The Beach We Took for Granted

This past weekend my brother brought his family and I brought mine back to Michigan for a family reunion. My dad lives in the same house I grew up in: A small brick ranch in a 1950s neighborhood where most houses carry the exact same floor plan. Growing up, the house had a single bathroom that a certain primping sister was known to dominate, no air conditioning, and an unfinished basement that could be creepy. I always dreamt of being rich enough to live in a two-story house, like on Leave It to Beaver reruns. My parents eventually finished the basement, added a bathroom, and put in air conditioning, but it wasn’t until my siblings and I had long moved out.

The one thing my parents’ neighborhood had, and that I and probably every kid in the neighborhood took for granted, was a little beach on a man-made lake: Lake Oakland Heights Association, or LOHA. It was just what we had. Nothing special, or so I thought. The beach has remained about the same as it was when I was a kid, with the only changes being the price of Pixie Sticks at the Wienie Shack. (Yes, it’s called the Wienie Shack.) When I took pictures this weekend of our kids, the camera helped me realize what a truly magical place we had growing up, even if the house was small and hot, and I was locked out of the bathroom while someone applied multi-stage matte eye shadow. (No hard feelings; you know I love you, Becky.)

It was a good weekend.

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Super-Quick Reuseable Snack Bags

I love the idea of carrying pretzels and popcorn in non-plastic, reuseable snack bags, and probably have a dozen patterns for them pinned on my Pinterest boards. But spending an hour sewing a snack bag with lining and velcro sort of stopped me in my tracks: In an hour, I could sew half a skirt, and my sewing time is very limited these days. As a result, we keep taking snacks in plastic bags to the pool and on car trips.

Then I found this super-smart, super-quick video tutorial on Angry Chicken. Brilliant. This just uses scrap fabric and closes like those little pre-Ziploc sandwich bags everyone used in the 70s; this bag folds over on itself to keep your snacks from falling out. For those of us without a serger, they take maybe five minutes, tops, to make. With a serger, it might be even quicker. I whipped up about nine in 40 minutes the other day.

Pool, here we come.

The Birds and the Bees

I’m almost finished reading The Beekeeper’s Lament, which chronicles one large-scale migrant beekeeper’s journey through the changing agriculture and hive demands, the relatively recent colony collapse that could have wiped out the honeybee population, and the implications of centralized production. As a result of reading that book and Ashley English’s Keeping Bees, I’ve come down with a bad case of bee fascination. Did you know, for example, that bees are responsible in one way or another for one-third the food we eat? It’s a lot to put on a tiny insect.

Knowing that we were *this* close to losing these little workers during the colony collapse of the last decade made it more exciting to see their activity this spring and summer. The prolific clover alive with bees in early summer let me continue to justify our weedy lawn. And it’s been fun seeing the many-years-old lavender weighted down and alive with honeybee and bumblebee activity. Not only is this activity fascinating to watch, but once the bees are hanging out at the lavender, it’s a short hop to the little vegetable garden on the side of our driveway, where they can get to work pollinating our melons and pumpkins.

Thanks, little fellas.

Speaking of the little garden on the side of our driveway, ever since Phil expanded it, I’ve wondered whether the neighbors would mind our so visibly growing vegetables out front. Mind you, we don’t live in one of those neighborhoods where we get tut-tutted and waved a copy of the association by-laws if we leave out an errant trash can. But nevertheless, I don’t want to be the eyesore neighbor. So I planted a little row of sunflowers at the head of our driveway plot, just to pretty it a little. As the sunflowers have matured, we’ve noticed that the birds have found them. Which is pretty stinking cool. Phil and I both have come out to find a bright yellow finch perched on top of a seeded flower, working out the seeds.

(The squirrel that rips flowers off that aren’t even seeded yet, and then scatters the petals and leaves around our yard like carcasses, is not so welcome. We’ve got our eyes on you, mister.)

Overall, I feel like my time spent in the garden needs to result in food. I’d much rather toil over some heirloom tomatoes than a rosebush. That’s just me. But it’s been really heartening to remember that plants put in merely for their beauty, and not to harvest, can still provide food for some of our little buddies.

And So It’s Come to This…

The ducks have now ingratiated themselves on the deck. And hang out there much of the day. The deck that I now need to re-stain immediately because the three-times-daily hose-off is hastening the stain peeling. (Note to self re. keeping the deck acceptable and not looking like an outhouse: Losing battle, as they are on the deck, messing it up again, three minutes after I spray it down.)

They’re sociable. Even if they’re at the other end of the yard, once they hear my car, they come running, jumping on the deck and staring at me through the dining room window. It’s a little creepy being watched by four sets of beady eyes. I’ve been considering parking down the road and sneaking into the house when I get home from work.

They’d already made spectacles of themselves in my back-yard gardens, and I’ve had to make some adjustments. The pro-duck books I read when we started this adventure kept touting how they will just eat the bugs and slugs off plants–and then move on! That’s a lie. They move on to eating the plants. First they started nibbling the zinnias and summer squash in the side garden until I had to put up a make-shift, tumble-down fence of plastic chicken wire. In the fall, when it’s not sweltering and we’re not in a drought, I tell myself, I’ll put in something a little more permanent and a little less… Deliverance-y. Now they’re in the garden boxes, which isn’t so bad. The strawberries are finished, so they can’t nab them, and I didn’t plant much more that I’m heartbroken to lose this year. In fact, their nibbling my arugula and basil and potato leaves has finally let me figure out how I want to integrate the boxes into the yard: Mulch in the aisles between the boxes, with a white picket fence around them. It’s going to be cute, so I appreciate the ducks hastening my plan.

In one of the other gardens in the backyard, I’ve just ceded the kale to them, although, sadly, like us they prefer the tender Russian Valley Kale over the harder, curly kind I tried this year, so they’ve eaten our favorite and left us with only the curly variety. Sylvie and I can live with that.

But befouling the deck? That’s just nasty.

After a couple of days of this, Phil tried to deter them with a little wire fence on the first step. They laughed at it. (The green bowl on the first picture was water I left out for them on the deck floor until Phil suggested perhaps I not encourage them. Point taken.)

We’re devising elaborate rope-and-pulley systems to keep them off; so far nothing we’ve come up with, short of encasing the deck in a big plastic bubble, seems viable. We have another few months before we have even the promise of a duck egg. They’d better be delicious, girls.