Tuesday, April 30, 2013


April 30

We are still in the sweet six weeks of perfect weather. This afternoon we head to the back yard to swing. "Spray us with the hose," suggests my first grader. She has 16 days of school left and is looking very second graderish.

I turn on the hose and begin to spray the swinging feet in front of me. My girls shriek an howl with joy. I've learned to keep the hose low and aim just for the tips of the toes. Last year there were a few accidental face sprays. No one enjoyed that.

Today the toes are pointed toward me and hastily pulled in. My little one almost does the splits trying to avoid the water. She has a look of wild glee on her face. Her hair is long and free today. She is so beautiful peeking out from her soft unruly locks.

Monday, April 29, 2013


April 29

As we leave our after school activity today my tired hungry girls stop to play on the stairs. These are the very steep, concrete, you could fall and really hurt yourself, type stairs. I so much want to hurry them along and get off these ramps of possible doom. But the sun is out, we are finally in the fresh air and they just want to hold the railing and play.

Slowly they inch down the side of the stairs. Their mood brightens and I am reminded that play can happen anywhere. These are ugly grey steps to me, to them they are a challenge and an inspiration. "Look, I'm a ballerina "says my little one pointing her toes. "Let's go all the way to the car without touching the hot lava," adds my first grader.

Ah, hot lava, I love avoiding hot lava.

Wet leaves

April 28

We were supposed to go on a nature walk with friends today but it is raining and pouring. I'm sure there is an old man snoring somewhere. We spend the day mostly inside enjoying our company and a BBQ lunch prepared under an umbrella.

After our company leaves my first grader and I head downstairs to check on the bird's nest she discovered a few days ago. We creep out of the basement and look up. Nestled under the deck between a support column and the flooring there is a little mass of mud, grass, and sticks. "There it is!" she whispers. We stand listening for a time but the rain is so strong that all we hear is the rush of water falling and running.

Our gaze moves to the impromptu river that appears along our back fence whenever it rains. "Let's go see our river," my daughter says. We pad across the grass and stop at our little creek. The water rushes and turns before heading into a culvert in our neighbor's yard. We wonder about where the water goes and how long it will take to get to the ocean. We decide that next time it rains we want to try and float toy boats and rubber duckies from one end of our yard to the other.

Heart leaf

April 27

All four of us are gathered in the driveway this morning. We drink coffee, talk to the grandparents on the phone, and watch our girls chase each other.
After a time my little one gets on her almost too small toddler riding toy and asks me to push her. I pull her to the top of the gentle grade, do an astronaut countdown and then let her roll down the hill walking beside her to help with braking. As we approach the hedge I cue her to put her feet down and she slides to a stop. After a few times with my assistance she is ready to ride down this little hill by herself for the next half hour.

My first grader happily chats with her grandmother discussing our impending visit. The chickens are asked after and I can see my daughter's eyes brighten. She knows soon she will get to hold grandpa's pet chicken on her lap. He gets on the phone and reminds her that he has set aside a patch of dirt for her to work in his garden.

My little one interrupts with a major announcement, "I found heart leaves!!" She presents us each with a heart shaped leaf, laying them out carefully on the bench. From across the miles and time zones the grandparents comment enthusiastically.

Blueberries in the making

April 26

Today we played on the deck and in the back yard. I noticed our blueberry plants are moving into their next phase. The petals are gone and what's left of each bud is quickly turning into yes, a blueberry!

I remember seeing the flowers for a moment last year and then the small hard green balls that eventually matured into berries. Today I am seeing the step in between, the flowers becoming the berries!

I hope we get to eat some of these little beauties this year. The birds and squirrels seem to keep very close watch over the developing fruit and know just the day to visit the bushes for a sweet treat.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hidden Flowers

April 25

How is it possible that this was growing in my garden and I didn't know? I remember planting this little bush several years ago. Every once and a while I would note only that it was not dead yet.

Today I glanced at the spot by the fence where this little guy is tucked away and saw flower encrusted branches where I'd only ever seen leaves. Is this the first year it has bloomed, maybe. Or is this the first year I have been outside enough to notice?

I bent down to take a photo and an intoxicating delicate perfume wafted over me.

My girls took a break from setting up their obstacle course and came to smell and study the flowers. "It's pink, pink, PINK!" shouted my little one. And off she ran to swim tummy first on the swing.


April 24

As a child we visited Yosemite a lot. One of my clearest memories was of spotting the snow white petals of Dogwood trees as we got close to the park entrance. The appearance of these trees meant we were about to arrive. "Dogwood!" my mother would shout. And after that whenever we saw one we would shout together.

I now live in a climate where Dogwoods grow abundantly. And so we play the game as a family yelling as we spot Dogwoods in bloom. Last year we finally planted two of our own, one white and one pink, one for each of our girls. As little as the trees are, they bloomed this spring. "Dogwood!"

More seed pods

April 23

Here is another version of the fluttering seed pod, this time with two wings to help it fly away from its home tree. This tree that looks red and orange in the sun is now eggplant and brown in the shade. The pink to green of the seed pods fascinates me. Where do these colors come from?

Today is another perfect day. My little one has the hose on and is watering the deck and herself. I step inside to get something and yes, she directs the hose inside too. Ah, my dear little water sprite, I remember being just like you. "The hose has to stay outside," I say. She looks at me with a wry smile. I shut the door and she carries on watering the side of the house.

Monday, April 22, 2013

New Growth

April 22

We did what I would call an "aggressive" pruning this year in the yard. There were some hedges that were getting so tall we couldn't reach the tops even with a ladder. So down they came, pruned to a manageable height. All winter I looked at the bare sawed off branches and winced. Would the plant recover? Did we overdo it?

Here is my answer: new growth. A sweet cluster of white blossoms and healthy new leaves. Things are going to be just fine.

My daughters chase each other around the driveway and I take a moment to sit on the bench and look at the sky.

Hummingbird feeder

April 21

"What does nectar taste like?" asks my first grader. We've just made up a batch and filled our first hummingbird feeders. The clear cylinders are carefully hung from metal stakes in our flower boxes with the plastic flowers pointing out hoping  to attract a passing hummingbird.

I give her a little taste from the leftover mixture and she smiles. "It's sweet!"

I tell them about when I was little and a hummingbird tried to gather nectar from the flowers printed on my mother's dress. "She sat so still that the hummingbird thought she was a flower bush. What a surprise when his little beak touched fabric instead of a flower." My girls look at me wide eyed. "Can you get a dress like that?' asks my first grader. "I want a hummingbird to come to ME!" says my little one.

Seed pod

April 20

We spend the afternoon in the backyard. My girls are involved in a complicated game of imaginary sharks and volcanoes. I am free to putter. I wander the perimeter of the yard observing the spring activities of our various shrubs and trees.

Each time a hint of breeze passes through the trees a shower of seed pods flutter to the ground. Like a single winged helicopter they twirl to the ground . I stop to take a closer look and see that these delicate wings are violet and pink. Tiny veins run up the edge of the wing and curve to one side. I hold one high and let it go. The seed pod begins to spin and the wing takes it away from me as it heads for the ground.

How does such an amazing design become so?

Red leaves

April 19

Not all the leaves sprouting around us are green. This beautiful Japanese Maple has red, orange, and maroon leaves. In the evening sun one branch glows as if ablaze. This tree is just outside our kitchen window and I welcome the colorful foliage each year. I now feel like I'm sitting in a tree house each evening as we eat dinner with hours of light still to go.

If we didn't have a clock would we be hungry? If we didn't know it was late would we be sleepy? The evening winds on and I know I should get my girls on their way to bed. But the sun is still strong and the air feels so good.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bird calls

April 18

We left the front door wide open this afternoon. "It feels so good out there," said my first grader as she came in from the school bus. After dropping her backpack and shucking off her shoes and socks she stood on the front step breathing. That she notices how it feels outside makes me feel like this project is working. She notices, she appreciates in her own six year old way. Warm spring air rushes through the house and I prop open doors to keep them from slamming.

We eat dinner on the deck again, plates perched on our laps listening to the stereo calls of birds calling from left and right. I need to learn which voices belong to which calls. They are so distinct and so clear. We are at a concert or listening to a conversation. "It's a black crested chickadee," says my little one. I must tell her teacher the bird lover this. The pipe cleaner/cheerio feeder she made at school this week hangs above us. "Look!" shouts my first grader, "Some are missing! They came, the Cardinals ate your food!" My little one smiles contentedly. She knew they would.

Drenched on the deck

April 17

The little bell shaped blossoms of the blueberries are still hanging on the bush. They have been joined by a mien of green. We turn on the hose and spend the late afternoon spraying and sprinkling everything on the deck. My first grader delights in making it rain. She drenches herself and her sister and they delight in the feeling of the cold drops on their skin.

Our deck feels like a tree house now surrounded as we are with leafy trees. We are outside but also contained in this special space. Our deck is like a magic fort. The water table a giant soup cauldron filled with flower petals and chalk. All sense of time and schedules disappears as we drench our feet and pretend to sip flower soup.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The sweet six weeks

April 16

Both yesterday and today we had nice long visits to the park. My little one and I took a picnic to our favorite local spot and munched as we watched the Canadian Geese and then spent a nice long time on the play equipment.

I grew up in a place where the weather is almost always perfect. So I never felt urgency to get outside on any particular day. I was outside a lot and the nice weather helped. My current climate is different. Right now we are in the "sweet six weeks" as I think of them. Six weeks with no heat and no AC. Six weeks of perfect, beautiful days. Six weeks to get outside at all costs. No jackets and no sweating. Soon enough the heat, and I mean HEAT will arrive and we will have to think about how hot the slides are before we head to the park. We will have to turn on car's AC before we load in, and it will never get below 80, even at night. But that's all coming, for now we are in the sweet spot.

Potato patch

April 15

We looked out the kitchen window this afternoon while having our after school snack and realized there are lots of little green potato plants pushing up in our garden plot.

We rushed down for a look and sure enough our potato patch is growing heartily. My little one grabbed the hose and I turned on the water. "I'm watering. . . I'm waaatering . . .yea." she sang as she drenched the little plants.

I used to spend hours watering as a kid. My mom would point in a general direction and say "Water over there today." We had large stands of bamboo that got very thirsty as well as many potted and planted flowers that were constantly being added to our ramshackle garden scape. I loved the feeling of directing the water with my thumb. I loved seeing rainbows in the fine spray. I loved getting very wet, very slowly. So today when I saw my little one get so excited to be watering our garden my heart sang.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Green green everywhere!

April 14

As we packed up to head home my girls played on the deck looking at the shells and other treasures they discovered over the days we've been at the beach. The day is overcast which makes it easier to leave. Not that we wouldn't love to stay for another week, or forever.

We have been gone for nine days and as we turn onto our suburban street I was shocked to see a corridor of bright green. Every leaf on every tree was new and glowing! Our pear tree is covered with full lush leaves, not a single flower petal left in sight. Suddenly my house is private, the neighbors hidden behind large swatches colored with the crayons that come in the big box: hunter green, pea green, and forest green. It seems almost impossible that this transformation has taken place so quickly. The branches were bare when we left. Bare except for little leaf buds just starting to show. It makes me want to set up a camera next year and take photos every day for two weeks to capture this metamorphosis.

The green is our new normal. In the fall I had weeks to become accustomed to the new landscape. Leaves fell and slowly the branches revealed themselves. But this is on a whole other time frame.  Instantly have a new background out every window. Instantly our outdoors have been colored mint, lime, and chartreuse.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Nature's playground

April 13

We found the beach the locals and the bird watchers frequent. Down shaded lanes with ancient overhanging oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss we drive slowly trying to remember the directions. We find the parking lot and look up at the canopy. The trees here have come together overhead and we are in a cave of greenness. The path disappears into the woods and we can just see marsh and beach in the distance.

We have come at low tide as directed. It turns out today is a very low tide. When the path emerges onto the beach we see a vast expanse of open sand dotted with marsh grass, oyster beds and rivulets of the outgoing tide. We walk near the first tide pool and see a swarm of tiny crabs run from us towards their little sandy holes. "They think we are birds coming to eat them," I say and my little one repeats this again and again.

We walk out across the muddy sandy openness towards the edge of the ocean. Our local friend said we might find shark teeth washed up. He also cautioned that we should not swim off this beach since the owners of the teeth might be close by. We are traveling light today, two buckets and binoculars. We scan the flats and see huge groups of migrating birds huddled on the sand. Closer we see heron and egret stealthily fishing with their long pointy beaks at the ready.

A quarter mile from the dunes we are at the edge of the tides progress. This space is usually underwater and we can feel it. This is our special brief moment to be here. A pass the ocean has given us. In a few hours, I think, this spot will be deep underwater. We find little straws poking up from the sand at the water's edge. Clams! We dig down again and again trying to find the owners of the tubes but they are too quick for us. We feel them just brush our fingers as they burrow away. "They think we are birds too," decides my first grader.

Sandpipers skitter along nearby and I see how their thin curved beaks must be just right for this job. Next time we will bring a little shovel. Our buckets are full of shells and sticks and mermaid hair.

As we head back across the wavy sand I am struck by the power of this place. The volume of water that moves back and forth twice every day, the hugeness of the sky reaching out over the water, and the vitality of the life teaming under our feet.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Beach chairs

April 12

We pulled the bike cart to the beach full of everything we needed for a day of fun. I'm not sure what the best part was but probably the moment we moved our beach chairs into a circle and sat eating corn on the cob and salami sandwiches. After lunch I read aloud the last few chapters of our latest Geronimo Stilton book.

If you are not familiar with Geronimo he is a mouse who runs a newspaper and has a penchant for getting into sticky situations. The books have the wonderful feature of having several illustrated words on each page. For example the word foggy would be written in a puffy grey font. The adventures are thrilling but not too scary for a three year old and my first grader can't seem to get enough of them.

After reading we hit the slightly bigger waves and pulled the girls along the surf until everyone was ready to go back to our little camp and rest. We ended our beach day by digging an enormous hole. We took turns lowering ourselves into it to feel the sea water seeping in from down deep.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Surf Taxi

April 11

We biked to the beach today, set up camp and hit the tiny waves. The water is not warm but once the initial chill wears off it is bearable especially if you are running and jumping. Because of the freedom we now have due to my new bike cart we brought our boogie boards along.

My little one stood on her board in the wet sand shouting, "I'm surfing!" I held her hands as a wave came in and her board lifted just a bit. She lost her balance but I held her up and we scooted a few feet across the water. She was absolutely thrilled. We played this game until my arm and back muscles were screaming for a rest. Meanwhile my first grader had planted herself on her board tummy first in a few inches of water waiting to be carried in by the waves.

My little one got back on her board and I pulled her along the shore in just enough water to be able to skim. Sitting on her knees seemed to work best and she adjusted her balance as we started and stopped. She did get a few good splashes in the face but it wasn't enough to stop her from wanting more. We gave her sister a ride on the surf taxi and both pulled with all our might to get her up to speed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Allie the Alligator

April 10

OK so remember when I said maybe we should start feeding the ducks again? Never mind.

This guy showed up today, or maybe just showed himself for the first time this season. He's about five feet long and looks like no one I'd like to get to know up close. I worry about our duck friends but they seem to know how to stay clear and have mostly taken up residence outside the pond.

Here is the part about being outside that is kind of the opposite of looking at flowers up close. Here is an example of an amazing animal who really needs his space. We humans have clearly decided we are going to build vacation homes in his front and back yards. It doesn't matter that the grass is cut, the flowers are tended and the pool is cleaned, this guy lives here. Welcome to my house, he seems to say. Healthy respect, I think. And no feeding the ducks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mama Duck

April 9

Hello Mama Duck! We are so glad you are safe and sound. As we bike by the pond on our way to the beach this morning we spot her. She paddles over quack quack quacking, clearly looking for food. We have nothing but praise to offer her. I imagine her nest somewhere close but safe, deep in a hedge. I send her all my motherly support. It must be a lot of work sitting on those eggs. She and her two Mallard friends get so close we can see the shimmering blue on the tips of their wing feathers.

When they realize we are not going to produce a bag of bread crumbs they waddle off protesting noisily. It makes me want to rethink the no feeding policy, potential alligator or not.

We peddle on relieved to have seen her. We are taking our new bike cart for it's maiden voyage today. For a long time I have thought that if I could just get my kids and our stuff onto our bikes we would never need to drive again while on vacation. Well today I found the answer to my dream: a sturdy two wheeled cart that attaches to the back of my bike. We must make quite a sight, me with my little one in the child seat just behind me and the cart packed with beach paraphernalia rolling behind. My first grader gliding along on her own with her flower basket full of shells rattling cheerfully at every bump.

Wind Chime

April 8

Today is my 100th post. I put up a wind chime today and sat listening to the gentle music with my girls. What does it mean for me to have been outside so many days in a row? How have our lives changed now that being outdoors is our habit and our expectation? I saw a great sign today: Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

Being outside everyday is one way that I can create opportunities for small moments of beauty and joy to fill our lives. Being outside connects us with the rhythms of the natural world just outside our door. Being outside gives us freedom to move and imagine, to look closely and across great expanses.

Being outside everyday gives me at least one moment when I stop, my head quiets, and I take in the moment. The moment of a flower blooming, the moment of my daughter's laughter, the moment the breeze blows just enough to nudge the wind chimes to sing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Pond Life

April 7

We now have begun our days in this magical place: the beach. We spend more time outside than in and I find it glorious. My little on and I start the day with a walk to the pond to visit the turtles. They are lined up as if in traffic sunning themselves on the shore. We can tell they are still a little slow because they don't scuttle right into the water when we arrive like they do in the summer. We stand nearby and watch them watching us. A couple of mallards swim up hoping for a snack. There is usually a female duck in the pond. We hope she is nesting, the alternatives are too unsettling to discuss.

Later in the day we see two young Anhinga's sunning themselves near the turtles. Similar to the  cormorant, Anhingas are water birds able to swim long distances underwater to capture fish in their long pointy beaks. They then spend long hours sunning themselves with their wings spread open. My little one has become fascinated with the Anhingas and regularly shows us her wings.

We look carefully for signs of the alligator who moved into the pond last summer. If he's there he is hiding well because we don't see him in any of the best sunning spots. We stopped bringing bread crumbs to the ducks and turtles last summer after seeing the alligator appear much too quickly for comfort. He was about five feet long and clearly could have come up on shore for more bread if he'd been so inclined. We now keep a healthy distance from the waters edge and enjoy the wildlife without providing refreshments.

Azalea Explosion

April 6

We wake at the beach and I am greeted by the most perfect white azalea in full bloom outside our back door. This really is my year for flowers! I have seen this bush in bloom once before but never on the day when it was perfect: every blossom open and pure white. I bring my tea outside and soak up the early morning rays. I look up at the palm tree and the ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

Slowly my family wakes up and we begin our first day together with no agenda, no schedules, no work, just time to play and rest.

When we finally get ourselves ready to walk to the beach to say hello for the first time this visit I see another brilliant azalea just around the corner from our front door. I'm not even sure how to describe the color: coral pink, orangish pink, sorbet? On our walk we pass bush after blooming bush in every color of violet, pink, white and red.  I feel like I've hit the blossom jackpot.

On the Road

April 5

We are set free on our Spring Break today. A week later than most of the world it seems but we don't mind.  We begin our trek to the beach just as rush hour is getting really going. My husband frets that we should have left earlier, but I don't mind. We are together and we are free for a week. Traffic or no traffic we are on vacation!

As dusk falls we stop for gas and dinner. The sky has been turning every shade of sherbet orange, yellow, and magenta as we drive East. We crane our heads to look out the back windows to see the unfolding sunset. Just before the sun sets the last rays of intense golden light shine from behind us directly onto the pine trees on either side of the road and it feels like we are driving the yellow brick road to Oz.

When we get out of the car the colors are starting to fade into baby blue and pinks. There is a soft spring feeling in the air mixed with a slight chill. I resist putting on a sweater and head across the parking lot in short sleeves.

Today our outside time is playing on the field at the rest stop and here outside the restaurant. Little moments to stretch and breath on our migration to the sea.

Cherry Blossoms

April 4

I am on my way into my first grader's school today and I stop dead in my tracks. A clump of delicate pink blossoms is staring me right in the face. I am pulled out of the rush of my day. For a few minutes I am still, watching the bundles of blossoms bounce lightly on the slender branches. The cherry trees are the latest to bloom in my neck of the woods and I find myself wishing I had one of these trees in my yard. I am grateful that here in front of the chunky cinder block school there is a tree so full of blossoms hanging just at my height. I'm not sure I've ever studied a cherry blossom up close. I can say that in my new found flower fixation, each new bloom is its own marvel. I'm sure I've passed these trees in the car each year and remarked for a moment in my mind or to my girls about the beautiful pink hue. But to get up close is something all together different.

Later we play in the driveway and we take a short walk around the neighborhood looking at cherry trees. Although we don't have one (yet) we can see four from the sidewalk in front of our house. We make the rounds standing under each tree looking up through the canopy of palest pink.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skate Party

April 3

I decided the other day that we should listen to more Disco. Yep, that's right Disco. What could lift the mood in the kitchen more than dancing along to YMCA? And better yet, we go to the YMCA often so it even kind of makes sense to the kiddo's.

I did a little music education and played Pachelbel's Canon in D as an example of Classical Music and then Take Five by Dave Brubeck to demonstrate Jazz. But the popular choice by far since that day has been Disco! We are Family by Sister Sledge, To Be Real by Cheryl Lynn are now in heavy rotation at our house.

So today when we headed outside to skate in the driveway I really really really wanted to blast the Disco for all to hear. It reminds me of the skate parties in the park I used to see as a kid. Music blaring, people sunning on the sidelines and in the middle of the impromptu rink,  a mass of skaters shimmying to their hearts content.

Next time we go out to skate the Disco is coming with us!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tea Party

April 2

We set the table for tea and oh what fun we had! It was a beautiful spring day with a little chill in the air. After school my little one and I packed a basket and headed to the back yard. We sipped our tea water and discussed the details of our animal crackers. "Where are the legs?" asked my little one upon pulling out a camel. "Tucked under her, I think the camel is sitting down," I replied and fished for a tiger. I brought out the sugar bowl and we spooned in heaping teaspoon fulls of sugar watching as it dissolved into the tea water. There were spills and slowly the tea set became covered in sticky sugary goo. But we were outside, a quick shake and the mess fell into the grass. Sure to make some ants very happy.

When my first grader arrived we flagged her down and she came directly to the back yard. We seated her at our cafe' and offered her selections from our menu. She passed on the sticky tea water sludge but enthusiastically finished up the elephant, walrus and two tigers. Our tea table is tucked under the play structure and has the feel of a cozy nook. I'm always amazed at how a table cloth can change the feeling of a place. Tea time evolved into swinging and sliding and checking the potato patch.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ladybug Girl

April 1

I am a great believer in the Mental Health Day. Why not have April Fools Day be one? After three days at home on a mini vacation my first grader went to bed last night saying, "I don't want to go to school tomorrow." This from a child who loves school. She woke up saying this same words and I paused thinking of the day ahead. What difference will this make in the long run, the bigger picture and so on?

So I hugged her and told her oh so tired eyes that she could stay home with us today. She smiled and stretched and snuggled under the covers. After about twenty seconds she jumped up and started making plans for the day. My little one was thrilled.

We spent the afternoon outside at a friend's house. The day lazed along nicely. We headed home just in time the school bus on its rounds. She would just have been getting home I though, glad to have had the extra hours together. Not ready to be inside we went right out to check our potato patch. No sprouts yet. My little one grabbed the hoe and started working.

My first grader discovered  a ladybug and squealed. She managed to get her on a finger and ran to show us her prize. The little gal ran and tickled to my daughter's delight. I am so glad she loves these little insects. As a smaller child she was very afraid of any and all creepy creatures. Ladybugs and butterflies are in a different category for her now. She found a grassy spot to let the little creature go. "I hope she likes it," she said watching the ladybug scamper away.