Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shish Kabob for Dinner

Sometimes making and eating dinner can be so satisfying.  I prepared kabobs tonight while listening to the second book in Anthony Horowitz's Raven's Gate series, 'Evil Star.'  I know that it was written for kids, but I love it anyway.  It reads like an action flick and I really like the characters.

Shish kabob must be a meal of ancient origins. It makes me think of sitting around a campfire to which everyone has contributed a bit of their best, caught or gathered. The joy of cooking shish kabob is that you can use almost anything you can skewer.   Well actually, I also have metal baskets that I can pack with things that I can't skewer.

Tonight, I cut up big chunks of zucchini, yellow squash, star squash, walla walla sweet onions, brown mushrooms, red potatoes, sword fish, and kielbasa.  I seasoned and buttered the red potatoes and threw them into the oven to cook up ahead, then I coated the swordfish in a paprika rub that I bought.  It's called San Francisco Bay Blend Organic Seasoning.  It contained mostly dry mustard, paprika, garlic and onion powder, and sea salt.  I could have made that myself, but why? 
I skewered whole cherry tomatoes, shrimp, and the rest of the lot alternating them so their flavors would mix and it looked pretty.  I should have cooked the onion a little beforehand, but it wasn't bad eating it crunchy.  I also realized that I should have sprayed oil on my skewers and especially my metal baskets.  The baskets are better for the tomatoes which fall off the skewers or squash when you try to take them off the skewer, squirting juice and seeds all over.  I made the mistake of putting a tomato at the end of one of my skewers and lost its sweet goodness in the bowels of the barbecue.
Dinner was delicious!  I could have used lemon juice or barbecue sauce, but I forgot. I could have used an entirely different set of vegetables, pineapple or other fruit, or used steak instead of seafood.  I could have used any number of barbecue sauces. The possibilities are endless.  Last week, Mike had the Cub Scouts making their own shish kabobs.  He bought meatballs, kielbasa, and chicken tenders to put between the vegetables so there was no accidentally raw meat.  The boys loved it and the parents were surprised at what they were willing to eat.
Tonight, Nick ate everything on his plate, vegetables and all. I've read that if you eat natural foods and your plate is colorful, you're getting a good variety of vitamins. Our plates were really very colorful.  I love eating beautiful food.   Now, aren't you hungry too?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 29, 2011


A litter of shrews must have outgrown the nest because I found one shrew after another blithely hopping around today. Or maybe it was the same shrew twice.  Shrews are very cute, so for the second sighting, I called Nick over and we managed to capture it in a little plastic butter tub. He was stunned and didn't move when we put his tub into 5 gallon bucket and took off the little pink lid.

I wasn't sure if he could leap out of the taller bucket, so I had Nick watch him while I went to dig up a worm for him to eat. Mmmm. Shrews eat a lot, I remembered, and I didn't want him to die on my watch. Nick was fidgety so I reiterated that he should observe and report. Staring silently at something would be good for him for a change.

"He's not dead, Mom!" he yelled. "He's moving a little!"

His voice must have vibrated the walls of that bucket. Poor little guy. I found an unsuspecting worm buried in the dirt and rolled him onto my shovel. There was no sense in handling more squishy gooey creatures than I needed to. As I walked up the hill, I realized that no shrew would be satisfied by a paltry worm this size. I'd have to work harder than this.  Nickie tried unsuccessfully to catch a butterfly for Shrewbert to eat.

Thanks to my trusty iPhone, we learned that a shrew's heart beats 700 times a minute and it eats up to three times its weight every day.  They can starve to death within five hours without sufficient food.  I'm glad I don't have to eat that much.  Shrews are carnivores and eat insects, slugs, worms, even small birds and mammals.  This one looked so small and soft but we didn't actually touch it to find out.  It didn't really look like it would attack a bird or another shrew.  Wow!  That would be a thing to see, don't you think?

So we left a large slug in the bucket with Shrewbert along with some grass clippings and the worm.  I kind of felt sorry for the slug and had wished we'd have been able to find a brown slug instead of a banana slug.  Banana slugs are native to our forest and the brown ones are exotics.  A ranger once told me to kill all the brown ones I found, but even so I can't make myself do it.  This banana slug was the size of a small snake, at least eight or nine inches long when we looked at him all stretched out.  He was at least three times the size of Shrewbert who was no bigger than a pecan in its shell.  We figured that slug would last Shrewbert until we got back from karate class.  On the way home Nickie hoped out loud that their battle hadn't gone too badly.  Mike and I decided that with Shrewbert's appetite, we needed to let him go as soon as we got home.

Well, it's hard to say just what happened, but Shrewbert was dead when we looked into his bucket.  Maybe it was the shock of being caught by the very loud humans.  Maybe it was a battle with a very large native slug who seemed fine.  Maybe Shrewbert wasn't very healthy to begin with since we were able to catch him so easily.  It was a sad moment for Nickie who had just wanted to keep him for a day or two, to watch him, and tell us what he liked to eat.

It was a very bad day for Shrewbert.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Family Fun Center at Tukwila

This morning, Nick and I drove some friends to the airport. So what then? I had thought we'd go out for breakfast on the way home. We didn't have any other plans and Nick wasn't hungry, so we decided to stop at the Family Fun Center. I knew that it would cost me, but Adrian was out of town and we needed to keep things interesting.

The coolest thing is that Nick is finally tall enough to drive a go-cart by himself. Okay, so it's cool for him and a little scary for me. In just four years, he'll be getting his learners permit. For his first run, he wanted me with him. I managed to take video with my camera just before and just after, but not during. I wanted to be able to see his face. He was grinning the whole time. The cool thing is that he's not reckless!

The second time he went, he wanted to go alone. He was still going around pretty carefully, though he said he scraped the wall once. At least I managed to video him that time, minus the part where he scraped. I missed that part.

After he had gotten his fill of his new driving freedom, Nick wanted to try these things that looked like sling shots on trampolines. Cool! So, Nick took a turn jumping while I called to him to try a flip. Then we both got on. I jumped as high as the roof of a second story building, but I never found the courage to flip. Well, okay, it was harder than it looked.

Then, Nick decimated the rest of our budget for the day by collecting tickets from games of chance and skee ball. I liked the skee ball. When we were done, Nick had enough tickets for a handful of mini ninjas and a swirly lollipop. The kids always like collecting those tickets, but I cringe to think of what the candy and a few toys the size of plastic army men actually cost me.

The best part about the day was leaping a small building in a single bound, with Nick. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boeing's Museum of Flight

After some quibbling and a few compromises, Nick and Adrian came to the conclusion that we should go to the Museum of Flight today. I had to threaten to make the decision myself if they couldn't figure it out.  I don't know why they didn't trust me to pick something fun to do. 

The boys weren't moving very quickly because of their sleepover, but I still made them help me get things ready to go.  We have a picnic basket that we fill up for outings. We bring it every time we're going anywhere good. The boys filled it with tuna salad, Bing cherries, strawberries, blueberries, a chocolate bar, canteens of water, and cartons of chocolate milk.  It was a feast and they dug in before we even got to I-90. 
After we got there, we wandered around aimlessly for a bit.  I wondered if we'd come too many times, but then we all started to get into it like the people around us.  I love seeing people who are excited about aeronautics.  We stand, reading placcards about the planes and stare at the elegant engines.  We crawl into cockpits to get our pictures taken.  We shuffle up to short lines and wait to play the games, landing the space shuttle or the lunar module.  It isn't just for kids, though Nick kept landing the space shuttle and I kept crashing it.  Go figure.

My favorite part is talking to the docents.  Many of them are retired Boeing employees and avid pilots.  I can almost see them imagining themselves breaking records and flying in space.  Maybe some of them have.  They love knowing details.  When we told one of them that Adrian liked to spend most of his flight simulator time upside-down, he told us that plane the plane for him would probably have been 'The Newsboy,' an old orange plane with yellow wings.  It broke a record for flying upside-down the farthest, going from Los Angeles to San Diego in the 1930s.

We watched Air Force One being polished to a high gloss by volunteers.  This isn't the current Air Force One, but the one that took Lyndon B. Johnson to Dallas after JFK was shot and later took Nixon to China. I like looking at the old IBM typewriter on board and imagining myself sitting there to type my next speech.  It really is too bad they can't let you sit at the President's desk.  That kind of thing is great for kids' minds.

After we looked at freeze-dried food and read about how astronauts relieve themselves in space, Adrian convinced me to go into the flight simulator with him.  He's flying better these days, so after waiting nervously in line, it was a relief that we only hung upside-down twice during our run.

Then, the boys decided they were hungry.  We always eat at the snack bar and they expected no less this time.  My stomach was still recovering from it's back flips, so I went for a simple garden salad. Nick ordered a pulled pork sandwich.  Oh man, that thing was good. I ended up mooching, but just a little.  Really.

Next, we spent almost an hour negotiating in the gift shop.  I understand moms who never dare to enter the gift shop zone.  I told the boys that I'd spend $7.00 on each of them and Nick, the master negotiator, spent his whole time asking for a bigger share instead of shopping and getting done.  That gift shop really does have some great gifts.  In the end, I told Nick that he could take a loan on Friday's allowance.  He's good.  He's really good. Maybe he should study law some day.

Both boys decided to spend their money at the machine that made dog tags. Adrian's motto was 'You're no good to me if you're dead.'  Nick's was 'Better alive than dead.'  On the way out, I tried to decide what my motto might be.  I'm too old to appreciate anything about being dead. The boys might throw something back at me like 'Use your brain,' or 'Do it now so I don't have to worry about it later.'  Nothing else I could think of sounded good, just stuff you'd find carved into a rock or printed on a cookie jar. 
On the way home, before the boys fell asleep, they spit cherries out the window.  I made them watch traffic so we didn't break any windshields or goober any nice paint jobs. 
It was a good day.  It always is when we go to the Museum of Flight.
Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Capturing Our Keystrokes

Someone is trying to steal our money.  They're working on stealing our identity too. 

Yes, if you're listening to my keystrokes as I type, you, you scumbag, do not deserve my money.  You don't deserve to see the sun, to breathe clean air.  You deserve to coil around in a poisonous vat of self-hatred.

You are a leech, a worm.   How does it feel to be a parasite, loathed by everyone around you?

I just want to know - would your mother be proud of you? Do you have that inner glow that you are the person you were always meant to become? No?

Mike found evidence of phishing on our computer, keystroke capture.  That means that when we used the Internet, everything we typed went into a packet and was sent somewhere else.  Then, they decoded it for information they wanted, like credit card numbers and other supporting information.

It makes me think of the time I was forced to share an office with a man who listened in on my conversations and read my journals.  I finally called him an asshole in my journal and immediately, his attitude changed dramatically.  I don't know if he stopped reading it, so I put some nasty comments about him in there once in a while.  He didn't talk to me much after that.  From then on, I was very careful about my private information while I was on the phone and I took my notebook with me everywhere except to the bathroom.  Why do people have to be like that?

Identity theft is a scary prospect.  This weekend, we checked our credit reports.  They looked okay.  Still, I've typed lots of personal data on my computer, feeling the false security of sitting in my quiet home as I work.  If you think in terms of keystroke capture, there is no other time when numerals add up to 16 except for a credit card.  Phone numbers are eleven digits. Social security numbers are nine.  Zip codes are five.  You'd think that the credit card companies could foil some of the thieves by varying the number of digits on credit cards.

These people captured two credit card numbers and part of our address.  We know about the credit cards because our credit card company is great.  They have created heuristics that 'guess' when our card is used for things we don't normally buy.  During a week that I ordered two shirts, shorts, pants and a pair of shoes, they froze my credit when what looked like another pair of shoes came through on my card. 

I called the card's 800 number and talked to a woman on the phone.  She went through details with me and we figured out that I was going to have to get a new credit card.  She was great and I told her how much I appreciated that their heuristics could catch this problem.  A week later, I got some orthotics in the mail, the result of the phishing.  They have part of our address.  Crap!  I almost sent the package back, but I decided not to.  What if that correction on our address had a way to get back to the parasites trying to piece together our data to steal more from us?

Then, Mike's card was frozen.  There were two charges that weren't ours.  One of the charges went through.  The people at the credit card company said that they had our address even though they didn't have the three digit code on the back of the card, so they let it go through.  Don't do us any more favors like that, if you don't mind.

So now, even though I think we've eliminated the phishing software on our computer, I'm never going to enter all of my information on the computer in order again. I don't like shopping, so I love using the Internet to buy things.  Why is it that someone has to come along and ruin that?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Curing My Reluctant Reader

I'm always on the lookout books my boy would enjoy reading. After all the pressure from school, he Nick has become what they call 'a reluctant reader.'. It didn't have to be this way. He loves stories. Either Mike or I have read to him before bed almost every night since he was born. He says he wants to be grown up, but he can't sleep without his story.

School hasn't changed that, but he started slowly in school. They got all fired up about it and we pushed Nick and now he doesn't like to read. If there was ever a time I would like to go back in time and change something, it would be this. I would not have pushed Nick. I would have spent a little more time sitting to read with him and I would have told Nick to relax, that the reading would come. Oh, hindsight.

So now, Nick has a few books he has liked: the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, 'Into the Wild,' the first in the series about cat warriors, Eragon, and the Percy Jackson books.

Right now I'm listening to 'Evil Star,' the second book in Anthony Horowitz's Raven's Gate books. I also grabbed a book Nick gave me before we went to camp, 'Point Blank,' also by Horowitz. Sometimes Nick gives me things he doesn't really want. Here's my problem -I'm trying to stop reading this book so I can read it with Nick when we get done with our current book. I think I'll end up reading lots of Anthony Horowitz in the next few weeks.

And I'm hoping that if anyone can undo the damage I've done to create my reluctant reader, maybe Horowitz can.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lights Out at Camp Brinkley

I feel like the last one here in our pack to be done with all of the zipping and adjusting for the night. Zippers and Velcro are not quiet. I am finally snuggled in and can listen to the sounds. We're close to the lake, so there are bullfrogs singing. They sound like donkeys braying. A fire in the nearest Adirondack is crackling. It's a nice sound, but I'm not sure the kids need the extra heat even though the buildings are open on one side.

It rained today and little bugs are congregating under my tarp. I'll use the bug net on my bivy sack tonight.

I can hear crickets even though summer's far from over and I smell wet canvas from Nick and Mike's tent in front of me. Nick was so tired he fell right to sleep. I hope Mike will sleep too. If all the walking won't do the job, then maybe the early-morning plunge into the cold lake might have helped. I took the test too and was out of breath the whole way from the first gasp when I jumped in. It was about sixty-five today, not the best weather for swimming. Still, I thought I'd take the test as support for Nickie who is very proud that he passed the swimmer level. Mike said the same thing so he took the plunge too.  The things you do for your kids ...

Now, I can hear that the guy one tent over is snoring. It isn't too loud. I don't hear Mike yet. I hope I will.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Choosing a Book

In two days, Nick, Mike and I are going to Cub Scout camp.  I love camp Brinkley but first I have to put myself through the gauntlet of packing. I'm starting to think of what laundry to put in and how I should clean the house so it will be nice to sit in and be tired in when we get back. I probably won't clean.  I'll be too busy.  The overall question for any event requiring me to pack is to figure out what book I will bring.

Today, I was at the library and I know perfectly well that I won't bring a library book when I go away, especially when I'm going to camp. Oh, and you should know that it's supposed to rain for the next week. Now, that by itself isn't so bad. I have a good Goretex raincoat and I can dress in layers. But I'd hate for my book to get wet. Regardless, I picked up three books at the library today, including 'The Summer Without Men' by Siri Hustvedt which I had supposed might be a love story based on the title. I should have read the author's bio. It sounded much too serious to be a fluff book. The main character, Mia, is coming out of a psych ward after her husband asks for a 'pause' in their relationship. After reading six pages, I'm drawn in despite myself.  The next book was 'An Echo in the Bone,' by Diana Gabaldon since my friend Marty keeps telling people at quilt night how much she loves the series.  I figure that if I like this one, I can always go back and start from the beginning.  The third book I brought home from the library that I'm not bringing to camp is 'My Name is Memory,' by Ann Brashares.  I liked the title.

The book I was reading when I walked into to library isn't bad either. It's called 'A Passionate Girl,' by Thomas Fleming. It's an historical novel beginning in Ireland and traveling to America just after the civil war. I know I intend to finish this book since I love learning history through novels. So why couldn't I be satisfied with that one book for the next four days?

It's something of the question of what three books you would bring to a desert island if you knew you would be stranded there for the rest of your life, only on a minor scale. My problem is that I seldom reread any book so I need to start with a new book with some pretty heavy recommendations. So I need to read the first part of three or four books before I can decide and even then, I'll most likely pack two or three books and maybe a book of poetry just so I'm not stuck without something good to read. 

In addition to all of that, I have a book I need to exchange at Borders tomorrow and there I become open to an entirely new selection of books. I don't really NEED to exchange this book tomorrow, but I could and that would be fun.

Then, there's my bookshelf in the living room, full of books that I have not yet read. Despite my best efforts to make space on it for Mike's movies, it remains full of exciting possibilities for a four day outing. There's 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,' which has called out to me since my dad tried to talk to my mother about it when I was ten. My mother took us to the library once a week, but she never checked out any of her own.  My dad was fascinated by this book, but to tell you the truth, it intimidates me a bit.

There are a couple of books on my shelf by David Quammen. Oh, I have loved David Quammen ever since he wrote about the merits of earth worms in his book, 'The Flight of the Iguana.'  Science really can be funny.

Then there's my copy of 'Dublin' by Edward Rutherfurd. That might go well with my Irish historical novel. I could finish Roald Dahl's 'Boy' which I can't believe I missed when I was a kid. Oh, there are too many good titles on my shelf to name. Why do I keep bringing books home from the store and the library when I have so much at home to read? Well, what is your home if not that island you choose to be stranded upon?  If I read all of my books, then what will I read when it is raining and I don't want to go out?  I'll need more than three to choose from when that happens.

And I have to admit that I'm plagued by my favorite question that I ask of my book-lover friends. "What are you reading?" I ask them and of course they answer and there is another whole list of books I could read on my desert island. That is why there are leaning towers of books next to my recliner and why I can't pick just one book any time I go away to Cub Scout camp for four days.

Packing is just so complicated.

Thank you for listening, jb

Snacks Before Dinner

When I was a kid, my mother never let us have snacks before dinner.  Dinner was promptly at 5:15, but on days when there was no more than a glass of milk after school, it was a misery.  Now I know that what made that wait so difficult was my low blood sugar.  I felt jittery, sweaty, and I couldn't think clearly enough to add 2+2. 

So, even though it's hard to make a snack before dinner while I'm trying to make dinner, I try to say yes to Nick when he has the same problem.  And he does have the same problem.  His first grade teacher, an inexperienced woman with no patience, used to feed him a junky snack at 10:00am and complain that at 11:30, he wasn't focused on his work.  I'd been putting some jerky in his lunchbox just for that purpose, but she wouldn't let him get it.  Then, she chided him in front of the class that he had too much in his lunch and he came home crying because I needed to change what I made for him. (She is also one of those teachers who doesn't let kids go to the bathroom when they need to.  The problem with that is that she gets mad at the kids when they have an accident.) Once we figured out Nick's problem with sugar, we got a doctor to write a letter to the school nurse who forced the teacher to give Nick his protein snack.   Thankfully, Nick has had thoughtful and patient teachers for the next three years. 

It really is hard to make dinner and a snack at the same time.  Tonight, I was working on chicken parmesan when Nick made his usual call from the living room. 

"I'm hungry, Mom," he yelled.

"Why don't you get something to eat," I yelled back.  "I'm working on dinner.  It should be done soon."  When Nick isn't too far gone, this works, but he was too far gone and wouldn't come look for himself.

'Here's my chance,' I thought.  I put the chicken down and washed my hands.  Then, I looked into the fridge and started listing some foods he could eat, the healthy and mostly quick foods: a salad, carrots, Brussels sprouts, Rainier cherries, blueberries, a banana, or cheese curds.  I recited the list to him.

"Can I have Brussels sprouts, cherries, and a banana with sun butter?" he asked. 

"Any chance you can wash the cherries while I put sun butter on your banana?" I asked him.  He washed the cherries.  I guess I was pushing my limits when I asked him to trim the Brussels sprouts.  Yup, pushing the limit.  He was ready to cry, too hungry to add 2+2. 

"You go eat your banana and your cherries, okay?" I said. I put the Brussels sprouts on to steam.  They were seasoned and eaten within ten minutes.  The chicken parmesan was done in forty-five minutes.  Mike noticed that Nick didn't eat much dinner, but didn't say anything to me until after Nick went to bed.  I told him about the Brussels sprouts, cherries, and banana with sun butter.

"That explains a lot," he said and went back to reading his book.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making Apple Pie Together

In about an hour and a half, all of us are going to a Cub Scout meeting.  Since it's a long meeting, they decided to make it a potluck and Mike volunteered me to make apple pie.  I think he was hoping I'd make him one too. 

I just got done in the kitchen. Well, I still have to wipe the counter and clean my Tupperware pie mat, but all of the pies are in and they smell delicious.  Usually when I'm making pie, I put on an audiobook or some loud music, but today I didn't.  Nick was working with me the whole time, peeling and cutting apples, and chatting away.  Much better than music. 

"Do you think I'd make a good chef?" he asked.

I know his sense of taste.  From a very young age, he's surprised me with his taste for food.  He likes artichokes, raw oysters, asparagus, and crab.  Sometimes, he asks to go out for sushi.  I'm sure the conveyor belt has something to do with his fascination with the place.  I remember the way he seasoned my spaghetti sauce once when he was only four, stirring, tasting, and dumping in copious amounts of oregano, basil, and locatelli.  I never added that much oregano or cheese.  It was delicious.  I know how picky he is about the taste of bottled water.  Mike has that same fine sense of taste that I don't have.  I always let him season the stew.  More often than I used to, I rely on Nick for tasting.  He loves being my taste tester.  When Nick was just beginning to taste food as an infant, I'd let him smell my different spices, cinnamon, curry, allspice, sage, basil, whatever I could find.  He liked the smelling game.

"You'd make a great chef," I told him as I rolled out a pie crust.  I don't usually like making more than one apple pie because of all the peeling and cutting.  I asked Nick to help because my hands hurt before I even started.  Nick is still high on his right to use a sharp knife.  He's very careful and has never cut himself.  He peeled and cut fifteen apples, all the while chatting about how he was going to share his sugar-free pie, how he'd enjoy working in a restaurant, how he thinks there should be a toy company that makes action figures to order. 

Now, Nick and I are practically in agony because the smell is permeating the house.  Here's my apple pie secret:  I add more cinnamon than most people use plus I also use a bit of ground ginger.  I also use a mixture of butter and lard in my crust.  So now you know.  Together, we made three large pies and three small ones.  I think Nick is going to eat one of the small ones all by himself.  I know that Nick will get a lot of good attention when Mike tells the Cub Scout folks that he's hugely responsible for their pie.  It was a productive day in the kitchen, don't you think?

Thank you for listening, jb

Hiking the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie

This morning, I read about paddling the Six Carries route in the Adirondacks.  It made me jump up and read it out loud to Mike as he was taking a shower.  I'm not sure he appreciates that kind of thing, but when he heard that it was about a place he knew and loved, it was okay.  Check it out, Musings, a blog that I really enjoy about being on the water.  I think that got me going, so after letting the boys hang out at home for two days this week, I was done with just sitting around.  I needed to get out.

Mike looked through our handy copy of 'Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Region,' one of the Mountaineers guide books.  It's great since we get tired of hiking in the same old places.  Our friend Alan Bauer is the photographer. I have never even seen a wild cat out in the woods and yet he has a picture in the book of a sleepy bobcat sunning itself on a rock. He must be an early dawn, quiet hiker.

It was a bumpy, dusty drive to get to the trailhead, but it was worth it from the very beginning.

The trail ran parallel with the river for a bit.  Mike nodded while I picked an imaginary route through a set of rapids before telling me, very sweetly, that we would never have paddled at this level even on one of our better days.  He was always better at reading the water than me. Here's what he said - "This part of the river doesn't lend itself to an open boat." Is that diplomatic or what?

About the time the trail moved off from the river, there were steep cliffs on our right.  I wondered if there were mountain goats on those sheer walls, but mosquitoes swarmed the minute I paused to look, so we kept moving.  I'll bet Alan Bauer doesn't even notice mosquitoes when he's taking his pictures.

It got late because we'd started late, but we didn't want to turn around just yet.  There were views we could see through the trees of mountains still covered in snow.  There is all this glory within an hour's drive of home.  I try never to get too used to it.  Finally, we admitted that we needed to turn around.

On the way back, I got nettled on my foot because I hadn't bothered to change from my Crocs into hiking shoes.  Hey, even for this short hike, I had seven of the Cub Scouts ten essentials, yet I didn't have socks.  The essentials are a whistle, a map, a compass, food, water, rain gear, a pocket knife, matches, sunscreen, and a first aid kit. The only one I regretted was not having was a map.  Nick laughingly told me I could rub a slug on my nettled spot.  A ranger had once told him that slug slime has a natural analgesic that will take away the sting.  I don't see myself doing that even if it wouldn't freak out the slug.  I've made peace with the multitude of slugs in this area.  They don't bite.  They don't growl.  I used the back side of a sword fern instead.  It works, though Nick said that the slug slime works better. 

We got back to the river and walked out on a large flat rock at its edge.  Nick and Mike snacked on the food from my pack, leaving a small can of tomato juice for me.  Nick drank from my canteen with his mouth full.  Ew.  'It's all yours,' I thought.  If we'd been going further, we'd each have had a canteen and more than Corn Nuts and turkey jerky to eat.  A couple of years ago, I bought five Kleen Kanteens and I've been having trouble keeping track of them ever since.  They go everywhere with us, to school, on errands, on bike rides, to karate, to snowboard lessons, and even on hikes.  Mike has banged the bottom back into a couple of them so they'll stay standing on a flat surface.

Then, as the sun got lower on the water, we headed back down the trail.  We dawdled, not wanting the day to be over, picking and eating salmonberries along the way and spitting off the bridge into the water. 

Life is good, don't you think?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 8, 2011

Traveling Vicariously

I had hoped I'd never blog about blogging, but I have to tell you this: I absolutely LOVE the way my stats tell me what countries all of you hail from.  You see, I haven't been so lucky to have traveled as much as I would like.  Let's just say that, given an opportunity to live in another country, I'd do it, but Mike wouldn't.  Mike is a homebody. 

Here's the lowdown on my traveling.  I've been to 48 states minus Hawaii and Louisiana.  It feels as if I've left two of the most interesting ones for last.  Can you believe that I've been to all of those states in the middle?  Well, when you're born in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky are destination points.  Really. I mean, Chicago? Obviously.  The great lakes wrapping Michigan are amazing, especially to a little girl who had never seen an ocean.  Ohio has Six Flags Great Adventure and mountains on its East side.  And Kentucky wins with my favorite camping experiences at Rough River Reservoir near Louisville.

Growing up in Indiana, I loved the way the dawn was purple over golden corn stubble through my grandma's kitchen window.  I loved that you could see a whole farm on a hillside, all painted red with white trim.  I loved the way you could walk through the forest, hearing the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. 

I lived in New Jersey for ten years.  I miss the Great Swamp, the hundred year old mansion where I had an apartment, the care given to tiny lawns.  I miss bagels and pizza and Taylor ham.  I miss the people, forthright and family oriented.  In my twenties, I was adopted by two families in New Jersey and I could walk through their doors today and find a home. 

Now, I'm home in the Pacific Northwest.  It's wet and cool here.  It suits me, all the green that comes from weather like this.  I love that Mt Rainier seems to float on a cloud, that Mt. Baker is a perfect cone shape, that the Olympics lie over water.  I love all the water around here.  I love the gold and pink glow of the sunset when it's clear.

As for the rest of my list, the countries I've visited is intolerably short.  I've been to Canada, the Bahamas, Antigua, and Ireland.  Yes, it is a very small list, but I'll tell you that each one of these places is amazing.  There's a story in every one of these trips that I hope to tell you sometime.

I went through a phase during which I read travel books and history from places where I wanted to go.  I read about trying to ride a train in China, about living in Tuscany, about pianos in Paris, and about the history of Dublin.  I live vicariously, imagining myself at an outdoor cafe in France, sipping espresso.  Sometimes I studied the art and food from a particular place in hopes of going there and getting the full experience.  And I talk to the people I know who have returned from a place, almost reluctant to feel the longing I have to go there as well.

So the stats for my blog feed my imagination.  I admit that I google images from the places that show up there.  The beaches, the canals, the mountains, and, oh yes, the castles.  I ache to visit these places.  Today, my blog was visited by someone in South Africa.  Our pharmacist is from South Africa.  She's the best.  One day, I got to playing with Google Earth while I waited in line for her.  When it was my turn, she showed me her house.  It was a beautiful, a coastal area.  She said she grew up swimming every day.  Can you imagine that?

I love my list twenty-one countries from which people have stopped by to read.  I imagine one day going to each place on this list and I will see beaches and mountains and homes.  But best of all, I'll talk to people.  I love talking to people, and there, I'll find the heart of the countryside.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Just an Hour to Myself

I'm having a tea latte at Tully's. Now, here's what I like about Tullys- the baristas are very sweet and remember my particular drink, a no-syrup, breve, bag-in fireside chai tea latte in my mug, which slightly larger than a grande. According my my ex-barista friend (as opposed to an ex-friend barista), I should ask for a no-fun-pain-in-the-ass-not-even-coffee latte. I figure that if I'm paying Nick and Adrian's babysitter $13/hour, I should order just what I want.

Most kids Nick's age chafe at the term 'babysitter.' Not Nick or Adrian. Just one mention of the word and they're jumping up and down. 'What am I, chopped liver?' I think. I have always hired boys to babysit my boy. The best one yet is this boy, Brad. He's usually pretty sweaty when I get home. He drives to the house on time, cooks lunch, and is going to do some desperately needed yard work as well. Today, the boys spent an hour and a half hanging a tarp in the living room in preparation for their 'Nerf war to end all Nerf wars.' They really know their taut line hitches now. The last time Brad came over, I couldn't figure out why the printer wouldn't work. It had a Nerf bullet stuck down in it. An easy fix for Mike.

So, the boys have been spared an hour at the grocery store, I'm sitting here enjoying my latte, and I'm pretty sure Nick and Adrian will have gotten some exercise when I get home. Ah, life is good, isn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Doing Nothing All Day

So, am I crazy?  I'm letting the boys do absolutely nothing today.  It's gorgeous outside, though Mike said it's really hot in town.  It's cool in here.  Having a house deep in the forest does that for you.  If it gets really hot and we're not going anywhere, we can go downstairs where it's a constant 65 degrees.  So far, I'm cool enough.  I just took my hoodie off and had been snuggled up on the couch with a blanket and a book before I got up.  Can you believe I'm reading another Katie MacAlister novel?  I just love that woman's books.  It's candy.  This one is one of her older ones, 'A Girl's Guide to Vampires.'  I'm nearly at the end and still enjoying it.

I know I should just tell the boys to turn the video games off, but they've had no time to make those decisions for themselves lately.  We've been on the run from one fun and energetic event to the next.  I tried to tell them that they needed to get some exercise, but I'm not looking forward to the hot and sweaty either.  Even though it seems a waste of an amazing day, I'm going to let it go.  If they start to argue over the games which they do when they're bored, I'll set them up playing war with their squirt guns or washing the car with lots of bubbles.  I miss the days with Nickie when all I had to do was fill the big old tin tub full of water and set out the sun tea to brew.  He'd sit in that tub full of water with his Star Wars toys for hours while I fetched snacks for him and soaked my feet in between.

They've turned off the video games by themselves! Yay!  Now, we'll see if we can get them outside and playing in the water. 

Can you tell that I like to play in the water?  I just spent twenty minutes flushing out the tin planter on the deck.  A couple of years ago, the plant in it died.  After a couple of rains, I saw that the chickadees liked to cling to the dead stick and wait in line to take a bath in the shallow pool of water.  I've been filling it ever since, occasionally flushing the dead leaves and algae out of it. They were very excited and made a lot of noise as I put fresh cool water in their tub.  I love watching them line up for their turn.  Chickadees seem so civilized, but they're not.  Back before we had rodent problems, I used to feed them.  They got into the habit of chattering at me and pecking on the window whenever their feeder was empty. They even pecked at Adrian's window.  They are just little pigs with wings, but I like them.

So, the verdict was that the boys needed to build a large play fort in the living room.  They've taken all of my clothes pins, pillows, blankets, and chairs except the one I'm weighing down myself.  They're dressed in normal regalia.

They must be tired because they're playing at going to sleep.  Ha!  That's what biking, tennis, swimming, and Wild Waves will do for you.  Maybe we'll take a sunset bike ride when Mike gets home from work.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sliding at Wild Waves

It's a beautiful day at Wild Waves! We played the 'styles' game in the wave pool. That involves letting the wave hit you while you pose, warrior style, ballerina style, soldier style. It's warm in the water, so there's a chill when you get out. Rough life, huh?

We got season tickets early, so we only have to come three times to make it pay for itself, even with Mike's corporate discount. If we'd gotten them in March, it would have been less than half the cost of season passes now. The coupon book will encourage some moms to join us when we tell them we can get someone in for free.

We had never been on the four-man raft ride. Whew! It started down before I was even in and Mike said he almost flew out a couple of times. I was really gripping to stay put. The boys loved it so much we had to go again.

I love the lazy river. Just hang on and float around until you're tired of floating. It's good for the younger kids, but there's still a current, so Adrian made me pretty nervous a couple of years ago when he was eight. He's still not a strong swimmer, so I'm hoping his mom will let me take him to lessons at Mt Si pool in August. Nick can always use a refresher too.

I'm surprised that they haven't gone down the single long tubes. I like the yellow tube. It spins a lot. They are still nervous because they just started going down them late last summer.

So, I asked a kid lifeguard when the toilet bowl was going to open up. He didn't even blink at the name I used. You can imagine what it looks like! I don't know what they're naming it, but Mike hopes it's called 'Flushed.' The kid lifeguard said next week is the date as long as the health inspection goes well. I'm kind of glad to know there's a health inspector. I remember a small tube slide in Indiana that smelled like pee near the top. So even without the mom thing, I would have appreciated a health inspector there. And while they're at it, maybe they can condemn the stairwells to the subway in NYC.

So, I'm off to the wavepool! Then, I'm going to twirl around in the yellow tube. I look forward to being flushed next week. See you at the bottom!

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our Tattooed Friend

Well, we had a good time at our friends' house for the Fourth of July.  Summer celebrating is in full swing and the cats are all jazzed up from the popping and zinging fireworks going off outside.  We live in the middle of nowhere and still, it's loud. 

Tonight, we talked about tattoos.  Four of us were left sitting around the patio table while the boys rode their bikes in the dark in the culdesac.  I was just saying that I hoped the tattoo phase would pass by the time our boys got to be old enough to get one when our host, Alex, said, "I have tattoos."  I hate that feeling when I've insulted someone just by opening my mouth.  I do that a lot. 

"No way, you do not," I actually said.  Then he peeled his sleeve up to show us a beautifully shaded and tattooed dragon.  He had what looked like an octopus on the other shoulder too.  He said it wasn't finished, but it was detailed and amazing to look at.  I wanted to look at it closer, but it felt so personal.  I actually had to pull my finger back from touching it.

Oh, I had thought about getting a tattoo when I was in my twenties, but couldn't imagine sitting still while someone came at me with a sewing machine with a loaded needle set to stun.  Plus, I could never think of a design that I could live with all my life.  The only places that I imagined aging well were on my ankle and maybe a toe ring, and they told me those bony places really hurt.  I never went with my friends when they got theirs.  There was also that AIDS thing that came up about that time and it was a clincher: no tattoo for me.  I'm glad, really.  That butterfly would look pretty saggy on my veiny thigh now. 

Still, maybe I could get my varicose veins turned into some kind of tattoo. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Biking and Tennis at Seward Park

My back is sending me little signals of distress and I'm ready for bed at only 9:10pm.  I'm not good with high impact sports, but it turned into such a beautiful day.  Mike, Nick and I met up with Adrian and his mom to bike at Seward Park.  First, the boys found a tennis court and noodled around on it for a while.  Adrian was excited about showing his mom his new skills.  We ended up playing for an hour and a half, three on two.  Adrian really wanted his mom on his team. I figure that we needed three more people to make four people per side.  It might have been good to have at least four more for off-sides too since we were playing any ball that made it over the net. I like that kind of tennis.

There are two kinds of tennis players.  I am the kind of person that likes when everyone works to make the volley long and exciting.  I've never been good enough at tennis to try for that corner shot or the thing I see whenever I watch Wimbledon, the way a good player can run the other player from side to side, front to back.  I figure I'm entitled since I'm old and I was banned by my surgeon from playing tennis when I was twenty-four after back surgery.  Yes, I'm doing great with my back after all of these years. Thank you.

Boy, some of those balls were hit like a baseball after a home-run swing.  One of them actually made it through the narrow opening of the gate and rolled down into Lake Washington.  It's one of the hazards of playing too near a lake, but the beauty was worth the cost of a ball.  Plus, I figured some Labrador Retriever out there was going to be very happy.  About half way through our 'game,' the sun came out like it meant it.  Weather doesn't get any better than this - 72 degrees, no humidity, and sunny. 

What was fun about playing was to see both boys start to get the feel for the volley.  Nick could get the ball headed in a tall arc toward Mike, and Adrian, close to the net, sent low fast zingers into the corner that neither Mike or I could touch.  It was great.  I will never get better at this game, but I could see these two boys thriving on a high school tennis team.  Potential.  I love that feel of all that potential.  Plus, we were all really enjoying ourselves. 

After a water break, we decided that we brought the bikes all the way out here and we'd better ride them.  It was a little dicey getting from the parking lot to the trail because drivers were stalking people for parking spots and the boys don't have much practice with cars.  We passed the Audubon Center, the playground with the great zip-line, sand box, and fort.  We went on through some picnics that people had set up practically in the middle of the pavement.  The trail started off very busy and narrow, but widened as we rode around the peninsula.  There were fewer people too.  I rode, trying to watch a swimmer in a wetsuit brave the choppy water.  That kind of swimming always amazes me, but at least this person was within a few yards of the shore.  The open water is too dangerous with all the boats going back and forth.  On the North end of the peninsula, a breeze was coming in over the water and I actually got cool.  There was a narrow beach there and I imagined it would be a great place to watch the Blue Angels in August when they come for Seafair. 

I was looking out over the water.  Nickie still hasn't figured out that you can't just stop abruptly in front of another person and I almost rode over him when he stopped.  I screeched and a bunch of people looked around.  Adrian, ahead of us, stopped. 

"Mom, I used the stop signal," he said.  We'd been working on hand signals on real streets.  The thing is that he's not comfortable letting go of the handlebars of his big bike and does them really quickly, so I didn't see his signal.  Really, a slow stop would have done it, but he stops fast, almost skidding out.  We  got started again and, in about twenty minutes, had looped all the way around.  We got to the parking lot and decided to go back the way we came to double the trip.  It isn't a long bike ride, just two and a half miles one way.  It was nice to see that they'd closed off the road that ran along the lake up to the arboretum.  Maybe next time, we'll try doing that. 

When we got back, we walked around.  We looked in the window of the Audubon Center, got some ice cream, and walked the trails to see what native plants they had marked.  Okay, so I just mooched a couple of licks from Mike's ice cream, but it was enough to get the flavor.  Mike needed to scope out the location for the Outdoorsman pin for our Cub Scouts.  The boys need to visit a Nature Center and though there are other ones, we've visited them way too often for the boys to learn anything new.  If we had a den meeting here, we could roast some hot dogs, ride the trail, swim, check out the nature center, get ice cream, and walk the trail where they'd labeled the native plants.  Nickie thought that they'd mislabeled the vine maple.  I think he might have been right.  I didn't see a vine maple.  Ah, there's nothing like a little imperfection in an otherwise perfect day.

When we left, we needed food.  I had packed a bag with Fritos, bottles of water, carrots sticks, blueberries, and ham sandwiches, but we had eaten enough of that and were hungry for real food.  We stopped on the corner of Wilson and Dawson and ate at Bent Burgers.  The place had some great art on the walls, comics lining the tables, and in the bathroom, every inch of the walls were covered in more comics.  There were cool orange booths and a guy driving me nuts by making milk shakes, 'thick like a clogged artery' as he put it.  The guys ate, guess what, burgers and I had my usual salad.  I was a little disappointed in the salad since the lettuce was all shredded like it should be put on a sandwich.  Well, what did I expect?  The burgers were good, but you should know that they made these yam fries that were absolutely delicious.  We ordered more, they were so good. 

It wasn't long before we were back home and I was napping in my recliner with my favorite orange cat on my lap.  Poor Buddy - he doesn't get to be on my lap when I write these notes, but he also doesn't get his lap time when we're off gallivanting around the countryside either.  Summer stinks for a cat that just wants to snuggle.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Playing with Fireworks and Missing the Wars

The Fourth of July is my husband's excuse for spending a couple of hundred dollars on fireworks.  There are bright packages with names like Smoke Bombs, Roman Candles, Smoke Grenades, Lightening Flash, Impact Zone, Air Caps, Urban Assault Vehicle, Night Watch, Argol Shells, Blue Crazy, and TNT fountain. They sound violent, but they're usually only loud and bright.  There's the tricky bit about lighting them and running.  Once when I was a kid, I lit a bottle rocket and it fell over.  It went off as I ran away, whizzing past my knees toward a group of women who were sitting in lawn chairs.  Except for one woman who fell sideways and spilled her Coke trying to get out of the way, there were no casualties.  Mike likes this kind of excitement, but other than a collection of military video games, the  man who has not a single violent bone in his body.  Sometimes I wonder if he'd been in the military, if he'd like fireworks as much as he does. 

It's a blessing to have lived a life so far without really knowing a single person who has died in a war.  My great uncle Joe was headed to Normandy in 1944, but didn't leave with his platoon because he broke his leg playing football the night before they were deployed. He didn't like talking about that. Every single man in his platoon died there.  He lived a good life, worked hard, and raised two daughters.  He was about as kind and placid a man as you'd ever meet and I'm glad he survived long enough to go fishing and camping with me and my grandpa. 

One of my grandpas had a lazy eye and I'm sure that kept him out of the military during WWII, but I'm not sure why the other wasn't involved.  My dad was too young for the Korean war.  In college, he was ROTC, but not enlisted.  By the time the Vietnam war began, he had already worked as as an civilian engineer for the Navy for three years.  I'm not sure if this exempted him from the draft or if he was low on the list because he was twenty-eight by then.  My brother and Mike were too old for the Gulf War and on different career tracks by then.

Nickie was a toddler when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began.  From the age of four, Nickie was certain that he was going to be a soldier.  He's written biographies in school about generals, George Pershing and Colin Powell.  He reads military history books.  What nine year old does this?  I listened to him carefully, tried to tell him that it was a very difficult time for a man to be a soldier for the United States.  He was so adamant that finally, I began to believe him and talk to him about going to college and becoming an officer instead of enlisting right out of high school. 

Even though I marched among tens of thousands against initiating the Iraq War, I have a great deal of respect for our soldiers.  They work hard, are underpaid, don't have medical care that they deserve when they return home, and sometimes are forced extend their tour of duty.  I was worried that the circumstances would be the same or worse by the time Nick got old enough to enlist.  He even talked to a recruiter.  This guy was great.  He came to talk to the Cub Scouts and was like a stand-up comic/inspirational speaker.  He told me that Nick's asthma might keep him out of service, which was a relief to me, but saddened Nick.  I tried to be encouraging anyway, telling Nick that he still had time before the cutoff.

Now a soldier's circumstances have changed.  The wars are still going, but they're reduced in size and I think the stress on the soldiers is reduced as well.  I'm hoping their pay and medical care is improving, but I haven't heard much about that.  So it got a little easier to encourage Nick.  He used to tell me that his karate lessons were preparing him to become a soldier.  'Oh please no,' I used to think, but I learned to keep my mouth shut.  Nick is a very determined boy when he decides to do something.

About six months ago, Nick and I were talking about Colin Powell and I was trying to be encouraging about Nick's chosen path.  "Mom," he said, "I don't want to be in the Army after all.  I think I'll be an engineer like Dad.  I might even design weapons.  Didn't Grandpa design weapons?"

"I think so, hon, but I'm not sure.  His work was classified," I told him.  My eyes almost filled with tears of relief, but I didn't want him to see.  I've never been to a war zone, but I can imagine it well enough.  When General Sherman said 'War is hell,' I believe he was right.  I'm not sure that my boy doesn't still dream of entering a battle, gun to gun, fist to fist.  And I have the typical response of mothers through time.  Please, not my boy.

And with that in mind, I will enjoy the lights and sounds of 'the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting midair.'  I've been lucky to have lived through peace, hard earned by other mothers.  I won't stand there watching and take that for granted.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 1, 2011

Growing Up or Growing Old?

So why is it that kids have all the fun and parents aren't supposed to noodle around in the pool?  We're supposed to sit beside the pool with a book or perhaps swim laps while the kids do back flips and play underwater tricks and stand on their hands.

Why is it that, after getting all of the bikes on the trucks, I'm stuck either doing a boring power walk with a mom who doesn't like biking or we have to sit on picnic table and chat?  I'm really tired of chatting.  I want to see if I can go so fast it's like flying. 

Why is it that you can only run and skip with your grocery cart when you've got a kid in the basket?  I'm supposed to be serious and walk sedately with my cart. 

Lately, I haven't spent nearly enough time with my friend, Susie, who likes rollerblading, hiking, cross-country skiing, and kayaking. We have a New Year's rollerblading tradition of Christmas caroling on Christmas eve on the paved trail by the slough.  Sometimes there's too much snow.  Sometimes, it's too cold and we postpone to New Year's Eve.  We didn't get to go this past Christmas because of snow and then she had a bad cold on New Year's.  I'm kind of afraid of being on my Rollerblades since Nick grew out of his jogger stroller, so I told her I didn't mind.  The jogger stroller was so solid to hold onto when I wasn't well balanced on my skates.  I am 51 years old after all. 

But I miss Susie.  If she said we'd get on bikes, we'd ride as fast as the wind.  She might do back flips in the pool with me, and if we were grocery shopping, she'd skip alongside me in the parking lot, cart or no cart.

Thank you for listening, jb