Ode to Charlotte

Posted on 5/23/2015 07:07:00 PM
A follow-up to the Charlotte's Web discussion.



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As Seen From My Car Window

Posted on 5/21/2015 07:00:00 AM
Bagpiper alone on the grounds of the University of Maryland.


As all good bagpipers should be.

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Fossilized

Posted on 5/19/2015 07:00:00 AM
This week, the Shortlings got the chance to volunteer on an actual archeological dig.  We've been by this place a few times and never found them open, but happened to be in the area and noticed the sign saying they were having an open house.  We were heading elsewhere but as it turned out, had a few minutes to kill so we stopped in to stave off curiosity, more than anything else.  Imagine our surprise when the "open-house" turned out to be an "invite-the-public-in-to-help-find-fossils-house."  At one point in my childhood, I was very interested in archeology and I was rasied on the idea that dig sites are sacrosanct.  No one goes in who isn't authorized and only those who know what they're doing are allowed to look for fossil or artifacts.  

But this place is quite different.  There is no active digging (unless someone finds something and then the professionals take over, of course), but they actually want the public rubes to come in an help look for interesting fossils.  So they ushered us right in, did a quick orientation about what is a fossil and what is not, and then turned us all loosed to scour the place with our eagle eyes right away.  At this stage of investigation, all they want to do is look for stuff.  They're not going to dig the hillside away unless there is something real and important known to be there, but there are tiny fossils just lying around or that get exposed after rain and wind erosion and one only needs to look closely to find it.  When you enter, you promise that anything significant you find will be the property of the park collection.  If your find is important, it will go to the Smithsonian museum and you get finder's credit and your name on the fossil as it is displayed in the museum.  If you find something that is not significant, you may just get to walk away with it if the lead archeologist says it's okay.


While we were there, someone found a fossilized crocodile tooth and a couple of bald cyprus cone fossils, which the workers got really excited over (because with these fossils, they actually know what kind of wood it is, I was told) and earlier that morning someone had found a tooth from a Liopleurodon (or at least I think that's what he said; Professor Google can't search me up any other relevant results). 
 
The Dormouse found this piece of iron stone with impressions of ancient wood in it, which they let her take home.


And The Caterpillar found this:


Which looks like a bit of old firewood, I realize.  That's what I thought it was anyway.  But one of the park workers explained to me that this is actually a fossil.  I come from the land of the Petrified Forest, so fossilized wood looks like this to me:


 So this stuff that crumbles in your hands?


Not a fossil, in my mind. But the archeologist explained to me that when conditions aren't quite right for the minerals in the wood to turn to stone like in the Petrified Forest, all the minerals leach out and what's left is just the carbon.  So what you think you have in your hands is a piece of wood burned in some frat party campfire a couple of years ago, but it's actually a piece of 4 million year old fossilized wood.

Jinkies, that's impressive. 

We had a good time helping the archeologists search and now that we know that this place is there and when they're open, will definitely be going back to look for more.

But the best find of the month didn't even come from the Dinosaur Park, it came from our own back yard. 

The Caterpillar looks for things to make her go everywhere and comes in from the yard with seed pods, rocks, trash, dead bugs, pieces of metal in the road, pieces of glass, etc., constantly.  I find crap like this squirreled away under her bad, in her closet, in her bed, in my car.... oh, and on the floor.  Because eventually, it all makes its way to the floor.  It's actually pretty annoying because do you know how much of that stuff you can wash in the pockets of someone's pants before ruining the washing machine?  Well, I don't either, but I think we're approaching the limit.  

The other day she showed up with this:


A little Googling revealed this unusual little rock is similar to a Petosky stone, though it can't technically be called that unless it comes from Lake Michigan.  It's the fossilized impression of Haxagonaria, a type of coral that lived 350 million years ago.  We had no idea where it came from, if it's even native to Maryland or whether it's valuable.  The people at the Dinosaur Park told me I could bring it in and they would authenticate it next time they were open.  But I think I have to take The Caterpillar's packrat-ing a little more seriously now.

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Wickedly Talented

Posted on 5/18/2015 04:30:00 PM
I forgot to post last month about how we spent way too much money (Christmas present from The KingofHearts to all of us) and went to see Wicked in Baltimore last month.



Don't let his face in the background fool you. He loves this crap as much as the rest of us.

My only regret is that the wickedly talented Adel Dazeem, was not a member of this cast (though I hear she is working on a side project with Jorn Tromolto, so, you know, she's probably busy).

The set design was amazing.


Though apparently they are touchy about taking photos inside the theater - even before the play starts - because shortly after I took these photos, The KingofHearts pulled out his phone and just acted like he was taking a photo and he got yelled at by some usher.  I didn't bother to tell her that I'd already taken these two, so shhhh, don't let on that you know.

The Shortlings, especially The Dormouse, loved it... and that's probably the understatement of the year.  She has been asking to see this for a couple of grades now, so it was pretty cool for her.  Me?  I love musicals of any kind, but this one has never spoken to me the way it does to some.  It's a very cool concept, but I never really got worked up about wanted to see this one.  But even so, even I was floored by a couple of moments.  I am amazed at what humans can do.  The depth of talent on a stage like that can't be overlooked and I live for those moments in live theater where what happens on stage touches you in a physical way that will never, ever happen on a recorded medium.  There were a few moments like that in this one, so I've kind of made my peace with Wicked.

And the looks on these kids' faces at intermission was well worth the price of admission.



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Bluebells

Posted on 5/12/2015 08:17:00 PM
A little late in posting this one.  The Virginia Bluebells have all gone by now.  But they were fun while they lasted.





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Not Iggy, Just Azalea

Posted on 5/03/2015 07:33:00 PM
There are currently five different colors of azaleas blooming in our yard. Under the biggest and most prolific bush, the Shortlings have found a little den of sorts.  They can crawl into a little opening and through a tunnel made by the branches, then sit on the ground amidst all the lavender blossoms.  I want to go in there, curl up in the fetal position, and not come out for a month.

Instead, I took some pictures. 

Because I am a grown up and no longer need to solve my problems by escaping into a fantasy world of a house made of flowers.

And also because I don't fit inside.






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B'Bus

Posted on 5/02/2015 12:53:00 PM
A couple of months back, I took the Shortlings to Locust Point in Baltimore for lunch because it was close, easy to get to and it's one of my favorite places in the city.  I like to look out across the river and imaging what the area looked like 50, 100, years ago and more.  As we were driving around, this random bus appeared on the street in front of us with music coming from it.  I looked up out the window and noticed a few people with guitars sitting in lawn chairs on top of the bus, strumming while others sang.  Still others blew bubbles off the top of the bus and into the streets. People waved out the windows and shouted greetings to the pedestrians as they passed by...

I pointed it out to the kids and they looked out to the bussers.  They shouted greetings to us and we waved back, circling leisurely around the blocks of the neighborhood and just generally having an enjoyable time on a rare warm fall day.  We followed the bus for a long time and I finally handed my phone to The Dormouse and had her take a picture because this?... 


...the fact that every time I'm there I seem something like this and it brightens my day is what I most love about the city.

I have been following with great sadness all the news out of Baltimore the past few weeks and I've read about a thousand opinions, op eds, and columns trying to make sense of it all.  I don't live there every day, but I do live close.  Close enough to feel that it is partly my home and I feel a great affinity and affection for that city.  I love the sense of community I always enjoy when I am in the neighborhoods of Baltimore - unusual for a town of that size - and how good and down to earth I always feel about the people just trying to live their lives there. Unlike many cities I never feel like an outsider or ill-at-ease there.  I never have since the first time I visited in the early 90s, when it was a very different city indeed.

What the day to day residents have gone through and continue to go through breaks my heart in a way I can't quite describe.

I don't have to condone the actions of - let's face it, a small few - to say that I at least understand and empathize with the reasons for it.  I don't know what the answers are, but the one thing I know is this: it's a very large, very complex issue and if you think you can boil everything that has happened in that community and in this nation into a few sound bites on the evening news, or even to a single incident or issue, you are mistaken. I'm proud of the response the state's attorney has made so far and her thoughtful consideration of many.  I can only hope that some good will come from this, despite my skepticism of that possibility.  But here's something I have no worries about: Baltimore will continue to gather together to create the community that makes this city so endearing to me.  Even as the unrest was happening, I watched citizens protect one another, help one another, and lend a hand to help clean up and repair the damage... because that's what a community does.
 
"Many say there can be no peace without justice, but so, too, can there be no true justice without peace. The riots must end before any progress can be made; progress must be made so that riots have their end."

- Geoge Takai

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A Series of Texts Between My Mother, Brother, and I

Posted on 4/30/2015 04:27:00 PM
What you need to know if you don't already (and if you did, I would probably be a little worried about you) is that "Lumpy Dick" was a name used for an old pioneer, porridge-type recipe. (Here is a recipe, but not necessarily the one we used. I know ours had flour because that's what made the lumps.)  Generations back, the women in my Idaho-farmer family all made it - mostly when they were too poor to buy the actual ingredients for food and the only thing available in the house was flour and milk from the milk cow.  I never heard anyone but us call it that, until once a few years ago, I was talking to a dude from Boise about weird family traditions and he started to tell this story about how his family made this gruel recipe, "...that they called - and you'll never believe this..." and I said, "Lumpy Dick?" and he said, "OHMIGOSHYOUTOO?" So it must have been an Idaho thing.  

You also need to know that my Grandmother had a candy recipe she called Patience, so named because it took so long to make.  (This is also not the recipe my family used, but probably along the same lines.)  My mother tried all the time to make it but was never very successful, probably because of the living-on-the-desert-floor thing.  It never came out quite fluffy enough, but I ate a lot of it. I was a kid and it was a big pot of caramelized sugar and butter, after all.  Who doesn't love that? No one, that's who!

The texting begins thusly:

My Mother: I have to tell this in a DUP group tonight.  What was your favorite thing I cooked when you were growing up?  If there was a favorite. I know I wasn’t the greatest cook. :)

Me: I want you to tell them about Lumpy Dick.

Her: I will but is that a favorite?

Me: I always like a little Lumpy Dick.

Her: Ha ha. No, seriously, what was your favorite thing that I made. Not a family recipe, but a thing I made for you kids?

Me: Lumpy Dick!

Her: So, no favorites?

Me: Lumpy Dick WAS my favorite.  I just would have preferred it wasn’t served to me by my mother.

Her: Very funny.

Me: What’s very funny?

Her: Lumpy Dick was your grandmothers’ recipe. You never ate Lumpy Dick.

Me: I’m pretty sure you made some Lumpy Dick in your time.

Her: I made limpy dick for your kids once, they didn’t think much of it.

Her: I MEAN LUMPY

Me: Are you sure?

Her: As if lumpy wasn’t enough of a Kodak moment?

Me: Put enough butter and sugar on it and anyone’s Lumpy Dick will taste good.

Her: U are weird.

Me: LUMPY DICK

*long silence*

Me: IDK. Grandma’s Patience?

Her: I need to know what my kids remember as a favorite food that their mom cooked.  You never ate Lumpy Dick after babyhood! Patience is what grandma made.

Me: You made Lumpy Dick AND Patience.  Though you always said Grandma had better Patience.  Grandma never had any Patience for me.

Her: Sigh. You’re not getting it. Never mind then.

Me: Not getting what?

Her: OK.. I’ll take that.  What will your kids say in twenty years when asked the same question?  I thought your brother might say Apple Crisp but he hasn’t answered yet.  My mother made homemade macaroni and cheese that was wonderful but I still think my favorite food from her was homemade bread.

My Brother: Apple crisp.

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Doing Time in 2015

Posted on 4/26/2015 08:25:00 AM In:
I must say this year is shaping up to be pretty crappy, indeed. 2015 and I have not started off as friends and I anticipate parting under the same circumstances, the way things have been going.

I'm off dealing with all of what makes it crappy.  But one little respite (because we desperately needed one) came last week when we drove up to Philadelphia to see a friend in a play.  It was a lovely old little theater and a great production of The Three Musketeers.  And Alexandre Dumas gave my kids Three Musketeers candy bars at intermission while I was in the bathroom.

We got there early and had some time to kill so we took a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary - something I've wanted to do for awhile now, but for some reason, children under seven are not allowed and every time we've been in the area, we've had one of those things.  This was the first time they would let us in without leaving one of the children tied up to a bike rack outside.  

It's a fascinating building in use as a prison for nearly a hundred and fifty years - from 1829 to 1971 - and almost completely unchanged since it closed it's doors. 

I didn't have a great camera with me and would love to go back and photograph it for real, but here are a few shots from a smarty phone.  They're pretty, handy, these smarty phones.













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The Cat and the Fiddle

Posted on 4/12/2015 11:38:00 AM
This reminds me of a poem... but I think that poem is a cross between Hey Diddle Diddle, The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, and perhaps something with a cymbal in it.



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Boats Against the Current

Posted on 4/11/2015 03:09:00 PM
This is the conversation I imagine will take place when my kids go back to school next week:

Teacher: "What fun things did you all do over Spring Break?"

Kid 1: "I went to Ocean City!"

Kid 2: "I went to the amusement park!"

Kid 3: "I went to Panama City Beach!" (well... let's hope we don't hear that from a 2nd or 6th grader)

My kid: "My mom made me go look at some dead guy's grave... again."

Yeah, this all doesn't mean much to them now, but when they take high school classes and get to the section on Civil War heroes or great American authors (or presidents, or horror novelists, or wow, I take my kids to a lot of cemeteries don't I?) they'll be able to say, "Hey, not only have I heard of that, but I've been there" and their classmates will be so impressed they'll cheer and put them up on their shoulders and then their teacher will give them an A++++++++ and then they'll thank me, won't they?

I only recently learned that F. Scott Fitzgerald was buried near D.C. in Rockville, Maryland, when I was listening to an interview with Maureen Coleman on NPR about her new book (which I totally want to read).   

The Great Gatsby was one of the first "real books" I ever read.  It was definitely one of the first books I read, analyzed and discussed in some literary detail.  I'm not sure I understood or related to any of the characters in that book, given my seventh-grade life experience.  In some ways, I think I read that book way too early.  But I do remember learning about symbolism, foreshadowing, imagery, personification and a host of other literary devices though that book and it changed how I read Everything after that. I'm completely indebted to F. Scott Fitzgerald for that. 

Last fall, I put two giant, foot wide, google eyes on my office door... because, hey, why not?...  and then a coworker and I had a long discussion about how it reminded us of the billboard described in Gatsby  A couple of days later, a post-it note appeared under those eyes that said, "Dr. T. J. Eckleburg's persistent stare." It stayed there until the tape under one of the eyes gave out a couple of weeks ago.  That made me think I really needed to go follow through on that promise I made myself to go see Fitzgerald's grave site.  So this week when we were running an errand in the area, I found it.  I wish these were better photos; I didn't have my camera with me and the light was getting low, but we stopped by an left a pen and some flowers that the Shortlings picked for Scott and Zelda.









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Spa Day

Posted on 4/10/2015 04:01:00 PM
Spring break has been a bit sucky for The Shortlings.  We've been too busy to go out of town or do anything really interesting and the couple of days when I wasn't working at my job or working at my other job (which seems to be part construction worker right now) it was icky and rainy.  

So they decided amongst themselves, they were going to "have a spa day." 

I bought them some nail polish, gave them one of my face masks and they spent the day pampering each other: massaging and doing "nail treatments" (which used a surprising amount of my spices and kosher salt), and drawing baths, and whoknowswhatelse.  They named it Air Spa and took the whole thing v-e-r-y seriously.

I was totally distractified by my email all day, and when I finally raised my head up, I realized most of the day had gone by and I'd not only forgotten to pay attention to them, but I'd also forgotten to feed them.  So I threw together a little meal, a little ambiance, and searched up some spa music on the interweb, then gave them a taste of Air Spa's (TM pending) new cafeteria.



No, those aren't petit cuts of poulet; that's deep fried mac 'n cheese.  We ain't fancy here at Air Spa.



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In my continuing, "Keeping a record of what's growing in my yard because I will not do it any other way," may I present the next of the Spring flowers to bloom:

Hellebore.

The KingofHearts recognized this from a video game. But we got a botanist friend to confirm the diagnosis, mostly because I cannot live with the idea of being educated from a video game.  

He thinks this is pretty cool and that it makes the entire price of the video game and the thousands of hours he's spent playing it totally worth the price. 

I think you could have picked this up from a two second Google search and then gone on with your life to accomplish tasks, get a high paying job, or perhaps write the Great American Novel, but I guess we each learn in our own way.

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Daffodil Porn

Posted on 4/06/2015 09:26:00 AM
They're everywhere. 

It's like it's trying to be Spring or something.






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Happy Easter, Poor Photobombed Daffodil

Posted on 4/05/2015 09:41:00 AM
 

Hello, sad, neglected blog.  I haven't forgotten about you, I promise. Once we sell a house, I will have more time to think and perhaps write some of those thoughts down without having them turn out to be just one, long, endless collection of expletives. (Unless that has become my language now, which is entirely possible.)

We have been spending every spare minute, fixing, repairing, painting and prettifying the old house in order to get this albatross off from around our necks and get it on the market.  Each day after work, we both go over there and do three or four or more hours of back breaking work while the kids sit in a corner of a house with no furniture and do their homework. It's terrible for us, but it's horrible for them.

I realized the other day that, with the exception of two closets and one wall in the kitchen, I have put at least one coat of paint on each and every wall and most of the floors in the entire house over the last six months.  And those three things I didn't paint? Someone else did.  If fresh paint could increase the value of a house (and most realtors act as though it does), that house would be worth One Million Dollars. I'd give you a more in depth update than that, but I don't want to jinx it.

Today, we sent The Shortlings on an Easter Egg Hunt around the new property.  


Some took the search more seriously than others.


And those some, accordingly, found more eggs.

A few eggs were lost to the elements.


Why the squirrels work so hard to get inside the egg and then do not eat the candy, I shall never know.

There were about ninety or so eggs (because for some reason, I had about a hundred and fifty plastic eggs in a bin in the attic when we moved). The KingofHearts explained to the girls that there were a lot of eggs and one "Special Golden Egg" with $50 inside, so they'd better look closely.

They searched with all their might, but never found the golden egg.  Finally, they decided to have breakfast and then return to look again after being buoyed up by calories, but before they went out for the return search, The Dormouse decided to ask the One True Question:

"Is there really a Golden Egg with $50?"

KoH: "Nah, I just made that up."

Dormouse: "Really?!?"

KoH: "Yup.  EASTER FOOLS!!!"

Dormouse: "THAT IS NOT A THING!" *stomps away*

She's going to look back fondly on her years with us, isn't she?



This one, on the other hand, will probably invent a cult of her own and have a billion followers.




So Happy Easter from the Underland Crew.  Don't bother looking for eggs.  Unless you got a chicken to lay them for you.


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The Lonesome Death of Alice

Posted on 3/25/2015 07:55:00 AM
At a nursery one day a few years ago, I took pity on this tiny plant on the for sale table that looked dead already, but was on sale for twenty-five cents - probably because the tiny little stalk wasn't any taller than a quarter.  I thought it was a succulent at the time and put it in my cacti pot, fully expecting it not to live out the month. It turned out to not only live, but thrive and outlived every single one of the cactus plants in the pot.  Now it has put off so many other plants, I could have an entire forest if I were only to give it a little encouragement to reproduce.  In fact, the main thing I have to do with this plant is keep its babies from growing in my other pots... and the yard, and the cracks on the sidewalk, and the grout lines in my kitchen tile.

After over three years, the main plant has finally bloomed for me.


If you don't have much of a green thumb and tend to kill plants but want to grow something, I highly recommend the Mother of Thousands.

Of course, if you practice too much benign neglect, you could end up like Stephen King in Creepshow, so make sure you're willing to practice a little selective reduction.



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How Did the Deer Cross the Road? Safely.

Posted on 3/22/2015 08:23:00 PM
One of my very favorite things upon moving to this area was the wildlife.  Everyone here complains incessantly about two things: the squirrels (The KingofHearts calls them "bushy-tailed rats") and the deer (who eat everyone's flowers and vegetables from their gardens).  I, who grew up mostly in the desert and never saw a squirrel or a deer the entire time I lived there, love the fact that squirrels and deer now regularly run around in my yard and I never really get tired of seeing them.  Kinda like my reaction to snow.  I recognize that it can be a pain, but I still get excited every time I see a snowflake.

Squirrels may be busy-tailed rats, but I've spent a lot of time in Baltimore and I kinda like the rats there too.  



When I was a kid, a guy in my grandfather's neighborhood had tamed a bunch of the wild squirrels.  They'd eat out of his hand and sit on his shoulder.  I always was so impressed by that, but was never there long enough to get any of the squirrels used to me and at home, the closest thing to a squirrel sitting on my shoulder was when one of our cats would catch a lizard and leave its disembodied tail on my pillow.  One year, I fed the squirrels corn cobs, just so they could come up to my window and I could get a better look at them.  A few months later, corn stalks started growing in my lawn.  I didn't realize it, but the squirrels has been burying the corn all winter long and then the corn sprouted and grew when spring came.  If I could only train the squirrels a little better, I could have a heck of a garden with very little work.  I would name it the Veruca Salt Memorial Corn Garden.

After the first snow in this new house, I went outside and saw footsteps that went in a straight line from the street outside, through the middle of our front lawn and right up to the window of the master bedroom, then wandered off into the yard and around the house.  I was a little freaked out because it appeared that someone was looking into our bedroom window while we slept.  But then I went outside and got a closer look at those footsteps.  The snow was a few inches high and if you looked down into an impression, you could see that it was actually a deer print and the deer had just been dragging its feet a bit through the snow, so from father away they looked like human prints.  I am much less concerned about a deer watching me sleep than some stalker/voyeur/possible serial killer.  Whew.

I would love to have a great garden, but we have a lot of shade on our property so I think that's unlikely.  Given that, I am all for the natural landscaping and allowing the deer to come and hang out at my place whenever they want to have a deer party/buffet.  We've had this discussion at work and my coworker told me the other day that she saw a bunch of deer in her yard so she went out on her porch and yelled, "Go! Get out of here! Go over to Underland!  They love you there."

They probably heard her, because this was the view out my back window the next day.



Also, they seem to have taught their young to look both ways before crossing the street.





That's city deer for you.

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Washington, D.C. Metro, United States
Married, 40ish mom of two (or three, or four, depending on how you keep score) who stepped through the lookinglass and now finds herself living in curiouser and curiouser lands of Marriage, Motherhood, and the Washington, D.C. Metro Area.

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