a chicken fight

No, no. Not that kind. The chicken fight I’m referring to is the fight over whether or not chickens should be allowed in city limits, as backyard pets.

In our community, the subject is repeatedly being addressed by the city as they change the ordinance and then change the ordinance again. Chickens are allowed. Chickens are not allowed. Chickens are allowed! You can have 15 chickens! Chickens are not allowed…we keep hearing different things.

Just when I start to think it’s settled, I hear the city is about to change the ordinance again. So we wait. My three small children and I, we wait, to hear if we can keep our 3 chickens. We wait and I’ll admit, we worry, because we’ve actually become quite attached to our fowly friends.

I have a sneaking suspicion I know why the city is having to take the time to revisit this ordinance, and it’s not because there are dangers to having chickens in the city. Most likely, they are being forced to revisit this because he who…bawks…loudest gets the most attention. Or rather, the few who are avidly against the ownership of chickens in the city are complaining a lot and those who have chickens or don’t really mind others having chickens are a quieter sort.

Or, in my case, a busier sort.

I don’t have a lot of time to fight this particular battle and I wish I did not have to fight it. I’m a peace-loving girl and I like to be liked. We get along with our neighbors well and have had no issues in the past. That is, until I started going through the permit process to obtain three chickens for our large fenced in backyard with a closed in coop. During that process, the police are required to come to ask the neighbors if they’re comfortable with chickens living nearby. The police officer in our “case”, neglected to ask the neighbor directly to the back of us. Most likely this is because our two houses sit quite a distance from each other and our back yards are each fenced in with about twelve feet of space between them due to electric poles that run through our neighborhood.

So, the issue became an issue. I received a phone call from this upset neighbor who started in about our permit before telling me who he was or why he was calling. I was calm, a bit confused and I simply responded with my perspective. I had never met this person before and had no idea who was living behind us. We’ve come to know the neighbors on our street because they were kind enough to introduce themselves back when we moved in over two and a half years ago. But this initial introduction was not going well and it was upsetting. I had the clarity of mind somehow (I don’t like confrontation at all) to ask what the concerns were and the response was simply, farm animals should not be in the city, what is next? what if your neighbors think it’s cool and they all get chickens and pretty soon it’s loud and stinky?

My answer? Well, I don’t really see how that could happen. Not that many people are interested in having chickens and very few of them have the kind of yard and coop that we have, the kind that would pass the city’s very thorough test including a visit from police, photos and a discussion at a city council meeting. Hardly anyone even has a fence, actually.

I wanted to add something about the farm animals and “what’s next?” thing, but I did not. It’s just that I doubt horses or cows or sheep are going to be approved as city dwellers.

Since that conversation, I’ve been informed several times that we may not be able to keep our chickens because the ordinance is being reconsidered. But no one has come to tell me to get rid of my chickens, for quite some time now. I have a permit sitting next to me on my desk and I will assume that what it says is true. That I have complied and that I have a one year permit ending on June 4, 2013.

I’m sharing this story today in an effort to educate. Not all of us know a whole lot about chickens. Not all of us understand why a person would want to own them. Sometimes it helps to be informed and sometimes it doesn’t, but here it goes…

The benefits of backyard chickens:
  • Chickens give us free eggs
  • Chickens eat bugs!
  • Chickens aerate the earth
  • Chickens are quiet (we’re not talking about roosters. Roosters are against the rules.)
  • Chickens do not smell unless they are enclosed and their owners do not care for them properly (that is not the case with us)
  • Caring for chickens is a great way to teach kiddos responsibility

Misinformation about chickens:

Chickens frequently carry disease. – Chickens are actually quite clean and safe if cared for properly. If their coops are refreshed weekly, they have no more disease than a dog or cat.

This is a new hip trend in which chickens will take over urban centers everywhere. – Actually, up to the 1950s, many housewives would keep chickens to provide “egg money”, in the city. The trend simply waned because of convenience food. Now, we’re revisiting the benefits and finding it wasn’t a bad idea to raise free range chickens void of hormones and other processed food chemicals. The chance that the majority of city-dwellers will decide that they want chickens is slim. Chickens need a secure environment and a safe place to roost at night. They also need daily feeding and watering and bedding changes. Just as not every home-owner wants to own a ferret or a gerbil, many will not want to own chickens.

Chickens are mean – Chickens race up to you, heads bobbing from side to side because they want to know if you have food. Roosters can be aggressive, but chickens are often docile, especially if you research docile breeds, which we did.

Chickens will fly over fences and be all over town – I will admit, one of our chickens got out. Twice. It was our fault. That chicken stayed very near our home, but wandered about, looking for its sisters. Our neighbor called the police. My mom was here and by the time she and the police officer checked outside, the chicken had found its way back in. We discovered that my husband had forgotten to replace a board that was originally between our house and fence while he was landscaping. Accidents happen. The board is back now and the chickens have not tried to fly up and over anything. Ever. They are now full grown and interested in their coop, their food and the people they know, that live here, in our house. They can’t even fly very high. Since they’re chickens.

Another next door neighbor asked me recently, When are you going to get those chickens? Um, I said. We’ve had them for about three months! What, he said. I had no idea! I breathed a sigh of relief because the last thing I want to do is irritate my neighbors with sounds or smells. And our coop is up against our fence on the side of our yard that is next to his house! Obviously our feathery friends have not been too terribly loud or smelly.

Lastly, I sheepishly admit I’m just kind of sad about this, and maybe a little confused. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand how people get so focused on and frustrated about what seems like a small thing. I guess I just wish we could worry about bigger issues. You know, like, people who don’t have much of anything at all or the way cancer is threatening to kill 1 in 3 of us. Just imagine if we put this energy there?

Now, because of the chicken fight focus being on us, we might lose our pets. I had no idea I would love having chickens this much. We’ve all grown attached to them and their three unique little personalities. We take good care of them and sitting outside watching them in our private backyard is one of our favorite things to do…it feels peaceful, watching them wander and peck. Its’ hard to explain. We love that our kids are learning to care for something small and in need of our help. It’s a good place to start teaching them to care for all of the world around them. We do that in many other ways, but this is a daily way that we all enjoy.

It’s frustrating to feel watched, it infringes on our peace of mind. We are careful and considerate people. We understand that living in community means we won’t love everything our neighbors decide to do. We’re busy, working and raising our children and I sure wish this didn’t have to be a distraction from that.

Maybe if I had more time, I’d call the police when our backyard neighbor’s dog barks incessantly. But I don’t. A girl has to know what battles are worth her time and energy and besides, a bark is usually not actually worse than a bite.

A bawk isn’t that bad either, it’s actually pretty quiet. It’s the bite of a watchful fighter and their rigid opinion that hurts.

Dear city, please consider these words as you make your decisions about ordinances. I don’t need or want to have a chicken fight. I only hope you’ll use common sense rather than caving to the loudest bark. Thank you for your time.

summer’s end?

The stores may be peppered (or doused) with an endless supply of back to school items we need and don’t need, and we may be hearing a lot of, Wow, the summer went so fast! But summer isn’t over if I have anything to say about it, and since I don’t actually have anything to say about it, let’s just roll with it. There are too many fun summer-ish things left to do, that’s why! 

oh wait, we weren’t arguing. Sorry for yelling.

This weekend, my three kiddos and I will be going to the New London Music Festival. Have you been? It’s been years for me and I loved it and have heard it’s grown into an even better experience than ever before. Bring your kiddos and a blanket, some snacks and your music-lovin’ ears. Chill out in the low-ish temps at Neer Park. It looks like the weather is going to cooperate, but again, I don’t really have much say in that. What I do know is that there are a lot of talented musicians in the line-up and you can learn more about it by clicking on that words “New London Music Festival” above.

Another New London highlight this weekend is happening at the Greenwater Garage downtown. Artist/Illustrator Kate Brennan Hall will be there both Friday and Saturday! There’s a reception and artist talk and an open house and demonstration. Check out Kristin’s blog for more information. This event takes place as a part of Legacy Destination weekend (check out that link for a long list of seriously awesome events) and is free and open to the public. It’s terribly close to the music festival, so perhaps you could add this experience to your weekend by stopping in on Saturday for the open house!

Have you guys figured it out yet? I love New London! I also love how summer drags on this time of year, especially if we look at it that way…

Happy weekend!

Art and Community: Make.Do.Workshop in New London

I’ve been a mother for about eight years now, if we’re counting the time that I was pregnant with our firstborn, which we are, of course. I haven’t become an expert and the one thing I know for sure is that I will never be an expert, especially not mastering all things motherhood in another family. The simple truth is that we’re all different and we have very different children.

But one thing I know for sure as well is that we need each other and we need creativity. Our children need that, too, in whatever ways we can provide for them. It doesn’t really matter what that looks like, whether it be sidewalk chalk or painting rocks or writing poems and knitting quilts. Our kids need to express themselves and so do we.

This is why I’m so excited about The Make. Do. Workshop opening in New London. It is a place for both adults and children to take classes in everything from painting to sewing to brewing your own beer. These classes are affordable and family friendly and leave room for the building of community that every parent needs. I can feel the vision of the place, having visited twice and talked with one of the owners, Christa Otteson. Now I’m simply looking forward to sitting with other mothers while our kids learn to paint and we talk and paint, too. Or maybe we’ll just sit in the garden near the river and listen to the water while our kids run.

Whatever the class or event, Make.Do. is sure to be a welcoming escape from the daily grind and I’m so grateful that it’s here, in our community.

For more information about Make.Do., check out facebook.
SAVE THE DATE: July 7: Make.Do Workshop launch party! More details soon…

And local friends? Please do a No More Rain Dance with me, huh? Sheesh.

Random factoid: The oldest living animal ever found was a 405 year old clam named Ming by researchers.

I write things mostly at The Extraordinary Ordinary 

minorities in our schools and the bigger picture

I grew up in West Central Minnesota and then lived in the Twin Cities for many years. My family (my husband and three children) and I moved back to this rural west central community about two and half years ago.

My son attended a school this past year that was noted recently in our local paper to have one of the very lowest scores in the state. This wasn’t a surprise for several reasons, but especially because upon moving here, several people from this community  warned us about the school district, stating that the minorities at the school were making it impossible for their kids to learn because of their struggle with the language and other cultural differences. These people felt that the minority students were taking up too much class time as a result of these differences.

Our fears in hearing so many people talk about this weren’t related to what you might expect. We have a good understanding of No Child Left Behind and the ever-increasing budget crisis that our country’s schools are facing. We knew better than to blame the minorities in our community for the state of the schools. We could see the much bigger picture. We could see that even if someone started school while struggling with English, they may actually be making great progress that can’t be reflected because of the way our testing must be done. In fact, much of the time, they are improving at the same rate as an English speaking child, but the test results are such that this fact is not reflected. We also had no issues this past school year with our son getting limited attention in the classroom. This was not a concern because it appeared to us that each child was receiving what was needed. Therefore, our fear was related to the increasing tensions in the community and the schools–in the way blame is so often shifted to hate and returned with fear and anxiety and sometimes more hate.

It is so much easier to place blame on someone–a particular group of people–who are different from you, be that politically or religiously or ethnically. It is a natural yet unfortunate response to even look for these differences, and then highlight them and exaggerate them in an effort to feel a sense of control and superiority. The reality in our situation is that our son had a great year. He had an excellent teacher and everyone on the staff that we encountered were smart, helpful, energetic and kind employees of the school. We also–surprising to many–appreciated the diversity of our son’s classroom.

Yes. When we were planning to move here, we saw having a multicultural community and classrooms as postive things. We continued to feel this way after our son’s first year in the school came to an end. In the past two years we’ve felt very alone in that perspective.

I grew up here. I know the majority of people here hold fast to their roots, to allegiance to this country, to hard work and family. I am a part of that and I appreciate that I grew up in this place. I am a Scandinavian white girl with generations of farmers and postmen and contractors before her. I am a woman who loves her own hard work and family largely because this is the beautiful place she experienced childhood. I also believe that I had it pretty easy as a kid. I never wanted for shelter or food or clothing. This naturally gave me a confidence that I consider a privilege–to not live needing more than I had to survive and to feel very undifferent from my peers.

All that said, when our schools recently received their low scores and the superintendent was quoted saying,”The white kids are doing great” and then went on to say that “we need to get the other communities interested in education” it pained me, and I believe it should have. It smacked of racism like a slap and hung over my head like the passive aggressive response that it was. These were statements obviously made to be sure to point out that the opinion is that the Hispanics and Somalians and other minorities in our schools are the problem, not the system. Even if these words were taken back later or taken out of context before being published in the paper, there is no denying there is an underlying and also obvious opinion in our community that’s held even by the leader of our school district. It’s a stereotype and it’s wrong. I won’t deny that a few of the superintendent’s words in the paper were good to see–that the school will rise to the challenge and do its best to bring those scores up–but I would like to have seen that said without finger-pointing as a means to escape a negative reputation.

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I have a friend who worked in the early childhood ESL program. She has experience with the families (communities) that the superintendent was accusing of a lack of interest in education. My friend stated that she has never seen parents as invested in their children’s ability to learn as the parents she worked with. They wanted their kids to know English and checked in frequently with teachers to learn more about their children’s progress. Of course, just as not every white child could possibly be doing great, not every minority child is doing great either. There are roadblocks and challenges in every community–the difficulty for the educational system serving all children is not about one class or group or community or ethnicity. It is about a broken and broke system that has trouble meeting unique needs no matter what they are.

Every day this year when I would pick up my son from school, I would spend time in the parking lot and hallways with the parents of minority students. I quickly learned that many of my smiles were not easily returned and I didn’t take this personally. I understood it. I guess I’d be hesitant about me too. I’ve already recognized and admitted I’m a privileged girl and privilege often makes people feel first and better and proud and that’s intimidating and frustrating. I strive not to be any of those things and my fear is that if we are those things in response to the diversity in our community,  they will wear off on our children, creating even more racial tensions at school, especially as our children get older and form more stubborn opinions that replicate the ones they’ve been taught.

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As I have the honor of getting to know each of my children, I look at them and I hope that they will continue to love the way they do now. I see it in them, the propensity to do just that–the lack of judgment, the limited need they have to feel superior and the way they seem so free of the assumption that if someone is different from them, they are obviously somehow wrong. I have wanted them to hold on to this beautiful unconditional thing that they came into this world owning. This is one of the things we are passionate about our children learning in this life. Of course, we want them to read well and get good test scores and maybe even play a sport really well. And we want them to follow the rules and maybe get the blue ribbon at the science fair and first place at the spelling bee. But more, so much more, we want them to know that the world does not revolve around them. We want them to never, not once, assume that they are superior because they are two white men and a white woman. We want them to live a life of compassion with a heart of service and if they are already receiving the message, in elementary school, that another people group is at fault for low scores or all the messes in the hall or all the bad behavior, we will be raising people who will never have the capacity to live in a way that honors faith, hope or love–that chooses to take responsibility instead of placing blame and to see themselves as the same as other people, no matter who those people are, how they live, what they believe or where they came from. After all, these differences do not threaten who we are, forcing us to change. We can make the choice to allow diversity to live vibrantly around us without turning it over to find the so often contrived dark underbelly we fear and too often flee.

When my kids head off to school, I want them to know that the reality is that the “white kids” make messes and behave badly and get low test scores too. That each and every individual in this city and beyond is unique, with positive qualities and gifts and defects of character and the potential for mistakes, just like myself and themselves.

In the schools right here, our children have this opportunity to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That not every face is similar to theirs and not every culture has the same values and traditions. They have this chance to learn from that and not step out one day beyond these city limits in shock. They have a chance to gleen wisdom and broaden their horizons and embrace differences and I imagine things would run more smoothly if we could all do that–we grown up big kids too–in everything from our schools to our businesses and our churches.

But, for the most part, we have chosen division. We have chosen to point fingers and place blame and to love less. I have heard the hard-working, church affiliated men and women of this community say awful, hateful and judgmental things about the people living around them–things I would never want my kids to hear. So no, I wouldn’t pull my child out of his school because I fear that his non-caucasian friends are ruining his education. If we ever did decide to take our children out to homeschool or otherwise it would be because we fear they’re getting the message in both subtle and overt ways that the minorities in the school should not be accepted.

What we’ve seen in the last two and a half years of living here, for the most part, is a desire for the way of life here to always stay as it once was–our city and our schools and businesses run by white men with white students and customers. But the last thing my husband and I want our children to learn is that life should be easy, free of challenges or changes, and if it is not, it is the fault of someone else. We can’t have them learn that because neither is true. Life is always both good and hard, only at times smooth and easy and constantly gives us the chance to learn from its changing tides.

Perhaps we need to let go of the idea that if someone has come our way for work and therefore lives among us, they are somehow here to wrong us. Maybe it isn’t about us…maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe this is life, the ebb and flow of change. Maybe how we adjust and respond to that is either teaching our children to love or it is not. Perhaps it’s best not to fight these changes or even to simply tolerate our discomfort, but rather, maybe this is about embracing change. Maybe we can learn from it and allow it to broaden our limited understanding of what it means to be human.

 

{If you were to visit my  main blog, The Extraordinary Ordinary, you would learn quickly that I don’t normally write about controversial things. But sometimes a girl needs to speak up when she feels led to speak up. I humbly ask that you keep your comments kind and respectful, even if you disagree with me. Thank you.}