Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby cardinals...

Emily went out to harvest some tomatoes for lunch and found this little guy under our pine trees this morning. S/he and a sibling and toddling around the yard, their parents worrying overhead. We put out some chicken food on the ground (to give Emily something to do), but I'm worried for them. We know what predators can do around here! I can only hope that cardinals have more evasive measures than caged chickens.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chicken's sunflower memorial

One of the challenges of feeding chickens in the city was finding a source of chicken feed. Sometimes I didn't have time to go order in advance, and I was stuck buying from the grocery, and on at least one occasion, I bought sunflower seeds.

I have tried, on numerous occasions, to grow a sunflower circle in our garden. I have an image of a circle of sunflowers with morning glories twining up them, blooming golden and amethyst in August. But the rabbits have always eaten the sunflowers when they were small, and so they never grew to the grand heights needed to bloom.

After the fox incident, I watched the yard for feathers for a while - we have a number of them around the house. I also noticed a seedling sunflower in the back lawn, presumably planted accidentally by a pecking chicken. I have been mowing around it now for almost two months, and Emily discovered this morning that it is finally blooming.
It is relatively short - a scant 3 feet tall at best. Most of the bottom leaves have been eaten off, and several of the remaining leaves are ragged. I accidentally stepped on it once when I backed into it while tending the spreading pumpkin vines nearby. We still don't know what our next household animal will be - aside from the many wild rabbits in the yard - and much as I want one, I fear the huge responsibility of another life in my protection. This morning, though, we got one last greeting from the chickens, and it is a real beauty.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Birthday party, with usual and unusual forms of entertainment...

Saturday we had 7 girls over for a slip-and-slide birthday party (with pinatas, of course!) at home. This was our first party at home in 3 years, and I was more than a bit nervous about making it turn out to be fun. At some level, how bad can a party be? The girls will have friends to play with, cake to eat, candy, and party favors. But there is always the question of organized entertainment.
The slip-and-slide, thanks to Brian, became a triple-length soaped-up raceway for daring girls. Although Emily, as usual, pushed the limits of possibility the farthest, all the girls were, in fact, daring, and gave excellent runs. They beat up the pinatas, climbed in the treehouse, were well mannered at lunch, and generally great company.
They also, as it turned out, were a good crew of naturalists. We often collect fossils on family trips (a tradition passed down from my in-laws), and some of the discards end up in the gravel next to our shed. I had used some of these rocks and fossils to hold down their place cards for lunch, and when I told them they could trade with each other, they spent probably 30 minutes poking around the gravel and turning up brachiopods, trilobites, horn coral, and geodes, not to mention lovely smooth river rocks of all sorts. One young collector took home about 9 trilobites, and another had to be convinced by her father to abandon one rock because it was so large she couldn't lift it.

I can't plan for this kind of entertainment. One of my most dismal failures of a birthday party was a bulb planting event for Emily's September birthday. The children correctly perceived that the party was thinly disguised garden work, and the fact that they could barely pierce the soil with their shovels left most of the bulb planting work to me. But on this day, Hazel's 6th birthday, even the ant nests under the rocks held their attention. The clouds passed, leaving only a few drops. No one got cut or bruised or damaged. The day was a success. (WHEW!)
Happy Birthday Hazel!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pinata brag

Hazel's birthday is next Saturday. She wants to have it at home, which I have consented to despite great reluctance to have to clean house that much. However, one thing I do enjoy - though we only did it one other time, for Emily's birthday - is making pinatas. I was sure one would fail, so we made three, and here is my favorite.
(It is modelled after a Little Pet Shop)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Swim season concludes

Summer swimming is a sport I have a lot of opinions about, both from my own experience and now, as a parent. I myself began swimming fairly late, around age 14, when my best friend convinced me to give it a try. I actually felt I had little choice, because she spent so much time at the pool that if I didn't join I would hardly see her. It was a really struggle, and I still remember one of the early practices when Coach Gary Bunch said: "OK, 500 warm-up!" I had, until that point, never swum 10 round-trip laps of the pool consecutively in my whole life, much less as a warm-up. When I won the "110%" trophy at my team banquet at the end of the season, it was clearly not in acknowledgement of my speed, but my sheer tenacity in not drowning for the whole 2 month season.

That experience has strongly colored my parenting. First, I recognize that learning to really swim (as opposed to staying afloat) at age 14 was harder than it should be, and so this year I signed Emily (at 8) and Hazel (at 5) both on our pool's team, even though Hazel's crowning accomplishment of the junior swim team season is finishing a 13 meter lap of the shallow end. No matter the short distance - she was (and I am) terribly happy to give her a taste of success so young.
With Emily, of course, my expectations are higher. She bears the cross of the oldest child, always carrying the burden of my own regrets on her sturdy young shoulders. I try awfully hard not to let my own impossible dreams infect her view of her own success. And yet, I can't help it. I watched her learn to do monkey bars at age 4, a feat I can perform only with great difficulty even now (and never could as a child). The same year, she learned to bike, 8 years younger than my own first success on two wheels. And though she swam this year, it always seemed it was something she did because 1) I signed her up for it, 2) the doughnuts after Friday practice, and 3) the parties after the swim meets. Her light-blue cap features a panda bear and the words "Beijing Bound," but I don't think Emily has any concept why I bought it for her. I'm not sure I know, myself - somewhere between its being cute and its harboring the dreams of a 37 year old woman who read International Velvet a few too many times as a teenager.
In her last meet of the season, Emily had yet to be part of a winning relay or individual event. She'd become resigned to being toward the end of the pack - not last, but with no risk of winning, either. But that day, the whole team did better. We still finished the season winless overall, but that day many swimmers won their races, and the whole meet we had hope, and excitement. In Emily's first race, she finished her anchor leg of it where the first swimmer left them: first place. Similarly, in her third race, Emily's leg started and ended with them winning; she'd upheld the good order.
While winning a relay has the glory of shared victory, individual accomplishments are dampened, generally. But in Emily's second relay, she had the kind of moment that makes sports addictive: she came from behind.

She told me later that the other team's swimmer was trying to chat with her before the race, but that she just looked at her and put on her goggles. The competitive bug must have firmly bitten me, because I didn't even reprove her for being aloof. In any case, Emily said afterward she could see when she was passing the other swimmer - this is her, on the left, just as she pulls ahead - and though she didn't use the word "satisfying," I could see it on the curl of her smiling-cat lips. Both the coach and the timers congratulated her afterward, and she said she really liked that.

I don't know believe Emily is addicted to swimming, and I don't think she has the least bit of interest in winter training. But at least we ended the season on a good note, and I can begin to hope that swimming has finally offered Emily its own rewards, rather than the imaginary victories thrust upon her by a poolside mom.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Goodbye to good friends, and a treehouse completed

This week we were all spending a lot of time with Emily's good friend and her family, who left Friday to move to Austria. This was the first time in 8 years that I've been the friend left behind, and it sucks! Definitely not as much as moving, in terms of logistics, but the constant sense that life is normal except for this one hole in the fabric is a bit unnerving. Several times in the last couple of days, Emily has mused, "I wonder what Annalena is doing now?" I think the strangest part of having friends leave is the sense that you don't know what they look like in their new place. And the other part is having all those wonderful memories follow us around town/neighborhood as we go about our normal routines. Hopefully we'll go visit in November; I have to renew Emily's passport, and get Hazel her first one.

Brian spent more time than he should have this weekend at home, finishing up a tree fort in the backyard. The camera insisted on focussing on a branch instead of the fort, but you get the idea. We'll see how much play it gets, but it was fun to make, at least. If it fails as a fort, we can always convert it to a fox-proof chicken house! I have a theory about houses/forts that children never really play in them unless they build them themselves, so this will be interesting to watch. Emily did help with this, a bit, but I wonder what will make it feel like a retreat? I suspect a blanket-roof would help; we're thinking we'll let the girls paint it, as well.