Cluck of the Week: Pecking Order

We all know, at least theoretically, that the pecking order exists. While it's most obvious in children and animals, adults establish it most rigidly. Who's on top, who sets the trends, who follows, who gets left out....

I see it personally when an invitation for a swank party goes to one friend and not the others, when certain families are always selected first for the top preschools or special activities, and when power remains in the hands of the few. The pecking order, while subtle at times, remains strong. But that's all under the radar stuff that those in charge quickly dismiss as other people's hurt feelings.

In nature, there are no emotions attached. It's just pure, primal instinct. That's where it gets interesting. For example, take Lulu and Fancy. By all rights, Fancy should be the boss. She's older and has gotten much bigger than Lulu -- yet, Lulu is clearly the dominant girl in our yard. Just watch this interaction:

After calling Lulu up, Fancy takes her place under the food, where she's
happy to eat what Lulu doesn't.

Emboldened by Lulu's messiness, Fancy ventures out from the bench.

But then Lulu remembers Fancy's there and elicits a warning bawk.

Fancy gets ghost.

Fancy shouldn't kowtow to Lulu, but that's what happens. Every time. If Fancy stumbles upon snacks that Lulu hasn't seen yet, she will immediately alert Lulu and then pace until Lulu gets her slow tail to the food. Only then will Fancy eat.

And if Lulu doesn't want to share? Well, you saw it. Fancy hightails it out of Dodge. Fascinating! I wish Maisy and Stella were still here because who knows how the order would play out then. And what if Fancy hadn't been attacked by a hawk? She was the clear leader then, and Maisy would've followed her anywhere.

Here's the lesson I'm learning: Sometimes your place in the pecking order is completely psychological. If you want more, you must be prepared to prove that you can take more. And if you aren't willing to duke it out for what you want, you have to settle for what you get.

As go the chickens, so goes the world.

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Time Away

This Friday's guest post comes from Christine at Coffees and Commutes, a woman who astounds and inspires me with her quest to understand herself and her place in this world. I'm happy to follow her journey and learn more about myself along the way.

Time Away

I’m headed out of town this weekend for a much needed weekend pow wow with some of my best girlfriends. We gather at this time every year at a fishing hole buried deep in the forests of rural Ontario to spend hours scrapbooking and laughing free from the responsibility of running our homes and tending to our children.

I left my oldest son for a weekend getaway when he 15 months; my second son when he was 11 months. I was gone only a couple of nights for each, but it was time away nonetheless. Since then I’ve had several child-free vacations with my husband, and many weekends away on my own.

When I leave, I do so without reservation. The break offers perspective and helps me feel renewed. But more importantly, my leaving offers my sons quality time alone with their father. It’s an opportunity for them to bond and to enjoy each other's company, without my interference or influence. They get to know each other better and are free to just be boys. Just as I deserve time away, so do they deserve time alone, together.

As mothers, we naturally love our children and feel responsible for their day-to-day well being. But sometimes I think it can be difficult to think beyond the intensity of emotion that surrounds this responsibility. I know it’s easy for me to get wrapped up believing that I’m the most important person in their life.

I automatically assume that I’m the only one who can provide the comfort and love they need. When they tumble and bump their head or scrape a knee, I swiftly scoop them out of their father’s arms. Isn’t it true that there is nothing better than the loving arms of a mother? But it’s injustice to my children, and my husband.

The reality is there will be times when I can’t be there, when they will need to find comfort on their own and rely on coping strategies that don’t involve me. That’s real life. That’s why I believe it’s good for them to receive love and care from others and for them to understand that there are other adults in their lives who they can rely on and trust. The more adults who make a difference in their lives, the richer my boys will be for it.

It’s true that there really is no substitute for a mother’s love. But that doesn’t mean they need only me every day. Time away from one another is healthy, for all of us. As much as it strengthens their bond with their father and others, so does it renew my ability to cope with the daily trials of motherhood. Whenever I travel, I come back missing them, wanting to see them, ready to enjoy them once again. I feel less frustrated and better able to cope.

That’s why I can enjoy time away without guilt.

Want to be a guest blogger? Shoot me an email and I'll get you in the lineup!  And if you're looking for more great around-the-neighborhood posts (including mine), hop over to Amy's.

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Bella Fierce

Bella has two handmade Spring dresses that were two big for her when we received them in the fall (you know, because our fall feels like late May). I pulled them out to see if either will work for an Easter dress, and the child went a little Top Model on me.

One day she's gonna make Mama some money. ;)

***The pink and green dress was made for Bella by Nicole at Crooked Pigtails. We love the fabric and there's an embroidered B on the skirt. The "egg dress" (as Bella calls it) was made by my friend Heather. Both dresses are reversible and we love them!

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My 2 Cents

My nephew, known for his full head of curly dark red hair, decided to do the Delilah this afternoon by buzzing it all off.

Photo taken in the middle of a basketball game against
Javi. But this is about as excited as he gets. Welcome
to Age 15. I don't look forward to it!

Can you believe the difference? Too bad he hates getting his photo taken. I think he's incredibly handsome (and really, really tall though he doesn't look it sitting down).

Taken after a trip to the barber shop. He looks both older
and more youthful. I love the new look, but he's still
getting used to it. Somebody's growing up!

It's so nice to be able to see his face! The side benefit for him is he no longer has to worry about his frizzy fly-aways. (Doesn't a 15-year-old boy have enough to worry about?)

Since I obviously loving sharing my opinion on other people, go check out my guest post at The Mommy Mambo. Who doesn't want to tear apart the idiots they wind up sitting next to at any of the 800 school assemblies "good parents" are forced to attend?

***Linking this post to Wordful Wednesday***

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Going Greek

Mama! Do you see that? I think it's The Mist! I knew I could see it! It's because I have ADHD*, you know.

Hey, mom! That's just like Poseidon's cabin! That might be the Big House! I'm pretty sure this is Camp Half-Blood, don't you think?

Okay, mom. I took a test and it says I'm related to Ares, Poseidon, and Athena. I think Athena must be my mom because I want to be an architect when I grow up. I won't call you stepmom, though, so don't worry.

Man, I hope no monsters get me while I'm cleaning the yard. Now that I know I'm a demigod, they're going to know, too, and they might come after me. I'll carry a stick just in case I need to fight.

These, my friends, were the only sounds coming out of my son's mouth this weekend, thanks to Javi nearing the home stretch in finishing up Rick Riordan's captivating Percy Jackson series (which I loved, too). The air was hazy leaving the grocery store this morning, so we must've been in The Mist that obscures mortals' view of the battles fought by heroes, monsters, and immortals.

A pile of large clay stones towering above our local greenway became Zeus' Fist, a mound of stones that happens to be an entrance to the Labyrinth. The greenway itself was transformed into a magical world of gods and demigods and Titans that was as real to Javi as the asphalt under his feet and the dead kudzu and exposed clay covering much of our town.

One would think that experiencing your child completely enmeshed in a fictional world of satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs, draconae, and manticores would be fun. And it is fun, for the first day -- and then it becomes slightly absurd. Imagination is a good thing; belief that the gods are real and that a monstrous enemy could come for you in the night (resulting in high anxiety and pacing) is not.

Of course, I'm already buying Javi the first book in the next Riordan series, Heroes of Olympus, so we'll be going Greek for at least another month. After that, I'm really itching to try on the mythology the always fascinated me most -- Egyptian. (Which means I'm truly just an enabler at heart, though I do miss the breezy days when Javi just assumed he was the next international spy and the ol' wimpy kid did a piss-poor job of preparing me for this level of obsession.)

In the meantime, let's hope Javi doesn't attack any innocents and that he's able to sleep better as his visceral reaction to Percy's world subsides. To borrow one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, "it's okay to love your [books], just don't love your [books so much you forget they're books and not instruction manuals]."

Or something like that. What's your kiddo in love with these days?

*I know ADHD doesn't own this level of over-active imagination, but my kid -- who's already prone to living in his own bubble -- has created some pretty elaborate scenarios in the past few days. I love this creative (but also slightly annoying) side of the disorder.

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The Scoop on Blogging

Great news! For the next few weeks I'll be participating in the Won't You Be My Neighbor Series hosted by Amy at Never True Tales. That means every Friday I'll be posting somewhere else and my blog will showcase one of the awesome writers whose blogs I love.

To kick off the series, I'm proud to have Stephanie, mama to all the drama, from The Scoop on Poop. Today, as she nears her first blogoversary (and 40th birthday), Stephanie's sharing what she's learned about blogging -- and life -- over the past 12 months. Enjoy!

Lessons from the Blogosphere

I've been hanging around the blogosphere for about a year now, and well ... I question what I am doing. A LOT.

I am this huge attention freak. If I don't think anyone is interested in my blog/my writing etc. I tend to get down. This blogging thing is hard! Write what your readers will like ... don't write the dark stuff, no one wants to read it ... keep it short and simple, stick to the point ...


What's a blogger to do?

I'll tell you what I've learned: Just write. You honestly can't please every single person every single time. This is just as true in the blogging world as it is in real life. If I tried to write to please everyone ... that would just be a mess. My blog would then become not mine.

And that isn't being real. Not to me or to my readers. The ones that really love you will come around and comment whether your post is pure hogwash or a gripping the edge of your seat thriller of a confession or just your mundane every day life.

You will make mistakes, and your reader count might go down. You will lose a follower here or there. It happens. It's not worth the tears in your coffee when your blog post sits all day without comments on it (or all weekend). You will still shed them, but just remember, that's just you being your typical drama queen self. ;)

So, just write. Write about your day, your life. Tell your stories. Add a box to subscribe by email. Check your feedburner when you need a boost. Just because people aren't tweeting about your posts doesn't mean people aren't reading them. I'd rather have a few regular comments than a bunch of random comments all the time anyway.

Self discovery, a boost of confidence, camaraderie with fellow bloggers, rediscovery of my talents...

This is what I have learned in my year of blogging. I have made good friends, I have made new friends, I have started writing again, and most of all?

I've discovered I am not alone.

Want to be a guest blogger? Shoot me an email and I'll get you in the lineup!  And if you're looking for more great around-the-neighborhood posts (including mine), hop over to Amy's.

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Spring is coming. Our daylilies are shooting up like wild fire, the camellias are budding, and my girl and I are soaking it in.

The spring fever is killing me. I'm daydreaming about more chicks, what we'll plant in the garden, how to spruce up our front beds, and tank tops. Tank tops. I'm so ready!

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Cards by kids (aka busy work while I work)

Valentine's day has come and gone, but I thought I'd share these homemade Valentine's cards we made for Bella's teachers. You could easily use the same process for any day you'd like to commemorate or as an easy craft for kids who love to color, cut, and glue.

The first step was to choose pictures from Bella's many coloring books that fit the theme. Valentine's day is easy because you can add hearts to anything, but I tried to choose pages that seemed lovey or that evoked Bella's personality (and that didn't contain a scribble in some can't-work-around-it spot).

Then I allowed Bella to choose from the selected pages. We chose one page per teacher for a flat card, though you could do multiple pages for a folded card or larger sized piece of paper. After choosing her pages, Bella carefully colored each page using "cweative-tivity" to make the pages special.

After she finished the first page, I cut out the main image while Bella moved on to the next page. We spread this part out over a couple days so coloring didn't lose its fun. After the image was cut, Bella applied glue (using a stick) and mounted the image on a piece of construction or scrapbook paper (or any nice paper you have, you know, that doesn't have scribbles on it).

The final step was to write a message on the page and sign the card. I wrote the message (Happy Valentine's Day! in this case) and Bella signed her name (anywhere she wanted and any way she wanted). Obviously, you could go further and really fancy these up, but the ones we gave out really felt like Bella's Valentines -- and you don't want to lose that effect.

The best part is that I didn't have to sit with Bella and pull out all the stamps and stickers and paints and glitter. I didn't spend any extra money and I didn't stress out about perfection (by which I mean that I focused furiously on deadlines while she colored).

Her teachers were beaming when they received their special cards. It's a win-win-win.

***This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday and Wordful Wednesday.***

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This given life

This life is full of the chance to try again, to overcome suffering, to grab onto a fleeting hope and ride it until something strong and swift and sturdy develops.

No one knows this better than my sister, Ashley. Had you asked me in the angsty days of youth (marked by bread bombs [a whole 'nother post], cruel jokes, incessant fighting, sibling rivalry, and a chronic illness that often left me feeling forgotten) whether Ashley and I would be friends today, I would've given you a hearty hell no! but time and maturity gave us a second chance.

But that's not completely true. Ashley, who had Cystic Fibrosis, received a double lung transplant ten years ago today at the age of 20. That surprise Valentine's gift ten years ago unlocked the door on Ashley's future -- a future that, up to that point, was perpetually clouded by words like you can't and sick and reduced life expectancy.

Those lungs -- pink and fresh and healthy -- were the true second chance. No one could've known that without them, Ashley would surely die in months (so said the surgeons reading the decay in her shriveled, extracted tissues like tea leaves). No one could've predicted the strength of her spirit as she took her first halting breaths not 24 hours post-surgery or was up and walking only hours later.

No one could know that Ashley would carry a different burden as she inhaled each strong, pain-free breath into those donated tissues -- the weight of knowing that someone else had to die so that she could live. This truth about second chances quickly lodged itself deeply in her heart. She was granted her second chance, but someone else's child -- and it had to be a child from the size of the lungs -- wasn't.

It is a simple truth that no one wants to talk about (and that seems morbidly gruesome to many), but it is part and parcel with transplantation and the life that people like Ashley are living thanks to the sacrifice of so many others. I had my second chance at an amazing relationship with someone who feels like a soul mate, Ashley had a second chance at a life that didn't revolve around hospital rooms and breathing treatments and 50 pills a day, and someone else put a child in the ground.

We could celebrate all the second-chance milestones -- living without the CF label, graduating college and going on to earn a Masters degree, experiencing life places not in close proximity to a large medical center, loving without worry of leaving your boyfriend with a dead girlfriend, teaching your nephews to appreciate sushi, cuddling with your only niece as she experiences the Sound of Music for the first time (and the list goes on).

We could celebrate these seemingly average moments, but we don't. To celebrate this given life would be to celebrate that tragic too-soon death. Instead, we remember. We pray for peace for the family who had to make the decision to donate the organs that gave life to a son or a daughter. We are humbled by all the grace and strength of those who chose to think of other lives though their pain must have been unbearable.

We spend long, gentle moments in silence and appreciate the sun shining on our shoulders, our hands reaching out for each other, a steady and firm embrace. We love and smile and turn our faces to the sky. We close our eyes and listen to the humming of our hearts, the rhythm of our breaths. We know that through someone else's tragedy, we are given chance after chance to say the words that can never be enough.  

Thank you.

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My funny Valentine

Years have passed since my era of first dates (9 to be exact), and that era wasn't what it could've been. In fact, I've never been on a date. Not a real one, anyway. A boy never gussied himself up, nervously rang my doorbell, or suffered through an inquisition by my parents. Not once. Adult dating proved equally lacking.

But I haven't given up on the idea of dating and there are two children in my home who one day will likely (hopefully) leave the house in the company of someone who gives them butterflies in their bellies. For Javi, the time is drawing near to be that skittish young man entering another family's circle in the hopes of earning the lasting favor of a girl (or boy, but he says girl).

Which means it's time for training. What better occasion for a first date than Valentine's day? And what better test subject than his own high-standards-having, quick-to-correct mother?

Yep, after a bit of cajoling, he finally asked me to dinner with him and chose a location he thought I'd enjoy. He knocked on the front door and made small talk with the Mountain Man (even shaking his hand and introducing himself) and even opened doors for me. He tried to call me Kelly and sit in the front seat, but we put the kibosh on that quickly.

All was going well until the local eatery was closed and we wound up at Applebees. This was where our date went south. Guess what Applebees offers. SPORTS TV. On like 15 different screens. Because the universe was against me, the Lady Vols were playing the Vanderbilt Commodores on the screen right above our table. And that means that while I was trying to teach him how to show interest in a companion, he was doing this:

And while I was trying to teach him to wipe his mouth after he chews, keep his elbows off the table, not drag his sleeves through wing sauce, and not burp, he was doing this:

I texted the MM to vent some frustrations. His response: "That's the price you pay for dating a Miller man." I almost objected, but then Javi passed gas audibly and laughed so hard his arm jerked and his Sprite went spilling across the table.

Suffice it to say we have work to do. But he's only 10 and there's time to prepare him for whatever woman grabs his heart when the time comes. I'm happy with this rough start, know what I'm up against, and never back down from a challenge.

On the plus side, though he's a horrible conversationalist and a messy eater, he still manages to steal my heart. And he asked me for another date soon. This time he says he'll take me to the movies. *Swoon.*

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The Wookiee

I smooth her eyebrows, shape them
into perfectly groomed, acceptable accent marks
over her big, flashing brown eyes.

I obsess over each unruly hair,
noting when yet another one sprouts
unwelcome on her smooth pale skin.

I squeeze my fingers like tweezers
as my mind imagines the feeling
of plucking away each stray hair.

I call her Wookiee and suggest
Wouldn't you like a little trim?
while stroking her brows and smiling.

But she? Accepts me completely, eyes
on me for guidance and understanding
each second of her young life.

She relies on me for strength,
for believing in her own worth,
for valuing herself as always enough.

And yet, here I am, picking
at her and pushing her into
someone else's ideal of female beauty.

The seconds are quickly ticking away
and I'm filling them with baggage
she'll carry always (as I do).

As a woman, as a mother,
how dare I pass onto her
such a damaging, shaming, harmful legacy?

I put away the tweezers, scissors,
thoughts of beauty and superficial modification,
my issues and baggage and "training."

My job is to love and nurture,
not pick apart and break down.
I am always learning, every second.

***This post is part of Six-Word Fridays and Non-Judgmental Parenting (and is the result of my Mountain Man making me really examine the things I say and example I set for our daughter.)***

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Cluck of the Week: Egg Hunt

Those who don't count chickens among the voices demanding attention in their daily lives may not know there's a distinct difference in the type of sound a chicken makes. For instance:

Bawk Bawk = I'm a chicken alive in the world.
Bawk BAWK tap = I'm a chicken who needs some oatmeal woman!
SQUAWK SQUAWK SQUAWK! = Help! There's a hawk on my ass!

And the one I've been hearing every morning for days: BawkBawk BAWK ... which can only mean one thing. There's an egg being laid.

I tried to get the Mountain Man to believe me and even forced him out to find the eggs, but he came back both empty-handed and with eyes rolling all over his head. (You know, because the eggs weren't in the places they used to be in the height of production ... which in Man Logic meant there weren't any eggs.)

This morning when I heard the unmistakable sound right outside the kitchen window, I knew I had to rely on myself and find the egg. (Not even to eat it, just to prove that I was right).

A short hunt later and look what I uncovered:

And all of it from here:

Dude. It feels so good to retain my title of Always Right. I also enjoyed immensely being able to say my favorite phrase: Maybe if you'd looked with your eyes. Which I get to say at least daily to both MM and Javi. Is it a Y-chromosome thing?

You don't want to know this, but I washed up the eggs and will be scrambling them for breakfast tomorrow. Can't let all that good protein go to waste! (Yay for mid-winter egg hunts!)

And on a totally unrelated note: I'm talking about ADHD medications and dehydration over here and I've linked up some great learning-based Valentine's crafts over here. Check 'em out!

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Berries and Ballerinas

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is a guaranteed mother-daughter day. Someone chided me recently that I'll cry in two Augusts when Bella makes her way into her kindergarten classroom and I had to stifle the laugh. Mark my words -- if there are tears, they will be tears of joy.

But that's not to say there aren't really good days that I cherish, that make me not pray for a speedy next 18 months. For instance, there's the full-on costume required to participate in the horribly cheesy ballet-lessons-on-VHS that the Mountain Man brought home from a yard sale:

And Bella delighting in huge, fresh berries from the local co-op. Delighting in them so much, actually, that she lets you know she's going to eat every last one so Javi doesn't get any when he gets home from school.

I mean, her nickname is Meanie Weenie. What do you expect?

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57 days

Bella hits a big milestone in less than two months. To be specific, in 57 days (and counting), the bitty baby I grew in my own body will celebrate her fourth birthday. Goodbye toddler years!

And, yes, I'm already planning her party. (I never said I wasn't extra.) We've gone back and forth about the type of party, but planning is in full swing. Because Bella understands about her birthday and loves parties, I've included her in the planning. Unfortunately.

Do you know how many times a three year old can change her mind? We've gone from a princess/tea/fairy party (glittery fairy dust, tiaras, etc) to a Crayola party (my personal fave -- bright colors, a crayon-shaped cake, making our own crayons for favors, etc) to a gymnastics party. None of which have "stuck."

Right now, Bella is excited about a pool party at a local gym's indoor pool. Do I want to be in a bathing suit in early April? Not really. Could I make my younger siblings play lifeguard (and therefore keep myself nicely covered)? Absolutely. And who doesn't love fantasizing about a pool party (sand toy favors, a star fish photo prop, a beachy cake) in the cold of February?

Because the party details keep changing, my focus has switched to the gifts. I was searching online for interactive, engaging, learning toys that weren't gendered or stereotypical for my darling girl. I found -- and fell in love with -- Growing Tree Toys. I love everything (and they carry my all-time fave: Melissa & Doug). I started a wish list that I'll be sharing with family and friends as inspiration for the kinds of things I want my kid playing with (versus Barbies, cleaning supplies, and sparkly high heels).

But -- for now -- I must resist the urge to go further by creating invitations and making 17 lists and booking the venue. Though 57 days feels like tomorrow to me, it's just enough time for my preschooler (see, no longer a toddler!) to change her mind at least three more times. (Like how we watched The Sound of Music together and she fell in love with Maria and the Captain and starting singing "I am three going on four...." Oh, the possibilities!)

Ehem. Back to the safety of window shopping for toys!

Do you love kid-party planning? Do you play up a birthday theme or keep it more low key? Don't you love those toys?

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Cluck of the Week: Spring Fever

Though half the country is surrounded by blizzard conditions, we had a gorgeous 70 degree day in central NC. No one loved it more than my girls: Bella, Lulu, and Fancy.

On a trip to the park, Bella played Captain Hook to my Peter Pan. I suggested she might want to be Tinkerbell. She rolled her eyes, crooked her finger, and yelled out, "Tinkerbell walked the plank!" So yeah. When she suggested she was going to cut my head off, I told her it was time to head home. (Excuse poor photo quality ... photos taken by camera phone. And she was threatening me in the 2nd one. Go figure.)

Lulu and Fancy spent the day cooing and clucking around the front yard. They seem to have completely forgotten there's a hawk out there. (And the Mountain Man said he saw two of them circling our neighborhood yesterday.)

We had a moral dilemma: Lock up the chickens and watch them slowly fall apart or let them free range knowing they are easy prey for the hawks in your area? We've chosen to let them be happy while they're alive and keep the coop door open again (but I keep the BB gun at the ready).

And because Lulu has learned that I'm a monkey who will feed her whenever she demands it, she no longer just taps and squawks for me at the back door. Now she also taps and squawks at me from the front window.

The upside is that I fed her oatmeal out of my hand today. The downside is I now have another unreasonable boss in this workplace I call home.

Hello, Spring fever. You just made my winter.

**This post is part of Wordful Wednesday***

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