Saturday, April 23, 2011

chicks and eggs

When the chicks start regularly roosting on the top of their cardboard enclosure, they'll probably do well in the barn. We moved their heat lamp, and set down more litter and a bigger waterer. They were curious about the new place, but seemed to like it fine.
We had another reason for moving the chicks. Due to a mishap in the original order, a second group of chicks was being sent. From this batch, we received three Ameraucanas.
Actually, I have a hard time looking at this picture. On the same day we took it, our terrier killed the beautiful chick in front. S was extremely distraught; I felt horribly guilty over my negligence about locking Maggie up. It was a mournful afternoon.

But life is a mixture of the sad, the sweet, the joyous and the fun. Our neighbor dropped off a box of her eggs for us. She keeps bantams, including banty ameraucanas who produce tiny green eggs. I love the mixture of sizes and color. (Yes, freshly collected eggs from hens sharing nests are sometimes dirty, especially when it's wet outside; we wash all our eggs just before cracking.)
One day I sat and made tissue paper eggs, which I had seen on this show passed along by a friend.
The next day C decided to do pysanky eggs, which we had tried when the kids were younger. C does not often ask to do crafts these days, and I was surprised that he even remembered this. When S saw his brother making eggs, he asked to do some of his own. S had no recollection of doing pysanky before.
Pysanky eggs are a fairly long process of alternately drawing with wax and dyeing in successively darker colors (there are special pysanky dyes, but we used regular Easter egg colors from the grocery store), then gradually melting off all the wax with a candle flame. It's very relaxing, even if we are far from expert at the process. I had to laugh when I saw the finished eggs and realized that C, our sports fan, had made one egg into a football.
This is the season that reminds us how life cycles on: from baby chicks to older chicks to hens; from a child decorating eggs to a young man decorating eggs. Being able to share these days with my growing kids has been and still is a blessing, and I am grateful.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

guest post: Tibetan prayer flags

Prayer flags connect the two peaks of the peak...Image via Wikipedia

Many years ago—well before children—DH and I took a bicycle trip up the Himalayan mountains to Ladakh, in far northern India. It was there we first encountered prayer flags. Several generations of flags would be wound around rocks or between trees, a welcome burst of color in an otherwise fairly stark mountain region. I think that's probably all I thought about them at the time: that they were colorful.

And then seven years ago, a friend brought a gift of prayer flags to the house. She explained that the intention was for wind to blow prayers of peace and happiness (printed on the flags themselves) out into the world. This knowledge made me a little happier each time I walked outside and saw the wind catching the flags. It was even okay to watch them slowly tatter and break down into shreds; the friend had explained that this would happen as the prayers spread.

This winter the flags finally blew down and it seemed a good time to put up another set. A conversation arose on twitter and some us—friends who have never met in person—decided to hang them together. Would this maximize the effect of the flags? It would at very least give us one more connection to each other.

Sam hung hers in the morning:
Mine in the afternoon:
Karen's went up the next day:
A few more people noticed and commented, which made me think about some friends who are Tibetan Buddhists. One of them, who prefers to go by her initials, agreed to write about prayer flags for this blog. I apologize for the long introduction but hope you will keep reading, because I love all that she has learned and shared. Thank you, ZYP. I'm honored to have this as my very first guest post.

Prayer Flags
by ZYP

When I agreed to write about Tibetan prayer flags I discovered that flags were a specialized field of interest. Vexillology, I learned, is the scholarly study of flags.     

I know about the symbolism of Buddhist prayer flags, but I was curious about how they came into use historically. As I began researching the history of flags on the internet I became increasingly vexed by the lack of clear historical references about my topic. I wondered if ‘vex’ and ‘vexillology’ share a historical root.   

‘Vex’ is an old word still used to communicate irritation, difficulty and puzzlement. It comes from the Latin root ‘vexare’ - to agitate, or to harry. 

Vexillology has its root in the Latin word ‘velum’ - “a sail.” Vexillum, then, is the ancient Latin for flag and banner. 

People have used flags as a method of communication since ancient history. Flags in ancient times were not like the cloth flags we see hoisted or hung on straight poles in modern times. Flags throughout history could come in various shapes and materials.  They were made of animal skins, wood or metal before cloth became the standard. Flags could be referred to in other terms such as: standards, banners, pennons, pennants, jacks and vexillum. 

The history of flags is dominated by militaristic associations. The earliest referenced example of the modern use and style of flags comes from the Ancient Greeks. They painted symbols on their shields to show tribal loyalty or battle unit.  

The oldest reference I could find about the use of a flag is set in ancient Persia several hundred years BCE. The story is about a blacksmith named Koah who inspired his fellow Persians to overthrow the tyranny of their ruler. Koah reared a banner made of his leather blacksmithing apron to arouse and unite his followers. The banner grew in size as people adorned the apron with embroidery and gems. People people believed the banner held a superstitious power. The fate of the Persian kingdom was believed to be connected to this banner as the kingdom warred with neighboring states. When the banner was finally captured by an opposing army, it was thoroughly destroyed.1

I find it interesting that flags were mainly used for military purposes throughout much of ancient history. That association explains the gradual development of rigid rules and protocols for flags. It is as though flags represent the spirit and power of entire peoples. Desecrating a flag was serious business in ancient history and it is still serious business today. And that brings me back to the idea that vex and vexillum could be connected - at least experientially. Wherever banners of conflict fly, difficulty seems to follow.

In contrast, flags took a different path in the Himalayan Plateau during the course of history. To be sure, flags were used for military purposes in ancient Tibet, but they were also used for peaceful gatherings of the nomadic tribes. Eventually followers of Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition, Bon, used flags in rituals for luck, happiness, healing, and protection. Tibetan Buddhism adopted the ritual of prayer flags and infused it with its own symbolism. But the aspiration remained a wish for good fortune, health, wealth, long-life, the power of accomplishment, and all good things. 

Buddhism entered Tibet from India around 200 CE. It spread slowly in the first century but then began to flourish. As Indian Buddhism was adopted into Tibetan culture, the traditional Bon religion and Buddhism influenced each other. Today Bon and Tibetan Buddhism share some basic symbols and rituals, and the differences between others can be subtle. According to both traditions prayer flags are imbued with the power of the symbols printed on them. Both traditions consider the wind as a magnificent horse upon which blessings ride. Some people call prayer flags Lung-ta, or Windhorse. Lung refers to the body’s subtle inner energy, or wind. Ta means horse. Windhorse. Traditional language refers to prayer flags as Dar-chen or Dar-ding. Dar means flag. Dar-ding are long strings of flags flown horizontally between buildings or trees. Dar-chen are narrow flags flown from poles.

Most of the traditional symbols and prayers still used today were designed by great Buddhist and Bon teachers back through history. The flags were hand painted at first, but the designs were eventually carved into wood blocks for printing. Today, the traditional wood block designs have been converted to allow silk screen printing. This is the most common method of making prayer flags in the West. Unlike military, state or national flags, prayer flags are left to flutter in the open until they fray and fade. They can be hung anywhere a breeze might catch the cloth.

Traditional flags are strung in a series of 5 colors: yellow, green, red, white and blue. It does not matter if yellow is first or last as long as they are in this sequence. The colors are symbolic of the 5 elements that are the most subtle expression of physical existence and activity according to Buddhist philosophy. Each element has unique qualities that interact with each other element. Yellow symbolizes the earth element, green symbolizes the water element, red symbolizes the fire element, white symbolizes the air element, and blue symbolizes the space element.

The elements are sequentially more refined or more substantial depending on the direction they move. The sequence of the flags and elements can symbolize bringing something good into existence if the movement is from space to earth. In the other direction, the sequence can symbolize that suffering dissolves into the space element. The space element is another meaning of Lung. Within the space element all things are pure.

Prayer flags also contain images of mystical animals and other beings that convey meaning and activity. The symbol of the mystical Windhorse is on one of the most popular images found on prayer flags. Its symbolism conveys the idea that the desired result will be achieved quickly.

Some flags contain Tibetan prayers or short teachings on them. Some flags have sequences of syllables that have great spiritual meaning all wrapped up in symbolic language. These are called awareness spells, or mantra. I think of mantra as being like a coin purse you can keep in your pocket, but when you open it, you know the wealth of the entire universe is in there.

The colors alone give prayer flags meaning. The elements are further enriched with other symbols and words to give them specific powers and focus. Finally, the ritual of raising the flag involves being in the right frame of mind. From this perspective, raising the Windhorse becomes internal as one aligns one’s energy and aspiration and extends that wish as a prayer to help all beings. The flag gathers all of this energy and it is sent out freely on the wind to benefit everyone and everything everywhere.

For more information try this linkAnd this one.

1Source: G.H.Preble. The Symbols, Standards, Flags, and Banners of Ancient and Modern Nations.  Referenced by: Pier Paolo Lugli, 8 June 1999 here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

S's new computer

S, our 12 year old, has been wanting a new computer for awhile now. The rest of us have individual laptops, but S has made do with a frankenputer made of cribbed components. It was fine when he was animating tiny movies but once he discovered gaming, the sludgy speed became a problem.

So for the last several months, he's been saving his money and asking for odd jobs. He sold his beloved Nintendo DS to raise funds quickly. And he researched every day, figuring out exactly what he needed and watching prices slowly move into his purchasing range.

Today DH took a couple hours out of work to drive with us to Fry's and pick up a dual core tower. S was ecstatic, and we were happy for him, too. But what I loved best was that when we got home, his brother C showed him how to add more memory—
—and surprised him with a game from his favorite store.

Then the two of them, rightly pleased with themselves, wore their plastic geek glasses all night long.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The rains have stopped, and we are again drawn outside. The chicks are more than 3 weeks old already, with nicely developing wing feathers. They're still in the garage, but should be ready to move to the barn in another week or so.
top to bottom: Silver Laced Wyandotte, Buff Orpington, Barred Plymouth Rock
There are weeds everywhere.
We work at them with every method at our disposal, hoeing and pulling, mowing—
and burning.
And anyone who wants to help is welcome.
Happy Spring!

Monday, April 4, 2011

buying a singer 301

A Bay Area friend mentioned that she was looking for a Singer 301 and as luck would have it, there was one available in our area again. It was being offered at a garage sale on a day I couldn't make, but DH happily went in my stead—he loves anything mechanical, and he loves a good garage sale.

Knowing how solid these machines are, I was pretty certain he'd come home with it; and he did. It's a beautiful beige tone.
With the exception of a couple of tiny chips in the paint (one is visible in the photo above at the upper right near the handwheel) and a dark ring on the cabinet, it is in very clean condition. Look at the inside:
DH added some lubricant to the gears and oiled the moving parts, and the machine was ready to sew.
When buying a 301, it's important to be sure the bobbin case is present. The bobbin cases sit vertically and can easily drop out when the machine is moved.
And if you're a nerd, you may also want to check the serial number to date it.
Singer's site lists this machine as being made in 1956 in Anderson, South Carolina.

For $125, the machine came with nine bobbins, a box of attachments, an original Singer screwdriver plus a couple of extra screwdrivers, a buttonhole attachment, a zig zag attachment, and a photocopy of the original manual (the woman selling it had two 301s, but apparently only one manual). Manuals in .pdf form can also be downloaded for free here.

But the best thing that came with this machine was its cabinet:
This is actually a No. 47 cabinet, originally sold with the Singer 15-91s in the 1930s and 40s. Almost certainly the original owner (the grandmother of the woman who held the garage sale) had decided to upgrade her machine in the 1950s but kept her cabinet. My photo makes it look like one leg is lighter than the others, but that's just the sun. It's truly a lovely piece of furniture, with turned legs and an inlay of burl in the doors. I don't even mind the water ring. To me it suggests that its owner regularly kept a vase of fresh flowers on her machine when it was closed; it must have sat in the living or dining area.

Open, the cabinet has space for its accessories and half a dozen spools of thread. It operates with a knee press, keeping the floor space uncluttered.
How does it sound? It sounds just like a 301 should:
—and makes a perfect stitch:
I so enjoyed sewing with the machine in the cabinet that I suddenly remembered this table we'd picked up on, yup, Freecycle.
301 tables are fairly hard to come by, and when DH answered the post he'd told the woman offering it that she might want to consider selling it instead. She didn't: she just wanted it gone. It had a broken leg mechanism, and all she cared about was that it go to a home where it would be repaired and used. DH was able to fabricate the part, but I was so used to my 301 as a portable that I had not gotten around to trying it until yesterday. What a revelation: instead of bumping up out of our awkwardly round kitchen table, the 301 can sit flush in an uninterrupted sewing surface. I may even use it to finish the star quilt.

Friday, April 1, 2011

2 weeks old

We are going to lose all vestiges of "chickness" very soon. They're two weeks old and already starting to look a little ungainly.

Scraggly tails, big feet, mixed patches of feathers and fuzz. They're still adorable, though, and their personalities are already quite evident. The splotchy little Wyandotte on the lower right is often the first to come jump on my open hand when I take some feed in. She also chases the others away from me, which may be a play for queen of the roost or may turn out to be the first sign that she was, in fact, a rooster. Time will tell.

If you're a parent who has experienced the feeling of your children growing up astoundingly fast, think about the poor hen who sees this change in a mere two weeks:

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