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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Model Dad

John built his first model when he was seven-years-old. Or maybe it was six ... Anyhoo, model building and hoarding collecting have been his hobby and passion ever since -- though the building part has ebbed and flowed depending on the age of little fingers in the home, and whether the home itself had the space to accommodate it.

This home can accomodate it. And then some, luckily, because over the years, even if John wasn't able to build models (or maybe because he wasn't?), he never stopped collecting them. For his retirement, is what he says.

He must be planning to live a long time.

This is the first time I unpacked them all, and put them in one place. This is actually our furnace room, but these shelves fit in here quite nicely, I thought. And John can stand in the midst of them and gaze around ... wistfully? Or whatever it is you do when looking at a hoard of models. Three hundred and five six models, to be exact -- not that I'm counting. As you can see, I had a bit of trouble fitting them all into one picture...
...But wait -- what is that in here? (Look closely. They are not the same.)

Conner's English teacher assigned her students reading to do over the summer, yes, but also a project of their choosing to do on a book of their choosing.

John looked around and thought, Hey, I think I could spare one of these! The two of them went to the library and found an age-appropriate (seventh grader) book on WWII -- Earle Rice Jr.'s The Attack on Pearl Harbor. John pulled down a 1/48 scale Tamiya kit of the A6M2 Type 21 Zero Fighter he just happened to have, and the two of them sat down to build. John built his, Conner watched him, then turned around and worked on his.

Modeling is an art form, let there be no doubt. Suffice to say, Conner's first attempt is quite remarkable. Not that I have any idea of what I'm talking about. But you don't have to take my word for it; you can read what John had to say about it, as well as a bunch of other model geeks John's talked model-speak with on the internet since long before blogging was a rage, to be sure. Like father, like son. Maybe there's hope for those retirement models, after all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Great-Aunt Tiny

My Great Aunt Tiny is 99-years-old. For her 100th birthday next February, her kids are throwing her a big bash at their home in San Diego, encouraging kin to gather from all four corners of the earth. Of course, these "kids" of hers are quite grown adults themselves, with grown kids of their own, with kids of their own...

To say Tiny is a little ball of fire wouldn’t begin to cut it. From my seat as a distant family member, only seeing her every few years or so, she didn’t seem to even start slowing down until she was maybe 93, give or take. I remember hearing a story, quite a while back now, of how she went to the doctor and complained that her wrists made a popping noise when she flexed them. Her doctor told her, "You should probably stop doing push-ups." She was in her eighties at the time.

About that same time, I was told that Tiny had decided she should learn Spanish. She went about it old school, and practiced by rote memorization. She surprised a bilingual pastor when she told him she’d been studying Spanish for a few months, then proceeded to recite an entire book of the bible – in Spanish. I don’t recall which book.

Tiny is a nickname, of course, given for obvious reason, though I don’t know exactly when or by whom. Her birth certificate calls her Leila, which I think she always preferred. But by now I don’t guess that she minds so much what people call her, she’s just so tickled that they do. She grew up the oldest of four girls and one boy, in rural Kansas. She has outlived all of her siblings, including her youngest sister, my grandma, who passed away eight years ago.

Tiny herself had five children, four of whom emigrated to southern California a couple or three (or four...) decades ago. The oldest son, Lynn, started the wave, I believe. Who knows why, except he’s a lawyer, so that can explain a lot. Rod, her other son, eventually settled there after serving as a missionary in the Phillippines and other such places as dissimilar to the rural Midwest as you can imagine. Two of the three sisters, Lila and Kathlyn, also eventually made San Diego their home, with only Mari Lee remaining in Kansas, still living on the same farm where she and her husband raised their children.

Their youngest is a lawyer now, too, by the way. He works with his brother-in-law, also a lawyer, at a cozy little firm in Clay Center, not far from the farm. Proving the lawyer gene doesn’t require you to flee to California just to practice law. Kansans need lawyers, too, you know. Someone’s gotta officialize the handshakes over the split-rail fence and show us where to put our "X" on the dotted line.

Lila, Tiny’s namesake, is the only one of Tiny’s children who never married. She became an English teacher, like her mother, and the doting aunt every child wishes they had, whether they realize it or not. She’s retired now from teaching and spends many (most?)of her days with her mother, who still lives on her own, making sure she has the groceries she needs, helping maintain the apartment, taking her out on the town...

I’m kidding about that last part, I think. Though it wouldn’t surprise me. Tiny has given up the push-ups, but she still takes walks and gets regular exercise. She may not move fast anymore, but she still moves.

This will be the second big birthday bash they’ve thrown for Tiny. The last one was for her 95th birthday, when we were living in Las Vegas and could easily make the drive and enjoy the regalia -- and that branch of the family tree knows how to party right, let me tell you. We once attended one of their "tailgate" parties they traditionally hold in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot before a game. I grew up in Kansas – I know what a tailgate is. We show up and find them gathered around a lovely motor home sipping wine and serving salmon pate, nary a tailgate in sight.

You’d think, with so much family in southern California, that Mari Lee and others would be going out there all the time. But it’s actually the other way around, with Tiny and Lila and Kathlyn, especially, visiting the Kansas farm as often as they can. Lila once told me that friends in California would wonder about that, "But isn’t it boring out there?" Lila would just laugh and declare, "Not with my family!"

I don’t know if we will be able to make the Big 100 next year, and that makes me sad. It's an opportunity that I know I will regret to miss. I want to sit there and listen to Tiny recite her poetry, by memory, like she's done at every family reunion and gathering I've attended the last dozen years or so. But it’s too far to drive during the school year, and whether we drove or flew, the cost is daunting. So we'll just have to see.

It was very interesting to me, once I started writing all of this down, how difficult it was for me to try to get the details right. I really have no clear understanding of when everyone moved to San Diego and why, or in what order, for instance. Not that it really matters, I suppose, but that seemed to want to be a part of this story.

And I know that stories evolve as they are told and passed down, besides my own memory not always serving me correctly, and that doesn’t in any way make them less valuable or meaningful. At least we have stories. But I would be interested to know from my family reading this, what rings true, and what doesn’t. As well as what you might include in some of your own favorite Tiny stories.

Happy Birthday, Tiny. We hope to be able to see you on that day.

100 Candles

I tried to post this with the text above, but just couldn't get yoo-toob to cooperate. So pretend that these are together, k?

Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm Ba-ack

Well, now. That's been a nice little bloggy break, eh?

First off, school started this week. Can I get a hallelujah AMEN!?

This is the first time all three kids have been in school at the same time. At least part of the time. Four same times a week, to be exact. For about 3.6 hours at a go, give or take, when you factor in bus schedules.

Can I hear a hallelujah amen?!

It's only been two afternoons so far -- since Sean-Peter doesn't have preschool on Fridays -- and at first I felt a little bit like another mom I was acquainted with when we lived in Aviano, a very funny woman named Rhonda. She has three kids, and when her youngest started preschool she said for two weeks she didn't know what to do with herself. She'd pace and sit around and stare into space, then when her daughter got home she'd set her down and tell her, "You stay right here, baby, mamma's got some work to do".

The first afternoon was a little like that. I ate my lunch. In silence. I read a little in my latest library book in yet another attempt to actually finish a book I check out before I run out of renewals. (Girl Meets God. An engaging, intelligent read.) I even tried to take a nap -- until the phone rang. Then I ran down, breathless, sure that a bus had crashed or one of my kids was bleeding profusely after hurting themselves on the playground and was being rushed to the ER.

Then I cursed telemarketers. Then I prayed for forgiveness. Then I tried to be productive -- I even tried to blog. But I got caught up editing photos instead. About 30 minutes before the bus was due (and it was bound to be late the first day)(but you never know) it occurred to me that I could at least take a shower. Every time I went more than five minutes without checking the clock I panicked and was sure the bus was sitting outside, waiting for the slacker self-indulgent mom not even pretending to pine for her kids on the first day of school.

The bus that did end up being late. Forty-five minutes late. At least Olivia's was. Hers was scheduled to arrive before Sean-Peter's, and ended up coming 30 minutes after. Yes, they take different buses. Even though Sean-Peter's preschool managed an overflow problem by sending one class -- his class -- to a classroom in the kindergarten building, and Sean-Peter and Olivia's classrooms are right across the hall from each other. How cool is that?!

Thing is, the only reason Sean-Peter is even able to take the bus in the first place is because he is part of the Special Needs program. The regular "peer models" in the public preschool aren't even offered busing. So we are fortunate. Because, really, this whole busing thing rocks. Saves on gas. Saves on physical energy. Saves on mom getting out and doing those While I'm Out I Might As Well As errands that end up putting a hole in your pocket.

And that's not even mentioning that riding the bus is Sean-Peter's most favoritest thing of all. Truly. Last year? Every Wednesday Olivia and I would go pick him up from his morning preschool. At first because Olivia had gymnastics, and we would be late if we waited for the bus to get him home. And later because of Sean-Peter's newly scheduled OT (occupational therapy).

It didn't matter the reason. Every time, the second he saw me, he burst into tears. Why? Because he knew he wouldn't be getting on the bus. It was heartbreaking, but a little funny, too, to be honest. I always had to try not to laugh. I would tell his teacher, "I'm not feeling the love, here". For her part, she would try to remember to prepare him on those days. I think he finally got used to it -- or resigned himself -- about the last week of school. Here he is, two days ago, convinced that his bus must be coming because his sister just got on a bus and that is just all kinds of not fair.

(Doesn't he look so little?) He ended up settling himself down for what ended up being a bit of a wait. And a bit of a furrowing of the brow. Because there must be 50 buses that come through our neighborhood in any given five minutes. And none of them are his. Oh, yay! Finally, it's my turn!
He clearly remembers the routine. And the bus aide readily indulges me my photo.

Olivia's bus had been late, too, while they both waited, backpacks ready. After witnessing her brother getting on a bus last year, and never complaining (not much) that she wanted to ride the bus, too......this year, she is clearly in her element.

She is so ready for kindergarten. Earlier in the week at the open house she even informed her new teacher, "I am soooo a little smart."Indeed. And here she is, after I asked her to pose, showing off her backpack -- clearly, the most important part.
I love this photo, camera quality notwithstanding. It captures them so well. If you look real close you can even see the smattering of freckles on Olivia's nose.

Lest any of you think I am completely blowing off my oldest and oh-so-much wisest child, here is Conner, his first day of 7th grade.
Walking off to the bus stop, more than ten minutes before the scheduled time......wait, what's that? Hey, that was quick! Weren't you just here?
"No one else was at the bus stop."

Well, duh. I guess even almost-teenagers get the jitters.

I can't fully explain the length of this bloggy break. It was sort of intentional, sort of just happened. Combination of guests, traveling, fundraising commitment, sickness ... oh, and The Olympics. Anyone else a little obsessed? Have I ever mentioned how much I love my DVR? (And fast forwarding through commercials?) I can't tell you how many times I turned it on to a recording of the show, "just for background noise", only to find myself drawn to the couch and leaning on my elbows totally engaged in the competition: swimming; gymnastics; diving; track and field .... oh, the Back Stories just shoot me now. And how about that Michael Phelps, eh?

How fitting, after a blogging drought, to end by commemorating a young man who will go down in watery history. Whose mom will forever be remembered -- because tell me you saw her reaction to the race he won by .01 seconds?? Just in case you haven't gotten the email that's going around, here's a sneak-peak at "The First Photo of Michael Phelps", truly portending his future success: