Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seriously, Is A Padded Cell Too Much To Ask For? Is It?

I'm considering (actually I'm anticipating) having a nervous breakdown. It's still in the planning stages, of course, so I'd appreciate some advice. I've attempted to have a nervous breakdown a couple of times before but was unsuccessful. Nobody really noticed.

So, the thing is, I don't want to slowly lose my marbles, or begin some kind of long, awkward, slide into delirium....I want to totally go off the deep end and do it all at once. I don't want the possibility to exist for the episode to be misconstrued or misinterpreted as something exhaustion. I don't want someone thinking I'm merely "overwhelmed." I don't want someone to say that "mom seems irritable and, by the way, she needs a shower." I want people to walk in and go, "Holy crap! There's a crazy woman!! Totally insane!!" and then treat me accordingly.

You see, my life is a little too much for me at the moment. I took on planning a homeschooling conference and if that isn't proof I'm a lunatic, I don't know what is. Homeschoolers are interesting and lovely people, for the most part, but let's face it folks - we're dealing with a larger than average chunk-o-crazy in this sphere. So yeah, daily doses...right up until July 24, which is the date of the conference. In addition to that, I'm driving myself insane. Literally. As in DRIVING ALL THE DAMN TIME. I can't keep our schedules straight. I keep over-committing myself, which is a sure sign that I should just get it over and COMMIT MYSELF somewhere. This morning Joel slept through tae kwon do....we forgot....and I had made plans to do something when I was supposed to be taking him to guitar. We've missed birthday parties, doctors appointments, hair appointments...often all in one day. We have no clean socks. I can't get any chores / errands done....and on top of it.....I'd really like to finish one of these books I've begun writing. Just one. Even if it sucks.

The only way I can think of to accomplish finishing something (like a book) is to just suffer from a total breakdown. The kind that makes everyone go, "Wow. Maybe, since Mom is over there eating chalk and talking to the coffee pot, we should just fold our own socks. Maybe we'll just leave her alone for awhile."

Gosh darnit, I want people to walk on eggshells around me. Is that too much to ask? Is it? Truly, I'd like to curl up into a fetal position right now but apparently I have TORN MY ROTATOR CUFF doing something extreme like LAUNDRY and I can't quite manage the flexibility necessary for such a feat. Because I am THAT OLD. So I'm in pain at the moment. You know, I'd love to become addicted to prescription pain pills but that's unlikely because I'm not disciplined enough to stick to anything long enough or do it regularly enough to actually become addicted. I've never even finished a full round of antibiotics. You have to have a certain amount of consistency to have an addictive personality.

So, I'm accepting advice and suggestions as to how to pull this thing off.

I'm going to go practice pulling out large tufts of hair, now.
Bye bye.
Sardine Mama

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good:
Things are still massively green around here! Excuse me for being thrilled about this but I live in South Texas and sometimes? It is not green. Sometimes? We break 100 degrees for multiple days in a row. Sometimes? It is so brown and crunchy that everyone is on edge about grass fires and our cows start looking all bony and our pond dries up and my yard disappears and the garden shrivels and the kids are stuck in the house all day whining and complaining and you get the idea. This year? We have yet to get over 95. 94 is still pretty freaking hot, don't get me wrong. And the 100's are coming, believe me. But it won't be for as LONG as last summer. So yeah, GREEN IS GOOD.

The Bad:
I mentioned that I live in South Texas, right? We have lots of bugs here. Especially after a wet spring, which we had. I hate two specific kinds of bugs with a passion that borders on insanity. I hate katydids (they attack me regularly) and I hate scorpions. Scorpions are everywhere right now. They tend to hang out beneath things and above things. It is not unusual to have them crawling overhead on the ceiling...crawling out of air conditioning vents...ceiling fans....light fixtures. Everyone has a "did I tell you about the time the scorpion fell on me while I was....." story. But, after Saturday, I have The Story to Top All Stories. I was rudely awakened early that morning by a searing sting ON MY CHIN. Yes, folks, a scorpion fell from the ceiling (I'm assuming) and landed on me and apparently proceeded toward what I can only imagine was my gaping mouth. When I felt the sing, I realized immediately what had stung me (even though I've never been stung before) and began doing the logical thing, which was to throw the covers off and jump up on my knees screaming, "Get it off me get it off me get it off me...." Jeff sat up drowsily, rubbed his eyes, yawned, stared at me and then finally said, "Well, where is it?" And I answered "IN MY HAIR!!!" and began shaking my head furiously. Of course, it wasn't in my hair, that is just a minor issue of mine, being convinced there are scorpions or katydids in my hair (there have been katydids in my hair, by the way). Actually, it was on my thigh. Where it stung me again. The stinging wasn't even the worst part. It truly is the gross-out factor. Scorpions are ugly. Since I am massively allergic to bees and wasps, and since my epi-pen was expired, I took several bennies and went back to sleep. I woke up to a numb tongue and tingly lips. That lasted almost 48 hours.

I just mentioned the scorpion, right?

There is a rumor, reported to me by Hannah, who likes to look out for me in my old age.....that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are working on a new album. I have been unable to completely substantiate this rumor, however, I have also seen hints of it on the Internet.

Johnny Frusciante is supposedly not playing on the album and he is pretty much the best guitarist ever. Ever.

No offense to Anthony Kiedis, who has an amazing way of manipulating that awesome voice of his....but there are definitely prettier boys fronting bands out there. Sorry. I feel shallow. Luckily, I usually just listen - don't watch. Except for the time that Jeff took me to see them in concert for our anniversary...which was the best anniversary ever. And Anthony was pretty far away. I was mostly offended by his Lakers t-shirt - which he had the cajones to wear in front of a Spurs crowd. Luckily, Spurs fans do not tend to get massively violent (unlike Lakers fans) so he was briefly booed but that was it. He flipped off the crowd and started singing. So he and the crowd made nice after that and it was an awesome show. THE BEST. Actually.

Have you noticed that it has been awhile since my last blog entry? That is because I am cheating on you and writing Other Stuff. This makes me happy.

Have you noticed that it has been awhile since my last blog entry? That is because I am cheating on you and writing Other Stuff. This makes me feel disconnected, distracted, disoriented, and out of control. It also makes my little people edgy and irritable and needy. It makes the medium to bigger-sized people do things like think I'm not aware of them (I'm not) and then they disappear into their rooms playing videogames or facebooking and not doing Basically Anything Else They Need To Be Doing.

This results in piles of laundry, piles of dishes, and empty cupboards.

*Announcement* I have a 41st Follower. It is Sarah. She is Good in General, but also a good singer/songwriter. If you click on her link and go down her page to her video clips, you can hear My Favorite Song of All Times, recorded right there in her messy bedroom, called For You. You can even buy it. That would also qualify as GOOD. Also - more good stuff - she just graduated from high school. WOOT!

We missed her graduation party 'cause we were driving Ellie from Dallas back to San Marcos. Last weekend we drove Ellie to Houston. This weekend we are going to Houston to pick her up. Lots of carbon belching going on.

If you could see Jasper right now, you'd get the ugly. He's gnawing on watermelon in a really unattractive fashion, complete with disturbing noises. Also, he's talking with his mouth full. And spitting seeds in my general direction.

This is really all I have time for at the moment. Although there is lots more good, bad, and ugly business going on around here....I just don't have the time to fill you in on all of it. What is good, bad, and ugly in your neck of the woods?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Learning to Walk With Fruit

First of all....somebody finally got up the courage to become my 40th follower! Woot! Thank you 40th Follower.
I don't know why I enjoy blogging so much. I used to write a newspaper column with thousands of readers. They didn't fire me. I quit. I don't know why. It was a popular column. But it felt somewhat restricted and formulaic and it just lost its oomph after a few years. Now? I write for YOU, my 40 followers. And actually, I'm sure that only some of you still check on me. In fact, according to my site meter, I get a massive 30 or so hits per day. And let's face it, most of those are people who are, for reasons I cannot fathom, trying to find out whether or not they should feed sardines to their babies. Occasionally one of them stays on the page for a full 13 seconds. So if you're reading this, you are part of a small and elite group of folks. Congrats!

Now onto Official Sardine Business.

Ellie has spent most of the week at the International Piano Festival at Texas State University. She is one of only 24 kids invited to attend. The other kids have come from all over the place...Chile and China among the most exotic. She's had a thrilling time and enjoyed lessons with Julian Martin of Juilliard, and Boris Slutsky of Peabody Conservatory. Groovy. Then I picked her up on Wednesday night and drove her to Arlington (outside of Dallas) to compete in the TMTA competition. This is the best of the best of Texas - and Texas is a big state with a lot of pianists. There were close to 50 kids in the semi-finals, and then 10 in the finals. She placed 3rd and was ecstatic. She's never placed above Honorable Mention at this competition. She is, at the moment, the best non-Asian in Texas :).
And here she is with her teacher, Ken. She adores this guy. In fact, if it weren't for him I seriously doubt she would still be playing the piano. She's been lucky to have some truly inspiring and loving guides in her life....more than most people, I think. Ken is one of them.

After the competition, I drove her little rear back to Texas State so she could finish out the piano festival. She played in a community concert today. So yesterday was a LOOOOONG day of sitting, waiting, and driving for me.

I love spending time with Ellie. After a day of piano music we hopped in the car and plugged in her Ipod and enjoyed anything and everything from Jimmie Hendrix to Vampire Weekend. She spent the hours in the car reading (The Red Tent), talking to me (about weird stuff), and texting her boyfriend (I can call him that now because they officially "came out" on Facebook. He's a sweetie she's known most of her life. You know his mom as Grilled Cheese Chick.)

So I'm feeling kind of weepy. Michi recently gave me a book by Sue Monk Kidd. This isn't the first time she's shared a Sue Monk Kidd book with me. (Speaking of guides, she seems to be one of mine, at times. "She" being Michi. But come to think of it, Sue Monk Kidd seems to be, as well.)

A few years ago Michi and I read Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It helped steer the spiritual direction of my life and sealed a new friendship, as well. That book touched me so much. It touched me personally, but it also touched my relationship with Ellie. It was shortly after reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter that Michi and I planned our daughters' Rite of Passage, using the book as a loose guide to some of the rituals and spiritual expressions. Here's Michi giving some womanly wisdom to the girls inside the sacred shrine.

It has been about three years since that time, and the book has not lost any of its magic for me. But for some reason, when Michi handed me a present in the form of Traveling with Pomegranates....A Mother Daughter Story, I didn't want to read it. I didn't think I could bear it. Not now. Now while I'm facing my last year with Ellie. My last year before she leaves our home to start her own life somewhere else. I've been carrying this around with me recently. The Upcoming Leaving. People tell me not to worry about it yet. "You've got an entire year!" they say. "You're going to ruin the time you have left!" they say. But they're wrong.

First of all, an entire year? Is but a moment compared to the last 18. (She'll be 18 in August.) A moment. And as for ruining the time we have left, I don't agree. My sensitivity to her leaving is making me more aware of the preciousness of this time. I kind of operate that way. I'm "aware" I guess. So yes, the sweetness is constantly tempered with a little sadness. But the moments are also being all of their sweetness and sadness. And I think I prefer that to the self-induced non-awareness that I probably couldn't muster, anyway.

But this book? I felt it would be too much. I felt I should wait to read it. Maybe until after she'd actually left. But then I found myself sitting at a piano competition with well....nothing to read. Except for this book that had somehow crawled into my computer bag. So I opened it. And was immediately lost in the mirror of Sue Monk Kidd. I call her a mirror because that is what she seems to be. She takes everything inside me, the things I keep to myself (yes, I do actually keep some things to myself) and gives them back in poetic prose. She shines the light on the parts of me that tend to hover in the background, escaping every now and then in an unexplainable urge to weep, or in that little heaviness that lingers in my chest. She says it, and then it doesn't seem so dark as much as it seems suddenly beautiful. And hopeful.

It turns out that this book isn't merely a mother daughter story. That part is there, alright. But the part that is touching me is the message of letting go. Not just of my daughter (because I do need to do that) but of a younger part of myself. This book is about Sue Monk Kidd's journey to meet the Old Woman inside her. It is about her quest to be something she didn't have the courage to try and be (a novelist) at an age (nearing 50) that she no longer felt connected to herself, while coming to terms with the end of a relationship that defined her (one between mother and young child), and searching for a renewed mystery in a spiritual faith she was still forming outside the strictures of patriarchal dogma (she decides to focus on Mary). It is My Story. Just like Dance of the Dissident Daughter had been my story a few short years ago. How did Michi know it was just what I needed?

Walking With Pomegranates uses the Demeter and Persephone myth as a backdrop. If you're familiar with Greek Mythology (I am Totally Familiar with it, thanks to my boys) - then you know that Demeter is Persephone's mother. And Persephone gets kidnapped by that nasty Bad Boy known as Hades. Demeter is grief-stricken and her despair is unleashed upon the earth through barrenness (she is the goddess of the harvest). Finally she discovers that Persephone is being held by Hades and she demands her back. Hades concedes, but first he tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds. This causes her to have to go back to Hades for 3 months every year (which causes Demeter to mourn with the result being winter on the earth) and returning to her mother in spring, when the earth rejoices in the reunion with rebirth. Beautiful, isn't it? Always one of my favorites.

Sue writes:

"I've had intimations of this feeling of loss before, but it was a shadow passing in the peripheries, then gone. After Ann left home, I would wander into her room and catch the scent of dried prom corsages in the closet, or turn over an old photograph of our beagles and find myself staring at her handwriting - Caesar and Brutus 1990 - or come upon her poem "Ode to a Teddy Bear," or open a cookbook to her perfected horse head sketch in the margin, and I would feel it, the momentary eclipse."

This touched me deeply. Because I had spent the previous few days, while Ellie was at Texas State, doing something extremely bizarre. I took pictures of her room. And cried. I took pictures of the parts of her sacred space that captured her essence. She has such a Beautiful Essence. Her bulletin board - all the pins she'd collected during her more dramatic early teens...the picture of Bob Dylan. We teased her that she had a crush on the "young" Bob Dylan. But then one night we watched a Dylan documentary and there he was - all wrinkly-faced and bushy-browed - blowing cigarette smoke out of his nose and looking really and truly Not Very Attractive as an older man and I glanced at my daughter and saw that she was staring at the screen with pure rapture. "He's such a poet," she said. And I was ashamed of myself for noticing the wrinkles when she'd seen nothing but beauty.

I love the many gifts that are sprinkled about her room. So many thoughtful and unique things have been given to her over the years. Or made for her. People like to give Ellie things. They see something and go, "That's so Ellie!" and then they show up with it. Her friend Galen has made her a lamp and a little Asian sand garden. Hannah bought her a picture at an art show. Hannah is getting married next month. Her mom must be having her own harvest of pomegranates.
Who would Ellie be without her favorite Frida print?

Juliana gives her little pots...books...Sarah gave her a little goddess of music...something she squeezed into her hand before her debut with the San Antonio Symphony. She has the article written about her in the newspaper hanging on her wall. I made her hang it. She is uncomfortable with a lot of praise and attention. She is a performing unusual but lovely combination.

Gillian, a young spiritual pilgrim we happened across (she was walking from Canada to she resides in India) stayed with us to rest for a few days. She left this on Ellie's bedroom door.

The books! I looked through them all. They are all intimate parts of her - they are like a timeline of her life. This is All. Her defining book at the age of 15.

She wrote some of the passages out on the pot of a plant I'd been slowly killing. She adopted the plant, proclaiming that it was emotionally needy. It has done quite well ever since.

This is All led her on to Plath and Woolf and authors I'd never heard of. I shared Walt Whitman and Thoreau, my personal favorites. She adopted them as hers. I was happy she'd approved. They mean so much to me. She keeps a version of Walden on her desk. It is old and ratty. It was mine in high school. "Let me get you another copy," I said. "No!" she'd replied. "I like this one. It has all of your hi-lighted passages. And you wrote Dad's name in the margins." I did? Yes, I did.The books took the most out of me last week. I kept thinking, "oh my, I remember when she was reading this...." and then a very specific picture would pop up in my mind.....her hair, her clothes, her language of that week....or month. I loved them all - all the weeks and months and the many different Ellies. I saw her giggling on the couch with Sarah, Hannah, and Juliana - all armed with electric guitars. I saw her marching in DC - so excited and proud and brimming with purpose to spread the word about the genocide in Darfur. I saw her sitting poised and professional (as professional as one can be with blue hair) while being interviewed by a morning talk show about her activism - like this was something she did every day. Holding a baby brother or sister, sitting in a tree...or on the beach...or in the middle of the desert. Or at the piano. Always at the piano. The piano that will be very quiet in another year. How will I stand it the deafening silence of the thing?

Traveling with Pomegranates is narrated via mother daughter journals during a trip to Greece. Sue writes, while sitting at the ruins of Elusis...the temple of Demeter and the supposed site where Persephone returned from the Underworld for the mother daughter reunion,

"Our aloneness in the ruins engulfs me. Quietness rises. the ringing of a church bell. Wind slapping the chain on a distant flagpole. What is the conversation that needs to go on inside of a woman at this juncture in her life? Is it really the one about relinquishment, grief, and return? I look around, and for a moment I think I will forget all of this. Just be a tourist again. But sitting in the compost of this demised world, I know I'm here to enter that very conversation. To face irrevocable truths and grieve a little...or perhaps a lot. then start to let go. Something is over."

So I'm getting older. I have a story to write. And I have recently realized that it isn't the one I've been writing. And this has depressed me a little during a time where I was already being depressed a little. So I have a new story to work on. Both literally and figuratively. I'm a new "old woman" and I'm not sure what that means. I'm letting go of my firstborn, a process that is very counter intuitive, as I've spent the past 18 years clinging desperately. And I'm doing weird things, like taking pictures of books and pots in my kid's room. What can I say? I've never travelled with pomegranates, before. It is a virgin journey for me. More weirdness to come, I'm sure.
And you, my 40 Followers, will continue to find it all right here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Big Impact

So last night I watched No Impact Man...The Documentary. I remember when he was doing his thing. I saw him on television and I read about him in a couple of magazines. I checked out his blog. Then I forgot about him, until he showed up on my Netflix queue. And he is not even in the running for Weird Things That Show Up In My Netflix Queue.

I guess I was stunned to discover his starting point. And especially his wife's starting point. I mean, I don't know when I became environmentally conscious - but it was way before 40, you know what I mean? I was also a little tickled that a lot of the things we do were considered drastic. I don't feel drastic at all. (I almost said I feel rather mainstream - but I guess that would be a stretch in several areas of my life.)

I don't do all that I could or should. I am a creature of convenience in many ways. But I've been doing the small things for years and years and years. And the bigger things that blew away the friends of the No Impact Family? Well, we know lots of people who do those things. I guess we run in the crunchier circles.

So I'm thinking about what we do that I feel really good about, and what we don't (and I feel yucky or helpless about).

*18 years ago, while pregnant for the first time with Intensely Difficult Needy Child Number One....I decided to go with cloth diapering. Now this was pre-Internet, folks. I went from store to store to store trying to find cloth diapers. Some stores didn't know what they were At All. I ended up with the woven, thin diapers that Jeff's mom showed me how to fold. Everywhere I went people asked me why my baby's bottom was so big :). She was our Big Bottomed Girl....and she made our rocking world go 'round.

Even then, I noticed something rather strange. It seemed that some people would become angry about my choice to cloth diaper. ANGRY. I remember being accosted in the church bathroom (yes - we used to go to church - it was part of the good parenting thing for me, and unlike cloth diapering - it was one that I decided I could do without) by another mom who went on and on and on (spittle flying and the whole bit) about my cloth diapering and how I was wasting water. I was just Stunned. That she cared. At all. Also? She was wrong. Anyway, where was the anger coming from?

People were like, "How do you wash them?" and they looked at me as if they were awaiting the explanation of the dissection of a pig's brain. Sometimes I would say that I took them outside to the stream behind our house and beat them on the rocks for hours and hours and they BELIEVED ME. But usually? I said, "Well, I put them in the washing machine and push the button. When they're done I put them in the dryer and push the button. It is unbelievably exhausting." And they BELIEVED ME.

I used cloth diapers with all the kids - and cloth diapers certainly got better over the years, believe me. They are now kind of trendy. If you want to check out some good ones, go to my friend's online store Go Baby Go. I inspired her to be AP with the baby-wearing and cloth-diapering (I didn't know I was her inspiration at the time) and now she is like the Lady Gaga of the Diaper World.

*Recycling. We do it. When we lived in the city many moons ago - it didn't have curbside recycling. It was the tenth largest city in the US - without curbside recycling. So I paid this somewhat cranky fellow to come by my house and pick up my recycling, which I had to sort. He didn't take everything - there were certain plastics he didn't take, etc. - and so I tried not to buy products that came in that plastic. We had a compost pile in the backyard. We ate very little meat, tried to keep it to once a week (this was mostly for health reasons - when the entire world was shouting that Meat = Bad). Now? I live on a farm without any trash pickup, whatsoever. We rent a dumpster with another family. There is no curbside recycling. But we recycle. Jeff drives it into the city's recycling center when he is going that way. We recycle a TON and that indicates to me that we purchase too many things in packages. We compost all food - not just the stuff that is good for the garden. Everything goes be hauled off by little things like ants and big things like coyotes....or to be composted by worms. We throw away very little and I feel pretty good about that. It takes our family of 7 about two weeks to fill up a large garbage can. But I really want to work on the packaging part - I am afraid to investigate how much of my "recycling" still ends up in a landfill.

*All Natural Cleaning Products. Yeah, been doing that forever, too. What I didn't make, I used to buy by the caseload because you couldn't find any of that stuff in the store a few years ago. There are certain things I won't give up, though. I'm quite certain that the Mr. Clean Erasers are made of some kind of dreadful poison - but GOD I LOVE THEM. Also? The caustic oven cleaner? Love that, too. It makes my stove top shiny. And? The Cascade. I've tried all the natural dishwasher detergents and they suck. If you've got any to suggest, I'm happy to try, again. But mostly, cleaning day smells like vinegar in our house. And I'm pretty sure I could put my soy toilet bowl cleaner on a spinach salad and it would be quite tasty.

*Tasty - that brings me to food. I am thrilled with the organic choices we have now. And we have a garden but I can't imagine using it to live off of. I have the book, Gardening When it Counts, which is kind of a doomsday book about how we'll all need to grow our own food once the New World Order has taken over, and it just seemed so complicated and difficult. I mean, what would it take to be completely self-sustaining?

I am not a good gardener. I tend to get busy and let weeds take over. We have a lot of bugs here in Texas - and they tend to get the better of me, too. Right now we've got rows and rows of tomatoes and something is eating the leaves for sure, and then the grackles swoop in for the kill once the tomatoes begin to ripen. I have lovely rows of strawberry plants but they're not producing berries. I was told I waited too late to plant them. I have some eggplants hanging in there, and the peppers are growing like crazy. Corn is coming next, and we usually have pretty good luck with it. We have yellow squash growing on our watermelon plants (the boys insist this is the case - they refuse to entertain the thought that they might have actually planted squash instead of watermelon) and that is pretty easy to maintain. But could we live on it? No way. And when it gets really hot later, I won't be able to afford to keep watering it.

We raise our own meat and pretty much don't eat meat that isn't ours. And we eat our own very sparingly. We raise chickens and they lay eggs. I've got turkeys arriving any day now. But the apples on my counter didn't come from anywhere near here, nor did the bananas. Or the coffee. The organic chips in my pantry are made with all sorts of processed flours and cornmeal. I don't do a lot of processed foods, but I do some. It seems to be unavoidable. I don't bake my own bread. I'm trying to avoid soybeans after watching Food Inc, but soy is in things you wouldn't expect. Like everything. So I've got a long way to go with food, and buying it locally and seasonally.

Now Jeff's family used to live on this farm and I think they were pretty self-sufficient. They used irrigation pipes to water their huge garden (from a well) and his mom canned and canned and put away and froze yada yada yada. Jeff says they never bought produce at the store. When they no longer had a milk cow they purchased fresh milk from the farmer next door. They raised all their own meat. And it was probably a full time job for the entire family - but especially for his mom. My style of parenting is different - my kids aren't in school and they have lots of interests/activities....the older they get the more they do....and I don't have time to homestead. And I don't think I'd be all that good at it, if I tried.

*Paper usage. I'm a hypocrite. We don't use paper napkins or paper towels - haven't for 24 years. But we use a ton of paper, in general. The kids scribble on it. I haven't made the calls necessary to stop my junk mail. The cloth napkins freak people out. They're afraid to use them, even though they are frayed and stained, for the most part. And again with the, "You WASH them?" business. Into the washing machine, push the button. No biggie. We use toilet paper. Horrible, rough toilet paper made from recycled paper products. We know families who go paperless in the bathroom and we considered doing it, ourselves. I'm not grossed out by it, just never got around to sewing the little cloths that would be necessary to fully activate the system.

*Personal Products. El and I use very little makeup. We use natural soaps. We use almond oil for moisturizing, and olive oil and sugar for exfoliating. We use natural deodorants. We're investigating all-natural and waste-free "feminine protection products." I love that term, by the way. Feminine Protection. I imagine Wonder Woman with her Madonna Cone Breasts holding her gnarly whip in one hand and a tampon in the other. Anyway, we know families who don't use shampoo and we tried it for a summer. Now, after 5 kids honestly don't have much vanity left, but I do like my hair. I usually straighten the curls out and it is really thick and luxurious if I do say so myself. When I was going without shampoo and conditioner, combing it out was a total pain in the neck and so I wore it curly. I briefly considered dreadlocks but Ellie literally lost all the color in her face when I talked about it. I did the baking soda and vinegar and totally naturally curly thing for several months. When I hugged Jeff he was say in a rough, sexy voice, "Mmmm....coleslaw." Then one day I was tempted by a tiny little hotel-sized bottle of conditioner and I fell off the wagon and have remained in the gutter ever since. But still, compared to most people, we have very little in the way of cosmetics and lotions and soaps, etc.

*Plastic Bags - a big No-No to us!! I've been using canvas bags forever. In fact, there were times that store managers were called to the register because the checker wasn't sure the canvas bags were ALLOWED. A few years ago I wrote an article about plastic bag usage that appeared in a local newspaper and people got all ugly with it - like I was a Communist or Socialist or Something. But since then? Man oh man but more and more people here are using reusable bags!! I am no longer an oddity.

Do I sound self-righteous? It is because self-righteousness is an instrument used to cover up inadequacies of enormous proportions. At least I recognize that. See how I'm being self-righteous again? We do a lot but we don't do enough. Not nearly enough. And I have two really big sins I commit, and am not sure how to avoid them. So - it has been a really long time since my last confession but here it is: Gas and Air conditioning. My biggest sins.

We live in the country. We are nine miles from the nearest small town and grocery store. We are 30 miles from the nearest large city. We reproduced ourselves out of a mini-van and into a full-sized commercial vehicle bus-type thing. And I drive it. A lot. I alone am responsible for the downsizing of the polar icecaps. Right now, I could really use a smaller vehicle. I used to drive around with 5 kids (plus a friend or 2) in my van, but now it is usually just me and 2 or 3 kids. But our big van is totally paid for and I can't bring myself to run out and buy a smaller one.

I have a couple of rather passionate kids. And their passions cannot be fulfilled close to home. Ellie lives/eats/breathes piano. We started out with lessons close to home, but she quickly needed more advanced instruction. Her lessons are a full hour away - once/week. In fact, today I'm driving her a few hours away to participate in a music festival. On Wednesday night I pick her up and drive her into Dallas (6 hours away) for a competition. Drive. Drive. Drive. This is her life path, her career choice, her current reason for being. So it is necessary to make the drive.

Camille is a dancer. Again - she started off close to home but then needed and wanted more advanced instruction. The good news is that her Thursday lesson coincides with her sister's piano lesson and they are about a block apart! The bad news is that she also goes on Mondays. And as she progresses (if she sticks with it) we are eventually looking at 4 times / week. People say, "Just make her quit!" But I can't do that. I would do that if dance were a casual thing for her. But it isn't. She lives for the next lesson, she never balks at having to drop whatever/whoever she's playing with in order to get ready for the hour long drive, she reads ballet books and watches ballet videos in her spare time and has done so since she was about 3. This is not an externally originating thing - it is something that is coming from inside her. So into the city we go....guzzling gas and emitting carbon the whole way. So the oil spill in the gulf? I claim my share of responsibility for that.

My other big sin is air conditioning. We have friends who go without. Jeff's family went without his entire childhood. But I cannot. I'm not going to give a lot of reasons for this or try to make it sound as if it is justifiable. It really isn't justifiable. But I cannot / will not shut off the air conditioning. Every time the compressor kicks in I have pangs of guilt. But I'm not turning it off.

So it seems that I make sacrifices when they aren't really sacrifices, doesn't it? And our world suffers for it. I'm a work in progress, that's for sure. I'm waiting for technology to save me. I'm waiting for a clean and affordable method to crop up that will allow me to drive all over the place without belching carbon. I'm waiting for the solar panels and wind generators that could power my air conditioner to become viable and affordable options. In the meantime? I tell myself that I'm doing more than the "average person." So thank you, Average Person, for allowing me to continue fooling myself. What would I do without you?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What an Odyssey!! Even Homer Couldn't Have Written a Post Like This!

It was a true Odyssey. And almost as long as Homer's. As is this blog post. But don't let that scare you. It's worth it.

We had a long journey to a faraway place. We had sagas on the return trip. We had competition and fierce battles. We met people from exotic places. We were heroes on more than one occasion. It was a fantastic adventure of enormous proportions. So read on because I'm about to rock the blog with the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals Post of the Century.

At the Opening Ceremonies they showed the following video on the big megascreen thing in the arena. It gives you a feel for it - but it doesn't accurately cover the scope and magnitude of the thing, you know? I mean, there are over 800 teams from all over the planet. Some of my team's feet are in the video - along with their suitcases. When we pulled in front of our dorm in our painted up van there was a video guy filming us - so the painted tan van is ours. He didn't ask us to form a pyramid in our matching shirts while singing or chanting some little clever thing about Texas.

A) No matching shirts for my team. They are anti-matching shirts kinds of kids. They were forced to wear their matching shirts at the opening and closing ceremonies and several of them actually took along different shirts to change into when the ceremonies were over. See what I have to deal with?

B) They are not the kind of kids to spontaneously build a pyramid and begin chanting. With the exception of one or two, they really prefer not to attract attention to themselves. Here's the video:

We set sail to a rocky start - we were over an hour behind schedule before we even left. The van had wires running all through it and the kids were plugged into the Collective. We are Borg. Seriously. Totally assimilated. Resistance is futile. Sorry for this, by the way. Most Odyssey people are total dorks and we are not exceptions.)

We hooked up with our other carload in San Marcos, TX - where we had our final fix of breakfast tacos before heading to Arkansas, where we would spend the first night.

"Are we out of Texas yet?" became the mantra from the back seats.

"NO," became the mantra from the front seat.

Then FINALLY!! Arkansas!! We stopped at a visitor's center for a bathroom break and I called Jeff to tell him we were in Arkansas. Ellie wandered in and I gave her an Arkansas sticker. Woot! She walked around the center, went to the bathroom, and got back in the car with her sticker (she was in the "other" car). Then Jeff calls me laughing and says that he had called Ellie to congratulate her on making it into Arkansas and she'd said, "What? We're in Arkansas? Nobody tells me anything." And seriously, folks....she's our smart one.

When they tired of movies they entertained themselves with Finger Puppet Plays made from duct tape (and fingers). This particular cast was from The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of Devin. Devin likes duct tape. By the end of the week he had rigged up his cowboy hat with duct tape so that it held a spotlight, his sunglasses, his headphones, and other stuff.

Lots of interesting truckstop bathroom breaks allowed us to cross off "Health" and "Sex Ed" from our homeschooling mamas' List of Awkward Subjects. Just kidding. None of us have such a list. We were slaphappy drunk with exhaustion from driving in a van with teenagers for endless hours and expressed this state of being by taking pictures of bathroom vending machines. We thought it was hilarious at the time. Because we were very, very, very exhausted. Not because it was actually hilarious.

We stopped at a hotel for the night and then back into the car not-as-early-as-we-should-have the next morning. We were feeling much more productive on that second day because while we had managed to only cross one state line on the previous day, on the second day we were whipping through the states, although I'm not sure that anyone told Ellie. Anyway - we were tooling along through Indiana when I heard a funny noise and yes, we had a flat on the trailer. The trailer with no spare. So that all took some time and I won't bore you with the details. Luckily, we had a 17-year-old boy belonging to Grilled Cheese Chick with us.

We were a tad concerned because we had to make it to Michigan State University by midnight to register and get into the dorms. When we were still about 3 hours or so away from MSU it became obvious we weren't going to make it. So we stopped for the night - thereby turning our two day trip into a three day trip. No problemo. Indoor pool with a slide - score! By now? My feet were swollen from all the hours in the car.

The next morning we arrived at the International Center at MSU and went through an extremely smooth registration process where I felt totally like a Big Girl because I had brought all the correct paperwork!! Now - let me just say that I am a good Odyssey coach 'cause I am pretty good with the teens. I like them and they like me. But I am not so good with the paperwork business and all that. So I was proud of myself for arriving with both all the teens and all the paperwork (and there is a lot of it). Speaking of paperwork - the kids were responsible for some, too. One form they must fill out is called the Outside Assistance form. If you've received any outside assistance you have to report it on the form. Otherwise, you are instructed to write "none" and sign it. My team wrote "NUN!!" and then signed their names upside down and backwards. I think they were trying to be funny but I'm not entirely certain. Because they is home-teached, after all.

We skipped lunch at the International Center because we wanted to get checked into the dorms and figured we'd make lunch at the cafeteria. Check-in at the dorms was a fiasco. Also? Dorms = Hot As Hell. I sent the kids to the cafeteria while my Number One (Wendy) and I took care of the fiasco with the check-in. Then we got all the stuff into the dorms and headed to the coaches' meeting at the other end of the campus. Go ahead, ask me how my feet were feeling.....or not.

The coaches' meeting was in a hot auditorium full of hot and tired people who had just arrived from all over the globe and a group of people on stage who were really excited about telling us a bunch of stuff we already knew. We needn't have attended. When it was all over and they asked if anyone had any questions most people just groaned but then the members of the audience who like to hear themselves talk, took turns raising their hands and standing up and repeating everything they had just heard to make sure that we all knew they had heard it.

So after Number One and I left the sauna known as the coaches' meeting, we walked back to the dorms because we were unable to figure out the shuttle bus schedule. We didn't get lunch but we managed to land ourselves in the hot and un-air conditioned cafeteria for dinner. Then we headed to the Opening Ceremonies!!

The Opening Ceremonies are my favorite part of World Finals. The arena is FULL of kids, music, videos, and EXCITEMENT. And all the energy is positively charged with happiness!! It is really hard to imagine it if you haven't seen it. The International Teams come out in a procession to the face the cheering US crowd. I don't know why, but I always cry during this part. Every country gets announced and comes out with their flags and costumes waving to the US kids who are all cheering and waving back and it is just extremely awesome. When Mexico came out the crowd went NUTS. I don't know why. I don't remember this happening in the past - but literally, the place exploded in love for these Mexican kids and they totally felt it. I must admit that a kid from Houston who was sitting behind us briefly booed when Russia came out - don't know why - but somebody shut him up. Dude - the Cold War's Over. Whatever. He could probably see Russia from his house.

This is my fifteen year old baby boy - excited and exhausted at his first World Finals Opening Ceremony. He didn't boo anybody.

The arena is huge and the International Teams get the place of honor on the floor - the rest of us fill the arena's bleachers.
The highlight of the evening for me was the Creativity Award given to Willard Wigan, a fabulous artist from England. He'd probably never even heard of Odyssey of the Mind and here he was getting this award from a cheering arena full of happy kids who were there to celebrate one thing and one thing only - CREATIVITY. Odyssey of the Mind represents the total opposite of what so many of our kids hear every day.....they are finally told the thing all humans really long to hear, "There is no right answer! Go for it." In Odyssey the kids who get rewarded are the kids who don't think like everyone else - the kids who look for the "out there" solutions - the kids who don't color within the lines. Willard was totally overwhelmed. He accepted his award and choked up. He just kept looking up at all of the kids and the lights and the love and finally managed to say, "thank you." Then he said that this award meant as much to him as the one he'd received from the Queen of England. Finally, all the kids in the arena held hands and recited the Odyssey Pledge, ending with "We are the Odyssey of the Mind!!" and finally....."LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!" And now I'm tearing up again just thinking about it. Dang.

I do feel the need to tell you that I have the relaxed team. None of them were screaming or crying and they were probably faking the recitation of the pledge. But inside? They were hysterical.

The next morning we headed back to the arena to unload our props. We had to get in line to back up the trailer in a really long tunnel-thing. I made Number One do it. "Make it so," I said. She said, "Aye Captain." Then she backed up about 10 feet before some dude from Arkansas took pity on us and offered to take over. We let him.

The kids worked on repairing some of their stuff and perfecting their front-end loader thing known as the scoop. Their vehicle drew a lot of attention. It wasn't as fancy as some of the other things we saw - but it was different. They felt pretty good. Then we went back to the dorm to meet our Buddy Team from Singapore.

Our Buddy Team was wonderful! We took them outside and gave them gifts - T-shirts, pins, and cascarones. Cascarones are confetti eggs - not to be confused with cajones, which are testicles. I only bring this up because one time an out-of-state friend of a friend got the two terms confused at Fiesta and wandered around all night long trying to buy cajones at the various booths, much to the delight of basically Everyone Else at Fiesta.

Anyway - the Singapore boys curiously picked up their cascarones and my team was ready to demonstrate their usage and blasted them with eggs which could have been seen as an act of aggression but luckily, was not. The Singapore boys picked up on the Mexican tradition pretty quickly and it was soon confetti all the way around. Then we ate dinner with them.

They were dumbfounded by the entire homeschooling thing. "You mean you don't go to school AT ALL???" they kept asking.

It turns out that this group of boys wakes up at 3:00 a.m. in order to work on their Odyssey stuff every morning at school. Joel thought this over for awhile and then asked, "So is that the 3 o'clock that is in the middle of the night or the middle of the afternoon?" And one of the boys said it was the 3 o'clock that comes very early in the morning and then Joel seemed to decide that this did not compute and went back to eating his ice cream. "What time do you get up?" the Singapore boy asked Joel. Joel answered that he generally liked to get up in time for Odyssey. Then he added, "That's at 1 o'clock. The afternoon 1 o'clock." The Singapore boys thought this was hysterical. "Oh man!" they said. "We wish we were homeschooled!"

Our buddy team mostly worked the entire time they were there. A lot of the international teams are like that. My team? Not so much. There is so much to do at World Finals - unfortunately it is extremely crowded. One of the things my team did to blow off steam was larp. I don't know if larping is a "real" thing or if it is a made-up thing - but it is Austen's thing. This is Austen. He is a larping god. And he knows it.
Austen likes to make foam weapons and shields. Then he larps.

There are lots of rules to larping - if you get hit on a leg you lose the leg and have to stand on the other one. You can also lose an arm, and a head hit is a "kill." Larping is noisy, too. Anyway, Austen introduced the Singapore team to larping and they liked the larping. Texas versus Singapore - kids hopping around hysterically on one foot with one arm behind their backs - other kids running to get the weapons off of the "dead bodies" littering the lawn. What can I say? We were supposed to share some culture. So we cracked eggs on their heads and hit them with foam swords. They liked it. This picture was right before I made them take it outside, where they drew a much larger crowd but had less of a chance of injuring an elderly such as myself who might have been exiting the elevators. Our Buddy team placed 4th in their problem category, which was the Performance Problem. They were awesome awesome awesome. Here they are!

I'm very proud of our team. It consisted of 5 kids who had never been to the World Tournament and 2 who had. The 5 were just happy to get there - didn't really understand the level of competition they'd face and weren't, for the most part, concerned with how they'd place. The other 2 did know what they were up against and had both been part of a previous team that had worked like hell trying to place at the World Tournament, only to come in 10th (which is still freakingly awesomely good). So they were all for relaxing and enjoying the experience this time around - without focusing on the final outcome. I think this worked brilliantly for this particular team.

They had an ingenious idea for a car powered by a sit-n-spin. They pretty much put all their efforts into this car. And their car scored extremely high - within 3 points of a perfect score - which is simply amazing at the World Tournament. Everything else? Scored really low. One kid said, "All our other stuff just sucked." And I was like, "It didn't suck in isolation. It only sucked when compared to the other teams." And that was pretty much true.

So they came in 16th in their problem solution - which isn't too shabby considering how low most of their individual scores were - this was a direct reflection of how high their vehicle scores was. But there is one other aspect of Odyssey called "Spontaneous." In Spontaneous, they are given a problem to solve on the spot. THEY TANKED. Two were sick, two really didn't care all that much, and the rest apparently fumbled around like zombies. So they ended up placing 33rd overall.

*A note about Spontaneous. Every year at the World Tournament, it is run by guys in kilts. They are funny and the kids love them. After I had sent my team off with the guys in the kilts, I went back beneath a shade tree and promptly fell asleep with the other adults in our group. After awhile, we heard cheering and looked up to see our team walking rather unceremoniously towards us, while strangers cheered them on (this is customary) in the obvious lacking of support from their own adult/parental units. I jumped up. "Sorry," I said. "We were napping." The kids looked at us quizzically as if they couldn't imagine that we would have been doing anything else.

Then they grinned and that is always dangerous. "Come with us," they said to me. "The Kilt Guys want to see you."

I followed them to one of the skirted men and he made a brief little speech about how important coaches are and said some other stuff about school and teachers that didn't apply to us and then he taped a strip of cloth to my backside that he called a tail while whispering to me that he was rather enjoying the entire thing. I assured him that it was the most fun I'd had all week for sure. Then? He told me that whenever someone asked me where I'd gotten my tail I had to answer I'd gotten it at Spontaneous while basically moving my rear in a circular motion. Then he made me demonstrate. Now, this was being done to all the coaches and the teams laughed hysterically and continued to ask their coaches where they'd gotten their tails. My team? Told me they were mildly to moderately traumatized and asked me to never, ever do it again. Deal.

Back to the Important Stuff. The Day of our Competition. We arrived at the arena. The other moms went through the spectator entrance and the rest of us walked down the big, long tunnel. Like Rock Stars. Here is THE TEAM. Katie belongs to Nine Texans, then there's Alyssa, Joel (my kid), Ellie (also my kid), Austen (one of Grilled Cheese Chick's kids), Eric, and Devin.

During the vehicle competition we waited nervously while the Poland team performed. Their vehicle was powered by a teeter-totter and we laughed at the fact that we apparently had a toy-theme going. Halfway through their performance (you have to do an obstacle course thing) their vehicle broke down. The Poles brought out the big guns - a group ran out with power tools - to try and fix it. They were unsuccessful and ended up pushing their vehicle to finish the course. Because our vehicle had broken down at the State Tournament, we knew how they felt and we held our breaths (along with the entire arena) as we watched them try to fix it. The coaches for the Polish teams were the same boys who had previously been Buddies to our team 3 years ago.

When it was our turn to start, Number One and I took our places in the coaches' seats and the kids waited behind the line and joked with the staging judge. I could tell they felt confidant, after all - everything on their vehicle had been working brilliantly just moments before. Here are Joel and Alyssa testing it, while Austen and Katie look on.
It is customary for the judging team to do/say something humorous when asked, "Judges, are you ready?" and this group was no exception. They all yelled, "NO!" and threw down their clipboards and pretended to march off. Joel thought this was hilarious. When they asked the team if they were ready to begin, Joel reciprocated. Then they began. They had to fit their vehicle and trailer inside a small taped off area. They precariously stack their trailer on top of their vehicle to accomplish this, and then they all simultaneously drop to the floor like ninjas to peer beneath their vehicle, because if one little thread or piece of tape or anything at all is touching the floor, they receive a penalty.

Then they hooked up the trailer and Joel and Alyssa climbed on the vehicle and Joel began spinning. There were appreciative noises from the audience and the judges were grinning. Because this was totally cool. But then? Joel stopped spinning. And he removed the steering wheel and looked at it. And my heart sank. It was broken. It was the ONE THING that had not ever broken. Bummer. You could have heard a pin drop as the tension spread to the audience. Like the Poles before them, they went on to Plan B and team members pulled the vehicle while Joel continued with his lines while simultaneously trying to fix the steering wheel before passing it around to other team members like it was a hot potato. It was stripped. Later, Ellie said, "Dude - you were trying to fix it with a PIPE CLEANER. What were you thinking?" and Joel was like, "Dude - it was all I had on me at the time."

Their 3 Requirements were:

1. An environmental clean-up: They were on a planet called Donutopia, riding on a planetary rover for vacation. Joel played The Terminator for a reason that is not entirely clear to anyone anywhere. He does a good Arnold impression, though. So they come across a big pile of doughnut grease that is melting the planet's icing and Joel lowers a little crane via a fishing rod and reel and there is a sponge attached to the crane and it soaks up the doughnut grease (via magnets) and he reels it in.

2. An obstacle to get around: They come upon a big doughnut hole and use the front-end loader to fill it with sprinkles to drive over it.

3. A vehicle break-down and repair: Their vehicle breakdown was quite lame and hadn't received high points at either the Regional or State Tournaments, but they thought it was hilarious so they kept it. Ellie and Devin pick up a meteorite (made out of pinto beans) and a flying saucer that has a cow hanging from it (it is being abducted) and they make the two collide and then the meteorite hits the steering wheel and knocks it off and then Joel says something lame like, "Luckily I have been programmed to repair all malfunctions." THIS TIME? The steering wheel was really broken, which was kind of funny. Joel did a little improvisation, "Oh no!" he yells in his best Arnold voice. "It appears I am being attacked by a meteor that is unfortunately made out of pinto beans. And it appears it has broken the already broken steering wheel." To get the full effect you have to understand that Joel is laughing hysterically through the entire thing - with an Austrian accent - while his sister enjoys hitting him in the head with the pinto bean meteor. Then he looks at the judges, who are also laughing and standing right there as they've been following closely behind the vehicle, grins his humongous grin and says, "and unforunately I am not programmed to fix things when they are really broken."

After their performance they were interviewed by a reporter from a East Lansing newspaper. He loved them and was just amazed by their vehicle. They were like pros with the reporter - feelin' all famous and everything. You know, rock stars and all.

So that was that. But actually, the vehicle was scored as if it had worked the entire time, since the judges did see it working for awhile. That is the rule and they followed it. So what hurt them were things like having meteors made out of pinto beans and a costume made out of a cardboard box. But what can I say? They LOVED watching the other teams and enjoyed themselves. We were lucky enough to see the winning team perform. They were insane with what they had. Here is a picture. At least I think it is the winning team. I honestly can't remember.
They also spent some time trading Odyssey pins with kids from other states and countries.

Jeff could do an entire blog post about his week, as well, since he was alone with The Other Three Children. His week consisted of visits to doctors' offices, breathing treatments, wart removals, a dance recital, and even the tearing down of a barn in his spare time. Also, there was a delicious homemade applie pie on the counter when we got home. Home. Which was a mess.

So yeah, lots of other stuff happened but I honestly can't believe you've read this much. Let me just say that what I learned from this Odyssey is that I really love my kids. Okay. So I mostly already knew that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am glad to have had this special time with them. Not just the World Finals time, but the Entire Time. As in I've been able to be there, fully and wholly, for their babyhoods, toddlerhoods, childhoods, and now this whole teenagerhood business - which has been ridiculously enjoyable for the most part. Homeschooling isn't entirely responsible for the close relationships I enjoy with my kids, but it has been a significant factor. I kind of love being their Everything.....because I know it won't always be that way. I'm reminded of an Odyssey Awards Ceremony a couple of years ago. They asked for some of the kids to come up on the stage and give a personal "thank you" to their coaches. I saw little Jules get in line. I was surprised, because I really didn't think he'd want to get up there in front of everyone. I waited while child after child enthusiastically thanked Mr. or Mrs. So and So to cheering crowds of fellow students of these teachers....and then? Jules quietly approached the microphone and said in a small little voice, "Thanks Mom." There wasn't a lot of cheering.....just a silent happy tear leaving a trail down my cheek as Jules grinned at me from the stage. So to my kids.....who don't always think to actually say thank you.....I'd like to say, "You're welcome. I wouldn't miss this ride for anything."

If this post has piqued your interest, go to and learn more about the program. Maybe we'll see you next year!

Signing Off as a Odysseus instead of Sardine Mama