Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Blame the Television

I have to tell you that I generally like watching Spongebob Squarepants.  I like that he's a nice guy.  I love the episode in which he carves a masterpiece from stone and Squidward is jealous and steals it.  I love hearing things like, "With lots of love and affection, we can take care of him."  I like Gary, how the snail reminded Spongebob how to tie his shoes when he forgot. 

But when I'm just hanging around in the living room, trying to clean up a bit or working on the computer, the sound of Spongebob on television just drives me nuts.  (I just typed Spongeboob by accident.  Isn't that a Freudian slip?)  The commercials drive me nuts.  The slight whine of their voices drive me nuts.  The way the sound goes from a running burble to a loud spike of noise drives me nuts.

I go absolutely crazy and end up with that vacant mom-look in which a child just knows that the silence and the look is the precursor to an explosion about dirty clothes on the floor or homework that isn't finished.  It's a universal look that every kid understands and fears.  Nick hasn't left any dirty clothes on the floor.  He has done as much homework as he can right now. 

He's getting sick.  It's a week after the fact, but he's getting the scourge that was going around at Seabeck.  So, I'm not in his face about homework.  He's behaving well.  Actually, he's just sitting on the couch with a glazed look on his face.  I have no issues with Nick, but why do I feel this grinding aggravation when the television is left on too long.

It's the television's fault.  The producers, writers, and advertisers all work to grab my attention.  Over and over, my attention is jerked forward to the sound at that side of the room.  Over and over, I realize that it has nothing to do with me or what I'm doing.  I can relax and ignore it.  That's not good enough.  My attention is summoned again and again and again.  That's fine for someone who's watching, but for me, it's a cause for insanity. 

Still, when Nick's not feeling well, I'm not going to make him turn it off.  I'll just have to live with the insanity.  No big change there.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Watching Dogs Dancing

I got nothing.  Really.  I am one dead piece of meat, just waiting to go to bed for the night.  I had a physical today to fill out my form for Scout camp.  The doctor said I'm in good health.  If I'm in such good health, why am I so damn tired??????

Okay, you don't want to hear about tired.  You're tired of tired.  Good.  I am too.

Today, I walked Teddy at Marymoor park.  Now, everybody who knows anything about dogs around the Seattle area knows that Marymoor is the best off leash dog park within a hundred mile radius.  There's water to play in along the slough.  There are open fields with tall grass.  There are tall trees for some shady walking.  The trails are well maintained.  I clocked 2.04 miles on RunKeeper today.  It was easy.  I watched the great blue herons feeding their baby, a big baby.  I talked to people and watched Teddy play.

The thing to know about going to Marymoor is that you should never go there on a sunny weekend.  It's just too full of dogs that haven't seen another dog in the past ten months.  The best days at Marymoor are gray days like today, especially during the week.  The people I see during the week are the regulars, the ones who walk their dogs every day regardless of the weather.  These dogs get along together a whole lot better than the ones who haven't seen another dog since last summer. 

Teddy made lots of friends, a sweet teenage labradoodle with a bad case of hair-fuck, an Aussie/Border Collie mix that acted too cool for school like Teddy, a bossy terrier mix that was smaller than a chihuahua, and a Golden Retriever who was relieved that Teddy had no interest in his ball.  Teddy doesn't particularly like water or tennis balls.  He managed to smear himself with what I could only imagine was dog shit.  I figured if he didn't wash it off by the time we left, I'd have to take him over to the dog wash.  It's only $13, but the guy always comes around to tell me I'm not doing it right when I'd rather be left alone.  I just couldn't picture myself getting this poopy dog into the car to let him wipe his dirty self all over my car seats.  He managed to dip his nose into the water and dunk down a few times and without too much ado, it washed out.  I don't think Teddy liked being poopy.  He doesn't mind being muddy, but the mud holes have mostly dried up. 

Teddy is a wash and wear kind of dog.  I like that about him.  He can dunk down into the mud and be almost completely brown, but by the time we walk back to the car, most of it has fallen off him.  Good thing.  A lot of it falls off in the car too, but I try to keep a blanket across the back seat to shield them, for the most part, so the boys have a decent place to sit.

Today, people wanted to talk.  Teddy took an older guy out at the knees by sneaking up behind him.  I had even warned his wife that he was known for that kind of thing.  Another woman and I watched as Teddy body-slammed a bigger dog who had the advantage over him.  He'd been headed toward him at full speed when, at the last moment, he did a classic home-base slide and rolled this dog's legs out from under him.  It couldn't have been a better move if they'd choreographed it.  I ended up asking a guy who'd always had Aussies about Teddy's antisocial sleeping habits and he said that's totally typical.  I had a good time.  Thankfully, it wasn't too hot out to run my errands and leave Teddy in the car for a bit.  It was a good and productive day. 

I have to tell you that I spent a lot of time just standing at the park, talking to people, and laughing at the way our dogs were playing.  That's a great way to break up the monotony of running errands.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Noisy Neighbors

I don't know what to write about today.  I never know.  There are a million things on my list, but it's what's in my brain that counts.  I keep trying to write.  I have a cold and feel kind of blotto.  Today, I walked the dog anyway.  I worked with Nick with his math anyway.  I made dinner anyway.  I went to four stores to find flag lapel pins anyway.  One woman running a store was wearing one, but didn't have any to sell. I folded clothes anyway.  I even picked out the shredded tissue from all of the clean laundry knowing that I had been the one to make that mistake.  I tried, without success, to fill out my medical form online for a camping trip this weekend that I don't feel well enough to attend.  They need me to go because there aren't enough adults going.  I'll go anyway. 

I want to be in bed.  I feel just bad enough to want to skip everything, but not so bad that I lose track of time.  I'm bored of hanging out here when I'm at home.  When I'm out, I want to be at home, in bed.

Tonight, while Nick and I were working on math with the sliding door open to the screen, a robin came to bathe in the tiny bird bath.  She looked too big for the tub.  The birds are inured to the sound of our voices.  Then, the mountain beaver came out and was ripping up sword ferns and dragging them into a hole in the hillside.  This creature, one we've only seen once before in the twenty-one years we've lived here, didn't seem to mind our voices either.  We must make a lot of noise, a lot of noise that doesn't sound at all dangerous to our neighbors.  Well, it hasn't been, has it?  No one is hurting them.  Even the dog has been oblivious to these creatures.  Oh, he whined a little when he saw them.  The two cats sat at the screen and stared.  Shoot, we were all there, staring at these round creatures just ten or twelve feet away who moved around as if we weren't there.  So why are they so shy about being seen at other times? 

"They really do look like beavers!" Nick said.  "No, they look more like fat prairie dogs."  The only thing I'd add to that is that they have wrinkly ears and they're mousy brown rather than chocolate or tawny colored. 

I like having these neighbors.  It made the math more fun.  It was a distraction, yes, but a nice one.

Now, I'm going back to bed.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Summer Snow

Today, the summer snows began.  I've admired these since I moved here more than twenty years ago.  I thought it was lovely, the way tiny puffs would fall slowly to the ground, glowing in the sunlight, the way it would blanket the ground in places.  When people complained of it, I'd just smile to myself.  I love this time of year.  There is nowhere I've ever lived that looks like this in the end of May.  This year is no disappointment.

I'm also a little that way about skunk cabbage.  Most people hate it, a plant that smells like a skunk if you step on it, a plant that thrives in swampy areas.  I love skunk cabbage, the way it holds up large yellow blooms early in the spring, blooms you can see from your car.  Not being a swamp-walker, I have never even accidentally stepped on one, so I have no idea if the smell is true to my memory of a skunk.  Indiana is full of the smell of skunks in the spring and summer.  I guess I just don't fit with people's opinions of things.  I don't mind seeing slugs on the trail either.  Or dandelions.  I think dandelions are pretty.  Plus, they're edible.  My grandma would have been able to tell you if they were good for your kidneys or your liver.  I wish I had listened to those things when she said them. 

Today, I walked with Teddy along a trail from the Tolt-MacDonald park toward the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.  Nick and Mike were way ahead of me on their bikes.  The trail was thick with the fluff from cottonwood trees.  And yes, it came down like snow.  A vortex swirled behind Teddy as he ran ahead of me, looking back almost as if to say, "Look at me!"

I tried to take a picture of the puffs gleaming in the late-afternoon light, but my little camera is bad with points of light.  That's the only thing I don't like about it.  It never captures the light the way I see it.  The cottonwood was so thick in the air, it did look like snow.  The only bad thing about that is that when you breathe snow into your mouth, it melts.  These felt like little bits of cotton.  Imagine that?  It went up my nose.  It went into my mouth.  My black shirt looked as though I'd been petting a cottonwood cat.  It was too thick to dodge as I walked. I wonder if you could make anything out of all that fluff?  It might make an allergy quilt.

Generally, I like the summer snows.  I don't really have much of an allergy to it, so I think it's pretty all banked together on the lee side of the trails. 

Somehow though, I was beginning to feel sick as I walked.  My eyes were itchy and tearing up.  My throat was not quite sore, but definitely scratchy.  I felt run down.  Was I catching the dreaded Seabeck flu or was this a bit of allergy?  I wasn't sure. 

When I got home, I took some allergy medicine and guess what?  It didn't take long for me to feel better.  I'm at least a little allergic to the beautiful summer snow.  Well, drat. 

You notice that, again, I managed NOT to tell you that juicy bit of gossip that I have sliding around under my tongue.  Nothing I write will be as interesting as long as I'm thinking about that.  Sorry.  Will I be able to restrain myself?

I can't wait until Tuesday when it's dog-walking time and I can tell all to my friend, Rachel.  I'll just have to take allergy medicine before I go traipsing around in the cottonwood fluff with her and the dogs.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tubby and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

I can't tell you the story I really want to tell you.  This thing is big gossip and I was nearly there when it happened. 

I'm inherently a gossip.  I am.  I love juicy details. I love when things may not make the news but are going to be the NEWS. 

I've already told you this about myself, haven't I?  Oh, I want to be a gossip.  I really do.  Why else would I be writing? 

Okay, well, I should write about something else then. I will.  This story is hard to give up.  It's that good.  Or bad, depending on your perspective. 

Okay then.

Today, I finally drove across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  Not all of you might know, but this bridge, like the Brooklyn Bridge, is pretty famous.  Don't know what I'm talking about, do you?  You might not, unless you were ever awake during a physics or mechanical engineering class.  I have taken about four of these classes and I loved seeing this video, even the second and third times.  Know what I mean yet?  You can Google 'Tacoma' and 'physics' and find it.  You can search You Tube and find the original film of Galloping Gertie, the name they gave to the bridge by the workers who were bounced on it while they were building it.  Wasn't that a clue that something was seriously wrong even before they opened the bridge? 

The film shows a single car on the bridge and usually, you can see a man lurching along the center line, trying to get off the bridge.  What I hadn't known before today, is that the film shows Leonard Coatsworth after he abandoned his car and along with a black Cocker Spaniel, Tubby.  He had tried to get Tubby out, but the frightened dog bit Coatsworth and wouldn't get out of the car with him.  A photographer, Howard Clifford, also tried to rescue poor Tubby, but couldn't.  By the time he got off the bridge, chunks of concrete were falling off the bridge, the noise was deafening, and Clifford was battered and bruised.  When they asked him why he risked his life, he said, "I like dogs and I'd seen this one playing at the park earlier."

They opened the bridge on July 1, 1940 and it collapsed during high winds on November 7, 1940 at 11:00 am.   Since then, all bridge designs include work to test natural resonance.  Natural resonance is most easily described as how you make a swing go higher by pushing it at just the right moment.  If the frequency of your pushes aren't matched with the swing, you'll never get that great arc.  Next time you're trying to get your six year old to pump his legs at just the right time because your arms are tired, you can tell him it's a simple matter of matching the frequency of his leg movement to the natural frequency of the swing, which is dependent on the length of the chain.  Do you remember how annoying the short swings were, the way they'd waggle back and forth and never get that great long arc?  My favorite swings have been the ones that are really tall. 

The funny thing is, that the wind in the Tacoma Narrows was a steady wind, so long after the bridge failure, they defined a new term:  aeroelastic flutter.  Now, this idea is new to me, but the best description I read was that if you blow a fan across a long thin sheet of paper held tightly at both ends, it will begin to flutter, creating a standing wave.  Now, a standing wave is easy to imagine.  Picture a motor boat moving across a lake.  The waves that flow out from behind the boat, the wake, are standing waves.  A guitar string being plucked creates a standing wave that comes to your ear as a single note.  Even light moves in waves.  Boy, the guitar string and the water really helped me understand light waves back when I was studying all that.  My favorite standing waves lie in the Wenatchee river.  Somehow the placement of the rocks on the bottom of the river causes the water to form standing waves, waves that don't die out.  I can almost imagine the forces at work there.  But never mind.  These standing waves are so much fun to play on, if you know what you're doing.

So, I was really excited to be driving across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge thirty-five years after I first saw the film of Galloping Gertie.  I'm happy to say, it wasn't oscillating today.  There were no people swaying as if drunk along the center line, and no dogs died.  Poor Tubby.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Kisses at Camp?

Well, it's my last night at Seabeck. There were crazy skits, injuries, illnesses, and whipped cream incidents. Someone said that two kids were 'making out' at the back of the amphitheater. Kissing? Well, it's a bit earlier than I expected, but I'm not surprised. I know that Nick and Adrian might have ideas and blooming desires, but they aren't the ones snogging.

I was in seventh grade before I ever French kissed a boy. It all seems pretty innocent at this age. Am I naive? Maybe. Is it important for parents to overlook some minor things so kids can develop some independence? I don't know.

There is so much more to write, I'm going to leave you thinking about your first kiss for now.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Going Nuts

So, we spent weeks with the school staff discussing how to handle Nick's tree-nut allergy at Seabeck. They assured me that no snacks are allowed there and that it wouldn't be a problem. I've been offered mixed nuts twice by parents and even been asked about bringing snacks for the kids by visiting parents for the kids. These are snacks that I know Nick shouldn't eat. One of the parents eating cashews was assigned to Nick's group and was headed over to work with them. She was surprised when I asked her to wash her hands. Before that, she wiped her hands on her pants four times. I watched, wishing I could say something more.

Do I expect people to change their diets for four days to accommodate my son? It's an interesting question. Here's my short answer: yes. My longer answer is that if your child could possibly die from my actions, I'd be working hard to keep that from happening. I would really appreciate the same courtesy from you.

Courtesy. A funny word for an action that might be lethal.

I also know that if I were responsible for a child's death, my life would be altered. It would be a very difficult change to live with. So do these parents actually think that it isn't as serious as we claim? Seems like it.

I'm tired. I have to tell you that I took a handful of the cashews when they were offered. Then I didn't touch anything else with that hand until I went in to wash my hands. That makes me a hypocrite, doesn't it. I wish I hadn't, but I did.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Well, I have survived a day of camp. It was great, but the ear worm mind brain is singing is 'Daylight comes and I want go home.' Is that how I really feel? Not really.

I was funny going into a rowboat in the rain with two boys who wanted to test its stability and one boy who couldn't swim. It turned out that the boy who couldn't swim was the better rower. The other two took us in circles.

It rained for the crazy Olympics. We played capture the flag, elimination hoops, backward skipping relay races and more. My favorite was when we had to hold little gutters and roll a golf ball down it without dropping it and keep going to the end of the line to travel with the golf ball. Oh, it's hard to explain, but easy to figure out. Fun too.

Dinner was great and since they have a salad bar and no nuts, I have no worries.

This afternoon, we spent an hour on the beach at low tide. Nick presented me with what looked like a clam, but it had an eel in it! I held up a big sheet of sea lettuce and asked if he wanted a seaweed snack.

He gave me a big hug before going off to bed. I hope he's asleep by now. I will be in a bit. It's very quiet here, but for the light snoring of my roommate.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 21, 2012

Packed for Camp

I need to keep this short tonight. I'm hoping to sleep a bit.  I'm packed.  Nick is packed.  The only one of us who isn't packed is Mike.  Tomorrow, Nick and I are going to fifth grade camp at Seabeck. 

I'm nervous.  I've packed carefully.  I'm hoping I get into camp mode like I did when we all went to Cub Scout camp at Brinkley.  There I seemed to float through the days with a song in my head and a good feeling from being among the trees.  We're going boating in salt water.  I hope I have room on my iPhone camera for a ton of photos.  Have I ever told you that I love my iPhone?  I'm hoping I'm not so far out of range that I can't communicate with people.  I've been asked by at least three parents to forward a bit of information about how their kid is doing there.  I'm hoping all I'll be doing is sending grainy photos of kids grinning.  That's a pretty good job for me.

Plus, I've looked at the schedule and they've actually planned time into the schedule for writing!  I think I'll love this place.  There will be campfires and skits and hopefully a bunch of songs that we come home singing.  From Camp Brinkley, I'll miss hearing the 'Announcements' song.  Will Seabeck have its own set of songs?  I hope so. 

I'm going to miss Mike. I'll have to sneak off at some point in the day to talk to him.  I'm really not sure if they've set me up for any free time at all.  I'll probably ache to take a good walk with Teddy though I understand we'll be doing at least a little hiking.  And I'll wish at some point in the afternoon that I had my recliner, a blanket, and a cosy kitty or two to snuggle up with.  Buddy is really going to miss me.  Hell, they're all going to miss me.  Today, when I napped, I had Buddy on my lap, Seth by my left hand, and Teddy on the other end of the couch.  It was very cosy, the closest the cats will allow the dog to be. 

I'm nervous about this trip, but I think that there will be enough to do that I won't have time to worry what people think of me.  Now that I'm packed, I can almost feel myself floating into that camping zone.  I worry that I won't get enough sleep.  Apparently, the high school kids spend a lot of time at night working to scare the pants off the fifth-graders.  Will I get too tired and snap at them?  I hope not.  I just want to float along and have a good time, reveling in watching the kids have this experience, trying to add to their wonder.  I'm even going to get to do some watercolors!  Time to write, time in a boat, and watercolors!  All of it out in the woods.  Yeah, I'm ready to go.  Wish me luck with my iPhone reception.  If you don't hear from me until Friday, you'll know I was really in the middle of nowhere. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Broken Peace Treaty

We have a problem in our house.   It's like the beginning of a bad horror movie.  The spiders are hatching and somehow, somewhere, they've gotten inside the house.  I can't see them.  I've searched, and can't find them.  Yet, I have more than a dozen spider bites.

Now, I have a long and complicated history with spiders.  When I was a kid in Indiana, I would occasionally come across a really big spider.  People used to call them wolf spiders.  For about three weeks one summer, this wolf set up his web between the eaves of the house and the clothes line.  He was huge.  To my memory, he was at least four inches from toe to toe.   I got quite adept at running a jagged loop around that spot in the yard so that I was never, ever directly underneath the web or the spot at the edge where old Wolfie held court.  We had a solid agreement, Wolfie and I.  He wouldn't drop down on my head unexpectedly to bite me and I wouldn't take a long stick and mess up his web.  We did fine together, for a while.  I even enjoyed some time looking at Wolfie from a distance, well out of spider-leaping distance. 

Then he disappeared. 

I don't think I slept for a week.  Around the same time, there was a story in the newspaper about the brown recluse spider including a picture of the effects of necrosis from an untended bite.  I don't think I ever explained what I was doing by folding back my sheets all the way to look for brown furry scurrying creatures.  I don't think anyone ever asked me what I was doing either.  The only one who just might have noticed was my sister, who occupied the same room, but she probably just put it down to my being ten and she couldn't be bothered since she was already sixteen and much too preoccupied with her transistor radio to ask what crazy plan I had developed this time.

Eventually, I got back to sleeping, but I was no less cautious around spiders.  For a while, I had a reasonable comfort with grand daddy long legs,or Opiliones, until my brother told me they'd be deadly if they could just get their mouths open wide enough to bite.  It turns out that he was wrong.  They don't have venom or the ability to make a web.  They aren't even officially spiders, though my instincts to jump and run when I came across one told me they were a damn sight close enough. 

Later, when I'd matured a bit, I managed a bit better.  A bunch of us were going camping and had to hike in about five miles to camp.  I wasn't very adept at packing light yet, so I ended up carrying a gallon jug of water in each hand the whole way.  None of them were too happy with me when, after getting a spider web wrapped around my face, both jugs seemed to inexplicably be flung high into the air and come crashing down and bursting on the ground as I danced around trying to see if the spider had clung to her web, and me, or if she'd swung clear to save her life.  What that crew didn't realize was that I managed to keep my clothes on, despite my impromptu dance, thus indicating a leap forward in my ability to manage my fear. 

I back-slid a bit the next year, when I crashed my car into the rear of a semi truck trying to keep a small black spider from dropping into my lap while at a stop light on my way to meet a guy for a date on his sail boat.  I never made it to the boat, but had an emergency visit to the dentist to fix the two broken teeth from French kissing my steering wheel.  After that, all treaties were broken.  I used anything I could find to smack a wayward spider if I found him in my house, newspapers, fly swatters, even the tiny heel of a pair of tall black pumps I used to wear.  Not that was good aim.

When we moved into this house in the woods twenty-one years ago, I called Orkin to see if we needed to take care of any pests.  The man carefully inspected our house, inside and out. 

"Ma'am, you don't have anything but spiders here.  You have quite a lot of spiders, but I'd hazard a guess that this is why you don't have any of the other potentially damaging pests," he said.  "To be honest, I don't think I'd do anything about them as long as there aren't a lot of them inside the house."

On that day, I made a treaty with my new neighbors.  They could stay outside and I wouldn't take a broom and tear down their webs.  We have lived by that treaty since then.  I've even managed to learn a new habit of catching a wayward spider in a jar and taking it back outside where it belongs.  Nick, when he finds a spider in the house, actually calls me to come get it!  Now that's progress.  Once, we had a very large spider up in the skylight and I managed to get her down and outside in one piece.  She had a toe-span of about three inches.  When I looked her up on the Internet, it turned out that she was a house spider and totally harmless.  I'm sorry.  I'm just not advanced enough to have taken her in like a house cat and made a pet of her.  Just one surprise visit from her in the linen closet and she would have been road pizza.  I'd have been grabbing for my shoes again.  I didn't want any back-sliding like the car accident to happen, but I told her she was welcome in the garage or the shed. 

When the spiders hatched in the yard and some of them spanned a walkway, I'd patiently broken a corner of their webs and moved it, leaving the rest of the webs intact.  I even tried to encourage the little white spider that liked to live inside my cinnamon-flavored rose buds. 

But now, in one week, I've been bitten at least a dozen times.  It's like a horror movie.  Picture the sleeping woman with a spider in her bedding.  You've seen that movie.  She turns over at the wrong time and gets bitten.  That was me!  Three times, I've actually found spiders crawling on my clothes while I was working around the house and had to jump up, undress, and throw the clothes into the dryer.  I've even gone back to looking between my sheets before I get into bed. Some of these spiders were really small so Mike figures it was a wayward hatch. I don't care if they're babies.  I've had enough!  They've broken our treaty.  I'm calling Orkin.

Thank you for listening, jb

Why a Flash Mob?

What is the positive impact on the community of a flash mob? 

I went to a Court of Honor for an Eagle Scout tonight.  I've been to two of them now and they're inspiring.  You take a boy who has been involved in Scouting for nine years, you add up all their efforts and after a great deal of physical and intellectual challenges and a number of service projects, a boy can be awarded the highest honor that the Boy Scouts can give, the rank of Eagle Scout.  The last big push before an Eagle Scout rank is awarded is the Eagle Scout project.  It's akin to a Master's thesis, sometimes the straw that breaks the camel's back, sometimes a soaring accomplishment.

Now that Mike is taking on the leadership of the local Boy Scout troop, he's beginning to work with a some of the boys with their Eagle projects.  One was a riverside cleanup effort.  Another involved trail-building.  Most of the projects seem to include some form of construction and organization of the efforts of volunteers and donations of materials.  That's not a simple task. 
Not all of the boys' interests fall neatly into categories though.  One boy wants to do a photography project.  That one will be interesting and might involve working with the Fall City Historical Society.  Now imagine what that could produce?  A book?  Well, it might be a bit over the top for an Eagle project, but you never know where work like that might take that boy. 

I've helped with just one project so far, one involving trail-building.  I had a good time, worked hard, and was eventually demoted to taking pictures.  I liked working hard, but taking pictures kept me out of physical therapy for the next month, once I felt a familiar zing warning me to slow up. 

"Let the strong young men do the hard physical labor," one scrawny boy said to me, grinning.  I could stand to do some hard physical labor, but I didn't argue too much.  I'm not a good candidate for heavy lifting.  Instead, I took about fifty pictures and burned a disc for this boy so that his work would be well-documented.  I was tempted to take only pictures of the boys working and of the men lounging around, but in the end, I decided that this might not be the best of practical jokes. 

Yes, we can always use good trails.  This one is now wheelchair accessible.  Talk about positive impact on the community.  There will be no quarrels over that issue at his board of review, no questions at all. 

Well, except one, if I'd happen to be invited.  What makes your project unique to you and your interests? Okay, I love good trails.  I like thinking that I'll take a little ownership of the rocks and gravel in that section of trail that I personally helped to haul there.  I could see the pride that this boy took in directing twenty people to accomplish what we did. 

One time, just the fact that I was wearing a Cub Scout T-shirt instigated a young guy to approach Nick and I about Scouting.  At first, he talked about how much he loved Camp Brinkley.  Then, he told us a tragic story about how he'd done some raised boardwalk sections of trail through a swampy area and not four months later, a nasty windstorm took them all out.  I knew which windstorm he was talking about.  Can you imagine?  You spend hours organizing, days even, then you managed to gather a crew of people to help you do a job like this.  You finish the job and are extraordinarily proud of your accomplishment.  The walkways were beautiful.  Then, just days after your Court of Honor, a month shy of your eighteenth birthday, a storm erases all of your work.  Now you know there can be a good bit of heartache in becoming an Eagle Scout as well.  I tried to tell this boy that he'd worked hard and done a good job, that the storm hadn't diminished his effort, just the product.  I could see his anguish.  Maybe he might even try to restore what had been lost if he felt so strongly about it, but I'll never know, will I?  Grocery store conversations are like that. 

But really, what makes this project uniquely yours?  I hate to see people going through the motions.  I know that it might not be appreciated  when it comes down to it, but I'd like to encourage the boys who don't want to go through the motions to come up with a plan that truly suits them and their interests.

One of the boys is really interested in theater.  He doesn't want to build a section of trail.  His will need to be a unique project. 

After hearing about his boy, I had an inspiration.  What about a flash mob?  Mike was not impressed.  To his thinking, building a set for a play or repairing a stage at an old amphitheater would be more appropriate.

"It has to have a positive impact on the community," he said with authority.  I admit that I'm new to this Eagle Scout project thing.  I don't know what will pass muster and what won't.  I don't know how flexible the people on the board of review will be regarding a project on the fringes.  Why do I always have to think of things that are on the fringes?  Well, there are people who need that, this boy, for example.  If he restores a trail, will he be going through the motions?  Will the project become the straw that broke the camel's back?  I've suffered through those kinds of problems, believe me.  It feels good to throw a little of my personal eccentricities at this problem.  I know I wouldn't be able to get through a project this big without it being connected to me in some way.  The boy in the grocery store did the perfect project for him.  I could see his pride in his work.  We need men like him running construction companies, but we also need the kids on the fringes, the ones bursting with that off-beat creativity that throws a twist into the pattern. 

So, I looked it up.  A flash mob that celebrated recycling garnered 876,852 page views.   That's a lot of air time to promote recycling.   An anti-bullying flash mob has had 911,243 views.  The Hallelujah Chorus sung at a Christmas Food Court brought 37,733,402 hits. 

A flash mob in the Copenhagen Metro garnered 2,782,049 views and brought tears to my eyes.  What is the value to the community of that?  I'm just asking.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, May 18, 2012

Names and Last Words

This is the time of day when I get tired.  Dinner is going to be late.  I don't want to go anywhere tonight, but Nick has a karate lesson and a class.  That also means that he has to do a reading summary.  I do not want to be hovering while he does his work tonight at eight. 

Chocolate.  I need chocolate on days like this.

'Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, Mama said.'

Oh, I never called my mother 'Mama.'  It didn't fit.  I've called her 'Ma' for thirty years.  I started calling her that when I was a teenager just to annoy her.  It stuck so that whenever I get on the the phone and say, "Hi Ma!" she always knows it's me even though my voice and my sister's are barely distinguishable.  My brother and sister call her 'Mother.'  That's the name that suits her best.  It's the name she wants.  She used to say that 'Ma' reminded her of Ma and Pa Kettle. 

Nick calls me 'Mom' or 'Momma' when he's tired.  I don't feel like a 'Mother' but would rather have the aura of 'Mama.'  It makes me think of lyrics like 'My mama loves me, she loves me, she gets down on her knees and hugs me, loves me like a rock.'  I'd like to be that kind of mom.  Unfortunately, real life is a little bit different than that. 

Lately Nick has been experimenting with calling me 'Mothuh.'  At first, I didn't like it and told him to stop.  Then I realized that his name for me has to evolve as he grows.  Mostly, I think that it'll pass because he was using it with an arched eyebrow, as if we were upper class. 

Okay, I'm still tired .  Usually, it takes about thirty minutes or so to pass, that strong need for a nap.  Oh, I like to have my afternoon nap. 

How boring is that? 

I think our names affect us more than we ever know.  Our endearments may say more than anything about us.  I've heard it said that the last words of most pilots on the black boxes that are recovered are 'Oh Momma' more often than they are anything else.  I wonder if anyone has looked at which term for mom is used most often.  Why is it comforting that Nick's last words just might be about me?  I'd like to think it's about the ones who loved us most.  In that case, my last words might either be 'Mike,' 'Nick,' or 'Grandma.'  They are the people who loved me best. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Purgatory of the Little Red Pants

I hate when I get a cold or the flu and I'm well enough to think of all the work I need to do, but not well enough to do it. I should have walked the dog. I should have changed the sheets and run the vacuum.  I should have disinfected every surface I touched and some that I didn't.  I wanted to do a dozen other things, play on my blog account, discuss life with my book club, and go to Elliott Bay Books when I had to go into Seattle for essential Scout stuff anyway. I love Elliott Bay Books.

I just can't keep up.  Just now, I tried to use the google app to get information from a barcode about a book I like. I'm hopelessly good at making mistakes with technology when I don't feel well. I couldn't get it to work. It's as if part of my brain was sneezed out at 102 mph with a spray of virus and will take time to grow back.

The book is 'Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and me' by Ian Morgan Cron. This guy has the gift of being able to make me laugh one minute, cry the next, then go back to laughing again. He relates a story about how the 'Shepherd on WOR' radio show saved his life. Jean Shepherd wrote 'A Christmas Story,' the movie about the boy who kept being told, "You'll put your eye out" when he asked for a rifle for Christmas.

Oh, I could tell you that part of the story, but it might ruin it for you. Just believe me when I tell you that Cron is very good at telling how hard it is to be a kid. My childhood was not at all like his, but there are currents of familiar themes.

There was the time when my mom bought me a pair of red polyester pants that were two sizes too small because she was embarrassed I wasn't willowy like my sister. I even showed her the higher size number on my other pants, but to no avail.  She wouldn't exchange them for the right size, saying that they 'should' fit.  They didn't.   Those pants hung in my closet like a bright red poisonous mushroom.  I didn't really want to tell you that my mother still chose my clothes in the morning when I was ten, but she did.  Being the youngest, I spent the first half of my life just trying to become grown up, even to the age that I was.  I begged to shave my legs when my fur grew in.  I begged for a bra, when my new breasts were obvious under the white T-shirts.  I hated the birthday cards I was given that were of clowns and pink hearts that all but said, "So glad you're finally 4!" 

If I had been allowed to choose my own clothing, there were three or four items that would have been shoved to the end of the row and never touched.  I tried to push the hanger back and squeeze the red pants tightly between other clothes, but the more my mind screamed, 'Not the red pants, not the red pants, not the red pants,' the more likely my mother was to seek them out and pair them with a short white shirt. 

I was afraid that if I moved one iota in those pants, they would rip out in the seat.  There is nothing more serious on the playground than ripping out your pants when you're already aware of the words chubby, stocky, and the dreaded husky, words mostly used by your mother.  So when the ball dropped and I was forced to wear the red pants, I spent the entire day trying to stay as straight as possible, which looks pretty strange in one of those little all-in-one school desks, and recess was a standing-room-only affair.  It got pretty boring just standing there watching everyone else play on the swings, the monkey bars, and the big slide.

Every time I took those pants off after school, I could see that the butt seam had stretched just a little more.  Eventually, it was a three quarter inch line of threads holding the two halves together.  I must have whined too much because my mother refused to retire these poor red pants, saying that I needed to get good use out of them before school ended.  We weren't poor for God's sake, just buy me a pair of pants that fit my butt!  I didn't say that.  I knew that one more word would place me in the hell of wearing them even longer.  I could see her insisting that I wear them on my honeymoon, bending down to get into the limo at the church with 300 of my best friends watching and hearing a loud 'RIP' as my butt finally came flying out of its purgatorial encasement. 

I haven't even mentioned that the button in front left a red mark on my stomach for a couple of days after I was levered into them with a pry bar for a day at school.  I won't tell you that the seams holding the zipper on had also begun to spread, taking up some of the slack the butt seam couldn't handle. 

The torture of wearing the red pants wasn't in ever having anyone discover the tear in the back when it finally became too large to ignore.  The torture was in struggling on and on in the hell of the red pants as they hung in the balance just before they popped.  I had gotten in the habit of wearing a long hot sweat shirt whenever my mom ordered me to wear them, thus hoping that no one could see the ever-expanding rip.  I could feel little bits of my skin getting pinched in the tensioned threads, but at least no one could see them.  The problem with the jacket was that it was late spring and it was hot out.  I knew it was a trade-off, sweating the way I did, but it seemed worth it.  Sometimes, when I was safely ensconced in my school desk, I'd pull it off, but invariably, the teacher would ask me to write something brilliant on the chalk board and I'd have to throw it back on before I turned my red butt toward the entire classroom.  I knew how ridiculous I looked pulling down the back of that sweatshirt.  I didn't care.   No one was going to know about those red pants. 

They finally split for good just a week before school let out for the summer.  I went into the cloakroom and could see my white underwear clearly across a two inch spread that went most of the way up my backside to the waistband.  There were still threads vainly holding the pants together.  These managed to saw little lines in my butt cheeks before I walked home stiffly and still stifling in my long sweatshirt after school.  I quietly took off the poor red pants and put them into the laundry, knowing that even my mother couldn't make me wear them again. 

Can you tell?  I want to grow up to be like Ian Morgan Cron.  Write on, Ian. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Talk

Nick is about to get 'the talk' at school.  The school  sent home a very carefully worded letter that said if we don't want him to participate, we have to sign the letter and return it.  Shoot! I want him to get that information from the school.  I might have missed something important.  He hasn't exactly wanted to talk about it.  Oh, we've had 'the talk' before, but when he was four and asked how babies come out, there were a lot of details I left out.  When he was eight and wanted to know how they got into their mother's belly, I left out fewer details, but the picture still wasn't complete.  I'm not exactly sure if I gave him too much or too little information then, but I'm glad that someone else will be filling in age appropriate details.  God knows, Mike hasn't been happy about telling Nick what's what. 

I can understand people who do not want their kids to participate.  I really do.  My wish for Nick is to wait, to have an experience of love rather than of gratification.  I'd rather he and his beloved were sure about their decisions, that they were old enough to be prepared for the consequences, that they were dedicated to each other.  Marriage would be good. 

The problem I have with Nick not knowing about sex is that there are so many ways that ignorance can harm him.  There are diseases he could catch and transmit.  I don't even know all the names of the diseases, though I could make a formidable list.  And there's the chance that he could become a father too soon if he doesn't have enough information.  That's a life-changer.  Add to that my hope that he know enough about how to be good to a woman.  Oh, how the hell can a parent tell a boy about that?  I don't think the school has that added agenda.  I just might beg Mike to take care of that part when the time comes.  I might just have to have some awkward discussion with him anyway.  I guess it depends on what he needs. 

He's only eleven, I say to myself, but then I am reminded of the girls who became pregnant at age ten.  Then, I start worrying that the school might not give him enough information.  We're already getting to the age that he needs some privacy.  He was late to come by that, having no compunction about wandering around the house stark naked until recently and we aren't really that kind of people. 

So, in fact, I'm glad that Nick will be getting some information.  The school knows at least some of what he will need to know.  They might be able to come up with a scary list of diseases for him to imagine.  That will be worth a lot.  I'm old enough to have been one of the first groups of school kids who got sex education in a public school.  I still remember some pictures they showed us of the effects of venereal diseases.  Those pictures were revolting.  Yup, that'll quell some of those unbridled urges. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Just now, I stood in the night waiting for Teddy to pee.  I could hear an owl hooting a few trees away.  A motorcycle roared past on the highway.  Dogs barked and the big dipper spilled its tears out onto the world over my head.  The presence of the trees seemed consoling in their steadfastness.  The fresh air helped me to be able to breathe evenly after I had sobbed on Mike's shoulder.  I had had my cry and sent him to bed.  There was nothing to be done for it.

Nick was mad at me during a walk this afternoon, and actually screamed "I hate you! I hate you!  I hate you!" across the valley.  It hurt, digging deep with its sharp blade.

It was a simple problem.  Mike and I had told Nick to put on a pair of shorts for a bike ride, saying that he would get too hot in long pants.  He picked an old pair of jeans instead, but he didn't realize until the two of them were on the trail and I was walking with Teddy on his leash that his jeans were uncomfortable.  He demanded to be driven home for a pair of shorts.  Neither of us would do it.  I didn't want to be deprived of my walk and Mike wanted his bike ride.  Already, I didn't get to bike because Teddy had wrenched my elbow by leaping and pulling on his leash on our last walk and I couldn't yet bike with it.  Teddy and I were planning to have a quiet walk by ourselves.  I was a little lonely at the thought, but it was okay. 

But then Mike rode off and left an angry boy in the truck telling me that he wanted to wait there for us.  No way, I thought.  First, it was too hot to leave a kid in a truck.  Second, Nick isn't old enough to wait in the car by himself, not there at the trailhead.  There were too many people.  Who knew who they were and what they might do?  Nick would be too vulnerable.  I set my mind to getting whatever walk I could, slowing down to accommodate Nick's discomfort.

The whole hour, Nick and I only walked a mile and a half.  What a misery it was.  Nick spent the entire time arguing that I should have taken him home to change.  I tried to reason with him.  I asked him about a scenario with the Boy Scouts and a younger boy ignoring sage advice from an older boy and expecting that the whole group would miss their trip to accommodate him anyway.  To no avail.  He yelled at me.  It was awful.  I worked to stay quiet and firm.  I am not by nature a patient person.  I kept walking, albeit slowly and Nick dragged along behind me.  When I waited for him to catch up, he stopped.  I tried to ask him what he would expect from his own child.  He yelled more, not relenting, saying that I was cruel.  Eventually, I told him we'd said as much as either of us had to say and were repeating ourselves.  I told him I wanted to be quiet and look at the light through the trees.  I tried to point out the way the sun made the new leaves glow green.  Nick was not done with his argument. 

I did not yell.  I did not give in. 

Eventually, Mike swung by on his bike and we made it back to the truck.  But then, the walk, the day, Mother's day, was ruined.  A quiet dinner at our local cafe with Nick safely ensconced in his iPhone game did not recover it.  Nick's apology even, and time on the couch with a family movie, did not repair it.  It was broken.  At dinner, I told Mike that I'd begun to lower my expectations of holidays about me, but it seemed that I hadn't lowered them enough yet.  He laughed.  I didn't cry then, in front of all those people.  Somehow, I waited until Nick was safely asleep and I could tell Mike how I really felt until I felt the hitch of breath that came with the tears.  I couldn't breathe.  Was Nick better off without me?  Why did he fight me so much?  So many unanswerable questions.  So many doubts.

The fresh air helped a little, but I have to admit that it's still broken, the day to celebrate a Mother's love. I hope that tomorrow, an ordinary Monday, will help to fix it.

Thank you for listening, jb

Ten Grand Pianos

I just got home from a performance, a number of performances actually, at Benaroya Hall.  I had a great time.  Well, I was geared to have a good time because I went with my best friend and we had stopped for a glass of wine at Wild Ginger before we went to find our seats.  I had no idea what to expect.  Can you believe that I spent the night looking at a stage packed with roses and ten grand pianos? 

Before the performance began, we had time to wonder where you'd even find ten grand pianos to use for a concert, but you might be able to borrow them from the UW, from Seattle University, Cornish College, the Fifth Avenue Theater. It seems like some of the people participating could have loaned their own pianos out for the night as well. Then there's the challenge of tuning them to each other.  With two or three strings per key and eighty-eight keys per piano, that's a lot of strings to tune, more than 2000 total, not including the harp and violins.  I wonder if they had more than one person tuning the pianos.  It definitely seemed like one or two of them were tuned slightly differently, not out exactly, just not as well blended as the others.  How often do you have to do a job like this though?  It would be intimidating.  It's not like tuning a guitar. 

This 'Ten Grands' performance occurs once a year and benefits the Snowman Foundation, an organization that supports music education and activities in the Greater Puget Sound area. Some of the kids that played tonight were Washington Music Educator's Association State Winners.  They were amazing, fingers flying across keyboards and strings, voices raised, high and clear.  You could hear all the hours of work.  You could feel their passion.  It brought tears to my eyes when a girl stood up front, hands empty, and sang 'Oh Mio Babbino Caro.'  Most soprano voices sound like a flute or possibly a violin.  This girl's effortless tone had the feel of a steel string guitar.  It was just lovely. 

You could not imagine the sound when all then pianists played at the same time.  There just wasn't room for the sound of one more piano!  What amazed me was when Kristin Chesnutt played violin from Aaron Copeland's 'Rodeo' and didn't get drowned out.  It just goes to show that one clear voice can be heard above the din.  Oh, it wasn't a din, not really.  Another thing that amazed me was the way each of the pianists had his or her own style, but blended right into place when they were doing something together.  These people read music like most people read People magazine.  Plus, I wondered how many times they were just up there jamming.  They made it look so easy.  Mac Potts, basically a kid, blew me away by beatboxing to his own solo while tapping out a rhythm with his foot.  It was as if he was playing three instruments at a time. 

The best part of the night was when an eight year old girl went up on stage and played the piano like a seasoned professional.  She simply looked too small for the piano, but the sound she made was not small.  I just couldn't believe her talent.  None of us could.  When she was done, the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation.  Then there were the two sisters, ten and twelve years old, who sang tight harmonies.  It was like a big recital, except that David Lanz was there along with Tom Grant, Mac Potts, Michael Kaeshammer, Barbara Roberts, Michael Allen Harrison, Yelena Balabanova, JJ Guo, and Janice Scroggins.  Any one of these artists could have carried the night. 

I'm still being carried away by all that talent put into one room. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Movie Line Game

I didn't go anywhere today.  I didn't do anything.  Okay, I watched an old episode of Grey's Anatomy while I folded some clothes.  I put in some laundry.  I tried to make my elbow stop hurting where Teddy yanked on his leash the other day, using Tylenol, ice, and Advil.  I made dinner, spaghetti pie, and my niece came over and told us stories about customers at the Starbuck's where she works.

I just could not believe how some customers behave toward her.  She could write a book!  She admits that some of the people are nice, the regulars who take the time to learn her name, but lots of them talk on their cell phones and ask her to wait until a convenient moment while they're in the drive-thru.  They are rude and expect her to be able to read their minds and make a mocha in thirty seconds or less.  That amazes me.  The unmitigated gall!

I stole that last line from a movie.  Do you know which one?

'The Grinch.'

I am just too tired and sore to write a lot tonight.  Teddy has been hard on me.  On Tuesday when I walked him, he pulled on the leash so hard a couple of times, he went airborne.  That strained my elbow.  Then on Thursday, I took him to run in the Three Forks Off Leash area and, while playing with an overbearing dog, he rammed into my shin at full speed and gave me a huge bruise that keeps getting bigger when I'm on my feet too long.  All of this was in the name of exuberance, but I felt like I'd been in collision with a truck.  It didn't help that I'd gone in for a mammogram with Nurse Ratched either.

Nurse Ratched came from a movie too.  Know which one? 

'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.'  Sorry, Mike and I play that game all the time.  We don't even have to say what the movie was.  We just know.  Sometimes it's a line from an old Seinfeld episode, but I'll hear him goofing around with Nick, using some action figure that was lying around and then I hear, "You shall not pass!"

'Lord of the Rings.'

I love way Seth,the cat, stays in Nick's room until he goes to sleep and then sneaks away after he's asleep.  I hate that, even though we leave the door open a bit, Seth seems to want to bang at what's hanging from the doorknob.  Nick usually stays asleep during all the racket.  If it were me, I'd be awake by then.  I just now had to go rescue poor Nick from the noise. 

So, the weekend is going to be busy with sunny weather.  Why is it that people kept telling me to get out and enjoy the weather today?  Sometimes I resent that way of thinking, as if I'm not allowed to hang around and watch a movie when the weather is nice.  Sure, it would have been good to get out and take a walk.  God knows that Teddy could have used a walk, but I didn't go.  So shoot me.

Tomorrow, Nick and I are going to get outside.  Mike is going to be gone all day with the older Scouts on a ten mile hike. But I have to practice piano because I've been roped into playing again.  My knees can start knocking just thinking about it.  I'd really like to be able to do my trick instead, but I don't know if they'll let me.

Here it is:

You take a willing kid - it has to be a kid because adults think too much - and sit him down at the piano.  Willingness is the key.   You tell the audience that this kid can play jazz.  Then you sit down with him, whisper in his ear for him to play anything, anything at all.  You play a chord progression, something as simple as C - F - C - F - G - C, all the while adding some sevenths and ninths to the chords to fill them out.  You match the pace of chords to the kid's energy and it's jazz!  I love this trick.  You can make a four year old sound brilliant!  The kid gets great applause, feels great, and the adults are amazed by his brilliance. 

I thought that maybe another movie line would fly out by itself by now, but it hasn't.  It's so lame when I try to be smart or funny and I'm just not that person.  Sorry.  So today, I'm going to have to leave you with that thing 'that was just hanging out there.'

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Spring Vice and Its Applications

I scheduled my mammogram last week after procrastinating for two months.  The woman on the phone was nice, telling me I wasn't that bad, that many women wait a lot longer. 

"Are you having any problems with your breasts?" she asked.

"Well, they're sagging a lot more than they used to."


"No real problems?" 

Except for the lack of any humor, no.  No real problems. 

"Your appointment is at 11:00 am.  Your actual appointment.  That means that you should arrive about fifteen minutes before your appointment."


"Well, we'd like you to get here for your appointment on time, so could you show up fifteen minutes ahead so that you can check in?"

"Okay," I said.  I don't get this.  If the appointment is at 11:00 am and I show up at 11:00 am, then how am I late if I don't care to sit in their waiting room for fifteen extra minutes?  Some places quibble over that sort of thing.  I want to tell them that they should say my appointment is 10:45 am then and not at 11:00 am.  Or let the X-ray technician sleep in for fifteen minutes every morning and get each appointment started five minutes after I check in at 11:00am, or later because I'll have to sit in the waiting room and wait for them anyway.  No, no real problems, except for the lack of sense of humor.

So then on Monday, they called and left a message that they'd like me to call back and preregister for my appointment.  Okay, can you copy my photo ID and my insurance card over the phone?  Do you plan to bill me in advance as well?  Can you give me the privacy policy to review ahead of time?  Just what are you going to do over the phone?  I did not call them back.

So I arrived for my 11:00 am appointment at 10:45 am.  I was checked in at 10:50 am and proceeded to read my book until 11:20 am.  So much for the actual appointment being at 11:00 am.  I didn't actually mind the delay.

When they finally called me back, I was ready.  I'm fifty-two years old.  I know the drill with these things.  It'll probably be quick.  If I'm lucky, I'll get a sensitive woman doing the work.

No such luck today.  This woman grabbed my breast like it was a piece of meat on a cutting board, waiting to be tenderized.  No stance I took was good enough.  She'd get me nearly clamped down and then she'd start over.  It was humiliating and awkward.

Then she'd clamp the two plates together.

"Don't move," she said as she ambled behind the leaded barrier.  What was I going to do?  If I'd moved, it would have torn my breast off.

"Don't breathe," she said.  I could hear her snickering under her breath.  Masochist!  Okay, I didn't hear her snickering, but really.  How the hell could I have breathed at that moment?  My knees were bent, my face pressed up against Plexiglas, my left hand was holding my left breast out of the way and my right breast was clamped so tightly in the vice, I couldn't have breathed if I'd wanted to.  I was at her mercy. If I did it wrong, she'd make me do the whole thing over again. Four times, I endured this torture to get the correct views, each time it seemed that she screwed those plates down tighter than the time before.  I'm surprised one of my breasts didn't pop like a tomato on a grill. 

Honestly, if men had to get this test done once a year to screen for testicular cancer, someone would have designed a better machine.  Where the hell are all the fifty year old female biomedical engineers? I want one of them to design a better mammogram device that isn't closely related to a spring vice. 

Later, when I was at the market, I texted Mike to find out what he wanted for dinner.  He knew where I had been.  His reply:

turkey breast, tenderized

Smart ass!  When I got home, I took some Advil, but I'm still sore.  I'll be sore again tomorrow. I'll be sagging more tomorrow too.  No real problems.  No.

Thank you for listening, jb 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Their Voices

I took Teddy to try out a different doggie daycare today, the one at VCA Animal Hospital.  He's only going to be there for a few hours and for one good playtime, but that way, they can see if he eats bark.  Last time we tried out a doggie daycare, he ate bark, a lot of bark.  It cost us $543 for x-rays and the visit to the vet.  I'm happy that these people are willing to see what happens, not to rule out his being there because they have bark in their play area.  They haven't condemned him to living in a basket muzzle while he's there either. 

But that's not what I wanted to tell you.  I wanted to tell you about anthropomorphism.  I am condemned to that embarrassing state of mind in which I try to imagine what my pets are thinking, giving them human voice to go along with their eloquent expressions. At least, in that, I am not alone.

It turns out that the lady bagging my groceries at Whole Foods has a made-up voice for her dog.  It was her husband's doing, though he won't admit to it, and his perfect voice makes her laugh out loud when she thinks of it while she's putting my milk and shish kabob ingredients into my ratty old plastic bags.  The cashier and I laugh along with her though we can't hear the voice because her husband isn't there and wouldn't have performed the voice even if she'd asked him. 

Rachel has a voice for her dog Rex.  His is a Forrest Gump kind of voice, as if he's from the deep South and is very polite.  Her dog's voice is low and calm and seems to be in command.  Rachel mimics her husband's voice for Rex too.  It's so funny that, again, I can laugh even though Wendell isn't there to perform it.

What is it about men that they can have such great and wickedly funny voices for their dogs, yet they won't admit to it, let alone do it in front of their wives friends?  I want to hear his voice for Rex.  I really do.  I'm not such a stranger after all, am I?  Ah, Rachel and I seem to have that problem a bit, that we're together so much that we're relaxed around each other, but our husbands aren't there yet.  Hell, I don't really care.  Well, I have to admit that I do care, at least a little.  It was always my job when I was a kid to make people laugh to get them comfortable in a social setting.  It's a hard legacy, but I'm learning to break it.

So here it is - Mike has the perfect voice for Teddy, it's something I can copy pretty well if I try.  Mike barely does the voice for me now that I'm trying to do it.  Our version of Teddy's voice cracks when he talks because he's a teenager.  He's kind of whiny too, like he's going to miss out on the last piece of pizza while he's still hungry. In fact, we have voices for the cats too.  In my imagination, I hear them.  I have to be careful, don't I, not to say I hear voices in my head.  I always have a song running through my head too.  Is that like hearing voices?  Anyway, I can imagine the cats talking to each other and to Teddy.  Today, it went like this:

"Hey, the slave-woman took the smelly dog away," said Seth, coolly.

"You mean that thing that looks like a coyote?  It is smelly, isn't it?  I wish it would stop slobbering on my mouse toys. Most of them are slimy and ruined," said Buddy, stretching out a leg to lick his butt.  His voice sounds like he smoked too many cigarettes, though he uses a baby kitty voice on all the people around him. 

"Do you think they'll bring him back?  I miss whacking him.  There isn't anything to do."  Seth sat with his front paws folded in the front, looking like the Sphinx. 

"What the hell?"  said Buddy, moving into a yoga pose.  "You're daft.  I hope she took him to the orphanage."

"What's an orphanage?" asked Seth.

"It's that cold concrete place where slave-people come look at you to see if you're the true king."

"Never heard of it."  Seth got up and walked casually toward Buddy.

"What? You've got to be kidding me," said Buddy. "You really are spoiled."

"I really am king.  Now bow before me, serf."  And then Seth licked Buddy twice then grabbed him by the back of the neck and rolled him over. 

About that time, Mike came home with Teddy who eagerly raced up the stairs, then from being to being saying, "Hi!  Hi!  I missed you.  I love you.  Got anything to eat?"  Teddy's voice cracked a couple of times.

"Thought they took you to the orphanage," Buddy muttered.

"Oh, sorry.  I didn't mean to bump you.  They did, but they came back and got me.  There were other dogs to play with and toys and ..."

"Shut up!" Buddy said and whacked Teddy on the head. "You smell bad."

"Oh, sorry," Teddy said from under the coffee table where he had retreated, his voice cracking again. 

"You know," Seth said in a smooth voice, walking close to Teddy's haunches to taunt him, "you're adopted."

"Oh," said Teddy, believing every word and looking so very ashamed. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 7, 2012


I wanted to tell you about the time Mike heated water for my bath on a camping trip.  It was not a trivial event.  This was our first canoe trip without a whole crew of Explorer Scouts.  It was ironic that we'd just moved to Washington state and that, on that first trip, we went back to the Adirondacks.  That place felt like home to Mike, since he'd been a camp counselor at Sabbattis for years.  Oh, I'd been up to Sabbattis often enough for Explorer Post trips that I loved the place too.  We'd even planned to retire there, in a cabin by a lake. 

Enough other people had had the same idea and the first two days of our trip was disappointing.  Being just outside the park boundaries, the lakes were packed with cabins.  I had trouble finding a place to pee, the lawns were so obvious and the cabins built so closely together.  We didn't see anyone around, but it still felt as though eyes could be behind every window.  I don't like being part of any one's picture postcard, especially when I'm peeing. 

Eventually, we found some privacy as we entered the park and finally we were truly alone.  I remember a secluded campsite on the third or fourth night, not visible from the water. It felt like an island, but I'm not certain of that after all these years.  How one part of my memory can be so vague and another part so visceral is beyond me. 

The only other things I remember from the trip were the slightly creepy pitcher plants and the motor boat that circled us on Saranac Lake, with his huge wake on all sides.  We struggled to keep from pitching over.  What an ass!

The only reason I remember that particular campsite is that I was feeling kind of scummy and had decided it was warm enough to wash my hair.

I planned to do my usual, take the piddle bucket to get water from the lake, walk about a hundred feet away from the lakeside to a quiet place, and bathe.  The rule was to wash at least that far from the water so the lake didn't start getting soapy from overuse.  Then the wash water traveled through the dirt, a natural filter, back down to the lake.  What the hell is a piddle bucket, you ask?  Sorry.  We camped with a collapsible bucket that was supposed to stand upright after you filled it with water, something like a reverse dry bag.  This was a great idea until we realized that, after one of us had hauled a full bucket from the lake to the campsite, the bucket, as if it had a contrary mind, waited until you turned away and then began to pour out the water you'd just carried.  We kept using the piddle bucket because we didn't have anything better to use that was lightweight.  The weight of things mattered on these trips, because we might have as many as six portages every day and some of them were a few miles long.  Imagine how careful we were packing our gear, knowing that we'd have to carry everything including the canoe between lakes. My favorite photo of myself is when I was strong enough to carry that canoe.  I never did get strong enough to carry the canoe and my backpack at the same time.

Piddle bucket, Camp Suds, and bandanna in hand, I went down to get some water.  I passed through camp to go search out my grotto for a nice bath.  Mike had the Peak I going with water on to boil.

"Want some hot water for your bath?" he asked.

"Do we have enough fuel?"  It was pretty important not to run out of fuel for cooking on these trips, but I had no idea how to gauge how much fuel to pack or how we were managing what we had left.

"Sure!" he said. " Why don't you take your bath here so I don't have to carry it?"  It never occurred to me that this was an option, especially when I was used to traveling with a dozen teenage Scouts.  I had even gotten used to washing with my bathing suit mostly on for fear of being inappropriate.  Ha!  In camp!  I was going to be naked in the middle of camp!  I felt like I was breaking some kind of rule, but Mike and I were the only ones around. 

My hair was long, half way down my butt for this washing and I was still small, so I know it was before Mike and I were married.  I cut my hair after our wedding ceremony but before our honeymoon three months later.  Poor Mike was so sad when I did this.  It took a lot of water to wash this much hair.

I felt strange, taking my clothes off in the middle of camp.  It was all very erotic. I used a little water from the piddle bucket to get my hair wet, then closed my eyes against the Camp Suds and began to lather up.  I started with my hair and washed all the way to my toes, working quickly in the chill.  There wasn't much use in washing my feet since they'd be filthy from portaging soon, but it felt good to have clean feet anyway, even for just a little while.  

A slight breeze felt like feathers on my skin.  Todd had mixed his hot water with my cold and stood there next to me, ready to pour, but my eyes were still closed against the soap.  I could hear him breathing.  I stopped and stood waiting.

"You ready?" he asked.


And he poured that warm water gently over my head while I stood and turned, trying to rinse the soap from my hair, from my face, from my body, from places he couldn't see.  That warm water was such a luxury out in the woods on a six day trek.  It brought tears to my eyes, though Mike couldn't see them from the water he was pouring over me.  In my memory, he helped to dry me off with fluffy towels, but neither of us would have packed towels, weight was so limited.  I must have air dried, using my wet bandanna to sluice off any water that I could. 

I can still remember the warmth of the water.  Bathing in the fresh air had always been my favorite part of a canoe trip, but until then, it had always been with cold water, refreshing, but, well, cold.  I could only afford to bathe when the weather was warm enough that I'd dry warm.  Hypothermia is a big deal out in the woods.  That bath was the sweetest moment of the entire trip, the best bath I ever had, with the warm water and the cool breeze playing over my skin.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Abundance from a Park to a Single Trail

I'm winding down for the day.  Why is it that when you're having fun, you wind down and when you aren't, you come to a grinding halt?  So I want to tell you everything we did today, hiking and biking and weeding, then having an early dinner only to be asked by friends to meet them at another restaurant for drinks and hors d'oeuvres.  I'm still full. 

But I want to tell you about the place where we biked, Tolt-MacDonald park in Carnation.  I just love this place.  Nearly twenty years ago, Mike and I were married at the Eagle Scout altar across the suspension bridge.  It was a lovely ceremony, with flowers hung from the altar and chairs lined up in rows in front of it.  Every time I visit the park, I look around and say to myself, "We were married here."  We hired a bluegrass band, Three Pigs Barbecue catered it, and we played volley ball in the grass.  When it was all over, Mike and I stepped into our Old Town canoe and paddled away. 

Before the area was settled by Europeans, Tolt-MacDonald park was a permanent wintering village of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe.  Once, when I was there walking with my friend Rachel, there was a man digging what seemed like random holes.  I became so curious that I asked him what he was looking for.  He was from the Snoqualmie Tribe and he was looking for artifacts.  He said that the Tribe wanted to find pieces of their heritage there.  He even gave me his business card.  I remember finding arrowheads when I was a kid.  Boy, was that exciting.  Isn't it interesting that what we call trash now could be considered an artifact a hundred years from now?  It just doesn't justify leaving it lying around though. 

In the 1970s, the area was turned into a park and campground under the guidance of Boy Scout Council Chief John MacDonald.  It became one of the country's larges bicentennial projects wherein 20,000 Boy Scouts spent five months developing it into a park with campsites, picnic areas, and shelters.  The suspension bridge was build at about the same time by the Army Reserves 409th Engineering Company.  The bridge is now host to a small geocache, though we've never managed to find it.  Most of our wedding photos were taken on that bridge with the river and mountains in the background.  The trail that leads from the campground, across the bridge, and up the hill connects to trails that run all the way into Redmond.  Since I haven't hiked very deep into it, I feel as though I could get lost up there.  Imagine that, I could get lost between Carnation and Redmond, there is so much of a trail system.  Boy, I think I need better trail maps. 

I think it apropos that we found Tolt-MacDonald Park when we were looking for a pretty site to get married outdoors.  Mike and I had many of our first dates surrounded by a band of Explorer Post Scouts who would all be in their forties by now.  They've scattered to the wind, living in Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, and a few are still in New Jersey.  These days, our lives are filled with Boy Scout activities.  Most of our friends work either with the Boy Scouts or with the Cub Scouts.  It feels like we were somehow drawn to the collective good will of the 20,000 Boy Scouts that built that park.  We had no idea its history when we planned our wedding there.  Nor did we know any of this when we had six or seven of Nick's birthday parties in the big red barn there either.  I even took Nick and Adrian there last summer to practice riding their bikes on real roads.  They're still not ready for anything busier, but last year, we discovered that the trail from the campground crosses under the bridge that spans the Tolt river and joins with the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail runs from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend all the way to Duvall and connects to the Tolt Pipeline Trail and the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.  There are still a few detours, but somehow it would be nice to connect all of these trails into one trip.  Isn't it strange that I have traveled on one trail and have thought of it as many different places for so long?  We've traveled through the tunnel at Iron Horse State Park, walked a section with the dog near the Off Leash Dog Area at Three Forks, walked another section near Fall City, and traveled on it today through Carnation.  (Yes, Carnation is the town from whence the Carnation Instant Milk and the Carnation Evaporated milk has come, but that is owned by Nestle now.  The original location of Carnation Farms has been turned into Camp Corey, one of the Serious Fun Children's Network, founded by Paul Newman.) 

I am sitting here, feeling so blessed by all of the beauty that surrounds me, mountains, valleys, and rivers, and by all the people who had the foresight to create parks and trails for me to use.  I'll be able to see a lot of it on this single trail.  What a wonderful plan for the summer, to walk or ride the different sections of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail until they connect into one in my heart.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Older than Dirt

I woke up at 5:20 this morning.  I hate when it gets light so early and the cats seem to feel that we've missed some sort of deadline, the bus has left, the meeting has begun, the house is on fire.  Wake up!  They go walking around the house crying the alert.  You can imagine how that makes me feel when I haven't gotten enough sleep to begin with.  I got up and the clock said it wasn't even time for me to get up to make a lunch for school, and it is Saturday to boot!

I've had an interesting day.  I went to a presentation of a role-playing historian, Debbie Dimitre.  She took on the role of Louisa Boren-Denny, the first woman married in Seattle in 1851.  It was a fascinating account of coming West on a wagon and of packing just one 'frivolous' thing for the trip among the necessities, a small mirror.  Ms. Dimitre wrung her hands as she described how the raft on which she and the other women and children traveled almost went over the falls on the Columbia River because the crew had had too much to drink.  She nearly cried when she talked of being reunited with her husband to be on Alki Point, a place that was originally called 'New York!'  I really enjoyed her description of how 24 people lived for three months in a one-room cabin they built there surrounded by the Duwamish Indians until they could build other cabins.  Ms. Dimitre has a long list of roles she plays and I'd like to see every one. 

Then, after washing some dishes to clean up after lunch then picking out some books at the library, I listened to Susan Olds discuss Civil War quilts.  Did you know that there isn't a single quilt from before the civil war to support the belief that people used quilts to indicate that they were a stop on the Underground Railroad?  There just isn't any evidence.  I wonder if it's written in anyone's diaries?  I looked at slides of long narrow quilts that were used for the soldiers of the Civil War, both Yankees and Rebels, on their cots.  These men often wore the quilts across their chests like a sash as they traveled.  They apparently believed that if they were shot, the layers of the quilt might just save a life. I also looked at quilts that were made to celebrate the end of the war.  A lot of them had cats on them.  I asked about that, but Ms. Olds said there was no significance.  I can guess.  A woman was left alone for the four years of the war.  Any of her sons over the age of thirteen were in the war, as was her forty-year-old husband.  She was at home with nothing to do but manage the house and sew for the war.  Where would the cat have been?  The cat would have been right on top of that quilt, listening to the woman talk about her fears.  Of course the cat made it onto the quilt that was made to celebrate the end!  I couldn't imagine being in that position, losing both Mike and Nick to a war that might not send them home or else would send them home broken. 

It was a day of history lessons for me.  I did manage a walk with Teddy before I left.  Poor guy walked with Nick and Mike later too.  He's sacked out on the floor now.  I get to look out of the window and imagine what it must have been like to choose between enduring a war, possibly losing all the men in your life, and traveling westward, leaving behind nearly everything and everyone you know. 

These days, I enjoy history more and more.  I don't know why that is, except that maybe I'm getting some perspective as I get older.  Or maybe it was just the way history was taught in the public schools when I was a kid, leaders, battles, and dates.  BORING!  I thought I hated history.  Now, I'm old enough to have been a tiny part of history itself and people like Ken Burns and Geraldine Brooks has brought history to life for me

Someday, I'll be able to say that I'm older than dirt, but just look where that dirt has been!

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Part of a Love Story

I really don't want to write about my day-to-day so I won't. 

I had all these ideas for writing earlier when I was with my friend at lunch.  We had a great lunch, talking and listening. 

It's late, but I wonder if I could reconstitute  the honey moon trip Mike and I took on the Allagash river?  I've been a little nostalgic since we've been married almost twenty years.  Can you imagine that?  Even river rats get old.  See, I remember our honeymoon, but I it feels like snippets thrown about instead of one cohesive piece. 

There was the night at the end when the temperature got down to 28 degrees.  We were chilly, but prepared for it.  There was the bear and her cub we saw from the boat.  We didn't point them out to Indiana, wondering if she'd want to race up the hill and check them out.  There was the knee-deep water and dragging our loaded canoe over shoals.  I always hated that grinding sound. The funny thing was that it was such a smooth trip, not a lot else stood out.  Oh, you wanted to hear about what we did on our honeymoon?  Not a chance, Fred. 

I remember the only people we saw the whole week were a single ranger and a group of guys that were also out canoeing.  They kept landing at our campsite, as if they were dogging us once they found out we were on our honeymoon.  Really?  Can't you people go to another campsite?  Do you really have to buddy up with us?  We want to be alone. 

It was the week after Labor Day, a great time to paddle the Allagash River in Maine.  Everyone had gone back to school.  People weren't thinking of camping.  They were getting back to their routines.  It's as if Memorial Day and Labor Day are brackets within which you can camp and outside of that, the woods are empty.  Even the animals knew it.  I just wish this rowdy group of guys had known it too. 

Do you know, these men kept feeding our dog when she wandered into their camp.  Oh, I know that we should have kept her on leash, but that gets really tedious for a dog on a six-day canoe trip.  She liked to wait around until we weren't looking and sneak off to see them.  What she didn't know, that they told us point blank, was that they didn't trust pit bulls, even a pit bull mix like Indiana.  Even though she approached them with her tail wagging and an open face, they said they didn't trust her.  So, why would they be feeding her then?  Why not ask us to keep her in our camp?  After they said that, we didn't let her wander when they were camped nearby.

You know, I am too tired to do this justice right now.  I keep thinking about the night we camped on the moose-calving island, but that was Alaska.  And then there's the time Mike heated water up for me and helped me wash my hair, but that was in the Adirondacks.  And I don't want to write the whole thing about my honeymoon with one complaint after another.  That definitely is not what my honeymoon with Mike was about.  I'll have to leave the rest to your imagination for now. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Adventures in Physics

I'm feeling nostalgic tonight.  Maybe it's because Rachel and I walked at Tolt-MacDonald Park, where Mike and I got married almost twenty years ago.  The river there, the Snoqualmie, was swollen and moving swiftly.  I knew it didn't look like much.  Its usual riffles were ironed out, but that leaves it even more dangerous than usual.  I like reading the river, the eddies, the place in the river where the swiftest water flows.  The Snoqualmie still feels like our home river, though we haven't paddled it since Nick was born.  He's almost old enough for rafting now, but he's a few years away from being strong enough to guide a canoe through anything close to this.  The Snoqualmie river is routinely underestimated by people looking for ways to cool down in middle of the summer.  Every year, we hear of a death, usually a guy floating in an inner tube with no life jacket and a six-pack on a rope.  Yet there are instances when it takes even experienced paddlers by surprise.

Mike and I were river rats before Nick was born.  We'd canoed the Snoqualmie, the Snohomish, the Stillaguamish in Washington, the John Day and Deschutes in Oregon, the Delaware and the Wading rivers in New Jersey.  Yes, we have paddled in New Jersey and neither of us has grown an extra lung.  A miracle, really.  In rafts, we'd run the Wenatchee, the Suiattle, the Methow near home, the New River and the Taggert in West Virginia, and the Hudson river in New York.  We honeymooned, trekking along the Alagash in Maine.  We trekked in the Boundary Waters, in the Adirondacks, and in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. 

One sunny afternoon, we'd gotten a late start and decided to paddle something easy.  It's funny how a memory can stay with you in all its clarity when things get out of control.  I'd told Mike that I didn't want to paddle anything difficult because my back was bothering me.  I have a very old break and after a surgery, I learned to listen to those aches and shooting pains. 

Mike accommodated me as usual.  He did all the work of getting our heavy Old Town canoe onto the truck, though I helped him tie it down with the knots he taught me, a succession of half-hitches if my memory serves me right.  He's already asleep now, so I can't ask him the name.  It's funny that I could tie the knot, but not remember the name of it. 

We left a bike at the bottom of the run, locked to a tree by the river in town, and drove upstream to our put-in, just below the rapids where the kayakers played.  We didn't even need class threes in our canoe to have a good time.  Class two rapids and riffles were enough for us, especially with Indiana in the boat.  She was one of those dogs who liked to sit, like a lab, on one side of her hip, usually putting the boat into a permanent uncomfortable tilt.  So we went downstream like that.  The river wasn't high, but it wasn't bony either.  Occasionally, I'd have to do a quick draw stroke or a cross-draw to pull the front end of the boat away from a submerged stone, but Mike did most of the work.  He was so attentive, he steered us away from rocks I didn't even notice. 

About a half a mile down the river, too late to turn back, a new section of standing waves appeared.  We could see on the left bank where a mudslide had occurred since our last float, changing the floor of the river.  We were suddenly much busier than we'd planned to be that day.  The water washed up over the bow of the canoe a few times.  The waves were bigger than we usually chose, but we'd managed worse on Ross lake one afternoon when the wind picked up.  Besides, I didn't mind getting wet.  That was the point, but I wasn't on my game that afternoon. 

It was when Indiana shifted from one side of the canoe to the other side, that I made my big mistake.  I forgot to brace using my paddle, and the next thing you know, we were flipped ass over tea kettle, the swiftest part the water carrying us along like children on kiddie ride.  Mike and I ended up on opposite sides of the canoe, each of us with our paddles in our hands and life jackets securely zipped.  I had hold of the canoe while Mike was out of reach and was then pulled further away by an eddy current.  Regular currents are tricky beasts.  Eddy lines are worse.  They mark the division between downstream flow and a current that folds back upstream.  There is often a strong undertow going through an eddy line.  It's where the whirlpools form. 

We floated past a woman lounging on her deck.  She jumped up to her railing to look at us.

"Do you need any help?" she asked.

"No thank you," Mike and I chimed almost in unison.  It was embarrassing to have made that move with an audience, but I hoped she'd watch long enough to see us on the shore.

To her credit, this woman watched us as we maneuvered.  Indiana made for the left bank, someones grassy yard.  Even she had her life jacket on, not being a great swimmer.  Mike opted to go with her, not wanting to get back out into that eddy line.  I headed for the right bank, canoe in tow.

Now, I'd gotten a jolt of adrenaline when I hit the water.  It was summertime, but the water was still cold, seeing that it had been snow not all that many hours ago.  About late July, I usually opted out of the wet suit, but I'm not sure what I was wearing that day.  Either way, I remember the shock of the cold water and the surprise that I was down in it.  This was supposed to have been a languid afternoon of paddling. 

That adrenaline and the very best life jacket money could buy helped me to swim with that canoe full of water to the opposite shore.  Well crap.  I caught my footing on the rocks and picked that thing up and dragged it across the rocks.  Where had all that strength come from?  Adrenaline.  The pure white charge of adrenaline. 

Then, I realized my second mistake.  I was up the creek without a husband.  I had my paddle.  I had the canoe, but the rest of them were on the other side.  I'd made that decision based on the current.  I hadn't even consulted with the more experienced paddler. 

Then, I got my first true lesson in ferrying a canoe.  I had never understood the concept.  Oh, Mike had described it.  Our friend Harry had described it.  Probably even the crabby guy who ran the Explorer Post in New Jersey had described it to me.  I just never got it before.

"What do I do now?" I yelled across the river to Mike and Indiana.  She was whining for me to come over.  She knew that this wasn't right.  I was supposed to be with her and the canoe was her ride.
"Ferry the canoe over," Mike yelled.

"How?" I asked.  By now, the nice woman on the deck had gone back to reading her book, since we were on shore, not drowning.  At least I didn't have an audience.  I don't learn well under scrutiny. 

"Just paddle upstream with the nose pointed toward the bank you want to go to.  Let the river do the work," he yelled.  So I got into the canoe and started to cross the river.  My j-stroke was weak since Mike had always done the paddling from the stern.  The nose of the canoe was airborne and I wished I'd thrown a couple of river rocks in for ballast.  Too late now. 
"Now point the nose upstream," Mike yelled.  I pointed the nose upstream, a little toward the left and promptly ended up where I'd started, just a little further down, our canoe firmly planted on the left bank. 

"Nose it the other direction so the current will push you!"

I had no idea how the current would do that.  I finally got the canoe in the water and by paddling really hard upstream, stayed nearly stationary.  Then, I nosed the canoe to the right.  I moved to the right.  I goofed and pointed to the left a little and swiftly, the canoe moved left.  I could feel the current pushing on one side or the other.  Oh!
It was like in physics class, when they split the vectors of force into horizontal and vertical motion.  There was an element of current trying to push me straight downstream, but there was a little bit moving me toward one shore or the other. 

"It's like sailing!" Mike yelled.  I had never gone sailing. 

By now, I was furiously paddling in the swift current, like a kid trying to run up the down escalator.  But I moved across the width of the river.  Once I got the hang of it, it was minutes before Mike had grabbed the back of the canoe, surprising me because I was already there.  I did it!

"I can't believe the way you lifted that whole canoe full of water up onto the shore!" he yelled.  He must have gotten a shot of adrenaline too.  More umph than a triple-espresso. 
"Yeah, did you see that? And I ferried the boat! I get it now!"  I said.  We looked through our stuff and had lost surprising little, a small cooler and a pair of sunglasses.  We figured we might even find some of it further down.

Suddenly I felt amazing.  This wasn't just a quiet afternoon on the river.  This was a down-home wild physics adventure.  'Use the force, Luke.'

Thank you for listening, jb