Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Virus Descends

(Originally written, September 25, 2013)

Like the turn of the seasons to an aged farmer, I can feel it in my bones when a sickness is about to descend upon our household. Generally the weather is still nice, but a mom sense tingle tells me something is coming. Then perhaps there’s a friend over who comments, “My throat feels a little scratchy,” or there’s that kid in the park with a runny nose. (I'm not judging, my kids have been that kid before.)  Unbidden, visions of sleepless nights, endless coughing, my house littered with wet tissues, confinement to our home, and money pouring through my fingers, flit through my mind, raising the hair on the back of my neck as my flight reflex urges me to scoop up my kids and head for the hold and batten down the hatch, while the waves of viruses wash over the deck of our family ship.

I hold onto something and breathe to deliver oxygen to the logic centers in my brain. The serenity prayer flows through my mind reminding me to accept the things I cannot change.  If there are children around with outward signs of infection, the virus is most likely already at work inside my little ones, insidiously hiding in their bodies, replicating themselves again and again, waiting for their numbers to grow substantial enough to launch an attack on my child's cells. Then their immune system responds in kind, and their eyes take on that lackluster look, the mucous appears, and the deep harrrooof, harrrooof sound comes from their tiny throats as they try in vain to expel the invader from their body.

Mama, I don't feel good.

I remind myself to take each day as it comes. We have survived these viruses countless times before, and we will persevere once again. I wonder how long this one will last. Maybe it will just be a three day cold. That has happened before—once. More likely it will start in her head, then settle in her chest for a one to two month stay. Coughing fits keeping her up late, and waking her—and everyone else—for hours. Then morning arrives and I rise to send my little red-nosed, dark eyed, zombie off to school. The littlest one tethers me to our house, and my eyes lose focus as I start pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

And so it has been for the last six weeks in our home.

Two trips to the doctor later we find that Danielle's cold has become bronchitis. Not only does she have fluid in her lungs, but both ears are so stopped up that the doctor thinks she has a hearing loss of forty decibels. This is not news to us as “huh?” has been her response to anything we have said for weeks now. Including doctor visits, tissues, remedies and prescriptions, we easily have three hundred dollars invested in this cold. We have lost countless hours of sleep; one child wakes up to have a coughing fit, which wakes up the other child before falling back to sleep, who has a coughing fit and wakes up the other before falling back to sleep, who has a coughing fit who wakes up the other… And so we go bouncing from child to child, torn by our bodies’ need for sleep and our children's need for comfort.

For. Six. Weeks. And counting…

Before having children, I blissfully unaware of the toll it takes on you as a person—beyond seasonal illnesses—everything. But I'm always grateful this hardship is mine, and Charley's too, of course. I know the trials we endure parenting our girls are forging us into better people. Being in a forge is not particularly fun, it's pretty hot, and you get smacked around with big hammers a lot, but I think we'll come out as something new, still composed of the same basic elements, but perhaps wiser, stronger, and more useful. Besides, being quenched in buckets of “Mama, I love you”, hugs that dry tears, and saturated with the magic of childhood innocence feels pretty damn great. 

I wouldn't trade my spot in the forge for anything.

Gotta go, I need to run to the store for more orange juice and Kleenex.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Transcendent Leaves

“The trees have a lot of leaves this year, Mama. The leaf pile is going to be humongous!” Boots says. “When will they fall?”

It's August, and the leaves are still green, but Boots is filled with anticipation.

“Not until fall,” is my reply.

Boots says, “That’s why fall is called 'fall', cause the leaves fall off the trees!”

*Thinks for a moment.*

“How much longer until fall?”

It goes on like this for quite some time. Finally, the colors start to change, and Boots gets really excited. She starts peppering me with questions, inspiring this post: The Trees are All Naked Mama!  Although Berzo gets the credit for naming it... 

After the colors changed, Boots began checking the backyard daily. When the leaves finally started to drop, there's about twelve, she asked for a rake. She piled them all up, and she and Berzo did a test jump.

“We need more leaves,” she declared.

Fall, as Defined by Boots, is Here!
Finally the leaves start to fall in earnest. Boots and Berzo rake them up, (Boots rakes—Berzo holds a rake and moves it around a bit) and they spend the next hour, jumping, burying, throwing, re-raking, and moving the pile.

Thanks to the unseasonably dry, late October and November, we got quite a bit of mileage out of our leaf pile. It was the plaything of choice when Boots' friend, Madi, came over to play. They raked up all the new fallen leaves, all the while arguing about who got which rake, into an even bigger heap. Unsatisfied, they eyed the leaves still hanging on the branches. With upturned rakes, they attempt to add the leaves that hadn't seen fit to grace their leaf pile yet.  Still unsatisfied, Madi, climbed up the tree, stood on a branch and bounced her legs, causing the branch to wave, bringing more leaves down.

When the girls tired of piling, jumping, throwing and burying, they loaded the leaves up on a snow sled and dragged them over to the play structure. At the foot of the slide, they made a pile of leaves and pushed some part of the way up. Then they hauled the sled up into the play structure and tobogganed down the slide to land in a big poof of flying leaves. Once the plastic toboggan broke they took turns sliding normally, that was deemed too boring, so they got out our flexible disc sled and gave that a whirl—much to their satisfaction.  I wish I'd gotten a video, it was really something.

For a week or two this went on, Madi knocked on our front door, Boots dashed up to answer it, and instead of saying, hello, she shouted, “Let’s go in my backyard and play in the leaves!!”

Then they'd go running through the house to the backdoor, wrestle with the kinda-broken screen door, yell for my help, then they'd launch themselves into the backyard. Berzo would usually try to follow, but unfortunately, it was usually a no-little-sisters-allowed sort of event, so she and I'd find something else to occupy ourselves.

What is it—Really—About Leaf Piles?
Leaf pile diving is among those quintessential kid activities that transcends generations and culture differences; much like carpet lava with couch cushion stepping stones, and rolling down grassy hills.

It's in Our DNA
I'm fairly certain that prehistoric kids took up bare branches, and raked up piles of fallen leaves.  Then with joined hands, they sprinted and launched themselves into the pile. Laughing, they’d flop backwards, then one would get up and bury the other. The bury-er, likely a big brother, would run into the cave dragging Mom away from the fire pit, where she was frying up mammoth steaks on hot rocks, claiming that a cave lion dragged away his little sister. Mom would eye the rustling leaf pile, feign panic, then little sister would burst out of the pile, to everyone's delight. Then Mom would remember the steaks, and tell her cave kids to get this mess cleaned up before the hunters returned. They'd start raking again, only to feel the magnetic pull of the leaf pile…

A Hypothesis
Yes, the magnetic energy of the leaf pile is indefatigable.  The more massive the the leaf pile the greater the magnetic attraction, and the wider the field.  A large pile can hurl children towards itself from anywhere in our neighborhood; until the leaves are scattered substantially enough to dissipate the attractive force of the pile.

The selective nature of this attraction is interesting, in that it only works on young kids, as older adolescent kids seem to exhibit repellent forces.  ("Awww- do I have to rake the leaves???")  I posit that the chemical/hormone changes endured during puberty sufficiently alters a child's molecular structure, or perhaps redistributes magnetic elements, such that it effectively reverses the child's leaf magnetism polarity.   Further study in this area is necessary...

I must admit that I took a couple experimental dives myself, but since my polarity is that of an adult's, sadly, it had no pull.  Watching those girls play though, was even better than anything I remember from my leaf diving days—it was pure magic.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Of Warrior Dash & Crock Pots

(Originally written 9-12-2013)

I found out that I placed well in Warrior Dash this year. I was nineteenth in my age group, placing me at 343rd out of nearly eight thousand men and women. I’m feeling pretty good.

To be fair, I benefited from some help. My friend, Jason, gave me a hand out of a mud hole, and I glided past a line-up that would have cost me about five minutes. I simply dodged around them and slipped down the rappel line.

Help duly noted, but I earned it. I ran the flats, fast-walked the uphills and free-wheeled the downs. I glided up and over twenty-foot walls with mud-slick ropes and through a lateral wall of cargo nets, on which I kept stepping on the kid's shoes in front of me. He was a fit teenager, but had no technique. He’d swing his legs out, and then struggle to get his feet back on the ropes; whereas I pointed my toes in the direction I was moving, and ran through the netting. Once back on the ground, he took off like he was shot from a bow. I didn't catch him again until he was fumbling through the next set of obstacles.

On the ball field, I can turn a double play, and have made dive and slide catches while charging shallow pop flies in the outfield. In slow pitch, I’m usually good for a double, or a triple on a good day. I even get the occasional home-run-on-an-error. I can play baseball, basketball, volleyball (no polish here—but I can get the job done) and fly-fish, rock climb, run, canoe, mountain bike, swim, and so many other athletic endeavors that I enjoy immensely; as one could deduce by the alternating look of grim determination and the Labrador like look on my face that says, throw the ball, this is fun, throw the ball, oh please throw the ball...

My other strengths include a knack for the natural sciences, observation, and I have a vivid imagination.

I’m proud of all these abilities and get immense satisfaction from them. Which is great—for the ½ of 1 percent of my time that I spend pursuing them. I’m engaged. I’m fluid. I’m challenged—I’m happy.

The rest of the time, I’m a kangaroo in a house with a low ceiling. My skills make me kind of fun when we're playing outside; I can monkey with the best of them, and I can make up a pretty cool story on the fly.

However, my domestic skills are in serious want. One mother referred to the circumstance of when kids are at sports and the family arrives home late as a "crock-pot night."

“Ohhhh,” I said.

I’m thirty-six years old and the term “crock-pot night” is entirely new to me.

She explained, "You know, you start dinner in the crock-pot in the morning..."

"...then it's ready that evening!" I said, finishing her thought. Ah-ha!

How do these women know these things? Is it part of a domestic maven’s DNA? Or is does the domestic life engage them in a way that is lost on me?

We have two crock pots, I believe, that have been around since we got married—a decade and a half ago. I have never plugged it in and cooked something in it. Charley has, four or five times. I have not—ever. And I don’t really have any inclination to do so.

I have immense admiration for these women. Some are career moms, that go to their jobs all day and still—somehow—manage the family's affairs, meals, activities, clothes and chores. My sister-in-law, Lina, for example, has her doctorate, a flourishing career in veterinary medicine, is an amazing cook—last time we visited for a week, Charley and I gained five pounds!, she cared for four step-children, and she can also fish, bee-keep, garden, can food, run marathons, and on an on… Or there's my life-long friend Carmen, an ex-police officer, who can hunt and fish with the best of them, and put on an amazing Thanksgiving feast, complete with four different kinds of pie—while caring for her two kids! I’m home with my girls all day and I can’t seem to accomplish a fraction of these feats.

Phil Robertson, the infamous Duck Commander, advised all his sons and now his grandsons to marry a woman who knows how to cook. A woman that knows how to be a woman—in essence.

None of his kin would come near me. Sure, I can cook and care for a home, but without the art and good humor as a woman to whom this is her nature. I would much prefer to be out with the guys, fishing, hunting and cleaning the game, rather than roasting it up for the table and doing dishes afterwards.

Occasionally, I see a glint of envy in the eyes of other husbands, that Charley has a wife that likes to play baseball with him, and drags him out to go fishing. I see them thinking, man that would be so cool if my wife liked... But, they'd never trade it for that amazing crock-pot of pulled pork their wives put on this morning. Their wives may never take the same joy as I do in firing up a chainsaw, but their domestic qualities fill a void that is apparent in our home.

Since I don’t have the free time to dedicate to playing team sports, and I’m really only a scientist involved in the clean-up of sippy cup spills, and a writer of blog posts whose readers number in the single digits, that means I spend thirty-six minutes a year as a maven of the obstacle course, meanwhile these ladies own me the 525,564 other minutes of the year.

I'm not sure why I was made this way or how to leverage it for the greater good. But, since God doesn't make mistakes, I'll just have to accept myself as I am.  Like my freckles and reddish-hair, it's all here to stay.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Freedom of a Few Readers

Since I deleted my FaceBook account, my readership averages about four visits per post.  Instead of feeling disappointed, I feel liberated!  I do appreciate my four readers—very much—but I can now focus on my writing instead of wasting creative energy feeling self-conscious.  I'll still shape, edit and polish for the purpose of developing my writing abilities, but I'll not be so worried about how the content appeals to the masses.  (By masses I mean the 30-50 readers I had previously. MASSES!)

So I've decided to resurrect some posts I've withheld.

Thanks to you for being one of the four!

Lots of love,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Trees are All Naked!

“The trees are all naked, Mama!” Berzo shouts with enthusiasm as we drive along.
Carteniods, tannins, anthocyanins,
color these maple, oak and blue berry leaves.

“Yes they are, Berzo. They put on their prettiest dress of the year, then the wind blows it away. Woosh!”

She cracks up at her joke and points out another naked tree.

Why do the colors change? Why do the trees get naked when everything else in nature is bundling up in layers of fur and fat? Why only broadleaf trees? What are leaves good for?

If you too have a curious six-year-old rapid firing these questions, and if you—like me—can't remember your fifth grade science, here are some interesting facts I've collected about autumn leaves.

Why do the colors change?
Cued by the longer hours of darkness and falling temperatures, the veins feeding the leaves withdraw nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and begin to clog the veins where the leaf meets the twig. Chlorophyll production decreases, then stops, causing the leaf to lose its green color. Once the green color has faded, the other colors, already present in the leaf, get their turn in the sunlight. For some oak trees, the tannins in the leaves leave them brown, (the same tannins that flavor wines and spirits store in oak barrels) in maples, it's the carotenoids turn to shine their yellow hues.

The exception is the brilliant reds and purples put on by white oaks, sugar maples and a few other varieties. Those colors are not present in the leaf until after the veins are clogged.  The abandoned chlorophyll continues to produce sugar which reacts with anthocyanidins, producing anthocyanins pigments; which happen to be brilliant pinks, reds and purples.  This is why leaves that get the most sun are often the most brilliant, whereas the more shaded leaves stay pale green longer.  Some leaves even create a sun tan line on another leaf with its shadow.

There are many environmental factors that influence the brilliance of fall leaves, including spring and summer rainfall, and fall temperatures and frost.  A page on Butler.Edu states: "A warm, wet spring, normal summer rainfall, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant summer colors."

Why do the trees get naked? 
As mentioned above, longer nights are cooler temperatures are the most influential factors causing the tree to start the abscission layer on each leaf petiole. (Petiole: base of the leaf stem where it is attached to the twig).  Reacting to both factors are essential for the survival of the tree. The leaves are tender and susceptible to freezing, which would endanger the health of the tree. Also by the end of the year the leaves sustain a fair amount of damage from insects, disease, wind, etc.  Once naked, the rest of the tree, heavily armored with bark, is ready for the winter.

Why only broadleaf trees?
Needle and scale leafed trees, i.e. softwoods, have rolled and sealed their leaves up in wax, and their sap acts like antifreeze. By retaining their leaves all year, (except the tamarack which sheds it's needles) they are able to grow even in the short days of winter, which allows them to eventually outpace their broadleaf counterparts.

You can tell when a forested area has recently been disturbed by fire or logging, if there is an abundance of broadleaf trees, (which germinate readily and grow fast, initially) with smaller softwoods like douglas fir and cedars. In another fifty years or so the broadleaf hardwoods will be crowded out by the lofty needled softwoods.

What are leaves good for?
An adult would ask, “What role do fallen leaves play in forest ecology?” But, Boots phrases all ecology questions in this way, "What are ants good for?", "What are slugs good for?"

Fallen leaves enrich the soil as they decompose, essentially providing a fresh layer of compost, small mammals use them in nest construction, like our resident squirrel who has constructed an impressive nest out of leaves, and many insects species eat them. Worms play a big part in composting leaves by dragging them into their burrows, eating them and casting off nutrient rich fertilizer.  Leaves also capture water that might otherwise runoff.  Fallen leaves play a significant role in maintaining that spongy layer of loam on the forest floor.

For Further Reading:

Leaf Color Change:

Wine Tannins

Hardwoods Vs. Softwoods