Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blackhawk Creek - An Adventure in Creek Walking

I rediscovered a little creek which flows in the canyon below my favorite hiking trail a few weeks ago. As I huffed up the steeply sloped, redwood-forested trail, I looked down the hillside and spied the rocky channel of Blackhawk Canyon Creek below.


I had one of those AHA!! moments when I realized that it still had really good water flow, uncharacteristic for this time of year. All the late rains this year had prolonged the drainage from the nearby mountains and I could see an inviting brook in the canyon which I had hiked over but never "through."

At that point I knew I'd have to take my kids up the creek on a hot day since it is totally shaded and would provide a great distraction for them and ME when the temperatures soar around here. And that day came only a few days later when the mercury read 101 at my house and I thought it was time to pull out the emergency arsenal.

Obviously my kids thought it was pure torture.


We entered the base of the canyon in single file avoiding the poison oak which liberally grows around the trail head. Both my kids know this itchy plant by heart as it was one of the first plants I taught them as we began to hike when they were a little younger.


A single track foot path occurs on the bank of the creek above the ordinary high water line and where possible we followed it up the trail. I wanted to minimize disturbance to the clear and semi-pristine waters that were flowing down the creek's channel. I had suspicions about what may be living in the shallow creek flows and thought to protect their home.

Right away Wyatt noticed the big leaf maples and saw the samaras which had fallen earlier in the spring. He got the little "winged-fruit" to "helicopter" in the wind and readily recognized the big palm shaped leaves crying out, "Look Mom! Big leaf maple!!" each time he saw another tree along our march.


The Acer macrophyllum were common and beautiful in the filtered sunlight below the dense canopy.


Further along the trail, Wyatt said, "Look Mom! We can see a spider spinning it's web in real nature." Cause apparently the spiders at our house don't live in "real nature." And I keep thinking we need to be more civilized at home....


As we meandered along there were many questions and observations that went outspoken as we walked. The kids burst out with their declarations or questions and I dutifully sounded back.

For example Wyatt would squat and look intently at a pool and say, "Mom! It's a salamander."
And I would return, "Good eye Wyatt."


Ella exclaimed, "Mom! The "Cal-E-forneya" bay smells much better than it looks. (Say California like Arnold does.)"

I would reply, "Goodness, that is a great observation Ella. You are totally right."


"Mom, can we walk in the water?!?"

"No." I'd say, "Walk on the edges of the stream, on the rocks or on the bank. Only walk in the water where we have to cross over."


Then a few feet later.... "Mom? Can we walk through the water now?"


Sticking to my original edict, I told them, "No. Let's take a careful look at the water here kids. It looks deep enough to be home for something. Yep. See that flash of silver-green. Look very closely. They're fast."


And then we spotted the fingerlings. Steelhead babies that were living in the shallow pools of the canyon. With the water being especially plentiful this year there were many to see.

I knew they could be there, but had never tried to find them before. About 8 years ago a small reservoir called Sprig Lake was maintained just below the trail head, but it was decommissioned since it was believed that the impoundment was preventing steelhead spawning upstream. And it was apparently true! I was originally disappointed that the small lake was allowed to drain since there were many western pond turtles using it, but the regulatory agencies deemed the survival of steelhead more important. It's hard to me to weigh the value of one rare native species over another. Hopefully the turtles moved downstream...

Regardless, we had fun looking at all the pools for fish and that occupied us for a good chunk of time.

Then we continued our climb up the creek. In some locations the debris rack across the channel required climbing.


But mostly we stayed to the edges where there was good room for walking without disturbing the creek's critters.


The conversation varied like the dark shadows were were walking beneath.

"Mom! Are we done yet?" said an anxious Ella. "Mom, I'm tired."

"No Ella, keep marching. We're almost to the end of the hike," I said maybe 5 times.

I growled, "Ella! Stop ripping my arm off." As Ella held my hand whilst climbing over big rocks and logs.

Then I demanded, "Ella! Stop using my arm like a rope swing."

I pleaded with my son, "Wyatt! Can you please not cut off your sister?" As the boy's goal was to be first everywhere....

Wyatt shouted, "LOOK! There's a banana slug!!"

Ella exclaimed, "Mom! It's another mushroom!"

Ella spotted, "Mom Stop! It's a SNAKE!"

And it was....


A little racer was quietly sunning its self on a mossy rock next to the creek. Wyatt and I walked right past it, but Ella who is closer to the ground spotted it right away. It sat perfectly still while we all examined it. Three huge beasts staring eye to eye at a snake making its way in the dark bottom of a canyon. Strange indeed. Strange for all four of us.

With such little light reaching the stream channel it was surprising to find the little gray-green reptile, but it was there. And we were there invading or enjoying his world, depending upon how you look at it.

Hopefully, he did not mind, and the fish did not mind, and the salamanders did not mind, and the others not seen did not mind, for we walked carefully and respectfully through their territory, trying our best to minimize our foot print.


As a special present to us and them, we brought a white plastic bag - maybe like a flag of peace - to collect the garbage left behind by other humans in the creek. There was not too much, a few cans and bottles, scraps of paper and plastic wrappers, but enough was gathered in that white bag to show we made a difference out there. And better yet to make a difference in the mind of two impressionable kids is the best of all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Vacation - Day "Something" and the Mosaic Pot Project

So the fact I can't remember how many days the kids have been out of school might be an indication that I am a survivor of summer vacation. For now.

Here's our latest family project that we completed. For some bizarre reason I thought we should embark on a simple little mosaic pot project. And by simple I mean lengthy and arduous and by little I imply gigantic. The fact that Wyatt's class in Kindergarten made one led me to believe this should be relatively easy. If 5 and 6-yr olds are able to make one, why can't we as a team?

Meet the ingredients below. They appear innocuous, incapable of bodily harm, but let me assure you they really have unmitigated torture on their minds. Specifically, my torture, which was to be stretched out over two gloriously agonizing days.


So for about $44.00 I purchased the basic materials that are necessary to make our mosaic project-pottery dreams come true, or not. My expectations were that this project would occupy my kids for a good chunk of time, however we know how that kind of expectation usually goes.

Sadly, the broken bits of colored pottery below were worth far more intact than what we spent on the stuff above. This glass wear consists of the various pottery from expensive sources that had met it's untimely demise during the past six years. You know this kind of stuff . . . the hand made Hadley pottery and other one of a kind pieces that have met their early death.


(Plus, I augmented the colors with a few judicious trips to Goodwill, raiding their plates and purchasing the most pretty and colorful ones to break into pieces for this puzzle at 1.49 per plate.)

For periods of time Wyatt "the beast" could be found occupied with smashing colorful plates. Hammers and glass wear are a good combination for any red blooded boy. Or at least at my house they are.


Ella meanwhile was trying to piece things back together.


After enough small pieces of glass wear were generated we moved on to decorating with the glue. Peek-a-boo!


One at at time each piece was placed on the big and small sized pots. I used a rubber kitchen spatula to spread glue then press on the pottery pieces. Later I just used the spatula to add a dollop of glue onto the back of the pottery pieces and then I pressed them on to the pot. This 2nd method better conserved glue. (For three pots we only used 1/2 of the tile glue)

The kids picked out their favorite pieces of broken pottery to glue on their own pots and I only helped to space them around the surfaces.


Momma Bear's big pot.....


Jr. Bear's medium pot.....


Wee little Baby Bear's tiny pot......

We'll just not mention the finger cuts, excessive glue on certain peoples hands, using ones clothing as a towel, and other various "issues" we had during this decorative process.


Day 2 of the mosaic pot project: The next step after the tile glue dried was the task of spackling and the tedious chore of smoothing the gray colored grout into the crevices between the pottery pieces. But we did add a few ornaments to the rim of the pot in the form of beads and tile squares before hand letting them dry first.

Again the kitchen spatula was the best tool for the job. And yes, these utensils have a new permanent job doing outdoor work. The kids spackle-attacked their pots with their bare hands, but since we were "all in" on that portion of the project, no cameras could be handled therefore no pictures... Wyatt jumped in after he was clean to take a few of mom below.


This is where things get a little dicey since there is a finite amount of time to work on the grout before it sets up entirely. The acres and acres and miles and miles of crevice on the large pot required individual attention to fill. And then there was the smoothing of all the edges so the pot would finish nicely. Clock tick-tocking I worked for about four hours non-stop to complete this task.

(After their relatively brief involvement in grouting their pots, my children entertained themselves doing......Uh....I am not really sure what they were doing.)


It was during the smoothing process that I caught my finger on a sharp edge and am still stinging from the jagged cut. I whine....it's really only a 1/4 inch slice but it hurts.....STILL.

Additionally, during the "smoothing" process one must bend one's back in awkward positions to see what needs to be done, and then one must use a head lamp since the day turned into night somehow. But my reward for an aching back is this:


Finally, the finished product after the final hand polishing of the colored pieces!!!

I guess I can check off mosaic pot creation from my bucket list now. Don't think I'll be doing a repeat any time soon. I guess the real question is who was this project really for? Maybe we will have to do it again in 10 years.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Farm Bucks - The Exchange Non-Legal Tender at the Compound

Summer Vacation - Day 8

For the record: Day 2 - 7 survived. But on Day 3 we decided to implement "Will Work for Bucks" program.

New parenting goal. Or rather, my new and improved and reinforced parenting goal is that I am not going to raise a kid who feels entitled to everything and won't work for "nothin'".

To facilitate this mutual happiness between adults and children on our "Compound" I have adopted an exchange system to earn privileges and rewards through the summer.

"Farm Bucks" as borrowed from Wyatt's first grade classroom is the form of currency which Wyatt can use to buy stuff he likes. For example...


Things which Wyatt wants and what they will cost him:

Drive John Deere Mower = 4 farm bucks
Go to Beach = 10 farm bucks
Rec Pool = 2 farm bucks
Being aloud to Chew Gum = 5 farm bucks
Afternoon TV 1/2 hr = 2 farm bucks
15 minutes computer time = 2 farm bucks

Farm Bucks are earned by:

Random acts of kindness = 2 farm bucks
Following directions = 2 farm bucks
Doing School Work = 2 farm bucks
Doing School Work without Crying = 4 farm bucks
Writing a story = 4 farm bucks
Reading a story = 4 farm bucks
Writing sentences about a story that was read = 2 farm bucks
Clean manure from horse pens = 4 farm bucks

So there are ample ways in which farm bucks can be acquired.

Wyatt is not happy about this arrangement. But I figure I am his parent, not his best friend.


But if he wants something, he will have earn it this summer. Hrumph!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Vacation Begins or in other words "What to do with Wyatt"

Summer Vacation, Day 1

With much fear and dread summer vacation has sprung on me like an angry swarm of ants. Biting and itching and possibly stinging . . . Maybe I have over reacted to the eminent threat of Wyatt being home all day for summer. And as such, it only seems appropriate to take the challenge of properly documenting summer vacation 2011.

Two days ago, I was not bubbling in glorious sunshine at the thought of my first born being at home. I must bashfully admit I had a rather good laugh while posting my problem on the Facebook. Those who know Wyatt, know Wyatt . . .

Here's how it read:

Wyatt's last day of school....now what do i do?
Yesterday at 7:19am · Privacy: · ·

    • Melynda Coble Harrison Put some food outside and lock the door;)
      Yesterday at 7:21am · · 1 person
    • Julia King Haahaaaa! I wish it could be that easy. Will child protective services arrest me? And then do I put in a cat door for Ella?
      Yesterday at 7:37am · · 1 person
    • Agatha Christie Smith Ruh, roh.
      Yesterday at 8:30am ·
    • Dawn Marshall Smith Like he's not going to keep himself occupied? The kid is an evil genius! :-D
      Yesterday at 8:34am ·
    • Amy Moll Harley Summer camp!
      23 hours ago ·
    • Melynda Coble Harrison I think the cat door will make it ok to CPS.
      23 hours ago · · 1 person
    • Julia King I'm thinking a child size straight jacket and some shackles might come in handy. LOL.
      23 hours ago ·
    • Suzi King You might need a muzzle too. ;-)
      23 hours ago · · 1 person
    • Julia King Won't duct tape work?
      22 hours ago ·
    • Doris Sturm You just roll with it, baby ;-)
      21 hours ago ·
    • Kate Emmett-Wilder Panic!!!
      20 hours ago ·
    • Kathleen Scarvie Does he like a sport, other than destroying things? Maybe sign him up for a summer league or class, or swim lessons; if nothing else it will tire him out a bit. Even better... sign him up with a nearby friend so that you only have to go 1/2 the time! And I think the the doggie door might placate CPS!
      19 hours ago ·
    • Julia King I've got swim lessons, one week of sports camp and am working on other options... :)
      19 hours ago ·
    • Kathleen Scarvie That and the duct tape, and you're good to go!! ;-)
      19 hours ago ·
    • Ingrid Stram Doll Theres always tadpoles, we still have lots..
      16 hours ago ·
    • Julia King Ingrid we will take you up on that!
      16 hours ago ·
    • Ann Lounsbury Horner Play!!!!!!!!
      10 hours ago ·
    • Julia King Ann - you have the balcony view to his frolicking. Although we probably look like little ants down here. :)
      about an hour ago ·

So you see quite a bit of ill-gotten humor at my child's expense. Bwahhaaaa. I still laugh. Bad mommy.

But today dawned with optimism. The 6 a.m. wake up call from Wyatt did not occur. In fact, he did not show his half-cracked eyes at the side of my bed until almost 7. Time to call the Guinness Book of World records. Wyatt has staked his reputation on being awake at 6 or earlier for his entire 6-year existence. But taking the blessing as it came, Wyatt climbed into bed and snoozed for another 15 minutes or so until Ella arrived chirping like a bright little house finch. She is a chipper lady-girl and always very talky-talky upon rising from her princess slumbers.

An added twist to this morning included a note; Ella held it in her hand. It was a note from her Dadda:


Now who can't start their day off on a good foot with a note like that! (Let's forget about the out-door pooping, shall we?)

So off we go away we glide into the light of day. Somehow by 8:30 hidden treasure pirate maps were constructed from cardboard and paper bags. Mommy sent the kids outside to hide their valuable loot for later...


With the indistinguishable landmarks accurately mapped for our pirate escapades how could we not find what we were looking for?

Then Wyatt's got trapped in some kind of Japanese foot binding ceremony which I had to put to a quick, sudden and definitive end. We'll not have any toes falling off today. Not on my watch...


While outside burying treasure, Wyatt bounced back to the house like a Tigger the Tiger carrying his close personal friend from the garden. Mr. Snail was to have a visit to the big house. His all expense paid trip into my hostile abode was not without a cost. Yep. Experiment time.


NO, NO. No salt shakers are aloud around snails here. We just figure out if snails get dizzy by rolling them around in a pot. Or Wyatt figures out if they can stand the stare of death.


"DUDE! It has big eyes!"

"DUDE! It has big eyes!"

What snails across America are thinking this summer . . .


After snail fest 2011 was over and the snails were released to eat my flower beds, we did some errands, like packaging 46 Bingo's Big Adventure books for shipment to Baker and Taylor. We went to the post office and got some gum. Wyatt began writing his first summer novel finishing three pages of illustrations and text. Splash fest XXII occurred while washing the car.

Then I decided we'd better find the treasure before we forgot it altogether...



Treasure = one large tan-ish orange rock and a small metal container. Not pictured. Too exciting. I did not want to incite riots over this loot. Please no rioting.

Then we took a few gratuitous family portraits cause I have to train Wyatt and Ella to use the camera "properly."


Ella is obviously thinking, "Who is this woman sitting next to me and when do I scream for my real mommy?"


But then some distant memory flooded her cranium and she remembered I was actually her real mommy.

And not to be left out of the nose - nose experience . . . the grubby faced, pirate acting, snail touching, dirt groveling, nose boy.


Agggghhhh! This kid picks too many boogers for me to take this with ease. But how can I say no?

And then baths and stories and bed. And Day 1 was over. Maybe summer won't be so bad after all.