Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Weeds Are Asshole Plants, and Other Things I've Learned Since Moving to the Country

You may recall that in March, the Moo Cow Family moved from Brooklyn to Riverdale, a swanky-by-Bronx-standards section of the Bronx. So, you know, not exactly "the country." It barely qualifies as a suburb.

But it is such a world away from my Brooklyn existence. Like, there are trees and birds and such. Also, no highway out the window!

Anyway, for this woman, who doesn't know a cattail from a cat's tail, the country is the country no matter how small.

#1 Weeds Are Asshole Plants

Our little house came equipped with a slightly neglected (by its dead owner, so I am not judging or anything) landscaped garden out back. Rayne and I looked at each other and immediately put our fingers to our noses. NOT IT.

"The outside of the house is your department," I argued.

"No. I don't like gardening. I never said I would garden," he responded. "We will hire a gardener."

The previous owner's gardener came and surveyed the property. He couldn't resist pulling random weeds out of the ground, muttering Eso no es planta. Y eso no es planta. Eso es malo. This is not a plant, this is bad.

I emitted a high-pitched non-laugh. Ha-ha! "Gracias. Lo que pasa es que no sabemos nada, pero nada." Thank you. We don't know anything at all.

"Yo sé." I know.


Alright, then. Far from being in my husband's department of responsibilities, gardening has fallen squarely into my realm, mostly because our gardener speaks 5% English and my husband speaks -10% Spanish. He throws in all these random Italian words he's picked up from listening to me and Henry and some Japanese he learned when he did a semester abroad in Tokyo, just for good measure.

The gardener returned on Saturday morning, bright and early, to rid the garden of our ignorance and apparent neglect. He tried to show me which was a plant and which was a weed. Esa es plantita. Esa no es plantita. But they all looked exactly the same to me. I could not tell a weed from a plant, it turns out, if my life depended on it.

Later that night I asked Rayne to explain the difference. What I gather is that weeds are native plants that take over the area and choke the other, mostly non-native plants out. So I wasn't crazy not to know the difference. They can look the same. Weeds are plants that are assholes, and sometimes it takes a while to realize someone is an asshole. They seem fine at first, but then you realize they don't know how to share with the other plants.

I also found out that English Ivy is a weed, an "invasive villain," no less, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where Rayne is from, but also on the eastern seaboard. English Ivy is a selfish little asshole that wraps its viney tentacles around unsuspecting trees and feeds off them. This discovery brings new meaning to the term Ivy League, don't you think?

What I still don't understand is why we don't simply tidy up the existing weeds and let them flourish in their native habitat.

#2 Bugs Are Everywhere

Killing bugs in our abode is also in Rayne's department. But since he is often at work or even away on business, it falls to me. I'm 49% a Buddhist who thinks all life is sacred, even that of bugs, and 51% scared shitless of bugs, so I usually just pretend I didn't see them and run in the other room.

I am not sure what else to say except to include these two posts from my Facebook feed earlier in the month:

Which leads us to...

#3 Natural Bug Spray Only Works in the City

I research everything and buy the least toxic version that works in the category, especially where Henry is concerned. I abide by the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen; I use castile hand soap. So of course, I bought "all natural" California Baby Bug Repellent Spray.

But it didn't work. At. All. That's because natural bug spray only works in the city, where there are seven total bugs, who are lazy because they don't have to fight hard for food.

I got slaughtered every time I went into my backyard any time of the day. (Note: Burt's Bees Outdoor Bug Bite Relief does soothe the itch. Score one for au naturel!)

I read the EWG's guide to insect repellent, and even they are skeptical about so-called natural repellents. Apparently one should not expose children under three to Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, the most natural-sounding option, so I settled for a few products with Picaridin (less likely to cause irritation) for the skin and low concentrations of DEET (7-10%) for the clothing.

#4 Haikus Happen Spontaneously

I posted this gem earlier in the month:

And someone commented: #haiku.

Because it's an effing haiku, and I didn't even realize it! GUYS: IN THE COUNTRY, HAIKUS HAPPEN SPONTANEOUSLY. I had only ever written one haiku on this blog ("Requiem for a Shower") and before that not since seventh grade.

I can't just leave my special haiku in that boring, one-line format. I have to write it here again, proper-like:

Dead supine sparrow
Directly outside the door
To my patio.

#5 Feral Cat Colonies (and Cat Ladies) Are Real

Which brings me to my last realization. How do you think a dead sparrow surfaced face up on my patio? If you said Hudson, my neurotic corgi, you probably haven't been paying attention up until this point, because my dog is afraid of water and nozzles. He sure as hell hasn't been running around killing birds, Dexter-style.

So who was the mystery murderer?

When we first moved in, we noticed a black and white cat hanging around our garden. Hudson would bark himself apoplectic, and the cat would move along.

I wonder whose cat that is, we naively said to each another.

Then we noticed the cat had a big gash across its eye.

Hmmm, I wonder if that cat got in a fight with a squirrel or something. Still totally naive.

Then we noticed a crazy cat lady feeding a pack of 20 cats in the woods near our house.

Oh, no.

Being me, I confronted the cat lady one evening while out with my dog. It turns out feral cat colonies exist across the city as part of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals. Yes! They neuter/spay them so they don't reproduce, vaccinate them and give them annual physicals. They have a little shack for bad weather.

Yes! This is a thing!

I am less concerned now, since I know the cats are vaccinated. They are too wild to be pets, so the only other option would be to euthanize them, which I am squarely against. Plus, these cats are so well fed, they border on chubby. A cat will see a squirrel or other potential meal walk past and do the cat equivalent of a shrug and "whatevs". Meow.

As for the sparrow, it was just a little "Welcome to the Nabe" gift. So thoughtful.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How to Make Your Life Super Difficult

Writing, Storytelling, HumorI've been thinking a lot lately about how I always take the long way around. And not in the cool, off-the-beaten-path Dixie Chicks kind of way. No, no, no. In the effing infuriating, why-can't-I-just-get-a-grip kind of way. The pluck-your-eyeballs-out-of-your-head-from-exhaustion kind of way. It's my specialty.

I've also been thinking about something a writer-acquaintance said about "mommy blogging." That we are all trying to find some kind of UNIVERSAL message. Something that can go viral and get picked up by the Huffington Post. No one is just telling her story anymore, for the intrinsic value in the story and in the telling.

But that's not why we started writing, is it? For page views and high fives?

I wrote the post below in August 2012, mere weeks after I began blogging. It's a simple story about my family and how brilliant I am at making things difficult. Enjoy.


This is my corgi, Hudson: 

Urban Moo Cow
I updated the photo to a more recent one. He's so cute, right?
He has become insanely neurotic. Things he is afraid of include, in no particular order: swimming in water, driving in cars, going through doorways, the Swiffer, the vacuum, my Medela breast pump and anything that squirts out of a nozzle.

Of these, the only one that makes sense is swimming. When Hudson was eight months old, Rayne decided it would be brilliant to teach him to swim by tossing him into my parents' pool where I was waiting. As I lunged for him, Little Hudsy rose to the surface in a frantic fit of desperate doggy paddling and has never recovered.

I've tried many, many times to get him back in the water, even submerging my body in a small, warm, undoubtedly pee-filled dog therapy pool in downtown Manhattan. Hudson spent the entire time clawing at my body until he was up on my shoulder, clinging to my scalp for dear life. The place refunded my money. The whole experience was awesome and not at all embarrassing or revolting.

Let's just say that Rayne won't be taking the same approach with Henry. {Ed. note: Oh, no, he has not. He has NOT.}

But I digress.

This weekend we had plans to go to Boston for our friends’ son’s second birthday party. In the past, I might have left Hudson alone in our apartment for the one night and arranged for a dog walker. But I have a good deal of dog-mommy guilt about how unhappy Hudson has been since Henry arrived and we turned his world upside down by moving.

So in a bid to make my life extremely difficult, I found a friend to watch him. A friend who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at least two hundred thousand miles from my apartment in Brooklyn, metaphorically speaking.

“Okay where are we dropping Hudson off?” Rayne asked as we were piling the stroller, two pieces of luggage, the diaper bag, the Pack-and-Play, Henry, Henry’s binky, Hudsy, Hudsy’s bag o’ tricks and our already-exhausted selves into the car. He was not mega-psyched about my response.

“Let’s take the Brooklyn Bridge and go south on the FDR, around the horn. We’ll zip right up the West Side Highway,” I offered unhelpfully (as it turned out).

After over two hours in the car, we were not yet to the dog's weekend destination. Hudson was apoplectic from having been in the car so long; Henry was waking from a nap. Boston was another five hours away according to our GPS and another six according to Google Maps. We were going to miss the birthday party. And our friends, who had just brought home a new baby, were unlikely to want to split a few bottles of wine with us into the wee hours.

Rayne parked the car in a tow zone on Broadway in the 70s, where we sat while eating take-out mediocrity from a Euro-pan café. He was furious, which he seldom is. “Our life is complicated enough. Why can’t we make decisions that make it simpler?!”

I didn’t have an answer. Taking the long way has always been my specialty. I walk the fine line between “doing (what I think is) the right thing, even if it’s harder” and “being compulsively stubborn.”

We drove an hour home, for a final tally of nearly four hours in the car. And a net total of zero miles traveled.



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Monday, June 16, 2014

Generation Grit: Better Toys for Boys

The best toys are ones that allow for trial and error, encourage exploration through touch and are based on pretending and imaginary play. So says Kim John Payne, M.Ed., author of one of the very few "parenting advice" books that resonated with me: Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

I think most of us can agree that our children have too many toys with unnecessary -- not to mention annoying -- bells and whistles, made from plastic in a factory in China that probably has terrible working conditions and not particularly high safety standards. So I am completely on board with Payne's approach to simplification: less plastic, more imagination.

But besides my dismay at spending money on plastic trinkets, something else about toys bothers me: their overtly gendered aspect. I wrote recently at Mamalode about my refusal to accept my son's supposed "biologically predetermined" love trains and trucks.

Not content with my own anecdotal hunch, however, I bought another book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It, by Lise Eliot, to see what science said about the issue. Was a love of trucks (and all other objects we identify as "boy things") really genetically programmed? Was there something about a boy's brain that made him love trucks?

Eliot says, in a nutshell that there is "surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains." The same, however, certainly cannot be said for adult men and women. That's because one of the most important characteristics/attributes of the brain is its "plasticity," or the fact that "the brain actually changes in response to its own experience." She writes:
Learning and practice rewire the human brain, and considering the very different ways boys and girls spend their time while growing up, as well as the special potency of early experience in molding neuronal connections, it would be shocking if the two sexes' brains didn't work different by the time they were adults.

Enter Generation Grit. Founder and entrepreneur Laura Hale is the mother four children – three girls and a boy. As mother of three girls, she applauded the backlash against traditional girls’ toys -- princess fatigue, anyone? -- in the form of some great new products like Goldie Blox, which seeks to "get girls building," and, hopefully, excited about engineering and science, and role models like the female scientist Lego minifigure.

But what about her little boy? A part from construction toys and vehicles, the only role models were superheroes. "I love superheroes," says Hale, "but I also long for my son to have heroes who are regular boys. And wouldn't it be great if the heroes were featured in page-turning adventure books, not on screens?”

Yes. Yes! Because boys' exposure to superheroes' overly developed musculature can be just as damaging as girls' exposure to Barbie's gravity-defying dimensions. And teaching boys that they must be stoic saviors is just as problematic as teaching girls their role is to be saved. If, as Lise Eliot writes, our brains are the product of our experiences, don't we want our boys exposed to role models other than superheroes who swoop in to save the universe and larger-than-life video game soldiers who shoot to kill?

Instead, Generation Grit is seeking funding to bring to life a collection of characters for boys. Each character has an action figure, books and accessories to spark hours of reading and imaginative play. The first character is fourteen-year-old Mac Mason, whose story takes place in 1943 on the home front during World War II. Although Mac is an avid baseball player, he feels overshadowed when his athletic British cousin William comes to California to escape the London bombings. Things change when the two uncover clues to a fraudulent rations ring. They have to figure out how to work together to save a friend from being falsely accused. Mac's adventures include smugglers, ciphers, mystery and an epic camping trip.

While the book revolves around Mac’s adventures and the ration mystery, it also walks through important issues of friendship, ego and courage. The book is intended for middle grade readers, ages 8-12.

Mac Mason's accessories. Photo courtesy of Generation Grit's Kickstarter campaign.

Support Generation Grit's Kickstarter campaign before July 3, and be among the first to receive the new toys and books. For those who back Generation Grit, the company is offering the opportunity to get the 10-inch Mac Mason adventure figure, the softcover edition of his chapter book and his collection of accessories. Not to mention the chance to support better toys for boys.

Disclosure: I was compensated for this post by Generation Grit, but all opinions are my own. I rarely do product reviews or sponsored posts and only accept assignments that are personally compelling to me.