Thursday, April 24, 2008

container gardening in my yard

If you've never lived in the south I don't think you could ever really appreciate the "quality" of Georgia clay. To help you Midwesterners with dark, crumbly soil picture it, just imagine if every handful you picked up and squeezed left fingerprints on the clump, now shaped roughly like your hand. Amended, it then has clay clumps hanging around in the topsoil/compost/soil conditioner. And, to top it off, it is terra cotta, rusty red. In fact, I believe we might have the only zoo anywhere with orange elephants. (Think about it.)

I garden. Georgia has a serious drought right now, so I don't put in annuals, but I inherited a lovely yard and I've added many perennials and lots of herbs to the yard. We terraced a small area for a vegetable garden last year and I planted lettuce, swiss chard and snow peas this February, right near our compost heap. And today Bug and I put in tomatoes: Sweet 100's and Big Boys. A few went in the back by the compost, but most I planted in our front yard by my lamp post and hidden by purple coneflowers, Shasta daisies and Black Eyed Susans. The neighbors either don't care or don't notice. The kids both eat tomatoes, so we can keep up with several plants, and most years we get cherry tomatoes until right around Halloween.

Gardening in this soil is interesting, to say the least. I'd love to have a foot of black topsoil put on top of all the clay and then have all my flowers, bushes and trees replanted. Instead I container garden without containers. Sounds crazy, but it describes my yard pretty well. I dig a hole in the clay, add some good soil and plant my green stuff. Surrounding the black soil is a "pot" of red clay. Sometimes you dig a hole (not an easy task when the clay is dry and hard) and discover that you're a few inches off from a previous hole. Much simpler to just adjust and move to the "pot" of good soil. I know I had tomatoes in about the same spots last year, but I wasn't able to find the good soil in my front yard. And, digging more than about eight inches is a joke. Fortunately the tomato seedlings were small and that was plenty. They'll have to do the rest themselves.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

swing batter, batter

Pook started t-ball just before turning five. He played for Marc that year. The next year we requested him and so many others did the same that he had to turn a few down. But Pook had a second good t-ball year. I worried that this year, in machine pitch ball, he wouldn't get on Marc's team. They had to try out this year and Marc had to create a balanced team. Luckily Pook is part of it again.

Coach Marc is a sports writer by profession and sends out detailed emails about each game. "He would register a dynamite diving glove stop on a screaming grounder into the hole between first and second to thwart another Wildcat scoring effort."

But his writing isn't why I was so eager to have Pook on Marc's team again. Marc, in my book, qualifies as The World's Best Coach. Another game report quote: "[Pook] would then position himself in the batters box and would battle his little heart out. Three solid swings later, the Illini rally would come to an unfortunate end. But it wouldn’t be for lack of trying on [Pook’s] part." Last night another player, PB, was having a tough time. His dad was offering advice from behind the fence, another coach or two were offering advice, and he was striking out. Coach Marc approached him. Instead of adding to the advice being handed to the poor kid by everyone else, Marc got near him and I heard, "Smile Philip. No. Bigger. This is Baseball, kid!" Did he hit the ball? No. But it didn't really matter anymore.

My Pook loves the game, but the move from t-ball to machine pitch has been hard. Marc has even invited him along with his own son to go to a machine pitch batting cage. He's gotten a lot of practice and does well when someone pitches to him. But until last night he hadn't had a hit in a game. Last night he hit for his first run/first RBI. As he does for one player at each game, Marc awarded him the game ball. I'm not sure who was most proud, Pook, Marc or CD and I. The scuffed up ball is up on the trophy shelf where it belongs.

"In the end, this coach couldn’t be more proud of this team. Sure the team’s record isn’t what we all would like it to be. But let’s keep in mind it’s a long season, and we’ve only begun to fight. While we are young, we are very good and we will continue to improve as long as our attitude remains positive which I know it will." And the boys are proud of their coach.

Friday, April 18, 2008

the ants go marching

The ants go marching one by one, the little one stops to kill the other one. They all go marching down, to the ground to all die. How melodic!

I'm on a rampage. We've had an ant colony in our backyard since late summer 2006. It is about five feet across now. Serious ants, and persistent too. The folks who treat our house for pests (successfully and environmentally safely) have tried to deal with them. We've put down bait, more bait, more bait, poison and more poison. I tried pouring bleach on it. Recently I've just been stomping all their front, back, side, guest, delivery, and staff doors flat. I browsed online the other day and we've done everything mentioned except one idea. It seemed like a longshot, but....

I took two pails outdoors, along with my shovel. I found me a small ant colony, only about six inches across. Before those poor ants had time to scream (and if you've ever heard an ant scream, you'll know that's a good thing) I scooped up a shovel of their house (most of it probably) and walked over to Ant Colony From Hell and scooped up a shovel of their subdivision (only a small neighborhood) and I traded.

Ha. Now, if we are extremely lucky, they will fight it out tooth and nail, head and thorax, and THEY WILL ALL DIE. And, damn if it didn't feel good.

If anyone is crawling around there a week from now? I'll find some Fire Ants and sic them on those miserable creatures.

And now I must return to editing the Peace Camp curriculum that my church is hosting this summer.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

super ball purgatory

Confession #1: I hate super balls. To me they're a bit like clothes hangers which multiply when I'm not looking. And I don't think they're as useful as clothes hangers. They can't be used outdoors or after the first bounce they'll be missing, someone will be whining, lawnmowers will be roaring, or people will be tripping.... They can't be used indoors or pictures will be breaking, furniture will be moving, breakables will be tipping and someone will be whining (that'd be me this time). No superballs!

Confession #2: I hide them. I have a box in the storage room with at least a dozen superballs in it. There is one with a small dinosaur inside it. Some with multicolored speckles or stripes. Several colors and sizes. One is at least three inches across. Many of them have that sticky-get-lint-all-over-them quality. But I don't really give them much thought. I leave them around underfoot for a few weeks when they're new, or until they've just barely been forgotten, then off they go. I have no good reason for not throwing them away, but instead they go to Superball Purgatory in our storage room. (Hmm, come to think of it, "purgatory" describes that room well.)

So... no superballs in my house. And yet, what is in the birthday goodie bag? A superball! What do my kids pick from the dentist's treasure chest? A superball! What do they win at the carnival game? A superball! I just sigh and stash them away with the rest. My children then go to a museum gift shop with Nana and Papa, and what happens then? They come home and my mom says to me, "I said they could pick out one item and Bug says he doesn't have any superballs; that they all got lost. So I thought it'd be ok."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

guest book

Hey y'all (no, I'm not enough of a southerner to say that really)

If you're coming in to visit, drop me a note in the comments! I live for comments!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

shoe school

Pook started writing letters when he was two, and has always been a little artist. He just sees things with great detail and is able to copy that detail well. He learned the sign language alphabet when he was two also. So these details led me to believe that he had the manual dexterity and visual abilities to tie his shoes by about 3 1/2. My father, a woodworker, was commissioned to make a shoe tying template. I bought two sets of shoe laces- blue and yellow SpongeBob (the closest he's ever made it to my house) and black and red Spiderman (who has had some minor visits, like on underpants). I threaded one of each lace into the wooden template so he'd be able to see which lace was from the right hand and which was from the left hand. Then I gave it to him. Then it sat. For three years.

A few weeks ago he came to me and showed me his toes sticking out of the top of the shoe that was purchased in December! He wanted to go buy new shoes. Now. Well, I had neither the time nor the interest to buy new expensive shoes right then. Bug's shoes are from early fall and they still fit. He's already put up with Pook getting new ones once (the December ones were replacements for the August ones which were outgrown) and I don't put myself in miserable situations like that with a choice. I found a way out of this bind when I saw a Target ad - Converse tennies on sale! Whoo hooo! Shoes like Daddy's with shoe laces. Bug got the explanation that Pook was getting new shoes because it was time to learn how to tie shoes and Pook got the explanation that he'd get new shoes but he'd also have to learn to tie them.

Did you know that there are websites out there on shoe tying? Some people have too much time. Anyway, there are many techniques. I tried the "bunny ears" method, but having never tied my own shoes that way it just seemed complicated to me. (Although, honestly, I just learned how to tie so the bow would be straight when I finished, and I did make a change in my "tying technique") Instead I looked closely at my own shoe tying procedure and parsed it out for Pook very slowly. He was more or less interested. A week of wearing them to school and he was truly motivated. One week later, he got it. He's even getting it tight enough and adding a double knot to deal with the extra length of the laces.
Ta Dah!

Monday, April 14, 2008


I was such a stupid teen. I wasted those years behaving myself. Most people, even including my family, would agree. I did have one ear double pierced, against my mother's wishes. But I believe she copied me a few years later, so she ruined that one. I didn't get in trouble with guys or with the law or with school. I was pretty boring as teens come, even in the dark ages of the 80's.

But instead I rebelled in stupid ways. For instance, the one coming to mind tonight is literary. My mother was an English Lit major in college. Our bookshelves were full of books with dreary bindings and dusty pages. My sister chose from them eagerly. So, I rebelled. I chose to be as different from them as possible. I avoided those books like the plague. I was sure they were boring and I never pulled anything from them to check. Not a Jane Austen in my hands! I'm not sure I'd even have recognized the name back then. Not even when my mom saw my college literature class paperbacks in my dorm and mentioned that she had copies of most of them at home and could have saved me money did I think to scan through her books over the summer to find ones I might enjoy.

So I'm making up for lost years now. I've used the TiVo to record the PBS Jane Austen series that's been on this season. Although I didn't know Pride and Prejudice was a two parter and deleted part two before watching it, (grumble, grumble) I've saved all the others. I just finished a girl's night watching Emma with my friend, VB. I can't believe that I, the hopelessly romantic teenager, missed reading these books. I'd have flopped across my bed for hours at a time, lost in the dreamy balls and bucolic countrysides. I'd have started drinking tea! What was I reading back then? I suspect the answer is: a lot of nothing worth remembering.

Positive spin on this is that there are still lots of books for me to find on her shelves now, when I'm visiting. I just wish I had the time that I had back then to read now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

spring in the south, part two

This is my backyard patio table. The yellow powder on my finger? Pollen. If you aren't from here you'd never believe it, but in Atlanta we have a thick layer of pollen on everything this time of year. My blue car is green. I have to use my windshield wipers when I get in -- even though I park in the garage. (I often leave the door open in the daytime.) When it rains, we get yellow streams pouring down the driveways and along the sides of the roads. If you walk through the grass, you'll have pollen all over your shoes. And don't even think of opening the windows even if the temperatures hit the 70's unless you feel like dusting the house top to bottom.

They say that if you don't have seasonal allergies, come to Atlanta and you will. I had fall allergies as a kid in the midwest, but when I came here I was spared the fall problems. And I was fine the first spring here. But then it hit and I was a miserable, sneezing, watery-eyed mess and I finally went for allergy shots. Because I had a pregnancy during that time, the whole process took years. I may have stopped too soon because I do still feel the effects of all this pollen. Maybe everyone does although Pook and my husband seem to be ok. Bug inherited allergies too and he and I both start on Zyrtec each March.

0-30 Low
31-60 Moderate
61-120 High
Over 120 Extremely High

The pollen count? Today it was 3,235. Yes, that is three thousand pollen particles per cubic meter of air. Qualifies as "extremely high" don't you think?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Today's field trip was to the High Museum of Art. They had both a spring break program and a "Toddler Thursday" program. I'd been told that "toddler" could easily include Pook, so we headed down. The boys were thrilled to ride MARTA, our rapid transit. They even got to swipe their own cards. Whoo hoo!

We first went to the toddler program and were sent to look at Georgia O'Keefe landscapes. The kids were clearly surprised at how simply she painted. I could almost hear them thinking, "I could do that". When we returned, the children were given liquid watercolors (in spill proof tubs) and postcard sized O'Keefe images they could try to copy. I can't find any of her paintings online to include here, or I'd give you some of the boys' art to compare. Pretty awesome if I may say so myself. They could do that.

Since we were in an art museum, we looked at a variety of art along the way. One that struck me was an image made entirely of squiggles like lower case cursive e's. I pointed it out to Pook, showing him that great art doesn't have to be hard to do. I do this often. In The Phantom Tollbooth, the illustrator Jules Feiffer uses a scribbly hand too. I set him to work one morning trying to imitate a picture of mountains from the book.

Squiggles and quick brushstrokes can be a great style. Pook's art is great and he needs to know that many styles can be good. Right now he draws primarily robots and other machinery. He has a great memory for details that most people never even notice. But I worry that he'll get too critical of himself and quit. At his age, most of the kids at the art table are little girls drawing rainbows and lollipop looking trees. The boys aren't drawing much at all. I want him to stick with his art and use it in a career someday.

I used to (BC - before children) paint and draw. But I never found it to be relaxing. I had an image in my mind of the perfect watercolor painting. I'd seen it at an art festival. It was a picture of a maraschino cherry and an ice cube. I'd approached the painting to look closer, believing it was a photo in a series of watercolors. Nope. A watercolor so perfect it looked real. And from then on, it was my goal. My own paintings of water didn't look like water to me. My drawings weren't "right". I wasn't able to accept that a representation of water was fine. Fine for my style. The t-shirts I'd scribble got lots of compliments but I didn't think of them as art. They came to me too easily. Having kids brings a lot of lessons home. I need to learn to believe what I speak.

I always compare my writing to others and need to remember that my writing style is fine too. A certain friend, who shall only be known as HMW, read a poem of mine, submitted to the Northern Lights or some such poetry contest in our high school, and called it "trite". (Can you tell that I never dwell on things like this, and I'm quick to remember only the positive highlights of high school?) Now, it is possible that the poem was trite. But she said so! (She did not know it was mine, to excuse her just a little.) The poem began:

I'd love to taste a cloud
Soft and white like soft ice cream
something something cotton candy
something something something.

With a start like that, how could it possibly have been trite?

So now, here I am, writing for the world to read, and I'm trying to stop being so critical of my own style. I don't use phrases like: "(the word) "blog" is just so amorphous." I'd say: I don't really like the word "blog" much. "Amorphous" belongs to another friend who has her own style and I know that it doesn't work for me. But I enjoy reading more formal writing so I set it as a goal once upon a time. Must change goal.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

me, Bug, and Mama

a guest posting by Pook:

Me,[Bug],and Mama went to Stone Mountain on Tuesday.First we played mini golf.Next we watched the glass blower make a glass fish.The fish was about a foot long.Then we saw the black smith make mosly a handle for a bird feter, but he made something else too when we were there.After that we went up the blue skyride to the top of the mountain.We walked around at the top of the mountain.Then we took the red skyride train to the botom of the mountain.When we were at the botom of the mountain we walked to a field of grass infront of the carving on the mountain.Then we went home. THE END

spring break sweet sleep

We went to Stone Mountain yesterday as part of our spring break fun. Stone Mountain is the largest exposed granite 'stone' in the world and has a bas relief carving on the side of three figures from the Confederacy. This does not impress the boys. What they love is taking the skyride up and/or down, hiking up and/or down, taking the train around it (too long, too loud, too jostly) playing putt putt, seeing glass blowing demos, blacksmith demos, candy making demos (of course), and monster trucks (so we won't forget we're in The South). The kids have never even seen the evening lightshow, the huge playground, a lake with pedal boats, a paddlewheel riverboat, amphibian "duck" rides, carillon concerts, hiking, golfing, swimming, and I'm sure much more. We bought a membership this year and plan to see what else they offer. I'm more for pedal boats than monster trucks.

So... we met friends there yesterday and did PART of the many attractions. They had to leave at 1pm, but we stayed a bit longer. The sun had finally made an appearance after many dreary days, and the boys had spent the last 3o minutes running on the Great Lawn barefoot. I was already considering sleep. Unfortunately, I knew they were exhausted but that I probably wouldn't get a nap from anyone.

My luck changed when Bug fell asleep in the car. I made Pook promise to play quietly in his room when we got home. I carried Bug to the sofa and I collapsed (with all 44lbs of him!) and we slept together for an hour. It'd been a long time since we'd done that. I woke up after about 30 minutes and my arm was numb. I tried to adjust it, but didn't get up. I didn't want to ruin the moment. There won't be many more like it. Instead I turned to look at his eyelashes against his flushed cheek. I filled my lungs with the smell of sweet baby sweat. I need to remember that smell when they grow up.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

spoons and other gifts

Quote of the day: "I'm a good little boy and always very curious." (Bug)


We're on Spring Break this week, and have stayed in town. This means that we're going to Field Trip our way around town, and that I'll be hopelessly behind in things like laundry by the end of the week. And that I'll be a little frayed around the edges from so much time with the boys. I may not get a chance to post again.


Sunday night our neighbors invited us over. Their boys are Little Kid (LK) age4, Middle Kid (MK) turning 7, and Big Kid (BK) age 8. MK has Downs Syndrome and Autism. He runs around with the others some, but is often inside playing on his own. He's able to communicate a bit, but isn't really verbal. I'm pleased at how much the boys accept him and include him. All I've explained is that different people's brains work in different ways. Apparently good enough.

So, it was MK's birthdayparty. I asked Pook and Bug what we should give to him. They both started to giggle, then answered at the same time, "spoons!" Well, they're right, his favorite thing right now is spoons. He likes the noises they make against his hand and cheek. Some spoons are better than others and he's walked off with most of his mom's dinner spoons and I think all of her measuring spoons. So, spoons were part of our gift. I also bought a fun Playdoh kit I thought he'd enjoy.

The day of the party, Bug got himself in trouble by giving me the tongue-sticking-out-finger-wagging-combo and was sentenced to a 30 minute delay going to the party. Honestly, other than kicking him to the moon and back or selling him on eBay, it was the meanest thing I could think to do. (I'm not yet sure if it had the desired effect.) My husband (who needs a pseudonym more than even LK, MK, and BK do) offered to stay behind while Pook and I headed next door. Since there was much screaming, I was happy to accept. I left the gift behind because Bug hadn't signed the card and was in no mood to do so.

When my husband (who I think wants to think of his own pseudonym) came over with Bug, they had an additional package with them. Turns out, Bug had settled himself down and said he wanted to give MK a gift by himself. He searched through our seldom used board books and chose My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. He put it in a shoe box, got a piece of paper and wrote his name on it, got out a colored envelope and put the "card" in it, taped it all together and brought it to MK.

I was so impressed.

We were about to leave (an hour past bedtime) and MK hadn't opened gifts yet. I suggested that Bug just give him his. He took both presents to him and MK opened the Playdoh. Unexciting. On to the next box, Bug's. He took out the book, immediately started to flip through the pages, then, when bothered by the onlookers (us) moved to another room to continue flipping through the book.

Well done, Bug. (He liked his spoons too, but the ones his mom picked out for him he liked better!)

Friday, April 4, 2008


Bug calls from the den, "Can you come kiss me and tickle me and zerbert me?" I peek in and he's spread eagle on the sofa with his t-shirt pulled up. Could you resist? Me? Never!

I give him tickles and kisses and some good loud zerberts on the tummy. I asked him where he was most ticklish. "I'm most 'tickalish' on my ham hocks" he giggled, (thighs for you non southerners) then he offered, "and I'm most kissalish on my neck." Much more tickling, kissing and zerberting ensued.

Entry into family vocabulary: "kissalish", and perhaps "kissalicious"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

crash prevention

I've mentioned that Bug is going to OT (Occupational Therapy) without getting into it much. But yesterday I had a good conversation with the social worker there. I'd recoiled when they first suggested I speak with her. I felt that they must have misunderstood the issues. I also felt that speaking to her about Bug's behavior was a waste of time; I'm quite familiar with behavior modification techniques. I taught Special Education Preschool for ten years and in those ten years I worked with some doozies! I figured that the processes didn't really apply to Bug because we were here for sensory issues that are causing behavior problems, not manipulative power struggle behavior.

But, she had some great points. First, no one ever sees these outbursts but us and maybe my mom occasionally; he's a teacher's pet at school. If he can behave himself out and about then he can contain himself at home if he has the right incentive. So, go back to using time out, even if it makes him angrier at the moment and increases meltdowns for a few days or weeks. But give him the option to use the strategies we're teaching him at OT first. Second, she said that when we provide him with drums and pillows to punch we're encouraging the outward expenditure of energy. He needs energy directed inward - the deep pressure we've been learning.

So, I tried to explain to Bug what we're going to be doing around here (in addition to bracing for a series of meltdowns like we haven't seen in a while) and I found a way to depict the whole issue to him, myself and others:

He's the car. Happy when full of gas/energy. Not happy when running low on gas. Cars on the highway that run out of gas crash.
1. When he feels like he's running low, he needs to fill up. He has a repertoire of activities which are supposed to refuel him.
2. However, if he doesn't fill up on his own, and since he's driving straight toward the Mama and Daddy cars, we're going to try to prevent him from crashing by helping him refuel. We, too, have a repertoire of techniques for this.
3. If he doesn't stop to get more gas alone or with help, and therefore crashes, we will get our tow truck and remove him. By whatever means it takes.
4. When he is refueled and calm again, he can get back on the road.

Now don't you wish you could apply this to actual drivers?