I’m going to miss these little guys.

I really wish my grandchildren didn’t live so far away, so I could take them to special events more often and so we could work on projects together throughout the year. It has been fun taking them to things they’ve never done before and watching their reactions. I’d also love to be able to attend their school programs and such. But life is so danged complicated these days, with blended and extended families, I am happy for whatever time I get.

Technically, only the youngest child is my grandchild; the older two are from a previous marriage. But when we first met the kids in 2002 (after my son started seeing their mother), Jearid was two and Bethany was four years old, and the kids ran up to us as soon as they saw us, saying “Grandma Grandpa!” Jim and I weren’t married at the time, and since Jim had never had any children of his own, being suddenly cast in the role of “grandpa” came as a big surprise. Now that my son is divorced, it takes a Herculean amount of coordinating to get us all together, since the kids live with their mother and new stepfather in Colorado, my son is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, and “Grandpa Jim” and I live in central Missouri. Then add in “Grandpa Mike,” my ex, who lives in the same town in Missouri, and we have one big complicated family. (At least we no longer have to factor in the older kids’ real father, since he got himself put in jail last summer.) Occasionally, the children will pause and say, “So how are we related to Grandpa Jim?” Or I will ask, “So how many grandpas do you have?” Or my son will play the song, “I’m my own Grandpa.” And we’ll all just laugh.

This week has gone very fast.  We have settled into some semblance of a routine, and we have done most of what we planned to do, plus a few extra things that their Grandpa Mike wanted to do. The mornings are generally relaxed, with everyone getting up at their own pace and fixing cereal. The adults (and Bethany) check email and Facebook, watch the news, write blogs and journals, or work on projects. When the boys get up, they inventory their Batman Lego figures or other belongings or make things out of duct tape and cardboard or watch episodes of South Park on their dad’s phone until they are fully awake.

After the last person has had breakfast, it’s time for lunch, and after lunch, we check the calendar we made when they first got here, think about what’s for supper, and then head out to do whatever we had planned. If nothing is planned, we go swimming again. Then dinner and cleanup and after that, we start winding down again. Sometimes Grandpa Jim will read out loud from a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. Usually Jearid will get hungry again, so we’ll have snacks at some point (popcorn with honey and butter has been popular). Then the boys put on their pajamas and we start heading to bed in the same order we got up, with the boys staying up the latest.

Grandpa Jim reads from The Phantom Tollbooth.

Here is what we’ve done this week:

On Sunday, Grandpa Jim took Jearid out to the bee yard to inspect the hives. They determined that we need to order a new queen for one hive that is lagging behind the rest in number of bees and honey production. Then we all met at Coopers Landing, and Bethany and Jearid got to see friends they had made last summer at dance camp, Liam (age 11) and Kyra (age 8). Jearid and Liam and Grandpa Jim rode bikes down the trail, Stephan and I threw rocks in the river, and Bethany and Matt sat and talked and listened to the music.

Throwing rocks off the old railroad bridge near Coopers Landing.

Jearid smoking the hive

Coopers Landing is a great place to be on a hot summer night.

Monday I got a break while they went with their Grandpa Mike to the ceramics studio, where they learned how to make pots. Afterwards, I took the kids back to the lake to swim  while their dad took a break. Liam and Kyra and their mom met us at the lake, so it worked out for all of us. Stephan has gotten much braver in the water in the last two weeks, especially since his Grandpa Mike bought him a noodle, so he can float. Jearid and Liam, who are close to the same age and activity level, had a great time together.

At the potters’ wheel.

At the ceramics studio

Tuesday we got up early and drove to Kansas City to Lego Land, which was a little overstimulating for the adults but still fun. The main attraction for the boys was a station where you could build vehicles and test them on all kinds of tracks. The adults and Bethany especially liked the scale model of Crown Center, including the new Kauffman Center, made entirely out of Legos.The scale model of the Wizard of Oz (including a farm house that would spin and rise up into the air when you pushed a button) was also “epic,” as Jearid would put it.  After dinner at Cracker Barrel, we stopped by for a short visit with my aunt Juanita, who had made lemonade and chocolate chip cookies in anticipation of our visit.

Building cars out of Legos

We spent most of Wednesday hanging out at the house, to give everyone time to recover from a long day. I showed Bethany how to operate the sewing machine and read a pattern, and she got started on making her owl bag. The boys played with their Legos, and Matt went out with some of his high school buddies. After dinner, we headed back to the library for a Funtastic Classics program, where they were happy to see Liam and Kyra again. During the program, the conductor of the Missouri Sympony read two stories while the members of the orchestra played sound effects to go along with the story: one was an Asian story about a girl who was willing to sacrifice her life to bring water to her village; the other was about Brer Raccoon and how he tricked some frogs. As we were walking up the steps to the library, Stephan was naming all the things he had done this week for the first time and acting very proud of himself. After the library program, he asked if we could look for a Batman book and was thrilled when the clerk found a book about his favorite character Two Face. After we left the library we all went back to Sparky’s for ice cream. (I think this made the third or fourth time for Sparky’s.)

Cutting out the fabric for her first sewing project.

Thursday Bethany and I worked on her bag some more, while Matt took the boys out to the bass pro shop for a Family Day Camp, where they met Grandpa Mike. At the camp they went to a couple of classes on bird watching and fishing, made leather bracelets, spun some wheel to win a prize (small frisbee and a wallet), and got to shoot arrows and bb guns. They came back very excited about the outing, with lanyards, awards pins for their classes, and coloring sheets. Afterwards, they picked up Bethany and went out to dinner with Grandpa Mike at Golden Corral (kids’ choice).

Stephan draws a picture of his favorite character, Two Face.

Today is our last full day together. They said their goodbyes to their dad last night, and he left for Georgia at 5:00 this morning. We are taking the kids to meet their mother halfway in Salina, Kansas, tomorrow. Today we have several things on our list. First, we will head around the block to visit Jim’s sister Norma, who has woven bookmarks for the kids (she showed Bethany and Jearid how to weave on an inkle loom last year and had them pick out colors for their bookmarks). Then we’ll have lunch and after they are full, we’ll go to see Madagascar 3 (Stephan had requested that we watch a movie sometime). After lunch we’ll go swimming one last time. Then we’ll take them back to Shakespeare’s for dinner (the first place we ate with them when they arrived two weeks ago). Sometime during the day Bethany needs to finish her bag, and we’ll need to do one more load of laundry, and pack everything for their trip home.

We’re all a little sad our time is coming to an end, and we have begun  planning for next time.

WTF–The Year is Half Over

We’re not even going to talk about the last blog post, where I went on and on about my New Year’s Resolutions and how I was going to get organized and accomplish amazing things. But the good thing about resolutions is that you can make them any time. You can always start over. The first of every year, every season, every month, every week, every day, even every hour you can decide once again to pay attention and do those things you meant to do. Today is as good as any day.

For the longest time I couldn’t understand why my dad, after being away at sea for 18 months at a time, would never ask upon his return what my brother and I had been doing while he was gone and never told us what he had seen and done. Instead he would act as though he had just stepped out of the room for a minute and would talk about Right Now, and How About Them Tigers, and Did You Get a Look at That Car and Looks Like It’s Going to Be Another Scorcher. Eventually I figured out that if you spend all your time trying to recover a past you never shared, you miss out on what’s happening now.

I don’t know what it’s been like where you live, but here in the Midwest, every growing thing has been about a month early this year, which only adds to the sense that time is slipping by in a frightening way. The daffodils were fading by mid-March. The strawberries had a brief moment of glory not too long after. The corn is by now way past knee high and we still have another two weeks before the Fourth of July. Peaches are already ripe. We picked blueberries two weeks ago and put them in bags in the freezer. And all this with no rain to speak of. We did have a good rain the last weekend of April and then nothing for six weeks, until last week when it rained almost an inch, and all the gardeners were ecstatic.

With everything coming on so early, by the time we were able to pick up new queen bees in late April, the main honey flow was already over, and we’re beginning to wonder if we will be able to harvest any honey this year. But we’re taking one day at a time, and we have established a most satisfactory routine.

On Sunday afternoons about 4:00 or 5:00, we head out of town to the apiaries to check on our bees.  This year we have five hives in two different locations: two hives that wintered over and three brand new hives that we made from splits from the established hives. Both bee yards are on land belonging to friends. The established hives near the well-manicured University farms are having some trouble finding enough nectar this year, but the new hives, which are down by the river, where things are a bit wilder, are next to a large field of clover and are drawing out beautiful white comb and filling the cells with light honey.

After checking each hive and marveling at the amazing bees, we head down to Coopers Landing, where we listen to live music, eat Thai food, visit with friends, and watch the sun set over the river.

Pippa and friends playing some old-time music at Coopers Landing.

Memorial Day Weekend

I planted these roses years ago because they reminded me of the climbing roses my grandaddy grew on the fence surrounding his vegetable garden in Georgetown.

Amazing how fast a three-day weekend can go. Yesterday was warm and sunny and breezy. I spent a fair amount of time writing and waiting for my son Matt to come online, which he did around 3:00, but he has not been talkative lately. One of his friends last week stepped on an IED in Kandahar province, where they have been deployed for the last year, and got both his legs blown off. His name is Gregg, but I don’t know any more about him, how close he was to Matt, what his rank is, what job he was assigned, where he is from, where he is now, whether he is married or has children, whether Matt was nearby when it happened, or anything else. Matt said to ask him in a year how he’s doing; right now he doesn’t want to talk about it. I hope some day he can talk about all of this or find some other way to deal with it.

His grandfather Ralph, who was at the Battle of the Bulge and also with the troops when they opened up the first Nazi concentration camp, never wanted to talk about his experiences of war. The only hint of what he had seen was a brief poem he wrote once with images of blood on the snow after a battle. I wish he were here now to help Matt through the mindfields of life. There are so many amputees and brain injuries from these most recente wars. It is horrifying. Of course, the soldiers who are featured in gee whiz news stories are those who fight to walk again, with the aid of fancy new spring-loaded prostethics, and who go right back into the war zones to demonstrate, I suppose, how brave soldiers can be, leaving the others, who are justifiably bitter and angry about their injuries, feeling like lesser men, weaklings, when they can’t just buck up and carry on. On this Memorial Day, I am thinking of those who have died in war, along with their friends and families who have suffered such tragic loss. I am praying that some day we humans can find a better way than war to solve conflicts.

I got a little bit of work done in the garden this weekend, but I need to finish up. The main thing on my list is to find places for the new plants I bought recently—eight new perennials and about the same number of annuals (tomatoes, basil, lantana). I deadheaded the daisies and pulled up some of the chives around the mail box, until the ants came pouring out of the ground carrying their eggs everywhere. I also pulled out the asters that were growing over the surprise lilies, but I need to decide how many asters to leave and then cut those back, so they won’t get so out of control this year.

Apparently, you can cut asters back until July without affecting the fall bloom. I’m not sure which of the asters has spread the most. I have three kinds out there—one that blooms in September, one in October, and one in November. Maybe this year I can pay attention to which ones have replanted themselves all over the yard. I also need to figure out how many of the blackeyed Susans I want to leave. They really took off last summer and have almost filled the circular space in the center of the yard, which I used to call the butterfly garden, when it had more variety of plants. I picked some more brocolli and strawberries. Even though I am nowhere close to self-sufficient, it makes me feel good to grow at least some of my own food.

My roses are looking amazing this year. I have never had this many buds and blossoms. Always before the deer have bitten them off just as they were about to bloom. I’m not complaining, but the deer have been scarce this year. A couple neighbors even planted hostas right out in the open, and those are still looking lush and green. We have seen a couple deer in the back woods, but they have not (so far, at least) been a problem in the front yard. Maybe I’ll actually get to grow tomatoes for a change!

It’s been a strange spring in other ways. While cleaning out the gardens, we have found literally hundreds of acorns and dozens of small oak trees sprouting. I don’t know if the trees had a bumper crop last year, or if the squirrels forgot where they buried their stash, or if the snow covered the ground for so long that animals that normally forage for acorns (like deer, perhaps?) could not get to them, or what, but I don’t remember ever having to pull out so many oak trees. Fortunately, the spring has been wet, so the trees have not been too difficult to pull out. The yard next door has a forest growing in the front. The neighbors moved out some time ago, but there has been no for-sale sign and apparently no one maintaining the house and yard.

It’s been about a week since people started talking about the cicadas emerging from the ground where they have been lying dormant for thirteen years. The last time these red-eyed cicadas were around, Isaac and I were at scout camp in Arkansas. In fact, that year (1998) was the first time since 1777 that both the 13-year and the 17-year cicadas were out at the same time. It was certainly loud enough, especially when you added the annual cicadas to the chorus. (or perhaps I’m remembering the 400 screeching boy scouts!) From what I’ve been reading, the periodical cicadas generally emerge in May and stay above ground through June. After they emerge from the ground, their shells harden and they move up into the trees, where the males congregate to “sing.” After mating, the females cut slits in small branches and lay their eggs. When the caterpillars emerge, they return to their underground burrows for another thirteen years. What a life! Apparently, they do little damage to mature trees, so I don’t need to worry about anything, with the possible exception of my lemon tree, which I should probably cover with cheesecloth. If I liked to fish, I could use them for bait. Here’s more about the periodical cicadas.

We went out to the bee yard again last evening to put on the new supers Jim has made. They look so beautiful, with their fresh white paint, and the new frames with foundation all ready for the bees to draw out creamy white comb. I love the smell of the fresh wax foundations. I suppose the new plastic foundation they have been selling lately is more convenient than having to wire the frames for the wax foundation, but I don’t like the plastic, and we have had trouble getting the bees to draw out comb on the few plastic frames we have tried. We looked briefly in all the hives but did not see the queens in any of them. They all had good patterns of brood, though, with eggs and larva in all stages of development, including plenty of capped brood, so we think the queens are doing well.

One hive, though, has had numerous queen cells for about six weeks, so we’re not sure what they are doing, but it seems to be distracting them from collecting honey, even though there is plenty of clover in the fields right now. We think that hive swarmed earlier in the summer, and they appear to have a queen, who is laying eggs, but they also have several capped queen cells and a couple queen cells with larva and royal jelly. Not sure what’s going on in there, but they did not need one of our beautiful new supers. The new hives (the swarm hive and the split hive) are doing well and seem calmer. The hive we have dubbed the “mortgage lifter” is collecting honey like mad, so we have not looked very far into their hive lately, since they seem to be thriving. The old angry hive, which may have swarmed and which we also then split, is still somewhat defensive. When Jim was checking them, the bees kept bumping against his hands in warning but did not sting. I stayed back aways while he worked that particular hive, with my hands in my pockets, just in case.

After we left the bee yard, we went to Coopers Landing for beer and Thai food, but we had to park about a mile out and walk on the MKT trail to get there, because the road was covered with water. Some people ignored the signs and just drove on the trail to the landing. We had a very pleasant walk along the river and stopped to take a couple photos of the high water. The landing was crowded with people, and we had to stand in a long line in the camp store to get our beer and then in another long line to order our Thai food from the trailer out back, but everyone was in a festive mood. Every picnic table was filled with people; some had brought their own lawn chairs. A band was playing rock and roll, people were hula-hooping, boats were running up and down the river, children were riding bikes around the trails; the colorful umbrellas over the picnic tables were fluttering in the breeze.

After we ordered our food, we joined our friends Krishna and Eric at a table up above the loading dock and talked about plans for the upcoming Cumberland Dance Week, which we are all attending in July. Several men in a fishing boat motored by; one man stood up in the middle of the boat and raised up a huge catfish to show off. People at the landing cheered, and the boat circled and then headed up the river. By the time we finished our food and headed back down the trail to the truck, it was dark. Lightning bugs were flashing and the frogs were singing as the river rolled on.