Playdate at Tiffany's house in the porch-parlor.
Hand-made wooden chess boards are the way to go.
Before the weekend's endless rain began, we took a half-pajamed streetlight stroll in our neighborhood. The tawny owls kept us company which their hoo-hoo-hooohooo-hoo.
I lagged behind to keep my vertigo company as Patrick led the crew along the perfect line of lights.
We had a good laugh when someone noticed that a lush handlebar moustache sprouted atop the speed limit sign.
"Hey Max, my shadow is bigger than you!"
The gauntlet fell and the shadows lined up.
Dusky, golden streetlight yellow.
Milla woke up from her nap mortified at the state of the world. Or something.
Enter wooden beads and pipe cleaners- something to make and do, something to move tiny, frustrated hands towards an end that makes sense. Have you ever thought about how simple crafts and handwork help us reduce the frustration with tiny, uncontrollable events in our lives?
Milla calmed down and got to work. Got to play. Same thing anyway.
One bead means success.
On to more beads.
Milla-bear with her dreamy hair.
A fresh splattering of brown and red leaves lay across our lawn this morning. Our learning adventure for the day was sealed by the seasonal changes. As we collected leaves from the ground, we discussed what happens to deciduous trees during the season of autumn. Max hopped over to the his nature journal to report on the day's discoveries.
The cells at the base of each leaf stem begin to die, forming a barrier that keeps water and nutrients from traveling to the leaf. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in the leaves, begins to break down and other leaf pigments begin to show through or accumulate. Yellow or orange carotenoid pigments (sounds and looks like "carrot") are present in the leaves during the summer, but the bright green of the chlorophyll masks them. As the level of chlorophyll decreases, these pigments become more obvious and the leaf appears more and more yellow or golden.
Red anthocyanin pigments are not present in the summer- they come to leaves especially in the fall. The anthocyanin pigments form as a result of chemical reactions that occur when temperatures drop and photosynthesis slows. These pigments are responsible for the deep red leaf colors of fall. While early cool temperatures bring about the best fall colors, early frost can ruin the fantastic foliage outright by killing the leaves before the gradual shift in colors can take place.
Inspired by Susie Short's watercolor daydreams, we started our morning with a leaf watercolor event. Because the leaves are irresistibly alluring as their hair tips silver.
watercolor leaves ingredients
lots and lots of freshly-fallen leaves
watercolor paints in tubes
first use the leaves as stencils
Dabble paint with a dry sponge brush or a paper napkin to leave an outline of the leaf on your paper or surface. You can stick to one leaf stencil or you can add layers of what looks like "leaf shadows" by shifting leaves slightly and outlining them with "patted-on" paint.
Micah dabbed and then rubbed for an especially ethereal look, while Milla got yellow paint on every secret part of her body.
then use the leaves as stamps
Paint moistened but not drippy paint directly on the leaf itself. The underside of the leaf usually has better raised veins for printing. Place the leaf paint side down on your surface and apply gentle pressure to transfer the paint to the card.
Repeat this process until you have a leaf which suits your fancy. Allow to printed leaf patterns to dry.
fill in your prints
Using a brush, fill in the stamped leaf pattern with warm autumn colors. Vary your strokes and don't be afraid to layer your paints over prints and patterns- layering adds dimension and texture.
If you're like Micah, then you might want to add a rich blue background for your foliage...
But if you're like Angie, you may want to stick with warm colors and mix paints for a background that elicits a little of each color. Either way, your leaf art welcomes the season and its changes.
I've never been the sunglasses type. Preferring to squint and get blinded by the sun, perhaps hoping for some secret clairvoyance, I lose every pair of $5 truck stop sunglasses ever purchased. Good gear is wasted on me.
Micah and Milla, on the other hand, regularly sport their sunglasses indoors. This morning, they were having a conversation, sunglasses perched on their noses, when I decided to drop in.
Crouching on the floor next to the bench, Alina asked:
"So Milla, what are you doing?"
Without looking up, Milla replied, emphatically:
"Muh baby WET."
Micah offered advice from the orange chair nearby:
"Then you need to change her, Milla, so she don't get a rash."
The word "rash" dangled ominously in the air.
After fussing with an invisible diaper, Milla sighed and stood up:
"Muh baby ha wrash".
With her baby tucked under her arm, she stared straight ahead.
Hoping to break the sombre spell, Alina asked Milla if her baby would be okay.
Milla peeked down and shook her head.
The sing-song, sparrow-ish voice of Micah rang out from the orange chair:
"I TOLD you, Milla, that you have to change the baby."
At what age does smugness first rear its head?
When Alina asked Micah why she was wearing sunglasses, Micah shrugged:
"Cause the sun gets in my eye and then you can't see".
As if to disprove her point, Micah promptly removed her hot pink sunglasses and
returned her attention to the consequences of unchanged diapers on tender
Sunglasses diminish their light by not one bit.
Leave Milla alone for twenty minutes and the world changes in ways you cannot anticipate.
Patrick and the kids folded and sorted laundry for a good chunk of the morning. No one noticed that little Milla was busy with her "bike" (from Oak) and her "baby" (from Helena); she worked in deep concentration near a book-filled corner of the bedroom.
The new silver shoes purchased by Suebee and Pops for Milla last week dangle simply from the handlebars.
The baby is carefully attached to the bike with coat hangers. The art critic would have a field day with the symbolism of hangers and hanging babies and unmotorized bikes. Oh Milla Percy Coryell, tell me more of your amazing stories. Please don't ever stop creating your contraptions and installations. Thou art beautiful beyond relief.
Pretty new shoes from Suebee and Pops.
Of course, at least one of the girls always puts them on the "wrong" feet. I wonder why.... My childhood memory doesn't reach back far enough to the mystery of right and wrong feet. Do you remember having trouble figuring out which foot belonged to which shoe?
Micah's alphabet book is coming along at its own pace, skipping around from the simple letters to the more complicated, curvy ones. Today, Max is investigating the health of trees in our yard based on their leaves, trunks, and limbs. The results are bound to be interesting. The backyard is our classroom today- with no other classroom in sight.
G page (above)
little hands to pluck grass and stick it inside the letters
Ways to play:
Trace the letters G with fingers.
Play "I Spy" for objects beginning with "g" in the yard.
Sing or invent a song with the refrain "g is for good".
We chanced upon an amazing fallen pine branch today- the kind you can't walk away from. The branch, once split, quickly turned into an autumn broom for the removal of pinestraw on the sidewalks.
The munchkins decided to create a "castle" for visiting or migrating butterflies. What better use of an old, abandoned, half-eatern morning apple? Max insists the sweet fragrance will beguile butterflies, while Micah thinks the "twigs" make it cozy. Little Mills pretended to be a butterfly and took a bite out of it. I told the kids our butterfly friends won't mind- perhaps they'll even appreciate a literal "meal-sharing" with us.
It remains to be seen if Max's hypothesis that butterflies like applies is true. Tests currently under way.
All our wanderings have included mushrooms over the past few weeks. Micah spots them immediately, then Max trots over to describe them and classify them in his chart-like mind right before Milla commences to crush them with her pounce or a stomp.
This fun-guy was located near Windham Springs in Northport in a wooded area down a trail.
A gargantuan fun-guy that would make a perfect saucer for fairy folk in a yard down the street. This fellow likes the sun.
Max, Micah, and Milla use a magnifying glass to get a close-up of a fun-guy hanging out in our backyard. He's a pretty typical fun-guy, common to these parts.
Patrick has to work on some Saturday mornings, and this Saturday morning was too beautiful to lollygag around the house waiting for the king to return. So we hopped into the spaceship and bobbled over to the Bobby Miller Center in Taylorville. The bright, unexplored playground (and the lack of students) across the street diverted us from our original goal.
Max walked back and forth across the balance beam at least five times, with Micah swiftly catching on and following him.
Because there is nothing that he can do which she will not try. And there is no limit to the number or shape of things Micah will try- the spirit of a mountain climber in the body of a ballerina. Grace and strength in a combination that is entirely her own.
After trying to emulate M and M, Milla finds her own way to move across the balance beam- one more in sync with her personal style. When she made a hissing sound at me, I understood she was slithering.
The kids kept getting pebbles in their shoes on the see-saw.
I walked over to the asphalt ball court with Milla, who seemed slightly bothered by all the see-sawing taking place without her. Fortunately, the asphalt was painted with a lively map of the United States.
Milla loved throwing pebbles onto various states, so we made a game of it.
West Virginia Max.
Quasi-Alabama Micah with Georgia on her mind.
Lonely little Hawaii.
The best experiments come as opportunities to connect the dots between the ideas we love and the lives we lead. When we dropped by the Clay-Coop at the Kentuck Arts Center a few weeks ago, an unintended field trip turned into an incredible learning opportunity.
Hayes shows a bowl that she made with some kids in the summer clay co-op.
We met Hayes Dobbins, a truly unique local clay artist, who welcomed us into the wonderful world of clay. Many clay artists purchase their clay from online dealers or art stores- the benefit is working with a known quantity. Hayes finds her own clay and uses it in her sculptures. In the process, she gains a working, living knowledge of local soil and clay qualities that allows her to craft truly local works of art.
Finding and Digging Your Own Clay
Hayes walked us through the process of digging and preparing your own clay. (I've added a little to what she told us from information provided by Marvin Bartel.) First, you need to find local clay sources. The best locations are stream and river banks, construction sites, or any place that gets slippery after a rain and sticky as it starts to dry. When clay dries, it almost as hard as a rock. Next time you go for a walk around the neighborhood, look for locations that are super-wet after rain and then dry and hard in rainless weather. Many backyards have their own clay sources just beneath the top soil or in areas where top soil has been eroded.
Some clay is too sandy and some is too sticky. Mr. Bartel looks for clay that can be rolled between his hands into a pencil thick coil of soft clay and wrapped around his finger without cracking. If the coil cracks, it may be too sandy or its clay particles may be too large. Sticky clay sticks too much to the hands and tends to undergo drying shrinkage and cracking during drying. Potters often blend several clays to get the right properties.
We stand and watch as Hayes explains the process of getting clay. Grandma Vicki, the kindred spirit, enjoyed every minute of it.
Hayes explained that she takes a big bucket after it rains and visits her favorite sites where she digs and collects the clay- most of it doesn't even require digging because it seeps from banks. Then she takes the bucket home for the next steps.
Removing Impurities and Making A "Slip"
Most common clay contains impurities, often in the form of iron oxide, sand, roots, and other debris. Hayes encouraged us to remove the large obvious ones (pebbles, twigs, etc.) by hand. Kids get a kick out of this part.
Troublesome tiny impurities can be removed by making a thin slip. Let the clay become totally dry- don't break it up. Now it's time to slake the clay, which is another way of saying "turning it to mush".
Flood the clay with clear water in large bucket or garbage can. Use enough water to completely submerge the clay. Do not stir the clay. Just don't. Stirring it clogs up the porosity and prevents good slaking. In a few days, even large chunks of clay will turn to mush.
The sand settles to the bottom first. Allow the sand to settle a short time. Then decant the clay water (the good slip from the top down to the sand) and discard the sand in the bottom. Allow the clay (slip) to settle.
Now you're ready to make a slip and remove the little impurities. When it's all soft and mushy, stir it until it is a slip. You can used an electric drill, a blunger, or the little red tool that Hayes is holding in the photo above. Add some more water if it's too thick to stir.
Now pour the slip through an old window screen (the kind you find at any hardware or building supply store) into another bucket or can. This screen removes stones, roots, and other small but not teeny-tiny trash that gets in the way. You want to remove the limestone because limestone pieces and particles cause pots and sculptures to break after firing.
When the clay has settled and turned to mush, drain or siphon off the extra water from the top of the mixture. Hayes explains that she spreads the mush a few inches thick on a clean, dry porous surface like a concrete driveway, old jeans, or canvas. Smooth the top with your hand to avoid getting small pieces on the surface. When it is almost dry enough, make coils as thick as your arm and set them around like big arches (a foot tall) and they are ready to use in 24 hours or less.
Impure clay can be used to add special touches to clay creations. For example, stoneware potters use local clay as a source of glaze material. These "slip glazes" have been used for thousands of years for lining jugs and traditional crockery. The bright red Moundville clay pictured above probably has a high iron content.
Storing Your Clay
If you can't use your clay coils in the 24 hour time period, store them in an airtight plastic container for as long as you need before using. Hayes gave us a large chunk of creek clay stored inside a plastic grocery bag wrapped around the clay and covered by another plastic grocery bag wrapped around the clay. Everything she did made use of existing materials that might otherwise be thrown away.
After showing us the light grayish color of the Hurricane Creek clay, Hayes encouraged us to touch it. Milla couldn't get enough of the clay.
Touching the soft, feathery creek clay which Hayes gave to us to take home.
One of Hayes' creek clay creations.
We didn't get around to sculpting and crafting until yesterday, when some friends dropped by and clay caught the attention of all the little ones. They used stamps and twigs to leave imprints on the clay. Max decided to make a pot, a platter, and a pot hot plate. You can use the instructions for making a clay bowl with kids to arrive at a similar place- though letting them get there on their own is much more fun to all.
A side view of Max's clay "pot".
Max's "hotplate platter" for his pot.
A view inside the "scoured bottom" of his pot.
As Max's creation dries to a soft gray, I can't help thinking about how much I love the circuitous way in which this came about. All thanks to meeting a super-nature-knowing lady by the name of Hayes Dobbins.
If you live near Tuscaloosa and would like to play with local clays, stop by Kentuck A La Carte this month next Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm in downtown Northport and meet Hayes. She will be out there with to share her clay-work and let kids and adults experiment with clays.
Milla, queen of arthropods, managed to keep a dragonfly friend on her shoe for over 3 minutes. Note the rust coloring where the wings meet the body- that didn't show up so well to the naked eye. I love the tricks wings play and the colors that emerge if you can pause life long enough to observe it.
I don't think any text is needed to explain what is happening here.
Angie, Micah, and Milla.
Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback is the current favorite. The ladies enjoyed cutting and pasting magazine pieces onto their own traced overcoats as a follow-up fancy.
It's fun to break down the colors and collage pieces and seek "similars" in a magazine.
We made a story-telling board collage with faces from magazines as inspired by this page.
The girls picked the faces and "characters" and we created a base for inventing our own stories about the inhabitants of "Overcoat Park". I hope we get to use this as a means of creative conflict resolution by telling stories which create empathy for one another when there is a "fight" or intractable squabble.
Milla reads to her baby in the orange chair.
Everybody's favorite chair- big enough to swallow two kids and one adult- sits by the big window overlooking our street.
Micah in the orange chair.
Many moments begin and end in this chair- reading moments, thinking moments, drawing moments, journaling moments, doll-caring moments, moments so plentiful that they defy characterization. Even the sorting moments- the instants when I sit and weigh all the influences in our lives hoping for guidance on next steps, big decisions, and tiny co-evolutions which often lead to revolutions.
Vanilla and Milla in context.
As a 90-year-old gentleman reminded me on the phone yesterday, thinking is a dangerous act. It leads to reflection and revision. I'm glad my kids can ask me, "Mom, what are you thinking about?" and I can give them an honest answer. The orange chair is a context.
Highway 61 should played a big part in our pilgrimage. On our way from Newbern to Greensboro, we passed through the possibility of a town named "Whitsitt". I say possibility because there was no town in evidence and the name itself suggests a spin off "What's it?".
Driving the 8ish miles to Lion's Park in Greensboro was easy sailing. The GPS coordinates for your visiting pleasure:
Latitude: 32.690500° N
Longitude: 87.588833° W
The super metal gate to Lion's Park are part of the Rural Studio's Surfaces, which turned the park from a car-friendly park to a pedestrian-focused park.
The intriguing Mobile Concession Stand that looks like a cross between the Jetson's and Soviet realism.
Patrick strolls up to the Baseball Fields at Lion's Park. The anti-90-degree angle look of the fencing is 100% Rural Studio.
Micah finds her own way to enter the super Playscape.
The play maze in which the kids got lost and found and lost and found again.
It might be one of the best places for hide-and-seek tag ever devised.
Stepping from one tin can to another is part of the fun.
Milla claps for herself as she manages the big leap across cans.
Sky and tin cans- vistas for kids.
Left out of our photos are the skate-friendly Toilet Rooms, the Skatepark, and other projects currently underway- which you can watch on Lion's Park Project blog. Coincidentally, the Rural Studio students were visiting the Tuscaloosa Arboretum recently.
One of our favorite swimming spots is under the Perdido bridge between the condo and Ono Island. Yesterday, we ventured out for a little dip and drip at Perdido in the company of my dad (aka Bunicu) and the Grand Bon-Bon (my 95-year-old grandfather who is the world's most detail-oriented and continuously-occupied social critic).
The bridge. You can climb up on the concrete feet of the bridge and jump into the deep waters surrounding it.
Patrick and Milla set forth into the sea.
Milla is finally challenging her own recent "fear" of water.
Nothing like a dad's hand to make the water feel safe.
Happy Milla, our testament to the effectiveness of sunscreen.
Max and Micah wave to the catamaran, the sylph of man-made vessels.
Dad and I pose for a photo session.
I've had the friendship bracelet since Milla was born and it's just now starting to show signs of falling away.
This is the point at which Milla inserted herself into the scene to demand breast milk. She also made it clear to Bunicu that he needed to keep his hands off her property, namely, me.
The Grand Bon Bon casts a critical eye on all that fun being had by various folks at the beach.
Finally the walls of the main room are finished- "porpoise" is the name of the paint color. Milla stayed up late with me last night after chatting with my dad on Facetime. We had fun taking photos with all the different Facetime effects. The lowdown.
Effect: Black and white
Effect: Pencil sketch
Given my rapture with toddlerhood, I use the words "terrible twos" uncomfortably. The word "terrible" doesn't sit right with the excitement of the new independence that toddlers display. Tempestuous twos is my preferred description.
Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik and her compadres at the University of Washington stoked my intuitions with their book, The Scientist in the Crib. Gopnik maintains that the discovery of the fact that different people have different desires is the source of the "so-called terrible twos":
What makes the terrible twos so terrible is not that babies do things you don't want them to do- one year olds are plenty good at that- but that they do things because you don't want them to.
Unlike the school of thought which believes toddlers are testing the limits of authority and demanding to be shown who's boss, Gopnik thinks that toddlers conduct a rational and engaged exploration of personal preferences. She came to this theory after several experiments, which you can read about in this article, demonstrated that toddlers are entering a world in which they discover that the preferences of others do not match their own.
When Milla was a year old, she would scream and cry if Micah laid her head on my chest. Micah suggested that Milla did this because "she thinks I'm going to drink her milk". Indeed, Milla was very possessive of my breasts for quite some time. Now, however, if I joke about "giving milk to Max", Milla laughs and says, "No mommy, no Max". It is no longer a question of tears; she seems to understand that no one else wants the breast milk except for her. Milla's preferences for breast milk are not matched by other family members. In Gopnik's words:
"Toddlers are systematically testing the dimensions on which their desires and the desires of others may be in conflict."
The implication is that toddlers are little scientists who develop their own theories about the world and test them in the lab that is home. When evidence mounts that an existing theory is incorrect (i.e. no one else ever drinks mommy's milk), then toddlers create a new theory to explain and understand the world (i.e. mommy's milk is special for me). Rather than being passive receptors of whatever surrounds them, little people are active collectors of information which is then analyzed, organized, and systematized in a manner that makes sense.
Gopnik's conclusions rest squarely with Dr. Sears' contention that "the work of a child is play". For us, as parents, the challenge is to address these "scientific queries" in the spirit of learning as opposed to the spirit of coercion and hierarchy. The tempestuous twos are an exciting and beautiful part of natural child development. Perhaps being "Babywise" isn't so wise after all.
"Trotsky only sits in my lap. Max and Micah really respect that. It's nice to finally be the boss of something. Too bad Trotsky can't talk like me to tell us what he prefers."
"When I get home, I'm going to kiss Trotsky. Did you know that kisses make things better? Like if I squeeze Trotsky too hard and he squeaks, I can kiss him and make it better right away. That's why I squeeze him in the first place. To make it better."
07-09-2012 -- Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- Milla Coryell, 2, looks at the live tilapia in a tank at Mr. Chen's on Monday, July 9, 2012. The restaurant, Mr. Chen's, opened June 28 and is coupled with a grocery store at the Parkview Center on 15th Street. (Erin Nelson / The Tuscaloosa News)
I'm not usually excited to discover the existence of another chain store in Tuscaloosa. But Mr. Chen's Authentic Chinese Cooking and Market won an exception to my usual rules. Located on 14th Street across from Central High School, Chen's lured Milla and myself through its unremarkable doors this afternoon.
They aren't delivering food yet, but the friendly young lady behind the cash register assured me that was "in the works". In the meantime, you can take a look at the menu and see if any possible take-out or dine-in options capture your salivary imagination.
All the chili pepper spreads you can imagine line the shelves.
Milla wanted the Kewpie mayonnaise with all her heart.
Fortunately, she was distracted by the siren call of the fish.
There was one in particular which she kept trying to kiss.
I walked away with a rubber tree cutting board- perfect for slicing and dicing all those summer vegetables from the garden.
A little surprise for the family- each Coryell can have their own set of chopsticks.
Braelin and Milla hold hands in the parking lot.
Angie and I took the little ones to visit Bobby-Jean in the hospital today.
As we entered the cardiac intensive care unit, "sssshhhhhhhh" became the dominant conversational exchange. Of course, Milla and Braelin thought this was very funny. I tried to keep a serious face as several nurses glared in our direction- I'm sure we were the most disruptive crew they had encountered that day. And I should have known better than to bring two freshly-ripened independent little ones into an intensive care unit.... But alas.
Bobby Jean looked very sleepy, but her skin still glowed in that unstoppable way. When she first saw us, her eyes opened wide and led her lips into a big smile. We chatted a little before she fell back asleep. Love is complex and often unspeakable. I rely on the space between us to fill the gaps.
Milla saunters through the halls of DCH Regional Medical Center.
But the heat is so intense that I finally gave in and sprinkled the garden a bit this morning. Of course, the showers enticed small creatures in the backyard to sally forth in search of wet hair and giggles.
Milla just couldn't help herself. She romped in the sprinkler until her entire outfit, as chosen by Patrick, color-coordinated to match on the planet of Mars, dripped with water. There are worse things than hanging out the day's first ensemble to dry in the scorching sun.
After a friendly dose of propofol (aka Michael Jackon's drug of choice and death) to make stellar my endoscopy this morning, I found myself on a rollercoaster of what Marky-Mark and the Funky Bunch called "good vibrations". The nurse heard all about how much I loved her and some crickets in the parking lot received effusive compliments on their ability to sing in the heat.
And Trotsky Bolshoi Coryell was welcomed into our family.
Because what we really needed today was to spend $100 on a guinea pig and various guinea pig gear. Blame it on the good vibrations.
Milla spent at least 20 minutes petting and cooing at "Toskeet".
Trotsky Bolshoi Coryell the guinea pig is clearly a Bolshevik. I believe all Bolsheviks should be guinea pigs and propofol should be administered to all our national leaders before they sign the papers sending young American boys off too war.
Milla is head over heels in love with Trotsky Bolshoi.
Trotsky's red eyes scared Meghan at first, but he had this kite-flying Alina wrapped around his tail stump.
Plus, red eyes suit a guinea pig named Trotsky. How much more Bolshy can you get?
Woe to the man or woman who tries to stand between Milla and her Trotsky.
This was Milla's expression when Meghan said she needed to put Trotsky back in his cage. I believe the word was "no".
Max and Micah are taking summer classes at Capitol School, one of my favorite places in Tuscaloosa.
Milla has been adjusting to the early morning drop-offs with a little fussing and extensive bye-byes.
Leave it to Milla to find ways to learn new things and practice her skills on site.
Milla's smile sparkles with pride as she finishes off the last few extra-curvy steps.
Milla got so wet while watering the plants that we had to remove her soaking dress. She didn't seem to mind one bit.
Facebook removed these photos due to their "illicit" nature, but I decided to share them anyway because I think children are beautiful and babies don't have breasts that we should take seriously.
Milla celebrated her birthday in the community garden yesterday, while Patrick added hay to our perpetually-thirsty plants who are just barely surviving this heat wave. We picked almost a dozen ripe tomatoes and several cucumbers and bell peppers.
I got a moment to chat with her about turning "two", but our chat was interrupted by a far more compelling character than yours truly. Mademoiselle Micah Magnolia professed to have a "surprise" for Milla.
Milla enjoyed sniffing and licking the freshly-harvested surprise.
The hollow tin sound of cars as they pass over our heads.
Fishing boats parked for the weekend.
Or perhaps the season, thanks to the oil spill which continues to leave ripple effects on life in the Gulf of Mexico.
Life jackets for all.
Stopping by a small uninhabited island for a swim.
Milla tests the water.
Micah and Milla have no questions about being children- they just revel in it.
In the meantime, I remain enchanted by the gift of her life, for every white hair added by long nights of croup and baby tending, every little line around my eyes, all of it worth something bigger than beauty and stronger than skin.
Milla Percy, our existential thread to Walker Percy, our humbling thread to the overwhelmingness of life when you live it to the fullest.
Milla picks and selects.
She carefully wipes her hands on her shirt after touching each spiky cucumber.
After neglecting our poor, weed-munched garden for a week, we returned to find that cucumbers and tomatoes had still managed to thrive in spite of our selfish distraction from the tasks of tending. Milla helped us pick a yesterday evening, at the magical moment between dusk and night when the golds take on a bluish tint and the flowers ache with that heavy, sweetish scent.
She was excited to "fix" her "Uh-oh!" when she dropped a cucumber friend in the grass. How awesome to know that being able to retrieve a dropped veggie brings my munchkin so much joy.
Our fellow gardeners, the Browns, boasted a cornucopia of cucumbers. I like the look of cucumbers next to a well-tatted arm. Mrs. Brown told me that the secret to their success lies in the hay they placed over the soil to keep the moisture in. A lesson for next year, to be sure.
Patrick even managed to find a few almost-ripe melons growing.
And the green bell peppers seem content with their lot. Now if only we could find a way to convince those large, leggy insects that are feasting upon the tomatoes to find a different food source...
Bunicu and his grandkids heading in to stock up on groceries.
You know you're at the beach when the grocery stores have palm trees out front.
The kids and I drove down to Ono Island last week to spend some time with my dad and grandfather on Orange Beach. Patrick met us for the weekend.
Kayaks and crab traps, oh my.
Mills is ready for the sun, and her mom is learning how life goes for the pale-faces of the world.
The sea grass doesn't bother the kids one bit.
Max tries to net some minnows.
After Max gives up and goes for a swim, one set of eyes follows him.
Then one set of hands tries her own luck with the elusive fish.
Milla watches from the safety of Bunicu's arms.
Little hands and old feet.
It's anything but Stoic to confess that my own mortality weighs heavy these days. And it would be anything but honest to suggest that Stoic fronts are somehow excused from association with other "frontish" behavior, including the garrulous fake smile or the "Bless her little heart".
A false front is a false front, no matter how tidy or trendy or ancient.
So the girls and I stopped along the Florida-Alabama state line to eat ice cream cones and listen to the pleasure boats cruise in from the bay. I watched the water slowly, carefully, wistlessly move the sand over our toes and wondered, "What would the girls do if I died tomorrow?"
Milla's raspberry-chocolate ice cream cone dripped a creamy rainbow over the sunset-golden sand. We shared the own world of water and sand, which leaves only small spaces for intersections.
Of course, one day, I will die. And the kids will be something akin to sad, though confused and speechless comes closer to the colors death paints over our lives.
I want that day to be so far in the future that a homegoing celebration would be appropriate. But I can't control that. I can't control anything. I can't even keep the sunset clean. Perhaps pretense is another way to pretend we can control this world that is not ours for the ruling.
Perhaps the Mills has been reading my 19th century frontier books with special sections about bedtime bonnets and "nightcaps" for ladies. Last night, she clearly indicated her readiness for bed when Patrick and I discovered her posed on the couch wearing a bonnet and sunglassses. Where she found this costume, or how she pieced it together, I haven't the slighest clue.
Patrick and I couldn't stop laughing, but Milla didn't bat an eye. Apparently, she was waiting to be photographed because as soon as we took a few photos, she removed her glasses and bonnet and held out her hand to walk to our bedroom.
Scooping and dumping, Milla-style. Woe to the critter who tries to stop this learning play midway.
Micah, Milla, and Angie discovered a box tortoise in the shrubs today.
Max observed that the turtle's radiating golden markings would "make a cool tiedye pattern". And then John Wathen stepped forward with a smile and asked to hold the turtle. Turning it over in his hands, he observed its shell and a underbelly.
John Wathen said:
"That's a nice-looking box turtle, but she looks like she's had a rough time."
"How can you tell it's a girl, John?"
"Well, the males don't have this flared-out edge around the back end of the shell. But the females do- see that flare?"
Everyone nodded. And Milla joined the chorus of nods as well. Alina joked:
"Are you saying that female turtles wear skirts?"
John quickly replied:
"Now, I didn't say anything like that. I'm just talking 'bout the edge."
He smiled before changing the subject:
"Now you can tell she's had a hard time because her shell is scuffed up and the front edges are battered. Can you see how part of the shell is peeled in these spots?"
The peeling portions of the carapace.
Everyone nodded again. Then we looked at the back end of the shell where two scuff marks were present. John speculated that she had rubbed against something hard- maybe she had been stuck under a fallen log? Our imaginations led us to all kinds of possibilities.
The scuff marks towards the rear. You can also see the flared edge here.
After taking a few photos, John had to leave, so he hopped into his truck- but not without showing us that Fancy Ballerina's eyes were yellow (as we could see in the zoom from his camera). The box turtle, or box tortoise, is largely characterized by having a domed shell, which is hinged at the bottom, allowing the animal to close its shell tightly to escape predators.
Micah decided that her name could only be "Fancy Ballerina". Angie and I laughed, and agreed. As the munchkins set up a "home" for the turtle, I went inside to learn more about her habitat and feeding habits. An image search indicated that Fancy Ballerina might be something something rather extraordinary and rare- an wetland-based species found in Florida and southeastern Georgia!
Like other box turtles, the Florida box turtle has a narrow and highly-domed shell with a hinged plastron that allows it to close its shell tightly. However, the Florida box turtle is quite different in appearance from the other subspecies of Terrapene carolina. Its carapace has a distinct pattern of bright radiating yellow stripes that make it easily identifiable. The coloring of the plastron can vary anywhere from solid yellow to solid black, with any number of variations in between. This turtle has very sharp claws as well as a sharp beak used for catching small insects and eating fruits, vegetables, and fungi. This subspecies can only be found in Florida, and is also protected in many other areas. (Source: Wikipedia)
I had expected to identify it as an Eastern box turtle, which is known to sometimes roam these parts, so identifying Fancy Ballerina as Terrapene carolina bauri raised many questions. How did she get here? What "wetland" was she using? Why didn't she claw us? Why did John say she was probably 30 to 40 years old? Was she a pet who had escaped from a home in our neighborhood?
Since I couldn't find a Florida box turtle on Alabama Herps website, I emailed a copy of the photo to them to share the strange and exciting news. In the meantime, the munchkins came rushing into the house bellowing and screaming:
"Mom! Mom! Fancy Ballerina escaped! We can't find her! We turned around for five minutes and she was just GONE!"
I tried to hide my relief that a happy ending came to pass for our free turtle friend, though I can't help wondering what the bigger picture might be to a Florida box turtle roaming around the state of Alabama.
After Max pulled a gargantuan weed straight from the ground, Micah felt the need to follow suite. There's nothing quite as lovely as seeing those thick, greedy roots removed from the soil crowding our camellias and wildflowers.
Milla observed the weeding process with interest and skepticism.
She stopped eating her pasta salad when Vanilla the dog vomited the grass he had been eating.
As Micah ran over to comfort Vanilla, Milla made a face. Then she discovered that Micah had dropped the treasured and mysterious weed which was causing such a ruckus.
Milla bellowed with pleasure.
Then she set out to examine the rooty, green treasure. I can't help noticing that her lip is animated with what can only be intepreted as disgust. But I'm open to other readings of this expression.
Micah finished comforting a vomitus Vanilla and then returned to retrieve her prize weed. Alas, the scene had changed.
Finders keepers, losers weepers....
Lately, Milla has exhibited a hankering for stuffed monkeys which hang around the house. This morning, she woke up asking about her "mon-keeeee". After the Easter service this morning, I sat down to nurse a rather perturbed little Milla. No one could figure out what was bothering here.
And then she spotted her friend the monkey.
When I tried to "hang out" with her monkey, Milla went from sincere interest and intrigue to frustration and "Myyyyy monkeeeeee.."
When Patrick returned from work at almost 6 pm this evening, we loaded the spaceship and set off for some afternoon-evening gardening. We were greeted by a pileated woodpecker with a bright red head who was busy drumming away at a fantastic old tree stump- the kind that attracts wildlife of all shapes and distinctions.
Micah went around and watered all the snow peas and carrots, which we planted from seeds sent to us by Sarah.
Then Max helped Micah to plant a few more marigolds and strawberry plants which we purchased from Brown's Nursey in Holt- we were overjoyed to discover that they are back open for business. Before long, we heard Oak running across the field screaming Micah's name, and then the Johns family appeared with garden implements in hand. At least four other neighbors dropped by to water or plant during our evening at he garden- it was wonderful to "commune" with them and chat about bugs, cucumbers, and life as we live it.
One of Sarah's pretty snowpeas.
Max crowed with delight to find several happy snow pea plants peaking out from the soil. He also reminded me that we need to get a trellis for them. I'm thinking we might make one from all the dead bamboo and other teepee remnants strewn across our backyard.
As I dug holes for strawberries and Patrick busied himself planting tomatoes, Milla picked up little pieces of dirt from our plot and carefully laid them in the plot to our right. It didn't seem to cause any harm, and her self-righteous, yet concentrated scowl discouraged me from interrupting her.
We dug and planted until dusk dimmed the scene. Tomorrow, I'm going to call Kenneth at the UA Arboretum and purchase a lovely smattering of compost.
So it has come to our familial attention that Milla is currently going through a "shrieking" phase- a robust, highly-flavored, eardrum-attacking part of her individual development pattern that has left the Coryells slightly discombobulated in public spaces and places. Fortunately, Mills is so otherwise-delicious that we overlook the shrieks and focus on the budding grins in the intervals.
Eager to climb every mountain and slide down every slides selected by her siblings, Milla's spirit of adventure inspires her sometimes-tepid mother to seek the leap and risk the bruise. I do hope the shrieking phase tends towards the short end of the length spectrum, since poses a nefarious challenge to our attempts at birdwatching.
Milla slays playground insects with her sly look.
The colors of the top turn to a whitish gray when it spins.
Micah tries her hand at the top.
Grubby growing fingers folding paper airplanes.
Max's new "mod" haircut came about due to unrelenting pressure from Patrick, Bunica, and Sanda, who believe that people with long hair are "very uncomfortable" and have a hard time being happy. I think what they mean is that they are not happy when some people have long hair. Personally, I love having long hair.
While Max and I were sitting on the back steps chatting about the latest birds, Milla was wandering through the yard with her rag doll. Suddenly, the Mills appeared with tiny hand outstretched and a yell escaping her lips. She demanded our immediate attention. We noticed her baby was missing, so we followed her around the corner of the house. There lay the baby soaking up the sun in a patch of grass adjacent to the red wagon- the source of Milla's angst.
As Mills huffed, puffed, and yelled, we realized that she was pointing to an area on the red wagon where some moist leaves and twigs had collected. Upon closer observation, a small party of slugs and snails were enjoying the day.
Milla was quite relieved when we discovered her new friends.
I had planned to use the red wagon as a transport vehicle for our walk to the community garden today, but the votes are lining up against evicting the party crew.
Milla and her friend, the snail.
Milla bonds with a slug.
Mills tries to introduce a snail to a slug- she thinks they could be fast friends.
It may strike you as some small feat
the stuff of "precious", "dear", and "sweet".
But Milla maintains it rocked her world
to watch the gold and white unfurl
then slowly roll back to a curl.
While I chatted with Laurie about Friends of Hurricane Creek, Tino hung out with the munchkins. Of course, Milla passed out in his arms. Because she adores him.
Everything Grows, a song by Raffi, comes to life in this book with paintings by Eugenie Fernandes. All three munchkins enjoyed listening as I read the book aloud. Max immediately noticed that the book had a refrain, and was delighted to see sheet music at the end of it- "Hey mom, I want to play it on the piano!"
"Okay Max. But first I want you to read the lyrics aloud and tell me what you imagine the tune to be."
"You mean, how will Raffi make it sound?"
"You could go the way of guessing how Raffi will make it sound. Or you can try to see if a tune emerges for you before you hear Raffi's song. It's harder to imagine a different tune to lyrics once you've been exposed to it."
"What do you mean?"
Alina blushed and tried to figure out what she meant:
"We-e-llll. Okay. Can you recite Mary had a little lamb, the nursery rhyme?"
Max begins to sing "Mary Had A Little Lamb" with gusto.
Alina gets excited:
"See! You sang the song! But I asked you to recite the nursery rhyme."
"But that's how I remember the rhyme. The music helps me memorize it."
"My point precisely. So I want to hear how these lyrics arrange themselves in a tune for you prior to your hearing how they are arranged by Raffi."
Satisfied, Max sang the lyrics in a sweet, almost whispering fashion. Micah brought a percussive element to the tune. I tried to pull off a folksy version, while Patrick channelled Henry Rollins in his take on the tune and delivery.
Max allows Raffi's music to soak over him while Milla follows the song along with the book.
Then we listed to Raffi's rendition and tried to see who heard it most like Raffi and whose interpretation (ahem, Patrick's) most differed from Raffi's. You can get your own taste of Raffi's music for children with these free mp3 and audio streams at the Raffi website. And, if you have a Max in the house, you might want this free sheet music for Everything Grows as well.
Milla is growing too fast- Patrick observed the other day that she "has a neck". Alas, no more soft rolls of fat connecting a head of pale fire to a featherbed body. I want to squeeze her so hard that I never forget the tender feel of her plump little body pressed against my skin. How to tattoo the tenderness? How to hold on to temporal perfections?
The girls and I usually wait for an hour while Max takes swimming lessons. It's always a mystery to discover what we will do with sixty minutes of unplanned, unformulated time to spend. Today introduced me to the "mysterious baby behind the window" game.
The game essentially involves running around a window with a mysterious baby on the other side and trying to touch each other through the glass while screaming at odd intervals.
Greeting your own reflection atop the face a different person makes the world seem slightly supernatural and absolutely cool.
Milla tried to explain the specific rules to me before she decided I was a little too dense.
And then she was off in a flurry of white stockings and gladiator sandals.
I wonder what games they will play next week.
Our reading today led the munchkins to express a desire for some babushkas to wear in the backyard.
Max explained how babushkas are really "practical because they can double as blindfolds".
Micah said her "bobosha-ka" made her "feel happy".
Max said the way in which Micah says "bobosha-ka" cracks him up.