Thursday, March 29, 2012

Farewell, Aeneas

Helen as Dido
For those of you not following my reading updates in the column at the right, we just passed a small but momentous milestone: I finally finished the Aeneid, approximately 13 months after I began reading it. While I am thrilled to have finished it, and of course I am vastly more cultured and classically read and et and cetera and am relishing my new found appreciation for all things Virgilian--I am mostly glad to be done. I am not one of those who subscribe to the idea of cutting your losses when it comes to books, as you can see. I hold on to the bitter end, and I take my enjoyment from the sense of liberation that follows. Ahhhh.

My workshop comments for Virgil: wow! You have lots of vivid imagery and great characters, but consider spending less time on the battlefield. Also, I didn't really believe that Dido would kill herself over the bland-o Aeneas. Try rewriting from Dido's point of view.

Ha ha, I kid. Although I did get tired of being constantly introduced to new characters and their distinguished ancestors only to have them sliced in half in the next line.

Common misconceptions about the Aeneid which I am now qualified to dispel:

1. The Aeneid is the Roman Odyssey.

No. The Aeneid just borrows heavily from the Odyssey. Aeneas is a completely different character than Odysseus. He's much duller, for one, and he fought on the opposite team. Also, his wife is dead. If Virgil can be accused of plagiarizing any of Homer's works, it's the Iliad. They both have similar bodycounts.

2. Dido is a tragic heroine.

No. Dido is just crazy, in a woman-written-by-a-man kind of way.

3. Virgil is prissy, derivative classic lit; blind oral tradition Homer is the real thing.

Actually, this one might be true. I'm not sure that oral tradition isn't overrated, though.

4. Virgil's poetic vision was compromised because he was writing for The Man.

Again, probably true. I like to think that Dido could have had a better role if she wasn't supposed to prove that Octavian was right to pursue war against Cleopatra. Also, surely those endless lists of now-you've-met-them, now-they're-dead warriors owe something to Virgil's attempt to write all the important Romans into the poem, yearbook style.

5. The Aeneid is much better if you read it in high school or college.

True. Manifestly.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


The nectarine tree is full, rich bloom, and while I can only sigh with pleasure at its abundance of creamy pink blossoms, part of me wants to whisper tactfully that it miiiiight want to wait a little next year. Our average frost-free date is two months away. Slow down, buddy.

In other news I've been researching small homemade greenhouses. What's a little coddling between friends, after all, especially if that coddling results in nectarines? Nothing. Nothing at all. I wouldn't think twice about coddling a tomato--why should a tree be any different?

Beautiful. And doooomed.

(For perspective, to look at our lawn you wouldn't think I thought much of coddling at all. Or home maintenance, for that matter.)

Speaking of coddling, we've been experiencing an unusual reversal at home in terms of which child has been receiving the Most Difficult to Tolerate Award most days. For years, our high-scorer in that category was the oldest, hands-down. Screaming fits about routine tasks, like fingernail clipping and the weekly bath? Check. Back talk? Check. Throwing body to the floor weeping in response to missed homework or the potential thereof? Check. Bossiness, oversensitivity, meltdowns that took over the house, sheer random acts of shittery? Check, check, check and check. But lately--and by lately I mean the past six months or more--the youngest has been making steady gains and now the Most Likely to Interrupt Dinner/ Get a Time Out/ Receive a Stern Talking-to During a Playdate has been H for several months running. Of course, her style is different from her older brother. Her policy toward homework is: if I like it, I'll do it. Attempt to convince her that something else is worth doing and hoo boy. Look out. (I admire that in a kid, especially regarding homework.) Routine upkeep is not an issue. She rarely has full-on, drop-down, scream-the-house-down tantrums. But! Good lord, the bossiness. She bosses everyone. Parents, friends, Romans, countrymen. Not teachers, I think. Not yet. Hence her popularity at school. But try to gently correct her course of action ("Sweetheart! It's time for dinner! Go wash your hands!") and she will stop in her tracks and scream at you. Last week she yelled at me in front of her entire soccer team because I was bringing two tupperwares full of apple slices instead of one. You can see that there are other factors at work--this sort of breakdown is not really characteristic and I think that like most of us she'd prefer to stay poised before an audience--but a little bit of performance pressure just fries any sort of ability she has to modulate her response. I sympathize, even as I hiss at her to stop it, already, it's just two tupperware, for god's sake.
Recent neighborhood visitor. Not coddled.

Silas, on the other hand, has retreated from some of his characteristic need to control. M. surmises that it's a developmental stage, the ability to relinquish the need to Control Everything, and Si has reached it (while H still struggles mightily.) I remember the days when Si would go through the cards prior to playing, say, Candyland, and arrange them in the exact order for one player to have a perfect game (orange first, so you get to cross the Rainbow Bridge). Or when he would throw a fit because his cousin just. would. not. put the Legos together in the proper order. He hasn't quite attained the art of the imperturbable Zen smile in the face of chaos, of course--we're all, uh, working on that one--but he's just on average more pleasant to be around. Usually reasonable! Mostly helpful! Easy to predict!

Right now his all-baseball-all-the-time schedule seems to be working in his favor (at which I am surprised and very, very grateful). He comes home from practice bright and energized, and except for his unfortunate reluctance to take a shower immediately, or *cough* at all, what seems on the surface to be overscheduling is apparently meeting most of his needs for activity, focus and attention. He does his homework. He sets the table (I even found myself looking up, at his request, the proper order of silverware in the Joy of Cooking the other day. Now there's a piece of knowledge I hadn't anticipated using. Like, ever.) He loads the dishwasher. He sets his watch timer and goes to play his allotted 40 minutes of Wii without complaining of its brevity or saying things like But I've looked forward to this ALL DAY. He comes back up and sits companionably beside us as we watch Portlandia or March Madness. I ask if he wants me to read him and he says, "I guess," in a hopeful way.

It's so very nice and reminds me of how all the childhood books say that at ten years old you have the personality you will have when the nonsense of the teen years are done. You are your real self, in other words. This makes me cast my mind back to being ten: what was my personality in fourth grade? While I can state with certainty what my likes and dislikes were, I can't really put a finger on my personality. Kind of a peacemaker, overall? Loyal to my small but sufficient group of friends and uninterested in anybody else? A bit dreamy, a bit vague? Occasionally self-aggrandizing and confident in my classification as a Smart Person, but lacking the snappy comeback or spunky smart-aleckiness to make this evident to anyone else. I guess those are personality traits, and they're pretty consistent today.

This also makes me remember with a wistful sigh how our fourth-grade teacher made us all decorated blown eggs at the end of the year. On the eggshell she'd drawn a picture of us as a grownup, engaged in our predicted profession. She'd predicted I would be a botanist, and I'm shown with a big smile and a test tube. This is one of those memories that makes me think I've missed my calling, somewhere. I was supposed to stay on the path, take all those specialized plant id classes, and end up writing papers on the role of pollen protein folding in the plant reproductive strategy or some such. Instead I stepped out too soon and ended up just editing those papers: it still feels like a disappointment. Like I've let myself down.

Then I remind myself that I haaate lab work. I hate the smell of all those chemicals and having to use the hood and spending all of a summer's day indoors checking on the deterioration of plants in response to some poisonous chemical. That's why I stepped off the path. That and a million other reasons. I'd much rather be out in the dirt, whispering advice to an early-blooming nectarine or staring at the ground, wondering whether the kale seeds are going to come up this year or not.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Home from home

So Helen are back from our awesome adventurr!!!1! and after a few days of shock & outrage that we are actually expected to get up before 9, we seem to be back on track.

It's been 19 years since I claimed Ohio as my permanent address, which means that Colorado has been my home state for longer than the Buckeye state, but part of me is still based on the equation that Ohio = home. This despite the fact that I am surprised when the radio there plays non-80s music (you mean they've heard of Lady Gaga here, too?)

Obviously, my homing instinct is based largely on the presence of these good folks:

Helen, grandparents & her new monkey. Not pictured: the inaugural photo series featuring monkey.
It also has something to do with leafy deciduous forests and briars and poison ivy and cardinals and old cornfields grown up with cedar trees. I'm never adverse to visiting the Big City, of course, and it has its delights. We visited the art museum, ran boisterously along the splendidly redone waterfront and wandered the cute and quaint Mt Adams neighborhood. We ate dinner in a kiln at the Rookwood Pottery. It was fun, but then we drove home, and that was still the best part.
This is the kind of neighborhood that makes me forget I don't like living in cities.
I'm always comforted to get back to my parents' house and the woods around it. I like to think that my kids will always have this little piece of outdoors that feels like theirs, that they've known and roamed around on since they were small. At one point I kind of hoped to give them that in Colorado, except that a) not the right tax bracket and b) just the thought of a second home and all the extra painting, scraping, winterizing, vacuuming, etc, that would entail makes me want to lie down and cry.
Two hours after an all nighter on the plane, Helen grabbed an umbrella and dragged my Dad out into the Woods. That's my kind of child.
Sometimes I think about how, someday, I won't actually have a home base in Ohio anymore. The thought panics me a little, and not just for the obvious reasons (although those are there, too). It makes me want to rush out and buy up old farming properties. Which, hahaha, no. Not the kind of second home I was thinking, thanks. 
It's also a trip to take my offspring to things like the Maple Sugar Festival at Hueston Woods, which has not changed one iota since 1978. I even bought the same soft crumbly maple sugar candy at the end. (And I'm not alone; other grownups on the tour, including a woman my age with a son well into his twenties AND a two-year-old daughter and quite a few in between--I am strenuously resisting the urge to tut, And THAT'S why left this town, folks--was reminiscing about the maple sugar candy from when she used to go as a child.)
Tastes like water.
Same trees, same buckets, same sugaring off house.

Meanwhile, on the home front, this:

M. took five different photos of Si in the pitcher's wind-up, and in every one he has the same expression. It's uncanny.
One of many. Baseball season has officially begun: four practices a week and up to six games. I start to feel sorry for myself and then I remember poor Silas is required to attend it all.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A time to sow

It's been so grim and snowy this week that it's hard to remember, exactly, but this past weekend was sunny and warm so we planted seeds. Well, some of us planted seeds. Others went skiing.

[insert stock photo of skiing in the cloudy gray snow here]

First we went to the plant store, where in addition to seed-starting soil I was somehow convinced to buy a houseplant. Do you know what we need? Not house plants. But after looking at every. single. thing. in the blessed store, my resistance was worn down. Also, frank admission: plants and books are the two things to which I am unable to say no in a retail situation. Related: we also came home with kale seeds. Where, exactly, will I be planting these seeds? No idea. But it was that new (to me) dinosaur kale. I couldn't resist.

As we were driving away, Helen perked up and said that she was just happy because she'd finally gotten a pet. She wanted to get a mouse that day and, indeed, I can testify: she was very, very mad about the non-mouse situation about 45 minutes earlier. But now, she said, she was okay, because she had Cactey.

Helen's new pet. I think it qualifies as my Favorite Kid Pet EVAH.

Long live Cactey!

And also Cacto. He has two bodies.
Afterwards, we put the seed-starting soil into trays. "We," I say. Helen put in two scoops, decided it was too messy, and went off to introduce Cactey to her toys.
Ready for seeds. Possibly the most boring picture ever.
She was also only interested in putting her own seeds into her own pots, although I have to say, even though she is seven and much less likely these days to knock everything to the floor, I really prefer it that way. I'm all for introducing children to the miracle of planting in theory, but when the seeds hit the pots it turns out that I actually don't like to relinquish control. I have similar problems sharing the joys of baking.
Here come the seeds.
She planted pansies. I planted two kinds of basil, four kinds of tomato, lovage, summer savory, leeks, and marjoram. A few of these seeds were bought for our very first garden, back in 1998, and while I'm unable to throw them out they usually end up just fertilizing the pots for another round of another type of seed. Their viability's not what it used to be. I try to plant a lot, partly to improve the chances of germination and partly to just use them up so I can start over.

No, I don't watch that show Hoarders. Why do you ask?

Helen also went to a birthday at Canvas and Cocktails. I'm not sure what kind of cocktails they served but she did come home with a canvas:
Still life with painter.
Detail. Note the black widow on your right (crawling up the stem).

On Monday Si got very grumpy and wanted M. to take Helen to gymnastics, while he and I got to stay home alone. So I can watch you play Wii? I asked without the faaaintest hint of bitterness. He nodded gloweringly. I ended up forgoing that pleasure, but did promise that the two us would do something just the two of us, very soon. I also am trying one last reading-aloud book with him (The Sword in the Stone). He tolerates this so long as it doesn't interfere with his own reading time. That works for me.