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The Amazing American Museum of Natural History

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Ringing Rocks, geocaching, biking, and yard work weren’t enough-we capped off the weekend by taking Monday to go into the city and visit the American Museum of Natural History.  I love this museum; my parents took us in to it every now and then when we were kids.  We took our kids a couple years ago and were delighted with the renovations and fascinating things they’ve done (the dinosaur floor is arranged evolutionarily.)  In fact, it was Clark who asked to return (when discussing day trips I’d been rooting for the Liberty Science Center.) So, here was our mega day in the city.
We arrived at the museum, which is delightful right from the get-go. The facade, the words, the big statue of Teddy Roosevelt.  If Ben Franklin is my favorite founding father, Teddy is my favorite president. I find many of his words inspiring and love what a big part of the museum he is.
With Teddy Roosevelt, whom I greatly admire
We enjoyed the special pterosaur exhibit, but what really got me excited as the Hall of Biodiversity. I could have easily spent at least an hour in that hall alone.
the amazing Hall of Biodiversity
I also loved the Hall of Ocean Life, which features the iconic blue whale hanging overhead. The kids were quite blown away by this.
The Blue Whale-so iconic, so amazing
The animal dioramas were wonderful, and I think one of the things I love about them is how old-fashioned they are.
I never tire of these beautiful detailed dioramas
At the end of the day we played Name 5 and the category was “things you especially liked at the museum.” Clark listed dinosaurs twice and the display of gold from Central American/Mexico (?) and Tabby surprised me by saying how much she liked the people dioramas.  We really moved pretty quickly through the peoples exhibits (basically just trying to find the Easter island head that features in Night at the Museum”) but she was apparently really taken with them. These exhibits get a lot less attention, I think, than the animal exhibits, and they really are fascinating.  I suppose it’s not until you’re an adult that you really want to go slowly in a museum and read all the placards.  As of now the kids like to just look and quickly move on. Consequently we saw: dinosaur skeletons, totem poles, gems, minerals, a giant ancient canoe, an Chinese New Year dragon head, a sacrificial Mayan table thing with a big penis (much giggling), ancient ammonites, a humongous jellyfish, a humongous giant squid, a humongous spider crab, stuffed horned deer like animals of many varieties, neanderthals, touched a meteorite, learned about pterosaurs, and more.  Coincidentally, there was an article in the newest Mental Floss about things the museum owns that are not even on display.  It was wonderful and fascinating and I was so happy that the kids loved it.  We took a break after just about an hour and a half to leave the museum and have lunch.  We got fresh air and a fantastic lunch in a charming Mexican cafe.
We had a great lunch out at Cafe Frida
Afterwards we went to Crumbs and each had a cupcake.
followed by cupcakesThen, fortified, we returned to the museum.  After more exploring, oohing, and ahhing, we hit the gift shop (of course.) Then exited and went across the street to Central Park.  All the daffodils were blooming, people were out and about enjoying themselves, and it was very lovely.  Although we were all very tired, we walked through the bramble and eventually made our way to Belvedere Castle, where we had a spectacular view.
The view across the pond to the Great Lawn, with skyline
I had never been there before and it was charming.  From there it was a trudge back to the car.  By this time Tabby was whining and nearly crying about how tired she was “I can’t go any further…I’m soooo tired… can’t we stop…I’m so ti-is that a playground? Can I go play?” and suddenly Miss Tired was off and running into the marvelously named Diana Ross Playground, making friends, and having a grand time.  We eventually left in the early evening and because it was actually convenient, we made the cherry on top of this sundae of a day, be stopping at Ikea for meatballs for dinner. (Astonishingly, and for the first time ever, we left without buying a single item.) We got home quite late and were all super exhausted.
It was a great day all around. Not just beautiful weather and a majestic museum, but also a day where, you’ll be happy to know, we all enjoyed being together, no one was grumpy, cross, or nasty.  It was totally great. We have another outing planned for my birthday this weekend, but honestly, it felt like the whole day was a big birthday present. I know we’ll all have happy memories of it.
The impressive dinosaur skeletons
So now we’ve had a relaxing recovery day-a breakfast out with Clark while Tabby went to her nature program and a rainy afternoon watching Jumanji (terrific family movie). The chickens are mostly doing ok with the new coop, except 4 little ones who are getting out. On a side note, I often feel like I write this in a vacuum and it was really nice to hear from many of you with encouraging words when I was showing my frustration with events of late. Thank you!

Don’t Fence Me In

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“Give me lands, lots of land, Under starry skies above, don’t fence me in…” I’m sorry chickens, but you’re getting fenced in. So after much discussion we did decide to fence in for a summer or a year and give ourselves an opportunity to have our lawn and gardens be a bit restored. Yes, you can garden and have free range chickens, but here are some things I’m looking forward to this summer:

Re-mulching the butterfly garden and having it stay there
Sweeping the driveway and having it remain free of chicken poop so that when you play basketball you don’t have to worry about poop getting on the ball
Not having that moment where the chickens accidentally get in the garden and scratch up all your seedlings

We removed the front fence and swung it out to the side, added a few more posts and some wire.
The new chicken run
So it starts with the same area with the henhouse is, but goes out further.  As of now they can easily fly up to the top of the fence, and I expect they will. We can add some chicken wire to the top to keep them from flying out, or clip their wings. It was hard to dig up the fence-especially the main post that had been put in a Big Gulp cup of cement.
to our surprise one of the posts was sunk into a Big Gulp cup of cement. It was tremendously difficult to remove!
This pen was originally a pig pen when we bought the house, so it is pretty sturdy.

I will miss having them follow me to the garage for their feed, seeing them in the Japanese maple, and seeing them glide across the late summer lawn like prairie schooners. Tomorrow morning they are in for a very rude awakening. But that said, I’m pretty excited about this development and the chance to do some different gardening this year.  I know my legions of readers (ha, ha) will be happy to know that today ended much better than yesterday, and we are all tired, sunburned, and happy tonight. We even managed to find another geocache on our way home from rewarding ourselves with Italian ice. :)


Ringing Rocks

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Yesterday we went to Ringing Rocks park. We’ve been before, a couple years ago, and wanted to go back and with the weather being gorgeous it was a great day to go. Ringing Rocks is across the river in PA and it’s very interesting because although it has a sign and a little parking area and a trail, that’s it.  There’s no information or signs about the bizarre natural spectacle. And when you hike over to the waterfalls, you can easily fall of the cliff and die, but there are no signs or rails. So, the rocks.  In the midst of forest is a vast expanse of very large rocks and boulders. (Presumably dumped there by a glacier.) The special thing about the rocks is that when you hit them with a hammer (or the wrench I brought) they make a metallic clanging sound. They sound like they are hollow metal! It’s so wild. And very fun and sort of dangerous to clamber all over these rocks hoping you don’t twist and ankle and listening to all the ringing as other people are also whacking the rocks.
A trip to Ringing Rocks

A trip to Ringing Rocks
We also found a couple of geocaches while we were there, which was fun.  Then we headed over to the waterfalls. Last time we were there they were completely dry. But this time there was plenty of water burbling along, making little falls, and heading towards a big cliff.
A trip to Ringing Rocks
It’s kind of strange because when you arrive you are at the edge of the big cliff looking down, then can climb around on this flat sort of river bed, heading towards the falls. The rocky surface is striated and it’s all very geologically fascinating.  We enjoyed walking around and also taking our shoes and socks off and dipping our feet in the water.
A trip to Ringing Rocks
Sadly it all ended, as most of our outings do, with sulks, pouts, threats and me being mad at the whole family. You know when you see people out to eat and they are silent? Yeah, that was us with our hamburgers afterward at a charming spot. I’m feeling a bit frustrated with always trying to create nice events for us that end up crappy at the end. Bleah.

So anyway, after that, because it was literally on the way, we pulled over at the place we had found a geocache a few weeks ago. I wanted to see if they had their sheep out, and they did. And remember the enchanted moss covered cottage in the snow? Well, here it is now.
Enchanted Cottage-now with no snow!

Woolly Sheep

When we finally got home we went for a bike ride to town, which once again ended poorly. Clark’s already complaining about how I want to work in the garden today, so no doubt today will also be sour. And guess what? It’s spring break (or “the holidays” as the Bluths say) so we’ve got many days ahead together.

Changes Afoot

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teeny tiny daffodil
It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted anything, though on my walks with the dog I often write posts in my head. The boring reason is that I’ve actually been keeping up the momentum of cleaning, organizing, purging and that’s what I’ve done on most afternoons. I wish I had before and after pictures to show you of the basement, but since I considered it an embarrassing eyesore no before photos exist. So you will have to trust me that the basement room is now a lovely room with the books organized and accessible, and the main basement part is much better too.  Although certain people have always expressed shock at “how much stuff” we have, the simple fact behind why we have so much stuff in our basement is that we don’t really have reasonable closets in our bedrooms, we don’t have a linen closet, and we just don’t really have other places to store stuff. Add to that one person who likes to collect, one who is sentimental, two people who think it’s silly to throw something away that is still useful or good, and one person who would then be in charge of figuring out what to do everything and finds it a pain in the ass to do so, and you’ve got lots of stuff in your basement to just deal with some day. Well, that day came. And it was physically tiring, and also completely mentally tiring.  Sorting through baby clothes overwhelms me with nostalgia and memories of when my kids were sweet babies.  Then I found all my old work things and then sent me down a rabbit hole of thinking about how I used to be really good at what I did, and while I’ve not missed working, I have very much missed feeling successful. But overall, even though you might still think our house is messy, it’s a comfortable messy I like and getting the basement under control has truly made me feel so much happier about our home. And now, we can turn our attention to the outside.
It’s fully spring and we’re thinking about the garden and yard. We made the big decision to fence in our chickens. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks (this didn’t seem to be an issue for Paul, he was fine with things). On the one hand, it truly brings me pleasure to see them roaming about, seeing them so happy in the yard, in trees, and so on. Plus, it’s good for them.  On the other hand, we have so many extremely large sections of lawn that are nothing but dirt, that I think it would be really hard to plant grass, fence it, and attempt to grow it (we did a small patch last summer.) So we’ve decided to give it a year (or at least a summer) of fencing them in and really focusing on growing some grass.  I got over the anthropomorphizing woes (“I’ll feel so sad for them if they can’t have every aspect of the outdoors to enjoy.”), but am still worried that without full range their eggs won’t be as tasty.  And tasty they are. They are laying very well right now and they are so delicious. But, this afternoon we are installing the fencing.

Other random thoughts that didn’t make it in over the past two weeks:

a hen died quite suddenly
there’s definitely no frog in our pond, so we’ll be starting anew with fish and frogs
I got my peas in
Paul repaired our garden fence by putting in an arch that I hope he will paint something charming on
Clark and I saw a cat dragging a squirrel it had killed and we were fascinated
I’m finding myself still surprised and grateful with every day of good weather we have
Tabby has ridden her bike on the road a few times and done very well
last weekend the kids went to a science day at the 4-H center and that was fun
Clark sang in his class’s concert
and for the first time in years we got our taxes in before the 15th, so hooray for us

And now, the photos of spring at our house:
What are you doing out there?

spring trampolining

Rain Kissed

Springtime baking

Portraits with Pippin


Weeding (not the garden)

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After living in this house for 11 years and toying with the idea of a garage sale for about 5, we’re finally putting a plan into action. A date has been set (May 17) with plenty of time to get ready and I’ve spent the past week purging, cleaning out, sorting, and organizing. The hard thing about a garage sale, and the part that makes Paul not want to do it, is the logistics of it. And I admit, I’m a bit stymied too. So far stuff we’ve identified as “sell” is being put into the garage. But then we’ll need to sort and price that stuff, put it all back, and then the crack of dawn the day of the sale lay it all out. And then feel frustrated when it doesn’t all sell. (My post sale plan is 1. curb for free 2. LFA Pickup) I have managed to weed down 4 tubs of “must keep baby clothes” to a mere two, which I think is sensible. But, oh, that was an afternoon of sentimentality as I looked at all the sweet baby clothes.

As you may or may not know, I’m a librarian. Paul, too! And a big part of a library job is weeding your collection. You can’t keep everything, so some stuff has to go. I’m pretty good at it at work, but much worse at home.  A really big part of this “get our house and lives in order” project is weeding our home library. Which is huge. In fact, I wrote a little bit about it over at this site today.  When it comes to my own books I find it much harder to weed.  But I felt finally ready to part with things I know I’ll never read again. And I had tons of prepubs (advance reading copies of books I received from my library work) that I’m happy to give away.  It turns out we have a tremendous classics library and really very few of them did I feel compelled to keep.  On the other hand, it turns out that Paul is much more interested in continuing to have a broad library of our own.  I am also parting with vintage cookbooks that I don’t have the space to enjoy.  The ones I really like I already have up in the kitchen.  In fact, it turns out that I had tons of cookbooks I never used.  When it came down to it I had to tell myself: 1. Just because someone gave it to you once many years ago doesn’t mean you have to keep it. 2. Just because you read it once and liked it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. 3. Discarding a book doesn’t mean you hate it (as if the book has feelings.) All told we’ve so far pulled at least 300 books for the booksale (I think more.) And we haven’t even looked at books in our bedrooms or living room.  In all fairness, while Paul is loathe to part with many of his books that I’d pitch in an instant, my passion is kids books and because our kids read/will read them they’re pretty much all keepers. And any book from my own childhood. Plus we’ve got our various collections. I have old Bobbsey Twin books, Paul has everything ever written by Gore Vidal and Terry Pratchett (and let me tell you, it’s a LOT.)
Here’s part of the Vidal/Pratchett nook:

We’ve done a tremendous amount of work, plus some rearranging, and it’s really satisfying that there are no longer stacks of books on the floor or double stacked on the shelves. Doesn’t this look neat? (this is a section of the wall of shelves.There’s a lot more.) I’m also thinking this will go a long way towards my 2014 reading goal of enjoying rereading books. Almost every book I kept is one that I know I will read again and again over the years, or is in some way special to me.


So that’s what has been going on here. Spring cleaning I guess you’d say :)  And after the torrential rains this weekend, and sunshine today, just as it’s the last day of March, it finally feels like spring.

A Scant Dozen

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Look how many eggs we got today–ELEVEN! That’s a whole lot of laying that’s been going on. Seems like I should make an angel food cake and batch of lemon curd.
Today's haul

Snowdrops, Science Fairs, Sap, & Syrup

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Feeling homesteady
It’s been a very homesteady feeling weekend. For the record, we certainly wouldn’t make it as pioneers. But, we did manage to get some useful honey and beeswax from the hive.  I melted the wax and stuck a wick in it-voila! My own beeswax candle!
Our own bee products

We also began boiling down the sap into maple syrup.  We tapped the big tree in the backyard as well as two small trees across the street along the side of the road.  I’m sorry to say that the first batch was taking so long that  I confidently said it was fine when we went out. Unfortunately I was wrong and we returned home to find it had all boiled away, leaving the turkey fryer charred. You may recall that last year I compared the syrup to the $68 tomato. As we went through a tank of propane I reiterate that statement.  We’ve got tons of sap though and brought some inside to do. Check out the side by side of the two syrups.
The one on the left is so dark! I think I let it cook a little too long. It doesn’t taste particularly mapley to me, though very sweet.  I prefer the flavor of the second batch, the lighter one.  This was from the sap of the trees across the road. I’m sure we’ll enjoy both on pancakes and waffles and in my homemade granola.

And what of the outing that caused the first batch to burn? Well, it was a nice day out that felt like actual spring, so we hit a geocache on our way to do an errand.  I said this before, but I’ll say it again. What I am really enjoying about geocaching is discovering little spots nearby that we never knew existed. This spot was 2 1/2 miles away (as the crow flies, I think) in a residential neighborhood. I’ve passed the street many times but never knew it basically went straight up a mountain providing stunning views of Hillsborough.  We parked on the road and accessed the backside of the Sourlands. It was a short and easy walk and we were thrilled with our find.
More Geocaching
On the way home Paul pulled over for me so that I could go check out a huge expanse of snowdrops in the woods.  What a beautiful sight!


We also did some gardening this weekend by helping out at Clark’s school, where the 3rd grade garden was being readied for their Seeds to Salad program. It basically bummed me out that the garden was so nice and I was helping till their beautiful wormy soil when I had yet to do my own! I did come home and start turning the soil in the beds, but need to rake out all the junky dried plant matter. I’m determined to get my peas in this week!
And we began the weekend by visiting the science fair. I really enjoyed seeing all the kids’ projects and the different topics. Some are very popular (how much sugar is in a drink, solar system, make a tornado, etc.). Clark came up with a great topic all on his own-Was This the Worst Winter Ever?
science fair
After analyzing data the conclusion was “No, there have been colder and snowier winters.” Of course, more snow is predicted this week–argh!!! The test tubes are filled with sugar to represent inch for inch how many inches of snow fell that year. Good job, scientist!



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