Everything But the Kitchen Sink

17 07 2010

My son knows how to travel light.

He went to Disney World for five days with nothing but a back pack.  That’s a book-bag back pack, not a camping back pack.

He traveled over 3000 miles with two other guys in a Prius and they had enough space such that the guy in the back seat could catch a few zzz’s in a (sort of) reclining position.

He plans to move cross-country this fall carrying one—maybe two—suitcases.

So when he and I decided to drive south to visit my parents for two and a half days, when all we were going to do was sit around and talk and eat and talk some more, I certainly didn’t expect much in the way of luggage from him.

But when I came downstairs I was surprised to see a duffel bag and a back pack, in addition to assorted other stand alone items.

And then he asked if Grandma would have an iron he could use.

I may be slow, but I’m not stupid.  It finally dawned on me that this about-face with regard to packing strategy might be related to the fact that after the trip to see the grandparents he would be spending a weekend with a friend from school, a friend who is a girl,  a girl friend perhaps?, a friend for whom it is apparently worth hauling a bunch of stuff along.


Required Reading

29 06 2010

Remember when “text” was not a verb?

This week my son and I are all worked up over college textbooks.  But we’re coming at our issues from different sides.

In the process of sorting through some stuff in the basement, I ran across a box of old college textbooks.  I found volumes on math, chemistry, sociology, accounting, and education.  You don’t get out of William and Mary without being liberally educated.

But there’s one book I can’t remember at all.  It’s by Arthur Schlesinger and it’s on “The Newspaper War on Britain: 1764-1776.”  I can tell from the price tag that it’s from the college bookstore and that it’s VERY old–$4.98 for 318 pages!  My immediate assumption was that it must have been my husband’s because if it had been mine I would have highlighted it (not those awful pastel markers; I always underlined in pencil, neatly, using a flexible plastic six-inch ruler.)  Plus, he was a history major who became a newspaper reporter when he graduated.

But he looked at the book and noted that it was published the year he graduated.  So I don’t know; either way, it’s going in the DONATE pile.  I’m sure somebody wants to learn about the newspaper war on Britain, but they don’t live in this house.

My son, on the other hand, is looking to acquire a college text.  He decided to take Spanish I this summer at the community college.  The required textbook goes for $150 new.  For a Spanish textbook?!?  I can barely fathom that for an art history book, with all those photographs, or an organic chemistry book; that weighs a ton.  But for first year Spanish?  Perhaps equally astounding, he found it online for $15.  How can a $150 book be selling for $15?  Is it missing, say for instance, all the pages?

Anyway, after four years of exploring all the angles, my son is the expert on minimizing textbook costs, though sometimes my husband and I do have to insist that when taking a course it is expected that he actually have access to the reading material.  So I trust he’ll figure this out as well.

Buenos Dias!  (Did I say that right?)

Life With Father

18 06 2010

It’s hard to imagine that my mother could ever tire of spending unending hours with my sister and I, model children that we were.  But nonetheless, Saturday afternoons frequently found us in the company of my father, visiting the Charlotte Nature Museum.  We watched lots of nature movies there.  This was long before Animal Planet existed.

And Sunday afternoons we often ice skated at the public skating sessions at the Coliseum where the hockey team played.  I didn’t realize at the time how self-centered I was, but now as I think back on it I can’t remember if my Dad skated or if he just watched us.  I never had lessons and never mastered much beyond skating forward, but skating endless loops around the rink could entertain me for hours on end.  By the time we packed up to go home my feet would be aching.  (And hopefully Mom, after two kid-free afternoons, would be fully recovered and ready to face another week of stay-at-home parenting.)

Dad always liked to stop for a doughnut.  No matter where we’d been, it seemed like our route home always wound past the Krispy Kreme on Independence Boulevard.  Once he didn’t realize till after we’d snacked that he had no cash.  He went out to the car to see if he could find some change in the seats, but the staff came running after him.  They knew him well enough (and knew he’d be back soon enough) to trust him to the honor system.

When I was little he worked as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft.  What he actually did during the day was a big mystery to me, but in my mind having heard he was an engineer I thought he drove trains around.

His lifelong hobby was astronomy.  He was probably right near the top of the list of people with the longest Sky and Telescope magazine subscriptions.  I think the first time he got his hands on some money for discretionary spending he used it to buy a telescope, which served him well for MANY years.  Friday nights he headed out to the observatory maintained by the Charlotte Amateur Astronomer’s Club.  On numerous occasions during my growing up years he would awaken my sister and me in the middle of the night and usher us out to the front yard, or occasionally up to the school, to observe something in the night-time sky.  A comet.  Or an asteroid.  Maybe a super-nova.  Some shooting stars.

The most exciting outing happened in the middle of the day.  Charlotte was situated in the path of a partial solar eclipse.  But by driving a few hours we could position ourselves in the region that would experience a total eclipse.  So that’s what we did.  We were in a rural area where lots of astronomer type people had set-ups allowing us to watch the reflection of the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow.  It wasn’t safe to look directly into the sun!  At least not until the process was complete and the sun was completely covered, except for a ring around the outside.  Then it got dark.  The chickens went to roost.  For three or four minutes it was distinctly other-worldly.

Our house had a basement workshop that was only accessible from a door to the back yard.  If he was working down there and it was time for me to go to bed, I would go to the heating duct and holler GOOD NIGHT, which always got a similar reply from him.  I thought that was about the neatest thing in the world.  A magic communication port.

(My delight was possibly superseded by the  time we were between kitchen tables so we temporarily used the round outdoor table right there in the kitchen, I guess with a tablecloth thrown over it.  There was a hole in the middle for an umbrella.  Depending on what food item was sitting at the table center, you could stick your toe up through the hole and make the dish jump around.  Which would immediately be followed by howls of laughter.  Oh, but we were easy to please!)

When Mom and Dad visited us in New Jersey after we had kids, they’d stay for a week or so.  While Mom could be entertained endlessly with the grandchildren, Dad needed a project to work on.  On various visits, he installed shelving in one of the bedrooms, added crown molding to the dining room, built a structure to enable us to reach the light fixture installed in a very awkward position in the stairwell, added insulation to the attic, and built a geodesic dome for the kids.

Dad doesn’t remember any of that stuff now.  Alzheimer’s has robbed him of his memories, one by one.  But they live on in a cherished corner of my mind.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Flashback in the Sandwich Meat Aisle

16 06 2010

As far as I know, we were never seriously hurting for money when I was growing up.  We never did without necessities.  There was always food on the table.  Warm clothes in winter.  A car in the driveway.

So I certainly wouldn’t suggest that we were strapped.  But, probably because my parents were children of the depression, we, like everyone else I knew, lived rather frugally.  It wasn’t something we thought about.  It’s just how life was, in “the good old days.”

We always owned a television, but for many years we settled for black and white.

Our telephone service was a party line.

We took regular vacations, but not every year and we always traveled by car.

We got an air conditioner while I was growing up, but it was a window unit and it didn’t do much for the bedrooms.

Coats lasted three years.  A little big the first year, just right the second year, a little tight the third year.

Mom made lots of our clothes, and she often made matching outfits for my older sister and me.  So by the time I had worn my version of the clothes and then my sister’s, I felt like I was living in a broken record.

For a long time we managed with one car, and when we got a second one it was a VW bug.  (My mom had never driven a stick shift before.  We watched her drive up the street and just stop.  We waited and waited.  There was a bit of a learning curve.)

We regularly ate out after church on Sunday, but often it was a trip to McDonald’s.

We had store-bought cookies for snacks, though I’m told that on occasion those were actually crackers standing in for cookies.

For sandwiches, we didn’t have meat and cheese, but rather meat or cheese.  And if it was meat, it was the thin sliced stuff, and we only had two or three slices.

Except when it came to Lebanon bologna.  (Why is it called that?  “It is named for the Lebanon Valley of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania where it is most commonly produced.”  Thanks, Wikipedia!)  Mom must have had a real soft spot for the stuff.  She bought it regularly, and it only came in nice thick slices so there was no way to skimp.

I didn’t even know my local Safeway even carried the stuff, but then I saw it on the shelf yesterday.  I know, I know.  It’s loaded with fat and salt and preservatives and lots of other things that are going to kill me.  But I couldn’t resist.


“It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”…And Now It’s Over

27 05 2010

I believe I’ve written about how happy I was that my college freshman son played on the William and Mary club baseball team this year.  How it’s the closest he’s ever come to pick-up baseball.  How the kids, who are by this time, admittedly, young adults, ran the show.

It seems somehow fitting that this particular team, as it turned out, was also the most successful team he’s ever played on.

Several weeks ago they played for their conference title.  We drove to Maryland to see a couple of the games.  The field was much nicer than what the team was accustomed to, but again, the audience consisted of a smattering of girlfriends and parents.  This time there was actually someone in charge, but just the one person.  Who was actually a grad student doing it on the side.  When he came down from the booth to snap a couple of photographs during one of the games, the scoreboard stopped getting updated.

And guess what!?  They won the tournament!

Their victory earned them a trip to the World Series of the National Club Baseball Association (Division II) in Pennsylvania last weekend.  And they actually were given the top seed, against schools such as Penn State, Rice and Northeastern.  So once exams were finished, and dorm rooms were cleaned out, they headed north.

But alas, another tournament victory was not in the cards.  But no one will say it wasn’t a great season.  Congratulations are in order!  I guess you were just waiting for us to get out of your way all along.

The Apple of My Eye

17 05 2010

By the time I post this, my older son will have graduated from college.

It’s got me thinking about milestones in his life.

When he was in the fifth grade, he really wanted contacts to replace his glasses, which had painfully thick lenses.  The eye doctor said he was a little young, but since he was a responsible kid he recommended giving it a try.

I was sad because it meant the end of mornings when he could roll out of bed, throw on some wrinkled clothes, down a bowl of oatmeal in a half-asleep stupor, and head out the door for the bus.  All in under ten minutes.

That day marked the beginning of a morning ritual that has only grown in length. Face washing, hair gel (!?), primping, and, eventually, shaving.


This year marks the end of long summer vacations.  Not to suggest that he’s spent his summers sitting around eating Froot Loops and watching The Price is Right.  His summers have been filled with travel, research, jobs, internships, classes.  But it was always something different from the rest of the year.  A welcome respite.

As a grad student doing research on a stipend, school doesn’t end in May and begin again in September.  It’s a year round thing now.

Childhood is fleeting.

Chips, Anyone?

7 05 2010

The first thing I think about when I see a bag of salty snacks is the tasty treat inside.

The second thing I think about is the research my college senior son has been working on the past three years.  It has to do with some fancy compounds and how they can be made to chemically adhere to one another.

When he describes the work to laymen like me, he always starts with the example of a snack bag that is regular plastic on the outside but has reflective aluminum material on the inside.

That’s about as far as I can follow his explanation.

Alas, after three years of fiddling with this stuff, the gig is up.  The writeup is complete.  He’s given his final oral presentation and fielded questions from discerning chemistry professors.

Starting next fall, he’ll be digging into some other interesting research project.  He’s enrolling in a west coast PhD chemistry program.

Whatever he ends up studying, I hope he has a nice analogy like the potato chip bag so I can at least pretend I have an idea about what he’s doing.