Things You Only See on a Winter Hike

For our last hike of MLK weekend, we stopped by Dog Slaughter Falls (near Cumberland Falls).  Sydney had the camera so that he could capture some of the water-and-ice sights that made us stop every few minutes on our hike.  And, as we pulled out of the resort to start the drive home, a barred owl swooped over the road and perched on a branch just off the road:

This is by far our favorite family vacation so far: time away from the world, a distinct lack of whining and dragging of feet (thanks, kids!), Sydney in charge of planning, challenging outside hikes, and warm soup and tea when we made it back to the cabin.  The spring got busy very soon after this, but this was a great, unexpected break from it all.


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Pine Mountain and Cumberland Gap

Over MLK weekend (yes, in January: I’m playing catch-up), we took off to Pine Mountain State Resort Park, just a couple of hours south of here.  We’ve decided that, on the whole, slippery winter hiking is preferable to insufferably hot summer hiking.  So we thought we’d go hiking when Kentucky was settling into a snowstorm!

We stayed in a cabin that was built during the Depression.  The thick logs nicely kept out the cold on single-digit nights–as long as we kept the single-pane windows shuttered.

The kids have only recently gotten into board games, so they were excited about the combination of outdoor adventures and inside games.  It probably didn’t hurt that I made regular rounds of hot chocolate and tea to keep everyone toasty.  The kids also made use of their new sleeping bags, so everything felt like an adventure.

For our first outing, the park roads were closed, so we hiked up to the Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.  The kids really enjoyed seeing multiple states from up there.  On our second day of the trip, the kids worried we’d lost our minds as we took them into Blanton Forest.  Note to self: for winter hikes, more shoe traction is needed.  We didn’t have all the right gear for getting soaked in winter, but this was also our favorite hike: big forest, old trees, and terrain of a size that could make us feel very far from the rest of the world.  It was beautiful!



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Paddling hard

Despite best efforts, we’re definitely feeling it to be a full spring.  I just got proofs for my book today–which come with a four-week turnaround time for proofing and indexing–and have papers and exams to grade in all four classes.  Additional manuscript edits just came in for another article last night.

Sydney is slowly working through his book-length translation project, with a chart and countdown posted on the fridge in the kitchen.  But he’s also building a greenhouse (!) and juggling several other writing projects, in addition to his classes and the many students who want to meet.  And yes, farm season is starting up already in Kentucky.

The kids are not forgotten, however.  They just have their own projects to juggle.  Katherine is giving a speech on “How Not to Bang on a Piano” at school tomorrow, complete with illustrations.  She loves projects, even though they can be overwhelming, so she’s really gotten into it.  This has been sandwiched between events for Academic Team.  She medaled in the district event, and she’s preparing for a regional exam next week.  This, apparently, is what kids do on Saturdays?  They go to school to take exams??  The parents are a bit puzzled by all this, but the kids seem to be having fun.

Nathaniel, meanwhile, is watching the rest of us with bemusement.  He knows not to complain about the tiny bit of homework he receives in second grade, and is busying himself with craft projects and, when we let him, working his way through book after book by Rick Riordan.  He also pesters me to let him in on more cooking, so this afternoon I think he’s going to bake his first cake without any significant help.  After some discussion (he first wanted to try making the layered red velvet cake Nelson made for our wedding . . .), I think he settled on Grandma Dora’s carob sheet cake.  We’re all excited about this!


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Christmas with Family

Just after Christmas, Sydney’s brother Nelson and Nelson’s wife Kira came for a visit, bringing 19-month-old Allister with them.  We hadn’t seen them since we spent Christmas at their house last year, and Allister has really grown.  Sydney and I were amazed that they were willing to travel with a toddler; given how much his lung power is increasing and how much more mobile he looks to be getting, we won’t be surprised if they limit their traveling for awhile.  But our kids thought he was much more fun to play with this time around!

We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, playing with bowls and wooden veggies and real veggies and cooking implements–and yes, that means both kids and adults.  There was a lot of cooking that week.  Given that Kira and Allister joined Nathaniel and me before the sun was up, and Nelson and Sydney are very much the opposite, the kitchen was busy most hours of the day.  But we also visited Newport Aquarium in Cincinnati and the Bernheim Arboretum outside Louisville.  And we took a number of walks around town, enjoying a mild winter week.

When they left on Wednesday, though, Sydney and I knew we’d better gear up for the spring semester, which begins on Monday.  It looks like cold winter weather will be swinging in just in time to demoralize our returning students.


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Katherine at the piano again . . . this time for a recital

You can probably tell that it’s been a busy fall for us.  Lots of teaching and writing deadlines for Sydney and me, lots of school activities for the kids, and lots of farming.  We’re hoping for a much quieter spring!

In early December, Katherine celebrated her third year of piano lessons with a recital.  Her teacher made everything feel special: reserving a space in a church, dressing up, and setting out a lovely reception.  Katherine really enjoyed the chance to hone a few songs, rather than learn something new each week.  She played 12 pieces in all. Erin

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Music in our house is a bit of a delicate dance.  Katherine has been taking piano lessons for 2 1/2 years, readily claims music as a big part of her identity, and draws music notes and pianos on her school folders.  But when she needs to sit down to the piano bench to practice . . . well, it’s a mighty internal (and sometimes external!) struggle.  She has, though, re-upped for lessons this fall, of her own volition.

Nathaniel has been watching his sister, and, until recently, made clear that he had absolutely no interest in following her into music.  I’m guessing he understood that he’d need to hold up his end of the bargain and practice each day.  But a few days ago he asked if I’d give him a lesson, “just to try it  out.”  He understood, as we talked, that this would mean following through with practice.  So this afternoon we sat down and I walked him through a few opening exercises.  “This is harder than I thought!” he said, but he didn’t seem dismayed.  If he keeps a decent attitude going, this could be just the thing he needs to get him to learn more about what he’s capable of doing–with a bit of effort.

I won’t, though, let my hopes get too high: I know exactly how hard and long the music road runs!  Still, it would be great if they could lean on each other for help and encouragement.  And when he looked at the books Katherine had propped up on the piano, Nathaniel was clearly admiring of her ability to see anything in that tangle of black ink.  To give her a bit of company, I’ve also dug out some pieces I thought I used to know, and have started working through them.  I’m really rusty, but I’m enjoying becoming reacquainted with an instrument I stepped away from a long time ago.


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The First Day of School

Katherine is 9 and beginning 4th grade, and Nathaniel is 7 and beginning 2nd grade.

I asked them to hug each other, and they did!  They’ve played a lot together this summer, and I hope they don’t lose sight of that once they’re back to other friends at school.


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Summer Projects

We’ve had several ongoing projects this summer.  First and foremost, of course, would be the farm.  Sydney’s been growing a lot of new things this year, and the customers who visit us at the farmer’s market have started coming as much for new ideas as for “basics” for their recipes.  Winter radishes from various countries in Asia, Polish peppers, pea shoots, several new kinds of dried beans, bok choy, red okra, several varieties of summer squash, and at least six kinds of potatoes (red, gold, and purple skin, with gold, white, and purple flesh, in various combinations).  Kentucky weather hasn’t been kind this year, with wild swings in temperatures and precipitation, but he’s still managed to haul in a lot of lovely food.

Mom and I are working together to make some changes in the kitchen, since this is far outside my skill set.  An electrician installed these pendant lights (bye bye, fluorescent light box!), and I painted the island black.  Word to the wise: don’t try spray painting anything in the house, no matter how smooth that finish looked on the bar stools, no matter how open the windows and doors are, and no matter how well you think you’ve covered potential overspray areas.  Ha!  After scrubbing my kitchen floor (every inch) and white trim for four hours in the middle of the night, I think things are back to normal, but that was an unnecessary panic.

Now I have to gear up to paint the ceiling in the kitchen.  All the supplies in the world won’t keep that from being a nerve-wracking job, but school’s coming quickly!  Also, there are plenty more ceilings that need painting in this house, so I’d better figure this out soon.

The kids have had several interesting projects running this summer.  Nathaniel showed interest in origami, so I got him some paper and instruction books, and he has kept himself occupied with those for long stretches of time.  He’s also, of course, left small scraps of paper in his wake every place he’s been: Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kentucky.  I recently came back from a conference trip to this:

Katherine, meanwhile, has devoured books of all sorts and shown a surprising willingness to be our “buddy” on trips to the farm or to work.  She tagged along with me to a luncheon with two of my colleagues and several recently-graduated students.  We’re English types, so the luncheon lasted roughly 3 hours.  She just watched, giggled when spoken to, and, late in the game, discreetly opened her book on the bench next to her.  Sydney’s also taken her to the farm with him several times to sow beans.  When she’s in the right mood, she’s careful, patient, and interested.  She’ll also dutifully weed as long as we’re doing it, too.  That has been amazingly helpful!

Here she’s typing, if slowly, responses to her new fourth-grade teacher, who sent the incoming class a brief questionnaire.  Can I just say how weird it is to see my child maneuvering my computer?  More of this to come, I know.

Finally, Nathaniel spied The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook at the library, and brought it home, hoping he and Katherine could start cooking.  Since we haven’t really worked on knife skills just yet, their first endeavor was a fruitcake (applesauce in lieu of the brandy).  A week later, they tackled Katherine’s pick: cinnamon rolls.  In both cases, they took their time, worked together, and showed a lot of interest in continuing this experiment.  I stayed close, but largely stayed out of their way.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but so far they have two recipes in cookbook binders of their own, and today they peeled nearly all of the potatoes for the soup I was making (roughly 4 pounds of potatoes!), and nobody nicked any fingers.  I can’t say I always manage that . . .


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Oxford, Mississippi

At the end of July, three generations of Birdsong women descended on Oxford, Mississippi.  I was giving a paper at the annual Faulkner conference and meeting with some of my digital humanities colleagues.  Mom was driving down (!) from Iowa, as she’s done before, simply because she really enjoys visiting the town.  There are three bookstores on the courthouse square downtown and lots of fun restaurants, as well as beautiful old homes.  And Mom asked that I bring Katherine with me this year; she promised that she’d be in charge of childcare so that I could attend to the academic things day and night.

We had a great time!  It was a very successful conference for me, Katherine had fun getting to hang out with adults, swim in the hotel pool, and travel to new places, and Mom got both a vacation in a fun place and time with her granddaughter (and, occasionally, me). 

We visited the bookstore for children/young adults first, which meant that Katherine was occupied for the rest of the day.  In this picture, she’s inhaling the last few pages of the first book of The Secret Benedict Society, which she had gotten only the previous day.  I was grateful; with such a book-inclined travel partner, I got a lot of academic work done on our flights home the next day, and she was a very easygoing travel buddy–as long as her book was handy.

We also had pretty decent weather for most of our trip.  For Mississippi, mid-eighties and humid is pretty great in July!

Katherine and Mom agreed to accompany me on a walk through the woods around Faulkner’s home, and then on a visit inside.  Katherine really liked the house and grounds; she reads a lot of “old” books, but hasn’t been in many buildings that date from earlier eras.

Faulkner bought his home from a plantation owner who built the house in 1848 (the same year as the founding of Ole Miss, with which he was associated).  Faulkner only got three acres in the original sale, but whenever he could scrounge up money over the years, he bought more and more land as a buffer between his home and “the town.”  By the time he died, he had a moderately grand home and nearly forty acres of woods and fields.


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Birds, Bees–and Flowers

Sydney enjoys having a front garden full of flowers, and he took me seriously when I said I wanted a long row of lavender.  This stretch along our driveway attracts several kinds of bees, which means there’s a continuous drone coming from this part of the yard for much of early summer.

Lavender is also great fun to harvest: cut stems with your head amidst the lavender blooms, with bees delicately buzzing around you, stop to smell your hands every now and then, hang bunches to dry in the garage (which now smells wonderful), and strip any leftover stems for lavender sachets.  This year I made roughly 35 big bunches from that little row, and I’ve already sold all I have at the farmer’s market.  That should help pay for the replacement plants when these get too overgrown in a few years.

Sydney also filled the planters on the porch and our hanging baskets with flowers.  Well, he filled three of the four hanging baskets; a mourning dove apparently took a liking to our baskets, and hatched two pairs of young in one this summer.  Unfortunately, when she came back for a third round, she decided she preferred one of the baskets that is full of flowers, so we currently have two flowering baskets, one that’s bare, and one that is full of flowers and a hidden mourning dove.  I imagine things will get a bit crowded once her young hatch.  Our flowers may not come out the best for it, but it’s great being able to watch her progress.  She even lets me water the basket, as long as I move slowly (yes, that’s a challenge for me).

We also had a mourning dove make a nest among the kiwi vines hanging over the railing on the deck in the back yard.


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