Monthly Archives: August 2010

Toe Biters

I’m just going to tell you right now, straight-up, there is no point to this post. I don’t want to lead anyone on. There is no moral or important information to be gleaned. Perhaps it could be considered part of my insect series or maybe it could be classified as a cautionary tale. It doesn’t really matter why I’m telling you this little story. Like many traumatic experiences, I’m compelled to share. It’s part of my healing.

I’ve been swimming in the lake on the island all my life. There are few things I love more than diving into a giant cool body of water on a hot day. I love the initial sting of cold that takes my breath away. I usually dive off the dock and sprint until I no longer need to scream in pain. Then I slow it down a notch until I feel like I can breathe again. Eventually when I’m about half way across the lake I turn around. I wear goggles and dive deep, swimming underwater for most of my return, watching the sunlight refract, lighting algae like dust particles in a patch of sunshine.

By the time I get back to the beach area, I’m usually swimming among the milfoil looking for the rainbow trout that lurks just under the dock. I came face to face with him once, the day after he took off with my olive wooly bugger fly. Of course, I don’t know it was the same fish, but it happened right there and he looked guilty. 

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was holding Josie’s hand as she flung herself off the dock… Wait, that’s not really how it happened. I was pulling Josie out of the deep water after she’d refused my hand and jumped off the dock when I felt something nudging my calf. I looked down and saw what looked like a pinecone. It’s not unusual to come into contact with the occasional minnow, tadpole or a drifting leaf. I couldn’t really identify this thing but I shook it away and went back to my flailing child. A few minutes later it was back and this time it had legs. I looked closer. It was unidentifiable and like nothing I had ever seen. I screeched like a fourteen year old girl and jumped onto the dock. My childhood friend and my husband both rolled their eyes. I searched the water to defend myself, but nothing.  

The next day we went back to the lake, and this time there’s something in the bucket on the dock. I lean over and take a look. It’s about 2.5 – 3 inches long and greenish brown with legs, several of them, and big pinchers on its head. It’s bumping into the walls of the bucket, just like it was bumping into my leg the day before. I collect my redemption from the husband and the childhood friend (see!) and leave Josie to put her head in the bucket to holler unintelligible garble at the bug.  

I’ve seen pinchers like that before. We were in Namibia eating at a picnic table when our truck driver hollered and jumped onto his bench. We moved the furniture and he showed us the big black bug that had bitten his toe. (A few minutes later he said: If you see one like that with a white stripe, run. It can shoot poison in your eyes from 3 feet.) This one was a different color but its pinchers looked just the same.

That night I dreamt about those pinchers and in the morning I Googled ‘big water beetle.’ Sure enough, the giant water bug lives in fresh water lakes, eats tadpoles and small fish, lays eggs by the hundreds and is also commonly known as the toe biter.

My lake swimming will never be the same, but now that I’ve shared, perhaps the healing can begin.

Old News

I read this article a few weeks ago about Avastin, which was at one time thought to be the great white hope for breast cancer. The article said the trial was abandoned because the tumors weren’t responding.

The article, of course, was factual, clinical as it should have been. It was in the New York Times after all. But I still felt duped and a little cheated that it didn’t say a word about Dena or Kelli or Emily or that it had been Emily’s last chance. It didn’t say anything about Emily’s last trip to Hawaii before the tumor in her abdomen officially took her life. It didn’t say anything about the pineapple upside down cake she served at her 30th birthday party, or her unintended last meal of peanut butter and jelly. It didn’t mention that she had begged to receive the drug even though it hadn’t been approved or proven. It didn’t say a thing about how excited she was to get it or how unresponsive her tumor was. It didn’t say anything about Emily, nothing at all.

I’ll Always Make Time

A few months ago I woke to reports of a storm blowing through town. Puffs to 40 knots expected.  Josie was sick. I was supposed to be leaving town in a few days. I did not have the time or energy to get beat up and dumped in the lake, but I would have for two reasons. First, my teammates would be there waiting for me. Second, I love it.

I love how it feels when the rigging groans and lurches in response to a puff, how the boat lifts off the water, popping onto a plane like a ski boat, how the water sprays directly out from the hull like a hose, how it skips over the water, how it feels to have your body extended, arched over the lake, how the boat hums, happy, how you realize, every time, that your fate is not your own – it’s all wind and sails and boat and all you can do is keep your body out and aft, and ignore the burning in your thighs and hang on to the vang, and be ready to throw your leg over the rail if and when the mast hits the water. I’ll always make time. 

But that afternoon my skipper calls. Our third teammate has thrown his back out, the boat needs re-rigging and, he’s also heard that it’s supposed to blow, hard. He thinks we should skip it. I’m both relieved and disappointed.

Later that afternoon, I watch the southerly blow up the lake, filling in at 5:00 pm – going from 0 to 15 knots in a few minutes’ time. I’m in the kitchen making soup for my mother and I take a second to write on his wall: “It’s here! 0 to 15 in just a few minutes.” A mutual friend I sailed with in college comments Oh you guys are going to have so much fun tonight!

In college we practiced every Tuesday, Thursday, some Fridays and anytime the wind was blowing more than 20 knots. The impromptu practices were never coordinated, we just showed up, simultaneously abandoning the warm libraries and lecture halls for the ice cold excitement of a fall, winter or spring afternoon sail.  

I have fond memories of those days. I remember my skipper missing his hiking strap and rolling right over the side of the boat into the water on a frigid March day. I remember being so hypothermic that I couldn’t get out of my gear – a friend had to pull off my neoprene and gortex spray top so I could get into the sauna. I remember being rescued from the icy water of Long Island Sound. I remember watching my fellow sailors finish a race sitting on top of their overturned boat. I remember sitting on top of my overturned boat while my skipper swam after our rudder which had broken loose and was floating away. I remember a non-sailor friend asking me at what point we cancelled practice or racing because there was too much wind. I remember not understanding the question.

My college friend who commented doesn’t race much these days. She remembers what it used to be, like the friend that moves out of town in her late twenties, before everyone has kids, and thinks life is the way it was before she left. Like you’re still seeing each other every weekend, going out when really you’re putting the babies to bed, watching Mad Men on DVD in your respective houses and falling asleep by 10:00.

I comment back to my friend that we aren’t going out sailing, bad backs, sick babies and mothers, bags to be packed, dinners to be made and, besides, it’s supposed to be too windy. She says “too windy, what do you mean?”

Back to School

News flash: Labor Day is in 3 weeks. It’s time to buy a new lunchbox! Even if you aren’t in school, wouldn’t you like a new lunchbox anyway? Shouldn’t we all get a new one each year? I recently bought myself a tiffin and I love it. It’s a great way to pack a salad or strawberries for the beach. It makes me so happy.

Of course our good friends at the Environmental Working Group have put together a back-to-school shopping guide complete with recommendations and materials to avoid. Here are some highlights from their report and some of my own recommendations.

Lunch boxes and bags – Since these touch food, it’s important to get something that is BPA , PVC, phthalate and lead-paint free.

  • EWG recommends these   
  • Look at these adorable bags on Etsy 
  • Or a bento lunchbox

Sandwich bags – Reusable.

Water bottles – Stainless steel is the way to go.

Backpacks – EWG recommends one made of natural fibers, nylon or polyester instead of plastic.

Art supplies – From the EWG site: “Paints should be water-based to avoid solvents and colored with natural, non-metal pigments. Don’t buy polymer clays that stay soft at room temperature or can be hardened in a home oven — they’re made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and often contain phthalates.”

  • I just came across Clementine Art at the grocery store . I haven’t tried their stuff but it looks awesome and is all non-toxic.

Complete Report — For the complete report and more info on markers, pencils, paper and notebooks click here.  

You guys have any good recommendations?

Book Exchange

It seems like it’s about time to make myself useful, that I should impart some great knowledge or research findings. There’s just one problem. This book. I’m trapped and I can’t get out. Not only is David Sedaris on CD occupying my limited free brain space in the car, but at home it’s all about the book. I dream of the end of the day when I can go to bed and read it. That’s all I want.

I love a good epic, multi-generational tale, one that starts with the narrator’s grandparents immigrating to foreign lands usually, but not always, in times of war or disaster, on cargo ships surviving illnesses like tuberculosis and scurvy. I love almost any story that involves scurvy, except those that involve Ernest Shackleton and the eating of pets. I love present narrators – narrators as characters – who talk to me and tell me their stories. I love stories that end lifetimes later with the realization and loss of love, not always the romantic kind. This book fills all of these requirements. It might just make the list of my top 3 favorite books of all time.

The list:

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

And now: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

What are your top 3? Don’t cheat. Only 3. They don’t have to be literary or lofty; they only have to make you happy. Tell me.


Scenes from the weekend. Seriously? One measly crab and raindrops in the bucket? I’m not impressed, August, not impressed at all. 

It’s time for some randomness.

First, I’ve been listening to David Sedaris reading Barrel Fever while driving in my car. I’m in such a good mood all the time. I laugh at odd times, away from my car and alone. I think it’s his funniest work, and it’s so much better when he reads it aloud. Glenn’s Homophobia Newsletter. You Can’t Kill the Rooster. I just hear the titles and really don’t need to hear anything else.

Another thing that is bringing me great joy: Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss. I haven’t met an ice cream I liked this much in years. It’s made of coconut milk so if you’re not a fan, you probably won’t like it. If you do like coconut, try it, cappuccino in particular. Don’t let the dairy-free and sugar-free business fool you. It’s good.

The final thing that is making me happy… I recently survived my sister’s mattress quest. Oh, it was painful and drawn out for both of us. There were several calls and emails of links and me going no, no, no. We don’t want their special “green tea moisture reducer” or whatever other crap the mattress is treated with. Finally, with a little help from my good friend Google we found this place in Berkley that sells untreated kids’, inner spring mattresses for $400. It’s just a basic mattress with a natural flame barrier (wool) that still meets all government standards without chemicals. When I called they said they don’t advertise it because they make it themselves and she doesn’t think they could keep up with demand (?!). Seriously, anyone looking for a business idea? Here’s a red hot tip: make a cheap chemical-free kids mattresses. Doesn’t have to be organic, doesn’t have to be fancy, just chemical free. In the meantime, I’m not sure if these guys ship but it’s worth asking.

Have a lovely week!

Those Delicious Summer Nights

There are a few nights a year when it’s hot enough on the island to sleep outside. I love those nights. I pull the old futon mattress out from under the bed, pitch it from the loft onto the couch downstairs then drag it outside to the far end of the deck. I lay out a blanket, pillow, sleeping bag, and nestle in. It’s always cool out there in the evening unlike the loft where all the heat of the day collects and waits.

A few weeks ago, I had one of these delicious nights. Sortly after my head hit the pillow my friend the brown bat came to visit, flitting overhead in the fading light. In the middle of the night I got up to use the bathroom and when I came back I startled a heron from a nearby Douglas fir, sending him into an awkward, squawky flight. Then I fell back to sleep to the sound of the water shuffling the rocks on the beach. I slept soundly until I woke to a screech.

It sounded like cats or rats fighting on the beach. There was a sound that was kind of a rattle and kind of a growl. It was a little like purring only mad – really mad – and then more screeching and the sounds of nocturnal animal bodies crashing into the rocks. This went on and on. I tried to picture them; at least one was a river otter. Maybe they were both otters. One could also have been a raccoon or maybe some kind of rat. I wondered what they were fighting over. Turf? Dominance? The remote? Who would do the dishes or fold the last load of laundry? Did someone forget to take the garbage out again? (Perhaps I over-react.)

Turf. It was probably turf. Maybe one of the otters had a totally swank den, a totally private little haven on a point with views of three other islands, where the beach transitioned from rock to pebbles to sand, next to the cove where the crabbing was best. Maybe someone else wanted their little piece of paradise. I hoped they’d work it out, for the sake of my sleep and for them, but I could hardly blame them. It was worth fighting for. When it continued on and on I finally got up, dragged my sleeping bag inside and climbed the stairs to my perfect, cooled-off den.

Lice. Ew.

I seem to be on an insect-related writing spree. First mosquitoes, now lice, and I have a special treat coming up for you, a nearly complete post about giant water beetles!

Of course, this is all really my love of bug-eating bats shining through. After my last bat-related post, Marilyn, sent me a story about Mexican Free-tailed Bats carrying bombs into Japanese cities during WWII. It makes perfect sense. They can carry weight, they fly at night, they hide in dark, obscure corners, and then… boom. A dentist came up with the idea and sent a letter to the White House. Can you imagine? Dear Mr. President…

I’m getting off track. The insect of the day is lice! They’re transferred from head to head contact and there’s an estimated 6-12 million infestations every year mostly in children between the ages of 3 and 12. Children are most commonly treated with Rid or Nix. These shampoos include insecticides that kill the bugs and their eggs. Because the lice are becoming resistant to these treatments, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending each infested child be treated with the insecticide three times.

Of course these shampoos contain toxic chemicals that kill the bugs and are absorbed through the skin. At high doses they can cause short-term side effects like nausea and vomiting and long-term side effects like hormone disruption and cancer.

So, what to do…

  • Depending on where you live, you can hire someone to come take care of it for you. She uses non-toxic products and sells them online too.
  • Of course there’s manual removal with a lice comb and my favorite hair blog had a few other suggestions. Be sure to read through the comments. One person recommends tea tree oil and another recommends rinsing with Listerine.
  • One friend sent a link to this product: Has anyone tried it?
  • This Wall Street Journal article suggests rubbing Cetaphil skin lotion into the hair and letting it dry in an effort to suffocate the bugs before washing them out.

I have not yet experienced the joy of a lice infestation as a parent. I hear that lice is less common in children with African American, tightly-coiled hair. I’m hanging on to that hope.

Any of you have any experience to share? Any tricks that work?