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?