Once Glamorous, Now Forlorn

Today, walking from the Credit Union toward home, I was inspired by cigarettes. If I ever thought they made people look glamorous, I’ve got some vignettes that remind me how forlorn they force people to look:

A man, hunched and squashed among many empty, silent cars.

An otherwise elegant lady at the intersection to walk to her car. She notices my toddler in a stroller just as I notice her barely-lit addiction stick, and we both take several steps away from each other. She was first to move; we wait to cross in something other than silent camaraderie.

A uniform on break near a closed, uncovered, unmarked door. Huddled in the rain, next to a dumpster that he can’t smell.


Help Offered to Strangers During The Mundane: A Spark

(Brass Book Darts from Baum-Kuchen)

Last month, I was standing in a Generic Office Supply Store, waiting for my planner to be made. Every year, I find myself a planner, and for the last two or three years, I’ve simply bought a planner from a retail store, then worked with the in-store print services counter to alter it.

I’ve found a lady who does a really good job at this. When she was fired from one Office Supply Store because of nothing that she did, and then hired on at another Office Thing just down the road because a previous manager was also working there, I was thrilled to find her again. She’s wonderfully friendly, she’s good at her job, and she creates a quality product. Her name is Ginger.

I originally arrived at Office Thing on a Saturday and was told that the work order flow wouldn’t allow room for me until Thursday. This isn’t at all like the other Office Thing that Ginger worked for in the past, but I put in a work order to work with Ginger on her shift on Thursday.

That day, we took the bus, Toby and I, and we were happy to see her familiar face. She began work right away: cutting tabs off and picking a paper to match, figuring out how many pages to add, then inserting the cut-to-size pages throughout the planner and punching holes, then rebinding it.

Well, somewhere in the middle of the insertion of extra pages, the trickle of people beside me grew. I stood off to a less central section of counter space and let them by: people who also wanted something from the people behind the print desk. Once I finished figuring out where I wanted new pages to go, I stepped away and let Ginger work her magic behind the desk. I noticed her craft: she merged with a team of three other people to handle the flow of people. People there to pick up orders completed, people there to pay for copies.

I also noticed that no one was being turned away like I had been that previous Saturday. Ginger approached everyone as if they had immediate importance. She found a way to squeeze everyone in. At one point, during my watching and listening and waiting, I heard from her: “Hey, Joe– do you know where the FedEx Office is?” I heard her ask two other employees before her question registered with me.

“I know where it is,” said I. All behind the desk turned to me in surprise, then Ginger turned to a gentleman holding a FedEx tag that are found on doors. So did I, and I began giving directions. The gentleman looked at me and mouthed, “I can’t hear you.”

So I swiftly but haltingly switched to sign language. Ginger was more surprised surprised but then switched to pleased and went on to other matters, handing the service over to me. I drew the gentleman a map and gave him directions as well. He looked quizzical, but went out to follow my directions.

I turned to Toby, sitting at a table near the print desk. When I had him well under way with a meal out of the diaper bag, I turned around to check on Ginger when I found the gentleman standing next to me again.

“The gate was shut and I couldn’t get into the parking lot,” he told me. He’s inching closer to panic; I know that feeling: I just want my package. He showed me his door tag. It had two or three dates written on it; the FedEx guy had tried to deliver on those dates, but this guy still didn’t have his package. He was clearly irritated and at a loss, and as we reviewed his other options, I could tell he didn’t like using the computer.

So I offered to call the 1-800 number for him. I offered to sit on hold for him, pretend like it’s my package I’m trying to schedule a delivery for, to struggle with an apathetic and heavy accent, and to be on hold once again.

While I’m on hold the second or third time, sitting in Office Thing, I notice Ginger’s flow of people has dissipated. The only person standing in front of the desk has an impatient and bored posture. Out of impulse, I take a few steps and tap her on the shoulder.

“I’m on hold; wanna dance?”

I can feel my eyes sparkle and my mouth tweak mischievously. I switch my phone to speakerphone and begin bouncing and bopping. This person is a thin, healthy-looking grey-haired stranger whose face lights up. She and I share a second or two of dancing in the middle of Office Thing to hold music; the area in front of the print desk has become a dance floor and she and I are boogying down on the party scene, carefree and exercising, two strangers united in the unity of motion.

Then she laughs and stops and the magic is over; the mundane sets in again. I conclude the call with FedEx, tell this gruff guy named Gary when FedEx will try another delivery to his house, and pay for my new planner. I bundle up Toby and all his empty food wrappers, and we go home.

But nearly two months later, I can still remember two looks of relief on two strangers’ faces.

Tumbling Ideas & Tumbling Males

The Problem with Males and Art
By Shelle Luaces

Hiding in the bathroom, quietly behind the door…
flipping through my journal of unfinished sketches and
half-captured insights
agonizing over incomplete pieces, abandoned visions
i identify two problems.

One: my artistic life blossoms when i am unattached to a male.
Two: i have spent fourteen weeks of my adult life unattached to a male.

Slipping into a vision of life as an artist
living a quiet existence of incredible success, filled with beautiful
finished pieces adorning my walls, their walls, gallery walls…


pushing and pounding on the bathroom door…my boys…
“mommy, mommy…where you are…
mommy, mommy, where you—
there you are!”

Falling into my lap, my one year old knocks my journal to the floor–
squealing to find me hiding as if waiting for peek-a-boo
throwing his arms around my neck, my two-year old whispers “uh-oh”
as my pen rolls behind the toilet
taking with it another almost-captured idea
and i identify two overwhelming truths.

One: i will never be unattached to a male again.
Two: i have created and completed two works of art in the last
thirty-plus years.

And they are both male.

This poem was published in a volume of poetry titled Voces; it comprises the polished work of members of the 2002 National Hispanic Cultural Center High School Writing Workshop. This poem is at the end, by the director of the workshop.

Its message is the epitome of my life. I have a three-year-old who shouts, “Where you are!” And I have two males in my life; the other is thirty. I have a growing file of unfinished ideas. I figure that when my life is a little more susceptible to long projects like this, I’ll have a ;large pool of inspired, original ideas from which to pick from and my product will be quality stuff because I can pick out the best.

Meanwhile, I grab inspiration and motivation when I can, in whatever medium is most handy. It got redirected during the holidays, beginning with Toby’s birthday. Last week, it returned in the form of the creation of two Artist Trading Cards. Now, it’s this. I expect my boys to come tumbling in at any second.

Reinvent Board Games to Manipulate the Miniscule

When a toddler pulls a board game off the shelf and wants to play it, a parent might groan inside. “That game is too complicated for his intelligence,” you think. “Now I have the task of redirecting, distracting, and juggling other, more interesting things so he won’t be interested in that board game.”

I’ve found a trick that has a a living room frequently littered with board game pieces when there’s only a preschooler to make the mess: create a simplified game using that board and its pieces. After all, it’s the pieces that fascinate your kid: what do these colored pieces do? What does a set of dice do? What do you do with this board once you unfold it?

We received a game of Clue for a Christmas present one year. We’ve played this particular set by the regular game rules, but it’s not very fun with just two people. So it sits on an open shelf in our dining room with all the other games in the household; we offer to play a game when we have dinner guests over, and everything is within scrutiny’s glance.

Just last month, Toby expressed an interest in Clue. It’s one of our most complex games, with more essential playing cards that could be bent, papers that could be lost and torn from the pad, lots of tiny game pieces that are all important to the game, and pens that I’ve stashed in the game itself because pens are so important to this particular game.

So far, I’ve managed to convince him of things like, “No, that one’s for grown-ups,” or, “How about we play this other board game instead?” But this time, he pulled it out and had it open before I could distract.

“Wow, what’s this for?” I heard over and over. Time to invent a preschooler’s version, I thought as I sat down next to him.

We pulled out the board and I explained the rooms to him. Then we pulled out just the room cards from the well-mixed deck of character and weapon cards. I showed him how each of the room cards matched the rooms. Then we looked at each of the game pieces. My version of Clue is really cool because each of the game pieces is shaped and colored like the character, down to their shoes and the details in their hair. It’s all wonderfully detailed, and it’s perfect for someone just getting to know the characters.

We placed each character where they belong on the board, and I had him pick one. After that, I changed the game from it’s original rules; I tucked everything but what we needed for the game back in the box and closed the lid. Then I put just the room cards on the hall room in the center, faces down. (This particular game board has a room in the center that isn’t on any of the cards.) Then, I had Toby roll the dice.

I read the number that the dice showed, and told him to pick a card in the center. Then I told him that he had to go to that room with his character.

At this point, I discovered that he’s not interested in counting the tiny little squares between rooms. I nitpicked about it for awhile (“No, here: one, two, three. Your piece goes here, not way over there.”) but then realized that he’s more interested in the process of the game, not the concept of following rules and competing to win. So I counted tiny squares on my turns and took two or three turns to get from room to room and he rolled, but then bounced from room to room.

The object was to get your character to the room on the card you were holding. Then you put the card face-up on the room that it matches. Then it’s the next person’s turn. For someone who can’t read, he enjoyed studying the pictures on the cards and matching them to the rooms on the board. It’s novel to him that all the game pieces match up so perfectly like that. It’s also novel to watch the pieces move around the board, to manipulate your environment in such a miniscule way.

And I find I do this with any board game. It doesn’t work with everything; he pulled out one of those BIG boxed puzzles one day. It was of a I Spy scene, with lots of tiny toys. Being the Yes Mom that I like to be, I said, “Okay, sure, we’ll do what you want to do,” and dumped out all the pieces on the dining table. After the awe of so many puzzle pieces, I asked him again if he wanted to do this. He was interested, but after a few minutes of turning all of them over with me image-side up, he wandered off.

Toby watched with interest as I put all the straight sides together and made the frame. I handed him four or five pieces that were obvious they went together and let him fiddle with those while I worked on the big one. After I was about halfway done and feeling in the groove, he started begging me to do something else. I could hear the whine of boredom in his voice, but my stubborn streak set in.

“You said you wanted me to do this, so I’m going to do it,” I told my preschooler. And I did, while he played nicely. I even let him put in the very last piece. We’re not doing another big puzzle together for a few more years.

Besides, we’ve got plenty of board games to amuse him. We make our own designs with Battleship boards and don’t ever battle. We separate the jewels in Mancala into color groups even though the colors don’t matter at all in the actual game. We roll the wheeled game pieces in Trivial Pursuit across the game board and make patterned designs out of the wedges.

We even have an old game called Extinction; I don’t even know what the real rules are to the game or how to really play it. I just know the preschooler version. Considering we never had all the pieces to play the real game, our made-up game is fine with me.

Quite A Show By The Family– Theatre Before And After Right Now

This is turning out to be The Year of The Theatre for our family. This is also the longest I think I’ve ever gone without writing because of my five-month theatre stint. When a major project takes over your life, you par down to the essentials until it flows away. This year, and for this project, this space became a non-essential.

What large project, you say? Oh, just writing, recruiting, producing and directing a roadshow. Our roadshow ended up being about pirates that turn into ninjas and attack the storytellers, who are sitting in a fort, by tying them up with rope and duct tape. But that’s okay, because that’s what the storytellers planned on doing to their little sister, who ended up saving them with her hidden ninja skills.

Not even two weeks after the cast party, I went to a wedding. (I also attended two out-of-state weddings this summer.) While I was at the wedding, my husband babysat and worked from home. He also attended an audition for a play at a local theatre and got a part. Naturally, being twice as talented as me. He asked me about my opinion on the matter, of course.

“I just finished with a big theatre commitment while you supported by babysitting; there’s no reason why you can’t have your turn while I babysit,” I told him. And I meant it.

My resolve was weakened a little bit when he and I were calendaring with his production schedule. He’s got an entire month of performances. This floored me, and still does— all theatre productions I’ve ever been in perform for a week, maybe two. Or perform for an entire month of weekends, so the weeknights aren’t committed to performance. But every day for a month? Phew.

I just keep telling myself to take it one week at a time. It’ll be prime opportunity to toilet train, and I hope to have plenty of little activities to break up monotony— dinners with friends, church activities, outings with Toby, painting one wall at a time…

This is a time for me to pull out all the stops and all the tricks up my sleeve. It’s bound to be quite a show.

Break It Open & Read: “Your Dreams Will Come True.”

Most of the time, I’m good-natured. I roll with the punches and adapt to the needs of my boys. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t like my job very much. But when I get a fortune cookie, a very rigid set of expectations comes out that surprises those who are also holding fortune cookies around me. My brow furrows like I’m taking the fortune to heart, like I really think it foretells my future.

This is not the case.

No matter what it says, it goes on my blue bookcase.

I’ve found that many fortunes written don’t predict anything. They’re written in the same mystic language as horoscopes, but they just state something that exists. Some examples from my bookcase:

“You have a natural grace and a great consideration for others.”
“Everyone has ambitions.”
“There is no mistake so great as that of always being right.”
“Romance and travel go together now.”

Close to the statement is the advice fortune. It’s not technically foretelling the future, and it still feels like a fortune sometimes because occasionally, the advice matches what you’re dealing with at the moment. Stuff like:

“Don’t worry about the stock market. Invest in family.”
“Rely on close friends to give you advice.”
“Things are not always what they seem. It’s not that bad!”

I find both of these types of fortunes to be annoying, but the first group more so.

I remembered this particular annoyance when I bought a baby shower gift for a friend. I wanted to give her handmade fortune cookie booties that come in a take-out box. Because they’re handmade, I could choose what message to put in as the fortune.

I found that I liked “An amazing journey awaits you” for the left foot, but changed the seller’s suggestion of “From small beginnings comes great things” to a more active “From small beginnings will come great things.”

The girl with a girl on the way loved them, especially when I handed the gift to her right after she commented, “Oh, I love Asian-inspired stuff.”

(Also seen on Uncommongoods, which is where I first fell in love with them. But at her Etsy site, you can personalize the message.)

Before you ask, the oldest fortune I’ve kept has sat in a teacup with a dried rosebud, a tiny rabbit finger puppet, and bits of ribbon that are too small to be re-used. Recently, I recalled why I put the contents of that teacup together and have since moved the fortune to my bookcase with the others.

It says, “Your dreams will come true.”

Ever the romantic, I got this fortune as a teenager. My dreams at the time were to fall in love, get married, make a home, and begin a family of my own. The finger puppet represented children to me, the pieces of ribbon were romance, and the teacup was the home for the finger puppet. The rosebud reminded that all of these were unfulfilled, unbloomed, still vague possibilities.

Well, they’re a happy reality now. I’m thrilled that prediction came true.

But if you see me in a Chinese restaurant, frowning and grumbling and grouching over something in my hand, if it doesn’t have bad spelling or grammar, I just don’t like my fortune.

Recently, In Pictures

A record of leap day this year– with everyday milk and cereal to record an otherwise ordinary day.

My first tackling of weeds in our new house. As I pulled them up, I had to continually remind myself that weeds are otherwise perfectly acceptable plants growing in the wrong place. I even tried transplanting certain specimens in a pot and taking them inside; no go. These weeds are particular.

We don’t actually play this game; instead, he moves the pieces from one squared compartment to the other, and I make patterns on the game board. And Just’In thought we wouldn’t ever use it when Mary gave it to us.

The first time Toby went out with Daddy to “pick” dandelions, I was excited. “Ooh, bring some back for me, will you? I love dandelions!” A little boy tumbling through the door with a careful handful of these was priceless, even when they graced our table for only a whole day. I was sneezing up a storm while putting them in water; I have become allergic to them.

Sue-Sue, this one’s for you– an appreciation photo of a bag that was specifically designed to keep hearing aid repair stuff and hearing aid batteries. Much better than a browned-by-age plastic baggie. Made by Girl By Aileen in the USA. Hooray!

I’m told marigolds are easy to plant– they were my mom’s weeds as a kid. I had seedlings sprouted by a spray bottle and sheer will. Past tense. I’ve tried this with wheatgrass more than once in the past, and all I got was mold.

A sideboard. A buffet. From a crowded, dark basement of gorgeous antiques–this particular store doesn’t do its furniture the justice it deserves, but it means bargains for us. Even when I have to pester the delivery man to do the job we paid him (and he promised) to do.

We’ve been staring at swatches and are now debating between two particular shades for the dining room. Admittedly, I had fun painting the samples.

Grandpa sent a present after a visit–and for the past few weeks, it has transformed shape and shifted from room to room almost daily. I’m not complaining one bit.

Hearing Aids: The How-Tos [Part One]

Because I have hearing aids, I have lots of conversations with aged people about them. They feel older than me, but I’m the experienced one in this area: I’ve had at least five sets of hearing aids in my lifetime, and I expect to have many more. For my elders, I’ve discovered that hearing aids can be a sensitive topic. To some wonderfully aged, hearing the words “Mom, I think you need hearing aids” or “Dad, you don’t hear as well as you used to” might be as shocking and invasive as “I highly suggest a colonoscopy” or “we’ve been robbed.”

Thus, this is the second in my Sensitive Subject Series. One of the tactics you might use to convince them that they need hearing aids is to talk them through the steps to getting them. I’ll address how to have your hearing tested and how to get to the “Buy a Hearing Aid” step. After buying a hearing aid is covered in a future post.

So, once you convince your parents that one of them needs a hearing aid or two, then what? Your parents are supposed to be the experienced ones, but they’ve never done this, and neither have you. As someone who just bought her first pair of hearing aids (at 26) and has had her parents buy her all her sets of hearing aids before these, I’ll work you through it. (I’ll be writing this as if you are working your elderly parents through this, but the same steps apply if you’re doing it for yourself or if you’re buying a young child hearing aids.)

The first step is to get their hearing checked. Yes, it’s obviously impaired because they can’t hear the conversation around them, but hearing is a complex thing. Having a hearing test determines which areas of hearing need to be repaired, like high pitches that are loud or lower tones that are soft. It also determines how exactly those ears are hearing impaired: it could be the tiny hairs in the cochlea that are damaged, it could be the fluid itself in the cochlea, or it could be damage to the auditory nerve that goes to the brain.

A Side View of the Snail-Shell-Shaped Organ in your Ear

The hearing test involves several sections, just like the ACT has English, Math, and History sections. They’re done Read the rest of this entry

The Transformation Observation– The Torso Two Years After

It’s been several months plus two years since Toby’s birth. I’ve been working since then to shape my body into something I’m confident with. I’ve had several doctors tell me that the belly itself, after pregnancy, will contract on its own, and there’s nothing I an do to influence it. The uterus and everything internal contracted within weeks, and then I was left with fat and lots of floppy skin in the belly area.

I am not tiny anymore. Overall, I don’t fit into sizes 0 and 1, nor do I want to. I fit into medium sizes now, and I’ve accepted this as fact; I’ve also accepted that I’ve grown an inch or two in height since my pregnancy, my hair has darkened, my cheeks are more full, and my face has more depth to it. All these are just changes that happen to the body as it gives something to another human being.

But for the first time since my teenage years, I fight insecurities about my body. I’d like to write candidly about it, but I know some of my words have already made some of you cringe.

Welcome to my Sensitive Subjects Series. Here, I’ll be recalling the trip my torso has taken. I’ve seen skin textures and colors that don’t appear in magazines and have been both irritating and fascinating. Please read a different post if you don’t want to read about the textures of the skin under my clothes.
Read the rest of this entry

A Cramped and Blotchy Valentine’s Day Weekend

I’m avoiding all mention of Valentine’s stuff on the Internet today. I don’t want to read about paper art in card form or handmade anything themed with red. I especially don’t want to read about romantic love.

Today has been a bad day for me. I woke up normally, but soon felt down, then achey. I told myself that I was catching the cold that my husband had last week, so I laid down and dosed for half an hour. That helped, but then I was snapping at my cheerful and inquisitive son and choking up. Now my cheeks are covered with dried tears.

I tried to give my husband a Valentine’s Day date last weekend, something worthwhile and something we could re-connect over. It failed, and I stormed off; we sat in the car, shouting at each other in conversation for many minutes while our toddler sat in the car, asking over and over to go home. The rest of the day, his face was stoney and he didn’t speak much. He stayed up that night, waiting for me to climb in bed so we could talk. He ended up crying.

Now it’s my turn, I suppose. Even though we earnestly apologized to each other, I still feel robbed of the renewed connection that a date brings.

Marriages have ups and downs. This weekend, I discovered that, while neither of us hold grudges, he has a very long memory. We’re at a down point right now. This is cryptic on purpose; any bad things we have remaining between us have already been said and will not be thrown about into others’ ears. I’m not going to relate our bad date to you.

Not all of it is bad. I got an IM this morning from him that contained these words:

In spite of our occasional miscommunications
and disagreements,
I’m still certain
I’m still certain
It was the right decision.
I love you.
I’m happy I married you.
Because no matter what comes up,
We find a way to work it out.

We’re slowly massaging the kinks out of this particular cramp. The skin is changing from blotched to clear.

“Large Items” and “Miscellaneous I, Too, and III”–A Labelling Technique

I’m almost done finding places for all the books; then I’ve got everything but the art and the decorations out of boxes. As I continue to unpack and organize my home, I find it funny to notice the difference in the way Just’In and I label boxes. Mary, my grandma, made the same observation when she moved several years ago:

“One member of each couple will label just one side of the box, and the other person will label all sides.”

For Mary, she labelled just the top in her big, swirled cursive and Bob, my grandpa, would label every side and the top. You’d think this is a mark of exactitude in personality, of personal discipline and maybe over-organization. Or maybe something of gender, right?

This label on a box Just'In got from work always made me giggle.

Maybe. Bob is an accountant by profession, and has been his whole adult life. I’ve seen his finance spreadsheets and I’ve interviewed him for his life story; he’s clearly good at what he does. Don’t you have to be organized as an accountant?

As for me, I enjoy organizing cabinets, drawers, and cupboards, yet I had (temporary) piles of stuff in our bedroom that always shifted and tended to disappear when guests were due.

I don’t know the answer, but with us, I label every side and the top of every box and my husband labels just the top. In fact, we reused some of the boxes from our move from Utah to Oregon, and in pulling out dusty boxes, I found a label made by Just’In: “Large Items”. It’s just about as ambiguous as the Miscellaneous” numbered series of boxes I labelled; at one point in the packing process, you just have a jumble of stuff from each room that need to be packed.

Like The Label on This Box

Still, I get slightly frightened about Just’In’s packing box labelling habit; I know that when boxes are moved, movers care less whether the label is visible. And I hate studying a stack of boxes and not being able to read the label of one box’s specific contents because it’s on a side facing another box.

Good thing they’re just packing boxes, right? It’s still interesting to think about: which member of the couple are you, the one-side labeller or the thorough-marker?

What I’ll Miss About My Last Apartment: A List

–The vaulted ceilings: I looked up often while I lived there and smiled every time I did. Because we had vaulted ceilings, my CD mural turned out really well. See?

My Work of Art That Only Exists Now in Pieces

–I’ll miss the heaters. When I first moved in, I cringed at the heating system: wall units which consisted of a heating coil and a fan behind a vent near floor level, but definitely recessed into the wall. (You can see one in the picture above.) However, after awhile, I appreciated that every wall unit could be controlled individually by the thermostat knob directly above it at eye level.

I found that, as I woke up, I could turn on only the wall unit in my bedroom to get dressed, then turn it off as I went into the office. I’d turn on just the wall unit in the office as I sat at my computer until Toby woke up, then turn it off and turn on the one in the living room/dining room as we ate breakfast. This may sound tedious, but each wall unit provided immediate, strong heat. It was like having a radiator in every room: encompassing, direct, and quietly humming. The heat in this house is significantly different.

–Very close neighbors: I had neighbors downstairs, who, if they were home, often had their front door open. If I wanted to chat, it meant no awkward walking across their property or standing in front of a closed doorway speculating whether they were home. I met the neighbors who moved in and had some of them over for dinner. I knew many of my neighbors by name.

I also had neighbors across the complex that I felt comfortable walking to during Toby’s nap and also while he was in a stroller or on foot. I knew the resident manager’s hours because she kept them fairly regular; she was a friendly face who was always Read the rest of this entry