Summer is slipping, but fall is good …

"Volunteer" cherry tomatoes in the back yard. Did I mention they're organic?

“Volunteer” cherry tomatoes in the back yard. Did I mention they’re organic?

I read something on the internet this morning about how parents initially have these grand ideas of spending time with their children and families over the summer, but by the of end of the season, they’re so burned out they’re ready to toss the s’mores right into that campy fire, forget “Kumbaya,” and call it a day.

I teach in the same district where my children attend school. The kids have two more weeks of summer break, but I’ll go into work for orientation and training sessions before the end of July. The volunteer cherry tomatoes in our back yard are not yet ripe. And yet I have grown weary of trying to plan inexpensive, wholesome, fun, educational, allergen-free activities that my whole family can enjoy after I outfit them in clean clothing with bathing suits and sunscreen underneath.

And so, with a heavy heart, I must say that I am about ready for summer to be over.

Which may be just too bad because it’s not officially over for two more months. I wonder how the teens I teach will feel about sitting in a classroom trying to focus on American literature on days when the temperature is in the 90s and the sun won’t go down until 9 p.m. I could remind them that at least we are in the air conditioning, but I suspect that, like me, they’ve been taking air conditioning for granted too long to appreciate the fact.

Myself, I would have liked nothing more than to sit inside my cool home reading today, but my family members usually have other ideas. I am a bit tired of the good old-fashioned kind of fun that Dan and I plan for our kids – swimming, fishing, camping, picnics. At the risk of sounding like my cynical and jaded self, I just need to disclose the fact that, most of the time, those nature-loving activities that people did before everyone had an iPhone cost just as much as anything else and are about 50 times more exhausting.

Here’s one example: Taking the canoe out for a fishing trip. Doesn’t that just sound like a swell thing for a dad to do with his kids? Well, it is swell. Especially if mom gets a bag of homemade, allergen-free snacks together for the trip, finds everyone’s water bottles, hats and sunscreen, and sends them off with a smile because she’s so excited about getting an hour of peace and quiet in the house before they get back, hot, thirsty, hungry for lunch, and hopefully not crying about a bee sting or an escaped turtle.

But that’s not all. You also need gas in the pickup truck (because it’s not like you can fit a canoe in the back of a Toyota Yaris). Oh, and you need to renew your fishing license.

By the time it’s all said and done, you’re looking at $70 or $80 just to be three with nature for an hour or so and get a few mosquito bites.

Which reminds me, I really need to make that homemade, allergen-free, organic bug repellent with the essential oils I bought a few months ago.

These are minor, first-world gripes, I know. I’m lucky to have them. You can talk about first-world problems in public and people can admit they relate. You don’t talk about the other kind of problems, the working-class problems, like surgeries and medical tests you can’t afford, because those conversations make people uncomfortable. They start feeling like you’re a charity case and a guilt trip they’d rather not experience. I know because I’ve been on both sides of those conversations. Better to stick to talking about making organic bug spray with essential oils. I like talking to my smart, good-looking, fortunate friends about their problems, because they’re not really problems, and it seems I can solve them just by listening. I don’t like the kind of problems I have to solve with money, because sometimes I can’t.

Annabelle came down the stairs this morning in a pink and orange sundress that my mother just purchased for her at Goodwill. To complement the dress, she had applied some berry-colored lipstick, also given to her by my mother. When I saw her, I wished I looked as good.

As much as she wanted to go fishing in the canoe with her dad, she really didn’t feel like changing into a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, and it sure would have been nice if her mother had put all of her clean clothes away, neatly, where should could find them!

After she changed her outfit, she asked me to put her hair in pigtails. Then she said she needed to take off the lipstick.

“I understand,” I told her. “I don’t really like the way I look with lipstick anymore.”

“I like lipstick,” she said, “but not when I’m going on a fishing trip.”

So it seems we have learned some valuable lessons in practicality this summer.

Two things I know for sure:
1. Sitting inside a quiet, air conditioned room reading when the outside air is thick and oppressive is a privilege that should be appreciated by people of all ages.
2. No sooner will I have recovered from swimsuit season than it will be time to find their jackets, hats, gloves, snow boots …

The question is, does one wear lipstick to build a snowman?

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Ruben and Beatrice

Ruben wanted a new pet – a lizard from New Zealand. He had seen it in a magazine. His sister Beatrice said she wanted one, too.

“The only reason you want a new lizard is because I do,” Ruben told Beatrice.

It wasn’t true. Beatrice wanted her own pet. It wasn’t fair for Ruben to get a new pet if she could not get one. She was deeply offended by his remark.

“You are not my brother,” she declared before stomping away.

She found her mother in the sewing room.

“Mother,” Beatrice said, “I want to order a lizard from New Zealand. I saw it in a magazine.”

Beatrice hoped she would get the lizard, and Ruben would not.

“Beatrice,” her mother said, “where is the salamander that you brought home from the creek yesterday?”

“I do not know,” Beatrice replied.

“If you do not know where your salamander is, then why do you want a lizard? Go and find your salamander.”

Beatrice left the sewing room disappointed. She still wanted a new lizard.

She found Ruben in his bedroom feeding his goldfish.

“Ruben,” Beatrice asked, “why do you want the lizard from New Zealand?”

“So I can name it Tom,” Ruben replied. “I’ve always wanted a lizard named Tom.”

“What should I name my lizard?” Beatrice asked him.

“You are not getting a new lizard,” he replied. “I am.”

“Can I get another salamander?” she asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“Will you catch it for me?”

“Sure.”

“What should I name it?” Beatrice asked.

Ruben told her to make a list of her favorite names, but she could not do it because she could not spell the names, so she told Ruben her favorite names and he wrote the list.

He added a few of his own favorites as well.

Then Ruben and Beatrice got their nets and their buckets and went to the creek to catch Beatrice another salamander.

Bug cobbler

Apparently it is possible to get cabin fever when it’s 90 degrees.

If you’ve ever wondered what teachers do with their free time in July, here’s a snapshot:

We get up. It is 6 a.m. The sun is up, but barely. Can’t tell yet if it’s going to rain or be really hot. We go downstairs, make coffee and feed the cat in silence. Dan brings in the newspaper and we sit across from each other sipping and reading. The children are not awake yet.

“Got any money?” I ask Dan.

“Nope. But I will after I sell this tractor I’ve been working on. (Eyes the door to the garage.) I need to go outside for a minute …”

Footsteps above. They’re up.

Annabelle thunders down the stairs, carrying a blanket.

“I’m mad that you stole my idea,” she says to Oliver, throwing a scornful glance over her shoulder at him as she brushes past me toward the TV, ready to start her “Jessie” watching marathon for the day.

Oliver arrives and plants himself in front of me, hopping up and down.

“What are we doing today? Can we go to the pet store?” he asks.

“The pet store doesn’t open for four hours,” is what I tell him, because it’s true.

So the other day we all went berry picking on a set of trails located behind a retirement community near our home. Once we got past a large patch of knee-high grass and weeds where I thought surely one of us would be bitten by a snake, we came upon a thicket of bushes loaded with red raspberries glittering like jewels in the sunlight, and we started filling our buckets.

Dan and I exchanged words about which one of us was going to pick more berries and who could bake the better cobbler. We’re competitive sometimes because we have a few things in common, although a passion for small engine repair isn’t one of them. He was winning on the berry picking. He usually wins, partly because he cares more about winning. He said something to indicate that because he is from West Virginia and I’m not, officially, his cobbler would be better than mine.

Things were going too smoothly; we needed a conflict and Annabelle provided it.

A bug! Not one, but two brown bugs in her berry bucket!

I removed the bugs without studying them. Could these be ticks, I wondered. I’m not very good at identifying bugs or poisonous plants. Truth be told, I’m not very outdoorsy. I started to feel sweaty and itchy. There were berries left to be picked, but we had more than enough for a cobbler, so we started home. Bugs aside, the activity was pretty wholesome. I felt like a talking bear in a children’s book.

Back at home, Oliver filled a bowl with berries, topped it with sugar, called it his “secret recipe” and declared it delicious. Annabelle was convinced to try it. She ate about half a bowl of berries, but Oliver went back for seconds, thirds, and more servings. At age 9, he eats every hour, so it’s nice to have free berries nearby.

That night, I woke up thinking I felt a bug crawling on my neck. I sat up, went into the bathroom, and stared in the mirror, thinking of ticks. Am I being paranoid?

The next morning, Dan still hadn’t made his cobbler, so Oliver and I grabbed one of my cookbooks and got to work. Forty-five minutes later, our masterpiece was ready to eat.

The cobbler turned out better than I’d hoped; I’ve included the recipe at the end of the story.

The only trouble was that Annabelle found another one of the brown bugs in her cobbler.

Oh well.

“It’s bug cobbler,” Dan said.

I would have taken a picture, but of course I didn’t know when it came out of the oven that there was a bug inside which would supply the central theme of the story. The insect really didn’t ruin the deliciousness of the pastry for me, that wonderful feeling of accomplishment that you get from picking free berries and baking a cobbler from scratch with your kids. It only transformed this piece from the standard “Let Me Tell You About The Homemade Dessert I Made” blog post into the Southern Gothic version of that.

Speaking of Southern Gothic, my mom has this habit of going to a thrift store located in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia and bringing home like 16 bags of used toys at a time. She and her two friends go there once a week and fill their bags with stuff they buy for next to nothing. Then she gives the toys to my kids and they bring them home.

Well, last week she handed me four new bags of used stuffed animals and I kind of lost it. I had this little adolescent meltdown about how I have the messiest house of anyone I’ve ever met.

“Why, Mom? I just want to know why you do this. It’s been going on for like five years and I need to know why,” I said.

She responded that I was simply an ungrateful, uptight and melodramatic person. Then she started giving me a guilt trip that had something to do with pedicures, although I informed her that this was a mistake, as no one but me has painted my toenails since before Oliver was born.

Speaking of Oliver, that kid has turned every flat surface in our house into some kind of wildlife habitat. When the cat came in yesterday, he hopped right up on the coffee table and started inspecting the little terrarium home of Oliver’s fire-bellied toad. I had to put the toad on top of the China cabinet in the dining room to keep him safe from the cat. At the time, Oliver and Annabelle were with my mom. They arrived shortly thereafter and Mom handed me a sheet cake she had baked with the children. I took it and said “thank you,” feeling very mature and rational.

As soon as she left, the kids started demanding cake and chips as I attempted to prepare fish and potatoes for dinner. I had to put the cake out of reach, on top of the China cabinet, because that’s what China cabinets are for in our household – cake and fire-bellied toads.

Bug Cobbler recipe
Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups of berries
1 cup of flour
½ cup of soft butter or margarine
¼ cup of sugar
½ cup of brown sugar
½ teaspoon of salt
1 dead brown bug (optional)

Directions: Pour berries into a greased baking dish. Mix butter, sugar, flour, and salt together until crumbly and spread over berries. Bake at 350 degrees until the topping is lightly browned.