Friday, February 25, 2011

"I want to look at my options."

Or: random Eleanor stories.

1) Eleanor LOVES the snow. Even now, when the rest of us are sick of it and yearning for Spring, she wants to get bundled up and go make butt prints. (She knows about snow angels, too, but doesn't like those as much as the simple butt print.)

Today, my one weekday off, we got all bundled up and played in the snow on the way to the library. Of course, that meant after about 4 houses, I carried a massive bag of books AND Eleanor the rest of the way to the library ... which was closed. It's just at the end of the street, but still. It's a long way when trudging through snow, carrying a 27-lb child and 20 pounds of books.

2) In the morning, when I try to pick out her clothes, she pushes me aside, flings open the bottom drawers and says, "I want to look at all of my options."

3) Before our failed trek to the library this morning, she was pretending to put her stuffed animal, Loopy, down for a nap. She would get him settled and tell him, "Cry if you need me!" and then run and hide behind the shower curtain. I got to play Loopy, and was supposed to start crying for her as soon as she was hidden.

I took immense pleasure in making all the same requests of Eleanor that she usually makes of me when putting off bedtime. "Loopy" would cry and Eleanor would run over to him, saying, "What's wrong?"

"I need a blanket!" I'd whine.

"I had a bad dream! Hold me!"

"You didn't sing me THREE songs!"

"I need a nose wiper!"

And she'd say, "I'm sorry, Loopy!" Then she'd run and get whatever "he" requested. What a good little Mommy! She was so solicitous with him, I have hope that my complete irritation with these bedtime requests isn't broadcasted to her, and that she just feels loved and cared for.

4) Speaking of her clothing options, she's all about dresses lately. Which is fine, except she keeps trying to pick out light Spring dresses that are totally inappropriate for the 10 feet of snow outside. I know, sweetheart. I want to wear a t-shirt, too. But that's not going to happen for another month or two.

I love that girl!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's Not Your Problem

Apparently, I've gotten to the point of being a little too comfortable with last-minute lesson plans. I get my lesson plans "mostly" finished, and then forget about them.

Like for Tuesday, I planned the lesson the night before and was set. I got to campus early enough to sit for a few minutes at the adjunct office, check my email and mailbox, print out a few files, and then leisurely wander down the hall in plenty of time for my class. I was so relaxed!

Until I got to class and, looking through my lesson plan about a minute before class started, I saw that I was intending to look at three articles to talk about the research papers. We would work on paraphrasing vs. summarizing vs. using direct quotes, and then the students would need to create a Works Cited entry for their articles. Did I remember to print these articles beforehand, when I was sitting at the computer checking my email? No. The night before I had meant to send myself an email with links to three articles, but apparently hadn't even managed to accomplish that.

While I had the students working on a short literature response, I ran down the hall, found 3 relevant articles, and printed off a few copies of each. I didn't even have a chance to skim the articles so that, when I asked them to summarize the main points, I could be certain that the students had, indeed, focused on the actual main points of the article. Instead, when they told me about the main points, I nodded and smiled.

So anyway, when I was scampering down the hall to belatedly finish my lesson prep, mid-lesson, I passed a guy on a cell phone. All I heard of his conversation was, "Look, that's not your problem. Don't worry about it! I will take care of it."

And I was immediately jealous. I would like many, many things in my life to not be my problem. Granted, shoddy lesson planning should be (and is) my problem. But there's a lot of other issues—like when our house is falling down around our ears or Ohio is thinking about stripping public employees (like teachers) of collective bargaining rights or this country's dependence on fossil fuels and refusal to financially support public transport—that I really wish didn't always feel like my problems to solve.

Is there any way that I can send myself a repeating email? Maybe a reminder on my Google calendar that pops up a few times every week saying, "This is not your problem! Don't worry about it." Or at least stop worrying about it long enough to finish your lesson plans.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Photo Challenge: White

The benefit of the Shutterboo color photo challenge weeks is that they are very concrete. White. Yes, I understand. The hard part, at least this week, is to make it feel interesting and different.

It was hard to find something that focused primarily on white. So often, white is the background color, used to offset something bold and vibrant. And, for the first time in nearly two months, all the snow melted this past weekend! A surefire white picture disappeared. (Although I wasn't too sorry about that.)

Never fear, though. On Sunday evening, we had an ice storm. By Monday morning, everything was covered in a thin, glistening layer of ice. It looked amazing. Even better (in terms of visual appeal, at least), it snowed again Monday night, and Tuesday dawned bright and sunny. So on my drive to work Tuesday, I was surrounded by a winter wonderland. The fresh white snow was reflected by the branches of every tree and bush. The amount of shine and light refraction was awe-inspiring. Everything was covered in a million tiny rainbows.

So of course, it would be nice to get a picture of the unique ice storm. Keith had the same idea:

The only problem is that any picture with more than a minute amount of another color, to me at least, ends up not saying "white." The white becomes background noise to the other color. In this case, the black of the branches stands out just as much as the white.

So instead, Keith chose a more neutral, definitely white-focused picture:

I like that there are blue overtones, and that there's still a focal point with the light and the footprints. So there is some depth to it, but not enough to take the focus away from all the white. The vast whiteness that we've been living in for several months, and that will probably be with us for another month, if not more ....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Own Race to the Oscars

As our Valentine's date, we dropped Eleanor off at my parents' house on Sunday afternoon and went to see True Grit. Before the movie, there was a trailer for Water for Elephants.

It started with a dapper old man, quite elderly but with a mischievous glint in his eye. Quickly it became clear that the story would be a flashback to seminal, life-changing event that happened in his youth. I leaned over to Keith and whispered, "Oh, so it's Titanic but with a circus instead of a boat!"

A few weeks ago, when Oscar nominations came out, Keith immediately sent me an email regarding all the Best Picture nominees, and the order in which we could see them. I ignored his email until we were home that night and he asked me about it. I shrugged. I do like movies ... but we tried to do this before and it hardly ever worked out. We couldn't fit in all the Best Picture nominees back in the days when we didn't need a babysitter AND there were only 5 nominees instead of 10.

But here we are, and we've made it a lot further than I thought! We've seen:
1) Toy Story 3
2) True Grit
3) The Social Network
4) Black Swan (I actually took a pass, because I'm a wuss with scary movies. So Keith saw it without me.)
5) The King's Speech
6) 127 Hours (Again, I have to admit I'm squeamish and didn't see this one. Poor Keith!)
7) Inception

Still pending are:
8) The Fighter
9) The Kids Are Alright
10) Winter's Bone

I usually judge my favorites by how much the movies make me think. I really enjoyed The King's Speech and True Grit was pretty good too, but they didn't make me think as much as Inception or The Social Network.

The Kids Are Alright is next up in our Netflix queue, and should arrive soon. That only leaves two (that I plan to see); of course, I have no idea if these are available, in theatres, or what. But we're getting close! We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dam(med) Ice! House Repair # 2,463

For those of you wandering over from Facebook, you may not be aware of the fact that our house is a money pit. We moved in June 2006, so not quite 5 years here. In that time, we've spent:
$8,000 new roof and gutters
$12,000 new windows
$13,000 new siding
$1,000 new garage doors
$34,000 TOTAL

In other words, we've spent almost 20% of our house's value (or should I say former value, since it's dropped so much) on additional improvements that we hadn't been planning on. This isn't counting 1) a few jobs less than $1,000 or 2) the optional improvements like adding a deck, patio, landscaping, etc. All of the construction ended last May, and we've been living in relative peace and comfort since then. Until The Ice.

Last week, we were running around shoving towels into window wells because the ice and snow from the roof was melting down behind the gutters and running down the side of the house. Our screens were caulked into place, and didn't have weep holes, so the water was pooling between the screens and windows and seeping under the windows into the house.

After that fiasco, Keith and my dad drilled some holes into the bottom of the screens and Keith also knocked off a lot of the ice around the windows. (We still have towels in the window wells, just in case.) And yet, the home disasters don't stop!

We spent most of the day Sunday at my parents' house. When we got home Sunday night, around 7:30, Eleanor and I came inside. Keith parked the car, and Beckett came inside with him and went straight to the back door to go outside. I think I was the one who let him out and saw that the back porch was falling apart. The railing nearest to the house had somehow broken. What the ....?

"Hey, Keith!" I called. "Come look at this!"

I think Keith is the one who lifted up his head from what was directly in front of him and realized that the damage was a lot more extensive than I'd realized. Looking to the left of the porch, huge blocks of ice and twisted metal (formerly the gutters) littered the ground. Looking up and to the right, we could see that the only remaining section of the gutter on the entire back of the house were the 3-4 feet attached at the corner. Gazing out into the backyard—where Beckett was happily roaming—all of lines from the back of the house (power, cable, phone) were also on the ground. Hmmmm .....

The good news is that everything was still working. I put Eleanor to bed while Keith called the electrical company. They came out later that night to temporarily reattach the power and told us we'd have to call the cable and phone for the other lines, but it would be safe for Beckett to go outside until they came. This is a good thing, because cable said they'd come on Monday and still haven't shown up. The phone company was a bit more realistic, cheerfully telling me that it would all be taken care of by Friday.

I guess this doesn't exactly fit in with the other household projects mentioned earlier, because the insurance company should be picking up the tab. But we still have to go through the process of finding the contractors, scheduling the work, and either getting reimbursed or getting insurance to pay up front.

How much is all of this time and angst worth? I can calculate how much money we've spent on the house, but the stress and worry all of the repairs (and financing of repairs) has brought us is incalculable. I know it's unrealistic to think that we could go an extended amount of time without any minor house repairs. But it would be nice to get to the point where it doesn't feel like the house is falling down around my ears.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photo Challenge: Fear

This week's Shutterboo photo challenge is fear. One aspect of this week's prompt that I like is how individual the answers can be.

I, personally, choose to write a blog about my life. My daytime job is standing up in front of a class and teaching. All eyes on me—okay, some eyes on me, some closed, and some on their phones. But still, you get the idea. I was the president of my high school drama club.

Keith, on the other hand, immediately thought of public speaking. To him, a podium in front of a large audience and fear are practically the same thing. I offered some other suggestions, but they were received half-heartedly. Keith felt very strongly that fear could best be exemplified by this initial image.

The hardest part of this week's challenge, then, was not choosing the shot. The hardest part was finding a podium to take a picture of.

Finally, tonight Keith and Eleanor took a walk up to the library at the end of the street. Ironically, Keith had to talk to a stranger to make it happen! (Not as bad as public speaking, but still high on his list of things he typically avoids.) Apparently the library's website listed podiums as being available for the meeting rooms. I don't know exactly how this conversation went, but I can imagine it.

Keith asks a librarian, "Excuse me, do you have a podium?"
Librarian, "A podium?"
Keith, "That's right."
"Why do you need a podium?"
"Well, I want to take a picture of it." At this point, I picture him with an embarrassed half-smile, feeling more foolish by the second.
Librarian's eyebrows raise. "Take a picture?"
"Yes. For this project I'm working on." He projects seriousness and reliability. NOT creepy or weird. Not at all.
At this point, I imagine the librarian internally shrugging and thinking whatever.

(Keith is looking over my shoulder reading this as I type, and informing me that he didn't feel that awkward. He knew it was weird, but Eleanor was the ace in his pocket. He can't be that weird; he has an adorable little girl with him!)

However the initial conversation went, the librarian got one out of the closet for him, dragged it into the hall, and stood there and watched while he took pictures. Once Keith got the picture loaded onto the computer, he cropped and shadowed and changed it to black and white, which is always so much more menacing.

I do think it's ironic that he approached someone and initiated an awkward conversation to get a good picture to illustrate his greatest fear. What will the next photo challenge inspire him to tackle?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Called Out for Name Calling

It seems to me that the idea of names vs. titles would be a difficult one for toddlers to grasp. Why am I Mommy AND Megan AND Aunt Meg AND The Queen of All She Surveys? These shifting titles, based on different relationships, could be very bewildering.

Eleanor has done a better job than we expected of understanding that we can be all of these things at the same time. We were shocked the first time she called us by name; I had always assumed that she thought my name was "Mommy." And actually, she's even quicker to pick up on these labels than we ever imagined.

A few weeks ago, Keith told me that he asked Eleanor what I called him (meaning: What's his name?). "Jerkface!" she replied. Obviously he had to be lying. I don't call him a jerkface that much. Certainly she would be much more likely to—if not answering with his name—then use an affectionate term such as "sweetheart" or "my love." Right?

This morning he asked her again, "What does Mommy call me?"

Slightly more tactfully this time, she replied, "Jerkface and Keith."

Thanks, Eleanor/Tattletale!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Photo Challenge: Repetition

This week's Shutterboo Photo Challenge is Repetition. Last week, Keith's first 10 ideas or so didn't work out and he ended up taking a picture down the block, late Tuesday evening. This week, he took a more laid-back approach and it seemed to work out for him!

He knew that he already had plans to go to some crazy indoor golfing range with my dad this past weekend. The guys went off to golf while the women hung out at the house, and then we all got together to eat chili and watch the commercials (and some of the Superbowl too, I guess).

Eleanor's very sensible question, upon waking from her nap and hearing that Dad and Grandpa Chuck were golfing, was, "Why are they golfing in the snow?" Indeed, Eleanor.

Keith figured, what was more repetitive than the driving range? So he threw his camera into the bag and off they went.

He got a lot of shots that were well composed, but because of the fluorescent lighting and my dad's lightning fast yet incredibly straight swing, most of them ended up fuzzy. He also took a shot looking down the row of crazy winter golfers, but it was kind of boring, even with cropping. Here's one of the final rejects, including a golf swing:

And here is the shot he ended up with:

I think he boosted the color and contrast. Even though there's not much action, it's implied by the golfer's (my dad's) stance. I also like how the focus is on the bucket of balls, reinforcing that this particular stance is going to be repeated many, many times throughout the afternoon

Monday, February 07, 2011

What to Do? Sunday Morning Edition

We've gotten in the habit, lately, of Keith taking Eleanor out of the house on Sunday mornings so I can get some work done. In theory, it could be anything from cleaning to working out to actual work-related work. In reality, it's always grading and lesson planning, because I'm always behind. Maybe some day that will change .....

But for now, we've had a really hard time finding kid-friendly activities on Sunday before noon. With budget cutbacks, it seems like most local libraries don't open until 1 o'clock on Sundays, and same with many of the museums. During this long, snowy, cold, snowy, gray, snowy winter, going outside isn't always an option.

In case some others have been having the same problems, here's a few of the local activities that we've found:
  • The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the few big museums that's open early (10:00am) on Sundays. And it's free! The parking does cost a few bucks, but I think that Sunday morning it's easy enough to find street parking. This is definitely a good option, and we love free things because—as all parents of toddlers know—there's no predicting how long you'll be able to spend there. So if you don't have any money invested, it's a lot easier to accept leaving after 15 minutes because the child had decided he/she'd rather play with the Playdoh at home. We're also wary of burning Eleanor out on this option, so we probably only do this once a month or so, if that.
  • The Children's Museum of Cleveland also opens at 10:00am on Sundays. I've heard good things about their activities and that toddlers really enjoy the hands-on opportunities. If it's so great, why haven't I gone? The downside to this option is that it's one of the most expensive ones. Because it's aimed at children, unlike 99% of places, children under 3 are NOT free, but neither are the adults. It's $7/person for everyone 1 year and older. That's not terrible, but what can I say? We're cheap. I think of this one as a planned-ahead activity that we only do once in a great while.
  • In good weather or in bad, the Cleveland Metroparks are also a good option. When it's warm enough, we can go hiking or sledding (like we did the other weekend). But even if it's too cold or rainy, there's lots of nature centers, lodges, etc., that have animals, books, and indoor activities to keep Eleanor entertained. All of their Nature Centers open at 9:30am and are, of course, free!
  • It's sort of a sub-category of the Metroparks, but there's also the Cleveland Zoo, which opens at 10:00am daily. As I may have mentioned, however, we're "thrifty," and Cuyahoga County residents get into the Zoo for free on Mondays, so we tend to avoid going on the weekends. (The Zoo is normally $7 for adults and $5 for kids 2-11 in the off-season, aka now, and $11 for adults / $8 for kids from April through November.)
  • Another option I was considering, but haven't looking into much yet, was joining the local Rec Center. They are open, but it wasn't clear to me what activities there were for parents and toddlers, if any. There's stern warnings against toddlers coming into the workout area with all of the weight and cardio machines. But if they have babysitting, so Eleanor can hang with some peers, I can get in a workout at the same time, AND Keith can sleep in, I think it's a win-win-win situation!
Of course, the flipside is that I should just get myself out of the house. I could get up and head out to the local coffee shop and let Keith and Eleanor have free reign over the house.

If you have any good, kid-friendly suggestions for Sunday mornings I'd be happy to hear them!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Photo Challenge: Sign

This week's Shutterboo Photo Challenge is Sign. Or in our house, the challenge of 1,000 ideas that didn't pan out. You know how some weeks, it's hard to choose which photo you like best because you have several different shots? That was not this week.

When Keith asked for ideas, being the literary-minded person I am, I immediately started thinking of plays on words. What could be a sign of the times? Or a "sign" as in predicting the future? But everything seemed too abstract.

Keith had a particular location in mind that he sees from the train into work. There's "No Dumping" signs, and also tires in trees and plenty of evidence that the signs are not being followed. He liked the idea of juxtaposing the sign against the opposite scene nearby. But, as you can probably guess, it's not the best neighborhood to show up with our fancy Digital SLR and start taking photos.

By the weekend, he hadn't really found anything he liked. On Sunday we went sledding with some friends.

It was Eleanor's first time and she LOVED it. As soon as the sled stopped at the bottom of the hill she'd pipe up, "Again!"

One somewhat unique feature of this sledding hill is that it's actually the 11th tee of a public golf course. Keith took a picture of the sign out front, letting everyone know to head for the 11th tee, but there wasn't much visual interest there.

Much like Keith's contrast of the "No Dumping" and the trash, I really liked the idea of the tee sign juxtaposed with the snow and the sleds. However, more like the sledding sign, I think the angle of the tee sign made it hard to take an interesting picture.

By Tuesday evening, Keith still had nothing. He'd tried taking a few pictures downtown, but didn't get anything he liked. We were heading to a friends' house for dinner, so Keith swung by the small, independent movie theater near our house. Eleanor and I waited in the car for about 3 minutes while Keith hopped out, took 6 pictures, and got back in the car.

And there you have it! The 5th idea, on Tuesday night, finally gave Keith something to work with. Here's the final shot.