Saturday, July 7, 2018

4th of July

Sometimes, I swear the holiday weeks seem longer and are harder to get through than the regular ones. It's the change in routine. Take this last week, for instance.

Monday was a regular Monday.
Tuesday was Friday, since it was the day before a day off. I like Fridays.
Wednesday was Saturday, since I had the day off. I really like Saturdays.
Thursday was Monday again. This is where it got tough. The second Monday of the week, doubly hard to get my keister into the office.
Friday was, thankfully, Friday.

I did enjoy the 4th. Sandwiched in the middle of the week as it was, I initially planned to keep it pretty low-key, but it turned into a bigger day than I'd planned.

What started it was a yen for baked beans like I remember from when I was a kid. You can't just make those kind of baked beans for just one person, so I picked up the phone and invited over some friends.

With seven people now coming for dinner, I got in touch with my inner chef. I woke up on Wednesday inordinately proud of myself for remembering to set the beans to soak the night before. I dug out some bacon from the freezer, chopped up an onion, mixed in all the ingredients and set it in the crock pot to stew for eight hours.

An hour or so later, I walked into the kitchen and inhaled, expecting the intoxicating aroma of cooking beans, bacon and onion. The stench which assailed my nostrils was not what I was expecting. Clearly, the bacon had gone bad. *Sadness*

Fortunately for my taste buds, I'd thrown an extra bag of navy beans in the cart when I was at the store; a little digging in the pantry uncovered enough ingredients to start over. Looking at the bag of hard beans, I knew my relatively cool and easy afternoon had just come to an end. Beans CAN be cooked in a day, but it involves hours of simmering on the stove top.

That's OK. What's the 4th of July without a little sweat? I spent the next few hours chopping for potato salad and anxiously tracking the progress of the beans, turning up the heat to make sure they softened on schedule. I chopped and precooked the bacon this time. (At least that way, if it was bad, I wouldn't have spoiled the entire new batch of beans.) I browned the onions in the grease, tossed the whole mix back into the crock pot and let it cook on high for the remainder of the afternoon.

Amazingly enough, it all came off (with a little help from my friends, who brought the watermelon and other desserts). Beans, burgers, potato salad, and chips - dinner tasted like a 4th of July dinner SHOULD taste. My inner eight year-old was in heaven.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Crawl Space

There's a guy at work who accuses me of being too quiet. Too head-down, too hard working, not enough socializing, not enough partying.

I'll admit he's got a point, and boy, oh boy, did I show him this past weekend. Yup. I spent Saturday insulating my crawl space. Can't get much better than that. (Can I????)

It was AWFULLY warm here in Kansas City, and I definitely didn't want to work outside, so I turned my attention to my list of inside to-dos. The oldest item on the list was insulating the crawl space under my no-longer-new addition. I've had all the piece parts I need to do the project for months (the original plan was to do it last winter), so there was no excuse there.

I still didn't want to do it. But, sometimes, you just gotta buckle down and do something, and so I did.

I got out my handy-dandy kitchen stool and crawled up into the opening, glad I'd been doing situps for these past few months. (It took some core strength to get across the lip of the old windowsill.) As I shimmied in, I had my eyes peeled for spiders and other small residents, but found no evidence they lived there, to my surprise. Guess there's not much to eat, even for a bug, in the space.

Encouraged, I took some measurements, wriggled my way back out, and spent about thirty minutes making little foam boards out of big foam boards.I tossed the boards back into the hole, grabbed some Liquid Nails and started to put the foam into place. Now, I can't remember who told me to use Liquid Nails to hold the foam in place, but they obviously never tried it with any size piece at all, because it didn't work. It would hold for just a moment, and then the piece would plop back down. I didn't let this deter me. I just started making little braces out of the extra foam I'd helpfully brought along with me, and wedged it into place.

Went back out, and got the expandy-foam-stuff to spray along the edges and in the cracks. It's fun to spray that stuff and watch it work, but boy is it a mess if it doesn't get where it belongs. It sticks to EVERYTHING. Fortunately, I'd learned this from past experience and (mostly) managed to avoid getting it on my skin. As a bonus, I'm pretty sure, between the wedges and the expanding foam, my work will stay in place. (When that stuff hardens, it STICKS!)

As I worked, the air grew stiller; I figured it was a good way to know I would see some benefit from my efforts. Three hours later, (covered in rock dust, which sticks very effectively to sweat, in case anyone needed to know) I was done. I have an impressive set of bruises on my knees and left butt cheek (who knew I lean more to one side than the other?) from spending too much time crawling around on the gravel, but they're victory bruises. Received in the line of duty.

When I got back to my list, I checked off "insulate the crawl space" with extra relish. Added an extra check mark just because I could.

Who needs a party to feel good?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Crying Children

When I was in upper elementary school, I was fascinated by the stories of the Holocaust. I read every story on the topic I could find. (Fortunately for the peace of my dreams, I didn't realize the accounts in the non-fiction section of the library contained anything of interest to me.)

One story in particular stuck in my head - about a family who hid those fleeing persecution behind a false wall in a bedroom. The author of the story was eventually hauled in on suspicion of harboring fugitives. Though the authorities had no concrete proof, it didn't take much for them to toss her into jail. While she was there, she got a letter from her sister, with the writing of the address slanted up towards the stamp. She knew her sister couldn't tell her in the letter if her people were safe, but she hunted the pages for clues anyways - as had the police. As she read and re-read the missive, it occurred to her that her sister didn't usually write at a slant. She carefully steamed the stamp off, and underneath, in tiny letters, it said, 'All the watches in your closet are safe." The refugees had made it to safety.  (I just looked it up - the one phrase I remembered was enough to identify the book as The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watchmaker. Sometimes, I really love the internet.)

I was intrigued by the concept of the false wall - one of the things I loved about my old house was that I could easily have built such a hiding place, had the need arisen. (My current house, sadly, not so much. It's highly symmetrical, with no good odd-shaped corners to enclose.)

The book and the false wall have been visiting my dreams regularly these past few weeks, unearthed by the images and sounds of the crying children at our borders. No, I've heard of no systemic system within the country to move those seeking asylum across it, (and I don't know where they'd be moved to if there was - would Canada take them in?), but I would join such a group in a heartbeat. It is always wrong to intentionally traumatize children.

I am grateful for the many voices more powerful than mine who have spoken up in chorus, defending the children's right to not be torn from the arms of their parents. It's a varied crew - all four living first ladies, members of the Democratic leadership galore, the news media, the Pope, and also many leaders from the conservative sector - Jerry Falwell, other evangelical leaders, members of the Republican House and Senate. Money has poured in to funds set up to assist these families. It is heartening to know I am not alone in my outrage and sorrow, even as it tears my soul to know I am part of a country whose leaders are repeating some of the most heart-wrenching mistakes of our history.

I pray this travesty will soon be behind us, that we will find a better way to track and house those who travel to the U.S.A. seeking asylum and refuge. I pray for the separated families, that they will soon be reunited.

And, to my surprise, I find myself praying for the young men and women who are following orders as they tear these families apart. History tells us their sleep will not be easy once the adrenaline from the moment has faded, and they hear over and over, in their dreams, the cries of the wronged children.

Hatred damages those who hate as well as those who are hated.

?Peace? Please???

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day

my Christmas Onion
It's Father's Day today, and I've done a bang-up job of ignoring the fact.

I got up early this morning, before it got hot, and spent a few hours in the garage, trying to make progress on getting the rest of it organized. I came in, ate lunch, took a nap and cleaned the kitchen and bathroom - such a good little do-bee.

But after dinner, it got a little harder to pretend there wasn't a hole in my world. Why after dinner? Perhaps it was the cold beer I treated myself to after finishing my work for the day. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but must admit they go down easy when I've been working all day in the heat.

I sat there looking at my beer, and my heart and mind went back to all the times I remember Dad doing the same thing. He worked hard, and enjoyed a cold beer at the end of a hot day. I remember him working around the house almost every weekend. He worked, but rarely did he finish a project 100% of the way. He'd get almost done with the job, then lose interest. Something else would come along to claim his attention and his time, and he'd never get back to putting up that last piece of trim. Nor, near as I could tell, did it ever bother him that the trim piece wasn't in place. (It did me - now I'm the one in control of finishing the projects, they pretty much always get all the way done.)

The hole he left in my life when he died in 1994 at age 69 is subtler than the one left when Mom died. Partly because I was an adult by then, partly because I didn't get to see him often anyways, and it was easier for my psyche to pretend he was still out there in Arizona, and would be coming through any day now on his annual trip home.

It's been a long time since he got around to making the trip, though, and I miss him. I miss his crooked smile and the sound of his voice. I miss knowing he's out there if I really need him. I miss the letters he used to write me, letters about nothing really, just a way to stay in touch.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I hope, where ever you are, you have a workshop full of good quality tools. I hope the blades are sharp and and the workshop is full of fun projects for you to putter around with, even if you never do manage to finish a one. I love you....

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Lumber Rack

the scary tool - it looks so innocent
This past Saturday, I told me it was high time I got the lumber rack in the garage built. Unfortunately for me, this involved using the angle grinder, with its shower of sparks, to cut the steel pipe I needed to build the rack. I've watched Joe use it any number of times, and while I was familiar with the technique needed (in theory), I was intimidated by the noise and the fire flying everywhere each time I watched him use it.

I got up in at a decent hour. I hemmed some, hawed some more. I took a nap, I piddled around the house, then, finally, after lunch, I spoke firmly to myself and got me out to the garage. (I am an excellent procrastinator when I'm afraid to do something.)

I decided to start with the hard part of the project. I managed to delay for another thirty minutes, making sure I had on hearing and eye protection, gloves to protect my hands, that my jeans were thick enough to shield my legs from the sparks, that I'd properly protected the wall behind my cutting area, that there was a fire extinguisher close by. I clamped the pipe into place, then, there was nothing left to do but actually turn on the cutter.

I braced my elbows to steady my nerves and the cutter, and tentatively touched touched the wheel to the metal. Sparks began to fly, and I jumped back about a foot. Feeling a bit foolish, I got hold of myself, counted fingers, and checked for burning objects. All was well, so I re-braced my elbows and started again. This time, I held the disk firmly to the pipe and watched in amazement as it made short work of cutting through the thick steel. Sparks flew, and I could feel their heat as they landed on my clothes, and the skin of my forearms, but nothing caught fire. My hair wasn't singed, nor was I actually hurt, despite the evidence of my eyes.

Since I'd survived the first cut, I reclamped the pipe and tried again, managing to complete a relatively straight cut. So far, so good, I made the remaining fifteen cuts in relatively quick time. (Quick being only three times slower than Joe would have been at the same task.)

Nothing bad happened. I even managed to change the cutting blade when it wore down without too much difficulty.

the finished product
Buoyed by my successful experience, I made pretty short work of cutting the lumber braces to size and drilling the holes for the pipe. I ended the day feeling pretty darn proud of myself. I feel powerful when I convince myself to face down my fears and do the hard things anyways.

Cutting with the grinder will never be my favorite task, but I have to admit - there was some primal joy behind being in control of the spark shower; behind being the master of the tool. Not to mention the positive feeling behind crossing the dreaded task off my to-do list.  **whew** That's done, and it feels GOOD!

Sunday, June 3, 2018


I am always intrigued by the ability of people to adapt to the changes life throws at them.

This past week, my daughter, Kate, took my granddaughter, Alexandra to the Dodgers baseball game near their new home in Los Angeles, and posted the picture to Facebook. They moved to California from Minneapolis a year ago, and Alexandra and Kate are both proud of being from Minnesota, where they made it through many a tough winter without a problem.

The picture showed a typical happy crowd of baseball fans, with the two of them broadly smiling for the camera. All the comments on the post were variants on, "the two of you look great!", which they did. My attention, however, was caught by their attire. The picture was taken in late May - Kate's jacket was zipped to the neck, Alexandra had on her winter coat.

I couldn't help myself - I asked, "is that a winter coat I see on Alexandra???"  Kate responded, "the temperature did dip well into the mix-sixties! She claims she's still a Minnesotan, through and through. But no one likes to be cold".  Tongue firmly in cheek, I agreed. "Of course. I know many, many Minnesotans who put on their winter coats when the temps drop into the sixties."

As a former Minnesotan myself, I have been laughing all week. Also as a former Minnesotan, I, perhaps, have also been known to bundle up long before a true northerner would consider hauling out the jackets. Cold is definitely relative.

Mostly, I have been grateful for their ability to adapt. Moving from the land of very-long-winters to the land of mostly-mellow-weather has been quite a change. They left behind their friends and their comfort zones. Kate left behind school to join the world of work, Alexandra started in a Spanish immersion program. Lot of changes, not much familiar. There's been a lot of adjusting going on, but looking at the coats, I think California must be beginning to feel like home.

I miss them horribly; I've only gotten to see them a couple of times this past year. It's good to see them laughing, happy, relaxed and having fun. Winter coats at the end of May and all.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

It's Summer!

I heard on the radio a couple of weeks ago that April was one of the 20 coldest on record around here, and that Mother Nature flipped the switch come May, and it's been one of the 20 hottest.

The quick switch in the weather has left me a bit disoriented. One night, I'm snuggled under a warm blanket and flannel sheets, the next, I'm tossing off the light cotton sheet because it's way too hot, and sleeping with no blankets at all.

My heat / AC break lasted just a few weeks; the windows are already tightly closed against the heat of the sun. The spring flowers came in a rush, and are already gone. My new roses, on the other hand, seem to like the heat just fine. And the tomatoes I planted have flowers, and a couple of small fruits already forming.

I find myself wishing, once again, for a do-over. Yes, I know I remembered to enjoy the days - enjoyment enforced by my weekends away. (It's hard to get too caught up in tasks when you're not at home to get any of them done.) But there weren't enough of those warm but not hot days - and I spent far too many of the days there were sitting in my windowless office, typing away.

Then, *poof*, here we are, Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer.

Time for me to let go of my regrets over the days gone, and enjoy the days here. I went for a walk this morning, before the heat started in earnest. I had a lot of company on my way around the park - like-minded people. The birds were out, the trees are green, the grass is still growing.

The season has turned, and I have some ordinary days to enjoy it. My people are doing as well as they can do right now. Libby is feeling all right; is keeping to the plans she made for summer. The radiation did all it can do to slow her tumor growth. It took her down for a bit, but she's determined, and determination can carry her a long ways in her fight. She got right back up again. My children are doing well. I can stand down from high alert mode, and stop to breath a bit.

I can stop to enjoy these ordinary days. Days to fret about chores undone, to leave them that way as I head off to visit yet another friend for the weekend. Days to work, days to begin to plan for the days when heading to the office will no longer be a daily routine. (Those days aren't here yet, but they are on the horizon.)

Days to relax on my porch after work, ceiling fan on high, enjoying the flowers, the shade, the cool drink in my hand, the gentle motion of the porch swing. Days when my world isn't rocking on its spindle, throwing me off balance yet again.

Thank Good for the ordinary days; days to stop, to breathe a bit, to re-balance my soul, to relax.

Aaahhhhh.... summer....