Archive for April, 2010

“Due to any of the following”

April 18, 2010 @ 7:16 am | Filed under: , ,

Last Monday we drove ninety miles east to the Desert View Tower. I’d been meaning to take the kids there for months. Amazing view and irresistible climbing-rocks, that’s what everyone says about the place.

We’ll have to take their word for it.

Jane and I thought the sign alone—”blight or famine”?—made the trip worthwhile, but some members of the back seat brigade opined otherwise.

We all loved seeing the wind farm, though.

A ballet of giants: breathtaking.

The desert was spread with a threadbare quilt of tiny yellow flowers. Any of you know what these are called?

And as long as I’m asking for IDs, how about this skipper I spotted in the backyard? Anyone? Bueller?

Not a great picture, so I don’t know if you can see the markings well enough to identify it. Can you see what a curious at-rest position its wings have? The top wings are perpendicular to the bottom wings. I’ve never seen that before.

Jane and I had had hopes of finding new-to-us butterflies in the desert, but sometimes you have to rely on your own backyard.

Photos by Jane, except the butterfly.

Interesting Indeed

April 16, 2010 @ 6:49 am | Filed under:

At the Study Hacks blog, a post about a girl who won a major scholarship to UVA despite an application that was not fat with extracurriculars—

Want to Get into Harvard? Spend More Time Staring at the Clouds: Rethinking the Role of Extracurricular Activities in College Admissions

In other words, to become more interesting…

  1. Do fewer structured activities.
  2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.
  3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.

Olivia followed a different path. She didn’t emphasize her activities (which, in isolation, weren’t all that impressive) or the qualities they supposedly signaled, instead she let her natural interestingness come through – and her interviewers were entranced.

I loved how Olivia landed an internship in marine biology simply by emailing a neighbor she knew was doing something with horseshoe crabs. That’s a path that led to terrific opportunities for both Scott and me, when we were in college. In my case, I was approaching the last semester of my senior year, and even though I loved being an English major, studying literature, I was weary of the classroom-and-paper grind. I wanted to be outside. So I called a local wildlife refuge and explained that I had no biology background, but I could write: did they have any brochures or anything that needed to be written? The park ranger on the other end of the phone practically whooped with glee. They had TONS of writing projects, and no writers on staff. “What we could really use,” she gushed, “is someone who can translate our science language into something schoolchildren and laymen can understand.”

So I arranged things with the advisor for English internships, and I spent most of that semester out in the woods, hiking trails and writing guided imagery activities for teachers. At the park ranger’s request, I also went through the park’s lending library of old filmstrips and slide shows whose soundtracks were dry and outdated, and wrote new scripts for them, for teachers to read as they showed the slides to their classes. I also got to help with a bald eagle observation project which had nothing to do with writing but the rangers needed an extra hand, and I was Johnny-on-the-spot. It was a wonderful experience. And it landed me a cool job after graduation, giving tours at yet another local refuge—or would have, if funding hadn’t dried up the day I was supposed to start work. But after that I got hired as the publicist for my college’s drama department, so the writing experience stood me in good stead. But far more important than the job opportunities was the incredible experience of being out on the refuge, working with the rangers, learning about park management and wildlife and history and so many other things. That phone call, made on a whim, was one of the best moves I ever made.

Tax Day Reading

April 15, 2010 @ 4:04 pm | Filed under:

J.K. Rowling on paying taxes:

…the first time I ever met my recently retired accountant, he put it to me point-blank: would I organise my money around my life, or my life around my money? If the latter, it was time to relocate to Ireland, Monaco, or possibly Belize.

I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles.

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism.

Jo Knowles on why (taxpayer-funded) libraries are vitally important:

Now I read about budget cuts. School libraries laying off their librarians. Closing the library doors altogether. City libraries shutting down. Library systems disappearing. New York. New Jersey. California. Pennsylvania. No more free books for people desperate to put a picture book in their child’s hand. No more computer access to the kids who don’t have them at home. No more wireless for the people who’ve lost their jobs and need a place to hook up to job search. No more free access to newspapers for the people who don’t have TV and can’t afford the paper. But want to know what’s happening in the world, in their state, in their town. Who want to make informed voting decisions. Who want to understand what’s going on.

Libraries aren’t just about book lending. They are the heart of most communities. They are the one place in any community that you can go all year, rain or shine, rich or penniless. They are the one place in communities that provide fair and equal access. They don’t discriminate. They don’t judge. They give over and over and over.

And now is when they are needed most desperately. Now is when they provide the most valuable services. Now is when, even if a state or county is so far in the red they feel they’ll never get out, now is when libraries should be getting the green light to extend their hours, not have them taken away. Without libraries, the economic divide in our communities grows even wider. Please. If the library in your community is in danger, speak up. If you can help any library that’s in trouble, please do it. This is about kids, babies, new moms and dads, unemployed parents, a lonely retired person who needs weekly or daily interaction and reading material to get them through the week. It’s about keeping communities intact. Your community. My community. It matters.

We celebrated tax day today with a trip to the public library. I’d say more, but I have a date to read Inside Outside Upside Down with a certain little boy.

But Whatever Happened to Penny Knocknutter?

April 14, 2010 @ 7:49 am | Filed under:

That little baby is four years old today. I went to my archives to hunt up an appropriately melty photo (how’d I do?), and I found this post that made me laugh—because it is such a perfect snapshot of then, when I was wrapping my head around having five kids eleven-and-under, and because it pretty accurately depicts our now, too. I mean, sure, now there’s a teenager at one end and a fifteen-month-old force of destruction at the other, and sure, we’re living clear on the other side of the country, and sure, the range of conversational topics has expanded to include everything from politics to artisan breadmaking to the moral codes of Warriors cat clans, but the general tone of things? About the same. I’m still in over my head, slightly dizzy, and endlessly amused.

Party of Five, April 2006

Rose: “Mom, how do you spell Latin?”

Jane, looking up from Sunflower Houses: “Mom, look at this! It’s a bunch of riddles about flowers…hmm, ‘The name of a boy and an old-fashioned weapon…’ ”

Beanie: “Did you know O has a brother?”

Rose: “How do you spell Japanese?”

Beanie: “The brother of O is Q!”

Jane: ” ‘A state in the South and a one-year-old child…’ Virginia creeper!”

Rose: “How do you spell Gaelic?”

Wonderboy: “Mommy help!” (points at stacking cup under table)

Rose: “How do you spell Chinese?”

Jane: “Do you say PEEanee or peOHnee?”

Beanie: “Peony peony peony! I like that name.”

Rose: “How do you spell German?”

Wonderboy: “Mommy help!” (different cup, now under couch)

Baby: “Meep.”

Jane: ” ‘The child of a suffragette known in our land…’ I know about the suffragettes but I don’t know their children’s names.”

Beanie: (sings) “Oh we were sufferin’…until suff-er-age…not a woman here could vote no matter what age…”

Rose: “How do you spell Irish?”

Beanie: “Until the nineteenth a-somethin’ struck down that ra-structive rule….oh yeah!”

Jane: “Amendment.”

Wonderboy: “Mommy count!” (All stacking cups are now lined up in a row.)

Jane: ” ‘A pleasant expression, and one sharp-edged tool…’ The only thing left is smilax, which fits, but what is it?”

Wonderboy: “Ee! Oh! Eye!” (This is how one counts sans consonants.)

Beanie: “Peony. Penny. Penny Knocknutter. When I have a child I’m going to name her Penny Knocknutter.”

Baby: (noisily fills diaper)

Rose: “How do you spell…oh, no, wait, I know that one. G—R—E—E—K.”

Wonderboy: “Boom!”

(Intersperse responses from slightly dizzy mother as appropriate.)

Mid-April Garden Notes

April 13, 2010 @ 7:56 pm | Filed under: , ,

It has been troubling me in a quiet way that I’ve not seen many bees in the garden this spring: an occasional lone native bee, one carpenter bee, and that’s it. But just now I checked my archives and I see I was worried about the same thing in late April last year. The carpenter bee appeared in early May, and it wasn’t until mid-May that the honeybees began to dominate my posts and pictures.

Whew, then.

I did have sunflowers blooming last April, but the birds had planted those in February: overspill from the feeder. This year the feeder is in a different spot, shadier, unwatered, and I had to plant the sunflowers myself. They’re coming up nicely, taller now than Wonderboy, not as tall as Beanie.

The Monarchs arrived in late May, not long after I planted my anniversary milkweed. The milkweed is blooming nicely now, despite hordes of yellow aphids, but we’ve seen no trace of caterpillar nor butterfly yet.

Also in bloom: pincushion flower (just barely), nasturtiums galore, enough sweet alyssum to supply Rilla with endless bridal bouquets for her daily weddings, geraniums in red and pink, cornflowers, bougainvillea, ice plants in red and white and magenta, snapdragons, brown-eyed susans, thyme (whoops), cilantro (whoops), the cooking sage (whoops), and the other kind of salvia, loads of it, waiting for the bees.

Goldfinches, bushtits, purple finches, sparrows, hummingbirds, a phoebe, and the marvelous crows: our April birds. We saw a scrub jay on the sidewalk today, a block from home. I love jays, the cheeky, arrogant things. I wish they’d visit our yard more often.

Three Things Bookish

April 13, 2010 @ 7:39 am | Filed under: ,

Word Play: Healing voices – Discussion of books containing characters with autism or Asperger’s, including Kathy Erskine’s excellent middle-grade novel, Mockingbird.

• Some time back I pondered to what degree my reaction to a book was influenced by reading it on an e-reader—a book I downloaded via the Kindle for iPhone app ended (for me) abruptly, jarringly, unsatisfyingly, and I wondered how much that had to do with the e-reader’s lack of physical cues to let me know, subtly, that the tale was drawing to a close. In yesterday’s LA Times, Carolyn Kellogg addresses that question and gives the iPad high marks in replicating certain aspects of a proper book-book reading experience:

Of course, e-books are not physical books. On a Kindle, they aren’t even calibrated in terms of pages; rather, each screen of text is called a “location,” and a 300-page novel will have thousands of them, which makes it hard to keep track of where you left off.

The iPad, on the other hand, sticks with the more traditional designation and also indicates how many pages remain in whatever chapter is on the screen.

What this acknowledges is that there is a rhythm to reading: The first page of a heavy Harry Potter book promises 600 more; the thinning final pages of an Agatha Christie novel clue us in to the mystery getting sorted out. The iPad builds that into the e-reading experience.

(And to answer your many queries, no, I don’t have one yet—what I do have are three sets of braces to pay for. If anyone around here is getting an iPad, it’s our orthodontist.)

• I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of that butterfly book. In case you missed the update, though, let me note here that I added a word of caution to my nonfiction for teens post; the chapter about convicted butterfly smuggler Yoshi Kojima contains a bit of mature content. Parents of younger readers may want to preview that part.

I Guess I Didn’t Need to Look Under the Seats

April 12, 2010 @ 7:43 pm | Filed under: ,

Rose: Well, what happened to it? You had it when you got into the van.

Beanie: I don’t know! I lost it!

Rose: I don’t understand how it could just disappear like that.

Beanie: I know. But it’s gone.


And what, pray tell, did Beanie lose so mysteriously, causing her sister so much consternation?

Her accent. Apparently they were playing a game, and Beanie was supposed to be English. I sure do wish I’d heard it before the pesky thing went missing.