Saturday, May 31, 2014

Summer is Here!

Seriously, not a moment too soon! But before we move on to talk of Peeper carnage, the pool, and other general McK happenings, let's wrap up some school topics. Today was a big mail day. We received the letter that let us know Maggie got into the honors program in middle school - yeah no gen pop!

Also arriving today, the letter that let us know Eion did not get into PLATO. Long before this letter arrived, we decided we were at peace with whatever came our way, if he got in, that was great, if not, we had no plans to appeal. He will still be pulled out for extra math, which he loves for some unknown reason. He has a buddy over, start of the summer sleepovers, so we haven't told him yet. While I am quite sure he will be disappointed, he wanted to follow the same path his sisters did, staying at our neighborhood school is going to be good for him. In any case, this is good news for the Crystal Spring yearbook staff, which I am supposed to head up next year. Check out our darling cover from this school year. I have no earthly idea how I will top it.

So while we were gone, we had what can only be described as mass murder going on in Peeperville. We lost five of the wee birds in one week. Clearly, a predator had found them and was picking them off, one by one. Our poor neighbors, who were so sweet to look after them, kept having to send us sad texts each time another one disappeared.

All that remains of doomed Jet.

The big girls suffered no losses. We decided the little girls had to be kept in the coop, except when supervised. Tim and I started enjoying morning coffee down with the hens and the kids would alternate shifts to give the smaller chicks time out in the yard. Morrigan discovered there was excellent wifi reception down there and personally spent hours minding them. But we still were not sure who was to blame for the deaths.

And then there were three.

On my watch, there was a sudden kerfuffle. I looked over and there was the orange feral cat, with whom we had peacefully coexisted for years, hunting my babies. Yelling something akin to, "Get away from my birds you motherf*cker!" I scared the cat away. Unfortunately, one of the large hens freaked out too and flew over the fence, into the weedy wilds of our hilly backyard. The danger was still likely in the area, so I sprung into action. Dressed in mountain friendly flip flops, I went searching for my lost girl. Down here.

Good news was I found her easily and returned her to safety. The bad news was while trying to get back up the hill, I slipped and went rolling down, end over end, like something out of a bad movie, losing a shoe in the process. I'm a bit battered and bruised, but the chickens and I are intact.

Now, to eliminate the threat. Unfortunately for them, feral cats are not protected by hawks. I called animal control and got a trap so we could "relocate" this kitty. (Actually, they told me, "Ma'am, we may have to put it down rather than relocate it." I told them I was completely down with that, I just didn't want to open with violence.) So far the trap is a bust. One night we caught a possum, which we released. The next night, the trap was sprung, the bait gone, but completely empty. Hmmm. Last night, the food was gone, trap sprung and this:

Quite frankly defining WTF. We may need to set up a cage cam to find out what in the sam hill is going on down there. 

On a more productive front, one night I was watching over the girls, enjoying an adult beverage, when the killer kitty showed his face. I blasted at him with an airsoft rifle. Tim came home to me brandishing the rifle, demanding more ammo.  Don't know if it was a hit, the cat ran off, but he hasn't come back yet. But the attrition has stopped for the moment. I can only imagine this story has another chapter.

Let's end on a high note! The pool is open and we have moved into summer mode, complete with near nightly sleepovers. 

It is getting easy to tell the Margarets apart.

We're all hoping to get in a lot of tennis and pool time. We certainly have so far this weekend.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maggie's 5th Grade Graduation

You know, she was so happy that there was no need for tears from anyone! She and her friend had picked out matching dresses (in different colors,) and she is possibly the first person ever who is thrilled to go to middle school.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My 25th High School Reunion

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Boston for my 25th high school reunion. But wait, you say, scratching your head, you've never mentioned living in Massachusetts. And you're right, I didn't live there. But I did spend three years in high school living in France, attending the American School of Paris. Our student body was from all over the US and the world and most of us left Paris and went back to our hometowns. Makes for some interesting reunion planning.

Luckily, we had a few motivated gals in my graduating class who took it upon themselves to put this weekend together. As with all ASP reunions, even if they are geared towards a certain year, and and all former students are welcome to attend, even if they didn't graduate from the school.

Sweet Tim drove me and the children in some of the worst weather EVER for 11 hours to get there. We had built in an extra day to go sightseeing and arrived before many of the other attendees. We took the kids on a Duck Tour, which they loved.

You obtain a lot of info about Boston in a short period but it is in a car that is also a boat so the kids think it is, in Morrigan's words, "legit." We also went to the North End to eat where we had some delicious Italian and Mike's Pastry. Nom nom nom!

We finished our sightseeing with the USS Constitution. While historical, the kids liked it anyway. Might have had something to do with the cannons.

By the time we arrived back at the hotel, my phone was dinging non-stop with texts from fellow alumni getting ready for the evening's events. We had a gathering at Harpoon Brewery. It was outstanding.

We got to try all the experimental beers, which was fun. But better yet, everyone there was excited to see everyone. Not an unhappy camper in the bunch. Many of my besties were there, which made it even better.

John, me, Rachel, Alexandra and Joel

And there was a surprise appearance from Billy, a close friend with whom I had completely lost touch. Turns out he lives near Mom and Dad! Who knew?

Kathryn, me and Billy

The next day, Alexandra, who lives in Boston, had us all over for brunch. Her step daughter was Maggie's age and John's son and Eion were intellectual equals, so the kids and the adults were happy.

All fancy and Instagramy

It also allowed a few of the spouses, who had not attended the first night, to get to know some of us before being plunged into The Reunion: Part Deux.

We were at Legal Seafood on Saturday night and while much of the crowd was the same, there were some additions.

It was, again, so much fun. We were out way past our bedtime but it was well worth it! Tim, for his part, seemed to have a pretty good time. I had several people come up to me and volunteer that I had such a fun and entertaining husband. I like him too!

One of the most amusing things was how all the spouses had stories about having visited Paris with their ASP alumni and how we had all dragged them on our own tour of the eighties with important stops like our old apartments, the dive bar at which we hung out, and our school. I had incorrectly assumed that I was the only one torturing their husband that way!

Two guys who were in my brother's class, middle school at the time, made an appearance and we reminisced fondly about how much time they spent at our place. Actually, they told me and I said, "You were at my house a lot?" "Yes," they told me, "but you were never home." This is true. 

By the end of the night, we had friends, both who were close and those that weren't really in my crowd, insisting that when we were in their town, we had to get together. Naturally, I extended the same offer, but none of them pass through Roanoke much. And one of the organizers was in happy tears that everything had worked out so well and we had all been able to reconnect. ASP is a different kind of place. Even if it was only a few years of your life, we all feel a special bond. I can't really explain why!

Alexandra was already planning next year, in Paris, for their class' 25th. Hmmm, might have to make that happen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Smiles, Hats, and New Chicken Drama

Morrigan's choir recital went off without a hitch. (For interested grandparents, links to the videos are below.) It was a challenge to get a decent recording what with M mouthing the words, "STOP RECORDING THIS NOW!" at me repeatedly. My insistence that her father might want to hear it got me no where. Luckily, the other kids were happy to be there. Oh wait, no they weren't. Eion ran away and had to be forcibly placed into his seat. Look how happy he was.

I told him to learn an instrument himself so he could force his sisters to attend his performances.

Tennis was an unmitigated success this week. My partner and I won 6-1, 6-3 and better yet, my back managed to survive nicely. Yippee! Back on the courts! My partner of many years, Mary, moved up in the ranks while I was on injured reserve. But Tracy, with whom I played last week, clearly knew me well. She said, "I just figured I would show up in pink because I knew you would." She was correct.

Our friends Webb and Molly had their annual Derby party, though this year it was a Preakness party. For which race the party was being held was of little consequence anyway, it is all about the hats!

Ann and I had made an AC Moore run earlier in the week and, with the help of a glue gun, had fancied up out hats quite nicely. Mint juleps all around, it was a great party.

No blog post being complete without some chicken story, here is this week's! 

Sunday afternoon, I opened the door to the garage to put out some recycling. To my surprise, I found one of the wee Peepers waiting there. Maggie took her back to the coop and found there was another of the wee ones missing. The search for the missing babe was in vain, leaving us with an even dozen left. But while looking, we found a mortally wounded black snake. 

As we will never really know what happened, here is what we decided went down. The two birds were on walkabout (they can still slip between the fence slats) when they encountered a snake. An epic battle ensued, resulting in one chicken and one snake going down. A cousin of mine bolstered my theory, letting me know that the birds can also be good mousers. Who knew?

Don't they look like killers?

Never a dull moment I tell you. This week is shaping up to be a busy one with end of the school year activities and a trip to Boston for my 25th high school reunion. I can't wait!

Here is Morrigan's choir performance for your viewing pleasure!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This Basement Situation Really Took Over My Life

I finally feel like we are somewhat back to normal around here. Our basement still lacks a floor, but the new xbox is in place and the furniture is (mostly) where it belongs. We had a solid week of very loud fans and dehumidifiers. They required the outlet from the dryer, rendering my laundry capabilities low. We had daily visits from our friends at Servpro, adjusters, insurance agents, dishwasher installers, and contractors. It felt like a full time job there for a while. For the time being, at least until the reconstruction starts, things are just like they used to be!

In the meantime, we had Maggie's piano recital. She looked and played lovely. The night before the recital, she asked me, "Do you have a tiara?" Do I have a tiara!?! Naturally.

And there is news on the Peeper front as well. Even though the new birds were not fully feathered, the weather outside was just as warm as they needed. We transitioned them to spending the days outside with the big birds and the night in their brooder. When we first released them, close supervision was a must. The last thing I needed was a chicken massacre. Very quickly, we realized that while the older birds didn't want to be near the junior set, they also we're going to kill them. Victory in our time!

The white birds are quite cute but the reddish ones are fairly unattractive.

But still, they were sleeping separately and we were soon going to Boston for my high school reunion. Asking a friend to let the peeps in and out of the coop, reasonable favor. Requesting they close up the older ones and then track down and catch eight little birds might strain even my closest of friendships. I was stressing about this a bit.

Fate intervened. It was so pretty out and we had fully flowered the deck, you know I was itching to have people over.

Well a whole set of little girls spent the evening chasing those baby peeps around, catching them, releasing them and starting the whole process over. By the end of the night, they were all laying exhausted in a chicken pile. So tired in fact, that they didn't protest when we put them in the coop rather than the brooder.

Who do you think you're adding in here?

All went well, everyone was alive the next day and we achieved full Peeper integration! After a few days, most of them are making their way in unassisted and I don't need to stress about leaving them. Whew!

Well, mostly not stress. We also had a hawk attack. Do you remember when the sixth original bird went missing? It seems the mystery is solved. I was down supervising the early stages of new chick introduction when I heard what can best be described as a kerfuffle. The birds will sometimes fight, making it a natural assumption that it was just a turf dispute. But when I yelled out to knock it off, a hawk flew away, leaving four birds to scatter and one to limp home, bleeding. 

My original theory was right. The birds had all banded together to fight off a predator. The noise was the chickens battling the hawk. I was so proud of them! But not much time to be dwell on that, we were afraid one Peep might not make it. She was slow and limped for a few days, but we had cut off the attack in time.

Birds of prey are protected, making eliminating the problem not an option. After some quick online research, I purchased a few of these lovely fellows.

Additionally, reflective things are said to deter hawks. Hence the crazy homespun disco look of my backyard. Luckily, literally no one can see it unless they go down there!

We're not sure if it will work, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.

With only two weeks of school left, we have end of year testing, choir concerts, fifth grade graduation, and a trip to Boston coming up. Should be a whirlwind.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gardening, If A Bit Late

Last year, with grandiose visions of gardening glory, I blogged about planting in front of our house and cleaning up an eyesore. And that was about the extent of what I did about both projects. In all fairness, my back was a contributing factor but I didn't hire any of it out either. Now, nearly twelve months later, I have sprung into action! Just so you are as impressed as you should be, go ahead and see the before pictures. I'll wait.

Pretty awful, huh? But no more. Things have moved into the range of completely acceptable. First up, by the street. We planted nine new bushes which seems like a lot, but the end result is a bit underwhelming.

The dwarf white pines are slow growers but they look great with Japanese Maples. It will all work out. Trust me, those maples looked like sorry sticks nine years ago!

Then the hill of death. All it took was a number (3) of backbreaking sessions of pulling weeds and vines, several cases of poison ivy, some landscape fabric, 22 azaleas and a whole pile of mulch and we have this!

Varied color due to a recent watering session.

With any luck, the azaleas will fill the area in and become a permanent suppressor of weeds. And if the poison ivy can thrive under them, I will no longer care. At the top, where there are no new bushes, the neighbor's vinca vine has been making inroads and hopefully will become a lovely ground cover. I was extra pleased that the irises I harshly transplanted last year rallied and soon should be in bloom. 

Here's to hoping our best laid plans will result in a far less scruffy yard here at Chez McK!