Just Call Me

Grandma called me Christine Jeanie Karen.  She went through different name lists for others in the family, but the route to “Karen” was always the same.  I often wondered, but never asked, how I fit on this particular list.

Christine was my great aunt, rarely seen, but much remembered thanks to Grandma.  The same starting sound best explains why our names were linked.

Jeanie was my mom’s cousin, maybe fifteen years older than me.  Another rarely seen relative.  She and I were the only blondes in a brunette and black haired family.  That’s the best I can do to make any kind of connection with Jeanie.

I remember this fondly now, largely because I find myself struggling with family names, too.  The first syllable of my daughter’s and sister’s names rhyme.  Anyway, that’s my excuse for repeatedly calling them by the others name. The children I work with and my nieces and nephews often suffer through being called a siblings’ name – by me and others.  I knew better than to name my children with the same starting letter sound, but failed to apply that rule when we named our pets.  Luckily Dixie, Dogg, Daisy and Dexter don’t complain when I get their names wrong.

As the old saying goes, “I don’t care what you call me – just don’t forget to call me for supper.”  Maybe that should be our family motto.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Power of Names

The Business of Caring

We bought a zoo daycare in 2004.
We are currently licensed to serve 96 children, with more than that enrolled due to part-time preschool classes and before/after school programs. We employ between fifteen and twenty-five people, depending how many are full or part-time.

With all those people, nine classrooms, five bathrooms, two workrooms, two playgrounds, two entryways, an office, and a kitchen, little things go wrong all the time. A very partial listing from over the years includes: 3 broken aquariums(the fish were all saved!), a half dozen broken windowpanes, 3 employees’ keys broken off in the door locks, and numerous plumber visits to retrieve UFO’s (Unidentified Flush-able Objects)from our pipes.(The latest was a yellow marker. $200.) We have worn out more vacuums and toasters in ten years than I will have owned in a lifetime, if I life to 100.

At home we occasionally need to repair or replace larger appliances and fixtures. At our center, fifteen sinks, nine toilets, four furnaces, four air conditioners, three full-sized refrigerators, two freezers, two hot-water heaters, along with office and playground equipment, greatly increase our odds that something needs work. Monthly, if not weekly. Though not a handy-man to tackle the big repairs, much of my husband’s “free time” goes to the many smaller repairs, painting, snow removal, etc.

I had worked many years for this business as a preschool teacher, then as administrator. We knew some of what we were getting into. In 2004, we were sure we had weighed all the possible scenarios that would complicate the venture.

Oops.

Two of the biggest unexpected challenges we have faced:
1)Several years ago,our state suddenly increased minimum wage well ahead of the federal rate, with a built in annual increase. (This thwarted our desire to see most of our employees working well above minimum wage.) We are in a small town market that will not support what businesses in Ohio’s larger cities are charging to cover this increased expense.
2)The “Great Recession” hit some of our neediest families the hardest, as temp workers and new hires were often the first let go by their companies. Almost every family felt the crunch, with fewer work hours and lowered salaries if not with lay-offs. There was less need for childcare and preschool during 2009, and slow growth as jobs returned to our area in 2010. An unusual result of this recession was an increase in the number of people offering childcare in our state, our area included. Though we are back towards “normal” we have never returned fully to our numbers prior to 2009.

Surprise expenses have come in many forms, such as the city breaking a gas line when working on our road ($3,000 to redo our gas line to meet new regulations after the break) and the Federal government requiring all new cribs in 2013 to meet new safety standards ($2500).

Less surprising are the increases in food costs, shipping costs, energy costs, all those things that keep the cost of living going up for everyone. Educating staff, paying for more highly educated staff, providing educational materials and toys, all add to the expense of providing quality care for the children.

We are a business that provides care. Our challenge is to provide quality care at a fair price for our families, while making a fair income to cover our costs and pay our staff.

These are the nitty-gritty (boring!) details of our life as child care business owners. They tell such a small part of our story. Motives, plot-twists, and seeing God at work – that’s what I like in a good story. I’ll share some of that next time.

I’m Smarter Than I Text

Call us grammar geeks or snobs; our family takes the use of correct grammar and spelling seriously. If I find I’ve made an error when it is too late to correct it, it bothers me for days. My geeky ways have made it impossible to accept the abbreviations and shortcuts so popular in texting.  I have scoffed at those who use 2, or B, to save the work of entering a two letter word.   Now it is time to humbly sacrifice my judgmental ways. 

I am new to texting as we (gasp!) use our cell phones on a very limited basis due to poor reception at our country home.  My adult children assured me they would communicate more often if we texted, so I have tried it a few times. 

This weekend we found ourselves unexpectedly heading to the city where our daughter and son-in-law live.  My husband was driving and suggested I find out if they could join us for a meal.  Chilly, I tried texting with my gloves on.  Nope. I gingerly removed one glove, but it was still slow going. I kept rephrasing my sentence to avoid the use of the shift key (and my gloved hand) to access apostrophe’s, question marks, and the like. Texting shorthand suddenly seemed like a good idea. I finally gave up to use both hands and got our message sent.  A response came quickly, and that is when my real troubles began. 

Evidently, for me, wearing sunglasses instead of my “readers” to operate my phone is as detrimental as wearing gloves to text.  Somehow instead of retrieving my daughter’s responding text I opened an old conversation between us and read:  Leaving lake now.  Mahattan 4ish?

We’re in the snow and ice region so I was surprised they’d been at a lake, though it was possible. But I knew of no town or restaurant called “Mahattan”, and it was 5:30.  As I am pondering this aloud, I accidentally sent this same message to my daughter, thinking I have accidentally sent a blank message.  So I text “Confused by Mahattan 4ish.”, to which my daughter responds: “Haha! The lake confused me.”

What? Wasn’t she the one who brought up the whole lake and 4:00 thing??? And what was Mahattan…

At this point I realize that the message I was responding to was not from my daughter. It was indeed my first ever text to her. Sent last July when we were heading from a lake in Missouri to Manhattan, Kansas. (N! see the problem a little spelling typo can create?!) I not only read this as from her, but sent it to her, missing somehow her actual response to our offer of a meal together.

I am laughing and trying to text an explanation to send her when my husband says, “You just need to call her.” As in, you really shouldn’t be texting. Just then my phone rang, my daughter having come to the same conclusion as her dad. And the mystery of the lake and the need for time travel to meet at 4:00 was solved.

The family is still making fun of me for “yelling” (texting in all caps) last summer to say, “NO TO WAMEGO. NO OZ.”, when asked if I had ever been to the town of Wamego or their OZ Museum. I’m sure jokes about leaving the lake can’t be far behind.

I’ll keep working on texting skills and drop my criticism of those who do it more successfully than I with fewer key strokes. And if someone invites you to Wamego, B sure 2 go.

The OZ Museum in Wamego, KS

The OZ Museum in Wamego, KS

Emerald City

Emerald City

Look out for the poppy field.

Look out for the poppy field.

Church-Family Christmas

P1010126Family is so special to us that calling any unrelated group of people family is one of the clearest ways to express the importance of those relationships. My husband, sister, and I do that in our workplace, where our staff and their children become such an important part of our daily lives. It always pleases me to hear a staff member tell someone else “we’re not just co-workers, we’re family”, and I hear that from time to time. More importantly, they act like family as they support each other and help us out in so many ways beyond their job requirements.

Many Christian churches refer to “our church family”, and most of these churches strive to create that sense of family connection. Seeing all other believers as “brothers and sisters in Christ” is a biblical principal. Like most principals, it doesn’t mean much unless it is shown in our actions. It is a glorious thing to see or be that family-love-in-action when rallying around someone in need with prayers, hugs, and gifts of food or service. It is humbling and wonderful to be on the receiving end of such church family love during a tough time in your own life.

Our church is large in a denomination of small churches, large in a small community, but it’s no mega church. We do not know everyone by name on sight, but recognize most regular attenders. It is large enough to come and go without much attention unless you seek connection, so we strive to make that connection happen with greeters and small group opportunities for people to get better acquainted. We want people to feel at home among family, to be loved by the body of Christ, His Church.

I saw a great visual for this idea of church family during the recent Christmas season.

Some talented people work hard to decorate our church each Christmas, and though they mix it up to change the look a little each year, it is always a very polished look. A beautiful, but definitely formal Christmas decor. I stood beside one of the trees, waiting for my husband as we were leaving the Sunday before Christmas. As I admired the red, green, and gold ornaments, I saw a new addition and smiled. A paper angel, probably made in our Children’s Church, had been added to one of the lower branches.

Nothing says family at Christmas time like a child’s homemade ornament. I am so glad the child who shared this angel feels like part of our church family.

A Standup Grandpa

To meet my grandpa’s approval, you could be thin, good looking, rich, a fellow Christian, or none of those things.  Only a sense of humor was required.  Often opinionated and gruff,  humor bridged his connection to others.

Visitors to his home were greeted with “Sit down and make yourself homely” and dismissed with “Well, I’d better get to bed and let you good people go home”.

We children collected jokes, gifting him with endless “knock, knock” variations, just to earn his smile.  He rewarded our weakest efforts, giving a joke in return. 

Whatever the holiday, our family feasts ended the same way.  While we were still at the tables, Grandpa would stand up at the head and do about twenty minutes of material.  Many were long, involved stories, meandering to the punch line.  Family members comprised most of the audience, so many of the jokes were familiar old favorites to them.

The adults laughed in anticipation as each joke began, getting more hysterical as he moved from story to story.  Observing from the kids’ table, the laughter-to-tears of aunts and uncles entertained us as much as the jokes, but I still strained to listen for the one joke I never heard him finish.

  As grandpa wrapped up one long story (about how the farmer finally figured out he could tell his two horses apart because the white one had longer ears than the brown one..) it happened again.  Grandpa said something about two men in a boat while all the adults howled with laughter.  Then he grinned and sat down.  Foiled again, I wondered why they never let him finish this last joke…

Years after Grandpa’s death I had the chance to visit with a cousin who spent many childhood years living with or near my grandparents. A great story-teller and comedian in his own gentle way, he told me a few of his favorites from Grandpa’s collection.  His retelling of the old jokes prompted my memory, and I asked him if he’d ever heard the end of the boat joke, expressing my frustration at never hearing the whole thing.

He gave me an odd look, and asked what I remembered of it.

“Something about two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.”

He grinned Grandpa’s grin.  “There were two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.  No…no…the OTHER man was the Captain…”.  In chagrin I realized I’d heard the whole thing all along.

I think of this joke every time I hear someone needlessly correcting the details of a story, and I smile, remembering Grandpa.

 

Gene Shopping

I left home in a downpour this morning after looking in vain for my umbrella. I thought, “I probably left it at work – I hope my sister didn’t take it by mistake.” And I smiled at the thought of our nearly matching duck head umbrellas. Mine’s navy. Hers is forest green.

We bought them separately and it was some time before we discovered our similar tastes were showing again. I don’t know another soul who owns a duck head umbrella.

Sis and I have ended up with other similar items over the years, never our intention. We had enough matching outfits forced on us in our growing up years. It is not too unusual that we each purchased the same style winter hat (mine black, hers red) but the identical art deco turtle lamps are harder to explain away.

Are there shopping genes? Is it nurture or nature that draws us both to a love of baskets and candles? But it gets stranger than that.

Five years ago my sister and I were preparing to fly to Kansas to visit our dad. Her almost two year old daughter would be flying with us, for what we all knew might be a last visit. Dad had been fighting pancreatic cancer for over three years and was running out of ammunition.

I knew a long flight and layover would not be easy for a two year old. I went shopping for ways to help entertain her.

As we boarded the plane, I told my sis “I brought a new picture book so she has something new to look at, a My Little Pony with a comb so she can keep busy combing its hair, and a little stuffed puppy that fits in a little doghouse-shaped purse. I thought she’d have fun putting it in and out…” And my sister started to laugh.

Our books were different, but she had also purchased a My Little Pony and a dog/doghouse combo. We had purchased the same three items, using the same reasoning as to how they would entertain her on the plane. (In the long run the snack food we each brought may have been the best entertainment…)

I think it’s in our genes.