Archive for June, 2008

The Kid and I

I often feel that I’m walking a tightrope in my relationship with the Kid. And I often notice that I’m not walking very steadily or perhaps the correct way to use this analogy is that I’m walking the tightrope steadily but in the wrong direction.

Here’s one example. Basically since the X moved out, I’ve not had broadcast TV in the house. For maybe six months I was able to finagle getting the local PBS station on reception from the house antenna. But then the coaxial cable connector from the antenna started not working. Instead of figuring out how to fix it, I announced that service was no longer available. We had VCR tapes and at some point brought DVD into the lineup. But no broadcast TV.

The Kid was fine with that until the X decided to get cable at her place. From being an occasional TV watcher, he became an obsessed maven. And he became increasingly grouchy and moody when he was here at the Piedmont house. After months of guiltily skirting around the problem — convinced that my absenses from his life were the source of this skism between us — I flat out asked him. In anger and frustration I said, “Why aren’t you happy here?”

“You don’t have the same things here that Mommy has at her house.”

“Like what?” I challenged.

“TV” he replied.

I gestured to the box where he was watching some moldy VCR tape for the 50th time. “We have TV”

“But, not…” and he rattled off a list of cartoon-type shows that he was regularly watching with the X.

Baffled silence. Interestingly, the Kid wasn’t suffering from a grown-up’s version of angst. He just missed his shows. I had tried everything I could think of doing to provide an interesting environment for him here. I’d come up with activities. I’d brought in materials I thought might interest him. We went for walks in the woods. We gardened. But, I admit, sometimes I did need to “park” him while I got some mundane chores done quickly. And since the cable went in at the X’s, his interest in our activities at the Piedmont house had waned. He just sat and watched videos and DVDs with a depressed aspect.

In this location, I didn’t have the option of cable. But I could potentially bring in satelitte TV. Now the questions before me were two — could I afford it? and should I do it? The first, as I’d recently retired the debt I incurred when the X moved out, was yes. I could afford it. The second I concluded was also yes. Maybe it brands me as a bad mommy. But sometimes I can’t see a way around the arms race of expectations. I do try to demonstrate, live, model and expose the Kid to a different way here at the Piedmont house. But there are some minimal commonalities that need to be observed to keep his life on an even keel. I came to feel that broadcast TV had fallen into that category.

When the sat TV (with DVR option) landed in the house, I began to seriously re-think my choice. The Kid became addicted to the most schlocky, gratuiously violent cartoon show I could imagine. Although perhaps my imagination does not stretch far in this regard. I promised to record shows for him when he was with the X. And for awhile, he watched the TV non-stop when he was here.

After having brought the thing into the house in order not to fight with him, I was really unwilling to fight with him over watching it. I went about my business — having a lot more time for it. And just hoped that eating really good food would be worth something. And that eventually, he would arise from the televised mush and notice that something interesting was happening around him.

Yesterday, after a week of dryness a really good thunderstorm looked like it was blowing up. Since I’ve been trying (with only limited success I admit) to moderate my use of the a/c I’ve become incredibly attuned to the weather. I wanted that storm — for the coolness that was bound to ride in on the front and for the water the garden desperately needed. I stood out on the porch for awhile, watching the clouds — hoping for rain. Finally, I went inside and dragged a chair out on the porch. I sat outside watching the wind whip the tall trees around, sipping seltzer water, feeling good. I could only barely hear the noise of the television. And I knew the Kid wasn’t really watching it so much as “having it on” as he worked on the comic books he draws and writes.

Then the Kid appeared at the door. “What is it sweetie?” I asked — expecting a request for a drink or snack.

“What are you doing out here?”

“I’m watching the storm come up. I’m really hoping it is going to rain. We really need it.”

He paused to consider this information. “Wait a minute” he said, “I’ll get a chair and join ya.”

He retreated into the house and came back in a moment with a chair and his own bottle of seltzer water. Side by side we sipped and watched the wind, heard and felt the lightening and thunder, appreciated the rain when it finally started falling. When it started coming down sideways pelting us with spray, we came inside.

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June 30, 2008 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

One Pretty Local Supper

I am not formally participating in any of the One Local Summer activities. If you are signed up for that it includes a pledge to prepare one meal per week using all local ingredients with Marco Polo exceptions. That is, you can use spices and small items such as sailors or traders may have carried in their pockets.

So, I’m not participating in that challenge. But in concentrating on trying to source as much of my food locally as possible, I often come up with a meal that would qualify under the rules. Last night, after a hard and hot working day, I prepared a meal that was too good not to share.

Since the temperature was in the upper 90s, I elected to grill. I lightly marinated a boneless, skinless chicken breast and wrapped some corn up in foil. I got the charcol going. While that was resolving itself to coals, I tossed a green salad, made yogurt, and put three pints of blueberries I had picked earlier in the day into the freezer.

Then I took chicken and corn (and basting sauce) out onto the deck, sat back in my chair, and relaxed while my meal cooked itself over the fire. It was good eatin’

Chicken and garlic from Fickle Creek Farm
Corn on the cob and red bell pepper from Lee Farm
Tomatoes and cucumbers from Wild Hare Farm
Red-leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce from Hurtgen Meadows
Blueberries from Frog Pond Farm
Lemon juice, dijon mustard, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper from away.

June 29, 2008 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

Day Two – wherein I sleep with the windows open!

Crunchy Chicken’s Keep Yer Cool Challenge has caused me to get a little obsessed with my indoor-outdoor thermometer. I have it set in a passthrough window between the kitchen and the great room. Since the great room was added on to the existing ranch house, I believe that this was once an exterior window. Now, it seems like a good place to monitor the temperatures in both “sides” of the house. I mentally divide the house into “sides” as there are two heating/a-c units — one for the original ranch house and one for the added great room. It’s a great feature because I can heat or cool only one section of the house depending on the circumstances and if one unit fails, the other can (kinda sorta) stand in for it while it is being repaired.

Yesterday was another hot day in the Piedmont with reports on the radio going as high as 95°F. The outside temperature here at my house in the woods only got to 93°F and the interior temperature only rose as high as 84°F. So, the a/c stayed off all afternoon. When the outside temperature started cooling down, there came a point where the outside was actually cooler than the inside. It took me a little mental leap but I got to where I realized in that case that it made sense to turn the a/c on ever so slightly in an effort to equalize the indoor and outdoor temperatures. I don’t know if that would count as “cheating” on my pledge or no, but it seemed reasonable to me. It seemed especially reasonable because with just that little goose from the a/c I was able to sleep comfortably and well with the windows open and the a/c off all last night.

June 28, 2008 at 11:45 am Leave a comment

Dealing with the Heat

Yesterday, I signed on to Crunchy Chicken’s Keep yer Cool summer-long challenge. The idea is to post in the comments to her post a pledge on what you are willing to do to eliminate or minimize your air-conditioning use over the summer. The Piedmont house is not one of those great old farmhouses built to structural advantage in hot weather. Instead it’s a plain, one story ranch with a 600 ft. “great room” tacked on. The great room is all about windows — there are 13 windows, three glass doors, and two big skylights. It’s a really neat feature of the house in general. I have often thought that sitting in the great room is very similar to sitting outside — except fewer bugs and the ability to climate control.

Oh wait. For that reason and others, going cold turkey on the a/c didn’t seem reasonable or prudent. Besides being kinda unbearably hot I have heard that mold and mildew can be big problems in this part of the country without at least minimal a/c. I don’t know if that is the case as I’ve never really had the nerve to go completely without it and I don’t have that nerve now either. I pledged that I wouldn’t cut on the a/c until the internal temperature reached 85F. I also gave myself the out of using the a/c at night to ensure restful sleep.

On day one (yesterday), I got serious about window screens. The X is a big animal lover and at one time the Piedmont house was home to about 8-10 cats and 3-4 dogs. Those cats did a number on the window screens all over the Piedmont house. When they were trying to get one’s attention to petition to come indoors (they were all indoor/outdoor pets), they would launch themselves up onto the window screens and literally hang there either until one of us let them in or they fell back down again. Over time, most of the window screens on the house were shredded and/or fell off the windows. In those days, it didn’t matter much as the X is the queen of climate control. Our thermostat would switch on some certain day directly from “heat” to “air-conditioning.” Our windows never opened.

So, I was left with a house with windows that could not be opened without hosting the considerable variety of winged and crawling insects native to this territory. In the first year after the X moved out, I researched options and found, to my delight, that it was possible to obtain all of the necessary materials for fabricating window screens at the local home center. And it wasn’t even that hard. I built a few screens, but then I got caught up in other activities and that project languished. A year or so ago, I found a cache of original window screens that I had saved at some point but I didn’t find time to fit them to their proper windows. Even though I was not as extravagant a climate-control queen as the X, I still found that the “season of the open window” was not extremely long. Perhaps two-two and a half months in the spring and one-two months in the fall. During those times, I regulated the air-flow with the three strategically placed windows with screens I had fixed up — one in the great room, one in the kitchen, one in my bedroom. I had one in the Kid’s room also but he normally declined to have his window open.

Yesterday, spurred by the challenge, I went out and took a look at that cache of window screens. I was able to quickly install three (one in the great room, one in the living room, and one in my bedroom) which needed only minor repair. I situated the one in the great room to encourage a cross-breeze. I turned on both ceiling fans in the great room — even the one that makes the clunky noise. I waited and monitored temperatures with my indoor/outdoor thermometer. I know that the appropriate thing in the summer is to let the night air in and then shut the house like a hermetically sealed compartment during the day, but I had not started the night before and I thought the breeze would be good. Also, somewhat perversely, I wanted to know just what my 85F pledge was going to feel like. In some sense, I wanted to start my summer with the house “heated up” to that point.

It was a hot one yesterday, so that did not take long. The temperatures outside kept climbing. The interior temps rose more slowly, but steadily. After my initial burst of activity with the window screens, I settled down in front of my laptop to do my office work in the kitchen. I found that if I stayed seated and not very active, the heat was certainly bearable. I kept thinking I should go up to the attic to retrieve a box fan that was stored up there. But I kept not feeling the need to do so.

About mid-morning, a friend emailed me with an invitation to join her and her son at the pool that afternoon. So after I picked the Kid up from camp, got the worst of the mud and clay hosed off of him and got our swimming gear together, we joined our friends at this really cool community pool that was new to us. We spent the afternoon and early evening there. When we got back to the Piedmont house, things were starting to cool off. I made a quick dinner of pesto, we hung out for a bit, and then I got the Kid settled for the night. At first, I opened up the windows in my bedroom and tried to deal with the cooling of the night air. But around 1:30am, I cranked it up and slept well.

This morning is an office morning where I physically visit my workplace so I left all the windows closed to — as much as possible — seal in the gains from the overnight a/c. I’m thinking about blinds and/or drapes. And maybe a couple of screen doors for the great room. It’s interesting to me how a slightly artificial “challenge” like this seems to really set me moving to pursue energy-saving strategies I should have been investigating all along.

June 27, 2008 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Acceptance, Judgement, Mercy

Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book wrote a post yesterday that has really stuck with me. It was a great post for a number of reasons and you should read it but the section that has been churning around in my mind was where she broadly described a period in her life when she made some poor choices and told of the people in her life who helped her anyway. She described one high school teacher who passed her through his course (even though she was not doing the work) on the condition that she get out of that town and do something with her life.

I contrast that story with one reported by a friend of mine recently. She has been teaching at a private school in Cambridge while completing her doctorate at Harvard. She is very committed to doing anti-racism work and presses her students hard on this point. In the fall, she received a set of very poor student evaluations. She took that information in and looked deeply into her self, her motivations, her communication style. She made some changes and the Spring evaluation set showed a marked improvement. But since the numeric average of those evaluations was not a “solid 4” on a 5 point scale, this gifted and caring woman lost her job.

Whether or not you agree with Sharon’s overall vision of where things are headed in this country and in this world, it seems pretty incontrovertable that in the coming months and years and decades (if we’re lucky) we are all going to be called on to make major changes in the way we order our lives. As far as I can tell, that is not a question.

The question is…how are we going to make those changes. Are we going to jealously guard our little horde from our neighbors? Are we going to crankily judge those who were slower on the uptake than we were or even who actively buried their heads in the sand? Or are we going to extend a hand of friendship and trust to idiots and help others not because they “deserve” help but because it enriches our own lives to share what we have. Are we, as Ben Franklin put it, going to hang together or hang separately?

June 26, 2008 at 11:08 am 1 comment

Virtual World

I guess anyone who is reading this blog has contemplated to some extent the commonalities and the boundaries between communications, friends, and community in the online world and in the flesh and blood world. I have logged a few hours thinking through those distinctions myself, but I had an experience this morning that really brought me up short on that point.

Several years ago, I started contributing to an email list that had at it’s basis the appreciation of a particular writer. Over time, I got to know (at least in the online sense) perhaps twenty other regular contributors. The author who formed the base of our common interest lived and worked in the western US and most of the regular contributors also make their homes in that region. Many of them get together in “real life” having dinner, attending concerts and throwing weekend-long parties at each other’s houses. At least one marriage has taken root and been nurtured by list participants. Being a couple thousand miles away from most of this gang, I haven’t attended these events. But I did have lunch once with another east coaster. It’s a community.

Lately, I’ve drifted in my list participation. Being of the appropriate sex and demographic, I was a pretty hard-core Clinton supporter in the recent Democratic primaries. Many of the list members were passionate devotees of the cult of Obama and I found their attitudes just the least little bit smug and smart-ass. Also, I was trying to become very serious about sourcing my food locally and cooking from scratch. Those of you who are also doing this can attest that it takes a chunk out of one’s leisure time. I found it possible and convenient to pull time from the virtual community of Obama smartasses and spend it baking bread — and starting this blog. I didn’t unsubscribe from the list, but I did filter it into a folder that I checked only randomly. Since I didn’t think I had the time to respond thoughtfully to posts, I chose not to respond to any of them — short or long. I didn’t figure anyone would particularly miss me and it seemed to be the case.

This morning, however, I had a personal email from a list member alerting me to the fact that several list members had, in fact, noticed that I hadn’t posted and were posting urgent and worried messages inquiring after my whereabouts and condition. My friends were worried about me. My virtual friends. My friends I’ve not actually ever met.

What measure of time and duty do I owe to the bond I seem to have established over several years of regular list participation? Is a community in the ether just as important as a community in real time? Is it just a generational thing with me that I’m even making these distinctions? Aren’t friends…..just friends? This morning, I’m pondering this.

June 25, 2008 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

Sleep

When I was in my twenties, I worked as a breakfast cook. Once I landed a job at a restaurant that was still under construction. This company actually did some employee training unlike most restaurants where “training” consisted of working with an experienced employee for one or two shifts — if that. But in this company we spent several weeks being thoroughly trained in all aspects of our job at the next closest restaurant of this chain, which was forty miles away and in another time zone.

Another time zone?, you ask. Well, sort of. At that point, I lived in Indiana which had not yet caved to the pressure of adopting daylight saving time and the operational restaurant was in Ohio, which was on daylight saving time. So, there was a difference of one hour between the two locations — Ohio being the earlier time of course.

We had to be at the restaurant at 5:30 each morning for a 6am start. It was a one hour drive from our meeting place in my town to the restaurant. And we had to figure in the time difference. And I had to roll out of bed and drive from my parent’s farm to the rendevous location. So, if you do the math you can see that I was rising at 3am each working day.

The training shift ran from 5:30 to noonish. We drove back and hour, losing an hour in the process, and arrived back at the meet-up point around 2pm. I got back to the farm around 2:15 or 2:20 each day. I was exhausted. And done with work for the day. And no one else was about the house. So, I fell into bed and slept for several hours — usually until 5 or 5:30. Then I would get up and start putting together some dinner for the folks just arriving home from the office or shop.

The most amazing thing about that summer was how great I felt physically, how fresh I always was, how much energy I had. I often stayed up until 11 or even midnight. I grabbed three or four hours of sleep in the early morning hours and I was — although we did not have the expression then — good to go.

Later in life, after having dozed through many afternoon meetings and classes, I recognized that in that summer of restaurant training I had discovered the exact rhythm of my personal biological clock. I work at peak efficiency not with one long block of shuteye overnight but with two long naps. One in the afternoon and one in the early morning.

Now that I’m working mostly from home, I’ve been able to partially re-create this happy state of affairs. With the Kid around I can’t exactly sleep away my entire afternoon. But I am usually able to grab 45 minutes or an hour of blissful shuteye each afternoon. Then I stay up reasonably late and wake up very early — refreshed and ready to go.

Telecommuting is being touted these days on the basis of mileage saved. And that’s certainly a positive. But I think an even more important benefit is the ability for each individual to work out the balance of his or her own life.

June 24, 2008 at 11:17 am Leave a comment

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