Don’t Blink

Don’t Blink, Kenny Chesney

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Part of living in God’s country is country western music.  It’s literally the only music one can access on local stations. Thank goodness for all the alternative sources of music.

Country Western, in itself, wouldn’t be so bad except that more often than not, the theme is about loss…sad songs pulling on your emotions.

Regardless, a current local DJ favorite is an old Kenny Chesney song, Don’t Blink.

I’ve included it just in case you live in an area that does not favor the CW genre. The song plays well as the backdrop to this post so you might want to click on the play button just to get the full effect…

My kids and four grandsons descended this past week.  We had great fun — the boys spending most of their time paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, playing marathon monopoly and eating.  Lots of eating, but then, they are all still growing skywards. They tower over me, making me that much more aware of just how quickly time is passing.

My oldest grandson recently graduated from University of California, celebrated his 23rd birthday and is stepping into a whole new life adventure.

Don’t Blink.

The two sixteen year old cousins remain two peas in a pod, even though they’re launching in very different directions — one, interning at the California Academy of Sciences, has a science bent that far exceeds his age, and the other, a strong student with multi-faceted interests, is currently dedicated to his first love, playing varsity football.  The fourteen year old missed the competitive gene despite having the build of a football player, but shows exceptional talent as an artist and sculptor.

My oldest and only granddaughter, in her early 30’s, is with her wife in London, where she is living her dream of being the lead pastry chef for a boutique cafe chain.  They are hoping to become moms in the near future.

Which also means I’ll be a great-grandmother.

Don’t Blink.

And my kids?  Hovering on either side of 50 and, despite life challenges in health, family and careers, remain good people.

And that is ultimately what counts.

In all of this, I find it a bit curious that as we age and perhaps face more goodbyes than new adventures, there are unexpected moments of solitude and reflection, usually in the silence after the cars, kids, grand-kids and grand-dogs have departed.

It seems, at least for me, that it is in those moments of Aloneness that I have become keenly aware that the regrets and losses of our lifetimes stay closer than the successes.

The importance of the triumphs of our lives, those events once celebrated, have diminished with time.  Like fine dust caught in a breeze, they leave little more than a whisper of a memory.

But the regrets? oh my.  They hover close, just waiting for that moment of Aloneness to remind us once again of what we might have done, might have given, might have said…

…the different paths that our lives, and the people whose lives we touched, might have taken, if only…

Don’t Blink.

 

The Old Gang

Once upon a timIMG_0790e, there were three grandsons of preschool age.  There was also one very large youthful black cat.

The boys quickly learned that if they were gentle with the cat, he would reward them with loud purring.

When the grandsons came to visit, they’d race into the house.

The cat raced under my bed.

Within minutes, the kids were down on the floor in my bedroom, circling the bed and the cat. 

Poor BlackJack. He knew better than to bite or claw and he didn’t stand a chance against three boys.  Sooner or later, one of the boys would get his hand on the 18 pounds of fur and muscle and pull the mildly protesting cat out from his hiding place.

The kids had their routine.  The three boys, with the cat in the center, would sprawl on Grandma’s bed and catch up with the happenings of their lives or make plans for their time together.  In time, BlackJack showed the boys his favorite hiding place on the shelf of a large bay window. The four would often curl up on a blanket in bay window, hiding from the adult world behind white linen curtains.

On the bed or in the bay window, BlackJack would eventually roll over on his back and purred along with their conversation while the boys rubbed his tummy.  The cat looked like a furry Buddha.

The kids adored him.

In time, the oldest of the three boys joined the 4H and got some hens and a rooster for his project.  He named the rooster BlackJack.  Neither his mom nor I could ever figure out the connection, but to a seven year old, it made perfect sense.

It was not too long after the year of 4H that BlackJack the Rooster died. Mom wasn’t too terribly concerned about informing the young owner as she had now taken over care of the remaining birds. She waited for her son to come home from school and sat him down.

I have some sad news. BlackJack died this morning.

My young grandson’s lower lip began to quiver and tears welled up in his eyes. Mom was not expecting this.

Honey, he was an old rooster and had lived…

The Rooster? The Rooster?  I thought you meant Grandma’s cat.  Jeez, Mom, he was just a rooster.

But BlackJack the cat…he was one of the gang.

Then, as things are apt to happen, the three boys grew into young men.  They got much taller, much louder with much deeper voices, and BlackJack the cat grew older as well.

During this last visit, the boys occasionally tried to entice BlackJack out from under my bed, but the cat was having nothing to do with the teenagers. He no longer wanted to hear about their adventures or be part of the old gang.

BlackJack spent the better part of their visit hiding under my bed, coming out only to grab a bite of food when the boys were at the lake, or curling up with me at bedtime. 

When the travelers got the car packed and headed off, it was a while before BlackJack ventured out.  He was exhausted and stretched out to sleep first on the couch, then on my bed.

But, for hours, every time a car drove by, his ears would perk up and BlackJack would stare out the front screen door, just to make sure the kids weren’t returning. When a car had safely driven past our driveway, he’d curl up to rest again.  Soon, he fell into a well-deserved deep sleep.

Truth be told, as much as I love everyone showing up, I know just how BlackJack feels.

I think I’ll join him for a nap.

 

 

The Science Project

scienceWhen the grandkids descended, it was not just to eat, fish, terrorize the cat and see Grandma.  It was so Mom and Grandma could complete the annual middle school Science Project.

Two of my grandchildren attend a small school in a smaller school district in an upscale area.  To say the school district takes itself quite seriously would be a monumental understatement.  They strive to make sure their students are functioning at much higher levels than developmentally possible.

Translation: with luck, their parents are college educated and can do the work.

I helped Grandson I for two years with The Science Project, and have just completed year one with his younger brother. 

The Science Project Directions for Sixth Grade (12 years old): 

Select an experiment that can inform our community.  Include a summary introduction, manipulated, responding and controlled variables, a problem statement, research question, hypothesis, background research as well as materials, procedures, setup drawings/photos, observations, data tables, results, analysis and a conclusion.

All of which well might be fine… if the students actually had a science class that walked them through their experiments and reports.

They don’t.

…and, if the expectation was for the experiment, report and poster were in line with the abilities of sixth, seven and eighth graders. 

They aren’t.

Translation:  select an experiment that the parents can underwrite, conduct, marginally understand and submit a 30 some page word processed report as well as an artistic poster board presentation for the community to admire.

When Grandson I first ventured out, he and his partner teamed up with partner’s Dad to measured the levels of methane gas with Dad’s company’s newly developed thingamajig.  Unfortunately, as the thingamajig hadn’t yet been completely patented, much of the threesome’s findings remained largely confidential. 

While the kids didn’t have much a clue as to what they were doing, they did enjoy the trips to woods, cemeteries and the ocean in Dad’s brand new car to measure whatever Dad could measure on said thingamajig. 

The Mom in the equation is an exceptionally talented artist so while Dad helped write the required report, keeping the non-disclosure items confidential, Mom made an incredible poster for the required Science Fair, where the kids appropriately dress up to show off their parents’ handiwork.

Entering the Fair, the boys were very excited to discover that the exceptionally professional and artistic poster, the focal point of the exhibit, was actually theirs.

The ensuing years have not been as easy for my daughter and son-in-law, who have now had to take the lead on these annual Science Projects. Grandma, former English teacher and Office Word and Excel Wizard, has been recruited to do the editing and de-plagiarizing as well as the formatting of the overall report and data tables for Mom’s poster board. 

This year, as I am pretty much fully retired, I was also assigned to gather some of the background research. 

The annual Science Project is an extended family activity.

The adults attempt to follow the Science Project webpage and directions, which evidently haven’t been updated since 2010 and could possibly be the reason this year’s project was due in the middle of Spring Break and website refers back to what we covered in class when, in fact, there is no class.

Just the Project. And it has to be in Goggle Docs.

There’s a required Table of Contents, which is not found in Goggle Docs, and a list of all the topics to be included in the TOC.  A good number of those topics are not included in the directions that follow, but, to keep things more or less balanced, there are other topics that evidently do need to be included.

The pages are to be numbered a particular way, which is more or less standard formatting in college and quite easy for a former English teacher to format with either Word or an old timey typewriter, but the particular formatting required can’t be done in Goggle Docs.

Sigh.

The website for the science project is akin to jumping into a rabbit hole — a string of one idea/link after another, with no organization and minimal application to what has been assigned.

It’s no wonder the parents (and grandparents) get frustrated.

To be fair, by the time of the Science Fair, the kids do have a superficial understanding of what has transpired and, as it’s all about appearances, they do have to wear nice outfits when they present their parents’ work.

This is where many of the young boys actually get involved: figuring out their wardrobe and the tie, pressed shirt and nice pants that will make the most interesting contrast with their florescent Nikes.

Apparently, I still have two more years of the annual Science Project and then the youngest grandson will be off to high school, where the assignments will be oh-so-much easier.

 

 

The Perfect Gift

Back gift Awhen Christmas shopping meant heading downtown to wander in and out of neighborhood shops and window shopping meant peering through glass at wonderfully imaginative scenes, Christmas shopping was almost fun. There was feeling of anticipation, even with having to brave December weather, slippery sidewalks and little ones whining, crying or wanting to see Santa. It was just all part of Christmas shopping adventure. After I finished, there was exhaustion, but a good exhaustion, knowing I had found and chosen a special gift for each person on my list.

Those days gave way to shopping centers and mega-stores and then mega-shopping centers, with temperature controlled environments, carpeted walkways and imitation nostalgia.  The entire experience became a bit surreal, like being plopped into the middle of a movie set. I knew exactly what was around the corner of any walkway.  More of the same.

I felt trapped in some enormous maze without any exit in sight…all of which was a bit ironic, given that I had fought so hard and so long for an actual parking place, which in itself was the equivalent to an E ticket admission. 

I think that just gave away my age.

More than a few years ago, I recall sitting at my computer, phone on speaker, listening to my daughter, then daughter-in-law on the other end and sitting in front of her computer screen. It took under an hour to get through all five grandkids’ wish lists, moms directing me to websites and the perfectly desired item and grandma pushing the BUY and SEND buttons.  Efficient, yes. And the kids got what they wanted. But not a whole lot of fun.

Today, regardless of the time of day or night, I simply wandered up and down my laptop, ipad or smart phone screen, looking pictures, descriptions and reviews of special gifts for special someones, all while I sit cozy at home in my robe with a mug of hot coffee. Christmas will arrive at someone’s doorstep, professionally wrapped with a generic holiday tag of well wishes. 

I love Small Business Saturdays. It reminds me of times past, and even though the grandkids now just want cash, easier yet, I can still wander in and out of the local shops in search of a small item or two that may make Christmas just a wee bit more special.

This Thanksgiving, my eldest grandson sat down to catch me up on his university studies.  He shared that he was so very excited about math — Advanced Calculus — and had set the curve on the midterm.  He has found his passion in a subject area I avoid like the plague.  He obviously got that gene from the other end of his DNA pool.

Eldest grandson had learned that he transferred in sufficient credits so he could easily obtain a minor or double major; his counselor suggested something in Engineering, perhaps Software Engineering.  His aunt jumped into the mix, asking if he wanted an internship with her large company that is working on the next generation of satellite and space exploration.

I’ve seldom seen my grandson so excited as he explained the future possibilities of space exploration.

When he paused to catch his breath, I asked, do you have any idea what your great-grandfather did?

No.

It was my opening to share about his grandfather’s father, who was systems manager for the Pioneer satellite probes to a number of planets and then, into deep space.  Evidently, this young apple didn’t fall far from the family tree. 

Eldest grandson was amazed. He wanted to see the binder of all of his great-grandfather’s achievements, which has sat safe in a binder in my bookcase for years, and is making a special trip up to see the binder (and, of course, me) after finals.

It’s not quite time yet, but I do know of a very special future Christmas gift that already has Eldest Grandson’s name on it.

 

 

Spanish Roscos

roscosChristmas is one season that is filled with traditions.

My dad’s family had a tradition that was handed down from one generation to the next for oh, maybe a few hundred years, give or take.  It was a recipe is for small round donut-shaped cookies called Roscos (with long “o’s”) that are the traditional Spanish cookie for Christmas.

While other Spanish families have similar recipes, even calling them by the same name, our recipe is special and, as I’ve mentioned, a closely guarded secret. 

You could have asked my mother.  Mom begged for the recipe for over 25 years, but all she could get were the cookies.  She finally put her foot down and demanded the family recipe.

oh, but of course you can have the recipe.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head at family dynamics.

Mom promptly tweaked the recipe just a bit, making the cookies oh so incredibly light, flaky and delicate. The rest of Dad’s family begged for her recipe.  Uh huh. I was the only one who got her recipe, although she delighted in giving the rest of the family buckets of her cookies.

Handing out boatloads of cookies was actually fairly easy.  One batch makes about 400 cookies.  Mom and I both used turkey roasters to knead the mountains of warm dough, while the aroma of sweet wine and anise seed filled the air.

It used to be a family event, waiting for the warm dough to chill overnight before my brothers and I got to help mom roll out the dough and form them into rings to be baked. We were serious about ten minutes.

oh look at mine.  It has to go on a diet.

oh no, this one has been sick.

this one has eyes!

And so it went, with mom rolling the vast majority of the cookies while trying to keep some semblance of order, and my dad sitting nearby, pretending to read his paper but smiling all the time.

I realized much, much later, as my two young children cracked the same jokes that my brothers and I had, Dad must have been thinking back to his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens and the bantering between he and his sister as they rolled out the dough into the Christmas Roscos.

Later, my brothers and I would wait for the golden cookies to come out of the oven and be immediately plunged into cinnamon and sugar until each cookie was fully covered in the rich mixture. Then, the sweet torture of waiting a few days for the cookies to season before they were ready to be gobbled down or given to friends.

When I was teaching, I used to have my students write about a holiday tradition, and then tell them the story of our tradition before letting them take a Rosco or two as they walked out the door to the Christmas holidays.

Even though the cookies take two afternoons to make, and admittedly leave the kitchen in sugared chaos, I had hoped the tradition might take hold with my children. 

My son and his children are the only ones that occasionally do still make the delicate cookies. I like to think that Dad is still watching over them and smiling at the bantering, joking and memories.

It’s a funny thing about traditions, even at Christmastime.  Skip a generation, maybe two, and those traditions and memories are so quickly lost forever to the ages.



 

 

 

Riding the Rails

trainWhen my grandsons, now in their teens and twenties, were around two or three years old, they were enthralled with trains.  When any one of them visited, I could count on train tracks and trains snaking around the living room like a giant obstacle course.

There were hills and curves and bridges and turn-abouts.  Houses, trees and cars dotted the countryside and make-believe was in full swing on Grandma’s oriental rug. 

The first grandson was still in a stroller but just beyond toddler stage when I took him on his first real train ride during the Christmas season.  He was beyond excited as the two of us drove into the main train station, parked the car, got him out of his car seat (a major challenge), hauled out his rather large stroller and headed in to purchase our tickets.

The entire time, he stared wide-eyed at the trains coming in and going out of the station, not quite sure what to make of it all. The only thing he was sure of was that he was not going to let go of Grandma’s hand.

We got the diaper bag, stroller, my purse, grandson and me into the station.  We then managed to balance everything and buy the tickets for the half hour trip up the peninsula to the next major town. This was becoming more of an adventure for me than I expected.  I need at least three more hands. 

I was not quite sure how I was going to actually get us on the train, but managed to get things better consolidated before our train arrived. Grandson was being the perfect grandson, which was admittedly not how he usually behaved, but he was so excited he was more than willing to follow directions.

When our train arrived, I lifted him up onto the bottom step. He scampered up the stairs and sprinted into the car while the conductor  laughed and gave me a hand with the stroller.  The car was virtually empty and my young grandson had chosen two double seats facing each other.  He was already kneeling on one seat, with face pressed up against the window and excitedly watching and waving at a passing train. I sat down in the seat facing him.

The train started and the two of us just looked at each other with wide eyes and grins.  We were on such a special adventure, without mom, without dad, without big sister — just the two of us riding the rails.

We went by one decorated town, then another, watching cars and people and construction.  Such wonder and excitement!

When we reached our destination, we sort of tumbled out, got re-organized and headed into town to have lunch and do some window shopping. I was a little surprised that grandson had become a little quiet and pensive, even with all the Christmas decorations. But, he perked up over his favorite lunch, and then in a toy store where, of course, he got to chose a small pre-Christmas gift.

Then, the reverse trip back, marveling again at all the wonders of the train ride, but the whole time grandson was a bit more quiet and thoughtful than usual.

Later, when reunited with mom and dad, I realized what had happened as, with great excitement, my young grandson relived his day.

Mom, Dad!!  We went on the train! A real train! And then we got out and Grandma lost her car so we had to go have lunch and get me a toy and then get back on another train.  When we got off, we found her car so we could drive home!

 

 

 

The Christmas Village

Homes speak to me, especially older homes. They call out with all kinds of ideas, usually excellent, about decorating or renovating. Problem is, they keep badgering me to make the changes.  At times I think I could end up with something akin to the Winchester Mystery House.

Long time past, I moved into a new-older home one February.  There was an enormous bay window in the dining room, with a built in shelf across its base.  It called out to me. 

I need a Christmas Village.

That was all that was needed. I pretty much did the rest on my own. 

Because I had never even seen a Christmas Village, other than a group of Victorian homes sitting on a blanket of snow, it seemed that a bit of  research was in order. I wanted a village that would fit on that very large window shelf.

Like Christmas trees, there are all kinds of Christmas Villages on the internet and YouTube but, unlike trees, not a lot of practical information — more in the neighborhood of Show and Tell.  

It didn’t really matter; I had my own personal bay window with its own personal plan:  it wanted a downtown area with a Christmas carousel as well as a mountain area for winter sports and an outlying home area.  oh, as there was a bit of an ocean view from that very large bay window, of course the village needed some water, a shore, a lighthouse and a couple of sailboats.

This had all the makings of a Winchester Mystery Christmas Village, which meant that the next step was pricing said village.  Holy Mackerel, after looking at the retail prices, I could purchase a real village with its own mountain and ocean front resorts. 

Then I remembered Ebay.  March and April are not particularly high demand months for Christmas villages and I got some very good deals.  The village just sort of grew and grew.  I was fast becoming the Christmas Village mogul or sucker, depending on your point of view.

As the boxes arrived, one after another, the postman began looking at me like I was nuts.  Perhaps he was correct.  He finally asked if he could see this village once it was finished.  I invited him back for a December show. Now, I was committed. 

I realized I had no idea, and the internet was of no help, as to how to actually build the village.  The pieces were all sitting on the dining room table, ready to go but the questions were Where? How?

I knew the mountain area had to have height, so I pulled out the grandkids’ old wooden block set and built a mountain.  In time, the framework actually stayed upright and held a village piece, then a second piece and a third.  Whoo Hoo! 

Next came the town and outlying areas.  As I had purchased everything piecemeal, not everything matched, but oh well, that’s the way it goes. Few people even noticed.

The electrical was interesting which is another way of saying it’s an electrical nightmare. It still is. I have visions of my dad, an electrical contractor, sitting on a cloud, shaking his head and keeping watch over the maze of wires and extension cords that worm their way through the wooden block formations.  It all works, thank you, Dad.

The last part was putting on the snow, ice and small pieces that make the whole visual move and dance.  People walking, kids building a snowman, well, you get the idea. This was getting more and more complicated.  I wondered if I would soon need a script.

Finally, everything got packed away until December, when I discovered that the trial runs were time well spent.  The village went up reasonably easily for a two day project and ran all through December. 

My four young grandsons delighted in it and wanted to visit often over the years.  I learned about the current superhero by who was left on the ski slopes to prank me.  I’ve entertained Superman, Spiderman and Darth Vader among others. 

What I didn’t expect was that grown up boys — aka, men, including Mr. Postman — also took as much delight in the village as my grandsons and would spend great amounts of time reminiscing over the village as well as wondering how a mere woman could build such a monster.

It’s been a number of homes since the home of the original large bay window, which is no doubt very sad and empty this December, and I realize that this will be the last year of my hosting the Christmas Village; the grandkids are growing up and superheroes, Santa and family Christmases at Grandma’s are fading into warm memories. 

It’s no doubt time the village gets divided among the boys so that they’ll be ready to entertain their children and grandchildren in future Christmases that I suspect will come all too quickly…