It started as a daydream. The third-best shelling beaches in the world, within our country's borders.
It continued as an obsession. Time to myself. Beautiful pieces of nature to photograph.
It was put on the back burner, something I would do someday when a trip by myself or with girlfriends was a luxury but not a foolish extravagance.
It flashed across my mind in alarm as oil was spreading across the gulf. Would we run out of somedays?
Then I had an idea: why wait for someday? Why wait until I could go alone? I could go now, with the kids.
I had the idea on Thursday. I booked rooms (with some flexibility built in) on Sunday. On Monday, the kids and I set out on a grand adventure, not knowing how many days it would take us to get there, or whether we would all be screaming one or two or sixteen hours down the road, or how much fun or stress we would have, or when we would return.
All told, we took two days to get there, spent four nights on the island, and two days (ish) coming back. There were lots of expected and unexpected joys and relatively few lows. This starts a whole new chapter in family adventures, I suspect.
Some of this stuff is blogged under the "adventure" category on Spark (June 21-27 plus a "Surviving Spontaneity" series that followed it and is still waiting for completion). There's also a photo set on Flickr. Mostly it was the kind of amazing adventure that can't be described in words, and we all want to go back (with Dan this time) soon.
How to explain the behavior of oil in the ocean, brought to you by Target.
I think decorations like this in a fast food restaurant are supposed to fill patrons with assurance that they have made a wise nutritional decision, thereby assuring return visits. Instead, it fills me with skepticism, wondering why they have to surround me with "good for you" messages, suspicious that it's yet another deployment of psychological trickery in order to build business.
It was cute, though.
And these are getting ready for a big kindness adventure.
A group of work trucks has been traveling around our neighborhood, first at one corner, then at another, doing something mysterious that has to do with manholes. Ruby hazarded a guess that it has to do with the pipes under the street, the ones that are for "dirty water from the sink and stuff from the toilet".
It was our corner's turn this afternoon. The closest manhole is right in front of the neighbors catercorner from us (the bus stop house). There was a guy sitting on the tailgate of a truck pulled up next to the open hole, so I put shoes on me & Xander and headed on over to ask what they were doing. I always feel odd doing that, it feels slightly pushy and socially inappropriate, but it hurts nobody and we can get actual interesting and educational information rather than continuing to make uninformed guesses, right? So, the guy told me that they are relining the pipes under the street (not clear on if they're freshwater or wastewater, forgot to ask). They mix up some kind of epoxy and send it through the pipes from one street corner to the next, and it hardens into a thin fiberglass lining in the pipe.
I had wondered how 80-plus-year-old iron pipes were still functional. Now I know!
Just as they did last year, an enormous flock of robins and a few cedar waxwings descended upon the neighbors' holly trees this morning and picked them bare within about 20 minutes. They then retreated into the trees to digest, and then flew away, leaving nothing but colorful dappled sidewalks behind them.
I looked into the migratory patterns of robins and discovered that, while we tend to think of robins returning in the spring, this is only true of much more northern climes...like Canada. Here in the states, Robins are around throughout the year. We just don't see them as much in the wintertime because they flock together instead of being more evenly spread over an area. They also stay up in the trees more until the weather warms up. So the true harbinger of spring is not a huge flock of ravenous berry-eaters, but rather a lone robin or two, digging for worms. Hope to see that sight soon!
Am I the only one who finds the beginning of a new year really disorganized and stressful? It's not just the expectation to set resolutions (which I don't do on Jan 1, I'm an idealist 24/7/365) or looming tax dates, there's something about the sense of a new opportunity, the holiday decorations to be put away, the lack of light and vitamin D, the list of things to plan (spring activities, summer vacation, school events), and this nesting feeling I get once the tree is down. Ugh. I mean, exciting, but UGH.
So, sorry to go without updating for a while. I decided to undertake a 365 project - which is a creative project you do every day for a year - and Griff joins me on it most days. Finding time for it has been difficult. That is complicated further by a big career thing that I'll get to later.
First, January catch-up! (the links lead to 365 posts)
The kids and I finished up their winter break in a real do-nothing, go-nowhere mood. I guess that's good in some ways? I wouldn't mind it so much, except that I didn't cook enough breakfasts and read enough stories. Things to remember for next time. I'd like to remember stay-at-home days as snuggly instead of driving-eachother-crazy.
Oh, except we did do something productive. Griff and I hand-delivered birthday party invitations again this year. Part of me wants to swear that I'll be ahead of the game next year and mail them two weeks in advance, but I actually enjoy driving around and seeing where all of his friends live, maybe getting to say hello to a friend or two. (Hi, Pache!)
Xander shocked me by being the only one of my children ever to voluntarily wear a knit cap as a toddler. He's SO cute in it. He stopped wearing it two days later, though. Ah, well, at least he was warm for those two days.
Reese continues to want to wear no outerwear or only his grey jacket. He HATES wearing a coat. Our surprising compromise: grey jacket over coat. I dont' understand what part of this arrangement makes the coat acceptable to him, it looks awfully bulky to me, but hey, this is one winter during which I never have to worry about him being warm enough outdoors. He wears two shirts every day, too.
Occasionally I took a freezing-cold walk around the back alleys in our neighborhood, toting my new telephoto zoom lens and stalking hawks. I was lucky enough to find this one with a fresh kill.
We visited New York Deli at least once. We always bring a stack of quarters.
Luke spent a few Thursday mornings with me and Xander.
I learned how to do some really cool long exposure tricks.
A 1920s typewriter followed me home from a local antique shop and sparked much interest among the kids. How does it work? Why is there no #1?
We celebrated Griff's 7th birthday with a bowling party for him and his friends. Seven seven-year-olds are the perfect number and age for this kind of party!
I learned some PhotoShop tricks - textures and vignetting.
I also had a "Mom's Night Out" at the home of one of the NAP mamas, who is also one of the first friends I made after moving to Richmond.
We had some pajama days and a lot of screen time. Reese and Xander played better together than ever before.
We had an impromptu after-school playdate with Jack and Josiah, during which Dan took ALL FIVE KIDS to the grocery store. Voluntarily. Hokey Smokes! They had a great time, Josiah taught Griff some new jokes, and we all ate fabulous junk food (mmm, onion dip). I love these kids, they're so sweet and fun and polite and adorable! My boys all love them, too.
Griff had his first school dance and his first "date". You know those stories you hear about childhood sweethearts who fall in love when they're five years old and eventually marry each other and have this precious storybook romance? Those stories sound eerily like what's going on here. Griff and Mia have been sweethearts for a year or thereabouts. Not to jump the gun or anything...but the in-laws are awesome.
Ok, so back to the stressed-Jess thing. I was asked to be a photographer for the Sabot auction this year, which involves working with two lovely Sabot artists who are putting together a gallery of children's art. I count this as an honor. Then a friend referred me to friends of hers who were looking for a wedding photographer. I've been researching and deep-thinking and planning ever since. I'm arranging a meeting with the couple and there's a chance they may hire me (I believe they're also looking at one other photographer, maybe more). This would be an INCREDIBLE opportunity and honor, but it's also incredibly stressful. I had planned to take at least one paying client this year, but not until the fall and only for children's or family portraiture. This ups the stakes considerably and steps up my time frame for things like figuring out rates, contracts, insurance, model releases, and acquiring some new equipment, too. I would have four months between now and the wedding, and I need to spend that four months PERFECTING my photojournalistic event/human connection skills as well as learning flash. Yikes. This couple knows that this would be a first for me, and they have seen my Flickr; I need to address expectations with them even more before signing anything.
Scary, but sometimes you have to leap!
Phew. Writing out all of January (thus far) makes me feel like we've been far more productive than I had considered before! Here's to all the learning and living we'll do in the weeks and months to come.
On one of our sick days, Reese drew a
series of egg shapes that he called "the poisonous bananas". These
bananas apparently live on the playground at the preschool. Some are
white and some are black. Then he started adding faces and bellybuttons
and limbs and soon we had a host of poisonous but very cheerful bananas
"holding hands and walking along". Most of them
have noses below their mouths, and one had a beard. These must be traits specific to
poisonous bananas, because I've never seen a Chiquita or Dole with
features like those. I had also never seen Reese draw figures like these, and was so excited to watch them evolve on the Magnadoodle (of course, on the Magnadoodle!). The first three (bottom center, bottom right, top right) have noses below their mouths, but the top left banana ended up with a nose in the anatomically correct place. Nifty progression!
I asked a teacher today what the "poisonous
bananas" are, and it turns out they are mushrooms that grow on the
playground. I immediately remembered similar fungi that grew in our yard on Burberry Lane one year. They may resemble bananas to children, but not so much to adults.
Reese started telling me how to write the letter H this afternoon. I drew some incorrect Hs and he carefully showed me how to make one correctly, then told me he can write his name. Trying not to over-encourage, I managed to get a clean sheet of paper in front of him without triggering his "I'm not your trained monkey" reflex, and he slowly and deliberately wrote his name. He's so proud, and I'm so exicted! This is the first time I've really seen him show interest in *anything* representational - he doesn't enjoy or seek out drawing or writing ever.
The letter Es are especially thrilling. Every one of those crossbars was carefully added.
Another first day of school! Today Reese had his first full day this year at Sabot and will be back full-time as of Monday. In a groundbreaking morning for our family, he was the only one of his brothers who was fully on-board with the day's plan (Xander is bummed not to ride the bus; Griff declared himself sick of school after 2 days) and got dressed right down to his new tennis shoes (no Crocs allowed) without a hitch. Here he is, ready to hop into the car with his backpack and lunchbox:
...oh, and brandishing his new stick "gun", too. Lovely. He was pointing it at a neighbor there and I had to suggest that perhaps she might not like being shot at by the neighbor kid. You know, the neighbor kid whose mother was photographing him pointing a weapon at people. Niiice. Have to admit, though, this stick makes a particularly awesome gun.
Back to school: he had a great day, building inside, having a picnic snack on the carpet, and visiting the forest. And apparently he taught his class the Witch Doctor song!
Flexibility is the name of the game now that he has turned the corner from three to four. While he's still our same old creature-comforts Reesie, he's increasingly able to go with the flow, looking forward to going to familiar places, handling new situations with more ease, and changing course and handling frustrations with much more grace. This is not to say that he has become a laid-back and ultra-compliant kid - I'm sure he'll retain his spirit for as long as he lives - but this summer marked a real shift for him in being able to go out and enjoy the world around himself.
Returning to Sabot has thrown a spotlight on the big changes that happened over the last three months: he has had a HUGE language boom, and a surge of confidence and independence. Last week his half-hour visit to his new classroom was probably the most fun date I've had with him, ever. He beamed as he headed straight down the path to his classroom, immediately greeted one of his teachers (Kara, who worked as a social coach in his classroom last year and who has a fantastic bond with Reese) and showed her a dead cicada he had brought, then went and engaged in several different classroom activities. No hesitation, just a total sense of knowing this place and being comfortable there. I noticed that he's interacting more with other kids, and with the materials in the classroom. Kara observed the big jump in language skills and she and I also discovered at the same time that he might be doing some addition - he showed me some magnifying glasses and said something about the five of them, and while I was trying to decide whether to correct him (I only saw three), he said "three here, and two over there. Five magnifying glasses." Huh. Didn't know you could do that, kid!
This afternoon he got a piece of cold pizza out for himself (putting away the box neatly, this is new) and when I asked if there were more, he told me there were three pieces. I got a piece for myself, then asked him: there were three pieces. Reese ate one, Mommy ate one, how many are left? He didn't miss a beat: "one." Nicely done! (No, he hadn't seen the inside of the box.)
Along with this new ability to manipulate numbers is some interest and skill in building. In the last few days he has built long winding railroad tracks and a block configuration he calls a "PacMan maze" after the style of the pathways in the arcade game that he loves to watch us play at New York Deli. This is a big change coming from a kid who has never really shown an interest in construction-type play. Interest in puzzles is starting to appear, interest in body systems, careful balancing of marble runs, and more elaborate pretend-play scenarios.
Reading might also be starting to click. This afternoon while reading a naptime story to Xander, Reese was following along the words with a finger and seems to have the idea of one written word representing one spoken word, even picking out a couple of the words for me when I asked him which word looked like "fuzzy" or "soft". No interest in writing yet, although maybe the sign-in sheet at school will help to encourage that. He does like to spell his name.
I noticed the other day that Reese asks questions in a way that Griff never has. Griff observes and draws conclusions; he connects data points. Reese generates questions, with each answer leading him to a new question. He wants specificity - exact names for things, exact answers to questions - and is quick to determine when facts given to him don't fit a particular situation, and to inquire about it.
The overall sense I get from Reese these days is one of emerging competence and control, and it's really fun to watch this process unfold.
It finally clicked!!! I've been waiting for that moment when Griff's reading abilities would suddenly catch fire, do you know what I mean? There are all these little steps to literacy - identifying letters, knowing sounds, recognizing words by sight, figuring out how to decode unfamiliar words. But there's some moment when you go from haltingly figuring out every word to reading. That point in time when fluency kicks in. I remember tearing through books as a child and Griff seems like the kind of kid who will really, really enjoy reading everything he can get his hands on, once the spark ignites.
And it did!
Over the last weekend in June, while Dan's parents were here, I noticed that he went from telling people that he can "read some words, but I don't know how to read," to suddenly taking a book with him everywhere and exclaiming that he "actually read" first a few pages of a comic, and then a whole book.
Since then he spends most of his day with his nose in a book, and also reads stuff all over town - more than just the sight words he used to recognize, he's reading any print he can find and telling me what he read. While trying to explain who Michael Jackson was to him, I searched YouTube for videos, and Griff, reading over my shoulder, asked, "what's Man in the Mirror?" He is SO proud, and so excited to have discovered this portal into a whole 'nother level of existence.
Celebrating this milestone was the kick in the pants I needed to finally get him his own library card. As of today, Griff has his first bag of books that were 100% chosen, carried and checked out by him. Even better, his sudden surge in reading excitement has been contagious and all of us are having a literary renaissance here. Reese stays up late paging through borrowed Captain Underpants books, I'm joining not one, but two book groups, and Xander is starting to name numbers when he sees them.
Ok, I'm trying something new. I've started reviving the Spark blog (non-password-protected stuff) and in the interest of not double posting and increasing traffic over there, I'm sometimes going to have a teaser here that links to the full post over there. We'll see how this works.
So, if you have ever wanted to see the "birth" of an adult ladybug emerging from its pupal case, read on over yonder...
Griff and I are pulling up all the slate in the old patio. Roots from the maple tree made it uneven, and then bug-hunting, shovel-loving kids have worsened the situation, so that it's less a functional patio and more a quarry of sorts. Before-ish/during shot:
The hope here is to loosen up the dirt beneath after giving all the various ants, termites, and beetles a chance to vacate the premises, and then settle the stones in a somewhat level fashion and allow moss to grow between them. Problem is, at least two stones are lodged between maple roots, and more roots pop up all over the place. They're too close to the tree to safely cut them, as they fall within the critical root zone. I'm fairly certain that working around them may just result in problems down the line and the need to fix the patio again. That said, it could work in the short term, and we may have better resources for a more permanent fix in a few years.
Right now, I just want to be able to get the old patio table/chairs out of storage (we've set a deadline for ourselves of May 31 to get everything out) and be able to add outdoor dining to the host of ways we enjoy the yard.
Can you imagine how thrilled I was to see a pasta version of the life cycle of a butterfly come home in Griff's backpack? And just as we've been talking about larvae and instars and chrysalises here at home! Fab! I don't have a photo of the paper-plate creation, but I've photoshopped my own similar graphic.
For anybody wanting to do this at home with their kids, the materials are:
paper plate/circle fiori/flower pasta (eggs) fusili/corkscrew pasta (larva/caterpillar) conchiglie/shell pasta (pupa/chrysalis) farfalle/butterfly pasa (adult/butterfly) pen to label each stage craft glue
(If you really wanted to get into it, you could discuss instar stages and make your cycle more entymologically accurate with a little fusilli col buco or something.)
Perfetto! I think this would be a great project to put together while the pot boils for a butterfly life-cycle pasta primavera. Buon appetito!