Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Gifts

Centre Block, Ottowa

I listen to the Vinyl Cafe podcast. Each show is recorded in a different Canadian City and host Stuart McLean starts by talking about that city in a way that makes me want to move to Canada. He can make a remote airport in the middle of Newfoundland and Labrador sound like the most fascinating place on the planet. That is until you hear him tell about Winnipeg. OK, kidding. Winnipeg really doesn't sound fascinating at all, but Stuart can at least make me appreciate it.

In last week's podcast, Stuart was in Ottawa, Ontario, the capitol of Canada. Stuart told about the Parliament building there in Ottawa. Specifically, the part of the complex called the Centre Block. In 1916 this structure burned to the ground. Somehow, word of this tragedy reached the other side of the world, in New Zealand.

To show their support and concern, the government of New Zealand sent wood to help Canada rebuild. Stuart pointed out that if you've ever been to Canada (and please pronounce that as "bean" to Canada) you probably know that wood is one thing they've got plenty of.

Yet New Zealand sent wood.

And those who received the wood in Ottawa used it to build a beautiful table for 12. I'm only guessing it's beautiful because I have not seen an actual photo of it, but I do know it resides in a place called "The New Zealand Room" in Ottawa's parliamentary library.

I listened to Stuart tell the story of how New Zealand sent Canada wood as I was doing my daily walk for exercise. I don't think there were too many people around to hear me shout, "YES!" as I came to understand the beauty of New Zealand's gesture and Canada's grace at receiving it. For me, it is the epitome of gift giving and receiving.

The gift was not something that was needed. Canada didn't request it. It was a gesture of love, kindness and goodwill, freely given. It sent the message, "We are thinking of you and we want to help you. We want you to be happy." It was a humble gift, but represented a sacrifice nonetheless.

Canada could have used that wood to rebuild part of the structure, relegating it to anonymity. Instead, they featured it in a piece of furniture that stands as a public thank you to New Zealand forever.

It's a lovely story.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Be A Boy: Collecting Things

If you are a boy, you must have lots of collections.

If you see something on the ground, or in the garbage that looks interesting, pick it up. This will be the start of a collection. A sticky Popsicle stick? Great! A beer bottle cap? Super! The feather from a bird that was recently consumed by a cat? Make sure you show it off at dinner tonight!

Rocks are great things to collect because they are everywhere. Especially if your neighbor just ordered a load of river rock to use in their landscaping project. No need to inspect the rocks for unique features or particular beauty; just pick them up and stuff them in your pockets. Your mom will find them when she does the laundry.

If you happen to live in an area where air soft pellet guns are used, you are in luck. When the shooters have gone home, comb the area for a treasure trove of little, plastic, colored balls. Carry the pellets home in your hands or pockets and put them in your sock drawer for safe keeping. Or, just leave them in your pockets and let your mom find them when she does the laundry.

Other things you might consider for collecting: marbles, foreign coins (but not domestic coins because you will want to use those for buying candy), bouncy balls, Pez dispensers, Pokemon cards, paper airplanes, pop tops, tin cans, aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, broken glass, sticks, dried leaves, Bakugan, tin foil, sports trophies, sea shells, beach sand, driftwood, Silly Bandz, rubber bands, Webkinz and comic books.

You can organize your collection in one of your mother's canning jars, or a washed out mayonnaise jar. A better option though: just keep your collections in your pockets and let your mom find them when she does the laundry.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thoughts on Time Management

It's 7:11 am on Saturday morning.

I'm not sure why I'm awake, but I am. It's not such a bad thing. Everyone is asleep and I've already had a good hour of quiet time doing a little research on line (back to the comic book art questions) and enjoying a little writerly advice from Laini Taylor. And then I looked outside.

It was just before dawn and the sky had lightened enough that any scary things on the walking path to the Pirate Park would surely be gone. I could get out for a little exercise. I went to get a few extra warm things to put on because it seems to be a bit nippy this morning. But while fishing around the sock drawer in my darkened bedroom, I realized I am not going outside to exercise at all.

At least not right now.

It's Saturday. I can go for a walk any ding dang time I want. Why waste this blissful morning of alone time by leaving the house?

Sometimes I can be so smart.

So this morning, I'm going to wait until everyone wakes up and starts demanding things, like food and attention and heaven help me, rides to Game Stop, and that is when I'll leave for my walk.

That's time management people.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Lines Revealed

Just so you know, I'm not promising to read the most popular first line book first. In fact, one of these books is going back to the library today or tomorrow, unread, because I just don't have time to read it and it's due tomorrow. I have too many books and too little time. Sad, isn't it?

Many of these books I requested after reading a list of dystopian books that may fill my Mockingjay void once I'd finished that series. Others are books that were listed by Betsy Bird as having Newbery potential. And one of them was lent to me by my neighbor and I'm in no hurry to read it. Because she doesn't charge late fees, but also because...

It was #10

Escape by Carolyn Jessop, the story of one woman's escape from an FLDS polygamous compound with her 8 children. I actually started reading this one but took a break to read other things. It kind of creeped me out.

Here are the other books which I don't have enough time to even explain, so I'll let Amazon do the explaining for me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

More First Lines

I have a stack of books to read that I've checked out from the library. If you had to choose which one to read based on the first line, which would you choose?

1. The steady chug of the diesel engine drew closer, and eventually the salvage boat emerged from the mist, a blank grey shape steering a middle course between ghostly lines of chimney stacks that rose from the water.

2. Summer Goodman never knew what hit her.

3. Mom, Dad--if you're listening--you know I said I was going to the South Lakeland Outdoor Activity Center with the school?

4. My name is Kathy H.

5. I don't remember any of the true, important parts, but there's this dream I have.

6. In the dim hovel, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia's ready hands.

7. Wait a minute.

8. Jake Kincaid was known as the dowser.

9. It's only half an hour since someone--Robyn I think--said we should write everything down, and it's only twenty-nine minutes I've had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.

10. Escape.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to Be a Boy: Riding Your Bike to School

When you ride your bike to school, you have to have a lock to keep it from getting stolen. So bring a lock with you, and don't forget the key. Don't put the key on any kind of key chain, just throw it in your backpack. I'm sure it will be there when you need it.

When, after two weeks of riding your bike to school, you lose your key, call your mom to come pick you up and get the spare key from that drawer in your dad's dresser that holds spare change, spare business cards, spare parts, spare wristwatches and spare keys.

Listen to the lecture from your mom about using a key chain, always keeping your key in the same place, and being responsible. Say NO when she asks, "do we need to put it on a string around your neck?"

After 2 more weeks, lose the spare key.

Bonus - How to Be a Mom: Lecturing Your Son Who Lost his Last Bike Lock Key

"Well, I guess that's it. I knew we shouldn't have bought you such a nice bike. Why can't you be responsible? Didn't you have a key chain on that key? Didn't you put the key in the same place in your backpack every day? I knew I should have made you wear it on a string around your neck. I guess your bike will have to stay at school forever now. And it's supposed to rain this weekend. I think it's starting to rain now."

Extra Bonus - How to be a Dad: Cutting A U-Lock From Your Son's Bike

Check with co-workers who will tell you about the Bic Pen trick. Look it up on YouTube. Come home and find a Bic Pen and spend 15 minutes trying to pry the end off. Drive over to the school with the Bic Pen.

Come back home, have dinner, then google how to really get a u-lock off a bike. Go to Home Depot. Purchase a converter kit for your drill that makes it into an angle grinder for $8. Go back to the school and try and cut the lock off the bike with the angle grinder and your cordless drill. When the drill battery dies, go back to Home Depot. Purchase a power converter that hooks up to the car battery to power your corded drill for $80. Go back to the school in the dark and cut off the lock.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turning Points

Today was filled with not one, but several turning points. It started when I returned the milk bottles from my attempt at being a locavore to Whole Foods.

My First Time at Whole Foods
The milk man carries no cash, so he could not pick up my milk bottles and give my back my $2 deposit for each one. I was instructed to return them to Whole Foods. I'd never been to Whole Foods and wasn't entirely sure where the nearest one was located. I'd once heard Whole Foods referred to as "Whole Paycheck" so I was pretty sure it wasn't a store for me. When I arrived at Whole Foods I realized that I hadn't put my contact lenses in this morning and that it wasn't my sunglasses that were dirty, it was my eyes that couldn't see very well. So I squinted my way around this lovely but blurry store and picked up a few items I needed for dinner. I had a hard time finding the bread, but after a couple loops around the store, located the crusty, artisan loaves. Mmm. I think I'll be back to Whole Foods in the future, even though I'm NOT a locavore anymore. I just need to see what the place looks like in focus.

The Game On! Scores Came in...
...and I realized my team was probably not going to win. Unless one annoyingly perfect dieter would mess up at Disneyland next week, our chances were nil. But we are all winners, right?

I Learned A New Mac Thing
Shh. Don't tell anyone. I'm still learning how to use my MacBook. I've been wanting to organize some of my bookmarks and also my documents folder. Thank you Angela for teaching me how to create new folders. Sometimes things are so easy, they're hard.

My First Critique Group!
Oh my, here we go again. I may be jumping into something that is completely out of my league. I've been invited to join a critique group for middle grade writers. We will submit 10 pages to each other and make suggestions and comments and then return the documents with feedback. FYI, all the other writers are currently submitting their work for publication. Novels. Real stuff. But, if my recent foray into risk taking has taught me anything, it's that you don't work towards your goals by not taking risks. (Unless your goal is to never take a risk. Hmm. Apparently, I have to work on my sage wisdom.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mind the Gap

Jeggings are not a product of The Gap

My suggestion for induction into fashion's Hall of Shame: Jeggings. Not familiar with Jeggings? They are leggings that look like jeans. They are made of lycra or spandex or some unidentifiable material that fell from space. They look good on .1% of the population, but the other 99.9% will be the ones to wear them.

See, the problem with last seasons hot newcomer to the jean scene, Skinny Jeans, is they left too much to the imagination (i.e. how could anyone be sure a skinny-jean-wearer really had knees and ankles.) The other problem with skinny jeans, of course, is that not everyone was able to get them buttoned.

Not a problem with Jeggings--no buttons required.

I ran into my first Jeggings today when I went to the mall. I was kind of excited because I went down a size in pants. (Yay Game On!) Please understand, I have no illusions that this new pant size is one I will be able to maintain long term. However, it's only the second time since I was 16 that I've been this size, so I thought a new pair of jeans was deserved. Even if I only fit into them for 3 weeks.

I passed the Jeggings and went to The Gap to take advantage of their "tall" sized jeans. If' I'm going to spend $70 on a new pair of jeans I will only fit into for 3 weeks, they better not be floods. The Gap had this new sizing with strange numbers and I couldn't understand what I was looking at, so I got some help from an employee.

Boy was she helpful. She kept calling me honey and steered me away from the straight legged jeans, which is what I wanted, to the Long and Lean jeans, which give the wearer the illusion of being long and lean. (Did I not look long and lean enough already? Really. My legs are freakishly long, I don't need any help making them look longer.) I tried them on in a size SMALLER than what I wore in high school. I was not fooled by The Gap's "vanity sizing." Like a smaller number will make me feel more lean? (It did.)

Next up, the Sexy Boot jean. The helpful gal shoved 3 different sizes in my arms and a couple more pairs of Long and Lean. I tried to steer her over to the Straight jeans, but she would have none of it. "Lift up your shirt" she said so she could get a look at my waist. "Now turn around." She actually said I had no butt. "I can't sell you these jeans unless I get a good look at them on," she said.

The jeans fit fine, although they were too flared at the bottom (I wanted Straight cut jeans!), but the hips and thighs were about as tight as could be. It was like they were sprayed on. Like they were Jeggings! One cookie and these pants would no longer fit me.

"That's exactly how they are supposed to fit," she said. "If I were you, I' would buy these pants, and I'm not saying that because I work on commission. I would buy these pants and take them home and sit down and watch a movie and just see how comfortable they are. I guarantee you, you will be back next week to buy two more pair."

I just want a pair of pants that have a little room. I may be the same size I was when I was 16 (in pants, not taking into account that what once was my 16 year old size has now been vanity sized down) but I don't want to look like I'm trying to be a 16 year old. No offense to 16 year-olds.

I got two t-shirts instead.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bizarro Portland

The Patagonian Toothfish

Tonight at dinner, one of the boys wondered where we would be if we were in the exact opposite of Portland, Oregon. We had guessed that it might be somewhere near South Africa, maybe even Madagascar. So we got the globe and found that 45 degrees S, 51 degrees E put us in the middle of the Southern Indian Ocean. Luckily there was an island in the general vicinity called Crozet and the little (Fr.) next to the name told me it was French!

How exciting! We googled.

Crozet Island is seriously in the middle of nowhere, but it's claimed by France for crying out loud. Naturally, I pictured rugged beauty set off by 5 star resorts and fine dining. Instead, I found that Crozet Island has 300 days of rain a year and that it is so windy no trees can grow. (Winds exceed 60 mph over 100 days a year.) There are no inhabitants of Crozet Island other than a few researchers and scientists. But, it has the largest bird population of any place on earth.

Even though it's remote, fur trappers and fishermen found their way to Crozet. It is said Sealers could kill up to 60 seals an hour and the fisherman's overfishing seriously threatened the Patagonian Toothfish (pictured above.)

I am a little disappointed that the global opposite of Portland isn't a bit more exciting.

That the fish are so ugly is just insult to injury.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Two-Bite Watermelon

While most of the country was having the hottest summer on record, here in Portland, we were having the coldest summer in 17 years. Back in April, I planted melons hoping that the summer would be warm enough for them to grow. It wasn't.

My tomatoes also suffered. It was the perfect temperature to inspire the green leaves and vines to grow, but the tomatoes are just now starting to come on. Unfortunately, my huge tomato bush has toppled over despite my staking and the use of a heavy duty tomato cage (now reduced to a ball of twisted metal thanks to the monstrous plant). The tomatoes that are finally ripening are doing so under cover and I often don't find them until it's too late and they've already gone bad.

Green beans should have been a slam dunk, but they weren't. And it was totally my fault. I was the daughter of a seed salesman. Seeds were a big part of our family. From a young age, I planted seeds, worked with seeds, packaged seeds and even harvested seeds. So it was natural for me to want to save my Blue Lake green bean seeds year after year. I was saving maybe $2 on a packet of seed, but was pretty proud of my self-sufficiency.

It was my understanding that open pollinated or non-hybridized seeds, like Blue Lake green beans could have seed saved and used from year. What I learned this year, unfortunately, was that every few years, you have to bring back the new seed. Maybe Blue Lakes are a hybrid variety of green bean--I don't know. But the beans I got this year from my saved seed (which was from the previous years saved seed, which was from the previous years saved seed, etc.) were awful: fibrous, tough and completely unpalatable. The whole crop was lost.

So I didn't make any salsa fresca this year. I didn't freeze a year's worth of green beans. I didn't harvest any melons--well, not any that were edible anyway. Sometimes that's just the way it goes. Which is why I think being a farmer for a living must be the most stressful job ever.

Good thing the grocery store is right down the street.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Shoe Thing

One of the things about being in a house full of boys is there is no one around to do The Shoe Thing for me. If you are female and had sisters, or female roommates, you know what The Shoe Thing is.

It’s the “this one or this one” question you ask while standing on one leg at a time so your girlfriend or sister can get the full effect of how different shoes work with your ensemble and give you the advice you need to make a final decision. Because sometimes you just need a trusted opinion.

This is not something I can ask my boys. Or my husband.

I’ve had minor wardrobe crises where the thought of walking over to a neighbor’s house in 2 different shoes has crossed my mind. In the end, I always end up making the difficult choice myself. It’s a very frustrating position to be in.

This morning I was getting ready to go out to lunch with Robert at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. It's not every day I go downtown for lunch at a fancy, reasonably priced restaurant ($9.95 for a 3 course lunch!) I wanted to dress up a bit, but not too much. I had on my cute grey top with the ruffled v-neck and dark denim capris. the purple shoes were my first choice because they are fun and casual. But they had that ruffle, and I just thought it was too much with my ruffled top. However, the red shoes are shiny and have a little heel and seemed a bit too dressy.

I needed someone to do The Shoe Thing!

Again, I had to make my own choice. I chose purple and soon realized after I saw all the different people walking around downtown, that NO ONE CARES.

Still, I care. So maybe next time, I can have someone do The Shoe Thing via Skype. If I can get like 10 trusted friends on my Skype calling list, then I might always have someone to answer the question: this one, or this one?