Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Praying They Don't Get Too Big!

So, who knew?

I sure didn't.

A couple of weeks ago my adorable grandson, Nolan, announced that his class had hatched a bunch of praying mantis eggs and that, if "the grownups" agreed, the kids could take one home.

Needless to say, my mind took a flying leap from the comfort zone cliff with a half-gainer and a double twist, and landed somewhere in the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me area of incredulity.  They hatched praying mantises?  They get to take them home?  What?

Of course, I wanted to know what possessed Nolan's teacher to hatch praying mantis eggs.  And where the heck did she get them?

At Home Depot.  That's where.

For thirteen bucks, you, too, can purchase a praying mantis egg case containing anywhere from 40 to 400 eggs.  They hatch in about one hour, according to the HD website.

The idea, apparently, is natural pest control.  They eat anything thing that wiggles and fits in their mouth.  These aggressive and ravenous beasts will help to keep ants, fruit flies, gnats, aphids, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, moths, caterpillars and even grasshoppers out of your garden and out of your hair.  No need for sprays or chemicals.  Just let these crazy things loose and all your bug problems will disappear.

Mind you, you are then left with giant, green bugs scurrying around your yard.  Praying mantises can grow to 20 cm in length.  Though, to be fair - not to mentioned somewhat releived - the species that Nolan's class hatched only grow to be about 10 cm.  All things considered a 4" bug is better than an 8" bug.  But jeez!  Four inches!  Who said living with grandchildren wouldn't be challenging?  

There are over 2400 species of praying mantis in the world and most of them are native to temperate and tropical climates.  Edmonton has a decidedly continental climate.  

So what the heck are these things doing here?  How did this happen?  Why am I, a person who chooses locations to live based on the size of spiders and insects (the smaller, the better) and the type and number of snakes and other creepy crawlies, now wrapping my head around living in  a  place where 4" long bugs are a thing people do? On purpose!  

Imagine running into one of these in your house.
We have two!
Some fun praying mantis facts:

1. Most mantises live in the tropics.  Except for Daisy, the praying mantis formerly known as Little Foot, and Walter, who both live in MY house!

2. Most  mantises in North America are exotic rather than native, having been introduced either by accident or by insanity.  The Chinese Mantis was introduced in Philidelphia in the 1930's.  

3.  Mantids are unique in the insect world for being able to turn their heads 180 degrees.  It's really hard to sneak up on them!

4. Mantids are believed to share their ancestry with cockroaches and termites.  Oh, goodie!  

5.  Mantids overwinter as eggs in temperate climates.  Mating occurs in early fall.  Then the female lays her eggs and covers them in a protective styrofoam-like goo that forms the case - also called an ootheca.  Find one and bring it in during the winter and the warmth will trick the eggs into hatching.  So, for the love of Pete, leave them outside!

6.  Female mantises sometimes eat their mates.  But this only happens about 30% of the time in the wild.  It is more common in labs and other forms of captivity for some reason.  

7.  Manids use their specialized raptorial front legs to capture prey.  Sharp spines line these deadly appendages and are used to hold prey tight while the mantis eats its prey.  Alive!

8.  In evolutionary terms, mantids are quite young.  The oldest fossils date from the Cretaceous period - 146-66 million years ago.

9.  Mantids do eat other insects, but they do not discriminate between the good bugs and the bad ones.  A helpful, pollinating bee is just as tasty as a rose-destroying aphid.

10.  A praying mantis has binocular vision, but only one ear, which is located on its belly just forward of the back legs.  This means that it cannot detect the direction or frequency of sound.  It can, however, detect ultrasound - the sound of an echolocating bat - and thus evade becoming dinner itself.   

11. The word mantis comes from the Greek mantikos, for soothsayer or prophet. Indeed, these insects do look spiritual and mysterious, especially when their forelegs are clasped together as if they're in prayer

At the moment Walter and Daisy are only about a half-inch long.  I admit they are kind of cute.  For now.  But after watching Walter consume an ant last night, I am not looking forward to their first molt and subsequent enlargement.  

I wonder if we'll be able to pitch the pest control theory to the kids successfully....

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Terrible Thing Happened on the Way to My New Life

In the midst of preparing to move into our new house and start our new life together something terrible happened in the world.  Focused as we were on the task of cleaning out all the junk the previous owners left us to deal with so we could bring our own things into the house, this terrible thing  barely registered with us.  We heard the news.  And we kept going.  Our own world, our own troubles trumped the terrible thing that happened... Out there.

I finally had a moment to sit down and pay attention to the terrible thing that happened.  Horrified, shocked and deeply saddened, I learned that a 29-year-old man took it upon himself to walk into a night club, slaughter 49 people, wound 53 more people and finally be shot to death himself by police.
Why? I asked myself.  Why does this happen?  How does someone get to the point where this is okay to do?  How much hate does it take to put someone over the edge and choose to consciously kill and maim other people?  Where does all this hate come from?

I felt the grip of fear begin to squeeze my heart.  For a time I sat with this fear.  I watched it grow.  I watched it transform.  Into hate; dark and ugly and consuming.

With some effort I backed away from the hate and from the fear.  I refused to let it consume me.

I don't know any of the people that were killed or wounded.  I don't know the man that killed and wounded them.  But their loss... I felt it.  I still feel it.  I will feel it for a long time, I think.

This kind of thing seems to be happening with frightening regularity in the world.  It's getting harder and harder to hold on to the beauty and wonder and goodness.  I shall not give up.

I know someone that this same sort of hate is consuming.  Beneath that hate is a wonderful, creative and amazing man.  He's an artist of extraordinary talent.  He's a skilled handyman.  He's an accomplished musician.  He has so much incredibly beautiful stuff to give to the world.  And it's all buried somewhere under a thick and putrid layer of hate and loathing and fear.  Now I fear for him.

I fear what all this hatred will do to him.  Will he end up like this 29-year-old?  I don't think he would pull the trigger.  I honestly can't see him doing that.  There is a tender place still in him that repels killing.  I just hope it is tender enough, strong enough to outlast the hate.

I have seen his goodness.  I have seen the love that he has.  I can only pray that it somehow finds its way back to the surface and shines once again.  I can only pray that he finds his art, his love, his grace.  My fondest wish is for him to find peace and for him to know the great joy that truly risking his heart can bring.

My own little thought experiment reminded me of the amazing power of gratitude.  I have so much to be thankful for and as I ticked off all the many, many things that give me joy, the hate and the fear shrunk back into the recesses of my soul.

We all have a dark side.  We all must at some time face the darkness.  We cannot know joy or love without also knowing fear and hate.  Fifty people lost their lives to hate on June 12th.  While I mourn this tragic loss, I also feel compelled to carry on; to be the best person I can be, to continue to go forward with love in my heart.  Perhaps not just specifically for them, but for all of us- including my beloved friend so lost in his own darkness.

When we get settled, I will light a candle for these lost souls.  I will honour each of them and the sacrifice they made.  May it not be in vain.  May something good come of this terrible thing that happened.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What a Day!

What a day!


I swear I moved more stuff today than we even own.  It was brutal.  It was not fun.

You see, my daughter and I bought a house.  Now typically, when one buys a house, said house is empty of all of the previous owner's possessions and ready to move into.  Makes sense, right?  People take their stuff with them when they move out.

Apparently, not everyone does this.  Some people... like the people we bought our house from, for example... leave all the crap they collected over the years and don't want to take with them behind.  They just leave it.  They make no attempt whatsoever to deal with it.  They just pick through their things and take only the stuff they really like and want to keep.

Last Friday - May 10th - we got the keys to the house.  We were so excited.  I had never seen it before, so I was really excited.  And nervous.  When we entered the house as ours for the first time we were stunned at all the stuff that was still in it.  There was a polite little note from the previous owners explaining that they had left "a few things we thought you might be able to use."

A few things?  A few?

I would hate to see their idea of a lot!

Closets and cupboards were full of stuff.  Food, electronics, instruments, cat food, dishes, vases, decorations, paint cans, tools, cosmetics, candles, plants...  One bin was filled with nail polish.  We could have gone into business with that alone!  It was nuts.

And the more we looked, the more we found.

The crawl space was crammed with scraps of wood and leftover tiles, linoleum and laminate flooring.  There was a pile of tiny pieces of gyproc each about 3" x 12".  A headboard, short lengths of molded plastic back splash, bits of wood and  plastic...  It just kept coming.  And coming.

There were no less than six weed wackers!    Mops and brooms and dust pans and even a vacuum cleaner!  Laundry baskets and laundry hampers.  Three floor fans in various stages of use and repair.  A guitar amp and a guitar.  A computer, a CD player, two sets of speakers, a sub-woofer and other various electronic gadgets.  A hand saw.  A hack saw. And a tile saw.  Clamps and a hammer.  Two socket sets - both nearly complete.  Bags of stuffed toys.  Giant stuffed toys - including a five-foot long neon orange and green squid.  (Which is kind of amazing, actually.)  And garbage!  Literal garbage.

It took three of us two days to gather, sort and organize the colossal pile of stuff.  I estimate that thirty hours of labour went into this wee project.  And about two percent of it was useful and worth keeping.  About two thirds of it went to the dump.  At a cost of $455 to get it picked up and hauled away.  A good pickup load or more is going to the thrift store.


I'm exhausted.  I ache all over.  My feet are threatening to go on strike.  My neck hurts.  My legs hurt.  And I just want to curl up and go to sleep.

I took photos of all the stuff and sent them to our Realtor.  I know it isn't her problem, but I thought I would ask if there was any way she could help us get compensation for the costs of dealing with all that stuff from the previous owners.  The poor woman was as shocked and disgusted as we were and is working on it for us.  Not sure what will come of it, but it is certainly worth a shot.  Had there really only been a "few" things, we would have been fine with it.  But this!  This is just ridiculous.

Thursday we get to do it all over again.  At least this time it will be to move our own stuff in, instead of schlepping someone else's stuff out.  I am so looking forward to getting this done.   But right now I'm going to go and tuck my grandkids into bed.  Then I'm going to follow suit and crawl into my own bed.

Good night, folks!

Friday, June 10, 2016

We Got Keys!

I was so nervous!  I mean nauseous nervous.

It was all I could do to hold back the tears and keep myself together.

We've been waiting for this day for ages, it seems.  And it arrived with yet another reality shift that gut punched me like Ali going for the heavy weight title.  I think I may be in shock.

At just after 4 p.m., the son of our Realtor knocked on the door and handed me the keys to our new house.  I had to sit down.  I had to take a deep breath.  In just a few short hours I would be seeing the house for the first time.

I have lived in thirteen different houses during my life.  This house will be #14.  Of all those places, I have only chosen one for myself; the one I left to move here.  I was so happy in my crazy house on Butler Avenue.  So proud of myself for being able to buy it.  And so thrilled that I got to pick it out.  It was a moment I will never forget.

My daughters picked this house.  Of course, they conferred with me during the process, but I got to actually see it for the first time today.

I unlocked the door and, together, Tracy and I carried Bizz over the threshold.  Which begged the question:  Why do grooms carry brides over the threshold?  None of us knew and I will get back to that a little later.

We entered our new home for the first time together.  It's lovely!  Relief washed over me along with a sense of being home again.  It was the same feeling I had when I first walked into Alegria on Butler Avenue five years ago.  The kitchen is kind of small, but it's functional.  I can see us having feasts and celebrations there.  I can see us laughing and crying and loving and comforting and encouraging each other there.  I can see us being a family there.  I can see us prospering there.

The house is relatively clean.  But the previous owners left us a ton of stuff to deal with.  Every cupboard we opened had something in it. There are bags of toys in the rec room.  There is food in the fridges and the freezers. Nick-nacks, speakers, stereo equipment, tools, a vacuum, step stools and ladders, roller skates... Even a guitar!... are littering cupboards and closets.  There is a ton of garbage, too.  We all wondered what they took with them.

Among the useful items are lawn mowers, a fantastic patio set, glasses and some outdoor storage bins.  But seriously, all this stuff kind of left us feeling a bit put out.  It all has to be sorted and distributed somewhere.  Somehow.  We really didn't need - much less want! - the extra work.

We won't be moving in for another week yet.  I'm both loathing and longing to pack and schlepp and sort and organize.  The added work of dealing with the detritus of the previous owners' lives is a bit of dark cloud hanging over us.  But we will find a silver lining in it.  Yard sale!?  Might as well get something for our efforts.

In the meantime I am going to focus on being home at last.  Sharing my life with Tracy, Bizz, Nolan and Jo is going to be fantastic.  (It already is.)

Now back to the aside about grooms and brides and thresholds...

It seems that back in the day, many marriages started out as kidnappings.  The only way a bride was going to cross a threshold was to be carried.  The current tradition, however, seems to stem from the Medieval European custom of carrying a bride over the threshold to demonstrate the bride's reluctance to lose her virginity.  But other cultures in other areas around the world also practice this gesture, not as a means of force or a show of modesty, but rather as a superstition.  It is believed by some that carrying a bride across a threshold will ward of evil spirits and thwart bad luck.

Our version - the double chair-lift carry - was just us being goofy.  But if it thwarts bad luck and wards off evil spirits... Well, so much the better for us.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Galaxy Cat - My Art After Dark Experience

I feel like a kid in a candy store.  As amusing as it may sound to some people, the city is filled with so many wonderful things to do.  The irony of my saying that is not lost on me.  I have shunned the idea of living in or even experiencing city life for nearly four decades.  Now here I am busily scanning the Net for events and meetups that might lead me to the next fun thing to try.

(Still haven't gone ax throwing.  But it remains high on the list.)

On June 7th, Bizz and I traveled to St. Albert to a lovely little wine and tapas bar called Privada.  This cozy little venue welcomed 15 wanna-be painters to an evening of guided art work.  The concept is really quite innovative.  An artist - in this case a young man named Tyler - creates a painting.  Interested participants register to re-create that painting step-by-step.  It's called Art After Dark.

The Art After Dark project that Bizz and I completed is called Galaxy Cat.  In a mere two hours we turned blank 18" x 24" canvases into rather stunning images of cat faces seemingly superimposed over a galactic background.  Our intrepid young instructor patiently encouraged us through the process, making us all feel comfortable and confident.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and one that I hope to repeat.

This is what I accomplished:

For anyone traveling in Alberta - specifically to St. Albert - Privada serves an amazing cup of coffee!  And their wine list is pretty impressive.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Welcome to the city.

Wow!  I am officially an...

Wait for it...


After two weeks of intense activity I find myself back in that time warp where things are moving fast AND taking forever.  We are still just over a week from taking possession of our new house and about two weeks from being able to move in. But how did it get to be the beginning of June already? And why is it taking so long to get finally moved and settled. Time has taken on a strange Twilight Zone-ian quality of late. LIfe has a surreal edge to it. I'm fascinated by everything, living in a constant state of wonder and awe.

Visual sensory input reached code overload yesterday. The city is huge. I am in a community of nearly 1 million people and everyone except me seems to know where they are going. I am just along for the ride. And I'm okay with that. At some point I will have to learn how to use a bus. Baby steps!

There is no end to the wonder of this city, though. Every day something new presents itself. Today it was a farmer's market. My big score: Spicy Banana Ketchup! Who knew? It's delicious. And while buying some incredible hand-made soap, the vendor gave me a free Anise lip balm.  

Yesterday, Tracy and I went to a fabulous coffee shop called Remedy. They serve Indian food and the lamb curry was sublime. The mango lassi was incredible! I can't wait to discover more places like this.

Adjusting to city life is going to take a while. For me and the pets. Chessa isn't doing too bad, but Oliver and Kaya are still traumatized. Oliver has been hiding since we got here, though he did come out today for a snuggle and some food. We figure that just about the time they all settle down and accept this place, we'll pack them up and move them to the new house. Trauma times two! Life with three cats, three dogs, a tortoise and two kids makes for a lively time.  

Well, I'm sure I will have lots more to talk about in the coming weeks and months. I'm sure that I could live here for the rest of my life and still not experience the whole city.  

But I'll be giving it my best shot!