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.