Thursday, April 29, 2010

Children and Nature Awareness Month (is ending)

April is (I should say was) Children and Nature Awareness Month. Of course, it's also Autism Awareness Month and Cesarean Awareness Month (by which I assume they mean the doubly-life-saving but very dramatic procedure I underwent, not the Roman dude). In fact, April is Frog Month; Informed Women Month; Month of the Young Child; Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month; School Library Month; and National DNA, Genomics and Stem Cell Education and Awareness Month. While I wholeheartedly support all of these, I feel like I should apologize for not commemorating Children and Nature Awareness Month at ANY time during this month. I mean, it's sort of my thing. I did write a 216-page manuscript on it. I do tend to preach on it. I did write a hero-worshippy e-mail to Richard Louv.

Partly, I've been busy. But mostly -- and I think it's both to my detriment and maybe sometimes (hopefully) to my credit -- it's just not my way. I suck at gaining followers to causes. I just don't care about starting movements. I'm more of a be-there-and-chill type person. Who the hell am I to start a drive or movement or whatever? A person who wrote a really long essay about traipsing about in the desert? So what?

But I think maybe that's not what Children and Nature Awareness Month is about. It's about being close. Physically, emotionally, regularly close to the world around you, down to its smallest, hairiest, squishiest bits and up to the stuff that is so enormously big as to make you feel insignificant, but in an oddly uplifting way. It definitely takes both kinds, the big and small of nature and the big and small of nature thinkers. I'm a small. I don't mean lesser. I just focus inward. I'm pretty discouraged sometimes that I'm not the movement-starter type. What I do want to be, though, is the type who keeps it up anyway. With no followers. With nothing for me to follow except the boy beside me and the caterpillar inching from my finger to his. With no validation except his smile.

So I didn't blog Children and Nature Awareness Month. It wasn't to make this sappy entry, either. It was because I didn't want to. I wanted to do it.

I've got some plans in mind for specific features. I'd like to do some insect posts, maybe venomous critters, definitely locales. My son, actually, wants to start a weekly-ish "David's animal stories," which I wholeheartedly support and would like to incorporate. (What do you all think? He originally wanted to tape it, but his videos make Cloverfield look stationary. He's wanting to do mostly pictures with "a short story," he said.) But I didn't spend the month pitching Children and Nature Awareness Month. I was greedy. I just grabbed my kid, and we enjoyed it ourselves. I hope you don't mind.

You really should do this every month anyway.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Things I love

This guy's amazingly freaking awesome website. Found it via his blog (I'm a tad obsessed with just about everyone at ScienceBlogs), and it's absolutely gorgeous. Must... get... macro lens.

I was featured on this week's imagine childhood blog. Go look at mine and tell everyone how great I am. Check out our nature walk as well as some others. It's good stuff. Thanks to the folks at imagine childhood.

Softpaws, the savior of our furniture. At least, they'd better be. Someone is going to get his paws hog tied otherwise.

Having an uncharacteristically productive week. Hooray for being a competent adult.

Ladybugs. They're adorable, and they eat aphids, which are considerably less adorable. We watched a ladybug absolutely decimate and devour an aphid the other day, after which the ladybug seemed slightly less cuddly, but much cooler.

Dumb luck. You know when you're leaning back in a chair and you have that feeling of absolute inevitability, during which you haven't quite fallen but you know it's coming? I had that feeling -- over this prickly pear, while I was leaning over it face-first to get a good angle for a picture. Somehow, I tripped on top of the clumsiness that had already put me in that predicament, and actually threw myself backward. Two idiot moves canceled each other out. Woo me. This thing is pretty huge. It would have been a full-body affair. Judging from the experience of my brother, who did the same thing only with his back side, it would have been fairly unpleasant. (His ordeal included sitting on a pillow for a while afterward, and other consequences that may or may not involve a certain maternal figure of ours pantsing him in the backyard -- but I'm sure he doesn't want me to mention that.)

Arizona sunsets. I know they're cliché to like. But I like to rub it in non-Arizonans' faces  be unoriginal  point out the obvious appreciate them every once in a while anyway.

My husband's dream the other night. He dreamed he was furiously jealous because I'd become close to this character from The Big Bang Theory, and my husband thought his equations were making me all hot and bothered. I love how he apparently sees me. It's not too dramatically far from the truth. My poor husband.

I'll end with a gratuitous sex shot:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Space rocks rock

A reflection on a recent article, which you can read here.

You're not supposed to be taken with a source. Bias, and all that.

Still, it's damn near impossible not to be drawn in by Geoff Notkin.

"So let me get this straight," my husband said, as I raced around on a Friday morning, already late for the drive down to Tucson. "You're talking to an attractive television personality with nice hair who loves science, the outdoors, geeky sci-fi things and wildlife photography? AND he has a British accent? Should I wait up, or will you be moving to Tucson?"

"I think it's only slight," I mumbled, stuffing my interview-questions list in my notebook. It fell out, whereupon my husband trampled it. I restuffed it in the notebook, giving him the stink eye.


"His accent. He only has a slight British accent."

"OH! Well then, that makes a huge difference. Never mind!"

He was joking, of course. And while I certainly don't mind interviewing attractive, sciencey adventurers, I was only moderately impressed on paper. I am only ever moderately impressed on paper.

The appeal did indeed turn out to be irresistible. It's not bias (or anything that should concern my husband); rather, it's his unflagging enthusiasm for his field. It's also the field itself. Geoff's a space-rock Indiana Jones. Seriously. He has a TV show about it (Meteorite Men on the Science Channel, now hoping to be picked up for a second season). I mean, how can you not be interested?

Besides that, he's just fun to talk to, particularly for me. We had a bit in common. His license plate reads BBLBROX. The bar in his home bears a sign accepting Arrakis spice, among other things. (Anyone who shares or is even aware of my propensity for rampant sci-fi geekery will understand.) Our dads both played clarinet. We're cat people. We don't really care about television. (Except Meteorite Men, of course. Well, and Lost, for me, particularly the Sawyer-centric episodes, but I imagine that's one fixation Geoff and I don't share.)

The only trait we don't share that readily comes to mind is something I would dearly love to cultivate -- he's a self-confessed neat freak, while my office looks like I'm auditioning for an episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive. Well, OK. Also, I'm a parent, and he's not. And he's been in a successful punk rock band, while I can sorta-kinda-teensy-bit play a trumpet. And, well, the TV show. Don't have one of those. And...

OK, OK. I get carried away. I will say, though, it's easy to get drawn in, and it would be no matter who was doing the telling, though he tells is superbly. The guy chases fireballs from space.

He brought out a slice of meteorite with chondrules, pieces that were around before our solar system had even completely formed, and had found their way into the meteorite we were holding. I was touching material older than the earth. Freaking cool.

He brought out several other meteorites -- he has drawers and shelves and rooms full of them -- some rocky, some whimsically shaped, one with this weirdly smooth, undulated surface that felt undeniably, well, alien.

He got his start at about three, when his dad would show him Jupiter's moons at midnight. His parents encouraged him constantly, indulging his science/sci-fi/bookworm ways. His room was an amalgamation of collected fossils and rocks and piles of books. It makes me think I must be doing something right with my own son. From where I sit I can see a giant conch shell he's been carrying in his backpack all week, a pile of quartz he collected from the desert (only ever one at a time, so others can enjoy it, he says), a lizard skeleton, and a tower of books (A Bug Compendium, Fossils of the World, and so on, along with a starter sci-fi/fantasy series.) He sent a small meteorite home for my son, which now resides with the rocks, shells and skeletons.

Also? The guy's all about Arizona, and not just because it has clearer skies and better weather than his childhood London home.

Arizona is ideal meteorite-hunting ground, he says. While falling meteorites aren’t statistically more likely to fall in Arizona than anywhere else in the world, the arid desert environment helps preserve them, and it’s also easier to hunt than, say, deep foliage (or the bottom of the ocean, where the majority of fragments are bound to fall). A dark iron meteorite is bound to stand out against a bright, bare desert floor.

In addition, Tucson's Mexican and Native American influence, thriving arts community, desert environment, and the support from scientific institutions and other prominent meteorite collectors all proved an irresistible pull for Geoff, who had long wanted to move to the desert. The Fremen would approve.


If you read my ramblings first instead of the link at the top, you can find the article here. If you want to check out Geoffrey Notkin you can find his business here or his blog here, or go check out Meteorite Men. Here's to hoping for a second season. Thanks for sharing your story, Geoff.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Everything dies, baby

When I die, I'll be cremated, hopefully after donating any organs where they're needed.

When I die, my collection of books (especially the fancy Harry Potter ones) will go to my son. They will be read and re-read, and if they fall apart, taped together and read again, and if that falls apart, recorded in my son's voice as special edition audio books.

When I die, it will be the year 2166, at the earliest.

When I die, my ashes will be sprinkled in the mountains, in a canyon, at my father's commemorative field, or maybe at the duck park, by the good playground with the giant yellow slide.

Aside from the fact that I would like to be an organ donor and be cremated, these are all edicts by my son, dispensed with what can be off-putting regularity and at the weirdest of times.

Like yesterday during our walk.

Me: "David, come on. We're taking this path."

Son: "Mom, when you die..."

Me: (With uncomfortable sidelong glance at a passerby.) "Not now, bud. Let's go. It's getting dark."

Son: "But Mom -- and it's going to be a while before you die, but..."

Me: (More apologetic glances.) "Why don't you come over here and tell me what you need to tell me?"

Son: "MOM! I'm saying, WHEN YOU DIE..."

Passerby: "..." (Emanates What-is-WRONG-with-these-two vibes; gives us very wide berth.)

To be fair, he didn't see the passerby (because he was playing a rousing game of I'm Not Following You Until You Count to Three in a Threatening Voice, and therefore was facing the other way). Ordinarily my son saves topics like death, hurt feelings, boobs and penises for tender family moments.

Just engaging in frank death talk is apparently weird, at least according to most people. That was part of my reason for the Come-here-and-then-tell-me approach. I've had matter-of-fact discussions about mortality before, but anyone who doesn't know my son and me and overhears it tends to behave as though I'm forcing the kid to watch the dead-baby-on-ceiling scene from Trainspotting while the creepy girl from The Ring crawls out of the picture-in-picture and I caper next to him dressed as Pennywise. You don't talk about death, at least not directly. Even while talking about death, you don't talk about death. Death is passing on. It's someone you've lost. It's going to sleep and not waking up. Death is about coping, life, religion, just about anything except death.

Here's the thing: My family is freakishly frank. We're considerate -- in fact, I think my siblings and I were raised with a higher-than-average mandate to be considerate and to observe proper conventions of civil conversation. However, we're blunt. Sex? Penis goes into vagina. Babies may result. Race? Yes; that guy is black. Big whoop. Divorce? Heads up: divorce coming. Puberty? Crazy shit's going to happen to your body. You'll be happier if you learn to use tampons.

There was no verboten topic growing up. I was an adult before I heard the one about not discussing politics or religion at the dinner table. Whatever were you supposed to shout about? We said what the heck we meant to say. Conversational pussyfooting was just not done.

My family wasn't flippant. We discussed the intricacies of sex, race, divorce, puberty, everything. Heaven knows, we discussed the hell out of them. My point is, it was always centered on a frank, honest addressing of the issue.

I've remained exactly the same, and my son picked up on it as soon as he could string two words together. Kids really have to be taught out of bluntness, anyway. We just skipped that lesson. Hence, the out-of-the-blue conversations about biracial families, cat nuts, and death.

(My husband, whose family was slightly less forthcoming with information, gets all shifty and lobs EVERY SINGLE talk my way. Cut him some slack, though -- he did conduct a very nice Why-we-don't-grab-our-crotches talk this week, and that was while being scaled by the cat, all with an insulin syringe hanging from his arm. I did my part by sitting in the next room snickering.)

Death really is about coping and commemorating the life that just ended, but only once you address the fact that someone or something has died. It's actually because you first address the bare fact of it that you can then cope and remember and pay respects.

Which is all very nice, except when someone close to you does die, you're not always all about being brutally frank and blunt. (Well, I still am. But you're not likely to be. I'm not normal.)

Why not let him explore mortality in a safe and non-scary way?

So sorry, lady at the park. I've allowed him to fixate on death -- my death -- when he feels the need. It's creepy, sure. Embarrassing, sometimes. But he's figured out more than most people I know.

He has discussed, analyzed, and felt, really felt, all the deaths he's experienced in his short life, be they pets, my grandmother, or the miscarriage. He's even analyzed my father's death (who died seven years before he was born), and the impact his grandfather might have had (or still can have) on his own life. He's decided, for now, that he believes in Heaven, but not Hell. He's not sure what he means by Heaven. He's outraged by the fact that some deaths are in the news for weeks and weeks, but you never hear about other ones. He figures he's probably not correct about all of it, but he's more worried about life anyway, he says. He knows life is precious.

And while bellowing WHEN YOU DIE to one's mother isn't necessarily normal, you know what else he did? When a girl he knew lost a grandparent, he said, quite simply, "Sorry your grandma died," and left it at that. No one else acknowledged it. Maybe they thought they were being nice.

But she instantly became his friend.


I love:

Cleaning the house. I mean, really cleaning, getting down and dirty and sweaty for hours. Doesn't matter if no one thanks me, either. Seeing them come and use and defile my clean house just lets me know how needed I am. It's like job security, only I pay money.

When the computer crashes. All that stuff I'd written? I'm sure it sucked anyway. Better to start over.

My rampant ADD. Makes life interesting, yo.

Whining. How else would two eight-year-olds get my attention? (Note to kids: Parents have selective hearing too. For example, I'm completely tattle-deaf in both ears.)


Not being able to find my way from frickin' anywhere to anywhere else. I've probably seen more of the state than anyone. Just don't ask me to take you there a second time.

Playing Bakugan for hours on end.

Kardashian Shore, or Keeping Up With the Jerseys, or whatever.

Having a living room that smells like feet.

Having a yard that takes a machete to navigate. We have a "flower jungle" according to my son.

Cutting my son's fingernails. The horrible screaming means I'm doing it right. Right?

April Fool's Day.