Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yogi and His Pinata

I had the laser pointer on Teddy's head after attracting Seth's attention.  Is that mean? 

Don't answer that.  At least Seth didn't swat Teddy.  That was nice of him.

The whole family is here, everyone on their own media.  Adrian is playing a video game, I'm on the computer, Nick's playing a game on his new computer, and Mike's looking at his iPhone, probably checking my Facebook page.  He doesn't have his own Facebook page, but he likes to look at mine.  Does that make him a Facebook stalker?

It's getting dark in the living room and no one has bothered to turn on the lights.  I'm the one who always wants lights.  I live with moles.  They groan and blink their eyes when I turn the lights on.  I just want to keep from falling over the Legos on the floor and various other birthday gifts. 

So, I promised to tell you more stories about canoeing.  Where was I with that?  Yesterday, I went for a walk with Rachel and we had to keep the dogs on leash the whole time because people we passed kept saying there was a mama bear up the trail with two cubs.  We walked as quickly as I could.  Rachel walks a lot faster than I do.  And we whispered.  No luck.  At one point, I heard a rustling in the brush, but we never did see the bears. 

Did I tell you about the bears in camp?  There are often bears in camp.

By the time I was six years old, I had fed Pitter Patter Peanut Butter cookies to baby bears in Tennessee.  Yup, you guessed it.  We were on vacation in the Smokey Mountains and it was my parents who had given me the cookies and told me what to do.  My mother wanted me to hand it to the bear instead of rolling it down the hill so she could get a better picture.  I couldn't make myself do that, so I rolled them instead.  I was lucky that time.  Later that week, my parents also laced a garbage can, not bear-proofed, with honey and crackers and proceeded to shine a bright light into another bear's eyes.  He charged, but didn't even come all the way across the road.  He didn't want the light in his eyes, but he didn't want to be deterred from his honey either.  Again, we were lucky.  Three years later, when I was nine, my mother tried to take a flash photo of a bear in Yosemite.  I can tell you, after being charged by bears twice, that they do not like bright lights shined into their eyes.

On my first canoe trip with Mike and the Explorers, I wasn't surprised to see bear scat and claw marks on a nearby tree at one camp.  It was a beautiful camp, positioned along the Raquette River in the Adirondacks.  I remember that because that was the campsite where a couple of our experienced advisers crunched their canoe.  I told you about that, remember?  But I don't think I told you about what happened after dinner that night.

See, it was late dusk when we finished dinner and hung our bear bag after that canoe-crash and subsequent rescue.  It was the perfect site for a bear bag, we thought, not quite out of camp, but with a solid branch that came out at a ninety degree angle.  It would be easy to toss a carabiner over and lift that pack full of our food.  The branch was high enough off the ground.

Or so we thought.

We were finishing the dishes and getting a campfire going, when we heard somebody banging on the canoes.  We had them piled up at the edge of camp by the river.  The sound of an aluminum canoe is distinctive.  The voyageur for our trip walked back out to the bear bag to add the dish soap and some odd snacks the kids had found in their packs to put in.  He was almost out to the bag, which happened to hang roughly over the canoes, when, in the dim light about ten feet away, he finally saw the bear.  This guy was standing on top of our canoes, catching the bottom of the bear bag with his claws.  The thing was swinging like a pinata after a good whack. 

"BEAR IN CAMP!" he yelled cheerfully.  He hopped back to where we'd piled the clean dishes and grabbed a pot and a metal spoon.  Banging it, he walked slowly toward the bear.  Yup, toward the bear.  This guy was a seasoned camper.  A bunch of us clapped our hands or banged what we had and reluctantly, this poor bear climbed down off the canoes and sauntered off across the river. 

Then, the rest of the advisers stood around and talked about how the bear bag site had been too easy and too close.  I may have had experience with bears, but what I didn't have was experience hanging a bear bag.  Because my mom hated camping, I'd almost always stayed in a camper.  I could see what they were talking about though.  It was just too obvious plus, it was only about fifty feet in front of the Adirondack and the fire pit and not away from camp.  It needed to be hung higher too. 

The kids were excited and scared.  I was pretty sure the bear wouldn't come back, but when the girls came to me, afraid, that bit of uncertainty showed.  I was used to persistent Yogi bear types, the ones that were really used to people. 

"I'm on my period," one girl said.  "I heard that bears are attracted to the scent of blood."  Wow, I had to take that one to Mike.  We talked to her in private though.  Would the smell of blood on one girl among fifteen people really turn a lazy black bear into a vicious man-eater?  I doubted it, but I quietly asked Mike anyway.

"You don't have anything to worry about," he told her.  She persisted and they talked about how there were fourteen people in the group and even a bear used to people would be uncomfortable around us. 

"What about when I have to go to the bathroom?" she asked.  After that, I became the designated escort for each of the six girls.  It wasn't good enough to have them go in groups.  No.  They needed me.  I wasn't used to being the mom back then.  I was only twenty-seven and hadn't had my own kid yet.  I went with them, but only reluctantly. 

The bear never returned, but the next year, we did come across a camp full of scouts that had lost all of their food to a bear.  Maybe it was the same bear.  We were on our way out, done for the week, so we gave them what we had left.  It was something, but not enough for them to keep the trip going.  I'd guarantee that their mistake was that they didn't do a good job of hanging their pinata. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

People and Things

It's hard to keep the momentum going on the river stories since I'm all about getting Nick into bed in time for school.  I promise I'll do it, but I need to catch up on sleep first.  Summer vacation is over.  Nick's bus comes at 6:20 in the morning!  Did I complain about that yesterday?  Sorry.  I think I did.

Tonight, I went to Ben Franklin while Nick was at a karate lesson and bought 30 yards of parachute cord and buckles for those survival bracelets that are all the rage with school kids now.  I had thought that fad had come and gone, but I guess not.

I made twenty of them before Nick's birthday party to give out as party favors.  The kids grabbed them, quibbling over the color of the buckles.  That was funny.  So I had to go back to the store and get more supplies since Mike wants to make them when the Scouts go camping again in a couple of weeks.  The trouble is that I don't know how many kids to buy the parts for.  I just guessed.  I'll either have a bunch too much or I'll run out and Mike will send me out for more.  With car camping, I have become the designated runner.  I pick up stuff we forgot, stop by for things other campers forgot, get ice and snacks and muck boots and such.  The boys know me as the one who brings snacks.   I like that.  I'm hoping this fad of making the survival bracelets doesn't fade before we go on this trip.  Some of the fads fade pretty quickly.

When I was a kid, it was super balls and leather bracelets.  My brother made these braided leather bracelets that he sold.  Shoot, I made them and sold them too.   I wish I remembered how much he sold them for.  I have no clue now.  We jumped rope, but more to the songs we sang than the tricks the kids do these days.  There was a short run on yo-yos.  I had a glow-in-the-dark butterfly yo-yo that I loved.  I gave it away not long ago.  I'm not sure why.  Too much stuff, I guess.  CPO jackets were all the rage, and mini skirts.  Then, when I was a teenager, midi skirts showed up, things that went all the way past our knees.  It was positively revolutionary.  We played spin the bottle and fooled around with Ouija boards asking silly questions.  We made and walked on stilts.   Oooh, do any of you remember Transcendental Meditation?   I never did get my spirit to go around the world on that astral plane.  Bummer.  That would have been so cool.  I did get a jolt out of reading 'Johnathan Livingston Seagull' though.  That was my foundation in reincarnation.

My grandma used to tell me how much I reminded her of my grandpa's mother.  Our singing voices, our build, and even our diseases were the same she said.  That's weird.  The thing is that I can't quite imagine it, being my grandpa's mother. 

Oh, this is crap.  See, then I'm suddenly responsible for her mistakes.  Or do I have to work out the problems that she suffered? It's all too much for my tiny brain to assimilate. 

My sister called tonight about family business, but then we got to talking about our family tree. We have at least three family members who fought in the Revolutionary War and a couple from the Civil War.  That's wild to think about.  You know, when I think of all these people, nine generations back from my own, I try to think of how much has happened to me during my life.  Every single one of these people grew up, suffered trauma, got married, had children, experienced love and heartache, got sick, and eventually died.  The lives, even in my own family tree here in the United States, just pile up.  In nine generations, that's 512 people, 512 moving stories.  My sister told me about one woman whose husband died and because of the laws back then, she owned nothing.  She was arrested for stealing her own pots.  Can you imagine that?  I just want to know her name.  My sister's computer was broken, so she couldn't look it up for me.

There was another guy who owed money or a cow to George Washington.  That's kind of cool, but it's embarrassing too.  I wonder what fads they suffered back then.  When I watched the documentary about John Adams, I thought about how stupid those powdered wigs were.  Fashion has certainly improved, especially for women, though the studded pumps that have no heels are a step back in our progress toward comfortable and sensible clothing.  I wonder if the boys were all carving the same patterns at any particular time and place, if they were making the same type of snares.  Did they yearn for the same type of rifle or sword or dagger?  Nick and Adrian certainly do. 

Maybe kids of other eras had less time for the fads, but I'd guess it's always been there, the things people do to entertain themselves, the songs, the toys, the dolls, the games.  There is history in all of it.  There are stories there that are nearly lost.  Can you imagine if the only detail that existed about your life was that you were so destitute that you had to steal a couple of cooking pots that once belonged to you?  There is no love story left for this poor woman, no joy over a child who taught herself to read, no tales of childhood escapades, just that one detail that remained - you stole your own cooking pots. 

What would by my single detail? A couple of hundred years from now, I'll be boiled down to being born, getting married, bearing a son, and dying.  I'll be lucky if any other details remain.  All my stuff will be gone.  The story that remains will be in the children who are born of the children of the children of the children.  Hopefully.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In the Middle

As I slice the blueberry kuchen, I sang a song I used to sing to Nick when he was four or five.  It came from the book 'Maybelle and the Ogre' by Bethany Roberts.  That song always pops into my head after I've picked blueberries at Bybee Farms and I'm about to make a blueberry pie.  I might go pick more blueberries tomorrow or Thursday. 

Then I happened to grab the spoon that I brought home from the Princess Cruise lines when Nick, my grandma, and I cruised to Alaska when he was eight months old.  Yes, I brought home one of their spoons.  I'd had a baby spoon at the table and somehow they took it while I was changing Nick's diaper during dinner.  When I asked them to retrieve it, they told me they couldn't, that I should just take a spoon.  I had to ask them to give me a spoon that would fit into my boy's mouth since all the spoons at the dinner table were as large as serving spoons. 

I can hear my husband saying goodnight to Nick with his bedroom door propped open.  I want to run in there and sit at the edge of his bed.  I want to tell him my stories of middle school, how I handled the bullies.  Really, Nick has already managed with bullies and he's done just fine.  I can shut up now, except that he doesn't seem old enough for this.  Yet he does. 

Sometimes I forget what my boy was like when he was eight months old.  He laughed a lot back then, when either of us whistled, when we called him 'Doodlebug,' when he could play with balloons, when he could jump in that jumping contraption we hung on the door between the kitchen and the utility room.  He cried a lot back then too, when his legs got sore from jumping, when he was hungry, when he didn't want to go to sleep but needed to so badly.

Sometimes I forget what my boy was like when he was four.  He grinned the whole time he was at soccer, running back and forth with the other toddlers, sometimes oblivious to the ball.  He was headstrong, once lying down in the middle of a busy street we were crossing.  That day, I had to put down my packages and tuck him under my arm like a football to make him understand that some things are just not negotiable.

Tomorrow, he starts middle school.  I know, some of you are experiencing what it's like to take your kids to college for the first time.  I'm not there yet.  I'm just not. 

See, for me college was the great escape.  I loved going to college.  It was an adjustment, I grant you, but they were exciting changes.  High school was a shift as well.  I went to a new school where I knew only half the students and I lost half of my friends to the other local high school.  But generally, I loved high school, even when I was a freshman.  I remember staring at a senior across the hall of my biology class, the song 'Blackwater' by the Doobie Brothers, doing my homework while I listened to Dr. Demento.  I had a good time in high school too. 

But middle school.....

Middle school was hell.  My two best friends from grade school turned on me, bullied me until I finally fought back.  Many times, I ate lunch alone.  Teachers loved me which is the death-knell for any kid on the scale of popularity.  Some kid called me pizza face when my face broke out.  Other kids teased me for being too smart.  And my heart ached for a boy who went for my new best friend.  That she knew I liked him and she kissed him anyway made her a lousy friend, but I was just learning those things too.  I stayed friends with her for far too long, throughout middle school.  Middle school was hell.

Nick said he's excited and nervous about tomorrow.  I have to remind myself that his experience won't be what I experienced at all.  I have to remind myself that he has a great network of friends that are all going en masse from the elementary school to the middle school.  Nick will manage.  I know he will.  We'll all adjust to the incredibly early hour for the start of the day.  School starts at 7:45 and his bus comes at 6:20.  Yes, it's that early.  My boy is not quick to get ready either.  He needs forty-five minutes when he's got his act together.  I'm sure to drive him to school most days.  That will give him more time in the morning.  Otherwise, he'll have to get in the habit of going to bed at 8:30 just to get nine hours of sleep!  That is just going to make this night-owl so very crabby.  I wonder how Nick will adjust to it.

He'll adjust.  He'll have to.  He's going to be okay.....

I hope.

Thank you for listening, jb


Don't Underestimate the Snoqualmie, Part II

I hadn't planned on writing more about our float on the Snoqualmie River, except that the subject came up at Nick's party today. 

The kids and Mike were running around in the woods, playing laser tag.  Adrenaline Sports does such a good job that they were all sweaty, both when they came in for a drink midway through, and later when they were finished. By the sounds of the shouting and laughter, I could tell that the kids were incredibly happy. 

I was trying to wrangle the women to sit with my friend who has MS and can't get up as easily to wander around.  I have to say that I was proud that I finally had these women sitting in a circle, all of us talking about school and age issues and such.  I'm pretty sure a couple of them understood what I was trying to do.

Then, someone asked me about the river float on Saturday.  Another woman nodded.  They know that I'm a drama queen at heart and I'd make it up into a good story.  Well, I did and told the whole story, but then when my friend Rachel had her hand up over her mouth, not seeming to breathe, and all of the women were silent, I realized that I might have done too well at telling the story.  I could just see all of them pulling their boys out of the Scout troop because of what could have happened.

"We face this stuff every day," I said.  Even in my own ears, it sounded lame.  Then I remembered that it was true.  I told them about the time my truck slid on black ice on an overpass going sixty miles an hour in traffic.  I saw 'Peterbilt' up close out my passenger side window, narrowly missed the back of a truck on my left side, then hit the guardrail, deflecting it by eight or ten inches where I stopped instead of rolling down a steep embankment onto train tracks through which a train raced about four minutes after I came to a stop. Every extra minute is a gift after something like that happens. 

I told them Mike and I faced it every time we went whitewater rafting, canoeing, climbing, or caving with our Explorer Post back in the eighties and nineties.  I have felt that edge when a thunder storm kicked up and all we had for protections was a nylon tent that was millimeters thick.  I remember the time we found out there was an escaped convict out in the woods with us in Pennsylvania.  Did I tell you about that?  I'll tell you about that some time.

Why does it feel so different now?

Because I'm a mother and I've already imagined every way something could go disastrously wrong.  I've examined the ways losing my boy could cut my sails right out from under me.   It feels different now, these risks, yet I never regret all the time I've spent on the river, in the caves, even climbing, though I wasn't all that good at the climbing. 

Yesterday, I talked to Mike about the whole thing some more. 

"That boy was fine," he said.  I felt that he was missing something.  "Our friend was just embarrassed that he fell out of the boat," he said.

"I saw it differently," I told him.  "Maybe it is better if I don't go on all of these trips if you don't need me there.  I'm always going to see this stuff differently now that I'm older."  Now that I'm a mother is what I meant.

I just now realized that the boy who fell out of the canoe didn't come to the party today. I hope that doesn't mean anything.

All of these mothers kept staring at me, and I became dumbfounded.  I didn't know what else to say. 

Then one of them stepped in to help.

"Cathy said she floated that river and fell out by a log.  There was a guy there who threw her a rope.  It was really dangerous.  She said she thought she was going to die."

One of the teenaged girls who had come spoke up. 

"That happened to me too."

"Did a guy there throw you a rope too?" I asked.

"No, my brother came down in a bigger raft and pulled me out.  I could feel the water sucking me under.  I was clinging to this huge tree and there was almost nothing to hold onto.  I couldn't get my legs out and I wasn't sure how much longer I could hold on before my brother came through in a bigger raft and grabbed me."

There it was.  After asking some more questions, I came to the realization that both of them were talking about the same spot on the Snoqualmie river.  The huge log and the stump were arranged in a pretty unique way with most of the water channeled straight into them.  Somehow, this talk deflected that intense mother sense away from me. 

I don't remember the parents being this intense when Mike and I were in the High Adventure Explorer Post when we first met.  I don't even remember the parents.  Didn't they know what could be happening to their children, that this stuff was inherently risky? 

So, I ask you, is there any redeeming reason why these activities are actually healthy? 

I think there is, but it's hard to explain. 

You might remember that I was nearly sucked into a strainer too.  We were on the Suiattle, a powerful yet deceptive river and the log jam was the size of a house above the water.  I know what it means to be yanked away from certain death. 

I have nearly died so many times that I'm aware of that I've lost count.  There were four ways right there on that overpass.  There was the time on the Suiattle river.  There was a time when a car on the other side of the road made a sudden left turn in front of me and I had to make a sharp right turn to avoid a head-on collision.  There was the time lightening struck a tree next to where I was standing and chunks of it hit me in the face, yet I was unharmed.  I can't count the number of times I've had an adrenaline rush at something stupid that was happening on the road.  Oh, and what about the time I hiked sixteen miles down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with only two cans of Dr. Pepper and two Snickers bars in my pockets?  Didn't I tell you about how stupid that was? 

For each of these times when I survived, I have a sense of awe.  I'm aware that I didn't have anything to do with that luck.  It was mostly dumb luck, yet these incidents left me with a sense of awe.  When I told that kid on Saturday that he had an important story to tell, I wasn't trying to distract him or make him laugh.  I knew that his body and mind were going to react to his situation.  I wasn't sure how he'd come out the other side, in awe or angry and defeated. 

I came out the other side with such gratitude that I was still alive.  I could have died, but, by the grace of God, I didn't. 

You know, I honestly believe that I lived because I had something I needed to do.  I was not done giving yet.  I have wondered what that was and I'm sure, most of the time, that my life with Nick and Mike are a big clue to the answer.

People talk to me about taking risks, but what are the risks to never taking a risk?

I could die sitting on my couch, an aneurism, a meteorite, a mud slide.  In fact, I read that a sedentary life can take as much as ten years off your life.  That's not good. 

Yet, I'm not quite ready to see my boy, or even one of his friends, face that ultimate possibility, that at any moment, it could all be over.  Sitting amid my circle of friends, I could see that they weren't either.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Burnt Stock Pot

Well, I didn't paddle a lake or a river today, not even in my head.  We're having Nick's birthday party tomorrow at the park.  Right now, the house is filled with the smell of meatballs and spaghetti sauce.  Picture packages of hoagy rolls in a grocery bag by the door along with paper plates, napkins, plastic forks, cups, extra Parmesan cheese, and various chips.  The guys had a good time dictating which chips they wanted me to buy.  I don't usually buy chips.  There are salad fixings, meatballs, onion dip, and veggies in the fridge.  All the Nerf swords are thrown in a pile on the living room floor.  Nick's planning a battle and Mike and I are in charge of logistics. 

I doubt I'd be good in a mess hall.  I've made about 160 meatballs, burned the bottom of my stock pot black, but managed to rescue the meatballs before they took on the burnt odor.  My feet hurt.  I know I've forgotten something and will have to shop again in the morning.  I'll probably wake up at 3:00am realizing what it is. 

Tomorrow, I'll pick up the cake, cut up the vegetables, and heat up the meatballs.  Hopefully, this time, I won't scorch the bottom of my pot.  Then, we'll load up the truck and the car, pick up a couple of Nick's friends that need a ride, and head over to the park.  Wish me luck remembering that one or two things that I forgot.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Snoqualmie River

We're paddling on the Snoqualmie today, our home river.  When we put in below the falls, it will take three hours to float to Fall City.  Three hours!  I like that.  If we walked the roads from one place to another, it might take an hour if we lounged at Lee's flowers on 202. 

--- Nine hours later---

Well, the Snoqualmie does not fail to amaze me.  Don't underestimate the Snoqualmie. 

At first, I felt like an old hand getting gear ready at our put-in.  I even talked to a Search and Rescue guy who liked my hat.  I'd taken up one of Mike's old hats, a Tilly.  This guy saw me as a river rat because of my hat.  Ha!  I believe I'm currently an ex-river-rat.  Experience fades.  I recognized this guy as a river rat because he had the dagger pinned to his life jacket. I had never advanced to that level.  We talked for a bit and he asked if I was with the group of Boy Scouts.  I told him we were and then noticed he had a throw bag in his raft. 

"We brought our throw bag too, but I hope neither of us have to use them today," I said.

"I use mine every time I'm on this river," he said.  "I'm always pulling somebody or other out of trouble."

"Wow, that's good of you," I said.  I had no real idea what his intentions were on the water.  I just assumed he was a serious paddler, but out to have fun.  Thankfully, that wasn't quite his story. 

"Have a safe float," he said as I walked away from him.

"Thank you," I said.  "We will!" I called back cheerfully. 

The upper part of the river was swift, but the water was low.  Mike and I spent our time shifting focus from the riffles ahead of us to counting the boys floating around us.  We had an even dozen and five adults.  We needed every single one of our adults, one in the lead, one in the rear and the rest of us moving between the riffles and the boys.  It was a challenge. 

Just before what we thought was the most challenging rapid in the river, we stopped on the right bank to scout it and gather everybody up.  I heard a boy say he was hungry, so I pulled out the dry bag I'd jammed with food at the last minute.  I had GoSqueeze apple sauce pouches, Peter Rabbit banana and strawberry pouches, corn nuts, carrot sticks, pumpkin seeds, old Cheetos, summer sausage, and a little bit of roast beef.  Those kids ate.  I actually felt good that I'd brought stuff they would eat.  Except for the pumpkin seeds and about half the bag of carrots, I was cleaned out.  The funny thing is that I like feeding these kids.  I really do.

We all went through the rapids without any trouble.  I was so excited to have my canoe in real rapids again, I shouted with joy when we were through.  People don't think much of a Class II rapid, but it's a challenge for most ordinary canoes.  Floating through on a raft or even an inner tube, you are less likely to run into difficulties.  Besides, this was the rapid that capsized us years ago.  Remember when I told you about that run, the one for which I hauled a canoe filled with water up onto shore after we went into the drink?  Did you remember that I was the reason we'd gone over that day?  I'd forgotten to brace as we tipped.  It was nice to run it smoothly.  It was just good to be in the water with our canoe again.

We met up at the bottom and I chatted with the boy in the bow of the other two-man canoe.  He was a novice paddler and he was excited too. 

After we'd gotten back into the water and gone around another bend, we saw a large group of people on river right ahead of us.  They were pulling their rafts and tubes out of the water en masse. 

"That's the strainer I told you about," Mike said.  "We need to get everybody off to the right to portage around it." Earlier, I'd been shuttling the truck, but Mike and the others had gone over the details of safe floating on the river before we began the float.  I heard the tail end of river position in case anyone fell out, sitting as if you're in a recliner, feet down stream so that you can bounce safely off of rocks.  I heard Mike ask if anyone knew what a strainer was.  I raised my hand.  One of the boys described it as debris under the water.   I always want to say that the strainer is a sieve and you are the spaghetti.  The water goes through, but you don't.  Mike went on to say that there was a strainer on the river and we were going to walk around it.  He wanted them to keep their eyes open. 

Well, this was the strainer.  We corralled the boys.  One boy was pulled toward the center of the river in his inner tube and had to stand up because the shallow current was still pretty strong.  It was dragging him toward the danger.  We stood waiting for the rest of our group.  Then, I noticed that the Search and Rescue guy was standing knee-deep in the water, life jacket on, with his throw bag in his hand.  While we watched, he threw a line to a woman who was swept into the strainer and clung to a stump, her raft collapsed against the main log. 

"This is why we didn't want to go through that," I said to Adrian, who happened to be standing next to me.  He just stood and stared.

Then, we noticed that one of the canoes in our group was on the far side of the river, headed straight toward the deep channel and that log strainer.  This was the boat with a small inexperienced Boy Scout in the front.  We yelled at them not to go there.  Our friend in the stern tried to turn the boat toward us, but the current had him and without any weight, power, or experience in the front of the boat, he was set in his path.  It would have taken quite an experienced paddler to back out of that problem.

I watched in horror as the canoe tipped just upstream of the logs and both of them spilled out.  They were lost in the wash for a second, but then I saw them between the stump and the canoe, the small boy held tightly in the arms of our friend.  They weren't out of danger yet.  The canoe could have filled with water and pinned them against the log.  They could still be sucked under the strainer together.  They clung to that stump. 

Another raft started to move toward where our two were struggling.  I grabbed hold of it and pulled it toward the right bank.  I have to tell you that I had an adrenaline rush and didn't quite know what to do with myself.  There were two people in this raft, a woman and a man.

"Get your fucking hands off my boat," the man yelled.

"Those are my boys out there and you're not going to pile up on them," I said.  I let go, but I pushed them a little further into the shallows as I did.  I was a little embarrassed.  I don't manage my adrenaline well, I have to tell you.

I saw our Search and Rescue guy throw the line.  It was short.  Mike got his throw bag as well and looked for an opening.  The Search and Rescue guy was quick and another throw hit its target.  Both our Boy Scout and our friend were pulled to the shallow water.  I don't believe I had remembered to breathe.  Tears of relief washed down my face as I watched them wade to shore.

I'm not sure that the other boys realized what could have happened, but I heard the boy who'd just been pulled to safety say, "I almost died in that.  There was a little branch and I grabbed it."  I hugged him and held on for a bit.  He didn't pull away.  I told him that now he has a story to tell, an amazing story.  He's going to need to tell that story. 

The canoe didn't come off the log jam as easily.  Thankfully, it was upside down with the main part of the current pounding its bottom.  If it had been belly up with the current pressing into the inside of the canoe, they would have struggled, even with a pulley system, to get it off.  Somehow, I started taking apart the collar I'd made for Teddy out of parachute cord. What on earth was I going to accomplish with that? It was only fourteen feet of line.  When I realized, I jammed it into my pocket and just watched.  The guys used the ropes from the throw bag and eventually pulled the canoe out.  It was barely scathed and since people were catching flotsam as it moved downstream, they only lost a spare paddle.  Mike said he'd be bringing his rope and pulleys from now on.  I turned and thanked our Search and Rescue guy. 

"I was a Boy Scout too," he said.  "I know what it's like." 

He was there, at the right place, doing the right thing.  He must have been a pretty good Boy Scout because he was still living that role. 

Thank you for listening, jb


Paddling With My Eyes Closed

I asked Mike about the trip on the John Day river.  He told me that we'd planned it as a three-day trip, but we only spent one night because of that missed campsite.  Is it funny that I remember absolutely nothing about that night in the desert?  I've heard people say that if anything goes wrong, that's when you have a story to tell.  The rest of it, paddling, setting up the tent, laughing as Indiana was taunted by squirrels who made her run back and forth, that was just what we did.  It was heaven, everyday ordinary heaven.

I could paddle all day in a canoe with Mike.  The hardest part of it, especially when we had just begun dating, was that I couldn't reach back to touch him. Maybe it was like those exercises for which each partner can't touch the other in order to heighten sensations between them.  I couldn't even see Mike without twisting around and rocking the canoe.  I could hear him, though, even though he's a quiet man.  He always answered my questions, mused on my thoughts, then let the silence fill us.  With Mike, I learned how to feel peace in silence.  I could hear his paddle moving through the water.  I could hear him breathing sometimes.  There would be birds calling.  There was water tapping the sides of the canoe.  There was the sound of the breeze over the water.  And yet Mike let me chatter along like a bird, sometimes talking or laughing, sometimes humming a song.  There is always a song going through my head and it's a relief, really, to let it out.  Mike never complains when I sing. 

Sometimes, when I get tired of paddling, I close my eyes and keep paddling.  Well, that's not exactly true.  I can't usually afford to close my eyes paddling a river.  The current and submerged rocks requires both of us to keep our eyes open.  But when we're on a lake, I can close my eyes to all the beauty.  Then it's just me, Mike, the water, and the canoe.  I just keep paddling and Mike brings me to a new perspective when I finally open my eyes again.  It takes away the distance to the far shore.  It takes away fatigue, somehow.  It's just the two of us in our canoe, floating on the water. 

The portages are the hardest part, hauling food and gear, pretending that I was ever strong enough to carry the canoe solo.  Oh, I only did that a half a dozen times and even then, I needed help getting the thing up and balanced before Mike could walk away.  I always bruised at the back of my neck where the yoke sat and my arms went numb as I walked, holding the canoe.  I never managed to carry my pack and the canoe at the same time.  Even with just the canoe, I could feel my vertebrae compressing.  I could feel the fear of anther back surgery, yet those trips always left my back strengthened rather than the other way around.  When a portage was over, the sweat washed off in the water and I had my paddle back in my hands, I was always relieved.  Maybe I was a little proud, but it was mostly relief.  I remember how happy I was that there weren't any portages on the John Day river.  Lining the canoe through the rapids didn't count.  I wasn't hauling any stuff. 

I had learned to pack light.  Some people assume that if you can put it into a canoe, you don't have to worry about how much you bring.  Mike and I never subscribed to that concept.  We didn't cut our toothbrushes in half or anything, but we discussed the worth of carrying my sun shower, a book that was very big, the extra food I felt I needed.  By the time we were done packing, I could put the 'extra' stuff in a gallon Ziploc along with my flashlight.  I always carried a small notebook, a small book, and an extra pen.  Everything else I packed was essential.  I even planned my clothing carefully, one set of dry clothes, one set of wet, then layers to add as needed.  Well, I did change my underwear.  That seems like a small luxury and I'm pretty sure it would have fit into that one Ziploc if I'd needed to prove it.  Mike never made me prove it, but he'd say, "Are you sure you want to portage that for a half a mile six or seven times a day?"  I have a pretty good memory for how those portages felt.  I packed light.

When we're done paddling for the day, done with any portages, we'd scout the campsite for the best place to set up our tent.  I've set that tent up in the pouring rain in the dark.   I can do it in minutes.  Then I might gather fire wood and Mike would scout for a good bear bag site.  In Alaska, the Black Spruce were so small, we had to throw carabiners over branches of three different trees and hang the bag in the center of them and even then, it wasn't as high up as we'd have liked.  I liked watching him set this up while it was still light out and after dinner, I liked holding the bear bag as high as I could while Mike pulled it up using parachute cord.  I've seen a bear batting at a bear bag with his paws and claws as if it were a pinata.  I know how high a bear bag needs to be. 

I liked cooking with Mike too.  Dinner on the water was quick.  Oh, I'll write more about meals.  Did I ever tell you about the time I caught a trout with my hands?  Now, that was a good meal.

All this chatter over a night I couldn't remember.  See, I do remember, but it blends into one long trip, paddling, portaging, cooking, making camp, watching the dog play, and sleeping.  Did I tell you about having the sandy, stinky dog between us on the last cold night of our honeymoon trip?  Yes, even when we were young and in that tent together, we did do some sleeping on those canoe trips.  We could back then.  It was heaven, those trips, plain old heaven.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nobody Wears Yellow

I'm too tired to write good stuff tonight.  It was one of those exhausting days, the days for which I have little to show and the headache to prove it.  A doctor's appointment, a battle with a boy who needs room to grow but doesn't want it, a book that bored me, two trips to the grocery store, but still no food for dinner.

I'm too tired to play my solitaire game.  That's pretty bad.  That's pretty boring. 

So, what can I tell you about tonight?  I made one of those parachute bracelets, only I added a D-ring and made it big enough for Teddy to use as a collar.  The only problem is that I got yellow, thinking that it would look great against his cream-colored fur.  It went together quickly, except that Seth unraveled the nylon by playing with the ends as I worked.  It looks great.  When I was done melting the ends and flattening them against a flat metal surface, I leaned down and put it on Teddy to see the results of my handiwork.

He doesn't like it.

"It's yellow," he seemed to say.

"It looks good with your coat," I told him.

"Do I have to wear it?" he said with a look.  "It's embarrassing."

"You'll be the best dressed dog at Marymoor," I said.

"What's wrong with my old collar?" I imagined him saying.

"But I made this just for you," I told him.

"You look like a dork," Seth seemed to say as he sauntered by, eyeing the bright yellow. "Nobody wears yellow but dorks."

"It's too tight," Teddy might have said.  "I can't wear it."

"I made it to fit you and you can wear it.  There's nothing wrong with wearing yellow.  You look sweet in yellow."

Teddy laid down his head and groaned as if to say, "The other guys are totally going to die laughing.  Nobody will be seen running with me if I wear this thing."

I took the collar off his neck, deflated.

"Maybe we could send it out to Tom.  It might look good with his coat," I said, knowing that I was going to take it apart and make a green one instead.  Maybe Teddy would like a green one.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the Boundary, Part IV

I'm not sure why, but this morning, I woke up thinking about my favorite toilet.  Yup, you heard me right.  This toilet was on a hill.  It was a pit toilet.  Well, a close second are the toilets in the women's bathroom on the top floor of the Columbia Center in Seattle.  Each one faces out through a window in an outside wall and each stall has a great view of the city from above.  It was worth going to the hoity-toity company party to see that.  I liked the caviar too, but I like black better than red and they mostly served red. 

Still, my favorite toilet is that pit toilet at the top of a knoll at a campsite in Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario.  By the time we stopped there, we were down to four people and Wynne was still angry and tired.  She needed a scapegoat.  She was used to managing the people in her company and the way she did that was to pick at things they did.  As much as the rest of us, she was under stress from the challenges of this trip.

By this time in our canoe travels, Mike and I had learned enough about our menus that we'd carry a spice kit.  I'm telling you, a bit of onion powder and cumin makes a dehydrated packet of food much more palatable.  So Mike had taken to cooking and spicing things up.  He still does.  Somehow he's the first to get going and start the stove.  I've figured out that he likes cooking outdoors and he's good at it.  I'll help and I'll wash dishes too.  I don't want to be a lounge-about.  Besides, the only time your hands get really clean on these trips is when you do the dishes.  It's like having the luxury of a mini bath.  So, where was I?

Because we had to change our route, the four of us were pressed even more than before.  It was still hot.  The water still tasted like sludge.  Add to that the race for campsites because it was so crowded.  You could see a group of canoes across the lake and how they'd spot you and suddenly speed up.  See, our permit had us going a certain route.  When we paddled Suzanne and Nathan to the take-out, we lost a day and had to look at our maps and figure out another plan, one that didn't have too many portages.  There was no way we could get back on track with our original route where the permits had set aside enough sites for the groups.  This new route took us in and out of Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario.  We decided we liked the way Ontario chose sites then managed and maintained them.  The U.S. sites seemed a little limited in comparison.  I don't remember exactly why.  We were in Quetico, I think, when we stopped at the camp with the toilet on the hill. 

You'll have to forgive some of the holes in my stories.  If you were in the know, you'd probably find some big holes, even outright lies, though none of them intentional.  We went on this trip to the Boundary Waters in 1991.  Oh, I always brought a notebook to the trips, but I was in la-la land back then.  Maybe that wasn't a bad thing, but my writing, well, my writing sucked and lacked detail.  So, we're all stuck with what's left in my brain. 

So there we were crossing back and forth across an International boundary.  There is so much hubbub about it now.  You need a passport.  I wonder if you'd need to carry a passport up there these days?  I hope not.  I'm not sure I'd trust my passport in a dry bag.  Many times, we didn't even know what country we were in at any particular time.  Oh, Mike and Harold usually knew because they hogged the maps, but I could only tell when we got into a pretty camp that we were in Canada. 

You know, Diablo Lake, the one we visited a couple of weeks ago, had such an amazing array of amenities considering that the whole thing was free.  There was a well-made pit toilet, a picnic table, a dock, and a bear-proof bin to save us from having to hang our food in a bear bag from the branch of a tree.  Those bear bags can get pretty hard to heave up into the air when you're on a trip with fourteen people intending to paddle for seven days.

Ah, right.  I was telling you about the toilet on the hill.  So, Mike was all excited about his spice kit and had planned to use it for the dehydrated chili we were going to eat.  We were camped at a rocky outcropping and he had the Peak I precariously balanced on a rock.  I kept thinking that the whole shebang would go over in the wind with our biggest pot on top.  It didn't and maybe that was a bad thing that night.  I don't know. 

I kept busy doing guard-work for the food pack while Mike cooked.  The mice there were aggressive little buggers.  Did I already tell you that?  If I so much as looked at Todd while he worked, one would leap for the opening.  It seemed like too much of a pain in the neck to zip and unzip it every time Mike needed something out of it, so I stood guard.  Indiana, our dog, would have loved that job if we'd brought her.  I got distracted at one point and one went in, another waiting for his opening as well.  I flung the first guy out of the bag by grabbing the Ziploc of gorp he clung to.  While I did that, I danced and stomped around the bag to try to keep the other mouse at bay.  Picture that. There's that decorum problem again.

You have to admit, though, that I was earning my keep.  Maybe it was worth keeping the damn thing zipped up while we worked.  Harold had gone off in search of a good bear bag site.  We'd need it for the mice as much as anything.  The mice may have distracted Mike from his spices when he was adding cayenne pepper to the reconstituted chili and a clump of it fell in.  He managed to spoon out some of the clump before it dissolved, but the pepper was the same color as the sauce.  There was no knowing how much went in until he tasted it and no adding corn meal to fix it. 

Now, I had been feeling pretty bad about what happened with Nathan.  It was a much-needed slap in the face for me when they decided to leave.  I had contributed to the meanness that had gone on.  I had been condescending.  I had been derisive.  We were all in a bit of a funk, handling their departure in our individual ways.  Mike was very quiet and it seemed as though he was the only one I could apologize to.  Wynne didn't think we'd done anything wrong.  I'm not sure what Harold thought, but talking about feelings wasn't his forte.  I couldn't make anything right just talking to Mike.  Remember, he was the only one among us who had nothing to be ashamed of.

I could see he was suddenly worried about his spice-kit experiment, but I was still mired in my own thoughts.

"Don't worry, hon," I said.  "It'll be fine."  So he stirred it up and called it done.  We all took heaping helpings, this being day three when we really started to get hungry.

The first bite brought tears to my eyes.  I made myself take a second bite and it stung.  I started laughing, hoping that would break the silence and distract Mike from the tears in my eyes.  Mike was totally silent.

"I can't eat this shit!" Wynne yelled and she flung her plate across the rocks and stomped off.  I had a moment of pity for the mice who were going to clean up that mess.  Harold, sitting on the rocks near us, grumbled what sounded like an assent. 

I stopped giggling and ate.  I ate every biting morsel of that chili on my plate. 

"It's not so bad," I said to Mike through my tears.  He looked kind of pale as he ate, and there was sweat dripping from his temple, but he stayed silent.

Now, there's an unwritten rule about these trips.  If you don't need to pee when you get into camp, you're not drinking enough.  With the heat, the exertion of ten flat miles and three or four portages, and don't forget the bilge water, I wasn't peeing.  We had gotten into camp, yet I didn't follow the trail up to the toilet.  That may have been another amenity of the Canadian camps, that the smell of the toilet was put a few extra paces away from camp.  I didn't need to pee that night either, though I'd used the clay taste of the water to assuage my flaming tongue.  We all went into our tents early and I still hadn't peed.

At about 5:30 in the morning, however, the chili gave me pause.  I didn't want to get out of my warm sleeping bag.  I didn't want to wake Mike.  Back then, we had our bags zipped together so we were like two butterflies developing in a single cocoon.  I couldn't move without waking him.  There was nothing to be done.  'Urgent' was the word.  As I walked in the cool pink air up the hill, I was cursing the Canadian amenity of putting the stench a ways off from the camp.   I just wanted to be back in my nest.  Finally, I got to the top of the crest and there it was, a simple toilet seat with nothing around it but the landscape.  It was aimed toward the south across the lake we'd paddled.  I could see a ridge, half lit in the morning light.  The sky was glowing pink and gold in the reflecting lake.  A breeze blew away any black flies, mosquitoes, and ordinary toilet flies from my white back side.

Urgent and burning.  I have to admit the chili powder had done its work, but I like to think there was some healing element to that burn, like Merthiolate on a fresh cut.  But then, I felt better and the glory of the morning was all around me.  The only thing that could have improved that toilet was if someone had thought to put it on a swiveling dais.  The pink, gold, and blue sky shining from above and from below set things back into balance.

It gave me some perspective, this toilet.  What was more important?  In the long run, spilling chili powder falls a lot lower on the scale of infractions than does picking on someone who is down already.  I was with Mike, right where I should be if I was ever going to learn that. 

I'll always remember the peace and the perspective I found at that toilet.

Thank you for listening, jb

Our Marathon

Over the weekend, I ended up telling tales on Mike.  Most of these Scouts don't know that he was an Arrow of Light Cub Scout, a Boy Scout, a counselor at a Boy Scout camp, an Eagle Scout, a member in a high adventure Explorer Post, and as soon as he was allowed, a leader for it.  He has said that Boy Scouts can save a boy's life.  I wonder if he meant his own.

My job isn't to tell them about all of these accomplishments.  More often than not, I tell them the story of how he dumped our noodles into the latrine by accident on the island in Alaska, or how he was the only one in our group of duckies that didn't capsize going over the 14 foot vertical waterfall in West Virginia.  I even tell them stories about our dog, Indiana.

I found myself telling one boy how Indiana got into a cactus on our trip along the John Day river in Oregon.  That was a good trip.  It's in the desert of Oregon near Fossil.  There's a fossil museum there, but Mike said it was closed before the trip and we ran out of time afterward.  I wonder about that now.  One time, we were in a store I just loved and he told me they were closing in five minutes.  The cashier laughed and said I could relax because I had another couple of hours before they closed.  Mike's not all that interested in fossils, so maybe he told me that story to get us onto the river sooner.  We had hiked in a lava tube near Bend.  We'd traipsed around on the lava flows, cutting our hands on the sharp, bubbled rock.  Now it was time to test the water. 

You know, I don't remember the details of this trip, like whether we were planning two or three days on the water.  I don't actually remember camping along it at all.  The paddling was incredible, just at the edge of our abilities.  I loved it, though I think it worried Mike.  He is always more sensible about safety than I am when we're on the water.  My excitement gets the best of me.  It seemed as if the water was high, but I don't actually know since I'd never seen it before.  It was swift.  It was grand, too, blue skies with basalt columns rising up around us.  Oh man, they looked as if someone had put them together as part of some mechanical structure, the way each red column was hexagonal and nested against its neighbor.  Did you ever see that same thing on the Northern Shores of Ireland?  The Giants Causeway.  No? When we went to Ireland, we didn't get to see that either, but I sure want to.

It was going to be a long bicycle portage back to the Blazer when we were done paddling.  That's how we did it, just the two of us.  We traveled with the canoe and the bike.  We'd lock the bike up at the take-out and go back to the beginning.  Then, when we were done paddling, one of us, usually Mike, would pedal back to the put-in and pick up the Blazer.  At least the biking was usually in a straighter line and so it was shorter than the paddling by at least a third. 

When we finally got going, I really didn't have much time to look up out of the gorge. Did I tell you the water was swift?  It was exciting, though I always seemed to conjure a different route than Mike did.  We spent a lot of time reading this river, looking for the way through.  We'd pull off to one side when it looked dicey and walk downstream to see what was what.  I loved that part, though Mike was better at seeing a way that wouldn't scrape the bottom of the canoe from one end to the other than I was. 

There was one section of river that just looked too challenging for us.  Mike said that with an empty boat, we might try it, but it was dicey since we had a full load, all of our gear plus Indiana.  She might have been wearing a life jacket on most of the whitewater trips we took, but we knew we could still lose her if we weren't careful. 

We decided to line the boat through this set of rapids instead of portaging or being stupid and paddling it.  So, we tried to walk along letting the current pull the canoe downstream like an eager dog on a leash.  Indiana got really upset.  The canoe was getting away and she kept trying to jump back into it.  She whined.  She looked at us and then back at the canoe.  She leaped, crashing into the current one time and half way across the gunnel of the boat another time.  Over and over, she did this.   Finally, we let her ride and we lined the canoe through the rapids, taking a more cautious yet difficult route.  No matter how much it bumped and bucked, she was happier being there in the canoe.  That canoe was like the car to her and it was not going to leave her behind.

Back into the boat, we paddled along a bit before we hit another obstacle.  The river hit a wall, literally.  It was one of the basalt rocks, stunningly beautiful, but with its own set of challenges.  Whitewater is confusing when it hits a wall and makes a sharp bend in the river.  Turbulence can cause strong eddy lines that suck at the boat's sides or worse, spin it.  This current was going to work to send us bounding straight for the cliff face.  An eddy line sat couple of feet from the cliff face and beyond that were a couple of rows of standing waves.  My heart rate went up just looking at it. This line would have rolled us and beyond it was a long narrow hole.  If we'd gotten into it, it might have been a while before it spit us out.  Imagine the water running toward the wall in an even sheet.  Then it rolled into a tube at the cliff face, funneling downstream with some standing waves reflecting back off the wall.  Here's what you need to know:  An eddy line is like a wind shear; Standing waves are simple turbulence; A hole is a tornado.  We didn't want to get close to that hole. 

We decided to run it.

We worked hard against the current to stay to the inside of that turn.  Mike shouted some commands.  I followed them, not wanting to take a different route than he intended.  My breathing was rapid.  My muscles strained against the paddle in the water.  I could feel the current pulling us toward the wall as if it were a powerful hand that held the bottom of the canoe.  I should tell you that I improved my cross-draw stroke that day.  I had no time to switch to my weaker side.  When we made it through, I wanted to pull off the river and look at it again.  I did not want to run it twice, the way I did sometimes after a good set of rapids.  My breathing took a while to even out. 

About that time, Mike started looking for campsites.   There were three we could choose from before there was a stretch of private land with no place to stop until the end.  We scouted what we thought was the second one.  A cow skull greeted us as we walked up the hill.  This was no Georgia O'Keeffe painting.  It sill had some vertebrae and a little gristle and skin attached to the bones.  Yuck. 

Then, Indiana came running up to us with her front paw in the air, whining.  Mike looked at the foot she held out to him.  Nothing.  She kept whining and limping on that foot again.  I took a look too and didn't see a thing.  Mike stood up and stepped back a bit.  Then he started laughing and bent down to us again.  Indiana had a clump of cactus stuck into her butt.  After he put on his neoprene gloves and pulled it out, Indiana stopped limping. 

"I don't want to stay here," I said.  "It's creepy."

"Okay, we can keep paddling," Mike said and off we went. 

The problem was that we didn't see the third campsite.  Finally, about an hour after we thought we should see it, Mike told me that the one we looked at must have been the third camp, not the second.  We'd have to paddle another ten miles and take out tonight.  We talked about surreptitiously camping on the private land, but neither of us relished the though of waking up to a shotgun pressed through the opening of our zipped tent at an early hour.  We were done for. 

It was already a long day, the rapids, the wall.  We were tired, but there was nothing for it.  We just kept paddling until we got to the take-out.  Thankfully, we were done with the challenging water.

"You know, don't you," Mike said when we finally finished, "that we just paddled twenty-six miles.  It was our marathon."  My arms felt like rubber.  My butt felt like stone. 

"Who's going to bike back?" I asked as I laid back in the grass in the dusk.  I don't remember if we camped first or if Mike rode back to the put-in that night, the good man that he is.  I know that I didn't do it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WashJam, Day Four

The man in the camp next to ours sang the 'Little Birdies' song at 7:00am again this morning.  I'd been awake for ten minutes and was hoping for it.  His gravely voice rang through the encampment and I could crane my neck from my position and see him hopping up and down and flapping his arms.  I loved his enthusiasm. 

I also love being able to walk along with total strangers on a dirt road and talk to these people, who might be headed for the porta-potties like I am, and have nice conversations about the weather, the condition of the boys, and the activities.  There's a camaraderie among the leaders, as if I'm going to run into some of them again, as if we have a shared objective, as if they can see that I'm working to learn my job of being the Scout Master's wife. 

In a way, I'm new at this.  I really am.  When I was an advisor for the Explorer Post with Mike, I didn't know anyone from Council, anyone from other Posts, or anyone from Sabbattis, the Boy Scout camp from which we started so many of our treks.  I didn't plan the trips, the meals.  I didn't know what to do with the equipment.  I couldn't put up a tent.  I didn't even have any lists for gear or meals.

Six years ago, when Mike became the Den Leader at Cub Scouts, I learned how to support him.  I even had my own title in the Pack as the awards person.  Oh, there were projects he needed me to help with.  It usually involved drawing some pictures for him, going to Costco for snacks, or going to Council for one thing or another.  I was getting pretty good at it, but Boy Scouts is different.  I'm still learning how I can help make this work for Mike.

Somehow, I did manage to get ready for camp a half an hour before we had to leave this time, plus, I made apple pie for one of the desserts.  Actually, I planned all of the food for the adults.  To tell you the truth, I'm still pretty new at planning all of the food for a trip.  I've helped plan the meals for years, but for these last two trips, WashJam and our family canoe trip on the Diablo, I bought the food, portioned it out, packed it away, and organized how it should be cooked.

Here's what I missed for the Diablo trip:
  • I didn't bring any meat for spaghetti night.  That's how I invented spamghetti.  I had thrown in a can of Spam in case we got hungry for one of the breakfasts.  It was the only extra meat we had with us.  It was pretty good in a pinch.  I guess. 
  • I tried dehydrating matchstick carrots for a meal, but even after soaking them in hot water for a while, they still tasted like wet matchsticks in the rice. 
  • I forgot to plan any desserts.   At all. 

Here's what happened at WashJam:
  • I didn't put the new package of flour tortillas into a Ziploc and they were waterlogged when I pulled them out.  We were supposed to have huevos rancheros for one meal and tuna salad wraps for another.  That had to change.
  • I did put the Ziploc bags of trail mix in the cooler so the M&Ms wouldn't melt in the 90 degree weather, but some of them got wet too.  I guess the whole shebang should have gone into another layer of Ziploc.  What the hell did the pioneers do in their covered wagons before there were Ziploc bags?
  • I only brought one small package of instant chocolate pudding for the Oreo cookie pie crust.  It was a slim pie, but they ate it anyway.   
  • We needed more chicken for our peanut chicken.
  • I didn't mix the tomato paste into the sauce before I added the meatballs and the dried olives and it burned onto the bottom of the pan.
  • I forgot Parmesan cheese.
All in all, we ate pretty well.  Just the fact that Mike had pie made him willing to overlook the scarcity of meat or the total lack of Parmesan cheese.  Oh, you know him.  He might make a suggestion, but he'll eat it anyway. 

I guess I've got a new job in the Troop.  At least now I've got a list to work from.  As it turns out, I like feeding people.  I especially liked handing my apple pie off to the Scout who'd been working most effectively with the younger boys.  There was also some chocolate pie left for the kid who scoured the boys' cook stove. 

Yes, I am not above rewarding kids with food.  I also spent some time carving a walking stick that I thought Mike could give out once a year to a boy who did good work.  After I got a bunch of the bark peeled off and carved a couple of spirals into it, it got knocked onto the ground and one of the kids accidentally stepped on it and broke it.  That really hurt and he could see that. 

Still, when I was making my survival bracelet, a guy there learning with me said if it broke so easily, then it wasn't the right wood to start with.  He told me alder is good.  We have a ton of alder in the yard.  He also said that if I left bark on it, bugs would come and it would all peel off eventually anyway.  So, what I was carving was just practice. It figures.  It was a lot of practice.  I still need a good carving knife.  The one I was using wasn't very sharp and didn't have a good blade for the work.  At least that's what Mike told me. 

So, I have more work to do.  This morning, I never did manage to get up to the Tully's at camp before they closed.  That would have been a good Sunday morning thing to do.  We seemed like we were in a hurry, so after having a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal, we packed up and drove the boys home.  The ones in my car got the giggles at making acronyms out of the three letters on license plates.  You know they were Freudian about it and so 'P' almost always stood for poop, 'F' was for fart, and so on.  I didn't stop them.  There are lots of people to yell at them for these things and I wasn't in the mood to do it.  The one that got us was X-ray Crap Toilet.  Do you know how something totally inane will get you on a trip like that and you end up saying it over and over and laughing until tears come to your eyes?  That happened on that drive back. 

When we got home and got some of the stuff unloaded, I took a long hot shower.  Oh man, that felt good.  The water draining was brown and my loofah turned temporarily grey.  The crud on my ankles didn't want to scrub off.  After all that sunscreen and dirt packed onto me like a facial treatment, my skin was incredibly soft.  When I got out and sat down in my recliner, I fell asleep for a couple of hours.   Think I earned it.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, August 18, 2012

WashJam, Day Three

Did I tell you how much I need a shower? No? Oh you do not want to know what my hair looks like under my hat. It's crusty with salt. There's no improvement to combing it, but it itches so I do anyway.

Today was easy, especially since it began with chocolate chip and cranberry pancakes. We all participated more since the temperatures dropped into a tolerable range. Everyone was more enthusiastic too.

I absolutely love my new survival bracelet. Who would think macramé would be so popular? Now, in theory, a boy could use the line from a tightly knit belt or bracelet to save his own life, used with some carabiners to lower himself off a cliff face or to create a block and tackle to pull his raft off a bridge pillar. Actually, it's more likely it'll be used to put up a couple of extra tarps in a squall, but you never know.

I decided to go off alone to try this out. As I left camp, Mike asked me to get a kit for him so I could teach him when I got back. These people were so generous, giving out the line and nice little black buckles. But Mike thought I could teach him? Right. He's taught me the bowline knot every summer for five summers and it hasn't stuck. So a nice guy taught me how to make my bracelet. Then he showed me again.

That wasn't going to be enough. So I started helping anyone who asked. I was there for over an hour. One kid I didn't seem to be able to help was fairly frustrated because I wouldn't do it for him. Maybe there's a use for a bit of frustration in learning, but this boy wasn't trying. Finally, his buddy told me he'd help him as soon as they got back to camp. What a great kid!

I was so inspired by this boy and his helpful nature. I'm still thinking about how we could foster that in our group.

We're also going to have an iron chef competition since our boys had so much trouble cooking on this trip. They didn't even bother to make lunch today. It was every man for himself. The younger boys ended up going to the program area and buying candy and soda to eat. Oh man, we have some work to do.

After I got back, Mike had a free moment, I showed him how to make his own survival bracelet. He was an easy student. Now, when I make my belt, he'll be able to help me remember how to do it.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, August 17, 2012

WashJam, Day Two

I woke at 5:30 at dawn. Some bird was making an announcement. It was beautiful, with a pink haze over the field of tents. By 10:30, it was hot. I was sent out into the world to get more ice for our pathetic coolers. So I schlepped garbage and another mom's stuff to the cars. Why wasn't she willing to schlep her own stuff, I wanted to ask. On the way, I met a security guy who seemed concerned I was leaving. Schlepping, I said, and getting ice. I said I didn't want to leave. He said he'd already left camp twice so far. Dehydration victims needed to go to the hospital.

"Were they okay?" I asked. Just then, a car drove up.
"No," he said before he got distracted by an arriving car. Don't you hate when you don't get the whole story?

So I finished schlepping and found the convenience store he'd told me
about. The people there were so nice, I felt bad about jamming a half a bag of garbage into their can. I momentarily forgot about schlepping and stood with the cooler door open, thinking about what I'd get myself. Then somehow, I forgot about my lime Perrier and started thinking that if I brought cold junk drinks, I could get some reluctant drinkers more hydrated. Half way back to the camp, I wondered what I was thinking. I'd forgotten about the schlepping. So, I loaded two bags of ice and three lemonades into my backpack. Then I loaded two nice grocery bags as evenly as I could with the other bag of ice, ten more bottles of lemonade and two bags of flaming Cheetos. It was a portage that couldn't be beat. I might have felt more loaded back when I could carry my ABS canoe. Maybe.

But when I arrived back at camp, I was lauded for my wonderful schlepping.

"Sweet," was the best compliment I got.

You know, we hung around camp all afternoon, beating the heat with wet bandanas, spray bottles, and lemonade.

It's fun to watch the boys cook. They forgot the chicken for their dinner last night. The didn't bring cooking oil to make pancakes. They cooked the bacon, but forgot that they needed extra for lunch BLTs and threw the extra out. Really? Then, they bought a bunch of candy and cooked it down in a stew made out of Tang. Oh man, that stuff smelled like Grandma making jelly. So basically, they ate crap.

So now, we're waiting for the talent show to start. It should be good. Mt Rainier is pink in the evening light. It's finally cool enough to relax.


The kid doing hip hop was amazing. I hope he wins. We had to text our votes. If you want to vote for him, just text Scout3 to 68398. He was just eleven. Plus, he was funny. isn't that a good reason?

I'm in my little bed now. The wind is blowing and I have on all my layers except my hat. I'm snuggled in. I'm wearing earplugs, and the stars are waiting.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the Boundary, Part III

I'm going to WashJam tomorrow, so today was busy.  I packed.  I helped Nick pack, walked the dog, shopped for more food, dehydrated black olives, made Hudson Bay bread, and baked three individual apple pies.

In all that, Seth decided he wasn't getting enough attention and knocked over our torch lamp.  I loved that lamp.  They don't make them the way they used to.  They don't make anything the way they used to.  We've had trouble even getting a can opener that works.  It's always that feeling that I have my act together that gets in my way and then these little things pop up.  I had to vacuum at 1:30am.  Nobody normal vacuums at 1:30am, except when there's broken glass all over and they have pets walking around.  I have yet to let Seth out of his kennel.  I'm still mad at him, still wondering if he'll get a shard of glass stuck in his paw by wandering around the scene of the crime.

So, I was going to tell you about my shameful behavior in Minnesota on our canoe trip.  See, Suzanne's boyfriend Nathan had made himself sick by not drinking enough water.  We were having to race other groups for campsites and we were missing one after another because Nathan and Suzanne couldn't keep up.  We were all struggling to drink enough water in the heat and exertion.  There were too many portages, little ones, but the frequency of having to load and unload the boat was exhausting.  We were all under stress and then Nathan started to get sick.  He seemed like a hypochondriac, to me.  I wasn't sure if I believed him when he said he was dizzy and nauseated.  I suspect he was constipated too.  He wasn't eating much.  Or maybe he was just being picky.  I wasn't sure.  I know it's easy to get angry with someone who's not doing what they need to take care of themselves.  Nathan had a tendency to whine to Suzanne.  It's a wonder she married him after that, but I'm not sure why she didn't get mad at us.  Suzanne is definitely not a whiner, but she was in love with this guy and held his hand as he sat miserably on a rock by the lake on the third night of the trip.

The shame of it is that Wynne started picking on Nathan.  As if that would fix things and make him drink more water.  He refused.  In fact, he dug in his heels when she started in calling him a wimp.  There comes a moment, usually after an event like this, when I wake up at four in the morning and I can see the truth of the matter.  I didn't see it while I was in it.

Oh Lord, my pies are done and I just can't afford to stay up much later, so I'm going to make this quick.  I'm not proud either.  If I write it quickly, it'll be like ripping the stuck Bandaid off the furry part of your arm.

Imagine being on a trip that's much more challenging than you imagined.  Except for your girlfriend, you're among strangers. Imagine that the water tastes murky and you don't trust the water filter these people have brought, especially since they taught you about a parasite called Giardia.  Lovely.  Rodents are getting into the food.  It's disgusting.  Then, except for one person, they start picking on you because you feel sick and didn't get a chance to train for this challenge.  One of them calls you a wimp in front of your girlfriend.  In truth, you feel sick enough that you whine, but you don't care.  You just want to get away from them, get to a hotel where you can have a tall glass of iced tea, where you won't be a wimp any more, where the beds are comfortable and the air conditioning works.  It would be beautiful exploring in this country with your girlfriend if you were staying in a hotel.  You just don't want to say anything to anyone, but you're constipated, really constipated.  You can't eat because of it. 

Yup, I can see all that now, but at the time, I was just mad.

The one who didn't pick on Nathan was Mike, the only one.  I like to blame group dynamics, but I remember my frustration that all this man had to do was take a drink, a damn drink of water.  The solution was so simple and I really didn't like that he sabotaged our whole trip.  I may not have called Nathan names, but I was complicit in bullying him.  I tried to push him too.  I was derisive, and demeaning.  It was not a night I was proud of being myself.  I was capable of this. 

In the morning, Suzanne got up when the rest of the groups started making breakfast.  Nathan stayed in the tent.  She announced that they were going back to where we put the boats into the water, that they'd return their broken canoe and pay for it if they needed to.  Mike decided that we were going to ignore our permits and escort them back before rerouting the trip and going on.  We bullies were quiet then.  I began to see myself in the new light of events.  If I had lived in Nazi Germany, I wondered, would I have gone along with all the abductions of the Jews, with their annihilation?  I was no longer confident about my nature.  I could be the bad guy. 

It's been a long road to accepting that about myself.  I'm not a particularly strong person when it comes to what is right sometimes.  Oh, I talk the good talk.  I try to live the good life, but I see that bully sometimes, even now.  I have to live with that part of myself.  It's not easy.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the Boundary, Part II

I should really check my schedule before I embark upon these long stories.  I hate to leave you hanging when I'm getting ready for another Scout trip.  This one is WashJam and happens only once every three or four years.  The last one we attended was great.  Nick was a Cub Scout and loved seeing the troops running in full gear at 6:00am.  He adored the interviews with real soldiers and loved climbing on the array of military vehicles.  The archery, boffing sword arena, and BB shooting were all a hit too.  He even managed to find some unexploded ordinance.  This year, Nick will be a Boy Scout, able to do lots more of the activities, including the zombie invasion night hike, the aquatics outpost, and knife throwing.  It's going to be hot, but it should be a lot of fun.  I hope that moms can do some of this fun stuff too.  I want to shoot some arrows and do some geocaching.  I might even try the rope bridge.  It's a bummer that Nick will still be too young for the Field Leaders Reaction Course.  That looks amazing. 

I guess you'll understand if you lose me here for a bit, but I'm trying to keep up.  I really am.  Tomorrow, I have to make apple pie, pack, help Nick make trail mix for a dozen boys, help Nick pack, and arrange the rest of the food for the adults.

So you wanted me to tell you more about the shameful trip to the Boundary Waters?  Do I have to?  See, on the second day, we had a bit of a run through a short deep creek connecting two lakes.  It was a piece of cake, or at least it should have been.  There was one small drop at a narrowed spot just short of seventeen feet wide.  How do I know that it was just short of seventeen feet wide, you might ask?  Because Suzanne and Nathan measured it. 

With their seventeen foot canoe.

As they came down the chute, Wynne yelled directions.  People were in the habit of following Wynne's directions since she had had years of experience directing people at her company.

"Aim the nose of the canoe toward that rock," she told them.  Well, that's exactly what they did.  They hit the rock, in fact.  Then the lazy current took hold of the back end of the canoe and swung it around to span the chute, neatly wedging each end upstream of the granite rocks.  It was a slow-motion spill, the canoe tilting Suzanne and Nathan out downstream along with most of their belongings.  Then it wavered as we looked on hopefully, and firmly tilted upstream again and filled with water, gallons and gallons of water. 

Now, we've always paddled with two bailers in the canoe.  These are gallon jugs with the bottom end cut out.  It would have taken at least a hundred-sixty of those gallon jugs to fill up a seventeen foot canoe.  Oh, I could be wrong, but I looked at the door rack of my refrigerator.  It's about as wide as a canoe.  Layer that row two deep and run it about two-thirds the length of the canoe.  That's a hundred-twenty gallon jugs right there.   Now add about twenty more jugs in either end of the canoe and it should be pretty well filled.  So, at eight pounds per jug, what you have is 1,280 pounds of water to lift off those rocks.  The pressure of the current kept holding down on the bottom of the canoe and distorting its classic shape.

So, our engineers, Harold and Mike, went to work.  Have I ever told you how convenient it is to travel with engineers?  Of course, Harold had enough carabiners and rope that he could lower the whole team down a cliff face should we need that service.  He and Mike worked out a block-and-tackle pulley that they tied to the end plate of the canoe and to the base of a tree that was at least twelve inches in diameter.  This is where your scouting knots can make a difference.  Now, you need to know that this end plate was three-quarter inch ABS, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene.  I'm a big believer in ABS having seen the commercial with the truck driving over the boat that pops back into shape once the truck is over.  Did you see that one?  No?  Well, you're probably too young for it anyway.  It is nearly impossible to dent, bend, or tear ABS. 


These two guys had the this setup pulled so tight that Wynne and I grabbed Suzanne and Nathan's elbows to bring them out of range in case the rope snapped.  We didn't want any one of us on the wrong end of that possibility.  Instead of the rope, the end plate of the canoe suddenly ripped in half.  Mike and Harold disassembled their setup once they realized they were working with forces well out of range of their pulley system. 

Suzanne and Nathan stood where we had placed them, looking dejected.  I heard them talking quietly about how much it would cost to pay for this broken, rented canoe. 

Mike and Harold decided to take a different approach to their problem.  They started looking at the rocks that held the canoe.  This canoe was literally two to three inches wider than the span between the rocks.  Taking a large stone in his hands, Mike took a crack at one of the rocks.  Small chunks of granite flew off in all directions.  So then there was a new job.  Break the granite.  I tried to help, but shards of rock kept hitting me in the face.  The work space was tight and Mike reminded Harold that if the boat came loose and he was standing downstream, it would likely take out his knee.  Remember that the boat, filled with water, was more than a thousand pounds of living, breathing animal only temporarily trapped.  Okay, it wasn't really living, or breathing, but it had a lot of potential built up from that current.  I made it my job to take pictures, so somewhere in this house are a dozen or so pictures of an underwater distorted canoe and two guys happily chipping away at granite at one end.  That's the thing about engineers.  They are happiest when they are solving problems. 

Nathan and Suzanne, however, just stood there looking stunned.  I heard her tell him more than once that they'd done what Wynne told them to do, exactly what she'd said.  She was right.  They had.  They were immobilized the way the person who has caused an accident usually is.  They couldn't believe what they'd done.  Mike and Harold were in heaven.

Eventually, there was that one blow that chipped the granite just right and the canoe was free.  It rolled away from the rocks and nearly righted itself, still filled with water.  It was twisted, torn on the end plate, and had a kink in the gunnels on one side, but it was free.  Everyone but Suzanne and Nathan were ecstatic.  Suzanne and Nathan had the broken boat that didn't track well.  None of us was willing to change boats with them.  We should have, but we didn't.  Suzanne and Nathan had the slightly damp belongings.  And remember, Nathan wasn't drinking much of the filtered bracken water.  Nathan might have gotten back in the bow of the canoe, but his troubles weren't over, not by a long shot. 

I'll tell you more about those troubles next time.  Eventually, I'll tell you what I did that makes me ashamed to think of this trip to this day. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On the Boundary, Part I

I took the boys to Wild Waves today.  I can tell you that we were all tired, even at the beginning.  We keep these boys going.  I just don't want them to get through the summer and say that they didn't do anything.  Well, actually, I have heard them say that they didn't do anything at the end of a busy summer, but it's not for lack of trying. 

But we had a relaxing day, though it was hot and sunny.  We played in the wave pool and the lazy river.  That was it.  Still, it was hot.  And sunny.  Did I ever tell you that I'm not a big fan of hot and sunny?  Hot and sunny can be a problem.  It was a problem on a canoe trip Mike and I took in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota a long while back. 

I know I promised to tell you that story, one I'm not excited about telling because of what I became for those few days.  Sometimes, it's an eye-opener to see what you're capable of doing.  I suppose I need to do it.  You need to know that weakness and malevolence can go hand in hand. 

We had lived in Washington state for just a year or so.  It must have been 1991, since Mike and I weren't married yet.  My company had organized a rafting trip for its employees.  Do you remember when companies used to do that?  I was so excited.  The rock and roll of the Wenatchee river made me giddy.  That was how we met Wynne, the owner of the rafting company. 

Oh, I don't want to tell you this story.  Not really. No.

Mike and I were planning a canoe trip to Minnesota with our friends from Connecticut.  Somehow, Wynne ended up going on this trip.  It was my fault, really.  I got excited and told her how we were going and how we'd planned a big group and when she expressed an interest, I said she should come.  I was still new to this area and I thought I was making a deeper friendship than the coworkers I already had.  Wynne was a compatriot, a river rat. 

So, when we went to Minnesota, Wynne went along.  We met our friend Harold there and Mike had asked Suzanne to come along.  Suzanne was hip and beautiful.  I wasn't all that happy about Suzanne coming since she'd dated Mike at the beginning of our relationship.  Remember when I told you about that?  Unfortunately, Suzanne was an old friend and no amount of jealousy would change that.  But Suzanne planned to bring her boyfriend, Nathan.  Go Nathan!  Suddenly, Suzanne didn't seem overwhelmingly beautiful and popular any more.  I could be friends with her if she brought her boyfriend. 

Now, when Mike asked, Suzanne said that Nathan had done plenty of canoeing though he'd never been on a canoe trip.  Mike and Harold planned a route of about eight to ten miles a day with no more than two miles of portages.  I remember them counting out how many we'd have and guessing that six or seven might drive us batty.  Early on, 'load and unload the boat' became the trip motto, since one of the first days required six short portages. 

We already had our dog Indiana by then, but hadn't been sure how she'd do since she was so young, so we boarded her for that trip.  It was a shame too.  That first night, camping on a rock, we found that the mice and chipmunks were fearless, staring at us then waiting until we were distracted or turned around before leaping into our food pack.  I had never seen such impudent rodents, clinging to a Ziploc bag of food as we dumped out the pack and tried to rid it of it's livestock.  Mike actually made a sling shot and hit one with a pebble and it still tried to go back for our food.  Indiana loved hunting rodents and would have been a great guard dog for our food.  She could have fixed that, but we had other problems. 

Oh, I'm going off track.  It really was an interesting development, having to guard our food as we cooked, but that isn't really what I wanted to tell you about.  What I intended to tell you was that despite the new Katadyn filter we had brought, the lake water, after it was filtered, still tasted like sludge.  Sometimes there is no getting past that.  You just have to drink what's there.

So there they are, Suzanne, a bit less experienced than we were, and Nathan, who, it turned out, was completely overwhelmed.  The days were hot and sunny and I had to make myself drink that icky water and even so, I didn't pee until we made camp.  Even drinking a couple of quarts a day, I was barely stopping to pee.  Nathan, who had to be shown the best way to hold a paddle, was sweating profusely.  He was one of those guys who still had his baby fat in his late twenties.  Even on that first day, Nathan was struggling to paddle the canoe, struggling with the heat, and resisting that awful water. 

After an hour or so on that first day, Mike asked Nathan to switch to the bow of the canoe so that Suzanne could steer a little better from the back, but she barely fared better at managing a J-stroke, the stroke you need from the stern of the canoe to stop it from going in circles.  It was a bit of an improvement though.  They could stay with the group this way.  The problem with that was that with tiny Suzanne in the back, though their gear helped to ballast the canoe, they were plowing nose down through the water.  Suzanne insisted that they stay in the canoe together instead of switching canoes.  It was pride, I think, or maybe love, though they're divorced now.  They were just not keeping up with the rest of us.  Wynne was in a canoe with Harold who, surprisingly, got along pretty well with each other.  Mike and I were in the third canoe.  The problem with our pace was that we were going to be paddling until sunset and, though we had a permit for the trip, there was a race for each campsite. 

On the second day, Nathan continued to struggle.  I could see that he felt humiliated at being stuck in the bow of the canoe and I heard him arguing, whining really, to Suzanne.  He didn't like the taste of the water.  It was gross.

Oh, I can't tell you all of this story tonight.  It's a relief actually.  I haven't gotten to the yucky part.  Do you know what's going to happen?  I'll bet you already know that poor Nathan is going to be the victim, don't you? 

You're right.  Poor Nathan.  When I come back, I'll tell you about how the canoe got wedged lengthwise between two rocks.  Oh man, that was a trick. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dressing Up for the Faire

Mike, Nick, and I went to the Washington Midsummer Rennaissance Faire at Bonney Lake again today.  Why is it that it's always roasting when we go there?  Last week, it was ninety-six degrees.  This week, it was only eighty-seven.  I look forward to fall when it gets a little cooler.  I'm happier when it's drizzly and cool.

So, the big news is that each of us created an outfit today. Nick got the basic boy clothing, a shirt, pantaloons, and a vest and he looked great carrying his sheathed dagger and his recurve bow.  He even wore the quiver that he bought last week.  Mike opted for a white peasant's shirt, tan breeches, and a cool belt and pouch combination.  When I saw him in his belt, I figured I was going to go for it too.  Was I really going to try and cinch it all in and try for cleavage?

I did.  I didn't have any weapons, but I figured I could borrow something from Nick to complete the outfit.  Part of me felt a bit ridiculous trying to dress up.  Really, I'm fifty-two years old and getting laced into a bodice doesn't help much.  I wondered how it looked, though I had the mirror right there.  I had worn a skirt that I liked and I was trying to match that.  I went from shop to shop, trying to avoid the one with the gayish man offering to tie up the women as they walked past.  One sales girl rolled her eyes when I wandered in and said I wanted to match my skirt.  Well, thanks.  I was pretty sure I was going to look ridiculous, but you've cinched it.  Way to go, sweetheart.  It didn't take long for me to casually wander out of that shop.

So, here's the question I've been thinking about all evening.  Why is it revolting to younger people that us wrinkly, lumpy, and saggy people would still like to look good, that we still carry on sensual, and yes, even sexual lives? 

I finally got some help from a young girl in, you guessed it, the 'tie you up shop.'  She didn't roll her eyes, but she was reluctant at first to help me find something that worked.  At least she had the decency to tell me I could fit into a smaller size than the ones I was trying.  She was willing to lace me up a couple of times before I found the one I wanted.  I didn't want the smaller size.  I liked the effect up top, but the smaller one left me with a roll below it's shorter waistline, like a muffin top, only below.  That was not the look I was going for.  I had seen that look on other women.

Last week, I'd bought a white paper parasol.  It was a great investment at ten dollars.  I avoided a sunburn on my face and at the edges of my Tshirt and managed to shade a couple of other people during the joust.  The woman actually turned around and thanked me.  In the car, on the way down this week, I used gold, silver, and black markers to put a bit of a design on the paper.  I'm not finished yet, but I liked the effect.  I painted a design on it while it was closed.  I lost most of the pattern when I opened it up, but I figure I'm going to work on it open next and make it pretty.  Then I'll have a dual design, one that looks interesting opened or closed.

I wore my black suede clogs even though I knew they'd be really dusty by the time I was done.  I also wore my brown leather traveler's bag by Stickman Leather.  It's a purse I've used for more than fifteen years.  I had replaced it with a new Stickman Leather purse a couple of years ago, a pretty black one with tooling on the flap.  When that was stolen last fall with my backpack, I was upset, but I went back to using the old one, though the kids had liked it as an Indiana Jones satchel.  After an appointment with some saddle soap, the old one still looks pretty good and in a pinch, I can take the long strap off and use it as a leash.  To be honest, it fit the look I was going for.  See, I once read a romance novel with a steampunk setting and my purse, though simple, just fits.  There were a few steampunk items at the faire, a corset with a compass and some gears in it and some bracers with cool metal fasteners.  The only thing that was out of place in my outfit was the blue Itoya pen tucked into the outside pocket of my traveler's bag.  Oh well. 

I have to admit that I didn't feel too bad in my getup.  I would have looked cooler with a weapon of some kind, a dagger, maybe, but I fit in.  One woman wearing antlers in her afro told me she liked the way I looked.  I liked her antlers too.  There were a lot more people dressed up today.  I'd guess it was because it was cooler, though just marginally.  One guy, dressed as a guard, had leather armor that had hawk's heads worked into the design at his shoulders.  It was amazing.  Occasionally, I saw a woman dressed like an upholstered couch. 

Others used the faire as a way to dress down, like the woman wearing a corset without a blouse below it, barely covering her chest.  There were gypsy coin skirts on women wearing bikinis.  There were mini fairy skirts of diaphonous material.  I was just glad to see underwear underneath.  Yeah, it was pretty entertaining as far as people watching went.  The men's outfits just looked hot, especially anyone in armor.  Oh, I saw a fair number of men in kilts.  I'm not sure I get kilts, really.  Call me old fashioned, or maybe I'm just stuck in my own culture.  Do men in Scotland really wear kilts?  Really? 

So we walked around the fair, Nick being ogled by the boys in Robin Hood hats, Mike in his peasant garb, and me with my parasol and cinched up waistline.  We looked pretty good.

Then, on the way home, there was the inevitable question - What are we having for dinner? 

"Hamburgers!" Nick said from the back seat.

"You get to go into the store," Mike said.  "You look mostly normal."  Right.

I ended up going into the store and of course, there was one of Nick's classmates and his mom.  He had a grin on his face as he said hi.  I grinned and said hi back.  His mom, however, could not look me in the eye.  She grabbed the boy's shoulder and spun him in a different direction and headed right past without so much as a 'How are you doing and why are you dressed like a slut?'  I should tell you that I hadn't brought my parasol into the store. 

Thank you for listening, jb