Saturday, September 26, 2009

Birds and birthday

Last night we celebrated Emily's 10th birthday, a sleepover in the backyard, complete with new tent courtesy of Grandma Becky. I'd wanted to do this for a while, but had always feared that the kids wouldn't sleep well, so I wouldn't sleep well, and that I'd end up having to return some poor scared kid home in the middle of the night.

For sleep, at least, the tent made all the difference: our first non-yard sale tent, fully dry (important since it began raining this morning early), with a big main room for the party girls, plus an alcove for shoes and a side room for little sister and friend. I slept blissfully in a separate tent, the best of our old ones, dry too but miraculously so given its age. It was the best sleep I've ever gotten for a child's overnight of any sort, much less camping.

For play, though, the hit of the evening was the chickens, now big enough to be safe from most handling accidents, still small enough to be cute. Swallow fell asleep on one guest's shoulder, her head resting as comfortably as she does on her sister chickens' backs. Taylor enjoyed affections from the friend who helped name her, and proved herself queen of the flock by enjoying a strut on top of the swing set.

Also a hit was Brian's invented game, remarkably not ending in disaster: bowling for worms. One girl got a good push on the rope swing, while the others, the "worms" all hovered underneath it and tried not to get hit by the swinging missile. Every girl begged for all 3 of her turns. It was, by the way, so dark that none of my photos of the event worked out, the motion and lack of light proving too much for my poor camera.

Whatever the reason, I was very happy at the result. We all woke up dry with rain pattering on our fabric roofs; we all slept for at least 7 hours; no one was injured, despite our best efforts to risk their health with tent guy-lines and rope swings. I came indoors in the morning to a clean house, ready to make breakfast for the adventurers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A short chicken post, inspired by Susan Orlean

Much as I don't like to think of chickens as a trend, I must share Susan Orlean's article in this week's New Yorker about her little flock.

Though it reads a bit much like an ad for the Eglu - or perhaps I'm just jealous that she, unlike me, actually has a coop! - I was sucked into her troubles with predators, and her choice to euthanize her suffering chicken...I, too, have sobbed inconsolably in the vet's office after chicken euthanasia, and at least she has the grace (or income) not to be sobbing over the bill as much as the loss of life.

And I'm desperately hoping that we get to eggs, that we get our coop built soon, and that Susan Orlean is right about this trend's future: "The chicken, that thing with feathers, always sunny and useful, will endure."

Marooned explorers

Since June, we have been reading a lot here about Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, 7 books so far. The one currently on the bedside table is Secret Waters, a tale in which the Swallows are left well provisioned and marooned, by their cheerfully supportive and adventurous parents, on an island in an archipelago which they plan to map.

pymatuning state park - view from the dam

Last weekend, we took this book for car reading en route to Pymatuning, for Brian's departmental retreat. There, we stay in cabins, enjoy campfire and volleyball, and canoe, depending on the wind, either simply out and back or all the way to the islands distant but visible through the waterlilies at the shore. Sunday morning, while Brian was at talks, we joined another canoe-load of explorers and paddled to distant shores.

I kept wishing I had my camera, though later I was glad I did not. First, the other mom and I filled a bag with pirate gold (remarkably resembling U.S. coinage) and a provisions (granola bars). Then, the kids drew an outline of the island in the sand while I buried the treasure, and then upon my return marked it on their sand-map with an X. They went on an expedition, found the treasure, divided it up, and played a while.

Then, the other explorers had to begin their trek back to pack their belongings, while the girls and I stayed a few minutes more. Bored of just watching them, I told them they were marooned and I paddled around the island a few times, and each time round I pretended to attack, and Emily pushed me back out to sea. Finally, I told them it was the last round.

I don't canoe as much as I'd like. I've so rarely had a chance to do it alone I'd forgotten how canoes don't like solo paddlers in their sterns. Three-quarters of the last loop around, I found myself turning in a breezelet, and suddenly blown over, capsized. Let hurt than embarrassed, I lacked the grace and good humor to laugh with Emily at myself but instead put much of my remaining energy into bailing water using the oar and my hands before it was light enough to tip out on shore. I was *so done* with the adventure, which had finally stopped being a play adventure and become a bit more real than I'd wished (a theme common to the Swallow's stories as well).

I didn't, like the Swallows, become heroic in any fashion, unless you count me becoming a peg-legged, hook-handed Blackbeard telling the other pirates grumpily to bail with me and climb aboard. We did get back, though, and the treasure was saved, and the camera, safe in the cabin, wasn't missed after all - it would have been destroyed in the wreck.

The next day, my arms were still shaky with fatigue as I was writing on the chalkboard during my classes. My knee has a bump on it still from the gunwale of the canoe, a reminder of our adventure at sea. I only hope that what the girls remember is that I got them there, that the adventure was rather realistic and still fun, and not that mommy turned into the ugly side of Captain Hook for a moment. Fiction and real life met briefly, and the real kids and the fictional kids won, while the friendly native, as the Swallows and Amazons call their mothers, may have proved herself to be an enemy after all. I would like to think that Ransome would be pleased anyway.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Friends and falls

Just a week ago today, the pool season ended with a dreary Monday, the day after a glorious Sunday final party. In just a week, it seems, the nip is in the air for good, and the season has shifted. You might be able to just see in this photo that Brian is in his jacket now, but that Emily's mood is still celebratory. Our friends are visiting from Austria, and this weekend we saw Ohiopyle in a new light, camping two nights there in neighborly next-door yurts.

We didn't raft, we didn't rent bikes, and our hiking was all of the sort easy enough for 2 year old Emma. What we did: cavort under Cucumber Falls, eat at a family-friendly pub, talk, drink from wax-paper Coke cups, make dinner together, eat breakfast at a picnic table, build fires, roast marshmallows. Brian took both of the older girls back to Pittsburgh for Emily's soccer game, where they once again got to be teammates for a day, and then got them back to camp for a night walk with glow sticks and flashlights. Emma permitted me to babysit her, as long as her sister was nearby, while her parents toured Fallingwater. And then we returned to an evening of recovery and good companionship with more friends, all of us glad to have the companionable emmigrants back.

Camping isn't what it used to be for our family. The $14 a night tentsites we used to frequent with Jo, Donovan, Hannah, Tim and other friends during grad school have been morphed into buildings with refrigerators and bunk beds. The liquid refreshment isn't as elaborate, and we get to sleep earlier and wake earlier, with small people rousing us to begin their own energetic days. But camping is still good bonding and reunion, and my only regret is that we don't do as much of it now, and that all of our friends lives are generally too busy to take a night away, much less a weekend.

While the big girls were away at their game, and the 2 year old was putting her parents down for a nap, Hazel and I snuck away for a walk around the camping area. We collected bottle caps for their art project at Boyd afterschool; we inspected the cabins; she collected acorn families. We returned to our yurt by a different path, and I saw movement in the undergrowth. Hazel and I got to watched a weanling spotted fawn at the edge of a clearing, which peeked back at us with large eyes but seemingly little fear. Eventually the fawn wandered away daintily, and we scurried quietly back to our own campsite.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chicken Kennywood

Though we still have the chickens in their indoor (safe from predators) garage cage with a brooder light for warmth, they - and we - are getting more intrepid about being outside and exploring together. This morning the girls put them in a variety of different spots around the garden, and declared the activity "Chicken Kennywood," named after a local amusement park.

Chicken Gymkhana might have been a better name, as they explored nasturtiums; balanced on fences, sunflowers, onion seedheads, and playground rings; and wound their way through obstacles ranging from tomato plants, human hair, and skort edges. (The girls wanted me to take a photo of each of them with a chick hiding under their skirts, but I really didn't want to publish that one.)

I might have been more inclined to protest, last round, when I never knew if Emily or Hazel really understood how small and vulnerable the chicks were. But the girls, despite these shenanigans with Chicken Kennywood, are gentler this round. Each of them moves more slowly, grabs less, and makes more effort to keep them quietly happy rather than letting them peep in fear. Emily has recently declared interest in becoming a vet, and while I have no idea if she will indeed follow through, I can see it in her: both the confidence to handle the animal, and the gentleness to care for it. I don't see her wildness gone at all, but I see her growing into it, finding her own reasons to control it, perhaps finding channels and ways to make peace with her own enthusiasms.
Or maybe she just loves animals, and they bring out the best in her. Either way, I'm glad to get to witness whatever colors of feathers emerge.