Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MY MYSTERY MAN

This can't be good for a guitar.

There is an intersection that I cross at least a couple of times a day, usually more....whenever I go from home to work and back. It is a busy intersection with a four-way stoplight and lots of traffic.

For the past year or more, there has been a fellow - a man of maybe forty or so - standing on this corner playing the guitar, with a bucket for donations nearby. Obviously he is not there non-stop, but he is probably there fifty percent of the times I pass by, in all weathers and during most daylight and some evening hours. This is not a typical thing for Lansing, I must tell you - as it is in the underground walkways in Moscow, or the streets of San Francisco, downtown Seattle, etc. In fact, I've never seen a street musician here before...not even in the more "liberal" and "artsy" university town of East Lansing.

But, he comes with mysteries for me to ponder as I sit at that light every day. One, of course is why he does this. He keeps coming out there, so it must be lucrative. It is clearly worth his while, but how worth his while? Does he make a decent living at this? Seems unlikely....yet, he is clearly motivated to keep it up. And to be out there at all hours and in all weathers.... He appears to be completely rational, too. No "soloist" here. And he thinks about presentation; he offers variety. Sometimes he will hang a sign around his neck - FOOD. Other times a Scripture citation.

For me, the biggest question is - why there? I have seen him at two other, very similar - busy - corners. But does he ever go downtown, where office workers would offer a better traffic flow? After all, at the intersection, people must either roll down their windows and beckon him (thus interrupting the music), or someone in the car must leap out and run to drop money in the bucket.

So...here is the big mystery. Why would a musician, playing a rather quiet instrument, play at a busy traffic intersection that is for all intents and purposes devoid of pedestrian traffic? The first year I found myself wondering this.....and wondering....Is he actually playing the guitar??? And, if so, Is he any good at all??? I bided my time; I waited for summer when the weather would allow my window to be down, and there would surely come a time when I was at the crosswalk, right next to my mystery man..... I would hear him! And, yes. That day came. But, no, I didn't hear him play. The traffic noise drowned out any possible music. Which still begs the question: Can he play the guitar? Is he playing the guitar? Does he know he doesn't need to bother playing the guitar because no one can hear him? Just what does he know?

PS - I read this over and realize that I don't sound much like a loving Christian - rather like a skeptical curmudgeon (well.....see last post). Anyway, the other aspect of this is that the fellow does not in any way, shape or form seem downcast.... He appears to be of robust health, for example. His posture and demeanor is confident, not supplicatory (apart from the obvious supplication!) I just don't know what to think...... When Craig was still here, and he first appeared on that corner, we did put money in his tub one time. (Frankly, I see a problem with either having the driver leave the car or one of the children to leave the car to run over there in such a busy intersection....but is that an excuse?)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

CURMUDGEONLY CONSIDERATIONS


They LOOK good. Anastasia #8


I am as fond as the next mother. And - oh, do I ever enjoy seeing my children display their talents! More so than most, perhaps. (Ask anyone who was on the Irish dance circuit with me for years!) And then, I started actually liking basketball, watching Maxim play (though my husband coached it for twenty years of our marriage! Sorry, Craigie, I regret not watching now, I really do.) This winter Zhenya played basketball, and I got quite a charge out of seeing his natural talent shine - frankly, it is almost more satisfying seeing my adopted children's talents on display because I am more free to gush! After all I can take no credit whatsoever!

So....you would think that I'd love the chance to see Anastasia play volleyball! I thought I might! However....it turns out that a VB "game" among this league of third and fourth graders amounts to...... what? I hardly know what to call it. Travesty? Perhaps that is too strong. Joke? Maybe that is a bit snotty. Complete waste of time? Yes; it certainly was that..... I now recognize that VB must be quite difficult for this age group. Who would have thought? I would have voted that baseball and basketball would be much more difficult - yet I've seen children play these games - to the degree that they were both recognizable as the sport they porported to be, and games! (And fun to watch, too.)

How do I even describe this VB mess? To begin with, it seems to be nearly impossible for the girls to hit the ball. And since the game is all about hitting that ball, that doesn't leave much left. I would say that in the hour and forty-five minutes that I was there (I couldn't believe it either), there were maybe five reasonable hits of the ball. I noticed only two of those actually go over the net as well. Really! It was amazing enough that that a ball was simply hit properly! Forget the net! Most of the time the ball was missed. Sometimes the ball was hit - but into the floor. More often, when hit, it went up into the rafters. The action was such that when a ball was hit in some way that seemed at all like real VB, parents would yell and whistle. If the ball was hit and actually went over the net cheers and clapping erupted. Because, yes - probably fifty parents were in this gym watching the four teams "play it out", so to speak.

My first question was - why? Obviously the game is too hard for girls this age. Clearly the nets were too high. Was the ball too hard? Too large? Should perhaps, this game be introduced to middle schoolers? Perhaps some fun and lively after-school sessions intended to build VB skills might be organized....rather than this painful pretense of competition. With an audience. (Excuse me. Fans? Crowd?)

So, here is my curmudgeonly point of view: To allow children to think that they are in-and-of-themselves SO adorable, that adult people should spend significant time watching them do something that they have not yet prepared sufficiently to present to an audience, is just wrong. Those "games" were a waste of time. Un-athletic as I am, I am certain that I could have come up with an evening of simple games and skill-building exercises that would have done more to build VB skills in these girls than those "games" did.... And more than that! If only their poor mothers had been allowed to go home and cook a nice dinner, rather than waste nearly two hours "watching" such a ridiculous exhibition, that would have been far more beneficial not only to the girls, but to their families as well. (We ended up getting home at 8:30 with a bag of Wendy's.) What a miserable evening. And that was just the first of many to come......

I was similarly bent out of shape this summer. I signed Anastasia up at the local "athletic club" for what sounded like a really neat "camp". We were told that the participants would work up "High School Musical" dance numbers. I have always thought that Anastasia was a dancer in the raw, so on the final day I trooped in with the other parents full of enthusiasm. I really couldn't wait to see this. Now, in my mind's eye, I'd imagined the teacher dividing up the children into groups and having each group work hard on a spiffy rendition of one of the songs. They were only there two hours a day for four days, after all. I knew the result would be rough, but I thought that the opportunity to work on a dance number, memorize the steps, and practice presentation skills would be well worth the hefty fee and the annoying driving (twenty minutes each way for two hours, mid-afternoon). Imagine my horror - yes, really horror....when I realized that they had not worked up two or three well-choreographed numbers....but rather THE WHOLE SHOW. I think I can even say that there really wasn't anything approaching dancing visible. Just running around, confusion, walking, turning around and showcasing......nothing. There was one "number" where Anastasia had a "key" part....that is, she had been told to stand on a platform. Everyone danced (well ran around in a vague formation) around her while she - sort of stood there looking embarrassed. Right. She should have been dancing. With even a tiny bit of attention and encouragement/ideas I believe she would have been able to acquit herself fairly well, but what it looked like (and what I later found out actually occurred) was that she was told to "stand on that platform."

"Dear Mom and Dad, please come and see how I have wasted my week. See how I have been taught that I am SOOOOOO cute that I don't need to really work on anything or have anything to share - I just need to BE....and you will LOVE to come WATCH ME!" Wrong. Sorry. I'm a curmudgeon. I don't expect perfection. In fact, I actually expected to be amused, by the efforts of children who perhaps didn't have the talent, or the memory, or the skills to do more than try hard. But, I did expect to see that there had been some effort put in, that there was care, that there was respect for the audience, that there was some heart. That "trying hard" was a value.

I believe that a performance is a kind of gift. And, as such, it reflects some intention to please. Some effort. I also believe that an athletic competition should be "just fun" until significant effort has been put into learning the skills that might cause onlookers to actually be interested in the outcome.....until there really is some sort of contest. Otherwise it is play.

Play is wonderful. VB games when the skill level is zilch, can still undoubtedly be fun. "Putting on a show" when you pretend that there are steps and pretend that they are rehearsed can be fun. But can't we just let them be that? Play? Fun? Can't parents smile fondly at pick-up? Rather than teach children that nothing is something? That fluff is substance?

I'm going to go crawl back into my cave now and beat my children.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A BAD EXPERIENCE

I do not like spiders, and this is putting it mildly. I have a phobia. Over the years I have managed to master it so some extent...can handle small ones, small brown ones, that is, that don't jump. It is so bad that actually typing these words is causing a really unpleasant physical reaction, nausea, my heart is going faster. So, it is bad. So, I have developed expedients.

Vacuum cleaner with wand is my friend.

The other morning I got up for Korean class. 1:45 a.m. I come out to the laundry room, where the computer is, to prepare for class. Somehow (everyone in my family can attest to this) I actually have a sixth sense regarding spiders and I knew there was one in the room. Sure enough - on the ceiling. Oh, dear. The downside of spring!

I was not prepared with trusty Vacuum Cleaner with Wand. I ran to the hall closet to get it; Someone had tumbled it into the back, with parts disassembled, but I was quicker than quick n'er the less and ready with weapon in hand by the time I got back to the laundry room. Chair! Need a chair! (The rolling office chair didn't seem like such a good idea.) Got chair. Got VCwW. Aimed wand at offending visitor. Oh, my gosh!!!! The darned thing LEPT for the light fixture....but - oh! thank heaven....it was crawling out, another chance! I aimed the wand - again it FLEW into the lightswitch...on the third time we tried this maneuver, it dropped on a web a few feet down. (Have to tell you I am shivering and heaving as I write this.) The web drop - bad.

I try again mid air, spider drops to floor. I get my wand at the ready again...feeling a bit better about my chances now, with the spider out of the air and me off the chair. I position wand - the spider runs under the back door rug fast as lightening. Oh, here it comes! I try again. Again the spider seems to use paranormal abilities to fly away from me. This is awful!!!!

Then it came to me. I'd put the wand on the wrong end of the vacuum. I was actually blowing the thing around the room. A little adjustment and I was saved.

And I was really, really AWAKE.

And, no.....NO illustrations for this one. Ick.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

TRADITIONS, NEW AND OLD


Kate wrote about traditions......I am struggling with traditions, too.

I grew up in a VERY small family, but we had simple, yet valued traditions. Not as colorful as those held by many, I know, but valued to me. But my mom and I are the only remnants of my nuclear family (which had a very small nucleus!). She is of the personality that means these old traditions tend to make her sad [the down side of a spectacularly good marriage.]

Now my older children, who were "trained" in the family traditions, are not around, either. So the preciousness of so many of our little habits are lost.... If, for example, my Russian kids all dislike the traditional desert - do I force it on them, anyway? WE ALWAYS HAVE THIS - EAT IT OR ELSE!!!!!

So, with my mom opted out, and my husband in Korea, and the children looking at me with quizzical faces....by MY heart set on tradition - what do we do? I'm befuddled, rather.

And then there is church.... As I child there really wasn't any church-going (only a value-laden way of living). Quite the reverse, when my older two were growing up, we never missed ANY of the Triduum services (probably amounting to ten hours of church-going prior to Easter Sunday.) They were in the choir, the sodality and/or altar servers. It was busy for us all. Now I have five reluctant church-goers. So, that sort of takes the heart out of the enterprise. I have to realize that TEN hours is a bit much, but which hours are critical? and for whom?

This year I told each of them that they had to attend an Easter service and one other. Anastasia zealously went to the lengthy Holy Thursday Mass with me, and also the three-hour Easter Vigil. The boys, cleverly attended the forty-minute Tenebrae service on Friday and noon Mass Easter day. I hated negotiating about attending church.....yet even I can see that making children who didn't grow up with it, and who don't really understand all that much of it, attend hours and hours of church might be overkill. But, being an all or nothing sort of person it is so painful for me.

Tradition-wise....I decided to try to build a new tradition on Holy Saturday and I made hot cross buns. I intended to take a photo for the blog, but they disappeared too fast. I also added the deeply meaningful Holy Saturday Movie tradition. Honestly, movies are a true treat at our house, rare indeed, so this was special. The boys went to Fast and Furious, Nastya and I to Hannah Montana (which, I have to say I really enjoyed!)

On Easter day we had the usual "egg pick" (Sergei's word for Easter Egg Hunt) 'round back of the convent. Craig and I never wanted to allow Easter to become a holiday associated with "too much" - either gifts or goodies, so we took the most fun option, and have always had our own little Easter Egg hunt. Craig was always Easter bunny, until Lydia took over. [Anastasia wrote Lydia a letter begging her to come home this year, or who would be Easter Bunny?] Well, I managed it myself. I scattered chocolate eggs throughout the grass, hiding a few in trees, on window sills, drainpipes and rocks. And they ran around "picking eggs". I hope it is a tradition they like. No one complains!

And because I am really too busy with church to do much preparation for Easter meals, etc. our "traditional" Easter meal would invite scorn by most. Ham and cheese sandwiches, wrapped in foil and heated in the oven, a layered salad (with a beet layer as a nod to the Russians) and a buttermilk pie. [The BEST FOOD ON EARTH, in case you didn't know.] Well, some of the kids don't know, so rather than cast pearls before swine, I bought some ice cream sandwiches. (Though this is where my instinct was not only to cast pearls before swine but to hold the swine down and make them swallow those pearls like it.....or.....NOT!)

We have also a recent tradition of also celebrating Orthodox Easter to some extent, and that is when we'll decorate eggs, and have some more typical traditional foods. I might even try Pascha this year; I have a mold! Wish me luck on that one!

So things are not the same. It makes me uneasy, but traditions have to change and suit the moment. They are meant to give joy, and delight, not burden and angst. It is a struggle for me to remember that, but I think I did OK this year.

WHY MIDDLE SCHOOL VOCAB STUDY IS A GOOD IDEA

A priest friend told me that one of his parishioners greeted him warmly after Mass, effusively praising his homily. The following interchange ensued:

PARISHIONER: Oh, Father! You should have your homilies published in a book!

FATHER: (humbly) Oh, I don't know....maybe posthumously....

PARISHIONER: Well, I just hope it's soon!!!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TWO ENDS AGAINST THE MIDDLE


I have always been uneasy in the night. As a little girl, if I woke, I'd be overwhelmed with fear...of death, I suppose. But sometimes disguised as fear of someone breaking in, of murderers. It would be unbearable to be alone in the dark, shivering and wanting to cry. In Colorado, in winter, the chinook winds shriek non-stop around the house all night, with an orchestration of banging windows, doors, and other strange, ominous sounds. But I grew up in a very regulated household, not one in which you would turn on a light after you were in bed, or a radio. You were to stay in bed, sleep. Despite that clear expectation, a time or two I think, my fear forced me to wake my mom, and beg to join her in bed. My mom is a wonderful, perfect mother, but nighttime cuddling was not her forte. She would let me sleep on the floor next to her bed, though. But since my parents slept with the window wide open this meant the room was often frigid....so I'd curl up in a ball in the hallway outside their door, where it was cold enough! Unlike my children, who'd be easy pulling the blankets off any bed in the house to make tents or whatever, my growing-up household was not a place where anyone would dare do such a thing, so I'd lay on that hard, cold floor trying to cover myself with my little "cuddle blanket".

I grew up, and went out on my own but it took years before I gave myself permission to just turn on a light and read, or whatever. Quite recently I even gave into the idea getting up(!) of taking a warm bath.... making some warm milk, even watching some TV! But night has always been night. You are supposed to sleep. EVERYONE is sleeping!!!!! Perhaps, you could picture in your mind's eye (so you don't feel so lonely) that there are people on the other side of the world who are awake! But, for the most part you are alone. All alone. I have to laugh at myself. I bought a little book for Sergei when he was learning to read English. It is titled "God is in the Night" but it begins by explaining in page after page about how doctors and nurses are awake in the hospital at night!, people in airports are awake at night! policemen and firemen are on the watch at night! and God is in the night. Frankly, I found it comforting! And when I'd wake up at night I'd think of the fact that other people are awake right now! All this new-found comfort is really of very recent origin, considering I'm "getting on". It is funny, frankly, now I think (and write) about it. I guess it is all testimony to the very firm hold my parents had on BEDTIME.

Even with the "God is in the Night" book, I now know that my imagination was limited! Little did I know that people were up teaching via webcam at night! And when thinking of people being awake on the other side of the world, I was never able to envision so completely classes of sweet little Korean children sitting around tables practicing English, or funnier, older Korean children sitting in their computer labs studying English. And just the other day, one of my catechists (whose husband was laid off) shared that she'd gotten a new job, by the grace of God. She works nights at a nursing home, and is charged with sitting up by people who are dying. WAIT! I think that was part of my nightmare, not part of my comfort!!!

Anyway, one of the weirder experiences I've had lately involves the near-complete destruction of my understanding of night. For the past three weeks, I've been forcing myself out of bed at 1:40 a.m., doing my morning ablutions and teaching first children, then adults until time to get everyone up at 6:30. I get up very early in the morning.

But this past weekend, I was cramming for the Palm Sunday butter lamb sale. Somehow the volunteers I had last year disappeared from view, and I had to do almost all of the butter lambs and chocolate lambs and crosses all by myself. So I was up against it time-wise and stayed late at the office (well, in the kitchen at my office) stuffing the molds with butter and filling the molds with chocolate. In fact, I stayed until past 1:00 a.m. I was up very late at night. It suddenly struck me....but this is when I usually get up! It was a very odd sensation. I'd tied the two ends of the day together, as I tumbled, exhausted into bed at the very moment my clock, which usually wakes me up, gave its little click, passing the time when it, bidden, would have rung to wake me, but which that night said "Sweet dreams!".

For my readers who "pulled all nighters" (I never did, figuring that if I didn't know it by bedtime, I wasn't going to know it) or who have liked at some point to party all night, my sudden knowledge of the "day" as a continuum of twenty-four hours rather than as DAY and NIGHT will be laughable. But, frankly, for me it was quite interesting. Odd, strange, weird, creepy. Comforting? Will it be comforting, as I get up in the miserable dark of 1:40 am. to imagine all those who are just then going to bed?

I'm not so sure about that. At least it will be easier not to imagine that I am the only one up.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

SILLY, BUT RECURRING THOUGHTS...


So, yesterday I took the littles to the community center. After using the "facilities" in the ladies room I was startled to hear a cat cry out, and then! the toilet flushed unbidden. Wow! Odd sound effect. It was so pronounced that when we were in there again after swimming, someone else "finished" and I was alarmed by the "cat" again. Some strange problem with the apparatus, I guess ( or just its unique quality?). I went on to wash my hands and ! lo and behold! the soap dispenser was also automatic. That was fun! So I put my hands under the tap and...........nothing. The tap was NOT automatic. Neither were the towels.

So, this experience led to a recurring question. When they design public restrooms HOW do they decide what to make automatic, and what not? This first occurred to me on a cross-country trip when I realized that it can ALL be automatic! Toilets flush, soap dispenses, water flows in preset amounts, and towels roll automatically, or warm air blows at your [correctly aimed] gesture. But from restroom to restroom you get different combinations of automatic vs. "old-fashioned" do-it-yourself stuff. I honesty do not believe I have EVER been in an all-automatic restroom. Why not? The budget must run out. So choices must be made.

HOW are they made? That's my question! Someone designing the restrooms in the East Lansing community center had to have been more concerned about spilled soap and unflushed toilets than they were about wasted water or paper towel mess. Who? Why? Is there a committee that votes? My pet peeve vs. yours? Or does one person just get to rub his or her hands together appreciatively "Ha! No paper towels on this floor! Do you suppose there are fights over this sort of thing? I bet there are!

OK - if I could pick only TWO. I'd pick toilet and hm.......water. (Except my water would run longer.)