Archives for the month of: June, 2007

This is a photo we took Wednesday, when we went for family night.

The first part of the week, I was truly not thinking much about my guys. I knew they were having a great time, the troop leader is a marvelous guy, and even though it’s Connor’s first year, they are together.

Besides, the house was so quiet with just one small girlchild. Messes stayed cleaned up. I spent whole afternoons in the studio. I started to understand what it must be like in houses where the school bus comes.

Then Wednesday night we went to Camp Pioneer to visit, and I have been missing them ever since.

They ARE having fun, and learning skills — climbing walls, earning merit badges, playing cards, swimming, cooking under the dining fly and bonding with their peers in that tribal, lord-of-the-flies way boys do.

I had to laugh at how naiive I continue to be, as a mom… I had helped them pack little toiletry kits for the shower, sunscreen and bug spray, organized little bundles of clothes and towels, compass and mess kit, canteen and first aid stuff… even a duffel bag for dirty laundry.

But when I unzipped the tent flap to put in some fresh clothes and take home the dirties, it wasn’t the way I had imagined it at all. It was a chaotic, twisted pile of dirty socks and underwear, playing cards, candy wrappers … every gadget pulled out of its pocket in the backpack and stirred into the blankets. And dirty clothes hardly says it… I don’t know whether to wash them or take them directly to hazmat.

Judging by their mosquito bites and sunburn, they haven’t exactly been hitting the supplies very hard. When I tidied up and made their sleeping bag “beds”, I found their soap still in the wrapper, and Ty doesn’t seem to have washed his hair this week (though they swim every day, which is some consolation.) The tent looked (and smelled) a little better by the time I was done, and I am pretending that it stayed neat and tidy after we left. Ty had bought us all a gift at the trading post. Jeff got an eyeglass repair kit and I got a sewing kit– which I used while I was there to mend the ripped tent screen and sew a patch back on Tyler’s class A uniform shirt.

They were happy to see us, and told us all the exciting things they were doing, though Connor looked wistful for a moment as his parents and little sister climbed into the car to go. His big brother put an arm around his shoulders and said, “It’s only two more days.”

No way was Connor ready to come home, though — they do a lot of the learning-the-ropes stuff early in the week (literally, for the climbing and rapelling) and then the last two days they get to do the exciting parts. I’m sure once we were out of sight, we were out of mind again — though for the first time all week I woke in the night thinking of my sons sleeping in a damp tent on the ground, in the thunderstorm that was boiling up as we drove the hour home.

They’ll be back in the morning. Their dad is going to get them. I’m cleaning their room, remaking their beds, and making a good supper to welcome them home. They packed up their entire camp tonight and are sleeping in the open for the last night, under the dining fly. I hope they won’t be sucked dry by mosquitos by morning. Man, do I sound like somebody’s mom, or what?


At the Order of the Arrow ceremony, where the ceremonial rituals were racing the thunderstorm…

July is already this scribbled…

Janis sang (to my generation, anyway)–

Summertime, and the living’s easy…

Fish are jumpin’, and the cotton’s high…

Your daddy’s rich, and your mama’s good looking…

Hush now, baby, don’t you cry….

I was born 46 years ago this midsummer weekend. Maybe that’s why I feel such an affinity for the midle of June, the long days, the blue skies, ripe fruit, lightning bugs and quick summer thunderstorms.

This morning the kids did their homeschooling in the sun room while I made pots at the wheel I moved to the deck. Before lunch, Connor took an old tie-dyed sheet out to spread it under the mulberry tree and shake the branches. He came back to sort and wash a big bowl of mulberries; some joined the back yard currants and cherries in the freezer, and the rest became turnovers for their dessert.

It’s been a good week, the calm before the schedule-storm of boy scout camp, then my three week summer session sculpture course (at EMU and then up north near Traverse City, MI). I am enjoying the rhythm of days, and being home with my kids.

We don’t do a lot of school work in summer, but are doing some projects together that we didn’t have time for last year with my school/commute schedule. So little of what we do involves and “I teach, you listen” , and they usually work independently, but this summer we’re working on our ancient history timeline, making posters about geometry, and doing an economics study unit together.

Family and home life feel really good when I have time to do things well. Jeff and I took a look in the mirror and decided we’d gotten out of the habit of eating healthy, so I’ve made some changes that have us all feeling (and looking) better. There is a perpetually refilled tupperware box of raw veggies in the fridge, and everybody elbows in whenever I put it out on the counter. Fresh local fruit fills bowls on the counter and has replaced sugary desserts, and we have started eating smaller meals, 5 times a day. I serve from the stove or counter instead of leaving bowls and platters at the table, and we’re all drinking more water, all day long. We ride our bikes everywhere, including homeschool meetings at the metropark, saxophone and art lessons, the grocery store and the post office.

I am hoping, for my birthday, to get one of those rear view mirrors that attaches to my bike helmet so I can truly be a bike geek. I’m not quite ready for the spandex bike pants. Maybe after another several hundred miles of pedaling.

Last night my kids pitched tents in the back yard and slept out there. Connor and Molly were in the two man tent, and Tyler pitched the little dome tent off by the hedge, feeling adventurous and independent and older. By 11:00, though, I looked out to see the two glowing domes parked side by side, sharing a screen. I guess they missed each other’s company. They had caught fireflies and released them inside the tents, so when the lights went out the fireflies hung on the screen-domed ceiling and blinked their little lovelorn morse codes all night long.

Tonight Connor’s out there in the big tent with his sleepover friend Rhys. I had ridden my bike — trailer full of wet pots — over to teach at the guild, leaving them cooking kielbasa on skewers over the fire they’d built in the chiminea, and when I rode home late tonight (moon bright, and the evening star blazing away) I walked across the cool grass to say goodnight to them in their tent.

It’s the big square family tent, three rooms. They had a lantern on in the middle section and were sitting near one tent wall, talking, waving their arms to illustrate some wild dialogue. It looked like shadow theater, perfect silhouettes of two animated boys, projected in the dark yard larger than life.

Twelve is a good age. They are so excited about everything, so grown up in a lot of ways, but still boys. From their encampment in the wilds of the back of the yard, they are Lewis and Clark — except with a game boy, and popcorn.

Connor came out in his jammies to give me a hug goodnight, bubbling with enthusiasm that makes me wonder if he’ll sleep at all, tonight. “Rhys says this is the best sleepover EVER”, he said, grinning.

Life just seems incredibly sweet, in this solstice day of generous light and ripe fruit, warm days and cool sleeping weather. The kitten wrestles again and again with a tennis shoe, tantalized by the dangling mouse-tail shoelaces, and sticking her paws into the deep mouse-hole of the shoe’s inside. Her imaginary battle is full of prowling advances and hasty retreats, pounce attacks and wild, halloween-kitty sideways arched poses. She weighs not much more than a bit of dandelion fluff, but can thunder through the house making enough stompy noises for several buffalo.

My mom and dad took me out to Rosies for lunch today, for an early birthday celebration, as they’ll be heading for the lake for the weekend. They gave me an ipod. I am sufficiently middle aged and uncool that I barely know what it is, or how to work it — though I have the weekend to learn.

I was not tempted by the music as much as the nerd factor… my friend Regina told me she’s able to download and listen to lectures about library science. Me, I’d like to be able to hear the podcast versions of all the lectures I had to miss at this year’s NCECA ceramics conference in Lousiville. I always say (about homeschooling, or having kids, or whatever) that everything we choose, unchooses something else (often something of value.) It’s like that at a conference, where you have to decide between two rockin’ choices in the same time block.

So picture me totally hip… my flaming blue bike helmet with the little pointy racer thing on the front… my pee wee herman bike with the wicker basket, headlight, tail light, and bike trailer full of pots (or tools, or groceries, or library books, or picnic lunch) … a bright blue ipod the size of a graham cracker in my pocket, with earphones in my ears as I pedal down the road, listening to Ron Roy talking about glaze chemistry.

I’m off to bed. Tomorrow morning I plan to get up early and make pad pots for all the patient granola types who have emailed me to ask after them. I’m making mulberry buckwheat pancakes for my sleepover boys. I need to plant the six eggplants I brought home from the late season clearance of scraggly plants in a grocery store parking lot, feed them well and wish them luck. It’s late in the season to be just getting started, but maybe we’ll have an indian summer. Anything seems possible.

Then it’s the weekend. Crosby Festival of the Arts is always on my birthday, which is great because every year my father in law sends me a check for my age ($46 this time!) and I go shop at the fair. They were setting up tonight when I went to the gardens to teach my class — artists pulling in with campers, volunteers there to guide and help them, rows of bottled water awaiting the crowds.

My boys will be parking cars in front of my dad’s building with their scout troop, to raise money. Cold bottled water for a buck, and for a few extra dollars they’ll wash the car while their customers are at the fair.

Molly wants to make a lemonade stand Saturday in our front yard, to take advantage of the increased traffic during the art fair. It’s one of the “try it” projects in her Brownie Girl Scout book. Maybe I will set up some tables, too, and sell the two things that are always overflowing around here: pots, and books.

Good night.. good, short, midsummer night.

And God Save the Queen.

I was all but resigned to having lost my hive this summer. My queen was infertile or damaged, my package of bees burning out it’s lifespan, and a worker bee was laying only drone (male) eggs, so the hive was doomed .

I posted about the friendly beekeeper in Michigan who gave me a couple  frames of brood and eggs (female!), and my hope was that the current worker bees would decide (quickly) to raise a new queen by feeding a tiny larva some royal jelly.

It didn’t seem likely. They would have to somehow keep the laying worker away from the baby queen in her enlarged cell, or she would kill it.  They would have to work fast, since there was not a ton of uncapped brood (honeycombs cells still open and tiny larvae being fed).

Then the queen would have to leave the hive, mate, return mated, and the hive would have to go kill the laying worker who had appointed herself interim queen.

I checked a week or so after I added the new frame. I saw no queen cells being made, and somebody was still laying drone comb. Drones have no sting, and no purpose but mating with future queens, but they eat lots of honey. The females build honeycomb, tend babies, clean, tend and feed the queen, and do all the foraging to collect nectar and pollen for the hive. They are te worker bees, the nurse bees and the guard bees at various stages of their lives.  They only live for a matter of weeks, but the queen(if there is one) lays thousands of eggs a day to replace bees who have flown themselves to tatters and died.

So it seemed like I was losing a race with time.

I went out again last Thursday on a coolish morning, and didn’t see much activity in the entrance/exit doorway of the hive.

I was like a poster for how NOT to be a beekeeper. Bare feet, tank top shirt, shorts.  No smoker, no bee veil, no gloves.  But I decided to test the romantic notion that if the bees sense no fear or negativity coming from the keeper, they will stay calm and not become excited or defensive.

I removed the cover and set it on the ground, and then lifted each frame to check out the top two “supers” (the word for the topless, bottomless stackable boxes full of hanging frames of comb.)

Not many bees, but fresh lovely yellow-white comb was being built. I have been making changes to encourage the bees to build their own comb without following the pre-stamped shapes on the “foundation” (a sheet of beeswax in the new frame that they will use as a base to build from.)

The new, bee-designed comb is lovely, soft and rounded and organic. But not many bees, not much honey.

The third super down was full of busy bees. I pulled the nine frames out of each super and looked them over, trying to link what I was seeing with pictures in the beekeeping books. New drone comb… smallish bees.  Then — yikes, was that a queen cell? I found an empty cell that had been built out past the rest so it looked like a little igloo, with an open door.

I worked my way very carefully through thr frames in the bottom super. I found — capped brood cells! Flat topped ones, that meant female brood!

Then, for the first time in my life, I actually SPOTTED A QUEEN BEE among her daugters on the frame.  In the past, once I released the queen from her box, I never saw her again, unable to distinguish her longer abdomen and short wings among the wall-to-wall, moving bees.

But there she was.  My resourceful survivors had pulled off a successful coup, raising a queen in secret, and then assassinating the old drone-layer.

I grinned about it all afternoon.  In human society, a bad leader can be a tyrant or mismanager, cause social, political or economic chaos… but in the hive, no queen means no babies.  Like the movie “Children of Men”.  They’re doomed.

A new queen means my hive has a darn good chance, and that’s a happy thing.

That’s the day’s news. I’m off to get supper for the “dad” of the house! Molly’s peeling garlic…


This was our annual no-boys-allowed weekend at Camp Libbey, near Defiance, Ohio. We had a great time. We slept in the pop-up in the tent field, ran into some folks we knew and made some new friends as well. They had campfire songs, climbing wall and ropes course, archery, trail riding, speed stacking, tomahawk throw, hiking, an astronomy and a wildlife program, and we swam in the big pool where Molly passed her swim test for the first time — which meant the deep end and the diving board, with no “floaties”.

We saw deer and wild turkeys, handled deer skulls and live animals, and laid awake late at night looking at the stars and talking the way girls know how to talk.

I posted some moments below. Tomorrow we take my dad to breakfast for Father’s day, then Tyler is awarded his Religion in Life medal at our Unitarian Universalist church. Jeff has asked for pork chops with pesto and provolone for his father’s day dinner. Jeff’s mom and her husband have been in town/at my folks’ cottage this last week, and left today for the next leg of their trip. I’ll be back to the studio this week for the first time in a while.

Girl scouts rock… energetic, intelligent, “unaffected” teen girl counselors from the US and all over the world made the activities fun. They knew just when to push and when to step back, at the climbing wall, knew how to match each kid with the personality of each horse, and took their jobs seriously without ever losing a sense of fun. And they seemed to know every kid’s name by the first day! I was amazed at how many girls called Molly by name, despite the large number of brownies and girl scouts attending. I’d love to see M join their ranks when she’s old enough for a summer job that far from home.

Last summer, Molly took one look at the really high scary climbing wall and said, “No thanks!”

This year, she was up for it. She made it about halfway up before giving up, but when her spunky little friend Pilar made it to the top, she got back in line and climbed even higher the second time.

She weighs barely 50 pounds, but she’s a determined soul, my Molly.

I can see why the climbing wall is such a rich metaphor.

If you look too far ahead, it seems overwhelming and impossible… if you look back at how far you came, you get dizzy and start to think about how far it is to the ground.

So you have to just focus on that one next grip, one step at a time, always reaching just a little higher than where you’re standing now…

It was almost sunset and we were the last trail ride for the day. Here, Molly and her friend Pilar are waiting for the horses that would take us on a ride in cool, dusky wooded valleys, along the Maumee and the waterfall over the dam, and we saw a lovely leaping doe…

Here’s my girl at the archery area, next to the building where we petted a skunk and held ferrets, and the astrolab planetarium. Camp Libbey rocks.

A good weekend.

Saturday, Jeff and the boys went to church to climb the steeple, a tradition for those who have finished the coming of age program. It turned out the Old West End festival was in full swing by the time they climbed down, and they got to see a parade. They waved at the mayor, saw the Toledo Symphony go by on a flat bed truck, horses, and the Toledo Glassmen marching band… clowns, roller skaters, and the whole routine.

Meanwhile, Molly and I rode our bikes to the guild after breakfast to unload and reload the class kilns. If I had taken a picture for this blog entry, it should have been my view, following Molly’s girly little bike. She’s got a bright pink helmet, hot pink and orange tye-dyed shirt, sparkly streamers off the end of her handlebars, and her little tennis shoes just pumping away… she hangs a littl epurse off the handlebars with her treasures in it. It tickled me to see people in passing cars grinning at her.

The neighborhood still seems impossibly green, after a cold grey winter. We ride by huge clusters of fragrant, fist sized peonies, bearded Iris, and Stella D’oro lillies just ready to bloom.

Molly put on protective glasses, found a hammer and chisel, and chipped chunks of glaze off the kiln shelves for me while I unloaded class pots. Then we rode through the neighborhood behind the guild and visited several garage sales. (I had my bike trailer, but we didn’t find anything irresistable.) We ended up at the grocery store and managed to fit $115 worth of groceries into the trailer, including several half-price bags of bargain pet bedding. It was a tight squeeze! I am sure I exceeded the two-toddlers weight limit, but it rode home quite easily.

I worked in the sunny yard all afternoon, turning and harvesting last year’s compost and building another raised bed. I’m thinking a few tomato plants are just NOT going to do it, the way I had originally imagined. Last summer before I started school I tore out the 30X40 veggie garden I’ve had (in various sizes) since we moved here in ’91, but I missed it more than I thought I would. I was only considering the weeding and work, but hadn’t realized how much I would miss eggplant on the grill, tomatoes warm off the vine, and the way the garden feeds my eyes and my head.

I am thinking more about the way we feed ourselves. I have Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the new “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” book on my list of things to read, but haven’t managed to pick them up yet at the library. (I’m reading beekeeping books, mostly, and old Ceramics Monthly mags).

I have always canned and preserved, because my farm grandma did. And I’ve always loved farmer’s markets. But when I consider the stats on how many miles the food on our plates has to travel to get there — isn’t 1500 miles the estimate? — and how much energy that takes, it seems sensible to grow your own, and buy local when you can. Lord knows our local economy can use all the help it can get.

Here’s my disclaimer: I have no illusion that I’m saving the world with my tomato plants and my bike. I fire my electric kilns to over 2000 degrees to make art the world could live without, and sit here nightly typing on a computer that is sucking energy every night. Even Barbara Kingsolver with her year of eat-local experiments wasn’t willing to give up her olive oil. I’m good with that too. We all have to make choices.

And frankly, if one more person tells me what Al Gore’s electric bill is, I’m just going to lose it and hop down the street yelling WOOHOO! WOOHOO! WOOHOO! like Daffy Duck. Being married to an environmental biologist, I am equally disinterested in being retold Rush Limbaugh’s theories about global warming.

Everybody assumes that because we consider ourselves environmentalists, that Al must be our hero. The truth is, I prefer David Suzuki to Gore. I haven’t even seen “The” movie, though I am not unhappy about the conversations it has started. I’d love to see him go solar, too (I supect he can afford it) — but nobody’s hands are completely clean, really, and he hasn’t called to check with me.

It seems to me that the goal is to do something to offset the impact we all have. One could argue that Gore has done something to help the environment.

I’m sure there are some arrogant, granolier-than-thou folks out there who feel ethically superior to all mankind for buying hybrid cars and organic produce. I suspect there are some equally short sighted, self involved people who see the “Al Gore’s Electric Bill” information as permission to dismiss any concern about their own unexamined wastefullness, as well.

My feelings about the environment have always been part of my life, and not necessarily tied to politics. As a kid who read Ranger Rick, I remember taking a petition around the neighborhood to protest the clubbing of baby Harp seals. (I remember my neighbor Jim Bankey signing, and then asking with a wink, “If they weren’t so cute, do you think anyone would care?”

When the kids were little I had an earth day party every year. We read Denise Fleming’s “Where Once There Was A Wood”, and planted a tree, holding hands around the sapling to recite a blessing for it once it was in the ground. We’ve made bird and wildlife friendly areas in our otherwise suburban yard, and have always done busines swith or donated to earth friendly organizations. We worked with the urban gardens project, growing veggies in downtown vacant lots. So we were green before it was trendy.

Back in the days before Y2K when a) we were reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and b) I began to wonder how we’d do without the support of “the grid”, we used to have the occasional “Non-electric weekend”. We’d unplug everything but the fridge and sump pump. We covered the fridge with a sheet, cooked on the wood stove or outside. We made lanterns, played lots of board games, read aloud, and went to bed when it got dark. My kids still remember the experience and ask when we can do it again, but camping now provides that life-away-from-the-screens experience.

Sometimes I think the older I get, the smaller I draw my circle. When I had babies I felt so strongly about breastfeeding, attachment parenting and cosleeping that I was probably obnoxious about it, in retrospect. I also spent a lot of time defending and explaining our decision to homeschool, to friends, family and total strangers. It seemed essential to get past the misconceptions and stereotypes. Now, not so much.

Maybe I have grown weary of conflict. Maybe nothing seems so black and white in retrospect: every choice sacrifices something else, and people who have made very different choices than ours have raised great kids and taught me along the way.

But mostly, I think it’s that I no longer feel the need for everybody to “get it”. I’ll be 46 this month, and I trust my own instincts and experience. Our experiments seem to be working. I don’t believe that mine are the only answers, but I believe that they fit for me, my family, my kids.

I suspect our childrens’ generation will look back at ours, and be aghast at the waste. Financially we don’t seem to offer our childrens’ children much promise of retirement security or affordable health care. The resources we use so freely — clean water, air, fossil fuels — won’t last forever, at this rate. When my friend returned from a year in the Peace Corps in Africa, where people walked a mile for a bucket of fresh water, she was horrified to watch a neighbor hosing off his driveway. I suspect our kids might have similar feelings, remembering what we took for granted.

No, I am not wracked with guilt about every little pleasure that isn’t “green”. But I am happy to see the tide turning. I didn’t like it when my corny old Organic Gardening magazine became slick and expensive, or when “simple living” became a marketable concept pushing organic hemp eye pillows and flax-stuffed yoga mats.

But it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t buy organic milk at my grocery store; now there are
three brands. Same for eggs, produce, and free range meat.

I had a hippie friend in Eugene who had a two word answer to everything: “Tread Lightly”. When conversations turned to arguments and push came to shove, he’d say to the combatants, “tread lightly”. It applied to everything from road rage to logging virgin forest, from waking the neighbors with late night partying to flicking cigarette butts into the street.

That’s all I am after, with my garden and my bike. I’d like to tread lightly on my little corner of the world. I have invited a group of moms to make jam with me this month, and if it goes well we’ll maybe can tomatoes, or peaches together. Many hands make light work, the Shakers used to say.. and I grew up canning in a farm kitchen with my grandma, mom and aunt. So, yeah, it does my conscience some good, and sets a good example for my kids to follow (and skills they may well need, if one day we can no longer afford to pay a banana’s plane ticket.)

But mostly my bike trips burn calories, make Molly happy, show me neighborhood peonies and save me $3.40 a gallon for gas.

And mostly my garden makes me happy, and keeps me eating veggies.

And a kitchen full of moms should be a lot of fun, as well.

So maybe it’s not so much about saving the world. Maybe it’s all about me. I’m good with that.