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Summer Hiatus

June 7th, 2008

Well the humidity has arrived!  Temperatures well into the 90’s and it feels like summer.  Which is about time I guess. I loved the cool weather, but the rain and storms have been a bit much this spring.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the grass grow so fast, which will be interesting since we’re taking a trip for a week or so.  There will be plenty to cut and trim when we return, and maybe the garden will have a few presents for us.  I have a few pictures waiting to share, so I’ll post them when I can.  But what’s a summer if not filled with fun and activity for the kids?  Even if that’s simply running around like crazy outside… which we seem to do a lot of .  Mostly me :)  See you soon.

Kids and Nature Just Go Together

May 14th, 2008

A nice day today, without rain.  Started cloudy and cool and then warmed up beautifully.  We walked to make the bus for school through the wet grass, with the yellow lab running around us.  As we waited, playing catch with a newspaper, the lab decided to find a comfortable spot in the tall grass and settle down.  He’s becoming more independent as well as comfortable with the world around him.  He was happy just to lay here in the grass and wait until the walk home.

Yellow Labrador Retriever in the grass

In many ways the seven year old is the same.  I find myself looking for opportunities that our son can use to stretch his own independence.   The boy runs around finding interesting things to play with in nature, climbing trees, riding his bicycle, collecting rocks.  When he comes home from school he loves to watch one particular cartoon, and will sit in front of the tv if allowed.  But he loves being outside as well, and comes out pretty quickly to play and follow me around.  He watches and helps me with various projects when he can.  

After the windstorm the other day, we worked together staking nine little trees.  It’s not always my nature to think of ways to involve him, but I’m getting better.  I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” most of the time, and just move from one project to another trying to keep up with things that need done.  But as our son grows I want to share knowledge and find opportunities to involve him and help him learn.

I’ve been watching an interesting show tonight on PBS about kids growing up while living closer to nature versus in a suburban environment.  Did you see it?   Paraphrasing one of the themes:

“The kids growing up over the last twenty years see nature as an abstraction. Something “out there” apart from their own lives.  And that fosters a disconnection with the natural world.”

One of the reasons I love living in the country is to be able to maintain that connection with the natural world.  To live it, touch it and be part of the changing of the seasons.   We thought it important somehow that our son have the opportunity to experience this lifestyle, while balancing the modern world’s tools of technology and communication.

What young child isn’t fascinated with tadpoles?  He loves to play by the water, and always seems to find neat stuff.

Boy finding tadpoles at the pond in spring

But that’s also the challenge in many ways.  As a society we have evolved and are continuing to change very quickly. Kids today are challenged to adapt and are faced with countless choices involving what I call technological literacy.  Certainly basic reading and math literacy is critical as a foundation, but I also believe that technological literacy is something that can empower and leverage an individual’s life and choices in a myriad of constructive ways.   I think that tech literacy must reach a point where a child recognizes the benefits as well as learns the limits of the technology they will use in life, and that it’s really just another set of tools.

Personally I have run the gamut of being an early adopting tech addict years ago, to managing thousands of the most advanced computers and communications equipment in the world, and now back to being a simple user of technology in a way that expresses creativity and helps me keep up at home.  I feel like I’ve come full circle, and have heard the same from others.  I’m still tempted by new-fangled gadgets, but weigh the cost of owning and using them not only in dollars, but also in time.  Time seems to become more precious in many ways, and I am thankful to have time to do what is necessary each day.

But I always come back to nature, or what I see as “real” with the world around us.  Perhaps as a way to find a centered place within, and a foundation of being well grounded. I fear losing the connection with nature and what is real.  Somehow the spirit of the living and the energy that exists in nature are like healing waters that a metaphorical fountain brings forth.  When we work and take part in the natural world we touch our roots, and renew the bonds of life that exists between the human species and the living world.  

So where our son is concerned, a lot of it has to do with me. I have always sought a rural lifestyle, and a chance to learn and practice basic skills of living and self sufficiency.  I like that about living here.  But at times I wonder if the boy isn’t missing out with many of the various activities that a suburban lifestyle might offer.

We do try to involve him in typical activities such as baseball and scouting.  And he has the run of ten acres of land, joining more land in the area.  But driving to town takes a few gallons of gas round trip, so it’s not something we do routinely without a reason.  There are no nearby places to go and interact with others unless we get in the car and make the trip.  So he does miss different aspects of living in society such as a suburban area with parks full of other kids.  For all those who live in this area, it’s just the way it is.

Thankfully he has a full school day and a district that believes strongly in physical activity.  They usually have three recess periods to work off excess energy (or catch up on work not quite finished).   By the time he gets home he needs a break, but is then ready to head outside and play again.

I know as he grows up he will have the opportunity to experience far more than we see here at home anyway. In that regard I’m not worried about what he may miss for a few years.  To see him run and play, discovering new critters, finding cool rocks or snail shells to collect, shouting and screaming at imaginary creatures, all are things that I believe help create a balance and ability to find a centered place within himself which he will carry for the rest of his life.

Blowing Dandelion seeds in the wind

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s where I am.  I have this sense that he needs this in his life, and that many years from now he will reflect on it and find satisfaction and strength in his experience.  Certainly all parents must make choices that they believe best for their children.  There are times in our lives that we are fortunate to have the ability to make certain choices, where others may not.  For however long we are here, I am thankful for our experience. 

Picking Dandelions

April 16th, 2008

asparagus-beds.jpgTime to get to work it seems as the weather is really nice. Stopped at the store to look at plants yesterday… oops, now we have more planting to do. But as the boy grows older he is becoming a lot more help around the house.

Of course I have to compete with his imagination and a tendency to run wild around the place. Which brings out the tendency in me to smile. But while I was using the tractor to dump mulch on the asparagus beds the other day he asked, “What can I do?”

 

 

 

Picking dandelions

Now I have a bright idea: “Well, how about picking dandelions?” I say. The little yellow flowers are blooming all over the grass, driveway and wherever I don’t want them. And I don’t like spraying chemicals everywhere, so we usually just try to cut them with the mower before they go to seed. Which never really works anyway.

But I tell him, “I’ll give you a penny a piece for each yellow flower you pick, okay?” I think he won’t get further than 50 or 60, but that it will keep him busy for a while. “Okay!” he says. And he spends the next hour filling up a small bucket.

 

“Guess how many I picked?” he asks. “Umm, well, a lot… maybe a hundred?” I say. ” Nope. I picked 469 dandelions!” he says with a smile, “And that’s four dollars and sixty-nine cents you owe me!”

“Holy cow… I never knew you’d pick that many, and where did you learn to figure that out anyway?!” I tease him.

I wonder how long he’ll pick dandelions for a penny?

Kite Flying Lessons

April 10th, 2008

Did you ever fly kites when you were young? Yesterday I remembered how much I enjoyed them. With the winds of spring and warmer weather, flying a kite is a natural thing to do. And I learned that with kite flying, as with life, there are always lessons to be learned.

The kids at school had a kite flying day last week, and our son had a small kite from the store. He came home one day and we took it out to fly. It was great fun for about 10 minutes, at which time he let me have a turn. And then I proceeded to let the handle slip out of my grasp! It was a little kite with not too much string and began floating away. I couldn’t believe it- every time a kite would get away from me as a kid it just drifted softly to the ground. But not this one… it flew away, with me chasing in full run, the handle dancing just out of my reach.

At one point I almost had it and the big, goofy yellow lab runs right in front of me chasing something… he doesn’t know what it is, just that he wants to get whatever I’m chasing. I trip flat over his back, rolling to the ground in knee high grass, watching the kite handle float ever higher, up, up and away. That darn little kite flew skyward over the treetops a quarter mile away, and almost was free! But the handle and string finally caught on a top branch of a towering oak tree.

He wasn’t very happy, but I had to laugh. There it was, far away on the neighbors property stuck at the top of a giant oak tree, still flying in the wind. We walked slowly back to the house. Later it was gone, we didn’t know where. After leaving a message for the neighbors in case they wondered where their new sky ornament came from, we resolved to make another trip to the store for a new kite.

Looking over the fancy kites at the store a few days later, I mentioned that we could try and build our own. Hard to compete with the fancy stuff at the store, but I offered to replace the kite I lost, or that we could build our own kite and I would give him a dollar bill. The same value of the cost of a new one. Being a smart young man he went for the cash and the idea of building our own kite, looking at me doubtfully however.

So I resolved to build a darn kite or else, right then and there. After he came home from school yesterday, we went to work. I found some Pampas Grass sticks hardened enough from last years growth that he had saved (he loves sticks of every sort). I drilled tiny holes in the middle and the ends after finding pieces I could cut so that the joints of the growth were close to the ends for strength. Then I used small loops of wire at the ends as an attachment point for string. Next we tied string from top to bottom, and side to side. The Pampas Grass was just flexible enough to bend without crimping over, at least the second or third time I tried. So with a slight bow lengthwise and across, we then tied string all the way around the outside to complete the frame.

 

Newspaper kite with Pampas Grass frame
And then it was newspaper time! He liked the idea of using the funny papers from the comics section, so we cut and fit several pieces, glueing them over the string and reinforcing the corners. A little more string in the front to make a center loop and almost done!

 

 

 

Funny paper kite with Little Bluestem tailWe made the tail out of old t-shirt pieces tied together in a narrow strip. Voila!About an hour’s work and we were off to try it out. Perhaps damping his expectations, I explained that a newspaper kite might not hold up very well, so if not we’ll just laugh about it, try again and build a new one.

 

 

 

Up near the pasture the wind came up just enough and the kite was flying! Or not. It made loops to the ground and I knew we needed more tail. Having nothing more with us, I looked around for a handy stabilizer and grabbed a fistful of Little Bluestem and pasture grass… why not? And that did the trick- the kite flew beautifully!

Flying the homemade newspaper kite

The smile on his face was worth a million dollars. “Wow! I didn’t really know it would fly!” he says (neither did I!). We had fun with the dogs running all around and the kite dancing in the sky.

Kite flying fun with the dogs

Then after some time of walking around with the kite chasing the wind, it began settling over the trees… “Back up!” I tell him and then “Ahhh!” he yells. He didn’t know how to keep it out of the trees in time. It was promptly stuck in the top of a scrubby tree above some briars.

“Daddy, get it!” he yells, not wanting to lose his kite. Thinking our creation surely was torn, I didn’t relish the idea of climbing through a patch of briars and up a tree. I told him it might be stuck for good, and we probably couldn’t get it down anyway without tearing it. Not a very good choice of words.

And that just made it worse, he was near tears at our predicament. Time to shift perspective… I told him, “Hey- we agreed we would have fun and laugh even if the kite got all smashed up, right?” But he said “No! I want THIS kite!” Being the usually dense father that I am, it took a while before I realized that we (I) lost his other kite last week, and now I was telling him this one was gone too. Maybe he could handle losing one kite, but another one that we just built together? No way.

He then marched by himself into the woods and briars yelling “Ow!”, determined to get it back. “Whoa!” I thought, “he really means it!” And I knew it was time to help him make a rescue attempt. So I marched over too and climbed up a little tree through the briars. After many broken branches and sticker-bush scratches, I reached the kite, only slightly torn, and biting the string with my teeth I finally worked it loose. He was down at the bottom, and I pushed it down to him where he helped pull it gingerly through the tangle where he was standing- success! We exited the thorn bushes with our proud scratches, and he said, “See! I knew we could get it!”   And we flew the kite some more.

Later that evening we talked about a lot of lessons that we learned, most of which involved teamwork, and that you can do just about anything if you really put your mind to it.

With his 7-year old wisdom, he told me that I learned a lesson too, and it was about not giving up when the kite was stuck. I was proud to say yes, it’s good that we can all learn lessons in life no matter how old we are.

Flying the Kite of Fox Haven

He doesn’t know it yet, but that wasn’t really the lesson I learned today. I learned that our son found courage and determination in not giving up. In deciding to go after what he wanted, and without knowing if he could do it himself, he was going to try anyway.

I know there are many more lessons to learn, for both of us, and that’s okay. I was also reminded that just about every moment we live as parents is a teaching moment, whether we know it or not.

March Easter Morning

March 23rd, 2008

A welcome day as the flood waters are receeding in towns across the region, and for Easter of course. This is the earliest time of year that I can ever remember celebrating Easter. The young one awoke with excitement in his eyes to find out what the Easter Bunny may have brought. Finding (and now hiding) Easter eggs is something I remember fondly too. My father used to enjoy hiding eggs around the house, and many family members may have found an egg or two in the old piano. This is now the young boy’s favorite hiding place as well. Another early memory of mine is when our mother baked little Easter cakes for all the boys. I must have been 10 or 11 years old. It was exciting to find your own special cake on Easter!

We colored our eggs yesterday, and the boy was very proud of this one- it turned out blue from mixing other dyes together. Now why the Easter Bunny takes our colored eggs out of the refrigerator and hides them is a question we just haven’t answered yet.. :)

Easter egg hidden in the piano

We awoke to light snow this morning, but it quickly melted. You can just see a little on the top of the stump which was under water a few days ago. This is the normal “full” level for the pond, until summer sets in with less rainfall. A couple of male Wood Ducks are enjoying time to forage in the shallows nearby.

Wood Ducks in the pond on Easter morning

Winter’s Journey

February 17th, 2008

A lot more rain last night, but we slept through most of it. Awoke to a balmy 50 degrees F, but the temperature is dropping fast. Maybe even snow tonight or tomorrow. We’ve certainly had a lot of moisture so far this year. I hope the summer is not quite as dry as the past few years, but at least the pond will have a good start. It’s full to the brim and we haven’t even had our spring rains yet. Only a couple more weeks and the little critters should be coming out. Cricket frogs and Spring Peepers! I love their calls in early spring and look forward to the end of winter’s journey this year.

It was interesting to see the ice thawing on the pond this morning, but also where the rain washed silt into the pond. Can you see the bands of silt under the ice?

Pond ice and silt

We went to our son’s Blue and Gold Banquet last night for Cub Scouts. It was very nice, with a lot of symbology. The young scouts received awards and pins as recognition for their effort and dedication. There was a lot of parental involvement such as lighting candles to symbolize positive steps through life’s journey. You could see how proud the kids were, and it was very touching to speak from the heart about helping shape a child’s life in a postive way. This week I found one of my old neckerchief “slides” that I used over 30 years ago, and our young boy was able to wear it as he received his Tiger Badge.

Cub Scout Tiger Badge

A Dog and His Boy

February 11th, 2008

I was working on the computer and some paperwork the other night, with the tv on in the background and my Labrador Retriever laying quietly asleep on the floor. The boy was taking his bath before bedtime and from down the hallway I heard, “Daddy! Daddy! Mommy! Mommy!” So using my holler-through-the-house voice I call back… “What is it…?” And then from the hallway again, the boy’s Mom calls, “Um, I think you need to come here… this is yours to handle!” And I yell back, “Okay, I’m coming…” as I get up wondering what all the fuss is about. And then I notice that the Yellow Lab is not where he was supposed to be. And with growing awareness I realize the Lab had snuck away to play with the boy (and that he loves water).

So guess who was very proud of the fact that he was sharing his bath with the dog? So proud in fact that he didn’t say a word (and closed the bathroom door!) until he was ready for us to see?! Arrgh!

Yellow Lab in bathtub

Well, they both needed a bath I suppose. The pup’s expression was like “Oh, you found me. It’s really nice in here, can’t I stay?! Pleeease?!” By the way, he really likes the “green turtle squirty thing”.

 

Snowy Fun in Winter

February 1st, 2008

     We awoke to a snowy landscape, and one of those quiet days when it’s nice to enjoy being at home.  After a big breakfast, I spent a couple hours outside clearing the driveway with the tractor.   With enough wind, we have drifts at various places in the driveway, and I’m thankful the tractor really clears the snow.  Mom and the boy stayed inside baking fresh bread- yum!  But then it was time to play…  So as the sun came out we bundled up again to enjoy some fun in the snow. 

The Yellow Lab had some fun of his own… he loves the snow and ran around in circles as fast as he could, and then ran again for hundreds of yards kicking up the snow.  He was smiling the whole time!

Yellow lab running in the snow

“Look at me!” the boy says, enjoying the powdery snow. We pulled a sled around the property trying out the hills. 

Fun in the snow for a young boy

But fresh snow is always good for a snow angel!

Snow Angel

Our Labrador Retriever “pup” is so goofy… and look at him jump!  He leaps into the air and goes crazy chasing snowballs.  Now when you throw a snowball and it lands, well… in the snow, it’s kind of hard to find!  But the dog doesn’t know that- he tries to catch it, then runs in circles looking for it after it squishes into powder!  It’s so funny…

Yellow Lab jumps after snowball in winter

The Basset Hound and Shiba Inu watched the Labrador jumping after snowballs, wondering “What is he doing?!  Do they really taste that good?!”

Basset Hound and Shiba Inu watch the crazy Labrador

There’s something about sunlight and shadows on the snow.  It was a fun day and the landscape was beautiful.  

Winter afternoon

Pinewood Derby Fun

January 29th, 2008

We’ve been fortunate to have a few unseasonably warm days to enjoy being outside. A cold front returns tonight but not before I hope to get a little more work accomplished. It was a busy, fun weekend however. The annual Pinewood Derby was held for the Cub Scouts, and everyone had a lot of fun. Our young Tiger Cub enjoyed it tremendously- it was the first Pinewood Derby for any of us. We built a neat little car together, and it did pretty well overall. Not a first-place finisher, but a respectable fourth out of nine in his den. All the boys received ribbons for making a car and participating, and it was exciting to watch.

The Cub Scout Pack purchased a nice aluminum track last year from donations raised by local business. With a good track, the race becomes more fair for all the kids. Previously they had an old, bumpy wood track that would throw cars off during the race. Pinewood Derby cars only “race” with the aid of gravity, and must meet certain specifications as to size and weight. The physics of optimal car design is quite interesting, and takes a lot of detail work in order to have a really fast car. Otherwise, the car design is left up to the kids, usually with the help of the parent. Of course some parents take it far too seriously, but that’s true with everything I suppose. This track could race two cars at once, but some Pinewood Derby races involved 4-6 cars at a time, using electronic timers at the finish line! We used two volunteer off-duty police officers at the finish line to rule on the winning cars.

Pinewood Derby track set up before the race

Our Tiger Cub’s car is on the right, getting ready to race.

A front view of two pinewood derby cars at the starting line

Here’s a side view about to race a larger bright red car – the bright red car took “Best in Show” but the young boy’s “puppy car” was faster! (See the little puppy in the window?!)

Pinewood derby cars getting ready to race

The third place race was a tie the first time, so they ran another race. In the next race our scout’s car zoomed side-by-side down the track against his competitor, and was nudged out of third place by a nose. It was fun to watch!

Pinewood cars racing down the track

 

     It was a nice time for everybody, if not a little crazy after 3 hours! The kids especially enjoyed it, and it was nice to see them learn about sportsmanship and cheering for each other, as well as the fastest cars. It’s mostly about working together to create something, and then see a tangible result of that effort when competing with other boys and cars. It’s really not about winning, although everyone wants to win and get a trophy. But I think the lessons are valuable, and most of the boys realize that the reason the fastest cars won was because they were the most carefully designed with the most amount of effort put into them.

     So much of scouting involves learning how effort can translate to achievement in life no matter what the undertaking. We also help the kids understand how they can be proud of themselves for a job well done regardless of the outcome, to feel good about the success of others, and to enjoy participating and sharing with friends. So many other lessons that I’m sure some of you could explain too.  If you’ve had a Pinewood Derby story we would love to hear about it! There was also an award for the “Most Creative” car design which happened to be a very slow car, but one carved and painted as a fire engine that a boy took a lot of time to make. Next year we may have a “Turtle Race” for the slower cars… :)

 

Yellow Lab at 15 Months

January 23rd, 2008

     It’s hard to believe the yellow Labrador Retriever is 15 months old now.  Actually, it seems like he’s been part of the family for a very long time.  He and the young boy are best friends, and just love to romp and play together. 

We don’t get out as much right now when it’s incredibly cold.  Well, perhaps the dog does, but we don’t train as much as when it’s warmer.  The cold doesn’t bother him a bit however, and last week we even did some retrieves in the cold water of the pond.  He didn’t mind and was ready for more.   

But while we’ve been spending more time indoors perhaps, I’ve found that I need a ready supply of “chewy toys” on hand.  Now a lot of dogs like to chew, no question. 

I’ve met few dogs that have the single-mindedness of this Labrador when he sets to work on chewing something.  And it doesn’t last long!  I bought one of those indestructible chew toys at a pet store the other day… it’s already in pieces.  I don’t know what the best thing is, but we’ve found that thick rawhide chews last the longest.  Maybe 2-3 days each, but that’s better than most of the other items.

Do you have a favorite item that your dog, or your Labrador can chew… and that lasts?   I’d love to know.   Oh, I bought him a nice thick real bone to chew on… about 18 inches long.  He doesn’t chew that much, but likes to carry it around a lot- and he has a penchant for dropping things from the top of the stairs so he can run down to chase it.   Well, he did that the other day with the big hard bone… Crash!  That got my attention… I heard the bone hit the wall across the bottom of the stairs… he just looked at me as if to say, “Wow! That was cool!”

As much as he loves to run and play, he’s also a gentle, good-natured dog.  No pretense… just an honest dog that loves to follow you around.  Oh, and eat whatever you do… he’d be a regular garbage disposal if I let him. 

He’s a loving, goofy animal that seems to fit in pretty well around here.  Doesn’t say much for me perhaps!

Yellow Labrador Retriever at 15 months.

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