Flights of Fancy

I grew up in a sweet little barrio in southwest San Diego with two younger sisters and all the leisure time in the world.

Every summer, the Mourning Cloak butterflies would pass through the area, wandering between the north where they overwintered and warmer Mexico. How exciting it was that they paused in our own backyard, the one I was hardly ever allowed to leave, and place eggs on the milkweed plants.

We carefully gathered the leaves and placed them in a shoebox to watch the show.

After four days, the tiniest caterpillars you ever saw would hatch out and immediately begin devouring the leaf they were on. Our job was to feed them as many leaves as possible each day and watch them grow into 2” long black, chubby, spiky, red spotted larvae.

But because they were almost-butterflies, we found them handsome.

The trick was to keep them in the box; they moved fast!

After three weeks or so, we placed long twigs into the box and watched them climb up to a roosting spot. They made webbing and attached themselves to the stick.

And then it looked like they just curled up and died.

A covering formed around them and they hung there in the oddest shaped cocoons.

The pupa has two rows of tiny spikes that end with what appears to be a beak and devil horns. You’d think this was impressive enough to keep our little girl hands off, but if you tried to touch them anyway, the whole thing would wag and shake.

We understood that whatever was going on in there, something was alive.

We had to be patient.

The chrysalis became darker as the butterfly inside developed, until one morning the shroud began to split open.

She very slowly emerged, swollen abdomen and crumpled wings resembling an unopened parachute, to crawl up the stick into the sunshine.

She looked exhausted.

Quite deliberately, the fluids from the abdomen transfer into the tissue thin wings. With each pump of a heartbeat, the butterfly unfurls her magnificent new appendages. Vibrant colors begin to glow, the edges becoming patterns and ripples with a soft downy finish. The wings are actually covered by tiny feathery plates that will fall off if touched by a stray finger, so we keep our hands out of her business.

Even very little girls can see a miracle is occurring.

Once the butterfly has completely opened to the sky and the sunshine and the breeze, her wings all pumped up, her body sleek, and her eyes infused with knowledge not transferable, she takes to the heavens with erratic joy.

And little girls can understand that feeling…like you just want to hug God with your whole self.

Because just being alive is so magnificent.

The Great Kitchen Capers

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then mine has regular heart attacks. Once in a while it flat lines, but I manage to jolt it back into regularity with a quick call to Pizza Palace. If you have ever held the title of “chief cook and bottle washer”, this one’s for you.

“Why are the kids demanding dinner again tonight? I just fed them yesterday!”

It’s one of my favorite jokes, for as you know, kids graze non-stop. They will wait until you’ve just finished the breakfast dishes and then ask what’s for lunch. Who works under this kind of pressure?

I feel like a meal planning, coupon clipping, grocery shopping, kitchen cleaning, food prepping, dinner cooking, meatloaf serving, dishwasher loading, leftover saving, whirling dervish.

If I goof up big time, fire me. Please.

There was the time when I was very efficient and made a chicken pot pie from scratch on a day when I had plenty of play time in the kitchen. I put it together and froze it for a future day when I knew I would have zero kitchen time but would still want a nice dinner.  Go me!

When the big day came, the pot pie landed fresh and steamy on our table surrounded by cheerfully expectant faces. As grace was said, it occurred to me that it looked mighty shiny. Like the crust had a fancy egg wash over it…something only Martha Stewart would have bothered to do on a day like this.

And then it dawned on me. I had removed the foil from the pan and tossed the dinner into the oven without seeing or removing the additional layer of seran wrap that sealed it. The plastic had melted completely over and into the pot pie. There really was no way of salvaging the meal, no matter how ridiculously tasty it smelled and looked. I was serving up a dinner of doom.

I’ve already confessed leaving the sugar out of my pumpkin pies. It was a very sad day. No amount of whipped cream could make up for it.

This is the sort of thing a cooking rookie pulls, not a veteran. When I was young and naïve, I decided to roast myself a whole chicken. I’d grown up watching mom do this my whole life. How hard could it be? I even called her up for some tips.

Not until the bird in all of its glory sat upon the table in golden crispy goodness did it occur to me to look inside of it.

Who does that?

Who expects that a chicken is killed, cleaned, and processed and then someone decides…I know…let’s put all the insides back into the chicken! Hahaha! Oh those silly chicken factory workers! Are you feeling my pain here? All of that time, money and drool for a practical joke.

Makes you want to think twice about biting into a jelly doughnut.

Nowadays the kids are growing and grown and gone. Gone are the days when I knew exactly where they would be at 6pm: sitting down around the family dinner table.  I bake a homemade meal and no one shows up for it. I skip dinner and the kids arrive with volleyball teams in tow. We have Pizza Palace on speed dial.

This whirling dervish is starting to turn slower to take the curve balls, and frankly, the less I juggle, the less I drop. I suppose that’s a win-win.

Ants in Your Pants

Some of the things that kept my sisters and I entertained on long bored-out-of-our-minds summer days were insects. Show me a kid who plays with bugs, and I will show you a kid who was locked out of the house between breakfast and dinner time all summer long.

Mom gave us a choice first thing in the morning: play in or play out. And then stay there. There was always more room to spread out in the backyard, or maybe we were simply tricked into the choice, but mom was sick of the in-out-in-out-in-out slam of the screen door. Hard to blame her for that.

If we were thirsty, it was “drink out of the hose”. If we were hungry, there was a whole garden of fresh tomatoes or lettuce or other foraged snacks.  If we needed the bathroom…well, I suppose she made exceptions for that one.

Ant hills were a source of fascination, but as we were not going to actually spend money on an ant farm (You’re buying dirt? And ants?) we could only see the surface superstructures. We made bridges, hurdles, tiny rivers and other obstacles for the little marching army and watched them proceed to navigate or re-route their freeway. We set down half eaten Lifesavers to see how fast the scouts could locate them and call in the troops.

These were common black ants, not the fire-breathing ones, or this would be an entirely different story.

Occasionally we held potato bug races. These tickly little sow bugs were under any rock, handy to catch and hard to direct. If your bug just ran in little circles, well, you chose a dud. Better luck next race.

A big mid-summer event was the invasion of the giant green Japanese beetles. You could hear them coming and if you didn’t run for cover, the terror was one might get caught in your hair.

You can pick up a crawly green beetle if you carefully grab them just in the middle by the sides. They can’t reach you with their scratchy hooked feet and they can’t open their wings to fly, since you have them pinned with your fingers. You have to move deliberately and calmly, but it’s perfectly acceptable to be shrieking like a little girl while you do it.

Japanese beetles have an atrocious smell. A very distinguished stink.

Our preferred method of revenge was to paint our initials on their glossy green backs in pink nail polish and then send them back in disgrace to their colony.

We watched for our marked beetles; very few returned.

When this became boring, we simply caught them, tied a string to a leg, and walked around with our own personal beetle kite.

What are your thoughts on roaches? Not the giant hissing ones from Madagascar; the tame scuttly ones that live under your floorboards.

Our tiny house was held together by a million cockroaches all holding hands: the ceiling, the walls, the floors. They held the appliances in place. They pulled the blankets up when we tucked into bed at night. They kept stray cats out of the yard.

If we had a girlfriend come for a rare sleep-over, we played a game where we stood in the middle of the kitchen and turned out the lights. Holding very still, you heard the sound of a million cockroaches darting across the room to trade places with each other. A cucaracha Chinese fire drill.

When you flipped the lights back on, you could just catch the last one disappearing behind the table that your friend had naively scrambled up onto while emitting a piercing war whoop.

Which is better? Standing very still while the little buggers run over your bare feet? Or squishing one between your toes as you race for the nearest exit?

We apologized to the flattened roach while our speechless friend clung table-top, eyes wide.

He accepted our remarks and dragged himself home. He was probably over 100 years old. He was probably older than the dinosaurs.

It wasn’t his first time being squashed by a little girl, and it wouldn’t be his last.

But it was very likely to be our last sleep-over.

The Barbary Coast

I’d love to tell you today’s post is about a lovely travel destination. I really would. Oh, I travelled all right, but it’s nothing you’ll find a book on in the travel section of B&N.

This morning I got up early and went for a run.

That’s code for: the bird outside my window would not shut up at 6am and I was so mad I couldn’t fall back asleep and, yes, I had planned on a work-out but I am SO not motivated and I can think of a dozen really well thought out reasons why I should just skip straight to the shower instead but darn it…there’s no time to drive to the gym or even put on my yoga DVD because I just laid here thinking them all up so now I’m out of options and out of time and I just won’t respect myself tomorrow morning if I don’t GET UP RIGHT THIS MINUTE and put on shoes and RUN OUT THE DOOR and whatever you do DON’T LOOK BACK.

Running is barbaric. Don’t ever let someone tell you otherwise. I run as a last resort, when I need a super-sweat really fast. I feel a little like I cheated on my time but made up for it in pain.

I have a girlfriend who ran the Boston marathon to celebrate her 40th birthday. And then she never ran again. I have a girlfriend who rides centuries on her bike. She started running to see if she feels like doing a Triathlon. Can you guess which activity she prefers? She may not ever make it to the swim part of her experiment.

Hubby does his early morning run three times a week because he ran in high school. Yeah. All I hear about is the latest body part about to fall off from his last “run”. He won’t stop running though…because his head tells him he’s still 18. His knees, not so much.

My long legged sons run like the wind. They fly effortlessly around the track or past Hubby or to the dinner table. They are fairly certain if a cheetah chased them, they’d win. In their opinion, the sweat, the heaving lungs, the shaky legs, and the nausea are all part of the fun. If they run with me, they run backwards, cheering me on. Top marks for sportsmanship.

When I run, I can’t wear ear buds because they sweat right out of my ears. So I hum the soundtrack to “Chariots of Fire” and take off. In 30 seconds I am breathing like a bellows, so I mentally chant, “In with the good air! Out with the bad!” In five minutes the sweat begins to permeate my sun visor and I’m thankful it’s not streaming into my eyes. I look directly at the space in front of me. If I look up and see how far there is yet to go, my pace falters and I might start thinking again.

So I trot stubbornly on.

I have one pace and one pace only, and I finally decided to name it the ‘Barbary Coast’. I will never be a hare. I am obviously a tortoise.  This means if pirates are chasing me, I’m a goner.

It takes almost the whole run to warm up and then I’m in a zone where I will just keep trotting into forever unless the path runs me into a wall. I tell my body to just keep moving and then my brain and I go to Morocco.

I am imagining riding a camel along the beaches of Casablanca when…

What in the name of sweet mercy is THAT?! I completely forgot about trash day. I just ran past someone’s wretchedly ripe cans. Oh man, my mouth was wide open and I was breathing in so deep, I reckon there’s a few fruit flies at the bottom of my lungs now.

*ack ack gasp*

This is the part where I spit like a girl.

Don’t watch.

When I finally staggered home I had the rush that comes from accomplishment and endorphins.

But the word “rush” was out of the question for the rest of the day.

Tummy Troubles

Very rarely does my family get ill. It could be because we eat well, sleep deep and play hard. It could be from the fact that we don’t sit still long enough for the germs to catch us.

But most likely it stems from the wee years of preschool and kindergarten where all the kidlets are Petri dishes of experimental bodily fluids.

There are a strict number of times when you must accept the germs passed to you there, and you are honor bound to bring them home and share with your loved ones.

Preferably by projectile vomiting at their feet.

After enough years go by, your immunity is like body armor. The germs can only reach you through your armpits and that’s where most of them die.

Children can go to sleep with their little halos in place and then sit up at 2am, looking puzzled, and launch missiles across the bedroom, sometimes taking in an amazing amount of collateral damage.

If one kid was sick, everyone else’s bedrooms went into lockdown for a week, with air defense shields firmly in place.

You only want to clean that mess once. Maybe never. Maybe you just wrap everything up in the bed sheets and place it, dripping, into the nearest neighborhood dumpster.

(Sorry homeless dude.)

I became extremely good at noticing signs of imminent launching from my children.

I mean, I was pro.

Not because it was another “fun mommy challenge” but because before taking this seriously, I had a child fill a tent (not a sleeping bag; a tent) with semi-digested fishy crackers in the middle of the night in the middle of a camping trip in the middle of the woods.

Sometimes you just have to walk away from your mistakes.

We gently zipped the tent door shut to keep fumes from destroying surrounding wildlife, and slept in the car.

Fast forward to the time we were camping at the beach in our tent trailer. It was late at night, everyone dreaming to the peaceful sounds of the ocean. The Red Alert System went off in my head and I woke up, immediately sending out sonar pings, seeking the danger.

One small child sighed gently in his sleep.

Without skipping a beat and still in my jammies, I scooped up the suspect and swiftly carried him outside.

Face out. The shrubbery was glad to get the fertilizer.

The time we were all eating in the cafeteria and I saw a faintly furrowed brow on my little princess? One minute Hubby was talking to me, and the very next I had snatched her up (face OUT people) and dashed her outside to the nearest trashcan.

It’s very convenient when those don’t have lids. Just sayin.

It’s easier when you’re home of course.

I have to share an idea from that came along much too late for me, but could be helpful for you.

She suggests packing a new beach bucket with: a plastic beach shovel, a small inflatable air mattress (like for the pool), two beach towels, small colorful cups and straws, dry crackers, anti-nausea medication, and doctor/pharmacy info.

Set up the air mattress with towels as sheets. Use the bucket to catch the mess as an alternative to touching a toilet. Use the shovel to scoop up misses. Use the fun cups as incentives to stay hydrated until the bug passes. These items can be rinsed and tossed into a dishwasher or laundry. Or are so cheap, you should have no qualms about tossing them into that dumpster we discussed earlier.

Once the child is settled you can focus on cleaning up the mess…because you never ever want to leave this till daylight. Am I right?

I’m so sorry for your interrupted sleep. I know you’ll have black circles and bags under your eyes tomorrow.

But look at your child.

I don’t know about yours, but mine felt so much better after they were sick that they enjoyed all the fuss and watching me clean up behind them.

They wondered aloud who was going to barf next and placed bets on when.

One even looked sweetly into my sleep-deprived face and asked what was for breakfast.

That one was my Hubby.

Stop, Drop…And Roll ‘Em

I may have mentioned the fact that I am a weather wimp. I live in the only place I would ever live by choice. We don’t have blizzards, hail the size of tennis balls, lightning storms that knock out the electricity, tsunamis, flooding rivers, raging tornados, or black holes.

But we live within driving distance, in case we ever want to be entertained by these ‘natural disasters’.

What we do here in So Cal is wildfires and the occasional earthquake. Let me show you the difference and why this is so much more manageable. You can build your home earthquake resistant. You cannot build it tornado resistant. You can put a fire break around your property. You cannot put a flood break around it. You can put out a wildfire. You cannot put out a blizzard. An earthquake lasts a minute or so; step outside and wait. The earth will roll and then stop; the tsunami, not so much.

We tend to feel jilted if it stays overcast all day. Watch the weather report when we get a light rain. Suddenly the world stops turning because the roads are wet and we have no idea what to do about it. So we keep driving 80mph and spin out on the shoulder and make the 6 o’clock news.

We’re that boring.

And I love it.

Nevertheless, I still hold conversations with otherwise perfectly intelligent people from across America who refuse to come out for a visit.  They harbor a vision in their heads of California having “the BIG ONE” and then falling off in one long slab into the Pacific Ocean.

Perhaps they have never heard of plate tectonics, or maybe they’ve seen too many movies, but I for one find the idea intriguing.

I don’t see any reason why cracking off from the mainland means we will necessarily be underwater.

I’m seeing us as an island. We already have the palm trees. The tourist industry will skyrocket.

Everyone should snap up some inland real estate, preferably hilltop, and wait for it to become our new beaches. It’s already barren and sandy from previous wildfires, right? Just add ocean and your seedy little investment mobile home on two acres of scrub oak will be worth countless millions.

Unfortunately, according to Hollywood experts, if the BIG ONE also triggers a volcano or tsunami or possibly Godzilla emerging from the ocean depths, safe to say they will commandeer your new little tropical paradise to set up their cameras.

They need to get this in the 6 o’clock news.

It All Comes Out in the Wash

Today I want to play in the laundry room. It’s actually a laundry “closet” but beggars can’t be choosers.

In our other home, I had a full size laundry room with tabletop space, drying racks, hangers, hampers, and bins for each family members’ clean clothing. Now we own a tiny walkway between the garage and the house that two people literally can’t pass through at the same time. If I open the dryer to remove clothes, I have to lock the incoming doors so no one will inadvertently destroy the place.

It’s dark, claustrophobic, and not even spiders will live there.

Naturally I take this as a challenge.

Dirty laundry goes into the large sink next to the washer, and clean clothes sit in the tiny shelf in the corner. This means I do a load every day to prevent the tottering mountain of smelly wardrobe bits from landing on the floor and being trampled through.

It’s hard having a freeway run through this dicey corner of town, and worse when you have to pass by the fumes rising from the dump there. You can just hold your breath as you dash through. But your eyes may water a little.

My only real concern is trying to pull the machines out from the wall to get the lint and sock balls collecting behind them. There’s nowhere to pull them out to.

I really want to clean out the lint from my dryer; not necessarily because house fires occur when you don’t keep those vents cleared, but because I’m afraid there’ll be a drive-by shooting during the 45 minute cycle.

Let me explain.

The last time I cleaned out the dryer I used the vacuum attachment in every orifice I could reach. I still felt there was something else in there though, and eventually removed the entire back panels and really rooted around with my hands.  (Please don’t forget to unplug the dryer first. Mine was gas, so I also turned the connecting gas valve to “off”. Safety first!)

I scooped out an entire Lego set, 83 cents in change, bits of a ball point pen, and a bullet.

Not a shell. A bullet.

This matters because we have never had a gun and live in the subs where hunting is not a normal afternoon activity.

Are you telling me a bullet won’t go off if it’s pinging around in a hot metal machine? My Texan girlfriends should have an answer for this, as well as whether hunting knives, camouflage vests and feed store hats should be washed in warm or cold water.

How the laundry is handed to me is how the laundry is washed. The socks are already tucked into cute little balls. Not my fault if they are still damp in the middle. I think they were damp in the middle when you handed them to me, actually.


Judge me if you must. But would you rather stick your hands into the family’s dirty laundry, turning pockets and socks out…or be super excited that you’ve thoroughly cleaned three rocks, a cherry Chapstick, and a rubber lizard? Um…and a bullet?

I cannot begin to tell you how tempted I am to simply hang all the wet laundry over the staircase baluster. I’m much too lazy to hang a laundry line outside, even if the silly HOA rules allowed it.

Which they don’t.

I’m content just knowing I bravely tread where spiders dare not live, a foot bracing the door, one hand tossing dirty underwear into the machine, one hand searching for the bleach, wearing a Kevlar vest and a clothespin clipped on my nose.