Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-18-2008

In 20 years, with the exception of a dicey pregnancy, I haven’t seen my wife debilitated for more than a day at a time… and that only rarely. Now she has an illness that resembles one I had about three weeks ago. My illness sucked nine days out of my life; I hope hers is more merciful.

It’s my wife’s first year as an elementary school teacher, so planning, preparation, and grading her students’ work keeps her very busy. Sadly, she has had a nasty virus since early last week. She’s stoic, and she’s a volunteer junky. As her Odyssey of the Mind team’s run ended at the regional competition, she immediately jumped in to help with the High School musical. She worked backstage at several performances. Her cold raged on, and she actually excused herself from helping one evening when she realized her illness had become overwhelming… but she was back the next day as if her symptoms were subsiding.

When she returned from school yesterday, she didn’t pop in to say hi. In fact, I knew she was back only when I heard thumping and squeaking above me as she climbed into bed (my office is directly beneath our bedroom). The kids and I left her alone, and it became apparent that she wasn’t getting up any time soon.

Our lives became much more challenging. My daughter had stayed home from school yesterday with a cold of her own. We needed to cancel her horseback riding lesson, but only my wife knows how—so we ended up standing up the instructor. My son’s cello teacher called to try to move my son’s lesson from Thursday night to Friday night—but I deferred because we hadn’t yet made a decision about how we’d spend our four-day weekend. In the morning, I bumbled together school lunches, delivered a kid to “early morning” band practice, and zipped out to my wife’s school to drop off her day’s lesson plan and pick up her students’ completed homework assignments.

The additional tasks cut into the day. They’re manageable, but I get edgy at unexpected diversions from my work—especially when I’m behind (and I’m close to a month behind on some key projects). If my wife is out for long, I expect I’ll make peace with the shifted focus: more taxi service and household logistics, less writing and web-development.

Still, I don’t look forward to coming days when there may be more early morning, and new after school transportation challenges. My wife is generally very upbeat, so it’s uncomfortable to see her so beat down… and the only thing I can do to help is to try to handle some of the tasks she usually does. The household has a different, less comfortable cadence. We’ll get by, but I want my wife back.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-14-2008

There are so many unsung heroes of High School musicals: Stage hands? They may at least get a curtain call. Members of the pit orchestra get a nod during curtain calls, but with backs to the stage, they have no idea when the audience is applauding them. Least acknowledged of all are the parents who shuttle kids back-and-forth, help with costumes and set-building, and deal with logistics of feeding cast and crew and managing the post-production party. In a small town like Lewisburg, it’s a wonder there’s anyone left to make an audience, let alone five audiences.

The Lewisburg Area High School’s production of The Sound Of Music was terrific. But that opinion is a little premature because there are three more performances till the final curtain call. The crew performed for a select audience on Wednesday afternoon, and offered their first fully public performance last night. They’ll go again tonight, and twice tomorrow.

I’d not seen a stage production of The Sound Of Music, but, like many Americans, I’ve seen the movie several times. And, as much as I’ve enjoyed the story and the music, the most intense emotional moment I remember from the movie was tension and outrage toward the Nazi imposition into the lives of the Von Traps.

So, I was kind of surprised to find myself getting choked up several times during last night’s performance. It seems as I’ve gotten older and correspondingly more cynical, that I’ve become more vulnerable to the idea of wholesomeness; scenes that depicted people generally caring for each other and expressing it openly almost brought me to tears.

To hear my kids tell it, the show was nearly a disaster. My son the actor was aware of missed lines, bollixed entrances, missed marks on stage, and a few difficult moments back stage. My son the cellist was aware of several mistakes made by the pit orchestra. (It’s odd to think this collection of musicians will attend every performance, yet never see the play.)

From where I sat, the voices were smooth and sweet, the sets and scene changes were solid, the pit orchestra was balanced and clean, and the stage management and choreography were tight (though I did notice some nuns bowing a little early during the curtain calls).

After the show, we exited down a hallway lined by the performers and some of the crew. It was weird to see so many of the characters suddenly become friends of my kids, siblings of my kids’ friends, or kids I’ve coached on soccer teams and their siblings. That made the theatre experience even more special. It’s possible there has never been a better performance of The Sound Of Music on any stage.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-12-2008

I watched my classmates perform South Pacific when I was in 8th grade. The production was astounding. More than thirty years later, I’m excited to have tickets to Lewisburg Area High School’s performance of The Sound Of Music. It’s gonna be a great show.

It seems that every high school in The Valley is performing a musical in mid-to-late March. Lewisburg High School is producing that Rogers & Hammerstein classic, The Sound Of Music.

We’ve attended Lewisburg High School’s musicals the past several years, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I’m especially looking forward to this year’s because one of my kids is in the cast, and another is playing in the pit orchestra.

With the commotion of getting kids to and from evening and weekend rehearsals, I’ve had a recurring thought about High School musicals: I can’t remember ever hearing someone fresh from an audience comment about the performance having been bad. Thinking back even to musicals my classmates performed in junior high school (7th, 8th, and 9th grades where I grew up), I have never seen a dud.

I imagine that most people never see a Broadway show, while only a few more see travelling Broadway productions, and slightly more see local professional theatre productions. These shows are readily available in cities, but uncommon in rural communities. So, it’s possible that a high school musical is the most polished stage show my neighbors will ever see… but I doubt it.

I’d bet that people who attend high school stage productions do catch professional productions from time-to-time. I’ve seen nearly a dozen shows on Broadway, at least as many travelling Broadway troupes, and local theatre in several small towns—I even saw a play at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The biggest failures were with Broadway shows: the ticket prices create expectation for flawless theatre experiences, so when a show is only good, it’s disappointing.

So, I expect this year’s Sound Of Music to be as outstanding as every high school musical I’ve seen; I’m pumped for theatre. But are high school musicals really that good, or do we overlook flaws that would bother us if they occurred in a professional production? It doesn’t really matter.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-10-2008

Don’t know whether my foot is sprained or broken, but I’m tossing the cleats in my closet. I want to get healthy for golf season.

I play soccer on a men’s over 30 soccer league. I also play with a local club that runs pickup games twice a week. The league plays indoors through the winter. The club plays outdoors through the spring, summer, and fall.

I play mostly for exercise—I have virtually no skill. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m not real committed to the club… in warm weather, I try to play golf two or more times a week, and it’s hard to get enthusiastic about adding three or four hours of running on top of that.

I’m much more committed to the soccer league because golf opportunities are rare in the winter. It’s very cool to be able to play soccer on a grass-like surface even as a blizzard swirls outside.

Yesterday, my team played its 22nd game of the season. We were holding our own: we’d had a half-dozen solid scoring opportunities that didn’t pan out, and we were down by only one point.

I was racing to shut down a breakaway attack on our goal, and somehow I jammed my heel hard into the turf. Something popped, and I felt pain; I took myself out of the game.

Without exception, my first thought after ouch is, How will this affect my golf game? In fact, part of my reluctance to play soccer at all is the growing certainty that a soccer-related injury will sideline me from golf (I’ve seen other players break bones, and pull muscles. One of my indoor teammates dislocated his shoulder and another detached his Achilles tendon.)

If I get injured in the winter, I have time to heal before golf season starts. If I get injured in the spring, summer, or fall, I may miss several weeks of golf. I’d be sad. It looks as though my soccer season has ended.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-07-2008

For my wife’s OM team, the stands, uprights, and cross-bars to hold scenery; the scenery itself; props; and costumes fill a surprisingly small area of the playroom floor.  The debris from the construction effort spreads into the bathroom, the adjacent billiards room, and the garage.  So far, this year’s team has avoided serious injury despite their extensive use of my cutting and power tools.  Judging from the weekly noise, there’s no doubt they had fun.

Odyssey Of The Mind (OM) is very popular in central Pennsylvania. It is a program in which teams of up to seven kids compete against other teams in creative problem solving. A team chooses a challenge from the selections prepared for the year’s competition. The problem comes with a detailed set of rules that describe what constitutes a winning solution: Use seven bamboo chopsticks to build a structure that can hold at least six tons while moving five miles per hour under its own power on a gym floor. Or: train some type of domesticated animal to reenact the signing of the declaration of independence using ink and paper manufactured from raw materials during the presentation. Or: put on a play in which scenes change three times, costumes change once, and at least one character’s actions violate our understanding of the space-time continuum. (I had to summarize; the rules usually cover many pages.)

Over the course of fifteen months, a team interprets the rules; yells a lot; cuts, builds, and paints stuff; screams and shouts; writes a script; and makes a lot of random noise. Then they attend a regional competition at which they set up their creations and perform. The roles of adults in all this? Hands off. Adults are involved to keep kids from hurting each other, and to apply antibiotic ointment when it’s needed. Adults also buy supplies, provide snacks, run taxi service, and serve as judges during the competition.

My kids participate on OM teams, and they obviously have a blast. My wife also participates in OM; she organizes all the teams in Lewisburg. More than that, she is the parent “coach” of one of my kids’ teams. This means that for fifteen months each year (OK, it’s closer to four months) my basement is the epicenter of a catastrophic seismic OM event.

This season’s regional competition is tomorrow (OM is a winter sport). I look forward to seeing the teams perform; the kids are very creative, and the competition is always fun. At the same time, I make no secret of my enthusiasm for my wife’s team to get its stuff out of my basement: The place is a heap. No doubt thousands of parents world-wide will get the same satisfactions from tomorrow’s regional events.

Learn more about OM at their web site: Odyssey of the Mind

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Filed Under (my country home, rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-06-2008

Only two days ago, four inches of snow covered most of the secrets in my yard.  With the snow gone, a couple of unfinished jobs have become apparent, and the first flowers of the year have appeared.

Two days of rain nearly melted off all the snow. It also revealed secrets: reminders that last fall, I left some projects for the spring. With the snow off the lawn, I see the grass is quite long. My son had stopped mowing in the fall when a cable popped loose on my mower. I’ll need to get that fixed before the turf thaws.

I see that both garden hoses still slither through the grass—well-entwined no doubt because we rolled them out after the last mowing, and left them as the grass grew over them. Oddly, a spray nozzle sits on the grass rather than in it, and I wonder if I had taken the nozzle off and tossed it aside when I gave the dog her last bath of the season.

The leaf pile my kids raked together in the fall has become a massive dead spot on the front lawn. Believe it or not, I wanted the leaves to kill the grass there—I plan to plant Zoysia this spring (a patch I planted three years ago now lives up to the claims in advertisements), and it’ll be easier to cut the plugs into bare ground than it is to cut them in through growing grass.

I’m not surprised to find other items kicking about the yard: there are a few lawn chairs, a jump rope embedded in the lawn even deeper than the garden hoses, a spool that’s supposed to hold one of the hoses, many golf balls frozen in puddles left by the rain, and a basketball half-covered by the forsythia bushes.

Just two days ago, the entire yard was beneath four inches of snow. Today, there are puddles standing on frozen turf. Until the sun struck them, those puddles were iced over. Still, there are daffodil sprouts in the garden, and on the south side of the house, one crocus blossom peaks out from under the leaves. Yard work has become inevitable.

I get no pleasure from doing yard work, but I stumble through the minimal to keep my neighbors from complaining. I did some serious rationalization and procrastination in the fall, and winter snows hid my secrets. The thaw has laid them bare.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-05-2008

A small creek runs through Lewisburg’s most elaborate park—the bridge in the photo spans the creek’s normal width. On dry, warm days, the playground area is busy with preschoolers, and you might find folks playing basketball and tennis. When we have enough rain, much of the park goes under, and the township closes nearby roads. Ducks enjoy the park under any conditions.

Yesterday’s flood watch stretched into this afternoon. The rain finally stopped overnight, but flooding often follows hours after the last raindrop. This thawing rain proves it. By the time people headed into work this morning, low-lying roads were closed all over central Pennsylvania, but flooding rivers and streams won’t crest until tomorrow.

Floods turn so many of us into gawkers. Most days, the local rivers and streams look lazy; you can wade safely in many of them. How cool it is, then, when 24 hours’ rain and accelerated snow-melt turn them into raging rapids. On these days, “river watchers” take up posts where they can see the water rise. Today, they reported the Susquehanna River deepening by a foot every hour.

In the aftermath of a hurricane when I lived in Boston, I once saw a car nearly submerged in an underpass that had filled with water. Amazingly, that’s the worst flooding I ever saw there. The sewer system in the city must be sensational to provide drainage for even modest rain storms… there’s almost no place for water to soak in in a city, so if there weren’t massive powerful rivers underground, the streets would often be under water.

I noticed an odd change in my basement office today: the floor is so cold that it seems to radiate coldness. The floor is never warm, but neither has it ever been cold as it is now. I guess the rain and snow melt have raised the water table to my house’s cement slab, and they’re acting as coolant. All winter, socks have kept my feet warm in here, but today I’m wearing shoes as well and my feet are still cold. It’s a minor inconvenience when I consider the hours that commuters have lost due to closed roads, and the aggravation many of my neighbors will experience as the water recedes and leaves their homes and businesses soaked and muddy.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 03-04-2008

Water gathers on the edge of the shingles before dripping into the rain gutter. Dark skies and the sound of rain on the roof sometimes make me envy my dog’s schedule: up at dawn, and back to bed an hour later.

When the weather service announces a flood watch, it’s likely there’s going to be rain. Lewisburg sits in a river valley, so we can see flooding even when the rain falls elsewhere. Today’s flood watch, however, has come with a dark, overcast sky and a steady cold rain.

When I’ve grown weary of winter, a dreary rainy day can actually raise my spirits. While there are several reasons, one really stands out: If it’s raining, chances are the snow is melting.

As long as the field across from my house is covered with snow, winter is in charge. There’s no planting the spring garden (lettuce, spinach, peas, and some herbs don’t mind cold, but you can’t work the soil when it’s under a blanket of snow); there’s no soccer on the grass; there’s no golf.

Around here, the snow is usually gone by early March… and I’m poised to bolt for the outdoors. But late-winter snow—and rain melting it away—means lots of early-spring mud. So, while the rain melts the snow and raises my spirits, at least this year my favorite outdoor activities seem destined to start late.

In the meantime, the flood watch does provide entertainment. Ponds will appear where there usually are none. Drainage ditches that are dry most of the year will run deep with water, or even overflow onto roads. There will be deep puddles to spray with the car’s tires into people’s yards. There will be ducks swimming in some of those yards. There will be one kid—the same one as always—wading knee-deep in the runoff when I pick my kids up at school.

Inside, the dog will seem a little cuddlier than on most days (and she’ll probably sleep more soundly)… but she’ll reach a nadir of popularity when she demands to go out—without a fenced yard, when she goes, someone must go with her.

It’s a small inconvenience; spring is almost here.

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