Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zoo Trip

Our homeschool co-op met at the Baltimore Zoo on Thursday. I hadn't been to a zoo in years, it seems...which means, of course, that Peter hadn't either. So I was looking forward to this opportunity for both of us.

Noon had been our scheduled arrival time, but one of the ladies suggested we go an hour earlier. How glad we were that she did, because we got to see the baby elephant just before he went inside for his nap. While we watched the elephants walk around in their woodsy, natural environment (no "concrete jungle" here), an enthusiastic employee joined us to us to show us a model of an elephant's tooth. She explained many things and answered all our questions. This stop alone was worth the trip.

After seeing a few other exhibits, I thought we were done and I was a little surprised...maybe even a little disappointed at first, having visited such zoos as Portland, San Diego, and Cincinnati in my past, where there were always tons of wild animals. (I want to say "no pun intended" but I'm not really sure about that.)

But then we went to the so-called Children's Zoo. I say "so called" because it was definitely interesting to the teenagers and adults! Petting the goats, I think, was a highlight of the day for most everyone.

At the end of the day, I mentioned something to my son about how few wild animals were there, and he said, "Quality is better than quantity." You know, I think my father would agree. He used to object to the way all those animals were kept in cages and concrete. I'll bet he would be happy to see the natural environment at this zoo.

While I missed certain animals and I missed all those past trips with our whole family, I have to say that, truly, this zoo is a unique and fascinating place.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thrift Shop Shopping

I don't shop at second-hand stores very often, and that made going all the harder. But it isn't really that much harder than going to a certain inexpensive chain store that isn't always all that clean and tidy.

The thrift store I visited is a brand name thrift store (not mentioning any names here), which is not one of my favorites because of the high prices (the prices are sometimes as much as that chain store I wasn't mentioning).

But that old love of the hunt struck me this morning. So off I went, treasure hunting. I was recently wanting a new lampshade for my living room floor lamp, and guess what I found? Sometimes I wonder if someone is tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear, when there is treasure waiting for me.

If you visit thrift shops regularly, you might wonder at my hesitation. If not, you might wonder why I go. As I said, it's the love of the hunt (not to speak of the savings)...and it's a treasure hunt.

I walk in and I get a not-so-good feeling as I look around at tired, worn, faded items. But then I tell myself it's okay; I'm not getting any of those tired, worn, faded items (heaven knows, I have enough of them at home already).

And then something catches my eye, that looks brand new, that's just what I need. Or else I leave, empty-handed, not any worse for having taken a few minutes to look.

It's funny that going to a second-hand store used to be seen, by some, as a sign of poverty. But when I think about all the "hoopla" about being "green", I think that this is among some of the best ways to do that. As I happened to read somewhere recently, people say "Reduce, reuse, recycle", but they often forget the "reuse" part of it.

As I write this, I look gratefully over at the beautiful, clean lampshade, woven with a slightly-knubby texture, and having a gentle slope. It's "just right"...and I didn't have to pay a mint, go from store to store, or even wait for shipping.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Never Say Never (or "Enjoy the Little Things")

I have lived in different regions of the country, from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California, from the Midwest to the East Coast, and also in different types of areas, from country suburban to very city suburban, back to very country suburban and back again to city suburban.

Over the years, we have traveled much of our beautiful country. On our recent trip back to Kentucky, I caught myself saying something that I've said so many times, "Look. Those people live so close to the freeway. I wouldn't want to live so close to the freeway." Only one problem with that comment: We do live "so close to the freeway".

When we discovered this apartment community last spring, it was everything we wanted and didn't have at our then-current apartment complex: convenient to public transportation, church, library, stores, so we signed up for the waiting list...and soon were accepted. And then I looked it up on the map and realized that we had overlooked that dreaded thing...a freeway. We are probably the equivalent of one to two football fields distance away from a steady stream of trucks and cars, flowing by all hours of the day and night and all seasons of the year...just far enough not to identity and admire the makes, just close enough to be annoying.

However, we have a veritable forest of deciduous trees between us and the freeway. This means that in spring and summer, if the weather permits us to open the windows for fresh air, we can only hear the traffic, not see the vehicles going by. In fall and winter, though, we can look out and decide if we want to join the flow...or take a different route. And I can look out from my balcony and dream of traveling.

But that's not all we can hear and see from our balcony. We can sometimes hear geese...and I have seen my favorite childhood birds, the robins; pesky starlings; my favorite winter birds, the red cardinals; and, the other day, I saw a hummingbird. Last summer I was thrilled to see fireflies, which I hadn't seen for a couple of years, and which had so delighted me when we moved from the West to the Midwest. So...they live in the East, too, I marveled.

Squirrels proliferate at any time and I see plenty of deer in season, especially in the wee small hours when I am taking one of my sons to work. I've seen a few foxes; spotted a couple of raccoons, foraging near the dumpsters; and I've seen something low and chubby that I couldn't identify, with a big tail...could it be a beaver?

Today, wonder of wonders! I saw a flying squirrel! I was so excited! And yes, Virginia, there really are flying squirrels. They simply don't live in the West (at least as far as I know.) Well, after my sighting, I looked up flying squirrels on the internet and yes, that's what they are called and no, they don't exactly "fly". They glide. Yes, that is what it was doing! It was gliding - with its feet out like wings and its bushy tail floating out behind him.

I still sometimes wonder how people can live by the freeway. If you have the windows open or step outside, the noise just never stops. My dream is not to live here for the rest of my life. But it works for us for now, and I enjoy the little things about where we live. Come to think of it, maybe they aren't even so little. Some of you know that I get very excited when I see beautiful classic cars. However, I got even more excited today than I would seeing a great Corvette or Thunderbird. Human engineers can make great designs. But only the Great Engineer could make a flying squirrel.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paul Graduates

Last weekend we returned to our homeland (of 13 years) for the college graduation of our third child, our second son, Paul.

To my way of thinking, graduating from college is quite an accomplishment. Perhaps it seems greater to me in view of the fact that I never attended college...except for one course in medical terminology a few decades ago. Of course their Dad is a college graduate, but I was the primary teacher of my children until they went to college. No, come to think of it, I teach them to read and to teach themselves, and after that they are mostly their own primary teachers. I select curriculum, check their work, help them when they need it. I would say I am more the "mentor"...though I do love those "teachable moments", too.

I think Paul's graduation is a greater accomplishment in view of the fact that he was left behind - early in his college career - when we had to move away to Baltimore for my husband's work...and then his older brother and sister had to move away to pursue their work. We are all most grateful to everyone who was there for him in so many different ways.

I think it was an even greater accomplishment in view of the fact that Paul went from 20/20 to blind in the course of a few months - in the middle of his college career. So...he went on with his life. I'm sure it wasn't easy. I'm sure he had his moments. But he finished college and ended with a good grade point average and a chair award in his major.

Paul didn't only learn how to navigate to school and to classes in all kinds of weather and how to use an adaptive computer. He cooks for himself and sometimes his friends. He was a president of the Newman Club on campus. He was a senator of the student government association. He is a chancellor of a Knights of Columbus chapter.

If you were one of the ones who has prayed for Paul in his journey, I want to thank you from the depths of my heart. I would also like to ask you to keep those prayers coming as he pursues his career as a writer. He can write both non-fiction and fiction, and is currently looking for a writing job. As someone I met on campus said, "He is a brilliant writer." I was trying to pick up some writing tips from Paul this weekend about writing fiction. He told me there are many different ways, that there is no one formula. And then I learned that he "sees" a story in his head like a movie, before he writes it down.

On the Friday evening before graduation, an animation short film that Paul and his classmates put together premiered in a little theater on campus. Some members of a production company came to meet the class and see the film. When it came time to walk over to the theater, the professor asked someone to lead the way, but she didn't know where the theater was. So Paul, with his guide dog, Chicago, led everyone to the theater.

You can visit the website for this short film, see the producers and writers, even hear round-table discussions about the production.

If you have nine minutes, you can even see the film itself.

Just click over to Linus and Nigel. Enjoy.