Monday, July 22, 2013

Old Books and New Books and How They Keep Life Sweet (If Messy)

Tree care. Water damage restoration. Divorce and family law. Bankruptcy. Personal injury. Dentistry services. Plumbing and more plumbing. Self storage. Garage doors. Concrete driveways. Digging a well. Car maintenance. Information technology services. Building fences.

These are some of the topics on which I write every day, and yet I still end up in the non-fiction section of the thrift store book area or at the library (although I never check out library books because I owe such a hefty fine I would have to take out a bank loan to pay it off. I figure it's cheaper to buy the book for a couple dollars secondhand and never have to forget a due date (or order it cheap online), and I just read books at the library while Little Gary plays with the puppets and plastic dinosaurs in the kids' section.).

My theory is that I'm so addicted to learning new things now that I can't stop. Even if the information I write about is for stuff I won't likely ever use (I'm looking at you, inscrutable IT websites, with your nerdy computer speak and your love of shoving my insufficient education base in computer tech in my face), I must have more, more, MORE! But I pick stuff I'm more interested in. Instead of sump pumps, I choose cookbooks, for instance. Or sewing. Or interesting things about the brain. Or quantum physics written for people who never did well in math.

But I do read fiction, too. When I do, and if the book is good, it's catastrophic. No work gets done. I easily justify just one more chapter while the articles remain unwritten, the laundry piles up, the kids starve to death, and every surface in the house gets more dirty and cluttered. I have to dole out fiction to myself like I'm an addict.

Recently, on a quick trip to the thrift store, I spotted a book in the children's section that immediately took me back to my childhood. This one, in fact:

I loved Danny Dunn books when I was in elementary school. I read them all multiple times, and I used to dream about the fun Danny, Irene, and Joe had on their crazy scientific adventures with Professor Euclid Bullfinch. Of course I bought the book, and of course I re-read it. It's not quite the same as when I was seven, but it was still fun. I'll read it to my boys, who will be amazed that such entertainment does not come from an electronic source.

But for now, I have to finish 510 words about water damage restoration, and I want to finish so I can fold the laundry and get the kids to do their chores. My parents and brothers are coming over for dinner so they can meet my Welsh nephew and the in-laws' new dog and cat. It's just as well I finished the Danny Dunn book (which took about an hour) and  that I don't have any other good fiction lurking on my nightstand, beckoning me to shirk all responsibility.

I think I'll find my own copy of  Allen Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. If you're looking for a good series, Bradley's Flavia de Luce series is it, with four published and one coming out in 2014. I just looked it up and realized I haven't read all of them. I fear the laundry is going to pile up again in the near future.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The British Nephew and His Hollow Legs

My Welsh nephew likes to pop over to our house when things get too quiet at MIL's and FIL's. Over here, there are plenty of people with whom to play UNO or shoot the breeze. He doesn't care that the house is

always in a state of untidiness (varying in range from only slightly messy to humiliating given the day or the hour, and whether or not I have yelled at people to get their chores done and whether or not they have taken any action to do so).

He calls me "Auntie Eva," which is amusing. No one has ever called me "auntie" before. I feel like pulling out the tea things and offering him a little cucumber sandwich or two.

He'd probably enjoy cucumber sandwiches better than what I'm usually offering him, however. He's kind of picky about what he eats, which is funny because the kid is always ready to stuff another meal into his calorie-burning frame. As a talented and dedicated soccer player (excuse me, football player), he probably doesn't have an ounce of fat on him. His two hollow legs are never filled. He got so hungry one day that he tried my chili, though he was dubious because he thought it would be spicy (it wasn't spicy) and because he doesn't like beans (I only had one can of black beans in the cupboard, so he got lucky because the bean ratio was pretty low). He actually liked the chili and had an entire bowl of it before he went back to Nanna's and Grampy's house for dinner (he politely refused the corn bread). He thinks American pancakes are disgusting--even the ones with fresh blueberries--but he has taken to American fast food with glee, so maybe he will manage to put on ten pounds, which was his original goal.

As MIL is British, she understands completely what he is used to eating, and she spends all of her free time trying to cook enough to satisfy his stomach. Just kidding. She only spends half the day trying to do that.

The other half of MIL's day is spent training her new dog. Since Sam's passing on our vacation, MIL has been on the lookout for a new big dog, preferably with labrador blood and a deep bark. Ever handy with a smart phone and search parameters, Husband quickly located a likely dog in a pet shelter in another city. MIL, FIL, and Husband made the trip to the city and came back with a completely different dog than the one in the photograph, but a dog that promises good things. MIL has named her Bonnie. I'll keep you posted.

And that's the news from these parts. I started this post three times before I started writing about Nephew, and I'm certain that my nephew is vastly more interesting than what I had originally written. You're welcome.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

American Individuality and Independence Exposed

Our little outing to Southern Utah with the British in-laws exposed me to some more opportunities to see just how American I am. I like having my notions challenged because it is only through exposure that you can get down to the fine details of why and wherefore your beliefs have originated and whether or not they continue to be valid. Otherwise, I am liable to keep trucking along thinking that my ideas are so generic and normal that there isn't anything to see here. It's nice to be startled into knowing a new thing (well, as long as the new thing isn't that you are about to get eaten by a hungry mountain lion or some such similar gruesome fate).

It was while we were in Zion National Park that I was first startled into self-introspection (is that annoyingly redundant?). As we traveled on the shuttle up the canyon, a pre-recorded voice played over the car's loudspeakers giving us information about the areas we were driving through and the hikes available at each stop. One of the hikes was described as extremely dangerous, the trails hugging steep mountain paths with potentially fatal drop-offs lurking on one side. Hikers were strongly cautioned to take their group's skills and fitness levels into consideration. People with a fear of heights were discouraged. Bringing along small children was also discouraged. Fatalities had happened in the past. The warning concluded with, "Remember, your safety is your responsibility."

By the time the warnings were over, MIL was shaking her head in disbelief. During an ensuing conversation, she was aghast that anyone was even allowed to take the trail at all if fatalities had happened. In the U.K, she said, people would have been banned from hiking the trail if even one person had been killed. And even considering allowing children up there?? Wouldn't happen. The fact that hikers were still allowed to go with the admonition that their safety was in their hands was ludicrous.

FIL piped up that it was the same sort of thinking that he had seen in people who yelled and screamed about being forced to wear a motorcycle helmet. "There's this attitude of 'you can't tell not to get myself killed!'" he laughed.

I hadn't said anything, but I had been thinking that if people want to do stupid things, no government should stop them. The exception, of course, is when the stupid thing threatens others' rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property (and I include reckless financial professionals in this category, although if the government is the perpetrator of harmful and reckless stupidity, that's another story altogether). It is repugnant to me to think that government can ban things "for your own safety" when it was someone's stupidity that caused a problem in the first place. Losing freedoms for security is anathema.

But here were MIL and FIL talking as if it was perfectly sensible for government to treat adult citizens like children in order to keep them safe. MIL and FIL are intelligent people, but they grew up in the culture and it seems very normal and right for them to trust government to take care of them. They don't even question why law-abiding citizens shouldn't be allowed to have guns in order to defend themselves against the lawbreakers who would like to take advantage of their weakness. Britons haven't been allowed guns for decades now, and the idea of owning a gun appears to horrify them.

I'm not saying MIL and FIL are bad people for believing as they do. Not by any possible means are they bad people, and my point is certainly not to state that I'm right and they're wrong. That would just be perpetuating the stereotype of American arrogance and the belief that our ways are always the best ways.

No, what struck me was the difference in thought processes and attitudes. My American independence has been bred into me from birth. They find it strange and alarming in many ways that we are so determined to leap into bad situations simply because no one can tell us, lawfully, that we can't. I find their trust of government to be equally strange and alarming. But without hearing a different viewpoint, I'm not likely to be able to effectively sift through and sort out exactly how I believe as I do. It's an enlightening process.

Now excuse me while I get my gear together to go and find some hungry mountain lions hunting for me as I take whatever steep and dangerous hiking path I choose. What? I'll bring my repeating rifle, but you can't make me use a motorcycle helmet during the journey.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools." ~Albert Einstein

Anger is a tricky devil. In some ways, it's as seductive as falling in love--and just as brain frazzling. The intense feelings bring on a kind of high that you can ride as long as you keep feeding the emotion, whether you're experiencing righteous indignation or pure rage. I rarely get really angry, but I'm very, very human.

I felt some really intense anger the last few days. I didn't enjoy it because I understand that my thinking becomes stilted and cloudy (well, more than usual, anyway), and I don't like working in a fog of negative emotion. Fortunately, I have learned to acknowledge my feelings and quit labeling them as "good" or "bad." They just are. I feel them and I accept that. Once I allow myself to accept it, I can start working through the reasons why in an unemotional way. I can step back, become The Watcher, and analyze why I feel so angry. Most of the time, I find that my anger happens as a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, and these bugaboos probably account for nearly 100% of the hatred and anger in any person or situation. I also find that much of my anger stems from the consequences of my own choices. I don't accept blame for someone else's choices, but I do try to take responsibility for my own.

Unfortunately, by the time I figured it all out, the damage was done. I hurt someone's feelings terribly. I have made a sincere apology, but it may be too late to ever restore the friendship because the person I hurt has incredibly tender feelings based on many negative past experiences. And what's sad is that both of us were angry based on misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions. She assumed some things that weren't true and it took me a while to figure out that my anger stemmed from feeling resentment that I projected onto her. In reality, I was feeling resentful because of choices I had made, and I allowed myself to get into an uncomfortable situation by not setting proper boundaries. My bad.

This is cryptic, and I apologize. I don't want to get too specific because I don't want to have a place where anger can fester. The memory of this sad misunderstanding is enough, and when I read this in the future, it will serve as a warning to me to be cautious. Making decisions in anger is never wise. Saying things out of anger is deadly. Some things can never be unsaid.

One of the things I have always yearned for is wisdom. I have so very far to go.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hot, Dusty, and Thoroughly Happy

Last week marked a singular event in our household: we went on an actual vacation! A few months ago, MIL and FIL asked Husband to search for a rental home somewhere within a 500 mile (or so) radius of where we live. Husband found one in Southern Utah, an updated pioneer home that allows pets, has room to sleep all 11 of us, air conditioning, and is very reasonably priced. The in-laws booked it immediately.

As vacation time drew nearer and nearer, all the adults started having second thoughts. We worried about the money, the work I wouldn't be doing, and the cats that would get left behind (MIL had just adopted a new little Siamese kitten who wasn't eating very well). We almost scrapped the entire enterprise. There were two reasons we ended up going: the bitter disappointment the kids would have felt after all that anticipation and the fact that FIL couldn't get a refund so late in the game. Husband and I successfully worked on meeting extra work assignments before we left, so that worry was also eliminated. The Siamese cat (who had been abandoned in this hot weather and was pretty limp and sad when MIL adopted her) was perking up and starting to eat like a ravenously hungry, playful kitten.

Sure, I know that driving to Southern Utah in the middle of the summer sounds like an absolutely insane thing to do, but we're just crazy like that. I didn't care anything for the heat because ROAD TRIP!! Have I mentioned that I love road trips? I love road trips. What with the price of gas, the longest road trips I've been on in the last few years are to The Big City and back, which isn't enough of a distance to in any way adequately satisfy my wanderlust. But this, this was five-and-a-half hours of driving the scenic back roads to the St. George area, looking out the window, and enjoying the sensation of stretching your legs during rest stops. There were also any variety of non-nutritious snacks to enjoy along the way. I love road trips (have I mentioned that?).

Rather than bore you with a day-by-day replay of events, I'll mention the highlights and post some pictures.

  • The house proved to be absolutely perfect. It was spacious, quaint but modern, very clean, and had plenty of room for the dogs to run and play in the fenced backyard. I had only two complaints: the bathrooms were both located in bedrooms, so that meant a lot of traffic in what would otherwise be considered private spaces; and the air conditioning was so powerful that I was actually wishing I had a sweater while it was 110 deg. F (43 deg. C) outside. If it was pleasantly cool downstairs, it was uncomfortably warm upstairs where the kids were sleeping, so we kept it at arctic temps downstairs and slept under all the covers at night. That's not really a complaint, though, since no air conditioning at all would have made for a very miserable week.
  • Samson, the in-laws' crotchety but lovable old black labrador, had to go to the vet the morning after we arrived, where it was discovered that he had a malignant-looking tumor growing on his spleen and that his spleen had burst at some point during the last 24 hours. Poor Sam was bleeding into his abdomen, which explained his disinterest in food or water or walking since he had arrived. Given his age and condition, MIL and FIL made the hard decision to put him down, and by this time he had already collapsed onto the floor of the clinic, each breath rattling in and out. It was a very sad event in an otherwise fun time.
  • It was hot. Hot. Sear your face and bake your head in seconds hot. And then, the last two days, it rained. Flood the earth and require an ark kind of rain. At least the temperature was a little more reasonable when it rained.
  • We tried to visit an abandoned mica mine located somewhere on a dirt road that just barely dipped into Arizona, but recent rains had caused a four foot, fast moving river to develop in a dip of the only road that would allow us access. While we didn't get to visit the mine, we did wander around in the desert for a while looking at rocks and sagebrush.
  • Zion National Park is indescribably beautiful. We took the shuttle up the canyon from Springdale and got a good look at the amazing scenery. Bonus: someone left behind their valid national park ticket, so that saved us the $25 entry fee. We left it behind as well, in case someone else could use it.
  • The kitchen of our house made it easy to prepare meals, so we didn't have to worry about eating out all the time.
  • A good time was had by all and, aside from poor Sam, no one was injured in any way.
Here are some pictures of our trip up Snow Canyon, which is outside St. George.

Sophia, Sian, and Gabrielle read about lava tubes on the information board at our stop at White Rock. 

Gabrielle, Joseph, Sophia, Elannah, Sian, Little Gary, and my nephew from Wales take the trail in search of the lava tubes. MIL made sure they each had their water bottles, but we all decided we wouldn't walk far in the heat. We didn't find any lava tubes, which looked like they had collapsed into black, volcanic rubble. Little Gary was upset about that.

For some reason, I kept feeling like I was in a theme park. I don't know why. No theme park budget or skilled craftsmanship would have been able to cover the extent of the scenery or those hills of sandstone, and the red sand and volcanic rock weren't in any way fake. Maybe I just don't get out enough. More road trips would easily dispel any future false theme park impressions (note to future self).

Nope, this is not a theme park. I'm just going to stand and look at this rock for a while because it is too wonderful not to be stared at and thoroughly appreciated.

Little Gary is wearing MIL's hat and sitting near Joseph. By this point, the heat had overcome MIL, and FIL drove her (with a bag of ice from the cooler held to her face) and Elannah back to the house. The rest of us stayed a little while longer. MIL was fine after sitting in air conditioning for a while. Remember, she's from England, and even though they are currently enjoying a heat wave, it didn't really compare to the temps here. At least it was a dry heat, she said, smiling quietly to herself.
Joseph, Husband, and Little Gary. We poured water over Little Gary's head to keep him from melting. I allow Joseph to make his own wardrobe choices, and though I suggested shorts, he chose black trousers. 

On a side note, we celebrated Joseph's ninth birthday while we were on vacation. He desperately wanted a DSi, which we found for a very reasonable price (along with surprisingly low-priced games) at a pawn shop. Also on a side note, I think I've mentioned that the English accent makes "pawn shop" sound like "porn shop" to my ears. One day a few months ago, MIL called Husband and told him that they were at the pawn shop buying a dolly. I'm still laughing about that. 

Sophia is the cute one on the rock and I'm peaking out at the side. I found a pen in the car and used it to twist my hair up into a bun. That probably saved me from heat exhaustion.

The gang (minus MIL, FIL, and Elannah) climbed a rock to pose in the afternoon sun. 

It's no wonder that John Ford chose this part of the country to film so many of his Westerns. I kept daydreaming about building a house with a wall of windows just so I could look out into the vast deserty space at all times of the day. That kind of distraction would not be good for writing, but I think I could manage just fine anyway.

Sian and my nephew climbed a hill before we finally left Snow Canyon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Monoliths of Truth and How to Avoid Bodily Harm

Cecil B. DeMille (you know, of The Ten Commandments fame) said, "It is impossible to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law."

I was thinking about that quote today while I sat in the quiet moment just before Sunday School started, when everyone is settling down and breaking out their scriptures and just as the teacher is opening his mouth to welcome the group to class. I suddenly pictured a wide field with monoliths rising out of the ground. Each monolith, made of a substance absolutely unbreakable or unscathable (I think I made that word up), was a universal law, or truth. Each one was labeled according to the truth it represented. I saw, in my mind's eye, people running up and smashing themselves into the monoliths of truth before landing, broken, on the floor of the field. I giggled quietly to myself because those faceless little people kept getting up and trying again.

Despite my childish ruminations, what Mr. DeMille said is true. It is only our human hubris that tempts us to try and break the law, and by "law," I'm talking specifically about the universal truths that are true whether or not anyone accepts or rejects them. Gravity, for instance. The Law of the Harvest. The rules that govern joy and happiness. God.

While breaking the law of gravity has never worked for anyone (and most of us have learned to work with it rather than fight against it), we still attempt to break plenty of other laws. We do this because we don't actually know what they are, in most instances. In other instances, we know it, but we don't accept it. It doesn't fit into our wishes, our perception of how the world should be instead of what it truly is. Like toddlers having a fit, we try to smash the monolith of truth with our little fists, begging it to become flexible so we can have our own way. If the fist smashing doesn't teach us the lesson, we start full-body slamming it, hoping that somehow our puny desires can somehow conquer this immovable, unbreakable obstacle so we can step over its rubble to what we think we want and deserve.

And then we wonder why we hurt so much.

I often bash myself against these monoliths, flopping around in a hissy fit of self-pity and childish desires. Fortunately, the older I get, the quicker I learn to stop it. I am also starting to figure out exactly what some of those truths really are so I can quit running into them time and again. After all, you can't work with a law unless you understand it first. Perhaps that is what the purpose of this life really is: being able to calmly read the labels of those monolithic truths, accept them for what they are, and use them to further enhance our lives. This is what brings true joy and happiness. Is it inconceivable that even the physical properties of the universe can be understood by strict adherence to the ten commandments found in Exodus? (That's a real question I ask myself, by the way, not a rhetorical question I think I already have the answer to.)

Anyway, these thoughts didn't have anything to do with the Sunday School lesson, which was about the early church and the sacrifices the early saints made for the missionary effort. We have a great teacher, so my thoughts didn't stray very much, but I'll probably always have that image of monoliths and people stuck in my head. I hope I do, so the next time I realize I'm bashing myself black and blue I can have a quiet giggle at my silliness.

Testing the strength of a monolith in a field, three humans and a dog decide to forego bashing themselves to pieces against it. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Saw Something Nasty in the Woodshed

My favorite movie is Cold Comfort Farm, which stars a young Kate Beckinsale as an Emma-type character who attempts to fix everything around her. Unlike Jane Austen's Emma, she gets it all right. Along the way, you are introduced to various colorful characters and sarcastic cinematography. I love it. And remember, there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm.

If you're looking for something new to watch and you like dry British comedies, I recommend this one.

(This is especially good when you have attempted some push-ups to relieve the general body aching and, instead, created a bad back situation that makes most positions highly uncomfortable. Seriously, I am kind of sick of this whole bad back business.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

I'm Not Even a Rabid Climate Change Worrier!

I was playing some of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words this evening when I suddenly had a brilliant idea.

Unfortunately, between the time it took me to leap up from the piano and run up the stairs, the brilliant idea vanished into some nebulous neuron no-man's land, probably never to be retrieved.

I just wanted to document that an actual brilliant idea did take place, though I can't prove it anymore.

Because I can't remember my brilliant idea, I thought I'd talk about Architectural Dreams. As I've noted before in this blog, some of my favorite types of dreams include fantastic architecture spun out of my subconscious. Even if the rest of the dream is too weird to understand fully, the rooms and buildings buried deep in my mind put a smile on my face even if Myles the Cat wakes me up at some ungodly hour of the morning (I've trained him now: if he wants to interrupt my sleep with his oh-so-obvious claw kneading and obnoxiously loud purring--which he never does except at 4:30 in the morning--he's going straight out the back door. Or wait...does he have me trained yet again??). I can spend many minutes wandering through those dreamscapes once I've fully awakened.

Once there was this room with incredibly high ceilings and two-story windows. The windows were covered in luscious blue velvet draperies that puddled elegantly on the floor. The carpet and furniture were also blue, which gave the whole place a very vintage 60s vibe, but in the dream I couldn't stop gazing at the windows in awe and wonder. The picture below does not have a 1960s vibe, but the proportions of this room are exactly like my dream. (I also included it because people like pictures in blogs. You're welcome.)

I spent some dream time in a house so massive that I repeatedly got lost between the huge cafeteria with shiny cobblestones on the floor and a room shaped somewhat like a flying saucer. Naturally, we had invited the entire city over for a party.

I recently dreamt of a building so magnificent that I nearly wept when I woke up. I'd describe it, but that beautiful memory has dimmed and faded away. The brilliant idea I just had has joined it, wherever it has gone. I don't think the two were connected, but I'll probably never know.

Lately, I've been looking up images of earthships like some people look up dirty pictures. Earthships are homes that utilize a great deal of recycled materials, like hundreds or thousands of used car tires packed with earth and glass bottles incorporated into indoor and outdoor walls. The point is not to create a building out of recycled materials, but to create a completely self-sustaining home. Along with the strong foundation created by the tires and dirt, the home includes a system for catching and filtering rain water that is used four times, with no waste: once for drinking; again for watering the indoor gardens of vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers; yet again for gray water in toilets; and finally for watering outdoor plants. Earthships are also designed to need no electricity from the grid by incorporating solar panels and wind turbines into its design. Heating and cooling systems are also not needed because of the high insulative effects of the walls and roofs.

I know. Sounds dreamy, doesn't it? Which works right into my theme of Architectural Dreams in a slightly clever way (and no, I still haven't recovered my brilliant idea at this point). If you want to get all dreamy about biotecture, click here and have a gander.

I think I'll go back and finish those Songs Without Words now. Wouldn't it have been really funny if Mendelssohn had thought to put non-words into his pieces, like Lewis Carroll or Dr. Seuss? He probably didn't only because that was a little before his time. Or he was not an idiot. Either one works.