Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kitten Time

Here's a quickie. When I wake up in the morning, I usually sit at my desk for a few minutes and jot down my list of stuff I have to do, try to remember what day it is, and generally get organized.

Lately, that meditative time, the only time I set aside for myself, has been altered, significantly.

Instead of focusing on how stiff my shoulder is, how my eyes are still bleary, what I was dreaming just now, and what I face in the day, I sit at my desk with my pen in hand and try to figure out how to write in a notebook that is shielded almost completely by cat butt and cat paws.

Jager sits on my notebook, believing with his whole heart that this is the time in the morning during which I devote both hands and sometimes my cheek to petting him and telling him what a good baby he is. It's all about Jager time, nothing else to do but sit here on this clean sheet of paper and bat around that long stick I brought for him to play with.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 17, 2017

Books I Loved Lately

It's been a long time since I told you what I'm reading. I didn't mean to neglect you. I just got out of the habit for some reason. There are some amazing books out there that you need to know about.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield is a great book for teenagers or anybody else who has a difficult goal in life that they want to achieve. I'm listening to the audiobook. I like listening to his voice. Hadfield talks about how he was lucky enough and prepared enough to actually become an astronaut. He also talks about NASA methodology. Sweat the small stuff. The small stuff can kill you. Acknowledge your mistakes and dissect them so you can learn from them. Plan for what will go wrong. Watch your attitude. It's a pilot pun. He couldn't help himself.

The thing I like about Hadfield's book is that it has made me rethink how to get to my goals. It's cheerful, not preachy at all and his example inspires me. He has the attitude we try to instill into our Boy Scouts. You know - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind. You know the type of man I'm talking about.

As I listen to him describe his experiences, I can imagine as he looks through his visor and sees the Universe, right there beside him.

I always wanted to see the Earth from space. I realized a couple years ago that I probably wouldn't have done all that well. I get motion sickness sometimes. What do they do with puke on the inside of a space suit? Can they vent it into space? I get carsick in the back of a van. I get air sick on turbulent flights, but I never get seasick. It could be the horizon. And I was too excited the one time I was in a helicopter to do anything but laugh and cry with happiness. That pilot bobbed all the hell over the place when he realized how much I loved flying. Not a moment of motion sickness. Go figure.

I'm also a little claustrophobic. Three people in a tin can? Nope. It wouldn't work. Just picture me dancing around the house, trying to get out of Mike's dry suit shirt when it squeezed me around the neck just a little bit too tightly when I was getting ready for a kayak trip. I'm okay in elevators, unless people are packed in like sardines. But squeeze me into a tube like a cave or an MRI and I'm counting breaths, closing my eyes, and imagining how I'm floating out on the ocean.

No, I wouldn't have been a good astronaut, as much as I'd like to have seen that view, the Earth, a blue, green, and white jewel on a bed of black velvet space.

Hadfield's book could inspire a teenage boy who isn't sure he can see his own future. I'm buying copies for kids I know. I'd buy a copy for Nick if I thought he'd even open the book. It is so damned sad to me that I can love books so vehemently when he has such a lackluster response to them.

The other book I love is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. The hard part is that he dies in the end. This man was a neurosurgeon and he was also a poet. It was a beautiful book about living and about dying. It confirmed for me yet again that the human body is a miracle of minute mechanisms and that death is, well, inevitable.

Don't you hate trying to write something beautiful about something beautiful? It's harder knowing that Kalanithi died and if there is life after death, he could be practically looking over my shoulder as I write. What's another word for profound? How can I write about the human body when I haven't studied the human body in so long? What are the details about this book that I loved so much? I can't just say it made me laugh and cry. I can't if I imagine he's right there, wondering what I'm going to type next.

Dead people plague me. I had a bullying boss once who died of pancreatic cancer after I quit being her minion. If there is life after death, this woman knows just exactly what a bitch I believed her to be. She could possibly have the gratification of knowing the anguish she put me through. I worked so hard for her never to see it. So, if Paul Kalanithi is floating out there somewhere, I hope he's not critiquing my critique. I gave up poetry years ago.

And dudes, I listened to Beowulf translated and read by Seamus Heaney. This book is a video game! I tried, I really tried, to get Nick to listen to it with me on our way to school, but I'm giving him have a choice in more arenas. I know, right? I want him to love books on his own now that I've run as far with him as I could. We read hundreds of books together. But he said no to Beowulf. How can you hate reading so much that you don't want to listen to a book on tape that's basically a run through a video game, weapons, armor, battles, and celebrating afterward all included? Of all the classic books I was supposed to read, Beowulf was one of the easiest.

That's all for now. My wish for you is to have enough time to sit down and read a whole book this weekend. Or listen to one.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Mouse in a Duffle Bag

I hate when I sit down at my computer and get distracted by social media. There are articles that people have shared, irritated posts I want to comment on, and photos of people's kids having fun. Lately, the March for Science has some amazing entries and I've been inspired by them, but every time I comment on one, I get notifications for every other person who says the same thing that a couple of dozen other people already said. If all I have to write is "Absolutely!" then maybe I should forgo the effort.

"Me too."

"Good luck."


"I agree."

Any of those should just be deleted before I press the post button. There's also a time, when about three people have told similar stories in detail, that adding my own story to their story is just narcissistic. And yet, I persist in a lame attempt at social network validation. It might be more effective if I called a friend and asked her to lunch. She'd confirm that I'm actually a pretty funky woman, but she likes me anyway.

Isn't there something productive I could do instead?

Right. I already did productive. I washed sheets and did a load of dishes. I mostly cleared my desk of stuff I don't use.

Plus, I cleaned up after a mouse. What a butt-load of work it is to clean up after a mouse.
Last night, Nick came out of karate angry because his gloves and helmet smelled like piss. I had noticed during the week that Blitz stood on the karate bag for an hour or two. I thought it was just the cat bonding, rolling around in the sweat of a boy he loved. Nope. It was definitely a mouse. I hate that smell. It makes me think of the truck we just donated, a thing that still operated fairly well, but was actually so smelly that Boy Scouts couldn't stand to sit in it. Did you ever smell a carload of teenage boys? This truck smelled worse than that.

Last night, I confirmed that the whole karate bag was fouled by sticking my nose into it and taking a deep breath. Yup. Piss. I sniffed again and theorized, based on the smell, that it was a rodent and not a cat who was at fault. I didn't linger over the smell, but set aside the bag to deal with in the morning.

Can you get the hantavirus from smelling fresh mouse piss? Can you get it from wearing a pissy helmet on your head?

This morning, I gingerly took everything out of Nick's karate bag. I should have used gloves and a gas mask. Seven socks. Seven. A gob of stickers glommed together. One pair of foamy nunchuks. Two pair of bamboo nunchuks. I had hit myself in the head, multiple times, trying Nick's bamboo nunchuks when he first showed me what he was learning. A jock strap and cup. There are things a mom should never have to do. Handling this was one of them. Three mechanical and two #2 pencils. The receipt for his second brown belt test. Two identical patches dated 2013. Two punch cards. An outdated EpiPen. Two inhalers. An eraser with pencil-sized holes bored all the way through. A mouth guard in a ratty Ziploc bag. A foam helmet. Two new sparring gloves. His gi, top and bottom. And his brown belt with three black stripes taped onto the end.

Again, I used the sniff test. One sparring glove smelled putrid. I just bought them last month when Nick's hands finally grew. The helmet was definitely pissy. The foam nunchuks and one of bamboo ones smelled pretty gnarly. The jock strap was ripe, but that was Nick, totally Nick. The olfactory bulb in my sinuses is a wonder. Why the hell did nature think I needed to be able to distinguish between crotch, cat piss, and mouse piss?

Oh, the joy of being a mom.

I filled a bucket with Nature's Miracle, almost fully concentrated, and began to wipe down or soak anything that couldn't be thrown into the washer, wearing rubber gloves almost to my elbows. Then, I threw the gi, the duffel, the brown belt, the jock strap, and seven socks into the washer with another strong dose of Nature's Miracle. After that, the mouth guard went into a pot of boiling water.

This mouse had the piss scared out of him while Blitz stood on the karate bag and pawed at and rolled on the sparring glove where he hid.  That glove couldn't just be wiped down. It was soaked in 'scared the piss out of me' piss. Could I distinguish between the piss of a frightened mouse and a happy one? I'd almost guarantee that I could. Almost.

I have no intention of proving that one in a lab.

In the end, I still had to throw out the new sparring gloves, the helmet, the foamy nunchuks, three socks, and the duffle bag because the smell was just too pervasive even after all the washing I could manage. I also threw out four mechanical and two #2 pencils, an outdated EpiPen, and a glob of stickers glommed together. I kept the eraser with the holes in it. I don't know why, but I figured it didn't smell so it was okay. Maybe I kept it because it was an art piece that every child has created in his lifetime.

When I was done, I wanted to steam clean the floor where the duffle bag had sat. I bleached the bucket that soaked the pissy stuff that couldn't roll around in the washer. I wanted to bleach the bathroom and utility room floors and then shower and scrub my skin until I was pink, but I was interrupted.

I was standing in my kitchen when the cat came running in and stared at the floor by the dishwasher. No big deal there. Cats were always running past me and staring at stuff. Then, what I thought was a gray toy mouse but was in fact a real mouse ran across the floor and under the oven.

I screamed.

"There's a mouse under the oven!" I yelled. Suddenly, Mike and Nick were in front of me, armed with an arsenal of airsoft guns and head lamps. I ran to get a broom to poke at the creature. Usually, when there's a mouse in the house, I let the dog and the cats help me hunt it down and I capture it in an old plastic container. Usually, Teddy and I drive a ways down the road to the horse field and let it go free. Not this time. I had to clean the hell out of stuff that would never come clean. I'd inhaled so much mouse piss that it felt like I still had piss lining my sinuses. I'd had to throw stuff away. I just bought those sparring gloves. And my house still felt dirty!

This time I cheered as Mike shot the shit out of that little sucker with Nick's airsoft gun.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mike's Superpower

Mike has a superpower. I hate it.

I was brought up to follow directions. Even when they aren't particularly good for me, I tend to follow directions. Sounds good, right? It's an admirable trait that threatened spankings as a child made for a better adult, right?


I realized how dangerous this trait was when I was a cute teenager on my own beginning to date. It was not easy but I began to say no, just a little bit. After college, I moved to New Jersey, just outside New York City where protecting yourself was difficult even without this trap of doing whatever every Tom, Dick, and Harry told me to do. It was there that I began to get angry, to fight back. I am certain that if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here now.

I still struggle. When people catch me unawares, I almost automatically submit.

"Hey, will you stay up all night at the lock-in with a hundred sweaty teenagers this Friday night?"

"Sure. What time should I be there?" is my automatic response if I don't plan an answer ahead of time.  

I practice saying no. I manage to put myself out of range of the questioners, avoiding the PTSA leaders stalking me at school functions. I've practiced saying, "I'm sorry. I've got a packed schedule right now. I'm very busy volunteering in other places." And then I can talk for fifteen minutes straight on what I'm currently signed up to do.

I'm going to practice a little more right here.

Right now, I'm working on Citizenship in the Community with a dozen Boy Scouts. So far, I've spent three hours sitting with noisy argumentative boys and at least as many hours in preparation. If you need to know how to play the game of Sorry or Texas hold 'em poker with a Citizenship in the Community theme, I can tell you. On Wednesdays, I tutor students in Language Arts. I like that one. Cancel everything else and I'd still enjoy sitting down with these students. I routinely edit for two or more writers as they bring me their work. I generally like that part too, except when they say they need it by Friday and I'll be losing sleep to get it done. I'm also a part of a letter-writing campaign with an Indivisibles group that isn't even in my district. Oh, I belong with this group because they are my community, but it's hard to be effective outside my district. Still, I'm writing letters to the editor and managing templates so other writers have a place to start from when they sit down at the page. This is getting harder because it's a different kind of writing entirely. I have to get my facts straight. I have to write reasonable responses to crazy governmental actions. It's exhausting and I'm not sure how much longer I can do it.

There are a handful of people I would say 'yes' to for nearly anything, but I still practice that phrase, 'I'll check my calendar' so I don't get caught up the way I did the year after my son left the elementary school and I ended up working with two classes to write and bind 87 unique books, one by each child, and me.

So, I practice saying no.

But Mike has an in. Next week, I'm helping him run the VanDeGraff generator at the elementary school science fair. Why? Because he said he was going. In fact, he's going to two elementary schools this spring and I'm going to be there with him, hair on fire, fingers tingling. To his credit, he didn't even ask me to help, but I volunteered before he ended his story of how the second school contacted him. I hate getting zapped. I really do.

Mike has a special power, though. When I am about to go to sleep, he makes suggestions. All it takes is a comment on his part and there I go, doing exactly what I am told.

"You're going to stay up too late watching the news tonight, aren't you, and then you'll wake up at four in the morning." He said this last night. He was chatty, commiserating with me. I know it was commentary, a joke between him and, well, him. I've asked him before to tell me I'm going to sleep until I'm done, but he has a wild hair now and then and says it anyway. I don't think it's funny. At that hour, I'm tired. I'm suggestive. I most often, despite my best interests, do exactly what he believes is simply a joke. But it's just not funny.

This morning, I woke at 3:59am.

I'm not kidding. I was less than a minute early.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, February 24, 2017

Where is Dave Reichert?

I sort of got off track today.

I was going to a protest rally for a local Senator, not mine, who's voting all Trump all of the time. The Congressman is Dave Reichert. Trump Nation is arriving and the Republican-led Congress generally isn't seeing the danger signs yet. John McCain and Linsdey Graham get it, but most of the rest of them don't. Not yet.

Instead of representing their constituents, they're still letting the Trump administration plow services and regulation under, as Bannon said, ' the deconstruction of the administrative state.' That's double-speak for eliminating the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Urban Development and Housing, and the National Parks. These may not be the most efficient government programs, but they do a lot of good for our country and our people. How much more of an overt message do moderate Republicans need that the Trump administration isn't draining the swamp as much as sucking the swamp dry? Corporate deregulation is also part of their mission. The Republican majority Congress is still going along with it all and resisting the protests of real people at their town hall meetings, if they arranged the meetings at all.

Reichert put a camera and a lock on his door and won't open it except for people with appointments. Today, he threatened to cancel an appointment with the local Indivisible group if any people showed up to protest in conjunction with the meeting, even a silent protest that aligned with local police requirements.

Other Republican Congressmen faced angry constituents in their town hall meetings, reluctantly, but with some grace. Reichert refused to host a town hall at all. Oh yesterday, he did this Facebook live thing, but who knows if he answered any of the real questions. You couldn't even watch unless you first 'liked' him. I don't consider this Facebook live to be a live event, just picture one man in a room with an assistant. Nope. That's really just someone hiding out in a room and pretending it's an event. And with Facebook live, you can edit lots of what people see and hear. It's not a town hall meeting at all.

So, Reichert used to be the Sheriff of King County. He has experience with the public. Yet, he's too afraid of his constituents to unlock his door and face them except for extremely closely vetted individuals. He even coached other Congressmen to make sure their local offices had back doors from which they could escape. We're just a bunch of angry moms, dads, and grandparents, not vagrants or criminals.

But last week, Reichert voted to give people with extreme mental illness access to guns. Seriously. I wonder if he can see the irony in that vote.

So then, I didn't have anything to do this afternoon. I was too worried to keep watching the news. Instead, I made pancakes for Nick's sleepover kids and walked the dog. I really need to take a break from it all now and then. It's incredibly vexing. When I got back, Nick and I watched a couple of episodes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson in Cosmos on Netflix.

We watched science on television. Science is on the chopping block too, so I felt rather patriotic while I did it, standing up against the oppressive government in the name of learning more science and defying the anti-evolutionists.

I'll get back to active protesting tomorrow. I will. I promise.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Subtle Little Soul

Early this morning, about a half hour before my Oh-God-Early alarm was supposed to go off, I woke up a little. Sometimes, I manage to fall back asleep after shifting into a more comfortable position. I was overly warm, so I slid my hand up the pillow to cool outside air.

Sometimes when I wake up, I pat around on the bed to find Blitz. He sleeps in bed with me all night. He's very quiet, so if I want to know where he is, I trill my fingers on his fleece pillow. If he's not there, I tap the fluff of my comforter further down on the side where he sleeps. Usually, I make contact with the plush that is his fur, pet him for a minute, then go back to sleep.

This morning, I don't think I was awake enough to look for him and my hand slid up to feel nothing more than the fleece of Blitz's pillow before I started to fall back to sleep. Then, as if from a dream, one finger felt a furry little paw.

Just one finger.

I smiled and then sank into my dreams for thirty more minutes.

Blitz is a subtle little soul. He knows I don't need much, just the touch of a tiny paw in the night.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, February 3, 2017

Kitten and Dog Games

So, Blitzen and I have a game that we play. Today, Teddy was so jealous that he came to the top of the stairs and just whined while I sat there and got it set up.

He forgot all the times I played almost the same game with him and he also forgot that eventually, he just stared at me like I was making him work or something. So, he sat down next to me, ready, in case I decided to include him. I knew I'd try. I'd try to include the big clunky dog with the tiny crazy kitten in the game that we all played together. 

I love games for which everyone around me runs in circles. I sat at the top of the fuzzy stairs and imagined leaning back and sliding down while I waited for everyone to get ready. Bump, bump, bump. I could slide. Only bumps don't feel as nice to me any more, seeing that I'm 56 years old and lumpier and crunchier than I used to be, so I just imagined bumping down the stairs while everybody got ready at the top.

Before I sat down, I had gathered up all of Blitz's kitten toys that I could find and I stuffed them into my pockets. This is my daily dose of walking around the house and performing downward facing dog alternately with deep squats. It's my exercise program, people, so just leave me alone and try not to imagine what the real me looked like when I was doing it. This almost made up for me sitting at the top of the stairs after collecting all the toys I could find while everyone else planned to run up and down in circles. Almost.

Blitz has a couple of dozen tiny mouse toys and fluffy, fuzzy, tinkley, and crackly toy balls. He actually likes some of the balls intended for Teddy better than what I bought especially for him. I guarantee that ownership and jealousy factor large in their popularity. So, I piled all of the fluffy, fuzzy, tinkley, and crackly balls next to the top of the stairs along with some of Teddy's big, but still soft ones.

My house isn't particularly unusual except that the builder installed some very nice wooden windowsills and banisters. On either side of my carpeted steps, there are matching four inch wide boards that I have always loved for the sheer woodenness of them.

I especially loved them when Nick, as a toddler, realized they were perfect ramps for racing Matchbox cars. I knew I was supposed to tell him not to, in case his cars could mar the perfect woodenness of those ramps, but the excellent speed accumulated down those ramps and the abrupt stop at the end just fed my inner child. For years, before we got new flooring downstairs, there was a red spot where the red cars crashed on one side, Nick's cars, and a blue spot where blue cars crashed on the other, my cars. I kind of miss those spots now that they're covered over.

So, one day when Blitz was playing with a small green ball that Teddy had abandoned, I used my toe to push it to the beginning of the ramp.

"Ready?" I asked him. He stared at me, uncomprehending.

And then I pushed the ball down the ramp. He went bounding after it, nearly ramming headfirst into the treasure chest across the hall at the bottom of the stairs.

What an awesome game. Blitz caught on soon enough that whenever I said, "Ready?" he would leap to the top of the stairs and stare at whatever toy I had lined up for him. That was the part that I loved the most, that total doggyness when he stared at the ball just before I let it roll.

So, I sat at the top of the stairs with all the balls I could find.


Over and over, I got to watch Blitz scrambling, rolling, bounding down the stairs and in between, Teddy took turns chasing the bigger balls. Blitz got tired at the end, stretched out on one step, reached his paws over his head, and melted onto the next step, one by one, like abandoned silly putty.

It's an awesome game right to the very end.

Thank you for listening, jb