Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Next Level of Sleepover

"Everyone sleep."

There are three boys in my living room. They keep talking about what sounds like real stuff, about fishing, building, eating, but they're playing a video game, a marathon of a single video game. Minecraft. I can't believe they've played it for so long. Mike built a fire in the fire pit outside. I asked a couple of times if they wanted to go outside, yet, the boys stayed in position in front of the TV. So, should we have kicked them off the game to come outside? They ate junk food and played. That's it. Mike said to let them be, so I let them be. So this is their sleepover, playing a single video game all night long?

Plus, they haven't needed us. I'm a little sad about that. We brought in pizza, chips, and yes, soda. Bleah. Mike told me to buy soda. I hate having soda in the house. It's the single worst use of calories that any of us consume. Two large pizzas, two bags of chips, and four or five sodas between three boys. Mike told me not to bother bringing out anything healthy. Apples? Carrot sticks, celery? No thank you, they said. I was only partially kidding.

Other than that, they showed me their Minecraft houses and that was it. I sat in front of the fire for a while. I painted my nails, checked Facebook, and watched the end of two movies with Mike in the bedroom. Now, I'm going to bed.

I imagine waking at my usual 2:00am and coming through the living room and finding the kids in the very same position that they were in at 11:45 when I fell asleep. What do I tell them then? Mike says I can tell them to go to bed at that point. Good. I was afraid he'd tell me to leave him alone. Already, he's said to give them soda, to let them eat junk food, not to offer them veggies, and to let them stay up.

Oh hell. It's their vacation. They'll feel like crap tomorrow, but they don't have to go to school for a week. I can't wait to see if Mike can get them to the laser tag session tomorrow morning.

I just wonder if I'll feel like crap too.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Modern Methods of Healing Affluenza

We went to the movies last night. It was a really nice theater with cozy seats.

What is it with people? I mean, really!

There was a family who arrived early and procured the best seats in the house, middle seats in a middle row. Fine. I have no problem with that. First come, first served. Besides, I like having an aisle seat in case I need to get up.

The movie was barely begun when a dad, I presume, and a kindergartner crossed in front of us to get out of the theater. Fine, I get it. There were spiders and they were too scary for a kindergartner.  Who decided that this was a movie that was appropriate for a kindergartner? Think about it. Orcs, spiders, wolves, and wild bears. Some interesting judgement there. As they passed, I missed being able to read some of the orc translation on the screen. Shoot!

Can you tell that we'd gone to see 'The Hobbit' and were quite interested in the story, really interested? Our friend Jack said that he didn't like the movie because it didn't follow the book closely. The joy of it for me was that it has been so long since I read the book that I can mentally disengage the two mediums and let the movie flow out in its own way. I want to tell Jack that a movie never follows the book except when the author has too much control over the screenplay and those are usually awful movies because the average author has no idea how to properly stage a movie.

A couple of years ago, in an attempt to read something he actually liked, Mike read 'The Hobbit' to Nick. They both loved the experience and it definitely brought Nick into the loop with Mike's 'Lord of the Rings' fandom. Mike is one of those people who will always, always watch a 'Lord of the Rings' movie when he finds it on TV, commercials and all, even though he has a boxed set on the shelf. Sometimes, when he's home with a cold, he'll watch all of them, one after another. So, we really wanted to see this movie, all of it.

The second time the child left the theater and came back, I was more annoyed. There were empty seats in front of me on the aisle. If they sat there and got up frequently, they might block me momentarily, but Mike and Nick would be okay. Plus, there wouldn't be anyone trampling my feet and pushing my knees out of the way as if I were the one causing the problem.

Then, the same man came through with a boy who was only slightly older than the girl, a second-grader, maybe? Really? In the process, the man actually paused to look at the movies screen as he was in front of Nick and I. Can you believe that?

Then, in between the migration of the children every twenty minutes or so, I noticed that the guy behind me was pushing my seat with his foot. The seats were wide, comfortable, and with an ability to rock a little. When the guy pushed my seat with his foot, it moved my seat as far forward as it could go as if it were dumping me out so I'd get up. After a while, I got into the habit of roughly pushing my seat back abruptly. The guy stopped for a bit, then began again. I ended up spending an inordinate amount of brain-processing time figuring out how long to wait between rocking back in my seat in a way that might jar an ankle enough to keep this man from dumping me out of my seat every few minutes.

And the kids continued to parade back and forth, trailed by this arrogant father who never once apologized, across our knees and feet to get to the bathroom, to get away from scary images, to get their jitters out. Six or seven times, they looped around. I actually lost track.

When the movie was over, I made a point of making a comment about the rude people walking in front of us. See, by then, I recognized both the little girl's pants and the dad's pants so that I could properly time my comment.

"Can you believe how rude those people were who kept walking back and forth in front of us? There were aisles seats available and they never once, not even after going in front of us multiple times, considered sitting in them. They didn't even apologize as they went!" I said in a loud voice.

The man didn't even look in my direction.

The arrogance of some of the people who live in this area amazes me. I just read an article about a wealthy boy who killed four people in a drunk driving spree and he got completely off in court using the argument that he had 'affluenza,' a condition his psychologist gave to being sheltered because of his money. What the hell? It wouldn't surprise me if it were discovered that the judge in that case got a great lump sum cashier's check in the mail before the verdict.

"Nothing you say or do will change people like that," Mike said. Yet, we talked about it all the way back to our car. Apparently, the person behind Mike kept tapping the back of his seat with his foot. You know, that nervous tap that you get when you drink too much coffee? I'm annoyed just thinking about this!

I know those movie seats in the theater in the ritzy neighborhood were comfy, but I'm certain that it wasn't worth having to be in such close proximity with so many people afflicted with affluenza.

I have a great solution for the affluenza for that boy who killed four people. He should have been tossed in jail like anyone else would have been. His affluenza would have miraculously healed after just forty-eight hours with his inmates.

And those people in the movie theater? They should have heard my wrath about their behavior. The last time they came through, I thought of putting my leg up on the seat in front of me, where no one happened to be sitting, and barring their reentry to their seats. There were perfectly good aisle seats in at least four rows in front of me. You know how you think of the perfect thing to do or say, but never do it because you don't want to make a scene?

The only way for these people to change is if more of us peons stand up to them and set them straight. Maybe that should be a mission, a movement, a rebellion. I like telling adults that they're acting like unruly children and should behave more politely.

What about you? Will you help find a cure for affluenza? Just don't send money.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Just Ew

Happy Boxing Day!

I love it - there are a pile of boxes at the bottom of our stairs. It will be Nick's job to recycle them. Why do I love Boxing Day? It's a day of rest after a day of cooking and a month of ordering, wrapping, packaging, sending, decorating, baking, and generally being cheerful about inane music that is constantly repeating in your head or over cheap department store speakers. I will not miss the commercials. Yes, there is a relief to be finished with Christmas for the year, yet there is still an overarching feeling of Christmas, one that will last until New Years Day, a feeling of good will, of gratitude, all the cheer without the stress.

Yay Boxing Day!

So, I originally thought that it referred to boxing things up and putting them away. No! In fact, there is a long history of celebrating Boxing Day, back to the 1600s, of giving the servants bonuses and a day off to visit their families. That serves me well. On Christmas day, I'm working very hard to make a special meal, to stay up as late as it takes the night before to get everything set up under the tree and the house to look nice while everyone sleeps, then waking at the break of dawn to open presents. I clean up a huge pile of wrapping paper, that paper I so carefully wrapped before, and then I cook a meal that would feed twelve for a family of three. On Boxing Day, I don't cook. I don't clean. I get to sleep in. The music can change. It's lovely.

But can you imagine that next level? It's 1668. You work for a rich family. On Christmas Day and for many days preceding it, you work long hours to serve this family, to wrap their presents, to decorate dust their chandeliers, to hang fresh garland, to make complicated meals and desserts, to entertain and care for their visiting friends.

On Boxing Day, you finally get to celebrate. Though I would guess many of these people went home only to wrap presents, decorate, cook, and entertain for their own families as well. Did they ever really get a break from all the work? It would be interesting to really know.

Would you trade places with someone from the 1600s for just one day?

It's an interesting question. I might be surprised at how difficult it is to eat their food or to use their facilities. Have you ever used a chamber pot? I have, way back when I was a tiny girl and I didn't like it, not one bit. The idea of sliding a pot full of my pee back under the bed and going back to sleep was abhorrent. And there was the problem of emptying it in the morning.

Okay, TMI!

In Ireland, we visited a medieval castle. There were interesting holes with little ramps of stone angling away from the walls which were high up in the castle's walls. I forget the name of the castle, but it was the oldest one we visited, one with mold growing along the walls. When I asked about the holes, the docent told us that people used them as latrines. No wonder there was mold, I thought.

How did I get onto this subject? I have to admit that, as we were walking around this castle, I thought of pedestrian things like that, how the people inside took care of their basic needs. It was so cold and damp inside, I wondered how they even stayed warm.

Yes, I could imagine exchanging places with someone from back then, but I don't know if I'd survive it, or if my sense of decorum would. And remember I don't always have a great deal of decorum. I'm not sure I could stomach a rancid feast, sleep in the bed chambers rampant with bed bugs, or manage in the special little latrines. Remember, it hasn't been all that long since people built outhouses with more than one seat. Just, ew. There's a history for you to think about. I've heard that most of the chamber pots were dumped into the street back in the medieval days.

Just ew.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, December 16, 2013

Unsent Versus Unscented

I have ordered my last Christmas gift, given out all but one year-end thank you cards. I still have Christmas cards to do, and I'll admit to you, that we haven't put up our tree yet. We have lights up outside and that's cheerful, but I'm hoping we have enough merry left in us to get things going tonight, as long as Nick doesn't have too much homework.

Mike's officially on vacation until the end of the year and he's on his way home for the day. Nick only has two and a half more days of school before his break begins. And in honor of starting early, I'm still in my pajamas. For those of you who are time-zone challenged, that means that my child has come home from school already and I'm still in my pajamas. Oh, I had breakfast, a healthy lunch, tea, and a tiny square of chocolate, but I haven't yet showered.

In my defense, I don't smell. I'm in a new phase of adulthood. I'm too old to have raging hormones, the ones that make teenagers sweaty and smelly. And I'm still too young and floss too regularly, to have that sour old-lady smell. Well, usually.

Can I tell you a secret? I was starting to get that sour old-lady smell. A couple of times, I didn't even smell like myself. Yuck. Then, Mike bought a Rub Away bar. You know the ones that are supposed to take away the smell of garlic. I ask you - who doesn't like the smell of garlic? There are a lot of opinions online about how or if it even works at all. You know, it might be a hat trick, but for me, it works better than your average abrasive washcloth.

Here's what I think happens. You're supposed to stand in the shower with this bar rubbing on your arm pit for thirty or forty seconds. I don't even rub hard. I just make contact. I think it's electrolysis, the same process that turns your aluminum pans black in the dishwasher only if the inside is made of stainless steel.

So, the real test would be to use a washcloth on one arm pit and the Rub Away bar on the other for a week or two. Honestly, I'm not interested in going around with one stinky armpit, not even in the name of science. I think I smell better than I used to. I think the whole family does, though Mike and Nick still use deodorant in addition to rubbing their pits with stainless steel shaped like a bar of soap.

Can't some smart scientist tell me if I'm right or wrong?

I have this impulse for a couple more Christmas presents. I can think people who would benefit from this Rub Away bar. I have a relative who doesn't believe in sullying himself with toxic chemicals. I get that. I really do. But even thought this guy showers, he still smells. Doesn't he know that? It wouldn't really help another relative I have who doesn't even bother to shower. This Rub Away bar doesn't perform miracles after all.

It also won't get rid of the serious case of bed-head that I've been walking around with all day. A good hat will perform that miracle when I take Nick to karate later tonight.

Mike tells me it would be rude to buy Rub Away bars for these relatives for Christmas. Hell, I think helping a man become presentable enough to attract a woman would be a great Christmas gift. I'll refrain, then, but you know I really want to send them. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tough Pumpkins

We tossed our pumpkins off the deck, over the fence, and down the hill today. The boys tried to hit the trees, the alders. Oh, one pumpkin hit an alder tree, but those pumpkins just did not provide a satisfying thud this year. We wanted them to crash into the trees. We wanted them to split into pieces. We wanted pumpkin guts to splash down the length of the tree. Where was the pumpkin carnage? Where were the pumpkin entrails?

Nope, every single pumpkin bounced, even the one that hit a tree, skimming it across one arc of the pumpkin's face.

Those are tough pumpkins. Here's to having weak pumpkins next year.

Now it's official. The Christmas season can begin.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Asking Them to be Civil

Did I sleep through Black Friday? Oh, I wish. I'd like to say I only paid the dollar it cost to park at Marymoor so I could walk Teddy, but then I remembered that I'd bought some Black Friday specials at Nick's karate joint, a T-shirt, a uniform, nunchucks so that Nick, who is practicing double-nunchuks, can have a balanced pair.

It was during this transaction that I realized that the people who work there do not like me. I hate when that happens. Sometimes I wonder if they like Nick. Usually, he has a sensei who loves him, but lately, I don't see it. His current instructor is impatient with him. I tell you that if Nick didn't like it there, I wouldn't spend any more money at the place. This afternoon, I imagined calling them on it.

Have you ever done that? Wouldn't life be so much easier if we told people what we thought? I'm not talking about those internal comments to the poor woman at Costco who really shouldn't be wearing those shiny stretchy pants that are three sizes too small. I'm talking about the things that would help us waste so much less of our time and money in the long run.

"You really should treat your customers as though you like them."

"What? Who me? Sure, I like you," he would say as he stares at his computer.

"Look at people when you're completing a transaction with them. I see you flirting with the tiny blonde women who bring their toddlers into the dojo. You should give us old ugly women at least the respect we deserve because we've been bringing our money into your business for the past seven years."

That might make his stomach burn in embarrassment for twenty minutes or so, but he might make more of an effort after that. Really, that's all I'm asking, an effort at being civil.

"And stop that system that sends me four emails a day. I'm sick of it."

Hey, I should tell him my email changed. I could. That would be a nice solution to the problem of all those emails that I never read. Really, who wants to get four junk emails each day?

So, am I still thankful for the four days off from civilization? I would be if I hadn't had to go to Costco today and into the office of the ungrateful sensei yesterday. I think I'll be okay in a little while. I'm going to sit and stitch the binding on a quilt while dinner simmers. Maybe Nick and Mike will pick a decent movie for us to watch. Maybe my leg, where the enthusiastic boxer at the park banged into it two days ago, will stop aching once I prop it up. Maybe the world will shrink down to us three, comfortable in our company, happy to be at home together for another day. Maybe the tea will warm my fingers and I'll put my pajamas on early.  Sounds like something to be grateful for, doesn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tryptophan Gratitude

So, what am I thankful for?

I'm thankful for that big damn turkey that I had to get up at 6:00 am to get into the oven. It may not taste all that good today, but think about the sandwiches tomorrow! Oh, those things will be a thing of beauty. Well, okay, they'll be an ugly pile of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, and gravy, but my stomach, though it has no eyes, will view it as a thing of beauty. An insulin nightmare too, but I'll just have to go into a coma for a while afterward.

I'm thankful that I still have Mike. Nuf said.

I'm thankful that Mike is dedicated enough to getting his daily walk in that he'll drag Nick off the video games for a while this afternoon and take the dog for a walk. It may not be a long walk, but it'll be a beautiful day for it. The sky is pink and blue, as if a baby is being born and no one knows if it's a boy or a girl. I hope to go too, but I'll be making pies, yams, and cheese sauce for the cauliflower in a little while. Doesn't that sound delicious?

You want to know what kind of pie? Apple and pumpkin. Why three people need two pies is beyond me, but we do. I'm sad that we aren't having lemon meringue, but Mike said he just doesn't want to goober the recipe to accommodate his low fat, low salt, and low cholesterol diet. You can translate that into low taste. At least my diet has flavor. I do miss bread, but the whole thing can have as much flavor as I want. My goal is to learn to cook all that low fat, low salt, and low cholesterol shit into something that Mike enjoys. It's a challenge. I tell you.

I'm thankful for four whole days with my family. Oh, I think Nick has been invited to a friend's house on Friday, but that's our usual mode of operation these days. His time with his friends is incredibly important to him right now.

I'm thankful for Nick's friends too. He's spreading the love, hanging with some different kids for a change. It seems to be helping. Where the old friends were giving him grief and excluding him from things, the new friends are happy to be invited over and throwing a wrench into the same old boring things that Nick thought to do with them. One of the kids, though he isn't a Boy Scout, is seriously interested in those type of things, carving wood, archery, exploring outside, learning knot skills. His mom said he's too busy to join, but Nick is happily showing him stuff he learned whenever he's over at the house. How great is that? Boy Scouts even helps kids who aren't scouts!

Okay, enough gratitude. Here's what pisses me off. Can you believe that all those Black Friday events are beginning on Thanksgiving day now? Imagine a big feast. Your dad and uncles are watching the game on the television. Tryptophan in the turkey is taking effect and Grandpa is dozing on the couch, snoring so loudly, your cousin takes a video of him with his iPhone. Your aunts, uncles, and parents are gabbing with Grandma and the other kids have taken over the den and are screaming and running around, nearly knocking over Grandma's knick knacks.  Pretty soon, people are going to start breaking out the turkey again for sandwiches. And they'll have another slice of pie on the side. It's a beautiful picture right?

Now shift that. It's late afternoon. Your two favorite aunts are putting on their coats. Uncles are reluctantly getting off the couch. The game's not quite over yet. The kids whine about being taken home before they're tired. They never get to see their cousins. Why? Because the aunts need to get to that sale before all the good stuff is out of stock. Worse yet are the people who just aren't there because they had to work.

What the hell is wrong with those corporations? Thanksgiving is a day for people to be with their families. People shouldn't have to skip the holiday so corporations can sell more stuff. Oh right. The corporations may have the rights of a person, but they aren't people. Corporations must make more money and they do it on the backs of those employees who need the jobs and are told they have to work an important holiday or lose their jobs.

Remember that, Aunt Doris, when you put on your coat to go get that 'great deal' late this afternoon.

Thanks for listening, jb

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flushed

I don't know what I'm going to write today. I haven't done anything. The impressions of the day aren't there. Maybe I should tell you about going over the waterfall.

See, years ago, when Mike and I were still dating, the Explorer Post kids decided they wanted to go white water rafting. How cool is that?

Our first trip was down the Tygart river in West Virginia in duckies. They call these open inflatable kayaks 'duckies' because we looked like ducklings following after our river guides. I had never been in a kayak at that point, so they started us at an eddy and told us that the trip culminated in a 14 foot vertical drop which they would video for each of us. . To be honest, that's all I remember of the Tygart, that drop. There isn't a single image of that trip except for the water fall. In fact, I know there were between eight and ten kids on that trip, but I don't remember a single one of them. That way a memory focuses a spotlight on one vital event is a blessing and a curse. So, in my imagination, only Harold, Mike, and I are on this trip with the river guides, a man and a tiny woman with beautifully sculpted biceps. I imagined they were a couple, forging that same kind of bond that Mike and I were creating.

So in honor of that single memory, I'll skip right ahead to the eddy at the top of the falls. There's something you learn with a heightened sense of energy in river paddling. That is the horizon line. I feel it every time I cross the bridge over the Snoqualmie by the falls. The water is wide and flat. In fact, there's a single line between water and the distant valley. Sometimes you can see a cloud of the backsplash rising up beyond the line, but mostly you get to look across the valley as if you'd climbed to the top of some mountain. It's the same feeling you get when you stand for the first time on the high dive. Do you remember that? Can you feel the tiny wiggling sensation in your gut as you think of it?

The highest place I've ever jumped from was about twenty-eight feet, but I knew back then that if I weren't careful, if I managed to do a face plant, that I'd be toast. I was about eleven. By then, I'd jumped off the high dive, even over-rotated and landed hard on my shoulders. And that was only from ten feet up!

When I was a kid, we camped at a lake in Kentucky, Rough River reservoir. It was a place that is magnified with emotion in my memory. I could tell you one story after another of going to Rough River. The flashlight in the latrine was a good one. But I'll wait and tell you the rest of them another time.

Once, when we were exploring the lake, we found 'The Rock.' I call it 'The Rock' because that's always what we called it.

"Grandpa, we want to go out to The Rock," and he'd know exactly where we wanted to go.

The Rock was a red sandstone and iron ore cliff at the edge of the water on both sides of a cove. When I say iron ore, imagine what looked like rippled sheets and pipes sticking out of the sandstone at odd angles. I have a couple of pieces of that rock and it still amazes me. I carved my name into the sandstone one day, the only place in the world where my initials lie.

Besides that amazing ore, the beauty of The Rock was that there was a shallow place where the babies could play and at least four other levels where you could jump from different heights. The best was a long flat place with an old tree where someone had put a thick rope swing with knots in it. It was only slightly lower than the height of an average high dive, so it took a fair bit of courage to go off it for the first time, the perfect rite of passage. Around that corner was a deeper place in the cliff where you could camp overnight and never get wet if it rained. Oh, that is another story. It'll be a while before I tell you that story. Across the cove, there were higher levels that culminated in a twenty-eight foot drop, the ultimate rite of passage. I only jumped off that highest level a dozen times or so. I was nearly eleven and that was almost the last time I saw the place.

Let's just say that when I finally got the courage to jump off that highest level, it was a thing of beauty, at least in my head. My feet were together, toes flexed up as far as they could go, my body a straight line, and my arms out in the perfect iron cross. I was sure I'd jumped far enough out not to hit the protruding bit of the cliff and I wasn't going to cannonball. My brother had told me to make sure I didn't cannonball on a jump this high. A lot of us had stood at the top of that cliff for what seemed like days while the older, more courageous kids leaped off in perfect form.

When I hit the water, I felt multiple slaps, hard slaps. The water was hard! The bottoms of my feet and the undersides of my arms were red with the fury of it. Holy cow! It was like falling off your bike. The big kids laughed at my folly, but I managed to find the courage to jump again, this time with my arms stuck tight to my sides and my toes pointed. I was a bullet! After that, it was cake, though we never stayed at that cliff as long as the other. It took a lot of energy to have that much heart.

So, seventeen years later, when we stopped to scope out the waterfall on the Tygart river, I thought of that hard slap. Plus, the river guides said that the water falling would have enough power to keep you spinning in a hydraulic for a little while but not too long. They were so damn causal about this, the cool kids.

It was a narrow chute, just wide enough for the duckie. In fact, the river guides were going to stand on either side of the chute to help guide the duckie into the right falling position. After we looked at it, they told us that we should hit the edge paddling hard and fast, then throw our arms up over our heads, and lean back hard to rotate the kayak into landing position.

I'm feeling nervous just thinking about this. Can you imagine? It's done. It was twenty-five years ago and I have a flutter in my stomach.

Harold went first. He was certain he'd land right, in the boat and be able to paddle the kayak casually away the way any Explorer Post leader would.

He landed face first in the water.

This landing was impossible, I though to myself. No one but the most experience paddlers could stay in the boat.

It was my turn. I paddled as hard and as fast as I could. There was a half a second of breath before I went over the edge, the slowing of time I imagine of the moment before you die. I could see laurels blooming across a distant ridge, the expressions on the faces of people watching, the hardness of the tan stone to my right as I took my last stroke, a slight tipping forward, and a single strand of steam rising from the consumption of the last paddler.

I threw my arms up and leaned back as hard as I could. Gently, I found myself tipping forward and, slowly, it seemed, being dumped unceremoniously out of my raft. Then, I hit the water. I was in cannonball formation, fetal position, really. I'd like to think I held onto my paddle, but I don't remember. The boat bounced off my head, briefly wrapped around me, let me go and, though I wore a heavy rafting life jacket, the water swirled me around and around like a turd in a toilet bowl just before it flows down the pipe. Finally, I was pushed out of that pounding water and popped up about seven feet away from the falls.

Do you know that picture you have in your mind of swimming under a water fall, feeling the water on your head, pushing your bikini-clad chest out and looking glorious as the flow of it washes over your body? That's bullshit. I looked like a rat that had been washed out of a sewage drain. Hands grabbed my upper arms and dragged me to shore. I laid there for a few minutes. At least I didn't need to puke up a stomach full of river water.

I had managed to sit up and pull my bangs out of my eyes when Mike came over the lip of the falls. He hadn't said a thing about succeeding or failing. He had a determined look on his face as he took the last stroke with his paddle. His biceps bulged with the effort. Then, as he tipped over the edge, with both hands on his paddle, he made a perfect iron cross with it across his shoulders, thrust his torso backward, tipped the ducky into the perfect landing formation. It folded around him like petals of a flower, opened, and the water pounded his head for a second before he had the presence of mind to paddle away from under it.

Everyone cheered. He'd been the only one in our group to land that duckie. Harold was particularly quiet after that. I wanted to try it again, but the guides said we only got one shot and that was it. The flush.

I have video of that landing for each of us, Harold, me, and finally Mike who showed us all how it was supposed to have been done.

Shoot, maybe I preferred my experience of landing on my butt and being flushed like a turd instead of performing the perfect iron cross. Maybe not.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life is Divine

That creative feeling flowed into Nick tonight, just before bedtime. When he was supposed to be flossing, he sat with a new notebook and drew pictures of armor, leather armor, that he wanted to make. "I can help you," I had said to him. Apparently, he didn't need me to show him how. He began to draft the pieces right there as I watched. Unfortunately, when he was supposed to be brushing his teeth, putting away his dirty clothes, and getting himself a glass of water, he was still drawing and trying to describe his creation.

I love that feeling almost as much as falling in love. Productivity. The muse. Inspiration. I'm not sure any of those words really work for me when trying to describe how I'm feeling a particular way. It's a way of looking at things. It's almost euphoric, as if art will appear if I can just carry the right feeling around with me for just a little longer, as if art will save my life. Life is better when I have this feeling, but it's bad for getting to meetings on time. And I can say that I seldom leave a meeting or even a lunch with that particular feeling. Once in a while, with a unique individual, I can. I just bought a book for a friend, not even a good friend, because she can do that for me, so I got her a copy of a book that does that for me too.

Books can, but often don't, leave me with that feeling that I'm trying to describe. I've been blessed with an abundance of books that push me into creativity. I've already told you twice that I loved reading 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery. Well, I started listening to another audio book and - Wow! - it's doing the same thing to me.

I picked up this book after it sat on my book pile for a whole month. I know because I had to renew it a couple of days ago. I thought it was probably a romance novel. 'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss is no ordinary love story. Oh, it may be a love story in the end. I'm only finished with the first disk and it got stuck in my car player. I need to use my forceps to get it out in the morning. Dare I put the second disk in to risk the same thing happening all over again? I probably will. I want to know what the author is going to say next. But it's not an ordinary love story.

No. The beginning of this story is a captivating narrative of a very old man and the methods he uses to keep from disappearing before he dies. The phrasing is stunning and it's funny, though it has already gone into the experience of being a Jew in Europe just before WWII and the experiences of being a nude model for an art class. Already, it has thrown me into that euphoria of creativity that I crave like chocolate. No, I crave it more than chocolate or any food or drink I can think of. The closest food comes is the beauty of a plate of sushi when it's presented well, nourishment for the soul as well as the body.

In those moments during this book, I click off the player and sit in the relative silence while the offending sentence rolls around in my mind. Sometimes, I have to pull off the road and riff in my notebook on what that sentence does to me. I can't say I'd copy it, but instead, the words themselves are muse to more words, a story I need to tell. Art, intended or not, will do that to me too, throw me into a state of being that doesn't work in time the way it should. I often get caught up, wake to reality suddenly, and find that hours have passed and I've moved from the car into the house or along a long trail with the dog. Those long walks are delicious, one image, intended or not, blowing me to the next without my realizing that I've been floating.

Do you know what I mean here?

If you look for beauty, you will find it, even in the cracks of a city sidewalk, even in the wrinkles of a worn face, even in the colors you find on your plate. You can find them in words, in naked limbs of the trees, in music flowing, in the way the fog silhouettes some trees and hides others.

Ah, but Mike is home and the TV is on again. The TV, I tell you, seldom puts me into that place. 'American Splendor' was a good one. Can't think of any others. When it does, however, when a movie is beautiful, when food has the colors of fall, when music moves me, or a vision of a leaf on the asphalt takes hold of my throat, life is divine.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Caucus of Real People

If you were allowed to discuss one thing with the President of the United States, what would it be? How relevant would his work be to what you do every day? Would you even listen to him? Let's imagine he would have time to listen to you. Would you set the metaphorical fire to his feet, would you grovel and coo, or would you get down to business?

Would you clean your house before he came? Oh, that would be difficult wouldn't it? Secret service would have to inspect your basement. For me, mortifying. That would be impetus to clean that room that has become a storage area, wouldn't it?

This morning, I awoke to the thought that it would be good for the country to have a group of PTA moms in discussion with the President. I started to imagine the ordinary people I'd gather to advise him. I'd offer him a mocha and I'd have to make pie because I'm proud of my pie. And sure, I'd clean my house, but if I tried to do too much, it wouldn't be real and more than anything, I'd want something like this to ring true. Is it even possible for an average person to act normal around the President? I would have to try. Otherwise, it would be a waste of time.

Then, who else would I invite?

First, I'd invite my PTA friends and the people who volunteer at Nick's schools. Those ladies get things accomplished. If you exchanged them for the President's advisers for just one month, they'd clean house. Education would be their forte. They would push for more complete funding of our schools, better support for the teachers, for better curriculum, for an emphasis on technology, and for reinstatement of PE. That would be a good start. Plus, every meeting would have coffee, muffins, and fruit. I just know it would.

Then, imagine the Boy Scout troop in conversation with the President. Would the men allow the boys to lead that conversation? My Mike would try to do it that way. I know he would and our boys would rise to the occasion and give it a go. Talk about earning their Citizenship in the Nation badge. Can you imagine the parents trying to influence what their kids discussed and making sure they wore a clean shirt to meet the President? What would these boys change about the way our nation is run, given the chance? What is important to them? Oh, if I even guessed, it would have the ring of an old fart.

If I could, I'd put President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle, in a room with spiritual people from my church. There would be coffee. There would be casseroles. They could discuss the separation of church and state, tolerance, and the state of war. Actually, I think the President has already addressed the problems with the wars our country was engaged in. Still, there would be moral dilemmas such as the people at Guantanamo and our involvement in Syria. Yes, my church leaders would make a great panel to discussion those problems.

Oh, and my quilt group. Wouldn't that be a hoot? These women cross into all kinds of categories. One of our members is in the Philippines right now, aiding the people there. Federal Aid would be her area of expertise, and maybe foreign policy since she travels so often. Another woman works for the Department of Transportation and I'm sure she'd have something to say about the infrastructure. We have a teacher, a woman who retired from Navy intelligence, world travelers, and a proponent of natural mothering. That would involve conversations about women in the military, alternate measures of the healthcare system, and again, education. Do you see a trend in the needs of our country to educate its children? Yes, if I had to pick just one cross section of my friends to introduce to President Obama, to advise President Obama, it would be my quilt group. They are smart, well-traveled, varied in their experiences, outspoken, and range from conservative to liberal. And they're funny. Yes, that meeting would be a fascinating one.

I might have to include my friends in far places in these discussions. I know that my friends in New Jersey have different views about the effects of hurricane Sandy than I do. I know that my Midwestern friends have a different view on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be a truly representative cross-section of the country's people, I'd have to include them in this imaginary caucus too.

What I'd ask all of these people is this: What are your concerns for our country and how would you begin to solve these problems? It's an interesting thought, isn't it? Who would you pick from the people that you know?

I don't know why I've spent so much time thinking about this. I just imagine that the President, at this point, has been getting a stilted view of the people he serves. Can't you imagine how insular it could become after five years in the White House? Has he spoken to anybody in the past year that hasn't offered a thousand dollars a plate, hoped for a photo opportunity, or had a corporate agenda? Does he even know what the average family struggles with on a daily basis?

I would venture to guess that he doesn't. How could he?

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pushing

Why is it so hard to live through your kid's social life in seventh grade? It was easier, though it was the worst year of my life, being in seventh grade myself. Oh, that is another story, isn't it?

I hate the bullies. Tomorrow, I have to call one of the moms on my contact list and hell her that her boy needs to stop pushing Nick around. That I even have this woman's phone number means that the two kids were once friends. Isn't that sad?

I hate that Nick's best friend Adrian was invited over to his other best friend's house and all they told Nick was that he wasn't invited. Nick sat by himself at home that afternoon, dejected and trying to console himself by spending time between Mike and I on the couch. Tonight, Nick went over to that friend's house and lo, the bully was also invited. Then, according to Nick, "they ditched me, Mom. They're having a sleepover and they didn't bother to invite me." That was after the bully managed to shove Nick around a little more.

Nick has been taught not to use his karate because if he does it in school, he'll get sent to the principal. Well, crap. I'm about to tell him to shove the kid onto his butt the next time it happens. What is all that sparring for if not to deter the bullies? Isn't there something Nick is allowed to do when it happens? He has the training, but not the heart for it.

Still, tonight he said he had a good time at the school dance. And on the way home from karate yesterday, he said he had a pretty good life and felt lucky.  I love that about him.

And my heart aches for my son. And the whole bullying and exclusion thing is pissing me off.

Thank you for listening, jb


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Talk

I have nothing to say, but I'm going to get cracking anyway. I've noticed something about the blank page before me. Sometimes, I just begin to write. I write anything. I keep going until about a half a page is filled and some miracle happens and suddenly I have something to say. The weird thing is that what evolves is often subtle and surprises me.

What the hell? Don't I know everything that's in my head that needs to come out?

Apparently not.

I'm rereading 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery. I wonder, as I hear the musings of her two main characters, if this is what Barbery did, just sat down to write and discovered, as she went along, what it was that she had to say. See, I think her two characters are really incarnations of the same person at different ages, a single introspective and hedonistic person. Each of them spends a good part of their story chatting about art, beauty, philosophy, and social classes. See? One person. And the beauty of it is that Barbery gets to ramble on using the ploy of letting her character ramble on. It's a thing of beauty.

There's another effect for me of coming to the page when I have nothing to say. First, I need to tell you a few things. I come from a long line of talkers.

My grandpa used to take the wrong side of an argument just to see if he could win it and often he did. He would wind around an argument, taking up details and using logic until you'd sacrificed your queen and were left with only a couple of pawns and your king. Much later, I learned that there was a word for this, rhetoric, and that people could get a PhD in it. Really? That's what my grandpa did for fun. Even if you understood your subject, history or engineering, he could eat you alive with your own words. I absolutely loved that about him, mostly because he did the whole thing in such a gentle way. The end of the argument was when he'd stop talking, grin at you, and let you absorb the meaning of the last words you'd uttered. It was brilliant.

My grandma, his wife, used her words to cling like a burr on your sock. You know those people, don't you? I may have had somewhere I wanted to go, like back outside to play with my cousins, but she just kept talking, deeper and deeper into whatever she was thinking. She loved to talk medical, sometimes graphic and difficult medical issues. Did I want to see her scar from her gall bladder surgery? Did she ever tell me about the time she saw her great aunt with such an advanced case of small pox that the flesh on her back just split open? It did no good to tell her I'd heard the story five or six or a dozen times. I might have tried to move away without hurting her feelings, but that only made her dig in deeper. Then, without warning, her eyes would begin to tear up and she'd tell me how much she loved me. There was no getting away quickly when she began to cry.

Well, I have that talk in me too. Sometimes I can see it on someone's face when they are busy and need to move on. I can see it when they just don't give a shit about something that means a great deal to me. And sometimes, people don't care if they're rude and just move on. It's a different world out there. There is no time for stories in a conversation. When I find that person, the one who will hear a story to the end, I realize I'm with an extraordinary person, a person who may have been born into the wrong era. Generally, I try not to get into conversations like either my grandpa or my grandma used to cherish. Have you noticed that about our culture?

I have always wanted to change this characteristic about myself, but found it difficult to stop talking. There's something seriously satisfying in having a good talk with a friend. But, for the most part, people don't have the time. So, people like me, talkers, story-tellers, those who parse a bit of rhetoric in honor of their grandparents, are left, half-way through a story, without a person to finish it with.

I find that, when I come to the page, especially on the days when I think I have nothing to say, it helps. I don't mind as much that the world is too busy for a story today. 

Nope. Nothing to say. Not really. I hope you don't mind. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Killing the Pumpkin

Hey there.

I'm running on three hours of sleep, but I figured I'd come here anyway. Out my window is the blue-gray sky I love, yellow sunlight on deep evergreen, and just a few bright red leaves clinging to our Japanese maple. During a wind storm yesterday, the Western Red Cedars dropped a bunch of orange needles and they landed on a carpet of red maple leaves that had already fallen. It was very pretty, but Mike, in a fit of energy, blew them into a pile with his blower. I suppose that using a leaf-blower isn't too strenuous a job, but...

Today, it seems as though he has more energy than I do. We go back and forth that way. Yesterday and the day before, when I had managed to rest, he wasn't feeling well at all. It would be nice if we could get his cardiologist to understand that one of his medications hasn't been letting him sleep more than a couple of hours a night. For two days, he was dizzy and shaky. It sucked. Last night, he didn't take that medicine and he slept almost nine hours. He feels much better today. I, on the other hand, was up and busy worrying about whether or not he was sleeping most of the night. So today, I'm scattered and trying to keep going on three hours of sleep. Nick has a friend over or I'd be sleeping right now.

It takes so much energy to worry. I wish I could relax, but I'm not there yet. I keep telling myself that everyone will die, that every day is a gift. It's inevitable, so I should get used to it. How do you get used to that? More than ever, mortality is staring me in the face.I'll be glad when I can turn that around and feel gratitude for every day the way I should.

Now, Mike's on the back deck with the boys. They're using an air-soft gun to shoot up the big leaves of the weeds back there. Oh, and my cute little pumpkin is getting a new face shot into it. It's a short life for a pumpkin, this one ever shorter than it could have been.

"Look at that! They're going all the way through," Mike said.

"Dad, you want to play?" Nick asked.

"Boy, that's heavy," Nick's friend said as he hefted the gun in his hands. I heard them using words like muzzle control and using the safety and other terms Nick learned at his hunter safety class. The guys were trying to see if they could shoot all the way through my poor tiny pumpkin. It's now bleeding on its face, big drops of clear pumpkin blood.

It will bleed for a while, but the boys have gone on to the next thing. Video games. More shooting, but at least it's virtual blood this time. Boys.

Such a great sacrifice for such a short distraction, at least if you're a pumpkin.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Two Books and the Aftereffects of a Heart Attack

I've been reading some seriously good books lately.

(I'm tired of talking about Mike's heart attack, frankly. I hope you don't mind. I'm in the process of hovering without appearing to hover. So far, he doesn't seem to mind too much, so I must be hovering wisely. I hope so. I've been doing a certain amount of therapeutic cooking and cleaning. I'm finding that I like my new vacuum, a Shark, better than I ever imagined. The house is cleaner. Attachments for lampshades, blinds, and cobwebs are easy to use. The cat and the dog don't seem to mind the usual whine, yet that whine is just loud enough for me to stop listening, even for just a half an hour or so, for the sounds that Mike makes to prove he's still alive in the other room. It's exhausting, listening for those sounds twenty-four hours a day, simply exhausting. Thank God for my new vacuum.)

So, about my books.

I just finished listening to 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog,' by Muriel Barbery. I like when people mull over philosophical and sociological ideas within fiction. Her two main characters, a middle-aged woman and a twelve year old girl, are both deep thinkers. They come together in a very sweet and surprising way in the story. I can't tell you how it ends. I can't. I'm actually listening to it for a second time. It's that good.

The other book is 'Manhood for Amateurs,' by Michael Chabon. He's funny. He's thoughtful. His essays are linked together in some chatty way, but it's not your usual memoir that moves by using the classic arc. In this book, I learned how Chabon feels about his wife and kids without hearing too many private details about them. I'd never worry about his privacy based on what he's written. He's thinking and he writes interesting vignettes, yet it's not a comprehensive autobiographical sketch. I like that. I don't know why I like that, but I do.

I remember when I met Anne Lamott. I love reading Anne Lamott. 'Bird by Bird' and 'Operating Instructions' are two of my favorite books. Yet when she sat in front of me, pen poised to sign my book, and looked me in the face, I looked away, embarrassed that I knew so many of the sordid details of her life. I did not know these facts because she was a good friend. She was not even a friend at all, yet she had, in a metaphorical sense, stripped naked and run through my house screaming. Nothing was forbidden fodder for her books. Nothing.

So, it was a relief to find an author whose memoir was seriously thoughtful yet lacked that nakedness that Anne Lamott so easily brought to her stories. Maybe I need to read Chabon's book again too. It has been a distraction from watching Mike breathe in the middle of the night. Thank God for my Nook with its Glolight too.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bouncing Off the Walls

How do you hold a good man back while at the same time holding him up?

Mike wants to do something. He folded clothes today, did a load of laundry, made notes about the camping trip this weekend.

His heart is damaged, but his mind is not. He's tired of thinking about it. Old friends, friends who haven't called in seven years, are calling him.

"They're only calling because they think I might be dying," he said. It's true. His friends are coming out of the woodwork. It's a good thing. I know it is, but we're both stunned by it, overwhelmed by it even.

I've been doing cooking therapy.

Gotta go!
Mike's headed to the Boy Scout meeting, just for a little while.

Really???

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, October 21, 2013

Breathe

Did you know that you can reduce your levels of stress by using these easy breathing and awareness techniques?

I've spent the last week simply remembering to breathe. Now, due to circumstances beyond my control, or partly within them, I'm going to become an expert at helping to reduce stress levels for people I love.

So, are you stressed?

Right now, close your eyes.

Wait, read this first and then close your eyes.

Think about how your breath feels in your nose, in your mouth. Then feel it in your chest. If you think about it, you can actually feel the air move into your deeper airways. Then, stretch your stomach as you breathe. I know. It works against your intuition to push out your stomach instead of sucking it in, but push it out each time you breathe in. Then, you can push it back in when you breath out, all the way out. Try to slow your breathing. Count to eight with each breath, then slow your counting.

In just fifteen breaths, you can reduce your levels of stress, expand your lung capacity, and feel calmer.

Hey, it helped keep me from rear-ending a bus as I was on my way to the emergency room. It might work for you too.

And don't forget to get a good laugh in when you can. It does the same thing.


Uh oh. I'm a little light-headed after all this breathing.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pressing the Help Button

I had to stop to get gas today. Such mundane things still need to be done. I was pressing buttons on the kiosk to enter my zip code when I noticed a button that said 'help.'

I knew it was for disabled people, but I stood there and stared at that button. The way you have the impulse to leap from great heights, I had the urge to press repeatedly on that button. Help, help, help, help. 

Last night, I spent an hour on the phone, talking to Nick's doctor to find out if hallucinations are an acceptable side effect of prednisone and dehydration. It turns out that they are.

"Mom, I'm having hallucinations," Nick had told me.

"What are you seeing?" I had asked carefully. I don't know if he heard the alarms screaming in my head.

"I saw Seth walking toward me when he was just lying there. Earlier, I saw a red dot just floating around."

"Are you hearing anything?" 

"No. And there was a white light too."

Not the white light. Anything but the white light. So, I spent a long thirty-five minutes last night, waiting for the on-call doctor to return my call. I tried to stay focused on breathing. I imagined taking Nick to the ER, having both my guys in the same hospital, but Nick's usual hospital is different than where Mike was. Could I manage having them in different hospitals? Nick came into the kitchen once, but I tried to sound very calm, hugged him, and sent him back to bed to try to sleep. In sleep, hallucinations are just ordinary dreams, right? Then, I texted a good friend. I knew she was overwhelmed with her own problems, but I figured she'd forgive me for freaking out on her watch. She's a veterinarian. I know, I took advantage, but I figured she'd forgive me asking questions of the one friend who might know an answer. I kept trying to breathe. 

It took me a couple of hours to calm down after I got done texting with her and talking with the doctor on the phone. He was a kind doctor. He told me he'd be there all weekend if I needed him. My pharmacist hugged me today too and reminded me to breathe.

Mike. Nick. Breathing. Heartbeats. Oxygen, oxygen, oxygen. It's all about getting oxygen at our house.

I know I shouldn't be writing right now. It's 3:34 in the morning and I've spent the last hour and a half listening to Mike breathe. He can't be resting easily if I'm shining my ambient phone light on his arm to make sure it's a little pink. Last night, a nurse was assigned to watch his heart beat, to watch his breath. Cardiac care. I want one of those here, like an extravagant baby monitor, so I can go sleep on the couch, so I can cry in the parking lot at the grocery store without worrying I'll miss a big hiccup.

I can tell you that I'm not normal right now. 

Nothing in our house is normal. I remember that feeling from when I was a kid and my dad got cancer. Another surgery and no one at home became the new normal for me back then. I was twelve, about Nick's age. We pretended to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas but did not really manage to look authentic. Nick had some of that freaky time alone while Mike was in the hospital. I told him that I was sorry that he had to grow up so fast while he was sick himself and having trouble breathing.

And having hallucinations.

Here's the other thing - I can't keep up with all the well-wishing and offers for help. I feel bad not calling people back sooner, not replying to all the Facebook notes. I can't think of things for helpful people to do. Can I really ask someone to wash the skylights over my bed so I can lie there looking at the stars at night while Mike breathes in and out next to me? I'm afraid to even open my mouth, people are so eager to help. They love Mike. Oh, I get that and I feel blessed by all this care. It comforts me to know people are praying for us.

They're praying for us. It must be really bad if they're praying for us and trying to bring us food. 

I never did press that 'help' button at the gas station. I don't know how long I stared at it. Time does strange things in an extended crisis. But even though I didn't press that button, help is all around me.

All I need to do is let it in.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 18, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On

How can I blog heartache and despair?

I think, at first, that I shouldn't.

My husband had chest pains yesterday. My son is having trouble with his breathing and is even having hallucinations from prednisone. I've been driving back and forth between them, never feeling right about either one being alone for too long. Mike is in the hospital. Nick is home from school, to sick to come with me. An angioplasty showed that Mike had a mild heart attack, that he had some damage. His heart is big and warm and today I watched it beat on an ultrasound machine. I felt as though I were watching a baby in the womb. That was Mike's heart. It was beating a solid rhythm. It's valves fluttered in syncopation. It was beautiful and I couldn't look away.

If it was so beautiful, why isn't it perfect? Why does it have to be damaged?

I am so damn tired. Tonight, I called the doctor because Nick is having hallucinations. The on-call operator's voice got louder and faster when I told said the word. Hallucinations. Her breathing changed. I could hear it over the phone.

Gees, lady. If I am going to keep this together, you must keep it together too.

Right now, my job is like that of the British while they were being bombed during WWII. Keep calm and carry on.

While I waited for the doctor to call me back, I paced in my pajamas in my kitchen. I tried to keep breathing deep slow breaths. It's minor, just small things he's seeing in his peripheral vision. I won't have to take him to the ER, will I? Will I?

WILL I?

I tried to keep breathing as texted my friend, a vet, and words flew back and forth between us while she looked it up for me. My hands shook. It usually goes away, she said. It's not common, she said, but the ER probably couldn't do anything about it anyway. A therapeutic cup of tea might help, she said. A boring documentary on TV. Sleep. I kept breathing, deep slow breaths.

Breathing sort of worked as I had to drive to the ER to meet Mike without crashing yesterday. It helped a lot to have a good friend in the car, a friend who helped distract me with chatter so I didn't think too much. Breathing sort of worked when I witnessed another collision on I-90 this morning, just through my passenger side window, as we all drove 60 miles an hour down the interstate. It sort of worked when Nick told me over the phone that his breathing wasn't so good and I was forty-five minutes away, sitting with Mike on his Stryker bed. Deep, slow breaths and contact with my friends in between. Keep calm and carry on.

The doctor finally called. He was calm. He said if it didn't come with a headache or personality changes or worsening symptoms, that I should keep Nick on the prednisone, that it was good that tomorrow was a smaller dose. Breathing has improved? Yes, breathing has improved. Nick should drink more fluids, get lots of rest, and I should call back if I need anything, anything at all. This doctor said he would be on call all weekend in case I needed him. My friends have said I could call or text any time in case I need them.

So, Nick will be okay. He needs peppermint tea and sleep. And I will be okay, just knowing I can call any time I need to call. There is someone waiting on the other end of the line.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

6:54 am on the Bus

I'm on the bus again, going to jury duty for the first time. I was surprised at the line of people waiting for this bus, surprised we all fit onto it. I wished that smelly guy had taken a shower this morning. 

People watching with music in my ears is amazing. It's so full, people have to stand. Some people read. Some wear earbuds. Some just sit and stare into the inner space in front of them. We share a destination, but not a common focus. I wish I could see book titles. Outside the window is a dark abstract of lights. We could be driving straight down into hell and I'd never know the difference. 

The guy across from me wears a dark blue suit, a line green shirt and a power tie.  He's young and has just gotten his hair cut. I want to wish him luck with his interview at Amazon. He has that applied look of self-confidence that freshouts try to adopt. I wonder if he believes it. Maybe by the time he's fifty-three, like I am, he'll have fewer answers. Maybe he'll have more a sense of the chaotic glory of it all. 

I'm listening to Jason Mraz on my iPhone. I love that with the new IOS system, I can wake up to my music. I'm going to keep it running as long as I can today before my battery sags. 

 It isn't even 7:00 am. This time, as I boarded the bus, I intentionally chose to sit in the crack, the part at the front of the trailer, surrounded by pleated plastic. I like how I'm between two places, in the part that moves, looking in  either direction at an angle, even folding up a bit as we go around corners. I wonder if I will also be in awe of the space between life and death when it comes along. 

Thank you for listening, JB

Saturday, October 12, 2013

When to Use a Flare

Some days, I'm just happy to get home to the sound of cows mooing on Minecraft. I'm good now. I have a tea latte and a new book. I'll let you know how it is.

A couple hours ago, I wasn't so comfortable.

Traffic was crawling across the I-90 bridge toward Seattle. I was worried that I was running out of time to get my errands done before Nick's friend dropped by for the afternoon. I needed to pick up patches from the Scout shop, to get gas, and to stop for groceries. We were seriously low on people fuel. Speed on the road was starting to pick up and I was almost to my exit.

The car in front of me suddenly popped up, went on two wheels, dropped back down, and dragged its carcass, spitting sparks along the asphalt, before coming to a stop on the shoulder just inside the tunnel. I needed to hit the brakes, but it wasn't a hard stop. Shards of hard plastic, bolts, and a section of bumper bounced to a stop around me.

I drove past the maimed car, wondering if shrapnel would puncture my tires. The front driver's side corner of the broken car was smashed flat. I hadn't seen what made it flat. How had I missed that? I pulled over ahead of the car. Another car sat askew beyond me in the center lane.

Should I get out of my car on an interstate? Could I get hit by oncoming traffic? Damn straight, I could. I'd seen videos.

Actually, things had slowed to a crawl. I looked back to check traffic and gingerly got out of my car. Grit and cold wind hit my face. I walked back to the flattened car. A woman sat, stunned, in the driver's seat, her air bag still deflating.

"Are you okay?" I asked. She didn't answer me, but opened her door. Smoke was coming out from under the dashboard.

"Can you stand up? I asked. She held her hands up to me and nodded her head. She grabbed my arms, making me stagger, as she stood up. I wondered if I were making a huge mistake. She could have a neck or back injury. Should she stay put?

The smoke wafted up around her as she pulled herself out of her car.

"We need to move away from your car," I said. "It's smoking."

We walked a few steps, then she burst into tears. I hugged her as she cried, but didn't squeeze her too tightly in case I was hugging a woman with a spinal cord injury. I drew her away from her car and leaned her against a concrete barrier.

"Did you call 911?" I asked her.

"I want to call my husband," she said. Her hands were shaking too much for her to use her phone. I knew it wasn't essential to our safety, but it was what she wanted to do. I took out my phone and asked for her number. I typed in the number she gave me and when voicemail answered, I left the beginning of a message.

"Hi. I'm with your wife. She's okay, but she was in an accident. I think she needs to get checked out at the hospital, but I think she's mostly okay."

Then I handed the phone to her.

"Honey, I'm okay," she said and burst into tears again. I patted her shoulder as she talked, turning, as the driver of the other car walked back to join us. He was talking, not yelling. Thankfully, everyone was in the mode of checking if people were okay rather than hurling blame. The man was Asian and in the tunnel's wind, I couldn't understand him. I walked away from the woman who was still talking and crying on my phone.

"Did you call 911?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said, but when he went on talking, I couldn't understand what he was saying. I nodded and smiled. I even patted his shoulder. A woman and a child joined him. The little girl, maybe five or six years old, was shivering, her eyes wide.

"You should move your car off to the side if you can," I told the man. He nodded his head, but I realize he didn't understand a thing I was saying either. He walked away, crossed traffic, and got back into his car. But then he came back and the car was still in place, in the middle lane. He had a tiny pink flowered raincoat in his hands.

I went to my car to get my flares out. The little black box held three intact flares. I read the instructions to try to figure out how to light one. I handed one to the Asian man. He took it and handed the rain coat to the woman. He had no more luck than I did. Traffic was speeding up around us. I wanted it slowed. In between fumbling with the stupid flares, banging, scraping, and rereading the instructions, I held out my flat palm to signal the drivers, hoping they'd slow down. They didn't.

What good are flares if I don't know how to use them?

The man handed me the useless flare and helped his wife put the raincoat on the little girl. He pulled up the hood. I could imagine how that felt, still cold in this wind. Her dad picked her up, trying to shield her.

I walked back to my car and got a wool blanket out of the back. I wrapped the little girl in it and he smiled at me, tucking in the corner around her shoulder. She folded her head against his chest.

"Is she okay?" I asked.

"She's scared," he said. Finally, I understood.

The woman walked back to me and gave me my phone. Her hands were ice cold and still shaking.

"Do you feel okay?" I asked her.

"My chest hurts. The airbag hit me here," she said as she tapped her sternum. She looked wobbly. I went back to my car and got Teddy's fleece blanket out of the back. It was furry, embarrassingly so, but I shook it out as best as I could and wrapped it around the woman. I wondered if I should I have her lie down, but I knew she wouldn't stay there. She paced a little and burst into tears again. I hugged her and patted her shoulder.

"It's going to be okay. Did you call 911? I asked.

The Asian man waved toward the traffic behind us. Red lights flashed in the distance, near Mercer Island.

"They're coming," he said.  I could understand that. We made a strange tableau as we stood in the wind, looking for the lights to arrive.

It was a DOT tow truck.

"I'm going to go call 911," I said. "I'm not sure if anyone called."

I walked past the broken, smoldering car out of the tunnel where it wasn't as noisy. For half the conversation, I could talk into the phone, but heard only a little of what the dispatch woman said. She couldn't figure out where we were. Finally, I heard her say clearly, "If you sit in your car, I might be able to hear you."

I walked to my car, got in, and tried to explain that we were on I-90 going toward Seattle just before the Rainier Avenue exit.

"Northbound or southbound?"

"We're on I-90," I said.

"Which tunnel?" she said.

"I don't know. We're heading toward Seattle between Mercer Island and Rainier Avenue," I repeated. I finally got down to the woman's symptoms.

"She says her chest hurts. Her airbag deployed."

"How old is she?"

"I don't know, maybe forty," I said, wondering what that had to do with airbags.

"Make sure you keep her still," she said. I wanted to tell her that the woman was wandering around the accident site while I talked on the phone, but I didn't. I was still stunned by the question about going northbound on I-90.

Finally, a fire truck and an ambulance arrived. I could let these people take over. An EMT took the injured woman into the aid car. I ended up describing what I could of the accident that I didn't really see to a police officer. How is it that these guys are always good looking? Then, I got into my car, crunched debris as I drove across the closed lane, and drove off when the officer halted traffic in a lane for my exit.

My hands felt shaky on the wheel. I took the Rainier exit, knowing I had no time left before Nick's friends arrived to make any stops. It was just as well. I turned back onto I-90 going the opposite direction as two ambulances raced past me. When I exited the tunnel, there were two fire trucks and two ambulances at the scene, two more ambulances weaving through backed up traffic on the accident side, and the two ambulances traveling wildly down my side of the interstate with no hope of getting to the scene.

So, basically, I got into my car this morning to get almost to Seattle so I could help these people after their accident, then had just enough time to turn around and come home. Did you ever get the feeling that you're intended to do something entirely different than you had planned?

On the way home, I left a message for Mike, called Nick at home, and then called Nick's friend's dad. I told all of them what had happened and that I was going to be home, but not quite prepared for our event. Snacks would have to be scrounged. It was a relief to be able to tell Nick the details. He got really interested when I tried to describe the flares and told me the woman was probably in shock and that I should have gotten her to lie down on the blanket and given her my jacket. I don't think he knows how hard it is to lie down when you're pumped up with adrenaline, especially around strangers and by the side of the road. Still, hearing his voice calmed me down.

When I got off I-90, I felt some relief and there was more, much more, when I drove into my driveway and stopped the car safely.

I'm going to have to get Mike to show me how to use a stupid flare.

Thank you for listening, jb

P.S. My Dove candy fortune just told me: 'You are exactly where you are supposed to be.' Funny message, huh?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Riding the Bus

I'm sitting in the crack on the bus, going to Seattle. You know what I mean, that place between the butt of the main part of the bus and the nose of the tag-along section. I didn't notice when I sat down. It's extra bumpy and I'm a little bit sick, though the loud music on my iPod seems to be helping, or making the trip a little more surreal. I'm not sure which.

If we're in an accident, I'll be trapped in twisted accordion plastic and my backpack will fall through to the asphalt. 

I'm practicing using the bus because next week, when it's 6:30 am and I need to be there at 7:45 am, I want to know what I'm doing. I am not quite a city person. When I lived near New York City, I got into the habit of driving in instead of using the subway or the train. I was addicted to my car. The aggressive driving didn't bother me, but parking was a bitch. So this is my indoctrination to riding a city bus. 

Most people wouldn't have this luxury, the time to get on the bus in a day when they have all day to figure out what they did wrong. Most people would struggle with it at 6:20 am on the day of jury duty. 

People on this bus look bored. I think it's fun. I haven't ridden the bus much. Before I had my driver's license, I used to walk a half mile to the highway and catch a bus to town there. Then I could walk all over before I went home. That was a simple small-town bus. This is city life. 

I smiled at the small Asian woman across from me in the crack. She's using a cane and I wondered how she managed. She looked away quickly and grabbed ahold of her backpack more tightly. 

This is a study in people not making eye contact. The lake is fogged in and we're in the netherworld. The guy across from me is alive, talking into his earbuds and making fleeting eye contact. I wonder if I look crazy. I'm in my usual uniform, blue jeans, tshirt, fleece vest, hoodie, bright red rain coat that can be seen from space, and my hiking boots. I carry my backpack. Most of these people wear jeans, sneakers, Goretex, and backpacks. I guess I look okay. 

We're in Seattle. That was quick! Before she got off at the International District, the small Asian woman looked up and gave me a quick smile. 

Now, I just have to get off at the right stop. Should be easy, but .....

My mappy thing on my iPhone doesn't work down here in the tunnels. Crap! And the eye contact thing stops me from asking a friendly question.   At least the recorded messages say things like "Seattle Public Library, Seattle Art Museum ."


When I got to street level, I knew not to stand there looking disoriented. A lady with a grocery cart started walking toward me and I moved more quickly and made a U-turn. It was the right direction. For a minute, I put my back against the foyer window of a MacDonalds while my iPhone told me where I was and calculated the destination to the courthouse, walking. Life is so much easier having the mappy thing on my iPhone. 

No problem. Five minutes later, I was at the security checkpoint at the courthouse where the nice but bemused security guy told me I couldn't bring liquids into the building. I wonder if they'll let me have my three ounces on Tuesday? 

So now, I'm at my true destination - Starbucks. 




I might wander around and look for a bookstore, but that might be futile and old fashioned. 

I'll let you know if I have trouble getting home. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, October 7, 2013

Shut Down

Don't mind me.

I've decided to have a shutdown too. How's that working?

Thank you for listening, jb


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Broken

My dog is broken. Here's the story.

I awoke at 1:43 am after nearly five hours of sleep, my usual maximum before I magically wake. The cat was settling himself onto the expensive pillow he'd adopted on the bed. I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. I suspect that the cat was somehow responsible for the fact that I was awake yet again, but I have no proof.

I rolled to one side and picked up my Nook in the dark. I can now operate the button for it so that the little light comes on without my having to turn on the bedside lamp. This is a good thing. Sometimes I can lie there and read for a while until my eyes go unfocused and I can go back to sleep.

Tonight, no dice.

I rolled to my other side to see if that was the magical position. Three more of the very short chapters evolved. I'm reading 'Fat Girls and Lawn Chairs' by Cheryl Peck. I mostly like the book, though her nicknames for her sisters is confusing. It's cute, at first, but there are too many 'Wee' combinations to keep clear. Still, I like her description of her attempt at softball and the sister in labor is pretty interesting too.

Oh, I'm sorry. This book rates more than a 'pretty interesting,' but you've got to remember that it's 3:38 in the morning and there's a slab of roast beef on the floor beside me. I just might not reach a high level of intellectual prowess at this point.

As I tried to keep quiet in my bed, I realized that my eyes weren't going unfocused. I eyed the bottle of melatonin in the glow of my Nook and wondered how many pills it took to overdose on them. Two? Separated by five hours? I wasn't ready to die, not just yet.

Eventually, I began to go unfocused and I put my Nook on the shelf and snuggled deeper into the covers. Ah, I could sense heaven, almost within reach.

Until my stomach rumbled and my leg cramped up, threatening a Charley horse.

Who was the first person to name this cramp a Charley horse? Well, I looked it up. It's named after some guy named Charley, a guy who had these cramps. Duh. In Sweden, it's called a 'thigh cookie' and in Southern Italy, a 'donkey's bite.' Good one. In the UK, it's called a 'dead leg' and in Australia, a 'corked thigh.' These are all funny terms for a cramp, but I know I was never going to get to sleep with this thing twitching and threatening the real thing, the seizure of the muscle that would send me leaping vertically out of bed, usually screaming and waking the entire household.

With heaven still within sight, I knew I'd have to leave my warm bed to walk in the dark to the kitchen, usually stepping on wayward Legos or soggy rawhide treats and occasionally banging my shin or toe on some piece of furniture that hasn't been moved this century but I still didn't know where it is in the dark. I turned on the light in the kitchen, blinking in my sudden white-blindness, and blended some of that fizzy stuff that makes the Charley horse go away, the stuff that replenishes my magnesium and potassium. Oh, my writing prowess at 4:01 in the morning is prodigious, isn't it?

Sorry.

So, while I was mixing up my concoction, I figured I'd see if I could take care of the other little cramp. I can never go back to sleep when I'm hungry.

Roast beef. Swiss cheese. Mayo.

It was like having a sandwich, but without all the carbs, quick and neat, as long as I misaligned the holes in the cheese, and it tasted so good.

Suddenly, the dog was at my side, loyal dog that he is. It's good to have a companion in the wee hours. He looked intently into my eyes. Are all dogs hypnotists? Telekinetic geniuses? I was suddenly imbued with the impulse to give my roast beef to him. It was a strong impulse.

Usually, I only tear the yucky parts off my roast beef for him, but it was the middle of the night and this sweet, loyal dog was there with me every night, understanding insomnia and only occasionally groaning because the light was too bright.

It was the last of the roast beef, but I could spare a single slice, couldn't I?

I could. I dropped it into his bowl and heard the satisfying ping as it landed.

I went on to devour my snack, switched off the light, and was headed back to bed in the dark when I stepped on something cold and slimy. Yuck. What the hell was that? I reached for the light switch.

Roast beef.

The crazy dog had left his slice of roast beef on the living room carpet. What the hell was wrong with that dog? Was he suddenly sick after cheerfully begging for half of my snack? I knew he was picky, but this? Leaving roast beef for something better? Really?

My stomach grumbled again.

How old was that roast beef? Just a week. That wasn't too long, was it?

It had smelled okay. Did the dog smell something I couldn't? Was I about to suffer the effects of listeria? Botulism? Salmonella? Ebola? My back began to itch. Was that the first symptom?

Great. I got a dog that was smart enough to know when food had just begun to turn, but still wasn't smart enough to tell me so.

Either that or he's broken.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, September 27, 2013

Keeping an Environmentally-Friendly House

I didn't go anywhere today. So, what do I tell you about when I didn't go anywhere today?

I admit that I drove my boy to school.

Yes, I took him to school in my pajamas. Guess I haven't learned anything, except that, this time, I didn't get out of the car.

After that, I went back to sleep for a little while. It was great! I got nothing done. I didn't clean up after my boy. I didn't clean up after my husband. I didn't clean up after any Boy Scouts.

I've gotten to be the Boy Scout merry maid lately. I clean up after them. I cleaned out a moldy bundt pan from a spring camporee a couple of weeks ago. I tried to wash it. I really did. But I could not redeem that pan. It was never going to be the same.

Last week, I looked through Mike's camping crates and found my vanilla. I had scrapped plans to make cookies and had to put vanilla on my list. Two days later, after I'd gotten more at the store, I found my half-used bottle. Now I have one and a half bottles of vanilla. And I found a couple of containers with old food in them. I could no longer identify what the food had been. I want to ask my husband, the Scoutmaster, 'Can't you just unpack the yucky stuff when you get home?'

I also have two an a half pounds of extra butter I need to figure out how to use. What recipe can you come up with that calls for two and a half pounds of butter and three-quarters of a cup of vanilla? Last weekend's popcorn never got its melted butter since the cooler housing the eight sticks happened to be up at camp while I struggled in a commercial kitchen to make popcorn the way I do in my own kitchen. No container smaller than five gallons existed there. No pot holders! Thankfully, I had three macho Boy Scout men who wadded up aprons they'd never be seen wearing and shook the ten-gallon stock pots as oil and kernels sizzled then popped. I never would have been able to do all that by myself unless we'd arrived an hour ahead and I'd been alone in the kitchen popping one stock pot of popcorn at a time. I doubt I'd have had time to melt the butter and put it all on while it was still hot. Nobody likes cold popcorn soggy with butter, so I imagine it worked out okay. All but two of the popcorn bags were claimed and the macho guys and I had a kitchen party while we popped and shook and scooped and spilled popcorn. I had never been so popular in real life.

Okay, so that was fun. Guess I'm not just the Boy Scout merry maid. And a couple of weekends ago, Mike and I paddled our canoe while the boys floated inner tubes in the cold water down the Snoqualmie river. I love that the Snoqualmie river is more challenging in a canoe than in a floaty tube. There were a couple of riffles that made me happy, standing waves nearly crashing over the bow of the canoe. I barely noticed that the gravel on the bottom of the canoe was grinding into my knees while we paddled those rapids.

There's so much satisfaction in finding the right route through the water.

So, no. I'm not just a cleaner bee for the Boy Scouts. I need to remember that.

Still, the fact that Mike's Dutch ovens are pitted and need to be completely reseasoned makes me feel a little aggravated since I already had to reseason one of them last spring after it came home with crap still in it, crap that made the whole thing smell like my mother's vegetable drawer. Have I ever told you about my mother's vegetable drawer? Let's just say that it's contents seemed forever to have to be poured onto the compost pile. Don't imagine that smell. Just don't.

I'm procrastinating around my own house, let alone Boy Scout duties. The carpet is furry. Bed sheets are mangled and damp. The lawn is too wet to mow, but its blooming weeds needs to be deadheaded. Leaves have fallen in a slick the truck skids on as it comes around the corner of the driveway. Gutters are clogged. Windows host spider webs, thankfully on the outside. Yet I do have a couple of cobwebs if I look for them. Dust? What dust. Those are star particles. It would be sacrosanct to brush them away, wouldn't it?

Can I say I'm protecting the environment when I only wash the car twice a year? What about saving the planet by not buying new flooring or painting the house? I put fewer household cleaners down the drain than most women do! My leaves compost naturally and bring nutrients back into the soil. I allow nature to take it's course, killing thousands of pesky mosquitoes and flies by leaving the spider's webs alone. Don't I get kudos for that?

I'm not a bad housekeeper. I'm an environmentalist!

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bed Head and Ratty Old Furry Clogs

It's been a strange day, one whose entire outcome has hinged on a single impulse. Early this morning, despite the fact I was still in my pajamas and wearing my furry clogs, I took the boys to school.

That, by itself, wouldn't have been memorable. Lots of moms like me drop their kids off in their pajamas and cozy clogs, all the while lecturing their kids never to leave the house wearing anything less than they could manage comfortably should they need to walk the five miles home in a thunderstorm. I know you've said it yourself. You know, those mornings when your boy puts on shorts and flip flops and it's only forty three degrees on the outside thermometer.  You may, like me, lecture your child about hypothermia half way to school before you get distracted by your next thought and the kids are grateful that you've interrupted yourself yet again.

"I'm going to work in the library before school on Mondays, so we'll have to leave ten minutes early those days," I said, planning to change the tack of the lecture to promptness. Both boys have been five minutes late since the beginning of school though they still have time to get into class on time after I drop them off.

"Why don't you go in today, Mom?" Nick asked. Nick was asking me to go in to school, to middle school, where he hangs out, to appear, in public, where his friends just might happen to see me. Wow. That is so sweet!

"You wouldn't be embarrassed by having me there?" I asked gesturing at my attire, baggy black shorts, a ratty long-sleeved Tshirt, an oversized fleece jacket, and my furry clogs. I love my furry clogs, but they aren't intended for spectators.

"No, you'd be standing behind the counter at the library anyway," Adrian chipped in. "Who would see?"

"You sure?" I asked.

"My hair isn't too bad?" I asked.

"Not too bad," Nick said. Yet, he'd hesitated for a half a millisecond and I could tell by this that it was probably smashed flat in the back and puffy on one side.

I swear. I did not hear them sniggering in the back seat. They sounded forthright and enthusiastic.

"Well, okay," I said, timidly. I am seldom timid.

And thus it began. I spent the first ten minutes in the library all by myself and when three kids finally came in to return a half a dozen books, I was safely ensconced behind the counter. Even the flat spot in my hair was safely hidden behind me.

'Wow, this really was worth coming in for,' I thought to myself when the fourth kid came in and asked if he could use the computer for his homework. Then, because the bell rang and the last student ran out, I decided to make myself useful for just a few minutes more by putting the books back onto the shelves. As I usually do, I got engrossed in rearranging the misplaced books and didn't notice the next person to come into the library.

It was the Chair of the PTSA. She wore a casual grey skirt, a lighter gray blouse that could have been silk, and a stunning red sweater. Cashmere, maybe? Her shoes were black ballet flats.

And I stood there, deer in the headlights, in my pajamas, bed head, and furry clogs.

She walked right over to me. She's nice. She really is. I tried to seem nonchalant while she chatted about her upcoming meeting. I helped her put tablecloths on the table while we chatted. I tried to stay on the opposite side of the table, hoping she wouldn't see my lumpy legs, the back of my head, and my ratty, furry clogs.

"I've got to get out of here before that starts," I said. "I only intended to be here for twenty minutes this morning."

She smiled.

"It's so great that you're here," she said. "It helps just to have someone to bounce my ideas off while I try to get organized." We put muffins and croissants on a platter.

"I should make a sign-up sheet for the volunteers," she said. I scurried back behind the library counter and made up a sign-up sheet on the computer using Word. I was behind the counter again.

"That is perfect," she said. "Could you make one with two columns for the Music Boosters? You know you're totally saving me here," she said, smiling again. I know that the sweetest, most charming people make the best PTSA leaders because I really wanted to help her after hearing her say that. For a moment, I forgot my wretched state of being until I smelled her gentle perfume wafting over my shoulder.

Then the head of the library volunteers walked in and the three of us began to discuss the art contest and how we could best help the parents of the new students get acclimated. She was wearing a pink polo shirt and a white cardigan with twill pants and a kicky pair of brown leather ankle boots. I checked in a couple more returned books and found some tape to put up the volunteer lists.

By the time I was done helping, people started filtering in. I tried to ignore what I was wearing and I went up to all of the people I knew, which was a little more than half of them. Were people going to notice that I was wearing my pajamas? It's not like they were pink with fluffy clouds and sheep on them. Could a smile be my camouflage?

No, it couldn't. It was totally the problem of the flat, slightly greasy hair and the ratty old furry clogs.

So, then, I started working it into the conversation, how I'd left the house never intending to be seen, and ended up here, at a PTSA meeting in my pajamas. People laughed politely. My friends laughed a little harder than they should have, considering my feelings, but I forgave them because they know me. They know I'm never perfect. They know the predicaments I get myself into.

Then, about when my helpfulness was winding down and I thought I could slip out, a line of children came through the door with the new music teacher. She deftly rounded everyone up and sat us down inside a circle of children. I could not escape now.

Then, the children began to sing. It was a Taylor Swift song, 'Everything Has Changed.' Their voices were pure and high. They smiled at us as they sang. I had known many of these kids for years and my eyes filled with tears at their sincerity and the beauty of their voices. My nose began to run and I didn't have a tissue, so I sniffed. Loudly.

Then I remembered my condition. I tried to hide my varicose veins under the table, but by then, a half a dozen kids and the teacher were focused on me and my emotional state as they sang. I was not going to be able to explain to them that I only intended to be in the library for twenty minutes before school started and I hadn't intentionally dressed this way.

And then, I noticed the principal, standing proudly behind me, on the same side of the table as my pasty-colored legs and my ratty old muddy furry clogs. He was wearing a crisp grey dress shirt, new blue jeans, bright white tennis shoes, and a shiny silver silk tie. He looked as though he'd just gotten a hair cut. He seemed to be staring at the back of my head as I turned around and his eyes, ever so briefly, flitted onto my muddy, old, ratty, furry clogs.

When he looked up to my face to say 'hello' he was smiling politely, but underneath it was something else. He didn't know me so well to laugh the way my friends had, but it was there, the way the corner of his mouth twitched just a bit and the corner of his eyes crinkled.

Too much of a gentleman to let it slip out, he said, "Good morning Mrs. Holloway. How are you today?"

"I'm just fine," I said, knowing there was no sense in trying to explain my condition, the runny nose, the bed head, the pajamas, my ratty old furry clogs, and all.

Thank you for listening, jb