Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holy Family Picnic

Nothing says Christmas like a Holy Family Picnic.

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And there were, in that region, shepherds, eating fried chicken by night. And an angel of the Lord stood before them, and they were sore afraid! But the angel said to them, "Put those drumsticks into a basket and go see what you find in Bethlehem!"

And they went, and they found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe, wrapped in a picnic tablecloth.

Wise men from the East also came, bearing with them gifts of Cold Leftovers and More. These they offered before the child and his mother, and Mary kept all of these things, pondering them in her heart and serving up a fine lunch to Joseph the next day.

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Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. I drove by this display 3 times a week during December. I found the ropes and cords a bit alarming, but I expected they would mean that the entire display would be lighted sometime. Perhaps, surely, on Christmas Eve?

It wasn't.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Polishing Shoes

Does anyone polish shoes any more? This almost seems a lost art in the days of athletic shoes, artificial "leathers" and easy-care suedes. Be that as it may, tonight I'm polishing shoes.

I have some experience in this area; 40 years ago I used to watch my father as he performed the weekly ritual; as a businessman often in the public eye, he dressed neatly and his shoes were the finishing touch. Always two pair, black and brown. Tuck the laces carefully inside the shoes. Brush off any dust and clinging dirt. Open those enchanting little cans with a Kiwi bird on the top, rub a soft cloth in the deep, dark swirls of waxy polish. Rub the polish well into the shoe leather, with careful attention to the toes and creases in the leather. Finally, buff the leather to a shine with a new, soft cloth.

Along with Dad's business shoes, there were white baby shoes (with a strange-smelling white liquid polish), then school shoes in browns, reds and navy. A "neutral" clear polish sufficed for all of these, and on Monday mornings, my school shoes would be shining like new, ready to walk out and face another day.

Somewhere along the way, I took over the polishing of my own shoes, and eventually, I even polished Dad's. Sometimes we would work together, with solemn father-daughter discussion or silly jokes shared as the polish was rubbed in, rubbed off. Eventually I moved away from home, and my new home was not complete until I had my own box of shoe polishing supplies. Soft cloths, a brush, and those little cans of polish with the Kiwi bird on top.

Shoe polishing was my realm when I married and had my own children. I prepared my husband's shoes when he interviewed for the jobs that took us from Colorado to California, California to Minnesota and Minnesota to Texas. I never saw it as a chore; polishing the shoes was an act of service, an act of love, and a vote of confidence.

Somewhere along the way, three children found their ways into the high topped white baby shoes, Velcro athletic shoes, and finally with a cry of triumph, the loops and tails went where they belonged and they learned the fine art of shoelace tying. The art of polishing shoes, however, seemed nearly forgotten.

Until we found ourselves immersed in marching band.

Marching shoes are black. Black leather. Black, shiny, mirror bright leather. Occasional rains and muddy football fields and damp parade marching require that the shoes be polished on a regular basis. My marching children know how to polish their black marching shoes, and do this on a regular schedule.

But tonight, I'm polishing a pair of marching shoes one more time.

It's an act of love, of service, and most of all, of admiration.

Tomorrow afternoon, my youngest son, with 150 other young men and women, will march into the AlamoDome in 4A Level State Marching Finals. They will march a carefully rehearsed show that lasts just under 8 minutes. There are no questions about where or when or how fast. They will perform to the best of their ability, and to the enthusiastic applause of parents, siblings and friends.

No one expected this in August. A 3-year-old school has no REAL expectations of making it all the way to the top, to State Competition. But they did. A combination of superb leadership, dedicated parents and children-fast-becoming-adults resulted in a competition band that defied the odds.

I will watch my son perform with joy and pride, but a sense of humility as well. His own determination and dedication put him on the field.

I just polish the shoes.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Band Story: A postscript

Yesterday was a highly competitive marching competition in our area. The Westlake Marching Festival.

CHS and HHS both competed. HHS placed second in its class. Due to scheduling conflicts (SAT exam), CHS chose to compete in a higher class, later in the day. They did not place in that class, but marched well.

The top 10 scoring bands advance to Finals competition. At the end of the preliminary rounds (about 5:30 in the afternoon) the announcer reads the names of the bands that will advance.

"In No Particular Order"...so he says.

We listened, with hearts in throats. We knew we had done well, but was it well ENOUGH? And since CHS had not placed in the higher class, it was hard to know just how they had scored.

The names were read. In no particular order.

1, 2, 3, 4...you know we are counting in our heads...how many more names to read?

5, 6, 7...and still neither name we want to hear.

8. No.

9. HHS!
10. CHS!

Once more, the "rival" bands cheered loudly...for each other.

Finals competition was at night, between 7:30 and 10:15.

6th in finals (up one place from last year at same competition) - HHS

5th in finals (up one place from last year at same competition) - CHS

I like to think that Abraham was smiling down on all of us, just a little.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Band Story

8 days ago, every parent's and band director's worst nightmare came true...a 15 year old trumpet player at our local arch-rival school was killed in a car accident. Car full of band students, going to get a bite to eat before the Friday night game. The community, was, understandably, in shock.

Last night, our school (HHS) played their school (CHS) in football. So far, in the three years our school has been open, this game has always been a disaster for us, but we keep hoping...

The administration at our school wondered what could be done to promote more of a shared spirit between the two school in place of the intense rivalry.

When the idea was presented to have the band boosters prepare a meal for 400 (Our band, CHS band, and various assorted directors, school staff and the Booster officers of both bands), I was skeptical, but stepped up to the plate.

I finally asked...WHO is in charge of this shindig? Where's the spaghetti coming from, etc?

Dr. E.
Our principal.

OK....well, I guess she certainly can get permission to use the big cafeteria kitchen if she wants to...

Well. Not only can she get permission, she knows how to SHOP. And how to steer a dozen band parents into work teams to serve spaghetti and meatballs, penne pasta with veggies, tossed salad, bread sticks, sliced watermelon, brownies and beverages to 400.

I chopped bell peppers and onions, cleaned and chopped broccoli and put croutons in big bowls. Others opened cans of sauce and boiled noodles and heated breadsticks and made gallons of lemonade. They do say that kids join band to learn new skills. I just didn’t realize that meant the parents, too.

And the best part? Those who cooked didn't have to clean up.

When CHS walked into the cafeteria, the HHS band stood up and cheered.

The bands were fed, fellowship was had, and Isaac met another male flute.

I was introduced to CHS's uniform mom. We compared notes on hems and organizational spreadsheets.

The principals and band directors of HHS and CHS have spoken. As long as they are on the staff at both schools, the HHS/CHS pre-game dinner will be a tradition. (The CHS principal did say that they might do better to find a head cook other than himself next year when it's at CHS!)

The HHS band wore green ribbons on their uniforms last night, in honor of Abraham G, trumpet, age 15.

Abraham was buried Wednesday. In his band uniform.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Black Panterra

Go back in time, young grasshopper.

Spring of 1976, in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. Lakewood
reaches westward and just touches the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Heaven can’t be any better than Summer in the foothills. Winter means just
enough snow to practice cross-country skiing, but not enough to be
bothersome. Fall is crisp, with leaves that turn color and early evenings with
hot, home made soups and books by the fireside.

Then there is the Spring. What can one say about Spring in the foothills
except that it is...windy. That wind comes whistling off the mountaintops,
gathers momentum as it zips over the glaciers, swirls down the river-cut
canyons and arrives in icy gusts of up to 60 miles per hour in the
streets...and parking lots...of Lakewood.

Spring of 1976. I was a junior in high school. Enrolled in a challenging
course of study including upper level math classes, English Composition,
Concert Choir, European History...and Computer Programming. I was an
honors student, yea, I was first in my class.

Brains, alas, do not always equate to common sense. So shall you see.
Think for a moment on the Computer Science class. Computers in 1976 were not what computers are in 2005. The computer itself was huge and housed in an administration building somewhere in the middle of the district. Each school had terminals that connected into the main computer. Programs were typed into large keyboard machines and stored on punched paper tapes. The language of the day was BASIC.

I was part of a unique subset of girls who invaded the usually masculine
realm of the computer classes, the computer room, the teletype terminals,
the paper tapes. My proudest possession was my handheld calculator which I wore in a case on my belt. That calculator was 4 times the size of today’s true POCKET models, cost 10 times as much, and did only a fraction of what a CASIO model from the grocery store can accomplish today. It also had a red LED display which ate batteries like breakfast cereal. Still, I was one of the lucky elite. I HAD a portable calculator! We were not allowed to use them in class (for class we had log tables and protractors), but we could carry them on our persons and enjoy their attributes between classes and at lunch.

I also had a boyfriend. I may have belonged to the nerd set, but I had an
equally nerdy boyfriend. His name was Dean, he went to a different high
school , and he was the districtwide, undisputed master of the computer
science students. His “fun project” was an intra-school message system. In
2005, you have e-mail. In 1976, we had MESSY, a long-forgotten acronym
for a program which meant “Rush to the computer room in between classes and log in to see if you have any new messages”. Dean wrote the code, implemented the system, and went on to a brilliant career in computer programming for various Silicon Valley, California corporations. MESSY connected us, school to school, class to class and student to student. Outside of class time, Dean was a moviemaker at heart. He had a vision...sort of a Sci-Fi thriller starring a bunch of nerds with belt loop calculators at the ready. Dean was ahead of his time; Lucas’ “Star Wars” and Light Sabers were still a year in the future. Dean’s movie required one element to which he did not have access...a hot sports car. His vision for the movie required a black Detomaso Panterra. He drove his mom’s Buick.

While he didn’t have the hot sports car, he did have a hot girlfriend.

No, wait.

He had...me. The brainy nerd girlfriend. Who happened to drive...a hot car.
Not my car. No, back in 1976 very few teenagers had their own cars. They
had, if they were lucky, access to the FAMILY car. Fortunate families had
more than one car. My family was fortunate.

In addition to my father’s business sedan, my mother had a beautiful,
shining Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, the sports car of the VW line. It was
bright, bright ORANGE. Once I mastered the stick shift, I was allowed to
drive the Ghia to piano lessons, to Girl Scouts, occasionally to the mall, and
on rare, rare occasions, to meet my friends. In return, I put gas in the car
whenever I drove it. In 1976, one could do some serious benefit to the gas
tank with one dollar. Gas hovered around 29 cents per gallon.

When Dean saw the orange Ghia, his wish appeared to be granted. It wasn’t a black Panterra, but it WAS a cool sports car, and the plans began to gel. The movie camera was borrowed. The cast was assembled. Calculators were buckled onto belts. I was granted permission to use the Ghia for an afternoon.

What I didn’t mention to my mother was that the car was going to be
transformed with black poster paint. The whole CAR wasn’t going to be
painted, oh, no. Just the doors...emblazoned with BLACK PANTERRA in
painted script, just large enough and dark enough to get the idea across. The words were painted and the cameras rolled. Since I was the only person with permission to drive the car, I was featured heavily in the film.

All went well until the filming was finished. I pulled the car around the
parking lot in one final loop, braked to a stop with gravel flying and stopped
the engine. I opened the driver’s side door and prepared to step out of the
car when disaster struck.

That wind, which started its swirling descent atop a 14,000 foot peak, gained momentum across the glaciers and whistled down the canyons, came across the school parking lot like a blast from some icy realm of Hell. It whipped around the car and jerked the door from my hand, pulling the entire door backward and away from its carefully constructed hinges. There was a sickening creak and crunch, and I realized that I was going to be in serious trouble.

Dean and I borrowed a bucket and a sponge from a school custodian and
wiped away the false pride emblazoned on the car’s injured door. Dean went his way and I went mine, doomed to confess my transgressions to the true owner of the orange Ghia.

Allowances and baby-sitting wages don’t go very far toward car repairs.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Lunch for the teacher

Today was the last day before Spring Break. Evidently, that's the day that the BAND appreciates the TEACHERS. With a Teacher Apppreciation Lunch (and band music in the background). This is FAR more complicated than it sounds. No such thing as serve up frozen lasagne for 40 teachers/staff. No. That would be FAR too easy.

No. Each teacher/staff had 2 or maybe 3 students assigned, and those students would provide the luncheon for that teacher (and play in concert on the "off" lunch...A lunch, B lunch...

Isaac and Bradley (he who wore the monk robe first) and Travis were assigned (or volunteered) to provide lunch for Mr. Q. The language teacher. THE language teacher. French 1, French 2, French 3, Latin 1, Latin 2, Latin 3, German 1, German 2, German 3. He speaks Spanish, too, but someone else teaches that.

Mr. Q is, without question, the most overworked teacher at the school. He handles it with grace most of the time. Hysteria some of the time. I revere and honor him. Alex has him for French 2. Isaac has him for Latin 1. Isaac and Bradley are THE Latin 1 students. Both have straight 100% averages in Latin. Travis, on the other hand, figured he might gain some extra credit by supplying lunch. He needs it.

So. The band students were requested to talk to "their teacher" and find out if the teacher had any specific meal requests, and honor if possible. One lucky crew got the head science teacher, who requested "A box of cereal". SCORE!! Mr. Q requested "Vegetarian".

Exactly WHAT does that mean?

And more to the point., are the other two clowns in this lunch crew going to DO anything? And to make things interesting, ALL parents involved in this group WORK. At least, 5 do, and the 6th one (me...) had a sub job today. So no parent could conveniently show up at 12:30 with a hot lunch delivered...

What to do?
And what to do VEGETARIAN?? Vegetarian is touchy. What KIND of vegetarian? Vegan? Eggs OK? Milk OK?

I really didn't want to make anyone uncomfortable...neither the teacher NOR my child...

So I quizzed Isaac a bit...no, no one else had suggested anything. No, he didn't think it likely that either of the other boys would DO anything...except maybe make a peanut butter sandwich.

OK. Mom to the rescue.

I made Isaac type up a menu with several choices, to present to the teacher, and ask exactly what he WOULD like for lunch. Including the all important "is Dairy OK with you?" Between us, we came up with the following (choose one from each category)

Fresh fruit cup
Raw vegetables with watercress/basil dip

Lentil Stew
Pasta with vegetables and pine nuts

Chocolate brownie
Ginger Snap Cookies

Bottled water
Coca Cola

Are Dairy Products acceptable in your food?

Isaac gave the menu to the teacher, and he good-naturedly checked off his choices. Dairy was OK, which was a load off MY mind. Isaac assigned the simpler things to his cohorts (napkin, plate, silverware, the bottled water)

Meanwhile, amidst the rest of the chaos this week, I prepared to cook.

Last night, WE ate Mr. Q's lunch...he needn't know he got the "leftovers!"

Mr Q chose:

Vegetables with the dip
Pasta with veggies and pine nuts
Ginger Snap cookies
Bottled Water

We packaged everything in disposable containers (did you KNOW you can get a lightweight plastic disposable container with a large section for veggies and a small section for dip??) and I gave Isaac explicit instructions on each packet.

A microwave would be available, so pasta dish could be heated.
We included a tiny container of feta cheese, to be sprinkled over the pasta AFTER microwaving.
Isaac was confident that he could do a nice presentation of the food.

We had a backup plan in order in case either of the other boys "forgot" his assignment ($1 for the vending machine for bottled water, plastic silverware in the bag with food)

We had a nice big lunch box with a cooler section for an ice pack. Everything was packed and taken to school in the morning.


Lunch was delayed.
By a fire alarm.


Eventually, people were allowed back in the building. Lunch commenced. Lunch was served.

The bottled water boy brought a chilled bottled water.
The silverware-and-plate boy brought his assigned items.
The microwave was in working order.

Isaac reported that Mr. Q ate EVERY BITE of his lunch.
And scrawled a "thankyou" on the place mat.

And now, for the side story.

We have a friend who is a senior, and WAY into band. Also WAY into drama. Lead in every play/musical sort.

HIS teacher assignment (choice) was the drama coach. No surprise.

The surprise was the LUNCH (which I heard about from his mom at committee night on Tuesday)

The drama kids are currently in rehearsal for the ONE ACT PLAY.
The play involves a murderer.
And a pastry chef.
The murderer murders.
The pastry chef covers up by making...
meat pies.

Yeah. With the meat.

So what did Renee offer to make for the drama coach's lunch?

Yep. A meat pie.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Wand Chooses the Wizard

Isaac has his new flute.

This has been almost 3 months in the works...it was SUPPOSED to be for Christmas, but we couldn't get the suggested meeting set up between us, his private lessons teacher, and teacher's preferred resaler of flutes, a lovely lady named Luisa.

Luckily, we caught Luisa this weekend...she's about 8 3/4 months pregnant, and if we missed her now, who knows when we might have actually been able to meet??

The flute-trying and flute-buying was quite an adventure. It took place in our dining room this morning, and involved Isaac (and his music stand and several pieces of music) and Mom (who held the checkbook and was the final authority on decision making, for what that was worth) and Mr. F the flute teacher who is hyperactivity itself, but charming, and Luisa the flute specialist (and her unborn-yet-very-evident baby) and Luisa's husband, who came along to carry the BIG BAG-O-FLUTES and drive because Luisa can't fit behind the wheel any more.

It took about an hour. I'd given Mr. F a price range, and of COURSE, he and Luisa stretched the limits on that, and of COURSE, price unseen, the most expensive flute we saw today was the one that "sang" when Isaac picked it up. Of course.

Afterward, Isaac said "It was just like shopping for a wand in Harry Potter. The Wand chooses the Wizard".

And so it did.

He has solemnly vowed that he will play the flute for at LEAST another year or two, and Mr F gave him some explicit instructions on care and handling of his Beautiful Instrument (only take it to school for lessons and concerts...practice it at home, but play your beginner flute at school...and if anyone asks "Can I hold your flute?" tell them "NO!!" and send them directly to Mr. F for a discussion) and I have listened to him play several times today, and it was worth every penny.

Pearl flute Model 695 with C-sharp trill key and D-sharp roller key, for anyone who knows flutes.