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Entries in cool stuff (23)


Last week

If you think I'm only having trouble keeping up with the blog, you should probably see the unchecked list of chores and the piles of books, papers, and other items collecting on tables, steps, the floor, and even chairs. It's a shameful confession, but true. I haven't written in our daily homeschool log in two weeks, and Calvin's budget sheet has been equally neglected. At least the library books are not overdue, the gardens are watered, and we do have clean underwear. Priorities.

So what happened last week? Last week was hot. We had our air on for two more days that reached into the triple digits, and nights that barely dropped into the seventies. We kept our cool by working at the library, reading a lot inside, and playing in the water. It has been over two weeks since we have had any rain worth mentioning. Our average rainfall for July is 3.67 inches, and to date we have had a total of .77 inches, the large majority of which fell in the first week. I'm battling to keep the gardens alive, and the rain barrels aren't exactly helping much.

Calvin had daily "jump start" swim lessons all week as a supplement to his weekly lesson. He takes weekly lessons at a local swim school with a comfortably warm indoor pool and enthusiastic, joyful young teachers. The lessons are limited to four students per teacher, and they are never-ending, so kids just move up to the next level whenever they are ready and keep going from there. I do admit to feeling a little guilty, though, or maybe just nostalgic, in taking him to indoor summer swim lessons when I remember so fondly the weeks of rising early to take lessons in the chilly outdoor public pool when I was little. I had to walk uphill both ways to school, too.

It was Art Fair week. The Ann Arbor Art Fairs are quite a production, and most locals try to get out of dodge for the week, but I have always enjoyed the crowd and the festive spirit. Jon's family has a tradition of spending the opening day walking the fairs and we have always joined them, so while this was unfortunately the first year that Jon could not take the time away from work, Calvin and I had a great time seeing everyone and perusing the art. Calvin was particularly drawn to a booth of nude photography, a booth of plaster and stone reliefs, and a booth of metal sculptures. He spoke well with a number of artists, and enjoyed a fair favorite—fresh squeezed lemonade. Jon and I went back on Saturday so he at least got a chance to go and look around. But even the Art Fairs didn't bring any rain worth mentioning.

Probably the highlight of the week is Calvin's new, very own Magic Tree House, built for him by Jon's dad, as imagined by his mom, in a tree at their house. A real, honest-to-goodness, awesome as all get-out tree house. I'm a little jealous. Calvin, of course, loves it, and had a marvelous time spending all afternoon in it. He especially loved the sweeping and upkeep, so why, I ask you, is our own house so messy?

And lastly, we spent yesterday morning cooling off at the lake, where Calvin practiced his swimming and played at splashing his father for a good couple of hours. This year especially I'm feeling lucky to live so close to a small public lake and beach.

Which brings us to this week. We have just three more weeks before we'll be on our final summer vacation, which I figure is just about enough time to catch up on everything and get back into a routine so that I can lose a whole bunch of ground again by leaving. But at least it's been fun.


Rolling Sculptures Auto Show

It's that time of year again. Jon and I have been feeling a little out of sorts; besides the strange weather throwing things off, we are missing out on three summer staples this year—Top of the Park, The Townie Party, and the first day of Art Fair—and that leaves a big hole in the middle of our season. There are still other events to be had, of course—we'll be catching a Friday Nights in Dexter one of these days, and last night was the Rolling Sculptures Auto Show in Ann Arbor.

It was warm, but not a bad night to be downtown. Calvin had asked for a redo of the scavenger hunt we took to the NAI Auto Show in January so we worked that out together and he looked for things like pink cars, glittery cars, a variety of engine make-ups, and even a rumble seat. I was disappointed that the old fire truck was not there this year (someone else is missing their summer staples, I see) but the fairy car was there to serve as an alternative fueled vehicle (because nothing is a more alternative fuel than Vernors).

We enjoyed shakes at Frita Batidos, and later had dinner at Grizzly Peak—some old stomping grounds and some new. We went with Gram and Grampa, we ran into some friends, and we got a call from Jon, who had been in New York for two days, saying that he'd been put on a different flight and would be home before bedtime, and that equals a good day.

The future is electric!

Austin-Healey, the happy car

Being the car...

Isetta, the other happy car

Discussing the oddities of the Isetta

Smart selling, at my favorite book store


Make believe

A wizard is a fantastic thing. There's almost nothing he can't do, and you're wish is his command. The wizard in our Oz books has done everything from creating an entire campsite and meal from nothing to saving a poor man from spending his life as a mable statue.

I think a wizard could be a lot of help around the house. Laundry, sweeping, cooking...what about paying the bills? And I Have a veritable library I'd like to read by the end of the year, do you think he could help me with that? If nothing else, my wizard seems completely capable of making snacks appear, of erecting amazing Lego creations, and losing anything and everything he lays his hands on.

Is there really anything better for the heart and soul than a good dose of make believe? We open all the blinds, we put away all the technology, we done our self-chosen personalities, and sometimes we even unplug the phones, then we live the magic.


Empty chrysalis syndrome

Our black swallowtails finally emerged and left. Having read that they remained as chryslids for only 8-10 days we had come to believe that they were planning to winter over with us, since they had gone into that state while we were still up at Walloon, 14, 15, and 18 days ago. We were surprised and excited, then, to find one of hte shells empty on Sunday afternoon. Having missed the take off of Larry, our first caterpillar turned black swallowtail, we were determined to keep a closer eye on Curly Parsley and Moe so as not to miss the great show. to give them more room we had tied their smaller sticks to longer ones and propped them in an open (never used) bird feeder on our deck table.

This morning we were finally rewarded. Right after eclosing the butterfly has a body distended with fluid and wings folded tightly against the body. They then pump the fluid out of their abdomen and into the veins of their wings to spread them open. These two eclosed probably 4-5 minutes apart, although we missed Moe (on the right) emerging. This picture was taken at 8:48am.

Just four minutes later at 8:52 Curley Parsley (on the left) has significantly altered his appearance. The chrysalis is still there on the stick. Notice that it is no longer dark in color now that the black butterfly is out.

A closer look at Moe so you can see the veins running through her wings. Curly Parsley and Moe were both females, a specific that can be determined by the spot formation on their wings—big yellow spots on the male, smaller yellow spots on the female.

Here is Moe stretching out her proboscis, making sure she's ready to get nectar from the plants she finds.

Stretching and sunning. This was right before Moe took off. Curly Parsley (on the right here) wasn't that far behind time wise, but she stuck around for another 30 minutes.

This is pobably best chance we've ever had, and probably will ever have, to take such a close look at a butterfly.

And just two final shots of Curly Parsley before she took off to look for nectar plants and a mate. Good luck Curly.



Camping, a dry run

I camped with my family when I was little and have fond memories of the experience. The Girl Scouts often got me out and about, too, and then in high school I camped several times with friends. That, however, is the extent of our camping knowledge, but we have friends who have also enjoyed camping in the past (with far more experience between them) and our sense of adventure got the better of us, so this weekend, on a day's notice, we packed up and headed over to Irish Hills to camp for one night in the state park there. The event was an unqualified success.

There was a lot of teamwork setting up tents.

And then we were hot and tired enough to have to go swimming.

Then more setting up—a fire and lanterns, water for dinner, food stuffs, yadda yadda. A one night dry run was probably a good idea, but I'm not sure I'd ever plan to camp for just one night again.

Mmmm...campfire food.

Scavenger hunt in the woods.

Roasting mallows for s'mores by the fire.

Playing card games with four year olds is a whole different animal.

Bedtime story by the fire. Thankfully Curious George is the only one who got sprayed by a skunk.

The biggest success of the trip? The Stanley Thermos we got for Christmas. We made coffee before leaving home on Saturday, around 11am, and poured into the preheated thermos. On Sunday at 7:30am the coffee was still hot enough to enjoy.

And yes, by the way, that is Calvin peaking out from behind a tent room divider. We had a three room tent for the night. This was new to me. Also new was the existence of electrical outlets (several of them) at each and every campsite, and the rampant use of them throughout the camp. Aside from the apparently popular trend of stringing your tent or RV with gaudy novelty lights (so, as my dad says, you can find your own site when you're stumbling in drunk at 3am), there was even a site with a flood light trained on an American flag all night. Camping. It's not what it used to be.

But we got a good night's sleep, and had just as many helpers the next day to take the site down.

Then we went GeoCaching.

And then we went into Irish Hills for a little amusement before heading home. Finding amusement in Irish Hills, however, is a little like visiting a graveyard for good eats. All the places Jon remembered from childhood visits were dead, though not gone.

The Prehistoric Forest—closed for about seven years(?) but listed as a creepy place to explore uninvited.

Stagecoach Stop has only been closed since 2008, but its heyday was back in the 1970s when US12 was still the main route between Detroit and Chicago, before the interstate. All this according to the creepy fat old bearded guy who was driving around the place in a golf cart. We think he used to own it and/or the hotel next door (which is still open). Either that or it's even creepier that he was buzzing around on that golf cart.

There is something photogenic about dead and dying 1970s attractions, though.

What? it is.

There's nothing quite like sitting on the feet of a giant lumberjack. Actually, according to creepy bearded guy this lumberjack used to be one of the Muffler Men.

And lunch at neon barbecue. Creepy bearded guy was here, too. Maybe he owns the whole US 12 strip in Irish Hills. Or maybe he wasn't even there at all—all that shows in the picture is his cart...

Camping. It's something we will definitely be doing again.