For Mike, the Jets Fan – When Beer & Chocolate Can Make Things Better

When I tried out a new recipe yesterday, a carryover from St. Patrick’s Day, I had no way of knowing that it could be medicinal for my poor husband.  Mike, lifelong and diehard Jets fan, enjoyed one piece last night and may very well feel like demolishing the rest of it tonight.

The recipe is for Chocolate Guinness Cake (see my Food post from today, NYINNJ – Food ).  The original occasion was St. Patrick’s Day but we went out to eat that night instead, so our leftover St. Patrick’s Day dinner was last night.   I don’t make corned beef or cabbage myself, ever, but it’s the traditional dinner and we’re traditional people.  Thank goodness, the Market Place has the delicious and easy-to-pick-up complete dinner for take out, so problem solved!

Today, though, is cause for the cake to not be celebratory.  This cake is now medicinal.   In the midst of a circus-like off season for Mike’s Jets, rumors and accusations have been consistent and frustrating.  If that wasn’t enough, Peyton Manning went to the Broncos and now Tim Tebow has landed with the Jets.  The circus atmosphere is now approaching Ringling Brothers proportions. 

The thing is, Mike is a pretty even tempered fan.  He’s been a Jets/Mets/Rangers fan for his entire life, so this latest drama isn’t new to him nor is it likely to turn him off from rooting for his team.  If this was happening to the Giants, I’d be having an anxiety attack, no kidding.  He’s realistic enough to not expect much good to come of the Sanchez-Tebow QB situation but he’s also laid back enough to not let it faze him much. 

We’ll call him the Chocolate portion of the sports-aspect of our relationship.  Steady, reliable, sometimes WOW! and sometimes Meh…   It’s rare to have bad chocolate, right?  The kind you spit out?  Doesn’t happen much.

Then there’s me.  Most of my family and friends know how I’m a bit… shall we say… obsessed?  passionate?  frantically loyal?  nuts?  about my sports teams.  Mike is definitely as loyal about his teams as I am about mine but he shows his enthusiasm differently.  He, for example, doesn’t need to do deep breathing exercises when watching the 4th quarter or 9th inning.  He gives me his hand to squeeze for that last second field goal attempt, not vice versa.  I’m not sure I’d have fingers left if he ever tried that on me…

So, in the Chocolate Guinness Cake analogy, I’m the beer portion – I don’t think I need to explain why…

Anyway, the cake is delicious – and it may prove to be our ‘go to’ comfort food depending on how things go for our resident Jets fan.

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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.

A New Tradition aka The Unmaking of a Picky, Sexist Eater

It all started about 6 weeks ago, after 3 days of hearing my son complain about “what’s for dinner?”   Enough!

My first reaction?  Anger.  I’m the primary cook in our household.  Occasionally, my husband grills.  We eat out a couple times a month.  Most days, however, it’s just me.  I rarely have any help from shopping, prep work, cooking and clean up.  We have a small family (3 to feed, sometimes 4), a large kitchen, and the financial means to eat well.  Plus, I like to cook and have a good track record for making  food that tastes good, as opposed to meals that ‘don’t suck.’

So yes, I was angry.  I was even a little resentful.  Heck, I was very resentful.  Doesn’t my son know that I shop for and cook meals we will like?  Most meals are even, egads! pretty healthy, too!

The answer to my unsaid question is, No, he doesn’t actually know.  I mean, he knows that I do the grocery shopping, sure.  He’s with me enough times to know how that goes and what we buy (and don’t buy).  And yes, he sees me cooking and baking most days.

But he doesn’t truly know what “cooking” means.  We’ve done the fun stuff together – cookies & cupcakes.  But a full blown meal?  No, he hasn’t done that.

Add to that lack of hands-on experience his preference for microwavable mac & cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches (made by his big sister, who is the pro at that particular dish), and chicken nuggets.  Normal favorite food stuffs for a kid his age.   After all, he’s 9, he’s a boy and he’s never shown much interest beyond playing with flour and decorating gingerbread cookies.

The boy thing… Mike has consistently joked around the kids that cooking is “woman’s work.”  And there’s not much going on in our kitchen to prove him wrong.  He can make himself toast, heat up soup in the microwave, and even zap himself an omelette.  His preference for cooking can be summed up in 3 words: Cooking With Danger.  That is, the microwave or grill. For roasts, homemade soups, casseroles, sautes, pies, cookies, and any chocolate dessert that didn’t come in a plastic wrapper, I’m the go-to person in our house.

Yet somewhere along the way, our son has decided that the jokes were fact.  Just because that’s all he’s seen doesn’t mean that’s all he SHOULD see, especially now that he’s getting older and more aware of the world beyond our house, street and town.  And it is among my jobs as his mother to tweak his understanding of the world when I think he’s humming along the wrong, or slightly skewed, path.

Back to where I began… after 3 days of his complaining about what I was making for dinner, he was on the receiving end of my anger and resentment.  He sulked, I seethed, and dinner – I can’t even remember what it was – was not a happy time for any of us.

The next day, an idea popped into my head with the ease of a yawn.  So simple!  How could I not have figured this out sooner?

I primed Mike first; he seemed to think it worth trying.  His support was all that was required of him at this point.  He’s a willing guinea pig for most things I cook, too.  So far, this was off to a good start.

I talked with my son that evening, explaining to him that I had An Idea that involved him.  I also explained WHY – and that the goal was to help him learn what was involved with cooking  a meal.  Therefore, he was going to be my assistant for every dinner that upcoming week.

Naturally, he groaned.  He complained.  He muttered.  Mike backed me up immediately and put the kabosh on the moaning and groaning.  I continued to explain The Idea.  Not only was he going to be my assistant (with the fancy French name of “sous chef”), he would help me plan the meals.

And, finally, the biggest gem of The Idea: we would pick a meal that would go with a movie we’d watch as a family.  Ta Da!

His initial reaction was… willingness!  Enthusiasm even!  There was almost singing going on in my head!

I was not unprepared, then, for his first question: what movie?  I’d done research on this before the pitch, so I told him that we’d watch “Ratatouille” while making Ratatouille.  He was still enthused, even though he frowned a tad because of the movie choice.  It turns out that he couldn’t remember seeing the movie before.  No problem, I assured him.   He had liked it before, and I felt confident this would be a good meal and movie combination.

I had made traditional ratatouille a few weeks before, and everyone had liked it.  That was another part of introducing The Idea – making sure the meal would be one he’d like enough to try/eat since he had liked it recently.

We figured out the meals for the week, including something simple like pigs and blankets.  We also planned his favorite non-mac&cheese-chicken-nugget-grilled-cheese meal: pierogies and kielbasa.  With 3 meals out of 6 planned, we were starting on a positive note.

I did the shopping for our meals by myself that week, while he was in school.  I thought I would be pushing it if I had him come with me for that part.  I also figured out out which parts of each meal he’d be able to help me with and which parts he could wander off to play or do homework.  When I explained that he would have ‘breaks,’ he was relieved and much more willing to help with each meal.

The Ratatouille recipe we used was one I’d found online at a great food blog, http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/07/rat-a-too-ee-for-you-ee/  We got all of the ingredients onto the counter then followed that by getting out the necessary equipment.

And this became our “Wow!” moment – his introduction to a mandolin!  Safety was a priority, of course, and his Star Wars apron was also a key element to his positive experience.   We cleaned the veggies, sliced them carefully, and layered them to our hearts’ content.  The result matched the photo on the blog, then we topped it with a piece of cut out parchment paper.  And we were both excited to taste it when it was done, because it looked good and smelled great already.

Meanwhile, the movie was playing in the den while we were cooking in the kitchen.  He got to bounce from counter to beanbag chair often enough to not notice that he was actually helping make a meal.

Clean up was easy, he didn’t complain once.  When the movie was over (thank goodness Disney movies are pretty short), it was time for everyone to sit down and eat.  His curiosity nearly beat out his pride as we pulled the parchment paper top off and oooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh it smelled and looked more awesome than we’d expected!

Mike was effusive in his praise to the chefs, which went a long way in helping our son adjust to a tweaked path.  But the kicker was when we all went for second helpings, with nary a chicken nugget or cheesy noodle in sight!  The rest of the week went smoothly but, admittedly, with much less fanfare and ‘oooooooohs’ and ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaahs.’  My one regret in introducing this new tradition was that we started with the big Aha! meal first.

If the tradition hadn’t taken hold, I’d be worried.  However, we are now 6 weeks and 4 “Dinner & a Movie” nights into our new and popular tradition.  Best yet, my son has been slightly transformed into a less picky eater and a more helpful set of hands in the house.

It was highly gratifying to call upon our new tradition this week, when Halloween Trick or Treating was postponed because of the freak winter storm.  Disappointment turned to WooHoo! when we decided to watch our just-delivered copy of “Captain America” while feasting on meatloaf, mashed potatoes and apple pie.  All homemade with some help from my sous chef.

Our Dinner & A Movie pairings to date:

  • Ratatouille’s Ratatouille with “Ratatouille”
  • Spaghetti & Meatballs with “Tangled”
  • Swedish Meatballs & egg noodles with “Thor”
  • Mini Meatloaves, Mashed Potatoes and apple pie with “Captain America”

I don’t expect the complaining to complete disappear, of course.  He’s a normal kid, after all.  It’s with tentative hope that I think we’ve got something good to build on here, even if we end up eating it all up until the next meal.

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.

It Takes a Town to Build a Playground

Imagination Station sign

Entrance Sign to the Imagination Station playground

It’s been a while since I’ve brain dumped here, mostly because I’ve been a bit too exhausted to think creatively.   I certainly didn’t feel compelled to do much writing, either.   Good thing I have no plans to make a living off of my creative bent as an author.

It’s been about 3 weeks since the new playground, Imagination Station, was built.  It turned out beautifully – it is a full out colorful, fun, engaging and spacious playground.  There are so many more things for kids to do in/on it.  The artwork is a personal favorite for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I love colorful playgrounds.  There are artistic elements that are unique – mosaic tile signs and a giant mural (climbing wall).  Everything artistic was an original design and hand painted.  I worked with the Art & Design team for the bulk of my volunteer hours there.  There was a motley mixture of young to middle aged, along with a couple of elderly women as well.   To find words to describe the collaborative efforts would make the experience sound almost cliche.   But it’s true nonetheless.  People who didn’t know each other were able to work together to create fantastic work.

Mural/Rock Climbing Wall

Mural/Rock Climbing Wall

Other moments from the build stick in my brain like photographic images yet there are sounds and smells attached to them as well.  The first day was drizzly, the kind of “wet” that ruins any hairstyle and makes everything from wood to plastic feel thoroughly damp.  Forty people had signed up to help that day, and the Food Committee was thusly prepared.  By lunchtime-prep time, however, about a hundred people were working throughout the site.  Extra pizzas were ordered and picked up.  Everyone stopped working promptly at noon, had a damp lunch and were back at work before 12:30.  Volunteers in yellow shirts (including myself) acted in a variety of roles – “runners” to take other volunteers from the registration table to the areas of the work site.  Yellow Shirts also worked in Food, Child Care, Art & Design and, of course, Construction.  There were 2 areas of Construction, too – the actual playground site and the pre-fab tents.

Day 1 had me starting at the Registration table, where I was labeled “blue” (unskilled construction).  So, blue label on a Yellow Shirt.  Fine with me!  I then was a Runner for a while, handing off a steady stream of volunteers to one of the 14 Orange Shirted Construction Captains.  At some point, I morphed into a “red” (skilled with a circular saw) label and was cutting the ends of  a seemingly unending stack of pickets.   I worked alongside both friends and strangers.   The construction captain, a dry humored but exceedingly helpful guy named Stu, kept us all busy and always made sure we had whatever we needed.  This was to become “the expected” way to do business for the duration of the build – dry humor being optional.

Day 2 of the build found me at the Bronx Zoo with Nicholas’ class trip.  It was a hot day and the bus ride was, unfortunately, longer than expected.  But we made the most of our time there, touring our particular “must see” spots with another mom and her son.  As always, we enjoyed what we saw and made a list of what to see the next visit.  The bus ride was better on the return trip.  As the bus drove by the lake and the playground, the kids on the bus all looked eagerly out the side windows to see the action.  It was great to hear them so excited – they are the age where they will probably play there now and then for just a few more years, but if the playground lasts as long as we’ve been told it should, then these kids can actually expect to have their kids playing on it some day.  There is something inherently awesome about that idea.

At the end of Day 2, my parents arrived for a visit.  They would both be helping at the build as well, and Dad even arrived with tools that had been lacking and needed (cordless drills, routers).

Day 3 was going to be a hot one.  My parents and I headed over to the park in separate cars, as we figured one but not all of us would need to be back at the house in the afternoon to get both Alicia and Nicholas squared away.  I ended up being a Runner then landed in Art & Design, where I’d essentially stay for the rest of the time.  Dad checked in his tools and was given a red label (well deserved) and assigned to a Construction Captain directly on site.  Mom went to Food and then the Registration Table, where she’d end up for the rest of the time, too.

The 3 of us had lunch together before splitting up for our duties, then Mom went home in the afternoon.  Dad stayed on until dinner time, when he and I both headed home.  Mom and I returned in the evening for a few hours.  All of us were exhausted that night, too.  But we all agreed that it had been a great day – the playground was going up quickly and already looked great.  Everyone was working hard, cooperating wonderfully, and there was more than enough food & drinks.

Day 4 was another long and hot one but not nearly has brutal, weather-wise, as the day before.  Nicholas hung out in Child Care while Dad, Mom and I worked in our respective areas.   I was now painting just about everything I was directed to – the pyramid “tops” of the towers (to be installed by crane on the final day), the train, the dollhouse and parts of the pirate ship.  Being more or less within the construction zone of the playground itself was amazing.  It’s easy to become focused on a job close at hand, but when I would take a breather or move to another area to paint, I was completely blown away by the amount of people working in just about every square foot of space, on multiple things at the same time, and somehow – like a bee hive buzzing with activity and profound organization – everything was simply coming together.  Dad was working with another man to install the hundreds of spindles that enclosed the maze walkways and staircases.  Mom was efficiently checking people in and making friends.

And I had blue, red, purple, yellow, and magenta paint all over myself – and I mean, ALL OVER.  My hands, my arms, pants, shirt, legs and sneakers.  Somehow, my baseball hat escaped all evidence of the work I’d been doing.

At some point on the evening of Day 4, the crowds that had been gathering around the perimeter of the playground work site had trickled down a little.  As I was painting a dollhouse in the Tot Lot, a neighbor and her young daughter called out to me.  Her husband was part of the crew that was installing 850 personalized pickets to mark the perimeter, and they’d come to see him and the playground.  As I talked to them, I could see the little girl look at the house, with all of its pastel yellow-purple-and-magenta-ness, and I knew that this was going to be her favorite part of the playground.  (Three weeks later, this is still true)

Painted House

Painted House in Tot Lot

Day 4 ended late for me.  Dad had gone home a bit earlier and Mom came home with me.  I’d finished painting the house with 2 women whose husbands were both doing construction work while their kids were in Child Care.  As tired as all of us were, it was amazing how much we were still willing to put in before it got too dark.  The forecast for Day 5 was not good at all – rain, rain and more rain.  Crews stayed past the “lights out” time, from what I found out the next morning, too.

Day 5, the final day, started grey but dry.  Mom and I got to the build around 8:30, and there were already well over a hundred people there, mostly on the playground site itself.  The playground was now entirely visible except for the tower tops to be installed that day.  The shapes that had started as 250+ vertical posts and a confusing series of platforms were now as they had been designed: a pirate ship, a castle tower, and a rocket ship.  The Tot Lot had a dollhouse and a train, with swings, teeter totter and those crazy innocent looking animals on the giant springs of doom.

There was a celebration planned for the evening, around 6PM.  By noon, it was clear that we’d be cutting it close.  Some things were done more hastily and the tons of mulch that needed to be dumped then spread interfered with construction and painting.  And somehow, some woman and her 2 teen sons designated themselves artists and painted sections that were not supposed to be painted.  She and the boys were stopped but it was too late – they’d used up precious paint (to be used on other areas) and now created an unfinished look in parts.   As of this writing, touch up paint work still needs to be done and I’ll be helping with that this week.

One of our town councilmen had been involved with the playground committee since its inception nearly a year ago, and he worked each day in the Tool department and was also going to be our celebration’s Emcee.  He preferred to keep it simple, which was best, given that most people were less interested in fancy speeches come the Grand Opening and more about letting their kids explore every inch.  We had special t-shirts designed with the images of the 2 main coordinators of the project, with the words (roughly): “If you see these people, thank them!”   The steering committee members wore the shirts at the Grand Opening celebration and I think many people in the crowd noticed them and thanked the coordinators.

The weather improved as the afternoon progressed, and by celebration time, it was a perfect spring evening.  Crews that had worked nearly non-stop all day were still somehow still standing.  I found out that a great number of the construction volunteers that day had shown up as early as 6:30AM (start time wasn’t until 7AM) to get a jump start to get it all done in time.

Nicholas was with me for a while before the celebration, Mom and Dad had already left for home.  I wished they could have seen, in person, the final product AND the reactions of the hundreds of kids who climbed all over it later on.  Nicholas’ reaction was, for me, worth it all.  I brought him close to the still on-going construction about an hour before it was done.  His eyes took in everything – the mulch still being spread by a ton of teens and adults, the last minute construction work by college kids to grandfathers.  And yes, a few last minute paint touches here and there… Nicholas asked what his grandfather had helped with and I was able to point out a few areas.  He saw where I’d painted, and we both felt that it was only fitting that I’d painted the train.

When it was time for the celebration, he was among one of the first 20 kids to get inside – I lost sight of him immediately.  But I knew he was safe (there’s only 1 way in/out) and I found him after a few minutes.  He found some friends and they were blurs of flying hair, arms and legs as they ran everywhere.   It was simply amazing to watch.

I saw many friends as well, and some of the new ones I’d made during the build.  I don’t think any of us who’d been a part of it could truly quite grasp, on that evening, just how awesome, yes, awesome, the whole thing was.  It had taken approximately a gestation period to come to fruition and it was a wonderful sight.  It was also a great sound – hundreds of kids laughing and shouting in excitement, murmurs of awe and appreciation, and the sound of running, climbing and sliding.  The smell of mulch was also strong but, thankfully, not as bad now that hundreds of people were standing/running on it.  It’s power to overwhelm had been diminished with sudden and intense use.

The glow of the experience wasn’t just felt by me.  It was common to find someone else who had that same satisfied, tired but happy expression that said “Holy cow, this is just incredible.”   At one point, as I hung around the entrance/exit, looking around for Nicholas’ in-motion self, I also noticed a young man standing next to me.  I’d seen him on site on the 4 days I’d been there, and he was rather distinctive because of his choice of neck accessory.  He had been working hard at the times I’d been painting nearby, helpful and upbeat.  I hadn’t talked to him before but thought I’d thank him for doing so much to help out.   He was wearing the same expression I’d described above and was smiling as well.  So I thanked him and then asked if he had any kids there, enjoying it.  He said no, he was only 20 and home from college.   He’d stopped by on Day 1 to help out because he wasn’t currently working and it seemed like a “cool” project to work on.  He never expected to return for Day 2, let alone Days 3, 4 and 5.  And he was the first one who told me about arriving at 6:30AM that morning to help out.  He then said that he was looking forward to bringing his kids, when he had them someday, to the playground and showing them all the parts he’d helped with.

That pretty much nails why this project worked out the way it did:  the people who had interest – regardless of the reasons – in helping out did so.  It wasn’t just the people who turned up those 5 days, either – there were many other people who donated money, services, tools, food, drinks and other supplies.  All told, about 1,000 people helped out from what I heard from another member of the Steering Committee.  We needed at least 750.  We had to feed everyone – we had food and bottled water left over.  We needed at least $120,000 for materials/services, and we raised about $150,000.  We had sponsors for every aspect of the project and materials.  Businesses, organizations, families and individuals all contributed.  It is incredible what this town was able to do because something needed to be built for kids – without politics, egos and a tax burden.

As the playground gets used, and the town gets used to the playground, the project evolves into Maintenance and Enhancement.  Already there are a few things to be repaired or replaced, while landscaping and fund raising plans are being discussed.  And I’ll be back there, painting here and there, to keep it looking as good as new.