Thursday, September 28, 2006

Any Wonder that With Age Comes Cynicism?

Yesterday I bought some Gushers for Tim. In case you don't know, these are basically nutritionally worthless little candies disguised as good-for-you lunch snacks. I bought them because they were cheap and he always asks for them (I don't think he's ever had any before)--I figured they could work as incentives. It reminded Katie that when she was little, some other kids and she were discussing whether they were any good. The ads at the time had them all convinced that if you ate Gushers, you would turn inside out. Somehow this appealed to the kids. Kieth, the squirrelly kid who cut his hair the morning of picture day, had tried them. Emily asked him whether they worked--had he turned inside out? No, came the disappointed answer. This was an important lesson for them all in the deceptive nature of advertising.
It reminded me of when I watched Captain Kangaroo. (In case you don't know this, he hasn't been on the air since I was a kid.) Well, Captain Kangaroo had a lot of credibility with me. Why, I'm not sure. Maybe it was the fact that he could talk to rabbit and moose puppets and keep a straight face. I trusted him. Until one fateful day when he said that a certain brand of hot dogs were really good. I ran in and told my mom that Captain Kangaroo recommended them and she should buy them. "Don't you know that he's paid to say that?" she answered. Paid? I was aghast. From then on I watched with a less gullible attitude.
In another way it reminds me of the mysterious case of the spinach. My mom would serve canned spinach (perhaps she didn't know that it was much lovelier fresh). A dark, mossy green blob would sit on my plate, cold and hated. She would give me a spoonful of Miracle Whip to make it more appealing. The name was a misnomer--no miracle occurred...that is, until my father spoke. "Spinach puts hair on your chest!" he said, and suddenly the pile had value. Daddy had hair on his chest, and I wanted to be just like him. As a little girl, I didn't know I ought to be more selective in the traits I sought. Years later I realized how he must have been chuckling to himself as he saw me force the stuff down my throat.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sleep Like a Log...

When Tim was a baby, I remember we were visiting some friends. He fell asleep in his car seat while he was waiting for me to finish talking with my friend before driving away. I realized I needed to change him before letting him spend too much more time--so I pulled him out and as he slept, I changed his clothes. (I don't remember--diaper, removing too many clothes, whatever.) Anyway, I had to pull off his shirt and do quite a bit of disruption; I didn't think a thing of it but my friend was aghast, just sure I would wake him up. I know my Tim, though. I could easily change him and have him sleep through it without even opening an eye.
It's the same today. He's 8 years old and if I have to wake him up, I'd better allow a good while in which to do it. I still could change him if I wanted to and he'd sleep through it. I know for sure that he'll sleep through a smoke alarm buzzing, since if one goes off in our house, they all do--they're wired together. It happened once, while he was asleep. There were at least four within hearing range of his room, all going off as loud as you please, and he was sleeping through it. If there were a fire, his would be the first room I'd run to in order to save anyone helpless, because the others would at least be awake.
Tonight Tim fell asleep on the couch. We needed to wake him to get him off to bed. Katie thought this was an opportunity for great fun. She took his hand and pounded his chest with it repeatedly--to no avail. She made him poke himself in the face, the nose, the ear with his fingers. Still, there is some awareness. I said, "Katie, your nose needs wiping." Well, it wasn't really, of course....but the funny thing was, Tim's hand suddenly grew tense and he wouldn't release it from his chest. Still, it took quite a few minutes to get him to open his eyes and a few more to make him willing to get up and move upstairs. There's deep sleep, and then there's deep sleep. We all have our limits.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Claim to Fame

Since our family has been waving signs, we have begun to realize some local recognition. We went to a rummage sale and a woman pointed at us and gave an I-recognize-you-from-somewhere look. She exclaimed, "You're the sign wavers!" And Katie remembered that this was a woman who kept mouthing comments to us as she drove by, and we couldn't decipher them, not being speed lip-readers. We found out from her that she was saying, "You're still out here?" The likelihood was that she'd seen us in the two hour morning stint, and then again in the evening--we're supposed to cover rush-hour traffic.
Yesterday, we went to a wedding. The mother of the bride (whom I had never met face-to-face, at least without a car window between) pointed at me (at the reception, not the wedding--whew!) and said, "You're--you're--" I thought maybe we knew her from a previous church. I mentioned the church we'd attended six years previous to this one. It didn't score a reaction. "You're one of those I see holding signs!" Oh yes. "Is it your daughter who waves them with you?" Yes, it was. She was so enthused, she brought me over to her younger daughter, who had also waved enthusiastically as they'd go by. She looked confused until she deciphered what her mom was telling her; then she recognized us.
Various friends of ours have also passed by and waved or honked, and we hear about it when we see them again. It's as close as I'll ever get to celebrity status...reminds me of when I used to work in a neighborhood produce store, and whether I was around our home town of Raleigh Hills, or in Victoria, or in California, people would recognize me and say, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
It is a funny business. You hold a political sign, and you'll get a response of some sort from most passers-by. If we had no signs and waved at everyone who drove past us, they'd think we were nuts. As it is, it's perfectly acceptable in society to do what we're doing (gauging from the response of passers-by, at least). Logically speaking, I would think the opposite should be true. Without such motive to gain attention for political gain, waving at passers-by would be a sweeter and purer act, though unusual. Seems that people ought to be more skeptical of the person who waves for the sake of an election or a business rather than to be simply friendly, but I'm sure that doesn't hold as things work out.
Anyway, it seems that if we did this often enough for whatever reason around the community (with a sign of course), that pretty soon we could run for some local office and have our faces on billboards and by mere face recognition, we might get elected. It's fine work for a short season and thankfully almost all the response of drivers is positive and friendly, but I don't think I like holding signs at the side of the road quite that much.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This isn't the Way to Make a Profit...or a Good Name

It's been about ten weeks since the start of our siding job that they promised would be done and cleaned up in three. They still aren't done. The supervisor kept moving our workers to another job and making lame excuses to me about why they couldn't finish ours yet; one of the two good workers quit on him, since by all these maneuverings the supervisor somehow avoided having to pay him for the latest 8 days of his work; the other one is planning on quitting and going into real estate. The siding is up, but there's a lot of caulking to be done and a whole list of other items including a window that was broken. The downspouts had been destroyed by the first worker who had been fired, too, and when it rained it was very noisy and the surrounding areas where it splashed were dirty from stuff in the gutters.
When we were at the fair a couple of weeks ago, Katie entered various contests, including one for our siders' company (rhymes with plate and means something geographical). When they called (not to tell us we'd won the grand prize; they didn't even mention the contest), they asked whether we wanted them to come out and give a bid on a roofing job. Well, wouldn't you want that? No, I didn't think so.
Funny thing was that when they called, there was a woman out to our house to give us an "energy audit" which turned out to be a sales call to sell us some very nice but very expensive windows. She had worked for our siding company and knew many of the people there. She gave us some pointers regarding how to deal with them, and also pointed out the broken window, which we had not noticed and had not been told about by the siders. (Now don't read this wrong. We're not getting that window job any time soon.)
When we talked to the siders when they came out for one more day of work, they told us that their supervisor had been told about the window--and yet it seems he did nothing about it.
After our window saleswoman left, I typed up a two-page summary of our various frustrations, including the supervisor's many excuses, and called the man who had sold us the job. He forwarded it to his boss, who gave the matter over to a woman who called us and didn't have a copy of my summary in front of her; I e-mailed her another. They will be finishing the job sometime, I presume, and she did promise they would replace the window, which she said will take at least three weeks.
Yesterday a couple of men came out to put up the downspouts. They looked at me as if I were a dragon lady. I'm sure they were told that I was a complainer. Whatever. The downspouts are on and nice and shiny and new. Makes me glad in a way that the first ones were destroyed after all. Now just to get the job done otherwise. At least we don't have to pay them until the window is in. I don't know how they afford to do business this way, but whatever. It's made for a messy summer, but at least the house is looking somewhat better. We still need to paint the fascia boards, under the soffits and on the garage doors, so there's still quite a bit of grey clashing with the cream trim and pale yellow siding. I'm glad to think it will all come out right in the end. Probably.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Could it be a Pack of Monkeys?

Tonight Katie and I started attending the WOW (Women of the Word) evening Bible study at church. I thought that everything was under control--read, my control--that just the right amount of things were making up my fall schedule. That was, until Tim said, "Do they have a place for kids at night?"--referring to how last year he attended a homeschool study time while I went to the study in the morning session. Of course, this year he wants badly to attend, when last year his enthusiasm rose and fell week by week. When they announced last Sunday that they needed someone in the mornings to work in the nursery, I thought about how well the need dovetailed with Tim's request. I wouldn't miss the study; Tim would still (theoretically) get his homeschooling done for the day; and the nursery need would be filled. Okay. I know a nudge when I feel it. So starting tomorrow, I'm watching the babies and Tim's going to class. I have a tendency to mentally look askance at this "loss of time" in my selfish desire to get things done around the house. I know, though, that when all is said and done, watching the babies will be a huge reward and I'll wonder how I could have ever thought of not being there. I even get to work with another woman who I don't know well, but I would like to know will be good.
Never mind my housekeeping. So when you come over and it (still) looks like a pack of monkeys got loose and stayed about a month, give me the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they did. Who's to tell?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Menagerie

The portion of this that describes the behavior of the fish might make more sense when you find that I was wrong about what kind it was (gasp). I confess, I'm not that much of an animal person. See correction in third comment down...
While I was waiting for Gary and Tim to come home from an errand, I worked on the overwhelming task of cleaning the garage. I came in to the sound of about 5 kids hollering in our front room--not trying to yell, just to be heard over each other. (It almost made me want to go back into the garage.) If they whispered the effort to communicate would have worked better. They were all abuzz about how Tim's new blue Tettra is a boy...they say. (How they know I'm not sure.) I couldn't imagine how it mattered...and I have already wondered how they come to have babies. They have a social life worse than porcupines, because even if they see another in an adjacent tank, they just about have a heart attack trying to kill the other. So anyway, whether it's a boy or a girl, how it could matter I can't even think. Usually I like to know basic facts about things in our house, but not when they're so hopelessly useless. Especially since the main activity of the fish is to do a still-life act like it's a fake suspended in gel instead of a real fish swimming around in water. Pretty depressing, to my way of thinking.
Tim's got quite a menagerie right now. In addition to the fish, there are for the moment the neighbors' two lizards they left with us so they could go on a trip. This is their third time, and you'd think we'd be good at it. They pay Tim a crazy $10 to spray them with water twice a day. He doesn't even open the cage for fear they might escape. Well, I don't know that we're any good at it. When she dropped them off, she said she wasn't sure about one of them, he'd lost his tail...later that day a young member of our household made the mistake of spraying their heat light with water, which made it shatter. We went to WalMart and bought two more bulbs, one for day and one for night because there were none quite like theirs, which they used for both. I thought maybe the day and night change would be good for the little lizard that had lost his tail. If so, it was too little too late. Today Tim noticed that the lizard wasn't moving and was turning a darker green. Well, so now there is the neighbor's one lizard. It's better than I thought it might be; without the lightbulb working, they hunkered down in the moss to try to keep warm. We couldn't see for a while whether they'd escaped or not, and I was imagining myself saying, "Here are your pet crickets..." which are the food they leave in the cage for the lizard(s). I wondered briefly whether they might be convinced that we had some fierce crickets that had turned on their lizards and eaten them instead? But no, I couldn't rely on that level of gullibility (though it might have worked on me).
And then there are the three hermit crabs, which live their lives peacefully and quietly these days, only altering things with a different choice of shell. I don't leave them as often to exercise in a different cage any more, because the one we have is the one they escape from so readily and I don't have the attention level or time to watch it for very long. But they don't complain, and they don't bark, and they're interesting if you pull them out to walk around, so I like them well enough.
So life here animal-wise is sort of peaceful, sort of uneventful, other than the death of a lizard. Until the neighbor kids come over to do their anatomical analyses.

Honk (and Smile) if You See Us!

At 7-9:00 this morning Katie and I continued waving and holding campaign signs. (In case you wonder, our signs are for Stephen Johnson and John Groen for two state Supreme Court positions. These are property rights proponents, in contrast to the record of their competitors.) Gary and Tim were impossible to get up; Gary had an interview later today and needed his rest, so we left them alone.
We chose the curb outside of Marysville's biggest Starbucks, knowing the local penchant for legal addictive stimulants. It was cold outside! The property where we stood was having yardwork done, and a man with a blower managed to blow quite a bit of debris into our faces as we stood there, backing up as fast as we could. We saw various members from our church go by; policeman Kit stopped a driver and gave him a ticket, and waved at us as he left. By the time we were done we were stiff with cold.
Because Katie and I have both received Starbucks gift cards that at such times burn like embers in our pockets, we got to enjoy the luxury of some hot caffeine and the warmth of the indoor brown chatty atmosphere of their coffee shop. While we were there, four people from Grace arrived. (I'm pretty sure our church accounts for at least half of Marysville Starbucks' profits.) We might go to Starbucks and actually sit once in six or ten months...if that. We buy the stuff maybe once per month, if that (this is the second time this week thanks to these cards). So it was very much a treat and a luxury to sit in such a place and get our mobility back into our joints.
In an hour and a half we'll be waving and holding signs again. Let us know if you are going past us, will you?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Waving at Strangers

The other day we got an e-mail telling us that MasterBuilders was arranging for "get out the vote" work, and we responded. It turned out that the work they assigned us was to hold signs at major intersections in Marysville--for two judicial candidates. They pay us to hold the signs--a nice opportunity, since Gary's been out of work a while--for five hours a day all but Sunday. And little do they know, we probably would have done some of it for free. Maybe not so many hours though.
I am happy to hold these signs; they're good candidates and I like the work. I like standing with signs and waving at people; Katie said we were being paid to "people-watch." Still, we did it five hours today and my frame is old and very tired. Gary went into Home Depot afterward and I wanted to stay in the car. By the time they came out, I was very fast asleep, and Gary knocked on the window to wake me up. I was startled into wakefulness and we went home.
I was personally amazed at how many people would smile and wave back at us. It heartens me, when so often I ponder the coldness of American society, the type of coldness that gets in the news or breaks down neighborhood and family relations, the type of coldness that causes people to be skeptical about God. Today I saw an innocent side of people. I'm pretty sure they didn't know whether they liked the candidate or not, as the judicial candidates seem to be more cloaked in mystery. Still, they waved like little kids.
Now the little kids, that was another matter. Buses would go by, and we'd wave at the buses. Most of the kids would stare at us and wonder at these adults waving like mad at them. The more they stared the more I waved. It was kind of fun just to show them how ridiculously unresponsive they were. I said, "Good morning!" The funny thing was, out of three buses, the rider over the back wheel would wave; maybe one other, but that one would for sure. Maybe he or she would be more awake because of the awkward seating or maybe a bit nicer person takes that kind of seat.
It makes me wonder. Are the kids becoming more cynical and more cold than the adults? It could be. I hope not.
It was fun to watch Tim. He pulled out our little cooler and sat on it holding his sign. I thought that was okay, since they're not paying him. And when he stood up, he held the sign with more energy than the rest of us combined and got more smiles and I'm sure amused more people than we did. He called me across the street on Gary's cell phone about 5 times, making sure of various things.
Another thing I found. Katie had to leave about 15 minutes early. Gary and Tim were on the other side of the street. After Katie left, not many people waved at this old lady. Maybe it was a coincidence. On the other hand, maybe some of their waving wasn't so innocent after all. I did tell Katie when she was with me that this was odd, that I was okay with her waving at who-knows-how-many strange men (and some were quite strange) passing by on their way to and from work. And she and I both noted that the younger women didn't always seem to like her waving when their husbands or boyfriends were driving; the older women were usually okay with it. Just some interesting observations.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Gotta Push to Relate, if not Communicate

The visit from our little Japanese girls left me amazed at how I assumed from their actions all the wrong conclusions--that they hated being here, that they hated us, whatever. It is easy to assume from what I see, from all that my senses tell me, many things. The harder thing is to 1) give the other person the benefit of the doubt 2) dig more to find out whether it really is that way (if it can be done in spite of language/culture barriers) 3) adjust where my personal attitude is in response to, or more in spite of, what I can know about another person.
For a while I did give them the benefit of the doubt, in thinking they needed an adjustment time for jet lag and for culture changes. My assumption before meeting them was that all the students would be coming here eager to improve their English by using it, and I do feel that the teacher should have only brought those who he thought would make an effort to interact well. I wasn't prepared for shyness and lack of self-assurance, furthered by the strong bond among the three that would cripple their interaction with us. With the unavoidable barriers of culture it's hard to know how much to push and encourage them to use their English, to stay among us, to learn the American culture.
In the case of our guests, admittedly the language and culture differences were a huge wall that I hadn't found a way to surmount. Their teacher hadn't, either, and he lives in Japan, speaks Japanese, and knows them fairly well. In light of this, I'm sure they were a harder bunch than most to relate to in a normal way. I'm not even sure why the last day, they were suddenly so much more open. Perhaps the scarcity of time left made them feel an urgency to be transparent.
I did try to show them that we needed to interact, that they needed to speak even if it was difficult; I tried not to allow pointing and noises instead of speech. This just caused them to stay in their room more. And there was no way to be sure that they understood what I said. I remember one morning when I had planned to bring the Jesus film for children to the church so their teacher could show it, and had placed it next to the phone. It disappeared. Tim didn't remember moving it. I went downstairs and asked Lena if they had it. She nodded. I asked if she would bring it up when she came. She nodded again. When they came up they had no video. I asked again, "Could you bring up the video?" They looked at one another and nodded. And stood there. "Do you know where the video is?" They nodded. "Could you go get it?" They nodded. And stood there. Finally Tim found the video under a coffee table where no one could readily see it. Now I don't know how it got there, whether they didn't want to see it again (they'd seen it in Japanese before), or whether Tim actually had moved it. But that communication problem was the type of thing that happened a number of times during their visit.

So instead of trying to communicate with them, I ended up staying silent most of the time while they spoke minimally in Japanese to each other. My way of showing love to them was to serve meals, do their laundry, clean their bathroom, and take them places--with a minimum of talk. I took them to the same stores repeatedly: Target three times, the Outlet Mall twice, Alderwood Mall, Costco, the grocery store, Fred Meyer...only once did I refuse. That morning I asked, "Are there any more stores you want to shop at?" They answered no. We took them along with us to Mukilteo on an errand, and while we were coming from Everett onto the freeway the girls noticed what they perceived as a great opportunity. "Can we go to Costco?" It was 4:30 on a Saturday and my thought that they interrupted was how great it was to be going home. "No," I said, poorly stifling a laugh. Costco at 4:30 on a Saturday wasn't my idea of fun. I did explain that I'd asked that morning, and that it was the wrong time on the wrong day. Who knows whether they understood.
They seemed to understand Tim, though most of his communication was antics and intolerable acts. Most of what I ever heard from them was "No, Tim!" or "Tim, stop!" in the back yard. There were many times they thought he was hilarious, and just as many times he got on their nerves (which is the exact same response he gets from the rest of us). I think that however it happened, he was the one they were sorriest to leave--probably because he pushed to spend time with them (whether they welcomed him or not); he didn't let language be a barrier; and when nothing else came easily, he used comedy for relief. I think he could have taught us all something there.