Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Mantis, the Apatelodes, and the Parisian Cat

Well, David's play opened in NYC.

Meanwhile, here at home we've had a praying mantis lurking around our front door. I guess the kids have seen it a few times. I got to see it when O started to go outside and exclaimed, "Oh! He's back, and he's looking at me." I went to find out what he was talking about, and there was the bright green mantis, on the threshold between the wooden door and the screen door, with its head swiveled and tilted as though it were wondering if it might consume my child. I used a stick to pick it up and transport it outside, fearing to try to pick it up with my hands. I'm not squeamish about bugs in the least, but that creature demanded respect. And even when I offered it the stick the first time it leapt forward at me in a most alarming way. Then when I had gotten it onto the planter on the stoop, it stretched itself out bizarrely, extending its front legs along the rim of the planter until they were completely straight and then just staying like that, only slowly swiveling its head to observe me observing it.

What does it mean to have a mantis on your doorstep? The interwebz give little to go on. They repeat each other ad infinitum with very few references. "Good luck" seems a bit vague. I like knowing that the San people of southern Africa identify the mantis as both a trickster and the bringer of fire and language. (I found something like that in a couple of places, including this tour guide of Victoria Falls, so it must be true.) Maybe that's what it was bringing me.

It was only later that I realized I hadn't take a picture of it. I went back outside this afternoon hoping it would still be hanging around. I didn't find a mantis, but I did find a big, fat, furry yellow Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar climbing up the side of my house.

Like a dork, I still didn't have a camera with me, but luckily the good people
at Nova Scotia Butterfly, Moth, and Caterpillar have more foresight.

Which reminds me, I saw a crazy white and black caterpillar in Maine. The whitest white, and so finely furred it looked like it had a million hair-like legs skimming the ground, and little white tufts on its back and enormous black "horns" of hair and a long black horn on its back end. I did take a picture of that, but it is very blurry. Research tells me it must be some kind of tussock moth, but none of the pictures I find are quite the same as mine.

Reading: Meh. But the kids and I watched A Cat in Paris on Saturday night. I've had this queued on Netflix for ages. I told them we would watch and though they were slightly skeptical, they were game, and then they were so engrossed they could barely eat the pasta sitting in front of them. The story is kind of thin, but the animation and the telling of it are really special, and the fact that the mother is the superintendent of police was not lost on Z.

Here's a trailer. Enjoy:

Writing: 800 good new words on Saturday to bridge an important an under developed transition, plus editing and transcribing some other stuff. The end is in sight. I think I can. I think I can. Sunday was all crosswords and work work. These are good too. But the writing writing must continue.

Dinner: Saturday: carmelized multi-color cherry tomatoes with basil, lemon basil, and lemon zest over shells with parm. Sunday: a leftover half of an eggplant reuben and fries from Katz Club while I worked and the kids ran around town with friends.

Soundtrack: Pandora played for me: Joshua Bell radio, Little Boots radio, and Slim Gaillard radio. Now that's eclectic.

Random thing: I randomly came across this cool series, Keys to the Whole World, that NPR did/is doing on the institution of the American public library. Libraries make me happy. I randomly encourage you to check it ou.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Our Houses are Such Unwieldy Property

Can you find the fairy house?
I tried to write a post on our way home from Maine, about road trip eating and the rules, pitfalls, and pleasures thereof, but it ended up sounding really stiff and distant and I got so far past my 20 minute rule that I just gave up. Let it suffice to say: UTICA GREENS! Who knew?

Since we returned home Sunday night there have been things I wanted to record - like the small lavender dragonfly with the bright blue rump I saw one day this week - but it has been so crazy trying to settle in. Sunday we went from the highway directly to a party to see friends who moved away a startling 3 years ago and were only in town until early Monday. It was good that we went, important to see them, but it meant starting the week with a pile of luggage and no food (not even coffee) in the house. And then, getting David out the door to the Fringe in NYC (NYT plug; David's blog) and all the other stuff of life. Meanwhile, our house has been a complete disaster to the point that it was making me panic. Throw in some insomnia and an unplanned attendance at the water show at the local pool to see Z's best friend and a gazillion other kids we know dive and swim syncronously until late into the evening while pop music from my own adolescence blared over the PA system into the humid, chlorine-scented night (I think I have never felt more American), and well, it has been a difficult reacclimation.

So Friday when I woke up early to rain and cool weather and my own sense of exhaustion and need for homebound comfort, I decided to declare it a family holiday. Kids stayed home from camp. We had a meeting before breakfast to structure the day a little (alternating periods of free play and housework, with some TV thrown in). That was a wise move on my part. Structure is good. It made for plenty of flopping around, but it also meant we made the house habitable. More than that it made our house ours; we reclaimed the space and began to make progress to the next phase of things -- ZandO getting their own rooms, going back to school, me going back to school (to teach), a better set up for my books and files, a new paradigm. And by the afternoon the day had turned beautiful, and I sent the kids outside to ride bikes and find friends. After a bit Z came inside and said "It's outside time for us, but that means you have to come outside too" and she asked me to come build a fairy house with her in our wild, overgrown, mint-ridden garden. We spent 10 days in Maine, where the fairy houses are a major thing, and after checking the damage to last year's she didn't really engage with them. I feel vaguely guilty, as I think she was waiting for prompting and invitation, from me or David or her grandmother, to build together. But now, here, at home, she prompted me. And we spent time in the sunshine, poking around for materials for the house, weeding a little, talking and imagining, and again, reclaiming our house. It's a pretty special place. 

Reading: I am taken with Gary Shteyngart's piece in the New Yorker about Google Glass. And Maxine Kumin's poem "Xanthopsia" from another recent issue, it's about Vincent Van Gogh and his yellows. Van Gogh's paintings make my soul ache with some kind of deep existential empathy. I cry when I see them in person. As Kumin says "Science has a word—/ xanthopsia—for when objects appear/ more yellow than they really are, but who’s/ to say? As yellow as they are, they are."

Writing: Not enough, but I will get there. I have a new writing space set up in the kitchen.

Dinner: The kids ate with Sarah. I went to the Bottlehouse for a drink (the excellent house-made ginger beer and a very generous pour of bourbon) and iPad geekery with a new colleague, then had leftover Indian potato and kale soup and a glass of Bourdeaux while awaiting their return.

Soundtrack: I realize I am 5 years behind the times, but at water show I decided the Ting Ting's "That's Not My Name" is my new favorite song. Also, David has some Manu Chao in a mix he was playing the other day that made me think I need to spend more time thinking about Manu Chao.

Random thing: It looks like we will have a bumper crop of over-the-back fence, volunteer Concord grapes in another week or so. I am thinking grape pie. Yes, I am.

PS Today's title is from Walden. (In context here.)