Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ranger Walk!

Lovely day; we drove through and above thick fog to get there and when we left the fog still lay below, though we'd been in sunshine the entire time. We never tire of watching the rangers catch Western Fence lizards and we got to see and learn about May flies, Click beetles, and more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Deer family in a Marian grotto

Much more gorgeous than I can capture in a photo. The girls and I were off to see the statue of Mary when we happened upon the deer, who kept getting closer in a nervous attempt to get by us, as the grotto itself is a dead end. Really lovely (and charmingly, nearly in our backyard!)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Parish Picnic

It was fun to go - and certainly clarified our decision about whether to return in the fall. The first photo is from a ring toss game, which the girls quickly learned was a quick way to win lots of lollipops! G really wanted her face painted, but didn't want it done by the parish priest. I had my go at a ballerina (which ended up looking like a dancing skeleton) and without even getting to see my results, she turned with more confidence to big sister, who gave her a red nose, a bush and flower on her forehead, and a white cat. They were both very happy, especially when an older boy volunteered to paint a skull and crossbones on K's arm. Now she wants to be an astronaut, a mom, a baseball player, and a pirate when she grows up!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


We saw an outdoor production of Cymbeline with the girls' cousins. Of the four kids, the oldest (6) and youngest (3.5) were the most into the story. Cymbeline is the King in the story, but the girls agreed afterward that Shakespeare should have called it Innogen, as the story is really far more about the Princess, her love, her faithfulness, and her adventures. The actress who played her was excellent and though it was late and chilly, we had fun.

The next day, K asked me, "why did her husband [Posthumus] say, 'fair is foul?' That's what the witches in Macbeth say." She's far more observant and thus a much better student of Shakespeare's lovely language use than am I!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bay Bird Observatory Field Trip

Today we visited the Coyote Creek Field Station, which is on land owned and managed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. They "have been monitoring riparian bird populations since 1982 in order to document long-term population trends" and collect data "by capturing birds in mist-nets and affixing a uniquely-numbered band to each bird," per the Summer 2011 newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

There were so many amazing things that we got to see. They "saved" the birds that they'd caught that morning to show us, and we were lucky to see so many! We saw the ornithologist examine a Downy Woodpecker, an American Goldfinch, a Bushtit, a House Finch (yellow orange variant), and a Common Yellowthroat. Each was banded and we learned how each band is fit to the bird's size. We also learned a bit about a bird's digestive system, examining tiny stones in its "crop," a spot at the base of the bird's esophagus where seeds are held, waiting to be ground and digested. As we walked to examine the nets, we saw more birds - two Kites, a Red Winged Hawk, and - most amazingly - a young (and huge!) Great Horned Owl. The amazing bird trick of the day went to the upside-down bird, for our guide Josh explained that a bird upside down will simply lie perfectly still and we watched the Common Yellowthroat do so in his hands.

We never imagined that seeing birds so close-up would reveal such marvels; thanks so much to Jacki for setting it up... and to Cynthia for the rest of the afternoon's wet entertainment (Swimming! Playing! Diving!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mbira: Music from Zimbabwe

Something very different! K did a workshop today, exploring the music of Zimbabwe and the mbira. Looked like lots of fun and the best part was seeing the kids play and sing together - in the Shona language - at the end.

Mbira music samples here:

What's a show without a captive audience?

No reflection on the show; these are "kitties" who "fell asleep" after their "tea party."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Camping at Lake Tahoe

Fun, relaxing fun! The weather was perfect and the water was perfectly cold. As usual, the mountains were stunningly beautiful and we were happy just to be there, admiring the blueness of the lake against a backdrop of snow-topped peaks.

We camped with really wonderful new friends; after meeting them and watching the kids play so intensely together a few months ago, we moms said, "we really ought to go camping together!" So we did and had such a perfect weekend, playing, talking, swimming, and trading Shakespeare quotations. Yes, fun for all five of us! Gabriana actually rolled over on Saturday morning and the first thing she said when saw me lying next to her in the tent reading was, "Mommy, what is your favorite Shakespeare line?" Oooo... I put my book down for that one!

A family that decorated their campsite with a pirate theme was the frosting on the cake for the girls, especially as every time they walked past and said hello, the pirate dad would obligingly growl, "arrrgh" or "shiver me timbers!"

We did have an odd encounter. Another family that was camping nearby had a six year old daughter with a strong baby "accent." In front of my girls, but somewhat unintelligibly, she observed that she'd never seen "two black girls together with a blond girl." We were talking at a distance, across a creek, early on a quiet Sunday morning, and it wasn't quite the set-up for an extended conversation, even had I been willing to approach it with a strange child. It sure gave me a strange jolt of surprise, the reminder that some kids are unused to the physical differences within our family that to us are a happy norm.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Strawberry Giggles

We went strawberry picking this week and then made the BEST strawberry shortcake for Daddy's birthday lunch. (The official cake was spice, of course.) What fun! A beautiful strawberry field right on the coast, while picking we could hear the waves breaking below. Fun with special friends is always the best.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Holy Rest

I came across this scene when I was putting toys away late one night. Mary and Joseph, scarf, robe, and even halo neatly hung on the bedposts. A holy couple who deserve a good night's sleep, to say the least! (I wonder what story play led to this scene?)

Saturday, July 9, 2011


An evening "pay what you want" preview of Macbeth was such an incredible experience! Toward the end of the three-hour performance, K whispered to me, "it is like watching a movie," meaning that it was hard to tear your eyes away from the compelling action and drama. A bit later, G announced that she was going to sleep (in my arms), then instead sat up straight when she heard familiar words. As Macbeth made his infamously dreary "tommorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy, I could hear the girls both quietly saying it with him, completely immersed in the language and drama of a beautiful night. They fell asleep almost immediately when they hit the car, but when I quietly observed, "what a wonderful day," K agreed in the most cozy and affirming way, quietly murmuring in agreement, "I love you Mommy."

Really happy to be there!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Club: Caddie Woodlawn!

I loved Caddie Woodlawn as a kid and we all loved her again more recently. A true story, written by Caddie's grandaughter, of a family living in rural western Wisconsin during the Civil War. Repeated deaths had caused Caddie's father to rethink the way girls were raised and Caddie was allowed to run outside most of the day, exploring and playing in the wild.

Summer book clubs are more scarcely attended because of vacations, but we had fun with the three families who came with our "field trip" to an organic farm. Outdoor play, learning about bees, edible flowers, and other plants, and making compost; all very in-line with the overall outdoor/survival theme of the book. I learned a lot, too!

Digging up young plants and guessing what their root color might be by observing their stem colors.

Poppy seed harvest. Don't eat too many!

Carefully making and then proudly displaying a "flower burrito" made with lettuce, daikon radish flowers, arugula flowers, calendula leaves, borage, and johnny jumpers (violets). We also drank nectar from bee balm flowers and enjoyed tea from lemon verbena leaves. Oh! And then there was sorrell, rasperries, strawberries, lavender, baby apples and kiwi... and so much more!

Checking out the way the ground feels when it is prepared and hospitable for new life!

Making compost with a mix of table scraps, weeds, horse manure, hay and water. When done, it is the consistency of a wet sponge. We also did an experiment using hydrogen peroxide on mixtures of soil, sand, and compost, with the bubbles indicating a much larger number of microorganisms in the compost.

Checking out the bee hives, tasting some fresh honey on sorrell leaves, and meeting the beekeeper. He explained that honey bees are the only ones that work through the winter; that cooler weather keeps the bees indoors; that by smoking the hives, he calms them down because smoke confuses their sense of smell/pheremones, which is how they communicate; that adding grass to his smoker makes the smoke cooler; that when the hive divides every year, about 20,000 bees (half of a hive) leave en masse, but fill up on their body's weight in honey first, making them very docile.

We also saw apple trees growing on a diagonal, allowing them to yield the most fruit with the least use of space. We also learned that bamboo is a type of grass, not tree and that thick stalks grow in thick and think stalks emerge from the ground thin - not what I would have suspected.

One of the last things that we saw was a beautiful cherry tree, draped with messages and trinkets. It is the site of a ceremony in which parents who have lost a child gather to commemorate their loved one. I thought of course of Xavier, knowing that with all the love he knew in his life, he is now close to God and keeping us close through prayer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coral Reefs and Sex

I seem to see two themes in each post lately. This time: coral reefs and sex! Ahem...

One of our favorite families hosted a wonderful class this week on coral reefs - courtesy of an interesting and creative learning kit from the Academy of Science. The kids enjoyed two days of learning about all kinds of things I never knew, but they somehow seemed to have acquired knowledge about - how does that happen, anyway?

Their agenda included building a edible coral polyp, naming who lives on a coral reef (30% of all species of fish in the ocean), examining coral specimens (they seemed to like the brain coral best), defining an symbiotic relationship, and understanding what plant the coral have such a relationship with (zooxanthelle). All so very cool.

One of the best things about it was the lovely setting - in a friend's home, with a gifted friend/teacher/mom who knows all of the kids so well and so beautifully shares her love of knowledge with them. We are so deeply appreciative of our network of friends who have become extended family, sharing so much together. This cozy picture of the group examining coral specimens together captures so much.

Within this environment, the curriculum raised some mom eyebrows with interest when we realized that it included sexual reproduction. Only the moms knew that this topic causes concern among some; the kids reacted to it with pure scientific interest. Kids within our little group have different levels of knowledge, but at five through eight seem to be too young to recognize the mixed-up emotions that this topic can lead to among older kids and even adults. In murmured side conversations we did get to share some stories of our own sexual educations (or in some cases, lack thereof) and I was reminded of the wisdom of my mom's own perspective, which was "the more you know, the less you need to experiment." Fewer questions means fewer distractions and a better ability to discern appropriate moral decision making. Or so we hope and pray!

Monday, July 4, 2011

"I regret that I have but one life to give..."

On Friday, we happened to learn that friends were headed up the coast for the weekend. "Oh, next time you go, let us know and we'll join you," I said. The response was a call to action: "come this time!" A quick email let us know that Mike and Terry's place was available (thank you!) and as soon as chemistry class ended on Saturday, we were off!

The beach was so windy, we had a lesson in sand blasting, but hunkered down behind a driftwood barrier was sheltered, warm, and relaxing. The kids clearly had a blast, too, jumping and jumping from a driftwood log onto the soft sand.

The local Independence Day celebration was on the 3rd and of course we didn't want to miss it... but then, we didn't expect the crowd to be so largely composed of counter-cultural hard rocking pot smokers! We danced for a bit, spent time at the jumpy house, then began the long walk up to the car, noting hardly a flag and instead songs about "our corrupt government." There is certainly a time and place for such opinions, but we'd gotten pumped up on Revolutionary War history and the story of Nathan Hale, whose famous last words "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country" inspired us earlier in the day. This juxtaposition made me reflect... what are the issues for which we WOULD die today?

This country was founded upon a principle of religious freedom, a strong belief in the individual right to forge a relationship with God in a way consistent with individual beliefs and conscience. Today, those beliefs have been whittled away, replaced by a popular ridicule of those who profess their Faith (even though many do quietly seek meaning and God in ways seperate from religious tradition and others prevail in traditional ways, despite the scorn). My concern is that many may not feel a very strong commitment to anything in particular. We hear so much about what people reject, but that doesn't have the staying power that inspiration toward an ideal carries.

I'm going to start asking that question more, as now I'm curious... do we as a culture hold beliefs about the values that we hold that are worth dying for? What principles do we profess that are so sacred that they supercede the infinite individual value of a life, what values are absolutely necessary to preserve for a better future?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sugarloaf July

We hosted this month, which meant one of our favorite activities - a hike. Sun, flowers, water, wind, and the energy of seven kids added up to a lovely afternoon. On the way home, we spotted a bobcat, stalking what was probably a gopher. "Was" is the operative word, for after about ten minutes of patiently watching, we saw the bobcat leap out of the air in a clear and quick arc. When it didn't remerge for a bit afterward, we guessed that it had probably met with success. I'd never seen a bobcat stalking or making a strike before, so this was a pretty memorable experience to add to our repetoire of fun memories made with Jill.

Miss you! Thanks for coming!