Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Wishes to All

The decorations on our mantel include many Santa and Father Christmas figures, as well as tiny toys, all symbolizing the spirit of giving and childlike joyfulness this season inspires.

I wish you the very best...natural wonders, glorious music, loving friends and family, and soaring spirits. I know full well that some years we can't have Christmas the way we would like it, and if that is the case I wish you solace and peace and hope.

All the best,


aka BLissed-Out Grandma

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I coulda been a diva...or a lieutenant

When I was a high school sophomore (all the way back in 1959), I took a test called the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory (SCII). The questionnaire, still used by career guidance counselors, attempts to predict success in a given career field based on shared interests.

Do you like, dislike, or feel indifferent toward visiting an art museum? White-water rafting? Collecting stamps? These and dozens more questions generate an individual's profile. Then that profile is compared with composite profiles of people working successfully in a variety of fields.

The SCII results were revealed to me and my classmates not one-on-one but in our social studies classes. Any subtle analysis went over our heads. What we heard was, This is what I’m supposed to be.

My result: “Musician-performer.”

I did absorb the caution that while my interests matched those of successful musician-performers, this test didn’t address whether I had the talent or ability to succeed. In fact, I did have musical skills; I played both piano and organ and I performed a fair amount. I accompanied church choirs from age 13 to 20 and played for many weddings and funerals. On the piano I entered a variety of talent contests including the one in which my friend Sharon Nelson and I won first prize, beating Bob Dylan.

Nevertheless, I never really considered a career in the arts. I was already planning to work in advertising, a notion that eventually led to a satisfying career in public relations, writing, design, and marketing. These, too, are creative pursuits, and the profile that matched with “musician-performer” likely would also have matched with some variation of public relations or publications professional.

Alas, one of the serious flaws of the SCII at the time was an almost non-existent set of career fields for women. Profiles were compared only with sample groups of the same gender as the test-taker. Test designers focused on careers that required training. Results depended on having enough women employed in responsible positions in a given field that they could be surveyed. But in 1959, few women were well positioned in business and the professions. My business-minded friends were told they would be good candidates for leadership in the military, the only female group large enough to yield a reliable profile.   

I’ve been thinking about this only because I’ve been trying to figure out why I am drawn to the TV show The Voice. Twice a week when Peter and I settle in the den to watch, he points out that he is only watching this show because I am, and we like to spend evenings together. Should I ever start watching another reality show, he says, I’ll be watching it alone.

We’re probably safe. I’m not a fan of other reality shows, including other talent competitions. While shows like American Idol often feature harshly critical judges, The Voice features coaches (all of them popular singers) who assemble teams and then try to coach them to victory by helping them expand their vocal and performing skills. Even negative feedback is specific and kind, along the lines of “I enjoyed that but you had a little trouble with pitch,” or “This wasn’t your best performance; I don’t think the song showcased your strengths.”

Monday night this season’s final six contestants will perform, and Tuesday night we learn which four remain, having garnered the most votes from the public. I don’t vote for my favorites; I just enjoy the performances and the coaches’ feedback.  

After all, I have a lot in common with them. The Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory told me so.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looking back with thanks....

At Thanksgiving 2009, shortly after I began blogging, I wrote about a turning point for which I was especially grateful. It set me on course to become what I am today, a BLissed-Out Grandma. Here's a tweaked version.

About a year and a half ago {spring 2007], I was sitting in my car sobbing on a bright May morning because I didn't want to subject myself to one more day in the toxic cesspool that my place of work had become.

Peter said, "If it's this bad, go in and quit. We'll manage somehow."

So I went to see the Human Resources guy, and I described a few of the freakshow conditions to which our staff was being subjected. I told him what my husband had said. He asked me, "Is that what you want?" I took a deep breath and said, "Yes. This is sucking the life out of me. I have to get out."

The HR guy said, "There are going to be changes. Do you think you could wait a bit?" His tone told me what I needed to know, so I said yes, I'd wait it out. Three months later, they finally fired our boss. Things got better immediately.

The same week our boss left, I drew up a proposal to work fewer hours with fewer responsibilities: Instead of managing seven creative people I would work 75 percent time as a senior writer-editor. "Okay," they said. I wanted to work one of my days at home. "Okay." (A year later I asked to go to half-time and they said "Okay" again.)

And that is how I went from a thoroughly unhappy, burned-out, acting-out director of publications to a mellow part-time writer-editor and part-time day-care grandma who calls herself blissed-out.

I am thankful that the HR guy was willing to suggest I wait...he managed to tell me just enough without violating professional ethics. I am also thankful to Peter for saying, "Quit if you need to." Feeling that I could quit made it less necessary to do so, because I no longer felt trapped.

At the time I wrote this I was a year from retiring, though I didn't know it yet. Our bad boss was replaced with someone both knowledgeable and appreciative, and when I retired I could look back on my nearly 30-year career at the college with satisfaction. That couldn't have happened had I quit on that memorable day in May 2007. 

We have many things for which to be thankful, and I regularly express my gratitude for the life I'm living now, especially the opportunity to care for and mentor our grandchildren. Looking back, I'm thankful that I spoke up that day and said I was ready to quit, and equally thankful that I didn't. 

Sometimes it's difficult to speak up put things in motion. But once we do, the outcome can be even better than we'd hoped for. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gray November Blues

I was in my twenties when I first realized that I hated the month of November.

It makes sense, really. I live in Minnesota. By November, days are short, skies are cement gray, and temps are cold. I came to picture a typical November day as bleak and blustery, a sharp wind slapping my face and driving ice crystals right into my skin.

It always felt personal, as though some weather god took pleasure in inflicting pain. "Slap! Feel that sting? Now I'm going to make your eyes water, pinch your fingers, blow away your scarf, toss your hair, and penetrate through all seven layers you put on this morning!" Understanding cold fronts and high-pressure systems provided no comfort whatsoever.

Throughout my work life, transportation complicated the picture. The evil weather gods could make the buses run late, stall my car, create glare ice and ridiculous pileups, or encase a parked car in ice and snow that had to be chipped away while your fingers and toes froze. Again, hearing the familiar sound of ice scrapers all through the neighborhood was no solace.

I have come to realize that while November can still be difficult, most of its days don't live up (down?) to my worst expectations. Besides, I now have ways to cope that I didn't always have.

* I am retired. If I want to stay home during an especially nasty weather event, I usually can. 

* By now I have assembled an excellent collection of warm boots, coats, mittens, fleece layers, ear muffs, scarves, etc. When I do go out, I go prepared.

* I no longer have to look professional or even presentable after battling the elements. Nobody at preschool or the grocery store cares whether my mascara is frozen into mud puddles at the corners of my eyes, or whether I'm wearing fashionable shoes.

* I've been taking Zoloft for years to help offset Seasonal Affect Disorder, a result of sunlight deprivation. Around mid-October I still begin to notice that my mood is dragging, but it's manageable. And I can take naps if necessary because have I mentioned? I'm retired.

* Remember when I said that not every November day is dreary and awful? It's true. And the best way to combat the November blues is to get out into those decent days, to see a little sunlight, breathe a bit of fresh air.

* Even when I can't be outside, I can remember to notice the sun shining, take a deep breath, and appreciate the cheery sight of it.

November brings nasty days, and it's the opening shot of a long winter to come. I'm trying to remember that I don't have to cope with all of that today.

Oh, and P.S.: The grandkids bring sunshine into even the darkest day.

Double P.S.: I just noticed that this is my 300th post!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Blarz, said the aliens....

ViMae came to me with four large sheets of craft paper, each folded not-quite-in-half at an angle. She asked me to fasten them together (we decided on staples) to make a book. Next she brought the felt markers and told me she was ready to write a story. She needed me to do the hand-writing. This is what she dictated:

Vi's Best Jewelry Book...and...

The Princess Locked in the Tower

by ViolaMae

Once upon a time, there was a princess. Her name was Golden Rose. She was afraid of stormtroopers. They tried to attack and catch her.

Because she was afraid, Golden Rose locked herself in the tower.
She didn't like being in the tower, so she went to see Princess Leia. She thought Leia had a bow and arrow, but she didn't. Princess Golden Rose put on some jewelry to disguise herself as Smaug. The stormtroopers didn't know she was Rose. She went into the woods and ate some zazzberries.
“Blarz.” said some aliens from up above. They put handcuffs on her. But when she had gone to see Leia, Leia had given her a blaster. So she blasted the handcuffs apart.

She called in the warriors, including Princess Leia, to help her fight off the aliens.
Vi's illustration: Rose and Sabrine
Princess Golden Rose saw an alien getting ready to shoot a bomb. "Duck!" she yelled. "Where?" asked her favorite giraffe, Sabrine, looking around. Golden Rose ducked out of the way, but Sabrine got shot right in the neck. He ran a little and then just fell over, and died. ["Isn't that sad, Mom?" Vi asked her mother when they read it together. "That's the sad part."]

She ran over and put a leash on him and pulled him, but he stayed on the ground. Golden Rose and Leia chased the aliens away. "Blarz!" said the aliens as they ran.
The end.

As her parents have noted, ViMae's story has it all: a plot with a climax in the middle, character development, humor, and sadness. It incorporates elements of Star Wars (Leia and the stormtroopers), the Hobbit (Smaug the gold-encrusted dragon), our Dragonvale game (zazzberries are dragon food), and other bits.

Its humor and sadness both come from an old birthday-card visual joke Peter and I have shared with the kids. (Animals are riding in a car, heading toward a tunnel with a low overhead…. The elephant warns, “Duck!” but the giraffe, misunderstanding, stretches his neck upward and asks, “Where?”) The four of us share this running gag often, and the kids seem pleased that it's a kind of "inside humor."    

ViMae took all those elements and made up her own princess story…and happily, this princess is proactive. Golden Rose locked herself in the tower for protection, disguised herself to hide from the stormtroopers, went to Leia for a weapon, and together with Leia dispatched the aliens. That’s a princess story I can support! 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On being a real ballerina

Pre-class instructions from Miss Ann
ViMae has been wearing tutus and wanting to be a ballerina for at least half of her four-and-a-half years.

Today she started a weekly dance class that will include 30 minutes of ballet and 10 minutes of tap. And how lucky am I? The best time for her to take the class is Tuesday mornings, so I get to take her there. Happy Grandma!

Ballet warmup
I took pictures so Mom and Dad could share in the big day. The photos aren't great, because adults have to stay out of the studio so kids will focus on the teacher.

ViMae did great at paying attention and following instructions (a couple of younger girls had trouble with that). Most important, she had fun and she felt comfortable with the group.

Tap lessons..."heel, heel, step..."
I took ballet and tap lessons for two or three years, starting when I was five. I liked it, but I never had any vision of what it was all about.

ViMae, on the other hand, knows exactly what it's about. When we got home, she kicked her legs in the air and exulted: "Now I'm a real ballerina!"

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween, and may the Force be with you

Grandma has been busy sewing costumes, which made their debut at the preschool party last Friday.  ViMae chose to wear her dragon costume from last year with a few new twists, and Augie decided to be a Jedi knight.

There is no longer a pattern for a Jedi robe, but I found some great tutorials seems lots of people still make these for both kids and grownups. Augie knew that Jedi knights wore a hooded robe in any shade of brown, with an obi and a utility belt (for the light saber, of course). I learned that robes were not uniform, and that they were deliberately roomy in order to conceal the knight's face or belongings.

Meanwhile we "upgraded" ViMae's costume. Smaug, a character in The Hobbit, develops a gold-crusted chest from sleeping on his piles of stolen treasure. This year we added to the effect with gold-coin buttons she and I found in my 50-year-old coffee can button collection. We also added gloves on which I created bright claws. A spray of red and orange "flames" tacked to the palm of her left glove enables her to breathe fire, which she does ferociously.

Three things strike me about these costumes. One, the kids chose them for the characters they represent, from stories they've come to love. Two, their Daddy happens to love The Hobbit and Star Wars more than they know, and that will be much more important to them some day than it is now. And three, I know that they will play with these costumes well beyond Halloween. (They both wore wolf suits based on Max and Where The Wild Things Are, made by their Grandma Anita, for years until they couldn't squeeze into them any more.) I hope that some day they'll tell their kids, and later their grandkids, about Halloween back in the old days when they were young and wore costumes made by grandmothers.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The wedding party

The grandkids and their parents all were members of a wedding party a couple of weeks ago. Since Abby and Eric were going up the aisle before the children, I went along as a "kid wrangler."

They did their jobs beautifully, as I suspect they would have even if I weren't there to whisper "go." Their slightly older cousins did well, too. Only the two-year-old, who had her own wrangler, veered off course, giving everyone a chuckle. Vi had practiced her wedding walk both here and at home, tossing pretend rose petals as she went. I got a look at the aisle...there was one large red petal every two feet, dropped with precision for the bride's approach. 

The kids let off a little steam before the ceremony (probably to the annoyance of somebody or other) but they were angels during the ceremony and dinner, and then they danced up a storm. And while other youngsters I've known couldn't wait to get out of their tuxes, or kick off their shoes, these kids stayed "in character" for their wedding roles.
Vi reveled in looking pretty, complete with tiny tiara and sparkly red shoes. She and her cousin Tessa gave their parents a glimpse of the beautiful young women they'll be in another handful of years, when the boys begin to call. Their parents looked nervous.

Meanwhile, Augie was standing tall in his tuxedo. Even with animal cracker crumbs in his lap, I got the impression he knew this suit was somehow important, and he was living up to it. When the dancing started and the groom's men took off their ties, jackets, and vests to cool off, Augie stayed properly dressed.

Because I was busy shepherding the children, I was out of position to get photos of them processing in, Vi with her basket and Augie with a ring pillow (sans ring). And the family photos I got will remain offline until Abby and Eric use one as a Christmas card.

So there's not much more to say here except that on this day, when the kids dressed up like lovely little grownups, I think I got a glimpse of who they will be. And, in fact, who they already are. And I enjoyed it, but I'm in no hurry for them to grow up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The last warm day...?

Our back-yard buckeye

Today is sunny and calm and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It may be the last warm day until next spring.

Butterfly weed seeds float on gossamer wings
Thing is, at this point we Minnesotans say that about every warm and sunny day. "Beautiful day!" comes the greeting. "Yup, probably the last one for this year," comes the reply. Just in case that's true, I'm posting a few more photos of this year's fall color, all taken about October 1 right here in our yard.

Looking down our street
We were told that because of the very dry conditions and a counterproductive temperature cycle, the colors this year were likely to be very subdued. And indeed, some trees simply turned brown and dropped everything at the first breeze.

Northwoods Maple in our front yard
But there was color to be found, and the urban forest where we live did quite well indeed. The color in these photos is mostly gone now, but the late-turning trees still beckon, along with shrubs, grasses, and the occasional planter of fall flowers. I am enjoying it all, as long as it lasts.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud...

Last Tuesday was a lovely day for an outing, and ViMae likes to collect pretty rocks, so we went to Hidden Falls Park, in the heart of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with a picnic lunch and Vi's pink plastic bucket.

We started out like this - jackets and shoes on, staying dry.

We soon switched to this, which was much more fun.

Her bucket filled, we had one exuberant child running up and down along the water's edge and laughing. There were a dozen or so other park visitors, and a few paused to watch.

The Mississippi doesn't really become muddy until somewhere downstream from Minnesota, but we don't know a song about the "sandy and rocky" Mississippi, so Peter serenaded us with the oldie he knew.  It was a glorious day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rocks, trees, and water

With a late September wedding anniversary, Peter and I often celebrate by driving to the nearby countryside to soak in the glorious leaf color. This year the setting itself was far more dramatic than the color.

Last Friday, on a lovely warm afternoon, we drove along the St. Croix River to Taylors Falls, Minnesota, home of Interstate State Park. The river forms part of the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the park extends into both states.

Basalt cliffs at Taylors Falls are just the beginning; the entire area underwent drastic upheaval in the glacial age. Says the park's website: "At least 10 different lava flows are exposed in the park, along with two distinct glacial deposits, and traces of old streams valleys and faults." This isn't a park for strolling; it requires climbing and sometimes picking your way over massively uneven rocks.

A notable feature of the area is a series of glacial potholes, some of them remarkably narrow and deep. This pothole illustrates another common feature of the park: trees, ferns, and vines growing out of seemingly tiny fissures in the rock. Peter's comment: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Some potholes have been excavated; others that appear shallow are simply filled in with sand and rock. Scientists hope to excavate one more, the largest in the park. Daily tours explain the potholes, and there is information on the park's website.

We may go back another year to take a river cruise to enjoy this scenery from another perspective. Glad we didn't try that this year; Sunday's paper noted that the river is so shallow because of drought that the usual 2-hour cruise has been cut to just 45 minutes.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The New Normal

Augie, with three weeks of kindergarten under his belt, walks a little taller and behaves a little more responsibly. ViMae, initially bereft without him, is enjoying our undivided attention and learning who she wants to be when he’s not around. They were already spectacular, and now they are just a little more grownup.

We’ve settled into a daily routine. The kids still arrive at roughly 6:45, and I’ve started getting up at 7 instead of 8. There is time to play, eat a big breakfast (an hour earlier than we used to), and have lots of conversation. Then at exactly 8:07 Augie puts on shoes and jacket and heads out the door with his grandpa.

This routine works because Augie is much more able to do what he’s asked the first time. Come to breakfast. Wash hands. Time to go. These used to be a struggle, because he gets immersed in whatever he’s doing and it has been hard for him to let go. We all knew he needed to get better about it in order to get along in school, and he has risen to the occasion.

A couple of days ago he announced that he was ready for Pa to drop him off at school instead of parking the car and walking in with him. So yesterday Peter watched with a lump in his throat as Augie ran to the door, turned and gave a big grinning wave, and disappeared inside.

As Augie and Pa go out the door, ViMae is taking my hand and pulling me toward wherever she wants to play this day.

We do crafty things with markers, stickers, construction paper, play-dough, and the like. Using scarves, tiaras, and silk flowers we dress as dancers, as princesses, as a bride (her) and flower girl (me). We dance or drink pretend tea or practice walking slowly up an imaginary aisle. Often Pa reads to her, and sometimes we play a board game.

What is striking is that every activity lasts much longer than before. With Augie here, ViMae interrupted herself every few minutes to see what he was doing. Often she got sidetracked and didn’t return. Now we play for an hour or more at each activity, and as a result, her skills are developing: Our projects are more complete, our pretend stories more developed, our dances far more expressive. She often stops to say, "This is fun!" It will be fascinating to see where this leads.

Just as Augie decided he was ready to walk himself into school, ViMae has overcome her separation issues when we deliver her to preschool. Yesterday she hugged us and was gone in a flash. But earlier, when we mentioned that we planned to take turns driving her, as we did when just Augie went there, she let us know she likes both of us to come. As long as she feels that way, and since we both enjoy the experience, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

A whirlwind first hour, and a much calmer rest-of-the-day focused on one child instead of two. It’s all part of the new normal.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Adventures and adjustments

New adventures are good, but a little exhausting. We're all adjusting. :-)

That’s the closing line of Abby’s post summing up Augie’s first week of kindergarten and Vi’s first week without Augie as her constant companion. Each of them faced up to new challenges bravely, showing some emotion but pulling themselves together to get the job done. For the grownups who accompany them on these journeys, it tugs at the heart.

Augie faced serious butterflies before school Monday. He hadn’t slept much, couldn’t bring himself to eat, and was irritable and teary. Abby cuddled him, assuring him people do get nervous about big new things. He improved once he got dressed, but he wasn’t happy about posing for the obligatory first-day-of-school photo. When Abby said the pictures made him look dorky, she got a genuine laugh from both kids (and, I think, the world’s first non-dorky off-to-school photo).

At school, Augie held his mom’s hand for a long while and then said in a bright voice, “See you at the end of the day, Mom.” And when he bounded off the school bus eight hours later, he was grinning broadly and couldn’t wait to tell about his day.

At the end of the week, the teacher told Abby that Augie was doing great. “Today he read to me,” she said. He was reading book 8 of the Bone graphic novel series, so she got a good sense of both his ability and one of his great interests. His school, a St. Paul public school, is a Montessori-based magnet school, so we have high hopes for individualized experience.

At home after a full day of school, Augie is tired, and he indulges his need to be a kid without quite so many rules. But clearly he’s making the adjustment.

Meanwhile, ViMae is experiencing the biggest separation of her life. After delivering Augie to school Monday, she and her mom had a girls’ playdate. They made cookies and went to Vi’s favorite park, and while they had a nice time she said more than once that it would have been more fun with Augie there. (I love Abby's photo of Vi leaping at the park. This girl has spunk.)

Now that Augie is coming here before school, we make his needs the priority for that first hour. But after we get him off to school, every day is ViolaMae Day. We’ve taken her to breakfast and shopping at Michael’s, where she picked out a Disney Princess glitter-color kit (by the end of the day we both had glitter all over our faces). She and I went to the garden center and picked out mums for the yard and bulbs to be planted over the next few weeks. I just bought some sticker projects that I know she’ll love, and we have other Vi-centered activities planned. Once in a while she talks about Augie but like him, she’s trying to grow into her new role.

Still, we have witnessed their struggles. On Friday morning, Vi and I went along when Pa drove Augie to school, and we were all going in to see the layout. About 20 feet from the door, Augie suddenly froze. I thought maybe he was struggling with his heavy backpack, but when I looked closely at his face he seemed stunned. We kept asking questions, but as sometimes happens with his private thoughts, he ignored us. After 30 or 40 seconds, he simply moved on.  Peter and I think he was having a good time and then suddenly realized that while this was an outing for us, he wouldn’t be leaving when we did. He didn’t complain; he soldiered on. It fills my heart with pride, and pain. Change is hard.

For ViMae, the sadness hit at preschool. Her dad took her Wednesday afternoon, and when he tried to leave she burst into tears because Augie wasn’t there…even though they were never in the same classroom. When we took her Friday, she didn’t cry, but she returned again and again for prolonged hugs, until a teacher came over and sweetly asked Vi to come read a book together. It was just the invitation she needed, and she never looked back. Abby reports that later in the day Vi was running with some boys that have moved from Augie’s old room to Vi’s. They were playing Star Wars. She will know at least as much Star Wars trivia as they do, and she’ll be able to make up battle scenarios. It’s a match made in…Alderaan.

And it’s all part of the great new adventure.

(I borrowed all the photos from Abby's family blog.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Can't we home-school him for a while?

It’s very quiet here today. We’re trying not to be sad. You see, it’s Augie’s first day of kindergarten; his mom took the day off work to escort him. It’s full-day kindergarten, not half-days like when we were kids. And that's the rub.

age 9 months, reading Moo Baa La-La-La
As grandparents who’ve had this child and his sister in our home five days a week, we always saw our role not as babysitting but as helping prepare these two terrific little people for life, and of course for school. We always knew today was coming, and we're happy for him. But the transition feels abrupt. No wonder moms cry with their little ones start school!

It could be worse. Augie’s going to be here for a little over an hour each morning before Grandpa drives him to school, and we’re thankful for that. But we’ll miss spending long, unstructured days with him.

The transition will be especially challenging for ViMae, who has one more year with us before she, too, starts school. Augie has been the center of her universe. Much of the time, the thing she most wants to be doing is whatever Augie is doing. We are looking forward to helping her discover her own interests and passions while she has our undivided attention. But just for the moment, we’re looking back.

age 2, pretend-baking
Last evening (Grandparent's Day at that) we went out to dinner and talked about how we’ve contributed to Augie’s development as the amazing little person he is. He has great parents—both teachers—who give the kids all kinds of attention and experiences. But it’s satisfying to know we’ve added a lot to the mix.

Our first priority was always to be sure the kids know they are loved—by their parents, by us, by their other grandparents and family members. When Augie was two, we were singing “Old MacDonald.” Augie sang, “And on the farm he had a Grandma.” I held my breath. What would Grandma say? “With an ‘I love you’ here, an ‘I love you’ there….”. I posted on Facebook, “My life is complete.”

age 3, with official umpire's cap
Peter introduced Augie to the alphabet early; before the child could talk he could point to any letter you asked for. And Augie always loved to be read to; you’d finish a book and he’d say “Again!” until you couldn’t do that one any more and he’d crawl over to get another. Today this boy walked into his first day at school able to read at a third- or fourth-grade level, if not higher. On Friday he fluidly read me this flyer: “Shockingly fast Internet…Connect any device anywhere in your home with wireless home networking options.” We all contributed, but we think basically Augie taught himself, using tools we provided.

When he was eight months old I handed him a baseball; by the end of the day he could roll it straight to me, every time. At two he batted buckets of balls off a tee every day and hit live pitching besides. At three he sat in the stands and called balls and strikes—accurately. At four he tried to learn to keep a scorebook. Last week at five he turned his back to the game and read a Star Wars book! You can provide opportunities; they decide what to love and when.

age 4, at drum set
Over the years we helped foster his passion for varied music—Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker, old-school drumming by Gene Krupa, rock classics by the Who and the Stones. He loves the dancing of Fred Astaire but emulates the dancing of Donald O’Connor in Singing in the Rain. He makes his own music on guitar, piano, harmonica, violin, and most of all drums. We showed him that music can be read but never pushed him. Last week he studied some sheet music and said aloud to himself, “This is going to be hard.” Then he placed both hands on the piano keys and played a lovely, gentle piece very different in style from anything he has tried before. The music is in him, and as he gets older I know he’ll find new ways to express it.

age 4, making salad with ViMae
If you’re still with me, pardon me for bragging. But I am astonished by the way a child’s mind can absorb and keep information. He knows the world’s major wild animals and keeps the carnivores away from the herbivores when setting up his Lego zoo. He can identify dozens of Minnesota birds, and knows the details of all 70 dragons in our Dragonvale game. He sets up fire scenarios with his massive Lego fire department, and plays them out with great attention to details that he has pulled together from many sources. He knows every character, battle, weapon, vehicle, planet, droid, and episode title in Star Wars, and in which order the episodes were made. He keeps several other fictional worlds spinning in his mind as well, including the Hobbit and the Bone graphic novels. With Star Wars and those other worlds, Augie is the one who teaches us, and he does it patiently, repeating information that Pa and I just can’t quite keep straight.

He’s a planner. He has talked for a year or more about having a smoothie shop, so I decided to help him develop a business plan. I thought it would be a cute thing to pull out some day after he’s forgotten all about it. Well, this kid dictated a plan that includes the layout, location, staffing, menu, target audience, and even the tools he’ll need to build the place. Pa sketched elevations and floor plans to Augie’s specifications, and I’ve made menus, both hand-written and typed. He’s frustrated that he hasn’t been able to get a contractor working on it yet. When a teacher assigns him a project, he’s likely to carry it out pretty thoroughly.

age 5, with new Lego fire plane
Friday was Augie’s last regular day here for daycare, and we celebrated with a new Lego fire plane and his favorite Chinese food for lunch. As he happily skipped out the back door at the end of the day, Abby said, “And so it begins.” As a teacher, she can envision for better or worse the process on which he is embarking. I didn’t tell her that I was thinking, “And so it ends.”

But it doesn’t end. We’ll still see him every morning, and other times as well, most likely. And we still have unfinished business.

On Friday, he told Peter, “You need to teach me all your life lessons before you die, so I can teach them to my grandson.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Once in a blue moon…black helicopters and missing money

When I was growing up I thought the phrase “once in a blue moon” meant something very special and very rare. Now I understand that not only is the moon NOT blue, but that a blue moon occurs, on average, every 2.7 years. It can even happen twice in a single calendar year.

Still, the occasion of a blue moon seems an appropriate time to reflect on a couple of things that happened this past week, both of them surprising and rare.

First, I experienced black helicopters. Okay, not the silent stealth helicopters that figure in conspiracy theory. These were fairly loud, quite visible, and announced in advance: U.S. Special Operations Command would be carrying out urban training exercises all week in St. Paul and Minneapolis, using Black Hawk and Hughes 500 helicopters as part of the maneuvers.

Still, sitting outdoors at a minor league baseball game, it can be jarring when three military helicopters in perfect formation to come flying over the stadium from beyond the right field line before moving off toward downtown Minneapolis. Six more sets followed, alternating in groups of three and four. It was an odd sensation. They looked serious, loaded, ready for business. Some people seemed to react, as I did, with a little chill. It reminded me a bit of walking out my front door in Milwaukee in 1968 to see a National Guard tank rolling down the middle of the street. There had been rioting, the Guard was there to keep the peace, and I had not felt comforted. Seeing the Black Hawks overhead this week, I thought for just a second what could happen now, if society broke into open fighting or if an occupying force, foreign or domestic, moved in.

It was only a momentary chill, and quite clearly not everyone shared it. Many were simply surprised, and some smiled and waved as each helicopter went over. I could understand the impulse, because today in America we are very much into saluting and thanking our armed forces. But these special ops teams were not out for a sight-seeing tour. They were in serious training, and somehow it seemed wrong, or at least odd, to wave.

I learned from comments on a web site that the helicopters spent a lot of time in downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, buzzing the tall buildings and landing on rooftops. Reactions ranged from “Cool!” to “What’s happening—I’m scared!”

I think it’s fair to say this will happen only once in a blue moon.

My second rare and surprising experience: I got back some “unclaimed assets.” Have you seen the long lists of names in the newspapers, where the state says these people have money coming to them? I gave up checking them because I never saw my name there, and really, why would it be?

A few weeks ago my brother Allen, who works for the State of Minnesota, told me he saw my name, with an old address, on, the website that Minnesota now uses in place of the names-in-a-newspaper system. Sure enough, it was my name and my address, and it said I was owed “More than $100.” The party owing me money was an insurance company with whom I’d had my first life insurance policy. When I saw that, something clicked. I’d seen a notice about policyholders being owed money in a distribution of assets, but I had dismissed it.

All I had to do now was enter some contact information plus, ahem, my Social Security number. That gave me pause. I began checking the authenticity of the site. I could find no complaints online, no mention of scams. In fact, reputable financial writers referred to this service as useful, and recommended checking one’s own name as well as older relatives who might have a forgotten old savings account or a distribution that couldn’t reach them because a company that owed them money only had an old address. Wait, that sounded familiar.

So I filled in the online form, which was submitted to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and I said to my husband, “Wonder whether I’ll ever hear from them.”

This week I got a check from the state. For nearly $800.

That, too, will probably only happen once in a blue moon. But I am encouraged by the fact that blue moons aren't as scarce as I once thought.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

One reason I am a blissed-out grandma

Each day when we're together, ViMae asks, "Do you want to play Mom and Kid?" "Of course," I say, and suddenly I am The Kid. I have no actual kid name, and my age varies from one to ten. It is often Kid's birthday, a good excuse for a play tea party.

In fact, we can play anything just the way we usually do, except periodically Vi says something in her Mom character and I respond in kind.

A couple of weeks ago we were playing with Play-Doh, feathers, and pipe cleaners, and she carried on a long conversation with her bird/Princess Leia creation. Seeing the nice light, I grabbed my camera and snapped away. She pretended not to notice.

When she was done playing and I stopped shooting, she asked innocently, "What were you doing, Kid?" I'm pretty sure she knew. And now I'm sharing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Finding my voice: three years of blogging

Today marks the third anniversary of my blog--the "leather" anniversary, according to my friend Jayne, who celebrated hers last week.

This is a welcome time for an anniversary. I have been posting only every couple of weeks, and lately when I begin a draft it turns out to be about the weather. Granted, weather has been a worthy topic this summer, but my drafts weren't contributing to the discussion.

Checking my early posts, I found a bit of inspiration. Three years ago, I was writing without readers, hence without conversation. At least a few posts from back then are clamoring to be reintroduced, this time to a group of lovely people whose opinions and contributions I value greatly.

This blog has been an exercise in finding my own voice after a long career of writing in other people's voices. I wrote endlessly in the "institutional" voice on behalf of three colleges and universities. I wrote letters and speeches for college presidents, and a book in the voice of a long-time baseball player, and they all said I captured them well. But what about me?

Before I could start blogging, I had to persuade myself that I had something to share, and then I had to develop a writing style that conveyed what I wanted to say. I wanted to speak directly, from me to you, and before long I began to incorporate a bit of my casual conversational style. Briefly, I also tried out some of the sarcasm I enjoy when other folks do it, but I couldn't make it work for me. I learned to keep things short (sort of) and to write about more topics than just my grandchildren. I still work on my posts, but I no longer labor over them. Blogging feels much more comfortable now.

This summer, while recuperating from a broken leg, I was feeling that the best thing about blogging is reading others, not writing my own. But I think it's only fair to give back by writing and commenting, and I feel the energy returning. Thank you for everything that you share--ideas, comments, encouragement, wonderful bits of thought that make life richer.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tempting the Laughing Gods

Me: The people organizing the Olympics opening ceremonies invited Keith Moon to come and play the drums. I guess they forgot that he died in 1978.

Augie: Can you get to the Olympics on an airplane? I’ll ask my Mom and Dad to take me there, because they need a drummer.

And in other news…

I’m free! After two months, I can throw away all the devices I relied on to get around, and walk on my own two feet.

Farewell, Cadillac splint!
I have jettisoned the bulky fiberglass splint I wore for a month. (It’s called a Cadillac splint. When I said it didn’t feel much like a Cadillac, the orthopedist said, accurately, “You’ve never tried the other kind.”) I have put away a bag full of elastic bandages that held the splint in place, and the lace-up and wrap-around boot that braced my ankle for three weeks after the splint. We’ve hung up the crutches and returned the rented wheelchair.

That only leaves me with an elastic band for ankle-strengthening exercises, and some overall exercises to get back my energy and muscle tone. Amazing how they ebb away when one is sitting around being a good patient. My fibromyalgia acted up during that time, too, but when I finally recognized the symptoms I stopped eating so much sugar and restarted some vitamin and mineral supplements I hadn’t needed for a while, and I started feeling better.

Then I got a nasty surprise. I found a couple of red marks on my lower back, each with a slight bullseye pattern. I hadn’t been anywhere associated with ticks, but Lyme disease is the last thing I need, so I saw a doctor that same day. She ruled out Lyme and thought it might be pressure sores from sitting around so much. But she also decided to test for shingles. Shingles? She thought it very unlikely. The tests came back. Shingles. I hope I’m not tempting the Laughing Gods of Retribution by saying that it's a very minor case, compared to what I see on the Internet. My only discomfort is a few tiny shooting pains (like electrical charges) and some fatigue. I started on acyclovir early, so the doctor says I may avoid the pain that many people get long after the little red marks have disappeared. I hope she’s right. (She also says the shingles vaccine doesn't guarantee that you won't get shingles but it might help reduce the severity. I was going to get the vaccine after my leg healed. Don't need it now.)

The weather is better (slightly lower temps and much lower humidity), and now that I can walk I am able to begin tending a garden that needs, at the very least, some major weeding. The Olympics are about to begin, and we have some nice family activities planned. Life is good.

I hope the same is true for you.



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