Surf and Turf

Not yet 8 a.m.  Vacation Man heads to the beach to set up camp for the day.  He’s not the first.  He has been spurred to action by another Vacation Dad hauling beach gear down the street.  Yesterday, he set out after eight and barely found a good spot. Today, while he claims his turf, the procession of Vacation Dads begins, probably spurred on by seeing him. Half a dozen WonderWheelers lumber down the street.  Not on the sidewalk, mind you, but down the middle of the street.  It is that early. They rumble and creak, piled with chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards.  

Toys and towels will come later, with the women and children.  But we are hours away from that. Lifeguards won’t report for duty for another two hours.  Sleepy-eyed children are still slurping cereal while watching cartoons. Comatose moms nurse their coffee.  Early risers are just now coming home from their runs, coffee and even newspapers in hand.

But Vacation Dads are out providing for their families.  

A good beach position is important.  You want to be juuuuuuust beyond the high tide line, at the crest of the rise of soft, fluffy sand.  Not only does this put you in front position, but this is where the breezes are best.  For families with young children, this position enables parents to supervise children from their beach chairs.  If they are too far back, some parents will still try to supervise their children from their chairs, but their cries of supervision can only be heard by the annoyed adults sitting around them.

Yesterday, it went something like this.  Little Dillon (never saw the boy in my life but I know his name now like I know my own) wanted his cousin/aunt/young female adult person who was used to doing his bidding to come out of the water and tend to him.  He is maybe four years old.

“Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!”  He shouted this over and over and over and over again.  Louder and louder and louder.  But still, his little voice did not reach Emma, who was rolicking in the waves with other young ladies her age.  We (and the couple next to us) could hear him because he was sitting in front of us. Mom was behind us, in her chair.

“Dillon!  She can’t hear you!”  Yeah, well, Dillon couldn’t hear Mom either.  “Dillon! Dillon! Dillon! She can’t hear you!”  This went on like a recording on repeat.

Oh. My. Gosh.  It was all I could do to stay in my seat.  I wanted to tell the mom to get off her butt and talk to the boy quietly.  Or tell Dillon to quietly wait for Emma to come out of the water.  Or even go into the water myself and tell Emma that Dillon needed her. 

No, one does not correct other families at the beach, anymore than one gives unsolicited advice to people being attacked by seagulls while eating.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to laugh when a teenage girl’s cry of “Gack!” is followed by “And this is why I hate the beach!”

Beach rules: Don’t correct other families.  Don’t give unsolicited advice.  Stake out your spot early.

I don’t know that other beaches adhere to the early stake-out rule.  It might be unique to the Cape May neighborhood we frequent, where families rent by the week or month and have routines.  It reminds me of Baltimore rowhouse neighborhoods during snowstorms.  There is no law that says you can stake out your parking spot with lawn chairs just because you shoveled it out.  But woe to the obnoxious neighbor who parks in a spot that someone else shoveled.  

Like parking spots after snowstorms, people at our Cape May beach generally accept that the early bird gets the prime location.  Even if the early bird won’t sit in it for hours.  It’s part of the beach culture here.  And astute Vacation Dads pick up on this quickly.  Is it a desire to keep the Woman happy?  Or is it a testosterone-driven competition?  Whichever, with every successive day, the WonderWheeler parade gets an earlier start.

Based on the number of prime spots already taken by 7:45, today’s parade must have started at dawn. 

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Trees Must Die

Another tree made it onto my hit list this week.  It must come down.  It has attacked and offended me. 

The tree is perfectly healthy.  For years it has grown near the corner of our house, sneakily growing taller and reaching smidge by smidge over the driveway toward my car. And then, just as my car approaches its first birthday, the tree begins splotching sap. First, a curious clear sticky blob appears on the driver’s side door handle.  Then another streaks down the window.  Blip and blop, sticky patches bloom everywhere.  Where is the source of this oozy mess?  I look up and see just one possible source…the red maple that now arches all the way across the parking pad.  Last summer, when I bought the car, the tree did not reach this far.  It did not drip sap on the car last summer.  Last summer, it did not offend.

This summer, the tree has crossed the line.  Encroaching on the house is bad enough–it encourages the squirrels to find new access points to the attic.  But messing with my car?  See, Tree, now you have made an Enemy.

Mr. Handyman Husband already has tree-whacking on his To-Do List. He even has Son-in-Law salivating at the prospect of felling some trees.  However, there is a waiting list of trees that must come down.  

First in line are the two dead oaks out front that suffered a direct lightning hit a few years back.  These are the trees causing Son-in-Law to salivate, for standing dead trees mean instant firewood. Standing dead trees also pose the greatest risk of becoming falling dead trees, often in the middle of winter when a tree crashing through the roof is most inconvenient.

Next in line is the perfectly healthy hickory tree on the other side of the driveway.  This tree does not drip. It drops hickory nut bombs.  Then they roll across the driveway like grenades, ready to pop under the weight of car tires.  The car parked beneath the hickory tree belongs to IBM, so Handyman Husband does not care so much if the hickory nuts leave dents all over it.  His lovely Ford F-250, however, is an altogether different story.  The truck can get muddy, but dents?  No tree will ping nut bombs at the truck. So, the hickory tree is next after the dead oaks.

There are easily five or six more trees on The List, but the sap-attack tree takes precedence and immediately earns placement as Tree #4.

“How many trees can you take down at one time?” I ask Handyman Husband.

“We could take several trees down, but then we would have to deal with what is on the ground,” he replies.  

He knows what I want.  I want all the trees to come down and he can deal with the mess in stages for the rest of his life. I know it is impractical and unsafe and probably beyond human strength. But he’s been doing things for years that have been impractical, unsafe, and beyond human strength.  His eye roll lets me know to back off.  He can only do what he can do.

In the meantime, I have to deal with tree sap stubborn enough to withstand a high-pressure car wash.  A little bit of research provides a quick and easy solution: hand sanitizer! I squirt a bit onto my finger, rub it into the sap to break it up, then wipe with a clean towel.  Repeat forty thousand times to hit every single sap drip and voila! Sap is gone. Well, maybe there were twenty drips, not counting the ones on the roof that I can’t see and can’t reach anyway.  It didn’t take long at all to remove a week’s worth of tree droppings.

The tree still must die.  And I still must wait.  But armed with hand sanitizer, I at least do not have to drive around town with tree boogies stuck to my car.

A Sauna-dweller travels to Colorado

I should have packed eye drops, but I forgot that Colorado air is dry enough to suck out all your eyeball juice.  In Colorado, no one says, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” like they do in Baltimore.  In Colorado, when it is hot it is dry hot. Sweat doesn’t stick to skin like a wet blanket.  No, the air in Colorado is like a hot towel fresh from the dryer. Perspiration wicks right into that hotness, tricking one into thinking it isn’t happening at all.  At dinner, I chug two tall glasses of water and realize that I am just as dehydrated in the Dry Land as I am in Sauna Land.  

By Day Two, my sinuses are disgustingly crusty, reminding me of a visit to Spain where tour group members from Las Vegas complained about the humidity while Baltimoreans were discretely dealing with dried up bloodied boogers.  Ah, but on a brighter side, the tiny persistent patch of maybe-poison ivy is drying up.  Too small for a prednisone cure but too stubborn to succumb to over-the-counter cortisone, it seems to have met its match with 20% humidity.

Day Two is also when my body notices that there is hardly any oxygen at 5430 feet. I was born at sea level (ok, maybe fifty feet above, if you allow for whatever floor of the hospital I was on). The altitude of my hometown is 6.9 feet above sea level.  I currently live a whopping 689 feet above sea level.  I forego hiking today. Instead, I ponder the mysteries of the universe at the planetarium.

By Day Three, I can enjoy the low humidity and oxygen-deprived hike trails all at the same time. I think I am adjusting.  I overhear a clerk at McGucken’s Hardware telling a co-worker that she had to move “back down” because her oxygen levels were too low.  “Down” in Baltimore refers to “Downy Ocean, Hon” where we rinse our sticky sweaty skin in salt water. In Boulder, it means to come down off the mountains.  Yeah, the struggle is real.  

I think my eyeballs are drying out. I miss my eyedrops, the ones I use to treat excessive screen time.  They are in my other purse, the bigger one, the shoulder breaking one, the one I downsized because I do not need to constantly carry with me stuff for every possible contingency.  But dry eyes is a contingency I forgot to plan for.  

I did plan for my usual skin care. Still, the little tubes of moisturizer in the hotel that I usually stash as souvenirs in my suitcase to keep in my desk at work?  Gone. Every day, my skin soaks up the whole dang tube.

By the time I get semi-used to Rocky Mountain air, it is time to come home.  Reentry to Sauna Land is delayed by a band of thunderstorms in Baltimore that prevent our departure from Denver International Airport by an extra two eyeball-sucking hours. We emerge from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport into a slap-in-the-face literal 100% humidity.  As we drive home, steam rises from the highway.  Closer to rural home, puffs of low lying clouds hover barely overhead, and as we drive through the cornfields on our road, we see that the cloud puffs emerge directly from the field.  Rainfall is evaporating but there is no room in the air for it.  

The air, full of oxygen and saturated with water, is heavy to breathe.  I understand now how my (few and far between) houseplants feel when I finally relieve them of my neglect (all the more desperate since they often sit right by a sink).  I am like those dehydrated toy sponges in a capsule that come to life in a bowl of water.  Hydrating and blooming, I will be bloated again by morning.  

I think of the family from Austin, Texas, that sat next to me on the plane, who had vacationed at Yellowstone and were now visiting friends in Baltimore.  They must think they are drowning.

Ah, but they won’t need eyedrops.

Three Things I Would Bottle

Three things I wish I could bottle for later: summer sunshine, the restorative powers of vacation sleep, and the energy of a child. Probably in that order.  I crave sunlight. I love sleep.  And with  every passing year, it takes more energy than I naturally have to carry me through the day.

I don’t want the constant energy of a child. I’m not really a high energy person.  I just want to bottle their non-caffeinated all natural enthusiasm so I can partake of  little sips when this dilapated body needs some.  An infusion of kid energy combined with the wisdom of years of experience would possibly enable me to complete everything that my caffeine-hyped morning self put on my to-do list.  

Yesterday, three grandkids paid a brief visit while desperate momma bought groceries.  In anticipation of their visit, I stopped my activities early to put my feet up with an iced Kahlua coffee and a couple of non-pareils.  (French note: non-pareil means “no equal” and I’m telling you there is no equal to one or two quality dark-chocolate non-pareils with a tall iced coffee laced with a splash of Kahlua.) Life got even better when hubby walked in early from work.  Back-up. 

See, the eleven-year-old has two speeds: hypnotic, technology-induced coma and hyper-adrenaline laced activity, which usually involves adult supervision and/or tickets to a theme park, but can be temporarily assuaged with a fidget spinner.  Prior to PopPop’s arrival his choice of activity was going to be a new book I bought.  He actually flipped through it and grunted tentative approval. Actual reading will likely require a sleep-over which he not so subtly hinted at.  But PopPop introduced a new level of engagement: driving lessons on the zero-turn mower. Do you want to see a fidget spinning kid toss aside the fidget spinner? Put him on a piece of heavy machinery and let him drive. He was in seventh heaven.  The trick will be to channel his enthusiasm into mowing all the grass.  I’m pretty sure money will be involved.  The kid is a mercenary when it comes to money.

Meanwhile, his three (and a half!) year old sister watched from the screen porch, dying to drive the kiddie tractor.  There was no way I was letting her out in the yard to get run over by her brother, so she had to content herself with non-stop storytelling to her captive audience (me) while  17 month old  brother busied himself removing everything from the kitchen cabinets.  His favorites: the salad spinner and crab mallets.  Lucky for me he didn’t use the crab mallets on the salad spinner.  Big brother eventually heeded sister’s sporadic cries to “Stop! Please stop! Stop now!”  Her interest in driving the battery-powered kiddie tractor lasted about three nanoseconds.

Since we were now all outside and little brother was investigating the human-powered toddler tractor, I took the talkative one over to the Big Hill so she could practice rolling down it.  Once upon a long time, her mother and aunts sledded down this hill (her mom sledding right into a tree that is no longer there). Now on a glorious sunny afternoon, the hill is cushy with thick zoysia grass.  I get her lined up perpendicular to the hill (she expected to “roll” with her feet facing downward as for sledding), I tuck her arms in, and cry, “Go!”  Silly me expected her to roll like a log down the hill.  That’s how one rolls, right?  In a sort of straight line, maybe veering off to the left or right?  

No.  This girl meanders down the hill like a child going from Point A to Point B in “Family Circus.”  It’s sort of a cross between a roll and a crab walk, limbs flapping and body flopping all over the hill in any direction but down.  I’m not going to tell her it’s wrong because she is delighted.  And if I tell her how to do it “better” I will have to demonstrate.  I am half tempted because the day is just that nice, but the fact that my knee is in a compression bandage from getting awkwardly into a car keeps my enthusiasm in check.

But oh, to have the energy of a kid!  I would sail through a teaching day with a three (and a half!) year old’s  energy and delight! I could tackle the biggest projects if I had the enthusiasm of an eleven year old on a zero-turn.  And my kitchen cabinets would look great if I tackled them with the reckless abandon of a toddler.  Add a splash of summer sun and some stored up slumber, I could take on winter.

Well, that’s not going to happen.  The best I can do is store up memories. Consider it done.  

Summer Time

With the school year over, my To-Do List looks a little different:

1. Wake up to daylight.

2. Have a second cup of coffee.  Finish the coffee while it is still hot.  

3. Pee whenever I want to.

4. Hydrate.

5. Repeat item 3.

6. Be outside.

7. Eat when I am actually hungry.

8. Think about things.

9.Drink more coffee later with ice cubes because it is a choice, not because it is what sits before me from morning.

I am pleased to report that on Day 3, I am wildly successful in completing this To-Do List.  Not that it has been easy. Take item 4, for example.  Whoever decided that everyone should drink 64 ounces of water a day must also have invented water-boarding as a form of torture.  I do love my chilled water (infused with natural flavors), but by ounce 48 I’m drowning.  However, I have flushed 2 lbs out of my body, so I will Keep Hydrating and Carry On.

The real struggle is with my addiction to To-Do Lists. I have other Lists for this summer.

  • All the things I need to do to be better prepared for the next school year. (As though,after 33 years in the classroom,I am unprepared.  Still…)
  • All the things I need to do around the house because it fell into near total chaos during the school year.  Only the bi-weekly sprint to tidy before the cleaning ladies arrived saved us from total disaster.
  • All the things I need to do to be the perfectly healthy individual that everyone else I know is.  Or at least so I can visit the doctor for a checkup and not cringe.
  • All the people I am going to invite over because I don’t have the overstimulation of the work week as an excuse and because introverts love to spend their vacation hosting events.  (FYI, for an introvert, hosting more than 2 people is an event.  So if I invite just two of you over,  consider than an act of love.  More than two, I am sacrificing myself on your behalf.)
  • All the summery fun things I need to do to feel like I had a vacation.

So, yeah, the list of Lists is fraught with opportunities for failure.  There is no way to do this.  And each of these Lists comes with Sub-Lists.  And yet I need the Lists or I will do nothing.  It’s like my WeekSheet of lesson plans.  I may not get everything done by Friday,  but I come a whole lot closer if I work to the plan.

A missionary to Cameroon shared at church last Sunday his struggle with being back in the States for a year.  The Africans have a saying, “Westerners have clocks; Africans have time.” It is hard to shift from one timeframe to another.  That really resonated with my launch into summer.  I have a “need” To Do while simultaneously desiring a break from the tyranny of doing.  I long to discern the difference between maximizing my minutes and fully living in time. I long for a compromise between the list the top of this page and the List of Lists lurking beneath it.

For the moment, my compromise is looking like this:

  • Look at each day as a day of possibilities. What can I do as opposed to what ought I to do? (Being the first-born that I inescapably am, my “can-I’s” will surely contain enought “oughts” to keep me from sliding into total slothful irresponsibility.)
  • Follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit and be open to divine appointments.

And for the immediate moment, I am behind on my water intake and I have to go to the bathroom.

THE END

Nougat Non-Non

I should have bought the salted caramels.  Then I would have some to share because they would not have ended up in the trash can at Paris Charles DeGaulle airport security.

We were vacationing in Port en Bessin, Normandy. After enjoying coffee and pastries in the brisk morning sun at Café du Port, we explored the weekly open-air market.

Oh la la! Cute little quail eggs! And next to them, live quail in a cage.

“Do they have names?” we asked.

“We have 600 birds, madame.  Non, we do not name them.”

Ok, moving on to the dairy vendor.  French cheeses galore.  And fresh yogurt.  In cute little glass jars! We bought…as much for the jars as for the yogurt.  (And oh, such yogurt!) On to tastings of charcuterie, where hubby John had to show the vendor photos of his charcuterie. We meandered past chickens roasting on spits and wide pans of simmering paella towards a tasting of Normandy’s famous distilled apple apératifs– calvados, pommeau and eau de vie.

CIMG9176

The calvados (apple brandy), pommeau (calvados/cidre blend), and cute little yogurt jars made it home safely!

Directly across from the calvados tasting was the nougat vendor.  He, too, was giving samples– from wheels of nougat the diameter of car tires. It was impressive.  It was really tasty. It paired surprisingly well with the calvados we had just been tasting at 10 a.m. Yeah, I’m thinking my reserves were down a wee bit.

I decided to buy some.

“How much do you want?” he asked.

I had no idea.  He was selling in metric measurement.  I’m American.  I can handle the French language, but numbers are completely beyond me.  I fumble through rough pathetic calculations.  A kilo is 2.2 pounds.  Une livre is half a kilo.  How much nougat is in a kilo?  Chocolate I can guestimate.  Salt water taffy I have a handle on.  But nougat?

I ask for une livre. He whacks off a big honkin’ piece. But I want it in two flavors. He whacks off another big honkin’ piece.  He is only half listening because this whole time he is luring in customers with free samples.  He wraps the two bricks of nougat (which now I really don’t want) but he’s busy and he’s wielding a huge knife with the skill of a guillotine.

“Ca fait 37 euros, madame.”

Thirty seven euros?  For nougat?

He did say it keeps for a whole year in the pantry. “Not in the refrigerator, madame. That will ruin it.” Ok, ok, we will enjoy it this week and take the rest home to give to family.

The week goes by with barely a nibble of nougat.  I keep forgetting it is there.

Fast forward to the airport and the now-expected body pat-down, this time by a woman who also has had both hips replaced.  She knew exactly where my body was going to ding. We laugh. One can bond with people in the most unexpected circumstances.

My carry-on bag rolls through the scanner and the guard pulls it off.

He needs to check the bag.  I can’t imagine what could be a problem in my carry-on bag.  It’s not like that time I forgot I bought a letter opener in Florence for my son-in-law.

“Madame, will you please take the knife out of your bag?”

“Knife? What knife?”

Security guard turns the x-ray screen around to reveal the shadow of a very lethal looking Renaissance dagger.

“Oh, that knife!”

Yeah, that time all Mario got was a story.  This time the guard pulls everything out of my bag…books and scarves, cahiers for my French 4 class, souvenir magnets for the fridge.  Finally, at the bottom of the bag, he finds two bricks of nougat.

They look like a kilo of plastic explosives.

He unwraps the nougat.  He sees that it is nougat, although an unusually large amount of nougat.  He smiles at me and says, “Madame, you can bring hard nougat in your carry-on.  But next time, pack the soft nougat in your checked luggage.  I’ll ask if you can keep it.”

Off he goes to ask a higher authority.  Back he comes, shaking his head.

“But you can stand here and eat it, if you want.”

So now I am tearing wads of nougat for our group of six.  I am offering nougat to total strangers, who look at me like I am a crazy person.

The bulk of the nougat ends up in the trash.  We continue toward our gate with nougat-sticky fingers.

We pass a kiosk for Ladurée, the famous Paris patisserie.  As a consolation prize, I decide to buy a box of their renowned macarons.  And there at the register, what do I see?  A beautifully wrapped single serving bar of…nougat.

Yup. I bought it. But I am not sharing. It cost me dearly.

CIMG9175

My consolation prize for the contraband nougat.

Sleeping Beauty Gets Power Tools

Thanks to the miracle of 20 volt rechargeable lithium batteries, I now have my own weed whacker and hedge trimmer. It’s high time.  After 17 years in this house, the woods are reclaiming the property.   We’re close to the Sleeping Beauty scenario in which I (the Beauty) fall under a magic spell (my bed) and sleep for a hundred years (totally possible) waiting for the handsome prince (aka Maywood Man)  to hack through the enchanted forest to save me with True Love’s Kiss.

Yeah, well, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.  Thirty-five years of marriage has taught me that Maywood Man is going to spend the next 100 years fixing some tractor or other and never get around to hacking down the enchanted forest. If you don’t believe me, check out John Harp’s Ferguson tractor video, going positively viral on YouTube. (Or it will once my viral readership clicks on it! )

Meanwhile, next door, my 90-year-old mother-in-law can be heard weed whacking nearly every day.  If she can weed whack, I can weed whack. I just need the right tool.  Not one of those heart attacks on a stick…you know, the gas-powered model with a pull cord that was clearly invented by a guy trying to prove his manhood. No.  And not an electric one.  The yard is too big.  (That doesn’t stop Nana, though.  My father-in-law strings a bazillion extension cords together and she whacks all the way across the yard, somehow without whacking the cord into pieces.)

With a battery-powered weed whacker I can go all the way to the field and whack around the blueberry bushes.  It’s great! But giving me a power tool is a like giving a five-year old scissors….wow, the things to be cut! There is so much to cut that I soon realize I need power hedge trimmers.  A weed whacker can only do so much. Ah, now, with my own little girlie chain saw wanna-be, I’m like my mom with hair clippers.  Bzzz, buzz.  I begin with big slicing hacks.  Once I can see the trees, I can get a little more subtle.  Bzzz,  a little here.  Bzzz, a little there.

I think of our neighbor when we were growing up, Mr. Lapres.  Mr. Lapres was a real World War II  hero.  One of the famed Rangers of Point du Hoc, he lost a leg at D-Day.  But when I was a kid, he was a hero to my brothers by setting a stool in his driveway and buzz-cutting all the boys’ hair. He had 3 sons, I had 4 brothers, my cousins across the street had 3 boys. It was a veritable barbershop in his driveway.  He saved my brothers from my mom and the hair clippers.  Bald was not a fashion statement back then.  And bald spots will never be a fashion statement, I hope. Yeah, Mr. Lapres was a hero.

I am no Mr. Lapres.  I hack and whack and buzz until Mother Nature and  my body scream, “Stop already!”  I come inside for water.  My hands can barely hold the glass.  My arms rebel at bringing it to my mouth.  In this condition, I may starve to death.  A tractor drones in the distance.  I think I might just close my eyes for a bit.  And maybe my handsome prince will pick up all the debris I left in the yard.

http://daretodream.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341c007f53ef01348491c7e2970c-pileeping beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Zzzzzzzzzz.

 

Emily and The Tree

Little Emily loves the Japanese maple in the Maywood yard.  It’s over fifty years old, planted by Emily’s great-great grandmother Retta. And it is the perfect tree for little ones to learn to climb on.

The main trunk divides into two very low to the  ground, so little legs can easily climb into it.  The next branch is a short leg swing above that, providing a perfect spot for a three year old to sit and ponder.  Of course, the natural thing to ponder is how to get up higher in the tree.

“Help me up,” she says.  “I want to go up there,” she says, pointing to a branch that is over my head and absolutely impossible for me to reach.  I can’t put her there.  The only way to get there is for her to climb there herself.

“But I want to go up there,” she says.

“You have to do it all by yourself.  You have to think about it and figure out how to do it.”

If you think that three year old Emily thought about it and climbed up to the high branch, you will be wrong.  I turned around to watch out for her little brother and–that quick–she fell out of the tree.

Boom. Right onto her elbow on a stick.  Instant adult panic that she could have broken her arm on my watch while the parents were away.  Instinctive reaction to protect her, take her away from the dangerous tree and go back to the house for a popsicle.

That’s when she amazed me.  She got up, surprised but not crying, and she climbed right back into the tree.

emily & the treeThis time she had real respect for the tree.  She carefully considered where to place each foot, how to hold on.  Her goal was no longer how to get up to that very high branch.  Her new goal was to master the distance from the ground to that first branch.  And she did.  While I diligently spotted her.

Oh, the Winnie-the-Pooh lessons to be learned from Emily and The Tree.  On the way to school Monday, I thought of how I wanted my students to be more like courageous Emily.  They tend to want me to implant knowledge in their brains, like Emily wanting me to put her on the higher branch.  However, they panic when things are difficult, fear making mistakes, and want to bail on the whole learning process when it doesn’t go as quickly as  they want. They also absolutely, positively do not focus on anything for longer than a nano-second.

“I want to tell you a story,” I began first period class.

“Are you going to yell at us?” they asked. (They are so paranoid.)

“NO! I just want to tell you a story!” (Ok, I might have yelled that a teensy bit. Sometimes their way of thinking makes me crazy.)

So I told them about Emily.

“Are you saying that learning French is like climbing a tree?”

Um, yes.  And then I told them what branch they were currently on and how we were going to climb today to a higher  branch.

“Are we going to fall out of the tree?”  they asked. (FYI, these are high schoolers and 8th graders.)

“Actually, yes, some of you are going to fall out of the tree.  But we aren’t up very high.  You will not die.”

That seemed to calm them down.  Apparently they believe that learning will kill them.

Friday, my colleagues and I attended a workshop on Teaching the 21st Century Learner.  The speaker was good and had extensive handouts of his very scripted presentation that covered all the usual blah-blah about active learning, none of which I can recall without reading the handouts.  His presentation did not teach me nearly as much as I learned from little Emily.

  • Students want to climb high.
  • Students want the teacher to put them where they want to be, but…
  • Students have to do the climbing themselves.
  • Students are afraid to make mistakes, but…
  • Students learn from their mistakes.
  • Students need diligent coaching and spotting while they climb.

I’m tempted to assign tree-climbing for homework, but they would fall from their trees, injure themselves so they couldn’t participate on their sports teams, and I would get blamed for such a stupid idea. I guess instead I’ll focus on how to better coach and spot them.  They do want to climb, and I don’t want them hurt on my watch.

 

Bees in the mancave? How cool is that?

It started as a joke at choir rehearsal.  The bitter winter killed off all the bees and some wise guy suggested that we bring them inside for the winter.

Roars of laughter as we all contemplated John and the bees watching football in his mancave.

More laughter at the death glare I shot at my husband because I know the wheels are spinning in his brain.  He has already been scouring the internet.  How do bees survive the winter in places like Idaho?  They bring the bees inside to potato cellars, which are dark (so the bees sleep) and a constant temperature (cool but not cold).

Alas, people are  researching this.  Granted, they are not researching it for the backyard beekeeper, but the information is out there…

Research is currently being conducted on controlled environment wintering. A temperature somewhere in the mid- or low-40° F (5° C) range, total darkness, ventilation to reduce excess moisture and humidity, and fall feeding of Fumidil B to suppress nosema disease are some of the major considerations. Provision for refrigeration should be considered also because sudden warming spells in late winter or early spring could result in undue restlessness and activity within the controlled-environment room. Colonies on flat-bed trailers that can be rolled outdoors or back into the room during warm or cold trends also would be desirable.

http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/overwintering-of-honey-bee-colonies/

It looks so innocent from this side of the door.

It looks so innocent from this side of the door.

Unfortunately, we have such a space.  It is the room of outer darkness.  The entry is through the death trap known as “Dad’s Workshop.”  Well, that’s what the sign over the door reads.  It’s more like a holding bin for every man-toy needed to do any man task, a conglomeration of total disorganization amidst whiffs and piles of sawdust.

The room of outer darkness is a full cinderblock basement room under the side porch.  In an earlier vision of our house, the side porch was going to be a library-sunroom but we eliminated it to save a few thousand dollars and because it was over-the-top not needed.  However, by the time the room was cut from the project, the basement was already in place.  (Don’t even ask.)

The room of outer darkness is underground with–duh–no windows, so it is dark.  Being below ground, it maintains a constant cool temperature.  It is ventilated, so air circulates.  It could  be a good wine cellar, except that we can’t keep wine in the house long enough to bother storing it way back there.  And there is very real danger involved with walking through “Dad’s Workshop.”

So, is the outer darkness the right kind of “cool” for the bees?  The main mancave, when the woodstove is not on, stays in the 50’s, which is  great for using the treadmill but too warm for hibernating bees.  Mr. Beeman would have to monitor the temp in the outer darkness to see how cool it really is. The last thing we would want is bees waking up to take a cleansing flight in the mancave while we are watching TV.

That raises another question.  Can bees last an entire winter in a cool, dark room without occasional bathroom breaks?  This winter was difficult, not just because of the bitter temperatures, but because of the extended stretch of days that never went above 50.  Bees take advantage of balmy winter days to relieve themselves.

Would the bees be better off outside with better winter protection? Rusty, at Honey Bee Suite, successfully overwintered by using a quilt board and wood chips.  Moisture in the hive is a bad as cold, and the woodchips successfully insulate and absorb moisture.  Mr. Beeman might want to check out the following link:

http://www.honeybeesuite.com/how-i-overwintered-ten-out-of-ten/

Fortunately, Winter 2015 appears to be over.  New bees arrive (we hope!) the end of this month.  That gives Mr. Beeman an entire season to research the dilemma of Winter 2016 and to maybe clean out his shop and the room of outer darkness.  Hmmm…if overwintering the bees inside gets him to clean out the basement, it just might be worth it.

Ha!

Squirrels with tiny shovels?

You know it has been a long winter when the woodland critters start digging themselves paths through the snow.

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

This morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see not just prints but a regular daggone pathway leading from the house to a hydrangea bush.  I figured it was a squirrel route, but squirrels (like my students) don’t have the attention span to dig a pathway.  They just leap and scurry.  No, this pathway must be the work of tunnel digging chipmunks.  In summer, the rock wall by that hydrangea is one of the entrances to their Maywood Metro System.  Yeah, I can just picture Simon, Theodore and Alvin (!!!!! ) with tiny little shovels working their way across the garden.

The snow pack  reveals a lot about who is coming and going out there.  For example, it revealed my brother-in-law’s visit to the front door the other day.  It also reveals all the routes the squirrels take to get to the house. One route is across the patio and over the abandoned hot tub where they leap on the house and into the attic to party until spring.  There are other routes that involve leaping, Tarzan-like, from trees to the roof.

Like the squirrels, the mice have no desire to shelter under a hydrangea bush in the Maywood subway system. No, they want the full comforts of home for as long as  they can get away with it.  Maywood Man keeps tossing snapped invaders and still they come.  You’d think they would  get the message that the one-way track of mouse prints leads to a cozy house of death.

Meanwhile, out yonder, the deer have gotten the message that we are turning the clocks forward tonight for Daylight Savings Time.  They have been seen traipsing across the field, brown against white, as though spring is coming, it isn’t below freezing, and they aren’t walking through nine inches of snow.  Is it the longer days or the lack of men sitting in trees that signals to them that it is safe to use their usual paths through the yard?  It sure isn’t the weather.

So it’s March, and we have no idea who remains in the beehives  because it has been too cold to look inside and they certainly have not been coming out to play in the snow.  We know at least one hive is empty and suspect that a second was not going to last the winter.  It would be great to find the two strong hives waiting for us when the temp breaks 50 later this week. Regardless of who has survived, we ordered four packages of bees for the new season.

Spring is coming.  It always does.  The chipmunks are ready.  And maybe some  bees.