Monday, May 26, 2014

The garden now.

A day at the Fort Worth Nature Center

We spent much of today at the Fort Worth Nature Center. In fact, we have gone there about this time every year for several years now, and it's because of the Dallas-Fort Worth Herpetological Society having their annual "Snakes of Tarrant County" exhibit. The exhibit is a rare opportunity for me, since I like to learn about and observe snakes, but only in the presence of experts. (I'm not an amateur snake-handler.) The kids loved it, and the society has done a good job at making it kid friendly, as you might expect. I guess there is a single primary family that is responsible for the exhibit, and their older children are there to help. They were friendly to our kids, and seemed to understand small children, even when Neil was being difficult. In any case, we visited the snake exhibit first, and I realized then that I wanted to go hiking just as much, maybe because of the overcast and warm weather. There are extensive hiking trails there, of great variety. Some are rocky and hilly. Some are flat and smooth. There is a variety of scenery, from dense woods, to plains with bison and prairie dogs in view. What do I know? I've only hiked on two of the trails, actually. But after today, I want more. Hiking is one of my favorite pastimes. Actually, I like taking walks, so as I see it, I like hiking a fortiori. Hiking with small children can be a bad idea, so I thought we'd get our feet wet with what I thought was a small and easy trail adjacent to the visitor's center. I didn't have a map, and we got off course of that easy trail and onto a rocky and hilly trail, in dense woods. Neil liked it. He curiously wonders if snakes are in the tall grass, as we warned him there were a few weeks ago at Fort Griffin. He notices the rocks (and boulders), and the fire ant "mountains," and the various bugs. Olivia, on the other hand, thought the trail was "dangerous." She refused to enjoy anything she normally would, such as seeing a butterfly. As if her mood wasn't plain enough, I asked her, "Is hiking awesome?" She replied, "No, hiking is not awesome." I don't know if she just didn't want to be hiking, or if she was actually nervous about the difficulty of the trail, the dense woods (which can make a person feel lost and disoriented), the tall grass, etc. We eventually came to one of the park's roads and just decided to try to find our way back to the visitor's center to get a map of the trails, rather than continue hiking further away from it. Once back there, I noticed a trail that we had seen a little of last year, with the kids (and they enjoyed it). I remembered this trail, that it has wide, flat and soft dirt paths, bison and prairie dogs are in view, has an open view of the land, and it is a popular trial. I thought if we had a chance to enjoy hiking, this would be the trail. So we drove to it, and parked. The kids did like it (even Olivia), and we went much further down the trail than last year. Maybe a little too far, since we each had to carry one of the kids for part of the way back. Sometimes, we all enjoy the same things about hiking (or going to the zoo, or botanic gardens), such as seeing a bison, or flower, or bug. Sometimes we don't see it the same way that the kids do. For the first ten minutes on the trail, all the kids wanted to do was play in the dirt and pretend their toy snakes were eating the dirt. At that time,they were enjoying the trail as much as we, just for different reasons. Eventually, I had enough, and thought I wasn't going to stand around while they played in the dirt. I had to think of a diversion. I said, "Why don't we go find some berries for the snakes to eat?" (Just one day earlier, we had found some wild berries growing at the botanic gardens, which they were intrigued about.) It worked they were ready to explore the trail and find berries. We never found them, but we were just there for the pursuit, anyway.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas shopping with Olivia

Today I took Olivia Christmas shopping, just the two of us. We did the same last year, and it occurred to me that it would be a good tradition. I asked her if she wanted to get Mrs. D. something for Christmas. She said yes. I asked her what she wanted to get. She said that she wanted to get a bracelet and a necklace. This was all I needed to hear, so we soon left to go shopping. Darcy also needed me out of the house for a few hours, since apparently she preparing something for me for Christmas that takes some time and assembly. So, Olivia and I left, and just like this occasion in the previous year Darcy tried to recreate the picture of Olivia and I standing by the blue car. It also came out at some point that she was in the mood for ice cream, so we made Brahms our first stop. It was definitely warm enough for eating ice cream today. Olivia knew she wanted strawberry ice cream, but I still had to hold her up in order to she what was behind the counter. We eventually make it to Chico's, which is a place that Darcy suggested Olivia would have good luck picking something out. On the way there Olivia found an etch-a-sketch and started focusing on that. What follows is a digression: Neil is two and three-fourths right now. He loves to learn about shapes. He loves to look at shapes. I like to draw two- and three-dimensional shapes for Neil. He loves demonstrate what he knows when I ask him, "Is there a triangle in the room?" "Is there a sphere in the room?" I just assumed that Olivia wasn't interested in this, so I didn't bother with it. I had no reason for that; I just had a stereotype. Olivia is artistic, creative and emotional, so I believed. But she has edged in on Neil's and my shape games, and has picked up on it as well as Neil has. Okay, digression over. While in the car, Olivia drew a cylinder on the etch-a-sketch, and I was very impressed with it. When we arrived at the University Mall, Olivia wouldn't leave the etch-a-sketch in the car. I thought this could be a problem, but what could I do? I was right. We got to Chico's and Olivia wasn't interested in picking something out for Darcy. Vanity and pride had struck me earlier. I thought about how good I would look to bystanders in the store: "What a great father and cute little girl picking something out for mom." Everyone else there would be doing run-of-the-mill Christmas shopping, and we were really going to standing out and lead people to give pause. But Olivia was not interested in playing along with that. I tried to force it, and took her over to a jewelry table. "Don't you want to pick out something for Mrs. D.?" She just grabbed the nearest object, the low hanging fruit. "Come on!" I thought to myself. So I took here to the next table to she if she would act any different. She looked away from the etch-a-sketch to do more of the same. So I picked something. We walked to the check-out. I thought she might want to hold what we picked out. We had earlier gone to QT for a drink for me and gummy bears for her. She was enthusiastic to hold the gummy bears and credit card then, but not anymore. Still though, while in like she was happy to tell the attendant how she was buying this for mommy, and that I was daddy, and I play monster and dinosaur, and about our dogs. Another lady behind us was charmed by her, but I think she may have regretted it. It was funny how much Olivia had to say to her, some of it quite random. We actually had been to University Mall the day before, as a family. For some of the time, I had to watch Neil and Olivia. It was I warm day, and we waited in the courtyard. Both of the were obsessed with all of the acorns. They wanted nothing else but to pick up acorns and put them in my pocket. My pockets were getting full and I realized this was not sustainable. So I would secretly toss some in the air, and I gave the suggestion that they fell from the trees. This way, my pockets did not fill up. Olivia and I continued this game when just two two of us came back. The whole day was a good experience, and I think I'll be nostalgic of it. Now, on to another topic. I am nostalgic of so much in the past. Not all of it good. Some of it very ordinary. Some of it very exciting. I like to revisit old places. I have wondered why I am so nostalgic, and why the recollection of an experience is vastly better than the original experience itself. I began to think that the experience of being nostalgic is like that of dreaming. Many of my dreams are very ordinary, but much more pleasant than the experience would be in waking life. I think the secret may be the great amount of tension I am perpetually feeling. Tension about the world, injustices everywhere, lousy people everywhere. Tension about not accomplishing enough, about learning enough, knowing enough, doing enough. Existential worries. It's constant. But it's absent in dreams. For some reason it's absent in nostalgic recollection. Maybe because recollection is not reality. In any case, it's then I get to experience something from the past without all the tension and worry, and it's much better than it was the first time around.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I have a patch of weeds growing in my yard. Actually, there are weeds all over my yard, since I don't see a problem with them. They look fine when mowed, and the lawn is mostly made of a uniform looking grass anyway. My point is there is a section of the yard full of weeds that I haven't mowed in several months. The reason? Ladybugs love this particular weed that grows there. It's a spiny, sticky weed with aphids on it. Maybe the Ladybugs go where the aphids are? Anyway, Neil loves to look for Ladybugs, and we can always find them on the weeds in this un-mowed part of the yard. We have a good time looking for and catching Ladybugs. I have met people panic at the first sign of a weed, or take measures to keep weeds away. To me, that's silly.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Garden

I'm glad to say that I have a garden. Now that's its built, I wouldn't change anything about its construction or location. It is a great undertaking of manual labor, money, time, and planning to do this, and so I am happy it got done so soon. (We have only lived here since July.) So far, I have 8 tomatoes, 1 eggplant, and a few summer squash seeds planted.

The mental work of decided how and where to build a garden from scratch is very difficult and stressful for me (And this is before the manual labor even begins.) Originally, I was going to have the vegetable garden in the flowerbed on the south side of the house. I made that decision from caving to laziness. The beds already there, even if it's not perfect. It'll work, I thought. But I decided against that once I found that the foundation had been treated for termites a few years ago. So, I decided to use the yard on the south side of the house. Raised beds seemed like the only way to go. The next issue was to decide on wood, masonry, or what else?

I decided to build a wood-frame raised bed, initially out of cedar. I even went to Home Depot expecting to buy cedar. The reason for the cedar was because I wanted to build a more sturdy version of one of the cheaper kits I saw online. (Cedar kits are ubiquitous in garden magazines and catalogs. I almost bought two cedar kits for $80 each for this project. That kit was the cheapest I could find, and I eventually decided it was too cheap and I lost confidence in it.) At Home Depot, an employee in the lumber department suggested that cedar isn't automatically a good wood for the project. The hardiness of the wood depends on from what part of the tree it is cut, and he had no idea about the cedar that happened to be in the store. It's no surprise that everything labeled "cedar" is not the same. The use of cedar for raised beds was a fad, he suggested. My father was there and he found this easy to agree with. Additionally, cedar lumber is very expensive, but untreated pine is not.

It worked out that I can build 4 feet by 8 feet (8 inch tall) bed from yellow pine boards that are nominally 2 inches thick for $25 - $30. From talking to employee at Home Depot, and from reading on the Internet, I expect to get 3 to 5 years out of such a bed. After all, the only function of the frame is to hold the soil in place. The wood will gradually rot and be incorporated into the soil. Then, I'll rebuild it again, perhaps the same way all over again. So I bought enough southern yellow pine for two 4 feet by 8 feet beds with a frame that is about 8 inches tall. The wood was untreated, just cut from the tree and dried. I bought untreated wood, even though the pressure treated wood is officially allowed for food gardens (many gardeners don't trust this, however). The older type of pressure treated wood contained arsenic, and was used for many years before being recently banned. I certainly don't know what's safe, so I err on the side of caution.

The assembly of the bed was simple, and it looks square, level and even. I was very careful measuring and cutting, and I took my time. I was worried it wouldn't look good in the yard, but it looks fine. The hard part was removing the Bermuda grass and weeds, which I did with a pickaxe. It was also very hard to haul the 21 cubic feet of compost and amendments to fill the bed. I bought about $90 of that sort of stuff from Archie's. I bought an assortment of cotton burr compost, cow manure compost, greensand and "landscaper mix" which I think I was misinformed about (it seems like a fancy mulch, not a soil amendment). I have never gone to these lengths before. I had another garden at our old house, but I filled it with homemade compost, most of which was not totally finished composting. The new bed is filled to the top. It was hard work. I plan to repeat this procedure in a week or so for the second bed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Delusions of Grandeur

Tomorrow is the first day of a new semester. Earlier I was imagining myself conducting my class with dignity, significance, and respect, which is probably making it all out to be much more important than it is. This easily led me into a daydream of a man confined to a mental hospital having delusions that he is a king or a knight. The truth is, in some ways, I wouldn't mind being that man.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


A few years ago I came across another teacher at the college I teach at who claimed to know something about numerology. He was in his mid eighties and had been studying it for 30 or 40 years. I have always had a broad interest in all things natural and supernatural, and I knew that numerology (whatever it was) fit into one category or the other. So, instead of just explaining it to me, he just gave me a reading. I don't remember all of the information he gathered from me, but my birth date was one item on the list. (I still have the paper he wrote for me somewhere.) It did not take him long and I was caught off guard by how much he knew about me as a result of the reading (I suppose). Right away he told me that I love to learn, that I'm a lifelong student, that I'm not happy unless I'm learning, and that this is a burden on me. This is all true, and he seemed to know about my personal struggle of always needing to learn, and constantly seeking (but rarely finding) fulfillment through learning. In my experience, this is not a common struggle. Even among my colleagues (at a college), there are none I know of who seem to have broad academic interests. Even if I am typical, and he made a good guess, it was even more surprising that he knew that it was a source of psychological pain for me.

In any case, he knew me as well as I knew myself, and seemed to be able to do it with numerology alone. But he made one more prediction: he said that in my late thirties (roughly, I can't remember) that the burden and psychological pain that my desire to learn causes me will abate. Time will tell.