Saturday, March 31, 2012

When A Battle Is Worth Fighting

It's been a bad day, a string of them.  Mike and I are no closer to solving the problem with how to keep Nick safe from his allergies at fifth-grade camp.  The staff at school keeps asking me to do their work for them.  It's all really sad.  This school was a haven for Nick, a place where this medical problem was taken care of, even minimized, an outlet for volunteering where I had felt welcomed and comfortable.  Is all of that so easily burned into ash?

Tonight, Teddy chewed on the birdhouse that Nick made at a birthday party.  Nick got really upset because the poor little birdhouse doesn't look so good now.  Nick's anger got him into trouble and now he's lost two days of TV privileges.  I know how he feels.  I'm trying really hard not to let my anger get me into trouble.

Mike's going to be at a first aid training session all weekend.  That's a good thing in general, but I really need time with him by most Friday afternoon.  I really need him this weekend. Nick does too. 

I'd really love to complain about all of this on Facebook, but I can't because I'm actually Facebook friends with the school nurse who's just about as angry with me as I am with her.  I'm not sure why she's angry when I'm the one to whom promises had been made.  I don't know how our friendship is going to survive this. 

I should lean back and let these school people fail.  Then, when Mike puts his foot down for the final decision, then they'll get the picture that they didn't do enough.  Neither of us is convinced that they're taking it at all seriously.  They just keep saying, 'you need to call these people' and 'you need to set up this information.'  I don't want to do their job for them.  The school nurse is trying to sound confused about what I'm asking and I just know she's smarter than that because we've talked about these details on and off for the past five and a half years.  She's pretending that she didn't explicitly say I would be allowed to go on this trip.  Oh, she is not confused.  Today, she tried to tell me that these medical-need spots for parents are reserved for the kids who need feeding tubes and who have to get their lungs suctioned out twice a day.  Really?  Where is that child in these classrooms?  I know of only one who just might have an issue such as this.  You see, I know these kids pretty well since I've been active in their classrooms since kindergarten.  How is it that I could have slid so far down that scale?  I know there aren't ten or more of these children who need extra help.  I believe the selection process is a popularity contest and nothing more.

And the teacher's email to us sounds pedantic and condescending.  Oh, I do not like condescending attitudes.

I haven't been able to tell a good story in a couple of weeks and I'm not sleeping well.  I hate when people can't just get along, but to tell you the truth, my son's life is worth this battle.  I hate every moment of it, but he is worth it, even when his anger gets him into trouble after the dog chews up his birdhouse. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 30, 2012

Purple Horses

The boys are in bed.  Adrian had to stay over because his grandma had surgery.  I just looked in on them and Nick is sprawled into the middle of the bed and I'm surprised that Adrian hasn't fallen off the far side.

Yesterday, Nick was invited to a girl's birthday party.  I'm very excited for him to expand his friends, to be included with a different crowd of kids.  He's known this girl since preschool, but they're crossing paths in a new way now.

I got nervous about shopping for an eleven-year-old girl.  Whew!  I'm used to shopping for boys.  What on earth do girls want?  She might be too old for Barbies and dress up.  Who knows?  Then, Rachel told me that this girl is interested in art, among other things.  I knew immediately what I wanted to get for her.  Last night, I dropped Nick off at karate, told him I'd be late to pick him up, and drove one town over to Daniel Smith's.  Have you ever seen all of the cool art supplies at Daniel Smith's?  Check it out online.  I am in heaven there.  I don't even need art supplies any more.  I never seem to use up all the pastels, watercolor pencils, and acrylics that I've accumulated over the years, so I don't get the excuse to go buy more. 

See, I love the kneaded erasers and the stomps.  Oh, I don't even know the official term for the stomps, but they look like a pencil with no lead and you use them to smooth out a pastel on the page.  Life is so much better when you have tools like this.  So I bought the birthday girl a wooden art box and filled it with tools like this, with perfect pieces of charcoal, with a tiny easel, with a can of workable fixative, and with some pastel sticks. I got to pick a palette for her.  I chose four or five purples, a couple of yellows, and then a handful of natural colors, ochre, moss, gray, and tan.  Just imagine those luscious colors all in one piece.  In my imagination, the birthday girl draws a purple horse in a moss green field with gray, overhanging skies like the ones that feel like home to me.  Can you imagine this picture?  Of course a horse should be purple.  Purple is her favorite color.

I kind of went overboard and spent $96.  Don't tell Mike.  Okay, so I needed a couple of notebooks and a pad of good paper for making books.  I got two notebooks out of the one pad, but ended up putting one of the notebooks in as a sketchbook for my girl.  I also split up a package of rice paper I bought for another project and gave her some of that tied up in purple ribbon. 

Here's the thing: When I was a girl, I would have loved getting an art box like this.  My parents had a box of colored pencils that folded inside out and propped up, ready to use.  I loved this pencil set more than I knew what to do with it.  Take the joy of brand new school supplies and throw in a lot more color.  I think my favorite thing was arranging them in rainbow order before I took out a sheet of paper.  Unfortunately, my parents only bought lined paper and that always bothered me.  The pencils almost made up for it. 

After assembling the wooden box, I looked through my own stash.  Now, I have acrylics, fabric paint, watercolors, pastels, pencils, fixative, workable fixative, gesso, stomps, chamois, kneaded erasers, palettes, canvases, woodless pencils, tracing paper, watercolor paper, textured paper, and toned paper.  Oh happy days. 

I need to go draw something.  I'm not good at drawing, but I love doing it anyway.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Proactive Mitigation of Anaphylaxis

Tomorrow morning, I meet with Nick's teacher, school nurse, and the principal concerning how Nick's tree nut allergy will be managed if he goes to fifth-grade camp. Did I tell you that I was not selected as a parent volunteer? I was told that kids with medical needs got preference when it came to selecting their parents to go and that I was a shoe-in. Mike and I were pretty upset when we found out I wasn't selected.

For this meeting, Mike wrote up a single sheet of paper for me to use during our discussion. Oh, I love this man. He used phrases like 'proactive mitigation, reactive mitigation,' and 'controlling cross-contamination with the allergen.' He's a brilliant man, but he doesn't roll it out for everyday use. He has nothing to prove, most of the time.

The problem that I knew I'd have is that it is now 2:13 am and I am not asleep. I have trouble relaxing before I present information like this. I'm not angry any more, but I'm afraid they'll gang up on me and try to pressure me into saying Nick can go despite the fact that they haven't managed the 'proactive mitigation' part of our plan. Shoot, they haven't even managed it in the classroom.

Here's what Mike wants. Im not using his language here. He wants Nick to carry his EpiPen at all times. He wants the volunteers, teachers, and counselors to be trained to know where the nuts might show up. Aside from the obvious candy bars, breads, and desserts, there are tree nuts in some types of hot chocolate, hacky sacks, and hand creams! He wants them to understand what Nick will do and look like if he eats a walnut or almond or other nut and what they should do. Nick will tell someone his lip or mouth hurts, his face will get blotchy and possibly swollen, and he will most likely throw up. If they recognize that, they should stab him in the thigh with his EpiPen, count to ten with the needle in, and call 911. Seconds count here and they shouldn't be fumbling with the safety cap on the end. Mike wants to know that the rule against bringing outside snacks will be enforced. Nick will need the kitchen staff to check their labels, prevent cross-contamination of nut residue by properly cleaning their utensils and countertops. The last thing Mike wants is for Nick is to get a nut-free alternative.

I need to emphasize, Nick's doctor says, that planning on using the EpiPen without taking these precautions is dangerous. Remember how I told you that the last time Nick ate a fragment of walnut, using the EpiPen was not working very well for him in the emergency room. She says it's too dangerous to do a skin test on him. He has to have blood drawn.

The teachers have said that they want Nick to gain independence. I'm pointing out that he won't be able to control much in that environment, the menu, the snacks other kids touch and eat, or who touches him. There isn't going to be a lot Nick will be able to control.

Can I sleep yet? Maybe. I'm going to look like hell in the morning, but with a cup of coffee, I'll be able to say what Mike and I need these people to hear. I really want to avoid the words that have been rolling around in my head: You can't learn much if you're dead.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, March 25, 2012

To Hell in a Wheelbarrow

I'm always a little sad on Sunday evening.  Tomorrow, the day will start with the rush of morning readiness, then both Nick and Mike will be gone until afternoon.  Sure, I'll have time to walk happy dogs with my friend, Rachel, and I'll go to school to volunteer later on.  I have plenty to do if somehow I'm not still catching up on sleep, but I'll be a little sad anyway.  Tomorrow, I know I'll be tired.  I'm tired right now. Tomorrow is going to be one hell of a daylight saving shift in time.

I've been on the night shift.  When Nick has trouble breathing, I take the night shift because I'm more flexible.  Mike still has to function at work and he needs to stay on a good bedtime schedule because he already has serious trouble sleeping.  That means, for the past three nights, I've been working to stay up late with Nick so that I recognize breathing trouble when I hear it.  When Nick's sick, he sleeps very loudly anyway, snoring, talking, and moaning because he's not truly resting. 

Nick's on Prednisone and Xopenex, both of which rev him up, so for the past couple of nights, it was nearly impossible to get him to sleep on time.  The nights have been a blur, but this is how they ran.  After I read four or five chapters of our current book, we finally went back out to the living room and stayed up late watching a movie he'd seen a dozen times.  I intentionally chose it that way so it didn't stimulate him to stay awake.  He has been getting to sleep after 1:00 am.  By that hour, I was loopy.  I worried that I'd miss some critical point with his breathing, or worse, overdose him because I couldn't remember what I'd done.  We sat in dim light to induce sleep for him, but I had to work to stay alert.  My iPhone has been helping.  Did I tell you I love my iPhone?  I read blogs, played games, and checked out Facebook.  As it got later, I settled in with a blanket and a cat on my lap and fell asleep before he did, but with Nick's coughing, it was fitful and I didn't feel right about it.  When I saw him beginning to doze off, I tried to get him into his own bed so that he'd sleep better.  I wish I could still carry him into bed.  It would have been easier.

Since I woke him up too much, I read another chapter of our book in his room, then I sat there quietly until I was sure he was asleep, using my iPhone to keep some part of my mind moving.  Then I left the door open and headed out to the couch where I tried to get some sleep myself.  It was hard to relax and sleep because I was worried about him. 

Both nights, according to some internal clock, the medicines wore off and Nick woke up choking and coughing.  I supplied the Xopenex by holding  a tube up to Nick's nose for twenty minutes at about 2:30 am while the nebulizer turned the liquid into a little cloud he could breathe.  At first, he startled from sleep when I turn on the compressor, but he quickly fell asleep to the droning noise.  It was my job to hold steady for twenty minutes until it was done.  Having exhausting any activity on Facebook, I played 'Words with Friends' to try to stay awake and even then, I dozed a bit.  When I woke up, still holding the tube, it was nearer to his hairline than his nose.  The compressor may not be working as well as it used to after seven years of use.  It seems like it takes longer to deliver the medicine than ever.  Maybe it's just the way time distorts at 2:30 am.  Nick didn't even wake up when I turned the compressor off and left the room to rinse out the mask.  In my bright kitchen, I wrote down the date, the time of day, the medicine, and the quantity so Mike wouldn't have to wake me up in the morning to ask. 

We have nearly filled two of these steno pads, line at a time for each dose. The second one has about ten pages left.  It's handy to bring these to the doctor when I'm too tired to answer the nurse's questions about what medicines Nick's been on and how long ago.  The staff almost always look at us differently when we bring it in, the lines speaking for themselves.  I just don't want to have to conjure up information that I was too tired to remember. 

According to his internal schedule at about 6:30 am, Nick began to cough again and I got up to gather the paraphernalia to give him another dose.  This was when I was begging, silently, for Mike to wake up and both Friday and Saturday, he did, thankfully, and took over for me.  Then, I went down to the guest room without my phone, closed the doors against any feline visitors, and fell asleep. 

This morning, at 9:00 am, I needed to get up to go to church, seeing that I'm in their very small choir and all.  I tried to keep my revised sleep schedule from getting me down during the sermon.  In the pew, even in the back row, it's not all that prudent to use my iPhone to help keep awake.  It's hard to have a spiritual side after a succession of such strange nights.  Unfortunately, my judgement was altered.  When the minister suggested that this week, we plan to serve others as part of some Lenten journey, I laughed out loud.  I actually snorted. 

Oh man.  I'm going to hell in a wheelbarrow.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Today was a sweet, quiet day with time for a board game with Mike and Nick and a long, wet walk with the dog.  I love Saturdays.  I was hoping to have some time to quilt, but I don't mind the day we spent together.  Nick had been up coughing late into the night.  Then, he'd gotten up for more breathing medicine at 1:45 am.  I'd had trouble waking up and was afraid I'd poison him with too much medication.  Then, once he was asleep again - his eyes had closed before the nebulizer had finished delivering its dose - I was wide awake and had trouble getting back to sleep.  So I pictured the day as one fettered by fatigue.  It wasn't.

This is the way my day looked late in the afternoon.

I'd like to have seen a dog or two in the foreground.  Teddy isn't one to wander out into the distance, though.  He's right there with me.  Usually, when I'm calling him, wondering where he's gotten to, he's right behind me.  At this moment, he's asleep on the floor next to my chair.  He really is a good dog.

When I got home, the three of us resumed our game, a D&D game called 'The Legend of Drizzt.'  It allows me to imagine my fearless female archer, to battle strange monsters, to use those cool twenty-sided dice.  It's not even a video game!  I can get with that. 

Thank you or listening, jb

Friday, March 23, 2012

Leaky Pens

Last week, I spent an hour looking for my favorite pens online, Itoya's Paperskater.  I also found a bunch of refills.  Here's what happened - I was writing on my merry way with my old favorite pen, the Jimnie, when I walked into this great art supply store, Pygmalion's Art Supplies, in Bloomington, Indiana.  I like this place for a lot of reasons, not the least of which that their cat crawled into my backpack there one day and looked up at me adoringly.  Okay, they have great art stuff, nice people, and have been there since I was in high school.  They're just off Kirkwood, where the hippies hung out and gave me peace signs and flowers back when I was a kid in the sixties.  I liked the hippies, though my parents were dubious.  I like it at Pygmalion's because it's usually an escape from stress.  I took my nephew there, not the one who hung up on me, but the other one, and now he's hooked too. 

So that was where I found a new favorite pen.  There wasn't any of the scratching on the paper that happens with some pens, or the soft drag of a cheap ballpoint that happens with others.  For a while, I was visiting Pygmalion's often, when my grandma was sick.  I remember one night, I had gotten there just a bit too late and they were already closed.  A flock of crows stood in a row along the top of the building across the street, as if standing guard.  They were also sitting in a small tree, probably a dogwood, looking like large black leaves fluttering but without a breeze.  I was so creeped out that night.  I know I was influenced by the fact that my grandma was in a great deal of pain, that I hadn't fought harder to assure her some ease, that I really didn't have any control to be able to allow her that relief though I loved her dearly.  Those were dark days for me, yet, going to Pygmalion's helped.  The next day, I went back and bought myself a couple of nice notebooks and a handful of the Itoya pens, more than I really needed. 

I've lost or loaned those pens by now and need more.  I called Pygmalion's and they don't carry the same type of pen any more.  To find a new favorite, I need to feel it in my hand, to write with it.  In the meantime, I'm stuck scrabbling around on the Internet to find them.

Yesterday, both orders arrived on the same day.  The first was in the mailbox and I opened the envelope at the mailbox.  That kind of excitement is pathetic, isn't it?  I had ordered ten Itoya Paperskater pens, 0.7mm.  What I got were twenty Itoya Paperskater Synergy pens, 0.5mm, ten of which had bled all over the inside of the package and didn't even work.   I called the company and they were pleasant enough on the phone.  I couldn't come right out and say to the nice woman that if I didn't get the actual pens I liked, I wouldn't order anything from them again.  I hate it when people are pleasant in a situation like that but do nothing to fix the problem.  I did get ten functional pens.  This woman didn't understand that feeling of having your favorite pen in your hand.  She just didn't.  Well, okay, I paid for ten pens and though my hands were covered with leaked ink, I got ten working pens, just not quite what I wanted. 

Then my other package came.  I was happy again.  At least I had lots of refills for the three pens I did have left.  I go through the refills surprisingly quickly.  There were five packages of refills in the box.  I had ordered fifteen.  When I sent an email about where the other refills were, a nameless reply told me that the ones with blue ink were not available.  I like blue ink.  Why is it so hard to get blue ink?  So they credited me.  Great.  I just paid seven dollars in shipping for five pen refills.  All that joy over my favorite pen has leaked away and made a mess, just like the ten crappy pens they sent me. 

So if you want to know the truth, I've had a bad day, what with Nick going straight from a stomach flu to a respiratory infection along with the requisite breathing issues.  He's taking Prednisone again.  That'll be ten pounds added to his weight by the time it wears off and five days of jittery, easily frustrated boy.   I'll be dozing on the recliner tonight, listening to him cough.  I got a call from his school today.  It looks like he's not going to be able to go to fifth-grade camp because of ineptitude or attitude, I'm not sure which.  They're trying to convince us to just send him, yet I still have absolutely no information about the menu, cross-contamination, or how well they discipline kids who bring forbidden snacks.  As if that's not enough, we have raccoons in our attic.  Does that explain why I'm obsessing over a stupid pen?  If I need to, I can use any old pen to write.  It's just nice when I can actually have one small thing that makes me happy when the rest of my day is going to shit. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Adrenaline Rush

Why have Nick's teachers picked the most lethal thing in his life to teach him the lesson of independence and self-reliance? 

I just learned that I was not one of the parents who were selected to go to fifth grade camp this year.  I wasn't exactly looking forward to being a parent volunteer.  It's a lot of hard work and I know I wouldn't get much sleep.  I wouldn't get much time to myself either. 

So, what's the problem, you ask?

Nick can't go if either Mike or I don't go because of his tree-nut allergy.  This allergy is life-threatening.  His teacher bungled the overnight in November and Nick left his EpiPen lying in the classroom.  The extra EpiPen from the classroom was in a box on the bus, rendered useless by the cold.  Mike and I were not happy campers.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Nick's teacher handed out Almond Joy candies to each of the kids in class.  You have got to be kidding!
Nick's allergy to tree nuts began when he was a toddler.  We went to the emergency room with him with breathing issues so often, they knew our faces and called us frequent fliers.  It was funny once he was able to breathe.  Before the doctors managed to guess, Mike figured out that Nick had trouble breathing whenever he ate walnuts.  From there, it was easy to figure out that he couldn't tolerate pecans, hazelnuts, or even almond extract. 

The last time Nick went to the emergency room because of a nut, he was four.  He had eaten a piece of walnut the size of an uncooked lentil.  It was enough.  They took him back immediately when we arrived at the triage desk at the ER.  Breathing issues always cut in line in front of cuts, breaks, flu, and everything but heart attacks.  The first thing they did was administer a shot of epinephrine.  It's the same chemical as adrenaline, so most of you can imagine that time when you almost died and understand its effects. You feel a surge of energy.  Mike and I had to physically hold Nick onto the table along with a couple of other nurses while he tried to scream.  It's hard to scream, even for a four year old, when your esophagus is closing.  Depending on your nature, you either want to run or to fight.  Nick's nature is to fight.  Your heart races.  My most visceral memory of that night is that the nurse grabbed the doctor by the elbow and asked if it was safe to administer that next dose of epinephrine.  She said his heart rate was already dangerously high.  'Would the next dose kill him?' were her unsaid words as her eyes flicked over to Mike and I.  My natural adrenaline levels were as high as they'd ever been, either climbing, caving, or whitewater rafting.  I didn't need a shot to get that way.

The doctor's response was, "having a heart rate will be irrelevant if we can't get some air into his lungs."  I wonder if the next step was to perform an emergency tracheotomy, a hole just below the larynx that might allow air to pass.  I never asked them.  The injection was given and Nick's airways began to open up.  Eventually, his heart rate slowed.  It was a long and terrifying night.

After that, we were very careful about nuts.  It turns out that some people just don't realize, even when you call the problem life-threatening, how serious this is for Nick.  Other people seemed to get it, yet have handed him bread studded with walnuts or ice cream with almonds.  Oh, it's been a dance.  We have even overlooked problems in ingredients ourselves on occasion. 

The good news is that Nick has not been back to the emergency room because of his allergies.  Despite struggles to make the bus, the lunch room, and the classrooms safe, we have only had scares, and no real emergencies in his school.  He was even kept out of the learning garden because of the acorns on the ground.  The school nurse has become a true friend.  I'm so glad because she's a riot!  She's also a great advocate for Nick.

Cub Scout camp was a dream.  The cooks worked with us every day.  Even the boys at the trading post kept an eye out for Nick.  We've learned which restaurants we can trust, which candies to buy, and how to get through the gauntlet of Halloween, Valentine's Day, and Easter.  Nick's managing pretty well!  We have no nuts in our house.  We are careful if we do eat nuts.  Nick's babysitters had to be taught how to use an EpiPen.  In fact, every time Nick has a playdate, that lesson is repeated. Even though Nick is eleven and supposedly responsible, we need an adult who knows where his EpiPen is and how to use it.  Nick just might not be able to talk if he eats a nut by accident. 

Nick's doctor won't even give him a skin test for tree nuts any more.  It is just that dangerous for him.  Instead, he has to have blood drawn, and then the blood can be tested.  This prevents his body from escalating the allergy to a higher level.

So does that make us seem like clingy parents when it comes to overnight trips, parties, and snacks? It sure does.  At the beginning of every year, I discuss these issues with Nick's new teacher and work to ensure a nut-free classroom.  Despite some reluctance, it has happened.  Still, some of the teachers initially eyed me with suspicion.  Most of them got over it after a while.  Most.  I really can't worry that the rest of them are annoyed by my attention to this, now can I?

Still, I find it ironic that they would tell me that I needed to use this as a tool to teach independence and self-reliance to Nick.  This, from a second grade teacher and now, his fifth.  So, I want to ask them, would you let your own eight-year-old ride in the car without his seat belt so he could learn to make his own choices?  Would you leave your hungry grade-schooler alone in a laboratory full of poisons to read a list of ingredients to determine which solution would be his next meal so he could become more self-reliant?  Would you allow your child grab hold of a snake in the Everglades and not hold them back from their folly in an attempt to teach them to become more independent?  I would like to think that any true teacher would pick a less lethal method for introducing these concepts. 

After all, how much can he learn if he's dead?

I'm done with my rant now. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I can't believe that I'm painting Teddy's dog tags with nail polish.  Doesn't that sound ridiculous?  The smell reminds me of all those hours I spent in college with my roommates, painting our nails using three layers the way the manicurists do, and then waiting for an hour or so, doing nothing with our hands, waiting for it to dry.  See, I was always impatient, never good at just sitting there.  Invariably, my nails would have a smear on my index finger or thumb where I'd tried to turn a page or a doorknob.  Here's what I should have learned back then that I didn't:  always pee before you do your nails.  Better yet, save the money and time on all of that and skip it entirely.  The nails are going to chip when you play the piano, cook a good meal, or take a nice long hike.  How do nails get chipped hiking?  I have no idea, but I was able to do it.  I was never good at the girly stuff, though I spent some decades trying.  I truly did.

So, you may ask, why am I putting nail polish on the puppy's tags?  Good question.  He's white, you see, and all that aluminum from his tags rubs off onto his fur by his neck and turns it a dingy gray.  Anyone who has spent an afternoon in little white shorts on an aluminum canoe seat can attest to that.  What? Did I do that?  And on a date too?  Oh yes, I did.

In an attempt to keep his fur sparkling like his personality, I'm trying nail polish.  Oh, I tried to wash it off his fur, but wet fur just makes it worse.  You can refer back to the little white shorts, once wet, on that point.  They may turn vaguely transparent in the front, but they grey on the backside is darkened and quite opaque.  It explains why all the other girls on the trip had sensibly opted for gray or green camp shorts.  Fortunately for me, the only man I was trying to impress didn't mind that habit I had of getting dirty and spilling things and became my husband anyway.

Okay, I have to admit that while I was waiting for the tags to dry, I painted my nails as well.  It looks pretty.  Ha!  The timer on the oven just went off and I need to go put on oven mitts and take out the macaroni and cheese.  My nails are going to be smeared.  Some things never change, do they?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Mike and I have spent the last thirteen and a half hours taking care of our sick boy.  He caught my stomach flu.  Here is the necessary survival kit for kids twelve and under:

5 movies
6 pair of clean underwear
4 T-shirts
3 warm blankets
5 large towels
facilities for 3 to 4 loads of laundry
2 glasses of water
12 small garbage can liners
1 box of Clorox wipes (since Mike hasn't had it yet)
2 parents on a skewed sleep schedule

Last night, I was beginning to feel normal and we had a decent evening at home.  I naively believed it would continue, that we were over the hump.  How wrong I was.

Here is something I wrote then: 

I am not a quiet person. Among other nicknames I wasn't fond of as a child, I was called a chatterbox most frequently.

So you could understand my consternation when I tell you that over the weekend, Nick bought a Bluetooth that works for his PS3, his phone, and his iPod. You don't get it yet?  Now, there are moments when I walk into the living room and Nick is playing a game and wearing his new headset and this will broadcast everything I say. He wants me to be quiet so I don't mess up his game. I find it difficult to see the mute indicator on his ear because he's growing his hair out again. 

Usually, around this time of year, people have given up chocolate or wine or Frito's for Lent, something I see as a misguided attempt to recover that New Year's Eve resolution they let go of the second week in January.  I wonder, does God really need me, more than anything else, to be thin?  Is that so?  I usually abstain from any of these choices out of rebellion.  I am not an ascetic.  So it surprised me that this year, when Lent arrived, I felt the need to be silent and listen. Well, hell. It's hard to run a household on mute. Isn't it funny that when I kept failing at my mission, the Universe stepped in to deliver a louder message in the form of a Bluetooth?

Mike and I are sitting here, whispering about combining our REI dividend, and Nick said, "You know it's on!" Oh no.  It will not be like that.  Not in my house.

Just now, I told him he won't usually get to decide when his headset is on mute or not. He's okay with that, but it's still strange having this control over my voice as if he's a CEO on a conference call. I think this is going to call for balance.

My lesson here is that I need to learn not to always interrupt what game time he has with my chatter, most of which is not necessary.  It is my quest to learn to be silent and listen. 

In the wee hours, I spent silent moments, watching my boy, murmuring some sympathies, handing him tissues, changing the liner in his little garbage can, bringing him fresh linens, and watching movies I've seen before.  I knew there was nothing I could say or do to take any of this experience away from him.  If I could have, I would have shouted from the rooftop.  Am I beginning to learn my lesson toward silence?  I'm still trying, but I'm not sure you can change a magpie into an owl. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 19, 2012

Imperfect Insulin-Resistant Eating After a Stomach Flu

Everything you're supposed to eat when you have stomach trouble is full of carbohydrates.  Think about it.  Everything except for broth.  First, there's Gatorade at 21 grams of carbs for 12 oz.  Now, when you've been sick to your stomach and can begin to keep water down, you need liquid more than anything.  On a normal day, you're supposed to drink 8 eight ounce glasses of water every day.  That's - I can't do the math - 5 1/3 servings or 112 grams of carbohydrates, almost twice my daily intake.  So I didn't drink that much.  You might try telling me to relax about my carbs on a day such as this, but I'm pretty sure that yesterday, being the insulin-resistant that I am, when I began to drink Gatorade, I actually felt worse because of the carbs instead of better. 

On day two, I also began to drink tea and squishy jello.  Then, later last night, I had chicken soup that Mike made for me.  I promise I won't analyze the carbohydrates of all of the foods I ate yesterday.  There was broth.  Broth is good.  The rice in the broth was not so good.  There was jello.  Lots of pure sugar.  Okay, you might think that I needed a bit more sugar than usual since I was completely cleaned out and dried up.  I'm not so sure about that.  Between the rice, the jello, and the Gatorade, I think I may have ingested almost 170 grams of carbohydrates yesterday. On a good day, I'm at 60 grams and I usually hit about 85 when I'm a slacker, which is a lot of days.  Last night, my stomach gnawed on what I gave it and only gave a shudder or two, but I was up almost all night, sleepless.  That's a heavy-handed sign that I've been imbibing too much regarding carbs.  And I'm thirsty, very thirsty. 

I know I'm not well yet because, though I'm hungry, food doesn't taste quite right.  Still, at day three, I feel up to adding more solid foods.  Common wisdom says to stick to the BRAT diet, which is bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.  All carbs, all the time.  So this morning, after after a ravenous 3 a.m. fridge raid for more soup and a bit of plain yogurt, I decided to add according to common wisdom.  Toast.  I ate it slowly.  I don't usually get toast.  By 10:30 am, I was up to my daily limit for carbs.  It's going to be a long, hard day.  My night might be worse.  Last night I felt downright loopy.  Do you think anyone noticed?

So, now, I've decided to skip ahead to greens.  Oh, I don't get how I'm supposed to reintroduce greens after all that TMI bootcamp, but here goes.  Still, I figured a little combining might not hurt.  So.  Right now I'm eating Organic Girl's Super Greens with baby chard, tat soi, arugula, and spinach.  Oh, I am so hooked on Organic Girl's greens.  I can eat them right out of the container when I'm on the run, which is most days.  Right now though, I'm eating them with ShaSha Cocoa Snaps, a crispy little cookie that doesn't have too many carbs.  The flavor is a bit like that chocolate flavored superfood stuff I add to my smoothies, SuperFood by Amazing Grass.  Interesting.

I can feel my stomach ruminating it.  I'll be glad when it doesn't have something to say every time I take a bite.

Whew, I am still loopy.

Thanks for listening, jb

Night Song

2:48 am
And the coyotes sang as the cats shivered in their beds. All wild imaginings of a peaceful night upset. I'd felt their eyes upon me as I shooed away the coons, a lone woman in a nightshirt, a broom her only weapon. I wondered if the song of blood was yet upon their lips or if they howled at night to celebrate the sex.

The cats were crazy just before the song.

"Can't she smell them? They're hunting," they whispered to each other in fear. It was Seth this time who let out the alarming call, the call to rescue, to wake us from our folly of peaceful slumber in a night such as this.

"Don't they hear them? They're hunting near our beds," they whispered. I wonder if the cats relaxed once they smelled blood through the open window through which I blithely listened to the song? Or did it send a shiver rippling through their fur?

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pretending and Protecting

I hate that feeling I get when I wake up, it's dim outside, and I can't figure out if it's morning or night.  That kind of light could be morning and the sound of Mike slamming the front door could mean that I have missed him completely.  Or it could be around dinner time and he's just taking the garbage out.

Thankfully, I haven't missed the whole evening and morning with my family.  It's still Sunday night and, thought it's wet out, there is sun setting in the tops of the trees. 

Since I've been sick, Nick has been more helpful than ever.  Is that what it takes to grow a helpful child, to get the stomach flu?  When I asked, Nick jumped up to take the recyclables out to the bin.  He just came back inside and, when I realized that Mike had gone to get eggs from the store, he offered to go back out and take the bin all the way out to the curb.  We live on a steep hill, so he gets just a little exercise every time he goes down.  Maybe I should send him down yet again with the garbage.  Am I devious or what?

Earlier, when I told him that we'd reward him if he learned to do his math and reading on his own rather than having to be prompted, he said he didn't want me to give him anything, that it was the right thing to do to get his work done.  Who are you and what have you done with my child?

Nick didn't want to go, but came with us to walk Teddy anyway.  Mike was worried that I'd begin to feel faint on the trail and need some help.  I needed a walk because my muscles had begun to seize up after a couple of days without exercise.
On the trail, Nick was dressed with his brown cloak and a plastic dagger.  I love that my boy can be eleven and isn't embarrassed to be seen playing.  He decided our group was called the 'Assassins Corps' and his nickname was 'Krazy Killer.'  Mine was 'Princess Cut-Your-Throat' and Mike's was 'Bloodletter.'  Pretty gory, isn't it?  If that's what it takes to get company on the trail, I'll go along with it.  Boys have such a need to be warriors.  Okay, I'll admit that I don't know what all boys are like.  My boy has such a need to be a warrior.  I didn't have to do anything but walk, but Nick jumped and spun, pretending to protect us. 

I like that, being protected.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Too Much Information

I was green for St. Patrick's Day, from a stomach flu. Everything about last night is TMI, too much information. I wish that phrase existed forty-six years ago when my grandma held out the pill bottle containing her gall stones and told me the story of her surgery, scar included, for at least the tenth time.

I promise I won't tell you any gory details. I'm just now beginning to feel better. I had tea, jello, and Gatorade tonight. The whole family ate jello. I really like squishing it between my teeth.

Here's another thing about being sick- weird movies take on a hallucinatory effect. I don't really like that. The movie was 'Due Date.' Now all those ridiculous scenes are swirling around in my head, along with a lot of movie TMI. There was a little crossover. When your abs are sore from being sick, you don't exactly want to see anyone puking on television.


The problem is that I didn't do anything else today. I didn't read. I didn't walk the dog or go to that quilt show I wanted to see. We didn't go to dinner with our friends. She was going to serve enchiladas. That would not have been pretty.

The problem with dinner is that these are new friends and we've had to cancel twice now. Nick was sick last time. Do they think we're avoiding them?

I have the same problem with the music I was supposed to play at church tomorrow. Do you think they believed the message that I left?

There isn't much I can do about it, now is there?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, March 16, 2012

Counting Friends

I always seem to start working on this with the words: I don't know what to write. And then I blithely write about my day as if someone would be interested. Really? There are roughly twelve of you that are interested in any of this. Twelve people in the entire world. Well, thank you. I look forward to seeing you on my stats pages. Truly, I do. Okay, I'll admit that I'm a little OCD about it. The names of the countries alone are exciting to picture in my imagination.

Sorry. I get carried away.

Thinking of you twelve people makes me think of counting my people. When Nick is having trouble falling asleep, I tell him to name the people who love him and take a deep breath in between each name to picture their faces. Sometimes I do it with him. I always start by saying, Dad, then Mom, and move along the names. When I can't think of someone new, I go back around to the people who love him best, starting with Dad and Mom. Yet I've never done this myself.

For my list, Nick and Mike come first. They are my foundation, my reason for living. Then there's Adrian, who feels like my second son. He comes and goes as he needs.

Can I count Seth, Buddy, and Teddy? They may not be people, but I talk to them a lot and they're great for hugs and laughs. They are my animal family.

I have three best friends. They make me laugh. They let me cry. We listen to each other. They have very interesting stories, these three women. I'm not at liberty to tell you their stories.

Then it gets complicated. Do I count the cashier at the market as a friend? He talks to me almost every day and I know that he likes to do upholstery, that he's worried about chemical additives, and is very cheerful anyway. What about that friend I haven't seen in almost a year despite the fact that she lives down the road? I still love hanging out with her when I can and we seem to click right back into place when we do see each other. She has three boys and I figure she's worn out by them. I hope that's all it is.

I have forty-five actual people on my iPhone list. One is a person I need to delete. I only had his number because I made the mistake of inviting his son over to our house. One person on my contact list has died. I don't have the heart to delete her. She was a wonderful woman. There's actually a woman in there that I do not know. I did once, but I don't now.

I'm reading another book called 'I Remember Nothing,' by Nora Ephron. I liked it immediately, being drawn to the title. In it, she has written an essay called 'Who Are You?' In it, she writes of the times she's talking to people she's met but doesn't remember or friends whose name she can't recall right then. It's only funny because I've struggled through the very same moments, though I don't have the luxury of having met a million people who want to meet me, who are my biggest fan, who saw my latest movie. She has an excuse. I don't. Damn.


Sorry, I just got distracted by my email. I have 85 email contacts. I also have 137 unread emails. I've been horrible about checking my email since I've been spending so much time on Facebook. There are 903 messages stored there. It sounds worse than it is. I check it on my iPhone too and so it's hard to catch them both up at the same time. I need to spend some time deleting, but I don't want to. I probably should go through my email addresses too and make sure I need them all there, but when I do, I know I'll manage to delete someone I need.

I have 70 friends on Facebook. It feels as though I can follow their status updates fairly well. I know some people who have 354 Facebook friends! How do they keep up? These people talk about the weather, complain about rude drivers, or look at vacation pictures. They talk about the school board meeting, politics, or how they're doing during the power outage. They get book and restaurant recommendations and highlight funny UTube videos. My current favorite is the cat that wouldn't walk on the treadmill. Poor kitty. I don't think I'd have wanted to walk on that boring treadmill either, but this little guy was so sweet about it.

The funny thing is that not all of these lists of friends is the same! Oh, there are the core people in each, but lots of them are different groups. I have friends from my quilt group, my book group, my email friends. I have one friend I have never met except through email. Can you believe that? She's wonderful! To tell you the truth, she's much nicer and more thoughtful than I am. I have friends through Scouting, friends from Nick's school, church chat ladies, and friends from the whitewater rafting company that Mike used to work for. I sometimes feel inundated with friends, but mostly, I feel blessed by them, even by the cashier at the market.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hope and Practice

This afternoon, I practiced the piano just in case they make me play on Sunday.  The music is pretty, so no one at home minded too much or, more likely, they were just too kind not to complain about the multitude of mistakes.  I had to dig the piano out from under dreck that got put on or near it over the years.  There was a cardboard box, some regifts, and nearly a dozen pictures of Nick.  I hate having anything on my piano.  I hate it.  Just ask Mike. 

Here's the status.  I can now play the piece through at sub-dirge speed.  That means that everyone singing will sound like the music playing on the movie, 'Apollo 13,' when the battery was dying in the astronauts' tape player in space.  Do you remember that scene?  How many of you get annoyed that these guys wouldn't have tolerated that dreary sound any better than we did?  They would have dashed that thing against a control panel to shut it up.  Just saying.

The question about Sunday is whether or not I can bring these notes close to speed by then, and if I have the wherewithal to play it in sync with the choir.  Yes, there is still the choir with which I must engage.  That is a huge question.  Huge.

When I tell you that I haven't played the piano much for the past twenty years, you may begin to understand my dilemma.  Twenty years.  I can still play a few things that I played proficiently back then, but they're mostly sad and don't end well.  A couple of years ago, I dusted off my most challenging achievement, Debussy's First Arabesque.  Yes, I could still play that if I needed to.  I wish I were playing it for Sunday.  I could do that.

I don't want to play at church.  I don't want to play at church.  I don't want to play at church.  Pray for me, honey, I play like shit.  I am stealing a line from Mike's grandma who once said to me, "Pray for me, honey.  I feel like shit."  That made me love her all the more and her soul is with me whenever I feel like shit.

So the other part of my problem for Sunday is that, with the exception of the garage band I played with for a year and a half when I was twenty-six years old, I have never been an accompanist.  Remember that I told you that we were really bad?  Remember that?

I'm getting nervous just sitting here.

There is still hope they will find someone else to play, dim, dim hope.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh Fart

I almost always start writing these things with the thought that I don't know what to say.  I should go to bed.  I should because I have to be at a meeting tomorrow morning and I won't be able to catch up properly if I don't sleep now. 

I don't feel like sleeping.  I don't feel like writing.  I don't feel like cleaning anything up.  

I'm worried about something stupid.  I've been asked to play the piano at the last minute.  For me, not having three or four weeks to learn a piece is last minute.  They want me to play on Sunday.  They want me to accompany the choir.  Oh man.  I am a poor sight-reader at best. Someday, I'll tell you the story of my blind piano teacher.  He was a wonderful man, and though he tried, I resisted every attempt of his to teach me to sight read.  It could be a good joke if it weren't so rude to him. I had the same piano teacher for eleven and a half years.  There are so many stories for me to tell about him.  I miss him.  I know I could learn this piece.  It isn't difficult, but I have meetings and appointments to keep me from practicing and I don't want to do it.

The worse thing is that while I fret and moan about this challenge, the director is trying to find an alternate for me.  That means that I could go through all the trouble of learning the music in just four days and then on Saturday afternoon, be called and let off the hook.  I hate having to prepare for something and finding out that I'm not needed after I put all the work into getting ready.

I also hate the idea that I could embarrass myself thoroughly if I have to play and am not prepared.  I still get nervous in front of the people in my tiny church.  I do.  I sing for them sometimes, and it usually goes well, but after all these years, I'm still afraid I'll stand up in front of them and ...


That is my worst fear.  After that fear, everything else is secondary.  I've gone a little flat once.  I've run out of breath at an inopportune time.  I've begun an a cappella piece too low and had to sing as a tenor.  I've made every mistake in front of them except that one. 

You'd think I'd be okay messing up on the piano in front of them.  The dreaded ...


is still a possibility, but add to it that I could miss a lot of notes.  I could get out of step with the voices.  I could lose my place entirely and stop playing.  Oh, that is a pretty fearsome possibility, almost as dreadful as a ...


And I know I could forget where I was and stop playing and the congregation would laugh with me later and either like or dislike me anyway as they already had before my faux pas.  It works that way, you know.  Can you see me trying to screw up my courage?  People who like me will feel sorry for my discomfort, making a mistake up in front of everyone.  People who already don't like me will feel a thrill of glee.  It won't change anything, really.  So why am I still nervous?

I want to get started practicing, but everyone is asleep and I can't afford to wake them up. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leaving a Mark

At the coffee shop, I burned my tongue on Nick's tea latte.  It left a mark.  When we got home, Nick dropped his tea latte on the carpet.  He tried to say it wasn't his fault. That also left a mark.  I managed not to yell at him.  Then the cat puked on the carpet.   We're having a good night here.

Plus, I'm playing Words With Friends with about four of my friends and I'm only clearly better at it one of them.  I really have to work with the rest.  One friend throws me down and I have to yell 'Uncle!'  She uses words like 'quaich.'  Really?  What the hell are you doing when you quaich?  Sounds pretty earthy and maybe you shouldn't do it in public.  Maybe this game is good for my brain though.  I now know that a quaich is a shallow drinking cup that is usually made of wood.  Yet I can't imagine myself actually using a word like this.  Can you pass me that quaich of wine, please?

Now Teddy is licking the carpet. Oh, and I forgot.  I pinched my finger in my new can opener this morning.  It left a mark.  I blame it all on waking up at 5:30 am on Spring Forward Monday.  When you are done reading, you too can blame your attitude about all of this on Spring Forward Monday.

So rather than trying to find bits of meaning among the chaff of my life, I'm going to tell you a little more about my dad.  See, I'd been trying to write what I remembered about him.  I liked doing it.  Some of what I remember is funny, like that he was so exacting when he laid the tiles in the shower that they were too close and fell out or when I asked him why the sky was blue just to annoy him and he explained it to me, in detail.  Some of my memories are very sad.  I will tell you about my experience with chemotherapy.  Someday.  I'll probably have to tell you about watching him die too.  Someday. 

One day, I was talking to Mike about my dilemmas with regard to my dad's stories and he said, "You know what's wrong, don't you?  You know what's missing?"

"No," I said, all innocence. 

"You haven't put in the real parts, the parts about when he was distant and angry.  You haven't made him real yet."

Oh man. 

Then, I couldn't write about my dad for a long time.  See, in my memory, this man is still Daddy.   I heard my sister call him that once, and I realized that it isn't surprising that I haven't grown up when it concerns him.  Kids are good at seeing reality.  They just don't want to.  So, here's my attempt at seeing reality.

My dad was disappointed in his children.  That didn't blend very well with the fact that he wanted to control his environment.  Even good kids aren't very good for that kind of need.  Dinner was supposed to be ready at 5:15 pm when he walked in the door from work.  He was angry with my mother when it wasn't.  My dinner-making habits with Todd would drive him nuts!  We eat between 5:30 and 8:00 pm.  I wonder if my dad had glucose-intolerance, but I'll never know.  I do know that he got into moods during which I couldn't even breathe right around him.  Does that sound familiar?  If I could solve that problem, maybe I could figure out how to be more patient with Nick.  I see where the story 'Jekyll and Hyde' comes from.  My dad had Jekyll and Hyde tendencies.  He was all too human, all too real.

I know that my dad was disappointed that I wasn't a boy.  He tried so hard to teach electronics to my brother.  They worked on Heathkit projects together, building at radio, a smoke detector, and even a television.  My dad would have loved having a boy like Mike.  Mike is a natural engineer and learned how to work on his car and how to build things from simple experience.  His dad didn't teach him. 

Unfortunately for my dad, his engineering lessons made my brother sullen and angry.  He wanted to be outside in the woods.  He wanted to identify tracks in the mud, understand the geology and hydrology of the area which was pockmarked with sink holes, and watch the way trees grow leaves. 

My dad tried to teach my brother how to fix a car too, but somehow that boy would disappear whenever it was time for my dad to get into his work clothes.  Daddy had an old T-shirt with a big black spot on the front.  I used to tell him he had 'a big belly button.'  That made him laugh so I said it again.  My mother had tried to get that stain out of the shirt, but I'm glad she couldn't.  I think the appearance of that T-shirt caused my brother to disappear into the woods behind the house because he wasn't in that scene with us.  I'd follow my dad through the kitchen and out to the garage.  While he worked, I sat on the cold concrete step and petted my dog, Kelly.  She loved when I came out there because she wasn't allowed in the house.  My mother's rules.

I'd murmur sweet words to Kelly and chatter to my dad while he was on his back under the Chrysler New Yorker.  I got up and stood front of the car with its hood up and asked him how a car worked.  He answered while he worked, describing the battery, the fan belt, the spark plugs, the carburetor, and the pistons.  He described each part from under the car and I pointed at it, knowing not to touch, and asked if it was the round one or the one with the little red knob on it.  Eventually, I'd figure out which part he meant and then he'd tell me what it did to make the car work.  That was how I learned the different parts of a car engine and what they did.  The pistons were my favorite because he told me that every time the spark plug would spark, there was a little bomb that blew up inside the piston.  Now that was cool!

It was a nice conversation until he said, "I wish your brother would take an interest in these things."

It wasn't much later, probably his lame attempt to make me feel better, that my dad said "If you were a boy, I'd teach you how to fix a car."  By then, I was back on the cold step, petting Kelly.  She knew that she was a great consolation to me and looked up at me as though she knew exactly what was being said and why it hurt. 

"Get me a Phillips head, would you?" Daddy said after a lull.

"What's a Phillips head?" I asked, imagining something with a nerdy round knob attached to the top.  Daddy was starting to get angry, I could tell, so I kept the extra part quiet.  I asked only what I needed to ask in order to comply.  Maybe it was the number of times he'd used the word 'dammit' in the last few minutes.  He tried to describe what he wanted and I got a screw driver out of his red tool box.  I was happy it was a screw driver and not a wrench.  I think I was only seven or eight when we had this conversation. 

"No, not that one.  A Phillips head," he said as if repeating it would make it more clear to me.  It seemed like I handed him twenty screw drivers before I finally got it right.  By then, I wanted to disappear the way my brother had.  It wasn't nice there any more, even with Kelly at my side.  I wasn't my brother and I had no idea which tool was which because no one had taught me.

I felt sorry for abandoning my dad, but I found a way to wait until he was quiet and then I walked silently outside into the sunshine.  Kelly walked outside with me. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 10, 2012

You Might As Well Skip This

I had a really bad day.  I wonder if solar flares affect how people treat each other.  Probably not.  This day is just par for the course when it comes to my family, my extended family. 

My nephew hung up on me today for saying that a hacker is commonly believed to be someone who breaks into computer systems.  He and his friends might have a different definition for it, but to me, the word still implies something illicit is happening.  I actually said to him that I respectfully disagreed with his definition and then the phone went dead.  When I called back, my sister apologized to me.  I told her that she hadn't hung up on me.  I should tell her that I would feel better if he called, if we could work this out.  I don't like how he's behaving and I don't want to condone it.  There are too many people in this world who believe that they are better than the rest of us.  They freely cut in line, drive on the shoulder to get around, honk when I turn into my driveway.  I don't want to be around these people.  I don't want my nephew to be one of these people either.

Worse than worrying over my nephew, my brother had a stint put into his heart last Thursday and my mother failed to mention it for the first forty-five minutes of our conversation today.  I'm not quite sure how she didn't call me on Thursday.  Actually, I don't understand how no one from my family called about this.  There were cheerful birthday messages to me but nothing that said they needed to talk to me about anything else.  Maybe that's what my sister should have been apologizing about.  It hurts that they think I wouldn't care to know about something like that, that something as trivial as a birthday would be more important to me.  It aches.

My feet hurt from the walk I took with Teddy this afternoon.  Mike and Nick went with the Boy Scouts to a movie, so I went for a long walk to mull over my family predicament.  I walked longer than I usually do.  I needed to.  How is it that these things shouldn't hurt? 

As I walked, I created a new category of people.  I need to tell my nephew about us.  We are called the well-armed thieves.  Now it doesn't mean what you might believe it to mean.  Everyone in the group has arms.  We have legs as well, but we don't feel the need to mention that.  Our arms are used for just about everything, from hugging people to holding a fork.  As for thieves, we are a sweet bunch of people and will steal your hearts and a little bit of your time.  We like to chat, so that explains the loss of time, but we're also cheerful and generous and ...  You believed we were stealing from 7-11s and ATM machines?  No.  You don't have any right to believe that.  Our definition is our own and you don't get to control it.  You shouldn't worry that our group's mission would be misconstrued.  It won't.  We have defined it. 

I wonder if my nephew would even listen to an argument such as this.  I was just trying to warn him against using a term to describe himself that could be interpreted as illegal and morally wrong.

As for my brother's situation, it hurts. I just can't tell you more about this right now, because it is just so complicated.  My family, the one I grew up in, is so complicated that it aches.

Thank you for listening, jb  

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Ranger's Apprentice

Late this afternoon, Nick went with me to walk Teddy.  Usually I go alone when it gets this late, but Nick wanted to do the walk that was required for his Tenderfoot rank in Boy Scouts.  He only needed to complete a quarter mile, but we went two, our minimum walk for Teddy on a rainy day.  We parked at the Snoqualmie Valley Trail on Lake Alice Road.  That's our home trail and where I walk with my friend Rachel and her dog Rex when we don't have time to linger.

Nick laughed at the way Teddy raced along the muddy ditch, looking as though he was wearing long brown socks.  We only walked two miles, but Nick was tired near the end.  I liked having him walk with me.  At dusk, the weather turned gray and a mist layered in my hair.  I didn't feel really wet, but I could smell the rain on me. 

It was nice having Nick come along because it seemed like we'd been arguing so much in the last couple of days.  Here, he was easier.  We pretended he was a ranger.  These days, he wears the brown cloak that I made for him, thanks to the book 'The Ruins of Gorlan' by John Flanagan.  This afternoon, I read two more chapters of that first book of the Ranger's Apprentice series to Nick because he wanted to try to take a nap.  Napping is not easy for this boy and I tried to make it as much like bedtime as I could, but he still didn't fall sleep.  I suppose that the action in this book isn't all that conducive to sleep, but that's the price of a good book. 

In the beginning of the story, we find a small boy, Will, who doesn't know where he fits into life at the castle.  He's pushed around by the bigger boys, but he has the natural gifts of stealth, curiosity, and integrity, so that, Will is chosen to be apprenticed to a ranger.  At first, since the role of the rangers is a mystery, Will isn't sure he even wants to be one.  By the middle of the book, however, he's hooked and has begun to shine. 

Nick has totally identified with this book and we both look forward to reading it. 

"Mom, would I make a good ranger?" he asked as we walked.

"Yes, you would."

"I'd be an old-time ranger, before guns and grenades. I'd wear a cloak and shoot a bow."

"A true ranger would walk silently sometimes," I mused.  We each walked about ten paces before we were talking again.  I didn't really need him to be silent.  I just wish I were more silent sometimes.

"I'm pretty good with my bow and arrow," he said.

"Yup, and you get better when you practice," I said.  I'm not easy on my boy, but I hadn't meant it as criticism and he didn't take it as one, thankfully. 

"And I have fire in one hand and ice in the other."  I laughed.   He's blended the characters from the Ranger's Apprentice with those of his newest video game, Skyrim.  I haven't played, but Nick says that the beginning is easy and I'd be able to keep up.  I just don't enjoy playing video games.  My hands always hurt when I'm done and I tend to hunch my shoulders too, so it isn't a relaxing to me the way it is for Mike and Nick.  I'll leave all the monster-killing to them. 

On the way back, we spit off the bridge.  It takes a slow count to four to hit the ground or the stream below.  Then we tried to coax Teddy into going through the tunnel.  He wouldn't go.  He might be too big to be comfortable in it now.  Then we tried to get Teddy from whining for his friend, Beau, at the gate to his backyard.  It would be nice to live right on this trail.  I wonder if I'd take it for granted, the moss in the trees, the sapsucker that I see in the same place almost every time, the familiar faces of others with their dogs. 

And then, as we approached the parking lot, we were rangers no more ... until later, when, Mike and Nick were snuggled on the couch with their PS3 controllers.

"Dad, do you think I'd make a good ranger?"

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Danger of Expectations

It seems that I am most disappointed in myself as a mother when it's supposed to be about me and I maintain some expectations of that.

The other day was my birthday and I'm still trying to figure out why I didn't have a better time. I want a do-over and moms don't get that sort of thing.

That morning, Nick woke up very early and said he felt sick. I needed to send him to school anyway because he has already missed too much school to get a day off for feeling just a little sick. Oh, that did not go over well.

Then, Nick got frustrated and yelled at me because I was pushing him to get ready anyway, but then I relented and said he could skip band when he didn't want to skip band. Did I really deserve to get yelled at on my birthday when I was in the middle of trying to get a decent lunch together for him? Then I yelled at him over 'please' and 'thank you.' I know I'm supposed to pick my battles, but it sort of seemed to me that asking him to be polite to me on my birthday was not too much to ask. It made me cry along with all of the other errands and activities that I had somehow become responsible for on that day that I didn't really want to do. I've got to learn to just say no!

So then, Nick yelled at me again after school. Did I really teach him that this sort of behavior was acceptable?

And at the end of the day, when I was opening the presents Mike gave me, Nick said he had a gift for me too, but was too tired to go get it. Really?

Somebody please tell me if all eleven-year-old boys are like this?

There had been way too much yelling between us for me to consider it to be a good birthday. It would have been tough billed as an ordinary day.

Calgon, take me away!

Now picture me in a clawfoot tub, soaking my cares away with a good book. I wish!

Maybe I'll be a good mom next week.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sparks Will Fly

On Thursday, I'll be at the science fair with Mike, Nick, and our new hand cranked Van de Graaff generator.  Mike was asked to think of something to demonstrate to the kids that night.  The woman who was organizing the science fair thought of Mike from the science he did with the Cub Scouts.  One night, he lit up a pickle like a fluorescent light to demonstrate electricity. Another time, he hung each of the boys from a block and tackle to show them how a pulley worked.  Then, he showed them how they could blow through a straw contraption that they built to hold a ping pong ball up in midair, demonstrating Bernoulli's Principle, the very concept that keeps an airplane in the air.  The boys loved it.  So when it came to the science fair, Mike was a natural. 

I asked him a couple of weeks ago what he thought he'd do.  He's usually very quiet about these projects so I didn't expect to hear an answer. 

"I'm going to build a Van de Graaff generator," he said, grinning. "You know, the ball you put your hand on to see your hair fly up."

Oh, now that is very cool! 

Last week, a big box arrived in the mail and the next thing I knew, Mike had assembled a large table-top generator.  It was very pretty, but I wondered if one of us would be electrocuted.  I was also curious about how much it cost him, so I asked.

"Oh, it was $200," he said casually.  Wow! Mike really goes all out.  "But you know, we'll use it," he added.  Oh, I don't care.  I just think he's funny, the way he likes his toys.  I began to imagine all the classrooms that we could visit, letting Nick run experiments as if he were a magician.  Last year, Nick performed the pickle experiment for the kids in his class.  They loved it.   We could visit my friend, Marian, who teaches fifth grade.  We could visit classrooms in Nick's school.  This thing could be passed from one Cub Scout den to another.  In my head, each time we use it, we lower the cost of it, in a sense.  The first hour we spent playing with it cost us $200 per hour.  Then today, we added some experiments I found online.  After another hour of showing the boys what we could do, it lowered the cost to $100 per hour.  After two hours at the science fair, we'll be at $50 per hour and it goes down from there.  Already, it doesn't seem that expensive compared to what the kids are learning.  Shoot, I'm even learning some things.

Here's what you can do with a Van de Graaff generator. You can put a person on a footstool and ask her to put her hand on the aluminum ball then turn the crank.  Her hair will stand on end, each filament trying to stay as far as possible from the other. You can actually see if your hairstylist has cut your hair evenly. This experiment takes some courage, but the worst that can happen is that you get a static shock, like kissing the cat on a dry winter day. I looked it up to make sure.

The Van de Graaff we bought can generate up to 50,000 Volts. That sounds like a lot, but the current output is only about 50 micro Amps. I learned that current kills, but voltage just makes your hair stand on end. An AA alkaline battery only delivers 1.5 Volts with 0.700 Amps. Now, you should know that power, or Watts, comes from multiplying the current with the voltage.  The value of the power tells you how much it's going to hurt if you get zapped.  Touching both terminals of that battery with your tongue would be about the same as the zap you'd get from our generator if your feet were on the ground. We will have to be careful with cell phones and pacemakers though.

Nick asked if we were making lightning.  That's a good question.  An average bolt of lightning delivers 10,000,000 Volts carrying 30,000 Amps. Static discharges are a little like lightning in that they both have voltage, current, and snappy lines of light in the air. The difference is that static discharge has a tiny bit of current that zaps you like when your husband walks around in his socks in the winter and then kisses you, but lightning has enough current to melt sand into glass. I don't want to be the one standing on that beach when the lightning hits.

I remembered the analogy about voltage and current being like a waterfall. The height of the waterfall shows the voltage and the amount of water going over shows the current. So the static electricity of our Van de Graaff generator is like a tall and very narrow waterfall, not so powerful.  Lightning is like a tall and very wide waterfall.  It could knock your socks off, literally. 

With a Van de Graaff generator, you can perform feats of levitation with aluminum pie plates.  All I had to do was balance them on the sphere and crank it up.  They levitated for a second then flew away one by one like Frisbees.  The negative particles on the sphere got onto the the pie plates and then repelled each other which caused the levitation.  It's a little like the way you can make one magnet fly away from another by trying to push both negative ends together.  Cool! 

You can make a piece of paper hang from the sphere, but you can also make hole punches or confetti or even Rice Krispies dance and then scatter all over the floor.  You could zap the cat, but that would be mean.  Our cat, Buddy, has a hard enough time with his fly-away fur when it's cold and dry.  He hates getting zapped while I'm petting him, so I think I'll keep him far away when we're cranking out the electrons. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gossip and Coffee Cake

I am listening to 'Mansfield Park' by Jane Austen.  I'll listen to the whole thing out of obligation to the classics, but I'm not enjoying it.  I know that lots of Jane Austen admirers would cry out in protest that this may be her greatest book after 'Pride and Prejudice.'  I don't deny that she was a gifted writer.  I really don't.  I just hate having to sit quietly and play whist among so many mindless and tiresome characters.  I know that's the point.  If I work at it, I can see that it really is well done. 
'Mansfield Park' reminds me of when I was a kid in the 1960s and women used to drop by for a visit with my mother over coffee and cake.  It was her responsibility to have cake available whenever they decided to come.  That was the only part of it that I liked.  It was also her responsibility to sit and chat until the women had decided they were done visiting and stood up to leave regardless of how long that took.  While these women were there, I had to sit up straight on the couch and not fidget.  I was never even allowed to sit on this couch at other times, so the couch itself began to represent some form of punishment.  Sometimes, if I was lucky, the women would take pity on me and send me outside to play after I'd eaten my cake, but only when they wanted to talk plainly about who was cheating with whom or which one drank too much at the most recent cocktail party.  The parts about which woman had spurned another was not too much for me to sit quietly and hear.  I could instantly tell who was the target of the gossip by determining who was missing, who hadn't been invited to drop by with the others.  It was a nasty game.
I'm so glad people don't just drop in that way any more.  I missed piano lessons, 4-H meetings, and games of jump rope and tag outside.  Oh, I still hear these kinds of conversations occasionally, but I'm no longer required by courtesy to wait for them to talk it all the way through, assuming I have nothing better to do than to serve cake and listen.  I did have to sit through one such conversation the other day with a woman I don't know very well.  I won't even give this woman a name, but occasionally, I am still called to sit quietly until someone is finished talking about someone else.  Sometimes, I have the courage to redirect the conversation away from gossip by asking what book she is reading.  This woman wasn't reading anything and was not about to be deterred, despite my lack of participation. 

At those times, I remind myself to be careful because I saw how the neighborhood gossip could be so treacherous when I became that seen-and-not-heard child.  I remember how one woman would visit one day and talk about someone, then a few days later, the woman who'd been gossiped about would come to call and talk about the first.  It was a dicey game my mother played to stay out of the middle of it.  The worst part was that it all appeared to be about nothing.  If I hadn't been lucky enough to be excused, I would sit with my eyes unfocused, praying for the woman to finally stand up and ask for her coat.  It seemed interminable.  My mother didn't allow me to stare at the clock.  I wasn't allowed to stand up myself to initiate an ending.  I couldn't yawn.  God forbid that I suggest that I had a piano lesson and that we needed to leave if we were going to be there on time.  No, my job was to wait. 
So, sitting through an audio book in which these same gossipy women could come to visit for weeks or months on end rather than simply for a few hours is not my idea of a good time.  I suppose I could go sit on my couch, but I would have to sit up very straight and remember not to stare at the clock.
Thank you for listening, jb

Nesting Material

I tried to take time for myself today.  I ended up hemming Mike's pants, doing dishes, helping Nick with his math, taking down the garbage and recyclables.  I even filled the yard waste bin.  I did manage to wash the fabric I needed for the back of a quilt, but that is all.  My sewing room feels a bit neglected. I need more time there to piece things together.   Nick wants a red and black dragon quilt with a very soft red backing.  I could imagine him snuggled up in such a quilt on the couch. 

This morning, I noticed that a bird is building a nest on the corner of my house.  I'm not particularly in favor of this idea.  Does it damage the paint?  Will it open up spaces which can let in mice?  I know I won't pull it down.  Last year, Robins raised fledglings in a nest they borrowed, one that was balanced on the gutter.  Someone told me that it was probably a pair of Varied Thrush that had built it the year before.  I remember them flying back and forth across those windows, singing their single note song.  This was a sturdy nest made of moss and mud.  I'm sorry now that I took it down after the Robins were done with it.

I'm surprised that this bird is moving ahead with her plan despite the presence of a human and a dog four or five times underneath her construction site each day.  This is the place where we bring Teddy out to do his business.  As I waited for the dog, this tiny bird pulled at twigs and flitted from twig to twig about six or seven feet away.  Teddy was oblivious to her movements.  He certainly isn't a bird dog. 

I tried to find this bird in my Audubon bird books, but I'm afraid I wasn't paying close enough attention to her details.  I like comparing my memory of her to each picture in the book.  Did she have a yellow ring around her eyes like a Nashville Warbler? She was smaller than a Chickadee and had warm brown feathers rather than gray.  That leaves off the Bushtit, a Bell's Vireo, and a Verdin. Excuse me, may I measure you from tip to tail?  She was too small to be a Wrentit, though her silhouette seemed to fit that round shape.   I remember she was a soft brown above but had a little plaid below, but still the same tone of brown, on her very round belly.  I don't remember her having a long tail.   She wasn't thin enough to be a House Wren, nor did she have a striking striped tail.  I don't remember an eyebrow stripe, so I didn't see her as a Winter Wren or Bewick's Wren.  The sparrows pictured seem sleeker and had mottled white and brown feathers.  No, there is no picture in my books that is quite like my tiny brown bird. 

My brother-in-law is very good at identifying birds.  I could ask him.  Yet, have you ever known that you want to know a little more about a subject without wanting to be an expert?  Have you ever asked an expert then, and found that you are overwhelmed by the further questions, by the implication that you should know the answer already?  No, I'm not going to ask my brother-in-law, no matter how smart he is.  It would ruin my experience.

See, it is a gift to be allowed to see fledglings learn to fly, as I have done for years with our Stellar's Jays and Robins.  It is a gift to watch them clamoring for food in the nest, like the swallow in the eaves of the porch at the CSA farm.  And today, as I watched this tiny little bird gather twigs for her nest, it is a gift yet again.  I hold these birds dear to my heart.  I won't bring a cage of them into my house, but the ones that make their home near my home are my birds, like cheerful outdoor family members.  I've been told I shouldn't feed them, but when it snow, I put out peanut butter instead of worrying.  I try to keep a brick of suet for them with cayenne pepper so the mammals won't eat it. 

As I was cleaning up my sewing room and pulling out my new fabric, warm from the dryer, I realized that I wanted to see if I could help this bird line her nest.  None of us has long hair to bother emptying our brushes and combs.  I could put the cat's fur outside after I brush them, but would a bird use material from a predator?  So, instead, I found some tiny pieces of scraps and threads in my basket, pieces I had once used to line the hamster's nest.  I took that, along with some dryer lint and put it outside in the bush where I saw my tiny round bird foraging for nesting material.  Will she use my colorful scraps?  Nick thinks she'll use anything, even cat fur.  I'm not sure she'll even touch anything I put outside.  Nick, in fact, thinks that this bird is the male and that he's going to make a pretty nest to attract a nice girl bird.  Now that is a very sweet idea for an eleven-year-old boy to have.  I have read about this with a species of bird, but I have no true idea about my tiny brown bird. 

It's funny how I imagine a mother building her nest, and Nick sees a father building a home.  We see what we want to see, don't we?  Now that I know it's there, I hope I can watch this nest being built without ruining it with my predator eyes.  I remember how disturbed the Stellar's Jay was when I started watching her babies too closely.  I hope to see the bright colors from my finished quilts intertwined with the twigs.  I hope to see puffs of dryer lint and cat hair and thread.  It would feel like art then, as if I'd had a hand in making it.   Even if the pieces aren't used, it's nice to think of our attached homes, of her listening to me feed my fledgling as he clamors for more.  It's nice to think of us listening to each other's song.  It's nice to think of us living side by side in harmony. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Howling at the Moon

The day was balmy, a good day for a walk with the dog.  Now that I'm home, since Nick and one of his friends left the screen door open, the fresh wet smell is still around me.  Our crocuses are up.  Nick and I planted them six years ago, and though the squirrels found many of them plus the tulips that had been here when we moved in, there are a few still blooming.  The boys are on a quest outside in the late dusk, shooting bad guys, and the dog is lolling about, mud drying on his flanks.  It smells like spring. 

I keep hearing other dog lover's talk about how they don't walk their dogs much in our wet winter weather. Do the dogs know that they don't need a walk on those days?  If I didn't take Teddy out because of a few days of rain, he'd chew my house down.  I might help him.  If it's raining and cold, I layer up and throw my long red raincoat over everything.  With all the layers and my gear in my pockets, I can stand still and look like a red tent, but I stay warm and dry.  Mike gave this coat to me for my birthday a few years back.  He told me he could have chosen green, but got the red one instead.  He said it would be easier to find me in the woods if I got lost.  I told him that a satellite could see me from space in that red rain jacket.  I wear it anyway.  It has a good hood and deep pockets, covers me to the knees, and keeps me dry as I walk all over our valley. 

We all just came back inside after a 'reconnaissance.'  After dinner, the boys decided that Mike and I needed to go outside with them to shoot bad guys since they thought they'd heard a coyote howl after they tried howling.  I came outside with them and heard something too, but I'm not positive it was a coyote.  To be honest, it sounded more like a kid in his back yard, answering their call.  The three of us ended up howling at the moon and were hardly quiet enough in between to hear if anyone answered us. By the time we had shot into the dark and run around the house a few times, the boys got spooked and lost their determination.  Suddenly, they hustled back inside.

Here's what I saw.  Nick, Jack, and I am terrible at staying unseen in the shadows.  Mike was the only one with that gift.  I was warm and dry in just a light jacket.  A half moon rose up over the ridge on the North side of the house. I wondered if I should pretend it was the enemy and shoot.  The boys looked into the shadows, listening for animals rustling in the sword ferns and ivy.  They wanted me out front just in case.  I wanted to be behind them so as not to get hit by a pellet.   Air soft guns aren't all that soft when they hit the back of your neck.  Later, I stood on the lower lawn under the Douglas Fir trees where I could see Orion hunting toward the West in a clearing.  Clouds moved in quickly after that and left a corona around the moon, green, yellow and orange in the rainbow around it.  It was pretty and bright enough to put us all into moon shadow.

Then the song popped into my head. "I'm being followed by a moon shadow."  Poor Cat Stevens, just couldn't handle the wonder we all had in that song.  I wish he hadn't had to leave it all and change his name, but better that than losing himself altogether the way some musicians did.  I was reluctant to come inside when the boys heard something else moving behind the garage where we'd shown Jack the bear trail.  They moved pretty quickly.  I ambled along behind.  The lovely night disappears in the sounds and lights inside. 

Thank you for listening, jb