Thursday, June 24, 2004

Highland Nights
We spent four evenings at the Highlands last week, soaking up nature, seclusion, fun.

There are no houses or farms nearby so light pollution is minimal and stargazing excellent. The milky way was so intense it looked like a cloud covering the night sky. Draco dominated the night sky - you could almost see him flipping his tail. We watched the moon rise and set. We saw the occasional shooting star.

We cooked over an open fire four nights, using apple wood from FIL's pruning last year. We are not big meat eaters, so the bacon wrapped filets were a real treat. Campfire cooking is a skill - small fire, large bank of coals, potatoes buried in the hot ashes, sensing when to turn and when to bank up the coals, feeding wood into one side of the fire to ensure a constant supply of hot coals.

Years ago, Steve taught us how to get our night eyes by walking us down a path in Turkey Run and then turning off the flashlight and waiting ten minutes. The boys were about eight years old then and were more interested in the static electricity caused by rubbing their knit hats on their coats than sensing the night. Since then we have added to our repertoire of moonlight activities. Monster tag, played in the moon shadows, has been a longtime favorite. Last week we added moonlight dodge ball, played on the barn porch, It was hard to see the ball, but we got proficient at dodging the ball by judging the general body posture of whoever was It. We unintentionally played moonlight tennis at a nearby high school, as they were rennovating the tennis courts and the electricity was turned off. We would call out when we served, but usually the only hint at the location of the ball was when it hit the fence. So it turned in an hour of blind serves and chasing the ball.

Music, of course, was part of the Highland experience. The lap or mountain dulcimer is perfect for quiet campfires. We played name that tune and listened to the coyotes join in the singing.

We've had this land nine years now and enjoy the peace and seclusion. However, the 70 acres next to us has been divided into four tracts and houses will soon be built. Our trees are getting big enough to provide seclusion, but I suspect the city folks moving in will install bright security lights dimming the night sky.

Monday, June 21, 2004

We're headed off to the UP, after Steve takes his final exam and we pack up the car. We're headed to our favorite National Forest Service campground on the shores of Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. (Yes, that Whitefish Bay, of the Edmund Fitzgerald song.) Heavily forested, secluded, white sand beaches for miles, half acre primitive campsites but with drinking water available. Sounds wonderful until I checked the weather forecast - highs in the low 60s, lows in the low 40s, strong winds, constant rain with a few thunderstorms. The campsites are right on the lake so temps will be lower and winds stronger.

So posting will be non-existent until I get back and thaw out my fingers.

SANITY UPDATE: After discussing the weather forecast, we cancelled the trip. Who wants to spend four days in a wet, cold tent with two teenagers, a lab and spouse? Day trips are in the planning stage now.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Teen Ambiance
It has been my goal to decorate the boys' rooms before they go to college, but my attempts have been foiled by their ideas of what their bedrooms should look like. I have given them freedom in their rooms, but I shudder at the thought of anyone going in there. Was this how my Mom felt when I was an early teen trying to "find" myself? I decorated my room in black and white. She let me paint the furniture black and make some really cool/spooky b&w jungle curtains, but she wouldn't let me paint the walls black. Of course, I wrote dark poetry in this setting. Lest I give you the wrong idea, I was also a majorette (what a strange word but better than twirler) and national champion of vegetable judging.

Back to the boys. A few simple purchases - curtains, rugs and accessories - transformed their rooms into male bastions instead of kiddy land. We still have to move in the bookshelves (from Great Grandma's estate) and chairs (that they rescued from my garage sale stash), but that will have to wait until we get back from vacation.
The Quality of Mercy
Recently a childhood friend wonderingly said to my sister and me, "I can't believe your family. Your father paid you to learn Shakespeare, while my father paid me for working in the fields."

That's right. Dad did pay my sister and me to learn Shakespeare. I was in the sixth grade and I earned a quarter for knowing "The Quality of Mercy" speech perfectly. And he made me recite it until I had it word for word. I can still recite it.

After Dad's death, Mom shared with us a collection of talks he gave each Sunday when he was Sunday School Superintendent. One Sunday he talked about teaching his little girls the Mercy speech. Here's what he said about it:
A famous educator was asked if limited to two textbooks what would he choose? He answered, "The Bible and Shakespeare, and when finished I would have educated men and women." In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare weaves into his story the conflicting morality of the Old and New Testaments.

The two leading characters are Antonio, the merchant, and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. To help a friend, Antonio borrows 3000 ducats from Shylock, who hates him. Shylock charges no interest but demands as bond a pound of flesh from Antonio if the money is not paid in three months time.

When Antonio can't pay, Shylock wants his bond--the pound of flesh. The friends of Antonio ask him not to be cruel and offer three times the debt, but of course, this is after the bond is forfeit. Shylock says, "I am a Jew! Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, cooled and warmed by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute."

Portia, Antonio's fiance comes disguised as a doctor of laws from Rome. The Duke allows her to hear the case when told she is very learned. To start it off, Portia says the Jew must be merciful. Shylock answers, "On what compulsion must I? Tell me that."

Portia then gives her mercy speech, which is pure New Testament:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It dropeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed;
It blesses him that gives and him that takes:
"Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this scepter'd sway,-
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this-
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there."

Shylock answers, "My deeds upon my head! I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond." Portia grants him his bond, but he is done in by the law and justice he craved. He can have the pound of flesh, but no blood or any more or less than a pound.

I bribed my children to learn the Mercy speech by heart. Not that they could repeat it word for word now, but that the thought and meaning would remain with them for life."

Thank you, Daddy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Baby Birds

A few weeks ago I shared that a house sparrow built her nest in the tool box in the garage. The two eggs hatched and Mr. and Mrs. Bird are busy feeding the little ones. We leave the garage door open from morning till night and try not to disturb them, but Ron is fascinated by them and gives us regular updates of their progress.

Ron's awareness of nesting birds led to another discovery. As Ron started to mow the far side of the pond, he startled a mallard hen into flight. He then checked the ground and found a nest with six eggs, so we have another bunch of baby birds to observe. Ducks scout our pond every spring for nest building, but soon decide to move on what with boys, dog, and muskrat; so it will be fun to have ducklings on the pond.

Several years ago, a couple of red-winged blackbirds built a nest in the cattails on shallow end of the pond and have come back every year since. I love these birds from my childhood. Recently I walked around the pond and was sent running by persistent divebombing RWBs. Another pair built a nest on the opposite side of the pond.

From all this activity, you would think our pond is larger and more remote than it is. Although it is only a dinky pond within 20 feet of the house, we encourage wildlife with cattails and other natural growth around the edge of the pond. And NO CHEMICALS. To keep a healthy supply of oxygen in the pond, we aerate it with an electric compressor and pump housed in Steve's workshop. We add a natural dye to help discourage algae. And our use of chemicals on the lawn is minimal to avoid run-off into the pond. It took some experimentation over several years to achieve effective, low-effort, wildlife-friendly pond maintenance, but it was worth the effort.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

When Steve and I took our walk this evening, we stopped in awe to watch our meadow full of fireflies. As we continued walking in the neighborhood, we counted just three (3) fireflies in the whole mile! Coming back home, we had about three per square foot in our wildflower meadow. Our hypothesis is that lawn chemicals are killing the fireflies. The magic of fireflies or a manicured lawn - which would you choose?

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The birds left me some cherries this year, so I harvested them this afternoon and pitted them this evening - a long tedious job. Joy of Cooking recommends using a hairpin for pitting cherries, but I haven't seen those since beehive hairdos went out of fashion. The cherries are sitting in sugar overnight, the first step in making cherry preserves. The recipe called for a pound of sugar for each pound of sour cherries. I just guessed, so I wonder how my first attempt at cherry preserves will turn out.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Here are some pictures from my childhood. I'm the second daughter, the one who thought spreading her skirt in a circle was glamorous.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Boys of Summer
Last week was the first week of summer vacation. Ground rules were set: work in the morning, play in the afternoon. They fell into the routine easily, and one morning I discovered Ron doing the laundry when I woke up.

This week, summer activities started. Every morning this week, they have a three hour baseball camp at the high school. One boy was reluctant to go yesterday, perhaps fearing the unknown and perhaps thinking he knew it all already, but when I picked him up, he thanked me profusely for signing him up and chattered on about everything he learned.

Wildcat baseball also started this week. This league is for the children, not the parents, so practice and games are during the day. Two other boys from the neighborhood are on the league and I am the official carpool mother.

The pool is finally ready for swimming, so I'm sure an afternoon swim after Wildcat will be added to our routine.

They are scheduled for several day trips with Campus Life. Ron signed up for several 4-H projects. We have a three day trip planned with the church to Spirit Fest at Kings Island Amusement Park. A friend gave us a fabulous deal for a week rental of her lake cottage. Ricky's going to skateboard chuch camp. Steve's taking two summer classes and the boys have a morning Algebra class for five weeks. And sometime we have to squeeze in a canoe trip in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Sounds like a great summer, doesn't it?
Two year blogiversary
It's been just over two years since I started my first blog, under a similar URL. Here's my first post:

Wednesday, June 05, 2002
I just returned from a stroll through my garden tonight. After a day of gentle rain, the air is heavy, pure and sweet. The garden is faintly illuminated by stars, fireflies (the first of the season!) and the white flowers - columbine, daisies, iris, peonies. The heavy spice scent is from the dianthus I planted just for the fragrance, although I enjoy the small fringed flowers of palest pink on the blue-green foliage during the day. But the night is not still. Oh the noise! Noise louder than any city sounds that kept me awake in a strange hotel room during my business traveling days. Frogs. The Spring Peepers and Bullfrogs I can identify, but what is making all those other odd sounds? Crazy Eddy once gave me a tape so I could identify frogs for DNR research. I had no problem when they played one sound at a time or even two, but I could never ID the frogs when they were in full chorus.
The Boys (as they are known to their cousins) went to a sleepover Friday night and we had the night to ourselves! We ended up with a campfire and then a ride past the Highlands. It was a cool starlit night, so the windows were down but not the top. Our tree farm, The Highlands, is in the middle of Amish country. Just talking, enjoying each other's company, driving down the gravel road, with my hand dangling out the window, I felt a huge wet bug splat against my hand.

"That was not a bug," Steve responded, "I just ran over a pile of horse manure." yuck, yuck, yuck. Luckily, we had some hand cleaner. When we stopped, the smell was overwhelming and we discovered horse poop all over the side of the Jeep. I'm so glad we didn't take the top down.

Ron laughed about this story all weekend, so I thought I would remind him of a trip to the zoo when he was seven years old. We were watching a raptor show in the outdoor know what's coming. I looked at Ron's shocked face and saw runny white stuff all over his head. I tucked him under my arm (can't do that now) and dashed to the restroom. Luckily his hair was very short.

Ron laughed about this story, "You know, that's real funny now looking back at it." Ahh the perspectives we gain with time, even when we are only 14 years old.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Night Before Yesterday
The night before yesterday, we went to the drive-in. The first film was Cody Banks and the second film was The Day After Tomorrow.

The temperature dropped to the mid-50s (no tornadoes, hailstorms or tidal waves though), but we had provisions: pizza, drinks, blankets and pillows. The boys made a warm bed in the back of the Suburban with the hatch up while Mom and Dad were outside on lawn chairs swathed in a shared sleeping bag. The first film was a mindless comedy with enough laughs to make it enjoyable.

No one told me that both films were comedies. How could they deliver their lines with straight faces? Stop reading if you haven't seen TDAT, but I'd suggest saving your money.

First the survival parody.

Why in the world did the father go into the storm? There was nothing he could do to save his son. He already told him to stay inside. Duh! We always go for a cross country hike in a blizzard. Of course, it was the police who led the victims to their frozen fate. Just can't trust trained rescue workers, I guess.

Why did they burn the books and leave all those wooden library chairs and tables that would have made a warmer, longer lasting fire?

And it was amazing that the fireplace worked after a 100 years of disuse. Makes me wonder why we bother cleaning our chimney.

Wolves! Come on now. Why would they attack the three boys when lots of frozen food was readily available. And I suspect any self-respecting wolf would seek shelter when temperatures drop to 150 degrees below.

Of course, the few brainy teenagers survived in a public library through their wits while the experienced Scot scientists already provisioned for cold weather stoically faced their death with 12 year old scotch.

We saw steel doors freeze almost instantly when the artic freeze hit after a torrential downpour and tidal wave. However, none of the characters had much trouble opening the doors. Has anyone tried to open a car door after a rain and then a freeze? Also there was a lot of bare skin, but no one got frost bite.

And will the internet be the last link to civilization?

OK, a nod to the political messages, although I've seen more thorough discussions of this aspect of the movie. The President, a fearless captain, stoically was the last man out of Washington, unlike Bush on 9/11. Of course, when he finally decided to escape, he died outside the city. You see, only environmentalists are savvy enough to travel prepared.

Closing the Mexican border to US refugees was a nice touch. Walk a mile in my shoes, eh?

But the best laugh came when the scientist-hero confronted and reprimanded now President Dick Cheney for not doing anything to cut greenhouse gases the day before when he was warned of the impact of global warning. What was he suppose to do in one day?

The boys thought it was a great movie; first end-of-the-world film they have seen, I suppose. On the way home, Ricky mused, "The world is changing, Mom. Terrorism. Gas Prices. And now..." Global warming went unsaid. "Yes, the world does change and you adapt, change with it, son." I wish I could keep their childhood security, but I really want them to grow in wisdom and stature in the eyes of God and men. (paraphrase of Luke 2:52 - "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.")

This movie reminded me of a childhood fear. When I learned about the Ice Age, I thought it happened quickly. I imagined giant glaciers of ice, rock and gravel rolling over my childhood home. Around middle school, I realized how slow it happened. This was about the same time I realized that the seal hidden in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper was not an animal. I just couldn't figure out how the seal survived without water and food and why no one heard it barking. Both misconceptions came from reading beyond my comprehension level.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I'm sneaking a quick update while the boys are loading wood on the truck. I just took a couple of pictures because I realize how few I've taken of their early teens. That and how rare it is for them to work together so well.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

What I'm reading
Partisans by Alistair MacLean - The Balkans haven't changed for millennia.

What's blooming?
Foxgloves, peonies, a few Siberian iris, daisies, roses, coral bells, sundrops, pinks, Lady's Mantle, clematis, Johnson's Blue cranesbill, penstemon, astilbe, blue salvia.