Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Proceed with Caution

The post you are about to read is riddled - riddled I tell you! - with the strike-out feature.

I had seen the strike-out feature used on many-a-blog.

I was green - green I tell you! - with envy.

I finally learned how to do it.

I cannot seem to stop doing it.

You've been warned.

Proceed with - with I tell you! - caution.

Florida Trip Mini-Photo Journal

Now c'mon - how can you not get excited about a blog post with a title like that?

(After typing my original title, I swear I watched my counter roll backwards. I added "mini" to the title and a few of you poked your heads back out from wherever you'd run off to.)

I mean, don't you just detest love
hearing about other people's vacations? Isn't it nauseating mesmerizing to sit, captive, on someone's sofa and watch them haul out 72 albums of vacation photos?

And share them one by godforsaken one?

Don't you just want to cry a little love it when most of the photos are scenery?

Don't you love even more that they took 13 shots of each moment, just in case the first 12 didn't capture it well enough?

Isn't it just the biggest waste of your precious time wonderful to sit back and listen to them recount every friggin' moment of their lovely freakin' trip and hear story after story after g*ddamn story about what they ate and what they saw, and smile with disgust longing each time they laugh among themselves as they recall a had-to-be-there moment?

I don't know about you, but I think it's just a grand time! And not just because I'm going to now subject you to my own vacation photos! (Well ok, maybe that's exactly why.)

So now... Without further bullsh*t ado, I present.... for your viewing pleasure... our Florida trip pictures! (Don't worry - it's the short version of the story.)

Ahhh, the view from Straub Park in St. Petersburg. We couldn't get enough of this place.

Nearby was the Hooker Tea Company where we'd grab something to sip on, a gelato shop whose gravitational pull was just too strong to resist most days, and benches where we'd sit and chat and gaze upon the bay for hours and hours.

Here, Rob chats with Jonathan by cell phone as we walk The Pier. Our 3-night stay in downtown St. Petersburg was wonderful. But I won't bore you with the dozens of photos we took there.

After 3 days it was time to head to the Don... the real reason for the trip. Rob earned another sales incentive trip and this year it was 4 nights at Don CeSar's Resort on St. Pete's Beach.

WooHOO, baby.

Even though it faced away from the bayside, the view from our room was stunning.

Even though it faced away from the bayside, the view from our room was stunning!

After 3 days of downtown walking and sight-seeing, it was time to camp my fat *ss lil-ol'-self here for a while.

Ahhh..... Mmmm....

Inviting, isn't it?

We did manage to take a few walks down the beach. But it was hard work to rustle ourselves up off those beach chairs.

One night I actually talked Rob into playing ping-pong for a while. A short while. Ping-pong qualifies as exercise, and exercise is in the pre-trip plans, not the during-trip plans. You may recall that for this vacation, my pre-trip preparation consisted of two days hunched over the toilet, so wahoo, it was time to celebrate that puke-induced hard-earned weightloss by spending 4 straight days sitting on my bum.

Alas, after a few days beachside we did get a little antsy, so we headed to Busch Gardens for the day. And yes, that's the Sheikra, and yes, we went on it. Right away, before we lost our nerve. Rob screamed like a little grrl. I think I cried a little.

In fact, here's proof:

After the ride was over, the guy to Rob's left leaned over and said, in all seriousness, "First time, huh." Then he rolled his eyes and exited, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "Pansy..."

On the last day, I finally got to do beachside yoga, offered by the hotel. What a lovely concept, and it was just what I needed after a week of sleeping no, actually, that's right, we were always just sleeping in a strange bed, eating way too much food, and lounging around. Beachside yoga was ahhhh-mazing.

It was a lovely, lovely week, and I am pleased to announce that yes, we do still like each other when the kids aren't around, despite my previous doubts.

Oh, and one more photo - the swimsuit shot! After mentioning in another post that I didn't know whether or not to include photos of me in a swimsuit, I've gotten dozens (read: none) of emails - dozens, I tell you! - begging me to do that. Now I'm not normally one to flaunt my junk body like this, but I figured.. maybe just this one time. I mean, I did puke exercise a lot, so I could fit into my bathing suit. And my suit is tasteful enough, what with its plunging neckline tankini style and fishnet floral design. And I really do love getting admiring emails from pervs supportive friends. So... blushing... here's just one...






Thanks for suffering through our vacation photos! And if you are a total masochist liked what you saw, there are 37 more albums where those came from!

Namaste, my friends, Namaste

Saturday, November 24, 2007

An Hour of Art

Brady came home with an art assignment the other day. He laughed because it'd been assigned several weeks before but was now due the next day - and he hadn't started it yet. That's ok, it's a step forward from his last art homework, which he'd had weeks to do, but NEVER did, and for which he got his first MASH.

MASH stands for Mandatory After-School Homework - or something like that. It's really just a fancy name for a detention. I chuckled when the school secretary gave it to me, despite her grave expression. I asked if I could keep it, because I thought it should be framed or something. But Brady wiggled his way out of the MASH somehow; some sweet-taking I guess. (He takes after me afterall!)

AnyHOO... last time he had to draw his hand. This time he had to draw a boot. He chose one of mine.

No, I do not live in Alaska, despite the impression my choice of boot style may give. Hey, I've got wimpy toes, ok?

Something about Brady sketching at the kitchen table got me in the mood to do something artistic. Which is unusual, seeing as I'm really not very artistic at all. But I remembered that Jonathan had gotten an art book for his birthday so I dug it out and he and I got in on the fun.

The first exercise was to look in a mirror and draw your own portrait. That was difficult! But fun!

Jonathan stuck his mirror in the lego bucket.

I was having a grand time until I showed my portrait to the boys. That's when they shivered and said things like "Ugh!" and "Oh my gosh that's freaky!" and "Please don't make me look at that ever again!"

Apparently they think I look rather zombie-ish. Huh.

The next exercise was to draw a picture, from memory, of someone you know. Can you tell whom I chose?

(Please say you can tell!)

The third exercise was to draw your hand. I took a picture of my drawing, but it's so horrid light, I can't show it.

Brady, on the other hand, really shows an aptitude for drawing, even though he really doesn't enjoy doing it.

We'll be taking our sketch pads and workbooks on our long Thanksgiving weekend trip to the lake so we can do more!

And perhaps, just maybe, my next portrait won't give my children nightmares.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

They Just Don't Get It


I have overnight guests coming.

I thought it was only going to be my (single) brother-in-law and his two kids. So I scrubbed a bathroom and changed some sheets.

A phone call from my MIL informed me that brother-in-law's grrrlfriend is coming, too. I did not know this.

I called my husband to proclaim my disappointment in his inability to give me all the necessary information.

He asks, "What difference does that make?"

Grrrls, Let's Discuss

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Learning to Love the Fine Lines

I'm having technical difficulties tonight and can't seem to upload any pictures. That is a problem, considering I wanted to work on a sequel to my "Why I'm Not a Food Blogger" series and the post is set to contain some 30 or so photos. Egad. It's also a problem considering option #2 was to post about the lovely evening of sketching we had last night. Not so interesting without pictures of the sketches. So I will instead wax on about a rather profound moment I had today. And no pictures were taken.

I've been worrying a bit more than usual about the fine lines in my face. They're growing deeper, the aging process sped up, no doubt, by the
trauma of the past few years. And while I plan to age gracefully - as gracefully as possible - and don't care much for the trappings of the stay-young-at-any-cost marketing vultures, it is nevertheless a little harder than I expected to see the patterns of age furrow deeper and deeper.

Particularly on my forehead. I have crease lines in my forehead, well worn, apparently, from years of some serious eyebrow raising or something. Since I don't consider myself easily shocked, I don't know why I obviously insist on furrowing my brow on a regular basis. That alone is enough fodder for some quiet-time contemplation on facial expressions of choice. I've been rubbing a double dose of heavy face cream into those creases every night, not happy until my face leaves an oil slick on my pillowcase.

But today I went to visit my grandmother. My
father's mother. She isn't well.

There were two women in her room when I arrived at the nursing home, and they weren't dressed like nurses. They introduced themselves as Hospice. That caught me by surprise. So that's where we are, then.

Grandma woke up and recognized me. But then a few minutes later she didn't recognize me. Then she recognized my son and talked about how kids really do eat a lot. Then she asked who my son was and mumbled a couple of things I couldn't understand. This went on for a short while, and Jonathan's forehead got some furrowing practice this time.

Then she nodded off to sleep again. I didn't try to stop her; we'd had a good enough chat. As she slept, I held her hand and took some good, long looks at her. And as I studied her face and her hair and her frail body and her withered hand, I was suddenly drawn to her forehead.

Crease lines. Many of them. Deep ones. Too many to count.

It would never occur to me to look at my grandmother, or anyone for that matter, and think "wrinkles, ugh!" I don't see people that way, especially the people I love. I see the whole picture, the whole person, and if you asked me right now to name who has the deepest forehead creases I wouldn't have a clue. And I couldn't care less.

With my grandma's failing it is one more part of my father that is slipping away. But if we can't have her much longer, he should get her. I quietly cried a little as I watched my grandma sleep. My son looked carefully from me to his gameboy, from me to his great-grandma. He waited while I went to the bathroom for a tissue. He gave me that sort of slightest-upturn-of-a-smile that says everything it needs to say about love and empathy and how he understands even if it's scary.

Grandma has hit rock bottom and come back before. Once, I swore she died right in front of my eyes - I visited her and she had pneumonia and she slumped over at the kitchen table while we had tea. My hands trembled as I called 911 and I cried with relief when she came to. She recovered from that episode and many more, and she's proven that a lifetime of smoking cigarettes and drinking gin and eating creamed beef on toast and playing Old Maid for nickels makes for long living.

I was glad for the visit. And I was glad for the reminder of what's important. Sometimes we forget.

And in my worry, the lines grow deeper.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

An Unschooler in School - Part III

"Isn't the important thing that I enjoy the material and am interested in it? Isn't that more important than being able to write out the information on a test?"

This is the question that got uttered in frustration, after getting a not-so-good grade on a history test. History happens to be Brady's favorite class. He enjoys history, always has. He read lots of historical fiction as an unschooler, took an interest in genealogy, and enjoyed his National Geographic Kids magazine for many years. But now, he's expected to regurgitate what he learns onto a 5-page test, in the form of multiple-choice, matching, short answer, essays, and map labels.

He feared algebra with a vengeance. How much did he fear it? So much that this always-radically-unschooled child asked to do it during the run-up to school days. He's getting an A.

He feared Biology. He doesn't enjoy biology. "It's not interesting," he'll say. He does very well in biology. He's getting an A in biology.

So how could it be that the class he enjoys most, in which he engages in discussions, asks questions afterward, and comes home with stories to share, is the one he gets the worst grade in? I wondered if I came across as antagonistic when I said as much in the first 13 seconds of the parent-teacher conference with the history instructor. I spoke of the irony, which for a co-dependent soul could be misread as a veiled criticism. It honestly wasn't meant to be.

"That's an unschooling perspective," I replied to his lament. "You're in school now. It's different there."

It's not about what he likes, is good at, desires or seeks out. It's about what the school deems as necessary to meet their criteria, which is in turn deemed necessary to meet the criteria for acceptance to college. I guess.

During a particularly bad weekend, when he was feeling particularly low, I had to remind him that he is far - FAR - more than his history test grade. He is SO much more. That is one tiny little inconsequential thing and by no means does it define him. But I was angry that one tiny little inconsequential thing has that sort of power, to make him feel so badly about himself.

There are so many amazing things that his school may never know about him.

He builds computers from scratch, but they don't have a class for that. He plays guitar, but they don't have any opportunities for guitar players. He can fix all sorts of things, but they don't have shop class. He knows how to design video games, but online gaming is forbidden on their school-required laptops. He can create computer-programmed robots from legos, but no one plays with toys in school. He knows how to program computers, but that doesn't count toward his grade.

I could go on. It's a bit frustrating.

However, he did come home quite chipper with some news on Friday. His history teacher has his own website and uses it to create study games and tool his students can access from home. One tool was a Jeopardy-like game, a template he used from a website. Brady saw how it could be better, could be programmed from scratch so it would play music and tally the scores and be adapted to the teacher's needs. So he offered to create it for him.

He said the teacher seemed a little skeptical at first, skeptical as in, "Well, it's not necessary, but if you really want to...." and Brady came home and had it almost completely finished within a couple hours. He was excited about it. He was focused. He worked steadily, sought support when needed, worked by trial-and-error and networked with online friends who share similar abilities. He smiled a lot. He called me in again and again to view his progress. He asked his best friend's opinion, his best friend who sat by his side and watched him program for a long time, just happy to offer input and be together.

And when he was finished, Brady said, "I'm hoping he likes it so much, the other teachers let me do programming projects for them, too!" and I got to see that spark of joy that has been so markedly absent lately. I miss it, desperately.

I support him in his choice to be at school. I support him in his choice to do anything he wants to do. I just hope he continues to find ways to incorporate who-he-is into this school journey so it can be the best possible experience. And I hope the teachers get to see this enthusiastic, engaged, 'whole' side of him. So they see what's been missing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Brag (and a Request)

I was skipping along, all head-in-the-clouds like, just fine, quite content to enjoy my post-vacation glow for as long as the schmoopy-woopiness would have me. But ready or not, along came today, and with it, a bit of reality. Reality in the guise of laundry. Reality in the guise of piled-up dishes. Reality in the guise of kitchen floors littered with firewood scraps. And nothing pulls one out of a post-vacation daydream like a bit of housework.

I readied myself to do the usual - throw in a load of laundry, scrub bathrooms, throw in a load of laundry, dust, throw in a load of laundry, vacuum, and do up some more laundry. Just the normal stuff. But then something took hold of me and I started going a little crazy.

Maybe it was the week with no responsibilities greater than choosing which decadent dessert to try next. Maybe it was the week of lazy mornings at the beach. Maybe it was the impending fall and some primal, instinctual urge to nest before the hibernation to come. Whatever it was, I went beyond clean. WAY beyond clean.

It started with a thorough scrubbing of the boys (nasty-*ss) bathroom. And for some reason, I skipped the dusting spray and decided everything needed a good rub-down with a rag. And I mean everything! Baseboards, ceiling fans, picture frames, light fixture cords. Nothing was safe from the cleaning rag. I rinsed it again and again, and got new ones whenever the current one got beyond saving. I shed clothing, working up a sweat. And when even the raw knuckles and aching triceps weren't enough, I decided to rearrange my living room.

You may recall my living room. Notice there are no walls in my living room. At least none I can use. So we've had this lay-out for, oh, 11 years. We've lived here for 11 years.

Well now, it looks like this:

The couches are angled! Am I a wild woman or what?! I've gotta go sit down for a sec.

And while I'm resting from the excitement-that-is-my-Friday, here's my first request - I need your opinion. I used to think I had the "decorating gene." I mean, how difficult is it to design a room, huh? I know what I like, and I know what I don't like. What I can't seem to manage, however, is determining the perfect room arrangement. I simply cannot do it. My brain doesn't allow it. I envision something, bust a gut moving furniture around, only to find it doesn't work AT ALL. That's happened time and again. And it's why I've had the same, darn, gawd-forsaken arrangement for 11 stinkin' years.

And so now I realize I have a captive audience in all of you! All my loyal readers. All 3 of you. And it's a good thing there's 3 of you, so there can be a tie-breaking vote if need be.

So, which arrangement do you like? This one?

Or this one?

I'd put a poll on here or something, for your ease in voting, but that's too hard for me. I haven't even figured out how everyone puts crossed-out words on their blog yet. And I think that's a hoot and a half.

Here are more photos for your viewing pleasure, and not because I secretly want you to vote for the new arrangement. Because I want you to notice how bloody freakin' CLEAN this place is.

My mother-in-law, the Queen of Clean, would be proud.

Though she's probably mumbling, "It sure as sam-h*ll didn't look like that last week, when I stayed there!"

And she'd be right.

And just in case you were gonna ask, I hate what I did to my purple wall. I tried to do some sort of hazy, glazey effect. And it didn't work. Instead it's sorta schmoopy-whoopy. And I like schmoopy-whoopy if it means post-vacation euphoria. I don't like it when it means stoooopid swooshy looks on my walls.

I even washed every single piano key. Seriously. I did.

Heck, I even did this:

And the last time I did that was in 1998 or something.

So alrighty then, on with the ultra-important business at hand. Tell me, oh please oh please do tell, which way do you like best? The L arrangement? Or the angled arrangement? Seriously, tell me. Tell me now. Now. Now!

And just so you don't worry that I totally over-extended myself, and worry that my raw knuckles and cramping triceps will never recover, and wonder if I should rest my weary self after all this hard work, I did stop at this:

Some areas of my life just aren't meant to be tidy. Just be glad I didn't show you the bathroom "before" picture!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm Ba-a-a-a-aaack

Photo: The company gave us (goofy) flip-flops!

Ahhhh, the post-vacation glow. The fluttering between worlds. The quickly-fading tan, the joy at seeing my kids (and being quite sure they grew 2-3 inches while I was gone), the oddity of seeing my house with 'new eyes' upon my return. It's an amazing thing, travel. It really feeds my soul.

It makes me appreciate all that is 'out there' that I know nothing about. It allows me to regroup and return to center so I'm ready again to re-enter my life. It gets me out of ruts, yanks me from the center of my universe (where small things can get unduly magnified), and gives me a break from daily tasks that wear me down after a while. It allows me to wander a new place feeling almost invisible, where defenses get let down and cares get tossed to the tide and I can breathe a little more deeply and RE-LAX.

But where to start? Curiously, I didn't feel like blogging right away. That's another lovely thing travel does for me, it breaks cycles of addiction. When I leave, I can't imagine going a week without checking on my favorite blogs, reading my email, writing for my favorite readers. But a few days into my trip, the desire lessens. Then I forget the computer world altogether for a while. And when I return, I have trouble with the transition, and I need to dip a toe back in, not cannon-ball back into the deep end. The pendulum that is me. Binge on blogging. Walk away. Return with a smug "when I'm good and ready."

Whenever I return from travel, I waver between the two worlds for a while and it's a rather curious place to be. I wake in the night not knowing where I am. I let my radio-alarm play for 15 minutes as my mind wonders where the music is coming from (until a swift kick to the shin from hubby wakes me fully). I wander the house wondering if I can employ the same Zen-like euphoric attitude toward housework that I applied toward sight-seeing during the previous week.

I ease back in.

I worry sometimes that it can seem off-putting to some. I don't feel like calling anyone upon my return, not even to announce my glee-filled return. I have little urge to gush the details. I am not ready to resume my varied roles. It feels like too much pressure after a week where "What should we do now?" was the most stressful thing I had to do.

I am repaid with a son who follows a similar pattern. We were home a good 45 minutes before he acknowledged our presence. When I asked, "Didn't you miss us?" he replied, "How could I when you sent me 3 text messages a day?" and I quickly realized that I was imposing the very pressure of expectation that I resist upon my return. And I changed course quickly. And I hugged him. And I told him it was so very good to be home with him again. And I let him be.

And he emerged a short while later to be with us.

The boys had their own 'other world' to slowly transition from, one filled with visits with grandparents, dinners with relatives, trips downstate to cheer on a volleyball team, and gatherings with friends. They need their time-between-both-worlds too. Time to revel in the pampering that is grandparent-time before returning to my more frenetic pace.

So for now I busy myself with exercise (to work off the amazing Florida food), playing scrabble in the river-side park with Jonathan, laundry, and reveling in the post-trip aura of memories. And I ponder my re-entry by debating whether or not to include swimsuit-clad photos in my kodak gallery, laughing over the PG-13 rated photos we were glad we saw (and deleted!) before others did, and musing upon what to share and just how to jump back into the blogosphere.

I had a lovely time away. It's lovely to be back. It's lovely to see you all again.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Farewell, Good People

It's only been two days since I've written, but my procrastination really bit me in the *ss this time, lemme tell ya. Running out of laundry detergent was nothing. NOTHING.

I was eating 1/2 a burrito while I typed that last post. And by the time I finished eating and finished typing, I could barely look at the screen. I was feeling a bit loopy. And within 1/2 hour I was a little queasy. And within an hour I was engulfed in full-on nausea and oh-dear-goddess-I-think-I-have-food-poisoning waves of dread. And I went to bed. And the bathroom. And that's where I stayed for the last 36 hours.

It's a strange thing to not walk down my own stairs for such a long time. At one point I called my son's cell phone to ask him to please bring me water. And he was downstairs.

Jonathan was sweet. When my sister called and asked to speak to me, he replied, "Umm... well.... she's sleeping.. and I really don't think I should wake her up right now." And then he brought me an English muffin slathered with butter. (It's the thought that counts.)

And thank the higherpowerwhogoesbymanynames that Brady had two days off school, though I'd rather we'd spent it some other way. He was company for Jonathan, the fetcher-of-tea for me, and got the house dusted, vacuumed, and picked-up so I wouldn't have a complete heart-attack after emerging from my 'cave of the wretched.'

And Rob, a bit paralyzed to see me burrowed in bed for so long and not doing my usual obsessive, panic-stricken, manic pre-trip frenzy, kept asking what he could do for me. I requested a new set of guts, but so far he hasn't obliged.

That's ok. Today I rallied, slapped myself until a bit of color returned to my cheeks, found the silver lining when I put on a pair of jeans that not too long ago were too tight, and held down a bit of toast. And the bags are packed, and the children's belongings are delivered to grandma's, and the plants are watered and the animals prepped and the laundry -believe it or not- is done.

I will miss my boys! But soon, very soon, I will be camped out with my main man in front of this lovely view.
And whether or not I can eat (and lately, the odds have been squarely against this simple task)
I will be grateful for all that I have.And I will meditate on all that I have as I spend hours every day doing this.
Knowing that Life is

Life is very, very good.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Procrastination Mode

I've got things to do. Important things to do. Yet... here I sit.

For some reason, when my to-do list gets too long, and I have too much time to do the tasks, I get paralyzed. I don't know where to start, so I don't start. I don't let myself do the things that would arguably distract me from the necessary tasks (blogging), and so I do nothing at all. And then when I finally talk myself into starting, there's a glitch. And I suffer dearly for waiting so long. At the moment, that curse is laundry. And the glitch - I have no detergent. And the reason this is a glitch? Other than the normal "I'll never dig my way out of this laundry jam?" glitch?

Rob and I are taking a trip. Soon. Very soon. It's our annual "Marriage Rejuvenation" week, a.k.a. "Do We Still Like Each Other When the Kids Aren't Around," a trip we've taken for the last 5 years. Seems we have short-term memory issues.

I'm happy to report that, thus far, the answer has always come back 'yes.' Sadly, it's at this point in the year, after 12 months sans marriage rejuvenation, when I can't remember that the answer was yes. I recall it might have been yes, but I can't necessarily "feel" it. And I need to find out again. Just to be sure. So we're goin'.

But this week has been filled with stops and idling, fits and starts. My nomination for Mother-of-the-Year was submitted not once, but twice this week - first for not carving pumpkins until the day of Halloween (and that's only with the one kid who is still free from the bonds of school-scheduling), and second, for not taking the kids to pick out new Halloween costumes. I'm really the super-awful-mother on the holiday thang most of the time. I manage alright with birthdays and Christmas, but as for the others? They could pass right by without my making a single mention, if the kids didn't notice all the hoo-ha the other (good) parents put on. I don't put out decorations. We don't do themed crafts. We don't make special foods, or have special traditions, or, obviously, even notice it's a holiday until it's upon us. Oops.
I don't know why I am not more festive. I'm definitely a find-the-beauty-in-every-moment kinda grrl, at least when my hormones aren't in flux (which is, admittedly, quite rare). I just really struggle to create hype where I feel none. It feels... contrived. And I don't know that my boys care all that much, except when it gets to the drastic point it did this time - of no pumpkin carving or mention of costumes. That went a little too far.

So I gave Jonathan a hug and apologized for waiting too long, and things were better. Not fixed, but better. And I promised Brady that we'd still carve his pumpkin, despite the fact that I feel even less moved - if that's possible - to do it than before, now that Halloween is over.

I went to the store today and I bought laundry detergent. And then I fiddled around in the drug store for a long time looking at things I don't need or even want. Then I wandered a resale shop, under the guise that I "need some things for my trip." And then I stopped to take some lovely fall photos on the way home. And now I write on my blog. All in an effort to avoid the mountainous to-do list that must get finished if there is to be any rejuvenation of anything taking place.
Maybe I should go lie down awhile. Maybe then I'll feel better. Maybe then I'll find the gumption to tackle my to-do list.
It could work.