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.
Four days after we said goodbye to two of our chickens, we ate one if them tonight.  I made chicken soup with her, and all day long as I simmered old "Scramble," I was thinking of my paternal grandmother, Madalyne, who was said to be a master "neck-ringer." Then, as we sat eating the chicken soup made with carrots, onions, potatoes, swiss chard, left-over brown rice, and pasta, Paul and I had a conversation with Madeleine about who this chicken was. A friend of a friend had slaughtered it, plucked, and feathered it for us a few days ago.

Our preschooler didn't bat an eyelash at our explanation, and when we finished talking she said, "We should do it again sometime."  More conversation followed, so that by the end of dinner Madeleine was already planning the demise of our remaining four chickens to make room for six new baby chicks later this fall.  She also said rather cheerfully, "When we get our new chicks if there are some that grow up and don't lay eggs, we can kill them and eat them too." There was also the suggestion from her that we learn to do the deed ourselves so that someone else doesn't have to do it for us.

The chicken itself tasted good. Not tender, but not too tough either. I would say it had "character." 

Little Rachel has a terrible cold, and I felt so good about giving her truly homemade chicken soup with so many ingredients from our own backyard. She gulped down three bowlfuls.

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!

Paul's community website for city of Alameda residents is now open to the public! gathers all kinds of online information about Alameda so people can "meet the neighborhood."

The site allows people to browse and subscribe to information...

  • within a few blocks of their home (e.g. police & fire reports, real estate activity, and yard sales).
  • associated with businesses, places, and other organizations near them (e.g. mentions in local news/blogs, Facebook posts, and web reviews).
  • associated with local topics they care about (e.g. political issues, hobbies, kinds of businesses).
  • posted by their neighbors (e.g. items for sale, discussions, and comments).
The best way to learn more is to watch the video below.

The site is in "open beta," which means there's a lot more to come, but it's ready for users and their feedback.  If you live in Alameda, check it out!

The website is featured in the September/October issue of Alameda Magazine.  Welcome if you saw us there!  For others, you can see the article below or in legible font size here (page 22, and be patient as it loads). 

We took the opportunity to spruce up the site a bit, adding a new masthead photo, updating some of our site pages, and catching up on the egg ticker.

In June we noticed a bee swarm had taken temporary residence high up in our plum tree.  Since both of our hives were occupied, we sent word out to the local beekeeper community.  It wasn't a very convenient location for capturing it, though, so no one jumped at it.  It decided to move after not too long, and Paul followed it east on Encinal and tried to give the new hosts a heads up (most people get pretty freaked by bee swarms).

A couple days later, we found either that swarm or a new one in our apple tree, a much more convenient location.  This time our friend John, another local beekeeper, said he wanted to capture it to populate one of his empty hives.  We caught the whole process on videotape.

Swarms are the natural way that bees form new colonies.  When a bee colony begins to run out of room in its current digs, it raises a new queen.  The old queen leaves the hive with half of the other bees.  The bees will find a place to clump together around the queen somewhere while scout bees look for a new location for the colony to live.  The swarm is almost like a liquid glob made of bees and is usually very calm.

The process to capture a swarm is basically to shake it into some container.  In this case, we shake it into a standard hive box which John later (at night, when the bees are most calm) took back to his empty hive.  The shaking is a little more aggressive here than was perhaps necessary... we've seen some swarms practically poured into boxes.

If the transfer works, the queen bee will have made it into the container.  The rest of the bees will eventually follow her.  If she did not make it in, the others will start marching out of the box within ten or fifteen minutes.  In this case, the capture worked, as we confirm that bees are still headed into the hive a while later.

There's a good article on bee swarms here if you want to learn more.  If you come across a swarm, contact your local county's beekeeper association and someone will usually come right out to capture it.

This year's honey harvest netted about 115 pounds (about 38 quarts) of honey.

This is the first year that Madeleine was able to suit up and see the action up close (no, she's not pulling frames out of boxes quite yet). She is very well versed in the vocabulary of beekeeping and she was enthralled earlier this season to see a queen bee up close for the first time.

This harvest is also the first time that we've saved the wax cappings because  Ann wants to try making some beeswax candles.

We've gotten the harvesting process down much smoother now. We did the harvest in 8 hours flat (!), by far our fastest time.   A big part of that has been minimizing the number of people present.  That especially helped in the cleanup process, as more people present means more sticky honey on the bottom of people's feet, the floor, the counters, doorknobs, and every last surface in our neighbors' house where we do the extraction.

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!"

Since we picked our first strawberries of the season on April 21, we've been keeping track of how much the garden has been producing. Now, just over 3 months later, we've passed the 100 pint mark for strawberries. Yes, that's 100 pints of strawberries from our tiny backyard and they show no signs of slowing down for the season yet. We pick strawberries almost every evening, but when we're weary of the job we call our neighbors and tell them to come and pick at our "U-pick Farm." We eat them almost every single day. Believe it or not, it is possible to tire of fresh, organic strawberries, so we're traded some for other garden produce from a friend a block away, taken them to every potluck or backyard barbecue we've gone to this summer, and used them frequently as gifts.

Our raspberry crop has been amazing too. In the last 10 weeks we've reaped 55 cups of raspberries, though sadly, they are about done for the season. Our blueberries have been much fewer and farther between. In June, we picked apricots from Paul's parents' three trees. Our plum harvest has just begun (we've picked 46 so far), our apple tree has about 100 apples on it, and our grape vines have some promising bunches fattening as we write this.

What does all this mean? Besides the fact that we don't have to worry about getting enough fiber or vitamin C in our diets, our farmers' market bill has significantly decreased this summer. Our total fruit purchases this season have added up to about a dozen peaches and one cantaloupe.

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...)