Thursday, August 30, 2007

In The Gloaming

Gravel crunched under my tires as I drove through the deepening twilight (in Scotland, "the gloaming") toward Robinson State Park. On the curving country road, I'd had to stop for two deer, a doe and a speckled fawn, who were sure the road belonged to them. At the sound of my horn they bounded gracefully off into the tall grass.

Now my car rounded the curve of the trail and I brought it to a stop at the edge of the parking lot. To my relief, mine was the only car in sight. I sought solitude for a specific reason. This summer I have finally acquired a set of bagpipes, bought with carefully saved money and delivered to my door from Scotland. By itself, the set was worth several times the price of the car I drove, even a car as full of character as The Stinky Banana Car (a 1986 Camry). Since receiving the pipes in the mail I have had two lessons from Pipemaster McM----, head of the Border Highlanders Pipe and Drum Corps, but I have not had the chance to practice on my own until now. True, I have been working on the practice chanter for a year and a half but this would be my first time solo on the full set of pipes. For this reason I sought solitude. The Highland Bagpipe is an ancient instrument of war, mostly because its raucous sound drove the enemy to flight simply by sheer volume and nasty tone. Combining this with the fact that I have only played the thing twice, I decided to inflict the sound on as few human beings as possible.

Strolling to the picnic tables, I set down my box and began assembling the awkward instrument. The only other people around were some RV'ers sitting outside of their camper enjoying the evening. I could not see them well enough to tell if they were watching me but I mentally apologized to them as I began to blow. I won't even describe the noise I made as music; it was more like a dying cow. My goal was simple. Get all three drones (the parts that stick up) and the chanter (the part with the finger holes) to make a sound at the same time. With much wheezing and moaning I accomplished this task.

About this time, I turned around and saw the park ranger behind me emptying the trash cans. He caught my eye and spoke something I could not hear through my foam earplugs. (Yes, pipers generally wear earplugs or suffer hearing loss. That's how loud they are.) I popped a yellow bit of foam out of my left ear and said, "Sorry?"

"You got a cat in there?" he asked grumpily.

"Yeah, a mad one," I joked and stumblingly tried to explain that I was new at this. My explanation did not soften his grumpy expression so I left him to his trash cans and went back to my wheezing and moaning.

Not long after this, I noticed the RV'ers rise from their lawn chairs, get in their car and drive away with a flash of headlights. Apparently their calm evening had evolved into a good time to go into town and get away from the dying cow.

Left alone once more I removed the drones, filling the holes with rubber stoppers that McM---- had given me. He had been a Chemistry professor at WSU in a previous life and the stoppers that go on the top of certain test tubes also happen to work great on bagpipes.

With the complicated mechanism reduced to just the chanter, I was able to hack out some of the tunes I had learned on the practice chanter. Amazing Grace filled the air and happily I imagined myself in the future, standing tall while the melancholy notes wafted through the air at someone's wedding or funeral. I played Scots W' Hae, a military tune that a poem by Burns is most famously set to. The majestic words "Scots W' Hae Wi Wallace Bled" (Scots who have with Wallace bled) circled through my mind, giving dignity to the stop-and-start reality of the notes coming from my pipes. I finished with a rousing Scotland The Brave but I was getting tired and instead of being driving and marchlike, it sounded rather lost.

Far from feeling discouraged, though, I felt euphoric. I knew starting out that this was one tough instrument to tackle. Had I not heard horror stories from the other pipers when I timidly went to band practice? I had accomplished my goal and then some. I have been a musician long enough to know that the end result is worth the work. I also know that the end result is all that non-musicians ever want to hear and when you have worked hard enough and spent enough thousands of hours in practice they will say, with no intent toward irony, "Genius. Effortless."

So I stood proudly alone in the park as the sky grew gray around me and the pine trees stood as dark sentinels, the only witnesses to my music. I stood proudly wheezing and moaning. It's the only way to learn. Next time it will sound just a tiny bit less like some very large animal with very bad constipation and after many, many times the full majesty will be unleashed. I will stand proudly and play the ancient tunes that generations before me have played on the same pipes. Then I will be a piper.

For now, I just sound like a dying cow.

The Most Fun Birthday Party

Last Saturday after I finished my CPR/First Aid class for work, we loaded up the kids and drove to the home of Hubby's new co-worker. Her daughter was turning two and we had been invited to the party. In spite of having recently moved, their party was the absolute best birthday party I have ever attended. Using a kit from, she had decorated the house with a dog theme, apparently to commemorate the 5 or 6 (or 8?) big sled dogs that greeted us from their back yard. This family was from Alaska and we could tell!

The mantle sported fun painting activities and bubbles to blow. There were balloons and piles of confetti. And cutest of all were the new, shiny dog dishes full of snacks sitting here and there through the house. By the time all the guests arrived the small house was packed full of adults and children sitting on couches and camp chairs. In the few months they have lived there, this family has acquired as many friends as I have in ten years. I was impressed.

I watched the birthday girl playing and her behavior surprised me. There were no fits, no pouting and no picking on the other children. Intelligently she seemed to understand the directions her parents gave and cheerfully obeyed. I supposed if the parents knew how to train sled dogs that training a two-year-old wouldn't be too hard. We had a ball sitting and chatting but we had no idea that the best part of the evening was yet to come.

The kids munched on chips and cookies but for the adults there were whole-wheat crackers and fresh salmon dip. WOW! After an hour of chatting and supervising the kids' activities the host and hostess suddenly produced succulent hamburgers and baked salmon! We had dinner, balancing our plates on our laps. Jovially we sipped lime punch and watched the antics of the children at our feet.

A homemade birthday cake next made its appearance and the candle, shaped like a number two needed to be blown out. The little girl wanted to touch it, but with prompting she blew and it flickered and went out. To her great surprise we all erupted into applause. Her joy was furthered by being put into her high chair and given a big slice of cake. We all partook and enjoyed.

The party wrapped up with a Pinata romp in the front yard. The older boys whose mother had insisted they behave in the house were thrilled to take the stick and whack the pinata as hard as they could. Each child got a turn then one of the boys set to it and candy and toys soon flew everywhere. A mad, happy scramble ensued where each child filled his or her hands with suckers, fruit snacks, plastic whistles and yo-yos and balls.

During this excitement hubby and I discovered that each thought the other had brought Seth outside and with panic we discovered he was still in the house. Hubby rushed in and found him alone in the living room among piles of birthday paper and confetti and toys happily chewing on a foam door hanger decorated with stickers. He didn't seem the worse for it, so hubby scooped him up, door hanger and all and brought him out to join us.

Driving home, I determined to steal as many ideas as I could for Natta's third birthday. Never have I been to a kids' birthday party that was as enjoyable for the adults as for the kids. Never have I seen better behaved kids or so many fun activities and cute decorations. I can't wait until November now when I can do something similar at our house.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I thought it would be easier...

We're in the throes of Potty Training here. Things were going great until we went to Oregon last week and suddenly all our progress has been completely de-railed. Before the trip, Natta was wearing panties and telling me when she needed to go. Now she has been having accidents (all over the carpet...yikes!) and going in her pull-ups and not telling me until it's too late...over...and over. Just now she went in her potty chair but excitedly stood to show me...before she was done. GAAH!!!

Combine that with a fussy, teething Seth who for some reason has decided that sleeping is not an activity he desires to engage in, and you have a picture of my life this week!

I have decided that we will probably make it through to the other side of potty training simply because we have to. We just need to regain the momentum we lost last week and things will be fine. Until then, can I please have permission to go crazy?!?!

(Note: Thank you to the Toosie Roll Company for making Junior Mints which Natta loves to get as "Potty Treats" in reward for doing her duty.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Esvelvators and such

Yesterday we took a couple of hours between nap-time and dinner time to go downtown and hang out. This was a special trip just for Natalie, filled with all of the things that might be exciting in her two-year-old world.

The town of Moscow boasts one escalator and it is located in the US Bank building. This escalator was our first destination. Since visiting the "big city" Natta has been enthralled with escalators, although she gets the name mixed up with elevator and it comes out "Esvelvator". We pushed open the glass door and she hurried to mount the moving steps. So great was her haste that she got one little foot onto it while the other was planted firmly on the floor. Her eyes widened as her feet were pulled farther and farther apart. Eventually she was slumped in an awkward version of the splits with one leg dangling behind, riding the steps to the top. To my surprise, she didn't get scared and managed to dismount, but rode the moving steps back down using the same technique.

After this experience, she'd had enough and we headed next door to Hodgin's toy store and hobby shop. The big draw at this destination proved to be the Thomas-the-Train table. Little wooden pieces of track glued to a green-grassy table called to her and she happily responded, putting together long strings of train cars and making "choo-choo" sounds as she ran them around their track. I set Seth on his feet in his shiny new tennis shoes and he cheerfully grabbed the edge of the table and hung on for dear life, staying erect for the full 20 minutes of our stay.

Much to Natta's dismay, I had to cut the visit to the toy store short and head down the street to the coffee shop to answer the call of nature. Because Natta is potty training, she finds this process fascinating. I'm not sure I relish taking two babies right into the bathroom with me, but as I was alone, there was nothing I could do. Seth grinned at me from his stroller and Natta kept a running play-by-play on each phase that could have made a sports commentator envious. Thankfully I finished and headed out to obtain a Latte and a little cup of milk for Natta. That completed, we strolled down the street together holding our cups and sipping daintily from straws.

A block further on, we arrived at the downtown playground in Friendship Square. For once devoid of protesters and Peace-vigil-holders, Friendship Square sat sleepily lazy like a large cat in the afternoon sun. Once again I set Seth on his feet next to the steps and he grinned and drooled in happy concentration. Sitting on the bench next to a Polish woman we compared notes on our two daughters who were happily playing hide-and-seek together. Since I have begun to conquer my fear of strangers, I have been pleasantly surprised at the interesting people I have met at public playgrounds. Especially here in Moscow, many of the people are from other countries and have fascinating stories to tell. This woman told me all about her little baby, sleeping in the stroller next to the bench, who had been born in Mexico with American citizenship to Polish parents.

At last the clock said 5 o'clock and we loaded up in the car and headed home. A simple outing like this to me is a treat since for many months I have been too full of pain to even be able to lift the kids into carseats or walk the two blocks we covered. But slowly I am getting well and I reveled in the ability to take my daughter on a downtown outing, to meet people and to let her play. In my mind's eye, I anticipate many more such pleasant afternoons.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007


If you've wondered, no, I haven't dropped off the planet, I just visited Eastern Oregon for three days. The kids and I took a break from Thomas and the Magic Railroad and went to see Hubby's family for a couple of days so the kids could have some "bonding time." The trip went fine, but I have to say, I am SO glad to be back home. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bit the Bullet

This week I decided to go ahead and look for part-time work. There is an outfit in town that works with Developmentally Disabled adults and children that my friend Wholarmor worked for. The job she described sounded to be about the activity level and schedule that I would like and my future career goals include working with people who have disabilities so I thought I'd apply there. Like any entry-level State job the pay is lousy and I am WAAAY overqualified, but I still think it would fit the bill and keep me in the working world during these Stay-at-home mom years.

Today I interviewed and was nearly hired on the spot. The lady who hired me knew my name from the foster care program in Clarkston and she was impressed with my work as a teacher since I had gone out of my way to work with some of the disabled students in our district.

I'm excited to have something in my schedule now, although I have worked enough jobs I'm hesitant to be truly thrilled until I know whether it's actually a good place to work or not. I am thankful that there is something like this that is in my chosen career path and that will work in a schedule where the kids can stay with Daddy and not have to go to daycare. I'm so delighted that he is supportive of me wanting to have a career and plans for the future and being willing to keep the kids while I work.

So, starting in a couple of weeks I will be working with developmentally disabled adults and children doing community and recreational activities on Friday nights and Saturdays. :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Little Love Languages

Fortunately, I read the book "The Five Love Languages" several years ago because last night it helped me immensely in relating two my two very different children. After praying with Natalie, she was headed off to bed with Daddy to tuck her in. Sitting in my blue chair, I asked for a hug and pulled her close. Instead of snuggling into my arms, she pulled away and shook back her wet curls. Undaunted, I told her that I loved her and watched her walk without a reply or a backward glance into her bedroom. A few minutes later, Seth crawled up to me, pulled himself up on my knee and laid his head on it in his version of a baby hug. A surge of love flooded over me. This baby wanted to snuggle with Mommy. Ignoring his drooly chin, I picked him up and snuggled him close.

Sometimes I am tempted to think that I am loved by my son more than my daughter because he is so affectionate whereas she never has been. Then I remember about Natalie's Love Languages. She loves being a helper and will do little chores all day to help Mommy out. She is delighted when I spend time with her, reading books to her or working on her letters or building with her blocks. She is outgoing and fun and smart. Happily, I realized that she loves her Mommy just as much as her little brother does but shows it in different ways.

Since that is the case, I have been attempting to show her love in ways that she will receive. Last night we built a garage together for her car out of blocks. I have been getting her extra snacks and cups of milk when she asks instead of putting her off till later. As I handed her a pink sippy cup full of milk today, her brown eyes sparkled with delight and love at me. What a joy to speak love to my daughter in her own language.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visual Bible Puns

For fun, I made these in PhotoShop. I first got the idea from the Worth 1,000 website but wanted to try making my own with a Bible theme.

I'll let you guess for a while then I'll post the answers. Enjoy!

1. For an example, this one is "The Golden Rule"


















1. The Golden Rule
2. The Rocks Will Cry Out
3. All in one Accord
4. A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey
5. Unequally "Yolked"
6. A "Holey" Kiss
7. King of the "Juice" (Jews)
8. "Maid Gnu" (Made New)
9. The Trees Shall Clap Their Hands
10. "Sewing" Good Seeds
11. The Salt of the Earth
12. The Pearly Gates
13. The Book of Mark
14. Rose Again
15. Calls the Stars by Name
16. Out of Them Shall Flow Rivers of Living Water
17. Thy Word is a Light unto Thy Path
18. Bear Good Fruit

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bored Games by Dave Barry


(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Jan. 26, 1997.)

OK, here's a nostalgia question: What childhood game does this remind you of?

''Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick.''

If you answered, ''Spin the Bottle,'' then I frankly do not want to know any more about your childhood. What I'm referring to is, of course, the classic board game ''Clue,'' in which you try to solve a murder by using a logical process of deduction to narrow down the various possibilities until your sister has to go to the bathroom, at which point you cheat by looking at the answer cards. At least that was always my strategy.

In Monopoly, my strategy was to be the car. The car was one of the little metal game-board pieces; the other ones, as I recall, were the hat, the dog, the shoe, the guy on the horse and the iron. I never wanted to be the shoe, and I definitely did not want to be the iron. I wanted to be the car because I could make car noises by vibrating my lips -- brrrrmmmmm! -- and drive the car around on the floor to amuse myself while waiting my turn, which is mainly what you do in Monopoly, which I always considered to be one of the most boring activities on the planet.

But I had friends who loved it; when we played, they became insane, money-grasping capitalist pigs. They'd crouch next to the game board, looking over the tops of their hotels with greed-crazed eyes, watching me throw the dice, waiting for the little car to come around the corner, motoring innocently along -- brrrrmmmmm! -- until it stopped on -- Hah! --Boardwalk, and they'd triumphantly announce that I owed them some huge amount of pretend money that they knew to the exact pretend cost of landing on Boardwalk without looking at the cards.

I'm not saying that all of these friends went on to become attorneys, but it was a healthy percentage.

I will say this about Monopoly: I was better at it than at chess. My problem with chess was that all my pieces wanted to end the game as soon as possible. ''Let's get this over with!'' was their battle cry. If the rules had allowed it, my pieces would all have charged out onto the board simultaneously the instant the game started. Unfortunately, this was not legal, so they had to content themselves with charging out one at a time, pretty much at random, and immediately getting captured. Here's what it they sounded like:

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Knight!

KING: Darn it!

BISHOP: I'll go next!

KING: Good luck!

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Bishop!

KING: Darn it!

QUEEN: I'll go next!

KING: Good luck!

PAWNS: Oh, no! They got the Queen!

KING: Good! I mean, Darn it!

Because of the level of my chess game, I was able -- even against a weak opponent, such as my younger brothers or the dog -- to get myself checkmated in under three minutes. I challenge any computer to do it faster.

The one board game that I still play is Scrabble. I like it because, unlike most other board games, which basically are pointless time-consumers, in Scrabble you can do something mentally stimulating and worthwhile: make naughty words. There is nothing quite like the sense of intellectual accomplishment that comes from spelling out, say, ''b-o-s-o-m,'' knowing that it will be sitting there on the board for hours, staring up at your opponents.

The problem with Scrabble is that it leads to arguments like this:

FIRST PLAYER: ... e, e, t. There!

SECOND PLAYER: ''gleet?'' What the hell is ``gleet''?

FIRST PLAYER: I have no idea, but if you can use ''pood,'' I can use ``gleet.''

The thing is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, both ''gleet'' and ''pood'' really are words, as are ''kloof,'' ''fremitus'' and ''woomera.'' It turns out that, if you have a big enough dictionary, just about everything is a word, which means you can put down any old letters you want and claim it's a legal move.

Of course, you have to be careful whom you're playing with. The number of violent Scrabble-related incidents is on the rise. I have here a news item from the Nov. 29, 1996, Hagerstown, Md., Morning Herald, sent to me by alert readers Bill and Louisa Sonnik. Here are the first two sentences of this item, which I am not making up:

``SMITHSBURG -- A Hagerstown woman was charged with second-degree assault on Wednesday night after her husband was struck in the forehead with a Scrabble game board, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Department. The incident happened when the man tried to restrain the woman after she threw the Thanksgiving turkey into the yard.''

The item does not state why the woman threw the turkey, but I would not be surprised to learn that a word like ''gleet'' had something to do with it. I would also not be surprised if, next Thanksgiving, this couple leaves the Scrabble board in the closet and just throws the turkey, which sounds like more fun.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Dark Tunnel

Seth, Natta and I drove the 45 minutes through dusty wheat fields to my Grandma's house. She hadn't seen the kids all summer since she and Grandpa volunteer at a church camp, so she was thrilled by our visit. The first thing Natta requested when we arrived was to visit her beloved "dark tunnel" which is a small space along the side of the garage under the raspberry bushes. Grandma realized that the bushes had grown so much that they obliterated the "tunnel" so she busied herself pruning them back. We also discovered a bumper crop of ripe and almost-ripe berries so I fetched a small pail and gave it to Natta who took herself into the "dark tunnel" after berries. She emerged later with a few in her bucket. Red stains on her fingers and around her cheeks and chin announced that more than a few had made it into her rosy mouth. I helped her fill her bucket and we took them in to the kitchen sink. For lunch today we feasted on fresh raspberries and some homemade raspberry tarts that I threw together for dessert. No wonder she likes that tunnel!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Natalie's Clock

I made a special clock on our wall using a clock kit from Michael's. It has pictures of her activities throughout the day. I only used an hour hand so she doesn't get confused and a second hand so she can see it moving. She loves her clock and especially likes it when the big red arrow points to Daddy coming home!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Little Family in the Big City and the Big Woods

Yesterday, we loaded the kids and drove up to Spokane with the intention of hopping over to the cabin to stay the night before heading home. After parking, as we walked to Riverfront Park, we noticed with surprise that the park seemed unusually full of people, children, sno-cones and inflatable bouncing castles. What was afoot? Natalie's interest has moved very much to merry-go-rounds lately so our first order of business was to purchase tokens and board the historic Carousel. Well, okay, wait in line for two turns, THEN board the Carousel. Seth and I opted to wait on the bench while Daddy and Natta whirled through the lively calliope music and glittering mirrors on plaster horses with flaring nostrils and flowing manes. As I sat on the bench, a friendly dad who was waiting for his other half engaged in conversation and explained to me that Spokane was hosting a "Kid Day" and I thought the name sounded accurate as three-fourths of the people in the park were under 50 inches tall. As I talked to the dad, I was surprised to discover that his wife had been one of our trainers in our foster parent licensing class two years earlier and that the baby she had cradled during the class was now the wide-eyed, curly headed two-year-old peering up at me from the depths of a bike buggy the dad was pushing through the park. Small World, I thought. We ended up bumping into them three separate times throughout the day.

When the Carousel halted for the third time, my excited daughter pushed her way through the crowd to me and we wandered along the asphalt path, reveling in the noise and thronging people, feeling the excitement that we had been lacking in our quiet, small town. We decided to take a quick diaper-changing break. Spreading a cloth on the ground under a tree, we took care of business. Natalie spotted the Radio-Flyer slide and gave it a go, but lost interest rapidly, knowing that the other side of the park held bouncing castles. Crossing the bridge, we paused to admire the ducks and geese then continued on.

Although I had done nothing more demanding than stroll through the park, the aggravating pain in my abdominal wall was beginning to ache, making each step torture and I opted to find an empty bench while Daddy yet again got to have the fun of introducing Natta to the wonders of vinyl castles filled with air and screaming children. I am just about resolved, in spite of my distaste of anything medical, to find a doctor and figure out what to do about this nagging pain that seems to be healing much too slowly. I pray that there is nothing seriously wrong. The bench I found was located in the shade next to a lady giving free GEICO water bottles. Although I already use GEICO and therefore could not accept her offer to switch to their company, I accepted a water bottle and sat cheerfully on my bench next to a person in a brightly green gecko suit, who apparently was taking a break also.

Rejoined once more by my family, we next obtained a bright pink cup filled with shaved ice and we began to share it, using two spoons to feed three eager mouths. (Seth was offered a taste but declined with a grimace.) Natta decided the spoons were not heading her direction often enough and began to scoop the colored ice into her own mouth with her little pink tongue. She had also discovered that the boy sitting on the bench next to us had Thomas on his sandals, a fact that was discussed in detail as she showed off her Thomas tennis shoes that twinkled when she walked.

Between the Shaved Ice station and the fountain at the entrance to the park, we stopped by a row of booths when hubby spotted on sponsored by the Spokane Symphony. These enterprising musicians had rented instruments from Hoffman's Music for kids to try. Entranced, Natta got to try a real violin, which was unfortunately longer than her arm. Grasping the bow, her face broke into a huge grin as she sawed a few notes raspingly from the strings. My resolve to enter her in the Suzuki Violin class this fall solidified.

The periods of rest had helped and it was with less pain I walked back to our waiting car and we left the downtown area in search of a special coffee shop that hubby wanted to visit. We found it with less than the usual trouble then headed out of town. Two tired children napped in their carseats and hubby read a book aloud as we hurtled down I-90 toward the cabin. Passing signs shouting notices about burn bans, I remembered Grandpa warning us about the dry condition of the woods. We would not have a fire on this trip. It turned out we did not have water either. The level of water in our well was too low to prime the pump so we resorted to the pioneer practice of hauling river water. This we used for the un-pioneer-like reason of flushing the toilet while we drank bottled water from the nearby convenience store. Laura Ingalls, eat your heart out.

Discussions of vacation plans between hubby and me always involve this philosophical dichotomy of city versus woods. I love to camp, to retreat into nature and play Survivor and build fires. Hubby, on the other hand, loves to escape to a city, to find sophistication and excitement and gourmet coffees. This trip left us both satisfied, even though our tastes run in completely opposite directions. Now, home again on Sunday night, we do chores in preparation for yet another week and I collect all the memories in words that I can read over in the years to come and remember a simple August weekend in the Big City and the Big Woods.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Afternoon

Friday afternoons in Redneck-ville Trailer Park take on a festive air as the shreds of the week float away with the cool afternoon breeze and the weekend slides onto the calendar. With alacrity, the men who are my neighbors have been purging pickup trucks of weekday construction materials and tools. They back them close to their yards, open both doors and crank the stereos. With the "Good Times 105" blaring through the entire two-block radius, they open a can of Budweiser and call to buddies engaged in the same delightful chore: packing for a weekend of camping. With more energy than they have divested through the entire workweek, they cheerfully pack coolers, tents and dogs in readiness for their trips. Children run joyfully across the battered asphalt of the streets or weave through the action on bicycles. Stationed behind uncertain fences made of wire dogs bark excitedly at them or at the many cats who fly up out of holes where coolers are stored under trailers during the week.

I sit waiting and listening to the fan as it blows harvest-scented air through our house. On the floor my children make happy munching sounds as they share a Cheerio Picnic.

Neighbors sit on unpainted front steps chatting with neighbors and the smoky scent of barbecues wafts along the sunshiny air. Car doors slam as another neighbor returns from work, shrugging off his shirt even before he reaches his house.

At last, at last, the clock creeps around to five o'clock and the car door slams with a metallic ring that I have been listening for. Yay! Hubby is home and together we can plan our evening, make a meal, share the highs and lows of our days with each other. Together we admire the exploits of our children and together we will share the hours of our perfect-weather weekend.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Monday, August 6, 2007

Trip to L-Town

Spontaneously we drove down to L-Town, dropped off the kids at my parents' house and headed to the movies. We saw the "Bourne Ultimatum" which was a fun action movie. Action movies are usually a pretty fun genre. I used to like drama, but now I find them either too schmoozy or too depressing. Once in a while a really good one comes along that makes you think. Action is good though because it's just plain entertainment. That is what this one was.

Then back at my parents' house we stayed and talked for a while, then headed back up through the nighttime to home. Natalie seemed fascinated to be up so late and chattered on and on about the
fourth of July, which was the last time she was up late. Thankfully this time was not quite as late as that one was, so the kids are in a pretty good mood today.

I feel really blessed to live near my parents. For all the minor differences of opinion I have with them, they're still my family and it's nice to have someone who loves me and loves my hubby and kids like they do.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Love Crucified Arose

One of my favorite Michal Card songs, I first heard it performed at church and sung by S.M. It tugged at my heart, it was so beautiful. It still moved me though I have heard it sung so many times now. The sacrifice Jesus made is the center of everything, the anchor in the midst of swirling problems, decisions and voices on every side. It is the one fact that mad cannot change or twist into some pet doctrine. It is the moment that the world experienced Truth and it will never be the same.

Love Crucified Arose
by Michael Card

Long ago He blessed the earth
Born older than the years
And in the stall a cross He saw
Through the first of many tears
A life of homeless wandering
Cast out in sorrow's way
The Shepherd seeking for the lost
His life, the price He paid

Love crucified, arose
The Risen One in splendor
Jehovah soul Defender
Has won the victory
Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again

Throughout Your life You felt the weight
Of what You'd come to give
To drink for us that crimson cup
So we might really live
At last the time to love and die
The dark appointed day
That one forsaken moment
When Your Father turned His face away

Love crucified, arose
The One who lived the died for me
Was Satan's nail-pierced casualty
Now He's breathing once again

Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again

Love crucified, arose
The Risen One in splendor
Jehovah soul defender
Has won the victory

Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
for the heart that sin and sorrow broke
is beating once again

Love crucified, arose
The One who lived and died for me
Was Satan's nail-pierced casualty
Now He's breathing once again

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lessons in Social Behavior

During the past months, hubby and I have been using our Netflix to rent past seasons of Survivor. Not only do I find the show and game strategy entertaining, but I have discovered another odd benefit that I did not expect. Since Survivor is a social game, I have been gleaning tidbits of social information that somehow I missed growing up.

My parents are both introverts. Although my mom partied in her younger days, she still found satisfaction in solitary activities. I was taken home from the hospital to a farm which was located just south of Craigmont, Idaho where my family lived until I was four. There I played with myself and any adults that happened to be around. My parents attended a small AoG church where I was the solitary student in my Sunday School class. For a while my mom babysat a little girl a year older than me, so I played with her a little. Apart from that and Thanksgiving dinners with cousins, I can't remember ever having kids my age around to interact with. I don't remember ever being taken to a park or play area. Later, in school, I went to small Christian schools where the average class size was ten to fifteen kids. When I did make a friend, they often ended up moving away. I learned to rely on characters in books to satisfy my craving for companionship. The longest friendship I had was with a girl in high school that lasted about five years. As an extrovert, this not only felt excruciating, but I did not learn how to be social. I was a bona fide nerd. A loner. When I was with people I was bossy and domineering or I was uncertain. It wasn't a good combination. I related to adults much better than to my peers so I was always an outsider.

I don't relate this for sympathy, but for explanation. It wasn't until college that I learned how to be social at all and then it was more of a survival skill than a comfort level. So watching Survivor has been eye-opening to say the least. It is like a crash-course in social survival. I find the show absolutely fascinating.

Some characters come into the show determined to "be themselves". They don't try to make friends or be personable at all. They tend to be self-absorbed and whiny. In one season it was a Punk-rock musician. In another it was a cocktail waitress. Armed with no social skills at all, they usually end up offending everyone on their tribe and either get voted off or they are kept around to be the runner-up that everyone hates.

Then there are the blatant liars. These are the manipulators. They are usually personable, likable people who get themselves in trouble when they tell so many lies on top of each other and stir the pot so much they give themselves away. They often get voted off quickly too.

The next type to go are the people who are lazy. As Americans, work ethic is respected, and it must be work ethic that gets results. Helping around camp, bringing home fish or maintaining the fire without being asked raises points socially. I am surprised at the number of contestants who wait for someone to ask them before they begin doing chores. I notice too that in the category of work ethic, there is no "A for effort." You either bring home fish or you don't, even if you sat out there all day. You either win challenges or you don't, even if you pull a hamstring trying. Like in life, you either have a good job or you don't. You either have a clean house or you don't. It could be well-behaved kids or a car that runs or a raise or good manners or an education or anything else that hard work can obtain. It never occurred to me that this would affect a social relationship, but it really does. Since others cannot read our thoughts they must base their opinions of us on the things that we control in our lives such as our appearances, jobs, houses, or punctuality.

Another group to go are the Unlucky. No matter how great you are in life, sometimes the dice just fall wrong. I hate to count these, but they're there in every season.

Toward the middle of the show the people who are defensive tend to get put on the block. These people cannot accept criticism so they either fly into rages or go off with hurt feelings and sulk. They never last very long.

Along about the eighth episode, all of these no-good characters are either gone or their place is reserved for the useful bad-guy. The rest are generally fairly socially adept people who now battle it out for the grand prize. Observation of this group has revealed even more interesting thoughts.

First of all, they don't complain. I realize that I complain far too much. Nobody truly cares about all of the things that go on in your life. Especially when hardships are shared. The people on the show rarely complain about the hunger and cold except in the private confessionals. Keeping a good attitude goes incredibly far in the game of life, farther than I had even realized.

Secondly they obtain for themselves a "posse". They tend to find a few people with whom they have a natural rapport and they form an alliance. When things get hard or when they need someone to fight for them, they rely on this circle for help. The ones who choose these people well go much farther than the people who choose poor allies or no allies at all. Watching them has been enlightening. It seems to me that some people make friends naturally. They know where to look and intuitively find people who will be good friends. Others have to struggle to make friends in a new environment. Some hardly succeed at all or they choose for friends people who will never come through in any meaningful way. It actually seems to be fairly difficult to find loyal allies in real life. When I was sick during both pregnancies, although I attended at church of about 700 people, I don't remember one offer of food, help or support. Somehow this must have been my fault. Unlike the social Survivors, I didn't realize that you have to ask for help in so many words. I thought complaining would do it. I discovered that it did not work at all, nor did asking lazy people. During our recent move, we asked the right people for help and had more than enough support.

Another thing that successful players do is hold their cards close to their chests. Some may call it a poker-face, others may call it a mask. While they have an appearance of genuineness, they don't wear their emotions on their sleeves. For me this is a difficult thing to do, especially since Christians are taught not to wear masks. The trick is deciding who can be trusted.

A common Survivor strategy is to "fly under the radar". I think of this as "not making waves". I always thought it was a detriment to be overlooked by others. Most of my life I have felt invisible to the people around me, as if they did not even realize I existed. I have been surprised to learn that in the context of the game this is actually a positive thing. I'm still not sure how this applies to real life. To me invisibility still has the ubiquitous label of loneliness. I have always wanted attention but did not know a positive way to obtain it.

Of course, Survivor differs drastically from real life because the contestants are battling for a prize. In order to play the game strategically they often have to make false alliances which they later betray. In life this is not necessary at all, though it happens more often than it should. But the 39-day experience still is an intense look at the social relationships we face every day. The difference is that in real life these relationships play out over years rather than days like on the show.

To me, the information is all the more fascinating because I feel that I should have learned it long ago on the playground. I watch my daughter interact with kids at the park and I feel proud because she treats the other children with politeness and she shares willingly. Yet she knows to walk away from a bully. I have yet to see her get in a serious argument, although she is often quite a bit younger than the groups she joins. Still, she knows more at age two than I did my whole school career. But I don't think it is too late for me. As an adult, I still have a lifetime to learn to be a good friend yet not demand reciprocation for the friendship I give. I see how detrimental criticism can be, yet how valuable when it is aimed at me. Not too surprisingly, these principles directly line up with the biblical instructions on treating a neighbor well.

The hardest part is moving from awareness to implementation. I feel like a nerd sitting here analyzing social strategies as if they were so many formulas in Algebra class. Instead, I want to learn to be a better friend to more and more people. To accept people as they are and to develop the patience I need for people who do not meet my expectations.

One thing I don't want to do is to be on Survivor! It would be interesting to see how long I'd last but I'm afraid the first athletic competition would do me in. I think I'll stick to camping. Although I did start a fire with a magnifying glass the last time I was at the cabin. Oh dear, it looks like my inner nerd will never completely go away. :)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Going to a Restaurant with Babies

Last night for a treat we went to la Casa for my favorite: Mexican food, specifically cheese enchiladas. I love going to restaurants. The babies certainly add an element of the unknown but I still like to take them because it's important to teach them how to behave in public and not just at McDonald's Playland.

We walked in the door where a bronze statue of a long-legged bird tempted Natalie. It stood benignly in a rock garden, full of rocks too tempting to resist picking up and collecting. After convincing her that the rocks live there and shouldn't be stolen, we continued on to the greeter who painfully attempted to count our party.

"Two?" she asked with a smile. "Three?" "Two and a half?" "Four?" An accountant she was not.

"Two adults and two babies." I was quick to clarify. "A booster and a high chair, please."

Quick rant: When greeters seat our family, they always leave us at our table, standing awkwardly in the aisle holding the babies while they travel 37 miles to the back of the store to retrieve the booster and high chair. These two useful and similar items are of course stored in two separate locations, necessitating two trips by the unhurried waitress. For some reason, this is the accepted protocol in every restaurant we have ever patronized, which makes no sense to me. It would be so much more comfortable as a guest to have the greeter ask us to wait in the lobby while she quickly set up our table then we could seat ourselves immediately upon arrival at our table. Rant over.

Happily, the greeter led us to one of the big leather booths at Casa, which I love. It would seat a family of seventeen so there was plenty of room on the long table to keep the hot plates away from small, grabby fingers.

As soon as we sat down, Seth began fussing, reminding me that the bottle I had warmed for him was still sitting on the kitchen counter at home. Uh oh.... I began spooning complimentary bean dip into his little rosebud mouth with my finger to alleviate his hunger pangs. He loved it and like a baby bird, opened his mouth for more. Soon his mouth was covered with black bean dip and he was smiling and cooing and bouncing happily in his high chair.

Natalie meanwhile had been given a coloring paper and some crayons in a miniature watering can. Painted with a happy flower, the little watering can captured her attention like the stubs of crayons never could. Surrounding the edge of the table were white tiles, each with a gaudy blue flower on it. We soon realized that Natta was watering these flowers with her watering can. Since her "garden" extended past Daddy and over towards Baby Seth, she was soon "watering" past Daddy, crawling onto his lap and over. He tolerated this for a few minutes then gently asked her to "water" the flowers on the other end of the table. She complied and peace again reigned.

The food arrived on a plate that was about the same temperature as cattle branding irons. The waiter informed us that the plate was hot then proceeded to set it directly in front of Seth who reached his baby hands out toward it in delight. I flew into super-mommy-speed to remove it before he could touch it. I'm sure for a second the earth stopped rotating.

When it was safely out of reach, I looked up again at the waiter who stood with a puzzled expression on his smiling face.

"Is it okay?" He needed reassurance.

"Looks great!" I answered shortly, thinking if he couldn't see the baby reaching for the heated plate then perhaps he should get a job assembling lawn chairs. He smiled and left, returning with the requested extra plates so we could split the meal. We doled out cheese, tortillas and rice. I set a spoonful of rice in front of Seth who spent the rest of the time there playing "The Rice Game" with himself. He would see how many grains of rice he could grab in his fist at one time. If the amount did not exceed his minimum standard, he would sweep all of the remaining grains on to the floor and start over.

Natta chose this moment to announce loudly, "I don't like rice," which we all knew was a blatant untruth since it was only yesterday that she was insisting on rice for lunch. Hubby coaxed her to eat a couple of bites but the rest she would not eat. I blame the rather large amount of Cheerios she had consumed earlier in the day. She and Seth had shared a Cheerio Pic-pic (picnic) on the living room floor and they had shared several cups of the stuff. For this reason she did not like rice.

At this moment, I noticed an extra amount of activity at the table next to us. Waiters with towels descended upon the booth where apparently a child had tipped over a cup of water. I breathed a prayer of gratitude that this time it wasn't my child.

Somehow, hubby and I managed to find time to shovel a few bites of food into our own mouths and we readied ourselves to leave. Untangling Seth from the high chair, I stood waiting for hubby to collect crayons and the few small toys we had brought.

"Do you have Nemo?" I asked.

"Yes." He assured me. Unconvinced, I peered around until I saw it in Natta's small hand. Whew. There would be no tears of disappointment and an unnecessary trip back to the restaurant to retrieve it. We herded our child out toward the door and when we reached the sanctuary of the sidewalk, hubby met my eyes and smiled. A restaurant may be a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Intolerant is a scary word

Walking down the street in downtown Moscow, I stopped to read a yellow flier taped to a light pole. It called for a rally to protest the activities of a racist intolerant group of homophobic people this week. I read on down past the bold letters to the bottom where it named the group responsible for such heinous crimes. My church. We have decided to begin attending church in Moscow for now, for several reasons and the church hubby feels drawn to at this point happens to be this particular one. They are sponsoring a series of lectures called "Trinity Fest" and apparently this was enough to raise the ire of the few noisy individuals in town who have nothing better to do than stand down in Friendship Square with hand-drawn cardboard signs.

I felt surprised at my reaction. I have seen this church attacked for years now and have felt vaguely like it was kind of rotten for the bold left-wing to make such a big deal out of what was probably at best a misunderstanding. This time, it was personal. Suddenly this was MY church. I felt as sick to my stomach as if it were my name on the bottom of those signs. Through my mind flashed the colored posters from years ago advertising CCF on campus with the word "CULT" written across them in bold permanent marker. Sometimes it was people from my current church writing those hateful words across those posters long ago.

Living in a small town, I get to know people well. The clarinet player in the orchestra for Oliver turned out to be a hotly political democrat who held a public office and wore a T-shirt denouncing President Bush. I did not care and we had many a lovely chat during rehearsals. Yet she supports this group who printed and put up the fliers, calling for a rally against the people with whom I worship.

I feel just slightly like soldiers in the civil war must have felt seeing a cousin or a friend wearing a uniform of the opposite color and standing across the field with a rifle in hand. The process of changing churches is hard enough. I never know who is going to carry a grudge or get their feelings hurt. Now I am being attacked from another direction. It hurts be to see the blatant untruths printed up on a sign for all to see. It frightens me. I am frightened for my children. I don't want to have to see them grow up in a society that is crying out for tolerance and yet is intolerant of my family because of our beliefs. Beliefs which they don't even try to understand or they would see that their accusations are simply unfounded anyway. I am not racist. I am not homophobic. For crying out loud! Gays don't scare me any more than hypocrites or gossips or adulterers or my own sin that would condemn me to death were it not for the Blood of Jesus.

I wish I could step back. I wish it wasn't MY church. I wish they would just "play nice". That people would speak the truth, that the culture that promotes peace and love and tolerance for all would include me in their protected species. Yet I cannot be angry with the protesters. Before my mind rises the face of my former boss. The friendly Clarinet player. In a small town your enemies are not nameless, faceless politicians from far away. Sometimes they are your friends.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

River of Dreams

Last night I dreamed that I was a teacher again. This time the setting took place several years in the future. Natalie was ready for school and Seth was a toddler. Although I let my teaching certificate lapse last year, somehow in my dream I was able to talk the school into hiring me with the promise that I would renew my certificate within the coming years. I think the school was a Christian school and I would be teaching third grade. Making arrangements for Seth to be in the school's daycare was hard. He has never been taken care of by anyone but me for more than a few hours. Still, it was in the same building. Natta was excited to go to Kindergarten.

I did not get to finish the dream because I heard a small "Mommy, Mommy" coming from down the hall. I jerked awake and dragged myself out of bed to fix bottles and change diapers.

The dream haunts me this morning as I do my morning chores, setting the kids up with their new toys and sending Natta to time-out for stealing her brother's toy. Why would I dream about teaching after all this time?

Since the play has ended I've been fighting a bout of heavy depression. Though I love my kids more than life itself and I'm delighted for the opportunity to stay home with them, my personality simply doesn't do well with toddlers all day. Natta was a miserable wreck yesterday due to lack of sleep and she pushed me toward my limit, then over the edge and past where I thought I could actually stay sane.

Hence the dream about a job. It's odd I would dream about that job because teaching third grade is not exactly on my radar as a dream job. Maybe my brain realizes the reality necessitates doing something that is not a dream job for a good portion of life. I hope when the time comes to go back to work I can choose something not quite along those lines.

As I look at the clock and count the long, slow hours till the day is over, I push the dream to the back of my mind. Time to focus on my day. It's a day that is fairly easy on the surface although the ongoing pain in my body makes it difficult to leave the house. I encourage playtime on the floor. I facilitate coloring with markers and we work on letters and numbers, both reading, writing and spelling, although at age two it is still more play than any sort of schooling. But my dad taught me to read at two and Natta is well on her way to following in my footsteps. We do lunch and nap. In the afternoon we either play toys or watch videos.

My brain, meanwhile, craves challenge. To stave off the boredom, I have been teaching myself to crochet. And at night I dream that I have a job. In my dream at least, I can go to work, talk to other adults and challenge myself to do something I have never done.