Saturday, June 14, 2014

June! And our little man turns 5.

It's been a beautiful morning of run-around-tickle-game, breakfast and coloring on the porch, and lounging in the new hammock, an early father's day present from Alexe.  This Mississippi summer morning is crisp, with a cool breeze, the sounds of birds chirping, and a view of a thousand shades of green and six species of domestic animals from where we're sitting.

So why not stare into a glowing box?  

This was a Saturday morning.  Looks like a nice one.

The Pine Valley Schoolhouse had the first of what should become an annual art festival.  It was organized by JF, my electrician/plumber/carpenter/artist who's been with me on the buildings project every day for six months.

Annaliese buying a bracelet from a very self confident sales girl.  She pitched very hard as we walked by, and after finishing our circuit of the vendor's booths, Annaliese successfully wheedled a dollar out of me and went back.

This schoolhouse was restored about 10 years ago, and sits 8 miles outside of Water Valley, in the middle of Pine Valley.  The rest of "the middle of Pine Valley" includes a small fire station and a tower with a tornado siren on top.  Even so, in the middle of no where, with hundreds of people wandering through, our kids knew almost everyone, and wandered freely between the various events.

Hula hooping, for example.

Alexe came as a vendor, with her fruit cart.  You have to see the size of this girl's smile as she sells apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes to understand how much she loves selling fruits and veggies to people.  

Caspian making his first of many colorful shaving cream based tie-dye-ish pieces of art.  My mason, and the record holder for largest watermelon in MS, and a Baptist preacher, is smiling in the background.  He has been the most positive, pleasant, and productive person on the worksite, even through the months of having to thaw the water spigots with torches each morning in order to mix up his mortar.

One of the many fine bands playing on the stage inside the schoolhouse.  This picture is a fraction of a second too late to catch Jared's wink.  The banner behind the stage dates from the 50s, and lists many of the now gone businesses from Water Valley.

JD, sitting with his concrete sculpture, the Centaur.

JF, organizer of the event, getting a little caught up in his introduction of the next band.  Among the many things John has been, he's also done his time as a Baptist preacher.

Riches from Alexe's garden.

I keep finding Priscilla on window sills.  

Caspian's birthday party.  Alexe loves birthday parties, and has made it her mission to put on great parties for the kids.  She also decided she would bake their birthday cakes each year.  I'm not sure where that impulse came from, she doesn't bake anything else, ever, but it's adorable, and sometimes delicious.

A proud, amped up mama bear.

The birthday boy, though we had this party the day before his real birthday.  He was very clear on he schedule of pre-parties, real party, present openings, and the final breakfast in bed the subsequent Saturday that all added up to a week's worth of celebration.

That's a cherry cake with blueberry frosting, made to the five year old's specifications.

It was one of the delicious ones.

A low key barbecue, cake, presents, and a pool.  What else could a 5 year old want?

At the country club.  I still get a kick out of being  country club members here, mixed in with my defensive need to explain that this country club is far from fancy, and the dues are very affordable.

2 hours before officially being five.  (He was born at 8:30 in the morning.)

I came home from work to find this scene.  The kids are finding summer vacation can be exhausting.  

The big sister struggled with her brother's fifth birthday.  One the one hand she loves him, on the other hand, she deserves presents.

I took her present shopping after work, because she wanted to buy her brother a birthday present.  That was her story when we left the house.  After 20 minutes in the store, and a dozen present ideas that would have resulted in Annaliese getting a present, she was in hysterics, and I took her home.  She had angrily chosen the monkey's in a barrel for her brother, because they said they were for 3 year olds, and she thought he wouldn't like them and would take offense as a five year old.  

Once again she underestimated her brother's sunny disposition.  At one point in an effort to cheer Annaliese up he told her that she could pick any one of his birthday presents to have, except for his remote control car.  

Two things.  First, Caspian is a wonderful little man, and at five, we could not be more proud of him.  He's smart and handsome and kind, always happy to help, and the family's primary caretaker of everyone else.  Watching him explore the farm, climb trees, gather wildlife, build forts, make dams, visit the animals, collect just about anything; it may be my greatest joy in having this place.

Second, Annaliese.  She is a lovely creature, sharp as a tack, and fraught with strong emotions.  It can be easy to see her frequent abuse of her little brother and her mouthy outbursts and worry about her, but it's an incomplete picture. Earlier today, while cleaning up the kitchen, I found this:

My precious little girl.  (She just went marching by on her way to the chicken house, naked as a jaybird, wearing her mother's shoes.)

I spent a late night putting the yard of the Blue House in order.  After almost three hours of mowing and weed whacking, I looked up to see my family walking through the evening dew and lightning bugs to say hi.

This little man frequently runs off into the dark, and always comes back with a lighting bug in his hand.

The herd.

Enjoying birthday presents on a hot afternoon.

I received a call at work from Caspian, asking me to come to the store for...I couldn't understand the last part, but it was so cute I hopped in the truck and went over.  He and his sister explained they had put together a show upstairs, and insisted Alexe and I come up and watch.  What followed was adorable.  My office above the store had been set up for a show, they had decorated the chairs, and organized hats for all the audience members.  From the set up you could tell they had plans of some sort, but they were both hit with a bout of stage fright, and their show ended up being them sitting in chairs facing us, trying to get the other one to start the show and giggling their butts off.

It was a nice pick-me-up in the middle of a long day and week.

One of Alexe's charms.  She fills the house with vases of flowers, some home grown, many "found" around town.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A graduation and lake vacation.

Our little girl graduated from Kindergarten, and in our neck of the woods that means a graduation ceremony.  The gym was packed with very enthusiastic family on a Tuesday morning, and the kids sang songs, recited nursery rhymes, and were generally adorable.

The very next day, we discovered her front teeth are now loose.  *sniff*

We closed out the graduation week with Annaliese attending Caspian's school for a few days, and then they both officially started their summer vacation.  It's going to be a juggle-fest, with Alexe working a choppy schedule and integrating the kids into the BTC daily life with pinch hitting by a couple babysitters.  Between the store, the pool, and the farm, we're hoping they have a great summer, despite their parents being perpetually busy.

This little man is turning 5 on Tuesday.  He's become a helpful, independent, and passionate little man.  He is the first one to volunteer to help out, he wanders the farm on his own, checks on the animals and has a favorite climbing tree, and is always ready for a cuddle, tickle fest, or all out brawl with me. If he runs into an injustice in his world, often perpetrated by his sister, his sweet, calm demeanor transforms into rages that could inspire epic poetry.  Definitely both Alexe and my little boy.

Most of the time he's so cute it makes our chests hurt.

A Sunday where, with the promise of a bonafide vacation just a day away, we mustered up the energy to make it to church.  The ladies:

The little man.  First and second breakfast had come and gone, but he needed a little something to get him through church.

On Tuesday morning we packed up the trusty station wagon and headed towards northern Alabama for three nights of uninterrupted relaxation, just the four of us.  We rented a little cottage on Smith Lake, with no television, internet, or cell phone reception.

If that wasn't amazing enough, we found a very good used bookstore en route.

The nearest little town to our cottage was Arley, Alabama.  The Coffee Shop was the kind of diner that Alexe loves, and we stopped there for lunch before finding our way to the not-easy-to-find cottage.

There was more to eat than lemons, but when the food came the camera was set down.  

The spot could not have been more perfect,   Smith Lake was created when a power damn was built in the early 60s.  It backed the water up endless creeks and ravines, making for lots of shoreline with tucked away coves for private vacation spots, and in many places very deep water.  

Everyone who told us about this place talked about the water being crystal clear.  It's not, but relative to the usual brown water of the South, it's many steps up.  Think of a New England pond.  Fresh, clean, visibility of maybe 2 feet, then greenish below that.

We arrived on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, so though there were houses on all sides of the little cove, we didn't see another soul until Friday morning.

First order of business was jumping in for a swim, and possibly the best moment of the whole trip was the squeals of Annaliese for a good 20 minutes of "this is so awesome" over and over as she hurled herself off the floating dock.  

The little man was a little more hesitant, and required his goggles and life jacket for the first day.  His swimming confidence grew, and he was practicing in 10 ft stretched without them before we left.

His steam punk look with the goggles was, again, adorable.

Alexe couldn't stop smiling.  Her phone couldn't ring, we had brought loads of good food, and there was a pile of fresh books.  

The kids and I took several long swims, across the cove, or to neighboring docks.  On one trip we came back with a very long log.

Snacks and reading.

I am a rich man.


I am not a gifted fisherman.  In the past 10 years or so, I have crushed the hopes of many skilled fisherman when I have made that claim, and they have taken it upon themselves to fix me. 

I believe in every case I not only come away with no fish, but their luck is also hit hard when I'm around.

It hasn't stopped me from trying, though now I think of it as a joke, and have no real hope of a catch.

Caspian had a great time perfecting his casting, though in four days he did not get a nibble, and broke three rods. (Reels really, the actual rods are still fine.)

More on fishing later.

The little cottage.  Two small rooms, a bathroom, living room and kitchen.  It was the perfect size, and there was an out door shower.  Note the girls curled up with books on the right, Caspian is under the blanket int he chair on the left.

Snacks.  And outfits.  The kids did their own packing for this trip.  When I came home from work on Monday Annaliese had taken her typewriter out of its hard case, and it was full of clothes and her blanket, and set by the front door.  Every bit of that was heart melting.  It did have some repercussions later on, such as very strange pajama outfits each night.

The way the lake was made, the sides of many of these coves are very steep.  Each cabin or cottage has a very long set of steps leading down to the water, (100+ steps with about 8 landings,) with a little bridge at the bottom leading out to a floating dock.  The slope of the hillside continues down at the water's edge, so 10 feet out from the edge, the water is 15 ft deep, and in this cove, went down to 30 in the middle.  

Fishing again.  

Alexe also grew up fishing, but she remembers catching fish.  With the water churning all around our dock, great white sides of fish flopping out of the water, and visible schools of finger sized young ones going by, she found it ridiculous that I, and the kids, couldn't get a bite on any type of lure, jig, or night crawler. 

So she grabbed a rod and decided she'd show us how it's done.

She set out three rods to show us how it's done.

She took the canoe to the other side of the cove to silently sneak up on the fish and show us that our swimming and lack of complete silence was the problem.

Not a bite.  In four days.  heh heh.

She was awfully cute though.

So our days passed with many trips up and down the stairs.  Naps, books, snacks and meals, swimming, fishing, and one fun attempt at canoeing, which after getting 500 yards around the bend, everyone jumped out of the canoe, and we spent a good while swimming back and towing the canoe. 

Annaliese also perfected her casting.  She is not as ernest in her pursuit of these things, but they still come to her easily.  Except maybe baseball, which didn't capture her attention at all this season.

Another outfit, and a little "touch" as the girls call makeup. 

I had a little run in with a Will Shortz book of Sudoku.  My first time with these number puzzles, I may have had a short addiction and filled out the whole book that was in the cottage.  I've moved past it now, and hope the owner doesn't mind too much.

So nice to see that smile.  This was a short trip we made to go out and explore the rest of the lake.  We went to one of the parks, stayed for maybe 10 minutes, and decided to go back to our private spot, with a quick stop for ice cream sandwiches.

It flew by.  On Friday morning we stopped at the Coffee Shop again, where Alexe said over and over again how she never gets to eat breakfast out, and ordered half the menu.  

I love this picture.  These kids know and love food, just like their mama.

Yes, we do bring our own Vermont Maple Syrup with us.

Homeward bound.

Friday afternoon I was right back to it, dealing with payroll and various issues at the electric department, (buttoning up the paperwork with TVA on the solar plants that we may or may not be able to afford, depending on a few things,) and while I was out Alexe harvested potatoes form her garden, and made this lovely dinner.