From Earthquakes to Scandanavia

My husband has been spending time in Oklahoma this summer with his Dad, who is recovering from major surgery in his fight against cancer. We both grew up in that state and still have many friends and family there.

Those friends and family have been commenting on Facebook about the growing earthquake epidemic there but it’s just been an abstract matter of curiosity to us. When we’ve been there to visit, we haven’t experienced any. Although their offhand comments (“that was a big one”) affected a certain familiarity with their apparent new norm, I continued to believe that it really didn’t happen that often.

Then my husband went up for his Dad’s surgery and slept in his Dad’s house. Apparently we just aren’t spending the night with the right parent if we want to experience an earthquake. He was disturbed every night by earthquakes, and my husband is not a light sleeper.

He installed an earthquake app on his phone and learned that 1) Oklahoma is next to California for number of earthquakes in the country and 2) his dad’s county is one of the most active in Oklahoma. One morning, he was awakened by what sounded like an explosion nearby, followed by significant shaking of the house. That one, his app told him, had an epicenter just half a mile away.

When he returned home from that trip, he showed me the app and all the quakes that proved his sleepless nights. The app came complete with satellite imagery and could pan all over the world. Eventually, it ended up in young Hal’s hands.

“Greenland doesn’t look green,” he announced at one point.

“No, it doesn’t, does it?” his dad responded. “And Iceland doesn’t look icy either.” He pointed Hal to the little island nearby.

Hal continued his global exploration.

“Finland {pronounced FinLAND, not FinLUND} doesn’t look fishy.”

“What?”

“Finland doesn’t look fishy. Shouldn’t it have fins if it is FINland?”

We smiled and he continued his examination of Scandinavia.

“Norway doesn’t look like it has Nors.”

“Nors? What are Nors?”

“You know. Nors. That’s what they should have in Norway.”

“Oh, ok, honey.”

“Swehden {pronounced with a lowercase E} doesn’t look sweaty.”

“It’s Sweden,” I said, laughing.

“No, it’s Swehden.”

“Sweden, honey.”

“Swehden. And it’s not sweating so why’s it called Swehden?”

“It’s not! It’s called Sweden.”

I enjoy this boy’s humor and innocence. And for all the smart phone’s drawbacks, I’m glad he’s growing up in a time when we can look at where earthquakes are happening and zoom all over the world on a map that shows such detail. The world is literally at our fingertips. Including the great, non-sweaty country of Swehden.

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Remembering Alice’s Restaurant

Most of my blog posts are easy and quick to write. I’m retelling a true story that happened to me – typically that day. Occasionally, I will philosophize about something, which takes more work. But rarely do I desire to write about a topic that takes planning, research, outlines, etc. And on the rare occasion that desire presents itself, I take a few notes and then wait for the feeling to pass.

I’m not intentionally waiting. It’s just that writing takes time and energy and that kind of writing takes a lot of energy and more time. As a married mother of three, working full time and then shuttling kids around, all while trying to find time to finish remodeling projects and handle other commitments that I perhaps shouldn’t have made, I rarely find a large enough block of time to give those ideas life. Eventually, I move on.

One of those ideas concerned my favorite songs. I made a tentative list, trying to force myself to narrow the list down to ten. Eventually I decided that there was no way to compare Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. Then my husband suggested I consider why I like the songs. Do they have some great import? Do I like the lyrics? Or the music? The list grew. And then sat. And now it’s misplaced somewhere on the computer desk. At least, that’s where I hope it is.

A song that I knew, without a doubt, would be on that list regardless of whether I categorized the list in any way was Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should stop reading this and go watch it on YouTube. Actually, don’t. The song is like 23 minutes long and you might not come back to me.

Anyway, I considered this song to be a cultural icon. A song that everyone knew and all the cool people could sing along with. It’s huge and surely only the hopelessly clueless or the young had failed to hear it. I had had very little opportunity to determine my view was mistaken.

That brings me to a recent conversation with two coworkers, both originally from Louisiana, which might have explained the problem if I hadn’t found the problem pervasive throughout my workplace, including some Oklahomans who without question should not have been living in this particular ignorance. One of them made a comment about something being “horrible”. With his New Orleans accent, it sounded like “har-ible” (the ‘har’ rhyming with ‘car’).

I was transported to the end of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tries to get the audience to sing along with him. They don’t do a very good job so he announces “That was har-ible. If you want to end war and stuff, you have to sing louder. We’ll do it again the next time it comes around on the guitar. This time with feeling.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, for any of you purists out there).

So I commented on it and they both gave me blank looks. I started talking about the song. More blank looks. I gave them the title and Arlo’s name. More blank looks. I began to panic. “Arlo Guthrie?” I asked. “Folk singer from the sixties?… Um… Woody Guthrie’s son?… Surely you’ve heard of Woody at least?” One of them had not and the other looked uncertain.

I turned to the Oklahoman in the cubicle across from us. He at least knew Arlo and could name a song of his but did not know his seminal work. I asked another Oklahoman as he walked by. No. A couple of other folks. No.

My boss, originally from some place north, knew it but admitted that it was only because his father-in-law forced him to listen as he sang it, that he had never heard Arlo sing it and had obviously never gotten to the end, as he deemed it pointless. Technically, most of the song is pointless (although entertainingly so), but the ending makes it clear that there is a point. It was a war protest song during Vietnam.

Dismayed, I turned to my Facebook friends. I was soon able to make some generalizations. If you had been an adult or near-enough in the late sixties or early seventies, especially if you were in the folk song or hippie crowd, you knew it. If you were not around back then but had a particularly hippie-ish parent or are a major music buff, you knew it. Or if you spent any of your life in Oklahoma City, listening to KRXO, the classic rock station, you knew it because they play it every year at noon on Thanksgiving.

I’m still amazed how many people are unfamiliar with the song. It was a significant part of my childhood. We’d listen to it in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. When my husband and I found it on Thanksgiving while riding in the car with our kids, we made everyone stay seated when we reached our destination, so that we could sing along. Every lyric. Exactly. Our kids thought we were insane.

So go check it out now. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: Even the people unfamiliar with Woody Guthrie’s name, knew one of his songs: This Land Is My Land. What many don’t know is that Woody was a bit of a subversive and that song, now one of our great patriotic songs, was actually a protest song of sorts. He originally titled it “God Blessed America” and considered it a direct response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which he despised. He hated “God Bless America” because he felt that it was demanding more blessings on a country that was already covered in such extreme blessings that it was obscene to request more. I’ve often wondered what he would think about his song’s position in society now.

What’s the Capital of…?

As the boys played in the play area at Chick-Fil-A the other night, Jane sat with her parents and quizzed us on geography.

“What’s the capital of South Africa?” she asked.

“Johannesburg,” I answered.

“How do you know that?!?”

“It’s common knowledge,” her dad said.

“No it’s not! Fine, what’s the capital of Mexico?”

“Mexico City.”

“Guatamala?”

“Guatamala City.”

“Panama?” she started to laugh.

“Panama City. What’s the capital of Nevada?” I asked, turning the tables.

“What? I don’t know. Um. Nevada City?”

“No.”

“Um… how about… California City?”

“No, but that’s closer. It starts with Ca and ends in ity.” Eventually we got her to name it by giving the last name of a classmate named Carson. We moved on to other states. Her knowledge of state capitals was fairly weak.

“The capital of Florida…” she tried to answer, “…is… it’s like… Naomi. Right?”

“Are you trying to say Miami?”

“Yes! That’s it!”

“No, that’s not the capital of Florida.”

“But it’s pretty close to Miami, isn’t it?”

“No, actually the capital of Florida is about as far away from Miami as you can get and still be in Florida. It’s Tallahassee. How ’bout Kansas?”

“It’s not Kansas City, right? I mean, Kansas City is in Oklahoma.”

“What?!”

“I mean. It’s in Texas? No, wait… it’s somewhere… Missouri!”

“Actually it’s in both Missouri and Kansas, but what’s the capital of Kansas?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wichita*. How about Texas?”

“Houston.”

There was a moment of stunned silence before, “No, wait! I meant Austin! I meant Austin!”

“Wow,” her dad said. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“I’m not even a Texan and I know the capital,” I added.

“It used to be the capital! It’s because of time travel! I travel with The Doctor, you see. I just forgot when I was. I’m confused. No, I’m…”

“Befuddled?” suggested her dad.

“Yes. Wait. No!”

I truly wish I had a recording of the conversation because I’ve forgotten many of the details. We traveled all over the world, naming capitals and rattling off facts, teasing each other and laughing the whole time. We all got to show off our knowledge and struggle through our weaknesses, like when I took several minutes to call to mind that Ottawa was the capital of Canada, while Jane grinned like the Cheshire Cat. She had classmates playing in the play area, but she chose to spend her time with us, exercising her brain. I truly cherish moments like this.

*Edit: To my great amusement, a friend on the East Coast, far, far away from Kansas, pointed out to me that Topeka is the capital of Kansas, the state that borders my husband’s and my home state. We also misstated the capital of India, but that one didn’t make it into the story. Proof that even the parents don’t always get it right.

The Best Christmas Ever

Our Christmas tree is still up and decorated. In fact, Hal just turned the lights back on today. The first week after Christmas was spent out-of-state, visiting family. The next, out-of-town to celebrate our anniversary. The most recent was full, first with a funeral and then with resuming school and work. I am telling you this so that you understand it is still Christmas at this house, and thus not inappropriate at all for me to finally get around to blogging about the best Christmas ever. I was too busy enjoying it to write about it at the time.

Christmas 2012 did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. The 11:00pm Christmas Eve service was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. We all attended in our pajamas, including my husband in his footed smiley-face PJ’s that I had just given him. That drew a few looks.

No, the service that heralded the arrival of Christmas Day was nice and the drive home was uneventful. I was worried about what such a late bedtime would do to the day, but not too much. The problems started when we got home. Hal did not want to use the bathroom before retiring to his bed and a tantrum ensued.

Once all the children were settled, I needed to wrap just two or three presents and stuff the stockings. That took well over an hour. I finally went to bed around 1:30 or 2:00 and wondered how late the children would let me sleep.

Not long, as it turned out. A serious thunderstorm moved in by about 2:30, waking Hal. I stumbled into his room to comfort him. I struggled for a long time before I got back to sleep. The wind picked up and a loud metallic thwacking sound woke me around 5:00. I asked my husband if that was the new roof coming undone.

“Probably.”

“Do we need to do anything about it?”

“Like what? I’m not going out there in this.”

He had a point. Besides, the old shingled roof was still under the metal of the new one. No way I was getting back to sleep, however. I lay there listening until the sound changed to something bounding down from the roof. And then silence.

“There,” my pragmatic husband said, “It blew off. Happy?”

Before I responded, the next strip of the crown began to rattle. Sleep was a distant memory by this point.

Things improved once I gave up on sleep, though. My husband had once again managed to slip something under my pillow undetected. He hates wrapping, so this has become our new tradition. I already knew I was getting a Kindle Paperwhite, but I still don’t know when he managed to slide it under there.

As I passed through the living room, I saw a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in my stocking that I had not put in there the night before. So he hadn’t forgotten about my stocking either – another nice surprise. I added the toppings to the breakfast strata started the night before and put it in the oven.

Then it was stockings and presents time. Hal passed out the stockings, such a good Santa’s helper. All of them distributed gifts. Just like last year, though, there were no names. Last year were numbers and they’d have to ask me which number was whom. This year, they were letters. Perhaps this will become a new Christmas puzzle. As they heard who was each letter, I asked them what the formula was. I gave them a hint that I couldn’t put the appropriate leter on Daddy’s gifts because it was a duplicate of someone else’s. Daddy figured it out (2nd letter of their middle names). No one else did.

Jane unwrapped four nested boxes, each wrapped individually, before uncovering her mp3 player. Daryl received a used Nintendo DS, given to us by a friend to give to the kids. He immediately declared this the best Christmas ever.

And so it was, but not because of the gifts. When we were done unwrapping, we ate the strata. And then… then we just were. Most Christmases would have seen the hustle and bustle of preparing for a long trip. We would have been packing suitcases and piling into the car to travel the four hours or so to relatives in Oklahoma.

But Oklahoma was forecast to get hit by a blizzard. We had decided the day before that we would delay our trip by 24 hours. We had no idea how life-changing that decision would be.

After breakfast, we just enjoyed ourselves. We set Pandora to play Christmas music. People tried out their new electronics. We played some games and worked some puzzles and read and ate and relaxed. And shouted in excitement when we looked out the window and saw snow! Snow, on Christmas Day, in Texas. No one even changed out of their pajamas, except to go play in the snow.

I looked up at my family at one point and wondered, Is this what Christmas is like for other people? Christmas has never been a relaxing time for me, not even in childhood.

As a child, I remember opening presents at home and then almost immediately leaving the house to go… somewhere. Christmas Day usually included 2 or 3 extended family gatherings. The usual routine was to head over to my maternal grandparents’ house for lunch and Christmas with my mom’s family. At some point, sometimes before lunch and sometimes after, mom would drive us to my paternal grandmother’s house and we’d have Christmas with my dad’s family. Mom would then pick us up and we’d have dinner and Christmas at my step-dad’s parents’ house with his family.

It got even more complicated when I married. My husband brought with him Christmas obligations to his dad’s family, his mom’s family, and his step-dad’s family. Some families adjusted to celebrating Christmas on a day other than the 25th, but we usually still had at least two places to be that day, often more.

Shortly before we had our first child, we decided that we wanted to be able to attend our own church’s Christmas Eve service. That meant attending worship and then hitting the road, arriving at my mom’s house around 2:00 Christmas morning.

When the kids arrived, my husband began to agitate for change. He wanted to celebrate Christmas at our house. I wanted to avoid hurting people’s feelings. The compromise that stood for years was the Christmas Day travel. This allowed us to worship at our home church, open presents at our house, and still make it to Christmas obligations back home. I had been trained to believe that the right thing to do was to cram everyone in, jumping from one place to another, making sure we made an appearance everywhere.

This time, though, we actually found ourselves with no family meeting on Christmas Day. We still planned to travel that day, so suggested to my dad that we celebrate that night. And then we got word of the weather. There was no problem changing plans with dad. No reason we had to travel that day. No place to be until 6pm the day after. Why not stay home? It was such a novel idea for us.

The experience was ground breaking for me. Earth shattering. Tears-down-the-face significant. I sat at the table, watching my family just exist, with no place to go, no obligations to meet, no phone calls or appointments or errands, and I cried. My husband looked at me and smiled.

“Do you need a hug?” he asked. I nodded and he rose from the table.

“I’ve never had this before,” I said into his chest as he hugged me tight. “Not ever, not once in thirty-eight years. I’ve never just stayed home and relaxed on Christmas Day. This is amazing.”

We didn’t have to speak the words then or now, but we know what we are doing next year. The 26th is soon enough to travel for family. The peace of Christmas will descend on our household again. It is the only day that we can truly just be still and be together. I never understood how special that kind of time is. But now that I’ve experienced it, I am not giving it up.

Bluebonnets and Mistletoe

Growing up in Oklahoma gives a person a certain amount of disdain for the state of Texas. It’s probably roughly akin to a little sibling who feels they are always in the shadow of their bigger and more popular brother or sister. After living here for over 15 years, I’ve softened a bit, but haven’t quite reached the point where I am proud to live here. My children, on the other hand, were born and raised here. They are, of course, proud Texans.

I don’t remember how old she was – maybe 6 or 7. It was before our third child was born. One day my daughter asked me, “Mommy, why did you and Daddy move to Texas?” I told her we were still trying to figure that out. She looked confused and I laughed and said, “No, honey. We moved here because this is where I got a job.” Her response? “Oh, I thought it was because you wanted {my brother} and I to be Texans!”… “No, actually, we’re still kind of upset about that.”

It’s not something I thought about as a kid. I learned all about Oklahoma history: the 5 civilized tribes, the trail of tears, the land runs, and so much more. It never occurred to me that kids in other states learned about their state history. I never really thought about it until my daughter started coming home from school spouting off Texas facts. That’s when I realized that she wouldn’t know all the words to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” unless I taught her. She wouldn’t know that the state flower is actually a parasite and she wouldn’t participate in a land run re-enactment in the fourth grade.

That last one kind of hurt. I loved the land run. I remember fretting for weeks that it might rain. There was a big field by the school where the land run was held. Your “family” would pull your wagon that you had made and race out into the field to grab a stake and take it to the claims office. Then you’d have a picnic lunch on your new land. If it rained, everyone just paraded their wagons around the edge of the cafeteria and then sat down to eat. Boring.

My daughter wasn’t to have such an experience. Instead, for fourth grade, she built a model of the Alamo. She made hers out of Lego’s. Some of the others were very impressively detailed. Still, didn’t seem like as much fun as our Land Runs. And to think I used to be intimidated!

The relative merit of the states has come up before in this house divided. When The Oldest was 10 and The Middle was 7, the following exchange took place.

TO: “I think Texas is the best of the 50 states. Or maybe Oklahoma.” ( I think the second sentence was a concession to make sure she stayed in parental good graces).
Dad: “I dunno. I like Wyoming.”
TO: “Me too!” (She’s never been there but always wants to be right).
TM: “I like Mexico.”

In February of this year, The Baby, at age 3, came up to me with a “pirate” eye patch on and said, “Howdy, Partner!” I explained that pirates wouldn’t say “Howdy, Partner” but he insisted I was wrong. The next day, he came up, again with the eye patch on, and said, “Howdy, Matie!” My husband said I was just going to have to accept that he is a Texas pirate.

And Texans, they are indeed. The Oldest had a splendid teacher when she was two. The woman also had a very strong Texas twang. Consequently, The Oldest did too for a time. I was quite dismayed. It has worn off over time but pops up from time to time. She recently said something with a bit too much twang and then said, “Dang! My Texas accent slipped through again.” I responded by talking like a hick with stuff like “we was” and “we seen” and “ain’t”. She informed me: “I said Texas accent, not Texas grammar.”

I’m learning to have fun with it and to not be afraid to admit that I don’t know basic facts that they’ve learned every year. Like which flags flew over Texas. I got Spain and Mexico and the Confederacy and the US. I learned from The Oldest that France was one of them. That got us to 5. Then she said, “and The Republic of Texas.” To which I replied, “Oh, yeah. I forgot you guys have that whole ‘we were our own country’ thing going on.” Then The Middle chimed in, “and then they took those 6 flags and made an amusement park with them!”

So we are getting along OK. Now that I can name those six flags, maybe it’s time they learned how the wind comes sweeping down the plain. And the waving wheat, can sure smell sweet, when the wind comes right behind the rain! I just hope they don’t look at me too funny when I yell “Ay yippy yi ki yea!” near the end.