Little Farm in the City

December 7th, 2011

There is a fabled place in Berkeley known as the Little Farm. All the moms know about it. It’s free. It’s open everyday. They have livestock. And kids can feed them celery.

Somehow, we had never been there before. I don’t know why exactly – perhaps because it’s on the far side of campus up in the hills? Or maybe it’s because we’re lazy parents who don’t know a good thing when it’s there for free right in front our noses…

Regardless, a couple weekends ago we finally made it to the Little Farm, and we had some serious fun. We went with our buddies the Graham-De Leons and had a great, great day. Here are some of the highlights!

It all began with the chickens…

Shannon and Marco luring the chickens closer with celery.

Marco meet Ms. Chicken. Ms. Chicken meet Marco.

A potential contestant for Miss Poultry USA 2011?

From there we moved on to the goats. Probably the hungriest goats ever. Seriously. They were voracious consumers of celery, clothing and anything else that got too close. Ryan and Marco pretty much kept their distance. But Renata? She was a goat feeding champ!

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp.

After the excitement of the Goat Gluttony, we checked out the sheep and cows. But after the thrill go the goats, they didn’t really wow us, you know? (It just wasn’t their day to shine, I guess.)


The old work jeep, on the other hand, provided all sorts of fun and hands-on excitement!

It was a lovely morning. Warm, clear and decidedly autumn-like.  For those of you who don’t know the ways of the Northern California Mediterranean climate – winter is the greenest and wettest time of year. It’s lovely, and I miss the greenness come the dry months in the summer and fall.

Enjoying the great outdoors!

Is that Ireland, you ask? Look at the GREEN!!

Carlos and Marco. Showing off some large yellow leaves. (Given the climate here, leaves like that are pretty hard to come by. I miss the East Coast foliage more and more each year...)

After the Little Farm, we weren’t sure we could handle much more fun. Ryan was fading and nap time beckoned. But Carlos and Shannon encouraged us to take a drive over to the miniature steam trains (also famous locally, and no, we hadn’t been there either – we clearly need to get out more). We decided to go for it – risking the cranky toddler meltdown. Ryan was riveted and loved every minute! First, we started with the larger of the trains and took a winding journey through the redwoods and eucalyptus groves in the Berkeley Hills.

Miniature Steam Trains

The Hartmann Family spotted in nature!

Family fun all around!

Taking it all in as it whizzed by.

But then – as if we hadn’t filled our mornings with oodles of fun and adventure – we saw that the teeny tiny mini trains were running! We rushed over and jumped on board.

Even smaller trains!

A teeny tiny trestle!

Watching the world go by!

Tiny Train Scenery. Hard to capture with a phone camera on the move... but cute! Ryan loved the little houses along the way.

Tiny Train Depot

After the second train ride we packed the kiddo up and hit the road for home. She was out in a flash. But she hasn’t stopped talking about the goats, the farm or the trains ever since! I think we’ll be back very, very soon. Given how cooped up we’ve been since Dan’s knee surgery, a day in the “country” will be much needed change of scenery.


Epic Fail

November 5th, 2011

My personal challenge for the month of October was to post every day. No. Matter. What. The goal was to jumpstart my blog mojo and get back to regular posts.

I managed 10 out of 31 possible posts. That’s 30%. I’m a teacher. I know that even if I were to curve the grades – that sucker is still a big whopping F.

But you know, I learned a few things along the way:
1. I’m human. Not Wonder Woman. Sometimes, I just don’t measure up.
2. Don’t make commitments when the husband is going in for major surgery and work is off-the-hook busy. Kind of an amateur move. Not to be repeated.
3. Life goes on.

I did manage to snap a few great photos and want to share some great times we had leading up to Dan’s surgery. As I posted here, we’ve had my mom on hand to help during a really stressful time. (She’s a trooper, by the way. More on that later.) The weekend before Dan went to the hospital, we decided to take a trip north to Petaluma to have lunch, get out of the house and leave the city behind. It was a lovely day, and Ryan had a great time shopping, playing and keeping us all sane.

Here are a few snapshots of our last “normal” day:

Lunch by the river.

Beer. Yum.

Trying out a new ride.

She stopped in her tracks...

... and ran inside to get a closer look at these. It was all we could do to drag her out of the window display!

We toured Petaluma's back alleys. She nearly ran into the tattoo parlor in excitement! (Oh and Bunny joined us for the afternoon.)

A petting zoo at the playground! "Bunny, meet bunny."


These photos were taken on Oct. 15, so I made it about halfway through the month before tanking miserably. Not bad for half a month! I’ll do better next time – I’m a veteran Challenger now.

Slowly, we’re getting back to normal here at Chez Hartmann. Dan had a bit of an initial setback, but is now back on the PT bandwagon. The new knee is going to be awesome. Once he breaks it in and works out a few kinks.

Thanks for hanging in and reading along.


The Pink One Cometh (October Challenge: Day 10)

October 16th, 2011

Fallen behind a bit on the October Challenge, but I’m picking it up and running with it this morning. Here we go!

Pinky flew in on Thursday evening for her extended visit to the Hartmann household. Usually, she comes for short, quick trips to see us, catch the sites and give Ryan a few smooches. But this time, she’s here for a whole month – and we couldn’t be more excited! You see, Dan heads in for knee surgery tomorrow, and Pinky is the army of one we’ve enlisted to help hold everything together while Dan is in the hospital and recovering for a few weeks.

So, as you can imagine, it’s been busy here at THL for the last week or so. Lots going on – mental and psychological preparations for surgery. It always takes Ryan some time to get used to new people -particularly when it seems like they are going to stick around and sleep on the couch. Being the highly-trained kid person and grandmother extraordinaire that she is, Pinky rolls with it all really well. She even babysat while we had a date night last night! Date night?! What a concept!

Here are a couple of pics from her August visit that capture The Pink One in action. Warming up the kiddo and taking it all in stride.

Playing peek-a-boo in the otter habitat at the zoo.


Raise a glass to Pinky! Three cheers for The Pink One!

We’re off to the hospital tomorrow morning. I may manage another post in the meantime, but I’m not promising anything. Please send Dan all your get-well wishes and healing vibes! We’ll take all the positive energy we can get.

~ Susan

Just call me Job (October Challenge: Day 9?)

October 12th, 2011

When I set out on the October Challenge, I thought it would be tough to come up with blog fodder, but MAN I did not know that I would choose what must be the craziest month in THL history! There’s just a TON going on here – much of which I haven’t blogged about. You see, I try to keep it positive here at THL, and not bring our readers down with the mundane humdrum and drama of everyday life. At least, I try to maintain the illusion of calm, happy and fun.

That said, we’ve got a lot going on, and it’s not all roses and happy dances. Somehow, the universe has decided to throw us a series of crises over the past month or so that has been unrelenting. (It’s kind of like a modern day Book of Job, without the personal conversations with God. Although, that may be moving up on my list…)

So – since I know you’re just sitting on the edge of your seat in suspense – here’s the quick list:

1. Toilet broke. Paid expensive weekend emergency plumber $$$ to confirm this fact. Bought new toilet. Javier our fabulous neighbor rescued us.

2. THE NEXT DAY the shower clogged and we had to call the SAME EXPENSIVE PLUMBER to come and fix it.

3. We were burgled. They broke the back window. They took computers and booze. And turned every drawer upside down. The were nice enough not to touch Ryan’s room – gentlemen, eh? Javier helped us fix the window.

4. Washing machine drain clogged. Dan bought new equipment to avoid calling the expensive plumber. It got stuck in the pipe. Javier rescued us again and fixed it.

5. Roof leaked. Javier contacted a friend who can fix it cheap next weekend. Spendy, but cool. But then it rained again yesterday. And this time IT LEAKED ONTO OUR BED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Awesome.

6. Washing machine clogged AGAIN. No idea what’s going on. Will call Javier for advice. Mostly likely something systemic, and will require us calling THE EXPENSIVE PLUMBER again.

I am going to start calling him Saint Javier.

This month my work is crazy busy (in a good way, but still a lot to handle) and I am swamped pretty much everyday.
And… here’s the kicker:

Dan is prepping to go on medical leave to get his knee replaced. On Monday.

And my mother is coming to stay on our couch for a month. Saint Pinky to the rescue!

Always a little ray of sunshine, even on seemingly dark days...

And so, we’ve been thrown a few of trials. But I think we’ve also identified some angels keeping watch over us. And through it all, I’m going to stick to the October Challenge. ‘Cuz that’s the point, right?


Indian Summer (October Challenge: Day 8)

October 9th, 2011

The thing about fall in the Bay Area is that it is incredibly subtle, and it’s taken 15 years for me to develop the sensitivity to notice it. To an East Coaster used to dramatic autumnal color changes and huge temperatures shifts, fall in Northern California is a bit underwhelming. Even though we get most of our warmest days of the year during September and October, the air develops a crispness (particularly at night) and some even trees lose their leaves.

But unlike the east coast, winter here is the greenest season, when the rains feed the plants and major growth happens. Temperatures rarely drop below the mid-fifties during the day and frost only comes a handful of times at most. The most dramatic shift is actually the wintry light – even though it doesn’t feel particularly wintery, the light shifts as the sun sits lower in the sky. Shadows are different. And, even in the greenness of it all, it’s winter-like. Albeit a mild one.

And so this afternoon, we enjoyed a beautiful fall day in Oakland – the sun was warm, but the air was crisp. The light cast it’s autumnal shadows and we enjoyed the season. We had our first rains last week, and the garden is starting to green up. Here are a few snapshots of our day:

Chasing bubbles...


... caught one!

Art - au plein air.

All smiles!

By the power of technology - Grand Dad was able to join our outdoor fun... from Pennsylvania!

Spray bottles make for hours of artistic and watery fun!

It was a lovely afternoon, full of family time and fun. We’re gearing up for a dramatic and stressful few weeks here at THL (more on that later), and so a day of simple fun in the backyard was the absolute PERFECT way to spend the day. It was lovely to just stop and enjoy the fleeting moments of indian summer. Tomorrow the week starts, and we’re off and running again.

Moose Sighting (Day7)

October 7th, 2011

In so many ways, my life these days is a million miles away from where I came from. I grew up on a farm in the exurbs of Washington D.C., with extended family in rural Southern Maryland. I went to a teeny tiny private school in Annapolis. Then I headed up north to Smith College – a small, women’s liberal arts college in a quaint Western Massachusetts town. It was all sort of  contained and bounded – and decidedly NOT urban.

For a couple of years in college, I lived in a dorm called Talbot House. It had a giant moose head hanging on the wall in the stairwell on the way down to the dining room. The moose was our mascot and he loomed large in house lore.

I don’t have any Talbot House gear, nor anything from Smith [or Berkeley!] for that matter. It never really even crossed my mind to acquire any.

These days, I generally work in urban areas that are gritty, in need of investment, and definitely lacking the quaint charm of my east coast life. Today, we took a class of high school students from Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA to tour a local area to learn more about it and prepare improvement recommendations for presentation at City Hall in November. Richmond is a tough city with high crime that has experienced huge disinvestment over the last few decades. The tour was fun. But – like I said – a million miles from my past life.

So, you can imagine my surprise when a bright and thoughtful young woman walked by sporting this:

I was there! You know, back in the 90s.

This young woman did not know which college the sweatshirt came from, but only that her sister’s friend had gone there for a year. Shocked by my excitement, she let me take a closer look at the front:

The Moose!

She wants to study Korean and Japanese languages, and become a business woman in Korea. Perhaps I should see if she’s interested in becoming a Smithie. She’s already got the outfit!

Back-to-School Night (Day 6)

October 6th, 2011

Late night tonight. Back-to-School night at daycare. A few hours of work still to do. So, tonight, I’m just going to let the kiddos take the ball and run with it.

Making music and having fun at the park.




Creative Endeavors (Day 5)

October 5th, 2011

Crayons. Markers. Pens. Pencils. Chalk. In Ryan’s world they are all one: Colors. As in, “Colors, Mommy!” Translation: “Give me that writing implement right now!” We’ve had a few sit downs recently over the appropriate use of colors (on paper, only on paper) and their inappropriate use (walls, kitchen surfaces, leather couch). But all-in-all, we’re pretty excited with her new fixation. Dan’s an artist and I’m kind of crafty, so coloring represents the first time we can actually be creative with Ryan. Together. As a family.

Cereal and coloring - of course!

The artist explaining thel nuances of her work.

So, how great was it to arrive at pick-up and be given this beauty to bring home?

Creative Genius!

The first of many, many to come. I can’t wait.


Ira vs. Jerry (Day 4)

October 4th, 2011

An unforeseen side effect of the October Challenge is an internal struggle about what each post should be like – tone, tenor, theme, topic. I mean, today was a pretty lousy day, and I’m fishing for something to write about. Where to start? Dan taking the day off to hang out with Ryan while she recovers from hand-foot-mouth? When the washing machine started leaking water all over the kitchen floor? Or maybe when the pipe snake got stuck in the drain and now we have to call the plumber. Again. for the third time in a month. Oy.

Perhaps I should channel Ira Glass and craft vignettes of the day that elevate mundane tales of everyday to reflect the universal nature of humanity? Or maybe I should model my writing on Jerry Seinfeld, and blog about NOTHING? And then try to make it funny.

I’m stumped, and I’m realizing that this challenge is going to be tougher than I thought it would be…

So, I’m going to default to the best blog post back-up plan ever: A cute kid pic.

Ryan and her buddy, Naveen. Can you really beat those smiles?

Hey, it works in the movies…

~ Susan

Back from the Blackout (October Challenge: Day 3)

October 3rd, 2011

Slowly. slowly I’m emerging from a self-imposed two month news blackout. A professional policy wonk and amateur news junkie, this blackout has been a challenge. But a necessary one. I started waking up at night unable to fall back to sleep, ruminating on the state of the economy, and the tenor of national political discourse. Sleep deprivation and stress – not a great mix. Especially since there isn’t much I can do about it.

So, for the last two months I have actively avoided the news. And I have to say that life has been a lot more pleasant! I highly recommend it. If only for short periods here and there.

But now, I’m starting to check back in. Time to see what’s going on in the world, you know?  So, what do you think I should make of this?

"Pick a subject. Make an offer. Get a poem."


A sluggish economy and economic woes notwithstanding – I applaud her creativity.  Who says there’s no innovation in the liberal arts and humanities??

Things will improve at some point, won’t they?