Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It Goes to 11!

Take that, June! You thought I could never do it, but I did! With over an hour to spare.

But I'm not competitive at all.

Flat Light

Just a couple nights ago (Monday, I think? Other Clevelanders might remember.), we had some storms blow through the area. After Eleanor was in bed, Keith was on the couch and I was sitting in an armchair on the other side of the living room.

I looked up from my grading and saw that the sky was the strangest yellow/orange color. Partly what was odd about it was that it wasn't just the sky; it was like the air and everything bathed in the light had turned the same color. It was like the sunset had been turned inside out because of the low storm clouds, and all of the intense sunset colors that belonged near to the sun had been diffused evenly over all.

I'm not sure if I'm doing a very good job of describing it. I had to take a picture to try and convey just how odd it looked outside, but I still think even the picture doesn't do it justice. Do you know what I'm talking about—that odd, flat light that takes away dimension and texture? It's like you're looking at a flat picture, when you're looking out your front door.

Taking the Train for Father's Day

In my memory, Keith's first Father's Day was dismal. I was really stressed out and feeling overwhelmed with everything that just HAD to be done. (What was it? I have no idea. At that point, I wasn't even teaching yet, so it wasn't Work work. Just stuff, I guess.)

This year, I thought about it a lot as the day approached. I knew that I wanted to do something; in general, we tend to celebrate anniversaries by doing something together instead of focusing on gifts, and I have a feeling that Mother's Day and Father's Day will be the same. It just seems like, if you're celebrating a relationship, you should do something related to the relationship, you know what I mean?

During my fretting over how to make it the perfect day, Keith seemed surprised that I was so hung up on it. He informed me that we did do something for Father's Day last year—we went to the city pool. Once he said that, I vaguely remembered it. But I remember it as a quick trip, grudgingly shoved in between all of my other errands and tasks. And it was cold.

Whether my Father's Day shortcomings were real or only in my mind, I still wanted to do something fun this year. When I look back, I want to remember fun, family, relaxation, instead of stress and to-dos. Luckily, Keith came up with his own idea for Father's Day. I may not have been inspired with the event, but at least I'd put away the to-do list!

We took a Scenic Railroad Trip through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We parked and rode a few stops, then got off in a small town. The railroad goes right along the Towpath bike/walking trail, so we had brought Eleanor's jogging stroller and started walking back along the path, towards the direction we'd come from. We figured it was a 2.5-mile walk to the next train station, and we had over an hour to do it in. Even on Eleanor's 20 minute/mile pace, which includes stopping every ten feet to hug trees (literally), sit in rocks, stomp in leaves, etc., we should still make it in time.

If you think I'm setting you up for some momentous event, I must apologize. It was just a really nice, relaxing day spent as a family. The weather was gorgeous and I know I took many deep breaths along the hike, savoring the moment. When we got to the train station we did have quite a bit of time to spare, so Keith ran into a small shop and bought us some drinks and black raspberry ice cream to share.

Even better, Eleanor had passed out in her stroller while he was in the store. I had sat on the front steps of the store, watching her succumb to sleep. Her one little fist was, as ever when she's tired, firmly grasping her hair. Her eyelids slowly fell and jerked up countless times over the few minutes, until the jerks become slower .... fewer .... further between .... and then none.

We walked to the train station and enjoyed our cold drinks and ice cream. When the train arrived, Eleanor woke up and was ecstatic to be riding the train again. At the end of the train ride, the only way Keith could convince her to go to the car was if they said good-bye to the train, and she patted its shining silver side.

I know it's not really about me, but I think Father's Day this year was much better. I'm not happy that I was ever at a point where I couldn't put aside my tasks for one day to appreciate what a wonderful father Keith is, every day. But I'm glad that I learned my lesson from last year and we focused on Keith and enjoying family time this year. I loved the train and the hiking, but I get the sense that, even if we had taken a cold, brief trip to the city pool, I still would have thought this Father's Day was infinitely superb to last year's, just because we took the time to enjoy it.

Bright Light

Keith took this picture a few weeks ago, when he noticed the light streaming in through the window.

This picture gives me the impression of contentment. All is well and good.

Except that there's only one bottle of wine in the rack. I must rectify that...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stretching Our Boundaries

When we were in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky a few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of taking Eleanor to the Cincinnati Zoo with Grandma Karen and Grandpa Jim. We've taken Eleanor to the Cleveland Zoo quite a few times, and she always loves it, so we knew it would be a fun trip.

First of all: The Cincinnati Zoo is really nice. Just from our wanderings, I think it's a lot bigger than the Cleveland Zoo. Everything is very attractive and well done, from the landscaping to the animal displays to the playground. The Cleveland Zoo is good, too, but the Cinci one raises it up a notch.

It was, as always, a lesson in how unpredictable children's interests are. We saw giraffes, elephants, monkeys, penguins, and more. We visited the petting zoo and Eleanor pet goats (one of which tried to eat my shirt). Even though Eleanor tired out pretty quickly, we did our best to fit in as much as possible.

So what was Eleanor's favorite part? Petting the snake. She made me go back to the snake lady several times. Snakes are not an animal that she has ever shown an interest in before, but maybe that will change now. And maybe, if she could have petted an elephant, they would have been her favorite. But the tactile experience, and being so close to the snake, definitely won her over.

I watch her openness to new experiences and marvel at how she takes everything in stride. I can't imagine being where she is: Why be intimidated by the new? Practically everything is new, and the majority of new experiences are good ones, so every day is an opportunity for a positive new adventure! Never petted a snake before? Let's do it! Why not?!?

I think about how resistant I am to change. For example, I always go to the same grocery store. I always start at the right end of the store, in the dairy section, and work my way across to the personal care products area. I like to go on Sunday afternoon or Monday—early in the week. When I can't get there by Monday night, it very likely throws off my entire week. For the most part, I buy the same brands, in the same quantities, to make the same recipes. And then I do it all over again the next week.

When did this happen? Will this happen to Eleanor too, or have I always been like this? Why did I look at the snake lady and think about how I'd rather be out of the heat, sipping an iced mocha with a book in my hand?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Some light afternoon reading

I decided to pick another couch picture ... because maybe that's a theme? In case you can't tell, I'm really trying to make up for the fact that my June post count is so dismal. My goal this year was to manage at least 10 posts/month (but of course, secretly, I tell myself I should do much better than that). I was doing quite well until all of my dithering about in June, and now I'm seriously behind!

So I'm doing what any semi-serious blogger does: finding some pictures that we've taken recently, and let the image do most of the talking.

Right, so, this is a picture I had to take the other week. Many times, Eleanor shuns her picture books and simple children's stories, opting instead for the adult books on the living room bookshelves. I don't entirely understand this, unless it's just a case of imitation? But if she was just imitating us reading, why doesn't she use her own books?

Unless, perhaps, she doesn't really equate her oversized books, heavy on pictures and light on text, with our smaller, text-only paperbacks. Whatever the reason, I love it and my heart melts every time she picks up a book and "reads" it. It's so important to me that Eleanor love reading, and I hope that this is a positive sign of a bibliophile in the making.

In the picture above, the angle is wrong so you can't get a good look at the book's cover. But not only does Eleanor choose adult books; she often settles on the ones in French, one of my college minors. (Of course, I made sure to put the French books I probably couldn't even read anymore in the living room, to impress all of our guests.) This is one of those books, Le Journal de Zlata, written by young girl in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

Another one of her favorites is a blue book with a fish on the cover. For many weeks, this was "Eleanor's book." When we went out to her clubhouse in the backyard, we would have to take her book and another one for me. We would go and sit in the clubhouse and "read." She would page quickly through her book.

I'd say, "How's your book, Eleanor?"

She'd nod, answering with an emphatic, "Good."

After a few minutes, she would insist that we trade books and she would "read" mine, too. Once all the reading was done, then the playing could commence.

I look forward to the days when we really are curled up, side-by-side, engrossed in our own book worlds. But even then, I'm sure these first pictures of Eleanor with a book in her hands will be special—a promise of the many happily ever afters to come.

Toddler Creativity

Why is it that kids never want to play with toys as they were intended? This is Eleanor one Saturday morning, wearing her "armor" that she donned (with some help from daddy). Of course, these were originally meant as building blocks. I don't think she's ever built anything with them; she just turns them into bracelets and wears them for her tea parties.

Why do we even bother getting them specific toys? Maybe, for her next birthday, we should just get an assortment of boxes, blank paper of various colors and sizes .... and what? Play dough? Maybe some cups. I think that should do it. And she'll be one happy little girl!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comments or questions?

It seems ironic to make this a post instead of a comment, but I wanted to comment on commenting.

When I was crying out for positive feedback a week ago, several commentors promised to try harder to write more and better comments. But I swear I wasn't trying to guilt trip anyone into constantly writing on my blog. As long as I'm doing my job, you shouldn't have to provide the content :)

Jonathan mentioned not commenting with "I do that" or "That happened to me, too," but really I do like those kinds of comments. Those comments, and comments in general, do show that my writing has meaning for people and that's what I want to see.

Really, what I'm trying to say here is: Comments mean a lot to me. So if you would like to leave a short comment (or a novella) every once in awhile, I would like to see that. But if I talk to you or email and you also tell me that you enjoy what I write, that counts, too. Like some of my readers (Amy), I do a lot of my blog reading in Google Reader, and I don't post comments nearly as often as I should (say, on Jonathan's blog).

So I promise I'm not going to come back and chastise you all if, two weeks from now, I have many commentless posts. It took me 4 1/2 years of blogging before I felt the need to harangue my readers, so by that logic, you should be safe until 2015.

Now the question is, how many comments will a post about commenting receive? Or has it all been said?

Friday, June 25, 2010

And ... we're back!

Okay, I have to keep this short because today is Keith's birthday and he's been patiently waiting for me to get some grading out of the way before we relax and watch a movie.

But! It's already taken me too long to post this, so I didn't want to wait any longer. Thanks very much for the kind words in person and in the comments. I really did just need some assurance that this blog wasn't merely a vanity project, and I am connecting with some others "out there." You gave me that.

Bob also made a good point that I was underestimating how many times my blog has come up in conversation with family and friends in the "real world." I was discounting that when only focusing on the zero comments, and that was an oversight on my part. For the most part, I think my most regular readers and commentors are people that I know personally (in person? Not sure what the best phrase for that is.) So the fact that they don't comment doesn't necessarily mean anything, because they may have already emailed/called/talked in person about what I was writing. Except for Jonathan, whom I feel like I have met! (And would love to buy a pint someday, the next time we get to travel to the UK....)

So right. Didn't mean to leave you in suspense. The Gapenest will be back in all its glory, whatever that may be. And Laurie, I do enjoy writing the blog. So I appreciate your consideration of my enjoyment, too, but that's not a problem!

Now I just need to continue trying to find time to blog AND write for publication. But I'll tell you all about it as I go.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Blog?

Right, so. I wrote a post on June 4 ... and haven't been back in almost three weeks. I know this is very unlike me, and hasn't happened since Eleanor was just a wee babe. But I've been pondering.

To be honest, I was incredibly disappointed—even more so than I would have anticipated—that I poured my heart out about our problems with the lead paint, and ...

crickets. No one had any response to my concerns, despair, emotions over what was a very huge deal to me. One person did comment on the contractor aspect of it (thanks, Jonathan;) but that was all the response I got.

And it really stung. It absolutely made me take a step back. Why am I blogging? Initially I started blogging because I thought it would help me write on a more regular basis. But I've realized, over the years, that the writing I'm doing on the blog is really a separate beast from writing to be published. The entire process, from initial conception to actual drafting to the final piece, is different from what I would send out for publication.

But I thought there was another element to writing a blog. Even though it now seems like writing a blog actually takes away writing time from writing to publish, I still thought it was worth it because people read it. There's a connection between myself and my readers. There's a shared experience there that is worth pursuing. If someone reads my blog and finds something in it that makes her laugh, or that he empathizes with, or that makes her realize something about her own life .... then in that sense, it is equal to being published. It's the idea behind all writing: the sharing of ideas and emotions that connects people.

I've worked hard to keep my readers over the past few years. I may not have many of you, but those that I do, I appreciate! Thinking about "my adoring fans" (said completely tongue-in-cheek, of course) has helped me to keep thinking of new post ideas, and just generally has kept me writing.

But to put myself out there, in a way that is beyond what I would normally do .... and then get no response .... that has made me question my basic premise. Is that connection really there? Is anyone really reading? Is anyone getting anything out of this blog?

I know there's some people who read that don't often comment. But if you want me to keep writing this blog, now might be a good time to mention it. Because, honestly, I'm still on the fence. If people aren't reading and enjoying what I post, then I don't think a blog is worth it. I can jot a few ideas in a personal diary, and then spend most of my time working on pieces for publication. But if no one is getting anything out of this blog, then it might have reached its useful end.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Sweet Sound of Distant Hammering

As I write this, Eleanor is napping in her crib. I am sitting on the porch swing, enjoying a warm breeze and sunshine. Since we found out about the lead last July, the side porch has been off-limits. But now with the siding and indoor/outdoor carpet, we can again swing in peace and tranquility.

We are done hiring contractors. The only lead abatement item left is stripping the two living room doors/frames that we weren't willing to replace. I've ordered some paint stripper and we are going to take care of that ourselves. (And of course, pictures will be posted!)

I said that we're done hiring contractors, and I desperately hope that's true. We are done with all the work that we were planning on. But of course, it's the unforeseen that always gets you!

But the contractors finished the siding in early May—just in time for my month off before summer semester started this week. It was perfect timing. I've greatly enjoyed being home with Eleanor, and again feeling safe and healthy in our home.

We did one more massive cleaning, top to bottom, after the contractors were done. Since then, we've let the cleaning slide a bit. We're not on a total cleaning strike, but I am enjoying the feeling that I can see a little bit of dust on a picture frame without worrying that I'm poisoning my child. Now that it feels like the danger has passed, I do want to institute a saner, gentler cleaning schedule. I'm sure I'll get around to that soon.

Eleanor's lead levels have been normal since last November, but she does get tested one more time, at her 2-year appointment in July. I feel like we've done everything we can to protect her since we realized the magnitude of the problem, but I will be reserving my final sigh of relief for when I hear her levels are still okay.

But for now, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet. I'm enjoying being outside without guilt and fear. In particular, I'm enjoying that a house on the street behind ours is getting a new roof. I hear hammering, chatter, nailguns, the radio, and miscellaneous clatters. Which reminds me that we had our roof replaced the week before Eleanor was born. They finished on Saturday, and Eleanor was born on Sunday morning. So the whole contractor ordeal started even before she was born.

And now, it's over. Or at least hopefully on a long hiatus. Working on the garden around the deck felt like we were moving on. Getting back to projects that we wanted to work on, instead of being in disaster-containment mode. I know that the list of house projects never really ends. I just hope that, in the future, the projects are ones of our choosing, on our own timeline.