The Best Block Ever

Two kids, in school. Somewhat hard to imagine. Silas starts preschool and Henry will be in Kindergarten in the fall. I still thank the gods that we bought this house. Despite the fact that there are no right angles in the entire house, we lucked into an amazing block and neighborhood.

From July-Aug 2010
We had our block party last weekend and what a treat it was. Each year it's an awesome time to connect with our neighbors-- many who are really active in our community and are fun cool people to boot. This year Ms. Peggy planned a whole block worth of amazing activities for the kids. The "stand-bys)are two jumping houses and usually the fire truck comes (this year they couldn't make it due to a real emergency). But this year Ms. Peggy went all out and made a pinata with the kids (in advance), and had "stations" set-up on both sides of the street including: bubble blowing, hula hoops, hopscotch, an art table complete with nature rubbings, face painting, an amazing balloon guy, chalk art, dominoes, checkers and a few stations i never even made it to. One of the best parts for the kids was that she made them all "games official" badges and posted each one of them to a station. They had a blast being in charge of the stations and enjoyed their official role.

The party had a fabulous pace to it, really relaxed which isn't the first thing that jumps to mind when you have an entire street full of small children. But it just worked.

So between our block party and getting ready to send both boys to our neighborhood school (it's a block away, how much better can it get!) we're just so content in our urban neighborhood that is really a neighborhood at its best.


Backyard Magic

Having these new little toad friends (more pictures added to toad post) in our backyard doesn't hurt, but i've found our little backyard (big by city standards) to be quite a haven this summer. With JT gone weekend afternoons, the boys and i have been doing all kinds of projects out of doors. We painted and hung small birdfeeders, we made little boats out of twigs, we expanded the toads' habitat and this weekend we're working on making felted rocks. I can't find a link to the rocks and i know it sounds strange, but they're very pretty and i think will be a lot of fun to do with the kids. It involves raw wool and wet soapy water.

Next weekend we're going to make birdseed cakes and maybe do some glue batik painting to some old white shirts. I can really tell that the boys are getting older because while Silas' attention span is still shorter than Henry's when it comes to crafts, he finds other ways to keep himself amused-- usually involving water and, well, water.

The only problem is the mosquitoes. Since we've had such a wet summer they are out in force in our backyard. Silas in particular is loved by the mosquitoes (pequitos as he calls them) and yet his skin really hates the bites. He's covered in red welts right now. Even though we cover liberally with bug spray. So if anyone has any other remedies they can suggest please feel free to let me know.

I think next year we're going to make one of these fairy gardens. I didn't see the idea until just recently and i don't think we'd have time for them to get established now, but what fun designing and creating this will be next year. Even more magic for the garden!



We have slugs, a lot of slugs. I've tried drowning them in buried cups of beer (very effective but the carnage is more than i can bear), picking them up with chopsticks and transplanting them to the trash (time consuming) and just hoping they'd go away. But those tell-tale mucousy trails made it clear they weren't just going away.

For two summers we tried to "entice" some toads into our yard. We put some clay pots on their sides and fluffed decomposing leaves into the bottoms. We arranged them in a shady spot by a large tree and made a rock "garden" of sorts. We left out saucers of water. Nothing. I decided there may be toads in Chicago, but not in at least a 10-block radius. If we were going to get toads in there, we were going to have to import them rather than have it happen organically.

That's where things stalled for another year. You can't just buy any old toad and plop it into your backyard. That's why cane toads and bullfrogs have become nuisances or worse in a lot of areas. So i researched and found out that an indigenous toad for this area is the common American Toad. We started at Petco once i established that they do carry frogs and toads-- but as it turns out only the more exotic species (like tree frogs and such) that people keep indoors as pets.

So i searched the web and found Reptile City. The toads were quite affordable ($6 each) although the shipping was $20. In hindsight this makes sense because how else would you get live toads to you intact if not overnight? We set-up a little enclosure made of sticks and waist-high chicken wire in the afore-mentioned toad spot. We put saucers of water dug into the soil so they are flush with the ground. I got a notice that the package was due to be delivered by 3 pm.

I put a note on the door to make sure the postman rang the doorbell and left my phone number. I stayed close to home but with the ac blowing i missed his steps on the porch. The next time i checked i had a package slip to retrieve the package the next morning! I headed out to the post office and they searched for the package only to come back and tell me it was still on the truck with the driver. I explained the situation and as soon as i mentioned "live toads" that woman leapt into action. She called the driver, found the location of the truck and in 15 minutes the package was in my hand. In the meantime i had gotten a few frantic calls from Reptile City who had been notified about the package not being delivered.

After retrieving the boys we headed home to open the box inside their "habitat." I was very worried because i expected the box to be jumping or something and it was completely still. I opened both layers of packaging and found a cotton drawstring bag which immediately started moving and jumping and generally coming alive. I put that down on the ground inside the chicken wire and gently shook the toads out. Hot dog! 4 toads including a little baby one.

But damn if they weren't much smaller than i had anticipated. Even the biggest one took one look at that chicken wire and hopped right out. Madness ensued. I was running around getting old sheets that i draped around the chicken wire and secured on the bottom with rocks. Once that was more or less done we tackled trying to catch the 3 that had escaped. 2 had already hopped under the fence into our neighbors' yard. And so while holding a toad was not really on my list of to-dos ,i successfully caught and transported those toads back to their enclosure.

Ultimately i'd like them to be "free-range" toads. But for now i'm trying to keep them enclosed so that they adjust and make our yard their home. Tonight i'm going to get metal stakes and make a bigger enclosure out of landscaping fabric. I'm envisioning a toad "run" of sorts. This way the toads have more room and Henry can get in there with them and move around. He spent about 30 minutes in the current enclosure which is only slightly wider around than he is. I'll update with pictures as soon as possible.