Month: November 2011

Flat Tires and Gratitude

I suppose I could blame the flat tire on the way home from picking up my kids at school. That certainly derailed everything which came after. I had to call a neighbor to retrieve the kids so they wouldn’t be late for an after school activity and I when my van limped into the high school lot for a parent teacher conference we were rolling on one of those tiny spare tires. Yet the flat came late in the day and by that time I’d already failed to accomplish most of the things on my list. The flat merely prevented me from plowing through the list in the late afternoon.

So the list for tomorrow is long. I intend to hit it hard first thing in the morning. For this evening I shall be grateful that the local average time from beginning to change a flat and the arrival of volunteer help is less than 10 minutes. I’ll also be grateful for kind neighbors who show up at my door with treats which I can serve as a bedtime snack. While I’m at it, I’ll be glad that my kids consider canned chili and tortilla chips to be an excellent dinner choice. I’ll top all that with gratitude that the tire was brand new and under warranty, so that when they discovered that the tire had rolled along too flat and the interior side walls were broken, the replacement was free under warranty.

Life is good and there is a stack of boxes in my family room filled with signed calendars. We got that much done in the morning. By Saturday afternoon it will all be done.

Pears, guilt, and cooking during shipping week

There were pears on my front porch; the last fruits from our tree which we’d not given away. They sat there in a row where we’d placed them to ripen. They’d ripened fine, but they continued to sit while we all walked past them off to school, back from school, running errands, shipping packages, fetching mail, or hauling garbage. The pears witnessed it all and they gradually shifted toward the place beyond ripe. My occasional pauses to glance guiltily at the pears changed from “I really ought to can those” into “I really ought to throw those away.” One morning we finally did. Howard and I dumped all the porch pears unceremoniously into the garbage can. I breathed relief. Pears were no longer a little nagging item on my list of things to do.

The back lawn was blanketed with a layer of leaves. This is the natural result of having planted trees a decade ago. If the leaves were left all winter the grass would die. I sent kids out to rake one afternoon and they made leaf houses, outlining imaginary walls with long sinuous piles of leaves. On a different day I sent them out to rake again and told them they were required to fill up six garbage bags with leaves. They did as they were told and the lawn was still dotted with large grass-killing leaf piles. Howard surveyed the leaves and declared a family leaf raking hour. We armed ourselves with gloves, rakes, and a box full of garbage bags. In the course of one hour, our two teams of baggers and one team of rakers relocated all the leaves into bags. From there the leaves could be transported to the green waste station or offered to neighbors for mulch.

Our pear tree had a surprise for us. Protected under the layer of fallen leaves were several dozen pears. Many of them were the sort of rotten fruit one expects to find a month past the end of bearing season, but some of them were perfect. Ripe. Crisp. Ready to eat or cook. We took a break from raking and gathered up the still-good pears. We had almost two grocery sacks full. I looked at them on my kitchen counter. Pears were back on my list. I really did not want to spend another month feeling guilty about wasting pears. I also did not feel excited about canning pears. This was when I remembered apple butter.

Apple butter is a spread, like peanut butter, only it is made of apples, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. It is like distilled apple pie that you can spread on toast. I’d had some years ago and the memory stuck with me. Another thing which stuck in my memory is that pears can be substituted for apples in almost any recipe. I googled and had a recipe in minutes. I don’t know why smashing pears into a pulp through a strainer is more fun to me than peeling them and putting them into jars, but it is. The pulp cooked for over an hour, spreading the smell of apple pie through the house. Two batches resulted in 9 pints of pear butter. More importantly, it turned guilty pears into delicious spread.

Making pear butter is not what I ought to have done today. I’m not sorry for it though. Tomorrow I will find high gear and do all the shipping preparation things which need to be done. The calendars arrived and all the pieces are in hand. Now we just need to do the work.

Monday of shipping week

Returning to a school routine after five days of break was easier than I expected. Everyone rolled out of bed as usual and the morning proceeded as normal. My work day was far from normal. It was all focused on preparing for invoice sorting, which is hours of shuffling papers around until they are sorted by shipping method, contents, and alphabetized by last name. I’ve gotten really good at alphabetizing over the last few years. As usual, Janci and I had many moments where we pondered things like: should we sort for sketches before or after sorting for shipping method? The general shape of this process stays the same from release to release, but there are six months in between when the details fall out of our brains. There is also the fact that each release brings some new and interesting challenge for which we must adjust. This time there were four different categories of sketched options: sketched calendars, sketched TBB reprints, sketched reprint bundles, and sketched emperor bundles. Mostly the various merchandise did not add too much complexity, the only thing which kept throwing me off was mugs. I had to add in a sort where I went through the flat rate box invoices to make sure that the ordered items would indeed fit into a flat rate box.

If most of the above paragraph read like gibberish to you, then you have a good feel for the state of my brain when the invoice sorting was done. I was exhausted by all the thinking. Then I had to go back through all the piles and guesstimate the numbers of boxes we’ll need in all the various types. We’ve got 770 packages which will go into 5 types of mailing boxes and envelopes. In the end I made an educated guess on the high side. We’ll use the boxes eventually, I’m sure.

It is a good thing I had Howard pick up frozen pizza from the grocery store this morning. That was dinner. Now I need to muster the energy to make the kids turn off Phineas and Ferb to do homework. They are not going to be pleased with the switch.

Saw the New Muppet Movie with Howard

There is a moment in the first date after which it is either an only date or the beginning of something more. I sat there in the restaurant, across from this guy I’d first spoken to only 30 minutes before. I’d recognized him as the roommate of a former boyfriend and gone up to introduce myself to him after his performance in a musical play. He’d seen me in the audience and met me in the aisle before I could even make my way to the front of the small auditorium. All I knew was that he seemed attractive and interesting. I was quite glad to join him for dessert. So we went to a place where they served ice cream flambe. We traveled the well worn getting-to-know-you conversational paths until Howard resorted to describing the flaming dessert in order to keep the conversation going. He used large hand gestures and possibly sound effects. The question popped into my head and out of my mouth before I had a chance to filter it:
“Do you like the Muppets?” I asked.
It was the question that changed everything, because it led our conversation firmly away from careful territory and into geekland. We launched from Muppets into Battle Star Galactica (the original), through legos and into theories of creativity. Hours of non-stop conversation later the date finally ended, but the relationship did not.

Nineteen years and one month later Howard and I attended a late showing of the new Muppet Movie. It is a show filled with old corniness, new silliness, beloved songs, charming new songs, deep nostalgia for Muppet shows past, and stirring hope for Muppet shows yet to come. I laughed out loud and I cried, sometimes at the same time. Our kids can not possibly love this film as much as Howard and I do. They will completely miss the threads of nostalgia. They will not recognize the subtle details, like the fact that Miss Piggy’s outfits and hair styles where homages to Miss Piggy appearances past. Characters arrive without introduction because the film assumes the characters are all familiar. I greeted all these characters with delight, as long-absent friends, for my children they’re new. My kids will not instantly tear up by catching a glimpse of the photograph with Kermit and Jim Hensen. They will see this film with modern eyes and they may very well find it lacking. It is a very silly movie which only runs on Muppet logic. This is okay. They will have their own deep wells of nostalgia by the time they reach my age. Those wells will probably be sunk in other places. For tonight I’m just glad there is a new Muppet movie and I’m extra glad that all those years ago I happened to think of Muppets when watching Howard make an imaginary fireball using hand motions.

Leaf Play

I asked them to rake the leaves and they did. Sort of.

All the leaves were definitely moved around using a rake. Now they define the boundaries of a labyrinthine house. It was too much fun watching them run along the grass pathways, “sleep” in piles of leaves, and construct new rooms for me to ruin it by stepping outside with trash bags. The weather will be nice again tomorrow. They can keep the house for another day. Besides, I am far too tired from shifting things around in the garage. I did, however, take a couple artsy fall photos because they made me happy.

I’ll Think About Christmas Later

Last year I was in charge of our church Christmas party. This was a dinner for 300 people with decorations and a program. I had a committee whose help was invaluable, but I did not spread out the work nearly as much as I should have. The party was declared a success by all those who attended. I’m glad they told me, because I was far too frazzled to be able to tell if any of it was working. This year I’ve been assigned to order and prepare 120 lbs of ham to be served as the main course. (This is 14 whole hams.) In comparison to last year, this sounds easy. Oh I’ll still be part of the set up and clean up crew. I’ll still be busy all day long on the day of the party (Dec 10). I suspect that my skills and knowledge will be thoroughly tapped to help resolve crises. An event this size always has a crisis of some kind, no matter how well the committee plans. Already we are all glad for the notes I took last year. I wish I’d taken more. I’m going to be quite tired when the party is done, but there is a chance that I’ll actually be able to experience some of the party rather than running it the entire time.

It would seem that this Christmas season will be easier than the last, but life doesn’t tend to lower the difficulty rating. If the party were all, that would be easy. However I’m also the Scout advancement chair and I’ve been informed that we will be holding a Scout court of honor three days before the Christmas party (Dec 7). It is my job to do all the reports and paperwork in advance of this event. It is also my job to organize a Board of Review for the scouts who are advancing (On Dec 4). These arrangements are not all that difficult, in theory. I’ve never done them before and experience tells me that any job I’ve never done before will present me with unforeseen complications. Naturally I’m feeling a little stressed about it because part of my brain is trying to foresee those complications and prevent them. Only to foresee the unforeseeable is a bit of a paradox. Whee.

This is not all. One day prior to the Boards of Review which are mine to arrange, we’ll be hosting a shipping party to send out the calendars (Dec 3). That day will be completely consumed by the shipping of packages. We’ll be hosting this event in our house since Dragon’s Keep is unavailable on Saturday. This will require a smaller volunteer crew, longer hours, and a complete cleaning of my house in advance of the event. The two days prior to the shipping event (Dec 1 & 2) will be consumed by printing postage and the aforementioned housecleaning. The days prior to that will be focused on helping Howard do all the necessary sketching. Monday November 28 will be the day that Janci and I sort all the invoices, figure out what sorts of boxes we need and then place the order. Before that I need to go into the store reports and make sure I have enough dice sets, Emperor Bundles, and magnet sets assembled. If not, then we’ll be using our Thanksgiving weekend to make more. I’ve run lots of shipping events. It is routine, more or less. Of course each one presents it’s very own unforeseen challenges. (See earlier note on the unforeseen.)

On top of all of that, we’re cooking pies and rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, one son needs a hair cut, three children need new pants, the leaves need to be raked, there are non-calendar orders to be shipped daily, three pallets of books need to be relocated from our garage to the storage unit, the kids are going to want to put up the Christmas tree, and I want to put up the shelving in the garage so that the food storage can be moved out of my office.

When I line it up, all of it fits. In theory. If I’m working at top efficiency. But if I seem flaky or distracted in the next three weeks, now you know why.

Why I Love Jellyfish

I love jellyfish. This is very likely because I have never met one in the wild. Instead I see them through glass with carefully selected lighting to display their beauty.
Photo by Mike Johnson

I did not expect to love jelly fish. In fact I had never given them much thought at all. But then, almost ten years ago, I took five-year-old Link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They happened to be hosting a special jellyfish exhibit at the time. We wandered through with our mouths open, completely stunned by the variations in size and the way that the jellyfish moved. I took photographs. They didn’t turn out, except one which was only slightly blurry: the back of Link’s head against the blue tank next to some other child I didn’t know.

It completely failed to show the beauty which captivated Link and kept him sitting still for a very long time.

Photo by the_tahoe_guy

The jellyfish were beautiful aliens, only they lived right here. But even then, walking through the beauty, I did not know that I would forever love jellyfish. It was not until we came home and my son, who still struggled to speak comprehensible sentences, could not stop talking about the jellyfish. He drew pictures of jellyfish. He talked to his Kindergarten teacher at length. His small vocabulary doubled in a very short span of time. Something about all those earthly aliens opened a door in his brain and he began to find words. I had been so afraid for him, for years. I did not know whether he would be able to manage the challenges of being a teenager or an adult. But by jellyfish light I could see that perhaps he would.

Link is fourteen now. I wrote a post about him yesterday, describing his developing responsibility, reliability, and capability. I can’t credit those things to the jellyfish exhibit, they were his all along, but I still remember the strong sense that by seeing the jellyfish Link’s world had become larger and his brain grew in response.

Photo by Renee Silverman

So any time I see photos of jellyfish, or see them in an aquarium, I think about how much bigger the world is than I expect. I think about possibility and growth. Most of all, I remember that sometimes hope comes from unexpected places.

And that is why today’s post over on Light Stalking 44 Incredible Photographs of Jellyfish made me cry.

Link’s Plans

“Mom, look!” Patch shoved a 3×5 card in front of my face. After adjusting the card to a read-able distance I could see that it was covered in Link’s handwriting.
“30 minutes free each day. (After you pass the 3DS test.)”
I looked over at Link who was hovering near with a pleased smile.
“I got tired of them begging to use my 3DS.” Link said “So I made a plan. This way they can have a little turn and then if they want more time, they can buy it.”

I loved that Link was finding a way to share his device with his younger siblings, but that last bit sounded like a profit-from-siblings scheme. Not so. Link’s plan was to take all the money and put it into a box which saved up for an additional 3DS for our family. He had even made a special box for this purpose. I got a glimpse of the the 3DS test. It was basic care and maintenance questions. Link was, quite reasonably, making sure that his siblings knew the necessary rules to make sure the device does not get broken. Link had seen a problem, planned a solution, and carried it out.

This is not the first case of Link making plans. The same inertia which I struggle against when trying to get him up in the morning or making him do an unpleasant chore, carries him far when he is moving to complete a plan of his own devising. In the past several months he’s started putting himself to bed, organizing his own school supplies, and doing his own scout planning. It is strange to see the very personality traits that I worried about turning into strengths. He doesn’t have the in-your-face personality that some of my other kids possess, you don’t picture Link heading out to take on the whole world, but I have no doubt that once Link decides to go someplace, he’ll get there. That’s want he does. Quietly, calmly, happily, while no one is paying attention, he sets out and gets things done.

We do still have conflicts. Sometimes Link’s plans require a particular type of cooperation from siblings who want to make up their own games. Other times life requires an alteration to the plans that Link has made, then he slows to an unwilling crawl until he can re-plan. But for the most part, my younger kids and most of Link’s friends are happy to let Link plan the games. He’s good at making games.

Some Days Exist to be Askew

I dreaded today even before it began. “Dreaded” might be too strong a word, particularly since there was no concrete reason for me to go to bed unsure I wanted to deal with the day to follow. The day is mostly gone. Nothing horrible happened. I’m just swimming in a sea of things-to-do. I have orders to file until the calendars come back from the printer. There are other orders which need to be shipped right away. The calendar needs a last few flourishes before it is done with the design stage of its existence. Those are my job. I was a volunteer for a 5th grade art class where half the kids were finishing a project involving multi-colored paint. The other half were part way into a project including drawing with white on black construction paper. Unfortunately the white colored pencils were no where to be found, so I applied a last-minute substitute of chalk. Smeary, smeary chalk. I love teaching concepts with a clear lesson plan. This time I was insufficiently prepared and it all felt chaotic. Then there was a child with an emotional crisis, a conference with a teacher, and we’ve yet to even tackle homework time. The good news is that the teacher agrees with me that grades are a unit of measure and not a life goal.

I think this evening may require cookies. Not because things are bad. They aren’t. Nothing in front of me is impossible. There is just a lot of it and I’m sleep deprived. Cookies will help.

Casting New Light

Kiki and Link both had a youth activity. Patch had an awards ceremony to attend and Howard planned to take him. This left Gleek and I at loose ends. I briefly considered taking Gleek along to Patch’s event, but it is hard to be ten and see other people honored when you are not. Also a big room filled with people is guaranteed to wind Gleek up into a high energy state and then there would be frustration with a high probability of scolding. I wanted for her to have something special, just for her. However I also knew that if that if I preempted all her homework, there would be stress in the morning. So we needed special and routine all rolled into one. Everyone else departed leaving Gleek and I alone.

I consulted Gleek to see what she would like to do. Or rather, I spoke at Gleek while she fiddled with a bean bag. She tossed it to me. On a whim I tossed it back. Toss. Catch. Toss. Catch. It must have been one of the earliest games in the existence of humanity, yet it was oddly satisfying because I was feeling mellow and not inclined to run around getting things done. The game was simple, but Gleek and I were together, facing each other, both of us giving the game our full attention. She began perfecting a two handed fling. I began catching and throwing with only my left hand. I’m not particularly dextrous with my left, so I loved that magic moment when my brain somehow calculated exactly where to place my hand so that the beanbag would thunk right into the middle of my palm. Then I could, almost casually, curl my fingers around it. Catch.

Our evening needed something simple, like the game of catch. Something that would slow down both Gleek and I, because we are both prone to running too fast for too long.
“Pioneers used to play with beanbags.” Gleek said. She has been studying US History with a teacher for whom the subject is a passion. Her class has been grouped into Indian tribes, then into European immigrants, and now into colonies. In the coming months she will live through bits of revolutionary war, western expansion, civil war, industrial revolution, world wars, cold war, civil rights, and near to modern day. Gleek has been thriving on this diet of history. I keep hearing random bits about how life was in the past. There is a longing in Gleek’s voice as she tells me these things. She admires these times when life was slower. I think because she struggles to slow down in the face of modern information overload.

Between one catch and the next I knew what we needed.
“We’re going to have Pioneer homework time.” I said. “We’ll turn out all the lights and do your math by candle light.”
Gleek’s face brightened into a smile. “I’ll go put on my pioneer clothes!” and she dashed to find her costume.

Candle light imparts a hush to the room it inhabits. The edges of the room were dim, so Gleek and I had to draw close in order to see the words on the page. Without declaring it to be so, both of us dropped our voices quieter. Subconsciously we only needed to fill the lit space, not all the way to the dark corners. Gleek worked her way through the math happily. She only paused once when she remembered the candles she’d made with her Grandma. Those were fetched and lit as well. In moments of conversation we determined that a Pioneer Homework hour also needed and accompanying Pioneerish dinner. My original plan of buying Wendy’s did not fit with candles. After the math was done we hitched the horses to the wagon (my van) and drove over to the market (a grocery store.)

Gleek swished her pioneer skirt as she carried her basket through the aisles of the store. Her apron was tied neatly around her waist and her bonnet dangled down her back in best Laura Ingalls Wilder fashion. We were both carrying baskets instead of pushing a cart because Gleek deemed this to be more historically correct. Pizza, hot pockets, and yogurt were all rejected as foods that a pioneer would not have. Gleek’s desire for historical correctness was sorely challenged by the display of oreo cookies, but history won. We reached the check out stand with Swedish meatballs (some pioneers were Swedish), broccoli, and a pumpkin pie for sharing. At the last minute a desire for bubble gum won out over history, but it was stashed away to be consumed later.

We came home to a dark house and re-lit the candles we’d blown out. Gleek read while I prepared the food. Then we ate it together. I warned Gleek that Pioneer time would be over when the others came home. I wanted to forestall potential conflicts. Kiki and Link blew in the front door with a draft of cold air. They were startled by the candles, but urged us to keep them. “It’s nice.” Link said. “can we do it again tomorrow?” Patch agreed when he came home. Snack and bed were accomplished far more quietly than usual. All of us responded to the change in lighting. It isn’t something we can do every night, but I’m definitely stashing the idea into my bag of tricks for future use. I could use more lovely candlelit evenings.