Sunday, May 30, 2010

camping sans gloves

Every year, a group of friends gets together and camps on the Anchor River, about 20 miles up the road from here. It's not exactly remote - if you forget diapers, they are a 5 minute drive up the road. But it usually is an experience because 1. any time you disrupt the status quo of sleeping arrangements with kids, it's wild; and 2. it is usually about 40 degrees and raining.

But not this year! Glorious sunshine beamed down on Homer most of the week, and the camping trip on Friday night was no exception. This year was different, of course, because it was just me and the kids. And also because I had absolutely no time to prepare. I did pitch the tent in the yard in advance, just to make sure I could figure it out. And we threw a few things on the table the night before. Then, worked all day Friday and left around 4:30- grabbed the kids, some camping groceries, and headed to Anchor Point. I have never in all my uber-planning life, been so carefree about this sort of thing. Last year, I took the pack-n-play crib, for reference. But this year, it worked marvelously. No one went without, I even remembered things like a knife and a spatula and a grill to cook burgers on, and off we went. The other thing I did differently was not bother trying to put the kids to bed until well past 10 -for Liam - and not at all - for Thea. I just let her fall asleep in my arms, which she did around midnight. Everyone was sleepy the next day, but we all had a good time. And there is something wonderful about snuggling in a tent with your children all cuddled around you. It's good stuff. Thea has been asking to "go campin' 'gain soon" ever since.And Liam spent most of the weekend tending the fire. Go figure.

We came home Saturday night because there was so much to do around the house, I couldn't see spending two nights out there. Sunday was a full day of cleaning and laundry and housekeeping and a dump run, etc., etc. I also installed the dripline system in the greenhouse, which kinda works, but leaks a bit - I need to work on that. Using regular black pipe instead of mainline was only slightly successful. Monday, I rented the rototiller from Ulmer's and set to work breaking new ground on a 75x25-foot garden in front of the hoopy house. It went pretty well, and by evening, I had hilled and planted the whole thing, though sore doesn't even begin to describe how I felt the next day.

Then, on Wednesday, it was time to take on the task of cutting fence posts. I bought this chainsaw a month ago and hadn't touched it since - but yesterday, I was determined to give it a try. Of course, I immediately flooded the thing, but learned how to clean it out and got it running and limbed a couple trees Eric and I cut down earlier in the spring. Then, after the kids were in bed, I went out and cut down four more trees, got the posts in the ground, got the fish net over them, and collapsed in a heap at midnight. Long days. Thea slept in till 8 a.m. - glorious.

Liam has been doing Pier One Youth Theatre camp this summer, and really seems to be enjoying it. They get to learn all the theater terms and go up in the lighting booth and make sets come alive. They also do a lot of stuff on stage - learning to speak in front of an audience, playing games that teach them to remember long lists of items... it's pretty cool. They also do an exercise where they try to hit the note that Kathleen, the instructor, plays. Today, she casually said, "I'm sure you know this, but Liam has perfect pitch." Aaaaaaaa. Now, what do I do with that little nugget of information.

Onward ho.

Monday, May 24, 2010

stepping up

Today was Liam's stepping up day ceremony at McNeil Canyon Elementary. It involves physically stepping up to the next tier of the bleachers where they sit for events. The sixth grade students have a big celebration, but each grade is honored by moving up a rung, so to speak. It could have been a long and tedious presentation of honors and awards, but Liam's face when he "stepped up" made it all worthwhile. He was absolutely thrilled. Then he reached over to his friend, Sam Banks, and gave him a great big hug. I cannot tell you how proud of this little guy I am. Today, as we were driving out of town to pick up some wood, we were talking about something and he reached forward and squeezed my shoulder. How it is that this person has evolved this way, I just don't know. But I am immensely proud and grateful to see what a warm, loving person he is.

This week, like the ones before it for the past month, was jam-packed with layer upon layer of work. The chickens needed to get out of the house, and my friend Mo offered up her chicken coop, which was once a loft at McNeil Canyon. As such, it was built with great sturdiness. And sturdy is not the easiest thing to take apart. In the middle of that project, I managed to lose the keys to the truck, so the next day, Craig came down and did the final destruction with me and drove the pieces up the hill. Then came two days of construction, which I did all by myself. I learned two things from the experience. 1. Do not balance 2x6 beams on top of posts and then try to reposition the post while your head is under the 2x6. It hurts for days and days and gives you nightmares about blood clots and such. 2. Sawz-Alls are the BOMB! I'm completely in love with them. When I checked them this morning, they were even moving around the area a bit more after a couple days huddling under the lights in shock.

The Hoopy House is proving pretty successful all in all. I need to order a window that opens and closes automatically but otherwise, things are pretty good. Some of the starts went a bit shocky, but mostly they seem to be recovering. And some of the plants are loving it. Lettuce and spinach I planted from seed are starting to sprout, but no sign of the beans or the carrots yet.
The weatherizing project is moving along fairly well, with 2 out of 4 walls done. The interior needs to be a priority again, but I'll get on that shortly. I spent this morning clearing out shed and mud room area so I could get at the floor board and find out what kind of foundation was under there. I'm afraid. Last night, I picked up half the boards for the siding from Small Potatoes - Steve is awesome. I was out stickering the wood until 10 p.m. and my back is torqued because of it, for sure. But progress doesn't happen without a lot of sweat. So sweat it is.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

how does your hoopy house grow

So this year, after a decade of all-but-failed attempts at gardening, I decided to build a hoop house - or as my friend calls it, a hoopy house. I've been researching and collecting materials for it for months now and spent the last two weeks installing the thing. It's built out of 3/4" pvc pipe and 6ml visquine. I built the boxes out of rough-cut, which I know I will have to replace later, but it was the thing to do for this year. I built the frame and put the plastic up a week or so ago, so the ground below has been warming (thawing) ahead of the outer ground, which is still frozen pretty much solid. I tilled the earth below the raised beds and took out as much of the fireweed roots and debris as I could.
As I was doing this, I discovered planks and wire - evidence that former residents had worked this same soil at one time. One of the planks lined up exactly with the spot I was putting my boards down along. Eerie.
Last week, I finally managed to get a load of fishy peat delivered - which is extravagant, but now that I realize how much soil I have, I'm glad I did it. It would have taken forever with the pick-up. It did take quite a bit of doing to transport the dirt from the road, where I had it unloaded, to the hoopy house - I did this by loading up a sled a zillion times and dragging it across the 3 feet of snow and then the melted new exterior garden area. It took more than 20 trips, but worked pretty well, actually. By noon, the soil was in place, Thea and Liam had finally given up trying to extract food or attention from me and had immersed themselves in a mud puddle, and the sun was shining on the whole operation Saturday. So when Thea went down for her nap, I decided to plant. Starts and seeds flew, and pretty soon, the beds were full. It was a beautiful sight and one I'd been working toward for months. Liam was pretty excited, too, pitching in with putting the starts in the holes and watering after me. We'll see how it goes from here, but so far, it looks good.
The chickens, however, are another story. I had several die last week from some strange nervous system disorder, and many more were walking funny. So I asked at the store where I bought them and was recommended some vitamin powder. Got the powder, and then misread the mixing instructions, which resulted in feeding the birds some obviously toxic drink. It took me a day to catch on, and I lost 4 more yesterday and today and at least two more are on their way out. I think I will buy 10 more as soon as I get this lot outside and see if I can do a better job the second time around. Liam was quite upset about it all today - said he didn't like to see animals hurting and dying. I said I agreed with him, though we were eventually going to kill them to eat them. He said he understood that, but this was different. We'll see. Thea had a different reaction - she was all empathy, wanting to help care for the birds, etc. It was very interesting to see.
This was the first week of the new summer schedule, where I have them every other weekend and Wed-Friday each week, so five days one week, three the next - in theory. This week was a 5-day week, and I quite enjoyed having the crew for a longer stretch of time. I got a chance to relax into a routine with them more, and we had a lot of fun, though much of it was stolen moments between projects and work. We did go to a marimba concert on Friday night at Liam's school, which was awesome. Thea danced her socks off, literally, and Liam got so overheated from running around the school breakdancing that I had to make him sit a song out and cool off. Youzers.
I've really noticed Thea's intellectual development shifting the past couple weeks - she seems to be developing more of an imagination - I see a lot more creativity in her play, and her sense of humor, which has always been at the forefront, has also expanded. She just loves getting a laugh.
This is Liam's last full week of school before he shifts over to his summer schedule. It's going to be nice to have a more relaxed morning, and I won't miss having to drive to McNeil every morning for the next three months, that's for sure. But he gets so much from school, I worry about him being stimulated enough. He got to tour the first grade classroom last Friday and you should have HEARD the steady stream of information about this new level he gave me when he got off the bus. I've rarely heard him that excited, but you could tell he was looking forward to the challenge. I'm excited for him. Onward and upward.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Liam's theatre debut

It has been apparent to me pretty much since birth that Liam has his own flair for the dramatic. That mixed with a more than healthy imagination has made for some interesting ups and downs over the years, but I always thought that perhaps these traits had some place - like on stage. So when McNeil Canyon was doing a drama club after school, I signed him up. Twice a week for a month and a half, he stayed late at school and rode the activities bus home, rolling into town at 5:10 or later, exhausted. I sort of wondered if it was worth it. He was humming songs and seemed to be enjoying it all, but...

So last Thursday was his performance of The Little Engine that Could. Liam was a toy soldier. He and his co-hort in soldierhood only had a couple of lines, and the rest of the time were standing around watching things unfold in front of them. But even so, Liam seemed pleased as punch to be up there, a Mona Lisa-style smile on his face the whole time, like he had discovered a secret. And at the end there was this fabulous dance routine, and Liam was ON! He loved it, you could just tell.

So I'm thinking it's time to get him into Pier One theatre youth camp. It just seems like the thing to do.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day madness

May has arrived, but one would hardly tell, or imagine that in a month, it could possibly go from what now feels pretty wintery, straight to summer. But it's possible. We still have four feet of snow up on the ridge, and the first day of May was positively frigid. I went out on a quick and unsuccessful halibut hunting trip on the bay and spent a half-hour afterward trying to warm up in the shower despite many layers of clothing.

But lest this sound negative, the Restino Residence is plunging full force into spring. Today, we were out on the deck by 8 a.m. riding trikes and sipping tea (I gave up coffee last week, so tea it is!) After the deck time, it was out to the site of the greenhouse-to-be to dig out the last two feet of snow that hadn't yet gave way to the buckets of coffee grounds I spread around in an effort to encourage melting. Liam had a great time sledding down the slope in the front yard, but Thea was having a rough day (belly trouble? Molars?), so she took a lot of cajoling. But I got the area dug out, then headed inside with the less-than-thrilled 2-year-old to make bread.

It's funny the things that are great fun and so easy to do with the kids. For example, "washing dishes" is such a big thrill for Thea. And she also spent a good 20 minutes mixing all kinds of trouble up with a container of flour and some water and oil. Simple, simple is so good.

Liam spent a lot of time today playing the fiddle. He really seems to enjoy playing it, and went back to it two times. So I think it's time to get him into lessons.

For Liam, social is the true gold standard of good, though. And luckily, this afternoon, he got to play with Trevor and Tegun, my friend Craig's grandkids, who were delightful, well mannered, and very happy to run around outside as long as they possibly could, play dress-up, and the all-time favorite game, maul-the-grandfather.

It was a good day.

After everyone headed out and to bed for the evening, I headed outside at about 8:45 p.m. to finish what I started, the erection of my new greenhouse, which I have been planning and scheming over for months now. I had glued all the pipe together during Thea's nap, and sunk some of the rebar in. All that remained was to finish the rebar, somehow move the entire structure over 12 feet and put the pipe on the pegs. Not as easy as it sounds. It was rather like trying to move a 25-foot floppy pile of spaghetti. But little by little, I managed it. I broke one fitting in the process, but that wound up being a good thing because it divided the entire thing into two pieces - much easier to work with. And miracle of miracles, by 10 p.m., it was mostly up - one middle rib still needs to be fitted into place, but the glue had to dry on it before I could put it up there. And it's not like that's it or anything. There is still a lot of work to do - two cross-pieces tether each side together like a tent, and I need to build a door, and window on each end. And then there is the small matter of the 25-foot trench I have to dig on each side to sink the plastic into. Oh yeah, that. But a couple more days of sun, and that should be much easier.

It's pretty exciting, all in all, to see one of my many projects start to come together. Gives me hope. Kinda like moving all my starts out into the existing greenhouse today - I covered them with sheets tonight to be safe, but I think they will make it through the night.

And then I came in the house to the sound of happy, peeping chickens. And all was good.