Wine and Cheese and Frogs, Oh My!

In addition to addressing work-life balance issues in my life, I’m also trying to think outside the box more in terms of gifts. This is especially true for my husband, who is picky and difficult to buy for. Usually, if there’s something he wants or needs, he buys it for himself! For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me because I had so much trouble picking out gifts for him (and especially since he gives such lavish gifts – one year, I got a baby grand piano!) But his mother told me that she’s always had a hard time buying gifts for him, which is why she mostly gifts him cash for birthdays and Christmas.

Other people I know – married couples who have been together for a long time – also have told me how difficult it gets each year to think of the perfect gift for Christmas or a birthday. And the longer you’re together, the more stuff you have, to the point where many, like my parents, are trying to get rid of stuff. Every time I’m at my parents’ house, my mother’s asking me if I want to take home a lamp or ceramic duck or something she’s trying to get rid of.

For Brad’s birthday, I decided it might be more fun for us to do something together versus buying him more gifts (and he’s got gift cards I’ve given him that he’s never used – he just gave me a gift card that I had given him several Christmases ago! He cancelled him gym membership, so he can’t use it). We receive catalogs from the Houston Arboretum for classes. I had attended a class there before on making chocolate desserts, of all things, and thought the wine and cheese and frogs event they held on a Saturday evening in late June might be something fun and educational. Something different from sitting on the couch, watching the same movies we’ve seen before on cable.

I was worried that Brad wouldn’t enjoy the event, or that we might be the only people there. But I was wrong – Brad did enjoy it, and there was a good turnout. We thoroughly enjoyed the wine and cheese (one lady enjoyed the wine a bit too much – I’m surprised she didn’t fall in the pond when we later went to look for critters). They also had cookies and chocolate, which I couldn’t resist.

The presentation kicked off after everyone had had some food and drink. There was a good overview of the Houston Arboretum’s founding and its mission before our speaker launched into the frogs portion of his talk. I found it quite educational – to be honest, a frog has just always looked like a frog to me, but there’s quite a variety of them, even on the Gulf Coast. Besides the American Bullfrog, there’s the Common Gray, the Bronze Frog, the Green Treefrog, and the Southern Leopard Frog. The speaker was funny – it definitely was a lively conversation, with people asking questions and laughing.

I also learned that the American bullfrog can grow to be quite large (think cat-size) and doesn’t just sit on a lily pond, munching on flies. Bullfrogs eat spiders, scorpions, birds – and even other frogs! I found out all this in the National Geographic video that was played during the presentation. It was eye opening! (and frogs can also regenerate not only their eyes, but other body parts – something I wish humans could do). I am aware that varieties of poisonous frogs do exist, but I had always assumed that the deadly versions of these creatures existed in places I will never likely visit, like the outer reaches of the Amazon rain forest. If I were really paranoid, it would be something else to worry over.

After the presentation, we were split into two groups and marched out onto the grounds to the first pond we would visit. Our guide played different frog calls, and we did hear some frogs respond back. Some people said they also saw a snake, but I couldn’t see much. Ambient light from Houston’s downtown skyline can be seen in the arboretum, but it was quite dark at the first pond, and being unfamiliar with the grounds, I felt completely disoriented. It got a little frustrating, trying to listen for frogs and see things. Our guide would shine light on trees, saying that a spider or some creature was there – I couldn’t see anything! Everyone else could (or said they could), and it made me wonder if my vision is even worse that I think it is.

I realize then that the National Geographic video (and nature shows on TV and Michael Bay movies) have spoiled me for actually experiencing nature. The nature shows present nature as very dramatic and savage – lions taking down zebras, great white sharks launching into the air off South Africa — and action movies in general seemed to have evolved into films that are thin on story lines but big on deafening explosions and death-defying stunts. It’s not enough to educate people anymore — you have to wow them with action.

After the National Geographic video – like I am after watching Air Jaws for the umpteenth time or Die Hard — I was revved up for action! I wanted to see drama! I wanted to see some of these dreaded bullfrogs leap out of nowhere and try to take out some of the snakes and spiders that we were supposedly seeing (or take out the person who kept bumping into the back of me).

Instead, there was no action (and no Bruce Willis chasing killer bullfrogs). Just a humid, surprisingly quiet Houston evening (it’s amazing how close the arboretum is to downtown and how quiet it is), with frogs chirping every now and then and creatures supposedly lurking around. I didn’t seem much of anything – I guess the arboretum’s creatures weren’t ready for their closeups. It felt very anti-climactic after the presentation and video. I was bummed (partly a letdown from the wine, maybe). I didn’t get to see nature in action. Granted, it was just an evening about frogs, but dammit, I wanted some action!

We had to wait back at the nature center to see the second pond (the second group didn’t follow instructions and charged on ahead.) People began disappearing as the evening came towards its end – some decided they’d had enough of stumbling around in the dark, or went elsewhere to drink more wine. I think one person got lost (or maybe a bullfrog got them). We stuck it out until the third pond. Our guide did show us a photo of a crayfish he’d snapped in what looked more like marsh versus pond. By then, it was almost 10:30, and we were tuckered out.

Someone recently told me that I have an adventurous side that I need to indulge every so often to break up the routine of work, gym and mundane chores. It’s true that I do have an adventurous side – a friend commented once that I was always up for trying new things – but the evening of walking through the dark, looking for frogs, sounded cooler than it actually was. Granted, my husband did have a good time (and wants to go back, but during the day), but I’m starting to wonder if the explorer side of me is mellowing. I still want to have adventures (I’ve got a long bucket list of countries I want to visit) but I find myself wanting to do things I didn’t use to do, like be in be at a reasonable hour or actually taking the time to prepare for trips into the woods.

I’ve always loved watching nature shows and travel shows, and have always said I would go out and visit exotic places. But given finances, geopolitics, and my increasing need for a certain level of comfort, I wonder if my grand tour of the pyramids or the rainforests will end up being from a LazyBoy in my living room.






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