Saturday, December 17, 2005

What's Black and White and Wiggly all over?

Our new pup, Buddy! After much searching, we finally found the perfect rescue pup for our family. Buddy was found hiding under a trailer and rescued by A Forever Home, the same organization from whom we adopted our older dog, Boo. Sam has been wanting a puppy for some time, and Boo has been wanting a playmate. We found both in this little guy and feel very lucky to welcome him into our family.

We were able to meet Buddy last Thursday, as his foster family willingly drove half the distance to meet us. We all piled in the car, Boo included, to meet this little guy and see if he was meant to be part of our family. The two dogs got along great, and, well, Buddy pretty much stole our hearts. We were smitten!

I drove several hours on Sunday to pick him up from the rescue's adoption event, and he slept the whole ride home. By the time we got back to our farm, he was ready to play and he's been playing ever since! He and Boo have had so much fun romping in the snowy pastures, and the kids have adored playing with him despite all the puppy nips. Mr. Buttons, our kitten, however, has been slower to warm up to the notion of having this bundle of kanine energy in the house and continues to give him a very wide bearth. A border collie/spaniel mix, Buddy is full of life and is very smart and eager to please. He's learning quickly and promises to have plenty of energy to keep up with this high energy crew.

Friday, October 21, 2005


I spent the weeks surrounding my birthday building a new pond. I missed the pond I built at the old house, and I wanted something larger here to attract wildlife and help mask traffic noise. We moved the existing pre-formed pond to the back garden to create space next to the patio for a larger fish and wildlife garden, and now we have two ponds in our backyard. The birds can splash in the smaller pond in the back or wade in the pebble beach of the new pond, and we've already had a frog come to live in our new pond!

Sam, who is my wildlife and nature buddy, helped a good bit throughout the process. His papa bought him a shovel just the right size, and he helped me dig some of the hole. Jim helped dig the holes as well with this pond--unlike the one I built at the previous house. Thankfully, too, because hardpan piedmont clay is much harder to dig than silty bay clay! Of course, I had to choose an exceptionally dry summer to begin this project, as well. Our Massey-Ferguson tractor, or "Big Red" as Sam and I call it, helped tremendously. Dh was able to move most of the rock for the pond in the front end loader.

Here, Sam helped me dig the lower pond, and he enjoyed testing the depth and level for me with the carpenter's level and the yardstick. Dh and I worked with the mattock, sledging the dirt away bit by bit to get the level deep enough to over-winter the koi. As I worked, that song "I owe my soul to the company store" looped through my head. Pretty good work out though!

Once dug, the pond needs an underlayment to protect the epdm liner from punctures; we reused the carpet padding we ripped out when we got new carpet. Emily helped me roll the padding out in the yard and check carefully to be sure all the staples had been removed. I crawled around several times on my hands and knees, squeezing each part of the padding between my fingers. One rogue staple could be a fiasco! Piecing the padding together was a bit of a puzzle, but it made a great, if somewhat bulky, underlayment.

Next step was to spread out the flexible liner, which is incredibly heavy and definitely a two-person job. The weight of the water helps conform the liner to the shape of the pond, and the biggest job is to tuck and fold the liner as the water fills so it looks as smooth as possible.

I finished laying the stone on my 35th birthday, and it was the best present I could've received. I thoroughly enjoyed the process from start to finish, and I'd learned so much from the first pond I built. Although this pond is about 1000 gallons smaller than the old pond, I think it's a prettier pond as a whole. Of course, the landscape I was working with was entirely different this time around, lacking the natural slope of the old yard. I ended up designing kind of yin/yang upper and lower ponds that nest together nicely. The bottom pond has a bog garden off the back side, which Sam and I plan to fill with carnivorous plants in the spring. This waterfall is significantly lower than at the old house as the grade was so flat, so I made it wider in order to maximize the sound.

All in all, I'm incredibly pleased with the result, as are the kids. They have their sitting ledge again where they can dip their toes for the fish to nibble. The surrounding landscaping is coming together, and I was pleased to find a trumpet creeper vine at Lowe's this fall--a native flowering vine that the hummingbirds love. Sam and I plan to place a mister within the rocks so the hummers can frolick. Yes, the vision is coming clearer.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


This year's conference was amazing! The number of people there, the energy and excitement and interest--it was all totally overwhelming and awesome. This was my second year attending, but the first year the kids came, and they had a blast doing the funshops with their dad. The balloon shapes and craft funshops were two of the favorites from what I could gather. There were a couple that I really wished I could have attended with the girls--the ATC funshop and, of course, Henna by Brenna.

The talent show was wonderful again this year, and I was in total awe at my kids' performance. It was a bit shorter than the private shows they put on for me, but it was a very accurate glimpse into our improv shows at home. I am always so impressed by the unshakable sense of self that these kids--all of them, not just mine--possess, which shines through as they share a bit of themselves with an audience bigger than many of us can imagine. At these moments, the core of who these kids are and the gift of their lives glows so brightly that I just know we've made the world a better place. Not in the future, but right here and now, in the lives these kids lead and the strength they find in themselves.

The size and energy of the conference was, as I said, overwhelming to those of us who are highly sensitive to the noise and controlled chaos of crowds. Dh and the kids spent much of their time either in our room or at a local park, removing themselves from the hustle and bustle of bodies. On one of their excursions, they popped into Borders Books to buy the new Shark Boy and Lava Girl dvd that the kids have been dying to see. Dh brought our dvd player from home, and we were all able to veg out with family movie nights in our room, reconnecting after the day's absence.

Saturday night's excursion to The City Museum was amazing and amazingly assaulting on the senses. There was so much to take in at once, that I found it impossible to focus on anything and spent most of my time there walking around like a deer trapped in the inevitable onrush of headlights. Sam and dh climbed around through the maze of tunnels in the entrance for most of our visit, though we did take some time to explore the upstairs. A sturdier person could easily have spent hours in this amazing place, though we spent only about two. It took about five minutes of quiet car being to bring our voices down to a normal decibel level, having been shouting merely to be heard for the past couple hours. There were weddings going on at the museum and living lofts above--I truly can't imagine either scenario for myself. I would, however, have loved a private tour of the museum when no one else was there to really appreciate the incredible beauty and creativity of the artistic space.

Our friend Ken took this amazing picture of the kids at the arch on Sunday. It was by far the best shot of the kids and the arch that we got--it deserves a place of honor. We had fun at the Museum of Westward Expansion; it was just the right size and perspective for the kids to really enjoy. For about 48 hours, Em planned to be a pioneer girl for Halloween, but that, of course, has changed about 4 times since. Cahokia Mounds on Sunday was wonderful. The kids loved exploring the museum and relaxing to the intro movie, and Em was totally awed by the size of Monk's Mound and the concept of creating an earthen pyramid. Dh and I were talking about how the whole concept was such a product of the plains geography--testifying to the human need to ascend heavenward whatever the effort.

I left the conference on a total high, feeling thrilled and exhilerated by all the energy and potential contained in a single space. So, too, did I leave disappointed at not having more time to make connections and more time to spend quietly talking with people. The break-out sessions were one of my favorite aspects of the conference because they came closest to the intimate discussions I was imagining. There's just never enough time! I've decided that I really need to have each family over to my home individually for dinner so we can have that connecting time I missed. So, everyone start signing up for a weekend! My girls have taken this desire one step further and are seeking an unschooling commune where they can be surrounded by unschooled friends every day! Land anyone?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Wild Wildlife
Snapshots of some creatures we've been finding...

A praying mantis.

The chrysalis of a Baltimore Checkerspot--absolutely stunning to see, which doesn't translate in this dismal photo. This silver and goldish orange spots make it look like a piece of jewelry.

An American Painted Lady visiting some recently transplanted sedum.

The kids and I have been enjoying Animal Planet's new series Backyard Habitat and plan to submit our new yard for certification as a backyard habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. The tv show is interesting and includes several craft ideas for the kids that can easily be done at home. We've been having fun creating and designing several new habitat, having learned lots from our projects at our old home. We'll have a meadow and thicket, brush piles and stone piles, a butterfly and hummingbird garden, and a water garden--all of which offer different habitats for different wildlife species. If you build it, they will come.

We recently purchased a trampoline from JumpSport, and the kids have been having a grand ol' time on it. They helped dad put it together the night it arrived--what a sport! Dad that is, not trampoline jumping, though that's quite fun as well. It only took about an hour to get up and boinging--the newest verb in our home.

Jumping was only half the fun that evening, as things quickly turned to thoughts of a camp out. Of course, they didn't end up staying out all night--the planning is half the fun. Schlepping everything out is always so much easier than getting it all back in. Sam looks quite at ease--he's considering moving out there, I think. Hmmm...he'd probably miss his computer and the tv pretty quickly though. The peace and quiet just watching the clouds go by, however, might be worth the trade off.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The kids have been having a blast taking apart some little games that came with a McDonald's Happy Meal. The games were fun to play, but apparently even more fun to take apart, as Julia keeps congratulating herself for having the stroke of brilliance to take them apart and her siblings whole-heartedly agree. They've been taking apart the games, old cameras and any electronic toys that no longer work for the past couple days. Em got a shock yesterday from a camera, which dh said was likely caused by the capacitor that charges for the flash.

Em and I have begun reading a really great version of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels adapted by Martin Jenkins. The illustrations, by Chris Riddell, are fabulous, and Emily is absolutely entranced. Julia and I are reading through a boxed series she recently bought called W.I.T.C.H.. We just finished the first book, The Power of Five, which the girls are really enjoying. Em and I had a really great discussion about the book the other evening at dinner, analyzing the different characters and the ways they represent their different elemental powers. We were discussing which characters we most closely identified with and why. Hugely fun.

One of Emily's current passions is designing. She loves to design costumes, rooms, whatever, and I was her latest creation. Once she was through, she took pictures and graciously allowed Sam to enter the designing action, who found waiting for his turn absolutely excruciating. I'm sure I was quite lovely, as the children kept assuring me I looked fabulous. My gentle readers, however, may draw their own conclusions. This particular design was for a costume ball the kids planned for lunchtime. We waltzed through the kitchen (our closest approximation of a waltz anyway), trading partners in quite a civilized fashion.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Well, micromanaging seems an inevitable part of human nature, as my kids have learned little from their own autonomous urges when it comes to our kitten Mr. Buttons. He is just too cute to leave to his own devices, apparently, as they poke, prod, place and generally petrify the poor creature. No amount of, "It looks like he wants to be left alone" can persuade the children to let Mr. Buttons be. A few scratches and a very skittish kitten do little to further persuade. In the meantime, I patiently bandage the scratches and bide my time until the novelty wears off and continue gently to encourage respect for Mr. Buttons' autonomy.

We have recently acquired one of the most fabulous toys ever designed--the frigit. After more than a year-long quest for this toy, which I had seen years ago in a catalog before the kids were old enough to be interested, an online goddess dropped the link in my lap: Frigits. Sam has been enamored with Rube Goldberg machines for more than a year now, and this toy provides exactly the kind of creative fulfillment that the game mousetrap never quite did. Sam has thoroughly enjoyed creating new "machines" by reconfiguring the different frigit pieces, experimenting with pitch and speed. He's made very direct, nearly vertical routes that shoot the marble straight down and very circuitous, horizontal switch-back routes that meander and swirl. Hard to say which provides more satisfaction--satisfyingly different, I would say.

The girls have been writing poems lately, and they've really zoned in on the rhyme and rhythm of language that they've been hearing in song lyrics and the strongly rhyming poetry of Silverstein and riddles we've been reading. They've both offered some samples for me to post on our blog.

Daisies are yellow
The Sun is bright
just like my future ahead of me.

Nature is ahead of me
When I go into my heart.

Pain and suffering is no way to go
As the chimney smoke on the lavender blow.
How can your heart beat when it's beating so slow?

Flowers are blowing and
Flowers are going.
Why can't the flowers just stay when the wind is blowing?

We've also been exploring the sun some more--Em's current online interest--learning about angstroms and light wavelenths. The Sun-Earth Viewer has lots of neat images to click on, showing the sun in different colors based on the wavelength of light. We found a really neat website on frisbee history, an inquiry spurred by our recent family frisbee games. The girls were so excited to find a family connection in the frisbee history--Ultimate Frisbee originated in Maplewood, NJ where dh grew up! Now, that's a small world!

Sam and papa spent the weekend building their first robot together, realizing one of Sam's greatest passions. Dh has been looking for robot kits that would be simple enough to keep Sam's interest but complex enough to be satisfying. His criteria also included that it be a "real" robot not just a remote controlled device. He finally found a couple of kits at Discover This that he felt would be worth trying out, and they arrived this Friday. He and Sam put together the first kit, the "weasel," that can follow walls or a black line on the floor. Sam was in absolute heaven building a robot with his papa! He kept running in to show me the next completed step, the electronic "brain," the wheels. By the end of the weekend, he was doing excited acrobatics over his "weasel," as it followed the black line of electrical tape along the kitchen floor just as it was supposed to do.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


While walking through our meadow one evening, we spotted an Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar dining on some Queen Anne's Lace. (That's him hanging upside down in the bottom left corner of the photo to the left.) We brought him inside and continued to find fresh food for his dining pleasure for nearly a week before we were rewarded by a bright green chrysalis. The picture's not great, but it's so cool to watch the transformation. The caterpillar eats and eats and gets huge. Then, it dumps all the waste food and liquid in its body and begins climbing all around, looking for a suitable attachment point. Once settled, it begins to curl and shrink, resembling a chrysalis shape but still very obviously a caterpillar. Next morning, voila! A chrysalis.

After several days of checking on the chrysalis, the kids eventually forget about it and go about their business. The other morning upon first waking and sitting down on the couch, Julia spotted something black and moving--the butterly had awakened! You can see the butterfly drying his wings right next to the now brown, discarded chrysalis. As we brought the butterfly outside where he could fly free once his wings dried, we got a really good look at the beautiful markings on his wings--the orange eyes, yellow and blue on the top, and the orange on the underside. By checking out the coloring, more yellow than blue on the top, we were able to confirm that our caterpillar had, indeed, been a "he." Now, we look for him while out walking, squinting hard trying to catch sign of color or size that might distinguish him from the other black swallowtails floating through the flowertops.

Our meadow is home to some amazing creatures, which we only hope to increase in the coming years by diligent native habitat management. We plan to increase the number of host plants for insects, place birdhouses and plant native berry plants and winter food for the birds, hang bat houses, put out salt licks for the deer in winter--ahh, we have grand plans. While walking this week, we found an argiope web, distinctive because of its zig-zag writing pattern in the center, and very quickly spotted its maker off in the corner, apparently resting after her exertions wrapping the week's meal. Often called a black and yellow garden spider or garden writing spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope is stunning and somewhat imposing due to the female's massive size. This argiope's abdomen was more than an inch long, and she's been snacking on a good size grasshopper throughout the week. We'll be keeping an eye out for the possible egg sack in the coming weeks.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Living and learning fun--ahhhh, it's starting to feel like home again! Em made one of my favorite statements today: "I LOVE learning! It's just so cool!" Yeah, me too, Em.

Of course, moving to a new area has meant dealing with rounds of colds as our bodies adhjust to new germs. While Em was sick, we were talking about how germs get in our bodies, about how antibodies work and about the fact that once we get one cold we don't get it again because our body has already manufactured the necessary antibodies with which to fight it. We found a cool website that explained it in a way that Em could really understand and had some really neat graphics.

Jules and I are now working our way through a nasty virus. We visited the doctor the other day to be sure Jules didn't have strep--her throat was hurting so and she was on about day 7 of her cold. While there, we talked about different kinds of whales spurred by the orca whale border and Sam's love for the story Baby Beluga--I think he really responds to the "swim so wild and you swim so free" line. We remembered a Smithsonian book we'd gotten once on harp seals (also in the border), which the kids found terribly traumatic because the mothers just abandon their babies after a certain age. (Smithsonian really doesn't do children's books very well, imo. No warm fuzzies there.) Jules was a trooper when the nurse swabbed her throat, and we talked about the differences between bacterial and viral infections and how we'd find out which it was with the throat culture.

Yesterday, the electric company turned off our power for a couple of hours while taking down the lines that run through our backyard to the house; they've been in the process over the last few months of switching over to buried cables. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and pull out the Harry Potter book we've been talking about starting. All afternoon, we read several chapters--nearly a hundred pages--and couldn't wait to read more. Later in the evening while relaxing in the tub, I found a cool article on sharks in the new Smithsonian Magazine that I'll have to point out to the kids some time soon.

Today, during a commercial break for Looney Tunes, Em turned to me and asked whether or not the sun rotated like the earth. Hmmmm? Good question. I'm not sure it ever would have occurred to me to even ask this question, but I did what I always do: I said I didn't know, suggested who might know and offered to look it up online. We went to and turned up a really cool NASA site and followed all kinds of cool links, learning about differential rotation and sunspots.

After Looney Tunes, we turned off the tv and pulled out the Harry Potter book again, reading another several chapters while the kids built with geomags. While taking a break for some food (and to give my voice a rest!) Jules pulled out some of her quarters to show us. She had about five different state quarters, which prompted us to start searching our big change jar to see how many different states we have--I think the total count was 26. We had fun talking about the state symbols and why they were representative of that particular state. We also found a couple of Canadian nickels, a 50 cent piece with JFK on it that their great-grandmother had given us, a Susan B. Anthony and a Sacagewea dollar. Many, many connections.

Yes, life is grand and our natural rhythm is falling back into place. *sigh*

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Julia's longtime wish came true last week--she got her kitten! We had talked about getting a kitten when we moved to our new house, and she's been patiently waiting while we finished most of the painting and new flooring. Last weekend we went to the Adoption Day at Petsmart, and she found a black and white kitten who spoke to her heart.

After waiting nearly a week, we picked him up at the pound and brought him home. "Mr. Buttons" has quickly worked his way into all our hearts--even dh has admitted that he's pretty darn cute. Of course, he doesn't seem nearly so cute at 2 am when he's chasing marbles on the bathroom floor and drinking from my bedside water. Ah, having a baby in the house again. *sigh*

We're settling into our new home more each day, and one of our favorite rituals is taking our evening walks through our meadow. The dog loves the walks as much as we do, and forgives all the attention lavished on Mr. Buttons the minute she hears, "Where's your ball?" We have big plans for the meadow to help attract even more wildlife. After the fall cut, I'm going to seed with some native wildflowers, and we plan to build and place several birdhouses along the perimeter before spring. Several of the plants we moved, including one of our butterfly bushes, survived, as did my white milkweed and spicebush seedling. We've seen lots of deer, and we're looking forward to placing salt licks along our walk this winter. With any luck, we'll get some good snow and finally be able to break out our cross-country skis, which haven't been used since our Pennsylvania days. It's good to be home!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Well, looks like another two months have passed without blogging. That'll happen when life takes over!

We've been busy settling into our new farmette--5.25 acres in northwestern Maryland. The move itself was difficult emotionally, as they always are, but all in all we handled it quite gracefully I would say. The kids are adjusting amazingly well to their new home, enjoying it more and more as it gets closer to being finished and feeling like home. We're renovating the kitchen, painting and putting in new carpets and floors; you know, all the stuff it takes to really make it ours.

Em and Jules are sharing a room still, though with a bit more room to spread out. They've had fun choosing new bedding and colors for the wall and have put together a truly beautiful room that reflects both their personalities. For a while they went back and forth trying to settle on a theme for their room, and they're so different that it was hard coming up with something that worked for them both.

Em would've liked an Egypt or Dragons room while Jules would've loved a pink and purple Princess extravaganza. They finally settled on a "Rock Star" room, which has morphed into what dh thinks is a very good impression of an opium den. The walls are plum while the bedding is a deep plum and mauve iridescent line from Target. We found a great little chandelier on sale with diamond and grape colored jewels. They decorated lampshades with feathers and glitter, and they have spiral lanterns across the top of their valences. All in all, it's quite lovely.

Sam's cowboy camp room is slowly coming together. He wanted a sky on his ceiling that went from day to night, so we decided to paint it a soft blue with clouds for the daytime sky. We'll cover it with those glow-in-the-dark star stickers that will come out when the lights go off for the nighttime sky. He wants me to paint murals of trees and I'm not sure what else, and we're going to build a teepee in the corner of the room that he can play in.

The dog has adjusted to the move quite well and absolutely loves having all the acres on which to romp. Her favorite part of the day is when we go for our walk in the evening through our meadow, which I must admit is my favorite as well. My heart sings watching my children run through the mown path with wild abandon--I feel as if I have everything I could ever want right in front of me.

Emily enjoyed her 8th birthday at the end of July. We had a hoe-down for friends and family to come see our new home. Dh gave the kids a spin on the tractor, which they all thought was fabulous. Sam, of course, immediately grabbed the wheel--he wasn't riding, he was gonna drive! Even my mother-in-law tried it out. Dh barbequed some pork shoulder, my mom made her famous potato salad, and I made about 2 dozen farm fresh deviled eggs that were delicious! I think the highlight of the weekend was my nephew's sheer pleasure exploring the land and watching the chickens. Despite the fact that he was sick, he enjoyed himself immensely just taking time to walk and watch the ladies. He was in heaven when I gave him a dozen eggs to take home. Apparently, he's been talking non-stop about getting some chickens of his own, much to his mother's chagrin. He'll just have to come visit our chickens more often.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Quail Chronicles

Besides the move, we have been incubating and hatching Bobwhite Quail as part of a somewhat controversial repopulation effort. We began by building our own incubator out of a styrofoam ice chest. At the bottom of the ice chest, there is a pan filled with water to help maintain the proper humidity necessary for incubating and hatching eggs, which is different by the way. We used an incandescent light bulb as our heat source, which was rather tricky trying to regulate within the one to one and a half degree margins necessary for the embryos. On the top of the incubator we cut out a viewing window and covered it with plexiglass, allowing us to check the temperature and watch during hatching.

As you can see, the quail eggs are quite tiny--that's a regular size light bulb in there. Next to the eggs is a rectangular thing, which is our remote thermometer and hygrometer. Bobwhite quail take approximately 23 days to incubate, though ours took between 23 and 25 days to hatch. While it was cool to make our own incubator, the downside was the lack of fine temperature control and regulation, which meant that I was up multiple times each night for those 23-25 days checking the temp of the eggs. That got a bit old, but I must say that the remote thermometer I splurged on really saved me. I could bring the main unit into the bedroom at night and just check on them with the touch of a button--kind of like hitting that snooze button--not enough to totally wake me up.

The incubator temperature needs to stay between 97.5 and 102 degrees, depending upon the kind of incubator, and the eggs must be turned at least twice a day. The last three days before hatching, we stopped turning the eggs, decreased the temperature slightly and increased the humidity to prevent the shell from sticking to the chick. The really neat part about the whole process, however, was "candling" the eggs as they developed, which simply means putting the egg on top of dime-sized light source that shines through the shell and allows one to see the developing embryo. The kids thought this was great, and even dh was interested enough to check out at least one each time we did it. By the end, the whole egg is filled, and as I candled the couple eggs that weren't hatching with the others, I could actually hear the chick inside peeping. Totally cool.

The chicks began hatching out on the 24th day at around 12:30 am. I know this because I woke up to go check on them just as the first one began coming out of the egg. It was pretty amazing to watch, and I was surprised at the struggle. Birth is not an easy thing. I learned some pretty interesting things during this process as well. The first crack in the egg is called a "pip" and made with an "egg tooth" on the top of the chick's beak that disappears shortly after birth.

The very first pip is the result of a neck spasm in the chick induced by a build up of carbon dioxide within the egg. As the embryo grows, it fills a greater and greater space within the egg, eventually puncturing the air sac in the top of the egg. As this happens, the chick's lungs begin to work for the first time, taking over from the embryonic system that has sustained it while in the egg. There is enough oxygen in the egg sac for the lungs to begin to work, and as the chick uses it up, the build up of carbon dioxide causes a muscle spasm, which breaks the egg shell and allows fresh air to penetrate. After that point, the chick takes anywhere between a few hours to 24 hours or more to begin systematically pecking a circle around the top of the egg, perforating an escape hatch of sorts. Once it breaks a complete circle, it must then push its way out--no small feat for such a tired little thing.

While this has been a tremendous learning experience, it's also been fraught with stress and anxiety. We began with 25 eggs, four of which were not fertilized,and as we incubated the eggs, one either stopped developing or became contaminated, dropping us down to 20. At one point, early in the incubation stage, I switched the bulb to a higher wattage, trying to increase the temperature slightly; within 20 minutes, the temperature soared to 108 degrees, high enough to cook or seriously compromise the embryos. Luckily, I caught it quickly before it likely did too much damage, but it was enough to make me quite upset and feel terrible about it for several days.

We hatched out 18 of the 20 remaining eggs, two died shortly before hatch as we discovered after cracking them open. That, too, was a bit difficult to handle. Once the quail chicks were about a week and a half old, we lost several chicks in one day, one after another for no explicable reason--none drowned, none got wet or chilled, none were pecked at, though a couple may have been smothered--a danger when the chicks pile together for warmth. Since then, we've lost four more here and there and are now down to nine. The chicks are now four weeks old and about 4 weeks away from release. It's been really hard losing the chicks, though I know that some loss is inevitable. All in all, however, it's been a great experience to do once; I'm not sure that I would do it again this way. It's a whole lot easier to get the day old chicks in the mail!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

EGADS! What happened to April & May?

Whew! Two months have come and gone with no blogging whatsoever? What in the world could keep me quiet for that long, you ask? Must be something catastrophic at the very least.

Not exactly. We've been quite busy, actually, contemplating, setting up and now preparing for a move cross-state. We've had many family discussions about all the pros and cons of moving, done several reconnaissance missions, bought a house, sold a house, ushered through many an inspector and are now, somewhat anxiously, awaiting the closing date and the physical move, though we've pretty much mentally moved already.

We'll be moving to 5.24 acres in Northern Maryland where we can spread out and begin living some of our dreams. I've been wanting to homestead for quite some time, well, homestead-lite, really, and the kids are looking forward to getting more animals than we've had space for in our present home. There's a barn with three 12 x 12 stalls, which will make a great temporary home for our chickens until we build them their own digs, and which will make a great home for Julia's Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats in the spring. Emily hopes to get a horse in a couple of years, so I imagine she and I will be taking riding lessons together next year. Sam's looking forward to getting a puppy this fall and some roosters in the spring--I think his plan is to build up the male population of our little homestead.

Currently, we're having discussions back and forth about what bedrooms will look like, who will sleep where and with whom, that kind of thing. I'm planning my new kitchen, which will have double ovens and a five-burner cooktop by the time I'm through with it. We'll be laying aside some money to put in a pool next spring, which will be fun for everyone, and once we finish off the basement this winter, there'll be lots more room for us all to spread out a bit--a big rec room, a combo office/ guest room, and a stylin' exercise room with a climbing wall, dh's bike, yoga/ pilates mats, meditation cushions and maybe even a sauna. Fun for all, we hope. It helps to be handy and do as much of the work ourselves as possible, short of digging out the pool by hand, that is. I gotta draw the line somewhere.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The kids and I made our own homemade broom from a broom plant that I pruned. They've been having fun playing Harry Potter and taking turns flying around on the broom. They've also made some really cool spears for themselves after watching Troy. Achilles weilds a mean spear, that's for sure! The kids loved watching the mythological world of their Age of Mythology game come alive. We watched the bonus features disc, a National Geographic special on the Making of Troy, and read a couple of excerpts from The Iliad. As chance would have it, Emily had picked up a children's version of The Odyssey from the library, so we got a sense of what happened to Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan War.

This weekend, Jim set up an old CD player in the girls' bedroom, and they've been having a ball listening to all their CDs and feeling quite grown up. Julia put in a disc that had come with a ballerina book Em got ages ago, and she immediately recognized the music from Swan Lake. I was quite impressed. She then proceeded to tell Sam all about the story.

Friday and Saturday the kids and dh helped me get the vegetable garden turned over. There's still quite a bit of clay that each year we work hard to get rid of by taking as much out as possible and replacing it with good organic matter from our compost bins to mix in with the remaining soil. I turned the garden over, the kids helped pull out any rocks and clay while breaking apart the shoveled clumps and Jim hauled the compost. By the end of the day Saturday, it was looking pretty good, and the chickens were loving the compost top dressing, which we'll turn in with a friend's rototiller sometime this week, hopefully.

While we were working on Friday, we found a six-spotted green tiger beatle, which was really cool--an amazingly brilliant, iridescent emerald green. We were able to use the bug vacuum Sam bought at the toystore a few weeks ago to suck it into the magnifying canister and then identify it with our insect book. While I was inside getting the book, Sam let the beatle go, so at first we had to identify it from memory. We narrowed it down to two from the pictures, then used the description of the habitats to determine which it was. As we did, we found the beatle crawling on Sam's jacket, much to his chagrin, and were able to recapture it, and sure enough, those six spots were clear as could be under the magnifying glass.

Then later, as I was moving some rocks around for my rock walls, I found a black widow and was able to suck that up as well for safe viewing. It was beautiful, and it's not the first one I've found in my rock walls, unfortunately. We supposedly have brown recluses in the area too, though I've never found one, and we need to be careful of copperheads, as well. Basically, we're all pretty careful to wear our work gloves when ever we're handling fire wood or rocks. And we scout out our climbing area pretty carefully when we head over there, too.