I’m Goin’ Down

I think I’m bound for hell.  No, really.  For example, I get perverse pleasure when I meet at a red light the person who zoomed past me just a mile back.  What did it get them?  A longer wait at the stoplight.  That’s when I feel perverse pleasure in seeing that their impatience didn’t pay off, while I, who was sticking to…well, all right, sticking closer to…the speed limit, reached the same intersection just in time to see the light go green.  I hardly had to take my foot off the accelerator.

That kind of perverse pleasure–what the Germans call schadenfreude, guilty pleasure–is probably going to land me in hell.  Well, okay schadenfreude isn’t quite the same, is it?  Guilty pleasure is getting pleasure out of seeing someone else’s pain.  And then feeling guilty for being so happy at someone else’s predicament, and yet feeling happy about being right.  Now, come on, admit it–you’ve been in the same situation, haven’t you?  Probably in that car on the other side of the crazy driver who passed both of us up a while back.

Admittedly, it’s not like I take pleasure in another’s real trauma.  I know there are crazies out there that do, but that far I don’t go.  So…maybe I won’t end up in hell.  Maybe just Purgatory.  Is there still a purgatory?  If there is, I hope God doesn’t feel guilty pleasure at having me sitting there thinking about what I’ve done, much like children banished to their rooms.  “You go right in there and think about what you said/did/thought about doing/will do….”  An exercise in futility, perhaps.  One of the perverse pleasures is…the guilty pleasure you get out of it.

Some things are rife with schadenfreude.  Election results often engender it, don’t they.  Even simple things, like seeing a grandchild’s chief rival come in second at a track meet, especially if said grandchild comes in first.  Every time we warn someone of an impending foolish or questionable choice, and it doesn’t work out, don’t you say, even if only to yourself, “See?  Told ya it wouldn’t work.”  Bite your tongue!  No, not now; before they try whatever they’re attempting.  Besides, sometimes things actually do work out the way they planned, not the way you perceived.

I think my one saving grace may be that I do try to remember that somewhere out there, someone is watching me zoom past them on the road, or try something that’s been practically proven to be foolish or impossible.  Luckily, I do avoid the stuff that’s dangerous.  Anyway.  Maybe because someone else is experiencing schadenfreude over my actions, I can avoid being sent to hell.  Or maybe, at least I won’t be the only one down there.  Misery loves company.  I’ll bet perverse pleasures do too.

Maybe I can reform.  So, if you see me wave you on into a parking place where we were both headed, don’t feel perverse pleasure at having beaten me out.  Just smile and remember that I’m trying to avoid the “perverse” part of the pleasure.

Door County Delights

You leave town for a few days, and the winter squash sends out reconnaissance squads to see what is the best route of escape, the garden path, or the sneaky run alongside the tomato plant.  Then, the day you get home from Door County, the power goes out for a couple hours.  Welcome home!  But that’s not what this is all about.

What this is really about is chillin’ on vacation.  For those of you who don’t know, Wisconsin is like a mitten, and the thumb is Door County.  The waters of Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, with cherry orchards and hiking paths, and artists, and… Well, it’s just plain ol’ down-home small town delightful.

Begin the morning with a leisurely stroll to the little coffee shop down by the marina in Fish Creek.  Yes, the towns even have delightful names:  Egg Harbor, Sister Bay, Gill’s Rock, Bailey’s Harbor.  We spent an early hour or two watching people walk their dogs (many, many dogs!), or come down the gangplanks of yachts bigger than our house, or maneuver a mega-truck in tight quarters to off-load boats so they could enjoy getting sunburned out on the water.  It was a good place to discover that, yes, there were going to be fireworks, generously paid for by a group of summer residents.  Or no, the merchant sitting at the next table wouldn’t be spending the winter up here this year.  Responding to a conversation at the next outdoor table wasn’t considered tacky either.

Some enterprising soul ran what appeared to be a water taxi service with his jet ski.  Pulling a dinghy behind, he brought people in to the dock from their sailboats moored out in the bay, then headed back out for another load.  Coming in a close second was observing a golden retriever, tricked out in a life jacket, getting ready to go aboard a little Zodiac boat.  He padded back and forth, aware of his owner packing in a bag cooler, oars, sundry other items.  Finally, nose down, he seemed to be ready.  “Seemed” being the key word there.  Said owner ended up gently pulling the dog into the boat.  Said dog wasn’t too sure about the whole operation.  Though, when they actually set off, the dog seemed perfectly happy to stick his nose out starboard while his tail wafted off portside.

Wisconsin is well known–and deservedly so–for frozen custard.  One of the delights of the Midwest, the stuff is creamy and delish!  We frequented Not Licked Yet, one of our favorite spots for performing quality control on waffle cones piled high with Butter Pecan, or Mint Chocolate Chip, or just plain Vanilla or Chocolate.  Note the capital letters.  This is not your grandma’s ice cream.  This is premier stuff.  Right across the street is Wild Tomato with their wood-fired pizza oven.  Dessert first, then dinner?  Or the other way around?  One of the many tough decisions up in Door County.

This was the weekend of the Fourth of July, so fireworks were de rigeur.  But so was the time-honored Egg Harbor parade.  Anybody could join, so we expected a rather ragged parade.  But this was top-notch small town stuff, with more than a sprinkle of creativity and candy.  Dancing chimneys singing out, “Got a dirty chimney?  Who ya gonna call?  Tim’s Chimneys!” to the tune of the Ghostbusters’ theme.  Grocery cart fancy maneuvers from the local Market employees, during which they gleefully plotched each other with water balloons and flung buckets of water everywhere.  A float with a couple reclining on a bed with the banner: “Make your own fireworks at Egg Harbor Lodge.”  I’ll leave that one alone…  The University of Wisconsin marching band–well, a small contingent of them, anyway–playing the fight song with a lot of arm-pumping to go along.  Many many other units, some groups, some singletons.  Last came a group of horseback riders with lassos.  Gaggles of kids, and grownups too, formed tight little pods out on the street, and the rider wound up and dropped a perfect loop right over the entire bunch.  Pretty impressive!  (Good thing they were last.  The following truck carried a shovel and…well, you get the idea.)  Rain was predicted, and, sure enough, after a “droplet warning” at the end of the festivities, giving plenty of time to get to the car and halfway back to Fish Creek, the skies opened and gifted us with much needed rain.  For us, it was Mother Nature’s car wash as well.

Everywhere we went, empty parking places were right there and waiting for us, even when we made a wrong turn (fortuitous that!).  The people were Midwest friendly, the hiking trails were bug-free, the weather picture-perfect.  Even the smoked fish shop was still there.  What more could we ask?

All good things must come to an end, I suppose.  As Shakespeare put it in I Henry IV, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.”  Clearly, Door County went into mourning the morning we left.  We awoke to fog on the water and an overcast sky, which didn’t lift until we were well down the line.

We’ll be back.

(Check out the Photos section for lots more visual fun!)

When Should I…?

It’s June already!  For some time now, I’ve had to begin making decisions about what gets done when.  Like when to put the garden in.  Some of those are easy to decide, considering many are based on what Mother Nature has in mind.  Some aren’t quite so easy.  Especially with the fickle weather lately.

When should I run the gas out of the snowblower?  May 1st always felt like it should be the correct date.  But I’ve learned that early May is too early.  Sometimes even later is too early.  In the back of my mind lurks the memory of that certain May 10th.  I don’t even remember the year, but I do remember that I was still teaching, and still swimming at the YWCA before heading off to school.  When I left that morning, at about 5:30, it was snowing/sleeting and, unbeknownst to me, the temperature was headed for the basement.  The trees were covered with snow already, and that was quickly turning to a thick ice coating.  By the time I came out of the Y, it sounded like the local gun club took up residence.  Cracks and rumbles, snaps and crashes gave voice to the many tree branches–and whole trees!–were tumbling to the ground, taking power lines with them.  Upon finding out school was cancelled, I worked my way back home, which involved many detours to avoid fallen trees and lines.  That memory being seared into my brain, I now know to wait until June 1st to run the gas out of the snowblower.  I just hope the climate doesn’t change so drastically that I’ll have to move that task to July!

When should I hang sheets outside to dry?  Here, Nature and I have a tacit agreement.  If the sun is out, there’s a bit of wind, and the temperatures are around 50, even sometimes in the 40s, I can bundle up, put out the umbrella clothesline, and hang out the sheets.  Sometimes, I get fooled and clouds gather, threatening rain.  Then it’s a race between me and the incoming storm as to which will reach out backyard first.  If it’s too early, I end up resorting to the dryer.  At least we have a dryer to resort to!  Occasionally, I’ve taken down what feel like dry sheets, only to discover that the coolness is due to damp, not air temperature.  Too late, they’re down.  I’m not putting them back out.  Shove ‘em in the dryer.  But when it works out, when sun and wind and temperature align, we get the best tumble dry in the world.  There’s nothing like the fragrance of a sun-warmed sheet to float onto the bed.  I almost hate to put blankets down, the sheets smell so good.  It doesn’t last, of course, but that first gust of sunshine brought inside is something to be cherished.

When should I buy a new car?  Right now, I’m driving Ruby, a 2006 Rav4 with over 134,000 miles on her.  Just yesterday, I found the first spot of rust!  It’s the size of a pea, right above the rear bumper.  Is that a sign?  Not yet, I say.  She and I have a symbiotic relationship.  She protects and transports me, and I keep her maintained and cleaned.  Well, sort of clean.  I learned early on not to let others load my bike.  The one man who did, put a scratch in the plastic interior. Sure, it’s way in the back, but still.  Ruby cooperates nicely when I put down the back seats, protect her deck with an old bedspread (making sure to cover the back bumper), and gently roll the bike in.  See?  No damage.  She’s transported not only one bike, but two, when a friend and I purchased identical e-bikes (different colors, however).  We were able to stack them without making so much as a nick.  I’ve piled in tents and camping gear, coolers and duffel bags.  Lining the back with a huge tarp, I’ve shoveled in black dirt and mulch without so much as a complaint.  Once, on a family trip to Door County, we even brought an Eastlake table back by turning it upside down and piling our gear on that.  Gardening supplies, tools, long pieces of pipe or wood, all of that fits in.  When the seats are up, we delight in carting grandkids around.  Even with one in high school, we can fit three kids in the backseat with no major brouhahas erupting.  So why should I get a new car when Ruby is tooling along just fine?  Well.  A rearview camera would be nice.  Warnings of close cars would be useful.  A GPS system…  I could go on.  But I don’t want to frighten her into quitting unexpectedly on the freeway one day in retaliation of such thoughts.  Guess I’ll wait a little longer, and keep an eye on that rust spot.

How about, when should I stop writing?  Stop reading mysteries?  Quit playing piano?  Get rid of the husband?  Ha! Never!  Never ever.

How Did We Ever…?

When I was a kid, how did I ever climb all those trees?  Our house backed up on a park with plenty of trees, but many were elegant pines that were simply too tall–or too sticky!–to climb.  But I had two favorite maples that were eminently more accessible.  The smaller of the two was easy, as it was fairly young, and the branches, just hefty enough to hold my weight, were reachable.  Standing on tiptoes and slinging my arms up and over, I could pull myself up, and then proceed higher from there.  The other one, as I recall, was bigger, and took some real effort to clamber up the trunk to reach any branch sturdy enough to go higher.  I usually stuck to the smaller tree, going up as high as I could so I could perch and watch the world go by.  No ropes, no pads, no helmet, nothing but the brute strength of a pre-teen.  (Is there such a thing as brute strength at that age?)  Now, if our granddaughter is visiting, I’ve learned that the first place to look for her if we’re outside is up our massive maple tree in the backyard.  Must be genetic!  She’s gone on to greater things already, as she’s now a competitive rock climber, while still a pre-teen.

How did I ever learn to ice skate or roller skate, or ride a bike, for that matter?  How many times did I crash and burn while out there with no kneepads or helmet, or any other accouterments to cushion any falls?  Plenty, that’s how many!  When ice skating, at least winter provided the best reason to pad up with snowpants, heavy jacket, mittens, hats.  No problem falling then, we were so layered we all looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy.  A worse fate awaited those who had to visit the bathroom after getting dressed.  Summer roller skating was fraught with more peril, as concrete doesn’t give much when in sudden contact with hands or knees.   But I’ve now been bested by a grandson who’s taken to the ice to speed skate competitively…at age 9.  Better than I could ever do, even then!

How did I manage playground equipment?  Remember those merry-go-rounds that could prove the physics of centrifugal force, always laying in wait to fling you off onto the asphalt?  Or the slides that ended so abruptly…kerthump!  I loved the teetertotters.  Haven’t seen one of those in years.  They provided a great opportunity to plague a friend by keeping them suspended up in the air while you hoped your weight would keep them there.  Of course, sometimes that backfired, as they returned the favor, and then pushed off so you descended so rapidly you left a crater when you hit bottom.  What fun!  No, really!  It was fun.  Tetherballs could turn into weapons too, if the server had a really powerful stroke.  Paying attention was crucial, so you could serve back to them.  In a more gentle fashion, naturally…

 My crowning glory, however, in the How-Did-I-Do-That? category was the fall I learned how to kangaroo.  This has nothing to do with Australia, and everything to do with canoes.  Our Girl Scout troop was on a canoe/camping trip on the Wisconsin River in September when our leader–our adult leader, nonetheless!–challenged us to a kangaroo duel.  Several of us took up the offer.  Little did we know…  Swimsuits and bare feet were de rigeur, considering we might take a dunking.  First step: empty the canoe of all but self and a paddle, and paddle out to the middle of the river.  Second step: stand up on the gunwales, as far aft as possible.  (I can hear you either gasping or laughing.  Trust me, gasping is more appropriate!)  Third step: bounce up and down gently, without feet leaving the gunwales, thus propelling the canoe forward in little hops, kangaroo-like; hence, the term.  Yowza!  How safe is that?  And we didn’t wear lifejackets either.  Safe?  No.  Stupid!  I don’t recall falling in the river myself, but I’m sure somebody did.  The photo from 1961 proves the deed.  So far, no one else has taken up this sport, and I use the term lightly.

Yes, that’s me on the left. (Please, no judgements!)

Seatbelts were a thing of the future, but, then again, no one could move faster than a mom’s arm in restraining a kid in the passenger seat, if quick braking was called for.  Bike helmets were only for roller derby queens.  Knee pads were worn by professional gardeners, not those of us just grubbing around in the dirt, or roller skating.  Playground surfaces were asphalt, or, in special cases, wood chips.  Ouch!  The splinters!

Sometimes I wonder how any of us survived childhood!  But we did, and I’m glad.

Spring! What?

It’s April, right?  Right?  As I’m writing this, I’m staring out at the remnants of an April snowfall.  Now, I live in Wisconsin, so I shouldn’t be surprised.  I remember plenty of snow in April when I was a kid, enough to still enjoy skiing.  But ol’ Mom Nature seems to have retreated from those kinds of snowfalls in recent years, so this one came as an unexpected…gift.

Well, yes, to give the meteorologists credit, snow/sleet/rain mixture was predicted, but I was concentrating on the “rain” part.  After all, the tulip leaves are up and unfolding, and the daffodils are poking fingers out of the soil…um…out of the snow now.  The snowdrops have been blossoming for a bit already, but they’re not called snow-drops for nothing.  I know, I know, spring officially arrived March 21st, or whatever was decided.  But that is far too human.  Kind of like the Changing of the Clocks in spring and fall.  Time itself doesn’t change; there are still 24 hours in a day.  Moving on…

I prefer to rely on Mother Nature, even if she does snicker and dump snow at odd times.  I watch for the birds in particular.  Even the flowers can get fooled, but they’re usually smart enough to hunker down if the weather does a whiplash on them.  I picture them like a petulant child, folding arms and pouting, but staying in place to just wait out the gusts.  The birds are usually more reliable.  Except for the robins.  A couple of those idiots will hang around all winter, thus negating my “scientific” determination of spring.

Several bird avenues exist to help figure out what’s coming.  Maybe the best around here are the sandhill cranes.  Yes, sometimes one pair will hang around the marshes all winter, but they’re pretty quiet.  Once love is in the air, they start calling and laughing.  I always hear them before I see them.  A pair or two will go over as harbingers of what’s to come.  Then come the hordes.  Flocks of 20, 40, I even counted 150 one morning.  Magnificent!  I know they congregate along the Platte River in Nebraska by the hundreds, but we get smaller groups coming up from Florida.  Check out the images on Google.  Wowza!  Talk about birds!

If sandhills start the season, then keep your ears open outdoors for an old-fashioned telephone ringing.  That’s a red-wing blackbird.  If they’re here–and they are around here already–then spring is truly here, no matter what the weather says.  They don’t soar like the cranes, but are easily spotted hanging precariously on dried grasses and cattails.  Just don’t get close to the nests once they start building.  They divebomb anyone coming within ten or twelve feet.  One knocked my hat off last spring when we were out in a public park for a walk.  Oh, yes, folks, they nest close to people sometimes.  And they attack from the rear, so it’s best to hang onto the hat and hustle smartly past a blackbird.

I love watching the small birds that cluster on the birdfeeders outside our patio door.  Some birds just don’t care about weather.  They’re around all winter.  Cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, finches, mourning doves, woodpeckers.  But a few are true migrators.  The funny thing is, they fly off looking for colder climes, not warmer.  The juncos, for instance, also known as snowbirds.  When their numbers start declining, spring isn’t far behind.  I think they leave a couple behind just to tease us into thinking spring will never come.  But eventually, those leave too.

The fun part is watching the finches.  First of all, whoever named purple finches must have been colorblind.  They are most definitely not purple, but rosy.  Well, everyone does see color in a different fashion, so I guess I should be more tolerant.  Anyway, they don’t change quite as dramatically as the goldfinches, whose male half explodes into a blaze of lemon yellow.  What female goldfinch could resist such a display of Louis XIV splendor?  The Sun King reincarnated in this tiny bird.  Now spring is truly, really here.

No matter where you live, keep your eyes peeled for the birds that proclaim Spring.  They may be all puffed up and hiding from the snow in a thick evergreen, but they know what they’re doing.  They’ve been promised spring by the correct sun angle, and, b’god, they’re going to create spring with their presence.  Hope springs eternal, and hope always does come through with the birds.  So, get out your binoculars and watch for the signs.  They’re out there.

Pi(e) Day, and More

Pi Day:  March 14.  Get it?  3.14?  That mathematical…whatever it is.  Well, okay.  It’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Oh, yeah!  You remember now!  Teachers all over pounce on the date to introduce some fun.  Bake pies and bring them to class.  Measure all the stuff on a 10-inch pie pan, then do it over for a 9-inch pie pan.  Does it change if you use a deep-dish pie pan?  (Hint: no) Of course, this all entails sampling the pie, because you have to deal with diameter, and—horrors!—maybe even radii (that’s plural, folks).  Whatever is required, it all ends up as a mathematical triumph, as well as a gastronomical one.

Which reminds me of my personal pie triumph, which involved my Senior Girl Scout friends camping pioneer-style.  When two of us were on cooking detail, we decided to make the fresh blueberries we picked into a pie.  We had a reflector oven for use with a wood fire that had already produced successful biscuits.  But we didn’t have a pie pan.  So…we used a garbage can cover.  Yes, we washed it, and lined it with aluminum foil.  We fed a dozen of us.  Messy?  Oh, yeah.  But it tasted great, garbage can cover or not.  Of course, that was the meal we also served banana pudding, with pieces of banana floating throughout.  Only, we didn’t have bananas.  We had lumps.  How we managed to convince everyone the lumps were bananas, I have no clue.  Please don’t tell them our secret.

Then I got to thinking about pi.  It’s non-repeating, so the numbers go on forever.  I wondered if there were any zeros in pi.  Yup, out in 32nd place, there’s the first zero.  Which took me even farther afield.  Where did zero come from anyway?  That took some searching.

Turns out it started in Mesopotamia 5000 years ago.  Then moved to India, back to the Middle East, and onward all over.  Anyone familiar with the Super Bowl knows the football game uses Roman numerals.  We’re already past fifty.  That was “L.”  We write it also as “50.”  See?  Take a look. There is no Roman numeral for 0.  Weird, eh?  That’s because the Romans devised a number system for trading and pricing goods.  They used the Latin “nulla” meaning “nothing.”  Which isn’t the same as zero…

Right, you say.  Who cares?  In Rome, you couldn’t buy or sell “nothing,” so they didn’t need a zero.  But if you’re trying to show that something is missing between two numbers…well, that’s where a zero is useful.  One Middle Eastern culture put a dot underneath a number, to show that there should be a gap between that and the next number, as in the number 107.  

So now we use Arabic numbers.  Thank Signor Fibonacci from the 1200s.  Much simpler than the old Roman numerals, where you could tie yourself in knots just trying to figure out if XIX is 11+10, or 10+9.  (It’s 10+9, in case you’re wondering.)  Zero was a great place holder.  A positional, as it were.  Imagine trying to add or subtract Roman numerals!  Yikes!

Mathematics went crazy from there.  Calculus, graphs, computers, and on and on.  And I’ll leave it at that, not having a mind that works well with abstracts like…well, zero.

All this from contemplating pi.  Simple, right?  When it comes to pi, or pie for that matter, I’ll stick to Yogi Berra’s solution:  “Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I can eat eight.”

Unfinished Projects

When my mother died, I found a box of half-finished cross-stitched snowflakes among her belongings at the nursing home.  I took them home, completed them and gave some of them away.  A few I saved for Christmas decorations.  I was delighted in a number of ways.  First, I was glad she continued to pursue some of the hobbies I knew she enjoyed.  She loved working on crafts of one kind or another, having partnered with my dad to create some pretty spectacular items for the annual fundraising holiday bazaar for the local hospital.  She could do pretty much everything, though she confessed she could never conquer tatting.  Sewing, knitting, crocheting, and a myriad of other talents were well within her purview.  Busy with one thing or another, right up to the end, leaving at least one project unfinished.

I too have given up on a number of projects.  Knitting is simply beyond me.  Every attempt at a scarf ended up looking like the map for a rustic road: all curves and varying terrain.  Best to set that aside.  Books too.  If I’m not hooked by the first 50 pages, I chuck it.  Life is too short to spend time reading a book I don’t care for.  And there aren’t that many I don’t care for anyway.

Three weeks before our daughter’s wedding, I was so frustrated with the dress I was making, I tossed the whole thing.  Then what to do?  I pulled out a long dress that I wore occasionally for teaching.  Round neckline and sleeveless, the color blended from pale aqua down to the hem of dark aqua, a straight and plain shot.  I even had shoes to match already.  And a big white summer garden hat with a flash of turquoise silk flowers.  I thought, if I can find a scarf to match this dress, this is what I’m wearing, old or not.  By some miracle, a local store did have a scarf with the same flow of colors!  I hauled out my grandmother’s opera length pearls, and I was set to go.

But some unfinished projects stick with me for a long time.  Students, for example.  We work together for long stretches of time, and then, they, unfinished projects, move on to other things.  Now, this is exactly what should happen.  But I still wonder where they go, what they do, how they evolve.  Sometimes I get feedback, of course, but I still wonder.  Do they realize I think of them when I cruise an art museum, or read a particularly well-done piece of writing?  Of course, others picked up where I left off, so these particular human unfinished projects continue to grow in directions I may never see.

Most important in my life, our children are also unfinished projects.  Yes, the day that a son or daughter says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll get the check” is a red-letter day, because I know they are truly on the way to self-sufficiency.  I’ll always be a parent, but I can untie the apron strings and be more prudent about my suggestions.  The “children” may be unfinished, but my part of that project is pretty well over.  I get the added bonus of watching them raise another living being, our grandchildren.  That is their project, not mine.  But I still get plenty of benefits from their efforts.  There’s a certain freedom in those kinds of unfinished projects.

So, I help build the ship, then crack the bottle of champagne on the bow, and watch the ship ease down the slip.  To each and every Unfinished Project, I say, check your maps for hidden reefs, plot your paths, and try to plan for contingencies.  Then my final words: “Off you go!”

And So It Toes

At the end of the day, the feel of clean, white, sweat socks is unparalleled.  Not those wimpy thin-ribbed ones, no.  The ones with deep ridges and thickly cushioned soles, yes.  When I get home, one of the first things I do is release my imprisoned feet.  This is a brief moment of ecstasy.  Then I slip those faithful feet into a pair of high-quality sweat socks. They envelop my feet with just the right amount of warmth and support.  My toes are cradled in fluff.  And the bottoms?  Well, the soles feel like they’ve made a trip to the local spa to be swaddled in that lush terrycloth those expensive robes are made from.  Food for the soles!  Then I stand up, enjoying a moment before I have to slip my shoes on.  As long as I can wiggle my toes in those thick socks at the end of the day, my feet and I can stand anything.

Some people have a hard time dealing with feet, even though they know that life would be missing something essential without them.  In spite of that, these footophobes are repelled by feet.  I once was on a long road trip with one of these foot haters.  When one of the other passengers nonchalantly removed shoes and socks, and propped her feet up on the back of the front seat, I thought we’d have to pull over and call the paramedics.  My phobic friend’s immediate response was a high-pitched yell that brought every dog within fifty miles to its feet.  As the driver, I was sure I struck a member of some endangered species, perhaps even a whole herd.  No, she assured me, after I had pried my fingers off the wheel; it was merely her shock at seeing a naked foot appear close to her face.  They are just so ugly, was her first intelligible comment.  Well, I countered, they are the underpinnings of our entire civilization after all.  Her answer was about what I should have expected.  She didn’t care if the world stood on its own two feet as long as she didn’t have to look at them.  Where I saw ten nicely spaced digits with the big toes providing real and artistic balance, she saw ten nubs of flesh, akin to giant warts, with the big toes being merely the largest offenders.  The woman has no soul.  Or maybe no soles.

I may not have the most beautiful feet, but they have afforded me hours of pleasure, to say nothing of the entertainment they provide for others.  I happen to have fairly small feet, which is fine when trying to hop rocks across a stream, but is not so fine when snugged up in a pair of hiking boots.  Of course, the mocking to which my feet are exposed may have something to do with the fact that my former hiking boots happened to be twenty years old.  I thought I would never give these babies up.  Every spring I cleaned and polished them, coated them with silicone, and stored them away.  Snow came, and I hauled them out for their annual appraisal.  Every fall it was the same—they looked great; why fool with a sure thing?  Anyway, those boots had a two-inch sole, which brought me up to the tallest I will ever be—five feet, five inches.  That was the point the mocking began.  Because I have a size 7 boot, and the soles look pretty hefty in proportion to the length of my foot, it appeared that I either, like Cinderella’s stepsisters, lopped off part of my foot in order to fit into those boots, or my foot was so flexible that it folded up, accordion-style.  I took the derision in stride, so to speak, because those boots, which, I admit, made me look like Frankenstein’s bride, proved themselves.  At one point in their long career, they were totally immersed in a shallow stream in which even my small feet could find no steppingstones.  By the time I climbed out the other side and walked another five minutes, the sheepskin lining wicked all the moisture from my feet, and I was good to go.  Even my heavy-duty sweat socks, which I put on with such enthusiasm, didn’t even need to be wrung out when I returned to camp an hour later.  If those boots didn’t lead me to defeat that night, I was not about to give them up in the foreseeable future.  But the foreseeable future came too fast, and they wore out.  I gave them a dignified burial.

Feet are wonderful things.  Considering the abuse dished out to them, they do a fine, upstanding job.  In fact, I think I’m going to take my feet out right now for a reward.  Let’s see.  How about a new pair of clean, white, sweat socks?

Time Management

I’m stalling.

I’m getting really good at this!  Finding things to do other than…

What’s that?  There’s a chipmunk in the live trap that needs to be relocated?  No problem.  I’ll just take care of that now. Put plastic in the back of the car, grab the trap and talk to the chipmunk a bit, assuring it that all will be okay.  Seat belt, key, and so on.  Go way out of town, so the chippie doesn’t bother invading anyone else’s birdseed supplies.  I’m surprised they stick around our yard, because our birdseed is secured in galvanized garbage cans in the garage.  Well, that’s neither here nor there.  The chipmunk has been relocated.

Back home, I’m ready to…

What’s that you say?  The tree that broke off and was hung up some thirty feet up has apparently fallen to the ground in that last wind blast.  No, I can’t see it up there anymore either.  Just a minute, I’ll get the binoculars and double check.  Nope.  It’s gone.  Must be down on the ground.  Maybe I’d better pull on the wellies and go out and check.  I’d hate to be traipsing around back there and have it come down on me.  Or on the grandkids.  (Who, by the way, never go back into that part of the woods.)  Yup.  All clear.  Tree down where it will cause no harm.  While I’m out here, a quick check for any leftover garlic mustard.  Nothing to pull, so I guess I’d better head back in.

Pull up a chair and…

Wait, where ya going?  Are you sure your prescription is ready?  Oh, they called.  Okay.  Um…can I ride along?  I’d like to get out a little bit today.  Shoes on, grab mask and wallet, just in case.  Seat belt, settle in.  Twenty minutes or more filled up, just like that.  And I’m nowhere near home, so can’t do a thing, other than enjoy the beautiful weather and the minimal traffic at this time of day.  What am I worried about traffic for?  I’m not driving.  I can even wait in the car at the pharmacy and watch the people go by.  Maybe the scrip won’t be ready, and he’ll have to wait.  Whoops!  No such luck.  Head for home.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Ready, set…

What?  Turkeys in the front yard!  Lemme see.  Head for the front windows.  Sure enough, two adults, one juvenile, and two very young ones.  I see the blue heads and necks of the adults bobbing around in the weeds.  One disappears into the woods, but the other steps out proudly onto the lawn and starts aerating.  These are not attractive birds.  Ben Franklin, didn’t you see them outside of breeding season?  Long legs, brown feathers, huge feet (the better for scratching in the dirt, which is what they’re doing just now), and those ugly blue necks.  Easy to see where the term turkey skin came from.  The little ones sure are cute though, especially the youngest ones.  They haven’t developed those powerful legs.  They’re still fat little quail-sized…oh, my gosh, wouldn’t they taste good?  All right, all right, forget that.  They’re melting into the woods anyway, so no chance to nab one.

Back to…

Oh dear.  I was supposed to clean the bathrooms earlier.  Well, buck up, lady.  Might as well do it now and get it over with.  That doesn’t take long anyway, and then it’ll be time to create something for supper.  I’ve still got the evening to get the other stuff done.

Going to bed already?  It’s barely ten o’clock.  Okay, g’night!

Sit down at the table.  Again.  Place fingers on keyboard.  Just get typing the rest of that chapter.  It won’t write itself.

And I’ve run out of time to manage.  Sigh.

Tenting Tonight

My neighbor put his boat to bed the other day, and I watched him pull down the cover and tighten up the cords before he drove away to store it for the winter.  The motions reminded me a lot of striking a tent, what with the canvas tarp and all the paraphernalia that goes along with it.

When I was in high school, our Girl Scout troop was gungho on camping and all sorts of other outdoor fun.  If we weren’t canoeing on the river, we were camping in the woods, or working summer jobs as counselors at a nearby camp.  One summer, we traipsed out into the woods to spend two weeks pioneer camping.  That meant pitching tents away from anybody or anything…which also meant digging pit toilets and cooking over a fire.  But it was the tents that were our worst challenge.

These were Army surplus tents, dating back, I swear, to the French and Indian Wars.  Well, okay, not really, but they were probably used in World War I.  Canvas that weighed a ton, they had a 12-foot ridge pole into which the two uprights fitted, one on each end.  That meant at least three people were needed to put up one tent: one on each end to hoist up the ridgepole and tent, which was seated onto the uprights with grommets, and one person to run around like a crazy person, pounding in tent stakes and tightening ropes to hold the entire contraption upright.  Many a tent capsized before enough stakes were in to hold it.  And even then, if the “pounder” selected soft ground, the whole she-bang could tip over, like the Titanic slipping under the waves.  Impossible to stop.

That was just the beginning.  We were astute enough—we thought—to dig a trench around our tent, just in case it rained.  Rain is pretty much a given when you camp.  Mother Nature having fun.  Anyway, with three of us in a two-person tent, it was crowded, and when the inevitable rainstorm hit, it overpowered the trench.  Water coursed in a full-sized creek right down the middle of our tent.  What was the Army thinking when they didn’t put floors in their tents?  With a body in the middle, and all of us encased like mummies in our sleeping bags, none of us stood a chance of avoiding the deluge.  We could’ve slept outside in the rain, considering how wet we were inside.  All this is to say nothing of the daddy-long-legs we collected on the inside of the tent.  Falling rain outside, and falling spiders inside.  Delightful.

I moved up a notch to a tent with a floor…and a front awning!  Heaven.  Although it was still canvas.  Sigh.  This was a trip around Lake Superior with a college roommate who never camped before.  We entertained a lot of neighbors in the campgrounds when we pulled in and got out of the car in clean shorts and tops, or even a skirt at times.  One couple pulled out their lawnchairs to watch us set up, convinced, as they told us later, they’d have to step in and help.  Nope.  We pulled on our Wellies and lumberjack flannel shirts and proceeded to launch into our routine.  This was no Army tent, so we had the protocol down pat, and the tent went up in record time.  Canvas turned  out to be a good thing when a mama bear with two cubs was scared away by campers in an RV.  The cubs took off running, each zooming up a tree on either side of our tent.  Mama, lumbering between our car and tent, called them down, and off they went.  Scared the bejesus out of us!

Finally, I reached the pinnacle of tent camping when I camped with our adult daughter, just the two of us.  She has the Ritz Carlton of tents.  Perhaps not to some folks, but to me, grown up with those unwieldy canvas beasts, her nylon tent, WITH a vestibule, mind you, is the cat’s meow.  Slide in the framework, pop it up, and voila! a 4-person tent.  Well, it would be a 4-person tent, except that we travel in style.  That means a queen-size air mattress (self-inflating, of course), sheets (yes, real bed sheets), blankets and pillows.  With the ability to take off shoes in the vestibule, the inner tent stays pristine clean.  Maybe “pristine” is a bit optimistic.  But a lot cleaner that a tent with no floor, or a tent without a place to leave grubby shoes.  Did it rain?  Is the pope Catholic?  Of course it rained!  A huge, gully-washer of a thunderstorm.  The trees above us sheltered us from some, but we pitched on high ground, and we put on the rain fly.  Our mamas didn’t raise no dummies.  We zipped the window closed, and slept all night.  We remained dry as a bone.  In the morning, all around us sleeping bags were draped over branches and cars, drying out.  Some people went home.  I tried not to feel smug.  Been there, done that, I reminded myself.

Will I tent again?  You betcha!  Of course, cabin camping is nice too.  And so is the Ritz , come to think of it…