Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Brother

Yesterday was my brother-in-law's birthday. Notice I did not write "brother-in-law" in the title. That's because he is much, much more than just some guy who married my sister a long time ago. He really is a brother to me.

When they were married, I was 15 years old. She is my oldest sister, and our first family wedding. We met him a couple of times before they were engaged. I think my sister was determined to marry some other guy she'd met at college, and this fellow--NB (for New Brother)--was always turning up to ask her to go with him on various awesome adventures that she just couldn't resist. Well, I have no idea what became of the other guy she had the big crush on, but NB finally won her over. He just kept turning out to be irresistibly fun. And he was ridiculously funny, too. That is certainly one of his traits that endeared him to me.

But, I think that the main reason he is such a favorite person of mine is that he is genuine. He has never pretended to be anything other than he is. He is curious, kind, forgiving, generous, intelligent, hilarious, helpful, thoughtful, unflappable and spiritual. That is quite a list, I know. Let me give you a few examples.

Curious and genuine:  He showed up at our farm to meet us--a formidable task. There were, after all, seven brothers and sisters of this woman he was courting. And we were a pretty out-going bunch. Plus, there was the Mom and Dad. Plus, the cows, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, etc. This was a guy who grew up in cities. He didn't have much experience with this life. Did that stop him? No, he put on some boots and came right out to see what it was we were doing in that old red barn for so many hours every day. He asked questions, he looked around, he tried to stay out of the way, he tried to help when he could. He did not ever imply with word or gesture that he was grossed out by the vast quantities of cow manure, or that he felt uncomfortable, or that he might just be gagging on the smell, or that we were somehow hillbillies in our chosen life out there with the animals.

Kind, forgiving: He's been through a lot in this family. We've experienced long, debilitating diseases, marriage collapses, rifts between parents and children, mental illness--all the crises that any family deals with; we're not special. However, he was always there with a soothing word, kind actions, a willingness to extend his hospitality, his car, his time, his long-distance phone bill. Whatever was going on in our family, good or bad, he was a part of it, and usually a valuable part of it, calming the troubled waters. He calmed me down, any number of times.

Intelligent and hilarious: He's really smart and I love to have long conversations with him about anything at all. He and I have always been comfortable talking with one another. In fact, over the decades, if I called to talk to my sister, but she wasn't available, he and I would just talk about stuff anyway. I really appreciated, and still do appreciate, his point of view. He is much calmer than I am, and when I'm pretty worked up over something---spiritual, political, personal, whatever---I often seek out his opinion because I can trust it. Now, about that hilarious...Dry wit--punster--self-deprecating--some of the funniest family moments have come via his reflection on some family kerfluffle or some observation of his that was completely off the wall. I hope he and my sister don't mind my sharing one:

They had been married for quite a few years, and I know that they really wanted to have a baby. I'm confident they'd been trying, but it just wasn't happening. My next older sister, who had been married for a couple of years, too, announced their pregnancy one night at a family supper. We were all thrilled for them--especially the sister who couldn't seem to make it happen. It was exciting! Our first Second Crop kids! Then, NB leaned over to his wife, my sister, and in a stage whisper (so we could all get in on the joke) said, "I've been talking to [other brother-in-law] and ---you'll never guess what he told me!! You won't believe what we need to do!!"  Or something like that. It was ridiculous and hilarious and, luckily we were all adults sitting around the table. I think I must have spit supper all over my plate. I'll never forget how silly it was, and how it prevented any uncomfortable, unspoken wondering of when, if ever, he and my oldest sister would be able to have their own child.

Unflappable and Spiritual: First, he has chronicled our family's life with his camera since the day he joined it. He never forgot, he always took the pictures. He joined a family of really domineering women, and just lived his own life anyway. If he didn't want to be in the center of us all jabbering, and arguing, and trying to boss each other around, he'd just go for a walk, or go to a quiet room and read a book. He didn't let our tendency to order around the men in our lives even give him a moment of heartburn. Or, at least if it did, he didn't embarrass anyone about it in public. I also truly appreciate his spiritual nature. He knows that God lives and that life is a gift from Him. He understands the concept of eternity and can have a calm discussion with people who are struggling with their faith. He is a good person to talk to in a time of sorrow and grief. When his dear, dear youngest son was stricken with cancer and died after an arduous period of swooping from despair to hope back down to the inevitable doom of a young person's death, this man was a rock. At least on the outside, to me. His statement to me, "He (the son) was such a great person, that I feel that if God would only let me have him in my life for this short time, that I would have said, "Yes," I'll do it, because I feel blessed to have known this kid."

There are so many other great things he's done for us. I got to drive his Mustang to school when they came to visit us one time. He and my sister took the four youngest brothers and sisters to Yellowstone Park one summer!  They rented a motor home, many years later, and took my parents for their first and only trip to that fabulous Yellowstone Park, too. There have been uncounted trips to the airport, to the farm, to someone's home in another state, to family reunions, to family disasters. He's just always there, helping, calming, laughing, taking photos.  

Anyway, it's his birthday today, and I don't know if I've ever told him any of this. So, it's high time he knew how I feel. Thanks for marrying my sister! I'm so glad you became part of our family all those years ago;
it's been a privilege!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interesting Evening in the Yard

It was a beautiful evening here in the Mojave! I took off my shoes and hobbled around on my teeny lawn in the backyard, admiring the tomatoes and the geraniums. The vegetables we planted the last week of February are happy and setting flowers for fruit. The one plant CoolGuy put in a pot has surged into growth. It gets the most sun. Our early planting didn't quite turn out as desired, because we've apparently positioned the garden box a little too much southward. If it were only three feet further north, all the tomatoes would look like this one:

It is two feet high and loaded with flowers. But, this one is in the sun from the moment Old Sol comes up, to the moment it sets, and the garden box won't have that until a few more weeks. The garden box doesn't get the full sun until about 10:30 A.M. till the end of day. Rats...

But all the patio flowers are blooming and lush, and the lawn is greening up, and the lantana that was cut back from its wintery twiggy-ness is getting leafed out nicely. This is a great time of year to live here. I read about the usual Springtime manic swings of weather in other climate zones, and I'm glad I'm not experiencing them.

As I was admiring the lovely lawn and flowers, I noticed something lying under the tree. It was little dead bat. Every night I see them swooping and flitting around in the fading twilight, scooping up bugs from the air. They're really fun to watch in the summer as I lay in the pool. But here was a little friend, dead on the grass.

 He's soft as a mouse and about the same size. One wing was extended, but the other was crushed up against his side. He has amazingly long claws on his feet, and two big curved claws on the folded tip of his wings.You could pin him to your shirt lapel.

 Can you see his huge ears? There doesn't seem to be any obvious injury to him. He hasn't been dead very long, because none of the "recyclers" (ants, worms, etc.) have started in on him. 

This gives you a great view of his ears and how large they are in comparison to the rest of his body. His whole little body is just an amazing work of flying art. We're going to put him out in the shed to decompose so we will have a bat skeleton to examine some day. 

(And in case you ever wondered if we were completely you have proof.)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day!

We celebrated with a lemon meringue! I love to eat this pie, but it is a lot of work to create one. My mom whipped out two of them, rather regularly, and frequently on an early Sunday morning. If a recipe called for eggs, then she baked it. She was the queen of pies. That ability has been passed on down to her granddaughter (our child) who was recently the Grand Champion Pie Maker at the Oregon state fair, and also received lesser accolades in that contest on multiple years.

I've eaten a store-bought lemon meringue pie, but it is nothing like the real, homemade thing, I assure you. Yes, you can have a pie to satisfy the cravings for the tart/sweet and creamy egg-white goodness. But, when you create it from ingredients in your own kitchen...well, for one thing, you make a big mess!

Here is the cleaned up debris field from my afternoon creation:

And those are just the dishes I prefer not to wash in the dishwasher.

I realize that not everyone is a pie snob. But for lemon meringue, I simply have to make it myself. I'm pretty accomplished and it doesn't take more than a couple of hours now. But when I first made my own version of this, in my own kitchen, it took a really long time. I'd watched my mom make pie all of my life. She wasn't the mom who would stand by and let you practice while she supervised. She was cooking for real every time she made food. There would be a large crowd gathering soon for the meal she was turning out, so I learned by watching closely. Then, when I first made gravy, or meringue, or yeast bread, I had a vivid memory of all the little tricks. But, I was on my own, in my own home. 

There are SO many steps to this pie. But, after you scrape off the zest, and squeeze the lemons, and cook up the pudding by stirring constantly, and add some of the hot filling to the egg yolks first before beating them in, and whip up the egg whites and drizzle in the sugar, and then carefully seal the meringue to the edges of the crust, and fluff up the center of it, and sprinkle on the coconut, and bake it, you get this wonderful confection. 

And after it cools a bit, there is nothing better! It is also ephemeral, so we gobble it down in just two days. Gluttony? Perhaps...but Pi Day comes but once a year, so we don't feel too badly about it.

Friday, March 06, 2015

We've Gathered the Data

Well, Thursday was an interesting day. And by "interesting" I mean seriously challenging. First, as I walked in the door to the office, the secretary pointed out that the music teacher was out today and there was no sub, so that meant that I didn't have anyone to take over my class during my so-called planning time. Of course, I'd be paid for that inconvenience, since my contract stipulates a 50 minute planning period each and every day. Okay, I could handle it. I said I'd just take my students to the music room and I'd play the piano and they could sing. We'd be fine.

Until I got to my classroom and realized that my piano music folder was at my house ever since I'd left the Christmas program rehearsal with it in my arms. Then, went to the doctor to find I had pneumonia, and then did not return to school until two weeks later when Christmas break was finished. So...we just played some fun games they knew.

But, then---as I got to my classroom, my other co-worker came to say that our third partner was also out today, without a sub. Hmmm...what to do? There were not enough "spare" people to put someone in her room every hour of the day. So, we made an executive decision and simply split her class in half and I took 16 extra students and my partner took the other 16. Whew! That made 46 in my room and 47 in her room.

And, amazingly enough, it went pretty well for most of the day. We switched the kids around a couple of times. I had them work with a partner and write a story to match a picture I gave them. She had people reading books and taking comprehension quizzes on the computer. Most of it was just dandy until about the last half hour of the day. Then, almost instantly, everyone was just OVER IT.

We still had to struggle our way through for 30 more minutes before dismissal. But you could just sense the discontent in the air. I tried changing it up every 10 minutes. We'd read with a partner, then I'd have them change partners. I tried reading them a story. I tried getting everyone up and leading them in a little stretching exercise. But, to no avail. We finally just stacked up all the chairs, and left the room a few minutes early to prevent complete insurrection. They'd just had enough of the crowded conditions and too much closeness with too many friends.

But, we survived! And now we have some firm data: no one should be in a classroom with more than 30 students, ever. Ever. And thirty is actually five too many to be an effective learning environment. Today felt so nice with only one class group at a time.

Oh, and after all that, I still had a three hour (paid...) science training I had to go attend. Really, by the time I dragged myself home at 8:00 P.M. it was time to stop, drop and snooze. I have rarely felt more completely used up than I did yesterday. How many weeks till Spring Break??

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Blue Haired Old Lady

It's Reading Week! We're doing crazy stunts all week to celebrate reading! Today was Twins Tuesday, so you were supposed to get someone to be your twin. We had lots of students be twins with their sibling. We had several excellent twins between friends, too.

My grade level (there are only three of us) decided we'd be Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Thing 3. It seemed easy, and it was!  There were a number of other Things at school today, including the Art teacher who fashioned herself a badge that said, Thing [and then had the infinity symbol] under it. Ha ha ha!

Here's a photo of us three fourth grade things:

But here is the weird thing. I got a lot of acclaim from my students for the hair! I had morning playground duty, because it is Tuesday, and a variety of my students approached me, and then looked startled at who it was under the blue wig. In fact, three boys (they're nine, mind you) were so taken by the look that they said, several times, "You look really nice like that." or "Wow, I like your hair like that." or "That is so neat, it looks super."  They were very weird about it, actually. 

So, here's the question: Should I cut my hair short and dye it blue?

Or just go with the gray, long-haired old lady look for a few more years?