Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Short Shrift in these Pancakes

IT is celebrated all around the world: Mardi Gras, Karnevale, Karnival, Shrove Tuesday, or in the UK plain old Pancake Day. Historically, this day marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten fasting period when the faithful were forbidden by the church to consume meat, butter, eggs or milk. Thus people would use up these goodies in a last big party before the solemn fasting time began.

We marked the occasion first with a Karnival party at Emma's German school. As three years is the Great Age of Opinion, she decided not to wear the costume neatly laid out the night before. Instead, a pair of too-small pyjamas would be perfect to make a blue dog. So with a blue scarf-tail and ears hastily sewn on a hat in the car, Emma The Blue Dog was born. With sweets, balloons and oompah music, we enjoyed our own little piece of German revelry.

My family's tradition is simply eating crepe-style pancakes, so on Shrove Tuesday we had fun mixing up a sticky batter. The problem with Pancake Day is that it comes but once a year, and my pancake-making skills do tend to regress over that period. Luckily Thomas arrived home just in time and saved the batter from a fate infinitely worse than frying. My culinary prowess was redeemed the next day when we enjoyed German-style potato pancakes with delicious homemade applesauce.

Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan;
Fry the pancake;
Toss the pancake,
Catch it if you can.
Christina Rossetti

Sunday, February 22, 2009


...a giggle

...a resting spot

...a snack break

...a bath

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

THIS weekend we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is a national initiative to track bird populations and migrations. People all across the country count birds on a specified weekend and log their results through a website. We are very much "fledglings" at bird watching, and especially identification, so that we weren't able to log everything we saw as we really couldn't be certain of the species. To complicate matters, there was a sign right over our back garden in birdese that said: "Bird count in progress. Do not land here." These were the few that dared enter during this particular 30 minutes, that we were able to log:
  • American crow
  • Bluejay
  • American robin
  • Northern cardinal
  • Mourning dove

The following are here all the time but were evidently log-shy:

  • Carolina wren
  • Carolina chickadee
  • Northern mockingbird
  • Hairy/downy woodpecker (can't decide which one it is)
  • Yellow warbler
  • Brown thrasher
  • Some kind of sparrow - white-throated, I think

Before next year we have to set up a bird-table to tempt some more feathered friends to join us, and maybe our log will be a little more impressive.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spring Awakening

WITH weather in the 60s, the garden has started to burst into Spring. It's supposed to get colder again - let's hope frost doesn't kill all the new growth. Here are some signs of the new season in our garden:

Trees bursting into bud. This is a sweetgum.

Tulip and daffodils are shooting up. No crocuses yet.

And Alexander's first experience of grass and sand! He was so fascinated by the texture of sand that none of my usual ruses to get him to smile into the camera would work. He could not tear his eyes away from this strange substance. (Grass was apparently not quite so exciting.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How Does A Duck Go To Sleep?

ON a recent walk at a nearby lake, we sat watching the ducks and geese for quite a while. They came up really close begging for food, but as we didn't give them any and just sat down and stayed still, gradually they went about their business. We noticed that our bedtime book is correct:

How does a duck go to sleep, tell me how, how does a duck go to sleep?
It tucks its bill right under its wing, and doesn't worry about a thing.
That's how a duck goes to sleep, quack quack, that's how a duck goes to sleep.
(Going to Sleep on the Farm, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison)

Some of them were sleeping, with their bills tucked under their wings, while balancing on one leg! We decided we wouldn't find that very restful. They were mallards, and were very loyal to their mates, sleeping or swimming in pairs. Emma was also intrigued to notice that geese have tongues, which I have to admit was news to me too. Ok, maybe this is common knowledge, but now I know that most birds have tongues, though different from ours. The goose tongue is a delicacy in some eastern lands, and was considered by the Roman poet Ovid to be an aphrodisiac. We didn't test that.

After walking around to the other side of the lake, we took a 'secret path' to a piece of water off the beaten track. Here we again sat quietly, observing the sights and sounds around us. We first thought it was ducks making such a racket, but then I realised it was a frog croakathon. Spring is in the air! This chorus was punctuated by the loud peck peck pecking of several Downy Woodpeckers, which we could see quite easily as they scoured the trees for tasty grubs. Why isn't the noisy woodpecker in our garden so easy to find?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Underground, Overground Wombling Free

"Underground, Overground, Wombling Free,
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.
Making good use of the things that we find,
Things that the everyday folks leave behind.

Wombles are organized, work as a team.
Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean.
Underground, Overground, wombling free,
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we!"

For the uninitiated, Wombles are an institution of the 70s. Fictional book and then television characters, they are little fuzzy bear-like creatures that, as their theme song suggests, collect other people's litter. They are the original recyclers.

Last time we went to 'our' swamp, Emma told me it was messy and next time we should bring a bag and pick up rubbish. So we did exactly that this week. (What she actually meant was "you should bring a bag and you should pick up rubbish".) But it seemed like a good lesson in stewardship of the earth, and Winter is undoubtedly the best time for this, when the bare branches expose any objects that do not belong in the wild. The wombling is also a kind of tradition in my family, so I felt it my duty to pass the habit on to the next generation. We did remove several grocery bagfuls of bottles, beer cans and - strangely - plastic flower pots. Needless to say, we didn't transform this bounty into a treasure for our house, as real wombles would have done, but I still feel the recycling container is a better home for it than the woods.

Slugs and Snails and Puppydog Tails

WHILE weeding the flower bed yesterday, we noticed quite a collection of creatures who had taken up residence beneath the leaf litter. Emma decided to start collections of her own - live worms, slugs and snails onto one rock for the purposes of observation; empty snail shells on another rock for - well does there have to be a reason? Here are some of her observations, followed by my notes after research:

  • The slugs have two pairs of 'antenna'. Actually they are called tentacles; the longer upper pair is for vision, the lower pair for smell. Couldn't see how many the snails had - they are tiny little things; the shells are only about 5mm in diameter.
  • The 'antenna' hide when the slug is frightened. Yes, they retract just as the snail goes into its shell. What's more, the tentacles can be regrown if lost.
  • The slugs and snails seemed to be able to navigate out of the soil much better than the worms. They headed right off the rock back down into the moist earth, while the worms just writhed rather helplessly until we rescued them. Oh whoops, I thought I had seen worms move around on driveways and such after a rain, but actually they were stranded here as they cannot move out of soft ground. Sorry, worms!
  • Slugs and snails climb right over one another when one is in the way. Nothing to add to that!
  • The slugs have a hole on the right side of their body. We wondered if this was for breathing, or perhaps hearing. It is actually for breathing.

And as for the puppydog tails? I pointed out to Emma the tulip shoots that are coming up. She wiggled one and said it was wagging its tail. The wonders of a three-year-old imagination! We found lots of daffodil shoots too, but the crocuses are not yet in sight.