Monday, March 30, 2009

strawberries and comfrey

I put in the strawberries today and the one comfrey plant - we visited this evening and everything looked so wilty, so we gave them some water and will hope for the best! 
(Dan is responsible for the fence and the prayer flags.  I told him he missed his calling as an interior decorator.  He corrected me - exterior decorator...)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour, Eggsperiments, and general March madness

A fuzzy photo from our earth hour celebration last night. We celebrated more than Earth Hour - I felt like we were celebrating the continuation of spring, having Dan with us, the work we did this week on our garden, the lingering light at the end of the day...after market, lunch, and a bowling birthday party, we picked up some amazing pizza from Della Zona, a local-foods joint next to the bakery. Oh my. Oh Oh Oh my. Sweet potatoes, roasted bell peppers, smoked gouda, olive tapenade, artichoke hearts (we had more than one pizza...) - it was all so good. SO GOOD. We ate at the picnic table in the back yard, under some chattering blue jays, and topped it all off with a good portion of a large bottle of wine and some of Della Zona's strawberry-raspberry frozen yogurt, made with our local dairy's milk, of course.  Then we took a walk down to the bikepath, veering off just before we got there to wander along the ditch, enjoying the spring peepers and red-wing blackbirds.  Ani and I came home early to snuggle by candlelight (boy, if you want to make brushing teeth FUN, try it by candlelight! yeehaw!).  Dan and E read the last chapter of Erdrich's Porcupine Year, about an Ojibway girl and her family who lived on an island in Lake Superior, which seemed somehow fitting to do by candlelight.  It was all so sweet, and D and I never turned the lights back on, it was so nice. (OK, the computer was on, but no other lights.)
I thought I would post these pictures of the "eggsperiments" we did on friday.  I got a book from the library, figuring we could make a morning of reading some great egg books and doing some experiments with hard boiled and raw eggs.  It was pretty fun for the most part, but I tell ya. Every once in a while I feel like we are not "doing" enough and that I really need to "teach" something, and it's like I'm wearing kid-repellent! When we're all in the "zone" and figuring things out organically and on the fly, it works great, and the lessons stick as well, but when I have something really planned out, it almost always falls on its face. I tried all week to get the girls to do this with me - even made them little notebooks (with paper bags! and shiny gold brads!) to record their findings in.  Eh, it was all right. Definitely not worth the prep and hype I tried to infuse it with.  And dontcha know, this would be the week I sat down and read about Learning without Teaching in John Holt's Teach Your Own.  Example after example of kids learning things on their own, on fire with the excitement of discovering things on their own, or by observing an adult fully engaged in their work.  So, my new approach is just that - to be engaged. And thereby...engaging?
The timing of this is pretty swell, because I have Composting and Gardening Fever, which makes me feel so good that it even overlaps into food preparation and home organization (I don't know - I'm not questioning this, just trying to RUN with it)...We went to a friend's today and collected 2 buckets of composted horse manure, 20 strawberry plants, and some onion sets and one comfrey plant that snuck in amongst the strawberries.  I came home and immediately got to work layering the manure with the bags of leaves I acquired curbside from the school across the street. Then I washed out our beautiful compost container for the kitchen counter and started making dinner - ha! more for the compost! - which was pretty awesome, I must say (Vegetable Korma, from here - these recipes are well worth checking out, and I'm enjoying the rest of her blog as well).  The worms got fed, the kitchen got cleaned, and I was able to cross off strawberries from the "plants we need" list.  Happy.  Dan is at school as I write this, still preparing for his first class tomorrow - a new quarter, new responsibilities.  Ani declared that he may not go back to school anymore, so this week might be a little rough!  Luckily we have a visit from my sister, niece, cousin, and her two boys to look forward to - and this time NO ONE is going to get sick...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March goodness

We've made it to the garden every day this week, even in a light spring rain.  Along the way yesterday we stopped to ask a neighbor about a pruned stand of bamboo, and they offered up as much as we'd like - so here is D, happily carrying a few pieces along the bikepath to the garden. He's using it to reinforce the fence, and create a fixing place for the vining plants.

The neighbors (really nice people, by the way, who happen to have a couple of hives in their woods, and an old boxcar behind their house!) also mentioned that a rain like yesterday's often precedes the march of the salamanders from their yard over to the watery ditch that follows the path.  I thought about going for a walk with a flashlight last night to have a look, but didn't make it.
The girls and I have been playing Wildcraft, and learning a bit about the medicinal uses of some of the plants in our yard, and as a result, we are totally in awe of the dandelion, which proves useful for so many things ("more nutritious than anything you can buy", according to Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places; acts as a mild diuretic and improves kidney function; good digestive aid; soothes bee stings and blisters...just for starters.).   I picked some of the new leaves from those growing in our yard (as far away from the dog-travelled sidewalk and the surrounding grass as possible!) and added them to a delicious quesadilla for supper, along with locally made goat cheese from the market (and my ubiquitous sweet potatoes, of course). Eaten along with leftover white bean soup, it was YUM.
Thursdays are often an "unwind" day for the girls and for me - the beginning of the week is very busy, and Wednesdays are coop days, and by Thursday we want to stay put.  Inevitably it is also the day when the girls want to watch a long movie, and I am still so unresolved about the amount of movie watching we and they do, so from time to time it is a struggle to negotiate and organize our day around things I feel are better for them to be doing, and doing what they want to be doing.  Today E and I struggled with my wanting her to work a bit more on her piano (we slacked during the houseguests-and-stomach-flu period and have some catching up to do), and ended up needing some space from each other.  I suggested she go and draw to calm herself down while I folded some laundry, and sure enough, she went and angrily drew a picture of me, looking dumb and lifeless with a big X over it.  She gave it to me and I sort of tossed it aside, needing my own time to calm down.  Well...during the next 20 minutes she proceeded to putter around, gathering supplies and working on something at the kitchen table.  To be honest, I wasn't really paying attention, until she came and found me in the bedroom, putting clothes away.  She said, I was angry with you when I drew that picture, and I saw you kind of crumple it, so I decided to do something nice with it instead - I made you a kite.  GULP. Making a kite is something she did in one of her recent coop classes, where they've been talking about spring, water, clouds, and wind, but this one she figured out how to make all by herself. I was humbled and impressed and we tried it out when the rain stopped, and it even works.  (If you look closely, you can see part of the drawing through the paper!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What ever happened to that garden anyway?

Ok, none of these are going to do it justice, BUT, here are some photos of the work we've been doing on Plot 55, our little rectangle of the community garden.  Taking advantage of D being around this week, we've been clearing out the junk and putting up a fence to keep the deer out.
There are four long beds, which you can kind of see in the photo above, and the dimensions of the plot are 14.5' by 18', which will hopefully not overwhelm us!  We planted a few cloves of garlic and some daffodil bulbs in the fall, which are giving us a bit of a green corner, but we cannot wait to put more things in!  The frost date is in late April, but we have been assured that we can put in broccoli, cabbage, peas, and greens...
D and E are fixing cross bars on the outside of the netting we secured today.  Apparently deer won't jump over a fence if they can feel it but not see it very well. We're also in the middle of the garden, with many luscious yards of vegetables surrounding us, so hopefully they'll be so distracted that they won't even bother with little ol' Plot 55.

It doesn't look like much, but we are giddy.

Old Man's Cave

We decided to play tourist on the most beautiful day of the week (we are really loving Spring Break, can you tell?) and drove an hour NW to visit a small part of Hocking Hills State Park called Old Man's Cave.  The legend is that in the 1800's there was a man named Richard Rowe who was a hermit and a trapper and when he died (from an unfortunate accident with his musket while breaking the ice on the stream one winter) his trapper buddies wrapped him in oak bark and buried him in sand on a ledge of the cave.  Parents in the olden days used to tell their children to stay away from the cave (and more importantly, from the sandstone cliffs at the top of the mile-long gorge) because his ghost lingered behind.  Well, I might linger in this spot if I were a ghost (and if I could convince all the tourist to find somewhere else to leave their cigarette butts and styrofoam cups) - it was beautiful, and surrounded by tall hemlocks. Like so many natural awe-spots, photos (well, my photos) don't do it justice, but here are some just the same...
We often play the alphabet game while hiking, so were pleased to find this "A" bridge - and 2 more bridges in the same shot!
From one of the landings on the winding path up under the ledge on the left of the photo
Upper Falls, at the top end of the gorge. It was ch-ch-chilly...
Couldn't resist. She kept saying it was "Paradise"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

WWF has organized this energy-awareness event for the past few years, and it sounds like a great excuse to light a few candles, tell some stories, and enjoy the twilight time with the family...E and I looked at the website and the photos of the first Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia. It was pretty neat!

Turn Out The Lights!
March 28, 2009
8:30 PM local time (or in our case, beginning a bit earlier, so the girls can participate!)
Addendum from Poppy: check out this article in the NY Times to see how people in NYC are attempting to see the stars and perhaps save some electricity.

Signs of Spring

In the midst of E's waning fever and my impending stomach virus, A really needed to get out into the sunshine, so we compromised (something between lying on the couch and hiking around the lake) and took a walk down the street, searching for signs of spring...(mind you, this was a week ago, so old news in terms of new signs, but beautiful all the same!)
The crocuses my mom and sister planted with us in October
The "deer-proof" daffodils that were a birthday present from my family in September
Forsythia bushes are all a-bloom this week
Ani said, well you better take a picture of me! I've got short sleeves on - that's a sign of Spring!  Sure enough...

I'm really missing the SMELL of spring that I remember from Seattle. There was always an unidentifiable bush that bloomed early and with it came a heady, heart-stopping fragrance that lifted me a bit off the ground...that, and the daphne.  No smells yet, but the magnolias are blooming and there are buds on the cherry trees...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting reacquainted

This is a photo from a week ago, as A prepares to say good-bye to Papa for the day.  I forget, when our days are so full, that the stressful times of the quarter are stressful for even the smallest in our family.  She was insistent that he spend some time with her before he left, which he gladly did, and then she followed him down the street and commenced to sob and sob when he was finally gone and I asked her to come in.  She does not give over to tears much, this one, and so it was heartbreaking to watch the large drops roll down her face.  She was inconsolable.  
So she has been waiting and planning for this day, today, the day when Papa did not have to go to school and could spend the entire day with her.  E even talked about making signs to hang up around the house as a reminder today: pencils and paper with a large red X through them, just in case he was tempted to write another paper...And it was a lovely day! We spent hours at the Farmer's Market, eating oatmeal, buying beautiful eggs and spinach and apples and apple butter, running into friends, and listening to a singer and guitar player - and then after some hanging out at home - together! - we headed to The Ridges for a hike before supper.  There, at the "peak", our little hill of a destination, time stopped and we watched clouds move, listened to the woodpeckers, and rediscovered the feel of four.  It was really nice.  
Happy Spring Break, Papa!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sad and the Better

The saddest bits:
  • how sick my sister is feeling
  • my sick sister sleeping on an air mattress instead of in her cozy bed at home
  • the chocolate cake that I just threw away because we only ate one sixth of it (really, this is not soooo sad)
The better and even really good bits:
  • having this time with Lucy (who is reading to Anika right now, while Eliza sleeps...)
  • having the girls be old enough to play board games together!
  • discovering Jay O'Callahan and his marvelous stories on tape at the library. His "Earth Songs" tape with the story of Herman and Marguerite and the dear stories of frogs on side B is just making me so so so very happy.
  • watching the girls find their stride and finally all get along...JOY.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Unexpected

Anika making the chocolate birthday cake for L and A

The favorite pastime

My sister started planning the next time she and my niece would visit way back in October, after learning that we wouldn't be able to make the trip home to Wisconsin during the winter break.  She is amazing about this and has always made sure that not too many months rolled by between the times our girls get to see each other. So they are here right now...and she is undeniably, regrettably, thoroughly sick. With the flu. Of the stomach variety.  She of course, on top of feeling terrible, feels terrible, sensitive as she is to this being the end of winter quarter and therefore a stressful place for our family, and knowing that I was looking forward to her visit with held breath - anxious for the company of another grown-up who would sit with me for more than 2 minutes and reconnect me to the world, asking more of me than more food, clean underwear, or help with a zipper.  We are both disappointed (I know, I know, I KNOW I sound selfish, but there it is people. I. Am. Selfish.).  BUT...

This visit has also given me the opportunity to be far more involved with the girls than I otherwise would usually be.  My sister seems to bring with her a couple of suitcases full of creativity and patience and I am all too happy to gaze fondly at my niece while she (my sister) doles out the necessary suggestions and solutions to my two.  It is my turn to dig deep for the goods while she heals her body, and though my resources are low, I am not coming up empty handed.  I am noticing that the dynamic between the girls is changing - as they all get older and more developed in their personalities and temperaments, they are noticeably different. They run at different paces, notice different things, need different things from each other, and it is interesting to watch them try to figure that out.  This sounds so obvious, now that I'm writing it, but we have always emphasized the sameness, the closeness, especially of the older two. And then there is the inevitable problem of the threesome.  Lucy is nine months younger than Eliza and is adored by both of her cousins, and while E and A have so many days together that go swimmingly, they have a really hard time sharing their cousin.  It will be interesting to watch as this unfolds over the coming years, as the age difference becomes less important.

Identifying animal tracks (they made themselves field guides before we left the house, using track rubbings)
Lots of deer and dogs. I mean coyotes. Probably dogs, but coyotes sound much more exciting.

Day One, inseparable

A and I had a rough hike together, but trouble melted away in the sunshine, and with the help of lunch

We are hopeful for a good day tomorrow - with my sister's company.  

Daylight Savings

We celebrated with a walk. After dinner. Pretty much our favorite time to enjoy a family walk. And as an added bonus, it was a walk with Papa. 

The Final Poop on Poop

Well, all good things must come to an end. We had our last class on poop this week, and it was great! I had asked the kids to prepare short presentations, basically covering the question "what happens to poop?"  Most of them had not done this before, so there was a wide range of responses and effort, but everyone did it, including a girl from a family who was attending for the first time that day - she was inspired and asked if she could say something about the cow manure they spread on their garden! I was so impressed.  

Eliza brought in our worm bin and talked about the things she likes about worms, and what a worm bin is, and why a person might get into vermicomposting.  She had to remind me at one point that it was her presentation (oops) but I thought it went very well! The kids were really into the worms - I'll have to tuck that away for a one-shot workshop down the road. 

Other questions that were covered were:  How does a flush toilet work?  How does a composting toilet work? How does the water treatment plant work?  Where and how is poop used as fuel? As building material? Why do some animals have four stomachs (which  I realize is not an accurate question - it should be why do they have four chambers to their stomach)? (I have to insert here - the presenter to this question was very nervous, and yet was one of my favorites, as she presented in the character of a cow. On all fours. Chewing her cud. It was awesome.)  One boy talked about reptile poop and brought in a sample as well as his African Plated Lizard, which then spontaneously (copiously, impressively, and odoriferously) pooped all over his shirt. 

And then there was my favorite question:  Why do some animals eat their poop?*  The presenter concocted an edible poop to bring in and share with all of us...a fine, fine finish to a really fun unit.
*Some animals, like rabbits, don't get enough nutrients the first time, so they give it a second go.  Others, like koalas, need the microbes they find in their mothers' feces, to populate their gut so they can digest tough things like eucalyptus leaves.  Dogs eat their poo as a remnant of their ancestral instinct to eat the scat of their prey, in order to smell more like them.  There are a surprising number of animals who do this...

Monday, March 9, 2009

the Busy-ness

Here are some glimpses into the pace of our weekend! On Friday we have two sisters come over while their mom works an hour away in West Virginia as a nurse, and their dad teaches guitar lessons.  They came with us to an opening at The Dairy Barn, an art center and exhibition hall where Dan was a part of the evening's entertainment, performing his Wayan Kulit Indonesian puppet show from last quarter.  The exhibit of several types of Southeast Asian puppets, procured by Dan's advisor at OU, included the puppets in this first photo, which were available to "try out" (you could choose your head and body, mount them on a center pole, and have at it!).
Here you get an idea (maybe) of the set-up - Dan's classmate AJ, Dan, and Anika stand behind the screen, which is in the forefront of the photo, next to a laptop and projector.  I should have taken a photo from behind the screen while the performance was going on, so you could see the array of shadow puppets and the dalang, or puppeteer,  hard at work.
The characters below are the comic relief in Dan's piece, which was a segment of the epic story, the Mahabharata.  We were told that in Bali a performance would never take place without food, cigarettes, talking, gambling, and moving around.  Forget about shushing the kids...
And THEN...we were off to the library, to see another performance of An Da Union, back to complete their midwest tour before heading home to Inner Mongolia.  Here is Eliza (who was in heaven), learning some dance moves.
That was all for Friday.  Saturday was all about the Irish Dance performance, again at the library.  Talking about it, waiting for it, getting dressed for it, practicing for it...It was amazing how young E suddenly looked, tall as she is next to her buddies.  Here she is between her close sister friends, J and S (we see a lot of each other these days!), waiting for the music of the Boys of the Hock' to begin.
The performance was short and sweet, and then the teaching began! Dan, in the throes of this quarter's end, made sure he was there for this first of her performances, and was the first to volunteer to come up and be taught! So here they are, passing by, and then greeting each other.

I could go on about many details of this day - the poodle socks, the safety pins holding the sleeves of her leotard up so they don't show through the "ocean sleeves" of this dress...the dress, oh the dress, the beloved dress...she'll get to wear it for two performances on St. Paddy's day itself, swoon, drool, sigh...Dan and I are on the fence about Irish dance - the tension, the odd posture, the stiff upper-body - but E is really enjoying it, loves the music, and feels confident and lovely as she riverdances across the library floor...

Sister Magic

Every once in a while, when I'm not having much success at "making" something happen, one of the girls will invoke something they call Sister Magic, and suddenly a way is presented that wasn't there before (I swear!).  It is an agreement they come to, simply by uttering those words, something that I cannot predict nor conjure up myself.  It has helped us get ready to leave the house, make difficult decisions,  find the perfect piece of clothing to complete an outfit, and arrive at hiking destinations. It is Powerful.

We had a lovely morning on Friday, enjoying the turn in weather, and I saw plenty of the Sister Magic at work...I am wishing now that I had jotted some notes about this, but there was a day in the not SO distant past, when I had some creative solution to a problem we were having, and one of the girls nodded knowingly at the other and said "Mama Magic".  The other nodded in agreement, all of it on the hush-hush, and I secretly glowed...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

the quiet

The last few days have been so busy, I don't even want to think about them right now. So for a little quiet...Eliza is taking piano again, after a hiatus during our move, and is learning so quickly. She delights herself daily, running back to the piano after meals to play it again (her latest favorite is to play her new 2-handed piece "backwards AND with my eyes closed". I try not to laugh...). She has tried many new things this year, and it makes me so happy to see her engaged and proud of herself. She can feel how the hard work, the repetition is paying off...

But it is these moments that I love the most. Her papa loves to noodle around at the piano (claiming he doesn't really play. ha.), and they will sit in the evening and improvise together, letting their notes circle around and around each other, slowly winding down the day with a peaceful meandering up and down the keys...lovely.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Today was a day of dissection for those of us at coop. No, you do not need to conjure up the smell of formaldehyde from your 10th grade biology class. This was odor-free. A new class began that will focus on All Things Spring, and today's class was about how plants grow. Here is Eliza's dissection of a lily, which I just find so appealing:

Today was also the continuation of the Poop class, with a slight twist.  We talked about how some birds rid their bodies of undigestible material by forming a pellet of fur, bones, feathers, teeth, and insect bits in their gizzards.  These are then hocked out, to land at the base of a tree, and be collected by strange biology nerds for dissection.   (We actually found one of these pellets in our front yard in Richmond, VA, under a huge oak tree.)  For this class I ordered the "elementary" pack, which included 15 pellets, wooden probes, study guides and a free bone identification chart.  It was awesome! Most of the kids were really into prying apart the furry pellet and teasing out the bones within. Most of the pellets contained the remains of more than one animal, as most contained 2 or 3 skulls.  Using the probes (and for some, latex gloves), they separated bone from fur and tried to match them up with a drawing of a vole skeleton.  Ours was the last class of our coop day, so I was happy to leave it open-ended, so that kids who had really had enough focused learning time could keep it short-and-sweet, but aside from one boy who was really squeamish (politely so) about the whole thing, and insisted on washing his hands three times in 10 minutes (after which I offered to perform the dissection while he identified bones - this worked pretty well!), they kept at it for 40 minutes or so.  Hurrah!! 
Eliza hard at work

Student gluing matching bones onto his diagram of a vole skeleton

why... mangoes have such big pits? we hear geese flying overhead at 11:00 at night?
...are so many female insects larger than male insects?

sometimes these questions keep us up at night.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Art Swap Gallery

We participated in our first Artist Trading Card (ATC) swap - or to be more exact, Eliza participated.  Through a swap that was arranged by a couple of moms/artists/bloggers, she exchanged tiny pieces of artwork with six other kids from around the country, and the world. She sent her six pieces off a week ago, and has received miniatures from Oregon, California, Kentucky and North Carolina, and is awaiting another from California, and one from Australia! Commissioning artwork from Eliza is never easy - she wants to keep it all - so I cut many pieces of watercolor paper down to size (2.5 by 3.5) and we all sat and experimented with different styles and mediums until we had a nice pile to choose from. I have a few to send out to a friend myself, and then I'll post pictures of those as well! They are addictive!  We will definitely do this again in the future. Who doesn't love the combination of art and MAIL?!