Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bugs Rule

My Gramma said that bugs won't hurt you. Turns out, of course, that she was right.

For the fourth summer in a row, bugs look to be the
Best Free Entertainment Money Can't Buy at our house. It's a wonderful thing. Bugs are totally free, they're plentiful, they don't require batteries, they teach lots of things beyond what they appear to be (building communities, the cycle of life, caring for living creatures), and they're disposable, since at night we release them back into nature to they can go find their families (at first, Joseph didn't want to let them go; when I asked him how he'd feel if a giant hand from the sky plucked him out of his back yard and put him in a glass jar and wouldn't let him come back to his family, he relented). They don't clutter up my living room, they're not made of caustic, China-imported materials, and my kids love 'em. It doesn't get any better than that.

We are all about bugs here. I was worried that Joseph might outgrow his fascination with bugs this year as he's become more interested (OK, obsessed) with basketball, but he's still an amazingly enthusiastic collector of bugs. He and Kate spend hours hunting for bugs, making homes for them, talking about them. When they see a bug they don't recognize, they run into the house and look it up in the giant book about bugs that Kate got for Christmas a couple years ago (this, I must admit, makes me a Super Proud Mom. My 5- and 6-year-old are doing independent research - in books, no less. I know plenty of high-school students who would balk at this very notion). We color and draw pictures of bugs. We go the library and get out books about bugs. We look up information on the Internet. Last year, they even went to Bug Camp - a weeklong daycamp at one of the city parks here. It was a huge hit. If we can spare the cash, they'll go again this year.

Their utter lack of squeamishness about them amazes me. I'm not all girly and yippie about bugs, but neither am I an entymologist. Kate will, without thought, pick up any insect she sees and plop it into her bug house. Once, the mom of some kids with whom they used to spend a bit of time told me that she actively encourages her kids to be afraid of bugs, because she hates them herself. I was annoyed because it seems ridiculous to me that you'd pass on your irrational fears to your kids just because; also, I didn't want my kids to start fearing insects because they saw her kids fearing them. Luckily, that didn't happen.

Right now it's the beginning of caterpillar season. They're spending a great deal of time every evening collecting wooly caterpillars. Joseph is waiting for Kate to return from her friend Livia's house right now because Kate is The Best Caterpillar Hunter, according to him. I told him he should tell her that, because it would mean a lot to her to hear praise like that from her brother. I'm skeptical that he'll admit it to her, but he surprises me very often, so we'll see. In a few weeks, we'll move to ladybug collecting. It's all seasonal. Kate's school would be proud.
(I just want to point out here that I got a lot of dog poop on my shoe getting this picture of one of the first caterpillars we saw this year. I was squatting down to get a close up and, after warning Joseph to step around the dog poop, I stepped right in it. I'd like to give a big Thank You shout out to our neighbors for regularly letting your bighuge dogs wander the street by themselves so that they can take bighuge squats in other people's yards. How awesome is it that my kids get to play in a yard that may or may not have residue left by other people's dogs? How extra-awesome is it that this residue may get tracked through my house when my kids come inside? Thank you, thank you, thank you).

Long live the bugs! Not in my house, obvsiously, and nothing with stingers or poison, please, but all others are welcome here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Envy Me, If You Must

I only have a few minutes to write before we pick up Mr. J. from school. But I just wanted to post that, here on a sunny Friday afternoon as I sit and type and watch from the deck as Kate takes pictures of rocks and inchworms and trees, that I have the two most beautiful kids in the world:

Let the envying commence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I am a good mom...really

So given that I have the week off, I decided to spend it volunteering as much as I can in the kids' schools. I feel badly that it's April and I haven't done much to support the schools; I've been to Joseph's awards ceremonies and concerts and volunteered to help out however I can - from home, of course, since I'm no longer home during the day. This week was/is going to be my opportunity to be a star volunteer.

I planned to have lunch with Kate today, before I did Reading Buddies for her class. Being the great mom that I am, I knew she had lunch at 12:20. She was very worried that I wouldn't be there on time, even though I can't recall an occasion when I've ever been late for something - EVER - in my life. I assured her I'd be on time. Kevin assured her that, given the kind of person I am, I'd be early, even. So confident was I in my ability to arrive on time, I didn't even pack her a lunch to take with her, since I knew I'd be meeting her and I'd arrive with lunch for both of us. No need for bagged lunches. No sweat.

I left here at 10:30, lunch in hand. Tuna salad, crackers, cantaloupe, granola bars, soymilk...I was set. Not only was I meeting my child for lunch, I packed a healthy lunch, to boot.

I met Kevin at around 11:10 to make the big Key Hand-Off (who knew that new keys to electronic-entry minivans cost $135 to replace after they fell into the garbage can that resides right below the key rack?), and I went to the Re-Store store across the street from where he works. I had plenty of time. I browsed, I picked up some stuff, and I stood in line...only to get out of line once I realized that it was 11:50, and I didn't want to risk being late for lunch. I left with 30 minutes to spare, proud of my ability to think ahead and be early. I got to Kate's school at 12:05.


Lunch is at 11:50. By the time I got there to comfort my hungry, sobbing child in the office, there was about 15 minutes left to eat. After I got through reassuring her that her parents had not abandoned her and trying to convince her that I was a good person, we had about 10 minutes left.

I performed my duty as a Reading Buddy, guiltily thinking about my screw-up. After I was done, I collected my Mother of the Year award and I signed Kate out of school at 2:15. We went back to the Re-Store store and had coffee and pecan pie and a coconut cupcake with a red jellybean. Nothing assuages mommy guilt like sugar, you know. It was just the girls.

I think she forgave me. I'm having a more difficult time forgiving myself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Peace of Yarn

Until about three weeks ago, there was a yarn shop near me with that name: The Peace of Yarn. Even the first time I heard it, I thought it was an absolutely perfect name for a yarn store. I didn't go there often because it was in Matthews, which is not a convenient drive, and my kids were younger and prone to running wildly through retail establishments, and also because it was a yarn store, meaning specialty yarn, meaning specialty price tags of sometimes $20+ for one ball of yarn (it is sometimes difficult to be both a penny-pincher and a lover of nice things...the penny pincher part of me usually wins these battles). But I love the name and the idea behind it: The Peace of Yarn. I'm also currently reading Friday Night Knitting Club, which has renewed my love affair with fibers and the joy they represent.

My mother used to crochet. I remember a chevron, zigzag-style throw that was on the back of our couch forever, stripes of white and rusty orange. It was very small - probably less than 3' by 2' - because I'm sure she was just using up yarn that someone had given to her from a project long-ago. Even now, though, I find it difficult to believe that my mother had the dexterity and the thought processes necessary to crochet. It's not incredibly difficult - die hard knitters, in fact, often scoff at how easy it is - but there is counting involved, and often it's difficult to gauge exactly where to insert the hook, especially at the beginning of a new project before the pattern has revealed itself. But somehow she did it. For Christmas last year, I sent her a box that contained several balls of yarn and a set of new hooks and a pattern book. I haven't asked her if she's made anything yet. I've seen how her hands shake sometimes and how she gets confused, and I don't want to make her feel bad if she hasn't made anything.

I crocheted a little bit about 10 years ago when I made my mother-in-law and my sister blankets; my sister sleeps with hers every night, and I don't know where my mother-in-law has the one I made for her. I started again about three years ago when I decided I wanted to make my daughter a hat and didn't want to pay $30 for one off of eBay. She must have 10 hats by now, plus some stuffed animals and even a blanket or two. I love the feel of the yarn in my fingers (organic cotton being the best in that regard; I love it for a lot of reasons, and it's definitely my yarn of choice). I love the idea that by just hooking and looping one strand of yarn in a certain way, I can create a real thing, something someone can use or wear.

What I love most of all, though, is that it is impossible - literally impossible - for anyone, including a master multi-tasker like myself, to do anything else while crocheting. This includes worrying and obsessing, which I've been doing quite a bit lately, so as my husband said, crocheting is a perfect thing for me to pick up again right now. There's so much counting and patterning and concentration involved that you can't think of anything else while you're doing it. For something that's relatively easy to master, it's also relatively consuming. The rhythm is hypnotic, the counting is relaxing, and even when I do it just for 10 minutes here and there, I always walk away feeling more relaxed then when I started. It's like I lose myself for a period of time, almost like sleeping, and when I'm done, things are just a little better.

I'm going to carry my yarn with me everywhere for a while. Today in carpool, tomorrow when I run never know when a few extra minutes will pop up, and since I'm used to having a book with me, anyway, this is not much different. I'm finding my inner peace with yarn right now. I expect that we'll have a linen closet full of washcloths and my daughter's hat collection will be growing rapidly over the next several weeks, but it's all good. Mama needs some relaxation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The silence is coming from inside the house

Today is the first day in about...6 1/2 years, I guess, that I have the house totally to myself, and I do not feel obligated to do anything, and no one is asking me to do anything, and I don't feel guilty. The kids are at school and my vacation has just started. Thus, the empty house.

I don't even have any worries hanging over me at the moment. I could even take a nap, I guess, were it not for the fact that I have to leave in a little over an hour to pick up the kiddos from school. It's been a quiet day, nothing special. I picked up some clearance Easter stuff at Target, made a couple of phone calls to clear up some pesky administrative things (i.e. money-related stuff), cleaned up Kate's room, put some stuff into storage, and completed a couple of pieces of business online. It's nice to not feel over-worked and stressed.

I am reading this book right now. I picked it up yesterday at Barnes & Noble during our annual "It's Easter and why isn't anything open and what are we going to do now?" journey in the car. Unlike some slef-help books I've picked up briefly and then tossed aside in disgust, this one has practical steps for finding peace. I've not yet put most of them into practice, of course, but it's a step. And I like looking by the side of my bed and having it next to me. It feels good. The copy I have is hardcover with a smooth dust jacket and it's a small book. It's nice to hold.

I'm going to enjoy some solitude right now, in fact. I can't promise that I've found the key to inner simplicity yet, but I have to believe that if I'm going to find it at all, the place to start is in a quiet house at 1:20 in the afternoon on a Monday when I have no obligations. I'm ready to discover it NOW, but I'm betting that impatience and inner simplicity don't go hand-in-hand, so I'll have to wait a bit, I'm sure. Maybe this really is one of those times when the joy is not in the destination, but in the journey. I don't know that I've ever actually had that be the case in my life, but as my gramma always said, there's a first time for everything. Let the journey begin.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gardening Without Guilt

I say "without guilt" because, for the first time I can remember, I have not committed to planting anything, anywhere, for any reason. Kate and Kevin have made the garden their own personal project; Kevin became fascinated with the Topsy-Turvy tomato planters when he saw them on TV, and Kate works in the garden a lot at school, so it worked out well. So far they've planted several different types of annuals, several different herbs, and even the biodegradable soap container (which contained baby's breath seeds, according to the package) that we got from Target yesterday. Kevin did a lot of research on the Internet and made a raised bed, since we mostly have red clay in the ground around our house. He broke it up into twelve 1'x1' sections.

It looks great, and they put a lot of time into it. My contribution thus far has been to make the marker in the upper right-hand corner for the baby's breath:

I have to admit, I feel really good about letting go of the idea of gardening. Every year before this, I would spend money on seeds and soil and plants, and every year my enthusiasm for it would wane and I would end up letting it all wither and die (all the while feelings guilty, of course). But now I can partake of the bounty of the garden without worrying about letting anyone down. It is not my garden. I just take the pictures of it.

I am totally fine with not having any responsibilities with the garden. A recovering control freak has no business working in a garden, anyway; so few things can be controlled with nature that it's sure to end badly.

This is a good day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A New Day, A New Blog, A New Woobie

In keeping with my time-honored tradition of putting things off, thinking about them, and re-tooling them until a great deal of time has passed before things come to fruition, this is my first post in my new blog. I've spent much time wondering what my first post will address: career crisis? family? I think I've realized that the more time I spend thinking about writing, the less likely I am to actually write, which has long been one of my troubles. My first post, after all, does not have to be momentous and incredibly important; as I often tell my students, "Just write. It doesn't matter what you say. Just write." And so here I am.

Yesterday at Ikea, Kate picked up a navy blue fleece blanket and immediately made it her own. She curled up in the shopping cart and used it as a pillow. Much to my surprise, she began calling it her "new woobie." This means, I'm thinking, that she's considering replacing her old, tired, tattered, stinky (despite her father's constant washing of it...which is what I'm thinking has contributed to the "tattered" adjective) woobie that she's had since shortly after her birth.

Her woobie is one of the last remnants of her babyhood and, like mothers everywhere, I am sad to let go of that last thread. She is still very much a baby - she's small and innocent and loves to cuddle - but she's 5. Or, as she began informing me a couple weeks ago, she's 5 1/2. She still loves that woobie, so I know it's not going anywhere soon, but the fact that she's considering retiring it makes me a little sad. But proud.

And if she can give up that woobie, then I can give up habits that have served me poorly (unlike the woobie, which has done nothing but provide warmth and comfort when needed).

Today is a new day. And this is my first post. Nothing big and fancy. But it's a start.