Spring is clearly the best

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Ah!  Pollen… sniff…sniff… cough, I mean spring, is in the air! I love this time of year even though it doesn’t love me. Each morning Scooter and I take our Claritin and hope for the best.  Sniff!  Cough-cough!

While I receive no further pharmaceutical aid, Scooter is also on Prednisone and fish oil supplements. Another story for another day. He’s getting to be pretty high-maintenance, but I take care of him because no one else adores me the way he does. Picture a long-haired black and brown dachshund with the body of a basset hound; that’s my mutt.  He’s not small by any stretch, but insists on being at my feet all day–often causing minor injury to us both.  That aside, I’m blessed to have such a friend.

But I was talking about spring . . . it’s difficult to focus.  I’m not “Claritin clear” yet. For your sake, I hope it kicks in soon.

One of the things I love about spring is the constant assortment of fresh flowers on my kitchen table. To the untrained eye, they would appear to be old plastic cups full of weeds. To me, they’re much more.

I have fond memories of some very short people with chubby little hands bringing me fists full of “flowers”.  Most of the blooms wild (those small white flowers that shoot up nice and tall about the time the yard needs mowing and Jeff’s nemesis, dandelions), but there were  always sprigs that were undoubtedly weeds. My young floral designers knew beauty when they saw it and always included greenery in their arrangements. If I listened carefully, they’d tell me what caught their eye and why they chose to include it in their masterpieces.

Over the years, small, plastic toddler cups served as the receptacles for their botanical creations. On my luckiest days, there would be as many as three adorning the table—one from each child. Here’s the great part: I still have those little plastic “vases” and some very tall people with not so chubby hands still fill them.  

I’ve gone through my kitchen cabinets many times culling out items that are no longer needed. Every time I run across those cups my heart smiles and put them back in their rightful place. Then I tear up as I remember toddlers waddling to the cabinets pushing a small chair and climbing up on the counter top to retrieve a “vase”.  I’d run over, grab the squirmy little body, gently admonish such upward mobility and assist in the trip down.

I stood looking out the kitchen window this past week and watched my youngest, a ten year old girl, as she picked flowers from the yard. As sweet and angelic as she looked, I had to wonder why she couldn’t be as attentive in picking up her dirty laundry from the bathroom floor. But with a clear vision of where I knew the contents of her hands would rest, I realized that while I can’t have everything, plastic cups full of weeds sure make me feel like I do.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Much ado about nothing

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home, Life with children

Last week will go down as one of the best spring breaks ever.  Why? Because the only item on our agenda was to do what suited us in the moment, even if the desired activity was inactivity – a rare treat. In the absence of all the things that devour our time, not filling that void was akin to walking in an unfurnished room – one that awaited the homey feeling only a family can provide. And not one of us cared if the drapes didn’t coordinate with the rug or if the sofa didn’t “go” with the chairs.   

The much-needed break started out with cold, raw weather that was not at all what spring breakers hope for. However, I was thrilled. On a couple of those nasty days, we were slothful and pajamas were the uniform. I didn’t fight the soft rain, dark skies, or warm beds; I couldn’t. I was nearly comatose, but lucid enough to enjoy laziness not normally allowed by three children, a home, a dog, a cat, and two hamsters.  

Simultaneous with the clearing of the weather, we were refreshed by our mini hibernation and ready to get out and enjoy whatever the days would bring. The slate was clean; we were running the schedule instead of the reverse.  It was a feeling money can’t buy, and thank goodness for that as I’m certain our elected leaders would find a way of taxing it otherwise.

Early on, Jeff and I enjoyed a quiet lunch at the new Arby’s (food and service were excellent) followed by home-project shopping at Lowes – without children. Pure bliss!   

We took the kids bowling one evening. I broke 100 (a personal best for me even with the bumpers up) and beat the pants off the whole family with my high score of 116! I wasn’t able to perform as well and came in last on the following game, even with bowling-league extraordinaire Paul Barrow giving me a few pointers from the lane beside ours.  

On St. Patrick’s Day, we tried our luck on the greens of the Chambers County Golf Course with our two youngest children. When the cold fog burned off it was a beautiful day . . . no, it was a perfect day. There’s nothing like the serenity on a golf course.  I messed it up at one point when my ten-year-old daughter made an incredible shot. I jumped out of the cart clapping and yelled, “Great shot!” It wasn’t that prissy golf clap, either. Apologies to those who suffered during my breach in etiquette.

One day, we took in a couple of movies at our leisure, while on another the kids played outside until dark. Yard work was done, cars washed, lemonade drank, and sunshine abounded. No worries, no schedule, no clock hands directing our every move.

In this age of fast-tracking everything, it was heavenly to not only slow down, but stop altogether. By taking a break from obsessing over daily minutiae, the economy, bad news, crisis du jour, I’m reminded that life’s pretty darn good . . . even on a bad day.

I highly recommend spending time filling empty spaces . . . I promise you’ve got nothing better to do.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley


Spring break the monotony

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Spring break is already over for some, but for others it’s just beginning.

Recall that me, myself, and I comprise the sitting Board for the Whatley Entertainment Committee. We resigned numerous times only to be re-appointed. I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  

In advance of the week-long holiday that gives a much-needed reprieve from monotonous schedules, I started gathering budget-friendly entertainment ideas.  During my search, I realized there are probably a few people wondering what do with the kiddos all week. Since we’re friends, I’ll share the fruits of my labor.

In-Baytown outings: Gray Wetlands Center is open M-F 9-4 and Sat. 10-4; picnic at one of the city parks – Roseland spray park is now open; Sterling Municipal Library has its regular children’s time along with Teen Book Club meeting this week, check www.baytownlibrary.org for details; Baytown Historical Museum located at 220 W. Defee is open Tues.-Sat. from 10-2 – visited recently and was pleasantly surprised by all the interesting exhibits.  And, the Foreman’s at Max Bowl East always “let the good times roll”; see www.maxbowl.com/east/  for specials. 

San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas: Kids love climbing all over the Battleship and the museum portion of the Monument is a must-see for any self-respecting Texan. Ample picnic areas have plenty of room for kids to run and play.  Find more information at www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/sanjac/ .

Space Center Houston:  All new adventure “Treasure!” It’s pirate-themed entertainment that won’t make your wallet scream ARGH!  “Lucky Loot” half-price tickets are available through April 1. Also performing until March 22 are the All American Dive Team, and Sponge Bob and Patrick Star live.  Further details and ticket information/purchase available at www.spacecenter.org .

Happy news: The Kemah Boardwalk is up and running for the most part. Check www.kemahboardwalk.com for specifics.  The Flying Dutchman, stingray reef, and play zone are still closed due to Ike, but due to reopen this month.

Schlitterbahn Galveston reopened March 14.  If you’ve not been, you’re missing out.  It’s fun for all ages, and I guarantee a good night’s sleep afterwards. Life jackets are available for little ones, but many bring their own.  You can bring your own ice chest and food, but no glass containers or alcohol allowed. Your bags/coolers will be checked upon entry. Tables are plentiful in areas all over the park. I highly recommend purchasing your tickets online (print, and skip the ticket line) at www.schlitterbahn.com/gal/  where you’ll also find complete information on the park.

Moody Gardens, still undergoing some Ike repairs (website says rainforest pyramid closed until April), will reopen the IMAX theater on March 14, and the aquarium will feature “Penguin Encounter”. Details: www.moodygardens.com .

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will be at Reliant Center until March 22. March 18 is a “value day” where ticket prices are discounted. Kids can enjoy all kinds of interactive exhibits, looking at livestock, petting various animals, carnival rides, and the expertise of the many on hand ready to discuss their agricultural work. And, don’t miss the pig races! Full details can be found at www.hlsr.com .

Opening in movie theaters March 13: Disney’s “Race to Witch Mountain”, rated PG.  “Family oriented sci-fi adventure that tells the story of two alien visitors . . . searching for their lost spaceship”. This is a remake of the 1975 Disney movie “Escape to Witch Mountain”.  By the trailer it looks to be a great story remade with modern movie-making technology.

Other places that make fun day trips include: The Houston Zoo, The Houston Museum of Natural Science, The Museum of Fine Arts and The Children’s Museum of Houston which promises the “ultimate playground for your mind” and also celebrated its expansion grand opening on March 14.  Information on nearly half-price tickets to six famous Houston Attractions, including the ones just mentioned can be found at www.citypass.com/city/houston.html .  The “city pass” is great for grandparents wishing to take different children to different places.

There’s no telling where I’ll end up, but I hope to see you there!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

My internal clock houses one crazy bird

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me, National

Last night, while most of us enjoyed some shut-eye, we all took a short trip into the future thanks to daylight saving time. (There’s a lengthy, confusing, grammatical explanation for why it’s “saving” without the “s”. I’ll spare you the details if you’ll spare me the “gotcha” e-mail over what may appear an error.) Of course we didn’t really travel through time, but it did get me thinking of how cool it would be if we could wander around the past and future by manipulating our clocks. Which also led me to ask: If I could travel in time, would I? Would you?

My initial thought: a resounding yes!  But since our past, mistakes and all, brings us to the present, one would need to consider the ramifications of changing even minor decisions. Plus there’s the “grandfather paradox” in time travel where one could theoretically alter her self out of existence.  The physics behind avoiding that is more than my pea-brain can handle. However, I’d love to go back, visit, and hang out with our founding fathers while they hashed out The Declaration of Independence and later, our Constitution. I’d be embarrassed to report the mess we’ve made, but maybe they’d have some ideas on how to clean up.   

While time travel remains an unsolved problem in physics, physicists argue that one-way time travel into the future is at least arguably possible given time dilation, a phenomenon whereby an observer finds that another clock, identical to their own, is ticking away at a slower rate. If I understand that correctly, I can travel to the future, but would be unable to return.

I have mixed feelings about seeing the future, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck there. But lately my mind is full of weighty matters I’d love to see resolved. Not knowing how things will turn out causes me a bit of anxiety, but then again, if I knew for certain things turned out badly, wouldn’t the anxiety be worse? Would I become complacent living with the knowledge things turned out well, thus changing that end also?  Deep stuff.

All the mind-boggling physics aside, daylight saving time was brought about for practical reasons. The Germans were the first to use it, and the United States initially put it into practice during World War I. It was suspended afterwards, and reinstituted during World War II, only to be suspended again after energy needs lessened after war production.

In 1966, the U.S. Uniform Time Act mandated nationwide implementation of daylight saving time. Prior to that, communities decided whether or not to follow; there are stories of train conductors changing their watches seven times over 35 miles! I suppose something needed to be done. Since then, time policies have been tinkered with over the years.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 lengthened daylight saving time, and went into effect in 2008. Proponents claimed the move would save ten thousand barrels of oil per day. After using the longer standard last year for the first time, the Department of Energy now says the energy savings are relatively small. And, doctors say the lengthened daylight saving time wreaks havoc on our internal clocks by “springing forward” before the vernal equinox — the official beginning of spring, and also when the hours of sunlight and darkness are close to equal.  For a few weeks, our mornings will be very dark. I sort of feel like a lab rat.

So, as I wake up to the first morning of this year where we took an hour here, and put it there, am I suffering the after-effects of time dilation? Nah, my pupils are just huge because it’s really dark. But I saw myself waking up in an hour.  Cuckoo!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Ordering an evacuation

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

For months I planned to bring this topic back to the forefront of your minds no earlier than March 1 and was a little peeved last Monday, February 23, to find that Governor Perry designated that week as Severe Weather Awareness Week.  It was just plain tacky (along the same lines as wearing white shoes after Labor Day) given many of this region are still dealing with Hurricane Ike’s aftermath. He swiped the boom from my clout, uh, maybe that should be cloud. Either way, uncouth.    

Early last September, watching Ike stumble about, fairly convinced we were in the clear, I hatched out a brilliant evacuation/survival plan I’m certain will serve me well as I live out my years on the Gulf Coast. (I have requested Jeff provide retirement accommodations at least outside of the evacuation zones.  At 38, I feel like I’m already too old for the hurricane business, and I don’t see myself handling it much better at 98. You do know 98 will be the new retirement age, right? It’s in the fine print of the stimulus package.)

 Anyway, I withheld the details of my plan because upon my submission deadline we were preparing for certain devastation. Instead, I gave a pep talk of sorts. (If you guys could have seen me you wouldn’t have been pepped much.  I was cowering in a corner, chewing my fingernails and babbling incoherently.)

WARNING: The following is solely for your entertainment. I have no special training or education in the areas of meteorology, public safety, or public planning. Please do not substitute any statement made below for your own well-thought-out plans.

With that requisite covering of my posterior, I’ll proceed without further ado.

A great deal of time was spent dissecting my storm fears as I found it necessary to determine the specific points that blew me into an unhealthy mental state. It was determined a thorough education on hurricanes was in order. I don’t harbor much fear in things I can wrap my mind around. Major progress was made as I researched surface winds, steering currents, how storms interact with various water temperatures and depths, and analysis of computer models.

Feeling empowered and armed with a great deal of information, I found a cure for what ails me: I will be evacuating my senses during the official hurricane season from June 1 through November 30. Envision one of those “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” statuettes. I’m in the process of devising a system that will alert me to a storm being in my general vicinity no more than 72 hours out. At that point only, I’ll ask for a report from the designated weather watcher: Jeff. I’ll do what needs to be done, but not worry over it one second before it’s time.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that the wall-to-wall coverage of a storm 10-plus days out from an unknown landfall was causing me to lose it. I’m a planner of the highest order and have done everything humanly possible to prepare. But listening to all the pontificating and “what ifs” does nothing except make me nervous.  

I also learned on my journey to the center of my psyche, that it’s not the storms I fear, but rather the mandatory evacuations. Thank you, Rita.  I know my home and my personal geography and have a good idea of what both can withstand. Yes, I’m aware I’ll have to live without running water and electricity . . . life throws far worse.

My evacuation plan isn’t suitable for everyone.  So, get together with your friends and family and hash out what you’ll do. Start picking up supplies now. . . it’ll be here before we know it.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley