Tuesday, May 15, 2012

3 Girls 3 Countries 6 Weeks

I've created a travel blog for our trip to Wales, England and France.
You can follow us here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

All I want to do...

All I want to do is cry on this thing until it gets too wet to use.
That was Greta doing her math today.  The answers were always coming out too much or too little.  One day it will be simple but today it just seemed so hard.

Nice people have written to tell me that I shouldn't just disappear without saying why.  There was no why.  Every time I thought about posting it just seemed too hard.  Too much to say or too little.

Anyway, we've got a big trip planned and maybe there will be just enough time and just enough to say here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Earthy Realities about Food (and People)

Maybe you remember how my three girls were waiting eagerly for their quail to lay eggs.  Well, they waited and waited and waited and then....   Then Evelyn came to me and said, "Mom, we have eight males and one female."  They mail ordered their quail and had asked for chicks too young to sex, but the quail they got were a) not very cute anymore and b) plenty old enough to sex, except for the smallest and fluffiest which grew up to be the only female.

Now, they needn't, we discovered, have ordered these birds from across the country, when they are available all over the Bay Area.  Local quail farmers don't have much of a web presence, but you can find plenty of them on Craigslist.  

So I'm talking to a guy who is selling some quail and he says, "How do you know they are all males?"

Me: Kids, how do you know they are males?
Evelyn:  We vent sexed them.
Me: Uh, they vent sexed them.
Guy: How did they do it?
Me:  Yeah, how did you do it?
Evelyn: Well, you turn them over and squeeze the abdomen gently.  If foam comes out of their vent, they're a male.
I repeat what she said.
Guy: Well, that is how you do it.

I am raising some self-made farm girls!

But we have a problem.  We have too many males.  One morning Evelyn comes running in--Comma's head is all bloody.  The other quail have torn out all his head feathers and pecked a deep hole in his head.  We separate him.  It bleeds for the whole day.  His eye swells shut.  

We keep him in the house.  After two days of recovery his wounds are scabbed over and he is starting to open the eye.  And to crow.  All day.  And then, all night.  We bring the female in.  And get a good night's sleep.  But then the girls put her back out in the bachelor pad and in the ensuing frenzy they pluck her head, leaving a bald patch.  Attempts to reintroduce Comma are even more disastrous.  Our quail run is a gladiatorial arena.

It slowly dawns on the girls that they will have to get rid of some of the males.  I look on Craigslist and find that many people are trying to get rid of males.  And I find this:

Good home only. They are for pets only. It is OK that you eat quail eggs. But the quails are not for food or dog training  purpose.

Dog training? Yikes. Slowly the realities of farming are coming home to roost. Males are not wanted. Males are a problem. If you sell them you cannot be sure what will happen to them. We powwow and decide to ask a friend if she will give them a humane death and enjoy them for dinner. She says yes, and we are grateful.

When one of the quail, early in this process, was accidentally crushed we tried mouth to beak resuscitation and mourned with loud lamentation and buried it in the backyard.  Now, we're going to be packing up several for a friend's dinner, and grateful to have a friend brave enough to do the deed.

Meanwhile, Pastel, our one female, is dutifully laying one beautiful, speckled egg each day. Clementine, our in-house food stylist, set up this miniature tableau.  The plate is a saucer, and the silverware and cup are from a doll's set.  It is so neat and wholesome looking.  There is a lot of earthy reality behind it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 1: Went to the Beach--Creative Writing on Vacation

We're back from Maui.  We were supposed to go trekking through Northern California in search of mammals but, well, it was chilly, and er I'm embarrassed to admit it, I just turned tail and bolted for the tropics.  

We always try to keep journals when we are on vacation, but they so often end up like this:
In case you're having trouble making it out, it says:
Day 1: Went to the beach.
Day 2: Went to the beach.
Day 3: Went to the beach.

Ok, I should say that this is Greta's idea of an awesome joke.  She loves this joke so much that she can't wait to write the next day into her journal.

But journal writing does tend to devolve into catalog.  Though lovely pictures go a long way.

I brought this book along for inspiration:

UnjournalingThe subtitle is Writing Exercises That are Not Personal, Not Introspective and Not Boring.  I think the point of traveling is outrospection, not introspection, so I hoped it would help us get creative with our observations.  It did, and it also helped us drive away boredom on long drives. That was why I opened the book the first time--to direct the three kids in the backseat to something other than whose elbow was where.

The first exercise I didn't find promising:  1. Write a paragraph about a girl named Dot, but use no letters with dots.  I think I'd rather try to use lots of letters with dots, but not very much.

I flipped through and we settled on 114: Write 4 sentences made up of 4 four-letter words.  We modified it to 5 sentences with five five-letter words because there are five of us. 

Water moves along coral reefs.
Waves crash sandy beach tower.
Pines stand along windy roads.
Snail lives where water blows.
Trade wind's sweep dries suits.

Later we were waiting for the check at The Pineapple Grill and there was some flopping over in the chairs happening.  So I whipped out the book and found:

169: Describe a place to eat using every letter of the alphabet at least once.

The Pineapple Grill
Clem's french toast with macadamia nuts happily filled her stomach.  The Shirley Temple quenched her thirst. Mynah birds zoomed around screeching.  Evelyn's juice smoothie was bland.  The kids played with the sugar box.  
I think it is curious that even so small a push as using each letter of the alphabet has interesting results. It was only the need to get the z in there that prompted "Mynah birds zoomed around screeching."  But that is the most interesting and memorable part of the paragraph (and the lunch).

A few days later Evelyn had given up trying to net fish in a tidepool and was hunting sparrows, luring them with Greta's snack.  She was still basking in the glow of having caught one a few days earlier.  I guess I was the one who was bored this time.  I flipped open Unjournaling and landed on 

17. Create a much more interesting version of this sentence:
The dog barked.
What kind of dog was it?  Where was it?  Why was it barking?  How would you describe the barking?  Make the sentence as interesting as possible by choosing your words and details carefully.
This is not at all an original exercise, but a good one nonetheless.  We modified the exercise to suit our needs.
The sparrow ate.
Everyone threw out ideas (as Evelyn threw out her bait) and I took dictation:
The young house sparrow gobbled pieces of pirate booty, gulping down the little chips as fast as it could, hopping away and coming back for more, stretching its neck up to see where the best pieces were and sometimes even hopping very high and turning its head to eye the pieces.
Greta did this one:

She began with: We sit on the beach.
And ended up with: Mom and I sit and talk on the fine yellowy-tanny sand of Ka'anapali beach.

Doesn't that tell a better story than Day 4: Went to the beach?

I think so.  But if you want to know why Greta thinks Went to the beach is so funny, scroll through the pics below.

Swinging bridge.

Shave ice.

Greta's first time snorkeling.


Above the clouds at Haleakala.

Sunset at Haleakala.

Trying out the water bounce house.

Hiking the Pipiwai trail.

Climbing banyan trees.

On the trail to the red sand beach I was too terrified to take pics, so here is the pic of the warning sign I took after we made it back.

Catching geckos.

Visiting waterfalls.

Climbing bridge supports.

Exploring a lava tube.

Sliding down the roots of a banyan tree into a lava tube cave.

Jumping into a freshwater pool in a cave.
Swimming in tidepools.  Turned out the kids were sharing one with the world's most venomous fish, but hey, it was fun anyway.

Clem and Greta conspired to paint their dad's toenails when he was distracted.

Snorkeling with sea turtles.

Red dirt shirts again!

Ev jumping off Black Rock.

Mike and Greta just before that big wave turned their tidepool into a jacuzzi.

Nakalele blowhole.

After a couple days like this, particularly the harrowing red sand beach trail, I was ready for a day worthy of no more mention than went to the beach.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs Still Rule the Day

So we've had this yearlong project to see all of California's native mammals.  In the sidebar you can see photos of the furry friends we've bagged so far.  Out of 197, the tally stands at 31, or 15%.  Not a great showing, but the year is not over yet, by golly.

I don't know about you, but I bought that story about how dinosaurs ruled the day while mammals skulked around under cover of darkness.  But then an asteroid strike wiped out the lizard giants and (cue triumphant music) mammals were free to come out proud, into the sunshine.  Well, we have discovered that these are just about the only California mammals that you'll see out in the daytime.

 And even they like some shade.  And will scurry if scared.  Read on.

Dinosaur descendants (birds),on the other hand, and their squamate (snake & lizard) and testudinidate (turtle) relatives are abundant in the daytime.  In case you didn't get the memo, the term reptile is now obsolete.  It's polyphyletic.  And we don't engage in polyphyly around here.

We took a trip recently to Joshua Tree National Park.  Joshua Tree is as alien a place as anything you will find on any continent. Friends had seen bighorn sheep there, and so we went to see bighorn sheep.  We rose before dawn on two consecutive mornings and hiked to Barker Dam to look for sheep with big horns.  

Beautiful vistas abounded, but we saw no sheep.

There were also plenty of dinosaur relatives.

A friend stumbled on this nest with two baby birds and two eggs.
Afterwards the kids were on the lookout.  They checked nearly every cholla cactus we passed.

In all they found six nests.  All had four eggs.  Some pink, some blue.  One had babies and one had a mother who would not quit her nest.

The cholla cactus are vicious.  Some are called jumping chollas because they seem to go after you.

They are also beautiful and strange.

We saw a tour bus disgorge a load of foreign tourists at the cholla garden.  They couldn't read the signs telling you to stay on the path and beware of the sharp chollas with their barbed hooks.  Soon the place was littered with wounded.

Even one of our own, who could read the sign, fell prey.

The birds are not the only ones to use chollas to defend themselves.

The desert wood rat covers its nest in piles of cholla.  It is a nocturnal skulker, like most mammals, and we did not get to see it.
We did get to see something endangered.  Not a bighorn sheep, but this desert tortoise.

The truth is we were much more excited to see the desert tortoise than the mammal below, the antelope squirrel.  Which does come out in the day, though it scurries away into its hole pretty quick.

It was a great time to be in the desert.

And though we didn't see bighorn sheep in their native habitat, we did get to see one mammal we really wanted to see.

On the last day, I walked into the bathroom at our campsite and found this:

A kangaroo rat!  We are counting this fellow as being in his native habitat because when we tried to free him from the women's bathroom he ran along the building and squeezed under the door into the men's bathroom.

Our reptile and bird count far outstripped our mammal count, though.  I now understand why birdwatching is popular and mammalwatching, not so much.  We even saw frogs in the desert.

And we were very grateful to have heard one reptile, er squamate.  Yes, we were grateful, when hiking in a rocky canyon, that the rattlesnake gave us plenty of warning.   Judging by the way we scurried, dinosaur relatives still rule the day.