Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Just finished reading the paper. The good news is that a big chunk of open space in Orange County has been preserved. The bad news... well, shithousemouse, where to begin?

Yesterday, I took both kids to the grocery store -- always a challenge -- and while we were there, Sadie decided she wanted to surprise me with a birthday gift.

"Don't look," she said, "I'll be right back."

I dutifully averted my eyes (while still keeping an edge of her pink skirt in view) and went about my shopping. She returned a minute later with a gigantic mylar balloon shaped like the sun. The thing was, I kid you not, two feet wide. And shiny gold.

"Don't look," she said.
"I'm not looking."

We walked this way through the grocery store. Me, face averted, Sadie trailing behind with her balloon and my son bouncing in and out of my field of vision, each time holding some new thing.

He wanted mini-marshmallows, bright green yogurt in tubes, chocolate granola bars, chocolate milk, gum, a bag of mints wrapped in patriotic plastic... And the list goes on.

"No," I said. "Not that," I said.
"Don't look," Sadie said.
"Can I have," Theo said.
"Holy shit," I nearly shrieked. (Still with eyes averted.)

Somehow, we made it out of the grocery store. Somehow, the giant sun-shaped balloon made it through the check-out desk and into the car without my detection being detected.

At home, the children rushed upstairs to prepare the the gift in secret.
Moments later, Sadie appeared, grabbed the tongs from the kitchen drawer and retreated.
"We have a situation," she said. "But we are problem solvers."

The balloon was captured and presented and my surprise was as real as I could make it (thank goodness I was a theater major...) Now, it bobs around the dining room, startling the dog.

The sun is in our house. It's trailing behind me in the grocery store, it's in the faces of my children and the sweet way my husband looks at me. It's the goodness of our friends. The sun helps the trees make lacy shapes on our lawn. It's summer and the sun is in our house and in our life and I look out at the world from my sunny spot and I am so grateful.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My son would like a GPS for his life. It's not a bad idea. I wouldn't mind having one, too.

Imagine what it would be like: this nice voice (probably with a British accent) would say things such as, "You will experience frustration in 1.5 miles." or "Great joy at next exit." It might say, "Take the next job ahead," or "bypass this relationship for the one around the corner."

I want my son to know that he has a kind of built in GPS. I am trying to help him tune into his internal voice. I want him to "trust his gut." It's hard work, this tuning in. I am still working on it. But when I listen, I know it's there. And it's usually right.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Saturday morning, we looked out into our yard and saw hundreds of bees. In the sunlight, they looked almost metallic, whizzing through the air like tiny spaceships. For some reason, they had decided to gather on a slim branch at the top of one of our trees. As they gathered, they clumped and their collective weight pulled the branch down toward the grass.

I thought at first, they had come to harvest nectar from a particularly great bunch of flowers. I thought perhaps one bee had taken a sweet sip and then sped back to the hive to do a little "great grub," dance and everyone followed him back for a picnic. But at day's end, they had stopped flying. They looked like they were settling in.

A bunch of bees on a low hanging branch is not a great match for a kid with a frisbee. I herded my son indoors and typed "Silverlake bee rescue" into my computer. (Isn't it amazing that we can find almost anything in just few keystrokes? I continue to be overwhelmed by all the information out there, but also so incredibly grateful for it. A conundrum of our time, I suppose.)

The next morning, Vincent showed up. He's a bee guy. He brought a mesh hat and gloves that fitted tightly over his shirt up to his biceps. He also brought a cardboard box and a mini shop vac. He would collect the bees and take them home to his collection of hives where, this year, he'd already harvested five thousand pounds of honey. Holy smokes!

Vincent let us stay in the yard while he suited up. He told us that our bees, if left alone, would start to build combs in the tree. He looked around our yard and said it was a good bee yard. He told us that once he'd fallen twelve feet from a ladder and landed on his back to protect the clump of bees he was holding. He told us that the bees in our tree were in their most docile state. And then he told us to go inside and watch through the window.

From our vantage point atop the washer and dryer, we watched while Vincent sprayed the bees with sugar water (to keep them busy) and then carefully climbed the ladder and clipped the branch holding the largest cluster of bees. I had a momentary fear that when he snipped it, the branch would swing upwards and launch it's buzzing cargo into the neighbor's upstairs window, but Vincent held it still and worked the clipper with his elbow. The cluster of bees looked like a bunch of grapes clipped from the vine. Vincent settled them carefully into the cardboard box and secured the lid with duct tape. The bees outside the box took to the air.

"They're going to land again," Vincent assured us. "They want to be in the box, too."

We ran upstairs to press our noses against the window for a better view. The bees did want to be in the box. They wanted to stay together. In a matter of minutes the screened end of the box was covered with bees. Using a little whisk broom, Vincent gently swept these bees into a second box. Those bees that evaded the broom were collected with the mini shop vac.

In less than ten minutes the bees were gone.

Vincent removed his mesh hat and gestured for us to come out. He showed us photos of bees nesting in hot tubs and bird houses and even in the head of a fiberglass snowman.

"I am totally writing about this in in my journal," Theo said.

Me, too.

Friday, June 18, 2010

School's out for the summer! Holy smokes. In a short forty minutes my kids will be all mine for nearly three months. To paraphrase Shaggy and the Scooby Gang: Zoinks!

I've been thinking about WHAT WE SHOULD DO. How to keep busy (but not too busy.) How to keep them from fighting each other, me, the dog... How are we relaxed, but alert. How do I keep my boy from spending every waking hour hunched over the keyboard lost on some computer generated island.

Two days ago, I said, "We've got to keep active."
And he returned, "My computer body is active."
"No," I said, "Your BODY body."
"I kind of like it when it stiffens," he said. "When I'm on the computer parts of me fall asleep and that feels good."

In order to keep most of our parts mobile and awake, I'm making a list. It might start this way:

Walk the dog, kick a ball around the back yard, see how many different kinds of leaves we can find on our street, paint a picture, dig a hole, make a mud pie, practice your headstand...

There's lots and lots of options. And, yes, computer, too. Writing for me, games for the boy. We all have our own islands.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Trees on My Block

I have been thinking a lot about being present. I've been reading some books about "mindful" parenting and "mindful" living. I've had a few conversations where I tried to explain what "mindful" really means. It's a funny word and one, I think, that gets thrown around an awful lot lately.

For me, it means being present. It's the act of standing on the ground, with your eyes open and looking around at your world. It's about taking in an experience before reacting to it. Being mindful is not knee-jerk. But it isn't so relaxed that you're letting the world wash over you. It's about being alert and aware and ready. Sometimes I think we confuse being ready with being in action. Ready is not pulling your jacket on as you unlock the car. Ready is having your jacket on before you open the front door.

At any rate, a dear friend of mine has an art show up for just a few more days and her paintings make me think of being "mindful." She has painted all the trees on the block surrounding her house in Pasadena. When I am feeling like my head is about to pop off with stress and fear and anger, I like to think about Elizabeth walking around her neighborhood looking at the trees. She's given each tree (or bush or artfully carved shrub) its own place on a small square of plywood. These paintings are so small they invite you to come closer, to participate in Elizabeth's mindfulness. They ask you to take a moment to admire the curve of a carefully carved topiary or register the starkness of bare branches against a winter sky.

Because I am lucky enough to know Elizabeth, I know that her paintings are always this specific. I know that being "mindful" is part of how she defines being an artist. In other series, she has paid careful attention to all the bits of trash in the vacant lot across from her studio and to the things she sees on her commute. In this way gum wrappers and streetlamps and the shiny handle on a car door are all elevated. These things are part of Elizabeth's world and part of ours.

As I type, I am aware of the way the keys press against my fingertips, I hear the whir of the refrigerator and the shrill peeps of the young birds nesting in the magnolia. I see dust bunnies in the corners of my office and I resist the urge to spring up and grab the broom.

If you have time, take a trip to the Pasadena Armory for the Arts and check out Elizabeth's show. It's only up for a few more days and it is worth the trip.