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.
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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.

————————-

 

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:

————————-

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.

 

Donnie Does Empathy

 

In my continued monitoring of the intensifying and downwardly spiraling word choices openly used by journalists, pundits and interviewees to describe the pwesident, I have recently added “moron”, “knucklehead”, “unstable”, “unqualified”, “juvenile”, “serial disseminator”, and “obscene”. That last one arose after his boasts about being the Best Condolencer-in-Chief Ever and the subsequent Gold Star squabbles.

(October 16, 2017. Impromptu press conference in the Rose Garden. The Pwesident takes questions as Hostage Mitch McConnell stands in attendance with a strange, forced, grin-like grimace on his face.)

 

REPORTER QUESTION:  Why haven’t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers that were killed in Niger? And what do you have to say about that?

THE PRESIDENT: I’ve written them personal letters. They’ve been sent, or they’re going out tonight, or in two weeks, but they were written during the weekend. By someone. I will, at some point during the period of time, call the parents and the families — because I have done that, traditionally. At least I think I have. I felt very, very badly about that. I always feel badly. It’s the toughest — the toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens, soldiers are killed. It’s a very difficult thing. Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day — it’s a very, very tough day. For me, that’s by far the toughest.

So, the traditional way — if you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. George Washington didn’t make calls. Lincoln didn’t either. At least that is what I have been told. But I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. Sometimes I don’t think I am able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. Those people I call. And it is very tough for me.

So, generally, I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass. I’m going to be calling them. I have — as you know, since I’ve been President, I have. At least I think I have. And they were beautiful calls. But in addition, I actually wrote letters individually to the soldiers we’re talking about, whoever they are, and they’re going to be going out either today or tomorrow. Or in two weeks. Great letters. Great calls . . . . I do a combination of both. Sometimes — it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. And they are the best letters. Beautiful calls. The best letters and calls in the history of the world. President Obama I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. But I will say anyway that he didn’t. That’s what I was told . . .

 

In case you wondered here or there “Did he really say these things??” –  I can only say in my own defense that I don’t know, but I feel that he did. A lot of people say that he did. That’s what I was told.

 

So these were the words and actions that earned Twump the new epithet “obscene” by more than a few talking heads.

Having lived a mostly sheltered and prudish life, I can’t say for sure if the above and what ensued qualify as “obscene”. The entirety of my experience with the world of pornography boils down to the first 15 minutes of an XXX-rated film which I saw in my freshman year of college. Purely due to peer pressure – of which I was as much an instigator as a victim – about 9 of my dorm girlfriends and I jauntily took our places in the fifth row of the movie theater for a screening of “Debbie Does Dallas”. There were a few creepy, isolated old men scattered throughout the rows ahead of us and a few groups of creepy, guffawing young guys behind us. A few minutes into the film – as terrible actress Debbie was already embarking on her second humiliating locker room encounter, we ten girls all got up and left the theater. I’m fairly sure that all the men in front of and behind us were also happy to see us go.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was totally cool and above it all, or that I found any of this funny. The images before my eyes were shocking to me and completely . . . otherworldly. I had been surrounded by nice and mostly respectful men and intelligent women my entire life. This was a different world. It was base. It was . . . fleshy and yet . . . unpeopled. It made me feel like I needed a shower.

It was like . . . it was like . . .

. . . the Rose Garden.

The Voices of Germany

 

The exceptional musical talents of my two daughters have come up one or twice in this blog (see “Glinke’s Clinkers” and “Fame 2.0 – Stage Mom”) In that second one, I ranted for a while about casting shows and why I forbade my daughter participation in any of those. As a successful cabaret artist / musician / friend of mine once told me, the best path for a budding musician is the most natural one. It begins with singing at family gatherings. From there it goes on to participating in musical events at school or in the village. From there one goes on to singing at weddings and baptisms and then local concerts and festivals. Good results in music competitions help too – first local ones and then ones encompassing larger geographical spaces. The child musician should slowly expand the circumference of their audience or those who recognize his/her talent. All the while, the budding musician should also benefit from having a normal childhood and a good all-around education.

My younger daughter is a wonderful pianist, but does not really enjoy the competitions or performances. She plays in two local concerts a year, purely for the sake of her teacher. The elder daughter, on the other hand, was clearly born for the stage. And her development and trajectory have been right on track. At seventeen, she is now in a band along with some of the best local musicians (all 10 to 20 years older and more experienced than she). Her successes at competitions in singing and songwriting have made her a known quantity in the province’s music scene. Last week, she hit a new high mark when performing at an international symposium in Vienna, attended by music teachers and professors from 25 nations. The concert consisted of nine varied contributions by music school students, one from each of the country’s provinces. Mitzi was “Miss Burgenland” so to speak. She played piano and sang two of her own songs. I realize I am not exactly impartial, but I will tell you anyway that she was fabulous.

And absolutely on the right track.

Yesterday, the husband came home from work and dropped a bombshell. He had received an email from a “scout” for one of the biggest casting shows in the German-speaking area, called “The Voice of Germany”. He (or she) had seen a video of Mitzi on the school’s website and wanted to contact her about participating in the show. (I am not sure if they realized they were writing to Mitzi’s father as well as her school principal . . . ) The fact that Mitzi was being actively recruited meant that she could skip past the first round of auditions – she would begin already in the “finalist” category. The husband added that he had called Mitzi’s singing teacher who was all for it. “Why not?” she had added.

Why not?

I confess, the whole idea creeps me out. I see in my daughter’s eyes that she wants to do it. I see in my husband’s eyes that he could be brought to a “yes” – his mouth is already forming the word silently. I hear my own voice repeating the mantra of earlier years: “No casting shows!” I smell danger. I picture thousands of anonymous voices of Germany whispering in my daughter’s ear for the proverbial fifteen minutes: “You are a star. I love you.” I feel her confusion about just how real these oh-so-unreal reality shows seem to feel. I envision the sudden spike in her trajectory and the deep and drastic dive that follows it. I sense I am alone in my rejection of this whole idea, this detour which will temporarily catapult all of our lives into the realm of sensationalism. I taste the bile of adrenaline as I contemplate the coming conflict.

 

Girl Gone Bad (Temporarily)

About 36 hours ago, I turned to a life of crime. Among my offenses are fraud, corruption, theft, criminal neglect, cruelty to animals and attempted murder. This is my confession.

It began when I went to my boss at the university and explained my predicament of having no students in my course. I was fully prepared to say goodbye to that job after 30 years. Instead, after asking me a few questions, my boss said this:

“I realize it is a difficult situation for you, but I have to ask you to keep teaching the course. We sell this program as a package and can’t simply cut out one of the offerings, even if it isn’t needed by anyone at the moment.”

To be honest, I was kind of stunned. I pictured myself coming to the university each week, sitting in an empty seminar room for an hour or so on the off chance that some sorry procrastinator showed up mid-semester, and then collecting about $250 a pop for my “efforts”. But my boss was clearly perfectly willing to let me do this.

I told him my opinion that it really wasn’t necessary to offer two English courses with the numbers we had in the program right now. He countered that changing the curriculum would be a long bureaucratic nightmare and costlier in the end than paying me for not teaching for a while.

I said I felt uncomfortable taking money for nothing and so he made a few suggestions of how I could alter my hours – maybe blocking them, or maybe offering online instruction . . . He would be okay with any alternative I came up with. He thanked me for coming to see him and for my good work over the past three decades. I left.

I sat on a park bench for a while and thought: ”What am I going to do?” At some point it occurred to me that what I needed to solve my problem was students. Where could I get some? From the other English course. I called up the teacher and we hatched a plan.

I showed up in her course and succeeded in luring her five best students away and into my course. Before leaving her class, I thanked her profusely for allowing me to steal them. Back in my classroom, we joined the two students who had shown up for my course that evening and we were off to the races. Let the semester begin!!

Thanks to my thievery, I felt somewhat better about defrauding the taxpayers. I think that, eventually, I could have even successfully rationalized it all if my crime spree had ended there. Unfortunately, this morning I almost committed murder.

I was hacking away with a hoe in one of my flower beds. I wanted to clear the jungle growing there completely and start from scratch. After a bout of hoe hacking, a round piece of dried weeds came free and tumbled down toward my feet. I reached down to grab it and got stung by pointy quills. I realized that it was a hedgehog that had rolled itself up in self-defense after being bludgeoned by my hoe. The remorse was immediate and overwhelming.

I stood there staring at the poor creature and saw that it was still breathing. Was it injured? Was it suffering? “Do veterinarians treat hedgehogs?”  I wondered. My cell phone rang. The husband was calling to say he’d be home in an hour and would I feed the chickens. I said yes and then blurted out “I THINK I KILLED A HEDGEHOG!!”

 

I am happy to conclude this post with a few updates:

The chickens experienced hunger today, but the hedgehog survived. (He eventually unrolled and burrowed back into my flowerbed.) The relief I felt will help me to return to the straight and narrow – my life of crime is over.

I will not defraud.

I will not steal (any more) students.

I will not be cruel to animals.

I will not hoe.