A walk around Tilden’s Little Farm over Christmas Break

Tilden's Little Farm has been looking as pretty as a postcard

Tilden’s Little Farm has been looking as pretty as a postcard

The recent rains have been making everything look prettier. Grass is growing, hillsides are green and lush, everything looks vibrant and alive. Streambeds have water in them again.

Soren loves feeding the cows

Soren loves feeding the cows

One day over Christmas break, Claire asked Justin for a “Daddy day,” so I took the boys out for a day of adventure. We packed up some food for ourselves and for the animals and started out at the main barn area of Little Farm. Soren and Ronin fed the animals. It is interesting to watch their different techniques. Soren ran around as fast as he could, peeling off one stalk and then another, and feeding the cows and then the goats and then the sheep and dancing with joy as the animals gobbled them down. He then had no more celery and begged Ronin for some of his and squawked about the unfairness of it all.

An interested goat is about to snack on Soren

An interested goat is about to snack on Soren

Ronin, on the other hand, conserved his celery and used it only sparingly. He had most of his left by the time Soren was done with all of his. He shared a little bit, but I pointed out to Soren that this is the difference between saving and spending. Soren was in a position where he was unhappy, and Ronin hadn’t enjoyed feeding the animals yet but he did have celery left over and could choose to use it or get pleasure out of giving it away. I also showed Soren how there was a lot of celery scattered on the ground outside the pens that the animals had dropped, and he could just as easily pick that up and not have to beg anyone. Crisis averted.

We learned that black sheep have black tongues

We learned that black sheep have black tongues

After we fed the animals and had a snack, we walked down the trail to Jewel Lake and took the Pack Rat trail back. It was beautiful. We saw a lot of bubbles rising on the water on the lake’s surface, and watched them for a while before ducks surfaced. There were a lot of different ducks diving under the water, but the only one I remember is “bufflehead” because the name is so interesting.

Ronin and Soren pointing out something interesting by the lake

Ronin pointing out something interesting by the lake

There were a couple of teenaged girls stuck in the reeds out by the edges the lake. Soren decided to rescue them, so he walked out on a little trail and called out to them. He was very proud of himself for leading them to safety.

Soren trying to lure the teenaged girls to safety

Soren trying to get closer to the teenagers

We bought a couple of new bandanas at the Little Farm, printed with nature activities and car trip activities. When Soren goes on our walks, I have a really hard time getting anyone to be quiet and look or listen for woodland creatures. I hoped that we could start focusing on being observant, or at least appeal to his ninja side and be quiet and sneaky.

Soren being a ninja

Soren being a ninja

I was very successful at encouraging Soren to be a ninja. He has started telling Justin that he trained at a ninja school and when questioned further, he said that well, maybe it wasn’t a specific school, but he had enough training that he became a ninja because he knew all of the tricks. This wasn’t just because of me, of course. He had ninja predilections prior to this. He loves the jumping out and attacking people bit, but is still not so good at the quiet and sneaky parts.

Ronin was being a pirate with no idea what was in store for him

Ronin the pirate, with no idea what was in store for him

It made our walk through the woods a little less than peaceful. Soren and Ronin played ninja vs. pirate for a good part of the walk, and had a lot of fun hiding and leaping out at each other.

Soren has been asking for an all-black outfit lately, because he thinks the red is a little too visible. I am just glad he’s been willing to wear the red, since the fleece is cozy on cold and damp days and he can be so hard to keep track of when he wants to run around like crazy.

I promise I won't ask for anything else after I can disappear!

I promise I won’t ask for anything else after I can disappear!

Ronin, in the meantime, was a little discouraged at how short our walk was and asked if we could go for at least a 5-mile hike next time. He kept prodding me at every trail marker to take the longer way back. I have been walking more and more, but the most I am averaging is about 5-7 miles a day and any more than that is still hard on my feet. Soren is still not up for the long hikes that Ronin likes, mostly because he has a hard time pacing himself.

Ronin, wishing for a longer hike

Ronin, yearning for a 13-mile hike so he can beat his record

Even though I can’t deliver the kinds of hikes that Ronin expects from Justin, an all-day hike through the redwoods in areas he’s never seen before, I think it does all of us a lot of good to get out in combinations we don’t normally try. Soren and Ronin had a lot of fun together on our walk, playing together and being adventurous and rough-housing, and it was a little bit of a departure from the Claire-and-Soren caregiving relationship or owner/puppy games that usually happen.

Measuring how far the sticks can go into the mud

Measuring how far the sticks can go into the mud in Jewel Lake

Even when we are just 2 kids and 1 adult, it is almost as easy as it is with 1 kid, now that kids don’t need diapers changed and don’t randomly fall off of things while tottering around. I have more challenges with 3 kids and 2 adults, because I have too many different needs to account for, and too many different people ricocheting around me trying to talk all at once. Often I can zoom after Soren because he seems to be most out-of-control on a regular basis, and I just interject as needed with everyone else, but it does feel like I lose out on valuable 1:1 time with the older kids. I’m also starting to notice how the lack of time for quiet conversation and thoughtfulness is making it so I can only hear about what they want me to know about.

Wood ear mushrooms

Trametes versicolor, or “turkey tail” fungus on a fallen log (possibly)

I will leave you with some interesting fungal facts that Soren and I learned recently. We were watching a forestry program online and learned about conks (fungal bodies around trees, which can be shelf-like or round, hard or soft, temporary or long-lasting). These indicate the tree has rot inside. I took the above picture during our walk at Tilden’s Little Farm, and I had always just thought of these as pretty mushrooms, as I think all of the mushrooms around here. We love it when it rains because mushrooms proliferate like crazy. We recently saw someone carrying one of the classic poisonous red toadstools with white dots (Amanita muscaria) out of a public place in fear that some innocent child might be tempted to eat it.

I tried to read up a little bit more about this bracket fungus, or polypore, and found an article about it from one of my favorite local nature magazines:

How Can You Tell a True Turkey Tail from an Imposter?

So maybe the one I photographed wasn’t a T. versicolor, since I didn’t check it out underneath its tail feathers. I still think it’s pretty.

Jewel Lake, Tilden Park

Jewel Lake, Tilden Park, midwinter

December rain, wild weather, flooding and storms

Singing in the rain

Singing in the rain

We have a week left and this is now the 7th wettest December on record, which was set in 1889. San Francisco has had 11.5″ of rain this month. More rain is expected by Christmas. We have had some really bad commuting days, with drives of more than 2 hours. My last day of work before Christmas was canceled at 2:34 AM by a phone call from my boss, who told me the power was out and all procedures were being rescheduled.

In my neighborhood, the email lists have been suggesting that people “adopt a drain” near their houses, because the storms blow leaves off the trees and the rains wash them down the street and they clog up the drains and pretty soon the water is knee deep.

I have been trying to take every opportunity to walk now that my foot is starting to get better, and I walk the kids to school and back, even in the pouring rain. Soren has decided that since he is going to be an animal doctor when he grows up, he has to rescue all of the worms.

Soren holding his hand out my window. (We were parked.)

Soren holding his hand out my window.

One day schools were even canceled due to the heavy rain. I have had a few snow days in my life. They were very rare, because most of the places I lived that had them were used to dealing with snow. Lots of snow.

One house we lived in. The driveway was impassable in winter and we dragged groceries up by sled.

One house we lived in when I was growing up. The driveway was impassable in winter and we dragged groceries up by sled.

Later. I’m trying to catch up again. It’s not December anymore. It’s mid-January and there has been hardly any precipitation since the beginning of the year. The schools have decided to take back that rain day, by scheduling school on a day that was previously a planning day, and even adding some hours onto a shortened day.

Walking home from school through the rain

Walking home from school through the rain

It did get pretty bad for a while, though. A couple of counties declared a state of emergency. There were mudslides and rockslides on State Highway 1, and it looks like the road to Muir Woods will be impacted at least until the summer. At least 60 trees toppled over in San Francisco and there were local mudslides in The City. We had been thinking about going out to Land’s End and exploring the cliffs and the ruins of Sutro Baths for a while, but there was a mudslide that covered the path and tore up some trees right around the same time I thought maybe we shouldn’t go because of the weather. I guess I was right.

Sometimes the skies seemed ominous when we went for hikes

Sometimes the skies seemed ominous when we went for hikes

We still managed to get outside in between and sometimes during the heavy rains, but we mostly stuck to paved paths away from trees or cliffs. Even low-lying areas near the sea were prone to flooding, and cars were getting stuck in deep water in underpasses or even on freeways.

Aside from a little relief from our drought, the heavy rains have uncovered some interesting fossils along the coastal bluffs, including a rare megalodon tooth that was found on a Santa Cruz beach. I’m glad we had all that rain. It would be nice if we had it a little more spread out instead of all of it at once every few years, but we’ll take what we can get.

Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

It’s been a tough end of the year for a lot of us. I keep trying to write about some of it and it seems easier to just not do it, or write about other things. Today is the first day of January, 2015, and we had a fun day out yesterday so I might as well just show you pictures from that and talk about what the kids wrote down for their New Year’s notes.

Sea Monster Display at the Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

Sea Monster Display at the Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

Everyone in our house is sick. Justin is the worst by far. He stayed home in bed, coughing. I was just barely starting to feel a little something, mostly manifested by increased irritability. Who is to tell if I was getting sick or just responding to everyone else being sick and cranky, though? Mom and I took the kids over to the Marin Headlands to the Marine Mammal Center, which rescues and cares for hurt or ill sea lions, seals, otters, and other creatures. We checked before we went to ensure they were open on New Year’s Eve and that they had patients. They had more than 20 baby seals and sea lions in their rescue center and we enjoyed looking at the descriptions and weights and reasons for admission. We thought the name “Fur Elise” was a good one.

Getting close to one of the few marine mammals we could observe -- a statue

Getting close to one of the few marine mammals we could observe — a statue

Unfortunately, after more than an hour’s drive, we discovered that the baby seals and sea lions were all kept hidden behind a hospital tent because they were too small to be observed by the public and there were no animals out for viewing. We saw some statues and some artwork and a huge gift shop and I had to tear Claire away from hundreds of pictures of seals with cute expressions and “Won’t you adopt me?” written on them. We stayed for a while and learned about protecting the environment and the sea creatures and how we can help, and learned about the rescue operation. It is a great place. They encouraged us to come back in a few months when we’d be more likely to see live animals.

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of barnacles.

We all ate lunch together in an Italian restaurant in Sausalito. I almost changed course when I saw that it had glasses on the tables and a waiter who listed the specials and no kids’ menus, but was convinced to stay. It was a very nice lunch. Ronin and I shared a plate of chicken piccata because he loves anything with capers and Claire had spaghetti with marinara sauce and Mom and Soren shared a pizza. Nobody bounced off the chairs except my mom. Nobody dropped anything or spilled anything. Everyone used napkins. Claire said it was the best meal she’d had. I didn’t have to shush anyone. My family made polite conversation and we all had a very pleasant and elegant meal out together. (I was just kidding about my mom bouncing off the chair, because she always has wonderful manners.)

Ronin trying to listen for sounds at the Wave Organ

Ronin trying to listen for sounds at the Wave Organ

After lunch, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. We admired the views of the afternoon sun slanting across the bridge and onto the water. We walked past the Yacht Club down the road to the Wave Organ. It was a chilly day, one of the coldest days of the year and it even required a frost advisory, but it was warm in the sun and warm when we were running around. My mom had multiple layers of clothes on, including a wool sweater and a fleece jacket. I had a fleece jacket. Ronin had a long-sleeved shirt with fleece pants. Soren was in a short-sleeved shirt and refused his jacket. Claire took off her shoes and socks and ran in the 56°F surf and said it was as warm as room temperature.

Soren on the beach by the Wave Organ

Soren on the beach by the Wave Organ, practicing looking fierce

The kids built sand castles and clambered over the rocks. Claire challenged anyone to a race down the beach, and when nobody else took her up on it, I shed my backpack and a bunch of other stuff and ran down the beach with her. Everyone was quite reluctant to leave.

I don’t miss my days of glamorous evening gowns and rides in limousines on New Year’s Eve. Spending the day exploring our beautiful Bay Area with my family was the nicest possible way to spend the day, and in the evening Justin and I discussed some goals for the upcoming year and sipped a glass of wine together quietly on the couch. I fell asleep shortly before midnight.

Claire and me in a race down the beac

Claire racing me down the beach

Year in Review 2014

About Me : Name ♦ Age ♦ Favorite Color ♦ Favorite Food ♦ Favorite Activity ♦ Favorite Book

Claire – 7 – pink/purple – pizza – gymnastics – The Princess in Black

Ronin – 7 – red- chocolate- long hikes – The Book with No Pictures

Soren – 4 – blue – apples – making forts – Fold & Fly Paper Airplanes

My mom watching the kids build sand castles

My mom watching the kids build sand castles

Highlights of 2014

Greatest lesson learned ♦ Hardest thing this year ♦ Favorite memories of 2014

Claire – math problems like 24 + 51 – riding a bike – playing, and my friend Sophie visiting me from Philadelphia

Ronin – adding huge numbers – soldering – going to Canada, Disneyland, getting to read alone, going to Wyoming without my parents

Soren – how to swim – trying to dig through the sandbox at school because the sand always slips in the holes – going to the island and fishing, and also whenever we said “2014” at my school we would all slap our hands down on the table at the same time

Soren showing us he really means it

Soren showing us he has the genetic ability to curl his tongue, among other things

Looking forward to 2015

Want to learn ♦ Want to improve ♦ Goals for the year

Claire – spelling, bike riding, back somersaults

Ronin – something about you science (I couldn’t quite read this and I don’t think he finished writing it and he’s asleep now)

Soren – How to swim, making paper airplanes, want to learn how to turn on the tv and ice skate

Ronin's sand castle with found objects

Ronin’s sand castle with found objects

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope this year is better than you expect it to be.

Merry Christmas 2014!

Marin Headlands, 2014

Ronin, Claire, Soren, Marin Headlands, 2014

I did not do my usual Christmas card pictures this year. Instead, one day over Thanksgiving Break, we did some spontaneous ones outside. The kids were trying to talk me into taking them to Sausalito to the Bay Area Discovery Museum and I said I wasn’t sure because it was bound to be busy and they weren’t listening very well. They promised to be good and decided to get dressed in red shirts so they would be more visible to me if they wandered off. They looked so charming and sounded so earnest, I told them we could go and I suggested we bring along the santa hats and see if we could find any good picture spots.

"You make us jump for joy"

“You make us jump for joy”

They did not pose for pictures very much, but they did enjoy the ones where they could goof off and run around. They also did a very good job listening at the museum. They let me know when they were going from one place to another, and I had enough free time to help some grandparents find some lost children and to try to break up a fight after some boy randomly threatened Ronin by saying ominously, “I will cut you” and Soren immediately leaped to defend his brother. There were a lot of kids there who were taking advantage of being out of school and away from primary caregivers by running wild.

A little detour through the Presidio in San Francisco

A little detour through the Presidio in San Francisco at sunset

The way home was a long and windy road. It took hours. The navigation system suggested that we go across the Golden Gate Bridge and through San Francisco and then across the Bay Bridge to get home, since going north on 101 and then across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would have taken longer that day for some reason. The children were remarkably patient and listened to podcasts and shouted out names they read on buildings and billboards along the way.

I hope you all are having a wonderful Winter, a cheerful Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and that your New Year is nice!

Albany Bulb

Giant statues haunt the beach

Giant statues haunt the beach

Justin and I rediscovered the Albany Bulb in September and then I took my Dad there a couple of weeks later when he visited, figuring he’d be enchanted with it. The only other time we’d gone was when the twins were just barely walking, and the whole place was deserted and spooky except for a bunch of dogs running around and whispers in the bushes. It seemed difficult at that time for a pleasant afternoon walk, and we were not able to move quickly if the dogs decided to become aggressive.

Soren in the midst of concrete and rebar

Soren in the midst of concrete and rebar

Leaping over the rubble

Leaping over the rubble

This bit of land is a former dump site, with slabs of concrete and rebar in haphazard piles, debris from construction and freeway projects scattered among fabulously creative works of art and graffiti, and found objects and plants galore. We saw a cherry tomato plant with ripe tomatoes winding its way among batteries and beads and broken motherboards and bisected baby doll heads. Blackberry bushes lined one of the paths.

Claire crouching with the pampas grass

Claire crouching with the pampas grass

The children loved fighting mock fights with the pampas grass “fluffers” as they called them.

Ronin wrote in his story of the week,

Once we got to the main trail, the trail sides were covered with fluffers. Wait, do you know what those are? Okay, I will tell you. They are a reed with fluffable parts.

Overlooking the shore

Overlooking the shore

There is a great article on the Albany Bulb here, in Bay Nature magazine, and although it’s from 2002 it gives a great idea of the history of the site and the feel of the place. I am not sure why it was so different when we went the first time, but it seems like time and politics change things, or maybe we were just there on a bad day before. Reading a bit more in other areas, it does seem like there had been a protective (and occasionally aggressive) homeless population on the Bulb that is now mostly gone. Fires, dead bodies, knives, dogs, turf wars could all make the visitor sometimes feel unwelcome.

Steps on the back of the Bulb

Steps on the back of the Bulb

We brought walkie-talkies the second time

We brought walkie-talkies the second time. They were very useful, mostly for summoning my dad.

The past couple of times I’ve been, it seemed a little otherworldly but not unwelcoming. In the two weeks between our visits, a new gigantic piece of art appeared. Some of the charm of the place is the constant surprise, of always discovering something new.

This giant colorful piece showed up as if by magic

This giant colorful piece showed up as if by magic – each section turns independently

Each time we went, we explored a different part of the Bulb, and we saw amazing and interesting things around every turn. In an area of tall grass that seemed completely undisturbed, without even a path, I found a mosaic made out of reflectors. On the low road back to the parking lot, a tree was painted with aqua and glitter and smiley faces on the areas where branches had been removed. As the kids climbed up a little goat path to a larger trail, a face looked on from a rock.

Reflector mosaic

Reflector mosaic

Tree with glitter

Tree with glitter

Rock face

There’s someone looking at you

When I went with Dad, I hoped to find the statues. I’d read a bit more about the Albany Bulb by that time, and I had an idea where they might be. We crossed over areas that didn’t have trails, and I found out later that there was a wide track that led straight where we wanted to go. Somewhere around “Burnout Beach” I realized Claire had found a marker and was trying to add her own graffiti to the island.

Burnout Beach

Burnout Beach

Claire mimicking one of the apparitions

Claire mimicking one of the apparitions

As we got closer I realized how fantastic and creepy and incredible these works of art really were. I had only seen one of them from off in the distance, so I didn’t know that there were many, and didn’t know they were huge or elaborate.

Shoreline guardian

Shoreline guardian

A couple on a bench

A couple on a bench

Ronin and Claire in front, for scale

Ronin and Claire in front, for scale

Another guy

Another guy, hanging out on a rock

From Ronin’s story:

The best part was the statues. They were made of rusty metal and wood. One of them was climbable!

A mythical beast with antlers

A mythical beast with antlers, Claire on its back

Claire enjoyed scrambling up the creature. As we got there, a young woman climbed down from it and warned me not to let the kids climb up on it because it was a lot more difficult and dangerous than it might appear. I made sure that Claire heard the warning, and reminded her that she needed to figure out how to get down as she was going up. She had no problem.

Stone circle

Labyrinth on the bulb

As we climbed up the back side of the bulb, we found a stone labyrinth with some hidden treasures at the center, possibly a geocaching site or maybe the same kinds of treasures that were scattered everywhere else. Soren found a lighter and my dad showed him how to use it with unerring precision, to his utmost joy. He flicked that lighter (aren’t they all childproof now?) over and over, casting its little flame around the dry grass and dancing around. I finally suggested to my dad that it might be a good idea to remove the lighter, since the drought has made everything into a tinderbox, and one little spark could cause the entire area to go up in flames.

From Ronin’s notes:

On our way back we saw a maze with great stuff in the middle. There was something strange. We saw two people walking on rocks in the water! We were sad we had to leave!

We loved the Albany Bulb

We loved the Albany Bulb

I am pretty sure that we are going to make this a regular rotation in our excursions from now on. Even if the larger art projects don’t change, we definitely haven’t seen everything yet, and there are numerous small touches that can be easily missed.


Phantom, fluffy and magnificent

Phantom, magnificent and full of fluff

You will understand later why I have not mentioned Phantom yet. Phantom died the second week of September. He was strong earlier this summer, but I was starting to get a little concerned about him by the time we left for our Canada vacation. I told our cat sitter that we would be completely unable to be reached and that they would need to contact neighbors if something happened. It wasn’t anything specific, but he seemed a little thinner and he wasn’t grooming as well.

When he started fading, it went fast. He became very thin, he started losing his balance, he stopped eating, his eyes sank in, and he became completely unafraid of Justin and the kids. This was a huge change for him. Since he was very little, he was always our ‘fraidy cat. He spent a lot of time curled up inside the perch in our cat tree, and when he ventured out, a loud sneeze would scare him back into it.

I set him in a box with a soft blanket and a little bowl of water and some soft food after a couple of days when he could no longer walk easily or jump up to get his food or water. I was asked about taking him to the vet to see if he could have any kind of treatment or tests, but he was nearly 20 years old and death seemed imminent. He seemed comfortable and unafraid at home, and it seemed like it would be the worst torture in the world to put him through that.

Rest in Peace, Phantom

Rest in Peace, Phantom

I spent a bunch of nights crying and petting him. He purred on my lap and rubbed his face against me. It may have been harder on me than it was on him. I felt sad that he’d lived a lot of his life as a very anxious cat, always afraid of loud noises and footsteps and sudden movements. Ronin remarked that as he was dying he seemed to be reverting back to a kitten again, getting friendlier and smaller. Soren spent a lot of time in the last day or two sitting next to Phantom’s box and gently petting him and whispering to him and glancing up at me to make sure that he was gentle enough.

Claire came over and hugged me after I found Phantom’s body, and helped me wrap him up and drew the picture for me that you see above. She asked if she could come with me, and together we took his light little body to the center downtown where they would cremate him. I have talked to the children about how people (and animals) live on in the memories we have, in photographs and art, in emotions, in the traces they leave behind, in genes, in deeds, in stories that are told about them. To me, where we place the body does not matter as much.

Phantom, two weeks before his death

Phantom, two weeks before his death

So, one last story. I picked Phantom out from a litter of kittens at an animal shelter in Wyoming, a few years before I moved out here. I played with all of the kittens and I chose him because he climbed up on my shoulder and started licking my ear. I named him Phantom for the black mask across half his face, and not because he was shy and elusive. He was very friendly for a while, but he had a bad experience on a road trip and although he wasn’t bitten, he became twice shy. Fare thee well, Phantom, and may all your future road trips be quiet and peaceful.