Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Cough

My boy is home from school because of a hard cough.  This morning I had to give him Xopenex, a medicine like Albuterol, but with only one structure of the chemical and not its mirror image.  Here we go again.  He has viral-induced asthma.  This kid has had so much medicine in his lifetime.  Advair, Flovent, Spiriva which elevated his heart rate by 50% for 48 hours, Pulmicort which made him gain weight, Flonase, Xopenex which raises his heart rate and makes him jittery, Singulair which made him argumentative and depressive, Prednisilone and Prednisone which opened his lungs, but raised his heart rate and left him so full of nervous energy that he once banged his head into the couch repeatedly until we held him down to make him stop.  All in the name of continued breathing.

My son had pneumonia four times before he was in second grade.  There were nights in which I wondered if I'd give him toxic levels of medicine because I might have been too tired to write his last medication into his notebook.  We have two notebooks filled with lines of what medicine, usually a steroid, that he took, how much, and at what time.  That way my husband and I could trade off and maybe sleep every other night.  It helped at the emergency room too.  They just copied notes down from our notebook instead of trying to rely on our memories after two or three days without sleep.

The last couple of years have been easier, but I remember the first time he got pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for four days.  Have you ever held in your arms a boy so sick that he was flaccid no matter what they poked into him?  I'm telling you, it made me question my belief in God for a number of months afterward.  He was four.  He wasn't getting enough oxygen and so we let the staff take care of him and we slept on the little pullout couch in his room  He had RSV, the virus that's so dangerous for preemies.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for the staff at Children's Hospital.  They kept him alive.  I was so happy when my son got more alert and worked to pull off all the tape they'd put on him, despite the fear that he'd pull out his IV by accident.  After that, he got RSV at least once during its season between January and April.  Last year was the first time he didn't miss more than ten days of school at one time.

My boy never did like stickers after he was in the hospital that time.  I remember the look on his face, once, about a year later, a nurse tried to put one on the back of his hand.  She was smiling, but I knew right away that the look on his face was asking me if he had to let her do it.  I explained about his having been in the hospital and she still didn't get it.  I had to be quite specific that because the nurses had stuck so many things onto him, he still didn't like stickers much.  She didn't leave him alone and felt compelled to press the damn thing onto his shirt which he obediently left there.  When we walked out the door, he whispered, "Mommy, can I take this off now?"  I never let a nurse offer him stickers again.  I got quite a few looks, but it saved him from having to be stickered when it wasn't necessary. Put that together with the fact that he knew how to put the little heart monitor clasp onto his finger more expertly than the triage nurse and you get the idea how many times we had to go to the hospital because of his breathing. 

 The second time he got pneumonia, the doctor at the emergency room said, "Yup! He has pneumonia alright.  See here, how his ribs are doing retractions, the muscles really squeezing around his ribs to help him breathe.  Take him back home.  Look for oxygen levels below 90%, retractions, or even if you just don't like the sound of his cough.  If you need to, bring him back in, but I'm sure he'll be more comfortable at home and recover more quickly there."  I almost started crying right then and there, wanting to say, "But I'm so tired.  What if I miss something important or give him an extra dose of medicine by accident because I didn't write down the last dose? What if I end up killing him?"  I didn't say it, but there's something to be said for a well-rested staff to give two people a break when they're trying to keep a sick boy breathing.

When my son gets a certain kind of cough, when he has that in and out raspy sound to his breathing or when his oxygen levels start to go down, I can still get a rush of adrenaline.  I can even feel it if I talk about it too long.  I tried to describe what was happening to him to my friends and even to my family, that we could truly have used some help, you know, the casserole thing or someone volunteering to sit with him during the day while I slept, or even simple sympathy.  People repeatedly ask if he'll grow out of it.  My husband and I sometimes talk about how it was that no one besides a few caring doctors and nurses ever really understood what we were going through as we tried to keep our boy breathing through the night.  His first grade teacher even told him to go to bed earlier and get to class on time when I had kept him home from school a few mornings to get a little more sleep after he had pneumonia again.

So, many times, my husband and I have dug out the nebulizer, the peak flow meter, then the oxygen sensor and the stethoscope.  At some point, we knew to pack the overnight bag for the emergency room.  I usually cried as I collected clean underwear, changes of clothes, toys, books, and the notebook of medications given.  At that point, we were both in the mode of an emergency response.  It would take a day or two for either of us to get tired enough to sleep. Deep into the night, our son would really try to sleep, but with every breath, there was a cough, a moan, a pause, and then another cough. I woke with nearly every rattling cough. 

By daylight, my son would drift off and we'd both sleep for a while before he got up again.  My husband would drag himself into work. I'd give him medicine in his nebulizer, make him tea and soup, and hope for a little sleep for both of us.  By dusk, I wanted my husband to come home from work because my son's cough would get nastier and his color would drain. We'd try to alternate sleeping for the week or two it took to get over the hump, to the point when he was just sick like an ordinary boy.  When my son got a little better and I began to relax, I often slept for ten or twelve hours at time. 

Tonight, we're in for a hard night.  We both know it.  Still, I haven't packed a bag, or even pulled out the oxygen sensor.  His heart rate is up by 25% from the Xopenex so I know he won't be able to sleep even though he's tired.  I slept as much as I could during the day today so I'm ready to be up tonight.  I need to call him in sick from school so I don't have to wake up in the morning.  He may be growing out of this, but in the meantime, we'll make a list of his medications, take his heart rate and peak flow, we'll listen to his breathing and we'll watch for that time when we need to pack a bag and be ready to leave the house at a moment's notice.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Gall

Can I say that I hate people? I don't think that would fly since most of you are, indeed, people. But did you ever get sick of those little things that people do? I'm there. I hate people who sit and talk while their kids run amok. I hate people who take more than their share when not everyone has gotten some. I think i need six hours in a sensory-deprivation tank or maybe just a room in a hotel with a pool and a sauna.

A sauna would be nice. I like that feeling when I can feel my skin moving on it's own. I guess it's my pores opening up. It's like a tiny unison stretch, one that I don't get very often. And I like being warm, finally. One thing that I have a problem with is keeping warm. Without carbohydrates, I just can't keep warm. I even turn the shower on cold at the end like the doctor says, but I'm still freezing when I'm eating right.

So here's my problem: do I write about how hard life is when I have to eat the way I do? Nah, it's boring. Who wants to get on the computer and look at words some woman's writing about how her sciatica is acting up, her toenails are hard to reach, and she has gout.

I remember when my grandma Esther used to whine about how things hurt. She was a master at having aches and pains. And back then, we were required to stand quietly and listen whenever an adult was talking. Does anyone remember that?

Grandma Esther used to keep her kidney stones in a little brown pill bottle on the back of the stove. I remember, once, that she was using a spatula to press down the pork tenderloin patties into the bubbling grease as she talked. She stopped and grabbed the bottle and poured them out into her hand and showed me.

"Look at the size of that one," she said. "I tell you. I never hurt so bad in my life as with that stone." She acted as if she'd never told me this story before. I wondered where my brother was. How did he manage to get away?

"For a week before my surgery, I couldn't keep a thing down. Ole Doc Baker kept telling me nothing was wrong, but I knew. I just knew it was another gall stone." As she talked, she rolled those little pellets around in her hand. She held them out for me to touch, but I couldn't do it. Then, she did the worst thing I could think of doing - without washing her hands, she put the gall stones back into the bottle, capped it, unfolded the bread bag and started lining buns up on plates.

Now, I almost always had an appetite, but I couldn't eat that sandwich to save my life. After rolling around in my grandma's gut for sixty years, those gall stones, I knew, were not clean and I'm sure she'd never put them into rubbing alcohol to clean them (as if that would help with gall stones). How she got the doctor to save them for me, I don't know, but she did. People did things like that. Do they still?

My own mother told me last year that she kept my grandma's gall stones. "Seriously?" I asked her. No shit. My mother had indeed kept them. She even got them out and rolled them around in her hand as she talked. "You hungry?" she asked as she put them away, still in the little brown pill bottle. "I'm going to make me a sandwich."

I hate people.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Building Books

I shouldn't be here writing. I only have a half an hour and just enough time to eat, do a load of dishes, and maybe catch up with doing layouts for my author photos before I have to leave. I have 84 biographies and photos to get set up for the kids' books within the next week. After that, I need to cover the covers with fabric. Then, I have to organize the pages and bind them. I have until June 15th to get all of that done for all 84 books. I don't guarantee I'll have any volunteers to help with my job and if I do get them, will they do work that's nice enough to hold together for fifty years the way I want these books to do? Does that sound interesting to you?

See, I love this part. I'm calling kids, two at a time, out of class to go outside or the library for a photo. It's like an extra recess. Some of these kids won't stand still for a picture. I like to zoom in close. Some don't even know they're writing a book. I ask them if they want a serious picture for their book or a laughing one. Some kids spend the whole time climbing a tree for their picture. In the end, the pictures make me laugh and cry. One kid has the goofiest look on his face. I love that kid. Another kid, when I come in close for his shot, already looks like the sports writer he says he wants to be. I love that kid too.

And there's a girl who already looks like that smart young author who wrote a best selling novel. Her first name is Stella. It's a good name for an author. I can just see me, an old woman, lining up in the queue to get her to sign my book. I can imagine myself asking her if she remembers me and of course, she won't. I won't be disappointed. I'll remember that photo, the smart girl standing in the tree, so tall and somehow still serious, looking into the future, seeing herself on the back page of that book with the blurb that says her next book will be about a girl who sees something she shouldn't. I can see her then and know that in some small way, I planted the seed of who she could become. That's why I like building 84 books out of paper, cardboard, glue, fabric, and string.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Making Pie

I like to make pie, but like everything, making pie started out simple and ended up complicated. I made my very first pie for Thanksgiving to bring to my sister's house. I didn't even have a pie pan, so I used a loaf pan instead. It didn't taste bad, but I learned that as much as I liked sugar, I didn't need to change the basic recipe for crust and add sugar. The loaf pan made a very interesting shaped piece of pie, one that I haven't repeated, but I remember how pretty the slices were with little U-shaped crusts. Maybe I should try that again sometime.
One thing I like about making pie is putting on good music before I gather the ingredients for the crust. Ofra Harnoy's Brahms cello sonatas are peaceful, but it's fun, sometimes, to listen to Jason Mraz and dance around the kitchen. I imagine my pies taking in the energy I give them from the music. While I'm measuring and rolling and pinching, my mind wanders. For me, making pie is a productive and meditative act.

I gather my implements first, my Tupperware mat, my rolling pin, the measuring cup with extra flour in it, my pastry blender, a wide spatula, a butter knife, my large shallow bowl, and the measuring squeegie that keeps me from wrestling with getting lard out of a cup. Looking at them makes me happy.

Pie crust is simple. I combine:

2 Cups flour,
1 tsp. salt,
3/4 Cups lard or butter,
then after everything is well blended, I sprinkle it with 5 Tbs very cold water.

I used to use shortening, but now with lard, I know my crust will be flaky. When I first switched from shortening to lard, the phrase 'Hey, lard butt' kept going though my head. There was a girl in my high school who was bigger than the rest of us and some of the mean kids used to yell that at her across the gym. That poor girl. I hope she found solace somewhere. Still, my nutritionist, Dani Brooks, told me that a body responds to shortening as if it's plastic and that anything else is healthier. That was a good reason to switch. Butter in a crust has good flavor, but isn't flaky. Nearly everything is a compromise. Lately, I've been using a combination of butter and lard.

Another trick I have is to add extra cold water to the dough as I'm working if I need it. The well-known secret to a flaky crust is that the flour, salt, and fat can be mixed together very well. Then after the ice-cold water is sprinkled on, it shouldn't be mixed much at all or it will become tough. I don't really mix the water in. I fluff it with a knife. I get a dough ball to roll out by picking up the damp clumps and pressing them together. If it's too wet, I roll it in a dry area of the dough. If it all sticks together and isn't sticking to my fingers, then I'm good to go. I sprinkle it liberally with flour as I go, hopefully adding enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. So now you know - my personal secret is that wetter crusts bake even flakier.

My rolling pin used to belong to my husband's mother before she died, so I used to imagine Marilyn making pie for him. It was a labor of love, I thought, because I remembered her face whenever he dropped by. She always had a roast going, chicken fricassee, or her own special macaroni and cheese. I can remember my husband's face too, when she had something special. She always had something special cooking. She was an amazing cook and I think she made all that food hoping he'd stop by and she could see that look on his face as he walked into the room and breathed in deeply. I loved the image of me continuing this for her, but then one day, he told me that she didn't use her rolling pin all that often. I am still better at baking than making dinner, so when I make pie and I pick up her rolling pin, I nod to her ghost and try to believe that she'd still like my effort.

I roll out my dough and fold it up over the rolling pin, hoping to get it into the pan in one piece. I use my wide spatula to scrape up the sticky spots. I almost always have to piece things together, so if you eat my pie and it's stuck to the pan, it's because I patched it up and called it good. I nod to my mother, miles away, when I flute the edges.

It turns out that the pie maker in my husband's family was his Grandma Rose. She was the one who made pie for him. For two or three years, I tried to work out her lemon meringue pie recipe. To my husband, it isn't a holiday without lemon meringue pie. We kept asking her for the recipe and she kept writing it down for us. It was awful and bitter and I just couldn't get the hang of it. I grew beautiful biceps, though, whipping that meringue in my copper bowl. Finally, we asked her for the fourth or fifth time if she could help us. By then, she was blind and frail and couldn't show us herself. "Just look on the inside of the cabinet door. I'm sure it's still written there," she said. We looked all over that cabinet, taped up with articles and scrawled phone numbers and no hand-written lemon meringue pie recipe. Finally, I gave up and went back out to the living room, when my husband started laughing. He showed me the recipe ... printed on the back of a sweetened condensed milk label. So much for Grandma Rose's lemon meringue pie. You could probably find that exact recipe if you Google 'Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk.'

All along, I'd been zesting my lemons too vigorously. I only needed to get the oils out of the lemon rind using a nutmeg grater to take the shine off the lemon. Those bright yellow gratings were just what I needed. I taste for tartness before I've added eggs to get it just right. And I also use two extra egg whites and twice as much sugar in the meringue as the recipe calls for. That way it's big and sweet, like a marshmallow.

When I put together the pie, I bake the empty shell for 20 minutes first. Then, I put the lemon curd into the hot shell and bake it for another 20 minutes.

For lemon curd in a ten inch pie, I combine:

2 cans sweetened condensed milk
zest and juice of 5 medium lemons
5 egg yolks

About ten minutes into the second baking, I begin the meringue. My husband finally got me a beautiful Kitchen Aid mixer, the sweet man. For the meringue, I use a heavy-duty mixer to blend:

7 egg whites
3/4 Cup white sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

The interesting thing about lemon meringue pie is that my hands touch every part of it. The crust is obvious and I probably wash my hands three or four times in the process of making a couple of pies. But with the meringue, I've found it's easiest to separate the eggs through my fingers. I've been given and gotten rid of at least three cute little egg separators. My hands work the best, but that's at least two more hand washings. My hands take a beating when I make pie, so I don't actually mind if they get a little butter on them.

When I'm blending the meringue, I start the mixer at the lowest speed to make small bubbles. I speed it up as it gets frothy. The meringue is done when it looks like satin, forms pretty peaks in the bowl, and my mixer starts to audibly slow down on the highest speed. Have I told you that I love my Kitchen Aid mixer?

My problem is that pie has become complicated. You see, as much as I love pie, I am diabetic and I can't safely eat it. On top of that, my son has an intolerance to fructose that really limits the amount of sugar and fruit he can eat without feeling sick. He also has a tree nut allergy. You'd think with all of that, I'd quit making pie, but no. I'm like the alcoholic bartender. I've learned how to make chicken pot pie, steak and vegetable pie, quiche, even sugar-free apple and pumpkin pie for my son, but it's still too much for me to eat. I usually succumb and eat pumpkin pie, but I end up feeling hung over afterward and tell myself, yet again, that it really isn't worth it. That's what I tell myself. As for the lemon meringue, my husband doesn't want me to change our recipe. Not one iota. It makes him happy so I still make it on holidays, but he usually has to share with friends. Sometimes I wonder if we don't get invited to Easter dinner just because of the pie. I'm reduced to eating one heaping teaspoon of the thing that I spent so much time perfecting.

Both of my grandmas were good at making pie in their own way. My mother's mother was known for her raisin pie and beautiful crusts. After failing to recreate that taste, I told my cousin and she gave me the recipe last fall. It was another sugar overload, so I could only have a small taste of the filling. I closed my eyes and could almost hear my grandma's voice. My dad's mom made squash pie that I've never managed to copy. It's probably that I can't get those big white and green squashes that she used. I liked them better than pumpkin. My mother makes amazing cherry pie and something she called 'Poor-Man's Pie,' which was mostly cinnamon, nutmeg, cream, sugar, and flour. I can't even begin to eat that and my husband says not to bother. My sister makes an awesome apple pie with a thick deep-dish crust. I should give her my recipe for walnut caramel apple pie. Maybe. Pie connects my family tree together through its women who bake it and through its men who admire and eat it. All in all, it's not a bad tradition to have in the family.
Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cheating at Subtraction

So one day, I was at school, sitting at my desk and staring out the window at the color of the new spring leaves. I loved that color. I was supposed to be doing subtraction problems, a whole page of them, but I was daydreaming instead. Mrs. Voightchild's grating voice said, "You have five minutes, children." Now, Mrs. Voightchild didn't like me. I knew it. I think it was the time she multiplied 8 X 3 and came up with 28 and I corrected her. After that, I couldn't do anything right. And she made me nervous. I didn't like to get too close to her either. She had really foul breath and I imagined it was mustard gas and I'd blister my lungs if I came within five feet of her. She liked it that way, I was sure.

So I was worried what Mrs. Voightchild would say if I only had half a page of problems done when everyone else was finishing. I always got butterflies in my stomach when she called on me and somehow suspected she wasn't normal. Thinking about her hovering over my math sheet, I jiggled my knee under my desk. My stomach wrenched, and sweat dripped off my nose onto my paper.

I looked over to my left. Suzie had just finished her last problem. On my right, Corky had two more problems to go. I knew they were both pretty smart, so I copied four numbers from Suzie for row number five and I copied four more numbers from Corky for row number six. I went back and forth, cheating quickly and, I thought, without being noticed.

Suddenly, there was a ripping sound and I looked up. Mrs. Voightchild's head was bloating. Everyone looked up and stared. Some kids got under their desks as if it was a tornado drill. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. She was hideous! Her face split down the middle and green goo dripped from where her chin used to be. Each side of her peeled down like a banana. Six eyes on swaying stalks peered at me out of the green glop. Then tentacles reached out from where her shoulders used to be. They were green with rows of pink suckers.

If you ever got stuck with octopus sushi, you know what I mean. If your brother pulled it off the conveyor when your mom wasn't looking and put it in front of you, you know what I mean. "You pick it. You eat it," my mother always said when we went there. I didn't actually like sushi. I just liked taking the plates off the conveyor. But I didn't even like looking at octopus.

When Mrs. Voightchild's tentacles reached past the kids in the first and second rows, I knew I was in trouble. I was in the third row. It was a slow motion nightmare the way they waved and dripped over my head for a second before they gripped me one by one, around my waist, around my arms, and around my ankles. I could feel the suction. I screamed inside my head, wishing I'd hid under my desk too. It felt like accidentally stepping on a big slug, only with the suction and they slithered around me, like snakes. I was going to throw up. I just knew it.

The tentacles raised me into the air and rolled me up like a burrito. I could still breathe, but I couldn't get away. I didn't try. The almighty squishiness had me squeezing my eyes shut as my stomach lurched. My red sequined slipper fell off and I could feel the green goo dripping down behind my knee. I think I also had some goo in my ear because I could only hear the screaming from one side. I might not have been breathing at all. I wanted to faint but I couldn't. My stomach twisted again and my mouth tasted sour.

Finally, I gave up. My peanut butter and jelly sandwich and chocolate milk came up and spewed all over the tentacles holding me. Suddenly, I could hear them sizzling and bubbling. They dropped me right across Jimmy Chan's desk. He grabbed me to keep me from rolling onto the floor. I started to cry.

The tentacles drew back, still smoking, into where Mrs. Voightchild's shoulders had been. The six eyes retracted into the goo and her face folded back up and glued itself together. The green goo on the floor slithered and flowed toward her feet, and up and over her tan orthopedic shoes and into her legs, fattening her ankles. Only her slightly frumpled hair showed anything different though it just looked like she'd forgotten to brush it after getting out of bed. Nothing in the room showed that there had been a complete alien transformation.

I scrambled back to my desk and sat as if a straight back and eyes forward might erase that queasy feeling I still had. Some of the other kids were crying, but a couple of boys and Corky were saying things like "Whoa! Did you see that? That was amazing! Do it again!" They hadn't had to endure being touched by those tentacles.

Suddenly two police officers crashed into the room with Principal Espinosa and the janitor. The janitor poured some green cat litter onto the vomit next to my desk and left the classroom. The principal's booming voice yelled, "Who called the police?"

Just then, everybody stopped looking at me and turned to see Jessica , folded into her cubby like a sardine with her cell phone in one hand. Principal Espinosa took her by the shoulder and escorted her out the door followed by the two officers. Later, she said they called her father at work and he had to come down to pick her up. No one believed her story. Mrs. Voightchild told the police that everything was going just fine during her subtraction drill. No children were interviewed. Jessica's mom wanted to take her to see a doctor and her father wanted to put her into another school if they could find one that would take her. She finally lied, she said, and told them she'd made the whole thing up so she wouldn't have to do any more subtraction problems.

Jessica and I were best friends after that. She had tried to save my life, all of our lives. It was good too, because some of the kids pretended it had never happened and avoided us on the playground, the bus, and in the halls. They kept it up all through grade school, middle school, and high school.

Mrs. Voightchild never transformed in front of us again, but Jessica heard a rumor that she did it when Jimmy Smith threw a stink bomb into the girl's bathroom. Neither of us really knew, but I'll tell you one thing is for certain - I never ever ever cheated at math again.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Going Through the Needles

When I was nine, my parents decided that my brother, sister, and I would benefit from that almighty road trip to see our great country. They planned this trip for months ahead of time. My dad mapped a route with all the educational and some of the entertaining highlights and then fitted our camper with an intercom. My mother was also in the camper, scrubbing, cleaning, and carrying in loads of supplies.

At the end of my fourth grade year, we all set out on a month-long adventure to drive from Indiana to California and back by different routes. I'd like to write the whole story here, but that would take several chapters - walking on a glacier in July, speeding through Las Vegas, reverse engineering the Haunted House at Disneyland, the flat tire on a mountainside in Yosemite, and the size of seeing big things as a little kid. I'll get to all that in time. That trip somehow changed my life.

On the return part of the trip, we traveled the Northern route, detouring through the Needles Scenic Highway in South Dakota. Not long after we left the main road, it narrowed to the size of the lane in front of my grandparent's house. The granite spires were steep all around us and a few even had slots where I imagined huge lengths of thread would go. The best and the worst part of the needles for a nine-year-old girl was going through the tunnels in our camper. Most of these tunnels had been blasted out of the stone in 1922 when roads were much simpler, and smaller.

See, our camper was kind of big for those small tunnels. They were only cut for one lane. But my dad saw himself as a good enough driver to get through even tight spaces. He wanted to see Mt. Rushmore through the last tunnel. Knowing the kind of guy he was, he would have measured the height and width of the camper to see if we could get through, but I'm not certain if he really did.
As we drove carefully through the first tunnel, I was excited, but began to get a little nervous.

"Daddy, I have to pee," I told him as I sat between him and my mom in the cab of our '64 GMC pickup. My dad didn't answer. There were people waiting to go through in the other direction, but even that wouldn't make him speed through when he had only a foot or two on either side of the the camper. I could see just a little sweat at his temple.

"Honey, you have to wait," my mother said, trying to diffuse the tension. I really did have to pee, probably because I was a little claustrophobic. I blame my brother for that because he was the one who made me crawl through the hollow log. It made me afraid of spiders too.

"I really have to pee," I whispered. My dad didn't speed up one iota, but we made it out and they stopped alongside the road for me to find a quiet spot. I figured I'd get a good case of chiggers from the tall grass but that was all the cover I could find. I hated chiggers.

After I got back into the truck and we were on our way again, it didn't take us long to get to the next tunnel. It was a little smaller still and true to my nature, I had to pee again while we crept through. I kept my mouth shut because I'd noticed the crescent of dampness under the arms of my dad's white T-shirt.

The third tunnel was a little smaller still. They made me think of the nesting Russian dolls, all the same, but each a little smaller than the last. My dad pulled up to the tunnel and started measuring. Yes, he had a measuring tape with him. What good engineer wouldn't? We could make it through, he announced, but the wide side view mirrors he'd put on the truck wouldn't. He backed up the camper, pulled as far off the road as he could get, and pulled out his toolbox. As he worked, my brother and I walked back and forth through the tunnel. My brother was hoping for some action, so I remember him fingering rocks that stuck out further than the others. My sister sat in the camper with her book. My mother went back and forth from yelling at us to watch for traffic and cleaning up in the camper.

It seemed like it took my dad forever, but that's because he'd had to take off the inside panels from each door to get to the bolts that held the mirrors on. Plus, one of the bolts was tight and my dad kept swearing "God dammit!" and wishing he'd packed more tools. By the time he was done, he'd managed to get greasy and dirty. Where there was grease in a bolt holding on a mirror, I couldn't figure out.

Finally, he finished and we all loaded up, me in my place in the cab of the truck, my brother and sister in the back. We waited until all the cars around us were through and we were alone with the tunnel. As we started in, my dad called my brother on the intercom. "Brian, get your camera and take a picture of the front of the truck in the tunnel. Use the tape measure so you can see how much room we have on each side!"

We stopped, just the nose of the truck plugging the blasted out hole. My brother noodled around with the camera and took his pictures, leaning into the open window and said, "You have three inches and a quarter on the driver's side and four and an eighth on the passenger side." I could tell he was excited. He climbed back into the camper.

My dad inched forward and all of a sudden, I realized we couldn't open the doors even if we wanted to. We were trapped. I started to sweat along side my dad. I could feel my elbow, slimy, at his elbow. I tried not to touch him, but there wasn't enough room. His shirt was soaked with sweat and it was dripping down the sides of his face. I didn't say a word.

The problem was that I had to pee. Bad. The minute I realized we couldn't open the doors, it hit. It seemed like forever since that tall grass. And the elastic around my sock was itchy. I scratched it waiting to hear metal scraping on rock.

"Sit still, Jilly," my mother said. She didn't use the word she usually used for me - wiggle wart. She was trying to help my dad concentrate. How one person can really concentrate for another person, I don't know, but my mother did.

Suddenly, there were people everywhere. We were only half-way through and my dad was creeping through that tunnel slower than a crawler hauling an Apollo launch vehicle to it's pad. The people stood in the middle of the road in front of us. We couldn't see the people behind us - No side mirrors, remember? And the camper obliterated the view out the rear view - but we could hear them talking. The longer this trip took, the more people gathered. They took pictures of us. They coaxed us along. "You're doing great!" one guy said over and over. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the older men weren't making bets on our success. All of a sudden, my dad's manliness was at stake. He would be so embarrassed if we got stuck or even scraped the paint. Nothing so far.

I tried to think of Dr. Doolittle crossing the ocean in his glass snail shell. It didn't work. I still had to pee. I leaned over to my mom and whispered, "I have to pee." She didn't even look at me, just sighed that slow and dangerous sigh. I shut up.

Finally, we made it through. By then, there were about twenty people standing around clapping and cheering us. I felt like I was on the best float in a parade. It was great! I was so proud of us. I forgot that I'd had to pee so badly.

We waved and drove on down the road in a cloud of glory. I could see that my dad was ready. He did it. He could do it again. We quickly got to the next tunnel, but all of us let out a sigh in unison. The tunnel was too small. Even without my dad's measuring tape, I could see we weren't going in, let alone through. So my dad turned around and we drove back to repeat the performance at our last tunnel.

There were people standing around again. Different people, I hoped. There were camera's burning through flashbulbs, but somehow I wasn't as elated about the attention the second time around. And I didn't even have to pee one little bit the whole way through. Go figure.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 12, 2011


So on and off all day yesterday and into the night, I watched YouTube and television footage of the devastation in Japan. Then I sat down and wrote my blog for the day about my most embarrassing moment as a teenager. Go figure. My facebook page is filled with people talking about Japan. My husband and I are talking about Japan. I actually asked him if he'd heard about the nuclear reactor and showed him footage of the wave of debris as if he hadn't been tuned in all day himself. It kept bothering me that I didn't write about what was really important. Why did I do that?

On top of that, my son was sick again yesterday and was up all night. By midnight, we had done everything we could but he still sat there moaning on the couch. And what was I doing? I was laughing out loud while reading my Cake Wrecks book. He was so offended, poor kid. I wasn't trying to hurt his feelings.

I should have sat there holding his hand like a good mom, looking worried and compassionate. I did that for the first couple of hours until I'd done everything I could. He was watching a movie I'd seen a half a dozen times, so I picked up my book, frustrated to be able to do nothing more to help him. And the Cake Wreck book is funny. Jen Yates sweetly analyzes all of those messy, illiterate, and misguided cake designs made by professionals. My husband sat on the couch and did everything I should have been doing, holding my son's hand, being compassionate, watching the movie with him. I didn't mean to hurt my son's feelings. I tried to tell him I was only laughing at my book.

I do that sometimes, laugh when I should be serious. At other times, I have absolutely no sense of humor when I should. It stinks to be so human.

So I'm just glad that I don't have any Japanese readers to see that I could write something silly when they have these horrible things happening in their country. Still, it bothered me all night, the fact that I didn't even acknowledge their pain and devastation. I tried to justify myself by saying that there was nothing I could say that hadn't already been said. What good would it do to write about it?

This morning, I woke up knowing the answer. The Japanese should hear our cry of anguish over their plight in the very clouds themselves. I read about a study once that proved that people don't have the capacity to grieve over the loss of 100,000 people, but can rally when they see just one face. That must be why I kept looking at the people in all that tsunami footage, wondering if the guy in the little white car driving desperately uphill from the debris made it out, feeling the fear of the office worker trying to catch a single monitor when the entire room was coming down around her, wondering if a someone at the nuclear reactor might question whether he should stay and help prevent catastrophe or flee as far and as fast as he could go, gathering his wife and children as he went. I think people also have a limit to how much anguish they can take in and after that it becomes surreal. I heard it described that way by a friend of mine who had just lost her mother. She and her family were still laughing.

I may not have anything to say that hasn't already been said about Japan, but here I am, my small voice adding to the din to them to tell them they are not alone. And as soon as my son wakes up, I will apologize for laughing at my book when all he needed was to see my worry over the anguish in his face. But I can't promise him that I'll never laugh again.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Day I Almost Died in Mrs. Wampler's 7th Grade Geometry Class

So when I was in seventh grade, I loved Mrs. Wampler's geometry class and everyone in it. I especially loved Mike Hardwick. He had long auburn hair, soulful eyes, and was the funniest guy in our class. I used to figure out what Mrs. Wampler was describing and then stare longingly at Mike, hoping he'd look back at me. I'm sure I had his name written in the margins of my notes. I wasn't the only one. Mike Hardwick was a hunk.

One day, as Mrs. Wampler was lecturing, I heard and felt a long deep grumble in my gut. This was not good. I tried to wait it out, but realized less than half-way through class it wasn't going to wait.

I sat in the front row opposite the door and seats were packed tightly into the room. If I was going to get up, I'd have to walk right in front of Mrs. Wampler. As I was taller than she was, it was going to be hard to be unnoticed. Eventually, I gave in, got up, and tried to walk unobtrusively across the front of the class with short, shuffling steps and my butt muscles clenched. Mike lounged in his seat right next to the door, his hand on the latch, as if he'd bolt and ditch class at any moment. He looked at me with those soulful eyes and I fumbled with my pencil, trying to make it last a moment longer.

Mrs. Wampler had a sign-out sheet under the light switch, so I bent over carefully to put my name on it. As I wrote my name, I was beginning to believe that no one was paying any attention to my plight. Just then, Mike stuck the pointed end of his pencil into the back of my leg, just under my miniskirt. I was so surprised, I let go of the loudest and longest fart of my entire life.

I dropped my pencil, ran out the door, down the hall, and into the empty bathroom where I stayed as long as I could, imagining the echo, the smell, and the laughter I left behind. I thought I could still hear them laughing, even Mrs. Wampler, all the way down the hall and around the corner. I wanted to die.

Eventually, I had to go back into that classroom. I tried to be quiet, but when I opened the classroom door, there was a total silence at first, then one person, Mike Hardwick, laughed out loud despite the glare he received from Mrs. Wampler. I made myself stand up straight and walk across the room in front of her and sit down in my seat. I couldn't make eye contact with anyone. I'm not sure I talked for the rest of that day.

I never looked at Mike Hardwick face to face again. I tried not to look down at my shoes, but just not at his face. He never spoke to me either, not to make fun of me or to apologize. We even graduated from high school together. We just pretended the other didn't exist.

Sometimes, when I'm about to get up in front of a crowd and speak, I still think that I might fart instead. It makes me wonder at those women who insist that a man's sense of humor is his greatest trait. I wonder if Mike Hardwick is still funny.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 10, 2011

'At Home' with Bill Bryson

I'm listening to Bill Bryson read his book, 'At Home.' I love Bill Bryson. I've never actually met Bill Bryson, but I think he must be an all around good guy and imagine that his wife considers herself lucky to have him, the font of information and good humor that he is. Also, in twenty years, he'll do a good impersonation of Santa Claus and the kids might learn something valuable about geography or science from him as they wait. And what mom wouldn't like that?

When I first began to read a book by Bryson, I quickly found he was taking me somewhere good. I laughed all the way up the Appalachian trail while reading 'A Walk in the Woods.' I've only walked bits and pieces of it, but I've seen those extra socks and screw drivers along the trail that unenthusiastic packers left behind. I could tell you a long story about the ten-day trip I took with my MYF group in high school, but it boils down to one fact: I am still pissed off that I had to carry extra weight because Annette Oppenheimer absolutely refused to poop in the woods the entire trip. So from my very first experience reading Bryson, I had something in common with him in dropping bits of chaff, mostly Annette's chaff, as I went.

I've traveled through Europe with Bryson in 'Neither Here Nor There,' through my strip mall neighborhood, the states, in 'The Lost Continent', and into Australia in 'The Sunburned Country.' I even spent some time with him while wearing a cape in Iowa, reading 'The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.' Why I wanted to spend time in Iowa after growing up in Indiana, I will never know, but I really enjoyed the trip. I even traveled with him to the far reaches of the universe in 'A Short History of Nearly Everything.' Now, that was quite a trip for me. I learned that every modern person likely carries at least eight actual molecules from Buddha or Jesus, I can't remember which. (Does it really matter?)

Today, while Bryson described the archaeology of his neighborhood in 'At Home,' he went with me on my errands. He may have felt my regret at having to cut him off when my husband called to talk about the waterfall in our yard because our uphill neighbor rerouted his drainage. Bryson may have seen how I was three minutes late for my mammogram because I was listening to him talk about Joseph Paxton's crystal palace in 1851. Okay, so I wasn't at all looking forward to elongating my already lengthening breasts through vile manipulation and plate-glass breast sandwiching. I didn't want to embarrass him by bringing him in, though, even if it would have made a great distraction. So, after I survived nearly having my breast ripped off because the technician thought herself a comedienne and I forgot and laughed, it was a relief to know Bryson was still waiting for me when I got back into my car.

Next on my list was a short trip to Transylvania to have my blood drawn. I swear this woman has an Eastern European accent. She loves sticking that wide hollow needle into my fat green vein. Again, Bryson waited for me in the car, likely preferring the car to the view of my blood pouring into the vial that the vampire swore she'd get tested for TSH levels before she drank it.

Bryson quickly made me forget all that as I met up with him in the car, only a little green from my experiences. Then he told me all about how the Saxons invaded and quietly changed British culture where the Romans failed. He also talked about food. That made me hungry, so I stopped at the British Pantry and picked up a half a dozen steak and vegetable pies and a lancashire pasty. Now, I wonder if Bryson will tell me who invented those. I love when history and food intersect, especially at the end of a harrowing day of running errands. My thanks to Bryson's wife for sparing him for an afternoon.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 7, 2011

Talking with Dickie

I always think my own childhood very plain until I remember the crow in the shoe store that said "Hello Joe" over and over when we came in twice a year to get new shoes. We loved that bird. And then there was the very large man, Dickie, who ran a candy shop in a tiny brick building by the railroad tracks just about a block from my great aunt Beulah's house. My brother and I stayed with our great aunt and great uncle for a week every summer and when we arrived, she'd set to making pie to celebrate the occasion. It was just what she did. I didn't mind.

Now my great aunt Beulah could make pie like nobody's business. One morning, with Great Uncle Carl having his cigarette-induced cough, my great aunt elbow deep in flour, and my brother and I trying not to break any of her pink and white porcelain nick-knacks after she'd given us breakfast, she'd really needed us kids to clear out on some made-up errand or another so she could find some peace of mind.

"Why don't you two go on up and get Stacy and Mike? I swan, I bet they ain't even had breakfast yet," I can remember her saying. "Now, you bring them on back here and I'll set out a bowl of Fruit Loops for them." Now my great aunt Beulah was a fan of Fruit Loops and so was I since, at home, I was used to getting oatmeal or shredded wheat served hot (which was mushy) in the morning. And my mother never let me put more than a single teaspoon of sugar on a whole bowl of cereal. So going to get my cousins wasn't such a bad deal because knowing my great aunt, I'd get some more Fruit Loops when we got back if I asked her nicely.

So my brother and I headed out into the hot summer sun. It might have only been eight in the morning, but in the Midwest, the morning sun and the humidity could cut down a man not used to being out it in. Though I was usually outside as much as possible, I favored climbing trees which was naturally shady. When I walked by myself, I even crossed the road sometimes to walk on the shady side.

My brother, being two years and three months older than I, was the leader. "Let's just go straight on up the road. Ole Dickie won't probably be out since his store don't open until ten," he said. I skipped along, knowing the wide cracks and upheavals of the sidewalks like finding the bathroom in my sleep. We came to the square where I got stung when I stepped on a bee and I realized I'd forgotten my flip-flops. My brother didn't want to go back. We both liked the quiet of the mornings and by nine, it would all be gone.

We were almost to the tracks and looking out for the light bulb that hung in Dickie's candy shop, both of us hoping it was out. We'd stopped buying our candy at Dickie's and it was embarrassing to try to walk by when he was in there. "The coast is clear," my brother said. I wondered if everything ran like a battle in his head. We were on the far side of the shop and about to skip across the tracks.

"Heyya, you two," said Dickie coming quickly out from nowhere. I was never sure he knew our names. "How're you all doing?" he asked. "Looks like you'd growed since I saw you last." I didn't mention that he'd caught us up by the malt shop two days ago and I probably hadn't grown much since then. The way Dickie let his mouth hang open between sentences told me he couldn't remember seeing us two days ago even though the rest of him looked like an ordinary adult would look. Dickie was tall, probably over six feet two, and pear shaped in the bibbed overalls he wore every day as did so many of the working men from that area. He was sweet, though, and that look on his face meant we had to treat him really nice or somebody would call my Great Aunt Beulah and complain. I could never get over how everyone in the whole town knew my name, my genealogy, and the state of my grades that year. They also weren't afraid to call up on the phone if we weren't behaving just right.

The problem with being polite to Dickie was that he wanted to talk, but he mostly wanted us to talk.

"Well yeah, we might have grown a little," I said. My brother, not helping out with the conversation as usual, was silent.

"I knowed you when you was a tiny baby," he said, poking his finger at my chest. I just didn't know what to say about that. I could feel the seconds ticking by and the heat starting to build on the top of my brown hair. I was not afraid of Dickie, but I didn't like him poking me. First, there was the poke, then the pat on the head, and then you'd be trapped in a hug that never seemed to let go.

"You was the sweetest little baby," he said. There it was, the pat on the head.

"Thank you," I said.

"Oh," he said, and waited a breath. It seemed to get hotter during that half second. "I knowed yore momma when she was a little bitty thing." That would not have pleased my mother to hear. And here it came, the breath-taking hug. Since he was so tall, my whole face smashed up against his belly so that I could feel the stitches in the pockets of his overalls. If I could breathe, it was shallow because he always had a sour smell along with a day or two's sweat from the summer heat. His breath coming down from above wasn't easy to take in either. I let him hug me for a beat or two and struggled to pull away without losing my balance or his dignity.

"That's nice," I said.

"Yore momma is the sweetest little girl," he said. "I knowed her in high school."

I wondered if my great aunt Beulah still had breakfast cereal on the table and how Dickie had managed in high school. I couldn't picture either.

"I love your momma. She is a sweet, sweet girl," he said. "She married yore daddy right after high school."

You notice that my brother hadn't said a word. At nine, I'd learned that it was my job to do the talking and his to smile a little, nod if I was lucky, and look authoritative. At eleven, he was perfecting the silent authoritative look.

"Yup, she did," I said.

"Yore momma is always the sweetest little girl," he said. "You look just like yore momma."

I'd have been happier if he'd told me I looked like my dad.

"We gotta go, Dickie. Great Aunt Beulah sent us up to get Stacy and Mike for breakfast," I said quickly.

"Well, I knowed Stacy and Mike since they were tiny babies," he said. "and I knowed their momma."

Oh, I lost track of what Dickie was saying. I nodded my head, smiled, said 'yup' and 'nope' at the right times. I tried three or four times to say that we'd better go, but Dickie didn't seem to hear me. He was back to poking and patting and I knew I was in for another breath-taking hug. The worst thing was that I felt sorry for Dickie the way I did when one of my Teddy bears got shoved into the back of the closet and forgotten for a while. I could feel his desperation increasing with my every excuse. I wanted to love those old Teddy bears enough. I really did.

I could feel the sweat beading in my hair, the sun burning my forehead. It seemed like we'd been standing there for hours. Being polite was never so excruciating. I could feel the heat on the sidewalk as I shuffled my feet back and forth.

Dickie was still talking when I interrupted and said, "We're going to get into trouble if we don't get going." Then I saw the ocean of loneliness that he held out for us to take away. Oh, that was the worst, trying to pry ourselves away when he had that look on his face. And he probably knew as well as I did that my great aunt Beulah didn't get mad at anybody.

"I knew yore momma when we was in high school," he said.

"We really gotta go now," I said again and my brother grabbed my arm and we half-walked and half-ran away while Dickie was still talking behind us, his voice a little louder so we could hear. I turned around and waved.

"Bye bye, Dickie," I yelled across the tracks. I turned back and we ran up the rest of the block so as not to hear what else Dickie was saying. It was as if the last line finally pulled tight and broke loose and we were free. I'd almost forgotten what we'd been turned out of the house to do in all my concentration on how to get free of Dickie's web.

On the way back with our cousins, we ran a block west and turned south along the road with the German Shepherd that liked to lunge halfway over the shabby cyclone fence at us. Then on Great Aunt Beulah's road, we turned east again. By the time we walked into the house, she was turning pork tenderloins on the stove for lunch. So much for more Fruit Loops.

Poor Dickie was tolerated in town, but even the mailman told us how to avoid him. The Bandaid of impatient time we gave him, of pretending to listen to him, didn't seem to do anything to help. I was only nine, but I learned to run away from him after a myriad of excuses, feeling like I'd left him emptier than when he'd stepped out of his little brick candy shop by the railroad tracks and caught us trying to sneak past. He was always still talking as we ran away.

Dickie just became one more obstacle to overcome on our way anywhere in that town, I don't know what happened to him in his little brick shack by the train tracks. Even the train tracks are gone now.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I've given up trying to control my jewelry. I know that sounds crazy. Well, now the secret is out: I am not normal. It's no use trying.

So, I wear different jewelry for different occasions. Everybody does, but I use my jewelry to remember people and ideas. I seldom wear anything purely for decoration. Decorating me won't help anyway. Let's just say that for people who love me, my looks don't come into it.

I've gotten into the habit of wearing my dangly turtle earrings when I want to slow down. My canoes are for when I expect to be overwhelmed and I figure they'll help me float through. I have the red pebble earrings my husband gave me for Christmas that have another meaning. I once wrote a poem

Sometimes, I'm afraid
You'll open me and find
Not jewels inside,
But little rocks

My little red rocks are about that poem. Insecurity days.

I wear my little gold penguins when I need to be cheerful working with the children in my son's class. Sometimes I wear my moose instead. They're pretty cheerful. Have you ever listened to a moose eat??? The story of my husband and I in the canoe, watching the moose eat and trying to stay silent, is for another day.

I have a lapis lazuli pendant that makes me think of my sweet Vivvie, the dog I loved and lost so quickly. Vivvie was like a little girl who had grown too tall too quickly. She made the house shake when she romped around, playing with the cat. Now, I imagine her wearing a pink tutu and dancing the waltz with him in the living room.

I have an amber pendant that my husband gave me for Christmas three days before I knew I was pregnant. A friend of mine had a powerful microscope and we found a seed in that amber, so I wear it to remember that fragile time when I survived more than a year of wondering if I was ever going to have a baby.

The only jewelry I wear every day is my wedding ring. My husband had it designed for me by Rick Miller at It has a piece of alexandrite in it with a single flaw and shines green in fluorescent light and fuchsia in natural or incandescent light. I guess now that we're converted, it shines green more often. It took them three months to find that stone for him. I like that it has a flaw so you see either green or fuchsia no matter what light you're in. It reminds me that the light shines more beautifully through anything that isn't perfect.

So a couple of years ago, I had to have my ring sized. Again. They had to do it carefully since my ring consisted of the engagement ring together with my wedding band. Since the bands were swirled to fit together, it was going to take a little more time to redo. It felt so strange having nothing on my finger that they gave me a simple gold band to wear while I was waiting, like a loaner car. Can you believe that? I started to see that simple band as representing my son. I have no idea why. So when it was time to get my ring back, I turned it into them with the little gold band and told them to add it to my wedding ring permanently. Now my wedding ring has three bands, one for each of us. I only take it off to make hamburger patties.

I have dog earrings that are about my old dog, Georgie, who walked with me everywhere, who protected me, and who could say "Aurora" when she asked for a cookie. I have a pendant that reminds me of my grandpa who liked to tell stories. And I have a couple of pair of swirly earrings that remind me to be cheerful on my journey.

I used to try to wear beautiful jewelry that matched my outfit. I tried to buy pretty baubles that were stylish. I've given up. My jewelry needs to mean something, to remind me how to be, to help me get through, and make me remember the people who love me the best. That's not a bad reason, don't you think?

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Cat on the Ghetto Box

So my Grandma died last August and I inherited her orange cat, Buddy. I wanted her cat. With my grandma, he always acted like he was responsible for her. He woke her up for breakfast, walked her to the bathroom. If he'd had thumbs and been taller, he'd have helped her get dressed and combed her hair.

When I was there, I tried to comb out the knots in his fur. Even though I could tell when it began to hurt, he let me finish and purred a 'thank you' when I was done. Buddy was more than the service cat he'd trained himself to be. When I talked about my grandma to him, he looked at me as if he understood, as if he could say "Of course I help her. I love her." I'm putting words into his mouth, I know, but how else could I define that look?

So the last time I visited my grandma, I called Buddy's veterinarian. He came out, offered me a prescription for a sedative for traveling, told me that Buddy had a heart murmur, possibly colon cancer, and that he might not survive the trip home. My dad died of colon cancer and my grandpa died of heart disease. Is there awful irony in that, or what?

He didn't have fun, but he made it home and was quiet on the plane. Then, the poor guy had to get used to my son's pushy cat, Seth, and a set of noisy kids. At first, Seth, hissed through the door and tried to swat him by sticking his paw under the door, claws extended. But now they romp through the rooms at night, knocking things over and waking me up.

I was a mess after I got back. My grandma had been the one who loved me best. You know, the one you try to be like, who you want to look like when you get old. I couldn't keep track of making my son's lunch, getting to appointments I'd made, putting two words together. Believe me, you don't want to get volunteered to write an article for the local newspaper when you're grieving.

After three weeks, I took Buddy to my vet. He'd been throwing up daily and bleeding into the litter box. It was so gross, I had to let my son off from that duty. I wanted Buddy to get settled in, but the words heart murmur and cancer kept echoing in my mind.

My vet said that the heart murmur was worrisome and that I should go to a specialist, that since he was only six, she'd like to really know what was going on. After spending most of our vacation money on procedures and consultations, the specialist told me that Buddy had congestive heart failure. There was no cure. She gave him six months to a year to live and said there was nothing I could do except try to make him comfortable and maybe extend his life with some medications. They're some of the same medicines my brother takes - Plavix, Lasix, Atenalol, and Enalapril. They're not exactly cheap either. My husband and I fought over it, but I think he knew not to mess with a woman's grief.

So my new buddy came with an expiration date. At first, my son didn't even want to touch him because he was going to die anyway and the blood and puke grossed him out. You can't argue with that. My husband tried not to like Buddy either because he'd cost him a vacation. So Buddy latched onto me. I like to think that maybe, in some small way, I remind him of my grandma.

When I get home, Buddy walks slowly in front of me. His message is that I need to sit down. I sit, get arranged with a blanket and pillow on my lap, and pat it to tell him to jump on up. He lies on the pillow and purrs over nothing. He loves having his head rubbed and when I've got my phone or a book, he demands two hands until I've scratched and rubbed and hugged him just enough. Then, I settle in to read and mindlessly pet him with just one hand. At that point, Buddy rolls over exposing a white polka-dotted bellly and pats me on the face. When he makes eye contact, I can feel his love. It is a deep love in those eyes. Then I succumb to total cuteness, put down my book and rub him all over again. When I settle back into mindless rubbing, he jumps off, walks around for a bit, and starts the process all over again.

He's at my feet right now, crying like a kitten. Did I tell you that he sounds pathetic when he does this? He reminds me to give him his pills twice a day with his baby cry and a very solemn look. He has pathetic cuteness down cold. What do you say about a cat that comes running to get petted whenever anyone sits down on the toilet? That's what won my husband over. He'd come running from the farthest reaches of the house when he heard that lid tap the tank. Imagine a couple of years of living with a woman who couldn't reach down to pet you and you know how Buddy came up with that one. He even used pathetic cuteness to win Seth over. Whenever Seth rolls him over, Buddy just lays there waiting for him to let go, now and then mewing like a kitten. What else can he do? He's about the same size as Seth, but not nearly as strong.

At Christmas, Buddy latched onto a cardboard box only half-filled with styrofoam popcorn. Under his weight, the box has begun to sag in the middle, tear at the corners, and generally look pathetic. This is where he sits when I'm at home but not holding up my end of the bargain by sitting in the recliner. Buddy has lots of nicknames, Pitty Pat, Sweet Baby, and Orange Cat. When he's on the box, we call him Ghetto Kitty. He doesn't bother with looks of reproach. The box does that by itself.

So here I am working on my new blog. Ghetto Kitty has given up lying at my feet and has retreated to his box. There is a cost to everything and the cost of this blog is losing that time with my Buddy. I just hope when he really reaches his expiration date, that he is full, of chin rubs, of hugs, of deep searching eye contact that tells him that I love him and I always will.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sitting at the Computer For Too Long

So, it's true. I got here by accident. That's okay, because I've got things to say to you. Unfortunately for you, whatever I have to say isn't important, so if you're looking for important information, try again bucko.

I was actually trying to get to a friend's blog. She writes beautifully - Musings from the Farm. Check it out. It's like poetry. Trying to get there, I ended up here. That's how good I am with my computer, but I was sugar deprived and the boys got home from school and were showing me what they looked like with their eyes rolled back in their heads. Man, that is gross! They looked like zombies. Then I hear "Don't put me on facebook!" Okay, but I might end up putting you in my blog by accident.

So here I am with my very own blog. What right do I have, you say, to write a blog? Well, I was an engineer in a previous life. I can direct you to one of my favorite engineering writers, Henry Petroski. My favorite of his books is the one on how things fail, 'To Engineer Is Human.' I was also a technical writer in a previous life. You do not want to read any of my technical writing. Did you ever work for the FAA? If you did, you might have read something like I wrote. Okay, so the FAA guys really did read our stuff. Does that make you feel safer in the air? I hope so. There are a butt-load of documents for everything from carpet to rivet materials that run past the FAA. Those guys don't miss a thing. It drove us all crazy, but it keeps the important things in the air.

I 'stay at home' after an illustrious career as an engineer-turned-technical writer. Okay, I'm not illustrious, but I did have a design in orbit. Was I supposed to say that? Crap, I wasn't supposed to say that. Ignore that.

Okay, so I don't have any credentials. I volunteer at school and for Cub Scouts. Should we talk about the school bond that failed to achieve the required 60% by ONE vote??????? You don't want to hear my opinion about that. Let's just say that stacking the kids into separate time-slots, early and late, is not a solution to overcrowded schools. Do you want to be meeting your kid's bus at 3:45 on a Saturday? I think not.

So, no job, no credentials (except for the design in orbit - did I mention that?), and no obvious talent. So why am I writing this blog?

I got a case of low-blood sugar and here I am. 'Why not?' I think. 'My audience doesn't have anything better to do.'

So here's what I want to write about:

Books I love (Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm)
Problems raising kids (everything is about bodily fluids)
Trying to find the spirit in things (even the laundry?)
Grandma's garden (not MY garden, unless you like blackberry, morning glory, and stinky Bob)
The day I almost died in Mrs. Wampler's 7th grade geometry class
The cat on the Ghetto box

That's a beginning. So tune in next week for the continuing story of why the cat went for the ghetto box. (He was not in trouble. I try to never yell at ghetto kitty. He's sick. He pukes every day, sometimes twice a day. He has an expiration date, just so's you know.)

Thank you for listening. jb