Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Impact Experiment - Day 2 Trash/ Day 3 Transportation


More trash than I care to admit.

Mostly? (I'm embarrassed to admit) disposable diapers. We do cloth diapers during the day and disposable when we are going out and at night...or if we have a lot of company. Note to self..much room for improvement here. Other than that? 2 plastic bread wraps, kleenex (which we'll honestly probably stick to) and lots of baby wipes. (which we also use to dust).

Interesting trade off I've made in my head. We stick to kleenex and baby wipes. Yet we use cloth napkins (paper towels are just for major cleans) and avoid paper plates and cups. We decided a  year ago to stick to real dishes unless we had over 20 guests. For some reason 20 is the magic number for us to switch to paper products.

Last night? First community dining of the year. 4 families..we used the real stuff:). Enjoyed some good food and conversation on the deck..

As for food trash. We already compost- mostly eggshells and coffee grounds mixed with small amounts of fruit and veggies. Bigger quantities of leftovers go to deer and chickens. We already recycle (aluminum, paper, glass and plastic).

We are also asked to minimize purchases of things in bags, boxes, cans. Other than small yogurts containers. (when we buy big containers..it goes bad before we finish), 2 cereal boxes a week and brownie mix box..we pretty much already do this. A necessity for Austen and his dietary restrictions. So really?

It is the diapers I need to be more conscious of. 

Today? Transportation.

We are to keep track of our transportation today...starting with looking at the food we eat for a day and where it has been transported from.

Breakfast..oatmeal, fruit, toast, yogurt - all local
 Lunch: pita and humus (hah..GA and WI),boiled eggs- very local (backyard), fruit (local)
Dinner: cheesy-corn casserole..(venison..Big B hunted..local, corn..local..cheese..local..onion..local), the rest is fruit and veggies..all local

Next is to keep track of our own travel:

How convenient. We are having a pajama day today!..

Actually Austen will go to the Club later..he is volunteering and Tuesdays they do their city wide paper recycling.. He will take his bike!

Carpooling, biking and driving are the only real transportation options here in the Tx. Hills. Just no public transit to speak of. Walking? Maybe ...depends on what kind of time you have. At least 30 minutes to get to town...more important is the weather. Hard to convince yourself to walk in triple digit weather.

This IS our absolutely worst area of waste. Without a doubt. I do not see it changing any time soon.

We minimize our trips to other cities. Big B carpools to work. But soccer season will start soon. This is 3+ trips a week for Cody. I go into SA twice a week...to take Levi to my sister..and to bring him back. I am trying to combine all SA errands into those days.

Still there are 3-4 days a week when Cody, Austen, Levi and I stay home.  So maybe, just maybe? It sort-a balances. (sigh) ...or not...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

No Impact Experiment -Day 1 Consumption

You know, there just isn't a whole lot to say about consumption. We all over-consume. That is a fact.

Since I spent yesterday driving to 4 stores and two cities trying to buy cloth diapers and a moby wrap so I could be more environmentally conscious and more comfortable with the kiddo...I am all too aware of how consumption oriented we are...and this is one of our stronger areas???

On a positive note..I did drift into the local farmers market...suggestion of the handy manual. Wow..best kept secret around! Now? I know where I'm headed first for produce. I even started thinking Hey..Big B and I could ride our bikes to this stand and bring back our fruits and veggies for the week every Saturday morning. (okay..most) It could be fun.  I haven't shared this with Big B yet.

The challenge today is to avoid  purchasing anything that is not necessary. Not just for today, but for the rest of the week as well. Now I'm aware that purchasing and consuming are two different things..but this is the task at hand. So.. Not a problem, we are pretty good about that already. The question is what do we need. Big B and I spend morning discussing the saying need what you want, don't want what you need.

He says this is all well and good, but he would like to purchase a vacation home with a view. I am incredulous. Really? I ask..Because this is necessary, why..exactly?  He responds (while half asleep under his pillow) because I was sitting in Clint's house, looking out at the hills from his window. It was so peaceful..I want a vacation place with a view.

You do realize, I ask(and this is a rhetorical question) that that is exactly what people say when they spend time on our back deck?  Big B heaves a large sigh.I know..but there are people here... THEN GO TO CLINT'S, I interrupt. Well...but then he wants to talk and stuff. (now even Big B is grinning..he knows he is being ornery)

I decide to ignore him. I read him the rest of the manual for the day..you know..free-cycle, dumpster diving, shop at second-hand stores, barter...

But we do these things! He says..I know, I respond, don't be too proud... let's be glad that there is one thing we do okay during this week...and besides, we are also supposed to keep track of our trash output in this recycle bag today. You know..to prepare for tomorrow's "assignment". We are pretty darn pathetic at that.

(Big B lets out a loud sigh)..Oh...if only we had that vacation home....(another big grin) I leave him day-dreaming.

I  take a quick look around our home before leaving for church. Most things we own have been traded, given as a gift or bought second hand.

We recently carved out a space for Levi in the morning room.

Everything seen here was found and repaired, bought second hand or traded..except for the crib mattress, pad and sheet..which were a gift form my parents.

At church we swap baby clothes with a friend of ours who is a foster-parent for infants. We exchange new-born sizes for 3-6 month.

We have a pot-luck. More sharing of resources.

This afternoon, Cody works on a car.  Notice the garage is still being built. Why? Because we have worked and bartered for most of the materials. It is a work in progress...and the entire reason Brian was at Clint's luxurious vacation home? Because they are swapping labor...building Clint's furniture repair shop for the guys automotive repair shop.

Austen helps me find a bag for our recycled trash: taco bag (why are we purchasing tacos??? We have plenty to eat here. The boys grin and shrug their shoulders), a filthy shop rag that is not to be reused, the bottom of a plastic chair?, and plastic wrap from hamburger buns and pita bread...which we fed the deer earlier...the bread, not the wrap. Oh..and mom, we need gas and water states Austen. I raise my eyebrows. The water I understand..even though I think it is ridiculous to purchase clean water..we receive 4-8 boil water notices annually. Too many people with low immune systems in this house. So we buy 2- 5 gallon jugs of water and refill them each week for drinking...but the gas? It's for the cars..Oh,chimes in Cody, and Superglue. I give him a blank stare. No..really..it's for the car. So..Jack..if you are reading this..just know..that super-glue was a key part of your car-repair. Charming, isn't it? So we add, packaging for super-glue to our trash...as Big B tells me to save the rest of the super-glue in the fridge..because naturally, we keep superglue in the fridge.
 See..we really stink on this front.

Then? Austen leaves for the River with friend Justin on his 4-wheeler. I remind him this is just consuming more gas. He laughs and says..well, it's hot...and I didn't purchase this gas (the gas that is specifically in his 4 wheeler) today. Besides..this is about what we purchase today...energy use is later in the week..and with that? He drives off.

About this time Cody reminds me he is hanging out with friends tonight. Destination? Pizza place and a hookah cafe. Of course! Before I can even start he grins. I'm too young to participate in the hookah..and besides I will be purchasing entertainment with friends..not products to clutter our lives. Truth is, it's a friend's birthday and they have been planning this for a while. Hope they have a good time.

I am starting to think we are way more pathetic than I could have predicted. I would say it is safe to say I am bordering on exasperated, when Big B spots me..Guess What?! I don't have to buy a vacation home. Look, you were right! We already have one!...He gestures to the tree house with a huge grin on his face. It has a view and everything. I made Austen clean it this morning. I'm taking it back.(the tree-house, he means. Tree-house occupation is an on going saga around here) You can find me in the tree this evening. I'll be sitting on the porch, enjoying the view.

What's For Dinner?
Sunday: baked tilapia, sliced potatoes with onions and mushrooms, plums
Monday: (community dining returns)spaghetti, breadsticks, greenbeans and salad, brownies.
Tuesday: cheesy corn casserole, french-fires, sliced peaches
Wednesday: Steak Night at 11th Street! We are bringing veggie burgers and steak with feta and spinach.
Thursday: squash medley au gratin, apple cobbler
Friday: Make your own pizza night, chicken wings, salad
Saturday: Sicilian potatoes, crunchy fruit salad

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Impact Experiment -getting ready

It is 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 28th. La familia is about to embark on our No Impact Experiment. Details can be found at www.noimpactproject.org

Essentially, we spend a week trying to make as minimal negative impact on the planet as possible.Also..to remember the joy in simple things in life. The importance of not getting sucked into consumerism.

Now..the amature economist in me..realizes that it is not always good to be soloing it. There is a lot to be said for the greater good in being co-dependent..of the specialization of labor.

But this experiement blends well with the understanding that wealth is not money. Wealth is the goods and services people produce. Money is the tool we use to trade wealth. (Bluestocking Guide to Economics)

When we first received the manual I laughed. Really. It talks about preparing..doing whatever shopping you need ahead of time. I thought..this is ludicrous..how can it be no impact if you take the luxury version? ..and now? I am getting ready to do my last minute shopping spree. Why? Because I panic..because I LIKE luxury. (sigh) I haven't even started the experiment and I am discovering a lot about myself.

I think I am fairly environmentally conscientious. I realize I am simply almost-almost aware. Maybe I will scooch up a notch to almost aware by the end of this week.

I spent the morning with my 15 year old nephew Calvin. We ate cereal, made brownies, and watched LOTS of cartoons. I haven't had a chance to really visit with him in a couple of weeks. He has been a busy guy! So we discussed his watch. Aunt Nicole..do you want to know what time it is in Russia? Look. I can show you. His math teacher I think she's telling us a story. She says she broke her leg diving out of an SUV while she was being shot at. and the possibility of chasing the sun with space-ships. I have really missed hanging out with him.

Then? I left Calvin with Austen to plan the rest of their day and made the time to take  the no impact pre-experiment survey.

I was horrified.

We had just today, eaten nothing but boxed, pre-packaged stuff and spent the entire morning watching t.v. Definitely not my image of how we function around here..but there it was. In my defense...we only buy 2 boxes of cereal a week?

I think about our garbage output.

I KNOW I should be using cloth diapers. I did this with all three of the older boys..and often with Calvin.

But Levi?

Nope..convenience disposable have won out. Well..in my defense (yes..ahem..again with the defensiveness) ..not completely. I have looked for cloth diapers..but only found 7 in a package in one store. I could order them online..but that? Would mean taking the time and $ to do a bulk order..and I am too cheap. So instead, I fill our landfills with impossible to decompose plastic filled with chemicals and spend more money than I would if I just bought a bulk order of cloth diapers..So that is my primary shop- ahead mission today. Also..to fill my car's tank with gas (yikes) and
buy the groceries for the week.

So that is it. Tonight we host a no impact experiment party...9 pm. on Planet Green. I just tried to sign us up on the noimpactproject website. I'm having some technical difficulties logging in though. Regardless, I tnink it's a good idea. A way to start us off and clue Big B into what, exactly, we are doing around here.

So we will watch, eat popcorn and discuss what the week might look like. What ideas can we take with us..what will we pass on. Who is coming? Good question. My family..hopefully some friends of the boys. It is sort-of a last minute hosting event. So I'm not too concerned about it.

All for now..will be posting daily this week (maybe..that's the plan) as to how we do..or don't do..on this experiment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

River Rat Wisdom and Not Back To School

This past weekend we(meaning Ong and Bates families minus Cody) took Angee and Brian back to Austin. Why? Because we seem to think it is necessary for ALL OF US..to return them for the new year. Cody..did not think it was necessary to be part of this venture. He chose to hang-out with his girlfriend and family instead.

Pictured here are Austen and Brian posturing their "buffness"  in the apartment kitchen. You know, as they drink their boba tea.

On our trip home I am given Words of Wisdom from Austen. Austen,my son, the River Rat.

Austen has spent a minimum of three hours a day..usually 6+..at the river this summer.

In the past few weeks I have noticed a change in Austen's walk..his talk..his humor..small glimmers of maturity that are intriguing.

As we ride home from Austin (the city) Austen (the young man)catches me up on many of his summer adventures at the river. The people he has met. The stunts they (Austen and friend Travis) have tried. Austen offers his insights into various people and situations. He has become clearer on what he wants and doesn't want in the near future. As Austen talks, I realize that he has become pretty street smart. You know..in a small-town, River Rat sort-of way. And then he says.  

You know..it occurred to me..that life is so unpredictable! I have a new philosophy. Embrace life. Live life. Love life. It's as simple as that. You can't hide away afraid of what might happen. You just have to..well..like I said. 

Embrace, Live and Love.

This..naturally, led to a discussion on his recent dread-lock consultation. Yes..we had a dreadlock consultation for the boy last Friday. Austen is very clear about what type/style of dreads he wants.

Did you know there are over 12 dread-lock styles? I didn't.

After discussion with stylist, she gave us the amount. $xyz.oo!! Holy Molie! We ask for an appointment in a couple of weeks so we can gather the funds. Austen should be dreaded on Sept. 10th. Should be interesting. I'm sure that will be a whole 'nother blog in and of itself.

In the meantime. The local neighborhood kids are back in school. We (again) are not. The house is unusually quiet.

I have been following the not back to school bloghop.

The bloghop has also been interesting..not in the same way as dreadlocks..but in a wow..do people really do all this sort-of way.

The month of August was broken into themes. Week 1- Curriculum Used, Week 2 -School Room Week, Week 3 -Student Photo Week and finallyWeek 4- Day In the Life. I have simply read..not posted. Mainly because there are some pretty efficient homeschoolers over there. Ahem..we? Well? We are growing River Rats!

So..quick summary here.

Curriculum Used. We occasionally have a year of what I call "Sonlight Panic" This is one of those years. So, for now..Sonlight British Lit, Saxon Algebra and Calculus, and miscellaneous other stuff for Economics, French and O-Chem.

School Room: Where-ever we are. The dining room table, the living room floor, my bed, the deck , the river...

Student Photo Week:
This would be it. Both boys are purposely hiding their faces. It was the best picture I could get..the other pics? Well...they were spitting/shooting paper napkin pieces at me.

A Day In the Life? Really?

  Let's see...had coffee with Big B and  my friend Sandy. Hung out with the baby, started laundry,and turned the t.v. onto the Sirius Coffee House station. Unlike the years we had no t.v.or only 2 stations,  we now have a gazillion channels to choose from. The easiest way to avoid getting sucked into t.v. land is to use the t.v. like a radio.

Austen came home from Devin's (he had spent the night) and I woke Cody up around 9:30 a.m.. Both boys thought this was cruel and unusual punishment because I had decided summer was over.

Don't feel too bad for them. They had been forewarned.

Boys wrote in journals and we (gasp) used work-books for grammar. We have not used work-books since...wow..Cody was like 7. Austen..about 6 years ago. Levi tried to converse with the studious paper spitters, as they wrote..the boys rolled up paper towels and pretended they were "baby cigarettes." They cracked themselves up.

 Then? We read aloud. We always read aloud together. One of the things I treasure about my time at home.

Today it was Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Cody very creatively retold Beowulf. "Then Hrothgar- the optimist prime- with all his men..." or "They waded through the marrow..mm yum,yum.."

Austen had great fun with puns of King Arthur and his "high" court.

We read for a couple of hours. Levi falls asleep.

Boys work on cars and fix some lunch. I rotate laundry. (real exciting, huh?)

Then we resume. Bluestocking Guide to Economics. We read and discuss articles. Austen spends another hour studying French and working on Algebra. Cody reads some history and starts skimming an ACT prep book.

Pictured here is Cody playing with Levi.

By 3p.m..the boys are back in the river..The rest of the day the boys play with Levi, play in the river and mess around on computers. Cody helps me set the table for dinner.

Dinner conversation revolves around the No Impact Experiment .What will it involve? We are trying next week. Big B thinks he should be exempt from the experiment. We disagree. It's a family thing..he must deal with his consumerism just like the rest of us.

Big B rocks Levi (and himself) to sleep..as he embraces another love in our lives.

What's For Dinner?
Monday: shell pasta with salmon, sliced cucumber and tomato, bread sticks
Tuesday: New England  style roast, baked potatoes, salad
Wednesday: roasted red pepper soup, grilled cheese on wheat rounds, sliced peaches
Thursday: eggplant and tomatoes with pasta, sliced tomato with mozarella and basil, sliced apples
Friday: toasted french toast with bruschetta, olives, sliced cheeses
Saturday: meatless chilli
Sunday: ? 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grace, Hospitality and Outreach

 This is just a quick post on my recent musings on grace, hospitality and outreach.

On our trip to Michigan with the OM team..the other moms and I had some interesting conversations on just about everything. Among which was religion..specifically service..or outreach. It was brought to my attention that even churches who serve have an alterior motive..to grow their church..or witness of Christ. This was seen as a threatening act..a "catch" so to speak.

I didn't respond at the time..because this has never been my understanding of outreach. My own personal experience. Yet, I have seen this happen many times..so I couldn't deny the statement either.

My first thought, however, was  No. Not at all. No matter what ones faith or non-faith is Graciousness is a natural out-pour of Grace.
But I stayed quiet.

I stayed quiet because too often I have heard too much defensiveness and war lingo used by members of churches. It is hard to explain grace (the gift of unconditional love - those glimmers of inner peace/joy) in the midst of war lingo. It is hard to explain that being "armed for battle", in the Christian sense, means battling poverty, hate, injustice and  pride. NOT the fighting, finger-pointing, us-or-them type images that often come to mind.And unfortunately are often stated by some pretty vocal people.

So I stay quiet and start pondering the differences in people's perceptions of Grace. There are some that believe grace is earned. They serve to be deserving. I believe this perception is more openly stated here in the West.

Then? There is the understanding that grace is a gift. There are many who accept the gift of grace. When you see grace as a gift..then service to others is merely an action in response to the gift. A thankyou..let me share with you.

..and sharing..well that leads to thinking about Hospitality.

 I begin reading the book Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains.  In a discussion on entertaining vs. hospitality Ms. Mains writes:
  "Entertaining says,'I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking'.  Hospitality, however, seeks to minister.It says, 'This home is not mine. It is truly a gift...
  ...Hospitality whispers 'What is mine is yours.' "

Hospitality is an invitation into community.

and I realize that the difference between Hospitality and Entertainment, is similar to the distinction between outreach to self-serve ..and outreach as a response. 

For example, our church hosts a day-care. It is the only C.C. M.S. approved day-care in the county. This day-care IS the ministry of the church. There are those who get frustrated because most families from the day-care do not attend the church. They see this as a failure on the part of the congregation.

Then? There are those who understand that the day-care is a MINISTRY. It fills a need in the community.

The goal of ministry is to fill the need.

If the goal is to grow the church we are frustrated. If, however, we understand we are blessed with what we have..and want to extend that by filling a need in the community. (I.E..the only CCMS day-care in the county) Then? We are extending grace. We are ministering.

Okay..no more time to reflect.

Crying baby needing attention IMMEDIATELY.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Little Men

Random Shots of the "Little Men" (as Big B likes to call them), who use our home as the place to crash land-and hang in.  And Yes...some of them even live here..others are simply the "frequent fliers". We are lucky to have them all in our lives.

Our Cast of Characters:

Calvin (15), Austen (16) and Cody (17)...The Beach Bums!
  Calvin (15) and Levi (2 months) Brother Bonding

Fishing in the Back Yard.  Cody (17) and Mason (17)  Also known as Thing 1 and Thing 2

Lunchtime! Bryan (6), Michael (10), Jose (11)..who had the unfortunate luck of being referred to as "Little Bryan, Little Michael, and Little Jose"...too many dads/uncles/friends with the same names floating around this place.

Devin (16) with friend Mandy at local gallery

Justin (16) Literally Hanging taken a year ago at ropes course.

Brian (20!) with girlfriend Angee (19)...another year old pic..sorry. Brian-Scott has also been dubbed "little Brian"..and then renamed .."Middle Brian"...at least he's a flexible guy.

Levi (2 months)..still getting acquainted with the Cast.

..and onto the most frequently heard phrase in la casa

*What's For Dinner?
Sunday: eggplant parmigiana, manicotti, salad
Monday: cheese enchiladas, beans, corn-bread, corn, fruit salad
Tuesday: pita sandwiches (feta, tomato, olive..and salmon optional) with peasant soup
Wednesday: spaghetti, green beans, spinach salad, french bread
Thursday: portabella mushroom burgers or hamburgers, sweet potato fries, fruit salad
Friday: make your own pizza
Saturday: dinner in Austin.(.returning Little Man "Middle Brian" and Angee to Austin for school)

* this is just a plan. Breakfast for dinner, or quesadillas, are always our fallback. We usually have one fallback a week.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Baby Turns 20?!


Brian-Scott turns 20 today. 20!!! Can you believe it?!

I have been taking some time to process this.


It seems like just yesterday I was carrying him with me..as we carry Levi now...and then he began to talk.

"Democrat" being his first word....Compliments of grandma.

We discover early that Brian is intense, quirky and kind. What wonderful traits!

Brian is 12 months when the pediatrician is concerned he may have leukemia. After further testing, we are relieved to discover it is only thalesemia minor.  Our baby? Takes all the blood work in stride..grinning and "singing" as we panic..and hold him tighter..and breathe again..still holding him a little tighter.

He is 3 and pondering how the end of a pencil is the same as infinity...and simultaneously worried he can't find his stuffed Barney. He makes up rules to games..sometimes, he cheats.

He is 5 and horrified at all the letters in books. A, B, C? ...(sigh) what do we mean what sound do these make? These represent unknown variables!..but could we please read him another story. He continues to make up rules to games. Brian continues to sometimes cheat.

Brian is 9 and dabbles with martial arts. Then he discovers gambling..we discuss the ethics of gambling. So instead he offers to teach us a new game. We respectfully decline..Also he wants to know why he must stay in school. After all..can't we just read to him?

..and so we do.

Brian becomes intense with martial arts...I LOVE to watch him and his friends at karate. He spends almost 4 years at the dojo..5/6 days a week, 3-4 hours a day...and then we add gymnastics. His uncle teaches him computer programming and more math. He enjoys several years and friendships from Odyssey of the Mind. He starts summer PREP programs..and the rest of the time can we please keep reading to him?

Brian is at loose ends. We won't let him go to college until he is at least 16. He plays a lot of roller hockey. He volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club. He continues with Odyssey..and he prepares to leave home to the Texas Academy of Math and Science.

Here is Brian at one of his last Odyssey of the Mind competitions..as a competitor. They built a car out of sponges.

..and so my baby (my oldest baby that is) leaves home at the ripe old age of 16.

I cry for weeks. I am not ready to say goodbye so early..yet I know this is what he needs.

Brian comes home in the summers and works at a lab nearby. He starts dating Angee. He has known her since he was 8/9? They went to karate together. They work at the lab together. They have been dating 3 years now!.

Brian moves from the dorms at TAMS to an apartment at UTAustin where he studies electrical engineering.Brian discovers he has kerataconous...his vision is rapidly declining. I can't help but be proud of how he takes it all in stride.

The following year..Brian and Angee get an apartment together. Brian and Angee surround themselves with a strong support system. They cultivate strong friendships...and by the way..if someone would like to write a paper for him..Brian is okay with that.

Brian and Angee study, study, and study...they stay in close touch with both families.

They travel. They ski. They play at beaches.

They look for things they can do together..with others..where Brian won't unintentionally injure other people guessing where things are. For example.no.racket ball. Brian has caused one too many racket-ball injuries.

They settle on  lots of  frisbee..even when Brian is guessing who he is throwing too..His frisbee team wears very bright colored shirts, hoping to increase the odds of his throwing the frisbee to his own team-mates. They are really neat kids...and Brian?

Brian enjoys life.

..and now he turns 20! (GASP!!) What can I say? I love this kid!

Brian and his friends decide to spend the weekend here..camping..and I discover that Brian and Angee are now only speaking to Levi in Mandarin. Of course..Brian mostly discusses diodes and resisters with Levi. His brother's keep trying to remind him that he might be interested in other things..like sitting up. Brian remains unconvinced.

Go figure.

We are glad to have them all..all 13-15 of these teens and young adults.

Even (ahem) the camping cheaters who never quite venture outside:)

Happy Birthday Brian.

We love you.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

20 years of Small Stuff

  I am writing from the beach. Island House on Padre Island has been a summer vacation spot for my family since I was in my teens. Before that we vacationed on the other end of this Texas Gulf Coast board-walk at Holiday Inn. My parents consider this their own private heaven.

This week, my mom has regaled us with tales from her childhood in North Carolina. My dad plays his ukulele and discusses what he is reading and thinking about. Calvin alternates from watching t.v. in his room to sitting on the surf, covering us with sand..or trying to pull the sea-weed out of the ocean. Cody..triangulates..from computer, to beach, to pool..computer, beach, pool. He is like a ghost..only speaks when spoken too. Austen? Has befriended a girl from Mississippi. We only see him at meals and when he is sleeping. And Big B? Well, we left him in Bandera ..as we do many summers. I used to feel bad about this..really guilty like..but Big B is a work-a-holic. And we don't always help the situation.

I write this because we just had our 20th ANNIVERSARY. 20 years. Who would have thought?  We spent our anniversary at home. And the next day (when our schedules worked out) we went out. We did what we always do. We spent every restaurant gift card we have received in the past year.

Crab boil at Joe's Crab Shack..Southwestern Egg Rolls at Chili's. It is a tradition we started in our third year of marriage. We still do the same thing. Because..it is the small things that hold our marriage together. Isn't it for everyone? Really?

I recently read an article stating that couples with children spent an average of 91/2 hours a week in conversation without children present. REALLY..9 1/2 hours. I don't know how they do it.

Several years ago I asked Big B what I could do for him that would really make him happy. I don't know why I asked him..I wouldn't usually do such a thing. I held my breath..fearful of what he might say.

REALLY?? he askes..eyebrows raised. Hmm...let me think...and then in all seriousness Could you..you know..have a cup of coffee with me in the morning before work? ..and so our coffee traditions began. It usually lasts about 10-15 minutes a morning because Big B is always running late for work.  But it is a small thing that among many other small things..keep us connected.

  Our conversations are not that exciting. Take yesterday? Me: I made some chicken salad..it's in the fridge. Big B: Can you call the electric company?..did you say chicken salad? Me: Yup..in the fridge..we are taking the rest to the beach.  Big B: Ahh..the beach..wish I could go (then a shrug and a grin).guess I'll just have to stay here all by myself and ENJOY THE PEACE AND QUIET!! 

(This statement, by the way, being absurd since the man BLASTS the t.v. and radio when we are gone. Like the neighbors can hear him..and our neighbors aren't close!)

Me:(grin) Whatever..will you call Cody's dentist and reschedule his appointment. Big B: (grabbing his tools and stuff) Oh..yeah..you guys have fun. Love you. (kiss on forehead). Call me when you get there.
and he is out the door.

See? Not even close to 91/2 hours. I can't even imagine. I mention this to him as we are eating at Joe's.He laughs. Conversation over. Big B is much more interested in watching the waiters dance to Car Wash..and stealing the plastic crab opener that says "Stolen from Joe's Crab Shack".

I think about the things said..and unsaid. I think of how we started. He was a mechanic and semi-pro motorcycle racer. He had dreams of studying professional motorcycle racing in Santa Something, CA. I was working in a bar as a fiddle player...waiting to hear if I was accepted to the San Francisco Music Conservatory. When I was accepted..we celebrated.. a lot..apparently more than necessary....and 6 months later I was calling him in Texas from a pay-phone in Oakland, CA saying.."Guess what..I'm pregnant..just thought..you know..you might want to know."

I had no intention of marrying him. Nothing personal, I liked him..a lot..but come on..We BARELY KNEW EACH OTHER. He dared me to take a chance on him. I've never been good at turning down a good dare.

4 months later..we were married.We were living in Texas. We had a son..and partial guardianship of his/(now our) 5 year old niece.

Our neighbor brings us a glass candy dish as a wedding gift. (we eloped). I fill it with hard candy..especially cinnamon. We keep the dish full of hard-candy as an "I love you". This is small thing number 1.

A year later we were excited at discovering that we were pregnant again. In my second tri-mester we discovered that if Michael Anthony was not "removed" he and I would both die. Michael was too small to survive. We went home without him...and for the next 9 weeks Big B took 1 year old Brian-Scott to work with him..since I was not allowed to do any lifting.

Small things begin to carry more depth here...every year on December 3rd Brian gives me a hug and a flower. Last year Michael would have been 18. This is small thing number 2.

We decided we are content with our involvement/parenting with Kelly(our niece) and Brian-Scott.

Then..I discover I am pregnant again. We decide to name him Dakota James. 3 weeks before he is born we hear a prayer request for the family of a baby Dakota James who died of SIDS. We are superstitious. We change Dakota's name to Cody....

One morning, as I am feeding Kelly and Brian-Scott breakfast..while  Cody(at 3 months of age)  is screaming for about his 100th hour in a row (no kidding), Big B says..when do you see the doctor? I think your pregnant? I give him an unkind gesture above the kid's heads. No..really..he says I'm getting morning sickness again. I try to ignore him...but you know..the guy did get sicker than me in pregnancy.

Big B is right.

We decide that Austen must be the immaculate conception..because neither of us remember when this could have happened. Big B decides it is tooth-brush sharing that is causing these pregnancies. We never share a tooth-brush again.This is small thing number 3.

Our friendships with other couples change during this time. We start surrounding ourselves with friends who are family/kid friendly. More than that..who even sometimes enjoy quirky kids...and then we learn of the world of autism..we realize that one of us needs to be home full time. We draw straws. For the next 16 years Big B brings me a package of twizzlers or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups every pay-day. number 4.

.and our adult friendships become even more valued...and selective.

In 20 years..we have been  together through day-to-day life. We buried Big B's adoptive father..2 of my close friends..and his biological father. We strive to build a strong support system. We partner in the "growing" of 11 children..in some capacity or another.We safe-house another 5 families.

We have joined the world of homeschooling.  We watch our children..and the children who bless/stress our lives defy all sorts of barriers.

We know we have chosen a path less traveled...and that is okay. We have come to really appreciate those small things. The cups of coffee, the stolen restaurant utensils in an annual restaurant gift card splurge , the candies, the hugs.

This marriage is not the life we imagined when we met.. We definitely don't reach the 91/2 hour a week ideal. But we have come to treasure it..because it is ours.

Wouldn't it be great if we could make another 20?