Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I've Seen the USA...Almost

Here is a nifty blog thing: a map to show all the states where you've traveled. I see a definite deficit in my travel patterns. I've skipped the South. But...they have flying cockroaches, and humidity...whine. Just to complete my map, I will have to go there. And my failure to see many of the states that border Canada---we'll fix that by going back east on I-90 sometime. I've used I-10, I-40, I-70 and I-80 already. It's weird how Vermont is an outlier, too. It's because the route I used to go to Bird Camp in Maine didn't include a corner of Vermont, like it included a corner of New Hampshire. The next time I am in Maryland, I intend to drive up to Rhode Island, and circumnavigate the state one afternoon. It is 37 miles wide and 48 long. Ha ha ha!!! That cracks me up! The valley where I grew up in Wyoming is about that size. It is so amusing that Rhode Island is an entire state. Of course, population-wise, there are only around 500,000 in Wyoming and there are over a million in Rhode Island. I plan to see Alaska from a cruise ship deck one of these years, and my daughter is going to be our tour guide to Hawaii someday, too.

Anyway, here's the map: make one of your own!

Visited States

Visited US States Map from TravelBlog

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thank You, Again, Meredith

We just returned from our family vacation in San Diego, courtesy of Serendipity Inc. It was a good time. Apparently, our 2 year old grandson expressed his desire to stay longer when he realized his family was headed home. They'd been in the car for about an hour, when he said, "We go back to the hotel?" and his mom said that, no, they were going home now (a day's drive away) and he cried unhappily, "No, not go home! Go to hotel!" My sentiments exactly! If one criteria for a successful good time is to end it when you're still having fun, then we had a Good Time. We stood on the balcony of our hotel room this morning, looking out at our view of the bay, and the bridge, and the sky, and the boats, and the mountains to the east and agreed that we ought to just stay another week.

We could see the peninsula of Point Loma so clearly, and it was the view we'd had from our house (just nine miles inland) for so many years when we lived in San Diego, so we felt like we were home again. As we drove around everywhere, our brains were just patterned to take those streets, and see those familiar sights. It felt so normal. Even our children who hadn't been back there in more than fifteen years kept saying "Wow, I just knew that as we drove around that bend, I'd seen that building, or those trees." It's interesting how a place can get into your cells.

I'll never grow tired of smelling the ocean, or seeing the surf, or listening to the birds. The air feels soft, the light is unique and the feel of sand gritting beneath my shoes are all things I love about Southern California. I've just got to figure out a way to move back there to live. Right now, the plan is--Christmas 2010--house rental in Ocean Beach. Mom and Dad will rent the house for the week. It's up to you children to start saving now for your trip to San Diego to do it again.

We went to the zoo. We bought the two day passes, and one day we took the bus tour, and rode the sky ride. The next day we went back for some close-up views of our favorites. Plus, we got there early the second day and had things to ourselves for the first hour (well...there were other people there, but not thousands of other people until later--then we left.) Plus, when you go early, the animals are all up and moving around. We saw a koala practically sprinting around their habitat--compared to the others who were entirely motionless.

We went to the tide pools. These are the tide pools we went to when we lived there. It is a huge area, and you can poke your finger into the anemones and they'll close around it. You can see lots of little crabs, and hermit crabs, and sea cucumbers and all kinds of sea life. The only requirement is that you leave everything there. Not even one seashell or rock should you haul away from this place--it is part of a national monument area, but more importantly, if everyone took just one little thing, it would be denuded in a single month.

We went to Sea World. It was crammed, but because I'd bought the two day passes at my teacher's union office, our daughter and her family returned the next day early, on their way back home. They spent several more hours and saw the rest of the things we didn't have time to see the first day because of extensive waiting in line. My best time at Sea World was watching her having such a fun time. This is really her realm. She's the one who joined the National Cetacean Society at age eight with her birthday money. I hadn't know what a cetacean was until then. (marine mammal) So, seeing her enjoy the whole place again after so many years was great! I'm sure Shamu felt a frisson in the Force when she walked back through the gates after being gone for so long.

We also just hung out a lot. We played board games, we ate together. We swam in the pool. We hung out in the hot tub and talked. Since each of our children came, they had the chance to talk to one another, and to spend a little time with us, individually and collectively. It was good. This summer I intend to reserve space at a state campground in the other part of California we lived, and people can come and hang with us or not. But I hope that some of them can make it down to enjoy some more casual recreation. It's good to get together for something other than funerals, births, and weddings.

We'll do this again. I went back to college so I could get a decent job. I simply wanted the money. (It's a bonus that I like teaching.) But this is why I wanted the extra money--so I could help my children occasionally and for fun vacations like this. It was definitely worth it to spend the time in school so I could have this week. We'll have more of them in future.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

We have three of our five children here visiting, then this afternoon we are driving to San Diego to meet up with a fourth child and her family, and number five will fly down on Friday morning with his family. We are rendezvousing in the original home-land of the Family (birthplace of the CoolGuy/ESM relationship and all the off-spring). It is always a nice day in San Diego, so we'll lounge around and go to the zoo and the tide pools and have a luxurious vacation, courtesy of the Millionaire Bonus. I'm excited. One of the plans is to go to various iconic photo spots and recreate the shots using grandchildren instead of the kid who was snapped there twenty+ years ago. But, mostly, we just wanted to spend some time as a group. It is challenge to be an extended family. Everyone is sacrificing to be there--whether it is time or money. And, no, we are not anticipating a smooth, everyone-is-so-happy-to-be-together time. But, as adults, we're all planning to Put on Our Happy Faces, and be a family. It'll be worth it. And, like our grandson, "We are so 'cited for Christmas!"
So, Merry Christmas to you and yours and put on your Happy Faces and have a nice day. There's plenty of time to gripe about your relationships some other day.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The Chex mix is ready. The pumpkin bread is in the freezer. I'll make cranberry bread tomorrow and buy the ingredients for Harira. Then, I'll make the cookie dough.

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! Yum...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Taking A Deep Breath

I, and all the teachers I know, are taking a deep breath tonight. The Winter Vacation has begun. And not a moment too soon. I realize that this sounds like whining. But, seriously, it isn't. Teaching is an unusually intense occupation. I really didn't understand that while being the mom at school. Even being a substitute I didn't experience it.

Here are some of the reasons:
1) the students are not there by their own choice
2) every single second the students are in school, you are responsible for them
3) this means that from the first bell till the last bell that's where your entire attention goes
4) even during your lunch (what time is it? how many minutes are left? is there anything else I need to get, do, copy, look up?)
5) you can never, ever "phone it in"

There is some type of childhood radar that lets those edgy students be instantly aware if your attention wanders. Immediately, they are standing on their chair, hitting someone, stealing something. It's always been impressive to me how completely without boundaries some children are unless an adult is continuously monitoring them for compliance.

It's exhausting. So, when the Winter Vacation comes along--two weeks of just thinking about yourself and that's all--(unless, like so many of my co-workers, you have little kids at home still) it is really such a relief. I sometimes feel like a total sissy. After all, I had five kids! And I did daycare in my home for many years. But it is completely different somehow. For instance: no one was following me around with a clipboard checking off catagories of Required Motherhood Skills. Plus, my own children weren't as naughty as many of my students. That was a shock to me when I first started teaching school at age 43: they didn't obey! I was accustomed to my own kids who obeyed. But then, we'd been teaching them to do that since they were tiny. Clearly no one at all is teaching it to several of my students.

But for two weeks and three weekends, I don't have to even think about them. And I don't plan to, either. I will bake, cook, read the newspaper, and vacation in sunny (note to weather gods: please, please be sunny) Southern California and enjoy my children and grandchildren. Breathing slowly and calmly. And NOT checking the time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Day

When I moved to Maryland fifteen years ago, I encountered a new event--the Snow Day. As a child, growing up where it was normal for snow to be constant from October to May, we did not have weather-related school holidays. Everyone had snowtires, snowchains, snowplows, boots, coats, gloves, etc. Snow did not prevent events from proceeding; it did sometimes make it more difficult to travel, but I don't remember things being cancelled due to weather.

In Maryland, snow was infrequent, but every winter it would snow at least once. And so school would be cancelled. I understand why--all those tiny little curvy roads lined by large trees from which snow-covered branches would crash down. Plus, few people had snowplows, snowtires, boots, gloves, etc.

Now I live in the desert--in a city reknown for hot temperatures. In the summer. Winter is frequently chilly; it's the high desert. But this week we're experiencing a record-breaking, once in a lifetime weather event:
So, today I'm home-last night they announced that school was cancelled Thursday--Snow Day. First one since 1979. Some parts of the Las Vegas valley got 8 inches. I scraped 2 inches off my car to come home from school. The roads were thick with slush. Many highways are still closed. Weird.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Gift...Part 2

BUT--First this breaking news from Weather Central: for the past seven hours it has been snowing vigorously in Las Vegas!!! Yes--seven hours!! All of my ornamental grass is lying flat, the palm tree branches are drooping from the heavy wet snow lying on them. After our music program tonight at the school, I had to scrape off a couple of inches of freezing cold slush from my car. THIS IS SO WRONG. Apparently we are involved in a record breaking storm system, a not-seen-for-thirty-years snowfall. Bah humbug!! That's my opinion. However, I keep thinking of all the ways it could be worse. I could be here visiting from back East (where they just had an ice-storm) out here for a little respite in the sunny southwest for which I've saved all year. Or, I could be one of the poor people now stranded because every highway and freeway in southern Nevada and southern California has been closed, as well as the Las Vegas airport and LAX. The only bonus is that, pending a further dropping of the temperature, we could get a snow day on Thursday (!!) Now, that would be worth it. Most of my students were completely delirious as we dismissed into a world of fluffy falling flakes because they have never seen it snow before, and many of their parents have not either. It was fun to watch them scoop up a snowball from the grass (yes, there was that much accumulation by 3:30) and throw it at someone. All up and down my street there are snowmen in people's yards. This is very bizarre. Pictures tomorrow!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog: Part 2 of "The Year of My Amazing Discovery"

I realize now that the cost of the coat probably represented a substantial proportion of the entire Christmas budget, and so was out of the question. But, the Saturday before Christmas, my aunt and uncle came for a visit. While she distracted my mother on a pretext in the bedroom, we were instructed to take a large wrapped box from the back seat of their car and hide it under the Christmas tree, way in the back. The tag said, “To the Welch Family”, but my uncle confided in us older ones that it was The Coat.

When we’d returned home from shopping that night, my mother had told my dad about it. She wasn’t hinting, she just told him all kinds of things like that. We all agreed with her that it was a fantastic coat, and she really did look nice in it. But, as she pointed out, dismissing the subject with the finality of the one who made Christmas happen at our house, and balanced the checkbook, it was much too expensive. She hadn’t reckoned on true love.

She was a hard person to give to. She seemed not to need anything, but could always choose the right thing for someone else. Every holiday season, our house was filled with amazing culinary feats: hand-dipped chocolates, peanut brittle, cinnamon rolls, donuts, fruit cake. This bounty was started in early November so the giving could begin on time.

First, a box was filled for her little brother, the Air Force pilot, often stationed overseas. The next box went south to her parents who wintered in Arizona to ease grandma’s health. We had hoards of visitors who were always treated. Then, the culminating event on Christmas Eve, when she prepared plates with a sampling of everything, covered them with plastic wrap, handed them over to us to carry carefully to the car.

We stopped at the homes of widows, and at least one never-married man whose tiny house I’d passed on the school bus for years without realizing it was inhabited until I was big enough to help with the Christmas gifts. We always gave a plate to a family whose mother was so crippled with arthritis that I never saw her except on Christmas Eve when I slipped into her living room behind my mom, and listened as my mother carried on a cheerful conversation with a woman so bent and twisted I couldn’t look at her. We celebrated Christmas by doing Christ-like things for people who couldn’t do for themselves.

By the time we got home on Christmas Eve, the chores were done, my dad was in the house and we could act out the Nativity before having some fruitcake and milk and going to bed. But the glow in our home was magnified by my memory of the brightness she took into those other houses.

Well, Christmas morning finally came. We had opened nearly every present but the big box. She’d seen it, but assumed it was a game from some other aunts. We urged her to open it, but she passed it over to my sister, “Oh, one of you kids open it. I’ve opened my presents.”

She had; but they were so insignificant that now I cannot recall a single one. Probably a new slip, some cherry chocolates, a plaster hand-print from a first-grader—these were the typical things we ended up giving to the person who “didn’t need anything but kids to stop quarreling.” We handed the big box right back to her with a chorus of insistence that should have been a tip-off.

She tore the paper from the box; it was apparent now that it was NOT a board game. The edges of the box were taped shut, but the name of the store was printed on the outside. Suddenly, she looked confused, her fingers began to fumble with the cardboard. She stood up and dropped the box onto the couch as the lid came free, and I could hardly believe the look on her face as she drew the coat out of the tissue wrappings.

She squealed, “Oh Lynn! It’s my coat!” She turned to him, her eyes shining with incredible delight. Her hands were trembling as she pushed her arms into the sleeves, drawing it up around her shoulders.

“Here, feel this—isn’t it fantastic?” She stepped over to my dad and held out her arm. “Oh, thank you, I love it, love it, love it!”

Or something like that---I don’t remember her exact words except for her initial outburst to my dad. But more significantly, I remember what she did not say. There was no mention of “Oh, you shouldn’t have” or “It’s too much money” or “I don’t need a new coat”. She simply accepted this gesture of love from my father. He had found something she truly wanted, and he generously gave it to her. And she graciously received it.

I’m sure that many times, my father had given my mother gifts, but this was the first time I had been conscious of it. It was the first time I’d been aware of them interacting as two sweethearts. I suddenly saw them as individuals, and not merely the support system for my life.

Except for cooking dinner, she wore her glorious coat the rest of that day. And each time she wore it anywhere, she radiated, not just because it was a good color on her, but because every time she put it on, the pure joy of that Christmas moment seemed to me to be repeated, and I knew my mom was a real person, and that my dad loved her.
The End

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to You

Today is my mother's birthday. I don't say "was" her birthday because, even though she died over two years ago, December 16 remains the day she was born on this Earth. She was named Carol in honor of the Christmas season, and she used to say that she was lucky that her birthday was the 16th and not the 17th, or she may have been named after an aunt who had a much less melodious name.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote her a story for a birthday gift that actually recounted a Christmas memory. Tonight, as I arrived at the Relief Society party/dinner/entertainment, the president asked me if I had anything I could contribute to the program--quick--because someone else had cancelled on her. I went home and printed off that story, and as I introduced it, I suddenly realized it was Mother's birthday this very day. So, in honor of her, I will post that story. But it is longish, so I'll divide it into two posts--today is part one and tomorrow will be part two.

The title is "The Year of My Amazing Discovery"--autobiographical, as usual.

That was the Christmas when I learned that my mother was a person, too. This was only a unique concept because I was in my early teens, just fresh from junior high, with the point of view common to the age group. The world began and ended with me. The important questions of the day were:

“Did my hair look okay?”
“Were my clothes cool enough?”
“Could I get through the day without saying or doing something so stupid the whole school would notice?”

I usually thought of Christmas in those terms as well. I was focused on my wants and desires. It was hard to be a teen at Christmas. There wouldn’t be any surprises from Santa. I was too old for that. But I knew my parents weren’t prosperous enough to give me the kind of gifts I’d seen at a friend's house: skis, a stereo, go-go boots.

That is why the whole event was so amazing to me, and significant enough to catch my attention and cause a shift in my view of the world.

We’d gone shopping in the “city”. It was a two hour drive, but it was the closest community to ours with stores where you could buy the items we usually got only through mail order. Plus, my aunt lived there. She and my mother were close in age, and we visited them, or they visited us, at least once a month.

We were in a department store looking for Christmas dresses for my sisters and I, when I heard my mother exclaim to my aunt, “Oh, Lila, feel this coat!” We all came over to inspect it. It was a truly wonderful thing. It was deep navy pile, but unlike most of the late Sixties fake fur, this felt like the real thing. It had a subtle, lustrous glow, and the plush-ness of the nap was unlike any other garment on the rack.

Mama pulled it off the hanger and slipped into it, letting her aging plaid car coat slip to the floor. She snuggled the collar up around her cheeks, pushed her hands deep into the pockets folding it around her like a fashion model. Stepping up to the mirror, she did several half-turns, admiring the way the color complemented her complexion, and practically cooing about the sensuous feel of the fabric.

Without a doubt, it was one terrific coat. She looked good in it, it was different than anything else in the store, and she really did need a new coat. It was Christmas, after all; why not get it?

One hundred dollars, that’s why. The price tag, usually the first thing consulted when we were shopping, had been overlooked in the excitement of the beauty and luxury of the coat. She gasped, took it off, and replaced it on the hanger. As she returned it to its place among the less worthy wraps, I saw her hands linger on the pile for a final caress.

But, my real mother quickly emerged from the reverie, as she briskly gathered her things from the floor, with a laughing comment on how impractical it would be to own such a coat, and how the current jacket was certainly good for at least one more season, probably two. And hadn’t we better get a move on so we’d get home before it was too late?

However when she dressed again in that woven green plaid coat, with the three-quarter sleeves, knit cuffs, and shawl collar, it seemed so bland, so outdated, and, so, so practical that I was conscious for the first time at how adept she was at accepting her circumstances, and making the best of the inevitable. Her uncomplaining way of going about the business of being the mother of eight children on a family dairy-farm budget had never seemed remarkable until now. I wanted her to buy the coat. I wanted her to own it. Whenever any of us had needed something, glasses, orthopedic shoes, dental work, even just a bicycle, my parents always made it happen. I hadn’t been aware of how they did it. They just always somehow figured out the way. Surely they could figure out some way to buy this coat.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jet Setting

I haven't blogged for a while because I've been partying.

On Thursday, I flew to Baltimore, where CoolGuy picked me up and we attended his last company party---a dinner cruise on the Potomac in Washington D.C. (His old company, that was dissolved because their technology was rendered obsolete after 20 years. He works for someone else now on the second generation.)

...on Friday, we ate at a terrific tapas restaurant with our son, and then we all went to see "A Christmas Carol" performed by the Ford's Theater productions--just not in Ford's Theater this year--it's being renovated. We stayed at a motel in Baltimore so I could... off to Salt Lake City on Saturday to attend my sister's family Christmas party, hosted by my brother because his house was large enough to accommodated the huge group. I stayed with my sister that night who'd kindly acquired from her friend...

...two tickets for the Sunday morning performance of "Music and the Spoken Word" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Immediately following their live broadcast, we stayed seated for an encore presentation of their Christmas performance that had been taped the night before for PBS. I invited my dear best friend of 30+ years. Following that we ate brunch, she took me to the airport and...

...I jetted off for home in Las Vegas. Whew.

Today, just a mild-manned, exhausted, school teacher again. But, I really had a great four days!

Monday, December 08, 2008

O, Come Let Us Adore Him--Part 2

Now, for the best: when I bought the little wooden panel scene at the mission, I began to look around at Nativity scenes everywhere. I bought one or two, but here is one I received as a gift from the 9/10 year old Foxyj:

Please note all the fabulous details: crowns on the heads of the Three Kings, sheep! The shepherds have crooks, the wise men are bearing gifts. The angel is piously holding her hands together in an attitude of worship. Here's a closeup of the Holy Couple:

Clearly, they are delighted with their baby and the joy of the momentous occasion. This obviously took a lot of work, time and thought, and it has a special place of honor, and will always be proudly displayed each Christmas.
Next to it, will be the other Best Nativity Scene Ever:

We put the pencil into the photo so you would have a sense of scale. When Auntie Sky-a was a girl, she had a gift with the needle-nose pliers and tweezers. She really loved making miniatures. This stunning Nativity Scene is one of her crowning achievements. See the camel standing in the back? The crowns on the the wise men? The iconic blue robe of the Holy Mother? The spit-wad sheep in the foreground? It's a masterpiece of detail, all surrounded by a teensy leather stable. Again, priceless, I'm telling you.

Here is one more masterpiece from a daughter: the all pine-cone depiction of the Greatest Story:

See the donkey there in the front, with his long ears? The wise man on the left, painted gold, bearing his gift from afar? There is a sheep, an angel, a shepherd, Mary and Joseph. It isn't a very good shot, but they're all there. Very post-modern, impressionist Nature/religion. I think it was the Druids that worshipped trees? And many of their customs were folded into the Christian holiday of Christmas just for convenience? Well, we don't care--we just love the pine cone creche.

As Foxyj got older, her creativity was refined by art teachers and she contributed the origami Nativity you see here. It's lovely, too.

Then, Foxyj traveled to Madrid, Spain, and when faced with the choice of buying her mom a Lladro Nativity or the Folk Art one, she wisely chose the one she knew her mom would be most delighted with: folk art. It features the Three Kings, appropriately, being Spanish. Its colorful designs and cylindrical forms make it irresistible to children. But it is also tough enough to take it because it is made from clay.

Then, we had a son travel to Russia, land of icons and matruska dolls. He found this set. The biggest doll is painted with the Nativity, but as you take them apart and form the descending sizes, you are presented with a tiny depiction of the life of Christ. Cool. On the reverse of each is written an explanation in Russian:
Our many years of living in Southern Maryland were made complete when I found this little item at a craft fair:

Yes, the Oyster Shell Nativity. We had to have it. We lived for 10 years on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. We attended the National Oyster Shucking Championships several times. We ate oysters, we studied them in school, we painted their shells with Santa faces for ornaments. This mollusk Christmas memory was a must.

My most recent acquisition was obtained by Cool Guy on one of his regular trips to Israel for business. I could never get my schedule to mesh with his journeys, so I had to entrust him with the task. He brought me a Nativity made of olive wood from the Holy Land. He got it from an Arab seller about 25 meters from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. I still wrap it in the Hebrew newspapers it came packed in. It came from the "holiest Christian site in the world" according a website. But, I just like it because it's from Israel. Someday I'll get there with CoolGuy. He was very impressed with the country and knows that I'd love it too. It's sobering to actually walk where Jesus walked. I'll just have to settle for pieces of trees that grew where Jesus grew.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

O, Come Let Us Adore Him

Many, many years ago, I decided to focus my Christmas decorations on Jesus and the Nativity, since I didn't want to have Santa be the whole point of our holiday. I realize it is not an original idea, but that wasn't the point. I've been to a few displays of creches, and there are so many versions from so many countries, and they are all really terrific. My collection is not nearly so inclusive, nor particularly artistic, but it is, nevertheless, a priceless set of Nativity scenes. I would like to share some of them and the stories that make them heirlooms to us.

If you are a Mormon woman of "a certain age" you owned one of these in your life. It is printed on paper and you slip the two first panels into the edges of the larger third panel--voila--Nativity! We all got this when we were 9 or 10 in Primary. If you have one, cherish it because they have not made it since. After I was married and I'd make trips to visit my mom, I would rummage through the closets and drawers in my old room (then occupied by other sisters) and find little treasures from my childhood and teenage years that no one else wanted. This was one of them. It was our first Nativity scene and sat on a shelf flanked by a poinsettia. It was our only one for quite a while. Most of our decorating energy was put into the tree and our cookies.

We moved to Idaho for a couple of years and our youngest son brought home this wonderful item from nursery one Sunday in December. It has been proudly displayed for 21 years. Look closely and you'll see the shepherds, the sheep, the wise men and the manger with a teeny, naked plastic baby lying under his tiny blanket on a bed of straw. You will also see evidence of the sainthood of this nursery leader. She cut out, glued on the scenes, and covered the little shoeboxes with wrapping paper. I don't remember doing any of it. The contribution of the three year old is the coloring on the edge of the manger and around Mary and Joseph.

Then, we moved to another part of California and I was shopping in the gift store of the Mission Santa Barbara, looking for something to send to CoolGuy who would be spending Christmas in a sandy environment much nearer the Holy Land than any of us had ever been before. I couldn't send fragile items, nor large items. But I found a little wooden panel that had been carved and painted in El Salvador that depicted the Holy Family so I sent that. I also purchased a slightly more elaborate one for our home. That's when I was smitten by the Nativity Scene bug, and I started to seek them out.

There is no particular order in which I acquired these next ones. But they are all just my favorites.

This is a gift from a great friend. She is very ambitious, and had sewn several of these sets to give to her daughters-in-law. But when she showed them, their lack of enthusiasm was so obvious that she gave me one instead. My enthusiasm was very enthusiastic! This is the set I'd take to church to use to teach children's songs because it can be handled and cuddled and not be harmed. It is a favorite of grandchildren. One year it was rearranged many times each day complete with an explanation from S-Boogie.

This is a mobile. The artist is Tomie De Paola, one of my favorite author/illustrators. I have many of his Christmas storybooks. The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia are two favorites. His drawings are very distinct and, ever since we fell in love with Strega Nona, I seek out his books. An exciting day for me was when I met him at a book signing in Ventura and got my autographed copy of ...something. I'll have to look inside my books!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the One of a Kind, Original Masterpiece Nativity Sets--priceless, I'm telling you. They can never be duplicated nor replaced, in our home or in our hearts.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walked a Mile in My Shoes

Actually, I think the entire round trip was almost two miles on our field trip to the Wetlands Park. We had a wonderful time, but about 1.7 miles into it, my legs just said, "Done--we're finished." My feet hurt so much tonight I can hardly describe it. I even wore my really thick soled, extra support-ful best shoes, too. But I think if I can recover by morning, (and even if I limp all day) it will have been worth it. It was a great place!!

It rained last week for almost two days, a soft slow rain that didn't flash flood anywhere, but just soaked the desert and revived everything. It still smelled fabulously this morning--all the resinous plants and the moist ground. Plus, it left the ground soft so that all the little creatures that inhabit that area left their imprints everywhere. We saw coyote tracks, quail, rabbit, raccoon and other bird's tracks we couldn't name. We saw herons, snowy egrets, osprey, coots, ducks, and numerous other little birds flitting all over the trees. We saw the stump of a tree that was the result of a beaver's industry--conical and covered with tooth marks. We found the feathers and blood stains of bird killed and eaten by ? ?--coyote? hawk? fox? We examined all kinds of "scat"--the scientist term for poop. We identified plants and bugs and looked at seed pods and holes in the ground. It was pure discovery and the joy of real stuff--every kid loves it!

I was proud, too, because we'd done enough prep that the students had a lot of background knowledge for the techniques of observation and an understanding of the desert ecosystem. It was really gratifying to watch them see something they'd read about, and exclaim and identify it for the docent. Or when she'd ask them why or what and they knew the answer and could see the real event or concept right there in front of them--live. I love that kind of field trip, where we can feel things, and step in mud, and put some salt grass in our mouths and taste why it is named that! We'd been watching the osprey wheeling above us and they were admiring it, when suddenly it dropped into a straight down dive. The water was obscure by the tree line, but they all saw it fall into the dive and shouted like they'd seen the quarterback run into the end zone. It would have been awesome if they could watch it pounce on a fish. But, now they know what it looks like to see a powerful hunter in action. It was a great day.

My crippled feet and legs are totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Did You See the Sky?

Last night you could see Jupiter and Venus close together, just under the crescent moon. It was very beautiful. The big event was December 1, but tonight the two planets were still showing up bright and clear, and they were really obvious on Thanksgiving evening. Lil' Dude and I were out on the swings at their apartment playground and, even though it wasn't dark yet, the two stars were clear enough in the sky that he looked up, pointed and said in his sweet little two-year old voice, "I see two stars." Yup--there they were. Planetary conjunction for most of the world to enjoy.

Celestial events are always such a thrill. My friend's sister wrote to her from Zambia to tell her to look for the planets. Wherever you were on the globe, you got a unique perspective with them lined up near the moon. It would be cool to fly around the world for different sky views. I remember when my oldest son returned from living in Argentina for two years how he looked up one night and said, "Ah, Orion--my old friend! Haven't seen you for so long." When I was growing up I always looked at Orion from the darkened barnyard as I moved groups of cows in and out of the barn in the winter during the night milking. It is very soothing to see stars; they're almost like old friends. Weirdly, we can see many stars from our home here in the Bright Lights, Big City because we live so near to the big eastern mountain. Our sky to the east is very dark and it allows us to see parts of the Milky Way, even though over to the west it is so illuminated by the Strip. We can see constellations and The Luxor's Tower 'O Light. Strange.

Go out--enjoy the sky. One thing about the desert vs. the East Coast. Here, the sky is infrequently obscured by clouds, never by trees and rarely by the liquid haze of humidity.