School Supplies

This afternoon, I bought the kids their back-to-school supplies.  It was me and several other moms – plus one dad – cruising the aisles. We wandered up one and down another, checking, inspecting and selecting. Some of the things were quite picked over.  I found no protractors and the glue sticks had been mangled out of their packaging, orphaned in the bin.

It’s a lot easier to complete your shopping when the hordes do not accompany you.

I really like this time of year.  Not because I’m getting rid of the kids so they can continue their education, but a new school year always seems shiny and full of possibilities.  Okay, a little time apart might help our hearts grow fonder.

A bit of the shine got rubbed off when I looked at Ruby’s school supply list.  Clorox wipes?  Twelve glue sticks?! Is that one for every month of the year?  “Now featuring the February glue-stick-of-the-month, Elmer!” It occurred to me that the supplies for her first grade class were coming from me and every other parent. Despite being a haven for celebrating your uniqueness, the supply list left almost nothing to personalize.  Knowing Ruby, though, she will take on that all-important task with gusto. Glitter pens, anyone?

 Zac’s items were more straightforward. Thankfully, his grandma hooked him up with a cool binder which included a protractor. Score!Pencils, college-ruled paper (wide-ruled is for babies), pens, binder, and something new – highlighters.   By junior high, you are no longer part of the collective. You are an individual. Your sundries are for your use alone. However, you aren’t as special or wonderful as you were in kindergarten, in part because you’re taller and maybe your voice is changing or you’re…sprouting; your uniqueness is punished in the form of taunting and shunning, sometimes in equal measure. 

Zac has managed to dodge most of the adolescent angst so far.  He  is putting his notebook and supplies together as I write this. He wandered out a few minutes ago, stating he hopes to be in algebra this year, then he disappeared again. He’s jolly but restrained.  He’s getting excited about starting 8th grade at the junior high.  He’s got to turn in homework this year.  It’s part of his grade now.  In the last few weeks, he’s grown up a little, settled into his skin and hunkered down a bit. Last year, there was zero anticipation.  But he knew what to expect, which gave him confidence.  It’s a continual trade-off.

Ruby is happy to see her friends again and meet her new instructors for Spanish and English. She’s looking forward to new shoes more than new crayons.

And me?  I didn’t spend a ton of money but got all I need, plus some inspiration not stocked on any shelf.  Let the new school year begin!

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Missing Michigan

Today, as the weather seems to be turning to fall in Shelton, I am missing Michigan. I miss the great people there.

Okay, not *everyone*.  I don’t know everyone.  I only know Jonathon and his immediate and extended family.  I’m sure there are lots of nice folks there, though.

Our time there felt like a vacation. I hated the circumstances of our reunion.  And I know; I sound callous, but it truly was refreshing for all of us.  I felt the love that binds all of us together in the kind words and smiles of  my aunts, uncles and cousins-in-law. The kids got a sense of the larger context of family and to hang out with their cousins.  We got to spend time with Jonathons’ brothers (and one sister-in-law!) and have lively discussions about education. Zac got to drive a golf cart around the Winding Creek Camp grounds.  What could be better?

I’ll tell you.  I got to run there. 

Hastings, where we stayed, was mostly farmland dotted with homes. It’s made up of gently rolling hills, and nothing like the course on Whidbey Island in Langley.  “Gently rolling hills” in Langley meant huge hills like large waves that somehow were made of asphalt and not seawater.  You could see the ocean from the tops of said hills. That course kicked my butt – especially the gravel switchback hill at mile 7.  Not these hills.

In Michigan, I followed winding country roads, passing open fields of corn and other crops.  I saw horses.  I saw copses of trees, knee-deep in algae-covered ponds.  The cicadas and crickets chirped a continual chorus.  The aroma of cow manure mixed with skunk spray and fertile ground. Everything felt alive. 

I was taken by the expanse of so much sky.  I saw a breathtaking sunrise with a red sun and pink bleeding into blue.  I reveled  in the shade of hundred-year-old trees, along boggy expanses, to stay cool and watch yellow birds flit in and out among the cattails.

Here, you smell damp. You smell wet trees and grass. You smell cut lumber from ProBuild or burnt toast coming from the crematorium. Trees crowd the sky here.  Sure, there are farms and such but not near my town. We have beautiful cedars and pines,  mostly, with spruces, birch, aspen and the occasional oak or maple thrown in for variety. Clouds obscure the sky regularly. This was a whole other country, unfamiliar and wondrous to me.

I passed a mother cat resting in the grass.  Her two kitten slept in a pile a few feet away from her.  The kittens peered at me curiously.  Cows moved towards the fence to ponder me as they chewed their cud. They seemed as if they had something important to say. I had no time for chat. I glimpsed a deer, limping a bit as it crossed the road, backlit by the sun. It saw me and bounded into the brush.

The road I spent the most time on was, I discovered, a shortcut into Hastings.  I spied a sign that said Hastings was one of the best 100 small towns in America.  Suddenly, I had a running buddy, a gangly black lab puppy.  He galumped alongside me for a few strides. Then just as quickly, he was gone.

This special time with family and in another place was just as fleeting.  But the joy remains.

Plane Folks

Up and away…

It’s good to be home. From Hastings to Detroit is about 2.5 hours. Then flying from Detroit to Chicago. We sat on the runway for 45 minutes in Detroit, 3 hours in Chicago.

Zac and Jonathon were about 15 rows back. Jonathon managed to get our 4 scattered seats into 2 sets of 2, so the kids woulnd’t have to sit with strangers. Because that’s what you’re doing. You’re travelling thousands of miles sitting mere inches from nobody you know. It’s kinda mind-boggling. But not this trip.

Our plane at Ohare had a bad tire that first passed inspection, then didn’t and had to be replaced. Then there was the odoriferous problem in the back of the plane; something smelled terrible in Denmark. They deplaned the last 5 rows so the floor could be vacuumed. Several teams of cleaners trooped back there, armed with mops and vacuums and blue plastic gloves. We got regular updates. “Just a few more minutes”  “Now it should be about 20 minutes, folks”  “Just need some juice and water from catering” and on and on.  Made some friends on the plane. Ruby mooched apples and candy from our seatmates. She epitomized the great advantage of being cute and charming.

We watched the rain pour down outside, puddling onto the tarmac. After awhile of sitting there and asking “Are we moving yet?” Ruby got a little frustrated and restless.

“Could you just swipe your card, Mama?  Then we can watch TV”, she lamented more than once.  I was reluctant to spend money on TV or movies when it was uncertain if our plane would get airborne that night.  She must have watched the same preview for Toy Story at least 50 times.  I saw the promo for The Avengers at least that many as well.

Because of the delay, we got water before the plane took off.  They kept the engines running, which meant we had air.  We got a semblance of cookies.  And, because of our great patience, we got free TV.  Well, I did.  Ruby’s screen didn’t work.  So she used mine and my headphones and watched part of the chimpanzee movie (ick!) and Toy Story and some kids’ shows. She decided to fall asleep at about 12:30 a.m. Michigan time, which was 9:30 p.m. Washington time. She found an awkward position to curl up in and sacked out.  I dozed off now and then, only waking up when there was an announcement from the flight or the 3 guys behind me started laughing maniacally.

I think I was impressed and a little scared at how obedient we all were.  Sure,we’d paid the $25+ to check our bags, if we brought more than carry-ons.  If your bags were over 50 lbs. – and ours always were – you opened your suitcases in front of God and everybody to shift things from one suitcase to another.   We submitted to the screening, taking off our outer garments and shoes, unloading pockets, laptops and pocket change.  I started to feel a bit like a refugee. Where was the love?

And now we were content to sit like sheep in our jammed-together seats, staying buckled in, waiting for further instructions.  I think the 9/11 scare was on everyone’s minds.  Nobody wanted to rock the boat. We wanted to say and do as little as possible to get the jet in the air.  Nobody dared complain openly. But gone are the days when things were free, part of your ticket price.  Sitting in the bulkhead (don’t get jealous!), I had a close-up view of the first class passengers.  They got meals.  They got real food, on real china with actual silverware.  Their TVs worked perfectly and for free. No plastic for them!

I felt empathy for the flight attendants.  It could’ve been a disaster, with angry passengers and people having to disembark to a new plane. They had connections to make and places to be, as did all of us.  They paced like polyester-clad tigers up and down the aisles, looking busy. They tried to make the best of a tough situation. 

As did we, the hundreds of passengers.  I talked with the gal in the window seat, Jennifer, who shared her dinner with Ruby as well as her candy.  She told me she grew up in Western Europe, going to college in the states.  She was a pharmacist.  She helped Ruby with her TV controllers.  I felt perfectly safe leaving her in the seat when I needed the restroom.

The lady that gave Ruby one of her apples was a grandma type.  She loved Ruby’s humor and verve.  She told me, as I thanked her again for the apple, “What a great kid!”  Yes.

All I could think was: Because of the lack of care from the airline, we took care of each other.  We became a community for a short time, commiserating and helping each other get bags and such.  But somehow, some way,  it’s got to get better.

The View

Yesterday was the viewing for Grandma Nellie.  We got to the funeral home early, before any other family had arrived. 

We walked into the home.  It’s the same home where Grandpa Giles had his viewings.  I should mention at this point htat my kids have never been to any funerals.  And the purpose of a viewing is to have closure, to say goodbye to the deceased.  It’s open casket.

Zac was a little stunned by the proceedings but quickly recouped with the comfort electronic stimuli.  The casket was at the other end of the room.  Bouquets of flowers of every kind filled the far side of the room.  The Grandma Nellie in full repose showed from the waist up.

Ruby walked into the room.  Her eyes locked onto the casket and the body.  She froze.  She sorta stopped breathing.  If you’ll recall from my past posts, her only real brush with death was when Buster, our shiny black guinea pig, died back in February. 

She shut down.  She clung to Joanthon’s leg, seemingly instinctively to know he would protect her and have the answers she needed.  I found them later in a side room.  Ruby had been crying.  She never knew Grandma Nellie due to the geographical distance between our families.  But she gained an understanding of death yesterday. 

I held her for a bit, too, so Jonathon could rejoin the family.  Ruby was still trying to get her head around the fact that our bodies stay behind when we die.  If you think about it logically, shouldn’t your body disappear, too?  All our physical understanding is tied to how we interpret life through our body; our senses help us grasp most things. 

Except faith.  I gently told Ruby that our bodies stay behind because the part of us that makes us *us* is not in this body.  I reminded her of how Buster’s body remained even though his breath and life were gone. I still don’t believe that we’re “spiritual beings having a natural experience”.  It’s much deeper than that at the end of the day.  Yet our anime, our essence, makes the jump to eternity, not our flesh. 

Ruby walked around, sometimes with us, sometimes alone, to check out the pictures of Nellie as a girl, as a young married woman and as an older woman with grandchildren.  She took it all in. 

So we visit with the loved one who passed and find closure.  If they knew Christ, we rejoice that they’re with Him forever, safe and happy.  If not or we don’t know, we still need to say goodbye.  We hope they live on, somewhere, apart from us. We hope to meet again on the other side. Our faith holds us steady.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Habakkuk and Jeremiah. Old Testament prophets who foretold of Israel’s overthrow.  Over and over they warned the Israelites that their blatant disregard for God’s laws would bring His judgment down on them.

But did they listen? Oh no.

If you’re a parent, you know this type of scenario all too well.  Your kid really, really wants to stay out all night.  Or drink an entire 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew by himself. You talk to him about personal responsibility. You bring up the lemmings as he states that every one of his friends drink their fill of soda. You wax eloquent about diet.  You warn of the dangers of too much sugar too fast, not to mention the caffeine allotment of that devilish drink.

What happens?  The kid drinks the bottle.  He feels like he’s flying!  He’s invincible.  He doesn’t know what all the fuss was about.  He runs around the yard, frantic with joy.  All of a sudden…he feels sick.  He might even throw up.  He’s definitely up all night, no question. He reaps the consequences of his actions.  The next day, he has a soda hangover.  He’s listless and can’t even muster up the energy to get dressed.  but he still manages to argue. He still drinks soda, because now he’s hooked to the sugar rush. He survived it, so he counts it a victory instead of seeing a lesson to be learned.

This sounds to me exactly what the Israelites did to God.  When Jeremiah said, “You burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and God doesn’t like that” (Susan paraphrase), they replied, “Look, everything was going great when we were doing that!  It’s when we stopped that the worm turned.”  They got a great deal of pride out of looking like everyone else, doing what everyone else was doing. See, they weren’t so weird after all.  They could have it both ways. God didn’t care; nothing bad was happening.

God cared very much and sent warning after warning through Jeremiah and others to his beloved nation. As God’s chosen people, they couldn’t be like other nations.  They were set apart, holy to the Lord alone. Worshiping the elements or seasons or human sexuality or anything else besides the invisible Yahweh was forbidden. 

God sent the Babylonians to capture Judah.  They took captives of some and killed others.  They plundered the temple of Solomon and left a remnant of people to inhabit he land, the poor and destitute, just so wild animals wouldn’t repopulate the area.

Habakkuk balked at God sending the Babylonians to conquer Judah.  He thought they were even more evil than the Jews! It didn’t seem fair. Then, as God foretold through Habakkuk, He disciplined the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, depending on your translation) . Cyrus of Persia destroyed it.  So, in equal measure, as a good and fair father would, everyone got disciplined.  Everyone got spanked.

As a parent myself, I have to say how much I can see our struggles with our kids are not unlike God’s struggles with His.  We talk and warn and try to teach, but sometimes the little darlings have to learn the hard way.  It’s tough to watch because we love them. We only have their best interests and highest good at heart.  God loves us, too,  perfectly, but sometimes we lose sight of it. I have hope, though, because God dealt with the same stubbornness  in his kids that we do in ours.  He never gave up on them, though he did get awful quiet for 400 years. That’s some silent treatment! I can learn from His example, remaining steadfast in the face of changing prevailing winds of parenthood and childhood whims. My Father has walked here already.

Bat in the Belfry

I’m not sure what a belfry is, but I do know what a bat is.  We had one in our bedroom…again.

The first time was more than 6 years ago, back in Portland in our house on NE Killingsworth.  Great neighborhood.  Bus stop in front of the house, a drive-by shooting, street closed down for police action – twice. All of that happened in the space of three and a half years.  One time the police even used our house to wire-tap a neighbor’s home where a hostage was being held.  Good times.

Anyhoo, one evening in August, Jonathon and I were watching “So You Think You Can Dance”.  Wait, that’s familiar.  We were in our tiny living room on the main floor.  I was very pregnant with Ruby.  Suddenly, something caught my eye.  Reflected in the mantle mirror, a baby bat circled the room.  It chased the ceiling fan around.  It knocked into the mirror. The only light in the room was a leftover glow from the sun. 

We jumped up.  Jonathon shooed me out of the room.  He put on his blue coveralls – leftover from a previous project – and grabbed a broom.  We knew bats carried rabies.  But this bat was tiny and disoriented.  What to do?

We thought we got it out.  We opened the front door.  But no.  It kept flapping around helplessly.  Finally, Jonathon called Animal Control and told them our situation.  The wonderful people told him not to hurt the bat.  What?!  At this point, I was wishing for a gun, , a net, or at least a phaser. 

Finally, we went to bed.  Only…the bat had flown upstairs and fell asleep on the back of our door, apparently, because the next night he was flying around our small low-ceilinged bedroom, bonking his miniature head on said ceiling. I don’t remember how we got him out, only that we were both pretty wired after that.

Fast forward tot his morning.  It was about 4 a.m.  I couldn’t sleep anymore so I thought I’d get up and read Bible and get ready to workout.  I put my sweatshirt on and started to head downstairs, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed something flying around the ceiling of our bedroom.  A bat!  I woke Jonathon up.  He ushered me into the study. He got dressed and shoved a blanket around the base of our bedroom door so the bat couldn’t crawl out.  We were wise to the buggers now.

He didn’t get nearly as upset as the last time.  He didn’t need to call animal control. He calmly plucked the broom and mop from the downstairs and headed back into the bedroom. I suggested opening the backdoor that goes out to the rotting staircase on the back side of the house.  Our bedroom used to be a separate apartment and the staircase serves as a reminder.  He opened the backdoor with the lights on.  He turned off the box fan in our window, as he’d since learned that bats are confused by fans, their noise and air circulation, and it interferes with their sonar.  After a few minutes, he closed the door. He checked around for any other stray animals (raccoons?) or a hidden bat.  Finding nothing,  he closed up the room.

Then he came into the study.  We have a spare bed in there and so he went back to bed and I headed downstairs.

There you have it.  We don’t know how it got in, either time. Is it gone?  Your guess is as good as mine. We wish it well. We are…bat magnets.

The Eyes Have It

Where were these contacts when I was 13?!

Last night we decided to beat the heat and head into Olympia to see a movie.  It was 81 degrees in the house and still in the 90s outside. We decided to go see “Brave”.  The kids were thrilled.  We almost never go out to movies as a family.  We loaded up into the car, backed down the driveway…and I promptly poked myself in the eye with the arm of my sunglasses.

Really?! 

It wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that my contact moved.  It happens sometimes. I did a cursory check of my eye.  Generally, if you have gas permeable lenses (you know who you are!), they move around on your eye, getting stuck in the crevice near your tear duct or up higher on your schlera, right under your eye lid.  It’s awesome!  And you have to rub your eye, manipulating it under the lid,  in order to move it. Or, if you’re not too squeamish and rather coordinated, you can peel it off your eye and reinsert it over the cornea where it belongs. I can do that, but I’ve been wearing contacts for more than 20 years.

The only time contacts move is when the eye is super dry or for some reason they’re not sitting correctly on the eye.  My right eye had been bugging me a bit for a couple of days.  I should’ve seen it coming.  No pun intended.

I looked down at my shirt and shorts.  Nothing.  A visual search of the floor revealed nothing.  I knew better than to stand up and shake myself, as I could step down on it and crunch its little plastic heart.  Jonathon had me roll over towards his seat and he looked under me.  He had walked around the car by this time and opened my car door, looking between the seat and the door.  We found nothing.

At this point, we were risking being late for the movie, which we figured to be packed due to all the other Washingtonians trying to escape the incredibly kiln-like temps.  I reluctantly went back in the house after scouring the area carefully again.  I needed to take out my left lens and put on my glasses so I could watch the movie in dual vision instead of mono-vision. 

Those of you know have known me awhile know that I’ve lost lenses before.  I lost one during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 while at Bethany.  I’ve dropped them on the floor of the bathroom in our suite in Harp Hall.  Thank God for patient dormmates!  The wayward lenses almost always turned up, glittering from the floor like disc-shaped diamonds. 

This time, I felt hopeless.  I dutifully cleaned the left lens then put it to bed in the case.  I automatically filled both chambers of the lens case with fluid.  Old habits die hard.

I put on my brave face, trying not to think about having to buy a replacement contact and wearing my glasses to workout and run in for a week or two.  I walked over to the car where the family patiently waited.  I opened the door to sit down.  I swung my leg into the seat. Jonathon was still looking around.

“Stop!” he commanded.

I stopped.

“I found it!” he exclaimed.  Reaching down, he plucked it off my right leg.  It was stuck there. 

Hallelujah.  I don’t think I’ve ever been  thankful for sweat. Thank you, Lord, for small miracles.  They say the eyes are the window to the soul. I know I had been wondering where God was lately, not really sensing His presence anywhere.  He was with me all the time. May I be able to “see” Him more clearly, every day.