Category Archives: spring

The perils of cauliflower, generous neighbours, and giving your children what they want

There’s a cauliflower in my fridge and it’s laughing at me. That’s what cauliflowers do. They simper in the supermarket, saying “Buy me, I’m healthy. You can make all sorts of nice things with me.” And then I bring it home and it sits in my fridge for two weeks laughing at me because I never really want to make any of those nice things. Not enough to actually do it.

My husband says this never happens to him. He’s cauliflower-resistant. I need to be more like him.

I do have several delicious recipes for cauliflower – this one, and this one, or this one if I had some chicken – but tonight, when I was finally determined to quash that vegetable once and for all, I went and sabotaged myself by making a dessert first, which then turned out to be taking up the oven for the entire time until dinner, at the wrong temperature for any roasting of any cauliflower. Also, I was tired of cooking because the dessert was more fiddly than I remembered.

It’s even a purple cauliflower, because I’m just that fancy. And it’s still there, in the fridge, laughing at me and living to see another day.

We are also suffering from a surfeit of fruit at the moment. I know this shouldn’t be a bad thing, but there you have it, I’m a bad person. We have blueberries because a friend bought a giant container of them at Costco and then gave me some because her family wouldn’t eat them all. (As if I thought my family would be any different.)

We had rhubarb because I’d been looking out for rhubarb and it finally appeared in the supermarket and I bought some and made strawberry and rhubarb crumble and that was lovely but there was still rhubarb left over (the dessert I made today was for that).

And then our neighbour appeared at the side door with a big bag of freshly picked strawberries, which he gets at work somehow or something, and of course I was very grateful and polite and said thank you and yes please, but now they’re sitting in the fridge looking at me too. I could freeze them but I did that before and we ended up never eating them. I thought I’d make smoothies. I didn’t. Nobody eats that stuff in this house. Healthy stuff that’s not bread. Nobody.

In cat news, you would think that now that we have pets, the constant whining for a pet would have stopped. But no! You would be mistaken. They both still want a dog – of course; Mabel still wants a pet that’s exclusively hers to take care of and love and squeeze and call George.

Then yesterday she solved this problem for herself (at least temporarily) by announcing that Birch was now hers and she alone was going to feed him and scoop his poop. ‘Okay,’ we said, not remonstrating nearly as much as she’d expected. Then Dash decided that Oak, of course, was now his. We looked forward to an easy retirement from feeding and scooping the kitties. This morning Mabel insisted on getting up at 6:30 to be the one who fed the cats. (She graciously agreed to feed both of them.) However, when I pointed out that one of the cats had pooped before she left for school she said that was definitely the other one.

Cat almost on keyboard

Helping cat

However, I’m still the one at home with the cats all day, and I’m the only one who can stand the smell of the wet cat food enough to give them some, so they know that really they’re my kitties, and I’m the one they’ll rescue when they have to choose a favourite family member.

Oh wait, they’re cats. They’ll run away and leave us to our fate.

Sik-ADE-ahs

Cicada was a word I’d only met in books for a long time. I wasn’t really sure what a cicada was, and I certainly wasn’t sure how to say it. SIK-ah-da? KIK-ah-da? It was a small animal, maybe. A bird? Some sort of a part of nature, anyway, that they had in warmer climes than Ireland.

(This reminds me of the katydid that was mentioned in the very beginning of What Katy Did. I’ve only recently learned that a katydid is a … quick look at wikipedia to remind myself … oh yeah, a cricket that looks like a leaf. I thought it was a frog or toad for a long time.)

Anyway, I thought I’d tell you about cicadas so you’d be better informed than I was. And because we have ’em. Lots of them but not as many as we’ll have in 2021 when brood X comes out and they’re ankle deep here … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So you pronounce it [sik-ADE-ah] with the emphasis on the middle syllable there. And it’s a large winged insect related to the cricket. At the end of summer they sit in the trees and make this amazingly cacophonous electronic-sounding buzzing noise that rises to a peak and then tails off again. It’s the quintessential sound of summer nights in hot places – if you’re Irish it’s the sound of summer holidays somewhere really nice (i.e. warm).

So you can read about the life cycle of the cicada at places that will give you more accurate information and lots of other gross/cool photos (also this page is cute because the cursor turns into a cicada when you mouse over a link), but I’m here to be your reporter on the ground, if you like, with actual footage from actually where I live. A couple of evenings ago some local friends were remarking on Facebook that the cicadas were coming out. The next day I went on a field trip with the second grade and realised too late that I should have brushed up on my cicada facts because we were all full of questions. Today there are even more of them, with discarded shells around the base of many big trees, so I decided it was time to write the big cicada post.

After a certain number of years underground – anything from 2 to 17 depending on the brood – the cicada comes out when the weather gets warm. It finds the nearest tree (probably the one it dropped out of as a baby), climbs up it, and sheds its exoskeleton. Near any given tree in the right area you’ll find a bunch of empties under the leaves or fallen on the ground below – I just went outside my house and hey presto, found this one for a photo.

Shed cicada exoskeleton attached to a tree trunk

You can see where it burst out, just like the creature in Alien. Only more slowly. More of that below. These are apparently Brood X stragglers, they’re not the whole big deluge we’re expecting in 2021. Washington Post is also on the story today. I’m so current.

When they come out they’re all white and grub-like, but after a while in the sun they colour up nicely.

Here’s one in the very act of emerging. Come on, buddy, you can do it. (It happens verrry slowly. I didn’t have to be quick to catch this. I went home, got my camera, and came out again.)

Here’s one proudly posing by his discarded exoskeleton. “That old thing? I don’t need it any more.” I’m not sure he realises the “tree” he’s on is actually a telegraph pole.

Here’s a finished product we found on a bush on our field trip. Look at his freaky red eyes. He’s about 3cm long.

Now look at the next picture and be a little freaked out, because there are suddenly more cicadas than you realised. I count six or seven here. There were more than that on the bush, and plenty more on the rest of the bushes too.

Then they go off into the trees to be eaten by birds and/or find the cicada of their dreams to make baby cicadas with, to grow up underground, possibly for another 17 years.

They don’t bite or sting, so they’re totally harmless to people – though I was just told to watch out for the giant brown hornets called “cicada killers” that go after them. Roger that.

The wonders of nature, eh?

Books and bases

I am proofreading my book, which is a fairly soul-destroying job. It’s that point where you are only meant to make the smallest and most imperative of changes, but you decide it’s all crap and you want to rewrite it all. But you can’t, because otherwise this will Never End and you’ll never have a book out there at all, so you just have to put up with it, and keep believing that your perspective is not the most unbiased right now, and it’s probably fine.

Also, it’s really boring because I’ve read it a million times, so I keep not wanting to do it, but I have to do it or it will never be done, because the only person standing between me and publication right now is ME.

But when it’s done, then I will be a twice self-published author, which is maybe twice as legitimate as a once self-published author, and may help me feel less like I’m faking it and more like I’m really doing it, which I suppose is the aim. Also, then I can get back to finishing draft 1 of book 3 before all hell breaks loose – I mean, before the kids are finished school for summer.

Mabel walking a stuffed dog in the parade

In the baseball parade, back when it was sunny

The weather charged straight into summer, I pulled out all our summer clothes and switched out the down comforter for the summer bedspread, and now it’s done a u-turn back into cold and wet. This happens every year; I’m not even surprised. At least we managed to fit a nice weekend in for baseball opening day, and Dash got to play in the first game, and even though his team were thrashed he was front and centre and doing well the whole time.

I used to bring a book and happily ignore the games until he came up to bat once in a blue moon, but I don’t think I can do that any more – if he’s not pitching he’s catcher, or on a base, or at a base (very important distinction I didn’t know before – one is a fielder guarding that base and the other is running around on his way to (hopefully) score a point; but TBH I can’t tell you which is which) or something else important. The great thing about the sad fact that all his team’s star players aged out last year is that with another year to go after this, Dash is a senior member and will get a ton of experience this year Doing All The Things.

Meanwhile I will sit on a blanket on a ground under the shady tree and chat to the moms, and Mabel will bring a book and then ignore it to go have playground conferences with the other sisters of players (yes, girls do play and are welcomed in the league, but nonetheless it’s mostly boys) and then come back and demand my money for ice pops and packets of chips and ring pops, and I will give in or hold firm depending on the day.

That is, if the rain ever stops again.

 

Learning curve

I’ve been busy. I am busy. Busy is good, right? I have an editing job on at the moment, I’m trying not to lose the impetus I have with writing the third book of my trilogy, I’m promoting the first (in my own slow, awkward and ill-informed way), and on the cusp – the very CUSP, I tell you – of publishing book two. Also, it’s spring break for child #1 this week, which makes all that a bit harder to get to. Next week will be spring break for child #2, but she’s all set up with a camp that will essentially remove her from my orbit for exactly the same amount of time as if she were at school.

Why yes, it would be more convenient to have them both on break at the same time, but no, that is not my life this year. We also had a houseguest last weekend and the weather is right there changing from spring to summer (that is, what I think of spring weather – nice – to summer weather – too hot) outside my window. Time once again to regret my sandal choices and wonder what I wear when it’s too warm for jeans.

I have to tell you that baseball is much harder than it looks. Dash has had me out throwing and catching with him today and yesterday, after chivvying me to finish my work so we could do something fun (i.e., throwing and catching), and yesterday there was a lot of missing and dropping on my part; today not quite so much. But my hand stings because he’s got quite an arm on him and even under a too-big softball mitt, when I catch one straight to the heel of my hand it makes me wince. In general I throw the way you might say a girl throws if you weren’t a feminist who knew better than to say that. I also catch that way.

The cats’ current nickname is Squoodleperps. I address them both as Squoodleperps. They seem fine with that, so they probably like it, I think.


Last week I went to talk to the local homeschool co-op (yes, you can homeschool your kids and still have to be somewhere on a rainy Tuesday morning, which some might say defeats the purpose) about my book and being an author and things like that, she said self-deprecatingly. One thing I’m starting to get through my thick skull is that I have to stop with the self-deprecating stuff because as far as other people are concerned the fact that I self-published rather than having a publisher is of very little import, and while it might make me feel like a fakey mcfakerson because all I did was put a bunch of words together and whistle up some online magic and hey presto I have a book that I say is good and you should read but nobody of real worth has said that so why would you listen … sorry, where was I? I mean, even if I think that’s not the same, as far as most people are concerned I’ve written a book and here it is, it looks great, they’d like to buy it and read it and maybe they’ll love it. And maybe they will, I’ve heard from people who do. (I love those people.) And me being all cutesy shy and self-deprecating about it is just confusing, as far as they’re concerned, so I need to stop it. Slap me if you see me doing it.

Another thing I have to do is come up with an answer to “What’s it about?” that’s not “Well, it’s about a girl, who goes to school, and … stuff…” because that’s not going to make anyone think “Hey, that sounds like a book I’d like to read” or “I should buy that for my granddaughter because she’d really like it.” One pithy elevator pitch for potential readers, stat. Saying “Just read the back” is probably not what I’m meant to do.

And I need to work out answers to frequently asked questions like “Did you always want to be a writer?” and “Did you always write?” so that I’m not sitting there gazing into space all, “Well… yes… no… yes … sort of… I suppose I did.” I can come up with something better than that. I just have to write it down first. Because yes, I always have been a writer of some sort, somewhere, even just inside my head.

It was fun, though. I chose a passage to read aloud (which I probably read too fast; slow down, Maud), and I think they liked what I said. Luckily there were several parents on hand to ask questions, because the kids didn’t have a lot (they were a mixed-age bunch, which was a little tricky to keep engaged). I’d do it again. In fact, I e-mailed the local public school to see about doing just that, maybe.

So I’m learning a lot, is what I mean. It’s good.

Maud on a chair beside a table with books on it, with a colourful and institutional-looking wall as background.

Me, beside a table full of books I didn’t write, about to talk to the homeschoolers.

 

Order

Sometimes the point of the blogging is simply that it’s nice to have one thing in my life that is within my control. My blog has no ulterior motives, it won’t do things and refuse to tell me why, it will eat its vegetables when presented with them, and if I tidy it up, it damn well stays tidy.

Other times, the chaos takes over and I’ve no energy for extras, even if they’re the extras that make me feel better.

So much for my lofty (that is, minimal) spring break plans. In the event, Mabel had a short-lived bug and then I had one that lingered, so that today is really the first day I feel like I can tackle things normally again, and the whole week is over. We got through it with a few playdates and a lot of television and minecraft time, and it’s just as well I didn’t really have anything pressing on my list of Things We Could Do, which were mostly just Things To Pass The Time Somewhat Usefully rather than Things That Had To Be Done. The kids got a break from schoolwork and homework, and we got a break from the school run and packing lunches, and the trees are in bloom and everything’s fine.

You can tell I feel better because my world-view has righted itself again. Yesterday that paragraph might have been a lot gloomier.

I think I can impose enough fake order on my life again to write things down about it now. Maybe a list of the blog posts I could write but won’t would be the best way to bring things swiftly up to date:

How to Host a Harry Potter Birthday Party for a Ten-Year-Old Extrovert Who Insists on Inviting Everyone He’s Ever Known. (Contents to make themselves known after the fact, in a few weeks’ time.)

How to Lose Those Pesky Five Pounds Before Summer (MyFitnessPal is helpful or you could just catch a virus, so long as you weren’t wanting to use energy for anything, ever)

Casual Misogyny, Classism, and Racism in the Works of Neville Shute; But I Still Like The Stories

Packing For Dublin in April (Layers. It’s always layers. Maybe a wetsuit.)

That Time I Was Briefly And Expensively Paranoid And Now I’m Getting New Glasses

Dressing For A Black-Tie Wedding in Twenty-Four Simple Steps of Buying And Returning Dresses, Shoes, And Support Garments

Being Sick Is Crap And It’s Much Nicer When You’re Better

Baseball: a tiny love letter

Baseball is a funny game. It’s all hanging around, waiting waiting, and then suddenly there’s this burst of frantic action and it’s all to play for and your heart is pounding as you wait to see if it will all go so right or so wrong.

And that’s just for me, sitting on the bleachers, watching my kid.

Yesterday’s game was almost like being on a date with my husband. I brought cold spicy noodles and we had a picnic, because games are always at dinnertime and while you can buy burgers and hot dogs and even chicken breasts and nachos, I really don’t want to make a habit of that. Mabel was playing happily on the playground with the assorted other siblings and unwanted children of the baseball crowd (I mean that in the nicest possible way), and we were actually able to sit beside each other and watch the game and pass snarky remarks about the other people in the fading sunlight and it was all very pleasant.

And then Dash was up to bat, and he swung at the ball and connected, and dropped the bat and ran to first base and it was all on. A couple of batters later, there he was on third. As he made it to home before the ball got him, I woo-hoo-d and yelled at the top of my lungs (causing B to look at me in mock horror and declaim that he hardly knew who I was any more).

I’m under no illusions as to the volume of my voice – which I have in recent years learned doesn’t travel nearly as far as I think it does, no matter how loud it sounds in my head – but I’d say it carried at least three feet. The people as far away as two rows in front probably even heard me. Not so much the players on the field, but there were three other large dads with deep booming voices who were taking up the slack on that account.

That was the high point of the game. He nearly did it again later but the batter was caught out and it was the third strike and so they all had to change over and Dash’s dash was for naught. It toys with the heart, this baseball, picks you up and drops you like a ragdoll just when you think it will all work out.

Still. As dates go, we take what we can get. The noodles, and the company, were good.

A game of machine pitch baseball

Old photo; wrong field. This year’s location is less photogenic.

 

16 to nothing

Dash at bat

All those reds look a bit threatening

Dash’s baseball team lost 16 to nothing in their first game yesterday. It was, I suppose you could say, a rout. He didn’t seem terribly put out, though. The commentator had said “nice swing” for one of Dash’s three fruitless swings at the ball, and Coach said the other team’s pitcher was unusually good. Mabel and I spent the afternoon moving from the sunny side of the field (too hot) to the shady side (too cold), chatting to acquaintances (me), making new friends (her), and respectively bugging and being bugged for things to eat. It was pretty nice, really.

The “shack” at the baseball field was open selling chips and candy and ice pops and also burgers and hot dogs, so it was a good opportunity for me to give her a dollar and say she could ask for a thing and remember to bring me back the change. Since it was being staffed mostly by 3rd and 4th graders (and also sometimes their parents) Mabel wasn’t shy, and I think she finished the afternoon feeling pretty good about herself.

I’m sorry if it’s all baseball here for a while, but (a) it’s a novelty, right? and (b) it’s going to take over our lives for a few weeks. Just go with it. I’ve decided that what we need for these busy evenings are to have those hearty main-course salads in the fridge that you can eat cold (or heated a bit) whenever you need them, so that when I have to get Dash from poetry club at 5 and have him at baseball at 5:30 and then bring Mabel to T-ball and stay there with her until 7 and then go back and get Dash at 7:30, there’s something quick and easy to guzzle in the five minutes we have to turn around at home.

You know, this all sounds lovely and idyllic and domestic goddess-y. And maybe it was and will be, in retrospect, like much of parenting. It was also annoying, what with the constant being bugged, and concerning – do we need sunscreen? Will he be very disappointed? And where is my hat? – and since B was off at a conference there was an element of single-parenting put-upon-ness to it all as well. And the rest is all hellishly overscheduled and hopelessly optimistic and doomed to failure and dinners of breakfast cereal and ice-cream.

But if I tell you about the downsides instead, to show you how real and authentic I am, am I not just being a whiny bint, with my first-world problems? Who wants to read someone else’s list of complaints? How do I craft it into a story that’s beautiful and true and tugs at the heartstrings and strikes chords with the reader without betraying all the other people whose emotions and actions my descriptions might be trampling all over? How do I turn it into a parenting epiphany or a moment of self-discovery or a brave exposure of my darkest shortcomings or some other thing that blog posts are supposed to be all about? What will make you want to read it?

—-

The Blog Awards Ireland aren’t happening this year, so the Irish Parenting Bloggers decided to fill the gaping hole in everyone’s social calendar with some awards of our own. I can’t go to the event, of course, being on the wrong side of an ocean, but everyone in the group is reading and voting and writing and voting some more, and of course it makes you extra self-conscious about what it is that you are flinging up against the cyber wall of your bloggy home to see what sticks. Is it entertaining? Is it niche? Is it too niche? Is it the wrong niche? Is it well-written and funny and homespun and beautiful and inspiring and also perhaps of special interest?

Time, and the shortlists, will tell, I suppose.

Mabel in a baseball cap pointing at the field

Mabel would like you to know where the baseball is happening

 

A new image

Spring means the gentle thunk of a bat hitting a ball, because baseball season has started. This year Dash has moved up to the Major League of Little League, where the kids pitch as well as hit (last year he was in “machine pitch” so you don’t have to rely on small kids to throw a ball the right way) and now I’ve gone and upped my own ante by signing Mabel up for T-ball too.

I had no intention of doing that, because I thought she had no interest in it. But when we took Dash to his first practice last week, on the first day of warmer weather, she asked me if she could run the bases while the big kids were busy with warm-up throws and catches. I watched her race around the diamond, and pause on one base to give a swing of an imaginary bat, and I realised I should at least make the offer. She’s been feeling very “second child” lately, and complaining that nobody cares about her and that she’s not important at all.

“Mabel, would you like to do T-ball?” I asked, when she got back to me, sitting on the bleachers in the late afternoon sunshine. I expected her to say no.
“Yes.”
So I sucked it up, found out when and where the T-ball practices are, and decided that we can do it, though Thursdays will be hectic for a while. It’s not that my kids are overscheduled; it’s just that everything happens at once: between them, for a while, they’ll have four different activities on Thursdays, not counting school. But the main thing is that she’ll get a team t-shirt for games and a trophy at the end, and she’ll feel very important.

Dash has three practices a week, plus games, which is a ridiculous amount, but at least it’s a short season. It’ll all be over by the end of June. T-ball is baseball for the youngest kids, where they don’t have to hit a moving ball at all but instead hit a ball that’s sitting on a tee – like a giant golf tee, if you like. It’s a lot more relaxed, only twice a week including games. (I am not sure how many games the T-ball league does. I imagine they’re all a bit, well, vague.)

Mabel with helmet and bat

Batter up

Postscript:
It turns out that T-ball is unimaginably cute. I don’t usually think of Mabel as small and cute much any more, but with all these other teeny 5 and 6 year olds (she’s on the old end), all swinging and missing and failing to catch the ball and scuffling over the same ball and daydreaming when they should be paying attention – well, it’s most entertaining. Dash came with me and was vociferous in his disgust at their terrible technique.

Mabel swinging the bat

This is the tee of T-ball

And she got her team t-shirt and cap already. She is busy re-honing her self-image into Mabel, ace T-ball player.

Mabel posing in Mets t-shirt and cap

(Invisible catcher’s mitt)

Spring Break Vignettes

Dash was commenting recently on how even though his parents are both less than ten years away from halfway to a hundred – thanks, Dash, that’s lovely – he doesn’t think of us as being old. “Gee, thanks,” we said, but Mabel came and snuggled on my knee and kissed me and said, “Don’t worry, Mummy, you’re very … happy and … nice.” She had to search for the right words, there, I know she did. But she really tried. Beautiful and young would have done too, but never mind, it’s probably a good thing.

Lake view through the trees

Bucolic

Mabel did admit one day recently that she had lied, once, in school. “How did that happen?” I asked, curious to see how this would play out.
“Well, Mr. G__ asked us if we liked his new glasses.”
That seems exceptionally reasonable, and I told her as much.

Hot cross buns

Easter baking. They look … artisanal, right?

We all went to the supermarket this morning, it being spring break and us being totally out of milk and cereal and bread and basically everything anyone eats. As we left, Mabel was cradling the pineapple we’d bought and singing a little song to it. Because that’s how she rolls.

Mabel with a book in the car.

This is not a pineapple.

We went down to the playground yesterday and called on our friends who live across the road from it. They came out to play and an epic game of Harry Potter began. Mostly I read my book and sat on the bench that – purposely, I’m sure – faces directly away from all the playground equipment, so you can’t be tempted to try to save anyone, but I did at one point hear Dash announce, “I’ll be Hedwig and Buckbeak.” Which seemed ambitious.

IMG_0638

Cherry blossoms. Finally. And it’s suddenly sunscreen weather, and shorts and t-shirts weather, and sandals weather and painting toenails weather. It won’t stay this way, this is just our little teaser to remind us to go through the summer wardrobes and discover that everyone’s grown out of everything. Again. But the blossoms are glorious.

IMG_0643

 

 

Atheist children and deep thoughts about George Michael

I have to admit it’s nice to live in a secular country where I can get stuff done on Good Friday instead of hiding out being bugged by the children (or going to an interminable stations of the cross service, which we would obviously never dream of doing with the children even if we were still church-going Catholics). Today we went to the thrift store, went out to lunch (what I saved on baseball pants I spent on a high-class fish burger), popped into the library, and finally got some vitals at the supermarket, including a bottle of red for dinner. Catch anyone doing that on Good Friday in Ireland.

The children are on spring break, as of yesterday afternoon. That’s why all this productivity is notable, because they were with me. These days, when I’m so hedonistically child-free for six hours daily from Monday to Friday, I can usually do most of those things without either of them cramping my style. Though I suppose lunch wouldn’t have been so much fun without my two french-fry munchers, who were very good while I insisted on telling them why fish was traditional for this particular day of the year.

It’s so funny raising atheists. I mean, “sin” was a new word to them very recently, that needed to be explained, all theoretically, of course. I love that, I can’t lie. (That would be a sin, after all.) How will they do without all that vital Catholic guilt weighing them down? It’s going to be interesting to find out.

I had this epiphany about George Michael’s lyrics on our way home from New York as we delved our iPod’s back catalogue for some good 80s/90s road-trip music. There was George writing all these songs and making videos with beautiful women in them, and there we all were, us girls, imagining that George wanted to be our lover – and all the time he was probably having a great time thinking what eejits we were because every single song was about gay relationships. Of course. Which are just the same as straight ones in so many ways. Very subversive. Anarchic, practically.

Happy Easter. I changed my header for you – more seasonal, don’t you think?

PInk fuzzy blossoms

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