Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

Consider this the Christmas Letter, Alumni Update, New Years Resolution, Bucket List, Life Goal and general, all-round year-in-review extravaganza.
'Cause I missed the class on all of those.

In 2013 I successfully:
drove my pre-teens nuts
puked out my guts
and sent the dog through the windshield of the van

read a few books
got a few dirty looks
as I drove though the town in the van

cleaned off a shelf
found no magical elf
and did some grocery shopping with the van

folded nine thousand clothes
and even brought some of those
items home for my fam, in the van

dug and planted some seeds
in a yard full of weeds
after lugging supplies in the van

taught some classes for boys
who like to make noise
and sought silence in the refuge of my van

cooked a few hundred meals
and made a few deals
using coupons I keep in the van

wrote a few posts
and made a few boasts
about the kids I schlep around with the van

finished this in time
to meet my deadline
of the 2013 end of year

and might possibly be
the happiest me
if a Subaru replaces the van :)

Happy New Year

Thursday, December 5, 2013

book review : Chasing Hope

disclaimer: I was offered a free copy of this book in exchange for a written review.

Chasing Hope
a novel by Kathryn Cushman
Published by Bethany House Publishers

I run...sometimes...if I have to chase the dog.  The rest of the time, my aerobic activity might best be described as a jog.   A few years ago it would have been described as a sit.  That is, however, until a high school cross country coach offered open workouts with her team over the summer.   It was that summer when I learned about the physical and mental strength a runner of any level must develop.  I saw the dedication and rewards of commitment and training.  I saw the disappointment of falling short of a season goal, and the fortitude needed to try again the next day, month and year.

In Chasing Hope, Kathryn Cushman captures the essence of a runner's inner struggles, both with her body and her thoughts.  The story shows how a God given talent can be used, abused or misunderstood, but never ignored.  The conflicts the characters have with their own selves and with those closest to them do not shy away from pain and grief.  Each of the protagonists must do the hard work required to grow physically, spiritually and emotionally. 
While at times I felt the character of  Sabrina was written as much older than her chronological age (which did distract me), the allure of the real and humanly flawed characters pulled me back into the story.  Waiting to see if they had the perseverance to continue with a difficult task, a long-term commitment or a life changing decision.  Watching as each one wrestled with what it means to do "Big" things for God.  Wondering how I would handle their difficulties.

I would recommend this book to those who run...to and away from God.  His idea of a race well run may just surprise you. And get you off the couch.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

County Extensions

gardening in the suburbs....

When we bought our first house in the mid-west  it came with a fairly substantial backyard.  A yard that we quickly realized would consume the better part of a weekend with mowing, weeding and trimming.  So we started turning sections of the yard into garden space.  The rationale being that if it was going to take up our time, then it had better be contributing to the family's welfare.

We gradually turned ourselves into quite the little "suburban" farmers.  I say "we" loosely, since my husband and kids did most of the work.  I was just in charge of making sure the mint plants didn't get out of control and that the basil got processed into enough pesto to get us through the winter.

The rest of the family however, managed to produce the following over a 3 year period:
potatoes, corn, squash, okra, eggplant, kohlrabi, okra, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, okra, spinach, brussel sprouts, okra, broccoli, cucumbers, raspberries, okra, watermelon, pumpkins...and did I mention? ...okra...

Seems that okra loves heat.....and Kansas....
Two years and a new state later and I think we STILL have jars of pickled okra around somewhere.

Now we have a different house, in a different mid-west state with a different yard and a different schedule.   If we were going to have a garden this year, I was going to have to be the one to get it done.       Out of the four of us I had the most time, but the least amount of experience.   Last year my total yield was: basil...and some dill....which basically grows itself.  So there you are.
I at least knew enough to NOT plant okra.

Did you know that there is a weed called "Stinging Nettle" that stings?

Did you know that there is such a thing as overwatering?

Did you know that you can plant seeds too deep?

Did you know that there is such a thing as under watering?

Did you know that there are 92 different insects that wait until just before your plants are ready to produce food before they decide to devour all the foliage?

Did you know that when a seed package says "full sun" they don't really mean "Iowa full sun"?

Did you know that there are 64 different kinds of mold/mildew that can infect your plants and that all 64 have a different cause and a different treatment?

Did you know that $2.98 of my annual property tax bill goes to the state agricultural extension phone line?  And that you can call that number to get answers to your pest/mildew/gardening questions?  And that I didn't find that out until AFTER the summer was almost over?????

So my beans were semi-successful

My basil is OK

My cilantro, peas, raspberries, lettuce and rhubarb all seem to be surviving my bumbling attempts at being semi self-sufficient this summer.

The one thing that seems to have escaped my grasp this gardening season are the sunflowers.  I had pictured tall yellow flowers following the sun with their bright cheery faces throughout the day.  These bits of joy in my garden were to be the final incentive to continue with the weeding, feeding and watering through the hot weeks of August.  They were to be some of the last color lingering in the backyard as we head into fall.

It is true that they are tall and yellow.

It is even true that they have bright cheery faces.

It is NOT true that they follow the sun.

Not MY sunflowers.
MY sunflowers face east.  All Day.  Every Day.
So that I can't see them.

So while I can figure out the herbs, fruits and veggies, I guess I can't grow sunflowers....in their native habitat....

Next year I may just go back to okra.

'Cause according to the jars sitting in my kitchen cabinet, I didn't miss the class on that!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bats in the Belfry

......getting along with nature....

I like nature.

Most of the time.

When  I am in control of the encounter.

I prefer observing nature as opposed to experiencing nature.   For example:
...sitting on a porch gazing at the ocean, instead of swimming in the ocean with who knows what lurking beneath you, just beyond your sight.
...bird watching with binoculars from your living room window rather than walking down the street wondering what is going to fall on your head.

...standing in your backyard watching the neighborhood bats swoop through the evening sky eating all the nasty insects rather than running, screaming from your house  mid-afternoon because a neighborhood bat was swooping through your front parlor.

yeah....about that......

You see, the reason why we pay a mortgage, is because I prefer having four walls and a roof between my personal space and the rest of nature.  I tend to get upset when nature doesn't co-operate with that plan.
So there we were Monday afternoon.   The kids and I were getting ready to go run some errands and meet someone to exchange some papers for a class. I had a limited time frame to work with before the meeting, but I could get it done, assuming there were no major interruptions.

We all know what happens when we assume....

All of a sudden I hear my son announce from the front room, "Uhhhhh, Mom?"..."There's a bat in the house..."

Here is how I wish I had handled the situation:

Calmly step to the front door, open the door, and let the panicked little flying mammal back into the great out doors.
Calmly proceed with the rest of the day.

Here is how I really handled the situation:

Reallly loudly....
More than once.....
With all the windows open for the whole neighborhood to hear....

There may or may not have been a broom involved......

I may or may not have run out of the house....without my kids..... while screaming.....

My dear daughter somehow managed to get into my room, snag the phone, and toss it out her window  to me in the front yard (where I may or may not have been standing, screaming, swinging a broom....)

I managed to call my husband to tell him what was happening.   He managed to not laugh. Or at least managed to hit the mute button on his phone...

He then googled the phrase....How to get a bat out of your house... and proceeded to tell me
"Here's a website, it says, "10 Steps to remove a bat"

WHAT???   10!!!  Steps!!!
Who has time to perform a 10 step function while being dive bombed by nature???
Let's not forget that most of these 10 steps involved getting close enough to the creature to throw a towel on it, and then picking the towel up....with the live bat still in it.....

What happened to "2 steps to remove a bat"?
1) Scream
2) Swing the broom

Much easier to remember.
But not a productive option either ....sigh....

It turns out that the bat wanted to get outside just as much as I wanted to be back inside. So we came to an agreement.
I would open my front door to let it out, and it would LEAVE. Then I would run to my back door to get back in the house.  As soon as I was back in the house I would use my broom handle to push the front door shut....firmly...and then lock it...just in case.....
There may or may not have been screaming .....from the creature... and the lady with with broom....and the kids....and the dog.....

And then I  calmly proceeded to go about the rest of my day.

Good thing for the bat I had already had one cup of coffee.   After the bat I didn't need a second cup.

It has been a few days and we have not been visited by any more confused flying mammals.  We still check the corners of all the rooms and duck when we come in the house...just in case......

Cause while I hate mosquitoes more than bats, I like my un-natured house even better....and I can swing a pretty mean broom...

'cause this city girl didn't miss the class on that :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How to celebrate the 4th

part 2....

This is specifically to assure you that my children do NOT think that the 4th of July is only about burgers, fireworks and the Boston Pops.

Nope.  For this history geek's family the following also holds true for the week of the 4th:

New T-shirts.
A Mega Movie Marathon.
A tacky flag shaped jello-salad will appear at some cook-out, at some point in the week.
You are allowed to shout the following ..."Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!!" when your mother makes her morning appearance.

Yup.  In my brain this makes perfect sense.

I skip the everyoneweargreenandred family Christmas photo.
I skip the everyonewearkhakianddenim family portrait photo.
I skip just about every holiday themed family photo op there is on the calendar....
....except July 4th.
For July 4th I will begin my search 8 weeks in advance for the most competitively priced patriotic themed T-shirts and then make my family keep their red, white and blue shirts in their dresser drawer until July 4th.  NO ONE is allowed to wear the shirt until the specified day. Then, they must wear the shirt ALL DAY on the 4th.
Nothing says Independence Day Fun like a T-shirt that has absorbed the odors of grill, catsup, potato salad, orange soda, bug spray, sun screen and gun powder smoke, with a little pre-teen deodorant forgetfulness thrown in for good measure.

Most people associate the fourth day of July with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Technicalities aside, the fourth was a very key day in that document's history, so we can go with that.

In my family, however, we also choose to remember the three day battle that took place in a tiny little town in Pennsylvania on July 1-3,1863: Gettysburg.  We watch the movies Gods and Generals, Gettysburg, and maybe some segments of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War.  To the extent that some of us can quote  the Chamberlain brothers, Lee, Pickett, Jackson and Sullivan Ballou's letter home before the battle of Bull Run..... but I'm not mentioning names....even if my children still roll their eyes....at me....every year......

For whatever cook-out/potluck we attend for the holiday I will usually commit to bringing my jello-salad set in the mold shape of a waving flag.  Using strawberry flavored jello, blueberries and whipped cream, I can create a fairly good representation of Old Glory.  As long as I don't try to take the jello out of the mold.....ever. We just decorate it and serve it form the mold itself....something about not letting the flag touch the ground...even in jello form....sigh.

About the Huzzah.....
You see, one of my favorite time periods in United States history is the War of 1812.  Think...making sure the British really were convinced that we were serious in 1776 about that whole free and independent thing.
While I am almost certain that I can come up with something significant that happened in that war on a July 4th, I'm not sure that it really matters for this.
This is the day my favorite piece of U.S.history comes alive.  The U.S.S. Constitution, one of the first six frigates in the United States Navy, and the oldest commissioned, naval ship afloat takes a cruise around her host harbor every year on the 4th. She parades through the harbor, fires her cannon in salute and reminds us all that history can indeed reach out from the past to touch us in the present.
Her nick-name is "Old Ironsides" due to the fact that cannon balls would literally bounce off her hull during battle.  Hence the quote from a 19th century sailor greeting me some mornings in my caffeine deprived stupor.
Why would a mother allow her children to shout such things at her, comparing her to an inanimate object?
Well, this particular inanimate object is:
1) over 200 years old and still not retired
2) undefeated in battle
3) the recipient of multi-million dollar restorations to keep her in tip-top shape
Who wouldn't want to be referred to as such????

Oh, Yeah,...She also lives at the Charlestown Navy Yard, in Boston Harbor  ;)

Which brings me back to my gluten free cheeseburger, non-fat low sugar iced coffee and my Boston Pops concert watched from the comfort of my central air-conditioned living room on my husband's laptop for the local, not national broadcast this year.

'Cause while some things change, others can and should remain the same....

and I didn't miss the class on that!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to celebrate the Fourth of July

(part 1)
....at least, others may think so.....

Growing up in the Boston area the 4th of July  was "kind of" a big deal.  After all, Boston was one of the centers of colonial dis-satisfaction and home of some the more colorful rabble rousers  Founding Fathers of the American Revolution.  It is also the home of the Boston Pops and their annual concert on the Esplanade.  With conductors like Arthur Feidler, John Williams and Keith Lockhart, this local tradition turned into a nationally televised event.

One that many of us avoided like the Bubonic Plague.

Watching the preparations could be fascinating.  The fireworks barge being set up on the Charles River, road traffic being re-routed, spectators camping out in the wee hours of a muggy July morning in front of the Hatch Shell to claim a spot of lawn with their picnic blankets.  There was also the prospect of laughing at watching all the tourists try to figure out how to navigate the maze of roads and decipher the weird unique dialect that makes Boston such a frustrating  fun town to visit.

Did I mention the spectators?  As in the MANY spectators? As in the thousands of spectators who crowded the trains, buses and trolleys of an already crowded public transportation system? At rush hour.

Did I mention the humidity? As in the HIGH humidity?  As in the sticky, clinging, oppressive, makes you glad for just a puff of breeze mugginess that comes from living in a cement jungle next to a large body of water?

Did I mention the tourists?  As in the CONFUSED tourists? As in the lost, dazed, befuddled, can't figure out rotaries, trains, or how to parallel pahk a cah tourists?

Plus the fact that my parents had 4 kids to corral, none of us being particularly good at sitting on a picnic blanket for hours on end waiting for a bunch of  people with instruments to start playing music we weren't ready to appreciate at an hour when we were normally in bed.
So we did what many of the locals do on the 4th ....let friends from out of town park in our driveway so they can brave the public and the public transportation system, then sit in the fan-cooled living room with our burgers, corn on the cob and non-sweetened  ice tea or coma inducing sweetened iced coffee.  
And watch the entire concert,  complete with the 1812 Overture and fireworks galore.......that was happening within a few miles of our house.......on T.V. 

Thanks to my parents wisdom in skipping a potentially scarring event on our country's birthday, I now love celebrating July 4th.  So much so that I could have a weeks worth of activities planned to celebrate the birth of our country and the many other key events in our history that center around this one day in July.

And I can still watch the Boston Pops, with my buger and iced coffee.....on T.V. 

...'cause I didn't miss the class on that!

Monday, June 10, 2013

surreal experiences, part 2

I have been blessed with many experiences  that might fall under the label of "surreal".  They usualy center around visiting historical sites, or physically beautiful locations.

For example..it is surreal to walk the streets of Pompeii..knowing how many people died there, and how much of the city was burried for so long.

It is also surreal to stand in the Anne Frank house/museum, or walk through the annex where they hid, knowing that you are standing in the same place that the SS stood when they arrested those that were in hiding.

Surreal is also the word  I would use when standing at the edge of a stormy Atlantic coastline or looking up into the vastness of the night sky and feeling just how small and insignificant you are in comparison to the forces of nature.

Surreal also describes the events that were unfolding in Boston on April 15.

You see...someone picked on my city....and there was nothing I could do about it.

(Boston skyline July 4, 2012)

And I had the stomach flu.

And I was over 1,000 miles away.

And I was leaving for a vacation.

So in addition to running to the bathroom, running the kids to their activities and running to the store for last minute items, I was also running down to my "office" to check news website updates, running to the phone to call and check on family, and running to turn up the volume on the kitchen radio when the next newscast was scheduled.

And realizing that at least I could still "run"........

Yes, my family members were all OK.   No danger of any of us actually qualifying to run the Boston Marathon, or being caught anywhere near downtown and all the crowds.  It was Patriot's Day and many had the day off and opted to watch the race on television. 

Yes, people my family knew that were running were unharmed.

Yes, I let my kids watch and listen to some of the media coverage. 
They knew something awful had happened in mom's hometown
near where their grandparents live
near where we had vacationed last summer
("Old" State House     Boston, MA  July 4, 2012) '

They are old enough to know that evil exists, and need to know that evil does not get to triumph.
So we packed our suitcases, listened to news updates, prayed for the victims and first responders and headed south for a belated Spring Break.   Because there was nothing else we could do.

In my mind I was prepared for the investigation and hunt for suspects to stretch on for at least a year.  Surely the culprits were half-way across the globe by the time the 16th rolled around.
Surely this would require the co-ordination of multiple international law inforcement agencies.

Surely this would not hit any closer to home.


April 19 SHOULD have been  the day we went to go play, care free,  in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
April 19 SHOULD have been the day I could finally take a deep breath and feel like I was on vacation.
April 19 SHOULD NOT have been the day I had the following surreal conversation with my parents:

Me: Hey!  What are you guys doing up there????
Parents: Locking the doors and hoping our neighborhood doesn't show up next on the news.  What are you doing?
Me: Watching t.v. hoping your neighborhood doesn't show up on the news... and getting ready to go to the beach before it gets too hot.
Parents: Wow, rough life.  It's too cold up here for beach weather.
Me: Have you heard from ****?  (brother who lives IN the town of the man-hunt)
Parents: No, but he usualy doesn't get up for a few hours. Or unless the Police have to crash his door down today.
Me: OK.  Lock your doors and duck your heads.  We're heading out.  Bye.

See...surreal....Who has a conversation with their parents about local man-hunts and Spring Break beach trips???

So while I wrestled in my head with the chaos that was Boston and the tranquility that was South Florida, we did the following:

Walked on the beach

Played in the surf

Enjoyed the wild-life

Dug our toes in the warm sand
and only twice did I surreptitiously check my husband's smart phone for live updates or my not-so-smart-phone for calls from family.

When we returned to our home-base for the week, I did give in to the news junkie in me, and kept my husband's laptop open to that social network site, and a news site or two...or four.....

I did my best to not let this disrupt our rare family vacation moment and yet still keep tabs on what I could not control.   I'm not sure I succeeded on either front.

I am thankful that most of the drama is over, that the immediate danger has passed...for now....
I know that there are many, many more people who lived an infinitly more surreal week than I.
Those people have a myriad of difficult and life-altering decisions to make in the times to come.

I, however, am left with only one surreal decision to make:

What size Kevlar vests to order for my parent's Christmas present.....

'cause I missed the class on that.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

surreal experiences.....part 1

but I'm guessing the only classroom that is offered in is "life". 
We recently needed to purchase a second car for the family.  
Nothing odd about that.  People buy cars all the time. 
What made this purchase surreal was the idea that the car we purchased last week could potentially be the car our oldest uses when he learns to drive....GULP.  How did THAT happen?

I choose to not think about that...for now....

I grew up on the east coast.  Severe weather was a blizzard in the winter or a hurricane in the summer. (Usualy only Category 1 or tropical storm strength by the time it got to us.)
 Both of these events can be predicted days in advance and leave plenty of time to stock up on toilet paper, bread, milk, coffee and yarn. Once prepared, it can be a nice "mini" vacation. 

I now live in Tornado Alley.  Here my spring is filled with anxiously scanning the skies for geenish colors and rotating clouds.  I have been known to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning watching the weather radar on the computer and listening for the warning sirens.   No relaxing preparation for these storms....  Nope.  Now it is a panicked stampede to the basement and a dive under the cushions with your bike helmets strapped to your heads.
Really hard to do while trying not to spill your coffee on your knitting....

Flooding where I grew up meant that the storm drains had backed up and there was standing water on the road outside the house.  Words like "sump pump" and "back-up battery" weren't even in my vocabulary.

Today I spent the morning listening to a local radio show spend a full HOUR on how to keep your basement dry in flood season.   I now know how to check for clogs in the drainage pipe, how many times an hour your pump should cycle, and how to tell if you need a bigger sump pump.  (HINT: If your furniture starts to float....you might need a bigger sump pump....)    I caught myself wondering .."If the basement does flood, can we just install a diving board on the stairs and have an indoor pool?"   

I grew up a city girl.  Gardening meant trimming the handkerchief sized patch of grass in front of the house.   Maybe putting a potted plant on the porch steps.  Stocking up on food meant a 5 min walk to the store for a loaf of bread.  The local community college offered classes in computer programming

Now I find myself selecting seeds, choosing sunny vs shady spots in the backyard and wondering if this summer is going to do as much damage to my basil as last summer. 
 I own canning supplies....and know how to use them.....
"Stocking up"  means calling the local community college and ordering a side of beef from their Ag. program.....

I am not complaining.  Fresh air, fresh veggies, fresh beef...these are all good things.  (We can skip the fresh ink on new drivers licenses..... ) I'm just still trying to wrap my foggy brain around this very different existence that I now have.

So, if you see me wandering around outside with my bike helmet on mumbling about green skies, indoor swimming pools and needing to hide the car keys from my son, please do the following:
1) gently point me back towards my house
2) ask my children to check that the sump pump is working
3) remove the helmet from my head and the keys from my hands
4) plug in my coffee maker and get a fresh pot brewing

....'cause I must need a second cup to help me get caught up in this class on the surreal.....

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

just saying "No".

But I made up for it today!

No, you can not talk to me while I am working with sharp knives and boiling water.

No, you can not try to microwave/cook/toast anything for lunch today while I am in the kitchen.

No, I do not care about lawn mower gas leaks, ant hills in the garden, overdue library books or world peace today.

No, I do not know what you are having for dinner....if you're lucky it will be cereal.

No, I can not take you for a walk today :(

That one was hard.

Here is what I said "YES" to today...


and finally....

It may not set right, seal right, or taste right, but it is done!

'Cause I'm trying to catch up in the class on that.....

Monday, May 27, 2013

How to make strawberry-rhubarb jam....

It's not that I can't make jam....I have!  Several times!  Freezer AND canned varieties!
It's just that  there is a fatal flaw somewhere in my chaotic,unorganized carefully planned schedule.

So far, I am working on a record of seven days to make my most recent batch of jam...soon to be eight if this post takes me any longer.

The recipe goes something like this:

Day 1: Pick up fresh rhubarb from a friend's house.  Put rhubarb in the fridge and wonder where you left your canning supplies....

Day 2: Happily discover strawberries on sale for $.99/lb at the store.  Buy 12 pounds, eat 2 pounds, spend the rest of the day telling the kids to stay out of the strawberries so you can use them to make jam.  Try to remember if you have jelly jars in your canning supplies....

Day 3: Think to yourself..."I should really do something with those strawberries before they go bad or the kids eat them all..."  and "Did I buy extra pectin at the end of the canning season last year?"

Day 4: Concede that you are NOT going to get any canning done today.  Slice and freeze the 6 pounds of strawberries that are left.

Day 5: Remember where you left the canning equipment, but over schedule your day so you don't have time to unpack the canner, jars, or freezer jam supplies.

Day 6: Go to the store and buy pectin and lids for the jelly jars you are almost certain you have.  Realize that your wonderful husband is using this time to finish several home improvement projects that require things like power tools and dust....in the kitchen.....
Leave pectin and lids on the counter to remind yourself of your failure....

Day 7:  Determine that you ARE GOING TO MAKE JAM TODAY!  Announce it to your friends and family so they will not do anything silly like want to use the kitchen to eat...or drink....or socialize....
Then realize all the other things that must get done today....
such as...

unfreeze the strawberries

wash the canning supplies

walk the dog.....I mean, how can you say "no" to this face?

Chop the rhubarb, locate the recipe that you printed out last year and didn't get to try, find the extra pectin and lids you bought last year, but only pint jars instead of the jelly jars you were SURE you had....
Then leave it all on the counter to go to your retail job, wistfully dreaming about the sweetly sour tang of strawberry rhubarb jam on your morning toast.

Come home to clean jars, thawed strawberries, and a blog post burning in your caffeine deprived brain.

Blog your post (with pictures! ooohhh...ahhhhhh ), locate your recipe, and ready yourself for :

Maybe tomorrow I will have a picture of the jam ;)

...but maybe not...because it looks like I really missed the class on that!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to have a stress-free vacation.....
or maybe just a stress-free pre-vacation....

How else would you explain my  latest fiasco attempt at jetting away for some fun n' sun?
Maybe it had something to do with the following items that had to be crossed off my "To Do" list before we left....

My top priority was to find my summer clothes....and hope they still fit.....
It is just slightly stress inducing to know that somewhere in the dark recesses of you basement hides a plastic tote full of summer clothes that fit last summer's "Ihadtimetoruntwentymilesaweek" body.  It is even more stress inducing to know that you somehow have to make those packed away clothes fit this spring's "IhadNOtimetogototheYandIworebaggyclothesallwinter" body.  Grrrrr.......
We're not even going to mention  swim suits.....So. Not. Going. There.

Second on my list was to make sure that the house (or at least the kitchen, bathroom, and one bedroom) was clean enough for our house/dog sitter to not have to call the health department before agreeing to spend time in our home.

I then wanted to get as many hours in at work as possible, since I would be gone (and off payroll) for two weeks.  My brain kept calculating how much this vacation was costing me.....not a good prescription for relaxation.

Added to this was the fact that I had sub plans to get ready, a class to teach and some academic commitments for the kids that had to be finished up two weeks early. 

and I decided to apply for a job that better fit my skill sets and availability for the summer....
and apply for a different position with our educational group for next fall....
which meant I needed an updated resume and semi-intelligent sounding cover letters.....
which meant me spending time figuring out the extra features on the word processing program....
on the computer....
We all know how fun and relaxing THAT is for me......

Things were going well at about T-minus 4 days before take-off. 
The clothes had been located. (but not tried on....)
The kids had found and packed their own clothes. (you only need 3 pairs of underwear for a 2 week vacation...right????)
I had started my resume. (O.k.  O.k......it only had my name and contact info....but choosing the font type and size are crucial, time-consuming decisions!)
The bathroom sinks had been cleaned out, the lesson plans had been written, schoolwork had been started and all but 8 hours of scheduled time at work had been completed.
With four days left, I had plenty of time to finish the rest of my self-assigned tasks in a calm, relaxed manner.  

I returned home from work Saturday evening, spent about an hour talking with my husband, and went to bed.
I then proceeded to spend the next 24 hours wondering if I was going to even make it to the bathroom in time, let alone make a flight in 3 days. 
Just in case you were wondering the answer is: No.  Having the stomach flu and trying to keep the kitchen and bathroom "guest" clean are NOT compatible activities.

Also... No. Having the stomach flu and trying to work with computers and word processing programs are NOT mutually beneficial.

And make that a definite NO on having the stomach flu and working 8 hours of retail.
So. Not. Happening.
...having the stomach flu for two days and then trying on last summer's clothes???? Yes.  Those two activities can be combined.  

So I spent 36 hours on the couch, not cleaning, writing or packing. I got the basics done.  We got on the plane.  I could finish the typing and e-mailing of resumes on my husband's lap top while we were en route to our vacation destination.   I thought I could just sit and relax on the plane.  I thought I could catch a little nap in my seat.  I thought I would be able to get a chapter of my book read in relative calm and quiet.
I thought, maybe...just maybe... I can begin to unwind....
I thought wrong. 
The man in the seat behind me (father of a 3 year old) turns to the mother across the aisle (travelling with a 9 month old) and says,
"Hey!  Wanna see whose baby gets the loudest screamer award by the end of the flight?"
So. Not. Relaxed.
I must have been stressing about vacations when they announced the class on that. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

the Federal Bureau of Investigation....

I think my future employer called today! 

O.K....admittedly not the first thing that crossed my mind when the following showed up on my caller ID...
                                               .......U S GOVT FED BUR......

Yes, yours truly received a phone call from the FBI today.   It was a live person, not a robo call about area crime rates or local mail fraud activity.

I assure you, this is not a normal occurrence at our house.  Truly.   I promise.

They were looking for someone who used to have what is now our land line phone number.   When I said no such person lived here their response was.. "O.K.   We'll take her off our list." 


What "list"???
Why was she on the "list"??
Am I on the "list"?
Do I want to be on the "list" or off the "list"?

Wait...don't hang up...I have questions!

Then cup o' joe #3 kicked in and my brain began to process some ideas.....

Here are some, (IMO) plausible explanations for today's phone call.

#1....Due to the sequester, all mid-west field operations offices are now required to do a fund-raising campaign via telephone.

#2....Due to the sequester, all agents have picked up telemarketing jobs to cover the gap in their pay check and this agent forgot which office/job he was doing when he made the call.

#3...Due to the sequester, the FBI has had to cut training costs and has decided to try and recruit responsible adults who have mad spy skills naturally developed over years of parenting and teaching.

Yup...I like #3.  
It  makes perfect sense.   Who else but a mom/teacher can
a) read body language from a mile away without the aid of binoculars or a sniper scope?
b) discern truth from fiction without the aid of video taped confessions, one way mirrors or good cop/bad cop routines?
c) practice defensive driving, in rush hour, on the phone, with various noises, sights and smells occurring simultaneously in the vehicle?
d) keep track of multiple children suspects, their daily activities, personal belongings and financial liabilities?
e) be on duty for hours on end sustained only by pb & j with a side of coffee?  with no bathroom?
f) be able to McGuyver her way through any situation with a bobby pin, lip gloss, two Lego pieces and the mint in the bottom of her purse?
I think I would be a perfect fit for the job.   Just think of all the organized crime rings I could infiltrate and bring down.   Who would ever suspect a mini-van driving-coffee drinking-sanity losing-Iowa living wife and mom of being an FBI agent?   I could save the government thousands in training costs and disguises.  They wouldn't even have to touch their technology budget if they hired me!  Their only cost might be to bump up the line item for coffee in the office supply category....

Or maybe I should just go with reason #4...

Full moon this week.

Or maybe I should just be thankful that another  # didn't show up on my caller ID this morning...
                          ......U S GOVT   INTER  REV SERV......

'cause while I might have mad spy skills,  I missed spying the class on accounting on my transcripts......

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

.....snow blowers

or, more specifically, how to use one....

First, I should remind you of my love/hate relationship with all modern technology and machines save my coffee pot, indoor plumbing, and central HV/AC.
I mostly do not like the thunderous noise and disruption these machines produce. 
My idea of the perfect modern inventions are the quiet click of a mechanical pencil and the soft whisper of yarn over those new-fangled circular knitting needles.  ;)

Problem: A hair dryer blasting in my ear at 8 a.m. does not a happy mommy make.
      Solution: don't use one...ever....even in winter....since middle school.....

Problem: A power tool being used to complete home improvement projects drives me up the same wall my poor husband is trying to fix.
     Solution:  leave the house and go to the library when DIY Jeff makes his Saturday morning appearances.

Problem: Living in the Mid-West, in the winter, during a snow storm, with a snow covered side-walk and driveway.  Also having a much anticipated afternoon meeting scheduled the same day as the snow storm.
      Usual Solution: Head to the back room of the house with my knitting and coffee while dh, ds, and dd fire up the monstrosity of a snow blower, wield our new ergonomic snow shovels and clear the walk, car and driveway in time for me to leave for my meeting.

Note: Today was not usual.   This morning there was not enough snow on the ground to break out the snow blower.  By noon there was. Since my dh was at work, I was left to make a very difficult decision. 
The drive and car needed to be cleared out.  There was no way around that.  I had committed to go to a meeting this afternoon, and was looking forward to attending the discussion group.  (At a history museum...yes, geek, sigh, move on...)
My dilemma: My ds is just a tad too young to use the snow blower unsupervised.
My second dilemma: I have absolutely no clue how to start the thing, which direction to point it in, or how to make it stop.
My options were limited. 
1) I could interrupt my husband at work to try and get him to coach me through the process. After he picked himself up off the floor from laughing so hard, he would then have the daunting task of trying to teach me something that I don't really want to do, while he was 12 miles away....hmmm...that might have been the safest place for him.....

2) I could wrestle the big red beast out of the garage, spend 45 minutes poking  and pulling on things, hoping against hope that I would accidentally hit upon the correct combination of levers, cords and valves....or irrevocably snap some key component rendering the beast less than useless for future storms...

3) I could google a YouTube video on how to start/use a snow blower.....on my dinosaur computer...that takes forever to load videos...and freezes up on the buffering.....and not get the video to play until May....

4) Or, I could brace myself with a fresh pot of coffee, layer on the clothes and hand-knit wool hats, scarves and mittens, yell at  nicely ask my children to join me in the great out doors, and quietly clear the car and driveway with the perfect, silent,  low-tech tools.....shovels and elbow grease.

Silent that is, unless you count the moaning and groaning of my dear children.  Cries of, "Mom, why don't you just ask dad how to use the snow blower?   or... "Mom, why don't you just google..snow blower...?"  or... "Mom, why don't you just skip your meeting?"

Not. An. Option.   I was going to a meeting to discuss historical topics.  With other adults.  Who liked history.  There might even be coffee involved.

I am happy to report that we persevered.  The drive, sidewalk, front stoop and car were all cleared in plenty of time for me to make it to the meeting.  By hand/shovel.  In the peaceful quiet of the freshly fallen snow.

I came in to check my smoke signals  e-mail, hoping to see some new information about our topics for the meeting.  Instead, I found a message that went something like....
Due to the inclement weather, the meeting has been postponed to next Monday.  We apologize for any inconvenience this new date and time may cause.

I left the kids outside.  They were warm. They were happy building a snow fort in the front yard. They were blissfully unaware of the catastrophic announcement that greeted me from the computer screen.

      It is snowing again.   Enough to make me think that we may need to clear the drive and car again.
By snow blower.
When my husband comes home.
And I am safely ensconced in the far room of the house with my coffee and knitting.....

'cause I missed the class on that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

...genes  (part 1).....

I don't know how, because I rarely missed school.  I was/am one of those strange beings that tend to gravitate towards all things academia.  Almost every subject was interesting to me and I mostly paid attention in all of  my classes. (We'll leave my hate-hate relationship with computer classes for a different post!)

This is why I find myself vaguely confused.  I clearly remember being in my psychology classes when we covered the whole nature vs. nurture debate.   I still have my notes from the biology and anatomy classes I took (sigh, yes, nerd, move on).  Dominant and recessive genes, traits inherited from mothers or fathers, eye color, hair color, height, etc.   Fruit fly projects and plant experiments, DNA, RNA, x vs y chromosomes....I can remember it all.

What I can't remember is the day we covered the specifics on exactly how extended family members transmit their genes over vast distances AFTER the grandchild/niece/nephew has been born. 
Also missing from my notes are the discussions on the specific genetic anomaly known as sarcasm and its likelihood of being the one family trait to be passed on through the phone lines instead of the blood lines.
But I must have missed it.  That is the only explanation I can offer for the conversations I have been having with my pre-teen son recently. At most he gets to see his maternal grandparents twice a year.  Yet he recently has started sounding more and more like his uncle and grandfather.  Not in voice, but in speech patterns.  He and my brothers have more than enough words in their heads to make a phone company's "unlimited talk" plan beg for mercy.  My son and my father both get the same look on their face just before they are going to say something to deliberately provoke whatever woman happens to be in the same room with them. 
Case in point....a recent exchange with said son as I was tediously laboring over the stove to prepare his day-end meal....

Son: Hey mom...you're not starting a grease fire over there, are you?

Me:  No, my dearest, sweetest boy.  I am attempting to prepare a gourmet selection of protein and vegetables for your evening repast.  Grease fires are not in my repertoire and I would never, ever do anything to put your life, or your dinner in such jeopardy.

Son: (in perfect reincarnation of uncles and grandfather)  Sure.  That's what they all say.

I am very tempted to throw in the towel now, rather than spend the next six years or so verbally sparring with the genetic equivalent of my son, brothers and father.  Tempted, but not ready to give in to that temptation.   Instead,  I think I will spend the next few years searching through my notes and science texts looking for that elusive paragraph discussing the electronic transmission of the sarcasm gene.  Because he surely doesn't get it from his current environment.
I know I will need that information in the future, if my son can curb his witty genetic predispositions long enough to get married and have children.  Then I will have grandchildren....and a phone....  ;)

I think I have a few years to complete my research, but research I must....

'Cause I missed the class on that!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An open letter to my former students.

This covers a few hundred people out there in the big wide world.  People who have gone on to make some beautiful and powerful contributions to the world.
Such as:
Serve in the military.
Start a non-profit for education in Africa
Work in a demanding health care profession
Debate conservative politics in a respectful manner while attending a liberal leaning university
Get involved in local politics
Invest your life in ministry
Share the world through photography/writing/art
Accept learning/academic challenges head on and become stronger through them
Learn how to be leaders in business, law, technology and many other professions
Become spouses
Become parents
Become servants

You are in many different walks and stages of life.  You may even be in different generations....I don't think about that too often...makes me feel old.

Some of you are no longer with us.

Some of you are about to embark on your student teaching this upcoming semester and will soon have a classroom of your own.

You will work harder than you ever have in any course thus far.....and you will love almost every minute of it.  You will become protective of your young charges and want to see them succeed almost more than they want that for themselves.  You will wonder what they will be when they grow up.  You will laugh and cry with them and about them.  You will cherish every note they leave on your desk or in your mailbox.
You will be a teacher.

Regardless of your place in life, I am so proud of all  of you.

Don't miss the class on that!


Mrs. A  (Miss B)