Monday, April 30, 2007

Thumb Wrestle with one less tooth

On Saturday, at Gillen's end-of-soccer-season party, Jesse fell off of a play structure and lost a front tooth. The one next to it was loosened and it will fall out any minute. They were baby teeth and they were a bit loose before this happened, so no big deal. Actually, he made out. Someone at the party mentioned that they "knew for a fact that the tooth fairy leaves $20 for knocked-out teeth". Jesse woke up for the bird competition at 5:30 am yesterday to $10 from the tooth fairy! I wonder if this next tooth will bring in so much. Not technically a knock-out anymore... We'll have to wait and see.

He looks so much younger than he did a few days ago.

Birding competition, day two

The Lightning Eagles team saw a total of 80 different kinds of birds! Impressive. They saw a few that Gillen and I had been wanting to see for a while and he finally did - Painted Buntings, a Blue Grosbeak,a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Indigo buntings... I missed all of that but did join them when they came back to the area for the end of the competition and the reception. Here are a few pictures:

Above, Gillen and Evan are looking at the final chart of all the birds that were seen by any birder during the competition.
There were over 120 participants. Last year (the first year) there were around 60. I am glad that there are so many other kids who share Gillen's passion. Jesse has become a birder. He remembered the sounds of several birds they'd learned a few weeks ago and helped the team that way. Todd loved when Jesse identified the "Louisiana TRASH bird".

I had thought that Gillen and Jesse didn't care so much about winning. Well, when it came down to it, of course, he did. Only way we could have competed was to go to the coast or the mountains to get more breeds. The winning team in their age group had a total of 120 birds! They had done a LOT of preparation and had driven many miles this weekend. Turns out they were hschoolers as well (as were a few other teams). For now, Gillen and Jesse think they want to approach this more seriously next year. The winners get $500 binoculars and they really want them. I think they can do it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Birding competition

It has started! The 2007 GA youth birding competition began an hour and a half ago and goes until 6pm tomorrow. They have to identify the birds themselves, no help from the adults. Two members of the team have to see a bird and agree on the identification before they can have it checked off the list. Tomorrow night, at Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center, the check lists are gone over and the winning teams are announced. Prizes are given. There is a Raptor demonstration and a feast.

Gillen and Jesse are on a small team. It's just them and two boys whose father is an ornithologist. Only Gillen (of the four) has been passionate about birds for a while. But what's cool is that Gillen isn't that competitive when it comes to this. I think he is just excited to be birding with other kids.

I took them around the neighborhood at 6pm and they already found 9 birds. Even a Roufus Hummingbird (we never see those) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Now, Nicolas is birding with them at the farm and then tommorow they have to get up at 6am to go meet the rest of the "Lightning Eagles" for the day.

I never really noticed birds much before Gillen became so aware of them. I am so thankful that he did.

I would love to be out there owling with them. I have been dizzy for the past three days (I think it's my old Chronic Fatigue Syndrome trying to come back in) and I am going to take it easy for a while. I know I'll feel better tomorrow.

Portraits of the Donck-Rains boys

This is from today with friends at a playground. So Leo. This makes me think of my brother, at age three announcing that he wanted to be chairman of the world when he grew up. Kenneth definitely sits on a fantastic throne, with a beautiful queen, in the land of Oz. I believe that Gillen, too, is destined to lead.

Jesse showing me his "moon things." He and Tuki and I took a walk on "the rock road" next to our house. Gillen was at the farm. Jesse talks non-stop all day long. Six has been so much fun. I am loving (almost) every minute of it.

But back to the walk, so I won't drone on about my wonderful children. It's a great walk. Before we return to our house we get to see an old cemetary, a delapidated old red barn (where we've spotted barn owl a few times) and lots of sticks, rocks and birds to excite my 6yo and dog. I grew up right in Boston, in Back Bay. For outdoor play I played four-square on the sidewalk or walked many blocks to the Public Gardens. I loved it but also missed the more open, free side of nature that I read about in books. It is so great now to have a country road right outside our door.

Friday, April 27, 2007


The kids farmed at home this morning, with their playmobil. Above is Gillen's "market" and below is Jesse's. In Jesse's, behind him to the left, the market vendor is lying down having a rest while he waits for customers. Wish our market was so comfortable.

I love that Gillen, at 9, is still so into creating imaginary worlds. He may not want to write stories or even tell them to me (as Jesse sometimes does) but he creates them with his legos or playmobil. There are moments, especially when it's been too long since the last unschooling conference, when Nicolas (and even I) feel an urge to create more structure, make sure we are getting them to do enough. But, for now, I am sticking with unschooling. Like the birds, I feel instinctively that it's right to stay near and help when needed (as in the lego territorial wars that erupted the other day), but not nudge them or-over direct them. I believe in this approach. I see how much they are both learning, every day.

But I am not always as graceful about it as the birds. Also, it would be nice if my squawk sounded like the sparrow rather than the magpie. Then their's might as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Flight School

We have a very messy bookcase filled with sporting equipment on our screened in porch. Luckily, it even had an empty shoe box on one of its shelves. About a month or so ago, some House Wrens filled this box to the brim with twigs, leaves, grass and our hair. Soon there were three little eggs in it. We have watched the mother sitting on it and the father wren bringing her worms (and Gillen's homemade suet). We watched the little birds once they had hatched, mouths gaping open for food. We eat outside, now that it's warmer, and when the parents start squawking, worms or bugs hanging from their mouths, we have been leaving the table and going inside so that the babies could be fed in peace.

Today, the chicks left the nest, and we saw it all! This afternoon, Gillen was looking in on them and the three of them suddenly popped out of the box and drifted to the floor. One of them proceeded to try to scale a screen wall and the other two made it outside. They seemed so pitiful that we thought it best to put them back in their nest. There were no parents to be seen so we thought we had pushed them to leave too early. Gillen and Jesse had a blast finding them and gently carrying them back to the box.

Then tonight we happened to see the parent Wrens in the porch, watching as their babes floundered out of the box and around the room. The parents left the room through the hole in the screen and we watched as the three slowly figured out how to follow them out. It took two of them a very long time. For a half hour they just repeatedly scaled the screen until they were completely exhausted, at which point they would fall back down, often into the citronella candle (you can see it in the candle - it looks like a little pot - in the picture below). It was hilarious. One even showed that it could fly by flying shakily back to the box. But finally, they all three made it out, where they toddled off the deck to the grass of our yard and were seen following the parents from the ground to lower tree branches. It was very cool.

The parents never nudged the birds out of the nest. They never even got very close to them. Yet, they were always in sight. They just modeled what to do, chirped encouragement and stayed out of the way. They were infinitely patient. I am so glad that I was home to get this lesson from the birds.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

This gloriously funky sweater was created by Heather, Gillen's and my crochet teacher. Yes, we are lucky enough to have a professional crochet teacher where the kids go to take homeschool classes once a week. She asked that a parent take the class with each student. Loved that! I am crocheting a sweater for my brother's baby who is due to arrive in Sept. Then I will crochet another one for Nicolas' brother' s baby, also due to arrive in Sept. Then hats, maybe a sweater, a ripple blanket? Gillen is making a hat for papa. It was a struggle. I was glad that he had a teacher other then me. I am glad that she lets him go run in the hall every fifteen minutes during class. His hat is almost finished.

Heather was wearing the above sweater when we signed up for this class a month or so ago and I told her how much I liked it. Two weeks ago, she brought it in and gave it to me. "!" She said that she gives away her stuff because it is priceless and she could never sell it. She wouldn't want to ask that much for it.

I am so grateful for this sweater. I love that it has so much pink, which I had never in my life worn before this spring when I suddenly decided that I love pink, red hair be damned.

Thanks for the huge random act of kindness Heather. Time for me to pass it on (the kindness, not the sweater).

Monday, April 23, 2007


Gillen took the above shot of Jesse and I seeding Spaghetti Squash today. I also transplanted Lovage. I know I have read about Lovage in some English novel, or maybe in a little Beatrix Potter book? The name makes me think of English cottage gardens. Anyone else heard of it? Nicolas' mother chose to grow this so Nicolas knows it's an herb, but that's it. I like the sound of it. Below is a picture of our seeding station. The seeding set-up isn't the greatest for one's back, if one is 43. The others, like Jesse here, are just fine with it.

Jesse ended up farming a few hours longer than Gillen and I did. First time that's ever happened. He was a six-year-old with a goal and that goal fueled his energy. No whining about the heat or the monotony or even when he knocked over the very large bag of Waltham Butternut Squash seeds and had to collect them all up from the grass and then de-grass them. I love working next to him at the farm and listening to him thinking out loud. Today he moved from Harry Potter trivia (he quizzes me, gleefully hoping I'll be wrong), to terrible (and therefore hilarious) made up jokes, to announcing how many minutes and then hours he had worked towards his goal. So, back to the goal!

Jesse and I went to an Earth Day celebration yesterday with friends in Atlanta at a very cool place called the Land Trust. There was a mural dedication going on thereas well as activities for the kids, really good bands playing and the possibility of a game of pokemon with Max amidst the bamboo. But there were other lessons to be learned as well. Our friends' son Ike, as well as two other boys there, all had lots of information about the cool paraphenelia you can buy at Target if you too want to be just like Ben 10! Well. Jesse just happened to have watched "Ben 10" a few weeks ago and has not stopped talking about it ever since. He had found an old watch of Gillen's to use as his super alien-power Ben-Ten omnitrix (sp?) watch, and we had even started filming our own episode last week.

But now, with this new information, new seeds have been planted. Jesse MUST have the whole Ben Ten kit from Target and waiting until his birthday in June is just not an option. He figured out how many hours he would need to work at the farm to get the kit himself and came up with several possibilities of how to split up the hours. With Papa, he decided that the best idea is to do it in four and a half-hour shifts for three days. This will give him the extra money he needs to get the kit.

Lots of seeding to happen this week. Jesse will reap his harvest at Target next week and I will reap mine when this mysterious Lovage is ready to harvest, in a few months.

Gillen didn't ask to be paid today. He has been working a few days a week with me as a way to help save money for our trip to Australia. He wears the role of farmer well. It's not about the money for him. He has loved it since he was three.

Below is a picture of our hoop houses (big enough to get a tractor in to them). We had a huge wind storm last week that took off all of the plastic on one of them, Nicolas and two other men standing right there unable to do a thing about it. That plastic is expensive. But then I saw pictures of what that same weather system did in Maine last week hereat SouleMama's blog. Everything is always relative.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gillen's gifts

Gillen was out at a camp-out until 11pm on Fri. night, had birding training at 8 am on Sat., one soccer game to play and two of Jesse's to watch and he went to bed last night with a fever. Yet he was able to wake up this morning offering to make us pancakes. He did it all! This is a ritual on Sun. morning but usually with papa's help. He did it alone today. They were so good, with strawberries from the farm on top.

I am also so grateful for Gillen's bird garden. He started it on his birthday last Aug. and contributed several new plants to it last Wed. Here are a few buds from the new plants. This one is called Indian Pink:

This is called Bleeding Heart:

I had more but am having mac technical difficulties... Also can't stand this blog's format but so far can't realign things... I read about Kerri Smith's "Wreck this Journal" and am ready to embrace lots of imperfectionism, for a while...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

10 Favorite Things

I just browsed through Keri Smith's blog and am feeling inspired. For one, she has a list of 100 things to do (to get you going artistically) and one is to list your ten favorite things not including people or animals. Other ideas from this list that I like: list the smells in your neighborhood; give away something you love; illustrate your grocery list; use post-its to make temporary art; tape art- postcards to the back of your cupboard doors so that you don' t lose sight of them but also don't grow deaf to them; and I love all the collage ideas.

Here's my list:

1) organic columbian coffee with cream, in the hand-made blue mug that Nicolas got for me (made by another farmer) for Christmas one year.

2) My perfectly seasoned cast iron pot that I got from an intern at the farm ten years ago. He had cooked such good meals in it for us himself. Chris had so few posessions that I was really moved by him giving me that pan. He also gave me some good recipes and was part of the inspiration to my caring about cooking well.

3) These three mexican mugs. They were my mother's. I love them so much that I chose my bathroom paint colors based on them. Gillen, Jesse and I drink lots of tea out of them.
4) Organic sheeets.

5) My mac. (now that we have DSL)

6) "This American Life" on NPR

7) The purple honeysuckle plant that Gillen and I got at a really cool nursery in the middle of nowhere on Wed. The purple star blossom at the beginning of this post is from this plant. I have never really cared this much about a plant (well, I do love the Gardenia that my friend Helen gave me on my 40th birthday). I end up killing so many of them. It is wierd that my mother, husband and son had/have such green thumbs and I so don't. But I am loving this plant and am honored to have it in Gillen's bird garden in our back yard.

8) funky shoes

9) Basic Grey brand scrapbooking supplies, especially their Urban Couture rub-ons and ribbons.

10) lobster (technically an animal but I am throwing it in here anyway). I only eat it if we're up north so that is very rarely. Lobster and really goood chocolate can send me into other realms. Lots of other foods come close but these are the best.

That was really fun, and hard. I didn't include so many things i love - my kids' art, JJill clothing, micro pens, BOOKS! (I really am addicted to reading ALL sorts of books), my digital camera (as small and simple as it is, still it's good to have digital), the Nessi paintings, my mother's antique desk that I am using right now, vintage sepia ink...MUSIC!! how to pick what music?... SO my mac and all the music on it in itunes covers that. I do have to say that my sister, who is 16 years younger thn I am and therefore way hipper, has introduced me to many of my favorites through her mixes she's made for me. Oh! and what about my perfectly worn in tiny blue sweatshirt with a hood that I got years ago at Old Navy?

I asked Jesse (Nicolas took Gillen birding) and other than Pokemon,Yu Gi Oh and Harry Potter books his list surprised me. He had things like "listening to French" and Egyptian pharoahs, and nature. Huh? Maybe just this moment in time. Cool.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Gillen and Jesse with the rest of the "Lightning Eagles" at practice for next week's youth birding competition.
Flowers picked for the market tomorrow

Some baby Phoebes waiting for food. Can you see the outline of their big yellow beaks gaping open? Reminds me of when mine were babes.


"When you become your promises and your commitments you can't indulge in your preferences and opinions." -Purna Steinitz.

I made several commitments on Sunday - to blog (actually, that one was to use less space between sentences, but I am just proud that I am leaving less time between posts); to meditate, to cook from scratch, to exercise, to create every day and to farm more.

I didn't meditate even once. Sleep was a big issue this week. I did make kefir every day and cooked with my home made pot of beans and rice. I did not exercise with my new Pilates or belly dance DVDs but soo wanted to, just couldn't get past my aching body. I did however dance with Jesse to Mario Bros. Dance Dance Revolution game - the best reason, in my opinion, to have a Game Cube. I didn't create every day but did most days - crocheting for the most part. A friend is coming over soon and we are supposedly going to scrapbook (didn't commit to it or anything : 0). We both had difficult weeks with the more challenging of our separate boys and we may just drink beer and talk!

The commitment that mattered the most was the one I made to myself to farm more, and that I did. Today, with a sore neck and headache I went to the farm and picked herbs for a few hours. I really wanted to be checking out the new Goodwill that just opened. I wanted to NOT deal with Jesse not wanting to farm. But we went and it was great, despite the aches. I love the smell of a basket filled with one herb - Lemon Thyme or Marjoram or Chocolate Mint... I picked more than was needed for the order so that I could dry a bunch for us. If I can become this commitment, to help Nicolas at the farm, my senses (even if it's just a sense of exhaustion!) will take over egotistical, rambliing thoughts. I can serve something bigger. And Jesse left saying, "I really liked being there today."

It feels so good to follow through on a commitment. Why is it so hard for me to "just do it" so much of the time. The thing that is so challenging in one of my sons is also true of me - I am passionate and fiery and emotional. This can be what drives us to fantastic creativity or imagining and planning big projects or most often just the hilarious (to us) self-entertaining we do... But it can also create huge reactions and loudly proclaimed opinions and self-indulgent emotions. It can take us away from the simple task at hand, from the commitment - from crossing the finish line.

Finding clarity while in the fire (we are a Leo and Sagittarious) - that is our challenge. Breathe more, react less.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Three birds (and some bees)

This is indeed a post that is child and unschooling friendly. We're talking chirping birds and buzzing bees.

I wrote a long post about the birds in question - a penguin. a Bachman's Sparrow and a House Wren. Soon into the first bird tale (a story about "Happy Feet" and happpiness), a MEGA bee, truly the mother of all giant buzzing creatures, starting buuzzing behind my head in the lamp, its buzz saw sounds scaring me and my lap top from the room...

I finished writing my long post, added pictures of our morning spent doing bird training with an ornithologist (youth birding competition coming up in a week, Gillen's favorite day of the year last year) and a picture of the baby wrens in a shoe box on our screened in porch... And the internet DSLconnection times out. No more pictures. No more post. Not even a draft. Aaaargh. It was a loooong post.

....About being the only three to show up at a screening of "Happy Feet' at the library last night because of the school kids going to bed to get ready for their state tests this week. About dancing to Earth Wind and Fire at said movie, in the library. About seeing the rare, even endangered Bachman's Sparrow this morning, with Todd - our genuine ornithologist mentor. And my lack of sleep (insomnia last night and a very full day) had actually inspired some fun writing - it can do that, don't you think?

Am I up to this disappointment? Am I capable of rewrites in the middle of the night? Think I'll sleep on it.
one more bee thought - Nicolas did catch the bee, in a giant yogurt container, and then released it outside. I thought it ought to be preserved in amber or something for the Smithsonian (and for the safety of all small creatures including my children). But Nicolas. despite having been bitten by a bee, in the face, just yesterday, while changing his new honey bees from one hive to another... Nicolas, who is having his first second-thoughts about farming, ever, this week... He released the monster. Proving once again that he is the better human. May his bees reward him with lots of honey.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Art gallery

I am blogging at a coffee shop in Old Town Conyers - called this as opposed to the city of Conyers - overfilled, claustrophobic, bursting with the same fast-food and super stores as every other miracle mile in every part of the country. Old Town Conyers is quaint. It has beautiful old houses and it has a sweet alley of small businesses, where I am now, made up of brightly painted brick facades. Two colors on each building - vivid yellow and periwinkle blue next to a combination of fire red and summer orange, next to sea green with periwinkle as a trim this time.... It's beautiful. The kids are at their art class right across the street. I feel like my old city self doing this. Drinking a latte, in a big lilac mug, that was brewed and frothed FOR me. Sitting without kids in the middle of the day. I had been doing errands while they were in class. This is so much better. They play great music here. I just heard something that sounded like a sixties musical number but as done by Bjorg! I have to figure out what it is.

So here's to art class, which the kids love and which gives me a much cherished hour of my own thoughts. I also really appreciate the cool stuff they are drawing which is filling up the ledge I created for it all on our second floor. I happen to have a picture of it:

Gillen hasn't contributed anything new to the ledge in several weeks. According to his teacher he is recovering from having learned some hard shading . Mr. Morris is so layed back and encouraging. Gillen says he is working on a very difficult lake (and on getting to know one of the new guys in class). I do sometimes wonder if maybe Gillen didn't do more art before art class - when he used to only draw birds, so many of them and so unbelievably detailed. I miss his bird period. But he wants to be in this class, as does Jesse. And every artist moves through many stages! I'll just sip my Latte and appreciate the art of living in the moment.

Love my mac but..

I can't seem to get pictures up here without moving them from iphoto to my desktop. And even then, it didn't work when trying to add a photo to my profile (and yes, I followed the eblogger help menu instructions). If I actually let people know I was blogging, some other mac user might be able to help me. Still, I love my mac. Inordinately!

I watched "Babel" with Nicolas last night instead of blogging. It is about miscommunication and confusion and the frustration and anger that result. I felt so frustrated watching it. There is a senseless gun incident in it. I am so in favor of more gun control. Why are kids able to get the guns? Even college kids? Yes, teh senseless violence is due to so much more, incidences like what happened at Virginia Tech yesterday. For one, our children aren't attached to adult mentors anymore, they are floundering and can't feel safe to be vulnerable so their anger takes over.... but if only it were harder for them to get the guns!

I reread the book. _Hold onto Your Kids, Why Parents Matter_ by Gordon Neufeld recently and I once again got so inspired.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

So, it's been a while...

I realize how backwards I am.

I wait impatiently for DSL so that I can do more blogging and have more fun with my digital photos. I get the DSL. There is cause for celebration. A new sense of control over my life - no more losing precious minutes, hours,days(when photos are involved) to dial-up. I can join the hip mama bloggers and remember our family's life by collecting moments here...

And then. I don't really know. It was fall and my kids were both old enough to want to go to more field trips. Gillen and I went, just the two of us, to a birding festival on Jekyll Island. Jesse went to Yu Gi oh tournaments at the mall (his favorite field trip). I don't really remember what else as I don't have it blogged! We were all outside a lot. Which is all to say.. nothing, really. I could have blogged about all of it. But I started thinking I needed to scrap book it all instead. Use the glue, stamps, paint, Basic Grey ribbbon and paper that I love so much. And I read lots of scrapbooking books and made some fun albums for nephews and my brother and my FIL, and I didn't do any for us. I made lots of sketches. I bought the cool supplies (always on sale, but too many) and used them only to make cards. In the end, I realized that blogging had not beeen my one obstacle to scrapbooking, as I still wasn't doing it.

Plus, I had always thought that is was important to catch up. An overwheliming prospect really . And, I now believe, a misguided notion. Will anyone, including me, be forever changed (or even notice) if I don't get to adding the photos of Jesse at MOMA or on the carousel in NYC? NO. 'Catching up' is a dangerous concept that leads me to guilt and perfectionism and sleeplessness.

I am choosing simplicity. Honesty and simplicity. I'm compelled to not edit the lazy, neurotic or ugly out anymore, despite my fears about family reading here.

I like this super sparce new layout I chose for the blog. "Clean and Simple -the sequel". That is the name of the scrapbooking book I just read by Cathy Zielske. I am so inspired by both of her books and by her blog! It is in her book that I learned about how much easier it is to read narrow columns, like in a magazine. AND she convinced me to give up two spaces between sentences (she is talking about on scrapbook layouts but I am trying it here). It's the little things that are getting me excited today.

Some other new commitments that I hope will work for me -

1) Working out again. It's been a year and I am feeling my age. I have two new DVDs - pilates and belly dancing, and of course my old faithful Firm DVDs.

2) Meditating,every day - this one gives me more patience and wisdom with my guys.

3) Doing something creative every day - this is for my sanity.

4) Keeping up even more with the cooking-it-all-from-scratch with a few needed restaurant visits now and then - don't want to become a fanatic or anything.

5) Allow my inner hip-hop goddess to express herself all over the house, at any time of day,, in any type of attire, no matter what other children or adults may be visiting.

6) Farm more. Nicolas is reaching twelve year burn-out as a farmer. It is so much work. We just had a freeze in April. It doesn't bring in as much money as he wishes it did. But the biggest thing is how much dang hard work it is. His body is tired. So I am going to help more there with the kids and to do more markets. I am going to return to my old role of farmer's wife. I am feeling so Eva Gabor rebellious right now, with "Green Acres" running through my head. But the babes are not babes any more and we CAN find the time.