Okay, so this isn't the first story Harvey ever told, not by a long shot. Harvey's days are filled with stories. But this is the first story he asked me to write down word for word in a book so that he could hear it read back to him. I give you: Woodpecker Man.
illustrated by woodpecker
Once upon a time there was a woodpecker.
He pecked the tree.
Then he couldn't peck it anymore.
He tried and he tried.
And then he could again!
Tomorrow Zion turns two years old. I like to take my kids on special outings for their birthdays, to have some time when I can selfishly enjoy their presence before the insanity of their PARTY commences. Today in honor of Zion's birthday we biked to his favorite place in the whole world. Chip In Farm, of course.
Was it less special because it's just down the road and we go there every week? No, that's just the way that Zion is. Every moment with him is a special joy. He delights in the mundane. He loves the chicken chores; he helps me clean up toys. He loves to see the same farm animals over and over again, to pet and pet and pet the baby goats.
(What he wants for his birthday, clearly, is his own set of goats. Oh my poor little Zion. If only I could give you what you wanted.)
This picture is a little dark, but I want to include it because it's the expression see on Zion's face every day. There's this mix of joy, wonder, and excitement that always beams out him. It must be the combination of his sparkling blue eyes, big rosy cheeks, and tiny crescent-shaped mouth. That Zion. To look at him is to see love. Which is how I always describe him in my own mind. Zion is love. To pray for him is to pray God's love for the whole world.
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
My perfect angel baby boy. Happy birthday ZiZi.
(PS: I love Harvey too... he'll get his own special write-up for his birthday next month.)
We celebrated Zion's birthday today with the grandparents, and a fine time was had by all. Thanks to the grandmas there was lots of food.
I contributed the cake, three layers of yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
Harvey orchestrated much of the present-opening, but he made sure to let Zion play with some of the toys. Grandpa helped.
More partying will follow tomorrow. I hope you feel celebrated, little 2-year-old!
Today saw day two of the weekend-long celebration of Zion. Since the party was all afternoon a delightfully long portion of it could be spent outside.
Not that there'd be anything wrong with throwing two parties just for the fun of it, but today's festivities were officially in honor of Zion's dedication at church, which conveniently happened to fall on the weekend of his birthday. The brief ceremony went off without a hitch (if you don't count Harvey choosing not to join us on stage) witnessed by all four grandparents. Then it was home for more food, including the rest of the birthday cake.
So fine was the day, we couldn't resist breaking out the sports equipment.
Zion is a little too young for racquet games, though, so mostly he just chilled out and watched.
We started at 1:00 and didn't finish up until it was getting chilly and a little dark outside; our friends and family very nicely staggered their attendance so were were able to hang out with everybody in equal amounts. It was lovely.
And of course, you know it's been a good party when you end up without any pants on!
Harvey shouts through the closed bathroom door:
"Mama, does even praying make blood quickly heal?"
"What's that? Are you asking if praying heals you from bleeding?"
"It does... are you bleeding?"
"I bited my tongue."
"Do you want me to pray for it?"
"It only hurts a little. You can make a decision when to pray for it."
"How about when you're all done pooping."
(I don't have any big thoughts to write about this conversation, I just want to post it to the blog so I can save it for posterity. I don't know how this thing will go, this experiment in faith, trying to raise children with the knowledge of a powerful God while being a very flawed person myself who is sometimes very far from God's love and power. I have big hopes for Harvey, but I know that life is unpredictable, and whichever way this thing turns out I want to remember when he was nearly four he asked me for clarification about the immediate power of prayer while he was on the toilet.)
We've been pretty busy lately, alas. So many great observations and events going unrecorded! I'm back to full time at work for a while, we're scheduled with regular weekday activities three nights a week, there are birthdays to celebrate, we're attending day-long classes at church two weekends in a row... and on top of all that I'm trying to get the back of the house painted in the next week and keep the garden moving forward, while Leah is doing champion work keeping the house from descending into chaos (despite what she says, I think it's actually getting cleaner and more organized as time goes by!). I know none of this is of interest to you described in this fashion, but it may be that by the middle of next week we'll be able to take a breath and be witty and entertaining again. Or even before, who knows; we do enjoy the blogging, when we can find the time for it.
This is what the children requested for Zion's homemade birthday present. Baby beds. It was a collaborative effort between the in-house seamstress and the in-house woodworker. Which is to say, mama and dada.
The boys both picked out their fabric from the shelf of cotton and I made the simplest pillow/quilt combinations I could come up with. Lines and squares. I don't have a lot of solo sewing time these days, so I'm not really stretching myself creatively. You want a quilt? You can have lines or squares. You can have anything you want, as long as I can do it nearly in my sleep.
Dan did some fancy wood-working to produce the beds, which involved the scroll saw I annoyingly gave him for his birthday last year. ("Here's a saw, now make waldorf toys! I can't make them; you make them! happy birthday!")
We finished up the mattresses and mattress-holding-elements just a few hours before Zion's party. Dan didn't want to finish the frame until he saw the stuffed mattress, and I didn't want to make the mattress until I could see the frame. We've been married for seven years now, but one of these days we'll figure out how to work on something together. Then on Saturday afternoon when we were sewing and nailing AND hanging up party decorations I said to Dan, "We can really get stuff done if we leave it to the absolute last minute."
At any rate, the babies in this house are very well-cared-for. Sleep well sweet PowPows!
We now have a colony of bees living next to our bathroom window. I put them up there this evening. We purchased a 'nuc,' which is to say a pre-started colony with a queen and several frames of brood and workers, from an apiary just down the road in Billerica. For months we've been preparing for the bees: small things like buying the tools (which Leah handled) and some big things like painting one side of the house, assembling a beehive, and designing a platform to put it ten feet off the ground and away from the kids (all Dan). You'd think all that would have psyched me up for the idea, but I drove to Billerica this evening in abject terror. I'm going to put bees in the car? I thought to myself. BEES in the CAR???
To distract myself I turned on the local college radio station. It was some kind of kids' programming, and the song that was playing, this is no joke, the song on the radio went: "It's just you and me, bumble bee. Just you and me. Buzzzzzzzzzzz."
I found the apiary on a winding farm road, after calling Dan twice to help me with directions. Not being able to follow printed directions is typical of me in panic mode. But I finally found the place, and I gave the woman my name, and two minutes later there were bees in my car. BEES in my CAR.
Okay, so the bees were in a box sealed with screws, and the box was in a bee-proof bag, and the spanish dude who put it in my car did it with his bare hands. But still. The box was buzzing.
I got home, opened the trunk of the car, and listened to the buzzing. It sounded like A LOT of bees.
I put on my hazmat-looking suit, lit my smoker, and cut open the bag. Dan showed me how to use the drill to unscrew the lid. Some bees were already flying out, so Dan quickly hopped away and stood watching from the vantage point of the porch. I used the drill and took the lid off the box.
Dear Lord there were so many flipping bees in there.
It took me at least three minutes just to get the first frame out of the nuc. I've read a lot about bees this past year, but the people who raise bees and write about bees are pretty used to bees. They do not find it particularly terrifying to stick a crowbar in a box of bees and pry out a big sheet of bees covered in bees. I, on the other hand, find this runs against my instinct of self-preservation. Even in my giant suit and canvas gloves I did not want to put my hands on bees. But it was go forward or wait for the bees to get more mad, so I prayed hard and extracted the first frame. I took it up the ladder and into the hive, and then the other four frames came easier. Meanwhile my smoker went out, and I forgot my bee brush and Dan had to throw it to me from inside the house. Then I tried to shake the extra bees out of the box into the hive and they just flew everywhere. There I was with bees crawling all over me, the air thick with bees, and I had the same thought I had once when I was getting ready to jump out of an airplane. Am I insane? Is this a really bad idea?
Dan yelled from the porch, "Do you see the queen?"
I see the last few months of my life flashing before my eyes, but NO I do not see the queen. I hope she's in there because I'm closing the lid.
The ideal outcome of this project would be the bees stay up high, don't bother the kids, and give us honey. There are many less ideal outcomes I can imagine, but I'm trying not to focus on them right now. Right now I'm going to leave them alone and give them time to move into their new home. In a few days I'll check again to see how they're doing. Maybe the adrenaline will wear off by then.
One thing I didn't think of when I made my razor-margined plan for getting the back of the house painted and the beehive put up was the possibility of rain. Because, if I had stopped to think for a moment I would have realized that painting in the rain is not traditional, and there are probably good reasons for that. Luckily the weather was wonderfully dry all through the painting week, so much so that I felt I could put two coats on in one afternoon if I had to. So it all got done. And it pretty much hasn't stopped raining since.
Well, that's not entirely true. There have been plenty of dry moments where we were able to play outside, and while I wore rain gear for my commute three or four days this past week I didn't actually get actively rained on until the ride home yesterday. But it did rain some of every day—and even more every night—so the prevailing feeling around here is wet. It's kind of yucky, actually; everything is every which way out in the yard, with ladders and paint chips and weeds... not to mention the dreadfully neglected unmown grass clutching at your ankles or even knees if you dare to venture out into the lawn.
Today was actually the wettest day of the week, with consistent drizzle or falling mist all through. The kids didn't go outside at all, not even on the porch. They were a little energetic around bedtime this evening. It's cold, too; there were even mutterings late in the day about needing to turn on the heat (we went with the oven instead). We're told we may see the sun briefly on Monday, which is a vacation day, so hopefully I'll be able to get in some serious outdoor work done—if, that is, our busy social calendar allows. Oh well, how tall can lawn grass grow, anyways?
It is 1:30 in the AM and I am up on the computer, looking up how to clean excess honeycomb off the top of frames. I tried to replace the bees' sugar water last night, and not only did I find them building comb all over where they're not supposed to, but I dropped one jar of syrup onto the pavement (crash) and I dropped my smoker just when they were all flying up at me, and I killed about 20 bees trying to get one empty jar out. Most beekeepers do not work atop ladders, true, but I seem to be particularly inept. In the mean time, it looks like they have enough food for almost a week of yucky weather, and before week's end I need to build fourteen new frames with starter strips, cut off the misplaced comb (how? will they kill me?) and also try to add another jar of syrup hopefully without covering the ground with glass shards and dead bees. I don't think this hobby suits me.
We're still importing compost (and happy to have more if you'd like to improve your environmental credentials) but the latest shipment is not entirely what we're looking for. A couple years ago when the Stevenses moved into a new place I jumped at the chance to offer then a big plastic tumbling composter (mentioned here) that was taking up space in our yard. Good stewards of the earth as they are they were happy to take it, but ultimately decided, as we had before them, that the think doesn't actually work. So much the better for us, since we got the thing off our property and then ended up getting their food scraps for our compost pile instead, but yesterday I finally paid the price for the deal. They've moved to a new place and, as the last step to leaving the rental, they had to remove the composter. It's mine again.
Of course, getting it back didn't come easy. It's full of a year's worth of foul, anaerobically digested food waste and grass clippings, and weighs a considerable amount. It took all the strength and cleverness Luke and I could summon—alright, all I could offer was strength—to get it from his old backyard to my car. And then when we put it in—on its side, per my less-than-clever directions—it immediately began streaming reeking brown manure water all over my trunk.
Now let me pause to say that I don't mind the smell of actual manure a bit. I know about farming—my uncle was a dairy farmer, and we spent many a happy summer day playing beside the manure pit—and to me manure smells like future vegetative fecundity. Our own compost piles here aren't any kind of a problem either (though I do try and take steps to minimize any aromas, for the sake of the neighbors).
This particular compost, though, is truly horrid. There's a chemical edge to the smell that is still lingering on my hands even now, after several hours and several dozen hand-washings. Whether it's from the less-than-ideal conditions inside the machine or some decomposition of the plastic itself I can't say, but it doesn't seem entirely healthy. Add to that the slight but non-zero possibility of herbicide contamination—thanks to the next-door-neighbor's lawnmower clippings—and I feel a little bit like I've got my own personal superfund site at the end of the driveway.
No, not really, it's nothing like that bad. While I don't think I'm going to just tip the sludge onto the compost pile we're currently building, I'm not actually worried about having it in the yard. We'll just find an out-of-the-way spot to dump it where we can cover it with a few inches of dirt; contact with good soil and bugs will sort out whatever's ailing the mess and turn it all into good fertile soil for next year's use. That is, assuming I can even move the composter to an appropriate dumping location. If not I suppose I can always open it up and shovel the contents out in manageable portions; I'll just need to find a gas mask first.
We enjoyed a very fun afternoon and evening out today, but the nature of the entertainment meant that Rascal had to stay home. Giving him some much-needed attention once we got home meant that I got to take a rare late-twilight walk and enjoy the peaceful tranquility of the neighborhood as everyone settled in for the night (well, it was tranquil until the ambulance sirens started wailing up towards the center of town; such is life in the suburbs). But while it was still quiet, I noticed once again a small sound that's all too prevalent around here lately: the munching of the caterpillars in the trees.
Now, generally speaking I'd be the last one to begrudge an insect a meal, but the last couple years they've been taking things a little too far. The maple tree in the middle of our yard, for example, looks pretty much like lace, which isn't good at any time of year and completely unacceptable before the end of May. The leaves didn't even get a chance to reach their full size before they were chewed full of holes. And it isn't just the maples: pretty much every deciduous tree in the area has been hit hard.
And it isn't just the trees that are suffering. Caterpillars—cutworms, in this case—are also doing a number on the garden. There's nothing so frustrating as seeing a row of carrot or beet seedlings chopped down overnight—and the bugs don't even eat the leaves! They seem to pretty much leave the weeds alone too; or maybe I just don't pay as much attention to weeds as I do to my precious seedlings. I can and do put physical barriers around the big important plants like tomatoes and peppers (and my few surviving Swiss chards) but carrots would just be too much. I've read that you can slit pieces of drinking straws and put them around small seedlings, but that sounds like it would make me crazy.
On the other hand, the cutworms are already making me crazy, so maybe I should give it a try. I do know that I'm going to make sure the chickens get time to roam in the garden this fall, and again in the spring; we'll see what that does to end the scourge.
And beyond that, could you just ease up a little, bugs?
As the summer shifted slowly, fitfully into gear, I started to become aware of the necessity of mowing the lawn. In a moment of enthusiasm I brought out the push reel mower and took care of maybe a quarter of the grassy area before other necessities intervened; then between the painting and the rain it was over a week before I thought about the matter again. By that point the grass had gotten pretty tall—too tall for the reel mower to handle effectively. No problem: I do own a power mower. Only when I brought it out, it wouldn't start.
So I gave it an oil change and a new air filter (which of course took a couple days, as I had to get around to procuring said oil and filter). Still nothing. (As an aside, if Alan is reading this I'd be delighted to trade something—jam? eggs? tomato futures?—for some small-engine repair classes.) While my various failures continued the grass reached knee height.
Yesterday I did what I should have done right away, which is to ask a neighbor to borrow a working mower; and today hacked my way through the tangled thickets to restore a useable lawn. It's not that what we had before the mowening was unattractive, to us at least: the tall seed stalks were quite pretty waving in the breeze or jeweled with morning dew. But it wasn't really functional as a play space, and the neighbors were starting to wonder about us. Wonder about us even more, that is. Now, in the area of lawn care at least, we're once again safely within the bounds of suburban normalcy.
Well, almost. I did leave a little patch of tall grass as a nod to prairie restoration.
Fourteen new frames are ready to be added to the bee house tomorrow. They're all assembled and prepped with wax starter strips, an effort which took several hours over the past few days. In the two weeks since I got these bees it seems that I've done absolutely everything wrong short of killing the queen. The hive is an absolute mess inside, and they are building comb willy-nilly and attached to the feeders. To rectify the situation, I will need to take the hive apart, insert the new frames, and remove the two feeders. Removing one feeder last week killed 50 bees. Tomorrow's job will be about 30 times more difficult. I am... how do you call it? stressed.
So can I change the subject and talk about something I'm good at for like half a second here? I recently finished a sweater.
This is a do-over of a sweater I made last year and then ruined. Because I tried to wash it on a hand-wash cycle in the machine. Because I 'm lazy. Shit, this was supposed to be a feel-good post where I don't look like a moron... oh well, I guess that's not true to life.
This new sweater is knit out of superwash blend, which means it can go in the washer and dryer and all that'll happen is a bit of pilling and maybe some un-raveling in the ends of the colorwork. Which is a fine trade-off to washing by hand and drying for three days every time somebody pukes on me.
Meanwhile, if anyone with narrower shoulders than me wants an all-wool sweater that's kind of maternity puffy in the middle on account of the hip flare shrinking up to sit over the stomach? I have just the thing for you. If you want to trade for beekeeping assistance, that's even better.
Today was the first real hot summer day of the year. I suppose it's time; it's just about June, after all. Still, I don't feel quite ready. The garden is nowhere near as far along as it should be, for one thing (sure there are 20 tomato plants in the ground so far, but I haven't planted any beans yet!). More importantly, though, I don't think I'm quite prepared to give up my fleece blankets and comforters!
This winter Leah and I abandoned any attempts at sharing bedding, separated as we tended to be by a dog who wants to gather all the blankets under himself and a child who, back then at least, hated to be covered up. It was a trial at first, but once we got used to arranging our own nests I wondered why we hadn't thought of it before. Just the thing for cold winter nights; and I never sleep so well as when it's cold outside the blankets and warm and toasty inside. All that padding also helped to insulate me from Zion's kicks.
But now everything's different once again. Zion is sleeping in his own bed most of the time (even if Leah has to occasionally—often—accompany him there) and all of a sudden it's hot and steamy. The fans are running, there's nothing but sheets on the bed, and I hope I can find a way to get comfortable. But on the plus side, Zion's gone and Rascal is too hot to sleep in the bed, so it's just me and Leah again... for at least the next 40 minutes.
While I wait for Dan to upload the photos of the hive work I did on Wednesday, I'll share some images from a different hobby, something I don't suck at as much as beekeeping. I'm talking about making crap out of felt.
Harvey asked for a new crown for his birthday, but a crown is so easy to whip up I thought why wait a month when what he really wants is to play with a crown right now. I let Harvey and Zion pick their felt colors, and I also let them lay out the "confetti" embellishments on the top, which was an exercise in not being controlling. (Zion's you can see is a little too precise, evidence that I did it for him under loose direction.) Once the pieces were in place I embroidered them down with french knots, some of which, Harvey points out, are looser than others. I have no idea where his perfectionism comes from.
I also increased the number of felt characters Zion can play with in his Easter set. You remember the original three I made on Easter, in addition to the cross and the tomb:
Under the children's direction I added some other characters. See if you can identify all of them from your vast knowledge of biblical iconography.
Hopefully everyone correctly identified the angel and to his left Pontius Pilate (the bowl for hand-washing is the clue). On the bottom row we have four disciples: Peter who is holding the rooster, Simon the zealot, Judas Iscariot carrying the money bag (whose hair is streaked gray from worry), and Mark, whose robe is loosely tied like it's about to fall off when he runs away. I listed them from right to left because they lived in Hebrew times.
I have several more faces made for other disciples and for Pharisees, but I don't have any black for the priests and I didn't know how to convey 'tax-collector' or 'doubter' or 'son-of-thunder' in felt accessories, so I took a break. Maybe I'll have a burst of creativity next time I sit down at my sewing desk.
The boys are playing with the characters right now, and they seem to have lost one because they are standing on the porch calling "Jesus? Jeeeeeeesus???" Either that or something really cool is going on outside.