Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Hash with a Pool Ending

THERE'S nothing better than a summer hash than a summer hash with a pool ending. Oh wait, yes there is. A summer hash with a pool ending AND lots of great food!

For those of you wondering what a summer hash could be, please be assured it's not some seasonal gathering of illicit substance users. It's a throwback to our pre-child days (sigh...) and, in its most primitive form, involves a group of people chasing 'the hare' through various terrains for the sole purpose of reaching the beverages at the end.

Now that our free time has taken on new priorities, we don't get to hash as often as we used to. But the child-friendly slow hashes are still a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends in the great outdoors. We pack up the pink Emmamobile and slather on the sun screen and bug spray, then it's ON ON! on trail!

This one wended its way behind horse pastures, around fields and through quiet suburban neighbourhoods. It ended at the hare's house where a deliciously cool pool awaited, followed by an equally delicious feast prepared by the hare's father on the occasion of her birthday. Emma could easily be located just by listening for the squeals of delight as she showed off her new swimming skills. What she found most hilarious, however, was watching the biggest man of the bunch perform cannonballs. Every time the poor guy took a break, she challenged him in her bossiest voice: "You jump in more, make big splash!" Amazing what you can get away with with a cute grin and wet curls.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Woohoo! Compost!

I'M so excited! Another thing on my 2008 to-do list was to start composting in the back garden. I have to say I was a little bit picky about this - it couldn't be just an open heap as Basil would have a field day, and I didn't want the black plastic kind, it had to be wooden. So I shopped around locally and after being disgusted that Home Depot and Lowes (garden/DIY supply stores) neither stocked them nor, apparently, knew what I was talking about, started looking online. Here I found what I was looking for, but I didn't really like the price all too much. The irony of creating a huge carbon footprint in shipping to get a recycling product was not lost on me either. So for several months (yes, months), I've been going back and forward about ordering one vs. trying to make one. Each time I'd decide to just give up and order it, the words on one website would come back to haunt me: "Making your own compost bin is so simple even a child or granny could do it."

So I was justifiably excited to see a pile of discarded wooden pallets next to a building site. These are ideal for compost bin construction because the slatted design contains the waste while allowing air to circulate. What's more, they were free, and I was saving them from the landfill! Now do you see why I was excited? So I sent Thomas to acquire four for the walls and one for the base, and we got to work.

I have to admit it's not quite as elegant as the cedar structures I found online, but our little project was so much more satisfying. And I think the worms, lawn clippings and carrot peel will be quite thrilled in their new home. If you're jealous, bored or feeling guilty that you don't compost, here's how you can create your own.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Peas in a Pod

I'VE never been a huge fan of southern cuisine, but the exception has to be some of the summer dishes when peas, tomatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini (courgette) and even okra are at their finest. We hold a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, where we pay a set price to a local farm co-op every week and receive a share of the crop. It's kind of pricey, so we actually only do it every other week supplementing with regular old veggies from the shops. But the CSA is all organic, it supports local and small businesses, and the produce isn't ueber-refrigerated and shipped half way around the world. Best of all, we never know what's going to be in our box so it's kind of exciting wondering what we'll get this week!

Purple pink-eyed hull peas. I'm glad that this particular bag was labelled, because I with my urban ways would have probably cooked them as beans and then wondered why they were so tough. Then it struck me that I had never actually shelled peas before. Many a country grandma would have probably watched with a mixture of horror and disbelief as my fingers - so skilled on the computer, so nimble on the piano and so good at shoulder massages - painstakingly pried the obstinate pea pods open. By the time there were only four left in the bag, I had figured out that you just need to squeeze and they pop right out. Sigh... live and learn.

Onto the corn. Ah, a familiar vegetable. Well Emma and I fixed a delicious fresh summer dinner of corn and tomato casserole with peas and bacon. The southern Grandma would have been proud. One of the ears of corn didn't quite make it into the casserole - this is how I found my daughter after I left the kitchen for a moment. Yes, the corn was raw but it didn't seem to bother her.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hidden Treasures

THIS Sunday morning it was hot, hot, hot and shade and water were in order for our family outing. I hastily made up a picnic and the four of us piled in the car, headed to a mystery destination. We park in a dead end on a residential street and scramble down a wooded embankment. To my surprise we end up on a path which runs alongside a creek that is an offshoot of the Chattahoochee River. Sunlight shimmers through the leafy canopy overhead. Birds and crickets chirp and the brook really does babble. It's quite beautiful and we are the only sign of human life around.

Emma wants to know if it's 'people water' (translation: can I go in it?) Once we've found a good spot to camp, off come her clothes and she's in. At first just the shorts; later on the T-shirt too. Only a long discussion ending with "the fish will nibble your bottom" persuade her it would be better to keep her underwear on. Sandwich in hand, we hopped from stone to stone. In just a short stretch the bank changed from mossy to muddy to gravelly to sandy. We made footprints and handprints and felt the different textures between our toes and fingers. We dropped things in the water to see which would float and which would make the biggest splash. Emma noticed all the leaves were swimming in the same direction in the water. Tiny fish scrambled to get out of our way, while we did the same upon sight of a yellow jacket (wasp) nest. They were nested in the ground just a few inches from the water line. Surely they were smart enough to know that this spot would flood at the first rain?

Our wildlife highlight came on the way back to the car, as we crossed the creek on stepping stones. A small crawfish scuttled under a rock, but compliantly lay still as we carefully lifted the rock to admire him. In the picture, you can just see him in on the left side. In the water is the reflection of the trees above. Some crawfish facts:
  • Other names include crawdad, crayfish, mud bug

  • A crawfish biologist is called an astacologist

  • There are over 150 species of freshwater crawfish living across the wetlands of the southern US states

  • Crawfish live in the earth, burrowing sometimes complex tunnels systems

  • They are an important part of the ecosystem - they consume huge quantities of animal prey and decomposing plant material; crawfish themselves are a valuable food resource to fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals; their tunnels aerate heavy clay soils and abandoned burrows provide habitats for other creatures.

  • Crawfish also taste good in etoufee!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Butterflies and Black Furry Legs

OUR yellow lantana is very popular among nectar-seeking insects. I'm working on identification but desperately need a good field guide! Right now all I know is that we have white butterflies that are shy, little tan ones that never keep still, and beautiful orange butterflies which could be Monarchs or Viceroys.

Today though we were treated by a visit from a huge blue and black butterfly that we spotted from the kitchen window and had to run out and look at (taking our breakfast with us). It was a Black Swallowtail. We followed it for a while then moved to the patio to watch a fuzzy bumblebee having a feast on coleus flowers. Emma was quite taken by its mouth opening and closing (I couldn't see this but she assured me it was) and antenna wiggling, and gave me her impressions of both. Then her eyes widened as she exclaimed: "See this Mama! Bee legs black and furry just like my Basil."

The Bee - traditional German children's song

Summ, summ, summ,
Bienchen summ herum.
Ai! Wir tun dir nichts zuleide
Flieg nur aus in Wald und Heide
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
We'll do no harm to your tiny wings
In woods and meadows you may sing
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.
Such in Blumen, such in Bluemchen
Dir ein Troepfchen, dir ein Kruemchen
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
A drop waits here, a sip waits there
Look in flow’rs and blossoms fair
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.
Kehr zurueck mit reicher Habe
Bau uns manche volle Wabe
Summ, summ, summ, summ
Bienchen summ herum.

Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee
Fully laden fly back home
Build a fine honeycomb
Buzz, buzz, buzz
Busy little bee.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Venture in the Woods

AS our trip to the Dunwoody Nature Center was washed out on Sunday, Emma and I decided to try again today with friends. Much better weather! Our first stop was to the woods where we had to overturn all the logs to see what lies beneath. Termites, ants, worms, centipedes and various other creepy crawlies all popped out to say hello. Which child grabbed each creature ultimately decided its fate: Emma just mothered them for a while before begrudgingly putting them back. Her little friend insisted on taking a big worm with him to enjoy the rest of the day ('enjoy' being a relative term in a 3-year-old's tight clutches) while his little brother, not wanting to miss out on the action but not quite yet possessing the skill of gentleness... well let's just say we mamas tried our best to save the bugs.

On to the creek, where shoes and clothes were flung away and little bodies immersed themselves to cool off. Lots of rocks to hop on, sandy water to splash in, a slimy encounter with frogspawn, pond skaters (water striders) to chase, tiny waterfalls to investigate, spider webs in the hair, splashing matches... a grand time was had by all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh For One Tomato

Lest anyone be under the illusion that a fascination with nature correlates in any way whatsoever with green fingers, let me assure you that in my case it is certainly not true.

Take for example my pitiful little vegetable patch. I've planted tomatoes for the second year in a row, and do you think I've had the teensiest little flower, let alone anything even vaguely resembling a fruit? Well truth be told last year doesn't really count because I kind of forgot about the poor little fellows and, well, with the Georgia soil and climate, a little bit of TLC isn't really too much to ask.

But this year, I was going to somehow cope with probable hosepipe bans, and plant a real garden. Just a tiny one - don't want to overdo the investment until I'm sure of a yield. Six little tomato plants, six summer squash, and a couple each of bell pepper and aubergine (eggplant). Lots of garden soil, followed all planting instructions, mulched and watered regularly and generously. Fast forward six weeks, and? They're all still alive but barely seem to have grown an inch. The squash plants have flowered at least, so I guess if we're really hungry we can make do with those. But not a single flower on the tomatoes. So maybe it's lack of sun. The way the shadows fall in our garden, the only place that gets continual sun is smack bang in the middle of the lawn - not an option. But maybe the other side gets a little more sun, and it's less surrounded by other plants that could be sucking the nutrients out of the earth. So two weeks ago Emma and I form a relay team and transplant across the yard to an even better prepared bed.

Well they seem to be doing ever so slightly better. I read that pet hair contains lots of nitrogen which is good for the soil, and heaven knows we have plenty of that to spare. So maybe Basil gets a daily brushing in the tomato bed. If that fails, then next year there's nothing for it. I'll be digging up that patch of lawn in the middle of the garden, doing some heavy duty composting and enlisting Farmer Thomas to pitch in. You can tell I'm totally clueless, but I'll get a homegrown tomato one day, by golly!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Wet Weekend

SEVERAL days this week there's been rain forecast, and we've rushed to look at dopplar radar images to see if any is headed this way. It's like our neighbourhood is in a little rain-sheltered bubble, because we can be surrounded by green and red on the radar (rain and big rain!) but somehow it always manages to turn aside.

So when we decided to spend our Sunday morning outdoors at a nature center, we thought nothing of the little sprinkle that started to fall as we were packing the car. We added rain coats just in case but expected the rain to blow on by as usual. Only it didn't!

No matter; we got to explore the drippy and splashy world of the woods in the rain. Not surprisingly we were the only people there. A lot of the wildlife had taken refuge too: "Where birds go, Mama?" noticed Emma. I recently read that squirrels shelter from the rain by holding their bushy tails over their heads like an umbrella, but we didn't spot any.

The little hut we thought was on the property proved to be too elusive to find, so we enjoyed our picnic (fairly hurriedly) within the branches of a huge magnolia tree on a conveniently-placed bench. When it began to thunder we made our way back, stopping briefly at the Treehouse, an observation structure built over a wetland area. The approaching bright sky and lull in the rain was just a teaser as a fully blown thunderstorm soon reared its head, so we called it a day and scurried back to the car.

Down came the raindrops on a cloudy day
Wetting all the pavements, washing dirt away
Waking little brown buds, thirsty seeds as well
Right into the blades of grass the tiny raindrops fell.

Pitter patter pitter patter this is how it came
Pitter patter pitter patter we can do the same.
Pitter patter pitter patter children though we be
Giver of the welcome rain we give our thanks to thee.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nature Journal - The Concept

FOR the longest time I've wanted to keep a nature journal. Clare Walker Leslie seems to be an authority on this topic, and I was happy to find "The Art of Field Sketching" at the library. Funny how we find every excuse not to start something that could be a little bit daunting... believe it or not I've looked in three local shops and have not been able to find an unruled notebook. Of course art stores keep these, but somehow it's easier to complain that I don't have the right equipment and don't have time for a special trip to an art store than to actually take the plunge and start my book using whatever paper comes to hand, accepting that the drawings will not in fact be perfect. Meanwhile Emma asks me to draw the most intricate scenes and is delighted with the craziest kritzel. Perhaps I should stick with my dayjob.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Pocketful of Pinecones

I got hold of Karen Andreola's 'A Pocketful of Pinecones' and read it nonstop for a couple of days. It's an account of a mother's journey into homeschooling using Charlotte Mason's methods, written in the form of a diary and set in the 1930s. Though the family has their share of problems, it does sound like quite an idyllic world they live in, and such a peaceful yet exciting environment for the children. I can highly recommend this book to anyone looking into such methods or anyone just looking for a good wholesome read!

The mother in the book swears by Anna Botsford Comstock's 'Handbook of Nature Study'. This is a real book, published in 1911. Ms Comstock was a US artist, educator, conservationist and a leader of the nature study movement. I was delighted to find a copy in the library, and though some pieces are a little outdated, the nature of nature does not really change all that much. It's a big fat tome, more a reference book than one you can read from cover to cover, though I'm doing my best before it's due back. It's already noted on my Christmas wishlist :-)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mama's Great Healing Powers

Is it not humbling and a little scary to realise what amazing powers your young child thinks you as a parent possess? I do recall a point in my own childhood when it dawned on me that my parents were human and not perfect, but it was not until I was at least pre-teen. Of course a favourite drink or teddy might also have the same great powers, but still, it's nice to be a hero if only to a very small person.

Take for example a dead insect. It can be very dead - squished, petrified, or otherwise beyond redemption. Yet Emma always says "beetle/worm/bug need his Mama. Mama make him feel better." Sometimes the deceased creature only needs a blanket, so she'll drag her own soft woollen blanket Linus-style through all kinds of muck to cover the ex-animal and speed his recovery. Luckily she was content to use an imaginary blanket for the rather putrid roadkill we walked by the other day, and I wasn't required to kiss it better.