Saturday, November 21, 2015

Don't miss it: Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center Open House

Are you local? Do you love wildlife? Want to support a really good cause? Check out the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center Open House this weekend! I couldn't come today, but I'll be there tomorrow (Sunday). Say hi if you're there!

The open house runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22. There are live wildlife displays, activity booths, and more; and you can tour the rehabilitation facility. It won't come around again for a year, so check it out. Here are a few treasures from last year:

The address is 2800 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd, Phoenix, 85027. Take I-17 to Pinnacle Peak Road (Exit 217), go west on Pinnacle Peak, turn north at the first street (less than a quarter of a mile), and follow the signs throuhg the Adobe Mountain School Area to the even parking.

Obviously, bring your camera!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Kids these days! Rassum frassum...

Kids these days, am I right? 

Actually, no. If I'm about to gripe about how they're less courteous, less playful, bigger wusses, ruder, like stupid music or anything like that; I'm not. At least, I'm not any more correct than the zillions of other people in literally every generation who have said that.

Still, you see it all the time. Lamenting the degradation in today's youth is far from new. Just for fun I Googled various combinations of "kids," "youth," "these days," "generation," and phrases about older writings. It took me about 60 seconds: Turns out in 423 BCE, Aristophanes makes fun of  the idea. That means "kids these days" hasn't just been around for thousands of years; it's been a clichĂ© for thousands of years. One of the latest rants, shared on Facebook by many of my friends lately, most recently has been paired with this image:

And back in the '80s we TOTALLY never complained about having to play with our siblings, and also never snickered at the word "booby."

Here's the text that accompanies it:

It's been going around for a few years, but I just saw it twice this morning and once last week, so I thought I'd pick it apart. Because kids these days are different in some ways, but they're just as good/spunky/nice/responsible and just as rude/lazy/ irritating/preoccupied as we were. I'm as baffled by this as I am by blind patriotism. Congratulations! You were born in a certain place/decade just like me! We're better by default! I was born in 1980, but I don't need the distinction.

My childhood and my son's: TOTALLY DIFFERENT. 

Seriously. There's hardly any similarity at all. 

OK, on to the picking. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL BORN IN 1930’s, 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and Early 80’s !!!
So, like, everyone who's not a kid/young person today. Casting a bit of a wide net, aren't we? This seems to be much more about kids these days than the childhoods of previous generations. You can't tell me that someone born in 1930 has as much in common with someone born in 1980 as that person has in common with a 25-year-old today.

First, you survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn't get tested for diabetes.
My mom neither smoked nor drank, and felt terrible for the single Tylenol she took across three pregnancies. Turns out there's nothing good or nostalgic about fetal alcohol syndrome. Also, major findings about tuna weren't released until after my own son was born, so it's not like our parents were being reckless—and the study only warns to limit one's tuna intake due to rising mercury levels, a reasonable prevaution. According to the FDA, six ounces a week of tuna should be fine. If you want to be on the safe side that's obviously fine. Looking at the information and eating accordingly is the key—there's nothing wrong with parents who didn't yet have this information nor is there anything wussy about using it now. It's not like this is a dichotomy between absolute paranoia and a total laissez-faire attitude. Either of those is dumb. 

You are supposed to avoid blue cheese, though. (And no, fellow word pedants, I'm not going to pick on the "blue." There's a good case to be made for "blue" cheese.)

And diabetes? For the record, many mothers in these generations would have been tested, since gestational diabetes was discovered several decades ago and can lead to a whole host of complications for the mother and baby, including death. These silly ninnies today; wanting to save people. What are they thinking? 

Then after that trauma, your baby cots were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.  
Lead paint, seriously? You do know lead in many forms is a neurotoxin, right? Ah, for the days of brain damage via lead poisoning. Also, baby cots?

You had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when you rode your bikes, you had no helmets, not to mention, the risks you took hitchhiking ...
Pictured: A childhood devoid of adventure.
I never hitchhiked. Neither did the vast majority of my friends. I have helped, and have been helped, by strangers on the side of the road, but most of those happened in these "overcautious times" in the past decade. I mention this first to differentiate it from the other items in the list, which are merely advances in safety. Why should it be considered "tough" or admirable to do without safety measures that weren't widely available at the time? I know someone who hopped on a bike in his driveway for literally a few minutes, fell, struck his head, and died. Somehow, these stories of fun-times grit ring hollow to me.

As children, you would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van - loose - was always great fun.
No air bags in the first several cars; that's correct. But always seat belts. I rode in the back of a van with no seat belt a few times, as well as in the bed of a truck, bouncing around and almost falling out a few times. I'll be honest; it WAS fun. I don't think that was any great consolation when my parents found out. Risking death because "wheeee!" isn't the smartest thing in the world.

You drank water from the garden hosepipe and NOT from a bottle. 
No, we didn't usually do that. I drank water from the faucet growing up, and still do. But you just taught me that "hosepipe" is a word, so thanks!

You shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.
People hardly ever intentionally spread germs and backwash around anymore, folks! Childhood as we know it is dead. Seriously: First of all, I never did this as a kid, and still don't. Ick. Second, I know plenty of people from both my childhood and current life who did/do this regularly. Still, ick. Also, are you saying that NO ONE has ever died from spreading germs? Really?

You ate cakes, white bread and real butter and drank pop with sugar in it, but you weren't overweight because... YOU WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!!
I've consumed or served my kid three of these four things in the last week, along with more healthful fare. He also plays outside. True, it's tough to get him off his butt and outdoors sometimes, but I seem to remember that being a perennial complaint that I heard in my own childhood. In fact, bet you could find "kids these days" comments about every generation, leveled by the one just above them. I'm sure Aristophanes' contemporaries had a thrashing in mind for laze-abouts.  

You would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach you all day. And you were OK. You would spend hours building your go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out you forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, you learned to solve the problem.
Why are we changing from second person to first person, back to second? Also, nope, never made a go-kart. I did do many dangerous things as a kid, and sure, I learned from them. But I don't think the GOAL was to put myself in danger.

You did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no text messaging, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms.......... 
No, wrong. Nintendo came out in the mid '80s. We had a Nintendo, and in another meme you'd be reminiscing about everyone gathered around it. Also, "video tape movies" were quite prevalent, starting in the late '70s and surging to tens of thousands of rental stores in the '80s. I would wager more '80s kids have fond memories of going to the video rental shop to pick out a movie with their families than risking vehicle-related death. And most of these other things came out during the adolescence of '80s kids.

Look, of course it's possible to misuse or overuse video games and other electronic entertainment. But the idea that any regular use of it is misuse is just dumb. Real-life relationships can be and have been nurtured through computers, text messages, video games and shared television show-watching experiences. If that's all you've got going for you there might be a problem, but that's the case if all you have going for you is volunteering together or taking cruises. It's part of a bigger picture, and Nintendo was part of the life of every early '80s kid I know (and some '70s kids).

YOU HAD FRIENDS and you went outside and found them!
Yeah, my son still does. And he finds them on X-Box Live and over Skype! I know because they annoy me with loud conversations, giggling, and planning social get-togethers. (Did you know it's possible to have an hour-long conversation of veiled silly threats and inside jokes over whether you're "griefing" each other's Minecraft worlds? Yeah, I don't know what that means either, but I gather it's a big deal.) They're getting together next week for a party, talking about their families as I type this, and learn more about each other over a video game chat session than I've learned/divulged over entire visits with adult friends. 

Too bad he doesn't have MY childhood experience of being an awkward loner. The horror.

You fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents you played with worms (well most boys did) and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
Yep! Did all of those thingsand I'll be happy if my son misses the totally mangled arm, knocking out seven teeth and various other injuries I incurred. Just because they make for fun stories doesn't make them desirable. But if he does suffer something similar, he'll be in good companymillions of kids injure themselves playing each year. (Some fraction die. But that doesn't make for a fun, golly-gee meme, does it?) The vast majority of those have no legal repercussions. Also, why would only BOYS play with worms? I proposed to myself with a worm ring. Sorry to nitpick, but I can't help but be unsurprised (but still disappointed) at the latent sexism in this clueless rant.

You made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although you were told it would happen, you did not poke out any eyes.
Was never told that, though we did injure each other a few times. My son LOVES sticks, and has amassed quite a collection. The games he plays with them are endless. We toss out sticks on the sly when he's not looking.

And look. A few times now we've seen the weird claim that we're better ... because things were worse. I'm all for funny tales and nostalgia (things that endangered and/or gravely injured me as a kid include a swing set, a half-built house, the mountains, a tree, another swing set, a set of monkey bars, a swimming pool and a brick, a contraption of my own building, a shoe eyelet, a grill I was trying to light and many more)I get it. It's hilarious and gives you a strange kind of pride. Me too! But are you really saying it's better to be in more danger? You do know it is possible to have fun, even go on adventures, without necessarily risking life and limb, right? And that our kids are free to engage in even more adventures (while, you know, not dying) than we were? Oh noes!

You rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
No. No, we didn't, because that's freaking annoying. I hate when neighbor kids do that. How hard is it to plan five minutes in advance? These ARE the same folks advocating teaching kids manners, responsibility and common courtesy, right?

Local teams had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
I will have to imagine that, because it's not what we experienced. My dad, the most passionate youth athletic coach I ever knew, was also the most compassionate. Every kid made the team (except for all-stars and special cases), and every kid played. If he was going to sub in a new player, he'd leave a kid in until they had a shining moment, even at the expense of the score. Because it turns out that encouraging effort and sportsmanship is more important than vicariously bragging through a number on a scoreboard at a kids' game.

The idea of a parent bailing you out if you broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law.
Maybe, maybe not. When I stole candy my mom made me bring it back and formally apologize to the store manager. When I  got speeding tickets I got a what-did-you-expect lecture. But I was also told if I were ever arrested for protesting for a good cause, or if I ever found myself in too deep (even if it WAS my fault) that I could count on my parents. Because that's what good parents do. We've continued the policy with our son.

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. You had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and you learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL! And YOU are one of them! CONGRATULATIONS!
Well, sure! There are greats, lows and highs in every generation. We should be proud. We should also make use of those problem-solving skills and insights to see where we can still improve. Because I sure hope this generation didn't produce the least self-aware, most sanctimonious group ever.

And it's not "this generation." Unless the Greatest Generation and early Gen Y are now the same generation.

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were.
You might want to share my notes with others who had the luck to grow up during some damned good years, but still recognize strides we've made since then. While you're at it, forward it to everyone who thinks law, regulation and government are new-fangled concepts; and talk to your kids about your real childhoods, while also valuing theirs.


We all think our own everything is the best. If we seriously apply that logic to kids or society these days, though, we've been getting worse with every passing generation. I tend to think the opposite is true: By most measurements (with notable exceptions in the environment and current economic hardships), we're getting better with each passing generation. Social justice and acceptance. Gender equality. Racial equality. Infant mortality. Maternal mortality. Teen pregnancy and drug use. Worldwide education. There are dips, for sure, but we're headed in the right direction, and often thanks to advances that new generations thought of or challenges the newer generations overcame. We've all but eradicated many deadly diseases, for heaven's sake. Here's the key, though: We can't be complacent. All these things have improved in our lifetimes. That is, in the days after those halycon days of your childhood. Say all you want about how tough you were as a grubby little rugrat; I'll take seat belts. 

Want to raise a child as resilient, motivated, imaginative and tough as you were? How about telling them about your childhood, and then asking about theirs? What about exploring the ways the world has gotten better since they've been born? What about exploring how they can help make it better? Don't tell them you "had freedom" in your childhood. Tell them they still have it. 

Unless you think we peaked with dangerous cars and brakeless go-karts. Unless you don't trust this generation to produce brave kids too. Me, I'm looking at one right now.

Just a snapshot my son's anti-social, over-stimulated indoor childhood. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I'm back! Come say hi and tell me what you're up to.

So things are getting ramped up again here at Arizona Writer and the Hosey-Wilson household, and we've got so many cool things to share -- trips and opportunities around Arizona and in the worlds of science and nature; photos, musings and more from our adventures; connections with the amazing people we've met lately; amazing projects I've tackled recently and--of course--my opinions, without which I know you've all been suffering greatly.

Seriously, we're super busy, but it's because we get to do awesome stuff, and I want to get back to sharing it here as well as in all my various online stomping grounds. So rather than do an "OMG sorry for not posting" post (or worse, including it in the first actual post), here's a preview/highlight reel of what I've been up to lately:

We've had fun with friends:

David and Kat (hi, Amy!) making rainbow-kid pictures using video feedback at the Arizona Science Center.

and many, many animal adventures:

Feeding a very hungry baby elk at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center.

We've enjoyed monsoon season, sunsets and other awesome things the sky does:
Oh, just watching the Apocalypse in our backyard tonight. You?

We wrapped up one year and started the next at school, which is always an adventure, especially with a middle schooler:
The other boy in the chorus had a MUSTACHE. Middle school is wonderful and weird.

And of course, we do it all with enthusiastic commentary:

Many more details on the way; including a guest blog or two from my son. We've gone camping, interviewed some awesome folks, taken trips around the Valley and more. Stay tuned! So tell me, what have you all been up to?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: Favorite spots, favorite critters and my favorite kid

2013 was a weird and busy year, and though I spent as much of it as possible at my favorite nature spots, life conspired to keep me from going out as often--or sharing as many photos--as I would like. Still, no matter what life throws at me and my family, being out in nature is our medicine. And sharing it with you all has made me more awesome friends than I deserve. I love it.

One of those excellent people, the inimitable Alex Wild, issued his annual call for the best science and nature photos of 2013. I'm coming in a little late, as is my wont, and these are just the best of the ones I've managed to go through. There are thousands yet to be processed. But here are mine, all taken this past year, winners in the categories you'd probably expect from me. Happy New Year, everyone.

Best spider:
Of course it's a black widow. Did you expect anything else?

We have a lot of other arachnid goodness--giant fuzzy tarantulas, jumping spiders in fabulous colors, giant crab spiders, wolfies, lynx spiders, you name it. But black widows have a special place in my heart (as long as they stay in my figurative heart and out of my literal hair and clothes).
Western black widow spider (Latrodectus hesperus), our house (don't tell my husband).

Best Combination of my Favorite Things:
A roseate skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) during sunset at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. One of my favorite insects, at one of my favorite places, during my favorite time of day? Yes, please! One of my favorite people (my son) was just out of frame, and later we got to have chocolate ice cream and watch Star Wars. A good day.
Roseate skimmer dragonfly at Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

Best Dragonfly:
Or, you know, one of them. I can't spend all night choosing. At the moment, I love this red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), captured at Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler. I especially like the wings, as well as the fact that a few years ago, this shot wouldn't have happened--not because I didn't have the gear, but because I would've given up. I was chasing this dragonfly, and he insisted on perching way out of reach, directly above me and against a blown-out sky. I didn't get the closeup I was after, but I like what I got even better. And that's the great thing about my nature photography journey. Learning to use my gear? Please. Boring. But make the effort again and again and again (and again and again), and you start to learn a few things about focus and exposure in spite of yourself.
Red saddlebags dragonfly, Veterans Oasis Park.

Best Damselfly:
Not quite as flashy as the dragonflies, but they're just as gorgeous. This year was a great year for blue-ringed dancers (Argia sedula), and I got quite a few "mealtime" shots like this one, captured at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve.
A blue-ringed dancer (Argia sedula) munches a fly at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

Best Little Bird, Closeup:
If I'm not chasing insects and spiders, I'm probably watching birds. Here's an Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna), one of my favorites, at the Demonstration Garden at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.
Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna), Boyce Thompson Arboretum Demonstration Garden.

Best Little Bird, Full Body:
Mostly because I wanted an excuse to show off the broad-billed hummingbird as well. Also captured at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, which you totally need to visit if you're in the area.
Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris), Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Best Big Bird:
Not the giant yellow alphabet lover. More like the giant grouchy fish stalker. A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) in early evening light at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve.
Great blue heron (Ardea herodias), Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

Best Bird That Everyone Thinks is Our State Bird:
The cactus wren, not the roadrunner, is the Arizona state bird (New Mexico gets the roadrunner). It's a local treasure nonetheless, and 2013 was a fantastic year for roadrunners in our neck of the desert. (Sorry, cactus wrens. You'll get play again when I restart Species a Day.) I liked this one because it showed off the insanely gorgeous iridescence in the bird's tail.
Greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), Veterans Oasis Park.

Best Animal I Usually Suck at Capturing:
I don't know what it is about snowy egrets. I see them semi-regularly, and every single time I mess up the shot. The image is overexposed, or blurry, or I scare the bird away, or it's nothing but tail and legs. I think I've invented new ways of missing a snowy egret shot. So I was happy when this one came out kind of nicely (though it doesn't make up for the fact that my 11-year-old has more keepers of the bird than I do).
Snowy egret (Egretta thula), Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

Best Look Everyone; I Can Photograph Mammals Too!:
It's not all bugs and birds (it's just mostly birds and bugs). This young male elk (Cervus canadensis) watched us as we were surrounded by half a dozen of "his" females coming out of Bear Canyon Lake after a camping trip this year. It was the most wonderful thing--another young family, with a 3- or 4-year-old girl, was there as well. We were afraid she'd scare them away, but she learned from her parents, who were splendid examples. Everyone was still and quiet, and the elk knew we weren't a threat. That's how to appreciate nature.

Best Scenery:
Snow on the Superstitions this past winter. Also a runner-up for Best Shot I Ran Out to Take Even Though I Should Have Been Doing Other Things. Rare snowfall, followed by a short-lived break in the clouds for some afternoon sunlight, all topped off with our iconic saguaros. I took a detour just to take the shot. I don't remember what my excuse was for being late to my actual appointment, but I think it was worth it.
Snow on Superstiton Mountain, February 2013.
Best Water and Best Sunset:
I'll probably share entire posts on both sunsets and water soon, but this shot as the sun set at Veterans Oasis Park in Chandler captured the goodness of both at once. The great thing is, this is just a 15-minute drive from our house. The nature opportunities around here are pretty awesome.
Sunset reflected in the pond at Veterans Oasis Park, Chandler.

Best Kid Holding Insect(s):
We attended the grand opening of Butterfly Wonderland, the largest butterfly atrium in North America. Many people just slowly but constantly made their way through and around the huge enclosure. Not my kid. He sat for ages in humid corners, gazing at the huge insects. At one point this mating pair of blue morpho butterflies fluttered from a shaken branch to his finger. He quickly made a more comfortable perch for them, sat down, and hosted the pair (and fascinated bipedal onlookers) for several minutes. Never have I seen someone so thrilled at a designation like "the boy with the mating pair on his hands."
My son holding a pair of blue morpho butterflies (Morpho peleides) at Butterfly Wonderland.

Best Kid Not Having Much Choice About Holding Insect:
Silence of the kid? Actually, it was, and you have no idea how rare that is. This yellow-edged giant owl butterfly decided to perch on his nose for ages. He was quite thrilled, even though it was surprisingly heavy and its legs plucked and pulled at his skin, and the butterfly showed no sign of wanting to move. He might still be there if we hadn't coaxed it onto a nearby bush.
Yellow-edged giant owl butterfly (Caligo atreus) and a happy kid. 

Best Kid Holding Arachnid:
It's not an insect, so I totally get to share this too. We went to the University of Arizona's annual Arizona Insect Festival in September, and this was a favorite of both of ours. My favorite thing as my son held this giant vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus) was that his face doesn't say "Ew, gross!" or even "OMG; there's a monster on my hand!" but rather something like affection. Indeed, he said he found the docile creature "adorable." What's that they say about apples and the trees from which they fall?
Giant vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus) and very happy boy (Homo sapiens), Arizona Insect Festival, University of Arizona.
Best Macro:
I didn't have the stellar macros that I was able to get last year when I rented the heavy-hitting MP-E 65 mm lens. Still, even a kit lens and a cooperative widow skimmer dragonfly do well to show off some of those 30,000 facets.
Female widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), Gilbert Riparian Preserve.
Best "Secret" Spot:
One of my son's favorite spots on the planet. At the riparian preserve, if you veer slightly off-trail at a spot he is insisting I keep quiet, there are some really inhospitable bushes. If you tunnel through them--after picking stickers out of some very uncomfortable places--you come to a shoreline clearing that doesn't disrupt a single animal, but is beneath a huge tree full of egrets. We sat there for a hour the first evening, watching them soar in and listening to their barks and belches. It's not all that secret, but it's secluded, and it's nature, and it's special to us. The best kind.
Great egrets (Ardea alba), Gilbert Riparian Preserve.

I hope everyone had a wonderful year, or at least some wonderful parts of it. Happy New Year, and happy nature watching.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Random thoughts on responsibility, running, and family on a late-night errand

Even after a decade of parenthood, sometimes it's easy to forget that you are a parent. Not to forget about your kid, or your spouse -- just that you are a parent. Sometimes you even think it's kind of nice.

Maybe you'll be driving at night, probably on some last-minute errand because you and your spouse still suck at remembering to pick things up until the last minute, and now you have to run to the store across town at 10:30 at night, only you don't mind because you really just wanted an excuse to drive anyway; to get out on a long desert road and just drive, alone. And for a while, the antenna in your head that's constantly tuned to parenting duties is drawn in, and the reception is fuzzy and dulled. You turn west on the long, empty road -- your favorite, with cornfields to one side and widely spaced ornate houses to the other, with horses and cattle and goats in the yards. You can't see the horses or cattle or goats, but it makes you feel happy to know they're there, somehow.

So you're driving, with the windows down even though it's summer because it's 10:30 so it's only 92 degrees and the wind feels great, and it smells like dirt and rain clouds and farmland. The radio plays an old Cranberries song that you listened to for two straight years in high school, and now you're 17 again, and you don't have student loans or job searches or stories to write or an overdue mortgage payment. You don't get tired or worried, you don't fight for just one minute of solitude each day, and you definitely don't fight with another adult over how to discipline a child for being a punk at bedtime. There's no sluggish plumbing to fix, no HOA fines, and certainly no dirty shorts in the laundry with dirty underwear still stuck inside. You belt out angsty lyrics and it's all music, and you, and crickets, and sharp desert air. And it's kind of nice, forgetting you're a parent.

Eventually you get to the drugstore. You go inside and buy the few items you needed -- double the price, because you forgot to get them before the cheaper store closed -- and wander back out. As you leave the artificially cold, bright drugstore to return to the dark, airy night; you see a roadrunner. It's not running; just peering at you, looking prehistoric with its harsh reptilian gaze. It raises its crest, clacks its beak once, and trots off.

Your kid would have loved to see that.

And all of a sudden, the antenna goes back up, and the reception is crystal clear again. Kid husband bills job insurance OMG-what-are-we-doing. Errands. Dirty underwear. Scary official envelopes in the mail. Stupid bedtime fights.


And sometimes moments like this make you just want to run away, run away forever, or at least for a long while. Not that you don't totally love your kid and spouse and life, not that the mortgage and squabbles and underwear are that bad; it's just that you kind of love the notion of running away. Or maybe it's just running. Running, and taking off, and exploring, and forget all that regular bullshit.

Maybe it's running back. To when you were 17 and psyched about life, really beyond all reason.

You lived another life, then. You pretended to be a philosopher and recorded an audio diary and thought that being a writer would be about being "discovered" somehow. You had an X-Files poster on the wall, for god's sake.

So, no. Not-An-Adult-Yet-Hood was pretty great. But you were also kind of a douche.

And then clouds move in front of the moon so that it illuminates a whole milky patchwork of them, and you remember, I watch the night with my kid and husband. And a beetle moves across the pavement, all thorny collar and segmented antennae and body armor, and you remember the time your husband brought home a giant beetle from a parking lot, just so you could all forget daily life and retire to the backyard to release it and watch it. And you remember, I already do run away, for moments, every day. I explore. I leave almost everyone and everything behind all the time. These are the people with whom I make my escapes. And suddenly, you want nothing more than to return to the house, even with its shackles, because that's where the keys to the shackles are too.

At least, those are the things I think about while buying juice pouches and overpriced insulin late at night. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day

My husband. Our son's father. He doesn't always say the right thing. In celebratory fashion (I swear!), here are some actual quotes:

"Haha; you look just like a shark! No, I mean your face looks like a shark's face, in profile ... why are you upset? You love sharks!" (To me, in what he claims was complimentary intent.)

"You're definitely not my mom." (To me, in a come-hither voice, following a conversation listing various traits of family members, and thinking he was using a good line to come on to me.)

"No more than usual." (After I asked if a skirt I was trying on made me look fat.)

"Haha! Take THAT." (After placing son's Sorry! pawn back in start and beating him at the board game, when son was 4.)

"What does the wrestler have to do with anything?" (After I'd made a Sid and Nancy reference, gotten a blank stare, and clarified, "You know, Sid Vicious?")

Him: "Mmm; I love when you've showered." Me: "Thanks a lot." Him: "No, not that. I mean, I like that I can tell you showered!" (He thought this was better, somehow.)

"We had a good time while you were on your vacation!" (About time spent with our son, when I'd come home from two weeks of intense work toward my master's degree.)

"I'd like the TV to myself for a while, if you have other things to do. Sometimes I like to watch more grownup shows." (Then he turned on Dragon Ball Z.)

"No. I know it's a spider. It's always a spider." (After our son told him to open a drawer and "see what's in there." He was wrong. It was two spiders.)

"Look, if we're trying to leave and be polite, and we say it's past bedtime and you're really tired, YOU ARE." (To our son, upon finally leaving a social engagement after many attempts.)

"Careful with the food container on the shelf. It's not food. I found a giant beetle at work, and I figured you guys would like it." (OK. That one was pretty cool.)

"Awww, fat little legs!" (As he looked at the warped reflection of my legs in a car window.)

"If you don't finish getting ready for bed RIGHT NOW, you're gonna..." (To son, threateningly.)
"What was the punishment for that?" (To me, whispered.)

"I'm never, ever, ever, ever going to like Jar Jar, and talking about him only makes me hate him more."

"You promised to tell me the abridged version of that cartoon. Nine minutes is not an abridged version."

"No, see, Optimus Prime was originally Orion Pax. He was kind of like a librarian. He didn't become Optimus Prime until he got the Matrix of Leadership. At least in one version." (To son, earning major cool-dad points and starting a looooooong discussion about Transformers lore.)

"That's pretty much all I know about Optimus' background. Like I said five times already." (To our son, an hour later.)

"I don't really know why Alpha Trion has different roles. I don't know why Galvatron changes sometimes and I don't even really know who Ultra Magnus is. I also don't know why their transformations don't make sense to fit their robot bodies sometimes. I've told you everything I know!" (To our son, 30 minutes later.)

"I'M DONE TALKING ABOUT TRANSFORMERS; EAT YOUR PASTA!" (To our son, some time after that. This is how most of these conversations end.)

He has a hard time saying the right thing, sometimes. It must be hard dealing with a couple of overtalkers, overanalyzers, over-everything-ers. Maybe he's a glutton for punishment. He's also a good sport, though, who would probably admit that he did, indeed say "Aww, fat little legs," and that it's not a good idea -- no more so than, say, expecting your 11-year-old to leave an interrogation at one question and answer.

He does, however, nearly always do the right thing. He provides. He works his ass off. He brings home bugs. He brings home that cake we like with the cookies on top of the frosting. He actually likes grocery shopping. He makes a conscientious effort to show love and start conversations with our son (even after past experiences of never-ending conversation traps). He horse plays (which I suck at) and keeps us grounded (which I'm not too great at either); all the while playing to my strengths as well. We make a kick-ass parenting team, and we're lucky to have him.

Happy Father's Day, babe. I love you. For your present, I promise not to share any of the really bad quotes, including that poem you wrote me in high school.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Adventures in Butterfly Wonderland

Sometimes, in the course of exploring Arizona with my son, I set out to try something totally foreign -- something I’m not even sure we’ll enjoy.

I'm sure you already know where this is going.

This was not one of those trips.

Kid + me + insects + cameras = heaven, pretty much.

Anyone who knows our family knows that we -- and especially my son and I -- are huge nature nerds. The more informative, the more nature-friendly; the better. So the question on our trip to the grand opening of Butterfly Wonderland wasn't if we were going to enjoy it. It was how much.

Taken by David. He's gunning for my job, I think.

The answer: A whole lot.

Butterfly Wonderland just opened May 25 in Scottsdale on Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community land, and is now the largest butterfly pavilion in America. We’re already looking forward to our next visit and to the growth of this new destination.

Plus, the residents looked so eager to see us!

It’s actually the first stage of “Odysea in the Desert,” a 522,000-square-foot entertainment complex that is planned to include the largest aquarium in the southwest, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, and more. For now, it’s all about insects, and that suits us just fine, because Butterfly Wonderland makes an immersive encounter out of the experience.

Immersive to the senses, and immersed in butterflies! Here, a twin pack.

The first stop after checking in is the 3-D film Flight of the Butterflies, which follows a monarch family over multiple generations. I won’t spoil it for you except to say that it’s so well done, I almost got choked up over the insects’ fates.

Then again, we might be just a little more attached than usual to insects.

If kids are old enough to understand the information and story, they (and you) will be enthralled like we were -- and even if they’re not, it’s an absolutely gorgeous film, making use of 3-D effects to surround visitors in a swarm of monarchs taking flight, or to glide just over the “shoulder” of a single butterfly.

I know, butterflies don't really have shoulders. But didn't you ever daydream about riding those upper wings like big, fluttery shoulders when you were a kid? No? Just me?

The first stop after the movie is the Butterfly Emergence Gallery, a stage where visitors watch through a window as hundreds of butterfly chrysalises mature.

The actual moment of emergence -- a rare sight anywhere else -- is commonplace here, as butterflies enter their adult stage before our eyes.

A scarlet Mormon butterfly (Papilio deiphobus rumanzovia). 

More than once I heard a chorus of excited voices calling out: “Ooh! This one is shaking! I think it's ready to come out!” (OK. One of those voices was probably mine.)


A freshly emerged blue morpho butterfly (Morpho peleides), before its wings had fully hardened and straightened.

A Malay lacewing butterfly (Cethosia hypsea hypsina) pushing out of its chrysalid shell as we watch. Very cool.

Special highlights included watching a blue morpho butterfly flex its newly unfurled wings, inspecting the huge fibrous cocoons of atlas moths, and witnessing the release of “excess metabolic fluid” (kind of like butterfly pee; always a kid favorite) as the insects emerge.

After it pooled, my son repeatedly compared it to Diet Coke. Guess I'm drinking water from now on.

And now, because I have no self control, some more shots from the Emergence Gallery:

Another blue morpho, ready to move to the Conservatory.

The opaque chrysalises still have a little while to go, but when they turn transparent and you can see wing patterns and colors, it's almost time. Keep your eyes on those.

One of many giant owl butterflies to emerge as we watched.

Blue morphos again -- one just emerged, and one just a few minutes later, with wings straight and strong.

Even more impressive than the huge, fibrous Atlas moth cocoons? The huge, striking moths themselves! Also, have you ever heard a species name cooler than Attacus atlas?

I forgot this species! Someone tell me! But hey, how pretty is that?!

More newly hatched giant owl butterflies. We're being watched.

A blue morpho butts in on a giant owl conference.

Blue morpho says hey!

When we managed to tear ourselves away from the Emergence Gallery, we went through an “airlock” of sorts to ensure that no butterflies get in or out of the next stage, and then we entered the Conservatory, the centerpiece of Butterfly Wonderland.

Seriously, it'd be gorgeous even with no butterflies.

The Conservatory is a glass atrium, a greenhouse covering over 10,000 square feet and planted with tropical trees and bushes. It housed about 1,000 butterflies when we visited. They added another 3,000 for the full opening June 1, to coincide with National Butterfly Awareness Day. A small waterfall, large koi pond, benches, and sloping walkways complete the area.

I want that bench.

The atrium is a veritable showcase of the quirky wonders of biology; from knobby or feathery antennae, to eye spots on butterfly wings, to moth wingtips that look for all the world like snake heads.

Seriously, I'm waiting for a forked tongue.

Workers circulate to point out sights both bizarre and beautiful, and to teach visitors about the insects. You and your kids can learn about mimicry, metamorphosis, evolution, predators, and more. Get a close look at a butterfly’s curlicue proboscis, or the dainty feet, or its rainbow of shingle-like scales.

Yellow-edged giant-owl butterfly (Caligo atreus). They have striped eyes!

Look at that proboscis!

Or you can just lounge and watch the pretty butterflies with your loved ones. There are certainly much worse ways to spend an afternoon.

And it'll be a whole afternoon, if you have a partner in crime like mine.

Some of the resident insects are shy, but many seem to be -- dare I say it -- social butterflies. They may even land on you, as I discovered when one hitched a ride on my hair, or as my son learned when two blue morpho butterflies decided his fingers were a prime spot to, as he delicately put it, “make more butterflies!” He sat down with the pair for several minutes, and became temporarily known as the mating-morphos host, a designation he relished.

Probably the only context in which repeatedly announcing "LOOK EVERYONE! THEY'RE MATING!" is considered endearing.

Later, after we’d gently ushered the pair into a shady spot, a yellow-edged giant owl butterfly perched on his nose. I’ve never seen him so happy about an itchy nose.

Momentary silence of the kid.

[You can check off exotic butterflies and practicing identifying them here] Here (because I really do have no self control at all), just a few more of the Conservatory's residents:

Blue morphos, mating, again. They did this a lot.


A great eggfly butterfly (Hypolimnas bolina), perching on the ground. Make sure to watch where you step!

Blue morpho, wings open! 

Same species, wings closed. It's like a different butterfly. 

Check carefully through the foliage. No one but me spotted this butterfly. (Until it landed on the rear end of a fellow patron. I spared you and her that photo.)

Forgot this species too! I need a bigger field guide if I'm coming back here.

A clipper butterfly, another that went largely unseen in the bushes.

Seriously, these guys are massive. Can you imagine them flapping around at night? 

A lone blue morpho, probably about to hook up.

This was one well-photographed butterfly. This is a great place to practice your photography!

Blue morpho, showing off both sides of the wings!

Owl butterflies like to perch on hands as well as noses! (Make sure not to pick them up. They'll come.)

Aliens have landed! And they're beautiful.

I know a lot of wildlife advocates, enthusiasts, scientists, photographers, and just general nature lovers. And yes, the general consensus is that we prefer our wildlife, well, wild. Still, Butterfly Wonderland, from what I've seen so far, does a great job keeping these insects in as an environment as close to their native habitat as possible.

A lacewing butterfly, as close as it gets to Southeast Asian rainforest habitat in Arizona.

The butterflies are likely to live out their full lifespans (only a few weeks in many cases; these beauties are fleeting), as long as they don't get too overcrowded and as long as patrons are careful where they step. (While we were there, everyone was. It was actually pretty heartening to see kids and adults alike counseling one another to be gentle to insects.) So yes, the "real" wild is best, but I'm not likely to get free time and a budget to go trekking to Costa Rica and the Philippines any time soon, so this is the next best way to see these exotic insects.

You just knew I took a thousand photos of this moment.

The atrium is hot and muggy -- they keep it tropical for the butterflies -- so you will get sweaty. Wear cool, comfortable clothes and get something to drink beforehand. (Also, take family photos right away, before everyone's dripping.) It lets out into the Butterfly CafĂ©, which is a nice cool rest stop even if you’re not planning to buy refreshments.

Assuming you don't get your refreshments through a proboscis.

Next, we explored the other resident insects -- a beehive where we could watch the queen lay eggs and workers fill honeycomb with honey; and a large see-through ant colony.

Honeybee with honeycomb. And actual honey!

Look near the upper right for the queen, with a green dot.

The last exhibit is the Rivers of the Amazon area, with a wide variety of colorful fish.

Also available in every other color of the rainbow.

The area also included a pool with spotted freshwater rays, which visitors were invited to touch gently (after having their hands sanitized). The half-dozen rays, juvenile and still small, mostly stayed at the bottom of their pool, only coming up now and then to investigate visitors, but we liked it, as it seemed the rays had plenty of room and weren't stressed.

I'm happy because I don't have to hang out in a bathtub with 50 other rays!

The tour ends, of course, in a gift shop. Still, the Butterfly Treasures Gift Shop has some great (if pricey) souvenirs, and even if you're not inclined to buy (we weren't), the only thing your kids will probably pester you about upon leaving is your next visit.

Last one like this. Promise.

Butterfly Wonderland is located at 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale
Admission: Adults: $18.95, Children ages 3-11: $9.95, Students: $16.95
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
For more information, call (480) 800-3000 or visit

Come now!