Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Minor Driving Incident

Today I pulled up to an intersection and stopped to wait for the light to change to green. I noticed the car driver behind me trying to wave me forward. I wondered what the heck he thought he wanted? I hadn't missed the light changing (quick double-check), it wasn't an emergency vehicle, and I was nose up to the crosswalk, just where I thought I should be. I mentally dismissed him.

Then I saw he was opening his car door and heading towards me. Oh oh, lock the door and crack the window. "Say, can you move your car up so I can make my right turn?"

Yeah, like right turns are a right and/or a mandate on a red light. There just wasn't any excess room in this tiny lane.

As he turned back to his car, I noticed my light turn green and called out, "Sure thing," to his back as I proceeded through the intersection. I believe he got back into his car in time to make it through on the green. I doubt he had time to buckle, however.


Ice Out

A few weeks back, when I took may dad down to Red Wing. even the local rivers (St. Croix) were frozen over. The only exception was the Mighty Muddy, aka the Mississippi. This week Sunday we went out for another drive, looking to see how this exceptionally warm spring was coming. The St. Croix was ice-free, including the ice-dams that had backed up causing flooding in a variety of locations. We did see the melting remains of one, however, pushed up on shore in a couple spots in the Lions Park just on the north side of St. Croix Falls.

Heading west along Hwy. 8 a bit, we drove up the length of North Center Lake accessible in Center City proper. While still covered with large sheets of black-colored ice, there were large gaps between sheets. Many spots had about 100 feet of open water out from the shore.

Monday on my way home from work, I noticed that the lakes visible in Forest Lake from the interstate had cleared all their ice cover. I decided to pay attention the rest of the way home to see where there was still ice. Comfort Lake was ice free, as was Green. Both North and South Lindstrom Lakes, however, had significant ice remaining, though the water patches were growing. South Center Lake had ice as well, but interestingly North Center Lake, the one we'd driven along on Sunday, had cleared.

Today on the way in to work, North Lindstrom had cleared, and tonight South Lindstrom as well. I had trouble telling with South Lindstrom this morning until I spied an eagle and a pair of crows standing out on a large patch of ice. Tonight South Center remains the only local lake with ice, and the winds today have pushed what little that remains into a single northern bay. I expect it will all be gone tomorrow.

The metro is south of us and usually warmer, so I was surprised to see the western suburbs sporting lakes with full coverings of ice. The only explanation I have is that they got significantly more snowfall than we did here, and it protected the ice much longer from starting to melt.

What does it all mean?

Fishing season is coming soon!

Snuff Bottles Arrived

Hi David,
Just dropping you a note to let you know that your package arrived yesterday. As always, everything is perfectly intact and I'm delighted with the bottles. I had forgotten that I had so many coming this time, but then life's been hectic. The best one of course is the egrets and cranes bottle, but that one is the one I had been anticipating the most as well.

I hope you're enjoying your vacation, and I'm looking forward to seeing your offerings when you get back.


This has become a favorite thing of mine, collecting snuff bottles. These days I limit myself to inside-painted bottles, often called reverse-painted. This is because, being painted inside glass, the top layer, the finishing details on any other painting is the first on to go on, and the fill-in details and background colors go last. I've seen pictures of the "brushes" they use to do this, and they look like dental instruments, straight with a 1/16" right-angle bend at the tip, and able to hold only a miniscule dab of paint. It has to go in and out of the bottle through a very tiny neck.

They come from China. Most of the scenes on them are traditional Chinese scenes: landscapes, people in traditional clothing, flowers in still life, animals from their zodiac. Occasionally there is a copy of a piece of artwork, whether a painting, calligraphy poem, or even an antique decorated cooking vessel. They can look like a black & white sketch or an oil painting, depending on the skills and intent of the artist. Most of them range in size from two to three inches total height, so you can imagine how tiny the pictures inside are.

Beginning artists use thick-walled bottles, probably so as not to break them. Advanced artists paint in bottles so thin you can't actually see the glass on the sides of the painting. They go to special schools to learn this art, and since my main source has connections with the people at the Xisan Academy, that's where most of my painted bottles come from. He actually meets the artists, and occasionally his pictures of the bottles he's offering this time include the artist as well, sometimes with his/her family.

The bottles used to be inexpensive. Capitalism has changed that. Not only has China rediscovered its artistic roots, something "highly discouraged" during their cultural revolution under Mao, but these bottles have now become highly prized to give as high-class gifts. What once sold for $50-$100 now goes for a grand and up. This severely limits quantities available for export and international buyers who can afford them. I was lucky in discovering these gems at a time both when I could afford them and they were plentiful, and even luckier in finding a reputable seller. Scams abound. I started on eBay, and have wound up with a complete piece of crap (resin sold as jade, for example) on more than one occasion. Lately, a technique has been developed that involves photographic rather than painting skill. The result looks pretty enough but they are mass produced and essentially worthless.

I have collected another kind of snuff bottle as well, made not from glass but from rocks. You've likely all seen spheres and eggs carved from onyx or agate or other materials. I collect those same rocks in the form of snuff bottles. In addition to those, I have numerous jaspers, fossils, chrysocolla, rhodonite, rhodochrosite, jade, opal, garnet, and sapphire, just to name a few. Most of those stones I'd never heard of before I saw them in a snuff bottle, like piertersite, charoite, or seraphinite. The more precious the stone, the more teeny the bottle. The harder to carve, the more intricately designed, the higher the price. Some have silver footings, to help the bottles stand. Others don't, some so precarious that vibrations from walking across the room will tip them from their stands. Very few of them have ever been intended for actual use for holding snuff, especially modern ones. It both stains and stinks. But they still have caps with spoons attached to them, carrying out the illusion that they could/would be.

I didn't start out collecting snuff bottles. I started collecting Chinese dragons, and one day a painting of a dragon in a bottle introduced me to these little gems. I quickly learned which sellers were dependable, in either kind of bottle, and set about to collect at least one of everything good. Well, try, anyway. I didn't manage to collect anything of really high quality, because they have always been out of my budget. I was still going for quantity as well as quality, and compromises were necessary.

Not only did I collect to keep them, but I started to collect them as gifts. One year, well before prices rose, I contacted my main (get real! ONLY!) contact to the Chinese artists and asked if they could be commissioned in a particular design. The answer came back, yes they could, as long as a picture was provided for them to copy from and I was willing to meet the price. I was, and they arrived in time for that year's X-mas. The new domestic market keeps the artists too busy these days to do that again, even if I wanted to spend a grand or so.

The only other bottle I commissioned was through a Thai seller specializing in stone bottles. He's since quit selling them, but while he did they were the highest quality I was able to find in reasonable price ranges. Our Alaska trip a few years back included a stop at the Kobuk Valley Jade Co. store in Girdwood, where I picked up a couple pieces of Alaskan jade with an aim to get a special battle carved as a keepsake from the trip. It wound up taking over a year for a completed bottle to make its way back to me, but it's in the collection.

These days they sit in four totes stacked carefully on sturdy shelves, organized by type of bottle or design. Sunlight fades the paint after long exposure, so they stay protected in their dark little gift boxes. I don't take them out and look at them often, but enjoy when I do. Eventually they'll find an appropriate home in a display piece, but not for a while. In years to come, more of them will find their way to new homes under fancy wrapping paper and gift tags, but I'll keep the bulk of them as long as I can still enjoy them. And since there's still some room in the top of those totes, I'll still collect the occasional bottle when I can.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Catalogued Auction

Today's is a catalogued auction, the best kind, for a variety of reasons.

First, everything in the auction has a higher value than regular or "junk" auctions. It has to, in order to justify the labor and expense of giving it a number and description, printing out a catalogue, and putting a photo of it on line. We do this for our Antique and Collectibles month-end auctions, and specialty auctions such as the three we held for the 2300 piece Shawnee collection. It's more fun watching the bidding go up and up on some items, unless of course, it's stuff I wanted myself.

Second, we can tell when something is likely to be sold, since we go in number order. Doug's goal is 100 items an hour. We start promptly at noon, Doug's time, which means 12:10 everybody else's time, so a rough estimate based on item number will tell you that since you want item 43, if you also want to step out for lunch just before the auction gets going, it had better be a mighty quick lunch. If we're at item 146 and you're interested in 152, better postpone that bathroom or cigarette break. Today we have some 460 items, so it'll be long and the rear will be sore by the end.

Third, the number tag also comes with a description, so you know if that piece of carnival glass is Fenton, Imperial, or unidentified by maker. You can distinguish between two similar items, knowing that toy truck #57 is one you want more then #235 and will pay a higher price for. You can mark the heck out of your catalogue, making advance notes on the items to buy and not to buy, how much they're worth to you, and what you paid in the end for each. In other words, you know when you've blown the budget, or that you need not to until after item 369 goes by.

All this is easier for the customers, including me. What makes a catalogued auction easier for me alone is my job is much simpler when the consignor number and item description are already typed into the grid in front of me. We almost never have a single consignor for any given auction. Multiple sources mean variety of product, making wider range of appeal to more customers. But every consignor has to be paid for their own items, skipping none nor getting paid for someone else's. Each is assigned a number. I'm #34, whether it's brought in for today's auction or it came through last year. We skip around a lot, so in a regular auction we might sell 10 items from Marie, two from Nancy, one from Gary, ten from Doug, one from Gary, three from Marie, and so on. Somebody has to tell me a number before each item sold. Sometimes I have to stop the auction in order to get that number. Doesn't look good, except maybe to consignors who want to be paid accurately.

When the item description is already typed in, not only does it mean I don't have to, it prevents mistakes. Typos, mostly, but there are times I can't actually see the item being sold, and the verbal description is a bit lacking because everybody else in the room can see the item. Again, I have to stop Doug and ask him what we're actually selling. No way that looks good either. And if you only hear "capo di monte", how can you tell whether you're spelling it right? Is it "Sawzall?" "Saws All?" Or something completely different?

When all that is already settled, I just need to pay attention to the price and buyer number. This gives me time to watch the room during the bidding. It's better for Doug, because occasionally I can see a bidder who's not in his line of sight before he declares something sold. It's better for me because it's more fun. I get to people watch.

When I have a face to go with the name of the winning bidder that pops up on the screen as soon as their number is entered, I learn who the customers are. Next time Mrs. W comes in the door, I can greet her by name. I also learn that she's the one who buys household item and toys and games for her grandson, who also comes occasionally, along with his dad, the younger Mr. W. I learn that Barb buys antique furniture that needs refinishing, that the F. sisters buy the same kinds of glassware I like but have a much bigger budget, that Christine buys DVDs and music discs, willing to outbid nearly everybody every time, and has now started collecting books as well. I know Jack buys tools and Mrs. Jack likes a certain kind of decorative item, and that Curt buys a lot of new-in-the-box items just to give away to folks in need. Mr. O buys marbles and Mrs. O likes coins of a certain type, but Bill and Dwayne often outbid her for the coins because they're more serious about it.

It's not just about the buying. I learn about families. Woody used to come in with his daughter(s), but that was when auction were in the evenings. Now the daughters work on Saturdays. They might pop in before work and tell Dad what they want, and he'll sit there and bid for them and for stuff for the rest of the family. Shannon comes in with her mother. If there are tools, her father will be there too. Her husband has attended twice, but not for over a year. When I first started, Shannon was pregnant. After a bit, she started bringing in this adorable little boy in his carrier. Then he started going between Mom's and Grandma's laps. Now he walks around and one of them is always chasing him or feeding him, and sometimes taking him outside to stretch his legs. Oscar always comes late, a couple of hours after the auction starts, and brings his daughter, a quiet cutie who looks about 8, but who isn't too shy to come up front and pick a "choice" item off the front table after their winning bid.

I also get to watch what's going on behind the bidding. One bidder will "hide in the weeds", waiting until bidding reaches a certain level before jumping in. Another will put her card up and get mad at being ignored, but in watching the bidding she's never still in it at the end anyway. Once the price goes over her head, she relaxes again, but occasionally Doug - who also sees her - throws a comment her way that he actually does see her. Still, they both know that she's only going to go so high, and rarely goes home with much. She will occasionally score. She must be OK on the whole with the system. She keeps coming back.

But I have an hour now before I have to show up today. That's about perfect for a shower, getting dressed, collecting pop, cough drops and a few chocolates to nibble on, and driving over there. There are two "must-have" items today, and 5 I'm selling. The most expensive one I'm selling will tell me just how "must-have" those "must-haves" really are, or whether I'm just going to let them go. But however it turns out, it's going to be fun.

It always is.

* * * * *


The auction was packed, setting a record for number of attendees. That's always good news for sellers, and today was no exception for me. My items pulled in several hundred more than my cross-your-fingers-and-hope bottom line, and my two must-haves are sitting on the kitchen table, at less than what I was resolved to pay if necessary. (The F sisters were late, arriving after I won both.) While it went extra-long, Doug was pleased enough with the results that he took the crew out to a local Chinese buffet for supper. I didn't get home until after 9:00.

Steve was finally well enough, after his pneumonia, to come and work today, minding the coins while potential bidders examined them and handing them out to the floor staff in the order of their sale. He was, however, too tired afterwords to do anything but go home and crawl back in bed.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Jordan got her confirmation email for her trip. The plans changed significantly since she first called me to sit down and discuss the trust. Then she wanted to go to Fiji. Once the catalogue of options arrived, she made and remade and re-remade her plans. Now she's heading to Thailand, first to do a service project taking care of (and riding!) elephants, and second island hopping and diving on the coast. After that she flies to Cambodia to do a service project working with children in an orphanage, and another one in the (same) water village where the orphanage is located. Once she pays for that plus domestic airfare to LAX, plus gets a bit of spending money to tide her over for those six weeks, the trust will be spent. I'll file a petition for dissolution and my part in being a trustee will be over.

I've found a car painter, a local guy both my sons know. Now it's a matter of figuring out how to schedule everything so I can still have transportation for work. It'll take 4 days, and he'll quote me a price after he actually sees the car. I assume he needs to know just how awful the job of masking off the windows and trim is going to be and gets verification my car is as small as I say it is. Seems fair. Rich knows the guy from working the auctions when they first were happening, well before I got interested, let alone involved. In fact, he used to have my job there: clerking. Paul knows him, now, because Bambi tried to kill his car too, not too long ago. Most of the damage was confined to a passenger door that didn't want to open more than 6". It got pulled/straightened/whatever for a whopping $20.

The price of gold dropped last week, and rose again yesterday. I'm keeping track. Tomorrow I'm selling several coins at the auction. I picked them up a few years ago when they were cheaper. My optimism that the economy is actually recovering leads me to think that gold prices will be dropping again in the not-too-distant future. So, time to cross my fingers and sell them now. Especially since I broke two teeth in the last month. One was today, contributing further to my lousy day at work. I was planning to pay down my Master Card, but now I think the dentist will benefit instead.

Heather's Law of Broken Teeth: The hole left behind in your teeth will always be three times bigger than the piece that just fell out.


While it was a crappy day of work today, there were a couple of interesting moments. At various times and locations while I was driving around I spotted 8 bald eagles, some in trees, some on ice which still mostly covers lakes here. Two of them were juveniles, sitting in the same tree as an adult.

Nearing home, the first pair of Sandhill Cranes of the season flew overhead. I spotted thjem as they were flying fairly low across a field heading towards the road. When they reached the road, they turned and followed it for about a few hundred feet, just in front of my car, and just high enough that had a semi passed they should have been safe from any turbulence it created, before again turning and heading off in their original direction of flight.

Almost made the day worthwhile.


Jeremy Kalin disappointed me. He's my local representative at the state legislature, in his second term.

It's not his ideas or ideals. They seem to be just fine. It's that he's quit fighting for them. He announced that he's not running for another term. Worse, he announced it late, after the county convention. That hardly gives the possible new candidates enough notice to mount an effective campaign for the primary, though that's still possible. But it gives them no chance to stand up in front of their fellow activist Democrats to state their positions and invite questions, making each one's job harder.

It seems to me that a proper part of one legislator's job is helping the next person in to come from the same side with the same or similar views. Especially when quitting is that voluntary. This county is basically Republican, has been a long time. Getting another Dem in will be a long hard slog. It won't help starting late, especially when the Republicans never stop running.

I don't know his reason for quitting, much less quitting now. If it's about the rancor, as so many top people have said as their reason for stepping down, why not stay around and lead by example? Sure it's tough, but who said worthwhile things were supposed to be easy? And why now? There's a fairly good chance the next Governor will be a Democrat, and that, despite rancor in the legislature, there'll be at least an honest broker at the negotiating table for a change. More might be accomplished.

So from my viewpoint as a person to be represented, Jeremy Kalin's decision and timing stink.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Free Speech or Sedition?

You just knew it was going to happen. After all, the Faux media has been encouraging the nutjobs and the freaks (my apologies to all you physical freaks. I don't mean you.) to get way extreme in their political views and take wildly reprehensible actions based on those half-baked beliefs.

And finally it has. Perhaps we'll find out it's just started, worst case. Or perhaps the recent actions will start to shock a few of the reckless loudmouths into the realization that their words have consequences, and there will be saner rants coming from the right - especially now that the attacks have been aimed at legislators, not "just" abortion doctors. But I'm not holding my breath. A few bricks through windows, cut gas lines, nasty phone calls and letters - they're hardly enough to cut through the crap of background noise and get people's attention. I fear they're more likely to encourage the worst of the worst. If these things garner headlines, what can be done to top them for the next idiot wacko's fifteen minutes of fame? I'd hate to find out.

I firmly believe any other person can hold their own political opinion, and speak it an any opportunity to whomever will listen. Just as I can. That's the basis of free speech. It doesn't say in the constitution that we have the right to express popular speech, or politically correct speech, or nice speech. Nobody has to agree with what you or I say. But we still get to say almost whatever we want.

There are limitations. Everybody's heard you can't yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater. There are some things you can't say about another person that would constitute slander. You can't tell lies on the witness stand. Some forms of false advertising are illegal. You can't foment a riot. So while we tout free speech, most of us understand it's not completely free. And consequences are imposed for violations, for crossing those lines.

But we pussyfoot around when it comes to political speech, allowing a freedom that encourages complete license, and if unchecked borders on, if not actually becomes, sedition. Yep, encouraging the violent overthrow of our duly elected government, that's right. That kind of sedition. Quaint term. Kinda old-fashioned. So-o-o-o-o last century. Nothing like that happening here, no sirree.


Have you actually been paying attention?

I know it's nauseating, but have you listened recently to Glen Beck? Hannity? The drug-addled gasbag, Rush Limbaugh? Sarah Palin? It's impossible for the well-balanced individual to tell the difference between actual convictions and a say-anything-for-ratings ethic (ironic word choice) among these individuals and others. If we can't tell, how can the wingnuts tell? When the press covers a couple thousand protesting and ignores tens of thousands of immigration reform protesters or war protesters on the same day, where's the reality check on what this country really finds important? Where are the checks and balances that help keep the fringe extremes in check, knowing these are just ideas and opinions, not calls to action? Look at Palin's website where Democratic congressional seats are marked, not for hard campaigning to turn the fall elections, but with rifle scope crosshairs? And if that's still too subtle, there's her call to "reload".

It's not opposition rhetoric, it's revolution rhetoric, not about changing minds but destroying the opposition. It's domestic terrorism, and somebody out there is hoping for another Oklahoma City bombing or some such tragedy, hoping it'll put the Right back in power after they succeed in making the whole country afraid. With their lack of ideas, fear is the only tool left to them.

Of course, most of us are rational. At least that's what we tell ourselves. We know the difference between speech and actions, between dissent and threats. We think everybody else is rational too. We think maybe yesterday's vandalism is just rowdy pranks, nothing dangerous, just like we think all the vitriol is just talk. Harmless, hyperbolic talk.

Nobody really is preaching sedition, are they?

Are they?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Political Comments

Today Obama signed the health care reform bill, and already the Republican'ts are whining about being forced to buy insurance. It's not like car insurance, they cry, because you don't have to buy/drive a car. But it's exactly like car insurance, except that it's body insurance. And we all have one. Moreover, it is a federal issue, because the Feds mandate that any ER in the country you walk into with an emergency has to treat you. If you can't pay, all the rest of us do, in our bills, our premiums, and ultimately our taxes. Even if you think you are young and healthy (I remember those days), you may still get sick or injured.

Then there's the crowd who think it's significant that their state passed a law exempting them from having to follow the provisions in this bill. Didn't we fight a war about that, oh, about 150 years ago?

I just wish that the radical libertarians who think as a matter of principle that the government shouldn't force them to pay their share would also agree as a matter of principle to give up claiming their share. No more roads, no fire protection or police, no inspections for food and drugs, no courts... and no emergency care. No insurance? Wear a "Do Not Transport" bracelet so when the ambulance gets there, they know to just leave you on the side of the road. Oh yeah, no garbage pick-up too, when your body starts to rot. Make your family come do it on their own, and ask them to dig a hole deep enough so the dogs don't dig you up for a meal!

* * * * *

All the honest political/legal experts say the lawsuits to declare the healthcare reform bill unconstitutional are frivolous. They have no legal legs. Does this mean, if I live in a state where
my AG is backing this, that I can sue my state for wasting my tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit?

Oh, what fun!

* * * * *

We all know people who have gotten to the point where they wear a mantle of martyrdom. Oh the burdens they are forced to carry! The troubles they've seen! The folks who are out to make them miserable! Some get to the point where the perceived persecution becomes their identity. Without it they are nothing and nobody. They manage to provide themselves with constant enemies in a variety of ways.

I have to wonder if that happens to countries as well. I am thinking specifically of Israel, just having announced a new round of "settlement" building. It formed out of the devastation of the Holocaust, a refuge for those relative few left alive. It has had to fight to maintain its existence throughout so many years that I wonder if that struggle itself has in fact become who and what Israel is. Would it even exist without enemies on every side? And is that why it seems to continually provoke its neighbors?

Years ago my son asked me to explain what the constant failure to achieve peace was all about. I detailed for him many events in their history, summing up as follows. When it started, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were wrong enough for either side to justifiably be demonized. But by now, neither are there any angels fighting on either side.


I don't know just what it is, but the older I get, the more I want to have reservations and the harder they are to get. I'm talking, of course, about camping and vacations.

Back in 1985, when it was just me, three kids, a station wagon and a tent, I set off across country to go camping in Yellowstone without any reservations. There was never a problem, although everybody I talked to about the trip beforehand looked at me rather strangely when I told them of my plans - or my lack thereof.

It was a memorable trip. Our first night was at a campground in the Badlands. Nobody checked the weather reports, so we were completely surprised when a late night thunderstorm roared in and tried to destroy our tent. It was one of the then-newer dome tents with bamboo-bungee tent poles, the kind that fold back into a single unit when removed. The winds were trying to flatten the tent with us in it and I was afraid for the integrity of the flimsey poles. We all stood inside the tent with our backs to the wind trying to be the poles, keeping the real ones from snapping. When the storm finally left, we piled into the station wagon to sleep as best we could given the cramped and lumpy accommodations and our adrenaline hangovers.

Our second night was in a motel with dryers. We gave them good use. After recovering, we were ready for tents again.

The third night we hit Yellowstone, and actually found plenty of open spaces. That weather report we hadn't checked also would have told us about the 8" of snow that fell just before we got there and chased half the people out who would have filled the park up. By the time we arrived, there were dribs and drabs of snow left, and plenty of choices. The site we picked was apparently a favorite evening foraging ground for the free-roaming bison. (This was back before wolf reintroduction, which cramped that style.) When I poked my head out of the tent first thing in the morning, I decided I didn't really need to go use the restroom quite as urgently as I'd thought I did, not with one grazing ten feet from our door. I could wait.

This was also the trip where we found out Paul got sick whenever he smelled the sulfur that permeated most of the park. (And to think how we'd secretly laughed when my mom handed me the coffee can with a plastic bag liner, "because you never know.")

But since that trip, I've learned to be wary of traveling without reservations, and right now that's starting to drive me batty. We've got most of them set up OK, but it's the Thurs-Fri-Sat of July 1-2-3 that's causing problems. We're needing to be on the far (west) side of Rocky Mountain National Park, somewhere near the Crystal River, before heading up to Alpine, Wyoming. That's the river where Sylvia's ashes are to be scattered, and where we take a side trip to Montrose to visit Steve's mom's grave, so that general area is a must. We found one perfect-sounding site, but they're full. Another one close will take the RV but not the tent - big help! Lots of them are tent-only, and after 3 nights at RMNP we will need electricity for recharging all our batteries. So we're thinking maybe just Thursday there and Fri-Sat up at Flaming Gorge. A phone call assured me that high country campgrounds will be more likely to have spaces open than lake-level ones around the gorge, and might be cheaper as well. But there's still a lot of work to do. And that still doesn't solve the western Colorado needs.

And in spite of my hopes for help with planning and reservations before this trip, it seems to be me who's the one who has to do the work to make them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Listening to the radio last night on my way home (MPR's Marketplace), I caught a guy riffing on Toyotas and their latest uncontrolled accelleration problems. He sidetracked to comment on seeing a Prius with his local equivalent of DWI license plates. "I don't know what that signifies: my car's not a guzzler but I am?"

Friday, March 19, 2010

When Bad Font Meets Bad Printer

My pharmacy offers a voicemail service to refill your prescriptions. I used to find it annoying. Somehow I've adapted and find it reassuring when, at bleary-eyed in the morning and I suddenly discover I've only three pills left in the bottle, I can pick up the phone and order a refill even though nobody else sane is awake at this hour. I just used that service to call in the refill. At least I think I did.

I didn't notice when I picked up the last bottle, 3 months ago (cheaper that way), just how bad the label was. All the big stuff looked fine. Right name, right dosage, right number of refills, same precautions to the glancing eye. Although, once I had reason to look, I see that the label appears to say, "Do not use sal: substitute without consulting your doctor." The way that would register in the brain is completely contrary to intent. Good thing I never looked at it.

Hey, c'mon, I've been taking this stuff for years. I know the precautions by now, or it's too late for me anyway.

What gave me the reason to look was the fact that this morning I couldn't read the numbers on the bottom: phone and prescription. I do apologize to whoever didn't answer their phone when the 9 looked like a 3 and the 6 like an 8. As the ringing went on and on and no machine picked up, I stared at that label long enough to realize that 484 really should be 464 for the location of the pharmacy. Oops! Sorry!

Obviously it takes a very bad font to make those numbers look interchangeable. The top of a 6 should be straight, not loop over. Same thing for the bottom of a 9. What complicated the whole thing was that the printer had been running out of ink or toner (whatever) and the whole thing was light and missing teeny bits. When you know what it says, it's not a problem. Studies show that humans can read even when there are letters missing. The brain supplies the context and fills in the meaning. Looking again I now saw that the information I "knew" was as badly printed as the numbers at the bottom of the label. Since I know who my doctor is, my brain thought it didn't look bad.

But what's the context for a string of numbers? Luckily, I had the pharmacy number on other bottles and paperwork. But the Rx?

I didn't feel like waiting and trying to remember to call it in again before I actually needed it. Not with my highly distracted life. I know, for example, if it's a pill I need to take every day, it sits in the medicine cabinet next to the Ibuprofin. By the time I make it to the bathroom, I know how much I need that. No further reminders necessary. Anything next to it will be taken too, first thing. No failures. But if I have to remember something for a later time and place, there'd better be a note, prominently displayed. Life stops and begins anew at my front door. Work is different from home, and very little carries over without a nudge. So good luck remembering to call in that prescription later in the day.

Fortunately, one of the prompts on the voicemail system is actually for that: voicemail. You can leave a message for when they actually get there. So I did, telling them what I thought I'd just called in and what the number confusion was. I trust they'll sort it all out for me by tonight.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Something Beautiful

I saw something beautiful yesterday. Then, a couple hours and many miles later, I saw it again.

Perhaps I should say “them.” They were a flock of large white birds, heading to their summer breeding grounds. They were solid white, no black wing tips or other markings, so I can tell you for sure some kinds of birds they weren't. I know they weren’t trumpeter swans or storks, for example. Since there were over 300 of them, by estimation, and, again, the no black wings thing, they also weren’t whooping cranes. The possibility exists they were tundra swans, but I’m only going by descriptions, having never seen birds identified to me as such. They were flying high enough that any black on face or feet was not distinguishable. The general body shape was heavy like a goose or swan, not a thin body like an egret, and the neck was extended, again unlike an egret. Besides, it’s way too early for egrets. Herons get here first, and they are due to start arriving next week.

The flock was more like a pair of flocks flying together. Well over 200 birds were flying in what I would describe as a big ball of strings of birds, each string moving around, twisting, intertwining, and reforming, but always staying within the large ball of birds, The second flock, trailing the first by about the distance that stretched across the ball of birds, was v-shaped. Like a typical V-shaped flock, different individuals would take point position, then be replaced by another, then another.

OK, you are saying by now, she saw a flock of big birds. Big deal. And you’d be right, at least about that part of it.. But that’s not the remarkable, beautiful part.

When I saw the flock, I was northbound just after noon on Hwy. 52, somewhere near Canon Falls. The sun was behind me, shining fully on the birds. They were not just white, they shone and reflected the sunlight. Every downward wingbeat was a bright flash of light. Every bird. Every wingbeat.

It was breathtaking.

The flock moved gradually westward on its northern trek, and as soon as the sun angle changed relative to me, they disappeared into the sky. Had I pulled the car over and stopped, likely I could still have seen them, but I was in a hurry and the magic of the moment was gone.

A couple hours later, as I was heading eastward on the Crosstown out of Minnetonka/Eden Prairie area, with the sun again at my back, I glanced up at the sky and saw the same flock of birds! It was the same approximate count, the same pairing of ball and v shapes, about the perfect spot if they continued their trajectory and with just the right timing. And for several minutes, until the sun angle changed and they once again disappeared, I beheld the same miracle of flashing light off every wingbeat, every bird.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Point in Time

Writing about past events gives me "head time", that distance from the event where I can process it in my head and connect all the dots before writing it all down. So just as an exercise, I'm taking a moment to describe what's going on right now. A bit here, a bit there.

Coffee is perking, getting near filling the pot. It makes more noise at this stage so I can tell. The dog just left, giving up, I think, on my taking a moment from typing to pet him some more. It's both dark and foggy this morning, forecast to go up to or near 60. No sign of the pesky and abused neighbor's cat at my back door this morning. It keeps trying to get into our house, and I can't blame it. Poor thing is underfed, under-vetted, and likely one of the brats who owns it cut off its whiskers. It's scratched my foot with two raking claws, Richard's arm with one.

I'll have to stop to wake Daddy in about 20 minutes, finish setting up his nebulizer, and share a few minutes with him getting the day's news and weather. My clock woke me to the news of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in some dispute over Captain Morgan's rum relocating for a huge amount of federally-provided funds - definitely enough to drive me out of bed despite wanting another few hours of sleep. Not that I could sleep in bed that much longer. I've gotten another rotator cuff injury and sleeping one my left side is so painful that at times I pile out of bed and into the recliner with a good blanket. It gets uncomfortable too after a bit but I do manage a few hours sleep in between.

Flocks of ducks and geese are appearing regularly in the sky now, along with some of smaller birds that are just black and unidentifiable. Well, except for the finches. The fly, drop, fly, drop pattern lets me pick them out. Cardinals are starting their spring songs, but the chickadees haven't yet. Scillas are poking up new green leaves, and soon my gardens will be blue, spreading out into my lawn. Snow is melted except for the big piles, but the ground hasn't gotten any less muddy. Big puddles collect in low spots visible as I drive by. Ponds have temporarily become lakes and lakes spread out to cover large chunks of fields, except for the local lakes. Melting ice leaves large patches of dirt above the water level in the bays. They're still a good foot or more down from their usual levels, have been for a couple years now. We seem to live in a local drought zone.

"Friend" is still being stalked, even though the local law enforcement have given her a new route home. She still has to hit town to pick up her medicines and run other local errands, and there PSB is, waiting and watching.

Steve is home with pneumonia and an interesting group of meds. He looked at the nebulizer they handed him and, after setting one up regularly for may dad, confidently informed them he knew how to use one. One of his kids just got custody of one of Steve's grandkids. Great news except it took abysmal home circumstances to bring this about. They swung by to celebrate with Steve the night before he got sick, so now they've been exposed to whatever bug Steve has.

My Wisconsin run is temporarily not happening - at least they tell me it's temporary - so today I'm getting a round trip to Wanamingo for the same client that I can't name. Should be fun. It's a lovely day for a drive, and an even better one to have an excuse to stay out of downtown St. Paul: too many idiots clogging the streets in green hats after drinking their green beer. With the mild temperatures, it should be worse than usual.

And it's 6:30.

* * * * *

7:30 AM:

Jordan's summer plans have gone through several permutations. Once she got the catalogue of opportunities for trips fromthw folks who offer Fiji, she fell in love with a different one: spending a week in Thailand caring for elephants. They've been a special animal for her for years. Get her a present? Find one with an elephant design or theme. With the other opportunities available, she's thought still about Fiji, and also China (pandas), Africa (safari), Cambodia (orphanage). All get her community service hours she needs for graduation, with more besides. (I imagine she can tell her schoolmates next year that, no, she won't be participating in the school car wash. She's already done the elephant wash.) The last - Cambodia - is a hop and a skip from her beloved elephants, and easily combined into an extended trip. More weeks, more credit, little extra flying expenses. Moreover, she can take multiple weeks at this site. So right now the questions are narrowing down to how many weeks and can she still fit in camping with us this summer?

The fish ponds in the back yard are finally ice-free. It's time to plan to move water lilies and fish outside for a genuine cold snap before summer. That promotes blooming or breeding, respectively. Unfortunately it's supposed to maybe snow this weekend, the last time for a month both "boys" will be home to do the work.

And now I really have to go. Work calls.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Stupidity Fee

In my business, we can charge loadtime on a run which takes over 10 minutes to pick up and drop off. Usually we don't do it until the run goes significantly over the ten, although we're more likely to do so as the frustrations mount up. Sometimes it's just a stupidity fee.

Take yesterday. I was picking up something for one of those companies which makes us sign a confidentiality agreement especially for them, meaning I can't give you names, theirs or their customers. I'll assign letters. I walked into the front office of Company M, minded by locks and a security guard behind a window. I asked for anything they had going to Company S. Usually that's all it takes. The package will be right there, clearly labeled.

It's always fun when they look at you like they never saw a courier before and couldn't imagine what one would be doing in their office. We refer to is as the "as if we're from Mars" look. The guard gave me directions to go way behind the building to a phone between docks 12 and 13 and call to get in. OK, whatever. He should know, right?

Dock 12 was at the far end of this side of the building, and dock 13 around five corners to the other side. Yes, I said five. It's not an exact rectangle. Meanwhile I drove slowly, looking for both dock 13 and anything resembling a phone. When I found 13, there were stairs next to it, and sure enough, a call box at the top. You push and hold a button while you speak, release to listen while you wait, hoping somebody heard you because you did it right and somebody was actually around to hear and respond. Finally somebody answered. They came to the door let me in, and before I went two steps, handed me a hairnet and insisted I put it on.

O goodie.

I explained my errand, looking for a package going to company S. They looked confused. I say, "they," because a series of consultations ensued, nobody seemingly having ever heard of Company S or knowing why somebody might send something there or what it might be. After the original person disappeared for a bit, she returned with the instructions that I needed to go to the front office and ask for Enrique.

O goodie.

Back around I drive, reenter the office, walk up to the same guard, and explain what they told me. He seems astonished by this piece of news, but calls Enrique. "Uh, what's your name, Miss?" Miss? Huh? Is he blind? I've got to be twice his age. I give my name, which he passes along. Now this is particularly stupid, because as a courier we're just bodies in uniforms with vehicles. Names are never necessary unless we have to clear security, and that clearly wasn't going to happen here. Enrique wouldn't know me from a hole in the ground.

As the guard hung up, I asked him, "You did remember to tell him I was looking for a package for Company S, right?"

Suddenly a lightbulb went on. "Oh, Company S. I thought that sounded familiar," he tells me as he hands me a small box with Company S written on it in large letters. The box had been sitting there the whole time, of course. They always are.

I refrained from suggesting to him that it was a pity that it hadn't sounded familiar the first time I asked for the package.

"I'll tell Enrique I took care of it for him," he said as I left. Yeah, and while you're talking to Enrique, tell him you were the one who messed it all up in the first place, why don't ya? Sure, that'll happen. Shaking my head, I just called in and asked for loadtime charges for the 17 minutes it had taken to do two minutes' worth of work. Pure stupidity fee.

I kept the hairnet.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hunting Swans and Eagles

There's this strange shiny bright thing up in the sky this morning. It's almost reminiscent of... oh, wait! I remember now: it's called the sun! We haven't seen it in so long I'd almost forgotten. It's been days after days of totally cloudy, foggy, evenly-temperatured days and nights. In short, spring has been dismal but came in with a rush. So many nights above freezing means the snow goes away fast, floods are forcast in all the usual places, maple syruping is a dud, and my winter weekend plans for hunting swans and eagles were thwarted. I left them until too late.

Partly that was because the impetus for them came so late. It's always about the camera, and mine was state of the art when I bought it, but has developed some issues that newer ones are supposed to correct. My first real camera was a Pentax K-1000, manual everything, ability to add filters and lenses, and using costly 35mm film. Well, it's costly when you do things like shoot 36 rolls of it on vacation. I had what my ego wants to think of as the usual luck with a ratio of bad and good pictures. That was the only reason I was even tempted to go digital - erasing the awful ones, only showing off the good ones. Even so, I resisted for many years.

Once I received my share of the inheritance from Lylah, I spent part of it on a Sony HD camcorder which also took still pictures. It became my do-everything camera. Typical digital takes the picture a second or two after you push the button. It pauses to ask itself first about focus, aperture, shutter speed, and while it's doing all that, the subject you were trying to shoot has moved, possibly even gone away. I needed to go back to the good ol' single lens reflex like my K-1000. Digital SLRs are expensive. I had to wait. Besides, they weren't that good yet.

Actually, Bambi had a hand in my getting my new camera. To get through the time between the accident and the still-awaited final payout, I had to cash in a CD. It was of course for more than what I absolutely needed, and once all is settled, the balance will do more good paying down my credit card than gathering today's interest. But meanwhile new possibilities existed. One of them included a shopping trip, resulting in a Nikon D-5000, a digital SLR camera with 12+ megapixel pictures, continuous-shutter possibilities, and a gazillion more bells and whistles. Hopefully, the very last camera I'll ever want or need.

If, of course, I actually learn how to use it. Yikes! The manual needs its own translator. I sat down with it on a quiet Sunday afternoon to read it through and get acquainted with my camera. All there? Check. Charge battery? Check. Come back later, nothing's going to happen without the battery. Now, go into ____ menu to set time and date.

Uh, the which menu? I find it where? And maneuver through it how? Oh, there it is...and oops, it disappeared! How do I find it again? Now "up" does... the wrong thing, obviously. I can just cut this short and say it took two whole frickin' hours to get to the point where I could hit the button and take a picture of my living room!

(Add to pet peeves list: badly written instruction manuals.)

OK, I can finally take a picture with everything on full automatic. Big whoop. It's time to complicate things a bit and get a 300mm lens for the camera. Actually, a 70-300 zoom. The camera came with an 18-55, giving me wide angle to standard. I needed the telephoto, modest as it is, for all the wildlife shooting I like to do, plus macro capabilities for those close ups of flowers and stuff.

This shouldn't be rocket science. I'm used to whipping through different lenses with the old K-1000. Push, twist, remove, line up new, insert, twist, click. Done as fast as you can read the words. So next weekend I pack everything up, load it in the car, pick up Steve, and we head over to Monticello to find the park where the lady feeds the trumpeter swans that spend winters there. I haven't actually tried putting on the new lens, however. I just figure no problem.

Yeah, right.

When you change lenses, they have to be lined up just so before you begin the insert and twist part. They come with a colored spot on the camera body and one on the lens. When those line up, it's right. I'd put on and taken off the regular lens. But where the heck was the spot on the 300? Nothing! Anywhere! At this point I'm sitting in the front seat of my car, parked about a hundred feet from the riverbank below which the swans rested by the thousands. I'm trying one position, then another. No go. Can hear, not see the swans. Other people are coming, shooting, leaving. Not us. I finally settle on the original lens, hoping it'll actually do me some good. Just as we open the car doors to set out, something startles the flock, and we glimpse through the trees two thousand or so trumpeter swans lifting and flying away.


When we get there, about a half dozen remain. As we watch and try to shoot, a few more stop in, two here, one there. I decide to go back to the car, dig through to find the instructions sheet for the 300, and see whether, all by myself and the pressure off, they'll make any sense. Unfold, spread out, find English. Browse, browse, browse... Got it! This other mark, not a spot but a line, the one partway up the barrel, showing the number your lens is zoomed out to, that's the one that doubles to line up the lens and camera body! How idiotic! But it works, and I head back down to see if I can get any better shots. I can.

And just as I start to use the telephoto, the remaining flock is up and away.

I promise myself to return next year in winter, when the river is more frozen and they have fewer options of where to be than they do on this gorgeous spring day. The camera will be working better for me by then.

It better!

With spring finally taking hold, my dad's feeling of cabin fever intensified. He's been so cooped up all winter, unable to navigate ice and snow safely. I'd heard about the bald eagles congregating down along the river in Red Wing, and asked if he'd like to go on a road trip the next Sunday, weather permitting. I felt safe making this offer, now having the replacement car, reliably new and with real heat in it. He was enthusiastic, so we made plans. Part of mine included studying my camera more so I could now do things like setting the shutter release on "continuous" and making the overall setting one that selected for higher shutter speed.

We left just after lunch, planning to be back in time for supper. It would be about a 170 mile round trip. While it was often overcast, it cooperated by staying dry. Roads were good, as long as you avoided potholes. Patches of brown were appearing as snow cover dropped, though they were mostly grasses and brush rather than actual bare ground. He was glad to get out, enjoying the passing scenery even with his very limited vision. The park was easy to find, and the promised assistants were there with their fancy high-powered telescopes pointed on the single eagle in the area.

Yep, single eagle. Spring had come so fast that the bulk of the eagles had scattered, defending nests and territories, ample fishing with miles of open river available to them. The single eagle was wa-a-a-a-a-y-y-y-y-y-y-y over there, a smudge amongst solid tree branches with a lighter smudge on the top end. You really needed the telescopes.

We got out of the car to stretch legs. I never even bothered to pull the camera from its box. Instead we sat, watching people come and peer and go, boats back down the public access ramp to fish in the river, and just enjoy a view of open water. I pointed towards the eagle, but of course he couldn't see it. We agreed it had been a pleasant ride anyway, and headed home.

Turning off Hwy. 95 onto Pleasant Valley Road, the short cut home, I pulled over onto the narrow shoulder. There in a dead snag in the pasture behind the fence was a lone bald eagle, sitting there elegantly framed by blue sky. I rolled Daddy's window down, pointed him at the bird until he saw where it was, dug out the camera, and got off several shots through the open window. Of course, as soon as I put the camera down, off he flew. But at least, this time Daddy knew he'd actually seen an eagle, even if we'd had to come back to 5 miles from home to do it.

Next thing I have to learn is how to load the pictures into my laptop from this camera. You'll know it worked when there's a posting with pictures.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Trust

My granddaughter called the other day. She wants money, of course. Actually, that's not quite as bad as it sounds, although it may turn out that way, once she turns 18 and I no longer control the purse strings on some of the best events in her life. I am the "Trustee" for a few more months of her life. After that, I'm just Grandma.

My late mother-in-law, Lylah, was an educator. She taught Home Economics and Math for a number of years. By the time I met her, she was the high school librarian. She and Bob, my father-in-law, loved to travel, camping during the lean years and switching to Elderhostel trips in later years. After he died, she continued without him. If my recollection is correct, she visited 6 continents, missing only Antarctica.

Travel was their big luxury in an otherwise frugal lifestyle. They lived in an old farmhouse on a family farm that housed Rosas for well over a hundred years. The house had gained additions over the generations, but stayed fairly basic. (The basement furnace, with additions and ducts going out in all different directions, was both a monster and a marvel.) While they no longer farmed once both became teachers (a later career for Bob), the land was rented out to neighbors to farm for a modest rent. A brief mortgage might be put on the property for a new septic system or other major repair, but otherwise their expenses were pretty simple.

When Lylah died, there was an estate. Her son John inherited the farm. He had stayed in the area with his family, building a second house on the property and living there occasionally, and taking care of his mother as she aged. Paul's share of the estate was the money, but due to his estrangement with his mother, his share came to me and my kids instead. Part of that, according to her will, went into a trust for Paul's grandchildren, with me named as the trustee. Jordan, Richard's daughter, is still the only grandchild, and has enjoyed a much more interesting life than she would have because of that gift.

I set my own standards for spending the money. Her mother's calls for me to buy more fashionable clothes went unheeded. I justified expenses in only two categories: education and health. Since Jordan's family is on U-Care, the only health expenses I paid for were her braces, and contact lenses once she was old enough to use them properly.

Educational expenses were a bit more broadly defined. The trust paid for dance classes when she was little, and now will be paying for piano and voice lessons available from her school teachers for an extra charge. I stretched things a bit and paid for those special choir costumes required for performances, since they were something her mom couldn't put in the budget, raising what would become 5 children with 3 fathers who were not the best with child support. (Yes, including my son.) The trust also paid for travel.

Court-ordered visitation (a long battle and another story) allowed me a week of vacation with her every summer. Sometimes we would fly, and her tickets were paid from the trust. If there were other special activities on those trips, like train or boat rides, horseback riding, any of those things you make advance reservations for, they too came out of the trust. After a few modest camping trips in Minnesota, family trips took her around Lake Superior, to Washington State, Yellowstone, Alaska. A couple years ago she took a People To People trip to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. (Without me that time, of course.)

My bonus for all this has been the enjoyment of taking her and showing her all these different places and activities, without having to take her chunk out of my personal expenses. Double bonus. Plus, once a year I get to file paperwork with Martin County justifying every penny spent and every penny - or lack of - earned. There will be only two more of those to go. She inherits the balance this fall. While significantly smaller than it was originally, I believe it has been spent well on her. More, I believe Lylah would have approved, traveler that she was.

Her mom has called me asking if the final payout could be delayed until Jordan reaches 21, or until her family believes she can spend it completely wisely. After all, Jordan fights with her mom a lot and at those times yanks her chain by spouting off ridiculous uses she "plans" for the money: tattoos, boob implants, a fancy car, moving to Texas with her friend and waitressing down there. She also simply fantasizes about how to spend it, something I consider healthy, as long as she remembers to do the math. It can't get spent 6 times, after all. And fantasies are still free. She and I have discussed bank accounts, interest rates, CDs, and other ways of getting more from her money until college demands it. In the event, it will be for her to decide, not me, not her family. And the "when" of it is also preset by law, not me, not her family.

For a few months more, however, it's still my decision. Jordan wants to talk to me later today about how much she has left and lay out a proposal she has to return to Fiji for a while this summer. Depending on who the trip sponsor group is, and timing (she's already got 2 other things scheduled and paid for for this summer), I'm inclined to agree. She's sounding very grown up about it - so far. It's most likely a better use of the money than many things she might decide once she gets it to herself.

And I'm pretty sure Lylah would approve.

Friday, March 12, 2010

His Brother's Keeper

It must have been a Sunday morning. Not only was I sleeping in a bit - probably 8:00 or so - but I’d actually cooked supper the night before. I don’t have energy for that, at least nothing much more complicated than warming something up or preparing from a package, after a day of work. I had made fritters: fish fritters, corn fritters. They were a big hit with the kids, as well as me, partly because they were so rare. It also helped that they were tasty.

I’d done them as simply as possible, Bisquick for batter, not using a big deep fryer, but pouring a smaller amount of cooking oil into a saucepan on the top of the stove and cooking a few at a time. Who had money back then for a deep fryer and the oil to fill it, mostly wasted after the cooking was over? Even then, using the saucepan, the leftover oil was reclaimed to go into the fridge to be used another time. We’d just have to put up with the fishy flavor that now tainted it.

In retrospect, it was that cheapness that caused the trouble. Had the oil been thrown out, there would have been no temptation.

It was morning, and Paul and Richard were hungry. Being only 5 or 6 and 9 or 10 respectively at the time, they had no idea that what they were trying to do was dangerous. They just knew they wanted more of what had been so good the night before. They’d watched me cook. They figured it’d be easy to do it themselves. They thought it would be nice not to wake Mother. So they poured the leftover oil into the saucepan, set it on the stove, and turned on the gas.

I was abruptly awakened by a loud scream, doors slamming, crying, feet running around my end of the trailer, and the sound of the outdoor faucet turning on. Lurching out of bed and down the hall, I spied the flame on the stove which I turned off, and the saucepan spilled onto the floor with still-hot grease spattered all over. Through the window I saw that Richard had his little brother outside getting a cold bath under the hose, despite his protests.

Obviously the hot oil had spilled over Paul, and just as obviously his brother knew the exact thing to do to mitigate the burns as fast as possible. It was over by the time I got there.

Paul wound up with first degree burn spatters on his chest and tummy. The doctor looked at them, prescribed some ointment, and sent us home, letting us all know just how lucky we’d been. A few months later there weren’t even any scars remaining, as his summer tan faded to the same color as the new skin.

Richard wasn’t quite so lucky. He’d been so busy taking care of his little brother that he “forgot” to turn that hose of cold water on his own foot, where some of the grease had spilled on him. It continued to burn him. He also didn’t mention it to the doctor, although he was along at the time, baby-sitters being an expense I didn’t use unnecessarily. The only reason I found out about his burn was when I noticed his foot was hurting him a few days later. Oh, and there were a couple spatters on his torso as well. Of course, as a mother I reacted by chewing him out for not taking care of himself as well as his brother!

I haven’t asked him for well over 25 years if he still has the scars on his chest and the top of his foot. (Until last night. He does, all of them.) Or if, so many years later, he remembers what happened and his own special brand of heroism. The boys fought all the years they were growing up together, and occasionally drove us all crazy. But when it really counted, he was there for his brother, doing what was needed and putting himself second. I’m still proud of him.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Paul's Shirts and Child Protective Services

After the divorce, I moved the kids and myself back to Minnesota. I had family here. It probably also helped that 4 winters in Georgia helped me forget what the climate here was really like. (That was promptly corrected: our first winter back was unusually cold and full of heavy snowfalls.)

At first we moved in with my folks, a crowded situation for all of us. In a few months, we moved out for a mobile home in Lake Elmo. The timing was such that my older two kids were in three schools in one year. The youngest, Paul, went from being home to two different day cares that year. Geographically we changed from Georgia to Oklahoma to Minnesota. It was a time of lots of upheavals, and had at least one odd result.

Paul became attached to his shirts. He fought having whichever shirt he was wearing removed for bedtime, fought putting on a different one in the morning. Since he was too old to carry around a security blanket, I figured this was just his was of substituting. There were way too many other battles to fight to get through the day, and I chose not to fight this one more than twice a week. He had a drawerful of shirts, clean and ready for him. He changed pants and socks regularly with no fuss, took baths, brushed his hair and washed his face and hands, and was in all other ways a clean kid. But his shirts were inevitably filthy by the time they got removed. He was, after all, a normal active 5-year-old boy. Eventually he'd decide for himself that clean shirts were important to him. It just wasn't going to cause a daily battle in our house.

His shirts got noticed. His day care center sent a couple shirts home with him, thinking they were being helpful. They didn't know about the drawerful of shirts at home waiting for their turn. When that didn't make a difference, they made a phone call. I got a visit from Child Protective Services.

Luckily for me, the caseworker was a good listener. I explained my child-rearing choices, showed her all the shirts he wouldn't wear as well as the rest of his home environment. She went away satisfied, at least for the moment, that there was no real problem. Then I went and had a chat with the day care center director. It wound up being one of those lets-work-together-to-make-the-kid-feel-more-secure kind of chats.

I don't think I really noticed when Paul started wearing clean shirts again. But that's not the end of the story. It wasn't my last visit from Child Protective Services. It took several weeks and input from my kids to piece together what had prompted this visit. And of course it came at the worst possible time.

After finally seeing a doctor for my foot injury, I was prescribed Clinoril. It was an anti-inflamatory meant to reduce the bone spur in my heel. It had a secondary effect, one my doctor denied could happen. It made me depressed. I took it for a month, called the doctor, and got a different prescription, for some new drug called Motrin. I had taken my last Clinoril pill the morning of the new, suspicious CPS caseworker's visit. The following day I would be euphoric, bouncing off the ceiling as the old drug wore off, but this day I could barely manage to answer any questions, much less care other than remotely what the results of this visit might be.

He asked me first if I needed any kinds of help that The System might provide. It was a nice day, and we were sitting outside on a pair of patio chairs while the kids were inside. I looked past him at the screen door that was mostly sans screen and partly off its hinges and asked him if there were anything he could do about that? That was the kind of help I needed. When he said, "No," I figured he was a lost cause. He'd also indicated to me that the previous worker must have been careless and a bit too lenient, since this was another contact, and he was going to get to the root of whatever was going on in my household. Where there's smoke....

Some of the issues he brought up were, to me even in my state, a bit off the wall. There was a complaint about my having no food in my refrigerator. First, that had never happened, and second, who the hell was snooping around in my refrigerator? Then there was the accusation that I sometimes spent days away from home, leaving my kids totally on their own. I puzzled that one out, slowly, before remembering. I'd had car repairs a few months earlier, and the car had been absent for a few days. I caught a ride to and from work with a coworker until it was fixed and returned. Being winter, I didn't stick my nose out of the house if I didn't have to. I guessed that some neighbor hadn't actually been spying on my house during those particular minutes when I was leaving or arriving, and didn't know whether or not I was home. Whoever it was, they also didn't bother to ask my kids. Or perhaps they did and got the typical, "I don't know," from somebody wrapped up in their own world of play.

I offered to let the worker talk to my kids to verify any of this information, but he declined, saying they didn't like to drag kids into the middle of these kind of situations. C'mon, one was a teenager at the time and could have easily put his concerns to rest, and he's not going to talk to her? Finally he left, leaving me with the distinct impression that he simply hadn't been able to unearth the damning information that he knew was there. I still couldn't really care, and I knew that my drug-induce apathy contributed to his negative impression.

The next day, back to my old self, the euphoria also having worn off, I sat the kids down after I got home from work, filled them in, and asked their help. Who had been in the house, looking at the refrigerator? I'd figured out it had to be a neighbor, after the car thing. Everybody puzzled over it, off and on for weeks, until at last we had it! Eureka!

A few months earlier I'd been giving the refrigerator a complete cleaning - inside, outside, top, bottom. We'd gathered coolers to put food in, leaving them scattered over the counters, stove and sink. Somewhere in the process I tried to move the fridge forward to clean the floor under it. Since it had very tiny wheels, and our floor was very cheap construction, the front wheels had settled down into the floor just enough that forward movement caused the top of the fridge only to move, making it tip. Onto me. I was trapped between fridge and stove in this very tiny kitchen. What made it worse was that something - perhaps an empty ice cube tray - had fallen behind the fridge at the time, wedging between it and the wall, making it impossible to right it. I yelled at the kids, asking them to go find a neighbor, any neighbor but preferably a strong man, to come and help me pull it forward, tip it upright, and free me. They returned with the husband from next door, who quickly corrected the situation. And of course, the fridge had been empty at the time. (Who's dumb enough to try to move a full fridge?) Apparently he was selectively blind enough while helping me that he didn't see all the coolers of food cluttering up the kitchen, or notice the reason for an empty fridge being cleaning in process.

I thanked him, finished up, and thought nothing more of the incident. Apparently, they did think more of it, and made a phone call.

Part of the reason my kids thought of him was that they knew this family didn't like them. Their family had a couple of younger kids that mine thought were pure brats, winding their own parents around their fingers, feigning innocence in all things and shifting blame onto others. Like my kids. It came home to me one day when I had been outside, reading, gardening, soaking up sun - who knows what? The mom came storming into my yard, ready to read Richard the riot act for tormenting her son. I dimly recalled having heard him briefly crying a bit earlier, but, hey, not my kid, not my problem. When she asked where Richard was, I honestly couldn't tell her, not having seen him for a bit. I called for him, and he promptly came out of the house, saying he'd been there the whole time and had nothing to do with her kid. (This time, anyway.) His sister popped out and back him up. The neighbor went way unsatisfied, but came back the next day, having gotten the truth out of her son that he had lied about Richard being involved. She apologized.

I never heard from Child Protective Services again. I'm sure there's a file sitting somewhere. I jokingly refer to it as the reason I've never considered running for any important political office.

However, the shirts part of this story continues. Paul still has an interesting connection to his shirts. Of course he changes and cleans them. His stint in the military with restrictions to uniforms never bothered him. But the shirts he buys for himself for everyday - and for work - are of the captioned T-shirt variety. He likes them with a twist. There are a couple of Pinky and the Brain shirts. Several are along the theme of "Four out of the five voices in my head tell me you are crazy," or "My imaginary friend thinks you have serious mental problems." A camouflage shirt declares that now you can't see him. Some are both bitingly funny and obnoxious. "How about never? Is never good for you?" "I'm not indifferent. I just don't care." "If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten." But at least he's an adult now, and nobody is going to come knocking on my door demanding that I justify how I'm raising my kids.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Psycho Stalker Bitch

The Chinese believe it is a curse to live in interesting times. Sometimes, considering the interesting lives some of my friends lead, I can see that point. Take the story a good friend of mine told me today: it goes way beyond interesting. In fact, it has me seriously scared and worried for her, more than she herself is. She has a Psycho Stalker Bitch. Now I know that's not proper language, definitely not PC, but I'm not feeling kindly towards this person threatening my friend, so the label stays.

It's useful in another way as well. I don't want Psycho Stalker Bitch Googling her own name, or having somebody else do it, and take any kind of psycho action based on her reactions to it. As a result, I'm going to disguise all names, and omit other identifying information. Other than that, this is as true as I can write it, based on the information I have.

My friend, hereafter known as Friend, and I met several years back, thrown together trying to achieve the same goals in the same setting. As I got to know her, I gained respect for her work skills and her ethics, and enjoyed her personality. We became friends, remaining so long past the situation that brought us together ended. We chat nearly weekly, more if one of us needs it. We exchange X-mas presents. I attended her wedding reception.

Some time back, Friend started telling me about a troubling situation with a co-worker. This was a person Friend had to train, but became increasingly disturbed about. Work was neglected, items showed up missing, funds were embezzled although nothing could be proven about who was responsible, and the co-worker started slandering Friend to other co-workers. She flat out told Friend that she was going to get her fired from her job and fill it herself. It went from bad to worse, dragging out for months, before the co-worker was finally fired. While Friend's boss believed Friend, very few other people at the workplace did, and some of that attitude lingers to this day.

I had no problem believing Friend's story. I had long knowledge of her and trust for her. Nothing has occurred to prompt me to question that even minutely. I was powerless to help, other than to listen and give support. When the co-worker no longer held that status, we both thought it was over. There were some lingering concerns about co-worker's having had access to personal information including social security numbers, but Friend's bank became involved and some potential problems were averted.

Fast forward, present time. Friend and her husband, hereafter called Hubby, live way out back of beyond. That's what I call it when the location in question is remote and far from the metro area. They have 10 acres in a rural township outside a small town. Both commute for their jobs much closer to the big city. Until now, the most excitement at home has been watching the wildlife parade through their back yard. The location is not only a fair distance from Friend's worksite, but an even farther distance from the former co-worker's (hereafter known as Psycho Stalker Bitch, or PSB when I get tired of writing it all out) home. There is no known reason for Psycho Stalker Bitch to show up in the area.

But she has.

Friend's bank has started getting involved more closely with Friend again, because someone has been trying to access her accounts. Friend stops at the local fast food joint to pick up supper on those nights when Hubby will be delayed and she doesn't have to cook. Psycho Stalker Bitch will be in her car in the parking lot, watching. She'll leave as soon as Friend exits. Psycho Stalker Bitch has been seen outside the local grocery store when Friend is shopping. Friend had a medical appointment, and was asked who that woman was in the parking lot who was staring at her?

Friend tries to vary her route and time she heads home from work, but somehow Psycho Stalker Bitch is there as she hits town. One day PSB swerved her vehicle and Friend almost was run off the road. Now, as soon as Friend is back in cell phone range near her small town, she'll be on it, talking to somebody. First, she can quickly call for any needed help. Second, this gives her a reason not to look at PSB, not to acknowledge her for any reason as she drives past her. This is what the cops have advised her.

Friend wasn't shy about contacting them. There's not much they say they can do at this point. It's not illegal to be on a public road or in a business parking lot. As Friend comes into town, there'll be a squad parked there, watching as she goes past. They keep an eye on her, help her feel safer. They say they don't think PSB actually means any harm to Friend. Their reasoning is, taking her statement about trying to take away Friend's job, as well as other clues I haven't mentioned here, that PSB is the kind of mentally unbalanced person who is unhappy with her own life and wants to live somebody else's. Friend's.

I'm not so sure I agree. To me it's not such a leap to go from wanting to live somebody else's life to wanting to take away somebody else's life. After all, that's what she tried with the job. Who knows what might flip PSB over that edge?

Friend thinks PSB just wants to play mind games. There have been occasions of a vehile driving suspiciously into their yard when to all appearances nobody was home. But when a head appears, the vehicle peels out. So far there have been no break-ins, no mail tampering, no attempt at contact or harm other than the day PSB's car swerved. Friend is determined to stay calm.

Despite that, she's also determined not to be stupid about it. Living in the country, and being hunters, they have firearms about the house. Usually they are cleaned and packed away after hunting season is over. Now the "long guns" have positions near the house doors, and a pistol sits in the bedroom. For those times when nobody is home, something becoming more seldom lately, trail cams are discretely positioned to capture key action near certain doors. Friend says they have had to do a lot of erasing pictures lately, but the evidence will be there if necessary.

I'm hoping it won't be. But I'm worried.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Been there, tried that, threw away the t-shirt.

After the divorce and returning with the kids to Minnesota, it was a struggle to make ends meet. My job didn't pay well, even though I was running the largest branch of the dry cleaners and thus got the largest commission bonuses. Child support was critical. And that's just when it faltered and finally ended. To top it off, I got laid off my job even though I was doing it competently from a wheelchair.

Somebody - possibly at the unemployment office - recommended I apply for food stamps. It was not something that would have occurred to me, but I saw the practicality of it, especially with raising two hollow-legged boys (Steph had a normal appetite), so off I went. I remember little of the experience except for sitting in a chair next to the interviewer's desk, tears pouring down my face. Shame, humiliation, embarrassment - all were contributing. But the case worker totally ignored my tears or my feelings. Either it happened all the time or she was simply unable to deal with them - possibly both.

A few days after I spent the food-stamps, my last child support check arrived. I didn't know then it was the last, just that I was now ineligible for any more food stamps. No matter what happened after that, I wasn't going back. How could I prove I wasn't trying to defraud the government after what happened the first time?

Things didn't improve after that. Christmas was coming and for the first time there was no budget to buy anything for anybody. I don't know how the word got around, but the neighbor across the street appeared one day, saying that if it was OK, her coworkers would like mine to be the family they sponsored this year, since they picked one every year at Christmas. They all contributed, then bought clothing, toys and food for their selected family. And what were the kids' sizes?

Completely overwhelmed, I of course said it was OK. The clothing was nice quality, the 'fridge and cupboards were full for a bit, and we had a traditional Christmas. I wrote a long thank-you letter back, and vowed that should I ever get back on my feet, I'd contribute to other people's Christmases who were less fortunate than I was.

Things did improve. I got a better job, paid off debts, fed and clothed my kids, eventually had a modest house built and put away savings for retirement. Toys for Tots and Salvation Army hear from me every year, as do certain other charities. There are still struggles, of course, but I've managed to find a level that's comfortable. I've been lucky.

I don't remember those times very often these days. When I do think of that generosity, however, it still makes me cry. Whoever you all were, please know that your simple acts are still making a difference!

Monday, March 8, 2010


Last Feb. 2, Bambi killed my car.

Feb. 17th, with all the documentation finally completed, the insurance company paid off my loan to US Bank. I'd made more payments between those dates (keeping up the credit rating), so US Bank got overpaid.

Feb. 20th they sent me a letter informing me of that forgotten little item about my signing up for gap insurance when I'd bought the car. Had I not been paying ahead every month, it could have made a difference. I just wanted the loan gone ASAP. Oh well. All I could expect back from the bank was about $1300, still a significant amount, but... Oh well.

Feb. 24th US bank acknowledged receiving the payoff amount. My account disappeared from the internet where I was used to checking balances and making payments. That disappearance was the total acknowledgement I've gotten of the payoff.

Today I called US Bank asking where was my refund for the overpayment? I was informed it will be mailed out on the 12th and should arrive in 3 to 5 days. Since the 12th is a Friday, we'll plan on it closer to the five days. Once deposited, it'll take a couple more to clear.

Simple arithmetic gives US Bank nearly a full month of having my money to play with, completely interest free. Admittedly, that won't total a lot of scratch for them, but when you multiply by thousands of customers a month....

It's no wonder I love my credit union! Had I financed through them, the day the check arrived, the loan would have been paid off and the balance put in my account. They're handy for other things as well: direct deposit for paychecks, no-fee ATM usage at their locations, or only the machine fee at others, no overdrafts because "bounced" checks mean they transfer $200 increments from savings at absolutely no charge, and if it's even over that, I have a pre-established line of credit, where the only fee is a small interest charge along with the monthly deduction from my checking account so I don't ever have to remember to pay that bill and run up more late fees. They handle other bills on automatic deduct for me too, with minimal paperwork. I can call them up and within seconds have a real person to talk to, someone who can make changes in my accounts, change around CDs, change automatic IRA deductions, give me an answer on a loan request within a couple hours, and who's always happy to assist me.

When I asked Greg at US Bank whether I wasn't entitled to some of that interest for the month they had free use of my funds, he suddenly acted like I had said something very offensive about his mother. (Had he been nicer, I might have introduced him to my credit union!)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

At Long Last, A Real Bed

Now, it's not that I haven't had any bed, or even a real bed for most of my life. It's just that I made a temporary plan when we remodeled to move my dad in. He got my room, with my bed. It's a wonderful full size bed with super-firm mattress to avoid back problems and a modern brass headboard. Small room, small-ish but adequate bed.

Since I left that for the larger 4th bedroom last July, I've been sleeping on a compilation. The bottom is a double-height airbed, picked up cheaply at an auction, of course. I tried a regular airbed on top of that to get the right height off the floor, but it was so soft I sank way in and had to lift myself out of it just to roll over at night. Not too conducive to a good rest. Plus, it sucked all the heat right out of me. So that top air mattress got replaced with the mattress from my parents' bed, fairly soft but a major improvement. Sheets fit better, it supported me better, and it insulated me rather than sucking out the heat. If it was that miserable in July, how would it be come winter?

Of course, it was still over a double-height air bed, so you couldn't actually sit on the edge of the bed to, say, put on your socks. The air mattress would severely deform. leaving your end so low you'd be sitting on your ankles, while the other end would rise in the air, incidentally messing up all the sheets and blankets you'd worked to tuck in. It also travels, sideways, just like the way a rug on a carpet creeps. Every week or so I'd have to go to the other side of the bed, grab the handles through the bedding, brace the air mattress with my feet and pull the real mattress back into place. If you think that's easy or fun, I invite you to try it. And you still get to retuck the bedding after you finish. However, I was just too cheap to buy a bed I'd have to turn around and get rid of once I moved back into my old bedroom and Steve moved into the new one.

I just figured it was all so temporary. How long could my dad actually last, anyway? Here he was, a new widower, age 95, congestive heart failure, plus plus plus. His longest-lived sibling made it to 97, and he was now close on her heels, age-wise. I wasn't wishing him to go fast, just figuring the likely odds. Temporary began to stretch out. And out. Eventually I decided I needed a better plan.

At the same time, my boyfriend wound up with an unneeded box spring after he got his (queen size) storage bed frame in his apartment. With the box spring, it's so high he keeps a step stool next to the bed. He investigated dumping his box spring, but found the cost was more than he was willing to pay. He also found my bed a little insecure for.... well, use your imagination.

We decided that next time a queen size frame came up at auction, I'd buy it. It did today. ($5. Hard to beat. Nice enough wood headboard.) Friends hauled it home for me. Tomorrow they head up to Steve's and fetch his box spring. We deflate the airbed and store it for company, assemble the "new" bed, and I have a real bed to sleep on. Or sit on. Or....

Of course, now when I throw the dog's ball in my room, if it rolls under the bed, it's my own fault that I have to dig the ball out. Hmmm, maybe a long broom handle...?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Who Owns Culture?

That was the teaser on the radio, notice of an upcoming show. It made news recently that a group of white kids won a competition doing a "black" style of dance. The black students who didn't win were upset. "Their" culture had been "stolen" from them.

I can see how it hurts being one-upped for doing your very own thing. I would think the lesson would be to try harder, practice and perfect your art, not complain that you somehow lost ownership. Maybe you could say that because I'm white, I just don't get it. I'm not qualified to have an opinion. And if the whole argument is black versus white, you'd be right: I just don't get it. But culture is much bigger than that.

Do blacks own gospel? or jazz? Is it appropriate to be upset when those spread around the globe, being performed by artists of every color and race? Or how about when a gifted Chinese pianist wins awards performing Beethovan or Mozart? Should the Germans be upset?

Culture includes food. Personally I love Indian, Chinese, Mexican, French, Italian, and other cultural food offerings. I'm not Jewish and relish an occasional bagel. Sushi - not so much. In fact I can't even get in the door; the "blech" level is just too high in my mind. I do pick and choose. The bland stuff I grew up on in "my" culture is best forgotten 99% of the time. Am I to be confined in my choices to the limited offerings from "my" culture?

Should anybody?

So who owns culture? How about anybody who wants to?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Morning Routine

Time was, I could get up at 6 and be on the road just after 7. Now, if I hurry, I can be up and out by 8. There's just more to the day's routine.

The alarm goes off at six. That's what the clock says, anyway. I keep it set several minutes ahead, rather than fussing with an alarm setting that says 5:47 or whatever. It's set to radio, MPR news. It's much nicer than waking to a loud blare. I sit up slowly, taking inventory of which parts feel how. Standing is even slower, partly because in leaning forward I also lean down to pet the dog. In static shock season, he's a bit slower to approach. I also take a bit to put full weight on the knees and get full balance. Then those first slow steps to the door, then to the outside door to let the dog out. No matter how much of a hurry you might be in to get to the bathroom, the dog gets to go out first. Then you may do your beeline to the bathroom. While there, the line-up of prescription bottles, Ibuprofin and Claritin bottles get your attention. These are the must-take-every-day-without-fail pills. The vitamins are in the kitchen and come later. Missing a day of these is not vital.

Back to the living room, where the oxygen machine gets turned back on, then to the door to let the dog back in - remind him to get his ball and bring it or it's another extra trip later when he starts hunting for it - then out to the kitchen to start the coffeemaker. If you remembered to set it up the night before, it's just a switch flip. Otherwise it's dumping and refilling. All this replaces what used to be throwing a mug of water in the microwave and stirring instant into the hot water. While you are standing there, pull down the container with the nebulizer supplies, get out two vials of the medicine, squeeze the first into the part of the mouthpiece with the red center pointing up, and finish assembly. (There's a drawing on the cupboard door. Not a lot of talent, but the gross shapes tell the story.) Keeping it upright, take it and the second vial out to the machine, hook it up to the tubing and set it in the slot awaiting use. The second vial sets on the table for now. While there, you can turn on his lamp. Up to this point, the plethora of nightlights around the area probably have lit your way quite well.

Now you may have a few minutes to yourself. You can go on the computer, pay bills, organize your lunch cooler if temperature is not an issue for whatever you're packing, throw the ball for the dog, get an early start on the news and weather. Keep an eye on the clock, however, because you are expected to show up at his bedroom door at 6:30. He will have been checking his watch. It it's the weekend, he will understand if you wait until 7 or even 7:30. If it's a workday, he starts to wonder if he's been forgotten or deserted.

It usually goes like this: turn on the hallway light, because he'll need it later. Knock on his door, open it, and say. "Good morning." Turn on his room light and head for the bed. If he answers, "Is it?' or something like that, you'll know he's been sleeping fairly soundly and not been awake the last couple hours waiting for you to show up. Otherwise you'll hear something about how many years he's been waiting for you to show up, did you fall in a hole?

Help him get his covers off, clearing all the way down to his feet so he can get them over to the side of the bed in order to sit up. He may need help with his feet. He will need help siting up, because his left side has gotten very weak lately. Ask for his right hand, and use it to pull him into a sitting position. He will have a dry mouth, but there is a little water bottle on his nightstand. Remove its cap and hand it to him for a swig to "wet his whistle." When it gets empty, just refill it at the sink and recap it.

This is often his cue to check with you on the day/date. February went like this. The first week, not much comment. The second week, he noted daily that February had already lasted three weeks. The third week, he commented that February had been lasting several months. The last week, it had taken 27 years to get to that part of the month!

He was, however, getting better at knowing the day of the week for himself without prompting.

There will be a bottle of Sarna lotion on his nightstand. While he's removing his pajama top, give about 5 squirts of the lotion into your hand, rubbing it around to spread it evenly in both and warm it up. Keep a finger or two free of lotion as he may need help getting the pajama top off, depending on how much his left arm hurts. It goes on his pillow. You now spread the warm lotion on the tops of his shoulders, rubbing it in, then continue down front - yes, you can rub gently over the lump of his pacemaker - and back to mid-chest level and down his arms to the wrists. This is why you needed the 5 squirts. While you can no longer see any surface sign of his shingles, this soothes him and helps with the low-level residual pain. Another squirt gets rubbed in on his back side from his waistband to his tailbone. (This is your chance to sit down for half a minute.) He insists there's swelling there along with the pain. I can never see it, and often have to reassure him there's no rash or redness, but this helps ease him there as well. You notice while doing this if his diaper is messy or not. If not, he'll keep it on. He hates changing it, thinking he's being economical. At the very least, the 3 x week county home health aids will see it gets changed along with the rest of his clothes when they give him his bath. I'm not sure if it's the lotion or the rubbing, but I try to use a firm hand, and he feels better afterward.

During this process, his thanks will generally be effusive. "What would I ever do without you?" is a frequent sentiment. I just reassure him he'll likely never have to find out. I don't mention that there is occasionally a morning when he's not willing to wait and gets dressed himself, though without benefit of lotion. I feel guilty enough when that happens. I don't need to rub my own nose in it.

His shirt from the day before will be draped over his walker, and unless that's gotten a major spill or something, it goes back on. He needs help getting his arms in the sleeves, and the top and sleeve buttons. He'll get the rest himself. While he's finishing the buttoning is a perfect time to peel off the fuzzy 2nd pair of socks he wears to bed to keep his feet warm. They go on his pillow. Then he stands - with at least help to balance - and peels down the pajama bottoms enough so that when he sits, he's not sitting on them. Peeling them off, you remember to grab hold of the tops of his cotton socks, pulling them up so they're snug on his feet. The pajama bottoms go - you guessed it - on his pillow. His pants are also draped over the walker, and you help him get them over his feet and the feet properly headed one down each leg. It can be interesting some mornings. Once the pant legs are clear of the floor, he stands again to pull them up. Assist in tucking in his shirt tail and hitching the back up to waist level, move his walker in front of him, and he'll finish tucking in the front of his shirt, zipping and belting.

There used to be a part of his routine here where the plastic brace for his drop-foot went on over his sock on his left foot. A few months ago he decided he wasn't going to wear/fuss with that anymore. It's sitting on the floor of his closet, but so far he's managing to lift the whole leg enough that the drop foot doesn't drag or trip him.

You are not necessarily ready to leave yet. Sometimes he leaves his glasses in the living room when he heads to bed. Other times they end up on top of his dresser. It's your job to know which, give them a quick cleaning wipe, and hand them to him to put on. A clean hanky replaces the used one in his front pocket. Make sure his Lifeline pendant is back around his neck as he's been removing it lately, much good as it's going to do in the middle of the night if it's off. Note whether he's used his plastic wastebasket as a toilet in the middle of the night, because it may need to be emptied, rinsed out and returned. We actually try to encourage his using the wastebasket if he needs to go, rather than stumbling week and disoriented around a dark house. He'll put the catheter and its wrapper in the wastebasket. They can be rinsed in the toilet and put in the bathroom wastebasket before you dump out the bedroom wastebasket. He'll also need a replacement catheter waiting for him on his nightstand in case he needs it the next night. He can't tear it open, so it gets pre-cut partway through, down at the wide end, doing the least to compromise sterility at the business end.

Now you can leave.

He'll head to his lift chair in the living room. He usually gets his room light off, but misses the hallway light switch since it's tucked behind the entertainment center. He'll want his fresh hot cup of coffee waiting for him at the chair. If he's confused, he may need help finding his oxygen tube, but fairly easily figures out which way to hook it over his nose and ears after all these month of practice. I have watched the process and to me the way to hold it seems counterintuitive. If his glasses were left in the living room, now is the time to hand then to him. Part of the ritual is to ask him how his coffee is this morning. He'll either tell you it's hot, good, or both.

Most mornings by now it's about 6:50. We have the DVR set for two hours of the local news/weather station we prefer, not to record but kind of to keep in the short-term memory. If you turn on the TV without messing with any of the other controls, you can rewind it to the start of the half hour and catch headline news and weather and traffic without commercials, because you hit the 30-second skip button until they're past. He'll check his watch when they give time checks that do not match reality, and you can just remind him that the program has been rewound that that his watch is the real time.

This is my coffee time too. This actually means mocha. I add cocoa mix before I pour in the coffee, leaving just enough room at the top to about 3 ice cubes after the mixing is done. I can't drink it hot, and there's not time to wait for it to cool. The reason for the cocoa it because of what I do next: dispense the vitamins from all the bottles on top of the microwave. There's a multi-vitamin, C, D, Omega 3 (2), potassium (4), glucosamine chondroitin (3), baby aspirin, and tums (2). I can't take them with plain coffee. My stomach needs something else in it to coat it, and I never eat until I'm on the road. There just isn't time. So all these get taken over to the chair next to his, and we sip coffee together and watch the news and weather. Occasionally I'll pause it for a comment on what they just said, or to answer a question he has. When they show the national weather map, I'll tell him what the high will be in Arizona that day. (Actually, they show Las Vegas, but I figure it'll be the same temperature somewhere in AZ that same day.) If it's only in the 60's or high 50's, he'll joke that they must think it's jacket weather down there. He should know: he and Mom wore jackets for those temperatures when they spent winters down there.

Once we've gotten the weather report, it's time for my shower while he takes his nebulizer. I know for the next several minutes he won't need to be in the bathroom, but I double check, just in case. If he's gotta, it's now. If it's cold outside, meaning chilly inside for him despite the higher setting on the thermostat, he'll slip into his sweater now. Lately he needs help with that - again, the weak left side. His shoes will be sitting next to his chair. With their velcro tabs, he can get them on/off himself.

Once I'm out of the shower, it's usually time to fix his breakfast. Somehow I got smart enough 20 years ago to get wheeled chairs for the dining table. They were $150 each from Sears, and it seemed like a fortune at the time, but I was down to three from the old set. Most of breakfast can be fixed sitting on one of them. It's always the same thing. Pull out bacon, bread, jelly, OJ, and a cup of fruit from the 'fridge. Get his special plate and cup from the cupboard or the dishwasher, if that's where the clean ones are. Dig up a teaspoon and a butter knife. Lastly, tear off two paper towels from the roll.

Fill his glass halfway up with OJ, and set it in his spot at the table. While there, open the pills holder and dump out that morning's pills into the little red paper cup left there for that purpose. There'll be a Tums in the group. Set it between the cup and OJ glass on the table, where he can see it. He can swallow the whole cluster of pills at one swallow, but likes to chew on the flavored Tums after his breakfast, almost like dessert.

With the juice pitcher and glass off the counter, there's a bit more working room. Pull out a single slice of bread for the toaster, but make sure the timing control points straight up. Somebody in this family likes to set it way down, and if you don't notice, you wind up having to toast his slice twice. Fold the paper towels together, then in half. Two half-slices of bacon go in the miffle of the towels, with each side then folded over. When you place this upside down in the microwave, you have almost the perfect amount of towel to catch all the grease that cooks out. A minute and a half gets it just the way he likes it: hot and curly but still mostly chewy, not crisp.

While bread and bacon are cooking, the cap comes off his fruit cup (these are the lunchbox servings, sold in 4-packs or 6-packs.) Drained if necessary, it goes on his plate, along with a spoon. Note that his plate is one of those old melmac plates given out years ago on airplanes. My exceedingly thrifty mom saved every one of them. They're handy now because of the raised rims and small size. They hold a perfect portion for him and keep it from ending up on the table while he searches for his food with his extremely poor vision. The finished toast gets spread with Paul's homemade jelly, whichever flavor happens to be handy, then cut in half and turned into a bacon sandwich, after you've patted down the towel around the cooked bacon to soak up all the excess fat. Be careful to throw the towel away under the sink where the dog can't dig it out of the trash. If you call Daddy to the table as you're spreading the jelly, the timing is just about perfect for him and food to arrive at the table together.

He will bring his coffee cup over to the table while using his walker. If you're lucky, it was mostly empty before he started out. At any rate, it will be by the time he gets to the table. I fill his cup after he sits down and take it back to his living room chair for him to drink after breakfast. I also turn his walker around so it's facing him after he stands up to leave. He never remembers to do this, so he winds up standing and reaching behind him to find his walker, trying to maintain his balance while he does so. His dining room chair also has wheels, and since moving in here he's learned to get in and out of it while it's pushed back against the dishwasher, so it doesn't roll out from under him. The old apartment had a carpeted dining area, so it wasn't an issue there.

While I'm over dropping off his coffee, it's a good time to refill his nebulizer. That second vial I left it there gets opened, along with the mouthpiece section, one fills the other, and that gets hung on its slot on the machine. I learned a couple months after he started using it, by finally reading the mylar packets the vials come in, that they can't be exposed to light for more than a week before becoming useless. Luckily I had never done that!

While he's finishing his breakfast, I'll go change into my work uniform. This is a good time to let the dog out again, always making sure when he comes back in that his favorite ball comes in with him. If not, he'll soon miss it, and wind up spending most of his time scratching at the door until somebody lets him out. Not my idea of the best way for Daddy to spend his morning.

Daddy will be in his living room chair listening to WCCO when I get back. It's time to pack the lunch cooler and water/ice jug, throw on my shoes, clean up any mess left from breakfast, make that last bathroom stop, and head out the door to work. On the way, I announce where I'm heading, ask if he needs anything more before I go. He'll ask if Meals on Wheels will be there at lunch time, and if any of his "girls" are coming that day. He's referring to the home health aids who visit him Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It also used to refer to the physical therapist he had for a couple months. Tuesdays and alternate Thursdays (when Paul's not home to do it) it'll be Steve or Richard fixing his supper and setting out his evening pills, refilling his nebulizer for his bedtime dose, turning off his coffeemaker, and keeping him company for a bit. All the day's schedule will be imparted to him on my way, including any possible doctor's appointment, scheduled for Paul's days off so that he can drive his grandfather down. He also gets informed of who's still in the house.

Now, finally, I can head out to work.