Monday, June 25, 2007

What I learned on my summer vacation

Home again, home again, jiggity jig. Our vacation now at an end, I come back older, a little wiser, and hopefully with a bit of a tan.

What did I learn?

  • No matter how well stocked you are with snacks and drinks, the food invariably runs out. We had to hit the grocery store at least three times during our six day adventure. Those boys can eat!

  • LegoGuy thinks Shirley Temple was some kind of psychotic orphan who went around killing people. During one of our nightly games of Cranium, he had to act like the dimpled child star and have his teammate guess who he was. The clue? "Hey everybody, let's go kill someone!"

  • Bugs really freak out the guys. Every spider, insect or creepy crawly was potentially poisonous. I ended up catching most of them with a rag and tossing them outside while my menfolk hugged the wall.

  • No one under the age of 15 will look out the window at the incredible mountain vistas and scenic plateaus if there are GI Joes in the car. Sport and Lego engaged their soldiers in epic battles and reenacted soccer games while we drove through the beautiful Valles Grande Caldera. What was outside wasn't nearly as interesting as what was going on in their own imaginations.

  • Sport has a healthy fear of heights, rattlesnakes and lightning. At Bandelier, we came upon a rattlesnake. It wasn't coiled but stared at us with a baleful eye. "I'm too young to die," Sport said, hurrying us around the thing. He kept an eye on the sky in case an afternoon storm made an appearance, and he was leery of the ladders leading up to the cliffside ruins. "I really wish I wanted to climb those," he told me as Lego headed 140 feet up to Alcove House. "It's okay to be careful," I told him. "You'll probably outlive us all!"

  • Avril Lavigne has a potty mouth. We've had 3 of her songs on our last three compilation trip CDs and each one has an off-color word in it. We usually don't realize this until we're speeding along at 75 miles an hour and the word comes blasting through the speakers. It only makes the boys love her more.

  • The last 60 miles of the trip are always the longest. I swear, when we hit Weatherford I thought I was going to lose it. That hour crept by. I love planning a vacation, but there's nothing like getting home. Nothing beats it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Good vibrations

The white water rafting trip never materialized. Half of the family weren't too keen on the idea, and the other half weren't willing to push it. Instead, we took a scenic drive up to Taos, which is, in my opinion, one of most beautiful places in the country. Too overpriced, too pretentious, too touristy -- I know -- but I could sit in a parking lot eating an ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins, just looking out at the scenery and I'd be completely happy.

Our destination wasn't the Taos Plaza or the Taos Pueblo, but the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Spanning the river which winds 650 feet below, this thing was an adrenaline surge for all of us. SO and Sport are scared of heights, and they walked across with care. "Vertigo, vertigo," Sport kept chanting, but he managed to hang on to the rail and peek over.

When a semi-truck went barreling across, the entire bridge started to buck and sway. I watched as LegoGuy's cheeks rippled with the vibrations. Awesome! We peered into the river and saw rafts full of people floating down the rapids. We vowed one day to take a trip.

When given the choice to tour the Taos Plaza or go back to the casita and swim, the boys chose swimming. Despite more than four centuries of history, our children would rather splash in a chlorinated pool. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The great cricket hunt

It's about 95 degrees at the Los Alamos public library. I'm crammed between an older woman, possibly with hippie affiliations, and a very curious gentleman who keeps checking me out. It doesn't help that I'm sitting on a stool that towers over everybody else. Why am I the only one on a barstool?

Our casita at the Rancho Jacona doesn't have a computer for customer use, although there is a wifi setup. It's a beautiful place with a great view of the Jemez Mountains and the sound of peacocks piercing the air at unpredictable moments. After we spent about 4 hours hiking around the ruins of Bandelier National Monument, we located the rather isolated rancho and collapsed onto the bed. At least SO and I collapsed. The boys were dying to check out the pool. How they had the energy to swim, I'll never know. There were 3 little boys swimming, but did ours try to make friends? Of course not. I tried to help things along by introducing myself to the 3-year-old, who admired my toe-nail polish, but questioned the color. Eventually, the kids started squirting each other with pool cannons. The lure of weaponry finally overcame their shyness.

After wrestling the boys into bed, I popped a sleeping pill and prepared to sleep. Poor SO, on the other hand, without the benefit of tranquilizers, earplugs and a fan, had a terrible time. He popped out of bed after about an hour to locate the octet of crickets who were desperately trying to woo a mate. I joined in the hunt, squishing them with a dishtowel. Poor guys never knew what was coming, so intent were they on playing their romantic arias. Back in bed, we enjoyed the quiet until another started up, comfortable behind the refrigerator where we could not get him. I gave up, feeling the effects of the pill kicking in. SO struggled to relax.

Then, LegoGuy sleepwalked out the back door of the cabin and freaked SO out. Of course, by this time, I was unconscious and didn't hear a thing.

After visiting the Bradbury Science Museum (very cool) and the library (rather warm) we are going to look for a grocery store so we can buy a can of Raid and perhaps a chain lock for the casita doors. We don't want to find Lego face down in an arroyo tomorrow morning.

Not sure if we'll find another chance to blog, but we may be headed to Taos tomorrow to either do a white water float or drive the scenic route. Home, with luck, on Saturday night.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tortilla blues

There's something about a tiny pool shaped like a tortilla chip and a dozen teenagers that doesn't quite work. After our 8+ hour drive and eating at one of the delicious New Mexican restaurants, the boys wanted to unwind at the pool. SO and I flipped a coin to see who the unlucky chaperone would be. Me, of course.

But they were already there: a large group of hormonal, squealing girls and their equally hormonal though less giggly boys. I think they were a traveling choir, coming from God knows where. I'm pretty sure they were a singing group of some kind. Oddly, one of the boys continued to sing a phrase from a song that was popular when I was in college.

"Josie's on a vacation far away, come on in and talk it over..." At the top of his lungs.

Sarah Vowell does a hilarious bit for This American Life about the difference between choir kids and band kids. I'm sure I can't do it justice, but she says there's no way a band kid is going to start humming the harmony he usually plays on his baritone, while a choir kid doesn't hesitate to break into "How do you solve a problem like Maria" in the hallway while switching from 5th hour to 6th, and half a dozen of her friends will join in as well.

One girls was so loud, I kept giving her "the look." It usually works with my kids, but she was unaffected. She even called me "the woman," which annoyed me to no end. "Don't splash the woman!" she said in a baby voice that set women's rights back 30 years. I really despised her. She didn't want to get her hair wet, so of course, the boys immediately dunked her. Mascara ran down her cheeks like a bruise.

When my tender ears couldn't take it anymore, I rounded up the boys so we could shower and go downtown to walk around the plaza. I had a better time talking to the Santa Fe Public librarians. They were much more composed and called me "young lady."

My pride was soothed.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Before we left for Santa Fe, the boys were suddenly gripped with an inexplicable desire to cover themselves with tattoos. They dug through the junk drawer in the kitchen to find every last square of colored ink given to them by Shank, or brought home by their dad, or remnants of tattoos purchased from Pizza Inn. Rags dripping with water, the images were applied while I was trying to make a list of groceries to buy for our trip. When I finally paid attention to what was going on, it was too late. They were painted warriors ready to head into the mountains.

After 3 days of planning and packing, I think I'm ready to go. SO made an awesome trip CD compiled of songs we've collected over the year that we really love. Like last year, we'll probably play it so much we won't be able to listen to it for at least 6 months.

Bella's safely tucked away with the in-laws, and it looks like the storm outside is finally settling down a bit.

Go west!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In praise of teachers

I was worship leader at church today. At Gouldie's request, who was teaching Sunday School and missed it, I'm posting my Prayers of the People (PotP) essay here.

On the first day of summer vacation, I got a two word email from SO.

"Help me!"

Less than six hours with the boys, and he was already going crazy. It made me appreciate their teachers that much more. There's a special place in heaven for those who love, guide, and inspire our children.

A teacher changed my life.

Sixth grade, 1974. I was no different from most 11-year-olds. I'd learned it was best to stay silent, not make waves, limit contact, don't make trouble, get my work done. I escaped the notice of most, save for a hefty, glowering Laura Pacheco, who derived a special joy out of jumping on my back and knocking me to the ground.

My teacher, Mrs. Roessler, saved me: curls held away from her temples by a pair of bobby pins, a broad smile, contagious laugh. She moved me to the front of the room near her desk, giving me special responsibilities and privileges. She praised me in front of the whole class, encouraged my love of reading, noticed me.

What did she see in me? Why did she pick me out from a classroom of similar children? Perhaps I was only one of many she mentored. What would have changed in my life if she hadn't noticed me -- a shy, buck-toothed kid -- where would I be now if she hadn't acted out of love to make me feel special?

I left Mrs. Roessler's class with a newly discovered sense of self-esteem. Though I couldn't describe it then, I was empowered. Up to that point in time, I'd always thought of myself as a victim, someone who had to suffer. I deserved to be bullied. In the words of my fundamentalist Christian upbringing, I suffered because I was born into sin, and suffering brought me closer to Christ. I didn't realize how soul crushing that particular philosphy was.

When I was encouraged, nurtured, loved by another person, I was freed from a crippling sense of worthlessness. Mrs. Roessler removed a barried. She pushed me down a road I didn't even know existed.

One of the most deeply spiritual moments I've ever had came not in a church but in a darkened theater. It was at a performance of Les Miserables. Jan Valjean, a prisoner on the run, is saved from another incarceration by a priest. Although Valjean has stolen silver candlesticks from the monastery, the priest claims the items were a gift, and the police leave without a prisoner.

"I have bought your soul for God," says the priest. Valjean spends the rest of his life trying to make his life worthy of such a purchase.

At the end of the performance, Valjean lies dying. He has made mistakes, such as inadvertently causing the death of Fantine. He has also made atonements, as in raising Fantine's young daughter. Had he done enought? Was he now worthy of the priest's intervention?

"To love another person is to see the face of God," sings the spirit of Fantine. I have never felt a truth so deeply.

Like Valjean, I have spent my life trying to live up to the potential Mrs. Roessler saw in me. And I want to pass that love along, to catch a glimpse of God's face.

And He'll be smiling.

Monday, June 11, 2007


We visited the taqueria on Saturday. LegoGuy loves the authentic Mexican tacos, and Sport wanted to try one of the 12 oz bottles of Coca Colas hecha en Mexico.

I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or the cane sugar, but damn, those Cokes taste good. I nearly chucked my can of Dr. Pepper and ordered one myself. As a kid, we used to get glass bottles of Coke down at our local ice house, along with a bag full of candy for about a quarter. We could bring those bottles back in for a 5 cent refund. It was a perfect circle of addiction. We’d spend hours looking for those green glass treasures, turning them back in at the end of the week for another sugar rush.

My kids treated these Coke bottles like a rare find. Both wanted to keep them as a collectible. Driving home, Lego was examining his in the hot afternoon sun. The next thing I knew, he had it stuck on his middle finger, jutting out like an overgrown obscene gesture.

“What on earth possessed you to stick your finger in there?” I tried to feign indignation, but it was too funny.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t stop myself.”

"Well, at least you didn't put a bean in your nose. That would be worse."

He looked so comical with that thing on his hand. Eventually, he turned it upside down and let the remaining cola lubricate his finger enough to pull it back off. This was my comic relief for the day. I couldn't stop chortling about it.

On Sunday, I got another dose of laughter. Sport, learning a new piano piece, was playing it much too fast.

"It's a waltz! If people tried to dance to your beat, they'd be doing the jitterbug." I tried to show him how two people might waltz at the correct tempo.

He gave me a look that would have destroyed the tender psyche of a weaker woman.

"Mom, stop. I really don't need to see you dancing."

I left the room so he couldn't see the amusement on my face. He was so scathing in his criticism. And hilarious.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

That voodoo that you do

Ever feel like someone's made a voodoo doll of you and is using it to conjure painful and often inexplicable situations for their sick pleasure? Yesterday, I found a strange object near my desk, some kind of metallic thing with string wrapped around it. If I viewed it from a certain angle, it looked a bit like my figure. Okay, a primitive stick figure, but still. RadCat examined it and agreed it looked ominous, perhaps even Voudoun. Also, I think a patch of my hair is missing.

Why voodoo, you ask?

  • I've been having vivid dreams and a terrible time getting into a deep sleep.
  • I stumbled over Sport's shoes and knocked off my little toenail.
  • Time has slowed down at work. A simple 8-hour day seems to last at least 10-11 hours.
  • I was working in my garden the other day and a white dove landed right next to me, walked over very boldly and pecked my shoe. It even hopped into my hand. That's just not right.
  • Everyone is getting on my nerves. Everyone.

You're probably thinking my voodoo curse ought to be a little more dramatic: pet dogs howling in the corner when I walk by, children weeping and channeling hostile spirits, husband coughing up a couple of serpents and then frying them up for our evening meal. It's not gotten to that point yet.

Probably just a matter of time.