Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Best Practices?

"I live on Jupiter," the four-year-old announces.

"Oh really?", the enlightened mother asks, "And what do you do there?"
(Child Development 101 -- modelling the "ask open-ended questions" dictum)

"I do farting contests all day long."

At this point, the 13-year-old picks up the thread.
"You know, Mom, scientists have determined that the atmosphere on Jupiter is one continuous thunderstorm, so I guess if you lived there, you'd need indoor games."

The Experts tell us that good parents engage their young children in conversation at their level, whenever possible.  I wonder if this is what they had in mind.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sometimes, the milepost is capable of moving

... but tonight, it wasn't, at least not all that much.  However, the guy standing on the ridgetop, watching it from a safe distance, wasn't convinced.

Now that I'm no longer driving across the country with four kids in a rented minivan, I'm finding that I can still write about The Journey, rather than just my cross-country roadtrip.  And tonight, I passed a rather interesting little milestone that seemed to merit some musing.

Those of you who know me off-line, or even in my Facebook life, know that I am a walker.  I walk for exercise (and now that Dennys/McDonalds/Brown's IceCream/, etc... have added a few vacation pounds, I sure do need to keep that up), and I walk for sanity.  Walking is my "me" time: my music-learning time, my phone-conversation time, my thinking time, my worrying about sick friends time, my praying time.  And I walk the same territory most of the time: a park in my neighborhood that includes a lot of what California calls "Open Space" (yes, it's capitalized)--protected, undeveloped wildlife habitat with walking/biking trails flanked by firebreaks in the shoulder-high grasses.  As I walk, the vistas take my eyes to the twin peaks of Mount Diablo, the Acalanes Ridge that makes a gently serrated sunset each evening as the sun sinks into the bay behind the ridge, and to the treeless, tawny grasses of the Kirker Pass, hills whose curves resemble a sleeping nude when the light fades.

Because I have walked every foot of the park, both morning and evening, many, many times, there is a "not here" quality to my walks.  I don't have to think about where to go, what comes next.  I just walk, and as I walk, my mind goes wherever it wants to, often re-visiting previous conversations, mulling over something I've read, planning something I might want to sew, knit, cook, or quilt, even "writing" in my head, playing with the sounds of words and phrases that might make music on the page. So, although I notice things like the perfume of the Southern Magnolias along the trail past the bocce courts, and the funny way that dog-owners move in packs like their dogs in the public dog-park, by the time I'm panting up the hill to the oval of Live Oaks that frame the memorial to Vietnam vets, I'm "gone"--I'm wandering the terrain of my spirit; either wrestling or rejoicing, and I'm occasionally surprised by the creatures who are also out wandering the open space, probably much more focused on the here-and-now than I am.  I've gasped at red-tail and Cooper's hawks who watch me from a tree or fence until I'm close enough to see their eyes blink, and I've met up with coyotes at mid-day and twilight.  There are the ever-optimistic ground squirrels who stand erect beside their hillside burrows, seeming to dare the hawks to come down and try to catch them.

And then there are the snakes.


 I LOATHE snakes.  I'm not much of a reptile fan, but snakes, in particular, make me want to scream and run.  I've shared with my Facebook friends reports of feeling "trapped" on the hill by tiny, baby rattlesnakes, and utterly harmless, but big and intimidating California King Snakes.  For me, particularly in Spring and Summer, every stick on the trail is a rattlesnake, waiting to make this walk my last, and on particularly hot evenings, I have been known to carry a pointed-end hiking stick.  But a while ago, I learned that there is a much more common snake, a harmless impostor called a "Gopher Snake", that is very common in our area, and is often mistaken for a rattler.

Tonight, as I watched a fellow walker, on the trail ahead of me, standing motionless about 4 feet from a large, lumpy beige-and-black spotted snake stretched most of the way across the trail, I did NOT, for once, scream, freak-out, run, or turn around and go back to the oak grove.  Maybe it's like the progressive desensitization that parents go through:  when your first-born stumbles and scrapes a knee, you gasp, take a deep breath, try to remember your first aid training, dig out the first-aid kit that you carry everywhere with you, use the antiseptic wipe, the pain-killing cream, and the anti-biotic cream, cover the wound securely, and carry the weeping child to a bench for 20 minutes of consoling and temperature-checks.  When your 4th child takes a similar fall, you watch to see if the child notices the fall, and when he does, you calmly dig around in your pocket for a mostly-clean tissue, if you can find one, and push most of the dirt away from the scrape, promising to "take a better look at it when we get home".   Tonight, somehow, a well-fed (hence the lumps), sunbathing gopher snake (no rattle, and a tube-shaped head rather than a spade-shaped one) just did NOT faze me.  Instead, I found myself explaining, in Spanish, to my fellow walker, that the snake was not poisonous, had no rattle and no spade-shaped head, AND, had just eaten recently and was probably very sleepy and content on his patch of sun-warmed pavement.  No, my Spanish isn't that lyrical--more like the Taco Bell Chihuahua meets 8th-grade French class--but I think he got my meaning.  He laughed and smiled as I stepped past the snake and pointed out the lumps in the snake and said "he ate his dinner already", or maybe I said, "I'm going to eat him for dinner", or "nonsense, nonsense, dinner, nonsense, nonsense".

And so I walked on, congratulating myself on my turn toward being Val of the Hills just long enough to get back to my meditations on life at middle-age, and wondering why it has taken me so long to start noticing life, and making a mental note to brush up my Spanish grammar.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lost and Found

It's now been 8 days since we returned from the trip that was the excuse for this blog, and I'm doing my "accounting".  In the 8,000+ miles we travelled (yes, that includes all the extra miles caused by Madame GPS and her whimsical orders to "In 500 feet, take the exit right." followed by pirouettes through random, sketchy neighborhoods and a return to the freeway) we LOST:

  •  my favorite pair of olive-green capri pants
  • some high-end shampoo and conditioner
  • a pair of Calvin's basketball shorts
  • a pair of Calvin's swim trunks
  • all respect for Mme. GPS (see above)

With the exception of the last item, all of these things can be replaced.  And the things that we FOUND on this trip are too many to fit neatly in a column, but they include:

  • 8 extra pounds on me --ugh (yes, I'm back on the diet/exercise wagon and will work that off)
  • many places that we want to visit again, staying longer, bringing Andre (my husband)
  • crater-sized mosquito-bite scars on several kids (apparently, my golden-tan California children are delicious to mosquitoes, and allergic to them as well)
  • all kinds of rocks, shells, sticks, books (of course), maps, brochures, hand-me-downs from Cousin Henry, and a variety of souvenirs, including several versions of toy weapons, an assortment of pocket knives, a ball-cap from the New York AIDS Walk (thanks, Seth!) a beany-baby buffalo, a stuffed porcupine, a stuffed Tweety Bird and a stuffed "animal" that is shaped like a slice of watermelon (Thanks, Marc! Who, but you, knew that we needed one of those?)

But we also brought home some wonderful memories of backyards and dinner tables, swimming pools and The Atlantic Ocean, sneaking cookies when nobody's looking, Mount Rushmore, majestic mountains, The Brooklyn Bridge, expansive deserts, The National Air and Space Museum, tracking mud into various houses, The Mississippi River, monumental meltdowns over missing shoes, The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest, Lake Michigan, and the completely huggable early-morning sight of little people snuggled into cozy nests of blankets, in shared beds, with ends of unruly hair and toes sticking out.

And there were the animals who are still part of dinner table conversations that begin, "Do you remember when Lucas (a wonderful bear of a Newfoundland in Connecticut) wouldn't stop following Rhys around and licking him?"  or "It was so funny when Aiko (our golden retriever "cousin" in Chicago) slept on my head."  Peachfuzz, 15 pounds of orange/beige angora fluff with marbles for eyes,and a properly New Yorker version of sangfroid, had a commendable patience for kids who followed him around the Brooklyn apartment he calls home.  Eowyn and Legolas, our feline friends in Oklahoma, also seemed willing to endure the cluelessly lavish attentions of persistent Hedrick kids without drawing blood.  Barnabus, in Baltimore, had my kids in screams of delight with utter golden-retriever-ish spasms of playfulness and Donnie, the 15-year-old Bichon Frise in Spartanburg, seemed completely at home with thundering team of TEN children, rampaging through her house for 24 hours.  I guess, when you're used to six kids, what's 4 more?

If I had a dime for every conversation that included, "We need a house with a bigger yard when we get home, so we can have some goats and a horse" (thanks, Kris & Tom, and Tom&Jill )I'd have paid off our trip already.  Luke and Leia (the baby goats), and, of course, D'Artagnan, Shadowfax, and Scout, are now counted among the characters in my kids' dreams, if their night-time mumblings are any measure.

My kids also found many, many "boring old adult friends of mom", who turned out to be "totally awesome", in the vernacular of the 4-13-year-old set.

By the end of the trip, Rhys was referring to all of our adult male hosts/friends as "The Uncles" and our adult female hosts/friends as "The Aunts", and any of their various children as "our other cousins."   So, I guess it could be argued that what we found on this trip was how large our family has grown.  Thanks so much to Uncle Larry, Uncle Brad, Uncle Tom (x3), Uncle Marc, Uncle Seth, "Uncle Mr. Peterson", Uncle John, Uncle Jimmy,  Aunt Lauren, Aunt Nat, Aunt Kris, Aunt Martha, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Mildred, Aunt Charlotte, Cousin Susan, and Aunt Jill.  It's going to be a bigger family reunion from now on, I guess :-)

Something else I found is that I really would like to keep writing on this blog, for the creative discipline of putting thoughts into words and sharing them.  So, feel free to "subscribe" to notification by email of my postings, by putting your email address into the box at the bottom of this page that says, "Follow by email".  I've allowed Google AdSense to put an advertisement in the sidebar of this blog, to see if it will generate a little income, but what's in those ads is not in my control.  If they get any dumber than what's there now, I will cancel the ad feed, though.  ( I KNOW that none of you are "Over 40 and Single, looking for sincere singles" on the internet, for heaven's sake... yuk.).  

Til later !    Happy trails.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Give us this day our daily breadth.

The kids and I are home now, after yesterday's all-day drive from Barstow, in the Mojave Desert.  We spent a final night in a shiny new Holiday Inn next to the Outlet Mall in Barstow, played a little in the pool, did a little shopping, and then hit the road by noon, arriving home, via the farm country of Brentwood, CA last night around 7:30 p.m.  We were met at the door by a frantically-excited dog, and a smiling Andre: the "pack" was reunited at last.

There's still laundry to do, emails, mail, bills, and phone calls to catch up on, LOTS of things to clean-up, and all the usual business of settling back into our routines after a month away.

But I'm reflecting on something that surprised me about this month-long, more than 8,000-mile adventure:  I LOVED the driving on this trip.  Well, I loved most of the driving, particularly through those places that I'd been warned were "flat and boring":  Wyoming, South Dakota, Southern Minnesota,Oklahoma, North Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California's Mojave Desert.  Apologies to my East-Coast friends, but you can have Pennsylvania, New Jersey, large parts of New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Maybe those places just felt too familiar to me, or maybe I was just too focused on getting through those areas, to catch up with all the terrific people that I wanted to visit there.

But, I LOVED all those supposedly "empty, desolate" places, particularly the deserts and prairies.  I loved being able to watch sunset's colors change and move from horizon to horizon to horizon. I loved the dry heat.  The high desert has its cool evenings and mornings, and the smell of pinon, smoke, and some kind of sweet grass.   I loved being able to look out across the pastel stripes of Painted Desert and see mountain peaks 120 miles away.  And when we drove (well, almost flew, on those flat, straight, empty desert freeways)  through the lower desert stretches of sagebrush, cactus and Joshua Trees near Needles, CA, at 7:30 at night, with the thermometer reading 111 fahrenheit, I actually insisted that we shut off the AC and open the windows for a few minutes to experience the air that felt exactly like what comes out of a hand-dryer.

In all our wide-open desert and prairie spaces, I experienced something similar to the feeling I get on my morning hikes at home:  breadth.  That sense of being wide, wide open to possibility, wide open to the wind of the Spirit, at home in my own body, and completely free of the press of others' agendas. I tried, a couple of times, to capture in a photograph, that sense of limitless space, but with no success.  What I got was a shot of a minivan in a rest area in a "flat, empty" place in North Texas.  There's no fragrance of sagebrush, no toasty, enveloping wind, no sense of majesty, just a pale sky and a large, beige nothing.

Perhaps that why we think of the deserts as empty and flat.  Photos and film just can't capture that sense of possibility.  But that breadth, that depth, that height of sky is the reason I could be a desert hermit in an alternate existence, as long as my hermitage included an internet connection, so I could write about the silly thoughts that occurred to me, and hear from fellow hermits in other climates from time to time.  I mean, what good is writing and thinking, with no one to share it?

Ok, so I'm not really cut out to be a hermit.  But I could use a good serving of daily breadth, daily.  Care to join me?