A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

So . . .  I got my Year Four of blogging off to a bang-up start. Turns out the first post of this year sort of just erupted out of me. And, as with most unpleasant things these past two years, I blame it on the pwesident.
But never fear! Things are looking up! The first post has been redacted and I am calling a Mulligan. A “Do-Over!!” Here, now, is the first true post of the year:

 

A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

It has been 10 days since my blog’s third birthday and 15 since I vaguely formulated a few resolutions for 2018 that I really had no intention of keeping. So . . . no new leaf has been turned, but, thanks to a Christmas present, there is ever so slight a chance that somewhat healthier living is in my future.

For years, my physical exercise consisted almost exclusively of housework and dog walking. Occasionally, I would concoct some plan to start a fitness regimen, but most of those never really got off the ground. My state of health remained curiously good – with one recurring exception.

Every other year, in the dead of winter, I contract some bizarre malady. Two years ago it was that sudden bursitis in my shoulder that gave me a whole week off from work, not to mention my first experiences with physical therapy (See: “Miss Peevish and the Bruiser”). If I remember right, that was the same year I intended to take up ballet, after joining my sister in her half hour daily routine during our summer visit. One of the first things I did on returning home was to go out and buy appropriate home-ballet attire and some mats. The clothes have since disappeared and the mats spent well over a year in a corner of my library – still sealed in their packaging. But I digress.

Four years ago in the dead of winter, I started getting red itchy bumps or patches on my fingers – usually in the evenings. The red blotches would move from digit to digit and then eventually, all of my fingers swelled up and started aching. I started worrying about arthritis or rheumatism. Four medical examinations later, including one internist and the top guru dermatologist in the province, I found out that I had . . . (drum roll) . . . dry skin. Hand cream solved the problem I think that was the same year I got my e-bike which I have only rarely ridden.

About two years before that, once again in the dead of winter, my right foot swelled up (on the inner side, by the lower big toe joint.) It really hurt badly and I could barely walk. The doctor declared that it was “Gicht”, which, on returning home,  I immediately looked up in my German-English dictionary.  “That can’t be!!” I thought. The only occurrences of “gout” I had ever heard of had all happened in 18th and 19th century novels – and those characters were all old, rich, fat and male. Of those four adjectives, only one came close to describing me – and I am not talking about “fat”. If you do the math, that was around my 50th birthday and also the one and only time in the past three decades I ever considered jogging. My husband made a 6 week plan for me. I got through “Week One, Day One”.

By now a few things should be clear. I am not a jock. (For those of you not familiar with 1970s teenage slang, that means: “I’m not athletic.”) And if the health patterns of the past years hold true, I can expect some gruesome affliction in my immediate future, seeing as how the dead of winter is approaching. I would really like to nip whatever it is going to be in the bud.

When I asked for a Fitbit for Christmas, it was NOT yet another fitness pipedream; it was mostly due to curiosity:  I wanted to know what distance I traverse in a normal morning at school.  I am basically in constant motion from 7 am to 1 pm – walking from room to room, going up and down stairs, doing deskside deep knee bends to help a kid with a question, bending over and touching the floor to pick up dropped papers or pencils, stretching my arms way up to write at the top of the blackboard . . . It can be a physical job, teaching. And sure enough, a morning of work at school and two dog walks gets me quite far along the path toward my supposed daily goal of 10,000 steps. But not all the way . . .

I have to admit, that this dumb rubber wristband has had an effect on me. A few days ago, I asked my husband to print out another jogging plan. I also finally unpacked the ballet mats, hung up the ballet routine, and did it.

Today I took the long dog walk route – not just around the cornfield but through the woods and past the spa. I haven’t done that in 15 years. And just as I was coming out of the woods in the final stretch toward home, I checked the boss:

 

 

I admit, I am feeling pretty good about myself. With a bit of determination, I should be able to wear my favorite jeans again soon.  And, fingers crossed, I won’t be writing anytime soon about my consumption or dropsy.

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Sh**thole American

 

Although I sometimes feel like one, I should explain upfront that the title of this blog post does not refer to me personally . . . .

. . . yet.

 

As the mother of two African children who became proud American citizens just six months ago today, I scream out to that whole continent:

“I am sorry!”

 

To the one Haitian American I know, a wonderful woman named Nancy, who just happens to be a judge in my hometown now and who invited us to watch an incredibly moving naturalization ceremony (an experience I consider a privilege to have had to  this day), I yell out:

“I am sorry!”

 

I am ashamed of our president.

It remains to be seen if I become ashamed of my country.

2017 in the Rear-view Mirror

I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am one of those people who writes a year-in-review Christmas letter and mails it off to about 50 different people strewn across the globe.  Theoretically, I assume that none of the recipients groans on receiving it – though I can’t be entirely sure about that. I do get the sporadic positive feedback. The best part is that each year one or two of the readers are inspired to respond in kind. I get all sorts of news and pictures and updates from people I haven’t heard from in way too long.  That, alone, makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

A second perk of this year’s efforts was that – once I was done – I had to admit that 2017 did NOT suck as much as I had thought it would at the start. It was not all exhausting postandpresenttrumptraumamalaise after all! There were wonderful travels and reunions and moments in teaching. There were new (learning) experiences and moments of parental vicarious glory while listening to my children sing or perform.  My (originally African) daughters became dual citizens of Europe and the USA.  I rediscovered ice cubes and developed a taste for cooking. I got a boat named after me! . . .

Ok, ok, in that last one I am fudging a bit. It is not a yacht or anything. It’s a tiny remote-controlled bait boat. And it wasn’t actually my husband’s idea to name it after me, but his fishing buddy’s. And he only used it once before it broke down. But, still – I got a boat named after me! How many people out there can say that??

 . . . What else? . . . I hoed a hedgehog! I protested! I became a Chicken Whisperer! And right at the end of 2017, I discovered yet another new hobby.

It began at a Christmas market that I went to with my husband and my dear friend Lyart who was visiting. We stopped at a stand full of lovely, handmade birdhouses and Ly immediately bought us one.  A few mulled wines later, my husband disappeared and returned with a second, bigger birdhouse. In the following days, I excitedly purchased all sorts of birdfeed and then pressured the hubby to put up/hang up the houses in our yard. We filled them with seeds and then withdrew back into the house to watch.

            

The birds started arriving almost immediately. Mostly little white and blue ones. “What are those?” I asked my husband and he informed me that they were “Kohlmeise”. I looked that name up and found out that, unfortunately, these birds are called “great tits” in English. Then another bird appeared and caused a lot of excitement. “What is it?” I asked. My husband replied that it was a “Specht”. I google-translated that name and the word “pecker” popped up on my screen. I didn’t like where this was going . . .

 

 

I’m not sure I ever confessed this before, but I am something of a prude. I don’t run around the house in my underwear. I DO advise my teenage daughters to take their time and not rush into serious relationships. I don’t get racy jokes. I don’t use swearwords or “dirty” words and rarely hear them in my own household.

. . . What can I say? I still fully intend to continue this new hobby of bird-watching (though, I don’t intend on talking about it much). I’m hoping it will help me cope with whatever 2018 brings, the way chicken keeping did in 2017.

And speaking of 2018 – I’ll take this chance to wish all of you out there reading this a

Very Happy New Year!

 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

 

The husband dragged me to a “Small Animal Show” to look at chickens last weekend. Okay, okay, I wasn’t completely against the idea. But his confession of wanting to purchase two more Wyandottes there . . . and one of them a rooster!  . . . AND with the idea of starting to breed them!! – well, that was too much. I had to go along if for no other reason than to stop this insanity.

The first thing we saw on arrival was an absolutely gorgeous Wyandotte couple – and so obviously in love! And a big blue ribbon was hanging on their cages. Suddenly I was half on board with the whole breeding idea. I wanted those chickens! But, alas, these particular two were not for sale. The ones we could have were clearly inferior. I was less on board. We needed a little time to come to a decision.

We walked around and looked at the other animals for a while – more chickens and other sundry, questionable species. Here is a sampling of the lovely specimens we saw.

 

And then came the moment when I saw her – the perfect chicken.

Beautiful form and coloring. According to the information by the cage, she was also a good layer of eggs AND a good meat breed (not that we’d ever eat one of our own chickens.) Sturdy. Uncomplicated. There was only one tiny problem: the name.

This was a “Deutsches Reichshuhn”. Translation: a “German Reich’s Chicken”.

There was no way my Austrian husband was going to welcome a German Reich’s Chicken into our flock.

 

How can I explain this?

. . . hhhmmm . . . ?

Have you seen the film “The Sound of Music”? (Of course you have!)  So, tell me, in what scenario would Captain von Trapp welcome a German Reich’s person into his beloved homeland? None!!  Never!! Think of my Austrian husband as Captain von T. Now . . . were I anything like Maria von Trapp – in the film, anyway – I would have understood my husband – maybe even admired and supported his stance . . .

There were a few problems though.

First – that German Reich’s hen really was an attractive chicken. Secondly, those Wyandotte’s were so obviously substandard. Thirdly, let’s face it – I am nothing like Maria von Trapp – at least the film version of her.

I do happen to know, though, that the real MvT was also nothing like Julie, because I actually read her book. It was . . . disappointing to say the least Only “The Thornbirds” supersedes it on the “Worst Book Ever” list. It did, however, give me a new insight into the real Maria – who didn’t want to be married off to a rich widower with seven snotty kids. She wanted to be a nun. She was coerced into the marriage gig by her Order and subsequently went through life with the martyr’s mantra “God’s Will Hath No Why”. She was certainly no part of any resistance.

So . . . I channeled her, meaning the true, non-julie-andrews, Maria von Trapp and argued with my husband about our poultry decision.

I said, or actually, I sort of . . . barked in a gruff 1930s German accent:

“I sink zis German Reich’s chicken is EXACTLY what our sorry flock needs! She will finally bring some ORDER to our chaos! JA WOHL!  Zere will be a new attitude! Our chickens, zhey will get back to work! Zhey will tear out all zose pesky Edelweiss weeds by zhe roots! Egg production will increase! Zhe neighbors will learn to respect us again!”

 

For some inexplicable reason, my arguments didn’t work.

 

We took the sorry, second class Wyandotte pair home with us. The rooster became Gustav’s special friend fairly quickly. The hen refuses to enter the stall at night. She sneaks under the fence and then waits there, in front of the hen house(or under it), for me to come down, pick her up, open the door and stuff her in. She clearly likes the special attention.

Egg production, in general, has not increased.

 

And then there were nine.

Country Mice, City Rats

 

(My Years of Montessori – Part 40)

 

A few blog reading friends have expressed concern about my slow countrification as evidenced in recent posts. In the last few months it has been all checking chickens, migrating mice, and hoeing hedgehogs. I even got a short-lived crush on a donkey. But never fear! In a cosmically orchestrated twist, I get to reverse this recent trend and relate my adventures in the big city (Vienna) with 24 young country bumpkins (Hummingbird School kids) in tow.

While planning the trip with my three fellow teachers, we concentrated on things like Schönbrunn or Belvedere? Technical or natural history museum? Lunch packets from the hostel or supermarket stops?  What we didn’t think so much about was:

  • how do you get 28 people on and off a crowded city bus or tram in one go?
  • do our kids know the rules of city sidewalks?
  • do our kids know how to walk in pairs for more than 30 seconds?
  • will they be capable of standing still long enough for us to get a headcount?
  • will our more free-wheeling kids take our statements as instructions or mere suggestions?

Our first inkling that these things would be issues came when we changed trains on our way there. All twenty-four kids made it on to the connecting train, but only twenty-two of the suitcases did too. Mark grabbed the abandoned bags and tossed them inside before getting on himself. It took the guilty parties almost a half hour to realize what they had done.  The next sign that we were in for some troubles came during the walk from the train station to the hostel. Our kids walked in packs of five or six, taking up the entire sidewalk, practically plowing down other perplexed and/or peeved pedestrians. And not only that – they kept jostling around, shoving or trying to trip one another. They were excited and laughing loudly in the way pubescent kids do when nothing is truly funny. They were oblivious to the sights and sounds around them.  Despite having no idea where they were going, they just took off in any old direction with inexplicable confidence.

Schönbrunn Palace and the technical museum were planned for the arrival day. Halfway through the palace gardens, Mark and David were already prepared to start sending this or that kid home early. By the time we left the museum, I, too, had the first name on my own mental list of potential early departers.  (Lucy of “Power Girls and Hoodies” fame. Panting, sweating and with a face flushed red, she declared that I was unfair for accusing her of running through the museum – right before tearing off again.) Later, back in the hostel, as the kids played “Spin the Bottle”, argued the superiority of their respective hostel rooms, and planned their nighttime visits, we four teachers began a second list: “Things We Will Do Better the Next Time We Plan a Vienna Trip”. Not only were the questions above on the list, but also some new issues including:

  • should we confiscate the energy drinks (to be returned) or just toss them?
  • what should we do about kids with way more money than agreed on (or worse yet, ATM cards) and who were already starting to make loans to others?
  • should we teach them how to put sheets on a bed in advance? (as most of them have clearly never had to do this before)
  • what do we do about the kids with unlimited internet access on their cell phones?

 

Had Day 2 gone similarly to Day 1, we may very well have ended the trip early. But, as kids often tend to do, they surprised us the next morning by suddenly behaving themselves. Our system of forming groups of 8 for bus and tram rides worked almost flawlessly. On approaching a bus stop, seven of my eight magically appeared around me. They started calling me their “Vienna Mama”. (The eighth kid was Moritz of “Hummingbird Report Cards” fame.) He kept wandering off and joining other groups. “Where is Moritz?” became a mantra of our group. They watched out for him along with me. When Moritz got off the tram one stop early on our last ride, the entire group screamed his name. He heard, turned, and got back on the tram at the last second.

Back to Day Two.  The vast majority of the kids were attentive and interested during our inner city tour (thanks to a fabulous guide who adapted her content for a 12-13 year old audience). They did surprisingly little complaining about the fact that it was really cold, and when they did get a bit tired and cranky, it turned out that the cure was a playground in the City Park where they ran around like wildlings until they were no longer tired.

Memorial to Maria Christina in the Augustinian Chapel in Hofburg:
In the park:

 

The final stop on Day Two was Time Travel Vienna which is an attraction like the London Dungeon – an entertaining introduction to the history of the city. The kids were generally enthused, but also pretty sophisticated in their critiques of the experience. (Some of it really was a bit cheesy.) Only our autistic Katy had major problems dealing with this part of our trip. She couldn’t handle the 3D film and didn’t know enough to simply close her eyes (which I did half of the time).  In one part we saw rats running through medieval streets and then puffs of air blew around our feet in the theater, making it seem like rats were running past us. Poor Katy kept talking about it for hours afterward – with tears running down her eyes; it was real for her. She was so afraid we were all going to come down with the Plague . . .

Another point for our mental list of what to do better next time:

  • consider what activities are okay for our spectrum kids.

 

Day Three had only one activity – the kids could decide between the natural history and the art history museums. A week earlier at school, two thirds decided for art, but as we were standing there between them, the “Dogs and Cats” exhibit sign on the natural history museum made many kids change their minds. I ended up taking only five of them with me through the art history one.

It was probably for the best.

The Egyptian mummies and hieroglyphs held their attention for about fifteen minutes, but from then on they spent most of the time giggling and taking cell phone pics of historic breasts and butts and penises. 2000 years’ worth of them. But even that got old. At one point we sat in front of a huge painting of Prometheus having his liver ripped out by a bird and I told them the myth. I was surprised when one of them asked me if it was a true story.

I suddenly saw the masterpieces in this museum through the eyes of a 13 year old country bumpkin. When Moritz proclaimed on leaving the museum that people in the past were “sick in the head and disgusting”, I couldn’t really disagree. At least by modern standards. It was a nice reminder that, despite all the trouble in the world right now, there has never been a better time to live in than now. I mean . . . there is no Camelot time in the past when people – generally – had it better than we do. The best lesson of most history is reminding us of how lucky we are to be beyond it.

 

While standing outside the museums again, waiting for the final stragglers to return from the bathrooms so that we could make our way back to the train station and home, Mark fell into conversation with another teacher in charge of a nearby school group. He had only about 15 kids with him and all of them were 8th Graders. He had noticed how we had so many kids and of mixed ages  (the oldest 14 and the youngest 10). He asked us how we managed them all.

What we learned from that conversation is that “Vienna Week” is a staple of the Austrian junior high school curriculum. In most cases, schools all over the country simply apply to the Education Ministry and get their excursion to Vienna organized and implemented for them by professional guides. A few teachers go along for the ride, but don’t have a lot of responsibility. The costs are minimal.

Go figure.

Should we decide to do this again, I’m not sure we are going to need our mental list about “What to Do Better Next Time”. Or maybe that will be the only list we need. We will deal with the energy drinks and the spectrum kids; someone else will deal with the Lucies and Moritzes.

 

Country Mouse, City Mouse

or:

“Four Recent (Mostly Unrelated) Run-ins with Nature.”

 

For some reason (which might have something to do with the return of the Nemesis to my household) I have had this sense of Mother Nature stealthily inserting her tentacles into my daily routine and life like the roots of a staghorn sumac. All I know is that I keep having these various encounters with Greenworld. It’s all very odd.

Encounter Number One of course deals with chickens.

Thanks for all the support you all gave me for my frequent chicken posting, by the way. Alison added that I shouldn’t neglect the Gingerbread Man in the process, so . . . go ahead and blame her for this first part of the post. On her urging, GB Man (finally!) met the chickens. It was . . . well, let’s have him tell the story . . .

“It went okay, basically. They were standoffish, mostly. Kind of clique-y. I spent most of the time alone at the feed trough. One chicken finally joined me, but didn’t say anything. Another one was all hectic and liked to call attention to herself. She had a haircut just like that guy I always see on my Person’s laptop. That was kind of creepy. I didn’t find any eggs. I’m not sure what all the hullaballoo is about.”

 

 

Encounter Number Two happened during my daily dog walks.

The autumn colors are spectacular this year. In the past two days there has also been an interesting assortment of clouds and a very thin haze, so it felt the whole time like I was walking through an impressionist painting. I remembered telling a student about Claude Monet and how he would paint the same scene over and over again at different times of the day and in different lighting. I tried the same thing, except with my camera. Here’s an example:

 

Encounter Three

My upstairs bathroom has officially been declared a natural habitat of the rodents, by the rodents and for the rodents. We had known there was a mouse – maybe two – in there for a while and we finally set a trap about five days ago. Within 10 minutes we heard a loud snap and had our first captive. The husband took it outside, walked quite a ways from the house, and set it free. He then reset the trap. By the end of the evening we had caught 5 mice.

Three days later we were up to Number 22 – here he is:

Since there is no way that 22 mice were living in our small upstairs bathroom without us noticing it, we decided that we were simply catching the same two or three mice over and over again. Somehow they were finding their way and sneaking back in.

The husband made a makeshift carrier for the next two mice and then took them to work with him the next morning (in a city 10 miles away). Here is Mouse 25 who is slated for relocation tomorrow. Note the useless Devil Cat posing nonchalantly next to him. No sense of shame there whatsoever.

Encounter Four required a road trip.

Now that the chicken project has lost its shiny new luster, the husband is on the lookout for a new project. He discovered a livestock breeder who had not only chickens, but also little dwarf goats and sheep. He asked me if I wanted to go along with him to look at them and for some reason, I actually said yes.

         

I’ve considered myself a city person who merely ended up in the country by accident 30 years ago and will probably keep living here for up to 30 more. But that doesn’t make me a rural person, no matter how many chickens I keep, walks in the countryside I take, or mice I relocate. I just don’t see myself as the keeper of miniature goats.

Although . . . they were pretty cute.

And I would find room for that donkey in a heartbeat.

 

 

A Barn Yarn

 

“I’m stuck!” I told my sister on the phone. “No one wants to read about my morbid obsession with the American pwesident or my current workplace  . . . curiosities. I can’t write about anything in my private life because it is all OPS. And I can’t just keep writing about chickens.”
“Keep writing about chickens! Do!” she answered.  “I love it when you write about chickens.”
Thanks, Sis. Once again.

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I jumped on the chicken bandwagon a bit too late.

Had I been in on our poultry project from the start, I would have encouraged the husband to build our hen house in the style of a traditional Wisconsin barn. The kind I passed on weekends as we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house each Sunday. Or the ones we saw on our way Up North for vacation each summer – those yearly six or seven hour drives, first through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin farmland and then into the Big Woods with its 15.000 little lakes. A cottage on shores of one of these was our usual destination – our own temporary “Little House”. Within an hour of arrival, I was in the water and basically stayed there for most of the day, every day. Any time not in the water was spent on nature hikes and/or steeped in fantasies of being Wisconsin’s most famous pioneer girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I devoured her books (repeatedly!) as a child. She was my link to the 19th century version of myself.

My husband has his own link to his 19th century self and it is much more impressive. His great great grandfather was a famous writer and poet who grew up modestly in a remote mountainous region of Styria. The childhood home of this man, Peter Rosegger, is now a museum. My husband visited this place many times in his childhood and I imagine he also fantasized there about being a 19th century “Forest Farmer Boy”. In any case, he clearly had some other image in his mind as he built our chicken coop. Something more Austrian.

 

Last week he announced that he was going to paint our hen house and started suggesting colors. It was at this point, that I finally got involved in the construction project. Blue?? Who’s ever heard of a BLUE barn?!? Honestly! Anyway, here is the result:

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P.S. Thanks Sis, too, for the compliments on the coop via WhatsApp. As for your curiosity about what it looks like on the inside, I have to disappoint. Chickens are crappy decorators. Literally.