Friday, April 30, 2010

Crustacean Station

Have I told you about our Hermit Crab collection?

It started out innocently enough. The Captain got the kids a pair of crabs for Christmas. Then in January, one died. This one, in fact. Rocky had survived his two-week warranty by exactly three days.

In the wake of mourning Rocky's loss, my friend Hollis offered to give us her remaining crab, Sunshine. She had had six at one time over the last five years, and the last hermit standing was lonely. So Sunshine came to live with us, along with lots of good crab habitat stuff, like a log, a climbing wall, a pot, and a food dish. Popcorn had a friend again, and I got lots of information about how not to kill your hermit crab.

This only encouraged the Captain. That weekend, he took the kids to the mall to add to the crab community. They came home with four more hermits. One of them is in a shell the size of a raquetball. Ugh. Like, I thought they were called hermits because they like to be alone. Why would one give that name to a community animal? But it turns out they like to be together.

Despite their nocturnal ways, utterly boring demeanor, and their tendency to pinch the kids every time they get picked up, the hermits have been entertaining. Every night they completely demolish their "crabitat", dozing over the log, the food dish, the ivy and anything else in their path. Once a week they get a bath, which is supposed to be fun for them but they spend the entire experience just trying to get out of it. And occasionally one will switch shells, which heightens the wonder of what will happen next?

Somehow, even though the tank is in Boo's room, I find that I am the one making sure they get fed, are warm enough, have enough moisture in the air, and get regular baths. Even though I declared no interest in nurturing anything else until the baby is out of diapers. There is just no escaping it, the mom is the mom is the mom.

Ah, back to the story. I get distracted so easily.


Along about the beginning of April, we were three months into crabby care. Then Sunshine, our adoptee from a friend, disappeared. The last place we had seen Sunshine was at the top of the climbing wall, and now the lid was ajar. Could she have hopped out?

We searched everywhere. For days. Then a week, then two. Finally I resigned myself to finding poor tiny Sunshine by the smell of her decaying body. Only I couldn't even find a smelly spot in Boo's room, or anywhere on the upper level. Rrr.

And two weeks to the day after her disappearance, there she sat in the middle of the tank. Calm, cool and collected, like nothing ever happened. What???

At this point I need to mention that crabs, being crustaceans, occasionally molt. And Miss Hollis had mentioned that if she disappeared for a few days, not to go looking for her because crabs bury themselves in the sand when molting time comes.

So apparently molting must give off a pheremone or something because while Sunshine was walkabout, three of the other five crabs disappeared too. This is something that is supposed to happen every 1-2 years, what's up with it all happening at once?

Sunshine is in the yellow shell in the center
Popcorn is semi-buried in the sand on the right

I think they are having trouble though. Popcorn has been burying and unburying herself for two weeks now. And Sunshine, despite having been out of sight for two weeks, proceeded to finally shed her exoskeleton out on top of the sand two nights ago. I thought she had finally died and fallen out of her shell, until the next morning when I picked up the shell and there was a tiny crab still inside it! This really helped with my gross-out at seeing Bat Boy crunching up and eating what was left of Sunshine's claws & stuff.

Ugh. A little too weird for me.

So last night Boo and I were talking right before lights-out, reminiscing about the whole Sunshine incident, and sharing our relief that she's one tough nut. And so glad she didn't actually escape, because that would have been really bad.

Just then, no joke, we heard a scratching from behind Boo's bed. Not in the direction of the crab tank. What???

We turned on the light and I looked for the source of the scratching sound. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Roly Poly, our #2 largest hermit. What on earth! Apparently all the time I was worrying about little Sunshine, we had another one on the loose!

I placed him back in the tank, relieved to have the gang all back together, as I thought.

Then this morning, at 6:05am, I was jolted from my slumber by Boo running into the room declaring, "Hey!" I hate when that word wakes me up, there's something especially alarming about it: "You'll never guess where I found Beach! She was downstairs, under a bowl, under your computer desk!"

Tiny Beach, back from her expedition

Yes, the minute I got over the paranoia about Sunshine's disappearance, those other crabs had actually gotten out. But as I was now expecting them to be buried, I hadn't even begun to search for them. And this tiny one had been walkabout long enough to get out of Boo's room, down the stairs, across the floor, and under a dish? I swear we have gremlins living in our house.

Now that we officially have the whole gang back together, I have placed large rocks on top of the lid. I'm a little nervous about them getting out again, but very relieved to be able to see all six of them at one time.

Roly on the left, Bat Boy on the right

You might know that Roly and Bat Boy are now sitting at the top of the climbing wall. It's like Roly filled Bat Boy's head about all the amazing things he discovered on his walkabout, and said (in crabby language), "You should come with me!"

I think we're going to contact Hollis this weekend about possibly purchasing her extra 75 gallon tank. Because community creatures or no, surely the hermits are trying to tell me they would like a bigger playground.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steam Locomotive

I've been meaning to post about this for a couple weeks, but the time got away from me. See my posts about gardening for details!

Union Pacific #844, the last steam locomotive built for this line

Early in April, we had one of those weekends that included a little bit of everything. Thursday we got the house all spic and span, for a wonder. Friday we had some friends in from Austin for a visit. Saturday the Captain helped his brother begin demolition for a little home remodeling project; while I dug up the earth for garden box #1. Sunday morning, we were all up and ready for church 30 minutes before time to leave, also a wonder!

As we enjoyed leisurely coffee and cereal around the breakfast table, the Captain suddenly looked up from surfing the web (since we have canceled the paper) and asked, "What time is it?" The answer was 8:38.

He had just discovered a notice that this historic locomotive would be passing through town, within a mile of our house, between 8:20 and 9am. We looked at each other, then hastily loaded the kids into the car and headed over to the Wellborn crossing to see what we could see.

The small gathering by the tracks was full of anticipation, the kind of atmosphere one finds before a small-town parade. Boo saw a classmate, while I chatted with another mom and Lulu made friends with her daughter.

After a miniature eternity of 30 minutes, the locomotive hove over the horizon. The Captain pulled out the camera and lined up for his shot. I was mesmerized by the iridescence of the steam vapor cloud puffing out above the locomotive.

Suddenly, the group realized this steam train was not proceeding at the leisurely scenic pace we had expected. We all tumbled backward a few paces, in order to be at least 20 feet away from the charging beast! In a blink, the train blew up to and past us, then disappeared around a bend, taking its deafening steam whistle with it.

Recently, Miss Boo has begun saying, "Here comes the future... HEREitis THEREitgoes!" That's about the sum of our steam train experience.

What a rush.

To read more about this particular locomotive, read the news post the Captain found that morning: Historic Locomotive Steams Through Brazos Valley.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exit Drama; Enter the Real Challenge

I thought our weekend plant project was going to be a sprint to the finish. It all sounded so simple: Grow some seeds, plant a garden. However, life is never as simple as it seems.

But I thrive on challenges. So we plowed through for two or three weekends (I lost track, actually). Rented a tiller to prep the ground. Put edging around the trees to make a bed along the back fence. Built two boxes, one with a trellis. Ordered a truckload of dirt to fill the boxes and the flower bed. Planted lettuces, artichokes, sugar snap peas, and watermelons. Adopted out some of my extra tomatoes and peppers. Potted a couple mango seeds. And even installed a couple of birdhouses thanks to my Louisiana neighbor.

Since I know you have been wondering, I do have to call them by their full name, Sugar Snap Peas, every time I refer to them. I hate peas. But I adore chilled fresh sugar snap peas, crunchy jackets and all. So lest anyone think I am referring to the bag of little green balls you get from the freezer section (plegh!) I use their full name. It evokes a much better mental picture for me. And now you know.

Finally: Mission Accomplished! And even though I missed my 8 week deadline, not a single one of my plants turned into a pumpkin.

Okay, there is one little bit not finished yet. Finishing is never a strong suit of mine. That pile of dirt in my driveway just will not die. But I'll get it all back along the fence by Friday, I will!

The dirt pile reminds me of my real challenge area. The startup is finished, but believe it or not, now we enter the part where I really, well, suck at success.

I thrive on new beginnings. I love happy endings. But middles, I'm not so good with those. This applies to many areas of my life: moving, kids, projects, even housework. Oh, that housework. I love spring cleaning, and hate to sweep the floor after every meal. But that's another story.

Back to the garden. In our years of home ownership, we have dabbled with gardening. But gardening is difficult when you move every other year. Now here we are, almost concluding two full years in this house with this yard. And we are NOT planning to move. So we built a garden.

Now I have come to think of that garden as a metaphor for growth in my personal life. Because I will either grow better at being consistent through the middle, tending the small everyday needs of that garden, or my garden will fail miserably.

As I discussed this with the Captain's mom (who needs a bloggy name: any ideas?), she was awesome enough to point out that actually I'm in for growth either way. Because we learn the most from our failures. I am actually really encouraged by that, but I also don't want to let those tender plants down! Secretly I'm hoping for the first kind of growth, not the other kind.

So here we go, into the middle. In which I learn to be consistent. It is a necessary lesson, because I'm dying without some consistency in my life. The kids need it from me, my husband needs it from me, and now my garden needs it from me.

After all that work on the garden, now my house needs a little attention from me. See you later, it's time to be practicing my consistency in the kitchen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Laura Anderson Kurk

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a stranger who quickly became a friend.

Last week the Captain's mom was captivated by a novel, a recently published first work. She contacted the author, who happens to live in our community, for a personal signing. In exchange she offered tea and cookies at Red Boot Ranch, her house in the country.

I was fortunate to be invited to this tea, to have the opportunity to meet a fellow mom who has accomplished her dream of putting thoughts to paper and having them published.

In one hour, the three of us had just enough time to ask a few questions of one another. She wanted to know how my mother-in-law had discovered the book, and what had captivated her about it. She wanted to know about my experience living in Salt Lake City.

In turn, we wanted to know where her story had come from, what had birthed the idea and how it had bubbled out into daylight. Her presence with us was a light shining hope and inspiration onto my dream of writing.

All too soon, she had to leave. I didn't get a chance to ask how she got her idea to publication, but I think that's a story each author has to navigate and write for herself. We did exchange contact information, and I hope to continue to know her.

For now, I am encouraged to continue to teach myself the discipline of regular writing. The ideas keep coming, I just have to be diligent to create that time and mental space to work them into thoughts I can share.

To read more about Laura and her book, Glass Girl, visit her website:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

Last fall, I planted a Gold Star Esperanza bush in my front flower bed. Esperanza is a mostly perennial bush here that makes yellow trumpet-shaped flowers all summer and into the fall. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. This bush wasn't very big, but my hope was that it would grow bigger every year and eventually fill the space I had for it.

After the freeze we had in February, I didn't know whether it would come back. I have waited and watched in vain this spring for signs of life, and had given up hope. In fact, the only reason I didn't already tear it out is that I hadn't gotten anything to replace it.

Then a couple days ago, I spotted a shoot! Hurrah! I ran for my camera.

As I was angling for the best way to photograph this miracle, I was aware of Rooster close by. He kept talking to me, and I kept murmuring something like, "Uh-huh, I'll look at it in a second, honey." I had to keep moving around because he kept ending up in the background of my photo.

Finally I looked up. The sweet child was actually trying to get in my photo, because he thought I had brought the camera out to take a picture of him with his new fire truck! If I had asked for this photo, I would never have gotten it.

Since I hadn't asked, I also got these.

Rooster had been given this ladder truck a few days earlier by a neighbor whose son had outgrown it. And this boy is in heaven. The truck has gone to preschool for show-and-tell, to Grammy's house to meet all the tractors that live out there, and now spends its days going inside and outside wherever the Rooster may be.

Few things in life have tickled me as much as watching my sturdy boy move this gigantic toy around. He insists on loading it in the back of the car, carrying it inside and outside, all by himself, but the thing is almost as big as he is--and that is saying something.

Esperanza is the name of my butterfly bush. It is also the Spanish word for hope. I had such hope that my plant would grow, but I doubted. Sighting signs of life brought it all back in a rush.

But I almost missed the real beauty of the moment, the eternal esperanza of my child that I would understand his heart. I love the way this boy holds his toys dear. I love the joy in his eyes when he was told he could take this truck home; and the hope when he saw my camera and assumed I was intending to photograph this amazing addition to his life.

My real hope is for my children, that they never lose their wonder for the world, and that the spark of hope would forever live in their own hearts.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Karate Kid: Level Up

Three months was all it took. Some kids do it in six weeks, many in eight weeks. I had actually resigned myself to the possibility that it might take Miss Boo as long as six months to graduate from her beginner's white belt to an orange belt.

This week we were all surprised to find out she qualified to graduate in tonight's ceremony!

The road has been challenging, but that's why we started her on it in the first place. She needs a place she can learn discipline, focus, and self-control (don't tell, but those are exactly the things I struggle with still. Maybe she can get it faster than I have).

All of those qualities are still in the works. But she has shown progress, and for that she has been rewarded with forward movement. Tonight's ceremony was not a test, it was really a celebration of what the kids already earned over the last eight weeks.

Here you can see the kids strut their stuff. If successful, this will be the first video I have ever posted to my blog: two and a half minutes of pure cinematic gold. You know me, always pushing the limits of technology, ha ha.

To me the greatest thing about karate so far is that, despite being challenged by the teacher that she needs to pay greater attention, show more respect, and work harder, she has never once expressed a desire to quit. We had tried creative movement class, tumbling class, even swimming; none lasted beyond the novelty stage. I am so proud of her for sticking with this one. She is officially in the Black Belt Club, and she is learning that it will take years to get to her goal. But each small achievement is a step in the direction of that goal.

I am really proud of my karate kid.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Plant Party

Back in February, while the Captain was between jobs, we made a commitment to our future and planted a Jiffy greenhouse tray full of herb and vegetable seeds. We stuck seeds into little dirt pellets, watered them, set up a pair of grow lights, and replaced the lid. The directions led us to believe we would have sprouts in 7-14 days, so we went back to other ways of wishing away the end of winter.

Small beginnings, during a Texas snowstorm

To my astonishment, we began to see tiny green shoots within 3 days. Apparently, sugar snap peas are the party animals of the vegetable plant world, and they don't want to miss a moment of the fun! I now know what to have my children plant for a quick result. Other seeds soon followed, and shortly we had a rocking house party going on.

I also learned why everyone plants tomatoes: they simply grow! Out of twelve dirt pellets with (I thought) three seeds planted in each, we ended up with 34 shoots growing out of thirteen pellets! Several pellets had four stems come up. I think a synonym for tomato should be vigorous. Multiple stems will probably end up fighting for nutrients, but I can't bring myself to thin them. So super plants, here we come.

Four plants have been moved to my backyard tomato buckets, with the other nine in smaller pots waiting for a more permanent location. Apparently I will be sharing the love via tomatoes this year, if I can remember to water them faithfully. (I kinda failed at that last season.)

Tomato bucket with blueberry bush behind

We planted a dozen varieties of seeds, including Meyer lemons and two kinds of apples. Besides tomatoes (2 kinds!) and peas, we attempted basil and cilantro, artichokes, jalapeno and poblano peppers, and lettuce. Most seeds were wildly successful.

Of them all, we had the least idea what to expect from the artichokes. Only twelve seeds came in the seed packet, and they were listed with a 180-360 day growth time. Of the twelve, only four germinated. Was this enough?

Then last week we went to the university horticultural garden, and I saw artichoke plants. They are awesome, spiky bushes sending up these giant heavy flowers that are the fruit we eat! While searching for this photo to demonstrate for you, I also just found out they are a kind of thistle. Who knows but I may end up with mini artichoke plants sprouting up all over my yard!

Stock photo: What have I started?

As I mentioned, the genesis of this project came from a commitment to the future, in which we would build a garden to receive the plants within eight weeks. The commitment became reality when the basil was ready for the herb box. I also bought some rosemary and thyme to add in. Sturdy oregano had flourished over the winter. And a couple of garlic cloves stuck into the soil completed that mini-project.

At the five week mark, I began moving some of the tomato pellets into larger containers.

At six weeks, those plants were ready to move again, so they went into their buckets. Other plants were moved into slightly bigger containers as they, too, began sending roots forth from the edges of their dirt pellets.

At seven weeks, we finally began to dig a garden. The kids helped me spend an afternoon cordoning off a square and digging up the sod. The Captain bought me lumber and rebar to build a raised box, because what passes for soil around here is really black clay.

No, really, the kids did help!

We are now three days away from the eight week mark, and my back porch is bursting with life. The race is on this weekend, to finish building the garden box so that by the time the eight-week clock strikes midnight on Tuesday, all that party has someplace to go!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Going Native

It is wildflower season in Texas! Each year, I anticipate this season a little bit more, to the point that for the first time in my life, I think I prefer spring over fall as my favorite! This year also marks our second annual bluebonnet photo shoot with the kids. I feel like I am doing my part as a dutiful Texas parent, by recording them each year among the flowers.

Yet as much as I'd like to think I am adapting to my adopted home state, there are a few ways in which I will never fully fit in as a Texan.

For one thing, I talk too fast. Folks around here sometimes give me a charming cockeyed look that says, "I'm sorry? I didn't quite catch that." And then I back up and start again with less complex sentence structure. There is no intelligence deficit, just a different way of getting one's point across.

The funny thing is, I have just as much trouble understanding some of the really rural speakers. My neighbor is a lifelong resident of the deep south, and I sometimes have to call in an interpreter his wife to translate between us. Fortunately, almost half the people I interact with either originated in a more northern state or they have spent time living in a city among other fast-talking folk, so for the most part we all understand each other fairly well.

Texas food is another area in which I am not yet fully up to speed. I still can't abide the smoky taste of brisket, or even the smell permeating any good barbecue joint. Smoked sausage on Texas white bread with a little mustard and pickles works when I am with a group, but barbecue is definitely not my bag. Mexican food all the way, please!

Just a couple hours ago, I was reminded once again of my lack of adaptation. Around here, when you want iced tea, you order "tea," upon which your server asks, "sweet or unsweet?" True natives drink it sweet. Everyone else orders it unsweet and puts artificial sweetener in it. Yeuch to all. I prefer my sweet on the side, thank you very much!

I just wish the alternative to "sweet" involved a different word. I say "UNsweet" every time, but sometimes the kid taking your order only hears the end of the word. So this afternoon I take a huge swig of my "tea" from McDonalds, and almost spit it out.... instead of cold brown water, I got a mouthful of melted popsicle. EWWWW!

In 2.5 years, I have learned a few new tricks:
  • I am comfortable with "fixinta" go somewhere with "ya'll".
  • I have adjusted to doing yardwork/gardening March-June and September-November, instead of a single growing & mowing season.
  • I accept that there will be days when I run the A/C in the afternoon, then crank the furnace on before bed.
  • I find 60 degrees to be cold enough to warrant a wrap.
  • I do not currently own a winter coat.
  • I have rekindled my love affair with Dr. Pepper; and know that Chicken Express on Wellborn Rd is one of two or three locations in town where one can get a fountain Dr Pepper made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
  • I know how to pull over into the berm and drive more slowly so the Ford F-350 behind me can hotfoot it to Austin a few minutes faster than I will.
But for some things, I will just have to let my children do the adapting. Does anyone want this here tea sitting on my counter?