Saturday, June 29, 2013

Trust and Mortality

Mike is backpacking with his Boy Scouts this weekend. I ended up arranging a play date for Nick so I could go to my quilt retreat. Nick is almost ready for a trip like this. Almost. Mike, the Scoutmaster, made the decision. I might have let him go. Mike is being cautious with a couple of the younger boys in the troop. He said that they might be ready next year.

So, I left home this morning before Nick was picked up and I came back after he was dropped off. Mike and I were worried if it would be too much for him, but I found that I could enjoy myself as I sewed and not worry too much. Last week, Mike didn't help when he had reminded me that there would be no cell service where he was and that my retreat was more than an hour away. I went anyway, knowing that Nick had been alone longer, though not twice in one day. Still, I sighed in relief when I walked up the stairs and Nick sat eating a snack and watching TV, a bit of sun on his cheeks as the evidence of having gone to the pool. Half my family was home safe.

I was about as relaxed about this trip as I'd been until one of the moms called and said there was a squall going through Eastern Washington and that they'd called for flash floods and lightning. I took a deep breath.

"Don't worry. It's great terrain for lightning. The ridge is almost always higher than the trail." I lived through lots of lightning growing up in the Midwest and the biggest problem when you were stuck outside in a thunderstorm was finding low ground. Lightning takes the path of least resistance, strikes the tallest tree.

"But it's a bad storm," she said.

"I've been with Mike in thunderstorms out in the woods. He knows to hunker down low and wait it out," I said.

"I'm in Eastern Washington now and this thing is powerful. There's a flash flood warning."

"You know, I watched how Mike handled a rough river crossing once too. He was great. The water was swift and cold and they lined all of us across very carefully. Besides, the Troop did the river crossing early this morning. They're at higher ground now. It'll be okay."

"I tried to call him and couldn't get through."

"There's no cell service in the area. It'll be okay. Mike's with Tony and Paul. Between them, they have a lot of experience being out in the weather." Paul was a hunter and Tony had been in the Army. And Mike's been in the woods. I thought of the wind storm at World's End State Park in Pennsylvania. I thought of a lightning storm we'd experienced in our tents one night in the Adirondacks.

"I've been out with Mike in a thunderstorm on a lake in the Boundary waters with wind making waves that crashed over the bow of the canoe and a four year old in between us. We got out of it. He's pretty good in a bad situation."

"Maybe the troop should buy one of those satellite phones so stuff like this won't happen."

I gave up trying to convince her. I told myself to stay calm. I'd seen Mike in much worse situations than what she was describing. Mike was the one I wanted to be around when stuff fell apart. I could feel myself wavering about his safety though. Just a little waver.

"If you want me to take Nick and head up there, I will." I trailed off. What was I going to do that Mike couldn't decide for himself? Mike might not have an advance warning, but he'd see it when it arrived. Even if I did get there, I'd have a late evening hike with a tired boy who already wasn't quite up to the hike. If water was rising in the river, I didn't want to take my boy across it in the dark. There's an important element of offering aid and that is to assess the safety of even trying to help. If one man is stranded on an island in the middle of the river, there's no sense in adding another so that two will then have to be rescued.

I ran through an attempt to text Mike while she listened to my message. I knew it wouldn't go through. I told her I'd call her if I heard from him.

"At any hour," she said.

"At any hour," I repeated. I felt a little twinge of worry in my gut. Mike has never been in a flash flood that I know of. When I was nine and on a trip west with my family, my dad had pulled off the road at a rise in the desert when it rained. We watched as desert flowers blossomed on the spot. It was a miracle to see. We also watched as a rush of water pushed debris over the highway in a gully to one side of us. It was a miracle we hadn't been caught up in it.

"You know, Mike has no trouble ending a trip if there's a problem," I said. I was thinking about that same trip when Nick was four and we paddled in the Boundary Waters. His mosquito bites were swelling up and we couldn't control them with antihistamine. We didn't want to have a half a day of paddling with a boy going into anaphylaxis. "Remember that he brought the Troop home early from winter camp when he thought Jake might be getting frostbite?"

"Okay. Just call me if you hear from him." She wasn't convinced. I could hear it in her voice.

I get it. It's hard to let your kids go into the wilderness, even prepared. There are no guarantees. None. I think people forget that there are no guarantees on the way to the grocery store either, but we get comfortable. We feel safer there.

Yet if I were to tell you when I was most proud of myself, it would be when I was canoeing or backpacking out in the middle of the wilderness, carrying my share of the gear, paddling or walking when I thought I was too tired to keep moving forward, learning to handle bears and wind and lightning and even the thought of escaped convicts in the woods. I learned who I could trust in a bad situation. I trusted Mike.

I repeated that I'd call her and she finally said goodbye. Before I sat back down with Nick, I checked the Weather Channel. I could see the squall she'd talked about. It was southeast of where the guys were. It was moving, but would be likely to be moving further away from them. The weather where they were was seventy-four degrees with zero chance of rain. That might not be totally accurate, but I pictured Mike and the rest of the guys sitting around a campfire on a clear night and telling stories even though I knew it might not be true.

Oh, they could be hunkered down in their tents listening to the wind and watching the trees lit up with lightning. They might not feel perfectly safe in the world. And that, in itself, is worth something.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Walk to the Middle of Nowhere

After I dropped the boys off at laser tag camp, I decided to check out the Snoqualmie Valley Trail north of Carnation. Last week, Mike, Nick, and I had biked to the highway crossing but turned around since it was dinner time and we were hungry.

It's a rare summer day that I have until noon to noodle around in the middle of nowhere on my own. Well, I wasn't on my own. I was with Teddy and he needed a walk. I figured since he got to run with the dogs at Marymoor yesterday, today, I got to go some distance. We trade off that way.

First, I figured I'd stop at Sandy's Espresso, but I decided to stop afterward instead since Teddy would be restless and might not let me enjoy their deck. Plenty of time for that later. So, I parked at the highway crossing. There was a van parked there and it looked pretty ratty, so I grabbed my wallet and a pepper spray and opened my backpack in the front seat so people could see it only had junk inside. Might save me a broken window someday.

Before we'd walked a mile, we met a man walking his dog, a pit bull. I just love their faces since our last dog was half pit. This big dog just wanted to play with Teddy, but the man said he couldn't let him off leash because he chased deer and it was hard to get him to come back.

Oh, I can see cobwebs in the corners of my windows. I really need to clear them out, but I need to relax for a bit first. I hate cleaning in the summer time. It's a waste of good daylight.

So I went further along the trail. That section, running between corn fields, reminded me of walking around in Southern Indiana when I was a kid. I used to head out the back door, cut through the Boy Scout woods and ramble along railroad tracks and through corn fields until I got thirsty and lost. This area was even flat, hot, and muggy to cap it off. It made me a little homesick.

It wasn't long before I got to the swampy section of the trail. Oh, the trail was high and dry. You get a nice clean walk when you're on an old railroad line. But the view was all swamp land. It might have been buggy at a different time of the day. Reeds, flat water red with tannin, and a bull frog bellowing made me start looking more closely. I came across a beaver lodge. There were signs of wildlife all around me.

Mike has a requirement for the Boy Scouts where they have to take a walk and look for ten signs of wildlife. The day he did it, he was at Camp Pigott. The signs of life there were screaming boys and leaders chasing after them. I think they found coyote scat, but it was pretty sparse in camp. Mike said they got up to six.  I've been counting evidence of wildlife ever since.

At the Three Forks Off Leash area, there are elk prints, elk beds, fur that had been shed in the spring, and even scraped bark on some trees. All this was from elk.

On this trail, I'd found scat full of berries that I assumed was bear. You know what happens when you assume. There was a beaver dam and a lodge. Plus, there were birds everywhere, singing in the trees, teasing Buddy by hopping just ahead of him on the trail. And don't forget the sounds of the bull frogs. That's six without even trying.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any more abundant, a pair of calling ospreys got my attention. One of them flew carrying a writhing snake! When it neared a tall tree, the calling multiplied. Lunch for the fledglings.

At that point, I'd walked almost two miles, so I figured I'd turn around up at that next curve where I thought I saw posts. I wondered if I'd walked as far as Stillwater. I tried to see on my little iPhone map, but I couldn't tell. Maybe the posts would tell me.

There was nothing at the posts, just a place where a driveway crossed the easement.

But just beyond where I stood, a truck sat in the middle of a field of tall grass. It had a canoe on top. Was there a put-in near here?

I marched right up to a guy, in the middle of a field a few miles from nowhere, because he had a canoe on his truck. As I got closer, I realized he was wearing a uniform. Crap! I hadn't bothered to put my dog on his leash.

You know, these people are not out there to get us. They really aren't.  When I asked if I could take a picture of his canoe to send to my husband at work, he laughed.  He introduced himself as Brian or Chris. I can't quite remember. He worked for King County Fish and Wildlife. What a job! He gets paid to come check out different sites and he said he was on his way to check on the mating pair of loons at the Tolt reservoir. He told me there were only fifteen pair in the state of Washington. That's horrible!

This guy was happy to talk. Really, he was educating me. I love that. I asked him how much I'd have to worry if I see a cougar. He said not much, that they hunt beaver. I asked him if coyote ever pack up against a walker and her dog. Not much, he said again.

You know, after all the people who have told me to look out for the cougar or the coyotes, it's a relief to hear from an expert that I can walk freely. I still have to watch out for crazy people, but I can relax about the cougars. See, I have never seen a cougar in all the years I've been hiking. I've seen plenty of bear. I know how to handle seeing a bear. If I make enough noise, the bear will go the other direction. It turns out that works for both coyote and cougar too. Good to know.

This guy was quite diplomatic when he said what size person might begin to worry. My size, he said, holding his hand to his forehead, indicating his height. I noticed that I was pretty much the same size he was, though shorter. Who taught him that? Nice guy. He said that someone who was only a hundred pounds or less might have to think twice if they were walking alone, but that generally, most of our predators will leave humans alone. He said that small kids who were unattended might be at risk, but not all that much.

I've wondered why that is. How do they know we're not as strong as they are? If they eat meat, why don't they see us as meat?

Being human is a pretty powerful totem. All I have to do is be human and the animals recognize me as a predator. I don't feel like a predator. Yet, I probably smell like I eat meat. I noticed, once, that a group of guys I worked with from India smelled very different than most people I'd been around. Then, we ate at an Indian restaurant. Curry. These guys smelled of curry. So, to a cougar, I probably smell like rooibus tea, roasted chicken, greens, and ground beef. Yup. I smell like a predator.

I talked to this fish and wildlife guy for a while. It turned out that he was from Indiana! He even went to the same college I did, though he studied wildlife conservation and I'm not sure he was even born by the time I was graduating. What a coincidence, to meet someone out in a field in the middle of nowhere who was from my state, from my college too.

The coolest thing was that he told me that the scat I'd seen, the one full of berries, was from coyote and not bear. He said that bear scat would be much larger and they usually eat their berries in the fall. He told me the coyotes eat berries this time of year. You don't picture coyotes eating berries, do you?

I could have let the guy talk and talk. I wanted to tell him about all the places Mike and I had seen loon from our canoe, that it made me sad and a little mad that there were only fifteen mating pair in our state. No wonder I hadn't seen them here. He said they used to range all the way down to Mount Shasta in California. He told me that it was true that they couldn't walk very well and as he described their migration patterns, he called them puddle-jumpers. He said he was building platforms for their nests that would raise and lower with the reservoir so they didn't get stranded when the water level dropped.

In the meantime, Teddy stopped leaning against him, walked in a circle for a bit, and laid down in the tall grass and sighed. He wasn't in the least bored. This was a great place, full of rodents and birds and friendly people. I'm sure he smelled the coyotes, the beaver, the osprey, and even the snakes.

I made my goodbyes, thanked this teacher for the details, shook his hand, and headed back in the direction of my car.

All this on a walk to the middle of nowhere.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, June 24, 2013

On the Phone with Mr. Dell

I'm on the phone, trying to get my computer fixed for the third time. The last time they were here, they fixed the hard drive but broke the hinge holding one side of the screen up. The guy didn't seem to be manhandling it, but still, I hate when someone breaks something and says that the product is crappy and that's why it broke. Admit it, dude. You broke my computer. I will tell you that Dell has been really good about working with me on these repairs. Of all the outsourced employees that I've worked with, these people are easiest. The last time, I got to joking with the guy on the phone and realized that he didn't quite understand my jokes, but he did well with the technology. I think I'm on the phone with the same guy now. He's thorough and he understands my computer and my ineptitude with my computer. I like that.

So, here's a question for you - the neighbor kid left his sandwich and his water at my house when he came over to go to laser tag camp this morning. When I get off the phone with Dell, do I go back and bring it to him? Do I rescue him from his own mistakes?

I'm working on three and a half hours of sleep here. I honestly don't know. A twelve year old boy might tell you that he'd starve to death if he didn't eat before noon. A fifty-three year old insomniac might tell you that she'd die of fatigue if she didn't sleep before noon. It's a toss up.

I know I'm not supposed to be typing while I'm on the phone with the Dell guy, but I'm spending half my time waiting while he does his thing. Is that rude of me? I suppose if I kept typing while he was asking me to perform some operation or if I didn't pay attention to what he was saying, it might be worse, but still. Do I have enough time to just sit and stare out the window while I wait?

That's a good question. Does Miss Manners have etiquette recommendations for computer use during a phone conversation? What about doing dishes? I always do a load of dishes when I'm just chatting. Is that rude? I'm sure you can hear it clanking in the background. The alternative is to get off the phone sooner and get to it. Who has time to sit and stare out the window any more?

Well, now I'm off the phone with Mr. Dell. He did a good job. He was patient. He was thorough. He was kind. What more can a customer ask?

Thanks for listening, jb


Saturday, June 22, 2013

No Effort Camping

This is what you call 'no effort camping.' On Sunday, Nick, Mike, and I hiked five miles, did a river crossing on a log, and got caught out in a thunderstorm. On Monday, Nick and a friend took their scooters out for a four and a half mile run while I walked slowly behind them. On Tuesday, Nick and I took another friend out to a tennis court to noodle around. This friend had never played tennis. Just baseball. He made quite a few home runs. I need to pick up more tennis balls next time I'm out. Wednesday was an ordinary karate and walk day. Thursday, we met some other friends at the pool because it was raining. Friday, we had a picnic at Grass Lawn Park with a friend Nick hadn't seen in a long time, his oldest friend, but since she had changed so much, he was suddenly shy. He's changed a lot too. 

And today, we biked for just seven miles on a late-afternoon jaunt. Then, we had dinner at a restaurant where they know us, and then we came home. 

That is not the end of the story. 

"Camping?" you were asking.

Yes. Camping.

On tge front lawn, Mike built a fire in our LL Bean fire pit and we each roasted one old marshmallow. I burned twigs in the fire pit while Nick built himself a shelter out of sticks and cedar boughs. 

Now, we're each set up. Nick is in his shelter on two sleeping pads with a small pillow. He declined the sleeping bag Mike offered. Mike is on a backpacking Thermarest and in my bivy sack with the 25 degree Kelty.  I am on my Lafuma recliner in the zero degree Kelty. I'm a bit warm but it's cooling off. It's supposed to get into the fifties later, cool enough to discourage mosquitos. 

Earlier, I saw our bats cruising for bugs in the twilight. There's a high cloud cover, enough to minimize dew fall, but not enough for rain. 

The red blinking beacon across the valley  denotes civilization in the far distance. I don't think, after years of living here, that any of us really hears the road noise from our highway. Sometimes I wonder where those people are going. I like wondering. 

Mike is quiet now and Nick coughs occasionally. A dog is barking in the distance. I'm hoping our owl will hoot or the coyotes will howl. Both Teddy and Seth are safely tucked into their beds inside. The dazzling sunset is over and twilight dimmed after 10:00 pm. 

And I am here, looking at waves of clouds slowly moving across the sky. Boughs of cedar are silhouetted against it and a jet moves ahead of its own sound. When the moon rises, it will be full. 

Thank you for listening, jb 

Summer Blues

I wish I had good news today.

It's noon on a beautiful day. After an appointment with a doctor about his fitness yesterday, Nick has downed a vitamin water and a pack and a half of jerky. No vegetables. He argued with me about two leaves of spinach in his egg this morning and so far, he's made no effort to get off the couch. I'm sad for him. I know I can't make decisions for him. I haven't been able to for a while.

I'm also sad that Nick hasn't seen much of Adrian since school ended. It's as if he's lost a brother. I don't see a reason for it either. Adrian's mom keeps sending messages that he's at home doing chores or laundry. That's a boy who's twelve, staying at home all day by himself on summer days. It makes me sad for him too. Mike and I keep trying to figure it out and coming up with nothing. This week, we've spent time with four of Nick's other friends, practically begging people to go walk, bike, or swim with us. As he was walking into his bedroom last night, Nick told Mike, "I don't have any friends." Sometimes you can't fix things. Sometimes you ache for your children.

I refuse to sit here and listen to the TV any longer. I'm going out to set my bike up for a ride. That will make me feel better. I hope that Nick and Mike get off the couch and join me. I'd rather not go alone. I've been going alone long enough.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I'm sore. Now that it's summer vacation, Mike wants Nick to get out and get exercise every day. It's good. I like getting exercise, but in my exuberance, I tried too many things in the past couple of days.

 I've walked across a couple of fallen logs. Not too hard. These were big logs. I didn't fall down. I'm telling you, though. I'm quite a bit dizzier than I ever was before. The log across the river to Monte Carlo was especially dizzying with the water flowing underneath. I had to try hard to focus on the log and not on the flowing water.

I wish I could say I went up and looked at the ghost town at Monte Carlo. I didn't get that far. Nick was certain he needed to turn around about three-quarters of the way there, so Mike went ahead and I stayed behind with Nick. It was funny that the complaining only occurred as we headed east. When we headed west instead, there was harmony and cheerfulness. Okay, we still have to work on our hiking skills.

So then, I'd been trying to distract Nick from his hiking agony and wanted to show him this fallen tree that was at about eye level. No. I am not able to do a chin-up. Not a chance. But what I could do was hang from it and let it bounce me up and down. It really was fun, though it could have used a little more bounce. Can we identify muscles in the anatomy that may not have been obvious the day before yesterday?

Well, I thought that the best cure for sore muscles was supposed to be a little more of the same exercise, so this afternoon, after another four mile hike, I used the weight machine we seldom use to exercise those same hanging and bouncing muscles. So, in theory, the cure for sore muscles is to exercise them. That theory has been resolutely debunked. Now, I have sore muscles and my back hurts as well. Even my gripping muscles hurt. Yes, gripping muscles are the same ones a body uses to type. Today, I know a lot more about anatomy than I did the day before yesterday.

My butt's sore too. I'm not sure if that's because I scooted down a steep hill today when we couldn't find the geocache that was just off the trail or because of the hanging and bouncing I did or the butt-squenching required to keep from falling off a log.

I hope I survive this summer vacation.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Psychotically Cheerful

I try not to, but I hate morning people. Despite waking between 4:14 and 5:37 each day, I am not a morning person. You might want to leave me alone until 11:30.

This morning was particularly bad. I'd forgotten to buy a birthday present needed for this afternoon. I'd also forgotten the give the principal an end-of-the-year gift while remembering everybody else and his brother. Why did I have to start that crap at the new school? I wouldn't have. I really wouldn't, except that the good will it creates gets transferred to Nick. They love him at this school. They call him kind. They don't know that he gave new books to his language arts teacher because I'd bought something he had no interest in and he wanted to give them away rather than return them. They don't know that he donated the oversized stuffed toy to his math teacher because it took up too much room on the couch and Mike just wanted to get rid of it. I think the joy of winning it at the fair was mitigated by a bit of embarrassment. The thing didn't fit easily in the car on the way home. My reaction was not quite sweet. This monster didn't fit easily in the car on the way to school either. Thank God it didn't have to come home at the end of the year. It was raffled off to the highest bidder using play money the kids earned by being good citizens. The kids loved this creature. It was a cheaply made eight foot monkey with dreadlocks that was stuffed with styrofoam pebbles that kept leaking out of the back of its leg. I can imagine the look on some mom's face when a kid tells her that this thing was going to fit into his room.

It did not have to come back home. Thankfully.

But I did have to run to Starbucks at 6:35 this morning so I could get that extra gift that I'd forgotten before I drove the kids to school. I told Nick he had to deliver it so I wouldn't look bad coming into the office with an extra gift, obviously the one I'd forgotten. And again, Nick will get all the good will that silly card creates. The barrista at Starbucks, a pretty girl of half my age who was eight and a half months pregnant, was way too cheerful. I'm telling you that I considered slapping her as she worked, but ...

After I dropped the kids off at school, I went to Target to get the birthday present, a Nerf gun, that I'd have no other opportunity to get if I waited. Mike obligingly looked it up online. It was in stock. Of course it was. Only for him. I couldn't punch him through the phone lines. Yet, when I looked through the shelves of toys, nothing like that appeared. The guy from electronics almost made me laugh with his story of Nerf wars he'd had with his buddies. He said that the whistling bullets were eliminated because parents thought they were too loud. I almost laughed again. I liked the whistling bullets. He had someone bring the right Nerf gun out of the warehouse. He even kept me company while we waited, chatting generously the whole while. By then, it was only 8:36 in the morning. He even rang me up right then and there. I wanted to elbow him as he handed me my bag, but ...

In the parking lot, I realized I'd forgotten to get a gift receipt. Well crap. I turned around and went back into the store. The lady at customer service had long beautiful blond hair and a smile on her face. I hated her instantly. I'm sure she never experienced the overall feel of dark circles under eyes and a bad case of hair fuck. Never. Oh sure, she'd be happy to print a gift receipt for me. I might have a canister of pepper spray in the bottom of my purse along with an old roll of Mentos. I could see if it still worked, but ...

While I was there, I ran into Fred Meyer to get the kind of stevia packets that Mike uses at work. It had been on the grocery list for three weeks. Mike kept saying it could wait. I decided to use self-checkout since it might reduce my exposure to one more person, but no, the bag I was using was too heavy and a helpful guy stepped up and reset the monitor before I could turn around. I wanted to stomp his foot with my boot, but ...

After that, I had to stop at the elementary school to organize some things for the festival on Saturday and pick up some paperwork. It was only 9:23 in the morning. The elegant and clearly artistic lady in the office had amazing jewelry and wore perfect makeup. I hadn't even showered. I ran my tongue over my teeth. I hadn't brushed either. Before I opened my mouth, she handed me the paperwork I needed. I wanted to spit on her shoes, but ...

By 10:04 am, I was on the couch, ready to add to my five hours of sleep with another hour and a half before the boys got home from the last day of school. I could have used another hour or two. September is a long way away.

Thankfully, people can't read my mind or I might have been arrested at 6:43 am at the Starbucks counter in front of  that sweet pregnant barrista. It's almost 11:30 am. It'll be safe to get back to me after that.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Who would have thought I'd have more work to do now than I did in the past couple of weeks. School is out in two days. All the volunteering there is over, yet somehow, I need to raise money. I need to raise $550 for the Boy Scout troop so that all the kids can go to camp. That's how much we needed to raise for the pancake breakfast and that's, thankfully, the number we've whittled it all down to after the pancake breakfast.  I still have ten and a half pounds of bacon and four pounds of sausage in my freezer, but I bought that back knowing that I can use it up. Someday.

You know, I don't want to write about this tonight. I want to write about how Mike tries to use my sewing machine. It all started at the state fair.

No, it started before that. When my grandma died, the one who made biscuits and jelly for camping trips, I inherited her sewing machine and all of her thread. She was fond of colors like pink and jade and teal. Not exactly my style. I don't know why I was so appointed except that my mother said I was the only girl who didn't already have a sewing machine. The reason for that was that I had no need of a sewing machine. I was not good at patterns. Do you remember those things? I would unfolded this tissue paper that looked like a wayward map. It came out of the envelope, tearing as I tried to make heads or tails of it. It read like a treasure map only I could never understand the directions. And it never folded up the way it came out. I have at least one pattern that I jammed back into the paper envelope in a wad and then smashed down flat with my fist.

I was terrible at choosing fabric for anything I was making. Either it was itchy, it was supposed to drape when it clumped, or I just couldn't get the material through the machine because it would jam up into a knotted thread ball under the foot. Plus, all those clothes were three-dimensional. The pattern might fit a standard size twelve girl, but I had never been a standard size twelve. I was thicker here, longer there and there, smaller across there, and I had a slight twist that nobody but a tailor would notice.

So, I accepted the sewing gear even though the thought of using it made me sweat. I had learned how to sew, but I did not want to do it. For three years, I used the sewing machine strictly for making repairs and as a book end. It made a good book end.


When my sister said she was going to have my first nephew, I knew I'd better get cracking. I was going to make him a quilt. I had never made a quilt before, but I was sure I could do it. Quilting, for me, falls into a quite different category than sewing. My grandma, the one who loved me best, was a quilter. She'd gather once a week with the ladies from her church and I'd make a little nest under the quilt frame where they were working. When they dropped a needle, they asked me to push it through for them. I think they were just trying to keep a bored little girl involved.

But I will tell you what I never told them. I was never bored. Sometimes I read a book or played with tinker toys, but, if I was quiet enough, I found the ladies, except for Grandma, would forget me and begin to tell stories. Oh, these were good stories. Maybelle's daughter had taken up with a man from Bechtel and had run off with him, leaving Henry with the two kids, one still in diapers, and a second mortgage, whatever that was. It was because of the pool, the mortgage, not the running off. These women would get to cackling about what the two of them were up to down in Pensacola until my grandma would remember my presence under the frame, probably because I was sitting on her feet, and shush the ladies just when they were getting to the good part, the educational part, the part about the meaning of life itself. Now, quilting, that was interesting.

On top of that, my grandma had made my blankie and about three other quilts I'd had on my bed since I was a baby. I'd run my fingers over the stitches at night as I fell asleep.

So, when my sister gave me the good news, I thought, 'Now, that baby will need a quilt.' And I got to work making an ugly pink, green, blue, and yellow quilt out of sweat shirt material. That thing was fugly! But I learned something about quilting that separated it from sewing clothes. What you made laid flat. Plus, it usually involved squares, at least at first. I could sew squares. And the best part was that there were no tissue paper patterns to wrestle with. I could make it any way I wanted.

So, I started quilting on my grandma's machine. Except for one thing, it was wonderful. The not wonderful part was that I had to grab the back of every piece of fabric I ran through that sewing machine and pull it through as it stitched. It was the feed dogs. They had stopped working and there was nothing for it. So, for the next three years, I made quilts by pulling all the pieces out the back of the sewing machine. It was that simple. I got pretty good at it, most of the time. It may have been frustrating, but I'd done it so long, I forgot it was frustrating. It just was.

Then, one day, at the state fair, after a demonstration and a sticker price of $1000, Mike said, "Why don't you get one of these new sewing machines? You need it."

"Really?" I said and burst into tears. Now, you men - you know an idea is a good one if you mention it to your wife and she bursts into tears. Oh, you know what kind of tears I mean. I don't mean the tears that come when you've filed Chapter 11 and you thought you could make back a bunch of money you owed by going to Vegas with the last of your grocery funds. Not that kind of tears. Mike scored a hundred that day and I walked away with a 20% discounted, because it was a demo, brand new sewing machine that didn't require your left hand to feed-dog all the fabric through the back.

Oh it was a nice machine. It was a Husqvarna. Mike said to get that kind. He said, "Get the Husqvarna. They make good chain saws."

It's still is, even after these twenty years. And I can also tell you that I still get a chill whenever he sits down at my machine with the intent to use it. Oh, he could use it. I don't mind. He used to know how to thread it. But he always seemed to wait until I was watching and sit down with cordura or denim or waxed canvas for some crazy project.

If I had my way, my sewing machine would never see anything but silk or cotton. I make quilts. That's it. Just quilts. Mike wants to use my sewing machine like it's a power tool. Any time he'd sit down at the machine, I'd jump right it. I think that was what he had in mind all along.

But Mike, oh, he's had me make so many strange projects. I've made a knife sheath out of webbing, a dog bed from cordura, closed-cell foam, and ripstop nylon, a traveling case for our canoe paddles, a map case from vinyl, fleece hats, glasses cases, neck gaiters, and sleeping bag liners. I've made cloaks, drawstring pants, tunics, vests, belts, and bracers. These days, there are lots of patches to sew onto uniforms and I'm beginning to teach Nick how to use my machine. I have reservations, though. Last week, as Nick stood and watched, Mike sat down at my sewing table with leather in his hands. I'm pretty sure I have a leather punch among the needles I used when I took the free class Husqvarna offered years ago, but after tackling blue jeans hems, I'm thinking he needs to get me an industrial sewing machine if he wants to sew leather.

And it had better be Husqvarna. They make good chain saws.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Scars and Summer Heat

Mosquito bites and sweat. I could tell you that the weather is beautiful. It is according to most standards, but I hate when my clothes stick to me after a walk and there's salt where my upper lip has beaded. I like seeing clouds in the sky, something to hold onto.

At the park today, my friend's dog kept looking for shade. I know how he feels. He's a black dog. It gets hot having black hair to soak in all that heat. My friend and I should walk in the woods, in the dark undergrowth where it's cool and the moss and the black dogs don't get burned. Clouds are coming in tomorrow. I like when clouds roll along the ridges.

I bought a book for my kid today and another for my reading buddy at school. I hope they like them. I just wandered in and picked. It was nice to have a little time in the book store. Almost all the bookstores are gone. I admit that I read from the library. It's free. Am I part of the problem?

I used to buy five or six books at a time. The bookstore owners used to know my name. I think Mike is getting me an e-reader for Mother's Day, something I can use to download books from the library. I know. Mother's Day is long past and it's almost Father's Day. Mike is overwhelmed. The grass is long too. I should get out the mower and mow it. I don't like mowing the grass.

I'm going to have to mow the grass, aren't I?

There are three days left of school. I'll be able to sleep in, but eventually, I'll have to drive the kids away from the television. I told Mike tonight, that we might have to leave them plugged in for a couple of weeks so they can recharge. I'm hoping that the boys will let me help them organize their friends to go to the lake, to play tennis, to take a bike ride. School puts so much on hold and I have a hard time getting them back outside after it's over. The dog will help. He still needs a walk almost every day. I'll have to leave the boys alone if they won't unplug. Oh man. I do not want to sit around all summer listening to the video game and Cartoon Network soundtrack.

Nick has a plan to read in the mornings. I'll do that with him. Picture us reading our books. He also says he's going to lift weights and exercise. Can't we just take some vigorous walks? Won't that do the same thing? Oh, honey, I want to tell him, don't make it into work. Turn the whole thing into play. Picnics, hikes, bike rides. Get the skateboard out and go at it in town. There are places for you to go. You're twelve. When I was twelve, it was so different, so incredibly different. Summers were all about freedom.

I can't tell you how many yards I cut through, how many barbed wire fences I crossed, how many afternoons I laid in the grass just looking at clover up close, feeling it tickle my toes and my chin. I only wore shoes when some adult told me I had to. During those summers, my feet grew silently and suddenly some event would happen, a wedding or a funeral and I'd find I couldn't squeeze my heels into them any more, no matter how much the adult wheedled and groaned.

These days, boys play with their shirts on. They keep their shoes on too. They don't make trails or explore to the edges of the crabby neighbor's fence. They don't disappear after breakfast and reappear for lunch and then dinner. They don't often play tag after sunset.

Bug collecting.

Tree climbing.


Becoming archaeologists and digging up rocks.

Are we trying too hard to protect them? Are they inherently less curious? Is slowing down that boring?

I've been looking at rocks more, collecting rocks to hold down my stories when I sell them at the festival in two weeks, drawing patterns onto them. Sometimes I see where crystals have grown. I found one yesterday that had broken and healed in concentric circles. Isn't that some kind of miracle, that the stone sat long enough to heal the break? Will that work for me when I break?

I was thinking today, how there are stories in our bodies. Nick will see Mike in shorts and ask him, though he's heard the story a dozen times, about how he fell and rebar gashed his knee and how he ran all the way home with the blood dripping into his shoe. I have the scars on my belly that I tell Nick are what made him possible. Sometimes I finger scars that have smoothed out and faded away. I know where they are, like the dimple in my forehead where the girl pushed me off my bike and my glasses broke, leaving a chard embedded there. There's a place across my thumb where I looked away as I used a hand saw and Mike had to use three butterfly bandages to hold the parts together. I've looked at my own bone, at the white fleshy nerve that zinged a warning when I touched it. There's a dent in my left shin from the time my brother yelled at me to jump. It was too high, but eventually his power was too great and I jumped. Oh man that leg hurt for eight weeks. I know now that I broke it. There are stories in all the chips and dents and scars.

The story of a rock is a slower one. How long does it take to heal a stone? How far did it come down the river? What smoothed all it's sharp edges?

Has anything smoothed mine?

 Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Feeding the Hordes Continues, the Finale

Sometimes you work hard and you fail anyway.

This morning, we had four people eating pancakes at our fundraiser who weren't us.

At first, I believed I lost the Troop somewhere between three and four hundred dollars. I returned $86 dollars worth of dry goods this afternoon. I put ten pounds of bacon in the freezer along with five pounds of sausage. Plus, I came home with a half gallon of half and half, a bottle of whipped cream, a box of Splenda, syrup, disinfectant, and a pound of decaf coffee which we'll use over time. I also have five pounds of pancake mix and five pounds of regular coffee which we can't use, but I'm sure I can find a home for them. We can't return the coffee because I labeled it for the breakfast, thinking that it could get mixed up with the party the Eagles were having on Friday night. I needn't have worried.

I'm convinced that the man who helped us from the Eagles Lodge all morning called four of his buddies when it was obvious that no one was coming and they came and ate. It was that sad.

Still, twelve boys showed up at 7:00 am in uniform, ready to serve. They scrambled to get everything running before we began at 8:00 am. Then, they went up and down the main road, trying to bring hungry people in for breakfast. Nick said he had fun doing it. Nine of their parents also showed up and got right to work. If they could, they posted to their Facebook friends to come. Then, when no one showed up, we ate. We ate well. Pancakes, bacon, strawberries, whipped cream. Someone went for mochas at the coffee hut. And they regaled me with stories. It helped.

One of the women told me that she saw my event notice in the newspapers. Later, the committee chair insisted that I submit my bills to get reimbursed. Most of the other Scouters put cash in the till for the groceries they were bringing home with them. Then even later, one of the moms put a handful of bills in my hand to 'pay' for a gallon of milk. The hardest part of the event was when one of them hugged me and said it would be okay.

After they'd cleaned up, after they'd packed my car and driven away, I sat in the driver's seat and bawled. It was one of those snot-sucking, snorting, hiccuping bout of tears. Nick held my hand, patting it now and then. He told me it was going to be okay. When I got home, I called Mike and cried some more. He told me it was okay too. He stayed on the phone with me until the whole thing died down, even though he was having fun at camp. The kids were having fun. The weather was perfect.

What did I learn from failing?

I can't imagine a sweeter bunch of people to have let down so completely. It makes it all that much worse, doesn't it? If anyone had yelled at me, I could have gotten indignant. They didn't. They were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, deeply kind.

Well, there it is. It was as bad as it could have been without anyone getting sick. At least I have that. There were no food fights or scenes in which a whole room full of people tossed their cookies. I'm sure I'll find more insight as I get further away from this. I'm sure it'll turn into lore, a big joke, bigger, even, than bananarama was so many years ago, the story when the Scouts bought twelve bunches of bananas for fourteen people for a weekend trip.

Tomorrow, when people ask me how it went, I might be able to say, "Well, I only lost the Troop $103." I might be able to laugh.

It doesn't feel funny yet, but it will. I'm sure it will.

Thank you for listening, jb