Fixing a Car (Not so conventional)

Watching a neighbor work with a backhoe in our field trying to find an old well (that’s a completely different story), I was talking to one of my dad’s friends about my dad. All the things I know about fixing cars comes from my dad…. though none of it is conventional…. I’ll never forget my dad replacing the brakes on an old truck my husband and I had. Coming back to get it we found a large pile of parts next to the truck. My dad said simply, Ford includes a lot of extra parts. The brakes seemed to work fine – but I wouldn’t want to depend on having antilock brakes ever again in that truck. He had originally got that truck running by putting diesel fuel in the engine to clean it out after the motor had started to lock up with dirty oil.

The discussion turned to my father turning a car onto it’s side to replace the transmission. On another instance he had scared his friend Rick, who had found him with a bulldozer on it’s side and was working on the underside of the bulldozer. My dad thought the easiest way to work on the underneath of a vehicle was to flip it on it’s side. Rick thought my dad had flipped it and gotten pinned, an actual danger when working with machinery on a farm. I’m not really sure I know anyone else that thinks that’s the way to fix any vehicle, but I also know stories about people that vehicles have fallen on when a jack has collapsed.

As I was growing up my parents wanted to get us a stick shift to practice….the chance came up to get a Datsun that had the clutch destroyed. My dad’s solution was to teach us how to change the clutch. First you flip the car on it’s side. Everything I know about how a clutch works comes from that experience, with the two plates that spin and catch and when you push on the petal it pushes them apart. My dad’s description somehow worked for me to picture it in my mine, and flipping the car on it’s side and letting us see it was so easy to work on the car. I don’t remember when happened to that car after that, but how a clutch works and my dad flipping that car were all fond memories.

My dad had made sure that my brother and I started steering and driving at a very early age. Everything from sitting on his lap to drive a tractor to driving a go cart around the yard. My first go cart had a drill for a motor with an extension cord that could be unplugged when I got too far away. As I got older I was trusted with larger and larger vehicles – though the go cart that I started with was probably at two years old. We moved up to driving the pickup truck down the lane and through the fields while my dad was working on the farm.

Meal (the one that shaped me most?)

I have the Becoming journal and have slowly been working on it. I was just faced with the question about the most memorable meal. Of course over time I’ve had lots of family meals that meant a lot to me, and I can remember getting together with friends and family. Days when we had large groups and days when we had small groups gathered around our table. There were days when we ordered in and days when I worked hard to fix something new I’d never cooked before. I remember fixing a meal for a speaker in physics that was allergic to Gluten – the first time I’d heard of that, and being so careful, having another speaker stay over at our house after speaking about his radio show on the Bermuda Triangle and other mysteries, ordering a live lobster and playing with it when Kevin was little before cooking it in a condo in NJ. There was the day I threw a surprise party for my husband and invited his whole department for his 50th birthday. My grandmother was there and the candles were so hot! We also had days when we ate at my mothers and days when we were invited to friends and of course there were days when we were invited to my in laws to eat. I remember one meal where we got to eat out at IKEA with my in laws and on the same trip there was a meal at a restaurant with that whole side of the family. On my mother’s side there were also lots of meals in Texas eating with family there. There was a meal in a building that was freezing where we all huddled by the window to stay warm and a meal that was served so late that we thought we would never get food (That one was at a place that we didn’t really knew where we were, we ended up lucky to find our way back to my aunt’s for the night). There were so many others too. Each one has a special place in memory.

The one I ended up thinking was special enough to include in Becoming for me though involved my meals in China. Around 2005 I went to China to present at a conference for my boss. The conference was an Environmental Informatics conference and the furthest I had ventured before was to Canada, so China was a new experience for me. I had travelled with my husband, including a sabbatical to New Jersey that included a trip to New York City a few times… and for someone from a rural farm in Illinois that was really venturing out. What I knew about China really came from my experiences with my roommate in college, Shiqi Yuan, who was from Shanghai. I loved Chinese food, the authentic kind that Shiqi made when we traded off cooking but the rest of my knowledge came from the little I’d picked up about why she didn’t want to return to China. She was born in the year of the Horse which Shiqi said was bad luck and would mean that she would most likely not be able to marry when she returned home. (There was also something to do with the one-child policy but over time I’ve forgotten that) While we were in college Tiananmen Square also occurred. Tiananmen Square was a scary event if you were a college student and knew (and cared about) anyone from China, I’m sure in China the news didn’t carry much information about what was occurring, but here we were watching all the news. So years later when I was asked to go to China, the first thing that went through my mind was Tiananmen square and what happened to those students. I’d lost touch with Shiqi… but I knew the government in China is pretty strict… In the end, writing about a memorable meal I ended up with the meals in China.

At the conference in China most of our meals occurred family style at a ‘Chinese Restaurant’. I thought it was a little funny that the location had a sign labeling it the ‘Chinese Restaurant’ as we were in China – isn’t every restaurant there Chinese? The meals were all family style, and since the conference took place on an island right off the cost of Mainland China in Xiaman China, a lot of the focus was seafood. None of the items you would find at a standard Chinese restaurant here in the US. I remember seeing a fish with the eyes still on – that one we all took a picture of! Most of the meals I ended up sitting next to a Malaysian general who seemed to follow me around for most of the conference. My favorite meal though was at the Beijing hotel that was our stopover before heading back to the US. The only part of the meal I really remember though was an appetizer with tomatoes, mozzarella, and a balsamic vinegar. It was SO good! I ate alone and I was in a foreign country – over 14 hours by plane from home. So my thought is for the journal Becoming, that would be the meal I had to include. If you can eat by yourself 14 hours (by plane) from home and feel comfortable in a country that you don’t even speak the language you are one step closer to Becoming. In reality, you should be able to feel comfortable being with people or being alone…. I love being with people that are diverse (I can learn so much!).

My mother later had mentioned that she and my brother thought that I would end up detained in China. Apparently they had discussed it. Things my mom says have a habit of deflating me, every statement no matter if it starts with this is great, or thanks for doing this always ends with but you could have done, or if only you, or this needed more… I try so hard not to do the same thing with my kids, though I’m sure they think I always see the negative in every situation as I weigh the pros and cons of everything. Debating what could go wrong vs. what the benefits are of everything we do.

I went on to lead a state robotics championship for FLL, serve on the board for a museum, and teach at a university… all things that I am proud of having done. Having ventured out of my comfort zone and headed to China was just one of those small steps on the way there.

Too Much or Not Enough

Every so often I wonder if I did enough or too much for my kids and I think back to how much my parents did when I was growing up. I frequently think about what my parents didn’t do…. but there are things my parents did. When I was in school one of my desires was to use the library. Of course there wasn’t a local library….now with internet access, books are as close as the nearest internet connection and the big question is internet access. If you can just afford internet you have access to almost anything. Our school district is currently working to obtain hotspots for kids to have access to internet during remote learning. That internet though may be filtered and block sites that the school considers to not be for schoolwork…. – Back to my own childhood though! When I was a kid I really wanted to use a library. Our township didn’t have a library, but because my parents were farmer’s we did pay taxes on a library. The nearest library was in the town of Fairmount (Vance Township) and we owned land that had at one point had a house on the property. My mother decided to ask the librarian for a card (which was denied), but she petitioned the town board who agreed. I GOT my library card. I remember using that card as I drove back and forth to check out books. The library was small and the only thing I remember for sure checking out to read were the Earl Stanley Gardner books. I could swear they were to the left as you entered the library…. I’m not sure if the library is in the same place in town now, but I was so happy to have a library card. Reading was something I loved doing as I grew up. The Nancy Drew series was one of my favorites. I would tear out the list of books from each book and mark off the books I already had so that I could hand it out to my aunts in order to ask for the other books for my birthday and Christmas each year. I’m not sure I asked for much else any holiday.

Today I was telling about one of the things I did for one of my boys. I’m not sure over time if my boys will remember the times I failed to do what they expected for them, or the times that I went above and beyond for what they needed. The time I was remembering in this instance though was when my middle son needed to interview someone for school that worked with animals. The kids could choose anyone they wanted and most of the students were choosing people that raised horses or were on farms. My middle son had been enamored with elephants his whole life, including carrying around a stuffed elephant. He had an elephant pillow, a ride on elephant stick, a stuffed elephant, and so much more. The assignment was for second grade and we had just moved to Bowling Green Kentucky. My kids were attending a new school – private Catholic school, and were adjusting. So I decided to call the zoos nearby (by nearby I mean Louisville and Nashville) and find one that allow us to interview the zookeeper that took care of the elephants. I was happy to receive a call back from the Louisville zoo and hear that they would let us talk to the zookeeper. We arranged a day and time and headed to Louisville.

My oldest had a friend that was spending a lot of time at our house and he joined the group. In the end my husband and I headed to the zoo with our two kids (the little one wasn’t born yet) and a spare, and got to talk to the zookeeper, but not only that they let us meet the elephant. Elephants are so cool! We also got to feed the elephants, and learned a lot about elephants. I’ll never forget how interesting an elephant’s tongue is – kind of like an escalator. We spent the rest of the day exploring the zoo.

It’s easy to remember the mistakes we make, but they should be counteracted by the good. I remember a class I took that included information about it taking something like 7 good acts to undo each bad….. Of course we also had a discussion today about whether school is for social or for academic. I know for me the social experience was bad in school and I would rather everything have just been academic….

Touched the Tongue

The Honey Bear

Our families first deer, Bambi, came from a man in Danville who had collected animals. He had a wild array of animals and had decided to get rid of them. I still remember going to his house and waiting in the house seeing his monkey and others while my dad went out to pick a deer and get it loaded up. The monkey had been poorly treated at some point and was called SOB. The stories really involved the poor monkey having been tortured. I know in the end the monkey ended up turned over as a research subject at the University of Illinois.

While we were in the building waiting though I got to see a honey bear and wanted it. They were SO cute! Over time my parents collected more animals and the man kept selling off his animals. When he got down to the end of his collection the people buying the honey bears and monkey dropped by our house to see if they could make a deal with my dad. We had a large collection of deer by this point and I was really hoping! The men wanted the cost of two deer for a honey bear though, and my dad didn’t see the value in a honey bear…. In the mean time the honey bears had climbed all over the cab of their truck and locked the men out of their truck. Somehow my dad got them back into their truck, and back on their way. If I remember right my dad might have bought some deer from them though.

Buffalo Escape… Why have Buffalo? (Others escaped too)

Buffalo who have escaped in the next county have been all over the news this week. A family that farms has been raising them for meat and a herd broke the fence. The school bus was driving their route and happened to come upon a herd of buffalo and alerted everyone. The farm is now catching all the buffalo and putting them back in their fence. In their case the buffalo are for meat. Buffalo are leaner than beef and therefore a little more healthy.

Growing up we had a buffalo, this was over 30 years ago, but also on a farm. We really had a whole menagerie with deer, a cow, a crow, a goat, and basically whatever showed up or my father thought might be a good idea. My father had tried a beefalo burger and decided it would be a good idea to go with a friend to get two buffalo. They came back with a male and a female and we kept the female. The male went to our friends by the campground, where it lived for many years and was joined by the female years later. Ours, that we named Buffy, became a family pet…. a huge family pet in a pen, but a unique pet.

We had animals that we didn’t even bother naming and animals that we were closer with and Buffy was one that we were closer with. I really just remember one great escape for Buffy. The deer on the other hand escaped a few times! Buffy’s escape resulted from an owl that was trying to steal chickens. The owl would come down and steal the chickens and then fly off with them. Of course we didn’t know it was an owl that was the thief, so my brother put the chickens inside the top of a silo that was part of the animals fenced in area. The owl folded up it’s wings and went down into the silo to steal the chickens but then couldn’t fly back out. It was making so much noise that the buffalo was frightened and ran directly through the fence.

Luckily our buffalo was easy to coax back into the fence once it was calm again. Over the years we did have escapes of other animals that were harder to coax back. There was a white fallow deer that escaped that was never captured and lived in the woods by Oakwood for years after she ran away. One escape involved a deer that stood up with at least 4 men on it’s back.

Our first deer was a buck we named Bambi (we were not very original). He was super friendly, but could be dangerous when he had antlers thinking he would play games of butting you in the head with his antlers…. like deer play in the woods. My mom tells about looking out the window one morning and seeing a deer when they realized it was Bambi. At that point, my dad ran out and jumped in a jeep to chase it. They went back and forth through the field, he thought he could tire it out! Finally he got back by the fences we kept the deer in and my dad jumped out to grab it and pull it in the pen. Bambi who had a full rack of antlers proceeded to pin my dad to the propane tank between his antlers. Somehow the story always stops there, but I know the deer did end up back in the fence – I’m just not sure how it got from my dad stuck between it’s antlers to the propane tank into the fence nearby. One of the days I’m going to have to find out the rest of that story.

Robbie with Rosy the Goat and White Deer

Look alikes and Kindergarten….

Hearing someone say that a whole group of people look alike and it’s all DNA reminded me of kindergarten and the fun a friend and I would have swapping places. The teacher couldn’t tell us apart, and we had a great time with that. We both had short brown hair and probably similar builds – kindergarten, everyone is fairly small…. Now I don’t think we look anything alike, but at the time it was fun. Each morning we would decide if we were going to be ourselves or swap name tags. Things were going great until the day that the school had a vaccination day. Back then if you didn’t get your shots at the doctor you could sign up to get them at school. I had mine but my friend hadn’t yet. Being five we didn’t know today was the day! Swapping seemed a good idea that morning, up until we found out about shots. For my friend Iva it worked out, for me on the other hand, I ended up with shots for a second time in just a couple months. The same shots I had just gotten! No amount of arguing would convince the teacher she had the wrong kid. Even the principal, who funnily enough was married to my cousin Reva, must not have believed me. I don’t remember anything but the story.

That year I was handful for that teacher. I also chased a boy around the room one day and ended up in the hall in trouble and my name. In my kindergarten handwriting I wrote a note saying my parents had changed my name to Maria and had gotten my mother to sign it. Apparently she thought she was signing something else, like maybe that I was playing school. On the other hand, I took the note to school and turned it in. The school changed all the records and was calling me by my ‘new’ name a few weeks later when parent teacher conferences came up. When my teacher called me Maria my mother found out what happened. All my records got changed back.

Actually the comment I saw was They all look alike and mentioned DNA, but the thing is to me that’s not an excuse and you can, I’m sure, guess what we were talking about. The discussion had turned to why blacks were targeted more than Caucasians. The person was commenting it was because they all look alike and blamed it on DNA. I’ll repeat that’s never an excuse. Once in a while people do get mistaken for others, but the first thing is to be aware of our biases and how we handle the situation after.