Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The farm truck needs new spark plugs and some work done on the heater. Looks like it could be a good time for some father/son bonding.

Reach down in there...

and you will find the spark plug
Clean, new, and shiny spark plugs: good. Dirty, old, and corroded spark plugs: bad.
The comparison
When it comes to cars and trucks and tractors and mowers and trailers and any machinery that moves, shakes, turns, grinds, chops, rolls, bales, threshes, plants, or harvests, Pancho is the one to ask for help if it isn't working.

Hey guys, nice work. Thank you for keeping the truck in good shape :)

Meet The Flickers

I am so grateful to live on a farm with an abundance of wildlife. Birds flit about chirping and collecting food from flowers and the feeder. The squirrels gather acorns. The deer quietly graze in the fields. The Northern Flicker perches under the eaves above our bedrooms and uses its beak like a hammer BANG BANG BANG!!!!!! This just won't do.

My method of getting rid of the flicker is not long term, and really just a way of hoping the problem will go away by itself. I usually run out behind the house and scare it away. On my way I pass my sleeping guard dog that fearlessly protects us from coyotes, opossums, rattlesnakes, wild boar, etc, but completely ignores the bird that wants to move into our house. This last time I knew we were in trouble because I saw not one but two flickers.

The other day after the flicker(s) woke up the kids (again) I decided to take this more seriously. I got a sheet of mesh wire, wire cutters, and a heavy duty stapler from the barn. Next thing you know I am up on a ladder trying to staple the mesh wire to cover the eaves where the flicker has been chipping the wood away. This area just happens to be at the highest point of the house. To the gals out there who have used a heavy duty stapler while standing at the top of a ladder, holding mesh wire above your head with one hand and trying to staple it with the other, my hat is off to you. I am sure the flicker was enjoying every minute of it.

Mesh wire under eaves
The wire worked for a day or two, but because I only covered the peak area of the eaves, the flicker moved to the next available area to start again. I decided to look online at what we could do about this. I am grateful that I easily found this site online with suggestions for keeping flickers from damaging and/or drumming on your home. I also learned that the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects Northern Flickers.

Sheets visually block the area the flickers are attracted to
The next stage in our flicker prevention has been successful so far. This time when my husband was home I asked him to help - and thankfully he did the ladder/stapler part. We covered the eaves completely with the mesh wire, and then we hung some sheets from the edge of the roof, visually blocking the area that the flickers were attracted to. Fortunately this part of the house faces the hillside, so the sheets aren't too much of an eyesore. The site also recommended stapling large, rubber spiders in the vicinity of the area the birds are attracted to. I made a mental note to pick some up next time I am at Halloween City.

Krazy for Kapla

After a long hiatus we have been building with Kapla blocks again. The box of blocks surfaced when my son cleaned out and re-arranged his room. Oh look! The Kapla blocks!!!

Tall Tower

A pumpkin (with an angel)
How is it that something that seems so simple could be so fun, interesting, challenging and with seemingly limitless possibilities? I find it to be meditative too :)

I think I will call this one 'Life'

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Acorn Season

For those of you living near oak trees, you will know it is acorn season. We are fortunate enough to live under some incredibly beautiful oaks. In general the trees will produce large crops of acorns every other year (they are alternate bearing). This is a big crop year. The acorns fall onto our metal roof with a large 'bang'! For the first time since living here we have actually been hit by falling acorns, my daughter in the shoulder, and yours truly was hit in the head. It hurts!

Of course there are many good things about acorns - they are food for many of our animal friends, they grow into trees, and if they are prepared correctly, they can be used for food by humans. We are collecting some to make acorn bread with. We did this many years ago when my son was about 2 years old and he absolutely loved the bread, so I am looking forward to trying it again. Right now we are collecting as many acorns as we can and storing them in the barn until winter break when we will start processing them.

We have a tree that usually produces some large acorns, and this year is no exception. Below is a photo of what could be the largest valley oak acorn we have ever seen around here. I didn't put anything for scale, but it measures 2 3/8" long and 1 1/8" wide! The cap is 1 1/2" wide.

Valley oak acorns
We included some of our regular 'large' acorns in the photo for scale. Thank you oaks :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tae Kwon Do

My son has been taking Tae Kwon Do classes for about six months. He has passed through white, orange, yellow, and camouflage belts and is currently a green belt. We usually stay and watch the classes and now my daughter and I are thinking of starting Tae Kwon Do also. Our plan is to start as soon as soccer season is over (just a week away). We can't wait!

He has been to a few tournaments already. At the tournament they are grouped according to sex, age, and belt and tested on form, sparring, weapons form, sparring with weapons, and more. Each student can choose which categories they want to test in. My son tested recently on form, sparring, and weapons form. He placed silver medal in all three categories! Proud mama here :)

Tae Kwon Do sparring

Post-it Power

Yes, Post-its are good for reminders, but they can be useful in other ways. Say, for instance, you want to play 'library' and you need to write and stamp on the title page of a book. A Post-it works perfectly for 'checking out' books to library patrons, and when the game is over, take the Post-it out and your book can go right back onto your home bookshelf.

We have also used them in map games, which the kids love. We have a world map/U.S. map and a map of Mexico in our living room and I will name a place, and they will try to find it. Then I will name a place and they will try to find it. Over and over and over. They do not tire of this game. What also happens here is we might start to talk about some of the places we are finding (like the Mexican state of Tabasco), or we start finding places we heard about or are reading about and were wondering where they were. Writing locations for the kids to find on the map on Post-it notes and then handing the kids each a few is good so that each of them have their own locations to find. Sometimes they will get upset if the location they are looking for is given away by another person (such as a sibling). Once they find the spot on the map, they can put the Post-it there. 

I cut up some Post-its into strips to do this for Mexican states. This was the only way to stick the Post-its on the map and still be able to see the other states.

La ventana is Spanish for 'window'

We have also tried learning Spanish vocabulary this way. I will write a few basic words in Spanish onto some Post-it notes and the kids will run around the house looking for those places to put the Post-its (door, window, bedroom, bathroom, etc). After a week or so I will take the Post-its down and see if anyone wants to try to find the places again. If you come to our house you will see Post-its with Spanish words stuck on places here and there :)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Gift of Service

We are so grateful to be a part of a vibrant community and we really enjoy taking part in and helping make local events happen. In the past couple of months we have been involved in library fundraisers, helping with the local Halloween party and...

AYSO soccer

Library puppet show

                                                                    Harvest festival
                                                                     Contra dance

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nature Photography

The other day we went out to the creek to get some fresh air and to see if it had risen from the recent rains. We were almost there when we decided to turn back to get our cameras - the day was so beautiful and the scenery was amazing.

We wound up stopping at a few spots along the creek and taking photos at each one. We observed large fish in deep pools in the creek - something we can't see in the summer because the water is not clear then, and because the creek level is so high. We kept our eyes out for bald eagles in trees along the creek thinking they might take advantage of the clear water and try to catch some fish, but we did not see any. We did get some very nice photos, however.

Lil' Farm Stand

We had a great pumpkin patch this year and the kids were excited to try out their own farm stand. We got ready ahead of time by harvesting and painting signs.

Then on Sunday morning we headed out to set up the stand...

There were pie pumpkins, giant Cinderella pumpkins, and, of course, jack o' lanterns. The prices were pretty great for organic and locally grown, with top notch customer service too. It turned out to be a good day and many customers were hoping to see us next year. Thanks to Mother Earth for the beautiful squash bounty and Papa Pancho for the great idea.

Raptor Center visit

We recently had the chance to visit a raptor center. This facility accepts injured or sick birds of prey and cares for them until they can be released. If they cannot be released, they are kept and cared for. What a wonderful time we had! The docents were very well informed and thorough, and our tour of the birds was unforgettable. We saw real golden eagles, different types of owls, hawks, and kestrels.

Their little museum had some great displays including a quiz to see if you could recognize feathers of certain raptors, and glasses that showed how large our eyes would be in relation to our head - if we were owls :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

We Love Riddles

In the past month or so we have been playing with riddles. Lots and lots of them. We have found some great riddle books, shared riddles with friends, and talked and wondered and tried to figure out many, many riddles. I have enjoyed playing with riddles because I get a different look at things in our world and the various meanings words can have. In our case, riddles also lead to some very interesting conversations.

Below are our favorite riddle books from the library::

Riddle Me This! by Hugh Lupton 1
Monica Beisner's Book of Riddles by.... Monica Beisner 2
Eight Ate - A Feast of Homonym Riddles by Marvin Terban 3

Here are some great ones (numbers indicate which book the riddles are from)...

What sits in a corner and travels around the world? 1
What is it: Has a mouth and does not speak, Has a bed and does not sleep? 2
What is it? It stands on one leg with its heart in its head. 2
What coins can detect odors? 3

The answers are below, so don't scroll down if you want to figure them out on your own first :)

And the answer to the last riddle:  Cents sense scents.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New Nets

We bought two new butterfly nets at the store the other day. We were picking up some bird seed and I grabbed them impulsively and took them to the register. I asked how much they were and the cashier said $1.79. Before I could respond, she said 'no, they are $1.00 each'. Ok, I'll take 'em!

They have been used every day so far. One minute the kids will be on the trampoline and the next minute they will be running after something with their nets. The excitement and enthusiasm is contagious as I grab my camera and run after them. I do worry about fragile insect wings being damaged in the nets, but so far everything that has been caught has been examined carefully and released safely.

A great place to use them is at a nearby (very small) canal. Yesterday we found lots of small frogs at the water's edge, and dragonflies and butterflies flying above the water. We caught what I think was a green darner dragonfly and also a western gomphid dragonfly (photo of gomphid below). For an amazing photo series of a dragonfly naiad transforming into a mature adult, click here.

The kids also tried to catch butterflies near the canal, including some monarch butterflies that were flitting around, but were unsuccessful. My son took a nice photo of a monarch butterfly that landed just out of reach on a stinging nettles branch hanging over the water. What a great experience it is for us to be able to see these amazing and beautiful creatures up close!

Almond Harvest

It's almond harvest time here - August. The hottest, driest, dustiest time of the year. And folks are harvesting almonds (that's 'amons' out here in nut country). Back when I was a teenager we used to use rubber mallots and bamboo poles to 'knock' the trees. We laid out canvas tarps under the trees first, whacked the trunk with the rubber mallots, hit the higher branches with the bamboo poles and all the leaves, nuts (hulls, shells and all), sticks, branches, and earwigs would fall down onto us and onto the tarp. Once we were done with the tree we would shake the nuts to the center of the tarp, pull out the sticks and branches and then shovel the nuts into burlap sacks. It wouldn't be almond harvest if it wasn't over 100 F.

Fast forward 30 years....We had a chance last week to go see the kids' dad harvesting almonds in one of the nearby orchards. He was using a mechanical shaker that shakes the tree at the trunk.

Once the nuts fall, they are raked into long lines between the trees. Then they drive a tractor over the lines of nuts. The tractor pulls a blue implement with a conveyer belt which scoops up the almonds and pours them into a red bin, also being pulled by the tractor. Once the bin is full, the tractor backs up to a large truck to empty the almonds. The bin can be lifted hydraulically using the tractor controls.

Above is a photo of my daughter watching the tractor, with both implements attached, backing up to empty the almonds into a truck.

Here is a picture of the red bin lifted into the air, pouring the nuts into the truck. My son is on the truck trying to get a good photo of the action! Once the truck is full they will take the nuts to a local processor to be shelled and sorted. We had a few almonds that day and they were so tasty!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gnocci Fun

Our family loves gnocci and we have been making it together once a week or so. I will cut and boil or steam the potatoes until they are tender. Once they have cooled off a bit we all gather around the bowl and try to peel them. We make a game of trying to get the peel off in one piece. Once that is done we mash the potatoes, trying to keep them light and fluffy (or 'heavy and pounded' if light and fluffy doesn't work). The flour and a little salt are added and mixed in and then we are ready to roll. One person makes small balls and puts them out onto cutting boards. Two others at their cutting board stations are rolling these balls out into long snake-like tubes (about 3/4" thick) and then cutting them into small gnocci-sized pieces. During this part we really socialize and chat, and we laugh a lot. My daughter says how much she enjoys making gnocci because we are all working together.

After the pieces are cut, we place them on lightly floured cookie sheets where they remain until we cook them in boiling water. I made the mistake before of piling the finished gnocci on top of one another. Even one layer is too much and the gnocci stuck together. I mentioned to the kids to keep the pieces separate on the cookie tray. We finished our work and the kids went to their rooms to play Minecraft. My gnocci tray had pieces placed down quickly in no particular fashion. When I saw the tray my son had made I had to take a picture of it. Gnocci placed perfectly with love :)  Imagine how good it tasted!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Old Scythe

My Dad was visiting last week and he and the kids decided to do a little barn clean-up. It really needed it! They uncovered many forgotten tools, and discovered and played with random items left in the barn. There was a broken mirror and they took it out to see how far the mirror could reflect sunlight. The light went more than 800 feet! An old piece of garden hose was used as a siphon to move water out of a bucket.

One discovery was of an old curved wooden scythe that belonged to my great grandfather at the turn of the last century. We took the scythe out to our very tall and bushy cover crop and the kids tried to see if they could cut 'hay' out of it. Here are some pictures.

After looking at scythes online I noticed that the handles should have been 90 degrees from each other, not at the same angle, and that perhaps they were a little too close together. The middle handle was a bit loose and was sliding on the shaft. Next time we will position it in the right place and tighten it up. We did wind up with a little bundle of fresh green 'hay'. Here is an old-tyme style photo for fun.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Green Garlic!

We are starting to sell our green garlic this week, and hope to move most or all of it soon - while it is still green. Once the bulbs get bigger, the skin will dry and we will have to cure it. Green garlic is best when the skin is still soft and easy to cut. It can be used in the same way as dried garlic in recipes and you can use it from tip to tip (root, stem and leaf), with no peeling. I tend to find it a little bit milder than dried garlic, so I use more, but you should test it yourself. Now is the time to find it in farmers' markets in California.

Above are some garlic cleaning photos. We peel off the outer leaves, trim the long green tips, and then wash the garlic before packing them into a box. The kids created a 'puppet' show with the garlic - roots were hair, bulbs were heads. There was a 'lady' garlic with a dress, and a 'cool' guy garlic with a flat top hairdo. Below is the 'lady' garlic.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Importance of Answering Questions

Although it was not my intention to post about all of the questions we answer during the day, this seems to have become a regular part of this blog. These are questions that come up in discussions, during activities, or seemingly out of the blue and they arise out of curiosity and desire to learn.

My daughter learned to read when she was 6 by asking lots of questions (and I made sure to answer her right away). At night before we went to sleep she would ask what "fty" or "pmk" or "urw" said, and I would try to make the sounds as best as possible. Many nights we were all laughing uncontrollably at the funny sounds the 'words' made. When I would read stories, she would ask me to point right at the words as I read them. After a while she would ask "Is this word 'flower'?", or some word that she had heard me say and wanted to find it on the page. Many times it was a word that was repeated several times in the story.

If learning were a river, a question might be a tributary. Answering the question will add to the river. The more tributaries, the larger the river, and the farther it will flow. As long as the questions come, we answer them, and the learning continues to flow.

Here are more questions that came up this week:

Is chess like a war?
What does a bishop look like in real life?
What does a rook look like in real life?
What is a pawn?
Why do people wear a special uniform for karate?
What is the best design for a car so it won't roll over?
Are there any words without vowels?
Are donkeys the same as burros?
What is metamorphosis?
Are mermaids real?
What is passion?
Have I ever done anything that you haven't done?
What is Good Friday?
How far can a koala turn its head?

Usually we try to answer all the questions before I post them, but we are behind this week. Maybe today we can finish up this list. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Late Afternoon Adventure

The other day the kids asked me to take them to the canyon. My daughter wanted to try to catch an insect in her new butterfly net and my son wanted to take pictures. It was already 5:30 pm and fairly cool out, not the best conditions for finding flying insects (except maybe mosquitoes).

The trail we chose was a steep one and the lower section was in shadow at this point. We would have to hike for about 20 minutes uphill to get to the areas that still had some sun. On the way the handle of the butterfly net broke off (not too promising for its first outing) - my daughter decided to give me the broken part and try to catch things with the short stub left. We did make it to a sunny spot where she wound up catching a small moth. We were able to stick the handle back into the net to make the special 'tent' - one of the reasons we got the net in the first place. We observed the moth for a bit and then released it.

My son took many photos of wildflowers and scenery. There are an abundance of wildflowers this year, right now especially. We saw lupines, paintbrush, poppies, monkeyflower, buttercup, red bud, mule's ears, shooting stars and more that I don't know the names of. Also, the oaks are flowering too - on the hike we saw blooming live and blue oak trees.

To add to the excitement, when we were looking out across the canyon we saw two coyotes climbing down the hillside together! I really enjoy our trips to the canyon. I wind up forgetting my cares and relaxing and enjoying the beauty all around me. We'll have to go back again soon.

Friday, April 6, 2012

New Photographer

My son has recently become interested in photography. So far he enjoys taking pictures of the outdoors. He has been using a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot camera. Here are a couple of his photos:

Above is a picture of blossoms on our Asian Pear tree and below is a picture of narcissus flowers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hair gel, lying, the brain

I have worked hard at really listening to others when they are speaking to me. When my kids ask me questions, I try to make sure I understand what it is they are asking and then I help find the answer as soon as I can. Here are some questions that the kids have asked in the past few days:

How does hair gel work? (ok, this is kind of scary - it is essentially liquid plastic!)
When were cats first tamed?
Is colorblindness real?
Which of the Beatles are still alive?
Which member of the Beatles was the oldest when they formed the band?
Have I ever lied?
Does our brain control everything we do?
What does 'catastrophe' mean?
What does 'I do declare' mean?

One more question:  Would you go across this bridge?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Little Snow Trip

The other day we headed to the Sierras to do some sledding. It was sunny at our home, and since it had been two days since the last rain, we thought it might be sunny with lots of new snow at the sledding area.  Just as we got to 2000 feet elevation, the snow began, and just got worse.

The weather was cold, windy, and snowing - not good conditions for anything (except maybe sitting in front of a fire drinking hot chocolate). We managed to turn around and head back out of the mountains before they closed the highway. For a brief moment the sun came out and we were able to stop at a rest stop and get some short but fun sledding runs in before heading home.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

So many questions!

There are days when the kids have lots of questions about things, and then it seems to slow down for a while. In the past two days we have been busy trying to answer many questions. We found answers in the World Book Encyclopedia and online. These questions have come about in our everyday life, and most are connected with things we have been doing. I will add the inspiration for the question in parentheses for the ones I know.

Why do people sleepwalk? (watched the movie 'Heidi')
How do cats purr? (Pet the cat)
Is wine a spirit? (Lyrics in 'Hotel California')
Is Russia the largest country in the world? (looking at world map on the wall)
How come Russia had a hard time defeating Germany in WWII if it is so much bigger?
How come Russia trusted Germany?
Was Russia with the Allieds or Axis in WWII?
What are Arthropods? (Minecraft)
How does an egg become a live baby chick? (wants to get chickens)
What is the flag for Togo? (looking at world map)
Why is Greenland white and Iceland green? (looking at world map)
What is the largest lake in the world?
Why do people love money so much?
Can you make paper out of grass?

And they just keep comin'....I really do love figuring out the answers to all of these. :)

Here is a nice photo of Shooting Star wildflowers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Our First Post

Welcome to Amor y Risa! Our blog is Spanish for Love and Laughter. Above is a photo of us with some of our extended family. We hope you enjoy reading about us. :D