Dust balls, pies and toads

It sure is dusty around here.

I know it's been a while -- a long while -- since I was here last, but I've been pretty busy and haven't had time to write. Or do my nails. Or floss. Or pay bills.

Life with four kids, one of whom being a busy toddler, has really sucked up my free time. Sometimes I like to fantasize that I get paid to do laundry, cook and clean, but sadly it's not the case.

Even at minimum wage, I'd be rich, you know.

I've also been a little busy with my quest to dominate my local Fourth of July pie bake-off. I spent a whole year learning how to make homemade pies with the goal to dethrone the cocky old lady with the chip on her shoulder who won the contest for the past ten years.

Having never baked a homemade (or as I like to say, "ho-made") pie before, I had my work cut out for me. After baking nearly 50 pies in 52 weeks, my Classic Cherry Pie won first place in the fruit division. And while I didn't win Best of the Best, the top honor when to a sweet young girl and not last year's winner. (Hoo-rah!)

Anyhow, spending every last minute (and spare dime) baking pies can really take it out of you. Which is why I haven't made it over here in a while.

A lot's happened in the past year.

My fresh-faced, darling twin daughters finished their first year of middle school and have emerged iPod-wielding, Bieber-loving, flat-iron using preteens.

They're nearly unrecognizable.

Where once they loved me unconditionally, now these tweeny boppers are constantly trying to work me over. They've always go their hands out, palms outstretched for this or that. And there's no sense of gratitude either. As soon as we enter a store, they try to unload me.

"Mind if I just go hang out by the books?"

They're embarrassed to be seen with me, which I try to not take to personally because I remember trying to ditch my own mom 26 years ago.

Sweet Pea isn't a baby anymore. She's all toddler.

One minute she's sweet, cuddly and adorable, and the next she's a screaming banshee. She's not a bad kid -- she's just a year and a half. She doesn't have the words to get what she wants. And since she cannot carry on a civilized discussion, she resorts to screaming, throwing things and occasionally biting to communicate her needs.

It's what she does.

The boy, Crowbar, is seven and just finished first grade. This past spring, he lost his training wheels and found a new pet -- a toad he named Spiderman.

A note about Spiderman:

Spiderman was a wild toad we found hopping around in a window well a few months ago. Crowbar had been angling for a pet of his own (I'd already ruled out snakes, birds and lizards) and this was one pet who 1) cost nothing and 2) could eventually be turned lose outside guilt-free.

And so, we pulled out our old aquarium (RIP Stella the Gerbil, 2007-2009), made a little toad habitat, and dropped Spiderman inside.

After a few days, I suddenly remembered that Spiderman needed to eat, so I sent the kids out to find some bugs. They returned empty-handed because 1) they were too creeped out to touch bugs and 2) they argued that the only bugs they weren't afraid of are lightning bugs, which are too gentle and sweet to feed to a toad.

Annoyed, I took Crowbar to the pet store where the kind sales clerk told us we could feed Spiderman giant meal worms in lieu of bugs.

Annoyed and disgusted, I turned to young Crowbar and made him swear on my own grave that he would be the official Giant Meal Work Wrangler in our house, sparing me of the dreadful job.

He swore he would and extended his hand to shake on the deal.

I handed over $3.16 (yes, it's cheaper to fill my gas tank with giant meal worms) and we left with a small tub of the creepy critters.

And so, every other day, we give Spiderman four giant meal worms, depositing them neatly on a little white sour cream container lid. We watch as he hops out of his little hiding spot and snaps them up, one by one.

Despite our deal, Crowbar feeds his toad only about half the time, leaving me to do the awful deed. And over the past few weeks, we've robbed Spiderman of any natural instinct to hunt for food -- his idea of hunting now is hopping over to the lid and waiting for something to happen -- eliminating one of the biggest pros of owning the little bugger -- the whole letting it go guilt-free thing.

So, I've kind of had my hands full.

Hopefully now that the pie thing is over, I'll have more time on my hands.

You know, to mop floors and whatnot.

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