Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trying to Keep Our Freedoms

I had the strangest conversation with a group of people at the library the other day. It wasn't a planned meeting, yet it became a forum. This is Banned Books Week. Oh, I'd heard about it on the radio, but the librarians had set up a table of books that people, the government, or special interest groups had tried to ban.

I love my country, but it isn't free. Not really. Bigotry still exists. Religious freedom gets attacked every day. I don't even want to go into the issues of domestic air travel or a woman's right to choose.  Still, why do other people want to restrict the books I read? I'm an adult. My library exerts a huge effort to let me choose whether or not a book is appropriate for me. I don't think that any groups, religious or not, should determine what our librarians are allowed to put onto the shelves.

Pornography? Now, that's a tough question. Will it damage a child? Can that right be protected for some others without grossing me out whenever I walk through the library? I don't mind the boards over certain offensive magazine covers at the grocery store. But these books on the table were not pornography. That's usually what I had assumed when I'd thought of banning books.

As I stood in front of those banned books, I started to get angry. It held an array of wonderful books including the Koran, a book about Buddhism, and the Bible. It held best-sellers like 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight' alongside high school classics like 'The Catcher in the Rye' and 'Animal Farm.'

I muttered something like, "The Bible, the Koran? You've got to be kidding!"

Other people were standing there next to me. An older woman picked up a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald and said, "I had to read this in high school. It's a classic."
One by one, we looked at the books and discussed them. A teenager joined in, animated, when we got to 'Twilight.'

"I didn't like the movies, but the books were okay. The way I figure it, if you don't approve of reading about vampires, then don't. Just don't assume you get to decide what my religious beliefs are."

You go girl, I thought. We all stood there looking. Another woman said, "It looks like a list of must-read books." The librarian walked over and joined us.

"If you check out a banned book and carry it around reading it, it will send a strong message." Then she offered us a list of websites where we could read about banned books and post our opinions.  I knew that when I got home, I'd look at these sites: The American Library Association, The American Civil Liberties Union, and the First Amendment Center.

Another table the librarians had set up showed some so-called reasons why groups had tried to ban particular books. The Bible was deemed inappropriate for children because it contained passages depicting murder and incest and thus should be reomoved from the library. A ban on a book about Buddhism was supported with "If you read this book, you might become a Buddhist." So what's wrong with showing the beauty of your beliefs? Those people knocking on my door with religious pamphlets on Christmas morning weren't breaking the law. They were just annoying. Oh, I wish I could remember the reasons for the other books.  It was fascinating.

So I've decided to to do my part by reading the Koran. I've never read it before, but I'll bet I'll love much of it. I'll bet I find more similarities than differences in the morals encouraged in my own Bible. I wonder if I'll find contradictions in it or the parts that have not kept up with modern life.  I'm curious. 

I'll read the Koran here in Tully's. I'll bring it to school when I join my Reading Buddy. I'll bring it to choir practice and end up telling someone in church something I learned from it. I imagine I'll carry some secret message from it in my heart wherever I go. That's what I'll do during Banned Books Week. What will you do?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, September 23, 2011


It's a bit disappointing to have a good plan for the afternoon and find that Nick and Adrian just want to play at home.  We were going to go to the Issaquah Sportsmen's Club to do some shooting.  I was looking forward to seeing Adrian shoot a real gun for the first time.  His parents gave us permission.  I'd gathered the hearing protection, the ammunition, the targets, and the key to the trigger lock.  I'd thought that this was a clincher, a sure thing to get us all up and out of the house.  I was wrong. 

It's hot out and the boys only wanted to come inside where it was still cool to play.  They've been downstairs most of the time.  That's one of the nice things about having a house on a hill.  The lower level may only have windows on three sides, but it's always cool down there in the summer, or in this case the Indian summer. Heat or not, I wanted to go out and do something interesting.  We could have biked through the Snoqualmie tunnel and stayed cool.  We could have headed out to swim at the Bellevue Aquatics Center where the water is always brisk.  We could have gone to Nick's dojo, the Z-Ultimate studio and I could watch little kids sparring.  That's always fun. It's so hard to get the boys motivated to do something interesting on a Friday afternoon.  They get off early and have almost a half a day to play, but I guess after going to school all week, they just want to hang around.  After being home alone all week, I want to get out and do something.

Can you see that I have cabin fever?  I would never make it through an Alaskan winter.  Now I'm stuck deleting old emails as I look through the window at the beautiful day outside.  It's hard to keep looking out the window too, because the neighbor is working on his pumphouse, the one that houses our community well.  And he has his shirt off.  He's not an ugly man, but for some reason, I'm repulsed by this.  When did it become improper for a man to work outside without a shirt?  My dad did.  One of my grandpas did.  The other grandpa always had a distinct line on his arm above which his skin was white and below which it was a deep reddish tan.  I don't remember thinking anything about men walking around without a shirt back then.  Yet, I've noticed my opinion has shifted over time, not having seen many men shirtless in a long while.  Even at the pool, most men and almost all of the boys wear swim shirts.  At first, I thought it was self-consciousness, but it's the norm now.  Maybe it bothers me to have to see this neighbor outside because I don't like his attitude and I don't want him to look up and see me looking out the window.  He might presume that I was looking at him.  Ewwwww.

In the view of all this lassitude, the highlight of my day was when I opened a package of liverwurst and the cats came running.  Buddy happily ate two chunks of it while Seth begged for some, but disdained to actually eat it.  Really?  I'm not sure why I relented, but I got out some of Seth's little dry crunchies, Greenies.  How can a cat like Greenies more than liverwurst? 

On these restless days, I hate the sound of the television, especially the cartoons that the boys are interested in at their age.  The animation is weak.  The stories are rude.  It seems like they work to make the colors and characters as offensive as possible without affecting the rating.  I guess I shouldn't complain.  I used to watch Popeye. 

Oh man, I have got to get out from behind this computer.  The neighbor is still strutting about and I don't want to see it.  I tend to stare at the green out the window in front of me and my eye keeps getting drawn to the only movement on such a still day.  Not even the tops of the Western Red Cedars are swaying.  God forbid I'd actually want to pull some blackberry in my own yard.  Then I'd have to talk to the man too.  If I go into my sewing room to hem Nick's jeans, I'll automatically switch windows.  That might work.  Might get me on my feet and out of this week-long funk too.  If not, I'll go for a bike ride when Mike gets home, with or without the rest of them. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Truthful Fiction and Making Up Names

For a while, I was stopped cold when it came to writing my stories about my dad. Have you noticed that? About a month ago, Mike asked me a simple question, "How is your story real if you don't put the difficult things into it, like the fact that your dad had a bad temper?"  I really didn't want to write about that.  I loved my dad.  I still do, but Mike's right, you know. It's all part of our story, the real part of who he was to me.

There's another problem I run into when I think about telling stories about my childhood.  Over and over, I've had arguments with my brother, sister, and mother about what really happened when I was young.  Of course, they're older and surely remember it all better than I do.  So when it comes to my stories, I figure they'll do the same thing, tear it apart looking for inaccuracies.  Someday they'll see what I've written, stories about when I was young, and they'll refute what is the truth for me.  I was brought up in a household where being right was almost as important as being smart.  I wish I'd been brought up feeling that kindness was the most important trait.  I know people who were and I envy them a great deal.  Finally, after a long time stewing about this problem of being right, I have the answer.

The stories that I tell are my truth. That truth doesn't belong to anyone else but me, so if that's the way I remember it, then it's fine.  That's the truth as I see it.  If anyone else needs to, they should think of it all as fiction.  The truth of a ten year old girl's story just has to be someone else's fiction, after all. How historically accurate could it be?

And with that, I started remembering the elusive names of the men my father worked with.  There were the easy ones, our neighbors.  These men rode with my dad to and from work every day for eleven years.  Then there were the others, the ones I didn't know as well.  They were the men who worked on the same projects with my dad.  Their very names feel right on my tongue.  The first time I flew in a plane was with one of these guys.  I'll tell you that story sometime.

But I have yet another issue.  Early on, I decided that I wasn't going to use people's real names here out of respect for their privacy.  So I'm not going to tell you these wonderful names that I suddenly remembered after not thinking about them for thirty years.  Then I went off in a whirl over names they could have had, names that put me right back into that place again.  Here are a few of the good names that I put together:

Ray Bechtel
Cecil Grimes
Eldridge Parsons
Virgil Stafford
Jimmy Jo Johnson
Noble Cox
Rex Smelzer
Dick Finkle

Aren't those great names for men who lived in the Midwest in the 1960s?  I can even picture which names match with different jobs and educational backgrounds.

See, I'm still not adjusted to having all this time to myself.  I need to get out to galleries and write about it.  I need to get a social hobby, as long as it doesn't involve working with 75 school children to hand stitch a book for each of them.  I'm not sure making up fictitious names fits that bill either.

Thanks for listening, jb

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So Much Quiet

I haven't managed to shift into the fall season gracefully.  The first week Nick was back to school and Mike headed back to work, I ran errands like crazy trying to catch up.  I'd missed some things since our friends came in from out of town and we extended our vacation with them.  I forgot about the two small bags to return to the grocery store and the department store that got lost under the pile of backpacks and the picnic basket.  It was embarrassing to think of returning them.  For the summer activities, I had let go of any semblance of neatness so that Nick's room evolved to a state of having only a narrow path through which he traveled to get into his bed.  Then, my Himalayan Blackberry, the worst of the exotic plants I want to eliminate from my yard had grown up the side of the garage and up and across the roof of our shed.  It hasn't even produced enough berries to redeem itself from my hostility. 

For the past two weeks, I accomplished nothing.  On Labor Day, I tripped and fell going into the Evergreen State Fair.  Oh, I had looked forward to that day, but lost most of it in a haze resulting from the jolt.  Now, two weeks later, the road rash on my leg is just shedding the last of its scabs, and still keeping me up at night with the itching.  My elbow really isn't broken.  It aches now and then, but I can still hit a very high note and leap wildly when I accidentally tap it on something solid.  With all of this attention on my newfound frailty, Nick is changing.  I dread the day when he takes my elbow to step up over a curb.  I know it's coming sooner than I care to think about.  Oh, I want him to be a sympathetic man.  I just don't want to be the recipient of that sympathy.

In all of that healing, I missed a weekend at the Scout camp, but then Nick missed it too by catching a weekend cold.  Oh, he was so sad he missed his weekend and not a school day.  Not one.  But the good news for him was that we allowed him to skip a half a day of school and go to the Puyallup Fair.  Now, when do I get to go?  My fair experience this year was flawed.

Now finally this week, I feel up to doing things.  I could go to the Seattle Art Museum.  I could walk through the sculpture garden on the waterfront.  I could paint, bike, swim, or hike trails, but instead of loading my bike onto the rack and finding a trail, I'm hanging around at home.  Worse than that, I'm actually spinning around and doing mostly nothing all day.  Just about the time the boys are getting off the bus, I'm gearing up for some real fun.  I'm on the verge of quilting, writing, or finally learning how to knit socks.  I could save some money and make notebooks, but no.  I'm just hanging about.

God knows, I haven't found a notebook out there that satisfies me lately.  After a week of hobbling around in search of something decent now that our local Borders has closed, I finally went all the way into Seattle to find notebooks. Elliot Bay Books never disappoints.  I think I spent $100.00 on all my happiness in just being there.  I bought three books for Nick and a couple for me.  One of them has satisfied me with its title alone, 'Crimes in Southern Indiana.'  Now I could tell you a thing or two about crimes in Southern Indiana.  I'll let you know if the book runs down that country lane.  Doesn't matter, really.  I have my own mental book with that title, but I'll get to that later too, a lot later.  Plus, I brought home a couple of almost-perfect notebooks from Moleskine.

I like the Moleskine notebooks.  I really do.  But the one I just started using has, on it's first page,

In case of loss, please return to:
As a reward: $ ____________________.

Okay, I get the part about returning the notebook.  It'd be embarrassing to lose one, especially with all that personal dross.  I haven't lost one.  I wouldn't, I think.  Still, I'm not likely to put my address into every one.  I'm still too burned by that identity theft thing that happened last July to go throwing my personal information around, even in a notebook that I don't expect anyone else to open. 

The reward part is just hubris.  I mean really.  Here sits a person with this brand new orange notebook.  She opens it to the first page.  There it is, the valuation portion of her thought process.  But wait, she hasn't even put her name in the upper right corner the way she usually does.  There are lines for that.  (She hates lines in her notebooks.)  Then, after she's supposed to write down her personal stats and doesn't, she has to determine the value of this as yet unwritten work.  Really?

I'm supposed to think about all those early morning entries, the ones in which I'm still asleep with the cracked Itoya pen in my hand, wishing I had two or three more hours of sleep, the ones in which I can't even spell, let alone carry on a coherent thought?  It's embarrassing to think of how many times I wrote about how little sleep I got the night before and the aches and pains I bear, let alone the random thoughts that come when I'm still lost in an incoherent dream from the night before.  My notebooks aren't worth a reward. 

That said, I scribbled out that section of my new notebook and still revel in it's silky pages and the ease with which I haul it around with me wherever I go.  I'll probably buy more the next time I go to Elliot Bay Books, but I'll probably scribble out that part of the notebook with some swirly scribbles.

So this week, I've been reading too much and cleaning too much and thinking too much about the first page of a new notebook.  Mike might disagree that I've been cleaning too much.  What I'm doing is trying to make it easier on him.  The only good new in procrastinating all my really interesting activities is that I've reclaimed Nick's room and our guest room. The nice thing is that this guest room has an empty desk to which I can escape when the silence becomes unbearable at 2pm. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Mom's GPS

Just about now, Nick is at lunch with Adrian, waiting to be picked up to go to the fair.  I picture him just sitting at the end of one of those long tables with the little square of tape delineating the space Nick needs to keep distance from the other kids' food because of his tree nut allergy.  The kids will be crowding into that space and pressed against each other's shoulders down the length of the table.  It will be raucous in the room from the kids' happy chatter, and the boys may have trouble hearing the announcement for them to come to the office.  I didn't even pack a lunch for Nick this morning since they're stopping for lunch at Denny's on the way down to the fair.

Back in the '80s, when Mike and I met, we were both engineers at Lockheed, working in their electronics division.  I was a hardware engineer and he designed software.  Those were the days of Ronald Reagan's Star Wars Initiative and we were always talking about new technology, new aircraft that had been sighted over Area 51, and the incredible shrinking of the computer from the size of a building to something that could fit under one side of a desk and process a whopping 512K of data. 

And there was the Global Positioning System, which began in 1973 in a program called Navstar, the synthesis of the LORAN radio-navigation, the atomic clock, and the Cold War.  Our GPS conversations centered around the tendency of outdoor-technology geeks to carry it up into the mountains with them to keep themselves from getting lost.  We were fans of the classic map and compass method.  Now, after all of these years, we both have free apps on our phones and casually use them to find geocaches hidden near trails wherever we go.  Geocaching makes hiking with kids a lot easier.  The whole thing becomes a treasure hunt and Nick and Adrian run down the trail instead of slogging behind.  Only now, after four years, is the newness beginning to wear off.  Nick and Adrian still like it, but they don't always take a treasure out of the cache and they don't run down the trail as enthusiastically as they did.  Right now, though, a different kind of global positioning is happening to me, mom radar.

By now, Nick is sitting at a booth with Adrian's family, making his own choices about lunch.  They'll look like the classic American family with two parents and two kids.  Nick will order a cheeseburger and probably French fries.  If my message about making good choices most of the time sank in, he'll order a salad, but I don't have high hopes about that.

In about an hour, Nick will have a dizzy pass band around his right wrist and will be negotiating with Adrian about which rides they will go on.  They might be walking along the pavement with elephant ears in their hands, the cinnamon and butter soaking through the napkin and dripping onto the pavement.  Or maybe they'll go the route of the fair scones with strawberries, syrup, and whipped cream.  Oh, I can almost taste it.  These days, I take a bite of Mike's scone and satisfy myself with an ear of roasted corn and either meat on a stick or a corn dog.  Nick might even try a deep-fried Twinkie or Snicker's bar for the first time.

I hope they'll take the time, later, to walk through the displays of photography, hand crafts, and art.  Can you tell that I'd like to have gone to the fair today too?  More than that, though, is that worry that hangs in my consciousness.  Is Nick coughing?  Is he feeling sick?  Is he even having a good time? I'm trying to relax, but I still imagine him as he goes on his way, away from Mike and me, with people who might not hear that tone in his cough.  That sounds raises the hair on the back of my neck. 

Mom radar is the best and yet the worst of letting a kid grow up and begin to move away from home. I can picture him having fun, but I can also imagine his struggles as well.  He's not going off to college yet, like my sister's kids, but he's on his way.  Nick's smack in the middle of that time when a boy's friends become more important than his family.  I just need to get on with my own work and let that internal GPS do its job while Nick still needs it. 

Thanks for listening, jb

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lying and Superstitions

I'm not generally a superstitious person, but Mike and I both have this crazy feeling about Nick's nebulizer.  It's an ugly white compressor with a long hose hanging out of it that usually sits in the nest of power cords at my end of the couch.  Both of us feel that if we put it away, Nick's going to get sick again.  Well, I put it away in a fit of cleaning in June and it took all summer to pass before it came true.  I try not to believe this sad superstition, but I do.

Here's another one - if I'm taking a sick day to play, then I'll probably get sick.  I just wrote an email to Nick's teacher to tell him that we're letting Nick skip school tomorrow afternoon to go to the state fair with Adrian and his family.  It was embarrassing telling the truth, but I knew the truth would come out anyway and that would feel worse. 

Nick's teacher is a tall, broad-shouldered man who could be intimidating if he wanted to, but he's actually a little shy with parents, holding his hands in front of himself and nodding his head a lot.  He's really trying to connect with the kids in his classroom and to teach them to want a good education for themselves.  I get the feeling that this is the teacher that Nick will remember for the rest of his life as that guy who really took the time to understand him and challenge him.  This makes me really hate sounding like an idiot in front of him.  Now Nickie is coughing and I had to get out the nebulizer to give him some Xopenex for his breathing.  I sat on the edge of his bed, holding the tube toward his nose and mouth and tried to keep him from waking all the way up.  I loved how Nick's warm hand wrapped around my waist while I leaned over him.  I'm not sure he's going to the fair after all.  It figures.  Take a sick day and you're going to get sick.

It might not have been so bad for Nick to go to the fair, but they're taking him to a weird Al Yankovic concert there and Adrian's dad said they are going 'rain or shine.'  It's going to be late when the concert gets out.  You take a kid like Nick, send him somewhere a little bit sick, spin him, get him wet, and keep him up late, and you'll have a full-blown situation on your hands.  Missing a half day of school is one thing.  Missing a week because we were goofing around is another. 

Good thing I didn't try to lie to this teacher.  I could have imagined Nick at school on Friday talking about how funny the Weird Al concert was and I knew I couldn't lie.  It would be so transparent as to indicate that either I thought he was stupid or that I was colossally stupid.  The truth really does come out, at least for me.  Some other person might be able to hide four murders and the theft of 3 million dollars, but I can't lie to Nick's teacher about an afternoon spent using a dizzy pass to go spinning on carnival rides.

Still, I am not an all-believer in teaching kids to tell the truth all of the time. I think lying is great for when you're trying to protect yourself or your family.  "No, my dad's in his office working and can't come to the phone." 

Sometimes it's okay so that you can protect your time, like when someone wants you to volunteer for one more thing and you want to stay home and read your book for a change.   Lying is valuable when you're trying to protect someone's feelings.  "Does this dress make my butt look big?"

But lying changes character whenever anyone is going to get hurt or cheated and that's when I'm just not good at it.  Maybe that's a good thing. 

We'll see what happens tomorrow. Will my superstitions come true? 

Thank you for listening, jb

Improved Flavor

I'm curious about what our cats would say if they could talk.  Lots of times, Nick and I entertain ourselves by making up their dialog as if their words were dubbed in a B movie.  Mike's sense of humor is a bit too dry for that. 

Our cat Seth always hovers over someone who is sick in our house.  Last week, he looked at the road rash on my leg more than once, as if to inspect it for infection.  I have always associated that behavior with love and concern.  He was worried about us.  I know it's anthropomorphic, but I like doing it anyway.  I was that little girl who had whole lives built up around her stuffed toys, even the ones that spent most of their time in the back of the closet.  But what if my cute and cuddly perspective is just wrong?

Lions, tigers and all other members of the cat family eat meat, often culling the weak from the herd.  I once read a news story about a cougar that licked a man's minor cut until it bled, then began to chew on the man's leg until he managed to get away. 

I've notice that if I'm paying attention, I can tell just when to take food out of the oven by the smell.  When it smells perfect, it's ready.  It's actually more accurate than the timer, as long as I'm paying attention.  What if it sort of works like that for cats too?

So then, when our cat sits close when one of us has a cold, is he really thinking that we smell just about good enough to eat?  I'm not sure I want to know what's going through my cat's mind after all. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Playing Video Games

During the summer, I spent a lot of time doing things with boys that I didn't necessarily want to do.  I invited over kids I didn't like, I rode a horse, I took a trip to Wild Waves when I needed to strip and stain the deck, plus I played video games.

Now, of all of those activities, I dislike playing video games the most.  I've spent the last twenty-four hours with a sick boy while Mike was doing his Scouting thing.  Oh, I convinced him that he should stay for dinner with the campers, but I secretly hoped he'd be home by eleven.  When it became clear that he was staying, I encouraged him, but inside, I realized that I'd almost definitely have to play video games in the morning when Nick woke up. 

It was true.  That was what Nick's smiling face wanted from me when he woke me at 8:30 this morning.  He was even cheerful about my ineptitude in playing.  I'm not even good at playing Lego Star Wars.  I can never figure out where I am.  I'm not creative in trying different combinations of the buttons and I don't seem to remember which ones do which, even over time.  Though I'm reasonably athletic in the real world, if I need to jump, spin, or aim in the video game world, I'm at a loss.  And finally, at any game but Lego, I seem to reach a plateau beyond which I just can't reach.

I've spent hours reading my books as Mike and Nick played.  They could stack their games Nick-high and I have only asked to buy two games, Katamari and Loco Roco.  We only have one of them left.  I liked rolling people up in my ball for Katamari, but I got stuck at a certain level and stopped playing.  I couldn't stand the animation that came on the screen when I was done that told me how awful I was at the game.  'No shit, Sherlock,' I'd think. 'Now leave me alone while I make a quilt.' 

The same plateau happened with Loco Roco and now the music really annoys me.  Of Nick's games, I like Gauntlet and I tolerate the Lego games.  My iPhone games of choice are Scrabble, SolFree, and Plants vs. Zombies.  For each of these games, I was obsessed for a while, but when I'd finish, bleary-eyed and disoriented, I'd hate that I'd wasted so much of my time playing.  I never hear Mike, Nick, or Adrian talk about wasting their time when they play too long.  My current obsession is Plants vs. Zombies, but I'm getting close to my plateau and I don't play it nearly as much as I did a couple of weeks ago.  Is that it for Plants vs. Zombies enjoyment? Two weeks for any game and I'm done?

I have spent countless hours wondering why I don't like video games.  I'll be making breakfast in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, feeling left out and then I wonder why.  When the guys are busy playing, they're so intense that they can't hear me asking them what they want to eat.  I'll put a book on the CD player, but, until I'm immersed in the story, I'm still wondering why I don't want my turn at playing.  After a busy day, the guys will play and I'll be making something in my sewing room.  These days, I'm making hand-stitched notebooks.  I've made whole quilts in the time they've played video games and I wonder why I need to be on my feet, still, while they're relaxed on the couch.  I've reluctantly turned to my book on other evenings when the television is occupied by one or both of them playing games.  Sometimes, I'm interested in the graphics or the music, but I seldom ask them if I can play.  I was also playing Gauntlet with Nick once, proud that I'd finally earned a guardian bird, when I had a good idea.  What if the energy those guys spend on video games could be tapped into, producing something useful?  These males could be made into batteries, something like in the movie, 'Matrix.'  They could be happy and productive for hours as long as concerned womenfolk would still buy groceries and deliver them to their seats.

I'm not the only one who has wondered over this question.  A friend of mine works at a gaming company and she said that the whole industry has asked why most women don't get hooked on video games the way men do.  Apparently, half the population is out there, ready to be mined for the cost of the right game, that game that women will want to play deep into the night for weeks on end or until the last level is reached and the wallet opens for the next game.  So there's my answer for them: it hurts my eyes and hands; I don't get better at it and don't like getting stuck; it isn't productive and I feel  bad about losing all that time.

Regardless, if I get hooked on a video game, I don't stay that way.  If all forms of video games were to disappear off the map tomorrow, I wouldn't mind so much.  Mike and Nick would be devastated.  They'd have to come up with a whole new plan for what to do with themselves at home, especially when they were a little bit tired anyway. 

They're in the other room right now, still playing.  In the meantime, I'll cook good food.  I'll read good (and sometimes shabby) books.  I'll make quilts and notebooks.  I might eventually learn how to make socks and chain mail.  And I'll write to you.  Somehow, I never get up from writing and wish I'd spent my time in a more productive way. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Not Quite at Cub Scout Camp

Mike is teaching at Webelos Woods at Camp Pigott today.  The three of us were all supposed to be there.  Nick was supposed to be taken into a patrol led by Boy Scouts and taught what it's like to be a Boy Scout.  Mike and I were supposed to be in classes to help us understand the differences as our boys go up to the next level.  But two nights ago, Mike told one of the leaders that he didn't plan to sit through the classes again this year.  

"Is there anything I can do to help out?" he asked.  Beware the open-ended offer to help.  He'd thought he was offering to help clean up in the kitchen after lunch, but he ended up teaching his own class.  This leader has told me that she has plans for Mike.  So last night, Mike was scrambling to gather together four hours of presentation material. 

My friend, Kathy, had brought over a bag of ice and I had made us tea lattes for a few minutes of chat time.  Mike walked into the kitchen with a big hello (he likes Kathy a lot), and was off on his hunt for materials and camping gear.  Did I tell you that we were all supposed to be camping tonight too?  I started grousing because Mike needed more time to prepare.

"They only ask him to teach because he's that good," Kathy said.

"He's only that good because he prepares well ahead of time," I said.  I love when I can actually come up with the right answer while we're standing there.  Usually, I think of that perfect answer at 4:15am when all my problems come clear. 

Mike is good at leading.  He didn't want to become a manager at work, but his quiet style and his dedication to doing his work the right way made him perfect for the job.  He's all that much better at Scouting because he truly empathizes with the boys and works very hard to make the meetings engaging.  He gets to relax more at the campouts because that's fun all by itself.  Well, there is the fact that he is often asked to run the campfire these days.  He likes to prepare for that too, but when he doesn't get the chance, you'd never know.  He has stories to tell, skits for the boys to do, and songs to sing. 

Somehow, the energy at those campfires surprises me.  The man I married was, for the most part, a quiet man, not prone to singing in public.  When we dated, he serenaded me in the kitchen with his guitar while I cooked, but he's always kept that singing quiet, between us.  These days, we whistle in harmony in the kitchen or sing silly songs, but it isn't for public ears, or so I thought for the first seventeen years of our marriage.  Two years ago, at a Camp Brinkley campfire, he sang an echoing "Deo" to begin a song in his clear baritone voice and I almost cried. 

So Mike has come to be a man who leads in Boy Scouts.  He's at camp by himself today because I have a staph infection on my leg from falling down on Monday and Nick was up all night with a cold.  It's a beautiful day and I'm wishing that we could have cooked dinner around a campfire, slept in the open air, and woke to have coffee, spam, and eggs for breakfast with friends before we headed home on Sunday morning.  Still, I can imagine the energy in the room of parents he's teaching.  I can imagine him running through the spit skit, or a camp song or two.  I know he's trying to keep them engaged in the same way he would with our den of boys. 

For years, Mike had taken a back seat to my social nature, my tendency to get involved with the people around me.  He was sometimes that nameless man that was married to me.  Now, the tables are turned.  Last night, I hobbled around trying to help him gather things for his classes and what we thought was going to be his campout with Nick.  Now, I'm more often in the background, Mike's wife and helper.  It's a relief to get out of the spotlight, to tell you the truth.  It also makes me happy to see Mike shine.  He is that good.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Using the Safety

Nick is shooting his new .22 at the Issaquah Sportsmen's Club. He's a pretty good shot and he knows it. He's even reminding me about the rules, but I sat down to the rifle once and he hadn't put the safety on, so he needs to stay humble. "Red is dead," Mike told him.  It's hard for a boy to be humble when he's good at something many boys aren't allowed to get near.  I was glad to see that there were other boys there with their parents.  Despite my concerns over Nick's age, eleven seems to be the age when the boys begin to learn how to shoot.  Mike says that Boy Scouts backs that up because many of the Scout camps have rifle ranges. 

I'm still a little worried about a kid his age shooting a gun, but he's excited about being totally responsible.  He knows that if he stays responsible, we'll take him to the range when he wants to practice plus I'm hoping the whole thing will be less of a thrill when he's doing it more often. I also believe that knowing about something that is potentially lethal is better than being in the dark. I also hope he can learn to apply his newfound responsibility to schoolwork too.  So I'm trying not to worry about his age.  I'll continue to worry about his safety record as he uses the gun.  He won't even have access to the gun without one of us going to the range with him.

See, I shot a rifle for the first time when I was six years old. It was for a good reason - a boy in my neighborhood accidentally shot his brother with their dad's pistol. My dad said that all of us needed to know how to shoot a gun and, more importantly, how not to shoot if we didn't intend to. At six, I learned that phrase 'red is dead' when you're looking at the safety button and that I should never put my finger on the trigger until I intend to fire. Most importantly, my dad told us that he kept the gun locked up in the house and that if we ever got it out, he'd kill us.  Okay, he didn't actually say that with words, but it's the message I walked away with, the one I remember forty-six years later.  When my dad sounded like that, I sat up straighter, I breathed differently, and I followed directions.

Now this story about the kid that died is complicated.  Barry was his name and he was eleven.  Nick loves when I tell him this story, yet I have such trouble telling it.  You see, Barry was the worst kind of bully. One time, he grabbed my hair and pushed my face down into a mud puddle full of gravel and broken glass. My mother always wondered why I was so dirty at the end of the day. I wish she'd have asked me about the cuts on my face on the day that happened, but she didn't.  Barry used to bother me so much that I found a way to cut through the woods and run down the property line between the Carter's and the Bryan's houses.  They didn't really like it, but I'd rather have faced an angry Mrs. Carter any day than Barry.  
Not long before he died, I'd had to walk past Barry's house and he was standing there in his yard yelling at me, daring me to put one toe in on his property.  To draw me in, he grabbed a kitten from his little sister's arms and swung it around in circles by its tail.  I can still remember the pitiful cries of that kitten.  I felt like a coward as I ran away and I remember him laughing behind me.  It only made me more afraid of him.  There were no limits to what Barry would do. 

So when my dad told me Barry had been shot and was dead, my first thought was that he was never, ever going to hurt me or anyone else again.  My second thought was that it was wrong to be glad that someone was dead.  It was a really complicated situation for a six-year-old girl.  It was made worse by the fact that somehow my mother elected me to be the kid that went to the funeral with her.  I was afraid and curious, somehow, about seeing the hole in Barry's stomach where he got shot.  In my six-year-old head, it was a cartoonish hole.  The real event was very different than I expected.  It smelled different and all of it hit me hard, deep in my stomach as I stood staring into Barry's casket with my mother holding my hand.  Tears sprang up unbidden.  I really did not need to see the dead body of the boy I feared most at the age of six. 

Even worse, I shouldn't have had to face his mother, who cried when she saw me, thanked me for coming to her son's funeral, and said that she was glad, finally, to see one of his friends there.  Oh, the agony of that moment.  I wanted to yell out that I hated Barry, that he was meaner than a snake.  I clamped my teeth shut and pretended to smile at her.  I couldn't afford to say a word.  Do you see why it's really hard to tell this story to my boy?  There is no clear moral to the story.  There are no easy answers in it.

Now Nick is eleven and learning that phrase 'red is dead.'  Shooting pieces of paper or chunks of clay is a simple joy for him.  He even enjoyed cleaning the rifle with Mike afterward, chatting quietly about his gun and listening to Mike's show him how.  But it's different for me.  Oh, I like walking back during a cease-fire with a target that has a good grouping.  I loved seeing the joy on Nick's face as he shot his own gun for the first time.  Yet it's also about the tears of a mother, the smell of a corpse, and the understanding of what 'red is dead' can mean.  See, it is really complicated, even still.

Thank you for listening, jb 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trying to Improve My Recipe

I just ate some of the blueberry kuchen I made this afternoon. The blueberry filling was great, a little bit sweet and just enough sour.  Nick licked his plate, asked for more, and licked his plate again. Mike served himself a good helping, finished it, and pronounced it good.

The thing is that it would have been better with a regular pie crust underneath.  My recipe is so close to pie crust, I don't understand how it came out crumbly, almost soggy, and not flaky.  Now that I think of it, I said the same thing when I made it last year.  I'm going to write on my recipe page so that I remember to try changing it next year. 

So here's what I think you should make if you happen to have six or seven cups of handpicked blueberries to use up:

Blueberry Pie

Blend well:
  1 cups flour
  1/3 cups butter or lard
  1/4 tsp salt
  2 Tbsp brown sugar
  3 Tbsp cold water over dough

Toss lightly with a fork until just blended.  Form a ball and roll it out on a lightly floured board and place into a deep 9" pie pan. Using butter for the crust will make the dough more difficult to work with and less flaky, but it improves the flavor.  Sometimes, I use a mix of butter and lard.  I added the sugar to my standard pie crust recipe because my original recipe called for sugar in the crust and I think the berries could use the sweet flavor. 

Put 3 cups blueberries into the pie shell.

  2 Tbsp flour
  2/3 cup brown sugar
  1/2 tsp cinnamon

Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the blueberries in the pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes, until the pie bubbles a bit and begins to smell good. I've noticed that food always smells just right when it's ready to come out of the oven. 

Just after you take the pie out of the oven, add 2 to 3 cups blueberries to the top of the baked blueberries and let it cool.  This should fill the deep dish pie shell.  The fresh berries make the top of the pie so pretty and they cook just a little bit on the ones that are hot out of the oven.

This pie gives me a deep sense of summer.  All I need to build a meal around it is a thick slab of beefsteak tomato with basil and cottage cheese, corn on the cob, and a tall glass of Grandma's sweet iced tea.  It stinks that I'm stuck eating a tiny slice of my pie and that my iced tea has to be made with fake sweetener.  So goes it in the life of a woman who's almost diabetic.  Still, even my tiny slice has given me that feeling, of picking my berries with two hands, of looking up now and then to scan the mountain face, of feeling the heat of the sun and the cool of the breeze over the river. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cub Scout Camp

This is a post I wrote a long while back, but never quite finished.  I hope you don't mind if I put it up anyway.

Going to school teaches our kids so much, but some important lessons have been left out for one good reason or another.  Try to imagine a small classroom of twenty-nine kids in second grade, learning how to use a knife safely.  Other ideas are covered in school, but really need more emphasis, like treating others with respect and learning to speak in front of a group.  Cub Scouts fills in the gaps and tries to make it fun for the boys.  In Cub Scouts, boys are encouraged to learn everything from using tools to how the government works.  At camp, the boys learn to sleep out in the woods, that messes don't really matter, and that kids just a few years older than they are can run the place. 

When the boys are going into second grade, they are ready to earn their whittling chip.  It's an amazing sight at camp to see six or seven kids quietly and safely whittling sticks.  By the end of camp, there isn't a single stick in the area that doesn't have a point on it.  At den meetings, there are fun projects, like building a sword and science experiment that allows you to blow into a straw and suspend a ping pong ball in mid-air for as long as your breath holds out.
When you're at camp, your boy sees a fourteen year old girl tell you that you must follow the rules at the archery range or you'll have to leave, and you listen even if you are a 51 year old mom.  The Cub Scouts don't get to run things yet, but they respond to this power and responsibility that they see in kids just a few years older than they are.  When they organize a group to go to the BB gun range, they are stretching their wings and becoming leaders themselves.

And there are the skits.  At the campfire, three boys will get up in front of everyone and perform a skit they made up themselves.  They don't realize that they're building presentation skills that will help them later when they've got PowerPoint going on their projectors. 

When I asked Nick what he loved best about Cub Scout camp this year, he said, "I don't know.  I just love all of it."  Works for me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Blueberry Pie

Mike has gone back to work. Nick is in school. Nick's teacher said he won't need many volunteers during the year. Our friends left, yesterday, to go back to the East coast. Summer is over and so is my vacation. Yet, I looked forward to getting my hair cut and having the rest of the day to relax and start my fall routine. I was actually going to cook a meal for my family instead of scrounging. I was thinking about putting together a couple of new notebooks. I might even take some time to do some quilting. Imagine that!  I have time to listen to my audiobook and play.
I'm listening to the third book in the Raven's Gate series by Anthony Horowitz. This one is called 'Nightrise' and it isn't disappointing. It may be a book for kids, but I'm drawn in and whenever it's on Nick and Adrian get involved in listening. I wonder what listening to a book does for you compared to actually reading it. I'm sure there's some study that says the effects of listening to a book are almost nil and another that has concluded that the benefits go beyond reading with your eyes. Just in case, Nick alternated between audiobooks and regular ones this summer.

The question I have now is what I should do with all of my new-found time. Today, I was really busy, but I decided that a trip to Bybee Farm was a good idea. I was hoping I hadn't missed the blueberries because of all of our vacationing. I hadn't. As I drove past Snoqualmie Falls, I saw the sign, still out, just before the bridge. I enjoyed the drive along the river with the gnarly rows of sycamores on either side. I slowed down for the river-runs-through-it view of a sand bar, usually with a fly fisherman standing knee deep in the current.

Then suddenly, I had a small bucket in my hands and I was weaving my way through an overgrown row of blueberry bushes. I love the overgrown rows. There's more shade and luscious berries hide from the less intrepid pickers. Or maybe it's just the memories of the last couple of years, Nick and Mike wrestling to get into the tight spaces and competing for the biggest berries.

I put the bucket's rope around my neck so I could do two-handed picking since I only had an hour and a half to spare. I love the sounds of other people picking. It's like listening to a campsite wake up from inside your tent. Some talking is distant and muffled. Other people are in the next row, gossiping about a coworker. I listened to these two, hearing about a trip to Taiwan and a travel journal that had stayed on a bedside table. I heard complaining about a husband who didn't understand all the berry picking, but got irritated when the pies ended. Eavesdropping is almost better among the blueberry bushes than at Tully's where people can see if you're listening. Isn't that funny that eavesdropping has a visual element at a coffee shop? My least favorite thing about listening in at Tully's is when people want you to listen. It's mortifying when you get caught by those people.

I wasn't hiding as I eavesdropped in the blueberry bushes, but it was a more private way to listen, my head buried in the tall bushes, lifting branches to find the fat berries. I imagine that people there realize that if they can hear me, I can also hear them. I heard babies crying, parents calling out for their children sounding like a Marco Polo game at the pool.

My favorite conversation was between a mom and her young daughter. They were having a sweet time together, though the girl emptied her bucket of berries more than once. I pictured her with blueberry stains on her jumper and I gathered that there weren't many blueberries in her bucket by the time she'd eaten her fill. Then, the little girl sang 'Happy Birthday' to herself a couple of times and again to her mom. The whole thing reminded me of the first time we brought Nick to the blueberry fields.

It was a cool breezy day and Mt Si loomed over us. It was good to look up to the cliffs to see if there were any mountain goats whenever my near vision got tired. Mike carried the year old Nick in the backpack. We were amazed when Nick started picking and eating berries over Mike's head. He even learned to pick the blue ones instead of the red or white ones and he happily chatted away when he wasn't eating.  We had a wonderful time that afternoon, filling our buckets to the brim and having blueberries in the freezer well into spring.
The years after that were more challenging.  Small kids have a limit that is clear to anyone willing to listen to them.  The first twenty minutes of berry picking is fun for a three-year-old, but after they've eaten the handful of berries in their bucket and come for yours, which is much more interesting, they start to get bored.  You can stretch it out by letting them play games in the rows, but I always worried about how many berries got crushed during that part.  If it's hot, you have half the time, maybe a half an hour if you're lucky.  As each year has passed, we've gotten good at picking quickly and letting Nickie run through the rows eating as many as he's willing to pick and then challenging him to keep some in his bucket for the end. 

On Monday, Nick, Adrian, and I only had an hour to spend picking and then we went over to the courts to play a little magic-spell tennis.  This is a game the boys invented that involves thinking of a spell to cast which will hit the person who doesn't get the ball over the net.  My favorite spell was 'slug bath,' but the spell hit me and imagining that was gruesome.  I think the boys have come up with a great way to learn the skills of tennis without actually following the rules.  Rules are for dweebs and adults anyway.

Today, I heard the gossip ladies say that there was still a week left of blueberry picking, but I'd bet that was optimistic.  I think that Saturday might be the last of it, but at least I got to hide from the sun in the bushes, I looked for mountain goats on the cliffs, and I have a flat of beautiful blue berries,  They are ready to go into the blueberry kuchen that I only make once a year in August or twice if power goes out in the winter and I have defrosted blueberries to use up.

There was a book I used to read to Nickie when he was little, 'May Belle and the Ogre,' by Bethany Roberts.  He loved that book. Maybelle sings a little song in the book and somehow I always sang that song the same way, the one about blueberry pie.  So as I'm walking back up the lane with my filled bucket, that song starts going through my head from all of those days of renewing that library book. 

'... bake it, bake it, me oh my.  Blueberry pie.' 
Thank you for listening, jb