Monday, January 27, 2014

My Virtual Hike

I should go to bed. It's been busy the last few days and I'm tired. Still, I can't quite seem to get settled. It's always that way on nights when I've been out and come home at bed time.

So, here's the deal. I really don't have anything to tell you today. I don't particularly want to tell you how badly I slept in the twin bed while Nick had his sleep study last night. The room was so hot, I woke up thirsty. I hate sleeping in a room that's too hot. And I worried about Nick sleeping with that pony tail of wires down his back. As I had thought, he didn't sleep at all well. It'll be amazing if they can get decent data on him.

I don't want to tell you about quilt night with my friends. I had a good time at quilt night, but you can imagine without my help what eleven women sound like in a room together. Tonight, we cackled. Some of the jokes were repeats of jokes we'd laughed at before. Some were new. I've been hanging around with my quilt women for almost fifteen years. It's been a good fifteen years.

I don't want to tell you about getting my carpet cleaned today and how I cruised into my driveway after dropping Nick at school just before the carpet guy arrived. I don't want to you to know I could barely keep my eyes open as he worked since he had more work to do than I did.

What I want to tell you is the way my mind is still on the audiobook I listened to on the way to and from quilt night. 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed. My mind is on the fact that anyone could buy a bunch of stuff from REI and never try it out before planning to spend 100 days on the Pacific Crest Trail. My mind is on the fact that for the first leg of the trip, she didn't have hot food because she used gasoline in her backpacking stove instead of white gas. My mind is on the fact that, though her reference book, the REI staff, and even people she met on the way to the trail told her to lighten her load, she considered four books and an 800 page hardbound journal essential to the trip.

Why does all of this make me angry?

Shit, I walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day with two cans of Dr. Pepper and two Snickers bars in my pockets. It was sixteen and a half miles, a mile deep, and thankfully, there were water sources along the way. My sneakers left me with tiny black and blues under each toenail, even my pinky toes. It looked as though I'd painted them. I wore a light jacket over a Tshirt and jeans. That was it. I hadn't trained for it. The next day, on the plane ride home, my calves seized and I couldn't put my feet flat on the floor because it flexed the muscles too much. How much brighter was I than she was?

Not much.

In fact, we were about the same age. I was twenty-four and she was twenty-six. I reasoned that I had gone backpacking with my church group, a ten day hike along the Appalachian Trail, so I had experience, right? Sometimes I wonder what happened to that experience when I planned that hike into the Grand Canyon. It was gone, simply vanished. I knew a month in advance that I intended to go, yet ...

I could actually see myself having dared something like this Pacific Crest Trail debacle that Strayed took. I could. I used to read books about hiking the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end. Somehow, I knew I'd never do it. As it was, I've hiked sections in New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. One time, I figured I'd do sections until I'd done a virtual hike from beginning to end. Then we moved to the Pacific Northwest and that dream faded.

Now, I'm on a different track. When I used to walk with our old dog Indiana, we'd go for hours at a time in different parks and on different trails. So, when we brought Teddy home, I had this idea and for the most part, I've stuck with it.

I try to keep track of our mileage together. Teddy and I walk almost every day, a mile here at the dog park, three or four miles there on a trail. I'd like to know, in general, how far this dog will walk and how much exercise I'm getting in the meantime. So far, I've logged 394 miles.

Once in a while, in a lame attempt to get Nick to go with me more often, I start talking about my virtual trip. At this point, I'm just over the western border to Montana. I'm hiking I-90. Isn't that a thrill? I just want to see if I can get all the way to Boston at some point. I know I should pick some scenic trail like the Pacific Crest Trail or at least a scenic byway, but I'm not. I'm on I-90. So sue me.

The cool thing is that I've traveled across that part of the country. I was excited about getting to the Summit at Snoqualmie where I could pretend I could downhill ski. I took in a virtual concert at the Gorge at George. It was Crosby, Stills, and Nash, of course. Or maybe the Grateful Dead. Hey, it's my virtual dream. I even looked at the way eastern Washington looked like a gold and blue Van Gogh in certain light. There was Couer d'Alene. There's a great toy store and a beautiful lake at Couer d'Alene. And now I'm at the western border of Montana. The weather in Montana is crazy. One minute it can be eighty degrees and in a half an hour, it can snow. The green naked hills of Montana can have crazy-looking antelope running across them. Oh, Montana will be fun.

I pedaled my bike down a mountain once in Montana. Mike drove me to the top and I met him at the bottom. I have to say it wasn't nearly as satisfying as I'd expected. Most of the time I felt as though I was going over the handlebars at the angle the road sloped. And the switchbacks made gliding hell, sheer hell. Have you ever seen the outside turns of most roads that switchback down a mountain? Well, I did it, but next time, I'm going to ride my bike from the Summit at Snoqualmie down I-90 and home. Well, maybe I'll make it a virtual tour.

It would be much safer that way. I wonder if Cheryl Strayed has considered taking a virtual hike next time. It might be easier to carry her 800 page hardbound journal that way.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I was thinking about the first time Mike kissed me, or rather I kissed him. I still remember that we sat in my little red Renault Alliance, a piece of shit car built of metric and standard bolts and spare screws. That's how Mike described it anyway. I thought of it as my zippy little car until it died and my vehicular alliance changed. I've been thinking about that night, sitting in my car in the parking lot where we worked. The security guard made several passes, at first checking our work badges, then just smiling and waving, and then, in the wee hours of the night, just walking quietly past us on his rounds. I imagine we made his night a little more interesting.

I've been thinking about energy. Lightning bolts strike the earth, or the nearest route to ground, because of static electricity that has built up and finally reaches a potential beyond which the very air cannot resist. It's like that with the first kiss.

You know what I mean. You're watching a really great romantic comedy and you remember that palpable swoon when the two finally kiss at the end of the movie. Why else watch some of the stupid antics that go on during some of those movies? It's all for that contact, the one that works.

Is that why I like lightning so much? Is it that same moment when the sky finally leans in for that sweet burning kiss, the one that spreads out in visible lines across the ground, the way all your hairs suddenly realign across the back of your arm and you feel as though your life is never going to be the same after that one moment?

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nagging About the Garbage

The garbage smells like cat litter. I'd like to tell you that when I clean the litter box and then ask Nick to take the garbage out, he jumps right up to do just that. He doesn't. He requires nagging. He's even said so himself. I hate nagging. He and Mike are playing video games. It's our usual Saturday. I'm in the kitchen noodling around and they're on the couch while shouting and artillery sounds emanate from the television. I'm tempted to put the open pail next to Nick in all its odoriferous glory, but I know I won't because of the foot pedal on the automatic lid of my sweet garbage can.

I love my garbage can. When Teddy, our dog, was younger, he used to get into the garbage when no one was looking. He ate a whole chicken carcass that way once. We just couldn't seem to break him of this habit, so we went to Bed Bath and Beyond and looked at garbage cans with lids. In our usual engineering style, we took each one off the shelf and tried them out. This one would be knocked over too easily. That one had the foot pedal on the wide side and we'd have to walk around a corner, nearly out of the kitchen, every time we wanted to use it. This other one didn't open easily. And that hands-free one? I didn't want to have to wave wet garbage over the top of the can, the same way people do jazz hands in front of airport paper towel dispensers, to get the damned thing to work. We ended up buying something that I thought was too heavy and would be too wide for the space where it would go, but it wasn't. It was nearly perfect.

That was over a year ago and I have to tell you that I love my garbage can. When I'm about to throw away a paper towel that isn't too dirty, I wipe down the stainless steel cover that says 'simplehuman' and then I press the pedal with my foot and wipe the inside of the cover as well.  When the garbage threatens to touch the top of that cover, I get to nagging Nick until he takes the garbage outside. Sometimes I take the overflowing pail out of the mechanism so that the lid doesn't get mucked up with slimy stuff at the top while it waits for Nick to do his job.

See, back before we realized that we had a problem with rats in the garage, I composted in a bin outside. I found satisfaction in seeing my compost turn pink and green with mold, grow mushrooms, then go flaccid and disappear into dirt. It smelled, but it was a beautiful part of the circle of life, the part that connects predators to worms. Some of those molds were a very pretty pink. And delicate fields of mushrooms appeared overnight. When our dog Indiana started getting into the compost, Mike built a lid for it with a latch. It didn't work because Indiana chewed the corner of the lid off and got into it anyway. Usually, those episodes ended with her puking compost and chunks of wood onto my beige carpet. Gees, we didn't even put any meat products in there. It was all vegetables! And then, Mike got a family of mice in the shop vac in the garage and we were officially done with composting.

Before all that, though, I had this sweet stainless steel container for my kitchen. I lined it with biodegradable plastic bags, but I noticed that the lid became absolutely corroded and I realized that my sweet stainless steel container itself was beginning to compost too. Any place on the inside of that lid that had ever touched my unused vegetables got ugly. Eventually, I replaced it with a small plastic bucket that didn't even have a lid so I had to empty it before it got gross, before it began to compost right in my kitchen. So, when the garbage in my nice can gets near the top, I remember the likes of that sweet stainless steel container I had in my kitchen, I take the pail out of the mechanism, and yell for Nick to take the garbage out.

And he procrastinates. What kid do you know that doesn't?

In the meantime, I go about my usual kitchen duties and, without thinking, put my foot onto that pedal and toss in a handful of wet garbage, paper towels, egg shells, whatever. Then, about the time the stuff splats onto the bottom of the empty bin, I realize I had already taken the pail out and it's standing in sight, next to the part with the mechanical lid. Now, I have to go head first into it to clean out the crud I just dropped into the bottom. Yuck.

So, my solution to this is to put the full pail of garbage in front of the foot pedal so I don't automatically step there and toss garbage where I'll just have to dive in and clean it up. That means that, because I can't remember what I have just done, I can't put that putrid pail of cat litter in front of Nick, who is still playing video games on the couch, where the smell would drive him, without one word of nagging, to take the garbage out.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Letter at 2am for My Son

I hate when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I dream that my alarm is going off and I leap up only to find that it's 2:00am.

I also hate when I read books that make me cry. I hate it and I love it at the same time. I'm reading 'Tiny Beautiful Things' by Cheryl Strayed. It is a lovely book, a collection of letters to 'Sugar' an advice columnist.

Hon, keep reading. I'll get to the point. You know me. I never get to the point easily, plus sometimes I don't have a point, so it's hard to tell the difference.

In her book, Cheryl responds to a man who lost his son to a drunk driver and is anguished. Here's what I know, what made tears come to my eyes when I read the letter he wrote: When you were four, you had pneumonia for the first time. Watching your flaccid little body in that hospital bed was agony and I knew in a visceral way that I would not survive if I lost you.

Visceral? Don't know what it means? Go look it up. Okay?

Sweetie, I looked into the abyss of not having you in my life and the world went black. There was no reason to live. You just lay in that little bed with things taped to you like you weren't a human being at all. The worst part was that you let them be. When you finally began to get better, you ripped at that tape as if it were hurting you. You worked to get that IV out of your arm. They finally had to tape the oxygen sensor onto your arm with heavier tape and a splint because you kept pulling it off. They tied knots in gauze that you couldn't untie over your IV. I loved that about you, even as I sat with you and argued that you needed to keep it on, that the nurses and doctors needed to see what was inside your body and this was the only way. You didn't buy it, so eventually, Mike and I took turns trying to play with you, distract you while holding your arm as you struggled. I loved watching you struggle. Even the nurses would grin when we talked to them about how you struggled. They told us that meant you were getting better. When we left, they gave you a little orange fish bubble toy. When you put the nose into the bubbles, then blew through the tail, bubbles came out and spun the fins. I found that toy the other day and set it aside to keep. They said that blowing bubbles would help your lungs heal, that we should blow bubbles a lot for a few months. They said it would take up to eight months for your lungs to heal completely. You never, not once, liked stickers after that. Nice nurses tried to put stickers on your chest after an examination and it would make you cry. I learned to be adamant that you be allowed to say no to them, even if it was confusing why any little kid might hate stickers.

I know. I go on and on. I really do.

After you came home from the hospital and went back to preschool, I had time alone. It was awful. I couldn't wait to see your sturdy body running away from me in the playground toward the slide and the other kids. While I waited for you to be done with school, I stewed. What if I had lost you?

I know. I didn't lose you.

But what if I did? How would I survive? I was angry and sad and afraid. That was my response to you being seriously ill. I couldn't imagine life beyond your death. I really got into a funk about this. Your dad's response to your illness? He took us all to Disneyland. Ha! I got into a funk, but he celebrated.

It just goes to show  what perspective can do. It can either make you celebrate or it can make you crazy. Be like you dad, hon. It's easier.

See, you know by now that I lost my dad when I was thirteen. So, I know what loss is. Fourteen months later, I lost my grandpa too. Oh, I still had three other grandparents that I loved, but I'm telling you that it was a very dark time in my life, to have lost so much so early. My life was completely changed by those losses. At least I was lucky enough, was old enough, to have known what my dad wanted for me in life. So, I went after that with a vengeance.

And I ached for my dad. I still miss him.

You're thirteen now, and I have to tell you that ache has been worse this year. I know it doesn't make any sense, but I worry that you won't get through the year without losing someone important in your life. I can still feel that fear, the fear I first faced when you were four, of the grief of losing you. It would almost be that bad if I lost your dad. Don't tell him that I said 'almost.'

So, here's my dilemma - I'm afraid of that awful grief. I don't want it to happen to you while you're thirteen, to permanently change your future. I don't want to have to get through that pain again myself. Not yet. I don't want an awful legacy of us losing people we dearly love at the same age. I will breathe easier this summer when you turn fourteen. I really will. Isn't that stupid?

I've tried to let go of this fear. I really have. I've tried to hide it from you and your dad. Finally, after you'd gone to bed a couple of months ago, I told him. He listened. He's good that way. We talked about how it seemed to be bad luck to put away your nebulizer, that you seemed to get sick again whenever we did. I told him how bad things seemed to happen to me when I was thirteen, twenty-three, thirty-three, forty-three and now fifty-three. Death, surgery, illness, illness, and his illness. Each time, I came out stronger but the grief, especially when my dad died, was huge.

My dad was a vigorous man, a powerful man. Oh, he seemed physically powerful, but I'm talking about a metaphysical power. He gripped life. He battled with it sometimes. He wasn't always easy to be around when he was battling it. He was wonderful to be around when he was working to help me experience life. I would love to give you the experience he gave me of sliding down a big mud hill on pieces of cardboard. It was gloriously dirty. I remember landing badly on one of the runs and getting mud packed into my ear. When I went up to him, he took his big pinky and dug out what he could. He said not to worry about it, that the rest of it would come out on its own. You haven't lived until you've played so hard you have mud packed against your eardrum. I've tried to give you that, let you experience new things the way my dad did. I think that even though the two of you have never met, you have a sense of who your grandpa was. You've heard the stories about him, about when he'd organize a bunch of us kids to paddle a log across the cove for firewood, how he blew up the stump with dynamite, how he leaped into the air and danced in a circle when his experiment worked on the Apollo 12. You get him, I think.

What I see is that your vitality, your vigor, is so much like his. You are and have always been a powerful boy. You'll probably be physically powerful too, but I'm talking about something that is attached to your soul. I might fight you over that power. I might tell you that you need to do something yourself when your power would so easily get someone else to do it for you. But ultimately, I love seeing that power in you.

And I honestly don't know if I can keep walking through this world if I lose you in my lifetime. I'm not sure how I could live through losing your dad. Yet, I want to spare you losing either of us. The hardest part of all of this, I realized a couple of months ago, is that one of us has to lose the others. It's inevitable. It's not an if, but a when.

There is both darkness and light in gratitude. It's all part of the same wheel. I want to celebrate and I want to cry in anguish over my love for you and your dad.

So almost every day, I wake up and I ask one question. I beg. I pray even. May I have just one more day with you?

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Day I Decided to Be Done

I know I shouldn't begin a story at this hour. I know I shouldn't. I should go to bed. It's time for me to go to bed.

A couple of months ago, someone got me to write an article about something they were doing. I wrote it the day after the event and other people asked about me writing and submitting this article too. It was a good article. I promise you. It was.

The sad thing was that no one will ever read this article. After practically begging me to write it, this person hasn't read the copy I sent to her the next day to check facts and my spelling.

'Really,' I want to say, 'it's not even a page long!'

I've asked nearly every time I run into the family if someone could follow up on this. I've explained that I promised an article to the other people involved. After the first deadline passed, I was pissed. After the next deadline passed, I was well and truly pissed. After I saw this person's husband and mentioned it to him, I was furious because he seemed to think it wasn't that big a deal to ask a person, me, to write an article and then not allow the whole thing to be sent to the publisher because no one from his family bothered to read it and say it was okay.

Yesterday, two months after the first deadline has passed, I needed to drop a key off at this woman's house. I told her that the article - remember the article? - would have to be rewritten because it isn't timely any more. Any references to 'yesterday' won't fly.

"Oh, I guess I kind of dropped the ball on that," she said. She giggled. Yes, she giggled right there in her driveway while I stood and looked at her. I wish I'd had a copy of this article with me. We could have read it together in her driveway in the rain. By the time we finished, I guarantee you that we would not have been all that wet.

Today, something happened. I'm not sure how to explain it. I'm done being mad.

I saw the woman's husband tonight and didn't say a word about the whole thing. He made a joke about something. It was a funny joke so I laughed. Yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to laugh.

It's good to be done being mad. I was done being mad today, about a lot of things. Is it really that simple? Maybe I can be done being mad about annoying stuff again tomorrow too.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, January 13, 2014

Some Extra Crap

Does it bother you that I've been writing crap? It bothers me, but I've decided that I'm just going to have to write some crap for a while since it's either crap or nothing. That's what I've got to give you, either crap or nothing.

I'm trying to finish a big project and instead, I've been playing games on my iPhone. Did I ever tell you how much I love my iPhone? One of Nick's friends was complaining about iPhones tonight on the way home from a karate and what I heard was that he hates them, mostly because all of his friends have one and he doesn't. That's a good one, isn't it? I think that kind of thirteen-year-old logic persists in most people throughout adulthood. I know I use it sometimes, probably more often than I realize.

I love my iPhone, but I've been trying to figure out whether I play mindless games when I'm mentally stuck or if I get stuck by playing to many mindless games on my iPhone. I'm not sure I'll ever know. I go through these phases, see, but even when it's beginning to end, am I actually coming unstuck when I finally slow back down to playing mindless games at a normal rate or do I have to put my foot down on that mindlessness in order to become unstuck? These are the mysteries of life that I fear I will never know.

It's like that with writing crap too. After a while, I make myself keep writing and eventually, out pops a nugget, something that I actually like. So here you go. Crap! Yet another of life's mysteries, though I doubt you'll get a nugget tonight, not that kind of nugget anyway.

I carry a particular theory in my heart when it comes to life's mysteries. I like to think that when I die and my soul leaves my body, it doesn't go to the 'great beyond' the way everybody thinks it does. I like to think that it reconnects to everything that is, that my blindness will fall away and that I will suddenly know, really know, how all those socks can get lost in the dryer and never reappear or how I can lose something like my keys in my purse one minute and the next minute, they are there, right where they were supposed to be, usually after I've gotten the whole household running frantically around the house to help me find my keys.

Think of the look on Cate Blanchett's face in 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' when the aliens give her that vision to know everything that is. That's the look I will have when I find out what happens to that ten minutes between when I put on my shoes and when I pull out of the driveway on my way somewhere. I will know, in those moments, that there really is a problem with the space-time continuum in certain places and I have experienced it. I will also know all the messages my dog, Teddy, has so patiently been trying to give me when he tilts his head just so or turns away just as the camera app on my iPhone has finally loaded and is ready to snap another photo of him smiling on our walks. Yes, Cate Blanchett is an amazing actress. She has that look down perfectly, the agony of finding out what happened to all of those socks and why I have to write so much terrible crap before I can give you one tiny gold nugget of words on the page.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, January 4, 2014


I'm happy right now. I can't explain it. I haven't done anything special lately. I haven't been given anything.

Our culture would make you believe that if I were given the perfect gift, I'd become perfectly happy, that diamond, that new car, or the special cleaner that picks up every particle of dirt.

What is dirt anyway? It's like a weed. If you don't want that plant in your yard, it's a weed. If it's a speck you don't want on your granite countertop, it's grime.

Nope. It isn't any one thing that has made me happy today, though I have to admit that experiences can do the trick. Get me in a plane and I'm usually happy.

Once, I took one of those helicopter rides over the valley. It was only a five minute ride. Honestly, I think the pilot gave me some extra time. I still love him for that. At first, I didn't know that the pilot was talking to me on the microphone, but after he repeated himself a couple of times in my helmet, I figured it out.

"Where do you want to go?" he asked again.

"Can you fly low over the river?" I asked.

"Sure you won't get sick?"

"I'll let you know." 

Then in a flash, he was showing me what his helicopter could do. I was so happy in those minutes, tears streamed down my face. He flew as if we were in a motorcycle along the river, banking left and then right and popping lightly over a bridge. I barely breathed. Then, he swept me up, spiraling in the air, and leveled off for just a minute to show me the elk herd in North Bend. I had never seen elk before, let alone a whole herd. Then, we swooped past the face of Mt. Si and he brought us lightly down in the front yard of the middle school.

When Mike saw my face and my tears, he quickly asked how I felt.

"That! Was! AMAZING!" I screamed.

Yes, doing things, special things, can make me happy, but today?

I can't explain it. I didn't spiral through the skies, but it was still a really good day.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, January 2, 2014


I'm still out there looking for beauty. I think I've found it for the day, that one beautiful thing, and - wham!  - there is more, always something more.

On Monday, Mike and Nick played laser tag with our sleepover boys. It was a good sleepover, a really good sleepover. It was so good that it was hard to get the boys up for laser tag the next morning. For the first time, I didn't tell them when to go to sleep. I just told them to be quiet enough not to bother Mike and I. It was so fun. Nick said they fell asleep at around midnight.

So, after we got to the park, boys and men packed into one car and Teddy and I in another, I looked for the trail to walk with Teddy. The Snoqualmie Valley Trail was a sweet block away. I was in search of dog friends for Teddy. And I found them, a Bernese mountain dog in the Frisbee park. And a Benji dog right afterward. Are you old enough to remember the movie 'Benji'? It was a sweet movie and that ratty little dog was so endearing. This one was just as sweet.

It was so good between Benji and Teddy that both of us humans decided to walk together. We talked dogs, kids, the philosophy of caring for our country's veterans. Oh, we were solving problems when I sadly told this woman that I needed to turn around to meet my laser tag guys. I had hopes of being take out to lunch. I loved when this woman turned around with me and we continued solving our country's problems.

"What is that bird?" she asked, pointing.

"Where?" I asked.

"That big one, there on the left, the big thing." And then I saw it, the size of a heron or an eagle. We kept walking, coming near to where our raised trail came level with the tree in which this bird perched.

We could see into its eyes. It was an eagle, a young bald eagle who still had brown dots in his white head feathers. It turned its head a little.

There's a certain way that a young bird moves its head, even a magnificent predator like this one, that makes it look a little dorky and sweet. Our bald eagle moved its head again as we talked. It didn't seem disturbed by our conversation. It looked comfortable in its perch as if it had been sitting there by the river in that tree its whole short life. A baby robin sat on my back deck for nearly a month that way a couple of summers ago. I could look at it freely without it flying away. This bald eagle had that same look, a little bewildered but confident in its size and with a sense of claiming its home. I'd like to go there tomorrow to see if the eagle is still standing in the same position, just watching the people on the trail and the fish in the river.

I was awed enough that I forgot to take a picture with my trusty iPhone. Really, this eagle was only about fifteen feet away. It was incredible.

So, in my head, I put this down into my mind as the moment of beauty I'd been looking for that day. What a gift, huh?

And then, we walked back and I turned into the park to meet my guys. It turned out that they'd decided to head home without me and I sat in my car by the side of the road sending a text to one of the boys' moms. The kids wanted to play a little longer. As I sat, I looked across the street to where a small girl pulled two smaller girls in a wagon. They stopped in front of a tiny manger scene, these girls, each in pink coats, the red wagon, and Mary, Joseph and Jesus all in pale blue. It took my breath away when the biggest girl put her arm around one of the smaller ones.


And I was given two views in just one day. Some days, there is abundance.

Thank you for listening, jb