Saturday, December 29, 2012

Reflections of Opa Day

Opa - Taken by Danielle
Opa Day occurs once a week, usually on a Thursday, and is so named because that is the day Danielle and Gabrielle’s Opa comes to visit. Opa Day is an invariably pleasant day for our family. He arrives around 11am and is often greeted with running hugs from my girls and shouts of Opa! Opa! A handshake yields a treat and so begins Opa Day.

The beginnings of Opa Day can be traced back five years to the dawn of a new age in our lives. I peeked out from my Web Development cave blinking in the bright sun, straightened up my bent spine and headed out into the new world of being a parent. After my maternity leave was spent, I tried to head back to my cave leaving my light to be cared for by my father-in-law for three days a week and on those remaining two days of the work week I would magically divide myself in two and perform both tasks simultaneously by engaging in the phenomenon known as, “working from home”. After five months of trying in vain to will mitosis to work on a grander scale, I left my pleasant professional life behind to embark on the adventure of full-time parenthood.

During the time of my failed mitosis experiment, Danielle and her Opa formed a wonderful bond. He sang her German songs, played wonderfully imaginative games and achieved a success with naps that I was never able to duplicate. Unwilling to let time erode that special connection, we decided to set aside one day a week where he would visit.

We have a wonderful routine for Opa Day that starts with a visit and Opa Day lunch of fried eggs, toast and fresh fruit. Sometimes Opa’s toast transforms into “Mr. Toast Man” who speaks in a gruff voice and elicits laughs from Danielle. Then Danielle, Gabi and Opa play one of the many original games such as, Find the Horses, (or puppies) Barbie Horse Hunting Game, Say Hi to Mr. Ceiling or maybe they’ll just build a tower of toys to the ceiling, or he might play guitar and sing while Danielle requests a sad, sad song. Then as the day continues they might head out for a walk to Costco, where over the years Danielle and Opa have achieved celebrity status. After sampling the samples, and watching the tire guys work, they might share a root beer and a pizza slice or a hot dog, and an ice cream treat. Then if the weather is cooperating they’ll walk to the nearby park where Danielle picks flowers as they head over to the ponds to pay a visit to Harold and Maud, a resident pair of white ducks. Then they might make their way down to the echo tunnel where vocal cords are exercised and eardrums tested. After the park has been thoroughly explored, they head home to a rested set of parents who have fetched some dinner from New Season’s Market. After a family visit, Opa is sent home with hugs and he gives treat bearing handshakes to calls of “Gute reise!” and “Bis sp├Ąter!”

When Danielle was about two, during our dinner time visit Opa would often remark how Danielle would insist he buy a hot dog at Costco, but then she didn’t want any when the hot dog arrived. She’d only nibble the bun a bit and drink some of the root beer, leaving Opa to eat the entire oversized hot dog himself. Later, Danielle and I were at Costco and she pointed at the deli and said, “Hot dog! Hot dog!” I explained that we weren't there for lunch today, then she points at a drink cup and exclaims, “Hot dog!” Oohhhhh! She thought root beer was called hot dog! Since they always arrived as a pair, she never knew which was which. As we walked she was greeted by several people I’ve never met with, “Hi, Danielle!”

But alas the era of Opa Day is coming to a close. With the construction of the addition to their beach cabin and the imminent retirement of Oma in late Spring, they will soon be permanent residents of the village of Oysterville. A wonderful place to retire, no doubt. But we will all miss our pleasant Thursdays and the breakup of our week. It gave us all a much needed breather from each other; a chance for me to take a walk and exhale my anxieties and frustrations and inhale peace of mind.  It gave my girls a chance to play in ways I would never have thought of, enriching their development and taught them that they were safe with people other than mom and dad. I rarely get a chance to miss my kids and experience the joy of seeing them again, which is a feeling that always reminds me know how much I love them. I’ll miss our interesting conversations. I’ll miss getting my husband all to myself at a time when we’re not too tired to talk.

However much I will miss this time, I also know that there are many wonderful times to come. We will be able to visit Oysterville, a place my family loves above all others, and arrive to warm walls, warm hugs and warm company. During their visits to Portland, not only will my girls get to play with Opa but now they will also be privileged to bask in the warmth of Oma’s attention as well.

Things will not be the same, but the love will be.

So many times as we said our good-byes, we'd thank Opa for coming and spending the day with us and he'd reply, "I just want to help out, not sure how much help I am."

In the moment I could never find the right words, the feelings are too abstract for my inadequate vocabulary, but simply put, "Yes, indeed you do."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins

Powell's Books
B&N Nook Book Free!
Randolf Lalonde - © 2010

Jonas Valent is an underachieving video gamer who illegally hacked into military training simulations and unknowingly whooped their best teams. His crew is found out and recruited to become the crew of an elite shadow ship for their home in remote space called, Freeground Station. They’re given a fully refit 400 year old ship with the mission to go out into the universe and collect new technology for Freeground. Cool.

Sci-fi has never been my genre of choice, perhaps because I’m a bit claustrophobic and the idea of being confined to a ship for years and possibly dying the the frozen vacuum of space is a bit, well, awful. However I appreciate how writers of sci-fi stories can be wonderfully imaginative. Free from the limitations of current technologies and geography, writers can pluck choice apples of theoretical physics and bake them into their stories. The pie comes out warm with super sweet gadgets and chewy with fun cosmological science stuff. I love it when authors invent new social and societal structures that are recognizable vectors of current society, with cool original ideas for connecting people across the vastness of space. But regardless of the genre, it is good solid characters, their interactions and personal growth that makes or breaks the story for me.

And that’s what broke the story for me. With the exception of the character, Oz, I never had any feeling (like nor dislike) for the characters. I had trouble remembering their names, they were just flat, one dimensional things. The author, Randolf LaLonde belabored their development with long discussions that were intended to reveal character depth but in the end just detracted from the story and slowed things down. I kept thinking that a discussion or meeting was somehow important foreshadowing for future events. I would mentally catalog ideas but they never turned into anything. Arg! Perhaps one of the inherent limitations of writing in the first person is that you can only see everyone through the window of one dull character’s eyes. When I mentioned this to my husband, he said, “If he’s really good with the technical stuff he’s probably not that great with people.” Of course! Had Randolf known his strengths better he would have devoted that energy to the plot and technical aspects of the story.  I wouldn't have cared about the characters, they’d just be props in an amazingly interesting story.

What Mr. Lalonde did well was the application of theoretical physics into the machinery of the story. Their ship is composed of metal that will regenerate itself when damaged, it has inertial dampeners to soften the blow of impacts, they capture a power source that derives energy from a singularity (an itty bitty big bang). They also capture a particle accelerator, and put it to use making antimatter for weapons. The ship can generate worm holes for fast fun travel experiences. Need something? Just go to a handy materializer station. Drop in your garbage, program in what you want, a sandwich say, and it’ll re-scramble the atoms into a hot turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. Cool. And that’s just the ship.

The idea that they’re on a “shadow ship” out capturing technology for their home station, Freeground is fun too. The evil corporations are also fun to see operate on a galactic scale. I love how corporate technology is cutting edge (in their time) but mass produced and cheap (like in our time). I liked all the creativity that went into how the disparate governments and corporations and the inevitable politics therein work on a grand galactic scale. *Breathe* He did a great job revealing all of this in small digestible pieces, that you eat up and ask for more. And then the characters start talking again...