Monday, December 29, 2008

Cautionary Tale

[Note: I am moderately to seriously opposed to the practice of summing up the holidays with, "so, what did you get?" It just seems a little... commercial somehow. I am at least somewhat of a hypocrite though as just a day or two ago I was more than delighted to get an update on holiday loot of a friend of the Children which allowed me to say, "really? A tattoo? And it's oozing??" Still, it's a bit of a moral stand which I am about to totally violate with not one, but two posts on What I Got This Year. Apologies all around and a massive slice of humble pie for me. Lucky it's so tasty.]

I am about to date myself.

I was alive when the final episode of M*A*S*H aired. Granted, the fact that I have a Child who graduated last year might have twigged off a few of you, but still, for the mathematically challenged among you here is one more hint that I am Old.

So, you would think that I would have been one of the billions (or so) of Americans who tuned in that night. After all, my father was a regular M*A*S*H watcher, even though my mother tended to make pointed comments about the fact that there was reference to, well, [sex] now and then and the characters did, from time to time, imbibe what appeared to be something other than grape knee-hi's. I knew M*A*S*H from the days when Klinger wore haute couture and Hawkeye still shared the tent with Trapper. For years I honestly thought that Korea looked just like Malibu, California. I loved M*A*S*H, I was raised on M*A*S*H, it was practically the only television show I was allowed to almost, maybe a little, sort of accidentally watch [note, this excludes the clandestine television watching my sister and I did whenever my parents were out of the house, a practice which involved lightning reflexes for turning down the sound {no remote} when the phone rang, and an uncanny ability to recognize the difference between tires on our driveway and those on either neighbors's]. So naturally I expected to be allowed to watch the final show, the last hurrah, the ultimate piece of M*A*S*H history.

Right.

My mother insisted that, honestly now, this was the last M*A*S*H. It would be shown over and over again. There were going to be endless chances to watch it. No big deal. Yup, I was not allowed to see it. The last M*A*S*H of all and I was doing something so vital I can't even remember what it was. 107 million people tuned in, but not me. The most watched episode in television history (still!) and I missed it.

And the thing is? I never did see that episode. All that guff about it being shown again and again and while I've managed to catch re-runs of shows I never wanted to watch in the first place the last M*A*S*H remains unseen. Which, naturally I shared with the Children recently since we were, when possible, catching out-of-order episodes now and then on whatever obscure channel is broadcasting them [note: The Children, being well raised, show the proper appreciation for M*A*S*H. This demonstrates their superior genes and their talent for enormous tact]. It is, after all, the duty of the parent to tell the younger generation of the trials we faced growing up. The Children were suitable impressed with my suffering.

Which is why there was a certain amount of suppressed excitement when it came to present-opening time on Christmas morning. Normally I can orchestrate things as I see fit but there was a perceptible tension going on and finally I was told in no uncertain terms that I Must Open Child 1's Present To Me Now.

Yup.

It had done it.

It had bought the whole thing, the complete set, the entire and total and absolute M*A*S*H collection. All of it. Including the final episode.

So on Christmas day when we were down at my parent's house I happened to mention this, probably because it gave me the opportunity to point out the Terrible Injustice of not being allowed to watch the final episode. In particular I tasked my mother with the fact that fate had not allowed me, in all this time, to ever, ever know how it all ended. To which she instantly responded with, "yes, but did you consider that it might not have ended happily?" And when I sort of gaped at her (and maybe mentioned that I was slightly more than six years old at the time), she continued, "and at that time you were drawing nothing but terribly, terribly sad clowns."

It's true. I was.

They were very, VERY sad clowns. All very much alike. With one enormous eye (heavily lashed) and a single tear just gathered at the edge. Of course, there was only one eye because I thought that guide lines and rulers were CHEATING and that real artists wouldn't use them but I couldn't manage to draw two eyes the same size. So the clowns tended to have dramatic hair sort of pasted down over the other eye area. Also there was, if I remember a tiny, tiny little mouth and maybe a couple of nostrils. Anyway, it was all very dramatic and I drew it over and over. Mostly because I wasn't actually all that good at drawing (which is why I do graphic design now) and this was one thing I had figured out. Apparently my mother felt this was Significant.

That's right, my teen rebellion consisted of drawing depressed circus performers and listening to U2 and Depeche Mode in my room. With the volume down though because my father didn't like modern music. I would sometimes sing the lyrics to Blasphemous Rumors though. But I'd feel guilty afterwords.

So, to all you Emo teens out there, just make sure you communicate with your loving and long-suffering family about how you're really just being dramatic and stuff or twenty years from now you'll be trying to impress your friends and family with how you suffered by missing out on some major cultural moment due to your perceived emotional fragility, and frankly it's hard to get respect that way.

Now excuse me, I have ten more seasons to get through before I finally get to see how it all ends.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Yule (y'all)

I am not a huge fan of those holiday boast letters - the end-of-year wrap up ones. I don't mind getting and reading 'em mind you, it's the composition of them that I'm not so keen on (and the printing. And the addressing. And the mailing. And the thinking of piles of paper waste and the net ecological effect of the additional fuel needed to physically deliver them). I don't really remember if we had a family tradition of sending those out when I was growing up. If so it might be interesting to read through the ones my mother wrote when I was a teen. I imagine them rather like, "So! Superior Aunt [to be. She wasn't the aunt YET of course but was still quite superior] has had a full year... academics... ballet... science... phenomenal achievements." Significant pause and then, "Megan is... well... there's the violin still, and the drama (on and off stage natch. Much better at off stage) and we're almost sure that if she ever FINDS the teachers's desks, the ones she's supposed to deposit her school assignments on, she just might in a few years time graduate. If she's lucky. Very. Happy Holidays!"

I suppose I could have written a nice honest letter to mail out this year, but having thought that over it would consist of 50% regurgitated blog posts (with names for relatives who might be baffled by my genderless, identity free Children), 49% aimless, purposeless wandering and 1% pure whining (it was 50 degrees yesterday - FIFTY - well after the sun went down. Bleak midwinter my dear aunt Fanny). So, out of the generosity of my heart and a sincere love for my friends and family, I decided not to go down that path. Which left the difficulty of the card/greeting/acknowledgment of polite behavior. Which meant getting creative AND doing some work.

Until!

Until I recognized that I have Children! Who are very old and reasonably clever! And to whom I have a motherly obligation to offload all tasks in order to teach responsibility and the value of slave labor! So each Child was plonked down in front of the computer, directed to the folders containing the year's photographs and allowed access to Photoshop and my Wacom tablet (with only a few relatively dire threats). Then all I had to do was work up a cover image, write my own message - denying all responsibility for the festive holiday greetings of the Children - and package the whole thing up as a PDF slide show. I'd post it here for all of you but as policy dictates I replace the heads of all recognizable offspring that would leave you with festive photographs of three of the new cabinet members sporting the following yuletide felicitations:

Child 1: "Happy Christmas with lots of love from [Child]!" *sparkle* *sparkle*
Child 2: "It's impossible to write a meaningful Christmas message while covered in dog fur...Woof!" [two footprints added in purple]
Child 3: "May your Christmas be filled with joy, laughter, peace and plenty of food! I like food! Merry Christmas!" [rabbit made of brackets, an underscore and one set of double quote]

I have no doubt all our loved ones were deeply touched. They should be grateful though, Child 1 spent a happy evening yesterday producing its alternate holiday photo which included one eye with the iris and white replaced with deep, dark, nothingness, one eye weeping a small but tasteful amount of blood and a cropped in version of a sibling's head sitting in a cereal bowl ready to be consumed. Nothing says holiday spirit like flesh eating zombies say I.

The Children did point out that our holiday card, while stylish, did lack one thing - a photo of me. This is quite true and also quite intentional. However in the spirit of fairness (and thanks to the tireless and remarkable efforts of my parents) I give you me, just after wrapping the last million bajillion presents:


Hope everyone's holiday has (so far) been happy, if exhausting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sitting

Technically Child 2 has a house-sitting job over the winter break.

Practically it's a two dog sitting job with the house as an optional extra. Child 2 is, one could say, slightly dog-centric on these things. Unfortunately there was a slight disconnect between the day the house-sitting job started (today) and the last day of school/final exams (tomorrow) so for this evening we're actually all dog sitting and the house is left to get up to god knows what all. It's probably throwing wild house parties all alone up there. (Don't waste pity on the Children - they've lived with me for years and are used to the dreadful jokes)

So this evening our house of four is stretched to fit in one mutt (street variety - the sort of dog coloured mid-ranged mutt that you see as local color in all the artsy photographs from around the world) and one terrier type (the sort that seems to have run into a wall at full speed, forcing its nose up and making up for it in the ear department).

I had planned a nice simple dinner for myself - olives, bread, nice bit of cheese... mmmmm... and while I'm totally capable of avoiding the reproachful stares of my Children (don't judge. I hand out just enough tiny morsels of Manchego to appear terribly beneficent while still hogging the lion's share) it was disconcerting to turn from my perusal of the latest copy of Advanced Photoshop (I said DON'T JUDGE. And Child 2 you can swallow that 'Geek' comment that was trickling out of your lips, thanks) and see two pairs of melting brown eyes earnestly fixed on my face... well except for the telltale flicker towards the hunk of cheese still on my plate.

The mutt is a pragmatist. She worked the eyes for about two minutes before deciding there were richer pastures to be found snuffling under the cupboards (I SWEPT thanks, dog) and looking appealingly at Child 2 for consolatory ear scratching. The terrier however was made of sterner stuff. He started with the melting eyes, head cocked to one side. Then he started to hold one pathetic paw up off the cold, hard kitchen floor, touching it down now and then just to see if the pain was too great to bear. When that didn't produce results he coughed gently and began a keen, far back in his throat and barely audible - just a mournful little dirge to the death of his last little hopes.

I'm not totally heartless, it did get to me of course. That's why I hollered for Child 2 to come and take the little fur ball on a walk.

In the cold, dark, windy night.

On the positive side, I think I've discovered which Dickensian characters I most admire.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow

It doesn't snow here.

Well, that's not quite true. It snows, if we're lucky, once a year. That's real snow, snow that sticks and stays and really means it. More usually we get a few flurries that spend more time just getting down out of the sky then they do on the ground. Optimistic children looking at the clouds in the evening and hoping for school closure are lucky to wake up to anything more than damp pavement. On the rare days when there are a few inches accumulated you have to act fast to take advantage. I remember as a kid finding a white yard one morning and deciding to build a snow man with my sister. We carefully rolled up the snow, working back and forth across the yard to collect every scrap. At the end the lawn was cleared of snow and we had a two foot stack of slightly wonky snowballs, all sporting a thick coat of straw colored Bermuda grass. By the afternoon the other houses had lost any snow that wasn't sheltered under deep shade and our snowman only survived, slightly reduced, thanks to his insulating layer of vegetation.

We all love snow in this family (we like rain too really; if it's damp and comes from the sky we're generally in favor). While we are grateful for the relief from the heat of summer, it's hard not to get frustrated that the blue, dry skies carry on into the winter.

But yesterday, in the morning, I looked up from my monitor to see two tiny flakes not exactly falling, more wandering in a random but generally downward direction. I looked away. There's no point getting worked up about two flakes, not here. Two flakes practically makes a flurry and then you're done. Twenty minutes later though there were definitely more flakes, no bigger of course and no more hurried as they meandered downward, but distinctly more. Two hours later my window showed a steady, gentle scatter of flakes, flakes that were starting to outline the tree branches and cling to the rougher places on the stucco wall. It's not the kind of snow that generally lasts long - usually the sun burns through the clouds some time in mid day and by four everything has melted. This stayed. It snowed all day, all afternoon, melting mostly on the streets because of the heat of the cars, but covering everything else in an inch or so of snow.

We all spent the day commenting on it. It's snowing! Really coming down... Were you out in it? I think it might be sticking.

Driving home, carefully, past the local drivers who reacted either by ignoring the road conditions entirely or by slowing to a five mile an hour crawl and stopping entirely several yards before any light or stop sign, I enjoyed the way even the tattoo artist's sign with its crawling brunette and tempting suggestion that people stop in to ask about tattooed toenails (I've never had the courage) was transformed, slightly, by its dusting. By late that night the day was capped when the announcement was made that the schools and the university were all on at least a two hour delay.

We woke up to find the melt already begun, the roads were slushy but drivable, the snow dropping off bushes and trees in great sodden lumps. But already we're hoping

maybe it will snow again tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lit

You know those regional products? The ones you find in local stores that you don't really think about (if you were raised in the area) but suddenly take a good look at and really wonder what the rest of the world would make of them? I glanced across the street the other day and the sight of one of those products proudly displayed on my neighbor's lawn struck me suddenly, and I wondered what some poor stranger dropped into this area would think when faced at the nearest GargantuaMart with this:



I would like to have taken a picture of them in all their glory but that would have meant setting up the tripod on my slanty drive (or risking life, limb and far more importantly my precious, precious camera in the street) and then hoping he didn't notice as I sat in the cold for half an hour trying to capture just the right image. It's a shame, because the images I've found on-line for these "electric bags of light" (and if that isn't an appealing product name...) are mostly from a distance where they look something like this:



Not bad, right? Slightly appealing? But take a closer look:



Yes. It's a brown plastic sleeve surrounding a wire frame and a light bulb. Or, in my neighbor's case, it's sixteen brown plastic sleeves and two bare bulbs shining away at the end.

I've tried to explain luminarias before to non-local friends, and it's a bit difficult. You take a brown paper bag - one of those lunch bags. Carefully fold it down about an inch or so at the top. Some people like to do a narrow, double fold, some like to do a single wider fold. It's practically impossible to fold it at all without tearing it a bit but, come on, it's a brown paper lunch bag and what are you going to do? Next, put an inch and a half or so of sand (around here it's fairly easy to come by - check the vacant lot next door). Too much sand and the bottom will tear when you try to lift the thing, too little and the next step won't work. Place one (1) luminaria candle inside, the sand stabilizing it beautifully. Repeat several dozen times. Sounds a bit odd, and I assure you that in the cold, harsh light of day it looks... well, like thousands of brown paper bags lining the sidewalks.

So, six of one etc? Plastic sleeve vs dirt filled paper sack? But to those with luminaria-know it's important to recognize the difference.

There're the bags of course. Flimsy little things, but it's essential that they're brown paper. I won't get all technical on the sand - any sand will do. My father actually set up a trolley and a ramp so he could use the stuff in the half-excavated part of our basement. But the really important thing is the candle. I only know those candles as luminaria candles - short fat little things that will burn for hours. They come in blue boxes for some reason, two dozen to a box.

Some of them will have faulty wicks, wicks that flop over after only a few minutes and slowly gutter out. Some will burn for a while but grow dimmer and dimmer and finally drown in their own wax. A few will get too enthusiastic and burn like mad, wasting their fuel in one glorious rush for the finish.

When the people walk the streets someone will inevitably nudge a bag the wrong way, or the sand will be put in unevenly so the candle topples over and the paper will catch fire, leaving a strange dark gap in the even rows. In the morning when the show is over and the bags are just bags again, slightly crumpled now with a small puddle of wax congealed around the aluminum diamond that anchored the wick, the burnt ones will be just a neat rectangle of sand.

It's hard work doing it. My father recycles his from year to year. We used to be the only house on the whole tour with sad, bunched up, wrinkled little bags. He's perfected the art now though and in the garage, carefully stashed away, are neat boxes filled with perfectly stacked bags - five to a stack, the sides aligned precisely so they slide out easily. Other neighbors hire seasonal workers who come in pick up trucks filled to the bumper with stacks and stacks of bags.

The kids help a lot at those houses without hired workers. They come out in mid morning when everyone sets out the bags, play in the wheelbarrows that are used to cart the heavy, sand filled bags safely around. They follow behind as the bags are placed, setting up candles and prying the wicks out of the wax to make them easier to light. Just before dusk you can hear them all begging to please use the lighter; luminarias are marvelous at the pyromaniac age. Before we had trigger lighters we used long candles, carefully sheltering the flame as we dipped and rose from one bag to the next. Now, with a careful eye from the adults, the kids are allowed to light a few at the far end of the lighter. Some families set up outdoor braziers to sit around and roast marshmallows. Others have worked all week to prepare enormous amounts of food for open houses as friends and neighbors move from house to house. The next day it all has to be dismantled and carted away (or stored for the next year). Hours of work.

But from dusk until well after midnight on Christmas Eve those bags are transformed into small, golden brown lanterns - thousands of them circling trees and parks, picking out the flat-roofed architecture and the pattern of the neighborhood streets with warm, flickering light. It's a soft glow, the regular rectangle of the bag just visible as light against the darker ground, at the base a brighter halo where the candle sits. Cars and motorcycles and tour buses inch slowly past and you can see where someone walks as their silhouette blocks the lights in regular progression down the street

Because you can't do it with plastic sleeves and light bulbs. You have to earn magic.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Clarification

Dear Young Man Who Came to the Door Yesterday,

First, I'm terribly sorry that after the first five minutes of watching you stand in the wide open doorway thus allowing the (expensively) heated air to go bless the lives of the sparrows on the drive I went back to the work I was doing on my computer and only glanced up now and then. I'd like you to know that it wasn't just that you were spending that time telling me how much you hated my neighbors and how little you wanted to be doing what you were doing - it was that you were missing a front tooth and frankly, that makes me feel like my skin is trying to crawl off my body.

Second, when you asked your clearly canned and prompted question about my job, obviously in an effort to imply that you really were doing something to better yourself (rather than being used as slave labor by a corrupt and exploitative organization), I did try to explain what it is I do. When you responded with, "well, but, I mean, how do you design the web? Isn't it already up there?" and then suggested that I must be, "real smart, huh?" I felt you wouldn't recognize the irony in my response. I was right. This does make me feel, I'm afraid, that your stated chosen occupation of school teacher might be just a bit ambitious on your part. However, I do wish you luck with that.

Thirdly, when you invited yourself into my house (at least allowing us to close the door) and proceeded to try to "sell" me a volume from a set of books which I could happily donate to a local charity (without ever seeing it) based on a) guilt and b) your clearly scripted patter I want you to know that my response would have been the same to any t-shirt clad, dentally challenged person: no. I don't buy stuff in this way. I'm sure this placed me firmly with my neighbors on your long, long list of Not Nice People but I'm afraid that I cannot hope that you managed to find the 50 Nice People you had been tasked to find as you worked your way down the block.

Finally, I think you might want to take a closer look at the promised reward you told me about; you know, the one this fine organization that sent you out on a cold December day said you could earn? You said that you got points for every book bought and donated, yes? And that all you had to do was earn 350,000 points and you would get $5,000. Then you pulled out a cheap piece of paper with a list of about 20 titles, each with a point value next to it (yes, I did notice you didn't show me the cost for each book, but hey if I'm helping build a young man's public speaking prowess AND giving some homeless kids one more cheap copy of Bible Stories for Children I don't suppose one can really put a price on that) and I couldn't help but see that the highest point value on there was 50. Just wondering. Did you crunch those numbers at all? Let's take a look at it.

You need to earn 350,000 points. Let's be generous and assume that you have some Very Nice People indeed who only choose 50 point books. So, 350,000/50. That's 7,000 books. We'll go ahead and further assume that you manage to get an order for every five doors you knock on. And hey, I'm being generous so I'll even let you assume it's a consistent TWO book order. Now, you spent ten minutes at my house and didn't get to go all the way through the sales portion of the pitch, but maybe ten minutes is a nice, round number. Five doors times ten minutes is fifty minutes. We'll tack the extra ten minutes on for walking which means you make 100 points per hour. Which means you need to spend 70 hours walking the streets, knocking on doors and making your pitch in order to make your goal. Two weeks work (well, minus ten hours, but work with me). On the one hand, $2,500 a week is pretty good pay, particularly at your age.

However.

The organization that sent you out, the one providing the books, let's just guess that they're making a profit of... say... $5.00 on each book. You sell 7,000 which means they get $35,000 off of your work. Of course, I didn't see the price list you understand, but I can sort of imagine that they might charge something like $20 for a book and if these are the sorts of books I'm thinking about I just might guess that the profit margin is even higher.

And then let's just imagine for a moment that you didn't make your goal. That you, and the other teens I saw out walking the streets yesterday, somehow don't get to that magic number. Do you get paid anything then for the time you put in? Or is it all just down to experience.

I know I feel I've learned something.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rebel

The Male Child had a bit of a shout the other day. Geometry: specifically proofs. Also teachers who assign 32 problems but only grade a random 5. Totally with the Male Child on that second one.

But not the first.

I love geometry - love it, and the proofs were the best part. I loved the logic of it, the fun of building up a watertight argument based on simple principles. I loved that you start with one line and add another and the complexities spiral out in a gorgeous pattern, with the proofs underlying it all as a word-constructed skeleton.

Male Child thinks I'm nuts. Male Child couldn't disagree more strongly - or loudly. Male Child feels that proofs are The Man (okay, the woman - teacher is female) trying to dictate how it thinks. Male Child was rather eloquent (if noisy) on the subject of intellectual freedom and integrity.

I'm down with that.

But the Male Child then starting bad-mouthing my man Euclid and we do not trash talk Euclid. Not in this house, man. Nor do we disparage Archemedes (dude! The guy ran naked down the street shrieking "I have found it!" out of the sheer excitement of discovery and invention! Doesn't get better than that).

So I might have gotten a bit passionate about just why Euclid and his lines and circles were so damn cool. Look kid, I said (or words like that), this guy was discovering laws and precepts about the world - think about it, laws and precepts that were not based on the supposed desires of some dude on a mountain with a questionable concept of marital fidelity. They weren't handed over by a chap in a stone building with a sharp knife and a thing for barbecue. Euclid was seizing control of the world by figuring out how to describe the abstract and then using that description to predict the material - just him and his brain, no gods, no priests, no political leaders. His geometry gave him and his friends the ultimate in intellectual freedom and integrity and made them the ultimate rebels. James Dean in Peloponnesus baby - probably wore a black leather chiton and had white-walls on his chariot.

The Male Child might not have been totally convinced, but it did sit down to do its homework.

Next week's lecture: Newton: Fifty Chat Up Lines from the Inventor of Calculus.

Monday, December 08, 2008

coiffed

One of the female Children has been dithering for a few weeks about that terrifying topic - hair cuts. This particular Child has had long hair since it was five and first started growing it out. Once a year it would get impatient and decide it was NEVER going to have super-duper long hair, grab a pair of scissors and lop off its mane at just below shoulder length. But short hair? Really truly short hair? Not since it was in kindergarten.

This particular Child inherited my hair - curly when its short, frightening tendency to frizzy when long unless cossetted and pampered and (often) pleaded with to JUST BEHAVE. So hair cuts are a serious matter. In my opinion the whole thing should go like this: a) consider getting hair cut. Like, for several months b) get to point of irritation with current hair enough to look at a few styles online c) get further to point of thinking about maybe actually making an appointment d) repeat a-c with small variations in amount of whining vs amount of dithering e) gird up loins and make appointment f) remember what happened last time hair was cut short - DISASTER, suffer massive panic attack, cancel appointment and sigh with relief that while hair is unmanageably long there are such things as hair ties in the world and they are good.

Child clearly had not read the manual. It thought about a hair cut, it looked up a few things and then it hopped itself off and had the darn hair lopped off! It arranged to have its long, long hair donated to Locks of Love and without even a sideways glance at mandatory Hair Cutting Fear it waved goodbye to 14 or so inches. And - and here's where reality is genuinely stretched - it looks FABULOUS. Sweet and darling and pretty and everything - and frighteningly older. Child even admits that this is true, admits it to the point that yesterday it allowed me to take pictures of it. From the front. Without putting its hands in the way, or ducking at the last minute (leaving me with fourteen shots of very blurred top-of-Child-head). It even smiled.

One more note. The Male sibling had been warned that this Child was thinking about lopping off its hair. When it came back home the Male looked blandly in the Child's eyes and began telling a long, long, LONG involved story about its afternoon. Finally the Child and I, exasperated, pointed meaningfully at the new do. The Male looked at us calmly, said, "Oh, yes I noticed. So, ANYway..."

The Female sibling had no warning at all, came home that evening, began telling a long involved story about its day, glanced over at the short-haired Child stopped completely mouth agape and said, "but you look so BEAUTIFUL! And it's so CUTE and it's... and... and..."

We never did hear what happened to the Female sibling, but I can tell you all about what the Male did.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Girded

Tree retrieved from garage rafters by long-armed Child balancing precariously on chair and resting said tree on head of its sibling helper

Decorations finally run to earth in bin (after Children insisted they were nowhere to be found - bin had been misleadingly labeled "Christmas")

Egg nog poured into festive martini glasses and drunk

Crackers pulled, Male Child mocked for finding a lipstick case in its cracker, stupid jokes read and appreciated, paper crowns donned

Child 1 ensconced on couch due to exhaustion and allowed to dole out decorations to the decorators

Ornaments held up and admired, stories told about places of acquisition, favorites chosen and extolled for their virtues (I still love our moose snowflake and the white heron that bobbles its head)

Usual ponderance on why we keep: 1 scrunched paper ball with red and green dots drawn on (creation of Child 1), 1 key chain with cheap aluminium soccer ball on, one clay representation of a dog, missing two limbs and carefully painted with red fingernail polish. Said "ornaments" are then placed on the tree anyway

This year's ornament, small pottery blue bird in honor of the dozens of jays we see on our hikes, carefully hung to best effect.

Irritating tin "icicle" tinsel thingies retrieved from box and hung on tree where they will only stay for fifteen minutes before leaping off and spreading over the entire house

Effort to decipher pre-lit light plug system which results in bottom tier of lights working beautifully while rest of tree remains firmly dark. Looks a little like the tree is wearing a lace petticoat. Pre-lit lights abandoned.

Multi-colored light strand artistically arranged by Child 3 to wind up tree like a garland. Effect is remarkably attractive and Child 3 is lauded for its efforts. Child 3 will spend next three days un-winding and re-winding lights

Decorators, still adorned with paper crowns, collapse on soft surfaces to lap up more egg nog and bask in the beauty of their efforts. Dr Who episodes put on to provide ambiance (because nothing says tree-decorating-day like two hours of creepy little kids in gas masks cooing, "are you my mummy?")

Okay holidays, I think we're ready for you.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thankfulled

Ahhhhhh...

Four days.

Four LOVERLY days

of offness

that is, off work

and with these used-to-be-short people of whom I'm rather fond.

Was good.

Also dinner with parental types of whom I'm also rather fond.

Also good.

There was the torn moment on Thursday morning when we all realized it was raining, because on the one hand we LIKES rain and we needs it (it hasn't rained in weeks and weeks and weeks) but on the other hand we was going to hike Thursday with Child 1 who had only Thursday off all weekend (moment of silence for poor Child 1 who worked Black Friday and Charcoal Grey Saturday and Smoke Grey Sunday) and as the place we hike is a canyon washy thingy (Arroyo) with rather steep mountains all around it we felt it was probably not wise to go traipsing up the sandy dry creek bed all things considered. So we lolled around and slept in (some of us - I've lost my sleep-in button and don't know where to find it) and generally spent the morning being Thankful For Days Off.

Which led to Day 2 of general lolling (more rain) BUT Day 3 and Day 4 of hiking and THEN lolling about which was marvelous.

Granted there was the sad, sad moment last night when we realized it was now the end of the holiday weekend and Monday was looming, but all things considered? We'll call it four days off well and truly seized.

And for that we are truly thankful.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitide - no grudge involved

The Excellent Anna (she who is Boaty) has saved the day really as I wanted to write something about genuine, real, ungrudging gratitude but without walking straight into ooey gooey sentimentality (which I reserve for the privacy of my own home, thanks - my Children have much to fear) and fortunately she came up with the brilliant idea of writing about why I'm grateful for my blog.

so

- I'm grateful for my blog because it gave me a place to reclaim a story that had been taken away from me.

- I'm grateful for my blog because it allowed me to carve out a small place where I had some control at a time when I felt totally powerless.

- I'm grateful for my blog because writing my story has helped me find it again, and be willing to find a story past it.

- I'm grateful for my blog because it has let make friends I would never have otherwise met, and renew friendships I had lost.

There are many other things as well, but I think that will do for now, particularly as I need to cook the Brussels sprouts and the corn and give the apples a quick stir.

Hope your day is full of reasons to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gratitude. Grudgingly

It is the time of year to be grateful. I suppose. Yesterday I was too busy looking for that darn turtle to come up with something to be grateful for, and to be honest today hasn't been the most inspiring. However, I refuse to buck tradition, so I present, today's gratitude.

My job recently did a bizarre sort of mitosis sort of thing, only with a bit of mutation. So I have twice the job I did before only the new bit isn't the same as the old bit. There are two problems with this. A) The new job is gobbling up my proper job and B) I frankly don't really enjoy the new job. This is mostly because i) it is tedious and ii) unlike my proper job where people are quite likely to be terribly grateful and tell me I'm brilliant (well, now and then) with the new job people are more likely to be fractious and tell me I'm too slow (which is generally Not My Fault but is the Nature of the Job). All of which means I have tended to come home somewhat grouchy, which is a little hard on those I live with. The Children are nice enough to say that no, I'm not really grouchy, well okay yes, I am a little, oh all right quite a lot, but they LIKE me that way. Note to self: need to write better scripts for Children entailing much more flattery and considerably less honesty.

However at a recent meeting it was pointed out to my colleagues and I that we are not simply being asked to do considerably more work for no extra pay no! We are, and this is important, Not Being Laid Off.

Which pretty much puts me in my place because I know that's a hell of a lot more than many people can say. So, with rather more grace than I might have previously mustered, at this time, in this place I am grateful to be fully employed.

Grouchy or not.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Seeing the Turtle

There's a graffiti artist around where I work who does its thing entirely in stencils. I have mixed feelings about this. I'm rather opposed to graffiti in general on the grounds that destruction of another's property is Not Right. I do recognize that there are some amazing artists out there doing remarkable work - and sometimes on derelict buildings which considerably softens my aforementioned stance. However, this person is using stencils, which is cheating just a little (except it's possible these are hand-cut stencils which adds a few points in the positive column). What's more, they're really not terribly artistic stencils in general - this morning's was a unicorn; a few months ago "Thank Heavens for Little Girls" was sprayed over the pavement with a little halo over one of the words.

Some time last year my boss and I were out on the morning coffee hunt and, hunt successful, were heading back to our building when she pointed out a green splodge on the wall.

"I like that one," she said, sipping her overly-hot pinon coffee.

"Really?" I looked at it carefully and back at her. It wasn't the best effort I'd seen. It had taken me a week just to work out what it was. It certainly wasn't her usual sort of thing.

"Oh yes," she said. "I like turtles!"

I looked again. It could be a turtle. Maybe. If you really, really tried. And sort of squinted. The gun turret could be a sort of wonky, skinny head and the treads could be splodgy feet maybe. The body was a bit angular too, seeing as it was a tank. I pointed this out to her and she stopped completely to stare at the green splodge.

"Is not," she declared firmly. We stood there for a minute while she studied the wall seriously. "Oh. Oh, I see now. I don't want it to be a tank! I like turtles. I'm going to see a turtle."

I went to bed last night with the beginnings of a cold and it's no better this morning. I can't be sick this week no matter what since there are seventy-leven projects which all have major fiddling to do on them. The ignition on the Scootah is acting up and won't accept the key no matter how much I cajole. Driving in to work this morning some idiot very nearly almost totally ran into me and I'm going to be very, very late getting home since I had to park miles away from work and will have to walk back and THEN wrestle with rush-hour traffic.

But yesterday Child 2 & Child 3 and I hiked fourteen miles, getting all the way to the peak (well, A peak anyway) and taking 15 minutes off our previous best time. The Children leaped and scrambled and worked their way into impossible crevices in the rock and rather than offer to help extract them I laughed and took pictures. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful hike and when we got back we collapsed for a bit and then watched Dr Who. Child 2 and I bustled over to Child 1's work to keep it company over its break and generally cheer it up (it's been working rather too hard these days). When it came home, totally excited, it told us that it had that very evening made coffee for and chatted with one of its major childhood heroes.

I think I'll remember yesterday instead of grousing about this morning. I think I'll try at least for today to see the turtle, not the tank.

It's the best thing to do on a blue Monday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wroth

Lo! There was smoting!

Colloquially that would be, "We done been smitified."

I was happily working away on my computer when there was a "ffffZZZZZPT" noise and the computer turned off. And no, naturally I hadn't just saved any of the four files I was working on. I did, however, remain quite calm and cool and dignified AND I didn't use any of the more descriptive words in my vocabulary. I might have blinked for a minute or two at the now cold, dead screen in the slightly delusional belief that Computers Which Die Can Also Therefore Live. Then I wandered sadly into the hallway because basically without my computer I have no purpose.

Which is where I learned that I was not alone because immediately two other people piped up with, "hey, did your computer just..."

Smiting, you see.

For the righteous sat smugly in front of their working machines while the wicked multitudes sort of swarmed around speaking blasphemy about award winning buildings that couldn't keep the power on. We even had outer darkness in the copy room.

In the end the rain fell upon the just and the unjust alike though because after about an hour four small electric carts and one large truck pulled up downstairs and the nine assorted physical plant workers strode around looking dubious and finally called us up to let us know we were being evacuated. Which, when you're dealing with a hundred or so academic types is far easier said than done as you have to keep chasing them back out again when they wander up for just one more book or that really, really vital pile of papers they might suddenly need. The students, however, were done, dusted and gone in two minutes flat.

Tomorrow if the electrics deity hasn't relented I'm going to spend my morning calling the building to repentance.

Heck, I need something to do without my computer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

defense

Child 2 is a high tensile sort of Child - always has been. As an infant it had to be swaddled incredibly tightly just to get it to calm down and sleep or its wiry little arms would work free and literally wind it back up just by their gyrating action. It has a hair-trigger to this day and great amusement can be had by innocently walking up behind it and saying hello. Granted you have to do it from a safe distance as sometimes Child 2's hair trigger expresses itself as an instinctive sort of judo-flipping kind of thing (no, really, it has laid out several close friends at school entirely accidentally simply because they startled it).

Child 2 also makes very entertaining meeping noises when you tickle it (Child 2 right this moment is bellowing I DO NOT MEEP. It meeps). It's siblings are banned from tickling (it's a universal sibling-wide ban for the sake of Peace in Our Times), but natch I'm the Parent and I have rights and privileges [note: I'm not a monster. I totally only tickle Child 2 when I'm bored as is right and proper]. Child 2 is kind enough to make an effort not to judo-flip or otherwise maim and injure its parent, leading to a certain amount of creativity in its Anti-Tickle efforts.

Which is why this weekend when I surprised it one evening it flipped on its back, showed all of its claws and roared in the Voice of Jehovah:

I WILL WHINE AT YOU!!!

Worked though. I totally didn't tickle it.

Well, not until I stopped laughing anyway.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Paper Trail

For various (and sundry) reasons I've been busily going through old files the last couple of weeks. This includes an entire set with enticing labels like: "Army, orders," "Army, Pay," "Army, Awards," and - apparently when I was more than sick of the job - "Army Forms, STUPID." There's another set for the Air Force as well although I don't seem to have made editorial comments on those. Mixed in there was a DD Form 214 (DD for Department of Defense - all the army and air force stuff is DD something-er-other) which is Kirk's CERTIFICATE OF RELEASE OR DISCHARGE FROM ACTIVE DUTY.

Kirk spent about nine or ten years in the active military - four years plus some spare change in the army and five years in the air force. As a lowly Lt (and later Capt) in the air force he used to get funny looks from other officers when he wore his ribbons [for non-military types awards usually come with three pieces (at least those that have a medal attached): a large medal, a small medal for wearing with the dress mess uniform, and a little ribbon swatch wrapped around a piece of brass that is then slid onto a rack that can be pinned to the shirt or jacket]. He quickly stopped bothering with most of them and only wore the few he felt were worthwhile.

Along with a lot of other varied information the DD 214 includes section 13: Decorations, Medals, Badges, Citations and Campaign Ribbons Awarded or Authorized. Kirk's spills into section 18: Remarks. In his time in service he was awarded:

Air Force Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal with 1 device, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award with 1 device, Air Force Training Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Air Force Overseas Long Tour Ribbon, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award with 1 Device, NATO, AFEM, Kosovo Campaign Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Meritorious Service Medal.

He thought many of these were funny - like the Hey! You Didn't Get Kicked Out Yet! Awards and what he referred to as the Thanks For Playing Medal (Army Good Conduct). He was genuinely proud of his Air Force Achievement Medal and his Joint Service Commendation Medals. He had mixed feelings about the Army Achievement Medal and the Kosovo Campaign Medal.

We still have most of the certificates that came with the important ones. They come in blue padded plastic folders with a gold-sealed certificate on one side and a blurry, badly printed letter on the other. They aren't terribly detailed, the important ones, just talking about valuable service and sort of general comments about really good work.

I only know bits and pieces of the stories behind them - the parts Kirk felt he could tell me or the funny things that happened around them.

Everything else is just this simple list.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fireworks

I went to bed early last night, leaving the Children to watch the results coming in (mandatory school work - they HAD to watch television). I had just reached that almost-but-not-quite asleep moment, that magical moment when you're drifting off but you don't know it yet, that moment where if something should happen to startle you awake you're pretty much resigned to another half hour before you manage to achieve that state again. It was that moment, the moment when the election was so close as to be nearly almost totally already called for sure (it's a technical political phrase) that there were three huge flashes outside accompanied by incredibly loud, startling bangs.

So I lay in bed, jerked completely awake, and smiling.

Because there were fireworks in my neighborhood.

Fireworks over an election.

Fireworks because people were happy - happy about politics.

I think that's worth losing a little sleep over.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Did you vote yet? Did you? [yes, those from other parts of the world you can ignore this one, I'm being 'Merka-centric for the moment] 'Cause you know if you don't vote you don't get to whinge about the government AT ALL for the next four years. [well, less on some things, but let's focus]

Just think! At the end of the day today a miracle will happen. An honest to goodness, realio trulio miracle.

Yes.

Election campaign ads, irritating flyers thrust through doors, pollsters on the phone during dinner, door-to-door types with clipboards and brochures all will be OVER.

At least until the next time.

So do get out and vote.

Now, if you don't mind I'm going to go sit in a nice calm darkened room and stuff my fingers in my ears until the results are announced.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Enlightenment

On today's hike:

Child 1: Hmmm... the trail forks here.

Me: Yes, but see that one goes that way and this one goes this way. [slight pause for thought] That is the Way of the Trail.

Child 1: [with deep respect] You are wise in the Way of the Trail!

Child 2: [disgusted as we snort] You are just so weird.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Flashback

No time today so I thought I'd cheat and just post this photo I found the other day. I was going through a box - a box I'd put off going through for ages. The kind of box that starts out holding non-vital but important stuff that should be sorted and saved and filed and generally organized and ends up collecting more and more such items, always with the intention that yes, when I have a moment I'll definitely properly go through that box.

Yes, well it only took four months! Anyway, among a wide assortment of things I found this. Terrifyingly young weren't we?

April 9th, 1988

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hike II

That week sort of got away from me!

We went back out to the mountains the next day. We used to have a family saying. If your knees are stained green, it's a good day. If you caught a grass snake, it was a good day. Now we can add if, only fifty yards into the hike you look up the hill and see this:

It's a very good day indeed.

We planned on heading up the canyon and then we would take a pretty steep trail to a rocky peak Child 3 and I had hiked to the week before. Except... three people who are all rather more interested in finding the fresh tracks of the coyote we had just seen - and keeping a sharp eye out for any snakes that might be trying to catch the early morning sun - aren't, it turns out, entirely capable of actually finding a trail. Which is why, about an hour into the hike, we realized we had somehow missed the small turn-off that would have taken us to that particular peak.

We could have turned around and tried to see where we went wrong but instead we looked up at the slopes around us and decided to simply go off trail for a while, choosing a peak at random to head for. I should point out here that going off trail in a desert mountainscape isn't something that should be done stupidly - and we didn't. We were going up one face - never changing sides or moving around a slope which meant the dry creek bed that would lead us back to the foot of the main trail was always going to be in the same direction and would, for much of the hike, be visible. Because of the landscape there weren't any forests to get turned around in either so while we were off trail we were certainly not lost.

It was good fun too - lots of scrambly rocky bits and a fair amount of rethinking paths and plans thanks to unfriendly looking cacti or tenacious scrubby bushes. I was rather too busy keeping three points of contact with the quite slanty and often slippery slope we were fighting up to take photos, but we did have a nice little moment with this little guy:

who was nice enough to glare at me long enough to get the camera out.

I was rather chuffed at wrestling myself up the increasingly precarious boulders but finally, faced with a crevasse that had to be leapt starting from a steeply slanted boulder and ended in a vertical face which could (as that darn Male Child demonstrated) only be climbed by wedging various body parts into a three inch crack and sort of wriggling up out of sheer determination. I sat down and admitted total and utter chicken-hood, announcing a little plaintively that I was SCARED OF HEIGHTS and this was one too much, darn it. The Children were very kind - except when Child 3 said cheerfully, "I know! Me too! I'm MORBIDLY afraid of heights!" It enthusiastically jumped across several massive gaps about twenty feet above my head and went on, "I've just learned to ignore it!"

Yes, thanks Male Child.

Still, we had gotten ourselves within a few yards of the actual top, high enough to look down and see this:



And, with only a few dodgy moments, we made it back down all in one piece as well.

Sometimes losing the path, at least only for a little while, can be a good thing.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hike I

Hiking used to be important. Very important. Hiking was one of The Important Things when I met Kirk. It was a passion with him - he spent most weekends up one mountain or another. He and his friends had a New Girlfriend Test that involved taking the poor hapless girl up the side of the mountain to see if she a) knew how to dress for a hike b) whinged and c) looked halfway decent after being dragged 15 miles up a rock face. I nearly didn't pass thanks to the fact that I Do Not Do Heat but was given extra points for not complaining and still completing the hike.

Kirk knew the hiking trails around this city intimately. He had his favorites for different times of the years or different activities. There were places that were excellent for day hiking, trails good if you only had an hour or so in the afternoon and hidden bits, off the track that let you pack in a tent, large amounts of food and a frisbee - all the necessities to stay a night or two.

When the Children and I moved back here we weren't living very close to the mountains. It made it easier to make excuses for not making the effort, for not doing this or really any of the other things that had been so very important.

Then we moved a little closer, the Sandias sitting not in our backyard but far more reachable somehow than they had been when we were eight miles further away. They are part of the great Rocky Mountain chain that ripples right through the Southwest - great blue masses (at least at a little distance) craggy and pointed and young. There they were, turning brilliant pink in the sunset to earn their name (Sandia is Spanish for watermelon), collecting the clouds on the few rainy days and reluctantly sharing the moisture. But it was the summer and, you know, I Do Not Do Heat, so that was where they stayed.

Except.

It seems hiking is still very important - to Children who take survival classes for dangled prospect of an overnight camp, who come home full of busy plans when various group leaders lose their minds just enough to decide they are willing to take a van-full of teenagers up one set of hills or another, to an overly busy Child who needed to find a bit of space to just breathe for a little while. And it isn't summer any more.

So this weekend two of the Children and I headed up to the base of the mountain and hiked into Embudo Canyon.

In case you think I exaggerate about the area I live in, this is near the base of the trail where the vegetation is rather lusher than other regions

And much of the plant life is warm and welcoming - practically demanding a cuddle:

Notice in particular the rosy glow on the two inch spikes of doom:

However just a mile or two you find yourself in the canyon where there is just enough shade and just enough trickling water to allow some cottonwoods to grow while the cliff walls reach up in fantastic rock formations (excellent for photography but I will not inflict my Granite Series I [ooh! With lichen!] upon you) which is perfect for sproinking:

Which I couldn't join in as I had saddled myself with a massive camera bag. I pack camera bags like some women pack overnight luggage. I might NEED that lens! However the children did an excellent mountain goat impression over both sides of the canyon:

Until one of them had enough leaving the other to sproink alone:

While it found a warm rock to sit on and contemplate its excellent boots.

It was a good day.

NOTE: In a spirit of political unity I would like it noted that both parties were equally represented in today's only slightly modified Children photographs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Child 3

October first was Child 3's 16th birthday - which makes me about 1,478 in parent years (parent years are like dog years only sliiiightly more intense). It dithered for weeks about telling us what it wanted for gift type things and what it would like to do and only very late in the game did it admit (roundaboutly) that it didn't want to put anyone out or make anyone do anything they didn't want to do. I rather loudly pointed out that we LIKE IT and it is OUR CHILD 3 and IT WAS GOING TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY OR ELSE at which point it decided that maybe it could agree to at least a dinner and things without the world coming to an end.

Because, it turns out, that's what it really wanted to do - just have dinner with its family. So my father (who was temporarily abandoned by my mother who had sibling type things to do) came over to have baba ganoush and dolmas while we had gyros and then we all enjoyed Non Fat Birthday Brownies and a choice of mint chocolate chip ice cream or fat free sorbet. We did NOT have candles since 16 candles plus 70 candles makes rather a lot of candles and our slightly elderly fire detector might not have survived the experience.

Yes, 70 candles as well as 16 because Child 3 shares its birthday. It's due to me realizing wisely that if one is going to inflict a husband and 2.5 children on one's loving parents one should make darn sure that when the .5 child hatches into full personhood it does so on one of said parent's birthdays. So Child 3, whenever it's convenient, shares its birthday with its grandfather which, I think, says a great deal about the style and sophistication of both of them.

I gave Child 3 an electric guitar for its birthday. It seemed a goodish sort of 16th present, and I'd like to say it was mostly due to Child 3's excellent musical ear but that's only partly true. Actually I knew it would love it AND it came with its own amp which has a plug in spot for headphones. Granted, we don't currently have an adapter dingus that will allow Child 3 to play all be-headphoned, but if I ever get over to the guitar shop near my work we COULD and that's what's important.

Child 3 picked up its new guitar and completely irritated its siblings by promptly learning and playing (by ear alone) four or so popular songs. It general foodles around a bit, then announces "Hey! Listen to what I figured out!" and rips out the first eight bars or so with admirable nonchalance. Child 1 put up with this for two weeks and then gritted its teeth and bought itself an ACOUSTIC guitar which it is already learning to strum out power chords on. This, of course, totally negates the whole brilliance of the amp-with-headphones thing, but it means Child 3 is happily acting as tutor - only two steps ahead of the student - and they both seem quite content.

This has been a year of challenge for Child 3. Not that it has had a hard or horrible year, it has simply opted for every difficult thing that has crossed its path. This summer it signed up for four camps - and not the kum-bah-ya singing, let's macrame a toaster and then do some interpretive dance: you can be "Lightning Struck Pine Tree" and I'll be "Spirit of Nature Overwhelmed by Selfish and Evil Human Kind!" sort - these were more, hey let's get up at 5 in the morning and run five miles! It has also signed up for every last honors or AP course(Advanced Placement for the non-American folks - if you do well enough on the test you can get college credit and earn your way out of some of the boring freshman stuff!).

A few weeks ago it asked to be dropped off at the foot of the mountain so it could just climb for a bit - away from the people and the school and the seventy-bajillion things it had fighting for space in its head. It climbed for 5 miles, and up about 2,000 feet (we sit at about... I don't know... 5,500 feet at our house? Something like that) and it found what it was looking for on a mountain top. What's really amazing though is that a couple of weeks later it peeled open that alone space and asked me to come along too. So I climbed with it (regretfully opting out of the sproinking mountain goat part of the program - I simply watched and admired) and we sat up on that rock and looked down over the valley alone together.

This weekend the siblings are coming along too, with the enthusiastic support of Child 3. It had found perfect solitude and because that solitude was so perfect it wanted to share it with us. Because it loves us.

Happy birthday Child 3.

ETA: This evening Child 3 found itself in sole command of the one working television in the house AND the game system. Its homework done, its parent busy with a print ad that has an unfortunate deadline, it was offered its choice of movie, tv or video game. It was waffling a bit when I happened to mention the presidential debates were on. Its deranged little eyes lit up - lit up I tell you - and it flung itself at the television, because, and I quote, "I like to figure out what they're really saying." I refuse to consider what this says about Child 3 but I do admit to feeling a little - just a little - smug that it picked this over our extensive DVD collection OR the chance to drive a digital car at unrealistic speeds around city streets that have walls that bizarrely do not crunch said digital car into oblivion when they are driven into at 100 mph. It is still watching. I'm beginning to be a little afraid...

ETA II: I admit that I am working furiously on said print ad (and I am nearly blind btw with the need to be original, eye-catching and sincere in a doggone 1/3 page vertical!!) with the door closed AND a bit of music on (which I hardly ever do because I get distracted by the music) simply so I don't hear said presidential debate. It's cowardly. It's wrong. But I would rather read it calmly and coldly in the morning and NOT shout at (often both) candidates when they say something inane. Or the question askers. Or the commenters. Or probably the innercent little watching-type people either. I admit to being a bit het-up about this here election.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome

For anyone who stumbled their way here through the AP news story - welcome. If you want to read Kirk's story you can start here. You can read about the CID (Criminal Investigative Division) at the start of the blog here. The CID's conclusion to the investigation (conclusion is misleading - the investigation is still open) is here.

I've tried to do some housekeeping (late and probably insufficient) and tidy the "story" things into one category so they can be read reasonably logically - just click on the story link in the "posts by topic" list to the right. The "Kirk" link is a little less focused but does all relate to Kirk and my (our - Children are involved too) relationship. Everything else... well is a fairly thorough mix.

I do read all the comments and emails and do my best to reply (NOTE - PAM!! I can't get my darn email to reply to you although I do keep trying - I do get your emails and I do write back it's just... well, the email monkeys apparently eat them) although life sometimes gets a little frantic and I fall behind.

Friday, October 10, 2008

politics

I don't write politics. I think them, all the time. In times like these I feel like I swim in them. But I don't write them.

I also try not to watch political ads (save me from the sound-bite solution to the world's problems). I avoid editorial articles if possible - although I read a select few. So many are so biased that I find myself arguing for the under-dog (of the moment) no matter what my personal inclination is. I don't get a print newspaper so the latest graphic zinger from the cartoonist has, sadly, passed me by. I also don't watch Biased-News-R-Us of either side but try to glean as much as I can about the candidates's actual stands on actual issues that mean something to me (recognizing that my Issues are not your Issues or even his or her Issues - what else am I supposed to vote on?).

However, in this election I honestly hope that if one particular candidate wins rather than another it will be not because he is black, not despite the fact that he is black, but because the majority of people (should they do so) felt that this candidate would speak for them in the places that need a voice, would act for them in the moments when a strong leader was needed. I would hope that in the end, should this particular person be elected, it would be an issue of: this was the man the people wanted.

Because, let's be honest, he's a politician. Like all the others - whether they are good at it or not - they are professional People Persons who Know The Common Man and Speak The Language. They are a race unto themselves. And that race, please - please - needs no other definition.

At least, right now,

I hope.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Identity... Explained... a bit... more

Dang it.

I'm not a cute-overload type of person. I don't remember playing with dolls (except the day I was playing cannibal feasts and had to stop because my mother refused to keep sticking the limbs back on the plastic baby torsos). I do not have, and do not anticipate having, a big-eyed kitten photo as wallpaper on my computer and I have never, ever, used SQUEEE! in a non-ironic way.

But your emails and comments have just possibly left me a little runny nosed. And you're welcome for the image.

But there were a couple of questions - good ones - that can be answered (I know it's a little weird given the context, but I won't post names just because I don't know if people want their names out there)

I've been reading you for a while and I even went back and read alot of the "Kirk" things you wrote so I would know what you were talking about! What made you change your mind about using your name?


Honestly I'd like to say there was a well-reasoned instant where I thought through everything and weighed it all logically and carefully and then wrote up the post but... well, that's not how I work often. Instead I found myself writing up this mini-essay and there were phrases I knew I wanted to use and words that strung together just right and I realized that I was writing up something that had swirled around in my semi-conscious mind for... well weeks at least, but more likely months.

This whole blog has been the slowest, most glacial effort towards acceptance ever seen - ever. When I started it, a little over two and a half years ago, my mother asked me about the choice of names: Missing In Iraq. I would probably attract some attention, she warned me, given that title. And that was the whole point. At that time we didn't know what had happened to Kirk (we still don't, not entirely, not really and probably never will). We didn't know if he was alive or dead and it seemed we never would. I was under a lot of pressure to get the story told (some of it from another family that was equally devastated by a loss connected with Kirk's) but I had resisted it for all sorts of complicated and ultimately selfish reasons.

I honestly started it because I came to realize that the CID (the military investigating people) were going to have incredible power over Kirk's story. Because the investigation was having to be conducted the way it was, because much of it was (and is) invisible to me - not sure if I should use the term "classified" which has a very specific meaning to me, but certainly the information is controlled - they could make their conclusions and have enormous power over not only what I believed about Kirk's death but about his life as well.

There was more to it as well. That one event - a few minutes on the side of a road - had swallowed up everything else and I didn't want Kirk to be defined by those moments. Of course, I didn't want to be defined by them either.

What I've slowly - very slowly - admitted is that although I am not totally defined by the fact that Kirk went missing the way he did it has inevitably shaped me, changed me. I have tried my best to make that change... it's difficult to say good... difficult because all the language is loaded, but yes, I want it to be positive. I want to be able to say more than "this did not break me." Accepting that I have been changed - that this event is an important part of my life - is part of that.

Have you had any problems with people because of the blog? I've read some blogs that attract some real trolls

As I said, I haven't really had that problem. There have been a few people who want to express a political view and seem to think that I will agree with them (although what's funny is that I've gotten this from both - often extreme - ends of the spectrum). I have had some emails that basically state that all contractors are carpet-bagging, greedy bastards who are trying to capitalize on a humanitarian nightmare and therefore deserve all they get. This shows an amazing lack of understanding of a complicated situation and frankly I don't think it's in my best interests to try to educate anyone. Not that they sound like the sort of people who wish to be educated! However, this is a very small minority and I happily delete the messages. I'm not happy that this particular view is out there - but there are so very many black-and-white type opinions floating around that I find equally distressing! Purposeful bile is just that. Fortunately the few trolls didn't find me until well into the life-span of the blog - I think early on I would have been far more sensitive.

Do you regret being anonymous for so long?

Yes and no. It's possible that if I had really worked the media and tried to get huge exposure for the story right from the start things would have been easier for us. Maybe we would have been able to find things out sooner - there might have been more pressure on the CID to get things answered right away. I would hope not. I would hope that they did everything they could because that's the job they had to do. It's also possible that it would have made things so surreal that we would have had even more trouble coping than we did.

Remember, we were the first family to lose a civilian in this way - Kirk was the first American to go missing. It would have been pretty easy to get a spotlight on the story (once it broke the problem was to turn the spotlight off). But it would have meant answering unanswerable questions over and over again (how do you feel? What do you think happened? What would you say to the people who have him if he's been taken?) and turning over a large amount of our time (or my time - I would still have fought to keep the Children out of it as much as possible) to being the victims - to publicly accepting that rather simplistic and, at least in my view, potentially dangerous role. I don't want to be a victim. I don't want to be the person something was done to. Naturally this is a bit of a problem since, quite frankly, I AM someone that something happened to, but I think that it is a terribly seductive sort of thing - that being the victim can become a calling. People want to be nice to you which is fine, but... I suppose I'm concerned about how easy it would be to lose independence or to become too reliant on that kindness - in fact to begin to think of myself as that person this thing happened to. Back to the definitions I suppose...

Lots of waffle to say... well basically that I made the best choice I could at the time and everything else is might-have-been. It seemed the right thing at the time to keep the story suppressed. Later it seemed the right thing to begin to own the whole story by telling it here. Now it seems the right thing to accept all of it, including my part of it - my name.

Phew.

Next, back to important things - like the over-due birthday post for Child 3!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Identity

When I first started this blog I chose to mediate comments. I felt pretty exposed writing about Kirk in a public forum - it was the first time I had really, truly said right out loud to the whole world that he was missing. I had held that secret so tightly for so long that it became a defensive wall; it began to define me. I had made a few chinks in it, telling a person here or there, but only when it was absolutely necessary (my boss when the article in Time was coming out; a colleague when she simply wouldn't stop asking questions and I didn't want to overtly lie). The blog was a mental load of dynamite at the very foundations of the wall and it left me terribly vulnerable.

The last thing I wanted was to wake up to a load of comments like "War is evil and the Iraq war is killing babies so by writing this you are killing babies! Love, anonymous" or "OMG! Dick Cheney like totally talks to God and you are making Jesus cry because you hate the war!" Dudes, I have never, to my knowledge, killed babies. Also one of our favorite family expressions of over the top whackitude is "Dick Cheney on a duck hunt! Blam!" But please, point to a pro or anti war post in this thing? (oh heck, there probably is one of each somewhere and now I'll get an email pointing that out ever so nicely) I just told the story as I knew it and left the judgments alone.

Anyway, because this blog is one of a billion and maybe because there isn't really a genre for it (hands up all bloggers whose spouses have gone missing in Iraq! {I will almost certainly get an email now pointing me at such a blog, in which case - yes, please do!}), and just maybe because writing vitriolic hate comments in this situation just might make even the leathery hide of the common internet troll feel a wee bit sensitive, I didn't get nasty comments.

I did get emails - plenty of them - but thoughtful, polite and generally correctly spelled emails. Often disagreeing or trying to kindly point out where I was Ruining My Children's Lives (to which I have to say, I know! Isn't that cool?). Even more often they are interesting and funny and make a connection I would never otherwise have made. I love that - I love that I have friends all over the place who staggered in here because they saw a thing that linked to another thing that produced a thought that somehow ended up at this tiny corner of the internet.

All of which faffing about gets away from that first point way up there about where I was when I started this. It was all about Kirk, see, about his story (ignoring that it was, naturally, our story) and who he was and how he got to that road in Iraq. I wanted to shove him into the light while keeping firmly in the wings myself. Which was why I ended up with the grammatically incorrect and slightly bizarre signature, "For Kirk." It wasn't who I was, it was why I was writing but at that time... well, that felt very much like who I was as well.

So, like a lot of things in my life I'm afraid, I am far behind in doing something about this and moving past it. But it's Thursday, and Thursday just seems like as good a day as any to make a small change.

I still write here For Kirk, but also for the Children, and most of all for me.

Megan

Unique

Child 3: *clucking noise with tongue*

Me: Um

3: Yes? [innocent blue eyes combined with slight fogginess of a cold]

Me: Do you think you could stop that?

3: ... I think so ... [ponders for a while] yes, yes I can.

Me: Thanks.

...

Me: You know, I think that you are probably the only person in the world clucking the Russian National Anthem.

3: Yah... except I'm not doing it any more.

...
3: *clucking noise with tongue*

Should never have gotten it that damn frenectomy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thoughts

A: Does crossing myself, with what probably was a drunken H somewhere over my unhallowed solar plexus, count as religious observance? Memories of grade school field trips are haunting me for some reason.

B: It is not, in any way, bizarre to carefully separate one's eggs prior to cooking. It simply affirms the noble sentiment that uncooked whites are directly comparable to the output of a child's runny nose while egg yolks should just be gently introduced to the idea of a slightly hot pan before they are eaten. This is utterly normal no matter what any random Child might say.

C: It is possible that there is nothing so truly satisfying as introducing one's offspring to the glories that are found in M*A*S*H. Particularly as said Children have already met Alan Alda as the host of Scientific American Frontiers. This is why one breeds.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering

So, Americans, what did you do today?

It's a little weird, isn't it? This not-a-holiday day. It feels wrong to let it go by without some sort of acknowledgment but what should it be?

I've posted about 9/11 before, telling the story all of us tell each other: where we were that morning, what we were doing, what we thought. The world certainly changed for me that day - it was the event that began everything, focusing Kirk's restlessness, starting the Iraq War... leading finally to that empty car on the road.

I hadn't really thought about doing anything particular this year but The Male Child announced last weekend that it was going to wear its uniform as a quiet way to mark the day. It was a three day weekend because of our national salute to the value of hard work (take a day off and crowd the malls to buy knocked down tool sets and three-for-the-price-of-two pieces of underwear) and we celebrated the way we like to - avoiding the crowded malls and sleeping in. So we somehow ended up watching a marathon set of shows on the training process for Navy SEALS (Just Children 2, 3 and I - Child 1 was away. We reacted characteristically. Child 3 began doing ridiculous amounts of push ups apparently out of solidarity, Child 2 watched this with some scorn until the acid burn of competitiveness was too great and it too did some sit ups and push ups; I lolled in exhaustion from all of the enormous amount of exercising everyone else was doing) and somewhere in the ad breaks came up a spot for the Freedom Walk.

So that's what Child 1 and I did this morning.

We got there too early (because I always get everywhere too early)

So we walked through the Veteran's Memorial and learned that rose breeders had produced hybrids that are dedicated to peace, to the WWII veterans etc. I can't think of a more beautiful tribute - something live, something growing, something that renews itself each year.


There was also a wall engraved with texts from emails, letters and telegrams. This one that Child 1 is reading

Is followed by one right beneath that (nearly a month later) tells the family that their son is not killed, he was only wounded...

Eventually we signed in, got our NAVY! pins, and gathered behind the color guard to start the walk

We walked behind a man with a horrific scar on the back of his knee. He had a brace that wrapped his calf and went down to his shoe. When we got back to the starting point I could see that the scars continued around the front of his right leg as well - deep, long scars. He wore an "Instructor" t-shirt and spent the walk harassing the other instructor he came with. He had no limp and his scars are old and well healed.

We walked for maybe half an hour, following the color guard as they ran the gauntlet of smashed glass and low-hanging branches. There were a few babies in strollers. There were a lot of frighteningly fit and terribly attractive ROTC types in their PT gear or BDU's. And there were some civilians like Child 1 and me - just people walking and thinking about that day, the day the world changed.

Again.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Shape

I am in shape!

Well.

A shape.

I am in a shape that is mine.

But I have sadly learned that just because one was once really, really active and thus in pretty darn good physical condition it does not mean one is frozen there at the peak and can then sort of... stop...

Yes.

See, Kirk and I used to run every night. We would head down our little street, down two blocks, loop around, back over and up the street, loop again, head UUUUUUUUUUP the hill to the dead-end and back to the house. I have no idea how far the run was but Kirk always claimed it was about three or four miles depending on how many dead end circles we went around. Could be. Then on the weekends we biked 20 miles or so each day (with the Children, and the shouted reminder as we rode along the crumbling Nor-Cal cliffs to FALL LEFT!!).

Of course then it happened, and he was gone, and we moved to this place of NO OXYGEN AT ALL and I kind of sort of stopped. Everything. All the active stuff. I mean, the bike has a flat tire, and running up here gives me activity induced asthma and it's too hot and it's too icky and... and... and...

But I still think of myself as active and healthy and all of that which is why it was so terribly annoying to have found myself out of breath when hiking with the Children a while back. Not that I did anything about it. I just reminded myself that I walked at LEAST 3/4 of a mile to work EVERY DAY which was totally valid exercise. Besides it got too hot to hike after that so problem solved!

Except those darn Children kept joining in things that involved stretching and leaping and doing muscley thing with their arms. And that even more darned Child 2 said it wanted to tone itself up and be healthier and as a Good Mother I had to support it which meant facing up to the hypocrisy of nagging a Child to do push ups while sitting on the couch watching Top Gear.

So for several weeks now Child 2 and I have been walking together - down the bike path, over the bridge and twice around the park (which, according to the entirely reliable Child 3 is about 3/4 of a mile around). I have rather longer legs than the Child which means that there is a slight inequity of stride. Child claims that it shouldn't have to keep up with me because of the leg issue. I claim that as I'm OLD and it is YOUNG there are to be no excuses. Finally we have compromised by staying together on the way to the park and then parting ways. Child 3 has even begun tagging along and showing us both up by loping around the track and then wheezing dramatically all the way home.

It's good though. It's good to remember how nice it feels to be in a body that likes to work. It's good to spend quality time talking with the Children about absolutely nothing.

It's good to be moving again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Male Child Introspective

I'm not sure if was the manly legs or the fact that the Male Child willingly and ably does automobile repair (there is evidence to support multiple theories), but I got a surprising number of emails about the last post. So for those who expressed an interest, here's a little more about the Male.

Patience is necessary and a certain amount of speed for the Male Child is an elusive species and quick to escape.


Note the ease with which it moves about its native habitat



It is extremely well adapted with attenuated limbs and a lean and gracile build allowing it free movement through the branches of the trees it likes to call home.



When threatened with household chores or geometry it retreats with ease, back into the canopy.




And safety.

[note, guest head for this post was played by Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley by special request of the Male Child]

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Deflated

Alternate post title:

How I spent my labor day vacation

Exhibit A

Which is what greeted me on Friday evening as Child 2 and I were heading out to buy birthday presents for a party this weekend.

Which I responded to with dignity and calm and NO WHINING. Nope, was not angry at all at having to buy a set of new tires and spend Saturday morning waiting around while they're installed. No, I thought, no there is a silver lining to this GREAT HUGE NASTY BLACK CLOUD.

I can get a blog post out of it. With the kind assistance of the Male Child who insisted on changing the tire all on its own I present the fully illustrated guide to roadside maintenance: Changing A Tire.

Locate the spare. If you're very, very lucky this will be the second flat you have in as many weeks so your memory will be quite sharp and this step will be extremely easy.

Locate and remove the jack and using logistic genius place it carefully beneath the frame of the car.


Before elevating the car with the jack, remove the hub-cap and loosen the lug nuts. Before attempting this ensure you are well equipped with a wide selection of choice words.

The frog squat is essential.


So are the paint stained shorts.

Jack up the car until enough weight is off the wheel and it can be removed.




Examine flat tire for possible problems. Make rude comments about the unfairness of life.


Return flat to trunk of car so the new one can be installed after a mere two hours wandering around Costco. Realize that a pair of strong hands can lift an awful lot of things.


If they don't mind getting diry.