Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday favorites

1. Favorite book I've been reading this week: The Little Princess, to Helen at bedtime. This is actually one of my favorite books of all time, and I look forward all day to reading it, even as my adult mind keeps getting tripped up by some of the details (what part of two adult men spying on a child through her window, and then sneaking into her room as she sleeps, is NOT CREEPY? Also, the happy ending where the rich youngish man finds the love of his life in, I mean becomes the legal guardian of, his dead business partner's 11-year-old daughter - well, it's great and all until she wants to be a grownup with HER OWN LIFE and get married and stuff, and THEN WHAT HAPPENS?)

2. Favorite meal: a made a pork chop thing with red cabbage, and a crock pot chicken and yam thing that I didn't even get to eat because I was so busy going to a wine-tasting tupperware party up the street (my life can be SO HARD sometimes), but I think my favorite thing this week was the lentil salad with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes that I managed not to burn. Needless to say I was alone, all alone, with my privileged bowl of lentils in the corner. Everyone else ate cereal and cheese quesadillas.

3. Favorite weather this week: it snowed on Thursday, real snow that stuck on the ground and everything. We built a fire and lay around reading books/ building Minecraft thingies (sets? scenarios? I don't even know).

4. Favorite work run. This fall I've been doing runs at work. These are way, way better now that the temperature at noon is no longer 92 degrees in the shade. It's still a barren, bleak, warehouse-filled landscape, though, and while most days I run over and do laps around the windy expanse of soccer fields, once a week I give myself permission to drive to the bikepath and run along Cherry Creek.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mississippi Hot Dog

Helen started taking violin lessons in September. She'd been pestering me about it for six straight months, and since I am a clever and responsible parent I waited until I thought she was sure--ha, ha, kidding. Mostly I just couldn't bear the thought of introducing yet another freaking activity into our roster of Things To Do. Also, the money. Also, it involved phone calls. So it took me a while, but finally I managed to break the task down into doable chunks and complete each one until ta-da, lesson time.

Now, those of you who know me in real life are probably saying, "And so, Melospiza, how is it being on the other side?" For lo, as a minor, violin playing was pretty much My Thing, especially by the time I got into the identity-crucial teen years. I didn't do sports, I had an awkward social life, my grasp of academic subjects was tenacious but perfunctory - meaning I was able to allow that occasionally, other people at my school might be better than me and I would not die - but violin, that was me. It was my baseball and swim team and math meet all rolled into one hugely time-consuming and expensive endeavor.

(And then I got to college and quit, with a mixture of grief and joy, but that is another story.)

And the short answer to your question is: good. It feels really, really good. After a brief deliberation, I signed Helen up for Suzuki lessons, which was my background (rather insufferably so - I remember one of my friends snapping at me after yet another comment about something violin-related, "Suzuki isn't god!"). We're learning all the same songs and exercises that I learned, so the first time in this parenting thing I feel like I know what's going on. It took me about five years to know or care what a DRA score is or what sort of baseball hit is most desirable, but I know from Mississippi Hot Dog (which they call Mississippi Stop Stop now, but I've been able to come to terms with that). I know all about tone and straight bows and how to hold your elbow when playing on the A string and what a good left hand position looks like, and I can talk shop with a casual fluency that eludes me in all other areas of my children's endeavors.

It also helps, and is gratifying, that Helen likes it. She's a practicer, so the Suzuki method suits her personality, as I knew it would. Every component is broken down into small tasks that can be practiced for a set number of times at home; advancing to the next task, whatever it is, is a delightfully big deal. "I think you'll get to move on to the A STRING next week!" says her teacher, with a proud and happy smile. I used to love this part (I wish I had that kind of cheerleading in my current life: wow, you did that Mail Merge REALLY WELL! I bet that next week you'll be ready to do the WHOLE BATCH!) (Or on second thought, maybe that would just be depressing.) Helen loves it, too.

It's also a welcome contrast from baseball, where there is a wearisome emphasis on Talent and Your Son Has a Great Swing and etc., with an equally wearisome carping on how the boys are expected to "practice this at home" (practice what?  how many times? for how long? what's reasonable to expect?) Soccer and swimming are like this, too. I think it's partly that many of the adult professionals in sports are there because they were talented enough to overcome uneven coaching, so they tend to believe in the talent god. There's also the fact that it's hard to practice in-game performance at home.

Anyway. I'm really glad we're doing it. I hope that my enthusiasm doesn't outlast Helen's, although I know I can't expect the same outcome I had. But right now it feels like we've opened a wing of my house that had been closed for years.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Favorites

1. Favorite time of day. Morning, obviously. Always. But this time of year I like it especially: I get up when it's still dark and write, and then either go for a run or drive to work as the sun is rising, so I'm glutted with sunrises these days. I love it. It's so much better than my habits from the past few years, where I was running in the dark half the year and in the shower, I think, for the sunrise.

2. Favorite read of the week: I'm working my way slowly through The Hemingses of Monticello, which is about the family of slaves who were both Thomas Jefferson's unacknowledged inlaws and his companion and children. This is pretty much the perfect book for me right now: I spent the first half of the year immersing myself in the life and world of Thomas Jefferson, and dreaming of how to create my own private Monticello (which I'm still ambivalent about. I think people who create utopias tend to use the people in their lives as building blocks, and men who create utopias are especially dangerous this way). Now I'm reading about the invisible secret of Monticello, made visible. Much of the book is obviously speculative, but it's such smart and carefully researched speculation that it hardly matters.

3. Favorite meal of the week: chicken soup (made with leftover roast chicken) with basil pesto and rolls made with leftover mashed sweet yams. We've also had a lot of dessert: both Helen and Silas dedicated themselves to dessert projects this week. Si made a recipe he'd found on the internet, cupcakes with tombstones on them (well, two of the cupcakes had tombstones. Then he decided that was way too much work and the rest just have frosting.), and Helen made a recipe she'd found in a craft book, sugar cookies with food color paintings on them. She also made a T shirt with a pink zebra painted on it in fabric paints. They're both so crafty, those kids, although Si is still a follow-the-instructions-to-the-letter kind of guy, while Helen feels free to improvise.

Other than that it's been kind of a hard week, for no especial reason, except that I've had five bad hair days in a row and the kidnapping in Arvada has been bringing me down and I'm in kind of a personality head butting with someone at work (who is not in my department, so it's not really a crisis or a constant problem, just a disappointment to realize, again, that I am not liked by all people all of the time even though I SHOULD BE BECAUSE I AM A TENDER PRECIOUS SNOWFLAKE AND ALSO BRILLIANT.)

Anyway. The yard is adrift is golden glowing yellow, so there's that.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Another Sputtering Return of the Friday Favorites

1. Favorite moments of the debate (note: this was the first presidential debate I have watched in 20 years, not counting SNL. I might wait another 20 years before I watch the next one.) Was it when Silas, turning away from the evening's Educational Entertainment, emerged with a carefully chosen alternative viewing choice? Or when he realized that no, sorry, we weren't going to turn off the debate to watch Spongebob? Was it the end, when it was finally over? Was it forty minutes before the debate started, when Helen and I were driving home through deserted streets that were gray with dusk and blooming with big dimly orange puffs of autumn ash tree - the debates were held here in Denver, not far from our house, and the interstate closed at 5, so it was like a little holiday time at the end of a busy working day. This one, I think. This was my favorite moment. Before they started.

2. Favorite part of the season. Every fall I think about Kenko's injunction that "branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration" - and then I think, nah. The fall leaves at their red and gold peak thrill me much more than a pile of brown leaves on the ground, even if that means I am privileging a certain moment in the eternal flux of the universe. There will be plenty of time for austere beauty in November. Today I remain resolutely delighted by the first flush of golden ash and bitter red sumac. This right here is my favorite moment of fall.

3. Favorite book I read in September: Finders Keepers by Craig Childs. This book hits on pretty much everything I struggled with when I lived in southwest Colorado and made my living (such as it was) walking the National Forest looking for pottery shards and rock flakes. I hated how anytime we found something interesting our job was to seal it in a plastic baggy and ship it to a big artifact storage locker. I hated the feeling of salacious pleasure I got anytime we poked our noses into something that was once private. I hated how I couldn't just slip a pretty little shard into my pocket, no matter how much more I'd appreciate it than the artifact storage locker.

4. Favorite mood for the week: recovering invalid. Between the sewer mess, the melancholy fact of fall, and the trip for work to Las Vegas (whoo boy) (it wasn't like that, just DULL), I am feeling the need to treat myself like a delicate Victorian convalescent this week. Someone who needs to lie about in the sun wrapped in lots of clean linen, being administered medicinal doses of tea and fresh air. So I took yesterday off. I volunteered in Helen's classroom this morning (which was awesome. I will definitely do this again.) I slept in two days this week.

5. Favorite dinner I made this week: make-your-own tacos. I cooked the beef with a new chili powder I picked up on a trip to the Littleton Penzey's: this is actually the first time in my cooking life that I have deliberately purchased a spice mix and to paraphrase a friend, I will need to live forty more years in order to make up for forty years of not using spice mixes. The mix is delicious. I think it has sugar in it, and possibly powdered heroin. It is so, so yummy.

6. Favorite work thing*: my personalized stationery. I like it so much that I hoard it: no ordinary to-do lists for this stationery, no sir. Only the biggest and most important lists go on this stuff.

*I have been feeling insulted and put upon lately by the fact that I need to work. This is not a feeling specific to my particular job, which happens to be going fine, but an irritation at a basic life condition (namely, that I am not independently wealthy; or possibly that the world has not chosen to pay me for doing what I like to do. Harrumph.) However, I am going to counteract this feeling by listing my favorite work activity each week. Identifying details will be redacted, obv.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Great, and yours?

So, how was your weekend, this beautiful last weekend in September? Did you go apple picking? Ride a bike through the first stunning bursts of fall color? Put your garden to sleep? Doze in the sun?

Ha ha, I have you all beat: I got to clean raw sewage out of the basement. And carry everything non-sewagey out onto the porch. Then scrub the floor with bleach. Now our house looks like an episode of Hoarders: But Where Will They Keep the Board Games? Also, my knees hurt. Also, I still have half the basement floor to scrub. Augh. Damn house.

Actually, I have an odd confession to make: except for the raw sewage part, and also the argument that ensued upon the finding of the sewage*,  it wasn't so bad. Cleaning the basement was not at the top of my list of things I wanted to get done this weekend - but it wasn't on the bottom, either. I mean, I wasn't planning to bleach the damn thing. But there was some serious organizing that needed to happen down there. And, uh, still needs to happen, only now it needs to take place with objects stored on the couch, the front porch, and the back porch. But taking everything apart is a critical first step, and that step is DONE. Also, there's no hesitating about chucking a beloved childhood toy when it's soaked in sewage. It makes the weeding out process go really, really fast.

Also, I was the only one with the time to do any scrubbing (exams to grade! so sorry!), which meant that out of guilt M. took care of all the parts that I loathe about this sort of event: the calling and the hiring, and the making decisions about the Solution. Usually we share this part, and I haaaate it. I hate calling people on the phone. I hate making decisions like shall we spend $5000 to do a partial fix, or go all the way and spend $10G to Do It Right? And most of all I hate Talking It Over. I don't want to talk. I just want to jump to a conclusion, stick to it, and run away and pretend we never had that $5000 in the first place.

So anyway, our basement is now really, really clean. Even cleaner than the last time. Except for the parts I haven't gotten to yet, and also the old uncomfortable futon that we've taken to affectionately calling the pooton. (Ewww.) Out it goes, as soon as it's dry enough to lug upstairs without contaminating the whole house.

*Bonus marriage gossip tidbit: One of the most common marital arguments in the Melospiza household involves how we respond to calamity, and, related, how we think the Other Person should respond to calamity. I tend to expect M. to use Pa Ingalls as a blueprint: "Where there's a will, there's a way!" "All's well that ends well!" Which, barring expletives, is pretty much how he does respond. Eventually, and minus the whistling and the extra-soulful fiddle-playing. But he first blames everyone under the frigging sun for the calamity, in language that would singe Pa's eyebrows. It drives me crazy and also, ironically, to the use of non-Ma-approved vulgarity of my own.