Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Feeling the Infinite

We spent most of the day getting to an urgent care an hour away from the resort. Nick was up most of the night. His cough sounds scary, but it didn't quite reach into my gut and twist. It's getting worse though. The hardest part was that we waited for a hours in the back of a drug store to get to see a doctor. The good part was that the doctor seemed to know what he was about when it came to viral-induced asthma.

Oh, this isn't what we had in mind when we came here, but we didn't really have a plan for the day, so nothing was seriously spoiled. We found things to do while we waited in the chairs at the back of the drug store. Mike and I took turns shopping for little things while the other kept Nick company. Mike bought a bag of Combos, some Hawaiian chips, and two cans of Pringles. I bought a bottle of nail polish, proud that I'd held out from buying the twenty dollar bottle of a color I didn't like from the spa earlier. I was tempted to paint my nails while Nick played with my iPhone. I knew that the minute I got polish on a nail, Nick's turn would come up and I'd smudge it. I'd nearly forgotten about what a pain it was to set aside a time to paint my nails only to have the phone ring and smear a nail trying to answer it or to have to pee and wrangle with a zipper.

While Mike went to get something to eat and stop at the Starbucks for me, Nick got bored with the games on my iPhone, so I asked him if he could make the Vulcan sign for 'Live long and prosper.' Piece of cake. Then, I told him to put his ring and middle finger together and separate his pinkie and index fingers to make a 'W.' Still not too hard. I told him to go back and forth between them. Not as easy. Nick could do it, but his hand was shaking with the effort. About that time, Mike got back with a mocha. Nice. Mike got it down after a couple of tries. Good eye-hand coordination from all those video games.

Next was to see the hot dog in space. I told them to look at me steadily and to point their index fingers at each other in front of their eyes, then to bring them together slowly until they could see the hot dog floating out in space. That made them laugh.  Good one.

I asked Nick if he could bend the last joint on one of his fingers without bending any of the rest. I'm not sure either of them could manage that one. These are the things I learned to keep myself occupied while I waited for a doctor's appointment. Invaluable, aren't they?

When it was finally our turn, we'd reached that Zen level of waiting for an appointment that could have gotten us through an entire day of waiting. We could feel infinity.

In the evening, Mike and I walked out onto the rocks by the beach while Nick watched a movie. Actually, they weren't rocks. It was a single rock, lava rock that looked as though it could impale you if you slipped where it met with the water. There was motion written into it, swirls, spikes, bubbles that had burst and frozen that way. It was hard to walk on and I felt as though it cut up the soles of my shoes. How old was this rock? Not that old, in rock time, I would guess. It wasn't worn down all that much. How long before this rock was worn down to look like an ordinary rock? Infinity.

Thank you for listening, jb


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Listening for Adventure

Tonight, the tropical storm is supposed to hit. It's been downgraded. The wind is only going to blow 25 to 30 miles per hour, much less than the gusts to 50 mikes per hour that they originally predicted. 

I'm sitting on the lanai, or terrace. I wish you could see the round blue pool below me and feel the drops of rain that constitute the worst of the storm so far. The rain is only on my feet since half of the lanai is covered. I wish you could hear the roar of the surf, louder than it was yesterday when we arrived. 

It's warm out, warm and damp. Given half a chance, I could fall asleep here, the surf sounds lulling me and drowning out the voices of other people doing what I'm doing, only louder. 

I had a glass of wine tonight. We bought it from the little grocery store in the hotel along with other snacks and subdries. The cashier said he was going to play in the mud tomorrow. He was excited about the storm, happy to be off from work on a warm rainy day. It's a good idea, I thought, to find some muddy hills and slide down them. There's that problem with decorum again, but I figure if a cashier at a fancy hotel could admit to wanting to slide down muddy hills, so could I. 

I can feel the effects of the tiny glass of wine. Oh, I could gave had more, but I didn't. 

It was enough, just enough for a downgraded adventure. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hunkered Down for Tropical Storm, Flossie

Well, we were upgraded to a villa. We're guessing that there were cancellations because of tropical storm, Flossie. 

I'm hunkered down 

on the terrace. It's raining. There are people on the beach and in the pool. I like these people. Why worry when you're wet anyway?

Can you think of a more beautiful place to get stuck in a storm?

I'd be out there now, but its only 8:30 am and Nick is still asleep. The poor boy has a cold, but it didn't stop him from snorkeling in the dark last night. That was a good one for his list of experiences, wasn't it? Snorkeling in the dark. I only made him come in because Mike was probably back from the store and I was hungry. 

We're not sure, but we don't think there's room service in a villa. Yesterday, when we were discussing that, Nick said, "We are so spoiled." 

We are, aren't we?

And this storm? It's an adventure. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Okay, so you know how I've described my life as a comedy? As always, it continues. 

On Monday, we're going to live through a cyclone, Flossie. Yup, a cyclone. 

Mike is upset. He was also disappointed the hotel wasn't closer to the beach. It's one block away. No matter. We're headed out of the city to a more remote resort this afternoon after we see Pearl Harbor anyway. But Mike wanted it to be closer. 

Oh, I get it.  he was planning the perfect vacation and stuff started to interfere. Flossie. Plus, Nick has a cold, though that didn't stop the boy from lying face down in the water for two and a half hours with a snorkel on his face yesterday, finding bits of broken sea shells, pebbles, and coral for me. 

I'm only worried that we might not be able to go kayaking. Can you imagine? Glass-bottom kayaks in a cyclone? 

To tell you the truth, I'm happy just being here. It's not my plan, see. It's Mike's. 

I remember that I was aggravated that my plan was messed up when we were in Ireland, sleeping in a castle, and Mike caught a cold and missed out on the best chocolate croissants of his life. That was not fair. Not fair at all. 

So I can understand Mike's disappointment that Flossie has insinuated herself into our trip. 

I'm back out on my terrace. The surfers are out. It's only 6:10 am. They didn't finish last night until it was full-on dark. I wonder if they'll surf the cyclone? A dedicated bunch, those surfers. 

I have a visitor, a white dove or a pigeon. 
I wonder if she'll surf the cyclone. She'll probably hunker down like we will. Being white, she looks like a pet. I want to feed her and talk to her, but I saw signs yesterday that feeding the birds was illegal. I wonder if she was ever part of a wedding. 

Maybe I should name her Flossie. 

The irony of this weather is that, as we were packing, I asked Mike if he was bringing his rain jacket. 

"Probably not," he said. "Do you really think you're doing to need it?" My suitcase weighed 47 pounds, three pounds away from the airline limit. Any more and I could pay a steep penalty. 

"What about Nick's jacket?"

"He packed it. Leave it."

"He only packed it because I made him."

"Still, he packed it."

"So are you going to bring yours?"

"I don't know yet, but I still have room in my suitcase for stuff. How are you going to get extra stuff home if your suitcase is already full?"

We're buying stuff too? Now, this really is a vacation!

So I went through my stuff. I'd need most of the tank tops, though not as many. I could skip the nebulizer because Mike said if Nick got that sick, we'd get him a new one. 

And my raincoat. Why bother? I'm going to be wet, in my bathing suit the whole time anyway. 

So when Mike told me Flossie was coming along, I said, "We'll hike Diamond Head that day. It won't be so hot. But I don't have my rain jacket."

"I've got mine," Mike said cheerfully. 

"I've got mine too!" Nick piped in. 

Go figure. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Mike has given me my 49th state. Can you believe that Hawaii and Louisiana were the last ones i've visited? Id have expected the last to be Iowa or something. (I liked Iowa. It felt like home.) So now, I only have one left. After that I'll have to round out Nick's totals and go to Europe and Canada again. I won't get Mike to go anywhere more exotic than that, but maybe I'll take a tour some time when he's at Boy Scout camp.

I love my little balcony here. The air is balmy. It's city 21 floors below me, but this is a good way for me, an outdoor girl, to experience it, like this. 

Earlier, it looked like this. The water was turquoise, blue, and purple.

The view is a little dizzying. I'm dizzy right now. 

In the meantime, we went to a beach. I took no pictures there because I was busy swimming and playing in the sand. The coral that Nick and I found looked an awful lot like the fossils we found on Crinoid beach in Indiana. Isn't that amazing?

You know, it's 7:51 pm and its already dark out. 

The last time I stayed at a hotel this high was in Las Vegas on New Year's Eve, a hotel that was unfinished. We popped a cork out over an atrium with an unfinished roof. Our room had never been used and the sad part is that the hotel doesn't even exist any more, except in my mind. 

The sea has darkened in front of me and blended into sky. It's as if the world ends at the edge of the palm trees lit by lamp light beyond the line of hotels. 

Tomorrow, we're going to see the ships in Pearl Harbor. History. 

I have to tell you this. I feel as though I'm in a foreign country. There are Hawaiian words I'm learning, a completely different culture, and different food. They even move with a different attitude. I am in heaven. 

Thank you for listening, jb

There Are No Breaks

Is it cruel to travel with a sick boy because you don't want to lose your vacation?

It feels like it, though the traveling hasn't yet begun and said boy went to the lake today and swam as if he were fine. I'm hoping decongestant will be enough.

Can we just catch a break?

Whenever I say that, Mike says, "There are no breaks."

You're not kidding.

I got rear-ended today in my car. Oh, it wasn't too hard a hit, but I'm sore anyway. I'm taking Advil but I don't intend to turn in the woman who hit me.

She was very apologetic, very sweet. I liked her immediately and told her that if I didn't have problems with my neck, I'd skip talking to my insurance company. I drove down the road just a little bit and I called Mike. I needed time to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. I cried on the phone, but felt better as I talked to him. I tested out my neck as we talked, feeling some soreness there. Was that new or just my usual soreness? Mike said I should take some Advil. He also said I needed to call the insurance representative and ask them about the whole thing, whether I needed to file a police report in case my neck began to hurt more tomorrow. He wanted to know if the bumper would need to be repaired even if it looked okay. So, I called my insurance guy. We've been with the same company, Farmers, since we moved here in 1991. I'm always the one who talks to him.

I have to tell you that I really like this guy. We've talked about details like minimums, discounts, new-old cars and stuff like that. He's a nice guy. He's good at what he does. Today, he told me that, as a representative, he needed to tell me to make a claim any time I get hit. Then, he said that as a human being, he agreed with me that I shouldn't file a claim against this nice woman if I didn't have to. Her insurance would go up. She might even get a ticket. By the time I got off the phone with him, my heart rate had settled down and the Advil had taken effect.

Six and a half hours later, I could tell that the Advil had worn off, but I'd gone to the lake, reveled in the peace I can find amid chattering people, and come home to pack.

Yes, this is a big vacation. I want it. I need it. My friends tell me that I'm overdue.

And now Nick is a little bit sick. I'm going to dope him up with decongestant. My neck is sore. I'm taking Advil, and we're going, damn it! Maybe the sunshine will dry up Nick's cold and maybe I'll get a massage. It could still be a good vacation.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Beginning of a Horror Movie

I may be an outdoorsy kind of girl, but I'm not good with bugs, especially parasites. I came back from a trip to visit my family and had four chigger bites. Yuck. I hate chigger bites. The folklore is that they burrow into your skin and lay eggs. Can you think of any horror movies that begin this way? Thankfully, I read that it isn't true. The truth is that they secrete saliva which liquefies the tissue it comes in contact with and that's what causes the 'bites.' It's not much better. I have four large sores on my legs and one of them has a blister and swelling the size of a sand dollar.

As if that weren't bad enough, today I found a deer tick clinging to my ankle. I had to get out the tweezers to pull it off. Scratching at it didn't work. It's little legs were flailing as I squeezed him and blood, my blood, squished everywhere.

I wanted to run screaming.

Instead, I made an appointment to try to convince a local doctor to give me antibiotics in case the little bugger was trying to give me Lyme's disease. WebMD said I should get antibiotics within 72 hours in order to prevent Lyme's.

Okay, I can't get over the idea that this creature has been sucking my blood since Tuesday!

The worst part is looking at enlarged photos of these creatures. Nick wanted to see what a chigger looked like. In life, it's a pinpoint round red bug. I used to get them whenever I gathered wildflowers in the Midwest. Little red bugs that like flowers. That's kind of cute, isn't it? Enlarged, they're scary looking with ugly faces and the red only makes them look more alien. It turns out that a lot of the creatures in our scariest movies have links with insects and parasites.

Then, I needed to see if the bug I tweezed was a deer tick or an ordinary dog tick. Again, I encountered the same feeling. Tiny, in real life, these things aren't so bad looking. When I look at the online photos of a deer tick, it gives me the willies. Can you say horror movie? Plus, there are a lot of nasty pictures of bites online. Lyme's disease sometimes gives you a bulls eye rash with a black spot in the center. Gross.

I was going to tell you about how I reacted to the potential to get leeches in Minnesota and Upstate New York. For more than one trip, I carried salt in a Ziploc bag in my pocket the whole week. The other paddlers thought I was joking. The Internet pictures of leeches ....

I'm not going to tell you about that. I need to stop thinking about all this or I'm going to have nightmares.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just to See His Face

I slept a lot today. I was allowed. I'm back from visiting with my family and we're all resting, all of us except Mike, who's still at Boy Scout camp. My sister told me that she read the whole paper today. Nick woke up congested, but felt better as the day wore on and managed to go to karate. I went with him to pick up the dog and exchange some clothes at the store. I also picked up movies from the library and bought some ground beef to make burgers for dinner. I made a couple of phone calls too and with that I crossed off most of the work on my list for the day.

Mike is tired. He told me so. He also said that the boys, after staying up most of the night doing wilderness survival, had hit the wall. What does that mean? Did they whine? Did they lie around all day, complaining that they don't have a TV or video games? If they don't have a dad at camp, Mike's the man. He's good at it, but I wonder if the kid who's homesick again is staying up late in the night feeling sad and achy. If he is, then Mike is up with him feeling achy too.

Mike's been quiet today. Other days, he's called and texted me. He even sent some photos. Camp Meriwether is stunning. But even amid beauty, a man can get tired with the responsibility for seven or eight boys and four or five men. For two days in a row, he called at the same time and sent me two or three photos and four or five texts. Today, it was two texts. That's it. No call. No photos. I did my duty by forwarding the photos to Facebook where moms can see that their boys are having fun. I wish Mike would send me a photo of his own face. Then, I could see a little of what's happening with him. I could see happiness and fatigue. I could sense frustration if it's there. It would make me feel better just to see his face.


On Saturday, I will see his face. He's bound to be tired and I'm hoping I'm rested enough by then to unload the truck for him. I hope he doesn't get home at midnight. I'll be waiting up if he does.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Standing on Ancient History

When I was a kid, I used to love hunting for fossils. It was like an Easter egg hunt, only it was any day I was out in the woods. You know the feeling, don't you? You've gone to pick blueberries and finally have enough to get you through the winter for your morning oatmeal and you can't resist plucking the random beautiful berry as you walk out of the field. 

Hunting for fossils is like that, only I never needed that first rock the way I needed those berries. It was all about imagining an altered world. Maybe I did need that rock. It's a little like looking at the stars and wondering at the smallness of one soul on a blanket in the grass. Fossils can give you that feeling, only measured in time and not distance.

I liked to imagine the life of this poor dead creature. There was an ocean, right here in the middle of the Midwest. It just goes to show you how much things will change. Yet, while it could, this one was born here, grew, ate what came along, hung out with friends, and died, right there on that rock. I loved it. 

Oh, who am I kidding? I still love finding fossils. On Sunday, when we walked down to the creek, finding three pieces of fossilized coral made me happy. These rocks were black and about the size of a Halloween tootsie roll and had lines running their length. There were chert nodules too, smooth round rocks the size of a walnut, some of which were embedded in layers of limestone. Beautiful. But, there were no crinoids.  My favorite have always been crinoids. 

Yesterday, my nephew took me to crinoid beach on the lake. Oh, a bunch of the rest of them tagged along, but this is something he wanted to do for me. 

When I was a kid, if I found a sweaty fist full of the little round crinoid stem disks, I would be in heaven. The adults could talk all they wanted as they sat in their aluminum lawn chairs. The other kids might be throwing rocks into the water or getting wet even though our mom said to stay dry today, but I was getting muddy,  looking for crinoids.

So today, when we got out of our cars, I pretended to be adult about it and walk slowly with my mother, but I was itching to bolt ahead with Nick, my niece, and my nephew, John. John had come here with his paleontology class and he said it was cool. Nick was carrying his water shoes. 

Eventually, my sister took pity on me and sent me ahead to find them and scope out the steepness of the hills. 

I walked the lane, getting sweaty. When I came to a fork in the road, I called my sister and told her I thought the hike would be too much for my mother. I could barely see the water. 

Then, I did a loud woo hoo into the woods and heard an answer along the fork to the left. It seemed to take forever to get there and it was looking nearly impossible when the three cousins traipsed back to me and said they couldn't find it. 


I was too hot not to go to the water, so while John bushwhacked through the woods looking for it, the rest of us took the most direct route to the lake's edge. 

And there, I immediately found a crinoid stem.  And another and another. They were everywhere!

I sang a woo hoo in John's direction and he sauntered along the shore to find us. 

"This must be it," I said. "There are crinoids everywhere!"

"No, it gets better than this!" He said. We walked around, picking up different ones and showing each other. Nick put on his water shoes and walked into the water. This was like bath water compared to the swimming we did in the Pacific Northwest. I knew, after showing him a couple of fossils, that he was there to swim. My niece walked into the water with him.

Why did I love these creatures so much? I can't explain, but I felt it again when John had showed me a YouTube video of a crinoid crawling across a sea bottom when he first told me about the crinoid beach the night before. It looked like a flower, only it was leaned over and using a couple of petals to walk and dragging its long stem behind it like a tail. I wanted to know what compelled it. John had said it had no brain. 

"There's a girl crinoid over there and he likes her enough to pull up his roots and drag himself over," I said. John laughed. That was when he had decided I needed to see crinoid beach. 

John said we needed to walk along the shore to get to the real place. I picked up a big imprint to show him. He grinned at me. 

"It gets better than that. There's a huge one that's embedded in a boulder that nobody has been able to carry off yet."

Eventually, the humidity overtook all three of them and they swam along the shore while I ostensibly carried their phones and money and Epipens and wallets. No, I wasn't really being adult about this. I just didn't want the sediment in the water to obscure my view of the fossils.

"You'll know you've hit it when you feel bad about where you're putting your feet."

I walked through bushes that were sure to harbor chiggers. I found more fossils. I hugged the shore and a misstep filled one shoe with water. I kept walking, looking down. I walked through a cloud of mosquitoes. They dogged me as I bent over to pick up another. I carried a handful as if I were going to bring them home with me. I ignored the possibility of poison ivy which was everywhere. I straddled a large log and scratched my thigh trying to get across and got the other foot wet to match

Oh! Suddenly, I was crunching across a solid mass of fossils, crinoids and brachiopods. I couldn't move. 

"Take only pictures and leave only footprints," John said quietly as he stood knee deep in the water behind me.

Eventually, the sun began to get lower in the sky and they were done swimming. I think they had to call me to come on three or four times before I walked back the way I had come. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Value of Old Jewelry

Today, my brother brought over a large box of jewelry that had belonged to my Grandma. We all gathered around my mother's dining table to look at it all.

Before the box opened, my sister and I had each said we didn't want anything more from her estate. We have lots of things from my grandma. I think we both feel overwhelmed at all the volume. My brother had said that his girls might like something from the box. Everyone found a place at the table, especially the girls, my grandma's great grandkids, and my brother put one piece after another on the table. 

I was surprised at how many of the pieces I could remember her wearing. I figured there would be a grab for those things. I quietly drew a couple of things near me. There was a photo button photo that my sister and I put half way between us, one of our great aunt when she was young. 

There were few collisions of desire. Only twice did we need to flip a coin to decide. Everyone had their little stash to match their own style. We all talked and looked and looked again. Some things sat in the middle of the table, but not much.

My sister encouraged our sister-in-law to find some things she liked. It took her a while, but she set a few things aside. 
I noticed that one of my nieces gravitated toward the pearls. Another took a large pin of a flower and brown and green beads. 

There was a pin, a simple gold circle that my grandma had worn a lot. I remember her saying, "Fred gave me this and he told me it's a lot like love. It goes around and around and it never ends." I liked it, but I could imagine it better on my sister. After sitting between us for a while, I pushed it into her pile. After a while, I noticed that she'd pushed the photo button into mine. 

My brother put on a pair of clip-ons, big orange beads that must have come from the seventies. We talked about how, after taking items that meant something, we should take what caught the eye, even if it didn't remind us of Grandma. Why not?

I put a ring on that I liked. It had three small stones in it, diamonds or cubic zirconium. I have no idea. Then Nick, who was mostly content with a pocket watch and a heavy chain watched me put it on my finger and take it off again as I wondered if i was grabbing the most expensive item from the table. He leaned toward me to whisper in my ear. 

"Mom, maybe I can take a ring, like that one maybe, to give to my wife to get married some day," he said. "We could keep that in the family that way."

For a minute, I couldn't breathe. I had to turn away from the table where everyone was gathered. I pictured him on one knee, holding that ring. He reached out and hugged me hard and held on for a minute. Still, I couldn't catch my breath. My eyes brimmed over. I buried my face in his hair and he patted my back while I gathered myself together. Laughter continued behind us as I wiped my eyes.

This was the reason, at least for me, why we needed to be there, looking through a pile of mostly costume jewelry and wondering at its value. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 13, 2013


My credit card got declined today because I was traveling in another state than Mike. I know. I don't like it either. When I called them to say we still love each other and will be back home together in the Pacific Northwest by next week, they settled down and decided to let me use it to make some charges.

Honestly, it's a relief that they watch things so closely. We've had too many problems not to want that. I'm just glad I had a back-up card. Plus, the sad looks on people's faces in line behinds was embarrassing. I went from 'woman who's making a great salad for her family tomorrow' to 'woman who's stolen a credit card' in the blink of a computer screen. 


The weird thing was that I had forgotten that my brother gave me an envelope full of cash from my grandma's estate. I had plenty of money. I could probably go to Hawaii straight from here. Not without Mike though. I can handle it for a visit with relatives, but not for a real vacation. 

So, what would the people's faces have said if I had whipped out a couple of hundreds from an envelope full of money?

Oh hell, they would have called the cops. I'm sure of it.

Thank you for listening, jb


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Whole Enchilada

On Monday night, as I loaded the dishwasher, Mike came in and told me he needed to figure out something for the planning meeting for the next Scout meeting.  Hmmm. We usually have loud conversations between the kitchen and the living room with the TV running interference. I had a niggling at the backs of my knees. When Mike's patrol leaders get together, they go to the Mexican restaurant down the road and Nick and I are left to fend for ourselves.  This meeting was going to outline the activities for the next year and Mike said it would take too long, be too interactive, and involve too many people to take up a big table at the restaurant. 

"So, why don't you order takeout from them?" I asked.  Oh, I am so naive. 

"No, there are too many people.  I want to keep costs down," he said.

"So what are you going to make?" I asked blithely, as I tried to get one more cutting board to fit on the lower dishwasher rack.  Mike just looked at me. 

"What?" I asked, still having no real idea where he was headed. I bent over and grabbed a squishy dishwasher tablet from under the sink. Mike was still looking at me after I dropped it into the dishwasher, snapped the lid shut, pressed the usual buttons, and stood back up.

"Could you make enchiladas for us?" he said. "You're really good at making them."

"Yeah, Mom! Make us enchiladas!" Nick said, bouncing into the room. Was I getting a hot flash or was it getting crowded in here?

"How many people?" I asked.

Bam! Oh, I really do not get it until the very end, do I?

So, that is how I ended up making enchiladas for twenty-six people, including eight hungry teenaged boys, on a Tuesday afternoon.

Do you know what a kitchen looks like after making four pans of enchiladas in a rush? I had to make an extra pan. Nick made sure of that. We had to eat too and don't forget leftovers for lunch, Mom.

Thank you for listening, jb

Feeding the Hordes Continues, the Epilogue

I could not let recent happenings go without telling you about them. They have been an incredible thing to experience.

So, when I last talked about this, I told you how miserably I failed at raising money for the Boy Scouts with a pancake breakfast. The morning after only four people showed up to eat pancakes, I woke up early, my face still puffy from crying, and I knew I had to have another plan. I was going to sell my stories. It's not easy for me, but I figured it was time to let these things out into the world and let people read them. I printed a few, almost at random, then I went to church.  The moment someone asked me about the pancake breakfast, I burst into tears. Oh, I hate crying in front of people, but I've known these people for a long time and that helped. I explained what had happened at the breakfast, that the guy who looked like Bruce Willis, the one who Mike and I had originally met with, had called four of his best buddies when it was looking pathetic and they came down and ate pancakes. I told my church friends that I liked the guy who looked like Bruce Willis. They all nodded as I stopped, hitched my breath again and got hold of myself. Then I told them that the Boy Scouts ate pretty well that day too. There were no limits on bacon or pancakes or whipped cream. They laughed with me when I talked about how the boys were filling each other's mouths with whipped cream to see who could whistle first. I told them how I never admitted, until the hours had come to an end, that it wasn't going to turn around and get busy. We all laughed. Pathetic is usually pretty funny, but only in hindsight.

So, I put out a pile of my stories with a basket and the next thing I knew, I had money overflowing the basket. Their generosity was overwhelming. That first week, after buying back ten pounds of bacon and six pounds of sausage for my own freezer, we broke even. I had gotten the pancake fiasco out of the red and into the black.

I edited three more stories and printed copies, surreptitiously dropping them off at the table at church. Nick got excited and asked me to type a story he'd written, a very long story that he was very proud of having written two summers ago. I got to typing and found that he'd done a good job on it and parts of it made me laugh out loud. I burned up the hours in front of my computer screen.

And then, my hard drive died. I hadn't backed up my computer in a while. I'm telling you, it wasn't my best moment. This thing was dead. There would be no resurrection. I had spent hours typing Nick's story and editing my own. I had a stack almost two inches deep, ready to sell. I dried more tears and announced it done. We would sell stories for the Boy Scouts at our town festival, I told Mike.

Then, Mike got on the bandwagon and decided he'd fill the cooler with ice and bottles of water to sell. He told me I should write 'zombie apocalypse ' on rocks in Chinese and sell them. We had a joke that those Chinese characters on mugs and on wall hangings could say anything. Who was to know? What a great idea. And so I did. I even walked down to the river with a heavy-duty grocery bag and hauled up a load of smooth rocks. I spent hours figuring out how to write 'zombie apocalypse' and copying it onto river rocks using a Sharpie. I doodled around the edges. It made me happy to doodle on rocks with a Sharpie. I felt as though I got pretty good at drawing the characters.

So, when the festival arrived, it was suitably hot. Even though people down the street were handing out free bottles of water, people were paying a dollar for ours since they were on ice and maybe also because they liked the Boy Scouts. We had trouble keeping up with the demand, so at the end, some of the bottles we handed out hadn't had time to get ice cold.

At one point, a few Chinese people walked up to our booth and picked up one of my rocks.

"What does it say?" one of them asked politely.

"I hope it says 'zombie apocalypse.' I looked it up online," I said. They laughed. "How did I do?"

"That's good! You only need one line here and that's exactly what it says." They went away smiling. I think they got our joke. I got out my Sharpie and added the one line.

Other people wandered up and asked how my rocks would protect them from a zombie apocalypse.

"They won't!" I told them happily. Kids, mostly boys, held them in their hands and talked to each other. Someone came to take a picture of the rocks and the sign I'd made: Zombie apocalypse. Mike's idea was a good one. They'd never have gotten that much attention from something that said 'peace' or 'love.' The people who took the photo of the rocks bought a copy of Nick's story. Other people bought his story too. He was very excited by it.

I got to asking people walking by, "Want to buy a rock?" It was harder to ask if they wanted to buy my stories, which were buried under Nick's. The interest in these silly rocks was heartening. I had a great time! And we made more money for the troop!

The next day, I went to church again. Someone asked me to repeat my story about the pancake breakfast. Oh, couldn't I leave that one where it ended at the festival? I didn't like the idea of asking for more money when everyone had already been so generous. They insisted, putting a figurative spot light on me during the announcements. I told the story as best as I could. I retold the story of the pancakes, the whipped cream, even the rocks.

Okay, I have to admit it.

I cried all over again. This time they were tears of gratitude.

And people gave more money! What was this strange phenomenon? All I had to do was stand up in church, tell a story, cry tears of true feeling, and they were writing checks to my Boy Scout troop. Maybe I should go to work for Action Against Hunger or something. I mean, our boys certainly weren't hungry, not after the pancakes I fed them. Their problems were really very different than the ones faced by a hungry child. I know that Boy Scouts is a great organization, that it can save a boy who might otherwise have gotten lost. I know that Boy Scouts teaches important skills and encourages a meaningful code of conduct. And yet, it was humbling to contemplate all this generosity.

Last Sunday, when I sat down in a back pew, yet another woman handed me a check for the Boy Scout troop.

A blessing, an almost embarrassing blessing.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Late Afternoon Ascent

I don't think I can get a decent story told tonight. It's late and I'm beat from a good hike at Rattlesnake Lake.

Aren't you supposed to sleep better when you get good exercise? I think it works, but I'm not sure. At this point, I've downed a bottle of water, a glass of milk, and another full glass of water. When I got back to the car after the hike, the bottled water that had been sitting in my car all week was still warm from the heat, like tepid tea with no flavor. I know I'm not supposed to keep bottled water in my car during the summer because the plastic leeches into the water, but summer is when I need it most.

How prepared was I tonight?

I had my wallet, my keys, my iPhone with an apps for a flashlight and a map. That was it! I know it was only a four and a half mile trip up to Rattlesnake Ledge, but I realized too late that there are places where you should have decent provisions regardless of how short the hike. See, it's what happens when you 'walk the dog' every day. You get bored with your usual places. I go to places where there's espresso and a dog wash in the parking lot. I don't need to be so prepared for that. Then, I go places where the elevation gain has me gasping for breath and a misstep might result in a broken limb. There are trails twenty minutes from home that head out and don't necessarily come back. Being prepared for them is good. I've just gotten out of the habit of wearing my backpack which has most of what I need for a night or maybe two outside.

Oh, my friends offered me some water, but I figured once I got to the top, the profuse sweating would abate. It did. I won't tell you about how my friends did. They were fine, bopping along at a brisk pace. I'm glad they were patient with me, that they chatted when I couldn't hold up my end of the conversation for the heaving and the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. It turns out that the elevation gain at Rattlesnake Ledge is 1160 ft. Phew!

I don't care if it's sad that I once hiked sixteen miles on the Bright Angel trail down into the Grand Canyon, which is a mile deep, 5280 feet, and back, ... yet now 1160 feet seems like a lot. I'm proud of my 1160 ft! The thing was that we headed up the trail late this evening and we kept walking up hill until we were there. It was a random 'dog walk' on a random night and I couldn't have walked that a couple of years ago.

By comparison, the hike up Mt. Rainier is 9000 feet up over a distance of only eight or nine miles. Yeah, I'm never going to do that. I promised my ice axe to a young friend tonight. I knew within months of buying it back in 1992, that I wasn't going to try the ascent. It was the Mountaineers guide that Mike had bought at the same time that got me. I had begun to read about how to stay safe, about how to perform a self-arrest, about crossing a crevasse using a ladder while wearing crampons on my boots. I just didn't see myself going for it after that. Can you picture your own reaction to sliding down a mountainside with no easy way to stop yourself? You're supposed to be able to unbuckle your ice axe, hold it across your chest with two hands, then twist around and jam the pick into the snow to stop. I can say that I may have had some adrenaline junkie characteristics when I was young. I've paddled, laughing and screaming, through Class VI rapids in West Virginia, but I don't see myself living through a slide on the snow down a mountainside. At first, I was disappointed in myself, but now, I'm glad I didn't push myself to do something like that if I didn't really want to do it. It may be good to press your limits, but it's also good to respect your limits. Throw me into a wild river instead of onto a mountain any day.

These days, I spend more time simply walking the dog. And on days like today, that's okay with me.

Thank you for listening, jb


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paper Versus Ether

I have to admit that I was going to write you a nice story about fishing with my grandpa. Actually, I wrote it already, but it sits quietly in my notebook, just waiting to be released. Another time, perhaps.

You see, when I sat down at the computer, I started to wonder what I'd do if I ran out of books to read on the airplane on Friday when Nick and I go visiting. Ha! Now that I have my trusty Nook, I can have six or seven books to choose from without hauling an eighteen wheeler of a suitcase onto the plane as carry-on baggage. There will be more room in my backpack for food.

There's an added bonus to an ereader. No one can see the cover of what I'm reading. I like that, though I'm seldom reading anything beyond reproach. Really, I drew the line at taking a romance novel into the elementary school to show to my reading buddy. In general, I thought it was good to show them what I was reading, but I didn't figure that any second grader should have endure the cover of a romance novel. I remember when my grandma started giving me books she had liked. It was agonizing knowing that she'd read a particularly juicy part. Grandma, ew!

So, I downloaded about six books from the library. I doubt I can read them all before they expire, but I want to have a good selection while I sit. I picked out two in Spanish! I figure I can use my iPhone to look up words I don't know. I was bummed to see that the Nook dictionary didn't cover that. I'm just getting good enough with Spanish that I can read a paragraph fairly quickly and almost get the gist of what's going on. Almost. Okay, well, I'd like to think I'm getting the correct gist. Who will know if I don't, right? I could have a whole parallel universe going as I read what I think is the real story in Spanish. Now, if I were really organized, I'd download the English version and flip back and forth between them. I may learn real Spanish yet. I'm generally not all that interested in saying, "Estudiantes, vamos a la libreria para estudiar!" That's about as good as it gets for me, though I have a dual language copy of Pablo Neruda that I like quite a bit. I'm not sure much vocabulary has really sunk in, though.

I also downloaded a couple of books for Nick. Who knows? He might get bored enough on the plane to steal my Nook for a bit. I'd better bring one paperback, just in case. I admit that letting go of paper is a bit difficult for me. I like paper. Thus, my late start with an actual ereader.

I keep wondering what to do with all these books lying around my house. Will they become collector's items like records and eight track tapes? I like the smell of books. I like the feel of the paper when a book is well designed. I like to wonder why they put in eight extra pages at the back. Are those pages for my notes about how the book went, for my alternate ending, the one I wanted so much more than what I was given?

I have some of my dad's books. I wish there were more words written into them. The titles definitely described something about the man. 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' and 'The Blaster's Handbook' come to mind. Doesn't that tell you that the man wanted to understand history, that he might be willing to blow something up? A boring person would not own those books. Yet, I would give my eye teeth for his own words, his own impressions, written on those extra pages. Yes, I'll probably hang onto the books I have. I might even write in them.

The problem with my book choices is that primarily, the books I own are books I have on my bookshelf waiting, sometimes for years, for me to pick them up and read them. I generally don't read a book twice, so I gave away all but my favorites. I remember a man standing in my apartment in front of my book shelf back when I still lived in New Jersey. He was tut tutting about the smallness of it. He spoke to me as if I'd read everything on that shelf. He began to critique my reading history based on these books. Well, I told him quickly that the bookshelf didn't even begin to cover what I'd read. It was just a bunch of books waiting to be read. I should have shoved that man out my door and down the stairs to the landing below. What do I care about what books people have read? I like when I find out I can ask someone what they're reading and hear a different answer now and then, but I don't give a monkey's flying rat about how important these people are based on their reading selections. Life is too short, people.

Oh, I should have typed that story about fishing with my grandpa after all. I would have made it to bed earlier and you wouldn't be sitting here scratching your head, saying, "What the hell is she going on about now?"

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, July 6, 2013


We're having a sleepover We had orange chicken and fortune cookies for dinner. 'The Three Stooges' is in the CD player. The boys have just finished bouncing a balloon around the room. They're breathless because they took turns spiking the balloon to the floor while everyone else tried to keep it up. That made for a lot of hand-slapping and pushing. It was fun being the downer when it was my turn. Why is it fun to be the bad guy in games now and then?

Now, the boys are setting up the game 'Dread Pirate.' I can hear them plotting an alliance that will surely run Mike and I out of business faster. I'm just hoping to get to Dread Island to get the pile of doubloons that will accumulate there.

I'd like to send the boys outside to set off the rest of the sparklers and smoke bombs, but by now, the mosquitoes will be patrolling the area. There's no way to battle them except to come inside, to spray the poison all over ourselves, or cover every inch of skin with clothing. That might be a good use for a burqa outside of religious reasons. I swear these mosquitoes would attack your eyeballs if that was all that was showing.

I remember when we went to Alaska and our dog Indiana asked to go to bed early every night. At first, we thought something was wrong with her until we realized the mosquitoes were targeting her nose. I feel sorry for animals that have nowhere to go to escape.

It's starting to cool down outside, but it's a little stuffy in here. I've got the windows and sliding glass door open. By bedtime, it'll be nice, but when will bedtime happen?

I have to get back to the action now. See ya!

Thanks for listening, jb

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I've come to terms with the twenty-first century. I am now the proud owner of a Nook ereader.


I've learned, sort of, to download books to it from the library.

That seems like a miracle. See, I almost feel as though I have two new books on my Nook by accident. I did it myself. I really did. Will I remember how to do it tomorrow? Who knows? I'm not exactly sure how they got there.

I can now choose a book from the library at home at 2:46 am. I can now read in the living room when the guys want to sit in the dark and play video games. I am reading a physical book from the library, but I also have it on my Nook.

Now, I want one of those little book covers for my Nook. I don't want it to get messed up after all. I don't want it to get dust in its crevices from hanging about in my pockets.

It blinks a lot. Maybe it's like a new pet, not sure of its place in its new home, awakened for the first time to my face, uncertain of it's safety. Will that dog chew on it? Will the cat knock it off the table. It thought it was allowed on the table. Will the boy spill water on it and send it to eHeaven? Does it even have a name?

When he was little, Nick named all of our cars. He also decided that we all had the same middle name he had. I'm surprised the cars didn't also have his middle name too.

You might wonder, then, what I'm reading on my Nook. 'My Name is Mina' by David Almond and 'Remembrances of Things Paris' by Ruth Reichl. Maybe I'll let you know what I think of them. Maybe I'll forget. Or worse, maybe I won't like the books. I hate putting too much negative stuff out there. There's enough negative stuff out there. I don't think I'll have to worry about that.

Almond's book has already drawn me in. This is a young adult book about a girl writing in her journal while the rest of the world sleeps. It reminds me of what I wrote in my journal when I was just thirteen. Oh, you do not want to read that journal. It was just mindless drivel. Almond's book, so far, has given up that feeling of being a girl randomly writing in her journal without actually reproducing the drivel that most of the actual journals contain.

And Reichl's book? I haven't read a word yet. But I loved 'Tender at the Bone' and 'Comfort Me with Apples.' How can you go wrong being naturally funny and writing about food. I love reading about food.

The thing that I hope happens, though, is that my Nook becomes transparent to the process. It's easy enough to read what I have there. I just hope I don't end up here, telling you about how I forgot to 'turn in' a borrowed downloaded book and ended up owing $182.50 from five years of library fines. I'm sure I'll manage something strange, so maybe I'll have a story to tell you.

I hope not.

Thank you for listening, jb