Thursday, September 30, 2010


Several weeks ago, as we were waiting for a space in our library parking lot, the boys and I watched a squirrel bury an enormous walnut.

As we watched discreetly from behind tinted windows, we had front row seats to the whole show:  Little guy with jumbo-jawbreaker-walnut scampers across parking lot, looks around furtively for spying walnut thieves, lays nut down, digs furiously until his head is underground, stares suspiciously at our minivan, puts nut in hole, and very carefully fills hole and covers with dry leaf camouflage.

I told the boys about an article I read a while back about how squirrels don't always dig up their own nuts.  As I remember it, they just know the proper circumstances and geometry of where to bury/where to find nuts, and they all work hard at caching as many nuts as possible.  When winter comes, they just look in those logical nut spots, and find nuts.  This article described these findings as a major breakthrough in squirrel research.

Of course, when I tried to confirm this, I couldn't find the article.  I do remember it, though!  I did find other interesting information about squirrels.  They are "scatter hoarders" as opposed to "larder hoarders."  (I can relate.)  They complain with a "Kuk!"  They use their tails for balance and communication, and as parachutes and blankets.

Mostly, I just love knowing that there is a secret walnut cache in that otherwise totally boring corner of the library parking lot.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

For Margaux

I have a little friend named Margaux who lives in Switzerland.  Even though I've never met her in person, I know that she is a very special little girl!  Her mother sent us some lovely soft toys that she made for our boys, and wrote that Margaux had enjoyed making up stories about them.  This is an update of what the toys have been doing since they arrived at our house.  I hope her mother will translate it for her, and perhaps if you know a little person who would enjoy it, you could read this story to them:

A Letter from Duck
Dearest Margaux,

We have finally arrived at our new home in California!

We were very happy to get out of that box (US Mail is not so nice as Swiss Air, if you know what I mean).  We were greeted by THREE very enthusiastic little boys, Diego, Ruben and Julio, but guess what?  They only spoke English!  Rooster found someone right away who could translate for us.

Crow was so tired from all of the travels.  Diego took one look at him and said, "He looks like he has passed out."  He was given a glass of wine, and put to bed.

After a long sleep, he was as good as new, and joined us on a terrific, whirlwind tour of our new place.

The bed crow slept in belonged to a little fellow named JunJun.  He was very sweet, and was so taken with my overalls, that I decided to let him wear them.  The straps were a bit too long for him, so I picked out some buttons that I liked.

And my new friend, Diego, sewed them on for me.

They were red.

JunJun was so happy!  He is teaching me English, and I am teaching him French, and we are now very good friends.

Speaking of friends, we have each picked a boy from our new family to call our very own.  My boy is Diego, Crow picked Julio, and Rooster chose Ruben.  Rooster and Ruben love each other so much!  They have already had so many adventures together, and are planning to have many, many more.

We also met up with a friendly elephant.  Do you remember him?  He remembers you fondly, and asked me to send you kisses and hugs.  He has been living here for a while, and has taught us some things about how to behave when we are in our new home.  He fits in very well here!

Well, I think that is all of the news that I have for you today.  So, bye-bye from all of your Swiss friends who are living in Los Angeles.

We really love our new home and our new friends, so thank you very much for sending us here.  I hope that you will come visit us here some day!



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Sense of Direction

I can't stop thinking about a fascinating article called "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" that I read in the New York Times about a month ago.  Did you see it?  In case you're not up to reading a whole article about linguistics and cultural relativity, here's a brief description of the part that thoroughly amazed me:

English speakers use two primary ways to give directions and describe spacial relations, egocentric (left, right, in front, behind) and geographic (North, South, East, West, etc.).  We rely mostly on egocentric directions, but there are other languages scattered across the globe that rely entirely on geographic directions!  People in those cultures say things like, "Could you scoot over a little to the southwest, so I can sit there?" and "Look at that interesting rock just northeast of your southern foot."  While we may experience two different spaces as identical (the article describes matching hotel rooms across the hall from each other), people who use the geographic system will see the rooms as completely different from each other (the bed on the north end of one room and the south end of the other).  Do they have a less egocentric view of life?  The article describes that they even point at their chests to mean "in the direction behind me," as though they are pointing through themselves.

People in those cultures have an incredibly accurate internal compass that they rely on constantly to understand their surroundings.  They start using geographic directions at around age 2 and have the system down by the age of 7 or 8.  Even in total darkness or when they are very dizzy, they still can reliably identify the cardinal directions.  They don't need to stop and check the sun, or see what side of a tree the moss is growing on, they just know.

Do you know which way is north?  I always felt like I had a good sense of the cardinal directions.  I grew up in Southern California where the sun was usually shining, and there were mountains and other easy-to-see orienting landmarks.  When I moved to Connecticut for college, I became disoriented easily.  There were so many trees that I couldn't see a great distance, and the small swatches of visible sky were often hazy.  (There may be some other reasons why I became directionless in college, but that's a different story...)  Even my friends who grew up there could not tell me which way was north, and it didn't seem to bother them.

I am intrigued by how children in those geographic cultures learn the directions.  Is it like learning a language?  Does the window of opportunity for developing an internal compass close?  If I tell my baby, "Look at that bird in the east!" will he start developing an innate ability to orient himself in space?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Grass! The Grass! The Tall, Tall Grass!



The title of this post is from Tiger Flower, by Robert Vavra, my favorite book back in August of 1973.

Monday, September 20, 2010

T-Shirt Skirt for Little Witches, Vampires, Pirates & Fairies

This has got to be the easiest skirt you can make.  A three year old could make this skirt.  It requires NO SEWING, uses materials that you already have in your house, and is a great way to recycle an old t-shirt.  It looks brilliant in black or stripes, and would be perfect for a Halloween witch or pirate costume.  You need:

It is so soft and comfortable... perfect for flying!


Some Tips & Tricks:

I used a men's medium shirt in these pictures.  I think it would fit most kids aged 2 - 10.

An XXL shirt works just as well, it will be fuller and can be made a little longer.

If it is going to be worn a lot, I recommend using elastic in the waist.

A t-shirt that doesn't have seams on the sides works best.

The bottom of the skirt will tend to roll up a little bit.  If you're going for the jagged look, don't be shy, you can cut it pretty severely.

Big men's t-shirts are available in many colors at most thrift stores for around one dollar.

Use the sleeves of the t-shirt in exactly the same way to make a matching doll skirt!

You can see some more costume ideas in the "Dress-up" category.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why, Oh Why?

I tried to look up "Why don't my Blogger comments work,"  but Google suggested all kinds of new things for me to worry about. 

It's Google's very own neurotic inner monologue!  Are those really the top 10 things people wonder about that start with an M?


If you have any ideas about why some people cannot post comments here, please share them.  Have you tried to leave a comment?  I've noticed on a couple of Blogger blogs that my comments won't post from Firefox, but they will from Safari.  If you have the answer, and your comments don't work, please email it to me!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


We stopped for apples on the way.

I love being there in the off season.  The weather was perfect, and the tourists gone.

The first night, we had the campground to ourselves.

The tidepools, new moon night sky, tumbling on the dunes, empty campground and new binoculars were perfect.  So were the roasted marshmallows and cold root beers.  And my heart soars when I think of the way the boys fell over themselves about the sea caves at low tide, climbing big rocks (and throwing small rocks), and watching the bats and the sunsets.  We learn so much and sleep so deeply when we camp out.

Doesn't it all look so effortless?  It wasn't. 

But it was so wonderful that we'll do it again and again and again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Now We Are Six

And off to first grade.

Happy Birthday, my darling boy!

For Bill

We saw it in the sky.

This perfectly illustrates how we feel about our dear friend making it back to L.A. after his terrifying trip to Malaise-ia.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Last night, in the twenty minutes between dinner and bath, we decided to take the kids out for a quick run around in the meadow.

We wanted some fresh air and to let them lose themselves in the tall grass.

Okay, by now anyone familiar with Los Angeles is thinking, "Huh?!"

We've had some budget issues in our city, and as far as I can tell, one of the cutbacks has been not cutting back the grass in the middle of one of our major boulevards.  All summer, I've been driving past these miles of traffic islands that are normally mowed like a golf course, and I've been watching the grass get taller and taller.

It is now quite tall.

This is a wide traffic island that many years ago had a trolley track on it.  It is now so beautiful that I wonder why they ever mowed it in the first place.  How quickly nature would reclaim it completely, if given a chance!

I grew up roaming boundless acres of uncut grasses and wildflowers.


 This is not that, but we will take what we can get.