Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wisconsin Screws

While shopping for screws to mount hooks on the deck rail for wet bathing suits at the Wisconsin lake house, I came across these drawers in the hardware aisle. Could there really be, in the land of dairy where locals are affectionately referred to as 'cheeseheads', such a thing as cheese head screws?
Turns out, information courtesy of several online encyclopedias and hardware description sites, that screws can be classified by their screw portion and by their head portion. A "wood" screw had a portion of the shaft near the head that is free from threads. The idea is that when attaching a piece of wood to another, the threaded portion will bite into the wood below and but not into the thing being attached. The thing being attached to the wood will merely be pulled into it tighter, rather than the screw being pulled deeper into that thing being attached. A "machine" or a "sheet metal" screw has threads all the way along it, because it holding stiffer parts to each other that can be held in position more accurately prior to beginning screwing.
The heads are named for their profile shape. A head that tapers down into the object is called 'flat' because it ends up flush with the surface when screwed in. There are a number of names for screws that stay above the surface, such as dome, round, pan, and button, that describe the profile of the shape that stays above the surface. An 'oval' screw is not quite accurately named, but has a part of the head that is sunk below the surface and a bit that domes up above the surface to catch the screw driver. A cheese head screw is a special form of the raised head. The head is cylindrical and deep, like a teeny tiny wheel of cheese there on the surface, according to definitions I found, though the pictures on these drawers, taken with my phone, seem to show them with rounded edges and not all that deep. At any rate, cheese head screws is a name that makes me chuckle.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Journals - I

I am certain that some people keep journals the 'right' way with precisely dated entries and logs of their activities and descriptive whole proper sentences in flowing beautiful cursive or precise hand lettering, such that they are a chronological window to their activities and thoughts over time. I have journals, yes. Many of them. All over the place. Rare is the sentence in them, however. They are lists of priorities, lists of impressions, questions, ideas, half-baked thoughts in no particular order, rarely dated with so much as the year, in sloppy barely legible mostly lower case printing that rambles across the page and even onto the next one. Often the entries are sideways or at some jaunty angle if jotted in the car or in a tent or on a hike. Tiny messy sketches of art and design ideas are interspersed with to do lists and chore lists and shopping lists and phone numbers with no owner specified and addresses with no city or zip.
But half the fun in coming across of of these oddities in a pile of magazines or maps or books or knitting or at the bottom of a suitcase or the pocket of a messenger bag is interpreting the words and then trying to place them at a time, a place, an event.
This is an entry from camping in the park at the first WomanSong I attended in Grand Rapids, North Dakota in 2007:


Cottonwood leaves


Shadows of branches

Star-filled skies



Cold - So?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Common "Disorder"?

They tell us in school that we are not normal, that we don't conform. They tell us that we can't pay attention like the other kids, that we are distracted, distractible, that our minds wander. They tell us that we have too much energy and need to learn to sit still. They disapprove when we sit and stare out the window, lost in thought, thinking through questions or traveling in our mind to a far off place or living in a story of our own making. They are frustrated that we cannot finish a worksheet or long set of problems past the point where we get it and any more of the same is just tedious. And when we get absorbed into a project that we DO like, and lose track of time, and do not want to be interrupted or distracted on to something else, they get angry and call us stubborn and blockheaded. Sometimes, if locked into thoughts or concentrating on a treasured activity, we don't even notice their request and they wonder at our ability to hear or they doubt our intelligence. They called us melodramatic for our overly sensitive feelings, the ease with which we are hurt, and for our eager enthusiasm for beautiful and interesting and new things, our overexcitement in a rewarding social event.
Some of them insisted that we be medicated to make us normal, that we spend our school days in a conforming trance of boredom and vague disinterest, void of enthusiasm for much of any of it, waiting it out until we can go home and the drugs wear off and we can engage in some building or making or exploring activity on our own time. For some of us, the meds are a constant numbing dumbing thing and we never know we are failing to escape them.
But some of us got good teachers who left us alone to learn by doing projects exploring ideas and left us to read book after book about the subjects we loved and let us leave the worksheet unfinished if we could satisfy them that we understood the material and they let us fill our time with art projects and making things and trying things and leading others in study sessions.
If we are not so lucky, we have jobs that we hate that make us conform and do repetitive tasks that are torture to us. If we are lucky, we have jobs that are varied and challenging and interesting and we can thrive under bosses who value our quirkiness and creativity. And we have coworkers that forgive that we miss a meeting now and then because we lose track of time absorbed in the project.
If we are not so lucky, we have families who force us into routine pattern and make us conform to normal, but is we are lucky, we have spouses and children who tolerate our nighttime prowlings, our late nights some times and our early mornings others, who tolerate our project spread over the dining room table for weeks on end.
In the old days, we were the watchers, the keepers, the seekers.
We stayed up and watched for predators or invaders or bad weather and sounded the warnings. Only at the first faint light of dawn were we able to sleep peacefully, sure that the tribe or village had survived safely through another night. We lead the celebrations of the seasons and of the bounty of the world around us. We told the stories and made the art and brought pretty things into the village or camp. We were perceptive of the signs that said it was time to move on to some other area, that it was time to go out in search of game or to gather the food or other materials that nature provided for us. We remembered the signs of where to find these things and lead the expeditions to them and worked with fervor until the last nut was gathered and the last berry picked and the last rice grain harvested.
There are not a lot of us so statistically, we ARE not 'normal' but certainly to fall outside the norm must provide the village, the tribe, the family, society, some benefit. It must make society more adaptable, more flexible, more able to recognize signs and trends and to adapt and change to meet them. Surely we have some value today in the modern world. Can we stop calling it a 'disorder' and start valuing the watchers and keepers and seekers of today? Can we stop drugging our children and find ways to educate them that conform to their quirkiness and to their needs for hands-on and involvement instead of worksheets and memorization? Can we find jobs that are not driven by the clock and routine and that utilize our creativity and flexibility and dogged dedication to that which interests and challenges us? Can we find ways to appreciate that which we now label Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and begin to view this way of being as different but completely normal? Can we maybe even begin to accept that people like us might have some evolutionary benefit to society and some irreplaceable future value to the survival of humanity?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Letting Go

My friends lost someone this week. Their family had a nanny from far away who went back home. They are sad. They 'bonded', learned to love her and she them. I am sad for my friends. And it made me remember caregivers that my children had in their daycare. One, a quite elderly lady, was a favorite of theirs. She was from South Dakota and I, from North Dakota, so we talked many times when I was dropping off and picking up my kids. She wanted nothing more than a piano for her room, and was too shy to ask management for one, so I mentioned to the director that she had once started and lead a band at school where she had taught, and wouldn't it be wonderful if she could teach some music to the kids? That lead to her getting her piano! She loved it and the kids loved it. But not long after, she was gone. I asked about her and the director told me she had been diagnosed with fatal throat cancer and had quit. I missed her and so did my kids so I made a decision to try to find her. I had an idea of where she lived, because we had talked about how when she had car trouble, she would just walk to work. So I went driving around that neighborhood a couple times until I saw her car. She had a unique license plate so I knew it was the right car. I took a chance and knocked on the door. Oh, she was so glad to see us! She had not actually quit, but been let go as they did not trust that she would have the energy to teach during cancer treatments. It seemed unfair to me that they did not give her a chance and wait to see what happened. We had a lovely visit.
But I had a decision to make. When you purposefully guide your children to develop relationships with people, you usually assume they will last forever. That might be an incredibly naive assumption, yes. But rarely do you know that if you allow your kids to get close to person, you will be setting them up to soon deal with a death and the mourning that follows. I decided it was more important, for her sake and ours, to keep seeing her. We visited every couple months, dropping in if we saw her car there, until finally, she no longer answered the door. Turns out she had been taken to a son's house because she was too sick to live alone. We called there and they said they would call us if she was strong enough for visitors. They never called. I doubt that was her choice. Then one day, I read a local newspaper that I hardly ever read and there was her obituary and notice of her funeral on the following Saturday. Our family went to 'say goodbye' and I encouraged the boys to tell her son how much they liked his mother. It was a very sad day for us.
And one I could have certainly prevented, by just not continuing the relationship with her, by not taking my kids to visit her. Was it worth it? Is it worth it to bond with people that you know for certain you will have to say goodbye to? Was it fair of me to let my kids love her, knowing she was going to die soon?
I am pretty sure the answers to those questions are all yes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Telling Time

Some people wear a watch. I did for many years. One year, I forgot my watch on vacation and the first place we went on landing at our destination was to buy a replacement. Oh, I loved those Timex ones that had a button to light up their dials! But then, one year, also on vacation, my watchband irritated my wrist, making me unable to wear a watch for many days. And we were able to make it to destinations, see the sights, find meals, and even make the airplane home without a watch. I have not worn one since. Today, the great Stephen Colbert said "Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Get 720 broken clocks!" That lead me to wonder: How accurate do you need to be? If you knew the time to say, 10 minutes, would that be acceptable? There are 6 10 minute periods in an hour and 24 hours in a day and that is 144 time slots and you only need half that because each clock is right twice a day. So get 72 clocks and set them 10 minutes apart and that is all you ever need.
If you are a slave to your watch, if you find yourself checking it more than a few times a day, take it off. Leave it lie somewhere for a week. See how life is different. And no cheating by carrying your cell phone and checking it as often as you would a watch. Pocket the cell phone so it is hard to check the time. Wing it. Look at a wall clock when you need to. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are sleepy. Get up when you feel rested. Give up all things that need careful timing like television shows. Do check the time for social appointments and work appointments. But let everything else happen when it happens. See if life doesn't get just a little more laid back and see if your lifestyle can handle that change. I bet it can.

Telling Stories

Sometimes, when you sit down with friends you haven't seen in a while, you find yourself telling them stories about your life. It is in those moments that you realize, by what you chose to tell the and what you chose to leave out, the things and people that are important to you. In those moments, you find yourself maybe bragging a little about the accomplishments or successes of another friend and you realize how proud you are of them. You might find yourself whitewashng the gossip they heard about another person and you realize that you care about that person and want to protect them as best you can. You might find yourself telling of something you did and notching it back a little bit because it sounds too good to be true and in that moment you realize what an amazing accomplishment you really did achieve and so you tell the whole story with pride. Sometimes, when you are telling good friends about your life and your experiences and the other people in your life, it is in the telling and not telling that you realize the stuff you are really made of. You hear yourself telling the things and people that are important to you. The audience to your stories smiles and nods and says nice things and reflects back on you and lets you feel proud and amazed at your own self and proud and amazed at the friends and family that make your life so rich.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Just One Thing

I learned a trick from a friend yesterday. She has a chronic illness that robs her of energy and puts her in pain a great deal of the time, and when things are just overwhelming her, she makes an effort to do 'just one thing'. You know, when you take a look at the living room and it is just a giant crappy mess and you are too tired to clean it and so you turn on the TV instead? You know, when you need to do laundry and you look at the baskets in the various rooms and the stuff in the basement laundry chute and it is all just too much to contemplate so you take a nap instead? You know, how the back yard is a mess with downed branches and weeds and trash blown in so you go back inside and pretend you didn't notice? You know, you have that paper to write and it is just too too much to wrap your brain around, so you read a novel instead? Well, if you walk into the living room and do just one thing, like gather up all 18 of the Mountain Dew cans and take them to the recycling bin, or just pull all the whites out of the laundry, or just pick up the branches out of the lawn, or gather up all the reference books for the paper and write down the outline, you will find you DO have the energy for that one thing. Then later you can do just one more one thing and pretty soon, things start to look better all around. Or, after you get the whites pulled out, you might have energy right then and there to pull out all the jeans and then maybe actually start one load. After you gather up the Dew cans, you might gather up all the dishes and take them to the sink. After you pick up the branches, you might go after the litter. After you write the outline, you might take a crack at the intro paragraph too. One aspect that makes "Just One Thing" work is that you allow yourself the satisfaction of achieving a small part of the whole goal instead of beating yourself up for not getting the whole job done. Another aspect is that often, once you get one little thing done, you find you actually have energy for one or two more little things and you make even more progress on the big task. But maybe the most important aspect to "Just One Thing" is that it will train you to break a big overwhelming job into smaller achievable tasks. It will teach you to think of it not as a big hard deal but as a cluster of totally doable little things. It is a mindset that can help take the overwhelming out of life and lead to getting more done, even if that more is done in bits and pieces. And that is how life works. The tree doesn't grow in one day, but a little bit at a time. The bird doesn't build the nest all in one session, but a little bit now, then some snacking, then a little bit more. "Just One Thing." Like I am writing this down now, in the afternoon, and later, maybe in the morning, I will find a photo and post it. This can work for me!

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Last Post Ever, Really

Stuffed up head. Sinuses clogged. Ears full. Eyes gooey. Too much for you to hear? TRY LIVING IT, WIMP! Fever. Sore throat. Losing voice. Cough. Sleepy. Can't sleep.
Had a prescription 'in case' this happened, but that only works if you can FIND the damn thing when you need it and you could get a replacement if only your doctor was not on VACATION. What was she THINKING? NOW!!! "Go to the local ER." Yeah, Get dressed, walk to the car, drive, cough and hack, wait and wait and wait, explain the symptoms to a strange doctor and lose voice again and cough. Until it looks like I am faking it to get meds? I don't think so. I hate this. I want my mommy. She would put a cool clean sheet on the sofa to keep the upholstery from scratching me and put a fresh pillowcase on my own bed pillow and bring me orange juice with a bendy straw and aspirin and chicken noodle soup with those tiny puffy crackers. Bring me a Trixie Beldon book to reread or close the curtians so I could nap. I hate being sick! I think I am going to die. Or worse. So this will probably be my last posting here. Will you miss me? Did I spell everything right?

Thursday, July 9, 2009


She worked at a bank. She was well-liked there. She was kind and helpful and honest. One day, her drawer was a hundred dollars short. It was counted and recounted. All the drawers were counted together to make sure there was not some error. The bank was one hundred dollars short that day. Some looked at her with suspicion, knowing how easy it would be to slip a single hundred dollar bill into a pocket or a sleeve or under papers somehow. Others were one hundred percent certain she would not take money from the bank or anyone ever. There must have been talk among management of what to do, maybe even talk of letting her go. But it was dropped and no more was said. I don't know what magic the bank did to make it go away. And I am sure some still had suspicions. Maybe management even did. Maybe her best friends even did. Maybe her husband even did. Maybe she even did. Maybe she thought she took it and repressed it. Did she search her own purse and pockets that night to make sure? She knew that there were mistakes making change and mistakes in data entry but she had seen the tallies and the counts and she knew this time that it was really and truly actually missing. From her drawer. How did she explain it to herself?
And years, many years later, when the bank was remodeled and the counter tops that held the drawers were disassembled, torn apart to make way for a new configuration, one worker was astonished to find there clinging, wedged into a wood joint under the countertop over a drawer opening, a nifty crisp clean one hundred dollar bill. The mystery was simply and finally solved after all those many years, and the trust so many had placed in her truly justified.

We should take care that we do not let unjustified, or even justified, suspicions get in the way of our dealings and relationships with good people. It is always best to trust and forgive and allow second chances than it is to let relationships be destroyed over mysteries and suspicions. Some things never get explained, and this counter top could have been dropped into the dumpster without the money ever being found and some would still wonder. Trust is a good thing. Keep it well into play as best you can!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The House Worked Like It Was Designed To Work

They were on their way from their Boy Scouts High Adventure Wilderness Canoe trip to Quetico, Canada back to their homes in Illinois. They were prohibited by rules from making the car trip in a single day, so they were invited to 'camp out' at the lake house. There were sixteen of them. They parked their uniform shirts and shoes in the welcoming foyer, they lounged around on the deck for a while, then some wandered down to the dock to paddle a bit while others took over the dining room table for a game of Pictionary and others played cards upstairs in the nook and others lounged in the living room. Here and there, individuals browsed the stacks and rows of books and chose one to read. A half dozen engaged themselves in the preparing of dinner. At bedtime. sleeping pads and sleeping bags were spread about the bedroom areas and in the downstairs hall and on the living room and dining room rugs. In the morning, they helped themselves in turns to cereal or toast and jams while some showered in either of the two bathrooms. Everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable time and headed out in the morning a little more recovered from the hard work of their trip and happy for the camaraderie enjoyed and the stories exchanged. That is exactly how I envisioned the house being used through all the design and materials selection and furnishing process. It was success embodied!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Independence Day Memories

When we were kids, we drove into town and lined the streets with all the other cars to watch the fireworks. We kids usually sat on the hood and leaned back against the windshield. Sometimes, black specks would rain down on us if the wind was in a certain direction.
I saw fireworks in 1976 from grandstands in Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical center of North America.
When my kids were little and loved sparklers, I spent the entire time they played with them terrified that someone was going to drop one on the ground and someone was going to step on one of those burning hot sharp pointy wires or worse, fall and put an eye out on one. I hated those damn things!
When the park where they are usually shown was torn up due to renovation, the fireworks were shot off about a block from out house and we sat along a street near that vacant lot. They were so close, we had to lean back to see them. It was the most amazing display ever. We were right there under them!
Fireworks in Mineral Point, the pyrotechnic capital of the world, are simply grand.
One year, we watched them from a boat in the middle of a lake, which was fun, but churning through the water with other boats less than an arm's length away in the dark after most of the drivers had been drinking for hours was one of the most terrifying times of my life.
When one of my kids was little, he loved to look at them but hated the noise, so he sat on my lap with one ear against my chest and my hand pressed over the other. So that he could see them straight on, I had to sit sideways but I did not mind one bit!
In later years, when they were young teens, they would wander off with friends at the park, but when they returned to our blankets to sit on lawn chairs in front of us and exclaim to each other over the best ones, I was happy and proud. I spent as much time watching them as I did the fireworks, my dear boys who, even on Independence Day, put family over friends.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Climbing Roses On A Black Metal Fence

And Suddenly It Really Is Summer

There are flowers everywhere! The daylilies on all the corporate campuses and strip malls are in full smashing bloom. The elderberries and hydrangeas make foamy white on shrubs in landscapes and wild areas. Annual flowers like petunias and geraniums and marigolds in planters and hanging baskets and beds are in beautiful bloom. Oh, shut up about the mosquitoes that are freshly abundant; we are talking about good things here.
We waited out the long dark winter and the wet cold seemingly endless spring and now, for absolutely sure, it is truly summer. Stop and smell the roses whenever you are out there, although most of them in the modern landscape have lost their fragrance in the process of being bred to favor flower size. But at least pause now and then to appreciate the brilliant floral display that is going on, and maybe, as a favor to me, walk up to some flowers and take a look at them up really close, so that you can see the texture of the petals and look at the structure of the flower and maybe even touch it. Enjoy! There are flowers everywhere and they can make any day a little more cheerful if you take the time to let them.