know I write about these books fairly frequently, but they really are just that good. So good that D. and TM, who have heard them already, are excited about hearing them again. The younger group has heard about them a lot, and are excited to finally get to listen to them themselves.
  • The move is unsettling a lot of people, in different ways. It is particularly affecting those children who have a history of loosing everything important to them. They know what that feels like and are afraid this move will feel like that all over again. This is understandable, but is hard to navigate. 
  • I just love it when a child is ready for the next level of math book (which I don't own) two months before the homeschool conference. There is that brief moment of pondering whether giving the child a two month math break is better than paying shipping. Don't worry, I'm ordering the books today, if only to save my sanity from being badgered by said child. Yes, he likes math.
  • There is nothing like finding the best place to buy homemade samosas just blocks from one's house, weeks before one is to move. We had some yesterday. They were good and spicy... a little too spicy for some of my crew, but those of us who enjoy sinus-clearing heat enjoyed them. We'll just have to get them fairly frequently before the move to make up for both lost time and lack in the future.
  • The weather is generally warmer and sunnier and it is wonderful. I feel my annual need to do some gardening coming on. The trouble is, we can't really put in a garden just yet and need to wait to move. I hope my gardening itch lasts until we move. 
  • Yes, everything in life feels as though it is centered around the move. That's a lot of brain real estate that is being taken up in my head. 
  • The quail eggs are currently on lock-down. This means that I have added extra water to the Chick-bator to raise the humidity, I stop turning them, and we keep the cover on. Pretty much we just sit and watch from this point out. They are due to start hatching anywhere from the 23rd to the 25th. Some of the eggs feel much heavier than the others... perhaps about four? I'm hopeful this means that there is an actual chick inside waiting to come out. If you start to think about it too hard, the whole thing is just bizarre.
  • Because we might actually end up with a live chick or two or four, I'm sending J. to the feed store near his work today to pick-up supplies. Does it surprise you that pet stores near us don't carry game bird feed or brooder supplies? (I did go and ask.)
  • Once again, my need to be prepared is in conflict with my innate cheapness. I don't want to buy supplies if we don't actually end up with chicks, but also don't want to be scrambling when confronted with an actual live chick. I suppose this means we will have to do this again, just to use up the supplies we have.
  • Finally, for those of you who are local friends, block out the late afternoon and evening of June 4 on your calendars. Another friend has graciously asked to host a going away party and this is the date that we've set. I'll get more details to you later. But don't plan anything on that date!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Education ramblings

I'm still here and things are fine. Sometimes blogging just doesn't rise to the top of the list what with the dog throwing up (more than once) because someone keeps dropping jelly beans which the dog then eats, having to be out of the house so the buyers can come through with their architect, driving to appointments, and just general life.

I have been reading, though. Reading is always at the top of the list and helps keep me sane. I came across a passage that I wanted to share with you in a book I'm currently reading, Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby. It chronicles four different children, each labelled a 'trouble maker' in their classrooms, with the author thinking about the whys that drive each child's behavior. In the passage I'm going to share, the story is about a little boy (6 years old).

"This most basic requirement of school - trading your own desires for the requirements of the teacher - may be part of a 'hidden curriculum,' but Lucas makes it quite visible in his transgressions and often displays his hurt through anger and frustration.

Similarly, Jackson [Phillip Jackson who wrote Life in Classrooms in 1968] provides a theoretical understanding of Lucas's difficulty sharing space. He names four key features of school life: delay, denial, interruption, and social distraction. And he writes, 'Each is produced, in part, by the crowded conditions of the classroom.' These four features require that children - even very young children, whom we know to be active and impatient - wait a whole lot, get denied the choice of their own work, get interrupted from their own play, and become distracted by the requirement to be with others socially only at 'appropriate' and designated times. These are all normalized school demands and they are largely considered unproblematic, even as we make such demands of five- and six-year-olds, whom we know to be naturally unsuited to them. The fact that the demands are considered normal makes them hidden, part of a neutral and unproblematic school culture. This invisibility draws us to the conclusion that classroom life is regular and children who don't comply with it are irregular. Thus we rely on changing children rather than changing classroom demands.

Children like Lucas, with their exasperation and perseverating insistence on their own desires, their angry red faces and blowups, remind us that our demands are not neutral but, rather, quite challenging and potentially even toxic to the ability of young children to be themselves. ... children today are still being evaluated based on how well they meet the standardized requirements of classroom life." pp. 68-69

Hang in there, I have one more excerpt to share with you, this time about a little boy names, Sean, about the same age.

"In Sean's experience we see a problematic and unending cycle in which a child uses disruption to try to belong and be seen, and rather than recognize that basic human need, the common school response is to exclude him further - to send him away from the group repeatedly. The response is not particular to this school; I see the practice of exclusion and the withholding of attention in every school I visit.

The justification for such exclusion is that teachers do not want a child's disruptions to 'distract' other children. In the individualistic culture of American schooling, it offends our sensibility to imagine that one child's disruption should be addressed as a problem of community rather than a problem in and of the individual. It seems inappropriate, of course, to allow Sean to impact the experience of his classmates. But Sean's willful disruption is a community problem because it is a response to community conditions. Feeling sad and left out, hurt and lonely, is a social problem that requires a social response, and then emulated by the children, who come to believe that Sean deserves to be left out. After all, they repeatedly witness his being sent away.

Instead of rearranging the culture of the community, the response is to isolate the problem in Sean. His shortcomings are cited and measured, beginning the process of urging his mother toward a medical evaluation. But, frankly, Sean misses a lot of academic instruction in the day-to-day. He often returns from taking a break confused about the task at hand and having missed the content required to successfully engage academic tasks. ....

His social problems and physical altercations are cited and measured too, further pushing his mother toward considering a medical diagnosis. But, again, Sean does not have much opportunity to learn the skills of social relationship. The school day is highly structured and intensive, leaving children little time for play, for free conversation, and for unstructured interaction." pp. 112-113

What's interesting is that this is written by a person well-established in traditional schooling, with a biography listing Rutgers, Harvard, Brown, and Wellesley's schools of education. Homeschooling is never mentioned. In this book the option doesn't even seem to exist. The closest the author comes to acknowledging homeschooling or alternative education is a brief mention of two books by Paulo Freire in the recommended reading section.

So why do I bring this up? I guess because it's nice to see someone from within the school world notice that there must be better ways to educate our children. As a homeschooler, it won't surprise you that I believe homeschooling offers a truly viable option to provide children with both an education and a voice in that education. Ms. Shalaby is coming at it from a viewpoint of reforming from within the system. Her path seems so much more impossible to me.

After a little writing break, I have a new article published which I co-wrote with a friend. Meeting Your Child

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The day of brisket

This moving business affects areas of life that you wouldn't think of at first. It's because we're moving that I have spent all afternoon dealing with a giant beef brisket. Why? Well, it's because of a little mistake a made a while back. When you buy a side of beef, you then must have a conversation with the butcher as to how the beef will be cut and wrapped. The butcher we used for the last batch asked me a question I had never been asked before, which is my defense as to how I have ended up in this situation. The question was, "Would you like your brisket cut in half?"

Now, we have quite a few mouths to feed, and as I thought about all the briskets I'd received in the past, I thought, no, I don't want one of those cut in half. It wouldn't feed all of us. So, I said to leave it whole. You can imagine my surprise when we picked-up the beef to discover this.

This whole brisket spans nearly the entire length of my six burner stove. It is big. This also explains why it has been languishing in the bottom of my freezer for a long time. Because it's big, I wanted to cut it in two and have two briskets. But then I have two thawed briskets because oddly enough I don't have a kitchen chainsaw to cut the brisket frozen. And two thawed briskets was always one more than I really wanted to deal with, so the whole big thing sat in the freezer.

As I think about moving, I'm realizing that the smaller amount of freezer food I have the better. We are on the last bits of our last side of beef, but there was this brisket still hanging about. I decided that since we didn't have anything going on this afternoon, and since we were yet to be deep in the throws of panicked packing, that today would be a good day to deal with the brisket. On Saturday, I took it out of the freezer and put it in the downstairs refrigerator to thaw.

I've seen turkeys thaw faster.

It's a good thing B. was around to act as butcher for me, because I'm not sure I would have been able to hack through the still pretty well frozen brisket. Yeah for strong 21 year old sons.

One half of the brisket is currently baking on a bed of caramelized sweet onions with a sauce composed of chicken broth, dark beer, and chili sauce. It smells pretty wonderful. We'll have this Thursday night since the whole brisket-shtick is that it needs to be cooled, sliced, and reheated.

The other half is currently brining in a pickling mixture in the downstairs refrigerator to be made into corned beef. For the next five days, I have to remember to go down and turn the brisket twice a day. That's OK, the quail eggs are about to go into lock down and I won't have to mess with them anymore until the hatch. I'll just switch my twice daily turning ritual to brisket instead.

It should be done on Monday, and then we'll have Reuben sandwiches. Ironically, no brisket will be eaten tonight. Instead I threw some chicken in the crock pot and we'll have that over noodles.

So, I can now check 'deal with brisket' off the moving list. The other beef left still are several filet steaks. I see no problem with using those up. In fact, I have been hoarding them just a bit to make them last. By the time mid-June rolls around, the freezers should be mighty empty.
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