7 Things I Remember Doing as a Kid

Here is a list of 7 things I remember doing as a kid. (Thank you to my husband for this writing prompt!)

1. Getting “Twister” ice cream cones with my Poppa, brother, and cousin.

As a kid we lived a few blocks away from a shop that sold “Twister” ice cream cones. They were made with super-soft ice cream that twisted around and around, tapering to the top in a swirl. You could order chocolate, vanilla, or chocolate + vanilla. If you ordered chocolate + vanilla, the flavours alternated in the twist up to the top. My Poppa would ask in his gruff voice, “Do you guys want a Twister ice cream?” And we would walk there and he would treat us. Still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

2. Collecting caterpillars in our backyard.

We had a big tree in our backyard and we would find a lot of caterpillars around it. I mean, A LOT. Looking back, they were probably tent caterpillars that kill trees. Anyway, they were black with white, pinprick-tiny spots down their back, with a bit of (orange?) fuzz. Our mom would give my brother and I each a plastic margarine container and we would see how many we could pluck up and put in our container. I remember they felt really delicate and silky-soft, but if I thought about it too much when I picked them up I would get grossed out and drop the caterpillar and my container.

3. Smelling my Dad’s packs of pipe tobacco.

My Dad used to smoke a pipe. I loved the smell of it as a kid. I remember in the spring and summer evenings after supper he would walk us to a nearby park and on the way home, he would smoke his pipe. Sometimes we would stop at the I.D.A. Pharmacy and he would buy a pack of pipe tobacco. He would leave it on one of the shelves of the side table beside his favourite La-Z-Boy chair. Every once in a while when no one was looking I would crawl over, pick up the package, and take a big whiff of the plastic outer package.

4. Building sandcastles on the beach near my grandparents’ house because I was too afraid to swim in the water because of the sharks.

My grandparents lived in Deep River, Ontario, Canada. There are no sharks. But I was certain there was. So I stayed safely in the sand even though my parents and grandparents kept coaxing me to go into the water.

5. Getting up horrifically early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons and trying to turn the big, clunking knob of the television as quietly as possible.

I don’t know what time my brother and I would get up on Saturday mornings…5:00? 5:30? But there was a show we desperately wanted to watch (and I can’t remember the name!), but sometimes for whatever reason it was preempted by “George of the Jungle.” We hated “George of the Jungle.” Did we actually ever watch “George of the Jungle”? No. But we resented it for preempting our show.

6. Anxiously awaiting the latest installment of our encyclopedia collection to arrive in the mail.

It was the 80s. There was no internet. But there were books! And encyclopedias! I loved encyclopedias. I would pore over them, cover to cover. Their glossy pages that squeaked a bit between your fingers. I LOVED it whenever we received our encyclopedia’s “Year in Review” edition. I remember the dictionaries that came with the set had a huge section at the beginning with random stuff like, “Name origins.” Some of the names had cool meanings but when I looked up my first name it simply said, “From Denmark.” Oh. Gee, thanks, Dictionary.

7. Popping the bubbles my Dad would make from the plastic from his dry-cleaned suits.

My Dad had to wear a suit to work every day. When he came home with his dry-cleaning my brother and I would gallop up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom, so that after my Dad put his freshly cleaned suits in his closet we could pop bubbles! My dad would tie a knot in the plastic sheet that covered the suits and a bubble would form at the knot. One of us would squeeze it and it would pop in our hands. Oftentimes several bubbles would form after he tied the knot, and it was fun to squeeze them and pop them all. It was kind of like hand-made bubble-wrap. My Dad would tie knot after knot, letting us pop and pop, until the plastic wrap was just a big knotty ball.

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Male bumblebees as pollinators?

Ever since I worked in a bumblebee lab years ago I’ve been intrigued by male bumblebees. Male bumblebees don’t sting, they appear later in the bumblebee colony lifecycle (late summer to early fall), and they have an endearing fuzzy yellow nose, or moustache. They are also a fuzzier overall than female bumblebees.

(Bombus lucorum courtesy of Nurturing Nature: http://www.nuturing-nature.co.uk)

After they hatch, male bumblebees stay in the nest until they are mature, then they fly out into the world, find a queen bumblebee to mate with, then die. They don’t help out with “housekeeping duties,” such as keeping the nest clean and sitting on eggs to keep them warm. They don’t collect nectar and pollen and bring it back to the nest like female worker bumblebees. If they are hungry before finding a mate, male bumblebees may drink nectar from flowers for their own energy. They have no need for pollen, and in fact they don’t have the corbiculae–pollen baskets–on their back legs that female bumblebees have.

So is mating all that male bumblebees are good for?

I came across a very cool article that suggests male bumblebees might in fact be pretty good pollinators–whether they mean to be or not!

In a nutshell, pollination generally happens when pollen grains (the yellow, powdery substance from flowers) are transferred from a flower of one plant to another flower of the same type of plant. Because female bumblebees need to collect pollen and nectar for their entire colony of bumblebees, they need to visit many flowers, and so it is assumed they are better pollinators than males.

However, as the authors of the article point out, male bumblebees are more numerous in late summer and early fall, and there are still many plants that flower during that time. Do more male bumblebees than female bumblebees visit flowers in late summer/early fall?

Also, male bumblebees have more fur than female bumblebees that the pollen grains can stick to when they visit a flower. Male bumblebees don’t groom the pollen grains into pellets on their back legs like female bumblebees, meaning that there’s more loose pollen on their bodies to be transferred to the next flower they visit. Do male bumblebees therefore transfer more pollen between flowers than female bumblebees?

Finally, male bumblebees travel longer distances between flowers than female bumblebees do. As a result, maybe male bumblebees are better at long-distance pollination?

The authors of the article I read did three things. First, they counted the number of male bumblebees, female bumblebees, and queen bumblebees (all Bombus impatiens) that were on flowering plants along a hiking trail in Colorado. Second, they watched how far female and male bumblebees flew between patches of artificial flowers. Third, they assessed the pollen transfer between Brassica rapa flowers in their laboratory.

(Brassica rapa flowers, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The authors found that there was indeed an abundance of male bumblebees compared to the number of female bumblebees and queens on the flowers on the hiking trails. They also found that male bumblebees were more likely than female bumblebees to fly between patches of artificial flowers, rather than staying within a patch, when collecting nectar. Finally, they found that, compared to female bumblebees, the male bumblebees transferred more pollen between Brassica rapa flowers while they were drinking the nectar. Male bumblebees tended to spend more time at each flower (what they call a longer handling time) compared to females, too.

So it seems that male bumblebees have the ability to transfer more pollen than female bumblebees, and they can transfer the pollen at greater distances. This can compliment the pollination that occurs by the female bumblebees.

I never thought of male bumblebees as pollinators. But in hindsight, it makes complete sense. I wonder what other secrets these little guys have that are waiting to be discovered?

Reference

Ostevik, K L., Manson, J. S., & Thomson, J. D. (2010). Pollination potential of male bumble bees (Bombus impatiens): Movement patterns and pollen-transfer efficiency. Journal of Pollination Ecology, 2(4), 21-26.

Book Anxiety

I have a confession to make.

I find finishing books stressful.

When I get to the third- or second-to-last chapter, I feel a compulsion to thrust the book onto my bedside table and finish it…later.

I can’t just plow through the ending of a book. No matter how exciting or riveting the plot may be. No matter how much I might love the characters. When the remaining thickness of pages reaches slightly less than a centimetre, I simply must set the book down and put a bit of space between us.

Just for a while.

The photo above shows the typical, critical point where I divorce the book for a period of time.

I mean, I do want to finish the book. I do want to have closure, discover how the story ends, etc. I just don’t want to rush it. Like a good piece of cheesecake or pecan pie, I want to savour it. Make it last as long as possible. So I take smaller and smaller bites, pausing a bit longer between each one, until there is but a lonely little sliver left. Then, once I am mentally prepared to consume the last morsel–when I can ensure that all my senses are alert and ready to receive the experience–I place the last bite in my mouth and enjoy it. I stretch out the taste, texture, and overall experience as long as possible.

I guess I want to read the last few pages of a book when I have time. When I have time to savour it. When I know I can afford to read slowly, analyze, and drink in each word.

After all, I am saying good-bye to a friend. Collectively I have invested a lot of time with Ms./Mr. Book, so I don’t want to make our farewell in haste.

Usually the divorce lasts a few hours. Perhaps even a day. Today the divorce lasted an hour and a half: I set the book down at the second-to-last chapter to do laundry, change our sheets, take a shower…only then was I ready to say good-bye to Flavia de Luce, one of my all-time favourite characters and protagonist of Alan Bradley’s mystery series. (By my standards, an hour and a half is considered a very brief divorce. I think the brevity of this divorce had something to do with wanting to find out the solution to the murder-mystery, and the fact that I have the next instalment of the series waiting patiently for me on my shelf. So technically I wasn’t saying a complete good-bye to Flavia.)

But each time I read a book, as I get closer and closer to that less-than-a-centimetre-left thickness of pages, I start to feel mounting anxiety. A tension of, “Yes! I want to finish it,” against, “No! Stay and play a bit longer!” And I have a compulsion to place it aside and do something else.

Maybe I’m just no good with good-byes. Especially with close friends–like good, well-written books.

You know All the Light We Cannot See? Man, I divorced that book for a few days. And my favourite book, Life of Pi? Wow, I didn’t want that to end either.

And once I do finish a book, I tend to re-read the last paragraph or two over and over. To feel the climax of the anxiety of YES-IT-HAS-ENDED! And I feel loss and I feel (hopefully) satisfied and I feel sad and I feel grateful and I feel…

…like a collossal nerd.

But hey, I’m okay with that.

Bee House!

My husband and kids came home from grocery shopping with a surprise: a bee house!

I’m so excited!

The idea behind it is bees will climb inside one of the little tubes and lay their eggs. As far as I know these houses are used by solitary species of bees: bees that don’t have a colony with a queen and a bunch of sisters, but rather live on their own, gathering pollen and nectar for themselves only, and laying eggs themselves instead of a queen laying eggs.

And according to the packaging, bees that use these types of houses are non-stinging bees. I assumed solitary bees can sting but perhaps I’m wrong?

I studied bumblebees, but there are thousands of other species of bees out there. (Bumblebees won’t use this house because they tend to nest in the ground, and their nest has a communal space where the queen lays eggs and there are wax nectar storage pots. There can be upwards of 200 bumblebees in a colony, so a bee house like this would get pretty crowded!)

I’m already thinking about where to put the bee house in our backyard. Near some flowers, for sure.

Spring is on the way!

Valencia: Where even the animals are chillin’ 

After a couple days in Barcelona we decided to travel to the city of Valencia. The City of Arts and Sciences caught our interest. Plus, there have been protests in Barcelona and we thought it best to stay clear.

It was difficult not to run into protesters in Barcelona’s city centre, who were protesting for Catalonia’s independence from Spain.
Valencia is beautiful. Less tourist-y than Barcelona, less traffic, and a bit slower-paced. (Not that Barcelona was a swarming beehive.)

The view from outside our hotel.
I love the vibrant blue sky up against the colourful buildings!

We took a walking tour of the city…


Artists painting decorative fans (when not talking on cell phones).

…and then went to the BioParc, essentially Valencia’s zoo. Even the animals were laid back! But that was more likely because of the hot weather.

This giraffe was like six feet away. Amazing. The zookeepers must have smeared something on the trees because the giraffes were licking them like crazy.
These ring-tailed lemurs were one of my favourites. They were just up in the trees directly above us!
This gorilla wins the Chillaxin’ Award by a landslide.

At dinner we had beers with unicorns on them, and I had calamari, which was delicious but did not look at all like I had expected!

Unicorns make great beer.
I ate it all!

The next day we went to the local aquarium.

Oh Sharky, how you terrify me…

Last but not least, every city has its oddities. Here are three Valencian oddities we spotted:

1. The first hotel we stayed in was movie-themed. We got the Pinocchio room. (I had a compulsive urge to colour him in.)


2. An elaborate street performer.


3. A man playing a trombone under a bridge.


In the science museum is an ultra-cool sculpture of DNA:


And here are some extra shots of the city:

I tried paella!! But the kind without snails.

Darth Vader’s Guide to Bumblebees

Greetings, to whoever is reading this record of my discovery of this planet called…Earth

I am the almighty Darth Vader, and I have been seeking to destroy the Jedi across the universe. I have been in search of Jedi on this planet Earth and I believe I have finally found them.

They are very small, these Jedi. And covered in fur, like Ewoks or Wookies. (I hate Ewoks and Wookies…) 

They fly, these small Jedi. And make a BZZZzzzZZZzzz sound. Quite annoying, actually. (But then again, all Jedi are annoying…)

The Force is strong with them. Their navigational skills are impressive. And they wield a weapon that strikes like a compact Lightsaber, searing and burning the skin upon impact. 

Like any cowardly Jedi they only strike on the defensive, never on the offensive. Although they are quite stealthy: one of these small Jedi flew up inside one of my Stormtrooper’s uniforms. He died a painful, arm-flailing death.

My scientists tell me these small Jedi have a weakness for colours and fragrances. Rather odd. But then again I have a weakness for JiffyPop, so who am I to judge?

In the meantime, while on Earth, I guess I will stay out of my Hawaiian shirts and lay off the Chanel No. 5.

Looking back on 40

Happy Birthday to me! I’ve been 40 for a year now. I didn’t mind turning 40, and I don’t mind turning 41. But I’ve made a few observations over the past year…

  1. People refer to me as “Ma’am” more often.
  2. Each time I look in the mirror I find more white hairs.
  3. Wine makes cleaning more tolerable.
  4. I miss watching the howler monkeys in Costa Rica.
  5. Sometimes you have to make your own luck.
  6. Having patience is hard. Really hard. But it always seems to pay off.
  7. You can get a lot done in 10 minutes when you know you only have 10 minutes.
  8. I just can’t eat a bag of Doritos anymore.
  9. It hurts too much to overeat, period.
  10. Sleep is a glorious thing.
  11. So is a good cup of coffee.
  12. And fresh air.
  13. Aches and pains where I never had aches and pains before. For instance, I hurt my calf muscle running a little while ago. I’ve been running for years! What’s up with that??
  14. I need more motivation to exercise these days. But like patience, exercise always seems to pay off.
  15. Opportunities will sometimes come racing up to stare you in the face. Seize them, even though your fears might try to convince you otherwise. 
  16. I have come to appreciate shoes and a good tube of lipstick.
  17. Hearing my kids laugh is a precious thing and also one of my favourite things.
  18. If you stop caring about what other people think it’s amazing how much lighter you feel.
  19. Did I mention wine?
  20. I know I must be getting old when the hairstyles youngsters have these days seem stranger and stranger…
  21. If I don’t have time to squeeze in meditation, I can make other things a meditation. It’s not quite the same, but close.
  22. Kayaking on a lake is a real treat.
  23. I can’t fit into my favourite old pair of jeans from a few years ago. And that’s okay.
  24. Family is truly a precious, precious thing.
  25. Kids won’t be kids forever. It’s easy to forget that when you’re racing to get to work on time. Or when you’re woken up at 6:34 am on a Saturday…
    Me walking our dog, Spirit.

    The best necklace

    This morning I came downstairs in a rush, dressed for work, and ready to go. My four-year-old daughter suddenly appeared in front of me, held up a chunky kids’ necklace, and asked, “Momma, can you wear this today?”

    Screech! went the tires of my whizzing mind.

    I looked at the huge purple flowers. The sparkles. I did a quick comparison with my white blouse and cranberry skirt. Not my first choice of accessories.

    Then I looked at my daughter’s big doe-eyes. “I made dis myself,” she added.

    How could I refuse?

    So I slipped it on. Looked in the mirror. You know what? I thought, It works.

    My daughter’s eyes grew even bigger as she smiled.

    I resolved to wear the necklace all day.

    Two compliments and counting!

    Bunnies, best friends, and birthday parties

    So I’ve been woken up at around 5 a.m. the past couple mornings to a little voice beside my bed: “Momma, I want to go count the bunnies!” 

    Two mornings ago when the four-year-old’s belly was sore, she was up at the crack of dawn and I suggested that we take the dog for a little walk. “It’s your job to count the bunnies we see,” I told her. 

    Every morning now the four-year-old has been accompanying me on my dog walk and counting bunnies. I guess she believes in long-term employment.

    She’s also been noticing little things along the way.
    Like the two little pinecones that she picked up and carried home with her, “because they are best friends.”

    (By now we are up to four bunnies. Seven is our record.)

    Lexi said she picked these pine cones “because they are best friends.”
    Or a bunch of ants swarming on the sidewalk. “Maybe they’re having a party,” suggested the four-year-old. “A big birthday party!”

    (Eight bunnies! We passed our record!)

    “Momma, the moon is following us.”

    After about twenty minutes or so of walking, the four-year-old starts to lag behind. She has a trace of dark circles under her eyes thanks to her early morning risings. Oh, if only she would sleep in and get her rest! 

    But then we’d miss the bunnies.

    (Our new record is nine.)

    Little bouquets 

    “Momma, my belly is sore.”

    And so the four-year-old lay down on the couch at 5:24 p.m. When I checked on her at 5:27 p.m., she was completely zonked out.

    6:03 p.m.: A spaghetti dinner (one of the four-year-old’s favourites) is steaming away on plates at each place setting. I try to rouse the child. No success. I let her sleep.

    6:43 p.m.: “Lexi, do you want something to eat?” Nothing. She rolls over.

    At 7:23 p.m. I lift her off the couch and carry her up the stairs. I change her into her jammies and tuck her in. Maybe she’ll sleep in tomorrow morning, I muse.

    Yeah, right.

    12:17 a.m.: “Momma, my belly still hurts.” I open an eye to see the four-year-old standing beside my bed, three inches from my face. I ask, “Do you want something to eat?” I see her shadowy figure nod. “Want some toast?” Another nod. I drag myself out of bed.

    Somewhat bleary-eyed with a slight I-should-be-sleeping headache, I pop a piece of bread into the toaster oven. While it toasts and the timer ticks away, the four-year-old and I sit at the table. She is resting her chin on crossed arms. Her eyes are bright and alarmingly awake. Oh-oh, I think. Here it comes…

    “Momma, what’s six plus nine?”

    “Why does the moon look like a watermelon?”

    “Do you have a baby in your tummy?”

    “What’s two plus nine?”

    “Why do dogs have four legs but people have two legs?”

    My brain hurts trying to keep up. DING! Oh good, the toast is ready.

    The four-year-old starts sucking the butter off the toast, takes a few bites, and then is struck with an amazing dose of loquaciousness.

    “Did you know, Momma, that Olivia wore flip-flops to daycare but you’re not allowed to wear flip-flops at daycare but Olivia did and I have flip-flops too but I don’t wear them at daycare and do you remember when by nose bleeded when I jumped off the couch?…”

    Yes, sweetie. Just eat your toast, please.

    12:34 a.m.: Child is tucked back into bed.

    5:04 a.m.: “Momma, my belly doesn’t hurt anymore!”

    Child is alarmingly awake. Again. Rather than negotiate that she go back to bed, I get up and suggest we take the dog for a walk. Both the child and the dog are thrilled at the idea.

    The sun is just rising as we step out into the pre-heat morning coolness of mid-June. The calm and quiet is almost magical. I find myself thinking, The child has me all to herself–of course this is magical! “Let’s count how many bunnies we see on our walk,” I suggest. Child thinks this is a fantastic idea.

    As we pass by a neighbour’s lawn filled with daisies, the four-year old crouches down and before I could yelp a protest, she plucks a big fat daisy from the bunch. “Look, Momma! I picked this for you because I know you love beautiful flowers!” She holds it up with a smile that could light up the sky.

    I point out a plump rabbit hunched down by some bushes. The four-year-old gasps and holds up one finger. Soon we see another. She holds up two fingers. Then three, then four… “It’s your job to keep track,” I remind her. She falls a bit behind me and the dog as she peers at ants on the sidewalk, a leaf on a tree, and walks along a jaggedy crack. Rather than run she skips to catch up.

    5:23 a.m.: We are up to six bunnies and two more flowers for Momma’s bouquet.

    We see our last bunny as we make our way up our driveway. The child exclaims, “Seven!” The bunny high-tails it to the backyard.

    Once inside I put the little bouquet in some water and place it in front of my place setting at the dining room table. It is there to remind me of midnight loquaciousness over buttered toast, and magical walks while most were still asleep.

    5:42 a.m.: “Momma, let’s make PANCAKES!”

    I need a cup of coffee…