Who Ate My Homework?

At our recent family reunion, several of the kids (whose father says with pride, “Our kids are such nerds.”) discovered some tadpoles at the edge of the lake. They spent half their swimming time on the last afternoon catching the little critters and studying them. I assume the focus of their research was observing the stages tadpoles go through as they change into frogs.

I wasn’t there, but I wish I had been. It might have given me an opportunity to finish something I started a long time ago.

As a freshman in high school, I was much more interested in English and history than in science. So when I needed a project for the science fair, I didn’t exactly embark on any cutting-edge research. My plan was to capture a batch of tadpoles and preserve one in formaldehyde each day to show the progression of steps from tadpole to frog.

The ditch beside the road into our yard, filled with water from the spring rains, was a handy tadpole habitat. I scooped up an assortment of the unsuspecting critters and poured them into a gallon pickle jar. Then I fished out the first victim—er, research subject—and dropped it into a little jar of formaldehyde.

At this point, my Uncle Ernie intervened with a suggestion. Tadpoles kept in a pickle jar might not survive long enough to take their turns being sacrificed on the altar of science. He proposed putting them back out in the ditch in a sort of live trap. He helped me build one by tacking window screening around a peach crate, leaving the top open so I could easily fish out my research subjects. We settled it into the muddy ditch, and I dumped the tadpoles into it.

The next morning I went out to select the second volunteer to give its all to science.

The box was right where we had put it. It was still full of water, the screen around it was secure, and it didn’t appear to have been disturbed. But there wasn’t a single tadpole in it.

Apparently somebody, most likely a raccoon, had discovered the tempting tadpole buffet—not unlike the lobster tank at a seafood restaurant—and enjoyed a feast. My science experiment had turned into somebody else’s fine dining experience. I wonder if Charles Darwin ever had that problem?

I don’t remember why it wasn’t possible to simply catch a new batch of research subjects and start over. Maybe whoever ate my project also wiped out most of the remaining population. At any rate, I had to ditch the tadpole project and find something else for the science fair. Perhaps motivated by a desire to identify the culprit who ate my tadpoles, I did an exhibit on fingerprints instead.

Maybe I should have written up the experiment anyway, displaying the empty box, the one lonely pickled tadpole, and the sad story. After all, there are lessons to be learned from failed experiments as well as successful ones. And I did learn an important scientific principle from this experience. I now understand why, until they are ready to publish, scientists find it so important to keep a lid on their research.

Categories: Remembering When, Wild Things | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Freedom of Speech

It was certainly the most enjoyable time I’ve ever spent in a courtroom.

Recently we had a chance to attend a naturalization ceremony in Wyoming where eight people, including a friend of ours from Turkey, became U. S. citizens.

Swearing allegiance to a new country is surprisingly quick. The oath itself only took a few minutes. But the people in charge carried out the event with the ceremony it deserved. There was a short speech of welcome from the judge. A children’s chorus sang several patriotic songs, including all three verses of the national anthem. Maybe they were a bit wobbly on the high notes, but they knew all the words—unlike the rest of us, who sang along for the first verse and faded off into muted humming for the others. Representatives from the DAR, the VFW, the American Legion, the Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of other organizations welcomed the new citizens with smiles, handshakes, and gifts of flags, banners, and patriotic tokens in red-white-and-blue bags.

The whole event was welcoming and warm. It was friendly. It was moving. It was inspiring.

And it was missing something.

The judge, in his talk, referred to his own immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents. He told the new citizens how much their children and grandchildren would benefit from their decision to become part of the United States. Without saying so directly, he implied that life wherever they had come from must have been bad and life here would be ever so much better.

Maybe, for some of them, that was true. But I happened to know it didn’t apply to at least one of the new citizens. Our friend would have had a perfectly fine, middle-class life in Turkey. He came here to go to school, and now, with a Master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D., he may have more opportunities here. But I suspect much of the reason for his decision to become a U. S. citizen was sitting beside me in the courtroom—his American wife.

I also know he is a responsible, hard-working, honorable young man—the kind of person you’d be glad to have move into your neighborhood, your town, or your country.

And that’s the piece the judge had missed. Essentially, he said how lucky the immigrants were to be here But he forgot to add how lucky we were to have them.

So all the while I watched and listened to the presentations of the gifts, and the three verses of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the raising of right hands and swearing allegiance, the back of my mind was busy rehearsing what I wished the judge had said. What I would like to say if I had a chance. I imagined the judge asking if anyone had anything else to say. I imagined myself raising my hand and asking, “Your Honor, may I add something?”

We’ve probably all been in that situation. Sitting there, knowing something needs to be said, knowing just what should be said, and wishing someone would say it.

This time, someone did. After the last song, when the new citizens sat in front of their piles of red-white-and-blue gift bags, in that pause when an event is a heartbeat away from its conclusion, the judge asked, “Does anyone else have any words of welcome?”

And my hand went up without a second’s hesitation. I didn’t have to decide whether to act; I wasn’t nervous. In my mind, this had already happened, and my reaction was more like, “Oh, there’s my cue.”

I raised my hand and said, “Your Honor, may I add something?” He nodded. So I stood up and put in that missing piece. I thanked the new citizens for bringing their skills, their energy, and their hard work to the United States, and I told them we were grateful to have them here.

It was something that needed to be said. And on this particular occasion, I happened to be the person in the right place at the right time to say it.

One of the rights guaranteed to U. S. citizens, old and new, is freedom of speech. We have the right to say what we think, to criticize our elected officials, to express our opinions. Sometimes we exercise that right rudely, crudely, or loudly.

But like all rights, this one comes with obligations and responsibilities. Sometimes, freedom of speech goes beyond what we can say to what we should say. It means each of us, in a circumstance where “somebody should say something,” can be that somebody. Sometimes, freedom of speech means being the one to say the “something” that needs to be said.

Categories: Living Consciously | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Half a Bubble Off

Some people think in three dimensions. Give them a pile of vacation baggage over here and a car trunk over there, and they can stuff the former neatly and precisely into the latter before you can say, “I don’t think we have room for all this junk.” Sometimes, even, they have it done, with the blue overnight bag tucked into the deepest corner, before you can say, “I need to have my blue overnight bag on the top.”

There are several of these 3-D thinkers in my family, and very useful people they are, too. Especially for those of us who are not quite so spatially gifted. Oh, I can get the stuff into the trunk eventually—and I will remember to leave the overnight bag for last—but it will involve a certain amount of unloading and reloading, at least one broken fingernail or skinned knuckle, and the creative use of language.

Then there’s the whole right-left issue. I do know the difference between right and left, honestly. My right hand is the one I write with, and it’s on this side, so this side is right. And since this side is right, obviously the other side is—wait for it—left.

But if I’m rushed—such as being in a moving car in traffic in an unfamiliar town, and just because I’m holding the map the driver expects me to navigate, and he asks urgently, “Which way do we turn?” and I know, really I do, but sometimes what comes out of my mouth is “left,” when I mean “right,” or vice versa. I’ve learned it’s simpler just to point, and those near and dear to me, especially if they’re driving, have learned not to believe me unless I do.

This is just one of the spatial things that seem to make perfect sense to other people but don’t quite click for me. Another one is the simple carpenter’s level. I know that if the bubble is precisely between the lines the surface is level, and if the bubble is off to one side the surface is sloped. But I never can remember which way is up. If the bubble is off to that side (trust me, I’m pointing here), is that side high or low?

This has been explained to me, but so far none of the explanations have stuck. Which can sometimes cause difficulties.

For example: We were landscaping the slope beside our driveway with railroad ties. This involved digging dirt out at one end, putting dirt in at the other end, rolling the tie into place, checking it with the level, and repeating.

Railroad ties are heavy. By the third repositioning of the second one, I had a brilliant and back-saving idea. The tie was close to level. It was sitting on soft dirt. If a person applied weight and pressure—by jumping up and down, say—on the high end, it might pack the tie down enough so we didn’t have to move the damned thing one more time.

I tried it. It might have worked, too. Except for the minor detail that I was jumping up and down on the low end.

A fact I did not realize until I heard a strange noise and thought my companion was choking. When you’re trying to use logic and creative thinking to save your partner’s back from harm, it’s counter-productive when he laughs so hard he nearly hurts himself anyway.

Never mind. Just because the execution was a bit flawed doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea.

Later, we told some friends this story. After they finished laughing, she said, “The way I remember which end is high on a level is that the bubble always goes uphill.”

And just like that, the bubble gained a personality. It became a noble little critter, always seeking the high ground. Suddenly, an abstract idea turned into a story.

Oh. How simple. That’s the kind of third dimension I can remember.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: | 6 Comments

The Naming of Names

With all the bad publicity about the name of the team, it astonishes me that the Washington Redskins haven’t changed their name yet. Maybe the problem is trying to find a new name that won’t be received even more negatively than the old one. The Washington Politicians? The Washington Congress? Not likely to get high approval ratings.  The Washington Gridlock has a nice ring to it, though. There’s a hint of power and manliness about the Washington Filibusters. Or, if they want something ominous, meant to strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, how about the Washington Big Brothers?

It isn’t just sports teams. For several decades now, states and other governmental bodies have been working on changing place names that are offensive, historically inaccurate, or modern overlays of much older names. From McKinley to Denali National Park. From Custer Battlefield to Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.

But then there are other names that, oddly enough, no one seems to have a problem with. Like the Grand Tetons. There’s a name that would have been changed long ago if it were in English instead of French. Just try naming some mountains the “big breasts” today and see how far that gets you.

On second thought, though, maybe there’s another option, one that sports teams are already using. It’s based on the theory that, if you pay enough for the privilege, you can have your name on almost anything.

Instead of renaming, maybe the National Park Service should be looking at an untapped funding source—selling naming rights in the Grand Tetons National Park. “Maidenform Trail.” “Underwire Gulch.” “Lingerie Lake.” “Victoria’s Secret Uplift.” Since limited budgets are always a problem for national parks, there are possibilities here for a lot of support.

Then there are names that are certainly not offensive or inappropriate; they’re just boring. Like the Rocky Mountains. Really? Isn’t that a little obvious? Is it truly the best designation for some of the most spectacular scenery on the North American continent? If the person or persons who came up with that had been in charge, our maps would be full of designations like the Flat Plains, the Sandy Desert, or the Wet River.

Somebody should do something about that. They should look into options for something more dramatic. More descriptive. More exciting.

Like, say, the Black Hills.

Um. Well. Never mind.

Categories: Just For Fun, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

National What Day?

It wasn’t my fault, honest. Nobody told me in time. I didn’t find out until after breakfast that today was National Doughnut Day. By then, it was too late. I had already eaten a bagel.

Apparently, National Doughnut Day is more than just a marketing tool dreamed up by the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme. It’s actually a marketing tool dreamed up by the Salvation Army back in the 1930’s.

Okay, that’s not quite fair. The day honors the efforts of Salvation Army volunteers who started serving coffee and donuts to soldiers in France during WWI. Their Salvation Army Huts represented a lot more than just a doughnut. The respite they provided must have been a blessing, and the women who made and fried all those treats became known as “Doughnut Dollies.” During WWII, the most widespread sources for coffee and doughnuts—thanks to the work of the next generation of Doughnut Dollies—were the Red Cross canteens.

Now that I know all this, I’m even sorrier to have missed the chance to observe National Doughnut Day. Though I guess there is still lunch. And midafternoon snack. And supper.

Or I could look ahead. I have some rhubarb in the freezer, just in time for June 9, which is National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day. Or, to think more broadly—in more than one sense of the word—June is also Candy Month.

There’s a special day for just about anything you can think of, and a lot of things you can’t imagine anyone thinking of. Yesterday, for example, was Hot Air Balloon Day. June 10 is Ball Point Pen Day, and June 13 is Sewing Machine Day. And today is also Gardening Exercise Day—a good thing, given all those doughnuts.

For anyone wanting to keep track of these things, you might check out www.daysoftheyear.com. It could help you avoid glaring mistakes like observing National Doughnut Day with an inappropriate bagel.

But I have a plan to make amends. I’m marking my calendar now. Next February 9, I’m having a doughnut for breakfast. Maybe two, since I missed out this year. February 9 is National Bagel Day.

Categories: Food and Drink | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Texting and Survival of the Fittest

Rapid City has just imposed a ban on texting while driving. This is probably a good thing, but for me it comes a little late. I have already been run over by someone who was texting.

The incident was clearly not my fault. I wasn’t doing anything life-threatening like running into traffic or crossing the street at a corner. I was right where a good law-abiding pedestrian ought to be: on the sidewalk.

Of course, so was the woman who ran over me. Did I mention that she wasn’t in a car at the time? She was walking.

I saw her coming a block away. She wasn’t a kid, but she was young; maybe in her 30’s. She was walking down the sidewalk toward me, along with a man about her age and a teenage girl. The three of them, of course, took up the whole sidewalk. Not a problem. I assumed they would do the polite pedestrian thing and drop into single file while we passed each other. As we drew closer, I did my part by moving to the right, so I was walking on the edge of my side of the sidewalk.

I could see that the woman was looking at her phone, but I assumed she was also paying some attention to her surroundings. Silly me.

Just as we were about to meet, the girl veered off to her right and headed across the street. The woman finally glanced up from her phone as she turned to say something to the girl.

And that’s when she hit me. Her elbow got me right in the solar plexus, which was uncomfortable as well as surprising.

What was equally surprising to me was how surprised the woman was. She had been so focused on her phone that she had no idea I was mere inches away from her until she ran over me. Her “radar,” that warning sense we have when someone approaches our personal space, was totally disengaged.

I’m sure that warning sense has been crucial in helping humans survive all kinds of predators and evolve into the technologically advanced beings we are today. But as we continue to evolve, I’m not sure where our technology will take us. This woman was so completely unaware of her surroundings that she was at serious risk. A mountain lion would have considered it poor sportsmanship to grab her.

She didn’t apologize for running over me, either. Possibly because she was still focused on her phone—in dismay, this time. When she hit me, she had dropped it onto the sidewalk, where it exploded into several pieces.

I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel the least bit sorry.

Categories: Living Consciously, Odds and Ends | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Golf and Game in Wyoming

The card stated clearly that it was an exclusive invitation sent to a limited few. We were obviously among the chosen, since my partner’s name was on the envelope, spelled right and everything.

He and a guest—that would be me, presumably, though of course being too quick to presume can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and a wise woman doesn’t take these things for granted—were invited to enjoy dinner and fine wine for two. At the same time, we would participate in a seminar to find out all about “Wyoming’s premier golf and hunting resort community.” We would even be given the opportunity to buy “appreciating real estate” in this “deeded ownership resort.”

Now, given the exclusive and limited nature of these invitations, one might think somebody would have checked the list to verify that all the recipients actually played golf and hunted. Or at least did one or the other. Which we don’t. Maybe we qualified just on the grounds of our general all-around specialness and exclusivity.

But I still found the invitation a tad confusing. Maybe it’s my rural upbringing, but I’ve never particularly thought of golf and hunting as a matched set. Certainly, I know people who enjoy both. They just don’t indulge in them at the same time or in the same place. So I’m not sure how the whole “golf and hunting resort” thing would work.

The obvious way to clarify confusing little details like this would be to accept the invitation. Then I would have a chance to ask questions. Here are some of the things I would like to know:

1. Will the pro shop sell camouflage golf knickers?

2. A deer or antelope would probably fit on a golf cart, but if you bag an elk on the course, are you allowed to drive your pickup off the cart path to load it?

3. If you carry a rifle in your golf bag, do you have to count it as one of your clubs? And is it absolutely necessary to put one of those little mitten thingies on it?

4. Are you expected to tip the caddy something extra for helping you dress out your game?

5. If someone ahead of you on the course has stopped to field-dress an elk on the fairway, does course etiquette require you to wait, or can you play through?

6. If one member of the resort shoots a deer and it runs out onto the fairway, where another member of the resort dispatches it with a three-iron, who gets to keep the deer?

7. If your golf partner is lining up a long put, and an elk ambles into range, are you required to risk spooking the critter by shouting “fore” before you shoot?

8. If you’re on, say, the seventh hole, and you miss a deer with your first shot but get it with the second, do you have to add both shots to your golf score?

9. If you’re on the tee, and you pull your rifle out of your golf bag and drop an antelope with one shot, does that count as a hole in one?

10. If one of your drives hits a turkey in the head and kills it, is your score for that hole automatically a birdie?

Never mind petty little details like prices, access, and land values. What potential buyers really need are satisfactory answers to crucial questions like these. It might be enough to persuade them to invest—at least if they’ve had enough of that fine wine.

Categories: Just For Fun, Wild Things | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Gonna Bounce That Kid Right Out of My Yard

Any reputable obstetrician would have been appalled. Such behavior by a very pregnant lady simply wasn’t appropriate.

For most pregnant ladies, actually, it would have been impossible. When you feel approximately the shape and size of the Goodyear Blimp, you aren’t going to gambol about, making mad dashes hither and yon and kicking up your heels. Heck, you can’t even see your heels.

But these two pregnant ladies were doing just that. Literally. I saw one of them kick her heels higher than her head. This was after she had hurtled across the lawn, twisting and leaping like Tipperary bursting out of the bucking chute. Her unborn baby must have been hanging on by its fingernails.

Except it didn’t have fingernails. These pregnant ladies were deer. Their prenatal cavorting took place in broad daylight, right in our back yard. And it involved children.

The children were four or five of last year’s fawns (it was hard to count, they were moving so fast). Scruffy and uncombed in their shedding winter coats, they outdid the does in exuberance. They chased each other, ducked and dodged, bucked, dashed back and forth across the yard, raced laps around the trees and back, and bounced like popcorn on their slender legs.

This frantic activity went on for perhaps ten minutes. Eventually one of the youngsters galloped off across the neighbor’s yard and disappeared. Another followed. The others dashed off in various directions and didn’t come back.

The two does looked at each other, then settled down to placid browsing on the new green grass as if nothing whatsoever had happened.

And we were left wondering just what did happen. It’s the time of year when the does, getting ready for this year’s babies, send the adolescent fawns from last year off to seek their fortunes in the big, wide world. Is this the way it’s done? Did we witness a deer rite of passage—sort of a graduation minus the speeches?

It might have been a way to literally kick the kids out, except it looked like way too much fun. Was the point of all the frolicking to get the yearlings so hyped up that they wouldn’t notice Mom had sent them away? Was this a farewell party? Or did we simply see an outburst of sheer, spring-driven delight?

We may never know. What we do know is that it was great fun to watch. But for any pregnant ladies out there, just one cautionary note. Spring exuberance or not, please, don’t try this at home.

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Lucky Number 14

This, according to folklore, will be one lucky kid. Grandchild number 14, Breckin Wayne, born April 26, emerged inside an unbroken amniotic sac. Being born “en caul” this way is extremely rare (about one in 80,000, apparently) and is supposed to be extremely lucky.

It may seem that Breckin will need that luck. He’s the third child in his family, joining an athletic and competitive six-year-old brother and a three-year-old sister who is a young lady of strong opinions. A loving, loud, and energetic duo, they could easily overwhelm a brand-new little boy, even one with lots of dark hair and Elvis-wannabe sideburns.

In his first six days of life, Breckin has shown himself to be the quiet, thoughtful type. But in his own small way, he does seem to have ideas of his own. (Perhaps we should keep in mind that his middle name commemorates a grandfather who had some strong—and sometimes loud—opinions himself.) For example, several busy people rearranged their schedules around his due date of April 15. He made them all wait another 11 days until he was good and ready to show up.

Behavior like that might be considered a bit passive/aggressive. But then, quiet manipulation might be a good strategy for coping with his assertive older siblings.

Who already love him with great enthusiasm. His brother holds him with great patience, and his sister, whose pronouns are not as certain as her opinions, keeps asking for another turn to “hold he.” They will annoy him, tease him, teach him to sleep through a lot of noise, love him aggressively, and defend him fiercely.

Yep, Breckin Wayne is one lucky kid.

Categories: Family | 2 Comments

The Case of Grandma’s Stolen Stash

Oh, dear. There went another missed opportunity to collect some votes in the “most popular grandma” competition.

If only I had realized the potential earlier. The last time we traveled through Colorado, I could have stocked up on baking supplies. Then I could have made a nice batch of “Mary Jane’s special brownies” to share with the grandkids.

The way some grandparents in Greeley apparently did. Oh, not on purpose—at least not the sharing part. It appears that a few enterprising fourth-graders found Grandma and Grandpa’s pot-laced goodies. With a business sense beyond their years, the budding little entrepreneurs took the treats to school to sell.

The kids are facing disciplinary action. No charges are expected to be filed against the grandparents, who presumably have been punished enough by the loss of their legal but poorly hidden treats. The school district did send home a letter reminding parents and grandparents to secure their stashes better.

I should hope so. In addition, however, shouldn’t children be taught not to steal from their grandparents? When I was a child, my grandmother kept peppermints in her purse and Hershey bars in her dresser drawer. She did share, but only by invitation and on her terms. To the best of my knowledge, no grandkid ever dared to filch any. We knew we were expected to keep our mitts off of Grandma’s stuff.

As a grandma now myself, that expectation seems perfectly appropriate. But just to be on the safe side, I hereby make a solemn promise. It’s extremely unlikely that I will ever bake a batch of brownies with pot in them. If I ever do, though, I swear I’ll hide them well. No grandkids will ever get their sticky little fingers on pot-enhanced chocolate at my house.

Actually, it’s almost as unlikely that I will ever bake a batch of brownies containing nothing more powerful than cocoa. If I ever do, though, I swear I’ll hide them equally well. Some substances are just not meant to be shared with children.

Categories: Family, Food and Drink | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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