Friday, April 30, 2010


I took on that role twice this past week. Despite schoolyard teachings against such behavior, I'd do it again, both times.

The first time I called in to our office to report a fellow driver for not being in uniform while working. I know he was working because he was picking up freight from the same company at the same time as I was. Our uniform is a light blue button-front logo shirt, either long or short sleeved, with navy or grey pants or shorts, and sensible shoes to protect the feet from the many hazards they encounter in factories, construction sites, etc. For weather, add logo hat, logo sweatshirts, and logo jackets. He was dressed in open sandals, no socks, black pants, and a dark blue knit shirt.

His attire reflects on all of us, and lack of uniform has cost us many a customer. (One notorious example was a guy showing up in pants hung with chains. Our company "didn't reflect the image they wanted to present to their clients." No kidding!) Since it might affect my bottom line, and my company pride (or what's left, anyway), I ratted him out. I've done it before, including a fashion plate years ago who thought her choice of attire was much more fetching than the old style green and tan uniforms. She was right about that, but still not in uniform.

Today was a completely different issue. While it may not be the route to job security, I called 911 to report one of our customer's clients.

I had a pharmacy delivery to somebody's home, one important enough that it had to be signed for. It was a non-security apartment, so I walked right to their door. No doorbell or knocker, so I exercised my knuckles for a while. And again. And again. While nobody came to answer the door, I could hear what sounded like two very small children running around, laughing and squealing. My mother's ear pegged one of them at about two and the other just older. There were no words spoken. The surname suggest recent immigrant, so I was prepared for English difficulties from an adult, or foreign words from the children, but they seemed pre-verbal. I say that now, having had most of the day to reflect on it, but my impression at the time was simply kids in diapers, and just from the sounds.

Each time I knocked, the door moved in its frame a bit. It hadn't even been latched. Had somebody stepped out, leaving it ajar, having no key to let themselves back in with? I carefully pulled it back to close to being shut, and resumed knocking. I will enter a business without invitation, but never a home. The kid noises had stopped by this time, and I gave up knocking. I sat on the stairs and called in to dispatch, getting the number of our shipping customer to explain the situation to them to get their instructions. They had a phone number and called it, with no answer. I heard no phone ringing inside, though the walls and door allowed all kinds of noises through. (The baby across the hall cried for a while until Daddy came and started goo-gooing to it, and I heard all that clearly, every syllable.) We presumed the number belonged to a cell phone, and the owner was not present. They tried the mother's phone number, listed in their records as an alternate. All they got there was somebody taking the call only to immediately hang up. No voice. Also no sound of a phone from the apartment.

I was told to return the drugs to them, which I did. But I stopped on my way before leaving the parking lot to phone 911 and report my suspicion of small children being left alone, explaining all the details. Years ago I did day care, and that made me a mandatory reporter. There's probably a better term for it, but it means any evidence of abuse of neglect of a child and I was mandated to report it to the proper authorities. I never needed to do it then, but I still feel the responsibility, even without the mandate. So I called. They said they'd check it out.

My imagination provides several scenarios. One is of somebody there, afraid for whatever reason to come to their door. Was I from immigration? One is of children left alone with strict instructions to run away and hide if somebody showed up, never opening the door, and -with the slip of the initial noise - trying to pretend nobody was there. One is of an adult there but sleeping/drugged/incapacitated enough to not hear and answer. The door leaves me thinking the most likely scenario was somebody left in charge who simply left "for a minute". I will likely never know for sure anything beyond the fact that I heard evidence of very young children but none of any supervision.

Plus the fact that I tattled.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What's In Your Lawn?

Believe it or not, I actually went to Scotts school. You know, Scotts the fertilizer and lawn care chemical people. They actually have a school in Ohio to teach garden center salespeople how to promote their products to the public so the public can have perfect lawns. Their products work so well they can grow sod on concrete. And they do, just to prove it.

Were I incredibly ambitious, I too could have their definition of the perfect lawn. If I didn't care about chemical run-off or pesticide residues, I could have the perfect lawn. If I believed in the concept of grass-only lawns, I could have one.

But none of the above hold. I do, however, have the perfect lawn for my soil conditions, my climate, my level of ambition, and my ethical standards for lawn chemicals. It's called, whatever will grow there and tolerate our mowing and raking patterns, known mostly by their absence, is welcome to grow there. Sure, there's grass, mostly fescues and rye, with some buffalo grass my son put in a bare spot once just to try it. There might possibly also be a blade or two of Kentucky bluegrass. There's also a heck of a lot of dandelions, some creeping charlie and moss in a low wet corner, sedges, plantains, field clover, and something I once heard called butter-and-eggs. These are all volunteers, either new or survivors from the field of 6 foot tall vegetation that greeted us when we built the house back in '91.

Then there's the spot of wild daisies in the front yard. They started as a patch about two feet across. I had to ask Paul not to mow them until after they finished blooming. In the intervening years, they've grown and spread, so successfully that I now have to ask Paul to mow them back down to a small patch while they're blooming.

We did actually try to grow grass, once the dirt was leveled, and got enough to help hold it in place. We also tried to add white clover to help fix nitrogen to feed the grass, and while it lasted a few years, it's pretty hard to find these days. Well, except in the flowerbeds. There it's pretty stubborn, even Round-Up-resistant. Other things went in deliberately: scillas, violets, crocus. They pop right up in the spring, quickly greening and adding color for a bit. Persistent drought spells and mowing take their toll in various ways on those, but in good years they are spectacular.

My neighbors hate my yard. I'm not the only one whose dandelions spread their yellow joy through the neighborhood, just one of the very few who make no pretense at eliminating them. We also mow at a higher height than the neighbors, and wait to mow until later. It's legal until stuff reaches a foot high, and we've never gotten a letter of complaint from the city. My next door neighbor has already mown twice this spring! I have better ways to spend Paul's time. He is, after all, the one who does the mowing. Last time I tried, before my knees went south, I finished the front yard, but the vibrations from the mower had my hands so swollen up they ached for days.

Dermatographism is a bitch. I am literally allergic to work.

We used to be plagued on the back side by the neighbor's boyfriend. Paul nicknamed him "The Lawn Nazi." He's the guy who mowed every weekend, on alternate diagonals for that extra bit of perfection. She had a beautiful pair of medium tall blue spruce in her back yard but they disrupted his mowing pattern so he took them out. He hated our dogs as well, since they greeted him with barking when he was out. We'd put up a chain link fence for them when we moved in, ending where hers started across the back. He deliberately took a chunk of that out one day and let them loose, so they had to go out only on leashes for a few days until we could put in another chain link fence 6" from hers. The no-man's land between can't be mowed now, and is filling with tall grasses and trees. (Aw shucks!) Before this, however, we had noticed a couple places where the dogs had been digging, blocked the area with rocks, and used big "U" staples to hold the chain link down. He tore those out and threw them all over our yard, either in an effort to kill our mower or us as the mower blades threw them. We never did find as many as were originally holding down the fence. But then, he's just the kind of guy to hold a couple back, playing mind games to keep us insecure.

Luckily for us she finally threw him out. Probably, lucky for her as well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Pelican, Briefly Revisited

The Pelicans did stick around for about another week, although they had started leaving in small chunks just after my last posting. For a time, they settled on North Center Lake on a sand bar exposed by low lake levels. Passing fishermen, even ones at high speed, didn't seem to bother them. I now haven't seen a single one for a week, although my eye has been trained to search them out each time I pass all their previous locations, and even though experience has taught me they aren't there any more. I am assuming they have gone on to their individual summer breeding locations. I only hope they come back for regular seasonal visits, and this year wasn't a fluke.

There does seem to be territorial expansion. My Audobon bird guide claims their territory is marshy areas of Texas and the west coast. This is a long way from there, and I've seen them in this state for several years now.

Just for contrast, I am adding a couple pictures of brown pelicans from Florida, shot at Homosassa Springs in January of 2009. They are free to come and go, but seem quite comfortable in a location encircled by boardwalks for the tourists and filled with herons, flamingos, roseate spoonbills, and many other bird species.

Monday, April 26, 2010


It seems that my glasses are OK after all. It's my eyes that are wonky. When I went to get my eyes checked, it was early morning - at least for a Saturday. When I picked them up, it was afternoon. They were just starting to get questionable. By night, I couldn't stand them and determined to get them replaced. After writing "Taller", again early morning, I put the new glasses on and drove in to replace them. A funny thing happened on the way. They were just fine, thank you.

I went in anyway, since they still needed real fitting. While there I talked to the optometrist, who confirmed that eyes can change with the time of day. He even reassured me that I'm not weird at all (well, at least in this), and this happens to lots of people. He even offered the hope that as my eyes adjust to the new glasses, it'll happen less.

So far, he's right.

Backyard Bluebirds

It was nice enough for a backyard bonfire and brat-roast. We were all settled in comfortably when I sent Paul in for my camera. One of the nest boxes, originally bought with bluebirds in mind when we first moved in, but taken over in turn by tree swallows, wrens, and the occasional tree frog, was now hosting bluebirds.

Finally !

Our visitors obligingly posed long enough for me to find the focus and grab a few shots. All are taken with the 300 mm lens, as we were on opposite sides of the yard. Continuous shutter is a setting I'm coming to love, especially since it's what caught some in-flight action.

My Pretty New White Car

I put off painting my red car white as long as I could. I liked the red, so much I ordered the painter to save the racing stripes as a whole, with the red showing between the three silver stripes. He took it a step further, saving the red inside the Hyundai symbol. And now, after three weeks of driving, it's taken on even more color.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I've just gotten taller!

Well, strictly speaking, that's not true. In fact, my last physical showed me as down two inches from my maximum height. I'm turning into my mother! Yikes!

But what is true is that the ground has gotten farther away. At least, when I look through my new glasses, it has. It's very disconcerting. I feel more powerful, able to take longer strides to cover the now-increased distance. Yee-haaaa! And hogwash!

When I first put them on, the whole world looked weird, both sharper and not at the same time. I got the new trainee when I went in, so some things that should have happened, didn't. She just told me to look around and see how they seemed, and if they were OK, fine. So I did, with both eyes at once. What I now realize is that I should have done that one eye at a time. The left eye is fine. The right eye is blurry. They should also have tested my new vision on the eye chart, one eye at a time. Part of the reason I accepted it at the time is the new correction for astigmatism. I figured it was just something to get used to. Hopefully without throwing up, the way I felt with my first bifocals.


Double oops, actually. If you want proof of how idiotically optimistic I am, and/or how lazy I am about trying to save a trip, I dropped off the old glasses with them when I picked up the new. They can recycle them through the Lions to somebody who needs but can't afford my prescription. I'm hoping they are still recoverable, because these have to go back. While I can drive without any glasses, (well, except for shades), I can't read without them. I'm completely annoyed at the thought of having to pick up "cheaters" for reading.

I already picked up "cheaters" for using the computer: 1.75 lenses. I figured that since I no longer have a computer at arm's length in the car, I can get along without trifocals, saving money. (OK, so I can't see the dashboard clearly either. Next time, trifocals again. Say, another 5 years?) These turned into a double purchase. The first set were the really cheap ones, and wound up being wavy and unclear around the outside. Ick! So I went back for the $20 version, which I'm happily wearing right now. (I have somebody in mind to donate the originals to. I hope it will be a good thing.)

So I'm going back in today. This also annoys me. I have learned to love having at least one day a week with no driving anywhere, sometimes even no shower and getting out of my PJs. I'll find out what I find out when I get there. And I'll insist on the staff help with some real experience, not only this time, but when they come back, with fitting the frames. The trainee just popped them on my face, said, "They OK?" and sent me on my way. 10 minutes later they were hurting. They bow out around the temples and over the ears, and turn in suddenly behind the ears. Pinch plus no traction. A good head shake and they're off, though right now that's not entirely a bad thing. A head tilt and the glasses tilt, giving me a weird double vision that only occurs when one eye is looking through the bifocal while the other one looks out the main part. As if they weren't weird enough already.

So, time for a shower and a road trip. Dang!

Persons of Good Repute

Here's an unexpected reason why the above description might be a good one to have applied to you.

When last we left Friend and Psycho Stalker Bitch, the stalking was ongoing, being watched by the local law enforcement, and things were pretty much stable. They had a theory that PSB wanted the life that Friend has, which to me smacks of admiration on her part. That has always seemed cock-eyed to me.

Some things have changed. While I can't claim this is the last posting on the issue, since the only way to promise that is with somebody getting a life sentence, there seems to be resolution. Of course, the law officers have warned Friend that it may be illusory, and to be especially watchful for a while. She's taking them seriously.

Shortly after the earlier posting, Friends local cops suggested an alternate way to drive home. It gets her off the highway before the spot where she usually spotted/got spotted by PSB, using back roads where she has a cell signal, and they know what route she took, just in case of trouble. She keeps her cell ready for instant use during that part of her drive. Meanwhile, they still position their car along the highway just before town at the right time to document the passing of PSB's car. Both Friend and they noted unreported front end damage to PSB's car, which seemed to alert them a bit further.

After a couple of weeks of taking the back roads home, Friend got tired of their slowness and extra miles. She rather defiantly took back her old route. PSB was usually still there, sitting alongside the road until Friend passed and then pulling out to follow. On one remarkable day, PSB's daughter (Friend had met her through work, back when) was the one doing the stalking!

How sick do you have to be for that?

When Friend had an errand in town once on her way home, PSB did her usual stalk-from-the-parking lot. As Friend exited the building, PSB ran back to her car and pulled out just ahead of Friend. Friend admitted to me she could easily have turned the other way and taken a longer route home, but by then she was really tired of it, so made her usual turn. With the light traffic, she wound up immediately behind PSB at the next stop sign. She felt a moment of glee at reversing the situation, being the stalker herself, if you will. PSB noticed, and acting like she was in a panic, pulled off into the next parking lot and ran into the building. Friend said to herself, "What the heck?" and mimed surprise at seeing PSB, pulled over and peered into the lobby from the street as if trying to verify that it was really someone she knew. PSB tried to hide behind something in the lobby, and all the while stared back at Friend, acting terrified at being recognized. It only lasted a few seconds before Friend pulled back into traffic and headed home, chuckling most of the way.

During this time, Friend also relented at her policy of not having anybody from work be aware of what was going on. Some of them still staunchly support PSB, after all, and the stalking never occurred in the vicinity. While still not mentioning it to her co-workers, she discussed the situation with a deputy who had occasion to stop by regularly, and with whom she had become friends. He had a few choice words for the lack of action from the cops up by her home, informing Friend of what he'd be doing if it happened on his turf. Then he asked if it would be OK if he asked their County Sheriff to contact her County Sheriff and vouch for Friend and fill in some background on PSB. It may be one of the best decisions Friend made when she agreed to the help.

One day recently on her way home Friend pulled over behind the waiting cop, whom she now knew by first name. They had quite a chat. It seems the information imparted across county and state lines was quite valuable. Friend and her husband, having spent many years in the old county, were vouched for as "persons of good repute." They obeyed laws, payed taxes promptly, held jobs long-term, helped out in the community. They weren't cranks, pranksters, or troublemakers. They were to be taken seriously. They were definitely to be protected.

On the other hand, PSB did not hold that reputation. Information was imparted about thefts and theft attempts where not enough proof was established for an arrest, but things pointed her way, and with a pattern on multiple jobs. (When a trail goes to a computer to which 4 people had access, for example, it's not good enough for court.) By far the most telling piece of information, however, was that PSB had a history of stalking, years earlier when she lived in California and before laws were tightened up when stalking started being taken seriously. They also changed their theory of what was going on in PSB's mind: she hated, really really hated Friend. (About time, guys!)

Suddenly Friend's local cops decided that this needed to be stopped. They pulled PSB over one day and read the riot act to her for an hour. When asked why she was even in this county, she claimed she was buying property here. When asked for the name of her realtor, she had no answer. At the end of the "chat" PSB was informed that she had no legitimate business in this county, if they spotted her again there would be a hefty ticket/fine, and any repeat would result in her arrest and imprisonment. Furthermore, if anything, ANYTHING happened to Friend, her husband, her dog, her house, her property, the first place they were going to look for a cause was PSB and her family!

It's been over a week now, and Friend has not spotted PSB. She has been extra vigilant, however, and won't be letting her guard down for a while. We didn't discuss whether the guns are still posted by the doors at home.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

DOT Physical

Those of you who've been following this blog will understand why I found the Dr.'s comment so funny. But first, a little background.

In order to drive commercially, I am required to get a DOT physical every year. Normally it's every two, but since my blood pressure is being medicated, I'm required to do it every year. Lately our company has been really attentive to the date when the renewal is due, and if a day lapses, tough luck, you're out. Bring in the proof. Last night was my date to stop in.

My vision was checked, the one thing I had been a little unsure of before last weekend. Road signs had been getting blurry, and I figured after about 5 years I was due to get new glasses. The questions for the optometrist were whether I would now need glasses to drive (not yet), and whether the blurriness was the first signal of my own onset of macular degeneration, a particular nightmare of mine with Dad's history. Luckily, no sign of that, but I've gotten an astigmatism and the barest inkling of cataracts starting, something likely not to be noticeable until years after retirement. WHEW! I went into the physical without concern.

They take vitals, check hearing, go over your illness and injury history. I had to do knee bends to prove that I was still capable, even with my handicap status, of checking the undercarriage of my bus during the safety check. I explained my bus was a hatchback, but he persisted in thinking I drove for the school system. Whatever. I passed.

His particular concern was my rotator cuff injury. Could I really handle a steering wheel with enough strength to maintain control of a vehicle? We went through some strength and range of motion tests, which I also passed, though not without pain. Yesterday had been a relatively good day, the first one in three weeks where I had started to think it was finally healing. Good enough that I'm starting to back off on the ibuprofin levels.

But before going through the testing of my arm, while noticing I was holding it in a least-painful position and reading my chart for what was going on, he turned and asked me, "Are you sure you want to take your DOT physical today? Don't you want to wait until after you've recovered from the surgery?"

Surgery? My young doctor got a quick lesson in the facts of life.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Genealogy III: Filling More Gaps

Nina was neither the first nor only aunt who had several eye-opening stories to tell. On my dad's side of the family was my Aunt Agnes. She was the youngest of three girls in a family of 10 (surviving) children. If there was a hub around which so large a family revolved, it was her, perhaps partly because it was in her house that my grandmother, Elizabeth Maxson, lived out most of her final years.

Agnes was the one who took in the strays. Unable to have children, she and Larry Findorff, her husband, adopted two, Ronald and Marilyn. Apparently that wasn't enough, for she also took in babies through the foster care system, whom I later found out were spina biffida babies. I'm guessing that back then they didn't live long, for they never got past the baby stage in my recollections, although if I were an optimist, I'd think that they "graduated" to a caregiver who could provide care for older children. Whatever happened, I was never privy to it: just another of so many things that were never spoken of before children. During the time I lived with her, the babies were present, but never for me to interact with as one might with healthy younger siblings.

I was one of the strays she took in, the year my mother was sick. Those memories form some of my clearest early childhood memories, starting from the bus trip down there. Mom took me down on the Greyhound, a complete novelty to me, having only traveled at that point in my life in the family car, mostly with Daddy driving. I recall getting off and on again at the stops along the way. I also remember entertaining myself with counting telephone poles. They went by very fast and there were very many of them, so I had to invent a way of keeping track of where in the numbering system I was. I could keep track by tens using fingers, so when I started on the next ten, I moved a finger to a new position, so on for each ten up to a hundred. Then it got tricky, for hundreds and tens both had to be accounted for, so I now I had three finger positions, one for uncounted, one for tens, one for hundreds, and don't lose track of any one! They served me well until I reached a thousand, at which point I was both out of ideas for finger positions and bored with counting.

I was a little confused, though, especially in later years, why, if my mother was so sick I had to be sent away, she was well enough to bring me down to Minneapolis on the bus and then return by herself. Or perhaps she didn't return but was treated in the city. Nobody ever explained.

The months with Agnes were like a vacation to me, opening up whole new world. For one thing, I got to go to kindergarten at Calhoun School, just a few blocks away. Not only was there no kindergarten offered in Nevis at that time, so I got to do something my brother didn't get to, I got to learn how to cross the street. Before this either there were no streets unsafe to cross, living way up north at the resort, or we were strictly forbidden to leave the yard. At first Agnes walked with me, showing me how to stop for the light, tell whether it was red or green and what that meant, and still stressing that I had to look both ways for cars before crossing. After several weeks, I was trusted to get to school and home on my own. The only memory of school itself is standing in front of an easel wearing an old grown-up's shirt backwards to protect my clothes, and painting either with brushes or by fingerpainting. Both kinds had their own special smell, and years later those smells took me straight back to kindergarten.

Smells also remind me of Agnes's house, two in particular. Ivory soap was always used in the bathroom, something we didn't buy at home, so was uniquely connected to Agnes for me. Mom would always buy whatever was cheapest, so I'm guessing Ivory wasn't. I loved that smell. I also loved the smell of copper. Uncle Larry had a bowl of pennies out on the (winterized) porch which was "his" area, the spot he could smoke his cigars. Money was precious, and this was the first time I was ever allowed to play with it. I would spend hours pouring over those pennies, sometimes counting them, sometimes setting them out in different patterns on the rug. I don't know that we ever talked much, but he didn't mind my being there. By that time he was a retired cop, with arthritis in his hands so bad that his fingers were bent to the sides at such an angle that the hands were nearly useless. Years later he had surgery to straighten them, but within a year or two they were bent back again.

The house itself was huge to me. It sat on the corner of 28th street a block off Hennepin. A basement front entrance led to the apartment my grandmother lived in. It was very quickly made plain to me that I wasn't welcome to just pop in and visit. This was, after all, her personal space, consisting of a living or sitting room in front, and a bedroom in back. The rest of the basement was unfinished, containing the laundry area available to all. The main floor had a living room, porch made part of the house, dining room, full kitchen, and two long hallways. One led off to the right to my cousin Ronnie's room. I think I was allowed to see that about twice. The other led to the left, first to the bathroom, and then to a pair of bedrooms, one for Larry and Agnes, the other for my cousin Marilyn. She had twin beds in her room, and I slept in one. One of the many things I learned that year was how to make my own bed. I was so proud of having done it well, my cousin "allowed" me to make hers as well, every day. (Most mornings she was running late in a hurry to get to the high school a block away.) It was probably the one thing that made up for her losing her private room to a pesky young cousin. Thinking back, I'm sure there had to be a nursery area, but it, again, was strictly off limits, and I have no memory of it.

The living room was memorable for two other things. Agnes had a large bowl of seashells. Occasionally I was allowed to carefully take them out, look at them, and play with them much as I did the pennies. Of course, I had to neatly put them away again every time. No messes were allowed. It is also where I remember Heidi, their dachshund, being. She probably had the run of the house, but my memory always puts her in the living room. The reason for that is, every time somebody from outside came into the room, she got so excited she peed on the rug. Every time!

Around the back was a stairway up to the third floor, another place I was forbidden to go. It held rooms where working girls boarded, usually holding secretarial positions which didn't pay enough to allow them anything better. This was a safe and reputable home for them until they got married, the typical expectation in those days.

Agnes taught me how to write my name - my first introduction to letters. She also quickly corrected my ignorance about how to tie my shoes. I'm sure there were lots of other things, all aimed at making me as independent as a five-year-old could be. We never talked about why I was there, or how long I'd stay. I just was. I was part of the family as long as I was there, and all my memories are happy ones, at least around Agnes.

Grandma was another story. Of course she was my Grandma, and I loved her in a remote kind of way the way a child does a relative they don't know well but are supposed to love. But we did have one argument. I was playing outside in their tiny yard with my doll. On this particular day, I hadn't dressed my doll with underpants. Grandma very emphatically scolded me, telling me the doll was disgraceful, and insisting I go right away and find her pants and put them on her before I could be outside playing with her again! I didn't get it. After all, it was just a doll. She had nothing to show off but smooth plastic, so what was the big deal? But Grandma insisted, and when I tried to complain at the unreasonableness to Agnes, she backed her up. I had to go get those pants.

Once I left their house, Aunt Agnes became just another of my many aunts and uncles to me. We'd see each other at family get-togethers, parties, funerals, what have you. My generation grew up, married, left home, but my folks stayed close to her (Larry had died early). Then about 15 years ago I was invited by my folks to go visit her in the nursing home in Hopkins. Her son had placed her in there and then moved down to Arizona. Apparently, she needed more care than living alone provided, and he was no longer available to provide it. So in she went, probably the most able and lucid of the many residents for many years. Her neighbors, and especially her roommates, were no kind of company for the most part, and she made friends with the staff. While she was still capable, she also assisted with fellow residents, caretaker to the end.

One day I was driving past the home on my way home after work, and on impulse stopped by for a visit. We had such nice visit that I stopped by periodically after that. It seemed the least I could do for somebody who took me in when it was needed. One weekend I even arranged to take her out to a movie and dinner at Burger King. (I figured one meal of junk food couldn't hurt her.) Most of the time she talked about day-to-day things when we were together: her permanent, collecting pop-tops for Ronald MacDonald House by the bagfuls, how senile and hopeless her roommate was.

One evening was different. She related two different stories to me, both hard to listen to, although thankfully I had had enough support group experience listening to unpleasant stories by then that I could listen unflinchingly and supportively.

First, she related the real reason why she could never have children. When she was two, her parents sent her to stay for a few hours with a neighbor when nobody else was able to take care of her. During that stay, both the neighbor and his son raped her, causing such damage that surgery was necessary to save her life. The result was that she would never be able to bear children. She grew up afraid nobody would ever want to marry her, but when Larry grew interested in her enough to propose, she told him the whole story, fearing it would drive him away. He said it didn't matter. It was her that he loved. They could adopt. His acceptance and love of her despite society's standards of the time saying she was unmarriageable was what she treasured most about him.

The second story concerns my grandmother, Elizabeth. As Agnes grew older, she became especially close to her father. She told me that while she was still a young girl, while the family lived in Browns Valley, her mother started having an affair with the local minister of their church, and she named him. She would see the sorrow and pain in my grandfather's eyes each time my grandmother left to go see him, and Agnes tried to keep him company and help ease his pain. It seems the caretaker in her came out early. She believed she was the only one in the family who knew about the affair besides her father, being both young enough to be home to witness and old enough to interpret what she saw.

I feel it necessary to comment on both stories. Even by Agnes's account, these were secrets kept from the rest of the family, so there was nobody who could verify or deny them. Even then, when she told me, few of the family were left, and none but my dad - and apparently her - untouched by senility. I found her to be reasonably clearheaded at the time, and had never seen any cause to believe her to be one who makes up wild stories for attention. My impression was that they were true. The rape explained the infertility, and telling the tale to Larry brings it out of the realm of childhood fancy into adult reality. As for my grandmother, I make no judgment. She was a woman who by then had had 11 pregnancies, 10 live births, the babies coming along at regular 18-month intervals, meaning each one started either as she finished nursing the last or just after she let her husband into her bed again. At the time, she would have just finished with the very last one. Whether she needed someone different in her life at that time, or whether she actually needed intensive spiritual counseling, I'll never know. I'm not sure Agnes and her father really knew anything more than that she was spending a lot of time out of the house and with whom. What I do know for sure is that 90 years ago, family secrets were very well kept.

* * * * *

My grandfather, Francis Eddy Maxson, was superintendent of schools for Richfield in his later years. After he died from a urinary tract infection in 1934, before penicillin, (which event caused my father to leave Hamline University to help support the family) the school district bought him a plot with a very large headstone in the local cemetery on Lyndale Avenue across from his church. There was room there for 4 to be interred. When Larry's parents died too poor to afford their own plot, the family graciously allowed them to be placed in two of the spots. Agnes believed that, in addition to simple compassion and generosity, her mother at least felt gratitude to the family who raised a man wonderful enough to love and accept her damaged daughter. When she finally died at age 92, Elizabeth joined him.

Agnes had continued caring for her mother most of Elizabeth's life. By the time we lived in Park Rapids, Agnes needed a break, and Elizabeth spent time living in other of her children's homes, including ours for a few months, before returning to live with Agnes until finally being placed in a nursing home. Having Grandma there meant that my brother had to give up his first-floor bedroom, moving upstairs into my very large room, a situation we were both glad to see ended. I do remember her taking me aside for a private conversation once. She told me that my father had always regretted taking up smoking - news to me, but what did I know? - and asked me to promise her that I would never smoke. I did, probably as much to end an uncomfortable conversation as anything. But I never did smoke.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Genealogy II: Filling in Some Gaps

I've discovered that when your own family doesn't talk to you, Aunts can fill in some of the gaps. After all, they were there, and sometimes they have some remarkable stories to tell.

Mother's sister Nina (pronounced to rhyme with mynah) is a case in point. She is less than two years younger than Mom, and during one large family reunion/celebration some years back she and I had a quiet conversation in the middle of the bedlam. That's where I found out about the wedding ring. Back when my dad proposed to Mom, he had just gotten a new job that provided enough funds finally to get married on. There had been no savings before then to put aside for a wedding ring. Her younger sister had been named after a great aunt, and this Aunt Nina had given her a diamond ring as a token of their special connection. It wasn't very flashy or expensive, but it was real diamond. My grandmother, Daisy, decided to take that ring - without even asking - and give it to my Dad to give to my Mom so she could have a wedding ring. He never knew the origin of the ring, and accepted it gratefully. I never knew what Mom knew or didn't know, because it was never spoken of, and Nina, in telling me the story, begged me not to bring it up to them. It could only cause embarrassment, and Nina assured me that, had she been asked, she would gladly have turned it over to the cause. After all, she was waiting to get married too, and the sisters were married in a double wedding at Simpson Methodist Church in Minneapolis, May 4, 1941. (I figure it was a pretty good way to save money, post depression, when one has two grown daughters to provide weddings for.) Both couples fled their reception and drove to a restaurant in Farmington for a celebratory dinner before starting their new lives. That was as close to a honeymoon as they came. Nobody ever got wealthy, Nina having 7 girls to raise, and my folks buying a resort that was a financial disaster.

I told the story to my kids and brother, and got all of them to agree that after she died, Mom's wedding ring would be returned to Nina. It seemed only fair to all concerned. The only problem was, once the time came, finding the dang thing! Mom hadn't been wearing it on the day of her stroke, so it wasn't with her hospital belongings. We looked in her jewelry boxes, the safe-deposit boxes, and all the little nooks we could find where things of value might be hidden. There were plenty of those, and even things of modest value - like an assortment of pennies, nothing special, just ordinary pennies - were to be found in weirdly disguised spots. Having been robbed several years before, she was paranoid about keeping thieves from finding her valuables. There was even a ring in a film canister packed with cotton to prevent a rattle, which almost prompted me to throw it out as worthless. Finally a wedding ring was located, and I made an appointment to drop in on my aunt Nina. Not once in all this searching was the object of the search, knowledge of its story, or the intent of its destination so much as whispered to my father. I had, after all, promised Nina.

You notice I said "a" wedding ring. Not "the" wedding ring. Nina took one look at it and handed it back, informing me it wasn't hers. I in turn informed her that we had searched high and low, this was the only ring, and if it wasn't the original, it still should be given her to replace what was taken, and apologized from the whole family for how it came to us. We would feel terrible about keeping it. She finally relented and kept the ring, reminding me once again that she would have gladly given her sister the ring had she known one was needed.

We settled down for a long chat about family history. This is where she confirmed my memories of Mom's nervous breakdown and electroshock treatments. Some other things I thought I knew she dismissed, which was fine, as kids can easily misunderstand tidbits out of context. One such was some partial comment that led me to believe that my grandmother Daisy punished Mom by locking her down in a cellar. Nina insisted that the girls were never mistreated. Never!

Their father, however, was another story, and one that Nina has found hard to forgive through the years.

My grandfather was France Brogren. He's the only grandfather still alive after I was born, and I have a single clear memory of him. I believe I was four at the time, when my family already had moved up to the resort 200 miles north of Minneapolis, where most of my relatives lived. We came down several times a year for visits. On this particular one he took me out for a walk through the city, covering perhaps a mile at most. I recall him as a tall, dark, gentle, quiet presence. He held my hand as we walked. The neighborhood had a train tracks that ran a level lower than the street, so the bridge over the tracks was just a flat part of the road. We were standing stopped on such a bridge when a train passed. The incredibly loud noise and vibrations as it passed terrified me and I started crying, despite his gentle assurance that it couldn't hurt me. Once it passed I was fine, but the walk was ended and he took me back to their home.

Nina relates that he was having problems with aging, likely mild dementia. I don't know that it was ever diagnosed, but he started needing more care from Daisy. This didn't fit in with her idea of what her lifestyle should be like, so she had him committed to the insane asylum at Wilmar, miles away and out of her hair. He was aware enough that the commitment broke his heart, and he didn't live many years after that. Nina and her husband Ilerd would go out and visit him, and occasionally check him out for periods of time and bring him to stay with them on the farm where they lived. One of her favorite memories is of him out at the edge of a field with the lambs and one of her daughters, where he had an opportunity for normalcy and her daughter got a grandfather for a time. They couldn't keep him all the time, and he would have to return to Wilmar, much as everybody hated it. His case wasn't unique: Nina says there were a handful of men in his condition who'd been committed for the same reason, quiet ciphers who could no longer care for themselves, warehoused among the noisily and violently insane. It was her husband's understanding of and care for her father that is one of the best things she loved about her husband all through their marriage. It gave me a new understanding of my uncle as well, since Mom had never made a secret of thinking that Ilerd was never good enough for her sister.

I passed on sharing that opinion with my aunt.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Genealogy 1: What's Missing

I've long since concluded that it doesn't matter who you're descended from so much as it does how the stories get told. Sometimes, it's whether they get told.

Various branches of the family have compiled records after doing research, compiled lists, and sometimes passed on stories. I know, for example, one side of the family tree going back to Scotland, fighting alongside William Wallace. Another side goes back as far as my grandmother and can't even pin down her date of birth because she often lied about it. There are many gaps, but they seem to all have one thing in common: it's the women and their stories that are missing. Sometimes we have names and dates for them, but little more. They were apparently nothing more than birthing machines providing more ancestors, as far as the record keepers were concerned.

Even recent women lost their stories. The most startling of those is my own mother. I do know certain facts about her: her birth date, wedding date, date of her death, full name, parent's names, and some of her history once it joined up with my father's. It's all the basic statistics. But unless I heard it from somebody else, I have none of the stories. I never heard them when I was growing up and could have learned from them that this was a human being and not just a PARENT. I could have gotten more of a sense of who I was and my place in this world, just by fitting into a timeline of people connected directly to me. But I had none of that growing up, and didn't learn I missed it until it was too late.

There was a good reason for part of that. My mom had what was referred to as a nervous breakdown. It's one of those things that was never talked about, somehow shameful, a poorly kept family secret. It happened when I was five, and being that young, I was shipped off to live with relatives until she recovered. My older brother stayed home on the resort with my dad, and went to school during the day. They all ceased to exist in my world for most of that school year. I didn't know more than that Mom was sick and I was sent away. I can't remember ever missing them. I led a fuller life than I had ever experienced before, like learning to tie my shoes, write my name, cross the street, finger paint, make my bed. I had a whole new family, an aunt and uncle, two cousins, and later a different aunt and uncle and four cousins and actually got a whole Easter basket, just for me alone! The whole time was filled with more attention than I'd ever gotten, and not the scoldings that I always seemed to earn before. My father had left the child rearing to Mom so there was little interaction there to miss, my brother was a pest (just like I'm sure he thought I was), and Mom was now an absence of scoldings and corrections by being away. For a five-year-old, what's to miss?

Of course, she got better, I went back home, and normal life resumed. I overheard a phone conversation of my mom telling someone how it felt to receive the electric shock treatments she'd gotten, waking up with her mouth stuffed with cotton (real? imaginary?) so had a very dim idea of what happened. At five, I had no idea how damaging they were to her memories or likely her personality. She was who she was now, and that person almost never laughed, never told stories of when she was a little girl with a sister, always was task oriented for herself and for everybody else around her. (I insert here an adult awareness that perhaps after that kind of medical "help", she may have needed to become the paragon of overachievement to help insure it never ever happened to her again.) The lessons I received were how to behave, how to appear to others so they wouldn't think terrible things about you, how to always do your duty. Need I mention that I wasn't very good at those things? When life is work and duty, and whole chunks of your memory have been carved away, there isn't room for stories even if they could have been recovered. I didn't feel the loss. I never knew what I might be missing. I didn't feel a whole lot of things, except plenty of rebellion, and that carried me through well into adulthood.

I was aware of her as a highly critical individual, not only of me, but of others around her, and somehow those comments were always directed at me as well. A woman in church one day had pimples on her face, and Mom commented that by the age of thirty she ought to know better. (What ought she have known? It was never explained, and what came through to my budding adolescence was shame over my own set of pimples.) An aunt had a somewhat budging tummy, and Mom commented about what a disgrace that was, her looking as if she were a whole 6 months pregnant. She conveniently overlooked at the time that both she and I carried our weight in the same exact place, so again all I learned was shame of my own body. Since correction was how she showed her love, I grew up avoiding her when opportunities presented themselves, and that included asking the questions about who she really was and what her life had been like.

As she began to age and become frail, I began to realize what I might be missing. However, any questions I asked were turned away. Certain things never happened - like the nervous breakdown. Where on earth could I have gotten that idea? (My aunt later confirmed my early memories.) There were no stories from childhood because nothing ever happened or if it did it wasn't interesting enough to tell about. Or by now her memory was a sieve and most of her life was confined to here and now, this task, that appointment, this meal, these symptoms and treatments. The skills at maintaining her independence were the vary last things to go, and indeed she kept up such a good front till the end that we were shocked to discover the state of some household things after she'd died.

Perhaps the biggest shock to me was finding out how alike we two were in one way. While growing up, I loved to read, so much that I'd sneak the bedroom lamp under the covers late at night to hide the light, coming up occasionally for fresh air. I was frequently caught at it, and always scolded. I never saw my mom read an actual book. She'd read newspapers, magazines, and other things that didn't take long periods of time, because she could never justify taking that much time away from what needed doing. It wasn't until after she died and I was talking to her sister that I found out she'd been exactly like me when she was a girl, sneaking reading books at every opportunity!

How much else of her life had she lost? And how much of our lives were different because my brother and I never knew who she was?

On my ex's side of the family, one ancestor (important for my kids) is so lost her name is unrecoverable. It never got written in the family Bible, kept meticulously for just that purpose: ____ married ____ on ____ date. Child named _____ born _____. In one case, however, the entry read simply "... took himself a wife." It was so long ago the story persists only in delicious family rumors, passed down for the sake of scandal for family entertainment, poo-poohed in front of strangers if ever anybody should dare bring it up. It seems she was a heathen, or better known these days as a Native American. More likely, considering how the family migrated, she was Native Canadian. Not only do we not have her name, for no heathen's name shall ever be allowed to sully the pages of the Holy Book, but we don't have her tribe.

And at this point, nor does the family have that Bible. A member of a distant branch of the family showed up to visit years ago and asked to see the Bible for the family records. After they left, it was discovered that another old Bible had been substituted on the shelf for the one with the family records in it. We can't go back and get basic beginning information for research.

What we do have, however, is a single picture, two people standing stiffly for the camera. I last saw it on the living room wall after Lylah died and we were going through the book collection to take what we wanted - by invitation, I might add. What is striking about that picture is the woman's face: dark skinned, weatherbeaten, and unmistakeably Indian. On the back of the picture has been written a list of men's names, possibly the list of generations, though there is no explanation, and those who might have been asked were now dead. The name on top is Matthew, so the picture may have been of him and his wife.

When I think of these two women, at least we have some kind of story to explain why their stories are lost. All the others that are listed are simply names and dates without a hint of stories. To me this is heartbreaking. It gives me renewed purpose in setting down what family stories I know as part of the blog, so not everybody will be lost to future generations.


Here are the best two jokes heard over the radio yesterday.

First, from the Stephanie Miller Show:
If George W. Bush were the Godfather, he'd make you an offer you couldn't understand.

Second, from MPR, one that's currently circulating around Iceland:
It was always the dying wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be scattered all over Europe.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tales From the Jiffy Lube

My car was a bit past its due mileage for an oil change, but things just kept getting in the way of my heading in. 5000 miles, that's just a bit past, right? Anyway, the guy at the counter was giving me the obligatory grief about coming in more often, or buying their more expensive oil. I mentioned that I'd really made a point of coming in that morning because I'd hit every available bug on my way to/from Duluth the night before, and didn't really feel like having to scrub the windshield myself. Cleaning windows is one of their services. Just like vacuuming.

It was a slow morning for them, and he had an appreciative audience of two, so he launched into telling a few tales of messes he'd seen in cars that came through.

By far the messiest windows he'd ever seen were from a car brought in after an eagle finished its lunch while perched on its roof. Not only were the remains of fish guts and blood smeared all over - and by all over he meant roof, front and back windshields, and hood - but the eagle had defecated abundantly while enjoying its meal. Making more room, I guess. I'm not sure how much visibility the driver had to drive it in safely. Anyway, he and his crew did what they could to clean up the mess. I'm sure he gained a grateful customer. He could have just recommended the car wash down the street.

He went on to vacuuming stories, telling of times the crew has refused to vacuum the inside of the car when the smell alone from opening the door made them nauseous. Usually the owners understood. Maybe it was the thought of them adding to the mess instead of eliminating it that did the trick. There was one in particular that stood out for him, however, a vehicle owned by a dog rescue guy. The dogs had the run of the back, and often used it for their bathroom. When they explained that it wouldn't be getting a cleaning from them, the owner apologized, saying he forgot to tell them only to vacuum the driver's compartment. That was no problem.

Other memorable kinds of dirt showed up. Showing me my air filter and recommending it be changed next visit brought one such to mind. A young man with a Jeep with 180,000 miles on it showed up with the original air filter in place! It had a caked mass over an inch thick of dirt and dust covering its top. The driver agreed to its replacement, and the Jiffy Lube guy pinned it to his lobby bulletin board as an object lesson and conversation piece for his customers. A couple days later the driver's father stormed in, demanding his original air filter and his money back. The father insisted it was good for a lifetime, and would not hear that even had it been the right kind of air filter to last that long, it still needed to be cleaned off every so many miles.

Speaking of the bulletin board prompted me to ask whether anybody had taken a picture of the car that hosted the eagle before it got cleaned off. Unfortunately, nobody had, though it would have been a great idea. He'd also thought about posting other pictures, but thought it might embarrass some customers that he'd rather return with their business another day.

And by then, my car was ready.

The Pelican, Briefly

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week.
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!

I always thought that was an Ogden Nash poem, but not so. It was really written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt. (It's on the internet.) I remember the poem itself wrong as well, substituting in my mind "remarkable" for "wonderful" and "bill" for "mouth". Perhaps it's just as well that my memory of the poem stopped at the end of the second line. Who knows what I might have come up with had I remembered it was a limerick and tried to fill in the rest.

Pelicans were always birds for zoos or to be seen by the lucky while on vacations to other places, as far as I was concerned. The last few years I'd catch a glimpse of a few circling in a updraft while driving out somewhere, mostly identifiable by the black under the wings. These would be white pelicans, not brown ones.

Last week they got closer. They settled in South Center Lake, at least for a while. It was news enough that they made the local paper, though I didn't know that, having let my subscription lapse. Early this week, I finally saw them, in a pair of bays on the northeast end of the lake, right along Hwy. 8.

Pancake Island is a round little bit of a thing just offshore of the property owned by Hazelden. Yep, dry out and go into recovery, that Hazelden. With the long dry spell and dropping lake levels, it's grown about triple in area, leaving unvegetated shoreline all around where the trees fill up the center. For the last few days, they've been sleeping and hanging out there. Not the trees; the birds.

The flock seems to be about 150 birds, and each time I've driven by, most are on the island, while 20 to 30 are out in the water. It would seem to be a good spot for them, if the numbers of fishermen out trying for fish summer and winter are any indication of the abundance of their food supply. But then again, many of us wonder what will happen once the official fishing opener happens next month. If they're nesting on the island, how many idiots in their speed boats, jet skis, and what-have-you will be buzzing the island either for a closer view or just to cause mischief? After all, barring a few eagles, there hasn't been competition for the fish supply before this.

I'd be one wanting a closer view, had I the means to approach, camera in hand. I've thought about it each morning as I drove past, to and from work, no time to stop along the road, no shoulder big enough to do so safely. Each evening I check out whether they're still there, again wishing I could pull over and shoot. My 300 mm lens isn't ideal, but it would get me better pictures than what I can see just zooming by. Each time I'd tell myself Saturday, I'll have time Saturday. While that's true, it may also be too late. Last night on my way home, the glance over at the island showed it to be bare of pelicans.

Still, I'll tuck the camera in the car, just in case.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Being one of the weird few, I've always been interested in left-handedness. Why? Who? How? What does it mean, besides giving others something else to use to point out to you just how peculiar a creature you really are?

My brother and I are both left-handed. Our parents aren't, and going back beyond that is pointless because they made lefties into righties with the zeal of a religious conversion back then. Our kids are righties, although Paul, my youngest, was ambidextrous for several years before settling on his right. My granddaughter, however, is another leftie, and that raises the question of whether it skips generations, at least in my family. As the only representative so far of her generation, it's not a large enough sample.

Twenty or thirty years ago there was one of those quizzes that pop up in magazines where you can test yourself and find out what you probably already knew. This time it was on handedness. Not whether you were right- or left-handed. What would be the point? But on just how right- or left-handed you were compared to everybody else. There's a scale, and some folks fall in the moderate range, and some are extreme. A very few are ambidextrous.

The questions weren't all obvious. For example, when you shovel, or sweep, which hand is on the top of the handle? How much of the time? Usually I can take a test, quickly figure out where the answers should be headed, and how to answer to make them head there. This test was more subtle than that. I think that this means I wasn't able to manipulate it, and the results were more reliable.

When I finished and added up my score, I rated as extremely left-handed. I didn't do anything with my right hand if I could help it. Or if I did, it was terrible. I had to sign paperwork once in submitting a request to replace a lost county check. This was back when I was doing daycare, and some of my kids were paid for by the county. They require signatures (10) by both hands to make sure you weren't cheating them if the missing check ever turned up. I had never tried writing right-handed before, and the results were appalling to the point of being an embarrassment.

It started to change when we got computers installed in our vehicles for work to communicate with dispatch. It sat on a post coming up from the floor on the passenger side, the keyboard sitting right at arm's reach. Right arm, of course. I had to not only learn to type one-handed, but right-handed. I actually got quite good at it, typing while driving without taking my eyes from the road for extended periods. It helped that the keyboard was small enough that one thumb-pinkie stretch covered any 2-key function needed, like control alt + delete. It was my first real experience with right-handedness. It was good practice.

The reason this is relevant now is that it's my left arm with the rotator cuff injury. If I'm going to rest the arm properly to let it heal, I'm going to have to treat it as if it were actually in the sling that's recommended. Stop using it, that is. Easy to say, except that I still have to do my job, and that often requires my left arm. I'm just beginning to appreciate how much.

Start with just the driving part. There's pulling the door open, pulling it closed, and that excruciating reach behind for the seatbelt, and that's just for before I even turn the key on. I'm learning to do the first two with the right hand, but the seatbelt part is impossible. I don't twist into a pretzel. I have, however, made an adaption so the pulling-it-out part no longer takes much muscle effort. First, understand that hatchbacks have seatbelt mounts way behind the driver because the door opening is larger than for a 4-door car, allowing a rear seat passenger some room to enter and leave behind the driver's seat. This means not only is the reach farther, but when latched, the belt crosses across the neck, an ideal location for it to be during an accident.


Hasn't anybody thought this out yet? I know, just avoid accidents. Still, during normal driving, the location drives me nuts, just like it has in previous Hyundais, and I have reverted back to an old solution to the problem: diaper pins! (Hey, just try to find those in the stores, if you even know what they are!) With the belt latched and snug, pull out a couple more inches slack, mark it, and put a diaper pin through the belt to keep it from pulling back into the retractor. It's still relatively snug, just not tugging on the neck. Of course, it does mean there's excess belt when I get out of the car, and I have to tuck it back behind the seat so it doesn't drop on the ground - or in the largest nearby puddle - with the car door shut on it. So ugly! But with the pin in, when I reach back to find it, I just have to move it, not pull against its spring too. As soon as I move it forward, the right hand can take over with the final pulling across and latching, Much less painful, though not a full cure.

I'm learning to drive with one hand on the wheel, for most situations. The left can lay across my lap, or actually tuck under my wasteband, mimicking a sling in holding it still. (It feels positively Napoleonic, making me wonder if he had more than his stature to make up for, using his classic pose to hide an arm injury from his followers.) When it's time to get out of the car, it takes almost no pressure to unlatch the door, and the shoulder followed by my foot push the door open. Carrying freight, opening building doors, all switch so the least work goes to the left arm. Most of what I do for work is taken care of by those adaptations.

Home is another story. Strange as it seems, it's just not right brushing my teeth with the other hand. I mean, I can and do do it, but it feels wrong. I can dispense pills and fill a water cup with the right hand, so long as I think about it. I can even shave those imaginary chin whiskers that I don't admit to having with the right hand. But brushing my hair takes a knack that I haven't mastered yet. Brushing everything straight back to remove tangles, no biggie. But separating it for a part still requires switching to the left hand and raising it high enough to be really painful even when I try not to, and then fluffing it by lifting and twisting it around the round brush... well, make the face now and say, "Ow," because it's gonna happen that way.

Showering and dressing are their own peculiar brand of torment. Try as I might, the left arm has to get involved. The real pains are the underarms. The left one has to get lifted enough for the right to apply soap, water, and later deodorant, and then reach over to the right side to return the favor. I'm learning to use the right arm to lift the left, which helps, and lean it against the shower wall so it doesn't have to hold itself up, but it's at least partly the position itself and not the pulling to get it there which hurt. Oh, and forget towel drying! If you're old enough to remember being taught to do the Twist for the first time, you remember being told to pretend you have a towel between your hands and you're rubbing it back and forth with them while rotating your hips in the opposite direction. You know, just like you do it in real life, just not for so long. These days I air dry anything the right hand can't reach.

I have a new reason to hate our uniforms. Made for men, the shirt tails are extra long, and have to be tucked in the pants. Then once tucked, tugged back out a bit and bloused out for shape and comfort. This is definitely a two-handed job. Either that, or I go around half unkempt. While a distinctive look, it is true, it's just not one I feel I can carry off with panache.

The worst was the bra. I've been wearing sports bras for comfort for years. (Not continuously: Duh! I do wash them!) They stretch in every direction, and properly fitted don't pinch or bind. Unfortunately, they are one continuous elasticised circle with straps. This means crossing your arms across your chest, grabbing opposite bottom sides, and lifting/pulling with both arms up over your head until it's off. There's a whole lot of pulling to get it on as well. After several days, I gave up and went shopping for some with front closures. If I do it right, there's almost no pulling needed by the left arm, so I don't ache in reaction for half an hour after.

Everywhere I go, everything I do, I bump up against my own left-handedness. If I weren't quite so left-handed, it would be much easier adapting. So far there's been a way to do almost everything, with thought and planning... and a little care. But the thing I couldn't do before at all - write - I can't do at all now either. Lucky for me, it's about the only activity with the left arm that doesn't hurt. Actually, that covers writing either way, holding a pen, or using a keyboard. The low angle of the keyboard allows for leaving the arm itself tucked against my side, and a minimum of wrist and finger action take care of the task.

The mouse, however, is another story. My computer desk has a higher spot on the left for the mouse. I suspect that since the rest of the world uses their mice on the right side, that ledge has a different reason for being higher than providing a different location for the mouse to roll, but that's where mine is. And if you want a really good laugh, just watch me trying to reach across with the right hand and move the mouse AND get it moving in the right direction! It's as bad as working with a mirror. That. hand. just. does. not. get. it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nothing Hurts Yet

"The time is 5:23 A.M."

At least that's what I think I hear frpm the tinny voice over the baby monitor as my dad checks his watch. I had been sleeping. Now I'm not. Thanks, Dad.

The alarm is set to go off at 6:00 A.M., really in about 20 minutes because I set the time ahead. It gives me a few more minutes in the morning, and as often as the power goes out around here, it's just simpler to reset everything that way. At any rate, 20 minutes is how much shorter of sleep I'm going to be than I already was. There's not enough time to go back to sleep.

I take a mental inventory. Nothing hurts yet.

It won't last.

I'll have to get up soon, because my bladder woke up as soon as I did. I've learned there are consequences to not paying attention. And since I need to get up, the dog gets to go out. It's my rule, and it's only fair. The only problem is having to stand there and call him to come in again. That wakes me up enough to make getting to sleep again a good 20-minute proposition. Not enough time left. Can I postpone a few minutes?

My right hip starts to inform me I've been laying in this position quite long enough, thank you. I can't roll over to relieve the pressure. I'm currently sleeping in the recliner in my room. It puts the least pressure on my rotator cuff injury to the left shoulder, and I usually end up there, sometimes only moments after lying flat on the bed, left side up. It keeps the shoulder immobile, and prevents me from trying to roll over, something that lately has become a very bad idea. That's how I injured it in the first place, rolling over in bed. At least right now, with my having slept for hours in the chair, the shoulder doesn't have that deep ache that I went to bed with.

My knees aren't hurting yet either. I haven't rolled over for hours, something that often wakes my up from pain as one or other grinds from the torque of the rolling process. I actually wake up to hear myself saying, "Ow." Plus, I haven't stepped on either one yet. For right now, it's a pretty peaceful time.

Oh wait, leg cramp. The right foot wants to go to impossible places, and I have to pull against it to make it stop. Got it... nope, there it goes again. Done? Nope, there's another one. Dang, might as well get up now! I still resist fully waking as much as possible, and decide to postpone until full morning trying to assess whether I'm short of calcium or potassium to cause these cramps. Oh heck, even as soon as I decide that, the answer rolls in: calcium, probably. My diet has been fairly high in potassium lately. I take supplements in both, since the diuretics for my BP tend to flush them from my system before I can get adequate use of them.

In surrender, I toss off the lap blanket - remembering to use only the right hand to do it - kick down the foot rest, sit up, get up and go let the dog out on my way to the bathroom. On my way I glance at the clock on the nightstand, something I can't see from the recliner. It reads 4:24. Obviously what I thought I heard was wrong, but that's good news. Time enough to get back to sleep again, if I'm careful not to really wake myself up in the next five. I let the dog out and note it's pouring out. Great for the yard, tough luck for the dog, but at least he'll come back in faster.

By the time I get back, however, all the usual places hurt, and it's too soon to take any Ibuprofin for the day. Snatching a Milk Bone on my way back to bed, the dog's reward for coming back inside, I decide to head for the bed this time, since the pressure point in my hip hasn't really gone. It'll be the same hip, just a different angle. I carefully pull up the covers using only the right hand, put my head on the pillow...

And wake what seems an instant later to a pair of talking heads on the radio discussing something I have no interest in at the moment, which means it's great at driving me from my bed into the morning's routine, starting with another bathroom trip. This one, however, will end in Ibuprofin. By the time I get there, I'll appreciate that fact. For just a moment, however, I can reflect that nothing hurts yet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Slow Route Home

My son Rich called me last night, enough of a surprise it almost deserves its own post, but it's the content of the call I'd rather talk about. He's been in Miami for a few weeks, and he warned me when he left that his free ride home would be with a family with young children, and they'd be taking the slow route home. Whatever, you don't turn down free.

Exactly what that meant, though, was a matter for speculation. We both figured it just meant 4 or 5 days to travel back, rather than the 3 that are a comfortable push for adults, making more stops for stretching tiny legs. Last night he found out a bit more detail.

They spent yesterday heading across the state to an area near Fort Meyers, a place called Pine Island. He says it's near Sanibel and Captiva, but though I've visited both islands, I'd never heard of it. The family he's traveling with have a camper, and they're spending a week in a campground nearby, but one of their relatives has a cabin on Pine Island, and that's where Rich and a co-traveler get to spend the week. Just kicking back, relaxing, sun and shoreline, and hopefully, somewhere, food. Ahhh, the good life!

And who knows? After that, 4-5 days traveling? Another stop or two? I guess I'll know when I know.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Not as Dumb as I Thought

Tax time is always a bit chaotic. There's usually a six-inch thick file of paperwork all organized and tallied at the end of the process, but the getting there is quite a journey. I'm not the most organized individual, and have had to develop some habits to get me through the whole thing. Sometimes they've even worked. Often, however, there's the process of collecting paperwork from assorted piles scattered through the house, sorting, tossing, filing, pulling from the files, identifying missing pieces, hunting, resorting....

You get the picture. And yesterday was the last push to finish filling out all the forms. Federal done - check. State done - check. Property tax refund - wait! Where's the tax statement? I knew I'd seen the figures, a bit less due than last year, house valuation down a bit - OK, quite a bit. So's everybody's. Irrelevant, get back to business.

But where did I file that pesky bugger? I went through all the stack of income tax paperwork, a piece at a time for anything big enough to be the paper in question. No go. That stack had been on the table for ages, removed temporarily to make room for Easter dinner, and then placed back to remind me of a task undone. It had been right next to the stack of paperwork for my dad - bills, bank statements, Medicare explanations..... Ah Ha! Check that out. Let's see, it also got removed from the table for Easter dinner, and went.... where? Rummage, rummage, find, and... nada. Oh wait, here's another stack, and... zip. Zilch.

I know that added stress in your life can create strange reactions, things like forgetting where you put something, over and above the usual. I was starting to think that maybe taking care of my dad had begun to creep up on me without my having noticed how incompetent I was getting at everything. I never misplace stuff like tax statements. In fact, they always go... AhHa! Right in the tray of bills to be paid, because of course, that's what it is, a bill to be paid! Pull out the tray, rummage, rummage, toss, toss - what are they doing still here? - rummage, and... no more paperwork. It's not here either.

Dang! How can I have lost my property tax statement? Well, the only thing left to do is head to the courthouse tomorrow on my way to the dentist, plead my mea culpas, and ask for a copy. Pay even, if need be.

And bright and early this morning, that's exactly what I did. Walked into the Treasurer's office, thinking if she didn't have copies there, she could point me in the right direction. She started to pull my file up on her computer, but while she was doing that, she informed me that the statements had actually just gone to the printer, and would be mailed out later this week. She could print off a copy for me if I couldn't wait that long...

Absolutely delighted that I hadn't - quite -- lost my mind, I thanked her for her help, declining the offered copy, happy to wait until the real property tax statement arrived, and knowing exactly where it would be filed until time for it to be paid, or a copy sent off to the state to claim my refund.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fudging the Figures

I've been figuring my own taxes since I've been filing 1040s. So many years of self-employment, the occasional workshop in what is and is not deductible and what records need to be kept, all have kept it down to a reasonable job. Every year I do the figures at the end of January, so I know whether I'm needing to pay more and how to budget for it. Each year I mail the return in on April 15th. Even though it's correct, I play the odds and do my best to avoid an audit by being just a tiny one in the huge herd of filers.

They choose you for audit two ways. First, weird figures can trigger one. If you don't match their averages, they want an explanation. Second, a certain number are randomly pulled each day. The odds of being overlooked for that last selection are much more in my favor on April 15th.

This year has been a problem for me. Usually the envelopes are sealed and waiting for sendoff long since. This year I haven't gotten past my Schedule Cs. When I ran through just the mileage deduction, I was already below zero. Nevermind the cell phone, the leased communication equipment, the uniforms, the DOT physical. This may not seem like a problem, but I had already contributed to my IRA, in an amount that was more than zero. That only works if you balance it against earned income. And once in, you can't take it out again, not without penalty. I figured it was time to go back into the Schedule C and fudge the figures.

In other words, claim less that I am legally entitled to deduct. Or, looked at another way, input weird figures onto my form, risking triggering an audit. It's not that I fear needing to pay penalties for cheating on my taxes. I'm trying to pay more, after all. It's the total hassle of the whole thing - time off work, investigating previous years, hauling records that are 8" thick for each year. And it's the IRS for Pete's sake! Is there anything more intimidating?

My personal politics play a part here as well. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a Liberal. This means I believe in bigger government providing better answers to society's problems than individuals either can do or can be trusted to do. Somebody has to pay for that, and I believe that the somebody has to include me. I should pay something in taxes. Sure, I'll take my legal deductions where I can get them, but as a matter of principle I should also contribute a little something at least. Sure, maybe not a lot, since I don't have it to give, but something.

The delay has been in trying to figure out my best approach. If I change the mileage part that's deductible, they might start to wonder why the change this year, especially when there's been no change in miles driven, just the amount paid by the greedy corporate folks who decided that more of my income should be their income this year when they cut my commissions. (Oh no, no hard feelings here, no sirree!) The other approach is staying with the real figures but lowering the dollar amount claimed for it. Previous math mistakes have shown me from previous years that they really pay attention to those things and correct them for you. Or should I say, for me. (You may not make any mistakes.) That puts me right back under zero income. Either way I decide to go, there must be a letter of explanation sent with the return. and that I finally wrote this morning.

That's a start. Tomorrow, I sit down and start fudging the figures.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Into the Cyclone

What first caught my attention was a rustling noise right along the shore of the lake we were paddling across. Could it be otters playing and splashing? Perhaps a bear going after a fish? I had no idea what to expect but thought I was ready for anything, this being the Boundary Waters. What I saw defied all my expectations.

Leaves on the bushes were rattling, and splashing was starting right under them, growing bigger in size and moving away from the shore out into the lake. But there was nothing there. No bear, no otters, no nothing but air. And of course, we saw as it came out a bit further towards us, that's exactly all it was: air. Had it been going down a street somewhere, we would have called it a dust devil, this spinning cyclonic column of air. Then dust and leaves would have marked its boundaries and its progress. Here it was just water, a growing spinning column of it reaching up from the lake to what might have been a height of twenty feet at its tallest, with a width of perhaps three.

It was one of those gloriously sunny August afternoons, no clouds anywhere. No wind either. Perfect canoeing weather, which is what about fifteen of us were heading in to shore from doing. Ours was just part of a larger group at YMCA Camp Northland on Lake Burntside, just north of Ely, Minnesota. We were the ones from camp who wanted to paddle out to Hegman Lake and see the pictographs left thousands of years ago on one of the high cliff walls edging the water and wonder at how they got placed up that high and by whom? Cameras and paddles were our only accessories, and we'd stopped at one the the small islands on the way out to pick the end of the season's blueberries, undisturbed except for canoeists like us. It was all-you-could-stuff-in-your-mouth eating, and leave the rest for others. We'd paused on our way through a bog to see pitcher plants and sundew, looking to see what meals they'd caught. We were enjoying each other's company, the day, the lakes and our short portages. Nearly back to our starting point now, cameras were mostly packed away, and we were looking ahead to supper in the big lodge. A fellow named Kurt was manning the other paddle, and my youngest, Paul, was sitting in the middle on the bottom of our canoe. We were lead canoe of the group, though not by much, jokingly challenging the nearest canoe as to who could get to shore first.

Then we got presented with a better offer.

I had enough time to make sure my camera would stay dry in the ziploc bag I always bring along when I take my camera near water. Kurt and Paul and I held a hasty consultation as the waterspout approached. Did we dodge it? Or head right into it? It was small, staying the same size it was once it hit about thirty feet out from shore. It looked like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, pretty safe, and oh, what a thrill! We turned straight for it, settled our paddles across the bow, leaned forward for maximum stability by lowering our centers of gravity, and waited.

We were dimly aware that the other canoes were scattering out of its path, and some of the group were calling to us to do the same. Heck no! How dangerous could it be, after all?

Once it hit, we were assailed by winds alternating from every direction at once, coated with mist that was coolly refreshing, and as we were buffeted I had almost enough time to wonder if this really had been the smartest idea... when it was gone. I was glad we had braced, now that I knew how unpredictable the winds were, but while I understood that something a bit bigger could be really dangerous, this wound up just being really fun! And unforgettable!

I was just really really sorry than nobody else had thought to take out their camera and get a shot of the three of us heading through the middle of the cyclone! That would have been something!

Targeted Ads

They're funny things. I suppose I can make a case that I should appreciate them, since they're what makes most of the stuff on the internet free. Somebody else is paying, not me. But still, they're kinda weird.

When I make the click that sends this draft to be posted, an ad will pop up for a few seconds. The day I mentioned that Bambi killed my Hyundai, it was an ad for Hyundais. Reasonable, I assume,though it didn't pop up for future postings with the same mentions. When I mentioned the acceleration problem for Toyotas, it was an ad for Toyotas. Sure, try to sell me something I've been criticizing. Lots of luck with that. How's that working for you? Most times I have absolutely no idea what in my post prompted a particular pop-up, since by the time a word will catch my eye, the ad is gone anyway. What was the point?

At least they're not a nuisance.

Spam is a different matter. If I order something online, I get spam encouraging future orders, whether it's flowers or a donation to certain charities. Long after I searched for my replacement car I'm still getting car adds. (I can only afford one, guys.) I ordered clothing online from a store once because the color in my size was sold out locally. They said they needed my email address so I could keep track of its shipping progress, and since the garment was for an upcoming wedding, I agreed to give my email. Every third day they send me spam, even though the store claimed that wouldn't happen. Apparently some companies which get my email give their lists to rival stores, because sometimes competitors ads show up.

By far the most annoying, however, was after reestablishing contact with a long-lost neighbor, instead of saying Howdy in return, she put me on her sales list for Avon. I can't get them to go directly to my spam email box, even though I label each and every one of them as junk. Like Flixter, another company I never order from, they must come with headings that change minutely every time so the spam filter thinks each email is from somebody else. My understanding of spam filters was that they kick new email senders to the spam box, but apparently that's wrong or there's a way around that.

What everybody ought to realize, however, is that I NEVER buy anything because you've sent me an add: mail, email, telephone, or anyway else. NEVER!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Memorable Teachers

Unlike Steve, who pays homage to his best teachers, I remember most vividly the worst teachers I had.

The single exception to this was for 2nd grade, Mrs. Christianson. What I remember was all the different things we did in her class, things that we never thought mere second graders could do. She knew somebody with a kiln who was willing to share time. For Christmas that year we made clip-on earrings, starting with a flattened hemisphere of clay which we each painted and glazed before it was sent off to the kiln. We also made a trivet, rolling out a square of clay, laying a pattern over it, cutting it into pieces, baking, then painting and glazing before sending it off to be baked again. Once that was finished, we glued it onto a square of Masonite and grouted between the pieces. We were allowed to pick our own pictures, whatever we wanted, and colors too. I found a little mouse with a long arcing tail set inside a circle. The teacher warned me that the tail might break, but I really wanted THAT mouse. After giving it (very little) thought, I went ahead, and with much patience, something I was not known for, successfully completed my trivet.

After moving from Nevis to Park Rapids at the end of third grade, I faced a 4th grade teacher that I learned to hate. I loved school, and had loved all my teachers up to this point. It had simply never occurred to me not to. Mrs. Crowell came as a complete shock to me. She started by having every student read aloud so she could place us in with either slower or advanced readers. Somehow she forgot to test me, and simply placed me with the slow readers. Thus far in school my only problem with reading was, having breezed through the book in the first couple of weeks, feigning enough interest to be able to find the place to read when it was my turn, or skimming through the story as the class finally got to it so I could refresh my memory of what it was about. Needless to say, I was outraged! I was also excruciatingly bored, having to wait while someone painfully tried sounding out a word in front of all of the rest of us, and still not getting it quite right.

My parents had already taught me that the teacher was always right. Whatever it was about, whatever happened, there was only one side of the story. So I didn’t bother complaining to them. I just got more miserable as the year progressed. Once report cards came, however, it was a whole new story. They demanded to know why I’d been placed in the slow reading group, so I explained I hadn’t gotten tested like the other kids had. Why hadn’t I said something? I’d been trained not to. They immediately contacted the school, and I got placed in the reading group where I belonged.

Fifth grade was a whole story unto itself.

In seventh grade, we were presented with a first-year latin teacher who was so repulsive we uniformly ganged up on him and drove him out of teaching. I’m not just talking ugly, which he was, or nervous, which he also was, or inexperienced, which was obvious. His personal hygiene was terrible, topped off (all puns intended) by a galloping case of dandruff. The worst part of it came at lunch time. School was laid out so that the cafeteria had a small room off to the side with a glass wall where the teachers ate. They got a break from us but could still observe our behavior, helping to keep us in line. But we could also watch them. Imagine trying to eat lunch when you can see your latin teacher leaning over his plate, scratching his head, allowing visibly huge flakes of dandruff to fall onto his food!

Things settled down until we moved into the big city of St. Paul, and I went from a class of 125 to 600 at Central High School. The first disappointment was the band. He was just not a marching band director, and I came from a small school with a state-wide prize-winning record for marching bands. Band was still the social events class, both because we socialized within it, and because we attended social functions like ball games as a unit. I was surprised to find out later, naive as I was, that the band was considered a clique. Despite lacking all pride in this band, my two best friends at this school came from it.

Eleventh grade college-prep English was taught by Miss Korfhage. I’d say she was a competent enough teacher, but she had one habit that drove me nuts. When she asked the class a question, she called on the boys first. Only when none of them could answer her would she ask one of the girls, no matter how long their hands were raised. I, of course, was quite unused to being ignored in this way, and soon figured out her pattern. One day I raised my hand and kept it up until she finally gave in and called on me. I told her my observations, complaining that we girls deserved to be taught too. She left the room in tears. (I also wasn’t known for tact in those days.) Half the room turned to me and told me how mean I’d been, and half admitted privately that what I’d said was right. After that day I got called on quite a lot - when I didn’t have my hand up and didn’t have an answer, of course. I put up with it, figuring I probably deserved it. But at least she started calling on the rest of the girls in class from then on, at least for that year.

Senior year netted me the dreaded Mrs. Norbeck for social studies. Every year it was the same thing. Everybody hated her class, and tried to get out and transfer to another teacher. There just wasn’t room, and each year only one or two made the switch. We rest were stuck. The school defended her to our parents, saying she was a real prize, having come to this poor public school after a distinguished career in private school. We found this hard to believe. With the exception of the few days a year she had to teach to specific standards, when we learned about government branches and people filling high-profile positions, every day was boringly the same. She sat at her desk and droned on for an hour about some person or another and what they’d done and their high principles. This was probably stuff we could benefit from learning, but the presentation killed it. It wasn’t just the droning voice, no interactions or questions, but the view of her sitting at her desk patting the hairpins back in to where they were holding her coiled braid in place at the nape of her neck. Apparently no hairpins were made that could do the job adequately, for she was constantly pushing, patting, pushing, patting, pushing....

That’s what I remember form a whole year of social studies. Pushing, patting, pushing, patting....