For whom the summer vacations

They should stop calling this thing between school years summer vacation. They should call it “Summer intense non-school-related activity period” or something like that.

I swear, when I was a kid, my mom fed me breakfast and sent me into the woods for the day, armed with only my imagination and a hand-me-down BB gun. Some days I even had a few BBs for it. I spent half my time searching for Iroquois artifacts and the other half playing in the creek. I never found any tomahawk heads, but I got good and wet. I’d wander home when I needed the comfort of a peanut butter sandwich.

We don’t have time to play in the woods now. We had baseball games all day Saturday, and every night this week. Before that, Big Brother went to the TV studio to tape two episodes of a local PBS show where kids do science experiments. On top of that, he’s been to basketball camp every morning this week.

Basketball season is only 3 months away.

Things will calm down a bit when baseball ends in July. Then we only have Kids’ College and some other sporadic activities.

It’s a little stressful, getting everybody where they need to be, especially during a period called vacation. It’s no vacation for parents, but I sort of love it anyway. I love that my boys have so many opportunities to experience different things and practice the things they enjoy. I love watching them play sports, and even coaching them when I can. I’ll rest later, and maybe dream of stomping in the creek.

Big Man doesn’t have as many activities as his older brothers, so he’s spending his summer bantering with his babysitters. Our latest babysitter is around my age. They got on the subject of daddies yesterday.

BIG MAN: “Why don’t you live with your daddy?”

BABYSITTER: “Because he’s really very old.”

BIG MAN: “Well, my daddy is really very old, too. And I still live with him . . .”

I guess summer vacation is the time when Big Man takes a break from shutting down his parents’ flawed logic and starts shutting down babysitters.

For all the racing around I do, getting kids to their numerous vacation activities, I think I look pretty good.

 

 

The fraud in the frozen foods aisle

One Saturday I got a sudden and mysterious knot on my knee. It was swollen, but X-rays showed no damage, and the doctor concluded it would probably heal itself. As a precaution, she advised me to pick up some extra-strength pain reliever.

We all went to the store together on the way home from the doctor. I was feeling pretty good, so I suggested we pick up our groceries while we were there. My wife thought that was a fine idea and immediately steered me toward the bay of motorized carts for disabled shoppers.

I attempted to persuade her this mode of transportation was unnecessary, but you know how a wife always thinks her husband is just trying to be manly in public, because a wife thinks her husband perceives himself always with a large S on his chest and a blue cape on his back? It was like that.

She’s awfully insistent when she is trying to save me from myself. She says stuff like: “Oh, you’re embarrassed to ride that? How will you feel when everybody sees you fall over in the middle of the store?”

She won – not because her position was strong, but because she can tolerate a louder argument in public.

Somehow, my wife failed to take pictures of my embarrassment. She must be slipping.

Walking toward the go-cart I limped more than medically necessary, in case any passersby wondered at my justification for commandeering Granny’s ride.

Once mounted, I experimented with positions to make my leg appear more busted. I even considered riding side-saddle to insinuate an inability to lift my leg over the front of the seat. I discarded this idea from fear my wife would loudly offer to bring me my corset and parasol.

I settled on keeping my leg rigidly straight, inviting onlookers to imagine a poor man who could not bend his knee. I also decided to ride out on my own, putting as much store between myself and my always-conspicuous family.

Riding my lonesome trail, I imaged all eyes on me, casting suspicion on my need for special accommodation. I passed a fellow traveler, a young lady, robust and healthy, in no way manifesting a requirement to ride the aisles, except for the crutch proudly displayed behind her handlebars.

Damn! If I only had a crutch, all these haters would be silenced!

The self-conscious grocery rider learns these carts make the beeping noise of a construction vehicle when backing. In a Saturday superstore, there are an alarming number of obstructions that force reversing.

I had almost become resigned to my trike when I saw him: a man older than me, with one less leg, striding toward me on one crutch. There is no condemnation quite like riding past an upstanding amputee.

My impulse was to get up from my bicycle basketful of groceries, and march out of the store. But this would prove how little I needed my mechanical advantage, so I bowed my head until the man passed.

I found my family; we bought our groceries; then I parked my vehicle and walked out of the store like the fraud I am.

Murdered in cold sap

I droned on and on this summer about how I took out a dead Maple tree from our back yard and replaced it with a younger version. Now that I’ve got you accustomed to my blather about trees, I might as well finish the saga.

I won’t hide the truth: our transplanted Maple sapling suffered from my mistakes.

My mistakes:

  1. Transplanting a Maple sapling in the middle of summer
  2. Transplanting a Maple sapling in the middle of a hot, dry summer
  3. Losing many of the sapling’s best roots to my battle with the chicken wire it had grown up around
  4. Only being partially certain it was actually a Maple sapling, based upon the shape of its leaves and my desire for a Maple sapling

Despite my dedication to giving it regular watering and pep talks, most of its leaves turned brown and dried up. Still, I clutched at straws of hope, in the form of the approximately three leaves that did not turn brown after several weeks.

With September, the rains returned. Our little tree held its few remaining leaves. After a nice, restful winter, maybe it would come back with a fresh start in the spring. Maybe it would be a dry twig by then, but I figured it was worth giving it a chance.

Not everyone agreed with me.

The last time I went to visit it, I found tragedy.  Somebody had stripped the bark all the way around the poor little thing. I may not be smart enough to know for sure if this little trooper were ever truly a Maple tree, but I do know trees can’t live without bark. There will be no fresh start in spring.

These crime scene photos can be difficult to stomach.

I went online to find out who might have done such a thing, because I feel better when I can cast blame elsewhere for my failures. The list of culprits who strip bark includes bears, porcupines, beavers, rabbits, squirrels, and deer. Not listed, but also probably capable of quickly striping bark, based on what I surmise from watching TV, would be cartoon Tasmanian Devils and Sharknados.

The most usual suspects seem to be squirrels. This makes sense, as I have never seen squirrels do anything to help anybody but themselves.

Can the CSI techs get a print off these claw marks?

Among the many reasons squirrels strip bark is because it’s fun and apparently squirrels get bored a lot. During the many extended coffee breaks from counting their nuts, they spread gossip and strip bark.

I once saw a hapless squirrel fall out of a tree. I felt bad for him, but now I know it was just the tree dispensing a little Karma.

I have one other thing that might be a Maple sapling growing in my Nursery of Random Flora. At the appropriate time of year I may try that one. Or maybe I’ll plant nothing. Nothing, after all, is easier to mow around than trees, and its leaves rake up in no time at all.

Stumped!

I must be part Amish. The English would have rented a stump grinder or other motorized technology their loose morals allow them to operate. Not me. Because I am righteous, fearless of hard work, and also unwilling to part with my money, I did it old school.

Weeks ago I documented the pioneer spirit with which I chopped down our dead maple tree. The plan was to replace that tree with a new one. The plan was not to wait so long to do it, but we hearty woodsmen have to roll with the punches.

The first step was removing the stump. After six weeks’ meditation on the subject, I decided the way to do this without spending money was just to dig the thing out. I was under no illusions about how difficult it would be to dig up a tree stump.

Yeah, I may have been under some illusions about the difficulty. Illusions can become a burden to the psyche. They’re tricky little bastards, and so are tree trunks. Tree trunks can mutate into philosophical quagmires.

I got my shovel and dug around the stump, and I got my ax and hacked off roots, and this all went well for about 10 minutes. I’m not saying I stopped after 10 minutes; it’s just that the digging and hacking grew tiresome. I persisted, because I’ve never been one to surrender to the reality of a situation without a fight.

My tree stump spiritual adviser.

Big Man came out to help after an hour, at which point I was ready to accept advice from a four-year-old. Being a man of action, most of his ideas involved more digging and hacking. Since a preschooler’s digging and hacking can quickly become unfocused, we hit upon a new plan. We got some wedges and split the stump in its hole. Amazingly, this kind of worked.

Having mostly cleared the hole, it remained to locate and new tree. It can be handy having a garden you abandoned when children stole your free time. In this forsaken spot, a sapling had sprouted where it had no business. Its leaves look Maple-ish, but I can’t prove its pedigree – it’s my first week as an arborist. I guess we’ll find out.

Plants grow best in my garden when I let them fend for themselves.

Maybe we’ll find out. We might have killed it in transit. Its roots were twined in the neglected chicken wire surrounding the neglected fence around the neglected garden. Some of its thicker roots were casualties of our tug-o-war with the chicken wire.

Dead or alive, we dropped it in the hole. We added all three shovelfuls of fertilizer our composting barrel has produced from eight years’ worth of vegetable contributions. Then, we filled in the dirt and gave our new baby a long drink of water.

Possibly a Maple; possibly a tall weed; possibly dead.

If we planted a dead tree, we’ll just try again. We have all kinds of little ones growing where they don’t belong. We’ll keep trying until we get one to prosper or the rest of our yard looks civilized. Either way, it’s a win.

The result of all this hard work on my delicate blogger’s thumb.