Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ralph II

We had a wasp problem a couple of weeks ago, & you know what they say about lemonade...We decided to adopt a pet wasp...

We found the little guy crawling on the carpet, & by some divine stroke of personality-changing miracle-potion-ness, I caught him instead of killing him.

Even killing wasps is so far outside my comfort zone, I think my genes must have done that splicey thing where you get super powers. Obviously, since I then went completely round the bend.

We watched as "Ralph" sat beside us on the carpet, trying to sting his jar—isn't that cute, we sighed. My oldest watched the new friend like a fish in a tank.

A professional bug service came the day we adopted Ralph, to take care of our wasp problem. I didn't have time to move Ralph, so I was faced with the awkward problem of trying to explain our new pet.

"I caught one," I said..."um...we're homeschoolers, see...and...I don't really like bugs, at all..."

"No problem," he says, "lots of folks do that, to show us what kind they've got."

Well lots of folks are CRAZY.

I took the kids & ran away. (But had to come back for my glasses. And then again for cash. But then we RAN.)

At last, I came home to a note that said: "I sprayed the one in the jar. Be sure to wash the jar."

RIP, Ralph. I mean, metaphorically speaking, because let's face it: we all know where wasps are going. No peace there.

On a brighter note, we'd been home to the smell of bug spray for less than 5 min, & I'd already had the adrenaline-boosting opportunity to kill ANOTHER wasp. That was #4 for me that day. Too bad the bug guy didn't leave us a tally, so we could combine scores.

Eventually, the bug guy had to come back. My husband tried a fire in the fireplace (aka Wasp Hallow). We were lucky. We did not have angry balls of wasp fire chasing us & our dear children through the house. They were not on fire. And they were a little dazed from the smoke. Otherwise, yes, there were wasps to protect the homeland.

It was my 9yo who finally found the source of the wasps in the house (as opposed to the cute colony swarming outside the house, despite the genocidal attempts of the bug guy to wipe out the innocent population).

It's been a good two weeks now, & only yesterday did we begin to be blessed with the supernatural presence of those adrenaline-boosting beings. For some crazy reason, they were crawling across the floor en masse in a creepy zombie formation.

*sigh* I guess I missed Ralph. I grabbed a jar. (If you've ever met me, you think this whole thing is a fairy tale—goblin tale, rather—& you don't believe me anyway. It's true, though, so you might as well let the strangers in blogosphere be in awe of my crazy courage. I just hide it in real life. Don't test me on this, though.)

We were out of wasp spray, so I was armed with shower spray in one hand and a mason jar in the other. I guess it was because the jar was in my right hand, which is dominant. Maybe it was really the longing for Ralph. Something overcame my natural instincts (to run) again, & the jar went over the angry yellow insect who for some reason wouldn't fly.  My heart warmed. Ralph!

And so we named him Ralph II. And so began the First Wasp Dynasty.

Ralph II isn't as smart as Ralph I. He, too, tries to sting his jar, & now that he's in it, he does fly, but when my 7yo accidentally knocked it over, the figure head refused to leave his throne, & all I had to do was tip it back on the ground.

Ralph II also has some temperance problems. My husband offered him a drink, & the poor guy died of alcohol poisoning. It's ok, though. We're a preserving kingdom, so he'll get his place on a poster, & we might even give him a trip through the Magnifying Styx River.
Ah, Ralph. And Ralph. We have loved thee...well...not all that well, actually. Perhaps we will make up for it in sonnet, & at least your name shall live on. And all your progeny shall share the blessed name.

The End.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ralph I

Seventh grade was torture. We dissected worms. And by "we," I mean the guys in my group because I quickly assured them that I had the best handwriting & should therefore be the note-taker. Anything to not slice into a gooey dead worm.

Then there was the shark dissection. We were supposed to bring money and order either small, medium, or large-with-a-baby sharks. I found the loophole in that one, though, & simply did not order a shark. Boy was my teacher mad the day that the room was filled with the scent of formaldehyde and my precocious answer to her inquiry.

Where's your shark, Aubrey?

Like I'd brought one from home or hidden it in my backpack.

The bug project was not so easily side-stepped, though. We had to collect fifty bugs. 50 Oh, excuse me, not bugs, but insects. So spiders don't count. I lived in an apartment at the time, and despite their buggy reputation, we had little other than cockroaches and spiders. Sure, roaches count, but only once, and only if you had the guts to catch them in the first place.

Besides hunting down fifty different species of insect, we also had to kill them in such a way as to preserve their color & shape. (No squishing, vacuuming, or bug-spraying.) Then we were supposed to pin them to a board & label them. Labeling's fine with me, but piercing the hard shell of an icky dead bug was not. I figured I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.

I'd collected 5 bugs when my ratty box of insects disappeared. We were all keeping them on the back table of our science class, and until now, I'd always assumed that a custodian had thrown mine out. Considering everyone else's bugs were still there, though...I bet somebody nabbed mine & added them to their own collection!

Either way, those five bugs represented everything I'd done—all the sweat, tears, and general ICK. The project was almost due. I did the only thing I could: I went to my teacher. She was relentless. I'd have to start over. I should have taken better care of my bugs.

I negotiated: what if I did a more in-depth project, detailed drawings of each bug? What if I did 100 like this? What if I wrote reports? Anything. Just don't make me go after more bugs.

She would not negotiate. I worried for a little while, and then I realized: I'm not doing this. Period. It's yucky.  I've tried to be reasonable.

So I failed that 6 weeks of science. It was the first time I'd ever failed anything.

My mom was furious. When she heard what had happened, she decided the best consequence would be to make me collect & label bugs for her. She was always a homeschooler at heart. I cried over the torture of it for about a week. By then, though, she'd had to take me out looking for bugs. She liked bugs about as much as I did, so when she stopped mentioning it, so did I.

Until last week, I'd caught 5 bugs in my whole life, all of them for 7th grade science. I'm 30-something now, and my kids have mysteriously fallen in love with the hobby of catching grasshoppers in the backyard. For a recent science project, they were bringing in leaves for us to identify, press, and label, but one had a bug on it.

It was a pretty cool bug. A yellow-striped beetle-looking thing. I happen to have mason jars sitting around, one of the few things that have been unpacked since we moved last month. I looked up how to kill bugs for collecting, but it turns out, you don't need the freaky cotton ball soaked in stinky stuff. (I can't remember what we used in 7th grade.) You just throw the mason jar in the freezer for a couple of days, & voila! Dead bug.

So yesterday when my 3yo began crying about a bug in the was pretty easy to scoop him into a mason jar. So he's in my freezer now, too. Just an average ugly black beetle. Maybe a click beetle.

Today we caught a moth. It was trying to get out the window & scaring the kids, so it really needed to be dealt with somehow. So what if he's in the freezer?

It's funny how life comes back on you like this. I guess I could say homeschooling is its own punishment? Or curiosity breeds courage? But I haven't had to go after one cockroack, and nobody's stealing my collection. Plus, it's a group project. If I get too wigged out, I've got a 9yo boy. He thinks icky bugs are pretty awesome. He's hoping for a dissection. ICK!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning By Hand

I managed a garden this summer, for the first time in my life. Well…I should clarify…I helped the kids plant some seeds indoors and then transplant them outside. Since then, I have allowed (and sometimes reminded) them to go and water the plants. They have weeded, nursed, and made friends with the zucchini, squash, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and other living things out in the triple digit Texas heat.

But I’ll take credit.

I’ve also started cooking more from scratch in the past year and a half. My husband has a mild wheat allergy and a more serious milk allergy, and we finally pulled all of those things from his diet, which for me, meant learning to cook all over again. Or…for the first time, maybe.
There are things in life that we learn from books, like math and reading and history. There are things, though, that can only be really learned from other people. Recipes are printed out of order, with ingredients lined up at the top, as if they were to be plopped right in the bowl, only to be followed by instructions that say, “Wait.” Oops.
I have always found the things that are learned from people too difficult, too disorganized, too overwhelming to learn. Books about gardening are worse than cookbooks. I’ve got my seeds and some dirt, and they start with a more complex scientific experiment than anything in Advanced High School Chemistry: something about the pH balance of dirt.
I give up at step one. Or I skip it and give up at step two: Advanced Geography. I’m planting in a region, and I have to find out which one. Which season, which region, what kind of dirt, and after all that, the seeds I’ve got are wrong or outdated or need to be organic, heirloom, sentimental, royal, something-or-other. My kids look up with sad, dirt-streaked faces when I say, “Oops. Our dirt molded.”
“Does that matter, Mama?” I have no idea.
So what changed this year? I think it was the impetus of feeding my allergic husband something other than salad. I decided to start small, with just one strange kind of flour, one recipe. I bought him a loaf of bread, and I made a batch of cookies. I checked GFCF cookbooks out of the library, and I bought one more kind of flour, made one more batch of something non-wheat.
I realized I couldn’t use cream of anything in any recipe, since those cans are filled with smooth mixtures of wheat flour and milk. Bit by bit, I built up what I knew, but I wasn’t reading a book with a twelve step program, like my linear brain prefers. It was more of a spiral, a process of trial and error, as my hands learned to cook. Now I can look in the refrigerator, see a cauliflower that needs to be used, and just leave it to my hands. My head gets in the way.
Hands chop, melt butter, add rice, mix it all with chicken, and surprise! I’ve got a cauliflower-rice casserole, despite the hours of fretting my brain did, to no avail.
Gardening has been the same way. I skipped the instructions, a method that works well for me, since hands and brain seem to lack communication. We just planted. Our peas died, and our squash ruled one side of the garden, to the dwarfing of the peppers. The kids wanted to plant “real” cantaloupe seeds, which I knew would never work. Instead of stopping them, though, or trying to find the answers at the hardware store or in a book, we made it a science experiment, and we planted the seeds from the melon we ate at one end of the garden, and the seeds from the packet we’d bought at the other end.
Both grew, but the ones from the melon we ate were bigger and heartier. So we planted lemon seeds from a lemon, without bothering to read books about seed preparation. We’ve got tiny lemon plants in the window sill.
As we encounter plants that won’t grow, bugs, and brown spots, we look for answers, ask questions, read books. When our cantaloupe cannibalized our tomatoes and then peeked out from tomato cages like overgrown tomatoes–as if we can’t tell the difference–we laughed. When my three-year-old later mistook a jalapeno for a tomato and grinned as she swiped it but later cried, “Whew! I almost nearly died!” we laughed again.
As we weave our own stories about plants we are getting to know on a first-name basis, we find more of the information making sense, and so we know a little more. Our hands are learning to cook and grow, so that next year, instead of brains too full to know where to begin, our hands bear memory that will grow squash, if nothing else.
With confidence, now, we’re following the spiral, learning how much information we can contain before we let our hands try, like little pots that can only hold so much water. Then we plant and cook, and ask again. The information seeps in, past too-linear brains, to hands that have learned the feel of dirt, the rhythm of sauce, a kind of knowledge our brains still cannot explain, but which is passed relationally, from one friend to another, grandfather to grandson, neighbor to neighbor.
In the freedom to try and fail, it has been not only squash and sweet potatoes that have blossomed, but curiosity and courage as well.