Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflecting on 2008

2008 had a couple of pretty traumatic events. In March, my stress and unhappiness at work proved to be too much. I took a six-week leave of absence, returning for the last three weeks of the year, and returning to start the 2008-2009 school year in August. On September 6th, however, I quit. Bastante. Enough. The weeks leading up to my leave of absence were...dark and harrowing. The decision to finally quit was extremely difficult, and the jury is still out on whether or not it was the right thing to do...

But there were amazing joys in 2008 that far outweigh the memory of those dark days.

I directed my first ever adult play, "Run for Your Wife". AND my second, "Rumors", and started a third, "The Odd Couple". Terrific learning experiences. Friends I will have for life. So much joy. My life is forever changed, and so much richer, for the CrazyLake Acting Company.

I traveled with friends and family, spending time at the Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinnati, a glorious ten days at Disney World, a peaceful time at the Lake, a story-worthy trip to Holiday World, communing with nature at Turkey Run, and of course, most recently, our Christmas trip to Mall of America.

I became an active partner in the CrazyLake Art House. I'm a business owner. A part of the Greenfield Downtown Development project in a gorgeous building full of interesting and wonderful people.

I went to GenCon with my boys and some friends and had a fabulous time. It deserves more than just one sentence, but how can you 'summarize' GenCon?

In 2008, I loved my family--and my friends, and this beautiful country of ours. I loved music, and poetry, and art, and theatre. God, yes, theatre. I loved creating on the stage, and with fabric and paper and technology. I loved reading and following the political race and crossword puzzles, and hot chocolate, and YouTube, and movies, and playing games.

I could go on, but my point is that for all the darkness of this year--in journal entries that should never see the light of day, and the horrors of the inner city schools, and concerns about money and the environment--the joy and happiness far outshines all of that as the sun outshines the moon.

I thank God for giving me the strength to get through the dark times and for the joy I find in living, for the opportunity to share the gifts I've been given, and for my optimistic fictional view of the world. What dark times am I talking about? I don't remember. It's good. It's all good.

Northfield, Minnesota and the Spam Museum

This should actually be two different posts, but I'm having trouble keeping up with my topic ideas, so I thought I would cover them in one entry. Hope it doesn't get too long--and hope that I do them both justice!

Northfield, Minnesota--proof that billboard advertising works!!!
We saw a sign for it on the interstate and John remembered that it was the town where Jesse James robbed the Northfield Bank. We got off the highway, and by sheer observation, managed to locate the historic district of the town and began looking at the buildings to determine which one was most likely the bank or to spy out historic site markers. There were several likely candidates, but it was Sunday a.m. and not much was open--except a local bookstore. He was able to point us to the Historical Society Museum--which was closed. So we spotted out a place to eat lunch (the James Gang Hideaway sandwich shop), which helped us pass enough time until the museum opened. While eating, we took in our surroundings and realized that we were in a town much like Greenfield, a real Main Street Community. We asked about the building we were in and found out it was an old Jacobson's Department store that had been divided up in to the present day businesses. it was really cool--the doors, and the private dining alcoves that used to be dressing rooms... And taking notice of the 'style' that the restaurant owner used in decorating her restaurant--none of the tables in the back room matched, and none of them had any matching chairs!! A clever cost-effective bit of decorating that really worked!

Finally, we were able to get into the museum. It was a small little place, located in the very bank once robbed by Jesse and the gang. Most of the fixtures were original, the bank teller's counter was there, and the time-lock safe, and the lamps and clocks. Pretty cool. We saw photos, and we saw a video about the re-enactment that they have every year.

I'm glad that I travel with people who love history.

The Spam Museum--it's a real place!!
The first thing I picked up in the lobby of this museum (as I searched around for freebie stuff to include in my scrapbooking page), was a business card stating, "Spam--we're on the internet now, and yes, we see the irony..." Okay. That set the tone for this whole wonderful visit.

As you walk into the first room, you come to a luncheon counter with breakfast special plates super-imposed on the counter and computer moonitors at each seat. The yolk of the egg on the plate was the roll ball and the pat of butter on the toast was the clicker. Hilarious.

Above our heads, where you sometimes see an electric train running throughout the museum, was a conveyor belt of a wide variety of Spam cans--hundreds of them.

We saw a puppet show about Spam based on "This is Your Life".
We got to time ourselves rolling and cramming fake Spam into a can, processing it in the 'heater', and then pulling a label over the can.
We participated in a Spam game show, and then the coup de grace was getting to put ourselves into the scene of Monty Python's famous Spam/Vikings skit. WHAT fun.

It was a total state-of-the-art museum and I regret that we only had 40 minutes to go through it.

Even if you're not the slightest bit interested in Spam, which we really weren't (but we are now), it was a fun time and a must-see.

Mall of America Trip Wrap-Up

We've been back a couple of days now and transitioned smoothly into home life again. I've been to rehearsal and to the Art House and to the grocery--not necessarily in that order.

What Worked:
The Weather
Oh my gosh, I worried so much about this! We even had an ice storm the night before we left, but in the morning it was 'nothing but wet'. :-) In fact, the worst weather in which we drove was in getting out of Indiana in the rain. There was so much terrible weather before hand, but it was like a weather window just opened up and let us through.

Our Hotels

So often, I plan these trips and just drag John along for the ride. I worry about the hotels: Will our room be okay? Will it be in an okay part of town? Will we relax and sleep well? We stayed at the same Red Roof Inn going and coming and it was fine--close to a pancake house for breakfast (on the way back when we were out of milk for cereal in the room). Our hotel in Bloomington could NOT have been better. It was within site (walking distance if it was summer) of the Mall. The beds were comfortable. It was great.

Our Traveling Patterns
I really think planning trips is a skill I have. Planning ahead and knowing your family is very important. Some families might have tried to drive all the way there in one day. Not us. I know my husband and kids. They want to stop when it gets dark. Get settled. Eat. Explore their surroundings. On the way home, we did not make a reservation, and we dallied along the way at some tourist stops. But at about 4 o'clock, we stopped at a rest stop and grabbed one of those travel coupon books and selected our hotel. We weren't as far along the road as I'd hoped we be, but I set my goal as the same hotel we stayed at on the way up--which was, at that point, probably another 175 miles ahead. We drove another hour, stopped to eat, and that gave us the energy to go on--that and knowing we had warm beds to crawl into at the end of the evening. I know my family.

Our Eating Habits

Eating out is a most expensive past time. But we take along milk and cold cereal and snacks and pop and we've covered 1/3 of our eating costs. When we stop at a restaurant, we look hard at the menu and try to order 'family style'. John usually orders whatever he wants and Charlie sometimes does, too. But--for example--at Bubba Gump's Shrimp House--here's what we ordered: John ordered fish and chips, I ordered a cup of clam chowder, and the boys and I ordered a large steak with a skewer of shrimp. I was happy with the chowder, and four of the shrimp. Charlie ate two of them. Ben and Charlie ate the steak. I ate a piece of John's fish, and the remainder of Ben's steak. So, with two entrees and a couple sides, we all got enough to eat. The goal is not to leave any food wasted. It's just too expensive for that.

Our Side Trips
On the way home, we stopped in Northfield, MN, which is where the James Gang robbed the Northfield Bank. We also stopped at the Spam Museum. These two stops need their own entry, so stay tuned--maybe... :-)

The Boys in the Car

I'm so proud of my traveler boys. They do so well on long trips. As well they should, they were mostly raised in the car on the highway, we've done so much traveling. We played "Are We There Yet?" which is a fun card game. We also listened to The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, which was pretty good. (We haven't finished it yet.)

Not Having Any Gifts for Myself and John
I didn't miss this at all and I don't think John did either. We got our Christmas delights out of being together as a family, away from home, having an adventure, and watching the boys open theirs. Truly.

What Didn't Work

Drive Time

It seemed to me that it was much farther away, in real time, than I had thought. I had thought we'd do about a day and a half of driving, but it seemed like we spent an AWFUL long time on the highway.

The Plan to 'Skip Christmas'
Okay, I admit, I'm not SURE we spent less money than if we bought Christmas gifts. But I do know this--taking this trip stretched our holiday out some whereas by 3 p.m. on Christmas afternoon, it would have been mostly over...

Also, when John and I started digging through our 'gift trove' in the closet (which we contribute to all year long), we found enough small gifts for each of the boys to open the traditional five gifts each on Christmas morning.

So...was it a success or not?

I asked everyone individually, once we got home, what they thought of travel over Christmas. John said, "Not next year." The boys both said, "Not every year," and Charlie added, "I missed Christmas morning..."

But it was a fun adventure....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Day on the Road: Bloomington, MN to Madison, WI

Since I'm sure there will be many future "Day on the Road" posts, I called this one by its beginning and ending destinations.

We got a late start from the hotel, but we were in no hurry since we had no reservations and no specific destination, it seemed fine.

We stopped over at the Mall before we got on the road. We made plans to go home a different way and stop by the Spam Museum on our way. :-)

However, we were distracted by a billboard for Historic Northfield (MN). For those of you who are NOT up on your US history, the Northfield Bank is where the James Gang and the Younger Boys begin their downward spiral with the murder of a bank teller during a bungled robbery attempt on the First National Bank. We are proof that tourism advertising works. We somehow gravitated towards the historic district and began looking for historical markers (which we are well-versed in spotting). We saw none, so we wandered into a bookstore and were able to gather some info there. The bookseller pointed us down the street to the Historical Society, which wasn't open yet, so we ate lunch at the James Gang Hideaway. :-) It opened at 1 p.m., and we finally got to go in and wander around. The Historical Museum is in the actual bank where the robbery took place, and all the original fixtures are still there--the bank counter, the safe, etc. Kinda cool. We visited a couple of other stores and admired Northfield's artistic atmosphere.

So then we were late getting to the Spam Museum in Austin, MN. We only had forty minutes to enjoy all the humor in there. It was, in short, hilarious. The whole museum had a tongue-in-cheek attitude starting with some business cards at the front desk: "Spam--we're on the web now, and yes, we see the irony." HAHAHAHA!!!! There were photo ops galore, starting with a huge personified can of Spam wearing a Santa hat, an overhead conveyor belt transporting hundreds of different styles of Spam cans throughout the museum, and a whole lot of interactive stuff including a mock-up of the restaurant where the whole Monty-Python/Spam/Vikings skit took place (while the scene plays itself over and over on an overhead TV monitor). We really did not have enough time to laugh ourselves silly. And then we only had five minutes to select our souvenirs from the ubiquitous gift shop.

So the hard travel came late in the afternoon and into the evening. I was determined to get us as far as we could, so we wouldn't have to drive so far tomorrow. We crossed into Wisconsin and picked up one of those travel coupon books and looked for a hotel. We decided to push ourselves to Madison and made advanced reservations for the same Red Roof Inn we stayed at on the way there. We stopped around 8 p.m. at a McDonald's for dinner, and we arrived at about 9:30, still in good humor.

We took turns on the computer, checking our regular sites (blogs, IA, WWL, and of course, our e-mail), watched the second half of "The Sound of Music", and then collapsed into bed.

I hope we can get an early start tomorrow. I have rehearsal at 6:30....

Oh, PS!! I forgot to mention--I got THE shoes!!! :-)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Long Day of Commercialism

The Mall of America is a strange place to go as an alternative to skipping Christmas spending.

I still contend we spent less than we would have and we've certainly a lot more fun over more days...

We ate well: Bubba Gump's, Johnny Rocket's, our choice of foods from north and south food courts on three separate floors....

We saw a movie ("Bolt") that we enjoyed.

Ben and I went to the Underwater Adventure Aquarium.

I rode two mall roller coasters (by myself).

We didn't ALL go to the Aquarium; no one wanted an all-day pass to the amusement park; and we didn't play miniature golf. I'd say we came out ahead.

Both Charlie and Ben spent the money Santa left. Ben bought a huge Lego thing-y (Axalara T-9--John asked him what happened to the T-8, the T-7 and so forth...). Charlie bought a couple of video games for the Wii, I think.... I also bought them some shirts they liked. They are both so picky about their clothes that they'll wear the same two-three shirts when they asked for shirts from Hot Topics, I said fine. I also bought Ben a book he wanted: Tales of Beedle the Bard. I have no problem spending $$ on books either.

John got himself a really cool coffee mug with authors on it from Barnes and Noble.

And I saw a pair of shoes that I didn't buy: Reebok Monopoly shoes. They were REALLY cool. Here is a photo of them:

I really loved them.

So we finally all made it back to the hotel, in shifts--first John and Ben, then Charlie and me.

I think we'll start for home in the morning, and forgo another day of wandering and not buying. It's been fun, though.

Inside the Mall of America

What can you say about the Mall of America that might actually be interesting to someone who's not there to share the experience? Probably not much, so this will be short.

It's huge. We were there from about 10:30-4:00 yesterday and explored just one floor of the place. Ben bought his Axalara T-9 (a Lego monstrosity). Charlie bought Courtney Love a gift card from Hot Topics (how romantic). I was able to contain myself in Hallmark (everything 40-70% off) and Archiver's and pass up the $10 Christmas sweaters on sale of the nameless clothing stores.

We ate lunch at Johnny Rocket's.

Came back to the hotel for snacks and a nap (Charlie stayed, however). The hotel desk clerk gave us a huge coupon book on the way back out, which was $10, but due to expire on 12/31... That was cool.

We ate dinner at assorted places in one of the food courts. There are two food courts on every level.... We discussed the Aquarium and miniature golf, but no one seemed interested... Oh, well.

We got back here at about 9 p.m. and watched some stupid TV for awhile as Ben finished his Lego model.

Fell asleep to planes passing overhead from the nearby airport.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Two Movies

We saw "Bolt" last evening at the Mall of America movie theater. I guess this review is a bit late because it's been out for awhile (I thought it just opened), but it was WONDERFUL. Despite paying $41 for the four of us to see the show (it was in 3D), we got our choice of seats (there were only about 8 people in the theater on Christmas night) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was good, the characters were good, the action was fun...but my favorite was the hamster in the ball. He was hilarious. My favorite part was when he went to get a ladder. It had a great ending, too.

The other movie was something I watched at home before we left. I had never seen "The Polar Express" mostly because I so loved the book, and I hated to ruin it. The movie was wonderful, too. I was a little bothered by some of the animation, but I realize they were trying to animate Chris Van Allsburg's art. There were some absolutely magical moments in it: when the train shows up, it rumbles the bedroom, like the train in the Children's Museum; when the elves go marching into the town square; when the boy picks up the bell, sees Santa's reflection approaching and turns the bell to see him better; and the sound of the bell. It didn't disappoint. It was really magical and I'm adding it to my list of Annually-Watched Christmas Movies.

Sneak Preview of the Mall

We went to a movie last night at the Mall of America. It was all closed up except for the movie theater, but we got a sneak peak of it walking through the mall to get to the theater. The movie theater was on the fourth floor so we were able to look down into the Lego Store and the Nickelodeon Amusement Park. Waaaay cool. There are several roller coasters, some that go upside down even. The Lego Store (where parts of "Jingle All the Way" were filmed) looked great; the list of stores (the Apple Store, book stores, over 40 restaurants, and an intriguing store called 'As Seen on TV'...) look great. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Our Hotel

When first checked in, I thought I had made a mistake. Surely this is not the $70/night hotel I made the reservation for; surely this hotel in more than $70/night. Wrong on both counts--it IS.

It is the Airport Ramada. The decor is lovely--Native American designs and art, stained glass, rock formations under the stairs, a gift shop, two separate restaurants, a work-out room, a nice pool and lounging area. Our room is clean with an ironing board, a safe, and our view out the window is of Mall of America itself. Really COOL.

Traveling Miscalculations

Believe it or not, there are limited places to get gas on Christmas Day and limited opportunities to eat.

The 'low fuel' light came on and we started looking for a place to get gas. We got off at...the Wilcox (?) exit. There were two gas stations and both appeared closed. I saw someone plowing an office building parking lot and I drove over, rolled down my window and asked where one could get gas. He said that the truck stop should be open, but other than that, we could go ten miles back to Black Falls or twenty miles ahead to the next exit. Frankly, I didn't think we could make either. We did, however, go back and check the truck stop and saw people there, this time, getting gas. The station was closed, but the pumps were set up to take charge cards without an attendant activating the pumps. Thank goodness.

We then had to drive another hour to find a restaurant open. We saw billboards for cute diner stops that we would have enjoyed; we saw exit signs for fast food, but none were open. I finally decided that our best bet was to stop at one of the national truck stop chains and hope there was a restaurant attached. This worked and we finally ate, at 3 p.m., at a Burger King attached to a Holiday Truck Stop near Eau Claire.

Lesson learned.

"He Knows...He Always Knows..."

Santa has found the Schaefer boys. They're still asleep, but Santa has come and gone leaving presents that were selected long before the idea for this trip was conceived. A small pile of gifts left on the hotel dresser top, and two small stockings hanging over their heads with $$ for the Mall of America. Tied up with what??? Let's see, let's see what does the resourceful Santa have with which to hang them....? A-ha! Dental floss. Clever, clever Santa.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All is Calm...

We left around 10:30 this morning. It was raining, but the ice of the previous evening was long gone. However, the further north we would drive, the colder it would get...and I was anxious to outrun the winter storm warning for Central Wisconsin and reach our destination for this evening.

Driving across the lower regions of Wisconsin, listening to "98 hours of Christmas music on 98.2 FM", there is no doubt that this is indeed the most holy and magical of nights. It hangs in the air like ice crystals, like the fog on I-65.

I watched the sun set--a pink chalk smudge in a silver-blue sky--across snowy untracked fields and watched light snow blow across the road in ghostly footprints.

We arrived safely after missing the Chicago turn-off from I-94 to I-90. We drove cross country through Lake Geneva and several other small Wisconsin towns to get back on I-90. It was strange that on the highways, the roads were fine, but in the towns, they were slick and snowy. Every time we hit a snowy or blowy patch, John would tighten his grip on the arm rests and draw his breath in, but I had every intention of getting us here safely. He never once suggested we not go, or that we stop early for the night. :-) Gotta hand it to him for that.

We 'camped' this evening at the Red Roof Inn in Madison, Wisconsin. We had to drive up a snow-covered hill to get to our hotel. We checked in, then went to Perkins' Pancake House for dinner. I always wondered what kind of people spent Christmas Eve at an all-night restaurant. Now I know.

We came back to our hotel and I surprised the kids by having our Christmas mugs, and hot chocolate, their new ornaments, and our Christmas stories book.

And we're go to sleep watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV. It is certainly a different kind of Christmas Eve. But we are together. We are safe, happy, and healthy. All is calm...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Second Thoughts of a Different Kind

Don't tell anyone, but I'm starting to also have doubts about driving in this weather.

John hasn't said anything about it yet, because he knows that nothing will stop me. I'm not afraid of weather, but I'm respectful of it.

We've had a weather-filled day. John's car quit in the parking lot of the Warren Library. I went to get him and arranged for AAA (which I renewed YESTERDAY, thank you very much, in preparation for the trip) to haul the car to Car-X, then drove us both home in an ice storm. Lots of fun.

In any case, it's given me some pause about our trip....

Monday, December 22, 2008

Second Thoughts

It may have been while Celine Dion was belting out "O Holy Night" that I had my first real qualms about our Christmas plans. "Oh, no!" I thought, "What am I doing? Packing my family into a car...spending Christmas Eve in a motel in Madison, Wisconsin...tossing our years of wonderful, heartwarming holiday traditions out the window...? What was I thinking?" But it's really too late now. Reservations have been made. We're committed to going. I think it'll be okay, but I'm nervous.

Joe S. is laughing at us. He says we may get out of Indy, but we won't get past Chicago. We'll see, I guess. I've been following the weather in Minneapolis. According to the reports, we'll have ice while we're up there, but shouldn't have any trouble getting into the city, or out, when we're ready to leave.

Time will tell, I guess. Wish us luck.
More tomorrow...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Really NICE Family Christmas

I started out this morning feeling really disappointed. First, my family was coming for Christmas, then they weren't, then they were. My whole vision of how the day would go was completely shot down. I didn't know why I had spent so much time cleaning when they were going to spend more time in the drive coming and going than they were going to spend visiting. And I, who worry more about disappointing people than anyone I now, was the one who would ultimately be disappointed by this 'obligatory' Christmas get-together.

In the end, however, it was a really nice Christmas. They didn't stay very long, but long enough for us to have a wonderful family time--laughing, eating pizza, snacking on food, exchanging a few small gifts. It was really a nice afternoon and early evening. I think everyone really enjoyed it. They came down because they wanted to, and we had fun together. They told me how nice my house looked, and we played a game where we all got gag gifts and that was pretty funny. The boys got gifts from Mom and Dad. And we all just had a really nice time. I guess I wasn't really expecting that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Snow Day

Yee-ha! Another snow day; another day where "I really shouldn't go out" ;-) Another fire in the fireplace and another day to try to make this a festive, holiday house. And actually, it is! It's beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas around here. Our tree is beautiful. I've cleaned up our entry way and the front room and made great strides on the family room. It looks like a different house. Amazing.

The 24-Days-of-Decorating-for-Christmas

Okay, here's our new Christmas tradition. It's called "The 24 Days of Decorating for Christmas". Every day, for 24 days, we'll put up one Christmas decoration around the house. That way, every day, we add something new and Christmasy and get the excitement going. I can hear the kids now: "Gosh, I wonder what Mom will put up today? Maybe that teddy bear in the Santa suit that usually sits in the rocker...or...the snowman collection on the mantle...or...maybe she'll put the wreath on the door!" The suspense and anticipation will help the days go by, so that by the time Christmas rolls around, the house will be fully decorated and we'll have a festive Holiday House to enjoy. A completely non-exhausting and painless way to decorate. Then, on the 26th, we'll start "The 24 Days of Putting Stuff Away". We'll put something away every day so that it's not an overwhelming task and by Valentine's Day, we should be ready to start decorating for Easter. Whaddaya think???


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow Day for 'the Keeper of Christmas'

All of the Hancock County schools are closed today--icy roads. Not IPS, where John works, of course. So the boys and I are home--and cleaning house for the impending family Christmas get-together on Saturday.

I'm not quite sure how I found myself to be "the Keeper of Christmas". We were going to have the Carnall family Christmas at Dad's, but then he had some trouble bouncing back from a cold and from his minor out-patient surgery, so...he canceled it.

I leapt at the cancellation opportunity to fit in the aforementioned Christmas activities (the 1863 Riley Home and "Two From Galilee"). However, when I called Mom the next morning, she seemed put out that we weren't coming to spend some Christmas time with her.

I discussed this with Diane, my sister in Denver, who said, "Y''s not too late to fix it..." And since she used the language I use (about 'fixing it'), I thought she must be right. So--what did I do? I invited everyone to come down for Christmas down HERE.

My house has not seen guest since 2006 and it hasn't seen the Carnall family, I think, since we moved in in 1991.

So, I'm cleaning and decorating like a madwoman. Charlie's girlfriend, Courtney Love came over and helped. It was nice to have someone who knows how to clean.

I forgot that having people IN for dinner is more expensive than taking them all--remembering when I had the KidsPlay parents over for dinner, and how I bought new EVERYTHING (from glasses to silverware to dishes to tablecloths and decorations) to properly entertain...

Thus far, I've only bought a new artficial Christmas tree. And I will write about that under another topic.

In any case, the house got cleaned today. I built a fire in the fireplace and Ben made gingerbread cookies. A good snow day...

Things Change...

I miss my friends.
I have some friends and we had some trouble and although everything is all bandaged up now, it's not the same. I want it to be back the way it was before. They're still around. We see each other all the time, but I miss them. Or...I miss trusting them. I know our troubles were mostly my fault. I wore them out and they wore me out. I view them differently now; and they're different to me, too. It's just not the same. And I'm sorry for it. I want it back the way it was. I miss you guys.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Celebrating Christmas This Year

We are not celebrating Christmas this year.

Let me rephrase that. We are...declining to get involved in the materialistic aspects of Christmas. No, that's not right either... We are...swapping the spending and giving and getting for a different kind of experience this year.

We have opted for 'experience' rather than 'stuff'. We are going to take a family trip instead of exchanging Christmas gifts. You'll laugh in a minute when I tell you where we're going, but here's my thinking on it.

First of all, I think we'll spend less money if we travel.
Two, who in this house REALLY needs more stuff? The boys think they do, but they don't.
Three, we have always defined ourselves as a family with our family trips. They are our best memories; they are the times when we are at our best as a family.
Four, we have so much fun when we travel. We talk, we laugh, we share, we learn, we laugh. We'll talk for years to come about this upcoming trip--the drive, the weather, what it was like to be away from home at Christmas...

There's the biggie--being away from home at Christmas. I figure that the ONLY way this will really work and be successful is if we're not at home on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. If we do our traveling on these days, then we won't be sitting around trying to fill time normally given to traditions and gift exchanging.

Not that we won't stop and remember the reason for the season. I plan to take our Christmas stories, some hot chocolate, and small stockings to fill for the kids for Christmas morning. We're going to that least commercial of destinations--the Mall of America. Told you you'd laugh. The boys will get some money to spend when we go shopping.

Now don't think we're going just to blow all the cash that we DIDN'T spend on gifts, but we will walk around, go to the Aquarium, play in the amusement park, eat out, see a movie or two, swim at the hotel. It's not really a destination for summer, but for a short, winter trip.

We'll see. Wish us luck.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Directing plays. It's something I do. It's WHAT I do. And it makes me happy. You can link to my 'love letters' to my actors for an idea of 'how happy'. :-)

Right now, I'm directing the adults, but I also direct kids, and lately, teens.

This show--this adult show--got off to an incredibly rocky start, to say the least, but tonight--after five weeks of rehearsal--was a turning point of sorts. It was a good rehearsal, the first, for me anyway, that wasn't stiff and artificial-feeling, and overshadowed by baggage and missing persons. This rehearsal felt good.

I love directing. I love the creative collaboration that is the hallmark of our group. I never get tired of watching the scenes, watching the actors move through their blocking and their lines. For me, it's like creating a moving painting. I'm always watching for composition, for truth, for magic moments, the fine details that give our shows that special polish. I love watching my actors grow into their characters. I love my actors, plain and simple. Hitchcock called them cattle, but I call them clay. I get to mold, and shape...they are the paint on the moving canvas of the stage. I love listening to them talk with me about their characters. It's a journey into self-discovery and I love watching their joy in the journey.

This was my true calling all along. My life in the theatre.

A Recovering Teacher

I looked back at my first blog entry at my 'definition' of myself and my comment that each of the sentences in that post deserved its own entry.

I call myself a recovering teacher. I taught in our local urban school system for 19 years and...about three weeks. In that time I was mostly an elementary teacher, but I also spent six years at the Middle School that is most often in the news. In our 2006 Christmas letter, I wrote,

"I’m finding this year very stressful. I’ve taught in [this system] for 17 years, but have never felt quite as ‘at odds’ with the kids as I have this year. I’m affected as never before by the way they treat each other, they way they treat the adults who are there to help them, their lack of concern for their futures and their disdain for education. It’s shocking, sad, and frustrating."

I don't know if I'm yet capable of writing objectively about it. I continue to be in mourning for the teacher I was, the teacher I could have been. I feel sad, bitter, regretful, full of self-pity, but mostly relieved to be out of there. My husband is a teacher there also, and the stories he continues to bring home are alternately funny, pity-inspiring, and sometimes they anger me. It seems to me that it's a school system that simply uses its teachers up until there's nothing left...and then they quit, or retire, or simply implode like I did.

I occasionally sub out here in the 'burbs, and when I do, I feel sad for what might have been had I not been so determined to 'be where I was needed'. I see teachers appreciated and respected; I see education valued; I see creativity in teaching. It came to me, in my final years there, that that system didn't want creative teachers anymore. They wanted education technicians who could drill, and teach to the test... The principal at the middle school actually told us in a staff meeting that he did NOT want to see us teaching novels--that we should stick to the direct teaching scripted lesson plans we were to download every day. I had always thought that my job was to teach my students to love learning. I guess I was mistaken.

A Christmas-Filled Evening, part 2

I don't know whether it's just that I haven't been in a church for so long or what, but tonight I was treated to something of a Christmas Spectacular at 91st Street Christian Church. In fact, "Christmas Spectacular" may have been what they called it.

My plan was to see my KidsPlay graduate Sarah Brown as the lead (Mary) in "Two From Galilee".

The 91st Street Christian Church is one of those mega-churches, a huge, rambling structure, obviously added on to several times. The lobby was decorated with a variety of different-sized Christmas trees, all with white lights, and simple red and gold multi-sized globes.

There was a line at the box office and the woman had the seating plans for the main floor and three balconies. Tickets were $5, but she gave us two that had been donated. We sat on the main floor right.

A full 20+ member orchestra greeted us playing Christmas carols. The place was packed. I spotted Sam and Tabatha (and Sarah's parents" and went over to say hi. Tabatha told me they had over a thousand people last night and informed me that immediately after the show, they had to get home to get Blake, who was performing in "Scrooge and Marley" at Buck Creek.

The show started at 7 p.m. with dancers, a choir, and an amazing soloist with a fabulous voice. It was unbelievably professional and completely seamless. I was totally engaged the whole time (my bag of things to do sitting untouched at my feet). I called Dennis and left him a voice mail about what I was seeing, and then later, texted him about it. The festivities continued with a child's dramatic reading of the Christmas story from the bible, accompanied by the orchestra, and topped off by a light show. It was absolutely amazing. It was Vegas; it was Disney. Flashing, running lights along the edges of the balconies, a huge light board at the front that flashed images of the wise men, the shepherds, the manger, Mary, Joseph and the star; two smaller boards to the left and right that flashed alternately "Joy" and "God's Son". Awe-inspiring.

Then it was time for "Two from Galilee". The show started with a "Beauty and the Beast" style opening number. Again, fabulous voices, wonderful staging. It was followed by a song from Joseph, and then came our Mary. Sarah was WONDERFUL in this show. She held her own vocally, and of course, we knew she would theatrically. She was lovely and elegant and the STAR of this show. I couldn't have been more proud.

After the show, I tracked down Sam and said to him that he must derive a great deal of satisfaction from this in the wake of Sarah getting such a minimal part in "Up the Down Staircase" at NP. I told him that she was absolutely wonderful and beautiful and the whole evening was a true spectacular. I told him that I called and texted Dennis twice during the show. I told him I just really enjoyed it and I was glad I took time out to come and see it. I saw Sarah in the lobby, gave her a hug and posed for photos, and then Ben and I were out the door. Sam chased me down and gave me a big hug (he's not a hugger) and told me that the highest praise of the evening was telling him that I'd called Dennis in the middle of the show to tell him about it. Chuckle.

The evening was capped off by dumping an almost full can of Diet Sunkist in my husband's car. (I drove his car because the heat in mine is faulty.) Being unfamiliar with it, I didn't quite hit the cup holder when I went to set the can down and it flipped sideways. I could hear it gluck-gluck-glucking as I struggled to find the switch for the dome light. By the time I righted the can, it was nearly empty. I haven't yet told him I did this. Perhaps I'll send him the link to this blog entry.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Christmas-Filled Evening, part 1

My dad called to cancel our family Christmas get-together, scheduled for this evening, which opened up a window for me to partake in not one, but two events I had wanted to attend, but couldn't due to scheduling.

The first was the 1863 Christmas at the Riley House.
Gwen had spoken to me about this earlier this season, but too late for me to get involved, so I was interested to get over and see what it was about. It was a pleasant little tour of the Riley House in 1863, the year that Reuben Riley was away in the Civil War. Christmas preparations were afoot, as well as were wartime activities such as bandage rolling, sewing kit assembly, notes written to the soldiers. It was charming, as hosted by the women who usually staff the Riley House, plus a young girl and a couple of husbands. I was glad that Ben went along with me as company.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Official SAT Question of the Day

I signed up for this because I have a son who will soon (maybe) take the SAT. I'm pleased to say that I've been answering The Official SAT Question of the Day for a couple of months now, and I've only gotten a couple wrong--and both of them were math questions. I haven't missed a single language arts question. Yay, me. I think my SAT score in high was 1050. That's not very high. Makes me wonder how it is I was accepted at DePauw (which I did not attend, but I always heard that they only accepted valedictorians and salutatorians...) I wonder what I would score if I took it today?

Am I smarter or just a better thinker?

An Evening at the Museum

One of my myriad of income-inducing past times is my part-time position as the Development Director of the Hook's Drug Store Museum and Soda Fountain, which is located at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The drug store, in a nutshell, is an authentic 1850s drug store and soda fountain. It's a cute little place, a step back in time, and it is much beloved by my boss, Bob Hunt, and others on the board.

Although pharmacy is not necessarily my thing, history, promotion, and event planning are. And last night, we had an open house in order recruit/meet new volunteers. It was sparsely attended, but it was a nice little evening with refreshments, music, speakers, and history. The soda fountain was open. The 'old men' of the group were there, as was Bob, and they spoke eloquently and lovingly of the place and its history.

I invited John (my husband) to this event as a bit of a window into my world--I think he's really not sure how I spend my time--and as something I thought he might enjoy. It made for a long day for him (he came straight from school), but I think he did enjoy it. The refreshments were good, the history was interesting, and I saw him walking around and looking at stuff in the museum. I was pleased to give him a small 'quality of life' moment in the midst of a busy week.

And I find myself increasingly engaged in this little museum--wanting to do more for it, wanting to learn more about it, and so forth. It needs love and attention. It needs to be noticed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The House that Hums

I live in a house with creative people. My husband is a writer and a poet and an artist. He paints. My youngest son (aged 11) is an amazingly gifted artist. He's never happier than when he has something to draw with in his hand. My oldest (17) dabbles in photography and film, and if he ever gets over his intense shyness, he could some day make a living with his wit. I'm a theatre person...constantly doing something with one of my three groups... Our house is the cluttered disaster area of creative people...and there are times when it hums with the energy of the assorted projects going on within.

I've spent the morning assembling a wooden cubby-thingy for my husband's art supplies. We could hardly afford a piece of furniture, but OMG, something has got to be done about his art mess!!! Next, one for the front hall and the library/school/mitten and hat mess, and two more for the boys' bedrooms and their collections of gaming pieces!! I will be victorious over clutter!!!!!!

Reasons for Writing

Are all blogs just vanity projects? Does everyone have THAT much to say? Will I just be adding to the clutter on the internet?

Perhaps, as justification, I can admit I was a hard-core journal keeper from the age of 12 on...until I met my husband...and then I just...quit. Oh, I still have a journal by my bed and I write sporadically, but not like I used to. Wonder why? I can argue now that I barely have time to write, but that doesn't account for our engagement period, the early days of our marriage, my pregnancies and the birth of the kids. Surely those times and events deserved to be recorded for posterity...but...mostly...they weren't.

I've started blogs before...and dropped them after a week or two. Who's to say this one will be any different? But...I got inspired today and decided to write.

I think I have a pretty interesting life, but everyone does, don't they? My family is fun and quirky. I know interesting people.

But does everyone really want to hear about them? Or do I just want to write about them?

Yep, it's just a vanity project. Whew! That excuses me from having to write profound thoughts about social issues and 'world suck' and other stuff. I'm just writing to see my name in print!!! Yee-ha!!!

Better in Writing

I’m better in writing…

I’m a stay-at-home mom now. Sort of. I quit my teaching job on September 6th. Left and never went back. Never looked back either. So now, after walking away from half of our family’s income, I’m ever so much happier. My friends say I’m a different person. And ever so much poorer, of course. (I know you were wondering…)

Every one of those sentences is a blog entry unto itself, I suppose, which will have to come later.

Today, I’m baking brownies for an open house at the Museum and making Christmas presents for two of my friends.

On the run, as ever….