Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The one with the dolphins on it

I grew up in southwestern Ohio, along the northern edge of tornado alley. Or perhaps this is beyond the edge of tornado alley and is only the tornado...sidewalk. Or something. In any case we had regular tornado drills at school, and a handful of full-on go-sit-in-the-locker-room tornado warnings. Every so often, like once or twice in fifteen years, a tornado actually touched down and did damage in the vicinity. Very little, though. Nevertheless, I had a fully developed tornado phobia. I had a subscription to National Geographic World and one summer they did a special feature on "maxi" tornadoes, with lots of graphic footage from one that had touched down in Texas. I hid this issue away under all the other ones and whenever I'd come across it--it had a cheerful blue and green cover with dolphins--I'd get a hit of that hot, too-still, pre-tornado dread and shove it back. I think I became somewhat of a panicked pain in the neck anytime it got windy, and camping with me--we did lots of camping, one of the highlights of my childhood, despite the fact that it was sometimes overcast--was often an exercise in patient explanation about weather conditions and why a faint cloudiness did not mean we had to head directly for the concrete bathrooms. I remember being carried out screaming into a rainstorm once, because someone waiting with us in the lobby of the Sears had mentioned tornadoes. I think I was ten. Perhaps I was more like five. Either way, I was old enough to feel, as I was carried out bodily, that I was maybe a little too old for such carrying on. Nevertheless, I carried on. I couldn't help it.

It is not a coincidence that I now live in a location that is functionally tornado-free.

So it is with mixed feelings--relief and empathetic dread, mostly, and also sorrow, that I watch the storms blow across the fields across from my office. Cool dry air from the Rockies, heading east to meet up with the warm humid air of the Gulf and cause trouble...but not here. Good luck, all my midwestern friends & readers. May your basements/closets be strong and the tornadoes twist elsewhere.

I'd like to say that this childhood phobia helps me be more patient and kind with my own kids' phobias. It does a little, I suppose. But mostly I get exasperated with their fears of spiders and thunder and the dark, and if I have to carry them bodily somewhere I am only about 1% compassion, compared with 90% irritation (and 8% embarrassment, with a healthy 1% of "other").

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hawks, meadowlarks and killdeer

It's spring, all right. And while this means that yes, it's rainy, and when it's not rainy, it's cold, and the mountains are so socked-in with clouds that Denver's true nature as a high plains city is starkly apparent, it also means that the birds are out. And the benefits of being in a newish building in a place that's still half wild and abandoned ranch are becoming apparent. I pass six or seven meadowlark territories on my fifteen-minute lunchtime walk, nesting kestrels, nesting killdeer, magpies and a prairie dog town. There's also a trio of Swainsons's hawks whose exact family relations I am trying to work out--I'm assuming two adults and a grown offspring, but really, who can tell? And you don't want to over assume these things. On Monday I went birding before work and while my basic take-home experience was it was so bleeping cold, it was still awesome. And I saw lark sparrows, a grasslands treat. As I drove from there to work I found myself flickering into an old seasonal excitement about the unfolding of a new place. And it seems like forever since I've felt that--or, well, since 2008, when we moved, and a new place was unfolding before us.

That feeling has mostly sloughed away and this week has been marked more by heaviness and low-boiling dread--this rain, I think, and also panic over the approaching end of school. The unstructured deliciousness of summer sounded great back in February, when every day is a slog of is-this-Tuesday-then-we-must-be-having-chicken-soup sameness, but now, as it roars up upon us, all I can imagine is summer's daily chaos. Last year we did too much camp, so we've neatly compensated by probably doing too little this summer, and I'm worried the kids won't get enough swim time, or exercise, or mental stimulation. I'm also worried they'll eat M alive, or if not him, then his ability to get any work done at all. I imagine nine straight hours of "STOP SAYING THAT" and "that's MY ice cream cone eraser" and "why does HE get a playdate" and "IT'S NOT FAIR!" Meanwhile I'll be at work, writhing in sympathetic suffering and feeling constantly compromised. Also wishing I could be at home to make sure everybody does their daily writing and page of math and reading and etc. Secretly I see summer as my chance to cram into the kids' heads all the things I think they might be missing during the school year and I am constantly irritated at how employment interferes with my ability to homeschool.

Good times. I must strenuously remind myself that in 15 years, when the kids have turned out how they're going to turn out, I will remember this state of mind as happiness. It's hard to believe, I know. But it's true. That certainty is a little magic pebble I keep in my pocket and touch now and then, for comfort.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Last weekend we had a woodstove installed. This week it finally got weathery enough to use it and we've had a few idyllic, or idyllic-ish, evenings by the fire. Supposedly this is a EPA-rated non-emitting woodstove (well, it IS EPA rated), but for a nonemitting entity it sure puts a lot of smoke out the chimney. I'm not sure if the average code-enforcing neighborhood nag would really know the difference between our nonemitting emissions and regular old emitting emissions, is what I'm saying. Hmph. We'll need to investigate this further.

We also managed to acquire the new version of Life (the game) and many spirited games have ensued--it's the kids' current favorite game and coincidentally the source of 90% of their sibling strife ("No, *I* want to be the Doctor!" "I don't WANT to take out $400,000 in loans!" "I don't WANT to lose my job!") (Welcome to the real world, buddy, I always murmur under my breath, and then I am VERY GLAD that there doesn't seem to be a "Get taken for a ride by unscrupulous/ incompetent contractors, pay $20,000" card. This game cuts a little too close to home as it is.)

In related hooligan news, Si and his friend and cousin set up a hot cocoa and coffee stand at the end of the driveway on Saturday, the crummy cold day of the neighborhood garage sale. It would have been marketing genius if a) they hadn't spilled, thrown and/or drunk most of the wares within the first 40 minutes; and b) sampling the wares hadn't caused Silas to turn into an obstreperous jerk ["Hey! Buy some coffee! Hey! We don't want your smiles, we want your MONEY!"] In retrospect we (the adults) probably should have wrapped it in a little sooner than we did. He verged on a neighborhood menace. This week we'll be having a manners intensive.

Whenever he behaves like this--which isn't really all that often--I am always filled with a sense of grim defeat, as though I've failed him somehow, or worse, ruined him. This sense is often significantly leavened by sheer irritation, although the defeat and the irritation both tend to the same end, which is lengthy (and useless) lecturing. It frustrates me to no end that the best response to this very age-approriate and unsurprising behavior is patience, calm repetition of the rules of mannerly conduct, and long-term practice. GAH! I just want a solution NOW and I WILL berate it out of you! This must work!

And then I wonder where he gets his obstreperous behavior FROM. Jeesh.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day

"You should be sitting back with a glass of tea today!" called out my neighbor as he passed me knee deep in clay on Mother's Day, digging out roots in the side yard where I am soon hoping to plant a cherry tree, some pumpkins, and an espaliered peach, among other things:

"Oh, I did that already!" I called out cheerfully, but really: hard manual labor, outside in the sun with eye toward a future of greenery and produce--you couldn't have gotten me to do anything else, yesterday.

My work from this time last year is starting to look established

if a little dry, now that I look at it. This photo makes me want to rush home and water those poor little seedlings.

Snow peas, arugula, spinach, radishes, carrots and cilantro, in case you're wondering. With rhubarb and daylily in the foreground. If the weather stays warm, I'll be planting summer squash and beans before the week is out, and hopefully next weekend I'll get my indoor seedlings into the ground.

We also did some of this:

And found this as we were getting our new EPA-blessed fireplace installed:

Woody. The sight of which made Helen instantly want a Woody doll, and also about seven other Toy Story-themed toys. She followed me around all day on Saturday with her notebook and marker in hand. "How do you spell Buzz Lightyear? How do you spell Lotso? How do you spell Santa?"

"Christmas is a long way off, kiddo," I reminded her.

"I know. I don't want to forget," she answered. "How do you spell SlinkyDog?"

Another Helen tidbit: two weeks ago she cornered me when I came in to read to her at bedtime. "What order are they in?" she demanded, pointing at a chorus line of Disney Princess dolls laid along the floor.

"In order of your favorite?" I answered.

"Nope. Tangled is my favorite."

"In order of the Disney movie release?"

"No. Need a hint? 'Ah...ah...'"

"... Aurora first?"

"Close. But why? Give up? Alphabetical order. They're in alphabetical order. Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Snow White, Tiana."

Oh. Of course.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We Have a Biker

Helen has officially lifted her feet from the ground onto her bike pedals for at least one complete rotation of the pedals to become a Person Who Can Bike Without Training Wheels.

Hurrah, and Go Helen, etc.!

In other Helen news, she recently started swimming lessons (again). Last week was her first lesson, and after our initial shock at the ...imaginative determination of the establishment (it's housed in an office complex; the two pools are aboveground rubber tanks set on the floor...which means that while there I'm unable to imagine anything but the impressive deluge someone could achieve with an exacto knife), I am pretty confident that this is the right place for her now. She, however, is maaad, because her class consists of her and two boys and the (awesome) teacher is a boy and also they "only do easy things." The swim place claims that kids advance up the levels at their own pace, so I hope they'll demonstrate this by advancing Helen soon (hopefully to the level with the other girl and also a girl teacher).

However, she's still mad. There's the issue of the boys, for one thing; also, her hair is still too short for braided pigtails that are both long and not spiky. Also, I asked her to put her bowl on the counter when she was finished with her oatmeal, please.

At bedtime we're reading Charlotte's Web, which I may have picked up partly to give Helen a little background and context to her favorite food group (meat, with an emphasis on pork products), which she eats gleefully, without a trace of remorse. We're halfway through, and the book's central impact is finally beginning to dawn:

"Why did they say that Wilbur's going to be killed, Ma?"
"Well...that's what happens to pigs."
Thoughtful pause. "So we can make bacon. And pork."
"And ham."
"And HAMMMM. Oh, I love all those things! But I love Wilbur, too."
My guess is that she would sorrowfully send old Wilbur to the chopping block.


The April report:

Nature and my hike: check and check. Thanks to our trip to Ohio, the kids have been glutted with nature exposure and I've gone on countem THREE hikes this month.

Wild foods: morels at my parents' place (yummm) and dandelion greens picked from the yard and put into salads. I can't say I've really warmed to dandelions. They still look so weedy that I can't make the mental switch from "quick, get the weeder" to "let's pick that for salad." Plus it just tastes like leaf to me.

TBR Pile: better work this month. I just finished Bill Bryson's At Home and am hard at work on Dr. Zhivago. Perhaps this month I'll be able to start something that has been on my TBR list since before Christmas.

Moon rise: fail. It was beautiful, clear, but happened at Helen's bedtime.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring trip

Last weekend we took a trip east and visited with my parents. My sister came too (meaning that half this blog's readers were in attendance! Hi everyone!). This was one of those vacations that seemed like a good idea in January, when we bought the plane tickets--it's Easter! Obligations will be low! It will be spring! The Midwest is beautiful in spring!--and then the closer we got, the more misguided and downright reckless it seemed. The kids would have to miss two days of school--what was I thinking? M had a sudden onslaught of work-related obligations--why did I think that a vacation during the school year would even work? And then the weather was predicted to be rainy and miserable. As we headed to the airport in Thursday evening rush hour traffic, I was basically apologizing to everyone (note: the kids, after a brief moment of "what if they talk about something really important while I am gone?" panic, were not upset at all to miss school).

Neverthless, it was still spring: And the kids are finally old enough to purely enjoy the woods, without needing constant attendance and/or changes of clothes. They ran around for four days straight, in rain and cloudiness and even in the brief 20 minutes of actual watery sunlight we got on Easter day.

We visited the family compound of my childhood best friend, where Si got to swing on the old rope swing that flies out over this creek:

He also got to swim in that creek, in 50 degree weather, after he slammed into the concrete landing and lost his grip. Poor guy--but he recovered nicely and twenty minutes later was taking a lead role in the multifamily charades game (charades! --I was surprised at how fun it was, despite the slight overabundance of terms like "Resurrection" and "Good Friday." Our friends managed to mostly suppress their disapproval of our heathen ways).

The kids got to explore the woods every day, both with and without adults. I tried to instill in them an appreciation of the woodland wildflowers, which were out in force, but the kids were more interested in acorns, skeletons and mushrooms. I can live with that.

The mushrooms were spectacular, after all.

They also did a lot of frog and tadpole gathering--

(this guy is waiting with baited breath for the kids to GO HOME )

In the end, Si and Helen spent about fifty percent of their visit stalking the pond's wildlife. We actually bundled a slightly damp Helen straight from the pond into the car when it was time to go back to the airport.

In other words, it was pretty much a perfect visit. One which I wish we could make much more often.

Happy Monday!