Archive for March, 2012

Julie prepares to throw Iris into the brook. Sink or swim kid. Eight months is old enough.

Yesterday, the boys and I headed out to Worcester to meet up with my friend Julie and her very attractive baby, Iris. (I do not call babies attractive unless I mean it, by the way. Iris is a good looking baby.) We went to Broad Meadow Brook Mass Audubon Sanctuary for a Spring hike. Sure enough, the skunk cabbages were profusely leafed out along the eponymous brook, and all three kids were captivated by the water. Malcolm spotted part of a crayfish carapace, and we heard the Spring songs of numerous amorous birds.

Broad Meadow Brook has an additional feature that you won’t get at just any Audubon sanctuary. It’s a small play area just back of the visitor center where kids can play on a three-tired wood platform with holes to climb through. A big hit with the boys, although the visual effect of holes in a flat piece of wood is reminiscent of an outhouse seat. Also in this play area are several large bore drainage pipes for the kids to climb through, and well as a pile of discarded bricks. Overall, the feel is of an abandoned lot, and as a person who enjoyed playing in abandoned lots while a child, I can see the obvious appeal. After all, the trend toward ultra-safe and therefore boring playgrounds is depriving American children of the chance to take physical risks, to try new stuff, to challenge themselves physically. As a member of perhaps the last generation widely instructed to “go outside and play” for hours and hours on end (completely unsupervised), I get depressed seeing all these kids now on low, safety first climbing equipment fenced off from the adjacent woods and streams.

The unconventional play area: bricks, pipes, and dead trees. Perfection!

As I watched Malcolm heft a chipped brick and chuck it at a cinderblock, I confess to recalling the classic SNL skit “Consumer Probe” (with total fox Candace Bergen asking, “But Mr. Mainway, isn’t this toy just a bag of broken, jagged shards of glass?”). Despite that, I found Broad Meadow Brook to be a place that’s got it right on several counts. Can’t we just back off and let the kids climb on construction debris and fall in the water a few times? Just keep a long stick handy for fishing them out, a few ice packs and several changes of clothes. Trust me, your kids will be better off in the long run.

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Work continues on Bad Blue, but in fits and starts as dictated by my tolerance for boredom and raw, bloody fingers.

For Bad Blue, it’s been a gruesome scene. Flayed, partially eviscerated, and having suffered a double amputation, Bad Blue now lies upended in my basement. This is just sounding worse and worse.

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Zombiekins the book and companion severed head (under construction).

We just started reading Kevin Bolger’s Zombiekins (may I point out that he is also the author of Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger) and it was immediately clear that a companion project was in order. The danger of sewing, even a little, is that your kids think you can make anything. So, we hauled out the fabric scrap bin and set to work making the world’s cutest killer zombie stuffed bear/rabbit/lizard?/fish. I’m improvising and just hacking fabric apart and piecing it back together, but that’s the beauty of making a reanimated undead stuffed animal; it’s meant to look a little off-putting. The boys are pleased with the progress, and so am I. I’ll post a shot of the finished creature shortly before it begins consuming our brains. Or replacing them with poly-fil, whichever these things usually do.

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Marguerite’s 3rd birthday!

Gotta love a girl who chooses "swamp" as her bday theme.

Malcolm in full Batman mode, with bonus ninja forearm tattoos.

Kudos to the Petersen family for a fantastic swamp-themed home birthday party today. I love a good home birthday, and this one had it all, including a vegan and gluten/nut allergy friendly alligator-themed cake made by Jenny Ouellet of HippieCakes–delicious! Thanks to Meghan and Kevin for thinking of us, the pseudo-vegan-ish Courchesnes, in your menu planning. Birthdays can be a real bummer otherwise.

My niece, the birthday girl, was composed, stylish and discerning, as she has been since the day I met her three years ago in a Maryland hospital.

Face and hand-painting were a hit, and my sister Mary and I were challenged by requests for Power Rangers and “a ninja punching straight out at a brick wall.” (Malcolm is nothing if not particular.) Now we’re back home enjoying the old-timey balsa wood gliders from the boys’ goodie bags, and Simon is watching in horrified fascination as the toy alligator he got soaks in the sink and expands to a slimy-skinned, gelatinous rehydrated monster toy. A fine, fine day was had by all.

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New projects!

The newest cosmetic bag.

Last summer, I stopped at the fabulously old school sewing and knitting store Yardgoods Center in Waterville, Maine with my dear old mom. We were perusing the clearance bin out on the sidewalk, and came across several upholstery samples of now discontinued patterns. We speculated about potential uses for these pieces, but at a few dollars a piece, I couldn’t pass them up. Now, here’s the first completed project involving these once unwanted fabric scraps: a new cosmetics bag I just posted on etsy.

Still in the works, a prototype Aran sweater with asymmetrical Celtic braid motif. Sounds fancy, but we’ll see if I can actually make it work. Here it is as it has progressed thus far.

The start of the front of a sweater.

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Shortly after sunrise outside The Tranquil House Inn.

At last! I understand what those “OBX” stickers on people’s cars mean! My shoes are full of Outer Banks sand as I begin the trek back up to New England. I stayed for only about a day and a half on Roanoke Island, in the town of Manteo, named for a friendly Indian who would come to rue the day he made nice to a bunch of Englishmen in frilly collars.

This is decidedly still the off season on the Outer Banks, and while this means few restaurants and shops are open, it also means few tourists are around. And besides, as an OBX resident and friend of mine told me, “All the restaurants are named for dudes and they all serve the same crappy food.” True, I wouldn’t recommend the Outer Banks for their culinary delights, and trying to find vegetarian fare is rough sledding down here. Curiously though, I was able to order a very tasty cucumber sandwich from the menu at Poor Richard’s in downtown Manteo. And the price was only six dollars, plus the stares of the locals who swivelled to stare at me and wonder, “Who’s the prissy-pants out-of-towner ordering a goddamn cucumber sandwich and a water?”

The dunes at Pea Island NWR.

If you’re not here primarily to eat and shop, but instead are interested in wildlife watching/hiking or other outdoor pursuits, I definitely recommend coming down at this time of year. I took a trip out to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and got to watch dolphins chasing prey within 20 yards of shore, and lines of cormorants streaming over the horizon for more than an hour straight, and I combed the beach for some very fine shells to bring home as a cheapskate souvenir for the boys.

On a friend’s recommendation, I visited Food Dudes Kitchen in Kill Devil Hills for lunch, which makes a tasty salsa and rice and bean combo. It’s an unassuming little shack set back from the main drag, but well worth the search. I took my lunch to go and headed over Nags Head Woods Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property with several hiking loops of various lengths through pine forest and dune habitat. I happened upon a pair of Eastern Glass Lizards (thanks to John Connors of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for an assist on that i.d.) engaged in combat. The lizards have no legs, and thus appear at first to be snakes. Check out this video to see what is apparently an unusual behavior for these guys; Jeffrey Beane, Collections Manager for Herpetology, wrote, “They’re two males in combat (maybe over a female or maybe just over territory).  You can tell they’re males by the color pattern.  It’s something not witnessed very often.  Interestingly, the only time I’ve ever seen that behavior was also at Nags Head Woods.”

A comforting sign in Nags Head Woods.

My base of operations during my stay was the Tranquil House Inn, a beautiful spot overlooking the unfortunately named Shallowbag Bay. The Inn is small enough to be absolutely charming, but not so small as to have that weird bed and breakfast, a little-too-much-intimacy-for-an-antisocial-New Englander, kind of vibe. The room was spacious, and overlooked the water, and the wine and cheese/cider and cookies hour each afternoon on the porch was a delight as well.

All in all, the OBX reminds me of a Cape Cod permitted to sprawl, free of zoning regulations, for miles and miles on end. But come when tourists are in short supply if you’re looking for quiet and some fine wildlife watching. You won’t be disappointed.

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Simon eats anything.

Here is Simon.

Yesterday, at his Uncle John’s 30th birthday party, Simon got hold of the zero candle without anyone noticing. And without anyone noticing, he ate half of it. And when we took it away, he wept copiously. Simon will eat anything.

Here is the candle he ate.

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In honor of the holiday, we share with you a selection of our favorite Irish books, whether by authorship or subject matter. First up, the children’s section:

Donald Lemke’s graphic novel adaptation of Irishman Jonathan Swift’s novel is a compelling read. Cynthia Martin’s illustrations are classic comic book. Malcolm remarks, “I liked it because I like giants and I like corn on the cob even though I don’t eat it. The most exciting part was when the giant that was naked was grabbing the ship guys.”

For our younger readers, Malcolm and Simon both recommend Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife by Robert Byrd. Malcolm noted the giants theme here again, and also the presence of a compelling “bad guy,” though one’s definition of the bad guy here–Cuchulain versus Finn MacCoul–depends largely on whether one’s sympathies lie with the Irish or with the Scots.

And for the grown-ups in the crowd, two recommendations. The first is a novel I happened upon by chance while perusing the novel shelves out at UMass-Amherst. John McGahern’s By the Lake is deliberate, quiet, and entirely character and landscape focused. Its original title (changed for publication in the U.S.) was the far more compelling That They May Face the Rising Sun. McGahern’s final novel before his death in 2006, this book struck me as a truly lovely elegy for the country he was soon to leave behind.

And finally, it’s early days yet, but I am a few stories into The Collected Stories of William Trevor, and they are marvelous. Just what I love about Irish literature, the perfect blend of darkness and hilarity. Makes me feel at home.

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The chair as acquired.

About a month ago, I spotted this sad sack of a wingback chair set out by the side of the road. I bloodied my hands trying to fit it into the back of my Prius, but ultimately succeeded, the Prius being a surprisingly commodious vehicle. I deposited Bad Blue in the basement, and intend to re-upholster it. The process appears to entail pulling off the existing upholstery–some sort of rubbery, washed-out blue Naugahyde–and then making replacement patterns from the discarded pieces. It’s supposedly easier than trying to custom sew a slipcover, so I’m going for it. So far, I’ve been pulling out the staples holding the upholstery with a screwdriver and a pair of large hemostats (as a non-practicing veterinarian, this is the only use I have for this surgical instrument aside from extracting hooks from large-mouth bass when fishing.)
I suspect this job will take me months to complete at my current pace. But if I do finish it, I will provide further, detailed instructions on how to do it. This is, I suspect, not the last you will see of Bad Blue, the roadside chair.

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Marine touchtank at the Science and Nature Center. No, there were no fish with three eyes.

When approaching the Science and Nature Center at Seabrook Station, there are just a few, subtle signs that this is not your average educational venue. First, you will have to stop at the security checkpoint, hand over your i.d., receive a handout with instructions to follow in the event of a nuclear emergency, and then proceed past the guard armed with a high-powered rifle. You know, little stuff. But once in, the place closely resembles most other similarly sized nature centers. The interpretive exhibits are very basic, and sometimes weird (the write-up on the sand dollar, for instance, is all about how some people believe the sand dollar is a visual representation of the birth, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. Um, ok.) But a touch tank is a touch tank, and this one is well stocked with the usual tidepool suspects.

Resident rock crab in the large exhibit tank.

The exhibits on nuclear power paint the rosy, kind of cheeseball “nothing-to-be-alarmed-about-citizens” picture you might expect from the company that runs the station, but they’re not inaccurate on the main points–nuclear power is pretty clean, the station is not constantly irradiating local residents, you get more radiation from a dental xray, and so on.

Outside, there’s 3/4 mile, well-maintained nature trail including a boardwalk out into the salt marsh and through the adjoining woods. A wildlife blind gives fine views of wading birds and the nuclear reactor in one glance. And on your way out of the center, you can pick up nuclear swag! My boys got Next Era Energy pencils and little plastic pinwheels. Sweet.

Marshview from the boardwalk overlook.

Overall, I recommend this place. After all, in the event of nuclear catastrophe, we’re no worse off on the grounds of the station that we are here at home a few miles away, so why not take advantage of the free touch tank, small number of mostly functional exhibits, and a really quite lovely short trail perfect for little kids. You might learn a little bit too. And the security checkpoint/rifle guys are very friendly.

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