…the best way out is always through

“…the best way out is always through.” Robert Frost, A Servant to Servants.

Long time ago we used to have a dwarf rabbit named Bugs, the first pet our family had that wasn’t a fish. When Bugs died, Spanky cried and asked me, “Will I ever get over this?”

She would get over this, I knew she would. She was only about eight years-old at the time, would she remember she’d had a pet rabbit at all? I didn’t tell her she might completely forget Bugs. Or forget this entire conversation when she learned about mortality.

Mortality, I’ll tell you when you worry most about that.

When a child is born, parents start a countdown. I’d like to think most of us, at the very least, want to live to see our child reach adulthood.

So on Spanky’s eighteenth birthday, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. She grew up with both parents, was never orphaned. I’m pointing out Spanky because she is the youngest. I felt the same about the other two but I still had the finish line on the entire parenting thing to think about.

What crept up on me the entire time I was raising my children was the flip-side of this countdown. They’re going to leave. Go to college. Get married. They have to. This is life.

And this is where things are right now and it has my mind in a complete state of fuckery and it hurts and this was a long time coming and I know I’m being selfish…


Will I ever get over this?

Discovered this Frost quote on a bathroom wall in a bookstore near the campus where Spank is going to college when I took her to orientation this summer

This too, same stall. Walls do talk.


Eat or Be Eaten?

I was flicking through the channels one night during the holidays and landed on a show on Animal Planet, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” It’s been around since at least 2007, but I’d never seen an episode. I’d seen it in the guide, but the description made it seem like a medical show, one where people come in with a hatchet stuck in the middle of their skull. Or shot with a nail gun between the eyes. I’m a little burnt out on those.

No. This show is recreations of true life stories where people get trapped or stranded out in the Amazon or the freezing mountains of Transylvania. With a broken leg. Or a thigh muscle ripped out of their leg by a bear. No cell phone. Have to crawl eight miles through three foot snows to get help. Wolves, cayotes, or buzzards lurking to eat up the person trying to survive. No food. No water.

That kind of show. And I’m hooked. (the stress of this show could be what caused the blood vessel in my eye to blow, I tell you, it makes my heart race.)

I went looking around the internet to find out more about this show and ran across a funny comment a fan wrote. I can’t find it right now but will paraphrase:
“This is the best show ever on TV. It teaches you all about how to survive being stuck in the freezing mountains, how to fight off wild animals… Eat or be eaten.”

Okay. I’m not that sort of fan. Eat or be eaten? But that really made me laugh.

On Wednesday january 5th, 2011 Animal Planet is having a “I shouldn’t Be Alive” marathon of back to back shows beginning at 2PM eastern time. I got my DVR set to record.


While brushing my teeth yesterday morning I looked up at myself in the mirror and saw this:

Actually it wasn’t that bad yesterday because it wasn’t noticeable unless I looked up. Today it is worse, it has spread to the iris (colored part) and it is getting worse by the hour.

I’m not really worried, this is not something to see a doctor about, it just looks scary. And it takes a long time to go away, about two weeks.

My family is freaking out. They have to look at it, I don’t. They also have to deal with my freaky medical self-treatment ideas such as, “I wonder if I could stick a needle in my eye and pop that blood blister?” (seriously, I want to do that)

Good thing this didn’t happen in my brain, that is called a stroke.

Four Rough Minutes to Fitness

You know why those 20 minutes a day! exercise equipment infomercials are so successful? It’s not really the product they are pushing that creates those before and after results, it is the exercise routine.

You don’t need to buy any of that stuff or join any clubs to get in shape. Here is one of the most successful exercise routines on earth and it only takes 20 minutes two times a week. You can run down the street, get on a bike, or jump up and down… Anything that gets you sweating and raises your heart rate considerably.

But first a standard disqualifier: Ask your doctor if doing this exercise is likely to kill you. If he says yes or maybe, don’t do it.

So you have talked to a doctor and you are greenlighted to get fit and healthy. Your doctor has likely told you this exercise will decrease insulin resistance (making you less likely to develop type II diabetes), increase metabolism (bye bye pesky fat cells), and give you a stronger muscoskeletal system. Don’t be bitter about the check you had to cut for that doctor visit, in the long run, you’ll be seeing less of that guy because you’ll be healthier. Damn good investment.

Choose an activity such as power walking, running, jumping jacks, cycling, or if you can, riding a unicycle. Anything but sitting on the sofa, sorry. I’ve run across this exercise recipe in nursing books on diabetes and on fitness web sites.


Let’s pretend we’re walking/running in place. You don’t even need a street to do that, no excuses that you don’t have what you need to do this. All you need is determination.

Stretch out for 3 minutes. (this is the most important step, it prevents injuries)

Exercise as hard as you can for 30 seconds. (run! run! run!)

Slow down for 90 seconds. (walk in place)

Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times.

You’re done.

Notice the “hard as you can” part adds up to a measley four minutes? Don’t worry about how many calories you’ve burned or what the scale says. You’re exercising. You will feel and look better and you did not spend a penny on any equipment.


It seems impossible in the digital age with GPS nav and mobile phones to get lost, right?

Over the weekend there was a hot air balloon festival in our city, a really huge deal with tens of thousands of people at a nature preserve. We went in two cars because some of us were leaving at different times. I had a special parking pass for an up close lot because Spanky was volunteering, so we didn’t park together.

I couldn’t find a place to park and Spanky had to be there at a certain time, so I dropped her off at the gate and told her to call and let me know where she would be.

It wasn’t until after I parked and she was long gone that I realized my phone wasn’t working. When I got to the festival entrance I talked to some other people and they told me their phones weren’t working either. I found the volunteer station and they told me what booth she was working, but they pointed me in the wrong direction when they told me how to get there.

So I wandered and wandered around all by myself. And you know me, I get distracted by shiny sparkly things. So this is from the point of view of a lost person, lost in the dark with blinking things:

Finally a text comes through. Blane is looking for me. But I can’t text him back.

And I think to myself, where would I look for me?

I had snuck under the ropes and got up as close as I could to those balloons. No one noticed that I was out of place and didn’t belong to any of the balloon teams.

Finally the phones all started working again and we all reunited over a fried Snickers bar.

A Husband and Wife Discuss Their Dreams

Blane and I usually start our day talking about what we dreamed the night before. We don’t actually sit down and have coffee, we just sort of meander around the house, bumping into each other occasionally. Mostly him upstairs, me down here. A floor and a balcony separates us, that’s all.

His words spill down and mine waft upwards. We hear each other all day long. Sometimes the same conversation lasts for hours, interrupted by sales and conference calls.

This is the work-at-home life.

But it all starts in the kitchen, face-to-face at the coffee machines.

His is a pop in the pod, easy as 1-2-3 Keurig that takes 60 seconds for a fresh cup.

Mine. Very complicated, but worth the 15 minutes of cranking up the boiler, grinding the beans, measuring, tamping just so…

Sometimes I use his, and rarely, he uses mine.

Today is the usual. I stare at his morning hair, which I completely adore. It looks like the wind blew it and then paused to do something else. It amuses me to no end, but I can’t tell him that first thing in the morning.

His coffee machine is about 55 seconds of warm up and 5 seconds of rushing coffee. That’s when he tells me about his dream in which we got all nasty, but he woke up before the best part. As he drags himself upstairs with his java, he says those dreams never have that special ending. Ever.

Then I tell him about mine, not face to face, but hollering over the balcony.

I was walking Scrappy at the Texas Mexican border and she bolted through a hole in the fence. Straight into Mexico. Some golden grilled thugs took off after her, so I chased after them. A team of customs agents ran after me.

Can you see it? Scrappy, thugs, me, customs agents.

Now throw in some tall buildings. This Mexico looked more like Tokyo because my brain is a fuzzy mess right now and a flat, cowboy movie landscape is no place for my superpower.

I can’t fly in my dreams like Blane can. I am a leaper. I bounce from the tops of buildings looking for my little Scrappy dog. Check every nook and cranny of this maze with my acute vision and, no dog. After I give up and return home, there she is, jumping up and down and happy to see me. Guess she doesn’t like Mexikyo.

Blane flies in his dreams. While this is an awesome skill I wish I had, the downside is he gets tired. I never run out of energy with my leaping. I just run out of things to do.

Over the next hour or so, between business calls we discuss the dreams:

Me: Anytime I star in your dreams we’re either fucking or fighting. Never anything like walking through a field of flowers or having a picnic.

Blane: No, wait, I just don’t tell you about those.

Me: …and you never have dreams where I come in save you.

Blane: Do you have dreams where I save you?

Me: Nah, I’m always saving somebody’s ass or mine. No one comes to the rescue.

Blane: Where were you when the bird people attacked?

[Bird People= four foot tall birds with 3 foot long beaks. They had teeth and were chewing him to shreds. One of my favorite nightmares of his]

Me: Now see, if I was in that dream, I’da put big rubber bands around their beaks, neutralize those bastards instead of trying to outfly ’em.

Some time passes but the convo continues…

Blane: …Fucking and fighting, well at least I’m faithful in my dreams. It’s never anyone but you.

Me: True. But what a waste, you should go for someone like Angelina Jolie.

A half hour passes and I holler up to Blane.

Me: Okay, I’m in all your sexy dreams, but it’s a way way nastier version of me!

Blane: Shhhh. I’m on a conference call!

He tells me they didn’t hear, but I’m sure he’s lying through his teeth.


At night, we discuss the day dreams. We’ve sold off everything, even the coffee makers, and all we own can be carried on our backs.

Tokyo, I’ll write about that later when I can sort thorough the photos, I’ve got some pretty bad hay fever right now and the computer screen makes my eyes burn like fire. That and and a trip to Louisiana for an aunt’s funeral just after Japan have kept me from blogging, but I promise to catch up on everyone’s posts. Miss you all.

The Babysitter

Frances was the greatest sixteen year-old train wreck I ever knew. I was only about eleven at the time and although my mom told us she was “hired” to babysit us one summer, it didn’t take long for us to figure out it was the other way around.

Frances was pimply faced, rotund, and wore Coke bottle glasses that made her eyes look the size of an infant’s. She spoke with a lisp and a slur that was probably caused by all the epilepsy medications she took. I don’t know if it was the obesity or the meds that caused her to sweat profusely, but she was always soaked and she smelled odd. Not typical BO, something different. Moldy. Or like the chemicals she was taking.

Worse than all that, she had the mental age of an eight year-old but the raging hormones of a girl her age.

I can’t think of anything she had going for her that summer but us. She had no father to speak of, and her mother, Shirley was a waitress that could pass for a hooker. First time I saw Shirley, I asked my mom if she was a go-go dancer because of the sparkly blue eye shadow she wore from her fake lashes to her brows. The mini-skirt and white patent leather boots added to this look. All of those things had been out of style for many years and only hookers dressed that way back then in my town.

Mom insisted the woman was only a waitress who didn’t know how to wear makeup. My mom had been an Avon lady, an expert in these matters.

That particular summer Mom and Shirley worked long night shifts together at a restaurant. During the day Mom was home, but she had to sleep. My dad would be gone a week at a time with his work, so there were many days we had to take care of ourselves.

We were an active bunch, my brothers and I. Early in the mornings we headed out to the swimming pool at the park or chopped down nearby forests to build our clubhouse/fort. My older brother was thirteen, and the way we saw things, we didn’t need no babysitter. Frances slowed us down. Complaining about the situation brought no results. My mom felt sorry for Frances and her mom and somebody had to do something about this.

So we took Frances everywhere with us that summer. It was the hottest one I can remember and we didn’t have air conditioning. At the peak of the heat wave I’d stick my head in the deep freezer at night for some relief. Staying home in daylight hours was out of the question. The library was one of the few spots we could hit up for some cool air.

Frances did believe she was the babysitter and since she didn’t try to boss us around, we never told her any different. At the library, she checked out some braille books. I had never heard of that and didn’t realize she was legally blind. At night she’d read her braille books to us (in the dark!) and although we weren’t sure if she’d made up these stories or not, we went with it. She also taught us how to read numbers in braille.

My dad wasn’t crazy about it, having this girl in our home all day and spending the night more often than not. After a few weeks of this, he insisted we bring her home and stop this madness.

We packed Frances’ things (you would not believe how quickly most of the things she owned were at our place) and went to drop her off. Her mom refused to take her back. I don’t know what the situation was, maybe she was mentally ill, but Frances came back home with us that day and didn’t return to her mother until school started that fall.

The thing that bothered us most about her was that she didn’t seem to experience emotions such as joy or laughter. We were pretty big on that and when Frances didn’t get our jokes, she felt like a heavier burden. We weren’t saints, but we never teased, made fun of her, or did anything to make her cry. We just dragged her around with us and made sure she didn’t get lost.

One thing she did experience was love. She was crazy about this guy named Jimmy at her school and that’s all she ever talked about. JimmyJimmyJimmyJimmyJimmy. I was pretty certain by the stories she told that he didn’t love her back. I wasn’t sure he actually existed, Frances did have some confusion about reality. Since we weren’t even sure this boy existed, we’d encourage her to call him up on the phone. We helped her find his phone number and taught her how to use the phone. After that, she obsessively called his house. The mother would always answer and say he wasn’t home. So Frances was convinced the mother was the reason Jimmy never called her back when she’d leave our number.

It was difficult to see what sort of things we were learning from her that summer. I already knew people were mean and shitty toward the mentally disabled. People are not courageous and willing to stand up for the weak, they are basically animals. Especially children. Survival of the fittest rules. We weren’t crazy about hanging around with a sixteen year-old. Or an eight year-old. And Frances was both.

None of our friends were fond of her. In fact, in only a matter of weeks, all our friends dumped us. I wish I could say I told off every kid who rejected us or that I made some speech at the pool about how people just need to chill, that the mentally disabled also need friends. Or that I didn’t need them, anyway. But I didn’t have that sort of courage.

Frances, on the other hand, had loads of courage. We were afraid to make phone calls for simple things such as finding out store hours or if they had a certain item in stock. Not a problem for Frances. AND prank calls. We got Frances to do them, and she was pretty damn good with her flat affect and inability to laugh. Us, we couldn’t stop the giggling long enough to get out the first sentence.

For threatening situations, like big kids ganging up on us, Frances was our bouncer. She wasn’t afraid of anyone, and like I said, she was a big girl. Also, due to her disability, people believed she had gorilla strength.

Her greatest act of courage came on a day my dad was set to return from his week-long work trip. On those days, I’d wait at home for him, obsessively checking out the windows to see if his car was in the driveway yet. But not Frances. She’d hide out in one of the back rooms because she sensed how he felt about her always being at the house.

On that day, my dad drove up but did not get out of the car. Mom had a doctor appointment so she wasn’t home. I ran out the door to greet my dad at the car and could see immediately that something was wrong with him. He was pale, sweaty, and weak. There was a bag of ice on his lap, propped against his belly.

He told me he had a terrible stomach ache and had the ice there to make it feel better. I asked him to get into the house and lie down, but he said he couldn’t move for now. He was too weak. So I stayed out there talking to him for about a half hour. His eyes were closed most of the time, I think he was in a lot of pain. When he finally garnered the strength to get out the car, he stood up and then collapsed to the ground.

I couldn’t get him to wake up, so I screamed for Frances to come help. when she stuck her head out the door to see what was the problem I told her it was an emergency to call for an ambulance.

Frances: I don’t know the number.

Me: Dial zero. An operator will answer.

She goes off and I stay outside with my dad. A minute or so later, Frances sticks her head out the door again. “What’s the address?”

I told her the street number and name, but she couldn’t remember and kept coming back. So I broke it down for her, told her the number and had her come back for the street name.

That worked. Within minutes the ambulance was there to pick up my dad. As they put him on the stretcher, the sheets got soaked with blood. My dad had a bleeding ulcer. My mom arrived home just as the ambulance was leaving so she went to the ER and left me home alone again with Frances. I was terribly worried my dad would die and he almost did, he took 44 pints of blood during the surgery to repair his stomach. (It is unheard of, even to this day for a patient get that much blood in one day and live).

While Frances and I were waiting the long hours for information about Dad, she didn’t talk about Jimmy. She was just quiet and listened to my worries. Then she did something she seemed incapable of. She gave me a hug when she saw me crying. And I didn’t care that she was sweaty and smelly. Or that she was sixteen. Or eight.

When did this happen?

Years ago, on a Christmas day, I was snorkeling in a little country in Central America. The captain of the boat was a local, about 25 years old. He said he had never gone anywhere and had no desire to leave his tropical paradise except for one thing. Snow. I liked the way his face lit up and his eyes smiled when he said that word. My face probably mirrored his, being from the South, I haven’t seen it too often.

Never as much as last Thursday, a foot of snow in 24 hours.

Snow brings out the little kid in me. I scream and giggle and look out all the windows. I yank out the cameras, the video cam, and I’m out there, even if it’s the middle of the night. I’ve got to capture this stuff that makes the world look so different in just under an hour.

So Thursday morning I go wake the kids early to see the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen down south. They don’t get mad at me because they have never ever seen them this huge. Then they go back to sleep because they are sure they will see this again. I keep watching as if it is the very first and last time I have seen snow. It does this to me every time.

Look at the snow on the RV!

They didn’t cancel the schools on the day it snowed. People tell me it’s because the superintendent is from Wisconsin and he’s a hardass about that. It bothers me because while Wisconsin might be able to handle icy roads with their salt and scraper trucks, we don’t have that stuff down here. People also don’t know how to drive in snow and ice and there are a lot of pickup trucks with rear wheel drives. They don’t stay on the road.

After school we only had an hour of daylight to find something to do in the snow. Spank and I went to the park and one of her friends met us there. I wandered around taking photos while she built this miniature snow family.

They are about eight inches tall. Cute!

I was quite surprised she made a family because earlier she said we should make a snowman firing squad aimed at another snowman with a bandana over his eyes.

Later that evening, Blane (the husb.) who had been trying to get a flight back home from a work trip called to say he had finally made it to the airport here. While he was fighting icy roads and traffic to get home, I tried to get the kids to come out with me to make that firing squad in the driveway. I told them when their dad got out the car to check it out, we’d spring from behind the van and pelt him with a thousand snowballs.

But nobody wanted to go back out. I gave them a pass because they had been sick a couple of days earlier. Then I went outside and made a three snowman firing squad. Put the charcoal eyes and carrot noses on them and when I went to the front yard to get some branches, two of them fell over.

So I was down to one snowman, which I just called an assassin. I grabbed the first hat I could find, a beret, and put that on him.

When Spanky saw him she laughed. She was mostly looking at his beret.

Spanky: He’s French?

Me: Not just any French, that’s Jean Reno, The Professional!

She was impressed, as she should be, I put this thing together in less than an hour. Still, she didn’t want to join in the ambush.

Spanky: You really going to slam Dad with snowballs after he’s been traveling?

Me: Yup. And if that was me I’d want y’all to do the same.

She went back inside and I hid in my spot with some snowballs.

Right in front of the van.

Blane drove up and parked when he saw the assassin snowman. I didn’t have the heart to ambush him for real, I just pelted his windshield enough to make him laugh.

The next day school was cancelled and I kept begging the kids to come out so we could go sledding or make snow angels or have a snowball war or something. I don’t know when exactly it was that they grew up, I’d hoped that would never happen, that they’d always want to play out in the snow. I know when I realized it. The moment they turned me down.

So I whistled for the dogs and let them run like wild wolves in the snow. They will always be pups.

The horror, the horror, the horror…

When Blane told me he’d be gone for a week in January, I could barely contain my joy. Husbandless for a week and I can get a lot of things done. Catch up on my reading, writing, find some chick tv shows to watch, read all the manuals to all the electronic devices I have, whatever. Really, I thought it would be a relaxing week. Except for Thursday, I knew Scrappy had to have surgery on her leg that day.

Scrappy’s been limping with a bad left leg for a couple of weeks. An xray showed a torn ligament.

So besides have a dog with a bad leg, the week started off badly with the pool freezing over on the night he left. I think I managed quite well despite the circumstances.

Monday was great, I can’t remember what I did, so that’s how I know. After that, the house and I were at war with each other and I think I lost.

Tuesday, the day of the big earthquake, I turned on the tv to see what was going on because I’m a gawker. This is the big tv in the living room which I call Blane’s because he is the one watching it 90% of the time. Well, Blane’s tv turned itself off after about ten minutes and refused to come back on. Under normal circumstances, I’d have been frustrated because I have to watch that tragic stuff on the news. But that night I had something to go to and it was time to go anyway, deal with it later. Then I thought about how it was best for me not to watch all that sad because my heart gets ragged on image after image of suffering. I tend to get upset because I want to put my cape on and do something about it. Of course I sent money, but I want to help by being there.

My head and heart needed to be here for Scraps. For Thursday.

So on Wednesday I had to go to bed early for her surgery at 7:30 AM the next mornig. I’m never in bed early, so I had a plan. Workout on the treadmill until I completely tire myself out. I stayed on that thing for three hours and never got tired. I am a freak of nature because I have absolutely no concept of fatigue. This is bad because I feel it the next day.

Maybe it’s not that I can’t feel fatigue but that I won’t allow myself to admit I am tired and need to stop. Something was definitely wrong with my head after I got off that thing. I ran the bath water and went to see if the tv was still broken. Fooled around with some wires back there. Forgot about the water. I don’t know how much time passed when I went back and saw it rushing under the door, barreling down the hallway with its strong current and waterfalling into the home office.

You know that line of dialogue in APOCOLYSPSE NOW, Brando’s echoing whisper, “The horror, the horror, the horror…”?

That is what I hear when I see shit like that. Over and over again as I empty each load of water from the carpet cleaner (at least 50 trips).

The office had about three inches of water in there. I had stacks of books and boxes of photo albums, printers, and various other electronics just sitting on the floor by the outlets getting charged. Had to grab that stuff quickly. After i got most of the water up, I had to move two heavy book cases to vacuum up the water under there and keep them from getting ruined. The closet with some metal file cabinets had water in there too. It was the worst room in the house to have flooded. It also seeped under the wall and into the dining room. Had to move that furniture too. All this while still salty from the three hour workout.

It took me until five AM to finish sorting out that mess and the wood floor in the hallway by the bathroom began to warp by morning.

So I got no sleep before bringing little Scrappy for her surgery. The poor dog, I don’t know how she knew something painful was about to happen, she’s usually so happy to ride in the car, but that morning she cried all the way there. It made me cry. Hard.

All went well and she got a new ligament sewed in. She’s got an incision about five inches long and she’s managing well without having to wear that lamp shade-looking “cone of shame.” It’s three days post op and she is beginning to use the leg a little. That is one tough pup.

Friday I was a bit worried about how Blane would react to all the damage when he got home. I didn’t tell him about the tv or the flood over the phone because I didn’t want him to worry while he was gone. Nothing he could have done about it anyway. Why ruin his trip? I wanted to laugh when he called to tell me he was taking an earlier flight. Poor bastard, if he only knew what he was coming home to.

So he walks through the door and immediately sees the damage. I tell him briefly what happened and then tell him about the tv too. He didn’t seem to care about that. Asked where Scrappy was.

When he saw the dog, she spread out on the sofa with her bad leg out and shook it as if to say, “Look what they did to my leg while you were gone.”

And you know what? That’s the only thing he was concerned about, Scrappy and her leg. I’m so glad to have him back home.

Seven Year-Old Swimming Pool Architect

Did you ever want to build your own swimming pool when you were a kid? I bet you did because every kid I ever knew who didn’t have a pool not only wanted to make their own, they had the plans for it in their heads. Some even tried.

Like me. Now, I’m not much of an engineer but more of a dreamer and way too optimistic with a pinch of idealism. We didn’t have a shovel, but I had a ton of patience. I’d sneak a cereal spoon from the kitchen and go dig my pool in the crawl space under the house. Oh yeah, see, my pool was going to have shade all day long and no one was going to stop me from building that thing or tell me I’d fail because no one was going to find it.

To hell with naysayers.

Except for my dog, she could come with me. I worked on it all summer and by the time fall came around I had what looked like a shallow grave. My dog loved it. Lots of times when we couldn’t find her anywhere, I’d go look in that spot and there she was curled up in that hole. One day I went out there and found her with a litter of puppies! I loved being the first to know about that and was happy to give up my swimming pool dream so she could nurse her pups in peace.

Blane’s pool plans were way more elaborate. He had a shovel, he had 2×4’s to frame it, and he had Visqueen to line it. Maybe he was a little older, I don’t know. But he got his homemade pool to work.

The house we had before this one, we built it on a pool-sized lot and planned to put one in once the kids were old enough not to fall in and drown. Years passed and more kids were born. We never got to the level of comfort to have a pool until our youngest was twelve. By that time we decided to just move to another place and build a pool there.

I watched every step of the pool construction with the wonder and amazement of that seven year-old dreamer still in me. They dug the hole with a backhoe, reinforced it with rebar, and the next day they blew in the cement/pebble mixture with this gigantic hose. There were about five men in rubber boots smoothing it all down with trowels. Quickly, because it dries almost instantly. Big strong ox-looking men. This is hard work that takes muscle and craftsmanship. By the end of the day, they began filling it with water.

That is Spanky reading her book in the pool on that day.

It’s been almost five years and although we don’t use it every day during the summer or even every other day or have big pool parties, it does help me keep my sanity. I grew up by the water and being so far from the coast, well, I get lonesome for it.

For the first time, part of the pool has been freezing over during the night. A few mornings ago Blane had to go out there and break up the ice, it was blocking the intake vents and causing the pump to whine. He was afraid the pump would burn out with no water in the system. He was complaining about how cold it was and I was thinking to myself how terrible it sounded, cold like it is complaining about his pool when some people are homeless. (I really should quit thinking that way and cut the dude some slack)

Around midnight last night, the pool froze over completely for the first time. I heard the pump whining and, damn, no Blane. He’s out of town on a business trip.

Begin Arctic Adventure

You know how sometimes nothing seems to work and everything you touch breaks? It was a night like that. No moonlight, and the patio lights are just shamelessly dim. I can’t see shit. I see the pool is frozen and hear the pump screaming. I put my earphones on and turned it up so I wouldn’t have to hear the pump. Put on U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

Grabbed a PIPE and thrashed away into the ice. I felt like a juvie breaking all the school windows.

Screw you winter.

Shut up whiney pump.

Screw you water bill.

Leaves. Fuck off.

Then I realized I could actually fall in and no one would find my frozen corpse until morning. The kids were sleeping, they couldn’t spot me. Everyone is sleeping, of course, it’s midnight.

So I called Blane to stay on the phone with me while I scooped the broken ice out of the pool, just in case. That I must admit was fun, the sound of broken ice hitting the cement.

Some of the carnage.

I almost didn’t want it to end, but I had to check the pump which is on the side of the house. In a very dark spot. Near where my dogs use the bathroom. But hey, frozen turds don’t stick to your shoes.

We have a light switch back there with a tiny swing door coverlet. I lift the hinge, put my finger in there but it felt strange. Like a magnetic field. Flipped the switch. No light. Got a new bulb, put my finger back into the magnetic field and still, no light. Something is very wrong with this fixture, it might electrocute me.

Tore the house apart looking for a flashlight. None. Blane says things into the phone such as “No flashlight? We have a million of them.” Note, he is always talking me out of buying more flashlights, so I totally hold him responsible for this.

He also says, “It can’t be that cold.”

Of course it can’t be that cold, it’s 65 degrees where he is. How can it be 27 degrees in Texas, that same Texas he left just hours earlier when it was 30? How, when it is 65 degrees in California, how?

So I got a light from the toolbox, one of those orange cage things people use to look under a car hood. Plug it in an electrical outlet by the pump. Light, beautiful light. I can see! Being curious, I first had to check what was up with that magnetic light switch. Lift the cover and scream, there’s a wad of spider nest and I had been poking it with my finger in the dark. Even though I know spiders can’t survive such harsh temps, I am convinced spider babies are crawling all over me. And my sleeves and feet are wet from messing with all the ice in the pool. But I have to bleed the air from the pump. My fingers are so numb I can’t feel shit anymore. Or turn tiny cold metal valves.

Back to the toolbox. Come back with a pair of pliers, and this is the fun part, the pump sprays me down with ice cold water.

I could never have imagined this as a seven-year old pool architect. Never. And I’m so glad I’m not homeless ’cause I really needed that hot bath.

I’m Feelin’ It

On my birthday I found myself driving to a town just north of here to get fingerprinted. There’s a new law in Texas that nurses have to turn in fingerprints within the next ten years. Licensees are chosen at random, so there are some nurses who won’t have to get theirs done until the deadline.

The universe is usually aware that I am quite the slacker and I never get picked for audits or jury duty (knock on wood) or anything, as long as there’s someone else who could go first.

Not this time.

I could have gone to the police station or the FBI (gasp), but as the nursing board states on their website, these fingerprints are often unacceptable and have to be redone. They recommend an identity specialist.

So our cops and FBI are incompetent when it comes to collecting prints? That’s like Crime 101, right?

Okay, I go up to this town and it’s a shitty winter day. The sky looks as if someone removed it in Photoshop and completely forgot to add anything back in. It’s just white and empty. I pass through their historic district and see houses that look like birthday cakes. I’ll go back and take photos one day when there is a sky.

I drive up to the address of the ID place and it’s this ancient brick building that looks like a mental institution in a Stephen King made for tv movie. Great. I get to the front door and I’m still unsure this is the right place, I’m waiting any minute for something scary to jump out at me and hack me with a hatchet or an axe. There’s a plaque near the door stating its historical significance. It was indeed a hospital at one time.

I knew that shit. Knew IT!

Then I think to myself that I have the ability to pick up waves of historical suffering. It’s the strangest thing, I can walk into a house or building and feel good or bad vibes. Maybe it’s just the way a place looks, and I’m imagining things. Don’t care. Whatever it is, real or not, it moves me. Which is great, because I don’t like feeling nothing about something. Indifference leads to boredom, which is, eventually, painful to me.

I mosey down a creaky hallway that has pipes running along the ceiling, ones that groan. There’s a few old mirrors on the wall that when I catch a glimpse of myself, I wonder if it’s really me. That’s how bad those old mirrors are, there’s no clarity in them and there seems to be a halo around every object in them. Then I wonder if it’s just me and the attitude I brought in there. Skittish. Skeptical. Or just the simple fact that I hate antiques and the mirrors know it.

There are several offices in this building. I pass a door for a child psychologist. I’m startled when that door swings open and a woman with a short blonde Kate Gosslin cut looks left, right, then shuts the door.

Pass a local magazine editing office. It’s dead in there. Lights out.

Get to the ID place and go inside. My bedroom is larger than this entire office. All of the artwork on the walls are not prints, but puzzles of Native American scenes. About twenty of them in this tiny space. Someone here likes solving things. That someone is a young black woman who takes mug shots and runs each finger over a glass scanner.

Also in this cramped room are four teachers and a fireman, all waiting their turn. They don’t seem to be bothered by all this. Me? I’m fuming. This thing will completely ruin my option of living a life of crime. Bankers, engineers, maybe even cops, they have a choice, they can commit crimes until they get stupid and caught doing something wrong that leads to their first set of fingerprints. Not us.

I look at the fireman. He probably entered the field so he could learn how to commit the perfect arson. ‘Cause there is nothing as satisfying as burning shit down.

The schoolteachers. Evil milk money thieves. Get them!

A nurse from the local nursing home walks in. Her too, and her kind demeanor doesn’t fool me. I wonder how many patients she’s snuffed out with a pillow for having the audacity to use the call bell?

Millions of unsolved crimes will finally be put to rest after they run all these prints. Those Texas legislators are absolutely brilliant for coming up with this new law. Oh, and this is at no cost to the state. Uh un. I had to shell out $10 for this service. I bet murderers get theirs done for free. Just a hunch.

Later that afternoon…

I came home to a heartwarming sight. Kara made me a birthday cake before she left for work.

All is right in the world again.

Ghetto Med

I’ve been knee deep in a class for my nursing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or hours so I’m screeching in here to make a Holidailies post and have no idea what to write because I’ve been studying diabetes all day.

Photos! There’s always something rat-holed in iPhoto, just waiting to be posted. This one stood out.

An xray of my mother-in-law’s fractured fibula (broken leg).

Can you see the break? It is that long lateral dark line in that thin bone to the right.

How I got this from an 11×14 film (hard copy) to a jpg image is the story.

The ER doctor discharged my mother-in-law and said she would not need surgery. I was worried the sharp point on one of the fractured pieces was puncturing the other bone. The gap between the two broken ends seemed a bit wide too. So I called a friend of mine, a radiologist who lives in Louisiana (where my mother-in-law lives) and asked her to look at the xray. She asked me to email it to her. All I had was the hard copy, not a digital image.

I tried to scan the film with my scanner. Didn’t work.

I have a couple of halogen lights on the vent hood above my stove that are crazy bright. So I taped the films to the vent hood in front of the lights, put a plain white sheet of paper behind the light, and took a photo of the film.


Digital x ray. My friend was quite impressed, she didn’t think I’d be able to really email that image to her where she could actually see anything. And she thought it was funny.

Ghetto medicine. We do stuff like that every week at the free clinic where I work, we make do with what we have. Gives the mind a good challenge and that’s just one of the reasons I like it so much.

Back to my CEUs.

She sells electricity

Sometime this year or maybe last Christmas I got a flash for my camera. I’m not one to use much flash in photography, but sometimes objects need a little fill light. It is quite flattering for people photos.

This flash unit I got, a Canon 580EX is huge and looks ridiculous on my camera (no built in flash). Not that a flash really belongs on a camera (that’s why my good camera has no built in flash), it doesn’t unless you’re just taking family snaps around the house. I find it way too powerful and haven’t learned all the controls so it is like this massive amount of light that overexposes the hell out of my subjects.

I need to get a clamp for it to go on my umbrella stand, a simple $10 clamp that I can’t find in any of the stores when I think about it. I should just get a damn roll of duct tape and attach it to something so I can at least play around with the thing. Or get Blane to jerry rig something, he’s good with that sort of thing.

Or go online and order the thing. I just need to figure out which is the right clamp.

Speaking of lighting, years ago, I got an umbrella from a street vendor in Portugal for $5. It’s this huge thing and is made for rain, but oddly enough, it has a reflective surface on the inside. So I’ve kept it all these years and managed to never lend it out because, hey, people never bring back umbrellas no matter how much you threaten them. I haven’t tested it to see how well it reflects light for photographs but I know it’s there.

Last spring while on a walk in my neighborhood, the tornado sirens went off and dark clouds rushed in in a matter of minutes. I quickened my pace and about a block from the house I met a stranger, a frantic door to door salesgirl. She was panicked, her manager had dropped her off to sell electricity subscriptions and she didn’t know what to do.

I told her to come with me, that she could take shelter in my house. She was young, about 20ish, and this was her very first day on the job. We ran to my house and as soon as we got inside it began to pour down rain and the electricity shut off. I showed her the closet under the stairs and told her that’s where we’d go if we heard the sound of a freight train.

I have a storm radio that goes off automatically and alerts me of when to expect a tornado, so this thing is blaring that the tornado will touch down in ten minutes. Wind and rain pelt the roof, flashes of lightning and crazy booms of thunder shake the fixtures in house. In the middle of all that, the girl’s manager calls on her mobile. Wants to know where she is. I offer him a place to stay too, but he refuses and insists on picking her up.

He finds my house and calls her to come out. Right now. In that storm.

The girl did not know what to do. I told her she was safer in a house than in a car. Through tears she told me she was afraid to lose her job. Her phone kept ringing and ringing.

She decided to leave, so I offered her my special umbrella from Portugal.

The tornado touched down a mile or so from my house and I don’t know if that girl and her manager happened to see it or not, but I do know she survived the thing and kept her job. About a month later, Blane answered the door and it was this same girl, returning the umbrella and asking if we wanted to buy electricity.

A Free Trip, For Real!

My parents were good about taking us on yearly vacations to the beach or to camps out on the levees and we did lots of camping and fishing and all of the amazing adventure things one can do in the wonderful state of Louisiana. They also bought us a set of encyclopedias called “Lands and Peoples” which was my absolute favorite thing to read. I’d read all of them more than once by the time I finished high school. It fascinated me like nothing else.

That made me want to go places. Anywhere. Just go.

My first trip out of state besides going to Texas to visit my dad’s relatives was a trip I went on with my best friend’s family. This was also the first time I’d gone anywhere without my family.

Keep in mind this was before the internet, and at the birth of what would be the telemarketing explosion. It was also when people took to the road instead of hopping cheap flights as they did not exist. Also, the speed limit was 55mph.

We were in the summer between 10th and 11th grade, about sixteen years-old, and my friend picked up the phone to hear a woman go on about how she won a free trip to Florida for a family of four. Nobody believed her until the official Free Trip to Florida Certificate came in the mail. It was legit and she was the luckiest girl in town. All her parents had to do was go on an airboat tour in the Everglades to look at some land. No obligation.

This was great, my friend was interested in going to the University of Florida in Jacksonville and needed to check out the place.

So she convinced her parents to drive us there, a twenty-seven hour drive each way. We had ten days to do it all and no idea whatsoever what it was like to be in a tiny car for so long.

For me, it was liberating to be away from my parents and my boring life in a small town.

We found two little boys to take a photo of us, notice how they cut the heads off the parents

We didn’t drive straight thorough but spent the night in about three cities along the way. One of those places we stayed had a vibrating bed which I guess was an early form of the massage chair you see today in one of those mall stores. To operate the thing, we had to put a quarter in this little gadget on the bedside table and it would give you 10 minutes of buzz. We didn’t have any quarters, so I managed to hack it by disconnecting the meter and plugging this high tech mattress directly into the wall socket. The world of travel was already opening my eyes to new and exiting things.

So we were laying on this circus bed and my friend’s eyes rolled back into her head. I’d seen this before, my dad had epilepsy, and this girl was having a grand mal seizure. I rolled her on her side and woke her parents. They panicked when they saw my friend’s face was blue, called an ambulance, and we ended up spending a few hours in some Florida ER. It was quite an awakening as this was her first seizure.

The next day’s drive got us to Ft. Lauderdale. Gigantic hotel with about twenty floors and five swimming pools. Paradise.


Nope. Not really. We had no idea one of the worst hurricanes to hit Florida was barreling down on the place starting the day we got there. We never stepped foot in any of those pools but got to watch a storm from the seventeenth floor. But hey, the hotel had this awesome arcade and that was all the rage back then.

When things quieted down a little with the storm, we drove down to Miami because her parents wanted to see the beach where all these famous movies had been filmed. It was a bit run down and underwhelming. Empty. This was before Miami got hip again and there was another storm going on, the Cuban refugee crisis.

That was the one where they let loose a bunch of convicts and mental patients from Cuba to the US.

We were scared when we watched the news with all these stories about how over a hundred thousand undesirables were set loose right there in South Florida. Maybe we should have watched the news before we left Louisiana. We just all looked at each other and said, “We’re not leaving this room.”

You know what was even stranger? Not a single one of us complained or even seemed to be bothered by it. We laughed the entire time, you see, this was a family of comical geniuses and I was one damn lucky kid to be a part of it.

I don’t think people are like this anymore. Whatever we desire, we can get to it in an instant. Food. A place. Information. There seems to be less interest in the journey itself, and all of this makes life pass by too quickly for me.


Something new with Mom since our last visit is she is using a walker. I sort of act as if it isn’t there even though it disturbs me to see her use it.

Physically, she doesn’t seem to need it. She’s only in her 60’s and she walks well without it. Hell, she’s just dragging this thing around. Mentally, she is dependent on it. She’s got a weak knee that gives out on her at random and sends her tumbling to the ground. I do remember over the last five years seeing her fall too many times to count. Last year, she fell and hurt her shoulder. Now she is afraid to walk on her own lest she end up with a more serious and crippling injury.

I asked her if she could have her knee rebuilt. Surely someone can do something? Nope.

Then I wonder (to myself) if it would help if she lost some weight? Anything to get rid of this visual that my mom is getting old. But she’s very sensitive about that and it never does any good to go there with her. Anyway, I’ve never seen her overeat and she is brilliant when it comes to nutrition. I have no idea why she is not thin, this never made sense to me.

With this bad knee and walker thing, she can’t get around like I want her to. I want to take her to see a museum. Or shopping to buy her some new clothes for Christmas. Or to the movies, like we used to do.

I got her to go to a couple of stores today. Small ones that she can take a quick walk around and then get back in the car. That is how we shop these days when we are together. I’m in the store and she’s sitting in the car waiting for me.

The last store on our stop has these amazing shoes and purses, so I insisted she come in with me. She cried real tears not to go in there, said her knee was killing her. I told her the knee was going to hurt at home as well and she could at least see some pretty things in the store versus being bored at home.

She came in and I found a place for her to sit in the shoe department. My mom has always had a thing for shoes, so I knew she would be fine there.

There is this thing my daughters and I like to do in shoe departments. We find the sluttiest shoes, try them on, then sashay down the aisle like fools. The higher the heel, the better, because none of us are tall and it’s like walking on stilts. And we laugh like maniacs.

So, while my mom was sitting there, I did my shoe routine. Now these were couture shoes, so I’d tell her the price first. Some of them were $2500. On sale.

Maybe it was these.

And then there are those that look like crap in the box but wowowowow when I put them on.

And it was fun, really fun, because I got to see her smile and laugh.

I found a pretty one for her and got her try it on. She didn’t stand up, only stared at it on her foot for a while with a smile on her face and said, “I used to wear sexy shoes.” For years now she’s been wearing special walking shoes because of that bad knee.

I stood there wishing I could buy it for her and she could walk in it instead of dragging around that walker. For that though, I’d have to turn back the hands of time. She will never be able to wear a shoe like that again. Ever.

See Ya in Your Nightmares

We lived within walking distance of the Health Unit when I was a kid. This was an institutional white-ceramic-tile-everywhere-but-the-ceiling sort of place that always smelled of rubbing alcohol. This was the place for baby shots. Didn’t matter if you were a seven year-old kid, that’s what they called them. Baby shots. Maybe that term was supposed to lessen the fear of them. As an adult, it sounds innocuous, but a shot was a shot back then and I had a raging phobia of needles.

Blane says his mom used to take him to one certain doctor with a child-sized metal airplane in the waiting room. He’d start crying the minute he saw the thing, but he’d tell them, “Okay, put me in there.” He’d be smiling and crying at the same time while he sat in the airplane. (I’m laughing myself to tears at that visual)

Fast forward to present day. I’m working the county H1N1 clinic giving assembly line shots with a few other nurses. We all play our parts differently. Some of us smile and try to be sweet to the kids with a basket of candy in one hand and a needle in the other. ┬áThat’s how I do it, although I know kids are just as smart as we are. I’ve been thinking about cutting the act and going with the “mean nurse” look. The happy face thing is a bit deceptive, and if I’m gonna be in some kid’s nightmares, I’d rather not be the smiling villain.

image from healthclub.info-ebazaar.com

It’s interesting being on the other side of this “baby shot” thing. Notably the different ways families handle the situation. Some parents haven’t told their kids what they are doing there. Those are the cheerful but skeptical ones. Like I said, kids aren’t stupid. We have our syringes concealed under a cloth and when the time is right, Ta-Da! So it is wise to choose the most needle-phobic kid to go first because once the cat is out of the bag, kids start scrambling, bargaining, or putting up a pretty damn good fight.

Most families do tell their kids what is about to happen. It’s fascinating, the children are consistent. Either the entire family is crying, or they are courageous and ready to get the thing over with.

Teenaged boys provide the comic relief. They laugh at and taunt each other, “You want me to hold your hand?” Oh, and giving a shot in a tattoo can be fun, like the wildcat I shot right between the eyes last night.

You know what shot behavior I like best of all? When it’s all over with, the part where I offer a kid some candy and they shove it back at me as if to say, “I don’t want your damn candy.”

If you live in Collin County, you can get your FREE H1N1 flu shot on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays from 4PM to 8PM and Saturdays from 9AM to 5PM until December 23rd, while supplies last. This is at the free clinic which has been temporarily converted to a flu clinic and is open to everyone (rich, poor, pretty, ugly…) in the county, click here for the location. (also, the more shots we give, the more grant money we receive to treat the poor, so come to us if you’re getting the shot… It will cost you nothing and I’ll hold your hand.)

A murder of cake

As I was walking out to the trash with the turkey carcass, I got to thinking about an English wedding I attended. How did I get from turkey to wedding?

Well, at the wedding I noticed there was a tiny wedding cake, not nearly large enough to feed even a tenth of the people there. It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. I could see that cake running out by the time the bridesmaids got their cut. That’s how small it was.

Then something peculiar happened. The newlyweds cut the cake, each had their ceremonial bite and put the rest on the table. Then. No one ate any more cake.

So I had to ask someone. What is the deal with the cake? Is a fake or something?

I was told it was indeed a real cake and I was very welcome to have some but I would likely spit it out, that’s how bad this cake was.

I went over and took a closer look. It was a freaky color, burnt orange or something like that. A rich fruit cake. Rich! They told me it was a tradition to serve it at weddings in England and no one ever eats it, but they do it because that is how it has always been done.

What a murder of cake.

Tradition sometimes just doesn’t make sense. And that brings us back to the turkey.

I hate turkey. The taste, the smell, and then the leftover meat that is wasted. I have decided I will never cook another one again. If someone insists on having it, I’ll cook a turkey breast. But no more full birds.

As for the English, what I find really funny is how beautiful their cakes are. Look at these I photographed through a bake shop window in York in 2005. I apologize for the quality of the photos.

I love that castle cake.

And the cute bears in a tub.

Oh, what a murder of cake photos…