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October 31st, 2009 by Joyce · 3 Comments

(post by Matt)

On Sunday, C&D asked to ride their bikes to the local Fiesta grocery store with me.* I thought through all of the reasons that this was not the best idea – the total lack of knowledge of traffic laws, the fact that they have trouble keeping a tricycle on a straight path, the SUV’s, the potholes, etc – and settled on what I thought would be an irrefutable excuse: “Before you can ride to Fiesta, you need to know how to ride you bike with no training wheels and with pedals.” Yeah, that would do it. Carmen could push a bike with no training wheels (and no pedals), but with feet pretty firmly on the ground most of the time.* David could pedal a tricycle, and had a bike that came with training wheels but that I was wanting to configure (over his protests) like Carmen’s. We were easily a year away from riding a bike the right way. With my excuse in hand, I figured I could talk them into a nice walk to the store, and we would have a happy morning.

Carmen looked down and then looked up and said “I can do that.” I looked back at her and asked, “With pedals?” I’ve tried to get her to let me attach the pedals back on her bike, but she refused. She looked up and said “With pedals.”

So with my morning already down the tubes (plans for a jog with the jogging stroller were thwarted by a flat tire), I figured why not. I loaded the bikes in the car and took them to the local university, and figured that we would try to ride, end up back with the pedals off and having fun pushing the thing around the bike paths, and then go home.

The first half of the video below is from Sunday. After David saw Carmen make it most of the way down a path, he looked up from the pile of dirt he was playing in and asked me to take his training wheels off, too. The second half is from yesterday.

* Footnote #1 from Joyce: Fiesta is in easy walking distance, and I can think of maybe only one or two instances when Matt has ridden his bike there. But our part of the city is full of people on foot and bicycle, and what better destination than the nearby grocery, where the mangoes are always on sale and the avocados are cheap?

* Footnote #2 from Joyce: We had given lots of thought to how we would teach C&D to ride a bike, starting from an old article in Bicycling magazine one year. We thought the first thing we would teach C&D was how to balance on two wheels. When we got Carmen’s bike (a Specialized Hot Rock, a totally sweet first bike!) we removed the pedals, and encouraged C&D to skooch around. They’ve done this, on and off, for nearly a year. I think all the scooting and skooching around paid big dividends, because they seem very comfortable on two wheels. Next, on Sunday, Matt sprinted all around the university giving C&D a light shove or letting them roll down a small hill (just a bump in the landscaping, really, as there are no real hills here) so they could get the hang of pedaling. Sunday evening, we practiced again, and showed C&D how they could shove off on their own. It rained Monday, but Tuesday we were riding circles on the sidewalk around the Menil Collection, practicing starting, stopping, and more or less steering straight. Wednesday and Thursday it rained again, and on Friday C&D rode around UST while Matt and I stood and watched, amazed.

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October 26th, 2009 by Joyce

It’s nearly noon but dark and quiet, with a cool rain falling outside.  C&D have been inspired to work on a project involving dozens of pictures cut from coloring sheets, workbooks, stickers (which have been applied to scrap pieces of paper, and then cut around) and coloring books.   Bits of paper, glue, scissors, and crayons have somehow spread themselves over the school side floor.  This is their favorite kind of mess, which they don’t consider a mess at all, of course, and they look seriously, purposefully, busy. 

So I sit down and take a minute—well, maybe two—for catching up, and doing those things I’ve been meaning to do all day, all week, all month.  And here is one of those things.

Earlier in this month I received this e-mail* from Jim Stevenson, a local bird guide.  His perspective on the change of seasons made me smile, and he said I could post it here.  What colors have you been hiding?


* To get your own birdie e-mails from Jim Stevenson, follow the directions here.


In my former life – the best part of me – I used to pile a coupla dozen of my high schoolers in the old school bus currently parked in my back yard, and take them to the North Georgia mountains. We always made this trip to Blood Mountain about this time, as the forest was afire with reds, golds and purple. We would always arrive at night in the old "Enterprise," but I swear I could see the flaming canopies at 10pm.

Our "work" there was salamander research, in cold streams strewn with Dusky Salamanders – a far worse proposition to separate into species than the Empidonax flycatchers that nearly send bird guides to tears. But we always went in early October, learning some biology we’ve never forgotten, and making friends for life. I will never be a better person than I was with those young, keen minds.

On many of the trips, I shared with them just exactly why leaves turn colors in fall, and maybe a little Sunday School got thrown in, as we all missed church that weekend.

It seems all year the color of leaves is determined by the pigment in the leaf called chlorophyll, and most of those like A and B are green. Thus, leaves are green most of the year. Oak leaves are green, pine leaves (needles) are green and peach trees have green leaves. See, there’s a pattern here. No doubt those leaves are pretty thankful they have all that chlorophyll, not only coz it allows them to photosynthesize and make sugar, but it allows them to look like all the other leaves. Whew!

But in early fall, with a different bend of the light, and sometimes influenced by variables such as temperatures and moisture, their chlorophyll begins to die. OMG!!! THEY WON’T BE GREEN ANYMORE!!!

It turns out there are some other pigments in leaves as well, but they are covered up by the chlorophyll most of the year. But right after the green stuff dies out, they color the leaves in glory, enough to cause thousands of people to drive hundreds of miles to behold the spectacle. Or as a famous person once said on another mountain far from here, "Not Solomon and all his glory was arrayed like one of these."

It occurs to me that we are a little like those leaves. We try awfully hard not to stand out, and to be normal, coz that’s safe. Deeply rooted in our insecurities, and with emotional scars from the times we dared to be different, and got hung out to dry, we all-too-often just want to blend in. And we keep the most beautiful parts of us safely under wraps, hidden from even our best friends.

While motoring some clients around Saturday along Sportsman’s Road, I saw the attached Yellow-crowned Night-Heron standing in the Salicornia, with its stalks as red as Blood Mountain in early October. Many memories raced through my aging brain faster than you can say "electrodes." Just as these succulents have the same basic chemistry as North Georgia’s trees, we all have much of the same hidden beauty safely tucked away beneath our normalcy. 

You are not green; those are Martians and Vulcans. You also have your reds and golds and purples. And whether you are nine or ninety, the God-given uniquenesses make you who you are, just as much as your 46 chromosomes and that same many years of upbringing. It should be our nature to nurture our peculiarities, and be ourselves no matter what.

Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Take that chance. Finally say those words that have made you bite your tongue for years. Celebrate the one life we all have. Why be normal? And remember that just as those leaves fall to the ground not too long after sharing their most beautiful side, our existence on this rock is but a blink in the cosmic eye. How, really, are we living these precious few days?

And to the 1360 of you who are kind enough to receive my pictures, it is with great love and respect that I thank you for letting me be me.

I’ve never known how else to be.

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Double Feature

October 24th, 2009 by Joyce

First feature:  The Houston Arboretum’s ArBOOretum.  Matt did some additional engineering on Carmen’s dragonfly wings this morning.





We had time for a second feature in the afternoon, Texian Market Days at the George Ranch.









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Happy go lucky

October 14th, 2009 by Joyce · 1 Comment

Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune, says Richard Wiseman.

(Found on MeMo this morning.)

(I really like parentheses. After we moved our main machine to Ubuntu, a Linux OS, I’ve had trouble with blog logistics. Recently we installed my old standby, Live Writer, on Windows via Sun’s xVM VirtualBox. Works beautifully, and there’s something amusing about using two operating systems at once, to boot. Lucky me, I married a guy who knows his way around computers.)

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The center of the universe

October 7th, 2009 by Joyce · 3 Comments

That’s what I call it, this neighborhood of ours, only slightly tongue in cheek.  Universities, libraries, parks, museums, grocery stores, cozy cafes, green boulevards and our favorite restaurants are all just a hop, skip, or jump away.  Our walk score is 86; needing groceries doesn’t necessarily mean we need to bother pulling the car out of the garage.  If downtown is Houston’s energy-economy brain, Montrose is its adventurous, generous heart. 

So I was naturally happy to read this morning that the American Planning Association identified Montrose as one of their Great Places in America. I was even downright proud, and ready to say so.

But the day you don’t take a shower first thing in the morning, and you’re wearing your fat pants (my belly is still tender and cranky from surgery 12 days ago) and your husband’s t-shirt (needed something baggy to go with the fat pants) is the day you wind up on television.  Everything I said is true, though.

(The video should be embedded here, but it may not appear on your browser.)


(The whole KTRK story is here.)

Decades ago a newsperson knocked on my grandmother’s door and interviewed her about something. I think someone had died, but I don’t remember who. I think my Aunt Zelda was a baby, and cried the whole interview. I bet Mamo looked cute. She maybe even had a little lipstick.

I only regret (in addition to the fact that I hadn’t showered) was that I didn’t bother spelling my name out. We were in the middle of violin lesson and I needed to run back inside. I feared it would take forever and get misspelled, anyway. But I should have, though, just for fun. It would have taken up the whole line at the bottom of the screen.

I called Matt after the violin lesson and told him I might be on television. Carmen and David heard and asked, "What’s television?"

Right after we spoke, Matt watched a KTRK truck pull into the Fluor parking lot. He was almost famous, too, but for less happy reasons.

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I’m such a rockin’ Mommy

October 1st, 2009 by Joyce

I drew a picture of a feller buncher on David’s underwear.  I even drew a cut pine tree with it.  I’d take a picture of my artwork, but he’s wearing the underwear already.

In other news, today I washed the sheets.  And threw my new MP3 player in there with them.  And I ran the load on sanitize. 

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The downsides to wooden toys

October 1st, 2009 by Joyce · 1 Comment

1) They usually cost more than the plastic whatnots.
2) When your toddler is in a throwing phase, you may need to consider covering yourself and the other children in full body armor. (Alternatively, just hide the weapons–I mean toys–someplace high.)
3) Termites eat them.

C&D have a pine lockbox. Earlier this summer I began hiding little treats inside as a fun reward for practicing the different locks, keys, and latches. When Carmen gave me the lockbox earlier this week and requested a refill, I found something odd inside–a little pile of something granular-looking and brown. It looked a little like . . . insect frass . . . and it was . . . from termites. Thanks, Google guys.

Not sure what we’re supposed to do next? I feel too post-surgery crummy to care too much. I just keep looking and walking around, checking to see if the floor’s going to cave in . . .

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