Thursday, December 27, 2007

Got Heat?

Denial is such a peaceful place, much like sticking your fingers in your ears as you singsong, "I can't hear you...La! La! La!" It's nice here. Unfortunately I had to come back to reality sooner or later...

I guess I should have wondered what was happening whenever I went into the bathroom.

You see, I have a half-bath which was one of the warmest places in the house last winter. This winter it changed. The bathroom was so cold that I preferred to "hold it" rather than go in there. Nobody wants to bare their backside when it's thirty degrees out, myself included, but because I was vacationing in Denial, I refused to think about it.

"I wonder why it's so cold in here?" I'd wonder as I'd hurry up and get the heck out of there. And, come to think of it, it wasn't just the bathroom that was cold, it was the entire house. While we have been trying to keep the heat set at an economical level, when ice started forming on the doorknobs it makes you think something else might be going on. But, La! La! La! I can't hear you!

As the days grew steadily colder inside and outside, it wasn't until Christmas Day that the house seemed colder still. And it wasn't until the next morning that we realized what had happened. The furnace had clonked out. The blower had stopped working completely. We still had heat, technically, but there was no way to distribute it throughout the house. No wonder we had been freezing!

I called the Furnace Guy and, thankfully, he was able to come over in the afternoon. The problem was indeed the blower motor and he installed a new one. Also, despite the furnace's age (40 +/-) it's in great shape and should last for several more years. Furnace Guy said that the actual furnace will die before the new blower motor does. I wondered if I was supposed to feel relief or fear? Anyway...

With the heat off for two hours during the repair it was colder in the house than it had ever been, unless you went outside, and as soon as the furnace was running again I cranked the theromostat right up there. Up to seventy, in fact. (Yes, I splurged.) The heat pored out of the vents and with new power - I had forgotten how it was supposed to feel. Denial is a real place, boys and girls, but not a place you want to stay in. Here's to the Real World!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ban the Family, Why Not?

My son's an artist and an extremely talented one.

Last night as I trekked up the stairs to bed and as I reached out to open my son's bedroom door to tuck him in for the night, I saw a sign.

My son loves drawing pictures and taping them to his bedroom door, but this one beat them all.

The sign was two pieces of thin paper, joined together with poster putty, and with the same putty, stuck to the door. At the top of the page were two identical crests: an uppercase "K" on a silver shield and, behind, two crossed swords. In the middle was the following writing: No Mom & Dad! No Dog & No Cat!!!! At the bottom was a series of drawings: A mom, a dad, a dog, and a cat - all with X's for eyeballs and long tongues hanging out. (A sure sign of what the future would hold if one of the members of the List of the Banned crossed the threshold.)

Laughing, I called to my husband to come and take a look. By the time we had recovered, we called to our daughter. You see, she wasn't included on the List. She cracked up too.

"Since you're not on the list," I said, "can you go check on your brother?"

"Okay!" She was truly agreeable about it and went inside.

For whatever reason, the "storm" had passed, and my son seemed to have forgotten what he had been angry over and came out. We asked him what it was about, but the only part he would describe were the crests.

"The 'K' is for 'Kids'" he explained. Embarrassed, he tried to take the sign down, because after all, he did want to be tucked-in and have a bedtime story read to him.

We took the sign for safekeeping and to join the host of other mementos that he has created. I snugged him into bed and read him a story. He hugged me extra tight and kissed me goodnight.

I had been forgiven for my "crime" and, hopefully, retired from this List and any more to come... At least for one night!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Last of A Generation

My aunt passed away this week, she was 86 years old, and the last surviving sibling of my father.

I guess it wasn't a surprise for any of us. She had been sick for quite a while and had lost her husband not even two months before. But what struck me was how she was the last one. In a span of seven short years, my father and all his siblings have passed away. A whole generation has been, and gone.

This saddens me, although I know the passing of generations is a part of life, because those times, those places, those people - that past - is now no more. Someday, I know, me and my siblings will be gone too, and gone will be our collected memories of the times we lived in and of each other.

My father and his siblings were Depression Era kids, and when I heard them tell their stories from their childhood I couldn't help but imagine them as if I was watching old black and white films of The Little Rascals. I could see them plainly - independent and scrappy, and always in a lot of trouble.

My aunt was perhaps the scrappiest one and always the most independent. For a woman, she was truly "liberated" in an era when it wasn't the "thing" to do. And perhaps liberated isn't the word. My aunt said and did whatever she wanted to and didn't care what anyone else thought. I won't say this was the best thing to do, because I have heard she hurt many people's feelings in the process, especially her mother's, but I'm sure she must have regretted some of it though. Then who knows?

She was gruff and tough, basically the type of woman who didn't take any crap. She was a truck driver for a time, and a taxi driver in Detroit. She smoked, drank, and swore, and didn't shave. (And here Madonna thought she was such a trend-setter!) She was married and divorced several times, no one knows for sure how many. She settled down later in life. She loved bingo and reading, she played the organ and gardened. She always had a host of yapping lap dogs and a talking Myna bird named Charlie. All in all, she was quite a character, to say the least. And now she's gone.

So, here's to the last of a generation. Here's to my aunt and her brothers and sister. Here's to all of them. May they live on in the family's memory.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting Long in the Tooth? Not This Girl!

This month marks the 9th anniversary of my 29th birthday. Yes, I'm still 29. Well, at least in my heart.

I don't have a problem with aging. As one grows older, one grows wizer, or so they say. But something in my head can't help but think things like, Half of your life is over; It's all down-hill from here; Pretty soon you'll be in a home wearing diapers, and other such nonsense like that. And it is nonsense considering I've always considered myself the Glass Is Half-Full type, or have always tried to.

I guess it's normal to start thinking of life in those terms. We do have to be realists and see (and accept) things for what they are. People age, people get gray hair, people forget their underwear, people die. (hee-hee)

While I could allow myself to start treking down the wrong path, I won't do that. Instead I try to focus on the positives that celebrating a birthday bring:

I have completed another year of life.
I am healthy (most of the time if you don't count for things like the Swirling Vortex of Confusion and going Half-Nuts - they fall under the mental health category, and it's in that department where I'm lacking).
I have family and friends who love and appreciate me.
I am intelligent and good looking (hey, ego-boosting never hurt anyone).

Well, this list could go on and on, but I think you get the main idea here. It's all about being thankful (and grateful) for everything that you have, and I'm going to go into yet another birthday doing just that.

So, Happy Birthday to me! I'm so thankful for having completed another year and hope that I will be here to celebrate many, many more!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back to the Drawing Board

After a two-hour interview over a month ago, then a half-hour phone interview two weeks later, and previous employer and reference checks over the last few weeks, I still didn't get the job.

Talk about sucking!

A while back I had applied for a position and received a call. Everything went really well, at first, but after waiting and waiting (getting my chain jerked) I have slowly and painfully realized that in order to get a job at one of the major corporate entities of this city you basically have to... Have to what? Be related? Sleep with the boss? Commit a crime? If I knew, perhaps I'd have been hired already!

So it's back to the drawing board as far as the Job Department is concerned for me.

It's not that I haven't been looking. I've been scanning the Moron's Wanted (still) and keeping an ear peeled for any news. Believe me, I'm trying and there's nothing out there. And just yesterday the evening news said that Michigan's unemployment rate had reached 7.7% (still the nation's highest) but had started to fall slightly based on summer employment having ended and seasonal employment kicking in. Ya gotta love the good ole' service industry.

Keeping with the trend, I guess I'm going to have to cast my credentials aside and just go look for one of these service-industry positions too. Not my top choice, but I need something. We can't keep on like this - Something's Gotta Give (to off-quote the famous phrase), but it can only get worse before it gets better. Thankfully, I have a lot of relatives... I think one of them can give us a place to sleep!

Well, it's not that bad, really. I'm just exaggerating (imagine that!). So in the meanwhile I will Keep on Keeping On, that's my motto. A writer can never give up!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Look Out, Tom Turkey!

Thanksgiving morning. So much for sleeping in until the alarm went off. My bladder woke me up at 5:11 a.m. In all the confusion I must have forgotten to go to the bathroom before I tucked the whole family into bed the night before. Up and out of bed I went, the only one who noticed was the cat and he just winked a lazy eye and went back to sleep.

The power had been out all night. I lay in bed thinking of everything I had to do, primarily stuff the turkey, which didn't bother me as I've cooked turkey before, but as I mentally prepared for the task I realized in terror that there was no way I could cook the turkey without the necessary electricity to regulate the oven temperature.

What did I do? Well, I said a prayer.

"Dear Lord" I prayed, "I have to cook that turkey or there'll be no Thanksgiving dinner today, and I've got all those people coming over. What am I going to do?" I asked.

I'm not too kooky (despite popular belief), so I didn't expect to hear a voice come out of the ceiling telling me what to do. I didn't hear anything. I just lay there worrying and dozed off.

As if in answer to my prayer, twenty minutes later I heard the familiar beeps and chirps of appliances returning to life and all over the house the lights, that were on the night before, were illuminated again. I had to get out of bed once more, but did so happily to turn the hallway and bathroom lights off so's not to wake the family, oh, and the cat, who gets really grumpy if he doesn't get his beauty sleep.

As I said my thanks, I felt completely relieved because now the heat was also working, I prudently decided that since it was still before six that I should lay down and catch a few more winks. I overdid it, and somehow ended up turning off the cell phone alarm and sleeping until seven. And then I had to get up!

I didn't bother dressing, just tied on my apron over the pajamas. I had left Tom in the sink overnight to thaw and it seemed to have worked well. I clicked on the oven and pulled the onion and celery out of the fridge to start chopping them and add to the stock pot where a stick of butter lay melting. I always make my own stuffing, but whereas I used to chop stale bread into cubes by hand I have wised up and now buy unseasoned croutons from the bread store, saving me a lot of extra time and elbow grease.

In no time I had the stuffing ingredients sauteing and I prepared the turkey. First of all, let's just say that dead poultry is disgusting. I know that with all the advances we've made in food production that I shouldn't complain. Gone are the days of going to the market, selecting your bird, and bringing home a really fresh one, but there's still something gross about it anyway. And because Tom weighed 23 pounds I soon realized that handling him was going to be difficult. I could barely handle him at all. Have any of you seen the commercial where the woman has a 50 pound turkey in the sink and can't pick him up? Well that was me, and that's where my husband came in. He washed the turkey and put him in the roasting pan and we stuffed it together, chucking Tom into the oven at 8 a.m.

The rest of the morning went smoothly and as the hours ticked away... I dressed myself and the kids. Basted the turkey. Set the table and decorated it. Basted the turkey. Gathered the chairs. Checked the turkey, "Hallo, Tom!" Took out the serving dishes. Basted the turkey. Popped the other dishes into the oven. Basted the turkey. Greeted the first guests. Basted the turkey. Had a few cups of holiday cheer with the guests. We all checked the turkey. The rest of the guests arrived. I buttered the turkey. Everyone was present and crammed into the kitchen. Buttered the turkey some more. Helped prepare the dishes the guests brought. Poked the turkey with a meat thermometer as the pop-out timer was still popped in. Had some more holiday cheer. We consulted over the turkey, "Is it done yet?" Made merry and were feeling dizzy. Decided, "What the heck! hic The turkey's got to be done!" Finally.

By 3:30, we took Tom to the table. I must have done something right as everyone said just how delicious he was. The meat was cooked to perfection - not too tough nor dry. The guests were in good cheer and all the food was great. We took our time eating and, halfway through, shared what we were thankful for. The adults sat at table for a long while, relaxing and conversing. The finale, of course, was the dessert and the pies.

Despite all the preparation involved in hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, at least two days worth, the best thing about this holiday is being able to share, abundantly, the many things we have with others. Thanksgiving isn't just about the turkey, but about appreciation and gratitude, and about passing a pleasant afternoon in the company of family and friends. I know this sounds cliche, like the subject of a greeting card, but if you can look past any of the negatives, you'll find that the sentiment rings true.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When the Lights Go Out

The day before Thanksgiving is not a day for slackers. And since I can potentially fall into this category, I made sure I was up early, considering the kiddies didn't have school, quietly making breakfast and coffee so's not to wake the little heathens, er, darlings. I saw hubby off to work and finished some housecleaning - about two hour's worth during which the children finally woke up and I made their breakfast, helped them dress, and also served as referee when, from time to time, they would have minor outbursts and otherwise start punching each other.

Fortunately for me I managed to get most everything that I had to do done and just in time. I showered and dressed and started making lunch - a simple tuna casserole - as an old friend of mine was coming over to visit. We did have a nice and relaxing afternoon, considering, but soon enough it was time for her to go and for me to perform the Dreaded Six-Letter Family Ritual like I always do, wash a mountain of dishes, and then roll up my sleeves, slap on an apron, and really get to work.

With my son's and daughter's help, I made seven pumpkin pies from scratch, popped the cranberries for the sauce, sliced, sugared, and buttered the yams, slopped the green bean casserole together, and submerged Tom, the 23 pound turkey, in a cold water bath. I was hosting dinner the next day and wanted to be prepared.

Let's just say everything went as smoothly as it could with children running to and fro, tussling over who gets to help Mom with the pumpkin pies as son nearly sneezes into the bowl of raw filling, daughter insists she just washed her hands but has black lines under her fingernails, and the cat jumps on the kitchen table and onto the floured surface that's waiting for the pie crust. Oh yes, dear reader, that's just a sampling of what it's like around my house.

As I juggled all this, the hours were creeping away. Soon it was eight o'clock, then nine. Somehow, the children had listened to me enough to put on their pajamas, but kept running up and down the stairs. They were having a high time of it. At ten to ten, under threat of bodily harm and imprisonment, I ordered them upstairs (for the hundredth time at least) to start brushing their teeth and that's when it happened.

The lights flickered out for a few seconds but popped back on again. It was a little odd. We had been under a high wind advisory, but there was no real bad weather. Just a cold rain. I didn't think much of it. I had taken the last two pies out of the oven, had been washing dishes and utensils, and was nearly finished with everything (not counting the next morning). Not bad considering it was ten thirty. Of course, without my constant supervision, the kids still hadn't brushed their teeth! (Now you know why I'm half-nuts...)

What happened next?

The lights really went out!

The house plunged into darkness and I could hear terrified calls for help from the upstairs bathroom. Of course, inside I was howling with laughter. Serves the little scamps right! If they would have listened to me in the first place (brush your teeth and go to bed) about two hours ago they wouldn't be in their current predicament. And on the outside I was groping about for the matches because, wonder upon wonders, the flashlight was dead ( who could have been playing with the flashlight?) Just as I struck a match, the kiddies came stumbling, huddled together, into the kitchen.

We lit several candles, found a working flashlight, and I rekindled the fire from the coals that remained from when my friend had been over hours before, because when the lights go out, so does the heat. The kids were even more excited, if that was possible, and were having a great time of it, for some unknown reason running about the dark parts of the house and tripping and falling or running into each other. I finished covering and putting away the food and the pies. Soon the kids were hatching plans.

"Can we all sleep in front of the fireplace tonight?" they asked, hopefully.
"Are you crazy?!" I exclaimed. "I'm sleeping in my bed." The last thing I needed was to sleep on the floor the day before I had to cook a turkey and put on a dinner. I'd never be able to stand up straight and walk the next day.
Hubby added, "Are you sure? There's no heat."

I don't like to pull my Laura Ingalls Card out unnecessarily, but I had to. I had earned the moniker "Laura Ingalls" from the time when I shared with a group of friends how I had grown up. It was the first and the last time that I had done this because, personally, I think they were just plain-old jealous that they hadn't lived like the pioneers as I had.

So I pulled the card, told my kids why we didn't have to sleep in front of the fireplace (making my rendition of Little House in the Big Woods brief), started snuffing out the candles, and made my way upstairs.

"Just put an extra blanket on the bed," I said over my shoulder as they scrambled up behind me, "and you'll be fine."
"Mom," daughter pants, "can I sleep with a candle in my room?"
"Oh, yeah, sure," I agreed, "and I'll be the first one to come and visit you in the burn unit tomorrow. NOT!" I said firmly.

Who were these kids and where did they come from? Planet Pyro?

I went and got an extra sweatshirt and a pair of thick socks to put on each of them. My son had his favorite dinosaur tucked under his arm and my daughter had her pillow. They were waiting by the end of the bed, looking at us expectantly.

"Oh, alright!" I exclaimed, "you can sleep with us."

Hubby skooched over to make room in the bed, thankfully it's king-sized. The kids clambered up and I tucked them in, safe and snug. I was the last one to get in; we were stacked up like cord wood (Laura Ingalls here I come) when the cat jumped in too, curling himself into a ball at the foot of the bed, right next to my feet (what's new?).

By this time it was midnight. I set my cell phone alarm (six thirty and the turkey come early) and somehow, balanced precariously on the edge of the bed, with an elbow wedged into my rib cage, unable to move my legs, and with only half of my body covered by the blankets, I managed to fall asleep.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Update on the Mutant Corn

Just before Halloween, we cut down the Mutant Corn to use for decorating. Surprisingly, since my last post, the corn had continued to grow, reaching about 12 feet and had sprouted quite a few more ears. Sadly, those ears never reached maturity, evidenced when it was de-husked to reveal tiny cobs with pale yellow kernels, which reminded me of the mini-corn that you eat in Asian cuisine. Now the corn is tied into two bunches, each leaning against my two front porch columns. The corn shocks were eerily appropriate for Halloween and are now harvest-time appropriate for Thanksgiving. Here's to the Mutant Corn!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Okay, Writer, What are you Working On?

Last night I went to a friend's house for a dinner party. Over drinks, someone asked, "What are you working on right now? Have you been writing anything?" The question took me off-guard and my own lackadaisical reality reached out and slapped me in the face. I took a step back, my mind racing, and then?

I decided to fess up.

I had written a short story a few years back that people really liked. Shortly after that, I began writing more about my main character. This past September, during the second week when my kids had returned to school, I sat down every morning and started forming the writing into more defined chapters. I was completing about one rough draft chapter in two mornings of work. When I got to chapter six, I was debating about where the writing was going. Was the setting accurate? What age group was I trying to target? What have other writers done on the same subject? I decided that I was going to have to do some research and reading, so I stopped production.

More than knowing what my characters are about and feeling secure with the setting, the main problem I have with this particular story is that it's too advanced for a middle/juvenile level reader and it's too simple (or immature) to be classed in the young adult category. My quandary is that I have to lower the register or raise the register, and I can't say that I want to do either one. Why should I have to conform? And what helped me realize this was through reading some other works of fiction. Let me tell you, the content of books classed in young adult fiction that I read was a bit shocking. These books just seemed too "mature" for my taste, and for the standard I'm holding my characters to in my particular story.

This issue - the age level - has remained a problem because I was unable to resolve it when it presented itself, even though I finished reading the books I had checked out of the library - the books that I had so confidently felt would help me solve the problem to begin with. Since then, I haven't picked up where I left off on my story. And this is bad.

So, what did I tell my friends at the dinner party?

I told them the truth.

Unfortunately, as none of them are fiction/creative writers, they didn't have any advice to give. But, I know that what I'm facing right now in regard to this particular project, which I feel commonly happens to writers, is something I have to work through on my own, and I am confident that I will work through it eventually. I know this because focus and determination are two facets of what makes a successful and dedicated writer, and also, the nagging voice a writer hears over his or her shoulder that keeps repeating, "Hey, what about that story you were working on? You have to get it finished!"

What do I reply?

"Yes, you're right. I know I have to get working on it again, and I will. Don't worry."

Still Willing to Write for Food

Okay, now it's six months out, and I still don't have a full-time job.

I had an interview a few weeks back for a freelance interpreting position and I was contracted for this service. I spent a full day doing the orientation and I have gone on two interpreting assignments. I can't say this is my favorite type of work, but it's not too bad. Now, if they would only give me more hours per week, I could actually make some money, but as it stands I will only earn about one hundred dollars for a month's work. Hmmm...

I had a telephone interview last week for a grants/communications position, and was flattered to learn that out of about 45 resumes received, mine had made the final eight. But, my problem is that I don't have enough experience in grant writing and enough experience in writing in general. Needless to say, they didn't call me back to schedule an in-person interview. That was a bummer as the salary and benefits were out of this world.

I have another resume/application in at one of the local hospitals, but the disturbing aspect of this is that this particular position has been advertised three consecutive Sundays. I guess they haven't found the person they're searching for. Despite it all, I'm still hoping that the person they eventually hire will be me.

So, what's a girl to do in a town like this? Well, when I figure it out, I will let you know. Pickings are slim in these here parts! There just aren't any "quality" jobs in West Michigan right now. I guess I'm going to have to lower my standards... Now, that's funny, like I had high standards to begin with.

I've heard of lots of writers who worked in regular jobs, and liked it that way. It gave them material to fuel their ideas, and also, gave them the freedom to write evenings and weekends without the burden that a high-profile position places upon working professionals. And, I'm the type of personality who really doesn't get excited about the prospect of having to take my work home. That would be the worst! Perhaps, what I need to do then, is go out and find myself a lower-paying, task-oriented job until something better comes along, if indeed anything else could possibly be better.

In the meantime, I still perservere. I keep searching the Morons Wanted column, keep sending out those resumes, and keep hoping and waiting. Something's going to work out, I just know it!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Maya Angelou

In 2004, I had the fortunate opportunity to see Maya Angelou make a presentation and read some of her poetry on campus at GVSU. She is a phenomenonal speaker and gifted storyteller. I have always enjoyed her writing and it was a nice experience to see her live, something I'll never forget. She is one of America's greatest Poets!

I recently checked out what I believe is her latest book, Celebrations, from the library. It's a collection of some of her more notable poems, including one that she wrote for Mother's Day 2006. I found that poem very touching and would like to share it here. Here's to all the mothers out there, and especially to my own. (I love you Mom!) Enjoy!


A Cradle to Hold Me

It is true
I was created in you.
It is also true
That you were created for me.
I owned your voice.
It was shaped and tuned to soothe me.
Your arms were molded
Into a cradle to hold me, to rock me.
The scent of your body was the air
Perfumed for me to breathe.

During those early, dearest days
I did not dream that you had
A larger life which included me,
Among your other concerns,
For I had a life
Which was only you.

Time passed steadily and drew us apart.
I was unwilling.
I feared if I let you go
You would leave me eternally.
You smiled at my fears, saying
I could not stay in your lap forever
That one day you would have to stand
And where would I be?
You smiled again.
I did not.
Without warning you left me,
But you returned immediately.
You left again and returned,
I admit, quickly.
But relief did not rest with me easily.
You left again, but again returned.
You left again, but again returned.
Each time you reentered my world
You brought assurance.
Slowly I gained confidence.

You thought you knew me,
But I did know you,
You thought you were watching me,
But I did hold you securely in my sight,
Recording every movement,
Memorizing your smiles, tracing your frowns.
In your absence
I rehearsed you,
The way you had of singing
On a breeze,
While a sob lay
At the root of your song.

The way you posed your head
So that the light could caress your face
When you put your fingers on my hand
And your hand on my arm,
I was blessed with a sense of health,
Of strength and very good fortune.

You were always
The heart of happiness to me,
Bringing nougats of glee,
Sweets of open laughter.

I loved you even during the years
When you knew nothing
And I knew everything, I loved you still.
Condescendingly of course,
From my high perch
Of teenage wisdom.
I spoke sharply to you, often
Because you were slow to understand.
I grew older and
Was stunned to find
How much knowledge you had gleaned.
And so quickly.

Mother, I have learned enough now
To know I have learned nearly nothing.
On this day
When mothers are being honored,
Let me thank you
That my selfishness, ignorance, and mockery
Did not bring you to
Discard me like a broken doll
Which had lost its flavor.

I thank you that
You still find something in me
To cherish, to admire, and to love.

I thank you, Mother.
I love you.

Angelou, Maya. Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer. "Mother: A Cradle to Hold Me." Random House: New York, 2006. Pgs. 71-77.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Circus was in town -- The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey -- to be exact. I haven't been to the circus since I was a kid. I vaguely remember going, on the bus, for a field trip to Grand Rapids sometime in middle school, or was it elementary? Whichever, it's been a long time.

On Wednesday, when the kids heard the circus was going to be in town, they begged to go. I thought about it, primarily the cost, and then decided, What the heck? It would be fun to go! So we made plans to check it out.

On the evening news Thursday, they reported that the Circus Train had arrived and that there would be the customary parade as the elephants and horses were lead to the Van Andel Arena. No need to say more, my daughter and I jumped into the van and headed downtown. For some reason, my son didn't show the slightest interest, and I couldn't tell you why... But, we arrived early and waited on the sidewalk of Ionia Avenue. It is a simple parade, and really cool. First came the elephants, walking all in a row, with their handlers, then two zebras, and finally the horses -- absolutely beautiful animals! The tail of the parade was a truck with the pooper-scooper patrol riding on the tailgate. Fortunately for all of us there was no poop to scoop!

I started checking out ticket options Friday during the day and we decided to go that night for the 7 o'clock show. I have to say, I wasn't disappointed! When they say, The Greatest Show on Earth, they're not exaggerating.

We went to see The Circus of Dreams, which featured a host of talented performers. (You can read an article about it at "Circus Encourages Big Dreams") I'd have to say my favorite one was...well, all of them!

Seriously, the most fascinating act was Madame Shamsheeva who had trained domestic cats to perform tricks! I couldn't believe my eyes, especially since I have a house cat who's about as lazy and disobedient as they come. The cats were in pet carriers in a row a few feet from the bar where they performed, an assistant would open a carrier and a cat would run out, directly to the "stage." They did all type of cat tricks -- weaving in and out of spindles, crawling across a double "tight rope", jumping from perch to perch, crossing over a ladder -- and as each finished, gave their trainer a "high paws" for the finale, and then, right back to the pet carrier. It was amazing!

Actually, the whole circus was amazing. The level of skill and dexterity of all the performers is top-notch. There were aerialists, clowns, and singers and dancers. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping stunts were performed by Super Silva, who walked upside down with no safety harness high above the floor, and The Torres Family, who rode seven motorcycles in a 16 cubic foot steel sphere - an incredible feat! I would have to say the most beautiful of the acts were the horses ridden by the Cossacks, where Roman riding, equestrian and acrobatic skills were demonstrated. If you haven't seen these riding forms, you haven't yet lived! Totally cool! There were white tigers, zebras and llamas, and the famous elephants. Chuck Wagner as the Ringmaster and Jennifer Fuentes as the Circus Songstress. Herkules the Strong Man and the Shenzhen Acrobatic Troupe. All of them did a spectacular job.

Going back to the circus after all these years was worth every penny we paid. If the circus is scheduled to come to your town, I highly recommend you go, whether or not you have children! It truly was an awesome experience -- I felt like a kid again oohing and ahhing at each spectacular feat -- and The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is truly The Greatest Show on Earth!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And now, it's time for a message from...

City Hope Ministries:


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Mutant Corn That Ate Grand Rapids

Here's a picture of the corn I planted back in May...I swear it's about 10 feet tall! This is no ordinary corn -- it's MUTANT CORN! There's no ears to be had although four plants have tassels. Even though it won't produce, at least it's cool to look at, and it makes a great privacy fence. This corn is the only crop I've planted in the last eleven years that's actually grown well, and since I've done nothing but kill the lawn (I do have a fine selection of Native Michigan Species, aka weeds) I think next summer I'm going to plant the entire plot of land with nothing but MUTANT CORN and sit back, relax, and just watch it grow!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Miracle of Life

I had the privilege and honor of being a labor and delivery coach for my friend and her husband as they welcomed their first-born child, a healthy baby girl, into this world on Saturday, September 8th. This was the first birth I was present at, as a witness and not a participant, and I have to say that the miracle of birth and of life is an awesome one.

My friends called me on Saturday morning to report that labor was progressing and that they were going to the hospital. They picked me up and we went around eleven. I stayed with them, helping when I was asked and when I could by speaking to the nurse or just lending a comforting hand. Childbirth is a long process, especially for the first baby, but I stayed with them all day -- comforting my friend, making sure she had what she needed, that "dad" didn't faint from hunger or nervousness, trying to respect their privacy, and helping to maintain as much calm and balance in the room as I could.

It was after ten at night by the time the baby was ready to be born, and there is just something so terrific about this. To the inexperienced eye, when the head appears, you're not sure what to think. I found myself wondering what part of the head it was, and then in a few seconds, I saw the little face turned to the side, and knew. From that moment, everyone in the room was exclaiming at how beautiful the baby was, and as she was delivered by the midwife and the father there were more exclamations and tears of joy.

She had a soft, but lusty little cry, and she cried out quite angrily as her mouth was suctioned, her cord cut, and wiped dry and then handed up to mommy. I helped take pictures from this point on, and as the nurse weighed and measured her, took her foot prints, and administered her eye drops and vaccinations. All the while, she would cry out from time to time. I could tell from those first moments of life that this little one is going to have a feisty personality!

After mommy and baby were settled in and getting to know one another, I went home. I was very tired but more than that, was so very happy for them.

The next day, me and my whole family went to the hospital for a visit. We stayed for about ten minutes, but it was just enough time for the kids to get a peek at the new baby. My daughter thought she was so cute and tiny and the only thing my son could think was to ask me when would the baby be big enough to play with him.

The next morning I went back, this time to give new mom and dad a helping hand in checking out baby from the hospital and taking her home. I helped for a few more hours, getting mommy and baby settled in and then I left.

As I drove to my children's school to pick them up, I couldn't help but think how witnessing this tiny miracle brought back memories of when I first welcomed my tiny miracles into the world. I think when a person is in the presence of a birth that they wax nostalgic for a while, so when I got home, I pulled out some baby photos and looked at them with my daughter. (My son could care less about babies, they're not big enough to play with!)

My daughter was full of questions and I tried to provide the answers. She had a hard time believing that she too was once that tiny. Of course, she asked me if I wanted to have another baby. I just gave her a hug and said that no, I was perfectly happy with the two big babies that I have right now and didn't need any more. But she wined and begged, claiming that she wanted a little sister who she can share her room with. I reminded her of some of her friends that have little sisters and she changed her mind, remembering what it's like to have a play date with a "third wheel" hanging around. I assured her that I was perfectly content with visiting the new baby from time to time and that I was looking forward to the possibility that someday I might be a grandmother. And I know, now more than ever, that I'll really be looking forward to that day if and when it comes.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Will Write for Food

Five months out and I'm still looking for a job.

Sure, I've been faithfully scanning the Morons Wanted column in the Swamp Valley One Wipe each and every Sunday and have been cruising the Internet, searching for something, well anything really. The few jobs I've found and liked, I've sent out my cover letter and resume. Rejections? I've had a few, but I've also gone on two real interviews and one almost-real interview. Not bad, if I do say so myself. Despite it all I can't help but wonder, Just how long will it take to find a job? and How much waiting will I be able to take?

My plan? I'm going to keep on looking for jobs and keep on sending those resumes, but next week, I've decided, I'm going downtown to stand at the intersection of Fulton and Division and, instead of staging a protest, I will advertise my services:


Do you think anyone will make me an offer? because, if a job doesn't come along soon, that's what I'm going to have to do. Hey, I have student loans to pay and my kids' school tuition on top of that. There must be someone out there, someplace, who can give this Writer a job!(?)

And, I can hear what some of you might be thinking, "Who does she think she is? Writing jobs just don't grow on trees!" And, I agree. They don't, but there's lots of other types of jobs that Writers can do, and I'm determined to find one of them. I know it's not going to be easy.

In the nation, Michigan is state with the highest rate of unemployment, and as for the jobs that have come into the market recently, most are low-paying. This factor has increased the number of Michigan families who are living at or below the poverty level. Nice isn't it? But nothing new in our great nation. And this recent data from Michigan is despite the fact that Gov. Granholm raised the state minimum wage last fall! And added into the mix is another great for Michigan - the sixth highest foreclosure rate in the nation. All over our state, factories are closing one after another and forcing people out of work and into the unemployment line. These same people, when they can't find another job or at least one that can pay the bills, are losing their homes and consequently leaving in droves, moving out-of-state to anyplace that they can find a job. What's going on with Michigan right now and what's going to happen later?

When I was a kid in the 70s I seem to remember a popular bumper sticker or slogan that read, "Last One Out Turn Off The Lights." And I've been thinking that lately someone out there should bring those bumper stickers back. They'd really come in handy...

While the immediate future of Michigan is uncertain, I know it will improve. It has to because it's been bad before and things got better again. Things around here will be better again. We all have to believe that.

In the meantime, I had a job interview today. The person who interviewed me said they had received around four hundred resumes for the position and had only advertised on one Sunday! I'm telling you, it's crazy out there. There are no "decent" jobs to be had in this town, and with such high competition it makes getting a decent job once you've found it even harder to accomplish.

Do you think if I tell the Feds that I can't pay my student loan due to situations out of my control that they'll understand? I doubt it too, so I'm going to keep on searching and appplying and interviewing, maybe I'll stand on the street corner, but most likely I'll keep on keeping on. It's the thing to do.

Friday, August 31, 2007

DIET is DIE with a T

One of my favorite fat fellows is that lovable cat Garfield. When I was a kid I used to collect Garfield stuff - books, posters, buttons, stickers. I think I used to have a Garfield coffee mug too, but can't remember what ever happened to it. One of the most memorable posters I had was one on which Garfield exclaimed, "Diet is Die with a T." Very appropriate and my sentiments exactly.

I guess the reason I started thinking about Garfield is because I'm on a diet right now. I can't say I'm a diet fanatic, but I've tried my share:

The Prisoner Diet - You prepare an industrial sized vat of cabbage soup and then proceed to eat a bowlfull at each meal, day after day, until you lose all your body fat.

The Skinny-Quick diet - You drink nutritious and delicious shakes in place of two meals per day. The only thing this did for me was increase my appetite!

Other Fad Diets - You eliminate certain groups of foods and concentrate on specific foods. Each diet is different, there are some where you pop vitamin supplements like sugar-pills and drink psyllium shakes before each meal, others where you guzzle down glass after glass of cranberry juice, ones where you eat all high fiber raw veggies, and others where you only eat meat.

I have to say that none of the diets I've tried have worked for me so far. I know it's because, realistically, a person can't maintain such a strict and limited eating regimine for the rest of his or her life, and, some of these diets are quite expensive to maintain too.

Sure, most of us can all remember that one kid in school who existed for years and years eating the same foods all the time and wouldn't vary from them. My husband had a childhood friend that only ate hot dogs and rice and about three other types of meals all the time! Now he's a perfectly normal eater and can laugh at those days gone by, but I think even he wonders about why he did it and how he was able to get away with it for so long.

I guess it's not so bad making a drastic change in the way you eat when it's only for a short while. I'm on a strict regimine for two weeks and then a less strict regimine from there on out. But the overall focus of this diet is to make changes in how you think about foods and to make better food choices for the future. So far, I seem to be doing fine. I don't feel I'm starving as I've felt on other diets. I haven't felt light headed or weak. I do feel bored though, as it's more work to prepare meals now because I have to modify the meals for my kids, and in essence I'm cooking two separate meals for each meal. But, by eating healthier, the whole family can benefit.

The toughest obstacle to successful dieting, and I hate to say it, is my husband. He always tells me that I have to put him on a diet, that he has to lose weight, but when it comes down to the wire, he's the first one to crack. Where is his will-power? When we were trying a diet where you eat unlimted protein and dairy, we did okay for about a week. What happened? He accused me of trying to murder him.

"What is this diet called?" he asked, "The Dr. Kevorkian Diet?"

"It's not the Dr. Kevorkian Diet!" I exclaimed, "It's the Dr. Atkins Diet."

"Well, it feels like you're trying to kill me!" he said, "and I refuse to eat like this any more." He rubbed his stomach, "The way this diet makes me feel, I prefer to stay fat!"

Needless to say, we went off that diet, and, at the mere mention of Dr. Kevorkian, er, Dr. Atkins, my husband still reacts in a volatile manner. You know what they say, an elephant never forgets!

Years later, and here we are again. We've been on this new diet for three days. This morning he already started complaining.

"Do we have to eat eggs every morning?" he whined.

I didn't say anything. I just handed him some bacon and a cup of coffee, hoping he'd drop the subject and go to work.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Going Batty

What is it about parenthood that activates your radar? It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing, but if one of your children calls out for you, you immediately drop whatever it is and you're right there. This happens to me all the time, especially at night.

I could be right in the middle of a great dream - I've won the lotto, I'm on a cruise, I've been awarded the Nobel Prize - and a little voice calls out in the darkness, "Mom!" and the dream dissolves Poof! as my eyes open at the sound and I'm up and running as soon as my feet hit the floor to see what is the matter. When they call for me it can be anything from a bad dream, to not feeling well, to being thirsty, but my kids don't usually call out in the night unless they really need something.

A few weeks ago as I slept, peacefully dreaming about String Theory, a voice called out in the darkness, dissolving my night visions.


I was immediately awake. I didn't jump out of bed, instead I answered, "Yes?" The sensation of a moustache and a headfull shaggy hair still cloying to me.

Daughter says, "There's a bird in my room!"

By this time hubby is awake. Although it was dark, I could tell he was giving me one of those looks as he said, "That's not a bird!"

We were both up and running at this point, and what did I see the minute I reached her bedroom door?

A bat flying around and around the ceiling fan and my daughter with the covers up to her chin, her eyes big and round, peeking out at her nocturnal friend.

I encouraged her to roll out of bed and onto the floor so she could crawl out of the room, which she did without delay and made straight for my bed. We shooed the bat out by opening the windows and using an empty box. Of course, no amount of coaxing could convince my daughter to return to her room and she ended up sleeping with us.

The next morning, we all had circles under our eyes. I felt like I had been clobbered by the empty box instead of the bat. My daughter did nothing but talk about the bat that had been in her room, especially to ask me how it got in the house. I didn't know how to answer her because that was what was perplexing us the most. How did it get inside the house? Many years before, we had had a bat inside once, but that was it. And now, how did this one get in?

The only logical conclusion I could come up with was that we had many of the upstairs windows open and, perhaps, the bat had wiggled through a tiny gap between the screens and the windows. But that explanation didn't seem to jive. Why would a bat try to get in? They ususally want out so they can hunt and then come back to go to sleep.

The next night, we were all nervous, but figured that one bat getting inside was probably a fluke and wouldn't happen again. And nothing happened that night or for several nights. We figured, once every ten years a bat get's inside and it's not going to happen again, right?


Once again, in the dark of the night, this time two-thirty in the morning, a voice calls out through the darkness...

"Mommy! The bat's back!"

Like clockwork, daughter was in our bed and we were up and checking it out. This time Mom had to go to the bathroom and by the time I had finished, Papi had shooed the bat out the window using a wicker trash basket. It was quick and painless. We all went back to bed, but not to sleep.

How did the bat get inside the house again and why is it that each time one has been inside that they have ended up in our daughter's room?

The next day we did another inspection of the upstairs. What was the most disturbing was that all the upstairs windows were closed because the AC was running. With flashlight in hand, I did a visual inspection of the upstairs rooms and saw no major gaps or holes. So where were the bats getting in?

Our conclusion? The bats are not getting inside through the upstairs, they are coming into the house someplace else, and probably to go to sleep. When they wake up and try to go outside at night is when they're having the problem. I think they're getting confused, can't find an exit, and are flying into the house.

So what are we going to do?

Keep trying to look for a place the bats can get inside, but this is an old house, so... Wish us luck because if we don't get it figured out, we just might be going batty before too long!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Michigan's Nautical City

When I'm up at Camp Yuc-Yuc, one of the "must-do's" on my list is taking a drive with the kids over to Rogers City. Rogers City is a quaint town, nestled on the northeastern shore of Lake Huron. Besides having everything a small town needs like grocery stores, banks, and hardware stores, Rogers City's prime attractions are the 100 slip Marina and Lakeside Park.

Lakeside Park has beautifully landscaped grounds and a wonderful playground for children. The parking is off-street and free. There are picnic tables and grills to use, and the most enchanting aspect is that it's right next to the beach, so if you want to swim and frolic in Lake Huron's surf this is a great place to do it. There's also volleyball nets and a boardwalk, in case you're in the mood for something more relaxing. While you're enjoying the beach you can also enjoy the view of boats coming and going at the Marina, which is located to the north. And, if you're lucky you might have the chance like I did to see a freighter cruising by on the deep waters of the lake en route to the limestone quarry, which can be viewed to the south of the beach. The quarry, owned by the Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company, is the largest limestone quarry in the world with the world's largest limestone processing plant. Pretty cool! If all this excitement and activity makes you hungry, you can walk over to The Pavilion Grille (at the north side of the park) and have some delicious ice cream. But ice cream's not their only attraction, they also have a full menu of beachside eats, which includes my personal favorite deep fried pickles.

Rogers City offers many other things to do from hiking on scenic trails to camping at state parks, and biking and other outdoor recreation (click here for a link to the Presque Isle County Tourism website). There are lighthouses to tour and lots of other interesting places to see like the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum. While I didn't have time to take advantage of all that Rogers City has to offer while I was visiting, I'm going to make plans to next summer. Besides the tranquility and the small town charm, the best thing about Rogers City is the people who live there. No matter where I went everyone I talked to was very friendly and down-to-earth and they made me feel right at home. Rogers City is a great place to visit and return to, year after year.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lists are for the Birds!

Here's some of the birds I saw and heard at camp:

Cedar Waxwings
Cranes (calling and flying over)
Mourning Doves
Quail (possibly)
Sparrows (variety)
Tufted Titmice
Whipporwhil (I believe I heard one)
Woodpeckers (saw one, heard various)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground

It was Friday afternoon and I headed down the road loaded for bare. I was kind to the motor, not pushing it, giving myself plenty of time to accelerate and decelerate, taking the turns slow. My son was busily drawing and playing in his seat, my arm was being sunburned through the open window, and Raaf was whining and panting from under the last open space in the car, under the refuge of the back seat. The day was sunny and clear, the traffic not too bad. I listened to the radio, seeking new stations as I drove out of range. Catching info about the weather and the Fourth of July festivities in the neighboring towns. We had our water bottles, I had my cell phone. I dumped a full package of M-n-M's into the bottom of my purse by accident, but it didn't matter. What mattered was we were headed up to camp.

I made really good time - I didn't stop once because I didn't have to. We arrived in the town of Onaway at twenty minutes to six, pulling into the parking lot of Tom's IGA to grab some groceries. Tom's has anything and everything you might have forgot before you left home. We bought some hamburger buns and bread, some fresh fruit, a can of spaghetti rings, and, the most important, a twelve pack of beer. Then it was on the road again, all the while my son whining, "I want to go to Camp Ocqueoc!" He is too young to remember what it's like to camp there!

When we got out to camp, my mom, daughter, and sister were there and happy to see us. "Did you bring the meat?" were the first words out of my sister's mouth. Not really, but because she lives in Canada, she couldn't bring any meat across the border and everyone was hungry. As she fried up hamburgers in the camper and the kids run amok, I popped open a well-deserved beer and surveyed the scene.

The long field grasses were swaying in the breeze and nestled among them, here and there, were dots of color. A variety of wildflowers grow on the property - wild orchids and Indian paintbrush were the two I could name off-hand. Facing west, where the sun was making its downward descent, was Indian Creek. I could hear the sounds the children made from where they were playing on the old wooden footbridge and the babbling and gurgling of the water as it flowed over and around the rocks. From the trees, I heard all types of birds calling - meadowlarks and cedar waxwings - and saw them flitting from branch to branch to catch their evening supper of bugs. The sights and sounds of nature calmed and soothed me.

We ate hamburgers for supper and nothing more. Simple is best. My sister and niece helped me pitch the tents and unload the van. My other niece arrived with her children just as the early dusk was setting in and we helped her get her tent up too. We ran an extension cord to the outhouse and plugged in a light. We hauled water up from the creek for washing. We had everything ready just in time as darkness had settled on the camp. We were all too tired to have a campfire on the first night, so we retired to our tents and to our dreams, eagerly waiting to wake up the next morning for our first day at Camp Ocqueoc.

Camp Yuc-Yuc: The Backstory

Many years ago, my siblings and I bought a 20-acre piece of property from our Grandpa after our Grandma had died. This parcel had originally been part of the land owned by her parents, then owned by her brother, and, sometime in the seventies after his death, she acquired it. She and Grandpa had parked a house trailer there and had electric run to it, and it had been their summer get-away for many years.

Way back in 1929, my great grandpa Chalk had bought an 80-acre farm, sight-unseen, up in Presque Isle County. He moved great grandma Belle and their four youngest children there from Flint in the fall of the year and he returned to Flint to work in a factory and send them money. Great grandma was stuck by herself out in the sticks and, according to family lore, hated every minute of it. Somehow, she toughed it out (they never got a divorce!) with no electricity and having to carry water to the house from Indian Creek every day. Great grandpa gave the back 20 to his son, Great Uncle Ted, and that's where he farmed and lived in a creek side berm. When my grandparents were first married, they lived there for a time, and it was in this berm where my mother was born. Naturally, one can see the sentimental value and significance this property has had for my mother and me and my brothers and sisters. It's been in the family for almost 80 years!

After Grandma died, Grandpa wanted one of us kids to have the property. He offered it to one of my brothers first, and instead of having it just for himself, my brother had another idea - for us siblings to buy it together. When this proposal came up, I don't recall hesitating. I became a property owner with them.

The first tradition we created was camping on the Fourth of July, and for quite a few years, we all tried to make it up for the holiday. And every time, small improvements were made - a new outhouse was built, the old berm was eventually burned down, and other general maintenance - nothing spectacular, but something was something. My dad, brothers, and brothers-in-law really worked their tails off.

We started out by calling the place "Our Property" or "Our Property Up North." Because the property is located very close to Ocqueoc Falls, some started saying, "Our Property near the Ocqueoc Falls." Pretty soon that morphed into "Camp Ocqueoc."

One Fourth of July, we had a particularly tough camping experience. The mosquitoes and black flies were atrocious! The days were hot and steamy! Everyone was being bitten and burned to death! Despite all the other mishaps, we managed to have a good time anyway, thanks to lots of bug juice and beer and campfire smoke, laughing it off, saying we should have t-shirts made that said, "I Survived Camp Ocqueoc." One of my brothers, always the pessimistic clown, declared that we should write "I Survived Camp Yuck-Yuck" instead because the whole experience had been rotten! His suggestion was a good one and we have lovingly/humorously called the place Camp Yuck-Yuck ever since.

Being the Creative Writer and English Minor, I pondered this name. Because the word "Ocqueoc" is pronounced "ah-kee-ock" I decided that the most accurate spelling of our camp name should be "Yuc-Yuc" instead. Three years ago, after my daughter asked me what "Ocqueoc" meant, I looked it up on the internet and, much to my surprise, found that the word is from the Odawa language and means "sacred." That was a quandary! There is nothing sacred about something that is considered "rotten," but, since the name had already stuck, I wasn't about to change it, so Camp Yuc-Yuc it is!

As the years have passed, almost twenty now, we've gotten together to celebrate the Fourth of July less and less. We have jobs, responsibilities, and families to care for. Every so often though, we do camp there. We all have dreams of what to do with the place, and these dreams usually include building some type of rustic cabin, but nothing has happened yet. For now, all that stands on the property is a falling-down shed, an outhouse, the old trailer, and my mother's camper, but, let me tell you, that's not what's important. What's important is how much fun it is to camp there when we do go and for all the special memories that have been created. Here's to more!

Getting Ready for Camp

All year I have been waiting to go camping on my property up north and, for the past two months, have been thinking about it and talking about it - I just couldn't wait to get there. As the weeks slipped away I made a mental list of everything I would need - tent, sleeping bags, food, drinking water, flashlights - I was making my list and checking it twice.

It just so happened this year my mom, my sister and her girls, and my niece and her children were able to come too and this was great, the more the merrier! Originally I had planned to leave for camp on a Saturday, but because of the turn of events with the arrival of more campers, I decided to leave on a Friday morning. My intentions were fine and dandy. My daughter was away at Vacation Bible School for the week, my hubby was away at a conference, and it was just me and my son. I would have plenty of time to pack and head out bright and early in the morning to begin my nine day camping adventure.

So what happened? I came down with an intestinal bug the day before.

All day Thursday I was weak and dizzy and running to the bathroom every half hour. I was vigilant though. Thankfully, my sister LDS was here to save me. She came over and sat with my son so I could go and buy new tires for the van and go to the store. When I came home, she helped me gather up camping gear and pack it in the car. I don't know what I would have done without her help! The remainder of Thursday night I packed and packed and packed, accumulating everything in the kitchen so I could be ready to go in the morning, and did all the last minute things one does prior to going on any vacation, including laundry, yard work, and re-siding the house (just in case).

Needless to say, Friday morning I was more pooped than perky. I tried to drink my customary cup-o-joe, but couldn't stomach it. I had to switch to a Coke. I shuffled around for a while, feebly hunting and gathering, talked on the phone with everyone and, as the morning hours burned away, finally arranged for my daughter to ride with Grandma. To say, "I was running late" was an understatement. It took me six hours to make breakfast, dress, and pack the car, sliding the last box inside at a quarter to two. Dare I say that the car was loaded to the hilt? I have a seven passenger mini-van and, when I had finished, there was just enough room for my son to sit in one seat and for me to sit at the driver's seat, oh, and a small space on the floor for Raaf the dog. My son had impatiently climbed into the car at twelve thirty (and who can say I could blame him) and was in his seat drawing a picture and hollering out every five minutes, "Mom! Can we go now?"

My reply? "Just a minute, honey, mommy still needs to pack a few more things." As I threw in the last of the gear I remembered one thing, horrified I exclaimed, "I forgot the kitchen sink!" And I would have brought that too, but because I couldn't find the wrench to unbolt it from the wall, I relented, surveyed the house one last time with a jaundiced eye, locked the door, and climbed into the car.

We were finally off to Camp Yuc-Yuc, and not one moment too soon.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Living the Dream

Today my son started his second week of art classes at Kendall College's summer classes for kids. He's a wonderful artist already, he's always had a knack for it, and I want to keep on encouraging him to pursue the things he's good at. It was no question of whether or not I wanted to sign him up - three weeks of drawing monsters, one of his favorite subjects after regular cartooning and dinosaurs - I didn't need to ask.

For every class, I have to drive him downtown. I love being downtown. There's a special magic about it that thrills me. Of course, I haven't been downtown in too many big cities, just Denver, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Lima, and I'm not saying that Grand Rapids can compare, but our downtown has similar charm. Parallel parking is a challenge, but once we're out of the car and our feet hit the sidewalk I'm totally into the scene. There's always something going on, there's always interesting people to observe, thinking of Whitman's "blab of the pave."

My son just holds my hand and lets me lead the way. I'm not sure how much he's taking in, but when we arrive at the school entrance, he's captivated by the student art on exhibit in the front lobby and wants to see each painting and sculpture all over again. He asks me questions about how the artist made each work, what the titles are, and what they're supposed to mean. Any of you out there who are art aficionados know that looking at art is one thing and understanding the deeper meaning is another. But I try my best to explain what I think it means. I, too, am thrilled to be there. Taking it all in. I had never been inside Kendall before, until my son took this class.

The whole trip is exciting, right up to when I help him sit at his drawing board and unpack his supplies. He's totally into it. I spoke to his instructor for a few moments, somehow the conversation turning to me sharing that I'd always wanted to attend Kendall but never had. He looked surprised, then asked, "Why didn't you do it?" I didn't have an answer on the tip of my tongue. Where could I begin? He commented that a career in fine arts can be intimidating. I mentioned that I hadn't given it up, but had taken a detour - graduating with my degree in creative writing instead. I told him how I still had it all, my drawings and paintings, and all my art supplies, everything down to the easel. That I had planned to come back to it someday, when my kids were older, when I have more time. We talked a little longer and ended the conversation pleasantly. I said goodbye to my son. As I exited through Kendall's lobby, thinking about my old dream - the career in art I never pursued - those old feelings of bittersweet regret flooded through me, just as fresh and new as they had felt when I was twenty. Would I ever be able to do what I had told the instructor, "I'm going to back to it again when the kids are older"? I had to wonder. Would I ever practice fine art again? Then I couldn't help but remember what Langston Hughes said, and I think he said it best:

"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

To Filet A Fish

Having recovered sufficintly from my fishing expedition and having slept in until ten in the morning, I knew that my adventure wasn't about to end - I had utilize what I'd learned during Stan's final lesson and filet my fish! I put on an apron, grabbed a cutting board, newspapers, a bowl, some knives, retreived the fish from the fridge, and headed outside.

I dragged an old table into the shade of my backyard tree and set up all my stuff so I could get to work. I extracted the first fish from the plastic bag, and, instead of the fantastic creature from the lake of the day before, what greeted me was a picky and slimey dead creature from the lake one day later. But, mom can't be squeamish, you know, so she got to work, chopping off the heads and gutting the fish.

As I chopped I sang a little ditty: "Fish heads, fish heads, lovely, lovely fish heads!" to the first head whose cloudy eye stared skyward from the edge of the newspaper. The flies loved me! It wasn't so bad, I supposed. I figured out how to take off the head and a set of fins with one chop, all the while thinking about the fishmonger's wife, whomever she is. Next I figured out how to make two cuts along the stomach to remove the fins there so I could scoop out the guts. If you've never done this before, you haven't yet lived.

Now, as Stan told me not to try to filet without a filet knife because I would end up wasting the flesh and chopping my fingers off, I opted to descale them. It's not too bad, but the scales fly all over the place. In my hair, down my shirt, and onto my bare toes. I made the best of it, hosing myself, the cleaned fish, and the table down when I was all finished.

I wondered if I would have the stomach to eat the fish once I had cleaned them. I decided the best thing to do was not to think about how gross it had been, but to concentrate on the best way to cook these fish. I had always seen my mother pan fry them. I salted and peppered the fish and melted a stick of butter in a non-stick pan. Bluegill fry up quickly, about five minutes per side, I turned them only once and after the skins were golden brown. Of course, the kids wouldn't touch the fish, I'm not sure if any kid likes fish except for the ones who come in the unrecognizable forms of stick or patty, but I did. It's a little trouble eating them, watching out for the bones, but they were so fresh and so tasty! And despite the work of cleaning them, nothing beats the flavor of the fish you catch yourself.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fishing 101

I hadn't been fishing for a coon's age (as they say in these here parts) and was fortunate to have the opportunity to do so when some friends of mine invited me and the kids up to their place. They recently bought a house on a small lake out in the country and invited us for an afternoon cookout followed by a fishing expedition on their boat.

I had all the necessary gear - poles and tackle box - which I threw into the van, along with the bug spray, hats, and life jackets, and, on the way up north, I stopped to buy a new fishing license and pick up my free fishing guides, courtesy of the DNR.

We drove through the "country" (still populated, but not like the city), taking in the view, driving past horses and cows and a Christmas Tree farm until we reached my friends' new place. They have a beautiful home, the perfect combination of modern convenience mixed with country living. They have a semi-wooded lot, which has lake frontage. Can't beat that! There's loads of deer, rabbits, all types of wild birds, and, much to my kids' delight, lots of frogs and toads hopping about.

We dug for worms utilizing my son's science experiment - worms can be charmed out of the ground by sprinkling water on the ground. I have to say, I think it might work. The kids had a good time with this, but wouldn't pick up the worms. (Imagine that.) It's a good thing mom's not too squeemish, so I did it for them. Then we spied a toad hopping through the fallen leaves, and, yes, mom was the one who scooped it up to show the kids. The toad peed on my hand - they always do, it's a defense mechanism - and I thanked my kids for letting me get the warts instead of them. (Hey, the perpetuation of old wives' tales never hurt anyone.)

After that excitement, I had to fix up the fishing poles. Thankfully my friend's step-dad was there. Stan's up in his eighties and an old fishing pro. He helped me to detangle the lines, tie on the hooks, and put on new bobbers and sinkers. All in all, he gave me a refresher course on Fishing 101, and there's no better way than hands-on.

We had a great cook-out. The whole time the kids were wound-up, dying to go fishing and we managed to finish dessert and coffee and walk over to the lake before they did.

I went out on a small boat, powered by an electric motor, with my Stan at the stern and my son at the bow. (Let me say right now that if you've never gone fishing with a seven-year-old, you should try it. It ranks right up there with a visit to the dentist, necessary, but uncomfortable. Either way, you're going to get poked.) But, seriously, it was fun. My son got a bit discouraged because he didn't have the patience to wait and catch a fish. He expected instant results. Now, my Stan did have instant results, and was the first to land a fish (even a small bass, which he released). I didn't get discouraged though, and pretty soon, I landed one too. A beautiful bluegill and good sized.

The lake is stocked with bass, bluegill, crappies, and sunfish, and because we were out fishing in the early evening hours, they were biting! We caught about twenty or so, tossing them in a bucket in the bottom of the boat. When the bucket was full and the fish were ready to flip out, we came in. It was a fun time, even though my son was upset that he hadn't gotten a fish, but I did let him help me by dropping the fish into his toy net that I had thrown into the car as an afterthought and, of course, I promised him that we would go fishing again soon.

We divided up the fish - some for me, for Stan, and some for my friends, and to conclude Fishing 101, Stan gave us all a refresher course on how to filet, too. Darkness was settling upon us and, fish in hand, we headed home. Food, friends, and fishing, three things that add up to create a pleasant summer afternoon.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ah, The Sweet Smell of Summer!

I remember summer! Everything fresh and green. Sun-filled days, stretching into infinity. Lazy, lazy time-on-your-hands summer, when skool seemed miles away from reality and I wondered what to do with each "empty" day. Sleeping-in. Staying up late. Bike-riding, swimming. Cook-outs. Fourth of July Fireworks. Camping. Fireflies. Oh, the possibilities!

When I was a kid, summer seemed like all this, and more. It was a time to take a break from studying and getting up early, with nothing to do but simply exist. Summer vacation meant nearly three whole months of freedom! Why did it have to end!?

Ruminating on all this makes me ask myself, What does Summer mean to you now that you're All Grown Up? I guess, in a way, Summer still means the same things, but now I'm the parent and no longer the carefree child. And despite all the "freedom" that summer implies, I still have to follow routines of cooking, cleaning, supervising, and coordinating my children's days so that they can enjoy their time off just like I did when I was their age.

As I sit here and blog, full sun shining in at the window, hearing a robin singing his little heart out in the neighbor's backyard tree, I think about all the other things I should be doing today: paint the fence, weed, plant some chili peppers, make the beds, organize the silverware drawer, finish the laundry -- but I really don't want to. What I really want to do is find a good book and curl up and read, go to the beach for the whole day, jump into the van and take a road-trip, go swimming, or take a bike ride. Anything and everything that doesn't have to do with being inside or being responsible. Even though I'm a "grown-up" now, I'd still like to relive those hazy days of the summers of my youth, when I didn't have to do anything unless, of course, I was told to and had all the time in the world to do it. Who wouldn't?

Instead, as Raaf snores contentedly from underneath my chair while I try to decide in which direction the content of this post is destined and realize that I have to start conjuring up something to eat for that dreaded six-letter familiy ritual (aka, DINNER), I realize that, alas!, I'm no longer a child and, better than becoming nostalgic on the days of Summers Past, that I had best make the most of the days that I have left -- of Summer Now. Like it or not!

A Slice of Heaven In Alger Heights

If you're looking for a slice of heaven, look no further than Agostino's Little Sicily Pizza restaurant on the corner of Eastern and Burton. They sell some of the best pies in Grand Rapids, using a special recipe that the owner brought over from Sicily.

On Friday night, we were in the mood for pizza for dinner, and since it had been a long time since I'd eaten a good quality pizza, I decided to take the kids over to Agostino's. The restaurant is small, but well decorated and clean, and the staff is friendly, or should I say patient? No matter, in fifteen minutes our order was up and we were out the door.

The pizza's were perfect. The crust to die for, not thick and doughy, but just the right thickness to hold the toppings. The edges a perfect combination of crunchy and chewy - these are pizza crusts you don't want to throw away! The sauce is rich, thick, spread evenly and not globbed on, and mysterious - just what is in there? Enticing flavors of onion, garlic, and spices spread over my tongue, and did I detect parmesan cheese? The best thing about this pizza is that it's not over-loaded with mozzarella. You know what I'm talking about, when there's so much cheese and greese on the top of the pizza that you have to blot it with a paper towel before you eat it, but not this pie. This Deluxe pizza had the right amount of toppings and cheese and sauce to satisfy. Two pieces a person was plenty to fill us up, and the left-overs? Guarded in the fridge for lunch the next day.

Agostino's has a full menu - dinners and subs, appetizers and Stromboli. They also have Philly Steak Sandwiches. Oh, and I forgot to mention, great salads too. If you're looking for some mouth-watering Italian food, look no further than Agostino's. It's a little slice of Sicilian Heaven just waiting to be discovered right here in Grand Rapids!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Birds

I have to admit that since graduating, I have felt just a little burnt out. I've been passing the days playing the game of "catch-up," trying to get all those little things done that I hadn't had time to do before. And while there have been lots of things I wanted to write about and post on my blog, I just haven't been able to get around to doing it. One of the topics I wanted to write about was my zebra finches (new to my household) and the adorable racket they make all day long. Thanks to LDS, I thought that a poem was the best way to express how they make me feel. And what better poet to do this than Edgar Allan Poe? I thought I would parodize his famous poem "The Bells" to that purpose, but since I'm so tired and all, I've figured out an easier goes!

The Birds

Hear the sledges with the birds-
Silver birds!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the birds, birds, birds, birds,
Birds, birds, birds-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the birds.

Hear the mellow wedding birds,
Golden birds!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the birds, birds, birds,
Of the birds, birds, birds, birds,
Birds, birds, birds-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the birds!

Hear the loud alarum birds-
Brazen birds!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now–now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the birds, birds, birds!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the birds-
Of the birds-
Of the birds, birds, birds, birds,
Birds, birds, birds-
In the clamor and the clangor of the birds!

Hear the tolling of the birds-
Iron Birds!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people–ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the birds!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the birds!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the birds-
Of the birds:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the birds-
Of the birds, birds, birds-
To the sobbing of the birds;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the birds-
Of the birds, birds, birds:
To the tolling of the birds,
Of the birds, birds, birds, birds,-
Birds, birds, birds-
To the moaning and the groaning of the birds.


Friday, May 18, 2007

What's Up With Grey's Anatomy and ER?

As my own update and response to What I'm Watching Lately, I want to say that I'm ticked off at NBC (again, what's surprising about that?) for cancelling The Black Donnelley's. Just when I was getting into the show, it disappeared, and being the Technologically Savy Chick that I am (finally), watched it online. The nerve of NBC! Where's good ole Jimmy Donnelley when you need him to wack a couple of network execs anyway?

Misery needs no company with Desperately-Sucks Housewives...that's all I've got to say... Yuck!

And what's up with Grey's Anatomy and ER? Christina and Burke don't get married and Meredith and McDreamy are like breaking up -- what's wrong with stable relationships Shonda? and they just had to go and chop off Ray's legs! Come on, I mean it couldn't get any worse! Perhaps the writers are a bunch of drunken monkeys after all -- my cat could write better story lines than these. Or better yet, why don't they hire someone like me for a dose of good Western Michigan Reality.

Merry's New Year's Resolutions 2007

or Why I’m Still Just as Lazy as I Was in 2005 and 2006
and Still Just as Nutz
and Now Almost Officially a Super-Procrastinator

Resolution #1
Eat More Chocolate. Hey, you only live once! Why should I give up something that is potentially healthy for me?

Resolution #1.5
Relax More and basically Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Believe me, the older I get, the smaller stuff gets.

Resolution #2
Blog More. Last year I resolved to blog daily, but since that never happened (It’s a wonder why! Can you say, Circus Ringmaster boys and girls?) I think this year I shall endeavor to just blog more frequently. Is it working?

Resolution #3
Eat Better. (yadda-yadda-yadda…) This should not be read as “more” but “healthier.” I will continue to make “smart yadda choices” like smaller yadda, quality yadda – no junk, no sweets, no fast yadda – more water, and no snacking in between yadda. Exceptions to this resolution are for beer or chocolate (please see #1). I consume these products liberally and whenever available because, besides wondering what the horrendous side effects could be if I didn’t consume them, life’s too short and a girl’s gotta have fun. (yadda-yadda-ditto)

New Year’s Resolution #4
Exercise. Ummm….no comment at the present, but I have been walking more.

Resolution #4.5
Take overall better care of myself: get more sleep, pamper myself more, take advantage of each opportunity to laugh and have fun, paint my nails, be a girl, drink a cup of tea, read a book, burn candles, spend time with the people I love, and just enjoy life! (Okay, so color me an optimist. Have I really been taking better care of myself? I hardly think so, today I fell asleep while watching Shrek III at Mega-Movie Theater. For cripes sake, you’d think I was an eighty-year-old by the way I’ve been passing out!)

Resolution #5
Get writing! I am trained. I am ready. I am an artiste! Whassamadder already!

Resolution #6
Get organized! (hahahahahaha) This resolution is a permanent joke! To date I have done nothing and I think the Health Department will be paying me a visit soon.

Resolution #7
Have a Nervous Breakdown, Go Completely Crazy, Whack Someone, or Jump Off a Bridge while trying to achieve Resolutions 1 through 13. (I have been contemplating playing with matches as opposed to cleaning the house…)

Resolution #7.5
Be an all-around better person.

Resolution #8
(Recycled from last year…but still just as pertinent) Play with my children more, do more activities with them that are low-cost or free, focus on helping them to develop their creative and athletic abilities. I will continue attempting to read to them at least once a day. I will continue to try to set a good example by being a good role model. And despite spinning through potential Vortexes of Confusion I will try not to shout unless completely provoked and utilize my reasoning skills even when they are being completely unreasonable. Overall I will try to spend more quality time with the screaming, fighting little heathens. Lord help me!

Resolution #9
Continue keeping a journal, but dang, if it doesn’t take up so much time! And I would keep doing it if I could only find my journal (what did I do with it?) and a pen that works (drat those kids!). It must be around here someplace, if only I could start Resolution 6.

Resolution #10
Ditto: Work on all my creative projects like poetry, screenwriting, short stories, and artwork in between laundry, dishes, cleaning, and cooking while trying to live up to Resolution 8 and experiencing Resolution 7.

Resolution #11
COMPLETED! Graduated from Grand Valley in April. I am no longer a Perpetual Senior, and now must jump into…

Resolution #12
Get a Real Job in the Real World after completion of Resolution 11. I have been scanning the Morons Wanted column in the local Swamp Valley One Wipe (hey, my Dad coined that one, so I’m gonna use it!) and there are jobs out there for writers, believe it or not. Now to apply and convince someone that they need to hire me. I still want to work as a Best Selling Author, and wonder, if anyone out there is reading my blog, could they please offer me a job doing freelance? It would be nice to be able to work from my Domestic Dilemma Command Center.

Resolution #13
Resolve to do all the things and reach all the goals (even those I have forgotten to include) listed in Resolutions 1 to 12, and probably end up repeating them all for next year! Wish me luck, this gal’s gonna need it!

The Kindness of Strangers

I took the kids shopping for groceries the other evening at the local Waldo’s store, which is a feat I don’t normally undertake. Any parent could tell you that taking children to any store, for any reason, is like taking on a suicide mission. It’s something nobody wants to do because Real Life isn’t like the movie The Bridge On the River Kwai. But because I couldn’t go during school hours and because there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house and just as William Holden had to blow up the bridge, I had to go to the grocery store.

Typical to my kids, they were shouting, arguing, and jumping all around and that was just in the car on the way to the store. Once our feet hit terra firma, my son commandeered the cart and proceeded to crash it into the Exit door as he tried to enter Waldo’s. Once corrected he nearly ran over a little old lady, two kids, and a dog as he steered toward the Entrance in his haphazard way. Fortunately for us (and them) we made it in unscathed and, upon doing so, he announced, “Now, let’s see…what’s on my list?”

“Your list?” I asked, surprised.
“Yup! I have a list in my head.” That was news to me.

The children immediately began their scavenger hunt, tossing items like chips, candies, and sugar cereal into the cart. General Mom stepped up and brought the troops to attention, “One item per recruit!” I barked.

“Aw, Mom!” they moaned. “Can’t we get more than one thing?”
“I have three things on my list!” says son, disappointed.
“No, just one,” I said firmly. I had to stand my ground.

We commenced shopping and because each child had already selected their one item (from the first aisle), they were bored with shopping and began running to and fro, singing, tussling over who was going to bring which item to the cart, and generally just being themselves: two out-of-control maniacs. (Can’t you tell how patient I am?)

When we rounded the corner of the second aisle – the aisle filled with gadgets and other child-enticers – they ran amok in ecstasy, picking things up, drooling and begging me to buy them. General Mom was close to losing it. The troops were going A.W.O.L. in a bad way. I issued commands in rapid-fire succession, “Company, halt! Forward, march!” They tried to follow orders, putting the coveted extra items back on the shelves, moving their over-excited feet to my chant of “Hut, two, three, four!” but the temptation was too much. They kept breaking formation to pick up another item, and then another, and another, all the while begging and pleading. Fifteen minutes had passed, the General was sinking into a Swirling Vortex of Confusion, and we still had two and a half isles to go when a man in Army casuals stepped up to attention.

“Permission to speak, General Mom,” he requested.
I eyed the stranger warily, then sighed. “Permission granted, soldier,” I said. “At ease.”
“If you would allow me, Ma’am-Sir, I have something that will calm the troops.”
Even though my head was throbbing, I was intrigued. We had been sidetracked on our mission and were close to losing The Battle of The Waldo. A diversion might be the saving grace and as nothing could hurt at this point, I acquiesced, “Fire away,” I sighed.

In the meantime, the kids were running in circles around me, passerby were having difficulty navigating past, we were receiving those “looks” from most everyone, and you know what kind of looks I’m talking about. The situation was embarrassing, to say the least.

The man opened his shoulder pack and extracted something long and skinny and rubbery. He stretched it back and forth rapidly between his hands as he said, “Hey, kids, look at this,” and placed one end of it to his lips. The kids rallied to attention and watched with wide eyes and gaping mouths as the soldier blew up a black balloon.

Once inflated, he knotted the end and twisted it into shape, producing a mighty sword. He turned to my son and said, “Do you promise to use this sword only for good? To defend the universe against the powers of evil? And not to hit your sister or anyone else with it?”
My son nodded, dumbfounded.

He extended his hand, and just as my son grabbed for it, he bopped him on the head, “You promise?”

“Yes!” he shouted overenthusiastically, “I promise!” It was almost too much to take for his six-year-old self.

All the while, my daughter, who had ceased running in place, was watching the transpirations, eyes wide and mouth agape. The man rummaged in his pack again, producing a pink balloon. We watched, amused, as he proceeded to inflate it and twist it into shape, producing a princess wand.

“You,” he said, handing it to her, “have my permission to hit your brother as many times as you’d like with it.”

“Really?” she asked (it was way too good to be true), and just as she was reaching for her prize the Soldier added, “I was just kidding!” Then she knew it was too good to be true, and being the trooper she is, my daughter shouldered her disappointment, and sacrificing her desires for the greater cause, accepted her trophy.

And General Mom, what did she do? Well, I just stood there flabbergasted and amused and pleased, looking on.

“You deserve a commendation, Soldier,” I said.

The Soldier replied, “It was the least I could do General Ma’am-Sir to save your mission.”

“Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it.”

That day, thanks to the kindness of a stranger, the Battle of the Waldo was a success. The Soldier faded into the distance with his shopping cart and I finished my shopping in peace because the kids were happily busy with their new prizes. It wasn’t until I was checking out and exiting the store that I noticed the Kind Stranger once again, this time fashioning another sword for another wide-eyed and open-mouthed boy whose joy was apparent by the bliss written across his face.