Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas (not!)

Just as one can rarely blame smoking for one *particular* smoker's lung cancer, any one day's warm weather in a single location can hardly be called evidence of global warming. I spent many a childhood Christmas in Kentucky without a flake of white on the ground, and a white Christmas is more of a novelty there than a department-store Santa Claus.
All the same, as snow covered runways and roads from Portland OR to Chicago to Boston, I couldn't help feeling that Kentucky alone was bearing the evidence this holiday season of how winter precipitation goes wrong with temperatures just a few degrees warmer. Hazel looks happy enough, to be sure, and I know my sister-in-law and her family were glad that the southern half of their impromptu drive from Chicago to Louisville was ice-free. I'm glad to make the most of any weather, and 220 floating golf balls, harvested from nooks and crannies around my in-laws' 5 acre garden/playground, were evidence of a good time had by 4 cousins and 8 muddy boots.
One of the predicted hallmarks of global warming is more striking extremes of weather in any location. Next summer, if the last several years are any evidence, the area pictured will be cracked and dry, the gardens given I.V. irrigation to survive. I hope that all of these cousins, throughout their lives, will continue to be able to make the most of what the weather brings, with good shelter and family for company, and the imagination necessary to make appropriate use of golf balls or any other flotsam and jetsam they find.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The importance of dirt on children

I confess, friends - I usually gloss over your Christmas letters, barring overnight jail stays in foreign countries (Donovan, I hope your letter isn't so exciting this year!) or news I really haven't heard in any form. But this paragraph from Vik and Erika really stood out, not just as an example of fantastic childcare, but of the ideal life for young children.

"They went outside every day, rain or shine, and thought it was great to do things like give the kids cups at a water table and allow them to soak each other. Usually when Erika went to pick up Connor, he usually was in no rush to come home, and the layers of dirt and grime on his face and clothes was amazing. But his grin was huge, and that was all that mattered. Connor loved being able to roam around outside and jump in puddles."

Now, why doesn't NAEYC certification include a column on: gets children muddy and happy?
Here's my wish for 2009: May your days feature grass, mud, and grins, and may all your childcare providers play outside...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Farming women

This weekend was no one's idea of perfect weather for gardening - Friday's cold rain turned to a bit of wet snow to add on top of the tiny bit we had before. But this spring my colleagues Lynne (the photographer and truck-owner) and Kerri will be teaching organic gardening, and since they need to have a place to plant early spring greens, and since the ground is at least not frozen solid right now, they had to take the moment to break ground at Eden Hall Farm. Sunday was set as the start date, and Lynne had the rototiller delivered.

When I was a grad student in weed science, I craved the power of farm equipment. I rarely got to touch the tractor keys until I was pregnant with Emily, and the guys I worked with finally let me drive because they were too worried about my delicate condition to let me help pick the rocks out of the field. Normally I would have objected to any concessions given due to pregnancy, but control of the tractor key was an opportunity not to be missed. So instead, I drove the disk, or the bucket loader, or whatever it took to keep myself useful and busy in the research plots, lurching around the field with my awkward gear shifting and unpredictable hydraulic maneuvering. I didn't win any awards for driving, but I at least got to give it a shot.

But, here at Chatham 9.5 years later, Lynne and Kerri were not checking my credentials. They had 1 day with a dingo-rototiller, and they were glad even of my lurchy-driving help. We were three women alone with a piece of heavy gas-powered equipment and heady with the power of it. Lynne voiced what we were all thinking about the dingo eating the baby, but that was only the first laugh. Kerri and I got ourselves stuck, and then unstuck, and laughed. We shoveled out the compost and caked our boots with mud, and we laughed. We talked about the thrill of doing this ourselves, with no know-it-all male farm managers, and laughed. You can't quite see our faces in the picture, but when Lynne took this photo, Kerri and I were both restraining a laugh.

I can't speak for how the day ended, as I was only there for 2 hours, and I know it took Lynne and Kerri all day to finish. All of us have a very muddy pair of boots and a muscle or two which feels a bit different than it did before the weekend. The soil was too wet, really, and it still wasn't the best weather or timing for plowing. But I can state these facts: no men were present, the dingo still worked at the end, the garden got turned over for spring planting, and I loved every second of our time together with the dingo. I don't plan to clean off my boots, because I hope to get to do it all again. Maybe next time with a tractor.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The fitness problem

A couple of years ago, it dawned on me that exercising on a treadmill, though it is good for me, is actually a negative for the environment, because of the electricity use. I prefer running outside, generally, but I had, at that time, used treadmills on a regular basis in case of bad weather or darkness interfering with my ability to run. Then, for my first three years, I ran or walked on the treadmill with Roxanne, because with treadmills it didn't matter whether we felt like running the same pace that day or not; some days, she ran and I walked, while other days we both ran but her running pace was adjusted to her exhaustion from chemo. (Note that she *always* ran.) But since Roxanne died I have had truly zero motivation to get on a treadmill. And this is fine, from an energy and carbon footprint perspective, but the truth is that it is not fine for my fitness.

The last couple of weeks I have been trying to incorporate exercise into my life. This is not the same as scheduling in a run, exactly, though sometimes it has involved that. It means that I am trying to figure out places I can walk and times I can take time to walk. On one occasion, I parked at the bank and then, after banking, walked to the video store and the office supplies store, neither very far away, but a distance I would sometimes consider driving. Last weekend I was feeling stir crazy and walked in snowy darkness around the school track while Brian got the girls ready for bed. Two nights ago, I took a detour around the soccer field before picking up the girls at afterschool. I took the teasel picture at right (weed of the month), though I was looking for foxtail. The detour doesn't count for much as exercise, but on the other hand it was better than playing scramble on Facecrack for the 200th time.

None of these little efforts have earned me a holiday cookie, and goodness knows I have a lot of those to work off already. But it's a start, and if I can figure out how to make my carbon footprint lower at the same time I reduce my personal waistprint, it could be a really productive winter.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thanksgiving to Oh Solstice Tree, Oh Solstice Tree...

The shortening days have shortened our outdoor adventures. I would have guessed, when we lived in Hyde Park, that I would go out with the kids more in the dark when we lived in the suburbs, but still, we rarely do. But I've spent the last month in greater recognition of what an effort it sometimes takes to go outside.

Over Thanksgiving, we four took an outing, as usual, initiated by Brian. We started heading to Raven Run, a nature sanctuary just south of Lexington, tried to sidetrack to Floracliff Nature Reserve, which turned out to be private and appointment-only, and ended up at the Kentucky River, looking for fossils.

Fossil hunting is a common expedition for us. It isn't an activity I crave - we really don't need more fossils in the house, and catch and release fossil-hunting doesn't seem to be an activity I can lure anyone else into. And yet, it was beautiful. We started at river level, where I realized I don't know that I had ever touched the water of my homeland's river, and climbed up to the kind of view I crave sometimes when I am far from home. And yes, we came home with a bag full of fossils. We were parked in a questionable location, but Brian reminded me of what our standard family answer is should anyone ask what we're doing: "Why, we're just looking for evidence for Creationism!"
Further evidence of more recent creation was found at the fallen burr oak at the UK Arboretum.

Since returning to Pittsburgh, we've been pushed indoors by schoolwork and laziness, until yesterday we went to get our first live Christmas tree. We took a saw, intending to cut our own, but instead drove home with what must have been a 200 pound ball of soil attached to the tree. Next year, I don't think we'll repeat this, but if it survives, our tree-cutting outing may take us no further than our own back yard.

I'm hoping, with my classes over, that sledding and cravings for daylight - even frozen daylight - will take us all out a bit more. At the very least, we'll know exactly what the short days and long nights are like, so when night begins to recede a bit, we will know the reason to celebrate. The birth of the new Sun, our reason for the season, and ample reason to get outside and play, too.