Wednesday, March 31, 2010

K is for Ketchup Packet in the Compost

I'll start by admitting that I wanted to title this post "K is for Kompost". But I've long been very vocal about anyone who does not take spelling seriously, and have complained loudly and vehemently about businesses who invent their own spellings just to the have alliteration in their signs. Please note I didn't say "signage". I also have a pet-peeves about corporate fact, I have a lot of pet-peeves.

I'm peeved about the whole craze of being "green" or seeming to be "green" but being oh so ridiculously wasteful anyway. I saw a prime example of this last week at what used to be my favorite sub shop. It *kills* me not to be able to go there anymore. It's for the best though, I should be making my own sandwiches anyway, and I'm rather good at it. In fact, even my sister, who doesn't eat sandwiches, will eat the ones I make. I digress. (I do it a lot. You will find that you usually get two posts for the price of one if you keep reading me...)

This particular sub shop is in Boulder County, CO and you don't get a lot greener than that. We have single stream recycling picked up at the curbside. You can drop off your tree limbs at the tree limb recycling area in town, and pick up firewood, or wood chips as you leave. We have an eco-cycle drop off site where they accept just about anything, and we have regularly scheduled "large-item drop-days" arranged by our city, in addition to the free days at the county dump. At our {insert name of large coffee chain based in Seattle here}, monster size bags of coffee grounds sit ready to be picked up on the counter because so many people compost and garden, it's just easier for them to have it ready than to have to make special arrangements. There are even signs in the parking lot of our newest mall that say, "Parking for Alternative Fuel Vehicles Only." And you'll pass a many of them as you drive our roads. But watch out for the bicycles, because many, many of us bike to work daily.

It is in this environment that you'll find the sub shop that has won awards for its handling of trash/recycling/waste. There are no less than five different bins into which you sort your trash, should you actually have any, when you're done eating. The cups for the fountain drinks are made from corn, which you compost, as are the straws, and your straw wrapper is paper, so that goes in the paper recycling. Your bottle, if you didn't have a fountain drink, is glass, so that goes in the glass recycling. They have even anther recycling bin for aluminum cans. But your bottle CAP, needs to go in the trash. They can't do much about it's footprint on the environment, so they allow you to throw it away. Friendly signs explain all this and offer examples of what goes where, with cute little cartoons and bubble letters, and rhymes. And they offer counter examples, "No ketchup packets in the compost".

But what happens to the left-over food? Most of us take that home. And that brings me to the whole point of why I'm writing this. (No, I'm not one of those environmental nuts who cares more about Mother Earth than than unborn babies. God says murder is wrong. Obviously for another post but some of you are just getting to know me and I thought I'd just throw that out there in case some of you need to leave now.) This particular visit was a special occasion.It was Jake's 13th birthday and these sandwiches are his absolute favorite so were splurging. They of course made YellowBoy's sandwich wrong. We do know it's weird to go to a sub shop and just want meat on bread and NOTHING ELSE. But that's what he wanted, and that's what we ordered, and that's what I explained to them about the ultra-picky eater. I thought I was very clear. I quote, "He's very picky. So please somehow indicate that all he wants is the bread and these meats and absolutely nothing else on that sandwich." I couldn't see over the counter to where she was writing, but she wrote something, and we sat down to wait.

These masterpieces of wonderfulness take a long time to make, and it was a long line during a Friday lunch rush. Jake and I are salivating thinking of what's to come: corned beef with swiss, their special blend of hot peppers, other peppers and pickled veggies all in some wonderful italian oil concoction that comes on all sandwiches and is what I suspect makes the whole darn thing so hard to duplicate at home, (Yes, I have tried. Repeatedly. I'm on a budget people, and I love to cook, I WILL keep trying) lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sprinkled with their signature spice blend, then toasted to perfection, on their homemade crusty bread. A sandwich so thick you have to unhinge your jaw to take a bit, a sandwich whose last step of construction is a giant, probably patented SQUISH by the artist so that you have SOME hope of your unhinged jaw fitting around a corner. Oh, the bliss. Oh the joy. They call my name. I fetch. YellowBoy's sandwich looks suspiciously thick. We open it up. It has everything on it. Disaster.

I calmly return to the counter and explain. I've only opened the sandwich a tiny bit, to peek at it. I've only exposed the center cut to look at the cross section. It has not been touched by human hands, and has barely been breathed on. He takes the sandwich with a smile and THROWS IT IN THE TRASH. What? No "oops" pile? No "Donate to the Our Center We Made This Sandwich Wrong" pile? No "Staff Take Home at The End of The Day" pile? Are you kidding me? This place which recycles STRAW WRAPPERS throws away perfectly good food? Home Depot won't throw away wrong paint. They sell it to me to paint my tree house. But you'll throw away perfectly good food (ok, not perfectly good, the health department would probably not like it that it left your counter for 20 seconds, but we're not talking stupid government agency here, we're talking normal people common sense.)

I am baffled and appalled by this. The Engineer worked many long years doing the pizza thing. At the end of the night, staff took home those oops pizzas, and those that weren't wanted by staff, he drove to the homeless shelter. They even baked up the last of that day's dough into just plain flat bread because otherwise they'd have to throw it out. And that was in the 1990s before recycling became a religion. How can this sub shop call themselves green and toss food? It goes against common sense.

And it's another example of people trying to look good on the outside, when the problem is really on the inside. It's a matter of heart, and if our hearts aren't in the right place, we sure can't hope to do the right thing. It's the people that matter, not the planet. It's the people.

This is my first alphabe-Thursday post for Ms. Jenny Matlock. Check it out! Great group of bloggers!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Just Call Me Jake

Got some good advice from a new friend today. She said just write. So I pulled out one of my very first posts ever. One that I never posted. And I'm adding a little to it and keeping some of it. I started this blog to practice writing, and then got all control freak perfectionistic and didn't post much.

So, here's how I was going to start this blog, and how I was going to describe my oldest, whom up until now you've known as Diamond, but who lately said to me, "It's ok, Mom, just call me Jake."

I think it's incredibly hard to describe yourself. You don't want to sound like the Christmas letter, "This year Andrea cured cancer and won the Nobel prize for crockpot fanatics." You also don't want to mislead, "The jeans in my closet are size 10". (That's why they're in the closet; the ones on my body are 14s). You don't want boring third person, but starting most sentences with "I" gets boring, too. So maybe I'll tell you about my family first...
My oldest we will call Camo-boy, for his love of all things camouflage. When I put him to bed at night in his camo pj's, under his army green sheets, with his camo fleece blanket, he disappears. He's almost 12. And just a delight. He's brilliant (there I go...sounding like the Christmas letter, but it's actually true.) He's got a quick mind and a dark sense of humor. He has a need to know how everything works, and WHY. Take this example; he was TWO. "Mom, tell me how the vacuum works." Ok, you plug it in, and then step on this button, and then it sucks up the dirt. He patiently says, "Yes, I know THAT. How does it WORK?" Good thing hubby is an engineer. I can explain some things, but how suction works, or the combustion engine, or a shotgun are a bit beyond me. I can find the derivative of any function, integrate most of them, and have good people skills. Engineering, however, not so much my thing. Camo-boy loves to read. We read some of the same books (like the Harry Potter books~see, you learned something about me. I'm a Christian, AND I read Harry. Harry rocks. I'd love to be able to summon objects from across the room and hide under an invisibility cloak) Camo-boy loves video games (I mentioned he's 12, right?) He's also an author. He writes stories all the time

And that' all the further I got. And that post sat there. It's original date stamp said 1/28/09. I didn't post anything until May. So maybe I'll finish it now. After all, I'm on bed rest. What else is there to do? Amanda AND JoAnn are beating me in Scrabble...

Jake is now thirteen. His birthday was Friday and it was a special day. All children are an incredible gift from God, but we didn't think we were going to keep Jake. (We'd already lost our first child to miscarriage at nine weeks.) Jake was eight days late, and it had already been a long and arduous fifteen hour labor. I was exhausted. I'll spare you some of the chilling details, but after suction assist, his head was delivered and we discovered the cord was around his neck twice and his shoulders (which maybe someday will make an excellent front line man, or perhaps center for the NFL) were NOT going to fit. As I was fading in and out of consciousness and the room was filling with more and more anxious medical people dressed in scrubs, I just had this feeling of , "Ok, that was it. He's gone and I didn't even get to meet him." What followed next we'd all rather not recall, but Jacob Thomas was born with an apgar of 1 (heart beat) and whisked to NICU. And he lived. I met him many hours later, got to hold him the next day, and on Easter Sunday 1997, I brought my resurrected child home as others were celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. A special day.

This boy who the doctors and therapists and well-meaning social workers said would have permanent "lasting effects" of the oxygen deprivation and "trauma of such a delivery" is right as rain. He's my boy who lived. He rides a bike, a skateboard, roller blades and a snowboard. He makes good grades (though he's driving me NUTS trying to home-school him). He loves to cook, try new foods, and build things. (His k'nex roller coaster is in my "pretty room", I'm not thrilled...) He loves to torture his brother to tears, yet is very respectful of his grandparents. He will mouth off to me, yet share the yearnings of his heart the next moment. He's a normal wonderful, irritating, temperamental, insightful teenager. And he's here.

He's the boy who lived. Just call him Jake.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Losing a Legacy

The Briarpatch is more than a place, a piece of land, or a house. It's a family legacy, a legend, a place of refuge. And it has to be sold after all these years. It breaks my heart that my kids won't get to spend summer vacations there, learn to sail there, catch their own crab dinner there, sleep on a docked boat there, and enjoy the privilege of such an amazing treasure. I thought we had all the time in the world. "When I have more vacation time, we'll go back." "We just don't have the money to fly this summer." "Next year."

The logical, mathematical, rational side of me understands estate taxes and that the trust wasn't set up properly and that if it had, my grandfather's dream of the retreat place for church groups would still be functioning as he intended for generations to come. I do get it. But my sentimental side, that person who less than a month ago had to be the oldest grandchild and stand up at the church and speak for all of us, is still grieving and it just KILLS me that some stupid lawyer didn't listen carefully enough and didn't do his job well enough and now it's all going to be gone. Sold. Ok, not just grieving. I'm a bit mad, too. Grandpa Schnebly deserves more than this sad end to his dream.

John Thomas Schnebly was an amazing man. An eye surgeon who served in the army, Grandpa Tom spent the rest of his career as a philanthropist. Most of his office furniture was received as "payment" for services. He was always behind schedule because he took the time needed for each patient. I have so many stories told by mother about it him (and that's all I have, I only met him twice, being the grandchild who grew up in Sweden and lost him when I was only 8). He volunteered with the Lions Club, at his church, and of course, took in a foreign exchange student (who married my mom, but that's another post). In the 40s, he bought a parcel of land, covered in briars, with the thought that one day he'd build a lodge and lend it out, free of charge, so that church groups would have some place to go for retreats. He figured the family could camp there until that happened, and wasn't it nice, it was on the water and people might like to swim, or go out in a canoe.

He had a friend who was an architect who drew up some plans for a simple A-frame structure, one room and bathroom on the first floor, another room and a bathroom on the second floor. Pull-out double sleeper sofas on all the sides, pull-down sleeping bunks on all the walls. Lots of sleeping pads upstairs where there was no other furniture. Even a crow's nest loft for the adventurous few. Slept a total of 30 with no crowding. They built it. It was a true 1960s masterpiece with green, gold, avocado and shag carpet. A gorgeous view of Mill Creek (a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, this was Annapolis, MD) The groups came. Keys were sent in the mail. My brilliant, organizing, take charge Grandma Vivian organized it all. For a refundable $25 deposit, the 2 1/4 water front property was yours for the weekend. Clean up after yourselves and leave the heat at 55 degrees.

Family of course used it too. "Grandma, is there a group this weekend?" Ok, then we'll just take the boat out and not spend the night. We knew that Grandpa had bought the property for others to use, and the groups knew that family might pass through on the way to their various watercraft, might use the bathroom coming and going. Grandma, though, knew how much we loved the place and gently encouraged the groups (who knew what a treasure they had access to year after year) to schedule their retreats not during boating season.

As I look back on my childhood, what I remember is spending every weekend, of every summer, at the Briarpatch. Because that's what it ended up being called. As any good summer home, it had it's own name. The briar's had been tamed into a manageable grove of incredible berries that we picked. There was a boat ramp, a "ditto" (a miniature copy of the main house that kept all the boats, canoes, life preservers, fishing equipment, etc), a dock, a beach, a fire pit, a hammock, a porch overlooking the "creek".

Our immediate family owned a series of boats. "I think we need a bigger boat next year," I'd hear my father say. (He'd taken me to see "Jaws" on a special father/daughter date and it's been a favorite quote of ours ever since) We started off with a sunfish and ended up with a 26' cruiser that slept 6. Oh, those were the days. To this day there's nothing more relaxing to me than sailing. I can get so lost in the rhythm of the waves and the wind and the slapping of the sails and the hypnotic monotony of it all that it finally releases that last little control freak brain cell in me and I'm truly calm. I tell you it doesn't happen often to me but it happens when I'm sailing. And lying there with my eyes open, staring at the sail meeting the mast with the clouds rolling by and the listening to nothing but the wind and the water and pretty soon and hour of what most people would call silence has gone by. There aren't a lot of people today who are comfortable with silence, but my beloved father is one of them. We have gone sailing together and communicated more with each other in two hours of just BEING in the cockpit of a sailboat on a long tack of blissful quiet solitude than you can imagine. And it's been too long.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bed Rest

Bed rest. Bed rest. Bed REST. Not finding it restful. If you've picked up on my personality at all, I'm not a passive person. Make the plan, do the plan, shove the obstructions out of the way of the plan, look-out-people-I'm-on-a-mission-don't-get-in-my-WAY-I'm-working-my-plan. Bed rest is NOT on my plan.

How did I get here? It started with bronchitis, in February. Lots of coughing. Went to the doctor when the rest of my family had upper respiratory infections. I had that, too, of course, coupled with my annual bout of deep, chest-rattling, feels like you're going to hack up your innards, scare the people around you kind of cough. A cough that sometimes led me to toss my cookies at the end, leaving me panicked, breathless, and spent. Nice, eh? I did warn you in my first post, that I'm not exactly shy, and this sort of honesty (i.e not for the squeamish medical details) would occasionally come up (pun intended of course). So I went back to the doc. Got loaded up with prednisone to "jump start the healing in your lungs" and the pneumonia anti-biotic (which the FDA so kindly makes sure you know all about by requiring a separate pamphlet be handed out with your nasty medication) and sent on my way to get better.

So let's get to those side-effects so calmly described in said pamphlet. "Limited cognitive abilities". I'm on the phone with the engineer discussing boys' night plans. YellowBoy wants to work on the _______________. And I can't find the word. The project which has become a bone of contention among the four of us in that it's an example of what happens when an engineer/inventor has ADD. And the children with whom he's doing a project have the attention span of, well, children. And said project goes on for YEARS. And there really isn't a good spot to work on it, so it has to be put away each time, thus getting it set UP to work on it sometimes takes 50% of the time available for working on it, thus limiting the motivation for said work. And I just want it DONE. It is currently 90% done. For pete's sake FINISH THE THING. But the word is just gone. Cannot come up with it. This is not some Swedish word I haven't used since I was nine and lived there, this is a common, ordinary word that is used almost daily around here. "No, you can't build that until we finish the ________" "I think that's downstairs on the table where you're building the ____________________" "Last boys' night Dad had you, I remember because you guys went to Home Depot to get bolts for the ______________" It was frightening not finding the word.

"Hallucinations". Never thought I'd actually get those. I mean, those are for drug addicts and mental patients. Yet there I am, trying desperately to go to sleep with a cocktail of chemicals (enough for your own pharmacy I believe, what with the rest of the stuff I take for my chronic pain, high blood pressure, stomach issues, etc.) floating around in my bloodstream. And with my eyes closed I see purple. Purple floaty things. Purple floaty things with pointy edges. And long necks? Purple, floaty things with necks and heads and eyes? OMG. I'm seeing DRAGONS. There are actual cartoon dragons when I close my eyes. Is this possible? Can't be. Open my eyes. THEY ARE STILL THERE. Floating around on my ceiling. Or superimposed on whatever I gaze at. Wow. I'm losing it.

And I've saved the best for last. Good ole' prednisone. My favorite. I've been on it before so I knew what to expect, and Diamond, bless his little puberty heart, has been on it WHILE I've also been on it. What a combination we made those three, long days. Prednisone makes me tense. Ok, tense is too tame. It makes me cranky. No, cranky isn't quite right. Combative? Testy? Quick on the trigger? Bitchy. Moody. Unreasonably argumentative. Want to crawl out my skin and slap myself for being so mean and rude. Yeah, I think you get the picture. Now people, COMBINE these things. Put the cranky, argumentative girl on levaquin, limit her cognitive abilities (I'll spare you the details, but it got worse than forgetting "go-kart") and make her see dragons. Yup, it's been fun.

And the fun continues. Now I'm on the nebulizer, even more prednisone, and am threatened with the hospital. Guess I'd better stay in bed. And find something to savor about it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Things You Don't Say to Your God

My kids love Tim Hawkins, and especially his absolutely spot-on funny "Things You Don't Say To Your Wife". In just under two minutes, Tim manages to get in most of the blunders husbands make in communicating with their wives. I've been a Christian most of my life, 35 out of 44 years. I've learned most of the things you don't say to God. "Please teach me patience." "Lord, can it get any worse?" And I used to giggle at the Randy Stonehill song, "Please Don't Send me to Africa." But apparently I didn't learn the complete lesson of that song. I had the audacity of saying to God, "I'll serve you in any way you want, just don't make me home school." Guess what. He's asking me to home school.

For all of their schooling thus far, my boys have been in Christian schools. For pre-school, my searching and researching and visiting and interviewing teachers and principals led me to a wonderful, casual Lutheran pre-school. You might recall I'm a former middle school math/English teacher, so I know a bit about what I want and don't want and I'm pretty good at recognizing the red flags and avoiding them. I didn't want anything super-structured. I wanted my boys to begin to understand being in a group, and following directions, and to hear more stories about Jesus, and to learn to "play well with others." They did. And the cabbage burgers were great, too.

For elementary, my searching, as described above, led me to the charter academy in town. Seemed perfect for what I wanted. I'm a believer in public schools. I was a public school teacher. There needs to be light and salt out there. I'd met wonderful, dedicated, Christian teachers in the public school where I taught. I knew there were more of the same not only in on staff at this school, but on the board as well. Some of them attend my church. So we went through the application process. Did the lottery drawing. 37th on the waiting list. I'm thinking that's a big, fat NO from God. When the class takes 25, and you're sitting there hoping ALL of them change their minds and then your'e still number 12 after that...yeah, mathematically, not bloody likely. So back to my search I went, and God led us to the last place I thought I'd ever consider. But it turned out to be a great fit, and of course it was, because it's what God chose for us. Until now.

This year has been a very hard year for both boys. YellowBoy has struggled all year, as you know from a previous post. Diamond has not really enjoyed the antics that are a junior high locker room, Christian school or not. And ever since my abrupt U-turn, it was getting squeakier and squeakier to make that hefty tuition payment. Then came the illnesses. One after another. I joked with our doctors receptionist that I had her on speed dial and as I handed her our debit card for the fourth time in a single week (NOT kidding) I asked if they had auto withdrawal. It got that bad. I'll spare you the details but we had multiple rounds of antibiotics and inhalers and steroids and diagnoses and it was no fun. The boys were home from school sick more than they were there. I was practically homeschooling already. So we took the leap.

I am now homeschooling. A bit sooner than we had planned. It's a steep learning curve stepping in for another teacher (7+ teachers actually) with all those preps, in the middle of a quarter, and finding my way amidst all the, "But Mrs.MyFavoriteTeacher didn't do it that way" coming from YellowBoy and, "I thought I wouldn't have to do that anymore" coming from Diamond. I had thought I had the summer to get myself in gear, and that we were going with the online virtual academy where I just supervised, but that's not how it went. Of course not.

After all, His ways aren't my ways. You'd think I had learned that by now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Grandma Vivian


It's my privilege to share about Grandma on behalf of her five grandchildren. Ryan Ford could not be here today, he's an ER nurse in NC. This is my little brother Tom Bilen, from Waterford, VA and this is my little sis from Thornton, CO and my cousin Lindsay Ford from Damascus, MD.

We have many fond memories of Grandma, but one that sticks out for all of us was that Grandma loved to play cards, and she taught us all. She was a great bridge player, and was in two different bridge clubs. She really wanted me to learn bridge because “it's a smart person's game, and you're very smart, you'd be good at it.” So I'd play two hands of honeymoon bridge with her to make her happy, and then I'd have her teach me poker. We played lots of poker. She taught me a lot of different poker games, she had a lot of chips that we kids got to play with as we wanted to, but with me, we used them for their intended purpose. We got to take turns spending the night alone at Grandma's house on weekends, and that was such a special treat. Her apartment was so elegant and different from our house, and she treated us like little adults. We got to drink coke not milk with dinner, and we got to sleep in her king size bed with her.

Grandma was a ferocious knitter. She knitted probably a hundred sweaters over the years. She kept track of whose turn it was, and then it would be a special trip to the knitting shop to pick out a pattern and the yarn. Then it seemed like only a week would go by and there would be your sweater, looking just like the picture! No matter how complicated, she could do it. It was only as I got older and paid attention that I realized how much the yarn cost as they rang us up, and how much it cost to have the sweaters assembled by the knitting shop. She spoiled us this way.

Grandma also made sure that we had the skills we needed for success in life. She taught me to balance a checkbook at the age of ten, and insisted that I learn to type as soon as it was offered in school, but graciously typed all my research papers until I could do it myself. She had taken secretarial classes and could type over 100 words a minute with amazing accuracy. She was a very frugal spender (well except for the sweaters...) and stressed the importance of savings and budgeting. She was a financial whiz and fairly well off, but didn't flaunt it.

I do remember one extravagance though, and Melinda and I were the recipients of and amazing vacation. She took us on a cruise when we were in college and it was a trip to remember.

Grandma was a gracious hostess and always put on a great buffet. She loved to experiment with jello and made some very interesting concoctions. I know that some of them came from actual recipes, like Pacific Lime Mold (the name “mold” always scared me...) but personally, I don't like cottage cheese, and certainly NOT in my jello. The running joke was always, “What would Grandma put in the jello this time.” Well, we really weren't expecting what we encountered that one famous time. We had learned to approach her jello mold with caution, and this particular time it was a good thing. From the kitchen we hear, “Where is my band-aid?” almost in unison with, “What is that in the jello this time?” Sure enough, her band-aid had somehow made itself Jello!!!!!!!

Grandma Vivian, you were amazing, and I miss you. Thanks for loving us so well.