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In the midst of a fun-filled summer, Madeleine turned five. Events of note preceding her birthday were her "graduation" from pre-school (she's headed to our neighborhood public school for kindergarten in the fall), her first camp-out with Ann in the backyard (she finally got to sleep at 11 pm after three trips inside to the potty and commenting several times, "I miss Rachel"), weekly outings with friends to the zoo, Fairyland, Redwood Park, etc. and Alameda's Fourth of July parade.

For her birthday party Madeleine requested water play in the backyard again, prompting Rachel to talk daily of her desire for a swimming pool party when she turns three next year. For her birthday present we risked life and limb hanging a rope swing from our birch tree in the front yard. She couldn't have been more thrilled.


 
Now that the holidays are over, it's time to update some of our photo collection from the busy last few months. By the end of the year Rachel had hit 20 months of age and her early speech has begun. She says more words than we can count, but her repetitive favorites are Mommy, Daddy, 'Is (for "Sis"), 'Lilah (for her friend Delilah), Papa (Paul's father), cat, dog, baby (refers to any child she sees under the age of two) bubble, wa-wa (water), more, and robot to name a few. The vast majority of her conversations include one or more of the above. To our chagrin, she learned how to climb out of her crib in November and to this day still has not mastered the art of consistently taking long -- or even medium length -- naps. She is sweet and funny at times, happy and playful, or stubborn and mischievous.

Madeleine loves the holiday season as she is quite the liturgically-minded child. She asked if we could celebrate Hanukkah again (we did, with dreidel play every day), and Advent was another hit. She loves the ritual of the nightly Advent candles. This year’s Advent had the added excitement of preparation for her inaugural appearance with the children's choir at St. Columba's Christmas Eve mass. She was the youngest and the shyest during rehearsals, either refusing to open her mouth or just mouthing the words silently, but she surprised us by singing out proudly and confidently on Christmas Eve. Although we had never practiced it with her, she even sang along when the 12 year old soloist sang her "solo" verses during one song.  She just turned 4 1/2 and insisted for the second year in a row on a mini-celebration complete with a cake and 4.5 candles. January brought longer preschool hours for her: from 9:00-3:00 on M,W,F. Both she and Ann are thrilled at the addition. The new schedule enables the two of them to make the 1.25 mile commute home by bike, sometimes with the trail-a-bike, sometimes with Madeleine on her own two wheels pumping furiously while Ann pedals slowly behind her.

In other news, we do indeed have six new hens now, bought as day-old chicks in October. After much deliberation in the naming process we've settled on: Goldilocks, Fuzzy, Blackie, Roughpowder (a long story behind that one), Leafy-Leaf, and Buster Posey. We hope the last doesn’t turn out to be a rooster, but we just had to name one in honor of the World Series champs since they were hatched during the post-season that Ann and Paul so enjoyed watching with neighbors this year.
 
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A couple of months ago Lori Eanes, a professional photographer in San Francisco who has done photography for Utne ReaderThe New York TimesSunset Magazine, and Parenting Magazine, just to name a few, contacted us to see if she could photograph our family and garden for a project she's currently doing. 

She came out at the end of July and photographed us for two hours, snapping away as we planted seeds for our fall garden, harvested squash, pumpkins, beans, strawberries, and plums, and the girls tended to the chickens. She came up with some incredible shots. We were struck looking at them by how lush and fruitful our small (only 750 square feet) and not-so-perfect garden came off looking. It really is amazing how much food you can grow in a tiny space.

We just got the photos today, which you can view in the slideshow below (or click on it to see the photos larger).

You can see some of the other photos from Lori's in-progress "Backyard Project" on her website under Portfolio > Projects.  We hope to see her collection of urban farmer photos in a local publication sometime soon!

 
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Madeleine has been taking "pretend" swim lessons in our living room for about a year now. This summer the timing finally worked out so that she could do the real thing in a real pool. We signed her up for a three week session at the public high school with other 3-5 year olds. Before she began, she'd been in a pool perhaps 3 times in her life.

She loved the water as soon as she entered it for her first lesson, although it took the teacher two or three days to coax her to put her face in the water. For most of each half hour lesson she would be laughing and shrieking with delight so much that she couldn't keep her mouth closed. Consequently, she inadvertently drank a lot of chlorinated water.

Despite a bit of trepidation that first week, by the second week she was regularly jumping off the diving board into the deep pool! The first time she did it, she first had to endure the anxiety of watching a 5 year old boy cry and scream for several minutes as he stood in anguish at the end of the diving board before he made it into the water. As I watched the drama unfold I thought, "No way is she going to jump now." But she climbed up the ladder after him, walked carefully to the end, and without hesitation leapt right off into the teacher's arms. She continued to do it several times each day for the final five lessons. She cried after her last time because she couldn't do it anymore. When Paul took her to one of the lessons, he heard her teacher bragging to a male instructor about her little girls who were jumping off the diving board already while his "big boys" were too scared to do it yet. Another day I watched as one of the male instructors prepared to catch her below the diving board. Someone shouted to him, "Back up! She really jumps!"

 
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Madeleine recently turned four after a countdown from 3-1/2 to 3-3/4 to 3-11/12. The lesson in fractions came after she told us one day with a big sigh, "I'm tired of being 3-1/2. I've been 3-1/2 for a long time." she celebrated in our backyard with a few girls from her preschool who enjoyed some arts and crafts and then some water play. The Slip-n-Slide had the girls squealing and shrieking in delight.

Madeleine is in a pleasant, helpful, and delightful stage these days. She cheerfully helps to set and clear the table, and is always excited to help hang up and fold laundry. Lucky for us the laundry line is just about at her level and she can hang an entire load almost by herself. Today she told us we couldn't leave for the downtown street festival yet because she wanted to finish folding Rachel's diapers first. (Yes, we know we're lucky.) Preschool continues to be a hit, she loves to make up songs and sing and dance in our living room, and she and Rachel remain great playmates. She can ride her bike two miles in a day, walk a mile, or get around the neighborhood on the scooter she got for her birthday present without us tiring her out.

For months now she has been entertaining us with some great quotes. Some of the better ones in recent history are:
  • "Mommy, I just noticed that my little toe is smaller than my little finger."
  • After spending a night away from Rachel, Madeleine said "Whenever I'm away from her and it's nighttime, I try to dream about her."
  • "I like strawberries, raspberries, kale, and fava beans from our garden, but I don't like blueberries as much."
  • "I like to ride a bike better than go in a car because then I don't have to smell that stinky gas smell."
  • "Mommy, I just realized Rachel walks like a penguin. She wobbles."
  • As she went out on the back deck for lunch one day, "It's a beautiful day! The bees are a'buzzin' and the plants are growing!"
We look forward to this wondeful stage of hers lasting for the next 17 years, at least....

(And here are some family photos from the last couple months...)

 
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Our girls are growing up! Madeleine now vigorously corrects people when they assume she is three years old by telling them, "No, I'm three and a half!" She has definitely become a pre-schooler in terms of social maturity and independence, which is fun for her and a relief to us.

Madeleine often still asks us, "I forget, how old is Rachel again?"  It's hard for all of us to keep track when we count in months and they are flying by, but Rachel is almost 10 months old now. The two sisters are best of friends and it is beautiful to watch their interactions with each other. The more Rachel develops and learns new things, the more Madeleine roots her on and celebrates her. We love watching her develop too, although the early crawling (at 7 1/2 months) and standing up and now "cruising" have made our lives more complicated.

In January we took a trip to South Bend, Indiana to visit Ann's parents and introduce the girls to snow. Madeleine had some memorable quotes. On a day when the high temperature was 12 degrees she asked "Why are there clouds coming out of my mouth?" She spent about 4 minutes on the outdoor ice skating rink before calling it quits ("I'm getting cold and this is very hard") but she wanted to go back the next day. Making a snowman/snowpyramid was a big hit, as was Grandma's hot chocolate when she came inside.

Back in Alameda, we've welcomed three new chickens into our flock. Madeleine chose all the names: Scramble (named after the one who died last fall), Pancake and Waffle, now bring our flock up to six. We are enjoying glimpses of spring, time to work in the garden, and the prospect of Rachel's first birthday soon to come.

We've posted new photos here:

October 2009:

November 2009:

December 2009:

January 2010:

 
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Ann wrote up the story of the labor and delivery leading up to Madeleine's birth and submitted it to the journal Midwifery Today.  It was accepted and has just been published in the Winter 2008 issueas "A Surprise Posterior Brow Birth."  The article is not available on the MT website to non-subscribers and we decided not to publish it here because of some graphic anatomical details, but we can email you a copy if you let us know you want to read it.  They published a few photos of Madeleine with the article: a family photo with her as a newborn, a family photo on her second birthday, and one with her breastfeeding her baby doll.

 
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Madeleine officially entered the "terrific twos" recently and with that turning she continues to be a pretty terrific kid.

As her vocabulary explodes we have wondered "Where has our little girl gone?" when she now says "Peek-a-boo" instead of simply "peek." Her favored manner of communicating continues to be with shouted exclamations and imperatives. She did enjoy announcing to the entire congregation during an especially quiet moment at mass recently "Poop!" as she pretended to change her baby doll's diaper.

Favorite activities continue to be playing with her doll (now she likes to nurse it), feeding the chickens and going on egg hunts (she can identify their cackles when they've just laid an egg), visiting our two beehives where she flaps her arms and implores the bees to "fly!", and any other outdoor activity, especially if it involves dirt, water, cats, climbing, swinging, or riding on the back of mommy's bike. We are fortunate to have many wonderful neighbors who welcome her presence in their front and back yards, because she thinks those are extensions of her yard anyway.

In this most recent quarter of her life, Madeleine became a seasoned traveler. We spent five days in Santa Cruz on a retreat in April where she loved the ocean and beaches. We then took a week-long road trip to Oregon in May, where she quickly took to farm life with its various domesticated animals, tractors, and a large trampoline. The week-long trip to Illinois and Indiana via airplane in June was exciting too. Her introvert side came out strong on the first two trips, but  she proved to be quite the precocious show-off to her grandparents, great-grandarents and other extended family in the midwest.

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We had a great birthday week—remember we have 3 days of labor to celebrate. It was the second year in a row we tried plum pie as the birthday dessert since July brings us thousands of plums from our three trees. This year Madeleine took one bite of pie and wailed, "No. Crackers!" as in "I want crackers instead." We had a small party with mostly neighbors present. It was gratifying to see what a well-loved figure Madeleine has become on our block. Two of her godparents also came and they suggested a small parade around the block with the birthday girl leading the way. She happily blew her kazoo at the head of the procession, but later was upset when we returned home without having witnessed a "real" parade that included horses in it.

Photos from the past few months can be seen here.

 
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The time came to retire the coop we built for our first flock and get some new digs for our current flock.

The coop we built from some diagrams in an old organic gardening magazine served it's purpose well, but had some drawbacks.  It was very heavy and difficult to move, quite hard to clean, and hard to completely secure.  The final straw was when we found a mouse or rat was trying to take up residence in the next boxes.

For the new coop, we settled on a Chick-N-Hutch with an attachable Chick-N-Rabbit Pen.  It was easy to put together, is relatively light, and was cheaper than the materials we spent on the original coop. It has a pan under the wire mesh floor that collects the poop and can easily be slid out. 

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The coop also has a pole across it, so that the girls can perch at night.  While there's room for all four to do this, they're still fighting over who gets to sleep on the perch (two or three of them win, and the other one or two sleep under them on the wire mesh).

The only major downside so far was that it had an unsecured swinging panel on the back wall that we thought a raccoon could exploit.  I replaced it with a thicker hinged door with a latch.

Soon after we set up the coop, Madeleine learned that if she got scared of the chickens (pecking or chasing her, which they occassionally do) she could run inside the coop and close the door behind her.

 
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It's time again for the Madeleine Canavese quarterly report.

A recent unexpected development was that she just figured out what our first names are and how to use them.  That day, she walked out to our front door and called, "AAAAAAAANNNNN!" in the general direction of her mommy.  She's occasionally using both of our first names, particularly if the "mama" and "dada" calls aren't working effectively enough.

Madeleine's imaginative play has taken off in the past few months.  She plays a lot with her baby doll: changing its diaper, putting it to sleep, feeding it, having it blow bubbles, etc.  She puts together her interlocking blocks and declares them a boat or a cat or a dog.  She draws "cats" and "dogs", one of which looked almost intelligible recently (which I'll choose to believe was not a mistake).  Ann and I have both had fun taking her to My Play Place, a cool toddler play area just a few blocks from us with all kinds of interesting toys and arts & crafts.

This quarter also included Madeleine's first trip to the zoo, trips with Mommy in a new bike seat, an Easter egg hunt, a couple trips to the ocean, and lots of splashing at the water table (yes, midwesterners, it really has gotten warm enough for that here already).  And, of course, Maddy helped us pick out our new chicks and enjoys watching, feeding, and hanging out with them. 

And, finally, here is the latest Maddyspeak translation guide:
  • "feep" => "sleep"
  • "hawlk" => "help"
  • "fing" => "swing"
  • "fide" => "slide"
  • "bay-bay" => "baby"
  • "pookie" => "peek-a-boo"
  • "shish" => "fish"
  • "Ah-ah" => "Ana," her beloved babysitter
Latest photos are here.