Thursday, May 15, 2014

Learning Creatures

Caution Note: I've mentioned my daughter before, but this post is 100% about kids. Out of respect for my dear friends in the Loss community who have yet to find their rainbow, I'll be placing warnings on child-oriented posts, so that they may choose to skip that post if they are having a rough day.

We are learning creatures.

I was watching Pebbles today, and I was struck with the fact that we are learning creatures. From the time we are born, we are hardwired to learn. Every experience, no matter how mundane, teaches us something.

Pebbles was getting into everything today. She was a whirlwind of energy and I was looking for something that would slow her down a bit, so I could keep up. I handed her a little tin that I keep cheesy crackers in for a quick toddler snack. She had once before figured out how to pop and slide the lid open to get to the treats inside. However, today she was stumped.

Recently, she discovered that she could hand me something and I would interact with the item for her. She had fed me strawberries that were supposed to be her breakfast the other day with a childish delight that had me feeling like Lucille on the production line at the chocolate factory. Today was the first time she handed me something specifically because she wanted it fixed. So, I demonstrated to her how to slide the lid back and forth three times, then I handed it back to her.

It took a minute of trying and fumbling, but she finally got the lid slid open enough to reach in and pinch a cracker between her little fingers.


Once she realized that she couldn't reach more than the top crackers, she started testing her limits. First she dumped the crackers on the floor, but instead of just eating them that way, she picked them each up and put it back in the tin. As she did this, she would reach in occasionally to see if she could reach the crackers. She continued this methodical testing until she figured out the level that she could reach the crackers.

Okay, that's how far my hand can go...

When she sorted this problem out, she began a new game. She pulled each cracker out of the tin and lined it up along the seats of the couch. This is something I used to do with Cheerios to distract her when she was just starting to stand with the help of the couch and was super grouchy. We haven't done it in more than 3 months. She replicated it for a while, lining crackers up and then eating them one by one.

This one goes here!

Eventually, she bored of this activity and began to grab the crackers and huck them over her shoulder in and around her myriad of toys strewn over the floor.

Apparently it no longer goes there.

Finally, she retrieved the tin and its lid and began putting the remaining cracker pieces back in the tin, and tried to figure out how to align the lid right to slide it back into place. She gave up, choosing to put the lid inside the tin along with the crackers, but I was still impressed.

Only a few crumbs left for me to clean up. Everywhere!

This was a half an hour of total solitary focus after I had showed her how the lid opened. Complete self-directed play and self-directed learning. It makes me think that sometimes the best thing we can do for our children is to get out of their way. They've got this learning thing taken care of!

I learned something too.

Inside every Elmo is a Mickey Mouse just waiting to get out.

Next time: Spring is in the air!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Yard work and a tour

We've been in this house for a month. Sometimes it's very hard to believe, but we spent the first two weeks getting moved in and cleaning out our old house. We were supposed to move into this home after it had been professionally cleaned, however when the sale started falling apart and the sellers were getting crabby, we released them from that clause on the day of closing. Instead of finishing up what cleaning that they did promise, they just locked the doors, dropped their keys off with their realtor, stopped by the title company to sign their papers, and drove off into the sunset.

So, I've been spending a great deal of time deep cleaning this house. From the ceilings, the light fixtures, walls, windows, window sills, baseboards, heaters, door jams, doors, and floors, I've been scrubbing to remove all traces of old cat, dog slobber, greasy hand prints, scuffs from moving furniture, and copious amounts of accumulated dirt. It's almost done, but I had to change focus for a minute or three.

What a difference a month makes!

This is because sun came out, break up finished, and we're even being blessed with something of an actual spring. Something that Alaska doesn't see very often. As the snow retreated for the first time, we finally got a chance to explore our new yard. We discovered poop.

Lots of poop.

Poop everywhere.

I'll spare you from a picture.

You're welcome.

Last fall the previous owners did not do a typical fall clean-up before the snow came. The grass was left long, the leaves lay where they fell, and then as the snow built and built, they let their dog out to do its business and never picked anything up. Our lawn was a matted, thatchy, poopy mess. I didn't have the heart to take pictures. Instead, we hired a local service to come do a spring clean-up. We did this at our old place once before. It was an expense, but given our schedule at the time, it was worth it and it only took one guy an hour to clean the whole yard. This time was different. For two hours, four guys picked up poop and raked up leaves. They only made it through about a third of the yard, even using two leaf blowers before running through their allotted time. We just couldn't justify the expense of having them continue, knowing how much was still left to do.

Instead, we put that money down and invested in a good gas-powered leaf blower. It took me two days with the blower, with John raking behind me to de-thatch the grass and pick up poop, while battling a serious Alaskan-style mosquito infestation, but we finally got it done yesterday morning.

That's a lot of poop. Well, there's a few leaves mixed in there, too.

After showering we took our 15th trip to Lowe's and a couple of local nurseries. Now we've got a game plan and something like a nice yard. Pebbles is kind of over Lowe's, the people watching isn't all that good.

Care for the grand tour?

Here it is! Come up the driveway through a few trees and there is this lovely cedar-sided home.

On the south side of the driveway, to the right of the house, is the garage. It's a big garage. I'll do a post just on the garage another time. It deserves it's own post.

I'm letting the entire yard cycle for one year, to see what's what and where things like perennials might turn up. So, this year gardening is limited to pots, except for one tomato plant that I'm going to find a warm place to grow. Here's the mix, out in the shade, starting their hardening off cycle before planting.

One of the things I get to do this year is to identify all the plants on the property. If there is anything particularly toxic, out it comes. This shrub looked a bit shifty.

But, then we looked at it closer (and consulted a local botanist). It's a Rose Tree of China! It will be in full bloom in a few days. I definitely will get pictures!

Back to the yard. The pretty flowering bush has this view, looking south along the eastern garage wall.

Behind the garage (looking west) is a deceptive bit of land. About a quarter acre is hidden in the trees back there. I was thrilled on my meanderings to discover it's virgin forest, complete with native undergrowth, including High Bush Cranberries and possibly some wild raspberries. I love them, so we'll make sure to leave that land undisturbed, so we can harvest the berries in the fall.

Looking east from the garage, the back fence stretches out on your right. We have a kind of triangular-shaped lot, so this is our longest fence line stretching from the back of the forested area, along behind the garage, and on along to the east side of our lot. We were greatly relieved when the snow melted and we found a 5-foot tall fence, instead of the 3-foot it had looked like when we bought the place. Fencing wasn't a project we were looking forward to.

Before we walk all the way to the back of the property, we turn to the north to see the house. No south-facing windows except that little kitchen window, yet somehow the inside is bright and airy all day. We're planning on some renovations which will include adding dormer window seats upstairs, and eventually the window seats will open out over a two-story 'post and beam' sun room after a second phase of renovations. But that is a long ways off.

This little shed just begs to be made into a playhouse for Pebbles!

The sellers were kind enough to leave the caribou antlers. Makes me smile every time I look at them.

Looking west from the back (top image) and the center (bottom image) of the property towards the garage and house. Lots of lawn to play on!

There are quite a bit of paper birch trees on the property. Many of them look big enough to tap, so maybe we'll try our hand at birch syrup some spring. This set, however, is just growing mushrooms.

In the mean time, there are one or two spots that are simply crying out for a hammock, a book, and a nice glass of wine.

Of course, that deck looks awfully comfortable, too!

We did, however, discover that after they installed a new septic tank last fall, they just kind of scraped the dirt back in place with a bobcat and called it good. So much for the 'fully landscaped yard'. This will take a while to fix. I've got to pull out all the rock, spread new top soil, level, and re-seed. Yeesh.

The only bit of landscaping clues that the sellers gave, was a hand-written note on their way out the door. The wife wanted me to know that outside the kitchen window were 'the most beautiful peonies she had ever seen'. Sure enough, they broke through the ground two weeks ago and are already over a foot tall! Alaska is definitely good for growing peonies.

They are along the east wall in a really warm corner with reflective heat from the extended roof line under the kitchen window. I'm going to take a bit of space in there to plant my tomato. They really don't do well in Alaska's cool, short growing season, so every bit of extra heat helps. You can even see that the peonies nearest to the kitchen wall are taller than those further down the row.

Coming out of the back yard by the garage, you can see this interesting gate and fence they built. On top of the fence posts are stained glass caps. Some of them look like they have solar panels on top, as if they could light up at night. The sellers left four more of these for what I presume was for a matching gate set up for the north side of the home. I like the idea of expanding on their theme (the house is loaded with stained glass fixtures), and a fellow at Lowe's in trying to locate more for us to use along the driveway.

View of the front walk from the garage, looking north. The amount of gravel tracked in from this walk is stunning, and right onto hardwood floors. We are absolutely shoeless inside now, and I'll be paving this walk during the summer when I have help watching Pebbles.

Outside the front door, there is this little gravel pad that is something of a small patio. When I put down pavers for the front walk, I'll be including this in the project. No more gravel! We sweep the garage out twice weekly, because of the gravel the trucks track in, but the driveway is much too big to pave on our current budget.

The grand tour is almost over, but I had to include the biggest surprise we've had yet.

Kokopelli! I have no idea why this little Anazazi fellow is up here in the Great Land, but there he is. A taste of my old life in Southern Utah, ready to welcome us home.

Up next: A tour of the inside. But first, I have to get through the housewarming and birthday party this weekend!

And, mosquito abatement. We can't take Pebbles outside right now, and little girls need to play outside.