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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Secrets of a Wannabe Banker

Before me stood a treasure chest full of gold coins! I did a quick scan for pirates and then reached out in awe to touch it.

(That got your attention, I bet.) Actually, it was not a treasure chest but a plastic box, and it was full of coins. Not gold ones, but a mix of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It was my job to count it and bring it to the bank—if I could lift it.

Each Wednesday morning I help with a banking program at my daughter’s elementary school. The program helps kids to learn the value of saving, and their investments accrue interest. Not bad when you’re still in your single-digit years.

It’s cute to see the kids each week, bringing whatever they’ve saved since last time. No matter how little they bring in, I congratulate them for saving. It does take discipline not to spend, after all. One third grader deposited twenty-two cents today. (She told me that she didn’t want to deposit all her coins. Maybe she was saving a nickel or two for a rectangle of Bazooka bubble gum after school.) Some students bring in piles of pennies (gulp). Others bring in paper money--much easier for me to count, obviously, but it’s not about what’s easiest for me. It’s about the kids’ learning to save for the future. Regardless of the amount of the deposit, I say, “Good job” for their efforts to save. And then I ask them for a loan. I really do. Of course, I tell them I’m just kidding. Or am I?

Today was the first day someone brought in an actual box full of coins. They were in paper rolls, which saved me some time counting. This box alone had nearly forty dollars in coins in it. Others brought coins too, so when it was all said and done, I lugged $46.33 in coins to the bank. As I walked to the bank, I held the bag of coins like a newborn baby, the weight centered near my waist. My back has enough trouble without my swinging a heavy bag of metal from one hand. I wondered how much the coins weighed—fifteen pounds, I thought, give or take. I based this on my experience carrying my own babies around for many years. I was so curious about the weight, but not quite curious enough to walk back home with this load of metal, weigh it on our scale, then walk to the bank. I have my limits.
I love the irony of money and its weight. Coins aren’t worth as much as dollar bills, but weigh more. It’s counterintuitive. I wonder how many $100 bills you would need to equal the weight of $1 in pennies. A lot!

It’s pretty cool to be part of this program. I’m a volunteer (the school needed someone and softie that I am, I agreed to do it since no one else spoke up). Sometimes I feel very official, turning the dollar bills so they all face the same direction, like the tellers at the bank do. I feel like I have some responsibility in bringing people’s savings to the bank. These kids and their parents trust me. I’m trustworthy, yes, but I’m still honored that I have their trust. Of course, I don’t want my image to be tooooo official and button-down. Wacky Wednesdays coincide with Banking Wednesdays and I think the kids (and I) get some fun from my recent surprises (Banking with Flo from Progressive, and Banking with the Jolly Green Giant). Gotta keep it fun. Gotta keep ‘em entertained…

Banking itself has not beckoned me as a potential career. Creativity endeavors grab me. I’m not sure whether banks like bankers to get too creative with their numbers. Can you imagine the havoc someone could wreak by getting imaginative with decimal points?! So I’ll keep this banking position of mine purely voluntary at this point. I get a kick out of talking with the kids each week. And I’m glad to help. But let me put this out to the universe: after today’s experience, if we could keep the coin rolls to a minimum for a few weeks, this tired wannabe banker would appreciate it…

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What’s Growing? Good Stuff.

I bet you’ve been up all night, unable to sleep, wondering and wondering what is growing at the community garden. Well, I’ll tell ya.

I’ve noticed new things at the garden in the last few days because I’ve been spending more time there lately, painting the garden columns. I realized how many people are growing corn this summer. I still get giddy, seeing corn grow right in the middle of the suburbs. It’s our own patch of farmland, right in San Diego.

My artichoke plant is really growing. It is almost five feet in diameter, I’d estimate. I plunked it right in the center of my garden bed and I think it’s happy to have a lot of space. In January I planted it and then, earlier this month, I began to get a little impatient. When would it produce an artichoke? When? When? So I got a little aggressive with it, and I parted the leaves and peered inside. I felt vaguely inappropriate but I dove into that artichoke plant and I wasn’t coming out until I found an artichoke. Well, lo and behold, there was an artichoke growing at the center of all those leaves! It was about the size of a tennis ball. I was so excited! I checked on its progress each time I visited the garden and it was growing larger, and rising to the top of the plant, like a rock star on a rising dais, ready to let rip a killer guitar solo. Artichoke, you rock! Today I started snooping around again and I noticed that there are a total of seven artichokes on my plant. Some are tiny—maybe an inch across, but they’re there! I took a deep breath of clean air, stuck my pitchfork into the soil and sighed with contentment. I am a farmer! I can grow my own food! (Well one meal’s worth, but still.) I feel like a pioneer, self-sufficient and proud. Working the land. Reaping the fruits. Life is good.

The gardener in the bed north of mine, Natasha, has green thumbs, green fingers and green wrists, arms and a whole green body. (I should give her the Jolly Green Giant costume.) She knows tons about gardening. Among other things, she is growing tomatillos. Aren’t they darling, in their puffy shells?

Someone else in the garden (Wynette, I think) has striped sweet peas. Aren’t they amazing? I think they are the creations of garden fairies who have been flying into the garden with tiny detail brushes and a set of water colors, painting in the moonlight to surprise us gardeners the next day. They look like candy canes. Gorgeous.

This garden creates wondrous things. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Watershed Moment

I waited out the torrential storm in a small outbuilding. (Boy, that sounded dramatic. Which was my intention.) In actuality, it was not a torrential storm. But there was a small outbuilding. And I hid there while it rained this morning. Water? Shed!

We San Diegans don’t know what to do when it rains. Sometimes we pull out our lease agreements or mortgage paperwork, wave them around theatrically, and yell, “This is not permissible. By the terms of my residence in Southern California, it shall not rain!” We definitely do this if the rain coincides with any outdoor plans we have. Like today. I arrived at the community garden this morning, convinced it would not rain. There was a 40% chance of showers but I needed to paint at the garden. 40%? I’m not scared of a 40% chance.

It began raining within minutes of my arrival at the garden. Luckily, there was a refuge where I could wait out the rain: the garden shed! I used the garden shed as my own personal hangout when I was painting a mural on the garden’s west wall, nearly three years ago, during a particularly hot summer. That summer I’d take my breaks from painting in the shed, just to hide from the sun. The shed is actually shaped like a house, the pointy-roofed kind kids draw, like this:

I found the whole thing very cozy. The shed is playhouse-sized. It reminds me of the current tiny house movement, which has prompted people to downsize to a trailer or tiny house that often is only 100 square feet. I entertained a brief daydream about living in the shed, a cozy cottage set in the wonderland of the garden, my modern take on the fairy tales I read as a child. By then the rain had stopped. So I gathered my paint and strode purposefully toward the columns.

You may remember my mentioning the columns. They are now inside the community garden near our house. The garden was expanded last year and it’s much bigger now, and even more amazing than it was when we broke ground three years ago. There are fourteen columns inside it now, and I’ve been painting them with a garden theme for the last ten months or so.

Last summer I took a major break from painting the columns, when it was too hot to paint outdoors without whining constantly about the heat. But I began work on the columns again in January by creating a mosaic rainbow on one of them. My transformation of these columns has been slow-paced until the last few weeks. You see, we learned that the garden will be part of the local garden tour, which is on May 2. Oh, good! A deadline. Yikes!

In actuality, no one has pressured me to finish the columns before the tour. But once I knew that the garden was part of the tour, I felt quite motivated to speed up my progress on the columns. And it’s working! The columns won’t be 100% finished by the time of the tour, but they will be a lot closer to completion. The original ones are almost finished, each needing maybe thirty minutes of touch-up or final touches. Seeing the columns evolve gives me a real boost, and I love that community members get a lift from it, too. Today someone who was stopped at a red light called out that she loved the mosaic butterfly on the column I was painting. It made my day. This week I made some real progress painting the columns and I’ll be back soon to fling more paint around. I’ll give you a sneak peek at how the columns are coming along. Here’s the sketch I did a year ago, and here are the columns today:

The columns are full of color, and the plants in the garden and the ones I’ve painted on the columns look so charming together. Go, garden!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wacky Wednesday #3: an Interview with the Jolly Green Giantess!

Sarah: Hi there. May I call you Giantess?

Jolly Green Giantess (JGG): Yes, of course. My friends call me “G,” for short. You may know my cousin, the Jolly Green Giant. He was shooting a commercial today, or he would have joined us.

Sarah: Tell me about being a giantess.

JGG: Oh, it’s great fun. Giant fun. Some women don’t want to be called giant or large, and I used to feel that way. Women are pressured to be small and we used to be taught to be quiet and polite. But what’s that about? If you’re trying to be smaller or less than you are, you’re diluting yourself. I don’t do that anymore. I love my power! Don't be scared of being big and bold! Make your mark! 

Sarah: What are people’s reactions when you walk around town in a leafy dress, hat and shoes?

JGG: I think people get a laugh and I certainly get a laugh. Everyone needs a laugh. Laughter makes us healthier. (Hearty, giant laugh.) Making people laugh just makes my day.

Sarah: Well, that brings me to my next question. Is part of your mission as JGG to encourage people to eat vegetables?

JGG: Yes, of course. Veggies are your friends. They are yummy (well, most of them are), good for you, and give you energy.

Sarah: Is the fact that we’re discussing this on Earth Day your plan, or just a coincidence?

JGG: In all honesty, I semi-forgot that today was Earth Day until I heard about it on the news two days ago. Sorry—that makes me sound like I don’t care about the earth, but of course I do. I recycle, I grow some of my own food, I often walk instead of driving. I hug trees. So yes, it’s great that this interview is happening on Earth Day, but it’s kind of a coincidence. Mostly I’m here because it’s Wacky Wednesday, and I love popping around town in a costume, sharing the wackiness.
Sarah: Let’s just consider it a win-win that Earth Day fell on a Wacky Wednesday this year. I want to ask about your costume. How long did it take you to make it?

JGG: Between ten and fifteen hours. I wasn’t keeping track—just having fun making it. 

Sarah: Wow, that’s quite a lot of time for one costume.

JGG: Yes, but here’s the deal. Everyone needs something they do that’s just pure fun. We all need something that helps us unwind. For some, it’s watching sports. For some, it’s curling (the kind with a big heavy round thing people guide on the ice, using brooms. I am not sure it should be called an Olympic sport. An activity, yes, but sport?). Some people sing. Some crochet. I make costumes, among other things. I consider it time well spent, if others find my costumes as fun as I do. (And if they don’t, they need to call Costco Optical immediately for an eye exam because if they saw this and didn’t like it, their vision must be troubled.)

Sarah: Thanks for chatting with me, G. It’s been a giant treat!

JGG: The pleasure was mine. I’d like to encourage everyone out there on this beautiful earth to keep recycling, not just on Earth Day but every day. And also to find your thing—whether it’s making costumes or bowling or yodeling or whatever—find something that gives you a boost. And eat your veggies!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Back to Nature (and All its Dirt)

Last weekend we camped. Read: last weekend we didn’t sleep. Correction: I didn’t sleep well. I wasn’t surprised, really, but I’m still grousing about it—8 days later. I need my sleep!

The kids slept great. What is it with kids? I remembering slumber parties as a kid—you slept on someone’s floor and woke up refreshed and rested—well, as much as you could expect, having stayed up half the night, talking and giggling. But my point is, as a kid, sleeping on a floor was not a problem. Something changes, at some point. As an adult, sleeping on a floor no longer cuts it. But I think kids can sleep anywhere. And my kids like camping. The change of scenery may be part of it. But also, all they have to do is show up. They don’t have to pack, set up, cook, clean up, pack up camp, drive home, unpack, do loads of laundry full of dirt, wrestle kids into the bath, and then clean residual camping dirt out of the bath tub.

But back to my no-sleeping rant. At times we tried camping on those foam mats. Approximately one inch of foam protecting my tired body from all the rocks and twigs on nature’s floor? Might as well be sleeping on a saltine cracker for all the protection and comfort that gave. I even did this while pregnant (the hormones must have messed with my judgment). Eventually we upgraded to an inflatable mattress. Better than the floor mat but it lost air. No deal.

A year or two ago Hubby found some fold-out camping cots, which are great for lounging. But I hadn’t tried to sleep on one until our trip. During the night I literally wedged a hard-covered book between the cot and the small of my back for extra support. My flashlight was under my back at one point, too (I swear I’m not making this up!) and I was too tired to move it. I convinced myself it was giving my poor back some extra support. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much. Everyone else did. But at least I wasn’t cold. (Camping in January in Santa Cruz, years ago, turned out not to be a great idea. Almost had to break icicles off my eyelashes.)

And did I mention the snakes? The first one appeared ten minutes into the trip—no exaggeration. A rattler! One of two. The ranger was summoned to grab it with his special tongs and relocate it. Another camper commented that it was “just a baby.” Excuse me. JUST? I don’t care if it’s a newborn rattle snake wearing a crochet bonnet—I don’t like rattle snakes! Especially near our campsite. When I’m camping. Hubby shrugged it off. Apparently he is fine with danger and snake bites. I am not. I don’t want my weekends to involve scares, wild animals, pain and hospital trips. The school week is exhausting enough—like a marathon: three kids in two different schools with different schedules. I need my weekends to be less stressful than the school week. (And did I mention my need for good sleep?)

But lest you think the whole adventure was pure misery, let me assure you it was not. There were great moments. The lake was beautiful and serene. There were many trees: eucalyptus, pepper trees, oaks, cacti and quite a few geraniums, too. (Campgrounds must have seen my memo about the power of a splash of color.) I loved hearing the sound of the breeze through the leaves. It was fun to see animals like squirrels, bunnies and hummingbirds. We took nature walks. The kids made friends with kids in neighboring sites.

I’m so glad the kids had fun. And I gave myself a pat on the back for giving camping another try.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

An Odd Attraction

I have an odd interest. (Well, more than one, but today I will focus on this particular one.)

I like weird bathrooms.
I like using grocery store bathrooms designed decades ago. Newer grocery stores are designed to have restrooms easily accessed and these don’t do much for me. I like the bathrooms in grocery stores from the 60s and 70s, the kind of bathroom tucked away in the depths of the building. The kind you have to use a compass to find. The path is a labyrinth. If you ask an employee where the bathroom is, the directions go something like this:
Go through the double doors. Take your second left. Go up the stairs. Pass the employee lounge. Make a hard right. Take forty-two steps. Go down three stairs. You’ll see a door. Don’t go through that one. Find the next door. It’s unmarked. That’s the bathroom.
If you find it, you know you're a good detective. Your need to pee was so desperate that your sleuthing skills cranked up several notches out of sheer necessity. Finding the bathroom in old grocery stores takes more endurance and commitment than finishing the Iron Man.
Bathrooms from this era are not glamorous. They may still have their original look, including terrible lighting. Like the one I used recently, they may have duct tape holding the threshold stable under the door.
I love stuff like this! It’s the behind-the-scenes stuff I dig. I like funky and mismatched much more than perfectly polished. Sometimes these bathrooms have several different kinds of linoleum on the floor, cobbled together when there was a need for a patch. It's fascinating--like an archeological dig.
Most people would find my interest in these fixer-upper bathrooms quite odd, if not symptomatic of a need to get my head checked. Nope, I cheerfully reassure you, I’m not delusional. I just like weird stuff. I love the treasure-hunt aspect of finding such bathrooms.
It’s oddly exciting to me to see the back rooms of grocery stores. They are the complete opposite of the store itself. The store is bright; the backroom is dark and dungeon-like. The front is neatly divided into aisles; the back is a mish-mosh of stacks of products. You see crates and boxes and work gloves and towers of water bottles. I love behind-the-scenes stuff.
So there you have it. You know one of my secrets now. Hope that wasn’t too much of a shock to your system—after all, it is Monday morning, which is usually a rude awakening under the best of circumstances…