Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beauty Upwards, Beauty Downwards

As an introvert, I am apparently supposed to loathe small talk.  The problem with this is, of course, weather.

I love to talk about the weather.  Everyone else is evidently annoyed by this, at least according to the internet.  But... but why?  Why wouldn't you want to talk about the weather?  It's so wonderful and weathery, and, get this, it changes every day!

Now, it's possible that I'm just easily amused (um, more than possible- let's call it probable), but I think much of the problem is that all these people who say weather conversations are pointless and not deep enough are hopeless navel-gazers who need to get over themselves.  As a blogger who also sports a psych degree, I don't say that lightly; navel-gazing and overthinking all manner of trivialities is kind of my thing.

It's also possible that these anti-weather people just need to get outside.  You know who does like to talk about the weather?  Derek, thank goodness.  We live by the hourly forecast, because it dictates when golf (him) or a run (me) is going to happen.  Other important people who will talk to excess about the weather:  Gardeners (me), farmers (not me, but who doesn't want to spend some time talking to their favorite farmer?  Time to brush up on your weather lingo, weather-chat-haters), and small children.  This means that, between the five of us, we spend a lot of time talking about The Weather in our house.

As a weather-loving person, this time of year is fantastic.
The skies after piano lessons yesterday, complete with beautiful, beautiful thunder and lightning.

Now, the good thing about living in Iowa during storm season is you get ominous, brooding skies like that one up there, and the one below.
This pic was taken maybe a minute after the previous one; one was the sky to the north, the other was the west.  (Raise your hand if you're SO IMPRESSED that I know which direction I was traveling?!) I love that beam of light on the left; either Scotty is working desperately to beam someone up, or God has had enough and is like, "Stop being such a jerk, Bill.  Yes, I'm talking to you; is this shaft of heavenly light not enough to clue you in?  Why are so many of my children such morons?"

Meanwhile, in Kansas, there were tornadoes circling hither and yon, because the severe weather in Kansas is significantly more, well, severe.  You never know when you're going to show up at school only to find that Noah's house was destroyed in a tornado, or when you're going to get a call saying the same thing happened to your sister.  I'm not saying you need to avoid Kansas, but maybe don't plan a cross-state trip during the month of April, unless you have not only gas stations but also storm shelters marked on your map.  

When I haven't been gazing in a no-doubt extremely flattering stupor at the sky,  I've been staring at the ground in appreciation and wonder.  Either way, the neighbors think I'm bananas.
This hyacinth is in my very favorite purply-blue color.  Hang on, isn't purple-blue the very definition of the color indigo?  But I thought indigo was darker.  Someone more color-oriented help me with this.  Anyway, if flowers weren't enough, tomorrow I have plans.  Big plans.  GRAND plans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Monday morning, I woke up, slid out of bed, and was immediately cold.

We have our thermostat set so that, from 8 PM to 6 AM, the heat doesn't kick on until it gets down to sixty degrees in our house.  By the time I get up, the heat has been on for thirty minutes, and it's usually several degrees warmer than sixty.  Monday morning it seemed significantly colder than usual, but it wasn't until I went downstairs and inspected the Nest only to find that it was dead that I used my amazing powers of deductive reasoning to puzzle out that something was wrong with our heating system.

Derek and I tinkered with the thermostat and the furnace in the basement for quite some time Monday night- well, Derek tinkered and I held a flashlight like a boss, and by "like a boss" I mean my right shoulder was sore the next day from holding a small, lightweight object up for so long.  That is how sad my upper body strength is.  I also flipped a number of switches back and forth in the circuit breaker- fuse box- thingy.  I feel like I need to make a t-shirt that has "Big Helper" written on it in childlike crayon.

Derek and his Big Helper determined that it wasn't the thermostat, so it must be a problem with the furnace.

I called a furnace... guy... (heating service technician?  I have no idea what the proper terminology is for this kind of thing.  Indoor temperature journeyman?  I bet that's it.) and he came out and did stuff to the furnace (or renegotiated the basement elves' contract, for all I know), had it working again in thirty minutes.  Hallelujah!  Two cold mornings were more than enough for me.

Ah, but do you know what we think caused the whole problem with the furnace?  Our boys.  Naturally.

Sunday afternoon the boys were desperate to play basketball, but it was too cold for my bones outside, and I was tired, and [insert whatever excuse sounds good to you here], so I was not about to walk them to park for some sportsing.  I just wasn't.  Then they began begging to play with the small hoop we currently have stored in our basement.  I said no.  They begged.  I said no.  They begged some more.  I finally caved, and sat on the basement stairs watching them toss a small, soft ball through a hoop over and over.  

At one point, when I went upstairs for mere minutes to check on the welfare of our other child, our two dear sons managed to knock something over into the furnace.  I heard the crash, asked what had happened, and told them to get upstairs, basement playtime was done.  Forever.

Two chilly days and a service fee later, I have learned my lesson.  I'm just thankful it's March, not January, when a hiccupping heater could have been dangerous, and that the furnace is the only thing the boys managed to break, not, say, our entire house.  

Now, when they were babies, I did not expect a future replete with the wanton destruction these boys seem hell-bent on, but I likewise couldn't have predicted the crazy, excessive, lovely, lovely affection they shower on us.  They are the first to give hugs and dart forward to help out and rub my back if I seem even the least bit tired.  Monday Caedmon asked if he could use my phone to send his Daddy a text message.  It took him a good twenty minutes to very seriously peck out and send the following.

And he was thrilled to get a response.  Yesterday's was

No one has ever been as happy to get a text message as Caedmon is when there's a message for him from Derek on my phone.  He stares at the screen raptly for far longer than it takes to actually read it.  I don't know if he's memorizing the emojis, or meditating, or what.  

Then there's Atticus, who completes a "Would You Rather..." worksheet at school every week, most of which I have kept because his responses are priceless.  ("I would rather be a rock star than president.  Because I would sing to everyone.  I would not take naps.")  This one was quintessentially Atticus.

"I would Rather Be big.  Because you would win lots of Badlls [battles].  Because your King would be God.  That is why I would Rather Be big."  Somehow the kid who, yes, loves battles and God is also the most tender-hearted of our children, sensitive but emotionally in tune to those around him.  He's also the one who is so single-minded when playing backyard soccer with the family that he pays no attention to the jerk tree he's run into/ is clearly out to get him. 

Also Sunday night.
That thing extends down onto to his neck.  To answer your questions, 1) Yes, he's already much better, as he is seven years old, and when you are seven you enjoy almost magical healing powers; 2) Yes, Derek and I have been calling him Scarface, but privately, as remember?  He's kind of a sensitive kid; and 3) Yes, I did say a superduper fervent prayer of thanksgiving that it wasn't a couple inches to the right, although that would have made Halloween costume decisions relatively easy for the rest of his life.  "Hmm, which pirate do I want to be this year?"

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Inspirational Nieces, Uninspirational Quotes

Yesterday I talked about how fortunate we were to avoid any smoke or pasture burning while in Kansas.  Then half of the state caught fire.

Well, not quite half the state.  It would be half if we were talking about Rhode Island or one of those other states in New England, but out here?  Not so much.

Anyway, I've learned my lesson.  Call it paranoia, call it magical thinking, whatever; I'm going to be a little more careful about what I mention, because it would seem that I don't know my own powers.  I'm already half scared to post any photos of adorable children jumping ever so charmingly together, because surely next will come a call from my mother saying her trampoline didn't just wear out, it exploded in her backyard.  What?  Seeing causal relationships where mere coincidence resides is the new black.

When I wasn't driving and worrying about smoke and speeding and shysters, I was marveling over how far into spring Kansas had already bounded:  The forsythia and daffodils and dogwoods were in bloom, there was no snow anywhere, and we didn't wear our coats the whole time we were there.  It was beautiful, but did make me pout a little when we returned back home.  This morning's snowstorm didn't exactly help with those resentful feelings, either.

If you've haunted this blog for any length of time, you know that my two sisters married two brothers, and each of these two families have two daughters, but that strangely and wonderfully enough, those double-cousins are nothing like each other.  The girls in one family are petite sprites who want to have their hands wiped clean after every bite of cupcake and will give you shy smiles only after you have spent a solid hour proving yourself worthy of their affection.
She is this gorgeous in real life, too.
The other two are sturdy, stomping bundles of love who are more concerned with cramming as much cake in their mouth at once than maintaining a clean visage.
She is this gorgeous in real life, too.  
You know what they remind me of?  My mom's tendency to sort her friends into loose categories of "cat friends" and "dog friends."  Her cat friends are the ones that she usually has to contact, sometimes going so far as to drag them out of their houses to come socialize.  Dog friends are those that call and make the plans and host the parties.  I have nieces who bound to you for a cuddle as soon as they get out of the car, rolling around and frolicking and laughing- I'll call them "puppy nieces," as dog nieces sounds like I'm inferring they're ugly, which they most assuredly are not- and then I have cat nieces, who will approach only when they're good and ready, and who are fun to watch and pet and smooch, but only on their terms.  They are all equally lovable, and equally perfect, in large part because they're so different, rather than in spite of.

My sisters are pretty great, too, but somehow I didn't get any photos of them.  Perhaps I would have if they still listened to my mom's heartbeat with this face.
This was, of course, during the "Time to play with stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs" portion of the gathering.  It takes me forever to hear that initial heartbeat when taking a blood pressure reading, so maybe don't ask me to help you out.  Don't all families do this?

We also did the obligatory "Everyone pile on top of Grandma and Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa photo!" and I know all families do this, so I'm confident everyone can appreciate that we got 90%ish of the participants to smile.  Note which person's offspring was not even bothering with a fake smile (Small hint:  MINE).
 Still, it's better than the family Christmas gathering from a few years back when the Atticus stood wherever we positioned him within the group shot but presented his back for every single photo.  I couldn't even argue with him about it, as we were a good three hours into the party and my own shelf life for those kind of social occasions is two hours, max.  We have since learned that if you want a group photo involving children, you do it as soon as possible, not right at the end when everyone's tired and the masks are slipping.

Adelaide spent a good deal of the family day doing this sort of thing:
"Don't fall don't fall don't fall."
But then realized Vada's made of sterner stuff than that.

We also made sure to cuddle babies, because as I once saw on an inspirational poster, "Play to your strengths."
It's possible that "baby" is half my size.  That doesn't make her any less cuddly.

Speaking of inspirational posters, these are my favorite kind:

Turns out inspirational quotes aren't really my thing.  But I LOVE what turns up when people edit those moody, emo, hipster images!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Driving-in-Kansas List

Last week the kids and I headed to Kansas for a visit.  This, of course, means I have a number of posts cooking about the whole trip, but for today, we're just going to discuss the drive south, and we're going to do it in list format, because we can!

The Three Things I Worried Over Whilst Driving Southward Through Kansas:

  • Smoke.  It's pasture-burning season, and if you don't time it right, you have to either risk the lives of all the passengers in your car or pull over until the smoke clears.  Thankfully, they'd already burned off the range immediately adjacent to the interstate.  

  • Speeding Tickets.  I got one of those nasty things around a month ago while driving in a relatively unfamiliar part of Iowa, and it was a bit shocking for me.  I had always (MISTAKENLY) kind of, sort of, just maybe believed that my lone superpower was the inability to get speeding tickets.  I've been pulled over a time or *cough* ten but never actually received a ticket, only verbal warnings.  This time, though, there were four state troopers waiting at nearly every exit on the highway I was traversing, and sure enough, when I exited, there were several right there, each having pulled over a car containing yet another poor sap, because it turned out they were doing speeding checks by aircraft.  It sucked, it sucked, it sucked.  

  • Sam Brownback.

The Three Reasons I Lucked Out

  • Thankfully, they'd already burned off the range immediately adjacent to the interstate.  No smoke!  The sight of blackened ground has never warmed my heart so much.

  • I went all of two to three miles over the speed limit the entire way down and back, and although I saw a number of other people pulled over, I was not one of them.  I don't know if slow and steady actually wins any races, but it certainly keeps money in the bank.  Hmmph.

  • As I am neither a teacher nor live below the poverty line, I didn't actually have anything to fear from this particular boogey man.  He still gives me the willies, though.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mental Health, in Gifs

Yesterday was a weird day.

I think it was what I've heard some people refer to as a mental health day.  Or the reason people need mental health days?  I'm not sure.  All I know is that it was one of those days where you don't really feel so hot, but you don't think you're actually sick, and it's hard to pinpoint where the feeling of yuck is coming from, but you suspect it might be that old frenemy your brain.  Symptoms include a mild, nagging headache, lack of motivation to do anything at all, even the things you love, and loss of ability to communicate with the human race.

I try to keep my interactions with others at a minimum on days like these- which are blessedly infrequent- as my brain seems to require more time to process all the complicated things well-meaning acquaintances say to me, like "How's it going?" and "Hey, I like your boots!"  My delayed response plus suddenly being unsure as to what words are appropriate to any given greeting sent my way ("The sun is bright today.  Wait, no... fine.  I'm fine,"  "...........................Thanks.  They are brown.") make it so that I tend to get concerned glances, or, worse, seem to be interpreted as distant.  It's terrific.

I thought it was possible I was pulling off the whole "I am a normally-functioning human being today" facade until Derek wondered aloud if something was wrong.  Twice.  Thankfully he has watched me go through a day or fifty of these, and doesn't really take them personally, just helps me engage in what Anne Lamott calls "radical self-care" and pulls up a running documentary for us to watch together in the evening.  (The Barkley Marathons.  And it was good, you guys.  Definitely watch if you like watching people push themselves or running or screwy but neat Appalachians who put on a race that makes you go, "WHAT?" every time they reveal another detail about the race.)

Other acts of radical self-care:

Forcing Adelaide to go grocery shopping with me while the boys golfed with Dad.  Grocery shopping isn't my favorite thing, but Adelaide is one of my favorite things, especially when she sees a college girl in some of those teeny tiny short-shorts that make you think they should just be done with it and make themselves some denim underwear (mmm, so comfy) and Daughter's nonexistent poker face is just like
followed shortly by
which made me laugh, which made her laugh, until we were quite the spectacle in the produce section of Aldi.

I also wore my favorite pair of boots, always sure to cheer me up, which my mom got me for my birthday (thanks, mom!) and for which I receive compliments almost every time I wear them.  And yes, I know these are commonly referred to as "booties," but I can't say that without our boys snickering, so I don't.  Also?  Fifth position.
Ballet:  The gift that keeps on giving.  Please excuse my less-than-perfect turnout.  It's been a while.

Other acts of self-care:  Reading this book, eating some of the peanut butter cookies I made over the weekend, minimizing my time on social media, and not obsessing over the fact that I didn't go for a run, even though the weather was nice.

Of course, this whole thing could all be due to the startling revelation that greeted me yesterday morning:  I was out of coffee.  There was not a bean, a speck, a single ground of the stuff to be found in our house.  It is that powerful.  (It is powerful, indeed!  Hallelujah!)

(And sorry about that previous sentence; I mean, it is Holy Week, although even joking about worshiping coffee has probably branded me as an always-and-forever heretic.  Alas, it wouldn't be the first time.  HEY KELLI- remember that time we were taken into a scary van and asked if we'd been SAVED? Those were the days, hmm?)

Today, however, is better!  I went for a difficult, hilly, great run, I've remembered how to speak to people without alarming them, and Derek commented, "It's nice to have my wife back," which is always a good/sad sign; good in that Yes!  I'm back!  Sad in that I really am bad at putting on a happy face.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Crocuses and Edison Lights

The kids and I made our triumphant return to Iowa yesterday; "triumphant" because as a recovering procrastinator, one of two things tends to happen after I travel:  Either I unpack immediately, putting things away and starting the laundry and keeping the kids on task, harnessing all that energy sizzling out of them after seven straight hours in the car, OR I do nothing and spend the next week ignoring the pile of bags sitting in the corner, acknowledging its presence only by gesturing vaguely at it when the children ask where certain necessary items are.

This time I suppressed my natural inclinations, pretended to be a high-functioning grown-up, and did all the necessary post-road trip chores, which means today I was free to enjoy the March snowfall,
and rejoice over my crocuses, which, yes, have bloomed!

Remember, I planted those bulbs two autumns ago, then lamented over the zero blooms that emerged last spring.  Foliage, yes, but flowers?  None.  The day before we left a single crocus bloom had opened up, which made me feel elated and victorious and vindicated as a gardener.
Now I'm wondering if all those crocuses and daffodils just needed a milder winter to help them out.  I'll try and remember these spring flowers when we're drowning in Japanese beetles this summer.

Other than snow, today involved Derek proposing we perform a mastectomy on one of the boob lights in our house.  This is what has been watching us eat for the past six years:

Thankfully Menard's had the fixture we've had our eye on for a solid year now (had they no longer stocked it, no doubt it would have been a least another year before we could find another one we both agreed upon) and it was on sale.  Then there was fun stuff like Derek removing the boob and making an additional trip to the hardware store and doing things with wires while I took pictures.

At that point an actual contribution was required on my part:  I held the light fixture up while Derek worked on connecting stuff up in the ceiling... or something.  Astonishing news!  My upper body strength still sucks.  Thanks for nothing, yoga.  

But now- ta daaaaa!

Much better.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Important Pi Day Happenings

It's spring break around here, and when I woke up this morning it was cool and misty and foggy:  Perfect weather for a trip to Reiman Gardens!

The children didn't quite share my opinion- I mean, they were happy enough to go to the public garden, but didn't understand why foggy and chilly made it perfect.  I, in my more advanced years, knew that such conditions would serve the two-fold purpose of 1) keeping away any crowds, and 2) make it possible for us to pretend that we were on the English moors, or wandering through an English winter garden, or any number of things foggy and English.
And I was right, on all counts.  
We saw all of two other visitors.  This is possibly also due to the fact that in March, there's not a lot blooming in the garden- not a single thing, actually, at least outdoors- but there are still things to do and see and hills to ramble over.

We found a spiderweb, which for once I was happy to see, as our winter was mild enough that the freeze only reached a depth of six inches.  This makes me worry that we'll have a buggy spring and summer, so bring on the spiders!  As long as they stay out of our house!  And away from my hands when I'm gardening.  So bring on the shy spiders!

There were some not-so-shy red-winged blackbirds sending up a racket in the lily pond.  I was surprised at how long the kids wanted to pause and observe these.

The kaleidoscopes in the children's area is forever one of my favorite features.  We found they still have wintery plantings in the container, which created some beautiful fractal designs.

Look into my eye.

Adelaide and I also made a quick trip into the women's bathroom, not because females feel a compulsive need to travel in herds to those places, but because you never know what kind of flowers they're going to have in there.
Live daffodils!  Just what Iowans need after a cold winter (although apparently not cold enough, hmmph), and on a dreary spring day.  Keeper of the Reiman Gardens Women's Bathroom (I'm pretty positive that's an official title), thou art wise.  Strangely, the boys reported no flowers in the men's room.  I'm not sure what that means.

On the way home, Adelaide saw a sign for "Apple Pi," and after I explained to her that today was 3/14- or Pi Day- she begged to make a pie.  I told her a bunch of true things, about how I already had a million things to do this afternoon, like laundry and calling about the possibility of a new hot water heater (a tale for another day, hopefully), and packing for tomorrow's trip south (beware, thieves; the muscle's staying behind to guard the new sconces).  She cared about none of these things.  All she cared about was pie.

I ended up making a deal with her:  I would roll out the crust if she did the rest, from finding a recipe to making sure we had all the ingredients to prep work to mixing, all of it.  She chose Strawberry Pie, and then she just, like, made it.  Because yes, baby thunder thighs are oh-so-squeezable, but older kids are where it's at.

I may have dropped the ball on supper (and packing... and most of the laundry) because the outdoors and my flower beds beckoned, but who cares?  We have pie!
Yes, she's wearing different clothes.  When one of your children asks if they can shower, you don't ask questions, you just let it happen.  She was in her jammies at 3 PM, but again, who cares?  We have pie!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Light On, Light Off

It's always funny to me how home improvement projects not only, well, improve the home, but even more so, highlight the differences between the two people living in this home and engaging in the improvement.

Case in point:  Light bulbs.

Now, when I hear "Wifi light bulbs" I think "I bet that has something to do with the internet," because I am a veritable wizard when it comes to technology.  I have no idea what Derek thinks (I've written before on the differences between his brain and my brain; they are varied and vast), but based on his level of excitement when he first called me about these Wifi light bulbs he'd found at the store while benignly searching for dimmable LEDs, it's something like, "Wow!  Brilliant!  Smashing!"  (That is how foreign the interior of his mind is to me:  It could speak in a British accent, for all I know.)

First of all, I was right about the "something to do with internet" thing, because we do control these light bulbs from our phones via the Wifi, but what's so fun about these bulbs, as Derek explained to me, is that you can dim or brighten them from your phone, you can adjust the relative warmth or coolness of the light, and you can create "Scenes," such as the one called "Movie Lighting" Derek set up, where if I select that scene, the lights will adjust to a certain warmth and brightness optimal for movie-watching.  You can also set up a schedule for your lights, and they'll do whatever it is you've told them to do whenever it is you've told them to do it.

Another difference between Derek and me:  That he would even think of labeling the sconces in this way.
East sconce and West sconce?  What, I asked him, is wrong with Left sconce and Right sconce?!  East and West assumes I know which one is more Easterly and which one is more Westerly, and unless the sun is just rising over one and just setting over the other, this is something I never know!  

I once read an article about how geese are able to navigate their yearly migrations so successfully each year, and it has something to do with magnets.  Like, in their brains.  These magnets somehow work with the magnetic fields of earth, which is fascinating and also terribly vague, I know.  Help a girl out, sciencey people?

Anywho, Derek must have these same magnets in spades in his own head, because he can travel somewhere once, and he will ever after know that route, and how to get to this place and that place and oh you just have to head north to get to this other place, all of which is useless to me, because there are no magnets in my head, or whatever it is that he has to thank for his reliable internal compass.  I need directions that sound like, "Next, you're gonna look for a crazy-big statue of a guy with a sword.  Turn LEFT at the sword-guy.  Go two more blocks, and turn RIGHT at the wrought-iron fence topped with fleurs-de-lis."  Now those?  Those are useful directions.

And yes, I know Right sconce and Left sconce could be confusing, as they change depending on whether you're looking at them or sitting on the couch under them.  (Derek says.)  Still.

Another neato thing about these lights are these settings:
Have we used any of these settings?  No.  But, see, we could if we wanted to!

Now, it's possible you're more like me, and you're reading this thinking, "Hmm, that sounds kind of neat.  Interesting.  Good to know."  However, if you're like Derek and all this Wifi light bulb business makes you go, "Holy cow- this is the most amazing thing since Midsomer Murders Season 17 finally showed up on Netflix- this makes my skirt blow up so much I feel like Marilyn Monroe over a subway vent except hopefully without the associated drug use/mental illness/poor life choices!"  If that is you, then here's what the box looks like for this little system that we are, indeed, satisfied with, at least one week into use:
I should also note that Derek got these at Lowe's, and they were 50% off, although I have no idea whether or not they're still on sale.  Oh, and another big plus is that because these are LEDs, they're energy-savers, and you know how I feel about all that.  (Hint:  Very strongly in favor of.)

And now I'll leave you with this photo of Caedmon with his Papa.  Derek's parents walked in on Saturday to help us with these sconces with their fancy light bulbs, and as soon as Caedmon saw that Dennis was dressed to work with tools (one of our youngest son's very favorite things), he scurried up the stairs and quickly returned proudly sporting similar accoutrements.