Saturday, April 05, 2008

Adding to My Scrapbook

Every time I think about our evening in Margie and Howard's home this is what I think: I wish I had taken more pictures.

When Jim died, both Geoff and I shared an urgent need to be with family, to see everyone or as many as possible, and to enjoy the simple contact and comfort of sharing time. We feel so profoundly shaken by the loss of someone we believed we would see again soon... you know what I mean... those plans and visits that couldn't possibly be taken away?. Our families are big and dispersed in so many directions, north and south, east and west, it was a logistical maze just trying to spend time with some of them. We did pretty good. We drove north and crossed paths with my Mom and got to hang out with Bill, Alison and Dominic too. When Hans is home, safe with Gretchen, it will be imperative for all of us to get together again... I am holding my breath.

From San Francisco we flew to the Midwest. I am always happy for a visit with Geoff's grandmother, his aunts and uncles, the cousins. I know connecting with his father was deeply important to Geoff. Time and distance can take a toll and, again, we were feeling the longing to connect with the people we love, to say the loving and kind things that too often go unspoken. I think it is hard to maintain relationships, to really share the changes and trials, the good stuff, the growth, when we live far apart. It takes more effort, or a different effort. We have to compact all of the caring and attention into a concentrated time... there is not the luxury of just stopping by for a chat, or popping over to share a dinner, hang out. I am not explaining my thoughts very well, and I think it is because I am not speaking the whole truth here. We had some really good visits, and in some instances I think we could have done better. It's a process, right?

Aunt Carol is such a light. I just love her insight and warmth. She's got a laugh that is a force, like the feel of rain in the desert... it makes you want more. We were at her place for dinner. We hadn't been in her home since she was in Madison. My Mom was with us, William was a baby and we all had to huddle in the basement during a tornado! She remembered I said "They don't have to ask me twice," as I hustled downstairs, after the first warning sounded. She taught me "LOL"... I think that is fitting. She remembered William was having a road-trip birthday and she baked him a happy 17th birthday cake. Good cake. She shared the recipe, and when I bake it, I will be sure there are plenty to share it with. Good things taste even better when shared.

More time. I wish we had set aside more to spend with Paul. For one thing we underestimated how long it takes to drive through small towns, in Winter, on unfamiliar roads. It was getting late by the time we arrived. Look at his sweet house, out in the country. He's invited us back in Summer, when he says "it is so much nicer." I just know it will be funny to see his house surrounded by green, leafy trees and to be sitting on his deck, cooking out, drinking something ice cold. In winter or summer, I think Paul's home will be a welcome sight, and I will be happy to go back.

He found a good Mexican restaurant for us to go out to eat, and then we drove around Lake Winnebago. Thank goodness for ginormous rental cars, so we were all able to hunker in and see the sights together. Paul's mom pointed out their familiar places and Paul talked about his travels to Spain and Mexico, card games, and his new snow mobile. I snapped this last picture before we headed out for the drive back to grandma's. Boots. This is totally the way to go, living in the snow and cold. It's gotta be boots.

Our time in Chicago came at the end of our journey, which kind of brought us full circle. We had started out of grief and a yearning to be with family, and we had found so much pleasure and comfort along the way, that I was, in a way, caught off-guard when we got to Margie and Howard's home. We were with Jim and Ruth the first time I met Jim's sister, Margie and her husband, Howard. It was in their mother's house, Ruth M.'s home, where she showed me her wool rugs and I saw for myself the house where Jim spent much of his childhood. And as we pulled up to Margie and Howard's I felt a sadness, a mix of recollection and grief. It felt like only a few days since we were together in Hawaii and fumbling our way through the initial shock and pain of Jim's death, and now here we were, suddenly, far from the Island and still so close to the loss. I guess that is just a part of mourning, the sudden waves of sadness.

Margie fed us roast beef, and salad and mashed potatoes. Roast beef that Max declared "better" than mine, so I should ask her for a recipe and tips. Max helped with smashing the potatoes, so when I make roast beef the way he likes it, he can mash potatoes the way he learned at aunt Margie's. Here is Maria asking for something. Max is enjoying cold water... another treat he would like us to adopt in our home is recycling bottles with drinking water.

Throughout the house there were good conversations happening. I love David's story about getting back to school after a penniless adventure and hitchhiking. He laughed at the memory of the daring, and the strange coincidences. He has a good laugh. Rebecca and Mike came after work and it was a treat for me to hear about their chickens... I am partial to chickens. Grin. Sadie and Jim came in a bit later, and I hope we left them enough for their dinner. I was trying to hold Max from inhaling all of the roast beef. The whole dinner was so good. And then Margie made chocolate chip cookies. She sent Howard out for more milk for the children... no small task on a cold winter night.

So, I wish I had taken more pictures while we were there. The boys played rock, paper, scissors with Maria. Howard took the boys out to the garage, the one he built, and they got to see the old motorcycle, bows and arrows and a lot of tools. Margie showed us the basement, which made a pleasant, lasting impression on me. We got our hopes worked-up anticipating the next Pillsbury Bake-off. Alex really wanted to give it a try, and David is sure his buddy's scone recipe could take the million dollar prize. Don't you want to try million dollar scones? I do.

More time. Our flight home was the next day. Thanks to Margie and Howard's hospitality, the inviting comfort of their home, we enjoyed a full and lovely evening, one that I wish could have lasted longer. I feel a happiness for Jim... he had very nice family. He loved them, I know. If we had had more time, I would have asked him more about them, about his memories.

I respect and admire people that remember their past, their connectedness to loved ones, to the family that nurtured them, and who know how to open their homes and to make people welcome. I want to learn more, to do better, to honor family and memories, to make relationships sacred and valued. I see it's about thoughtfulness, presence, effort, and care... those qualities emanate from this home and I feel privileged to have enjoyed them. Maybe a photograph couldn't capture what I felt there... maybe the real point is that I appreciate how kind they are, how thoughtful, at ease and generous they are. Ah, but I do wish I could picture the painting hanging in the stairwell... the one with the pink dancing ladies and the funny animals.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sweet Decadence

We have the great fortune of living in a strawberry growing area, and when they are in season the strawberries are delicious, abundant and cheap. This year I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for that last part... cheap. Could it possibly be the R Word? Our government is determined to shield us from glaring truths, but we know better: These abundant, delicious strawberries are a luxury.

And every sensible mother knows luxuries are best served with chocolate. It's like a law or something. I'm pretty sure.

We let Joe run around on the lawn and we opened up Maria's recently refreshed sandbox, so she could make castles and pies. We spread a blanket on the ground. William worked in a school book and I did some sketches for a new quilt.

Max climbed around and chatted... Alex too.

And when the little chocolate cups that Alex baked were cool, we scooped big spoonfuls of strawberries into them. Our Spring picnic. Our afternoon tea. Our elegant gathering

Be real! We ate off paper plates.

Someone forgot the napkins. We did remember to wash hose off her hands.

The air was aglow with the soft afternoon light and birds sang merrily in the branches. We spoke of finer things and savored our pleasing refreshment.

Yeah, right.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lego Bricks + Imagination + Patience + Cooperation = Amazing Creations

William, Alex, Max and Maria love to create and build with Lego. I really ought to create a separate label for this topic, as it has come up before. I believe I have been listing all Lego creations under the "Talent" label, which is appropriate. But after taking photographs of just a few of Alex's creations, I realize that the subject of Legos could be its own blog. None of these creations is made from instructions or diagrams or kits... they are each a result of Alex's imagination and ingenuity and a great deal of diligence.

Using bricks and parts from the Mars Mission theme, Alex created a few new vehicles and rovers for exploring Mars. The sets have vehicles with animal names, like the beetle and a bull. Alex created a rabbit. Note the cute bunny ears. I don't think he used the word "cute." He says, "It can fit one astronaut and the upper half can rotate to allow it a wider range of vision."

"The fore and aft panels can be lifted for engine repairs."
That sounds useful, don't you agree?

I like the cute bunny profile, and the suggestion of big bunny teeth.

This is a Hazardous Environment Unmanned Heavy Lifting Vehicle or HEULV. I have an order in for a house cleaning version.

"His tongue extends to grab hazardous materials, such as explosives and radioactive waste," says Alex.

I am thinking how great this could be for scooping up dirty socks and sweeping under the dining table... talk about hazardous duty!

Here's HEULV with his grabbing tongue fully extended.

I would be proud enough to assemble things as elaborate these, but Alex does more than create interesting figures. His creations have purpose and every part has a function. His Mars Scorpion is a transporter that works in conjunction with the HEULV. "It has 6 legs, constructed using Martian technology. The front arms are for drilling and picking up energy crystals. The 3 tubes on the top can carry Martians in cryo-sleep."

"The legs can lower the hull for loading and unloading of cargo."

Check out the doors! This could be a futuristic mini-van. I'll have to ask Alex to design mine with a renewable and sustainable fuel source.

Top Secret Mystery Chest
Alex and William made this decorative and purposeful box together. William built the Eye of Horus. Alex designed and constructed the rest. The pictures do not do this one justice. I wish you could try to unlock its secret for yourself and see up close the engineering, art and ingenuity of this treasure chest.

We like Lego brick mosaics. Mosaics are a unique and beautiful use for the bricks and they take some patience to create.

Turn the box around and you may discover that 2 of the decorative pieces are keys. But keys to what?

Remove both keys and look for the keyhole to unlock the secret.

Hmmm... what have we here?

Nothing needs to be forced or yanked. If you are on the right path doors and locks open with ease. That takes masterful engineering.

Choose the right key and turn in the right direction and you are almost in.

Alex had to design, construct and reconstruct the lock at least 6 times. He wanted the mechanisms to work precisely.

A hush falls over the archaeologists...

and we are in the treasure chamber!

I think this is Max's favorite part. Max loves treasures.

Here are the tumblers. I love that Alex knows how things work. He based it off the same design used in safes. So awesome.

Riding the currents in his Steampunk Gyrocopter, Alex's future is as wide and clear as the skies he flies.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Meet Rooster

Last Fall a very small chicken came to live with us. We named our found parakeet "Steve" and we have grown accustomed to his concerts, his trilling songs and pips. But he has not grown so accustomed to us. He doesn't trust us. He doesn't want to perch on our fingers or hop over to greet us when we try to engage him in a duet. HIs best friend has been his mirror. If I had the room, if this were my house to mess with, I would build him an aviary in the garden, and since that is not an option I decided to bring him a friend. Steve has a room mate. A perch pal.

Say "hello" to Rooster.
He is quiet and just as shy as Steve. For a few days Steve stopped singing and I thought I had made a horrible mistake. We didn't want to lose the amusing whirrs and whistles from our Aussie bird. Now Steve is singing again and I think he is happy. I think they are both happy.

Benjamin? What are you doing you furry beasty?
Benjamin is a birdwatcher. He actually looked astonished when he first focused on the sight of 2 birds. A dedicated birdwatcher. He sits beneath their cottage faithfully, everyday. Patience may be a virtue, but lust is not. He really should announce himself or find another hobby. Poor unsuspecting birdies.

When posting to Chickenblog I am always curious about who is reading Chickenblog. I know from comments who comes around regularly. I know from email and from personal remarks people who visit the blog, and then every now and then I am astonished to discover other readers. I have about 20 different emotions and reactions upon hearing from someone that they saw it on Chickenblog or when they disclose something (inadvertently?) that they could only have known from reading the blog.

Well, of course I realize that this is a public forum, so I cannot rightly say that I am surprised and yet I am surprised. I am surprised that more people don't say "hello." I am still trying to work out what the other 19 emotions and reactions are, because, really, blogging and blog etiquette is whole new frontier. It's funny, I say a lot less in person than I do on Chickenblog. I guess I am more shy than not. I like to listen. With so little feedback coming in, I sometimes forget there are readers, or at least I feel like I "know" who I am addressing, and I am less concerned about total strangers (presumably they move-on when they find nothing of interest.) But when a family member says, 'I saw it on your blog' and I had no idea they read the blog, well it feels really awkward and strange to me.

Don't be shy. Say hello. Chickenblog is our front porch, our kitchen table. It's deep thoughts and other musings, an outlet for my ramblings. Things are not always neat and tidy here. I try to keep it real. Uh... on the other hand maybe you think I am nuts or weird and maybe my values clash with yours and meeting in the cyber world would only lead to uncomfortable and anxious feelings and doubts about the nature of the universe as we know it. That's cool. I can be okay with leaving things as they are.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Green, Green. Fresh and Green

Lily of the valley has more blossoms. Tiny white bells chiming fragrant notes of Spring.

Today I will continue to be guided by the list, and I will accomplish as much as I can while accepting, as so many of you noted, that there will always be more to add to life's lists. My lily, and gardening friends, are tempting me to try and make a bit of a garden outside. All past attempts have been foiled by a clumsy thoughtless dorky... by our landlord. He has unleashed untold damages on my gardening attempts that make me very sad and angry. Hope Springs Eternal?

Hopes and dreams, the stuff that keeps us moving forward.

Besides wanting to dig around in a garden, I think I will reconfigure the kitchen. A clean kitchen, purged and organized, smelling of cut limes and hot corn tortillas, is comforting and good.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Time to Ketch-Up

It is time to catch-up. I probably shouldn't even be sitting at the computer, which has very little to do with all of the things I need to do, but I am going to pretend that listing the things I need to do, will help me. Yes, that's the ticket. I need to make a list, so that my plans and ambitions are clarified and defined. No more wasted time due to confusion and aimless wandering. No more neglecting loved ones, and postponing vital errands. This is the day of focus and determination, of duty and responsibility.

I need a list and the list needs subheadings.
a. food
b. shampoo, light bulbs, shoes, toothpaste, sand
Post Office
a. send gift for Pam
b. send Tamsyn's hat, candy and money
c. send thank you to Tami
d. other
a. return text books to old school
b. turn in assignments at new school
c. figure out scheduling for state exams
a. fret
b. procrastinate
c. moan
d. face the music
e. vow to skip steps a-c next year
Car Wash
a. pre-clean
b. take vow of Car Cleanliness , repeat
a. house
b. yard
c. our bedroom (it is in the house, yet exists in another dimension)
d. teeth... etc

Yesterday we went out on a house finding mission. Let the insanity begin! It's too soon. Around here people are still holding firm to their inflated dreams of becoming independently wealthy from the sale of their cherished home appreciating asset. All's fair in love and real estate, or is it? Off topic. Sorry.

We went east. East is where you go to have a hope of finding something beautiful and affordable. So, we may be coming full circle... or more of a spiral, like a corkscrew, or just screwy... never mind. We had to go really far east, and while it was a cool and breezy day, with green hills and citrus groves in bloom, we did pause to consider the implications a move this far east would have. And while there are better deals where we went, there are not many great go for it! finds.

Next time we should leave the children with friends, and spare them the sight of 6 bedroom houses, ponds, waterfalls, barns, orange groves, play sets, swimming pools with slides, play houses, gardens, boulders, acres, big skies, and wet bars. This is not going to be easy.