Monday, August 31, 2009

Harvest

I have lived in this area most of my life; my grandparents were farmers and my Dad farmed during the early part of my life. My husband grew up on a wheat farm also. So even though we aren't connected in any way with the agriculture all around us, we're always aware at some subliminal level of the weather, the changing seasons and the crops as they grow and ripen through the year.



We notice how the rain in June helps the local farmers and how the rain in August impedes the rush of harvest and causes worry. We look at the fields of soft, white winter wheat, the tangled fields of peas and lentils, the yellow-dusted fields of canola, rape and mustard. Right now, while the dusty harvest is going on the air is murky and people's sinuses plug up, causing miserable headaches for me. Worse will come later when they burn the fields and the smoke makes my asthma flare. But these are part of the cycle in the farmland that seems such a part of my blood, descended from generations of farmers.



My own harvest has consisted of a handful of tomatoes and a little lettuce. I'm actually proud of myself that my whiskey-barrel gardens even produced that much.



Fred helped me pick tomatoes in, ironically, a Tow Mater bucket. I made nachos with fresh, homegrown tomatoes. To me this is an exciting time of year when all year's work results in bringing in the harvest, when next year's plans are made, when the rush and hurry comes on and the town wakes up with the buzz of returning students. Somehow here it seems all tangled up into one happy, busy, rushing season.

Photo Credit

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Another Braille Story

cartoon of blind man passing a large sign which reads 'important, please read braille sign'

I was a Freshman in college, scheduled to participate in a tour of the library with my introductory English class. As a group, we were standing haphazardly around in the lobby waiting for the rest of the group to appear and the tour to begin. Near the spot where I was standing stood a table display with a map of the library and on the lower edge of the table there ran a long row of Braille, presumably explaining the visual contents of the map to any blind students who happened upon it.

As I waited I idly ran my fingers over the row of dots, enjoying the texture. The tour guide, a library employee saw me and challenged humorously, "What does it say?"

I jerked to attention and running my finger slowly over the dots, I read:

For assistance in the Library, the circulation desk is located 30 feet behind you or the information desk is located 20 feet in front of you.

To my great delight, the tour guide's mouth dropped nearly to the floor. "In over fifteen years of working here, you're the first person who ever answered that question," she said when she finally regained her voice.

I laughed and agreed that it was unusual to be able to read it.

t-shirt with a stop sign bearing the letters r t o p

Even more humorous is catching all of the mistakes people inevitably make when using Braille. For instance the picture above is supposed to say "stop" using Braille letters. Unfortunately, someone mistook an "r" for an "s" so it actually says "rtop". I have seen drinking fountains that say "puse" instead of "push" and signs that direct people to the "emergencAND exit". I figure, well, they tried.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Braille

When I was five, my best friend who live two houses down was Deaf, so I learned some ASL in order to play with her. Later I moved and lost touch with her, but my interest in people with disabilities expanded to include wheelchairs, Braille and almost any kind of adaptive technology.

braille book

I was in seventh grade when I discovered a fellow schoolmate with a white cane. Being the strange child that I was, I decided it might be fun to become pen-pals, even though we went to the same school. So one evening I pulled out the ancient 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica that lived in our basement. I think Dad had picked it up at a yard sale somewhere for a few dollars. To my delight there was an entry on Braille that even included the alphabet. I was determined to contact this girl via her own written language, so I set to work.

Hi, My name is Erin and I'm in seventh grade. If you want to write back, my locker is number 547.

Once I had composed this brilliant piece of literature, I set about translating it using the chart in the encyclopedia. I was hampered by that fact that I had no Braille writer, so I used a pad of paper and a sharp pen to press the dots. With no guide, they traveled haphazardly all over the page and I wondered if she would even be able to read them. Braille doesn't lend itself to handwritten work.

Also, I didn't know how to make capital letters, punctuation or numbers. So it actually read: hi my name is erin and im in seventh grade if you want to write back my locker is number five forty seven

But I finished my note, taking half an hour to write the two sentences on lined notebook paper. The next day at school, with my heart hammering and the note in my bag, I took the east stairwell, a route I never used, in hopes I'd see her. I was immediately rewarded because she did indeed pass me.

"Hey," I called, "I have a note for you." I shoved it into her hand and fled, terrified. What she must have thought, a stranger emerging out of the crowd of students to hand her a note, I never found out, although we did later become friends.

I waited, half in hope, half in shame for a return note in my locker. Of course she couldn't read it, I thought. It was so messy and not even on real Braille paper. And how stupid she must think me, wanting to be Braille pen pals.

It turns out she was glad that someone cared to learn "her" language. More like a typeface. Braille is English, just in code. It's not a different language. But she thought the idea of being pen pals was great fun and so, apparently, did her Braille teachers who were probably thrilled at some interest in it from a peer. She was the only blind student in the district, as far as I know.

It was only a few days later that I got a return note in my locker. It was written on a scrap of Braille paper in neat, machine-punched Braille. It told me her name and that I could leave another note for her in my locker. It was just a little bit cloak-and-dagger, these coded exchanges and I enjoyed having some excitement aside from the dull Junior High routine. She had put a small piece of clear tape on my locker under the latch, unnoticed by anyone else but allowing her to quickly identify mine in the long row of metal lockers.

In order to write back, I needed some method that was more efficient than a pen pressed into layers of notebook paper. Using the note she had given me, I carefully cut out the rectangular letters she had written so I'd have the right size for each letter and taped the square-holed paper over the widest rubber band I could find to make a soft surface on which to punch dots. Then I dragged my encyclopedia out again.

Luckily she had written using only the alphabet. The encyclopedia did not even give me the benefit of numbers so I felt like I'd barely dipped my toe into the knowledge of the Braille code. It still took me about five minutes per word to encode my message but I wrote back, explaining that I didn't know much Braille but I'd love to learn.

Several days later I found another note explaining numbers. I was ecstatic. I set to work learning the alphabet and numbers in earnest. Once I had them memorized I found the words and sentences coming much easier.

The next note I received added a new element: a dot before each capital letter. It took me a long afternoon of puzzling over that dot before I figured out what it meant. But like a scientist who makes great discoveries, I got it and then proudly used it in my next missive.

We continued to exchange schoolgirl notes for several months. Rarely did we meet and talk but at last we did and began exchanging the notes in person. We ended up going to one another's houses after school and became friends, although she looked down somewhat on me, a lowly seventh grader, from her heightened experience of ninth grade. It's how Junior High goes.

We eventually parted ways at the end of the year, resumed our friendship briefly in high school, then she moved away and I have never seen her since. But my love affair with Braille has continued unabated to this day. The day I received my first Braille slate and could finally abandon my home-made one and create smooth, perfect Braille letters stands out in my memory.

I ordered a Braille dictionary from the Idaho Commission for the Blind who wanted to know who in my family was blind and needed it. I didn't know what to tell them. I figured "I'm interested and weird" would probably suffice. Unlike most sighted or low-vision people I forced myself to read by touch alone, slogging through learning all the short forms and abbreviations. Since I am not technically blind, I couldn't order books from the national printing houses, but I found other sources where I could buy books. (See below.) I learned to read it fluently and I still practice often, reading usually in bed where I don't need to bother with a night light and where after a long day of computer-induced eyestrain and myopic blurriness, I can relax in the soft darkness and read.

Two years ago I decided reading wasn't enough and I wanted to qualify to transcribe it for others who needed it. I applied to the Library of Congress and began their correspondence training course. I got more than I bargained for, though and I had to quit halfway through when I couldn't keep up. I plan to finish it at some point when I have more time to study. There is an amazing amount of code and lots of special rules to memorize.

So there it is. After all these years I still love Braille and if my reading speed was just a little faster and materials more available, I'd almost prefer it over print. It breaks my heart that only 10% of blind children are being taught Braille since audio books and other technology have nearly replaced it. But like ASL it was developed by people who needed and wanted it, not by sighted teachers who don't want to bother with it. So hopefully it will stay alive and in use in spite of those who call it outmoded and cumbersome.

What is Braille?
Braille Bug

Buy Braille Books (or donate)
Seedlings Braille

Free Bibles in Braille (or donate)
Lutheran Braille Workers

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Purple Ball

Sometimes I dream of having a blog that attracts hundreds of readers, that draws in advertising money, that becomes the conversation piece of other bloggers and moms, that wins awards at blog conferences.



Then I write a post like this one. About a purple ball in our backyard that never gets played with but sits forlornly in a corner until Hubby tosses it in my weedy flowerbed when he mows the lawn.



And I know why my blog will sit forlornly in the corner of the internet, unnoticed except by a few passing readers and of course the grandparents. Because I post about stuff like an old purple ball in our back yard. And it's okay because I'm too tired to travel to blog conferences anyway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Suncatchers

As a little girl I remember going to my grandparents' house for visits. We'd drive for several hours and sitting in the back seat of the car I invariably felt carsick so when we pulled into the driveway of the house on East Larch Street, the feeling of relief that swept me somehow attached itself in my memory to Grandma and Grandpa's house. We would walk up to the wooden front door with its funny bronze knocker and wait until it opened with Grandpa, full of smiles and hard hugs that squeezed the breath out of me. There was Grandma, not far behind with her soft brown curls and pink lipstick, smiling her welcome. There was always a dog, pushing forward with licking tongue and wagging tail.

And there were the suncatchers. As soon as we entered Grandma and Grandpa's house we were covered with rainbows as the slanting sun poured in the west window which was hung with crystal prisms. With the breeze of our entering they swayed and the rainbows skittered and danced across the brown carpet. With the homey smell and feeling of love I associate with memories of Grandma and Grandpa's house comes the memory of the rainbows that danced across the walls and the carpet.



After watching the kids catching rainbows the other day, I remembered those suncatchers in Grandma's windows and wondered if I could find some for our house. After a quick google and some online shopping, I found some for sale on Amazon and ordered two.



They arrived in the mail today and we hung them in the dining room window where the morning sun carpets the floor in brilliance. Now on our walls the rainbows dance and skitter and the children chase them laughing, trying to capture them in their hands just as I used to do at Grandma's house.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Last Month

We're in what I hope is the last month of our adoption process. We're still waiting, wondering, hoping and praying but there might be an end in sight.

Even more than the previous months, I am a wreck.

The last month of each pregnancy was kind of like this. The second one, especially, I lay in bed most of the day, immobile, feeling like a beached whale, getting up only to eat the prescribed tasteless food off the gestational diabetes list, fighting to keep it down, praying that my baby would be born healthy. Each day went by with the speed of crystallized honey flowing down the side of the bottle, each day a step closer.

I tick off the silent days now, pretending to keep my mind on my preschoolers, halfheartedly doing my chores while there is an entirely separate part of my mind that pictures a tiny baby. When? As I hold the soft form in my arms for the first time, will my heart rush with love? Will I cry? Will I be thinking about another mother crying without a tiny form to hold? Yes, undoubtedly I will.

It's possible that this could happen soon. It's also possible that it won't. It might be months more. So I wait, eager, hoping, yet guarding my heart like a fragile bird, trapped fluttering in my chest. It's very like that last month.

Building the Mouse House

As we've begun our homeschool year, Hubby decided he wanted to get his fingers in the learning pie as well. Along with that, we thought I might need a break from my intense eldest child and since she won't be in school, I was not likely to get one. For these reasons, Hubby worked out his schedule to stay home in the mornings two days a week and make up the hours in the evening. His boss approved and yesterday was the first day of "Daddy Kindergarten".



He decided to do a story project. Taking the page of one of their If You Take A Mouse... books, they attempted to recreate the house including furniture, walls and characters. (Curly, of course was wearing her Lightning McQueen costume, explained in more detail here.)



With the book as a guide the kids worked busily, making play dough furniture. Hubby attempted to teach them how to roll a dough snake with somewhat hilarious results.



They built the house of wooden blocks, complete with lofts and towers. I'm not entirely sure what purpose the dough snake serves; possibly it plans to eat the mouse, thus casting a dark shadow over an otherwise benign story.



Little Mister, proud to have helped in the re-creation of the Mouse House, took great delight in knocking it down when the time came to put everything away. Mommy's comment, in typical anxious fashion was, "You're not going to let the dough dry out, are you?"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Red

I'm sure you were all waiting with bated breath to find out what I was planning to do with the red paint I bought the other day. I know my hubby was wondering. I mentioned a red wall and he gave me a look of disbelief.



This is the wall I chose. In the "before" phase it was the same light bisque as the rest of the living room.



Hubby trusts my decorating instinct. It's a good thing too, because when I got the first layer of red onto the wall and it looked like toenail polish gone wrong, I knew I really could be in for a lot of ribbing.



But five coats of paint later, it looks pretty good! He even complimented me on it when he came home from work. I don't think he had much faith that it would look right in our living room but it adds a nice touch of color to the space without overpowering the small room.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Latte Art



Last night we walked downtown for some small-town festivities: a latte-art competition. One of the local coffee shops hosted this fabulous event and my hubby decided it was perfect fodder for his coffee blog.



While the participants pulled shots and steamed milk, the kids and I watched from the overhead balcony. The three judges examined each cup with great deliberation, then donated the coffee to someone in the watching crowd. Hubby joyfully claimed a free latte with a cross on the top, I think.



As we were waiting to leave the goombas found a chess board. I'm not sure but from the looks of the game, Curly's pawns are faring badly and Mister is setting up for a hostile takeover with his queen. But I could be mistaken. They might have just been playing with the pieces.

Save the Horror Stories, Please!

Our pastors, who are wonderful, darling people, have adopted two children. Both children are grown now but the experience is fresh in their minds when we talk to them about our journey. One problem is they remind us constantly about the eleven matches that did not work out for them. In my mind, it's akin to those lovely but misguided people who tell pregnant women the statistics on miscarriage and warn them not to get their hopes up.

I find the horror stories difficult to handle. I already fear the worst: years and years of failure and disappointment. I know it happens regularly. I've been told in detail. But isn't it worth it?

We've had matches not happen already. It's okay. Those babies found wonderful adoptive families and that's great. But that's part of this journey called adoption. It's not like having a baby where you have a due date, a big belly and a child who is only ever yours. This child will always have adoption as part of his or her story.

I'd like to be able to find a place in my heart where I am safe from all this emotional turmoil, but I can't. I care too much about our baby, whoever and wherever and whenever... I guess I'll deal with it the best I can until I get to hold our baby in my arms. And when I'm blindsided by another adoptive parent's stories, I'll try to smile and listen politely even though it makes me that much more sad.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reluctant Plum Jam

Our front yard boasts a decent-sized plum tree. It does annually what plum trees are supposed to do: produces plums.



In quantity. They ripen and fall in squishy blobs all over our front yard and alley.



Ironically, one of my least favorite fruits is the plum. But I'm blessed with a tree full of them. I considered calling Backyard Harvest, and next year I'll probably do so, but this year I waited too late. At last a neighbor from church agreed to take them off my hands, but feeling guilty for letting so many go to waste, I did pick one bucketful myself.



I really only picked for about two minutes and only the ripe ones I could reach. Still I ended up with two big potfuls of plums which I set boiling on my stove, filling the house with sweet, plummy smell. It smelled like I was a plum-loving, fruit-picking, home-canning housewife who puts up 458 quarts of fruit every year.

But that's not me.


I made eight cups of plum jelly and put them in the freezer. Then I thanked the Lord Above for sending my neighbor who likes plums.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wii Finally Bought One!

For years we've wished, we've waited, we've drooled over these at friends' houses. We've saved our pennies but it always seemed like there was something that was higher on the priority list.



Finally, we decided it was time. We did not even own a television with a screen big enough to enable us to play games. Hubby found one at Goodwill for $25 and we hooked it up. We even bought Mario Kart.

Hubby playing MarioKart with Curly

Friday, August 21, 2009

Preschooler Photography

If you're four years old and your mom lets you take the camera for a while, what do you photograph?


Your shadow on the back door.



Your favorite rock in the front yard.



The mailbox.



Mom.



The little pom-pom guys who live on top of the piano.



The cat by Mom's feet.



The Mixer.



Your own shirt.



Daddy.



The dice that you wish Mommy would let you use whenever you want.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anticipation

 Starcraft 2 screenshot

Hubby and I love to play Starcraft after the kids are in bed. Someday they will finally release the sequel. I'm thinking as a Christmas present we'll get it. Can't wait!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Warm Milk

It's funny how life's little things come into sharp focus sometimes. As our town floods with new college students I began thinking of the time when my little birds will fly the nest and head to college. I started thinking about how much I'll miss them, which is silly because they are only 4 and 2 so it's going to be a nice, long time before it actually happens.

Anyway, one of the things I'm going to miss when my children grow up is giving them warm milk at bedtime. Tonight we got home from a long drive and both kids are absolutely exhausted. Poor Little Mister was wandering around laying his head on the floor and resting for a few minutes as we were putting his jammies on. (He did miss his nap. We were in C d'A, which is a story for another day.)

But I got him his warm milk and tucked him into bed. It was one of those moments when I delight in being a Mommy. Those magical moments when I can tuck a tired little boy into his bed with some warm milk in his tummy and all is right with the world. When I can hug my little girl standing in the kitchen while she is drinking her cup of warm milk.

It's a little hard to explain; if you aren't a mother you might be scratching your head and if you are one I don't need to say anything more. A lot of times as a mom I have those manic moments when I need a nice loony bin to live in, but these warm milk moments more than make up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pesky Gnomes

Once upon a time there were two children named Curly and Mister. One day they climbed a tall, tall mountain because they were looking for the gnomes who live on the top of the mountain.



They climbed and climbed and at last they reached the top. When they did they could look out and see the whole world spread out below them.



It was windy on top of the mountain and Curly shivered but Mister said, "Let's go look for the gnomes who live on the top of the mountain." But Curly was hungry so she suggested they eat some of the food they had brought with them on their adventure.



Little Mister agreed and they got out their box of provisions, sharing their crackers and cheese and talking about what they might find there on the top of the mountain. Mister thought he might catch one of the gnomes and take it home for a pet.



While they ate, some of the little gnomes came out stealthily from the tall grass and bushes and made off with some of their food! Oh no! Mister immediately set off after them to rescue their snacks.



As he ran along the top of the mountain, however, Mister began to feel very small and frightened.



Soon Curly joined him and together they chased those naughty gnomes right over to their little cave. Curly asked them politely to give back the cheese they had taken and of course the gnomes did just that.



So Curly ate the rest of her cheese quickly before more of those pesky gnomes came, for everyone knows that mountain gnomes love cheese when they can get it which isn't very often, only when unsuspecting children come along.



As their adventure ended, she stood looking out over the whole world and wondered if they would climb this mountain again. Next time she would bring extra cheese to give the gnomes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blackberry Picking



A half-hour drive. A park, a path and prickly bushes.



Berries ranging from green to red to juicy purple-black. Two eager, willing helpers.



Sticky fingers, pricks and pokes, sweet pails full of goodness! Blackberries for lunch and for making jam.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Handy Dad



A few months ago, Dad and I took a roadtrip. The pellet stove we bought from the classified ads has been squatting in his garage all summer, waiting for the right time to install it.



This past week's rain and chilly weather reminded us that fall is not far off, so this weekend became stove-install weekend. Dad drilled through our concrete basement wall, assembled the pipes and exhaust fans and filled the hole again with insulation and Fix-All.



Then we fired it up to test it. It obediently began pumping out heat into our basement, as well as a pleasant stove-y smell that reminded me of my grandparents' house when I was growing up. From the smell and the fact that the pellets weren't burning all the way, Dad decided it'll need some adjusting, but we have hopes for a pleasant, warm basement this winter.

For comparison I called a local stove supply store and asked for some prices. A basic freestanding pellet stove would run us about $2,700. For some bells and whistles we could easily add another $1,000. Installation, depending on the difficulty would likely be about $1,500.

Ours was $50 for the stove and $15 for some cord clamps and a pipe cover.