Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a Wonderful Parade

I have long been a huge fan of Jimmy Stewart, and the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" has been one of my favorites.  I have the movie poster hanging in my living room, and my family has been forced to name our pets from the movie (our dog is named Bailey, and our cats have been named Clarence, Zuzu, Violet, and Mr. Gower.  We keep trying to acquire an Uncle Billy but so far that hasn't worked out.)  This film is full of sappiness and nostalgia, but it has a good message and I just love to watch it and quote along, annoying everyone around me.

Based in upstate New York, the original town that Capra modeled the movie from is believed to be Seneca Falls.  Every year they host an It's a Wonderful Life festival, and I've never attended, even though I live fairly close by.  That changed this year when my kids were able to ride in the parade thanks to a very kind and funny blogger named Greg, also known as TellingDad.

This connection happened because of the internet, and really it all started with Wil Wheaton.  Yes, Wil Wheaton--aka Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: the Next Generation.  You see, a few years ago I had little idea what Twitter was, but I thought it would be cool to follow some famous people.  Being a Trekkie, I searched for Trek celebrities first, and started following Wil.  Turns out that Mr. Wheaton is pretty much a king of the internet, and through his tweets and blog posts I was introduced or re-introduced to some incredibly awesome things.

Here is a sample list of awesome things I now enjoy thanks to Wil:
The Big Bang Theory, Felicia Day and The Guild, Paul and Storm, Wootstock, ThinkGeek, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick and the Long Winters, Bad Astronomer, Nerdist, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, shirt woot, and  Hyperbole and a Half.

One of my favorite people that I've discovered though Wil is Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess.  Jenny is a blogger that lives in Texas, and her hilariously quirky sense of humor matches mine--I thoroughly enjoy her tweets and blog posts.

So, what does this have to do with a parade in Seneca Falls??  Hang on, I'm getting there.

Jenny often recommends other sites that she enjoys, so one day I clicked on a recommended blog site which was Greg's Telling Dad. Greg is a great writer, and his posts always make me laugh.  I had no idea where Greg lived, but some of his posts hinted to the fact that he was in Upstate New York.

Greg bought a fire truck he named Perry, with the intent of using it for fundraisers, parades, etc.  Last month he posted that Perry the fire engine was going to be in the "It's a Wonderful Life Parade".  You see, it turns out that Greg's family lives in Seneca Falls, birthplace of It's a Wonderful Life, and just 20 miles from my home. I commented on his blog post how this year I would take the kids to come watch the parade, and he then invited my family to ride on the truck.

That's right--from Wil Wheaton in California, to Jenny in Texas, to Greg who LIVES JUST DOWN THE THRUWAY FROM ME.

On Saturday we made the drive to Seneca Falls and rode in the parade.  K and E had an absolute blast, and I was relishing the Bedford Falls nostalgia.

This my friends, is why the internet is awesome.

We hear about awful things that happen to people because of the internet--creeps, freaks, cyberbullying, abductions, evil social networking--however, there are many situations where the internet uses its superpower for good.  Social networking made it possible to create a great experience for my family, and it is encouraging when you get to meet strangers that are incredibly nice people.

It was butt biting cold on the parade day, and I worried that my kids would think the entire event was "lame", but when we got in the car to return home both of the kids said "That was awesome!"  That made it a Wonderful Day.
Ethan is waiting for the parade to start

Putting on his gloves--it's getting serious now

I rode on top to make sure Ethan wouldn't fall off.  It was a lot of fun!

Waiting before the parade.  Greg is the tall man just to the left of Katie

I think the actress that played Zuzu might have been riding in that convertible.  So, I could have been 50 feet away from someone that was held by Jimmy Stewart.  Squee!!

People were encouraged to dress up in the 40's era.

Downtown Seneca (Bedford) Falls

Katie chose to walk the route and hand out candy

She had a ball handing out candy

Tell me that isn't the bridge.  That is soooo the bridge.  "Zuzu's petals, Zuzu's petals!"

They boy had fun riding the top of the truck

A cold but very fun afternoon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fried Dough

Attending the local fireman's carnival has been an annual tradition with our family since I met my husband 16 years ago.  Over the years the focus has shifted--before we had kids, we would spend Saturday nights in the beverage tent with friends.  Once the children arrived the mission changed to watching them ride the carnival rides all afternoon.  A constant through all of the years of attending the carnival is enjoying fried dough--that mouthwatering big glob of flour, deep fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  It is the most evil, yet most delicious of carnival treats, and it is made by local volunteers from the fire department.

This year I was standing in line with my daughter waiting to pick up that glob of goodness when I noticed the man in front of me was quite irate.  He had two orders on plates in front of him and was yelling at the dough-making ladies, saying his dough was cold.  He was really, really angry about it, as if there were some kind of fried dough conspiracy out to make sure his dough would not be served warm.  I was a little taken aback at what I was witnessing.  He was too angry to hear me making comments behind him. "Dude, it's just dough.  Really.  You are going to yell at these nice ladies over a piece of dough?"  Based on the temper of that man and the way he stormed off, it was probably a good thing he wasn't listening to me.

Once he left (dough-less), I stepped up to the counter and happily took one of those orders.  It was delicious!  While my daughter and I were eating that "cold" dough, the angry man came back, reached around my daughter's head and snapped up the other order.  We decided to leave before he realized that I had taken his dough.

The angry dough man has affected me.  Witnessing someone get so mad over such a trivial thing gives me pause to evaluate my own behavior.  There are many times when I want to rage over something--just in the past week I've been angry over several things--my daughter's name not being read at an awards ceremony, attending an overcrowded elementary concert where people saved seats for no-shows while others couldn't even get into the auditorium, interacting with an exceptionally rude person at work.  In the future when the anger starts, I will ask myself if this the anger is truly justified or is it a fried dough moment, the result of being tired or hungry and taking my crankiness out on others. No one should be screamed at because a piece of dough is cold.  Life is short and disappointments are frequent, but even cold fried dough is absolutely delicious.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I've lived in Upstate New York now for twenty years.  When I first moved up here, the thought of a tremendous amount of snow was terrifying to me.  I dreaded the winters, feeling trapped inside while all of the white stuff fell.  One of the most difficult changes was the fact that in Rochester some of the heaviest snowfalls happen in March.  March!  In Indiana, I was out running around in a windbreaker in March.  Spring was on its way by then.  Not so up here.

Back in 1992 a coworker talked me into buying a pair of used cross country skis.  At the time, I didn't even know what they were or understood the skiing process.  We would spend early weekend mornings meeting at different parks around the area, gliding around on the skis.  I've been hooked ever since, and in 1994 I sprung for a new pair of wax-less skis which are still in rather good condition to this day.  Cross country skiing has rescued me from the winter blues.  I have no idea if my technique is any good, and I would probably make an expert skier cringe, but being able to get out of the house and get my heart rate up amidst all of the white stuff is invigorating and freeing.

Twelve years ago Bob and I built a house on several acres of land, and I was now able to put my skis on and take off out our back door.  No more driving twenty minutes to ski around several other people on public trails.  Now that we have the dog, he delights in going with me, dodging in and out of snow drifts, running along my tracks and sometimes stopping right in front of me, forcing me to stop and shout "DOG!" to keep from crashing.

I will never take this for granted.  Every time I go out, I stop and look around, and realize how blessed I am.  Bob and I know darn well that within ten years we could quite possibly be surrounded by housing developments.  It is probably inevitable.  I am taking the time now to focus on the absolute quiet of a field of snow, being able to hear the chickadees chirp in the tree line by the trail, and the fact that the dog can run freely for acres without roads or other houses in the way.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting a new perspective through the eyes of an eight year old

If someone would have told me ten years ago that I would have two athletic kids I would have thought they were nuts.  There isn't an ounce of athleticism in my body, and very little in Bob's, but for some reason both Katie and Ethan have an incredible amount of endurance and generally decent athletic ability.  My son seems to be  the more athletic of the two, as we received several complements this past soccer season on his ability.  He was a crazy, head butting speed demon that was always playing the middle because he could so quickly run up and down the field to cover both offense and defense. So it was with great anticipation that we had Ethan try out for the travel soccer team for the first time this year.  Katie had already enjoyed a year of travel soccer, and I was really looking forward to getting Ethan on a team and developing his skills.

The tryout process is an extensive one, a total of four hours over two days where the kids are put through a number of drills while the coaches do some sort of evaluation on the sea of kids.  We had already experienced the process the previous year with Katie (see this post), so I knew what to expect, and knew that in most cases the kids would not get cut.

Once the tryout process is over there is a two month wait before you hear anything in which you have to keep telling your kids to be patient when they frequently ask "When are we going to find out about soccer??"  Finally, at the beginning of this week, we received notification that Katie would be on the U-10 team.  Once that news came in, I waited with impatient anticipation to find out about Ethan, obsessively checking our email and running to the mailbox as soon as the mail arrived. Days went by with no email, no letter.  I suppose you know where this is going.  On Friday we received an envelope in the mail, only it wasn't the fat congratulatory letter, full of registration forms and due dates.  Instead, we received a very thin envelope which contained our returned registration check and a form letter stating that "Unfortunately, Ethan was not selected for the travel team for the 2011 season."

I was dumbfounded.  How could this be?  The kid is a good athlete, and as good as any of those other boys trying out!  Knowing that I was working on very little sleep after a week of bronchitis, I went back to our bedroom and shut the door so the kids couldn't see me losing my mind in front of them.  Waves of anger and frustration went through me as I burst into tears, thinking about how Ethan will once again have to tag along to Katie's games, sitting on the sidelines in complete boredom and knowing that he did not make a team while his sister did.  It wasn't fair.  It wasn't right!  I felt myself turning into "crazy parent", the kind that wants to fight back with complaints about the system and its politics.

Once I calmed down, Bob and I had to let Ethan know he didn't make the team.  It is quite a difficult thing to deliver bad news to your son.  I didn't want to see his spirit crushed by this stupid process.  But we just kind of flat out told him:

"Sorry buddy, but you didn't make the travel team".

"Aw, darn!" says Ethan.

"You know, you can still play rec league next year, and I'll even let you try baseball if you want".

"Yay!" he says, "Can I go play now?"  and with that he ran back out of the room.

I am always overanalyzing my son.  He is not a verbal communicator, and sometimes I feel I have to hound him with multiple questions and observations to figure out what is going on in his head.  "He must be so upset he doesn't want to show it." I thought.  After a few minutes, I went back to talk to him again and make sure he was alright.

"You know, buddy," I said, " it's alright to be sad.  Are you feeling sad?  Do you want to talk about it?"

Ethan stopped what he was doing and looked at me.  "Mom, this doesn't make me sad.  If we lost our house, then I would be sad."  And he returned to playing with whatever little toy gadget was in front of him.

If we lost our house, then I would be sad.  I had just been put in my place by an eight year old.  That's right, kid.  There are far worse things to happen to you than to be cut from a soccer team.  Bob and I are very blessed to both be employed at the moment.  We are all in good health.  Our kids are doing well in school and staying out of trouble.  So many other families are not nearly as fortunate as us.  It took an eight year old to remind me that relative what other friends are dealing with right now, not making a soccer team is pretty insignificant.

This Thanksgiving I will certainly be counting my blessings, for I have many.  I am particularly blessed to have a son that doesn't take disappointment very seriously, and seems to have a better perspective on life than his crazy, over-reacting mother.  Thank you, little man.  You taught your mother a valuable lesson.

Monday, October 11, 2010

All you need is love . . . and cardboard, newspaper, flour, and water

Every once in a while there are reminders of past events in your life that make you sit back and think, "Wow, we did that, and it was actually pretty amazing!"  Recently I was reminded of one of those events.

This December marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death and the start of a Beatles obsession that has stayed with me and some of my childhood friends throughout adulthood.  Our craze peaked in the summer of 1981, where countless hours would be spent traveling between my house and those of my friends (Linda, Carla, and Jan) carting Beatles albums back and fourth, listening to different songs on our record players and analyzing the lyrics as best as almost-14-year-old girls can do.  

That year also marked another important milestone, because my friends and I realized that we were pushing the age limit on Halloween trick-or-treating.  The start of high school meant you stopped asking for candy and either stayed home to hand out treats, went to a halloween party, or participated in "corning", the act of throwing dried corn on porches or at cars as they drove by.  (I tried to explain corning to my Upstate NY students, and they looked at me in disbelief).  Still, we wanted to do something to proclaim our Beatle love, so we decided to forgo proper Halloween etiquette and dress up as the Beatles.  Now, this was not going to be any lame, last minute project.  If we were to properly demonstrate our adoration, we had to make it magnificent.  

Our goal was to re-create their early look, with the collarless suit and skinny tie.  However, the outfits would be secondary to the most important part--recreating the instruments.  

We actually started planning during the summer, where I distinctly remember working in my friend Carla's garage, laying out guitars with large pieces of cardboard.  We used the front cover of the Something New album and actually attempted to scale the guitars using a proportion. 

 I would measure the height of John in the picture, then the length of his  guitar, and use that ratio to scale up our own guitars.  Our accuracy was a little off, and the guitars ended up being slightly oversized, but once they were taped, slathered in paper mache and painted, they really looked good!  We even found some wierd looking thumb tacks in that garage and used plastic thread to string them.  Linda used a similar process to make the drums, and by mid October it was all coming together. 

Mom made my suit because she loved to sew, so mine didn't exactly match the rest of the group.  In the end I guess it didn't matter.  I don't know where we found the wigs, but I do remember Linda's mother finding the material to make the skinny ties.

The final process was recording our Beatles albums onto a tape.  We painted a large cardboard box to look like a speaker, and another friend carried a tape player while wearing that box for the music.  It was really quite a project!

Had we dressed up like that today, there would have been ten cell phones out, taking our picture and sending it to friends, relatives, facebook, etc.  But back then, no one had a camera handy.  If we did have one there wasn't any film in it, or we needed a flash, or we just didn't think about it.  Luckily Linda's Dad took one photo of us, slightly damaged from a future car fire: 

This was taken at the Bedford Halloween contest and parade, where we should have taken first place.  Unfortunately the judges must not have been Beatles fans, because the award was given to someone dressed up like an upside down man.  

For 29 years the memory of that halloween had been foggy in my head, but the picture brought so much of it back.  I had forgotten all of the detail and planning we put into it, just four almost-14-year-old  girls, with very little parental help.  

After talking with Carla and Linda now, we can't find anything about this event in old yearbooks or other writings, and it was difficult for us to believe we would have done this freshman year.  I think we didn't write about it because we were ready to move on and felt this challenged our maturity, and our "coolness".  

I look at these 14 year old faces and realize how transitional that time period was for us.  After this event, we put away the Beatle albums and started watching a new cable channel called MTV.  We stopped chasing boys on our bikes and started trying to date them.  We spent hours after school playing fancy new video games like Pac Man and Galaga.  The paper mache instruments were stored in rooms and closets, and we moved on.

All of us would go through different challenges in high school, trying to fit in, trying to figure out who we really were. I wish I could tell those 14 year old girls to enjoy what they did, to embrace the nerdiness of this project and if you didn't quite fit in, it would be alright.  Twenty nine years later the awkwardness is gone, and only the memory of "Wow, we did that!" remains.  It will be cherished as much as our love of the fab four.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Whoa, where is the time going

School has started and I have not had any time to write.  So many thoughts in my head, but right now we are busy with homework, violin practice, and sports.  K is at a stage where she's trying different things to see which one she likes, so every week night we are at lacrosse, soccer, or swimming.  E is soon to follow, as he just tried out for the soccer travel team.  So, basically I am taking time to write this to say I don't have much time to write this.  However, in the next week or so I do want to write about this most awesome picture my friend found:
This definitely deserves a post, and I will get at it soon.  

Monday, September 6, 2010

When perfectionism crosses frugality, I am in a lot of trouble.

Last week started a vacation week for Bob, which translated to a long list of things he wanted to accomplish.  What wasn't on the list was our bedroom closet system falling down.  (I was going to post a picture but didn't want to press my luck with my husband, who just realized he has lost a half day to this mess.)  I guess you really can have too many clothes hanging in a closet, or perhaps we were in need of stronger supports, but either way Bob's schedule completely changed Monday morning when we were faced with a large pile of clothes on the bedroom floor.  

We took this opportunity to clean out unwanted items (it was really out of necessity, because obviously there were too many items in the closet!).  While Bob secured the wire shelves, I started sorting.  So many items we had stored, though they were way beyond even donation stage.  After an hour or so we had the donation pile, the hang back up pile, and, finally, a huge bag of clothes to be thrown away.

I looked at that bag, mostly full of old sweatshirts and sweatpants (circa 1995), and the frugal perfectionist in me started to think.  "I could turn those rags into something useful, say, a rag rug!"  You know, just like our grandmothers (or perhaps great-grandmothers) used to do.  Oh dear.  You see, I used to do things like that.  When I was home full time with a newborn and a toddler I would attempt every frugal project listed in The Tightwad Gazette (a nice book series, by the way--just don't try to do everything in the book!).  One time I took all of our old jeans, cut out several squares, and made a rugged jeans quilt.  It did come in handy as a picnic blanket, and the damn thing was indestructible.  I guess at the time being able to work on a big project helped maintain my sanity while caring for two infants.  However, when I think of making a rag rug now I can make a list of things that would be a better use of my time:  
read a book
play with the kids
walk the dog
cook an amazing meal
work in the garden
pet the cats
write a blog
watch a sunrise
mop the kitchen floor

Sometimes you have to realize that time is valuable--more valuable than recycling old sweatpants.  

I watched Bob carry that bag out into the garage, and I let it go.  A wave of relief went through me--I didn't have to do anything with that bag, just watch it go out the door.  I was free from committing myself to another endless project, and the closet was free from that clutter.  I did however decide to sit down and watch an episode of Hoarders, just in case the desire came up to retrieve the bag from the garage at the last minute.  Oh yes, letting that bag go was definitely the right thing to do.