My plan for today was to take my family to Volcano to see the daffodils at Daffodil Hill, then have lunch somewhere quaint, drive through the countryside, and maybe visit Indian Grinding Rock. It’s a perfect day, cool with some cloud cover. The grass is green, the light’s pretty even—ideal for photos.
Instead, Asher’s sick. (I wish this child could catch a break!) Three of us are home; we let Lucas escape with his bestie. Ian is working. I will soon start working. We’re doing necessary things instead of what we wanted to do. It’s fine, really. There’s laundry and other chores …
Still, I’m feeling a little glum while the scent of lilacs wafts through my window. Thank goodness for lilacs.
We did it! We finally took our two kayaks out for a spin (really) on Lake Natoma on Sunday. A number of years ago, we were given two kayaks by my parents’ friends, the Joneses. They are sit-inside whitewater river kayaks, the really nimble kind that can flip over and back up, the kind whose pilots wear helmets. The first obstacle to enjoying this generous gift was we didn’t know how to use them. The second was that our boys were still rather small. The third was that we had no way of transporting them to any body of water.
So they sat. And waited.
We have a truck now, though, (we call it Bruce) and on a whim Sunday, we decided to see what we could do with these kayaks.
We also rented a two-man sit-on-top kayak for Asher to ride on. He took to it like, well, a little boy on a boat! He loved jumping off and swimming in the lake too. “Wow, this life vest really makes it easy!”
The kayaks we own have rounded bottoms without a keel. Paddling them in a straight line is tough. When I was piloting mine, I could go straight for a handful of strokes, and then the kayak would spin toward my paddle in the water to point in the opposite direction. This repeated spinning was frustrating. Ian had better luck than I did, using a ton of core strength and the foot pegs to counteract the spinning force.
Lucas was a natural, really. He has way more experience with this sort of thing than the rest of us do, thanks to summer camps and stuff. He piloted one of our kayaks with good success, despite the spinning tendency. I regret not getting a shot of him in the kayak, but I was justifiably worried about dropping my phone in the drink.
We learned a lot and had fun. We learned that this little lake is a wonderful local resource that we should use more often. We learned that mama shouldn’t leave the sunscreen in the truck with the snacks. We learned that renting a kayak is a little pricey, but very nice (and easier to pilot than ours). We learned that Asher loves the water (we kind of knew he would). We learned, again, that Lucas is a competent young man who loves a challenge.
So thank you, Joneses, for this amazing gift! We hope to enjoy these kayaks more often in the future.
This is my garden in summer. These photos were all taken between the very end of May and July 7.
This is, of course, the very best of it. We are having a terrible drought in California, and I’ve been conserving water. I’ve not pictured my yellowed lawn or the roses with burnt petals. I’ve not pictured the patches of bare dirt or my lack of much-needed mulch (where does it go?). I haven’t pictured how my hydrangeas have 90 percent fewer flowers than usual. Naturally, I don’t photograph the plants that perish. I kill things all the time.
This is the best that I can show in this hot time of year.
But I want to show it because I love it and because I have worked very hard over the last 11 years turning into this third-acre of weeds and potholes into my oasis, my home. This is my English garden, California-style, and infused with all the flare of a Brazilian Carnival that I can muster. This is what my dreams look like at night. A jungle of color. A rush of blossoms. A heaving of growth and urgency. A riot of shapes and textures.
I can’t explain why this garden is important to me, except to say, this is how I surround myself and my family with beauty.
We visited the Tunnel Mills campground in the Tahoe National Forest over the summer solstice weekend. A bunch of friends came and we had a wonderful group campsite all to ourselves. I never managed to have my camera with me when we were playing and rock hopping down by the gorgeous creek, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: it was a truly spectacular, magical place of huge, broad leaves, water snakes, clear, cold rushing water, warm boulders, dancing sunlight, and a million shades of green.
We had our Midsummer bonfire (which I wanted so badly), plenty of relaxation, games of Magic the Gathering and poker, reading, music and singing, shared potato chips, and friendship.
It was a little too chilly at night for my taste, but the warmth that these fine people bring to our lives makes it well worth it.
My Midsummer blessing for you is that you find the people who most uplift you, inspire you to be your best self, who understand you, encourage you, and delight you … and then hang on to them. Learn to be the very best friend you can be because love and connection, joy, trust, and forgiveness is what this one perfect life is all about. And we are all still learning.
It’s a celebration around here. There was a big class party for the sixth grade. The first graders had a swim party yesterday. They are done for the year, and are dreaming of lazy days of pure fun. In honor of this special day, the last day of school, I present this evocative poem by Whittier.
Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!
These little “postcards” from my garden were all shot within the last three or four days. I’ve been showing my garden in person to as many people as possible—to as many kind souls who will take a moment to look—but I also want to capture it here, to remind myself that I make my small square of the planet beautiful. It has come so far. This garden is a huge source of joy and relief in my life. It is source. It feeds me every bit as much as I feed it. More, really.
I could tell a story about ever single plant pictured here, but I know that’s kind of ridiculous. Suffice it to say, I hope you have enjoyed this tiny tour of the late April highlights.
We are in desperate need of rain here in California. We basically haven’t had a winter at all. Most days are in the 60s, sunny, and completely pleasant. It means that we’re out and about and active, which is nice. But our lakes and reservoirs are woefully low. When the high temps (100+) come this summer, we’ll be very sad about having had so little winter rain.
The sky is currently cloudy and we’re hoping that the “storm door” will open with a rain in a couple of days. We thought it would be fun to do a quick craft project to make a rainstick. Maybe it will help the rains come?
poster tube, or paper towel or wrapping paper tube
nails that aren’t quite as wide as the diameter of your tube
dry beans or peas
decorating supplies such as mod podge and tissue paper, or paints
The nails you use should be not quite as wide as the diameter of your tube. Nail them straight into the tube in a helical pattern all the way down the length of the tube.
Watch those fingers! Hammering is such a good time. Kids should hammer often, I think. Make sure everyone gets a turn!
You can kind of see the spiral pattern of the nails in this photo.
(My boys jumped at this project. I think it was the chance to use the hammer.)
Insert your dry beans (or peas or rice or pebbles—use whatever you like). We used dry chick peas because that’s what we had on hand. Once the beans are inside, place your hand over the open end of the tube, turn it, and listen to how they sound when they run through the gauntlet of your nails. Experiment with using more or less beans until it sounds like rainfall.
If your tube came with end caps, great. Ours had one, but we had to make the other. Using a pencil, we traced the tube end onto a piece of cardboard and cut out the circle. We trimmed it until it fit neatly on the end of our tube. When we were sure we had the right rain sound, we put on the end piece and taped it down with masking tape. Make sure both tube ends are completely secure.
Then we taped over all the nail heads all the way along the tube. We didn’t want any nails working their way out of the cardboard later.
That’s it. The rainstick is done and functional now. The rest is decoration! Asher enjoyed this next part a lot; 11-year-old Lucas was happy to let Asher finish it.
We used tissue paper in watery colors and mod podge to decoupage the outside of our rainstick.
After it dried completely, we added stamped designs, which you can see in the top photo. Alternatively, you can paint your tube with acrylic or tempera paints to decorate it, or draw on it with sharpie markers.
We hope this gray sky will open up and produce several weeks of decent rains. As much as we enjoy these short-sleeve temperatures and sunny days, we need to splash in some puddles! I asked my kids if they thought our rainstick would have any magical effect and bring the rains. They chuckled and said, “No. But it was fun, Mom.” Still, I’m hoping …
I’m going to take a break from all the winter holiday stuff to tell you about an adventure we had earlier this month. As a gift to my elf-fantasy-archery-sword-loving son I bought an online coupon for West Coast Falconry’s basic falconry lesson way back in May. I bought three coupons—our younger son is too young—and we finally were able to redeem them on December 7. OH MY GOODNESS, I am so very glad that this deal caught my eye because it was everything we could have hoped for!
West Coast Falconry is in Marysville, a bit more than an hour’s drive from where we live. We drove up with our friends Tate and Lady K, who also bought the same coupon. We all learned so much and had a blast.
We worked with Shvak, a Harris hawk. Jana is a master falconer and she has been working with Shvak for nine years. She and two other women taught us about the history of falconry (the earliest mention of falconry is from 10,000 years ago, in the Epic of Gilgamesh!). (One woman, Shawna, frequently teaches at Effie Yeaw Nature Center and both of my sons have been in her classes before. It was neat to see her in her element here.)
We got to see Shvak fly for treats (quail heads). Hawks are very careful about not expending energy without a reward. This makes them discerning hunters.
And we all got to call Shvak and she flew to our glove. Then flew to the next glove. She is amazingly light—only 2 pounds!
Whenever I held Shvak, I got that glorious heart-in-throat feeling. Being so close to a creature so wild, so exquisitely specialized, so alien and fierce filled me with exultation.
Here Ian is holding Don Diego, whose full name is Don Diego Alejandro Santiago Saragossa Inigo Montoya Del Gato. He is two-thirds the size of Shvak, weighing only 1.5 pounds.
Just look at this proud boy with Diego!
Harris hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) are native to the Southwest US. They live in the desert and hunt cooperatively, somewhat like wolves, we learned. This is unique among birds of prey. Our teachers told us that the Harris hawk has revolutionized the sport of falconry around the world, making it a sport you can do with companions. Other birds of prey are territorial and will fight.
We learned also that Shvak has a crushing strength of 500 psi in her talons. Learning falconry and becoming licensed is a very intensive process that includes a long apprenticeship, exams, and inspections. And a trained falconer must capture a juvenile bird from the wild in order to raise it and train it to hunt. Birds raised in captivity aren’t allowed to hunt.
Hawks fly low to the ground to take advantage of thermals before rising to land on a person’s hand.
This is a lure; it’s how the falconer calls the bird back. When the hawk sees this she comes immediately back and attacks it. This is the posture she uses when she takes down her prey.
She knows from training that doing so will bring yummy, organ meat rewards.
It was a delightful and interesting hour. I hope we can go back another day and either take another class or do the Hawk Walk. It is truly a unique and stirring experience to be near these birds.
Thanks for visiting! I'm Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.
Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.