Monday, June 30, 2008

A birthday diva, picking pics, hanging with Kelly and DSM Art Fest

June 22 when we got back from the zoo, Auchenbachs were there. Mom used to work with Julie when they both taught in Boone. Our parents have adopted the Auchenbach children like honorary grandchildren, and vice versa. Their oldest child, Jordan, is quite the athlete especially softball and track and she keeps her 4-H commercial ewe at our farm. Their son, Bryce, is into wrestling and track. Jenna is the middle girl, and she’s into fashion. She always wants to see my shoes and asks why I picked a particular pair to go with a particular outfit. The youngest is Jayden, who is chubby with giant blue eyes.

On the day of the zoo trip, my parents gave Jenna a present for her fourth birthday—a Disney princess dress-up outfit. She was beyond thrilled, especially with the pink marabou mules!

Since then, I’ve been working on pictures to submit for the Iowa State Fair. I’ve been wanting to do that for years, but never got around to it. I compiled my favorites into a file and had my family help me narrow them down. On Wednesday, I picked six of my favorite pictures and uploaded them to the Christian Photo web site. Friday I went to Des Moines and picked up my pictures, along with mounting boards and mats. It wasn’t cheap, but it I figure if I’m going to do this, I better do it right. Besides, win or lose I’ll end up with some nice wall art.

The next day, as I was exercising, Grandma and Grandpa Staker and my great aunts and uncles Bud, Lorene, Unkie and Helen arrived to visit. I got their opinions on my photos and mats. They made some suggestions and I decided I actually needed another mat or two.

That night, Kelly and I went out in Des Moines. We visited several bars and dance clubs in the Court Avenue area. While we were in the first bar, I found myself musing, “I know this place. Why do I know this place?” Then I realized it had been headquarters for The Fund back when I used to canvas for Sierra Club and Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Then I realized I had the same realization last summer. Hee. Some of the new clubs downtown are great. I love the mix of people and music. In New York different “types” hang out in different neighborhoods and bars. In Des Moines, everyone seems to come together. I like it!

I kept it in moderation and cut myself off long before it was time to drive home, then had Kelly give me a manual dexterity sobriety test. I passed and went home.

Sunday morning, Mom, Dad, the Staker grandparents and I went to church, then to Perry for Chinese food. It was delicious. Then it was time for me to deliver my four photography exhibits to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. I timed it just right. There were ropes that suggested a long line, but only two people were ahead of me. Matted photographs were in tall stacks all around the room. I had no idea so many pictures were submitted each year! I compared the giant stacks to the number of photos displayed at the fair each year and realized I’d be lucky if even one of my four photos was selected for display.

Sunday was also the last day of the Des Moines Arts Festival, so I called Jenny and Jessy (girls I lived with in college) to see if they wanted to go. They decided they were in, so I drove over to meet up with them. We rode in Jenny’s car, and she played cool indie music. The festival was in the Western Gateway, an area that includes a new library, a sculpture garden and some cool shops.

It was hotter than blazes at the festival, but the art was gorgeous, and we had a lot of fun looking at it, listening to live music, and longing for various art pieces we couldn’t afford. I began to despair that I’d never be able to afford cool art, but joked, “Maybe someday I’ll have an apartment with lots of art and no furniture.” The girls comforted me that I could have a beanbag chair, blow-up couch and inflatable mattress. Very mod.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Landon's birthday, Bice reunion and the zoo.

It’s been a big few days. Saturday was Landon’s Birthday and the Bice family reunion. Sunday was a special day at the zoo with J.P. and Rosie, the elephants.

My Aunt Sandy gave me a ride to Landon’s party. It was amazing to see that in the brief time since Jack’s party, Landon had gone from an interesting crawl (front leg bent, dragging back leg behind) to walking! He’s quite a charmer…friendly and willing to let anyone carry him around. I repeatedly threatened to steal him. His big brother Logan is frightfully cute, too. I told Megan she should book them as models. That’s how chubby-cute they are. They and their cousin Jack are just too adorable.

Landon opened his presents and munched on his birthday cupcake. Before long, Grandma, Grandpa, Sandy and I had to take off for the reunion in Woodward. Grandpa had to stop on the way to the car to breathe. Grandma decided to get the car and drive over to meet us half way. Sandy jokingly helped Grandpa to hike up his pant leg and expose a lovely shin to attract Grandma’s attention. She giggled and played along with our hitchhiking game.

By the time Sandy and I got to the reunion, most people had cleared out. Oops. Well, I had fun (and lots of desert) anyway.

Then yesterday was the zoo. Dad’s (great?) uncle Richard Vicker used to own a pony farm. He sold some ponies to a man who trains animals, including the elephants currently visiting Blank Park Zoo (J.P. and Rosy). The trainer offered for Richard and his family to come see the elephant show. The Vickers always treated Dad like one of their own, so they included us in their invitation.

J.B. and Erika don’t join in for most extended family gatherings, but this was one they couldn’t pass up. I spent most of the day holding hands with or carrying Brooke. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have many pictures of her. Oops. Someone said, “You know, some day she’ll see that you don’t have as many pictures of her and accuse you of loving her less.” Yep, carrying her all day means I love her less. Hee.

We saw lots of cool animals, including otters, black swans, penguins and sea lions. Then we went to see the elephant show. Rosy and her calf J.P. were so big and smart. After the show, the trainers came over and answered all our questions.

Then I saw that they were letting visitors feed the giraffes, so Mom and I took Courtney over. They’re her favorite animals. For a couple of dollars, they gave us a biscuit. We broke it in half, and Mom held Courtney and offered a piece to the giraffe while I snapped a picture. Then she offered the other half. The giraffe’s long tongue snaked through the fence and snagged the treat. Courtney’s eyes were SO BIG! Later someone asked Courtney what her favorite part was, and she stuck her tongue out as far as she could. “Oh,” I laughed, “Feeding the giraffe! He had a long tongue.” “Giraffe,” Courtney murmured, “Long tongue giraffe.” Hee.

Then we actually got to go pet the elephants. I was afraid at first that only the children would be allowed to pet the elephants. How, I wondered, would I finagle getting to pet the elephants, too? Luckily, it wasn’t an issue, because we all got to pet the elephants. The trainers told us more about how they got into training elephants and why they came to Iowa. They use reward training, and J.P. the elephant calf kept doing little tricks in hopes of a reward. So cute! My red skirt had ribbons on it, and Rosy kept grabbing them with her trunk.

Brooke was content to keep her distance, but Courtney felt a bit more adventurous and had Mom take her closer to pet Rosy. Unfortunately, at just that moment Rosy batted her ear, whapping Courtney in the head. Courtney was shocked: “Ear. Elephant ear!” Mom took her over to pet J.P., who was more Courtney’s speed.

J.B., Erika, Courtney, Brooke, Mom, Dad and I broke off from the group and walked around looking at animals. Brooke wanted to go see the jellyfish, but once we got there, she was scared. We ended up in the visitor’s center. Courtney was tuckered out, but Brooke was still full of energy, so she and I did some calisthenics. My parents were baffled that she was so bouncy, but J.B. assured them that she needs a lot of activity to wear her out so she’ll sleep at night.

Eventually, they took off to visit Erika’s brother and sister. Mom, Dad and I met back up with the Vickers for a little picnic. It was nice to get to chat with them, and I think we all went home exhausted.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jack's birthday and Father's Day

Yesterday was Jack’s birthday. Jack is the adorable son of my cousin Jenny and her husband, Sam. He is a cutie pie, as are his cousins, Logan and Landon (sons of Megan and Josh). His inchworm cake is in honor of his inchworm-style of crawling.

This is the kind of celebration I haven’t been to in years. Since I moved to New York, I’ve only been back for Christmas, a few weeks in the summer and occasionally a week in the spring. Usually I’m rushing around trying to see everyone (although this Christmas I arrived three days late and was promptly snowed in, so I was spared rushing around).

Being back for three months means I can go to most of the family gatherings and relax with my parents. It gives me a chance to feel like the new house is really my home. That said, I’m sure the summer will fly by before I achieve all I want to, and I’ll end up rushing around at the end.

Today is father’s day. We started off at church. Mom and I had assembled little presents for the fathers: “Happy Father’s Day” pencils tied with ribbons to a card with a poem on the virtues of fathers. Mom did a great job designing the card and picking out the pencils. People really liked them. Also, the minister has gotten his volume right. Christmas Eve I ended up putting Kleenex in my ears. This week it wasn’t necessary. Yay!

After church, we were invited to join Grandma, Grandpa, Jay, Dea, Jenny, Sam, Jack, Megan, Josh, Logan and Landon at Prairie Moon winery near Ames. Dad decided he wanted to stay home and do farm work and perhaps rest, but he told us to go ahead and go. We did, and had a lovely time. There was a three dollar cover to hear a local band play “new age” music (seemed like a standard jam band to me) and the price included a free glass of sangria.

I managed to get us a table under a skimpy tree (the good shade had already been claimed). Megan gave me some sunscreen so I didn’t turn into a lobster.

We had walking tacos (left over from Jack’s party), grapes, cheese, crackers and wine. My favorite was “honey moon,” a sweet, chilled red. Yum! Jack was fascinated by the bottle and tried to make a play for it. Logan and I played, and Landon let me take him for a walk. I had a great time. When I’m away, I miss having little kids around.

The winery found a special, comfy chair for grandpa, and grandma even relaxed quite a bit. Mom and I returned home happy and warmed in the sun to Dad, who was in the chair where we left him. He seemed happy from his day of relaxation, though he wished he’d gotten more done. Hee. Isn’t that always the way!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Floods, swimming and mom's birthday!

When I first got to Iowa, it was so dry that there was a little dust storm. Dad couldn’t plant his corn seeds because the soil was so dry. Now we have just the opposite problem. It keeps raining, day after day. Now we’ve got a huge flood, the worst since 1993…or perhaps worse than that flood. They’re calling it a 500-year flood, but the phrase is deceptive. The way I understand it, it actually means that there was a one-in-500 chance that there would be a flood of such magnitude this year.

Last weekend when we went to the wedding in Iowa city, we had to change our route for flooded roads. The flooding is worse in Eastern Iowa, but even in Des Moines, they’re sandbagging. Neighborhoods are being destroyed, but luckily major changes have been made since 1993 when the floods shut down the Des Moines Water Works, leaving the city without water. Cedar Rapids is in much worse shape, with 500 blocks under water.

I signed on with the United Way as a volunteer to help. They haven’t called me in yet, possibly because I admitted on my application form that I have asthma, and lots of the cleanup involves dangerous mold. Oh, well.

Our field is flooded, too, leaving several small ponds. Who knows when Dad will be able to plant? The only advantage is that I managed to snap some swell pictures.

I’ve pretty much given up on taking a summer job, but I’ve been helping Dad on the farm and spending time with my Staker grandparents. They’re in town for a while, and they split their time between our house and my Uncle Jay and Aunt Dea’s. I’ve missed them a lot. Grandma is in go-go-go mode…actually, it’s her standard mode. She’s got us all cleaning up and repairing antiques that survived the tornado. It was three years ago, but we’ve been busy! Grandpa Keith is really good with fixing furniture, and made quick work of it.

Tuesday I got to see the swim meet of my cousin, Hannah. Technically she’s my mom’s cousin Karen’s daughter (second cousin once removed?) but Karen’s parents (Unkie and Helen) helped raise me, and she adopted me as a little sister so I’m probably more like an aunt to Connor and Hannah. Anyway, Hannah invited me to her swim meet, and I had a good time watching her swim. She was great! After the meet, we went back to Unkie and Helen’s house. Hannah and Helen made me a gorgeous strawberry pie. It was delicious. Poor Grandma. When I got home, I told her they made me a pie. She got her hopes up, as strawberry pie is her favorite, and was so disappointed to learn that we’d finished it off.

Thursday, Grandma and Grandpa Staker took us out for Mexican food to celebrate Mom and Dad’s June birthdays. The food was wonderful, but my poor parents were forced to be photographed in sombreros while we sang to them.

Today was Mom’s actual birthday. She told me she wanted to do nothing all day. She also stated that, as it was Friday the thirteenth, she should stay in bed all day with the covers pulled over her head. I did my best to help Mom do nothing by making Dad’s breakfast, doing dishes and laundry, but before I knew it she was up and about. Mom’s not really the type to do nothing.

Then a guy arrived to fix the in-floor heat in the basement. He discovered that the system had been installed with an illegal chemical. The people who installed it won’t answer my parents’ call, so now they will have to sue to get it repaired. “See,” Mom exclaimed, “I knew I should have stayed in bed!” Mom loved the Michael Buble CDs I got her, but they weren’t enough to completely cheer her up after that.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Campbell wedding and my nieces' birthday!

When I was a child, it drove me crazy that my parents left my brother and I in their will to people I barely knew, the Campbells. They lived on the other side of the state, had several children, and even a slightly different religion (Catholicism). Why would my parents expose me to such upheaval in an already traumatic time? Well, Saturday was my second Campbell wedding, and with each one, I get it a little bit more.

A Campbell wedding involves many gorgeous people crying happy tears. The ugliest person in a Campbell wedding would likely be the prettiest person at a normal wedding. Not only that, the family is smart and funny and very kind. No one can have everything, so it’s tempting to be jealous and dislike them, but they’re so nice that you can’t. They also enjoy partying, which takes the edge of their perfection. Sigh. Such marvelous people. Their oldest son was getting married to a lovely blonde girl. The oldest sister gave a speech about a childhood game they played together, and made everyone weep.

The reception began with funny speeches. By the end of the night, my parents were boogying, and Boyd Campbell, father of the bride, was deep into his cups, as they used to say. He began telling stories about my parents back went Boyd and my dad were fraternity brothers. He also expounded on Mom’s hotness back then. I’ve seen the pictures. Mom was, indeed, hot. “I’m still hot,” mom later said. I replied that back then she dressed like it.

Poor Mom. I sometimes give her a hard time, because she tends to dress in clothing that is too old for her or too much like her students. Many elementary school teachers in the Midwest have a tendency to dress in loose denim jumpers and holiday sweaters. Sigh. Working with kids doesn’t require dressing like them. Maybe it’s my theater background, but I am a firm believer that how you dress affects how you act and feel. If you want to be a hot mama, and you feel like a hot mama, dress like one. I’m not saying she should wear provocative clothes, just elegant clothes that fit well and flatter her figure.

“I want you to look as good as you feel. Besides,” I reminded her with a laugh, “Guys gauge the way you’ll age by your mother.”

“Oh,” she laughed, “The true motives come out!”

Today was a birthday party for my adorable redhead nieces, Courtney Rose (2) and Brooke Noelle (4). All six of my grandparents, my parents, J.B. and Erika were also in attendance. The irls had a rand time petting Scooter (the mini-poodle), Hooligan (the cat) and—warily—Mac (the rambunctious Border Collie).

They also enjoyed the balloons, cake and presents. Brooke opened my present first, and I accidentally caused a spot of trouble. It was a large copy of Peter Pan, Brooke’s favorite Disney movie these days. She wanted to read it instead of opening presents, but eventually we convinced her. For Courtney, I got four books on animals. She loves animals, and flipped through the books naming each one.

It was so good to see them. I only wished they could stay longer.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mom's last day and Dad's birthday!

I went with Mom to work June 3. The school day began with the students filing in and listening to announcements. Then they sang and danced to a song from High School Musical. Mom taught a few lessons, and then it was time for the students to go to a talent show. Mom placed me at the back of the line, and I soon figured out why. Right in front of me were a couple of mischievous boys. I informed them that I, too, was a teacher. “Your name tag says ‘Visitor,’” one boy replied. I told him I was a teacher at another school, and gave him my teacher look. That convinced him more than any words ever could.

One of Mom’s students was a talented dancer, and another sang beautifully. I’ve never seen a third grader with such stage presence, and I made her day when I told her so. At lunch, the students all called mom and I for help opening oranges and cartons of milk. “Ms. Kiley! Mrs. Kiley!” They found mother-daughter teachers with the same name quite amusing. After lunch I sat down and drew pictures with them, and several of them gave me pictures to take home.

After they were all gone for the day, I began packing up Mom’s room. Next year, she’ll be teaching second grade, so she needed to trade books and supporting materials. I pushed Mom a little harder than she’s used to. Usually, she’s still packing up her room weeks into summer vacation. While she was turning in her paperwork, I took on the most daunting task: sorting her classroom library into its proper genres. (It’s hard to convince children to put books back where they found them.)

Mom kept telling me to stop because we were leaving. I would agree, but the moment she was stepped away, I started again. The other teachers were jealous of her assistant. (Me, too! The last day of school it was always so stressful to pack up my whole classroom, and at I.S. 318 you had to get it all done in one afternoon to sign out and get your paycheck. I would have loved help.) When I was 3/4ths done, Mom forced me to call it quits. Then we went to Sam’s club and shopped for all the upcoming birthdays.

When we got home, we wrapped Dad’s presents. After dinner we gave them to him and sang Happy Birthday. I think he liked his present. As requested, I got him a Journey boxed set.

The weather has been interesting lately, and I've been taking lots of pictures of Mom's garden.

Yesterday I awoke to a green thump at my window. How can a thump be green? you may be wondering. I'm not sure, but it was. I think I must have awakened a second before the thump, and I must have been looking at the window when it hit, and seen the green through my blinds. Just as improbably, I knew exactly what the sound meant, because I'd heard it before. It's the distinctive green thump of a frog jumping into my window well. Why does this only happen when I'm home? Ever since the one-eyed frog jumped into my window well last summer, Mom checks occasionally and never finds any. Some of you know that bees and cats and dogs like me. That's kind of cool, but frogs?

Today we celebrated Dad’s birthday with Ronnie and Alice Wicker, some of Mom and Dad’s best friends. Alice brought some gorgeous flowers and a rhubarb cake. We sat on the patio and chatted a long time, throwing and kicking the ball for our Border Collie, Mac. He was in heaven. All in all it was a nice celebration, and tomorrow we’re off to Iowa City for the wedding of my godfather’s oldest son.