Apparently I need to watch my facial expressions…

I have a pet peeve about the names that people choose to give to their children and it is this:

I don’t like it when people approach naming their children the same way they would approach naming their dog.  I’ve been noticing an increasing tendency for people to give their kids names that they think are cute or clever or funny or unique, when really they’re just stupid.  The same goes for weird spellings.  Do you want your kid to have his name pronounced wrong constantly?

But anyway, that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about facial expressions and how they can get you into trouble.

Every day at work we have “morning huddle.”  Morning huddle is where the day’s business is discussed and where a lot of unrelated chit chat happens.  One topic in the morning’s chit chat the other day was an old employee who had come for a visit the day before.  She had brought her kid.  Her kid’s name was Espn.  As in ESPN.  As in the kid’s father really liked to watch ESPN so they decided to name their kid after a sports television network.  (I can’t tell you whether the kid was a girl or a boy because I don’t know, and the name Espn certainly doesn’t give me any hints, now does it?)  Anyway, when I heard the tale of the naming of Espn, my pet peeve blinkers went off.  And I winced.  Which is what I usually do when I hear about horrible names being given to children.

However, my boss happened to glance over at me right at this moment.

“Are you okay?” She asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure?  Because you look like you’re in pain.”

Here I was stuck in a bit of an uncomfortable situation.  Now, while I do not like it when people give their kids stupid names, I also don’t like to hurt people’s feelings by telling them that I think they gave their beloved beautiful child  a stupid name.  But the mother in question was not there and my boss was quite convinced that I was hiding some secret ailment.  So…

“Well…that name is giving me a pain.”

Luckily, no one seemed insulted by this.  But I made a mental note to watch myself more carefully on future horrible naming occasions.

Fast forward a couple of days.  I’m sitting around the living room at the volunteer house.  Janet is talking about something that requires some mental figuring on my part.  (I don’t remember what it was.)  But, suddenly, she stops mid-sentence.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.”

“You look like you’re having cramps.”

I laughed.  “No, Janet, I’m fine.”

So she resumed talking.  Only to turn to me a few minutes later.

“Are you sure you’re okay?  Because you really look like you’re having cramps.”

“I’m fine!”

Yeesh, Janet.  I think I would know if I was having cramps. I’m confused as to how a quizzical “let me figure this out” expression equals cramps.

But maybe her facial expressions are different than mine.

Or maybe I just have a really weird face.

Yeah, that’s probably it.

Popcorn and Lemonade

I am listless today.

I am listless but I am not list less.

My straight-laced, responsible, categorical brain penned a to-do list just two days ago.  It lies there on my desk, black pen on yellow legal pad.  Job applications, volunteer house duties, farewell notes.

I should be doing them now.  Putting a black line through the scribbled words.  But I am not.

I am listless today.

I can’t bring myself to spout professional jargon; to sing my own praises.  After all, there’s not much to sing about.

I can’t bring myself to be clever with words; to radiate kindness from the tip of a pencil.  After all, there’s not much to say.

So I do laundry.  Mindless tasks are all I’m good for today.  I fold laundry while a man named Jon Foreman sings in my ear.  No, Jon, not even your musical powers can break this feeling today.

I have a craving for popcorn.  Popcorn usually accompanies a special TV show or a long-anticipated movie.  But I have already fried my brain on silly bridal shows, music videos, and CNN.  The TV I can no longer stand.

I am listless today.

As I pop my popcorn I think of the lemonade in the back refrigerator.  A lonely forgotten remnant of a good-bye get-together.  I pour myself a glass.  The lemonade tastes of sugar, of Mormonism, of summertime rocking-on-the-porch cliches.

I am not looking forward to this week.  To the much derided unknown, to solitary mixed with tension.  I am not looking forward to farewells and future months covered in heavy clouds of uncertainty.  At least not today.

I am listless today.

So I eat popcorn, drink lemonade,

and read words scrawled across a page.

One Day in the Life of Rubber Band Race Car

Hey.  What’s up?

I’m a rubber band race car.  I was made by child laborers in some third world country.  Put me together.

My directions were written by someone who doesn’t speak English.  Oh, and they’d never actually put me together themselves.  So, ya know, good luck.

Pop my sides out of their fake wood casing.  Paint me in pretty, race-ready colors.  Glue my pieces together with this no-name, smells like Elmer’s, looks like Elmer’s glue.  It won’t stick terribly well, but it’ll do, person.  It’ll do.

Pick up those dowels and those plastic wheels.  Pull out those rubber bands.  Pay no attention to those clear plastic tubes.  They aren’t in the directions.  Their purpose was lost somewhere between the originators, the factory kings, the child laborers, and the non-English speaker.  Just throw those away, eh?

Stick the dowels in those holes.  Put those tires on there.  Pop the rubber bands around the  back wheels.  Tie the other rubber band to that dowel.  No, dummy, not that one.  The one behind it.

Wrap the rubber band around my back axle.  All right!  This is what’s going to put the “race” in my rubber band car status.

Wind me up and watch me…

Not.  Go.

Okay, all right.  It’s all right.  Let’s try again.

Wind me up and watch me…

Go one foot!

YEAH!  That was super awesome!  Right?  Am I right?  Yeah?

Aren’t you glad you bought me in this little old kit for these little old summer camp kids?

I’m awesome!  Right?  Yeah?  Why are you giving me that look?

Um, person?  One of my wheels just fell off.  Could you fix that for me?  Please?

In Passing

Smile at me.

Let me see those crooked teeth and those crinkled eyes.

Speak to me.  Speak to me without words.  Let me know what you’re thinking without asking.

I don’t know you.  But we were made by the same set of hands just a short time ago.  And what was created, was good.

Smile at me though you do not know my name.  You know who I am and where I come from.

Smile at me.

And I’ll smile back.

A Camping Trip of Mammoth Proportions

Two lovely weeks of science camp rife with plastic rockets flying through the air done, we embarked this past week on our “Teen Excursion Camp.”  And just where were we going?

We were going to Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world!  And just another one of Kentucky’s lovely natural beauties.  As we loaded up the bus, one thing was apparent:  It was gonna be a hot one.  And it was.  Temperatures above 100 degrees are not optimal for hiking trips, but we are tough cookies and will not be stopped by an intrusive heat wave.

When we got to the campground, we discovered a problem:  It was infested with bees!  This now, was a very unfortunate infestation as I happen to be allergic.  However, I had come prepared with a pocket full of Benadryl and an arsenal of bee avoidance techniques.

We set up our tents, swatting and sweating.  (Swatting at the bees, sweating ‘cuz it was so durn hot).  Then we went off on a hike.  We decided to take a hike down to the River Styx, whcih one of our teens was pretty excited about because he happens to be a Greek mythology enthusiast.  The River Styx is a river that emerges from inside the cave itself.  So we hiked.  It was very sweaty.  I think everyone was sweating pretty much everywhere you can sweat.  We traveled through the forest, making occasional stops to peer into cave entrances or down into sink holes.  I was looking forward to getting to the River Styx because (being from the Great Lakes State!) I know that it’s cooler closer to the water.  But then we got to the river.  And alas!  It was pretty dried up.  It looked more like a creek than a river.  I guess the River Styx must have been sweating in this weather as well.  Oh, well, I guess that means it’s easier for the dead to get to the underworld now.  They don’t even need to take a boat.  (Our mythology enthusiast was a tad bit disappointed.)

So we moved on.  We went to visit a cemetary along one of the trails where one of the first African American slave cave guides was buried.  Nothing like mixing a little bit of history with your nature.

When we got back to the campsite, we said hello again to the bees.  Then we built a fire and roasted that common campfire food known as The Hot Dog.  After getting their fill of hot dogs, the kids played corn hole, a game that a lot of Kentuckians like.  (There are basically two boards with holes in them and the point of the game is to throw bean bags full of corn kernels into the holes.  There are more rules and such, but as someone who has only played twice, I am not an expert, so I will not explain them.  You get the gist.)  The kids also played frisbee, and we ended up the night with some marshmallow roasting and an exciting game of Life (the board game version).  It was different playing the game with teens than playing with my little cousin.  My cousin gets tired of the game fairly quickly, then zooms his car around the board, and requests me, the banker, to give him some money so that he can go out to eat.  The teens now, they made it through the whole game with no mishaps other than sometimes knocking their little plastic children out of the car.  Way to go teens!

Then, of course, it was bedtime.  I discovered something at bedtime, which I had suspected before but never really had to realize until now:  Michigan ground is a lot more pleasant for sleeping on than Kentucky ground.  So, despite the fact that I was on a mat, I felt like I was sleeping on a rock.  And I didn’t sleep much.  But that’s okay.  Because, in the words of my father, I’m young and spry.

The next day was cave day!  Today we would get to go on our Mammoth Cave tour.  They have several different tours, some more rugged than others, some longer and some shorter.  We went on the historical tour, which lasted about two hours and gave visitors some historical information about the cave.  This was my first time really being in a large cave.  It was pretty cool (both literally and figuratively).  Our tour took us through Fat Man’s Misery, a rather skinny portion of the passage, which I imagine, would not be the most comfortable place for those wide of girth.  We also climbed up the tower in the Mammoth Dome, which we had seen the sinkhole entrance to the day before.  It was an awesome trip and definitely well worth seeing should you ever happen to be in Kentucky.

Once our cave tour was over, it was time for us to head home.  We didn’t even have time to eat lunch, so Leah (one of my fellow CAP volunteers) and I were delegated to make sandwiches on the bus (Aha!  I knew my deli skills would come in handy some day) and hand them back across the seats to our hungry teens.  Two and half hours of driving later, we deposited them all safely at their homes.

Just another awesome week of summer camp complete!

Dirt and Sky

“It’s dirty work, this.”

His hands were flung out, fingers splayed.  “Dirt.  Filth.  That’s all that’s here.”

His companion’s head was bowed down, intent on hoeing the weeds from amongst the rows.  But at the sound of the disgust in his brother’s voice, he raised his head and looked over at him, a sad smile on his face.  Then the head bowed once again, and he went back to his work.

But the dirt was still there.

His brother knelt down in the dirt and crowded a handful of it into his fist.  “It’s not even good soil!  It’s useless.  Look at it!  It’s everywhere!”  He flung the clod of dirt away from him and stood back up, reaching for his discarded hoe.

“Why am I here?  What good does any of this do?”  He felt the sweat dripping down his forehead, collecting the dust from his face.  He reached his hand up and angrily swept it aside.  The dirt-caked fingertips changed to mud.  He turned once again to the man beside him.

“Well?  Aren’t you tired of all this dirt?”

His companion raised his head from his work.  He pushed his hat back on his head and looked up at the sky.  It was the perfect shade of blue.  The clouds lay suspended as if in awe of the beauty of the day.  The sound of a bird releasing a melody floated over the air from the direction of the forest.  He looked back toward his dirt-weary brother.

“Yes, there’s a lot of dirt.  But it’s not useless.  Our work makes it better, more fruitful.”

He paused, searching for the words that would steady his brother and put peace back into his heart.

“There’s a lot of sky.”

He turned to him.

“Look to the sky.”

He smiled, a real smile this time.  The two men stood in the field, their feet planted in the dirt, their eyes raised to the sky.

Look to the sky.

The sun is shining, as always.

And soon, life-giving water will come.

Look to the sky.

(Author’s Note:  To my regular readers (Hello, Mom!), you may have noticed a slight change in my blog.  You may also be wondering what this story about these two men has to do with my Kentucky adventures.  Well, the answer is absolutely nothing!  Over the past few months, I have been trying to write just for fun more often.  I thought that it might be fun to share some of these writings from my notebook on the old blog.  So I have started placing my blog posts into two categories:  Real Life (i.e. things that have been going on in my real life) and Scribbles (i.e. fiction or semi-fiction pieces from my writing-for-fun notebook).  Enjoy!)

Early Morning Freedom

I’ve always believed that the early morning is the best time of the day, especially in the summer.

There was one summer in between 8th and 9th grade where I used to get up with the sun every morning.  And I wouldn’t just leave the house in the ordinary, civilized, walk-out-the-door way.  Nope.  I would crank open my window, pop out my screen, and climb out onto the roof.  The shingles would tear away at my socks as I climbed down to the lowest part of the roof.  I would position myself above the window and lower myself down until my toes reached the windowsill.  Then PLOP!  I jumped to the ground and met up with my waiting shoes.

(I can’t tell you exactly why I chose to leave the house this way.  I was not sneaking out…my parents were aware of my newfound exit route.  I suppose it was because it made it a little bit more exciting.  It was the novelty of it.)

Once on the ground, I would put on my sandals and go for an early morning walk, often accompanied by my calf Mary.  We would trot around the farm, Mary stopping to check out any tasty greenery and my socks soaking up the dew from the grass.  It was beautiful.

There really is no better time than the morning.  The air is fresh and free of the all-too-common summer stuffiness.  The birds are out and chirping away in the trees.  Everything is new!  And happy.  Because today is a new day.  Anything can happen.

I had another one of these mornings this past weekend.

We took our teens on a camping trip to Mammoth Cave (I’ll write more about it in another post) and I woke up on our second day there at 5 a.m.  My brain is a pretty reliable alarm clock, and it has decided this summer that the best time for me to get up is whenever it happens to get light outside (ah, what a good little farm girl brain – encouraging me to be as productive as possible!).  So I was up at 5.  And no one else was going to be up for another three hours.  So I had some time to kill.  And what better way to spend that time than going for a walk?

The people in the campsite next to ours were already up, three fellows sitting in lawn chairs and talking in quiet morning voices.  I walked past.  A couple climbed into a bright yellow truck further along and drove off.  Perhaps they had an appointment to keep.  I walked past the RV section of the campground.  The RVs stood tall and hard against the background of the trees speckled with morning sunlight.  The birds were out, enjoying the slight cool before the sweltering heat.  Robins hopped along in the grass while their peers sang in the boughs.

When I walked out of our campgrounds, I was met by a pleasant surprise.  A doe and her fawn were walking cautiously across the path.  I stopped.  They stopped.  We stared at each other for a bit.  They measured me up.  These were semi-tame national park deer.  Their fear of humans was much less than the deer I would find out in the cow pasture at home of an early morining.  I moved forward as the mother and baby pranced across the trail and into the trees.

As I headed back to my campsite, I heard the sound of a dog barking and then I saw the blur of something running towards me.  I stopped, worried that someone’s dog would find me an unwelcome visitor.  But then I spotted the blur.  It was a racoon and it had just scrambled its way up a tree, startled by the sounds of angry barking.  Underneath the tree a tent rattled and rustled as the dog tried to break free from the canvas walls that were keeping him from attacking his arch nemesis – this trespassing racoon.

Sometimes I lament that more people don’t get up in the early morning.  That I don’t have more people to share this with.

But then, if more people got up early in the morning, it would lose what makes it so beautiful.

The quiet would be gone.

The animals would hide.

The air woulnd’t be as fresh.

In short, the morning would be denied its freedom.

So I will be content with it as it is.