Friday, January 27, 2006

Kadin's 5—or—How to turn a hazard into an asset

This blog has barely made into the New Year and the month is almost over. I feel about 30 days behind and, what do you know? I AM about 30 days behind. The house has entered a new state of upheaval, I tweaked my back (again), Kadin had a birthday (party) and Rees has decided to change his name (again).

More on all of those in future posts. But first, Kadin's party, or "How to turn a hazard into an asset."

I took a risk and scheduled Kadin's party for Jan 8, the Sunday before his real birthday on Monday. Who knew what condition the house would be in? Who knew what the weather would be like? He picked the theme dinosaurs (after flirting with superheros and pirates) and wanted to have a party, but, being an introvert, didn't want to invite anyone. We finally worked that out and in the end 5 guests (the tradition being to invite as many as you are old) did indeed come.

Next obstacle was location. Being stubborn, I decided to just make do and have it at the house, another tradition. At the house or bust. On the negative side, there was no room in the now kitchen/dining room/office combo, there was a big pit and a big pile of dirt out front, and there was debris (nails, roof shingles, splintered boards) everywhere due to the high winds we've had this winter. On the positive side, the electricians had finished, the first layer of insulation was in, the roof was on (completed the Saturday before the party), and we had lots of unoccupied, but dusty, indoor space that the kids could not trash in any way.

The plan: a dino hunt and dig. We had the tools: paint brushes from the painter, lots of 5-gal buckets from the workers, and some cheap sandbox shovels and rakes. We had the treasures: I bulk ordered some plastic dino skeletons, way too many small plastic dinos, and found a bag of glass pebbles with fish/trilobyte impressions on them at the Dollar Store. The week before the party I made dinosaur eggs by embedding the small plastic dinos in plaster of paris, using old hollow easter eggs for moulds.

We made each guest a "dig" by burying the treasures in sand in a bucket. We still didn't know if we should try to do it inside or out. It was a pretty nice morning. Greg made little cards for each guest with pictures of three hiding places (a tire swing, a wagon, a hose pot). And wouldn't you know it? A half-hour before the party, just as we were setting up outside, the wind started gusting and it started snowing. Typical.

The guests began to arrive. They dressed up with dinosaur tails and had some of the snacks. We gave them each an empty bucket and explained the hunt. We were going on a dig, but we needed to find our tools first. At the location of each picture, there were hidden tools and each person had to find three tools all together. On their way to the hiding places, they could look for and pick up "treasures," of nails, screws, roof shingles, scraps of metal, etc. At the end they could turn in each "treasure" for a penny.

Yes, it was cold, but at least the kids were running around outside, and at least they were looking for nails instead of stepping on them.

We moved the digs inside. For Rees' 5th birthday, outside, in September, with all boys, there was no problem encouraging the guests to smash open the dinosaur eggs with hammers. They could have done that all day. But these kids, for whatever reason (younger? colder? girls?) were not so keen on smashing with hammers. But with Greg and I and Rees and the helpful 9-year-old guest, there was plenty of smashing. The kids put their tools and the finds from their digs in their buckets. Later we put these all in party bags.

Then it was wash hands and cake and presents. I am happy to report that no one was injured and most of the kids opted to keep their pennies AND their "treasures" that they collected. Don't know what their parents thought when they opened party bags with nails and shards of asphalt roof shingles, but the place was a little cleaner as a result.

Kadin had a good time too. Now, I need to find a way to turn a stubborn 5-year-old into an asset…

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Transient are all conditioned things

Here is my own New Year's response to my previous post:

In the winter, I like to take the time to reflect, look inward, and plan for the future. Someone once told me of the “stop, start, continue” model where you evaluate what you want to stop, start, or continue, and the New Year is a time that I like to think along these lines. The big thing I have been thinking about of late is change. I realize just how much change is going on, how it will never stop, and how I'd better get used to it!

I have already written about how I am now into embracing any new exercise fad that comes along and enjoying short-lived toys. That is a revolutionary approach to life for me. I have always been one to seek permanence or classics, but now I reflect on that and ask myself, “why?”

I think about the things that bother me these days and usually they are things that change too quickly. I don’t feel that I have time to find my feet and get organized before everything has changed again. I know with the kids, change comes all too quickly. I get things all set up the way I like them, in a way that is appropriate for their age and activities, and before you know it, before I am used to it, they are off into a whole new phase again. Whoosh!

I was reading a book by Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein (a Christmas present from Greg from a year ago) called It's Easier Than You Think. It is a very down-to-earth, practical, funny book that talks about (among other things) how there will always be pain, but there doesn’t have to be suffering. Pain we don’t have control over, but suffering we do. I realized that for me, change is painful, yes, but I don’t have to suffer. I can just let it go and decide to ride the waves of change. The title of this post—transient are all conditioned things—is a quote from the book. I don’t understand it, but I like it.

When I think about the previous post on the Right Way that I wrote last March, I realize that this is one of the reasons I suffer when things change. I naturally seek a more permanent, universal Right Way, one that doesn’t, or shouldn’t, change. I think I have found IT, then it moves, and then I suffer irritation and annoyance. It is good to know that is where my irritation comes from. Now I try to just see that as the pattern for me, think of the beauty of transience, and move on. I am hoping this will keep me younger.

So my new year’s resolution is to be more open to change, to be flexible, to enjoy and notice my desire for a Right Way, to enjoy the process of working toward a smooth and efficient life, but to accept change as the natural state of things. It’s the journey, not the destination, and all that.

I remember my grandmother, a very thoughtful, adaptable, forward thinking, and open-minded woman who had seen a lot of change, expressing her frustration on this subject. “I am tired of change,” she said when she was in her late eighties, ”I have changed my whole life, and now I'm tired of it.” I can completely understand where she was coming from and I am less than half her age! I loved her, respected her, learned a lot from her, and would be blessed to be as energetic, interesting, and dynamic as she was at her age, but I think I will have to give change a little more leeway if I’m going to succeed. I am too young to stop changing now!

The Right Way

Can’t believe I haven’t posted for almost two weeks! Before I start talking about the New Year and my thoughts, I want to post something I wrote nearly a year ago when I started this blog:

There was one thing on my father’s Morning Edition interview that struck me that I didn’t really consciously process at the time, but the more I think about it, the more important I see that it is to his life, my mother’s life, and my life. The interviewer said that one thing that made my father stand out as a computer programmer was his belief that there is a best way, a right way.

I see now that this belief is very deeply ingrained in my soul. And it’s not about people or religion or cultures at all, but something more quantifiable, more evidence based: how to do things. (I think believing there is a best way can lead to very negative things like nationalism or prejudice, but that isn’t what it means for me at all. George Bush would be an example of someone who has this view. But I would like to think that my best way and right way is more in the realm of evidence-based practices---things that can be measured.) For me the “best way” is about the most measurably efficient, simple, or parsimonious way to do something. That is beautiful. This is an aesthetic my parents share that they have passed down to me. While this belief/aesthetic has been a great motivator for me, it has also gotten me into trouble. I don’t think it is necessarily the best thing or the right thing to have such a belief, but I do have it, so it is perhaps the best way for me. It is interesting to think about how the life of a person who is constantly seeking a best way or a right way to do something is affected.

First, you have to believe that there IS a best way. If everything were equal, why would you bother? And I find I often believe there is A BEST WAY and seek to find IT. Over time I have come to understand that there are different best ways for different people. For me, the best way is the most efficient, simplest, and most parsimonious way. I see now that I am ruled by these criteria for almost everything.

This ideal of a best way often leads me to a position that seems inflexible (though I would like to think that, presented with a measurably better way, I would be instantly flexible) and hampers my ability to finesse a situation. I am not interested in doing something any old way, I want to do it the best way.

It also inhibits a certain romantic view of the world. I remember once asking someone why she walked back to work the way she did if it was longer. “I like to smell the flowers,” she replied. Well, that just would not have occurred to me.

This is perhaps why I nearly go into convulsions if Greg is driving and takes a wrong turn. It’s not like it really matters that much in the long run, he’ll get us there, but it has upset my inner core. I don’t just want to get there; I want to get there the best way. I had a friend in high school that told another friend to stop evaluating my suggestions and just do what I said because, “Jenny is always right.” Well, I was not and am not always right, but I want to be! And I realize that many of the conflicts I have with Greg come from me thinking I know the best way and him thinking that I have rejected his idea because it was his. I argue that it is not a his-idea vs. my-idea kind of thing, but a working-together-to-find-the-best-way kind of thing (albeit using my criteria of the best way!). Sometimes I wish he would take the attitude of my friend from high school. But then I can think of times where we were working together, loading a moving van, for example, and I would be paralyzed by evaluating what was the best way to do it and he would just keep working and carrying and get more done in the end.

The biggest conflict this belief has had in my life was in graduate school. I was in the humanities (not the sciences where there is more of a belief in the quantifiable best way or right way) and the fashion was to “recomplicate” what had been done before. Previous scholars has sought to simplify and define in a way that was “hegemonic and violent” and their scholarship had to be overthrown by a new, dynamic “unreadability." My encountering such a philosophy was like taking my square head and banging it into a round hole. It was so contrary to the way I naturally thought. I learned a lot, but did not thrive in this environment.

I hope I have become a lot more tolerant and accepting over the years, but that includes accepting who I am and the way I naturally think. I realize that this isn’t the best way or the right way and certainly not the only way, but it’s a way I can’t escape.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A few plugs…

In the post-consumer lull, I recommend:

Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac: Celebrating Nature & Her Rhythms in the City
A great book that seems to read my mind: everything I always wanted to know, in one great place. It’s a calendar (including motions of the sun and moon, information about seasonal changes in urban flora and fauna, secular and religious festivals, famous birthdays, etc.) and a magazine (Eric Utne produces it) with articles about politics, rituals, and nature. I think everyone should have one of these. It’s thoughtful and fun—every day of the year. The theme and form encourage you to “Look up; Look out; Look back; Look in.” If you need to give yourself a new year’s present or a calendar, I recommend this one.

Craig’s List
On the night before Christmas Eve, the construction workers were cleaning up and straightening up. I asked them if there were any items I could put on the web to try to recycle. I posted some fiberglass insulation batting, a storm door, and a garage door opener on Denver’s craigslist. We also put out a fan from the old (ancient) furnace. About 15 minutes later a man drove up in a van. “You have some insulation?” He took it all. That’s a big chunk that won’t be going to the landfill! The workers were stunned. This was about 4pm. By 7am the next morning (Saturday, Christmas Eve) when I was leaving for yoga, everything was gone (that is, everything we wanted to be gone was gone—even the ancient fan—everything we wanted to stay was there) and I took the posting off Craig’s list. We were all impressed by how quick and easy that was and how well it worked, even on a holiday weekend. Craigslist also has job postings, local events, stuff for sale, discussion forums, apartments for rent, and just about everything about your community. Find the one for your city and check it out!

Journey to the Wild Divine
A computer game that Greg gave the family for Christmas. Unlike most games that rev you up, this one uses biofeedback to teach you how to calm down and control your emotions. It’s similar to Myst and Riven (fun adventure games that our whole family has enjoyed), but with an added biofeedback twist. You explore a garden and temples using your mind to levitate a sphere, juggle balls, aim a bow and arrow, open doors, direct elevators, etc. Yes, you control the game with your mind (via “magic rings” on your fingers). It works and it’s really cool. Rees was thrilled with it and very serious about making it work. The tricky thing is, the harder you try, the less likely you are to succeed! It encourages and teaches you to be patient and accepting (two emotions that are often in short supply around here). After a bit of practice, though, Rees could do it! Very imaginative and well presented; calming and good for the soul.