Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Elevation Change

Sometimes, the only thing to do after receiving a piece of sad news is to keep busy.  So you clean and clean and clean, all morning, and this is satisfying in the middle and throughout the process, and for right around ten seconds afterward you look around with some level of contentment.

Contentment quickly begins to wane, however, and you travel swiftly from, "My house is clean!" to "My house is clean and my grandma is dead."

This feeling is also short-lived, however, which is fine because you long ago decided that your mood swings are not a sin, especially when you're not forcing anyone on the swing with you.  This up-and-down is largely internal, and pretty well managed by dedicated daily exercise.  So, fine.  Back up we go, because yes, your grandma is dead, but how many people get thirty-two years with a beloved great-grandmother?  And your kids- man, how many get to know a great-great-grandparent?  This is lavish, superfluous blessing, so many decades being so loved by a woman such as Helen Stewart.

Who is now dead.  Back down we go.

But, hang on!  Grandma was 96.  Ninety-six!  She'd lived independently for all but her last few months of life, and these last few years, as her eyesight continued to deteriorate, she'd spoken of how she missed reading and sewing and the faces of her family.  She doesn't have to worry about that anymore!  We'll see her again!  Up and up and up!

But now my family is sad, and my sisters are sad, and that makes me sad.  Down.

The only thing to be done for it is to go outside, look at my flowers, pick the first of my newly-ripened Pink Lady tomatoes, make myself a thick BLT for lunch, and tell our children I love them, because if I learned anything from Grandma, it's that there is no such thing as too many times when it comes to "I love you."  If you want to be like Grandma- and in this case, you do- you won't just say it when you're leaving or hanging up the phone, but as soon as they walk in the door, in any and every lull in conversation.  And you'll say it to all the children, all the grandchildren, all the great- and great-great grandchildren, biological, adopted, married into the family, whatever, because she knew that love is no place to practice scarcity economics.

And back up again, where Grandma is.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Measured Response

Earlier today, as I was cleaning out a cupboard, making yet another pile for Goodwill, Adelaide looked around and dropped this bomb:  "You know, what we need to get rid of are a whole bunch of these books."

I don't really recall what my response to this was, exactly.  There was definitely sputtering.  Indignation in spades.  My arms may have cartwheeled around my body as my psyche received this unexpected blow.

I eventually collected and calmed myself enough to bellow, "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'WE NEED TO GET RID OF THESE BOOKS?'  I realize that parenting styles are more difficult to categorize than most self-help books would have you believe, but I'm quite sure my own could easily be defined as "Grace under pressure."  Obviously.

After that I yelled a few more things, Adelaide rolled her eyes, I gesticulated wildly at a Jane Austen here, a Jane Austen there, Daughter asked, "Is that the monkey lady?"  I snaked my fingers into my hair and tugged, hard, and through my teeth informed her that "You're thinking of Jane Goodall, DARLING."  Then I got a grip and plucked a book off the shelf, placing it in her heathen hands.

By pure happenstance the title I had handed her was Etiquette Every Child Should Know.  I've talked about it before, but this was Adelaide's first foray into the world of 1930's expected manners, and she proceeded to spend the following hour reading me the parts she found most entertaining:

"'There's the napkin, which has definite rules for furling and unfurling, and which is a necessity, not a stumbling block.'"

"'In using the napkin, do not scrub your lips with it but touch it lightly to your lips.  Always use the napkin in this way before taking a drink from a glass.'"  

"'Sad experience on trains makes one realize that the great mass of American travelers are constitutionally opposed to fresh air.'"

She derived such enjoyment from this random book I assumed she had realized the error of her ways and repented, but when I asked, "So, Adelaide:  Did Etiquette Every Child Should Know change your mind?  Do you see now why we have all these books, do you see that each one contains something useful and interesting?" her sad reply was "Not really," at which point I attempted to wrestle her into the Goodwill pile, because priorities:  I have them.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bison bison, Broken broken

In addition to friendly, our local auto repair place is speedy, and got the van back to us with a new hood and new windshield on Friday, a mere four days post-trauma.  Somehow they managed to find a used hood that was the same color as the rest of our van, which was super helpful, as we requested they just get the thing drive-able, not necessarily pretty or perfect which was probably a relief to the mechanics as they are not miracle workers.

When I picked it up one of the mechanics assured me that the van will probably continue to run for quite some time, as "the engines on those things generally run forever; people just stop driving them because everything else falls apart."

What's that, Sir Mechanic?  "Everything else falls apart"?  You don't mean things like:

  • The driver's side door handle half broken, thisclose to coming completely off,
  • One of the outer sliding door handles coming off in the hand of a passenger who dared to attempt opening the door,
  • The power doors being inoperable,
  • The manual button you use to open the inside of one of the sliding doors sticking nearly every time you use it, often having to be pried out with a key,
  • The volume knob slicing itself cleanly in two and half of it falling off,
  • The handle of the back hatch no longer working, making it so we can't open the back door,
  • A hole in the exhaust system making the van so loud our neighbors must surely think Sturgis has relocated to our town when we're still a block away,
  • The two back automatic windows that are supposed to open a bit for ventilation no longer working, 
  • The heat no longer working in the middle or back rows,
  • The two black pieces of rubber on either side of the windshield coming loose and flapping like the wings of an irate goose anytime we're on the highway,
  • The turn signals and hazards abruptly going on strike- they did fix those at the shop, as they're the tiniest bit important.

I'd say the maniacal laughter that threatened to erupt from me at his words was entirely warranted.  

A Weekend List

  • I ran in my first 5k on Saturday.  I'm beginning to see why everyone was all, "Um, you might want to try a shorter race first," when I was training for the Des Moines Half Marathon last year, because being done by 8:30 a.m. was pretty dang awesome.  I also appreciated the lack of crazy nerves- hey, I can do anything for three miles, right?- and the fact that the shorter distance and less stress meant less asthma anxiety.  Plus I got second in the Female 30-39 category, which in my world means all the chocolate milk I want.


  • Derek and I were reunited with the children Saturday morning after they spent most of the week at the grandparents.  I spent the time they were gone doing exciting things like shampooing the carpets and cleaning out filters (washing machine, vacuum, etc- I find cleaning filters to be strangely satisfying) and attacking the bathroom with six consecutive magic erasers.  I'm expecting a certificate in the mail any day now that will state something like "ACHIEVEMENT LEVEL UNLOCKED:  ADULTHOOD."  The rest of the time I was reading and running and gardening because I think we all know what happens if you're all work and no play.  

Let's say you're a professor of Shakespeare at an Indiana university.  You have a busy workload on campus and the pressure of achieving tenure is constantly at the back of your mind.

Do you:

A) Work feverishly to publish something, anything, achieving that tenure and finally finding job security

B)  Make sure to cultivate your interests outside of work so that your brain doesn't melt in your skull and ooze out your ears

C)  Drive many miles each way to volunteer at a prison, offering to teach inmates, many of whom couldn't care less, many of whom are dangerous, all about a guy who wrote a bunch of plays 400 year ago.

If you chose A or B, then congratulations!  I hereby offer you this Certificate of Sanity, to be shown to your spouse/friends/coworkers at appropriate times.  (Oh, you'll know when.)

If you chose C, you can only be Dr. Laura Bates, and I don't understand you.

Now, don't get me wrong:  I enjoyed this book very much- three cheers for librarians who recommend books you wouldn't otherwise even touch!- and I admire the work Dr. Bates has done immensely- but I can't imagine turning to Derek one Friday evening and saying, "You know what?  Let's forget Midsomer Murders tonight and drive to our local friendly SuperMax prison and hang out with convicts.  It'll be SuperFun!"  

Then again, if God sent me a vision that said, "Hey, you!  I know this whole visiting-a-prison thing seems crazy, but not only will you find a group of men there that connect to the works of Shakespeare in a meaningful way, I made this one guy who will provide more insight into Shakespeare's stories than most scholars relying on previously published studies and critiques, and who will use the intensive, multi-year study of Shakespeare to intensely reflect on his own mistakes and decision-making process, and will in turn pour into the lives of the prison population around him, asking them hard questions begging careful introspection that could certainly change lives, the way it changed his.  Oh, and remember that one guy?  Jesus?  [Proof God is smarter than me:  He only had one son, and therefore cannot constantly mix up their names the way I do.  Plus every single other thing He does.]  This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would do.  GET OFF THE COUCH."  If He did that?  Then I would first:  Examine my own Certificate of Sanity, and second:  Get off the couch, the way Laura Bates did.

All that to say:  You should really read this book.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Books

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Remember how I was recently whining about how I just couldn't find any good books, the kind of good that makes you stay up too late and turn your to-do list over so it's not staring you in the face as you ignore it in favor of obsessive reading?
This book is that kind of good.
Alif is a gifted computer hacker living in a rigidly controlled state in the middle east that looks down on things like computer hacking.  His character starts the story as naive and a bit shallow but still likable, then evolves throughout the book into someone who knows what he believes and why and that there are things worth fighting for.  All he has to do to achieve this depth is flee from government agents, suffer betrayal, face the supernatural, and re-evaluate everything and everyone he holds dear, among many other things.
I loved the setting, so foreign and relatively unknown to me; the characters, imperfect but trying so hard to do The Right Thing, whatever that is; the plot, perfectly paced and thrilling, and that Ms. Wilson somehow made the unbelievable believable.  Un-put-downable, indeed.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

I passed this book up a number of times because I thought and still think that cover is ugly as homemade sin.  When Shonya recommended it as something light but fun, however, I decided I could do with something light and checked it out.
I think this is one of those books you could solidly put on a "Beach Reads" list:  It's entertaining; you come to really love the characters enough that not finishing the story isn't an option, not at all; there's nothing in this book that's going to cause any unnecessary brain straining, but it's also not one of those where you have to take a deep breath and say to yourself, "I'm just going to pretend I don't need my storylines or characters or their dialogue to be remotely believable."  (I'm looking at you, 90% of Christian fiction.)  I especially appreciated the many quirks of Moyes's cast of characters, and the way she used an underdog/romance/ family comedy to illustrate the reality of surviving on little money in a middle class world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Also, I Didn't Die

Well.  I had a breezy, chatty, listy post half-written this morning about seed libraries and a terrific book I just finished, but then I made the mistake of gathering up the sacks of donations for Goodwill and actually trying to get something done today.  Our death-trap of a van had other plans.

Five minutes from our house, on the little two-lane country highway, I was tooling along, deedle-dee, the children are at grandma's for the day so I shall go to Goodwill and maybe T.J. Maxx, when hello, Mister Hood, I do not believe you are supposed to be straight up in the air and in my face whilst I am driving, plus you make it awfully hard to see where I'm going- impossible, in fact- and I do not appreciate all this glass that is now all over my person from the windshield you just shattered with a dramatic BAM while I was driving 60 miles per hour and minding my own business.

I have mentally referred to this vehicle by the affectionate name Bison bison for some time now, being that the van is big and hulking and loud and more endangered than the actual bison, plus it travels the plains of the midwest.  I'd also hoped that a title like that would inspire it to be as majestic as its namesake, though the genus-species reference was sheer flattery, I admit.

After today, however, I think Death Trap is a little more fitting.

The bright side:

  • I had a couple inches of sight below the hood when it was up, just enough to allow me to maneuver to the narrow shoulder and out of harm's way.

  • I hadn't made it to the interstate yet, which would have made the whole thing more treacherous.

  • The children weren't with me.

  • Everyone I interacted with, from the lady on the phone at dispatch to the policeman to the tow truck driver to the mechanic, was incredibly kind to me.  The tow truck driver was so nice ("Man, you're having a bad day,"  "Don't worry, we'll get you taken care of,"  "You're handling this all really well!") I was tempted to ask him to scale it back a bit; I need brisk kindness in these situations; if you're too nice tears threaten, and no one wants to see that, least of all me, and because he got there pretty quickly I was still relatively shaken from the whole thing.

And see?  I got to make a list after all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Father's Day Questionnaire 2015

Today I did my yearly interrogation of our offspring in the name of a cutesy Father's Day questionnaire.  Really, the children don't mind, probably because any time you're talking about Dad is happy time.  And here are the questionnaires from 2014, 2013, and 2012 for your viewing pleasure.  I print them out each year, stick them in those clear page protectors, and put them in a binder that I keep on a shelf with my cookbooks, because leaving these memories in the hands of the internet is just asking for the A.I. coup I know is inevitable.  No need to provoke the robots.

All About My Daddy

By Adelaide, Age 9

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is 6 feet 5 inches tall.

He weighs 240 pounds.

His hair color is what you call blonde; that is, brown.

His favorite tv show is golf- wait… football.

He likes to go to Cheddar’s.

His favorite food is buffalo chicken wrap at Cheddar’s.

His favorite drink is iced tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to golf.

I love it when Daddy picks me up- wait, snuggles.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is he’s the best daddy.

One funny thing about my Daddy is he would like a Vikings washcloth.

If I could give my Daddy anything in the world, it would be 50 real Garfields and Vikings football mascots.


All About My Daddy

By Atticus Crisler, Age 6

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is humongous.

He weighs 14 pounds.

His hair color is brown, same as me.

His favorite tv show is Captain America.

He likes to go to movie theaters.

His favorite food is chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

His favorite drink is It used to be Mountain Dew.  Now it’s iced tea.

For fun my Daddy plays with me.

I love it when Daddy makes funny jokes.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is he might be as strong as the Hulk.

My favorite thing to do with Daddy is golf.


All About My Daddy

By Caedmon Crisler, Age 4

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is super tall.

He weighs 100 pounds.

His hair color is gray.

His favorite tv show is golf.

He likes to go to work.

His favorite food is I don’t know- oh no, cookies!.

His favorite drink is tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to play superheroes with me.  It is awesome and cool and very fun to play that.

I love it when Daddy plays with me.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is to play.