Monday, July 27, 2009

Mitch is a one-person construction crew

Progress on the little house continues in between trips to the park, trips to Costco, naps, and time in the swimming pool. This weekend Mitch finished the windows and started on the corrugated metal siding. Only this one side of the house will have the corrugated siding. The back and the side facing the fence that you don't see will have primed siding ready to be painted the same color as the big house. The front will have wood facing.

Mama - No Dancing! Only I get to Dance.

Lucy and I rocked out together to U2's It's a beautiful day, yesterday. I tried to dance with her but she instructed me that only she was allowed to dance. If you wonder why they are peering into the t.v. it's because they use the reflection off the screen like a mirror to watch themselves dance.

Lucy at Bed time

Tonight's Lucy dialogue to Mitch:

As Mitch puts Lucy into bed, trying to be very quiet since Josie is almost asleep, Lucy says,
"Dad, Dad, Dad!! I've got to tell you something."
Mitch, quietly, "Yes Lucy, what is it?"
Lucy: "When can I hold a shrimp???"
Mitch, quietly: "I don't know Lucy. Let's talk about this in the morning."
Lucy: "But Dad, dad, dad. I've GOT to hold a shrimp!!!"

The Corvids are my people, so to speak

I heard a most excellent report on crow research this morning on Morning Edition. Robert Krulwich interviewed two crow researchers who talked about their discoveries that 1) crows can differentiate between individual people 2) when you piss them off they hold a grudge and 3) they tell all their friends that you are a jerk.

Here's what happened. Two researchers, one at U. of Washington and one at Cornell, both tagged nestling crows majorly irritating both the nestling, its parents, and all the crows around. Subsequently, both researchers were scolded and mobbed whenever they were on campus or around town. The scolding occurred even when they were several miles away from the original banding sites. Their conclusions (supported by further research) indicated that the crows recognized them as bad guys and spread the word to other crows whenever they saw them around. This message of "he's a bad guy" was then picked up by the other crows who heard it and so the knowledge was passed throughout the local crow community.

Pretty freaking cool.

One annoying thing about the story was that they made a big deal of how crows can recognize us individually but we can't tell individual crows apart. Even these two researchers who have spent their entire adult life studying crows can't tell them apart. They made all sorts of wild speculations as to why this might be. My answer? Crows are a hell of a lot less phenotypically plastic than people. The question you should be asking is why do people vary so much in appearance while crows conform to a very narrow set of physical appearances (they are ALL black, vary very little in size, etc.). Individual crows likely tell each other apart by more subtle cues of vocalization and behavior that we can't pick up on. That's my uninformed opinion anyway.

Holding a grudge and passing on what a jerk you are to others, two more ways in which crows are my people.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Looking Forward to Camano Island

Next weekend we're going to Camano Island for our friend's Peter and Nathalie's wedding. When we found out that the wedding was going to be on Camano it was a special treat for me. Some of my happiest summer memories are from Camano Island. Our family friends Don and Sherrill Bushell and their daughters Erin, Michaelyn and Kristen had a summer house on Camano that we would visit every summer for a week or so.

These summer visits have a warm glow in my memory. They were full of picking blackberries, trying to catch crabs on the beach, walking through the woods, playing long games of kick the can, and lots of ten thousand dollar pyramid in the evenings. There was lots of good food and good company. There was so much nature to explore. The Bushells had a huge relatively wild yard and we could walk to two or three different beaches. We could also walk down to the little store and get yummy candy. And for some reason the grocery store in Stanwood was the only place that we ever got what we called chocolate turds (chocolate covered donut sticks).

I remember spending hours on the barnacle covered beaches turning over rocks, looking for crabs and hunting for shells with my plastic grocery bag to put my finds into.

I'm really looking forward to going back to Camano but because it looms so large in my childhood memory I'm a little afraid to see how much it has changed. We're staying in a small cabin on the beach at Cama State Beach. I'm hoping the girls can have some of the wonderful experiences I had there as a kid: berry picking, crab hunting, and walking on the beach.

After the wedding we're going to Whidbey Island with Grandpa Tom, Grandma Sue and Uncle Jeremy. It will be great to have the family together again for a couple of days. The girls are excited to see their grandparents and their uncle.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Making the Most of a Small Space

The whole garden in its glory. Tomatoes in back, strawberries up front.

Can you find the strawberry in this picture? Hunting for strawberries is a popular family activity.

Chives and matoes. When Josie picks these flowers Mitch wonders for hours where the onion smell in the house is coming from.

We're hoping for late summer cucumbers from these lovely yellow blooms. We also have watermelons in flower.

Our back yard is very shady and is currently a dirt hell hole covered in plywood and construction supplies. Our front yard is sunny but full of overgrown native plants. On the side right next to the driveway last year Mitch built me a lovely 6 feet by 4 feet garden box. It is now a sort of lovely overgrown, permaculture, hunt and find it treasure trove of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Right now we are going into tomato season and continue to have a few strawberries to find and eat every day. The girls love this hide and seek harvesting although it does make it difficult to make the transition from house to van some days (too much time is spent detouring on finding the strawberries). We have a little bit of basil, thyme, chives, and too much spearmint that constantly has to be cut back. And finally, we are looking forward to cucumber season later this summer.

Mitch is such a good mom

Seriously, he is not only a great dad but a fabulous mom as well. He's better with the boo-boo's, dresses them for success (you should see the outfits he puts together) and this week he took it over the top with this hair style that he put on Lucy. Lucy is trying to grow her hair out so she can have "princess hair" but chronically has hair in her face and hates hair brushing. Yes, it is going to be a challenging life.

New Sippies and New P.J.'s!

The girls got new sippy cups and new pajamas yesterday. The sippy cups are stainless steel beauties courtesy of Sandy, who got them from her neighbor who works for the company that makes them. They are called Safe Sippy and they are stainless steel. They are easy to clean and the girls like them. Pretty groovy.

The new p.j.'s are covered in jewelry and handbags. Lucy's pick, not mine. I was advocating for the ones with cupcakes on the front but jewelry won out. What can I say?

Lucy and Josie go to work

Josie to Lucy, "I'm going to work."
Lucy to Josie, "Yeah Josie, let's go to the goverscent."

Yes, somewhere along the way, they have picked up that I work for the "goverscent".

Don't worry, it washes off.

Lucy from the deck while painting, "Mama!! I've got art all over me!"

Monday, July 20, 2009


Josie on a mushroom at the zoo eating cheese. Another cheese-lover in the family.

Josie loving the dwarves at Fairyland.

Josie kicking it at home.

Josie playing rock band.

A rare photo of Lucy, "I hate the paparazzi" Allen. Seen here holding her speed demon tray.

Lucy and Tyler sliding down the astro turf hill at the zoo.

The little house with two new windows up top. It is hard to take pictures of clear glass...

Last week was a busy one with a three day trip to Oakland to work on the Pacific West Region Science Strategy and then a two day weekend full of work on the little house and exciting kid activities. The Oakland trip was fine. I got some work done and Mitch and the girls went to Fairyland (a big hit again) and the new Cal Academy of Sciences. Mitch is a bold stay at home dad, willing to brave the wilds of BART and the SF subway with the stroller and two children under five. By the way, if you want to read a hilarious essay about camping in Fairyland, you should check out Michael Lewis' new book, Home Game (the whole book is pretty darn funny).

One of the more hilarious moments of our Oakland trip involved the early morning disappearance of one of my shoes on our last day in town. I couldn't find it anywhere (thanks to Josie who had hidden it behind a curtain) and so I had to go to work in Mitch's flip-flops. They were the only extra shoes we had with us. They went smashingly with my button up shirt and slacks...

The weekend was good but too short. I took the kids for some significant portions so that Mitch could work on the little house. He installed two out of the three upper windows so we only have one hole to the outside left in the building. I had the girls for long enough to totally mess up all of Mitch's systems such that I am sure he was cursing my name this morning. We went to the mall and the park solo on Saturday morning and then went to the Santa Barbara zoo and met up with Ray and Tyler and Chloe on Sunday. It was hot for Ventura this weekend so I was glad to return to the air conditioning of the office today.

That's about it for now. I'm ready to go back to laying on the couch drinking my tea and reading my book (Run). By the way, if anyone wants to come over and find whatever is generating the evil smell in my kitchen and get rid of it, that would be fantastic.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 8

Ahh, look at all those doors and windows!
Look at that flashing on the roof!

Barbara and I got these boots at a thrift store for Lucy on the last day that Barbara and Jim were in town. They were a big hit among both the girls (the tractor belongs to a friend of Lucy's).

O.k., so this was almost a week ago but this was the last family work day on the little house. Little Jimmy and Mitch put in the final window (except for the uppers), put on the roofing felt, and put flashing on the sides of the roof. It is really coming together. Since this picture was taken Mitch has also shingled the roof. There is still so much to do that at times I despair. Especially since it is impossible to work on the house unless one of us takes care of the girls solo while the other one works.

This weekend I also removed the huge pile of removed vegetation from our back yard and put it in a rented dumpster. All that remains of our back yard is a small square dirt pit. I find it very depressing. It breaks my heart that we had to rip out all the vegetation that I put in (the native plants, the little patch of grass, the pretty orange trumpet vine, the jasmine) even if it was all a little overgrown and crazy. It also breaks my heart and makes me crazy that we can't fix the yard until the house is done which seems like an eternity away at this point. Oh well. All part of the process I guess.

A HUGE thanks to Barbara and Jim for helping us get this project off the ground. Hopefully some day they will stay in the little house although I've heard that the lack of a bathroom may be a deal breaker. Come on Little Jimmy, you can pee in the grass once we get it back in...

Day 7

I hate these "expletive" doors. Little Jimmy never said this, but I bet he thought it a time or two...
Look! They open!!
Looking good! Real progress here. Note the one missing window on the side still and the lack of covering and flashing on the roof.

The doors were hung with care. They actually swing open and closed. It's a remodeling miracle!! The two "door" windows are in as well! Day 7 was actually last week on Tuesday July 7th. Sorry for the delay in updating this. We've been busy working on the house and Josie is making us crazy at night with lots of crying and waking up.

I took Lucy to swim lessons on this day. She is doing awesome in swim lessons. We went to the beach this weekend and Lucy was swimming all over the place with her life jacket on. She has really turned the corner in the swimming department.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 6

Josie playing peek a boo with my hat this morning.

See that little white trim and all the shims - that is pretty much a full days work.
I'm pretty sure little Jimmy hates these doors right about now.

Will a better level or a bigger t square solve this problem? only time will tell.

Tomorrow it is back to the office. It's been a fun week - kind of like a mini-summer vacation. Spending so much time with the girls without Mitch has had its challenges but has been great fun as well. Today Barbara and I took them to pump it up so they could play on all the inflatable slides and jumpy things. They both emerged unscathed but I jammed my index finger, lost a layer of skin on my elbow, and got some kind of a weird rubber burn on my thumb. Go figure.

The guys finished putting the plywood on the roof and then spent the rest of the day beating their heads against attempts to hang the french doors. I think it was probably the most frustrating day so far for them. Mitch is at Lowe's right now (9:45 at night) trying to purchase a larger and better level and t-square so that they will have better luck tomorrow.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day Five

Can I just say that writing in the blog every day is kind of a pain in the neck? It is not as much fun when one feels obligated to do it. But I committed to keeping up a daily tally of the house building at least until Jim and Barbara leave, at which point the pace of construction will slow considerably and daily logs will no longer be required.

Today the last wall got framed, the roof got framed, and about two thirds of the plywood for the roof was installed. One of the factors slowing us down is that although Jim rises by 6 AM and is ready to start hammering by 6:15, we aren't up yet and likely none of our neighbors are up at that point either. So real construction can't start until a more reasonable hour like 8:30 or 9:00. Tonight the guys kept working until after dark, thus the picture where they both look like zombies. I only have one more day off of work but I think Jim and Barbara will be able to stay a couple of more days. I don't know what is on the agenda for tomorrow. I'm sure finishing the roof. Maybe trying to hang the doors or do some of the exterior plywood work.

While construction went on today Lucy, Josie and I went to a dog show at the fairgrounds with Barbara, her sister Pat, and Pat's boyfriend Paul. Lucy was really off her game today - I think she didn't get enough sleep. She threw a total of four complete fits, one of which was while we were trying to leave the dog show. The dog show was really odd - Best in Show was a very accurate movie. All the people were dressed up, the dogs had funny hair-dos and fancy jewelry in their hair, and everyone was groomed within an inch of their life. We also saw a couple of dogs hike a leg on various indoor furnishings. It was odd to see so many identical versions of a dog. I'm a mutt person myself so I'm not used to seeing 15 nearly identical bulldogs, or silukis, or what have you. There were also a lot of strange breeds that you don't typically see including some pharoah hounds (my old dog Cleo was part pharoah hound). It was interesting but the girls found it frustrating since there was no playground equipment involved and you couldn't pet any of the dogs.

After nap time we had a great visit to the beach. The water was actually kind of warm and Josie and Lucy had a great time playing in the water and the sand.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Day Four - Happy Independence Day

The fourth of July was full of ups and downs as always. At this point in my life, I don't really give a darn about fireworks but I do love a good parade. We had a rushed but nice time walking the push 'em pull 'em parade in Ventura. We barely made it into the parade due to a late start but then walking was fun as always. This year we managed to dress in red white and blue but next year I am hoping to take it up a notch and decorate the stroller with streamers and balloons. Walking in the parade totally reminds me of all the fourth of july parades I walked in as a kid with my bike or wagon and my dog. We all rode in our pick-up truck with streamers one year. And one year I walked with my friend Vic Moore in a small town parade wearing a Vic for county supervisor button.

After the parade we played at the park for an hour and had a picnic lunch. That would have been great except that we had to tolerate a church revival meeting going on in the pavilion ten feet away for the whole time. The singing wasn't too bad (although stomp on satan's little head was the refrain of one song) but the testifying and then the urging of all parents with kids at the playground to come over and be saved to ensure that their kids would go to heaven was TOO much.

I had a lonely trip to the park with Lucy and Josie. We were the only ones there and it reminded me of the couple of times that I made no plans for the 4th of July weekend because Mitch said he was going to stay and work in the lab, only to have Mitch make last minute plans with his brother or someone else and take off for the weekend. That wasn't the best part of the day although Josie and Lucy played together wonderfully towards the end and that was a pleasure to watch.

We had a nice dinner with Barb's sister Pat who is a big favorite of Lucy's. And then too late of a bed time meant an hour of Josie crying. All in all a complex and long day. As you can see by the photos, Jim and Mitch didn't really take a rest day. One more wall is up.