Friday, December 26, 2008

Feeling grateful, yet guilty...

I've kept an eye on Murrieta's housing market over the past year, since we left, with an increasing sense of having just avoided a major train wreck, combined with a growing feeling of guilt about selling our house to someone who is now stuck with a 50 percent loss.

Thanks to all of the foreclosures that continue to flood the SoCal market, and especially the Inland Empire, as our corner of SoCal was known, our house is now worth approximately what we paid for it in 2001. I'm stunned that six years and a half years of appreciation could have evaporated that quickly, and from what I'm reading, it's not over yet.

I just ran across this article today, on GQs website, about the city just to the north of Murrieta, which it describes as ground zero of the foreclosure crisis.

I'm so glad we got out and yet I feel badly for our buyer....

Happy Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!

What a strange, strange fall it's been. I confess that I haven't been posting these last two months because I have been spending my on-line time trying to understand what has been happening to the economy, and as I've begun to grok it, I haven't known how to write about the ordinary details of life without feeling like I'm ignoring the looming tsunami.

Trying to find the balance between understanding how things are changing and preparing oneself as best one can, while maintaining a sense of hope and gratitude for all that is well in this very moment, has been a challenge for me. I toggle back and forth between astonishment at the dramatic developments of the fall and the direction that those folks who accurately predicted this crisis six or eight years ago say we are likely to head next, and the attendant anxiety that accompanies thinking about such deep changes. I remind myself of the Buddhist insight that all this thinking and planning and worrying is truly just a story, the waking dream, and that in this moment, I have exactly what I need, joyfully enough.

So, with such crazy, careening thoughts and planning, can you blame me for not posting more and would you have wanted to read what I was thinking about anyway? (If you would have wanted to read it, I recommend the writings of Chris Martenson, Sharon Astyk, and John Michael Greer , though there's a whole blogosphere of writers out there, some that are really "out there" and some quite fascinating and compelling voices.)

On the home front, we are all well and thriving, and how wonderful is that!

Maddie is nearly 10 and I feel like I'm watching the early stages of her metamorphosis from child to adult -- she still plays freely, creatively and entirely in her imagination with her brother, spinning long and elaborate interactions between characters that they create, but she is also increasingly interested in becoming productive, in testing and expanding her abilities and competencies. We have set up an site for her art, and I'm sure she'll post about it once she's gotten her online store up and running.

Harry is a storyteller as well, and when he's not dialoging with Maddie in their long-running creations, he is telling his own stories, to himself and sometimes to us or other adults he knows and loves. Building, creating and battling are common themes in his play.

The kids continue their evolution into reading -- Maddie is a very fluent reader and Harry has quietly made the leap to early reading as well. Like Maddie, he was very quiet about his evolving skills, a trait I've always been fascinated by, as a primed-by-schooling-to-seek-outside-approval-and-validation sort of person. (Please, leave me positive comments on my blog so I can feel good about myself, okay?)

As I continue my exploration of mathematics and learning that I wrote about earlier this fall I am inspired by the ideas and activities presented by Pam Sorooshian and Sandra Dodd.

I find that even as I try to bring all sorts of new activities and games into our lives to explore particular skill sets, the kids are often quite thoroughly engrossed in their own skill building experiences, thank you very much -- from blogging to communicating with other kids in an online Legobuilding world to participating in the economy of the online World of Warcraft (We have a character for whom the kids would like to aquire an epic flying mount. But at a price of 5,000 gold, the kids are having to do a lot of farming for resources and selling them in the on-line auction house to other players, which involves determining low and average selling prices and pricing bundled resources at a proper per-item price.)

And just now, Steve and Maddie walked in the door with the three newest members of our household, two Auracana chicks and another Buff Orpington chick. We love our four girls, but we find that between the baking and the breakfasts, we're not self-sufficient on eggs yet. So our flock has increased to seven, and these three girls should start laying sometime in May. I imagine Maddie will post about them shortly, with photos from her new camera.

On the homefront, it's been pretty darned cold the last few weeks. I've been investigating and moving forward on various energy efficiencies. We've got plans to replace some of our old aluminum frame windows and sliders, I've bought insulating shades for some windows, we'll hang more curtains and I'm going to order a wood-burning stove (the local supplier is backordered through February, thanks to a steel shortage, apparently).

I've been pondering my lessons learned in the garden this year and am planning next year's changes and expansions. We're going to shift fencing to keep chickens out of the greens beds and we're planning to sheet compost and add a Three Sisters planting (I love Toby Hemenway's book, Gaia's Garden) to our backyard. I'm going to start earlier with row covers and hope to get a crop of melons and peppers this year. My grander ambitions include a glass and wood cold frame or two (the sheet plastic ones have been official blown to pieces by our periodic prairie winds) and a full-blown greenhouse, either attached to the south side of our house, or freestanding in the backyard with a northwall made of strawbale or cob construction (Maddie's been very interested in cob construction, so even if we don't do a greenhouse, Steve plans to do a backyard oven of cob this summer.)

And my secret, really crazy ambition is to get a dwarf dairy goat and make my own dairy products. I've found someone who'd like to board it at her mini-farm, though I'm contemplating at least part-time residency here. This may all wait a year or two to see if code enforcement officers go by the wayside as the economy gets worse, and to give our gardens and chickens time to produce enough to share with our closest neighbors.

The front yard will get more edible perennials -- a bed of blueberries, some hazlenut bushes, another asian pear, and the currants, gooseberry and service berries that are overwintering in our garage from a too-zealous plant-buying spree on my part this fall.

I don't know how self-sufficient we can really become on a quarter-acre in a cold winter climate, but I'm excited to explore the possibilities. I'm particularly inspired by the urban-homesteaders who have this blog.

We've had a wonderful month or so of visits to and from family and friends. Thanksgiving we spent at my folks where we got to reconnect with my Aunt Toby, Uncle David, and cousins Stacey, Siobhan and Eric.

Then in December, our inspiring friends, Karen, John, Saylor, Stone and Sage came for a visit as they started a grand adventure as a family on the road. As always, they both inspire me to be a calmer, kinder, more empowering parent, and that wonderful effect last for months after their visits (thank you and I know the kids thank you too!)

Lastly and wonderfully, we had a warm, fun and delightful Christmas week visiting with my folks and my sister and her family, down Boulder way.

Now, it's time to clean up the mess and remove a few carloads of stuff from the house to make up for the carloads that came in with the holiday. Oh, and feed the chicks. And keep the chickens warm (Steve built a great new run for them on the south end of the deck where they get sun but are protected somewhat from the winds and get some of the radiated warmth from the house as well). And walk the dog (before it gets cold again). And change the rat cage. And explain to the kids why a kitten is currently out of the question.

Monday, December 8, 2008


(Posted by maddie)

Today I went out to our chicken coop, gathered up the three eggs in one of our two nestboxes and left Ginny to lay in peace in the other.
Later that day my mom went out to check again, in the nest box I had emptied out were two eggs, and in the one Ginny had been sitting in, one.
This would have been completely normal if we had 6 laying chickens, but we have 4 laying chickens.
Even more amazing is that all the chicken owners we know have chickens laying 3-4 days in a week.
We're all very perplexed now.

(: Maybe it's because we give our chickens lots of love :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Birthday weekend sightings

I spontaneously woke up at dawn this morning -- I love it when that happens, but I usually have to wait for the shorter days of fall and winter. When Steve got up, we decided to take Sunny out for a walk in the schoolyard behind our house. She ran to the far end to poop, and as I was walking over to pick it up, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. A large, gorgeous fox has just run across the street and into the schoolyard through an open gate by the road. I called to Steve to get Sunny on leash, then we retreated behind a tree to watch the animal, which trotted quite familiarly down the fenceline and towards our yard. I was glad that I hadn't let the chickens out yet -- I'd been watching them in their coop as I did dishes earlier and had decided they looked content enough to peck around in their small run, so I'd left them in there. The fox was clearly familiar with the schoolyard and tried to get through a closed gate in someone's fence when Sunny finally spotted it and started barking. It gave up and ran back to the road and trotted up the shoulder out of sight.

A lap of the schoolyard later, Steve pointed out a large, hot air balloon floating over the backyards on our block, fairly low to the ground. Sunny started barking fiercely at it but as it approached and passed overhead, she was barking from behind our knees, trying to hide from it. As soon as it passed by, she ran for our front door and begged to go in, which I'm certain is a first for her. The kids and I have been reading Brisingr, the final book in the Eragon/Inheritance series, so I joked to them that she must have thought it was a Ra'zac!

Steve and I continued our morning ritual of walking in circles around the block (we use Sunny as our kid monitor -- we know they're still asleep if she's still sitting in the bay window watching for us) and he pointed out what a gift such sightings were on a birthday weekend!

For my actual birthday yesterday, we had a series of lovely family outings, starting with breakfast at our favorite downtown coffee shop, followed by a Goodwill visit for Maddie's Orc costume elements and canning jars and other little treasures, including a pure copper collander that's probably worth a ton for the metal alone.

We got giant pumpkins to carve from the city-run children's farm in Martinez park, then decided to return in the evening for its trick-or-treating event, which was very charming. Oh, and we hit our favorite feed store for a load of spoiled straw for today's gardening workshop (more about that in a moment) and to coo over the baby chicks. The wily feed store owner nearly talked us into getting some more chicks (I'm trying to hold the line at 2 more, as six is the max the city allows under its new backyard hens ordinance, so it seems reasonable to abide by that even though we aren't actually legal to have any here in the county) but we may wait until after we go to California at Thanksgiving.

The chickens are producing regularly now, though I'm not sure that our Buff Orpington is laying yet. We get three eggs most days, sometimes two, which is good considering that birds lay less when the days shorten. Steve has pinioned them (a skill he learned in his pet bird owning days) which I was afraid would be a traumatic event but wasn't any worse than a haircut. But it does keep them from flying to the top of our six-foot fence and into the neighbor's yard, where a large black dog known to kill birds resides. At first, they made an awful racket when they were laying and I was terribly worried about them, but they seem to have got the plumbing working smoothly and now they only call when they're done, either in self-congratulation or to let the next hen know the nestbox is available.

I'll post more later today, but I need to get ready for this Grow Food Not Lawns workshop we're hosting this afternoon, and Maddie's impatient to have the computer and work on a story she's writing. Imagine, eager would-be gardeners coming to our house to help build a no-dig raised bed for us. Such a deal!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pain in the neck

First of all, Judith is doing very well, she's bounced back remarkably, and should be able to leave the hospital in a couple of days. What a stunning week in someone's life. With any luck, she should regain energy that's been missing since April, when she was (no-doubt mistakenly) diagnosed with post-viral fatigue syndrome. (Fatigue is the number one sign of a heart attack in women, but her doctor missed it, probably because she doesn't have heart disease in her family, her energy levels fluctuate based on how well her cortisone medicines are managed and she keeps herself busy enough to justify fatigue...)

Steve returned from Iowa on Monday, as I was developing the worst stiff neck of my life. By Tuesday morning I headed into the medical clinic to make sure it wasn't more than just a neck ache, as swallowing was often quite painful and there was no position i could sit or lie in in which the pain wasn't strong. Sent home with some muscle relaxants and instructions to keep taking ibuprofen, it took another day for me to feel noticeably better. I'm cautiously optomistic that this is fading, though I don't know how much of my relief is just from the muscle relaxants finally kicking in. Sigh. Fine mess for a massage therapist to find herself in, eh? I have done a good deal of triggerpoint work on my neck and upper back that seemed to jump start the feeling-better process. It's making me realize how much help neuromuscular therapy can be, and making me think about restarting a practice here, once I'm fully recovered, of course.

Unfortunately, all this was unfolding in the middle of my folks' visit, so they've been having to shift for themselves on meals and doing a ton of housework and playing with the kids. I'm very grateful they're here, just wish I hadn't been out of it for so much of their visit. They leave tomorrow for Cindi's house and the next day for a week in Hilton Head, SC, then we'll see them again after that. It's great to have them around. They're currently househunting here, looking for a second home and I'm holding my breath that they'll find something they like!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday morning update

Steve reports they've started weaning Judith off the balloon (?)machine that supports her heart function and that's going very well, in fact her heart is functioning stronger now that she is only getting support every third beat than when the machine was assisting with each beat. Today they're going to try and wean her from the ventilator as well. She's semi-conscious through this, and last night was having quite a bit of trouble with the breathing tube and feeling like she couldn't breath. It was hard for Steve to see her struggling and signaling for help when he could do nothing but hold her hand and try to reassure her that her blood-oxygen levels were fine. The medical staff says she will remember none of this trauma. This morning, at least, she is peacefully sleeping through the heart machine weaning.

Steve says he's having an interesting experience in being homeless, and has learned to scope out the darkest corner in the lounge and spread his stuff on the couch there to reserve it, he's scouted out the restrooms and vending machines and of course the cafeteria.

He needs to come home though, because the magazine is on deadline now and his work has piled up. He's feeling badly about leaving when she's not out of the hospital yet, but with any luck she'll be conscious and alert by tomorrow.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Saturday morning update....

Steve says Judith is holding her own, but not making a lot of progress, and he's not sure what to make of it. She's still on a ventilator and heart support equipment, but they did manage to wean her down a bit on some meds last night. She looks pretty good and has a sense of vitality, he says. The hospital seems very competent but a bit lacking on feedback to families of patients. Maybe they don't know much either....

He's out this morning at the Des Moines Farmers Market, having been kicked out of Judith's room by a nurse changing dressings and such, and he's recharging a bit exploring the blocks-long event. He's feeling the strain, I'm afraid....

The kids and I are headed to our favorite family raspberry patch this morning, then our own farmers market downtown, and possibly to Loveland for this Stone Age Fair. We all agree it sounds fun, but we're not sure how much running around we want to do in one day....

On a side note, the kids and I were cruising the Net last night and visited our former babysitter's myspace page last night, to listen to some of her music (the kids recognized her right away, though i wasn't sure they would, as we haven't seen Sam in about a year). I was stunned and delighted to read that she's been nominated for a Grammy in the new artist folk/Americana category! Her music has matured and gotten complex in ways even my lay-ear can identify, and I'm not in the least bit surprised that she's being noticed. (The first song on her page is Sam backing up a friend on vocals and guitar. I especially like her studio version of New Day)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Maddie's first salon visit

On Wednesday, Maddie and I got our hair cut at a salon in town. It was my first professional cut in a ridiculously long time, and Maddie's first cut ever. She loved the experience, much to my surprise! Harry managed to find his own fun in it as well...

Friday morning update

Just talked to Steve, who's having breakfast in the hospital cafeteria with his step--Dad and step-sister. Judith made some gains in the night in lung function, and didn't lose ground anywhere else. They might have hoped for more healing progress, but they're happy to get what they got. She's mostly unconscious but stirs some. She's "warm, pink and dry," as the night nurse put it, and that's good. Now it's just waiting for the healing to happen. Steve did get the impression from the night nurse, and even from the surgeon's pre-op demeanor, that the medical staff wasn't sure Judith would make it, so this is a huge achievement for her to be here this morning, a testament to her strong will, I'm sure....

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judith has made it through surgery

It was a grueling, 7 or 8 hour affair, made longer by bleeding problems caused by the blood thinner they'd given her for her heart attack, but they've done everything they wanted to do -- a valve replacement and triple bypass -- and got the bleeding under control. She's in her ICU room now and will be kept under sedation for the next day or two, to keep her from fighting the intubation and other equipment to which she's hooked up. A big hurdle overcome....


First an update on Judith -- Steve is in Iowa. He drove there yesterday. She's had a couple of complications, first congestive heart failure caused by the extra fluid they gave her to boost her blood pressure, which is now under control, and now the realization that a heart valve was damaged by the original MI. So she needs supplemental oxygen and a machine to help pump blood through her system. She's scheduled for open heart surgery at noon today, to repair or replace the valve and clean out a few other partially blocked arteries. Prognosis is good for this surgery, and we're hoping for the best.

Maddie, in the meantime, has decided to start her own blog. You can read it here
We'll get photos up soon. She's been carving overgrown zucchini into replicas of famous statues, but I don't know how well they'll photograph. We'll do our best to light them properly, before they start getting moldy!

eta: I haven't been able to get links to work in the last few posts. Here's the address of Maddie's blog:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Campfire stories...

We had a fabulous time over the weekend at Buckhorn, a church camp in the mountains overlooking Fort Collins. We left chickens tucked into their coop and new, bigger run (which they don't like any better than the previous run), rats with plenty of food, and a dismayed Sunny at the boarding kennel Friday afternoon, and drove 45 minutes up a gorgeous mountain canyon to Foothills UU Church's annual family camp. After our rainy camping trip a few weeks ago, we decided to stay in a cabin. They were very rustic, but had indoor plumbing and a fireplace that looked better than it performed (Steve lit a fire in it Saturday night, and we ended up opening the cabin windows to safeguard against carbon monoxide poisoning, or at least throat irritation.)

The setting was gorgeous, on the shoulder of a mountain with a view far across the plains. We could see the lights of Fort Collins at night and watched several gorgeous storms drift over that flat, green sea at various times during the weekend.

Among the highlights of the weekend -- a massive game of capture the flag in the pine forest (I worried through the whole thing about twisted ankles and impaled runners, but there was only one mild middle-aged injury -- not mine -- and I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up the next morning not particularly sore). There were also s'mores around the campfire, a drumming circle, group sings, a brief plein-air service Sunday morning, and an exciting, unscheduled exploration of a cave near the fishing pond with some of the tween-aged kids.

Camp food was cafeteria fare, but at least it gave the kids a taste, so to speak, of some of what they're missing, or not, as homeschoolers. It's funny how much we all watched the clock for meal times, even knowing they were going to be less-than-spectacular.

There was a fun group sing Saturday night, followed by a Buckhorn tradition -- To Tell The Truth. Campers submit one true and unusual story about themselves, then two "liars" are recruited, and the panels are put before the audience for questions and a vote on who is the true tale-teller. Steve and I were both asked to be liars; I demurred because I thought it would be too stressful but Steve happily agreed, though he didn't tell me what his story was going to be.

So he sat there on stage Saturday night and, along with a middle-aged Dad with a bit of a beer gut and a slightly stocky young woman with a very serious face, repeated "I worked my way through college as a stripper." Lord, and there I was in the front row of the audience, trying to keep a straight face myself and not give it away. Guess who the audience believed was the real stripper? Yep. I hope he feels flattered by it. (It was the other Dad, believe it or not...)

Each night the members of the board game group got together and convened board and card games for the other campers, but I slept so poorly on the bunkbeds that I didn't dare stay up too late gaming (also, our cabin, like all of them, was a duplex with 3 young kids staying on the other side -- and considering that we could see the other family's lights through the chinks in the common log wall, we were awakened as soon as the little ones tumbled out of bed at dawn and started exclaiming.)

By Sunday afternoon, we were tired and very happy, and we drove down the mountain for home, ready to liberate chickens and dog and relax a bit. In that strange way in which life sometimes imitates art (how many times does the main character have a peak experience only to have tragedy strike immediately afterward?), we came home to bad news on the message machine. Judith, Steve's mom, was having chest pains and being evaluated in the local hospital. As the evening progressed, she was transported to Des Moines, where she had another angina attack, which was determined to be a heart attack. This morning, she had angioplasty and a stent inserted and she's now resting and recovering. They're terming it a mild-to-moderate heart attack, and it's a blessing she had such strong symptoms and heeded them quickly. Steve will be heading to Iowa later in the week, once she's been discharged, to help her get settled at home. My folks will be arriving over the weekend for a long-anticipated visit. I'm still reeling a bit from the emotional rollercoaster of it all and hoping for a quick and strong recovery for Judith.

I'll post photos from the trip shortly...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Raspberries-- A post from Maddie

We went to the u-pick raspberry farm early, in fact a little after it had started. We expected there wouldn't be many people there because the hours had been changed and we got there so early, but to our surprise and dismay there was a parking lot full of people. But when we got there we found out it was the boy who lives at the u-pick farm's high school class, visiting on a field trip to the u-pick raspberry farm.
It turned out that there was a lot of fruit there, in fact we got 3 pounds of raspberries for $10!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Catching up

It certainly feels like fall here, with yesterday's rain and drizzle and high in the 50s. Today should return to, well, not really a summer feel, but an Indian summer, even though it's still technically summer. Steve has put together a garden montage that shows our agricultural efforts in all its glory, before the Killer Hailstorm of August 08. Sigh.

One day in the first week of August, I watched the particularly black clouds roll in, excited for a break from the heat and the thrill of lightning and thunder. I called Steve as it started to pour, and the hail got louder and louder on our porch roof until I couldn't hear a word he said. I began to realize this wasn't like the other hail storms we'd received as I noticed that a good 50 percent of what was falling from the sky were pieces of leaves, from the trees above us. I watched as our squash leaves shredded into tatters and our onion tops split and curled like wrapping ribbon. Our neighbors assured us that was the worst hailstorm they'd seen in many years, if ever, which made me feel a bit better, as I had decided there was no point in gardening if that happened every year!

I lost the will to blog after that, I'm afraid to say.... Didn't want to sort through the sad pictures that reminded me of wasted energy (I had a girlfriend visit the house an hour after the storm and blithly ask, "So what have you been doing all summer?" I wanted to weep.) Luckily, Steve found a will somewhere and was able to reconstruct the gardens in their glory days. You can click on the photo to get a bigger version of it -- included is a shot of a new raised bed we've planted and a shot of the kids and a neighborhood friend feeding our chickens.

As it turned out, some things came through unscathed and some bounced back. We have a few zucchini baseball bats as a testament to my faithlessness regarding the durablility of squash (I didn't check the patch for survivors for weeks). Steve's tomatoes got dinged but not downed. We planted a bed in mid August that is doing fabulously -- full of cool-season greens and sugar snap vines that we hope to coddle through the first early frosts.

The rest of August was a mixed bag -- I had a lovely stomach virus that lasted a week and a half and cured me of my romantic visions of chickens sitting in my lap as we watch the sun set (not, mind you, that I think I got it from chicken poop -- it was going around in a big way here -- but cleaning chicken poop up when you're nauseous gets old reeeally fast...) So Steve's working on a run for them in the yard as I type.

The crazy heat-wave of summer (driest first half of the year on record at DIA, longest stretch of days over 90 too) was shattered with that hailstorm and the couple days of rain that followed it. We've had what I think of as early fall days ever since. So the pool's been put away for the year.

We found a u-pick rasberry patch in town, a half-acre that a family tends, without chemicals, and we've been getting up early one day every week or two to pick. It's been a poor year for fruit, because of the cold spring, so the raspberries haven't hit their stride yet and we've only managed to get a pound or less each visit so far (it doesn't help that we can't get up and out there early enough to beat the first pickers to the best fruit). So far, the kids have eaten all the berries on the drive home, but I'm hoping to pick huge amounts sometime in the coming weeks that I can freeze for winter consumption.

We had a not-back-to-school potluck at the end of August that was great fun -- it's always inspiring to see what other parents are finding for their children to explore, and at the BBQ I met a homeschooling/Unitarian Dad who is a manager at my local nursery and who offered to set me up with some filberts and other edible landscape plants at a discount -- score! Now our front yard has an army of raspberries, currants, gooseberry, serviceberry and an Asian pear tree, all in pots, waiting to be planted! Eeek, what have I done?!

We went on our first camping trip in the Colorado mountains last week, up to Rocky Mountain National Park with some unschooling friends, one family from town and a couple families from the Boulder area. Huge fun! The kids are ready to camp every week, with their friends of course (the cool thing about unschooling families is, they might actually be willing to camp every week!)

It was a lovely evening around the campfire, and shortly after we retired to our tents, it started to rain. Steve and I lay there listening to the rain patter on the tent fly, thinking how lovely it was, and the rain went on, and on, and on, and I started to wonder if we had pitched our tent in a swale and if so, how much water might pool up, then I began to feel a gentle impact on my sleeping bag, oh, round about my hip, and I reached out into the very chilly night air to feel the drops falling, one by one, from our leaking tent fly... Sigh.

After a couple hours, the rain stopped and I got out to assess the damage, only to find the most stunning night sky I've seen in years. I gasped that I could see the Milky Way, which woke Maddie, so we stood under that gorgeous expanse of stars and meteors and clouds of galactic light for 20 minutes, picking out the constellations we recognized, counting the meteors that flashed. Maddie even saw a meteor that curved sharply, and after we decided that meteors probably can't do that, we began to wonder exactly what she had seen, since planes don't go fast enough to leave a tail of light... got a little spooky after that, and since it was clouding over again, we headed in to our damp tent. I let the kids have my spot on the airbed with Steve, and I slept the rest of the night in the van, if you can call it sleep.

Morning came none too soon, with frost on the benches, snow on the near peaks and a fire that Steve, bless his soul, was able to resurrect after all that rain. A glorious outing, despite the damp.

We're going to a church camp in the mountains in another week and a half, which I think will satisfy the kids camping bug, even though we're staying in a cabin this time. We've re-engaged in the UU community, after a summer of contentment at home. I'm teaching a fourth grade RE class that's exploring world religions through their holidays and holy days, which I think will be a very fun way to explore other cultures. The kids are excited about attending that with me.

All in all, fall (or it's imminent calendar arrival) is energizing us and we're having great fun -- now if only I can get all those plants into the ground in the next month!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hillside Folks Festival

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood that had block parties and socialized, and, oddly enough, that never happened in California, not in Riverside nor in Murrieta. When we moved here late last fall, we met our immediate neighbors pretty quickly, but just didn't connect with anyone during the long cold months of winter and early spring.

Then in late spring, we got word that some neighbors were organizing a cleanup day, to help one woman who couldn't maintain her yard, to clean up some open space on the edge of our tiny, three-block neighborhood, and to haul off anyone's hazardous waste and brush. We participated in that, and got to know some really nice folks on the surrounding blocks.

Steve got notice last week through the neighborhood email ring that the "fourth annual Hillside Folks Festival" would be held at the house of a musician and guitar builder who lives on Hillside Drive, half a block from us. Steve had actually met this guy when he flew back to Colorado last fall to take one more look at our house before we put a bid on it. He'd been walking his dog on the canal and he'd assured Steve that he'd love the neighborhood and shouldn't hesitate to move, and he mention his folk music concert.

So we headed over to Ronnie and Elaine's house yesterday evening, bearing pasta salad and a new formulation of mosquito repellent (lemon eucalyptus oil works as well as DEET, for two hours at least, according to the Feds) and found the neatest little music festival in this family's backyard. Five or six different groups/individuals performed half-hour sets over the course of the evening, a long table of potluck food and drinks and really warm and open neighbors to get to know. We had a great time, the kids too, and we stayed until nearly full-dark, when the repellent was unable to deter the famished mosquitoes any longer. It was truly delightful, and just the right sized experience for the kids, not too loud, not too crowded, but some really fun music, which we even danced to a bit at the end, though i didn't have enough wine to really cut loose, I'm afraid, and it's awfully hard to dance gracefullly with a 3 1/2 foot-tall partner who wants to hold both your hands the entire time and be twirled to boot! Ah well, the neighbors seemed like an accepting crowd.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wow, the end of July already!

Well, I know why I didn't post in June -- I couldn't bring myself to hunt through photos of Maggie, our nearly 16-year-old dog. She did a quick, downward spiral the second week in June, and on Friday the 13th, we called the wonderful, house-call veterinarian out and had her put to sleep. It was as gentle a way to go as possible, after a long, hard and unpleasant week, but it was still difficult to say goodbye. I still don't feel like looking through photos, so, a memorial post will have to wait.

We did have a fun visit with my folks here the first week of June, celebrating Dad's birthday, then a trip to Pennsylvania for Steve's Grandma's 98th birthday the first week in July. Got to see fireflies again and Grandpa Jack and Jennifer, and play scrabble with Shirley, who, truly, seems about 20 years younger than she is. (Not many of us can say that!)

We came back to the heat of July, bought an above-ground pool 3 feet deep and 10 feet across, and have been inhabiting the spirit of summer -- lots of play and lazy days. The chickens are getting bigger, and are still delightful (will post updated photos of these teenagers soon), the kids are sprouting up themselves and getting into new interests as well.

After watching the weeds grow for a couple of weeks, Steve and I got into a frenzy of gardening this week, realizing that we were in serious danger of being completely overrun. The garden now looks tidy, and I'm avidly reading a book on permaculture and getting really excited about a radically different way to garden. In a nutshell and as I only sketchily understand it, permaculture in the home garden involves appreciating the interconnected relationships in nature, the way every element of every natural system serves multiple functions, and how the system is constantly working to rebalance itself and evolve into more mature ecosystems.

So, in practice, I'm realizing that we can make use of our shady front yard and enrich our tired soil by creating an understory of perennials, many edible, and spreading a thick, thick layer of mulch over the tired grass and cottonwood roots that is our front lawn at the moment. I'm thinking we can plant our back yard much more thickly with fruit trees and bushes (blueberries! With some acidification of the soil, of course) and maybe even a nut tree or two (to bear years from now, but patience is a necessary virtue with gardening, I know, even if I can't practice it. Yet.)

There's plenty more we could do, from creating a mini gray-water wetlands in the backyard to creating beneficial wildlife habitat around the edges of our backyard to encourage natural pest control of our raised beds, but I think I'll start by trying to apply the principles to our front yard in the fall, as that's the ideal time to start a thick layer of compost and mulch over beds that will nourish new plantings in the spring. And I'm delighted at the idea that I can get edible forest crops from our shady front yard!

Off to play a new board game, Settlers of Catan. Steve and Maddie are now hooked on Alhambra, bwaahhh haa haaah, so I can graduate to even more Euro games! (Actually, I'm thrilled to have someone to play with! I'd been playing Alhambra with a couple of imaginary friends just to get a feel for the game; once I was able to explain it in three paragraphs or less, Steve was on board with it, and then Maddie wanted to join in the fun. Woohoo! Can't wait til Harry's of age...)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Baking milestone!

For the first time in my life, I actually finished a jar of yeast! For most of my adult life, I've been throwing out expired tinfoil *packets* of yeast -- I've never even aspired to using up jars of yeast. But I have been baking so much of late! Here are the recipes that are responsible for this culinary feat:

No-Knead Bread -- best crusty European-style bread ever!

No-rise pizza crust (see a trend here? I'm not a patient baker yet....)
Mix and set aside for 8 minutes:
.25 oz package of dry yeast (a little more than 2 tsp)
1/4 tsp sugar
3/4 c. 110-degree water

Pour this over:
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour and 1/2 tsp salt

Mix well with a heavy spoon, then knead for 2 minutes. Press into a 12'' circle, place on lightly greased pan and stretch to the edges. Top and bake at 500 degrees for 8-12 minutes.

Our other favorite recipes, which I just realized don't use yeast, I'll include just for the fun of it:

Popovers -- we *love* these for breakfast...

1 c. milk
1 c. flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

Blend eggs and milk, add flour and salt. Mixture should be the consistency of (unwhipped) whipping cream, add milk if it's too thick. Pour into greased muffin tins, filling about 2/3rds. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 for another 10-15 minutes or until golden. Makes 10-12 popovers.

Crepes from the Ratatouille Cookbook:

3 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
1 cup + 2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp melted butter
Put all ingredients in blender in order listed and blend until smooth. Scrape down sides and blend again. Set in fridge for 30 minutes or overnight.
Pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup into pan over medium heat (we use cast iron and a notch or two below medium. Cook about 45 seconds on first side, and 30 on the other.

There, now if I lose the scraps of paper I have some of these recipes on, I'm safe (as long as the internet doesn't go away! Or Blogger....)

Saturday, May 24, 2008


We got chicks! And boy are they cute! We got one Rhode Island Red named Ginny (from a book series called Harry Potter), one Black Austrolorp named Minerva McGonigal(again, from Harry Potter) one Turken (it looks like a buzzard!) named Sybill Trelawney (yes, you guessed it: it's from Harry Potter too) and one Buff Orpington that will be biggest of all named Madame Maxime(all of the names are from Harry Potter.)

All of them seem to be doing good. They're all very small, and want to explore all of their new home, but they're babies so they also just can't resist falling asleep! They go run all over their cage and then start getting sleepy and doze off and fall on their nose. Then one of the chicks wakes up and starts cheeping and then the other chick gets woken up and then she goes back to sleep (in a better position.) They're SO, SO, SO cute!!!! :D

I can hear them peeping and cheeping now.
We built a nest for them out of socks(i think they like it.)

They're all so cute, well maybe with one exception: the Turken, like I said: it looks like a Buzzard!!! :O

But even she's cute.

Here's some pics!!
Enjoy! :)

(By Maddie)

Here's the kids at the feed store:

And here is Ginny, our very needy Rhode Island Red (she cheeps loudly every time she notices we've left the room and *loves* to fall asleep curled up in one of our hands. What a doll!), Sybill Trelawney, our very goofy looking Turken, Minerva our handsome Australorp and a fuzzy bottom that belongs to Madame Maxime, our Buff Orpington.

Here is Ginny, falling asleep on the feed trough...

And a closeup of crazy Sybill

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Okay, I didn't really mean it.

Today there was a storm, and a big one too! We could hear thunder or something in the background. It hailed too. Now, what was the cause of this? Answer: A tornado.
No, I'm not joking. We didn't know this till we went to a farm supply store to get chickens, they said they were going to get some aurucana chickens--well, chicks.
It turned out that the aurucana chicks they had shipped in were NOT aurucana chicks.
They were Rhode Island Reds!

We bought some stuff for the chicks though: a waterer, feeder and some chicken food.
And that's where we found out there was a tornado that was devastating Windsor and Loveland (well, sort of: not as bad in Loveland.) We watched the weather and looked at some of the videos that were being taped by a helicopter. Wow, I'm glad that storm missed us! In fact it barely did! There's cottonwood branches all over our front and back yard!

There's even a power line that got knocked down on the road!

Now it's over: just some thunderstorms.
(You can hear them from here!)

Well, that's the most exciting thing that happened today. There's other things that happened: a piece of hail I found that was about an inch long. And that's it except for the tornado and the thunder i can hear right now from our porch.

Hope everyone that's reading this blog can't say they have been in a tornado, or at least one that hit a bit too close. I think we're lucky it missed us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

No snow!...Is that good or bad?

No more snow! It's spring, and we're gardening like CRAZY! 5 beds so far and we're building more! Only 4 of the 5 garden beds are planted, but we're making and planting more. We have plans for many garden beds and maybe even chickens!

I hope we get chickens.

We also have weeds in our gardens, and in our yard--actually, all over our yard.

We have 2 garden beds full to bursting with strawberries, one with broccoli rabe, radish, boc choi/pac choi, etc. and one with peppers and seeds (the seeds being beets and maybe cantaloupe. We can't remember!) And the last one was not (and still is) not planted.

We have a school yard behind our house, and the sprinklers go off almost every evening to water it. Which also helps us: some of the water gets sprayed over the fence and into our yard.

Well we don't have to water our yard too much! It's just a little sprinkle that manages to get over the fence though. Oh well (acually it just waters the weeds we have growing by our fence!)(no thank you!)

Anyway: that's our garden, in all it's crazy-ness!

Hope you enjoyed the post! :D

Back from CA and frantically gardening!

We had a fast, full and very fun trip to CA, flying in on April 30 and staying with my folks for four or five days before everyone packed up and headed to the beach at Camp Pendleton.

For much of April, my mom had been getting call after call from the beach cottage rental manager at Pendleton, trying to get her to change the week of our stay because a big "rap concert" was going to happen the week we were there and it would be noisy and not appropriate for a family vacation. Turns out, they finally admitted, that they wanted our beach-front cottage for a dressing room for the musicians.

My mom refused to be buffaloed, either out of that weekend or out of a beach-front cottage, though they did move us a few cottages down the way, which was fine, as it still fronted to the protected cove in which the kids like to splash.

We had no idea what we were in for.

When we drove up to check in, we could see an enormous stage scaffolding that looked like a roller coaster erected on the sand just to the north of our cove. This was Monday, and the concert wasn't until Thursday night. While my mom checked in, I picked up a flyer advertising a "Benefit Concert for the Troops" featuring Janet Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Clint Black, NE YO, Blind Melon, ZZ Top, Girlicious and Jessica Simpson, among others. We were both stunned! No wonder they wanted our cabins as dressing rooms, with all these different stars (and in fact, we were one of only two families that refused to switch reservations, the rest of the cabins were empty and waiting to be staged as dressing rooms for the entire week.)

So for the next several days we watched roadies erect lights and sound systems and we clambered over long black snakes of electrical cord on the jetty each time we made our way down to the main beach. Then on Wednesday, the LA people began to arrive, the handlers and hair dressers and those-who-take-care-of-things. For the first time in our years of visiting Del Mar beach, Steve, with his ponytail, ceased to feel like a sore thumb standing out in a crowd of buzz cuts.

Crews started hauling furniture out of cottages and trucking in leather sofas and barstools. They tacked signs up on each unit -- Girlicious Dancers. Pamela Anderson and Kathy Griffin (this was on the cabin right next to ours, much to Steve's delight). Jessica Simpson. (I'm pretty sure I saw her posing for photos the day of the concert on her back patio, but as I'm utterly clueless on the pop culture front, I didn't recognize her. I remember thinking that her dress was retro and ugly....)

On Wednesday evening, Janet Jackson and her dancers rehearsed for several hours with an excited squad of marines who got to march on stage in formation and then be overtaken by Rhythm Nation dancers. It was interesting to watch her, wearing sweats but fully made up and gorgeous in a Michelle Pfeiffer way, walk through her routine with a bored expression that looked almost angry. From time to time, she would burst into a dazzling smile that utterly transformed her. Stage presence is such a fascinating chemistry to see in action! We watched a ventriloquist with a "Dead Terrorist" dummy (definitely bizarre, but oddly compelling) run through a couple of his routines for the cameras, which is when we began to realize that this was more than just a concert here on Pendleton. It turns out, the entire event was filmed and will be broadcast June 1st on NBC. Thursday morning, Blind Melon rehearsed and NE YO and I think Snoop Dogg did as well, though it's all blurred together already.

All this was going on as we built huge sand castles, collected sand dollars and rescued a sea gull with a fishing lure hooked in the webbing of its foot. Maddie patiently fished with my Dad for hours until she caught a flounder, her first catch large enough to keep (and eat, a couple of days later at home. Steve, wonderful Dad that he is, gamely gutted and filleted the creature, while the rest of the grownups cringed and Maddie looked on with interest). It was a fascinating, if surreal, juxtaposition of high pop culture and mundane beach holiday.

We had originally planned to leave the afternoon of the concert but were too star-struck to miss it. So we got to see the Girlicious dancers practicing to the strained strains of ZZTop (boy, they didn't sound like they were aging well as musicians) and Steve rearranged the patio furniture so he could (somewhat more) discreetly spy on Pamela and her pink miniskirt as she arrived with a retinue of handlers.

As the evening approached, the beach began to fill up with marines and wives and girlfriends and rough looking young men from Oceanside who must have gotten on base thanks to buddies who had enlisted. We wandered unchallenged for the most part behind the scene, ambling past Clint Black's dressing room to see him pacing and waiting his turn (The other family who was at the beach with us, a couple with a neat 9 year-old boy named Luke, went up to him and had Luke's picture taken with Black. They said he was very nice).

The kids were put off by the sheer volume and crowds, so after a brief tour of the concert-grounds with them, my folks and Steve and I took turns sitting in the cabin and attending the concert. I really liked Snoop Dogg's performance -- he archly performed an undoubtedly cleaned up version of his rapper persona; I thought he was very charming and engaging and gave it his all, which impressed me. Janet Jackson came across as very professional and dedicated to her craft as well, rehearsing several times before the performance.

The music went on for hours and ended with a small fireworks show that I was too exhausted to stay awake for, even though it exploded right above our cove.

Most performers left as soon as their set was over and the roadies began tearing things down in the wee hours of the morning. We checked out on Friday and headed back to Fallbrook, exhausted but thrilled by our backstage pass.

After too-brief visits with some California friends, the kids and I flew back to Colorado (while Steve drove the Echo home) and we have spent the last week settling in, enjoying warm spring weather and gardening like fiends.

I feel pressed to get everything in since the growing season's so short, but I'm definitely running out of steam. We do have the two strawberry beds, the raspberry bushes and the fruit trees that we put in before we left, and now we have a big bed of onions and two beds of peppers, zukes, beets and melons, and a line of sugar snap peas growing. our winter bed is getting long in the tooth, though the bok choi was fabulous and the spinach and lettuce are still producing. Nobody's eating the radishes though and the carrots weren't thinned enough so they're still tiny. Oh, and I let the broccoli rabe go to seed because I couldn't figure out when exactly to harvest it.

I'll try to get some green beans in and a few more melons in before I give up and turn my energies to weed control, and I bought Steve some tomato plants that he'll get in the ground soon, along with the other grape vine he bought before he left.

I can envision so much more growing, but it'll have to be next year and the year after that perhaps!

Some vacation photos, which you can click on to enlarge:
A starfish my dad found dried out on the bay, which we successfully revived by returning it to the water.

Here's Blind Melon rehearsing the morning of the concert. Note the uniquely Marine Corps stage set!

Janet Jackson, rehearsing again the day of the concert. I filmed this from our patio, so the sounds a bit off as we're behind the speakers...

The seagull we saved, a day before we realized why it was so easy to get so close to it, poor thing...

Maddie and Steve made some crazy sand swirls on our empty stretch of cove...

Famous neighbors

Here's our piece d'resistance, which, like all the others, did not stand the test of time and tide. Our cabin is in the background with the red chairs. Pamela's is just to the left of it. One building over was Jessica S. and the Girlicious dancers, and Clint's was another building to the left of them.

The proud fishergirl and her grandfather!

My new favorite pop music artist...

A couple of shots of Snoop Dogg's performance

Friday, April 25, 2008

Magazines, logos, education gadflies and berries...

April's been crazy busy for us, in a good way (though Steve's been working too hard.) I'll try to hit the highlights...

Steve got an interesting and experimental assignment from the LA Times -- illustrate, on a ridiculously short deadline, a daily reader-written noirish serialized story. Steve illustrated two of the seven episodes each week (in an average of 4 hours from getting the story to submitting the art), on top of April being the deadline month for Nexus. So he was working almost around the week for the last two weeks.

During that time he had his 15 minutes of local fame, after winning a logo design contest sponsored by the local alternative weekly. The city of Fort Collins hired an out-of-town marketing firm to rebrand the city and design a quite mediocre logo that has drawn significant public derision. Here's Steve's design.

The kids and I have been hanging out with our homeschooling friends, at park days and the roller skating rink. Harry and I have just gotten our own skates to practice on, and Maddie may get a pair too. I went to a fascinating lecture by John Taylor Gatto with my friend Jill, and met a handful of other unschooling parents there as well. Gatto's a two-time state of New York educator-of-the-year (and three-time NYC-e-o-y) who is radically critical of public education as it has evolved through the last century. He's quite the firebrand and offered a banquet of food for thought. I liked his label of "open-source learning" as the way to go, as that's what we do and validation of one's personal choices always feels oh-so-warm and fuzzy.

On the garden front, spring's here, albeit a chillier one than I'm used to. I've been digging like crazy in the garden, and have a long, beautifully mulched bed of strawberry plants, two more beds to plant today (with berry runners a friend gave me from her bountiful garden), and 10 raspberry plants in the ground and sprouting (well, one isn't looking too good, but the others are thriving).

Our cold frame cold-crops are getting close to harvestable size and I've got some sugar snap peas started outside. We'll probably start a flat of warm-weather seedlings in peat pots before we leave for California and plant the sprouts when we return.

We're flying to California on Wednesday for 10 days or so, with a housesitter to watch the dogs, rats and plants for us (with any luck, Maggie will hang in there for our absence -- at 15 1/2, she's doing pretty well for her age, but every month starts to feel like an achievement....)

We're looking forward to spending four days at the beach at Camp Pendleton with my folks, and a trip to Sea World, courtesy of our neighbor Joe across the street, who works at the Budweiser brewery and gets free tickets to A-B attractions. Oh, and we get to go see our old kids' dentist (woo hoo!), as so far we've had terrible luck with the two children's dentists in Fort Collins that we've tried. Dr. Cutts is the most laid-back dentist I've ever met, and the kids feel so at ease with him. And we'll get to see some of our California friends again as well!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Math is an art??

Okay, I've always held a vague idea that there is a way to explore mathematics that is really interesting and fun; every once in a while I've read a quote or a snippet from an article that hinted of the magic to be found in exploring mathematical relationships, for example, and it's been on my to-do list for a couple of years to look into it.

Our friend Jill posted a link to this article (click on the link towards the bottom of the page "Lockhart's Lament" for the article) on our homeschooling group last week and I'm absolutely fascinated by what this mathematician/educator has to say. I'm realizing that I've been duped into believing that math is about numbers and calculations, not about spatial relationships, leaps of insight, playfulness and art. I'm not finished with it yet (it's 25 pages long!) but it's challenging all my assumptions about what math is and how it should be experienced! In particular, his explanation on pages 3-5 of how math is an art form rather than a practical application was quite paradigm-shifting for me....

Coincidentally, Steve came across another article in an issue of the New Yorker last week that explores the fact that we now know humans have an innate feel for approximate math and it can get quite complex, but that how we talk about and teach math is very non-innate and hampers our understanding. English is among the languages that does a bad job of communicating math (cantonese, I think is the best, for its simplicity of naming numerals) and while addition and subtraction are intuitive enough, multiplication and division are outside of our hardwiring.

One of the fascinating suggestions both mathematicians raise is this, (the quote is from the New Yorker article):

Our inbuilt ineptness when it comes to more complex mathematical processes has led Dehaene to question why we insist on drilling procedures like long division into our children at all. There is, after all, an alternative: the electronic calculator.
"Give a calculator to a five-year-old, and you will teach him how to make friends with numbers instead of despising them," he has written. By removing the need to spend hundreds of hours memorizing boring procedures, he says, calculators can free children to concentrate on the meaning of these procedures, which is neglected under the educational status

Lockhart, the author of the 25-page lament, writes in a dialog form that is a nod to Galileo's writings on science and mathematics in which three distinct voices debate (bless you, participants in the world of Wikipedia! I would never have figured out why he was using this construction otherwise!) :

It would be bad enough if the culture were merely ignorant of mathematics, but what is far worse is that people actually think they do know what math is about— and are apparently under the gross misconception that mathematics is somehow useful to society! This is already a huge difference between mathematics and the other arts. Mathematics is viewed by the culture as
some sort of tool for science and technology. Everyone knows that poetry and music are for pure enjoyment and for uplifting and ennobling the human spirit (hence their virtual elimination from the public school curriculum) but no, math is important.

SIMPLICIO: Are you really trying to claim that mathematics offers no useful or practical applications to society?

SALVIATI: Of course not. I’m merely suggesting that just because something happens to have practical consequences, doesn’t mean that’s what it is about. Music can lead armies into battle, but that’s not why people write symphonies. Michelangelo decorated a ceiling, but I’m sure he had loftier things on his mind.

SIMPLICIO: But don’t we need people to learn those useful consequences of math? Don’t we need accountants and carpenters and such?

SALVIATI: How many people actually use any of this “practical math” they supposedly learn in school? Do you think carpenters are out there using trigonometry? How many adults remember how to divide fractions, or solve a quadratic equation? Obviously the current practical training program isn’t working, and for good reason: it is excruciatingly boring, and nobody ever uses it anyway. So why do people think it’s so important? I don’t see how it’s doing society any good to have its members walking around with vague memories of algebraic formulas and geometric diagrams, and clear memories of hating them. It might do some good, though, to show them something beautiful and give them an opportunity to enjoy being creative, flexible, open-minded thinkers— the kind of thing a real mathematical education might provide.

SIMPLICIO: But people need to be able to balance their checkbooks, don’t they?

SALVIATI: I’m sure most people use a calculator for everyday arithmetic. And why not? It’s certainly easier and more reliable. But my point is not just that the current system is so terribly bad, it’s that what it’s missing is so wonderfully good! Mathematics should be taught as art for art’s sake. These mundane “useful” aspects would follow naturally as a trivial by-product. Beethoven could easily write an advertising jingle, but his motivation for learning music was to create something

SIMPLICIO: But not everyone is cut out to be an artist. What about the kids who aren’t “math people?” How would they fit into your scheme?

SALVIATI: If everyone were exposed to mathematics in its natural state, with all the challenging fun and surprises that that entails, I think we would see a dramatic change both in the attitude of students toward mathematics, and in our conception of what it means to be “good at math.” We are losing so many potentially gifted mathematicians— creative, intelligent people who rightly reject what appears to be a meaningless and sterile subject. They are simply too smart to waste their time on such piffle.

SIMPLICIO: But don’t you think that if math class were made more like art class that a lot of kids just wouldn’t learn anything?

SALVIATI: They’re not learning anything now! Better to not have math classes at all than to do what is currently being done. At least some people might have a chance to discover something beautiful on their own.

SIMPLICIO: So you would remove mathematics from the school curriculum?

SALVIATI: The mathematics has already been removed! The only question is what to do with the vapid, hollow shell that remains. Of course I would prefer to replace it with an active and joyful engagement with mathematical ideas.

Much of the rest of his article is a deconstruction of current mathematics education in public school (what I'd really like to read about is how he'd do it right!) But I am fascinated to consider that mathematics may be a far more complex, artful and exciting world that I'd ever conceived of before and I"m looking forward to exploring in a completely new way...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Can it be four months already?!

I haven't posted much lately (Maddie's been taking over blogging duties!) but I realized on the first day of spring that we've been here four months, through the end of fall and all of winter. Aside from about six weeks of sub-normal (read ridiculously cold) weather from mid-Dec to late January (when I was wondering how many of these winters I'd get through before I started to dread them) the freeze broke and we had lovely late winter weather that was perfectly tolerable.
And now, there are little flowers and strappy leaves poking up here and there in our yard, delightful surprises from past owners that make me jump up and grab a watering can, anxious about these ignored bulbs.
We've got a couple flats of seedlings in the ground (lovely actual dirt again! Not that hard, rocky decomposed granite of Murrieta -- even though it is on the clay-ey side, I'll take it anyday!) in one of our cold frames, and I've got four raspberry plants waiting impatiently for me to decide where their patch will be. Steve's been digging up ground for a strawberry patch, which I'll have to finish up and get planted as well.
Steve's been biking into town in the mornings, for exercise and coffee, which stokes his desire to get an in-town job and stop commuting to Boulder. It will be interesting to see how things develop for him on that front.
He and I got to go on a lovely sunset bike ride during my folks' visit and it made us greedy for more, so we've made arrangements with a friend whose son our kids *love* to play with to trade kids-watching for massage for her! So, more dates on the horizon!
All in all, I think we've made the adjustment here very well. Maddie and Steve are completely gung-ho to be here, and I'm largely happy and enjoying the new places and experiences to enjoy, though I do feel still a bit wistful and transplanted sometimes and missing my folks. I can't say for sure with Harry, but he seems increasingly comfortable here, though when I mentioned our old home and life a few weeks ago, he said he misses it still.
Off to open a box of games that I ordered online, cool imports from Europe that my group of gaming friends reccomended as good family games. They include Settlers of Catan, Metro and The Amazing Labrynth.
When Cindi and the boys come up tomorrow, I'm going to make them play them all with me!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frosty the snow Monster

We had some snow the other day and in the school yard behind our house we made a huge snowman -- actually a snow Monster!

Just look at how big it is!
I would say about 4 stories tall!

Actually, this is the real size.

how are you going to throw that!?!?

Here are some pictures not related to snowmen but are still cute!
oh how i love snow!

ok, I'm stocked up and ready to go!

Tag! You're it!

Friday, March 14, 2008


Oh no, there's a rat in the house! There sure is, but it's our pet. Ever since our mice died we have wanted a little pet. We had heard that gerbils were good pets so we went to Petco thinking that we would get a gerbil. At the time, we thought they were solitary but we found out they really aren't. A person at the pet store told us all about them. She said that thay actually do like to be together. She also said that they might not be playful right now because they had just came in and are also young. And then she said that she had 11 rats in her house and one cage for the boys and another for the girls and babies. Now that's a lot of rats! She also showed us some rats that were up for adoption. They were so cute!!! We just had to adopt them!!! So now we have two extremely cute rats named Remy and Emile. Remy is all black. Emile is black-hooded and white. ha ha! I like the names. Here's some pictures of them. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

sunny + fang = love

Today my grama and grampa came to our house with their dog Fang, a pure white German shepherd and Sunny's boyfriend too. We moved a month or two ago and ever since Sunny's missed Fang and Fang's missed Sunny. But today (as i told you) they visited us and Fang visited Sunny and of course she was overjoyed! And ever since Fang and Sunny have been playing furiously! Today WOW is down, so I'm whiling away the time blogging. Anyway, Sunny needs a bath again ever since Fang came she's needing baths 24 seven!!!!
(I blame fang) He cant stop licking her!!! And Maggie just wants to sleep (Maggie's our 15-year-old dog in our years. And in dog years 108!!!) I know she's very old but she's doing fine. Astonishing!!!! Well, I can't put up any pics; I'm on one of our laptops. Oh well. Anyway, hope you like this post.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Today we got into world of warcraft and are having a blast! We are on a few realms we filled up Hydraxis (our main realm) and we're on our way on filling up a couple other relams such as: dragonblight, venture co. and duskwood. And harry has played a big part in doing so. He has the most characters by far. Harry doesn't really seem to like levelling up one character; he likes to make a bunch of characters (human girls mostly) and get them up to level 5 or lower and make more. I on the other hand do enjoy making characters but I mostly like playing my main (a level 16 druid). I don't really like levelling up new characters. I enjoy playing existing characters that can do more spells and so on.

I enjoy druids the most, I would say. They can shapeshift.Starting at level 10 they get bear form, then next is seal form they get at level 16. Seal form makes you swim faster and you don't run out of air when you swim. And at level 20 they can do cat form. I like it the best. Then you can turn invisible (rogues can do it at level 2 if they train.)

That's all the druid forms i know. Our highest level character is a level 21 night elf druid and that's why I don't know any other forms. I also like the druids because they have long-ranged attacks and a spell called entangling roots. It will entangle the enemy in roots and if you get out of its range you can attack it freely with out it attacking you, but if it has long range attacks it can stil hurt you. But it's still not a drain of your mana because it still dose nature damage, a type of attack, but if your target is immune to nature damage it is a drain of mana but as far as i know this would only occur if you were fighting another player and only a night elf at that. So i think druids are pretty darn cool. Harry likes the rogues because they can stealth; that's what druids in cat form can do but rogues get it much sooner.

And there's much more I could type but I want to watch my mom and Harry play. Harry wants to get his rogue a bandit mask (only rogues can wear it). Well, I'm going to stop typing and watch my mom play. Hope you enjoy this post, by!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

As all good projects are wont to do...

the remodel has bogged down. After a day of lightning fast demolition and a day of solid reconstruction, Steve came down with a stomach virus, leaving Lincoln to finish up drywall taping on his own. Then I discovered that you can't reliably order bathroom furniture based on your son's name (the manufacturer told me, when I called to check on delivery time, that they actually *didn't* have it in stock, as they told me they did, and it would be six to eight weeks. oy) So, back to Home Depot a few times and down to Lowes in Loveland and we finally have a vanity, counter and medicine cabinet sitting in the garage, along with boxes of tile for floor and walls, whilst Steve wrestles with backerboard and two illustrations for the Times due Friday.
Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Will we finish it in time for Mom and Dad's visit? Stay tuned!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Remodel mania!

Steve took all of two days off after the magazine redesign/issue deadline before starting on some house projects. His college roommate is in Boulder and is a handy guy, so the two of them tore out the upstairs bathroom and the ugly walls and ceiling of one of the downstairs bedrooms, which Steve is turning into his office.
Here's some before and in-the-middle-of photos.

The office, (waaay) before (before we bought the house, so nice and empty)

The intrepid remodelers...

And the very ugly bath...

With any luck, I'll be able to post "after" images within the week. (If not, it's going to be *very* close quarters in our one remaining bath when my folks come to stay!)

We have a vanity en route from the Los Angeles area (not being brought by my parents -- we've already loaded their station wagon up with our request for cheap Trader Joe wine) that I bought using my new method of freeing up decision-making energy for the actual enjoyment of life. I call it Simplification Through Synchronicity (TM pending).

I "know" someone, by which I mean I read her posts on the simple living site's discussion boards, who just spent a couple of months with her daughter volunteering in a poor town in Mexico. She wrote about the lack of choice at the local tienda -- there either were beans on the shelf or there weren't. When you saw something in stock, you bought it because it might not be there another day. She said that returning to the States and going to the grocery store or Starbucks was paralyzing to her at first. So many decisions to be made before you even bought a quart of milk (non-fat, low-fat, organic, Rbst free, lowest cost, half-gallon a better deal?)

It reminded me of something Steve read months' back, I can't recall if it was a book or an article (shoot, for that matter *I* could have been the one that read it, or heard it on the radio -- mind like a steel trap, I tell ya) about how our minds are overwhelmed by choice -- the number of choices we have to make in a day has increased astronomically and it costs us some amount of mental energy to make each one.

I flashed back on this as I tried to decide what laptop to buy this week, and what vanity to buy for the bathroom. With the internet, there's *so* many options available at so many price points and so much opinion to seek out about relative merits of this versus that. I was completely paralyzed by it all. Until I decided to let the gods guide me. (or universal energy, or whatever. Call it chance. It works just fine for me however you name it.)

So after running computer model after computer model through CNET's reviews, I found one on where the auction was ending in 20 minutes, it was more-or-less in my price range, it got a fairly good review and the high-bidder was from Fort Collins, CO. And the third highest bidder was from Loveland, Ohio (there next town down from us is Loveland.) So I bought it! And it felt so good to have that stupid decision behind me.

Next major choice was the vanity. Researching for hours on the internet. Paralyzed by choices. Finally, I found one I liked, it was a bit more expensive that Home Depot's, but it could arrive a few days earlier and the brand name was Harrison. Bought it. We'll christen the upstairs bath, Harry's Bathroom.

I don't want to spend my life agonizing over these decisions, because I know (from another fairly recent psychologist's interview/book/vaguely remembered source-and-discussion-with-Steve), that it doesn't matter what choice you make, you will be as happy with it as you are habituated to be. The brain has a certain set level of happiness, and we settle at it regardless of which choice we make. We may think it matters what house we buy or what spouse we choose, but in fact we will be about as happy either way, because of the general way in which we have learned to respond to and process things in our life.

So, I'm experimenting with letting the universe, via synchronicities, help me decide. And I'm loving having that extra energy to enjoy the important things in life

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An interesting piece on the value of unstructured play...

A homeschooling friend noted this NPR story today, and I listened.

Once the surges of reactivity and parental guilt subsided ("oh, no, I buy Harry *toys*", "we've ruined their childhoods by not moving a remote log cabin in the mountains!" Where *do* these thoughts come from? Why can't I just pat myself on the back for not loading them up with structured activities?? Sigh...) and I got to the meat of the story, I found it very intriguing that independent, imaginative play is so directly linked with self-regulation skills.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And one flew away...

Morgan from the Humane Society called us this morning to say she was ready to release our bohemian waxwing, and when could we meet her? What a great soul to go out of her way for us like that. We called up our friends Jill and Addie, who joined us for the release. Morgan assured us that waxwings are very good at finding their flocks, like bats, and that they're not as rare here as our birdbook made them out to be; this is within their winter range.

Here's the patient, shortly before release (having eaten lots of frozen mixed berries)

And here's Morgan and Harry, about to open the carrier (the box next to Morgan contains 9 of the 11 that didn't survive. We left them out in the field, near where I think a fox might den (based on how Sunny growled at the culvert one day as we hiked there), and we'll go back tomorrow with Jill, Addie and Luke to see if they were appreciated....

And here is a bird so happy to be free that all you see of it is its shadow as it flies off.... (if you click on the image a larger version is called up)

We released it in a nearby preserve that has a couple of very old cherry trees in it, leftover from some farmer's orchard. We thought she might like a snack and she might find her flock as well...

An epiphany!

I don't know why it's taken me until 43 to figure this out, but there's a whole other world of games out there, not the ones on the shelves at ToysRUs, not the card games that I've played until I'm bored to death -- fun games, creative games, intelligent grown up board games! I'm so excited! I've always had this vision of being the family that plays games together, in the evenings, in bad weather, at holiday gatherings, but to be honest, there's only so many times I can play Uno and Skipbo and Kings in the Corners and, uggh, monopoly, before I get bored silly.

But this fun group of gamers have the coolest collection of really interesting games! Bohnanza and Werewolves and Alhambra are the three that I've played with them so far and they've all been fascinating and fun!

I want to play more and I'm delighted to find that there are whole new game realms to explore!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Doesn't this seem backwards?

I got an email from a homeschooling-and-UU-Church friend alerting me that her group of mostly UU Moms (MUUMs for short) who walk together were planning to walk around the playfields of our elementary school tomorrow. This a)thrilled me to know there were some like-minded families within a mile or two of us whom we could meet tomorrow and b) made me realize that Steve and I could be walking laps around the playing fields with a walkie-talkie and the kids could stay in the house, as is their wont this winter, with the other walkie, and see us out the windows.

So, when the kids said they wanted to keep doing what they were doing this morning, Steve and I said, fine, we'll take the dogs out to the playground. And it struck me, at Lap 5, that things were a bit backward. The kids were at home doing embroidery (Maddie -- thanks Aunt Diane for the birthday embroidery kit!) and sitting at the computer (Harry exploring Stormwind city in World of Warcraft) while the parents were out on the playground!

It's a cool and windy day, so I can't blame the kids for not wanting to march about in it. Hopefully it will be warmer tomorrow for the playdate. We're off shortly to a game-gathering, another wonderful find at our UU Church. A group, again, of mostly UUers who get together every Sunday afternoon to play board and card games. The kids and I are excited.

Steve, alas, has to go into work again today. He is redesigning his magazine this issue (which adds a great deal of extra work into the normal production cycle), and this past week was supposed to be the final deadline week for the Mar/April issue, but he got sick last weekend with something like the flu and missed 3 days of work this past week. So now he's working all weekend and having to push back printing deadlines to get everything done. Oy.

And lastly, a bird update. Steve looked up our waxwing in a birding book and found that it wasn't actually a cedar waxwing but a bohemian waxwing, a far northern bird that rarely strays this far south into the continental US. Once every decade or so, when food is scarce in its normal range of southern Canada and the Pacific Northwest, it will fly further south in search of fruit on trees (like our chokecherry tree out front.) And the flock is back in the yard today, eating from the chokecherry and trilling in our cottonwoods. I'm trying to figure out how to get large owl shaped cutouts pasted to our high window above the entryway....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wildlife and wild death...

Well, we had a terrible bird accident at our house yesterday. I was sitting on the back porch enjoying the afternoon sun when I heard an odd whump, which reminded me of certain small earthquakes back in California, then a flock of birds zoomed past me and across the field. As I was sitting there wondering what it might have been, the kids raced to the back door to tell me that a bunch of birds had flown into our front windows and were lying on the sidewalk outside.
It was terrible. Twelve beautiful cedar waxwings were down in all, most already dead. We picked up the dying and held them to keep them warm. The one I was holding worked a chokecherry fruit out of its gizzard as it lay in my hand, and I gently removed it from its beak. After it died, I took Harry's from him and wrapped it in my shirt, holding it to my belly. I could feel life pulsing in it still. Maddie held hers close as well. After a while, I knew mine had died, but Maddie's actually had opened its eyes and was sitting, beak open, stunned. We set it up in a basked with a warmed rice bag under it and covered it with a towel to keep it quiet.
After an hour or so, I checked and it looked fairly alert, so I got online and asked on our local unschooling discussion board about bird rescue places. One of our friends told me of the humane society and when I called, they said, bring it in, we're open til 6:30. So the kids and I braved cross-town rush-hour traffic, bird-in-basket-in-lap. The wildlife rehab worker said it looked better than any cedar waxwing they'd gotten in recently and that we'd done a good job of keeping it warm. Apparently these birds are not building-savvy and fly into windows often, and in large flocks this time of year.
So we left our little survivor there, much to Harry's dismay. The wildlife worker said we could call today and see how it's doing and perhaps be there when they release it.
Here is a photo of some of the ones who didn't survive, as well as a few other, happier wildlife shots....

Deer like to browse through the field across the street from our schoolyard from time to time...

And here's a shot of Sunny and Cherry the squirrel, experiencing a minor detente.

An update: the wildlife supervisor said our waxwing made it through the night, but is still not moving much and not eating, so they're not ready to release it yet. They gave it some homeopathics, interestingly enough, and he said it's not doing poorly, but it's obviously still injured. Sooo, I'm glad we took it in (I had the thought as we were driving off that maybe we should just leave it out to fly away, instead of trekking halfway to Loveland with it, but I guess it was more injured than I realized.)