Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Notebook Paper and Denim

I have tried to revisit in my mind the mental bookmark that segregates for me the beginning of my love affair with all things supply related. There is no watermark moment, no recalled genesis, no hallmark memory. I can simply remember that as long as I can remember, I have loved school supplies.

As a young child, we would head to Ronnie's Supermarket and pick up our supply list off the aisle end cap - that supply list having been typed on an old manual typewriter and run off via carbon paper. Remember that lovely cornflower blue ink? We would carry our supplies proudly home in big sturdy brown paper bags, lay them all out on the floor, carefully label them, and then, almost in a manner reserved for crown jewels, place them back inside the same brown bag where they would hold revered status until the bell rang on the first day of school. 

And we would carry them in to class in that same brown bag. $50 backpack? Not necessary. We were above knowing we needed one. And all year long, I took careful time with my supplies - never one to want to sharpen my crayons and face the jagged edge of the torn paper for the rest of the year, never one to mix colors of paint on the plastic palette, never one to just throw them at day's end into my desk. No sirree - I coddled them for the year, knowing that what was left over was mine to keep and could then be added to my private stash back at home.

And what were summers for, but playing school? As I think back on the cool of the mornings in the gulf summer heat, I am amazed to think that we played school in a garage with a door that never opened. We cleared a space and set up a desk area for 2-3 students, and we rotated who was teacher and who was student, using up our supplies left over from the grade we just finished, which, if we were lucky, included some extra worksheets that we never needed in "filler time". I loved playing school. I loved school. I loved the whole spectrum of it, the supplies just being the easiest outward manifestation, the one constant as you changed teachers and campuses. Give me a new pack of 64 crayons and watch me transcend time.

Fast forward to my early 30's, and see me with two young sons, and a corner in an upstairs retreat where we had craft supplies and a little oak table with 2 chairs. {Don't think I didn't wish I had that table and chairs back in the '70's in my garage!} We did arts and crafts with the boys as early as they could manage to move their fingers around on a piece of paper. I have piles and piles of childhood art around here, mocking me with its presence. I refuse to let it go just yet!

And read, oh, would we read. Many times it would be the same book over and over. I never knew the full measure of my husband's patience until the year that my oldest child asked him to read the same Dorling Kindersley bulldozer book every night. Now, these were photos of all kinds of machines, with descriptions of their name and purpose. No story here - just a machine encyclopedia if you will. Philip wore that book ragged and heaven help us if bedtime came and the bulldozer book was needing to be unearthed. 

Preschool time came around too soon for the boys and I, I guess. I don't know if it was the fashion of the day, or the fear of letting them go, or their desire to soak up everything and learn from me all I would impart...but some combination of any of that led me to a stint with homeschooling. I was not cut out for it. The boys were not cut out for it. Thankfully we all had sense enough to recognize that early on. What I remember fondly about the experience, though, are all the workbooks we bought and how fun it was to set up a school room in my own home for my sons, and see their little heads bent over that blonde oak table, pursuing the completion of some little assignment. This was definitely a new definition of school supplies for me!

When the boys began kindergarten, we lived in the valley at the very southern tip of Texas. Borders blended and societies merged, and all of the stores of McAllen served not only the citizens of McAllen, but also the needs of any visitors over from Mexico, in pursuit of goods not available to them at home. Translation: buy it when you see it, because it won't last long. I learned early to guess at what you needed, and buy extra, because by the time the teacher told you it was on "the list", it would no longer be on the shelves. 

We had one Target in town, south of our home, towards the border. You needed to go early in the morning for it to be clean, for the checkout lines to be tolerable, for the aisles to be maneuverable. There was no way, in this border town, I would ever even consider going in to the Walmart. No way. Target was my only option. So, when they set out the school supplies, we were there. The boys would pick out their folders, their spirals, their crayons, their map pencils, their scissors, their rulers, their pencils, their pens.

It was always so much fun to see the choices, to revel in the colors, to mark this year's trends based on the images on all the supplies. It was entertaining to watch them consider the choices, as if they were selecting a house or a car, weighing all the options, importing onto the array of supplies a value far beyond the price tag, ensuring they ended up with an assortment that did not match their brother's. No copy cats here! Get that individuality captured! The buggy would fill and we would head home with our new round of treasures. 

I will 'fess up. There were usually 1 or 2 or 7 things in the buggy for me as well. My husband learned early on that my brain requires an assortment of note pads, post-it notes, pens and spirals. Just because. After all, when the bell rang, it was a "new year" for me, too. I couldn't head into my volunteer meetings with last year's tool kit, could I? The travesty!

Home we three would head. Supplies divvied up onto the counter. Label maker pulled out. Backpack loaded. In July no less. What were we to do? The fun was in the selecting, the fun was in the waiting, the fun was in the going. We relished the entire process. My boys were always extremely eager for meet the teacher night, and the commencement of the school year. They were great little students and loved the social network of school as much as they adored their teachers and mastered their lessons.

When Texas launched tax free sales weekend, and Macy's matched their tax hiatus with back to school sales, we upped our school shopping to include clothes. We learned to go the night before and preview the choices. Some stores would set things to the side for me, ready for me on Friday morning to run in at opening bell and pay quickly and get out before the crowds descended. {Thanks Aeropostale - you done good by me.} Steve would always pick up the jeans at Macy's. Of course, he calls them denim. And he would let me know when the denim deals happened. I would let him know their sizes.

When the boy were in middle school, they began taking an interest in their clothes. By the time they graduated, I was out of the picture, with the exception of the photo on my debit card. They morphed from Aeropostale to Urban Outfitters and Pac Sun. I morphed from going to giving them a budget. I honestly didn't mind and I enjoyed seeing what treasures they came home with, albeit some of them looking like my definition of school clothes not so much. Denim? It still came from Macy's. We've had all sizes of Levi's in this house. You could measure the growth of the child by the change in that famous waistband tag.

When August 2013 rolled around, we were left with one child at home needing supplies. One child at home that does not like to shop. One child at home that is independent. One child at home that would rather not be seen in public with us unless it is at Chuy's for mexicana comida deluxe. We casually offered to Andrew a little excursion and nearly fell over when he agreed to go!

We headed to North Park mall quickly, before he changed his mind, in search of anything he would agree to let us buy. Said child not only dislikes shopping, at the time he disliked getting anything either. We settled on some jeans, er....denim, and we found some shirts he liked, and we even found some shoes. It was a wardrobe trifecta. Given he was in the spirit, we then headed to Target. Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today? With Andrew, we knew to strike while the iron is hot. A momentous end to a family tradition? #bullseye

Notebook paper? Check. Binder? Check. Red pens? Check. Last round of this shopping rodeo? Check, check, check. It was a sobering reality to be sure. Hard to believe my days of spirals and new pens and fun notebooks are over. Oh, wait. They're not. You might just find, if you know where to look, my private stash of school supplies. A part of me will always feel invigorated by "the start of school", and will soak in the new beginning of a season. New blue jeans, though, are optional. 

Back 2 School Shopping ~ Our Final Rodeo ~ August 2013

Paper: Basic Grey, Lily Bee, Pink Paislee, Simple Stories
Font: Pacifico

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You Can Never Have Too Much Happiness

My oldest sister bought a house built in 1913 in LaPorte, to turn it into a quilt retreat. Steve and I ran to Houston on Saturday for the day and spent the second half of it with my sister and her husband. Even though I have been following the progress on her blog, it was fun to see the house in person. As we finished up the exterior tour and headed into the house, I paused for a moment and looked toward the end of the porch and said to sister, "This porch reminds me so much of Granny's porch."

Our grandmother had a craftsman style home and on the big family gathering days, we children were relegated to the outdoors, as that was the best space left over to accommodate me, my siblings, and my 20-odd cousins. That porch was not only a long dining table, but also a grand castle, a steamship, a pirate island, a grocery store, a lookout tower...it had possibilities as endless as the summer days were long. The expanse of the covered porch and the placement of the house in relation to the sun's exposure guaranteed shade at all times and I don't recall it ever being a hot spot.

It grew in me, I guess, a deep respect and unshakeable adoration for a good 'ole porch. Having lived in Texas my whole life, I am savvy enough to know that if I want to be outside half of the year, I need to build or cultivate some kind of shade. We have been blessed - or cursed - to build from the ground up four houses. Each time, I have been meticulous in selecting the house, selecting the lot, working with the builder...and each time I have factored in the setting and rising sun and its impact on the house. 

When we built our current home, we absolutely lucked out. The silhouette of our home casts a complete shadow on the backyard every afternoon beginning around 4 p.m. It is really a sweet little treasure. In 2012 when we expanded our back porch by 1,000 square feet, we nixed plans to build an arbor, realizing it would cover up the view of the nighttime stars, and the house would give us the needed evening shade for gatherings and dinners.

We have really loved that back porch. It's a quiet escape in the morning to watch the sun come up, while you sip your snicker doodle coffee. It's a relaxing perch from which one can watch Truman chase rabbits during the day. It's an outdoor living room in the evening when we all come home from work and, previously, the boys from school, where we can sit and gather and soak in the freshness of the outdoors, which we all seem to love and need regular daily Vitamin D doses. A good day to me is one in which I have spent a good amount of time on my back porch.

When the boys were home and in their driving years, Sunday afternoons shifted from time spent with us to time spent with friends. It was a change we didn't relish, but it was one we could not fight. We could see the value in their development of community with friends from their youth group. The tectonic shift in how we spent the one day my husband almost always has off was one to which we did not easily adapt, but adapt we did. We considered it preparation for the looming college launch years. You loosen the strings long before you let them go.

The change in our together time made us appreciate the moments that we were together all the more. Sunday lunch shared every week can become common and more a process of remember whose turn it is to pick the entree. Sunday lunch shared 6-8 times a year becomes a treasured jewel, more about who you're with than where you are, the undisputed peak of the week. And usually, when the boys would eat lunch with us, they would not go back out. 

June 2013 began the countdown to Philip leaving. He nestled in with us more toward the end with deliberate cutting of local ties and, in my heart I believe, his own process of saying goodbye to the life he had known, as he hunkered down in his room more often than he had in a few years. It is interesting to contrast and compare their leaving processes now, but that is another story for another day. 

This sunny afternoon found us all together, and I happened to have my DSLR with me, knowing that this day together was one of those jewels. There is no grand story here. Just three of the photos I shot that day, capturing the vitality of my sons' beautiful faces, their penchant for sitting near each other, their endearing and effortless smiles. They are such a complimentary pairing. You could put them up against any classic - peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, Batman and Robin - and they could hold their own. They laugh so much together. They crack each other up. They crack us up, too. 

It has always been such a joy to see them interact. I have hundreds of photos of them laughing together. They are each precious to me. My only regret is not having the ability to capture their wit on paper, or video. I could not ever begin that undertaking - it would require me to record them constantly and they would never go for that. Mercy - getting a smiling photo of Andrew is a task that is daunting enough already. 

As I looked at photos on Sunday to scrap, these prints called out to me. And as I paired them with paper, this little Summer Fresh line seemed to be, like my boys, the perfect pairing. One of the little tags for the paper set proclaimed, "You can never have too much happiness." As I look at these boys laughing on my back porch, and smile and weep at the memory, I know that little tag nailed it. 

There will be more stories, more laughter, more moments together on the back porch. They will become jewels that are even more precious. As I FaceTime with my sons now in Nashville and in Denver, and try to glimpse their essence through all 27" of my iMac screen, I know it is true. You can never have too much happiness.

You Can Never Have Too Much Happiness ~ Back Porch Stories ~ June 2013

Paper: Simple Stories, Cosmo Cricket

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Roller Coaster Ride

Having boys, of course we were avid fans of Toy Story. And when Toy Story 2 rolled out, we loved it just as much. We were actually on a Disney cruse, I believe, when we saw the first trailer for Toy Story 3. And we were all equally excited. And the wait began. It finally released. Going together was assumed. We found a time when the four of us could go, and off we headed to the theater. No one told me. No one prepared me. I went in expecting Pizza Planet and Stinky Pete. I wasn't expecting such a poignant, kick me in the gut, this is about to happen to you crying moment.

We all loved the movie. So much so that I created a scrapbook page about going to see it. I'm glad I did. On the page, I captured a quote from my oldest, who would leave the nest first, that I know would long be forgotten by me now. On the drive home he said, "That is possibly the best movie I'll ever see." Awwww. Don't you love when the little boys turn into young men, but still remember their little boy days in their hearts? I know I can imagine in an instant the boys one Halloween, my Philip as Woody, my Andrew as Buzz Lightyear, the costumes a predilection of their personalities to fully and later emerge. I can still see, too, all the ensuing play days where they wore the costumes around the house, forsaking clothes for the chance to live in the world where "There's a snake in my boot" are good words to hear and "To infinity and beyond" seem like a plausible reality.

I bought the Toy Story 3 movie when it dropped, as any avid Disney fan would. But I'll confess. I haven't had the nerve yet to watch it again. In fact, I tear up just recalling the utter sorrow I felt as college-bound movie Andrew drove away with mom, his toys on another's lawn. But, someday I will be courageous enough to watch it again. I think I'll do a time honored Grimsley tradition, though, and watch all three of them together, back to back, in sequential order. Oh, the bliss of the DVD home movie marathon. Even if I am watching it by myself, my own Buzz and Woody headed off to college themselves.

I share this story and this layout as in introduction to a story I wrote on the first day of school for my youngest son, my Andrew. And now I post it, and share it 13 years later, as he finishes up his first week at college.

The Roller Coaster Ride, written August 15, 2001

"Can you believe the summer's over?"
"I think it's this way."
"Ooh, I forgot my camera!"
"She's not here - she didn't get off the bus."
"I'll see you this afternoon."

Sentences, sounds, and sights assault our senses as we walk down the brightly fluorescent lit halls, rubbing shoulders with the crowds.

We knew what to expect this year. We are veterans now. We knew the cars would overflow the parking lot before 7:30. We knew the halls would be crowded. We knew all would exude confusion. None of that prepared me, though.

In something near a state of denial, I bought school supplies and clothes early and then put them away. Last night we could delay no longer. We got the clothes out and sorted through them and selected what they would wear for the all telling first day. We - the four of us - dressed and drove and parked and walked. We arrived. We hugged. We parted. They are there now. Both of them. Gone. I cried. My husband looked at me, so unsure of what to do or say, but ultimately knowing he had to go on to work and I would be fine. He hugged me. We parted.

The house is just me. I have not thought beyond this morning. I have been looking at the DAY and not farther. I had a very clear recollection of holding my first born during his first month and telephoning my mom and asking, "What age do they start school?" She answers from her school secretary desk, "Five." I am incredulous. I utter, "Five? That's far too early."

I think five is far too early. So, I delayed the inevitable and held my August baby boy back one year to defy the odds. I purposefully delayed his passage, but he has nonetheless begun it now. I held to them both so fast with my hands. In the end that doesn't matter. The school rings the bell and they run and I'm there in the dirt, waving goodbye without them so much as glancing backward.

I held them fast because, you see, another thing I know is that raising the boys is like a theme park. We get up and start early. All is fresh and clean. Slowly we orient ourselves to the options and study the map, making choices. We make our way through and cautiously try out the less intimidating rides. The smells and sounds of all that it offers surround us as we make our way through: cotton candy, summer days, laughter, tears, footsteps, mechanics of the rides. All of these beat out a steady rhythm. What accompanies them with a massive resonance is the clank clank clank of the roller coaster making its ascent to begin its fast and furious ride.

Initially, there is not any interest in the roller coaster ride. Contentment for the cotton candy and the train rides exists. But as the day hits the high noon heat, their eyes fix upon the roller coaster and they begin to show excitement toward all that it offers. Nothing will do now but to ride it. We resist initially, knowing all the while it is fruitless.

Acquiescing finally, we all head over to it and wait in its redundant winding line. Monotony pervades, but we each survive the wait and go to board the electric monster. We see fear. We see fun. We see families. We watch all the while, waiting for our turn. While waiting, time seems to crawl slowly along. The last bend is reached. We hit the queues that determine our car. Time hits turbo speed and we quickly board. Final fears are forgotten. We are strapped in. We must go now. The roller coaster ride is fast. We scream. We laugh. We laugh until we have tears. We go up. We twist. We turn. We look around when we think to, and see with a new vision. We ache as its pressures reign down on us. We go down. We screech to a halt.

It is over. As fast as it began it ends. We are not sure what happened. We are disoriented. We are confused. We are still laughing as the endorphins finish out their symphony in our minds. What just happened wasn't much - and in the final analysis it wasn't near enough. People do it all the time. A roller coaster is a quickly thrill. An easy clean high.

But - in the final analysis - we are done and we must go, regardless of the monumental truth we now face: what we are left with are two boys that have crossed a hurdle. That will be content no longer with the kiddie section of the park. One simple ride - all its curves and climbs and thrills and turns - and they are changed. 

School is that roller coaster, dressed differently, and sounding much quieter, but nonetheless taking our children and - time hitting that turbo speed - rushing them through 13 years in what seems like 15 days. The bell rings. We are strapped in. We must go now. The "roller coaster" ride is fast. We scream. We laugh. We laugh until we have tears. We go up. We twist. We turn. We look around when we think to, and see with a new vision. We ache as its pressures reign down on us. We go down. We screech to a halt. As fast as it began it ends. They have diplomas in their hands. We are done. The ride is over.

It's that time to leave the park. Other things await us all now.

Toy Story 3 ~ Family Movie Adventure ~ June 2010
Sketch Credit: Inspired by May Flaum's Camp Scrap Class
Paper: October Afternoon, Girls Paperie
Title: Screenshot of movie image, printed on photo paper, and hand cut (I would probably do it on the Cameo now, though. Technology advances with that beast, Time.)