Saturday, March 30, 2013

Policemen At The Easter Egg Hunt

I love the town I live in.

Our Easter Egg Hunt is always at the town's main park at 1PM on the day before Easter.  The local Recreation committee (of which I am currently the chair) puts this event on every spring.  This happens to be one of the events that I handle--we each have a few--so my home office has been mightily overrun with bags of prizes and candy and filled eggs for the last month or so.

13 bags of filled eggs on my kitchen table!

One of the traditions of this event is that the police chief always sends a patrolman in a squad car to the park shortly before the hunt starts.  We make our announcements through the police car's PA system and then the hunt is kicked off shortly thereafter with a blast from the siren.  Every year, I call up the chief and say, "Hey, Joe: the hunt is on [this date] this year.  Can you put us on the calendar for 12:45 or so?"  And every year, he says, "Sure."   How freaking cool is it to live in a town small enough to be able to do that??  At it happens, he has a son in Thing One's grade and I know him well.

This year, one of the patrolmen is actually on the Recreation committee.  He happened to be working today, so he was the one who came to help out.  Now, this guy has no kids himself (he's a young'un) but he came half an hour early and stayed half an hour afterward because he was having so much fun watching the kids and their families enjoying the event and the spring sunshine.

Bags of prizes in my car, waiting to be claimed after the hunt.  30 prizes in all!  

I knew the first guy was coming, but I was surprised when I noticed a second police car pulling into the park behind his.  The second policeman has a fourth-grade daughter, but she wasn't at the event: she was off riding her horse today.  He just came because he enjoys seeing everyone having fun as well.  We put him to work keeping people speeding into the park at the last minute from running over any of the kids waiting for the hunt to start.

Now, these were almost certainly the only two policemen on duty this afternoon.  Both stayed near their cars, and could have been gone in a second if need be.  (Last year, there happened to be a car accident during the Easter Egg Hunt, so the policeman was needed elsewhere and I started the event off with my car horn.)  But another great thing about life in this small town is that the only two policemen on duty in town today could both spend a full hour on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the park with the community, chitchatting and showing their human sides and making friends with the kids without receiving a single call from dispatch.  There is a lot to be said for that.  It's a major reason why we live here.

I'll leave you on this Easter Saturday with a picture of the manicure The Girl gave me this morning.  Hers matches, by the way.

Happy Saturday evening, however you are celebrating it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

I'm Getting Old...

Today, I read a post on another blog about Blues Clues, the children's TV show.  This show has had two different hosts over the course of its run on TV, and the author was extolling the virtues of the first host by name.  I realized with a start that I could not for the life of me remember the name of the second host: pathetic considering the number of episodes of that show I watched with one or another of my kids over the years!  I finally nudged the right brain cell into action and it spit out the correct name, but it took an embarrassingly long while.

Bad enough, but then: the coup de grace.

The Girl got one of those complimentary balloons at the grocery store yesterday.  Today, she decided to draw my face on it: why, I have no idea.  She included wrinkles in her drawing!

Maybe I'd have a more functional brain and fewer wrinkles if I'd never had kids...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Insane Or Efficient?

I sincerely wish that the thought of Thing Two having a playdate did not fill me with such dread for days beforehand.  Bless the child, he really wants to have friends over, but he isn't 100% clear on the concept of how to play nicely one-on-one for an extended period yet.

In fairness, I should note that the fact that we have reached this point, intermediate as it is, represents huge progress for him.  For years he didn't really interact with the other kids in his classes at all, probably because he got tired of not understanding anything they were saying to him.  So the kid had an uphill battle on his hands, socially speaking, to figure out how to interact properly once all the speech therapy started kicking in and his language comprehension began to improve.  Just this year, he's begun to have real friends, in the form of children that he repeatedly gravitates toward and plays with at recess, soccer practice, etc.  He's best with active games: tag, bowling, basketball, Wii, hide and seek, etc.  He has a harder time with imaginative play still, especially if it is the quieter kind.

So now, finally, he does have school friends, and he has grasped (from watching his big brother, and this increasing awareness of social norms is a huge step for him too) that he could be playing with these kids outside of school as well.  We've set up playdates for him in the past, with greater or lesser success depending on the kid invited over.  But we keep trying, because the social element for him is a missing piece that we really want to help him to work on.

This being their Spring Break week, and our usual after-school calendar being too full for many playdates, both boys have been asking to have friends over this week.  The first playdate I tried to set up was for Thing One.  The boy he wanted to have over was free this afternoon, and the mom asked if I could possibly include his younger brother as well because she needed to go in to work.  The younger brother conveniently being in Thing Two's grade, if not a particular friend of his, I agreed readily.

The Girl, hearing that both of her big brothers were going to have friends here today, and not at all the sort to quietly suffer being left out, asked for a playdate of her own with one of her classmates.  So for the last three days, I have been contemplating what it was going to be like to have six children here at once, which would be daunting enough even without Thing Two's social issues requiring relatively constant supervision of his interactions.  Efficient to schedule multiple playdates at once, but logistically challenging!

UPDATE: The three visitors left a little while ago, and I would call the playdate a virtually unmitigated success!  The girls played quietly and agreeably upstairs and downstairs, and the four boys alternated (together, as a group) between the Wii and the basketball hoop in the driveway.  Whew!  Now, I take a deep breath and relax...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ask Your Questions Now

I've mentioned that I'm a bit of a genealogy buff.  Unfortunately, I'm the only one of my generation on either side to care much about the family history.

Also unfortunate is the fact that my parents are both the youngest children in their families by a significant margin and that I was not born until my parents were in their late twenties.  My grandparents were all born between 1906 and 1910, so by the time I was old enough to have any meaningful conversation with them, they were well into their 70s, and the last of the four passed away almost fifteen years ago.

All of which is to say that, when I have family history questions, there really isn't anyone around to ask anymore.  I do have one great-aunt on my mother's side still living (the youngest of the 18 children in that family!), and on Dad's side, a sort-of cousin of my grandmother's by marriage, but that's it other than my parents and their siblings.  And as far as I can tell, Dad wasn't paying much attention to his extended family when he was a kid.  ;)

So, all of this is also to say that, if you want to know anything about your family history and there is still someone around to ask, do it now!  That won't be the case forever.  Also, having a person fill in the story behind the simple facts you can get from old census records, etc, or tell you what the people were like really makes the history come alive.

*climbs off soapbox*

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hello, My Name Is Mama D, And I'm An Addict

With all my heart and soul, I curse the person who first introduced my sons to Angry Birds.

A cute game, I mused, watching them play.  An enjoyable way to pass a few free minutes, I thought.  Ha.  Famous last words, as it turned out!

For those who may have been living under a rock for the past few years, the premise is simple.  Bad pigs have stolen the eggs from birds' nests, and the birds retaliate by trying to kill the pigs.  (The human game-player controls the birds.)  The birds are destroyed in the process of attacking the pigs, which seems a bit counterproductive, but my husband once correctly pointed out that the game is called "Angry Birds," not "Rational Birds."

At any rate, each level presents the player with a line of birds (each type of which has its own properties and abilities) that the player must launch sequentially into the scenario presented for that level: scenery and some kind of structure, in and around which the pigs are arranged in some configuration.  To pass the level, you must kill all the pigs with the birds you are given.  The more points you amass while doing so, the more stars you are awarded for that level, three being the maximum possible.

Fun and addicting.  Unfortunately, because I have mild OCD tendencies, I feel compelled to try to get three stars on every level.  And there are a LOT of levels, so this becomes a major time suck!  Not only are there many, many levels per Angry Birds franchise, there are actually five franchises, all of which I have downloaded--they are ridiculously cheap!--and play obsessively: the original, Space, Seasons, Star Wars, and Rio.   (Angry Birds Rio is somewhat different from the other four in that pigs are not the targets, but it's the same general idea of aiming birds into structures to collapse them.)

My beloved family constantly gives me grief about the amount of time I spend playing this silly game, and not entirely without justification.  My only defense is that it does teach and reinforce useful life lessons!  With this comment, after much consideration, I bring you my very own:


10) Aim high.  If something weighty is at the top of a structure (in this game, as in life), gravity is your friend.  When that object falls, so does the rest of the structure below it.

9)  As a corollary to this, it's important to pay attention to the configuration of a structure so that you can calculate where best to aim a shot.  (Sound familiar, anyone who works with org charts??)  Sometimes, starting operations at the bottom of a structure is most effective.

8)  Look for patterns.  If you've seen a particular configuration before, you should know what you need to do.  Why reinvent the wheel every time if you don't have to?  

7)  Use the tools you're given.  Sometimes, you don't have the tool you want, and improvising is the only way to go.  In this game, birds are your tools.

6)  As a corollary, know how to use your tools.  Doesn't matter what you're given if you don't know what to do with it, or how to use it most effectively.  (Each bird has its own properties...some go through wood, some stone, some glass, some explode or expand like a balloon or drop bombs.)

5)  Consider all the consequences.  What kind of chain reaction will a shot set off?  Is it a good one or a bad one?

4)  Think outside the box (or planetary orbit, or underwater world.)  The obvious way to do something is not always the way that's going to work.  If one approach doesn't work, try something else.

3)  And by extension: there is not always only one right way to do something.  As long as you get all the stars in the end, it doesn't matter which bird you put where in which order!

2)  Execution is everything.  Close only counts in the proverbial horseshoes and hand grenades.

And finally:

1)  Don't give up!  Sometimes it's the 100th attempt at the same shot that finally gets it exactly right.  "Patience, my young Padawan."

See, Dad??  Not a complete waste of my time, after all.  :)  May this list help you to win over the skeptics in your own life!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Change Of Plans (And A Rant Or Two)

The original schedule for today had the four of us (me and the kids, Himself still being out of town) leaving early in the morning for a soccer game of Thing One's in a town an hour away.  I wasn't especially looking forward to that after all the sports-related craziness of yesterday, except inasmuch as I hate Palm Sunday with a fiery passion and it was a perfect excuse for missing Mass today.

Unfortunately, we got a note on Friday explaining that today's game was cancelled because the field isn't open yet.  So, while happy about being spared the 120-mile round trip drive in a deer-dented car (mechanic appointment next week), I felt morally obligated to go to church instead.  Catholic guilt in action.

For any non-Christians among you, Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter.  This service is interminable, to begin with, and it is one of the services at which the story of Jesus's death is told in gory detail.  Having once been traumatized by an elaborate outdoor Stations of the Cross setup as a child (even now I can't imagine why elementary-school students would have been subjected to that!), I hate hearing the story to this day.  I know what happened; it does not need repeating multiple times a year.  So I spent the entire Gospel-reading period this morning making crosses from palm fronds instead.  A useful (?) skill acquired in childhood and never forgotten, and still a somewhat socially acceptable form of tuning out!

One other gripe about the palm fronds: each person in the church is given one upon entering, and they are blessed during the service.  But once blessed, they can't be thrown out!  (At least not without incurring some kind of divine wrath.)  They are collected the following year and burned to make the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.

At any rate, by the time we left we had somehow accumulated eight palm fronds.  Bear in mind that these things are a good two feet long and 3/4" across, other than the four I origami-ed into crosses.  Since I can't burn them or throw them away without getting on the wrong side of whatever the Catholic version of juju might be, and since I also have no intention of displaying eight of them in my house, I will quietly leave them in the back of the church sometime next week and be done with it.  The crowning irony is that the priest gave Thing One his own palm frond (one of the eight), presumably as a thank-you for helping with the service, but all I could think was that he didn't want to deal with the darned thing after Mass either.

And to add insult to injury, the C and E-ers were out in force today because this is one of the more major church services of the year.  Next week it will be hard to find a seat because they will all be there on Easter Sunday.  There are two schools of thought on this: A) that everyone should be welcomed to church whenever they show up, even the people who only come on Christmas and Easter (i.e., the "good-person" school of thought,) versus B) that regulars should have priority when it is crowded because they are actually there the other 50 weeks--or at least some reasonable subset of them--as well.

I was all live-and-let-live on this till I had kids.  Now I'm squarely in camp B for purely practical reasons.  Why should I have to get to church 45 min earlier than usual to get a seat (and then entertain the kids for 45 min!) because otherwise all of the seats will be taken before we get there by people who only show up twice a year?

Bah, humbug.  Just add this post to the list of all the other reasons why I'm going to hell...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Eleven Years

It had to be you
It had to be you
I wandered around
And finally found
Somebody who
Could make me be true
Could make me be blue.
Or even be glad
Just to be sad
Thinking of you.
Some others I've seen,
Might never be mean.
Might never be cross,
Or try to be boss,
But they wouldn't do.
For nobody else gave me a thrill,
With all your faults I love you still.
It had to be you, wonderful you,
It had to be you.

They say that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.  As it happens, I agree with Jim Benton that kissing a frog to get the prince is a waste of a perfectly good frog.  

I was never one of those who looked for the prince or the white horse or the fairytale.  When I met my now-husband, I wasn't looking for anything at all, as it happens.  He was my friend first, well before anything else. It took me a long time to realize that what I wasn't looking for was right in front of me.

Princes aren't real, at least the storybook ones.  Looking good on a horse wasn't high on my list of criteria for a potential husband, anyway: intelligence, a good sense of humor, solid values and a stable family were the big ones on my list.  What I found was a partner (not a prince, no fairytale rescue!), with all of these must-haves, who balances my volatility with calm, who has my back at all times and can make me laugh, no matter what; who has the most wonderfully solid shoulders for crying on and giving hugs; who loves our children beyond measure and is the man I want my sons to grow up to be.  And he can reliably set up all electronic devices in the house and fix my beloved internet connection when it goes down as a bonus!

Eleven years ago this afternoon, we stood together before Father Bryan, our families and friends and said our vows.  I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.  It was perfectly clear: it had to be you.

Murphy's Law

Just for something different.

Sat in the kitchen for the better part of the afternoon, working on various things with the kids.  Then went upstairs to ride the stationary bicycle for half an hour, as part of my ongoing efforts to rehab and protect my bad knee.  No joke: I was on the bike for less than thirty seconds before The Girl came up to inform me that the hall bathroom toilet (right off the kitchen!) had clogged.

A good mother would have immediately jumped off the bike and gone back downstairs to fix it.  (I would so dearly have loved to tell her to go ask her father to deal with it, but he's out of town.)  Not being that good mother, after ascertaining that no flooding was involved, I ended up telling her to lock the door and then close it from the outside so that her brothers couldn't get in and make the problem worse before I got downstairs.  Then I finished my bike ride!  Priorities, dammit.  Life (and plumbing) go on, none the worse for wear for the delay.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Okay, I Don't Like This Path I'm On

Last night, our school board meeting was so contentious in part that the police were nearly called.  The dispute in question involved a BOE decision pertaining to the child of a good friend of mine.  It's a small district and that kind of thing happens here.  Miserable, rotten experience on every level.

Then I hit a deer (!) on my way home in the dark.  Damned four-legged fleabags--this one literally walked out directly in front of my car and I didn't even have time to swerve.  I wasn't injured at all (thank you, Volvo, for your tanklike vehicles) and the car looks mostly ok from the outside, but probably sustained more internal damage than is superficially apparent.  Can't wait to hear what the repair guys are going to charge.

Then I went to school this morning for a spring party in Thing Two's class, and discovered that his beloved aide is being switched to a different classroom in the name of "making sure that the kids don't get too attached to her."  Not making this up.  And I am being dragged into other drama there left and right as well.

Oh, and did I mention that Himself left this morning for a three-day trip, and that Saturday is our anniversary?  He'll be back Monday afternoon.  In the meantime, I will be the chauffeur service for one soccer practice, one baseball practice, and two soccer games (both more than an hour away), dragging all three kids to each since there will be no other adult here.

Enough already...

68 Years Ago Yesterday...

...a baby boy was born in a steel-mill town in Ohio.  He grew up to be a smart kid and a good athlete, tall and dark-haired with big hazel-brown eyes.

He worked his way through college as an accountant at the steel mill in the summers, went on to earn an MBA, then married a girl from the neighborhood, one he'd known since kindergarten.  Neither of them had any idea that his career would eventually take them around the world, to places they would never have dreamed of seeing as children.

In the baby lies the
future of the world.
Mother must hold the baby close
so that the baby knows it is his
world but the father must take him to
the highest hill so that he can see
what his world is like.
- Mayan Indian Proverb

Thanks, Dad.  For showing us the world, and for being the loving husband, father and grandfather that you are.

Remember this one from my wedding?  Still've never let me down.

Happy belated birthday.  Love you much...  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Theme Song

To my great regret, it's looking more and more like Thing One will need some kind of intervention at school to help him slow down, focus, and concentrate.  Not sure yet whether that intervention will be behavioral or medical, but it's becoming clear that he is coasting on raw intelligence right now and that eventually he'll begin to flounder when that's no longer enough to overcome the organizational nightmares that are his desk, backpack and brain.

Working with him on math homework tonight, I had to remind him repeatedly to take his time, think and focus.  It isn't that he can't do the work--he just does it too fast and makes dumbass mistakes.  About halfway through the session, he asked me about the tune I was humming under my breath: I told him that it should be his theme song, since he hears the first line so often!  Good ol' Simon and Garfunkel...a lyric for every occasion.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Another batshit-crazy day is over, the fifth or sixth in a row.  Thankfully, the next few days will be a bit easier.  Feeling rather like an Army general with all the planning needed to get everyone to where they need to be with the right equipment when they need to be there.

But today was a big day for Thing Two--he made me proud.

First, I got a note from his aide telling me that she's seeing real improvement in his social skills at school.  This is his primary area of weakness other than the language processing problem, so this is a big deal for him.  As his language skills improve, his ability to pick up social cues and conform to social norms seems to be coming along as well, thanks be to God.

And that was just a bonus. The big thing on the radar for him today was a taekwondo belt test.

Now, this is the kid whom I fully expected to be told could not handle the class at all, way back when he started.  It's all verbal directions, all the time.  And for a borderline-ADHD kid to hack the self-control component, on top of that??  No way.

But he surprised me. Stripe after stripe came, then his first new belt, and his second.  Tonight, he earned his third, the Senior Yellow.  Bless the child: every day he moves a little bit forward, and the proof of his progress is marked in the stripes of electrical tape on his old belts in the bag in my closet.

After the testing, the head instructor calls each student to the front individually to receive their new belt and certificate.  The convention is that the student then bows to the instructors and other students before returning directly to his place in the back of the room.

Thing Two, seeing me off to the side videotaping his new belt ceremony for my husband, made an unexpected detour on the way back to his seat to hug me.  The rest of the room laughed, but to me it was almost a benediction, as if he were saying without words (to the person who worries most about him) that everything is going to be okay.  May it be so...

Monday, March 18, 2013

AC, Can You See...

Sorry...horrible pun.  I couldn't resist!

Hurt my shoulder learning to do a forward roll in taekwondo about a year ago.  It hasn't been quite right since, so I finally sucked it up and saw a shoulder specialist today.  X-rays, the whole shebang.  Apparently I have bursitis and also inflammation of the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which is the same one that is affected when you have a separated shoulder.  Himself separated the hell out of one of his shoulders a few years ago playing soccer and was completely miserable while it healed, so in the grand scheme of things, it could be a lot worse.  But I did end up getting two steroid shots directly into the joint, which were no picnic either!  Ouch.  Hopefully they will actually fix the problem.

The only silver lining is that I am not allowed to do push-ups for the next two weeks.  A small boon, but I'll take it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Pretender To The Cape

In the last 48 hours, I have:

* hosted two houseguests (they leave tomorrow)

* taken a child to soccer practice

* gone to the grocery store twice

* hosted an evening St. Pat's party for 30+ adults

* coordinated babysitting and dogsitting for said party

* gotten up at 7AM the morning after said party to clean up and then drive to to The Girl's school to sling pancakes for two hours for a fundraiser

* put together a Science Fair poster with Thing One

* made the arrangements necessary to change the date of one community event and then publicize the change

* sent three long emails relating to a Board of Ed agenda I'm putting together for next week

* spent an hour coordinating details for a summer program run by another committee I chair

* cooked two nice dinners (in addition to the party fare!)

* not gotten nearly enough sleep


* come down with a nasty cold.

I can't do this.  I am not Superwoman and I should stop pretending to be!!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Perfect Storm

House guests for four days, while hosting a St. Patrick's Day party for 30+ adults in the middle of the visit.  All the associated cooking and shopping, plus the regularly scheduled weekend kid-soccer.  Plus cleaning the whole house, since the babysitter will be upstairs with the kids while the party is going on downstairs.  Ye gods.

I've been a lunatic for a week now, trying to get ready for all this and do what I can ahead of time.  I did a bunch of cooking today, and there is much more to come tomorrow!  But right now I am in my bed with my iPad, surfing the Web and listening to my husband and his buddy laughing together in the kitchen downstairs over bourbon Cokes and the music and silly videos that they are playing on the computer.

These two guys met as sophomores in high school.  Although they only went to school together for two years, they have been the closest of friends for more than 25 years.  To see them now, you would wonder what they have in common: Himself is a corporate attorney, and his friend a helicopter-piloting Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines.  But they have a bond going back to those high school years that time and distance have never broken, and are as brothers in every way but blood.  They served as best men in each other's weddings and travel great distances to get together a couple of times a year.

Himself doesn't have much social time these days.  He works, he commutes, he gets home and spends time with the family, he coaches soccer, he sleeps.  We do spend some time with friends (me more than him) but never enough.

So, despite the fact that I'm tired and the two nutjobs downstairs are keeping me awake, it's okay.  Himself is recharging his batteries and I don't have the heart to interfere!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Brotherly Love

Thing Two regularly annoys the holy and living hell out of Thing One.  Sometimes deliberately, but much more often inadvertently: his social issues and difficulty with respecting the personal space of others can be difficult to deal with.  Thing One does a decent job of hanging in there, all things considered (as the big sister of a little brother who was highly annoying himself way back when, I sympathize!), but often he just wants Thing Two to leave him alone.   We keep trying to explain to him that his little brother adores him and wants his attention, but he doesn't always buy that.

Thing Two brings home a folder in his backpack every day, which contains all the work he did in class that day.  I check it after school as part of the routine.  Yesterday, as a pre-St. Patrick's Day writing assignment, he was apparently asked to answer the question "Who is worth more to me than gold?"

The answer, of all the possible things he could have written?  "My brother is worth more to me than gold.  I like to hug him a lot.  I play games with him."

I immediately called Thing One over.  He mumbled something under his breath when he read his brother's words, but I noticed that he took the paper with him when he left the room shortly afterward.

Later, on a hunch, I looked in Thing One's box of treasures, a small wooden chest that he keeps under his bed.  Guess what was in it?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jedi Time Tricks

For most of us, the ability to efficiently manage limited time is the difference between getting everything done and not doing so (or--if you are like me--crossing off everything on the ol' to-do list but becoming a raging, bitchy lunatic in the process, which is clearly not good either.)

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an article that brilliantly highlights the difference between things that are important and things that are merely urgent, using a Star Wars analogy to illustrate.  The author of the article argues that the secret to mastering your time is to systematically focus on things that are important, while minimizing the attention and time given to the merely urgent.

He suggests the following (read the article for more detail):

  • Say no.
  • Unplug the TV. 
  • Kill notifications. 
  • Schedule your priorities.
  • First things first. 
  • Less volume, more time. 
  • Ignore.

To all of which I say, "Amen."  Except that I think he has some of them in the wrong order, and I rarely watch TV anyway (except for The Big Bang Theory, and I will fight to the death the person who changes the channel when that show is on!)  

This is the take-home I got from the article:
"Identify and schedule the important.  Say "no" to as much of the rest as you need to."  

Identifying the important is not a problem for me.  But I am one who tends to get hopelessly bogged down in the urgent, which often then ends up waylaying the important.  And God knows that I have a terrible time saying "no" to anything!  (Although I am getting better at it in my old age.)

Given the length of today's to-do list, arguably I should not be blogging, since this is neither urgent nor important.  However, I am considering it my reward for knocking two things off my list this morning that were both important AND urgent...a few minutes of playtime before moving on down the list, if you will.  

After all, what's the point of saving time through focused efficiency if you can't then blow the saved time on something that you actually enjoy doing??

Monday, March 11, 2013

Just Crown Me Queen Monkey-Brain

Read an interesting article the other day (in a running magazine, of all things) that mentioned the Buddhist concept of the monkey mind.  That was new to me, and I had to look it up:

The monkey mind (kapicitta) is a term sometimes used by the Buddha to describe the agitated, easily distracted and incessantly moving behaviour of ordinary human consciousness (Ja.III,148; V,445). Once he observed: ‘Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.’ (S.II,95). Anyone who has spent even a little time observing his own mind and then watched a troop of monkeys will have to admit that this comparison is an accurate and not very flattering one. On another occasion the Buddha said that a person with uncontrolled craving ‘jumps from here to there like a monkey searching for fruit in the forest’ (Dhp.334). In contrast to this, the Buddha asked his disciples to train themselves so as to develop ‘a mind like a forest deer’ (miga bhūtena cetasā, M.I,450). Deer are particularly gentle creatures and always remain alert and aware no matter what they are doing.  (Text taken from this site)
Not flattering, indeed.  But there could be a picture of me next to this definition in a dictionary!  Especially right before I fall asleep and if I happen to wake up enough for thoughts to get going in the middle of the night.  When my body is still, my brain goes haywire and leaps from thought to thought: sometimes it is very difficult to shut down the swirling mental maelstrom enough to sleep.  Or focus, as in the case of yoga often as not I am composing to-do lists in my head instead of just being calm and aware in the moment. 
Not sure if this is a behavior I can change, but now I will have the mental image of myself running around like a monkey looking for fruit as incentive to learn to get my brain under control!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Our Kids Are Screwed

Thing One has a science fair project due in a couple of weeks.  Since next week and weekend will be very busy, he had to get it done today.  He came up with a good hypothesis to test by himself, and designed and carried out his experiments with only minor supervision needed.  

Himself has bachelor's and master's degrees in Engineering, and I have bachelor's and doctoral degrees in Biology.  Between us, we have at least ten years of lab experience.  After Thing One collected all of his data, Himself and I spent a good ten minutes arguing good-naturedly between ourselves about the best way for him to analyze and present it.  And the worst part is that since we were conducting the discussion at an adult level (qualitative versus quantitative analysis, statistical significance and so on) the kid had absolutely no idea what we were talking about.  His head was just going back and forth like he was watching tennis!

We eventually looked at each other, started laughing, and let the kid write his Results & Discussion section on his own.

Dorks, the both of us.  But at least a matched set of dorks with a sense of humor about it!


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Feeling Taken For Granted?

Last night, I'd had enough.  I sometimes feel like just the cook/housekeeper/chauffeur around here, and it seemed like anytime anyone talked to me, it was to ask me to clean something or cook something or get something or do something for them.  And invariably right after I sat down or started doing something else.  I actually took myself upstairs for a time out at one point.

The truth is, I know that I'm loved.  I know that my family appreciates what I do for them.  But they don't always remember to say thank you, or even (in the case of the kids) to use their manners when they ask me for something. It gets really frustrating.

But another truth is that I don't always remember to show my appreciation, either.  Himself is a good and loving man and I am very happy to be married to him.  I know that sometimes I take him for granted too.

Read an article yesterday about the importance of appreciation in relationships, and how often divorces result from one partner feeling unappreciated for an extended period.  It started with a quotation from William James: "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

Ain't that the truth.  Major food for thought.

So, instead of getting mad, I will try to remember to explain how I feel when I feel unappreciated, so that hopefully it will happen less frequently.  And I will try to remember to show my own appreciation more often, too, for the kids as well as Himself.

Sounds like a pair of good Lenten resolutions, at a bare minimum.  Pity we're halfway through already, but they say it takes at least two weeks to form a new habit, and these would be habits worth forming.  Especially if they help to preserve my marriage!

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Mind Is In The Gutter And I'm Probably Going To Hell

Back when I was in college, I spent a lot of time in the Engineering building's computer lab.  For reasons that escape me (this was certainly not a deliberate thing), four consecutive boyfriends were engineers of some kind--if I wanted to see any of them during the week, they'd be in the lab programming or working on problem sets or some such craziness.  I'd grab a free Sparc workstation (yes, I know I'm dating myself) and get my own work done while hanging out.

Anyway, senior year, the engineer I was seeing at the time was actually working part time in the computer lab as well, so I was there often enough to enjoy watching the progress a mutual friend of ours was making on a project for a programming class he was taking.  The assignment was to recreate a classic video game, and he'd chosen Defender, which is a 2D game involving a spaceship that shoots at various things while trying to avoid enemy projectiles.

He didn't appreciate that we nicknamed his version of the game "Duck-fender," but his spaceship really did look like a duck.  The final straw, however, came when he started programming the enemy projectiles into the game and they looked for all the world like flying sperm!  He got good-natured grief about that from the guys for weeks.  It was funny at the time, but over the years I'd completely forgotten about it.

Thing One has been taking a programming elective once a week after school for the last couple of weeks.  They are using Scratch to create a computer game, and he's loving every minute of it.  Yesterday, he came home with a preliminary version of his game, which he very proudly showed me.  And which immediately took me back umpteen years to good ol' Duck-fender!

All I am going to say about his game is that the object shooting the projectiles is supposed to be a rocket and the projectiles are supposed to be bombs of some kind.  And that my mind went somewhere else entirely based on their actual appearances, although fortunately I had the presence of mind and self-control to keep my mouth shut and not laugh out loud.  Good thing, too, because the explanations could have been seriously awkward!



Thursday, March 7, 2013

Drinking To Cultural Sharing

Two days ago, my Indian taekwondo instructor brought a thermos of tea to class for me to try.  It was absolutely delicious: strong and milky and richly flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg, cardamom and ginger and a tiny bit of black pepper.  I don't usually keep cardamom around, but the other spices I have, so I asked for her recipe.  She gave it to me and told me that she would give me some cardamom today, since she gets it in bulk. This morning, she came to class with a small glass jar of tea mix for me instead, all the spices ready to use!  Just add a bit to tea with milk.  And the next time she goes to the Indian grocery, she is going to find me the proper sort of tea to use to make sure that I make it correctly: she takes this very seriously.

Seeing this cultural lesson going on, and not to be outdone, a Filipina classmate then tells me about crystallized ginger and honey tea, a kind that comes in little packets that you stir into hot water.  She had a spare packet with her and sent it home with me to try.  That was a great find too: spicy and sweet and smooth and warming from the inside out.  Apparently good for stomach-settling, also. When she goes to her husband's uncle's store at Easter, she is going to pick me up a big bag of those packets!

Now, I live in what feels like the white-bread, white-skin capital of the universe.  Not many minorities here, and not a huge selection of ethnic foodstuffs either.  How lucky am I to have found one of the few pockets of ethnic diversity in the area with this class (bearing in mind that the other daytime instructor of this Korean discipline is an Egyptian Muslim)??

And the cultural sharing goes both ways, too...both the Indian (vegetarian Hindu) and Egyptian instructors attended a Christmas party at one classmate's house in December and will be at my house next weekend for our annual St. Patrick's Day extravaganza.  You share your traditions with me, I'll share mine with you, and we'll all be the better for it.

And in the meantime, I'll be toasting better world understanding with a cup of tea!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's In A (Maiden) Name?

Saw an article about surname-changing the other day.  I honestly don't remember whether the author was justifying keeping her maiden name or explaining why she didn't, but it got me thinking about the subject.

When I was a grad student, there was an incident in which a postdoctoral fellow's daycare provider repeatedly called our lab trying to find her, and those of us answering the phone kept telling the caller that she had the wrong number because we didn't recognize the name she was saying.  Turned out that this postdoc (who was new to the lab at the time) had two children whose surname was the same as her husband's.  We knew her as Janet X, so when someone called the lab asking for "Mrs. Y," we just didn't make the connection.  Fortunately, we eventually figured it out and things were fine.  But it did bring home for me one complication of not all having the same family name.

In science, your surname is everything, since your publication record (books and articles published in scientific journals) is what gets you your doctorate, your job, and the grant money without which you have no functioning lab.  There are strictly observed conventions for how authors are listed in these publications, too: the first author listed did most of the work, and the last author is the most important person on the list, usually the person in whose lab the work was done.  (Whose name is listed where in the order of authors is a big deal and often the subject of big arguments!)  Accordingly, women almost never change their surname after establishing a publication record, because then it's harder for people to keep track of what work you've done.  The usual change you see is hyphenation, if there is any change at all.

For a variety of reasons, I decided early on in the graduate school process that I had zero desire to be an academic professor.  I like and respect the professor in whose lab I did my graduate work, but I saw what his life was like and wanted no part of it.  With the help of an internship that this professor (my thesis advisor) was kind enough to let me pursue on his lab time, I was able to transition into a different career right out of grad school, this career not requiring a publication record, and also having much more job security than academia.

Himself and I were married about two years after I finished grad school.  Since by that point I had not only a publication record but two years of history at a company, I decided to keep my maiden name as my middle name and take my husband's surname, figuring that anyone who needed to find me would then be able to find me.  A good idea in theory, but a major nightmare in practice!

First stop: Social Security office, marriage license in hand.  No problem there, actually.  New middle initial, new last name.

Then, the DMV, who in their smug, bureaucratic way, informed me that my marriage only changed my surname, not my middle name.  They issued me a new driver's license with my new surname and old middle initial.  A week later, I went back and showed them my new Social Security card and innocently said that there must have been a mistake with the middle initial on my new driver's license.  15 min later, new driver's license with correct (new) middle initial.  Ha!  Take that, bureaucrats.

Last: a new passport.  For any who have not had the fun of getting this far into the process, if your current passport is still valid, they don't issue you a new one.  They just put an addendum into the back with your new name, so until it expires, you have a passport with two different surnames in it.          

Was I done there?  Sadly, no.  At my company, I had to provide notice of my name change three separate Payroll, the guy who controlled the phone list, and then the guy who assigned email addresses.  Nuts.  

This whole process took me several months to complete.  A work friend who married a few months after I did decided to just keep her maiden name after watching the hassle I went through.

I love my husband dearly, which is a good thing since I'm never changing my name again!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

You Know You're In For It...

When the Board of Ed president emails the members to say that tonight's meeting is going to go late and to bring snacks and caffeinated beverages!

I'm betting I get home after midnight.  Wish me luck.  Budgets and bullying and behavior, oh my...

*UPDATE: walked in the door at 11:35PM.  Score!  Himself left me a glass of good red wine on the kitchen island and orders to drink it before coming upstairs to help me settle down for the night.  The man is a keeper...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Breaks Gender Stereotypes, My Ass

Thing One is a bright kid, especially in math and science.  Yes, I am his mother and therefore more than slightly prejudiced on the subject, but the thing speaks for itself.  He's been in his school's Talented & Gifted program (TAG) since kindergarten.  For the record, this post is not intended to be a brag session on my kid...I'm just setting the scene for a rant!

One of the subjects my subcommittee of our school board deals with is curriculum.  If I have to hear the phrase "best practices" in this context one more time, I may well scream, but courtesy of this exposure, I happen to know what the best practices are for TAG.  I also know that we haven't been following them since Thing One was in kindergarten, for one reason or another.  That year was phenomenal.  Since then, not so much.

Part of the TAG experience is that every so often, the kids need to be reevaluated to see if they still qualify.  Thing One's membership in this club is currently up for renewal.  Left up to me, I'd consider yanking him and being done with it.  Although he definitely belongs there, I'm not sure that what he's getting out of it justifies the class he misses to be there.  But he's old enough to make the decision, and he wants to stay.  His reasons are primarily social, but fair enough.  His call, at least as long as he manages to keep all the other balls he's juggling in the air too.


Now we have to jump through all the re-eval hoops.  He has to take a couple of standardized tests for math and language arts.  The powers that be will look at his state assessment results from last year.  His teachers will weigh in.  He has to do an individual project.  And there is a required parental assessment, the subject of today's steam-venting.

I have two major issues with the parental assessment.

First, what is the incentive to be honest?  Assuming that you actually want your child to be in the program, why in the world would you ding your own child in your assessment, even where the child truly deserves to be dinged, when your evaluation carries the same weight as all of the others and could be the deciding factor in keeping him or her out of the program?

Second, and more fundamentally, the assessment questions all relate to how, in your opinion, your child compares to his peers in seven areas, with multiple questions in each.  Five areas are academic (math, science, etc) and the final two are leadership and creativity.  Now I ask you: how am I supposed to know how my son compares to his peers in these areas, particularly the first five?  I'm not in the classroom.  I don't see the other children's work.  I don't hear the questions they ask.  I don't know what their knowledge base might be.  I have no meaningful basis for judgment whatsoever.  Complicating things further, most of Thing One's closest friends happen to be other TAG kids, so those are the ones I know best.  Am I comparing Thing One to these peers, or his class at large?  Those would yield two different sets of answers on this assessment.

Himself and I did the assessment a few days ago, because we had to.  We got through most of it without too much trouble.  But then we got to the Creativity section: not Thing One's strongest suit, to be sure.  But one of the questions in that area was so freaking ridiculous that I just have to share it here.

On a scale of one to four, four being highest (a score of four meaning that your child displays this behavior to a level far beyond the level expected of a "typical" peer, whatever that is):  

Breaks Gender Stereotypes.

Any teachers who may be reading this: does the breaking of gender stereotypes really have anything to do with creativity?  And even if it does, does this mean that to score a four on this question, my son would have to be creative in a far more female way (again whatever *that* means) than his peers?  What a load of PC codswallop.  I actually wrote that I thought it was a ridiculous question right on the evaluation form.

We'll see if he gets back in.  It will be interesting...


Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Successful Adventure And A Crazy Day

I wrote a while back about the rut we're in as a family (in my opinion, anyway) and my desire to give the kids some different experiences.  We tried one yesterday and it went well.  Amazingly so, actually, considering that the day was insane before we even left for our adventure: the kids had two basketball practices, a basketball game, a soccer practice, and a birthday party between them before 1:30!  With that kind of schedule, parents have to divide and conquer...I took the basketball practices and birthday party and Himself the basketball game and soccer practice.      

Himself's undergrad alma mater is about an hour from our house, maybe an hour and a half.  I've been there with him before, as has Thing One, but not the younger two.  Where we live is very rural, but this school is smack in the middle of a major city...serious culture shock for our young country mice!  Took the kids on a campus-exploring stroll first, including the obligatory apparel stop at the bookstore.  Two shirts and a hat later, we went to dinner, and then to a college basketball game that featured the absolute worst refereeing I've seen in years.  Luckily for me, "What the HELL was that???" was the worst thing the kids heard me say, and the good guys won in a nail-biting finish.  

The munchkins had a great time at the game.  And they loved watching the band and cheerleaders, too.  Way back in the dark ages of my youth, I played the trumpet in my university's marching band.  We played for both football and basketball games, so seeing those guys last night was a major trip down memory lane for me.  Although we didn't have cowbells in our percussion section, unlike these guys...a major oversight.  Gotta have more cowbell.  

Three kids slept all the way home.  Fun day, busy day, new experiences, no meltdowns.  Already planning the next change from the routine!  


Friday, March 1, 2013

Ain't That The Truth

I'm late to the party on this, I know.

I don't watch the Oscars.  I don't watch many movies, for that matter.  And I really don't give a shit who wore what dress or showed up with whom.

So it took me a while to come across this article about Ben Affleck's acceptance speech, in which he apparently said the following to his wife:

I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.

I gather that this remark precipitated an uproar of criticism from people who think that marriage (or at least public discussion of marriage) should be all unicorns and rainbows.  And who clearly don't have a clue.  

Kudos to you, Ben, for admitting in front of the whole English-speaking universe that a good relationship is hard to maintain and needs effort put into it every day.  I have a hard time imagining a message more antithetical to the whole spirit of Hollywood, land of the 72-day made-for-TV marriage and fake everything.  

Not the kind of reality normally seen on TV, but reality nonetheless.

Copied Shamelessly From Facebook Because It Spoke To Me

45 Life Lessons
Written by Regina Brett of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio 

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short not to enjoy it.

4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.

5. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for things that matter.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye… But don’t worry; God never blinks.

16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.

18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It’s never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words, ‘In five years, will this matter?’

27. Always choose Life.

28. Forgive but don’t forget.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give Time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d
grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have, not what you think you need.

42. The best is yet to come…

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Preview, Part 2

(Or maybe this should have been part 1 since it will happen first.) We dropped Thing One off at his first sleepaway soccer camp on Saturda...