Thursday, July 26, 2012


It's a morning of cold cereal (unusual in our house), and fruit, and, funny enough, Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex, being read to us in the kitchen. Ani and I were up early to walk to the garden, passing a young buck with a nice sprout of antlers, and a praire patch full of blazing star and iron weed. The garden. sigh. I am feeling so down about the garden. What we harvested this morning were weeds. This is our first year without a fence, and something is eating everything that decided to grow - the sunflowers, the beans, the BEETS! The cauliflower and broccoli are boycotting (again), the peppers are busy but pepperless, and the tomatoes, as usual, are stingy.

 Really, I can't blame any of them, neglected as they are. What is growing? Lots and lots of mugwort, which was not planted, and TONS - happily - of sorrel. It is the one joy of the garden, greeted with whoops by Ani, who picks it by the armful, munching happily. I thought of something my wise friend Erin has said about various skills or activities she has tried throughout her life - maybe this is not my time for gardening. I shouldn't believe the story that I am not a gardener, or that I am a failed gardener - it is just not my time right now.

 I sort of believe it. And once again I am deeply grateful for the abundance of our community - the eggs and the box of peaches waiting for me on my doorstep when we got home (early morning drop-off from a friend), and my fridge full of chard and kale and basil and cucumbers and the beautiful tomatoes on my counter from the farmer's market.

After a half an hour of weeding, Ani lying in the shade of the mulberry, as it must be already 90 degrees, we headed home with a hand full of beans and tomatoes, two sprigs of basil, a clutch of yarrow, and some lambs quarters weeded from the edge of the garden. The veggies went into my eggs and the yarrow on the table - enough for us in our world of bounty.

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Today we will read through more of A Wrinkle in Time, make some more art (I'll be able to share pictures soon when Dan's computer comes back from computer summer camp), tidy up a bit in anticipation of Dan's return from Baton Rouge, sweat about 3 gallons of water each, drink glass after glass of iced tea...and then head out for the last summer piano lesson, to the library for "bug class" and to the airport for pickup.

Did I mention summer was busy??

Thursday, July 19, 2012


two black raspberries, fat in my mouth
three goldfinches discussing something urgent on the path -
one for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding - or is that only counting crows?

butterfly weed, mugwort, dogsbane, sycamore, wild onions

two walkers, panting their words,
miss the deer stepping suddenly from the woods ahead.
i wait for its white flag of alarm, but it just lowers its head and eats.
my own thoughts are jostled with my steps, no form, no count,
but they leave a residue on my skin
long after i get home.

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There is something about summer that promises something false: my brain has been trained since childhood to consider summer as a long stretch of timelessness, with evenings that stretch so much further towards night, and days of near-boredom, with so much time to contemplate things like clouds and grass, which is always lush and green in memory. In reality it is crackly brown.

There is the good and the bad of it, and the neither, the Just Is. There is the rush for berries, so ripe just now, under the flap of birds' wings, but spent by next week as the wished-for rain holds off another day. There is the constant whir of hummingbird at our window, sipping the monarda and the simple syrup we've left out. There is the river, so low and shallow that we walk across it, braving the garbage and the mysteries of the bottom (oh, I do not want to know), just to say we have crossed.

The quick rain feels like such redemption from the dried up and stingy feelings of dry ground and heavy air. After so much sweat and lethargy we feel as though we've earned the cool breeze and look! Energy to write words after so many dog days. The looks of angry, itchy boredom have disappeared, and the rain has eased everyone into their little pockets of calm...(how long will it last??)

In reality, we have been so busy. There is so much Out - picking berries, watering the garden, pulling our very successful weeds. Hiking and market and snake dissection and whittling and writing and reading and boating and...Knowing that the fall gets so busy, I worry about our summer, but then suddenly there is a day like today: painting garden sticks and reading about the Ice Age (gleefully. over breakfast. giggling.), playing the blues on the piano, lemon balm tea, measuring of sunflowers, and a date with Papa to see a play to anticipate, and I think - ah. Summer. Though the ironweed is blooming too soon, the thunderstorms are looming over our forecast, and flashfloods are the worry of too much quick rain after drought, we are finding ourselves squarely in tomatoes-and-basil Summer, and what is there to do but enjoy?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

everyday stuff

On the kitchen counter next to our stove:

Two jars of deep purple sauerkraut, fermenting
A half dozen beautiful tomatoes from the farmer's market
Stack of recipes - including a crumbling black binder of my grandma's and several loose sheets of paper, one of which I'm hoping has a recipe for peach salsa on it
A cup that holds 9 or so egg shells that I think belonged to a snake
(or, rather, several snakes)
A measuring cup full of sprigs of purslane, from a friend's garden. They're beautiful.

On my dresser:

A Thomas Jefferson Education - Oliver Van DeMille
Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
Adam & Eve - Sena Jeter Naslund
Horoscopes for the Dead - Billy Collins

On my to-do list today:

Finish organizing the materials in the art room (finally! finally! finally!!)
Water the garden, as we are apparently truly in a drought
Chauffeur - Eliza to the library for a writing workshop that she LOVES; Ani to dragon art camp which she LOVES; Eliza to piano, which she sometimes dreads but always appears to end up enjoying
Get around to making peach salsa and southeast asian chili garlic sauce

Looking forward to:

Catching up with an old friend on the phone while one child writes and the other reads in the library
Hanging out with Eliza - alone - after piano. Those moments are so rare.
Tonight: a sushi picnic by the river with friends-from-the-woods followed by Singing in the Rain at the big movie theater
Tomorrow: hiking with a friend in a county west of us - cedar barrens and prairie remnants and who knows what else...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Our farmer is HOME! She's a little tired of answering questions about the camp, but from what I can gather: she loves goats, small animal care was her all-time favorite chore, but she also washed dishes four times and is on the record as saying "I will happily do any chore you want me to at home. I'll even take out the compost".  (I feel it would be taking advantage of her post-camp high to hold her to it, but it was fun for a minute to consider.)  She loved the ferrets, tea in the Evening Yard, Richard's night-time stories (Mom, they were odd), and she was really grateful to her bunkmate for falling out of bed the last morning and waking her up so she could make it to goat milking one last time.

Mostly, she missed us a lot, and/but was really happy.  The creek walk, the chute down from the hay loft, the food...we had a dicey moment the other night - her second night home - when she realized that I'd washed her laundry. She burst into tears as she examined the pile of folded camp shirts: Richard told us to put them in a ziploc bag and save them for a winter day and take them out and they'd smell just like the farm! I even rubbed a bunny on my shirt! She gets this sentimentality from me, I'm afraid, and I was so sad that I'd already washed her clothes.  Luckily, in the middle of the night I realized that there had been only 4 shirts of 6 in the wash, which meant....YAY!!! There was a stinky, dirty shirt balled up in her hat!! It's now in a ziploc bag in the bottom of her pants drawer, waiting for some wintry day's dream of summer...

Ani and her beloved Rosalie
I have to include this picture, 'cause it just makes me LAUGH! It's the last in a long line of squinty pictures in the parking lot of a huge Amish-run market stand and petting zoo where we met for a quick ice-cream before heading home, but what's cracking me up are the wee kiddos in the ginormous chair, and the huge mamas in the front, sassin' the photographer...and I am loving that my friend of 20 years is in my life and that our kids just love each other...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lab of Wonders

This is my last post on Ithaca, though there is surely more to tell about the neighborhood walks, the waterfalls, the strawberry picking, and the people, oh, the people.  But today is about an amazing place called the Cornell Ornithology Lab and our behind-the-scenes super special tour, courtesy of someone I'll call Marvelous Marge.

If you enjoy birds, you may have come across the Cornell Ornithology Lab when searching for a match-up of bird description to bird call, or to participate in their Citizen Science projects.  I knew ahead of time that they were a rich resource, but I didn't know half of it. 

When you visit the lab, there are huge windows overlooking a pond and the edge of the Sapsucker Woods.  If you didn't bring your own, there are high-quality binoculars for you to borrow as you walk the trails or sit by the window and look out.  We did all of that on our first visit, but the second time, with Dan along, we got a tour of the specimen collection.  This is not for the squeamish.  In fact, one of my cousins was pretty nervous, having a strong memory of opening a trunk on a previous visit and being profoundly disturbed by the combination of preserved specimen he saw (we unanimously agreed not to open this particular trunk, claiming it was because it might freak out the girls, but really, his memory was sufficient to freak us all out).  

The room Marvelous Marge took us to held the herpetology collection, the result of field research, and private donations.  I was amazed at how old some of the specimen were; many of the tags were from the early 1900's.

There was something about the sheer quantity of jars, and the varying sizes, that reminded me of being in a twisted candy shop, or an olde time apothecary.  I wish the light had been better for some clearer shots; it was so beautiful and so disturbing, an intersection between science and art.  

Yes, it was a little freaky. And so very interesting to observe what felt freaky and what didn't.  I had a hard time looking at the turtles piled into a pickle jar like cookies, but the frogs didn't bother me so much.  I don't think I could have looked at mammals, but thankfully we were spared that opportunity.  The next room we were shown was full of birds, lain in trays that pulled out like the instrument trays at the dentist's.

I don't want to share the photos I have of the full bodies of these birds.  Their stillness, the absence of eyes, and the unnatural positioning of their bodies - flat on their backs, their breasts puffed up as if wearing their mourning suits at a wake - it all makes them look very little like birds.  There is something very sad and undignified looking at a bird as respected as an eagle or as romantically elegant as a swan in this position.  But the opportunity to look at every detail, at the finest of feathers on these creatures I will never be this close to in life, to look at the curve of their long toes and at their resting was really something.  I could have stayed all day.

As if all of this wasn't enough, we also got a chance to tour the bioacoustics library.  The work they are doing in sound is amazing.  One project they talked about concerned the protection of Atlantic Right Whales in the Boston Harbor.  Microphones placed in the harbor alert the researchers when there is a right whale in the area, and they in turn are able to communicate with the shipping traffic that there is a whale and since the project began six or so years ago, there have been no whale casualties!!  The collection here contains field recordings from all over the world, from Cornell researchers as well as naturalists who were conducting their work at the turn of the century.  They are a resource for scientists, musicians, film-makers...

Dan is looking at a collection of recording equipment from "the olden days" - a real line-up of instruments, getting increasingly more refined and smaller.  This is geek heaven - shelves lined with meticulous notes on each recording, cans of old film footage of rare or even extinct species: the film cans below hold footage from the '50's of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The sounds on all of these old recordings are being digitized, of course.  Dan wanted me to be sure to take a photo of their server, below...

Many of the bird sounds are being used to create interactive educational tools to engage novice bird-watchers.  There are also these stations out in the visitors' lobby, where you can select an animal and hear and watch its sound waves move across the screen.  We were here a loooooong time, listening to just about every one.

And then we were ready to join the outside world again; with the smells of the preserving chemicals and so much information buzzing in our heads, it was a pleasure to re-emerse ourselves in the green greens of the pond.

who are you??
Thank you, Marvelous Marge and cousins, for an amazing adventure!! I hear the girls telling people about the labs, describing the whale project, talking about the sound equipment and the huge disc microphones, and I remember the moment we were standing in an empty lab full of tables and centrifuge machines and microscopes, talking about DNA and the freezer room of ancient finds and Christopher asked them, have you ever been in a real scientists' lab before? Then MG pointed out the pegs on which hung all the real scientists' white lab coats, and Eliza turned to Ani and said, totally giddy, "Ani. This is our future!", after which they broke into peals of maniacal laughter.  Awesome.

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Checking weather in Addis, morning of departure. Really.

...and to close up on the We Love Ithaca series, thank you to the one who sheltered and fed us, the crazy lady who hosted our family up to the day she left for a 6-week trip to Africa....good god, woman! We love you.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's July???

We took Eliza to camp this week.  Camp! Summer camp! Holy wah, we are already there.  We got to giggling over the sign etched into the old brick school building in the tiny crossroads near the farm where her camp is being held.  Charm School. Indeed.  This camp, from the sound of it, is not exactly charm school, but more like a learn to milk a goat, muck a stall, make some butter kind of place.  She should be in heaven.

our awesome kid
We stayed in the same place we had when we visited in May, so there were old friends to reconnect with - Rosalie, the long swing, the horses...

The flies were really bothering the horses, so many of them had face masks, and the cheese-maker who also owns the horses gave them a vigorous brush-down during their evening stroll around the grounds.

(Yes, most of my photos are from the safety of a gazebo.  Shall we say that I have a healthy respect for the animal that is the horse? Yes. I like a safe perch from which to admire their grand beauty...)

goofy girls and - who IS that guy?

Eliza had a few days of cold feet last week.  She has planned for and dreamed of and saved for this camp for a year - she has read and re-read the brochure so many times she has "a typical day" memorized.  She is a farm girl at heart and everything we've heard about this place makes it sound so special, and the girls we met the night before drop-off were so excited - not to meet with kids they'd met previous years, but to be at the farm.  By the time we got to dropping her off Monday morning, she was so comfortable with the girls she'd met, and so very very excited that she went off happily with her bags, with no hesitation.  Wow.  Dan reassured me that this - this age, this confidence - is a great place for her to be right now, and he's right.

After drop-off we headed into Charm to walk around the Amish-owned shops (the arrows! the wood! the fabric!) and then on home.  Pick-up is on Friday...

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It wouldn't be July without blueberries, would it? Not around here...

On our way to pick, we saw signs of the storm everywhere.  This farm, on top of a ridge, was particularly hard-hit.  In the photos below you can see metal wrapped around a tree, and a barn that completely collapsed, sadly killing the two goats housed inside.

After berries we caught up with our friends - summer has a way of disrupting that regular hang-out routine - and tried some whittling.

And then, of course, it was the Fourth this week.  In our tiny town, that meant the four minute parade!! Yes, I'm exaggerating, but only by a few minutes...

First there are the pick-up trucks with local politicians and the sheriff.

There was a sweet surprise of some friends who interrupted the line-up of trucks, trucks, tractors, and trucks to pedal and walk their message down the main street.  I wish there were more of this...

And for a welcome break in the shower of candy pelted out of every window, this owner of the local bakery gave out sprigs of rosemary.  Ahhhhhh.....

We've got the shriners...

...and all of the emergency vehicles...

...yes, and the tractors...

(oooh! a roll of smarties, perilously close to the tractor wheel!!! the family next to us kept shrieking at their youngest child to stay back from all of the vehicles in her mad scramble for candy, and unfortunately she shares my was really unnerving to keep hearing my name screamed over and over in high-strung panic!!)

We have the princesses...

And last, but not least, there were a few horses, gussied up a bit for the occasion.

Yup, that's it. What's that? Where was the music? The drums? The baton twirlers and the clowns? The crepe paper floats??? Yeah, it leaves a bit to be desired, but since there's nothing stopping me from putting together some class-act marching band, I should really not be complaining.  Hmmmm....we have another year here...maybe we should do our part to turn the four-minute parade into something more like a 10-minute parade...hmmmmmm.