Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What is a smile worth?

Now that trash day has carried away the wrappings, things are calming down a bit in the farmhouse. We had three different Christmas celebrations, one with just the four of us Christmas morning, one with my parents, sisters, and nieces/nephew that afternoon. We had a third when Mark's brother John and his family visited on the 26-27th.

Between Santa, family, and friends, the girls did very well on their lists. I'll have to get some follow-up photos, since I stuck more with video that day. Next time...

Right now, I have a story on my mind from bath time last night. Each of the girls took LOONNGG, luxurious baths, with a shampoo at the end. I admit, they are old enough to do their own hair, but we both still prefer it this way, so...what the heck! I was rinsing Mae's hair, and she was clowning around a bit, when all of a sudden her face broke into a huge grin.

"Yes!" she cheered, "I was trying to get you to smile!"

I was smiling at that moment, and I realized in retrospect that while she had been clowning around, she had been looking at me rather intently.

What had she seen? My lips pursed and unsmiling, intent on my task, or even a bit of a scowl since she was dragging things out and it was time for me to be fixing dinner?

Thank goodness she is persistent! She made my evening.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Program

Last week we had our Winter Program at Sierra Elementary. Sadly, it is quite possible it will be the last. The budget problems in the district are so dire, we may end up closing schools. There was definitely a bittersweet tone to the evening for all who are involved enough to understand this. Unfortunately, I think there are many who are unaware despite all the public discussion. Which, in a way, is even more sad.

Moving on to happier things! Here are the first graders, singing "Over the River and Through the Woods" and "Joy to the World". Mae is toward the right, in a dark dress with white sleeves. Abigail is toward the left in a red dress.


We took some pictures after the show. For once, the girls were cooperative, smiling and posing.




Maybe even a little TOO cooperative...this last shot was THEIR idea!


Where are my shy little babies now?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sweets and the Sting

This season marks the second time we've participated in the Auberry Library Gingerbread House Construction Fest and Marshmallow Feed (I think they have another name for it, but it doesn't immediately come to mind). The girls were much more self-sufficient this year--yet another blow to my mommy neediness.


But I could share in their pride at the finished product!


Meanwhile, not to be outdone by my rural room mothers post, Mark HAD to demonstrate his ability to defend the home fort by shooting from the back porch. So...if any cans come to attack us, they'd better beware!


I feel safer now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dear Santa

I asked the girls to write a wish list for Christmas. As is usually the case when I give them an open-ended sort of task, I was surprised by the results.

They didn't really look like lists. No, Sir!

They looked more like mosaics.

Here's Abigail's list:



I know it's hard to read...some print from the back shows through. I wish I had splurged on a FRESH piece of paper, but NOO-oooo. Next time. But could next time possibly be as special?

Here is the translation:
  • I would like a puppy that follows you everywhere I go (note: this is apparently a robotic dog)
  • I would like a doll house with and when you ring the doorbell the eyes open up and say “Come in”
  • I would like glow in the dark scorpions
  • I would like my very own cook book
  • I would like a clock
  • I would like some seeds
  • I would like some dolls
  • I would like my own dishes
  • I would like my very own kit with band-aids in it
  • I would like my own shopping basket
  • I would like a toy fish bowl
  • I would like my own radio
  • I would like some finger puppets
  • I would like my own laminator
  • I would like my own toy BB gun
  • I would like some stamps
  • I would like my own place mat
  • I would like my own TV Set
  • I would like my own Vacuum Cleaner

OK, now here is Mae's:



And the translation:
  • I would like the little puppy dog that follows you wherever you go
  • I would like my own shopping basket
  • I would like Hello Pony that has a diaper
  • I would like my own Rodeo play set
  • I would like my own Jenga block set
  • I would like my own cook book
  • I would like doll house that when you ring the door bell the eyes open up and say “Hello, come in”
  • I would like my own place mat
  • I would like my own picture frame
  • I would like my own candle
  • I would like my own pack of flower seeds
  • I would like a pirate ship and a bag of pirates beside it and make them loose
  • I would like a necklace with a clover
  • I would like my own pack of erasers
  • I would like my own movie: Lady and the Tramp 2 (but she meant 3)
  • I would like my own rocking horse

Clearly there was some cross-talk going on. Abigail was definitely the leader, tackling list-making with gusto. Mae was a little more free-form, happy to ride on Abigail's coat tails and ideas, although she threw in some of her own uniqueness (think pirates and rodeos).

I was struck both by the simplicity and creativity of their desires. Certainly there was some commercial influence--the dollhouse and toy dog seem to be something very specific, so I"m sure they've seen an ad.

But so many of the others...a placemat, a pack of seeds, my own kit with band-aids. I was touched by the simple nature of these things. Are they really representative of what these kids crave?

And then there is the puzzling presence of a few larger items: a laminator, a vacuum cleaner, my own dishes...do these really excite my little girl? Does she see them as grown-up trappings and want to speed things along by getting them now?

Here's my wish list:

Please, Santa, keep my precious babies young for just a while longer!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Views from The White House

Every day I look out the windows of this house and take pause...there is always something to appreciate. I love the view out every window. And I love the fact that my kids will grow up with cattle grazing right outside the fence line, and think that's normal. Of course, they don't just graze. They play, they poop, and they...um...they mate. Which makes for pretty in-ter-est-ing dinner conversation. One morning not too long ago (but before I lost my camera), I noticed this little guy, settled down for a nap right by the fence. He was less than a week old.



He napped so hard and so long that when he woke up, mama was clear on the other side of the house, nowhere to be seen. They called each other and circled around in the same direction, keeping each other just out of sight. Finally they figured it out. I watched the whole three-minute drama, and the happy reunion. And to think...some people just get to see this stuff on TV.

Inspired, I also took a picture out one of my favorite windows. Although I realize this picture is less than compelling, you'll have to just take my word...it's great in real life! In addition to housing my scraggly basil plants, this window looks out over the ridges up into the high Sierra. They are now full of snow. The sun rises over these ridges, to the left in the summer and to the far right these days. That sight never ceases to bring me joy.


Are there really people who DON'T love mornings?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rural Room Mothers

So...the other morning, I'm standing around chatting with some other moms after we've dropped our kids off, and the conversation turns to guns...as in what kind of guns we own, what kind of recoil they have, and so on. Does that strike you as funny? It did me! It also got me thinking about other things that make this environment so different from suburbia:

- Any given day, but ESPECIALLY on weekends, you can hear gunshots ring out in our valley. And no one thinks twice. And usually no one calls the cops. Because there are a lot of things that need shooting up here!

- On "Bring your Pet to School Day", there were chickens, kittens, rabbits, goats, a pony, a mule, a miniature donkey, and of course, dogs. In fact, there were so many pets, they split it into two days: dogs and non-dogs.

- The school parking lot is predominantly filled with trucks

- 70% of the homes are heated with wood (I can't recall where I saw that data, so take it with a grain of salt, I guess)

- Nearly ALL the homes have a travel trailer. Many look like they are occupied. Hey, just a few months ago, that was US!

- There are many multi-generational families here. Now we are part of that, too.

Don't you just want to move here now?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Georgia on my Mind (part II)

On our way back up to Atlanta, we were again hoping to explore a little of the "native" food. Our GPS was repeatedly leading us to clusters of fast food chains, so we decided to try a different approach, and just pick a city and head for the downtown area. Success! We stopped in Forsyth, about 20 minutes from the famous Whistle Stop Cafe, and happened upon "The Grits Cafe". While we were in search of a late breakfast, this was an upscale bistro-type of place, but we were starving and the prices weren't too bad, so in we went. We were pretty interested in tasting some down-home grits. This is what we got:


OK, maybe ordering a "grits martini" isn't the way to experience down-home grits, since it is really the shrimp, bacon, cream, and mushrooms that you taste, but DANG it was yummy. When we wondered aloud what real grits actually taste like (as opposed to the instant stuff Mark & I ate at the Academy thinking it was Cream of Wheat), the waitress obligingly brought out a little sample--delicious! Reminded me of risotto. Is that normal? Mark also had a BLT with fried green tomatos. Interesting, but kind of pickled-tasting--not our favorite.


After lunch, we ventured out east of Atlanta to Stone Mountain, a large granite dome that Mark identified as "the largest exposed granite face in the world". Turns out, this wasn't quite true, but it WAS a very large rock, and if you know Mark, you know that HE LIKES ROCKS. We did take the walk up to the top, just a mile in, 825 ft of vertical gain, but towering over the Atlanta skyline, and everything else as far as the eye could see. In the visitor center, we learned that Stone Mountain is a "monadnock", which is a rocky hill in otherwise flat land, so named for Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. Just a point of interest for my NH compadres.


As it turns out, this place had some other surprises. I'm snagging a couple of pictures from Wikipedia here. According to Wikipedia, this is the largest bas-relief carving in the world. It was started by the guy who went on to do Mt Rushmore, although his work on Stone Mountain was later blasted away by a second artist.


It is a carving of three Confederate heros: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. Apparently, this place was quite a rallying point for the Old South.


It was also the birthplace of the 1915 revival of the KKK. Hmmm...we didn't read about THAT in the visitor center! Apparently, Martin Luther King Jr even referenced Stone Mountain in his "I have a dream" speech. (thanks, Wikipedia)
I would have to say...as a visitor, I didn't know what to expect along those lines in Georgia. Would there still be a lot of bigotry and hostility? OR am I the one who is stereotyping and backward for even wondering this? But I have to say...EVERYONE who we ran across in Georgia was open and friendly. Which was quite a relief for my delicate California sensibilities.
So...this concludes my Georgia story. We flew home. The end.

Georgia on my Mind

Just before Thanksgiving break, Mark and I launched off on an adventure, heading out to Georgia to attend a retirement ceremony for my mentor and friend, Maj Gen Polly Peyer. She officiated at my retirement, and it was important to us to be there to honor her at hers. AND, it was the kick in the pants that Mark and I needed to finally get away on our own, without kids, for only the second time since they've been BORN! Yes! So you can see--it was an important trip in many ways.

We flew into Atlanta, which we intended to explore at the tail end of our trip. I have to say...we still travel like a pair of geeks. Noses in books, with occasional breaks to investigate interesting propulsion mechanisms.


On our way to Warner-Robins AFB, we stopped in Macon, the home in Georgia that Otis Redding apparently left in favor of the dock on the bay. Our intent was to wander around and grab some local food. We took a long walk through the downtown area, enjoying the older homes, although there were quite a few empty. We stopped to enjoy a Nu Way hot dog, a tasty but disturbingly red meat product.


The slaw dog was our favorite:


At Warner-Robins, we attended a 60's & 70's party, which I CANNOT BELIEVE I DIDN'T CAPTURE IN EVEN ONE PICTURE. Argh!!!! ANYway...here we are with Gen Peyer:


OK, next time, the exciting conclusion!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Talking Turkey

Well, everyone has to talk about their turkey, and I have to talk about more than one. First, the one we cooked and ate. It's here, all cut up into bits and ready for the eatin'!


I must publicly confess that at 44 years old, this was the FIRST time I've ever been lead chef on the turkey. I've hosted, co-hosted, and mostly visited others and drank their wine as they prepared the turkey (yes, many of you have witnessed this personally), but this was really my debut at the big dance. And it went just fine. My convection oven did a wonderful job making a beautiful brown bird. It cooked faster than I even anticipated, so that added a little excitement. As you can see, just a small group of hardy souls attended.

Now for the other turkey story...

I have lost my camera. This is seriously impairing my blogging, and general functionality. Actually, could it be that I"m more functional, because I'm less distracted by my camera? No...because I'm distracted by wishing and cursing because I don't have my camera. I finally just figured out how to download pictures from my cell phone via a USB cord. This is an extremely SLOW and tedious process because I have to re-save each picture individually on my memory card, then download it to my computer. Only to find that it was out of focus.

So until I remedy this little problem, the photographic element of this blog will be pretty limited.

I'll close with an exciting preview of our recent trip to Georgia.


Ahem, um, no...we didn't take the kids!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's make a deal

Yes, I've been quiet for a while. Yes, I've got a lot of stories to tell. Yes, I'll do a better job of staying current!

But for now, just a quick story.

Have I mentioned that I'm a room mother for Abigail's class? Yes! Me!!! Mae's class has several very involved moms so I don't feel guilty about tending to one over the other.

So I was preparing for a party, and I asked Abigail: "Should I make cupcakes or brownies for the tomorrow?"

"Both", she answered.

"No...cupcakes OR brownies. Either, or."

Barely missing a beat, she replies "Oh...well after you make 'either', can you make 'or'?"

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Different Kind of Service

Heading into Veterans' Day, it shocked me to realize that it has been almost two years since I left the Air Force. It is one of those strange quirks of time--in some ways those two years have gone by in a flash, and in others, two years ago is a lifetime away. I can certainly say it is a lifestyle away!

Even though we don't have much income these days, the freedom to pick and choose what I do day to day is an amazing gift. And I HAVE been busy! Non-stop busy! It makes me wince and feel a bit guilty to think how I once (years ago) looked at stay-at-home moms whose kids were all in school. "What do they do all day?" I wondered. And while there were a few who I'm pretty sure were a bit uninspired and maybe even lazy, I see now what those moms were doing. Frankly, I work just as hard as I ever did. And my house isn't even that clean!

One of my big passions is our local school system. Obviously I have a vested interest in it, with two 1st graders! I spend a fair amount of time volunteering and puttering there. It has taken me a while to recognize that this, too, is "serving", just in a different way, and one that I find very satisfying. One of my day-to-day activities is raising the flags. Actually, this was my sister Gail's duty, and she passed it along. It is something I love and feel honored to do. Ironically, I spent almost 25 years in uniform, and never raised a flag until I was an unemployed volunteer mom.

I was raising the flag on Tuesday, and wondering if anything was scheduled for the following day to honor Veterans' Day. I seemed to recall the VFW coming last year and giving a little speech. When I asked at the office, I found there was nothing planned, and clearly it was too late to pull something together with the VFW. I offered to step in and do a little something, if there was a desire. Val, the amazing woman who holds the title of secretary but is actually Wonder Woman, asked if I would be wearing my uniform. I hadn't really planned on going that far, but then thought "Why not?"

And so it was that yesterday, I vacuumed the dust off my service dress, spent an hour looking for a tie tab, and headed to the elementary school for a flag-raising ceremony. As a last minute measure, I broke out my karaoke machine to use as both a microphone and boom box to play the national anthem. Worked like a charm!


Mark was in on it, too, playing the role of my lovely assistant.


The school is small, K-3 with about 160 children.




My sister Gail and I. When I introduced myself, most of the children recognized me as Mae and Abigail's mom, but you should have heard the uproar when I asked if they knew I was Mrs Stark's sister!


A sister is always there to make sure you don't take yourself too seriously!


Everyone needs someone like that in their life!

By the way, all you vets out there, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Tickets to Paradise

Thank you, Eddie Money, for providing our theme music today. Not audibly...Just in our heads. Stuck there. All day now.

So yes...we took the train up to Paradise. Actually, we took the train to Stockton, then took the bus to Sacramento, then took a car to Paradise. We then reversed the process to get back home to beautiful downtown Fresno. But the car and bus legs don't have quite the same ring, do they? Nor does Fresno. So we'll stick with "Taking the Train to Paradise"!

Here are the girls looking down the tracks, waiting for the train.


No, wait a minute...the train should be coming from the right. Oh, here's the big excitement:


Oohh...I hear it!


Ooooohhh...I SEE it!


All aboard the train:


I take a picture of Abigail:


She takes a picture of me. I love those close-up shots.


Abigail takes a picture of Mae. If this shot wasn't so blurry, it would be fantastic!


Mae takes a picture of Abigail, which actually IS a real keeper!


The girls busily construct their conductor hats.


Exhausted from all the excitement, Abigail and Mae fall into a trance-like stupor:


Mark and I do, too.


Hey, Amtrak, I LIKE leaving the driving to you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halloween in Paradise

We ventured out over the Halloween weekend, taking the train, and the the bus up to Sacramento, where we were met by friends Nick and Judy, who ferried us up to their home in Paradise. The earthly one. I'll talk about the train trip next time, but here are pics from Halloween:

The girls carved pumpkins. This year we used kits with templates, which was very fun, and gave us some real characters!


The girls also decorated a cake with Aunt Judy. I'm not sure Abigail is too pleased with how it came out :-)...but I CAN say the cake was delicious!


We took a break and went to the park in Chico:


And had a quick visit with cousin Zachary, who is a student there.


FINALLY it was time for trick-or-treating. I made some critical improvements to the cupcake--notice the Bud Light suspenders are hardly even visible! I ended up getting a white sweater and stapling fluff to it, and to the suspenders as well. Still not a super comfortable costume for long walks, I think, but fine for the hour or so we were out and about.


Our friends' neighborhood is perfect, in my motherly opinion. The homes are well spaced, so there are nice walks between each house. The residents were very generous, so the girls STILL got enough candy to last 'til Christmas, but they worked a little for it!

And of course, even though we were only in Paradise for less than 48 hours, we still managed to quaff an ice cream at Shuberts.


Next time...our exciting train ride where we lost our jackets (but we won't talk about that part because it upsets us).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Severed Finger Factory

Last week at school was a continual ramp up to the big event--Friday's Halloween festivities. Costumes were modeled in the annual Costume Parade, and parties were held at the end of the school day. Between the two, they tried to sneak in some learning, but it was a tough crowd.

I'm a room mother for Abigail's classroom (Mae's class has a couple of great room mothers already), so I had to make sure there was a worthy celebration. Which is why I made some severed fingers. Yeah...I looked it up on the internet. Mine didn't turn out exactly like the picture, but enough to get the (gross) idea.


I made a whole bloody tray of 'em!


This year, Abigail wanted to be a cupcake, and Mae wanted to be a colorful rainbow unicorn. Some of you may recall that two years ago, Abigail was a Hershey's Kiss, and Mae was a colorful rainbow pony. So you see, we have a fairly consistent theme going...Abigail is some type of food, which people generally recognize, and Mae is a fantasy creature of her own design, which is a little more difficult. This year was much better, however, since the unicorn horn was a big clue. The horn itself was quite the project. I told Mae to decorate it with some glitter glue, and she created this very intricate design, which was actually quite pretty. The down side was that the last bit was done the MORNING OF THE PARADE, so here is Mark with the blow dryer, trying to firm up the glue.


Here is the final product, along with Crazy Aunt Gail.


The Costume Parade consists of each child walking across the stage, pausing for a photo op under the Halloween arch. So cute!

Here's my fanciful little unicorn...


And my sweet little cupcake. Aunt Gail was there to menace the children with her club if they lingered too long :-). Might she scare a kindergartener or two???


Abigail's costume was not quite as robust as I'd hoped...Mark's "Bud Light" suspenders can be clearly seen here. We did cover up the words with tape, but still...we had work to do before taking it to the streets. I'll show that on my next post!