Tag Archives: backyard

A Few Damp Fall Friends I See Out My Window


Weather turns wetter Sunday. Drizzle drips from leaves of pear tree outside my home office window.

Weather turns wetter Sunday. Drizzle drips from leaves of pear tree outside my home office window.

Sunday—the dry spell that we’ve been enjoying came to an end, and since then we’ve been treated to the dark side of an Iowa fall—cool, wet, monotonous rain with none of the dramatic skies and energy of a summer storm.

Of course, summer storms can also come with tornados, so I’m OK if the more frigid fall rains cascade with less drama. And there were a few rumbles of thunder today, just to remind us that the northern hemisphere is just starting to shy away from the nearest star, and there’s still some heat in those solar photons.

Anyway, as the first damp drizzle of the three-day rainy season kicked off Sunday, I was in my home office, writing an exam that I gave speech students on Monday.

As I worked, I could not help but watch out the window. Animal Planet, the backyard version, was playing. Mostly, it was birds, although the star of the show was a mammal.

Squirrel stretches for a meal in a pear tree.

Squirrel stretches for a meal in a pear tree.

I took a break every few questions to point my camera out the window and snap a few portraits. One is just of the wet pear leaves, but the rest are fall visitors, attracted, I think mostly by the pear fruit.

I didn’t succeed in recording all of the visitors. There’s a robin who has not yet departed the city for the countryside for his winter home. A pair of cardinals reside in the bushy area near the clothes line—very near the office window—and put in an appearance, first he, then she. But they moved too quickly for me to capture their little avian souls with my Nikon soul catcher (cardinals are Amish and don’t like to get their pictures taken).

One interesting black and white bird was just around the chimney corner, and the only halfway decent photo of him I got shows more chimney then bird. Still, I like the image, so here it is.

And then there was the well-fed tree rodent who appeared right before rain broke up the backyard party. Where do all the birds go in the rain? I don’t know, but they don’t hang out by my window.

The squirrel was not as skittish as the birds, and I got multiple squirrely images. I like the one of her standing on a branch, reaching for a pear. At this rate, the fruit won’t last long into the cold weather that surely is coming, but we’ll see.

The rain is actually good news, from my point of view. I know it delays an already slow harvest, but for an urban gardener, things were getting a bit dry out there and it’s nice to bank some moisture before the winter sets in. And I planted grass this fall, which needed the wet since I don’t have time to water.

I’m stuck inside. Writing exams. When I’m not shooting wild things.

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Filed under Garden, Grandchildren

What You Find In A Grandparent’s Backyard

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I think Audrey and I have a pretty good backyard for grand-parenting purposes. Not perfect, mind you: I need to put better locks on the gates as my inquisitive 2-year-old grandson (and his inquisitive 1-year-old sister) get more dexterous with knobs and latches.

But, we are blessed with a nice setting for exploration and play. What makes our yard grandchild friendly?

  • Weeds. Our grass is definitely not lush and country-club perfect. While I fertilize now and then and try to spray the most obnoxious plant invaders, I don’t work too hard on the perfect grassy look. You can raise grass or children, but rarely both, and we opt for kids.
  • Toys. Well, duh. You can have too many, I’m sure, but we have a lot of fairly durable ride-on style items, as well as balls, a hula hoop, a tether ball pole, a hammock and a swing set. A yard is fun for grandchildren if there is stuff to do back there.
  • Plants. Yes, fussy gardens that you worry too much about wouldn’t lend themselves to kid play anymore than a living room full of fine china figurines would welcome 2-year-olds. But a living room full of beanbag chairs would—and a yard with some durable gardens, sturdy perennials and bushes that can take a hit from a ball and keep on going—adds all kinds of interest and places to explore. And trees, if they are trimmed so they don’t take up all the space, are a definite plus, both for shade and for hiding places and for leaves and flowers and fruit to look at.
  • A sandbox. Yes, grandchildren will get very messy and sometimes bug-bitten. Yes, sand gets dumped out of the sandbox. Still, it is totally worth it—it’s a 10 x 10 (100 square feet) area of fantasy, castles, dinosaur habitat, rogue trees, trenches, snakes and imaginative play. A sandbox is great because it serves kids of many ages—when a child gets old enough to not eat EVERYTHING, often as young as just a bit over one year, he or she can spend hours just relaxing and pouring and thinking. And the fun lasts often into high school years.
  • Critters. Since our dog died, we don’t have a pet (and no, we don’t want one so please don’t offer). But there are many birds that live in the trees and bushes. Snakes slither in the gardens. Spiders spin webs on the swingset. A toad can often be found. Sure, we set out traps to kill Japanese Beetles, but most living things, be they squirrel, chipmunk, robin, butterfly or ant, survives unmolested in the yard and provides something to watch and wonder at for grandchildren.
  • A hill. The yard slopes away from the house and has a retaining wall. That makes it exist in several “zones.” If it were too steep, it would be hard to play in, but luckily, it’s not—even a toddler, if she’s sure on her feet, can navigate down to the swing set. The wall is about 5 feet at it’s max, so it’s not a huge safety issue, but it’s great to stand at the top of and heave balls at a grandparent. And, of course, in the winter, the hill is handy to slide down.
  • A fence. As I noted, I’ll have to improve the security on the gates, but the fence keeps the kids contained. They can run and laugh and throw and swing and build in a contained area. I like our fence for lots of reasons—not the least of which it’s substantial enough to keep deer out, which explains why we can even have gardens.
  • A deck. You exit our house by a wide sliding door onto a wooden platform 6-feet in the air. We have a gate on the steps leading off the deck, so if it’s too muddy to play in the yard (not often a problem this year, but now and then), there is still an outdoor place to play and see the world.

What do we not have? Well, we don’t have much that we have to “worry” about—while there are birdhouses and gnomes in the gardens, there isn’t much that could be harmed by being run into or stepped on. We don’t have an in-ground pool, so drowning isn’t much of a risk. We don’t have a mean dog. We don’t have rare orchids. Despite my wrong-headed attempts now and then, we don’t have much in the way of prickly or thorny stuff beyond a few rose bushes.

All in all, it’s a nice place for relaxing with children, and that’s what Audrey and I want in our backyard. If we ever had to move, I think we would miss the yard more than the house.

Not that you have to have all the stuff that we do to have a nice yard for kids. I guess the most important ingredients for backyard play with grandchildren are your own children, your rapport with them and their comfort in having their children spend time in your yard.


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Last Day Fun from Lizzie

Well, man she didn’t have a dreadful flight, and she’s back in the UK, not the USSR.

Miss Lizzie (and her mom Amanda) were fun to have for a few August weeks, and it seemed too soon that they were gone. But we’ve heard that the return journey went well—which, considering some of their travel sagas, is a refreshing change.

But, Amanda should write about the journey.

I’ll write about play time. As Amanda packed, I encouraged Miss Elizabeth Ava to come to the backyard.

I didn’t have to encourage very much. Our back deck and backyard both seem to be pretty grandchild attractive.

Of all the grandchildren, Nikayla is the most active “swinger.” Both Lizzie and her contemporary cousin Tristan like to swing, but they don’t have the swing fever that Nikayla has and had a year ago when she was their age.

For some reason, though, on this last U.S. morning, Lizzie was dizzy for swinging and started to giggle. I decided to videotape her as I pushed her, and, as you can see on the video, she suddenly got more serious. Have to be more careful when the camera is on you, I guess.

Next, Lizzie invented the running game. It consisted of running round the slide unit of the swing set, and doing a happy yell or scream when you passed through the swings. The main rule is that after each orbit, you have to stop and look meaningfully at any nearby grandparent, whom you expect to do the same before you repeat.

It was just interesting to see this little girl create a sequence of behavior that had to be shared and repeated.

Lizzie invented a second circuit shortly thereafter. It involved climbing the hill from lower to upper yard, descending the stairs and then running down the hill. Again, it was repeated often, but only after she had me do the circuit, too. That’s the version of the running game that I caught on video.

I note, as usual, that there are some bad typos on the captions and credit of this video. I have not perfected the art of copyediting in video editing software—I guess I just don’t see the letters well enough in Movie Maker. Well the miracle is that I get anything at all done in that awkward, goofy program, I guess.

Anyway, glad you made it back home, Amanda and Lizzie. Your dad and granddad misses you already. I’ll be anxious for spring break to come this year when Audrey and I can make our journey to Norwich.

And, totally unrelated aside to completely break the emotional mood, here is a link to some other cool yard images I’ve captured recently.


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