Monday, July 30, 2007

She Made Me Who I Am

One July morning at 7:am, Gabi made me a mom. I wasn't quite twenty-one when she was born, and I didn't have a clue about what it meant to be a mom. I just knew it was what I was meant to be. My big fear as a teenager was that I would die before I had kids. I wasn't afraid of how I would die, or being dead, but that my dream of being a mother wouldn't come true. I must have wished on a lucky star!

She was born breach (and totally natural, I might add), folded in half, and she inhaled before she hit oxygen, leaving her breathless. The nurses worked on her for a few minutes and then whisked her away somewhere, without telling us anything about how she was. It was very frightening. Several hours later they brought her to me. I was so overwhelmed. Now I was breathless! For a couple of days I kept trying to say a prayer of thanks to Heavenly Father for letting me have her, but I couldn't find the words. I felt ungrateful just saying "Thank you, thank you" over and over again, but I think He may have understood.

Gabi came into my life only 18 months after Dee did. She's known us almost as long as we've known us! She helped us become US. She lived in our first tiny trailer home, our second less (but still) tiny trailer home; she rode in the VW and the Vega, and saw Dee as a soldier. She was part of our college life, and part of our pre-TV, pre-income days. We started leaving shoes out for St. Nickolas Day, and cookies for Santa because of her. She made us a family.

I read out loud to Gabi from the day she was born. Mostly I read Dr. Spock as I fed her, trying to figure out when she'd do something interesting. Dee laid on the floor with her for hours demonstrating how to roll over. It actually took hours of watching her movements, for him to figure out the steps of rolling over. He practiced with her for about six months until she caught on. We figured we'd taught her! We didn't realize that she'd come already programmed to do every important thing. We didn't have to teach her anything. In fact, she taught us.

I read an article about how to make your child a genius. It said to tie helium balloons to your baby's wrists and ankles, and their eyes would catch the movement and eventually they'd realize they were pulling the strings! I tried it, and it must have worked. She became a genius. She could sing dozens of songs, say the Pledge of Allegiance, recite poems and ask questions by 18 months. By the time she was two, I was asking her questions. She became my best friend. I'd even consult her about what I should wear! (She knew exactly what they were wearing at the laundromat, and milk depot, which were my usual destinations.) Her siblings started arriving about that time, and it was a joint project for us. I saw her as my confidant and support. She truly encouraged me, saying funny, cute things at crucial moments. My favorite was, "When we're all grown up will you be retarded from motherhood?" (Yes...retired, and retarded.)

She was an awesome babysitter, first for me, and then for many others. She became a nanny, and tended kids for weeks at a time while their parents traveled. She worked at a nursery school and daycare center during high school, and then majored in Elementary Education. She taught 6th graders who were taller than she was. She also taught Kindergarten and Pre-school. She was born to teach.

She met her perfect match, they got married, and they worked their way through college for a few years before they graduated. Being the perfect parental candidates didn't translate to being parents. While they waited, they built careers and houses and moved across the country. They traveled and had fun together until the other shoe dropped. They did become parents...twice in three years, and then again with twin boys...and they did it with a flourish! (Check out her blog for the inside stories.)

It's stunning to look at this woman whom I admire and respect so much, and realize she's my daughter! She sets an example of kindness, hospitality, charity, spirituality and energy that I can't come close to emulating. She changed me forever and I'll be forever grateful to be her mom.

Happy Birthday, Gab!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I'm on Leave

I'll be in foreign places for the next week!

This is the Place!

Mount Olympus (I didn't take the photos.)
Once a year we live in a million dollar property. We celebrate with floats, fireworks, marching bands, and clowns right in our front yard! Our two balconies overlook the biggest parade in the Intermountain West. The pioneers first arrived in our valley on July 24, 1847 and it's been a party ever since.

C. C. A. Christensen
People start arriving at 6:am the day before the parade, and camp out on the sidewalks to claim their viewing spot. We've had tents, sleeping bags, blankets, chairs and hundreds of people outside all day long. It was over 100 degrees this afternoon! Tonight we had a surprise (and VERY welcome!) thunderstorm, complete with lightning and car wash type rain for 20 minutes or so, just enough to get everyone soaked and raise the humidity level to miserable. Yet these brave pioneer descendants bore it with cheers and laughter, huddled together under their blankets. Every so often a firecracker goes off, and right now (after midnight) policemen are practicing a choreographed routine on motorcycles for tomorrow's events.

We have wondered if we could rent our decks out, like suites at a football game. But we have our own version of a camp out. Kids and grand kids come for a sleepover, and/or breakfast. The guys throw M & M's to the crowd seven stories below, the wimps sit inside and watch the parade on TV in air-conditioned comfort, while all the little kids sit in chairs on the deck, waving their flags, cheering and clapping from their perfect perch.

From our window we see the desert, blossoming as a rose, just like the pioneers said it would. Yes, this is the place!

Our view of the Salt Lake Valley

Monday, July 23, 2007


Portrait painted 1980, with an addendum in 1982.

You know them all now. Gabi, Josh, Micah, Amy, Heidi, Peter, and Marta.
I've done a little word portrait of each one over the past few months. I don't think anyone can really know me unless they know something about my work, and this is my work. Dee always says we invested in our family, and now we're getting the dividends. (If you haven't met Dee you can read about him on all my Salzburg posts.)

I could talk about my kids forever. Each time I wrote about one of them, I thought about it for days afterwards, thinking of all the things I could add. I realize you don't really need to know everything. It's just so fun! Thanks for indulging me.

I used to say "I could be a great mother if it weren't for all these kids." Now I look at the evidence and say, "I must have been a great mother...just look at these kids!"

(Actually, I can't take much credit. They came good. And we had so many that we didn't have time to wreck them.)

A Driving Force

The Blue Bengal was our inheritance. It had a giant steering wheel with the gear shift on the column, no power steering, and driving it dislocated my shoulder. It called out to a teenage boy, and we had one. They were made for each other. They were both totally unique.

Josh could make that car do anything. One busy Saturday he took it downtown and entered the twisting driveway of a parking garage. Halfway up the ramp, with several cars stuck behind him, the Bengal stalled. Josh got it started again, but it wouldn't go into first. With the honking becoming louder, and his face getting redder, he leaned all his weight on the gear shift and forced it to slip somewhere inside, allowing the car to drive forward. Later he realized he'd created a new gear. From then on Josh was the only one who knew the combination. The Bengal was his.

Josh has always been ingenious. He laid on the floor at eighteen months and figured out how to work the transformer on the electric train. He already had the patience to carefully place the tiny wheels on the track and start it chugging slow enough to keep it from slipping off. Then he'd turn on the speed. That's the story of Josh's life.

He looked so pure and innocent with his blond curls, but that kid kept me on my toes. Before he could even walk he was trouble. One midnight I heard the front door slowly open. I woke Dee up so he could go check on things, but he rolled over quickly and left the rescue effort to me. I quietly walked to the entry just in time to see the door close. I peeked out the side window, and there was Josh! He had climbed out of his crib, crawled down the hall, and since there was nothing going on inside, he had left! Is that scary enough?

Another night I woke up because I thought I could hear mice. There was a rustling sound coming from the kitchen. I went to investigate and there was Josh, sitting in the bread drawer, in the dark, having a midnight snack. We had to put him in a bed because he was such an acrobat on the crib railing, and that gave him freedom before he had any sense. I used to sleep on the floor of his room next to his door so he'd have to climb over me to get out. I don't know why we just didn't lock him in. I didn't have a lot of sense either.

Josh soon became our fix-it man, our go-to guy. He was agile, and handy and full of ideas and energy, and very independent. When he decided to take guitar he didn't bother to mention it to me. He lined everything up, figured out how to strap a big bass guitar to his bike and informed me he was going to his lesson several miles away. He was twelve. He did the same thing with gymnastics. He wanted to take lessons, and I put him off. It was dangerous, expensive and inconvenient. He researched it all, found a gym, signed up, and arranged to clean the gym to pay for lessons. He planned to ride his bike about 6 miles each way a few times a week. He was about thirteen at the time, and it was all set before he consulted us. He was totally self-motivated. How could we stand in his way?

He was my yard crew. One day I left him mowing the lawn, and when I came home a few hours later he had pulled down the fence that separated the front and back yard, taken out all the rose bushes and was redesigning the landscaping. He was fifteen and had not discussed it with me. He had just decided it could look better. Within a few days he had planted some new grass and bushes and it did look much better. I learned to trust his judgment and abilities.

Josh needed some extra money when he was a sophomore. He was already teaching gymnastics and cleaning the gym to pay for his coach and workouts. One day he came home from school and informed us that the high school had hired him. He was coaching the girl's gymnastics team! He was on the staff! He arranged their meets, taught a class during school hours, met regularly with the school counselor over extra-curricular activities, and received a paycheck from the school district.

While he was still in high school Josh finished our basement. He designed it, bought the materials and did the construction. We had electricians and others come in to OK his work, but he was the contractor. He built our deck about the same time.

Ever his own man, Josh informed us a couple of months before he graduated from high school that he had applied and been accepted at a college in a different city, and was going to start summer semester just two weeks after graduation. He had housing lined up and a job arranged. We had been nagging and wondering about his application to our local university, but he demonstrated that we really didn't need to worry about him. While he was away, he survived on oatmeal for months saving for contact lenses. It wasn't that we wouldn't have provided them for him, he just didn't want to ask!

When Josh was 21, cruising up the highway to life, something hit him like a truck! A cog slipped into place and a new gear was created in this most independent of men. He fell in love! Like everything in Josh's life, it was fast and furious, and six months later he found himself married, with a whole new life to plan.

Now a husband and father of three, Josh is a leader in his field. He got a double master's degree and went on to jobs with great prestige. Head hunters have found him and shipped him off to diverse places around the country, and now he is heading up a new office with even greater opportunities. He's already tearing out walls and redesigning the basement of their new house. He's planning Eco-challenges with his boys, and searching for ways to get off the grid. (He has never been on the grid!) He teaches and inspires those around him with his unique talents and energy.

The Blue Bengal eventually gave out enough sparks to set the road on fire. Josh is doing the same thing.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Shadow Knows

Could I be turning into a geek?

Today I slept until noon and then took a nap. It's because I'm exhausted. I stay up 'til all hours on the computer almost every night. I never have time to read a book any more, and I haven't been shopping online for months. I am becoming concerned. I check my email before I brush my teeth in the morning, wondering if I've been validated sometime between 2:am and 8.

My friend Kris and I usually have same-track of mind thinking, so I was interested in her post about comments. I've had thoughts exactly opposite of hers. I've decided lurking might not be all bad.

Fred Thompson is a lurker. Not on my blog, I'm sure, but in his presidential race. He sits on the sidelines, and because he's not really in, he doesn't have to be responsible. He hasn't declared himself yet, and therefore he can watch everybody else fall on their face, and wait to see what happens.

In Blogland, lurkers get to observe but they aren't responsible yet, either. They can comment if they feel like it, but nobody expects them to, so they don't feel guilty if they don't. They never wonder what they're going to write about, because they haven't declared to the world that they're posting opinions on a daily basis. And they don't worry that they'll hurt some one's feelings or lose a reader if they don't respond to a comment within 24 hours, because they have no readers. It doesn't seem fair. I realize, however, that I have put this responsibility on myself. Nobody is making me stay up all night....this is a hobby!

So, I'm going back into lurkdom. I'm still going to post whenever I feel like it, which will be almost daily, but I'm not going to stress about it if it's midnight and I don't have a topic. I'm going to comment when I have time, but not respond to every comment. I know that sounds lame, but you don't know what I go through when I compose a comment. I come up with a great paragraph or two, then realize I'm plagiarizing either the author or the other commenters, so I rewrite it. Then I check my spelling, and because I haven't figured out how to use spellcheck on comments, I'm using a dictionary. After re-reading it, I decide it's a dumb comment anyway, and usually change it to "Great post!" I start the exercise all over again on the next blog I read.

I always check the blog of anyone who comments on mine, and in order to leave a sincere comment on theirs, I read several of the former posts. I've usually spent a couple of hours on the computer doing all this before I even start writing my own article (which is how I think of my post.) I've stopped surfing the web, because I don't have time to find anyone new to feel responsible towards. I have a list of blogs in my bookmarks that I saved for a time I had time, and I've never even gone back to them.

So, if I've been commenting regularly on your blog and you don't hear from me for a while, just know that I'm still reading it every time it lights up my bloglines. If you comment on mine, you can be assured I'm thrilled to know I said something that connected us, although I might not get back to you. I just feel like I need to back off a little bit, and get some sleep! I can't become a total geek! But, I'll be lurking in the shadows.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Attorney, in Brief

This is my lawyer. I used to be fooled by his innocent demeanor, but he won me over so often I decided it was no contest. One of our early debates was over his bedtime. I was unhappy because he was riding the headboard of his bed and yelling "Yee-hah!" while using his bathrobe tie as a whip to gallop faster towards midnight. I went into his room for the 100th time, temper flaring, and announced very firmly that he was supposed to be asleep. He responded with, "Mom, you're beautiful when you're angry." Of course I tucked him in with snuggles and tickles, and he knew he had me.

We used to have interviews with the kids on Sunday afternoons. Dee and I would alternate and invite one child or another in to chat. The idea was to let them know we cared about their inner psyches, and to find out what was going on in their crazy, little minds. One Sunday I was visiting with Miggs (age 6) and I asked him if he had any problems. He hesitantly said, "Yes, just one." I coaxed a little, reassuring him that he could confide in me without concern. He finally said, "I can't fly. I've tried and tried, but I still can't." I must have given him a good answer because he took off about that time and he's still flying!

He is a fabulous writer. He became a journalist in Jr. High. He worked for the school paper there and continued through high school. I caught him sluffing at a local coffee shop, during school hours, and he convinced me it wasn't really sluffing, "It's where the journalists hang out." By then I was used to believing him. I envisioned him as Bob Woodward. When my friends reported they'd seen him there, I told them it was part of his job. In college he continued to work for a newspaper. In fact that's how he met his wife.

He interviewed her for a job. He could feel the sparks flying, and told me later she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. He saw her later that day on campus. He gave her his best imitation of Clark Kent, daily reporter of a great metropolitan newspaper, and she gave him a disgusted, get lost kind of response. The sparks had gone out. He met her again at a party that weekend, and she was all "Come, hither," which confused him. She solved the mystery by explaining that she was a twin! He'd seen her sister on campus, who had no clue that he had been subtly encouraged to make his move. He had found the girl of his dreams, but he had to figure out which one she was. It all worked out and they got married in the end.

She became the wind beneath his wings and he was definitely flying now. He honed his idealism by working for the ACLU, and graduated with an English major. He and his wife posed in matching caps and gowns with their 6 month old baby. It was on to Law School to polish his briefs and learn billing skills. With those abilities and another baby in tow, he set off to make his mark.

For me, one of the great joys of being a mother is discovering the traits kids have brought with them. Before I had kids, I thought they were like a chunk of clay that I would mold into the person I wanted. Now I see them as a chunk of marble waiting (like Michelangelo's figures) to be freed from inside. I think of myself as chinking away a few pieces of stone until they can stretch out and remove the rest of the rock themselves. Then we'll both discover who they've been all along.

This particular kid was a charmer from day one. In fact the first day I took him to church was the Sunday before Christmas, when he was two weeks old. I laid him in his infant seat on the floor while I got the other kid's coats off. An ancient man who I'd never seen before and never saw again stood gazing down at the baby. He looked up at me and solemnly said, "This is a special spirit sent from God to you. God knows where he is and will watch over him. He is more intelligent than most, and has a great work to do." I don't know if this guy was moved by the Christmas story, senile, or just stating the obvious (couldn't this apply to any baby?) but it was impressive to me. I always felt privileged to have Miggs in my home.

I had to confront a few of my own devils as I was raising Miggs. At age five he came home with a few catchy four-letter words, and one particularly catchy three letter word. Knowing he hadn't learned them from me (I used different four-letter words), but realizing my own vocabulary was star-studded at times, I made a pact with him that if he didn't swear, I wouldn't either. I don't know if that changed him at all, but it changed me. Twenty eight years later I still remember my promise to him if one of those words slips out.

I could often recognize a lie because I had become proficient at them myself as a teenager. I could sometimes "feel" that Miggs was protecting me from his antics, and we had many little chats about what he'd told me and what had really gone on. One dark wintry afternoon he told me that he and his high school buddies were going to play basketball. He had a broken arm at the time, so I questioned him about playing with his cast. He joked me off and said he'd be home by dinner. I could tell there was a lie in there somewhere, but there was nothing to confront him with so off he went.

By the time dinner was cleaned up I was getting nervous. I had called around and found that there hadn't been a basketball game amongst the friends that day. I knew he would not want to be caught in his own web, and would be trying to get home on time, so I worried that something serious had happened. By 8:pm I was pacing the floor, letting loose with all my star-studded words, and at 9:pm I felt like throwing up. Finally the phone rang.

Apparently they had gone up into the mountains deer hunting (in the dark? with guns? no adults? without telling anyone where they were going?....oh, no, no, no, no,...this was so not allowed...) and had killed a deer far from the road. They were dragging a two million pound deer a mile or more and decided they needed to gut it. With his arm in a cast, my mountain man had reached in and pulled out all the insides of the dead animal. With a lightened load, they made it back to the truck and down the canyon safely.

I don't remember what happened to the poor deer, but my poor dear could not argue his way out of this one. He received justice. For one thing, no amount of cologne poured down his cast could cover the stench of his sins. He lived with that for another four weeks. He also had to find his girlfriend another date for the prom, (but he still had to pay for it) while he sat at home and counted up his billable hours. I think it may have been during this time that he learned to write numerous defense arguments, only to have a wise judge shoot them down. The Supreme Court was just as harsh, and this infraction is written up in the annals of our family.

The prediction came true. Miggs has always been involved in great works. He's been a star athlete, a leader, a counselor, a teacher, an adviser, trusted in his young life with huge responsibilities, which he's handled magnificently. He is kind, and fair, exacting and very intelligent, plus funny and fun and witty.

Experience is a great teacher, and Miggs has become a wise father to four darling kids. The girls are brilliant and perfect like their mother and the boys are going to follow in their father's footsteps. When one of them throws rocks at the sheriff's windows, and then dashes in yelling, "Mom, Mom! Do we have a lawyer???" She'll calmly say, "Yes, Dear, we have a lawyer."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sink Your Teeth Into It

I've always admired people who bite off more than they can chew, and then chew it.

Illustration from Dinosaur Roar by Paul and Henrietta Stickland

Life Can Be Easier

Searching for the remote always made me mad. I had a perfect spot to keep it right on top of the TV, but it was never there. No matter how often I reminded my household to return it to it's proper home, I usually found it between the cushions of the couch. One day it dawned on me: maybe it should live there! As soon as I changed my mind, and accepted things as they always had been, the remote was always where it should be! One less reason to be mad.

Here are a few other tidbits of organization I've incorporated along the way, that might seem obvious, but escaped my logic for many years. I became a happier person when I accepted the natural flow of the household.

  1. The Dining Room table was lovely, and I liked to keep it ready at all times for the china, sterling and turkey that graced it once a year. In reality it was covered with scrapbook projects, homework assignments, books and backpacks. It was a constant irritation, and therefore a source of constant conversation about when all this stuff would be moved. When I started thinking of it as the Library, instead of the dining room, it didn't bother me as much. I just changed the name and use of the room in my mind, and my mood changed. Plus we added a very functional room, without any work!
  2. There was always a stack of catalogs sitting on the ottoman in the family room. That's where I left them after perusing them, while I was contemplating making purchases. It made things look out of place and messy. I found a basket in another room, stocked it with reading glasses, a red pen and some colorful post-its. I put in a cute file folder for the keepers and a handy-dandy plastic garbage bag stashed for the garbage. Hobby available+ cleanup handy=Perfect Match. When a catalog arrives, it's dropped in the basket by the ottoman. It's there for multi-tasking, and it looks like it belongs there.
  3. I was always mad at my boys for not putting their dirty clothes in the hamper, in their bathroom. The socks and underwear, plus pants, and T-shirts were continually dropped on the floor at the bottom of their beds. Always quick, I finally figured out that they'd chosen the spot for the hamper and I had misplaced it. When they could lay in their beds and make points by tossing their socks into the basket, things got put away. We were all winners.
  4. I bought a very cute Vera Bradley eye glass case for the end table where I watch TV. But, I don't keep my glasses there. It holds fingernail clippers, a nail file, a chap stick, and a tiny pad and pen. My essential TV paraphernalia is right at hand in a charming little container.
  5. I keep clocks in the bathrooms. It eliminates all that yelling about how little time we've got to do a full make-over before the big event.
  6. I buy multiples of scissors, tape, markers, etc. and place them in a cup in every room I use them. They'll never be lost. No more yelling, "Where's my scissors?"
  7. The obvious: I keep the stuff I never use in the inconvenient spots, and the stuff I always use in the handy spots.
  8. I keep approved kids snacks on the lower shelves, so they don't have to scale the pantry walls.
  9. Have a basket at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top, so you can put the stuff you need to take up or down in the basket.
  10. Rotate toys periodically and they will feel new.
  11. Rehang your pictures in different rooms. They'll seem new.
  12. If you always do the kids hair in the kitchen, keep the stuff in there.
  13. Anywhere there is always a stack of stuff is where that stuff should be kept. The kids coats on the floor of the family room? Get a coat rack and keep it there.
  14. If you want something to be used, make it handy, for instance: a dictionary? keep it where homework is done; soap? by every sink; message pad? keep it next to the phone.
  15. Keep bill paying stuff wherever you actually pay your bills. Have a basket with stamps, return address stamps, checkbook, pen, calculator and bills, etc., on the top of the fridge if you pay them at the kitchen table, or in your nightstand it you pay them in bed.
  16. Keep a cute covered basket of diaper essentials,( including non-toxic room spray, wipes, and zip-lock bags) in the kitchen, family room, bathroom, so they are available wherever you and your stinky baby might be. Take care of these things quickly!
  17. Keep a basket filled with TP rolls on the back of the toilet so it's always available. It's embarrassing to call out, "Can you spare a square?" from that most vulnerable of positions.
  18. When little ones are noticed hiding behind the door, or under the table during adult conversations, pretend not to see them. The stuff they're learning is the stuff of life. You can't teach it in all it's variables in any university class, but it's vital for a general education.
  19. Let the kids figure out the tip. It teaches them manners and generosity.
  20. Instead of keeping shoes upstairs in bedroom closets, keep them by the back door. Insist they come off immediately when everyone comes in the door. They're easily found again, and muddy shoes are kicked off by habit. This makes the daily search for the shoe game shorter, and happier because mom usually wins.
Most of these ideas are just common sense, but since common sense isn't very common, I'm suggesting them to make everyone's life a little easier. Do you have some to add?

Illustration by my favorite contemporary artist: Mary Engelbreit.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Collection Plate

What do you collect?

Dee is a collector extraordinaire. He's collected the real collectibles: first editions, cameras, stamps, etc., but his coolest collections are of the ephemera variety. He gathers unique matchbooks, coasters, menus, antique postcards, old passports, ticket stubs, pocket knives...whatever. His office is like a museum of his interests, and experiences. If you poked around in there for an hour you would know more about him than if you talked to him for a week.

I've never thought of myself as a collector. I like to organize, and weed out. Looking around, however, I see that I have a bunch of stuff that represents me, too. Here's the short list:
  1. Blue and white plates
  2. Illustrated Children's books
  3. Alarm clocks
  4. Little decorative boxes
  5. Buttons
  6. Broaches
  7. Scarves
  8. Baskets
  9. Ornate miniature frames
  10. Old calendars
What's on your collection plate?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Little Boy Lost

The elevator opened and out walked a little boy. He was all alone, about two years old, with a binky firmly plugged in his mouth. I said, "Hi! Who do you belong to?" He just looked at me and started toddling towards the hall, like he knew where he was going. I took his hand and said, "Let's go find your mom."

He wasn't worried, or afraid of me. He didn't even know he was lost. I wondered if anyone knew he was lost. Our building has eight floors, each with 35 apartments, and three elevators. Plus our apartment complex has a second, taller building connected with a hallway. There's an additional entrance lobby over there, and there are underground parking levels for both buildings. This little guy could have come from anywhere! Maybe he'd just wandered out his front door and caught a ride, and nobody had noticed his getaway.

I punched all the buttons and we rode down together, holding hands. At each stop I stepped out and looked around, and then we continued our ride. Finally the door opened on a woman who was crying, hanging onto three little kids of various ages, frantically talking to one of our managers. I knew we'd found Mom. She scooped up my little friend and hugged him, saying to me, "Thank you, oh thank you so much!"

It turns out they were visiting someone, and while the mom was figuring out which way to go, her little boy disappeared. The elevator must have opened, he walked in unnoticed, and when I rang for it on the 7th floor, the doors closed and he was on his way. It had only been a minute or two, but when you've lost your baby, that's a long, long time.

Have you ever wandered into a part of your life and felt lost? Or maybe you didn't even know you were lost yet, but others noticed you were missing and set out to find you. I think it happens a lot. We get caught in the thick of thin things, and lose sight of our priorities.

I read somewhere that on a regular basis we should ask ourselves:
  1. Who are the most important people in my life? Do I spend the time with them?
  2. What is my #1 goal right now? Did I spend any time this week working towards it?
  3. What makes me happy? When was the last time I did it?
  4. Am I contributing anything positive to the world?
  5. Am I becoming who I want to be?
We all get off on the wrong floor occasionally, and wander purposefully, though aimlessly until someone points out that maybe we're lost. Here's to finding the way back!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mother of Invention

I am looking for an inventor, because I have something I want invented.

(Please email this post to any inventors you know. I think I should get 25% of the profits, but it's negotiable. I have two lawyers in the family, so if I see this in anyone's house without my name on it, they'll come after you with warrants and subpoenas and stuff.)

This is want I have in mind: A Babushka.
(That is another word for Grandma.)

It is a changing table/swing/bouncy seat substitute, that is highly decorated and unique, for use in a kitchen or family room. It would look like a piece of furniture rather than baby equipment. It is completely safe and childproof. It could be used as an instant place to set a baby and secure him using only one hand, without bending over.

It is five feet tall and looks like a Russian Babushka/Matrushka type stacking doll. It is beautifully designed and painted.
It is very stable at the bottom, weighted somehow so it will not fall over, even with a toddler scaling it. The base is about the size of a high chair, and it would take up that much space in a room.

There is a cupboard in the front (not noticeable because of the painting) with two divided shelves, giving four cubby holes. These hold diapers, wipes, etc. The cupboard has a built in child lock device, so it takes an extra squeeze to open it.

There is a foot pedal in the back that opens a
diaper genie type trash container. There's a built in slot for a box of plastic garbage bags, and a box of baking soda. The bags are very easy to change and can be lifted out with one hand without bending over. There is a childproof handle on this opening, as well.

Here is the genius part: The arms on the
Babushka can be lifted up or lowered to different positions which lock into place. It is easy to maneuver with one hand. They can be completely flat (for a changing table) or bent into a seat (like a baby swing) and all angles in between to allow for a newborn baby (only slightly angled) or even a toddler.

There is a safety bar that lowers over the baby to lock him comfortably in position. This is similar to a car seat but without straps or buckles. It can be done with one hand. The lock must also be childproof, but easy to manage. I am thinking of a keypad, so a mom could type in "open" but a toddler could not.

The seat has hydraulics (or something) that allow it to be raised to different heights. The idea is that you won't have to bend over to change the baby or put it in the seat.

The seat can be set to pulse slowly (like a heartbeat) or swing softly. It can be set at the chosen movement, like a baby swing.

There is a built in bottle prop. (I know it's wrong to prop a bottle, but lately I'm feeding twins who want to eat at the same time. Nobody
has to use it, but it would be handy at times.)

There is no clicking sound or obnoxious music, but there is a tiny built-in
iPod speaker to allow an iPod to play your choice of music. This is on the back, away from the baby.

Babushka comes with 10 quilted seat covers that are elasticized, easily changeable and washable. The fabric would match the painting on the doll.

It can be easily disassembled and folded for storage.

Any takers?? I'm really serious!

(I'm notified by email when I have comments, so get in touch!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An Editor

I critique people's writing. It's a mean thing to do, I know. I'm a freelance copy editor. I take pristine manuscripts and scrawl red pencil all over them, scribbling words like DELETE, REPLACE, REPETITIOUS across an author's dearly beloved creation. I have edited most of Dee's seventy books, and when I hand one back he always asks, "Is it bleeding very much?" He never wants to see his baby soaking in red ink.

I've operated on many documents authored by a variety of writers. Even professors, chemists and secretaries make pronoun mistakes. A copy editor is the person who checks the spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense, etc. I'm the one who makes sure the blond curly-headed girl on page 24 is not brunette and curly-headed on page 224. I get paid to look for flaws.

Ironically, it's almost impossible for me to edit my own work. It takes a different set of eyes to really see what I've written. It's difficult to recognize my own blatant errors, and since I know what I wanted to say, I can't re-read very effectively to see if I said it.

This week I'm working on a biography written by a lawyer. One subject of the book is a professor, who taught education at a university. He had the innovative idea of letting his prospective teachers "learn by doing." He instituted a student teaching program in 1887, and then traveled to conferences in San Francisco and Chicago to explain his new philosophy. It was soon introduced across the country and adopted as part of the regular curriculum. It seems so logical, yet someone needed to think of it, and then do it. I wonder how many people thought of it and didn't do it. I wonder how many times the idea was criticized and judged before it was tried. I wonder how many others were looking for flaws.

I think I'm pretty good at judging someone else's work. My red pencil comes out when I notice people making mistakes, and it's easier to scratch delete over another's bad habits than to recognize my own. Since I know what I meant to do, I can excuse myself, and give myself a pat on the back for my good intentions. When someone punctuates their life with too many question marks, or awkwardly constructs part of their personal story I'm quick to detect it. I can pick up a character flaw a chapter away, and the red ink starts flowing. It's impossible to edit my own life as scrupulously. I'm not so harsh on myself, because, after all, I'm just figuring out the plot as I go along, and my characters aren't yet fully developed...I'm still learning! And I don't need someone following me around with a sharp, bloody looking object!

I have my Thesaurus and Dictionary close at hand, and I've memorized Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. But there's a more authoritative resource that says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Maybe underlining that line would be a good use for my red pencil.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Burglars Without Taste

I got burgled last night!

Someone broke into my car, and took my CD player and radio. They rummaged through my large CD collection, but they didn't take a single one! Should I be mad, or insulted???

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tripping Out

Illustration by E.F. Brewtnall.

Long before we pull our suitcases out the door, I start to travel. I search my map collection, browse my travel section and happily begin to plan. I get to take every trip twice! The first trip is in my imagination as I pore over the maps, and research cities, hotels and scenic drives. The second one is the trip we actually take, with all the curves in the road, unexpected bumps, and delightful surprises.

Travel is one of our top priorities. We've traveled rich and we've traveled poor, and there's not much difference in the level of enjoyment. We've stayed in the finest hotels and the tiniest, unknown B & B's and everyplace in between, and we've discovered that the amount of money spent doesn't really matter. Fabulous French restaurants and sidewalk creperies each have their own distinct charm. Buses are as fun as taxis, and collecting free pub coasters is as memorable as collecting sterling silver charms. Scouting out ghost towns in our own state has satisfied us when we couldn't go anywhere else.

"Travel is intensified living---maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of adventure. Travel is freedom. It's recess, and we need it." Rick Steves

Right now books are open on top of maps and spread all over my desk. There are colorful post-its everywhere, labeling some landmark, or spectacular view. We are going to Ontario, Canada to research a book Dee is writing. Because this is an area we are totally unfamiliar with, I'm starting from scratch. I'm on the planning trip.

The first thing I did was list the places we need to visit. I'd never heard of any of these towns and cities except for Ottawa and Toronto, so I got out the Atlas and circled them all. (I needed a magnifying glass to find some of them!) This gave me our route. I could see which airports would be convenient, so I got online to find the best deal. We could fly into Detroit easily, but it wasn't cheap. Toronto was cheaper but not as direct. Dee's airfare is paid on this trip, so mine was the big expense. Dee recently volunteered to be bumped from a flight, and I found that his voucher would cover my ticket, so we chose the most direct flight this time.

I made a list with each place we'll go in the most logical order. Each location has a separate line on the page. I then listed what we will want to do. (Kingston: visit old cemetery, find location of farm. Niagara-on-the-Lake: photograph street signs, shop, visit Niagara Falls).
Using the Atlas, I figured out mileage and distances, so I could plan how far we'd need to drive each day. I'm very generous in my timing, allowing for a spontaneous drive down a country lane, or a quick visit to an antique shop along the way.

I copied my list onto a new sheet, with columns: Days, Places to go, Distances, and Where to Stay. I grouped towns and activities into days (Friday: Kingston--Cornwall--Morrisburg with visit to Upper Canada Village--Ottawa. 117 miles. Stay Ottawa. )

I'm now at the planning stage I enjoy most. I get to decide where we'll be staying each night, and for how long. I try to imagine how we'll feel after each day. Will we want a hotel in the center of the action, or will we want a lodge by the lake? Will we arrive early enough to explore, or will that be on the next morning's docket? Which hotels offer free parking? How much extra to park at a downtown location? Should we stay in one hotel for several nights and make day trips, or do we want to try a beach cottage one night and a romantic B & B the next? I research hotels online, and read comments by recent guests. I look up bookstores and restaurants, shopping streets and tourist attractions, and find a hotel that matches up. I don't book online, because I've been stung. They take your money immediately, for the whole stay, and sometimes you can't get a refund if your plans change.

I always call the hotel directly, ask for their best rate, and then say, "Do you have anything for less?" They always do! If that price is higher than what I saw online, I tell them. They then lower it to the online price. After I've secured my rate, I ask about the room amenities, telling them I want a corner room (they are bigger), a good view, etc. and I get what I want for the best price. They hold the reservation with a credit card, but I'm not obligated and I can cancel within 24 hours with no charge.

I haunt the library and bookstores and read everything I can about where we're going. I find novels, and movies, and read a little history so I can be open to the things we'll see. I leave time for serendipity, but I like to have an itinerary. We have often changed plans in the middle of a trip because of weather, or unexpected diversions, but having a general idea of where we're going and what we want to see eliminates stress.

After the planning trip, the real travel begins. With the research propped behind me I am free to be totally flexible. We always expect the unexpected and delight in the contrasts. We see life with new eyes, appreciating both the circumstances we are familiar with, and those we're observing. We are overwhelmed with the goodness of people and the variety of lives. We gain a new perspective.

Travel is addicting. Dee and I began our life together traveling, and I hope we never stop. In fact, one of our favorite activities while we're on a trip is to start planning our next one!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Where There's Smoke

A Superhero had just dropped in on Lois Lane for an exclusive interview when I started to smell smoke. We were having a sleepover with three of the grand kids, and watching Superman as we nibbled popcorn. I stepped onto the deck to see if something was burning outside. We live on the 7th floor and have an excellent view, but there was nothing to see. I went to our apartment door and opened it to the hallway, where the smell was strong. I couldn't see smoke, but even the kids asked what was on fire. Dee has no sense of smell, so it was up to me: lonely at the top time.

There have been several times that the fire alarm has gone off in our building. Immediately all the elevators are blocked with automatic doors. The fire escape stairwell doors lock at the bottom when they close, so there's no way back inside, and no way to get upstairs. Two hundred people all rush out and stand on the sidewalk for an hour or so while security searches the building to make sure it's safe, before the elevators are re-opened. Everyone grumbles and moans about the inconvenience whenever it happens. Now, it was close to 10:00 pm, July 3rd, and I wasn't confident enough about the source of the smoke to want to cause a general evacuation and panic, but I knew I wanted my little grand kids out of there.

We all grabbed our shoes, I got my purse, and we hustled down the hall, which smelled even smokier. It wasn't as strong by the elevators. In the lobby there was no odor, and everyone was coming and going normally. I mentioned to one couple that I was concerned about a fire on the seventh floor, and they kind of laughed, and just hopped on the elevator anyway. I was starting to feel silly. The kids were very embarrassed to be in their pajamas in public, but I didn't want to go back upstairs. The office was closed, and I didn't know the number for our security people, so I took charge and called 911.

I explained the situation to the operator, and he started asking all sorts of questions. Of course, the reception on my phone was going haywire for some reason, and 4-year-old Will suddenly had to go to the bathroom. I directed his big sister to the restroom, still talking to the emergency dispatch people through the static, with my mind in commotion, and sweat dripping down my neck. Will realized he was being taken through the door labeled WOMEN, and began protesting. Luckily, 9-year-old Katy recognized the chaos of the situation, took charge and hauled him inside.

I was still on the phone with my back to the elevator when I heard a little boy go inside it to go upstairs. I flew to the elevator door and blocked it's closing, crying out to rescue Will, but it was some other little boy, (with his parents,) and my kids came out of the bathroom just then. The operator was murmuring calming words, probably thinking I was dashing into a burning room. It seemed I was a bit fired up! The passengers in the elevator briefly saw a semi-crazed woman in scrub-type pajamas running up and down the lobby with a cell phone to her ear. (Hopefully they were all visiting someone and I'll never see them again.)

Within minutes of my call we heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of the firetruck. Three firemen burst through the door, loaded with hoses, axes, and other gear. They asked directions and quickly took off to follow the smoke. In another minute or two, five more firemen arrived, fully loaded with equipment, and rushed upstairs. By then, the folks in the lobby were asking questions, and becoming concerned. Katy and Lauren reported with apprehension that the time they accidentally prank-called 911, their mom had told them it was against the law to report an emergency when there wasn't one. People can get in big trouble for it, they informed me. What if there was no fire? Would Oma go to jail? "I have an idea," Will told Opa. "Why don't we just check into another room?"

I have to admit I was actually hoping for a fire by then. I had caused quite a scene. What if it was just a piece of toast? I could tell that the kids were concerned, too; not about a fire, but about the lack of a fire. Dee was carefully supportive, keeping his options open. The fire escape hadn't been his idea, but staying inside a burning building wouldn't have been a good choice either. He'd wait and see how he felt about the whole experience when he knew the results.

After twenty minutes or so, the firemen came back down to the lobby and reported it was just somebody's burned dinner. They were so great!! They thanked me for calling it in, and said I had done the right thing. They swaggered a little for the kids, which thrilled them, and told us all never to hesitate when we suspect a fire...they want to keep us all safe, whatever it takes. They said not to feel embarrassed if an emergency isn't as bad as we'd feared. We felt relieved and comforted.

The guy in charge needed my name, phone number, etc. for his paperwork. Lauren watched while he wrote it all down, and then he told me thanks again. As he left, Lauren said, "Why did he want to know your name? Is he going to send you a check?"

In our case, there was smoke and no fire. However, tonight there are several huge fires burning in our state, which have resulted in homes being destroyed and some deaths. I am grateful for the brave, compassionate people who fight the fires and are willing to protect us all. They are true Superheroes.

Illustrations from Curious George by H. A. Rey

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Beauty Tip

You just smear it on the mirror!

Actually I have a real beauty tip. In the summer my fine, soft hair wilts before I turn off the hair dryer. I have tried so many products that just turn greasy looking or weigh down my 'do' when I get hot. So I announce my new discovery with great excitement:

Pure Abundance Hair Potion
by Aveda
$22 for tiny bottle

This is a little bottle of powder that absorbs moisture and adds volume. You can use it on damp hair, or dry, by sprinkling it on the roots, or mixing it a moment in your hands and scrunching it through. I have been sprinkling it on my roots and then throughout the day, fluffing it up. No greasy, heavy feel, like the old days when my hair laid glued to my scalp. Now I have a little bounce and volume and a cool, chic attitude all day long! Try this out! I bought it at my Aveda salon, and I know you can get it from the Aveda web site.

My main goal in advertising this stuff is to make sure they don't discontinue the perfect solution to my bad hair season just when I've discovered it. Search it out, so there will be a nationwide rush, and they'll produce a ton, which will inspire a sale, and hoarding, which will guarantee my stash of the good stuff. You'll be happy, I'll be happy and the Aveda people will put us all in magazines to show what a beautifying potion they've created. And the success and money will give us time to concentrate on developing our inner beauty, and we'll lead the way in every avenue of life. Try it!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Wear Your Paper Bag with Pride: (Blogging is Not a Waste of Time)

This is a wonderful story about a princess named Elizabeth, who was going to marry a prince named Ronald.

"Unfortunately, a dragon smashed her castle, burned all her clothes with his fiery breath, and carried off Prince Ronald. Elizabeth decided to chase the dragon and get Ronald back. She looked everywhere for something to wear but the only thing she could find that was not burnt was a paper bag. So she put on the paper bag and followed the dragon."

Elizabeth is clever and creative as she deals with the dragon. Eventually she wears him out with her resourcefulness, and she is able to rescue Ronald. She tricks him into tiring himself out so much, he lays down to sleep.

"Elizabeth walked right over the dragon and opened the door to the cave. There was Prince Ronald. He looked at her and said, 'Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.' "

Apparently Ronald would have done things differently. He was critical of how Elizabeth slayed the dragon! He doesn't even recognize that it was to his benefit. He's a fine prince, but a poor support.

I have felt so blessed that Dee sees what I do as important, and even points it out to me. He understands my ultimate goals and champions my chosen course. For example, many times I have spent the morning on the phone with one or the other of my kids, arriving at the noon hour still in my pajamas. Dee will remind me I've spent my time well, strengthening family ties. (He doesn't complain about the paper bag I'm wearing or that I smell of ashes!) He gives me credit for organizing details and routine tasks so our family interactions will run smoothly, and often points out the value of my ordinary achievements, even though he might accomplish similar things a different way.

Had Ronald been doing it, he may have killed the dragon instead of just putting it to sleep. He might have tied him up using his princely skills, or dragged him away with his white horse. But he didn't. While he was busy being captured, Elizabeth did it her way. A real prince would have congratulated her on her inventiveness, and thanked her for her ingenuity. Unfortunately for Ronald, Elizabeth was insulted at his lack of appreciation.

"Ronald, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum." They didn't get married after all.

How we slay our dragons is individual. The dragons themselves might appear unique. My own dragons have ranged over the years from loneliness, to boredom, to lack of confidence, to overwhelming responsibilities, to stifled desires for learning. I've been advised by many to slay my dragons their way. It's patronizing and insulting to be told that my way would be a waste of time, unwise or pointless. I have discovered that yoga, meditation, or tennis (while the answer for some) don't do it for me. It's empowering to be trusted to magnify my own skills. Creative writing, journaling, reading, organizing, listing, planning, are the tools I use successfully and joyfully to get my kingdom functioning efficiently for me.

When I get ready to tackle the world, and put on my dragon-slaying clothes, I am the lucky girl whose prince says, "You look beautiful in that paper bag!"

Story: Robert N. Munsch
Art: Michael Marchenko