Did you know that "rooster" used to be the generic term for any gender gallus gallus domesticus, which you may know as the chicken? It was only when certain people decided that the older name for the male of the species—"cock", if you were wondering—was something they didn't want to say in mixed company that "rooster" came to be the term for the big ones with the spurs and the cockadoodledoo. That means that we only have hens here at our house, but the point is that, in a less prudish world, they could be called roosters. Because roosting what they do. Or they're supposed to... only our small hens didn't get the memo.
We moved them outside about a week ago, when their smell prompted me to finally finish their house. They liked having more room to roam (inside their enclosure; I don't trust them enough to give them the run of the yard yet) but when it got dark they missed their comfortable box and all huddled up near the door. That meant if it rained they were going to get soaked; I knew if I left them there and it did start raining in the middle of the night I'd have to go save them. So I brought them in before I went to bed. The next night it did start raining, right as I was about to go to sleep, so once again I went out and got them (they hadn't gotten too wet, nor did I).
We persisted. There was finally a clear night and, though it was a bit chilly, I left them to huddle in the straw by their door. They survived. But I started to despair that they'd ever figure out that they could use the nice roosting pole I made them, or at least, you know, go to sleep under their roof. Then yesterday saw more rain, but this time perfectly timed: it started in the late afternoon, driving them into the roofed part of the house (they're not idiots when they're fully awake) and continued until after dark. I went out to check on them just in case, and there they were, cuddled together on the pole like proper roosters. Hooray!
And they've figured it out. Today was clear and dry, but at bedtime they once again flew up to the roost. I feel like a parent whose child just passed their first spelling test. Now all we have to do is get them integrated with the rest of the flock in a month or so. That couldn't possibly be hard, right?
This morning I was looking back over my photos for the past year, trying to find something for a slideshow for work. I was interested to see that I had strong memories of moments that I'd photographed and then posted on the blog, but more hazy recollections of unblogged pictures. And things I never photographed at all? A couple weeks in the past, they might as well have never happened! That's why I take pictures.
Today was unphotographed, but we did some fun things. It was summery hot, and we spent a lot of time outside. Most of the afternoon the kids were one place and I was another, but come evening we reconvened in the yard around a fire—plus a couple of Jacks from the neighborhood who stopped by to play with burning sticks. We cooked hot dogs and then marshmallows. I brought out my trumpet to play "Summertime". It was that nice. When you see the "moments from the week post" on Sunday, imagine something from the evening in there.
A couple weeks ago the sun was shining and we didn't have anything on the schedule, so we decided to head for the ocean. Our exact plans were uncertain, but I figured I'd point us towards Gloucester and see where we ended up. So with picnic lunches and swimsuits packed, we headed north! The ride itself was fun as soon as we got north of the Rt 93 split; the boys felt like they were entering unexplored territory. The deadly on-ramps on Rt 128 through Peabody and Danvers were of particular interest. Of course, when the ocean came into view that was even better! Driving somewhat at random through Gloucester we came to a beach, off Eastern Point Road. So naturally we stopped for a while.
Unfortunately the parking lot was marked "residents only", so while it was pretty much empty we were nervous about getting too far from the car. And it was too cold to swim anyway. So after a little exploration and jumping we moved on. Our next stop was Good Harbor beach, which we know well from the old days. Well, I know it well; Harvey didn't remember it. At first glance I thought parking there would be safe, but then I realized that all the other cars stopped along the street had people waiting in them. The signs threatened towing, so while the boys got to roam I sat with the car.
It was still coldish, and when the boys came back they said the water was too far away. Low tide will do that. So we moved on once more. Tired of Gloucester's restrictive parking regulations, we headed for Rockport where I knew I could find a place to put the car on a side street within striking distance of all sorts of attractions. That means it was Rockport that got our tourist dollars.
Actually, we didn't buy anything at that toy store, because we don't have that many dollars. But you can bet that, after a picnic lunch on the breakwater, there was one place where we were happy to part with a couple bucks.
Or actually two, because Lijah wasn't feeling the ice cream love; only fudge would satisfy his seaside cravings.
Well fed, we wandered through town looking at the ocean down each alleyway we passed. Before long we came to one wide enough to walk through, and at the end of it we found a beach!
By now it had finally warmed up a bit, so the boys changed into swimsuits and we spent half an hour splashing, jumping from rock to rock, and making a sand castle in a vain attempt to hold back the rising tide (as pictured here). We couldn't stop it though, and eventually it rose so high our piece of beach was in danger of disappearing, so we moved on. At the other end of the beach we found a stream emerging from a tunnel under the road (which Harvey and Zion had to explore, of course). Then we climbed some rocks and found a big square tide-pool filled with warm water, right next to a tiny sandy beach about five feet long. It felt like a private oasis! By the time we were done playing there it was past time to go home. It was a good trip!
We like lots of books. There are now four readers in our house, and together we plow through a lot of written material. But obviously, some books are more favorite than others. As Zion is working his way though short chapter books, we've rediscovered some old favorites. Just like Harvey, he enjoyed Dory Fantasmagory, and read all four. We also rediscovered another series we've enjoyed, Anna Hibiscus—and even better, we found that there are now twice as many books in the series than last time we looked!
In the US it's hard to find books about other cultures that aren't completely othering—like, "look at how people live in other places!" So we really appreciate the exceptions. Anna Hibiscus is a girl living with her big family in Lagos, Nigeria. Her dad is Nigerian and her mom is originally from Canada, so while she—and her mom—feel completely Nigerian, she also has a little bit of a different perspective about her family and her city than her many cousins (the books' author, Atinuke, is similarly a child of mixed cultures). That gives the non-Nigerian reader a great perspective on life in Lagos or the village. Even better, in the third book Anna Hibiscus travels by herself to Canada to visit her grandmother, giving American readers a rare look at North American culture as strange and other!
Besides that, the books are wonderful in lots of other ways. The communal life Anna Hibiscus and her extended family share sounds amazing and overwhelming. Anna's unique perspective sometimes clashes with her family's traditional values, and both sides end up learning something. And Anna Hibiscus's kindness should be an example to everyone. As of now there are eight chapter books and a couple of picture books in the series... you should read all of them.
As always, gardening this year has had its frustrations. The boys and I went to both the local nurseries today looking for butternut squash seedlings to replace ours, nine out of ten of which were eaten within a couple days of sprouting. Also nearly all the kale was nibbled in the same time span, which was pretty discouraging. Clearly we need better fences. Fences at all, actually; right now there are giant gaps where I took down wire or even posts in order to improve the construction. With my dilettante sort of farming it's tough to plant and weed and make infrastructure improvements, so I guess this year the priority is the latter. Besides the fence I also finally upgraded the raked raised beds with actual wooden sides. I was doing that while I was also trying to get plants and seeds in, which wasn't optimal... but next spring they'll there all ready to go! And this year, even with all that, we're still getting lots of good things.
Those were the first strawberries, which Zion and Lijah picked yesterday. (You see they're not in an enclosed raised bed yet, since they were already growing. But this should be their last year in that spot, so we'll move them to one for next year.) The peas, well-protected with their own private fence, are also doing well, and so's the arugula and mixed greens. Tomatoes are looking strong. We ate all the asparagus we wanted, and lots of green onions. The garlic looks like it'll be the biggest ever, and none too soon: last year's crop is almost gone. And, while we failed to find any butternut squash plants, we picked up a bunch of pickling cucumbers instead. The boys like pickles better than squash anyways.
Tomorrow is the PMC Kids Ride. The boys are super excited; or they were, until I took them out to ride the course this afternoon. Now they're tired and aren't sure they can do it again. You might think it wasn't wise to wear them out less than 24 hours before the big ride, but I figure kids recover quickly—and knowing the route will be more helpful than totally fresh legs. The hardest thing about a long ride is not knowing how long it's going to be, and having landmarks to look out for will make it feel that much easier. So will having friends to ride with, as part of a big crowd. They'll do great. And then when we get to the middle school there'll be a big party, which wasn't the case today.
You see that they're already wearing their shirts. We picked them up yesterday evening, along with the other swag and our raffle tickets. I was hoping, as we visited the early registration, to have some acknowledgement of our fantastic fundraising effort this year—a cool $500 (thanks so much to everyone who donated!)—but the volunteer at the table didn't make any mention of it. Unlike last year when we got rolls of tickets for our paltry $365. Was it a mistake last year? Or have standards gone up? Anyways, I was proud of what our friends and family members contributed towards cancer research and treatment, and proud of the boys for their pre-ride today... and I'm ready to be proud of them again tomorrow!
So we have a playhouse, only it's not quite finished. That's why I haven't written about it yet. I will when it's done, which on current pace may be when the grandchildren come visiting (we're currently on year two of construction). That's not to say it isn't any use now; it's mostly done, and definitely inhabitable. In general, that is—right now it's not, because of wasps. I first noticed them yesterday, and knocked down their nest with a two-by-three and a great deal of care. This morning I saw that they were still hanging around the fallen nest, and knocked it down more, again emerging unscathed. Then in the afternoon I checked one more time and, seeing no signs of the wasps, went to move the two-by-three out. Which is when they came attacked! I only actually got one sting, but it hurt more than it would have otherwise because of how surprising it was! And the worst part is, now I don't know where they're hanging out, so any further construction work will need to be postponed until we can get them sorted. That's not what this project needs!
Today as part of my lunch preparations I dashed out into the rainy garden and snatched up a bunch of green things: some kale, some collards, arugula, a couple little heads of broccoli. Back inside I just dumped them on the table. Who needs a plate?! And who needs washing—the rain takes care of that, right? We're very formal here. Zion and I enjoyed them the most, he the kale and I the arugula and broccoli. Harvey and Lijah will always eat broccoli too, Lijah nibbling only on the very tips of the buds. I don't know why he doesn't like the stems—those are the best part! I don't know that we have enough of anything to make a real dish of it, but that's fine. We'll just keep browsing.
We went strawberry picking today. In the past the outing has sometimes felt pretty stressful: it could be our only chance to get all the berries we need for a whole year worth of jam! But this time a couple things dialed down my intensity. For one, right now Harvey and I are the only ones who actually eat strawberry jam in our house, so we actually still have a couple jars left over from last year. And then we were also going with friends, so when we arrived at the farm I had to chill and wait for them rather than hurrying out into the fields in panic that all the berries were going to be gone. Oh, and also! I have three pretty grown up pickers now!
The weather was also stress reducing: it was super humid, but while we were picking the cloud cover held and it wasn't too hot (we finished just in time; it sure got hot in the afternoon!). And despite the hordes of people in the field with us there were plenty of berries. We came home with 11 quarts, and there were lots more for the wagon-loads of people coming in after us as we rolled back towards the barn.
Up next, actually making the jam. When will I possibly have time?! That's stressful too!
The solstice this year was busy with celebrations: our community group's little party Harvey on Friday evening, two big parties for friends Saturday, and an end-of-the-year picnic at Church mid-day Sunday. Luckily, the Town of Concord scheduled solstice festivities for Sunday afternoon starting at one, so by hurrying we were able to get to the Old North Bridge in time to see mid-summer greeted in style!
Besides the solstice, we were also celebrating the Concord River and its tributaries, so the party was called Riverfest. It's happened for a few years now, but this is the first time we managed to make it—and now that we did, I'm sorry to have missed it before! So many fun things there. We started off making some art; Harvey was feeling grumpy, but the woman running the art table was so energetic and encouraging she drew him out of his funk, and once launched he worked on his project for quite a while. Lijah doesn't have patience for long-term projects, and after a few minutes he decided he wanted to get his face painted. I was amazed and proud to see him handle the whole thing, from standing in line to telling the young woman what he wanted to be (a white bunny) all by himself! The transformation was startling.
Next we listened to (and participated in!) some river-themed kids music. When that wrapped up we went for a little canoe trip downstream... but not very far downstream, because the current was running fast and we didn't want to work too hard on the way back! It felt very companionable with dozens of boats out on the river. Most of them weren't even taking any part in Riverfest, but that didn't mean they were enjoying the river any less! When we got back to the bridge the boys all went for a swim—even Harvey, who chose not to bring a swimsuit along on the trip. Never mind, the sun was hot!
Then it was time for the most exciting part of the afternoon, the cardboard boat race. As tempted as I was to sign us up as participants, I though it would be more prudent to watch one year before jumping right in. So we spent a relaxing hour wandering among the busy teams of cardboard crafters and eating snacks. I think we learned some things about what it takes to get cardboard to float. As the race itself kicked off, we certainly witnessed plenty of examples of what not to do!
As we talked about the festival in the days leading up to the solstice Mama decided that, all in all, it sounded like a little much to her. But as dinner time approached things were pretty calm, so I invited her to join us for dinner (plus, she could bring Harvey some dry clothes!). Some friends showed up just a little later, so the nine of us shared a peaceful picnic while listening to some lovely bluegrass/country/oldies played by an acoustic trio. Well, it was peaceful for the adults and Harvey... the four smaller boys entered into some freewheeling—and occasionally violent!—play with the other young picnickers.
As it started to get dark, the festival organizers started up a fire. While it wasn't totally the solstice bonfire I'd been anticipating, it was plenty big enough to toast the marshmallows they'd thoughtfully provided for smores. The boys wished there was enough to have more than one, but it was a pretty good-sized crowd.
The day concluded with a solstice singalong on the Old North Bridge, while those of us with boats paddled around beneath with candle lanterns glowing. Plus the bubble guy was there to make the atmosphere even more magical. What do you sing at a solstice singalong in Concord, MA? Some Beatles, a couple tunes from Hair, "This Land is Your Land"... stuff like that. As it got dark at last you could even start to see the lanterns.
Then we turned for home. The boys have fallen asleep in the car lots of times; this was the first time they ever did in the boat. We celebrated the heck out of that solstice!