Friday, July 30, 2010

"It's Friday & I'm in Love" Sharing.

I don't have a product or song that I'm in love with this week.  I have an verb.  Sharing.  When you have kids, this verb runs strong in your household.  Either they're just learning to share or you're constantly working on it.  I can't think of anything else you focus on during year two of the baby's life.  Some parents work very hard with this action.  Other parents just shrug their shoulders & say, "What are you going to do about it?"  Some parents play the gender card, "She's a girl.  Can't you find another toy?"  Other parents make a strong front with the verb.  One whine from a kid & they swoop in to enforce the sharing.  Others wait until there's screams & a broken toy.  A disclaimer: I don't believe that a 14-month-old should be expected to share with a 3-year-old.  And since the 14 month-old isn't going to share with the 3 year-old, sharing rules can be bent.  3 & a 5 year-old?  Absolutely!    Share, kids!  Share.

Don't you love when it happens & you aren't there to gently demand it?  Here's a scene that unfolded a couple of months ago.  Because I know this is a rare occasion,  I had to document it.  Someday when they're fighting over the car, I'm going to dig up this photo & shove in their little teenage faces.

Coop really wanted the last 4 block & Becks had it.  Notice his disgust & anger.

After whining (when does that end?) about it, Becks said, "He can have mine!"

Coop isn't quite sure that Beck is going to fork it over, but he's hoping.

And just like that our world was good.

May you share your weekend with loved ones!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It Gets In Your Brain

. . . and you know what? That's a-ok with me. The whole album (there, I'll sufficiently date myself . . . I still call them albums) is pretty damn good. Have a listen! And enjoy the weekend early - Dave and I are off to Montreal for the weekend. Something about celebrating our 19th anniversary, I think.

- Jill

Monday, July 26, 2010

I would think that most people returning home for a class reunion would spend anywhere from three seconds to weeks examining their life.  How could you not?  I’m not talking a huge Examination.  Is this where I wanted to be?  How did I end up here?  No, the simpler one.  I’m no longer a child & haven’t been one for years.  Believe me.  This isn't a new realization.  I’ve been called, “Mrs.” a few times.  It’s hit or miss if someone even cards for the wine I’m buying & most times I think the cashier is just trying to be sweet.  I’m realize that I'm no child, but attend a party where everyone is practically screaming, “You’ve been an adult for 15 years!” & that point is hammered home.

That hammering made this trip feel extra Memory Lane-ish.  I felt like I didn’t walk into my parents’ home, but I walked into a museum of my youth.  Two things before I continue.  One, I live 45 minutes from my parents.  I go home often, but not for high school reunions that force you to feel old.  Two, I’m not so vain as to think the house is a museum to MY youth. It’s my families’ youth.  But since I was the only one home experiencing it, my side got the slant.  I’ll continue.  Every room had an artifact that was dusty with memories.  I walked into the kitchen exhibit & found the squatty orange Tupperware container that held baked cookies.  Flip it over & you’ll notice a scar from when one of us left it on the stove’s burner.  Nestled next to the increasing bottles of prescriptions, I found the simple recipe box.  I’ve flipped through that box at least a dozen times searching for the No-Bake Cookie card.  I've slammed it shut a dozen times only to whine to my Mom that it wasn’t in there.  And she's found it a dozen times.

As I shuffled along to the porch area, I noticed that the curators’ must have felt like it was ok for visitors to play with some of the artifacts.  My boys created a community surrounded the Little People toys.  A hospital on the left.  A school on the right.  All leading up to the castle in the cul-de-sac.  The little plastic bed was missing the foam because we yanked it out as children.  The monkey was missing his rubber foot because it was too easy for one of us to chew off.  These missing parts didn't ruin the boys' community.  They added some 2010 flavor by lining up the Star War toys on the roof of the castle.  Subtract those fighters & about 30 years, you would have seen a similar scene unfold with my siblings.  When you leave the porch there’s a small section of glass in the door.  It isn't marked with a plaque or a set of ropes, but if you hold your ear close to it, you can actually hear an argument that took place decades ago.  My brother was angry with my older sister.  He slammed the door & she fell through.  Get your ear even closer & hold your breath so you can hear my mother beg us not to move because of the broken glass.

Later that night, I put my boys to sleep in that museum. I let them fall asleep with one of the oldest pieces: a picture that lights up an entire room.   When I clumsily twist the switch, the hum & flicker of that light transports me back to my grandparents’ house.  It hung over the bed that my sisters’ & I slept in when we visited.   Because a Light-Up Picture is rare & precious, my mother took it from her parents’ museum.  It now serves the same function that it always has.  It ushers little bodies into sleep safely & without worry of the dark.

My mother was thrifty.  She had to be with four children.  But things weren’t disposed of so easily back then either.  You kept your wedding towels even if they didn’t match the new bathroom color.  I’m grateful that these objects still reside in my parents’ house.  And it gives me more of a reason to keep the things in my house.  Not the mountain of toys that seem to magically pile up after repeat trips to Goodwill.  But the tiny hill of beloved toys that are dragged out daily.  The books with spines that are worn & wrinkled from constant openings.  The cookbooks with pages that are splattered from over use.  The Batman sheets that are washed & immediately put back on the bed because it’s the only way to sleep.  The things that will hopefully remind our children of their own simpler time.


Friday, July 23, 2010

"It's Friday & I'm In Love" 35mm Lens

This post is heavy on photos . . . sorry in advance, but I really am in love - J
Dear Becky -

I think we've met once, no twice: first when Erika and I were headed to Evolve to put a down payment on my tattoo, and then again at Comfest that weekend. But I more than owe you a huge, huge thanks. When Erika and I were talking about lenses, I mentioned that I wanted to get a fixed/normal lens, and it concerned me because I couldn't figure out what to do: get the one that Erika has and then always, always, always manually focus it or just deal with the kit lens that I had. For a while, it seemed like I was opting with the kit lens because, let's face it, manually focusing for me would be painful. Trust me, it's not pretty . . . lots of grimacing and brow rubbing and more cursing per minute than a woman has a right to.

The Bank
Apparently she didn't like how is smelled

"You know they make a 35 mm lens for the D40. My friend Becky bought one, and she's really happy with it," said Erika. She went on to mention something about taking the lens out back and showing it a good time, and you know what? You were right . . . this lens is amazing . . . I'd like to lick it all over, but I failed to buy the lens cleaning kit. Maybe next week I'll give it a run for its money when Dave and I are in Montreal.

Pretty Sure They Are Weeds

We spend hours at this duck pond when the Girls were little . . . it was deserted today
Next time I'm in Columbus, drinks are on me. We'll let our lenses mix and mingle . . . who knows what they'll get up to. Enjoy your weekend, everyone! I'm participating in a photowalk tomorrow evening, and I'm kind of afraid that people will figure out I don't belong there because I really am figuring out this whole photography thing as I go. But knitting . . . knitting is easy.

- Jill

It Will Be a Scarf

It will be a scarf eventually
Drops On My Arm

Words to live by . . . they get me through the day

Raindrops are hard to capture . . . crap
It's My Mary Poppins Bag

I love this bag (but I love the lens more since you can see the knitting inside)
Reason Why I Need a Camera Bag

I really need a camera bag . . . Dave, I'd like this one for our anniversary . . . please?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm smitten.

Are you?


Monday, July 19, 2010

Hasty Decisions.

I'm a planner.  If we do anything, I like to have the time to prepare.  Lists are made & piles are organized.  And when the day arrives, we're ready to Move-Out.  But this week, I'm grateful for hasty decisions.  During Wednesday's dinner, I floated the idea about camping.  We've been dreaming of a family camping trip since I was pregnant with Cooper.  For the past 10 years, we camp with a large group of friends.  It's strictly a No-Kids event.  Nothing lurid happens, but it's nice to get a break from Parenting & kids would change the entire vibe of the weekend.  Not mention, I'd be a nervous wreck with the kids in our canoe.  And where would the cooler fit?  Back to Wednesday night...

Mark jumped on board & began checking the weather reports.  It looked clear.  Since we're skilled campers, everything was packed & organized.  It took very little effort for us to prepare.  Let's camp in the summer!  The boys were told & the site was reserved.  When I clicked the "Purchase" button, some regret began to bubble up.  Wasn't the A/C going to be fixed on Friday?  Aren't we sick of the heat already?  How are we going to escape it outdoors?  I don't have time to get everything ready!  What are we going to do with a toddler on camp site?  What the hell is wrong with us?  This hasty decision could only have been made in a state of delirium brought on by living with no A/C in house with only two functioning windows.  But it was made & the camp stuff was slowly being brought upstairs.  I asked every question I could that might pass this doubt onto Mark.  "Each site has electricity.  What if we're next to a camper that runs its air the entire night?"  "What are we going to do with Becket?"  "What if he runs into the woods & he never comes home?"  "What if the Beach is only a gravel pit surrounding a puddle of mud?"  "What if it floods?"  "What are we going to do from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night with the boys?"  "What if..."  He knows me & just let the questions pass.

{Notice the different pile sizes?  I think he just noticed it too.}
My biggest worry was concerning Becket.  I knew Cooper would find a way to entertain himself for the weekend.   But a toddler?  I almost brought some blocks, but we ran out of room in the trunk.  I begged him to bring Guys to play with, but he didn't want any.  What was this kid going to do all weekend?  What could I bring that would satisfy him all weekend?  Clearly,  I haven't learned my lesson with this one.  The only thing I ever need to bring is Cooper.  He's his shadow.  Cooper tells a story.  Becket repeats it.  Cooper says, "Baby-Head."  Becket calls you, "Baby-Head.  Tree-Head. Toilet-Head" & laughs about it.  Keep Cooper happy & Becks is happy by default.  At this stage of our Parenting lives, this is the key to happiness.

When we got to the campsite, all of my other doubts were chased away by the beauty of it all.  Our site was lush & tucked into a canopy of natural shade.  I realized that we were going to spend the weekend alone & I was excited for this moment.  It wasn't that we'd get a break from technology, but we were going to get a break from everything.  Whatever happened it was going to be our responsibility to deal with it.  And there's a simplicity in knowing that your only option is to just Deal.  At home if I'm out of an ingredient, it requires a anger-filled trip to the store.  Don't you hate when you forget the key ingredient?  At the campsite, you just deal with the fact that we have no ketchup & there's no point in pouting about it.  No one asked to watch Batman or anything else.  But we were asked to play dozens of Uno matches.  We learned that Cooper is competitive & that we can never play Monopoly with him.  One of us will be forced to leave the family for good.  Mark & I aren't nice Monopoly players.   The boys giggled at night because they got to sleep next to each other.  We didn't take guide books or try to squeeze in nature lessons.  We just let the weekend unfold.  The boys spent their mornings at the site building with dominoes, organizing the Army Men into troops & playing with stickers.  Never once was I asked, "What can I do?"  The only complaint we got was that the fire hurt Cooper's eyes.

 {Via changed my Camping-Life!}
I take that back.  Cooper took the majority of the Army Men & Becket wasn't happy about it.  Camping or not, that kind of argument will never end.


p.s. Here's a few more...

{He was very concerned that Becks was going to walk into "traffic"}

{I decided to give "Eat. Pray. Love" one more chance. I'm glad I did}

{Toy Story Dominoes were a hit, but are too easy. And I'm pretty sure Mark & I don't play correctly.}

{He was so happy that he found some shells on his own.}

Friday, July 16, 2010

"It's Friday & I'm In Love" Fresh, Frozen Herbs

How was your week? Ours flew by quite fast . . . hence a week without a post. I'm sure that Erika's had more to do with having no air conditioning, but honestly, I have no idea.

Cilantro Love

I've been doing more and more cooking this summer. It has a lot to do with the Girls leaving for their first apartment in a few weeks and really not knowing a whole lot about how a kitchen works. Trust me, they're not slow, but I've never placed a real emphasis on cooking in our home. When we bought the home, we bought it based upon charm and the price. It has gorgeous hardwood floors and moldings and the best tree in the world in front of it (seriously, it is the best . . . you won't sway me on that). Plus, it reminded me of my childhood home . . . and the price was right. But with that mindset, we gave up a lot. We don't have air conditioning (but we've lived without it for so long that I really don't bat an eye when people tell us they don't have air cough, cough . . . my sister) or a dishwasher or more than five square feet of counter space or more than 2.5 closets. Cooking, and the cleanup that goes with it, is kind of challenging. So, we ate out quite a bit partially because the Girls were busy all through school but more because of the lack of anything in the kitchen.

Even so, I enjoy cooking a lot. The way that the flavors meld together and work their scents throughout the house . . . priceless. And for me, there is nothing in the world like the smell of cilantro. It simply smells green. Seriously. Go break off a few leaves in the grocery store and crush them between your fingers. It smells like green. If Crayola could figure out a way to make crayons smell of anything other than wax, which I happen to think is pretty divine, leaf green would smell of cilantro.

Cilantro Smells Like Green

In the past, I would use whatever I needed in a recipe and then the rest of the cilantro - or any type of herb - would languish in the fridge and then go all squiffy and slimy and gross. For some reason, even though I saw the little cubes of frozen herbs in the freezer section at Wegmans, I never even thought of doing it on my own. Until now.

Maybe it's the fact that the Girls are leaving for their first apartment and will be cooking their own meals. Maybe it's the realization that I am getting slightly more frugal in my old age. Maybe it's trying to save money for a new lens and bag . . . whatever. The process was so simple that I really should have done it a long time ago. Rinse, chop in mini-food processor, spoon in to ice cube trays, fill with a little bit of water, freeze, pop out and put in freezer bags. In mid-January, when I need a little something to remind me of warmth of summer, "fresh" cilantro on some pasta will more than fit the bill.

Cilantro Hearts

Enjoy the weekend! And if you can think of any simple, easy to cook recipes for two Girls, leave me a link in the comments.


Merry 4th of July Video 2010

2010's tree was spectacular!  We all agreed this was by far the greatest Fourth Tree we've ever seen.  It shot the perfect amount of fireworks before burning into the ground.  I think that we'd also agree this was the hottest & muggiest Fourth of July ever.  Have you ever seen a 34 year-old woman cry from humidity?  If we would have gotten there an hour earlier, you would have witnessed that sad event.  I was an hour away from an emotional melt-down.  I can drive 4 hours for a training, train for 15 minutes & drive 4 hours home with no potty breaks.  No problem.  I can do that 7 months pregnant with a breech baby trying to stand on the drivers seat.  I can nurse a baby for an hour & turn around to do that again an hour later.  Repeat for 3 months & not really complain.  Ask me to sit in the shade & still feel the sweat drip into my heavily padded push-up bra (both boys were big nursers), you'll see me melt-down.

Enjoy & have a fabulously chilly weekend.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"It's Friday & I'm In Love" Big Brother

There are absolutely no photographs that relate to today's post in any way, shape, or form. They are all from Picture Summer, which Erika and I are participating. Her username is {.erika.} and mine is jillapeno (long story, not worth the retelling). My photos are kinda derivative, but it's getting easier to take them. If you are participating, let us know!
It's no real secret that we are reality show whores. Rock of Love? Daisy of Love? Train wrecks, both, but train wrecks that we couldn't look away from. American Idol? For a long, long while, start to finish. The Amazing Race? This is the show that I want to be on. The Bachelor? A girl has her limits . . . but Joe Millionaire, whoa, that was priceless. There have been a few new reality shows that have jumped to the limelight recently (The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Tough Love AND Tough Love Couples) but none - not a single one - can hold a candle to our guilty pleasure: Big Brother.

Treasure Hunters

If you started watching Big Brother from the word go, you may have stopped watching it that first season, and I really wouldn't have blamed you one little bit. The people were too honest, too earnest, too eager to please. Plus, the folks who went home were determined by a national vote. This might have worked in just about every other country, but for some reason, it didn't really gel well here. It was, truly, boring. But the following year . . . whoa! It was the year of Dr. Will and Mike Boogie and the word "showmance." You started to see people showing their true colors, people who were motivated by a big money payout and who did just about anything to stay in the game.

Last summer was Dramatic, which is very, very typical for the show. That "drama" might be why people turn in because sometimes our lives get a little boring. Sure the kids spice it up now and then, but lots of our days - mine, in particular - follow a pattern in the summer. Take Friday. Here is the schedule: laundry before the house gets too hot, dishes during the cycles, pizza for dinner, something that we taped on the DVR. Patterns? Hell, yes. But Big Brother? Escape from reality. I get to watch other people's lives from a safe distance, try and figure out how they can be so naive, and then sit back and watch it all unravel.


The "cast" was revealed last night, and there were a few things that bothered the hell out of me. First, there was a decided lack of ethnicity. It's a mistake, I think. I look at my friends, and we are pretty diverse. A second thing? Several cast members proclaiming themselves "certified genius" . . . dumb mistake, because the smartest people are usually the first to make a hasty exit. They always think they know the game and then make a rookie error. The final mistake: the goofballs. Where the hell are they? Yes, you had the requisite "boobalicious" chick and a blond-girl-who-wants-to-bond-with-the-stereotypical-gay-man-who-likes-the-hunk, but the goofballs are missing.

Tomatoes on the Way

So this summer (and early fall), I'll be tuning into CBS on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, doing my best to avoid searching the blogs for some spoilers. I don't really know who the saboteur is (the big "expect the unexpected" this season) nor do I really have a favorite. I could do without the red head relying on her boobs to get some attention, but I like the deputy sheriff . . . she's 40. I have to stick with my age group.

Enjoy the weekend!

- Jill

PS - I would willingly go on The Amazing Race with Erika or about five other people. When they did a "family" edition, Dave and the Girls and I joked that our family would be referred to as the "Beep Family" since we would give CBS's censors a run for their money and probably break the budget on the beeps.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Week of Non-Parenting

Movie Lights!

Sounds delicious, right?  I'm not sure when my MIL asked, "Erika, I'd love to keep Cooper for a week in the summer.  Would you be ok with that?"  But I do remember my reaction, "Hell yes!"  Ok.  Maybe it wasn't exactly "Hell yes" but it was in the same vain.  I didn't even take a second to ponder the fact that my then only baby would be over 2 hours away from me for a week.  Not a second to ponder how a two year-old would react.  Not a second to worry.  Within a second I became very selfish.  And I don't regret it for a second.

People are funny.  When the conversation starts, "My MIL is taking the boys for a week" I get the same response from most women.  First comes a "Wow"  & that's followed up with "Won't you miss them?"  Again, I don't need a second to formulate my response.  Sometimes afterwards I feel like I should say something to appease them.  Make them think I'm a loving & good mom.  Ease their worry for my kids when I walk out that door.  But I don't.  I don't need a second.  I always respond with a shocking, "No."  I know how that sounds.  Good Mama's don't say "No" that quickly & that passionately.  But it's true.  I don't miss them until the second that car pulls into our driveway.  When I see their little faces light up.  When I see them run to the door.  All that Missing that mothers think I should be feeling all week, slams into my heart within a second.  And all that Missing hurts hard when you take it like a shot.  Imagine the shot scene in Pulp Fiction.  But not painful enough to keep them home.

{Trust me.  I know that 5 year-old shouldn't be lighting smoke bombs with sparklers on a beer can.  I know}

But it still sounds horrible to hear.  And I know some mother's can't do it.  My SIL says she'd miss her girls too much.  I get it.  I do.  But I'm not that Mom.  Remember I'm selfish.  First, I miss the days when it was just Mark & I.  Children are more wonderful than I could ever imagine.  Seriously.  But to be extremely honest, it's nice to be alone with your husband.  No, we aren't running around the house naked all day & night!  But to just be with each other.  To linger in libraries.  To try new restaurants & not worry if the kids will eat what's on the menu.  To not worry about who's got the morning daycare trip & who's getting them in the evening.  We were a lot fun before kids & I like to relive that part of our lives.  See?  Selfish.

{He set this up all on his own.}

But I'm also selfish because I think they need that trip.  Even if I'd miss them so much that I'd turn into a puddle of goo, I'd ship them off.  They need to be away from my watchful eye.  Let a different watchful eye be concerned.  They use this time to experience they're grandparents.  To learn from them & about them.  They know that when they visit they'll eat Grandpa's favorite cereal all week.  They know that he'll let them help in the garden.  Sometimes Grandma takes them to her job & they'll get to mess around the art museum.  They know that they'll watch movies & eat candy at least 20 times a day.  They need the space to grow & absorb all that this world has offer.  And I'm not the only one capable of showing & shaping that vision.  There are a lot of people that love them & they should get the chance to show them the world they love.  Only they can present their version of the world.  One that isn't influenced with my thoughts & opinions.  My maternal grandmother showed us how to grow & make stuff.  My paternal grandmother showed us how art could be created anywhere.  I learned that this world was bigger than my home & community.   I know my kids don't understand this message yet.  And maybe they never will.  But selfishly I'll continue to shove in their faces summer after summer.  Not just because I like to see movies with my husband.  But because this world is big enough to let schedules, food choices, tv watching, game playing, bedtimes & my own Missing slip away for one week.  Sometimes I think it's good to be selfish.  And I'm taking a week of it.


p.s. Jill, don't call me tonight.  We'll be watching a movie at Studio.  How nutty is it that the only movie they're playing is "Toy Story 3"?  That's not really fair, but I'll take it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Might Have To Fry Me An Egg

Seriously, I just might have to test out that old theory that it's hot enough to fry and egg on the sidewalk. It could be so much worse . . . it could be humid. Most people that I know love summer, practically worshiping it. Me? Hate it with a passion . . . warmth like this is wasted on someone as pale as me. Cooking out yesterday was brutal, and eating on the deck was foolhardy, but we did it anyway.

Tall Drink of Water

Hope you all had a fabulous 4th of July! I'm pretty sure that Erika will have a new tree video up soon . . . as soon as Mark finishes editing it. Off to try to find some comfort in a cold, drink of water.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Steep Learning Curve

A week ago, I noted that I had Photoshop Elements 2 and vowed to update my software that day, which I did not. I was bound and determined to buy the latest version, but Erika suggested Lightroom. The educator's discount made it manageable, so I did. One problem . . . I didn't submit the correct proof of being a teacher. Solvable . . . just submit it again. Another problem . . . you have to run it on an Intel processor computer. Solvable . . . I'll download it to my laptop and do it that way. Yet another problem . . . my laptop doesn't want to "recognize" my camera. Solvable . . . upload the photos to the desktop, then transfer them to my jump drive, and then to the laptop. Three problems, all solvable, but this shit is frustrating.

I figured that Lightroom would have a steep learning curve, and I was right. I kind of have the basics down about loading the presets and using them on my photos, but that's about it. Haven't figured out how to rename a photo or to make sure that it even saves. I guess that I will have to do a boatload of reading before I even feel marginally comfortable with it. So far, I like it, but I think that I'll have to withhold judgment until I really understand the concepts behind it.

Dave and I took Jordan and her boyfriend to see a baseball game in the Lehigh Valley last night. We had never been to Coca-Cola Park before and were pleasantly surprised by the seats, the food (roasted corn dipped in butter, Parmesan, and Old Bay), the beer, and the team. All in all, for less than tickets to the movies, we couldn't have asked for a better evening - and I even stayed for the fireworks, fingers jammed tightly in my ears.

Enjoy the 4th of July! We'll be replacing the wax seal around on the toilet . . . and hoping it stops the dripping. Otherwise, we might have to cross our legs through the holiday.


Edit . . . Dave, who might be getting a handy-dandy toolbelt for his birthday, fixed the toilet . . . and I am in love with him all over again. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

"It's Friday & I'm in Love" Fourth of July Christmas Trees.

2009's Fourth of July

Growing up there was one holiday in our house.  Christmas.  My mom loves everything about it.  She has one Christmas sweater to wear on each day of December.  Truth be told, she probably has enough to wear from the middle of November until New Year's Day.  I'm not a huge fan of Christmas.  I hate putting it up & I hate pulling it down.  My hatred has dwindle since having children, but I will never reach my Mother's fanatic love of Christmas.

When I met Mark, he introduced two "new" holidays: Halloween & Fourth of July.  I'd guess that Halloween is his big one.  Why?  Our basement & garage are stuffed full of severed heads, limbs, & hands.  Plastic ones, but severed & bloody.  We've got more Bucky skeletons than one house should own.  And I shouldn't even know what a "Bucky skeleton" is, but I do & I deal with it.  This is about the time of year that we begin whittling down our 2010 Halloween costume ideas.  I'm hoping he doesn't read this because he might start asking & I hate those conversation.  Sexy Alien chick & astronaut?  No.  Zombie Mom?  No.  Sexy garbage collector?  No.  You get it.  The kids get it too.  My all-time favorite daycare question came three years ago in September.  "Umm, Erika?  Cooper said, 'My Daddy has a bunch of dead guys in the basement.  Want to explain?" his teacher asked taking a few steps back.  "Oh.  Those are this year's decorations he's working on." I explained without thought or worry.  Without that embarrassment or second thought, it was that point when I knew Halloween was becoming our family's holiday.  I don't love it, but I've come to accept it.

Second "new" holiday was Fourth of July.  Growing up, we watched firework displays but that's where it stopped.  Jill hates fireworks, so we actually watched less than most families.  But I never felt slighted.  It was any other summer night.  Over 13 years ago, Mark asked if I wanted to go to his family's Fourth party.  Why not?  We were a couple & that's what couples do.  He warned me that this is their big one.  Explained some of the pranks from year's past.  Bottle rockets planted under chairs.  Bottle rockets in make-shift guns pointed at you. Plastic on top of the pool.  A group jumps in & whoever gets out the fastest, wins.  Wicks exposed.  Lighters in hands of babes.  Sparklers waved all day.  One year, they filled a balloon with hydrogen or helium or some bad explosive gas (don't ask how they get stuff.  They just do).  My FIL walks over & lights a make-shift wick.  When it exploded, the windows shook & my MIL ran to him.  It's folklore that my FIL was thrown into the air & had Nam flashbacks, but no one will confirm that one.  He doesn't like to talk about it.

It's tradition, people.

By the time I showed up, it was tame.  Maybe one too many accidents.  Maybe the clan had matured.  But then my FIL had a grand idea.  His Christmas tree had been sitting in the garage all year.  It had died a thousand times over.  The hot sun could have set this thing on fire.  "Why not decorate it with firework 'ornaments' & set it on fire?" he thought.  And so they did.  Every year, a huge group carefully fills the tree with bottle rockets & other small trinkets.  It's always topped with a spinning star.  The adults supervise & the kids poke.  One year, we had two.  A line connected them & a plane powered by more fireworks set the second on fire.  The trees are always finished with a generous splashing of lighter fluid.  Mark has helped light a few of the trees.  I have visions of him trying to get it restarted (that always happens & is never safe) & a stray (aren't they all) bottle rocket hitting him in the eye.  We all sit back very far, but still I wonder if we're far enough.

Last year, was my favorite year.  My FIL put a lot of thought into the starting of the Fourth Tree.  He didn't tell anyone.  And when it was ready to go, he walked out in costume to send 2009's tree to Christmas Tree Heaven.  My BIL filmed it & Mark created a movie for the family.  A long time ago, I spent a lot of time explaining the tree: No they are a trashy family!  Ok, I get it.  It's kind of weird.  It's sort of safe.  It's fun.  I promise.  You just have to see it.  Because I've learned to embrace their Fourth too, I'll share.  Enjoy.  Because come Sunday, I'll be watching the real thing.  I know you're jealous.

They're much safer now. I've never seen the plastic wrap pool thing. They have a sparkler line with a huge bucket of water sitting near the adults. Babes don't have lighters & the bottle rocket launch-spot is designated.  Everyone brings chairs & a side dish.  You find a spot & sit with your family.  You catch up on everything between one Fourth of July to the current one.  The tree decorating begins.  Adults & kids get giddy about how this year's will go up.  Everyone gathers & you watch it burn.  Back to the circles of family.  More catch-up time.  And when sun starts to dip, you find the bug spray & move your spot.  Everyone gets ready & strangers start to show up.  The last sparkler is used & the Puppy Chow is passed out.  And then the Fireworks are carted out & become organized.  These aren't regular backyard fireworks.  No.  Mark's uncle is too dedicated for those pussy ones.  These are the real deal kind.  The kind you'd find in a community's display.  Or in a secret spot in the back of a tractor trailer located in a parking lot.  And just when you think it can't get any darker, they start.  Last year, Becks hated it.  And I'm not sure how it will go this year.  We'll use the 2010's Christmas tree as our measuring stick.  Someday he'll fall in love with it.  Because it's in his blood. 

Happy Fourth!  However you celebrate it, I hope it's safe & exciting.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

When Thank You Isn't Enough

School ended two weeks ago, yet I found myself back in the classroom on Monday for a full day. I had been telling friends that I was attending Boot Camp, and they all looked at me like I had started speaking in tongues or something. "Boot Camp? Like push-ups and that shit and people screaming at you?" After explaining that it was a technology boot camp and we would be learning new educational technology implementation strategies and pretending not to notice when they yawned at the second word of that explanation, I started telling people that I was taking a summer class . . . because that didn't require any further words since I have always been a learner first and a teacher second. Put any nonfiction book in front of me, and I'll read it . . . and then tell you about it. See? Learner, teacher.

I think I've wanted to be a teacher my entire life. Sure, I wanted to be a nun for a year (stop laughing), but my first few teachers were all nuns. Then, after our sister Bridget was born premature, I wanted to be a neonatologist for the longest time . . . but honestly, I should have pursued teaching from the word go. It would have saved me years of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I would have had an excuse for all the bookwormish behavior that I exhibit. Teaching was such a logical fit, but god, did I fight it for a long, long time. 

Summer Learning

When the Girls entered kindergarten, I helped out at their school as much as I could and met so many dedicated teachers. They didn't ask for a lot, save maybe some books or left over craft supplies, but they changed more lives than they could ever know. I credit them with pushing me into the teaching profession. Later, when I worked as an instructional aide, the teachers with whom I worked on a daily basis provided more help, support, and knowledge than I ever learned in my coursework. I credit them with giving me the confidence and tools necessary to survive in a middle school. Now, as a teacher, I have the privilege of working with people who put kids first and everything else second. They willingly come in on a gorgeous summer day to learn new techniques because they want the best for their students. They put whatever politics are going around about teaching aside in favor of educating the kids sitting in front of them. I credit them with keeping me fresh, giving our students 110%, and never accepting that "good" is "good enough."

Teaching is in the news these days and not for the best of reasons. Teachers are greedy; they're overpaid; we only work ten months a year; if you can do, and if you can't teach . . . dare I continue? There has been a huge upsurge in homeschooling and cyberschooling recently, and I totally get why people would choose to go that route . . . honestly, I do. I can't read the paper without looking at some piece on how cutting education is our only hope for financial solvency. In a district about 20 miles from here, they cut 72 jobs, including all of their technology positions. Think about it. You use a computer and the Internet and so do your kids . . . who do you think knows more? In the past three days, I've learned more about technology integration than I had during most of the previous school year (I also learned I still hate group work, but that is a post for another time). Without a technology coach, I would be lost and floundering. I credit them with pushing me to be better than I ever could hope to be, helping when I am pretty sure that things have gone pear shaped.

- Jill,

PS - Clearly, I was creatively brain dead after this week . . . but I did sign up for Picture Summer  so maybe there is hope for me yet.