Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken Update

We built a chicken coop for our six hens this past weekend. We used old shelving from the store to build most of it. Here's a few pictures:
Abby and Riley moving a completed wall into place.
Abby holds Silver, our Blue Cochin, who warily eyes the proceedings.Our six hens (and a couple of turkeys?) safely in their new home. The design is based loosely on a plan we found here. We added a pair of old wagon wheels so we can move it around the yard.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ferries and Asparagus

From Dan: We like ferries. On our vacation to Michigan and Ontario that we just got back from, we took the SS Badger both ways across Lake Michigan so that we didn't have to drive through Chicago or all the way across the UP. It's an old-fashioned steamship with cabins you can rent and bingo, which Abby and Riley loved. They make the four hour journey across 60 miles of lake pretty fun.

Anyway, one of the side effects of a ferry is the schedule. Our return trip didn't leave Ludington, Michigan until 8pm and we were staying only 2 hours away in Traverse City. Once breakfast was over, we had about 9 hours to make a 2 hour drive.

So, we took the scenic route, driving all through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and stopping at beaches and historical sights along the way. Riley and I talked to a blacksmith in the Park Service's Glen Harbor who made an iron wall hook and gave it to Riley. Then we played in the sand, drove some more, played at another beach, walked to a lighthouse, and had a great lunch at a tavern in Manistee.

Along the way, we discovered an asparagus farm and bought a few pounds of freshly cut spears. When we got a chance to cook it up, even Riley had to admit it was delicious. Way better than California asparagus. It turns out that Michigan is the third largest grower of asparagus, which is picked in April, May and June (we picked up a brochure). We really enjoy eating local foods as we travel. (Our last trip to Michigan was in late August, which is peach season. We found peaches at roadside stands that will always be the peaches by which all other peaches will be compared. We also learned that, because they're a mild laxative, children should not be allowed to each half a dozen peaches all at once on a road trip.)

Finally we arrived in Ludington with only an hour left to kill, which we spent at the playground by the marina. It turned out that this last day of our vacation, which we thought would involve a lot of boring waiting, turned out to be our best. Sometimes it's nice to have a boat to catch.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


From Dan: We've just crossed back into the US from Ontario (after a pretty weird border crossing experience in which the US border guard opened the side door of our Chrysler Town & Country and said "OK kids-quick! Point to Mommy!" Duncan just stared at him as if he were King Kong. Luckily all three were able to point to Millie.)

We spent several days in Toronto, where we visited a lot of toy and baby stores, went to this great little amusement park on an island across from downtown, and spent a day at the Ontario Science Centre (not to be missed). Naturally, as Americans, we noticed lots of things that are different in Canada--and not just the pretty money and the metric system.

First, we happened to be there during the Stanley Cup finals, which seemed to be a big deal. Apparently Detroit beat Pittsburgh. But, the top headlines on all the papers for two days following the game was the CBC's plans to change the Hockey Night theme song. This got top billing above Barack Obama securing the nomination down south.

Second, we noticed that there seemed to be about four times as many small businesses in Toronto than in the Twin Cities, which is about the same size. The diversity and endlessness of small, independently-owned shops on every street was amazing. It was almost garish. Our best guess was that Canada's national health care system made it a lot easier to start a new business. At least, we know for sure that the US system doesn't encourage it.

Finally, we puzzled over food. What is peameal on the breakfast menu? What is the sauce that the Swiss Chalet chain serves with its french fries (our server didn't know). And, of greatest concern to Riley, are there any hash browns to be had in Canada?

Camden Rose Toys

We visited this past week Camden Rose Toys in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Yes, we're in the middle of another summer oddyssy, although nothing like last year's month-long trek to Vancouver. This year we're doing a tour of Michigan and SW Ontario.

Judy and Jason, the proprietors of Camden Rose, are aiming to create toys of the same quality as those made in Germany. Most of their toys are made from Cherry or Maple and all have wonderful rounded edges and graceful curves. Judy gave us a short tour of their operation and some previews of what they're working on.

Our most popular toys from Camden Rose are their Cherry Rattle and their elegant Teething Ring. Aside from their toys, though, one of the great things for us about selling toys made in the USA is that we get to visit folks like Judy and Jason when we travel and learn about their stories. Another example of good toys made by good people.