Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Evening with Ani

Yesterday evening Ani and I had just enough energy to stroll (ahem, I was strolling, she was strollering) down to the bike path and around to the garden to pick some of the last peas. On our way we found...
Black raspberries

Goldenrod Gall

Here's a hazy shot of Plot 55

And some bike polo, of course!

Along the way we saw a cricket game being played, found a few more caterpillars that we did not bring home, and contemplated the following questions:

Do bears and cats belong together? Like in the same family? (I could answer this one with some confidence)

Why is "Blueberry Buckle" called buckle?  I haven't the faintest...but I love the question.

And it was the first evening we heard the cicadas whining away the end of the day. Summer.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Seconds

Two seconds is how long the japanese beetles lasted once Dan found them swarming the fern on the front porch. Within seconds they had chewed holes through it, sawed down a neighboring cosmos, and were apparently holding a raunchy frat party all over the fronds. I imagined what they might do to the young tomato plants, the basil, the peppers, and I saw RED.  Ruthless I was, hauling out a bucket of soapy water, plunk! plunk! plunk! I am aware that They might revoke my "Lover of All Things With Six Legs" card, but I have been trying to revive my fern, not kill it.  

Us or them, man, us or them.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sewing kit

Anika and I had lots of time alone together, what with getting up with the birds in the morning, and Dan and Eliza spending 5 hours this afternoon in rehearsal, so we got up to lots.  We worked on a present for a little friend here - it will be a felt bag with a heart pocket and a braided strap. When she's in the mood, this is a project she can do most of on her own.  She loves the ritual of sewing and begged for a sewing kit during a trip to the Dollar store, and we shouldn't have bothered - wasn't even worth the dollar! 
I tried to come up with something a little more useful, with only the elements she actually uses:
  • A couple of large-eye needles (I think these were called "Chenille" needles or something?); we mostly sew with felt right now, and these work great for her size of hands, and for the multi-string embroidery floss we usually use.
  • A tape measure (ok, she doesn't really use this for sewing, but it was one of the things from the cheapo sewing kit that she really loved).
  • Some thread and a threader (what are these called??).
  • A few safety pins (again, she doesn't really use these, but is very proud of the fact that she knows how to open and close them and I thought she'd like the option).
It all folds up together and fastens with a button. I must say, it's pretty cute! We'll see if it gets used.  I would like to find some small sewing scissors as well - the ones included in the other kit could not even cut through thread, they were that lame.
This was a great idea I saw on Sewing School. It holds just a small amount of thread, hopefully making it easier for small hands to use. 
We have an old suitcase that was my grampa's that we keep all the felt, a jar of buttons, a bag of thread and some fabric scissors in, as well as unfinished hand-sewing projects and miscellaneous ribbons and pieces of fabric.  The girls know where it all is, and as long as Ani curbs her desire to go on a mad cutting spree through all of the felt, I feel ok about them using it all on their own.

Here is a shot from an earlier project she and I did - lavender-filled pillow with a baby in a pocket. I got the little doll from a Waldorf bazaar a few years ago, but I'm sure some of you craftier folk could make them quite easily.

Dan and I are fighting sore throats, so I nursed a rendition of the Heavenly Cold Elixir today, made with sparkly water and ice cubes, which was refreshing and felt great on my throat. Gotta kick it - nothing worse than a summer cold!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


First there was "J-man"...
spinning an anchor to hang by
"J" position - beginning the process of shedding his skin for the last time, revealing...
the most beautiful chrysalis ever. Eliza was the one to find it, 
and was suitably awed.
And introducing Wee Willy, who was a little confused as to 
whether the milkweed was inside or outside the jar. 

This process is never anything less than magical to me.  I used to work in a nature retail store in Madison, Wisconsin, and for a time we sold potted milkweed plants with eggs or small monarch caterpillars on them.  They were a part of a project that tracked the monarch's migration to Mexico, and I was so attached to them, each one, that I would stay long after the store closed to watch the stages of transformation, or come in early to see what had happened overnight.  I love watching the girls spend time looking for Willy among the leaves, or exclaiming over the golden dots on the chrysalis.   Anika doesn't remember the painted ladies we had a few years ago, so this is all new again for her, which makes it feel new again for me.  I think Dan feels outnumbered by critters in this house, but surely he knows the lay of the land by now...the flora and fauna spilling into the house from the outside world is part and parcel of the gal he married.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Day - June 24

After taking Eliza to camp this morning, I had time before a doctor's appointment to go - by myself  - to the grocery store and Wednesday market.  The first cherry tomatoes of the season greeted me and I greedily snatched them up - these are Sun Sugars, and they are a gift from the gods.
I couldn't pass up these pickling cukes, which are now on Day #1 on their seven-day journey to pickledom.  I have my grampa's recipe on the fridge and I'm counting down the days...
Our cowapillar selected his spot to hang his "J".  I am in awe (sorry this is not a better picture - I didn't want to move the jar and disturb him).  I can't wait for the girls to see the jeweled chrysalis...
Ani and I did some sewing...
We made wishing scroll cases (thanks Lisa for the great tutorial!) and one for sis, who was by this time at rehearsal...
Ani ran outside to stuff hers full of flower petals, which she said were really wishes. I'd buy that.

Winding down after rehearsal.  A little yogurt, a little drawing, a little conversation...I miss this girl all day and it's hard to "make" her go to bed right away when she gets home. She runs around catching fireflies, reluctantly changes her clothes, and pulls me into story after story, song after song...

Nine and Sixteen

We have finally tipped the scales to more in-marriage than out - we fell in love 16 years ago this summer, and married 9 years ago today...There has not been a chance for us to even sit together for a moment today to reminisce, what with camp, meetings, doctor's appointments and rehearsal;  we seem to be in the thick of the reality of marriage. The elastic cords that bind us together are stretched around graduate school, kids, the need to have income, life (life. LIFE) - and the good news is that the elastic is strong and flexible, not like the brittle dried old rubber band you find in the back of the junk drawer.  Wow - what an analogy, huh?!  All the same, we do even better with some nourishment, and I'm looking forward to sharing a glass of wine and some time with my love...someday!  

I thought I would share some of the poems we surrounded ourselves with on our beautiful wedding day - imagine a dance-hall barn in South Central Wisconsin, a thousand cranes, golden flags, surprise rain, incredible family and our dearest friends reading poetry, making music, encircling us with their voices and love...

This marriage be wine with halvah,
honey dissolving in milk.

This marriage be the leaves and fruit
of a date tree. This marriage

be women laughing together for days
on end. This marriage a sign

for us to study. This marriage
beauty. This marriage, a moon

in a light blue sky. This marriage,
this silence, fully mixed with spirit.           ~rumi

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)


You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - 
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.
~  Mary Oliver

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Real Story

This was the last picture taken on Eliza's birthday. Anika wasn't looking at the camera (I'm wondering if she hadn't figured out how we were taking the photos? Dan thinks she knew, but was characteristically uninterested in the staged photo), and Eliza decided to move her head with her hands, and received a sharp tap on the noggin with a (closed) pocket knife in return, moments after the shutter snapped. Ouch.  
It was a long day, this birthday - moments of joy, peace, love, but so much more of the other stuff - impatience, frustration, anger, jealousy - you know, the purely human junk we all go through.  I took a few photos of the morning - our traditional circle 'round the sun candle, photos of the birthday girl, stories, present opening - but honestly, Dan and I were so miserable juggling the giddiness of one girl and the frank meanness of the other that I wanted to toss the camera in the back of the closet for the day.  I am recognizing a need to reach for more help with Ani right now.  She is expressing herself in pinches and gritted teeth, and my response deteriorates too quickly to animal instinct  - I just want to growl her away by the end of the day, when I know I should be drawing her close, finding the way in, connecting.  Our days are near-constant erupt and repair, erupt and repair...She had a terrible time sharing the day with Eliza, which I know is probably age-appropriate, but I didn't expect it.  She brushes off my words, my processing with "I know, I know" and I start to grit my own teeth.

We did have a good morning today - Eliza went to Girl Scout camp all day long (man, I feel like she's in school! 8:30 - 4:30 and no time for free play!!), and we had our little buddy Izekiel with us for the morning, so she got to be the big sister, and she was awesome.  She was gentle, amused, helpful, happy...it was a real pleasure to be with her.  I can't quite see through to the clues here, other than the obvious of her getting to be the big one for a while and therefore not needing to assert her power over him (is that all? really?).  She just adores Eliza, talks about her all the time, is heartsick on days like this when we see her in the car as we pick her up from camp, from rehearsal, but then she is quick to anger her, even when Eliza is being generous and loving with her.  

Sigh. I will let you know, with a concise and eloquent post, when I have four (and this girl) figured out...till then, I will keep on keeping on, because what else is there to do?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

On a walk the eve of her birthday, Eliza and I found this little fellow munching on some milkweed...we've decided he reminds us of a cow, and is here-to-fore known as the Cowapillar.
Now this guy had been with us since October, when Anika and Olivia found two enormous caterpillars at the base of their maple tree.  We brought one home and within a day it had crawled out of its skin, so to speak (you might be able to see the molt at the right side of the photo), and formed this cocoon.  We looked it up online and found it was an Imperial Moth caterpillar, and was not due to emerge until the summer.  Wow, that is one long metamorphosis!  At one point I had decided that we had made a mistake by bringing it in, and I thought it had probably not made it, so I took the jar out to our backyard.  As I tipped it to send it into a leaf pile under one of our maples, it began to violently twitch back and forth (quickly disappearing under the leaves - a nice response to danger, and an effective way to bury itself).  I quickly gathered it back up, covered it in leaves and brought it back to live near the shady window in our chilly bathroom.
Friday night, as Dan and I were watching a movie (watching a movie! He's done!), we heard a scratching noise in the bathroom and went to investigate.  Charlie our cat was sitting and watching this moth tap at the foil on the top of the jar...
See that nice, juicy fat body? Adult Imperial moths don't eat anything - they live their 4 or so days as a grown-up trying to find a mate, not bothering with something as trivial as food, but living off of that gorgeous body fat.  In the photo above you can see the cocoon he crawled out of, and maybe the molt as well?  Here he is, letting his wings dry...
And this is how he looked the next morning, all spread out, having climbed to the very top of the "butterfly house" we moved his stick to.  He easily measured 4 inches across.  We think he is a male, but couldn't say for sure - the females just hang out and radiate their pheromones, hoping for Mr. Right, and this one was a little more active than that.  When Dan released him last night, he was fluttering quite a bit and then took off quickly into the night air, hopefully to find a mate and not the waiting maw of a bat. 
Eliza took both of these events - the finding of the Cowapillar and the emergence of Mr. Imperial - as her dearest birthday gifts, saying, "well, you know, mama, I am a nature girl!"

The Birthday and the Girl

Isn't she a beauty? Sigh. This child has been sparkling since the day she was born and still she exudes energy and vitality like no one else I know.  Most days I would consider her the friendliest person around - she loves meeting new people, will happily engage strangers in conversation, invite them to play, kids and grown-ups alike.  She is intense in what has become a love-of-life kind of way, but which began as being extremely sensitive and large in her emotions.  She still feels things to the core, but this is the first year that she hasn't cried about turning a new age - she has embraced "seven" with joy and excitement.  She claims that animals talk to her;  she slows for every dog we encounter on our walks, "does your dog like children?" In fact, there are a number of people in our town whom she only knows by their dogs, and people who know her because she'll sit outside and greet them on their way past our house with their dogs.  I've been out at the store and had people ask, "don't you live on Central?" and they have recognized Eliza.  It's not uncommon for her to exclaim "hey, I know you!" to a complete stranger (to me anyway - and yes, this at times freaks me out, but she generally has a pretty good sense about people and trusts her instincts.  We are working on helping her not hug everyone she meets, including the guy who delivered our pizzas the other day - I'm not kidding...).

So, Eliza wanted to go fishing for her birthday.  We'd never been fishing as a family before, so this meant finding poles and exploring the tackle box, which Dan dug into with abandon! It was a nice way to celebrate not only her birthday, but the first day Dan was FREE!!!! He turned in his last paper on Friday.  After birthday pancakes and present opening, after market and lunch, we headed to the beach to swim, have fresh spring rolls, and fish.

Ani and I occupied ourselves with bubbles and a nearby creek...
It was a lovely ending to the day, lovely to celebrate Eliza and the Solstice by hanging out together in the sunset...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day at the Farm

It's been a while since we made it out to our friends' farm for a visit - today we arrived to goats run amok, standing on their hind legs to stick their heads in our car windows (shriek!) (M. said they like to wonder what it would be like if goats ate people. They eat just about everything else!).  After much coaxing, wheedling, tugging and manhandling, M wrassled Daisy and Petunia into their pen.

We helped with the chores - Ani and Olivia are pushing the wagon full of sawdust and Little Brother up the hill to the new coop...
Izekiel single-handedly filling his bucket with every stone in the driveway...
and then taking time to chase the chickens...
We had a lovely time, hanging out and drawing pictures of our buddies...
Making new friends with one of the new kitties...this one may come home with us this week, as we pretend it is the puppy that Eliza really wants for her birthday.
M and I got a chance to talk about womanly things - you know, like being a mother, being a wife, trying to remember what it was like to just be a woman.  She is my dearest friend here, though we realized today that Dan and I have been together since she was...ten. Ouch.  This woman has got it together in ways I couldn't begin to imagine when I was her age, and is one of those people that brings such a positive light to my days...wish we had more time to spend together.

And last but not least...today I mourn the end of an era.  My Summer Skirt, purchased at the Farmer's Market in Madison 3 summers ago, has suffered mortal wounds. Threadbare. May she rest in peace.  Anika sighed and said, well Mama, it is a beautiful red that is peeking through! She's right, but we can't go around looking like the ragamuffins we are, now, can we?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Berry Pancakes at the Market

It's berry season around here...strawberries, raspberries, blueberries...Eliza took part in a class at the Wednesday market this morning called "Junior Chefs", and they took advantage of this berry bounty to make berry pancakes.
Anika and I tagged along, and wasted no time in buying a pint of berries from Ed and digging right in...
After reviewing the recipe, the kids and their facilitators walked around the market to purchase eggs, honey and berries from the vendors.
We tagged along, buying strawberries for Eliza's birthday cake...
Here is "the honey guy", passing out honey sticks and showing the girls the bees he'd brought along...
Ok, down to the cooking. This picture looks like one of those "how many junior chefs does it take to stir the dry ingredients?" jokes...apparently it takes 4, plus one teacher.
Cutting up strawberries for the sauce on top...

Checking out the first cakes...
We amused ourselves with a pawpaw popsicle from Integration Acres (this one is made with pomegranate and cherry - it was delicious!)...
Eliza on blueberry duty...
And finally, tasting the pancakes, topped with strawberry sauce.  No decent pictures, but you'll have to believe me when I say they were GOOD!
This is one of the things I love about being here - there are a lot of people who care about the food they're eating, how it was grown, where it was grown.  I did find myself thinking that, like Eliza, the participants in the class were most likely all kids who are already familiar with the market, help cook at home, and eat healthy well-balanced diets already.  I would love to see this kind of a program reach further than our town, to kids for whom this would really be an eye-opener.  Little by little...