Sunday, February 24, 2013

have mercy

Beautiful cloak of snow here at the tail end of this winter which has actually mollified us into believing all might be right with the world. (Of course we know it isn't, but who doesn't welcome the occasional mollification?)

Amidst this snow we are busy wrapping up our most recent Lunar Phase song for you, entitled "Have Mercy." The thing about this Lunar Phase monthly song thing is that these songs are directly tied to time and place as, say, the writing on a blog is. Real-time memoir through song, which, for the musician (or the writer) is both terrifying and thrilling. We are all restless trespassers here in late February. We are all crazy for grass and cherry blossoms and forsythia or even, call me crazy, mud. And so, "Have Mercy."

This song is born from a month in which every one of us has been sick more than once. We have collectively weathered two fevers, three ear infections, four chest colds, and one stomach flu. The first time we tried to record there was a fever of 104 in the house. The second time the singer (yours truly) was voiceless in bed. The third time, today, we took turns holding the ear-infected baby while the other recorded their part. (Because that Bony Moon is tomorrow, and, well, what are we to do?)

And so that raspy, weathered voice you're going to hear? That's the voice of a very, very tired mother who drank a little too much whiskey last night. Asking for mercy. Asking for sleep. Asking for pain-free nights for her precious children.

Enjoy, you alls. March is right around the bend. Mercy in hand, I have no doubt. So enjoy this Moon of Ice, Moon When Trees Pop, Full Snow Moon, Full Hunger Moon, Trapper's Moon, Budding Moon, Bony Moon, Little Famine Moon.

The light on the snow will no doubt be lovely (no matter how many times we're up to see it).


Monday, February 18, 2013

irish coop

My friend Deborah's cute coop in Ireland. She writes, "The funny thing about our coop is our cat 'Jellybean' loves it. He took a real shine to it straight away - I took some pictures of him staring longingly at this new luxury garden accommodation. Sometimes he goes straight in after breakfast for a little snooze and he has been known to stay in there for several hours. Fortunately all our animals ( two cats, one dog, three hens ) get along really well so there's no hard feelings!"

Cute, eh? 

Friday, February 15, 2013

sexy little shithouse

Because it's February and I'm in dream mode I decided to throw a chicken coop fest here at woodbird. It was really inspired by this funny, whip-smart woman who I don't even know named Molly Witters. Molly read about my coop dreams and sent me a photo of hers, an overturned and refurbished outhouse. Which combines two of my favorite architectural structures into one. Molly also appears to like the same kinds of stories I do, as you can see from her story of her coop which I've posted below. Thank you, Molly! (And keep posted for more coop photos and tales, or better yet, send me some.)

The Story of a Ripton Coop

The coop story starts in the ‘70s when Les Posdamer and Clarisse Shechter made a home on a south-facing log landing in Ripton.  Hand-hewed logs stamped with government issue made a 16 x 16 footprint.  And it needed a shitter.  Whenever I think about out-houses I think about this Brit man I worked for who published a whole book of British slang; the colloquial for sex was: “banging like a shit house door in the wind.”

Anyhow, the coop provided for those folks for a decade or more and then came electricity and plumbing.  After that  maybe it was only used when family filled the gills.

Pat and I bought the place in 2010.  I eyed the out-house from the start: sexy little shithouse with a book-shelf and a toilet bowl.  First we smoked bacon in it and that turned out really well, but I knew it had more in it than an annual pig.  That next spring we “carefully” tipped it over and dragged it a bit closer to the house.  Pat chain-sawed off the rotten bits and other parts too.  We used saplings that turned into trees the next season to make a run.

That’s how the “permanent” coop was formed.  We had a temporary coop that summer too.   That’s where we put the “mixed cockerels” to raise for meat.  It was on a sledge, with no bottom.  Well into cockerel adolescence the bear flipped it and munched 9 of 12.  We kept the survivors in the “permanent” coop for a time, but then they began to crow, and they joined the bacon in the freezer.    

Sunday, February 10, 2013


To T's chagrin I'm getting all worked up about chickens (and thus) a coop. I'm spending my weekend drawing pictures similar to the one below and recruiting help from my handy Pop, despite the fact that our addition is still a shell without insulation or siding and we should (thus) be reserving all our labor, resources, and requests for help for that not-even-half-finished venture.

But chickens! I want their eggs and I want their shit for my gardens and most of all I want them for my children. I was raised with chickens and I believe it is an important thing for children to a) learn to care for animals, b) have as much contact as possible with the source of their food and c) have to go outside twice a day, no matter the weather, to water, feed and gather. I believe doing so takes us outside of our selves and our heads in radically important ways. So...a coop. Looking somewhat like the one below.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Twelve inches of snow. We wake at dawn and pull the curtains open—clap hands, coo, shriek, jump on bed. Mugs of hot tea and hot milk arrive (thank you, man of ours, the one who stokes the fires, the one who keeps the dishes clean, the one who makes us laugh the hardest).  We’re driving nowhere today. Sleds, feet, skis only. Wood stove, soup, skeins, paper, scissors, board games, popcorn, you-name-it and what-have-you. Later: stew, woodstove, friends, Mary Poppins, scotch and a deck of cards. So we can all get lost in one way or another. This is The Way to Love the Winter.  This is The Way to Be Here, Now. And this quiet, right this minute, (while one child rides in the plow truck and the other sleeps upstairs), this cup of strong black tea and these warm legs (while outside the windows the wind blows white), this is The Way to Bring Peace to the Mother Whose Peace Brings Peace to the Day.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

winter air

There's this sweet person named VioletSugarLemons who makes simple, lovely videos of all his/her favorite Red Heart the Ticker songs. Thank you, VioletSugarLemons, for making this one so I can share it on snow-filled days like today.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

turning toward the morning

Sunlight drifting through bare trees and finger-smudged windows and wood stove dust motes onto the sticky pine floor where it glows, golden. I’ve been inside for way too many consecutive days. I’ve been inside my head (or in the fish bowl circus act that is family life with four) for way too many consecutive days. Get me a sled! Make this drat cold go away! Get me some wood and some nails so I can make that chicken coop or that fence or that tipi or that arbor or dream writing shed! 

In other words, cabin fever. It’s hit. It always does. It hits the cat first and then the husband and then the children and then me. The day starts off ridiculous and goes to bed ridiculous. The husband wakes up singing and bouncing and snapping his fingers and the daughter picks it up in a jiffy and the baby starts screeching and bouncing his legs and the mother, me, thinks of the time when I was nineteen and lived alone in the desert.

I would wake up at five, make a cup of coffee, and climb up on the roof to watch the sun rise over the Santa Catalina Mountains.

In the afternoon I would go for a four-hour hike in the mountains.


But no regrets. These children make me much happier than I was then. Much less concerned about the state of the world (ironically). Much less lonely (to put it lightly). Less worried about dying or succeeding or being loved. And they laugh. Lord do they laugh! Which makes me laugh. Which is something I didn’t do a lot of when nineteen and living alone in the desert. And so…onward we go, into the heart of cold and sometimes-sunny February. The world is always turning towards the morning. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

dream season

Good morning. It's 5:45 and still dark, the sky luminous with a crooked two-thirds moon that reminds me of a cockeyed grin.

It's been cold these days. Gray these days. The frozen ground speckled with mud and ice and thin snow. It's thus the time of year (the only time of year) when I get truly ambitious about gardening. I spend my free hour on Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea and paper and pencil imagining the cold-frames, chicken coops, bean tipis and hoop houses I will erect around my house come springtime. I map out places for plum, cherry, peach and apple trees. I make my Johnny's seed order with abandon.

Come springtime it'll no-doubt be a different story: there is, of course, this half-finished addition to insulate and side and make livable by next fall, and these songs to record, and these wee ones to run around after, and my penchant for lazy afternoons with a book in hand. But I have always been a dreamer. And so...come spring...

Would be lovely, no?

(These photos were gleaned from the world wide web. I wish I had link to the original source, but alas. Thank you, good gardeners of the world for your continuous inspiration.)

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It’s February and we’re learning to play the fiddle around here. It’s everything you would expect: scratchy, squeaky, fingernails on chalkboard out of tune. A’s motivation (she’s been begging us for lessons for months—years?) is that she wants to play in the MacArthur Family Band, the trio composed of my uncle, aunt and dad. She’s learning the words to all their songs. Like this one, the old logging tune “The Canal Song,” collected by Helen Hartness Flanders from Elmer Barton of Queechee, VT: Says I gosh darnit, listen to me well, you better go to heaven, before you go to hell. For if you go to hell you’ll have to sharpen up your teeth just to eat the rotten Johnny cake and second-handed beef.

(Mama, why does he say you better go to heaven before you go to hell? Cause if you go to heaven, you’re already dead!” (She doesn’t yet know what hell I?) “Mama, what is rotten Johnny cake and second-handed beef?” Hmm.)

And “Mary Shaminski I Love You,” a tune my grandmother wrote about a local story having to do with graffiti and train bridges and writing by the light of the moon.

When Avah’s friends come over she puts on the “MacArthur Family” CDs and asks her friends to not talk or sing or play while they listen to these songs. She gets a proud look on her face and rocks back and forth on stiff legs and says, “That’s my great grandma singing,” and “This part’s really good, here,” and “You should hear this part about the rotten Johnny cake!” Her friends don’t know what to do or think, or course. They just want to play with the dolls and the blocks. They want to do a puzzle!

Then Avah turns off the CD and pulls out her fiddle and asks that they listen to her inspired squeaks and squawks. She puts on my grandmother’s performing face (wide eyes, tilted head, closed-lipped smile) and rocks back and forth, her bow dancing a jig along the unfretted strings.

Lordy. She did not get this desire to perform from her mother, who quakes at the site of a stage. But I guess she still comes by it quite naturally. And so…fiddle lessons. This is our job as parents, right? To allow our children to follow their dreams?