Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm Barefoot Inside These Shoes

I did it. I said I wouldn't but I did it anyway. What did I do? I bought them...the Vibram Five Fingers. Even though way back in May I said "No Five Fingers for me.", here I am with my very own pair.

I know. Now I have to take back all that stuff I said about them. Like the fact that I felt very amphibian in them. And that I might be sabotaging my marriage if I wore these. Well, I don't get the amphibian effect in these, mainly because they are black and not the aqua-camo that I had tried on back in May. I like to think of these as Mary Janes, only in neoprene not patent leather. And with toes, not smooth rounded fronts. And as far as the effect on my marriage, I have clarified with my husband that the only shoes I am not allowed to show up in are white Keds and gold ballet flats. Those are deal breakers. The Vibrams are allowed. I have agreed to avoid the shoes on his list, and he has agreed to never drive an El Camino. These are the things that hold us together.

But back to the Five Fingers...they are so comfortable. I knew it when I tried them on in May, in June and again in July. Honestly, I tried them on several times because of the comfort. It's like being barefoot only without the fear. Fear of stepping on a Lego. Fear of stubbing your big toe. Fear of the unknown. The Vibram's fix all that; a big feat for footwear. The release from the fears is so freeing.

I love to be barefoot and now I can do it even when it's not commonly accepted like at the grocery store. I don't know about yours, but my market frowns on barefoot shopping. But I can do it now and they don't even know because I have my bare feet hidden in my barefoot shoes. Ha!

I have begun to run in them too which was the main purpose for exploring these shoes anyway. I ran just yesterday and it felt great. Light on my feet, literally.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Importance of Timely Local News

I don't read my local paper. Frankly, there usually isn't much in our local paper that I won't hear about from friends and neighbors. This town is so small in the sense of news travelling fast that you can't miss much. Or you can't miss it for long.

Last Friday, August 20th, to mark the end of summer, a friend, K & I took our children to a place we had heard about for some time but had never been. The place was the Rocky Ridge Municipal Slide at Mount Tabor Park. This slide, known as "The Big Wooden Slide" is just that, a 35-foot high, 100-foot long slide made of polished hardwood the sheen of which rivals some lesser bowling alleys.

I suspect you probably know of this slide because it was all over the news on August 18th. And not just our local news. But I seemed to miss this news item, otherwise I would not have been there with my young children and their soft underbellies on the 20th.

News story aside, this slide is an awesome example of Americana fun. Built in the '50s, it is a big ol' sliding board wide enough for 5 or more to slide down together.

You go even faster if you sit on a burlap sack or even a big sheet of wax paper. But you probably already knew that since you most likely Googled the Rocky Ridge Slide after reading about the accident that happened there on the 17th. But we didn't know any of this before visiting the slide so we just used a fleece car blanket, but it worked amazingly well.

While we there, a nice family of 5 slid down together, head-first, lying on their stomachs, one on top of the other, stacked up by age and size like Frosty the Snowman and his crew. I'm guessing they hadn't heard the news story either.

My boys and K's girls had a great time on the slide. K and I even took a few trips down. We didn't know it at the time but we were all apparently very lucky to come away from the slide with only a few minor friction burns. We learned later that we definitely fared better than one poor child did on the 17th. Thankfully, he is doing well.

The way we learned of the slide incident was an example of synchronicity. On the 20th, my husband was having a work lunch when a coworker mentioned the "freak accident" at the Rocky Ridge Slide. I assume those words were spoken at this precise moment when my son and friend were careening down the slide.

A few short minutes later as we were driving away from the slide, my cell phone rings with my husband on the other end. He asked if we were okay.  Sure, just a few friction burns but the slide rocks! What about the accident? he asks. Huh? So he filled me in.

Interestingly, there were no warning signs around the slide. No caution tape. No notice of the recent accident. Not even a "slide at your own risk" disclaimer. I wonder what type of liability insurance the owners of the slide have.

And even more interesting, there was a crowd of people lining up to hit the slide! This tells me something - the readership of our local paper is down. I missed the story. K missed it. And so must have all those other people who brought their own burlap sacks. And definitely the man who was surfing down the slide in his sock feet missed the news last week.

Strangely though, everyone that I have mentioned our slide visit to has recoiled in horror and said something along the lines of, "I can't believe you were there just after the accident!" Can I ask where were these harbingers of information in the hours leading up to our trip? This would have been useful information to me prior to Friday. Somehow all of my friends, K excluded, knew of the slide story but didn't share. So maybe the overall readership isn't down. Maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gettin Figgy Wit It

The purpose of this post is solely for gloating. I generally don't like to gloat. It usually makes others, the "gloatees," feel bad and the gloater really doesn't gain that much either. But I'm putting all that aside and directing this gloating session at someone specific. Today's gloatee is my mom. Boy, that sounds mean. Why would I want to taunt my own mother? I don't really have a good reason other than pure competition. But she started it.

About 3 or 4 years ago, my mom brought me a teensy fig tree sapling. It was about 6 inches high. She had one just like it and we both planted them in our yards. My yard is in Maryland. Her yard is in Tennessee. We were told by the Tennessee fig man who gave her these saplings that it would take about 3-4 years before the trees would fruit. In the intervening years since planting, she has asked frequently, "How's your fig tree?"

"It has grown, " I would say.  Neither one of us has any real idea how to care for a fig tree so we both do little to nothing for our trees. My tree has survived 55+ inches of snow in one winter. Her tree has survived near-drought conditions. But surprisingly, both our trees are thriving. So what do I have to gloat about?

My tree has fruit!

This is it! Right on the 3-4 year schedule!

Sadly, my mom's tree has not fruited. I'm sorry. Really, I am. But I am sure that her tree will fruit next chance it gets. When she found out that my tree had fruit, she gave her tree a good talking to. She let her tree know how disappointed she was that it would let a Maryland fig tree, that is living in the wrong climate, dealing with the worst winters in years, show up a good Southern fig tree by fruiting first. I am certain that Mom's tree is very clear on the expectations for it next fruiting season. To drive her point home, Mom glares regularly from her kitchen window at her barren fig tree. She used to glare at me like that so I know how effective her glower can be.

In the meantime, I am showering my fig tree with praise for a job well done.

na na na na na na na nana....Gettin' Figgy Wit it!...na na na na na na na nana


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Schooled - OWH and Panamera Have Nothing To Do With One Another - Or Do They?

Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Another week of life lessons has passed and lest I forget all the nuggets I collected this week, they will  be collected here in Sunday Schooled. I like to start these posts with a quote from someone more learned than I am. Gives a bit of credibility to what I am about to say. I found that one above from OWH and I like it. It signifies intellectual growth and expansion. Good stuff. But I wanted to further expand my and my readers' knowledge by giving a bit of background on OWH. We all should know that he was a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1902-1932), but I wanted to know a bit more. So I wiki'd him and find that he was a Jr. and OWH, Sr. was an author. That made me think...which one takes credit for the quote? My source did not specify from which Holmes the quote emanated. This may not bother you but it bothered me. In some things, I like to be precise. As with all unanswered life questions, I turned to Google for clarity. Google was not able to deliver. Seems all over the www. there is confusion about which Holmes, Sr. or Jr., had the new idea that was good enough to quote. But there seems to be more support that Jr. was the guy.

I think I can solve the mystery with simple logic. I believe Holmes, Sr. said it first, at home to young Holmes, Jr., trying to get him to do his homework.  And then Holmes, Jr. bandied about the saying a time or two during his tenure as Justice, probably not even realizing that his dad's wisdom had been planted in his subconscious all those years ago at the kitchen table. Holmes, Jr. being the more famous of the two, gets more credit than Dad. We all know we end up sounding just like our parents. So that's what happened with this one.

And that's just what I learned as I started to write this post. Seems you can't do anything without opening a can of worms.

But there is something else I learned this week. And this is really important stuff. I did not know until earlier this week that there exists a Porsche sedan. Until this week, when I thought of Porsche, I thought of this:

or these:

But since a Porsche sedan glided by my trembling minivan going at least 85mph but appeared to be floating on air (the Porsche not the van), my mind has forever been expanded. The dimensions of my mind now include this:

and this:

Unfortunately, the dimensions of my mind had to also get around this: $94,700. And around this: $500,000. The smaller amount is the price of the Porsche Panamera that slid past me like a ghost in yachting blue. The higher amount is the estimated cost of sending our two young sons to college starting in the year 2020.  The amount of oxygen in the room just decrease thricefold by my sharp gasping inhalation.

So once I exhale again and get my newly expanded mind back into its original container, I plan to look at our college savings plans, reassess our sons' unique attributes and begin a web search for scholarship opportunities in Lego building, science trivia and fart jokes. And in the spirit of OWH, Sr. I will remind our sons of the value of broader intellectual dimensions in hopes of greater scholarship chances than the aforementioned skills may provide.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Here Is Your New Itinerary - Enjoy The Trip!

I do not have a child with disabilities. I mercifully do not know the experience of having a child with significant physical or mental challenges. But I do have children. And as any parent can tell you, each child comes with his own set of circumstances and issues which make parenting the hurdle that it is.

I can honestly say I was not prepared for parenting. Is anyone really? Thoughts of snuggly babies magically growing into well-adjusted, successful, smiling college graduates are the imprecise images of childrearing that lulled me in the days of pregnancy and postpartum bliss. And then the real story began to unfold. Sleep deprivation, feeding worries, preschool application processes (really?!), trips to the principal's office, backtalk, prepubescent conversations, narrow palates, dead pets, medical scares. These are just a few of the big ticket items you get for your parenting dollar. And we're just getting started.

In my 10 years as a parent, I feel I have been blindsided many times by parenting issues. Chalk it up to my lack of preparedness. A few years ago during one of those blindsides, someone passed along to me a passage about parenting a child with disabilities. Here is "Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perle Kingsley:
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......

When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."

"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."

But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

Although the short essay was written about parenting a child with disabilities, I feel the greater sentiment of the essay can be applied to parenting in general and, to a broader extent, life. Life, because even with the best laid plans you may not ever arrive where you think you will. But if you can set aside your planned itinerary and take in the unexpected sites, your trip to Holland may be just as sweet.

After 10 years as a parent, I am getting better at the job. I am more prepared even for the unexpected. Largely, experience is to thank for that but also, I also have to thank my kids. They are resilient. They take things in stride. They don't have the dubious benefit of experience making them overanalyze situations to the point of worry and confusion. They look at things, good or bad, and say "okay, let's do this." They take the challenge and then move on to the next thing. They are tough. And I am growing tough again with them. I just have to go along with their spontaneous travel arrangements with a bit more grace.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Birthday Report

Happy Birthday to me! I haven't found the tribute post to me that I am sure someone out there must have written. So until I find one penned by another, I'll just write my own - not so much a tribute to me. That would be a bit gauche. I know better than that. So how about just a birthday report?

We officially celebrated my birthday yesterday which I guess made it My Birthday Observed. Today is the actual holiday. This isn't a milestone birthday for me but any birthday I guess is a milestone of sorts. Anyway, on My Birthday Observed we secured a babysitter so hubby and I could have an afternoon date. We had a nice lunch out at our favorite burrito place. I know that may not sound that nice but part of the foundation of our relationship is our shared love of big burrito places. We are big burrito connoisseurs and have left a trail of flour tortillas in our wake. I just have to pay homage right now to some of our old favorites from our Atlanta days: Tortillas, Raging Burrito, Willie's. I don't even know if those are still in business, but they hold special places in our hearts and stomachs. We haven't found a place in Maryland that quite meets the standards set in Atlanta, but there is one that is good enough.

I know this is supposed to be a birthday report not a food review. But in case you're worried that I didn't get a proper birthday meal just know that we did go out to a super nice dinner Friday night with some really great friends. So I guess My Birthday Observed sort of started on Friday.

After lunch, hubby and I did what all couples would do when they have a babysitter in the afternoon and haven't had any alone time in quite a while...we had an Afternoon Delightful shopping visit to the Pottery Barn outlet store. Yes! We picked up my birthday present which is this fabulous coffee table.

Just so you know, that is not my fabulous creamy couch. I know better than that.

After picking up the coffee table, we had a nice long drive through Northern Virginia horse country. There are so many stunning horse farms and we oohed and aaahed our way through the meandering roads. And we talked and we laughed.

When we came back home, I was greeted by this:

My fantastic boys and their SUPER Babysitter made this beautiful cake for me. It tastes as good as it looks.

It may well be the best birthday cake I have had in my life. They did a great job. And to add to my joy, other than the cake itself there was no trace in my kitchen that a cake had been prepared. SUPER Babysitter cleaned up everything! I love her!

My Birthday Observed was a wonderful day, spent with the people I love the most. Happy Birthday to me!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Dad!

My Dad's birthday was last week. I wanted to do a birthday post on his day but had just emerged from the laundry room so my head wasn't quite in the space to adequately do a tribute post. Most of the laundry's been put away so I can focus on it now.

Where to start? On the light side, my Dad is a funny guy. He likes one-liners and quips. He makes up his own jokes about nearly anything. He's most prolific around election times, no matter who's running, but you always know which side he leans toward based on where his punch line is aimed. He repeats alot of his jokes and that can make us all crazy sometimes. But if we all really admitted it, we'd hate it if he stopped with all the "dumb jokes", as Mom calls them.

He gave up telling dumb jokes for Lent the last two years. That may have been harder for him that giving up his 40-year cigarette habit. He gave up both and that's how much he loves my mom. Mom enjoyed those 80 days but I believe I saw a twinkle return to her eye after Easter.

My favorite Dad jokes are the fake book titles with made-up authors. The best one that never fails to make me laugh is the ever popular adventure novel, "Fight with a Tiger" by Claude Balls. I'm sorry. Our family's sense of humor can be a bit base. But admit it, that's funny!

Dad is the best grandfather. He acts like a kid with the kids. He puts up with some crazy grandkid ideas. My boys think he is so funny and as mischievous as they are.

Dad is the original recycler. He saves everything with the intention of reusing it one day. He has stuff literally stuffed in little hidey-holes all over the house. He's not a hoarder like you see on tv; he's a collector and a very organized one. Sundry hardware items salvaged from some long dead machine, wooden peg nails handhewn by our great-great-great grandsomebody, things no one else can recognize. He knows the story behind everything he keeps. And everything he keeps has significance. His collections have value. He and my mom have the eye for antiques and have accumulated many, many nice pieces.

He's green too. When I was an angst-filled teen, it infuriated me that Dad, being in charge of household trash, used plastic grocery bags for trash bin liners. It embarassed me to think that we wouldn't buy proper trash bags. The ridiculous nature of this is not lost on me: buying trash bags to put your trash in to throw away equals throwing away money. (Not to mention the environmental reasons for not generating more plastic in the landfills.) I don't know what Dad was thinking when he started his little trash collection method. But I think of Dad everytime I empty my bathroom trash bin and insert a "new" grocery bag in the can.

Dad writes poetry. Not poems about flowers or the morning dew. He writes poems about the people he loves. He writes poems as gifts, tributes and to commemorate important family events. My mom gets poems on her birthday and anniversary. My brothers and I and our spouses were all honored with a personally crafted poem at our weddings. With champagne glass in hand, Dad read his poems to us from index cards held with one barely trembling hand and imparted his love, hopes and dreams for our newly married lives all in nice rhyming meter. If I didn't say it then Dad, B and I thank you. Those words mean so much, then and now.

My Dad loves my mom. Like any couple who has been together nearly three-quarters of their lives, they have been through hell and paradise together.

I'm just an outsider looking in on their story. I only know what I've seen. But looking at my own marriage, knowing what we've shared in only a fraction of the time my parents have been together, I can only imagine the depths of love, forgiveness and understanding that is required to make it 53 years, 8 months and 1 week together. I may be off by a day or two, but I bet Dad knows the exact count. That's how much he values their life together; taking it one day at a time and cherishing each day.

Dad, I hope you had a blessed day. Would have loved to share it with you. We'll celebrate soon! Love you!


Sunday Schooled

Learning never exhausts the mind - Leonardo DaVinci

I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday - Abraham Lincoln

Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. - C.S. Lewis

From the comments from these great erudite men, lifelong learning is an invigorating, expansive and humbling prospect. I too feel that the best times in my life have been those times when I was learning new things, being exposed to things previously unknown and gaining new experience. These times may not have been the easiest, but I definitely felt fully awake, challenged and at the end, satisfied by my accomplishments.

In the spirit of "you learn something new everyday", I thought I would share what I have learned this week.

I learned that you lose brain cells by watching "The Real Housewives of DC." I seriously felt dumber after 10 minutes of the show. That's all the time I could stand of it. I think that if I had watched 5 minutes more, someone would have shown up at my front door to rescind my Masters degree. If I had gotten through the whole show, I surely would have lost all rights, privileges and abilities associated with any formal education.

I learned the meaning of the expression "long pole in the tent" and found that you don't want to be the long pole in the tent. I won't go into all the details. But I had never heard this saying before and was confused by the context in which it was used. In my defense, there were a few beers involved and it is not outlandish to think that references to the long pole could conjure up images of circus tent supports.

I learned how to make some kick-ass spicy mango salsa!

I learned that I am slightly gullible in that I almost fell for an 8 year-old hoax. No silly, Mars will not appear as large as the moon in the night sky on August 27. And it won't look like we have double moons. Really?

I learned that Saturday Night Live is good again. Even though we can't possibly stay awake to watch it as it airs, our trusty DVR allows us to enjoy the season during reasonable waking hours. Kristen Wiig is comic brilliance and I could eat Seth Myers up for lunch. And you just have look at Andy Samberg and laugh.

I learned all over again how good it is to laugh with my husband. Thanks SNL!

I bet you learned a little here today. I wonder what nuggets of wisdom await in the days to come?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Laundry Therapy

Seems I frequently am making excuses for why I haven't blogged in this many days or why I have been absent from the blogosphere for that many days. Well, here comes another one. I haven't been here lately because I've been in the laundry room. Not really doing that much laundry actually, but metaphorically, I've been in the laundry room. You haven't heard that one before? I know. I just made it up. Shall I explain?

Our summer has been, or actually the last several years have, if I must admit, an escalation of stresses. Not one thing specifically has thrown us on to the escalator, but a slew of things. Kid things. Adult things. Family things. Medical things. Life things. You have them too. And maybe you handle them differently than we do. But as our escalator was reaching the top (I hope), I realized the place for me to go when the walls were feeling a bit too close for comfort is the laundry room.

In the laundry room, everything is predictable. I know there will be a huge pile of towels waiting for me. I know that I will have to pull all the boys' underwear out of their pants while I am sorting the clothes since they remove their pantsandunderwear as a single unit. I know there will be a few items to handwash and I don't mind that. I know that I will wait as long as possible to do any ironing and when I do, it will take forever and I will complain bitterly the whole ironing session. I know that I always bury my face in the first warm towel that comes out of the dryer.

In the laundry room, I am an expert. I have the formulas down. Whites in hot. Darks are separate. Red all by itself. And I know how to solve all(most) the problems that crop up in the laundry room. If an errant red sneaks in with the whites, there are two paths to take: bleach or the trash bin. If one of the boys comes home with a mystery stain on a new shirt, I handle that with Oxyclean or a visit to Google. I'm my own little conveyor system: Problem. Solution. Next.

In the laundry room, the atmosphere is soothing. It's warm. The ambient white noise lulls. There's a window and a door to the outside world (read backyard) so I can look out if I want to. Or I can just enjoy the light streaming in. I can close the door and keep out any and all unwanted guests. And speaking of guests, no one else wants to visit the laundry room so guests aren't really a problem anyway. So I can be by myself with my blue eucalyptus and lavender scented detergent and dryer sheets, chlorine-free, and biodegradable of course.

My pantry and laundry room share the same space. So if the escape to the laundry room isn't enough to shut off the stress valve, there's always chocolate, hidden on the top shelf where only I know. Dark chocolate and a bulky, mindless load of dark towels is just the combination to reenergize me for the next trip up the escalator.

So metaphorically, I've been in the laundry room, looking for predictability, focusing on things I am confident of, seeking out a soothing atmosphere, and eating chocolate when all else fails. So far, the laundry therapy is working out well. Our family laundry hasn't looked this good in a long time. Our whites are whiter. The colors are popping. And we appreciate the darks for their role in setting off the bright tones that much more. And I mean this in the most metaphorical way possible.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Camping 2010 - Part 2

You may have wondered about my blogging silence on the second half of our camping trip. There was no blogging on the second leg. We left the technically savvy campground in Virginia and headed west, to West Virginia. I now know why they call West Virginia "Wild,Wonderful". First, it's wild, as in primitive, because almost as soon as we crossed the state line, I had no cell service and that remained the case for rest of the week. Second, it's wonderful because almost as soon as we crossed the state line, I had no cell service. It took me a day to get used to the "wonderful" side of West Virginia, but I came to enjoy not being connected at all. I did think it a bit curious that there was no cell service to be had and wondered out loud many times about what West Virginian's do without cell phones.

But we were entertained by things other than our smartphones all week long.

Like looking at jaw-dropping views.

And driving down long lonely mountains roads.

And back again.

But every now and again between peaceful mountain moments, I would check my cell phone. Just to see. But still no service. It wasn't until we stumbled upon the National Radio Astronomy Observatory hidden in the middle of the Monongehela National Forest did I understand why West Virginia is not a mecca for cell coverage. The reason is this -

We were right smack in the middle of the The Quiet Zone - 13,000 square miles established by the FCC to minimize possible interference with the radio telescopes at the NRAO. They control all manner of radio waves, from cell tower placement to microwave ovens to the use of digital cameras within certain proximity to the telescopes. Which is why the closest picture of the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope I could get was this.

In this very pastoral scene, you can see that this mammoth structure is really sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

Now what is such a structure like this doing in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia? Listening to space. It is not a transmitter but strictly a receiver for radio waves from any and all sources.

The boys had a great time steering the model in the museum.

And hubby and I had fun posing in front of the wacky mirrors.

After the cell service mystery was solved, we could get back to relaxing. So we did. And that was the best part of all.