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Monday, May 15, 2006

Thank-You Notes from the Underground

Actually, Ellie's birthday thank-you notes were not written underground, but I thought it was a catchy title.

Ellie's fourth birthday party was a week ago. We had a variety of kids come through, and though we got a little damp during a drizzle-storm, the real rain started only after we retired indoors.

Party activities included:
a) make your own door-hanger using foamies
b) a treasure hunt using tiny toys and Easter eggs
c) outline and then color-yourself using sidewalk chalk and our backyard fence
d) volley-balloon

Guess which was the most popular?

Answer c). Wildly so.

I thought it might be annoyingly clever to provide for you the text of the thank-you notes I penned to Ellie's party guests. Writing thank you notes has always been a painful task for me, and it was all I could do to restrain myself while writing them. I tried very hard to make the words sound like her. The following thank-you's at least have the real text of the notes I wrote on her behalf. For fun, I "embellished" just a few for my blog. Can you tell which are which?

Cassie, Thank you for coming to my birthday party and for the Barbie mermaid. I love to play with her. She's very pretty. I hope we can have a playdate togther this summer so I can ride your pony.

Ryann & Caden, Thank you for coming to my birthday party and for the nice presents. I have already watched the "Hello Kitty" DVD a bunch of times. I like the teacher Barbie and girl dolls. My Pinkies like to sleep in the doll sleeping bag. You are good friends, and I hope we see you lots this summer.

Hayden, Thank you for coming to my birthday party. It was fun having you there. I love the dress-up stuff you got me for a present. Thank you! I wore the dress all day the next day. It makes me look like a beautfiul princess. It's a little low cut in the front, however. Mom tried to get me to wear a shirt underneath, but I refused. She drew the line at letting me wear it outside. You are a good friend.

Lia, Thank you for coming to my birthday party. It was fun having you there. Thank you also for the gift! I love bubbles, and my mom let's me take bubble baths with the Cinderella soap. My hair smells good from it too. My big sister likes it too, but my mom won't let her use it, because it's my special present from you. This makes my big sister cry.

David, It was fun having you at my party. Thank you for the nice gift. The Sky Dancer doll is really fun, and I like the way it lights up and plays a song. Even my big brother Jack likes to make it fly.

Cooper, It was fun having you at my party. I'm glad you came. Thank you for the nice gift. I wear the shoes all the time at home. In fact, on my birthday I insisted on wearing them out to dinner. Unfortunately, just as we got to the restaurant, I discovered cuts on my feet from the shoes, and I screamed and cried. Mom threatened to take us home and feed us PB&Js if I didn't keep them on my feet during dinner. I managed to stifle my screams. My mom won't let me wear them to school. The purse is good too, and I like to put stuff in it and wear it. Thank you for being my friend.

Lauren, I'm so glad you came to my party. You are my special friend. Thank you for the nice gifts. I love the pony and pony book. I wear the sunglasses whenever I go outside. My mom says I look like a movie star. The cellphone is great too. So great, in fact, Evan keeps stealing it from me.

Aiden, I'm sad you missed my party. I wish you could have colored our fence and eaten cake and ice cream with us. It's been fun being in your class this year. You are a nice friend. Thank you for the beautiful Strawberry Shortcake doll. I love her so much I took her camping last weekend. She smells terrific. I hope you like your new house.

Your friend, Ellie

The only one's I didn't tamper with are the one's to Ryann and Caden, David, and Lauren.

Well, that's the birthday roundup. Only one more kid party for the year, and then a six-month break.

On Williwaw Pond

Our first trip out in our trailer was a success. What follows are a series of observations and descriptions about that trip. Warning: content very nonlinear.
So thorough were Bruce’s preparations for our trip, that nothing went badly awry. The only glitches were insufficient bed-clothing for the adults, no coat for Evan, and the omission of drinking water separate from the trailer’s supply. Since we’ve returned home, we have made a couple extra trips to the trailer in its storage facility to retrieve: my glasses and contact lens stuff, my make-up (God forbid!), aluminum foil, and Juneau’s meds.

The campground we had expected to stay at was closed due to unusual amounts of snow in Portage during March and April. But with relative ease and fuss we found out little pond-side pull-out spot a short way from the campground. Over the course of the weekend, several other campers came and went from our spot, including our neighbors, who we arranged to rendezvous with.

We were close to the road and so enjoyed not only the sounds of birds twittering, but the sound of cars rushing by. However, apart from that, we might have been miles from civilization, so dramatic were the 4,000-foot mountains rising up from the valley floor in front of us. Behind us, on the other side of the road, the southern wall of the valley boasted the remains of a huge avalanche.

The kids had a great time, didn’t bemoan the lack of television once, and otherwise acclimatized amazingly well. They spent the better part of the trip throwing rocks into the pond. Bruce and I alternated closely watching the younger kids around the pond. There wasn’t much transition between shoreline and watery depths, so we militantly insisted the little ones stay several feet from the edge.

During Evan’s Saturday nap, I took the older kids a couple miles down the road to the Portage Visitors Center. We spent a fair amount of time there, playing at the exhibits, watching the movie about glaciers, and eating ice cream.

At my mom’s suggestion, I packed a journal in which to record our travels.

Saturday morning, sitting in the bright sunshine and sipping a cup of coffee, I was suddenly inspired to write. Only then did I realize the journal I’d chosen already had some writing in it – it had formerly been a “prayer journal” from 1990. I read some of the old entries, cringing all the while. Most of them asked God to spare me from the pain and agony of male rejection, and, if “God willed,” to magically zap those boys, with whom I was infatuated, into adoring me back.

With little other choice, I turned to the next blank page in the journal and, with these words, picked up where I left off: “Sixteen years and a great many adventures later….”

An excerpt from Saturday:

“Today is brilliant and cloudless. Crystal clear, cloudless. Though the air is chilly (40? 45?) the sun is quite comfortably warm. Warm enough for mosquitoes, even. It’s supposed to warm up to 60 today [it only got to about 50].
“Across from where I am sitting an eagle is soaring about. He’s been up there a long time, circling and arcing, but he hasn’t flapped once. Bruce just noted a trout surfacing fifteen feet away.
“So, the eagles, magpies, trout and mosquitoes have awoken, but our children are deteriorating. They are now within the ‘beluga’ [trailer], thumping about. Screaming, crying, calling for help. There is a great deal of motor noise from the road, presumably heading towards Whittier. Smallcraft planes fly overhead. Lots of birds twittering. And, oh, what’s that? The sound of Seamus breaking out of his collar and getting in a fight with the cocker spaniel one RV over. Hm.
“Ah, all is well again.
“The kids have made a fort of their bunkhouse. Juneau, lame in one rear leg, is loose, off-leash, exploring. It has been a long time since she was on a ‘venture.’
“10:40am My eagle is back joined by two friends. Already, two have glided over the ridge-line, no longer visible. Only one left. From their movement, it appears there is a wind-current-road, as clearly delineated to them as the yellow and white striped asphalt is to me. Eagle number three is vanishing on that invisible road far aloft. Good-bye eagles.
“10:50am Two more eagles. Distinctly circling us looking for a morsel. Put Juneau in the trailer for safe-keeping. I presume at 30+ lbs. Evan is too heavy for even them.”

While we all enjoyed our trip and regretting having to come home, I think the one who most enjoyed herself was Juneau. Juneau is now 10 ½ years old, but when she was a puppy, years before we even had any human children, Bruce and I used to backpack in the mountains of Western Washington. Juneau was the gamest small dog I ever saw on a trail. She led the way up and down the dirt trails, tongue straight out in front, and tail straight out in back. At night, she would curl up beside me in my sleeping bag. We used to call her “Venture Dog” for her love of “ventures.”

It’s been a good many years since she went on a proper “venture.” Since Seamus joined us in 1997, we haven’t taken her out much. In that time she’s gotten epilepsy, Cushings disease, and blown a knee. I worried about how’d she’d do in the trailer, little anticipating an animal transformed.

Despite her sore, stiff knee, that darn dog wandered to and fro; her nose, healthily cold and wet, pointed towards the wind, reading volumes about the surroundings in its myriad of scents. Saturday, during a leisurely walk on in Moose Flats, despite knee discomfort, she turned tail against riding in the stroller and insisted on walking, walking, walking. She befriended other dogs, reclined on sun-warmed stones, and did it all free of leash and tether. Her sparkling eyes looked 10 years younger. And at night, she whined to be let into our bed, where, puppy-like, she curled up next to me and the slept the sleep of the very young.

For more pictures of our trip, see our family website: www.brucelindas.com.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Expect the Unexpected

I haven’t written anything in a long time, because in order for me to write effectively, I must be somewhat inward focused. The last couple weeks, I’ve been very “outward.”

I have a confession to make, and though it may be considered heroic, it still shames me to have to admit…

I rejoined Weight Watchers a week and a half ago after a four-year hiatus.

See? This is a good thing, right? I’m addressing lifestyle habits that are harming me and my family. Still, I’m ashamed to admit I can’t lose weight on my own. Frankly, I’m ashamed to admit I need to lose weight at all. I don’t want to have this problem. I want to be able to eat nachos and cheese fondue to my heart’s content. I don’t want there to be a direct correlation between food, which is a great comfort and creative outlet for me, and what I look like. But there it is. Some things simply can’t be wished into being real.

So, with being very deliberate about weight loss, a great deal of energy and time has been absorbed. If you’ve never had a large amount of weight to lose, then you cannot know how consuming it is to successfully and consistently lose weight in a healthy way. You have to be consciously thinking, strategizing, and working in exercise-time into a life that, for years, you’ve convinced yourself doesn’t have room for it. So, it means canceling plans; cutting short downtime; sacrificing housework, social time, acts of service, and writing time. It means standing at the kitchen counter with your Weight Watchers guide, trying to figure out what to eat for lunch and dinner, and constantly fighting the urge to say “screw it.” For my first week, this entailed tears, hunger, and desperation. It meant pacing the floor, salivating over the kids’ macaroni and cheese, and limiting myself to one lousysingle-serving size bag of Doritos.

Now, it’s better. At my Week 1 weigh-in, I had lost 3.4 pounds. A decent and encouraging first week. And based on my daily morning weigh-ins on my bathroom scale, it continues to come off. Perhaps writing about it from time to time will keep me accountable.

Now, on a totally different subject I need to talk about Preschool Moms. A year ago, I was traumatized by preschool moms. It just so happened that the group of moms I was forced to cross paths with each day all seemed to know each other, hang out together, and pretty much ignore my existence. They were, by and large, size 6’s, tall and blond, and always perfectly coiffed. I hated them all. Many days I drove home from preschool sobbing over my exclusion from this group. I tried being friendly and engaging in conversation, but it was junior high all over again. There was absolutely no clicking with any of them.

Okay, so like a week or so ago I get a phone call from the woman I considered to be at the nucleus of this group. But why would she call me out of the blue? First, some background.

She was the shining star that all the others orbited around. For some reason I was always aware of this woman, possibly because she drew in so much attention and everyone seemed to know her. She was always right there. After awhile I got to recognize her car, because her older kids also go to Jack and Sabrina’s school, and we’d often follow each other from Point A to Point B on the daily kid-round-up. This year, her youngest, a daughter, started kindergarten, and with hind-sight-embarrassment, I admit I secretly hoped this little girl and Sabrina would be in the same class together so that I might have a chance to enter the orbital ellipse. But, that didn’t happen. The mom, meanwhile, started working part-time in the school, and when I’d drop in from time to time, wearing curlers and eating bon-bons, we’d politely exchange greetings. Hey, I thought, she recognizes me!

So, back to the call. It turns out her son is in Jack’s second grade class. I had no idea. Apparently Jack and her son are friends. I had no idea. Her son was having a birthday party and he really wanted Jack to go. Really? My son? She also mentioned that she knows we live fairly close to each other – just a couple blocks, really, because she’d seen our car turn off into our little cul-de-sac. She recognizes my car?

Imagine that.

Well, we chatted briefly before and after the birthday party, and she was very nice and friendly and interested. Then tonight, we had this school musical that the 2nd and 3rd graders performed. I got there early enough to get front row seats. This woman arrived shortly after me, and chose to sit beside me, despite lots of other empty seats (I really think it was the front row aspect that was the draw). Nevertheless, we chatted constantly for the whole half hour before the show started, and even though other women tried to talk to her, she kept talking to me.

Okay, by now some of you are thinking, Linda, get a life. Why are you letting a stranger dictate your value and worth? Yes, this is a valid point. But here’s my response: I’m not letting her do those things. I have become very much aware over the past month or so that the reason I feel isolated from other people has more to do with me than with them. I simply find it ironic that at nearly the same moment I am having a personal revelation, a person who unconsciously tormented me has become a friendly acquaintance.

This year I am starting to befriend some of the preschool moms (a different group than last year), and we’re even starting to socialize. We’ve done kid-swapping for play dates, done coffee together, done the walking thing, and made pizza. I think what’s happening is that I’m reaching out more. And I’m not doing it in an I-have-an-agenda-I-want-you-to-be-my-new-best-friend-forever way. No. I have compartmentalized too many people for too long, and had it bite me in the rear. Time to let them off the hook. Besides, most people don’t have an irrational psychological need for every friendship to involve the sun, moon, and stars.

I think of when Anne Shirley in meets Diana (from “Anne of Green Gables”) for the first time, and she calls her, “my most bosom friend.” Who doesn’t want a most bosom friend? I do. I have some very dear, wonderful friends, but they share their bosom with lots of other people. And so must I.

What is the lesson? Well, I’ll tell you. My insecurity, my tears and frustration and self-doubt were entirely, completely self-generated. If I had really wanted to befriend some of these women, I could simply have arranged play dates. I could have suggested getting coffee, or taking the kids and grabbing a movie after preschool. Did I ever once do those things? No. Not once. Do I think it’s that simple? Yes and no. Because surrendering expectations of other people is immensely hard for me. Even today, I overheard two of my new friends making plans to do something tomorrow. Without me. For just a second, I felt jealous. Because, if I take just a second to do so, I can see that both of these women are reciprocating interest in me, reaching out, and more than willing to meet me halfway. But that’s the thing. I have to go halfway too.

In grade school, junior high, and high school, friendship came easily. You either deeply connected with someone in an instant or you didn’t. The gradual acquaintanceship kind of friendship has been foreign to me for most of my life. But as an adult, it is a necessity. And it requires, stepping out, reaching out, taking a chance. But not expecting anything. And then, if it happens, great. And if it doesn’t, so what?

So, it’s taken me almost 36 years to kind of start to get this concept. Am I preaching to the choir? Are you shaking your head, pitying my social awkwardness and naïveté? If you are, then my guess is you’re one of the privileged few. Good on you.

I’m still trying to figure a few things out. But, I’m trying. I haven’t given up, and I certainly hope I haven’t given in.

The nice lady who is the former shining star of all Preschool Moms may someday in fact become a friend. Wouldn’t that be ironic? I think so. What would really be fun, would be if someday we became good enough friends that I could trust her to read this. We’d both get a laugh out of it.

Then again, I dare not expect.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's Here!

Well, it really happened. We actually own a travel trailer. Are we grownups yet?

At the moment, it, and Bruce inside of it, are in the driveway. Bruce managed to get it backed into the driveway on the first try. Very amazing considering he is hardly a seasoned trailer-backer-upper.Tomorrow during the day I'll take stock of what's in it, and make notes of what needs to be there. Then, tomorrow evening, Bruce will go store it. We'll take our maiden voyage in a week.

The above picture shows it pretty well. It has a big awning, which will be nice in the rain and an outdoor range (just to the left of Gus). You can see in the far left of the picture how the queen bed slides out.

Bruce and I spent just a few minutes tonight sitting out there absorbing. We sat in various places, pushed various buttons, toggled various switches. Neither of us can find anything wrong with it. It's really in very good condition. I'll set my timer to see how long it takes for the kids to trash it.

The next picture is of Lucy checking things out. On the left is the eating area, and on the right, the sofa (both folded down into bed-mode). Behind everybody is the queen bed. The queen bed is where Queen Linda will sleep.

The next picture is of some very excited children begging to go camping right now.

Here is a picture of Sabrina checking out her bunk.

And here's Ellie checking out hers, right below Sabrina's.

We have a whole lot to learn. Right now it seems intimidating. I wish I'd paid more attention to land-yachting when I was a kid (my parents had a motorhome when I was growing up). We'll start with some short trips to get the hang of it, and gradually grow bolder.

Or we may conclude we've made a dreadful mistake.

Really, the most important thing to remember is not to accidently leave one of the children behind in the trailer, like we almost did when we first saw it up on Elemendorf A.F.B. We had paid the former owner his deposit, and we were walking back to our car to go home when we saw this...


Monday, May 01, 2006

On A Roll

Things I did today, no particular order:

* Sent an email to my aunt verifying her prior connection to this Friday's featured artist (Nancy Taylor Stonington) at Stephan's Fine Art gallery (where I work). [I want to ask Ms. Stonington if she remembers my aunt, but to avoid embarrassment, felt I better check with my aunt first. Rumor has it, my aunt dated Ms. Stonington's brother many years ago.]
* Scooped all the miscellaneous toys scattered all over Jack and Sabrina's room up into a plastic garbage bag. After storing the bag in their padlocked toy-closet (to be dealt with later), I thoroughly vacuumed their room.
* Cleaned a small spot of dog vomit of a couch cushion.
* Got about as caught up on laundry as it is humanly possible to get in our home.
* Planted seven varieties of seed amongst 50 peat-pots in an unusually optimistic attempt to bring forth vegetable life. Seeds in question include: onion, mixed flowers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, and cilantro.
* Did dishes.
* Forcibly helped Juneau shed her winter coat.
* Vacuumed the entire downstairs.
* Faithfully stuck to my Weight Watchers "diet".
* Called the vet to ask why I've been waiting for two weeks for the call I was supposed to get the day after Juneau's last appointment.
* Called the school to find out when the psychologist is going to finish Jack's IQ test.
* Read the May 1st devotional and scripture reading for my new "Daily Word."
* With a toothpick, meticulously picked deeply embedded dog-poo out of the tread of Evan's shoe.
* Took a walk around the neighborhood with Ellie and Evan in the Radio Flyer wagon.
* Made spaghetti sauce for the pasta, and cheese sauce for the veggies.
* Moved one of the shelving units from the master bath down to the office, so that I have a place to set my book and coffee mug when curling in the armchair in there.
* Started my summer schedule at the Hotel Captain Cook, Mondays from 6pm to 11pm.
I think that's about it. Not very deep and profound, is it?

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