Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More stuff

I just returned from a fun weekend in California where I saw my parents and went up to Davis to visit with my cousins, their two boys, and my aunt and uncle. It was great seeing everyone and just having myself to be concerned with for a change. Davis is a great town and they really do live in Pleasantville, with all its POSITIVE qualities.

Also made the compulsory stops at IKEA, Trader Joe’s, and the Japanese dollar store. So my previous post now becomes ironic after, yet again, I stuff a huge suitcase full of my purchases, max out my baggage limit, and make my father wait in the car outside the airport until I am sure they will let me on with all my stuff. I had a 30-lb carry on and checked a huge suitcase and a folding stool both at the size limits. I am not a low maintenance person to drop off or pick up at the airport!

All made it home safe and sound and now it is back to the fray around here. The only word I can think of is discombobulate. Maybe what I need to do is recombobulate, or just combobulate?

Everyone at home is happy. There is a dragon hanging from our kitchen ceiling, a cut out of a castle on the table, and what looks like many books-in-progress with words and illustrations strewn around the dining room.

Halloween is my next deadline. After knitting a beard for Kadin last week, I will make cloaks and chain mail this week.

It was warm and atumnal yesterday, but now it is snowing.

Friday, October 13, 2006


I have made a new discovery. It is obvious, as most discoveries are, but just to let you know. Instead of filling a cupboard, I purposefully leave some extra space for maneuvering. Duh. But it makes me wonder why I felt compelled to fill the space in the first place.

I've been doing a lot of organizing, post construction, and have noticed these interesting tendencies. I have already written about my compulsion to do things efficiently and this is sort of along the same lines. I first noticed my compulsion to fill things up when I was in the bulk aisle at the grocery store. I was filling a medium-sized container with almond butter and, as always, had trouble because after I filled it, putting on the lid would make it spill. And then I realized, why am I filling it? I could take a larger container and fill it half way. Or fill two smaller containers three-quarters full. Why did I feel that whatever container I had it had to be full? And then I noticed the same thing, but in reverse when I put liquid detergent in the washing machine. I felt I had to get every last drip out of the lid. Why? Using slightly less detergent would do no harm, and would actually save detergent in the long run. The caps are nicely designed so it can all flow back in anyway.

So that is my new revelation: stop short, leave space. Do not even get close to stuffing. Cupboards ARE full when there is still enough room to maneuver. Laundry detergent is empty when most of it has come out. The bulk peanut butter is full well before it reaches the top. Houses are full when they are closer to empty. And so and and so on.

My friend noted that whatever sized purse she had, it was always overfull. Same deal.

I remember someone saying that a similar philosophy is prevalent in France regarding just enough. They do not stuff themselves, but value stopping just short of enough. Quality over quantity and all that.

And time too, don't you think? My favorite inspirational quote of the day is: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

It’s a new outlook for me, and I’m going to give it a try. Full leaves some room for more.

Monday, October 02, 2006

World Cup withdrawal leads to baseball

We have been fortunate enough to be in Europe for the past three World Cups. The first was a trip we took to Italy when Rees was a baby. We really enjoyed the whole communal nature of the games: how everyone would gather in the piazzas to watch, and the excitement the play generated. It was great fun to witness such elegant athletes play "the beautiful game."

Four years later we found ourselves living in England and then we got to experience World Cup mania again, from a different perspective. England being more of a country of low expectations than Italy, with less self-love but just as much spirit. Also, as a much smaller country than the US, England tends to gripped much more strongly by certain media events. There is more of a group psychology about pop music or celebrities or certain national news stories. The England soccer team is very much part of this media groupthink. Needless to say, the World Cup is a big deal. When the England team beat old rival Germany 5-1, the country was ecstatic, in disbelief, and the headlines read: Don't Mention the Score.

We were happy when our trip to England and Norway this summer coincided, once again, with the World Cup. We were in England for the first England game where they beat Paraguay. We had our charts of the schedule and the teams and we enjoyed watching and hearing the post-game commentary.

The second England game against Trinidad coincided exactly with the time of our flight to Norway. As we were "deplaning" a flight attendant came on to announce the score of "nil, nil." The game should have been over. How could it be? A tie? Moments later the flight attendant came back on to say England had won 2 nil. Happy shouts went up from the passengers at this exciting last-minute victory!

A couple of days later, in Oslo, we watched the England Sweden game in our hotel room. The commentary was all in Norwegian so we didn't really get the subtleties, but we heard the cheers outside the windows when Sweden scored and the huge, happy reaction when they tied.

We followed the games as best we could, spending our breakfasts decoding the Norwegian paper. Sports writing is just about the most difficult thing to understand in a foreign language, I think. Hard enough to understand in English if you are not versed in the game!

Still, we enjoyed cable in the hotels, the brief things we did understand—“ikke rot kort”—and, finally, got to watch in English at Greg's Father's in New Jersey. The semifinal was at the same time as our Jet Blue flight home from NJ, and hooray! Jet Blue offers live TV on its flights. The game ended just as we landed.

Then we had to beg friends who had cable to let us watch the remaining games. I let myself into the house of neighbor one morning to watch with Kadin. Amazingly he let me watch the whole game. Well, actually, I bribed him by scratching his back while watching and he fell asleep. It was divine.

At the end of it all I went into withdrawal. No more suspense, no more building of excitement. I missed the world cup.

So I decided to get into baseball again. Baseball is almost the polar opposite of soccer, but it has its attractions. First, there is a game nearly every day. No endless waiting. Second, baseball is almost as good on the radio as on TV. Soccer is useless on the radio. You can't see the athletic grace the fouls, the acting. You know the score, but that is about it. Reading about it in the paper is almost better.

The pace of baseball (one of its main detractions to some), however, lends itself to the radio. To me this is an asset. The games are long, but you can listen and do other things at the same time. Every pitch has a statistic and a strategy behind it. You can picture it in your head. The suspense builds as the count goes full. Base runners get on base, outs are accumulated, inning pass, runs build.

So, this summer for the first time in decades, I started following baseball again. It was midseason and the suspense still lingered. I got to know the players of the Colorado Rockies and the announcers. It worked to fill the World Cup deficit.

The only problem was, the team did not do so well. Today, the 2nd of October, they are in last place, 12 games out of first in their division, with less than a 500 record. I hope you understand that. I have enjoyed getting back in to the jargon. But alas, the suspense is now over for me. The season done, more loses than wins.

Maybe next year.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

First days

The start of the school year brought much anticipation and hope. All was dashed when, on the second day of kindergarten, Kadin marched out with his arms folded tight and a huge frown on his face. Thinking he was upset because he didn't get to be first in line or some such minor disappointment, I tried to ignore his mood as we stepped aside and waited for Rees.

"I need to talk to you," the teacher said as she looked my way. "He is very stubborn and defiant. I don't know what to do. What do you do at home? We need to nip this in the bud."

I was flabbergasted and didn't know what to say, so basically said as much: "Wow, that comes as a huge surprise to me." I mean, Kadin is stubborn, sure, but he is basically sweet and pliable. (Now that she mentions it, though, if I look back at posts about him, his stubborn streak does stand out…)

"I'll call you later." She said.

Okay, well, there goes the plan of getting into her good graces! I walked home with a very sad and upset child. It was like he was ill, a completely different kid. I felt like I had been kicked in the chest.

Luckily, one of Rees' friends was there. He saw how upset Kadin was and said, "Kadin, are you in Mrs. X's class?" Kadin nodded. "I used to be in her class and it was so bad, I hated it, and I used to get in trouble all the time." Kadin was listening.

So I asked Rees' friend what happened and what he did about it. "I just finally decided to try doing what she said." "What happened then?" I asked. "Oh," he said, "Things got SO much better." "So you were happy with your decision to do what she said?" "Oh yeah,” he said confidently, “It was the right decision."

I was tempted to tell Kadin to shape up and just do what she said, but he seemed so sad and hurt that I decided he just needed to be comforted and then we could talk about what to do later.

At the same time, I was thrown into doubt as I tried to notice whether he was truly stubborn and defiant or if something else was going on. All evening, if I asked him to do something, he would either refuse or say "Okay!" or "Sure!" He didn't want to put his shoes away, so the next time he wanted my help with something I just said, "I'm happy to help you as soon as you put your shoes away." Eventually he put his shoes away.

I racked my brains about what could be going on. He hated kindergarten and he hated his teacher. He was angry and hurt. He was exhausted. Finally we lay down on the bed and had a long discussion about it. He said he didn't want to do what she said. We talked about options including not doing full-day kindergarten, changing to the morning class, changing teachers. (Visions of home schooling bounced in my head, but I remained mute on that subject.) I told him that he was a really good guy and that we would find a way to make kindergarten work for him. Finally, I suggested, "Or you could try what [Rees’ friend] suggested." He agreed this was a something he could try.

The phone never rang. I felt very protective of Kadin and wondered what this witch had done to bring out the worst in him. I also realized that taking that approach with her would get me nowhere. Instead, I rehearsed saying how difficult I knew her job was and how motivated I was to make this work. I remembered how Kadin had told me he liked to watch first before he joined in. Maybe that was it? Maybe he just wanted to watch first? And it brought up all kinds of insecurities. Had I not set enough limits? Would he have any friends if he was labeled the “bad kid”? I had thought he could easily end up being the teacher’s pet. But it looked like he could just as easily be her nemesis as well.

I decided to focus on the positive: his good qualities, my good qualities, and the teacher’s good qualities.

Finally, the next morning at 7:30, I went over to the school. I just had to talk with her. I was tired of second guessing what was going on. Our talk was good. She said she was also distressed. I encouraged her to let him watch first and assured her I didn’t think he would be disruptive. She told me more about what he had (or hadn’t) been doing. She said at the end of the day, she wouldn’t try to talk with me but would give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down to let me know how things had gone. Meanwhile Greg brought Kadin to school and said Kadin had decided to try [Rees' friends'] idea.

I don’t know what happened, but whatever it was, it worked. Maybe they both gave just a little bit so that neither of them had to dig in their heels. At the end of the day, we got the thumbs up. Things have been fine ever since. In fact, more than fine. We just had a glowing parent/teacher conference. They are best buddies. He wants to invite her to his birthday party.