Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Travel Journals

From a day in San Francisco to New York, Providence, and Boston, here are the kids' perspectives on our East Coast adventure [with editorial notes in brackets and photo captions in italics]:

The Academy of Sciences, May 21, 2012, by Grace [still in San Francisco]
Today we went to the California Academy of Sciences.  We learned a lot.

First, we learned about the possibility of life on other planets.  The sun is a star, there are a lot more stars, too.  Most of these stats have planets orbiting around them.  Some of these planets have a possibility of life.  Next we learned about animals.  Some amphibians can fly (or jump).  There is an animal called a dikdik that looks exactly like Nene (our goat).

As you can see, we learned a lot today.

May 22, 2012, by Eli
Right now I'm on the plane to Chicago where we will switch to the plane that will take us to NY.  In NY we will see our uncle whom I hope will take us to Madagascar 3.  While we are there I want to go to the top of the Empire State building.  I also want to see some museums and the Statue of Liberty.  Our grandparents are also there and are taking us to the 9/11 Memorial.

May 23, 2012, by Grace
Today we woke up at 5:00 our time to have breakfast with Papa's friends.  Next we went to The Rockefeller Center.  The Rockefeller Center is where you can go to the very top of that building (it is really high).  Also, a lot of shows are filmed there.

Second we went to the MoMA.  At the MoMA we saw "Starry Night".  My favorite painting was one by van Gogh.  It was called "The Olive Tree".
Grace and Sophia in front of a Monet

After the MoMA, we took a short walk in Central Park.  On the way we saw a really cute raccoon.  I named him or her Rascal.

Finally, we went to the NY Yankees.  Ben came.  We also got Cracker Jacks.

A Fun Day, May 24, 2012, by Sophia
Today we started our morning slow.  We woke up late, leisurely ate breakfast at a panini place, and when it started to rain, we went to the 9/11 Memorial.  We came to 2 pools each with a marble wall with names of people who died trying to save some 9/11 victims [and the victim's names as well].  The pools were the spots where the World Trade Centers were.

Soon it started to rain harder so we headed to The Museum of Natural History.  At the museum, we mostly looked at fossilized mammals, reptiles, and dinosaurs.  We learned about cladograms (the "tree" connecting everything).

We also went to the Tenement Museum.  A tenement is an old fashioned apartment for immigrants.  The one we saw had room for 20 families and was low class.  We only visited 2 rooms.  The guide told us the story of each room/family.  In the first room lived  a family with a mother with 3 children whose husband ran away in the great depression [actually in the 1860's].  The 2nd room had a family who loved the governor, F.D. Roosevelt.

Boston, 5/29/2012, by Eli
Yesterday we were in Boston.  We took a tour and went to Fenway Park.  The tour was guided by the father of my dad's friend from college.  We took a walk down the Freedom Trail and he pointed out things like the grave of John Hancock.  Then he taught us about the history of Boston: how half the city was water that they filled in, the history of different buildings, and historic events.  On the tour we were told how bricks were laid and about a sounding board in an old church that projected sound without electricity.
This is the pew where George Washington sat.

At about 5, we went to Fenway where we watched the Red Sox play the Tigers.  The Red Sox won.

East Coast Wanderings

We jet over western Mass with the fresh memories of a week of exploring and connecting.

We experienced the bright lights of New York City where we visited with my brother and were tourists.  So much of who we are as a culture goes through there and it was fun to see it live and share it first-hand with the kids: Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Pollack and Picasso and Ruseau at the MoMA, Yankee Stadium, the 9/11 Memorial, the story of the tenements.

Next, in Providence, we walked the lanes of memory at the alma matter, with the children visited the places of family lore: where Juliana and I met, our favorite study spots, where we went once to find the mail that connected us with home. Old friends of distant past returned hardly changed and full of familiarity despite the separation of 20 years, a connection and warmth still there.
 The girls at the mascot's statue, Juliana at her old house, and me at my old house (now partially a Ben and Jerry's).

Late at night when we usually would have long been to bed, we laughed until there were tears about topics best not repeated here. We compared life stories about things that matter and shared our perspectives from the valuable vantage point of distance, past knowing, and deep connection. These friends with whom we spent four close transformative years continue to hold a special and meaningful place in our lives. I believe they always will and I am thankful for that.

In Boston, we toured the sites of our American history with a fabulous guide then took the T to the heart of New England where we enjoyed a comfortable Red Sox victory.

Speeding home now, the last few days of homeschool await along with our final family adventure before we return to life in a rectangular home.  To do: backpack in the Sierras, send Eli to summer camp, start our transition back to San Rafael.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Did you see it?

We observed the partial solar eclipse this evening around 6:30pm from Muir Beach, California. 

All you can see through the eclipse glasses is the sun.  Without these you can cause significant permanent damage to the eye when looking at the sun.

This picture was taken of the eclipse as it was waning through one of the glasses lenses.
We enjoyed the cool shapes of the pinhole images.  Usually, its just the "regular old" circle shape of the sun.  Today with the partial eclipse, the images were crescent shaped.

 That is Eli's shadow with a bunch of pinhole images around his fingers and through the webbing of the lawn furniture he was standing next to.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Robablos Time Trials

The Snow Leopard Ski Team has stored their skis until next winter in favor of swimsuits and goggles.  This morning we had our first swim meet with the Auburn Robalos Swim Team.

Eli off to the races.

 Juliana was a timer and claims she didn't start the clock late when the Stewarts were in the water.  A likely story.

Sophia in pink at far end, Grace second from bottom in green/blue getting a late start (but she tied for 1st in her heat with Sophia in that race).

Grace and her friend, Shannon.

East Coast Trip

Next week the Stewyurt Homeschoolers take their East Coast "field trip".  We will be visiting three major cities.  Each child/student did a bit of background research and made some notes about one of those cities.  Here is what they learned:

by Eli
Population: 617,594
48.43 sq miles
Industries:  Some of the main industries in Boston are technology, biotechnology, trading overseas (they have a big sea port) and publishing. Boston has many big publishing companies the biggest being Houghton Mifflin. Boston also has lots of financing companies like Fidelity.
Climate: 10ºF-73ºF
History: Boston has had lots of interesting history. It was founded on September 17, 1630 by Puritans. When the British started heavily taxing the thirteen colonies and war broke out Boston acted as the capital of the revolution. Many historic events and battles took place in Boston such as the Boston Tea Party, The Boston Massacre, The Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. After the revolution, Boston became one of the richest cities in the colonies.

Interesting attractions:  Some Boston attractions that I am interested In are:
  • Fenway Park
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Science Museum
  • New England Aquarium
  • Skywalk Obsevatory
  • and a really fast boat called Codzilla
Famous Residents: Boston has had lots of famous residents. Some of the more prominent ones are Samuel Adams for helping write the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin for a lot of things, JFK one of our presidents, and Robert Frost a great poet.  

New York (click on image to enlarge)
by Sophia*
Providence (click on image to enlarge)
by Grace*

* These were intended as presentation notes and the girls apologize for some technical errors.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tiny stingers

Grace came in today with her Garfield book.  She acted out the comic strip that had her tickled.  Laying on the floor with her feet and belly pointing up as lazy Garfield.  Standing to the side as the onlookers, mistaking him for dead.  I liked that.  It was funny.

I sent Eli out to hang laundry and watched him stare out a while, then go catch a blue bellied lizard Rosie was stalking around a stump, and then eventually finish his job.

Sophia sculpted me some bee earrings for Mother's Day.   
And then we burned them black in the oven.  None of us can remember to take things OUT of the oven, ever.  So they looked like little houseflies then.  

And then like honeybees again when she painted them with acrylic paint.  
They even have tiny stingers.  

We're wrapping things up here.  The last 4-H meeting, the last math test, our last charter school day.

There are signs we're ready too.  Maybe just ready for summer, and less school work, less driving to many activities in one day.

Joey has shaved down his mountain man beard and big hair.  (I liked him sweet and soft and scruffy.) 

It's getting hotter, and being in this little house together can be trying sometimes.  Keeping kids on task, keeping order, keeping kids from fighting each other, keeping kids on time.  We clearly need to be outside more.

We've found homes for almost all the creatures.  The summer garden is underway.  The bees are looking good.  Joey and I want to put on swim suits too, go down to the river, and take some trips.

I think I'll miss the children when they go away to school all day.   But I'm remembering too that I like to be alone sometimes.  To make and learn things, and think.

I see the children becoming more capable and independent.  That is bittersweet.  I think we're about to enter a new phase of parenting, and I'm not certain I'm ready or willing.


Of 4H Economics and Yurt Rings

Tomorrow Sophia and Grace turn in their 4H "Record Books" which document their 4H work over the course of the year.  For their animals, one of the things they were asked to do was calculate:
(income or value gained) - (expense) = (total income or loss).

Here are their calculations:

-$270 for 9 months food  (about $30/mo--1 hay, 1 ration)
+$350 sale/gift of 7 goats
+$288 milk (about 2 gal/wk for 6 months @ $5 gal)

Chickens and Ducks
-$60 for 9 months duck food (2 bags every 3 months @ $15 ea)
-$4 for purchase of ducks
-$144 for chicken food and purchase (1 bag/month @ $15 ea)
+$180 duck eggs (approx. 1 doz/wk for 9 months @ $5/doz--that's 432 eggs)
+$15 for sale of ducks
+$360 in chicken eggs (approx. 2 doz/wk for 9 months @ $5/doz--that's 765 eggs)

Good work, girls!

In other news, Eli and I went fishing early this morning.  We were hoping to catch a fish, dissect it, cook it, and eat it.  We didn't catch anything, but it was still pretty fun.

Also, we got the yurt stained this week.  

Speaking of our round dwelling, I've been working on an issue that probably interests no more than one reader of this blog, and he already knows about it.  Nevertheless, it has been taking a significant amount of my mental and physical attention the past few days, so I will describe it briefly:

The yurt has a strong 5' diameter wooden "compression" ring in the center of the ceiling.  This is what all the roof rafters--that start at the top of the walls--connect to.  Above the compression ring is another 5' ring made of metal.  All of the external metal roofing panels bolt at their tops to the outside of this metal ring. 

The other day, while on a ladder inside these rings at the ceiling, I noticed a 3/8" separation between the rings.  Would you like to see a gap open up in your ceiling?  I didn't.  It was surprising and concerning as the rings are supposed to be bolted together and sealed.   Something had created a significant enough shift to snap all of the flanges that bolted the metal ring to the compression ring!  What could be causing this?  Maybe you would like to venture a guess? 
 Pictured: wood ring at bottom, metal ring above (painted tan).  You can see where the flange holding the bolt has snapped.  The dark brown caulking used to be attached to the wood, but you can see the separation that has formed.

I think I have an explanation and I am working on a fix with the yurt designers.  Let me know if you'd like to hear more as the saga continues!  (Spoiler alert/hint: everything should be ok and can be explained by basic physics).


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rocky (A story)

The hot alcohol stung my bloody leg.  A soft voice whispered soothing words into my silky black ears.  I slowly raised my head.  I was sprawled out on a fluffy pillow.  Food and murky water was set in front of me.  I suspected more medicine.

I had been a stray dog all my life.  I had been cut very badly by a sharp-edged rock.  Somehow, a boy found me.  He has taken me to his territory and helped me a great deal.

The boy has been talking to his people and decided to call me Rocky.  The name must mean he is planning to keep me.  Today my boy tied a rope with my name on it around my neck!



Having my boy means I have to follow rules.  My #1 rule is to be friendly.

One day, I was doing my rounds when I heard footsteps.  I raised my head.  Walking toward our territory was a golden dog.  Behind it was a person.  My mind started racing.  That dog had intruder written all over it.  I let out a muffled warning bark.

The golden dog looked quizzically at its boy.  “No Bells,” he said.  Bells sat back on her haunches and whined.  “Oh, all right,“ he said, “but be careful.”  Bells slowly approached, her feet softly patting the earth beneath her feet.  I let her walk into my territory.

She came to a halt in front of me, gave a yip and bowed down in front of me.  “He must want to play,”  I thought.  So, we played until she had to go home.  Turns out, Bells and her boy were friends of my boy.  And now they were my friends, too.


One humid fall day, my boy kissed me on the nose and with the word, “Bye,” he ran down our narrow gravel road.  I whined and tried to follow him.  Unfortunately, he looked back.  When he saw me he said sternly, “go home!”  So I waited for about 3 hours.  Finally when the sun was shining through the trees in hot rays he came running home.  

“I’m sorry,” he said softly.  “I was at school.”  I growled. “He musn’t go to school,” I thought.  

Next time I will follow him.


To be continued...

Grace Stewart


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Grace's Sketchbook

I selected these sketches from Grace's sketchbook.  This is what Grace often does with her free time.  She has been drawing the dog breeds and has recently begun to look at other details--especially of mammal faces and eyes.

Grace says she is working on "making it look real" and trying to "get their expressions."

Horse Study (for Mamo)

 Human Eye

It is a pleasure seeing her so absorbed in and motivated to do this work.

Proud Papa

Friday, May 11, 2012

Swim Team

       We just started swim team (the girls and I). Some days it is pretty fun but other days it is exhausting and I feel like I am going to drown. I am pretty slow at most strokes compared to the other kids in my lane. I am especially bad at butterfly, but I am really good at breaststroke. Yesterday we were diving off the blocks and each time my goggles were either yanked down to my face or filled with water.  One time when I jumped off the block they broke.
        I also hope to become a better swimmer by swimming 3 days a week. I want to learn new strokes and get better at the ones I know.  I also want to be able to swim faster and longer.


Visiting the Nursing Home

Today we went to a nursing home again with 4H.  This time, we brought the ducks.

When we got to the home, we observed that the animals there were Easter themed: chicks, ducklings, ducks, bunnies, and wiener dogs.  The only problem was that the ducklings were really loud,  I'll always understand why people talk loud after going to the feed store!  Honey and Ginger (our ducks) were very good, patient, and let the folks touch their feet and beaks without being bitten.

The elderly knew the ducks and enjoyed calling them "ducky lucks".  They loved the two 2-week old goats that another family brought.

Grace sharing Ginger with one of the patients.


Merging Time

Last weekend we spent back in Marin.  It was so fun to see friends and go to some of our familiar places.  Here are Juliana and our friend Juliette at Tennessee Valley Beach.

Back in Auburn, Juliana has been working really hard in her gardens.  We all spent the day there with her in celebration of her birthday.  The gardens are looking amazing and she has begun some of her spring harvesting.

I've been working on some small projects that have been on "the list" for a long time.  These include backsplashes for the kitchen and bathroom (using some tiles painted by Sophia and Grace), pictured below. 

Juliana and I also created a screen for the skylight so it could be open on hot nights without bugs coming in.  As is often the case with a round building, it was a bit of a challenge.  We were able to work something out with Juliana's fine sewing skills and some strong magnets.

As our time living here full-time runs short, I have been looking around for what needs to be done.  It will be a lot harder to complete projects when our presence is sporadic.  Conversely, I also feel like I need to make the most of my last days of "chillin' out"!  I think I have entered a wrapping-it-up phase:  I have visited Redwood and picked up curriculum I need to review for my teaching assignment next year, we have set a return date to San Rafael, we are starting to plan move-in work we need to do there, we are finding homes for the animals that won't return with us.  Instead of signing the kids up for Auburn activities, we are looking to Marin recreation departments.  The light at the end of the tunnel for the homeschooling assignments brightens and our end of the school year events--a trip to the East Coast and a week of backpacking in the Sierras--approach quickly.

I've deeply enjoyed this past year and found much meaning in it.  I feel rejuvenated.  We made a wise choice.  I have been feeling so happy here and relaxed and together with my family.  But could I do this indefinitely?  Maybe not.  Perhaps part of what has made it special is that it is temporary.  I am isolated.  I know my children feel that way some.  I miss doing my work in society (of course the time with family is significant, too).  I miss riding my bike to work.  I miss my people.  And being the dad, teacher, principal, counselor, truant officer, event planner and organizer, house builder, landscape developer, maid, and herder of children 24/7 is tiring.

As I start to move back mentally, I am reminded that I enjoy the challenges and rewards of my "regular" job.  Also, our recent visits remind me of how rich I feel to be surrounded by the community of friends and family we love.  

Still, being back at work and having so much less space and quiet will be an adjustment.  It feels unsettling right now and probably will continue to for a while.  Have I made enough of this year?  Am I making enough of my last months?  How will the return be?  My goal is to find a place where I can remember the peace, fun, and togetherness I have felt here and bring it with me to the rest of my life.  Part of that memory needs to be that even "living the dream" involves living--in all of its messiness and imperfection.  Gladly, both of our places will continue to be our homes and we will be able to merge them experientially and not just from memory. 

I've been reading a book (Hot, Mark Hertsgaard) that considers how the world will look in 2050 due to climate change.  It is pretty heavy, but I really liked this quote of Charles Darwin's that Hertsgaard
shared: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Stewarts have made some significant (in some ways, temporary) life changes this year and will be making some more in the months to come.  How will we respond? 


Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Today we finally launched our Mentos and Diet Coke experiment.  We learned some about atoms and chemical reactions then planned out an experiment.  Here is what we learned (recorded via interview):

First we learned about atoms.  Everything is made out of atoms.  When there is a chemical reaction, atoms don't change, they just reorganize.  Signs of chemical reactions are heat, cold, change of color, and a new substance being formed.

The reason Mentos and Coke explode is because lots of bubbles form quickly.  Mentos and Coke react especially well because of the chemicals that are present in both.  The release of bubbles is not thought to be a chemical reaction.

For our experiment we decided to test which amount of Mentos or other substance caused the greatest expulsion of Coke from a bottle.  Eli and Grace expected 5 crushed Mentos would do the best because there was more stuff and more exposed surface area to encourage reaction.  Sophia expected the 5 regular Mentos would do the best because when crushed, some material might be lost.
 Materials gathered and ready to begin.

Our basic procedure was:
1) Tilt (except for one of the treatments) and open small Coke bottle,
2) Add substance,

3) Wait for reaction then measure remaining Coke using graduated cylinder,

4) Record results.

Here are our results (note that we only conducted one trial for each treatment of the variable to save on materials):

Independent variable:                     Dependent variable:
What we put in                               Amount of Coke left (mL) and observations
1. Half a Mento                              157, Lots of bubbles
2. 1 Mento                                      151, Same
3. 1 Life Saver                                355 (none expelled), Very fizzy for a long time
4. 5 Mentos                                    119, 3 Mentos blasted out
5. Baking Soda                               279
6. 5 Crushed Mentos                      139, Lots blasted out
7. 5 Mentos (Bottle Facing Up)     135, Coke may have fallen back in
8. 1 Crushed Mento                        211
9. 5 Mentos in large Coke bottle (just for fun)
The 5 Mentos (Bottle Facing Up) Treatment

The 5 Mentos expelled the most Coke. This is because there were a lot of them (more reaction material) and they were heavier so didn't blast out as much.

Eli was surprised the crushed Mentos didn't expel the most.  We think it may be because so many were blasted out.  Or, it may be because some material crumbled off and was lost in the crushing process.

Eli also notes that it is interesting that the one Mento and half Mento did about the same.  This may be because that the smaller size was offset by the relatively greater surface area.

While we didn't get a lot of significant results from it, the 5 Mentos treatment with bottle facing up looked the nicest.

At the end, for fun, we tried 5 Mentos with a large Coke bottle.  It was pretty cool.  Mama thinks it might be interesting to do this test by measuring the height of the Coke geyser.  Eli thinks it would be neat to do this with a lid on the bottle that has a small hole drilled in it to produce a taller, thinner stream.  Grace wonders if we could find a way to catch what comes out and measure that instead.  Sophia thinks an experiment with vinegar and baking soda would be worth trying.

Sophia, Grace, Eli (interviewed by Joey with a cameo by Juliana)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Working like a farmer

Outside our window, a red headed skink moves like a snake through pink clover, chasing another.  It is hot, so he is fast.  Italian honeybees visit the modest flowers.  When I weed, I leave the clover.   I want the bees well nourished.

The children are at swim practice.  Grace is sleek as an otter, and Sophia has learned to roll her stroke.  This is another activity they at first refused, and now enjoy.  Like their play, The Hobbit.

I am home alone, enjoying the quiet.

I've not wanted to be inside lately.  I've been working like a farmer: weeding the garden beds, starting summer seeds, hauling compost, training vines up trellis, dreaming of the food I might harvest later. Snacks are there:  peas are ripe on the teepee, and strawberries lay red and warm on the black soil.  I remember the Thai field laborers, and wear my Chevy's birthday hat and long sleeves to protect from sun.

Grace has started a mandala of cracked tile inside the gazebo.  Joey nailed together a bench.  The roses are crawling up.  Also the kiwi vines: male and female, and honeysuckle.  I planted more peas, and sunflowers and lettuce around its shady edges.  Maybe I will rest here when the hot gets unbearable.  I feel myself completing a one year growing cycle.  I harvested these seeds last fall from our first summer garden.

Just now, I planted 2 long rows.  The first is corn:  red popcorn, giant Peruvian corn, and rainbow Inca corn.   Also a few pumpkins and some zucchini.  The second row is a variety or cucumbers and dahlia flowers.  This year I'll harvest the cucumbers before they get tough and watery inside.  Our worm compost was ready, so I top dressed these heavy feeders.  Then I cracked the hose off its connection before I could water them all awake.

I notice the bees have started to visit the watering stations I placed for them.  Shallow dishes with river pebbles to sip from safely.  The little golden toads have also left their eggs there.  Their tadpoles are tiny.  I imagine they and the fence lizards are my allies against some bugs.  I'm careful not to step on the tarps beneath which they hide.  I hope the weeds under are cooking into rich compost.

I caught a 4th swarm this week at Elise's place in Novato.  She is a science teacher at Redwood High School, Joey's colleague, and had been reading our blog.  It was waist high on a quince tree.  The collection went smoothly, just a few snips and the bees were lowered into the box still on the branch.  The rest marched in through the box opening.  Our friend Elena Pletcher is interested in keeping bees, so we moved Elise's swarm to Elena's San Rafael garden.  I opened their door so they could begin their exploration of the new place, but instead, sometime during the day, they all left en mass.  Disappointing.

Instead we'll install the Colfax bees this Friday.  They'll have had over a week to draw out some frames of wax and may be more apt to stay put.  They are also Italian honeybees, a smallish swarm, mannerly.  I watched them gathered around the door to their box this afternoon, fanning wildly.  Not sure if the box had become over hot, or if they were already making honey from their nectar.  There were good smells coming from inside though.  Like sweet baked goods.  Love them.  And I love that our friends will start with bees, and that we get to help!

That same day, Sunday, we witnessed something amazing.  The arrival of a huge wild swarm to occupy an empty hive that had been placed out in hope of collecting bees.  My mother's.  She'd stocked the empty hive box with a swarm lure (nasanov pheromone) and some old smelly comb from our abandoned hive.  It must have smelled like home.  We heard it coming first, and then they landed, and marched in in an orderly fashion, seeming rather celebratory, and continuing to make a great racket the rest of the day.  Bees for free, and good ones, many and industrious.  My mom, Bette Lee, had been wanting bees so badly that she says she feels she actualized their swarm.  Quite a few swallows seemed to have followed them, and have been swooping in to feed on the bees the last few days.  I like them better as mosquito eaters.

My mom, decked out to install her purchased hive.  Another swarm later volunteered!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Things you might not know about chickens

Okay, let's just get one thing straight: chickens aren't vegetarians.  I will tell you a story about me discovering this.  One warm summer day, I heard some complaining sounds coming from the chicken coop.  So, I ran up to the chicken coop to see what all the commotion was.  I saw Arrow (one of our chickens) running around with something big in her beak.  Of course, all the other chickens were trying to get it from her.  Then I realized, the thing in her beak was a tiny, grey field mouse.  I started chasing her to see if I could rescue that poor mouse.  Sadly though, she ran into the chicken coop.  She had run through the chicken door. I could not get in that way.  So I called Sophia she caught Arrow.  But by that time, Arrow had just swallowed the last tiny hand.
Arrow on the right.

Another thing you should know about chickens is they brawl.  One day I heard hissing and angry sounds coming from the nest boxes.  I rushed to the chicken coop.  Arrow was sitting on the fake egg and Pepper (another one of our chickens) was sitting on top of her hissing!  I lifted Arrow a little. Luckily, she had the fake egg and another egg.  So I took the fake egg and placed it in the neighboring nest box. Finally, I lifted the hissing Pepper in the the other next box.

Chickens are sweet, too. Once, we had these two chickens, one was a small chicken and one was a big chicken. The small one had raised the big one. So, naturally, they had a mother-daugher relationship. One day, the small chicken saw a bug. Then, she called her daughter over to eat it.
Daughter Miel (RIP)


Our Play

In a few months Grace and I will be participating in The Hobbit. For those of you who are not familiar with The Hobbit, it is a play that is not to easy to explain, so read the book.  Grace is a troll (19 lines) and a dragon (? lines).  I am a troll (20 lines) names Pug who is the troll who catches Bilbo (played by our friend in real life), the Hobbit.

If you would like to attend here is some info:
Time(s): Call in a month.
Place: Music and More Theater in Auburn.
Day: July 14-15.
What not to do: Watch movie before our play.

I wrote "call in a moth" because there is still some confusion about summer leaving times.  The Hobbit might have to change her flight.

By Sophia

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brain-eating larvae

I won't say too much more about all the bee activity this week. 

Well, maybe I will.

I've included a blurry photo of a swarm taken out of Tom's redwood tree in Auburn.  Thank you, Tom!  They are very nice bees, and seem to be doing well. 

In collecting the swarms, it's been pretty sweet talking to folks about the bees-- neighbors and passersby get curious to see us in our protective suits, and creep up for closer inspection.  People seem to have a natural fascination with bees.  And with some information, seem less afraid, and appreciative.  Bees ARE pretty amazing. 
Tom's bees venturing out from their swarm box in the orchard.  I later moved them into a wooden hive box.

Almost all seem to know about colony collapse disorder, and the troubles bees are having these days.  One in two hives do not survive each winter, sadly.  Is it pesticides, or the 2 kinds of mites that parasitize them, the wax moths, or hive beetles, or nosema, or foul brood, or that crazy zombie fly that lays brain-eating larvae that destroy a bees' ability to orient home?   

It's not easy for the honeybees these days.  Scientists are doing great work to puzzle out the issues.  We rely on the bees to pollinate many of of our crops, so our continued health may require prioritizing this issue. 

 The copper top roof Grace painted for Tom's swarm (pretty, right?)

A few of the bee-curious neighbors we encountered this week thanked us, which is sweet.  It's been our good fortune to collect free bees (3 swarms so far), which we hope will work our vegetable gardens, and God willing, produce surplus honey enough for us to take a little.  Beekeeping appeals to our do-it-yourself, homesteading impulse.  It's been fun to collect local bees, to build/ assemble the hive equipment as a family, research their natural history, peer into their boxes, see them working the flowers...I'm feeling quite passionate about bees this Spring.   They have been MY home school topic of choice.

On other animal fronts, Joey caught an (adorable) snake we identified as a sharp tailed snake.  It uses it's tail spike to grasp the slugs it eats.  It's head was the size of a pencil eraser, so we all held it without fear of a bite.  I wanted to keep it, but the children said no, it would be happier set free again.

As the days lengthen, they've become even fuller.  I get breathless sometimes, thinking about transitioning back to our 'regular' life.  I've been so happy here.  But I was happy there too.