Sunday, April 04, 2010

Family First
Naturally I have heard the expression family first before, but recently, a bright and wise young woman reminded me how important the meaning really is. No surprise she's a Robotics alumnus... Amy K. you are smart, and friendly.

In that spirit, family first, I want express my love and gratitude to some dear family. We have been immersed (such an appropriate word) in robotics. As you may have noticed, I went a bit bonkers with the love, leaving my personal comfort zone to pump up a program I believe in. I am not apologizing for my enthusiasm, but I do want to acknowledge that the heavy focus on robotics did take away time and energy from at least two young men, who are not actually on a team. William and Max were in scripted into robo immersion, and though I asked them to step out of their comfort zones, they have never complained. They have missed Alex, and Geoff. They have filled in around the house and taken care of a certain little sister. They have spent long days traveling to FRC events, and longer days in huge and boisterous arenas. They have contributed as much, perhaps more, than some certified team members, and they done this with quiet humility, and endless patience.

William, thank you for being kind and dependable, for caring so deeply about each of us, and for doing your best each and every day. I appreciate your intelligence and humor. I appreciate that you have been sincerely supportive of Alex's dreams, and his well being, and that in your own way, you have been a Gracious and Spirited team player.

Max, thank you for being patient and supportive. In our home, in school, no matter the challenges and distractions, you stay true. You work diligently, steadfastly, and you give us every reason to be proud of you. If it wouldn't make you terribly uncomfortable I would do a “cheer” just for you. You Inspire me to be ethical, reasonable, and to do my best, and better.

Geoff loves robotics too... well, just about anything Geek gets him charged, but I do want to thank him. He was happy to be a programming mentor, to extend his time to the build team, to build a mini-robo world in our home, so he could extend his hours even more... but, when things got extra intense, when Atlanta become an option, I asked him to take it to the next level. We certainly did not need to put off domestic duties, like moving in to our home, or repairing the roof, but I basically implored him to ignore all the *homeless* whining I did for the last six years, and turn all of our reserve energy and focus on Atlanta, the team and robotics. I promised not to make a single complaint about boxes, leaks, and domestic perils, because I felt such drive to see this through, for the team to get to the next level.

Thank you Geoff. You taught me that dreams can come true, that it takes work to make it so. Thank you for being a mentor, for being a father, for being my partner. Your time away is never easy, and volunteering to be away from home is a bit nuts, especially after your “regular” office hours, but I love what I have seen. I love the programmers you mentor, the talks about design, the energy and dedication, the metal shop industry... the teamwork. I love when ideas are made in to creations, and creations are tested and run... succeed or fail, the pleasure and rewards are in the journey and the learning. Thank you for the pleasure of being a witness to your grace and professionalism. (I love your mind)

Maria. Maria, you spirited, smiling, dancing, inventive robo-princess. Thank you for wanting to be in the arena, for stuffing plushy wings, for sitting through long meetings, and longer FRC events... actually, you hardly “sat” at any FRC event. Thank you for cheering, and building alliances with your chocolate eggs, for walking to the pit to “check on the robot,” for learning the songs, dances and cheers. It's such a joy to witness your Team Spirit.

Alex, thank you for bringing us in to this exciting world. Thank you for sharing your passion and excitement for robotics, for design, for build, for engineering, for creation. You have some sweet skills, and more importantly, you have challenged yourself to learn more, try harder, and push yourself. Thank you for letting me nudge you onto the “dance floor.” You are a quiet thinker, a reserved young man, and I greatly admire your willingness to delve in to high school, this new social world... it's a big world, and I know you are going to find a welcoming and appreciative place in it. Thank you for appreciating me, for welcoming me in to math, science, sportsmanship, and engineering... you are an inspiration in so many ways.

We are in Las Vegas on this Easter morning. And we will be heading home soon. Thank you Mom and Dad for flying here to meet us, to cheer! What Time is It?! I know we always have your support, but it made me extra stoked to share the event with you guys. It was fun for me to turn and see your faces, to know you were keeping score, waving pom-poms, tracking our Maria-Mini-Paradox, and sharing in our joy. Thank you-thank you-thank you!

And back home? Ruth and Holly have been our pit crew, feeding Betty and the Ratty-Rats, chasing cats, and keeping the peace at the Bird House. No team is complete without all of its supporters. Thank you Ruth, for bunking at the Bird House, for waiting to welcome us home. Thank you Holly for your support too. We'll see you all soon.

Overflowing with gratitude, and spirit... what a wonderful way to begin this Easter day.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Geoff Goes Greener

I am not sure why this has not had an official announcement... maybe I was waiting for the naming ceremony, or a Green Party, like the Orange Party we had for the Chica Roja... tangent... Remind me to tell you about the Orange Party we had for the orange Kabota tractor we named "Chica Roja." There was a band.

Where was I?
The announcement.
I'm good.

Ta-duuhh! Tah-dah! Tuh-Duh!
Oh never mind.

Here it is!! Geoff's Green and Greener Ride.
Yes, after three years of commuting to work in the Green Goose... tangents galore! Remind me to tell you about the Green Goose, our motor home, bought ten years ago when we were seven people living in 1400 square feet, and we were in immediate need of a room addition. It's like a family member.

Where was I?
The announcement.
I'm good.

Ta-duuhh! Tah-dah! Tuh-Duh!
Oh never mind.

Geoff has been shopping. Diligently, patiently waiting for the car. Something smaller than 26'. Something to remind him of his first love. Ahem. The '66 Chevy Impala SS convertible. Remind me... never mind. So, seriously, he was very careful in his research, and very patient about the wait for the ideal gently used, super fly, ride. He lived for three years with the voice of his first real love saying things like:

Why don't you just get a mini-van?
Are convertibles safe?
Will you fit in a Mini?
Just do it already.
How about you take the Odyssey, and I'll get a pick-up?
Are convertibles safe?
For the love of sanity, please buy yourself a car.
Call James, and get a cop car. Do it.
No. No, you cannot buy a motorcycle. Why? Because I said so. (Just kidding. I used reason to squash his dream.)

The Green Goose, in case you are wondering, gets better mileage than a Hummer, but slightly worse than a motorcycle, but the big advantage is that it doubles as a programmer's week-day apartment. And if you know anything about the work hours of a game programmer, then you know they need a week-day place to "live." God blessed us with the Green Goose, and we mean no disrespect, by bringing in the Mini-Goose.

So, it finally came together... sound mechanics, clean enough interior, only slightly abused body, excellent color, fair price, convertible Mini-Cooper with a thing in the dash that tells time.

Cute, huh?

Yeah, Maria loves it. Love-love, loves her daddy's sweet ride. It's pretty much a babe magnet.

I've driven it around too. It's fun. It's small. People talk to me when they see me get in or out of this car. What is up with that?
Have you seen my car?
The Honda Odyssey, aka Jet Puff Super Fly Reliable Ride is an awesome vehicle,
and if people had more sense they would be my BFFs seeing me around town.
Never mind.

I love Geoff. I love that he has his car, the one he wanted. I love that Maria wants to ride with her daddy. I love that while he's been home, he has taken shifts on the magic-Mini-school bus. I love that he reminds me that, "It's your car too," and he made me my very own fancy Mini key to prove it.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Robotics, 2102 Team Paradox
This is an index for all things robotic, from the archives of Chickenblog.

Home School Science Fair: Alex's Tank-Bot: May 30, 2008. Alex challenged himself to make a robot from found objects and thrift shop salvaging. Then presented the results in a science fair.

The Best Made Plans: January 3, 2009. Alex attends his first FRC kick-off. Lunacy.

The Team To Cheer For: February 15, 2009. Introducing FIRST and 2102 Team Paradox to Chickenblog.

I Don't Have Time For This: March 5, 2009. Alex gets in to SDA. Life and details at the end of his first build season.

Brains and Spirit: March 7, 2009. Reporting from San Diego FRC, after 2102 takes The Team Spirit Award.

Oh. My. Goodness.: March 22, 2009. Phoenix FRC and a second Team Spirit Award.

Navigation, Forward Momentum and Balance: March 25, 2009. Life and details after Phoenix, and Alex's ride on a Segway, courtesy of Steve Sanghi, president, chairman and CEO of Microchip Technology Inc.

The Many Facets of Geekdom: January 10, 2010. Launch of build season for Breakaway. And getting Chickenblog organized for Geeks and Robotics.

After Breakfast, Before Robotics: February 12, 2010. Alex takes a quick break from robotics to attend the Sky Consortium Ball.

Look At Me Still Talking When There's Science To Do: February 16, 2010. Deep in build season, and enjoying the ride. Karen, Natalie and Tom grill lunch for the team. Life and details from the Bird House.

Me, Like A Chickadee: February 20, 2010. A good look at Geoff's programming and drive stations. He built them as programming mentor, so he could work more hours, more productively. Go Robotics!

It's In The Crate: February 23, 2010. Last night and morning of build season, before robot is crated and sent to San Diego Sports Arena.

BREAKAWAY! March 5, 2010. The eve before competition in San Diego.

Mini Parrot-Ox: March 6, 2010. From the first day of San Diego FRC, documenting Maria's team building skills.

More Than Spirit!!!!! March 6, 2010. Slowly realizing all of the merits of 2102 Team Paradox winning the Award for Engineering Inspiration.

This Is Big: March 7, 2010. Chickenblog celebrates 2102 Team Paradox and the invitation to compete in Atlanta.

This Is Getting Bigger: March 8, 2010. More about the Team, and FIRST, as Chickenblog rallies support for going to Nationals in Atlanta.

Paradox Colors: March 10, 2010. Describing FIRST Robotics, FRC and the personal journey 2120 Team Paradox takes to get to a regional competition. Maria and team mascots, a spirited relationship.

Faith, Family, and FIRST: March 12, 2010. What I love about 2102 Team Paradox and FIRST.

The Honor Roll :: Gratitude to 2102 Team Paradox Supporters, Through Chickenblog

You didn't have to do it, but you came forward anyway. Thank you.
For comments here, and on FB, for emails, and phone calls, and special deliveries... Toby, I know you're a good boy. For support and encouragement, good ideas, sponsorship, and donations. You guys are the best.

I will forever more think of you as one of The Team, honorary Paradoxen.

With beautiful answers, Laura Jane, Loving The Question

The quick responder, Amy Smith, Clearing The Air

The always encouraging, Lesley Z, Chapter III

A king of doing-it-himself, Warren, My Home Among The Hills
If they print any more T-shirts, I am scoring one for you.

Creative and skilled, Tami L, Lemon Tree Tales

Inspiring travel consultant, and Speculoos contact, Dallas, For The Journey

Never without a kind word, Andylynne

Supportive reader, Mary, Mary's Blog

Dear friend, Judy, Every Day Is A Gift

Fellow Chicken Lady, Em, Em and the Gang

My Northwoods Soul Sister, Janece, No Ordinary Moment

She makes you feel her hugs, like she is right beside you, Tracy, Pink Purl

The J Team behind the cameras, Cristina and Spencer

My Downtown Soul Sister and cousin, Priscilla M. Teachers get an A+

Friends like family, Mark S. and Jola P.

From the best little school in the west, Carol A and her beautiful family... filling up the arena with Team Spirit! Another A+ for teachers

Team pioneers and all around amazing people, Karen S, and Denise B

Best friend and wise counselor, Anna Banana.

The world's best barber, and friend, Daniel.

My big hearted and fun-loving cousin, Beckie DLR. besos

Always insightful, dear aunt Carol.

Hilarious and friendly, calls himself an "enigma," Paul N

A dynamic duo, Alison and Bill G. Come to Vegas, baby!

Thank you Holly, Ruth, Izzy... they came, they saw, and they can stand and deliver. You guys got Spirit!

She accentuates the positive every single day, Nikkipolani
I jumped out of my seat when I read her Friday Favorites post. Thank you!!!

To mom and dad, Team Players through and through, thank you, and welcome home. I hope a beautiful and comforting spring is just around the corner for you two.

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The Honor Roll

You didn't have to do it, but you came forward anyway. Thank you.
For comments here, and on FB, for emails, and phone calls, and special deliveries... Toby, I know you're a good boy. For support and encouragement, good ideas, sponsorship, and donations. You guys are the best.

I will forever more think of you as one of The Team, honorary Paradoxen.

With beautiful answers, Laura Jane, Loving The Question

The quick responder, Amy Smith, Clearing The Air

The always encouraging, Lesley Z, Chapter III

A king of doing-it-himself, Warren, My Home Among The Hills If they print any more T-shirts, I scoring one for you.

Creative and skilled, Tami L., Lemon Tree Tales

Inspiring travel consultant, and Speculoos contact, Dallas, For The Journey

Never without a kind word, Andylynne

Supportive reader, Mary, Mary's Blog

Dear friend, Judy, Every Day Is A Gift

Fellow Chicken Lady, Em, Em and the Gang

My Northwoods Soul Sister, Janece, No Ordinary Moment

The J Team behind the cameras, Cristina and Spencer

My Downtown Soul Sister and cousin, Priscilla M. Teachers get an A+

Friends like family, Mark S. and Jola P.

Team pioneers and all around amazing people, Karen S, and Denise B

Best friend and wise counselor, Anna Banana.

The world's best barber, and friend, Daniel.

My big hearted and fun-loving cousin, Beckie DLR. besos

Always insightful, dear aunt Carol.

Hilarious and friendly, calls himself an "enigma," Paul N

Thank you Holly, Ruth, Izzy... they came, they saw, and they can stand and deliver. You guys got Spirit!

Thank you James and Deanne, Parker and Sammy. You guys are awesome.

And to mom and dad, Team Players through and through, thank you, and welcome home. I hope a beautiful and comforting spring is just around the corner for you two.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kiss and Make-Up

Yesterday, when I needed five do-overs to produce one Valentine, I was a bit stressy. I am in awe of the scrap booking sect of our universe. What they do with paper and glue, glitter and graphics... I am not worthy. I thought playing with hearts and participating in Bitter Betty's Valentine Swap would be good, clean fun. But somehow, I managed to make a complicated mess of it.

Corporal cuddling and humor got me back on track. And in spite of my gluey fingerprints all over everything, I did have fun making Valentine cards after all.

And who mentioned glitter glue? I was trying go all Martha, like the big kids do, but no more. I broke out these glitter glue tubes for Maria and discovered there is an economical, user friendly, sparkly world out there. I still have a long way to go in the greeting card department, but glitter-glue saved my crafty caboose.

I also got super amused and inspired by Erin and her two daughters, who were inspired by this creative woman. I find no end of good ideas on the www, but when I have the supplies on hand (and a willingness to pop over to Trader Joe's for dye-free lollipops)... it's golden. Easy, funny, fun. Fun. Even with my lethargic-temperamental printer, I was able to crank out just enough prints for both Max and Maria to make these:

It's Max. And he's handing out giant lollipops.

Camera. A smile. Printer. Utility knife. Trader Joe's. All the tools you need. Max and Maria added their signatures. I did the exacto-cuts.

Some glitter hearts would look really cute on these.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

We Can't Even Be Friends

Glitter does not love me any more. Glue and paper laugh in my face.

The sparkle is still there, but I can't make anything work.
We are getting a divorce.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Playing With Hearts

My creative mojo skipped town, and left no forwarding address. And even though I have the urge, the compulsion, not much has come out of my crafty corner. No quilting. No dresses. No felted thingies, or new scarves. No seashell clocks or macrame mug holders.

Remember Valentine's Day? Some of you never forgot it, I am sure, but I have not dabbled in the Romantic Era in a long time.

Disclaimer: This is not a pity party.

I remember the antsy anticipation, gathering paper, scissors and glue, and a long list of classmates to make Valentine greetings for... hearts, stickers, glitter. I loved seeing the teacher's bulletin board, favoring red and pink, the calendar day marked with a heart. And there were class parties. Punch. Cookies. Candy hearts. And the mail boxes or bags, filling up with treats and greetings and innocent visions of sweet romance.

I don't know how or why, but it seems like there was a lot riding on those tiny cards, the candy hearts with messages. It was fun. Thrilling even.

Makes me smile.

Maybe that is why I answered Bitter Betty's call for an old fashion Valentine exchange. And ever since I asked to play along, I have had hearts on the brain. I look for hearts and scope out the seasonal holiday aisles in the stores. I have been trying to find that feeling, that grade school age giddiness that came with the countdown to Valentine's Day. And I have been trying to zero in on what kind of Valentine I can make and send.

Folding laundry, I found hearts. Then I wondered what other hearts happen to be in and around our home. So, I went looking.

Some hearts are actual "hearts" and some hearts are a feeling, an act that speaks of love, a picture of romance. The times Geoff has filled my car with fuel... I put a big heart around that. When the children are together in the tent, reading aloud, laughing... I put a big heart around that too.

This is the very first time I put a heart on a door. Maria saw the wreath at the craft store, and recalling my own thrill for the holiday, I let her add it to our cart. The bow from our Christmas wreath is getting a second life. Wouldn't the wreath look amazing completely covered in red roses?

Here is another heart that could hold roses, or sweet peas. Sweet peas are my idea of a romantic bloom.

What I need is an idea for a Valentine card... homemade, well made. Not "show-off" well made... just thoughtfully, sweetly well made. I've got "thoughtful" covered. I am thinking about this all the time. But the time for action is upon me.

I even bought heart doilies. I remember when I first saw paper doilies, I felt as though a Queen might enter the room, as though the hostess had magical powers... how else could she conjure such an elegant piece of fancy decor? Nowadays I could probably find a "How It's Made" episode to explain how millions of red paper heart doilies are cut and shipped, but I will never do that, because I like the magic, the mystery.

Inspired by love and by talented women, like Grandma Nancy, I want to make a special Valentine. Several special Valentines. Maybe with fabric, maybe with paper, maybe with photographs... I do not know.

I was kind of amused, sort of surprised, to find as many hearts as I did. Even blossoms in the garden suggested hearts, and Maria running around the house playing... she's like a heart in motion, pink and bursting with a love of life that is quite inspiring.

Nine ringing, tingling hearts. Chiming in the garden.

Betty, I suppose this is my first WIP, my progress report for the Valentines Trade. I am on the verge of making something. Nearly, nearly. I am putting my heart in to this.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

A Photo Booth
Dear Geoff,
Thank you for finding a battery replacement for my camera. It's such a pleasure to be able to use my camera again. You know I love my camera. Our separation was painful and now more than ever I want to learn how to use my camera, so that when I pick it up I know what all the numbers and buttons mean and do. All in good time, right?

Geoff, this is kind of fun. Now you are in crunch mode at work and in robotics, I have to find creative ways to spend time with you.

With my new battery holding power in the camera, I was finally able to get some pictures taken. So, when cousin Becky came to pick up grandmother, I grabbed the camera and persuaded William to be our photographer. He did a good job. It reminds me of photo booth shots. I think it would be fun to make a photo-booth... or just create the feel of taking funny close-up portraits.

*click* *click* *click*

I want Becky's lipstick. My cousin is bellissima. I thought it was enough to remember to brush my hair. But I think I need to step up my game.

Maria is the Self-Rescuing Princess, and Becky and I are the Self-Amusing Diva Cousins. Grandmother is simply her wonderful self.

Definitely. I think it would be loads of fun to make a funky-cowgirl-quilt draped, straw bale photo-booth... I can totally picture it. Can you detect a party in the plans? Pony rides. Chicas running around. Mint lemonade and hot tortillas, fresh salsa... friends and music.

Maybe it's time with family, or time in our beautiful home, but new ideas and fun, inspired fantasies keep skipping through my head. I like this feeling of happiness seeping in to my pores and soul... more happiness.

More family time and photographs. More besos and laughter. More princesses and cowgirls, aprons, scarfs, tea and chipotle-apple pie. More flowers and hand holding, hugs and long visits. Mas, por favor.

It makes us bloom, I believe.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

It's Monday and We Are Not Late!

Sometimes gratitude can strike in a really basic kind of way. Like when it's a school day and I am sleeping and then I wake up and for just the briefest painful second I think: Gah!! We're late and the universe is conspiring against my happiness and comfort! And then the suffering subsides, because it's not a school day, and we are not late. Even sweeter... the air temperature is less than 80 degrees and there is a nice breeze.

I wasn't sure what I was going to post about this morning. I haven't been taking very good photographs lately and the ups and downs of California real estate have still been the dominant and mysterious theme in our lives, so weak material there... Or is it? Okay. Okay. So, in the latest installment of In and Out Blue House, on Friday I got fed-up with the particulars of what was being asked of us and feeling abused, and it made me so tense and cranky that I snapped at Max. Stop. I literally stopped my car and said, "Enough already. This house business has me so worked up and turned around that I cannot even function, to the point where I am misdirecting my anxiety at my very awesome son." So I called the appropriate parties and told them I was done, that I refused to go forward under the current conditions, and that nothing would make me cave, weaken or turn around on my decision to bow out from the negotiating. It meant I was willing to let go, which was hard, but living with the cranky-mean-sad-anxious stuff was worse than releasing.

It took some of the pressure off, but it made for a long weekend too. I think it was a good choice. We had reached a place where we were negotiating for almost the same thing, but it was getting out of hand in the details and expectations, and we could not surrender our rights and dignity any further. Monday morning net result: They agreed. And we agree. As I have done a most excellent job of not documenting all the ups and downs, you cannot know how many times this has fallen apart and been repaired and fallen apart again. They agree and we agree, and if they sign the latest paper work and then we sign it, then I might actually be prepared to say, "It is done."

Some people know more details than have appeared in Chickenblog, and I know they have expressed concern that 'maybe we should walk away, that maybe the Blue House is a house of Blues.' I think everything is going to be fine. Better than fine. The hardest part about this process has been Geoff's diligence and the best part of this house buying process has been Geoff's diligence. We liked the house enough to make an offer, but we had to be objective enough to protect our assets. Then we had to pick the house all apart and find out every last flaw, every loose board and leaky pipe, so that we almost did not like the house after all. Then we had to determine what we could do to make the house good... what could we fix, how would we fix it? We called in more experts, got more opinions. We got realistic... I think it's like falling in love... in the beginning it's all romantic and "yes-yes-yes!" and then you start to see the bigger picture and it can be scary and you might want to back out and there are misunderstandings and first fights, but a point of maturity and acceptance is reached, when you know the good, the very good, the bad, the ugly and it's okay, because you know what is reasonable and you appreciate the whole package.

Do I make any sense at all? Basically, we know that Blue House inside and out. I have loved it and cursed at it. I know what's right about it, and I know what's wrong with it, and I still want to live there. And as I have always reminded myself, being in our own home will not be the answer to all of life's problems, it will not cure every ailment... I know this. I am just looking forward to having something new to whine about. tee hee

Now. What do you think of Ruth's hibiscus? It's one of dozens of the cheeriest and most healthy flowers ever, growing on the shrub outside her living room door. Her own living room door, the one attached to her own house. The house she is moving in to right now. She found a comfortable and pretty house, near to all, with convenient places to walk to and the world's friendliest neighbor cat.

Hello Kitty.

Tigger is like a purring, furry welcome wagon.

I am thankful that we have we do not have to go to school today.
I am thankful that we all got to see Ponyo together!
I am thankful that my Mommy is here and that we can laugh and cry and laugh again.
I am thankful that we may have more company soon!
I am thankful for playground fun.

I am thankful for the view of the sky full of thunderheads.
I am thankful for twelve dollar chairs.
I am thankful for my ride, my hardworking and dependable Odyssey.

I am thankful for finding an old friend.
And new friends.
For friendly cats, for fig trees.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

In .2 Miles Take Second Left In Roundabout

Not much is happening, worth noting, in real time, so I thought I should sort through more of our vacation photos. My intentions were noble, but as I looked for images from our day in Avignon, I was detoured. I could tell you about the amazing preparations for the Festival in Avignon, but before we could get to Avignon, or to Triberg, or Brienz, or Brussels, or Barcelona or Triberg, we had to get in the car. None of this is going to translate very well... not the tedium or the wonder, not the frenzy of driving out of Paris or in to Brussesl. You won't get leg cramps from sitting in one position while trying to comfort a tired-hungry-bored four year old from reading this post... I hope you won't. That would be weird. And you might not think it is hilarious to be *lost* in France when the French road workers and the GPS cannot agree on the best route. We logged a lot of time in our Renault Espace and the sights and memories are as dear and precious embarrassing as any from the Louvre.


First of all... I Love a Road Trip. And we saw things that I could not believe were real, like miles and miles of sunflowers. These were in France and we kept driving passed field after field of them, but the opportunity to stop and really appreciate the sight never materialized. And every time a really good photo-opp came up my camera was turned off, but I took this picture anyway... blurry and wonky and all. I am so glad to have it. I remember when we were finally arriving at our destination I announced to all: "Tomorrow we are pulling over, no matter what, to take pictures of the sunflowers. No matter what!" I was serious. I was a little cranky too, but only a little. The next day we did not see a single sunflower.

The GPS and eating crow.
Mmmm mm... this crow is tasty. I am eating crow because I mocked Geoff mercilessly for getting a GPS. My feeble mind could not comprehend installing, updating, and preparing software for driving through Europe. It was not an easy process to get the software to work, and I kept thinking that a good map would be all we could ever need to get from point A to Point B. I was wrong. I was wrong and sometimes the GPS was really wrong, but I still admit that even at its most ineffective the GPS always, eventually, got us to our destination.

See the purple line going all over creation? Yeah, it's supposed to have us on an actual road, and not in some French farmer's driveway.

By the way there was a GPS in the car, but other than showing us where we were we never could get it to tell us how to get somewhere else.

Gee. This road looks narrow.

I actually enjoy getting lost. I have a really good sense of direction, so being turned around is a welcome challenge... it's interesting. But this spot?! I had no idea how to fix this. Our GPS was trying to reroute us, but because of roadwork detours she just kept sending us on ten mile loops, down dirt roads, passed the moors, in to the tulgey woods and back to the blocked road we started from.

You could not ask to be lost in a more beautiful setting. In fact there was nothing wrong with this unscheduled tour, except that we had to be in Avignon by check in time, or we would be in deep doo-doo. Six people sleeping in an Espace is deep doo-doo... I don't care how adventurous you are.

Sheila, Alex named her actually directed us in to someone's driveway. Our rental car had a big "rental car" sticker on it. As though no once could guess.

The afternoon we left Holland and pointed our car toward Triberg, Germany, Sheila really gave us a tour. We wove in and out of France-Germany-Blegium... back and forth and it kept getting later and later and later, and it even got dark eventually. And most of the time I was thinking, "Please don't let it be the Autobahn. Please don't let it be the Autobahn. Please don't let it be the Autobahn." All my life I have been hearing boys talk about the mythical Autobahn, where you can drive as fast as you want, and then their eyes glaze over and they make gear grinding-motor noises. The Autobahn has held a grip of fear and dread over me for a very long time, which is silly since I have spent 99.9% of my life living 5,700 miles away from the Autobahn; 99.5% of my life has been spent living along the I-5 Corridor, which I drive frequently.

I won't ever buy the shirt, but I imagine myself being in possession of a T-shirt that reads: I SURVIVED THE AUTOBAHN. German roads are good and safe and other than feeling uneasy in an overloaded mini-van traveling at 100 MPH, I managed to contain my cookies and only periodically seethe, "Geoff." And believe me, he knows very well what I am saying when I seethe, "Geoff," and my voice is kind of shrill and panicky. He knows.

For every episode of terror or tedium on a road trip, there is always levity, humor... immaturity, if you will. I will. My sense of humor is stunningly immature. I know I mortify my children.

I told Max he could tell his classmates all about the Autobahn and Germany, about language and history and fascinating cultural facts. Then I snickered every time I did my level best to learn German by reading road signs.

I feel I should apologize for posting these and implying there is something funny about it, but I am too busy thinking of any German words I know and then adding them to Ausfahrt and saying them aloud in a heavy German accent.

Humor goes a long way to making a road trip bearable, so does singing and "I Spy" and reading aloud and eating Lays potato chips that are flavored like roast chicken... honestly the chips smelled like a Thanksgiving dinner. If you prefer, they also had ham flavored potato chips. We laughed a lot. And I only recall two instances when Maria cried inconsolably. Here she is sharing Alex's earbud and listening either to the Doctor Horrible Singalong soundtrack or Monty Python. I never did let the children listen to Barney.

Me: Children, why does Barney sing to the children?
Our Children: To make the children happy.
Me: And why does Barney the dinosaur want the children to be happy?
Our Children: Because happy children taste better.
Me: Very good. I love you. You are bright and capable. Now clean your room.

Far from the highway and heading straight in to that lake.
Ausfahrt! Ausfahrt!

Maria sang to Max about the drive being almost over, about us stopping soon and for him to sleep in peace, because she was loving him. He did sleep, and the capacity for her to sing such a kind and tender song and for him to receive it makes me feel wonderful.

Somewhere in Belgium.
Enjoy this while you can, because Geoff is probably going to make me take it down... unless I can make him see it the way I do. He did all the driving. I did all the navigating, with Sheila's "help." Sometimes we were turned around or sleep deprived or worried. Sometimes we wanted get out of the car and never leave the spot we'd discovered, because we had found some place beautiful and good. We met and fell in love in 1982, and we planned a trip to Europe... and we put it off and postponed it and planned again and then renegotiated, and finally we were here... there. I like this picture, because I know he loves us and works for us and because I love him and I am happy to support him... where ever we are.

Where ever we go.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Comfort of Family

Their friendship goes back over fifty years, to El Salvador, the church they attended in Los Angeles. My grandmother Eunice and my tio Bill. They share the same birthday. So wonderful to see them together, for all of us to be getting together, but bittersweet too.

It had been much too long since the last time Maria saw her uncle Kai, so it took about thirty seconds, maybe longer, for her to warm up to him. Ever since their day together she has been dictating her best friend forever-thank you and love letter that she wants me to send him. I better get on that.

When I emailed my aunt Liz about coming north, about hoping to have a visit, I never imagined we were going to have as nice a visit as this. Alex, Max and Maria swam a lot... here are Alex and Maria with my cousin Lisa in her Boomer's pool. Boomer is the adorable corgi, guardian of the swimming pool.

Should I clarify? It's not that I did not expect a nice visit... it's that Lisa really went out of her way to make it a very nice visit, and on such short notice. We could not help but linger and delight all day. Even as we were leaving Maria was inviting herself to "... come back tomorrow!"

She thinks it's her pool... just kidding...

We know whose pool it is!

I will tell you what I love... I love my family, and I love it when everyone can spend the day together and be totally at ease. No need for judgments or formality, just kindness and unconditional love. I love that my tio's voice recalls comforting and dear childhood memories. I love that we were able to be in such good company.

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