Wednesday, June 30, 2010

X is for X-Ray @ Life is Good

I know that x is for x-ray is a cliché, and perhaps you also think it's a cop-out. Unfortunately for me, x-ray is all too familiar. And performed on me far more times than the average person. Than the average accident-prone person. Call me extra (Xtra?) accident prone. I've had all my arms and legs x-rayed over the years, not to mention collar bone, GI tract (oh that is a fun one, gotta drink a barium milk-shake first), I've had CAT scans, and I've had nasty stuff injected into me to show up on x-rays. And unfortunately, my boys have been x-rayed too.

There I am, sitting in hideous “car line” waiting to pick my kids up from school. (Obviously, this was before homeschooling.) If you're not familiar with car line, you're VERY lucky. It seems to me to be quite simple a procedure, but it becomes a nightmare when parents don't obey those simple rules. (Starting to feel a rant coming on...perhaps I'll do a separate post, because this one is about x-rays.) ANYWAY! Jake gets into the car. Crying. Holding an ice-pack on his right wrist. Crap! Seems he got beaned by a dodge ball on his way to jail. As in he was already out, and this one was just vicious. Unnecessary. We drop YellowBoy at Best's house and head to urgent care. And of course wait.

Hours later we receive really good news. Just a sprain, though a bad one. Guess all the money I spent on delivered dairy milk paid off. He's got some strong bones. Disaster averted, because two days after, we were scheduled to leave for our long-awaited snowboarding vacation with Aunt Risky, cousin GorgeousGirl, Sissie, and all the kids. It would have just broken my heart to have him miss snowboarding. However, my x-ray days were not over.

Aunt Risky has been treating us to these snowboarding long weekends for three years now. We go once in the beginning of the season, and once at the end. (Colorado's ski season is from about Thanksgiving, to about the middle of April.) So off we went, and everyone was having a wonderful time. They would head up onto the mountain, and I (because of my wrist) would stay behind to make sure that the condo didn't go anywhere. And someone has to drink the wine, keep the fire going, and make sure there are no lack-of-napping violations. I'm glad to take one for the team. (Yes, I miss skiing. Immensely. But you adjust.)

They return at the end of day two, exhausted, happy. Head for the hot tub. Aunt Risky says, “By the way, YellowBoy was saying he hurt his arm hurt on this last run. He did fall, and I looked at it (among her other numerous talents, Aunt Risky is not only a ski patrol, but also a trained paramedic) but it seems fine. No swelling, no obvious injury.” (I guess it should also be said that though she's a wonderful person in just about every way, Aunt Risky is not the one for sympathy. She's the one saying quit blubbering, rub some dirt in it, and let's GO!) So off he went to the hot tub, and an evening of water games.

However, he and I were sharing a bed at the condo, and that night was miserable. He kept waking me up, complaining about his arm, and then drifting off after that round of whining was done. It was a very long night. But it convinced me that perhaps just sucking it up wasn't going to work this time.

So it's off the the urgent care, for the second time, in six days. Fun, eh? Turns out YellowBoy had a “radial-distal fracture of the growth plate”. Huh. Guess he won't be snowboarding for a while. He got a temporary cast, and off we went. He recovered quickly (he's the only one I know who can drink more milk than Jake) and graduated from the cast to a splint and then was done. I thought our troubles were surely over. I mean, how many moms take both of their children to urgent care, in one week, for the same injury?

I'd venture to say, not very many, because it wasn't long before my insurance company called me. “Ma'am, we're looking over your recent claims here, and we have some questions. Is it true that you took your child to urgent care for his right wrist?” Yes, he hurt it in PE at school. “And then you took your OTHER child to urgent care, IN A DIFFERENT CITY, the same week?” Yes, we were on vacation. Snowboarding. “Well ma'am, this concerned us since it seems you ALSO saw a physician for YOUR right wrist the week before that. Is this also true?” By now I'm trying to remain calm, and trying not to freak out. Are they cutting us off? Is there a limit to right-wrist claims per family? Am I being reported to social services? “Yes, I saw my pain doctor the week before.” “Well tell me, how did THAT injury occur?” I fell off a chair. (I wasn't about to give him the version you got in Monday's post.) “So let me get this straight: you have a right wrist that you're still having treatment for. Your sons both have had right wrist injuries, separate from each other, and all these by accident?” Yes. I know this isn't normal, but this is my life. “Well ma'am, I wish you the best, but we have to follow up on these matters. A lot of insurance fraud out there.” Sure. Your welcome.

I'm happy to say no one has been to an urgent care facility in the last few months. And I'm hoping to keep it that way. Think I'll go pour all of us a glass of milk.

This post has been brought to you by the letter X and the fun Alphabe-Thursday meme at Jenny Matlock's. Head on over there and check out the other great X stories.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Post-it Note Tuesday

Trying something new again. Found this neat idea at consider it pure joy.  Check her out, she's very funny, very real, and thought provoking.  Post It Note Tuesday (PINT) is hosted by supahmommy.  Go here to make your notes, save them to your computer, and then put them in your blog just like pictures.  Don't forget to link up at supah's.  Very fun, and very easy.  If you don't have writer's block (again!) like I did today.  Oh well, had fun playing with the notes... 

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Really Happened

I'd like to preface this post with some info, and a warning. Some of you know that I have several medical conditions. This post contains some gory details about medical things. Read at your own risk.
Also, a lot of people ask me what happened, and I give a vague answer, because it's much easier. This however, is not a vague answer. This is the ugly truth.

Reading blogs last week, I came across an interesting question. If you could live one year of your life over again, knowing everything you know now, and at the end, you'd be returned to your current life, but not a single thing will have changed as a result of you “going back”, which year would you pick? Personally, I have no idea. It seems to me the intent of the question might be, “Which year of your life was so great you'd like to do it again?” since you can't change anything. Because the other question is pathetically easy for me. If I could go back in time and just change on little thing, what would I change? I wouldn't try to scoot back my bar stool to make room for another person. Because that little move changed my life forever.

YellowBoy was just six months old. You may recall hearing me lament about his first year of life: he didn't sleep. Seriously. Maybe 10-15 minutes in a row, but not really napping, and of course not sleeping through the night. I was a basket case. So The Engineer lovingly said that I should go out once a week, just for fun, with the girls. Since sleep-deprivation hadn't completely fried my brain, of course I took the opportunity. Mostly I'd go to dinner with my closest friend at the time (who is a whole book by herself, we are no longer in contact AT ALL, and it's a very, very good thing.)

This particular night we'd gone to a bar and grill for their trivia night, and their special on wings. I love wings. These wings still had the drummette and that other part that I don't know the name of still attached. Basically two for the price of one. And on special, half of that price. I mean, you had me at trivia, but this too? Impossible to pass up. The two of us arrived fairly early in the evening to get one of the coveted spots at a high table with stools. Trivia is only played in the bar area. It's that kind where you have your console and type in your answers and compete against others in the bar, but you don't know if it's the table beside you or the one across the room because everyone is using usernames. At that time, mine was Smurfi. Don't laugh. It was great. I sounded like some fluffy dimwit, and then I'd smoke 'em at the end. No, not competitive at all. Grin.

So there we were. Munching on wings, drinking beer, kicking a#$ at trivia, when another person arrived. Someone rather on the fringe of our circle of friends, if you will. But he'd managed to find a chair, so I tried to scoot mine over to make room. Yeah, nice of me, right? Um, such a wrong choice. Not being the most coordinated person on the planet (you read about my gymnastics, right?) instead of scooting my chair OVER, I fell OFF. It's far down, and to make sure I didn't miss the floor, I reached out my hand. My right hand. And broke the smithereens out of it. Not being a stranger to broken bones, I knew right away from the indescribable pain and the immediate nausea.

Realizing I'd need some help, I stood up and laid my wrist on the table with a hearty, “I think I broke my wrist.” Then I looked at it for the first time, and fainted. Coming to, I found myself with my head in the lap of that late-comer (apparently a much nicer person than we'd thought.) Paramedics were on their way. I was in medical shock, blood pressure dropping fast, fading in and out of consciousness. “How much did she drink?” “Did anyone see this?” “Did someone push her?” Opinions and voices echoes all around me. (2 beers, not that I could form the words. No one pushed me. Of course they saw it!)

Off to the hospital I went. Yeah, drugs, a cast, and then home. I felt unbelievable dizzy and sleepy and out of it. Just wanted to lay down. When I next came to, I heard, “We're prepping you for surgery.” SURGERY? Why not just a cast? I freaked. They had the trauma surgeon come talk to me. “Honey, (grrr I thought, still having enough brain to be offended at his condescension), I do this for a living and this is absolutely the worst wrist I've ever seen.” (Is this supposed to make me less freaked out? Cuz it's not working) “I'm going to either stabilize the break with external hardware that will go through your skin and down into your bone, but it's much less invasive. Or, when I get in there, if it's really bad, which I do think it is, then we'll do internal repair. Plates and screws, probably eight screws.” I'm weeping. They drug me some more, and take me to surgery.

The next 24 hours were a nightmare. Of course I'd gotten the internal stabilization. And the pain was the worst I've ever felt. I wanted to just die. It's now ten years later, six surgeries later, my wrist is fused, and I have complex regional pain syndrome and have to see a pain specialist. I could regale you with stories of insurance hassles, trying to find pain relief, and how much my life changed in those few moments. But I've had your attention for a long time today, so I'll end for now. Be careful out there! Stick to the regular chairs.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Blessings

I hate summer. Truly. When I first started this blog, I wrote a rant about it. Today, I'm going to take a different tack. (Sailing metaphor, posts found here and here.) I'm going to count my blessings. Not thinking it will stop me from sweating, but at least it will improve my outlook. So in no particular order:

~ It's the first summer in four that I'm not working. I get to hang out with my kids, and watch them have...

~ A perfect kids' summer. Roll out of bed, grab some food, go see which of the many boys on our street are already up. Play nerf, have a water fight, ride bikes, skateboards, ripsticks, roller blades, scooters. Hang out in the tree house. Sneak popsicles. What could be better?

~ I have a swamp cooler. And it works. It creates a “wind tunnel” for me to enjoy. We live in a ranch style house, with kitchen/pretty room/dining room on the horizontal part of the L, and a long hall with bedrooms branching off making up the vertical part of that L. My life-saving device is in the pretty room window, and that moist, cool air blows all the way down the hall and into the bedrooms. Engineering marvel, these coolers. (If you're from a humid state, you probably don't know what I'm talking about. It's an evaporative cooler that works by sucking in hot air, blowing out cool air, and open windows direct where that flow goes.) Don't want one of the rooms cooled? Shut its window. Much more efficient to operate than an A/C unit, and let's fresh air flow at all times. But it only works in dry climates.

~ A/C in my car. I spent one hideous summer without it, and barely survived to tell the tale. Never again.

~ My ice-maker. It's my favorite feature of my new fridge. Ice is so useful, and not having to fill the trays, dump the trays, refill the trays is bliss. No more reaching for ice and finding ALL the trays empty and some soon to be hunted down culprit not having refilled them...

~ Camping. I have mentioned how much I love camping.

~ Grilling. We grill year round, but in the summer, it's several times a week. I love slightly charred food. Oh so yummy. Just don't char my steak! Medium rare, please.

~ Colorado's cool summer evenings. I've been places where the temperature barely fluctuates between day and night. In CO, we have about a 35 degree swing. If you can make it through the sultry day, you'll have a wonderful, cool evening to enjoy. Just don't forget the DEET.

~ Swimming pools. Sissie has a community pool that we get invited to frequently. And they change the water every day it seems, because it's always cool. Not like the public pool my boys occasionally convince me to take them to. There the water is over 80. Not as refreshing. Oops, started to whine there, sorry. Ahem.

~ Time to blog. Not working anymore. Not homeschooling until fall. I get to spend my mornings traveling to all your great blogs, and the afternoon writing my next post. It's been great to be able to finally practice my writing. And your encouragement has TRULY been a blessing. Sweaty virtual hugs to you all!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday Centus #8 - Payback

It's time for Saturday Centus!  I'm really enjoying this challenging meme more and more each week.  But it IS hard when you think you have a finished piece, you do your word count, and then still have to chop three words.  Sigh.  Ms. Jenny Matlock is the brain behind all this.  Feel free to join us!  Get the prompt on Saturdays, link back so we can read your clever take on that prompt, and maybe we'll all find some new readers, and some new great blogs to follow.  This week's prompt is in italics.

Being a teacher isn't easy, and certainly not to these kids. But I'd taken this job to make a difference. I could have taught in less stressful places, but the desire to give back to the same population that I'd once been a part of was compelling. I sunk into the sofa in the teachers lounge with a big sigh of relief. Crap. Jerry. "Did you notice Elizabeth in class this morning and how forlorn she seemed?" Perhaps I will write her a comforting note, I thought. “I think Dad is back. Remember what happened last time...” Perhaps a comforting note wasn't enough. Perhaps a visit to the home was in order. Perhaps a visit with my pistol, silencer, and body bag.

Find more great Centus tales here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flash Friday 55: In Silence

There is no relief from her silent
She longs
Are you coming today?

I'm still here
I'm still me
I just can't tell you

Just because my body
You think my mind

Though I can't reach out, touch
Your hand
Can't spit out the words
All tangled up
I love you

I was thinking of my Grandma Vivian, and how maybe, somewhere deep inside, she still knew me, even though it had been years since she said my name, or recognized me.  I imagined that despite Alzheimer's, she knew who she was and ached to tell us.  She left us in February, and though I'd "missed" her for seven years, I miss her even more now.  
This is my first 55.  I figured since I'd been practicing being concise on Saturday Centus, maybe I could do this too.  And I'm always looking for a good prompt, or new meme to try.

I am participating in Flash Friday 55. This weekly meme is brought to you by G-Man, over at Mr. Know it All. The object is to write a story or prose in exactly 55 words. Come join us and link your 55 in Mr. Know it All's comment section. See you there!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

W is for Waterfalls @ Life is Good

One of my favorite vacations was the one The Engineer and I took with Sissie and Schedule Man to Kauai, Hawaii. My sis and her hubby have vacationed on Kauai since they got married. We joined them on their annual trip in 1996. It was a trip to remember. A trip where we saw many spectacular waterfalls.

Kauai has a LOT of rain. I looked it up, over 40 inches annually is normal, and one year they got 480 inches. Thankfully, this rain does not interfere with plans at all, since we experienced it coming only in the mornings as were getting ready for the day. I could gaze out the inland window and see many waterfalls each morning, as I enjoyed the breeze from the lanai side. Did you see Jurassic Park? Parts of it were filmed in Kauai, and when we took our helicopter tour (thanks again, sis, never would have afforded it, the treat was awesome)we flew over the waterfall that is in the opening sequence. 

 The helicopter pilot even played the soundtrack song. Throughout our ten day stay, we saw many more absolutely gorgeous waterfalls. But the one I want to tell you about is on the Kalalau trail. I swam though it.

For those of you not familiar with this trail, go here. We set out in the morning, 
going through terrain such as this. 

And this.

Here's the view, looking back at our starting beach (Ke'e), after many switchbacks. We had not planned to hike the full eleven miles, but to stop for lunch at a popular resting place. 

At that stop, that switchback view was now this.

And here's our destination waterfall. Look closely, the people are very small in this shot.

After we were done eating, Schedule Man, The Engineer, and I set off. We wanted to swim through the waterfall, and climb the rocks in the cave on the other side. (Sissie is quite adventurous, as in she'll goes skydiving, but this was a bit out of her comfort zone.) I can't even begin to describe the sheer delight of that curtain of bliss falling on my head. It had been a tough climb, with lots of elevation gain, and lots of finding your own footholds in places most people wouldn't dream of walking. We were hot. As I swam through that deluge of delight, I giggled. On the other side, we sat on rocks and smiled.

Unlike the water we'd experienced at the beach, this was FRIGID. But oh so refreshing. Inside the cave we experienced an awesome stillness. Of course we could still hear the falls tumbling down, but it was almost as if we were in a bubble of our own solitude, and those falls somewhere outside. Our voices didn't seem to carry, but just reach our circle, and then stay. Secretly. Sitting there, making plans for the evening, and cataloging our bruises, scrapes, bug bites, and sunburn, we were in our own world.  And as we made our way back to the other side of the pool and joined Sissie, and other hikers, we left that world reluctantly behind.

Down was of course easier, and a good thing, too. Tired, sore, spent, and thirsty, we eagerly ran into the waves at Ke'e beach, 

conveniently right there at the trailhead. Bliss. And that wonderful accomplished feeling of physically dead tired, but mentally and spiritually, so renewed. I wish you the same experience some day.

(Images from google.  My own pictures aren't digital.  But come on over and I'll show you one of the few adventures I've managed to scrapbook.)

This is an Alphabe-Thursday post with our teacher, the fab Ms. Jenny Matlock.  Check out the other great posts featuring the letter W.

Make-Up Saturday Centus #5 On the Lam

I realize I missed the actual one, but I'm a perfectionist, as you have probably figured out by now.  I'm accepting the Centus challenge, regardless of timing.  Week 5 prompt in italics.

I looked carefully down the hall in both directions, and with no one in sight, slithered soundlessly through the double doors. I settled into the comfortable movie theater seat with awkward 3D glasses perched on my nose, a small tub of popcorn on my lap, and a bottle of water lodged into the seat holder. Sigh. Would they find me? I willed my heart to stop pounding, my blood pressure to settle, and the adrenalin rush to subside. Are they looking for me yet? I was gambling that it would take them some time to notice my absence. But then I heard the voices. “We found you, Mom!” Oh snap. So much for a chick flick. They dragged me next door to endure Disney's latest drivel. Did the glasses give me away?

This is a Saturday Centus tale. Can you finish an ultra-short story in 100 words or less? If that sounds like fun, head on over to the fab Jenny Matlock for more detailed instructions. (The starter prompt is in bold italics.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

July Turkey Burrito

How do you cook? Are you the person who can open the fridge, look at what you have, and then make something? Or are you the kind of cook who follows a recipe exactly? I didn't start learning to cook until YellowBoy was almost two. Until then, The Engineer had done all the cooking. He is amazing. His mom is a gourmet cook, and he learned from her. I never had time to learn from my mom, because I was always at gymnastics at dinner time. But as The Engineer's schedule became less and less predictable, and dinner wasn't on the table until after eight some nights, I realized that my growing children would benefit from a set schedule and took the plunge. I was hooked right away. Cooking is amazingly fun!

It didn't take us long to realize that The Engineer's style would never work for me. He would just create, and cook in large quantities to freeze several meals each time he was at it. That way I'd have something to melt should he be really, really late. I, however, was going to need recipes to follow. I collected recipes from all over the place. I cut them out of newspapers, out of magazines in waiting rooms (yes, sorry that was me...I know you probably needed the last page of that story, but I needed a coconut-chicken soup recipe even more), I asked friends for their favorites, I googled for recipes, and I finally started using the ones that both my mother and my mother-in-law had so lovingly put into books for me. Turns out that (surprise!) I'm really good at following directions, and just about everything I tried turned out OK. My fear vanished. And we were eating quite the variety of meals. Meals that The Engineer enjoyed just arriving home for, and not having to cook at the end of long day.

Not that The Engineer's given up on cooking. He will still do his big projects. But we gotten smart. Whenever he starts creating, I write it down. What used to happen is that he'd make something great, and I'd ask how he did it. “Oh, a little of this a little of that. I don't remember exactly.” Problem! How could I repeat that? It pains me to think of the many great meals that we'll never have again. So now I'm in the kitchen taking notes whenever he cooks. I'd like to share one of his amazing creations with you, but first, I need to give a bit of background.

Do they run a turkey special where you live? Here, right around Thanksgiving and Christmas, whole turkeys can be had for five or six bucks. We usually buy the limit at each store. (We have four freezers, two in our two fridges, and two deep freezers. Yes, we fill them up. Between our garden, The Engineer's hunting, and bulk buying such as this, we need all of them.) We might use one of the turkeys for a traditional turkey dinner, but the rest of them we can. You've never heard of canned turkey? It's just like those large cans of chicken you get at Sam's. Only WAY better. It is a lot of work, but for one Saturday's labor, you can get enough stock to last the year, and plenty of turkey that's just waiting, ready to go. You know those recipes that say, “One cup of diced, cooked chicken”? I used to skip those because it takes too long if you're starting with raw chicken. Not anymore! I just open one of our pints of turkey and keep going.

Here's how we do it. Roast the turkey. Boil the carcass for a few hours to make the stock. Meanwhile, pick the turkey clean. (We do two at a time.) Fill jars with turkey, and top with your stock. Pressure can. Then fill pints and quarts with your delicious, naturally low sodium, no preservatives stock. Pressure can that, too. One turkey yields about 50 pints of stock (we have a six gallon pot) and seven pints of turkey. So your six dollars goes a long way!

The other prep for this recipe is bacon grease. Don't throw it away! After cooking bacon, save the grease in a jar in the fridge. Now you're ready to fry your eggs in it, or your pancakes, or ONIONS. Yum!

July Turkey Burritos
(We were drowning in garden tomatoes one year, so looking for creative ways to use them, The Engineer came up with this)

½ onion
½ red bell pepper
½ green pepper
1 large tomato, or two if using romas
1 T. curry (this was actually an accident, he grabbed curry instead of cumin, but WOW, it's great in this dish)
1 T. cumin
1 T. chili powder
¼ t. chipotle powder
1 pint turkey, plus the stock it was canned in

Fry the onion in bacon grease, and add peppers after the onion has softened. Add spices, tomato (roughly chopped), turkey and stock. Stir fry until warmed through. You can be done in 20 minutes, but it can also stand to just simmer away a good long time if you want. Depends on how cooked you like your tomatoes. Wrap in warmed flour tortillas. It keeps well, so don't worry about having leftovers.

I'll leave you with this picture of my recipe collection. It needs organizing, but I'm too busy cooking to do it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

From Swiss to Sis

You are my little Sis
and you are

We share memories
clobbering me,
(in the head)
with the mini-golf putter, and
we scared Farmor
to death (it WAS a lot of blood)

Of sleepless nights on summer visits
to Sweden, where there are no screens
so no air
in that hot bedroom
And the mattresses kept
sliding, and we would
froggie-hop them
back next to each other
to whisper-giggle
in the semi-darkness

And all it takes
Is one word,
And a look,
Then we're in the same place
Bianca and Margo
death-grip, as
production assistant

And even though
we've been through
totally s#$t times”
love actually

You are my little sis
and you are

It's my sis's birthday today.  She's amazing, and puts up with me, and is always there to help me out, to make my infirmities less crippling, and to cheer me on, to listen, and to lean on.  Sissie, your Swissie loves you.  Come home soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It was Fathers Day, 1984, when I heard that voice in the hallway. My heart stopped. He's here? I dropped the basket of laundry and hurried up the stairs, stupidly straightening my clothes and smoothing down my hair. Our eyes met, wordless communication. His steel green eyes implored forgiveness. “Take me back,” they said. Could I forgive? He'd been gone for almost a year. “I need some space,” he'd said. I hadn't said anything, just let him go. But I'm a practical person, and I had not just myself to consider. Ok. I smiled, took him by the hand, and tugged him into the nursery. “Meet your son.”

This is a Saturday Centus tale. Can you finish an ultra-short story in 100 words or less? If that sounds like fun, head on over to the fab Jenny Matlock for more detailed instructions. (The starter prompt is in bold italics.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Saturday Centus #6 - Stolen Moments

Welcome to Saturday Centus, Friday edition. I've been gone on a two week family vacation and have missed weeks four and five. Though I can't get in on those linkys, I'm still accepting the challenge. Look for those two later. For now, here's my take on this week's prompt, in bold italics. For other great Centus tales (which you have only 100 words to complete, not counting the prompt) please visit the fab Jenny Matlock. This challenging meme is her brilliant idea.

It’s true, the smell of freshly mowed grass can stay with you for years, for decades. Sighing, she remembers that verdant scent, the summer haze, tousled blanket, legs intwined. Smiles exchanged, giggles shared. Did we really finish that wine? Too bad. I feel silly, want to be sillier. Kisses. Caresses. But time is her nemesis. She watches him drive away, waving from his convertible, charismatic grin firmly in place. And resolution, too. Resolution she reluctantly shares. These stolen moments had to end, she knew that. Taking a last deep breath, saving it all, she walks back to her car, her life. Which cannot include him. And now sitting in her wheelchair, she remembers it all.

Other great Centus tales are found here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

V is for Volkswagen @ Life is Good

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason?   I do.   I believe even unpleasant events can be used to shape us, mold us, grow us. I believe that God is working it all together for my good, even though I don't always understand the method or reason. And in my case, it's usually been big hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-freight elevator type of events that are needed to get my attention. For example, the car I was driving catching on fire.

I graduated from Colorado State in the spring of 1988. By this time, The Swede had gotten another promotion and the rest of my family were living in Virginia. I'd made plans to enjoy some time off, then begin the serious job hunting. Swissie's car needed to get to Virginia, since she had started the school year as a Coloradoan, and ended it as a Virginian, and wasn't allowed to take her beloved Volkswagen Rabbit to St. Paul with her. We cooked up a great solution. I'd drive her car to Minnesota, spend a day there with her, then together we'd drive the rest of the way to Virginia, and I'd stay a few weeks, enjoying the Briarpatch and all it has to offer. I'd then fly home. Sounds like a great plan, right? Yeah, I thought so too.

The first day of driving was uneventful, and besides the boredom of being by myself, all was going just fine thankyouverymuch. After spending the night in a cheap, flea-bag motel at the side of the road, I headed out. I had it all mapped out to arrive in St. Paul by dinner time, and was anxious to see Swissie. Lunch took a bit longer than I had planned because I couldn't put down the book I was reading, but I had plenty of caffeine in my system by the time I got back on the road. Towards mid afternoon, I stopped for my last time. Filled up the tank, checked the oil, took a pit stop myself, and was ready to tackle that last 120 miles.

It wasn't long before I started to have this feeling that I should pull over. But I argued with myself, “Why? You took care of ALL the necessities at your last stop. Keep going!” But the feeling just got stronger, so I pulled of the road at the next available exit. Feeling foolish, standing there beside the car that didn't need anything, I thought, what the heck, I'll check the oil again. Better than standing here doing nothing. I had no more opened the hood then the engine burst into flame!

I freaked out, reaching for the nearest liquid I could find to put out the fire. That turned out to be windshield washing fluid from the outdoor display. (Yes, not a good choice, but I did tell you I was freaking out.) As I'm starting to pour, someone grabs my wrist from behind, gently pushes me away, and douses the fire with a fire extinguisher. That compassionate trucker just says, “There you go, little lady. Fire's out now.” Still not having regained ANY sense, I sit down in the driver's seat to start the engine. “WHAT are you doing?” he asks me. “I'm seeing if it will start.” “Honey, your engine is MELTED. It's not going to start.” Enough sense returns and I realize what a predicament I'm in and immediately start bawling. Mr. Big Rig opens the door and helps me out, and with his arm around my shoulder, leads me into the convenience store of the gas station, and straight to the owner. “This little lady's car just burnt up. She needs your help.”

After waiting patiently for me to calm down, the owner lets me use his phone. Remember, no cell phones yet. I try calling The Swede. He's out of the office, she doesn't know for how long. I call DataBoy, and crying again, I tell my story. “Bummer, dude.” Bummer didn't even begin to describe this disaster. I tell him so. Not so kindly. But he agrees to keep trying to track down my Dad, and I wait. Pretty soon The Swede calls. Fresh tears flow, and the Good Samaritan takes the phone since I'm not making any sense. They converse. You see, this was in the middle of nowhere. This tiny town in Iowa was only two blocks square. No bus service. No rental cars (not that they'd have rented to a 22 year old) no taxi, no transportation out. I was completely stuck.

However, the Good Samaritan turned out to be a saint. He promptly closed the store, put me in his car, and we went to his home to pick up his wife. This kind grandpa and grandma were going to drive me the whole way to “The Cities.” Grandma was thrilled with the adventure, and just dropped whatever she was doing and got in. Can you imagine? He's losing revenue now that his store is closed, and they have volunteered for a 240 mile round trip. Just like that. It's nice to know that compassion is alive and well.

So my adventure ended early. Swissie and I each grabbed a flight the next day, headed in opposite directions. But the day after I got back, I got a call from the principal at a nearby middle school. Would I like to interview for the seventh grade math position? Yes, I sure would. Of all the choices a secondary math teacher has, this had been my first choice. With no voicemail and no answering machine, I wouldn't even have known about it had I been vacationing. And I got the job, teaching there for the next eight years. All made possible because of that fire. Turns out there was a leak in the fuel line, it had pooled on the manifold, and had I been driving, that fire would have spread quickly to the passenger compartment, and engulfing me. It's my firm belief that God turned me around and sent me home to get the job. I just wonder, did it have to be a fire? Surely He could have gotten my attention in a less dramatic way.

For other great posts featuring the letter V, head over to the fab Jenny Matlock and her Alphabe-Thursday meme.

We Are Easily Entertained

One of our favorite places as kids was the sandbar. Our tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, as I've told you before, is Mill Creek. It's just off of Whitehall Bay, which is the last “indentation” on the west side, before the Bay Bridge. We live almost at the end of the creek, and just after one of its big bends. This bend has a sandbar which extends MUCH further than anyone would suspect.

During my childhood, watching big sailboats with fixed keels get stuck there was quite the entertainment. We'd be lounging on the dock as described in my last post (well, not quite, because at that age I didn't have a glass of chardonnay in my hand) and see boats making their way up creek, looking for an overnight anchor. “Do you think he'll change course?” “I think he hits the sandbar, but barely, and gets away with it.” “No way! He's going to get stuck and then we'll have to go drag him off as usual.” “It's not MY turn.” Casual bets were made.

When they got stuck, we'd have mercy on them. There was usually a power boat at the Briarpatch, at first the one belonging to my grandparents, later the one we owned for one short summer (this was when DataBoy was in high school, he's more the fast engine versus sailing) and even later, Aunt Risky's boat. We'd head across the creek, explain about the sandbar, drag them off, and send them on their way. (It was much to our delight that later The Swede found an article in a sailing magazine, chronicling this very phenomenon. “Locals enjoy watching boats get stuck. But if you make it past the sandbar, you'll have a great place to anchor for the weekend.”) However, it's probably that article which also prompted the eventual placement of the marker (warning others of the sandbar) which ended that fun.

But there were still good times to be had at the sandbar. It was great swimming! Around our dock, you always swim with shoes. During my childhood, we had a pair of “Briarpatch sneakers” and our “other” pair. The designated shoes were usually last year's outgrown ones, but we made do. Better squished toes, than stepping on a barnacle encrusted rock, a holly leaf, or an actual crab, ready to pinch you. But at the sandbar, you could ditch the shoes full of the accumulated yuck that was scraping your skin, and let your emancipated feet dance in the sand. Soft sand. Sand that squished beneath your toes. We kids were allowed to take the rowboat, or the canoe out there BY OURSELVES to swim. It was grand.

Now it's my own boys and their generation of cousins who take the kayaks out there to glory in the sand. But if you're cousins and there's some sort of disagreement...then maybe the one of you who rode the taco out there behind the kayak might just take that kayak, leaving its previous customer stranded to swim home, dragging that taco back. Not an easy feat. All because of some sort of boy-conflict reason. But since neither party wished to press charges, we let the matter drop. After all, vacations are too short to be spent arguing, there are crabs that need catching, and plenty of water for all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The One About the Kayak

No vacation is really complete without at least one embarrassing incident. I usually prefer it be someone besides me, but alas, such is not usually the case.

Our days at the Briarpatch kind of all blend together in one collage of water, boats, sun, libations, power lounging, and crabbing. Relatives come and go, meals are thrown together at the last minute by whomever has been shopping last. We've done this so many times over the years, it really does just flow now. You gotta embrace that mentality, though, or you'll spend a lot of time contacting people and planning things that inevitably don't work out quite the way you imagined. It's called vacation people, please just relax and enjoy. (Not that the family members to whom this applies are reading this...but it needs to be said.)

A typical day starts with The Engineer making big breakfast. Pork fat of some sort, eggs of some variety, bread of some category, whether “bread” is waffles or pancakes or actual bread fried in bacon drippings. (You do know that what you eat on vacation doesn't count, right?) The Engineer making breakfast means I sleep in. Wow. That's my definition of vacation.

Then commences the sunscreen battle. “Why do I need it? I'm already tan!” “ My legs are going to be in the water ALL DAY.” Shut up, don the sunscreen. And be grateful that the hideous burn/rash on those legs isn't worse. That the scabby, peeling mess that used to be an earlobe didn't just give up and jump ship.

Head on down to the dock, following the path that's been used for over forty years. Grab your chair, and commence some serious lounging. Watch the kids play on the “relaxation station” (there are SUPPOSED to be pictures of all of this, but my pesky camera has decided not to let me have them...grrrr.) This is a ten foot diameter floating round sofa, complete with cup holders, and netting in the middle. Perfect to slide into and cool off, then climb back on the sofa with very little effort. Or you might enjoy the “hamster ball”. This five foot diameter ball with one way in was great fun for the kids. You can run in it just like a hamster, but if you get going really fast, it will spin out of control and dump you out. But kids love that. You could also choose the kayaks. Either get in over at the boat launching ramp, or climbing in from the dock. May I suggest NOT getting in from the dock during low tide? Yup, learned that the embarrassing way.

We had four kayaks, borrowed from DataBoy. The plan was to get our whole family in them, and then he'd take our picture. Um, yeah. There I was, just about to get in, and realizing how far down it was. But I'm no chicken (just a klutz).  I decide to get on my stomach and use my arm strength (stop laughing) to lower myself in with both feet at the same time, then quickly sit down.   And it almost worked. I let go of the dock, tried to sit down, and just as I think I'm golden, I teeter  just a tad to the left. But in a kayak, a tad is too much and I was immediately dumped overboard, losing my glasses and favorite hat, and getting bonked on the head by that same kayak. In three feet of water. Retrieve glasses and hat. Try to right the kayak. Too much water in it. How in the on earth do people handle this when they can't stand? It took The Engineer AND DataBoy to empty it. All the while teasing and tormenting me. If my brother hadn't been wearing a camera, I would have shoved him in. But as he pointed out, it could have been worse. He could have been wearing his video camera. Oh well, the water was refreshing, and we did get our picture. I'll post it when DataBoy sends it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Crabs, Glorious Crabs

I thought I'd start the tales of our adventures with one of my favorite meals. You may recall from my R is for Restaurants that I love Maryland blue crabs. I wrote the beginning of this one evening as we were getting them ready...and am finishing it now.

We're having crabs tonight. Crabs that we caught ourselves. Armed with string, rib bones, bones from our fried chicken lunch, and chicken necks from the bait shop, we managed to pull in over 25 legal little bottom dwellers. I've been crabbing since I was nine, and am pretty good at the gentle yet relentless tugging of the line, crab wiggling and gnawing away, oblivious to the waiting net. My boys have gotten good at it, too. It does take patience, because if you're not sly enough, they will let go and skedaddle away. But hopefully just to next piece of waiting, rotting, greasy treat.

Fixing them is pretty easy. All you need is a big double boiler, water, vinegar, and most importantly, Old Bay seasoning. Put the water and vinegar (about one part vinegar to two parts water) in the bottom of the pan, sprinkle in Old Bay liberally, and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, dump the unsuspecting suckers into the steamer basket with lid, and wait a half hour. Once they're dead (you'll know when the clawing at the side of the pot stops...) dump more Old Bay directly on them. (Wouldn't want their last minutes on earth to be spent with Old Bay stinging they're eyes...we are humane, after all.)

Eating crab is an acquired skill, best perfected with lots of practice. It's important to have a veteran show you how. My high school best friend's dad taught me well, and If I'd thought to take pictures, I could give you a whole tutorial. But I was too busy picking them to stop, wash my hands, and do that. So here's a rough overview. Get all the meat out. Just kidding! But seriously, it takes patience. The sign of a sloppy picker (Exhibit A: YellowBoy) is being the first done with your crab. I had given him a large one, because they are easier, but I got more meat out of his “finished” crab than out of my medium fellow.

The basic concept is each leg has it's own muscle compartment, and that's the meat you want to eat. If you've done all the other steps right, you should be able to just slide you finger through that channel, poking all the meat out. And cracking the claws is just like eating snow crab, or king crab, only on a smaller scale. But in my opinion, it's not the claw that has the choicest meat, it's the back fin. To get that meat out, I do it a bit differently than on the legs. I remove all the shell, and then with my secret (well not anymore...) twist-n-push-in-twist-n-pull-out move, I can get the whole back fin lump in one try. That morsel is so tasty!
And sitting on the back deck, watching the day turn into evening into night, with this view, 

I was savoring every moment. I wish you blue crab in your future.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I am home again, and reminded of something my Farfar used to say. “Borta bra, men hemma best.” (That's Swedish, my native language, and means, “Away is fine, but home is best.”) It's so true.

I love the road, I really do. Love watching the miles pile up, love stopping at all of the states' “Welcome Centers” to see what they claim as fame in their slice of the vast country, love to eat all my meals out. But home is:

Not having to put down toilet paper on every toilet you use.

Sleeping in your own bed again.

(That's NOT in the same room as your children.)

It's the weeds in your garden, and overtaking your strawberries, but you have STRAWBERRIES! (Which hadn't begun to ripen when you left.)

It's loads and loads of laundry, but no coins needed.

It's your house's familiar smells, even if one of them is the rotten tomato, forgotten on the counter for over two weeks.

And it's checking your email, on a screen bigger than your beloved iPhone...

I'm glad to be home, but exhausted. And I can't wait to write again. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If this is Thursday...I think I'm in Indiana

Wow, I've missed this. Missed you. I'd gotten very used to the indulgence of writing and posting daily. This two week “sabbatical” has been a learning and growing experience, as I think most family vacations are. I have a lot of stories, and they're all swimming around in my head. For tonight, I think I'll just make a list of...stuff. And get to the “serious” writing later.

Stuff” I've learned:

It takes a LOT of sunscreen to keep a family of four in the sun for two weeks. And they'll still get burned, have a rash, itch, complain, turn their feet purple when the sand abrades said sunscreen off, and then peel. But love every minute of it.

An eighth of a tank of gas isn't enough to take nine people tubing, taco-ing (inflatable, draggable water toy which folds you into it like a...taco) and water skiing. You will need the nice people in the yellow speedboat to drag you to the fuel station, take a representative home for the credit card, and then deliver her back to that fuel station. And it's VERY hot on a boat that isn't moving.

Some people have a strange definition of rest. They ride they're ancient bicycle around the rest area, in circles, round and round again, while you wait for your children to conclude their “business”.

Whenever you get three generations of family together, someone will irritate someone. Daily.

Sailing is like riding a bike. The skill never leaves you, no matter how long it's been since you've had the pleasure.

Kayaks tip over if you're not careful.

Even seemingly innocuous waves can knock you on your a#$, and make you lose your second pair of sunglasses.

It's a really long walk from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving to the National Air and Space Museum. In 95 degree heat. With 147% humidity. And no lungs. But it works pretty well to sit against a wall to recover while your intrepid men continue on to several exhibits. If you fall asleep, no one bothers you. And they have air-conditioning.

I can survive without popcorn every night. Just don't ask me to do it two nights in a row.

Though lots has changed over the years, the boardwalk is just as sleazy as ever. You'll still find the desperate girls seeking the attention of the ogling boys (while wearing far too little clothing,) the shopkeepers promising you something for nothing, and greasy, over-priced food. (Though I will admit that I've never seen deep-fried Oreos before...and probably shouldn't again. Just watching my men devour them sent my blood sugar to dangerous levels.)

There's never enough time to do all that you've planned. But plenty to savor along the way. We have two more days of driving, and then we're home. I'm melancholy that our vacation is almost over, but parts of me are looking forward to my regular routine. Life is still good. Even the regular days.