About Marcie McGuire

Writer and Editor

Why I won’t be moving anytime soon

Before we bought the house I am now in, I had moved twenty-five times in about as many years. For the first eight years of my life, my dad was in the Navy, so of course we moved every time he was transferred to a new duty station: to Nova Scotia, then Florida, then California, then Tennessee, criss-crossing the country. When he had shore duty, my mother and brother and I moved with him; when he was at sea, we returned to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky while we waited for his ship to return. At the early age of two, I learned to hold tight to my favorite doll on moving day and not lay her down even for a moment, lest she get packed into a box and disappear for a year or more.

Even after dad got out of the Navy, we continued to move every eighteen months, as though he were still receiving orders to ship out. Those were unhappy years for my parents, but I didn’t know that at the time. Usually we just moved from one rental house to another, so I didn’t have to change schools that often. But I must surely hold some kind of record for having lived in the most houses that have since been torn down and turned into parking lots. (When we used to go back to my hometown and I would point out the places where I used to live, my children thought I had actually lived in the parking lots.) There was the two-story house my grandparents owned on Jackson Street, the three-story mansion on Hamilton Street, the small frame house on Clayton Avenue that we rented from the college, the large farmhouse across the tracks, the two-story bungalow on Willis Avenue, and the one-story bungalow on Walnut Street. Possibly there were others that I am not aware of.

Now I find it almost impossible to believe that I have been in the same house since 1989. And it’s not because it was my dream house or anything. There are plenty of things not to like about this house. In fact, if I had known I would end up staying here so long, I would have bought a different house, one with more character, more yard, less suburbia. One with an actual garage that was attached to the driveway and not bizarrely located down the steps. I do like the wooded back lot, however. You’d think, though, that having moved so often in the past, I would have plunked my furniture down here and refused to move another thing. But instead, over the years I have completely rearranged the house numerous times. I’m not talking about moving the couch from one wall to the other. I’m talking about completely repurposing rooms over and over again. Maybe, like my dad, I’m still searching for something I can’t find, only within a smaller frame of reference.

Now that the children have grown, and it’s just the two of us most of the time, our latest plan is to turn the downstairs den into a space where we can hold old-time music jams and square-dance parties. But obviously, we won’t be dancing and playing music all the time, so I’d also like it to be a multi-purpose room, where we can sit by the wood stove and read or knit or work on projects. We need an open space for dancing, but we also need decent storage and work space for our projects. We need plenty of straight-backed chairs for musicians, but we also need comfy chairs for reading. We need a smooth surface for dancing, but we also need rugs for the coziness factor.

Last spring we hired a contractor to take out a wall (one we had actually put in ourselves years ago to make a bedroom for my older son when he was a teenager and needed to get away from his little brother). Before the contractor came, we had to move everything out of what had been a fairly traditional bedroom and a den (in the bedroom a queen-size bed, a dresser, a wardrobe, and large shelves full of boxes of things left behind by the boys when they moved out; in the living room a love seat, a rocking chair, a coffee table, a television and stand, shelves and shelves of books, a NordicTrack; and in the “hall” between the two a chest freezer and a four-drawer file cabinet). Now that the space has been cleared out, we are trying to be very thoughtful about what we move back in.

I have decided this challenge definitely requires a professional, so I have made an appointment with a designer this week. I have great hopes that he will be able to come up with an awesome plan. The same designer picked out a fabric for a wing chair I had reupholstered last summer, and I am loving it. It was exactly the right fabric, but I didn’t know it until I saw the chair next to my stone fireplace.

20121104-184558.jpg

20121104-184616.jpg

20121104-184624.jpg

iPads! Huh! What are they good for?

I admit it. I have a love/hate relationship with technology. At my day job as an instructional designer, of course technology is essential and ever present. We all have dual monitors for our desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, high-speed internet, fancy projectors, smart boards, clickers, lots of server space, an office full of enthusiastic early adopters, and plenty of people who will happily answer technical questions and give advice about cool new tools. I won’t lie. I was as excited as anyone to get my first iPad and start figuring out what it can do for me.

But in my other, perhaps more “real” life, I enjoy many more low-tech activities, and at our weekly lunch with the curmudgeons I often join in their conversations about the evils of being always connected, the intrusion of all the beeps and clicks in our lives, the irritation of dinner-table guests who keep glancing at their phones for updates, the absurdity of television screens installed at self-pump gas stations. Among the people I count as friends, you will find numerous artisans and craftspeople–the original DIYers–gardeners and people who are good with their hands, people who raise their own chickens for eggs or meat, bee keepers, farmers, healers and massage therapists, musicians and guitar makers, a luthier, woodworkers, weavers and spinners–but also web designers and bloggers and sound technicians and music producers. We also believe in repurposing: like the time we made a spindle for spinning wool out of a CD that arrived in the mail from AOL.

20121103-142953.jpg
It’s not that we are anti-technology, but we tend to be the kinds of people who, once we have found the tool that works for us, see little reason to buy each latest model as it comes out. Rather than ask, “What new tools might I get?” we try to think about, “What do I need or want to do, and what tool will help me accomplish that best?”

My husband and I got a kick out of the sales reps from Century Tel who stopped by our house recently to congratulate us on our years of being “such good customers” and to offer us this really awesome deal where we could bump our internet speed up astronomically at no charge. All we would have to do is add a cable TV package. They were all smiling and nodding until we told them that we don’t have a television. The two young men stopped cold. Then one of them said, “My mom tried to get us to watch less television. I guess that would be one way.” Then the other one said, in apparent disbelief, “You don’t have a television at all?” We smiled and said no, and they thanked us for our time and headed on down the street to knock on the doors of other good customers.

Like I said, I was thrilled to get an iPad recently and am enjoying learning what I can do with it. However, I’m trying not to get caught up completely in the “cool factor” and start downloading apps willy nilly before I even figure out what I might need them for. Rather, I am trying to take a more thoughtful approach and think about the things I already do and then find out whether there is an app that would help me do those things more easily. But I can already sense what a time bandit this device could turn out to be.

This morning I decided to get out the list of books I want to read (which I have been writing down in a little moleskin notebook that I carry with me everywhere) and enter them into a virtual bookshelf using Goodreads. Oh my! That could turn out to be very addictive. So far, I have resisted the impulse to click “buy immediately” or “download this eBook now,” but I spent way more time than I expected entering book titles (already read and to-read), remembering other books I have already ready, checking out what my virtual “friends” have read, browsing the new releases, reading reviews, looking at photos of authors. It was just as fun as browsing in a library or bookstore, but I could do it in my pajamas, Before I knew it I had added 141 books to my “to-read” list. The trick will be to actually read some of these books and not just keep playing around with this really cool app and building more and more virtual bookshelves.

November is National Writing Month

For the second day in a row I find myself wide awake at 5:00 a.m. Must be feeling the energy of all those writers who have pledged to write 50,000 words during the month of November–whether as part of National Novel Writing Month or National Blog Posting Month or Academic Writing Month or Digital Writing Month or some other challenge they have set for themselves.

I personally thought this would be a great time to get back into my blog. I can’t believe I have not posted to my blog since July. As so often happens in my life, the years when lots of stuff is happening are the years when I tend to abandon my journals and blogs. I guess that makes some kind of sense, because when I’m not doing much of anything I have plenty of time to sit in my chair and write about not doing anything or imagine things I might do some day, whereas when life is more demanding, I don’t have the time or energy to write about what’s happening. By anyone’s standards, though, this has been one heck of a year, both at work and at home.

But trying to summarize where I’ve been sometimes has the unintended consequence of causing me to miss what’s going on in the present, as though I’m trying to drive down the highway while keeping my attention on the rearview mirror. I used to find it strange that my dad, upon returning from a year or 18 months at sea, would greet people as though he just saw them that morning. He seemed to make no attempt to catch up on news, and he didn’t offer any hints at what he himself had done during all that time. He’d say, “How about them Wildcats?” or “Nice dress” or “Think it’ll rain?” or “I’ll have the usual.” Strange, perhaps, but I’m beginning to realize that dad makes more sense than most people think. How could we really ever hope to make up for lost time? We might as well jump into the present with both feet and create some new memories.

On that note, I’ll let you know that my attention is on playing at the contra dance tonight for Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers. I will be playing keyboard with a band called The 32 Bartenders. (No, we won’t be serving up alcoholic beverages. We chose the name because all contra dances and tunes have 32 bars.) The other members of the band are Tom Verdot on fiddle and banjo, Thom Howard on guitar and mandolin, and Rebecca Logan on flute. This is the first time all four of us have played together for a dance. I am the newest member, so I’m a bit nervous, but I am having so much fun playing with these fine musicians. We will be playing mostly New England style contra dance tunes, which is somewhat new for this area. Many of the bands around here play oldtime stringband music and fiddle tunes. It’s been fun breaking out of the standard oom-pah, boom-chuck, I-V style of backup, but I have a long way to go before I am able to play the tunes the way I hear them in my head. For now, I need to focus on keeping a steady rhythm for the dancers.

I’m going to miss these little guys.

I really wish my grandchildren didn’t live so far away, so I could take them to special events more often and so we could work on projects together throughout the year. It has been fun taking them to things they’ve never done before and watching their reactions. I’d also love to be able to attend their school programs and such. But life is so danged complicated these days, with blended and extended families, I am happy for whatever time I get.

Technically, only the youngest child is my grandchild; the older two are from a previous marriage. But when we first met the kids in 2002 (after my son started seeing their mother), Jearid was two and Bethany was four years old, and the kids ran up to us as soon as they saw us, saying “Grandma Grandpa!” Jim and I weren’t married at the time, and since Jim had never had any children of his own, being suddenly cast in the role of “grandpa” came as a big surprise. Now that my son is divorced, it takes a Herculean amount of coordinating to get us all together, since the kids live with their mother and new stepfather in Colorado, my son is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, and “Grandpa Jim” and I live in central Missouri. Then add in “Grandpa Mike,” my ex, who lives in the same town in Missouri, and we have one big complicated family. (At least we no longer have to factor in the older kids’ real father, since he got himself put in jail last summer.) Occasionally, the children will pause and say, “So how are we related to Grandpa Jim?” Or I will ask, “So how many grandpas do you have?” Or my son will play the song, “I’m my own Grandpa.” And we’ll all just laugh.

This week has gone very fast.  We have settled into some semblance of a routine, and we have done most of what we planned to do, plus a few extra things that their Grandpa Mike wanted to do. The mornings are generally relaxed, with everyone getting up at their own pace and fixing cereal. The adults (and Bethany) check email and Facebook, watch the news, write blogs and journals, or work on projects. When the boys get up, they inventory their Batman Lego figures or other belongings or make things out of duct tape and cardboard or watch episodes of South Park on their dad’s phone until they are fully awake.

After the last person has had breakfast, it’s time for lunch, and after lunch, we check the calendar we made when they first got here, think about what’s for supper, and then head out to do whatever we had planned. If nothing is planned, we go swimming again. Then dinner and cleanup and after that, we start winding down again. Sometimes Grandpa Jim will read out loud from a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. Usually Jearid will get hungry again, so we’ll have snacks at some point (popcorn with honey and butter has been popular). Then the boys put on their pajamas and we start heading to bed in the same order we got up, with the boys staying up the latest.

Grandpa Jim reads from The Phantom Tollbooth.

Here is what we’ve done this week:

On Sunday, Grandpa Jim took Jearid out to the bee yard to inspect the hives. They determined that we need to order a new queen for one hive that is lagging behind the rest in number of bees and honey production. Then we all met at Coopers Landing, and Bethany and Jearid got to see friends they had made last summer at dance camp, Liam (age 11) and Kyra (age 8). Jearid and Liam and Grandpa Jim rode bikes down the trail, Stephan and I threw rocks in the river, and Bethany and Matt sat and talked and listened to the music.

Throwing rocks off the old railroad bridge near Coopers Landing.

Jearid smoking the hive

Coopers Landing is a great place to be on a hot summer night.

Monday I got a break while they went with their Grandpa Mike to the ceramics studio, where they learned how to make pots. Afterwards, I took the kids back to the lake to swim  while their dad took a break. Liam and Kyra and their mom met us at the lake, so it worked out for all of us. Stephan has gotten much braver in the water in the last two weeks, especially since his Grandpa Mike bought him a noodle, so he can float. Jearid and Liam, who are close to the same age and activity level, had a great time together.

At the potters’ wheel.

At the ceramics studio

Tuesday we got up early and drove to Kansas City to Lego Land, which was a little overstimulating for the adults but still fun. The main attraction for the boys was a station where you could build vehicles and test them on all kinds of tracks. The adults and Bethany especially liked the scale model of Crown Center, including the new Kauffman Center, made entirely out of Legos.The scale model of the Wizard of Oz (including a farm house that would spin and rise up into the air when you pushed a button) was also “epic,” as Jearid would put it.  After dinner at Cracker Barrel, we stopped by for a short visit with my aunt Juanita, who had made lemonade and chocolate chip cookies in anticipation of our visit.

Building cars out of Legos

We spent most of Wednesday hanging out at the house, to give everyone time to recover from a long day. I showed Bethany how to operate the sewing machine and read a pattern, and she got started on making her owl bag. The boys played with their Legos, and Matt went out with some of his high school buddies. After dinner, we headed back to the library for a Funtastic Classics program, where they were happy to see Liam and Kyra again. During the program, the conductor of the Missouri Sympony read two stories while the members of the orchestra played sound effects to go along with the story: one was an Asian story about a girl who was willing to sacrifice her life to bring water to her village; the other was about Brer Raccoon and how he tricked some frogs. As we were walking up the steps to the library, Stephan was naming all the things he had done this week for the first time and acting very proud of himself. After the library program, he asked if we could look for a Batman book and was thrilled when the clerk found a book about his favorite character Two Face. After we left the library we all went back to Sparky’s for ice cream. (I think this made the third or fourth time for Sparky’s.)

Cutting out the fabric for her first sewing project.

Thursday Bethany and I worked on her bag some more, while Matt took the boys out to the bass pro shop for a Family Day Camp, where they met Grandpa Mike. At the camp they went to a couple of classes on bird watching and fishing, made leather bracelets, spun some wheel to win a prize (small frisbee and a wallet), and got to shoot arrows and bb guns. They came back very excited about the outing, with lanyards, awards pins for their classes, and coloring sheets. Afterwards, they picked up Bethany and went out to dinner with Grandpa Mike at Golden Corral (kids’ choice).

Stephan draws a picture of his favorite character, Two Face.

Today is our last full day together. They said their goodbyes to their dad last night, and he left for Georgia at 5:00 this morning. We are taking the kids to meet their mother halfway in Salina, Kansas, tomorrow. Today we have several things on our list. First, we will head around the block to visit Jim’s sister Norma, who has woven bookmarks for the kids (she showed Bethany and Jearid how to weave on an inkle loom last year and had them pick out colors for their bookmarks). Then we’ll have lunch and after they are full, we’ll go to see Madagascar 3 (Stephan had requested that we watch a movie sometime). After lunch we’ll go swimming one last time. Then we’ll take them back to Shakespeare’s for dinner (the first place we ate with them when they arrived two weeks ago). Sometime during the day Bethany needs to finish her bag, and we’ll need to do one more load of laundry, and pack everything for their trip home.

We’re all a little sad our time is coming to an end, and we have begun  planning for next time.

First Full Week at “Grandma Camp”

Well, it has been a busy week for all of us, so busy, in fact, that Stephan, the 8-year-old, is starting to say he wishes he were home where they “never do anything.” But then he’ll ask what we’re doing today or the next day. I totally understand, though, the need for a day of rest. We have all been stepping outside our comfort zones, especially for a bunch of introverts, who need sufficient down-time to recharge. And the most extroverted of the group has acquired several new things for his birthday this week and would like to stay home and play with them, especially the snap-together electronics that his Daddy Matt gave him.

Stand back! We’re doing science.

Here’s what we’ve done this week. You be the judge of whether it’s too much or not.

Day 1: We went out to eat at our favorite pizzaria, Shakespeares, which all three grandchildren had been to before and said they remembered. Then we went to Peace Park, where Grandpa Jim and the boys threw rocks in the creek until time to go to a Family SymFunny, This Land is Your Land, at the Missouri Theater, performed by the Missouri Symphony Orchestra and Musicians from the Missouri Conservatory Strings ‘n Things Camp.

Grandpa Jim shows Jearid how to play the banjo.

Day 2: We went swimming at Stephens Lake Park, which was a big hit on a hot summer day. The lake has a small sand beach and a gradual entrance to the water, so nonswimmers can take their time and go only as far as they want to go.  I wasn’t sure how well the youngest would take to the lake, but he loved it and kept walking out until he could barely touch the ground and his mouth was under water before turning around and saying “go back go back.” Eventually, he even stood under the water fountain and let the water fall on his head. He accidentally went under a couple times but just wiped his face off and kept going back in the water. After swimming, we went to Sparky’s for ice cream. Sparky’s made the national news last year for offering cicada ice cream, but this year they just have their usual exotic flavors.

Fun in the sun.

Day 3: In the afternoon, the kids went bowling with their Grandpa Mike. After supper they came with us to listen to Grandpa Jim and me play music on the patio at RagTag with other members of the Two Cent Band. Jearid, the 12-year-old, joined in on an improvised “egg,” using a plastic bottle of Party Picks as a rhythm instrument.

No, that’s not a new style of playing. Molly dropped her pick in her mandolin.

Day 4: By now I am also beginning to get the hang of cooking for this crowd and also appreciating the beauty of potluck dinners and occasional nights out.  Usually everyone makes their own cereal for breakfast as they get up, and then I make something simple for lunch (omelets, quesedillas, tuna salad, macaroni and cheese). I’ve rediscovered my crock pot for dinners, which has been a big help. The menus and recipes from Eat at Home have also been a big help. The kids are good about taking their plates to the sink when they are done, and Jim helps with clean-up, but the dish washer hasn’t run this much in years.

Day 4 was Independence Day, so after another trip to Stephens Lake Park to swim, we all went to a party and barbecue with friends and then went to watch the city’s fireworks exhibit downtown. We had hoped to stop by the children’s activities at Peace Park before the fireworks, but everyone was kind of tired by then and it was still hot. During the fireworks, Stephan wore his noise-reduction headphones and seemed to enjoy it well enough, but his dad, who has spent three years in combat in the last ten years (two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan), could not stay with us. He tried to leave early, but his car was blocked in the lot, so he turned up the radio, closed his eyes, and waited it out.

Cooling off on a hot day.

Day 5: Jearid turned 12 today, so he got to choose where to go for his birthday, and he chose the Science Center. It was fun watching the kids explore all the exhibits. The older two say their favorite subjects in school are math and science, which is wonderful to hear. We spent a couple hours looking around and then watched a movie about polar bears at the Omni-Max Theater. None of them had been to an Omni-Max before, and they were impressed, although Stephan really wished the Batman movie was out already (it doesn’t come out until July 20) or that we at least could have seen a preview of it. For his birthday dinner, Jearid chose Golden Corral, so I got a day off cooking.

Building an arch

At the science center.

Day 6: This afternoon we went to see a wonderful production of The Wizard of Oz at the public library put on by two actors from the Hamstead Stage Company out of New Hampshire. We are so fortunate to live in a town with an active public library that brings such amazing programs to town. The play lasted about 50 minutes, with time for the children to ask questions after. There were only two actors playing all the roles, so many of the questions were about how they changed costumes so fast.

Three brave volunteers helped out during the production of The Wizard of Oz.

After dinner we went to the First Ever Dance Walk in Columbia. By then Stephan was dragging and pointed out that he hadn’t gotten to choose anything, which was technically true, so I resorted to bribery, I suppose, and said he could choose what to do after the Dance Walk (knowing full well he would choose going to Walmart to spend the allowance he had gotten that morning). But it seemed fair. He walked at least half the route during the Dance Walk and then Grandpa Jim offered to take him back to the car, while Bethany, Jearid, and I finished the Dance Walk through downtown.

Just fooling around.

Then we headed to Walmart, where Stephan bought himself several Batman figures and little cars. It is really exciting to watch him do the mental math to figure out how much he has left on his allowance card and how much in cash, how much the things he wants to buy will cost, and to do the rounding and estimating to see if he has enough.

Grandpa Jim and Stephan at the Dance Walk.

Day 7: We tried to get up early to go to the farmers market before the worst of the heat, but of course we didn’t quite make it. It was nearly 100 degrees by 10:00 with no wind to speak of. (Again, I am so very happy to live in a town with such a great farmers market.) Of course, Stephan thought this was boring, as was the trip to Songbird Station to buy more suet for our feeder. He seemed happy enough to buy a watermelon and cantaloupe at the market, but then he was ready to leave. After lunch of tuna salad, Bethany and I headed out to the fabric store, where she picked out a pattern and some fabric to make a backpack with an owl applique. Then Grandpa Mike picked the kids up for more swimming at the lake, dinner at his house, and a movie. I was in bed by the time they returned at 11:00.

Now it’s time to clean house and then get ready for another week.

Stephan enjoyed using spray bottles to clean the mirrors and the floor.

Jearid enjoyed the squeegee and used it to clean all the patio doors inside and out.

Bethany says cleaning is more fun with the right tools.

So Far So Good

We are nearing the end of our first full week with the grandchildren, and so far everyone seems to be having a good time, although I must admit it took me awhile to get the hang of cooking for so many people. And the thing is, they expect to eat not just once but many times a day! Stephan, the youngest, is the self-appointed food critic, who has so far let me know that my cheese pizzas are delicious, my blueberry muffins would be better without the blueberries, my scrambled eggs are good, the corn is better than my home-made macaroni and cheese, the fresh green beans are not as good as canned, the heart-shaped cinnamon cereal is good without milk, and the milk is not what he’s used to but is okay. Jearid is the most adventurous eater, who proudly announced that he has even eaten eel before!

When the kids first arrived, we looked through all the flyers and brochures and events calendars that I had collected, and we put together a schedule of activities for the two weeks the children would be here. Jearid got to pick where to go for his birthday on July 5, and he picked the science center in St. Louis. We also offered the kids the choice of one other out-of-town trip for next week, and Stephan perked up at the sound of Lego Land in Kansas City. Bethany’s main interest was in swimming, so we penciled in several swimming days. Next we selected a few events with set times, such as a children’s concert of patriotic music, a production of the Wizard of Oz at the public library, a July 4th party and fireworks display, and a dance walk. Finally, we filled in the remaining time slots with events that could be done at any time, such as throwing rocks in the creek, more swimming, watching boats go down the river, bowling, visiting the art department and playing with clay, learning to play the banjo.

By now, we have settled into a nice routine. As people wake up, they fix themselves a bowl of cereal, and then, once everyone is up, we have lunch (something simple like omelets or cheese quesadillas or macaroni and cheese), and after lunch we head off to do our scheduled activity for the day. After that, we have dinner at home, play checkers or mancala, listen to grandpa read The Phantom Tollbooth, watch a movie or tv show on their dad’s computer, or do whatever else we can think of to entertain ourselves. Bethany spends a lot of time on her phone, reading and listening to music, and writing stories. Bedtime is a relaxed affair, with people heading off to bed when they get tired. Usually the boys outlast the rest of us, but they were up bright and early and ready to head to the Science Center yesterday.

ImageImageImage

Enjoying the quiet while it lasts

The grandchildren will be here any time, and I am taking the opportunity to sit and relax for a bit before they arrive. It won’t be this quiet for a while.It has been a busy day for all of us. My son arrived last night from Georgia just before dark and then got up at daybreak to drive halfway across Kansas to pick up his kids, who have also been riding in the car all day, having left Colorado Springs early this morning with their mother. My husband left about 3:00 to go call a dance in Rolla, Missouri tonight (he claims he will be back eventually).

I have been trying to remember how to cook for children and have been to the farmers market and the grocery store to stock up on cereal and goldfish crackers and bananas. It’s been a long time since I had to cook for picky eaters, and the list of foods that the youngest grandchild will eat, according to his mother, seems rather limited. Fortunately, I found a website by a mom who has four children and who kindly publishes her kid-tested weekly menus and grocery lists. So I picked a set of menus for the next two weeks, and we’re just going to go with those. I don’t want to argue about food or spend all my time filling special orders, as though this were some sort of restaurant. I’d rather spend our time having fun together. I don’t mind changing my cooking habits while they are here (I’m not going to make them eat navy beans with chard, for example, or anything with tofu), but I can’t guarantee that what I cook will taste exactly like what they’re used to. When my children were young, my main rule at dinner time was, “If you don’t want to eat what’s on your plate, fine. Don’t talk about it. Don’t say Ew Yuck. Just ignore it. But this is what’s for dinner tonight.”

I have also been making a list of things we could do while the children are here, but the heatwave this past week (up to 107 on Thursday) has kind of thrown me for a loop. Of course, the heat makes water activities a lot more appealing, but it might dampen the enthusiasm for walking around the zoo or farm. We are fortunate to live in a college town, where there is a lot to do. Some of the activities going on in and around  town the next two weeks include:

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a brief adaptation by two professional actors from Hamstead Stage Company, put on at the public library.
  • Fun-Tastic Classics with the Missouri Symphony, also at the public library.
  • This Land is Your Land” Family Concert at the Missouri Symphony
  • Kids Series, “World of Art: Found Objects” at the Museum of Art and Archeology
  • Fourth of July “Fire in the Sky” and Children’s Activities
  • Family Summer Camp at Bass Pro
  • Outdoor movies and concerts
  • Numerous parks, including a couple with splash parks

Only a short drive away, there are many farms we could visit, including Warm Springs Ranch, where 16 baby Clydesdale horses were born this year.

In Hannibal, Missouri, they will be celebrating the 57th Annual Tom Sawyer Days, complete with fence-painting contests, frog-jumping contests, a “Mighty Miss” raft face, concerts, and more.

And there is always bowling, fishing, swimming, picnicking, going to movies, going to the river, camping out, biking, hiking, caving, and so on, depending on how adventurous we feel.

On days when we want to stay home, my grandaughter has asked if I would teach her to sew, and we can come up with lots of other games and crafts and stories to fill the time.

We are also only two hours from either St. Louis or Kansas City, so we could take any number of day trips while the children are here to visit the zoo, Lego Land, the Steamboat Arabia Museum, Six Flags, the Botanical Garden, the Science Center, Grant’s Farm, or take a ride on the light rail train.

With all these things to do, I bet the grandchildren will hardly notice we don’t have a television or video games. What do you think? (I’ll let you know how that theory works out. Did I mention the children are 14, 12, and 8 years old?)

Summer Reading

Note: Apparently I wrote this post last year but never published it. So here you go! It’s still mostly true.

I have very fond memories of the Busy Bee Summer Reading Program at the local public library when I was growing up. I especially enjoyed the requirement to read books in various categories that I might not read, left to my own devices—fantasy, science fiction, adventure, biography, travel, history—and I had no trouble reading enough books over a summer to fill out my card and then some. I would have been reading anyway, out on a blanket in the yard or up in the crotch of a tree or on the front-porch swing or in the musty reading room in the public library.

I devoured books, the way my mom had when she was young and would climb up on the garage roof to read, within easy reach of the ripe peaches. In fact, many of the books I enjoyed as a child were ones she had passed down to me—The Middle Moffat; Betsy and Tacy; Five Little Peppers and How They Grew; Little Women; Mary Poppins; The Little Colonel; The Boxcar Children—all with peach stains on the brittle and yellowing war-issue paper.

There is nothing like the feeling of escaping into a book on a lazy summer day, with all the time in the world and no real responsibilities. I still enjoy books, but it’s not the same as before. I generally don’t get “lost” in books the way I once did—with the possible exception of the Harry Potter books and a book called The Thirteenth Tale that my mother gave me, or the series about the girl with the dragon tattoo—and I seldom have the luxury of reading all day long like I did when I was young. Mostly those feelings are connected with a different time and place—before central air conditioning, before Internet, before life got complicated.

But I am a voracious and democratic reader, who always has way too many books going at once. I tend to read more nonfiction than fiction, but I still enjoy a good story about interesting characters. Here are the books I am currently reading:

  • Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D Seeley–This fascinating book is about how honeybee swarms choose a new home
  • Get Up Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite by Bruce E. Levine–I am hoping this book will at some point provide some inspiration and practical actions I can take, but so far it is just reminding me of all the problems that this country faces and how powerless I feel to solve them.
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson–This book reminds me of Bryson’s earlier book, A Short History of Almost Everything
  • Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce by Cathy Thomas
  • Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue with Roger Gittiner

Here are ones I completed most recently:

  • Hour Game by David Baldacci
  • How Did the Government Get in Your Backyard by Jeff Gillman and Eric Hererlig
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I don’t know why I can’t just read one book at a time until I’m finished and then start the next, except that I see interesting books on the new-book shelf at the library and know they won’t stay on that shelf forever, or friends recommend something, or I forgot to take the book I’m currently reading to work and then at lunch pick up whatever is lying around on the table in the break room. (Maybe the same reason I also have three knitting projects going at the moment: a baby hat for a friend at work, an afghan for a very belated wedding present for my younger son and his wife, and a shawl for myself from beautiful yarn that my son picked up for me in New Zealand.)

Reinventing our living space

When we first moved into our house many years ago, my sons were 9 and 2 years old, and the downstairs made a perfect den for two growing boys–finished enough to look civilized but not so fussy that I worried about damage. We put down a heavy-duty industrial carpet that refused to show dirt. The holes in the wall behind the dart board could be patched easily enough. The furniture could be reupholstered. The downstairs was the kids’ zone. Over the years the den has been transformed many times to suit their changing needs. At one time the room featured a pingpong table and mini trampoline. There was plenty of room to set up race tracks or electric trains or make tents with sheets and light-weight blankets over the furniture. Later, the entertainment center took over, as the kids gathered their friends around to watch movies or play video games.

Likewise, the bedrooms in the house changed over the years to meet the changing needs of the family. At first my older son liked the room tucked away in the back downstairs, away from meddling little brother and parents. But before too long, he felt lonely and wanted to move upstairs with the rest of the family. We gave the boys the 11 x 22 foot master bedroom, with their bunk bed set down the middle to delineate Matt’s side from Isaac’s side of the room, and we parents took the smaller room next door, which at least had the advantage of windows facing the woods, so we woke to morning sun and birdsong.

Eventually, though, little brother was 7 years old and big brother was 13 and very much needing his privacy, so we decided to put up walls in the den and build him a room of his own.  However, before we could finish building his room,  his 13-year-old cousin Melissa came to live with us. The boys still shared the big room upstairs, and technically, we had a spare bedroom downstairs that we could have put Melissa in, but we wanted her to feel welcome, so the adults moved bedrooms again–this time downstairs to the room in the basement that Matt had started out in. (We doubted very seriously that we would feel “lonely” down there but were certainly willing to take our chances.)

Years later, the kids have moved on and built lives for themselves. Matthew is 32 and a captain in the Army, with one son and two stepchildren. Isaac is 26, married, and finishing up his PhD in molecular biology. Melissa is 32, a registered nurse, with a 3-year-old and a new baby on the way. I have remarried, and it’s time to transform the house again to fit our new lives. Although it feels like moving backwards in some ways (and I feel somewhat bad about losing a space that was so important at the time), we have taken the walls back out to open up the space again. We took up the carpet and painted the floor, boxed in the duct work and the support poles, replaced the ceiling tiles, put in additional lights, and added a 3-way switch at the bottom of the stairs (and by “we,” I mean the contractors who actually know how to do these things, as opposed to the earlier remodeling project that we did ourselves and which took months, if not years, to finish).

We have in mind a place we can have people over to play music and dance, but we still have extra bedrooms for family to spend the night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting ready for Grandma camp!

The grandkids are coming! The grandkids are coming! I have three grandchildren, but unfortunately they live two states over (and one of those states is Kansas, so you know that’s a long ways away), so I don’t get to see them often enough. The oldest is 14, the middle one is almost 12, and the youngest is 8. Last summer we took the two oldest ones to Cumberland Dance Week, which was a whole lot of fun, but their mom didn’t think the youngest one would want to be so far away from her for that long. Personally, I think he would have had a great time, but we didn’t try to fight it. It was just too complicated trying to figure out how to get them from Colorado to Missouri and then on to Kentucky for the camp and back. The younger one has never flown before, so that wasn’t a good option, and it didn’t seem right to have them ride in a car all those miles on their vacation. So this year we settled on “Grandma Camp” at my house.

Now I just need to come up with a list of fun things to do. The good thing about dance camp was that someone else planned all the activities and prepared all the meals. And even then, after extremely full days of activities that went from 6:00 a.m. when we got up for breakfast to 11:00 p.m. when we returned to our room after the last dance, it took until Wednesday before the middle one admitted that he might be a little tired and didn’t fight going to bed. I don’t know that I can do as well keeping them entertained, but I’m going to give it a good try. The only requests they have made so far are bowling and movies, and the 14-year-old wants me to teach her to sew.

Fortunately, I’ll have help, because my son will also be here during these two weeks. He is driving up from Fort Benning, where he is now stationed, and will meet the kids’ mother in Kansas to bring them to my house. But I’m accepting suggestions of things to do with 8, 12, and 14-year-olds!

Stephan, Jearid, and Bethany at the zoo