Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Scientific Name: Platanus occidentalis

It’s taken me a long time to get back to a place in my life where I entirely appreciate fall foliage. 

There was a period when I saw a beautiful leaf and had visions of wax paper, encyclopedias, Platanus occidentalis and an adhesive sheet scrapbook flash through my head. Of all the memories I have of grades K-12, the leaf collection in Mr. Lewis’ class is probably the worst.

First of all, Lewis’ enthusiasm for the project was just a tick over the top. He’d been assigning the project from hell for at least a decade when I was in his class; I would have thought he could have curbed the smile in year three. He got some sort of sweet satisfaction passing out the assignment specifics, which actually contained more qualifiers and ridiculous instructions than a building permit application:

When you find (what you believe to be) the perfect leaf, you may touch the leaf, but not with your hands. You must use American-made metal tongs with black rubber end grippers to gently pick up the perfect leaf and place it into a plastic, dry, gallon size Ziplock brand freezer bag. Do not touch the bag with your hands. You must hang the bag on a low-hanging limb of a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and drop the perfect leaf inside so only the sweet autumn breeze touches the bag. Then you must review the check list:

No holes
No bugs
No moisture
No tears
No mold
No folds
It gives you a happy feeling like a puppy in a parade.
If you gently swoop it through the air, east to west only, it sounds like angels singing a William Clark Green song.
If you gently swoop it through the air, north to south, you can hear Elton John singing Candle in the Wind.
It has at least 35 individual CMYK colors on the left side of the midrib.

If (what you believe to be) the perfect leaf, still suspended in a bag hanging from a Robinia pseudoacacia, appears to meet the above requirements, you must find two more just like it.

By the time we got to the end of the characteristic requirements for each leaf I was convinced I would have better luck finding the lost city of Atlantis, and would have enjoyed that more, also. I'm not even a good swimmer.  

So I spent a weekend wandering aimlessly around a local forest and using a pocket field guide (this was the bag phone era) to identify the difference between a White Oak, Red Oak, Bur Oak, Chestnut Oak, English oak, Pin Oak and Black Oak. By the time I got home I was so sick of oak that I was ready to rip all of the woodwork off the walls.

Then we had to transport 4,327 leaves home in $88 worth of plastic Ziplock bags, then use 4 rolls of wax paper to individually press every single leaf. Once positioned in the wax paper, we pulled 17 cookbooks and 13 encyclopedias off the shelf and tucked the leaves deep into the pages. To this day if Momma gets itchy hands we don't pass her the corn husker's lotion; we just assume she found another pressed poison sumac leaf in the pie section of her Southern Living cookbook.

There are likely 17 leaves still tucked in those shelves.  

But which part of the project was worse: Finding the perfect leaves, pressing them or labeling each? We had a home printer but Dad wouldn’t let us use it because he thought ink was too expensive. So with a Producers pen (that Dad obviously snagged from the Tuesday market) I hand wrote every intricate detail of every delicate leaf:

Common Name of Leaf: American Sycamore
Scientific Name of Leaf: Platanus occidentalis
Where & when you found it: Hayes Arboretum, about 18 feet off of trail 4, 39°50'24.6"N 84°50'43.9"W. October 1.
Simple or Compound Leaf: Simple
Venation Pattern: Palmate
Write an interesting fact about this leaf: The red splatters are actually blood from tripping over a log and having a stick puncture my left thigh. Mom wants to know if the school has good insurance?  

And lastly, the monumental question:

What have you learned from this leaf collection assignment?:
I’ll tell ya what I learned from this assignment. It ranks right up there with Science Fair projects regarding all the ways public education can initiate a second Civil War within the confines of the family home.

To wrap up the academic charade, we’d get our graded leaf collections back with holes punched in every single page so another student - or younger sibling - couldn’t reuse them.

That really stuck in my craw.

Last week I was walking into work and a leaf on the ground caught my eye. Having an affinity for pretty and free things, I scooped it up as my computer bag fell off my shoulder. I got inside and unpacked for the day and studied the little leaf.

Though proportional and colorful, it had 6 noticeable imperfections and was tossed in the trash seconds later.

I think the leaf collection of 1999 ruined me.

Note: In my thirties I see Mr. Lewis every so often at a mutual friend's house. He's a super nice guy and has acquired many more human attributes than he had while teaching my class. And I'm somewhat terrified he's going to read this. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When Time Stands Still

Sometimes I wonder why I am the way I am.

Then I go visit Momma and Dad.

Sunday afternoon Caroline and I drove down to BSG to get ready for a farm tour they were going to host the next day. Momma and Dad are good at many things, and one is educating the public about responsible beef production. Monday evening was the third time in a year they’ve opened their farm to the public and made themselves available for any question asked. Any question asked.

Momma and I went over the timeline for the evening, the expected guests and our last minute to-do list. As I was gathering up the diaper bag and getting ready to head north Momma spoke these all too familiar words: Before you leave, will you help me with something?

Over the last fourteen years (since I last lived at home) this request has resulted in:
Fashion shows
Window washing
Googling some 1960s musician to “see if they’re still alive”
Crawling under beds
Reading a devotional that really spoke to her
Searching through the attic
Programing a cell phone
Trying to read her own writing
Lugging a tote of my high school memorabilia downstairs and to my car
Checking her email
Using scissors to cut, trim, snip or kill something

But Sunday afternoon was different.
Sunday afternoon she wanted to me to set the microwave clock. 
No problem.

I asked her what time it was. While she checked her watch I simultaneously walked over to the counter and grabbed my phone. A generational thing.

“4:57,” she said.
“4:55,” I rebutted, showing her my screen.

Within 15 seconds I had the microwave set, from 3:18 (I was just as confused as you) to 4:56. I’m a peacekeeper.

She went on to ask if I’d also set the clock radio under the spice cupboard while I was there. I looked over at it:  12:23. I set it for 4:57.
Out of curiosity, I glanced over at the oven clock: 4:20.
The clock that hangs over the doorway (this one actually has hands): 7:15.
The coffee maker: 9:07.
What in the world? It was as though every clock in the kitchen had reset itself throughout the day at different times.

I asked Momma about it. She went on to explain that they’d all been “off a bit” for months but she didn’t mess with them because she was afraid she’d accidentally set an alarm or timer and she would wake up to the sound of the microwave making a pot of coffee with Italian seasoning at 3 am.
Fair enough. 

This wasn’t only room in their big old farmhouse that needed some attention when it came to living in the present. While every room the in house had been demolished and eventually restored (you’ve read The HouseThat Built Me series, right?), not a single room in that homestead was keeping time. But with every clock, whether far ahead or way behind, came a lesson

For the sake of time, we’re going to start in the kitchen.

The microwave, set from 3:18 pm to 4:56 pm: Be patient. Perhaps if I type this enough in my writing I’ll begin to listen to myself. Time and patience travel hand in hand, though sometimes one seems to drag the other. Do remember that its only when nothing is certain that anything is possible.

The spice cabinet, set from 12:23 am to 4:57 pm: Use the good stuff. I know you’re saving the good wine for a reason worth it’s taste and you’re saving the good hair product for the days when you want to look your best and you're saving the expensive candle for when company is coming over and you're saving the good china for a meal worth presenting and you’re saving the bubble bath for the day that you really deserve it and you’re waiting to break the starch on your favorite jeans when it’s a day that matters. I’ll only say this: The people that died yesterday had something planned for today. Use the good stuff.

Oven clock, set from 4:20 to 4:20. The oven clock wasn’t reset. As it turns out, the oven (installed during the kitchen remodel the same summer I was born, 30+ years ago), hasn’t worked in at least a decade, so its worth no ones time to rub their fingers raw trying to twist the knob. But remember that even on your worst days – when it seems nothing can go right – that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Let's knock off there. I'm going to be super honest when I say that I have a sweet little crazy train ready for a night cap and This Is Us begins in about 3 minutes. And believe it or not - no matter how I was raised - I like to be on time

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What We Can All Learn From Ken Bone

All I wanted was to fold our towels and washcloths alone upstairs in our bedroom, put them away in the bathroom, and avoid any heated argument. 

It didn't work. 

My plan to avoid the presidential debate was foiled when I carried the full load of clean towels downstairs and across the living room. 
I stopped briefly to check on Cody and Caroline in the recliner and turned to face the television just in time to hear Anderson Cooper introduce Ken Bone. 

What a name, I thought to myself. 

If you recognize the name Ken Bone you likely watched the debate, also. 
If you recognize this face you have likely watched television in the last two days. 

I don't know too much about this guy other than he captivated the country by bringing a fresh face and a red sweater to a vicious conversation between two enemies. It's as though the world stopped spinning and the dust settled a bit when that white tie and mustache took center stage. 

He is the first guy I've ever seen wear a white tie with no plans of getting married in less than an hour. 

I do know - while studying him in the media briefly in over the last 48 hours - that we can all learn a thing or three from the one and only Ken Bone. 

1. Flexibility pays off greatly in the long run

I'm actually not talking about running, at all. 

Ken made a split (pun so intended) decision to address a major issue and it ended up in his favor. He packed a lovely olive suit but had to wear a second string red sweater because of a last-minute catastrophe. His ability to evaluate a situation and act differently than planned put this guy on the map. It made him the absolute highlight of a nationally broadcasted train wreck. 

If you could just accept the fact that your plan may not be perfectly working out, what kind of reward might be waiting for you in the end?

2. Live in the Moment

This idea can be transformed into such a cliche, but Ken Bone can not. 
This is actual footage of Ken in a moment in time where he seized an opportunity. 
With a disposable camera. 
Like, the kind made of plastic and paper that comes in a foil wrapper. 
From a gas station. 

But because Ken had the 
1) confidence to wander aimlessly and alone around a set and 
2) determination to get a good shot and 
3) ingenuity to bring a disposal camera to a debate where cellular devices were banned 
he now has a keepsake photo (or 32) to commemorate the worst election in the history of our country and the night he broke the internet. You all know I believe in the power of film cameras. Seeing Ken take these photos sure brought a smile (giggle) to my face. 

When the credits roll, is your family going to have any record of the days you really lived, or will they all be one your cell phone or hard drive?

3. Be Unapologetically You
This is the most important thing we can learn from Ken Bone. 
Interview - after interview - after interview:
Ken doesn't apologize for his awkward last minute outfit change.
Ken doesn't hesitate to mention his beloved family (he mentions his grandfather, his grandmother and his mother). 
Ken doesn't pretend to abandon his real life responsibilities because every news channel in America came knocking. 
Ken remains solid, true to himself, confident and quirky as all get out. 

And I absolutely adore that about this stranger. 

In Caroline's nursery hangs this sign that I read every single day (or, night). It's not something my parents every said to me, but it is certainly something they taught me. They instilled this strong desire to never lose my unique, personal identity. This is the exact reason why I didn't over-pluck my eyebrows down to pencil thin lines like 73% of gals, ages 14 - 22, did in 2001.

In this entire world - this entire history - this entire galaxy:
God created only one you. 
Why (Why? Why? Why?) would you ever want to be like someone else?
Nothing about you is accidental. 
And no one in this entire world has the amazing ability to be you.
Be Unapologetically you.  

I could have folded laundry Sunday night in our living room with the two snooze buckets in the recliner but I wanted to remove myself from any negativity that may lie ahead. Instead, I walked in on a perfect life lesson from some guy I'll never have the opportunity to meet. 

One thing is certain: I'll take some random guy in a red sweater who loves his grandma blowing up my media feed any day over politics.

The world needs more Ken Bone