Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Imaginary Games

When we were children (we being me, the oldest, two brothers, and a sister), our summer vacations almost always involved a camping trip to Yosemite or another national park in that area of California. This was real camping with tents, sleeping bags, air mattress, Coleman lanterns, white gas stove, hot chocolate made with canned milk, washing feet off in a pail of water before going to bed.

My father had 3 sisters, who also liked camping, and often one or more of them, and their families, would meet us there.

I got along well with all of my cousins, but one who I had a special affinity with was my cousin Richard, who was a couple of years younger than I was but not enough for the age difference to make a difference by the time the 1950s were coming to an end. We like a lot of the same things. We were interested in birds and animals and science and nature in general.

I remember one camping trip at Yosemite in particular, which would have been in the late 1950s, when he was there too. He had dinosaur comic books – not sure what else to call them – fanciful adventure stories of intrepid “cave men” doing battle with the T-rex and other assorted giant reptiles. We read the comic books, played dinosaur, and had a wonderful time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

The first thing I read in the local weekly newspaper (if it happens to be included that particular week) is the Police Blotter. Although I listen to the police scanner while I work, I don’t hear everything that goes on, and finding out what actually has happened on some of the calls I hear is very illuminating. Small towns may not have the murders and very violent crimes found in big cities but they are not free of crime by any means. In addition to routine traffic violations, there are a lot of calls dealing with peace disturbances, loose dogs, domestic assaults, custody exchange problems, burglaries and thefts, drugs (the county I live in is in competition with the neighboring county for meth capital of this area of the state), suspicious characters lurking--that sort of thing.

But on the particular day in question, nestled in between a report of an intoxicated driver at McDonald’s, who was arrested, and a call from a victim who said he let his friend use his debit card to borrow $20 but the friend took a lot more than that, was this little gem.
At 4 p.m., Officer J received a call of a fight in progress at the xxxx Apartments. Upon arrival, it was determined to be a group of children pretending they were dinosaurs
 Pretending they were dinosaurs! I haven't played dinosaur in a very very long time. I wish I could have joined them!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The leg condom

Last August the pain Richard was feeling in his Achilles tendon got bad enough that he decided he better see someone about it, so he made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. He said there “wasn’t anything wrong with Richard’s foot” and decided he needed 6 weeks of physical therapy.

So Richard dutifully went to physical therapy twice a week for 6 weeks. The pain didn’t get any better – in fact it got worse. During the sessions the physical therapist mentioned that her son had broken his arm, and Richard was very curious about how they were keeping the cast dry so the boy could take a shower. She told him about the cast protector.

Recognizing the difficulty people with a cast on their leg or other body part have in taking a shower, a very clever and creative individual has designed a cast protector out of heavy vinyl with tight rubbery stuff at the top to seal the skin against water. When my arm was in the cast, we didn’t know there was any such thing, so we did the best we could to keep it dry by wrapping it in a plastic trash bag and using duct tape to keep it in place. It mostly worked, but it was not very convenient.

The physical therapist was concerned that nothing was working to help Richard, so she offered the opinion that “something else” is going on there and he should go back to the doctor. So he did, and he insisted the doctor take a X-ray of the foot. The doctor said the X-ray didn’t show anything.

With his frustration level about through the roof, he just happened to meet up with a man I used to work with at the post office. Chuck who had had terrible trouble with his feet, and had tried “everything” to no avail, told Richard about this great podiatrist in Arkansas who immediately knew what was wrong and had fixed him right up.

Richard got his name and made an appointment. The guy took an X-ray and immediately diagnosed a bone spur behind the Achilles tendon that was causing the problem and scheduled him for surgery to get rid of the bone spur. Richard came home with a knee scooter, a huge black boot, and a small box with a cast protector

So last Thursday we motored down to Arkansas for the operation. The regional medical center there is 70 miles away as the crow files, but sections of the journey are on a two-lane highway through the Ozark hills that could have been the inspiration for any roller-coast type thrill ride one might care to ride on, so it takes a bit longer than that.

To get rid of the bone spur, the tendon was detached from the bone, everything was cleaned up, and then the tendon was reattached. He was supposed to leave the recovery room wearing the gigantic black boot that would allow him to walk immediately, but the doctor changed his mind and put him in the cast, which he cannot walk on – no weight bearing for at least 3 weeks.

It has been a hard week for him. The antibiotic they gave him to make sure he doesn’t get an infection first made him itch all over and then made him sick, so we had to switch to another one. The “knee scooter” he uses to get around the house causes his arthritic knee throb. Friends have brought two different sets of crutches, but using them hurts the hip of the leg that is bearing all of his weight.

We almost had a disaster on Saturday when he managed to get down the stairs and around the house to the basement, but then I could see he was not going to be able to get back in the house. Had a friend not shown up right then (God’s timing!), who was able to help him get up the stairs, I probably would have had to call for the first responders to come and help. He has been watching YouTube videos on how to use crutches on stairs so he can go to church on Sunday. 

We call the cast protector the leg condom as a way to inject a little humor into the situation.

 At least he can take a shower, and is certainly a big improvement over plastic trash bags and duct tape.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Hangin' with Phil and Mary

Phil and Mary are members of the church we started attending almost a year ago. They live in a very elegant and distinctive-looking house on the main street in town. It’s not a new house: Phil says Mary grew up in in the house, and they began living there as a couple after they got married, which was 52 years ago.

The two-story white house looks like what I imagine a mansion in the South might look like. Four large pillars across the front porch support the second story overhang. The attic dormer that faces the street has a beautiful fan-shaped window. There is another large porch at the rear of the house. The doorknob on the front door is in the middle of the door, surrounded by circular molding. The only houses I have ever seen with doors like that have been in British TV programs.

The lot is huge, and there is a narrow ribbon of trees that run along the back edge of the property.

A few years ago the city did extensive work along the street where they live and put in new lovely new sidewalks. It is a great place to walk, and three mornings a week I walk by their house between 8 and 8:30.

One morning in late Fall I was startled to see that the trees along their property line were filled with vultures. I stopped and I was able to count 38 of them, but I know I didn’t get all of them counted because some began to fly off to began the day’s foraging.

The next Sunday at church I mentioned to Mary that I had counted 38 vultures in the trees, and she shuddered and said “60!” Phil said they couldn’t do much to encourage the birds to find somewhere else to spend the night because they are in the city limits. Aside from being in the category of birds that are protected from hunting, he said he didn’t think the local police would take too kindly with him firing a shotgun at them.

We just assumed the birds were gathering before flying off south for the winter. But that hasn't happened. They are still there. Why all of the vultures in the area are roosting in the trees on Phil and Mary’s land, when there are acres and acres of wooded countryside less than a mile in any direction from their house, is indeed an oddment.

Now Phil is a lovely man who has a lively, mischevious sense of humor. He is in charge of making the coffee for Sunday School, and yesterday after the worship service, he was bustling around in the kitchen cleaning the coffee maker, when I drifted in there to get the creamer for my coffee. After I rinsed the spoon and cleaned up the mess I made, he looked at me and said…

“How about some buzzard stew to go with that…?”

Saturday, January 30, 2016


A day or so after a light snowfall dropped a couple of inches of snow on the ground, I arrived at the park with the Mollywog for our afternoon walk. I was not surprised to see that I was the first person to walk on the path since the snow had fallen. I have frequently been the first person to tramp through the snow in the park. The path was not totally pristine though. Tracks from an unaccompanied larger dog (or perhaps a coyote) and a smaller dog (perhaps a fox), who seemed to be on separate missions were meandering about. Rabbits and squirrels had also been busy, along with some birds  with big feet – probably crows.

I never walk very fast with the dog because I can’t walk fast anymore myself and she has to stop and sniff every 10 feet or so and I let her get away with. I’ve always wondered what exactly she was sniffing if not pee left behind from other dogs. I was not that surprised to see her stop every few feet and sniff each footprint that the dog (or coyote) had left in the snow until she was satsified and went on to sniff something else.

The next day when I returned, I had company -- the high school track coach was running laps since school had been cancelled – but aside from him, again no one else had been there. The prints I had left the previous day were still there by themselves. We exchanged a few words each time he sped by me, and on one pass he observed that I had been the only other person there since I was now laying down a second set of identical tracks that weren't there when he began running.

The pattern of the snow boots I wear looks like waffles.


What a sweet fun memory that brought to mind. Dad loved to cook. Here he making my birthday cake a few years ago..

During the weekdays he would get up at about 5:00 a.m., long before anybody else was awake, and he made his own breakfast. He ate bacon and eggs just about every day, and ironically, after years of that diet, his cardiovascular system was in excellent shape -- no atherosclerosis, no blockages, no nothing – and still is at age 91, except his heart is slowing down now and he needs a pacemaker (which they have decided not to do).

But he would occasionally make waffles on weekend mornings. They had an old waffle iron that they had probably gotten as a wedding present, and he would plug that in and heat it up. He made the batter using Bisquick and he’d start turning out waffles. I loved the crispness and how the syrup would puddle in the depressions. It was a lot of work, and it was a mess to clean up because the batter always oozed out the sides and then baked on to the side of the waffle iron.

I remember at the Seattle World’s Fair that they offered up Belgian waffles, with strawberries and whipped cream. I had never heard of such a thing -- mom and dad were too careful with their money to buy strawberries and whipped cream for waffles for four kids.

I remember we had a waffle iron after we moved here – I think I got it at a thrift store – but it eventually broke.

I haven’t had a waffle in years. Perhaps I ought to do something about that.

We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work.
Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third
--Leslie Knope

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is this better?

I am working my way through the annual eye examination. I have gone through a battery of tests on various machines: one tests for peripheral vision (it is excellent), one puffs air at my eye to measure for glaucoma (I don’t have it), and one tests to determine if I am developing macular degeneration. I have done particularly well on that test; in fact, the technician tells me the average score for a woman on the test is 33 and I have scored 77.

Now for the last examination.

The optometrist adjusts two sets of knobs on the device that I will look through so she can see what I can see, and she brings it up to my face.

"Please read the letters on the lowest line you can see," she says.

I am alarmed. I see squiggles that look like worms dancing at a disco.

I tell her so.

"Oh, I’m sorry," she says, "I had these set up for mumble mumble mumble."

She adjusts the knobs and returns the device to my face, and now everything is clear and sharp (yes, I can see clearly now). I can easily read the bottom line.

Then the fun begins.

"Which is better? This? (she flips something) "Or this?" (she flips something).

Well, one is obviously better than the other, and I tell her so.

"Good," she says.

And she does it again…. and again…. and again…

And before long I can’t tell the difference from one flip to the next. I ask her to repeat it. She does. I still can’t see much of a difference.

"Is this a trick question?" I ask her

She laughs, "No, not at all."

I make a choice.

We finish one eye and then do the same for the other eye.

Finally we are through.

She looks into each eye with a very bright light. "I see a cataract starting to form," she says, "but it’s not on the clock yet and we call this an incipient cataract, especially since it isn't bothering your vision."

That I am going to eventually have a cataract doesn't bother me. What does bother me is that when they measured my height, I learn have shrunk another 1/2 inch from last year. Doggone it!

She tells me there is a slight difference in the vision in my left eye compared with the examination last year, but not enough to require change to the lenses in the glasses I use for the computer and reading.

That eyes that can see clearly is important and a blessing… but then I think we need "seeing eyes" also…
The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn't detect.
Mark Twain, Joan of Arc

Monday, January 18, 2016

How cold is it?

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
George Carlin

I guess the answer to that question is “it depends.”

I met a young woman at the library checkout counter a few days before Christmas. It was possibly high 30s, low 40s that day – brisk, but not bone-chilling cold.

“Brrrrr…”  she said. “Is Missouri always this cold.”

The librarian and I looked at each other and smiled and then looked at her and said, almost simultaneously, “This isn’t bad, it gets a lot colder. Where are you from?"

“South Carolina” she said in her soft accent. “I called my friend there yesterday and it was 70 degrees, and I am glad I am going home for the holiday.”

It does seem so mundane that we talk about the weather all the time—whether to complain or exclaim or just luxuriate on what seems to be a perfect day—but the weather really does have quite a profound effect on our lives in ways we probably don’t think about that much and in those we definitely do, like when it comes time to fill the propane tank in the Fall to keep the house warm or pay the electric bill to keep it cool in August.

Sometimes the weather forecast is so laughably wrong that we don’t even pay attention, but then we can’t really afford to do that because sometimes it will be horribly accurate.

On Saturday I had an unexpected conversation with a woman I used to go to college with -- we were both student assistants in the Admissions Office -- but haven’t seen since 1971. She  just happened to be visiting the father of the boy she dated in college at the very same time my brother was there also visiting. She wondered if he might be related to me, and so he called me and handed her the phone. One of the first things she asked me as we started talking about us having moved away to Missouri was “Is it cold there?”

Yeah, it sorta is; not as cold as some places (I listen to a live radio broadcast from Minneapolis on Saturday night so I hear the weather report and I get it!) but a lot colder than others.

And so when I stepped outside this morning to take myself and the dog for our morning walk (t-shirt, wool long-sleeved shirt, light-weight nylon jacket, heavy coat, two pairs of sweat pants, ski mask, knit cap)…

I couldn’t help but think about that young woman from South Carolina. Hope her pipes didn’t freeze overnight.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Painted ponies

Richard and I grew up within the same community in Southern California – although we didn’t meet until I was 18 – so we did similar things and went to similar places for amusement and fun.

One of those places was the Long Beach Pike, an amusement area on the ocean. It had arcades and a side show, and various rides. It was already old in the 1950s when we went there.

Probably the most popular ride, at least for some people, was the Cyclone Racer, a wooden roller coaster with dual tracks (two trains could run at the same time). It was loud and shook and at one time it was the largest and fastest roller coaster in the country. I rode it once and never rode it again. Richard had the same experience – he rode it once and that was enough for him.

I preferred the tamer rides. The ones I enjoyed the most were a circular ride where you stood against a wall and it began to spin, then the floor dropped away and you were left stuck on the wall, and the Ferris wheel, but my very favorite was the carousel.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
And yes, the seasons—and the anniversaries that come with them—do indeed go round and round and round. Anniversaries of weddings, of birth days, and of death days.

And today is one of those anniversaries. Our son died 5 years ago today.

The singer Ellis writes about how she felt when she remembered that a certain day was her dead Granny’s birthday: 
...I didn't try to be happier (like I often do). Instead, I was honest with the moment of disappointment and grief. And then, I felt a quieter version of happiness. Tender joy.
So I am trying to practice this today. 
There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
 And here are a couple of the treasures in my memory of our son with my Mom and Dad...

 that have indeed brought tender joy.