Category Archives: General

Ending 2013 a Bit Wiser?

So another year is coming to a close.  Like every year, there have been ups and downs.  As always, there are parts of the year that I am very relieved to see over and done with.  And there are parts that I want to do my best to remember, treasure and carry with me as time inevitably marches on.

Same old, same old, really.

I hope, as with each old-to-new year, that I’ve learned things of value.  That I’ve gained valuable experience with something that will help me down the road.  That I’ve grown (and not just around the middle).  If I’m being fully honest with myself, I’ve definitely grown around the middle and I’m pretty sure I’ve learned more than a handful of useful, if not valuable, things.  No matter what kind of year I’ve had, I cannot stop experience and progress from happening.  Good thing I’m getting used to it.

Because I’m a List Person and I categorize things in my head before I realize it, these are some of the things I’ve learned in 2013:

  • I’m still thoroughly disgusted with bugs.  Seeing large images of bugs on a projector screen is like being in a circle of hell
  • I like soil.  Soil is most definitely NOT Dirt.  Soil is organic matter. Dirt is what you sweep or vacuum up, and it may or may not be organic. I also learned the difference between Soil & Dirt
  • Turf/grass is mind numbingly boring (to me).  I almost fell asleep, while standing up, during a field trip to a turf farm.  Hence, I love the 2 guys at Eco Lawn, who take care of our lawn and patiently answer all of my questions.  They are worth every penny PLUS they seem to really like turf. Bless Them
  • I like researching plant pathology and playing with microscopes
  • I loved the Master Gardener classes, except the ones on bugs and turf
  • I still don’t know what I want to do with a Master Gardener certification yet but I’m glad I’m not designing web sites anymore
  • I mostly enjoy taking online classes – but I miss face-to-face contact with fellow students.  Still, the convenience and potential is wonderful
  • I’m becoming far more liberal in my political views as I get older
  • I can make bows and arrows but I stink at actually shooting arrows (except on the Wii – I’m really great at Wii Archery)
  • I could definitely help plan kid’s parties but I’m not sure I like working with groups of kids.  I’m more of an idea person
  • I get easily irked by kids who are spoiled, entitled and rude
  • I get even more irked by parents who don’t do anything about their spoiled, entitled and rude children
  • I believe strongly in the power of prayer and positive thinking
  • I think if pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals really wanted to cure cancer, they would do so – there’s too much money to be made in treating cancer (and other diseases) instead of curing them.  I’ve become convinced of this in 2013
  • I’ve lost too many people I love to cancer.  And there’s always someone I care about who is dealing with it
  • I love camping but it would not be fun if I had to do it without an electric hook up.  I have no intention of ever sleeping on the ground again; air mattress or I’m not going
  • I can start and maintain a roaring fire.  Turns out, this is a very helpful skill to have
  • I am learning to say No when asked to volunteer for something.  It’s taken years to get to this point.  I’m working on not feeling guilty when I say No
  • I don’t exercise as much as I should
  • You can never have too many Christmas lights at Christmas time
  • I don’t think I could ever give up cheese or chocolate
  • I could easily work at IKEA.  I know more about their products than most of the employees there
  • I am hooked on the simply awesome  concept of frozen dollops of whipped cream to plop onto hot chocolate
  • I shamelessly collect ideas on the internet, especially Pinterest
  • I watch too much TV
  • I don’t feel bad about how much TV I watch
  • I don’t feel as guilty about buying birthday/thank you/etc cards as I used to. I’ve learned it’s OK to NOT make homemade cards all the time
  • I eat I Love Peanut Butter’s Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter straight out of the jar
  • A teaspoon of local honey a day really does provide allergy relief, as long as I remember to do it every day
  • A neti pot is great, once you get past how icky it looks on YouTube
  • I get choked up when I think of what life will be like without my parents
  • I do the Mommy Sway thing when I hold our cat.  I didn’t know I did this until someone pointed it out to me, but I don’t care.  She’s my fur baby, after all
  • Most nights when I check on N before I go to bed, I spend a few minutes just staring at him, sometimes just touching his hair – I cannot believe my baby is growing up this fast.  I often wonder how long I can get away with this
  • N still believes in Santa and I totally love that and encourage it
  • A moved out in Feb and I miss her being here every day, but I do not miss the tension.  I’m learning to let her go and do her own thing
  • I’m not good at letting people go and do their own thing but I’m getting better with practice
  • I still hold my breath when I see the lower Manhattan skyline
  • I really like how our recent renovations have gone.  I really love our new bathroom.  I’m trying not to get carried away and paint and re-do everything in the house
  • I re-read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings this summer and realized that I missed at least half the details when I read them as a child and then again as a teen.  So I’ll probably re-read them in about 20 years and see what else I’ve missed
  • I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey and am perfectly fine with that
  • I still prefer to read books on paper rather than on an e-reader
  • I am still able to function on 5 hours of sleep a night.  Not sure if that’s a good thing but it seems to be working out OK
  • I liked traveling on the auto train a lot more than I thought I would
  • I learned how to cut up an 18 pound whole turkey into parts.  This is also a very useful skill
  • I would like to take a class (if I can find one)  to learn how to cut up meat the proper way.  This could end up saving us money, too
  • I learned how to pickle just about any vegetable you can think of
  • I bought a PVC tube cutting tool that turned out to be the best $5 I’ve spent in the past few years (see the item about making bows & arrows)
  • I am very happy that N has faith that I can make almost any party or craft or science project come together.  His creativity & confidence – along with access to the internet – make for some fun projects
  • I already have a long “Things to Do in 2014” list and I’m only 80% sure that it’ll all get done

Happy New Year!

Shakespeare & Superheroes – a Compromise

“Shakespeare” – it’s a word that can elicit one of 2 responses, in my experience.  Either people love Shakespeare or they don’t.  Both camps are passionate, too.  Count me among the ‘lovers’ of Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare” also has a lot of loaded meaning in just that one word.   Does it refer to the man?  His plays?  His place in history?  The style of writing and speech?  The implicit uppercrustiness of all of that?

There must be something to his works and his legacy, after all, if there is still an active interest in all things Shakespeare nearly 600 years after his first plays were performed.   Before summer blockbusters, wizard & vampire series, dramedies and chick flicks, there was stage drama written for an often raucous public.  Shakespeare and his contemporaries also had a Queen and her court to please.

It has always been about entertainment first and telling a message second.

N & I have worked out a compromise, and tonight was the test.  He wants to get some superhero picture books that are way below his reading level (with his own money). I said OK but you need to balance that dumbed-down stuff with some Shakespeare.  He agreed. So tonight was “Hamlet pt 1” … Some reading involved, some cartoons (!!!) and discussion.  Pt 2 will be some videos showing performances and interviews on YouTube.  I put together a basic outline of what to cover.

No surprise… I have my own hard copy of “Hamlet” but we only looked through that briefly.  We looked at the cast of characters, “Dramatis Personae,” the structure of Acts, Scenes, stage directions and spoken lines.   Since N is very interested in movies, this was interesting for both of us.

At the advice of a friend, I had purchased some Shakespearean books from Orchard Classics that are novellas for kids.  One of the titles I’d bought was “Hamlet.”  These books are great and definitely took the intimating factor completely out of the equation.

I’d done some research as well, and found a very good cartoon summary that appealed to my comic book loving kid – link here http://www.angelfire.com/oh/Pretzel/dogsummary.html

I have the videos all lined up to go tomorrow.  We’ll be checking out “Kenneth Branagh – Discovering Hamlet” and the production starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.  I felt it would be more appealing for him if he saw actors that he was already familiar with.  And, thanks to Harry Potter, Thor and Star Trek: The Next Generation, those clips will do the job well.

After a couple of hours of reading and discussing, I would say this is off to a great start.  He has picked out the picture book he wants and now has a basic understanding of “Hamlet” and the Globe Theater.

He also wants a skull to talk to.  Not sure how to compromise on that one.

Blogging, the next generation

Today marks the day that N starts to blog.  This is a culmination of writing practice, his love of expressing his opinion, his humor branching out and a way to get used to feedback (from someone other than me).

He’s decided to call his blog (which is part of ours) “N’s Weird Truth.”  And that pretty much sums him up in a nutshell.

This may just prove the very thing to kick start my feeble attempts to write on a regular basis as well.  Weirder things have happened.

Bad News Travels Faster Than Good News… Why?

When something bad or sad happens, word spreads like wildfire.  Technology has only made that wildfire spread even faster.  With email, Facebook, smartphones, you name it… if a celebrity dies, does something criminal or a favorite sports player has retired or been traded (to the rival team!), it can be a matter of minutes before anyone who wants to know… well, knows.

And when a story of child being approached and picked up by a stranger in your favorite playground comes to you in an email, you do not hesitate to react.  After all, with 100+ email addresses at my fingertips, it would be easy and yes, even my duty, to warn as many of my neighbors and local friends as quickly as possible.

Except if the story doesn’t sound right the minute I’m done reading it.

When other copies of the story get emailed to me in a matter of an hour, I’m rattled.  My brain is telling me that something isn’t right about the story yet so many people are clearly concerned about it, worried enough to sound the alarm to everyone they know, so why am I holding back?

Because there’s enough in the story to make me pause and try to confirm or debunk the story before I send it to anyone else.  So I start calling and emailing (separately) people that I know who could shed light on what happened.

After some phone calls, a few separate emails and some monitoring of the police department’s Facebook page, it turns out that the story is not true.  No one knows why the story was created in the first place but it’s no surprise that it spread around as quickly as it did.  It’s our nature, whether human or social, to warn our community of any danger.  We use the tools we have handy, and we do it quickly, urgently, and with good intentions.

Better safe than sorry, we say.  And, while this is true, it is also discouraging that the truth doesn’t often get as much, or any, attention at all.  In the case of an attempted abduction at a local playground, none of the papers have cleared it up nor has the police department issued an updated statement.

No one’s reputation is directly hurt by the false story but some damage has been done nonetheless.  Some people who think the story is true may likely stay clear of the park and playground.  That’s a shame and an unnecessary result of a story that should never have been spread.

One silver lining to be found in this particular phenomenon is that that, if such an incident had truly taken place, we know now that the town can respond quickly.  “Word of Mouth” is no longer limited to a face to face discussion or a phone call.  Technology has expanded ‘Mouth’ to be so much more.

Yet even that good news isn’t in the local paper or clogging my email’s inbox.  That’s a shame, too.

40 Days – my Lenten Promise

Lent has generally meant giving up something that I love from Ash Wednesday until Easter.  In the past, especially during my teens and 20s, I gave up chocolate, ice cream, or, in the few years that I felt particularly masochistic, BOTH.

Last year, I didn’t “give up” anything as much as I tried to make sure I prayed diligently every day.  My daily prayers had become automatic to the point that I was falling asleep when I said them, since I usually pray as I go to bed.  I would start out with the Lord’s Prayer and then add specific Thanks and petitions.  I did pretty well with this though there were days I slacked off.

This year, though, I wanted to do something that combined both sacrifice and thankfulness.  The sacrifice this year is peanut butter.  The trusty PB has become my (lazy) go-to meal on the run or snack.  Tasty yes, healthy in small doses, yes.  But I’ve been eating too much of it in place of meals and getting into bad habits when it came to snacks and even (GASP!) the occasional hurried breakfast or lunch.  And where there is peanut butter, there is also… chocolate.  My Achilles heal of PB is actually the Dark Chocolate Dreams by the Peanut Butter Company…

PB_img

This is, truly, a delectable sacrifice that I knew that I had to make.

The thankfulness part was not one that I thought would be a problem.  I try hard to be thankful for my family, friends, home, health and well being.  The past few months have driven those blessings home, so to speak.  I’ve been to 4 funerals and 5 wakes in the past 2 or so months.  Two of the funerals were for beloved fathers of good friends.  One was for an elderly grandmother of my sister-in-law.  She and both men passed away in the presence of their families.   As their children and grandchildren continue life without them, they are reminders of what is inevitable as one grows older.  Those left behind are thankful for all that they did as well as the time they’ve had together.

The 4th funeral was for one of my best and sweetest friends.  She, like the others, died with her family by her side.  Everyone who knew her is thankful for the experience of being her friend.  And she is sorely missed.

There have been moments, recently, where I have not been feeling thankful at all – I’ve been sad and angry.   So I wasn’t sure I was fully in the mindset of “Thankfulness” when Ash Wednesday rolled around.  As I sat in church, listening to the sermon and then the prayers, it hit me as to what to do for Lent.

So, that night, I decided that I would spend the next 40 days following up on whims of thankfulness.  The kind of whim when you think of someone and say to yourself “Oh, that reminds me, I should call/email so&so.”   But then you don’t call or email or anything.  Things come up, life happens and the whim is just a memory.  For Lent, then, I would follow up on the whims, one per day.

Day 1  – a thank you to a friend who has helped babysit my son for 3 of the funerals

Day 2 – an email to my former housemate who had very briefly dated my late friend; we’d been out of touch other than Christmas cards

Day 3 – a thank you to another friend who has helped with babysitting recently

Day 4 – a thank you for a neighbor who started a walking group and is a gung-ho exercise cheerleader

Day 5 – a belated birthday card to my uncle

I haven’t had a whim for Day 6 yet but I expect to pull out a Thank You or blank note card when it hits.

Merry Halloween!

I’d like to think that snow on Halloween, or the days leading up to it, is a rare occurrence.  Sadly, it is not.  At least, it’s not rare anymore.  For 3 of the past 4 years, there has been snow – light or heavy – in the days leading up to Halloween.  “Freak Winter Storm” is the usual name for this.  This year’s, 2011, is different, though.  It is a full blown Nor’easter, complete with extensive power outages from blown transformers and downed lines, massive tree damage, blocked roads, over 6 inches of wet, heavy snow and winds.

I think we need to call Halloween something else, so I’ve coined “Merry Halloween” as the more appropriate salutation.   Trick or treaters will be wearing boots (my son wants to wear his snow shoes) and other winter gear.  Costumes will largely be covered.  Traipsing through snow go get pieces of candy seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth.   This leads me to wonder:

Do we stay home and feast on the candy we bought with the intention of doling it out?

Do we bundle up like eskimos and assure the folks in the neighborhood that we are wearing costumes underneath it all, really?  But please don’t make us unzip the coats to prove it, we don’t want to get frost bite.   Just toss us a Twix and we’ll be on our way!

For the past 4 years, we’ve hosted a Halloween party for our son’s friends.  A few are in the neighborhood, most are school mates in town, and some are close family friends who travel over half an hour to get here.  It’s always an indoor party, there are crafts and games.  The parties, coincidentally, began with this new autumn climate phenomenon.  It’s definitely a coincidence, but it’s also beginning to feel like a curse.  We can laugh at this, and we do.  If I actually thought I could influence weather patterns in any way, I’d be using my power for good, not evil.

For one thing, I’d rearrange the overwatering of the Northeast that happened this summer and balance it out with some rain in Texas.   If our big lobster/BBQ party in the summer didn’t make that weather blip happen, then clearly my power over weather simply doesn’t exist.

Today is the day before Halloween, there is snow EVERYWHERE I look outside.  The sun is shining and therefore melting the snow.  The snow is now dropping, rather than dripping, constantly and often the chunks are the size of softballs.  Branches are bent in unnatural angles.  I keep expecting them to pop back to their normal position once the snow has slid off but, so far, that hasn’t happened.

The trees that withstood a hurricane are now sadly bowed and bent yet also beautiful – snow does that, hiding the damage it’s created under an innocent white blanket.  The effect is begging for black and white photography to do it justice.

Oct2011 Nor'easter

October 2011 Nor'easter - front yard view

We took many photos this morning, the sun pink and yellow.   The colored leaves are pretty much still on the trees, as well as the branches that fell during the storm.  I’m not sure how old the 2 large trees in our front yard are but they look substantial.  I’m sad to think that we may have to take them down at some point.  At the very least, they need a lot of trim work.  I hope they will be stronger, and we’ll be safer, once that’s done.

Oct2011 Nor'easter

October 2011 Nor'easter - big front yard tree

Related to all of this was the headline that a well known global warming skeptic has publicly announced his agreement with the broad scientific consensus that Global Warming is a fact, not just a theory.  Looking out the window as I type this and listening to the hum of chain saws, I’m not sure if the irony is funny or frightening.  I err with science on just about everything but I don’t see rain out there, I see snow.  In October.  It would be nice to hear theories as to what is happening…anything to explain this.

As for next year, maybe we’ll have the Halloween party in August, just to play it safe.

One year later…

Why does it take me so long to write on this?  I need and want the practice, so I have a few drafts but few of them get finished.  Which reminds me that I have fabric to be fashioned into curtains… but I haven’t finished them either.  *sigh*   I have, it seems, too many projects and not enough time.

So, officially, it is one year later since I’ve written on our blog.  And when I say “our” I guess I really mean “mine.”  Mike hasn’t written anything on it, though I’m not surprised.  It’s not his thing, it’s mine.  Perhaps Nicholas will contribute something!

The last thing I wrote about was the Imagination Station playground.  We happened to visit it recently, to celebrate its 1 year birthday.  It still looks great and is extremely popular.  There were many familiar faces who came to celebrate, and of those, there were a few people that I hadn’t seen in a year.  It was good to catch up, and to look at all of the kids clearly enjoying every inch of the playground.  Nicholas still has his favorite spots: sitting ON the tunnel slide, the swings, and just running around the whole thing.

There is landscaping around the perimeter of the playground now, and inscribed pavers in the area of the main entrance sign.  From a distance and up close, the entire playground looks colorful and fun.  The big bonus is all of the seating for parents – something the old playground was lacking.

The playground project helped tweak my brain into looking forward in terms of what I want to do when I “grow up.”    It’s a bit of reinvention as well as recognizing some truths.  The computer programming industry has changed to the point where I am no longer marketable.  Website design can be done by just about anyone these days (hello WordPress!) and my skills are too basic to ask for someone to pay me to do the work.  That pretty much sums up my job skills.  So this is where “reinvention” comes in.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’ve asked people who know me well and can be honest with me (in a kind way…!) to get their feedback.  I thought of what I like to do, of what I don’t want to do, and of what I’d need to do to get me to… well… that was the final part of the process:  The Destination.

Facts:

  • I enjoy gardening, especially organic
  • I enjoy cooking and baking (including eating)
  • I like working on a computer but don’t want to think about how to make it work
  • I would like to learn more without having a full course load
  • I want to have time and opportunity to volunteer with school stuff and Scouts
  • I want to improve my health
  • I don’t want to add significantly to my stress levels

I had no destination in mind and still don’t have a specific one in sight yet.  But I know roughly what I’d like to be doing down the road.

Playing with Dirt

Garden 2010

Herb & Vegetable Garden, bed #2, 2010

This could be a regression to childhood, I really haven’t thought that deeply about it.  But I know the work I really enjoy doing that also won’t add to my cholesterol and waistline.

So what’s next?  I could fiddle in my own gardens for a while, research and try out techniques and pay attention to the results.  I do that already and still feel like there are huge gaps of what I know and don’t know.  I looked into graduate school and while a graduate program may ultimately be a part of this reinvention, I don’t know if that’s what would be the best way to learn.

Enter Rutgers University’s Cooperative Extension program, specifically http://njaes.rutgers.edu/extension/

I will hopefully be able to enter their September – March program in the fall.  In the meantime, I’m playing in the dirt of my own back and front yards, contending with cold, rainy then hot and humid weather, and a never ending parade of critters that love to destroy what I’ve sown.

It’s easy for me to lose track of time when I’m in the garden – it is no accident that I haven’t replaced the broken battery in my watch.  I plug in my iPod and dig, pull, mix, and pinch at will.  I am an organized enough person to chart what I’ve planted, going back quite a few years, and what’s worked/not worked.  From my perspective, gardening is a sensory-heavy blend of creativity and science.

So now I know my next destination, though there is still a lot of wiggle room for where I will precisely end up.  Twenty years ago the ambiguity of that would have terrified me.   I think it also would have locked me into a path that I’m simply not ready to commit to.  The open-endedness of this is very enlightening and not the least bit scary.  It’s nice to know that my 40s have brought me something my 20-something year old self would have shied away from – uncertainty.