From my back porch I can see my two oldest kids playing in the thin strip of pine trees between our house and our neighbor’s house. Depending on the season, I can almost be fooled. When the leafy vines that grow wild grapes are full and green it can seem as though there are no neighbors on the other side, quiet as they are. But when the leaves have all fallen to the ground, the vines hang bare and the few evergreens are young and small, I am able to see right through the line of trees to the backyard on the other side. The house that stands with it is just 30 feet from my own.
This particular row of trees runs from about the midline of our front yard to the very end of our backyard, where it meets the side yard of the neighbors behind us. It is from this small piece of “wilderness” that we hang fruit for the birds and many squirrels that visit our yard, where we collect various leaves for rubbings and leaf creature creations, where we lay to rest a dry Christmas tree, and where I gather red holly berries for the natural garland I decorate my front doorway with each holiday season. It is where my kids now play and explore and discover, at my encouragement, the natural world that is left for them. Just last night, as I look over my daughter in her pretty dress for a year-end ceremony, I see the long red scratch down her arm and ask where it came from. “A thorn,” she replies. I know it is from her most recent trek in our tiny woods, and I smile.
This is normal and good and healthy to me. This decorating with the beauty provided to us and checking for ticks at the end of a warm day. Even my husband has hesitated at the kids’ recent fascination with the woods. “No, let them go,” I say, because the world before me is becoming something that is not so normal and good and healthy, at least not to my eyes. It seems likely that there may come a day when there are no woods left for them to go and enjoy, or worse, a day when they don’t want to.
Yesterday evening I sat on my front porch and, horrified, watched a tall pine fall to the ground. I heard the crackling as the excavator continued to clear the lot down our road. My husband jokes that I heard an Indian cry. My heart broke for the life that had been growing, for the Earth that had grown it, for the countless little lives that had made their home in that lot, and for the people who consider our neighborhood a beautiful one…because when the landscape is taken away, what beauty will be left?
This is my mini-manifesto to say that I will never be happy to see trees go down and a house go up. I will continue to plant and plant and plant, even on my small piece of earth. I will continue to see Pocahontas and Laura Ingalls Wilder as heroines, those who had the skills and means to live off of the land. I will continue to look at my garden, overflowing with peppers, potatoes, corn and tomatoes in the summer months, as a miracle, that the natural world we live in could offer us so much if only we sacrifice a little for it. I will continue to gaze at the beautiful white-capped Andes, or reach the top of a mountain in Colorado just in time to see the sun rise over the trees, or be awakened to the sound of Costa Rican birds and howler monkeys, or meet a penguin after sleeping on the sand of a cold Chilean beach, or catch my breath at the shocking beauty of the sloping landscape of Barbados from a surfboard, or kayak across the quiet and calm Bogue Sound just before a sunrise rain, or walk deep into the fields of Greene County where all that is left to see is cotton and trees, or stand in awe at stars brighter than I have ever seen them before from the Jamaican countryside…and I will know that it is in these places that I have felt closer to God than ever before. And if I am hearing Him correctly He is telling me simply, enjoy. Enjoy all of this now, for it is the very magnificence of Who He is. And it is slowly being taken away.
“When we are content with who we are, we treat other life forms with compassion and kindness.” (SACRED PLANET, 2005)
(The photo above was taken as another once-wooded lot in our dear neighborhood was being cleared. Others are being marked for clearing.)
This is who I informed my grandma (“Ma”) would be coming to Snow Hill over the weekend. And that, obviously, I would need HELP! Juggling a camera, a baby and a chicken is no easy task, my friends.
Around Easter I had been looking for a 4-H club to get involved in. After getting the run-around from local groups I came across some new clubs in Greene County (the small-town, farming community where I was born). They were offering a project called Greene Chicks, in which a child would receive two baby chickens, learn to take care of them, and show them several months later at the 4-H Rabbit and Poultry Show held during the Sweet Potato Festival in Snow Hill, NC. Perfect!
I had seriously been wanting to add chickens to the homestead for some time. Only two problems.
1. We aren’t allowed. Nasty HOA and everything.
2. We couldn’t tell if the chicks were male or female. Roosters or hens.
Solutions to said problems?
1. Did it anyway.
2. Called my friend and next-door neighbor, Norma, who knew exactly how to “fix” our little problem when one chick loudly went through some changes.
Above is said chick who soon became a rooster. We couldn’t exactly tell because he still looked just like the other Cornish/Buff Orphington we had picked up. But I was pretty sure he was the source of all the noise. And I was settled on what his fate would be. Any guesses?
Yes, I wanted to cook him up. It may sound horrible, but think about it. Most of us eat meat several times a day, and those animals are raised (and killed) much less humanely than mine was. Plus, he was raised and fed completely naturally. Perhaps out of sight is out of mind but it doesn’t change the truth of what goes on to most animals.
Norma, who grew up on a farm, came bearing her knife and pot. She did the actual deed and then a very pregnant me helped to pull the feathers off. All the children watched. It was actually a second for my children. But what a learning experience! And quite yum, when all was said and done! Oh yes, and we were happy to learn that this chicken was the suspected rooster. Whew. Apparently the male parts of a rooster are found inside the bird.
After living with Mike, Yerlin and Michelle on their butterfly farm in Costa Rica one summer and having fresh eggs every single day, I was dying for them myself. Above is Carver holding our very FIRST egg! Exciting times we live in.
Emma showed her hen, all grown up now and whom she named Emily, in a laid-back setting to an NC Cooperative Extension’s Livestock Agent. This was a first poultry show for many other young children that day as well so all was kept low-key.
Carver showed off a feisty Madeline the Hen. This one likes to peck.
This is one adventure that wasn’t exactly on the bucket list (never thought we would actually show a chicken), but it’s been great. I adore hearing my grandparents talk about farm life when they were young. I love getting back to basics and sharing in a tiny piece of that. A big thanks to Emily Herring and Eve Honeycutt of Greene County 4-H and NC Cooperative Extension for allowing us the opportunity. For more information on involvement with Greene County 4-H clubs, visit http://greene.ces.ncsu.edu/get-involved-in-4-h/.
If you were ever curious to know what a cicada looks like while molting or just after, here it is. After finding dozens of shells on our trees we happened to come across one little guy in the act.
To tell you the truth, until this year I never even knew what a cicada was or that it was the little creature that left those shells behind. All I know is that during my awesome preschool years we would find those little brown shells and walk around the playground with them stuck to our shirts. Yeah, I don’t do that anymore. Ok, I did show the kids once. They didn’t get it. I wonder if anyone else from preschool remembers doing this…
It was a pretty cool process to watch as Carver held the little bugger. When it slowly came out it looked a little funky because its wings were kind of folded up. It eventually unfurled them to reveal light green, super fragile wings. We made sure not to touch them and set him under a nearby bush at that point. Be free, little Cicada.
Carver shared these pictures with his group at Classical Conversations a few weeks ago. We hope you and your children can enjoy them as well!
I adore a day when no one has to be anywhere and we can stay in our jammies with messy hair all day long if we want to. I mean I really, really do. Don’t you? After a couple hours of waking up slow and lounging around I decided to take the kids for a walk down to the water. It felt so amazing out that we decided to pass the first water access and head to the second. Mama needed some calorie burn, anyway.
This super quiet spot at the end of our neighborhood is the perfect place to unwind, explore and enjoy a little sunshine after a busy week of lessons, extracurriculars, and mounting exhaustion from too little sleep. Seriously, I need my 8+ hours.
Rief took a lovely little nap while Carver and Emma searched for any critters they could find.
Emma built a clam shell creation on our small piece of shore, which she called her clam shell “firework.”
Carver found some live creatures of some sort that he said we could take home and eat. Luckily, we left them on the dock.
The kids found about one thousand hermit crabs and snails, and showed me every single one.
From where we were standing we could see Jones Island, a small island in the middle of the White Oak River used occasionally for research and preservation activities. I decided then and there that Carver and I would kayak over this coming week and do our schoolwork there…until I remembered that I have a two-month old. Dang.
Ah well, we may just have to spend every Sunday at the shore.
Rief arrived about seven weeks ago now and was my biggest labor of love yet. In addition to being informed of his cleft lip during pregnancy, and a little concern about low fluids during the end of it, there were labor room difficulties that I certainly didn’t foresee. Say, “Can you imagine what women back in the day had to go through without epidurals?” enough times and you might just get the opportunity to have a dud of an epidural and experience the whole darn thing for yourself! (Ask me about the Ring of Fire. I know.)
So when the cute little thing finally made it out, I felt like, together, we had conquered the world. I mean, we had really done something! Some of you will know what I mean.
Needless to say, there has been so much love in our house since then that I can hardly stand it. Many have asked me how Rief is and I wanted to collectively let you know and shout my thanks from the rooftop of my blog because he is PERFECT. I mean, of course he has the cleft lip. But in my eyes, he just looks like Rief. Sweet, snuggly, adorable baby Rief. My hubby would also add spoiled in with that description. I don’t care. He’s beautiful and deserves it if he is!
The cleft is minor in comparison to many cases. The doctors at UNC called it an incomplete cleft, for it doesn’t go very far up or wide. There may possibly be dental work in his future due to an extra tooth, but we won’t know until later. And who doesn’t need dental work anyway?
He is set to have surgery on the lip on October 24. And until that time I will be looking up to those brave and strong moms who have also had to hand over their teeny child to a team of doctors. And know that it WILL be okay!
All that being said, Rief is completely healthy and growing quickly! My worry about how he would eat is now a total nonissue. He weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces at birth. The child is already at 12 pounds now and in three-month clothes! He is smiling and coo-ing and so precious.
Every single day I think of those I know going through similar issues or more involved ones than we are. You all know who you are and you inspire me continually. Not long ago I told someone close to me that we ALL go through horrible, terrible things. Or just plain difficult and unexpected things. I now believe that how we handle those things determine whether they remain horrible and terrible or become an extraordinary blessing to us and those around us. If played right, they serve to remind us that all those little things we used to worry about…well, perhaps they weren’t so much to worry about after all.
“There are no accidents, no mistakes, and everything is still on schedule.” - -C. H. Spurgeon
In two days, on Wednesday the 11th, we will drive up to Chapel Hill for what should be our final prenatal doctor visit. My original due date was the 24th, but last Thursday they told us to pack our things and plan on staying this time.
After experiencing the care and talking with lactation consultants and others at Carteret General in Morehead City, Pitt Memorial in Greenville (now Vidant Medical Center), and the UNC Women’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, we decided to continue care and deliver at UNC due to the baby’s birth defect. Although I prayed and thought A LOT about it, I still wasn’t sure if I was overdoing it and UNC was unnecessary. Now, I’m absolutely sure we are at the right place. When the risks go up for my baby, there’s nothing more reassuring than being where the education, the technology, the equipment, the specialists and the caring doctors are.
Originally they began checking my fluids (amniotic fluid) to see if they thought the baby did have a cleft palate or not. If there was too much fluid it was likely he did, as he wouldn’t be able to take it in as well. That wasn’t an issue. (Yay!)
However, three weeks ago they let me know that my fluids were looking low. Could just be dehydration, they said, and I assumed the same after helping with a couple of camps during those weeks. No big deal. Nothing to worry about.
Last Thursday we returned and my fluids were checked again. They had dropped from 7.3 to 5.6, 5 being the low point and time to be concerned. Awesome. Both doctors I saw that day said that at this point it wasn’t a case of dehydration, but perhaps my placenta giving out…or who knows, really. I don’t. In any case, I asked what “low fluids” meant in terms of me and the baby. Higher risk of a stillbirth.
Some would say they shouldn’t have told me that. But I asked. And I would rather know the risks, take seriously what needs to be taken seriously, and do all I can to ensure that does NOT happen. Otherwise, I usually am going to assume that doctors are just telling me to come in for unnecessary appointments when everything is really fine. And it could totally be fine. But I am praying more than ever….just in case. And drinking my 2 1/2 Liters of water everyday. And counting baby kicks for two hours. And planning to take my penicillin during labor because, apparently, I also tested positive for Group B strep this pregnancy (which is no big deal, I have been assured by other moms and doctors).
My pregnancies with Carver and Emma were perfect. Not one tiny thing went wrong with them from start to finish that was cause for worry. And I never considered the possibility that anything could go wrong. Does anyone remember that feeling of being young and invincible? Somewhere along the way my outlook has drastically changed. I see things that do go wrong for people, or at least, not the way we would want them to go. What makes me immune to that? Nothing. Nothing at all.
So what’s a girl to do? For starters, be thankful. I feel more thankful than ever before in my life. Thankful for all that I have been given that I don’t feel I always deserve. For my beautiful and loving kids, who love no matter what. Who I can wake up to every single day and snuggle with and play with and learn with. For their joy and innocence. For the simple fact that I can have children, even with the difficulties, because so many desire to and can’t. For a husband who doesn’t give up on me, even when I would give up on myself. Who doesn’t leave me, and most likely never will. Who puts up with all that I hand him. For Baby #3. He can come out with two healthy heads at this point and I would be grateful. For family and friends who truly care and take the time and put in the work to understand and be there. How special and rare that is. Life is simply far too short to NOT be thankful for all of those things.
And second, I pray. For whatever good or bad happens now or in the future, that I will handle it with wisdom, love, peace, maturity and dignity for the sake of my family. I fail a lot, and that’s why I pray. Oprah calls it “mulling things over” when she prays. The Secret (remember that book?) would probably call it sending positive thoughts into the atmosphere. Whatever you call it, I believe in it. If for no other reason than for reassurance, peace of mind, and gaining perspective.
Thank you all again for the kind words. Hopefully after Wednesday we will be sharing the good news of our new arrival with each of you! And hoping that each of you will focus on the amazing in your life in the midst of bad. It’s there somewhere.
Day Two: Fort Macon
Fort Macon, which took 9.2 million bricks and eight years to construct, was used to fight against pirate attacks, during the Civil War and World War II, as a prison, and is now a state park located at the eastern tip of Bogue Banks.
I happen to love historical houses and buildings, so to walk across hundreds of years old pine wood and through original archways and thick wooden doors gets me excited. You would think that maybe the kids wouldn’t be quite as excited. Yet, they were! Really! They loved exploring the little nooks and crannies of the fort, some of them super creepy. They loved climbing in one former cannon hole and out another. They loved looking out from the very top of the fort, to where they could see Beaufort Inlet, the ocean, and Shackleford Banks, where their daddy was surfing at that very moment. They especially loved the cannons, climbing on them and pretending they were firing red hot cannonballs at enemy ships.
There are tours held at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. We did listen in on about the first ten minutes of a tour, until the kids were ready to explore themselves. I listened intently while I could, knowing I would later hear questions about the very same information we were being given. Now I was able to tell them that, no, those aren’t doggie doors but wicket doors. They were the only way a soldier could get out of the fort at night once the heavy wooden ones were locked with an enormous key. And no, those aren’t tiny windows but holes where soldiers would stick out their muskets and fire against the enemy. Carver loves anything to do with guns and weapons. (Is this all boys?)
There is now a visitor’s center at the fort, including a small museum area and gift shop. There is no cost to visit the fort, and there are even frequent musket demonstrations, cannon firings and ranger-led hikes.
Just up the road is a huge beach access, bath house and picnic tables. We brought our packed lunches to the tables before heading the half hour back home.
As a kid I had visited the Fort plenty of times, but certainly hadn’t been in years. I felt just a tad touristy, and yet my heart is happy when my kids give me the chance to experience something like it’s the first time. These days my body basically feels like it would like to stay on the couch and do nothing, but their fresh excitement and constant joy makes any effort I give so worth it. No couch-lying can can give me what they do in those moments.
For information on this and other parks, please visit www.ncparks.gov.
After two weeks of busy, busy, busy at camps (that I signed up to help with at 8 months pregnant in the middle of summer for some reason), we decided to take it a bit easier and have fun at our own pace. We are spending plenty of time at home with inexpensive, local thrills thrown in. Call it Mama’s Day Camp, if you will. Particularly since the baby will be here in four weeks or less, I feel the need for fun times now. Once #3 arrives, those times may be put on hold for several weeks!
All this week the kids and I will look for a few hours of fun each day out in the community, and we will share our adventures with you! Our goal is little to no cost.
DAY 1: Cedar Point Trail
On Monday we hit the spot where we recently went camping, Cedar Point Trail in the Croatan Forest, not far off of HWY 58. This time, we knew just what to bring! Water shoes, bottled water, snacks, and bug spray are a definite plus if you plan to spend any time on the trail or at the water’s edge. Only one viewpoint has a decent place for the kids to play and chase the thousands of fiddler crabs that live there, but there are also shells and larger crabs in the shallow water. Watch your step!
Also, unless you want to end up carrying a hot and tired toddler on a miles-long trail, stay to the left when you first hit the trail. NEVER, EVER go right!
Obviously, the trail is totally free. The kids spent about two hours running along the shore trail, collecting fiddler crabs (even finding one that was as tiny as a “piece of dirt!”), swimming, and identifying poison ivy and poison oak (a recently learned skill from Boy Scout camp).
For those with more time and energy, take the scenic long trail. Plenty of dog walkers and runners do. Or, bring some kayaks and take the ramp that’s just left of the trail. Pack a lunch and hit the picnic tables afterwards.
Sometimes the simplest trip down the road can turn into the best day. I’m currently reading Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, which states that my generation didn’t grown up in the outdoors. That may be mostly true for some of us. But I did. And I remember my outdoor times more fondly than most others. I didn’t move to Morehead City, NC and an actual neighborhood until I was about 4. Before then and during those growing-up years I spent a lot of time at my grandparents, which was out in the country, surrounded by fields and woods. I played for hours, alone, in a creek I called “Cow’s Creek.” I’m now pretty positive I was also playing in cow’s poop, but hey, what’s done is done. I’m still alive. I ran through tobacco fields. I pretended I lived in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh. I tamed kittens, fed goats and chickens and rabbits. I walked the paths and made new ones. I found places behind the usual fields and trees I had never seen before. And I had the absolute best time.
We think our kids need more stimulation. They don’t. Monday I gave my kids a bucket in a salt marsh and set them free. Their growing minds were free to explore, become curious and creative, and gain knowledge and appreciation for the world around them.
I still remember what it felt like to be a kid in a corn field. Free, with the natural world and endless possibilities all around you, places and creatures to explore in every direction, one-ness with something much larger than yourself, peaceful, content, full of wonder and awe. I want my kids to know that very same feeling, and as often as possible.
For more information on camping and hiking at the Croatan National Forest Cedar Point Trail, please visit http://www.forestcamping.com/dow/southern/crocmp.htm.
Yesterday morning I called about picking up some eggs at a farm down the road and the man said, “Do you want a pig too?” He proceeded to to explain to me that this runt he was referring to was born a week ago to a litter of 15 piglets and hadn’t been able to get enough milk. She had one tiny, deformed ear. She wasn’t up and about yet like the others. Unless someone took a lot of trouble and time to bottle feed her she might not make it.
So….not only did the kids and I bring home two dozen fresh eggs yesterday, we also brought home a shivery little piggy. WITH the assurance that we can bring her back anytime, and in the case that she does become healthy and strong. Being that her mom weighs 500 pounds I’m pretty positive she won’t be living at our house for very long. To a farm Miss Piggy will go.
She wouldn’t take the bottle very well but we were able to get milk to her with a syringe. For the first couple of hours she was at our house she ate about every 30 minutes. Come bedtime, I was wondering if I had thought this through properly.
Carver has had total spring fever for the past couple of weeks and hasn’t cared about anything except playing, running, and being crazy. But so far he has taken great interest in our little pig. He helped with feedings before bedtime and assured me that he wanted to (and would) get up and feed her in the night. She didn’t wake until 2:30 in the morning. By that time Emma had joined us in the bed. Carver was completely up and ready to feed her when he heard her squeals. So there we three were, feeding a hungry little pig in the wee hours.
Unfortunately, just as I was falling back asleep and the kids were out she started squealing again. I rolled out of bed and fed her, letting the kids sleep. That happened about three more times between 3:30 and 6 a.m. Yeah, didn’t think it through at all.
Smart little thing that Carver is, this morning he figured out that if he squeezes the bottle a little bit for the milk to come out she gladly takes it. She isn’t up and walking yet, but she isn’t shivering and shaking like she did when she came. Progress is good. Because mama needs her sleep! That and the fact that my husband is probably only slightly amused that our home is slowly becoming a barnyard!
That’s what Carver asks me almost immediately after telling me he doesn’t want to do school. What he doesn’t realize is those papers are school.
Social Butterflies (www.socialbutterfliesnc.com) sends me a monthly email newsletter on family events in and around Raleigh. Yes, that is about three hours from our town, but it gives me ideas and options for when we are able to go the distance. The latest newsletter brought news of the NC Science Festival, with events for kids held all around the state from April 13 to 29. In addition to the events calendar and info, www.ncsciencefestival.org also provides activities for educators (or parents) to use in the classroom (or at home). The activities are super simple to set up, with well laid-out instructions on blue pages.
So far, we have made gross goo…which, funnily enough calls for Borax, something I think most families these days wouldn’t have on hand, but something I always have on hand since I use it to make my laundry detergent. (I really probably shouldn’t have just admitted that. I will still never forget the look on one of my oldest friend’s face when I first told her that.) If you are local and need to find it, Harris Teeter definitely carries it. We have made homemade bubbles, which we decided were way bigger and better than the store-bought kind. We played a bat echolocation game. Carver already knew this term from Wild Kratts (our new favorite cartoon and one of the most educational I have ever seen) and Emma, my three-year-old, got scared. Blindfolds, you know. We also made what the activity called elephant toothpaste, but is actually something like a volcano.
The downloadable materials for elementary educators includes 12 different activities. If you are looking for a fun science activity or just something fun and different on a weekend, I highly recommend these. So go pick you up some Borax and food coloring or some Dawn and pipe cleaners and get to it! And if you figure out how to make a square bubble, please let me know!