Monday, July 27, 2009

Dodging rainshowers; Happy Birthday Hazel!

This weekend Hazel turned 7, and we continued our celebratory week of "Brian is done with his grant proposal," starting with playing at Ohiopyle. We set out with full expectation of getting rained on, but it didn't happen, and didn't happen. I went for a run on the bike trail; Emily and Brian both found the natural waterslide calm enough for a run (though both have backside bruises resulting); we picnicked; we found a playground we'd never seen.

Sunday dawned with a threatening sky; Emily and Brian got soaked during the pre-party shopping expedition, and the pool party wasn't looking so likely to be a great plan. I frantically gathered art supplies together. Finally, an hour and a half pre-party, I looked out and realized we were going to at least get a clear patch in the weather, and though we had some chilly kids for the first hour (not tooo chilly to throw water balloons, though), the sun warmed us up toward the last hour, and we ended up staying at the pool until dark.

And finally, we had a garden triumph. Though I have planted sunflowers every year we've lived here (and got one volunteer sunflower from the chicken's feed last year), this was the first time I planted them within the garden fence, and I was rewarded with this bloom, which is so high up that I had to photograph it blind, my hand holding the camera as high as I could reach on tiptoe. I love how the center of it looks like the pattern of spirograph.

Sun and rain don't always cooperate with human plans, but this weekend we got really lucky. Happy Birthday Hazel!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A croissant, a fallen tree, and thou...

Though we had plans to go camping with Ser at the midpoint between us, she's been spending her energy these last weeks 1) gestating and 2) moving, not to mention the normal chaos of parenting two healthy, energetic boys. So Saturday we found ourselves driving her way, arriving in time to play in the yard, eat burritos and drink beer (OK, Ser's husband and I had beer), and put the kids on a movie so we could catch up. We slept in sleeping bags, after all, but on a comfy mattress with no raindrops and no need to rebuild the campfire before having our morning tea.
Sunday, after a couple of boxes were unpacked, we walked a few blocks to the bakery for elevenses, as the Hobbits would say, and meandered back to their new house via a lovely woodland park, complete with an elderly fallen oak. In our old neighborhood of Hyde Park, fallen trees indicated lack of maintenance to many, but fortunately, this is a neighborhood where a fallen tree is left out of respect, to be admired, not removed as debris. (I hope that when I get old and fall down dead, there will also be children playing on my gravesite.) It was a happy spot, a place where our 4-9 year old mix of boys and girls could climb and show off in the shade on on a perfect summer day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slip and slide fun

For slip and slide to be fun and comfortable, it has to be really hot, and yesterday delivered. Here's Emily proving that sloped (weedy) lawns really are more fun - especially with a bar of soap and a slip and slide! Bonus: she was sparkling clean, afterward, too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Babies, babies everywhere...but not here

I have long joked that I was promoted to my level of incompetence when we had our second child. I love babies, love my two daughters, loved every moment of the nursing and cuddling, and at the same time, for now, my love of babies is at its best when it is vicarious.

This weekend at the zoo with our friends was no exception. We saw a two baby elephants, a baby sea lion, baby beavers, 3 fawns, and a young penguin (full-size but with fluffy plumage). Also, we were there with a charming 2 year old and his parents, long-time friends who were among the first to hold Emily as a newborn, nearly 10 years ago. (Erika, now the mom of the aforementioned toddler, actually declined to hold Emily out of fear at the time, as she looked so new and fragile)

With the exception of the rather scruffy, absurd-looking (teenage) macaroni penguin, all the young animals we saw were Awwww-inspiring and adorable. I would have loved to pet them, but even the orphaned deer in the petting area were out of reach. Meanwhile, Emily and Hazel were not only admiring the animals but competing over the attentions of our young guest "I got 8 hugs from Connor!" followed shortly by "I got 9 kisses!" or "He laid down in *my* lap!" The poor boy hardly got through a diaper change without being handled, though I confess even I managed to wrangle out a hug and a kiss before he left.
At our house, no babies are resident anymore. Hazel is now a slim schoolgirl, even the baby-belly gone. But still, I manage to sneak in some kisses and hugs, and we have some snuggle time for everyone curled up with books at night. For me, this is enough, and come morning I'm glad to see them off to camp or play, laughing and happy to be in their own world, knowing I'm here and ready when they need a retreat.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Algae or vinyl siding: one of these is a problem

Over the four years we have lived in our house, one of the features I speak of the least - because I can hardly stand to think of it - is our vinyl siding on the top half of the house. The movie "Blue Vinyl" explains in detail why I dislike it, in part, although I recognize that it is low maintenance. If I had a green building home, obviously vinyl siding would have no place in it.
But we have it, just like we have my husband's grandfather's Buick, and it is just as functional, and it fits our budget because it was just handed down to us from the previous owners. I figure the only worse thing than having it would be wasting it, even if we had the money to replace it with some wonderful, asthetically pleasing, recycled wood alternative.
Recently, the front (north) side of our vinyl siding had become spotted with algae. I like to think of algae as just another one of our pet weeds, but I had to admit, the stuff was unsightly. Frankly, it was making the rest of my weeds look bad, because it made our property appear generally unkempt, rather than selectively maintained, as I like to think of our diverse lawn.
So Tuesday, Brian got out a ladder and helped me get set up, and I gingerly climbed up (using all the nerve I gained by ziplining and climbing at Horseshoe Canyon) and washed off the algae, section by section, using plain white vinegar. The whole job took perhaps an hour, including a number of trips down the ladder to rinse out my washcloth with more white vinegar, pouring the old on the grass...
Perhaps you see where this is going. Today I noticed a brown, crinkly patch of grass, strangely enough right where I was emptying my bucket every few minutes. I've heard before about the herbicidal effects of white vinegar, and I obviously believed them enough to use it to clean algae, but I figured it was just a quick burn, a household-safe, non-suicidal version of paraquat. I really didn't think it would kill my turf: hardy, diverse stuff that it is.
I *think* the grass and clover will come back, but I'm not sure. Former certified pesticide applicator that I am, I can't read the label for vinegar, because there isn't a label for it. I'm happy to take bets, though: will the algae on the vinyl siding come back first, or the grass?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Paddle faster, I hear banjos...

but perhaps, actually, I just hear whinnies, or bleats, or laughter. We're just back from our Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky sprawling family trip, centered at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, but with good stops on the way there and back. No cell phone, limited internet, but horseback riding, farm critters (goats, kittens, dogs, chickens, ducks), wild critters (rattlesnake, 5' black rat snake in the laundry room), shooting skeet, river swimming, canoeing, rock climbing, ziplining, a street fair, plus way too much good food. In other words, durn near heaven, except just hot enough to make you know it can't be *that* place. When a fellow ranch visitor was bent over, grinning, voluntarily getting his back jeans pocket hot-branded with the initials HCR after the final cookout, the laughter was definitely of the earthly sort, and wonderful for it.

There is a lot of magic in a vacation like this, including cousin bonding for Hazel and Thea, the new friendships (we came home with an address list of all our fellow ranch-visitors), and getting out of the routines and burdens of home for a bit, while getting to see a whole host of family under conditions perfect for shared memories but not shared irritations. What we all talked about was how we were all pushing ourselves a bit: I finally climbed with a top rope, shaking with fear more than exertion, and rapelled down, having already watched my daughters and husband and knee-braced mother-in-law face the same rock. The rock I topped was called K-rock (Kindergarden Rock), but no matter. Emily jumped from a 15 foot rock cliff into river water. Brian - well, he's fearless, but even he met a rock or two which he admitted gave him a struggle. A woman who had climbed far higher and farther than me rode her horse in the ring, with terror in her eyes, and faced down a pair of young steers, who retreated into their pen before her. We each faced at least one demon, and won.

This was no Fear Factor, or Survivor, or any other sort of elimination tournament. All events were voluntary, and the cheering crowds of fellow guests and wranglers knew, by week's end, what scared you, and rewarded you with praise proportionate to the fears you'd topped. After all, we're all scared of something. Like the Great Gilly Hopkins, we all faced off our fears, in some fashion, and as it turned out, none of them were silly fears anyway (heights, snakes, and crazy horses are all reasonable thing to respect).
Now if only I could get such a good cheering section to help me over my fear of facing my work emails and the housework here, I'd be all set.