Monday, July 30, 2012

The Source of Stupidity

I messed up my day, just forgetting things.  I'm sleep deprived, seriously.

I forgot that my innocent-looking dog who seemed to be sleeping could shred everything in sight while I was trying to corral two active boys in REI.  I wouldn't have taken them in except I needed Nick's feet for trying on water shoes.  I tried to have Adrian find things for me, but when he couldn't, I found myself looking anyway.  He was correct.  There is no dehydrated chicken at REI.  They have meals, beef stroganoff and chicken teriyaki, but I just wanted plain meat so we could make our own meals.  They're better.  I just checked online at Cabela's and they only show survivalist type food when I searched for dehydrated chicken, 1440 servings.  Oh man, that is just crazy.  Well, it'll seem crazy until something catastrophic happens and those survivalists actually survive.  That would be ironic, now, wouldn't it?  Think about it, it will be their gene pool that is the beginning of the new era of life on Earth. 

So after spending about a million bucks, we sauntered out to the car with our stuff, new water shoes for Nick which I will inherit when he outgrows them, maps of Ross Lake, dry bags for our sleeping bags, a compression stuff sack, and a closed cell foam pad to make the canoe seats more comfortable.  We sauntered.  I even said, "I wonder if Teddy chewed anything up this time" and both boys laughed.

Not the right thing to say.  I had forgotten and left their salads in the car.  The boys got really quiet when I walked around the car looking at the damage.  Teddy tried to crawl under the driver's seat and started panting.  He had chewed the cardboard and plastic wrap for a flat of water, but not the water.  He chewed a box of Kleenex, but not the Kleenex.  He chewed up his ball chucker, but not the ball.  He chewed up both salads that the boys hadn't finished, but not the shrink-wrapped pepperoni sticks lying on top of my backpack.  Nick's salad consisted mostly of onions.  Yup.  Onions.

Two hundred dollars later, a little puking, and a lot of questions about how big a medium onion was and how thick was the slick he might have eaten, Teddy came home.  He was going to be fine.  He was the one who puked and I was the one answering questions about how much onion was on the menu.  I asked about the plastic and the cardboard, feeling a little nauseated myself, but the friendly vet said all that would just pass through as long as the pieces were small enough.  Fiber. 

Then, I got home from all of that and found that I had set the time and temperature on my new dehydrator but never managed to turn it on.  The sugared strawberries were seeping.  Yes, on days when I haven't gotten much sleep, I can be just that stupid.  So, without further ado, I am off to bed.

Thank you for listening, jb

'The Help'

This was going to be about nothing tonight, but I just got done watching the movie, 'The Help.'  Do you remember that I read that book and told you to read it?  See, everybody should read that book.  It's disturbing and kind of funny.  That's a good way to expose evil, to put in some humor, some irony.  I wish I could say that it's gone, those feelings people have of needing to be cruel to other races.  It's still here.  It exists in the state I grew up in.  It exists in this state, only here I hear more about people from Mexico being maligned than Black.  Racism exists wherever you live.  Who is it where you live that is treated as inferior?  Not as clean? Not as hard-working?

I have to admit to you that I don't know enough about all the oppression, the civil wars, the genocides around the world to be able to carry on a knowledgeable conversation about the atrocities.  My mind just can't wrap itself around the way it happens over and over and over.  I just know that people are no less violent and phobic than they were in the 1950s and 1960s when the civil rights movement was at high tide in the United States.  They just hide it more carefully. It sometimes seems as if we didn't learn a thing. 

Why is that? 

Thank you for listening, jb

Shut Out

I have to admit that when I'm watching the young woman trying to catch her balance on the balance beam, I might lean a little to the left in my chair and twist my shoulders to try to help her.  It is very hard to watch sometimes. 

At this hour, I had to turn it off.  Why does NBC keep it going so late into the night?  They make it very clear in their presentation that it's all about the money, keeping us glued to the television though none of their programming is live.  I did finally turn it off a few minutes ago when they tried to drag it into the wee hours by telling me about the ravens at the Queen's tower.  I just wanted to see the end of the women's gymnastic finals. 

The Americans quest was heartbreaking.  I am appalled that the world champion, Jordyn Wieber, could be shut out of the individual all-around finals by 0.233 points.  She was fourth among all of the athletes for God's sake.  It goes against the spirit of the Olympics not to let the finest athletes compete, regardless of their country of origin.  Ms. Wieber was robbed.

And could the media just shut it regarding Michael Phelps?  A thud, a dud, barely making it?  You have got to be kidding.  Are they all smoking the pot that helped Phelps lose his luster?  During the relay today, Phelps gained a full body length ahead of any other swimmer in just one lap of the pool.  The ad-mongering networks might not like him because he lost his place on the Wheaties box, but he's still a great contender.  And at least when I watch swimming, I don't have to twist and rebalance in my seat. 

In our house, we've finally come up with a compromise for Nick who doesn't enjoy most of the games.  He gets to look at video of his favorites online, archery, shooting, and fencing.  We offered that he could watch the television in the other room, but he wanted to be in here with us.  The cool thing is that he's been outside more this week, practicing with his recurve bow, since he found out that archery is an Olympic sport.  Is that all it takes?  He's not quite ready to be invited though.  He's lost all but two arrows in the brush behind his target. 

We didn't spend much time at home today watching the Olympics.  We had to try out kayaks to see if we could find one that was comfortable for me to paddle on our vacation.  We're paddling!  This is such a cool anniversary present.  There were so many variables.  Could we board the cat or would they be booked?  Would we find a kayak that we could rent for the week?   Would Nick like it or view it as too much work?  Would Teddy stay in the boat or launch out of it at odd times?  Will they run out of permits on Ross Lake?  Will we get both the kayak and the canoe on top of the truck without having to spend $800 on a roof rack?

Not only did I find a kayak that I enjoyed paddling, but Nick loved it too.  It will be great for him to be master of his own boat sometimes during the trip.   I want him to love this, to get some confidence while building the muscles required.  He was like a duck in this thing.  I couldn't believe it!  His hat blew off in the wind and he was able to maneuver himself right next to it to retrieve it.  Well, okay.  Distance might be a challenge, but we'll be able to switch him into the canoe when he gets tired in the kayak.  We're only going 7 1/2 miles a day for two of the days and who knows on the middle day.  That day, we'll be able to decide how far to go or whether to paddle or not. 

The other big question was Teddy.  He's never been in a boat, so after checking out the kayaks and laying down our deposit, we headed off to Rattlesnake Lake with Teddy and our canoe.  He was a natural.  He didn't complain when I put Indiana's old life jacket on him.  He didn't jump out except once when we were close to shore and he wanted to play with a dog he met there just a little longer.  He even sat in the middle of the boat.  I hope things don't change when we get the gear stowed and he has to lie on top of a Duluth pack.  (Don't get me started about the Duluth packs.  At least I'm not portaging in one this time since the long portage is covered by a service.)

Oh, it was beautiful on the lake today, though the skies were overcast.  The water was that bright blue-green, so clearly indicating that it was not rainwater but melted snow.  The mountain reflected on the water and the osprey were camouflaged by the grey weather.  The best part is that Nick decided to take over my spot as bowman and he was ecstatic.  He practiced his draw and cross-draw strokes.  His regular stroke is pretty good, but he stops paddling pretty often.  I'm wondering how tired Mike will be after Nick climbs into the canoe and doesn't paddle.  I expect this to happen at about the four mile mark.  At five miles, we get out for the portage and after that, we only have two and a half miles until we get to the island.  We're going to pick up our boat on Tuesday.  Nick, Adrian, and I are going out on the water again then.  I'm hoping these little excursions will help Nick build up, but I know he's going to be sore.  This is his first time paddling for real on a short trek. 

Now, I can think of a couple more variables.  It's supposed to rain on Thursday.  Around here, there's always the possibility of hypothermia, plus Ross lake water is frigid.  We're packing our wetsuits just in case.  We also have to see what Teddy does when water comes into the boat.  Ross Lake is notorious for waves kicking up in the afternoon.  I hope he can stay as calm for that part as he did in the boat today.  The last problem?  Nick is in his bed coughing.  Will he get sick and force a complete shut-out from our trip? 

I hope not. 

Twenty years ago, we took our dog, Indiana, to Maine and had the honeymoon we always wanted.  We paddled for six days on the Allagash waterways.  It was such an amazing trip, we took some friends on it again the next year.  It was wonderful all over again. 

I really want to have another honeymoon.  I'm telling you, it felt like that on the water today.  It really did. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 27, 2012

Hunger, Sweat, and Responsibility

I don't really have anything to tell you tonight.  Don't you hate those nights?

I noticed that school supplies are on sale.  It's too soon, like commercials for Christmas before Halloween.  There are political ads on too.  Don't they know that the election isn't until November?  Really.  Our ultimate disgust with these ads should have an affect on their very existence.  What a colossal waste of money, and all to generate enough annoyance that we remember a candidate's name. 

What I wish I could do for the next couple of weeks is buckle into my recliner and watch the Summer Olympics from beginning to end.  Even the commercials that profile some athlete or another is interesting.  I have things to do, a vacation coming, a quilt retreat, a party, a dog to walk, and more than a little bit of hauling kids around to different outings.

I'm too busy to watch from one hour to the next any more.

The year 2000, shortly after Nick was born, the summer Olympics were held in Sydney.  I was grateful for the delay.  Do you remember that they had to delay the Summer Olympics there because, at the time it was winter in Sydney?  Isn't that funny?  I think that's funny. 

I was up in the middle of the night a lot then.  What new mother isn't?  I remember being really sweaty for those first few months.  Nickie was hungry in the night and I learned to wake at any noise that remotely sounded like his cry.  That was the end of my sound sleeping.  I've been able to wake at the sound of a bare foot on the carpet ever since then. 

I remember one night, I sat with Nickie on the edge of the bed, contemplating moving.  I fell back asleep and the poor child began to slide out of my arms.  I caught him before he fell, but I can still remember waking with that jolt and it taking a while before I my heart settled back down to a normal beat.  I knew I was an awful mother, to be able to fall asleep with my baby in my arms. Not long after that, I learned that if I got snuggled into the recliner, he wouldn't slide off.  Once, I found him off to the side and not in my arms, but it was a far cry from dropping him.  Nick loved it.  We called it the momma bed.  When Mike did it, it was the daddy bed.  Nick has stopped climbing onto me but he still climbs onto Mike sometimes when he's tired.  Mike nearly disappears under his length now.  It's funny, as if he can still remember the comfort of that place. 

There were hours of sitting in my recliner with Nickie lying on my chest.  Once that boy was asleep, I didn't want to move.  He was a little colicy, can you tell?  I learned to have a blanket and the remote control handy.  Sometimes it got dark on us and I sat there in the dark waiting for Mike to get home.  Thank God for the Canadian channel.  They covered so much live Olympics, I had something interesting to watch,even at 3:00 am. 

I can remember the closing ceremonies from that year.  I cried with all of the athletes, but mostly because I'd be stuck watching infomercials and twenty year old reruns I didn't like when they were new. 

I wish, I just wish I could watch the Olympics that same way this year.  I'm afraid I don't have much time to sit in front of the television any more.  I know I'll watch some, just not quite as much as I want.

I'll be thinking about those athletes though, all those dreams crashing about in one city.  I'll always connect watching the Olympics with being sweaty, being hungry in the night, and having an overwhelming new responsibility.  It fits, doesn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

Taking a Neanderthal to Dinner

Tonight, I ate about four meals-worth of meat at one sitting.  It's nearly midnight and I'm still digesting it.  I feel like a Neanderthal after a good mammoth hunt. 

I had dinner at Novhilos Brazilian Steakhouse in Factoria.  Oh man, I ate.  Of course, I had a salad from the salad bar to start, but then, they changed my plate and I was off - garlic steak, flank steak, Parmesan pork tenderloin, chicken, pork sausage, sirloin steak, ribs.  I couldn't actually sample everything.  I did hold out for another round of flank steak which Mike thought was the best, but we left just as they came out with another skewer of it.

See, after you visit the salad bar, you turn over a token by your plate that says 'Yes, please' in a couple of different languages.  Then, waiters visit your table with steaming skewers of meat which they slice off for you on the spot.  You use little tongs to grab the slice as it folds back to reveal its juices.  How can I be hungry again, thinking about that flank steak? 

These days, it isn't kosher to eat too much meat.  I've been told that it isn't healthy, that cows contribute to global warming through deforestation, that cows produce too much methane gas and that's a problem somehow, and that it's cruel.

I've read 'Fast Food Nation.' I've read the descriptions of the conditions in which many cows live. I've read statistics about how many acres of tropical rainforest were cleared today in honor of the golden arches.  I promise that I'm paying attention to these messages.  I try to keep my meat consumption down to a couple of pounds a week.  It's hard for me since meat and leaves are the mainstay of my diet.  If I eliminated meat, I'd be left with leaves, sticks and grass.  I don't think it would look good to see me out in my yard gnawing on sticks there.  So I eat some fruit too.  It's just that it's the protein that gets me through to the next meal.

In my defense, I use rice protein in a shake I make every morning.  I use unsweetened cocoa too, if you need to know one of my secrets. I like my shakes.  I look forward to my shakes.

I also look forward to having a hunk of tender meat for dinner.  I am without a doubt, a certified carnivore.  I would have trouble in a strictly vegetarian world.  I won't even say the other 'V' word. ..... vegan ....  There I said it.  Can't do it.  I just can't.  The best I can do is that morning smoothie.  It keeps me from downing a half a pound of bacon or sausage every morning. 

So, when Mike says he wants to take me out to Novhilos for a special occasion, I jump at the chance.  The carnivore in me is strong.  I hope and pray that we can solve the problems created by the way we use those poor cows, but   ...   but ... Long live the carnivore!

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today, Mike and I got married.  How can you distill all that time together into one page?

You can't. 

That day, we had a sweet wedding, one that reflected our tastes and still does.  We had hired a guitarist and a bluegrass band.  Three Pigs Barbecue catered, my mother made pie, my brother made hand-cranked ice cream, and a friend made sangria.  My brother dug up sword ferns and a neighbor brought all the flowers from her patio to decorate everything.  It was lovely. 

Our ceremony was simple, with a justice of the peace saying words that we couldn't have written better ourselves.  We stood in front of an Eagle Scout altar about two hundred feet from the Snoqualmie River, our home river.  As I was trying to say my vows, a fly landed on my nose and it made Mike and the justice of the peace laugh.  I noticed that Mike had tears in his eyes at the same time, making it hard for me to say the words I was trying to repeat. 

After the ceremony, we ate, or tried to.  Even with only forty people there, we were distracted from our plates and they were gone when we got back.  I found out that picnic tables are hard to negotiate in a full length wedding dress.  My grandma danced with my littlest nephew in her arms.  People ate cake and fed some to our dog Indiana.  After that, it was like any picnic at an old shelter.  Some people milled about and talked.  Some played volleyball.  Bluegrass music wafted about us as if our lives were scored this way every day. 

When it was time to go, I changed out of my wedding dress in a tent that Mike had set up.  Then Mike and I walked down the steep embankment with our green Old Town canoe and put in just upstream of the suspension bridge.  We paddled away as our friends and family cheered and threw sunflower seeds at us. 

The only day I was ever happier than that day was when Nick was born.  Remember Nick?  He and I had a better day today.  He'll have to make some mistakes on his own so that he can figure out how the world works.  It'll be hard to stand by and watch, but I'm going to get used to it sooner or later.  Mike likes that idea.  

Mike told me today that he's happy with the lives we're leading.  I needed to hear that.  So much has changed, our friends, our little family, our jobs, but we're still pulling together.  Is it any coincidence that we're planning a canoe trip for our vacation this year?  Probably not.  We honeymooned on the Allagash River in Maine with our dog Indiana.  It was a long and lovely trip.  The past twenty years has been a long and lovely trip as well.

Thank you for listening, jb

You Are What You Do

I confess that I am not a good mother to a boy who's about to become twelve.  My boy Nick wants to make his own choices but those choices involve soda pop, chips, and fourteen hour days of television and video games in the dark. 

Today, I twisted Nick's arm to get him to go to the library to get the reward he earned for the reading he did the first half of the summer.  The battle required to get him to actually do that first half of the reading program was soul-sucking so I finally quit last week.  I don't know if he'll read another word for the rest of the summer.  I tried to tell him it was my fault, not his.  It was.  If I were better at being a mother, he'd love reading and be doing it naturally by now.  I love to read.  Books are my escape, my education, my way to see the world.

Mike and I have read to Nick since he was a baby.  Shoot, I read aloud to him when he was in utero, hoping that the sound of my voice would be soothing to him, that he'd hear the hope there before he was even born.  We're still reading to him, to be honest.  This boy can't go to sleep without listening to a chapter of his story.  Sleep is another issue altogether.  I'll tell you about that some other time. I've brought Nick into the library to sign up for their summer reading program for the past seven years.  I helped him do the reading program at school.  More recently, I made him plan his own goals for reading and plan his time so he wasn't finishing at bedtime or worse, not finishing at all.   I even sat down and described my dream for his future, a bright and healthy dream with family and friends, with a job he likes, and an energetic and varied interest in the world around him.  One day, after struggling with him over his reading, I compared that sweet dream with the dismal dream of watching too much television, of not managing to get an education, of struggling with loneliness, poverty, and ignorance.  I told him that not knowing how to read and sitting back to watch television for days at a time alone in the dark might bring him that kind of future and I grieved over that thought.  I encouraged, cajoled, manipulated, argued, yelled, and finally gave up on keeping him reading every day.  Today, he watched television and played video games for thirteen hours.  It made me cry.

I've failed.

This well is completely dry.  I was fighting a losing battle all along.  Here's what I learned.  You can make a child learn something.  You can make him do it, day after day, but you can't make him love it.  He has to choose that for himself.

And then there's Scouting.  He says he wants to be a Boy Scout, yet on the night of the meetings, he's almost always too tired to go.  He doesn't participate in the activities because he can't keep up with kids his age.  He was only at camp for two days before he made himself sick by eating junk food that he knows will give him a stomach ache and, surprise, surprise, he had to come home.  He tries to say he wants to earn his Eagle Scout rank, but he hasn't yet begun to earn his Tenderfoot.  It makes my heart ache to see my husband go off to work and play with other men's sons while his own son is at home, sitting in front of the television in the dark while I listen to my book on tape and work in the kitchen. 

I'm failing with vegetables too.  He keeps saying he's going to eat his vegetables, but he doesn't. They lie on his plate until after he goes to bed, flaccid and cold, and I finally scrape them into the garbage.  Occasionally, I manage to get him to eat a salad, but it isn't enough to keep him healthy.

I'm not even going to tell you about my attempts to get Nick moving.  We got him a dog.  Isn't it funny that I average 7 miles of walking each week with that dog, including the weeks I'm on vacation and Teddy is in the kennel, including the weeks when Nick or I have been sick and I couldn't go.  Some weeks, I walk twelve miles.  Nick usually stays home.  I can't tell you how many arguments I've had with Nick over going to karate. 

I'm sure many of you would have some good advice.   Don't.  I beg you.  It will only make me feel worse.  I'm sure that you are excellent mothers.  Maybe you're even excellent grandmothers.  My sister said that I should let Nick be for the summer, that his mind will take over and he'll pick up where he left off.  I'm going to try it.  I don't know if I'll be able to stand it, television grinding into my brain fourteen hours a day for the next four weeks.  I suppose I can go to my office to get some work done.  I can ban him to my bedroom, the only other room with a TV in it.  I can just pack up the dog and leave to go for a long walk in the mountains.  I know those things will help sustain me. 

I just wish the summer were over now.  I've never wished that before.  I've always been having too much fun taking Nick and his friends to interesting places, to lakes, to museums, to the zoo.  I had great plans for our summer.  I wanted to go on a whale watching tour, to a zip-line, to the kangaroo farm.  I wanted to go paint in the woods. 

Maybe I should plan those things anyway.  I still want to do them.  Nick can sit at home and watch TV or play video games while I go and have some fun.  I would have loved to have someone offer those things to me when I was almost twelve years old.  When I was twelve, my dad was dying of cancer.  Camping trips, even trips to the library were forgotten.  I was frequently forgotten in heat of that battle. It's a long and very sad story.  Maybe I can begin to tell it to you since I'll likely have more time to tell it this summer.  I'll already be sad since I'll be listening to too much television and turning to see my boy slouched there, his mouth slack, unable to respond to anything I might say to him.  Once, after the television had been on too long, I told Nick I'd give him a million dollars if he scratched his nose within the next three seconds.  He didn't hear me.

I have to try to remember that it's not too late for me.  I can take myself on an adventure tomorrow.  I'm just not sure there would be anyone with me. I suppose that would be okay.  Nick just might stay at home, planning his future.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 21, 2012

By the Creekside

Today, my eleven other family members discussed whether to go to a pool or to a local creek with a small waterfall. The waterfallers won, which made me grateful, though I love swimming at the pool too. This pool had a water slide and a couple of nice diving boards.

All that would have made me happy.

You have to know, though, that I was still thinking about Richard Louv's ideas from 'Last Child in the Woods.' I wanted Nick to be in the woods today instead of spending his afternoon on concrete filled with clear water.

First off, it was free. Then, we encountered some pleasant people and their dogs. And last and most importantly, it was an amazing biology lesson.

The first lesson for Nick was in identifying poison ivy. He was the only one of us who never needed to know before now, since he's a native of the Pacific Northwest and not the Midwest like me.

Oh that sounds so boring. As we were looking at the brush, we found at least five pupal casings for cicadas. Nick didn't want to touch them, but he wanted me to arrange them as if they were talking. The things looked primordial.

There was a long set of steps down a steep hill, and all the while we lumbered down them, my brother-in-law kept asking me if I heard this or that bird. I did not. I listened to too much loud music when I was a teenager. Now all I heard was the rise and fall of the cicada song. Isn't that sad?

When we got down the steps, the creek bed was low, easy to walk upstream. The first creature we found was a blue tailed skink. I tried to get a picture, but this was one of those times I really missed having a telephoto lens. The skink kept running away, but turning around just under a leaf or in the space along the edge of a rock to look back at me. Was he teasing me?

Then the ones ahead yell because they'd spotted a snake. I finally got a good look at him. He had horizontal black and white bands around his body. He's only about nine inches long and, though we were practically chasing him, he never left the water. Finally, I realized I'd never walk into the water to get a shot of him and he had no intention of leaving the water. I leaned out as far as I could to study his lines. He paused for a moment as if catching his breath. You don't think of a snake as getting out of breath, do you? I talked to him. I told him I just wanted a picture, that was all. We stayed still for a bit, assessing each other. I didn't move except to click my phone's camera button. Then, he turned his back and swam away. Later, my brother told me he was a banded water snake, known to be aggressive. Wow! I had stared across a seven feet span at an aggressive nine inch snake!

Then, there was the carcass of an opossum. It was gross, mostly bones, teeth, and a little bit of skin. It seemed to be lying there in the perfect position to become a fossil. All it needed was some sediments and ten or twelve thousand years. Not everyone was as fascinated by the poor dead opossum as I was.

After that, I found myself among the children, including enthusiastic teenagers, looking at crawfish in the creek. That is extremely rare-the enthusiastic teenagers, not the crawfish. Some people were brave enough to catch them behind their pincers, but not me. I did, however, appreciate one particularly feisty one with blue and orange claws that was doing his best to fight back against the big guy who had hold of him. I'd been pinched on the feet by enough of those guys as a kid, thank you.

We waded in the shallow pools and generally laughed at the kids who made a muddy little pool into a glorious place with their laughter. While the kids played, my brother looked for chert to make into arrow heads. He gave me a piece to use as a flint.

The limestone around us was filled with horn corral fossils and chert nodules. Did I ever tell you I love looking for fossils? There were even a few crinoid stems. These were all black though. Someone told me it had to do with the type of sediment, whether the fossils were made out of quartz or chert. I don't know why, but I like the quartz better. I did put a couple of little chert nodules in my pocket though.

We made it all the way to the falls where some of us let the cool water pound the aches out of our shoulders. In the meantime, another clutch of my relatives looked at tiny catfish. I passed by on my way to get a towel and noticed that the catfish were much more shy than the crawfish, preferring to tuck deeper under the river rocks. They were thinking of fish sticks, no doubt.

My feet hurt, I was cold, and I was hungry. We all seemed ready to go back at the same time. Still, I was glad we chose to be outside. It may have been good for the children, but I know it was good for me too.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Dinosaur's Knee

I have too much to tell you to do it justice at this hour. Today, we went to the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. I loved it, from the Chinese junk made of Legos to the conversations with real archaeologists scraping dirt from bones. Did you know that they use Legos to make boxes for molds? I thought you needed to know that.

When I was a little girl, I read a book about Heinrich Schliemann and suddenly I wanted to be an archaeologist.

Back then, I was a collector of Crinoid stems. What, you ask, is s Crinoid stem? It's a fossil of a plant that was something like a horsetail. I liked these fossils because they grew in little disks and I could string them like beads. I had quite a collection, big ones, tiny ones, single ones, and clumped ones. The big ones were about and inch in diameter. You could see the radiating lines on the disks where they nested with the disk above or below them. The tiny ones were about the size of the fingernail on my pinky finger.

Oh, I may have given away some Crinoids, but I loved them best in all my rock collection. Why do I like rocks? Why do fossils fascinate me more? The woods behind my house also offered up a fossilized coral too. I collected them, but I didn't like them as much.

So after I read this book about Heinrich Schliemann, I took my best friend Billy out into the woods and told her we were going to find some dinosaur bones. I just knew it. We dug around the creek with a shovel. I really didn't understand the subtle nature of archaeology when I was six and we dug little pits six or seven inches deep at regular intervals along the creek.

We found some Crinoids and corals and dutifully placed them in the shoe box we'd brought, but nothing exciting turned up. Billy was losing hope, getting hungry, no doubt. Finally, I lifted a shovelful of dirt and came up with a big knob of stone. It had crystals on one side. It was beautiful.

It had to be a dinosaur egg, an end off a broken knee bone, something really big. We packed it carefully into the Strideright box and brought it back to Billy's house for cleaning.

After a bologna and cheese sandwich and some Koolaid, Billy and I got a bucket from the garage and an old toothbrush from the bathroom. For all I knew, that toothbrush could have belonged to her older brother Rex, but I wasn't asking.

We rinsed and scrubbed that knee bone, getting more and more excited about the implications as we worked. I scrubbed at that crystal until it fairly shone. Muddy water was everywhere and when Billy's sister, Christine, came into the garage, she said we were in for a whupping.

We excitedly showed her our fossil and explained our theories. "We are going to be famous archalologists," Billy said.

"It's archaeologist, Dummy, and that's just a stupid rock," said Christine. She was two years older than us and that gave her the authority. She had already turned ten. She spun on her Keds and skipped away.

We were shattered. Billy started mopping up the muddy spill with an old towel she'd found. She emptied the bucket in the grass, leaving a pile of mud and stones. She picked up the toothbrush and the bucket and looked at me in that same way Christine had, with an air.

"You can have the rock. I don't want it." She left me sitting in her garage with my box of rocks. I picked them up and went home, taking one more look at this crystal that was almost the size of my fist, minus the dimpled knuckles. I didn't care what anyone thought. It was a beautiful fossil and I knew it was something. Some day, I'd figure out what.

When I was fourteen, I had a lot of time on my hands and learned how to use the transit system. One day, I took that big rock to the university's Geology department. It was nice to have this kind of resource at hand.

I was almost feeling shy when I opened the door to this big lab filled with rocks that made my rock look like a pebble. Crystals of all colors, fossils I knew that didn't come from around here, and an amazing array of tools. The man who sat there was friendly enough and offered me a seat, so I unwrapped the rock from the paper towel I carried it in.

"Do you know what this is?" I asked him.

"May I?" he asked before he picked it up. I nodded, embarrassed at my paltry offering. He turned the rock over in his hands, studying the side with the crystals. It really was a pretty fossil.

"Where did you find this," he asked.

"In the woods behind my house," I said as if that made things more clear.

"This is quite a find."

I couldn't tell if he was humoring me. I leaned forward in my seat.

"Can you tell me what it is?" I asked.

"This is a fossilized coral," he said. I'm sure my face showed the disappointment I felt.

"I thought maybe it was a bone."

"No," he said, "but this is just about the biggest specimen of this kind that I've ever seen. What are you going to do with it?"

And suddenly, I saw my rock labeled and mounted in a box in a warehouse of thousands of other specimens.

Suddenly, I wanted him to give it back to me. What if he wouldn't?

"I think I'd like to keep it," I said as casually as I could, reaching out to it.

He handed it back to me. I thanked him and wrapped my fossil back up in the paper towel and left as quickly as I could without being rude.

I have had that rock on my desk at home, wherever that might be, ever since.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Whistling in the Driveway Swing

I'm visiting family this week and somehow it's hard to get time to tell you any stories.

Well, I have stories, but they all seem like crazy stories about how inept I am, how there are tug-of-war games between my family members, and how we're trying to get out to do some things while we're here, but it's hard to organize a group of thirteen people in hundred degree weather.

I'll catch you when I can. Right now, I need to find something to eat that isn't dripping in carbohydrates.

Nothing. I'd have to go to the store if I could find one that was even open. There isn't anything to do but wait.

The nice moments yesterday were when my mother, my son, and my husband were all trying to cup their hands in just the right way to whistle through their thumbs. We were outside in the evening air.

The neighbor boy had had to go home. He was three and had come to visit while his mom was ironing. His dad had recently died, a sad and sordid story. What would possess a woman to move a new man into her house just ten days after her husband has died? There's a story in it. I'll bet she's not as evil as they all say she is. I'll bet she's overwhelmed and crazy with grief. Or, she could have had this new boyfriend while her husband was dying of cancer. That would be pretty bad, wouldn't it? It is hard to paint this woman in a sympathetic light.

After this harried-looking mom came to find her son and left, his grandparents wandered past with their dog. The dog pulled them into the driveway and we all talked for a bit. They had moved here to care for their son and were moving away now that he had died and their harried daughter-in-law was wreaking so much havoc with her new live-in boyfriend. It was hard to hear the father counting the days since their son's death. One hundred twenty two. It was hard to see the mother's eyes fill with tears as she tried to regain her balance in front of us, total strangers.

Then we sat and chewed on that story a bit after they left. My husband, my son, and my mother all swung in the porch swing that my brother rigged up in the driveway. The swing from the swing set from when I was a kid was attached to one end of the support beam, worn chains and all. It was neat to see, but I didn't see how it could support anyone's weight. I don't know what my face looked like as my husband and son each took a turn in it. Stricken, I imagine.

Nick tried to cajole the cat out from under the porch and was hissed at for his trouble. Then he was nearly successful with the neighbors cat, but not quite. She was teasing him, just coming within a foot or two before running off. Eventually the neighbor came out and apologized for the cats rude behavior.

Then, back in the driveway swing, a turtle dove came to call on us. I like that sound, so I cupped my hands and tried to copy its call. I started about a fourth too high, but the notes were generally right and the bird answered my call. I wonder what I was saying.

About then, the sky turned yellow in the sun's last-ditch effort to shine through the humidity. Last night, everything had taken on a crazy orange hue. The yellow tonight was much easier and the three of them, husband, mother, and son took on a healthy glow.

That was the moment I'd like to have captured in a photograph, the one in which they were all sitting there in their healthy glow, cupping their hands and blowing for all they were worth into their thumb knuckles, sounding more like children imitating elephants than the quiet turtle dove. I wonder what they were telling her?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

'So Brave, Young, and Handsome' by Leif Enger

Cramped conditions and close connections aside, I always have a good time on a plane. I think it's because there isn't anything to do but read.

I started a new book, 'So Brave, Young, and Handsome' by Leif Enger. I love this book, it's quirky characters, even the way the author puts a writer in trouble with his second book into the book. this is Enger's second book. Funny stuff.

I have to admit that I love books about writers. Don't you? As a kid, 'Little Women' was my favorite and I totally felt for poor Jo scribbling her words.

And Enger's writer, Becker, is really struggling. I love that each one of his failed books is a metaphor for the quagmire he is in. The cool thing is that a boat-builder whom he meets and gets to know as Glendon Hale takes him on a whirlwind journey. I imagine his writing will be totally spiced up after that.

Oh, you thought I got further in the book than sneak previews? Nope. I wouldn't tell you if I did. I'd hate to ruin it for you.

I also read a magazine called 'Scientific American Mind.' I love this stuff, like the fact that diet sodas cause you to crave more sweets, or riding horses helps kids with autism because of the rhythm, or the fact that good-natured jokes ease pain while snarky ones don't. I'll have to tell that one to Mike. He loves snarky jokes.

Then I breezed through a food magazine I'd had lying around for a long time. I've given up on food magazines, even ones for diabetics. They have too many pictures of dessert in them. Really, you diabetics out there, and the people like me who are almost there: looking for substitutes for chocolate cherry cheesecake will never give you peace. It will only torture you since none of the substitutes are as good. Skip all the substitutes and acknowledge that we are like alcoholics. We are addicted and abstaining is the only cure.

The twelve steps might not hurt either. I believe there isn't I person on the planet that couldn't be helped by the twelve steps. Did I say that right? You know what I mean-everyone could benefit.

I managed to leave that magazine mostly intact in the pocket in front of me as I left the plane. I did tear out a couple of chicken recipes. Chicken recipes are to diet magazines what the token 'girl' is to the men's club. The point of those magazines is the chocolate raspberry ice cream tort on the cover, well, and the ads that are the true message. Ads don't sell next to pictures of truly healthy food. Didn't you know that?

Oh sorry. I'm done with my rant. So as I read the beginning of Enger's book, I nibbled my salad as if it were finger food. I forgot to bring a fork. I tried to make my eating look delicate, but how could I? So then I stuck my head firmly in his book and romped away with it. I needed a romp after having read two or three serious books. Thanks for the romp, Mr. Enger.

Thank you for listening, jb

The Gift

I can't believe the gift I was just given.  A new friend, an amazingly talented artist painted a watercolor of my sweet cat who died a couple of weeks ago.

Here's the truth - I bawled.

There he was, sitting on my blue quilt, purring in anticipation of my attention.  His eyes even had that squinched look he had when he purred.  He always drooled a little bit when he was happy.  The next frame would have been me wrapping him in the quilt so I could pick him up.  I think it hurt him to be picked up the way you can with most cats.  So, I'd wrap him like a burrito, carry him to my chair, sit down with him, and unwrap him like a gift, to pet him the way he deserved.  He liked when I rubbed his head with both hands.

Arti, you are an angel. 

Tomorrow, I had planned to bring his tiny box of ashes to my grandma's grave.  It was going to be hard to let him go, but it seems important, as if it will heal something in my family.  This makes it easier.  Thank you, jb

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Satellite View of a Father's Grief

I'll admit that a whole month has gone by since I learned that a childhood friend died and I'm just now sending a donation to her favorite charity.  To my credit, I sent the sympathy card long ago. 

Do you know that girl who was your best friend's older sister when you were seven?  Do you remember how insurmountable that two year difference was back then?  It was huge.  You had totally different friends in school.  You even had different interests.  Oh, Christine played jump rope with us, but her age gave her the authority to tell us what to do and Billy and I both chaffed at complying with her orders, but we had to, because mothers had put her in charge.  Christine was usually followed by her dog, Mike.  Mike didn't really add to her authority since he was a pug, but Christine had enough for both of them.

So, in truth, I was less of a friend to Christine when I was little.  I wonder if she felt that imbalance of loyalty?  There were no girls in the neighborhood just exactly her age, no boys either.

In the end, my friendship with her sister Billy faded.  The short version of a long story is that Billy's mother wanted her to expand her horizons when it came to friends, so she systematically froze me out.  It was very painful to me, but worse was that Billy always believed after that that she was superior.  It left a sour taste in my mouth and unfortunately, because I wasn't even as close to Christine, it impressed my view of them both.  Birds of a feather, you know.  I assumed that the older sister felt as though she was better than me too.

See, there is bitterness there still.  It hurts to be rejected and I was royally rejected, it seemed, by the whole family.

Funny thing is that I had seen these two women when I visited long after I moved away.  My old best friend Billy set her teeth into more of a grimace than a smile and hugged me stiffly.  What stunned me though was that her older sister grabbed me in a bear hug with a huge grin on her face.  She really wanted to know how I had been.  The ice melted a lot that day and I realized that Christine was much warmer than her younger sister.  I realized that Christine and I would likely be friends if we still lived near each other.  That was a funny feeling after living that age difference so profoundly as a child.  Hell, two years is nothing now. 

Now I'm stuck grieving for what could have been.  And so, though I'm no longer connected to anyone in the family, I made a donation in Christine's memory.  It was to the Humane Society, of all places.  It doesn't get any better than that when it comes to charities.

You know, I started to fill out a donation online.  It was going to be easy, until it asked for an email address to notify the family.  Well, okay, I found Christine's father's address.  I figured I could find his email too. 

It was really creepy that when I entered Christine's father's name and city into an email search site, I was offered a Google satellite view of his house.  Oh my God!  That's what stalkers do.  I just wanted an email to acknowledge my donation.  There was information about the value of his house, his age, his suspected career.  Whew!  Yet they wanted money to snoop further and email fell into that category.  I jumped off that site as fast as you could say 'viral stalker creep.' 

There's no way I'm paying money to stalk this poor man when he's just lost his daughter.  I was just hoping that he'd see that I donated a gift in memory of Christine and feel some warmth over it.  Hells bells, having my name pop up on his radar just isn't worth all that snooping.  I'm sorry.  It just isn't. 

So maybe there is some sort of silent karma that will bloom over my head since I made the donation anyway, even though no one will ever know.  Maybe Christine's father is feeling some comfort as we speak.  You know, the way the chaos theory works, that the flap of the wings of a butterfly in South Africa can instigate a hurricane on the Gulf Coast. 

Do you feel that, the warmth flowing around?  Well, maybe it won't work right since I'm telling you.  Maybe that negates the karma.  Maybe the whole thing about snooping around, looking at a satellite view of his house just gave him a chill and what I've actually done is create bad karma instead.

I hope not.

What I want you to remember about Christine is that she hugged me so hard that day that tears nearly sprung to my eyes.  She looked genuinely happy, in her life, in her family, and in seeing me, an old friend.  She had her dogs with her.  They were happy dogs.  It suited her to have donations made to the Humane Society instead of having flowers sent. 

So if we really earn a place in heaven or hell, if my opinion counts toward that end, I'll tip her right into a heavenly spot next to her sweet old dog Mike.  It was that hug and that smile that did it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Meaning of Cajoling

Okay, I'll admit that I walked straight up the side of a mountain today, but only for about 1.6 miles and then I went down again. I walked most of it backward. Yes, that's what I said. Backward. See, my job today, was to walk as far as I could with Nick trailing along behind me. I told him I was his trainer. He moaned and groaned, but as long as I was ten feet ahead of him, he kept walking. That's how Mike ended up walking almost five miles when Nick and I only walked a little over three. At least we walked it.

To get there, we took exit 38 off of I-90 and went to the right directly to a trailhead at Olalie State Park. We used our Discovery Pass again. I'm glad we got the thing. I've used it more than I thought I would. Then, after Mike ditched us to walk fast, Nick and I took a left off of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail onto a main trail that seemed, after a little dip, to go up and up and up. It was relentless, but as I was traveling very slowly, my heart rate didn't go bonkers the way it usually does when I take on elevation gain. This was Mt. Washington, described in Mike's guide as one of the two gateway mountains from North Bend into the Cascades. Elevation gain was our goal.

We're all trying to get healthier. My problem was that since I was mostly standing for couple of hours,it didn't feel like elevation gain for my heart, but my feet really hurt. In mechanics, there's some corrollary that says it doesn't matter how long it takes you to move an object to a certain height that you do the same amount of work regardless if you do it quickly or slowly. Well, does that mean that your heart gets the same benefit regardless of how fast it's pumping? I doubt it.

Nick and I drew leaves today when we took breaks. When he sat on a log, rather than lecture him, I had him draw a branch of a Western Hemlock. He did a pretty good job. I opened my notebook and tried to draw something, but it was lame. I figured that if Nick was outside looking at stuff closely enough to draw it, at least he wasn't conjuring excuses for being outside, for getting exercise.

He wasn't limping when he wasn't complaining about his ankle. He wasn't breathing heavily when he wasn't complaining about his asthma. When he leaned back and forth as if he was going to pass out, it seemed like total drama. He even tried to cry but couldn't. Okay, I believed that he really, really didn't want to be doing this, but my job wasn't to judge. It was just to get him up the trail, to get him to sweat.

The cool thing was that we came across a climbing overhang studded with pitons and bolts. There were carabiners still hanging from them. It would have taken a climbing artist to get up there to get them down.

It was a lovely place to hang out, with bright yellow lichen clinging to the rock and maidenhair ferns in the damp places. There was another kind of fern there, a little more delicate even than the maidenhair.

I have an app for my phone that's supposed to identify leaves for you, but to do it, you have to put the leaf on a white background. I didn't get it to work. I didn't want to destroy any of these leaves. So I still don't know what any of them were.

Just about when I didn't figure I could get Nick up any further, Mike came along down the mountainside. Then, when we got to the place where a large tree had fallen and made a bridge. Nick was bound and determined to walk across. I noticed he wasn't favoring that ankle then either.

It was a lovely walk downhill until I realized I'd left a bag of Teddy's poop somewhere up the trail. Gross. I hate when I see that. So, I left Mike to cheerlead down the hill, a much easier job, if you ask me. I hot-footed it up the hill again, this time sweating, my heart thumping, and generally breathing like a teenaged girl in the back seat of a Chevy van with the captain of the football team.

I had put down the bag to try to identify a leaf with the stupid app that didn't work. I actually made it back to the car within a few minutes of the guys arrival! We didn't smell very good, I knew, when we finally ambled into the local restaurant to order our usual for dinner, but we really enjoyed our dinner, especially the icy glasses of water they brought us.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 13, 2012

Making Your Own Luck

Do you believe in the power of a number?  I don't either.  Not really.  I believe in the power of suggestion though.  Today, it seemed that I barely registered that it was Friday the 13th, but it did register in there somewhere.  I'm sure of it. 

Today, our water cooler stopped working. 

I made myself late for my doctor's appointment, talking to the coordinator at the boys' camp.  My own doing, being late. I think I have pink eye.  My doctor proceeded to tell me he couldn't see any of the symptoms, the tearing, the glom, the redness, the inflammation and that it was probably an allergy.  Symptoms always go away on the day of your appointment.  I didn't ask him how I'd have an allergy in one eye and not the other.  I should have, but I didn't feel like being a smart-ass.

Then, I loitered at the vitamin store too long before I realized I barely had time to go to Costco.  Again, the rush was my own doing.  There was wild construction on the way there and I got stuck in it.  The people seemed to ooze down the aisles at Costco as if they had nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon than shop for 167 servings of Multigrain Cheerios.  I had no time for lunch.  I got back to my car with just enough time to spare before picking the boys up when I realized that the bagger didn't give me my paper towels.  I had paid for them too.  I had to trudge across the parking lot, argue with the cashier, negotiate with a manager, wait for an employee to shuffle off to get me a replacement, then hike back across the parking lot.  You could argue that I should have noticed the paper towels at the checkout since I only bought ten items.

I was nearly out of gas, but I hoped I could make it.  This was, by definition, mom's free time and I wasn't going to waste even five minutes of it getting gas.  Not so smart. 

Did I mention that I got my period again after just two weeks?  A mess. 

So I made it home and had five minutes in which to choose between lunch, clean underwear, unloading Costco food, or heading out to get gas.  I chose lunch and underwear, gambling that I could drive on fumes to get the boys and limp to the gas station from there.  See, it wasn't a totally horrid day because I guessed right about the gas, managed to get the boys to help me unload Costco stuff, plus I found the gel seat that Adrian needed for his bike before he left for his grandma's house. 

When I got the mail, I found my medicine had arrived.  Without it, my hair falls out and I get really tired.  It didn't seem like it was going to arrive before I was completely out of pills, so I'd made three phone calls to doctor's offices and pharmacies to get a week's supply to hold me over.  All that work and I needn't have bothered.  I wouldn't have had this problem at all if I'd renewed my prescription in time. 

So as I was digging around in the truck for the gel seat for Adrian's bike, I found six wadded up napkins, a gummy spoon, a squashed, spooged paper cup with something oozing out of it in the pocket behind the passenger seat.  There was also a canteen under the seat that contained rancid remnants of milk.  Okay, that was not my doing.  It was leftover from the trip home from Scout camp. 

While I'd been at the doctor's office and at Costco, I left Teddy at home since dogs in hot cars don't do all that well.  It must have been too long for him since I dropped in to grab something to eat then ran to get the boys and take them out to lunch.  After I left the second time, anxiety must have set in.  Teddy took an old brush out of the dog-toy bin and chewed it up.  Of course I didn't discover this until the boys were well into playing with Legos and that made it impossible to really vacuum except for the one spot where the metal shards, splinters of wood, and bristles were.  I should have shut him up in the crate since I knew it was going to be a while, or better yet, taken him to doggie daycare for play time. 

After I got that cleaned up, I called the people about the water cooler.  Of course they couldn't come fix it on Monday.  We're going out of town for a few days, for some reason, this guy couldn't even schedule the replacement until we get back?  Why not?  Why can't we schedule it now and then we won't have to wait two or three days when we get back?  After I got off the phone with the guy, I wondered why I hadn't been a smart-ass with him. 

So finally, after I dropped Nick off at karate, I took the dog to Marymoor.  My feet began to hurt because I'd worn the wrong shoes.  Hello, McFly. 

Then, on the way home from karate, I had to pick up the eye allergy drops and the interim medicine that I no longer needed because my regular prescription came in.  I left Nick in the car guarding the dog who would sit in every seat until they were all dirty.  I left him the keys and my phone just in case he ran into problems.  So I missed Mike's text saying I should bring home some whipped cream for the pie he was making. 

See what I mean?  I had an irritating day.  I never expected Friday the 13th to be worse that irritating.  I'm not that superstitious.  I am, however, aware that nearly every problem I encountered today was of my own making.  I think there is a saying that 'You make your own sunshine.'  It's true, but you have to watch yourself.  You can make your own rain as well. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blogging from the Lakeshore

I'm at Pine Lake in Sammamish. It's peaceful despite the clamor of a hundred kids playing in the water. Why is all that screaming and splashing still relaxing when the sound of two kids in a car can drive a woman off the road of sanity? My boys are tired from camp this morning. One took the swim test to swim in the deep end and the other one didn't. Now they're chatting across the rope, just floating in the water.

I'll admit that Teddy is a liability here. Someone has to attend to him. It was me until Nick asked me to swim. I was comfortable where I sat, even a little on the cool side since I'm hanging out in the shade. The swim area at Pine Lake is good for that. 

Now I'm wet, almost cold, with water draining from my ears. My suit is wet as are the stupid shorts I wore to look respectable as an old woman in a bathing suit. Why do I have to drag around a baggy pair of shorts when I'm not supposed to be worried about how I look? It took me forever to get all the way into the water, then Nick and I jumped in a couple of times, then I figured I'd better let Adrian have a turn at swimming again. He looked bored.

Seems like I'm going to regret the timing because I'll most likely get dry before Nick wants me to have another turn at swimming.

I always miss things I should have brought the first few times I go to the lake with the kids every summer. The boys need a beach ball and I want fresh strawberries. My blanket was the one the dog's been lying on in the car and it's a bit too furry. I have the perfect blanket, but it's at home. At least I have a chair, snacks, and Nick's water from camp.

Ah, now the boys are towing each other around. The sun is slanting deeper across the lake, putting a kayaker and three people in a canoe in silhouette.

It made me remember the day last summer when Mike loaded up the canoe and we put it into the lake here. Mike and I paddled around the perimeter.  I looked at houses wishing I had this one or that, critiquing the docks for the components I wanted, Adirondack chairs and a curved slide that would dump me into the lake. A diving board would be nice too. 

After taking a turn at paddling, Nick fished. At first he didn't even get a nibble. We told him that the big fish are harder to catch because they have more experience with fish hooks. The sun sank to about this level, or maybe an hour lower, he caught a trout, one that was just big enough to keep. He was so excited. We all were. For a moment, when the fish flopped into the canoe, I thought we might go over. It would have been funny. Thankfully, we didn't.

"Are we going to eat him?" I asked Nick.

"No Mom, I think I want to put him back in the water so he can grow up to be a big fish.  He's going to have a great story to tell the little fish."

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Running Amok

I wanted to take tonight off from writing to you.  I'm tired  Even my keyboard is tired, missing bunches of notes, I mean keys.  See what I mean?

I wanted to tell you that I didn't sleep well last night, but that is so boring, I could go to sleep just listening to myself.  I wanted to tell you that I woke up an hour and a half before I needed to get up this morning.  What the heck is that?  I mean, if I was tired, why the hell can't I sleep?

I wanted to tell you how I didn't bring my bathing suit to the lake today and I wished that I had.  I'm not one of those people who can feel good being at the lake if I don't have my bathing suit.  Water is a balm.  Then, I felt like a loon on wheels after I had to chase the dog around for a while.  First, he leaped over a couple of sun bathers as he chased another dog.  I can see that.  I really can.  I did see that.  Then, Teddy ran over to an old lady who was sitting on a blanket and shook just after he'd gotten out of the water.  How rude.  He rolled in goose poop which turned his neck a pretty shade of green and threatened to lean against two or three kids who were eating his favorite food, peanut butter.  At least he didn't steal anything today.  Last week, he stole a cookie from a toddler at the dog park.  At least he didn't knock anyone over this time.  He knocks someone over once a week.  Usually, it's me, though I've learned to bend my knees. 

Here' a question - why do dogs that are actually standing in water shake?  It makes a mess and accomplishes nothing.  Teddy did that to me three times while I stood in knee deep water. 

Then, when I tried to keep him nearby to protect the old lady who didn't like him, thinking he might manage off leash since it was allowed, he ran away from me as if he were playing a good game of keep-away.  Now that is just uncalled for.  Meanwhile, the kids swam along the shore where we could only see them every few hundred feet.  Then they parked on a rock just out of sight.  Drove us mothers nuts when we suddenly couldn't hear their voices or any splashing.  Did they want us to become insane?  Too late.

 I'd forgotten my chair.  What good is an old lady by the lakeside without her chair?  If I'm going to miss having my bathing suit, to skip the swimming, then I need the damn chair, a cigarette, and a cup of coffee in my hands.  Sorry, that's how I remember a half a dozen women who never once wore bathing suits when we went camping when I was a kid.  These women sat for hours in the blazing sun, smoking their brands, drinking pot after pot of coffee, and gossiping about the whole small town they had left behind.

One of the big topics of conversation was Doc, who never minded refilling any prescription and left at least a dozen townsfolk hooked on painkillers.  Doc was a sucker for a pretty face too.  Lots of those townsfolk who were drugged were pretty women who had suffered either a difficult childbirth, a broken bone, or appendicitis.  I wouldn't have been surprised if at least one or two of the women sitting at the lakeside weren't also refilling their own prescriptions.  Oh, the lives we lead, the lies we tell.

Right now, my feet are killing me.  Okay, it didn't help that I wore an old pair of sandals that Nick's been borrowing to see if I still like them and want to steal back from him.  Nope.  They're done for.  Nick can have them and when he's done with them, they're toast.  Okay, well maybe I'll donate them instead of throwing them out because they still look good.  Next time instead of standing around, maybe I'll bring my chair, coffee, and some juicy stories to tell. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, July 9, 2012

Outdoor Time

Outdoor Fitness Camp
Reduced rate!  Only $75 for a week long session

Guaranteed to make you sweat!  Builds muscle! Strengthens bones!  Forget osteoporosis - fight back.  My program is proven!  Even you can develop six-pack abs and rock-hard guns!

Okay, I'll admit that if you show up, you'll be helping me pull weeds in my yard.  These are wicked weeds with deep roots.  I'm trying to tug them up by their roots because it's better for us than any poisons we could use.  Our well is just next door, in the neighbor's yard.  After only one hour, sweat from my work was dripping into my eyes.  I haven't actually developed six-pack abs yet, but I could.  I never did say what my program was proven to do either, now did I? 

I finally told the boys to turn off the television.  I just couldn't stand it any more.  They don't want to go for a walk, or even to stand around at the dog park watching the dogs play.  I couldn't even get them outside by having them do little chores for me until they rolled their eyes.  I understand those chores my mother used to assign us kids now.  I used to think she was forever cleaning.  We always ran to the woods just to keep out of sight because she was sure to come up with something else for us to do if she could see our faces.  I believe it was all a ruse to get us to go outside, whether for some peace and quiet or for my own benefit.  It doesn't matter which. 

I'm still reading 'The Last Child in the Woods' by Richard Louv.  Every idea this man has about being outside sounds right, the joy of being outdoors, the experience given with danger, the chance to build things, interact with wildlife.  Yet I struggle to get my boys to go out.  They just don't want to go, even when I make them turn off the television.  What the heck?  It's a stunningly beautiful day out and there are no chores there.  They're in Nick's room, playing with his stuffed toys.  Don't tell his very cool friends that I told you that. 

On warm days like this when Nick was little, I used to set up the old tin tub on a relatively level place in the driveway and fill it with water.  I'd bring out Nick's guys, the Star Wars Galactic Heroes he loved so much.  He seems to want to get rid of them now he's older, but I'll have to keep at least a few, he loved them so much. 

Then he'd proceed to sit in the tub.  Sometimes he asked for soap.  When he asked me to come into his pool with him, I'd laugh and set up a chair and put my feet in.  It was a satisfying way to cool down.  We'd sit there for hours, in the dappled sunlight, the green of the forest almost all around us, the water of his tiny pool glistening in the sun.  Many times, Mike would come home from work and we'd still be sitting there.  He'd laugh and draw up a chair so he could come into Nick's pool too, stripping off his shoes and socks and rolling up his work pants.  Those were lovely afternoons and I miss them. 

I may be finished with yard work for now, but there's no reason I can't go outside, set up the old tin tub with well water, and read my book outside in the green, green forest.  I'll either get my peace and quiet, or the boys will join me and get some outdoor time.  Either way, it's a lovely idea.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Up In Flames

I can't believe I went to the grocery store and there were things that weren't on the list.  Now there are things I'll need from the store tomorrow.  Doesn't that suck?  Isn't that about as boring as you can get?
The motorcycles are zooming by.  It's a beautiful day and they're out like an infestation of maggots in the compost bin. 

I need to recycle, put out the yard waste bin with something in it, and get the cat litter into the garbage.  I just did a load of dishes and made salads for Nick and I.  I'm trying to feed him a salad before dinner these days. 

Well crap, this is all so boring.  Do we turn into these small-minded people when we get old, stretch less, experiment less, take fewer risks?  I think some risks would make me feel better.  I wanted to light up the burner thing I bought late last summer, but I want Mike with me the first time I do it.  I don't want to blow up in a fiery post-Fourth-of-July explosion.  Now, that would be an exit, but I'm not at all ready to go out in a blaze of glory just yet. 

This morning, I was talking about how fun it would be to sky dive.  The woman I was talking to looked at me as if I were crazy.

"I'd never jump out of a perfectly good plane," she said.  I would, except that I've been told by a respectable doctor that I shouldn't even jump off a step stool.  Well crap.  Doctors would have us get all of this exercise, but with absolutely no risk.  Elliptical machines are boring!

I gave up roller blading.  I have to tell you that I loved roller blading.  I'd take Nick out in his jogger stroller and I'd travel from Redmond to Woodinville on them. Most of the time, I was with a friend for those trips. Sometimes we'd walk barefoot over to the coffee shack in Woodinville, but I never got good enough at the whole shebang that I could cruise, push the jogger stroller and drink a mocha at the same time.  But, in all defensiveness to that doctor who told me it was time to quit, I only fell once.  If I lost my balance, I could use the jogger stroller to help balance me, no matter which way I was falling.  Nick just loved when I'd occasionally pop a wheelie trying to keep from going down.  I really missed that jogger stroller when Nick got to big for it and it started to list to the left.  I knew he was done with it when I had to ask him to hold his feet up so they didn't get tangled in the spokes of the front wheel.  In a week or two, he'd have been able to touch his feet to the asphalt, doing the Fred Flinstone thing through the bottom of his car. 

The other day, I saw a little girl on roller skates just beyond the big hill where Nick crashed his bike when he was just learning how to stop.  He had this habit of slamming on the brakes and leaping off, which may have looked very cool, but didn't work when it came to any speed.  I looked at this girl in amazement.  I  even said it out loud, how great it was that she could do a hill like that on her wheels.  She grinned at me.  I tried not to be jealous.  Okay, I was totally jealous. 

I'm going outside.  It's been a boring day.  I need to do something, anything exciting.  I think I'll light up the burner and hope I don't get more than I bargained for in the way of flames.  Wish me luck. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Mike got back from Boy Scout camp today.   He won the golf club carving competition, though I've never seen him holding a golf club except at mini golf.  He made a pumpkin cream cheese dessert in one of his Dutch ovens. I'm not sure what he made in the other, probably the chocolate cherry surprise.  He took Adrian out in a canoe and I can guess that he hosted the friendship fire with thoughtful stories and funny songs.  The day I was there to pick up Nick to bring him home, he suggested that I go to the trading post and buy the makings of s'mores for the kids, and the boys told me that they thought he was an all around good guy.  I knew that.  I fell in love with the Scout leader that he is when he invited me on one of our first dates, winter camping.  I already told you that story, didn't I?  If your feet are cold, put on a hat.  I didn't tell you about Hudson Bay bread trip. 

Now, the first summer Mike and I were dating, he was scheduled to go on a high adventure trek out of Sabbattis in the Adirondacks.   The coolest thing was that he needed me to go!  The Explorer Post had to have a woman on any trip that included girls. I was so excited to go and also so much less experienced than I thought.  Sure, I had paddled a canoe, but I'd never trekked in one.  I had no idea how to light a camp stove, tie down a canoe onto my Blazer, prevent hypothermia, or pack wisely.  I tried to pack an old flannel sleeping bag with deer and hunters printed on the insides.  Do you remember those things?  Fortunately for me, Mike gently intercepted that bag and substituted one of his own.  He'd had to be persistent.  I loved my sleeping bag.  He had told me that the trip would be hard on it and I should pack his old bag instead.  He even helped me make a list of gear. That list has changed a bit over the years, but we still refer to it.  Last week, Nick got hold of a version that had us packing Nighttime Pullups and a long leash for our dog Indiana who's been dead for seven years. 

So, on that first trip, Mike encouraged me to invite my brother.  I figured that since he'd been on trips like this, he'd help keep me from looking like an idiot. I had nothing to worry about.  Mike never once made me feel the weight of my inexperience.  One of the good plans my brother brought was a recipe for Hudson Bay bread. 

When you've been out for quite a few days in the wild and all you've been eating is that crappy dehydrated food, when you haven't been quite keeping up with drinking water because you have to filter everything and even then, it usually tastes like crap, sometimes you can get a little backed up in the digestive area.  I know that it's too much information, but there are things you need to take care of and this is one of them.  So, I told Mike that I'd make enough Hudson Bay bread for the whole group.  Hudson Bay bread was not bread at all, but honey, oats, and butter that baked up to looks something like chewy granola bars, though they got pretty ugly after a few days in a pack.  Mike had never had Hudson Bay bread before, but agreed that it would be a nice addition to the menu. 

Oh, this trip was glorious. The sun shone.  The black flies were never as bad as they said they could be.  Songs that sprang spontaneously to my lips.  I wrote poems on a white bandanna since I forgot my notebook.  We paddled about ten miles every day, sometimes stopping to swim from good diving rocks.  One of the kids, a swimmer, kept asking to stop at the swimming rocks.  Sometimes, we had time to stop for a bit.  The second night, I slept out on one of those rocks, looking up at the Milky Way which seemed to align itself with the long lake next to which I slept.  I was in heaven.  My only problem was that I missed ice cubes.  If all I missed was ice cubes, you know that I was seriously happy. Mike loved me despite the big gray smear of aluminum on my butt.

On about the third day, we camped in a wooded glen off of Raquette River.  I wandered off to bathe, finding myself a sweet little nook about a hundred feet away from the water, completely carpeted with moss.  I stripped down to my bathing suit and brought a bucket of water up from the shore.  Just about the time I had lathered my hair and entire body and and was struggling with the bucket through slitted soapy eyes, I heard a commotion by the river.  I felt naked.  I quickly rinsed off, grabbed my towel and threw on my shorts, though I knew they'd be wet all day as a result.  I had seriously long hair then, so my shorts were destined to be wet most of the day anyway. 

The two most senior leaders had just torn their new Mad River canoe and were sitting on a large rock, waiting to be rescued.  Whitewater holes swirled around either side of them and Mike and another leader had a time getting the throw bag across them to the rock.  Cathy came off the rock first, holding the throw bag and leaping back into the swirling water.  It was shocking to see her pulled under despite the heavy duty life jacket she wore.  But Mike and Brad pulled her out and dragged her ashore.  She was an experienced canoeist, yet she was crying.  Then they got Darrell who came ashore with a shamed look on his face.  He was one of those guys who never got into the water, it seemed.  How can you love canoeing if you don't even like getting your feet wet?  The boat was torn.  It takes a lot to tear a Kevlar canoe.  Cathy was heartbroken.  It was her birthday present, its maiden voyage. 

That night, we hung our bear bag too close to camp and got to see a local standing on our canoes, clawing at our bag like it was a pinata.  Oh, that would have been funny.  We banged pots and he reluctantly ambled away, but it was clear that I wouldn't be peeing on my own for the rest of the trip.  The girls had never been around black bear.  I don't think they slept that night.  I did.  As long as he couldn't get an easy meal, that bear was going to leave us alone.  It wasn't injured.  It didn't have cubs.  It wasn't too comfortable around people.  We were good.  It was an adventure as long as we were smart about it. 

The next day was one of the most beautiful.  It was sunny and hot, so being on the water was the only place I wanted to be.  When we got to camp, I offered some of the Hudson Bay bread to the kids.  Most of them looked at the gooey mess and said, "No thanks."  Erik had a little piece, just to taste it.  Before I'd zipped up the bag, he asked for a bigger piece. 

"Sure, no problem," I told him and gave him a big hunk.  I had finished my two pieces and began to pack the bag away.

"Can I have another piece?" Erik asked.  "I'm hungry."  Of course we were hungry.  What I was to learn was that on the fourth day, true hunger always kicked in.  It was the day when we actually started eating the form of Jello that had been packed for us.  It wasn't cold.  It was always lumpy.  Personally, I couldn't handle the texture, but on the fourth day, all of us ate what we were given. 

"Sure, but you shouldn't have too much," I told him.  He took two pieces, but I didn't want to stop him.  How does a twenty-eight year old woman tell a sixteen year old boy that if he ate too much, he'd have diarrhea?   "It's to help with your digestion."

He held out his hands and tilted his head like a puppy.  I was a total sucker.

"Okay, but just this last piece," I said.  He wolfed it down and looked at the bulging zip lock bag.  I wasn't going to run out.

"Erik, if you eat any more, you're going to have some trouble," I said.  Mike walked up, looked at Erik, chuckled, and walked away. 

"I'll be fine," he said. "Please?"  Those puppy eyes.  Did I ever tell you that I like to feed people?  I do, but I don't like making people sick and after four pieces, he was headed that direction.

"I don't mind sharing.  I really don't, but ..." I paused.  "If you eat any more, you're going to get the shits.  I had to come out with it, in case he didn't get all the nuance. 

"I'll take that chance.  I promise.  I won't.  These are really good,"  he said.

"Thank you.  You can have one more piece and that's all until tomorrow, okay?"

"OKAY!" he said as he grabbed the biggest piece in the bag, nearly the size of two.  Oh man, that boy. 

About an hour an a half later, we were on the water, smooth as glass, barely a hint of breeze.  The shores were thickly lined with trees and brush.  There was a swimming rock, looking perfect for a dive ahead on our left.   

"I need to stop," Erik yelled from two boats away, pointing to the rock.

"Can't right now," Darrell said.  "We have to make time.  It's getting late and we need to set up camp soon."  And we all returned to paddling peacefully.  I might have had a couple of blisters on my hands, and an aluminum smear on the butt of my little yellow shorts, but I was still in heaven. 

"I really need to stop," Erik yelled again.  Darrell was about to say no again.  I could see it.

"He may really need to stop, Mike."  Mike was about to say no too.  I could tell.  I took two more strokes.  "Mike, I mean Erik just might need to stop.  Remember the Hudson Bay bread?"

"I really NEED to stop!"  Erik yelled as he aimed his canoe for the rock and paddled away from the group. 

"Well, I guess that stuff really does work," Mike said quietly. We've trekked with Hudson Bay Bread ever since and I've never handed out more than four pieces at a time, no matter how much a kid begs.

Even after twenty-five years of camping trips, I still like to feed kids.  They're cute, better than feeding peanut butter cookies to baby bears.  Did I tell you about that?  Here's what bothers me though.  This week at camp, someone went into a box containing the leaders gear and snacks and stole all of the little granola bars Mike had brought.  The nerve!  It's not like they'd been eating dehydrated food.  It's not like we'd been paddling all day for seven days.  It's not like Mike had handed any of these out to share with the boys.  The boy was stealing, plain and simple.  I don't like feeding thieves.

So Mike feels pretty sure he knows who did it, one of the older boys.  He wants to keep it quiet.  That's his nature.  On the other hand, I'd like to pull aside a Senior Patrol Leader and tell him what happened.  I'd like to tell him that this kid has stolen not only our resources, but also our enthusiasm.  What if Mike had been using these to aid his digestion?  I might not feel like bringing snacks the next time the boys are camping.  Why should I share with people who take without asking? 

In a strange way, this boy stole something from himself.  He stole my enthusiasm and my generosity for him.  On that trip, years ago, Erik never stole anything, though he knew exactly where I stowed that Ziploc bag.  I will always remember his cheerful, hopeful face, even after he came back out from behind that lone diving rock on the left bank.  I'll always remember him as that cheerful, hungry boy.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Hundred Eleven

Are any of the rest of you freaked out by the number 111 when it comes to naming a temperature?  Michael Palmer of The Weather Channel says that temperatures in the Northeast are going to be 5 to 15 degrees above normal again today.  The summer numbers have been going up steadily for the past five or six years.   I remember thinking that that heat would be difficult to bear if I still lived there.  Then another summer, I remember thinking that it was strange that it happened two years in a row.  Now, it seems to be happening one year after the next.

Climate is changing.  Who gives a shit if the politicians agree about who caused this.  It's hot out there.  I watched Al Gore's movie.  It seems pretty obvious to me.  It's a closed system, folks.  You can't triple one number without getting a reaction somewhere else. 

But let's leave the political argument out of this for a bit.  Let's say you don't agree that our lifestyles have caused this.  What are we going to do when the temperatures reach 120 degrees?  130?  150? Will that change our lifestyles or will we continue to hunker down in our air conditioned huts, going to the grocery store in the morning, wishing away the summer?  It's happening - summer for many people across the country has become what it used to be for people in Arizona. 

These changes call for action, yet I don't hear anything in the news except a lamentation.  Trees can draw in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  Why can't we figure out how to do that?  Why aren't we working on this problem with more of our resources?

If global warming is left to continue, life is going to continue, you know.  Sure, it will get hot.  Many species will die out, including, possibly, ours.  Oh, we'll try to migrate to cooler areas, but many of those areas have wickedly cold temperatures in the winter.  It's going to be 75 degrees in Fairbanks, Alaska today.  I like being able to check the weather anywhere in the world on The Weather Channel.  I wonder if they're site is popping with activity these days.  I could imagine people in that 111 degree weather are checking it multiple times a day in hopes that the numbers will start to come down.  Michael Palmer will be very popular on the first day he announces an 80 degree day in Chicago. 

So, just what is going to happen with all this climate change?  The face of the continents will change.  Will deserts arise from the extreme temperatures?  I've already heard that the zones have changed across the United States. The plant species in those changed areas will have to change.  The animals too.  Will plant species have time to migrate north?  Animals will.  Will we? 

So, it's going to look different, the United States.  Will it make the Sahara look small?  Will Canada accept the bid for entry for a few million immigrants?  It's going to be 75 degrees in Mexico City today.   Will they allow us to come through?  There would be some irony in that, wouldn't there?  Just saying.  What will people do when their air conditioners fail? 

Can you see the movie that they would make of this?  It's a stunner.  One small band of people, from, say, Chicago, will travel by foot through 125 degree heat to Dauphin, Manitoba.  Yes, I did have to look that town up. Sorry.  They'll walk during the night because the days are too hot to manage.  Someone will die because their small party can't support everyone, but don't worry, it'll be the mean guy, the one who was willing to leave a child behind.  Wildfires will rage around them.  During the day, they'll sleep in the shade of trees whose leaves have already fallen prey to the heat.  They'll battle the border guards, struggle to carry enough water.  They'll arrive just as the temperatures drop in time for the fall, bedraggled, followed by a few million of their closest friends.  The next installation of the movie will have to be how they get through the winter with all the new people in the area choking resources, but it will never be made due to budget constraints.  Society will have begun to break down by then.

So what can we do to stop this terrible movie from being made?  Hunkering down in our air conditioning isn't going to help.  Neither is the jaunt I need to take to the grocery store this morning for one essential thing.  What will it take to make us change our lifestyles?  Catastrophe.  I'm sorry, but that's the gist of it.  We don't want to change.  It's pretty cosy in our big houses with our televisions and our refrigerators running 24 hours a day.  We like being able to pick up packages of food from a shelf.  It's quite a bit easier than going out for a hunt two or three times a week and picking different bits of grass to eat out of our yards.  We like driving comfortable cars to jobs where we move paper around before throwing it out, writing stuff that other people will never read, gathering at meetings to find ways to comply to what the FAA asks for so we can keep those airplanes in the air so we can visit the family in the Midwest this summer. 

If these numbers, the 111s and the 108s, continue to rise, we're going to have to face the truth that something will have to change.  Will we be able to change with it, invent inorganic trees that take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen?  Will we be buying them at our grocery stores and placing them in our yards like pink flamingos, garden gnomes and yellow ribbons?  Will they work?

Time will tell, my friend.  Only time will tell.

Thank you for listening, jb

Walking Boys at the Park

At noon today, after a bad night, I told Nick to turn off the TV.  It worked.  Then, we sat outside for a while in the sun while I ate my salad.  I feel almost guilty talking about our cool weather, around 75 degrees. One of my Midwestern Facebook friends showed how her car indicated that it was 111 degrees today.  We're supposed to go out and visit in a couple of weeks.  I pray that the temperatures drop because if they don't, I might. 

After we almost lost a few Lego toys in between the gaps of the deck, Nick convinced me to go inside to build ships.  At least we were building things.  They're arranged in an array on the floor still, except where the cat played with a couple of pieces.  Poor Seth is bored.  He misses his Buddy, especially when we leave to go for our walks.  He's usually standing at the window crying when we get home.

Before we actually did anything, it began to get late.  I began to get crabby.  I should take my walks earlier these days.  I finally convinced Nick that we could eat out and then take Teddy to the off leash area afterward.  It was great.  The dogs were running in the late evening sun.  Mt Si turned purple east of us as the sun set.  Nick found a dog who would run for the tennis ball he chucked.  Then, still needing my walk, Nick decided to sit it out on the picnic table while I made a circuit. His stomach hurt, he said.  I'm beginning to believe his stomach hurts every time it's time to get some exercise.  Oh man.  I walked and Teddy ran between us.  Mostly, he wanted to stay with me since I was moving, but Nick kept calling him back. 

Thankfully, a boy from Nick's class showed up with his dad and their dog.  Nick and I ended up walking two miles with them along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.  I don't' care that the boys were looking up guns on the other boy's iPhone. At least they were walking.  The cool thing was that another woman and her dog joined us and I kept walking on the other side of her so she was nearer the other boy's dad.  No sense in missing an opportunity for silent matchmaking.  I swear, I run into this guy every other week.  He seems lonely, didn't mind that Nick and I attached ourselves to them for a walk.  I was just trying to motivate my boy.  I don't know what this guy thought.  Oh, he's a nice guy.  He works with Mike.  He could stand to spend some time with a nice woman with a sweet dog.  Then, maybe I wouldn't run into him so often while I was out.  Just before we were done walking, we saw the elk herd in the field across from the dog area.  They were so beautiful!  Nick got their attention by howling at them.  Oh Nick.

I miss Mike.  Nick says he wants to go back for the last night at Boy Scout camp, but I'll have to see how he feels in the morning.  It would be a good thing for him, plus I'd get to see Mike, even if only for a little while.  Mike has had his hands full with another eleven year old who is homesick and not feeling very well.  I guess I'll be glad when we're all back together again no matter where we are.  I had fun with Nick today though.  My mom time seems to have been intended for him and not as time for me to be alone.  Ah, well, school will start back up soon enough and the house will be altogether to quiet.  It's feast or famine, having an eleven year old boy, feast or famine. 

Thank you for listening, jb