Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Moving Halloween to Saturday

You know how they can roll George Washington and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays into just one holiday and call it President's Day, set it on a Monday, and give banks and schools the day off, but not anyone else? 

If they can do that, why can't they move Halloween to the last Friday or Saturday in October?  Really. Would we be offending the saints if we did? 

It's a given that Nick is going to have homework tonight. Somehow, he needs to get that done.  I need to get a decent dinner on the table.  And we need to be out the door by 6:00pm.  We're all going to get to bed late in the excitement.  Nick's going to be crabby and tired for the rest of the week and I know that his teachers are going to wish that my wish came true as well.  You'd think they'd give themselves a break and skip the homework on Halloween.  According to commercials on television, it's the third most important holiday, after Christmas presents and New Years liquor and exercise programs but before Easter candy, Valentine's Day jewelry, and Memorial Day mattresses.  If anthropologists were studying our culture, they might think we shop according to that calendar.  What does that say about us?

Back to Halloween.  Maybe they should automatically put the fall back time change together with Halloween so that the ghouls and princesses have one extra magical hour in which to toilet paper houses and egg passing cars.  Do I dare say that some of them might break into the liquor cabinet and end up puking creme de menthe in our bushes as well?

Who controls our calendars? 

I imagine if it affects businesses, then it becomes important, but if it's just us tired schmucks, then the holiday is irrelevant.  Wouldn't they sell more candy if Halloween were moved to a Saturday night?  Can't the candy and high fructose corn syrup manufacturers lobby to get it moved? Weekday Halloween celebrations are cutting into their profits.  Couldn't the toilet paper and egg companies claim a loss as well?  And what about the creme de menthe companies?  You know it's all about profits, don't you?  That's how things like this get moved.  It costs more to let employees off from work on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or a Thursday, thus the President's Day shift to Monday.  I'm not sure why Fridays are never holidays though.  Would somebody tell me that?

And there's the sugar, the vast quantities of sugar. 

Oh, I guess I don't mind the candy so much these days.  Nick knows that he's going to have a stomach ache if he eats it.  Did I tell you that he has an intolerance to fructose that gets to him?  So, since he was about six, when he started to get bigger volumes of candy, he'd auction most of it off to his dad afterward.  I loved hearing him tell Mike that he wanted $5.00 for each tiny piece of Snickers.  Mike would almost pay that much for Snickers, Twix, or Butterfinger, but the negotiations are hard won and Nick usually winds up with enough cash to buy a video game.  It's rotting another part of his head, but at least it's not his teeth. Who cares about his brain, right?

Mike brings all that candy to work where his employees get the brunt of the sugar overload.  This makes Mike very popular at work, except for the twiggies who eat his candy and then berate him for making them do it.  Life is complicated, isn't it?  A gift is not just a gift.

So, I'm making a solemn plea to those who control the works:  please move Halloween to Saturday night.  I'm begging you.  I don't want to wake up that little bear in the morning for school. 

Thank you for listening, jb


Deep and Wide

Oh, I worked hard today.  Have you ever been asked to do something that doesn't quite fit your character? 

No, I wasn't asked to rob a bank or anything. 

I wrote an article.  It was a form of fluff and I hate writing fluff.  Here's the deal.  I wasn't going to be able to write about what I was really thinking.   I was asked to write an article about retiring American flags for Veteran's Day.  Now, that's some serious fluff. 

It's not quite the right word, is it?

The reason I call it fluff is that I wanted to write about how I once attended one of these flag retirement ceremonies and I couldn't help but notice that we burned all these flags.  Yes, that's what I said.  We burned them.  Some people want to outlaw burning the American flag in protest, but here we stood watching our Honor Guard burn flags.  Hmm.  Tell me there is no irony in that.  I wanted to write about that.

How many people would I have enraged had I noted that thought in my article? 

Then, you throw a bunch of symbolism into the mix.  I wasn't going to include in my article the religious symbolism that was attributed to the folding of the flag.  I forget which organization created that, but it isn't part of what the government controls.  There is still some level of separation of church and state.  And I'm telling you, the government has some rules about the creation of, the design of, the flying of, and the retiring of the American flag.  Most of the symbolism is left up to us.

Did you know that there are flagologists?  They are called vexillologists.  They study the history, the symbolism, and the use of flags.  Still, it was hard to get something ultimately quotable. 

I even asked a guy I know who is a veteran why flags are retired the way they are and why he thinks we celebrate Veteran's Day. 

"It's the least we can do," he said.  Oh no, now I've insulted him and have to go apologize. 

But that's not a quote I can use either.

I was having trouble coming up with anything credible.  Honor, duty, service.  I didn't want them to be just words.  I didn't want them to be fluff. 

See, it's been all around me for the past couple of weeks.  I was asked to attend a military burial.  Oh man, when they handed that flag to the family, I got tears in my eyes.  This was it.  This was the real meaning of the flag.  It had to be.  But could I write about what that really meant?  I'm not sure I was entitled.

I suppose I've already told you that I'm reading 'One Bullet Away' by Nathaniel Fick.  He was an officer in the Marines.  He went to Afghanistan and Iraq.  He wrote an incredible book.  I'd like to know what he thinks about the American flag.  Does it make him tear up?  He uses the words honor, duty, and service in a different way than I understand them. 

Yet, when I wrote about the ultimate sacrifice, it sounded plastic.  I don't know about the ultimate sacrifice. Not really.


Oh, I hadn't thought about that part of my story.  I may know about the ultimate sacrifice, but it just isn't obvious. 

You see, my dad worked as an engineer for the Navy.  He and his buddies were exposed to microwave technology before there were microwave ovens in every home.  I remember him talking about how one of his techs used to crawl into the dish to get warm.  I remember him saying how it couldn't be good for him.  And then that man was dead.  In fact, my dad worked with at least four other men who were diagnosed with some form of cancer, of the brain, of the lungs, and like him, of the colon.  I know that it's possible it was a coincidence, but I don't think so.  These men worked in conditions whose risks were unknown at the time.  Later, OSHA came around and made rules about how they were to handle chemicals and laboratory conditions, but not back then. 

No, I'm not going to sue. 

I just wonder if my father didn't make a sacrifice to his job, to the Navy, even to his country.  Could be.  It's just that, even after forty years, it's hard to get my head around that.

So I'm back to writing platitudes about sacrifice.  Besides, the people who wanted me to write the article have no interest in what sounds like a conspiracy theory.  On top of that, it isn't just for the government that sacrifices were made in building our country.  Think about the fact that people died to build the Brooklyn bridge and the Grand Coulee dam.  Marie Curie died to research radiation.  Sacrifice is there, throughout history.

So just what does that flag represent? 

It's a hard one, isn't it?  It seems a whole lot easier to look at a veteran to say 'Thank you for your service, for your sacrifices.'  Then you can think of the horrors they might have faced, the decisions they had to live with, the commands they wanted to reject to save their own lives.  Even that's not so easy, is it?

Was I really going to write about the Civil war photo of the man who'd lost both arms that I saw on the Internet today?  Was I really going to try to imagine his life after the war? I'm not capable of understanding what that would be like.

That sacrifice is part of what lies in the symbolism of the flag.  It is true. 

But then there's the strife inherent in our flag.  Yes, I mean strife.  Our poets aren't jailed for voicing their opinions.  Our protesters aren't executed for burning the flag.  That's part of what lies there, despite the fact that some people want to outlaw burning the flag, despite the irony in the way we retire our flags with respect.  A friend of mine made me laugh once when as we talked about the right to free speech.  He said, "Here in the United States, we have the right to be a total asshole if we want." 

And the flag is about democracy as well.  It's about the fact that no matter how hard we try, ours is an imperfect democracy.  Just look at how ineffectual our leaders have been rendered by all the back-stabbing and undermining.  A wing of one party wants our economy to fail just to prove that the other party is in the wrong.  What kind of leadership is that?  Oh, I am sure they don't want me writing about that in my article. Yet democracy is a huge part of the symbolism in the American flag.

Do you see why this was so hard for me?  What could I say? 


Plastic words about honor, duty, service.  I hoped that insincerity didn't leak into my article.  Isn't it funny that it sounds that way when something is just too deep and wide and overwhelming to really talk about?

Thank you for listening, jb


Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy's Messing with Halloween

Mike has the news anchored to Hurricane Sandy coverage.  We still have friends along the Eastern seaboard, in Boston, in New Jersey, in Maryland, in North Carolina, though most of them are high enough not to be dealing with flooding.  So far they've lost power, but are still posting on Facebook.  We've been sending our support and hope they're all okay. 

We've been watching for a couple of hours now.  It's strange how media can affect your perception.  I let the dog out a bit ago and expected it to be blustering outside.  Then, I turned on the computer and before I sat down, I walked away to make some tea.  Blustery weather goes well with tea.  In my defense, it is cold and wet out here in the Pacific Northwest.  When I came back to the computer, there was a picture of my niece in waist-deep water on the screen-saver.  Okay, it had been summer when I took the photo and she was in her bathing suit with Nick and her other siblings just outside the shot, but she was in high water, much like the poor weather guys in Atlantic City.  Then, I helped Nick with his homework a bit and when I turned back to the computer again, there was a photo of a guy leaning into a high wind, something we'd encountered on the deck of a ferry traversing the Puget Sound last June.  It was definitely blustery in June.  Even my computer is affecting my perception of the weather outside in the night.

Then I remembered that one of my favorite blogs, Nat the Fat Rat, is set in Manhattan.  So, I got online to check it out.   She posted a bunch of photos of her afternoon out on the street with her boy Huck. That kid is so adorable, totally worth a look, in addition to the fact that Natalie is chatty and fun and tosses out thoughtful commentary on motherhood. One of her photos today, a plaza in New York City is completely vacant even though it's the middle of the day.  Is that crazy or what?  Back in the 80s, I went into NYC almost once a week for eight years.  I had never seen anything like that. It takes a lot to keep those stock market guys from their jobs too.  Not to mention the diners.  Those places never close.  Some day, I'll tell you about feta cheese omelets after dancing until dawn.

So you have to know that they're losing gobs of money on the far coast right now and for at least the next twenty-four hours.  The flooded subways might suffer some long-lasting damage too.  Maybe it'll wash out some of the smell of urine that I remember so well, but I'm hoping they aren't out of service for long.  The subway is a critical part of the way NYC operates, though I never did learn where I was going when my clan used them back then.  It seems that I have a pretty good idea which way I'm going when I'm outside, but it all goes to hell when you put me underground. Maybe Manhattan will be lucky and the damage will be minimal, my wish for all of the East Coast, in fact.

And what about the casinos in Atlantic City?  Are they closed too?  They must be.  I hope my favorite black jack dealer stays safe.  Remember when I told you about him?  He was a good guy, though he didn't say more than ten words the whole time I was winning all that money that night.  I could tell he was a good guy.  It was in his eyes.  But if the casinos aren't running, what will all those little old ladies from New Jersey do with their social security checks?  What will happen to all that shrimp on the buffets? 

It begs the question, how much money will be lost?  Conversely, how much will be saved by all the people who aren't driving, who aren't eating out or buying stuff, who aren't even heating their homes?  I've never heard any statistics about that.  It's always about what is lost by businesses. 

If enough money is lost, will someone start demanding that we have another look at climate change?  I'm just saying.

On a less critical note, I feel bad for all those people who had great Halloween decorations set up on their houses.  Taking them down before the trick or treats must have been depressing.  Still, boarded up townhouses would make a pretty cool backdrop for those same decorations if they get a chance to put them back up. 

Here, we're all set to have a rainy and cold Halloween, so I'm hoping we have enough light sticks, cocoa, cider, and candy.  People always love the cocoa.  We'll be in town where the atmosphere is of a festival.  People escort their children with wine glasses in their hands.  You can walk down the middle of the streets.  You hear familiar voices, though you can't see much, and when you call out a hello, you usually recognize who it is.  Some families set up tiny haunted houses in their garages.  Once, a man had disguised himself as a stuffed straw man and sat on his porch with a bowl of candy in his lap.  It was scary and fun to watch him leap forward at the other kids.  Nick was young then, but eventually he got brave enough after watching for a while, as long as his dad held his hand.  It's sweet that he still wants us to go with him.  Mike will walk the street with a clump of other kids and parents while I help at the table in front of the church. 

You know, it is a pagan celebration, but more than once, people have said it was nice to see the church lit up and cheerful.  I like handing out drinks to warm cold hands, light sticks to protect the kids from the occasional car, and the sweetness of candy, though they'll get enough of that.  Pagan or not, we'll be there. 

I'm not sure how pure my roots are anyway.  The date of Christmas along with the tradition of putting up a tree are pagan.  Easter eggs are pagan.  What the heck is pagan anyway?  Why is it always a bad thing?  There were too many strange responses on Google to get a good answer to that, but Wikipedia had some words.  Wikipedia always has words. 

Apparently, 'pagan' is the word for any historic or traditional faith, more succintly referred to as shamanism, polytheism, pantheism, or animism.  As I read details about all of these -isms, I continue to wonder if I'm not a cruddy Christian.  What's wrong with being a pagan, anyway?  These old and alternate religions are based out of a spiritual desire to do good works, aren't they?  I once read that 93% of all religions hold the same basic tenets, the golden rule and all that.  My ideas wouldn't pass muster if I were to have to describe my beliefs with one hand on the Bible, so I'm glad no one asks me when I'm at church.  Once, a woman had the audacity to tell me I wasn't a Christian at all.  Thankfully, she wasn't someone from my church.  Maybe I'm not, but there's that purity of religion thing again.  What religion is pure?  I like that more than one car on the street by my church on Sunday has that 'coexist' bumper sticker.  I believe in that.  So what do you call me then? 

I must be a pagan. 

So then, I'm a pagan who's sending good thoughts toward the East Coast, hoping her friends there are warm and cozy and can make popcorn in their fireplaces or on camp stoves.  Just remember, you folks who don't have power but can still read stuff on the Internet, don't run your camp stoves inside your houses.  You need more ventilation than that.  Okay? 

Thank you for listening, jb


Finding Beauty

I really wanted to tell you more about  Photoshopping the pictures of the kids.  Can you tell I just finished that?  I'm very proud of my work.  I have about seventy-five decent pictures, mostly of different kids, though I took more of one kid because I'm good friends with her mom.  Out of respect, I took some of her pictures out of the bunch.

I have to tell you that there was one girl who was totally snooty with me last year at fifth-grade camp.  She may be pretty, but she has no concept of manners.  She was in the middle of quite a few of the pictures I cropped today and I just couldn't find a decent way to cut her out. 

"Is it unethical to add zits to someone's forehead?" I asked. 

"Yes.  Don't do it," Mike said.  I wasn't really going to do it.

"This kid may be pretty on the outside, but inside, she's covered in zits," I said.  That was mean.  Nick came over to see who I was talking about.  Crap!  I quickly closed the photo before he could see.  The good part is that if he did manage to see even a little of it, there were six girls in the shot.  My girl was mugging in the middle.

Does being pretty change your character? 

The funny thing is that one of Nick's friends has an older sister who is absolutely stunning, yet she doesn't seem to know it.  The other kids don't seem to know it either.  How is that?  Do they only see the beauty that is thrown in front of them like a banner?  Maybe.

I have an odd sense of beauty.  I like looking at people and now and then, I'll just look for features that are beautiful, hands, ears, the bones at the wrist.  It doesn't matter.  Just try it.  If you're honest with yourself, any ugly person universally has some beautiful feature.  The reverse goes too, that beautiful people usually have some ugly feature. 

I especially like looking at hands.  People do so much with their hands that they have a special meaning.  Try that too.  Some time when you're watching someone who creates things with their hands, just look at their hands as they move.  Even the callouses send a message.  My next-door-neighbor used to have wonderful hands.  This was my best friend's dad and sometimes we'd help him while he worked in the garage.  He had really wide thumbs with very short fingernails.  I have always loved those thumbs, as if his whole sweet character were defined by his thumbs.

I know it's some form of stereotyping, but do these features really relate to characteristics or am I generalizing from a narrow band of experience?  Do men with wide thumbs make more patient fathers?  Do girls with the little points on their ears have trouble staying grounded?  Do women with solid bones make better cooks and gardeners?  It has to be a result of my limited experience, doesn't it?

It's an interesting question.  I've heard people say, "he has kind eyes."  What do kind eyes look like.  We can read impatience, anger, even people who are completely out of touch, so how do we do it? I've read that even dogs read faces.

Teddy reads me like a book.  I just wish my guys could read me that well.  Okay, I guess that might be a little creepy.  Do you remember that guy in high school who was so attentive that he'd pick up a tissue you'd dropped and look at it as if it held some clues as to your hidden desires?  Teddy is like that, only he's a dog so it doesn't annoy me.  He's not a totally clingy dog either, so that helps. 

But it just wonder if it's true, if the shape of my hands could tell you who I am.

Thank you for listening, jb


Sunday, October 28, 2012


The good news is that I didn't have to wear the chicken suit tonight.  One of the Boy Scouts volunteered for that.  I thanked him profusely.  I'm not sure he understood why.   His performance was the highlight of the Court of Honor.  Yet, in the process, while I was imagining my role as the wife in the chicken suit, I got a new earworm, '...the things we do for love, the things we do for love, like walking in the rain and the snow when there's nowhere to go...'  You know that song.  Now you can have a new earworm too.

I spent my afternoon humming that song as I Photoshopped pictures from the costume party that I was supposed to have been chaperoning.  I didn't do much with the ruler last night.  (You don't believe I actually brought a ruler, did you?)  In middle school, the kids really aren't clinging to each other yet.  The boys' hands look awkward as they try to casually rest them on the girls' shoulders or scarier still, their waists.  They were almost always five or six inches apart.  No ruler needed. One chaperone did have to stop a boy who wanted to snap a picture of a girl coming out of the bathroom.  Those are small potatoes.  High school will be the chaperoning nightmare.  I haven't decided if I'm going to volunteer for that yet.  

I have to admit that I was embarrassed to be there last night.  I didn't know what I was going to do with myself.  As I walking out, trying to get to the school on time, Mike told me to take the good camera so I could get some good pictures.  Nick didn't really slow down for me to get more than one picture of him.  He told me I embarrassed him by taking all those shots.  The most embarrassing part was that I suddenly took myself seriously as the one who was going to get some decent pictures of these kids in their costumes.  No one had asked me to take pictures.  I had initially intended to snap some shots of my friends' kids and text them.  But then, with this big camera with the heavy zoom attached to it, people started jumping in front of me and posing.  Well, okay!  The challenging part was that until the flash went off, I had no idea who I was seeing through the viewfinder, especially the way the kids were moving around.  Remember that the gym was dark, lit only by sparkly lights that ruined whatever night vision I might have left.  I was shooting into the dark. 

And the pictures were awful.  I'm telling you that I took more pictures that were badly framed, kids with their heads sliced in half, a half of a couple dancing, blurry butts, and washed out, red-eyed faces.  Here's another problem.  The kids danced in big circles, so unless I wanted a picture of someone's backside, I was SOL to see the kid doing something cool on the opposite side.  And no, the principal of the school was not going to be happy seeing a bunch of pictures of kids' butts.  At least he didn't mind my suggestion that I bring a thumb drive in so the kids could get prints of themselves, so I wasn't in trouble for appointing myself as the photographer. 

But that begs the question - how am I going to provide any decent prints?

The answer is that I have Photoshop.  Oh man, how is it that I have not become addicted to this program before?  It's because I've never struggled with such a bad set of photographs before.

Today, I took a few zits off a sweet girl's face, not all of them, mind you, but the worst of them.  I didn't want it to be obvious that I'm doing it.  I cropped one kid's profile out of the background of another shot, lightened it up and found a great picture lurking there.  I shifted another picture into the pink by adjusting the hue because the girl's pink dress looked so great against her blue hair, which turned only slightly purple when I messed with the color.  I blurred out people in the background of another shot.  I slid the zombie's picture into the red zone to highlight the fake blood on his chin and T-shirt.  And I took out all the red-eye except for the creepy court jester who just needed to have a bad case of laser eyes.  I have processed a bunch of cool pictures!  Well, at least I think they're cool.  We'll have to see if they pass the Mike test.  Mike is actually a good photographer as opposed to me, a hack, who happens to be standing there with a camera in her hands. 

While I was working away at Photoshop, I got to thinking about the ethics of taking away zits in a photograph.  See, I liked this girl whose face I was adjusting.  She's a sweet girl, but not quite the top of the food chain at school, if you get my drift.  If I can get a really great picture of her into the yearbook, for example, will it raise her score on the popularity scale?  Who wants their zitty stage to be memorialized forever anyway?  Who knows if some cute boy won't look at her slightly differently if he can be directed toward the beauty beyond the zits.

The other side of it is that I, myself, am now a proponent of all that I have protested in women's magazines.  I cheered when Jamie Lee Curtis published an untouched photo of herself on the cover of More magazine in 2002.  Was it really that long ago?  I just hate when I don't even recognize a shot of someone famous because it's been extensively retouched.  So why am I willing to do it for a fourteen year old kid?  Am I a hypocrite?

Maybe I am.

Cropping, blurring, lightening, darkening, fake-blood enhancing, and zit-busting.  It was so much fun!

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 26, 2012

LL Bean and the Chicken Suit

Yesterday, a package arrived from LL Bean.  We love LL Bean here. 

Remember I told you that twenty years ago, Mike and I honeymooned in Maine on the Allagash waterways?  The guy who rented the canoe to us was called Eddie, but we called him Crazy Eddie. We didn't pick this name randomly.  If you lived in New Jersey in the 80s, you saw the real Crazy Eddie on a dumb commercial on late-night TV.  Our Crazy Eddie was a fat guy in overalls with a cigarette dropping ash on the floorboards, who didn't mind that the canoe on his van was sliding from side to side with each pot hole he hit in the dirt road.  He didn't mind that our bench seat rocked back and forth as he alternated accelerating and slamming on the brakes going down this road.  He didn't care that our dog, Indiana, was scrabbling on his bare floorboards to keep her balance.  Who knew you could drive fifty-five on a rutted, washboard road that didn't have much gravel left on it. 

Then, there was the poor moose.  It's only offense was to make the mistake of trying to walk out onto this road when Crazy Eddie was coming.  He slammed his foot on the gas and nearly made contact as the moose took a breath or two too long to get up to speed and out of his way. You've had a moment when you closed your eyes and said, "I'm going to die today." I know you have.  Everybody has. Well, that was one of those moments for me.  Despite the fact that I was seeing my first moose, I closed my eyes.

So, when Crazy Eddie asked us if we were here to do some shopping at LaLa Bean, I didn't answer for a moment.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  I was just trying not to see my own end on this good green earth.

"What's LaLa Bean?" Mike asked, sounding polite through gritted teeth.  We were both trying to hold onto Indiana.  Our Duluth packs were sliding around in the back and Mike had one foot planted behind her to keep them from sliding into her and taking her legs out from under her. 

"You know, the clothing outfitter," Crazy Eddie said, spitting out the open, or broken, window. 

"Sure, of course, we're going there right after our trip," Mike said with some presence, as Eddie skidded to a dusty stop just fifteen feet short of the lake where we were going to put in and start our trip.  A stop at LL Bean was news to me. 

Now, I told you all about that trip, didn't I?  There were the guys who fed steak to Indiana, a pit bull mix, as they told us how she'd turn on us some day, how she'd likely go for the throat, the bear and her cub that we didn't point out to her for fear she'd see a bad end by barking at or chasing them, the seriously cold night she snuggled between us in the tent, smelling of fish and gritty with sand, because the temperatures dipped down into the twenties that night and she was shivering.  It was a wonderful trip, but I'm not going to repeat myself. 

Well, after we were done canoeing, Mike did take me down to LL Bean.  Their canoe section alone was enough to make me melt with happiness.  Unfortunately, since we were in Maine and we lived in the Pacific Northwest, we weren't going to be buying a new canoe that day, no matter how much rocker that Dagger canoe had in its keel.  We did, however, buy some clothes, plus a new duffel so we could get them home on the plane.

Those were the days when we still signed up to get the 20% off when cashiers asked us to apply for a new credit card. Do you remember when everyone started doing that?  I had signed up for JC Penney and Macy's too, but the LL Bean Visa is the only one we still use.   It's advantage is that we get credit toward clothes that we buy online.  Right now, as I sit here in my living room, I am an unintentional advertisement for LL Bean, though I don't look nearly as thin or as pretty as the models in their catalogs.  I'm wearing flannel-lined jeans, a well-used cardigan sweater, and a pima cotton mock T-shirt.  I used to smile when I whipped my LL Bean card out at REI or Cabela's, but I hardly notice any more.  All of Mike's work clothes come from LL Bean.  If it's wrinkle resistant cotton, he probably has more than one color. 

So when Mike told me he'd spent $110 and used all $300 of our coupons on a big order at LL Bean, I didn't bat an eye.  Some of his pants were getting fuzzy at the hem.  He buys them too long, but that just tells him when it's time to buy new ones.  I did start thinking I might need a couple of turtle neck shirts, though.

Yesterday, the UPS truck was in the driveway when I got home.

"Did you leave me a present?" I asked the driver.  Now, I like my UPS guy because he likes my dog, Teddy. 

"Nope, it was addressed to Mike,"  he said, holding back a smile.

"Must be our LL Bean package then," I said as he hopped back into his truck.

"Have a good one!  Maybe it'll be a present for you next time."

"I hope so!" I waved as he backed out of our drive. 

A fat bag leaned on the front door.  Later, when Mike opened it, I didn't even look at what had been in it.  Today, when there was a second fat package from LL Bean at the door, I started wondering what he'd bought. 

Tonight, he showed me his stash.  Among other things, he'd bought a leather hat with flaps for the ears and a down coat.  My mind stopped there since those things sounded awfully warm and cosy.  I'm into warm and cosy.

"What'd you get for me?" I asked cheerfully, thinking he'd hold up a couple pair of wrinkle resistant work pants or a couple dress shirts still in their plastic bags. 

"A chicken suit!"

"A what?"

"I got you a chicken suit, to wear for the Court of Honor next Saturday.  Well, I asked, but I'm not sure I can get anyone else to wear it.  Bob won't wear it and I asked Brian since he already got his Eagle last month, but I haven't heard back from him yet."  Mike was rambling.  He never rambles.

"Do I have to speak in this chicken suit?" I asked. Mike shook his head, looking up at me from the couch.  He was doing his cute face.  I'm always in trouble when he does his cute face.

"Do I have to sing in this chicken suit?"  I think that one of the most demoralizing things I can think of would be to have to sing in a chicken suit, don't you think? Mike shook his head again, eyebrows raised.  He was smart enough not to smile yet.  I rubbed my forehead where the cancer spot still itches a little as it heals.  When I looked up, Mike was still looking at me with that face.  I try to help in my new role as the wife of the Scoutmaster, but I never thought I'd be up in front of a bunch of people in a chicken suit. 

"Well, okay, as long as I don't have to be a chicken that sings."  Right now, I may not be loving LL Bean the way I was an hour ago.  I just hope this costume is cosy and warm.

Thank you for listening, jb


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You Can Shoot Your Toe Off With That Thing

I met my new reading student today.  Oh, I was going to quit volunteering for this program, but it's a good program.  Adults are matched with kids to read, write, and talk once a week for a half an hour.  The teachers swear that it works.  Okay by me.  I like sitting in the library with kids.  I like reading with them. 

I was going to quit.  See, my boy has gone on to middle school.  He likes middle school and they're starting to ask me to help out with stuff there.  Last week, I spent the afternoon working with the coach to keep the kids from shooting each other in the butt as they learned archery.  It was fun.  I also work in the library at the middle school.  I love being a librarian.  When it isn't too busy, I get to ask the kids what they're reading, if they think my Nick would like the book they just finished reading.  That's good stuff.  I really want to spend all my time in the library reading and talking about books.  I'm also going to be a chaperone for the school dance on Friday.  How cool is that?  I get to watch those awkward movements the kids will take toward each other.  After the last dance, Nick said that it was really embarrassing to hold onto a girl's waist to dance.  They are just so used to keeping their hands to themselves that this sanctioned touching feels strange to them.  You can see that I'm busy.  Really, I don't need to be volunteering still at the elementary school. 

But I am.

So today, I met the boy I'll be reading with.  He's a nice kid. 

"So what's going on with you?" I asked him.

"I'm going hunting with my dad," he said.  This boy is seven!  I have to tell you that I'm an advocate for kids learning how to handle a gun, how to use the safety, what to do if another kid brings out a gun when his parents are away, even how to shoot safely.  But seven????

I kept my mouth shut, sort of.

"Wow, have you gone before?" I asked.

"No.  It's my first time."  Thank God for small favors.  At least this kid, as a four year old, wasn't out in the woods where I hike with Teddy, Mike, and Nick, waving a tiny rifle around.

"Have you taken a hunter's safety course?  I heard they're a lot of fun," I said. 

"No, what's that?" he said. 

In my mind, I ticked off the people I'd known who'd had accidents with guns. 
  • Mark Harper was shot in the stomach by his older brother when he was ten.  His older brother was thirteen. 
  • Billy Reilly, my step-cousin, shot off his toe while cleaning his shot gun when he was fourteen.
  • My great uncle, who I didn't technically know, propped his gun on a fence line and crossed it.  He died when his gun fell and discharged accidentally.  He was nineteen.
  • And there was an engineer I worked with that shot himself in the leg doing a quick-draw when he'd been drinking.  He was twenty-three.
Guns can be wickedly deceptive if you don't have training.  The worst thing that people don't even realize they're doing is to have their finger on the trigger as they walk around with a gun.  I look for that when I'm at the range with Nick and Adrian.  Shoot, I pay attention to it when I sometimes do it without thinking about what I'm doing.  With a gun, you always have to be thinking about what you're doing. 

Oh, I want to tell you that I'm no expert.  I'm really not.  I just like being smart around guns.

The Boy Scouts have definite rules about when you can use knives and guns.  Scouts can get their archery and BB shooting pins as long as it's in a range at Boy Scout camp when they're six.  They can get their whittling chips when they're seven.  They can shoot rifles at Boy Scout camp when they're eleven.  They're pretty firm about these ages.  The funny thing is that two years in a row, the seven year old boys in our Pack were mistakenly allowed to get their whittling chips at camp.  Those two summers, there were a rash of accidental cuts, a few which required stitches.  Well, it's no wonder.  Most seven year old boys just don't have the brain development to safely use a pocket knife, even if they are trained to follow the basic rules of safety. 

So how does that translate to using a gun?  In my opinion, that boy, the boy I read with, is three or four years off from being ready to shoot a gun in the woods and even then, he should be taking a hunter safety course before going out. 

Now, I liked this kid today.  I really did. 

I'm just not sure I'm ever going to see him again.  Let's hope I do.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trying to See Before Dawn

Three trees collapsed in our yard today.  They missed the house.  They missed the garage, the car, the truck, and the shed.  Why?

They broke the strain relief on the power lines and sent me running around inside my house to see what had happened.  It was still dark, so we didn't see the problem until we were walking out the door to drive to school.  It was such a big thing, but we hadn't been able to see it.  Why?

Then, when we couldn't get across the sidewalk or over the driveway, the problem was obvious.  You could say it was all about light dawning.  What about those things we can't see and we can barely feel, like the way the moon pulls us crazy when it's full or the way a new shoot can grow three three inches in one day.  Why?

My car was blocked in, so we happened to take the truck. Then, I noticed that the truck had a gasoline smell when I stopped at the market to get milk.  It still had a gasoline smell when I parked it in our driveway.  It could become a bomb, smelling as though it has a serious leak, but I got back home and into my house safely.  Why?

Right now, the dog and the cat are chasing each other around the house.  I wish they'd be quiet, but they're not.  Seth is talking to Teddy and Teddy is staring messages back at him.  Why?

Mike left the television on a movie I sort of like, 'A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe.'  Actually, I liked the book better.  The movie looks a little strange. 

But I like it because it tries to answer the questions.  There are so many questions.  The problem with the questions is that while all that is rolling around in your head, you still have to drop the kids at school, buy milk, go to a meeting, act normal.  Why?

The answer, as you know if you've read the book or even remembered the movie, is 42.  Do you have a better answer?

Thank you for listening, jb

Little Promises

I hope you'll bear with me.  It's been a rough day.  I'll be back soon.  I promise. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Acting 101

The volume in my living room has been turned up.  That's what happens when there's a three-man sleepover.  I guess this is as good as it gets.  Tune out and get at it.  It's kind of fun to listen to them screaming and laughing. 

I have to tell you that I had some stories lined up for you, but I have reservations about telling you about Asshole.  Remember when I told you that Mike and I had a rocky start?  We did.  Back when he was telling me about Slide Mountain Loop, Mike and I weren't dating.  It was heartbreaking.  I fell in love so easily with him, but I worked hard not to fall apart when Mike told me he was dating someone else at the end of our brief summer fling.  That fling had been seriously brief, but I was all in.  It consisted of a Moody Blues concert, a double-date, and a couple of tennis matches.  Mike had invited two girls to the concert and both of us assumed we were his date and the other was intended for his friend, Bob.  Then, we went on a casual double-date with our coworker, Bryan, and his girlfriend, dancing at happy hour on a Friday night.  Mike rarely dances and at the time, I was a regular out on the dance floor.  Mismatch! The music was so loud that we couldn't really talk.  Then, the tennis was awkward too.  I really was not good at playing tennis.  It's hard to look good playing tennis when you're not good at tennis, when you don't even have the little skirt and all.  I didn't care about any of that.  I loved every minute.  I was happy just sitting next to him, feeling that tingling sensation when our elbows accidentally touched.  The thing about all this time is that Mike and I saw each other every day.  We had to.  We worked together.  While we were dabbling in dating, it was heaven.  When he stopped asking me to go out after work, it was hell. 

What do you do when your heart is broken and you have to look at the face that broke it every day?  Oh, we didn't just work in the same office, we were collaborating on the same project.  That meant hours of sitting side-by-side with our heads hung over schematics or wire-wrapped boards in a tiny screen room. 

What I did was put on an act.  Actually, I took a 'quick vacation to see my family' first.  That translates to calling my mom and saying, "Can I come home for a few days?  I'm having some trouble out here and I might even need to quit my job and move back home if I can't work it out."  I went home.  I slept late.  I cried.  I never said a word to anyone in my family about my broken heart.  To their credit, they never asked. 

When my week was up, I went back to work intending to earn an Oscar for my acting skills.  I have no idea if I was convincing or not.  I just know that at the end of the day, I was exhausted.  At work, I smiled, I laughed too loudly.  'Bravado' was the vocabulary word for the season.  I'm one of those people who is good at lying because I eventually begin to believe my own lies.  My persona was of a wildly independent woman having the time of her life. 

The other thing I did was to date.  I dated like it was an edict declared by the government during a time of war.  I dated five different guys before the leaves fell off the trees.  The only thing I remember about them is that one was a British guy who's only attraction for me was his accent.  Poor Brit.  He was probably a nice guy and had not a chance. 

Have you ever noticed that I won't talk about sex here? 

It's not going to happen, so get over it, already.  That's a part of my life that, even in this version of the truth, I'm going to leave completely private. 

And then I met Asshole. 

I was telling you how I met Asshole


I'm sorry, we're out of time for today.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 19, 2012

Super-Sized Mini Pies

I just got done baking for the bake sale tomorrow.  I made five large pies, one of which has already been claimed by Mike and Nick.  The pie Mike cut into was apple.  He is very happy now that I've finally made pie.  He brought home those apples early in the week, beautiful little apples that someone at work picked and gave to him.  I really should make a pie for them as well, shouldn't I?  The funny thing about Mike and the way I make pie, you'd think it was part of our marriage contract or an effort I make to support his leadership in Boy Scouts.  Mike takes his pie very seriously. 

I also made four mini pies. I know that most people will buy one and eat the whole thing.  These small pies really should serve two people, but that's how it is in our culture these days. Even the little pie pans you buy at the store have been super-sized. 

Have you gotten a soda at a movie theater lately?  Well, our family doesn't usually drink soda any more, but I've looked at those cups when I see some moms buying one for her children.  A large drink is almost a half gallon of liquid!  And it's all high fructose corn syrup.  There used to be a commercial that stated that your body can't tell the difference between real sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but Nick's can.  It gives him a stomach ache, instantly. That volume alone would interrupt my movie-viewing pleasure!  I hate missing parts of the movie to stand in line at the ladies room with all those other women and their little girls who tried to drink a half gallon of Dr. Pepper before the previews were finished. 

Not long ago, Mike, Nick and I stopped at a restaurant for breakfast and I was served an omelet on a turkey platter that looked like it contained a half dozen eggs and a whole brick of cheese.  Even the leftovers would have served two or three people.  I never did like leftover eggs anyway.  Two eggs, two slices of bacon and as many vegetables as you can cram into the eggs.  That's about all I need.  And skip the toast unless the cook watched the bread rise himself. 

I'd love to experience food in France where I've been told the servings are truly for one person but placed so beautifully on a plate that you don't care.  I love beautiful food, the colors in a salad, the artistry of sushi, the fluted crust on a good pie. 

Here's the funny thing about pie.  I can't really eat my own pie any more.  Isn't that sad?  Well, I think it's sad.  Oh, occasionally, I'll have a narrow slice, but there is always a lot more sugar there than my system can take. 


Poor baby, poor baby, poor baby.

Okay, I'm done. 

I just think that the food culture in the United States could do with more examination.  That said, I'd love a good cannoli.  It might be worth going into a diabetic coma for a good cannoli. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Getting to the Slide

Earlier, I knew exactly what I needed to tell you about tonight.  The story was practically telling itself.  Now, my mind is a total blank.  I hate when that happens. 

So, I'm going to have to tell you about the spring hiking trip.  Can you tell that it was years ago when this happened, the spring of 1988?  With the Explorer Post, we'd gotten into a lull of membership.  We decided that was okay, when we had more adults than Explorers on trips, that we could still have a good time.  It worked.  What happened then was that the one or two kids that had gone on a trip told their friends they'd had a great time and the next thing we knew, our trips were packed again.  It didn't take much for our cars to get filled up. 

Funny, I don't remember any parent involvement back then.  I eventually bought a Blazer so that I could fit both kids and gear.  That helped a lot, but still there was one trip when parents had to buckle down and drive us to our destination, Slide Mountain Loop.

Slide Mountain Loop is in the Catskills.  I went there twice. 

The first time I went was a couple of years earlier, the fall in 1986.  This is the place that Mike recommended for me to hike when I told him I was going solo. That was back before we were really dating.  Do you remember when I told you about how we had a rocky start?  Somehow, during that in-between time, I wanted Mike to think about how much he'd lost.  Oh, I was going solo, I told him.  I was an independent outdoorsy kind of girl.  The problem was that I really didn't want to hike alone, so when I arrived at the loop, I got a slow start.  I stopped to talk to people when I could.  I ended up walking in a few miles, then turning around to get back to my car by nightfall.  Sleeping within arm's reach of your front drivers-side tire is not camping.  I put my keys under my pillow.  It was my first and last time camping alone.  I didn't care for it.  I felt incredibly vulnerable out there by myself.  I never did tell Mike how little I'd hiked that weekend.  He might have suspected it when I couldn't describe the slide, which he said was the best part.  He didn't press me though. I always did like that about Mike, that he didn't compete when it came to adrenaline sports. 

Here's the funny thing - I never did make it to the slide. 

A couple of years later, we decided to hike the loop for a spring trip.  What a good idea, I had thought.  That way I could finally see the slide and stop feeling like a fraud.  You probably already know by know that I really am a fraud most of the time, though it took me long enough to admit it.  

For this trip, Mike and I were the only leaders and we had two and a half car loads of kids.  We started out at the trailhead and the weather quickly began to look a little sketchy.  We couldn't pop The Weather Channel up on our iPhones back then.  In fact, we didn't even have cell phones though I remember making fun of someone who did and expected to be rescued if he got lost in the woods with his phone.  We plunged ahead on our trip.

What an adventure.  What was supposed to be a spring backpacking trip quickly turned into winter camping expedition.  We hiked through fat flakes of snow that accumulated quickly.  It was pretty but it got to six or eight inches deep in no time.  Before long, Mike and I realized we'd have to rethink our plan.  What this entailed was me looking over his shoulder at the map while I let Mike decide what to do.  Oh, I'm good at map reading, but I wasn't confident about deciding what the safest option was.  Mike really did have more experience than I did.  Remember, I was the one who's parents encouraged her to hand feet baby bears in Tennessee and who hiked behind them on a glacier in the Rockies even though we could hear water running underneath us.  A fraud, remember? 

Mike decided to shorten the trip.  As it was, we were post-holing with every step.  With drifting, the snow was knee deep in places.  The trail was strenuous even without dropping down through the wet snow with every step.  We were not going to make it to the slide.  Damn!

So, we bivouaced for the night in the best spot we could find, a wide slope that dropped down toward a low cliff, only about ten feet high.  As we set up tents, Mike told me he didn't want me in a tent by myself.  Maybe he could see that I was nervous.  Maybe he wanted to keep me warm.  Or maybe it was that he wanted to hold me while I slept.  Sorry, guys, this is G-rated, truly.  I don't mean to be boring, but that's what we did that night, sleep. 

Then next morning, noises outside our tent were muffled and the whole thing sagged around us.  We had gotten a lot more snow.  We popped our heads out and saw that all the other tents were still standing, though they sagged under the weight of the snow too.  It was going to be a good morning for a quick breakfast. 

As we got our bearings, we noticed that one of the tents had slid fifteen feet or so down the slope toward the drop-off.  It was a lot closer to the cliff.  Wow!  When the camper stuck his head out of his tent, his face went white, then he started laughing.  There's nothing like waking up too close to the edge of a cliff. 

We all warmed our hands on hot chocolate and oatmeal and packed up.  Going back down was even trickier.  The knee deep snow was now thigh deep in most places.  Not knowing the guideline against blue jeans for camping, I got totally soaked.  We were all working together though, watching for hypothermia among other things.  This is a group of kids, most of whom had been with us for enough trips, including a seven day canoe trek in the Adirondacks.  We were a cohesive group.  We loved these kids.

At one point, the youngest guy turned to me and said, "You should grab that tree."  He was very calm.  Then my legs went out from under me as my boots hit ice.  I landed on my butt, but I had a good hold of his tree.  Below me, the snow camouflaged a steep drop.  I'm telling you, this was the kind of boy who would have made a good pilot, careful and calm in an emergency.  If it had been me trying to warn someone, I would have yelled something incomprehensible and he would have gone down and broken something. 

Though we were only a few miles in, it took us all day to hike out to the trailhead.  By the time we arrived, we were an hour late, it was past dark and we had struggled with the mix of cold, deep snow, and flashlights in the dark.  It was a relief that this time, we'd overflowed when it came to kids in the cars.  Enough parents were there waiting for us that we didn't have any trouble getting our own cars dug out of the snow.  The parents were relieved that we were all okay.  

It seems like the most difficult trips become the best adventure stories.  The next time we ran an outing, we were overflowing with enthusiastic campers. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rambling On

Years ago, I took a picture of Mike.  He was standing on a rock by the edge of a lake and the sun behind him put him in silhouette.  For a long time, it was my favorite picture of him.  I'm not sure where that picture is now, likely in a shoe box down in the office.  You know the room I'm talking about.  We call it the office, but really, it's a big storage room with a desk in it in case Mike has a conference call and needs silence while the boys are yelling over video games or some sword fight.  I'd love to recover that picture, but it's lost in that room.

Today, I found a bunch of pictures from Rattlesnake Lake last week when we went for a walk.  It was a lovely day, though shrouded with smoke from the fires in Eastern Washington.  There was one that I think is a parallel to the one I remember from long ago. 

I'd love to see the two photos together, the same man in silhouette, one in youth and the other in middle age.  Can you picture the changes?

I have to tell you - I don't see the changes in Mike over the years.  I really don't.  People look at old pictures of him and exclaim over how much he's changed.  I may have changed, but I don't see it in him.

Okay, you'll have to forgive me tonight.  I'm running on a succession of sleepless night.  Don't know why.   It's starting to get to me.  I can totally see it in my stories here.  It's caught me up in other ways too.  The other day, I sent out a crazy email at 2:00 am.  My advice to you is never send email at that hour.  You never know what you'll write, or worse, volunteer for.  I also exclaimed something stupid out loud at a meeting.

"I have one of those!" I blurted out when the speaker was trying to make a point about prodding someone on and did anyone even know what a prod was anyway in this era.   Oh, it was so embarrassing. Did my mouth really open just now? 

I also made a long rambling phone call to volunteer for yet another task for which I have no time.  The recipient laughed and said something about me sounding like I was stoned.  That was scraping bottom.  I just have to get some sleep tonight.

Don't let the bedbugs bite!

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, October 15, 2012


I'm supposed to help the gym teacher with archery tomorrow, all because Nick wanted me to bring his bow to school when they began the archery session.

Ha! I'm not all that good at archery, but I am good at the safety stuff. Mostly, the kids need to know never to aim an arrow at something they don't want to shoot. And tomorrow, more adult bodies will help prevent accidents toward that effort.

I know how to hold up my fingers at arm's length in a triangle to determine which eye is dominant. If you position an object within the triangle then close one eye, the object won't shift when you're using your dominant eye.

My problem is that I'm right handed and left eyed. Not long ago at Scout camp, I was told I needed to learn to shoot with my left hand using my dominant eye. I guess eyes are more important than hands when it comes to shooting.

Handedness is a problem for me. I write with my right hand, but manipulate a screw driver and anything requiring finesse with my left. With my right hand, I throw like a girl. (But I am a girl.) I used to water ski with my left foot in the back, controlling things and most importantly, I'm strongly left-handed with my paddle.

I suspect I was one of those kids who would have written with her left hand had I been given the chance in first grade.

Just how different would my life have been if I'd stuck with being left-handed? I could be a lot different. I'm not technically ambidextrous since I'm feel strongly about which hand to use for a particular job.

The nice thing about paddling left is that Mike paddles right and we seem to go together so well in our canoe. I love the feeling of pulling in synchrony with him.

So all in all, I'm kind of glad I don't need a bunch of special tools, scissors and pruners and such. I'm glad I match with Mike so well in the canoe. I'm just going to have to learn to shoot all over again. Maybe I'll be better at it this time around.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Messing With the Deal

Since Mike is away at camp and Nick isn't feeling well, I found myself sitting in Nick's room in the dark as he fell asleep.  I kept myself occupied with Facebook friends for a while, but after I'd caught up with all the news that's fit to print, I played Scramble.  When I ran out of tokens in Scramble, I went to Blackjack by MobilityWare.  Now, if you don't have this game on your phone, you should.  It's a good game.  It mimics what happens at a blackjack table, minus the personalities.

Well, I like this app because I like playing blackjack.  I used to play it with Nick when he was learning to add to increase his skills.  I always let him be 'house' and I never made him play using his own money.  So with pennies, nickels, and dimes I'd stolen from Mike's bank, we played.   Nick actually had a gift for winning streaks.  It helped that he had rules to play by that usually left him walking away with two or three dollars of change and a grin on his face. 

As I sat in the chair by Nick's bed in the dark, I got a run of face cards.  I almost laughed out loud.

See, I have a lot of good memories of playing blackjack.  I have to go way back to tell you about this.  See, Mike's college wasn't far from Atlantic City.  He and his roommates used to go there to gamble a bit on weekends.  Then, after he graduated, he stayed in touch with the guys, especially Sam.  Once in a while, he'd meet Sam down in Atlantic City for a day or two. 

At this point, I entered into the picture.  I had played blackjack with my brother, but I'd never actually gambled.  These guys were the best teachers, letting me lose a bit, but giving me some good advice whenever I asked for it.  I loved it.

Thankfully, I didn't love it too much.  When I first started gambling, I knew I could only afford to lose $40 for the entire weekend.  We'd find a $2 table or, if we were brave enough to go into the skeevy joints, a $1 table. Then, we worked to see how long we could make our money last. Man, those places were exciting!  I had never sat at a table with people like this, people with few teeth, who didn't smell all that good, people who might feel uncomfortable making eye contact with others at the table.  Yet, there was something I loved about it, people-watching at its level best. 

Here's the truth.  I just wasn't that quick adding up the numbers, but the dealers were patient with me, sometimes even helping me if I asked for it.  Once, I sat at a full table with Mike and Sam standing behind me, ready for advice.  I swear, I got about twenty pair of face cards in a row.  It was thrilling!  The guys had taught me to leave a chip as a bet for the dealer while I was winning as long as I had my original cash in my left pocket.  This dealer had begun to love me.  We were betting together.  He wanted me to keep winning.

Suddenly, the guy to my left started to grumble.

"What?" I said, trying not to take my eyes off my cards.

"You should have split those face cards," he said, glaring at me.  And mess with a winning hand?

"Oh," I said.  I didn't have time to argue and I had all the advice I wanted with Mike, Sam, and the happy dealer.  I continued to play the way I'd been playing.  I had my original cash in my left pocket and I'd pocketed a fistful in my right.  I really thought I was doing okay.

"You should have split those face cards!" he said again, a little bit louder when the next hand turned up another pair. "You're messing with the cards I should have been dealt," he said, spitting a little.

"Oh," I said again.  I turned to Mike and tried to ask him what the guy meant. Mike whispered into my ear not to worry about what that guy was doing, just to keep playing and have fun.  A crowd started to form around us.  I wasn't counting the pairs of face cards, but Mike and Sam were.  So were a few other people.  The dealer kept grinning at me.  We were a good team, he and I, and we were winning.  I didn't need much advice from anyone with all the cards I was being dealt.

"Hey, lady!" the guy to my left yelled again.  "You're ruining my game here.  If you played the way you were supposed to, I'd be getting some decent cards."  Well now, it is the truth that you can look at the person who gets their cards before you and start adding up what you do or don't get as a result of how they play.  Honestly, I wasn't nearly advanced enough with the game to keep track of which cards the other players were getting anyway.  I just kept my eyes on my own cards and the rules I was learning and was busy enough with that. My cards were just lovely, I thought, as the next hand turned up a pair of face cards again.  I waved my hand to indicate I'd stay.  Who wouldn't? 

"Shit, lady, you're an idiot!" he said.  "If you knew what you were doing, we might all be winning," he yelled and stood up, leaning toward me.  He was creepy.  Wasn't it my business how I bet my hand?  I wasn't asking his advice.  He was in my face.  I leaned away from him.  Mike repositioned himself to be between us.  Sam took my right side and stood in close.  The guy sat back down, cursing so that I could still almost hear him.

With the next hand, there it was, another pair of face cards.  People around the table cheered a little.  The dealer grinned and said thank you as he pocketed another couple of chips.  I loved tipping when I won. 

"What the hell is the matter with you?" The guy stood up again.  This time, the dealer leaned slightly to his left and murmured something into another man's ear.  This man, a big man, went behind the dealer and came out where the guy was standing, yelling into my face.  He'd been yelling at me so much he missed that action. Then, my own personal bouncer grabbed the guy by his elbow, let him collect his chips, and escorted him away from me.  Everyone cheered. 

I went on to win about $280 before they switched dealers and my luck changed.  Lose two and get up, Mike had taught me.  It wasn't a lot of cash, really, but it paid for dinner and our hotel rooms and left me with a little extra money in my pocket on the way home.  What an exciting night!

Thanks for listening, jb

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Argument Against Analysis

Call me crazy, but I'm listening to John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'  I could be crazier still because I like it. 

I have to admit, though, that unless I'm really focused on the content and not thinking too much about the dishes I'm loading into the dishwasher or whatever else I'm doing, I don't understand a good part of it.  Is that pathetic, or is it normal?

Did you ever want something to wash over you without questioning it?  Maybe you've gone to a Catholic mass in Latin?  Or an opera?  Or all those heavy metal songs with words obscured?  Oh, it is a lovely thing, to be washed clean without benefit of comprehension.  Watching a movie in Spanish is a little like that too, but since I know just a little Spanish, I usually end up struggling with it and losing that ease.  I forget to hear the beauty of the language and let the comprehension come as it will. 

Maybe people should just listen and not work so hard to understand things like this?  Maybe true comprehension really comes in the repetition rather than a close reading of Wikipedia or even Shmoop, a website for those poor schmucks who have to talk intelligently about Milton's work in a classroom.  If I were taking a class about 'Paradise Lost,' I'd most certainly be studying Shmoop's wonderful analysis of it or Wikipedia so that I might be able to wow my teacher with some of my most amazing insights.  Ha!  I'm a fraud!  Didn't you already know that?

Maybe there's a time to let go of forced comprehension.  Maybe I'll let the sound of Anton Lesser's voice flow over me.  He's the one reading this version, his voice lovely and soothing.  Maybe I should let the images swirl in my mind the way I did when I listened to Ian McKellan read of Homer's 'wine dark sea' in 'The Oddessy,' to relax since I'm not a poor schmuck in a class, to enjoy the experience of hearing this book instead of picking it into little bits.  Analysis, after all, can cause damage to the original.  Like carbon dating, it burns at least a little piece of the original.  Maybe, in the end, I will feel like a child who is falling asleep to the story, the words and images blending with my dreams, the sounds of the words flowing over me like water over stones.

Thank you for listening, jb

World's End State Park

Nick and I just got done watching astronaut Suni Williams floating in space.  Man, that would be fun, but I doubt I get to do it in my lifetime.  Bummer.  He said he'd like to open a soda in space.  I wouldn't like the mess.  It would gum up the landing gear.  We're officially in wait mode since Mike is sitting by a campfire on the second weekend of his Wood Badge program. 

My goal was not to wait all weekend for him to come home.  We were going to the Outback Kangaroo Farm, to an Artist demonstration, or out on the trails with Teddy.  I love walking with Teddy in this weather, backpacking weather, at least until it starts to rain. Right now, it's crisp and cool out. Leaves here and there are beginning to fall, yet it is still intensely green out my window. I love walking along a trail, kicking up leaves with my boots, smelling them in the air, watching them helicopter to the ground in the breeze.

Yet, I'll be honest. I'm not a big fan of backpacking. I don't see the point. You're telling me that I have to pack up some of my stuff and carry it around for a few days? Right. Oh, the trails are pretty and all, but there's nothing to stare at until you get to the top of something and it's just so much work to get there. I'd rather stare out over water, a river, lake, or ocean. I suppose I'm getting better at looking at the details along a trail, maidenhair fern growing from a crack in a stone, the way sunlight shines through the leaves, or bear scat.  I wasn't always this reluctant to go backpacking. Thirty-six years, a mild case of asthma, a shortage of moleskin, and back surgery will do that to a girl.

When I was sixteen, I went with my church group on a ten day trip on the Appalachian trail in Tennessee and North Carolina in early summer.  I remember that the mountain laurel was in bloom and colored whole mountainsides pink and green. I wore my brother's old hiking boots with three pair of wool sock because they were too big for my feet. My feet were so cosy in that getup.  I could never get away with that now. 

On that trip, I carried my old sleeping bag tied to my backpack.  It is a navy blue bag with light blue flannel inside depicting hunters and their dogs.  I love that sleeping bag. It had snuggled me at Rough River in Kentucky, by the beach at St. Augustine, and on the nights after I experienced a glacier in the Rockies, General Sherman, General Grant, the Grand Canyon, Half Dome, Wall Drug, and even Disneyland.  How can you not love something that has gone that far with you, even if it was ratty and rather mouldy smelling?  Sometime, I'll have to tell to you about how I come to love my gear, especially those things that protected me or went the longest distance. 

I also remember that on that trip to North Carolina, we formed long chains to rub each other's backs after a hard day of hiking and there was a crabby woman on that trip.  You know the type of woman I mean.  We could never get the dishes clean enough for her satisfaction.  At the end of almost every dishwashing session, she'd yank a pot away from a kid and wash it herself.  I vaguely remember her repeatedly using the words 'germs' and 'filthy' and 'disgusting.'  I think she would have had a better vacation at home with her dishwasher.  I know we all wished she was there instead.  Somehow though, she didn't ruin our trip.  I was in awe that we could get so far, 85 miles by the end of the trip, and that the water we washed our hair in could be so cold as to give us ice cream headaches as we poured it over our heads. Those were the days, the days when I still loved backpacking. 

I could tell you about not being able to walk before my back surgery.  I could tell you about how I became asthmatic living in the filthy air of New Jersey.  I could tell you about the expensive boots that I bought that peeled the skin off my heels no matter how I wore my socks, laced the laces loosely or tightly, or plastered moleskin to my heels.  Those boots were hell.  When I finally broke down and bought another pair of boots, the salesman recommended the same manufacturer and these did the same thing to my feet as the first pair.  It was backpacking purgatory.  I remember none of the glory of backpacking then and all of the agony.  I was always at the back of the pack, hobbling along. 

I could also tell you about the ravages of thirty six years passing and how it makes these things more difficult, but I won't.  I'm actually closer to being able to go backpacking now than I was in my twenties.  A year of traipsing around with a dog and a couple of hungry boys has gotten my legs and my lungs in better condition.  I wear Keen hikers now and the skin on my heels couldn't be happier.  All that exercise is good for my back and I've built up a bit of upper body strength by carrying food and water for all of us in my trusty LL Bean backpack.  Do you remember the backpack that was stolen out of my car with my laptop in it and eventually got returned to me?  Yeah, that one.  I kept telling Mike that those creeps wouldn't win, that I was damn well going to clean all of their broken glass and vomit out of my backpack and go back to using it. That backpack.  It's a good backpack and can fit everything I need for 24 hours in it.  I like my backpack.  There's that gear thing I was telling you about.

You know, I should be telling you about that trip Mike and I took to World's End State Park with a bunch of Explorer Scouts, or rather Venture Scouts as they are now known.  Yes, World's End State Park is it's real name.

It's a lovely and wild place in Pennsylvania. It is especially nice in the early fall. By the time we got there, the leaves were off. The deciduous woods takes on a clean look then. You can see further, but things are camouflaged in brown and grey.

I had finally gotten a new pair of boots, a pair of Zamberlans.  Oh man, my feet were happy in those things, so it was going to be a great trip.  To begin with, we registered with the ranger.  He was a nice man, kind of chatty, but I don't remember what he said to us on our way out except that we should have a good time.  That was a given with this group.  We started walking up a mild incline and about an hour in, I looked up to my left and ...

...  I saw a face in the woods. 

Yes, I would swear in court tomorrow that on that day, I saw a face in the woods.

"Look!" I said.  "There's somebody up there!"  We all looked back to where I pointed, but the face was gone.  Vanished.  There were just tree trunks and the hillside covered in leaves.  We stood quietly for a moment, but didn't hear a sound.

"You must have imagined it," I remember someone saying.

"No!" I said.  "I really saw a face."  They all went back to walking as I stood there for a minute with Mike and stared hard at the spot where I'd seen the face. 

"I'm sure I saw a face, Mike."  I said again. 

It was close to Halloween.  Maybe they all thought I was starting up with the scary stories.  At the campfire that night, the wind picked up.  It was strangely balmy, but you could hear it singing through the branches. 

Now, on this particular trip, I was the only female.  Most of the time, there were lots of girls, but this time, I was on my own with the guys.  I didn't mind, mostly.

"I've got to pee, guys," I said, getting up from the campfire.  "I'm going down this trail a bit, so don't anyone come down that way until I get back.  Okay?"

"I have to go too," said Ted.  He was fourteen and wasn't liking the stories the kids had started to tell around the campfire.

"No, Ted, you hang out here until I'm done," I said.

"But I really have to go," he said.

"So get one of the other guys to go with you.... that way."  I pointed toward the trail going the other direction.  The wind howled a bit louder and not one of those boys offered to go with Ted.  Neither of the leaders said anything either.

"Please?" he said.  Oh man.  I just wasn't one of those mom types back then.  We didn't have two-deep leadership then either, but there was that boundary I just didn't want to cross, not even with a kid who was afraid.

"No, Ted.  You need to go with someone else, not me," I said.

Poor Ted got this look in his eyes.  He was standing up, kind of shifting from one foot to the other and looking at me with wide eyes like he was going to cry. 

"Will one of you guys go with him?" I asked.  No one spoke.  The wind picked that moment of silence to howl just a little louder.

"Well, crap, Ted.  Come on.  You just walk beyond me about thirty feet and look the other direction until I say it's okay."

"But I'm scared.  What if something's out there?"

"Nothing's out there, Ted."  This was Ted's first camping trip, but I'd camped since I was a baby and always felt safer in the woods than I did in a town full of people. I wasn't being very empathetic.

"Please?" Ted nearly whimpered.  Poor Ted.  We stood there for a couple of beats.  I knew that Ted wasn't going to be able to make his feet go in that direction, no matter what I said.

"Okay, you walk back toward the campfire and I'll walk about thirty feet in this direction.  You face the campfire and don't turn around until I give you the all-clear."  So, in that way, we managed our awkward tasks and went back to the campfire, never having been bothered by anything that might have been out in the dark.

That night, the wind picked up, a lot.  It buffeted my tent.   In the wee hours, a few branches came crashing down around us, but when I looked outside, shining my flashlight around, I could see that all the other tents were okay.  I could hear Mike mumbling in the tent next to mine.

There was never any rain, just that crazy wind.  At breakfast, the other leader who'd been in the tent with Mike looked at him and said, "You weren't awake when you talked to me last night, were you?"

Mike gave him a blank look.

"You rolled over in your sleeping bag, poked me in the back, and asked if I'd checked for dead fall."

"I don't remember that," Mike said.

"Yeah.  I got to thinking about that dead fall.  I didn't sleep the rest of the night."  It all seemed so funny.  You know how trips can be.  I'll admit, that wind got to me while it was still dark.  It was eerie the way it sang through the branches in the night.  It would have been a good backdrop for a horror movie, but in the morning, it was suddenly funny.  We all got to laughing and couldn't stop until tears ran down our faces.

So, this was a simple over night trip, a loop on the map so we wouldn't have to retrace our steps.  Eighteen miles, max.  Near the end, we hit a snag.  The map had shown the dotted line of the trail crossing a creek.  When they'd planned the trip, everyone assumed it was a bridge crossing.  There was no bridge.

This creek was wide, but it was also swollen with recent rains and it was swift.  Mike told us all to take off our socks, then put on rain pants if we had them along with our boots, hats, and gloves.  Remember I had new boots?  I wanted to go barefooted to protect my new boots, but Mike vetoed it.  That way we'd stay as dry as we could in the chill air.  It was dry out, but I'd guess the temperature was in the mid-forties.  Then, our other leader took a line across wearing his big backpack.  He almost fell in, but pulled on the rope Mike was holding and caught his balance. The water came above his knees in places.  He took his time placing his feet.  I could see that when he stepped down, the current grabbed hold and pushed that boot downstream about a foot or so.  When he crawled up the bank, he took a minute, put his socks back on, and anchored the line to the base of a nearby tree.  Oh, I don't know what kind of tree.  It was gray and naked of leaves. 

Then, Mike anchored his end of the line on another tree.  One by one, we held onto that rope and walked across.  When it was my turn, the water rushing into my new boots made me gasp.  I began to shiver immediately, but I focused on placing my feet the way I'd seen everyone ahead of me do.  It was strange to pick a place for my foot and feel my intentions swept downstream.  I didn't let go of that rope for a minute.  I felt safer with that rope, a retired climbing rope.  Eventually, I made it to the other side.  When we'd all made it, Mike went back over without his backpack to untie the line on the other side.  Then, it was his turn to cross without the security of a taut line.  I'd like to tell you he fell in, but he didn't.  Mike's pretty solid on his feet. 

It was getting pretty late when we got back to the ranger station, just past dusk.  We'd taken an extra hour or so with our river crossing, way more time than it would take just walking across a bridge.  We'd probably taken too long with our pancakes in the morning too.  We weren't known for early rising and remember, we hadn't slept well because of that wild wind.

"I was just about to call search and rescue to go looking for you guys," the ranger told us.  I was standing right by his window while Mike looked for our names on the register.  We all laughed. 

"Why, was there an escaped convict in the woods last night?" I asked flippantly.  Mike laughed again.

The man just stared at me, not saying anything.  You know, there are times when it gets really quiet.  Even the birds seemed to have gone silent.  My stomach did a flip.

"Ah, well," the ranger said.

"Was there a murderer in the woods?" I asked, staring him down.

He looked away a minute.  He opened his mouth, then closed it again.  Then he looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Yes, a man escaped from prison and the police have been searching for him in these woods for the last 24 hours." 

I didn't say a thing about the face I saw in the trees.  I tried not to think about being thirty feet away from Ted who was thirty feet away from the campfire, in the dark, with my pants down.  As it is, Ted probably never went camping a night in his life again. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sore Feet, Snarky Computers, and Cash

It was another busy day.  I ...


I can't remember everything I did today.  I know I fell asleep this afternoon, but to my credit, it was after I got a cortisone shot in each foot.  Ouch!  This is a nasty place for shots, but I had been hobbling around and needed it.  At least the podiatrist said she could see my problem and she'd get me feeling better soon.

More shoes!

I've been buying shoes like they're going out of style.  Well, none of the shoes I bought were actually stylish.  While I was at the podiatrist's office, I was waiting so I checked out my Facebook friends and one of them posted these 'shoes.'  My podiatrist loved them.  Not!  Since June, I've bought six pair of shoes, all hikers and tennies, in an attempt at finding something that will solve the problem with my crazy sore feet.  Walking two to six miles on feet that hurt every other day has just done me in.  Last week, I didn't even walk at all.  I just went to the off leash areas and let Teddy run.  That's not good for me at all, now is it?

Now, I get to buy another pair of shoes.  And orthotics.  I guess orthotics aren't just for geriatrics any more.  No, I'm not geriatric yet.  Who said that?

I also spent an hour and a half on the phone with a guy from Dell Computers.  I'm pretty sure he was in India and I didn't understand him very well despite his practiced accent.  I'm not sure he understood me very well at first either, but we warmed up to each other and the best part is that he solved my problem!  Over the phone!

Did you know that you can set up your computer so that the expert can drive it and see what it's doing?  First, he set up the sensitivity for my keyboard because, as he said, I'm a speed typist.  Did you hear that?  I'm speedy.  Then, we ran some diagnostics because the computer stops to think now and then and keeps missing some notes that I'm playing and I have to go back and put them in.  Well, he never quite saw what I was talking about.  It was the classic computer's game of call-the-technician-so-I-can-operate-perfectly.  You know that game, don't you?  But then he ran a hardware diagnostic program and there it was, a busted hard drive.

And it's still under warranty!  Joy of joys. 

Then, I got a call from Mike telling me that Chase called and wanted to renegotiate our loan since we pointed out that we'd have been losing $16,000 over the life of the loan.  Really, you want to work with us now?  Hmmm.  I'm not sure I want to work with these people, still, but I told Mike that I trusted him if not them and that I was going to scour that contract for flaws within 30 days of signing it.  I'm still not entirely convinced.  So now I have that to look forward to reading.  Well crap.  I was going to read it anyway, but this time, I'm going to have my threat-level set to orange.  Lovely. 

So there it is, orthotics, warranty repairs, and refinancing. 

I'll be really happy to get onto how Mike is finishing up Wood Badge this weekend.  Well, technically, he said he's not finished for another eighteen months.  That's a long time.  Apparently, they're going to check on how well he accomplishes five goals he's set for himself and then decide if he has earned Wood Badge.  That is one serious training program. 

I was really interested in those five goals.  They popped up quickly in my head, to finish a quilt I've been working on, to get to the Seattle Art Museum and some galleries on a regular basis, to raise my weekly walking average to ten miles, and to write another article or two for the local newsletter.  I didn't have an immediate #5.  Then Mike told me that each of the goals needs to be about Scouting.  Ah. That.

My one and only goal for Scouting is to provide support for Mike so that he can be free to be the good guy that he is.  Yesterday, I hauled stuff from the Scout shack to the new meeting location.  Today, I bought three and a half pounds of stew meat so he can cook stroganoff for the other Scouters this weekend.  Then, I called Dell's Technical Support line.  I know that wasn't actually Scouting, but if you know how much I hate actually knowing how a computer works, you'll know that it was a commitment to Mike and it was an hour and a half he didn't have to spend on the phone when he really needed to be getting ready for his second Wood Badge weekend.  Plus, it might have helped him that I wasn't too snarky about this refinance deal.  We really do want to lower our interest rate in the long run. 

So there you have it. 

I think I deserved that nap today, don't you think?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Predator Refinancing by Chase Mortgage

My eyes are crossing and I need to do a load of dishes.  I hate when I'm this busy at 10:00pm. 

Teddy romped at Marymoor with his best buddy today.  He's on his bed under the coffee table groaning right now.  I like that he finally got enough exercise.  I'm getting to know some of the dogs by name there now.  You know that song from the sitcom Cheers had it right.  It's good to go where everybody knows your dog's name. 

I didn't like Cheers all that well though.  Are you even old enough to remember it?  There were too many prickly characters.  Diane was crazy, and not a good crazy.  Norm drank too much and never got up to go to the bathroom, but I liked Norm.  The mailman irritated me and don't even mention Frasier.  The funny thing was that I liked Frasier better when he went off to have his own sitcom.  Go figure. 

I used to have time to watch TV.  Now, I'm lucky to watch the movies that we get from the library for a week at a time. 

Junk.  I'm sorry, but I'm offering junk to you tonight.  Can I do that for one more night?  I promise I'll tell you some decent stories soon.  I pinky swear.  I'll get a contract drawn up for us to sign.  Yes, I'll send a notary over to your house so you can sign it.

Chase didn't return my calls about the refinance today.  Does that surprise you?  They just know we're onto their scheme. I still can't believe we nearly walked into that trap.  I need to complain about this some more.  We were this close (I'm measuring with my thumb and forefinger) to losing $16,000 by refinancing with them.  That's a shitload of money.  (Sorry for the bad language, but I'm still mad.)  And it was Chase!  The thing that gets me is that this is a big, well-known bank!  Do you have your money with Chase?  I wouldn't. 

"Those people are predators," Mike said this morning.  'Predators' is the actual word he used. 

The funny thing is that I found out today that on our deed, my name is correct.  Some idiot at the bank messed up when they entered my name on the contract.  Ha! 

Okay, I know I wasn't the one who found the $16,000 problem.  Mike did, bless him.  Yet, there is some part of me that feels, in hindsight, that the whole business with my name being wrong was the best thing that could have happened despite the fact that it was so annoying and stressful at the time. 

Would we really have looked at this contract after we signed it?  I know we have thirty days after signing any contract, but would we?  Oh, we would have tried.  It was 120 or so pages!  Thats half a paperback. 

I did that once, got buyer's remorse and went back on a contract.  When I was just out of college, I bought a set of dishes at one of those Tupperware kind of parties.  I got excited and signed a contract for $800!  Well, the next morning, I realized I didn't need a nice set of dishes and it turned out that these dishes were pretty cheap.  You know when dishes just doesn't have a good feel when they're sliding against each other?  Nails on a chalkboard.  Go try it.  Take that set of porcelain that you inherited from your grandma or your mother-in-law, or in my case both and slide them around on each other.  Then take the cheap crap you use every day and do the same thing.  Do the cheap ones annoy you?  So after I felt that grating sound, I called up right away and told the woman I'd bought them from that I wanted my money back.  Oh, she was slimy.  She tried to go back into the spiel all over again.  The problem for her was that the spell was broken.  I had woken up.  I kept saying no and she kept at me for nearly an hour.  Finally, she got mad and said that I'd misrepresented myself. 

"Really?" I replied.  "How?"

No answer.  She was stuck.  She tried to tell me that law about having 30 days to review a contract after you signed it didn't apply to what we were doing.  I knew that it did.  I finally agreed to meet her.  I could hear her smiling.  How is it that you can tell when someone is smiling?

I packed up those dishes, put the contract on top, and left for her office.  It was nearly an hour's drive.  It was a dingy office in a neighborhood full of warehouses.  Oh, she had one nice conference room, but I could see a lot going on there.  This is why she had all the sales pitches at people's homes.  She buzzed me in when I arrived and smiled as she walked me to the one nice conference room.  I put the big box down on the table, pulled out the contract, and ripped it in half. 

The smile fell off her face. 

I also told her that if she didn't refund my money, that VISA would.  I love my VISA card for that.  Then I walked out.  I think I picked up that smile on my way. 

I don't have to be nearly so dramatic these days.  I'm just sitting here quietly in my house.  The washer is running.  Mike and Nick are asleep.  And I have that very same smile on my face right now. 

Thank you for listening, jb