A Brief List of Happy Tuesday Stuff

Things that made me happy today:

1.

Feeding my kids pizza for breakfast without guilt—
or pitching the uneaten half of their cereal, toast, eggs, or other traditional breakfast foods.

Pizza!

This also took care of my MIL’s complaints about the leftover pizza taking up too much space in the fridge
and the way my children don’t eat enough in the morning—
though it did not stop her from expression her silent, pointed, painful-looking opinions about pizza not being Real Food.

I can’t say that didn’t have an elevating effect on the “without guilt” part of the experience.

(and also maybe, secretly, the happy)

____

2.

Singing along to the radio on my way to work, stopping at a light, and realizing that the guy in the car next to me is belting out the exact same song.

He was doing Kimbra’s part, while I was covering Gotye.

He noticed,too, gave me a thumbs up, and we both sang louder, with feeling.
(long light +  a cement truck trying to back up over railroad tracks= looong light)

But the best part?

When the light changed, he grinned at me and hollered, “Let’s take this show on the road!” and took off.

He made my entire day.

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3.

I gave a very young patron a pencil and some scrap paper this afternoon,
while her grandmother was having something notarized,
and later received a hug and a picture that Jackson Pollack would have been proud to call his own.

She said I was a “very nice Library Lady.”Librarian Stereotype

Sniff.

____

4.

Mike Allegra’s Doodle Contest! For which I get an extra entry because I mentioned it on my blog!

a-fine-artist

It ain’t ego, if it’s true.

If I win, I want a duck in a fedora!

Because that would make me even happier.

 

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Store Credit

The kids and I did a pick-up grocery trip* on the way home from church yesterday.

Shopping CartThis is my lest favorite time to go, because the kids are hungry and I’m hungry and we all just want to get home, so there’s even more whining and begging on both sides, plus the check-out lanes are usually full of other impatient, hungry people who do not appreciate having to maneuver past two acquisitive Wesson children who are poring over every single candy bar, toy, tube of lip balm, and gum pack on those maddening impulse buy shelves lining the chutes** we’re all plodding down at the combined speeds of a  freshly-hired cashier who can’t tell cucumbers from zucchini from bok choy yet and and a teenage bagger who is doing his best in the face of endless lines of impatient, hungry people who are buying pineapples, glass jars, cleaning supplies, soft bread, and eggs and who all have their own Very Strong Opinions about what should go in which bags and whether gallon milk jugs and/or potatoes should or should not be bagged at all.***

I was just heading for the end of such a line yesterday, teeth already gritted over the behavior of my beloved children—who must have been raised by a pack of sugar-addicted stoats when I wasn’t looking—when I realized that our fewer than twelve items qualified us for the Express Lane, which not only featured a shorter line with marginally happier people in it, but also had no impulse buy shelves.

Sunny, who was hanging off the end of the cart in listless resentment over my repeated refusal to buy her every brightly-colored, nutritionally bereft item that crossed her field of vision, suddenly snapped upright and demanded to know why Jane always got everything she asked for.  I answered indirectly by telling Jane to put the sports drink back, please, and started to unload the cart amid Sunny’s undeterred moans.^

The cashier cheerfully zapped everything through and said, “Is there anything else?”

“I don’t suppose I could return the curly-haired kid there for store credit?” I asked, fishing out my credit card.

Without missing a beat, the cashier turned to Sunny.  “Smile for me,” she said.

Sunny SmilesSunny stopped mid-moan. “What?”

“Smile, please.  Just a little one.”

Sunny did.

“I’m sorry,” the cashier told me, “but there are some teeth missing.  I’ll have to call the manager.”

“Never mind,” I said, when I could catch my breath, “I guess I can wait until they grow back.”

“You have a good day, now,” the cashier said.

“Thanks,” I said, as Jane joined us.  “I think we actually might.”

And we did.

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*To grab the stuff I was told I’d forgotten the day before by the same people whom I had asked to look at the list before I’d gone the first time—and who had both said it looked fine to them.

**I don’t know one parent who doesn’t want to meet the marketing genius who designed that area of the store and wring his neck.

***No.

^The stoats clearly hired a howler monkey au pair.  Damn them.

Bragging on EVERYONE’S kids: Robotic Coopertition

As those of you who might have dropped in yesterday already know, Janie and I spent all day Saturday at the regional FIRST LEGO League robotics challenge, which is part of the fifth-grade curriculum at Jane’s school.

LEGO Robots for school credit. In fifth grade.  I know.

There were thirty teams of about five to ten kids each running around the enormous venue—even more teams met Sunday—plus coaches, parents, judges, referees, volunteers, and the robots.  The teams had great names like Geek Chic and LEGO my Robot, and tee shirts, and some of them had matching—or themed—hats.  The judges and refs had crazy hats, too, and the entire atmosphere was one of intense, exhausting fun.

This year’s challenge was called Nature’s Fury and each team had to complete four parts, which were scheduled in no particular order.

Teams had to find solutions to the problems created by a flood, tsunami, volcano, wildfire, etc., and do  presentation skits explaining the need for and effectiveness of their ideas.

They also had to program their robots to perform certain tasks that would be of assistance during a natural disaster.  They had two and a half minutes and three separate tries to complete the tasks on  a table equipped with LEGO pieces:

Trial Table

The remaining sections included a technical interview, in which they explained the design of their robot, the programming, and the logic behind both to several professional engineers who asked pointed questions that required in-depth answers.  I was extremely impressed with the kids’ understanding of what they were doing and their poise in explaining it, even if some of the vocabulary went right over my head.

The final section was the Core Values interview, in which I assume they answered questions focused on the teamwork and cooperation parts of their preparations.  I have to assume this, as parents and coaches were not invited and the kids were instructed not to talk about the interview.  And they didn’t.  Period.

I didn’t mind at all—or not much, anyway—because a big part of what I loved about the day was how polite and friendly everyone was, and what a blast everyone was having—both within each team and as a whole participatory group.

If something didn’t work, a team would reset and tried something a little different, without complaint or accusation, while their teammates—and everyone else—clapped and called encouragement.   People held doors for each other and gave directions—and helped carry things for other teams, too.

There was no booing or comparing of points between teams, either—everyone cheered for everyone, never against.

It was a revelation.

The set-up encouraged this: the teams weren’t competing directly, they were earning points, which made them too busy trying beating their own best score (only the best score counted in the timed trials) to mind that others were doing the same thing.

But from the first time the kids were told about the program  at the beginning of the school year  to and through the entire day of the challenge, the continuing emphasiswas on “friendly coopertition”  and “gracious professionalism”.   Even by the end, when the adults were exhausted—and so very, very footsore—and the kids had passed beyond energetic right into spastic squirrel territory, we were still in this together.

I Robot

Plus, you know, the robots were so cool.

And so are these kids.  All the kids.

I’m so proud of Janie’s team—all the teams—for their hard work, and how they learned not only how to program a real robot and to consider all aspects of a potential invention—from problem to solution, usability to cost, cultural ramifications to effective marketing—but also to consider each other’s opinions, brainstorm and discuss without arguments, and how step aside for the good of the team.

These five kids became good friends along the way—and all of them said they wanted to do it again next year, even though it will mean twice as much work outside of class.  We parents thought this was a great idea, too.

Regardless of score, or of the recognition they received for their design, those last two paragraphs is what made this challenge a total success.

But next year?

I’m taking my pedometer, ’cause I would have flipped that thing by three o’clock—whew!

The Dog Park Will Not Harm You

You guys—you guys—have you heard the Night Vale podcasts, yet?

Night ValeThose twenty-minute combos of Dot’s homegrown radio hour from Fried Green Tomatoes* and Lovecraft’s subconscious , performed in low, soothing tones reminiscent of that guy in Good Morning Vietnam whose show was right before Robin William’s?  The ones with the five-headed dragon being hunted by the Sheriff’s secret police for insurance fraud and Rico’s Pizza and angels and hovercats and the Glow Cloud (which just is)?

Those of you who are nodding and/or looking smug right now—yeah, you—why didn’t you tell me?

“Saturday, the public library will be unknowable. Citizens will forget the existence of the library from 6am Saturday morning until 11pm that night. The library will be under a sort of renovation. It is not important what kind of renovation.”
(Episode two: “The Glow Cloud”)

I first heard about Night Vale from an image posted on Celeste Doodles. It was an artistic concept of Cecil Baldwin, the deep-voiced host of the town’s community news radio program, which is the general premise of each podcast.

Anything Celeste draws that I don’t immediately understand  is sure to be worth the research time, so I googled it and was immediately intrigued by the whole idea of this strange desert town, whose citizens choose to live there for the same reason people live on the side of active volcanoes, but with more in the way of elder gods and feral librarians.

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”
(Episode one: “Pilot”)

I started noticing references to Night Vale from multiple sources, including a great review on Tor.com,  but for one reason or another, I never got around to listening to it.  Approximately ninety percent of my time is spent sitting still, yes, but I’m generally also doing things that don’t mix well with radio shows, or I’m in the company of library supervisors and/or small children who also don’t mix well.

So it wasn’t until this past weekend, while I was setting up my new eeeBox (about which more later, to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”) and messing with cords and apps and applications that would apparently take somewhere between eleven minutes and twelve hours to install (All Hail Microsoft), that I realized that I finally had time to give Night Vale the attention everyone said it deserved.

So I downloaded the pilot on my laptop and had a listen.

And fell in love.

“Listeners, we are currently fielding numerous reports that books have stopped working. It seems that all over Night Vale, books have simply ceased functioning. The scientists are studying one of the broken books to see if they can understand just what is going on here. The exact problem is currently unclear, but some of the words being used include ‘sparks,’ ‘meat smell,’ ‘biting,’ and ‘lethal gas.’

For your own safety, please do not attempt to open a book until we have more information on the nature and cause of these problems. The city council has released only a brief statement, indicating that their stance on books has not changed, and that, as always, they believe that books are dangerous and inadvisable, and should not be kept in private homes.”
(
Episode 3: “Station Management”)

This town is the Mayberry of Fox Mulder’s wildest dreams.

It has bake sales (for blood space wars) and PTA meetings and pteranodon attacks (at the PTA meetings) and City Council Elections that involve benign hostage-taking, and devastating earthquakes that no one feels, and a dog park that is forbidden to all, six extra boy scout levels after Eagle—including Blood Pact Scout and Dreadnaught Scout—and a secret police force that offers stop sign immunity in exchange for community assistance.

It also has Cecil Baldwin, our velvet-voice conduit to Night Vale.

“Hello, radio audience. I come to you live from under my desk, where I have dragged my microphone and am currently in the fetal position.”
(Episode Three: “Station Management”)

Part journalist, part commentator, part cheerleader, part early warning system—and preternaturally calm in the face of anything but contract negotiations and barbers who dare to touch the perfect hair of his beloved—Cecil welcomes us to his small town and provides community announcements, news items, social commentary and sensible precautionary advice for surviving the various quirks of Night Vale life.

The weather reports—which non-residents might call states of mind, set to music**—are particularly catchy:


(there’s a YouTube Channel for the rest of the reports, too)

Of course, it isn’t all Shabbith-Ka sightings at the supermarket.***  Night Vale has the same struggles as any small American town:

 “The Night Vale Daily Journal has announced that they will be cutting back their publication schedule to Monday through Thursday only, due to the economic downturn and a massive decline in the literate population . . .” 

 Though the stories always have that special touch of local color:

 ” . . . The Thursday Daily Journal will now be called the Weekend Edition, and on Sundays, newspaper kiosks usually filled with important newsprint will be filled with 2% milk. When asked why milk, the Journal’s publishing editor Leanne Hart said, “It is important that we maintain an unbiased approach to news reporting.”
(Episode Three:  “Station Management”)

 But it’s Cecil’s personality and personal commentary—plus his blatant adoration of the exquisitely-coiffed scientist Carlos, who arrives in the first episode to study Night Vale’s oddities, as so many have previously attempted—that allow us to accept and embrace his home town, a place that seems to be an extreme testing ground for the adaptability of the minds, bodies, spirits, and souls of the  huma—the bipedal—  the various sentient(ish) species who make it their home.

“Night Vale is an ancient place, full of history and secrets, as we were reminded today. But it is also a place of the present moment, full of life, and of us. If you can hear my voice, speaking live, then you know: We are not history yet. We are happening now. How miraculous is that?”
(Episode Four: “PTA Meeting”)

I remember reading somewhere that one of  the reasons Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor wrote these scripts was to get people to read more stuff by H. P. Lovecraft, who is mentioned in the production credits in the end of each show.^

This is a noble cause and I fully support it, but I’m getting something from these podcasts that Lovecraft rarely, if ever, put in his stories:  a sense of community and hope.

After all, if Cecil can survive and thrive , find love,  and even detect the silver stomach linings of the deepest dark^^ in a place like Night Vale . . . than maybe we can, too, wherever we happen to be.

And have a laugh or two while we’re at it.

Give these a try, please, and tell me what you think.

Some of the transcripts are available here, it text is better for you, but if you can, please listen—Cecil’s delivery is half the awesome.

I can’t wait to get to episode twenty: “Poetry Week”!

__________________________

*In the book, not the movie.   Yes, there’s a book.  Go find it, it’s good.

**This is more or less my personal definition of weather, anyway.

***I’m making that up, though I’m only up to the fourth episode, so who knows?  If I remember my Lovecraft correctly—which is something I don’t normally try to do—there have been quite a few cameos already.

^Don’t skip these—you don’t want to miss the moral!

^^Again, not yet.  But I have my suspicions.

Good News from Bo’s Cafe!

I survived yesterday—I almost didn’t make it home, since the low roads are under water, random sections of the high road have sprouted orange barrels in a somewhat premature Ode to Spring, and the unofficial motto of our area has always been “You can’t get there from here.”*

But I did eventually find my way back, though I was so beat I completely forgot about the leftover birthday cake that I’d planned as a reward for making it through.**

Let me tell you, when I’m so out of it, I forget cake . . .

But some good things came from the pathos.  My friend has accepted my apologies for forgetting her birthday—whew! Many of you offered to take on the pain of next Monday for me—I accept, by the way. And our brilliant Downith added a two word comment to yesterday’s post that should keep me, uh, fundamentally balanced until I absolutely can’t put off a shopping trip to Ye Olde Torture Chamber the lingerie store.

But the real credit for breaking the Curse of Monday goes to Wayne E. Pollard, who sent me some wonderful news:

His webcomic, Bo’s Cafe Life, about which I’ve gushed here before, made Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best websites for writers!

writers-digest-2013-101-best-sites

If you’ve missed any of the previous gushing, Wayne’s brainchild is a deceptively simple comic that offers a sincere, sweet, cynical, painfully realistic and always hilarious look at the writing business and the business of writing.

There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a blogger (and ouch, Wayne, really):

bella-cant-think-of-anything1

A poet:
carlos-left-wallet

A writer of fiction (or just of a certain age):

weekend-bella-historical-fiction

Or . . . all of us:

gavin-anything-else

I’ve accused Wayne of following me around more than once . . . But that’s only fair, since I plan to follow the Cafe gang for as long as he keeps posting.

Go look through the archives—and share a link to your favorite in the comments!
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*A couple of years ago, at the city-logo brainstorming session, someone suggested “A Great Place to get Lost.” It made the top five.

**So I planned to have it for breakfast—don’t judge me, it beats small cellophane baggies of fortune cookie crumbs from my purse—and forgot again.  I may be coming down with something . . .