Saturday, August 30, 2008

Good Morning, Deer

Look who came walking though this morning so I could take this picture!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Brown Lumps and the Dump

I've had this past week off from work, and after a day recovering from the camping adventure it became clear to me that I would be needing to get the boys out of the house again soon. I checked the weather and it was going to be sunny and low 70's. Not quite warm enough for the beach, but probably a good day for going to the ZOO.

I kind of hate the Detroit Zoo. They are running out of interesting animals ever since they sent the Elephants away to relieve their emotional issues. Most of what's left can be described as brown lumps hunched up in the distant corners of their habitat-imitating exhibits. I swear we could get more animal interaction by dangling a shoelace in front of our cat. We recently had an election proposal to pay more taxes to support the zoo, and Jeffrey accompanied me into the voting booth to make sure I checked the YES box. Since he's so cute I did that AND promised to take him there yet this summer.

The problem with our zoo is that it has been designed for the comfort of the animals, and not the humans. Especially the little ones in strollers. There is brown wooden fencing placed at the exact eye level of a toddler. 2 beams: one for sitting in a stroller and one for standing. And don't even get me started on trying to propel a stroller or a wagon over the sloping grounds. You have to apply TORQUE to keep it pointed forward. Very tiring. But now that my kids are out of the stroller/wagon stage, it is easier to get around, and I like looking at the gardens they have there.

The phone rang. It was my mother, she was going to be taking care of Cale and Ramona and was thinking we should all go to the zoo. I told her that I was already planning to do that, so sure, we could all go together. Lately my mother has been having trouble getting around due to arthritis developing in her hip. I hate to see this because it makes her suddenly seem OLD.

"I was thinking I'd rent a wheelchair" she said. "So if I get tired or my hip hurts, we can still get around." Just when I thought I was done with wheels at that place.

Ramona brought along her BFF Julia, here they are being pushed by my mom. When I noticed people looking at them curiously, I would throw the phrases "Siamese Twins" and "not able to be separated" into whatever I was saying, for them to overhear.

Cale and Jeffrey also found the wheelchair to be a ton of fun.

Eventually we made it through the whole zoo, past all of the brown lumps, most of them sleeping. The gorillas were actually moving, just kind of lumbering around with an expression that conveyed their sense of boredom over the conditions of their captivity. They seem so human like, you could almost imagine them among the cubicle aisles...

We declared ourselves to be DONE when we saw the prairie dog, which happens to be at the far corner from the zoo entrance. I shooed the kids away from the wheelchair and my mom got in. I began to push her towards the aisle that Kendrea calls the "Trail of Tears." I found that if I kept a good speed going it was a little easier to maneuver the thing, and we were clipping along past the red-hatted crane when...BAM the front wheels hit smack into a pothole, the wheelchair stopped and my mother kept moving. I watched her roll forward out of the chair. She plopped onto the ground, tumbling, arms and legs every which way. I stood behind the wheelchair, unbelieving what was happening, and shouting nonsense like "I hit a pothole! Kids help Grandma get up! Somebody do something!"

With much commotion we managed to get her upright and back into the chair, which she gripped tightly as I stormed to the front of the zoo, looking for an authority. Something had to be done about this! We found guest services, an unwelcoming steel door with a button on it, which when one of the kids pounded on a buzzer sounded. I opened it and walked in, and my mom and all the kids followed.

"I need to report an incident!" I announced. The woman who was sitting at the nearest desk looked up at me. "I was pushing my mother in the wheelchair, and we hit a POTHOLE, and I dumped her onto the CEMENT!"

She looked at my mother, who started talking: "Well my hip has been hurting me, and then lately my knee, and..."

"You ok?" The lady interrupted her.

"Well, yes, now I am, I'm fine." She answered. Then all of the pairs of eyes turned towards me. I took a zoo map from the lady's desk and put an "X" on the spot where the pothole was. I handed to her and stood up straight, demanding-like.

"Please tell me that you will have that pothole fixed!"

The lady leaned back in her chair, and tilted her head towards some unseen other person in the office area.

"She dumped her mom in a pothole. Take care of that, wouldja?"

Everyone looked at me again. "Thank you, um, that's what I wanted!" I said and we all shuffled out of there.

For the next couple of days, at random moments, Timmy will shout out to a rap beat:

"She DUMPED her MOM in a POTHOLE!" And then Jeff and I will join in: "Take care uh that, wouldja?" And then we crack up.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Floating Bone

The weather turned from unseasonably pleasant to unbearably hot and oppressively muggy. It was time for our long awaited family camping trip! We went to Port Crescent State Park, at the tip of Michigan's thumb, the same as last year except this time Larry, Becky and Hal, and my mother joined came too.

We struggled to put up our tent, and then Becky and Hal's next to it, as storm clouds gathered over the lake. Winds started whipping up and the sky blackened as the kids and Grandma scrambled into Honey the Camper and we put things away and battened down and zippered up into the tents. The winds screamed and howled and rushed horizontal while thunder rumbled and roared. The walls of the tent were flapping madly and it felt like we were going to take off into the air. Then the rain came pounding down, heavy, soaking, sheets of water, like 100 hoses pointed at us on "jet." The rain fly was starting to gather big pools of water and we ran around the tent smacking it to empty them. By then the water was coming in through the zippers, and I was dashing around rearranging our things to the center, when I heard Becky shrieking from the tent next to us. I zipped back a corner of the window enough to see that their tent had entirely collapsed in one corner, and was lurching and heaving into a crazy contortion. Then Hal came running out, and managed to straighten the tent pole as the rain blasted and soaked him to the skin. Thunder roared above him and flashes of light lit the sky. Ok, some of those flashes of light were from my camera:

The storm eventually passed over, and left us, our stuff and the entire campground soaked and muddy. Hal rigged up a tarp by stringing ropes across the trees, and we huddled underneath to have a soggy little birthday party and talk about what a storm that was.

It was the kind of storm that you don't get too often. The kind you will always remember. The kind of storm that would turn over a ship, causing the many wrecks that now lie on the bottom of Lake Huron in this area. Or the kind of storm that shakes them loose.

After a night of no sleep for me in the dampness listening to the rain dripping off the trees and the traffic rushing behind our campsite, the next day came along much nicer and eventually sunny. We rented canoes and paddled along the Pinnebog River to an isolated stretch of beach, full of interesting rocks, driftwood and seagulls. The adults relaxed while the kids played in the water. Cale was sitting in the surf enjoying the splash of the waves when something floated and bumped into his arm.
He grabbed it and pulled it up out of the water. He expected it to be driftwood but quickly identified it as a BONE.

It was black and smooth from being in the water. It looks like it might be a part of a knee.

We all marveled over this incredible find, and tucked it in with the beach towels before we made our way back to the camp. When we got there we found that many of the other campers had packed up and left, leaving the campground emptier and more peaceful. I noticed that several of those primo lakefront campsites were now empty, and I hopped onto my bike and rode over to the camp office to inquire within. It turns out that for a mere $5 per site you can switch over to a better spot. I would have bribed someone to leave for more than that! I was ecstatic when the rest of our party agreed to move. Since they are related to me they know that they would rather hear me congratulate myself over this good decision than bemoan the unfortunate features of our original location for yet another night.

That evening we sat around the campfire, situated so enchantingly alongside of the lake, and watched a distant boat make its way across the water. I joked that it was the ghost ship of Peter Shook, the lighthouse keeper who had been drowned at sea, coming to look for his lost leg bone. From that many bone theories emerged. If you think about it, what could be a logical story for a bone that large to be floating around in the Saginaw Bay? Mark looked up a picture of a human femur on his Iphone, it matched.

I hope that Cale's parents follow up on finding out what kind of bone that really is. Becky said she will work her many contacts to find someone who will know. If I find out more, I will post it here. Meanwhile, where do YOU think it came from?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Herd of Cattle

A large white envelope came in the mail. It contained a pile of forms to be filled out and turned in to the Middle School to "register" Timmy for 8th grade. 12:30 on a Wednesday. Can't get much more inconvenient for the working parent than that. I covered it by working from home that day and doing this during my "lunch." How can it be time for school already? I'm so not ready for signals that summer is coming to an end.

Timmy and I walked into the gym, with Jeff trailing along behind, and paused to read a giant hand-written sign that directed us to

1) Put forms in boxes on table A, then

2) Pick up schedule at table B, and

3) Stop by at the PTO table C.

We started to proceed towards table A, and the Big Bald Principle was standing there. He looked at us blankly (I have met and spoken with him several times) and shouted in a booming, crowd control type voice: "EVERYBODY PLEASE GO TO TABLE A WITH YOUR FORMS, AND THEN TABLE B FOR CLASS SCHEDULES!" He was making gestures similar to the ones he uses when directing traffic around the buses.

I looked over my shoulder to see if there was some huge crowd flowing in, but there was only a woman and her daughter wandering through the door, looking at the sign. Why was this man shouting at us in this manner? Wouldn't a smile of recognition (real or improvised) and a warm greeting to Timmy be more appropriate? Maybe ask how summer was going, welcome to the 8th grade? I just didn't see the need for him to be herding us around, there weren't very many people there, and it was rather obvious what to do.

Anyways, we went to table A and started placing our forms in the labeled boxes. Jeffrey was trying to be helpful, he read off the boxes for me: "Emergency Contacts....Medical Authorization.... Application for Free and Reduced Lunches." He wanted to know why I didn't have a form to put in that last one. "We don't need to do that." I said. He got curious and peered into the box where a filled-out form was in there, face up. I quickly shuffled him along to table B.

They really should have handled those forms with more privacy. I would like to look into that box, to know how many people apply for those state-subsidized lunches, who they are, how much money they do or don't have. But out of respect I did not. Every year I study the chart on that form and have to keep myself from calculating whether we are just one headcount reduction and slow sales year from qualifying. It's never far enough away. I suspect there will be more applications than usual this year.

Then Timmy gets his schedule, and we walk around the school to see where his classrooms are, and find his locker. I can't help noticing how dark and tunnel-like the halls are. Nothing cheerful or welcoming that would make you want to be there. Just big brown brick pipes through which our precious children are channeled through. Like herds of cattle!

Was it my imagination or does Timmy look a little more sullen and hunched in here? I looked at some of the other 8th graders. Each one so different in their gangly growing bodies. A tiny tilt in any direction about to lead them down a path towards their future. Which one will it be?

I kind of hate it the way this school seems so much like a factory. Process them through, 1-2-3. I long for an enriching school environment where each child can flourish in their own way. I settle for hoping to holy god that my son never has a severe allergic food reaction there, which he is forever one bite away from, because I have zero confidence that anyone there would handle the situation appropriately, if at all.

I wonder if I should have been making more sacrifices, or kicking more corporate butt so that Tim could attend a fancy private school. Don't they treat the students like individuals there? Some would argue that if every child were to be treated as if they are special, then none of them would be. But I can't imagine that "lost in the crowd" is something to strive for. Would my sons be better served if they attended a school that didn't seem like it could be anyschool, anywhere, and he could be just "anyone" instead of the special and unique person that his mother is so sure that he is? Then he could grow up to kick some corporate butt, and send his kids to a fancy private school. Or else they could qualify for Free or Reduced Lunches. I don't know. This is the stuff that I worry about.

Move along, now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Just Peachy

Today my mom took the grandchildren out to a farm in Armada to go peach picking. They loved it because they got to climb up in trees. I'm glad that they get to do so many fun things while I am at work. The only problem with this one is that they brought home a huge bag of fresh peaches. I happen to know that peaches don't keep very long, and these were kind of small and of varying ripeness.

So we made peach pie! It was a lot of work and a huge mess, but it came out good looking and tasty! I sprinkled extra sugar on the crust, which made it sparkly.

Nancy put a link to a recipe in the comments, but it was incomplete. I typed in "Peaches stuffed with" and came up with this recipe:

Peaches Stuffed with Amaretti Cookies
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Everyday Italian
Lavish Leftovers

1 1/2 ounces amaretti cookies (about 12 small cookies) 3 ripe, firm peaches (about 5 ounces each), halved and pitted 3 teaspoons sugar (1/2 teaspoon per peach half) 3 teaspoons unsalted butter (1/2 teaspoon per peach half) 2 cups fresh whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the bottom of an 8-inch baking dish and set aside.
Using a melon baller, clean out the red flesh from the center of each peach. Arrange the peaches cut side up in the prepared dish. In the bowl of a food processor, add the amaretti cookies and pulse until finely crumbled. Divide the amaretti crumbs between the peaches. Fill the center of each peach with the amaretti cookie crumbs. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of sugar over each. Dot each peach with 1/2 teaspoon of butter.
Bake until the peaches are tender and the filling is crisp on top, about 30 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Except we don't happen to keep amaretti cookies on hand. I'm not even sure what they are, but if they are the almond-flavored Italian cookies I'm thinking of, I would not put them in a food processor to add to a piece of FRUIT. I would just eat them up. So I looked around for what we did have on the cookie shelf and came up with Graham crackers. Then I had an even better idea to skip that dragging out the food processor step and found a box of Graham Cracker Crumbs! How long has that been in there? I think they came out pretty good. Here's a picture of my creation:

Thanks, Nancy!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cheeseburger Hats

It was a beautiful day and I wanted to get away from the sound of power lawn maintenance, get the boys out of the house, and go somewhere we'd never been before.

Since I've lived my whole life in this state that doesn't leave a lot of places, but we decided to go up along the east side of Michigan's thumb, to a town called Caseville that was having a "Cheeseburger Festival." I threw a bunch of beach stuff and the boys into the little blue VUE and we headed north on M-24 as far as it goes. We got there in less than 2 hours, and then the traffic stopped. There were people walking around and Jeff saw someone wearing a hat shaped like a cheeseburger. "Look! A cheeseburger hat! Can I get one?"

"Sure." I answered impulsively.

We found a place to park by a marina, and walked through the town and then out onto a breakwall that had a walkway on it. We got a great view of the Saginaw Bay, saw lots of boats going by, and could look over at the very crowded beach. Then we walked back to the town, and Jeffrey wanted to look for that hat. I was a little bit worried about how much it would cost, because I had committed without knowing. We went into a junky little gift store and there they were, marked down from $7.99 to $6.99. Phew! I can afford that. If this was Disney World we'd be looking at $28 I thought. Tim picked out a hat too, a pirate parrot. I think this all has something to do with Jimmy Buffet, loosely.

We walked along some more and bought huge cheeseburgers from one of the outside stands. Everyone who saw us remarked about the hats. I heard a kid say: "Look mom! A cheeseburger hat! I want one!" She dismissed him with: "You want everything you see." It feels good to occasionally indulge your kids in something like this, and for me this $14 was well spent right then.

We never made it to the beach, we couldn't get near enough to park there, and the boys wanted to go home after a couple of hours. I asked them if all that driving was worth it just to get those hats. Without hesitation, they answered that yes, it totally was.

Yeah, I'm the cool mom, for today.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In the News

My sister Becky is in The Detroit News today! She gets quoted frequently and has other articles written about her, but for the family it's exciting every time. Yes! I am bragging on my sister, unashamedly. She has many impressive accomplishments to her name, we are all proud of her with each new one. This article was interesting to me because it helped me to understand better what she does in her job. It's funny how well you can know friends and family and yet know very little what they spend their time doing from 9-5. Unless they are in the newspaper! There I go again. I'll stop now. Here's a link to the article, check it out:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Above the cloud

I came in from walking around in the parking lot at lunchtime, complaining about having to be indoors working on a beautiful sunny day. Bob made a lovely speech from across the cubicle aisle, about an eagle soaring above the storm clouds, something about having a positive attitude. I said I was complaining about the sunshine, not a storm cloud, and we both tried not to roll our eyes, me thinking he is so corny and him thinking that I just don't get it.

On my way home from work, after picking up the kids from Grandma's, I had to stop to pick up my new glasses (yeah, I'm still dealing with vision issues.) Some dark clouds were starting to gather, so we quickly shut the windows and sunroof. When we came back out, the sunroof was open a few inches, and it was stuck that way. We were only about 2 miles from home at that point, but what do you think happened during the few minutes it took to get us there?

You got it, torrential downpour. Luckily, we had a beach towel in the car, and we were able to stuff and hold it up there, laughing our heads off at the absurdity.

When I told my friend JJS at work about this, he promptly figured out what the problem was (a fuse) looked up the part number for it, and eventually ended up working his connections in GM to procure a sample part. He even installed it for me. I felt happy to have a friend that is willing to go so far to help me out like that (and knows so many key people in the company!)

For inconvenience of a blown fuse and an untimely rainstorm, I got a fun moment with my kids and to appreciate a favor from a good friend. Not bad. It actually made me feel good, kind of like... an eagle soaring...

When I came to work in the morning Bob was excited to show me that he found a clipart picture of an eagle flying above a cloud. He had added a version of his little speech and printed it out.

I helped him tape it up to the cubicle wall.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Side of Beef

A couple of weeks ago my sister Mary Beth went an auction at the 4H fair where her friend's daughter Molly was showing her animals. She ended up bidding on and winning a quarter side of beef and a half lamb. That's a lot of meat to store so she bought a freezer for it.

Here she is picking up the meat:

And here she is moving it out of the freezer and into the furnace so that Mark won't find out how much she spent:

Unfortunately she got trapped in the freezer and turned into a human popsicle, and then the furnace got turned on with the meat in it.

"Don't ask any questions, just grab a knife, a fork, a bottle of ketchup and follow me to the biggest barbecue in the whole world!"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Day in Detroit

It has become a tradition for my sister Becky to take the boys for a day every summer and explore "The D." The thing about Becky is that she knows all kinds of people, and the experience is always a lot more "behind the scenes" than a typical person can get to. They always bring along this klunky old Polaroid camera and take pictures of the things they see. In the past they have met Tyree Guyton, toured the Ren Cen, went inside the rooms in the basement of the Historical Museum, and looked down from atop the Opera House roof. To tell you about this year's adventures I have invited guest blogger Timmy to describe what they did:

Let's see... First off, we were going to ride bikes later in day, so we had to put the bikes on the bike rack. It seriously took like 45 minutes to put two of the bikes on the bike rack.. Fun..

Then Aunt Becky had to drop something off at the Hamtramck City hall. So she dropped it off, and it happens my aunt is friends with the mayor of Hamtramck. And, coincidentally, on the way out, we ran into the mayor! So we got a pic.

Then we had to go to CVS pharmacy to buy some film for the old Polaroid camera. And the bike rack was getting old, and we had a really heavy bike on it, so it was starting to break, so we stopped back at her house to drop off the bike. By then it as already 10:30 AM. So we headed down to downtown Detroit, and we parked in the parking garage next to the Hockeytown Cafe.

Now, we had a little time before lunch, so we walked across the street, to Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers! When we were there, we stopped in the store, and we bought a pack of Baseball cards, one for each of us. Then we walked over to the side of the stadium, where we could see the whole field really good. We saw some groundcrew members keeping the pitchers mound nice and good for the pitcher. Then it was about time for lunch, or about 11:00, and we knew it might take them a while to make the food. So, when we walked in, there was a little gift stand in the restaurant, and my aunt knew the guy who worked at it. And he was also the guy who plays the organ at the Fox Theater! And after our lunch, he offered to give us a tour of the FOX Theater. He played the organ for us, and a tour group who was having their lunch at the time. He gave us a tour of most of the theatre, and we saw the green room. It wasn't actually green though, they just call it that for some reason. It was actually a room with signatures from all the famous people who came into the fox theatre. We even got some pics of the signatures of Bill Clinton and Al Gore on one, and Bill Gates on the other one.

We said thanks and left, then we were going to go on the bike ride.

Now we rented the bikes, we started to ride the river walk. It was fun, here are some pics-

After that, it was about time to go back, so, we headed back to mom's work.


Friday, August 1, 2008

A Bike Ride Diversion

It was a beautiful day and I hadn't been outside much, so I decided to go on a bike ride to get away from the noise of the lawnmower. I had this idea that I would take a different route to add some variety, maybe head north past Frosty Boy and the cemeteries and up the hill to the Waterstone Development. Except that hill was a tough climb and I needed to take a break when I got to the top of it.

As I stood there changing my mind about my route, I peered into the old cemetery. Whenever I drive past (it is alongside a busy street) I think that I would like to explore in there. I have only been inside once, on Memorial Day, when you get to follow the parade from the downtown gazebo to here where they do a gun salute and other ceremonial things. I remember noticing how extremely old the headstones were in this section, when my friend Monica pointed out how to find the symbol that indicates whether the person was in the Armed Services.

Abandoning my exercise goal for the day, I ventured in. I started along the dirt path on my bike, but due to the grade and the nagging thought that maybe it was inappropriate to be doing this, I switched to walking. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly serene and peaceful it was there. And that the grass had been freshly mowed. Since mowing isn't very peaceful I justified that a person walking their bike through isn't any worse so I wouldn't be disturbing anyone, right?

Most of the headstones in this part are from the 1800's. I like to look at them and imagine the stories of the people who are in there. You can figure out some things when families are buried together, or from the carvings. Many of the names are recognizable as the names of roads and streets around the area. I am new to this town and none of my ancestors are buried here, but I figure that these people had a hand in forming the town that I live in today.

I didn't stay too long because I was aware that I was could be seen by all of the cars passing by on the adjacent road, and most of them were probably wondering what that bicycle person was doing in there, with a certain percentage, this being a small town, wondering what that crazy Mindy was doing. So I snapped these pics with my cell phone and pedaled toward the village.

I like the Village of Oxford because it has a long history (we even have a little museum) and some beautiful Victorian buildings and houses which stand in contrast to the very modern subdivisions, like the one I live in, that surround them.

I took this picture of my favorite of the old houses. One time about a year ago I was waiting in traffic right in front of it, and as I gazed up I noticed Jeffrey in the back seat doing the same thing.

"It's fun to look at these old houses, isn't it?" I asked him, to maybe start a conversation about architecture.

"Yeah, it is." He replied. "I was just thinking wouldn't it be fun to explore that attic."

I'm with Jeff. There are stories and secrets and interesting old things all around here. Most of the time we just drive on by.