01 October 2010

Changing Seasons

It is difficult for the State Fair to truly disappoint, but I faced some sad realities there this year.  Although we parents joke about how our teenage kids hate us and would rather be anywhere else but near us, there's a grain of truth in there.  Not so much a rejection of us, but an embrace of their own selves blossoming and growing, away from us.  We did some exploring of the fair together, but they were far more interested in their own adventures, and fellow adventurers, than they were in their family. 
An additional complication:  Thing 3 and her older counterparts are experiencing a period of particular friction, and must bicker and snark about every aspect of their lives together.  It was far more peaceful to have the teens out on their own and keep the tween and little brother with me.
As we hit the Kidway, I had even further cause for melancholy.   First off, there are more and more rides that my little guy is outgrowing.  Though he's not quite up for the thrill rides on the Mighty Midway yet, the beep-beep cars and baby ferris wheel are past him now.  Luckily, the Kidway at MSF has a nice variety of rides of various levels, and he and his sister found plenty to do as I watched.  Unfortunately, I can no longer do spinning rides without careful planning and Dramamine.  That's one of those physiological quirks I experience that seem to coincide with childbearing.  I can still do coasters, but spinning is a no-no, and upside-down has not yet been tested.
As I watched from the sidelines, I had another pang I wasn't expecting.  My bachelor uncle, Tyke, doted on me when I was little.  He was always the one to take me to the county fair.  We'd go in the afternoons when it was less crowded; my mom would either nip off by herself to the exhibits, or spend the afternoon with my grandma at the house she shared with Tyke on the edge of the fairgrounds. He'd take me on rides and buy me pie and ice cream in the church booth, trying to convince me that the blueberries and raisins in the pies came from the fly strips hanging in the rafters.  When I had kids, my much older brother, Don, became the Tyke to them; when there was a carnival or fair in the neighborhood, he'd generally show up and cart them off to the midway.  The last time Thing 3 qualified for state, he met us there and took the kids on rides while iPastor and I got to sneak in a bit of a Dennis DeYoung concert.  As I watched my kids that hot August afternoon, I suddenly missed my brother terribly.  I am generally at peace with Don's death.  I am surprised when these moments sting so sharply.
Fast on the heels of State Fair came the Lifelight festival.  We only went for part of Saturday and most of Sunday this year, but we had a nice visit staying at Hotel Grandma, and our German and Kiwi kids got in a little Sioux Falls shopping.  The festival weather was nearly perfect, the new location is great, and the music was awesome.  A wonderful wrap to summer.
Everyone trundled off to school, and by the end of the second week the back-to-school colds were making the rounds at a furious pace.  So far I've avoided a full blown case of anything, but I've been really working on fluids and naps to make sure it stays that way.
We spent my birthday weekend in the cities, using passes to Como Town that Thing 3 won at the fair, visiting with friends and family, and spending Sunday at the Renaissance Festival.  Again, we were faced with the differing tastes and preferences of a growing family, and I sadly realized how few real family events we have left as Thing 1 looks ahead to college next year, Thing 2 close on her heels.  I had another sting from Don as well, remembering how we'd taken him to his first Renfest and made an addict of him.  With the sting comes a smile, though, so those moments are welcome.
My drive to school is becoming more red and gold, as well as brown from the crops.  Quite a bit of rain last week has kept the fields too muddy to harvest, but the crops themselves are ready to go, except in very low spots.  The cool damp of last week has been replaced with a stretch of Indian summer, which I am enjoying very much, though it hatched out the Boxelder bugs. I felt it was time to post, but now I need to get up and out into that sunshine while it lasts.  Happy Fall to All.  

21 August 2010

It's nearly time.

I am a shameless Minnesota State Fair addict.  I don't even know why.  Generally, I don't care for hot, overcrowded, overpriced venues, but for some reason I get all giddy and weird at state fair time.  We live a solid three-hour drive from the state fairgrounds, so, unlike some people, I can't get to the fair every day.  I've considered taking a fair job just for that purpose, but school workshop days and Lifelight conflict, and I am also a Lifelight junkie and a fan of my job, so that doesn't work out.
The Minnesota State fairgrounds is bigger than the town where I live, which really isn't all that difficult, so I guess that's a poor comparison.  It doesn't change the fact, however, that the Great Minnesota Get Together is a whole lotta big.  There are lots of cool things to see, many free stages with live entertainment of all sorts, and free swag from bandanas to shopping bags, to yardsticks, to things the kids can build.
Nearly every year, someone in the family participates in the County Fair Talent Contest.  That determines the date we attend.  We have a little choice in the matter, so I try to shoot for Monday through Thursday whenever possible. One year we wound up performing on a Friday and the mass of humanity that day set a fair attendance record. That was not my idea of fun. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my favorites, as they are usually discount days.
As well as being a state fair junkie, I am also a cheapskate.  These two things may not seem to go well together, but I make it work.  Once we learn our date for the fair, I hit the website, downloading the schedules and scouring the contents of the Blue Ribbon Coupon Book.  I buy tickets ahead of time to save a few pennies, and plan my assault.  I spend the extra ticket to park on site and leave a cooler in the vehicle with water and snacks (now that I no longer have to push a stroller all day, which was handy for cooler hauling).  I advise my kids to pick treats that we can't find at home.  The Evil*Empire has cotton candy in the snack bar; go for a deep fried candy bar, spam nuggets, or falafel on a stick.  Exceptions are made for Sweet Martha's cookies by the bucket and State Fair French Fries, um, also by the bucket.  Although these are commonly-found foodstuffs, there's something special about the ones at the fair.
We refer to our family as "Seat of Our Pants Productions," but over the years I have learned that the state fair is not the place for spontaneity.   The place is too dang big. If one wanders aimlessly, he will quickly become exhausted and want nothing more than to claim a bench and remain there. Without at least a basic plan, about the time someone decides they'd like to check out an act on one of the stages, its too late to get there for the last showing of that group.  So we plan.  I have everyone else check out the schedule for ideas, and plot a route.  I allow for deviation if someone finds something interesting and wants to check it out, but I can be a bit of a Fair Nazi.  I tend to skip the livestock barns and ag/hort building; as a rural Minnesotan, I get plenty of exposure to those items on a fairly regular basis.  I go for the attractions we can't find at our local fairs.  Some of us always go on the skyride or space needle.  Who cares if we did it last year?  The fair from the air is always a kick (except for the acrophobics in the family.)
I must go now, to scour the map and plan the attack.  I shall return to you with tales of our conquest, and pictures of loot!

22 July 2010

A little hint...

Thing 4 came to tell me about the present he put together for his sister.  It took a little creative questioning, but when I finally got the whole story, after I stopped laughing, I let Thing 2 know she should probably tone it down a bit.
It seems that Thing 4 went outside and talked a little with one of the contractors (also a neighbor, so it's all cool).  He went to his truck and handed him a pair of orange foam earplugs.  Contractor told Thing 4 to give them to his sister, so she wouldn't be bothered by him and yell at him so much.

21 July 2010

Summer, we hardly knew ye

Hopefully, y'all haven't given up on me out there!  Summer has been rocketing by, as summers are wont to do, and though it seems on the surface I haven't much to show for it, closer inspection reveals more. I'd hate to bore folks with the "What I Did on the First Half of My Summer Vacation" essay, but my brain works best chronologically, so deal with it.
Memorial Day Weekend we spent mostly at home, but did venture south to visit my sister's family and decorate the stones.  The kids took some rubbings and we jotted down some info for iPastor to use for genealogical work on my side of the family at his leisure.  He's a hobbyist at that, and far better at it than I.  That evening, we took a short detour on the way home and adopted Oscar, a beautiful blue merle rough collie.  I currently have but a crappy cell phone camera, so I have no pictures to share.  Google it.  I'll wait here.  Pretty, isn't he?  His family had obviously trained him well and taken very good care of him, but the kids were out of the nest and everyone left at home is too busy to give him the attention they feel he deserves, so he came to us.  Poor dog.  He's very well-behaved, if a bit clingy, and the only real fault I can find with him is that he sheds like crazy.  Every time we brush him we get enough fur for another dog, so we've taken to calling his brushings "puppies."  Thing 4 has a new job of gathering or vacuuming Oscar puppies.
The elder two Things left their McJobs after a new manager made conditions there quite miserable for them.  They have both taken on new positions as sandwich artists, however, and I can't wait until their beards grow in and they can get their very own bones. /obscure reference
We got our two exchange students sent off, and on the way home from the airport iPastor bought an iPad, which he said was a fair tradeoff for the dog.  Since I also got to play in a musical all of June, I'll call it even.  I might be able to scrounge some pictures of that, but I have to figure out who has the rights to what on the theatre Flickr account.
Back on the home front, I set out with a massive "to do" list at the beginning of summer, that I tried to make more realistic by breaking into small chunks.  As of yesterday, we had accomplished 26 out of 70 items on the list.  Not too shabby.  I definitely won't go back to school thinking I accomplished nothing.  As I speak, my neighbor the carpenter is banging about on the roof, installing shingles.  So that's siding, most of the windows, and shingles accomplished in the last 3 years.  Again, not too shabby, if detrimental to the Paradise Falls fund. /not-quite-so-obscure reference
As we settle in for the rest of the summer, I'm hopeful about a supplemental job in my district, awaiting the arrival of the next two exchange students, madly trying to help with the placement of 18 more students in our region, getting ready to plan my newly revamped class, working a little bit more at Job 2, planning a couple days camping with friends, and just generally trying to grab onto these last days of summer as they fly by.   Hopefully, they'll contain some lively fodder for these poor, neglected, virtual pages.

17 June 2010

Mutal of Watson's Wild Kingdom

caricature by Chip Cooper

Hello and welcome to this weeks's edition of Mutual of Watson's Wild Kingdom.  The housecat, usually docile and calm, will revert to its instinctive predatory habits when in the presence of prey.  We see here Felis Cattus lounging carelessly in the back lawn, when a baby blackbird drops into its field of vision.  It is a scientific mystery as to why the blackbirds have suddenly become so clumsy, but this spring they have been dropping out of the nest, and complaining loudly about it, at an alarming rate.  This young fledgling has chosen an inopportune spot to descend, and squawks helplessly as the housecat takes notice of the bird's prediciment, and hunches to pounce.  Adult birds hop through the trees in the yard,  setting off a noisy shrieking alarum call, following the cat's path in the air even as she trods it afoot.
As the cat prepares to take her kill, the birds, so clumsy in their youth, show a surprising aptitude for military airstrike tactics.  The birds form a respectable five-man strafing formation, dive bombing the cat.  Her concentration ruined, the cat slinks away, mightily offended at the interference of the adult birds, who have caused enough distraction for the nighbor kid to scoop the bird into a low hanging nest, allowing a few minutes of respite until it takes the plunge again.  Tune in again next week, when Jim Fowler braves the front sidewalk against the mighty peril of the barn swallow.

26 May 2010


It seems that every time I get worked up enough to write about something, someone beats me to the punch. Not too long ago I got an email about the men who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns.  My spidey sense immediately began to tingle at catch phrases "for life," "swear an oath," and "never."  So I googled up the National Cemetery website and the Tomb of the Unknown's site and verified my suspicions.  Someone felt it necessary to embellish the already interesting story of these tomb guards by injecting a bunch of hyperbole and outright untruths.  Isn't their job honorable enough without all the claptrap?  It seems like I'm getting more of these sorts of emails lately.  About the time I got a good rant worked up to write, I found this site as I looked for sources.  Go there.  They do it well enough.  I don't have to reinvent the wheel.

May has been just about enough to wear a body out.  We came out of April with unseasonably warm, beautiful weather, then dove into a week and a half of March rain.  Once we shook that off, the gnats came out in attack mode, and the temps shot into the nineties.  Between our family activities and my commitments at work, we've churned through three choir concerts, two band concerts, two recognition breakfasts, one honors awards night, a camping weekend involving no showers, exchange students from 15 countries and a voyageurs canoe, a junior high dance, two dance shows, and a retirement party.  Still left: another campout, a graduation and, sadly, two funerals, one for a young lady gone far too soon.

I also made my semiannual leap of folly into MASC's production of Hello, Dolly!  Mrs. Levi ought to keep me out of trouble for a few weeks.

Now it's time to fetch the McKid home from work.  Here's hoping I can put my nose above water again soon.

02 May 2010

My lawn maintenance plan is sanctioned by God!!!

So you may have gotten this forward in your email, but it is too good not to share:

St  Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in  the world is going on down there on the planet? What  happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I  started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden  plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand  drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and  flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of  colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

It's  the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites.  They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to  great lengths to kill them and replace them with  grass.

Grass?  But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms.  It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites  really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it  green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and  poisoning any other plant that crops up in the  lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

No,  Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it  away.

Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Yes,  Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops  growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to  water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What  nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and  form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into  great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

No!?  What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

After  throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something  which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

And where do they get this mulch?

They cut down trees and grind them up to make the  mulch.

Enough!  I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you  scheduled for us tonight?

'Dumb  and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St.  Francis. 

17 April 2010

Be careful what you wish for

The weather in these parts has been gorgeous.  Too gorgeous.  After our soggy flood stage, the water has receded and not been replaced by much rain.  It's also been dreadfully windy lately, and last evening as I was driving, clouds of topsoil were visible gusting across the road.
On the competition front, a good time was had by all at knowledge bowl, but the team placed well out of the running.  Meanwhile, two of my speakers have qualified for state, so we're bound for that tournament next Saturday.  Then, I'll have my Saturdays back!
Meanwhile, I think I'll find something constructive to do with my few remaining hours of weekend...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

05 April 2010

Spring sprang

Here in our part of the upper Minnesota River valley, its been all about the high water lately. Two of my three routes to work were underwater for the better part of the last two weeks. The third came close. Tuesday last, the wind picked up and blew ice onto the causeway, reducing traffic to one lane. MnDOT had electronic signs in readiness in case they had to post warnings. The water receded and MnDOT in its infinite wisdom decided this was the perfect time to drag those signs out and light them up. And leave them there for two weeks.
Spring has been busy. I had planned to roll seamlessly from Knowledge Bowl season into Speech season, but my first Varsity team decided to be stinkers and qualify for state, requiring another month of practice and extending the season into April. We'll head to a lake resort up north for State competition on April 15, and the way the weather's been, some of the parents may be booking tee times. Meanwhile, the speech team has been plugging away as well, and I expect a couple of them to qualify for state as well. The regional competition starts this week.
We've had a dryer on the fritz lately, and have made quite a challenge of line drying and ironing. It will be interesting to see the electric bill. It has led to wonderful family togetherness, enjoying games like "Sock Concentration."

The local Chamber had an Easter event downtown:  egg coloring, Easter Bunny, and a door to door basket fill, a la trick-or-treating, but with more pastels.  The kids named it the Creepy Bunny Crawl, however, due to the stylized rabbit poster marking participating stores:

And, in a sure sign of spring, the train is back:

Although you'll note, the engineer is not so optimistic as to remove the snowblower just yet...

08 March 2010

Holy Cow, did I let a month sneak by again?

Winter plods on in our little corner of Minnesota. The slush and rain is ugly and grey, but hopefully will precede not so much flooding this spring,
We pulled over on the way home from school to watch a HUGE bald eagle just sitting in a field, hangin' out, minding his eagley business.
Kyle is home from a weekend trip to LA, where he had meetings and training for our job with EF There are so many awesome kids this year, we want to host them all. Instead, we're looking for awesome homes for them. If you'd like to host an exchange student and touch the life of a kid from another country, check out the link or contact me here.
My team goes to regional Knowledge Bowl competition tomorrow, and hopefully on to state from there.
Sorry to be such a poor hostess here. I've got spring fever and I'm itching to clean, putz and plant.
You all keep warm and THINK SPRING!!!

08 February 2010

Snow day!

Made pancakes. Kid helped.
Kids did chores on their own. (they wanted something)
Got a few chores done.
Had a real conversation with my husband.
Made a big dinner. Other kids helped.
Cooked ahead for the week.
No wonder the day seemed to fly by.

07 February 2010

Why I'm neglecting you

In brief:

Someone quit at Job2 and I'm working more lately.
Education cooperative gigantic inservice day
End-of-Quarter workday
End of quarter work load
Beginning of Semester lesson plans
Training weekend for foreign exchange program concurrent with...
Supervision of ski trip for 102 foreign exchange students
Watching the Vikings, yet again, snatch defeat form the jaws of a victorious season
Nearly weekly knowledge bowl tournaments disrupted by...
Nearly weekly snowstorms

Aside from all this, we're all well, if a bit winter weary.
Off to prep for next week's mayhem!

19 January 2010

Take it Tuesday: Winter Blues

A recap for the Winter Blues theme: the view from the landing.

18 January 2010

Mr. Murphy and the knowledge bowl tournament

Our New Year's Eve game party was mostly harmless. A good friend and "auntie" to the kids came out for a visit over the long weekend, bringing along the boyfriend of Thing 2. He's a great kid, and was nice to have around. We got in a good visit as we alternated shotgun duty... The kids have started inviting their friends for the NYE party, and this year it was kind of a pain in the butt. There is such a continuum of maturity in kids that age. Some of them were great fun to be around, and some were toddlers in teen bodies. I don't think they'll be invited back en masse. The grownups all behaved themselves fairly well.

I managed to spend a few hours that Sunday getting myself ready to go back to school. In our infinite wisdom, the regional Knowledge Bowl coaches planned subregional competition the day after break. I thought I did a pretty good job of laying out my sub plan and my preparations for our home tournament. Monday went fine and one of my teams qualified for regions. I came home and got to work on the tournament planning. Tuesday I accomplished quite a bit, and assembled my packets for the printer, planning to send them Wednesday. On Wednesday, school released early in the onset of a winter storm. At bedtime, Thursday school was already two hours late. By 5 am it had been cancelled. I got quite a bit more done working from home, and hoped for a late start Friday to get my tourney packets to the printer and set up the scoring software with the IT dude. They called off school. By 8:30, I'd made a few calls, and determined that if I could get myself to school and find a custodian to let me in to print, I was home free. By 11:30, I was there, none the worse for wear (the side roads were still plugged and the windchill was nasty, but the main roads had been cleared) and spent the day in a blind rush putting my tournament together. Saturday dawned clear and cold, and the tournament went off well, but not until after a good deal of hairpulling on my part. This past week I spent catching up all the stuff I let slide while I worked on the tournament, and putting in a few more hours to help cover at Job 2. Hopefully that serves as an explanation of my absence around here, especially when combined with the fact that my life has been pretty uneventful and boring.

We did discover another impostor cat, this one resembling our grey striped tabby, Raelin. This one is also much friendlier than the other impostor, inviting himself in. Our Vietnamese daughter let him in, not realizing until later it wasn't Rae. My sister-in-law was just here for a short visit and let him in on the way out. He was here long enough to have a quick snack and use the rest room, so I suppose he's no worse than the kids' friends.
Tonight the Vietnamese daughter must participate in "Snow Days" coronation, so I'll get in a little work time at school and get prepped up for the rest of the quarter. The school year is nearly half over. It boggles the mind.