Thursday, April 22, 2010

Boys, watching girls.

The other day, I had picked up Nate after school, and we were off to the designated pick-up place to grab Skip. This just happens to be outside the local Jamba Juice joint.

We pulled up (and I was late. But not terribly late. Just late enough that I got there after Skip had already settled down into a seat outside the store), and Nate suddenly needed to go potty. So he jumped out of the car, and ran past Skip into Jamba Juice to use the potty. Skip just sat there, acknowledging Nate as he passed, and continued to listen to his iPhone. Nate came out of Jamba, and got into the car, but Skip didn't move.

OK, I get it. He's 'teaching me a lesson" I thought to myself. I'm late, so he's going to make me later.

Nate wondered why Skip wasn't getting in the car. I said "Well, maybe he doesn't WANT a ride home." (See? I can be just as passive-aggressive as my children!) Nate said "What are you going to do?" and I said "Maybe you could go and ask him One Last Time if he wants to have a ride home, or walk the four miles UP HILL." Nate happily scampered out of the car, and went and got Skip, who looked surprised as he looked toward me.

And that's when I realized that I wasn't driving Homer, our dark blue Odyssey van. I was in a rental car (long story, involving the cam shaft. Did I mention this before?) And I was facing away from the sunshine, so the windshield was making a big giant mirror for Skip. Whoopsie.

Skip and Nate hustled into the car.

Nate said "Skip, why didn't you come into the car when we got here?"

Skip said "I didn't see you."

I said "He was probably looking at all the cute girls, Nate"

Nate broke into laughter. Hilarious laughter.

"Now, Nate," I said, "Don't laugh too hard. Some day YOU will be looking at the cute girls."

"Hmph!" he said "Mom, I have ALREADY looked at enough girls, and I don't need to do that ANY MORE"

And that's when Skip and I nearly laughed up a lung.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mantises are Free

It was time.

The mantises in the classroom were getting bigger. And they were starting to eye each other with that lean and hungry look. Flightless fruit flies just weren't feeding the hunger any more, y'know?

So on Friday, as the kids were getting all squirrely and fidgety, I suggested to the teacher that we go on a little local "field trip".

So one kid from each table group came up to me, and together we scooped out six big praying mantids from our mantis tank.

You could tell that they could hardly wait. The minute I took the lid off of the terrarium, they were climbing out for a look around.

We walked outside in a somewhat orderly way, and into the garden in the front of the school. Then chaos ensued, because I was hoping to get a photo of each group 'releasing' their mantis, but I only managed to get a shot of Nate.

By the time I'd fired off this shot, everyone else was saying "Hey! What happened to our mantis? Where did he go? He's so camouflaged, I can't find him any more. Wah wah wah." cry me a river.

The teacher released one onto a flower.

And I had one of the girls re-release hers onto the apple tree. For the photo opportunity.

Here, let's take a closer look.

They really are hard to see after a while. They just blend right in. I guess that's their secret weapon. They're like ninjas.

Those critters don't have a chance, though, if the whole school knows there are 'cool bugs' in the front garden, so when we got back into the room, I told the class "Now class. The first rule of Mantis Release Club is "Nobody talks about Mantis Release Club""

But only the teacher laughed.

And then I found a mantis that escaped in the classroom, so I took him out to be free with his friends. For scale? My fingers are NOT this fat.

It was so fun, I went out the very next day and bought two more praying mantis egg cases. We'll see what sort of success we have hatching this next batch.

Source Info:

This batch of praying mantises came out of an egg case that we bought from (pros: somewhat guaranteed for quality. Cons: more expensive) The next batch of insects, I'm hoping they'll hatch next month, are from two egg cases that I got at a local garden supply store. (pros: cheaper - 2 cases for $10.99. Cons: these egg cases seem slightly smaller that the one I got from Insect Lore) Praying mantises are a natural biological control of garden pests in this state, so most hardware stores sell them right along side the nematodes and ladybugs. And I'm pretty sure that they're a ubiquitous species, so they should exist across the country. I imagine that in harsher climates, they might not survive the winter, but I would think that their egg cases were pretty cold hardy. Last year, I noticed the praying mantis egg cases for sale at Home Depot. I'm pretty sure that I got my last one there, and just stuck it out in the yard. I never noticed it 'hatch' because there's very little debris left over after they hatch, harden, and disperse, but the egg case appears to be still intact.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Good Night, Ched.

This morning, as I was getting breakfast ready for the kids, I realized that I wasn't hearing Cheddar on his rather noisy wheel. Usually, he has a little bit of exercise right around the time the kids are zooming around the house in the pre-breakfast minutes. And then he usually stands on the top of his igloo so that Kelly will notice him, and take him out (and maybe into the kitchen for a vegetable treat).


Yup. It was true. Some time in the night, Cheddar had gone off to that great habitrail in the sky.

He's the shortest-lived of our hamsters, not counting Buckwheat and Zydeco, who arrived in our house already sporting a nasty case of wet tail. But he had a good life.

Maybe he was older than we thought he was when we adopted him last February?

He was always a bit of a scaredy-cat. Maybe it was his heart.

Or maybe he was just over come with his unrequited love for S'more, and when she 'moved away' (to Kelly's classroom), he just died of loneliness. Forget about the fact that if Cheddar and S'more lived in the same cage, she would've killed him, females being all territorial like that.

He did have a great life with us, though. He even got to go to the races.

We won't mention that he came in dead last. He tried. And that's all that counts.

Just last week, he was looking fit as a fiddle.

Poor little guy.

And poor Kelly. She pulled herself together to go to school, but it's one of those things where little triggers will probably set her off all day. I just emailed to let her teacher know that she's not going through some horrid hormonal surge or anything.

You were a great pet, Cheddar.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nature Walk

We have been moving, as a family, in about a zillion directions. Wouldn't be so bad if we were doing it all together, but we're fragmenting.

So yesterday, after another day of rushing around, and realizing that the kids hadn't eaten anything, (or they COULD have eaten, but they decided playing X-box was more important, that sort of thing), I sat us all down for supper and said "Eat fast, because we're leaving in 15 minutes for a FAMILY HIKE!"

Yes, that was met with groans.

And protestations.

And whines and sighs.

(and that was just ME, with my little internal monologue)

But we did it.

We were out the door before 6pm. Heading up to a nearby county park. Ken had rented me a very nice macro lens (Nikon 85mm f/3.5G AF-S DX Micro ED VR) for this next week, and I wanted to try it out on all the wildflowers I hoped to see at the park in the waning sunlight.

When we got to the park, Ken noticed that I had nearly no batteries left in the D90. Whoopsie. 18% might not go that far, so I turned off the flash, and thought I'd take a look at what the lens could do in all natural light.

We weren't even half a mile into the hike when a strong smell struck our delicate sinuses. Someone coming the other way was all excited, and said "There's a huge bird on the path!" When we came around the corner, the kids surprised the big bird... a turkey vulture... who immediately flew up into the trees. Quite the spectacle. We watched him for a bit, and then the smell got to the kids, so Ken took them off, and they continued on the hike. I told Ken that I'd take a few photos, and then catch up.

I leaned up against a tree, and tried to make myself look invisible.

He knew I was there.

He eyeballed me, and looked at the carcass on the path, and it was like you could almost hear the gears working in his brain.

"Yummy supper, or Stranger Danger? Hmmm....)

This next shot is one I'm pretty proud of. You can see right through his "pervious nostril" (thank you, Wikipedia, for that little trivia gem)

I stood stock still. I got a cramp. It started getting cold in the shadows. And he must have forgotten that I was there....

Because suddenly, he flew down to the path. And then he started walking towards the dead squirrel.

And then he was upon the carcass.

I got a leg cramp just as he started eating, so I had to move a bit, but he didn't seem to be bothered, so I started slowly walking towards him.

But I must have gotten past some invisible barrier...

He startled...

And then he was gone.

Good golly, those birds are HUGE!

I then realized that I would have to run pretty fast (and maybe pretty far) to catch up with the kids, but Ken knows me too well, and he'd not let the kids run on too far, before suggesting that they turn back and see if they could find me, so I really only needed to walk around two or three bends in the trail before I was caught up with them.

And yes, the trails were lovely in the setting sun.

And there were lots of flowers.

(loving the new macro lens!)

And there were lots of grasses.

Even a bunny.

The kids seemed energized by the sunshine.

And then we got to The Bendy Tree, and it was time for the traditional shot. One of these days, I will have to go through all my film photos (in boxes, and boxes, and boxes) and find the Bendy Tree Portraits from years gone by.

And then I blew the last little bits of my battery with a final flash photograph of Rock-em, Sock-em BRO-bots.

We will have to do this again real soon!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hamsters and the Macro Lens

As you may or may not know, Kelly has six little hamsters.

Well, some are little, and some are bigger, but all together, they're probably no more massive than a newborn kitten.

One of you, my beloved faves, wanted to see how big Cheerio was when compared to a ping-pong ball. Well, I couldn't find a ping pong ball, but Kelly found a quarter.

Kashi is the tiniest of the hamsters, but Kelly is the only one that can tell the difference between Kashi and Cheerio when they're standing still. (The rest of us can tell them apart when they move, because Cheerio can only turn left. We think that she probably had a brain injury when she was born, but it doesn't seem to have affected her, except that she runs around like a Nascar driver, and if she gets stuck in a corner, she can't turn right to get out of it.) I think this photo is of Cheerio, though. So if you can imagine, there is one hamster that's even smaller.

With the fancy-pants macro lens (which, I will add, I am *not* sold on. It's quite slow, and takes FOR-EVER to focus on things in auto-focus mode, so I've had to switch to manual focus, which is rough when you're trying to hold a toad with one hand... I'm just saying.) we took some shots of the rest of the menagerie at home.

Oreo and Souffle are our Campbell's Dwarf Hamsters. Oreo is a female, and has really grown gray gracefully over the past months. At first, I thought it might be that she'd gone white for the winter, but the more I think about it, she's almost one and a half years old, and a two year old dwarf hamster is considered quite geriatric.

The more I think about it, the more I think she's probably also going blind. She moves to sounds and disturbances, but doesn't seem to actually SEE stuff. That could explain why she's gotten quite a bit more aggressive in the last year. Also, she's quite the drinker, a sign of diabetes, which could also be contributing to her diminishing sight. But she's just such a cutie-pie, we love having her around. Here she is, polishing off a handful of Kashi-puffs.

Hmmm. For comparison purposes... here she is last year.

She really has gone grey, hasn't she?

Anyways, she's got a good life, living in a large tub full of climbing toys and burrowing media. So what if she can't see that well. She'll never run out of food.

Souffle lives in a big tub next door to Oreo. He *loves* her, but he can't visit, because she's just not that into him. Whenever we handle the hamsters, we have to handle her first. If we handle him first, she bites (hard) any spot that has his scent on it, fighting it off, as if the side of our hand was suddenly the worst kind of intruder. But if we handle her first, he comes running to our hands, and climbs aboard, licking us most tenderly. It's quite cute.

See how he pines for her?

Kashi and Cheerio are our Roborovski Dwarf hamsters. Robos are the smallest hamsters of all, and can live together in family groups. Kashi and Cheerio are sisters, and, technically should be able to live together just fine. Alas, Cheerio seems to have a big chip on her shoulder (perhaps because she can't turn right?) and picks on Kashi, so they've had to be separated into two tubs, also.



And then we have the giant hamsters. Actually, they're just 'average sized' Syrians, but compared to the dwarfs, they're massive.

Cheddar is our timid male. He didn't sit still for his macro portrait until I brought out the broccoli.

And S'more doesn't live with us any more. She's the class pet in Kelly's class. But I do have a recent shot of her, as the class of 2010 just did a poll that divided the class up into a bunch of ridiculous (and sure to cause hard feelings) categories. Kelly and a few of her friends were voted "Animal Lovers of the Class", and when I was at school on Friday, I took the photos for the yearbook, and told the girls to bring S'more along for the photo shoot.

One of these days, I will have to take Macro-lens portraits of S'more. She is also getting old, and I sometimes wonder if she will still be alive when Kelly heads off to Middle School in the fall. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, she is the center of attention in the classroom, and seems to be flourishing there.

And that is a tour of our fluffy menagerie, courtesy of the rented macro lens.

OH! Wait!

How could I forget?

Hello, Jewel! Of course, I took a bunch of macro photos of you, too. Your feathers look lovely.

Rainy Recess

Man, alive, was it a wet day today.

Well, actually, it was a freakishly wet morning, and now that it's nearly supper time, the sun has come out.

But during the school day, the deluge was unstoppable. There was hail at times, too. Just not the kind of weather you wanted to be outside in.

So there was indoor recess in Nate's class. And the kids were going stir-crazy. Maybe the weather, maybe just a bad case of Monday. Who knows? Nate was sitting in a corner weeping, that's all I know. Something about not getting enough turns with the chess board...


Anyways, I've rented this pretty spiffy macro lens, and I'm trying to get my week's worth of rental money out of the thing, so I had it in the classroom this morning, and I wanted to photograph little things. So I asked the teacher if maybe it wasn't about time for the toads to earn their keep, and get passed around... CAREFULLY.

What a great idea! She was on board.

So I sent all the kids to go wash their hands WITH WATER ONLY. No soap. No hand sanitizer. No antibacterial sprays. None of that. Just clean water. And then keep their hands wet.

And I took them four at a time, and we had little toad-handling sessions.

I was quite pleased at how brave the girls were (except for one girl, who very politely declined to hold the toad. I had no trouble with that. I would've been standing behind her at age 7. peeking over her shoulder, I imagine).

Nate, of course, is an old pro, having handled the toads when they've come for their spa weeks at our house.

We used Toxanne for the most part, but when he jumped out of two different sets of hands, and then went scampering across the carpet, I thought it might be time for him to go on his break.

I've never picked up Poison. He just seems so much smaller and more fragile. But he was very robust with the children.

And while the groups-of-four were getting up close and personal with the toads...

The rest of the kids were checking out the praying mantis tank.

...and the one praying mantis that I put out on the rose bouquet. They're almost an inch long, now. Pretty speedy growth, if you consider that they just hatched 3 weeks ago, and were barely a centimeter long at that point.

Yes, it would appear that this 90mm macro lens does, indeed, have better tiny-thing-photographing capabilities than the kit lens that came with my camera. But I'm not in any great hurry to shell out nearly $500 for it. I'm happy to rent it, and take a metric ton of photographs while I've got it.

And then, next Saturday, I will return it.

I've already got my eye on a 500mm zoom lens... the birds in the estuary are calling out to be photographed...

ps. Cheerio says hi. She's about the size of a ping pong ball.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I got better...

Anyone able to name the quote in the title? Say it with a very over-done English accent, and try again. I know you can.

Anyways, I didn't want to leave you hanging.

Yes, I did get pulled over by the sheriff.

The teacher's car appeared to have expired tags.

Turns out that her registration sticker had been peeled off of her license plate. It was still sticky. After the sheriff ran the plates through the DMV, she was able to tell me that everything was all paid up, and it was just a case of a missing sticker. No doubt, said the sheriff, the teacher had just neglected to put the sticker on. I found out later that it had been stolen, when I recounted my miserable tale of why it took me so long to get back to school.

But we laughed about it.

And I returned to school in enough time to head up onto the roof.


It was time to take the "Class of '10" photo for the yearbook, and I was nominated to go up on the roof because the three bordering-on-professional photographer/parents who had shown up all had lenses that were too long. Gotta love the 18-105 kit lens.

SHortly after that, the Honda Shuttle came by the school to take Nate and me back to Honda to pick up the van.

I managed to chew down the ends of my finger tips on the drive. How much, exactly was this going to set me back? How much worse could my day get, anyways? I'd not eaten for hours, and then I'd gotten pulled over by the cops. One more hit, and you'd have the 'bad things come in threes' result.

I walked in the door and spotted Doug, my service guy. "So, Doug," I said, "I'm here to talk about your 'easy payment plan'..."

He smiled, and looked down at the paperwork in his hand. "Oh, I'm glad you're here." he said. "Come over to my office, and let's talk about it."

Eek. And Ouch!

Coming in at just under $2000, it was a very expensive thing to go wrong.

And then he looked up from the paperwork. "I talked to Honda about your case," he said. "You've been excellent customers, and this is not your first vehicle from us. Also, you have a record of being very diligent in keeping up on maintenance, so even though you are more than ten thousand miles over the end of your warranty coverage, Honda has agreed to a one-time good-faith warranty extension for this repair. The entire thing will be covered.

I think there was an audible "clunk" as my jaw hit the floor. But I didn't wait around for them to change their minds. I was out of there in a flash. I still have to come back next week. They need to order the parts (a new cam shaft. Eek!), and I'll probably have to rent a car for a couple of days while they do the repair. I don't mind that expense. Maybe I'll even get to drive something fun for two days. They were pretty apologetic that they couldn't cover the cost of the rental car. I was thinking "Guys! You just saved me nearly TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS! I think I can spring for two days of a sub-compact"

And then I went home and played in the garden.

These photos make me want to rent a macro lens, and see how much closer I could get to these bees on the flowers.

Hey, maybe I'll go do that now. Seeing as I'm not cooling my heels in the pokey, or emptying the kids' college fund to pay for the car repairs.