Friday, May 28, 2010

Annapolis or Bust, Day 1

We're at a Rodeway Inn, Sweet Springs, MO.  Put in 705 miles today, leaving Longmont, CO at 8 am, just a scant ½ hour behind schedule. We would have been fine if not for that one sprinkler zone not doing its due duty. Had to be adjusted. The Engineer wasn't about to come home to a dead lawn! So we sat in the idling car while he tinkered, adjusted, got soaked, and I must admit, a bit cranky. We were about to FINALLY leave when the light on the inverter (which was powering the TV, Wii, DVD player, laptop, all while recharging the DS batteries) turned RED. Not good. This took another 20 minutes of inventor engineering to make that light green again. But green it was, eventually. Off we went!

And as I wrote before in my love of road trips, we enjoyed the country unfolding in front of us as the miles disappeared from under us. It's been about four years since we've done this, and it shows. The kids are pretty independent now and I spend less of my time in, “Mom! I need_______” mode. This is a welcome change. The Engineer and I had some great conversations while watching the country change from flat plain to grass prairie to wooded hills. We enjoyed the spying on small towns and big cities, noticing how much of Kansas City boasts historic, renovated old brick buildings. And we found barbeque.

Fans of both America's Test Kitchen and Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” we knew plenty about Kansas City's claim to fame. However, I was somewhat skeptical that we'd find true BBQ,  just a few, convenient miles off I-70. I should have known that The Engineer would come through, as he always does. Arthur Bryant's  was a 1/2 mile from the exit.  Once we entered, we knew immediately that we were in the right place.  There was a long line.  As we snaked our way to the front, studying the menu, we watched the interaction between customers and servers.  I'm not exaggerating when I compare this to the "Soup Nazi" of Seinfeld fame.  If you don't give your order fast enough or accurately enough, watch out.

Our family enjoyed a marvelous slab of ribs, and the one order of fries would have been  enough to feed my entire cross country team.  The people watching was amazing, and by the time we left, security guards were patrolling the parking lot.  I'm thinking they run pretty brisk business.  

So on our way home, I do believe another stop is in order.  Finding hometown gems like this is part of the whole allure of the road warrior.  We're looking forward to what great eats we might find tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

S is for Sunflowers @ Life is Good

I love sunflowers. I have a sunflower tote bag

Sunflower seat cushions

sunflowers embroidered by Farfar

with amazing detail

  I have a painting by my favorite artist, Ann Maree Beaman.

  I have  kitchen crocks lovingly chosen by my mother.

I even have a whole sunflower corner in my kitchen

Of course I grow them in my garden, though I can't understand why I have no pictures of them. I do have this favorite shot of my boys, taken three years ago. Sunflowers are grown as a crop all over our part of Colorado.

But my favorite sunflower is my sunflower tattoo. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted a tattoo. I find the meaning behind them and the artistic talent to create them endlessly fascinating. When I see a tattoo on someone, and have the opportunity to do so, I usually ask for the story. It's fascinating to me to hear all the different reasons people choose to use their body as a canvas for permanent art. My reason was to celebrate a hard fought personal victory, and to honor God's two most precious gifts, my boys. There was never any question about what my eventual tattoo would be, should The Engineer one day decide he was OK with it. (It's not that he's forbidden it, or prevented me, it's just that up until my victory, he couldn't understand, and found them unattractive. Despite my longing for a tattoo, I wasn't about to do something to my body that my hubby didn't find attractive.) So when my fight was over (which is a whole post by itself, not really on the sunflower theme) and I once again asked him if I could commemorate the occasion by finally getting a tattoo, he said, “Sure. I get it now.”

So on 8/21/10, with Best by my side, I got my tattoo.  Here are a few shots of the process.

First he drew the outline of the design in pink sharpie.  Then once we were decided on the final version, he drew over it in purple sharpie.

Next he did the outline of the whole design.

 Then came the more time consuming coloring and shading.

 He's a pretty well known tattoo artist.  I had to wait six weeks for an appointment.

 He worked my boys' initials into the vine. 

Here's what it looks like today, all healed.

 I'm very glad it's warmer weather, because now I get to display it daily.  And smile when I see it.

I'm again participating in the fab Ms. Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday meme.  Check out the other great S posts here!

Bottles or Cans?

That was the question I asked instead of, "Do you want fries with that?"  You see, donuts and Wendy's aren't the only glamorous jobs I've had. I also worked part time in a liquor store. This was when The Engineer and I had just gotten married. I was teaching full time, he was going to school full time, and then driving pizzas in the evenings. Yeah, we hardly saw each other, and that was part of the reason I took the job. If he was going to be gone anyway, I might as well be making some extra money. We had our 1925 bungalow to remodel, and always more month left at the end of the money.

Virginia, the manager, rode a purple Harley, smoked like a chimney, and swore like a sailor. It was an interesting interview. She didn't care that I'd coached my own gymnastics team, or was a teacher involved in many committees, had volunteered for a summer as a youth intern at my church, or coached track. She looked at my painstakingly perfected resume. “I see you've worked as a cashier at two different fast food joints. That's good.” “Do you drink?” Yes. “So you know what cuervo is? It's a kind of tequila. Are you OK with math? Um, yeah. Guess she didn't notice the BS in math from CSU. “Alrighty then, I'm going to hire you.” Carol will train you.

Carol was a character. Four foot six at the very most, pushing seventy, big belly, and a bone-rattling cough. She also smoked like a chimney. And what she called iced tea and brought from home in a thermos was actually straight Scotch. We all pretended it was tea. She'd worked for Virginia forever, and was meticulous about everything. Even when completely drunk. We pretended not to notice that either. Her training of me consisted of showing me how to count change, and how to restock the shelves. Restocking was of course extremely difficult. If there was a bottle missing on a shelf, you put another one there. Of the same kind as was missing. Not exactly brain surgery. The counting of change was amusing to me, not just because the register already told you how much to give, but because she was so thorough in this training. “I'm showing you this in case you hit the wrong button on the register. Then you won't have to void it all out and start over.” I'm guessing that maybe Virginia had hired some non-math types in the past. But after completing several of her “test” examples, I was deemed worthy.

The rest of the crew was a mish-mash of folks. There was Bob, the four times divorced accountant-by-day. Steve, the electrical equipment salesman, Ray, a car parts salesman, and Janine, the flirt. All of us were there as a second job. (Never learned what Janine did when she wasn't with us...but we had fun speculating.) There were several others who worked the day shift, but we just passed each other coming and going, and I never learned much about them.

At first, I just worked Friday and Saturday nights until close, which by law was midnight. I tried to get there a bit early to guarantee myself the coveted spot of first at the drive-up. No one wanted to work the other inside register with Carol because she talked NON-STOP. And it wasn't much fun being the drive-up persons runner either, fetching from the front what we didn't stock in the back. It was much more interesting to people watch at the drive-up, and run the register.

We had quite the variety of customers. Soccer moms with a van full of screaming kids. (I think I'd go for the full pint of vodka if I were you. That half pint is probably not enough to chill out thoroughly.) Construction workers flirting like mad, kids trying to buy booze with painfully fake ID's. Business men buying wine, college kids buying kegs. And if they spoke no English and just appeared at the window with a grin, you had a pretty good chance that what they wanted was a six-pack of good ole American Budweiser (in cans) and a pack of Marlboro Reds. That was by far our most popular order. Jim with the semi of Bud had to visit us twice a week to keep us stocked.

But no tale of this adventure is complete without introducing you to $2.06. When I first started working there, I saw a chart on the wall labeled just $2.06, with sets of hash marks grouped together in circles. I was told that we had a special customer with an unusual habit. He'd pull up to our window multiple times daily, each time buying one tall can of Miller Highlife (shudder) and a shooter of Canadian Goose. The total of this purchase is of course $2.06. But in order to make sure we didn't sell him enough to kill someone with his tiny, red Honda, we kept track of how many times he'd visited each day. He was unfailingly polite, even when I'd say, “I'll have to see you tomorrow. You're done for today.” I always wondered what his deal was, and why he didn't just buy a case and a 1.75 liter bottle. He'd have saved a LOT of money. But perhaps he was fooling himself into believing he didn't have a drinking problem if all the ever bought was one serving. We speculated about his family situation. We spun scenarios of what could have led him to this point of sad existence. Regardless, he was a sweet guy. One time he even brought me an ice-cream cone. “Thought you might like a little snack. Sure is hot today.” I worked there a year and a half, and saw him daily, until the last few months. He just stopped coming in. Never found out what happened, but to this day, I hope he's OK, and got some help.

It wasn't a bad job. We worked hard, but there was still time for banter and pranks. When I finally quit, the owner told me that if I ever needed some extra cash, I could come work a couple of shifts. I think he wanted me because I was his fake ID champion. The incentive to card liberally was that he offered us $25 for each fake ID we confiscated. Not only did I make $175 extra dollars, I also saved his a#@ on two occasions. He gave me nice rewards when it was the police sting ID's that I nabbed.  And you can't beat the discount he offered employees.  That I miss the most.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Road Tripping

We LOVE road trips. Eighteen hundred miles with two boys in the car does not intimidate us. No sir, we're veterans. We've each road tripped as children, so it's in our blood. And we began our marriage with a road trip from Colorado to Annapolis, MD.

That was a wonderful way to begin a marriage, because of course, on the very first day, our car's alternator exploded on the beltway of St. Louis. Bang! And we have no headlights. No interior lights. Nothing of an electrical nature, not that there's a lot of electrical luxuries on a 1976 Volvo 242. The Engineer (who is also a wiz with cars, having taken two 1936's pickup trucks, and made one working vehicle, using the body of one and the engine of the other.) He knew right away that it was the alternator, and that if we stopped and turned off the engine, we'd never get it going again. Did I mention that it was after one in the morning and that we'd been searching for our hotel for quite some time? Now the search was a lot harder, what with not being able to read the map, or see the road for that matter. St. Louis apparently wanted to save some money, because the street lights were few and far between.

We finally found our hotel at about 2 am. We'd been on the road since 10 am (the previous day), and were bone tired. In the morning we called The Swede (my dad) for help. After all, he knew every Volvo dealer in the midwest, being District Manager for Volvo's largest district. It's nice having a well-connected dad. As soon as the dealership learned that we were on our honeymoon, and married one whole day, they rolled out the red carpet. A tow-truck was at our hotel IMMEDIATELY, and his cab was plenty big enough for both of us to ride along. Once at the dealership, we were chauffeured to a nice restaurant. By the time we were done eating and had been driven back to the dealership, our car had a new alternator and regulator (by the way, when you replace the alternator, always do the regulator, too. It had been a brand-new alternator that blew up when the old regulator stopped regulating.) And the repair was “on the house”. Congrats on your marriage they said.

(I have many more stories from our honeymoon summer, but YellowBoy said write about road trips, so I'll bring the focus back to that.)

You don't really enter the varsity division of road-tripping until you've done it with children. Antsy children in car seats. Children who throw up in rush hour traffic when you can't pull over. Children who literally drive you insane with the whole, “He's touching me!” “NO, he took my ________ and I want it BACK!” “Can I have a snack?” “How much further is it?” Somehow though, I still enjoy it. It's a combination of seeing the country unfold in front of me, realizing just how vast and varied it is. Getting to spy on really small towns, and listen to their gossip as you stop for a meal in their one restaurant, with amazing home-made everything. Having hours and hours to talk and plan with The Engineer. And stopping at those road side attractions you've seen multiple signs for. C'mon, who can resist seeing the world's largest groundhog (turned out to be made of cement, but nonetheless a groundhog as promised) and a seven-legged cow? (This one was real, a poor, tired cow with the birth-defect of three extra, boneless but not hoof-less legs growing next to the udder.)

It gets easier as they get older. Our trip to Texas was relatively painless, and the pool in Lubbock at the hotel was truly the largest indoor pool I'd seen. Our last trip to Annapolis not that bad, if you ignore the vomit. So it will be with maps in hand, and all the standard road-trip entertainment items (TV and Wii and laptops) properly hooked up, that we set off to Annapolis again. We're leaving on Friday in early afternoon and plan to be at brother DataBoy's fab guest suite by Sunday night. Most of the family will be gathering at the Briarpatch for one last time together before it's sold.

While on our trip, I don't know how often I'll be able to post, but I know that it will yield many stories. It's always a memorable when all the siblings and cousins and Aunt Risky get together. I hope you'll stick with me and keep reading as I'm able to post. I sure appreciate all of you and your encouragement. We'll be back on 6/12. (We're not out here yet though. I'll see you a few more times this week before we leave.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Expand Does It In The Rain

Remember how I told you I'd been camping in a torrential downpour which lasted three days? I wasn't exaggerating. This trip was in 8th grade, with Project Expand. A program for the gifted and talented, Expand taught many things besides just the history and science classes we all had together. We learned team-work, and planning, and cooking for a crowd. And how to improvise when all our planned activities had to be cancelled due to inclement weather.

Our advisors, Mr. Schultz and Mr. Calvert, sure knew how to run a camping trip. First we were assigned to group tents which slept eight. They made sure that there was a mix of eighth and ninth graders in each tent, knowing we'd need some guidance when faced with the seemingly impossible task of cooking a meal for the entire group. We drew lots for which meal we had to do. Everyone wanted lunch, because it was deemed easiest. My tent got one of the two dinners.

From then on, we were entirely on our own. It was up to us to plan it, shop for it, cook it, store it, and when the time came, heat it up and serve it. Each meal had a fixed budget, and we were NOT allowed to spend any of our own money to make it more impressive. (We tried to bring a Reese's for everyone. That's a whole post by itself about why this was so important, but no, we had to stick to the budget. Sixty candy bars just wouldn't work.) Once I got over the stress of it, our task was actually fun. We all met at Karen's house to hit the grocery store, and then to cook. It was a bit crowded with eight of us in her mom's small kitchen, but dividing the dinner into parts and assigning those to specific people worked really well for us. With our spaghetti dinner safely tucked into igloos, we were ready to go.

Packing for the trip also had its rules. We were allowed one duffel bag, and your sleeping bag. If you wanted a pillow, you'd better cram it into that duffel. Even with these restrictions, the tents were pretty crowded. Of course the ninth graders had dibs on the most coveted spots: away from the edges, where there was less of a chance of a leak. Of course, that was in a normal rain. This infamous trip to Catoctin State Park didn't have normal rain, it had freezing, slushy icy rain during the night, and torrential blowing-all-over-the-place rain during the days.

I knew it was not a good sign when I woke up to rain in Silver Spring. I could only imagine what was going on in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But Expand trips were “rain or shine”, so I brought my over-stuffed, about to pop, duffel to school. We did take some razzing from the other students about the weather, but away we went, figuring we could outlast the rain. We had assumed it would stop.

That first day we pitched out tents in the rain, and then gathered under the shelter to huddle together and wait it out. Meanwhile we talked about what to do since we couldn't exactly do a scientific scavenger hunt through the mud and puddles. But we were still in good spirits as we ate our spaghetti, and although we missed having a bonfire as was traditional, we did have fun telling stories and jokes. They sent us to bed a bit early, though. I think Schultz and Calvert wanted some space, both literally and figuratively to discuss tomorrow's agenda.

That was a long night. We did our best to keep things dry, and did do pretty well taking turns in the damp spots, but tempers were getting shorter as the rain continued. There was the rule that you couldn't leave your tent until the leaders came and released you. (They did their best to keep girls out of the boys' tents and vice versa.) But we heard voices in the shelter, figured others had already disobeyed, so we ventured out. Good thing too, because there were hardly ANY spots left in the rafters to hang wet sleeping bags. Woe to those who slept late. As we huddled and hunkered down for another day of rain, much discussion ensued about just packing it in.

In the end though, die-hard won over wussing out, and we stayed. I remember much cooperation and pooling of dry resources. Lots of people wearing other's clothing. Lots of conversations that might not have taken place, had we been focused on the curriculum planned rather than what we were left with, which was relationship building. Our advisors did stay with one of their planned exercises. We were each sent off alone, to find a spot to think and create. We were to write about anything that struck us as we sat there.

I'm not sure I've sat so still since then. I found a great, fallen, rotting log as my place. After about a half-hour of just sitting there, perched on the log, rain dripping off my raincoat onto my already soaked shoes, a mouse came for a visit. And came within inches of crawling into my lap. I had my story. I invented a futuristic world, contained in a bubble of controlled atmosphere, where there was no life except humans. The girl found the door out, found a place like mine in the forest, and found my mouse. This set off a chain of events that led to the destruction of the bubble, and life beginning anew in “the real world.” I was really proud of the story. (This whole love of writing is NOT a new thing!)(And yes, I got an A.)

Rain-soaked and weary after another wet night, we did leave the campsite the next day a few hours before scheduled. But our group was never the same after that shared adventure. We were closer, more connected, and when the end of the year came, we knew exactly what our parting gift to Schultz and Calvert would be. (Some of you younger folks might not understand the origin of this, but back then there were a LOT of t-shirts that contained a variation of (name of group) does IT in (something risque, but descriptive of their uniqueness.) I'll give you some examples: “Fire fighters do it with longer hoses”. “Divers do it deeper”. I think you're catching on.) We said good-bye for the summer by giving them t-shirts. “Expand Does it In the Rain”.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saturday Centus-No Escape

Welcome back to Saturday Centus!  This meme is really hard, but a challenge is good.  Given a short prompt, we have 100 words to complete a very short story.  For rules, info, and more great stories, go to the fab Ms. Jenny Matlock's blog.  The prompt is in bold, the rest are my words.

I look back over my shoulder, squinting into the late afternoon sun, gawking with stunned alarm at the broad rolling muddy waters of the Mississippi, and the boat which has appeared as suddenly as if someone had conjured its existence. Amazingly, he's at the wheel. With that sickening feeling of dread in my stomach, I realize that he's managed to find me. Again. I thought I'd been so careful this time, and that faking the miscarriage would finally get him to let me go. The boat had been waiting for me as promised, and I'd thought I was free. Icy fear gripped me. I knew now he'd never stop, unless both I, and the precious life so miraculously was growing inside me, were dead.

Find more great, short stories here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Camping Food

Now that I've (I hope!) convinced you how much fun you'll have camping, let me tell you about what we'll be eating. Everything tastes better when camping! We'll start off with the big camp breakfast. Pork fat is essential. We'll fry the bacon until perfectly crisp (yes, go ahead and have a slice while you're waiting for it all to be ready.) Then we'll leave some of that grease on the frying pan, because your bagel needs to be toasted in it. The eggs will be scrambled, and we've left those yummy brown bits behind from the bacon, so you're having what we call “dirty eggs.” (Don't worry, you'll work off all these calories on our hike later.) Would you like some more of the coffee, percolated in a ceramic coated kettle? Careful though, it's very hot.

I packed you a hiking lunch. The sub roll won't get soggy and squished like regular bread. I think you'll love the combination of ham, salami, and turkey. I even managed to save some of this morning's bacon, so that's on there too. You need all this protein because we're hiking Steam Donkey, at Grand Lake. It goes all the way around the lake, and there's quite a bit of uphill. As we're sitting on the bridge, dangerously dangling our legs, I think you'll appreciate the finishing touches of pickles, banana peppers, lettuce, and tomato. Don't worry, the tomato is sandwiched (haha, good pun!) between the meats so it won't soggify your bread. I've wrapped it in tin foil to give it some structure, and a bit of insulation. Go ahead and have some cheetos, too. They don't crumble like potato chips. Apple slices? Chocolate chip cookie? Let me know if you have room, otherwise we'll save those for our stop at the actual Steam Donkey. The view is spectacular there, so we'll sit for a while.

How was your little snooze in the shade of that big tree? I saw you with the book still in your hands, nodding off. Hiking is hard work! Dinner will be ready soon. Here's a glass (ceramic coated mug, actually) of chardonnay while you wait. Those pocket potatoes smell so good already! I'll tell you how I made them since you didn't see me do it, sleepy head. I chopped those fresh, red potatoes into dice size chunks, and then tossed them in a ziplock bag with slivered onions, rosemary and garlic herb seasoning, and salt and pepper. They're double wrapped in the heavy-duty aluminum foil and nestled there in the fire, right along the edge of the fire pit. Doesn't that grilled chicken look delicious? I know it's kinda picky of me, but yes, I do cover each slat of the grate over the fireplace with my own foil every single time. I just like knowing for sure that my food doesn't contain any potential animal “droppings”. You never know what they're up to when we're away hiking. The spices? That's super easy. It's just cheap, off-brand italian dressing. I had those boneless breasts marinating in it since this morning. Ziplock bags are my friends! Would you like a salad? I love having a fridge when camping, you can have some of the things that don't do well in a cooler. Yes, I do start with a bagged salad, but I add three colors of bell peppers, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and croutons. That's freshly grated Parmesan on top. Too bad there's no bacon left, or we could crumble it on top, too. I'll try to hide some from tomorrow's breakfast. How about some of my homemade garlic ranch dressing? (Ok, ok, semi-homemade. I do start with the Hidden Valley Ranch dry mix, but I add some extra stuff. Top secret though!)

Did you save room for dessert? I've brought my new favorite popsicles. Yup, they do stay frozen in that tiny freezer part of the fridge. Amazing, isn't it? These are the whole-fruit variety, blueberry and acai berry. Of course there will be s'mores later once it gets dark. And as you know, my day isn't complete without popcorn. I'll be making that, too. With butter. After all, we're camping!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Want To Go Camping?

I don't remember my first camping trip, but my parents say we camped when I was a baby. Maybe it's starting at an early age that got me hooked, but I don't know. Maybe it's an inherited trait. I know people who would NEVER go camping. Just the thought makes them shudder. And I know people like me, who like nothing better as a family activity than camping.

Part of the appeal for me is getting away from my daily life, and going to a simpler existence. No telephone, no TV, no video games. I will never understand the people who have a satellite dish on their camper. Why bother going camping if all you're going to do is watch TV? For me the appeal is the forest, and the solemn quietness, the play of light through the trees, a gentle breeze. Quivering aspen leaves, dancing, letting go to fly freely on the wind. And it's even better when you can be beside water. I don't care if it's a roaring river, a quiet stream, or a languid lake. Water soothes my tangled nerves with it's movement, and it's scent of secrecy, hinting at things unseen. I'm content to just watch it, or dangle my toes in it, or to float for hours on it. Or sometimes, just listening to it's gentle rhythms while my thoughts are away somewhere else in the book I'm reading.

It's essential to have a campfire. In the mornings, to take that slight chill away, and relax by while The Engineer cooks camp breakfast. In the evenings, sometimes to cook our meal, but definitely for the marshmallows. And then to sit and stare into, while quietly talking about those things you never have time for. Reconnecting deeply with one another. Thoughts and feelings flow more openly in front of a fire, late at night, in the peace of darkness, the quiet of the forest.

Although we now have luxury of a camping trailer, complete with kitchen and bathroom and ridiculous amounts of storage, for nineteen of our years together, we tent camped. Some say it's not camping unless you're in a tent, but I paid my dues. I've slept in a tent with a port-a-crib, in a wind so strong it ripped our rain-fly off. I've slept in a tent in a torrential downpour which literally lasted the entire three days we were there. I've slept in a leaky tent, soaked and miserable. I've slept in a tent, and woken up to two inches of snow. I feel that the camper is well deserved at this point With it, it's so much easier to just take off on a whim. Bedding and non-perishable staples live in the camper, so all you need to do is grab some clothes, the food that needs refrigeration, and you're off.

My boys love camping, too. Chopping firewood, building the fire, roasting pine cones on that fire, it's all boy heaven. They've even gotten to like hiking, though that took some convincing. You can't play with the fire if you're hiking! And you can't invent elaborate games among the trees if you're hiking. And hiking can be strenuous. But given no choice, they've found things to like about hiking. They like using the carefully selected walking sticks that my talented brother-in-law has carved animal heads on. They like leading the way, and being the first to point out interesting finds. And they like “accidentally” getting themselves wet when we encounter any water.

Yes, it does take work, and yes, you do get dirty. But for me it's all worth the trouble. If you're feeling stressed out, stretched to breaking with the hassles of your normal schedule, come join me by the fire and sit for a bit. We'll catch up on each other's lives, roast a marshmallow or two, and then star gaze. You really haven't seen the stars until you see them on a camping trip. Away from city lights, you realize just how many there are. The sky seems almost covered with them, and you can even see the milky way if you look hard enough. That swath of almost joined stars is a magical thing to behold. And when you're gazing, you really understand the vastness of God's creation, and feel so blessed to be able to enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

R is for Restaurant @ Life is Good

Ever since my Grandma Vivian took us to Mrs. K's Tollhouse for dinner, I've loved eating out. I think I was nine or ten when she treated us all (our family of five, my aunt, and my Farmor and Farfar who were visiting for Christmas.)  I remember feeling so rich to get to go to this landmark – an old house which actually WAS a tollhouse back in the day, now converted into an expensive, five course restaurant. I recall the delight as yet another lovely treat was set before me. At that time, my restaurant experience had been limited to a few buffet style restaurants in Sweden, where dining out is not the common place thing it is in the States. At Mrs. Kay's, I was in heaven, and I remember saying to myself, “I'm going to go lots of restaurants when I'm an adult. I love this!” And I have. Let me tell you about two wonderful places I've had the privilege to visit.

Newly married, The Engineer and I had the pleasure of a three night sailing trip with Dad. This was in the last sailboat my parents owned before they retired to Colorado. This was the one that slept 6. I was so thrilled to finally be one of the people who would be part of others' “inspecting the fleet.” (This is what my Dad and I called it when we'd wander around a marina, checking out the sailboats, and people watching. There'd be many cozy scenes to witness. The man and his wife sharing a bottle of wine. The retired couple who could be seen through the porthole, playing cards. Or the group, laughing loudly and obviously on more than their third beer each, not exactly a cozy scene, but fun to watch regardless.) I'd always dreamed of taking our boat somewhere, and then relaxing in the cockpit while OTHERS wandered around checking US out. That time had finally arrived!

We pulled up to the dock in Galesville, MD. just as the sun was beginning to set. Tired, smelling of sunscreen and sea water, we went to dinner at Pirate's Cove. There we had the pleasure of a dockside table. We sat, watching other boats arrive, sipping a wonderful chardonnay, and enjoying the sunset. There was a whisper of a breeze, and my hair danced around my face as I savored the ultimately creamy crab soup. They make it like no other place, and then give you a small bottle of sherry to drizzle over the top. It's a heavenly combination. No calories if eaten outside! Then there was the newly caught fish, sauteed in a magical marinade of freshness, tender and flaky and melt in your mouth. Well satisfied, we headed back to our boat, and enjoyed some more wine as we sat in the cockpit, being admired by the fleet inspectors. A perfect evening.
Another perfect seaside meal was at the Crab House in St. Michael's, MD. It's a quaint, preserved, historic town with lots of character and charm. And awesome crab! I've been a Maryland blue crab fan since childhood. While my sister freaked herself out at the thought of crab, I attacked with precision, as taught by my best friend's dad. Even with skill, eating crabs takes a long time. It's best to go with others who are also eating crabs. Then it's a party with good beer to marry perfectly with the Old Bay seasoning. If it's only your daughter having crab, well then you'd better bring a newspaper. (My dad would treat me to crabs for my birthday each year. We'd go, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes the whole family. I teased him about the newspaper, and being easily bored, but it didn't matter to me at all. As long as I got my crab.)

We'd again arrived by boat. (It was the same sailing trip as Galesville.) The restaurant is ON the dock, so our boat was close by. We were enjoying another perfect, sunset meal, feasting on those crabs (I taught The Engineer how to pick, and he was of course was better than me right away. He's like that. Brilliant at anything.) Then the show arrived.

An idiot in a catamaran much like this one, was approaching the dock. 

 At great speed. With his sails still up. This is NOT how you do it. First of all, you're going to slam into the dock, damaging both your boat and the dock. Then you've got this flapping sail to deal with, and a swinging boom, which is an accident waiting to happen. There we sat, watching with horror as he came closer and closer. “Isn't he going to take down the sail?” “When will he slow down?” “Maybe he's going to turn around and try again.” Nope. He crashed into the dock, the boom swung around and connected, with a sickening thud, with the nearest pilling of the dock. And then the swearing started. We could hear him THROUGH the window. He was blaming everyone within earshot for his disaster. Are you kidding me? How could the poor deck master have helped you? He's standing on the dock, showing you which slip to take, and barely got out of the way of your boom! Despite his rudeness, many people jumped off their boats to help wrangle the sails into place and store them correctly. I've always loved dinner theaters, and this was very amusing tableau, in a “can't stop looking at that accident even though I should” sort of way.

I have a lot more stories of wonderful meals. But I'll leave my patient readers with this question:  What's your favorite meal?

Thanks for visiting, and please check out the other great “R” posts at the fab Ms. Jenny Matlock and her Alphabe-Thursday meme.

Cross Country

Have you ever been a runner? I never thought that I'd join this elite group of athletes. After all, I couldn't make it around the track without huffing and puffing for those mandatory fitness tests. But I was a gymnast, and I considered myself in pretty good shape. Why then couldn't I run? I was heart-broken when my orthopedic surgeon (What? You don't have your own?) told me that my gymnastics days needed to be over. (Just because you break three bones in one year doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't be involved in this sport. Ok, probably. )

He did say that running was ok. Which I appreciated. After all, Dr. Schribner had brought me through a broken hip, with pins and all, and a body cast for four months, and then the “lesser” injuries of ankle, collarbone, and wrist. I figured I ought to listen to him.
You've got to understand that running at our high school was an elite thing. We always placed well at state, and there was the dynasty of the Kinnecome girls. I had the privilege of being invited into their inner circle. That didn't happen at once, of course. It took a lot of hard work and mental strength to get there. But it was a glorious ride.

I remember watching the cross country team practice as I suffered through marching band practice. (Remember, our band was horrid at marching.) But they looked like they were actually having  fun together. I wanted to be part of that. So when I hit my junior year, and no longer in gymnastics, I joined. For that first week I could barely walk I was so sore. I'd come home from practice, too tired to even eat dinner, and just collapse on the couch in frustration. It was HARD. But as you may recall, I'm not one to give up. It slowly got better, and I was excited for our first meet.

It had up until then just worried about not being last. What ever the drill was, I aimed for just beating our slowest runner. In the meet however, something happened. My coach had encouraged me to run with a team member with experience, let her set the pace for me. That worked great at first, but I found myself further and further ahead of her. At that point, I just kept going. I felt surges of energy, and as the last mile unfolded, I would aim for a runner, and try pass. And then on to the next runner. It was very motivating. And when the meet was over, it turned out that without realizing it, I'd passed many team-mates and found myself fifth on our team. I was completely shocked. I'd watched that pack of girls during practice, and they were always SO far ahead of everyone else. The Kinnecome girls were almost always first and second, and then their buddies took the next three places. But here I was FIFTH. I'd broken into their elite circle.
And it was just so AWESOME to hear my coach say, “Wow, look what you can do! I'm so impressed!” I of course felt like I was going to pass out. It was a strange feeling, all floaty and happy, and a bit eerie. (I didn't know about “runner's high” at that point, but I sure did afterwards!) My team-mates were so encouraging and congratulatory. I was elated. And hooked for life.

Our team was really close-knit. There were always encouraging words for effort and achievements. Self-less acts of kindness. We all bought matching jackets which we wore with pride, not just during warm-ups, but almost like a letter jacket. Our names were embroidered on them. See, I still have mine!  (Yes, I'm a packrat.   A very good one.)

We did intimidate the other schools. Our team was huge compared to other schools of our size. So we'd show up, emerging as a throng from our bus, in our matching, snazzy jackets. And with bells on. Literally. We tied jingle bells to our shoes. This was partly to freak out the other teams with our unity, but also for help during the races. Without having to look behind, you could tell when a team-mate was approaching. Or you'd hear someone ahead of you, motivating you to catch up. You could catch the rhythm of your pace more easily, make adjustments. And it was just plain fun!

I'm finding myself tongue tied to explain the joy of it. Gymnastics is also a team sport, but the competition is fierce, and there's a lot of jealousy that comes out when someone learns a trick before you. Not so in cross-country. We were united and encouraging of each other, celebrating other's accomplishments as if they were our own. I haven't experienced anything like it since. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Origami and Geometry

Geometry has always been my favorite branch of math. Mr. Wright was an amazing teacher, and this (former) eighth grader loved his class. My first impression was, “Oh no! He's another Mr. Ruth!” (who taught me seventh grade social studies and whose picture is in the dictionary under the heading “nerd”) but I was wrong. Though pale, freckled, awkward, and bespectacled, Mr. Wright had a gift. He'd sit down next to that overhead, and without notes or the book (items other teachers fumbled with)make sense out of very difficult matters.
He had a way of starting at the beginning of something, with a good analogy. Some hook to make you “get it” before you got frustrated and started interrupting with questions. And for him, it wasn't enough to give you the formula for say, the area of a triangle, he wanted you to know where the formula came from, so that you'd remember it better. His homework was of reasonable length. And he was the only teacher who admitted that semester exams are really hard to study for, and gave us the sane suggestion of going back and looking at our previous chapter tests to make sure we knew that material.

So when I became a math teacher, I had some wonderful role models to look back on for guidance. (Mrs. Brody, I'll never forget you and how you made me love math again. Thank you for not putting me in the corner with busy work because I was ahead of everyone. Thank you for challenging me and making me work hard.) I just couldn't wait to teach geometry.

Not only do I love geometry, I also love origami. I don't really know how it started, maybe Aunt Risky gave me a book about it. She's the kind of aunt who ALWAYS gives the perfect gift. Or maybe I saw someone doing it on one of the “educational” channels we were allowed to choose from for our ½ hour of TV per day growing up. Regardless, I've always enjoyed it, and learned as many examples as I could. When I taught math, I made sure my students got a good taste of it. It fit beautifully into my geometry unit, and it was a break from routine.
Not that I was a routine type teacher, far from it. I'd been on the textbook selection committee when the district I worked for updated their math curriculum. At the conclusion of the endless months of meetings, and mind-numbing presentations by the slimy salesmen, we each presented five ranked choices to the curriculum coordinator. The book which was selected and therefore I was forced to teach from, didn't even make my top 5. I rebelled. I wrote most of my own stuff. The kids caught on pretty quickly that lugging that book to class each day was a waste of time since we rarely opened it. It got to the point that I'd put a sign in the window next to my classroom that said “bring math book” for those rare occasions when I found something useful in it.
{Note to readers: I've gotten side-tracked again...we'll be heading back to origami now.}
The first project I worked on with my kids was the box. It is composed of six identical units. As I walked them through the steps, we talked about angles and shapes and geometrical things. (This was my justification for doing such a totally different and fun thing with the math book in the locker.) It really resonated with them. I'd say I had 85% of the kids completely hooked with just one lesson. I taught them to make those units, and they ran with it. Using different sizes of paper, or different colors and textures of paper they invented some amazing variations. I still regret that digital photography wasn't here yet. I never took pictures, because on a teacher's starvation salary, there's no spot for photo developing in the budget. And forget it being in the school district's budget. Ha! I had to buy the origami paper myself.
This unit was such a big hit with the kids that I decided to submit it to the Colorado math teachers' association to present as a workshop. (Previously, I'd team-presented with my wonderful mentor about games (such as Jeopardy) to review math, and the following year I'd shared (all by myself) my consumer math unit.) I was accepted and passed along to thirty other workshop participants the lessons and strategies I'd learned along the way. (By the time I presented, I'd taught the unit seven times.)
There's nothing that thrills a teacher more than hearing words such as, “I never liked math until I had you for a teacher.” It was my mission. And now you can better understand my complete despondency at my VERY OWN CHILDREN hating math
Here's what one of the units looks like,

 and here's a finished box.

If you are smitten and want to know how to do this, let me know. I still have a copy of hand-outs I used for that workshop. Long live MATH!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jake at the Wheel

Today's post is brought to you by YellowBoy's prompt. But first, there's something I gotta show you.

Yup, he did it! And has been doing it over and over...if you want the whole story, check out Rubik's Magic Appeal.

So at first YellowBoy said, “Write about my special blankies.” But then when I was loading the picture of the solved cube, he saw the pictures from yesterday afternoon when Jake drove a car for the first time. Now he wants me to write about that. And yes, Jake is still 13, so that's why his driving a car is newsworthy.

When I was growing up, my Dad, my careful, by-the-book Dad, also let us drive young. You see, the drive-way of the Briarpatch is about a quarter mile long, and winds around the edge of the property. 

(Can't really see it in this shot, but I just found this picture and wanted to share.) We three kids would fight about whose turn it was to drive in. When we were younger, we sat in Dad's lap and his hands were still on the wheel. As we got older and more capable, we'd still be in his lap, but only our own hands were on the wheel. By the time we got too big to sit in his lap anymore, he let us totally take over. It was exhilarating! And we did get plenty of practice, because as I told you before, we went there just about every weekend in the summer, and as often as possible during the other seasons, when a group wasn't there.

So yesterday The Engineer was installing his new clutch cable, and needed my car moved. It struck me that Jake would probably love to do it, so I convinced The Engineer, who talked him through it. I've never seen such a grin of delight on my son's face as when was behind that wheel. This was of course a total whim on my part, and not something he had even considered asking for the privilege of. I bet that was part of the joy, too. Check him out!

See that grin?

He didn't exactly park it right the first time...

Getting closer...

But he did it!
And his first words were, "And now for the bragging!  Gotta text everyone!"  And I probably would have too, back then.  If I'd had a cell phone...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wendy's Woes

If your read is for D is for Donuts, then you know that my fast food lessons continued at Wendy's. For one long, hot summer, I was their indentured slave. And not happy about it. At all.

For three years I'd worked my way through school teaching gymnastics to kids ranging in age from 2 ½ (yes, they can do it at that age!) to 14. (The teenagers and their attitudes were far harder to deal with than the toddlers trying to do a front roll without losing their diaper.) But I'd taken what I thought was a leave of absence in order to complete my student teaching. Much to my horror, they had filled my job, not with anyone temporary, but had in fact given it away. And I wasn't getting it back. (And yes, I'm still bitter about it.) Do you know how hard it is to find a summer job in a college town? It's flippin' impossible. Unless you're willing to work at Wendy's. I had to pay rent, so willing didn't really apply to me. Necessity was more like it.

The reason I even got the job was that the girl manning the register let it slip that if I indicated that I'd be willing to close, they'd hire me. I didn't want to close! How am I going to see my boyfriend (The Engineer) if he works days and I work nights? It was a horrid schedule. But what can you do. Desperate people will do a lot of things when pushed.

I got the job, and was assigned the closing “back room” shift. This is worse than just working when you'd rather be with your boyfriend. “Back room” is a euphemism for cleaning lady. That poor soul has to do all the dishes, “close down” the chicken fryer, the french fryers, the Frosty machine, MOP, and be the back-up to the front people. If they get swamped, I step in. And leave my cleaning behind. Which means I have to work later, because I don't go home when the clock says, I go home when all the grease is gone.

I wasn't a stranger to grease. After all, I'd done the donut gig. Donuts are deep fried. I just never had to close down the donut fryers, because Stoned Jerry thought it was a waste of our time and told us to just dump more oil in there when it got low. (Did I just ruin your taste for donuts?) Wendy's on the other hand, was really strict about the cleaning. A manager checks your work EVERY night, and if it's not done correctly, you do it again. And sometimes again.

Wendy's goes through a lot of grease, dumping those fryers every night. Into a mysterious hole out back that a big truck comes and sucks up weekly.  Then you clean the fryer with Safety Kleen. Not familiar with this product? It's probably because it comes with more warning labels and alerts than a radio-active core ready for meltdown. I don't know exactly what's in it, but if you dip something greasy in it, it comes out not-greasy. I think the Safety Kleen feeds on grease, because we never seemed to run out. (Thank GOD, because the process of replenishing the vault was the absolute worst job. I managed to never have to do it.) But you're not done with just a dip. No sir, THEN it gets washed by hand. As do all the other things: salad bar containers, prep work instruments (everything is prepared fresh there; real produce comes in and we slice, dice, and shred everything ourselves for the salad bar and the condiment line) the large vats which simmer the chili, the large, aluminum storage containers that live in the walk-in fridge and hold the prepped ingredients ready to be put into the smaller ones that are on the line. It's a LOT of dishes. And just when you think you're done, someone will dump something else in the sink for you to wash.

But dishes and greasy are nothing compared to the “Wendy” shift. This is a special shift on Thursdays when most of the leagues have their softball games. Then the “lucky” slave gets to dress up as Wendy, complete with red wig. And wander around the softball fields passing out coupons. I always got the Wendy's shift because I was the only one who fulfilled the requirement. Which was that the costume fit. This was back in my eating disorder days and I was tiny. So it fit me. There's NOTHING I've had to do that was more humiliating than this. Can you imagine the jokes those men could come up with? About the tamest was, “I've got something hot and juicy for you.” It takes a long time to pass out the volume of coupons they gave me.

I remember my last day as Wendy. I'd about had it and was thinking of quitting. I was sitting in the car, in the parking lot of this week's ball fields, staring at the insurmountable pile of coupons. And contemplating just throwing them in the trash. There's a knock on the window which startles me from my evil plan. It's Dad! He'd driven all the way up to surprise me, and they'd sent him to the park. I started to cry. It was just so wonderful see a friendly face, I broke down. And explained my predicament to him. He told me that I didn't need to expose myself to the teasing and taunting, they could not require me to do this shift. It hadn't occurred to me to protest, I've always been “the compliant child” (DataBoy and Swissie took care of the rebellion and refusal roles quite nicely. And always got away with it.) So we threw those coupons on a bench for people to pick up, and headed out to dinner. (I shed the hideous costume first, obviously.)

And when I returned to Wendy's I told them what I'd done and why, and how many hours to deduct from the time clock. I was completely surprised when the manager (a very nice woman with amazing work ethic) responded with, “I had NO idea what you were going through. You don't have to do it again. And I'm paying you those hours you were gone anyway.” (In retrospect, she was probably protecting herself from a possible sexual harassment claim, but I didn't care why, I was just relieved to be done.)

I finished the summer, and when I was done it was bittersweet to part from some dear friends. It binds you together to work together. We'd all had some great times of fun and mischief, and of hanging out in the quiet, dark, and clean store before leaving, just talking into the dark night about our dreams for the future. Optimistic, excited, we had our whole lives ahead. And none of us EVER considered a career in fast food.