Saturday, February 25, 2017

Shopping Tidbits

  • Did you know there are Spam Single Servings in a little foil pouch?
  • I felt guilty picking up a bunch of bananas because the produce man had just finished creating a lovely circle of bananas along the bottom edge of the display area. But...those were the ones I wanted.
  • Why are my favorite lunchbox cookies always on the top shelf and so hard to reach?
  • I stood in line at a "wholesome" store today to buy things, and they have conveniently placed a self-serve bakery/cookie rack right where you have to wait. Cruel.
  • How many versions of lettuce do you want to have to choose from? Let me count...
  • Does anyone else run out of a particular item one day, and then for the next six weeks, every time you're in the store, you nervously pick up one more, just in case. And now I have an over-abundance.
  • QUIT CHANGING MY FAVORITE TOILET PAPER. It was just fine the way it was.
  • How many flavors of coffee creamers exist? Vast, vast amounts. 
  • Must resist buying more tiny tomatoes---eat the ones you have lady.
  • QUIT CHANGING THE CAT'S FAVORITE CAT FOOD. She doesn't adapt well.
  • No, really, I don't want the multi-pack of red peppers. I don't get them eaten fast enough.
  • Tillamook yogurt--I love you.
  • Finally! Chocolate graham crackers are back! They disappeared during December. Every store I went to was out. And the supply people whom I questioned, didn't even know it. Weird.
  • Instead of help out to the car, I wish they'd come to my house and put away all the groceries I bought. That would really be a service!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Earth--in my hands

The topic is earth. It immediately conjures up images of soil in my brain. I come from a couple of generations of farmers. They grew food for cows and chickens and pigs, who, in turn, generated food for us to eat and sell. (Granted, the pigs were more deeply invested in the “food production” than the cows and chickens. But the cows and chickens ended up on the dinner plate eventually, too.)

Earth, or dirt, was what we used. But, first we needed to prepare it. Our farm was apparently the former path of some ancient glacier, because when the snow melted, and the plow went through the fields, a very large quantity of rocks was always our first harvest. Sigh. It really didn’t matter how many rocks we’d hauled off that field in previous springs, there were always, always more. Roundish, varying from the size of softballs to footballs, and sometimes we’d unearth a really big, ottoman-sized one, but always, lots and lots of rocks. Years later, when I was a married woman with children, and my brother had taken over the farm after our dad died, the highway department bought many trucks full of those rocks to build a roadbed for a new highway. I imagined my dad, in heaven, throwing up his arms, and shouting, “At last! A market for my best crop!”

It wasn’t just that the job was endless. It was an exceptionally obnoxious job. Imagine slogging through furrows, beside a wagon, on a not-quite-warm Saturday in May, picking up rocks and tossing them onboard. Then, you get to go over to the fence line, where there were rows of rocks from previous drudgeries, and tossing them off onto the piles. Then, back out to the muddy, uneven field and just keep going, knowing that you’re not done until you’ve gleaned the whole vast area. 

And, there was a deadline. The barley had to be planted by a certain date, or it wouldn’t have time to mature before the killing frost in the fall. So, sometimes, we were up early on a school morning, dividing the chores between the cow milkers and the rock pickers. I often heard my school friends from town discussing their plans for the afternoon on the last day of school—always a half-day—and I knew what my plans were going to be. Blah. 

But,we'd finally finish, and the grain would be sown, and we’d be treated to the sight of the little green shoots in their endless rows, growing in rock-free soil. 

When I first moved to California as a newly-wed Navy wife, I was astonished at the huge fields that were cultivated there. One area where we lived had been an alluvial flood plain, the soil was rich and black, and seemed to go on, and on. You could dig and dig, and never hit bottom. And, of course, I saw NO rocks. It really caught my eye! I was appalled one day to drive by a former tomato field to see big machinery scraping off the layers of dirt as the developer prepared to build houses. I actually went and asked if I could get some that dirt for a garden bed I was building. They let me take it. I don’t even know where they put the rest. Maybe they saved it for yards around the new houses. I realize my naiveté about the value of top soil to other people. But, still! They had no idea how my dad would have loved farming dirt like that. 

When we lived on the East Coast, our first house had a garden area that I dug up and planted with tomato starts, and lettuce and radish seeds. Due to the regular rainfall in the afternoon, I didn’t pay much attention to it during that first week, except to glance over at it when I’d leave for work in the morning. On the weekend, I went out to admire my crops, only to find that rabbits and deer had eaten all my plants down to the dirt. But, I did have a nice crop of seedling oak trees sprouted and thriving, since I’d cultivated the soil. So…I build a bed right in the middle of the circular driveway to keep marauders at bay, and used soil I bought at the garden shop that didn’t have acorns embedded in it. 

Now, I live in the Mojave Desert. There isn’t soil here. There is a thin layer of really sad, sandy dirt, and then an impervious bed called caliche. That abundance of calcium carbonate is great for the wall board factory a few miles out in the desert from our home. But it means that gardening here is done in raised beds. In fact, it’s almost time to plant my tomatoes so that the fruit can set before the summer heat kicks in. I’ll also get lettuce and radishes and even peas before May. Then, after that, everything just stops because of the endless heat, day and night. Everything except basil—it loves the hot air. When it all cools down again in October, the tomato plants will perk up and start growing flowers again, and I’ll get a second crop until the frosts in late December. I replenish the dirt each year with my homemade dirt from the compost bin that CoolGuy gave me for a birthday present when we first moved here.

Earth, dirt, soil—it is in my genes. I cannot resist digging and planting and harvesting.

That green stretch up in the distance, beyond the barn, is where all the rocks were.
We milked our cows in that barn, when I lived there. Shortly after I graduated from high school, my dad had to go big, or get out, so he built a modern dairy barn in the field behind this red relic.

  These are my parents and two big sisters, I was born some months after this was taken.Notice his irrigation boots? This was his usual attire when I was a child. That barley field was watered with canvas dams and system of ditches.Both of my parents grew up farming and milking cows.

 Here I am picking rock in that notorious field with my younger sister, my brother-in-law (and his little boy).
We were visiting back home about a month before our first child was born---1976.

 Yes, even after foot surgery, you can’t keep me out of the dirt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Short Remarks

*Today I was putting all the Valentine bags onto students' desks just before I left for home. We'd made them on Friday, and I hung them along the white board rail just to look festive, and keep them out of our way today. On two of them, I found, written in small letters, "Mrs.[EarthSignMama] is the  best teacher ever."

*When we were making the Valentine bags, I also received two handmade Valentines from a couple of other students. It's nice to be loved. I just wish they'd remember to quit talking all the time, too.

*I loved Valentine's Day when I was a little kid. Something about a holiday to celebrate love and hearts was just wonderful. Plus, it came in the middle of winter, and was so bright and pleasant with all the pink and red.

*Valentine's Day has been known to some as an obnoxious holiday when they refused to allow anyone to fete them because it seems forced. After all, a day set aside just to give gifts to a lover...and if you forget--you're in big trouble! I know a few people who refuse to celebrate it just because of that.

*My daughters loved to make their own cards every year. It was a huge extravaganza, and was planned for months. I thought it was awesome, so I facilitated it as well as I could. Here is an example of the card factory:  (note the pet rat helper)

*My mom not only baked a cherry pie for George Washington's birthday (Feb. 22), but made three birthday cakes that same week, after having made heart shaped sugar cookies on Valentine's Day.

*My new principal could care less if parents bring in treats to celebrate---fine, come on in. Bring those cookies and cupcakes and candy. Glad to have you visit the school! Bless his heart...

*Valentine's Day is the 43rd anniversary of CoolGuy and I starting US. We've been together for a very long time. I'm glad. I really like him. Still.

*Here's a photo of my very favorite Valentine's bag ever made by a student of mine. When he asked if we had to put hearts on it, I replied, "No, it's your bag. You may decorate however you'd like." I think his dad was an Army ranger, and now he is a city police officer.
So, have a happy Valentine's Day! I hope you have someone to give a loving greeting to, and eat some chocolate, whether you do or don't.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Word Power

That is the name of a page in the Reader's Digest. It's full name is "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power." I'm such a word nerd, that I usually find only one or two words each issue that I don't already know. *(Yes, I read everything, even old issues I find lying around under furniture.)  But I found a list in an old magazine the other day that made my Odd-Ball heart swell. Here are some of the words on the list:




I mean, aren't these totally awesome words?? As a child, I was sometime referred to as a flibbertigibbet by my mom, since I had a tendency to flap around and not be still when I ought to have been. However, my mother was rarely involved in a kerfuffle because she was such a nice person that she avoided upsets that involved hurt feelings. She was a kind, thoughtful person, who laughed off little slights instead of hugging them tightly and being resentful.

When I first met CoolGuy in the sixth grade, one of his most attractive qualities was his vocabulary. He knew some big words that I didn't realize other people knew. He also used language very precisely, and was super polite to adults: "Yes, ma'am" "Pardon me?" (instead of "huh?"). I realized that he probably became such a word professional because he also read books constantly (another quality that caught my attention.) Yes, yes, he was also really cute, and had/has fabulously gorgeous brown eyes...But, seriously, his interest in words really was the clincher.

So, on this list was a word that I've used many times, and thought was a fairly common word. But one day, when I used it casually at work, in my school back in Maryland, I had everyone just staring at me. I mean, everyone--the secretaries, the principal, my co-workers who happened to be in the office. I was talking about something...I don't even remember what...I just remember their reactions. I used the word flummoxed when I was laughing and recounting some thing a student had said or done. And they all just stared at me. Then, the principal (a very nice person---she had recently replaced the really difficult prior administrator) looked at me, and said, "What did you say? Flummox? What in the world is that?"

It was a little disconcerting. I'd used that word my whole life. It meant...uh...well...FLUMMOXED. There wasn't a better word for it. I stuttered a little, and then finally came up with, "Confused, blocked, stopped....ah..." It was a little bit embarrassing, because I wasn't trying to be superior, or show off. It was just a word I'd always known and was perfect for the emotional reaction to being completely blocked or confused or stopped by something you were trying to understand. It's why I LOVE the English language: there is a perfect word for almost everything you're trying to say.

I guess you can say, that at that moment, my co-workers had found a way to discombobulate me. I didn't know how to define a word that was precisely the word for a feeling/experience, without being slightly off the actual meaning of the word. I was frustrated and a little upset.

Anyway, WORD POWER!! It's just such a wonderful thing! Read, read, read, and use those new words you discover in your daily conversation. Don't worry if others don't always get it! Be a resource for them. Go out there and share that great vocabulary with the rest of the world!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Every Day is the Only Day

I spend most of my time in the company of children. I’ve taught fourth grade for the last twenty-two years, in two states. On Sundays,  I’ve been appointed the leader of my church’s children’s organization, so I’m in charge of about 45 children between the ages of three and 12 for a couple of hours. I have a whole staff, who teach various classes, and then the group lessons, and singing time. But, I’m the organizer and leader. I am also the mother of five children, and grandmother of four. So, I understand the mind of the pre-teen set very well. I wonder, though, how many of us understand the magnitude of the impact of one’s childhood on the adult that person will become? Do you remember vividly vast parts of your childhood, yet can’t recall the details of two weeks ago? It is that phenomenon that motivates me every day that I’m working with children.

Each day of a child’s life is their entire life. Right there. Just that. They live in the present. Tomorrow will never come.

When I was the mother of just two, I found myself thinking that, one day, when we earned more money, then I’d do this or that with the children, and we’d go out and have some adventures, and go to interesting places. Luckily, I realized, with a start, that THIS was their only childhood. There would not be another opportunity for my son or daughter to be this age, or at this stage of their development ever again. The time to DO was RIGHT NOW.

So, despite being officially in poverty--according to statistics--(my husband was active duty Navy in the Jimmy Carter era) I decided to not allow money to run my life. I looked up every single free, or nearly free, opportunity afforded families in our big old port city, and we went on adventures.

Many years later, my adult children validated my actions when they would reminisce about things we’d done. They also pointed out that they had no idea we were “poor” or that we had so little money. They just remember the many interesting things we did. One of my sons took his future wife on a date to the children’s section of the library to share with her his favorite books that we’d read, over and over. One of my daughters treated her college roommates to the repertoire of dinosaur songs we’d learned from a record I found. There they were—twenty-year-old women standing in front of an enormous skeleton listening to her sing: “Triceratops has three long horns, a beak like a parrot and a frill where his neck is!” Oh, and someday, I’ll tell you about going to beach in our shoes and pajamas early one morning when I heard on the radio about the dead whale that had washed up. Now, my newly teen-aged grandchildren tell me of the adventures they go on, because their parents say, “when I was a kid, we did this.”  

Here are a couple of numbers:
  • Children officially start school at age 5 in the United States
  • During the five years from birth, motor control goes from zilch to walking and running without thought
  • During the five years from birth, oral language goes from crying to complex communication
  • The first three years of life are the most intensive period for language development
Yet, every year, we have children arrive to their first day of Kindergarten who have never held a crayon or a pencil. They’ve not colored, or scribbled, or held a book, or been read to, nor pretended to read by themselves. Their vocabulary limits are astonishing. It takes us teachers years to get that student caught up to the milestones appropriate for their age. By then, the student is so far behind, that they’ve become discouraged and reluctant.

I guess what I’m saying is CARPE DIEM. If you have children in your life, make every day count. For a child, that is the only day they have. You do not have to take them to Disneyland to have a grand adventure. In fact, a Grand Adventure can be had watching a spider. I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But, the numbers that really matter in a child’s life are the hours that are spent in human interaction, curiosity satisfying, challenges attempted and conquered, and nature observed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Just a Few New Year Happenings

Happening #1
I went back to work as a teacher yesterday. I took off two months to have my knee joint replaced with titanium! I spent most of that time lying on the couch, of course, except when I was doing PT (physical torture). So, when I showed up at school, I was feeling pretty good about how well my knee had healed, and how well I could walk again, and just ready for action. By lunch, I discovered just how exhausted a person can be after they lie around for two months, and then jump back into the Rat Race (and it is a race...believe fourth grade.) My new knee felt great! The whole rest of my body was panting, and yelling, "Hey! What happened to the couch? That was great!" I sat down most of the rest of the afternoon, and then ate some dinner, and fell into bed at 9:30. (I usually get to bed around 11:00.) And I felt pretty good by morning. Today wasn't nearly as exhausting, but I'm definitely going to have to get back into shape if I want to keep up with the school teacher routine.

Happening #2
This morning I woke up and I had a serious ear worm in my head. "Scripture Power!" Over and over, with great insistence my brain would not give up on the chorus: "Scripture Power! Everyday I need, the power that I get each time I read!" I mean--it was persistent, loud, and drowned out every other thing I could think about. Suddenly, I just laughed out loud, and thought, "Thank you, Heavenly Father! That's right, I really wanted to get better at the habit of reading the scriptures every morning."  I've actually been apologizing each night in my prayers about failing, once again, to sit down and read each day. I put my scriptures out on a table so they'd be a reminder. I have the time in the morning. While I eat my breakfast cereal, or toasted bagel, or whatever...I could easily sit and read something from my big old quad on the little table in front of my reading couch. So...I just went right in, sat down, and opened up that book and found a really nice section to contemplate this morning, while the house was quiet, and I was well-rested. Sometimes, God has to resort to actual nagging. Thanks again!

Happening #3
Our son and his wife called a couple of days ago, out of the blue! It was great! The big surprise is that they were driving across Montana at the time. They live in Bremerton, WA, where he is serving on a submarine. So, hey! Montana? In the middle of winter? They were driving across country so that the wife can live the next five months with her mom in Worcester, MA, and have the car so she can go to work, while our son heads out to sea for an unexpected trip on another submarine. He's a sonar man and I guess this other boat just really needed him and couple of other guys from his original boat to fill in their crew. So, every day, I got a text from them telling me where they were next. Yes, they ended up driving south a little to escape the amazing storm slamming the northernmost part of the USA. It was fun to keep track of their journey. Today, I read that they stopped to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame for about three hours. Those two need three days -- I'm just saying. And then, I got a little video in a text, of her walking into to her mom's house for the Big Surprise! Yes, it was a secret for her mom, and it was a dandy payoff. Her mom will appreciate seeing her, and then our daughter-in-law won't have to be so lonely while our son is listening to whales and shrimp...and other things...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Going to the Sun

There is a highway in Montana, in Glacier National Park named "Going to the Sun" and someday, I hope to drive on it. But right now, I'm reveling in the fact that today marks the End of the Darkness. It is Winter Solstice, and I always have a tiny celebration when this day comes! From now on, the sun will be in the sky for a teensy bit longer. It isn't really noticeable until later in February. One day, you walk outside and realize that it isn't dark yet, and it used to be dark this time of day. It's a relief to me. I'm sure I had ancestors who were Druids or something. I really look forward to December 21st every year.

It's not exactly like I have a harsh winter to deal with here in the Mojave Desert. It is actually rather mild, compared to the winters of my childhood. Yesterday, I saw a posting on Facebook from Cody, Wyoming, that showed the temperature at 2:30 A.M. as -56 degrees. Yes! Minus -56...I've been outside, doing chores, when it was 45 degrees below zero in Wyoming. It doesn't feel any colder than negative 20, but you just freeze faster. It is very, very, very unpleasant. I got to leave those weather conditions when I was a newly married woman, and it has ruined me forever for enduring bitter temperatures. For about two weeks here, the temperature has dipped into the 30s every night, and only risen to the low 60s during the day. A few days, it actually only warmed up to 47. Brrrrr....yes, it feels really cold when it does that here in Southern Nevada. You realize, of course, that it regularly exceeds 100 degrees every day in the summer. so that is a variation of 60-70 degrees. The variation in Wyoming, though, is from negative 40 to 80 above, so we have nothing to complain about.

Here's what is nice about winter in the desert: it is short. In another week or two, it won't be chilly any more. I'll be planting my tomatoes before the end of February, so that they'll have time to set fruit before it heats up in late May. I don't even wear a coat...I just wear a sweater. Mr. CoolGuy wore his chaps this week, but he's still riding the motorcycle every day! I have large palm trees in my front yard. They're just fine. I have a plant growing up a trellis in my back yard that still has flowers blooming on it. One night, it must have gotten to 31 degrees, because my basil plants are all black and drooping, dead. I've been harvesting from them since May...that was seven months. I don't mind winter at all here.

 Here is one magnificent part of "winter" here: there is almost always a spectacular sunset, every night.

Here is another way I enjoy my "winter" here. There are beautiful snow-covered mountains. They are waaay up there, where I can admire them, but I never have to walk or drive in that snow.