Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Like Father, Like Daughter

I can recall numerous occasions from my childhood of watching my father repair virtually anything and everything that broke. More often than not, it was a piece of farm machinery. Or in the house, it seemed he was continually monkeying around with the washer or dryer. (There were 8 of us kids...Mom needed a functioning washer and dryer!!)

Regardless if it was an intricate part of a combine or a wimpy toilet chain, Dad seemed to know how to work his magic.

I know he wasn't one to give up easily on a project if he ran into a snag or two. He has quite the ingenious mind and doesn't let a project go undone just because he may not have the exact part, for instance.

Well, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

Case in point: my Monday mid-day massacre.

A project that I thought would take - oh, maybe 10 minutes - turned into a 3 hour ordeal. And I think I can blame my father. Or at least his genes.

You see, a couple of years ago Rachel was given a bicycle. It was a little rough around the edges - rusty handlebars and seat, the once-likely adorable decorative plastic flowers that spun through the spokes were broken and cracked, and the right foot pedal had completely broken off over time, leaving her just a stump to push with her foot.

But it worked well enough not to pitch it just yet, and I had my eye out all summer as I garage sale shopped for another bike that would constitute an improvement. But to no avail.

Until Monday.

I was scoping thrift stores for some other items, and practically tripped over a pink and purple bike as I made my way down an aisle.

Hmmm. I stopped and picked it up off the floor, examining it for fatal flaws. Other than a flat tire, it seemed pretty good. And I liked the $6 price tag. Since I liked Rachel's current bike's tubeless tires, I thought, Hey, I'll just take this home and switch the bike tires and she'll have a great bike!

I didn't realize how foolish my thinking was until I got home and began attempting to disassemble the two bikes. Since neither bike was even remotely new, the nuts and bolts did not just glide off with ease. Rather, I fought sweat and tears (literally!) to disengage those wretched nuts. But one in particular was not going to budge. As I examined the piece further, I determined the part seemed rather unnecessary, so I ran for my wire cutter. Okay, so this tool was not designed to slice through metal of this nature, but I needed it cut. It was all I had. I wasn't about to let this little snag keep me from achieving my goal of a "new" bike for my daughter.

After all, my Dad never would have let it stop him.

After mangling the piece of metal that was keeping me from success, I pryed the wheel loose, easily detached the other bike's back wheel, and truly thought victory was mine.

I'm foolish that way.

Since now I had to get the wheel on the new bike...which involved the dreaded bike chain. Memories of my childhood immediately flooded my mind: I'm walking my bike down the prairie road to my house, sobbing a river of tears because that horrific bike chain, yet again, came loose!

The distinct action of rolling the foot pedals as you feed the chain along was much too difficult for a child to attempt...and as I was discovering this very afternoon 30 years later, a tad challenging for an adult, too! But convincing myself I was ever-so-close to a completed bike, I pressed on until at last that chain was intact.

Whew! I thought the hard part was over.

Again, foolishness.

The front wheel should have been a piece of cake, right? HA! My prior 2 hours of experience had proven none of this was remotely close to a piece of cake. Now I was just plain getting irritated.

Okay, maybe I zipped past irritated somewhere around the time I couldn't find the right size wrench-thingy to fit the nuts.

I had moved on to anger.

I kept looking at my watch. The time was ticking away and I was starting to doubt myself.

No. I will not give up. I can do this. It's a silly bike, for heaven's sake. This. Is. Do-able.

(I'm confident these are the same words that passed through my father's brain countless times on the farm.)

So I continue my quest for a completed bike. But soon I come to grips with the fact that it was not meant to be.

For I had an axle that was significantly wider than the axle I just removed.

Oh, this is not good.

But upon further inspection, I delude myself into believing...maybe, just maybe...if I can find a part that is both skinny and long (for I had skinny & short and fat & long...NOT useable.) I can still salvage this thing and my time won't be in vain.

So it's off to the hardware store! Though the sign may say "Ace," it wasn't first-rate for me. They didn't have the part.

But again, my father would not have stopped at yet another snag. The search would continue.

And so I drive to the bike shop recommended by stumped Ace employee.

Only the sign on the door screams "CLOSED." They won't be open until noon the following day. Unacceptable! My anger deepens. I'm closing in on rage.

I return home to finger through the Yellow Pages. Ah ha! I find another bike shop nearby. (I call ahead this time to ensure an "OPEN" sign lights the door today. Just like my father, I learn from previous mistakes.)

Unfortunately, my efforts to have a bike fully assembled by day's end would not come to fruition, for the part I needed was not in stock and had to be ordered. (But honestly, I was relieved that such a part even existed!)

As I came home and gathered all the nuts and bolts and other strange pieces to put away until a later date, I looked at the two bikes lying in shambles reminding me of my failure to attain my goal.

When I stepped into my house, I thought of all the plans I had for the was meant to be productive.

Instead, my "10-minute" project turned into three hours of frustration, pulling me away from tasks I really should have accomplished that day. And my rage curled up into despair.

But I am hopeful when the part arrives, it will be a much better day, and I will be able to whip that bike into submission.

If not, my parents will be here to visit in a couple weeks. I will show my Dad what I did.

And he'll kneel down.

He'll take a good look.

And then he'll chuckle.

Because he'll recognize a stubborn soul like mine.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Happy Fall! Er, I mean Winter!

As I'm standing over my bathroom sink, peeling my eyelids open this morning, I hear a burst of laughter.

And more laughter.

Okay, I'll bite. "What's so funny?" I ask my husband. "Look outside," he mysteriously replies between chuckles.

So I saunter to the hallway window.


And not just a little dusting like we had 3 days ago (However, I'm refusing to even label that as snow - it was merely a heavy frost. I like the land of denial. It's a happy place.)

No, this amount of the white stuff was legitimately a blanket of snow. My rooftop, the yard, the street...all solid white. I sigh and shuffle back to my bedroom to find my slippers. Unlike my husband, I'm finding no humor in this at all.

It's October 12, and I realize getting snow this early is not foreign to us North Dakotans. My sister's birthday is October 7 and I remember her celebrating several birthdays in a winter wonderland of snow. She was even born in one of the worst blizzards on record. So, I understand it's not a crazy concept, but considering the weather-year we've had, I find it rather insulting.

Consider February. And March. Mountainous piles of snow still lined the streets. You think Spring is bound to appear at some point. And it does...only to be squelched by a snowfall in JUNE. Aaargh!

But I'm hopeful. I am just optimistic enough to think summer will arrive and all the cold will be a distant memory. Then summer fails to arrive until sometime in...September. HUH??

Apparently we can forget about the season known as Autumn around here. It got so cold this weekend, the leaves vacated the trees in such a rush they forgot to turn color first. Raking up green leaves is reprehensible. One of my favorite seasons in this northern country is Fall because of the vibrant hues of the trees.

They're supposed to match the pumpkins, for heaven's sake!

And I feel jipped.

I'm obviously not alone, because as I drove - rather slid - down the street to my gym, I witnessed a man, bundled from head to toe, riding a bicycle. I thought he must have a death wish to attempt to navigate his way through snow and ice-covered streets on bicycle tires, but at least he wasn't giving in to winter. I applaud him, even if I think he's nuts.

The week's forecast is dismal, so if I see that guy tomorrow, I will probably pull over and offer him a ride. Like I said, Denial is a happy place, but it can get lonely...especially when everyone around you is facing the facts - the cold, slippery facts.

So now that winter is seemingly upon us, I do what anyone looking for a silver lining will do.

I pull on my brand-new sparkle-y snowman shirt (on clearance last Spring!), crank up the Christmas music, and start composing my Christmas letter for the year.

Because I'm still optimistic. I believe our Indian Summer is just around the corner, and then I'll be too enamored with taking jogs in the park and grabbing that last DQ treat (before they close for the real winter!) to devote any time to my merry message.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten

Apparently in kindergarten you learn that getting messy is a sin.

Every other Friday I get the privilege of volunteering in my son Caleb's kindergarten class for reading groups. It's 40 minutes that flies by, but is certainly not short on action.

Today, my "station" involved paint stamping with mini marshmallows (they're learning the letter m and their pincer grasp - hang with me here, people).

But these children were as distressed about the small smudges of paint on the tips of their fingers as I am with muddy shoes on white carpet.

Almost immediately, they all became obsessed with cleanliness.

Instead of challenging their minds with clever ways to learn the letter m, I was on frantic washcloth duty to cries of, "I need this paint off!" and "My fingers! My fingers!" as they shook their dotted fingertips my way.

Seriously. At this rate, you won't finish these painting projects before the marshmallows turn rock-hard stale and the paint turns to clay!

But if I wasn't eradicating spots of paint, I was guarding the marshmallow bowl with my life. Here's a tip: don't put little balls of sugar in front of 5-yr-olds minutes before they are due for lunch. It can get ugly.

One boy did manage to sneak one from the bowl, and in his haste did not see that it had been splattered with blue paint. Of course, there were several others that didn't miss that detail and soon the scores of children yelling, "He ate blue paint!" was deafening. The teacher's reply? "Well, the label says 'non-toxic' so we're good."

I love her.

But really, you can't help but fall head over heels for the little tykes. Is there anything cuter than a kindergartener with stocking cap hair? Or the child that is convinced you are as ecstatic about them going to a sleepover at Grandma's tonight as they are?

And I love what teachers can use to make a system work with little kids. There are four reading groups and today only 3 adults to oversee them. Thus the "Independent Reading" station is born.

Each child has a laundry basket, complete with fluffy pillow for comfort, to sit in and search for m words in a dictionary. (The kid/picture versions. Don't worry, the little Einsteins aren't sifting through Webster.) To look into that corner of the classroom and see five to six wee ones cozied up in their individual laundry basket with a book was priceless. And pretty funny, actually.

You're SITTING in a laundry basket, kid. That's just cool.

Eventually, after 23 "Yes" responses to "Are you Caleb's mom?", several yanks of the marshmallow bowl away from grabby hands, and gingerly slipping "Marshmallow Monster" masterpieces to rest in a drying rack, it is time for me to go. Somehow those 40 minutes wore me out ten times as much as the hour-long workout I did at the gym prior to my volunteer duty.

Teachers are gold. Seriously, how did their pay get so poor? They deserve the salaries of neurosurgeons. After all, they shape young minds.

And somehow manage not to lose their own.

On a side note, I read an article this week about teacher salaries possibly becoming based on merit. One "anonymous" teacher had the audacity to say calculus teachers and elementary teachers should not be considered equal for pay. (The assumption was that calculus teachers had the harder job.) My bet is "Mr. or Ms. Anonymous" wouldn't last a week in a kindergarten classroom.