Friday, August 26, 2011

Not Quite On a Horse Again

I'm tired by now.  Today, we got out of the house by 10:15 am to go up to Stillwater Ranch to try out horseback riding near Sultan.  After my last time on a horse, I knew I wasn't up for riding longer than an hour and a half.  Mike wasn't going to make it past two hours, so we took a pass on the horses and sent Nick and Adrian out with our friends from out of town.  It was fun setting them up to go.

On the way there Mike told Adrian that he was going to ride a horse named Devil's Pitchfork.  Then we made up names for everyone's horses, coming up with names for the most ornery horses you could imagine.  Devil's Pitchfork was the best.  So when we met Dalton and I said that Adrian was all ready to ride Devil's Pitchfork, he just nodded and smiled.  Then Adrian started thinking that it was a real horse and got a little nervous about the ride.  He ended up on a gentle painted horse named Titan.  Nick was on Katie.  Katie liked to find places on the hitching post to scratch.  Heather, one of the wranglers, gave the safety talk.  It was a lot like what I'd heard before, but she showed more what you could do by demonstrating it on a horse.  I liked that.  The boys were nervous, so they listened pretty carefully. 

Mike took pictures as they rode off.  I love the pictures Mike takes. Maybe he took our Christmas picture today.  Maybe not.  We didn't get to take pictures down at the Big K Ranch when we rode because we were all riding.

Once they were on their way, Mike and I headed into Sultan to find the bakery that the ranch had hired to make their sandwiches.  The Sultan Bakery was busy when we walked in.  It was no wonder.  The bread they used for their sandwiches was just the right kind of chewy for the egg salad that I ordered.  I also sucked down a large cup of their tomato basil soup.  It was too hot outside for soup, but it was rich and creamy.  Mike had hoped for more than just a turkey/cream cheese sandwich made from deli meat, but it was still good and he left only crumbs. 

Then we stopped at the trailhead for Wallace Falls.  Mike can never get as good a workout as he needs because we all walk too slowly for him, so today, I vowed that I'd push my pace.  I heaved and huffed going up those hills, but I could still talk most of the time, so I think I was still getting the healthy, aerobic kind of exercise.  I loved how the trail ran parallel with the creek for a while.  We hit some elevation gain and I had to take a couple of vista breaks even though there was no break in the trees to see.  Still, I got Mike sweating.  That was good.  The three hours before we needed to meet our riders went quickly so just a bit more than a mile in, we had to turn around.  I was bummed.  I wanted to see the falls, but it had to wait for another time.  It turns out that Mike got sore from the walking, but I was the one huffing and puffing.  I forget that the doctor told me it would take six to eight months to recover from the pneumonia I had in the spring.  Well, I worked my lungs today, that was for sure.  I think I'm more like a pack mule, so my muscles didn't get hit so hard.  On the way back, I borrowed a bandanna from Mike, soaked it in the creek, and wiped the sweat off of my face and neck. 

We got back to the Ranch just as the horses were coming in.  Mike took more pictures and we heard the story of their ride.  Adrian and Nick both thought their horses were going crazy at one point and they both started to gallop up ahead of Dalton on his mule.  It turned out that the horses had stepped onto some hornets and were getting stung.  I'd run if I was getting stung too.  Neither of the boys fell off.  Dalton and Heather took them up to about an elevation of about 1000 feet where they took their own vista break and ate their lunches.  They even had a set of steps up there so it was easier for everyone to get on and off the horses.  I like that plan, but I still wouldn't have been able to ride for three hours. 

Our friends' girls were thrilled to have been able to ride after having lessons.  They'd even had their boots sent out so they'd feel comfortable.  I just wished they were wearing helmets to make a good example for my boys too, but Nick and Adrian both knew they had to wear whatever helmet mostly fit or risk never going again.  I'm a big believer in helmets, but I also believe that adults should have the choice.  You know, Darwin's theory, survival of the fittest goes for helmets too. 

In the car on the way home, both boys asked when they could go back, hornets and all.  I imagine that I'll be getting on a horse again whether I'm ready or not. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Wedding and Eight Birthday Parties

Today, we celebrated Nick's eleventh birthday.  Since he was four, we've been having his parties at the Red Barn at Tolt MacDonald park.  It's a lot of work, but we've got a groove and it goes easier than it used to. When he was little, we set up booths for prizes, activities to keep the kids busy, party favors, and we cooked hamburgers and hot dogs.  It was all very complicated.  These days, we leave the entertainment to Adrenaline Sports.  They set up a complicated laser tag course and planned a variety of games, even slowing things down when it got too hot in the afternoon.  We didn't plan party favors.  The laser tag was the party favor. 

We also set things up so that we can cook the day before and put the food out and leave it for people to serve themselves.  We still have a lot to bring over, but it goes easier if I work from the list I keep on my computer from year to year.  Why make a new list every year?

The thing is that we weren't sure we had enough energy for the party at the Red Barn this year.  We put it off, hoping that Nick would agree to an easy party at the trampolines at Sky High.  He would have, except it really wasn't what he wanted.  He likes the family-style party, parents, little sisters, big brothers.  He likes being able to invite 25 of his closest friends.  We like that too.  It's actually a very casual party once we get everything set up.  So we ended up at the Red Barn yet again.

This year, we were stuck in a Thursday afternoon slot because we were so late making the reservations.  Fewer parents stayed to play, so I had a TON of meatballs leftover and more Hoagy rolls than I knew what to do with.  I managed to give away some and freeze the rest.  Thankfully, we have friends in from out of town and they agreed to eat some meatballs in the next couple of days.

But the good news was that we all had fun.  Most of Nick's friends came and played hard, ate meatball subs, ate cake, and didn't want to go home.  We found a geocache and got two girls wanting to find another.

My favorite part was at the end, when a bunch of us walked over the bridge to where they had watched Mike and I get married nineteen years ago.  These friends from out of town are our oldest friends.  Only their kids have changed since we saw them last.   It was a sweet memory to go to the Eagle Scout altar, where we had held our ceremony.  Then we walked to the shelter where we had our reception.  It had been rebuilt and looked like a beautiful place to serve food and have a band. 

We had hired a bluegrass band and they had played all day, providing background music for us.  Every time I walk in that park, especially when I cross the swaying bridge, I think, "We got married here."  Sometimes I say it out loud, especially to Mike or Nick.  As if they didn't know.  Today, I didn't say it out loud, but thought it as I remembered how I walked between rows of rented chairs to where Mike stood waiting for me with the justice of the peace.  We've come a long way together.  It's nice to have some friends here to have seen that.

Thank you for listening, jb


Mike and I have gone shooting at gun ranges before and Nick has been to the BB gun range at Cub Scout camp. I won't go into the politics of gun use, but I will tell you that shooting pieces of paper, soda cans, and bowling pins is fun, lots of fun.
Well, when we were at the Big K Ranch, we went shooting.  I knew that Nick would love it, especially since he's asked for a rifle for his birthday.  Well, Mike's getting it for him and my job is to call the U.S. Forest Service to get Nick into their gun safety class.  The gun's going to be locked up when we aren't at the range, that's for sure.

Now, Mike and I hadn't been shooting for at least ten years.  We used to go to the range.  There was an indoor range in Bellevue, Wade's, and an outdoor range nearby where we could join and go there to shoot bowling pins and stuff.  That was fun, but I had no idea I'd love this as much as I did.  At first, Josh, our guide, set up some traps on a distant stump and we took turns using the .22 he brought.  It had a scope.  God, that was fun.  Nick picked off four in a row and was really jazzed.  We asked Josh for as much safety and loading training as we could get.  Nick was right there, so we couldn't say out loud that it was important because he was going to get one for his birthday.

So then, Josh pulled out a shot gun, a twelve gauge.  He said it would have a kick.  When he asked me if I was going to shoot, I thought for about two seconds and then said, "Yes!"  He showed me how to nestle the stock into my shoulder, not too low. Then he said to grip with my left hand so that the gun was pressed tight into my shoulder.  He said you get fewer bruises that way.  Then, he said to put my right foot back and at an angle and my left foot forward pointed toward my target and I needed to lean toward the target.  So I did. It felt so strange, trying to think of all these separate things at once.

I decided to sight with my right eye even though I'm better with my left, my stronger eye.  It stinks to be right handed and left eyed with a long gun.  I could barely sight down the barrel in the position Josh had put me in.  Then he said just to stay in that position and to look at the clay as it moved.  I did it. 

Well, I didn't do exactly what he said.  I didn't have my left hand pulling tight enough and when I said, "Pull," and shot, the damn gun hit me in the teeth.  It was more of a surprise than an actual hurt. 

I tried it again, going through the steps Josh had told me to get into position.  I also remembered to close my mouth.  "Pull!" I yelled even though they were standing right there with me.  The clay shot out, I tracked it with my eyes.  My body followed in that tight leaning forward position, and I pulled the trigger. 

I hit it! It split into two pieces and I had to work to keep the gun aimed down range as I jumped up and down.  Crap! I hit a moving target on my second try! 

Then, Mike took a bunch of cracks at it.  He was good, just as I expected him to be, hitting three out of four from the beginning.  Josh kept laughing and saying his stance looked like he was drawing a bow.  "Why fix what works?" he said after Mike shattered yet another clay. 

Then if I wanted, it was my turn again.  I was worried about the recoil with my neck and back.  I couldn't afford to have my back seize up on me seven hours from home.  Shooting was always hard on my neck. 

I wanted to take one more shot. I got set up, right leg back, lean forward, stock pressed into my shoulder, jaw clamped shut.  I stopped to think for a second.  I was so excited that I forgot the word I was supposed to say.

"Pull," Josh said, laughing.

"Pull!" I yelled.  As if anyone couldn't hear me four feet away. And that orange disk shot through the air and I followed it with my eyes, my body following my eyes.  I pulled the trigger and that thing shattered into six or seven pieces and fell slowly to the ground.  I couldn't believe my beginner's luck. 

The three of us got so excited that we decided to shoot again the next day.  Later that night, as I sat looking out over the valley, the pink light of the sunset fading, I was still happy about what I had managed, two out of three. 

The next day was to be another day of riding and shooting.  What else do you do when you go to a dude ranch? Well, you can eat ribs and roasted potatoes, fish in the trout pond, watch for bear and osprey, and swim in the water hole for starters.  That whole vacation was way too much fun. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chain Mail

You'd think that we'd have brought our boy, Nick, to a renaissance faire by now.  For nine weeks last year, he saved his money to buy a 'real' Viking helmet.  He and his friend, Adrian, have been dressing up like Assassin's Creed, like ninjas, and like the elves and dwarfs that they battle on video games for years.  They have a box of dedicated costumes.  The costumes are getting better.  Even with the video games themselves, Nick takes his time outfitting his character.  Then for the past five months, he's been asking for chain mail. Mike and I knew how much it would cost, but despite our discussion of allowances and saving up money, Nick really doesn't understand what $400 feels like. He just knows he wants chain mail.

Finally, yesterday, we took him and our friends from out of town to the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire down by Bonney Lake. I'm sorry to say that yesterday was the last day of the faire for this year. It was wonderful. The artisans alone were worth the trip. There were spinners selling sweaters and chain mail, forgers selling tankards and daggers, leather craftsman selling gauntlets, belts, and helmets that would make Genghis Khan proud. Right now, Nick is trying to figure out how to make his own shield made out of leather, steel, and wood. I know it's beautiful in his head. I wish we had a bit more time in the summer to make it.  We still can, but school will interfere with our time.

We did some amazing shopping at the faire. Here's a hint:  never, ever, tell a ten-year-old at a renaissance faire that you'll buy him some things for his birthday without specifying the limit.  It was all lots of fun, at first, but then ground down into a chunky visceral disappointment as Nick reached the empty corners of our wallets. We bought him a hand-stamped coin at Ye Olde Quicksilversmiths where I felt the ground shake as the weight was dropped on the blank.  That was cool! Then we walked into a hut that had some beautiful leather clothing.  Nick had trouble leaving that place.  We bought him a pair of bracers to lace onto his forearms and for a while he was very happy. I think the place was called Fire Fox Leather and Furs, but I can't be sure.  It might also have been Leather Mystics garb. The prices were amazing and the quality was wonderful. 

I snuck off and bought Nick a chain mail belt from Horse 'n' Round Studio.  I liked talking to them about spinning and the realities of making chain mail, but I bought a couple of make-it-yourself packets anyway.  We could give it a shot, making it ourselves.  Right?

Then I snuck back to where the girls, our friends from out of town, were getting henna tattoos.  Mike and Nick wandered off and came back with a morning star and an arrow with a real metal blade.  Does my son need more sharp instruments to fiddle around with.  He really is a sensible boy, but at some point, isn't he going to hurt himself?  I heard Mike ask him where the arrow was going to go and my first thought was, 'into my butt.'

After that, we told Nick that he was done shopping for his birthday.  Yet, we weren't done checking out the vendors.  Oh no! When Nick showed me the wonderful shields, helmets, and weapons at the Age of Chivalry booth, I began to understand that Mike and I were in trouble.  It was hot, nearly 90 degrees.  We were all thirsty and I was hungry.  Nick just couldn't get it through his head that we weren't going into hock to buy him chain mail.  Plus, I don't think any of us knew just how heavy that chain mail really was.  I couldn't even pick up a vest that someone handed me.  Still, it wasn't about the weight of it. I talked to Nick about the cost.  I asked him to figure out how many weeks he'd have to save his allowance to be able to buy the chain mail and the helmet.  Just sixteen short weeks.  But Nick wouldn't let it go.  There were also shields and beautiful daggers.  I was getting hungrier and he was getting hotter.  We both needed a break.

It didn't work to go watch a fencing demo offered  by the Salle Saint-George School for Classical Fencing Arts.  They were instructional and very funny.  I wondered if the classes were as good and figured we could try it out sometime.  After that, we saw the Cavallo Equestrians doing acrobatics off of moving horses.  It wowed me, but Nick was still thinking about that weapons booth and I was still hungry.  Then I made the mistake of letting Nick bring me back to look at the helmet and chain mail combo that had him drooling.  It just wasn't working. He got himself worked up, nearly to tears, saying that we never bought him anything decent.  It was rude and Nick knew it.  Our good friends from out of town were thankfully quiet, but I did see and eye roll out of the corner of my own eye roll.

"What about the great things we've bought you so far," I asked quietly.  "Didn't you want them for your birthday?" Nick just had his thoughts clamped onto what he didn't have, those beautifully handcrafted tools and garb.  He went on, out loud, about how we never bought him what he wants.  I had had it.

We met back at the gate to go and Nick only looked back twice as we passed the booth with his precious weapons and chain mail still on display.  Life is still pretty good, even when you don't get everything you want.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Value in Earning a Trophy

It's hard to write when I'm tired.  Plus, I have stuff I wanted to write about last week at the Big K Ranch and couldn't because I was in an Internet void.  Maybe that isn't all that bad sometimes, but crap!, I wanted to tell you about the shooting and stuff.  Then, I was trying to beat the weather and get the deck stripped and stained.  I kept sending text messages to Mike saying, "I worked so hard, I had sawdust in my bra," or "I worked so hard, I had black boogers." Is that more than you needed to know?  Sorry. So here I am on another adventure with some out of town friends and there are other things to talk about like the guy in the Seattle parking lot who politely took our money, made change, and handed us a ticket, except he wasn't a parking lot attendant. And now the parking lot company says I owe them money for parking still.  What?

But more about that later.  What I'm really want to tell you about is the power and the lack of power in a trophy.  See Nick went to his karate tournament today.  He's a member at Z-Ultimate and once a year they have a tournament.  It is actually amazing to watch.  The instructors make me draw in my breath with their explosive movements and they also make me glad I'm not on the wrong end of that stick.  The tiny kids sparring are so cute, I forget that even little kids really do need to learn to protect themselves from bullies. Then there are the ones who move as if they're dancing, the ones whose faces reflect a fierceness that comes through despite their age, and the ones who stop to think in the middle of a form.  I love watching it all. 

But there's the problem of the the trophies.  Nick has never earned a trophy in the previous two years he participated.  Oh, they give out beautiful medals for each of the contestants, but Nick says those aren't what matters.  He's been training purposefully for this tournament since June.  He really wanted a trophy.  So he was really trying today.  First, there was sparring.  The luck of the draw seems a little cruel since this is the second year he was first up and the second year he was pitted against the boy who's 6'1'' already at age fourteen.  I'm just guessing the boy was fourteen, hoping.  I hope next year he'll be too old for this group and Nick won't have to face him again.  But life isn't always fair, so 1,2,3, and Nick was out. 

Next came the forms, or Kata.  There were at least 20 kids competing.  This was Nick's strongest event this year, but there was some stiff competition from the kids.  Remember the ones I mentioned that were fierce or natural dancers?  It felt like it was close, but Nick still came up short. Oh, honey.

Then Nick finished up the tournament with the weapons competition.  Again, there were about 20 kids in his age group.  And he crashed and burned.  Twice, he fumbled.  I don't know why.  It was like watching your favorite figure skater fall on the ice, only this was my own boy.  Later, I tried to resist the urge to tell him he was rushing and the nun chuks have a natural rhythm.  I tried to resist the urge to tell him he was cheated.  Did I really resist the urge?  I hope so, but I can't remember.  He really tried hard I was proud of him no matter his standing against the other kids and I was glad he gave it his all.  So, Nick was disappointed again because he didn't earn a trophy.  I could tell he was glad he went, glad he saw his friends, glad he gave it is all, but there was that elusive trophy.

But here's the thing.  Nick has a friend who also competed.  She came in first among three other girls and received a trophy.  When we congratulated her, she happily chatted as she held her trophy, but then she got quiet and looked up at her dad, no longer looking so confident.  "But I was only first out of four girls, Dad." Ah, there wasn't as much competition for that trophy, so somehow it didn't mean as much to her.

Isn't that the irony?  One kid worked really hard and didn't earn a trophy.  Another, by the luck of the draw, earned one a little too easily for her own comfort, so she didn't feel all the joy in earning it. Without reservation, I told Nick's friend that she'd trained hard and really earned that trophy.  And all I can say is that on that day when Nick really does earn a trophy for his hard work at karate, it's really going to mean something to him.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Horse Sense

I've been out of range. We went to a dude ranch in Oregon. The Big K ranch near Elkton. Oh my God, I had fun, but I couldn't tell you about it then because I didn't have phone service and I didn't want to just sit in the lodge for the wi-fi. I had stuff to do, riding, fishing, shooting, eating, and talking. I'll get to telling you about the shooting later. Now that's a story unto itself. I'm going to tell you about MC, my temporary horse. And Mike's horse Claude and Nick's horse, Jack.

It's official. I am not a horse person. Oh, I like horses. I really do. I like feeding them apples, now that I know how, and the long grass on my side of the fence. I like grooming them with that rubber zoom groom thing that my cats love so much. I like patting them on the neck. But I don't have such a good track record with riding them.

When Nick said he wanted to go to a ranch to ride horses, I started to get a little nervous. Okay, maybe it was a lot nervous. A whole lot. First thing when we got there, Kathy asked Nick what he wanted to do. "Ride a horse and shoot a gun." So we scheduled horses for Saturday and shooting for Friday. If you end up going there, and I highly recommend that you do if you can, you should check every morning about your schedule. They're kind of laid back about it and we ended up riding Sunday instead. I have to tell you, I was so nervous about riding that I only got three hours of sleep Saturday night, but I really didn't want our vacation to get away from us without riding. I could say it was for Nick that I wanted it, but that would be a lie.

Right after a hearty breakfast, we headed over. My horse was MC. He was a big horse with his brown and white fur mixed all together, whatever you call that, and he was very soft. I decided not to tempt the fates and asked for helmets for Nick and I and a footstool to get up. It turned out the MC really wanted to know what I wanted him to do. He was like that dog that just wants to understand what you want. MC was perfect, except that he kept turning when I held the reins the wrong way. "MC, honey," I whispered to him, "I don't know what I'm doing. Can you just take the reins here?" He even figured that out, the sweet guy that he was.

Unfortunately, Nick got Jack and Jack wanted to tell everyone what he had decided to do. Nick had to be towed the whole trip, but he was cheerful and happy to have gone when we finished.

Mike was riding Claude. More than once, we all stopped because Claude was having a snack. I didn't know that horses liked scotch broom. So when we began to climb a hill, Quinlan told us to lean uphill to help the horses. Every other horse sort of galloped to the top, getting some momentum. Claude just walked along, heaving. It was funny. He was a beautiful horse, but when we got back to the corral, he went for the pile of apples as if he hadn't eaten in a week. He was that guy who dribbled food while he chewed and talked with his mouth full. We all liked Claude. In fact, we each liked our own horses the best, even Nick.

So I have survived another adventure on a horse. I just might try it again sometime.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Big K Ranch

Well, we are headed down to Oregon for a few well deserved days off. Of all the options Mike offered us, Nick was most excited about going to a dude ranch. I had thought that paddling Ross lake sounded like fun. Nick wanted to ride horses. Oh no, not horseback riding!

I have a sketchy past when it comes to horses. When I was three, I was put on a pony and led around my Grandma's yard. That was exciting and I looked forward to more. Unfortunately, more didn't happen until I was fourteen and my uncle briefly had a horse. Ginger was a nice horse and I liked her, but after my uncle got the saddle put on her, he left me alone with Ginger. Boy, she could see I was a greenhorn from a mile away. After all these years, I'm still good with the details of that encounter. It wasn't traumatic, but it was definitely an adventure.

First off, Ginger stepped on the toe of my tennis shoe. She didn't press down, but she wasn't letting go either. Eventually, after some pulling my foot and shoving her shoulder, she relented and let me have my foot back. So then, I got one foot in the stirrup and she took two steps forward. I didn't quite fall down, but I could see that she was laughing at my attempt at doing the splits.  She did this same trick a couple of times more until she got tired of the joke. I saw my opening and I hopped into the saddle quick! And off we went!

No amount of what I thought of as directions made her go where I wanted to go. She cantered around close under the eaves of the farm house. She trotted under a low branch. I was quite acrobatic trying to stay on her past these obstacles. I shook the reins, trying to get her out of the uncomfortable trot and she took off at a gallop. Now this is what I had in mind! This was the only reason to have a horse. We galloped across the field. I gave up trying to direct her and let her run her circuit. We galloped down the gravel lane. We went across another field until we came to a dirt track. It was like she was out on an afternoon stroll and had a big fly on her back. At least there were no more sweeping obstacles and she'd tired of that uncomfortable trot.

Eventually I found my seat and saw that she was headed back home with me. I didn't want it to end. Ginger wasn't done with me yet. About a hundred yards from the house, I could see my uncle coming out to look for us. Just then, Ginger sucked in her gut as she slowly walked toward him and the saddle and I slid sideways. I hung on for dear life until my uncle could help me untangle my skyward leg and drop me, not too gracefully, onto the gravel. My uncle was mad at her, but she really didn't try to hurt me. He sold the farm and Ginger before I got another chance to ride.

Since then, all my horse experiences have been on the plodding line of animals who seemed half dead, with one bright exception. A few years ago, a friend of mine bought a retired racehorse. This guy was beautiful and was so tall, I couldn't see over his haunches. I'd guess his butt stood at least six feet three inches tall. My friend got a step for me and coaxed me onto him. I knew I had no business on a horse like this. I felt like I was on something electrified. I pleaded with my friend not to let go of his reins and to stay in the corral. Even then, I felt a thrill that made that first pony ride and my run with Ginger pale in comparison.  Thankfully, she held onto us.  The best part about meeting that horse was when I got off safely and my friend let me use a brush on him. He loved that and I was much happier grooming him until it was time to leave than I would have been on his back.

I hope I get to groom some beautiful horses this weekend. I'll let you know if I have the courage for another adventure trying to ride. God help me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 8, 2011


Ah, the freedom! I'm not sure if I'm thinking about my own freedom or that of my ten-year-old boy. Nick and Adrian are with me at Wild Waves. Yup, it really is hard to make your season passes count, especially during a summer that has had so few days above 75 degrees. We came today even though it's just 73 degrees and the boys are chilled. I'm fine, but then again, I'm not wet.

I'm sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the wave pool. The boys went on as many dry rides as Adiran could muster. His stomach got touchy and then Nick and I went on the wooden roller coaster. I love this coaster, a classic.  I didn't like leaving Adrian alone, even for the few minutes it took. Did I mention that there are hardly any lines for anything, so we were quick. Adrian was right where we left him and then I got settled into my lounge chair and they've gone to slide the tubes.

Now, I'm happpy to be sitting here, reading 'A Bad Day for Sorry' by Sophie Littlefield. This is her first book and I'm really loving it! It isn't your usual crime novel. I'm glad because I'm not a typical crime-novel girl. The main character is a woman who got sick of being hit and took care of her husband, with a pipe wrench! From there, she got the rep and women all over the state of Missouri started coming to her for help. Like I said while leaning back in my lounge chair with the book in my lap, "Ah."

See, Nick and I set up new rules for them. I am the anchor and they check in with me so that I know they are always together and I know just where they are if I need them. They get a dose of independence and I get to read my funny novel.

We came last week with Nick's friend Cole and it didn't work at all. Cole ditched Nick at the Lazy River so he could run some tubes. We went home immediately after that and we didn't ask Cole back this week. Adrian and Nick are doing great. They know that the only reason I bought them Dippin' Dots is because they're living up to their newfound privileges and responsibilities. And did I mention the time I'm getting to hang out and read my book?

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Picnic at Luther Burbank State Park

Nick, Mike, and I are at Luther Burbank State Park on Mercer Island. The Blue Angels have come and gone. We watched and ate our lunch. The sky is blue and the water's cool but choppy from all of the boats leaving the boom. After the air show, the dogs took over the entertainment. There was one pack of three lab mixes and a Boston terrier. They were chasing toys their people threw. The biggest lab shook his back legs in excitement when he wanted someone to throw it, even when no one was looking. The Boston terrier kept circling with the pack as they went for the toys, but detoured on every return. He eventually came over to our chairs to get petted and sniff for handouts. I had love to give, but no food. He kept swinging by until the other dogs decided I was okay too and then they came to visit. When Mike and Nick got back from exploring, he kept coming around, perhaps hoping that a different audience might have a different answer to the request for snacks.

The dog show is over, but there are a pair of A-10's in the air. The C-130 is lumbering past, no doubt to return to the airstrip South of here. Nick's playing in the choppy water. Mike's trying to sleep in the shade. It's really very peaceful now that the crowds have gone. I could stay here all day.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Touring an Amphibious Assault Ship at Seafair

It's Seafair in Seattle. There's so much to do during Seafair. I've never been to the hydroplane races or been in a boat on Lake Washington to watch the Blue Angels, but I've seen them from the North shore of Luther Burbank State Park on Mercer Island. You have to fight to get there before they close the bridge, but it's worth it.  I've also driven to various high places on the East Side in an attempt to get a good view.  One year I'd unintentionally gotten stuck in stand-still traffic on the 520 bridge and got to see them very clearly.  That was great!  I love the rumble and the contrail when they make tight turns.  Can you believe that when they fly in formation, their wingtips are as close at 36 inches? Imagine even trying to do that on a freeway.  I'd freak.
My favorite part of Seafair is touring the ships in port for Fleet Week.  I still remember touring a Russian ship in 1991.  The man giving us the tour was trying so hard to communicate though he knew no English.  His enthusiasm came through loud and clear.  He laughed when I came up sputtering over the water fountain.  It was seltzer water!

I'm also proud that I've taken tours on the aircraft carriers, the USS John C Stennis and the USS Constellation.  On the Stennis, the personnel in uniform seemed like boys to me for the first time as I realized that I could have had a child that age if I'd started my family earlier.  So now, my favorite part is asking people where they are from, what their job is, and where the ship has taken them. 

This year, Nick, Adrian, and I got a tour of the USS Bonhomme Richard, an LHD-6, an amphibian assault ship.  It was every bit as impressive as an aircraft carrier, though it's a bit smaller.  One crew member said she was a cook in the galley.  I imagine a tiny little galley, but this one serves about 3,000 people each day.  By comparison, she said, an aircraft carrier can feed up to 6,000 people a day.  Oh, I hope I'm remembering these facts straight. 

While Nick and Adrian climbed over an amphibian tank that shot bullets that were easily 8 inches long, I talked with one of the Marines who stood nearby.  Our tour guide said that all of these people were there to field questions so I had a great time with this guy.  I asked him if he liked being on the ship, since he'd told me that as a Marine, he'd been on base, with the Air Force, and on a ship.  He told me that the ship's quarters were a bit on the small side and that he just didn't quite fit anything.  He was tall.  He helped me understand that Marines go into a battle situation first to clear the way and set up for whatever forces were to follow.  The Marines, he said, were a smaller group, were pretty cohesive, and were like 'first responders.'  He said he sometimes worked with new recruits to understand their benefits and how to use them wisely.  I could see that he was a good man and that I had friends my ages whose sons were his age. 

I spoke to a midshipman in dress whites, who was ROTC in the med-unit and a helicopter pilot.  See, the equipment on a specialized ship like this is amazing.  Imagine being able to land helicopters and drop amphibians off a ramp in the back? Oh, I took pictures of the Osprey, the aircraft elevator, the amphibious tank, and the big bullets, but the most important part of that ship is her crew.  Each of these people comes from some home town.  Each has aspirations and it's interesting to see how the Navy and the Marines is their chosen vehicle for attaining them. 

So if you're in town for Fleet Week and you get a chance to tour a destroyer at Pier 66, a Canadian mines countermeasures ship, or the USS Bonhomme Richard at Terminal 25, then stop and ask a crew member what they do on the ship or where they've been.  I guarantee, it'll be a good story.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


The last time I played chess with Nick, we were still working on what moves each character made.  It wasn't much fun playing, but I figured he was having a good time and getting the hang of it.  This time, when he asked if we could play chess, I thought we'd be in the same place, working on moves.  But no, he had the hang of what each guy could do.  Oh, he learned little things about how to castle with the king, a move I'm not sure he'd seen before. Plus, I showed him a two-pronged attack by setting up one of my guys then attacking him with another.  I played my strategies out loud so he could understand why I made the moves that I did.  When he started picking off my guys, I wondered if I should be quiet.  Twice, he snuck up on me with his knight.  Finally, he got me down to my queen, a rook, a knight, and some pawns.  Oh no!  I might not have played chess much in the last hundred years, but I could still beat a ten-year-old.  Couldn't I?

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure.  He got me into a bind where if I moved my knight, his queen would take my queen.  If I moved my queen, he'd take my knight.  He had another avenue of escape cut off with a rook.  If he'd moved forward on the board and done that to my king, I'd have been a goner.  Fortunately for my pride, he's still defending instead of organizing an attack.  I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get myself out of trouble with my queen, but I tried distracting him with a random move toward his king.  It worked this time, but for how long?  Next time he may be onto me.  He might boldly send forth his minions. 

Did I give birth to a boy who is smarter than I am?  Well actually, I  hope so.  Still, there's my pride to think about.  One of the best things about losing to him in a real game is the confidence that builds in him.  He really believes me when I tell him that he's good at math because he can divide faster than I can.  He's certainly good at logic.  At this age, I'm pretty sure that learning to build confidence is one of his most important skills to learn.  For that, I'm willing to lose against him at chess, but from now on, I'm not going to make it easy for him. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 1, 2011

'My Name is Memory' by Ann Brashares

I'm reading 'My Name is Memory.'  What an interesting book.  A man with a complete memory lives through multiple lives, always seeking the same woman who remembers only the life she's living.  See, I was the girl who read 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' at least twelve times.  I bought it at least eleven times and gave it away again after each time I read it.  Maybe it's time for me to buy it and read it again.  The only other book I've read more than twice is 'Little Women,' which always made me feel better when I was sad as a girl. 

Richard Bach's books were my first introduction to the concept of reincarnation.  What a beautiful idea, that I could be reborn so that I could keep learning.  I was brought up to believe in science.  Oh, my parents took us to church every Sunday, but Monday through Saturday, my dad taught me that science was my foundation.  My brother and sister are still students of science.  I am too, in a way, but I've become more mystical as I've grown older.  I'm almost ashamed to admit it. 

So here's what I tell my scientific friends, if I even have the courage to tell them anything at all:  No one really knows what happens after we die, so it makes sense that I believe in what supports me and my community in the best way.  I want to believe that souls continue in time.  In fact, I still talk to the people I love who have died.  It surprises me to think how often.  Ready to call the nice men with the white coats and the syringe?

Mike, Nick, and I have a small family and sometimes we feel a little isolated.  Mike's mom died before we were even married.  My dad died before we ever met.  Yet, there is comfort in thinking about how much they both would have loved Nick, even for him. Sometimes, I get verklempt thinking that Mike's mom would have loved how much I love her boy and her grandson.  The idea of the continuation of souls helps us to feel less lonely in the universe. 

And my cats.  Our cat Seth has always tried to push me around and I won't stand for it.  I've joked with people that he's a bad husband from a previous life.   I can't even go into the details about the cats without feeling silly.  I think I've gotten myself worked into a reincarnation story with them.  It may feel ridiculous but it's a story that resonates with me, so I let it go around in my head.  Notice that I can't tell the story out loud to you.  There are some things that belong firmly in either fiction or in silence.  I'll stick to silence for now.

So you can see why Brashares' novel would spark something for me.  It's giving me a feeling similar to that of 'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger.  In fact, if you liked one, you will probably like the other.  Sometimes, I wonder about how a book might have sparked another.  'The Time Traveler's Wife' definitely came first.  Did Ann Brashares read that and start writing from there or was there something in the air the way four different inventors will often come up with similar designs within months of each other?  I like the possibility of synchronicity, but leaping from the shoulders of giants isn't off limits either.  What story doesn't begin where another left off?

So I sat in the sun today and read 'My Name is Memory,' occasionally stopping to wonder if I've loved Mike before.  Yes, the sun has finally come out here and Nick, his friend, and I went to Wild Waves to enjoy it.  For the first time, I actually sat back on a lounge chair and read.  Oh, I slid down tubes, got flushed, floated in the river, but then I sat back and read in the sun.  And this was a lovely book to sit with.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thank you for listening, jb