freaks & squeaks

Our friend has a new camera with a high definition video function; she’s been doing a few short films including some of my family.  Here she graces you with a glimpse into our Halloween, sitting on my mom’s porch and handing out candy*:

This one was taken by our own teeny little camera, and the subject speaks for itself, literally:

* What say thee on the feminist front?  Are Westernized women’s problems over – do we live in an egalitarian, just society that treats them with respect, as my mother’s boyfriend argues here?

i parent pretty good despite my clingy, needy instincts

Last night Sophie and I stayed up until about 2 AM laying in bed together, holding hands and talking long after everyone else had gone to sleep.  My daughter is so incredibly funny if you take the time to have a conversation with her – she had me laughing a lot. But what she didn’t know was that bearing down on me – despite the joy and intimacy I felt being beside her – was the fact she’s leaving me in three fscking days, she’ll be flying on a plane* and staying with my extended family – my grandfather, my aunts and uncles and cousins – and my mother, then driving back up the coast and stopping at all sorts of cool stuff.  I won’t see her for two weeks.  It hurts so badly to think about it. And although I feel a bit of panic when I think of the clock ticking away our time together, I know I should enjoy her for the now, for the moment I have her.  I even recognize the reminder that really, all we have is the now, and who we love, who is still with us.  I also know this trip is a Good Thing, and in fact an awesome possibility made available by our lifestyle – specifically, homeschooling.  And I know that Nels will enjoy having his parents to himself for two weeks – and that Sophie will really love her time in California with a large, doting family.

I don’t know how parenting is supposed to feel.  Sometimes it feels awful, and right now it’s feeling kind of awful because I’m doing it right.  I do a pretty good job of balancing the family’s needs – yes, even mine.  But when it comes down to it, I’m in this for the kids. Yesterday afternoon Sophie and Nels took a total of two buses to get to their father’s place of work for a lunch date.  Thus we have the Hogachildren’s latest feat, accomplishment, and adventure: the public transit system.  And of course, they had a wonderful time.  Not only that, but right up to the trip you’ve never seen kids more readily helpful at washing dishes and doing laundry and packing a lunch – they were so looking forward to their travels.  And when I picked them up later that afternoon, they had puffed up a few extra inches, delighted with themselves and their adventure and dare I say, time away from any Mommy or Daddy or grownup telling them what to do.

Sophie simply twittered later that night, “I rode the bus today with Nels.  I felt brave.”

When I think about my children’s future I feel amazed at their potential, and excited for their lives ahead of them.  I know I’m preparing them better than I was prepared, and I’m probably loving them a little fiercer and more explicitly too. I give them more independence and autonomy than most kids I’ve met – but definitely not more than they can handle.  Which by the way, if you dare to live this way you will be considered negligent or lazy or all of the above and worse by a whole heck of a lot of people.  Sometimes I wish I could just be left alone, entirely, to do things the way I know works, the way that my family thrives on.

At 2 AM last night, just before sleep, I’m telling Sophie about the cats we’ve owned in this house I grew up in.  From our first little castaway manx, a handsome devil named Shere Khan, whom I found just under the window of this very bedroom we’re now sleeping in when I was just about Sophie’s age, to his friend Jimmers and Raksha and her two kittens Puma (who lived to nineteen) and Rocket, and then Maui, a pathetic little black snippet with crossed eyes.  And just as I’m listing them all of my daughter reads my mind: because despite being there for Puma’s death, and knowing my mother snuck off and euthanized Shere Khan (feline leukemia), there are some holes in my family cat history:

“What happened to those other cats?” Sophie asks.

And you know, I’m stumped.  I mean in the period of about ten years we had four cats that have gone missing or just sort of “vanished”?  I don’t think so.  I’m starting to think my parents tried to “save” my brother and me from some unpleasantness. Which is a nice word for “lying”.

“I don’t know,” I tell Sophie.  “I mean, a few of them just disappeared, and I never knew…”

“Which makes Grandma…” Sophie trails off –

“A murderer!” I say, suddenly inspired and awake for a moment although I’d nearly fallen asleep.

“I was just about to say that!” Sophie collapses into giggles, and swipes me with the pillow.  A beat later and she says, “Well, I was going to say killer.”

* Friends have asked, “Are you worried about her travelling on a plane?” No.  I mean, I could worry – but I choose not to.  But hey, P.S. and more to the point, this means I won’t get to hear her voice and tickle her and swim with her and smell her hair at night and see all the amazing pictures she draws and listen to her reading to her brother or see her face all flushed after riding the bike or wrap a towel around her after bath and “worried” is not the word I’d think of, it’s more like agony at missing her so!

firework firework, siren siren

Tonight we hosted a lovely family for dinner: friends Sara* and Rob and their two kiddos.  This was after  a full day of my kids behaving, well, bat-shit crazy.  I should have known the day might go a bit sideways: both children, upon waking separately, asked me if we were going to get fireworks.  First thing out of their mouths, I kid you not.

Dinner time: I cooked and cooked and we ate and ate (spaghetti with meatballs, salad from our garden – a huge red lettuce!, roasted garbanzo beans, oven-roasted tomatoes, farl, sauteed asparagus, and chocolate-frosted rainbow cake). It’s the third of July which means lots of fireworks already. Out in the backyard watching a rather impressive display up on the hill and my daughter shouts, “Oh yeah?! We have hens and they lay eggs!”  At first I thought she was referring to our real-live poultry; no, she meant the very modest firework Ralph had procured.

After bath the kids are so tired that Sophie goes to bed crying (this is too bad) and Nels climbs into my bed, is magically joined by the sleepy kitty Mabel, and within seconds they are asleep, curled up around one another.  Two babies instinctively seeking one another out for warmth and affection.

The sight of that makes me want to have a kitten in our household at all times.

(Thank you Ralph, for working so hard on my new blog. I had that anxious feeling all day as I longed to commit Facebook-suicide. I have you to thank for making that step.)

* Sara creates and sells the best natural body care line of products I’ve ever used – NAYY, I am just an addict!

if you really think about it, it makes perfect sense

“Mama, mama, mama!” I’ve run a bath for my son in the middle of the day; he and our kitty Mabel just spent a solid hour in our greenhouse exploring and eating tomatoes. They are both filthy upon their return. Now he’s calling for me, his voice audible over the sound of rushing water.

“I need a knife,” he tells me when I come in. He’s crouched in the tub, naked, his hair blonde and skin golden as the sun, with two of the dirtiest heels I’ve ever seen.
He needs a knife – in the bath, while naked – because the bar of soap is cemented to the bottom of the clawfoot tub. I decline the request for cutlery and peel it loose, hand it to him.
“Did you see me pee in the greenhouse?” he asks presently. This is funny. Because he knows on some level I’d tell him not to urinate, you know, right on the food we eat. He can’t figure out a way to ask me if I spied this naughtiness (I did not) without coming out and outing himself.
“Oh,” I say, declining to answer the question (this child, I’d hope to keep him in the illusion Mama is all-knowing, all-seeing).”Do you think you should have done that?” I ask him.
“Well, I put Mabel outside when I did it,” he defends.
So… pissing in the greenhouse, totally fine – as long as you don’t subject the 14-week old kitten to the sight of it.

"typically followed by functional impairment while awake"

Today’s ill-timed wakeup at 4:30 AM doesn’t seem to have an upside. At first I felt merely deliciously sleepy; padding downstairs to use the bathroom, washing hands, and slipping back to bed next to the other three members of the family. My children sleep snapped together like a magnet set. Today right in between Sophie’s curved small of her back and Nels’ tummy was our little kitten Mabel; purring and happy as a clam in the sand.

Getting back to sleep might be an impossibility but at least I get something done: petting this little creature, who has benefited not only from proper diet and medicine but also more love than seems possible for her tiny frame to absorb. Her narrow little rib cage feels flexible and fragile, housing only the guts she needs to eat and shit, and some kind of intense purring machine. She stretches her paw out over my chest and puts her face down, the picture of contentment. Is petting cats therapeutic? I’d read this somewhere. It certainly seems therapeutic for her, and is definitely pleasant enough.

An acute case of insomnia seems all the more cruel given yesterday’s perfect ritual of hard work, exercise, and functional menu. Last night we hosted two extra children for a sleepover; a long bike ride, a big dinner with guests roughhousing and up late. 6:30 AM and one of the children is awake. 6:30, really? This is taking me back to those days with infants; my own children usually rise anywhere from 9 AM to 11 AM. I tell myself that after the extra kids are gone I’m going to try to recover some rest; no, really I am. And I almost believe it.

Meet Mabel


Today we adopted a new kitty. She has been a little shy. And sleepy. Here she is conked out on my 50 lb. bag of flour:

Meet Mabel
(image taken by Ralph’s computer camera and adjusted slightly for “kitten glow” effect)

This morning, before we found her, I joked that in acquiring a third Hoga-cat we were crossing into “animal hoarding”. My joke was made a bit stale later that day; it was clear from the moment we set foot in the kitten’s house of origin that this woman was in fact a hoarder. There were at least twenty cats on the premises and she had two litters we could choose from. The trailer was very stuffy and reeked of cat and cat urine, and many of the animals did not look too healthy. Touching, and sad, just before we left this woman (who seemed very shy, giving only two-word replies in a sort of downturned mumbling speech) opened up her body language and darted forward to give us her name and number should the cat “not work out”. “I’d rather have these kittens back then just, you know, dropping them off to just any house,” she told me. I assured her we had two cats already we took very good care of, and that we adopted kitties for life.

I thought of the cat-shopping advice I’d read – to pick a cat that was disease-free, clean, had her shots, bright-eyed. While we ultimately chose a little ginger tuft of fur who looked lively and seemed affectionate enough compared to some other kitties around the place, she also had a cold (eye discharge), ear mites, and seemed small for fourteen weeks of age (however, roaming older sibling litters indicated the family of cats might run small). Tonight I realized as Ralph and I gave her a bath – and he carefully pulled each and every flea off her body with tweezers – that if any family was going to be able to nurse a wretched little scrap back to full vim and vigor, it was us.

Sophie was an amazing little girl during this. She held the cat on the car ride home (I thought to bring a towel, worrying that using one of our cat carriers might have an upsetting odor to our little “orphan”), completely calmed the creature, and when we arrived home both helped her in orienting to the litter box and food dish, as well as spent a couple hours walking the cat in a sling against her chest (Ralph later reported he saw Sophie out in the yard cupping the kitten in the sling with one hand, then plucking a strawberry, putting it on the ground, and smashing the berry with a rock – all the while talking quite seriously to the cat about the nuances of this particular branch of science).

Most of the day I go about not thinking of the amount of neglect, suffering, and the lack of stewardship of the planet employed by the human race. This little tiny creature wrecks me. Her life is nothing, and yet it is all she has. I cannot personally adopt too many kitties, and of course adopting a domesticated animal (and sterlizing her, and caring for her all her life) is probably pretty damned insignificant on the list of ways to make the world a better place. But today we brought home a living breathing little spark, who has been bathed, eye drops administered, fed properly, and given lots and lots of love, and whose path will continue on with us for a while.

Welcome home, Mabel.

pet roundup

We have an extra here for a few weeks: my mom’s poodle / terrier mix. We are taking care of him while my mom vacations in Mexico and California. This dog is so submissive he thinks everything’s his fault, and he should be beaten accordingly.

Like most dogs, he is at his best when he gets plenty of directed exercise (as in, I walk with him). I am pretty good with this dog. Or rather, I am very good with this dog vis-a-vis walks. My daughter walks him around the block (carrying a satchel with dog poop-scooping capabilities) about four times a day and I try to take him out on a longer adventure as well. Last Saturday we rigged up a basket in my Xtracycle so he could ride along with us through town to get to our destination hike.

Our cats love our current house: specifically, the big upstairs room that is always warm has an impressive bed selection (a king, a twin, and a full). My thirteen year old female black kitty is curled up at Sophie’s still-sleeping feet as I type. She is a tiny, tidy, near-silent creature with sleek black-oil paws hiding huge white claws. She used to be full of malice and now is full of concentrated love for me and wants nothing more than her creaky bones to be pet. She can catch prey (in this house, flies) with deadly accuracy. We call her Blackstone these days.

The male kitty Harris is big and grey and stripey and has short, thick hair. This week he has another mysterious whisker-cut, delivered by my five year old son. This is not cool, although behind Nels’ back I laugh because A. I have a very immature side of me that thinks stuff like this is funny and B. I can’t help but think why does the cat – capable of ferocity that could overcome my five year old – sit calmly (and probably even contentedly) through this operation?

Harris is an insolent creature who attacks Ralph while he’s out gardening. In the morning, Ralph usually puts the cat outside before he leaves for work. Then when I come downstairs the feline is right outside the glass back door – he sees me, rears up on his back legs, and in rapid succession bats his sticklike arms against the glass bam! bam! bam!

I’ve been calling him Douchey McWhiskerson behind his back.

The chickens, well, I guess they are our pets more than any other category. Daily we feed them chicken scraps and pet them and carry them out to their outdoor chicken tractor. Sophie, the more injured hen, resumed laying last Friday, so we are back to two eggs a day. I am still amazed the birds survived their ordeal. I am proud of them, in a chickeny way.

Our five pullets are more excitable than our hens, and during the day when we put them outside they race around like crazy. Sophie is convinced that Swayze and Guinivere are actually cockerels. If this is true, we will be gifting them to another household and keeping our females (Snow White, Striker, and Peeperton).

all’s well that squawks well

I’ve had many friends ask via email, IM and tweet: how are my chickens?

The answer is – doing well! Bluster seems to have made a full recovery, and is growing new and healthy feathers over her scarred, unsightly mauled chicken-ass. She has been laying an egg a day.

Sophie is a different case: injured much worse, she has been slower to recover and is not yet laying. She also acts minorly “stroke”-y – seems to have bad vision on one side, and even looks less groomed on the same side of her head. WTF, girl? She is, however, up and about (sans shirt) and seems cheerful. She and Bluster both look forward to their time with Ralph, who hand-feeds them and gives them love.

We are still keeping the ladies in their indoor coop (garage) at night. Right now they are outside my sewing room door, safe in their chicken tractor making happy chicken sounds and avidly feeding in fresh air and sunlight.

Thank you, so very much, all of you who’ve written and expressed concern. Our birds are a part of our family.

With exceptions. Two of our five chicks seem to be turning into dudes. Bad choice, guys. Any locals want a rooster?

you know, i am realizing my posts are not always that fun to read

I probably shouldn’t have had the two glasses of wine at tonight’s preschool fundraising auction (which was, by all accounts, a resounding success). The drinks’ effects of temporary well-being and laughter were appreciated at the time and made the evening repast all the smoother. Now, a few hours later, I worry about potential depressive effects. I am already sad in that kind of way that can keep you up at night; upset about something that I can’t solve nor, in these few minutes any way, finish working through.

I am speaking of course of the grave injuries to our two laying hens by neighbor dogs – one attack occurring Tuesday, and the other early this morning (by the same dogs)*. Both hens were savaged but intact enough for the veterinarian to advise treatment and rehabilitation (as opposed to euthanasia). The vet bill would be almost comical for me to recount here (and may in fact increase before all is said and done) – suffice to say that should these hens survive, these will be very special eggs we will be enjoying. Currently we have two separate avian hospital cubicles set up in the steady warmth of my sewing room. We are cooking up oatmeal and yogurt, delivering injections (this takes getting used to), and providing fresh water and lots of rest for our girls.

Our sad little episode has gone out to the world at large and I’ve received a number of loving messages and well-wishes. The vast number of comments have been supportive and sweet; a very few have been rather unhelpful or just plain depressing to recount. Yes, I expected something bad might happen to the animals under my care. No animal lover brings a creature into the home expecting the animal will outlive the owner – exotic parrots and large tortoises notwithstanding. I am reminded of little Peeperton 1, the chick who died only a few days after my father succumbed to cancer. I cried off and on for a full day, feeling as though the loss of this tiny ounce of fluff was more than I could stand. I remember little Baby, the silly black and white kitten we had for only a few short months before she succumbed to a mysterious degenerative nerve disorder (we also spent hundreds on her in attempting to diagnose, treat, and care for her; these dollars neither Ralph nor I regretting in the slightest). After letting this sweet little kitten get the death needle in the vet’s office, and stroking her fur while she stopped breathing, Ralph and I half-stumbled outside with our hands empty. He and I sat in my little red pickup truck and cried together, sagging in our seats next to one another. A week later we received a card from the vet, handwritten and conveying sympathies. I remember how very touched we were this veterinarian – who’d presumably seen a lot of death and loss – would reach out to us.

Our hens are still with us. They may indeed live. It is hard for me to see their injuries and be unsure of their survival. Bluster seems to be out of the woods (although she won’t be winning any prizes at the Fair this year with her bare-plucked ass and scars!). Sophie, injured early this morning, looks far worse. But even this evening she seems more herself. I wonder if chickens, like so many other creatures, have a will to live (or lack thereof) that is far more relevant than the medicines prescribed or the physiology of the wounds. If our birds are affected at all by the love and devotion of others, they are experiencing our concern, our love, and our prayers – and from what I can tell, those of many others.

I appreciate the caring words and the kindhearted thoughts more than I can fully express. I feel so blessed I have so many friends – those close, those not-so-close, some who barely know me – who take the time to read, or respond, or just send compassion my way. I have experienced this kind of care in so many of the losses and difficult times in my life and it is as appreciated as anything else I’ve ever received.

* Yes, I know which dogs, and yes, I have initiated contact with both the neighbors and local Animal Control. Unhelpful comments include what actions I should or shouldn’t take regarding these dogs, and what kinds of people allow dogs to roam, etc. etc.

a study in tiny fluffy insignificance

Stealth Mission
These chicks party all night then suddenly sleep at the same time. I tried to sneak up on them and snap a picture – but they’re light sleepers. So I inched forward imperceptibly for several minutes. One would lift it’s head up and cock an eye and I’d halt. Then it’s eye would get sleepy and it would slowly, slowly lower it’s beak to the straw. Unfortunately the digital camera we borrowed makes a tiny sound right before it clicks the shot – thus some of them are stirring in this picture. I wish I had a picture of them beaks-out. It’s just ridiculous.

As evidenced by Ralph’s initial criminal lineup, we’ve had these little guys (and gals) for just over a week and they’ve grown enormously! In an act Ralph compared to N. Korea’s nuclear testing bravado, this morning one of them flew up to the edge of the box and perched there momentarily.

(names: Striker, Swayze, Snow White, Guinevere, Peeperton)