Fall woods

Fall woods

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Boxing Day

Christmas is over.  It was lovely and peaceful and many good gifts were exchanged and a delicious meal was eaten ending with my paternal grandmother's chocolate pie and GOD I'm glad I don't have to listen to any more Christmas music!!  I actually don't mind the old traditionals at all but the constant playing of the pop star of the moment's cover of something annoying like "Santa Baby" makes me want to gouge my ears out with a grapefruit spoon.  Anyway.

Started the morning today with an aikido class (me) and a ten-mile run (Himself.)  We have some British friends in town who hosted a traditional Boxing Day party this afternoon involving soccer and good food and fun games and port-soaked fruitcake and a fun time was had by all.  Now we are watching the other kind of football and chilling on the sofa.  Wishing you all (at least those of you who celebrate Christmas) post-holiday quiet and happiness!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

The kids are nestled all snug in their beds, the presents are out and stockings are hung. Himself and I are watching A Christmas Story, glasses of Pinot Noir in hand. It's almost midnight here but we're enjoying the peace after the craziness of the day. Tomorrow will start early, though, so we need to get to bed soon. The deal with the boys (our resident early birds) is that they cannot wake us up until at least 6:30, so I suspect that at 6:30:01 there will be an almighty ruckus in the hallway!  Petunia will be as groggy as the adults, night owl that she is.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Another Poll

So many thanks to those of you who gave opinions about the Christmas tree lights!  Colored and non-blinking it will be for next year.  :)

On a more serious note, I just spent about two hours wrapping all the Christmas presents.  The last big pre-holiday job bites the dust!  However, Himself and I have the same wrapping-related debate every year and I hereby throw it open to you all as well.  A few years ago I read something on Facebook that really resonated with me, to the effect that big presents for kids should not be from Santa, since it isn't fair for "Santa" to bring an XBOX One to one child and a hat and mittens to his classmate purely as a function of the families' relative economic situation.  Made a lot of sense to me.  The kids are getting a big present this year (a gaming system) and it is from us. That did leave open the question of how much of the other stuff should be from Santa, which is a formal decision since the Santa presents in our house all have the same wrapping paper, which is different from the paper used for the other gifts (yes, I'm nuts.)  Since I was wrapping presents without husbandly input, my solution to the conundrum was to wrap one nice gift for each child in the Santa paper and the rest in the other wrapping paper.   Himself thinks I went too far the other way and that kids should get more than one gift from Santa.  I actually think that they won't notice or care who any gift is from in the heat of the moment and that we are worrying about something that will be a nonevent, but it is what it is regardless this year since I'll be damned if I'm rewrapping anything at this point.  It is also worth bearing in mind that the kids are 8, 10 and 12 now, and that I can't believe the eldest even believes in Santa anymore although we haven't had the conversation.

So, all of this is to say that I would love to hear how you would handle this.  All from Santa?  None from Santa?  If something in between, where would you draw the line?  Ugh.  Too complicated.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Funny

I'm going to see a matinee performance of a Christmas show this week with two of my aikido girlfriends. The husband of another friend is one of the actors, and we discussed bringing flowers to give him after the show. I jokingly suggested that we should throw underwear at him instead, much to the horror of the Indian girlfriend who has apparently never heard of Tom Jones despite living in the US for a good 20 years or so. :)


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hallelujah

Had a Board of Ed subcommittee meeting today, one of those routine ones that usually precedes the full Board meeting by a week or so.   One of the things on our agenda was the standardized test scores our district recently received.  Kids took the test last May, so the delay in getting results back seems pretty damned ridiculous, but it is what it is.  Bureaucracy at its finest.  Anyway, we went through the district and state data as a committee and were relieved to find that our kids' scores matched or exceeded the state average pretty much across the board, and in some cases exceeded it by a lot.  Good news.  Some areas that definitely need work, but still: one of the nice things about this test is that it highlights the kids' educational gaps very clearly for curriculum reworking and backfilling.

We received the overall district scores a month or so ago, but the kids' individual forms only early this week.  They are being mailed home in a day or two, but happened to be sitting in a cardboard box on the principal's desk (ten feet from the table at which our meeting was being held) while we were discussing the stats.  I had a question about the format of the report going home to parents at one point, and the principal got up from the table, walked over to the box and handed me a piece of paper densely covered with writing after digging around for a few seconds.  When my eyes focused, I realized that I was looking at Thing Two's Language Arts score sheet AND THAT HE SCORED CLOSE TO THE NORMAL RANGE HOLY CRAP ON A CRACKER.  Not quite at the expected level for the grade but pretty damned close.  Just below the cutoff score.  My kid with the massively crossed language wires, on his first standardized test ever.  I was fully expecting him to tank the damned thing.  Our principal used to be the Special Ed director and knows him well, and she just laughed when I asked her if a BOE member had ever tap-danced for joy in her office before!  Then she dug around a little more in the box and pulled out his math test results, which showed that he scored solidly into the "passing" range, not as much of a surprise but still pretty cool considering that these math tests are heavy on the word problems.  As the icing on the cake, she then found Thing One's results for me: he blew the doors off both tests, scoring in the highest category for both.  

I understand some of the uproar over standardized testing, but it's pretty much a fact of life.  Not the be all and end all by any means, but there has to be some sort of cross-district and -state yardstick and if it wasn't this test it would be another one.  I told the boys back in May to just relax and do their best but not to worry too much about it, and I meant it, but GEEZ it feels good to have Thing Two within spitting distance of his grade level peers finally and at last!  Poor kid has been busting his tailfeathers with two different speech therapists and with extra reading comprehension exercises and whatnot for years now, and when I got home I told him that he should be proud of himself because all his hard work and determination are paying off.  He beamed.  


  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Success

After months of training, Himself ran a marathon in 3:24:03 this morning.  This was noteworthy for two reasons:

1) it's his fastest time ever by several minutes, and
2) it's a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon for his age group by almost a full minute!

A very big deal on both counts.

For any who don't happen to carry mile splits in their heads (aka non-running, normal people), that's 7:47 miles for 26.2 miles straight.  I can't run one mile that fast.  So happy for him!!

Also, I didn't want to be stuck in a car with him for three hours on the way home tomorrow if he missed his goal.  :)


Monday, November 30, 2015

Poll

With respect to lights on Christmas trees, do you prefer:

A) white/nonblinking
B) white/blinking
C) colored/nonblinking
or
D) colored/blinking??

Inquiring minds would love to know.  Himself and I are of diametrically opposed opinions on the subject (one of us prefers white/nonblinking, the other colored/blinking) so I'm curious as to which of us is more with the majority??

Yes, I know.  First world issue.  But still...I await your thoughts.  :)


Sunday, November 29, 2015

I Love My Nerdy Family

It's Sunday morning.  Himself and I have been sitting in the kitchen drinking our tea and coffee respectively and chatting for maybe half an hour, with the sounds of Petunia and Thing Two peacefully playing together in the basement for background accompaniment.  Thing One wanders into the kitchen, says good morning to us and then goes downstairs to join his siblings.  Not FIVE SECONDS later there is an uproar: "No!!  Leave that alone!! Go away!!  

Himself calls Thing One to the bottom of the basement stairs.  

H: "What are the three factors needed for an explosion?"
TO: "Fuel, oxygen and ignition."
H: "Don't be the ignition!"

I don't know what is going on with those two boys but they can't be anywhere near each other these days without all hell breaking loose immediately.  Half tempted to tell both of them to put on their protective taekwondo sparring gear and pitch them out into the backyard to work things out. Would be a reasonably fair fight and maybe they can ditch some of their excess testosterone that way!




Saturday, November 28, 2015

It's The Most Stressful Time Of The Year

Is there any better way to deal with a massive to-do list than just to put your head down and plow into it??

In the last two days I've done 90+% of the Christmas shopping and almost all the house decorating other than the tree (which is up and will be decorated tomorrow.)  Wrapping and baking and holiday carding and such are yet to be done, but will be tackled soon. My goal every year is to try and get the big stuff done by the beginning of December, the idea being that if I am not a total basket case I might actually ENJOY the damned holiday season.  Novel concept.  I have nothing against Christmas whatsoever, but its approach on the calendar reliably makes me vibrate with preemptive agita.

Oh well.  If I can't get everything done early, I can always go kick something hard in taekwondo class. That's a great stress-buster too.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful Today

For my beautiful daughter, who builds fairy houses in the backyard out of sticks and leaves, not just for any old fairies, but for the sick and homeless fairies so they have a safe and warm place to sleep.  

For my younger son, who tries so hard and has come so far, bless his rock hard, stubborn little head and his loving heart. 

For my older son, the one stuck between childhood and adolescence, the one with so many gifts and no clear path yet, who will still hug me at the school bus stop even in front of his friends.

For my mother, who understands me and loves me anyway.  
For my father, who says I'm perfect even though he knows better.
There are no better parents in the world. 

For my in-laws: she who has welcomed me as a daughter from day one, and he who would willingly take all three of my kids to the park by himself to give me a break even back when one or more of them were in diapers.  

For my husband, who is my rock in stormy seas.

For my friends, near and far, old and newer, who enrich my life and make me laugh.

I am blessed.




Monday, November 23, 2015

Full Praise To Teachers

For the second year running, I taught three sections of eighth grade science today.  A chance encounter with the science teacher at the soccer field last fall that started as a discussion about the curriculum (my BOE subcommittee) somehow took a detour into my professional background. Once he heard that I am a cancer biologist by training, he asked if I would come and talk to his kids about new types of targeted cancer therapies as an addition to their regular cancer unit.  Sure, no problem.  Right up my professional alley.  Not trivial to tailor that material to the eighth grade level (you get into the nitty gritty pretty quickly no matter how hard you try to stay at 30,000 feet) but apparently it went well last year since he asked me back again this year!  Made a few changes to my presentation and brought it and my prop box to school today as requested.

First class period: despite the fact that the presentation was virtually the same as the one that went over well last year, I got almost no response from the kids.  No questions and none of the kind of body language that says 'I'm listening.'  I might as well have been talking to an empty classroom.  Very disheartening.  Second class period: the total and complete opposite.  Interest, enthusiasm, really outstanding questions, one girl who actually came up to me after class to have a point clarified.  Third class period: somewhere in the middle but more like the second class.  Fewer kids with questions but still good questions and a couple of kids who were clearly very engaged.

When the last kids walked out, I looked at the teacher (who had to be in the room with me for all three periods because I'm not certified) and just shook my head.  I asked him what I got wrong with the first class and right with the second two!  He said absolutely nothing, that it is just the personality of the three classes. Then he told me to imagine tailoring my lectures to those three very different groups five days a week while still getting all the material across!  Wowza...that's a tall order.  Three cheers for him and all his professional brethren.

Thing One happens to have the same guy for seventh grade science this year; I believe he teaches five sections altogether.  Thing One's class walked in a few minutes after the third section of eighth graders left. Thing One gave a halfhearted wave when he saw me and then took off for the back of the room with his buddies.  In yet another alpha-omega moment, my best friend's daughter (two kids behind him walking in) ran straight up to me and gave me a bear hug.  Whiplash, thy name is middle school!




Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Thing, It Is Done

The new taekwondo belt, it is earned.  Fair and square.  Two and a half hours' worth of exertion.  They don't let you go into the test if you don't already know your material...the test is mostly to challenge you physically, which it did.


Only one more belt between me and Black now!  Never would have believed it when I started out.  Guess there really is something to the old joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Direct, Guide Or Shut Up??

The everlasting parental conundrum.

When they were little, it was easy.  Less guiding and shutting up, more directing needed from me.  As Thing One in particular gets older, that balance is changing and both of us are feeling our way through it, may the universe help us stay sane while we do so.

He's 12 now and in seventh grade.  His second year of middle school.  Hard as it is to fathom, he has fewer than six more years with us and then he'll be gone.  Sometime between now and then, he's going to have to learn to navigate the world on his own.  A pretty tall order for somebody who doesn't even like staying home by himself at this stage of the game, I might add.

Ever mindful of the need for him to eventually become independent, I'm trying to back off. I suck mightily at this, by the way, but I'm trying nevertheless.

A couple of days ago, he came home upset about a social situation he's dealing with at school...it was pretty much the first thing out of his mouth when he walked in the door.  First and foremost, I'm grateful that he's still voluntarily talking to me, and I hope that continues.  I'm sure as hell not taking it for granted.  The details aren't important, and the situation is decidedly mundane in the grand scheme of things, but it does represent the first time he and his group of buddies have run into this particular scenario, so none of them have a clue how to handle it.  While I understand Thing One's initial reaction entirely, it came from a place of thinking more about his own feelings than those of others, which isn't really the pattern you want to reinforce as a parent, so I wasn't quite sure what to do.  I ended up having a quiet chat with him after he was done venting steam and calmer--just pointed out an alternative view of the situation and the likely feelings of the other kids involved and left it at that.  My attempt at the Guide approach.  Didn't want to tell him what I would do, just figured I'd see how he would handle things on his own given that little extra bit of non-accusatory input.

First thing he did was talk things over with his best friend.  I gather that the two of them together then went to the rest of their posse with their conclusions, after which the group dynamic changed and the situation resolved itself.  The eventual actions were more or less what I would have suggested had I been in Direct mode, so it was gratifying to see the boys get to pretty much the same place on their own.

I mentioned all of this to Himself after the fact, and he wondered aloud (not in a mean way at all, I hasten to add) if I should have just kept my mouth shut and left Thing One to his own devices entirely as a social learning experience.  There's something to be said for that, sure.  There will probably come a time when he won't want to listen to anything I say anyway, and if so, that will become the approach by default.  In the meantime, though, I'm going to aim for guiding as opposed to directing and listening more than either one (the whole two ears, one mouth thing)...please wish me luck with this because I'm going to need it!!






Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Beyond Fortunate

The other day a friend regaled me with a series of eyebrow-raising stories from a recent extended-family trip that included her mother-in-law.  Seems that she is a difficult and attention-seeking sort (the MIL, not the friend) and embarrasses them all regularly, particularly the grandkids. In the middle of the conversation, I picked up my cell phone and dashed off a quick text to my own MIL thanking her for being so awesome!  Nothing like a good solid dose of perspective to make you appreciate your blessings.

For whatever reason, many of my friends have mothers who are ugly-mean or batshit crazy or both, so my mother has received a number of "thank you for being normal" calls from me over the years as well.  In thinking about this tonight, it occurred to me that I am one of only a very few lucky women I know who get along well with both their own mother and their MIL.  To complete the trifecta, these two lovely women even get along well with each other!  I'd say I'm so lucky I should go buy a lottery ticket, but I've already hit the jackpot.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just Can't Wrap My Head Around It

My mom and dad have these friends they've known since they were first married.  The wife of the couple passed away a few years ago, God rest her soul, but the husband is still with us.  They are (were?? having trouble with tenses here because only one is still living) my brother's godparents and the kind of friends who are enough like family that I grew up calling them Aunt and Uncle and referring to their kids as my cousins even though there is zero blood relationship.  Yes, that was a rambling and probably grammatically incorrect introduction, but it does at least explain my relationship with the guy I'm about to discuss, who is the younger of their two kids and about two years older than I am.  I'll call him Frank.

My parents only lived in the same city as Frank's parents (a smaller one in upstate NY) for six or seven years, but Frank's parents were born and raised in that town and they stayed to raise their own kids there as well.  Frank went through high school there and didn't quite manage his dream of getting into Notre Dame, although several of his closer high school friends did.  He wound up attending another nationally known university a few hours away.  The year I was a freshman and he was a junior, I went home with him for some school break or other...maybe spring break?  Any cockamamie idea the collective parents might have had about Frank and I ending up together ended at that point, because even then both of us could tell there was just no way for a variety of reasons, but we get along well to this day.  At any rate, through him, I got to know his two friends at ND, one male and one female.  

After he graduated from college, he moved right back home, started working for his dad and married a local girl.  Incidentally, his two friends from ND married each other and moved back home as well.  Frank and his wife still live in that city, I believe even in the same suburb he grew up in.  As the icing on the cake, one of the first homes he and his wife bought together was the house he grew up in!!  (His parents had sold it some years earlier.) They don't live in that house anymore but are still in the same area and have three kids of their own, who are in the same general age range as my kids.  Also incidentally, Frank's older sister (whom I'll call Ella) never left that town at all except maybe for college...she married relatively young and has her own three kids.  Both of my "cousins" and their dad still live very close together and Ella and her kids actually lived with her parents for many years after her divorce.

I was thinking about all of this recently (yes, I'm sure you're all wondering where I'm going with this by now...) because I am Facebook friends with Frank.  He posted two pictures of the same bunch of guys, including the guy friend I know from ND, stacked up into a pyramid (cheerleader-style) on a beach...one taken when they were in high school and one taken this past summer, twenty-five plus years later.  I simply canNOT process spending my *entire life* with the same people in the same town by choice.  Not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just so utterly different from my own life experience that I can't even begin to imagine it.  How do you change and grow as a person when you are with the same people forever?  And how in the world, as an outsider, could you ever even HOPE to become part of a group that has been together since preschool and has had family in the same town for generations when you aren't from there??  Thank all the gods in the pantheon that nothing ever worked out between me and Frank, since I can't imagine how somebody as peripatetic as I've been my whole life could ever fit in with people who don't want to live anywhere other than that one suburb in upstate NY...wowza.

The irony, of course, is that I've lived in my current small-town house for the better part of twelve years now.  It's the only home any of my kids know (Thing One was an infant when we moved here.) I moved all over the earth as a kid, but my kids will most likely live here until they go off into the world on their own.  Wonder if they will feel compelled to move back here to settle down as well?  Has the pendulum swung the other way??  Only time will tell.



  


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Yes. All The Yeses.

Saw this bumper sticker in a parking lot the other day:


Love it!!!



Saturday, November 7, 2015

It All Comes Out In The Wash

Girlfriend of mine from aikido had a bunch of the aikido girls over for dinner last night: six of us total ranging in age from 35-50.  Really fun evening.  The hostess's taste in decoration is cool and funky, ranging from mid-century American to historic Asian pieces plus odd bits of antique bric-a-brac that all somehow fuse together into a really interesting whole.  She has no children, and at one point I observed wryly that I would love to live in her house if I could somehow wrap my kids permanently in bubble wrap so they wouldn't break anything!

At any rate, on her kitchen wall there is an antique washboard, but a much smaller one than I've ever seen before. Wandering over to look at it more closely before dinner, I noticed that the ridged surface was made of glass, not the usual metal.  I wondered aloud what that might have been used for, and one of the other ladies answered immediately that it was probably a travel sized washboard intended for laundering more delicate items.  My surprise must have showed on my face, so she went on to explain that in her childhood in India, her mother had one similar to it, which she used to wash the clothing that she didn't trust to the neighborhood washerwoman.  The other ladies were listening to this exchange, and I was floored when two of them added that they had also regularly seen washboards used during their childhoods, one in Singapore and the other in Colombia.  That just boggled my mind, although in retrospect it shouldn't have.

Bearing in mind that I live in an inordinately white-bread corner of America, I continue to be amazed that I've managed to find such a cosmopolitan and international group of friends here, and that it was in a martial arts dojo of all places.  Between the two styles I study, I have friends from these three countries plus France, Egypt, the Philippines, China and Iran that I can think of just off the top of my head.

And incidentally, having now looked carefully at a washboard for the first time in years, I am even more grateful than usual for the advent of electricity and modern technology.  I doubt sincerely that it would be up to the challenge of detoxifying the soccer socks that end up in the laundry at my house, and the sheer quantity of laundry here would make even the most determined washerwoman throw in the washboard!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Worth The Toil

So, a few days ago I went out for a hike with two of my fellow geocaching nutjobs (er...friends...) and my dog.  At one point in the middle of the hike we had to climb up a very steep field of rocks that looked like this.


Except that the stairs were blocked off with locked gates, so they weren't an option.  Pretty view anyway, huh?   And yes, those stairs go just as far down as the picture makes it look like they do.  Ugh.

Now check out the *reason* we climbed that minefield of boulders, otherwise known as the view from the top.


I LOVE this hobby.  Even if my pooch must think I'm completely out of my mind.  ("Hey, Mom...you know I'm a dog, not a mountain goat, right??")





Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Countdown Has Begun...16 Days!

Got an email out of the blue today from the director of the taekwondo program, who informed me that he'd like me to test for my Brown belt on November 21st.   Still have to check out on sparring and board-breaking and earn the formal red stripe that signifies my readiness to test, but if my name is already on the list for the 21st, I'm assuming that the instructors are reasonably confident that I'm good to go. Alternately super psyched and freaking the hell out...only a little over two weeks to make sure I have a good grip on everything I've learned in the past four-plus years of study!!  Time to kick it into gear for sure.  *insert determined face emoticon here*


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Shame

Just found out that a couple I know are divorcing.

Both are lovely people.  Small children are involved.  I have no idea what happened and I don't want to know; none of my business.  So very sad for all of them.  I have no doubt that they will find a way to get through it but the waters they are facing short-term are very rough.  I know I joke about wine solving all problems here sometimes (even though I'm not much of a drinker in truth) but some things wine just doesn't touch.


Header Photo

Felt the urge to change it up.  Picture taken with my iPhone camera looking west from my garage doorway the other night.  Aren't those colors just amazing???



Monday, November 2, 2015

Disappointment

Living in a rural area as we do, trick or treating from home is not an option (lot sizes start at three acres and go up, and there are no sidewalks) so of necessity, people around here bring their children to one of the two or three nearer towns on Halloween evening.  One town in particular is legendarily amazing--and mobbed--on Halloween...entire streets are closed off for trick or treaters and the owners in that area take great pride in the spookiness of the decorations that fill the porches, facades and yards of their large Victorians.  We've been bringing the kids there since Petunia was four or so.

Petunia is far from the timid, shrinking wallflower sort, but at eight, she is still a small person.  We encourage our kids to just bypass any house they think is too frightening, and last year Petunia took one look at a particular house and actually crossed the street to avoid it!  To be fair to her, it was creepy as hell, even to me...a hearse in the driveway, hooded Druids roaming the front yard amidst great billowing dry ice clouds, and a shrouded 'body' dangling from an upper balcony.  Can't say that I blamed her one bit, but apparently this attack of nerves has been bothering her for the past year.

Some friends of ours in that town host a Halloween party every year, and as soon as it gets dark everyone walks over to the closed-off area to trick or treat.  We'd no sooner left the friend's house than my little princess (gown, tiara and all--very regal) looked up at me very solemnly and said, "Mom, I'm going to that house this year."  I told her that it was entirely her choice and that she could decide when she got there.  Along the way, she was unfazed by pirates, mummies, skeletons, giant jumping spiders and eyeball-dangling masks, so I figured she had a good shot at making it through whatever the creepy house was going to feature this year, but then we arrived and its only 'decoration' was a For Sale sign on the lawn.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Channeling Grandpa Again...No Zen Here

My paternal grandfather grew up in an area of western Pennsylvania riddled with winding two-lane roads.  As the family story goes, whenever he'd get stuck behind a truck in a no-passing zone, which apparently happened often, he'd start mumbling under his breath about "bastards," his epithet of choice for slow-moving vehicles.  

For the last twelve years, I've lived a good seven miles from the nearest real form of civilization on a winding, two-lane road.  In those seven miles, there are a grand total of two passing zones, neither of which is very long.  For various historical and logistical reasons, a number of older people live in my area, and to add insult to injury, this road also has a lot of truck and tractor traffic.  (What, your neighborhood roads don't have tractors and hay wagons and combines--along with sturdy Buicks--rolling along them regularly???  Ha--welcome to the boonies.)  Anyway, my recollection from Driver's Ed is that it's ok to drive as slowly as you want (within reason) as long as you pull the hell over and let people pass you if they want to drive faster than you're going.  Yeah, I'm that soccer mom in the Volvo impatiently sitting on your ass if you're poking along at 35 in a 45 zone, unless it's raining hard or snowing or there's some other good reason to be poking along.  The flip side of this is that I do actually let people by me if they want to go faster, too...after all, they might as well flush out any speed traps for me.  :)  Yes, patience is not exactly my strong suit, but we knew that.  I figure that I'm doing ok as long as my kids don't learn any new epithets from me!!  So far, so good (I think.)




Thursday, October 22, 2015

Craziness Is Now Routine

Used to be that I'd get *really* pissy on Sunday nights just looking at the calendar for the following week, since it was invariably ridiculously jammed.  That situation is so normal now that I'm barely fazed by it anymore, and anyway, I've learned that whatever needs to get done will somehow get done.  This is why villages were invented, and also one major reason why I married a man who is very good with logistics. 

Case in point: Tuesday after school. Three soccer practices and two martial arts classes (all for various kids) followed by a school board meeting for me.  Not only did everyone get to everything, everyone got fed dinner somewhere along the line, including my husband.  I have to admit that I did feel a bit guilty as I watched Petunia eat takeout in her aikido gi while sitting next to me at the school board meeting and waiting for her dad to come and collect her, but it is what it is.  Welcome to the life of a normal overscheduled American family!  I'm really glad that one soccer team's season ends next week, but I'm even more glad that I'm managing to be somewhat Zen amidst the mayhem since that goes against every fiber of my being.  So far, so good.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Happy Dog (For NOLA)

All NOLA's talk about dogs recently has made me especially grateful for the presence of my faithful pooch, who loves nothing more than coming with me on my geocaching rambles in the woods (with the possible exception of peanut butter bones, though it's probably close.)  Whenever I put on my hiking boots, she immediately attaches herself to my hip because she knows where I'm going and she wants to come too!

Took her out on a long hike yesterday, much to her delight.  The new header pic is from that trip, BTW...just can't resist taking pics of fall leaves.  I don't try too hard either.  


Happy running dog!


Zoomed in a bit: doesn't it just look like she's smiling??

Another one of her checking out some wonderful woodsy smell or other (she's a hound mix, after all.)  Nice to be able to let her run off-leash...she stays with me very obediently.  She's a rescue and was in pretty bad shape when they got hold of her: she's apparently figured out that she's onto a good thing here and has never taken off on me.


And another of the leaves.  I've never seen this sort of rainbow effect before: pretty cool.  I need to take a real camera into the woods with me next time and not just rely on my phone for these.


This has to be my favorite recent dog picture, though: her nose to nose with a very alive (and probably very unhappy) turtle. Right after I took this picture she attempted to pick the turtle up in her mouth and walk away with it, at which point I had to intervene.  Lucky for her that it wasn't a snapping turtle!!






Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Halloween

Himself and I have been invited to a Halloween party this year, one requiring that attendees show up in costume as a character from the Harry Potter books.  Neither of us have read the books or seen the movies and Himself is not generally one for costumes, so I was dumbfounded when he actually agreed to go.

Always the contrary one, he has decided to be James Potter, Harry's father.  Note that apparently James has the same sort of round glasses that Harry does and also wears a robe with a Gryffindor crest, so I pointed out that everyone would think he was dressed as Harry.  To which he responded by grabbing one of those "My Name Is" nametag stickers from work and writing "James Potter" on it.  Ok, that works.

I don't often do costumes either, but when I do, I go all out.  My caching partner is very familiar with the Potter series, so I asked him for costume suggestions.  It should concern me deeply that the first thought that came to his mind for me was an evil witch, but upon reflection I decided to go with his suggestion because it looks like a seriously fun costume.  Apparently this woman is named Bellatrix Lestrange...I need to look her up before the party though since I know virtually nothing about her.


There is a commercial costume available, but it looks cheap and crappy.  There are also very authentic-looking replicas available online, but they cost a bloody fortune.  My solution was to put together my own version.  A quick trip to a thrift store yielded two black dresses that I can cobble together to yield the long ratty bottom and the laced-up top (thank you Mom for all the sewing lessons!), and Amazon took care of the rest of it: a bird skull pendant, belt/corset thing and fishnet stockings.  The whole thing together might have cost me 35 bucks and it will be entertaining as hell to show up in this outfit!!  


Friday, October 9, 2015

Let's Hear It For The Girls

In my last post, I was pretty unhappy about aikido.  I left class Tuesday night wondering (and not for the first time) if I should just give it the hell up already since it just doesn't come naturally to me even after months of trying.  I had the very definite feeling that a couple of the higher belts had gotten frustrated with my lack of progress and just didn't want to work with me anymore, which as you can imagine is pretty disheartening.  

There's a significant amount of overlap between the people who take aikido and the people who take taekwondo at our dojo.  There are 25 or so aikido students, and I'd say about a third of them study taekwondo as well.  My primary taekwondo instructor is one of these, so when I made the decision to start the second style she shepherded me in socially, introducing me to the very tight-knit crew of female students right upfront.  For their part, they welcomed me into the group with open arms, both the women I'd known before and the ones who were entirely new to me.  

Fast forward to today.  One of the women I hadn't known at all before starting aikido contacted me about something aikido-related today, and I apologized for forgetting to take care of it on Tuesday because I was bummed after class.  She gave me just the loveliest pep talk on the spot, reminding me that I'm new and should cut myself some slack and telling me that she's explicitly talked to the higher belts when having a bad day herself (including one of the higher belts I was worried about) and that they enjoy working with newer students.  That was so what I needed to hear at that moment, I can't even begin to tell you.

After reading her email, I mentioned the substance of it to my husband.  He reminded me that it was the taekwondo girls who got me through the same phase four years ago when I first started taekwondo at the dojo and was fish-out-of-water miserable all the time, a phase I've mercifully mostly forgotten now that I'm borderline competent in that style (although he hasn't, clearly.)  Another reminder I needed to hear, this one in the this-too-shall-pass vein.  So tonight I will put a smile on my face, put my gi on, and try again.  Wish me luck.    


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I Will Be The Stream

So, I went to aikido class last night.  I was looking around the room during the quiet meditation part before class starts (yes, I realize that this means I was not quietly meditating but it is what it is) and the diversity in the room struck me.  The instructor is French and my classmates included a Singaporean Chinese man, a Filipino man, an Indian woman and a Colombian woman.  Yes, there were a few other white Americans besides me as well, but in my white-bread corner of the universe, anything beyond the most token of cultural differences is not easily come by and I really love that the martial arts program in my neck of the woods draws from such a broad base.  Unfortunately, I was having another of my why the HELL am I studying this style because I just SUCK at it kind of evenings, but I am stubborn to a fault and have decided to give it a little more time before I quit in disgust, assuming that my classmates don't give up on me before then.  I would have made tracks long since if not for their encouragement, even though I am convinced that some of them think I must be the most clueless moron ever to attempt the study of aikido.  Even those who are aware that I'm actually decent at taekwondo, incidentally.

Ironically, Tuesday happens to be the evening in which there is a high belt taekwondo class immediately before aikido, and the evening's logistics dictated that I could be efficient and take both, so I did.  The taekwondo class actually went well: I earned another of the stripes I need and am now looking squarely down the barrel at the test for my Brown belt (God help me this is getting real...only two belts between me and Black.)  At least I can find my ass with both hands and a flashlight in one of the two styles I study, anyway.  Pazienza.  I really hate it when I suck at things...it's the type A in me, I'm sure.




Sunday, October 4, 2015

Is Irony The Right Word?

At the bus stop with my kids the other morning. We're discussing a birthday party invitation that Thing Two has just received via Evite.  Petunia, a bit jealous because it sounds like a fun party, comments to me that it isn't fair that Thing Two gets to go to so many more birthday parties than she does because he has more friends. (!!)

Bearing in mind that Thing Two is my language-challenged child with significant secondary social issues, the fact that my social-butterfly, ever-popular youngest could possibly have occasion to be envious of his social life stopped me dead in my tracks.  If THAT isn't a measure of how far my younger son has come in the last few years, my friends, nothing is.



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Funny

Went out to dinner with Himself tonight. We've had a rocky couple of weeks for one reason after another and needed some quiet time out together.  We decided to try a Mexican place I'd just heard about.

When we pulled into the parking lot, the noticeboard under the restaurant's sign reminded me a lot of the one below. Somebody has a good sense of humor during the fall everythingWILLbepumpkinspiceflavored season.


"Try our spiced pumpkin tacos!"  Just kidding, drink tequila instead."


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Winner Winner Curry Dinner

Given the craziness that is my life, particularly my after-school and evening hours, dinner is always a challenge.  Especially dinner for my husband, which usually needs to be something from the crockpot or a dish that can be made ahead and reheated because of said craziness.  Add in the fact that it is good for the dinner to be healthy and lower-sodium and it rapidly becomes a recipe (ha) for extra stress.

Tried something new this week and it worked staggeringly well: sharing for the benefit of anyone who may be on the lookout for quick and delicious dinners!

Chop half an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and throw them into a big pot on the stove with some oil.  Sauté till tender; add a tablespoon or two (to taste) of red curry paste and stir for another few minutes.  Add in a can of coconut milk, a couple of tablespoons each of brown sugar and fish sauce, and a cup or so of chicken broth.  Take either a couple of cans of chickpeas (drained) or a bag of dried chickpeas that have previously been cooked to tender in a crockpot (what I used) and throw those in too, along with a diced red or yellow pepper, some small chunks of potato and a good handful of fresh basil leaves.  Simmer for half an hour, make some rice to go with it, and Bob's your uncle.  Even better the next day! Yum.



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shaping Up Nicely

I'm 42, with a bum knee and a temperamental back.  I wasn't much of a jumper or runner even back in the day, so I'm squarely staring down some physical limitations when it comes to my martial arts hobby (some might say obsession, but lifestyle would probably be a better word since a lot of out-of-class effort is required once you hit a certain level.)  I'm taking four classes a week on average right now, two each of aikido and taekwondo.

My aikido belt is white (the lowest rank) and likely to remain so for a while. I'm relatively new at that style and it doesn't come naturally to me, but I'm no quitter.  For taekwondo, however, I'm staring down the barrel at the black belt test and the proverbial shit is starting to get real.  Only a couple of belts between me and black now, and they won't be easy ones to earn.  My goal is to get to black belt before my 45th birthday...we'll see how that goes.  I've mentioned here before that I made a big fitness push about a year ago and have maintained it so far; that's been key.

In addition to all the other craziness (usually three to four hours' worth) the black belt test includes a timed running requirement; half a mile in five minutes or less.  Not a big deal for most, except inasmuch as it comes early in the three or four hours, so it can't take much out of you to get it done or you'll never make it through to the end.  Not to mention the fact that for nonrunners with bum knees like me, it's no triviality.  I've recently been thinking that it might not be a bad idea to start some training for that so it's no big deal come a few belts from now.

Hit the track with a stopwatch today for a few sequential test runs, just for giggles.

Half a mile: four minutes flat
Half a mile: 4:06
A full mile: 9:33

Pretty damned good for me, especially three belts ahead of time.  And after 90 minutes of aikido, to boot.  There's real hope and that cheers me more than I can begin to express!  I may be old and creaky but damned if I'm not going to give this everything I've got.




Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Can't Believe I Forgot To Post This Story

Closest I've come to being arrested in years.  In my life, probably!

I'm out geocaching one day last week with my usual caching partner, a guy in his mid-50s.  Neither of us are particularly threatening-looking...I'm the quintessential 40ish soccer mom, he's gray-haired with a neatly trimmed beard.  Both of us are wearing jeans, t-shirts and hiking boots and we're on a mission to find a whole group of new caches in a park maybe half an hour south of where I live.  We'd just pulled out into the road from our parking spot by a small bridge after bagging a cache when the policeman pulled up behind us and put his lights on.  I cussed under my breath and steered my soccer mom-mobile into a nearby parking lot.  (I ask you: who pulls over a Volvo SUV with bumper magnets advertising a local travel soccer club, rescued dogs and a martial arts program, for Pete's sake???)

Turns out a fire marshal driving by happened to see my partner (up on the bridge) passing a pen down to me (under the bridge) and jumped to the logical conclusion that we were attempting to blow the bridge up.  (What the hell????)  He radioed for the policeman, who came running.

Not being at all new to the rodeo of having to explain the concept of geocaching to policemen (happens a couple of times a year), we get out of the car and go talk to the guy. My partner has his phone out and he's showing the guy the cache map of the park, explaining that the bridge has a cache under it and that he was passing me down a pen so I could sign our names on the paper inside the container.  The policeman is nodding and all is going well till he happens to look over at me and noticeably stiffens up.  I realize belatedly that I've gone into my reflexive martial arts deference-to-authority mode, otherwise known as a rest stance...hands clasped together behind my back.  Oh shit oh shit oh shit he thinks I'm holding a weapon!!  I immediately showed him that all I had in my hands were my car keys and phone and he relaxed visibly.  Whew. Close one.  

He still ran my plates and both of our driver's licenses.  Luckily we're a pair of fine upstanding citizens, and once he saw that both of our records were clean he let us go.  Close call though. Especially since I realized after the fact that my car keychain has a kubotan on it for self-defense, one of the nasty metal variety.  It's somehow legal to carry one in this state but not to sell it (I got mine from Amazon.)  If he'd made a big deal about the fact that I carry a no-joke weapon on my keychain it could have gotten ugly fast!  Lucky me...should have bought a lottery ticket that day.





Sunday, September 20, 2015

Who Else Can See A Problem Here??

Went on a hike in a lovely county park on Friday.  I don't have the best sense of direction in the world, so I always appreciate it when trails are well marked.

The particular trail I was on had a number of trail markers, appropriately placed and spaced.

EXCEPT.

Think a lot like this except without the white square.

They were brown!!!  It's really darned tough to see brown trail markers on brown trees from any kind of distance whatsoever.  Dingbats.






Friday, September 18, 2015

No Shortage Of Confidence Here

I had a school board subcommittee meeting this afternoon.  Afterward, the principal laughingly asked me if I'd heard about my third grade daughter's visit to her office earlier this week.  Apparently Petunia was upset about a natural gas pipeline that's being built in the area because she thinks it's going to disturb the homes of animals, and she decided to march herself into the principal's office to ask if the animals were going to be okay.  Why precisely she thought the principal was the right person to answer this question, I have no idea, but she was clearly quite comfortable going right to the top in her little universe with her question!  Love that kid.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

One Of Those Good Days Across The Board

Petunia played her first ever travel soccer games today.  5v5 format, four short sequential games.  She had a brief stint as goalie (shut out the other team) and also absolutely exploded on offense for about ten total goals in the four games. Maybe more; Himself lost count.  I wasn't there, but I was proud.

Thing One has a tournament this weekend; two games each today and tomorrow.  According to Himself, he played stellar defense today.  His coach played him at center back for the entire second game, no breaks at all.  I wasn't there, but I was proud.

Yeah, would it have been nice to see them play?  Sure.  Especially Petunia in her first games at this level.  But you know what??  Today there was an event *I* wanted to attend with some of my friends.   It only happens once a year, and to me it's a big deal.  Himself was able to cover the kids, and considering the extent to which soccer takes over our parental lives three full seasons a year, I refuse to feel guilty for allowing him to do it!!




Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Revelation

Good GOD do I love taekwondo. Went to class tonight and felt like a fish back in water after a long drought (otherwise known as two consecutive aikido classes.)  The two styles both hold class in the same dojo but the one is the familiar and comfortable and the other the new and formidable. I've been studying TKD for four years now.  I'm considered a relatively high belt and I know what I'm freaking doing most of the time, as opposed to aikido, in which I am a white belt of about four months and utterly lost in class more often than not.  Talk about alpha and omega.  TKD is a striking art and aikido a purely defensive one, so whatever muscle memory I have going in martial arts is all wrong for aikido too!

Ugh. Oh well.  

I'm a stubborn SOB, so I refuse to give up.  Aikido has already improved my rolls and breakfalls, and maybe someday my ability to do something in this style other than land on the floor at high speed without hurting myself will improve as well.  ;)  Although I'm not feeling at all simpatico with my sensei on a personal level, he is an 8th-dan black belt, which is astronomically high.  There is clearly much I can learn from him, and that just has to be my focus right now.  One small improvement at a time, with forays back to TKD to restore my self-confidence in between!



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Not Quite Right But Funny, Football Edition

Yes, I'm still here.  It's just been a very busy week.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I'm a HUGE Notre Dame football fan.  My in-laws had their annual Oktoberfest party today, so I was watching the first part of tonight's game in their family room when a friend of my MIL's walked into the room.  She glanced at the television, on which the game was captioned "TEX vs ND" across the bottom along with the teams' respective scores, and commented to me that it looked like North Dakota's football team was having a good game.  (This actually reminded me of an incident at a baseball game years ago, when someone looking at scores for other games on the stadium scoreboard thought "SD" stood for South Dakota instead of San Diego.)

We had to leave my in-laws' halfway through the game, but Thing One was monitoring it via the ESPN text updates on his phone while we were driving home.  As we pulled into the driveway, he commented to me that one of Notre Dame's right backs had been injured.  After a brief moment of confusion, we explained to our soccer-brained son that an "RB" in football is a running back. The former is a defensive position, the latter an offensive one...not only was he in the wrong sport, he was at the wrong end of the field in the wrong sport.  Kid needs to watch more football. :)



Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes

Petunia was profoundly out of sorts this evening by the time we got home; tired, hungry and disappointed because her favorite aikido instructor wasn't there for her class tonight.  As we got out of the car, she told me that if her mood was something you could see, it would be red and spiky.  Pretty good grasp of imagery for a seven year-old!

Fortunately, a good dinner capped off with Nana's apple pie and whipped cream and a nice hot shower improved her outlook significantly; good thing since school starts tomorrow.  It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

"What's It Like To Get A Ph.D. In Science?"

Saw this article online in Slate the other day and boy, did it hit home for me.  The dude knows of what he writes.  Just a few comments:

"It will be lonely, and you are on your own without a net."

So true.  The first year is generally spent in classes taken by everyone in your program, but once you get to the qualifying exams and pick a lab to work in, you are indeed on your own.  You are on track to becoming the world's foremost expert in whatever your tiny, ridiculously narrow field of specialty is, which means A) that nobody else is doing exactly what you're doing, and B) that nobody else cares about what you're doing nearly as much as you do.  It's up to you to figure things out and push through whatever difficulties you're having, including having to proactively go find the people and materials you need to help you get through the rough patch.  And you really do have NO idea how long you'll be there, either...when I was in grad school, I believe the national average from start to finish in a Biology Ph.D. was seven and a half years.  That's a long damned time.

"Choosing your institution is your least important choice."
"Choose your adviser and committee carefully."

These two go hand in hand: the most important decision I made in my entire grad career was the choice of my adviser.  (I looked at eight or ten grad schools before making my decision, and I could have gotten an excellent degree at any one of them despite their different tiers.)  The article suggests that the adviser's reputation and professional connections are key, and they are.  However, I'd argue that open-mindedness and flexibility are almost as important.  My adviser was clearsighted enough to realize that not every Ph.D. candidate belongs in a lab somewhere, and he willingly allowed me to do an internship in patent law while still in grad school even though it meant leaving his lab for ten weeks.  Not many of his peers would have done that.      

"Do not date your adviser or any department faculty member!... Dating other grad students in your department is fine, sort of.  Better yet, keep your personal and professional lives separate."

Luckily for me, I was still dating a college boyfriend for the first six months of so of grad school: quite long enough for me to observe what happens when you date a scientific colleague.  When it crashes and burns, there's no escaping the fallout for anyone in the vicinity since it's a small, insular community.  Having learned that lesson NOT the hard way, thankfully, when my college relationship ended I decided to date a guy from the school across the street instead.  Three and a half years later, I was profoundly grateful for that decision because it meant we weren't working anywhere near each other when we broke up in a spectacularly ugly and painful manner.    

"You will hit the wall."

You're trying to get ready for qualifying exams (the crucible of grad school, usually taking place at the beginning of your second year.)  Something's not working out and you are beyond stressed.  That's the point at which I started grinding my teeth in my sleep.  To this day, I wear a mouthguard at night.  You're in lab, and your experiments aren't working for no reason you can figure out.  You've tried everything you can think of, and either the experiments aren't working at all, they aren't reproducible or their results make no sense.  You look at your lab friends, and their work is cooking along just fine (although for sure as hell they hit a wall at some point too.)   Maybe they are publishing a paper or getting ready to write their dissertation, while you see no light in the tunnel at all.  You look at your college friends and most of them have jobs and families and lives...they aren't at lab at 9:30 on a Sunday night setting up the same damned experiment for the fifth damned time and living in a crappy student apartment.  You start wondering why the hell you weren't a business major in college like your freshman roommate who partied every night while you were trying to get ready for that terrible 8AM Inorganic Chemistry class taught by the sadist from Malta.  It takes a certain kind of person to dig in and keep going at that point.  I've been accused with a lot of justice of being the stubbornest damned person you ever saw, but I was not about to give up.  Even when the attorney I worked for while interning at the law firm offered me a job there if I'd quit school.  (I was four years in and *not* leaving without a Ph.D. at that point, although the other intern did.)  Several of my friends left school with master's degrees, and one with no degree at all.  No shame in how you choose to deal with the wall, but nobody escapes it.    

"Stand up for yourself."

I'd been working in the lab for four years or so and the end was in sight.  My adviser liked me and we'd always gotten along well.  I'd published some solid papers, my research was progressing nicely, and I was thinking that I was almost ready to start writing my dissertation.  I mentioned that to him, and all hell broke loose.  He told me that my work wasn't good enough to write up and that I had a lot more to do before I could even think about graduating.  Not trusting myself to respond at that point, I went home and fumed.  Then I started thinking about some interpersonal encounters of his I'd observed over the years and realized that the best way to deal with him was head-on.  We were both early birds, so I walked into his office the next morning when the lab was quiet, looked him in the eye and told him that he'd really upset me with his comments the day before and that if he had issues with my work, four years in was not the time to tell me about it.  To his credit, he apologized, and I graduated less than six months later.  

"It will change you."

When you're an undergrad, all science professors introduce themselves as "Dr. So-and-so."  Your first day of grad school, out of the blue, they start introducing themselves to you informally.  "I'm Bill, nice to meet you."  You're a junior member of the club, to be sure, but you're now in the club.  My adviser is almost exactly the same age as my dad.  Having been raised by parents who were big on having their kids respect adults, I could NOT bring myself to call him by his first name when I started working in his lab, but he gave me grief (not in a mean way, just jokingly) when I didn't.  My solution at the time was to just walk into his office and look at him when I wanted to talk to him so I didn't need to use his name at all!  Eventually, however, I grew in confidence.  I accepted that I was in fact a peer, albeit a less experienced one.   Under his guidance, I grew professionally to the point where only two years later, I was able to capably address an entire ballroom full of distinguished scientists.   Later, when I started work at another university's technology transfer office, I was accepted as a full colleague by the scientists with whom I was working, including many much older than myself.  Facing the kind of struggles any student scientist faces and then managing to overcome them gave me much more faith in myself than I'd had previously.


Would I do it again, knowing what I know now?  That's the $64K question.  It's a tough way to get a degree, with an uncertain future at the end of it (way too many graduates and not enough available jobs.)  I came out of it well because I was able to switch career tracks, but not everyone does.  You have to want it really badly to get through, that's for sure.

Now, go write your dissertation.
  


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Evolution Of The Playdate

We had a rare and wonderful afternoon at home yesterday.  And since the kids all missed the friends they haven't seen much in recent weeks because of their travels, I allowed each one to invite a friend over.  Counterintuitive as it might seem, six children are much easier to manage than three, provided that only three of them are your own kids.  ;)  So, for most of the afternoon, my house was occupied by two third grade girls, two fourth grade boys and two seventh grade boys.

The third grade girls played together with dolls and dress-up clothes and art supplies.

The fourth grade boys played together with DSs. They were synced to the same game, and the two boys were playing in the same game world on separate devices while sitting next to each other on the family room sofa, and also talking to each other about the game.

The seventh grade boys were both sitting on the guest room bed, but not interacting much at all...each on their own devices and in their own little worlds, with the odd few sentences of chatter thrown in.

All three kids had a great time, even though their experiences were vastly different.  And if the progression holds, by high school my kids will be having their interactions with their friends purely via the Internet with no physical proximity or conversation needed at all!!


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vacation

I wrote a while back about the difference between vacations and trips...the primary distinction being that trips involve children and logistics and refereeing, whereas vacations involve actual peace and quiet and relaxation.  Himself recently gave me the gift of a four-day vacation, mostly because I didn't kill him in July when he spent 16 straight days in London for work.  :)  Last Thursday morning, he took all three kids and went to Florida to visit his best friend's family for the long weekend, leaving me at home in glorious, blessed solitude except for the dog.

Things I did little to none of during my vacation:
Laundry
Cooking
Cleaning
Dishes
Tidying

Things I did a lot of during my vacation:
Geocaching (49 finds!)
Hiking
Walking with the dog
Martial arts classes (two classes each of taekwondo and aikido)
Spending time with friends (one lunch out, one evening out, one day spent caching in a group)

To each his own, I admit, but all of those things make me happy and it was a WONDERFUL weekend.  I think I need to make this an annual tradition!







Thursday, August 20, 2015

Progress

Thing Two had his annual evaluation by the neurodevelopmental pediatrician yesterday.  Truly lovely woman, knows her stuff cold, no issues with her whatsoever, but there's something about sitting in a room once a year and being told everything that's wrong with your kid in stark clinical detail that always sends me into shutdown mode for a couple of hours afterward.

She generally starts off by talking to us while he does paperwork down the hall: writing samples, math problems, that sort of thing.  Then she sends us to the waiting room while she talks to him and administers all of her tests.  When those are all done, she sends him down the hall again to play while she brings us back in and goes over the test results.  From start to finish (including a quick physical exam by one of her nurses at the beginning), the whole process usually takes somewhere between two and a half and three hours: quite a production.  She's able to give us an annual snapshot of how he's doing, since she only sees him once a year...the rest of us who work with him (Himself and me included) don't necessarily notice changes because we are with him so much more.  She also provides valuable input as to which assessment tests should be run and what services he needs.

Essentially, his difficulties boil down to a relatively severe problem with the processing of incoming (receptive) and outgoing (expressive) language.  Some features of mild autism (although she's convinced that he's not actually autistic) and some features of ADHD as well, but nothing that rises to a clinical level.  Luckily for him, he's smart as hell under all the crossed language wires in his brain.  Despite the deficit, he tests at or above grade level in most academic areas and WAY above grade level in some (12th grade-level spelling for an incoming fourth grader, for example??  That was a shocker.)  She saw improvement from the year before in almost all areas she tested, so he's unquestionably continuing to progress, but nobody knows exactly how FAR he's going to be able to progress.  Modern medicine is sadly lacking in magic 8-balls.  All *I* want to know is if he's ever going to be able to pass for a "normal" kid (whatever the hell that might be) and nobody can answer that question.  And not because his differences bother me--I love the kid as he is--but because I don't want them to impede him.  As his mom, all I want is for him to be independent, have friends, have a job, have a life that makes him happy...all of which require a mastery of language and social skills (secondary issue to the language problems for him.)  

So, in the meantime, we cling to the progress that's being made.  He has friends at school.  He enjoys school and is doing well (see comment above about him being smart despite the crossed wires.)  He can carry on a conversation on the phone now, and get involved in imaginative play, two things that eluded him until a year or two ago.  He plays on soccer, baseball and basketball teams, studies both judo and taekwondo, is two years into piano lessons and is even going to be trying the trumpet in fourth grade band next year, for heaven's sake.  Compared to so many children with more severe medical issues, we have nothing to complain about, and I really do know that.  (Hell, considering that just a few short years ago we really had no idea if he was going to be able to function in a kindergarten classroom, the fact that he just blew the doors off third grade with a relative minimum of classroom support should be grounds for celebration, and I know that too.)  I just don't deal well with uncertainty, and that kid's future is one giant ball of uncertainty.

One small step at a time, I guess.  Progress.

          

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Out Of Curiosity...

I should be ashamed to admit this, but it's the truth: I'd been using my new iPhone for a good month before I noticed that the voicemail feature hadn't been set up.  Really.  One quick trip to the AT&T store and it was taken care of, but you'd think I might have figured that out earlier.

I love love love my phone.  It's in my hand a lot (far too much, if you ask Himself.)  However, it is very rarely used AS a phone, which of course explains why I didn't notice the voicemail thing for so long.  By my reckoning, talking on it comes in a solid sixth in the ranking of my potential uses, behind the following, which are listed more or less in order.

1) using its GPS capabilities for geocaching
2) using it to navigate while driving
3) texting
4) emailing
5) surfing the Web

So, I have to ask: If you have a smartphone, do YOU actually use it primarily as a phone??  If not, what do you use it for most often?  Wondering if it's just me for whom the phone function is almost incidental now!





Friday, August 14, 2015

Best Idea Ever

Seen recently in a highway rest stop bathroom:


(Yes, this is the first time I've seen a need to take a picture in a rest stop bathroom, for anyone who may be wondering.)

The sign on the stall door said "Mommy & Me."  It was about the size of a standard handicapped stall, but as you can see, it has not only a regular toilet but also a small one for a young child and even a seat (the gray thing on the wall) in which you can safely restrain an even younger child.

Where was this when I was traveling with three kids under the age of five?  Fabulous idea!




Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ironic

The one stinking time I write a post about ignoring my maternal instincts and listening to medical "experts," it backfires on me!  Turns out that nurse on the phone was full of baloney...ended up having to bring Thing One to the pediatrician for prescription ear drops on Monday night anyway since swimmer's ear *IS* in fact an ear infection.  Oh well, you can bet I'll remember that the next time.  Live and learn.  No major harm done and his ear is doing a lot better already.  

Just in time, too, since my in-laws picked all three kids up yesterday for a week at Camp Grandmom!  (Bless my sainted MIL.)  In past years they have taken the kids either all separately or two together and then the third, but this year because of scheduling issues they have all three at once.  The original plan was for them to have the kids until Sunday, but with Thing One's ears needing to stay dry through days of drops they had to postpone a beach day, so they are now going to the beach on Monday and I am to pick them up on Tuesday.  I have no idea what I am going to do with all this peace and quiet but I'm sure I can figure something out.

Actually, the week is going to fill up pretty quickly.  Today I have a bunch of errands to run, including birthday shopping for Thing Two, who will turn ten over the weekend.  TEN.  How can that be possible??  Then tomorrow is quest day...for my 3000th geocache (!!), I am driving over two hours  each way with a group of friends in order to bag an especially cool one for the milestone, in keeping with the tradition.  Friday Himself and I leave for our weekend away, returning Sunday.  And while we are doing this the kids will be doing historical stuff and going to an amusement park and the beach and their cousins' house for a sleepover and generally having the time of their lives with their grandparents, so everyone wins.  :)    


 

  

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Well, I Learn Something Every Day

Just got home today after a full week on the road with the kids, Sunday-Sunday: some historical stuff, some fun stuff, all five to six hours' drive from home.  Eight days, three cities, four hotels, three very wiped-out kids.  Was going to write about the trip tonight, and I will eventually, but it's getting temporarily preempted by Thing One, who managed to get himself sick at the waterpark I've been writing about.  He'd been going downhill for the last day or so and by this evening (Sunday, natch, when the pediatrician is closed) it was looking for all the world like he'd acquired the mother of all ear infections.  This would not be a crisis except that the kids are supposed to be leaving Tuesday to spend this upcoming week with my in-laws, and as awesome as my MIL is, I would rather not send her off with a sick child even though she could most assuredly handle it.  Especially since the plans for the week include swimming.  So, on the off-chance that the nurse on call might be able to schedule me an appointment with the doc for tomorrow AM, I called the pediatrician's office.

The office being closed, I was referred to the phone operator of the affiliated hospital to connect me with the nurse.  No big deal, except that the woman answering the phone from the covering nurse service identified herself as being affiliated with a huge children's hospital halfway across the state.  That was odd, but she was a nice lady, and after confirming that she didn't have the authority to make me an appointment, she offered to connect me with the nurse on call at her hospital.  Having been a mother for a combined approximately 30 years (kids are almost 8, almost 10, and 12) I figured I bloody well know an ear infection when I see one by now, but on a whim, I agreed to give my number and have the nurse call me back, which she did approximately two minutes later.

Long story short, the professional opinion is that he has swimmer's ear, NOT an ear infection.  My first thought was that germ-ridden waterpark pools were to blame, but no: this is apparently a pH-change thing.  She told, me, I kid you not, to dilute vinegar 1:1 in water and fill his ear with it for five minutes at a time several times a day.  This, combined with ibuprofen and warm compresses, she swears will do the trick.  What do you know.  And how do we diagnose this over the phone, you might ask?  Good question, and also a learning experience for me.  Should any of you encounter this situation, there are two tests you can run.  First, gently grab the rear edge of the ear just above the lobe and pull directly back, parallel to the ear.  Second, press gently on the little "hill" that is in front of the opening to the ear.  If either of those motions increase the child's discomfort, dingdingding we have a winner and the prize is a nice case of swimmer's ear.

As I type this, I can imagine my mother reading it and laughing about nothing being new under the sun!  I'd completely forgotten till just now, but when we would go swimming as kids, she'd joke about "making a salad" in our ears...a drop of oil in each ear before we went swimming and a drop of vinegar afterward.  Son of a gun: wish I'd remembered that beforehand.  Glad I didn't let my maternal ego get in the way of talking to the nurse, anyway, since Thing One would have been the one to suffer for it.  I continue to be amazed at how often I learn something when I politely give an expert the opportunity to share their hard-earned wisdom!




Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughts From The Water Park, Day Two

Well, had there been any doubt at all, it is now officially dispelled: a significant majority of adult Americans have at least one tattoo that is plainly visible while they are wearing the bathing suit of their choice.  (A day and a half spent in line at a water park tends to ram that point home to even the most casual observer.)

As it happens, I have no tattoos myself.  Not because I am fundamentally opposed to them; more because I've never come across any word or image that I could imagine still wanting permanently engraved on my body fifty years from now, should I be fortunate enough to live so long.  (Not to mention the whole gratuitous pain thing.)

I understand the names or pictures of loved ones.  I understand symbols or words that have meaning to you. I understand baby handprints and intricately colored sleeves that are actually works of art no matter what you may think of the medium.  What I do not understand is skulls; flaming, dagger-penetrated, or otherwise.  I've seen so many in the past 24 hours of contemplation that I've almost come to think of them as a default tattoo for men...in the absence of something original or meaningful, "Hey, maybe I should get a skull tat like everybody else has."  Which I would think would defeat the purpose of having a tattoo that marks your individuality, but what the hell do I know.  Any thoughts??




Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sign Of The Impending Apocalypse

Spent today at a water park with my children.  Sign seen at the entrance to one ride: "Not for riders weighing more than 400lbs."

Sad that the park would actually *need* to post that.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

There Are Two Kinds Of People In The World...

...those who feel compelled to clean house before going on vacation and those (fortunate, blessed souls) who don't.

Must be along the same lines as being told to wear clean underwear when you go out in case you get in an accident, I'm thinking. If there's some sort of issue while we're away (fire, flood, act of God) I don't want the firemen etc walking into a disaster area.  One not relating to the disaster they're there to  help with, anyway.

So, tell me: how many of you are like me and prefer to leave a tidy house, and how many don't worry about what things look like when you walk out the door??  Just curious.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Sad Commentary

I saw this picture tonight, and it immediately made me think of my two best friends!  Truer words have never been spoken.  :)  And I mean no insult whatsoever to anyone with a genuine mental disorder, I hasten to add...it's just that finding those few rare someones whose quirks match yours is a true occasion for celebration.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Punishment For My Sins

Thing Two has just started learning to play the trumpet.  Oh, the enthusiastic bleats and moans and dying-cow noises; the dog runs for cover every time he picks it up and the rest of us are wishing that we could.  I understand yet again why my mother made me learn to play all new instruments in my bedroom with the door shut when I was a kid.  Karma is a bitch and what went around is definitely coming around...now it's my turn to be the parent who has to suffer through the initial stages with a new instrument.  I'm sure that both of my parents will find this highly amusing after everything I put them through!



Friday, July 24, 2015

The Chosen Ones

Got an email today reminding me about a birthday party that Thing One is attending tomorrow.  From the other names on the email, I can tell that Thing One's whole posse was invited.  They're a tight-knit crew of eight or ten boys and have mostly been together since kindergarten, although there are a few newer arrivals mixed in.  As I've mentioned before, my family moved a lot when I was a kid.  At the time, I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of growing up with one group of friends since the concept was so alien to me, although at various points I desperately wished for that kind of stability.  It's funny that I am watching my son grow up with the life I wanted as a kid--living in one house in one town, with all the same kids from grade school through high school--and deeply ironic that he is begging for a passport and wants us to take him somewhere (anywhere!) out of the country!!  The grass is always greener, I guess.  We might not have had much by way of roots while I was growing up, but I sure saw a lot of the world in the course of our adventures.

We've been in this house for almost twelve years and in this state for over fourteen, which blows my previous record for living anywhere (six years or so) all to hell.  As my kids are putting down roots here, so am I.  And I suppose that over time I'm acquiring somewhat of a posse of my own, although in thinking about it, it sure is an eclectic bunch of people.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Had lunch with four of them today: my "ninjas," some of the girls who do taekwondo with me.  The Indian instructor, an accountant by training.   She's tiny but deadly and an absolute knockout in a sari, although she doesn't wear traditional garb very often.  The Egyptian Muslim instructor, who is also a professor of English and keeps the wickedest, sharpest sense of humor you ever saw buried under her hijab along with her hair.  The Filipina, who runs a YMCA childcare program when she's not kicking ass and who keeps us all supplied with ginger tea from her uncle's Asian-import store.  The Italian-American gym teacher, who runs marathons for fun and could probably bench-press me.  Every one a wonderful, strong, supportive woman.  Oh, and every one a black belt or higher, too...not a lunch table to mess with!  Then there's my two closest geocaching friends, men of 55 and 70 respectively who share my obsession with solving puzzles and finding hidden things and who cheerfully hang off bridges and hike up mountains and wade through swamps with me while doing it.  And of course my best friend B, who has *zero* interest in either martial arts or geocaching but who has my back in every imaginable scenario, loves my kids like her own and can make me laugh till wine comes out my nose!      

If friends are indeed the family that we choose for ourselves, I've chosen well, even though this group might look a bit odd on a Christmas card.  And since I'm not planning to move ever again, they are stuck with me for the duration...hope they're okay with that!  :)


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vacation or Trip?

Courtesy of a friend's Facebook page, a few days ago I was treated to a very funny Huffington Post article entitled "Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide For Parents."  Go ahead, read it!

In a nutshell, the author argues that any time spent away from home involving your children, a kitchen, another family or relatives is a trip, not a vacation (which by definition involves actual peace, quiet and/or relaxation.)  The part of the article that hit home the most for me??  This paragraph:

What is Your Role in the Family?
If you are the Default Parent
 and/or the Stay-at-Home Parent, you aren't even on a trip. You are on a work trip, and, in a perfect world, the entire "journey to a place" would be a damn tax write-off. The only known and quantifiable "break" you are getting from life is that for about a week you will not have to open and sort the mail. Other than that, it's business as usual.

Yep, that's about it.  I've jokingly-but-not-jokingly told my husband that our beach trips are essentially exercises in moving my standard jobs to places where it is harder to get them done (although it is becoming blessedly simpler as the kids get older, I will say that much.)

At any rate, I was thinking about this today because I just this morning booked an actual vacation for Himself and me!  Just a long-weekend trip to a historic inn in a beautiful mountainous area a few hours away by car, not jetting off to Hawaii or anything, but I can't wait.  The kids will be at my in-laws' that week, so we'll be able to relax and read and eat and sleep in peace!  And considering that we are taking a trip (literally and figuratively) with them the whole week before, we'll definitely be due for a vacation by then.  :)



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day 10

My husband left for his extended business trip at the crack of dawn a week ago Monday.  I am happy to report that all three children are still alive and well despite their best efforts to drive me completely batshit crazy in his absence.  At the moment they are 7 (soon to be 8), 9 (sooner to be 10) and 12, but they have this truly lovely trick of descending to the lowest common level when together, meaning that I effectively have triplet eight year-olds as far as behavior is concerned!  (My daughter is mature for her age, which at least raises the bar a little.)  Utterly maddening.  Last night I got a sitter and went out to dinner with friends and it's the smartest thing I've done in the last 10 days!  If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy...truer words were never spoken and this Mama *needed* a night off.


One more week.  Who thinks I can make it??  Given all the wine in this house, it's a damned good thing I never drink alone.  And I REALLY have no idea how either single parents or spouses of deployed service members do this long term, so I hereby offer a most sincere tip of my hat to each and every one of them!




 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

One Lucky Lady

So, my husband is in the middle of a two-and-a-half-week business trip to London.  He left last Monday and returns a week from Wednesday, 16 days gone in all (but who's counting?)  Fully in keeping with Murphy's Law, Thing One had a soccer tournament both days of this weekend in a town two hours' drive away, by far the furthest from home of the three summer tourney sites.  Oh, and did I mention that it was also 95 degrees outside both days and that yesterday was my birthday?  Was REALLY not looking forward to hauling all three kids two hours each way both days by myself, as you might imagine.

Anyway, into the breach stepped my amazing in-laws.  They live about an hour from us and the tourney site is another hour past them.  They invited us to stay with them for the weekend.  The original plan was that I was going to bring the kids down to their house Saturday morning, leave the younger two with them and then take Thing One to his two games, which would get us back to their house around 9:30PM but at least would not require anyone other than me to suffer through the stifling heat with Thing One.  So, that morning I loaded up the car with dog and dog food and dog crate and air mattress and soccer bags and snacks and sunblock and hats and water jugs and clothes for the four of us and all the other necessary crap and got us all to my in-laws' house, where my FIL promptly informed me that he intended to take Thing One to that day's games himself since he couldn't make today's game.  Then my MIL took the two younger ones to the park, which very unexpectedly (but blessedly) left me with two free hours in the afternoon, which I of course spent geocaching in peace because I could, and hey, happy birthday to me.  :)

We stayed at their house overnight (I should also point out that my FIL, who does all the household laundry there, washed Thing One's soccer uniform for him that night!), and then today my MIL and I brought all three kids to the tourney since there was only one game and I like it when the kids cheer for each other.  Can I tell you how awesome it was to have another adult there to help with hauling all the stuff around and keeping the younger kids entertained?  It was 95 degrees in the shade (thankfully there were trees near the field) and apparently the real-feel temp was 114 in the sun according to some weather app but the kids all survived and Thing One played a good game even though he was hot and miserable.  I was very proud of him for trying so hard under such tough conditions.  We got them all frozen drinks on the way home, tossed everyone into cool showers and then my in-laws took us all out for dinner to celebrate my birthday before we loaded up the car again to head back home.

Could have been a really horrendous weekend, but they saved it.  Pretty sure I used those exact words while thanking them (profusely!) when we left.  They are good people through and through and I am one really fortunate daughter-in-law!



 



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Things I Do Not Get

The gym to which I belong recently installed lockers in the hallways.  Each one has a built-in combination lock which can easily be set by each individual user for each use.  Very handy for purses, coats, etc that you don't feel like either leaving in the hallway or taking into an exercise classroom with you.  The lockers get a lot of use.

Except.

Nobody actually LOCKS them.

They open the door, put their belongings inside, close the door, and leave.  How many times have I opened an unlocked locker only to find it full of stuff?   Many, many times.  This in itself is not a big deal and I can usually find an empty one eventually.  The part I don't understand is why any rational human being would choose to put her (and it is generally her) purse into an unlocked locker (which she could easily CHOOSE to lock, but doesn't) and then walk away from it for an hour plus!

Entitlement?  Obliviousness?  General idiocy?  Hell itself would freeze over before I would leave my purse unattended and unsecured for any length of time (the thought of having to go through all the bureaucratic aggravation involved in replacing the driver's license, credit cards, etc alone gives me palpitations.)  A thief would have a field day at this gym and I frankly can't believe that it hasn't happened already.  Maybe it's just a reflection of the fact that I live in a generally safe, relatively wealthy area, so people just aren't thinking about the potential for crime all around them, but wow.  Just wow.  Call me a cynic, but maybe common sense really isn't that common?