Saturday, June 29, 2013

Non-Life-Threatening Injuries

The newscaster has given us all the details, ending always with that one final piece of information. Oh, he/she won't die. Allrighty then. End of story.

This is just anther of those phrases which has become so over-used and tossed off so thoughtlessly, meant no doubt to be reassuring, but instead is just meaningless. It's time to re-institute some meaning.

Bureau of Fate
Winner Notification Division
Somewhere In the World

Tomorrow's Date

Dear ____(your name here)___:

CONGRATULATIONS! You have been selected to be a WINNER by our Luck of the Draw Division to receive our most significant prize: NON-LIFE-THREATENING INJURIES! There are no fees, no applications to fill out. While we cannot give you advance details at this time - that would spoil the surprise - we have thoughtfully provided a list of just some of the possibilities. Prizes awarded are by no means restricted to this list. You will be awarded at least one item from each category, and luckier recipients will receive more. The selection, amount, and timing of all the prizes will be at our discretion. Again, congratulations on being one of our select winners, and may you enjoy the anticipation. You never know when our team will show up with your next prize.

Your Event:
-a car accident
-a sinkhole opening under you
-getting shot
-getting caught in a fire
-a terrorism victim
-a spousal murder attempt
-falling off a cliff
-victim of a dog attack

Resulting in Injury to:
- 3 inches of skin
-moderate sprain
-four ruptured discs
-burns over 22% of your body
-seven broken bones
-spinal fracture at the C5
-loss of partial limb of our choice
-loss of entire limb or limbs of our choice
-25-35% damage to or loss of 3 organs of our choice
-temporary disembowelment

Length of Medical Treatment
-treated and released, no follow up needed
-two day hospitalization with no follow-up due to lack of funding
-six months including physical therapy

Time Lost From Work
-sorry, none: it happens on the weekend
-an afternoon
-three weeks
-six months, including a required career change
-permanent disability

Cost After Insurance Coverage
-nothing: full coverage
-several hundred dollars
-immediate costs covered but rehab not covered and too expensive

Success of Medical Treatment
-full cure: you hardly know it happened
-minor residual effects
-recurring sporadic "discomfort" at a level of our choice
-seventeen surgeries finally make you independent of the machines
-permanent disability 

Pain Levels
-minor and fleeting
-gone after two weeks
-moderate for a few months but somewhat controlled with good meds
-reminders the rest of your life when the weather changes
-searing and intractible, requiring narcotics in ever higher doses resulting in addiction and treatment, which results in no effective meds

Mental/Emotional Distress
-a laughing story for the buddies around the water cooler
-nightmares for six months, decreasing over time
-a new phobia
-suicidal ideation but no action (remember: we promised non-life threatening)

Long-Term Effects
-a small fading scar
-no visible effects so nobody understands your pain
-permanent limp
-disfigurement repulsing strangers and frightening children
-another person will always need to wipe your behind
-dependence on caregivers and financial assistance

So remember, LUCKY YOU, to look for us around the next corner for your AMAZING PRIZE!

Thursday, June 27, 2013


I have ancestors who were boat people. If you are of a certain age, that conjures up images of refugees fleeing from Cuba and Haiti on whatever they could cobble together, many not ever reaching their destination. Just because the boats my ancestors took had names like "Mayflower", it doesn't make them any better or more worthy of being here than those other boat people.

Just whiter.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paula Dean: A Rock, Anybody? Anybody?

Paula Den strikes me as one of those people who keeps digging. The hole keeps getting deeper and she just loves her shovel. If the goal is to restore her good name and reputation, she didn't do much to gain respect on her Today Show appearance.

I assume you've seen/heard clips by now. There she is, all tearful at the injustice perpetrated against her (!), inviting any of us out there who've never said something they've regretted, to just take a rock and throw it at her head and kill her.


Just thinking. Tempting, but of course I don't qualify. Also, being as unaccustomed as I am to taking rocks and throwing them to kill people, I'm not sure I could actually accomplish what she's asking for. Maybe she'd just get bloody, sprout a scar, and then come sue me for uglification or something. There are other considerations as well.

There's the "logic" of, after somebody hits her with a rock and kills her, her wanting to meet that person. A bit late, don't you think, Paula? Might want to rethink that strategy there. Unless, of course, you've fallen for that Zombie craze.

I'm also not sure it would accomplish my goal: would it make her shut up?

Shut up about using the N-word. Shut up about being victimized. Shut up about returning to those fine old days (to her) of plantation slavery. Shut up about claiming not to be prejudiced. And just shut up in general so we don't have to hear that very southern voice screaming with every word the embodiment of the worst of the worst stereotypes of ignorant, uneducated, southern redneck hicks.

"I is what I is and I'm not going to change."

Yes I am the grammar police, as annoying as that can be, and I'm thinking perhaps a smaller rock would do, one just the right size to fit completely into that mouth.

Just to make it SHUT UP!

A rock, anybody?


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Armed? With a Sidewalk? Are You Shitting Me?

There's a whole lot of stupid out there these days. I'm not just talking about flat-top fades coming back in. Nor about some of the highly questionable decisions that the Supremes have come out with recently. (Did you notice the Voting Rights Act just got gutted?) Or the refusal of Congress to take any kind of action beyond pointless attempts to repeal "Obamacare" and human rights for women.

Yesterday opening arguments started in the George Zimmerman trial. Now if you don't recognize that name by now, put yourself on the list in the top paragraph. Or as an alternative, Google him.

I freely admit I'd be a terrible juror in that trial. I've long since decided on his guilt, and am working on a suggested sentence. Not that it matters. But his attorney is annoying me. Start with his need to tell a really bad knock-knock joke to inject some levity in a murder trial, like that's a good idea.

But he's trying to neutralize the difference between the two with the killer being armed with a gun and the victim being armed with... Skittles, ice tea, and a cell phone. Oooohhh, scary! He looked suspicious to Zimmerman, guilty of the terrible crime of WWB - Walking While Black. So the guy with the gun stalks him with his truck, and against police instructions, gets out and confronts Trayvon, with a result of a 17-year-old kid winding up dead. Supposedly the provocation by Zimmerman is irrelevant, because Trayvon finally exercises HIS rights to stand his ground, and defends himself with his hands against the guy with a gun. That is Zimmerman's supposed justification for calling on his idea of the Stand Your Ground law. The two are so absurdly inequal, it's amazing the case isn't a slam dunk.

But this plucky defense attorney has the gall - or the insanity - to argue that Trayvon was actually armed too: with a sidewalk! It's as if he used a brick, that's what this clown claims. In this, he actually does inject the humor he tried for at the beginning of his speech. For can't you just see this kid-turned-Incredible-Hulk ripping up a length of sidewalk and whipping it around Zimmerman in a preemptive strike?

What? You can't?

Funny, I can't either.

Just a whole lotta stupid goin on out there.

You Want What? Really?

I can fib. Especially online. I guess I'm pretty typical that way.

A pop-up ad offered to tell my how I could refinance my home at a lower interest rate before rates went up. Now, nevermind that I have no mortgage. I was bit by the curiosity bug for several minutes, and thought I'd see what they had to say. Just how low were rates?

The wanted info. For a bit it seemed reasonable. How much did I want to refinance? I picked $45G. Add any cash? Let's say $20G.  Once they got a bit more personal, I got less informative. Oh, and might I note they never did ask what my current rates were.

Name? Jane Doe seemed a bit obvious, so I modified it a bit: Janet Doark. Address and zip code? I made up something plausible in Forest Lake. Phone number? Another fake, though possible, and while the program balked at this at first, it accepted it the second time I submitted it. Email? My fake name at Gmail. Credit score? While I was debating how to answer that the screen rolled over to the next question. They were quite willing to figure it for me. What's my social security number?

Now, that got my dander up. Who needs that to tell me what kind of interest rates were available? Still not quite willing to quit playing, I invented a number, based on knowing my dad's really old number, assuming such an old number likely belonged to somebody already either dead or so old that a mortgage would be unlikely.

And what did I get for all this? A promise that someone would be in touch with an offer. Yeah, riiiiiiight. Uh huh. Sure.

Good luck with that. Oh, and my apologies to anybody at the other end of that phone number I invented. My guess is, however, anybody legitimate enough to actually check on that name and SS number will find out it's bogus and won't bother with a follow-up call.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I think our drought is over, at least for this year.

Last year I'm not sure I even heard our sump pump go off. I won't swear to it, but memory can't provide such a recollection.  This year it's my bedtime lullaby, provided, of course, there's at least some break between pumpings to reassure me that things are working properly. We did have to go out and reposition the pipe taking the water away from the house several times, finally using a drill and screw to keep the force of the water from pushing the pipe out of position.  By "we" of course I mean Rich and Paul.

The yard, being clay, is doing an excellent job of keeping saturated. Any little hollow is a puddle. We're very lucky that the high winds which struck Minneapolis knocking trees over all over the place, taking out power to over half a million people, just missed us. Something about this area tends to part the storms. We've noticed it for years. Weather goes just south, nailing Hugo, or just north, nailing North Branch/Hinckley.  Storms split east/west as well, heading up 35E or just over the Wisconsin border. Friday's storm crept up as a solid band and then just wimped out over us.

We still got plenty of rain, later, but when radar showed light rain over us for half an hour, we had dry back steps, the limit of view provided by our back light. Don't think we've been deprived. Plenty fell later.

Besides a higher electric bill from the sump working constantly, we also have the joy of a super bumper crop of mosquitoes. We don't go out if we can help it. Every time the dogs go out they last about two minutes and beg to come in, and with them a handful of mosquitoes come too. You need to remain hyper alert with free hands to slap for about half an hour after each of their potty breaks. Steve has gone fishing, which is a bold move, considering he's feeding both the little nibblers in the water and the little nibblers in the air.

We should be hitting a dry part of summer soon. I hope so. It's been hard for Paul to find good times to spray the apple trees, which by the way already have such big apples that the branches are hitting the ground. They haven't even had their first fruit drop. Apples are important this year because there will be no peaches (heavy pruning, no bloom), and very few blueberries or raspberries (drought and neglect last year). Robins are already raiding the very green cherries, so not sure what will be left to ripen there.

Even if we sprayed with Off!, and found a way to keep wood dry, we couldn't have a backyard bonfire because the fire pit is lower than the water table right now.

I could keep on whining, but it's past time to get ready for work. On the bright side, we had the roof replaced a couple years ago, so right now, only the outside is...


Monday, June 17, 2013

What's Worse

It's summer and the mosquitoes have hatched. Boy, have they!

You know that moment, when you're just about to drift off to sleep, whether  you're inside the house or outside, perhaps in a tent, and you hear that high pitched whine of a hungry mosquito? You just can't quite get to sleep once you hear that, can you?

But you know what's worse? It's those few seconds when it stops whining. You know it's landed on you, you can't tell where, and you just wait, completely on edge, waiting to find out where it's going to bite you!


My morning pre-work habits are pretty fixed, starting with turning the alarm clock off, bathroom stop, letting dogs out, and so on. A major fixture through it is having my favorite local morning news station on via the TV and DVR.

I admit it: I'm spoiled. The ability to pause, rewind for something I missed or want to hear/watch again, skip through commercials, all make it my morning news, my convenience. After all, I'm the only one watching 95% of the time. The rest of the household is either asleep or working. Occasionally Steve's irregular sleep schedule brings him out to join me for a bit. But rarely does that change things, except occasionally pausing and rewinding for something of his interest. When I leave the room for my morning shower, off the TV goes. He's on line.

So this morning I had to find a work-around when the TV announced it was getting no signal. Now generally with satellite that means bad weather. Nope, sky clear as a bell, birds singing like crazy. It was because of yesterday. Steve and I watched several DVDs.

OK, with a "normal" set-up, this is no problem. Switch everything over to DVD player input, switch back. Only our current input is an old slightly malfunctioning Play Station 2, with the DVD player currently set up in Arizona. We didn't buy another one, and Paul donated his old machine to the living room system when he upgraded. It has consequences. It's noisy. It overheats, sitting in the entertainment center, so the fan comes on with increasing loudness until the thing finally gives up the ghost for an hour or so. As this usually happens well before a single movie is finished (I still haven't seen the rest of "Argo"), we decided to come up with Plan B.

Steve has a little stand-alone 19" TV in his room. It's one of the original flat screen hi def ones, back when something that little cost $400. Its saving grace is a DVD player built as a slot in the side. We can switch input from cable (satellite) to DVD by remote. Yesterday we had Paul hook it up for us in the living room, sitting on a small table in front of our regular TV close enough to us that it filled our field of view at approximately the same size. He even hooked it up to go through the better sound system for us.

Sweet, huh? And when we finished, he disconnected everything and put it back where it had been. Well, mostly. As it was then my bedtime, and Steve was busy on line again, seeing how hits many his latest blog posting had gotten since putting up a link on Facebook, the TV stayed off in the living room.

This morning I tried to watch my morning news. "No Signal". I can see by the lights that the DVR is working, recording the news for me. But whatever gets that signal to the TV isn't hooked back up. Paul, of course, is at work.

I, of course, am hopeless when it comes to knowing what goes where, much less being able to kneel in front of everything to physically put plugs into holes, or whatever the proper terminology is for making the connections.

I mentioned a work-around. On line, of course. I Googled the TV station and hit the link for live feed. Worked perfectly, as expected. However, no pausing, no skipping, no control over what is aired when. No avoiding commercials, no pausing to study the weather forecast. TV just like it used to be, not so many years ago.

In other words, inconvenient.

Friday, June 14, 2013

And News So Bad You Should Call and Yell At Somebody

Boring! (Imagine that sung out Jo Anne Worley style, as in "Laugh In".) But "boring" is when they go and try to sneak something awful past you, knowing you won't be paying attention.

It's called a Farm Bill. Lotsa stuff about crop insurance, sugar subsidies, etc. Mostly boring, never affects us non-farmers, pretty straightforward every year. Right?

Not this time.

Remember the Tea Party? You know, those take-no-prisoners folks who believe government is bad so less government is better, taxes are bad so we should get rid of them, regulations are terrible because we should all be free to do whatever we want. Remember those guys? They've been having fun with the Farm Bill.

You like food that's safe to eat, right? Lots of the laws that help ensure that are eliminated. You know, those big corporate farmers need to keep more of their own earnings, and costly regulations are burdensome.

But they're just getting started. Food stamps are in there. Or rather, many fewer are in there. And the cuts aren't just general, where everybody gets ____% fewer. That's bad enough. Some are targeted. Take felons, for example. Know any? Well, nevermind. Eventually they serve their time, pay their debt to society, and get out of prison. We all know that it's even harder for them than the rest of us to get a job at that point. If they're gong to succeed as functioning members of society, they likely need some help at first. Like, say, food stamps. Nope, not any more. Not only do they no longer qualify to get food stamps, neither do their families!

Tell me, just what did those families do to deserve to starve? And how much punishment do we demand of our criminal offenders? So do they have options other than returning to crime and having the prison system feed and house them again?

How about animal cruelty? We can start with living conditions, say where chickens are required to have enough room in their cages they can at least move. We can go on to humane slaughtering, where a cow has to be  unconscious before we slit its throat. Or even non-agricultural animals, where we outlaw dog and cock fighting. There's an amendment being proposed before the House on Tuesday by Iowa Rep. Steve King (not to be confused with the author, who actually shows some humanity) which proposes to eliminate hundreds of hard-fought state laws protecting animals. It's wording suggests that all these laws need to be replaced with a single system of federal laws. Of course, it doesn't provide any federal laws of the sort. In that vacuum, only the least restrictive law in any state becomes the law to be followed by all 50 states. Nobody can be better than the worst, demand higher standards.

Still bored?

How about a call to your representative by Tuesday letting him/her know you're paying attention and think this is outrageous? Or the only things/people having any protections at all will be the big corporations.

Good News, Bad News, Not SO Bad News...

First, the good news. My car smells great, and has all day.

Now the bad news. The reason it smells so good is the floor is drenched in coffee. I got a tall cup, this being Friday and me with a long drive ahead of me. I needed extra help keeping alert. I set it down in the hollow between the cup holder and the transmission. It's almost as good, normally, and all the other spots were filled. Then I started driving, and had to brake somewhat suddenly.

I bet you know what happened next. It, being a taller than usual cup, went forward, then ass over teakettle into the passenger footwell. My hand reached after it almost as quickly. I went for the bottom, thinking that I could rescue what hadn't poured out the slot in the lid and save at least a little bit of it. After all, I had snapped that lid on securely before paying for it.

All I can say is that the lid was found in the vicinity of the lip of the upside down cup. Not attached.

The next cup of coffee I bought this morning was normal size. And it went into a cup holder, while something else went into the hollow space.

Now the not so bad news. Steve called me, informing me a letter had arrived from Arizona. Who from? The return address had a bunch of initials that belong to the Homeowner's Association. He hadn't opened it, even though anything from them is for both of us. They just are too lazy or something to put his name on it too.  Well, he wasn't in the same room with it, so he'd have to call me back.

This is the part where I start worrying. These guys don't send out letters with good news. They send letters telling you to do a better job cleaning up your back yard behind your dog, or weeds have sprung up while you were several states away, or something else requiring your attention whether you are there or not.

Or else!

So while I was picking up my next box to deliver, he was reading the letter and I was wondering how bad it was this time, and what might we have to do? With my hands full, the call back went to voicemail.  I waited until the package was loaded, paperwork filled in, and I was sitting comfortably before listening.

It's time to pay the $20 annual dues.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

When You Say, "I'm a Christian..."

When you announce your Christianity, particularly when nobody has asked and it's not germane to whatever is going on, do you have any idea what I hear?

I hear religiosity is important to you. Not necessarily religion, not necessarily the principles and ethics of it, just religiosity is important.

I hear a great big chip on your shoulder, expecting some kind of adverse comment, some kind of challenge or persecution. Somewhere there be lions.

I hear unwarranted pride: you made the best choice in the world, making you the best in the world.

I hear you say you're going to Heaven, the rest of the world is going to Hell.

I don't hear you identify as Lutheran, Catholic, Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, or whatever, so I hear some extreme evangelical sect that doesn't even need naming because, hey, you picked the best and the details are irrelevant.

I hear intolerance and judgment for everybody who doesn't say the same, and even many who do.

I hear your place in the world is top of the heap and everyone else should aspire to be you, blindly following and accepting your assessment.

I hear a word that you believe says everything about you while actually saying nothing, because so many others have trampled the path before you ever got there.

So next time you want to make your big announcement, when nobody has asked, and it's not germane to anything in the conversation, shut up first, think about who you are, why it's important, what it means. Then don't say it. Live it.

Then you won't have to say it.

And people like me can hear you.

Alaskan Cruise Memories

Last century - and it feels like that long ago - my now-late mother-in-law treated me to an Alaskan cruise. As a retired teacher, she traveled the world. We were used to her bringing back trinkets and memorabilia to share from various countries. As a single parent without child support, it never occurred to me that such adventures could be for me.

For one thing, I couldn't afford to take any time off work without long thought or an emergency erasing any choice. So when she called after her traveling companion cancelled, offering to take me along at her expense, I actually had to request time to think about it and decide whether I could afford to go.

I know, hard to believe, isn't it? I think I managed to insult her by not immediately jumping at the chance. And, knowing what I do now, I'd jump at any similar chance. I not only want to go back, I want to take Steve along for some great fishing.

We met at the airport and flew to Fairbanks. This cruise, arranged through Holland America, started inland. It was a long flight, and our first night was spent in unused campus housing, coping with attempting to sleep by keeping light-killing drapes drawn against a night which never darkened this first week of July.

While adjusting to jet lag, we bus toured a gold mine, including our own chance to try panning a bag of sand guaranteed to have some flake(s) of gold in it, took a riverboat cruise including lessons on local native cultures and tasty salmon spread on crackers, learned about building code requirements in a land of permafrost where house heat would sink the building if poorly placed. Startling examples were pointed out to us by our guides.

A train built for viewing took us to Denali, the only place food was out of our own pockets. I shopped the cafe carefully, but lunch still totaled over $21 where a single banana went for $3. While there we took a speedboat ride upriver to another gold mine, another panning opportunity. It was explained that the high speeds and sharp turns were necessary to keep the river channel clear. Whatever. It was a blast! Lylah got a thrill out of it too, one of her favorite memories of the trip.

We also piled aboard buses for the only allowed transportation allowed deep into the park. As usual in summer, the winds up Cook Inlet kept clouds around the mountain itself, but we had great views (narrated) of wildlife and braided rivers. Wildlife spottings included ptarmigan, moose, dalls sheep, and startlingly blonde grizzly bears.

Back on the train heading to Anchorage, there were frequent views of bald eagles in the tops of pines, and if you caught the right angle, red salmon in the many streams along the way. Anchorage itself was a time killer. We were shepharded to the bus depot, cooling our heels for hours until our particular turn came. Apparently everybody boarding our particular ship and who hadn't booked the extended tour starting in Fairbanks had flown into Anchorage to bus down to the ship. There were hundreds of us.

Shopping for trinkets at the local stores, located nearby to take advantage of boatloads of stranded tourists, eased the boredom briefly. One member of the local group Lylah had booked with had planned ahead and scored a bush plane ride over rookeries of puffins and other wildlife. He had one of the early tiny camcorders, and showed videos to us during quiet moments on the cruise ship we were awaiting transport to in Seward.

The bus ride down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward went through some beautiful green coastal mountains. There was one stop for a snack and our guide pointing to what she insisted were Dalls sheep at a distance that made them resemble grains of salt. Moving grains, but still...

The long line to enter the ship was delayed further by the ubiquitous ship's photographer. All of us were requested to stop and pose next to a sign telling where/when we were. Then, of course, we could later go purchase copies  at a store which displayed pictures of everybody doing all kinds of things aboard ship throughout the cruise, including shaking hands with our captain, if that was your thing. The latter was staged after one dinner, formal dress required.

Other than formal dinners, my memory of the captain was his stock joke about the ship's name. I don't remember which of the group it was, but they included the Rotterdam, the Amsterdam, the Stattendam, "and all those other -dam ships."

The dinners made another expense for me. I had nothing resembling formal dress. My life didn't require any. Being warned well ahead of time, I managed to pull some funds from the budget and hit the fabric store for patterns and uncrushable poly fabric. I wound up with a floor length black skirt and a sleeveless top in a blue print with a diagonal hemline. They still hang under a bag in my closet. Somewhere.

There were a couple other pieces of advance prep. First was a visit to the doctor for some anti-seasickness pills. My request was poo-poohed by relatives and friends ("The ship's too big, you'll never feel the motion") but I recalled an ocean fishing trip as a teen which surprised this resort-raised kid with a very miserable day. I faithfully took my pills for the first three days, enough for the body to adapt, and confess to a bit of smugness when we hit rough seas a couple days later which indisposed several in our tour group while I sailed through with nothing more than a couple bounces off the hall walls while passing through.

The other prep was stocking up on my favorite film. Yes, back then, film. It was Kodak Ektar 25, chosen for its ability to give a 35mm negative the capacity to be blown up to poster size with a clear print. These days that's called a high number of megapixels. I shot all of the 36 rolls I brought, mostly 36 exposures but a few 24. The result was two photo albums from the trip, one for Lylah as a thank you, the other for my own memories.

Speaking of the ship being huge... it was. Twelve levels. Pools. A track around the top deck. Elevators. I had expected a teeny room with bunk beds and a camper type bathroom. We had twin beds with a window between along the outside wall, a sofa and TV (ignored) in the middle, and closets and a full bathroom near the hall. Supper that first night was cafeteria style in an enormous dining room, though other nights required formal attire, assigned seating around round tables with linen tablecloths and an actual captain's table across the room. The menus for the formal dinners would have been pricey meals at fancier restaurants, including pheasant and prime rib.

The first thing we were told, and repeated via loudspeaker announcements at regular intervals, was that at a specified time after diner there would be a lifeboat drill. Our life jackets were pointed out to us, and we were each given an assigned rendezvous spot. Nobody was allowed to budge from the spot until every single passenger was accounted for, by name. Anybody who hadn't taken the drill seriously was hunted down and escorted to their spot to check in. A half hour later everybody was suitably impressed with its seriousness. Those who prepared in advance - I thought that was cheating - and arrived with life jackets on five minutes ahead of the start of the drill were given special praise.

Once you've gotten the tour of the ship, if you don't jump in a swimming pool with a hoard of strange kids, gamble in the onboard casino, drink at the onboard bars, or shop in the onboard shops, there's nothing much to do while under way. You can stand at the rail and look at slowly passing scenery. If you were really lucky you might get a sighting of a dolphin playing in the bow wave. Mostly we moved at night and stopped in a port for the day. That was the best part.

Each stop offered a variety of activities. A few were even free, as in walking through the streets of the city where you stopped. Lylah and I were more into tours of various kinds, and luckily, she had the budget to pay for them. You could take a bush plane or a boat and tour the area for wildlife. At Ketchikan we took a plane in and a boat out. On the way back to the ship on that jaunt our guide took us closer to the shore where we were offered a rare photo op: the chance to shoot a whale, grizzly, and bald eagle all in the same frame. The whale had died and washed up on shore, and the other were scavenging, occasionally arguing over who got dibs over the carcass first. It was the grizzly, of course, but the eagle just lifted out of harm's way as necessary.

At Sitka there was an interesting historic tour, as well as a hike through the rain forest past totem poles. First, however, you had to descent stairs to water level on the ship and board small boats shuttling passengers to the dock. The bay was too shallow for the ship to dock itself. I'm told the mountains there are spectacular, but low clouds obscured any view.

One morning we entered a bay with an actively calving glacier, which would have been spectacular had it not been so foggy we had to keep sounding the foghorn to help us not collide with the other cruise ship in the bay which was sounding its horn trying not to collide with us. What we could see was pretty straight down, lots of little ice floes and a dozen or so sea otters floating belly up cracking shells open on the rock they kept on their belly. That afternoon our tour stop offered a bicycle-pulled cart ride from the dock along a long spit of land to the town. We paid our driver double to give us the scenic tour of town and return us to the ship.

I think Juneau was my favorite stop. In the morning, we hopped a bush plane to Taku Glacier Lodge. At the time it was the only glacier in the area which was still advancing. I doubt it still is. It was across a small bay of water from the lodge, and provided the water and ice for our lunch. The highlight was grilled salmon, cooked outside on a monster grill. We could watch our cooks, tour (shop) the gift shop, take the trail to a waterfalls. The latter was discouraged until after the meal, since the smell of the salmon attracted bears. This particular day that meant a mama black bear with her cub. We tourists were corralled by the staff wielding huge 4x4s, not for us but to keep the bears away. The meal also featured baked beans, corn bread, applesauce, and some forgotten kind of dessert. Best meal of my life, both for flavor and atmosphere.

For the afternoon, we chartered a boat for whale watching. If they couldn't find any, our fee would be refunded. They were still in business, so the track record must have been pretty good. Radio communication with other boat captains kept them informed of where various pods were at any given time. Not too much into that trip we became surrounded by a pod of orcas, a great time to use up film. After they had passed, we headed out toward a pod of humpbacks which were bubble-net feeding. Our captain lowered a mike into the water so we could hear the action and know when to expect them to rise open-mouthed from the water. We couldn't get really close, as we had with the orcas, but we stayed watching through several feeding cycles and had a great time. That was the one time they had to contact our cruise ship and warn them we would be late getting back. What did we care? We made the ship (not the latest group to return) and found out that the room service menu was free, as were all the other meals on the ship.

Speaking of all the food, it was wonderful and plentiful. If you were to be gone over lunch time, you could even order a brown bag lunch before you left the ship if your tour didn't provide.  One onboard event was a 2:00 AM death-by-chocolate extravaganza. I couldn't stay up for it. Dang! Somehow I weighed a pound less after the trip than before!

The best take-away from the entire trip? An irresistible need to come back to Alaska, which I've now done. Now, of course, I need somehow to get Steve up there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Oh, So That's What It Was

There are different people in my family I go to for a reference or help with certain things. If it's fishing, or nurturing, it's Steve. For carpentry or other practical home fixin stuff, Paul. General computer stuff, Rich, but Apple stuff, Ben or Steph. For birds of the non-domesticated varieties, it's my brother, or his wife, though she's more my expert on wild native plants.

If you keep up, you know I've been consulting my brother on that mystery bird that looks like a hawk but is colored like a woodpecker. I'm till waiting for a new comprehensive field guide - not just eastern US - to arrive so I can pursue that further. But it's not the only recent bird mystery in my neck of the woods. I just wasn't aware of it.

Earlier in May my son Rich brought another bird to my attention. About the size of a finch but not brightly colored enough to be a goldfinch, I dismissed it when he pointed it out to me as being a migrating warbler. I learned long ago that there are so many going through in various combinations of yellow, black and white, or two out of three of those colors, that it simply wasn't worth my time to try to identify each and every one when I likely wouldn't spot another for years. If it's not a finch or a sparrow, it's a warbler, end of story.

This one hung around in the chokecherry hedge and kept us entertained on the two days we had last month that were dry and nice enough to have a backyard bonfire and weenie roast. Now that the mosquitoes are our and thick enough they're finding their ways into the house, I haven't bothered to go out and see if it's still around. I just assumed it wouldn't be. That's the migrating part of migrating warbler.

Then last night I got this email from my sister-in-law, George-Ann. It seems the birding world is all atwitter about this exotic new bird found in Shafer along the bike trail. It's near endangered, and not found north of southern Iowa. So big news! She even sent along directions as to just where to go on the trail to spy this rare bird, assuming it's still in the exact spot. And just so I'd know what to look for, she sent a link.

I checked it out. The bird is a Bell's Vireo ( )  and, you guessed it, it was our little misidentified warbler.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Privacy? What Privacy?

Everybody's all atwitter about the latest revelations about the government collecting meta data ("meta" is getting so-o-o-o overworked, doncha think?) from everybody's phone records. Like it's new. (Not.) Or useful. (Not particularly.) Or such an invasion of our privacy. (What privacy?)

You worried about your privacy? Don't you think you're just a tad late with that? It's like swatting the mosquito after it's infected you with malaria. Interesting gesture, timing sucks.

Ask yourself this: Do you have a cell phone? It has a GPS, you know. It can be helpful if you're too panicked or too lost to give complete information when you call for help. The phone company and the cops can find you. The bill you get tells you every number you called or received and how many minutes they're charging you for.  Using that phone means you gave away that piece of your privacy long ago.

Do you use one of those discount cards from  your grocery store? You know, the one that keeps track of every single item you purchase so you can qualify for certain discounts, and incidentally lets the marketers know just what kind of deals and coupons to push on you. Somebody out there is keeping track of everything you eat. Some gas stations offer those as well.

Do you check your bank and credit card statements on line? Or access your own medical information on line? Pay bills on line? Every time you add another piece of your life to what you do on the internet, a trail is created that multiple somebodies can access. Some times they are identity thieves. Sometimes they are stalkers. That information never goes away. They keep telling us that.

Do you use social media? Facebook? Google +? Twitter? Blog? Think about all the information and pictures of yourself that get on those sites, all the personal stuff you put out to the world. Privacy? Not bloody likely, and some of these outfits keep changing their settings on you, deliberately or not. How about those sites where you say, "I'm here, which of my friends or potential friends are in the vicinity?" More like, "Hello stalkers!" if you open it up enough.

Speaking of being out in public, ever looked up at the ceiling and seen one of those black glass bubbles? You do know there's a camera inside, right? They're in casinos, stores, airports, pretty much everywhere. ATMs have cameras to get you and anybody passing while you use it. Gas stations get your license plates on film in case you might drive off without paying. Store fronts have cameras, freeways have cameras, satellites looking down have cameras. Get the picture? They did.

Even if you stay home, there is always some friend or family member with a cell phone camera, getting you at whatever moment they find interesting, then posting it and tagging you.

Speaking of your home, think of all the permits, applications, and other information you passed over to folks you never met just to live there, access electricity, gas and water, fix your roof. Google drove down your street and took pictures. MLS has aerial views for when you move. Utilities come with meters, and utility companies tell you how your energy usage compares with your neighbors. If your TV uses TIVO or a DVR, there's a record of what kind of programs get recorded and watched, maybe even who watched. Who needs Nielsen anymore?

So get over the idea that you have any privacy left to give away. You've been doling out your information for years now. So just how concerned are you that the big scary government is also getting a piece of what everybody else can have? I mean really?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

End of an Era

It had to happen eventually. Today, when it did, I took a moment to reflect on the ending of a legacy, left by my mother, not as the Leaving of a Legacy, but just the logical offshoot of her habits, ingrained in her after surviving the Great Depression as a young woman.

She was thrifty. Actually, you could put it a lot stronger than that, for it was next to a religion with her, but that would make it approaching laughable. Not that we didn't laugh at her -to us, unnecessary - extreme thriftiness. In retrospect, that seems unkind, where what she was doing was taking care of her family the best way she could, protecting them against the possibility of an economically grim future. We grew up much luckier than that.

Part of her thriftiness was hours spent weekly coupon clipping. She'd not only clip for herself, but clip and hand out coupons she thought the rest of us might somehow use. When she found a good sale on things that were staples, she stocked up. We only sort of noticed how much she stocked up on some things until it was time to clear out the house after she died when it was time to move Daddy out as well, bringing him up to live here. Most of that "stuff" came up with him, getting used up as he needed it.

Toilet paper: useful for all of us. Cleaning supplies: ditto. Paper towels: not something I normally use, but we used them with Daddy, and as many packs as there were, we still wound up buying a few more rolls while he lived. I've gone back to not using any.

Today, finally, it was time to replace the last of her stocked up supplies: kleenex.

Mom had partial boxes in every room. There were more in the bathroom linen closet, using up the available space, and once there were too many to go there, overflows went on the steel shelves in the garage. And finally, she kept a stack three high in the living room, on the floor between her chair and Daddy's, high enough that he could reach it, knowing where to find a tissue even when his eyes failed him. Bringing all those boxes here, we slowly worked our way through them, all of us. Yesterday, that last box on top of the toilet tank dispensed its last tissue.

Today I bought kleenex again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Take It Back

Just a follow-up on mystery bird X2. Make that X3 now. I saw one again this morning, sitting on a sign. First thing I checked out: definitely a raptor bill, not a woodpecker. Second, verify the solid light brown head and chest. So I'm back to the "mystery" part of this bird.

Any suggestions?

*    *    *    *    *

Speaking of signs, I'm loving a billboard I see in Forest Lake along the freeway. It says, "Don't text and drive. We can wait."

It's sponsored by a local funeral parlor.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Can You Forgive "Stupid"?

This is for a certain unhappy couple I know and love. No identifiers here. Just a few details and a bit of advice.

She: went into his Facebook account, without permission, found something she didn't like, blew up, is ready to finish the relationship.

He: thought she was snooping, set a trap for her, guaranteeing a confrontation, got it.

OK, guys, here's the bottom line: both of you were stupid!  Got that? STOOOOOPID!

Can you get over it? I don't mean never be stupid again. Everybody gets stupid at times, especially in the stresses of a relationship, and including the smartest people I know. Even me. Yep, stupid sometimes. So, can you forgive, work out the issues, and go from there, as in, together? Frankly, if you can't forgive stupid, you're neither of you fit to associate with another human being. All your relationships, whether with partner, siblings, parents or children, will be short and miserable.

First issue: Settle those boundaries. Facebook: private or open to your partner? If private, set up different passcodes. If open, mind what you put on it, just like you ought to be minding what others can see. Employers these days ask for those most personal passcodes. What do you want them to see?

Second issue: Trust. Why the need to snoop? Figure it out, talk about it. No, he's not cheating on you: its appearance was just a trap he set. (Were it otherwise, this would be a very different message.) So what's really going on?

There's a lot of good stuff in your relationship. Remember it. Work on it. Keep it. And remember to keep working on it forever. That's what it takes, for all of us.

I'm rooting for you.