Sunday, November 30, 2008

Twelve Gifts (by way of introduction)

I've been working on your Christmas present for weeks. Seriously.
December is all about presents. And I'm almost ready.

None of these have to do with super-cute wrapping ideas or crafting (because I suck at that). But Christmas is about gifts -- culminating, of course, in wise people bestowing precious offerings to the Lord and God giving all of us the Greatest Gift of All. So I've been reflecting on all the gifts I've given and received over the years and selected my absolute favorites. And I'm sharing them with you here.

Some salient patterns emerged regarding these favorite gifts. Amazingly, all of them can be shared, in one form or another. And none of them came from The Mall. The other amazing thing that surfaced in my present-ponderings was that I have far more than twelve favorites...complete with the stories to go with them. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. So, as my blog runneth over but my time runneth short (and no, I'm not starting NaBloPoMo a month late) I'm limiting these to twelve. And maybe I'll save the rest for next year!

Here are my twelve favorite gifts, each one my gift to you.
I hope you open and treasure every one.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sluffing Away the World's Hunger

The school alerted me to a potential attendance crisis this past week. Apparently, although our son earned B-pluses in all his afternoon classes, he was absent too many times to receive credit for his work. Oh, dear. And he's headed the same direction this term. Not pretty. 

The district attendance policy is psycho-strict. Don't get me wrong -- I believe in attending class. (I'm a teacher, for heaven's sake!) But they have this crazy point system where, for example, if he were out sick for four days, even with a note from me, he would lose credit for the class if he got even one tardy. And if they're more than ten minutes late, it counts as an absence. (Which only encourages kids to sluff, in my opinion.) The only thing that won't dock them points is a doctor's note...but you don't take your kid to the doctor for a sore throat or diarrhea...or most other things, for that matter. So, while I admit my kid has made some entirely bad choices a few times...well, the district disincentives have also contributed.

But his counselor is this amazingly supportive and understanding woman who has been emailing me almost daily since this came to a head. Toward the end of last week she forwarded me an email regarding the school's Food Drive (hint, hint). They offered to wipe a tardy off your record for every 15 cans of food brought in, and promised an absence removed for every thirty cans.

So I had MagicMan add up all his absences and tardies, found the cheapest food bargain in town, and took him shopping (with his own wad of cash, of course.) The grand total required? 585. That was not a typo. Five hundred and eighty-five. I seriously thought I was going to pee my pants laughing right there in the soup aisle just contemplating both the desperateness and the ridiculousness of this adventure. But we pulled it off, 585 cans and a hundred and thirty dollars later. All delivered to the school by 4th period. It literally filled up my whole SUV! There was so much we had to make multiple trips carrying case after case on a hand-truck dolly this morning. (I felt like I Love Lucy and the double-your-money bean scam...hilarious!).

So my son sluffed enough school to feed a third world country. A dubious honor. But somehow I think he learned something. And gave something more than he would have otherwise. And grew a little in the process. 

Not bad for one day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

SO NOT Fair! Yet strangely grateful.

So here's the long and the short of it.
I spent the past few days prepping for an Art Fair on Saturday.
I spent hours and hours putting notecards in boxes and framing little pieces like this. And this.  And this.

I literally stayed up all night Friday getting the stuff ready. 
Went to bed at 5:20. Got back up again at 6-something.
My adorable husband drove me all the way up to Salt Lake and helped me set up (so I wouldn't fall asleep on the road.)

We walked in and I knew it was a bad idea. No, make that a disaster.
This was not a fine art fair. It was a multi-cultural crafts fair. People were selling things like soap and jewelry and aprons and...well, NOT paintings.

You know you've hit an all-time low when the top selling item is in the booth next to you: kiln-melted liquor bottles selling as hors d'hoevres trays...and/or "wall art." yikes.

Now for the grateful part:
I DID sell a few items (mostly notecards). And I got some great tips about selling my art on eBay. But here was the best part of all: I got to take a mid-day nap. Gratefully, there was another artist-friend there, old enough to have grown children and a big, empty house, who decided I needed a nap. She took me home and put me in a quiet bedroom (all joyfully decorated from floor to ceiling in eggplant purple and lime green...these are the digs of a very funky artist!). I slept for about 90 minutes, and woke up feeling completely rejuvenated...but best of all, pampered and cared for.

This all reminded me of my dear friend Barbara, whose house in the hills above Pasadena became my occasional Napping House. Barbara provided those few delicious naps by recognizing I was beyond exhaustion, then pulling out some lovingly tucked-away dolls and Legos for the children to play with (and occasionally even offered them a cool dip in the pool) while I slept. My friend Barbara has since become synonymous in my mind with all things comforting and nurturing: Gentle conversation. A neck rub. A piece of chocolate cake. And a handful of well-placed naps. 

So, while I didn't become the overnight sensation of the art world at this poorly attended fair/fiasco...I found myself feeling grateful for a new Napping House, a new nurturing friend, and a chance to reflect on an old friend as well. If I could send you all a Thanksgiving wish, it would be for a caring and observant friend, a cozy, quiet corner, and a nap!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Panic and Surviving the Surreal

My dad and I were toying with the idea of driving to Southern California last weekend, until he realized he had already scheduled a road trip to southeastern Utah.  It ultimately worked out best for me to stay home. But I was happy that Dad got a chance to get away.

Now for the panic portion of our program:
It's never good when the phone rings in the middle of the night. It was my brother, sounding anxious. "Have you heard from Dad?" he asked.  My brother (who lives with my dad) was calling at 3:30 a.m. to tell me that Dad was supposed to get home on Saturday night, and he was scheduled to teach on Sunday, but he never made it back. He said he woke up in a panic and realized Dad still wasn't home, a day later than he was expected. He was so distraught he even called the Highway Patrol, who told him there were a lot of accidents between here and Monticello, but they hadn't notified all the victims' families yet. That was helpful. (NOT.)

I am not a worrier. I felt no sense of impending doom. And I can usually trust my gut pretty reliably. So the steady older sister in me dutifully tried to explain it away. "He probably just decided to stay an extra day and forgot to tell us." "Maybe they just don't have any cell reception out there in the middle of nowhere." "If you think you can get back to sleep, let's make a few more calls in the morning."  He sounded okay with that, but then i couldn't get back to sleep. For the rest of the night I tossed and turned and ruminated. By the time my alarm went off I was in some sort of Twilight Zone...the space between waking and sleep, dream and reality, where you barely remember what's real and what's in your imagination. It was strange to start the day for the first time in my life wondering whether my dad was still alive.

It reminded me of the posts from Luann last summer when her grandpa disappeared for 30 days. That strange world of the unknown is not one I like to inhabit. I prefer to stand on more solid ground. But I had to get up and teach my class, in a dizzying fog that teetered between substance and surrealism. Not my best teaching day, to put it mildly. (Never mind that I met the dean in the parking lot, only to discover that the palette I was carrying had leaked orange and red paint all over my white shirt.) One can only hope to survive with a shred or two of dignity on a day like this.

In the car on the way home I started to fall apart. I broke out in audible sobs, finally confronting the mere possibility that my dad may have met his demise on the road over the weekend. The not knowing almost made it worse. To grieve or not to grieve? Now there's a question. And I'm sure the fact that I had just a couple of hours of sleep didn't help. At all. The once comforting thought I had is that I have no regrets. My dad and I have a great relationship. The last time I saw him we went hiking, and then I took him to UVU to see my students' paintings. We had a great time together. He's one of my best friends. So, truly, no regrets.

I ran in and checked the answering machine as soon as I got home. Hopefully Molly or somebody had some updated information for me. And sure enough, there was a shaky but audible message from Dad: "I'm on the top of an 8500-foot-plateau in Colorado. Having a great time. Please let Ben know I won't be home again tonight, but I'll get there tomorrow." So there it was. He was alive. In Colorado. Nobody knew. But at least he's okay. Turns out he and a buddy visited some old ranchers who owned this amazing property out in the middle of nowhere and invited them to stay in both of their ranch houses (one in Utah, another in Colorado) for a couple of days each.  

It took me the rest of the night to recover--both from the physical exhaustion, and from being emotionally drained. Even though I knew everything was okay, I still felt fragile, vulnerable, completely spent. 

Today was better. Dad came over with some Anasazi beans to share, told stories of their adventures, and best of all was completely excited and rejuvenated by all the sights. Said he saw two thousand paintings waiting to be made. That is huge. I hate to say it, but I think it was worth the worry.

Above: an old photo of the mountain flanking the ranch where they stayed. Notice the horse's head Mother Nature carved out of the center peak.


Here is just one of the many reasons I've been absent from the blog scene this month. I must say, I've missed you all! I have been feeling a lot of pressure to finish this painting for a competition in San Diego (which ironically doesn't open for another six months.) So I finally moved some mountains over the weekend and finished it up. Now this is submitted, and a few of my other obstacles have cleared up as well.  So I'm resurfacing, rather gingerly, and I'll be putting up a real post very soon.