The Battle of the Light Switch

We are staying in a hotel room for a few days. The room is nominally a suite. When you first walk in the door, if you don’t turn sharply left, you’ll run into the little kitchenette: mini-fridge, microwave, sink, coffee maker. After turning left, you enter the main room. There’s a couch along the left wall, a small desk and windows along the next, and two queen beds on the third. The fourth wall has a little alcove and a TV. The alcove has a sink at the back, a closet to the right, and the bathroom (shower and toilet) to the left, with a door – making it the only true additional room in the suite.

This room has a quirk. There’s a motion sensor light for the bathroom. You might initially think that’s handy. Get up in the middle of the night, it’ll light up for you as you get close. But there’s a few problems with it.

First, in the hypothetical middle of the night scenario, if you are particularly considerate of your roommates, you might want to wait until you are in the bathroom with the door closed before turning on the light, so as not to disturb them. Can’t happen in this room.

The bigger problem has to do with where the sensor is located. It’s not in the bathroom. It’s out in the alcove, next to the bathroom door. The first morning, as I took my shower, which included a thorough leg shaving, the light went off. I waved my arm out of the shower, not yet knowing where the trigger was. That didn’t work. I actually had to open the door to get the light back on. Not all that convenient when there’s shampoo running down into your eyes.

Not only is the location a problem, but so is the sensitivity. We both rolled over at the same time early this morning. Guess what? Yep. The bathroom light flicked on. See, that closet door across from the bathroom? It’s mirrored. That’s why opening the bathroom door was enough to get the light back on during my shower despite the door opening in and being on the same wall as the light sensor – the mirror reflected the movement. Our bed is also across from the mirror. So as the light in the room became less than pitch black, it was able to reflect our movement on the bed and trip the light.

There is a button you can press to force the light off but that’s apparently only temporary. I pressed it last night so I didn’t have to wait for the timeout to get a dark room for sleeping in. That didn’t keep it from turning back on when we rolled over this morning.

The sensor looks a lot like the ones at work, which I know can be programmed by certain patterns of pushing the button, but I don’t know the programming and I’m not sure the hotel would appreciate my modifications.

I guess a little tape over the sensor at night might do the trick. Some duct tape? We are at Destination Imagination Global Finals after all. Or, wait, like all DI folks, I should probably revisit my solution for improvements. Maybe I should just shut the bathroom door at night. Then it can turn on and off all it wants and I can still sleep in the dark. And wake my family up before I shower so their movement can keep the light on for me in the morning. Maybe that’ll work.

The Great Lizard Race

The lizard skitters along the road, no cares in the world. Sure, there are people here but they mostly leave him alone. Besides, they can’t catch him. A few of the little ones have tried.

A boy appears along the road. The boy sees the lizard. The boy remembers the conversation over dinner the night before. Specifically, the part about the lizards. His family had commented on how fast the lizards were. I bet I’m faster, he thinks to himself. And then, on the kind of whim that only young boys seem to have, he decides to prove it. He takes off running.

The lizard doesn’t know he’s been challenged to a race. He only knows one of the not-so-little-but-not-full-sized people is running roughly toward him. He picks up speed accordingly.

The boy steps it up a notch. He is faster than the lizard. He knows he is. He runs alongside the lizard, gaining ground. He’s winning! He’s winning! He knew he was faster!

Suddenly, the lizard leaves the boy in his dust. The boy doesn’t know what happened. He was winning. And then he was on his back, dazed and confused. He rolls over and struggles to his knees. He sees a rock nearby. He crawls over to it before attempting to stand.

Once on his feet, he sees a concerned woman nearby. “That was quite a crash. Are you OK?” she asks.

He stares back at her blankly. She asks again. He mumbles his response before heading off to find his mother.

At least, that’s how we think it happened. We have to fill in the blanks because my son Daryl, the great and mighty lizard racer, doesn’t remember anything between winning the race and the second time the woman queried him.

When he walked away from the woman, she assumed he was embarrassed and trying to act tough. He entered the room where his sister and I were working on our stained glass projects. He was sweaty and agitated. I could tell something was wrong but was unsure whether he was in physical or emotional pain.

“Mommy,” he started shakily. He looked back behind him and then turned back. His words came out in a rush. “I was racing a lizard and I ran into that white thing out there and… and… and… my head really hurts! It hurts so bad!!”

He grabbed his forehead and burst into tears.

Jane hurried to get some medicine out of her backpack while I gently moved his hand to check his forehead. There was nothing there. No bump or bruise or abrasion. I found a nasty line of bruising on his right forearm, but nothing even remotely tender on his forehead.

“You said you hit your head?”

“Yes. It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!”

This was not like him and I was confused. I glanced out the window. “What did you hit your head on?”

“That white thing out there.” He motioned vaguely out the window. I didn’t see a white thing that he could have hit his head on. I gently pulled him outside and asked him to show me.

He pointed to a white barrier, about three feet off the ground, that was essentially permanently across the road between the buildings at the camp and conference facility we were staying at.

“Honey,” I said patiently. “There’s no way you could have hit your head on that. Especially not at the same time you hit your arm.”

“Well, maybe I didn’t hit my head then. But it really hurts!”

“Maybe you didn’t? Did you or didn’t you hit your head?”

“I don’t know!”

I was confused and a little concerned. I sent him back to our room to tell his Daddy and then went back into the stained glass room to gather my things for my basketry class that was starting in a few minutes.

When I came out of the room, my husband and son were standing nearby and my husband was trying to get a handle on what happened.

“So you were chasing the lizard and then…?”

“I was racing the lizard.”

“Ok. And then what happened?”

“I don’t know. I think I hit my head.”

We exchanged glances. I ran my fingers through Daryl’s hair. He winced. I checked the back of his head, where I could see that a portion of his scalp was red.

“Did you hit the back of your head?”

“I don’t know.”

“What did you have for lunch today?” my husband asked, after checking the abrasion on the back of our son’s head.

“I don’t know.”

“Daryl,” I said sharply, getting worried but hoping he was just playing it up for some sort of perceived benefit. “This isn’t funny. It’s very serious. Don’t think that it’s better to act like you don’t know what’s going on. You won’t like where this is headed if you can’t answer our questions. So please don’t play it up. What did you have for lunch?”

“I don’t know.” Lunch had been less than two hours earlier. Each ‘I don’t know’ statement was delivered the same. He wasn’t getting irritated or defensive. He was just calmly and a little distractedly answering. This didn’t feel right.

“What did you have for breakfast?” my husband tried.

“I don’t know.”

“What day is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Shoot, honey!” I said. “Jane couldn’t tell you what day it is. It’s summertime! Daryl, what did we do yesterday while Daddy was at his meeting?”

“We waited.”

“Yes, we waited at first. But then we went and did something. What did we go do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You and Sissy and Hal and I. We all put on our swimsuits. What did we go do?”

“I don’t know.”

I looked at my husband. We were at least a half hour from the nearest hospital.

“I’ll take him back to the room and keep an eye on him,” he said.

So I went with Jane into our basketry class, where I sat down next to a woman who turned to me and asked, “Is your son OK?”

I glanced up sharply. “Did you see what happened?!”

“No, but I heard it. I thought he was on a skateboard or something – it made so much racket.”

“No, he was just running. Racing a lizard. What happened? Where was he?”

“Well, I don’t know, but I guess he ran into that road barrier. He didn’t get up right away. He crawled over to a rock first.” She would later decide that she was pretty sure he had been on the far side of the barrier, crawling under it to get to the large rock. This led us to believe that he had likely run into the barrier, flipped over it, and landed on his back, hitting the back of his head.

With a pediatrician and two nurses attending the conference with us, not to mention my husband’s own past emergency medical training, we decided that we did not (yet) need to take him to an emergency room. In fact, he seemed to be doing better that afternoon and soon returned to his own sketching class, with Dad in tow to keep an eye out for further symptoms.

For the rest of the week, he’d complain of headaches if he was too active. He felt a little nauseous the first day. We nixed his participation in the high-ropes course on the last full day and grew irritated with him when he reported a new headache after spinning on the tire swing “really, really fast”.

It’s hard to get kids to take brain injuries seriously.

But he rested as much as could be expected and limited his screen time and tried to take it easy. It’s been three weeks since the concussive conclusion of his lizard race. He’s doing much better.

And he’s learned to grin sheepishly when folks ask him if he’s seen any lizards lately.

The Great Elevator Chase

We finished breakfast our last day in Knoxville after the Destination Imagination Global Finals closing ceremony. Hal was eager to return to the room – actually, he was probably just eager to return to the elevator buttons. It must have been heaven to be the only child at the hotel all week (the other two being at the dorms with their teams) and having no contest on who got to hit the buttons.

Jane was now with us, preferring to ride home in our company rather than on the bus. The three of us full-size folks headed down the hallway to the elevators. Someone was getting out so we stepped in. But Hal was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Hal?” I asked, suddenly unsure whether I’d seen him run off specifically down this hall or maybe some other direction.

“He’s on the third floor,” my husband responded confidently. This didn’t sit well with me but it seemed reasonably likely that Hal had decided to make the journey to our room on his own. I entered the elevator and rode to the third floor. Once there, I stayed in the elevator while my husband checked the hallway. No Hal.

“Ok, I’m going back down to the first floor,” I said, pressing the button. Just as my door was closing, I heard the other elevator door open and saw Hal dart out of it. I stopped my door from closing just in time and, probably not in a happy or relieved voice, asked, “Hal! Where were you?!”

I was confused on how he could have gotten in an elevator before us and arrived after. Or if he hadn’t been ahead of us, how he could have caught up that quickly. And I was annoyed at how close I had been to searching the bottom floor fruitlessly until (presumably) being called back to our room.

Hal was equally flustered. He was obviously upset with us, and my apparent unhappiness with him was simply too much. He didn’t quite cry but it was obvious he needed a hug. So I hugged him, assured him it was all ok, and eventually extracted the rest of the story from him.

He had, indeed, headed to the elevators ahead of us. And he had, indeed, secured an elevator and entered it. He attempted to hold if for his slowpoke family but the door began to close against his wishes. He then tried to push the button that would open the door, but he pushed the wrong button and the door completely closed.

That’s when we walked up and the other elevator happened to open and deposit a family onto the first floor. They walked away and we entered the elevator, discussing the possible whereabouts of Hal. As our door began to close, Hal had managed to get his elevator to return to the first floor (if it ever actually left, I wasn’t quite clear) and to open its door.

It opened in enough time for him to hear us getting on the other elevator. He didn’t have time to catch our attention nor join us, although he apparently tried. Fortunately, he’s a bright and resourceful young man, who quickly returned to his elevator and arrived at the third floor right behind us.

It was a comical moment. One that Hal and I were both able to enjoy immensely after the stress of unplanned separation was overcome.

TBT: The Great Stuffed Animal Migration

I had a lot of dolls and stuffed animals when I was young.  I mean, a lot.  So did my little brother.  We had our favorites.  I had Julie, the wrap-around monkey puppet.  She frequently wore earrings, which really helped me out when I forgot to wear some to the lake shortly after I got mine pierced.  She let me use hers.  She also went with me when the day care center took us to see Gremlins in the theater.  That was good because that movie scared the living you-know-what out of me and I don’t think I could have survived had she not been there to wrap her arms around my eyes.

And then there was Jennifer, the home-made doll that the wonderful woman next door made for me.  And Jane, the knock-off Cabbage Patch doll.  And… Rufus?  A really big dog that was usually wearing a T-shirt.  My brother had LeMutt and LeMutt’s girlfriend Fifi.  I think LeMutt and Fifi were available in different sizes and we had a smaller version of LeMutt than Fifi.  Didn’t seem to bother us much.

One of my fondest memories concerning our stuffed animals was a trip to the lake one year.  I’m not sure how old we were.  Old enough (by eighties standards) to be home alone but not so old that we had put the dolls away.  Maybe ten and seven?

Anyway, mom had left us with instructions.  We were supposed to load a few supplies into the pop-up trailer and make sure we were ready to go when she and my step-dad got home from work.  We were strictly limited to two stuffed animals each.  Yes, Mom.  We understand completely.

Two animals each, however, was unacceptable.  We soon developed a plan.  The pop-up was basically already packed and closed down so no one would be crawling into it or opening it up.  It was a safe haven.  We started carrying stuffed animals out by the armful to stuff behind all the boxes in the trailer.  We got caught up in the adrenaline rush of the plan implementation and took nearly every single stuffed animal, no matter how small, insignificant, or unloved out to the trailer.

Some careful planning went into which four animals were in the car with us.  They had to be believable as the four we would most want, of course.  Rufus was the biggest problem (literally).  He was too big to hide in the trailer without risking exposure if the parents should perform a quick flashlight check before departure.  But he wasn’t likely to be one of my top two.  I agonized over this for quite some time before deciding to risk suspicion.

Still, there were still more animals that didn’t fit in the trailer.  By the time our parents got home, we really wanted to pull off a complete coup.  So while they were busy, we’d quickly and quietly sneak small animals out to the car in our shirts and stuff them under the seats.  We hid even more animals in our pillowcases and laid the pillows in the backseat, carefully situating them so the lumps weren’t obvious.  And then, when it was time to go, we walked to the car, each holding two, and only two, animals.

Looking back, I laugh at how much work went into hiding things.  As a parent, I can only imagine how distracted they were with everything they needed to take care of.  No wonder we got away with it.

We sat quietly in the backseat as the car pulled out of the drive.  Occasional furtive glances were shared as my brother waited for me to give the indication.  The key to success with the in-car animals was to wait until we were too far away for them to turn the car back.  But not too far that we couldn’t enjoy them!  Besides, we were really itching to reveal our hand!

Finally, I nodded and we each darted under the front seats to extract the animals.  We pulled them gleefully from our pillowcases.  Our mother looked back in shock.  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  Mom grinned and shook her head.  Success.  And we hadn’t even gotten in trouble.

One more hurdle remained.  When we got to the lake, they began to raise the trailer.  (A pop-up trailer has a roof that winds up and two beds that slide out to leave you with a big open space in the middle.  Many have a kitchen and table in them.  Ours was a very basic model – just the two beds.  All of our towels, dishes, etc. were stored in Avon boxes in the floor.)  They let down the door.  They stepped inside.  They saw the animals.  We shrieked in delight.

Mom was not quite so forgiving this time.  Then again, it was so over-the-top ridiculous that after a brief expression of anger, she just shook her head in disbelief.  Then she said that every single last animal had to fit on our bed.  Every single one.  It was a challenge to do that and still have room for us but we pulled it off.  Mom couldn’t understand why we wanted so many stuffed animals at the lake.  It wasn’t the having them there that we wanted – it was the getting them there.  To this day, it remains one of our best cooperative acts of subterfuge.

I still have “the big three”: Jane, Jennifer, and Julie.  My kids found them in the closet one day and they came back to life (Woody and Buzz would love to know that).  Only, despite my insistence, they aren’t named Jane, Jennifer, and Julie anymore.

I’d like you to meet, from left to right, Shirley, Ginger, and… Mr. Muffets.  That last one has taken some getting used to.


Seeing the Sights Solo

I was excited about my day in London.  I had studied a map, looked at a guide book, and talked to a few people who had been there.  I had my plan.

I rode the subway from Heathrow airport to Hyde Park station in downtown London.  I didn’t look at my phone during the ride because it was to serve as my camera and I was very concerned about the battery going dead.  Instead, I immersed myself in people watching.

My mother-in-law says I should engage people in conversation wherever I am.  This is a talent of hers and it has brought her many delightful experiences, but it’s simply not me.  I’m not overly sociable, particularly with strangers; I find small talk tedious; and I’m very sensitive to those people who really just want to be left alone and find people like my mother-in-law obnoxious.

So I sat and watched for the 45 minute ride.  I noticed that no one was on their phones.  With only a couple of exceptions, they weren’t talking to anyone either.  Most were sleeping or reading or staring off into space.  There was a fun guy in dreadlocks and a rainbow knit top hat, who I gather drives a bus around the airport.  He and the flight attendant talked and laughed most of the way.  The woman across from me answered her phone at one point and I was fascinated to see that the inside of her arm and palm were covered in Mehndi (intricate henna tattoos).

The German family that boarded shortly after me was entertaining.  The kids were trying to play a travel sized Connect Four.  But it was only 4 spots tall by 5 spots wide which made it just about impossible for either to win.  I couldn’t help but think the rules should have been changed to “connect three.”

Eventually, I was off the train and heading out into a beautiful park in London.  I checked the map in my guidebook, started walking, and marveled at all the statues and arches and big trees and double decker buses.  As I approached Buckingham Palace, I was surprised at the number of people standing around.  I managed to get to about the third row of people on an obscure stretch of fence and realized that everyone was waiting for the changing of the guard.  After waiting for five or ten minutes, I realized that a) I had no idea where exactly the ceremony would take place and b) it was still forty minutes until showtime!

Shocked at how many people were willing to wait that long (thousands of people!) and fully aware of how quickly my day would fade, I moved on.  Checked out Westminster Abby, got all choked up and pensive when I saw the MLK statue, bought a tote bag for my husband, and walked on.

I rounded the corner and got a full, perfect, beautiful view of Big Ben.  It struck my already emotional being that this – this view was the one thing my ten year old son wanted from me.  I was grateful for the sunglasses that hid the teary eyes.  I marveled at how raw my emotions were.

I checked out the Parliament buildings, peeked down Downing Street, looked at the “Eye” of London, and made my way toward St. Martin in the Fields near Trafalgar Square.  I am a person who usually worries what people think.  Stopping to take pictures of random non-significant stuff was challenging as I thought people would find me crazy.  To steel myself against caring about what they thought had the unintended consequence of drawing me further within myself.  I was my own bubble floating down the street through crowds of people.

I ate lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt under St. Martin in the Fields.  This was when I was first struck with a strong sense of loneliness.  I’ve heard before how hard it is to eat in a restaurant by yourself.  It is completely true.  I found myself wishing I had brought my Kindle.  I had positioned myself at a two chair table such that one side of me was up against a pillar, which felt sheltered and secure.  Unfortunately, this meant my back was to most of the dining room, severely restricting my people watching opportunities.  I saw another woman eating by herself and idly considered joining her.  Fears that she wanted to be left alone or that she was expecting someone stilled me.

When I left the Cafe, I noticed a wall outlet near the gift shop so decided to plug in my phone.  That tied me to the general area and left me with nothing to do.  I found myself wishing I had brought my Kindle.  Then I noticed people bringing some interesting stuff over to a nearby table.  I wandered over to where they had come from and saw that you could pick out a metal etching and do a wax rubbing of it for as little as 3.50 pounds.  Something to do while the phone charged and a cool souvenir!

I picked out a dragon and the gold and dark red wax sticks and settled into the task.  I seriously think this might have been my favorite part of the day.  I saw the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, Sherlock Holmes’s residence, the Millennium Bridge, and all those places already mentioned and more, but sitting at a table rubbing wax on a dragon etching was probably the best part.  I was doing something.

I saw all those wonderful places but had no one with whom I could turn and remark on it.  I started to feel like I was simply documenting the sights to take back and show my family.  I was checking off my list.  And I was getting more and more isolated in my head.  It didn’t necessarily bother me.  It just felt so incredibly strange!

I was sore and tired by about 4:00 in the afternoon.  I would push myself for another 5 hours before crawling back into my hotel room.  I made the wonderful call to visit King’s Cross station… at rush hour!  All so I could see what?  A non-existent place out of a children’s book?

I was so tired that I didn’t even notice the right place and wandered aimlessly around platforms 9 and 10, taking pictures of random bits of wall to tell my kids “See? There’s platform 9 3/4!”  But on my way out, I happened to notice a crowd.  A long line of about 50 people or so.  All waiting in line to take their picture going through the gate to Platform 9 3/4.

There was a luggage cart, suitcase, and owl cage all cut in half and fastened against the wall.  Two employees stood there with a wand and a scarf from each house.  When it was your turn, they wrapped your neck in the scarf of your choice, handed you the wand, and held the scarf out behind you so it’d look like you were running.

It was cool.  I didn’t get in line though.  For one thing, I was done waiting in lines.  And I was extremely tired and my lower back felt like it was on fire.  And I had no one with me to take my picture when I got to the front.  Sure, the employees likely would have done it, but… it suddenly felt particularly lame for a 40 year old woman traveling by herself to wait in line to pretend like she was heading to Hogwarts.

So I moved on.  Well, after taking pictures and video of some folks doing it so my kids could see.  They loved it.

People ask me if I had a good time in London.  I reflexively say yes.  In reality, I’m not sure.  I saw a lot of neat things.  I’m glad I was there.  I felt extremely accomplished to have navigated the subway and everything else all by myself.  It was a growth experience. I’m a better person for it.  I feel lucky.  I’m just not sure I had “a good time.”  For that, I think I would have needed my family.  Or at least someone to walk around with.

Oh, The People You Meet

When you are sightseeing by yourself, as I was last Friday, having extended my time in England by a day so I could checkout London, you really don’t have anyone to talk to, except for strangers.  Most strangers are busy doing their own thing – especially on the subway.  I didn’t see anyone making small talk there!  They either talked to the person they traveled with or were silent.  I, being alone, was silent.

However, sightseeing and being unfamiliar with an area forces one to speak to at least a handful of strangers to get around.  My first was just a block from the hotel at the bus stop.  I had been told to catch the U3 bus to the airport where I could then get a day pass for the London Underground.  The person at the front desk had been kind of vague about where to go.  And I didn’t know how to read the signs at the bus station.

There was a British family standing there so I walked up to the woman who was probably the grandmother and asked if the U3 bus stopped there.  She told me that it didn’t and that I needed to walk down to the other one.  As I walked away, she suddenly called out (calling me “Darling”) and said she was mistaken – the bus did indeed stop there.  I know it was a little thing and she probably calls everyone “Darling” but it still made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

The next was a fun guy with dark skin and maroon hair (I mention the dark skin only because it made the maroon hair that much more striking).  He’s the one that advised me to buy a day pass that didn’t allow me to ride until 9:30, which was a little over half an hour away.  The advice saved me nearly $15.

After that, there was no conversation.  Except with the people taking my money at the various gift shops and at lunch.  I just walked around on my own.  More on that experience and its effect on me tomorrow.  Suffice it to say for now, it was a quiet day.

Until the end.  Tired and sore, I began to make my way back to the airport.  Problem was that I hadn’t eaten dinner and didn’t want to pay airport or hotel prices.  So I stopped at the Acton Town station and walked to where you run your tickets to leave.  I decided to ask the man working there whether there was any place to eat near the station.  He said no.

“But if you just go one more stop,” he said (referring to a different line than the one I needed to go back to my room), “there’s a good Tex-Mex restaurant.”

I was too tired to laugh but managed to tell him, “I’m from Texas.  I really don’t want to eat Tex-Mex while I’m here.  I’d rather have something local.  I mean, it might be interesting to experience your take on Tex-Mex, but…”

“Well,” he said, “if you like Curry, there are several Indian Curry Shops across the street.”

“I’m burned out on Curry now.  Is there not something on the way back to the airport?  Maybe some fish and chips or something?”

He quietly named off the stops to himself, shaking his head at each one.  One stop, he told me he wouldn’t send me to.  “I wouldn’t want to send you to the Detroit of England,” he said apologetically.

He finally said that if I’d be willing to go just one more stop on that out-of-my-way line, there’d be a whole host of restaurants to choose from.  So I reluctantly dragged my aching body back onto the subway train.

When the doors opened at the first stop, I seriously considered just getting out and trying the Tex-Mex place.  But my resistance to eating Tex-Mex along with my physical desire to not get up out of my seat and my growing reluctance to sit in a busy restaurant by myself kept me planted.

I had no choice but to get off at the next stop, being the end of the line.  On my way out, I noticed a pastie shop.  When I looked in their glass case, I saw “Cornish Pastie” and thought to myself, “Hey, now.  That’s local and I’ve never had one.”

When I found out the flaky pastry was stuffed with seasoned meat, potatoes, and onions, I exclaimed that that was exactly what I was looking for.  The price (under 5 pounds) was also right.  She asked if I wanted her to put it in a bag.  I started to say no, that I planned on sitting at one of their tables, when I realized she was offering to solve several of my problems.  I was past ready to be back in my room and I didn’t want to sit and eat by myself.

I was so excited about my purchase (silly, I know, but in my defense, it’d been a really long and tiring day), that I took the time and steps to return to the ticket man at Acton Town.  I proudly held up my bag and said, “I just wanted to thank you for recommending I go on to Ealing Broadway!  I got a Cornish Pastie and I couldn’t be happier!”

“Oh, honey!” he exclaimed. “That’s not dinner!”

“Oh, it’s exactly what I wanted,” I countered. “It was something local, inexpensive, already prepared, and something I could take with me.  Perfect!”

He looked doubtful but reluctantly said I was welcome.  I then realized that I didn’t know which terminal the subway had taken me from that morning.  That knowledge was important in that it was two different trains and only one of them was near the bus station that would take me on to the hotel.  I think the man was starting to worry about me but we talked through it and I took an educated guess and chose wisely.

Back at the airport, I caught the bus that would return me to my hotel.  I saw us go by the hotel but since we were on the other side of the street, I assumed that I would need to wait until it looped back around.  I saw a young woman looking anxiously at a map to the same hotel.  I told her that it would come back around right about the time the driver stopped and announced something I didn’t catch.  She asked if we needed to get off and I said I didn’t think so.  The guy behind me gruffly insisted that we were to get off the bus now.

I soon found myself standing on a dark street several blocks from my hotel, on the wrong side of a busy, four-lane road, with a very small college student from Tokyo.

“Wanna walk together?” I asked.

And so it was that I ended my solo sightseeing adventure in the company of another solo traveler.  We made light small talk together and ran across the street when we saw a break in traffic.  It felt good to walk alongside someone.  All in all, those last two people went a long way to restoring my sanity after a full day of living inside my own head.  What a blessing.

Hide and Seek

Do you know what the single most common forgotten item is in hotel rooms?  I’ve heard that it’s the cell phone charger.  I’ve never had that problem because I’m quite anal when it comes to making sure I have that charger.  The phone is just too important.  It’s my communication device.  My alarm clock.  My sleep monitor.  My entertainment source.  My contact with friends.  My media outlet.  It’s very important… and thus its charger is too.

Still, when I traveled on business recently, I forgot to pack it.  Luckily, I remembered during the drive to the airport and was able to swipe the car charger, which is a USB cable and an adapter for a cigarette lighter.  Since most hotel rooms have USB charging locations somewhere, I was fine.

That meant that when we turned around as a family just three days later to go to a family art conference, I did not forget my charger.  I dutifully plugged it into the wall outlet next to my side of the bed, which was near the wall, and life was good.

Then Hal had a meltdown at the Wednesday evening worship service.  He had already hit at the water bottle his sister was holding and been warned that he was on thin ice.  Then he actually got up from his seat, walked past his sister, slapped the expensive SLR digital camera his dad was holding, and then looked at him to see how badly he was in trouble.

Dad quickly removed him from the beautiful by-the-river outdoor location, not to return.  I was to learn that Hal cried all the way back to our room, but didn’t struggle to get away from his dad.  Even stood in place (crying) while Dad stopped to talk to someone they encountered on the way.

Eventually, they got to the room and Daddy had him lay down on the bed with him “to rest” with vague promises of possibly returning once he calmed down.  He did finally calm down.  And fall asleep.  And somewhere along the way, perhaps before he was asleep, roll off the bed to the floor between the bed and the wall.  My side of the bed.

That’s where he was when I returned to the room.  Fast asleep along my side of the bed, with his blanket and pillow added for comfort.  I also noticed, as I prepared to get it out of the way, that my phone charger was not there.

I carefully dug around his blanket and his sleeping body.  I couldn’t find it.  I looked over by the table, where I had briefly moved it earlier in the week.  Not there either.  I checked the sleeping kid again.  I checked the sheets and blankets on our bed.  My purse.  The table.  The suitcases.  The older kids’ bed.  The bathroom.  The dresser.  I checked everywhere.  It. was. gone.

“Where is it?” I asked my husband, stressed.  He checked the kid and blankets again.  I felt I was losing my mind.  He offered to let me use his charger during the night and we snaked it under his pillow to my side of the bed.

The next morning, I asked the kids if anyone knew where it was.  As expected, I received blank looks in return.

“Look, Hal,” I said. “It was in that wall socket right there yesterday.  Now it’s not.  It’s very important that I find it.  Did you do something with it?”

Blank look.

“Ok, no one will be in trouble.  I just need it back.  Please.  If anyone knows where it is…”

“Wait a minute, Mommy,” Hal said as he scurried over to the space between the bed and the wall where he had slept the night before.  He mumbled something that I couldn’t quite make out as he lay prostrate on the ground and reached way, way back behind the bed and extracted my charger from that narrow space between the wall and the head of the bed.

I couldn’t believe it.  I kept my promise and didn’t yell at nor punish him.  You better believe, though, that I used the flashlight app on my phone to check that area of the room before we left Friday.  I never have before but it’s now part of the “make sure we haven’t left anything” routine.  At least when the kids are involved.  Who knows what they’ve been up to while you weren’t watching?

Trusting and Creating

As I said yesterday,we are back for our third year at a family art conference.  We  attend our art class for three hours each morning with optional mini courses in the afternoon, worship each evening, and  enjoy a beautiful location that allows for hiking, swimming, resting, and enjoying God’s great creation.

One of the hardest lessons for people to learn is to silence their inner critic.  We each have a tendency to compliment others’ work while dismissing our own.  Why can we see the beauty in other people’s creations so much easier than we can our own?

This year, the worship leader spoke about how our God is a creating God and since we are created in His image, we are creators too.  All of us.  We are all artists.  We all have that capacity within us.  She pointed out that it doesn’t matter how good your work is, how well received it is, how perfect or flawed: you are an artist, regardless.

We call people who have children parents, she pointed out, regardless of whether they are any good at it.  So, too, you are an artist, regardless of your skill level.

The idea here was to get people to relax and create.  And love their creations.

It’s easier for the kids.  They love what they create.  It takes years of effort on the part of our society to drive all that hope and creation and self-love out of them.  And if we can’t stop society’s effect, it will take years of attending events like this one to add it back in.

I chose to take stained glass this year.  It was recommended that I bring a pattern or picture that I’d be interested in doing.  My first thought was of Van Gogh’s exploding Tardis:


I was not surprised when I was told it was too much.  I had some back up pictures.  One was of the backside of a sunflower.  It was interesting but not nearly as difficult. That’s all relative, of course.  It might be easier than an exploding Tardis… but it was still an ambitious project.

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I put in a lot of hours outside of class.  Two or three afternoons and a couple of evenings.  There were 60 pieces, many of them tiny.  They had to be cut, trimmed, ground, fitted with copper foil around the edges, placed together and held in place by horseshoe nails.  (As a quick aside… do you have any idea how terrifying it is to hammer a nail right. next. to. your glass creation?!)  Then I had to solder all the seams – front and back, attach the lead border, solder it to the seams, and clean it all up.

I finished though and it looks gorgeous.

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A lot of people stopped by to check out our work.  A number of people insisted that this couldn’t be the first time I had done stained glass.  They didn’t believe me when I said I had never done it before.  This kind of reaction was, in my mind, both complimentary to me and healthy for them.

Other comments, which were also complimentary to me, seemed perhaps unhealthy for them.  At least, if you are looking to believe that we are all artists.  They would say stuff like “your whole family is so talented” – as if somehow being married to a potter made me more of an artist.  I know they were just telling me that they liked my work and felt I was talented.  But I couldn’t help but hear a tone of “well, we’d expect such work out of you… but me…”.

The thing is, I don’t think of myself as an artist most of the time.  I’m an engineer and a mother and a wife.  My life is full of non-art stuff.  I told my husband the other day, “I’m an artist one week out of the year.”  It’s this week.  At this conference.  When I can devote almost my entire self to creating something.

And that’s where the talent lies, I think.  In taking the opportunity and making the most out of it.  Removing the distractions and the self-criticism and just doing it.

am an artist… as it was described in our opening worship service.  I am not an artist in the way that most of us think about it.  I’m not more talented than the person across the table.  I don’t have some innate skill, some gift.  I’m you.  I go into every project thinking I can’t pull it off.  And every year I do.  And you can too.  You just have to believe in yourself.

So, please, do yourself a favor.  Go out there and create something.  Think and dream and design and build.  You won’t regret it.  The sense of accomplishment is worth all the frustrations and failures along the way.  Trust me.  Better yet, trust yourself.

Watching a Movie with 10,000 of My Favorite People

This past week, we were in Knoxville, TN for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance to children.

On Friday night, they were premiering James Cameron’s DeepSea Challenge 3-D documentary out in an open field.  They were targeting the right group of people.  The place was packed.  It was an interesting opportunity to observe human behavior, particularly when it comes to crowds.

We arrived about 30 minutes early to see a line disappearing out of sight.  We had come from a different direction and paused, wondering whether to walk to the end of that thick line or not.  We weren’t sure there was a safe place to stand as the line snaked down to a busy street.  We decided that maybe we’d just stand there and wait, not in line at all.

Plenty of other people were doing the same and still more were coming from the same direction as us.  Before long, a new line had branched off in the direction we had come from.  The leaders of this new line were sort of de facto merged into the existing line.  With the sheer number of people present, I didn’t find this to be a problem.  The new line was nearly as long as the original and there simply wasn’t room for all those people to trek past the first line to find its end.

A man in the original line, near the point of the merge, found it quite objectionable.  I caught his raised voice berating the family near him: “The line goes back there!  You need to go back there.  Fine.  Go ahead.  What a great example you are setting.”

I looked at the family, intrigued.  They weren’t moving to follow his orders and didn’t look particularly put out or embarrassed by his rant.  They just stood there.  On the one hand, he was technically right.  It wasn’t fair that they were closer to the gate than all those people farther back in the line.  On the other hand, there were already at least a hundred people lined up behind them.  For them to move would not resolve the man’s problem; it’d just change which people were benefiting from the split line.

When the gate finally opened, a woman started handing out pins to the kids.  As he walked by, he asked for one, actually, sort of demanded one.  She remarked with a wry, humorous rebuke, “Wow, you must be one of the University participants.  Your voice sure is low.”  He indignantly muttered he planned to give it away.  I couldn’t help but think that her non-confrontational rebuke of him had been considerably more effective than his attempted guilt trip of the others.  And also illustrated that any time we get up on our high horse, we are quite likely to be knocked off it.

We merged with the two lines shortly behind him but made it to the viewing area first, since he realized he had left his family behind and had to look for them.  We quickly grabbed seats on the edge of the front row of seats while people with blankets filled up the area in front of us.  It was a madhouse.  There had to be thousands of people there.

The people between us and the screen.

The people between us and the screen.

At first, there was a thin walkway between the ground sitters and us.  People walked through constantly.  The woman next to me began to get agitated.  “If they are going to do this through the entire movie, I’m going to have to move.  I can’t handle this,” she said.  “I’m sure they’ll stop when the movie starts,” I said.  I was frustrated too but her attitude was oddly calming to me.  She was being ridiculous and I didn’t need to join her.

She pulled her chair forward and crossed her legs, thinking it would discourage the traffic.  It did not.  Eventually, she gave up and joined her party on a blanket nearby.  Soon, a family with a towel plopped down in front of us.  (The number of hotel towels and blankets present was amusing).  People still walked by.  Then a group of girls sat down on a trash bag.  People still walked by.  Eventually, as I predicted, the traffic stopped as the movie started.  Some people still moved about but it was not particularly bothersome.

Before that, though, I saw a young boy, maybe 11 years old, plop down a chair next to ours.  He commented to us, gesturing toward the back, “I was all the way back there and couldn’t see a thing!”  He settled into his chair, pleased with himself.

I pointed to the large crowd of blanket sitters that he was now in front of.  “It’s going to be hard for them to see,” I said.  He looked back, disconcerted, and then moved his chair a little closer to ours.  Not my concern, I decided.

A woman and group of boys found themselves trapped in front of us and she asked if the vacated chair next to me was available.  I indicated it was.  She cried success and plopped two of the boys in it and then she and the other two inexplicably found space between us and the towel family.

After some introductory remarks and loud music, with everyone on their feet dancing and cheering, and a huge group selfie moment, we prepared to settle down for the movie.  A young girl was standing slightly in front of me, turning about.  She was looking increasingly worried as it became clear that the lights were about to go out and she was alone.  I could see in her face that coherent thought was gone, replaced rapidly with panic.

I reached for her arm to draw her toward me.  “Do you need some help?” I asked.  She nodded, apparently only needing that level of interaction to snap her back to reality.  She began moving toward the edge of the crowd where I saw a woman waving her arms over her head.  I pointed to the woman and the girl nodded.  Crisis averted.

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The view behind us (note the woman with her fingers in her ears).

The movie was loud.  I mean, extremely loud.  I watched much of it with my fingers in my ears.  I had seen how far back the crowd went though and resigned myself.  After all, if you sit in the front, you’ll see well but it’s going to have to be loud in order for the people in the back to hear at all.

A group off to the right was not so relaxed about it.  I eventually heard a hubbub over the movie volume.  People were standing and chanting “TOO LOUD!  TOO LOUD!” in an attempt to get it turned down.  I smiled at the attempt to mob control their problem.  I also smiled at the fact that they were thinking only of their own ears and not of those in the back.  I couldn’t help but think they should move if they didn’t like the volume.

Then the chair dragging child on our left started shouting at them to sit down.  This nearly had me laughing out loud.  Not only did he fail to see that one young boy could not possibly be heard over both the crowd’s chanting and the movie, nor that they were not directly impacting him at all, he primarily failed to see the irony of him trying to help the viewing angle of the people behind the standers while wholly unconcerned about the viewing of the people behind him.

As we approached the end of the movie, I wondered if some people would attempt to sneak out early to beat the traffic.  They did.  Not many but some.  The ones that cracked me up were the ones that stood, waiting for their group, blocking the view in the meantime before awkwardly squatting back down as they realized their group wasn’t ready.

All in all, it was an enjoyable movie.  And an enjoyable opportunity to sit back and watch people in a crowd.  My conclusion was that many people are inclined to get indignant when other people’s action negatively impact them while failing to notice neither 1) how their own actions impact others nor 2) how those people aren’t trying to be a bother.  For the most part, we are a remarkably self-centered lot, we are.

Trading Pins

As I indicated yesterday, we were in Knoxville, TN last week for Destination Imagination (DI) Global Finals.  DI is a program that teaches creativity, problem solving, teamwork, and public performance.

There’s also the notion of pin trading.  Each Affiliate (state or country) develops a pin or a set of pins that commemorates their participation for that year.  Some regions and individual teams or schools do as well.  People can buy pins from their Affiliate, including sometimes grab bags of leftover pins from previous years, and then trade them with people at competitions.

I first experienced pin trading at State this year (it’s not part of the Regional competition).  Last year, Daryl went with his team.  This year, I accompanied him since his team wasn’t with him.  He wouldn’t let me get more than a few feet from him and seemed tentative.  It was frustrating.

It was also very difficult to offload the dozen pins he had from his Region, since the market was flooded with kids hawking the same pins.  The same problem didn’t hold at Globals.  His first trade, he freed himself of one he still had in order to secure a Doctor Who Tardis.  The person was excited to get it.  He quickly offloaded all of them.  If we had only known!

It was also an interesting study in human behavior.  Part of me worries that the pin trading is a huge money making scam of sorts.  Only “official” pins are supposed to be used and they are all made by one company.  Nice tidy profit for them!

But as I watched, I saw a lot of benefit to the children.  They were learning bartering, speaking to strangers, being respectful, assigning value, making choices.  Yes, it’s certainly a money-making opportunity for the manufacturer of the pins, but I think the kids learn a lot from it.  And at our State competition, they separated the elementary kids from the older kids to ameliorate the problem of older or more experienced kids taking advantage of the inexperience of others.

Pin trading at Global Finals is another thing entirely.  It’s massive and intense and takes place everywhere, not just at the handful of designated spots.  And Daryl took to it like a fish to water.  I don’t get it – he was everything he was not at State.  It was a sea of people so thick that I often couldn’t find him when it was time to move on to something else.  But he was hooked.  Looking for that special deal to get something he really wanted.

Pin Trading Tent

Finding your child, who is likely crouched over a table, in this crowd is a challenge!

That was one of the fascinating parts of the process.  Kids would display their pins on towels that they would lay out before each other.  Someone would point to a pin or pins that they were interested in and then the owner would study the requestor’s towel to see what they would accept in trade.  If it was acceptable to both parties, they’d remove the pins from the towels and trade.  If it wasn’t, a counter-offer might be made or they’d apologize and part ways.  Most of the kids that I saw were impeccably polite.

What was interesting to me was that they didn’t all value the same things.  I mean, some things, like the California dragons, were undeniably universally valued.  Yet, Daryl was still able to acquire three of them.  And with trades that he thought were near steals.

Speaking of steals, Divergent themed pins were also popular.  I was sitting with Jane when a girl approached to ask if she was willing to trade.  Jane pointed to her Divergent pin.  The girl studied Jane’s towel and pointed to a Tardis that slides open to reveal “OK DI” on the inside.  I could see Jane’s body begin to buzz with excitement.  She paused for effect and then agreed.  They made the trade and then Jane quietly asked if she could return to the Oklahoma Affiliate Director freely trading the Tardis pins to cheaply acquire another.  I nodded with a smile.  Ironically, the woman was gone but she was still satisfied by the deal.  So the key, as I saw it, was to find the people to whom those pins were not valuable, that is, the people from the Affiliate that had produced them.  Find them and your trade was easy.

Another thing that interested me was that some kids parked themselves at a table or on the ground and let people come to them.  Other kids roamed the tables looking for deals.  I thought that you could probably draw some conclusions about their personalities if you took some time to consider it.  I suspect the sitters are more relaxed, more confident, probably more experienced.  The walkers are more excited, more eager, more concerned about missing out, and are probably looking for specific pins.  The system really needed both types for it to work and there never seemed to be a shortage of one or the other.

We spent a pretty penny acquiring pins ahead of time for our children to trade.  When I saw the benefits though, I think it was worth it.  Besides just the sheer joy they had in the hunt, I saw them gain a certain amount of confidence.  My kids are not shy.  At least, most people wouldn’t describe them that way.  But they do hesitate considerably when it comes to interacting with new people.  I could see them confidently interacting with others during pin trading.  Perhaps it had just become another situation familiar to them.  Or perhaps their reticence has lessened and made them more proactive people in general.  I’m hoping for the latter.