Monday, July 31, 2006

Before the moment I boarded one, I had never given a moment’s thought to the passenger quarters of a skydive plane. My tandem dive instructor asked me,
“Do you know why there’s no dancing on a skydive plane?”
We were packed in like Pringles. There were two rows of jumpers sitting on a padded floor each with another jumper between their legs. My back was pressed up against Mike’s chest. Glenn’s back was pressed up against me. An experienced woman diver boarded and asked us all to sit up straight and shove back. Jeez!
Apart from the obvious reasons, I decided to play along.
“No, why can’t you dance on a skydive plane?”
“No ball room.”

I knew exactly what he meant in another minute.

There were about 16 people jammed into this little plane. It was a DH6 for those of you who know planes. I didn’t count people at the time, but it was about that. My right leg was buried in a pile of other legs. I could not move it. It’s a good thing we had all those jumpsuits and harnesses, helmets and chutes on. You could not help touching other people.

I felt Mike fart before I smelled it. I don’t know what he had eaten and I wasn’t going to ask. I’m sure he was hoping no one would know. But since there is no ball room on a skydiving plane, I could feel every time he let one go. It’s too noisy to hear a fart in a non-pressurized cabin with the window wide open. There were several silent but deadly emissions. I was trying to do what my mom taught me and ignore it. That got more difficult when someone closed the dive door. When the moment of jumping neared and people were doing last minute gear checks and getting on their knees, the same lady who told us to shove back said to the back of the plane,
“Whoever had broccoli quiche for breakfast, thanks a lot.”

I knew who it was, but I did not rat him out. I thought he would be a good person to have on my side at that moment.

I asked the videographer if this was his primary job. No. He had a “real” job. How could it possibly compare? He did this one day a weekend. He was a diver first and loved it. This was a way he figured out how to save money on the diving fees. Diving ain’t cheap. All the instructors were dive junkies just dealing tandem dives and pictures for their fix. I don’t know what they got paid, but they all loved their jobs. It was obvious from the joking.

My friend, Jeff, was strapped to a comedian. Don kept yelling out things that all us jumping virgins were thinking but were keeping to ourselves.”I’m getting off. I’m not doing this.”
“Aww man, I just shit my pants.” That one was believable with broccoli quiche behind me.

I noticed some prankster before me had used a finger to write on the dirty window “Don’t do it.” Thanks a lot. An Indigo Girls song started running through my head,
“I’m up on an airplane, Nearer my God to Thee.
I start making a deal, inspired by gravity…”

As if Mike heard my thoughts, he pointed out the beauty of the view above the clouds out the airplane window. He speculated that going to heaven would have such a view. I agreed, but hoped I wouldn’t know for sure any time soon.

Mike reviewed all the exit procedures and positions. He told me we might fall through a cloud. “If you fall through a cloud, remember to keep your mouth shut. Clouds can be fattening.” He was doing his best to keep my nerves at a dim hum rather than a screeching racket. “If we land on a thick cloud, we’ll just walk to the edge and jump off.”

It was a twenty minute ascent. As we approached 14,000 feet, I started feeling the effects of the thin air, nausea, shortness of breath. That might have been from the smell in the little plane. I was probably a bit dehydrated from the three hour wait in the sun. I was glad I didn’t have a full stomach, but my blood sugar was likely low. It might also have been the harnesses that Mike kept tightening. The strap across my belly seemed to be hooked under my ribs. I wasn’t about to ask him to loosen anything. Most likely my awareness of the proximity of vomiting or fainting was the nervousness that I was trying to ignore.

When we wrestled our legs out of the pile and got to our knees, I felt pretty sure I was going to throw up. The dive door was opened and 3 or 4 experienced jumpers were seemingly sucked out, causing me to gasp. I thought, I’m going to throw up and then pass out and miss the jump entirely.

I was compelling my body to cooperate and go with the momentum. Mike was explaining each step and we were edging to the door. My mind was running in an endless loop of
Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod whathaveIdone ohshit ohshit ohmygod ohmygod
Was I saying it out loud?

The videographer was hanging out the door to photograph my friend Jeff as he plummeted away from the plane. I did what I was told, making my body small and tight, hands crossed on my chest, feet tucked back between Mike’s knees, back arched.
The wind was deafening. The ground, two and a half miles down, looked like a green seventies quilt. We were way above the clouds. There was shouting. I closed my eyes as my body’s only remaining instinct of self-preservation.

We rolled forward.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The whole skydiving experience began days before with the anticipatory anxiety which you already know about. So the morning of, I ate a small, mild breakfast in preparation and drove down to Laurel, Delaware. We missed the turn into the airfield because it’s not a big airport. There is no paved runway. It is surrounded by cornfields. We turned around and drove down the gravel path. With my nerves tightening, I was grateful for the breakfast choice.

We found the manifest office and began the check-in process. We had a release package that required initials at each paragraph and lots of signatures and personal information, including who to call “in case of emergency.” One paragraph we were instructed to cross out and initial that we agreed not to agree with its contents. In doing so we were relinquishing litigation rights. The woman in the office said that if we didn’t want to sign away those rights, we could still fly, but it would cost an additional $700.
“So you’re asking me to bet $700 that I’m going to make it back safely?”
She grinned at me through the teller window and cocked her head to the side.
“Basically, yes.”
I signed.

We had not anticipated the volume of skydivers and had about 4 plane loads ahead of us, so the waiting began. Although it was a beautiful day for skydiving, it was very hot on the ground. In that cornfield there was no combination of shade and breeze. The places to sit in the shade were partially enclosed and therefore stifling. I felt like I was melting. My nose looks like Rudolph’s and I have the reverse raccoon thing going on from the sunglasses effect. If you go, I recommend sunscreen.

The three hour wait only served to increase the excitement and nervousness. We were able to watch loads ahead of us take off. We could see the professionals rolling up their chutes. We browsed the great collection of t-shirts. My favorite said, “Live life ad 120mph.” 120mph is terminal velocity: the maximum speed of any falling object when air resistance is factored out. I opted for the skydiver’s necklace which has the closing pin as a charm.

Knowing my nervous reaction often wreaks havoc with my bladder, I decided to find the restrooms. I noticed the restrooms had a no-frills shower. Why, I wondered, was there a shower at the airfield? I didn’t think people stayed here overnight. Then I remembered some of my fears related to bodily control in extreme panic situations. Perhaps that was a well founded fear. Did they install showers for the purpose of cleaning up skydivers who reacted as I feared I might? This question did not have any soothing effect on my nerves.

We watched the loads of jumpers before us as the appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the sky above us. You could barely see them before their chutes opened. Then the chutes opening into a gentle kaleidoscope above us. The daredevils drifted serenely to the ground, always landing on their feet, sometimes taking a few steps at a jogging pace. Two of the jumpers on the plane load before us were blind. One of the blind jumpers also was a scuba diver. All the jumpers left the landing sight smiling and laughing. Watching them kept my excitement high. It looked like so much fun.

I asked a passing man how his jump was. “Oh, it has its ups and downs.” I chuckled, but then the anxiety kicked in. What did he mean by that?

Finally our plane load was called to the packing area. I met my videographer, Glenn, who had a helmet with a still camera and a video camera strapped onto it. It didn’t look particularly aerodynamic. Once I suited up, he began the recording. He asked me what got me into this. I replied, “Talking to strangers.” The guy I was jumping with was once of the heavy equipment operators I met on the beach that fun day in March. It was his first jump too. He was just as excited, but less anxious than I.

I was jumping tandem for my first dive. That means I am strapped to an expert diver. My tandem guide was Mike, the guy who said skydiving had its ups and downs. He is 68. I want to be 68 like that: fit, vibrant, funny, and daring. He put me at ease and help me rehearse all the necessary moves. When I was all prepped, I helped him carry the packed chute over to the loading zone. It was much heavier than I expected. His cohorts saw me helping him and joked that I was going to have to go back for his oxygen tank next.

Tomorrow’s post I will tell you about the ups and downs of skydiving. It was an amazing experience: too much for one blog entry.


I believe that's what I said.

What an absolutely amazing rush of panic and thrill! I have so much to tell you about it. Since it's 2am, I will let the pictures do most of the talking. I'll write details later.

I want to do it again. Who's with me?

Friday, July 28, 2006

I have put my affairs relatively in order. If this is my last post, you'll know the jump didn't go well. But I anticipate telling you about the thrill of it all tomorrow - probably not 'til late before I get to post.
I haven't decided what to shout on the way down. I imagine I'll likely be speechless.

Tell me some of the daring things you've done.

Chutes Away!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Do you play word games in the car with your kids or friends to pass the time on a long drive or waiting in an airport? When my kids were younger, we would play an ABC game. The first player got “A” and had to select a name, name of spouse, product you sell, and place you’d live. Maybe this is one of the early forms of the “you-have-to-get-married” indoctrination. Anyway, you’d say something like this:
A my name is Abigail.
My husband’s name is Andre.
We come from Argentina.
And we sell Apples.”
We’d say it with the initial sound bolded like that. Then the next player would have “B” and so on.

As my kids have gotten older, I have attempted to jazz up our waiting game by requesting other information in alphabetical order. Once in a restaurant with only my son and his buddy, waiting for the dinner order was getting to be a stretch. So we played most of the Alphabet Game like this:
A my superhero name is Amazonia,
My super power is Apparation
My arch enemy is Average Man”

Of course that was my first example. My son’s and his buddy’s turns sounded a little different:
B my superhero name is Ballistic Bounce Boy
My super power is Bionic Bending
My arch Enemy is Big Butthead.”

Tonight we tried it this way and got some pretty good laughs. I love laughing with my kids. We can get pretty silly.
C I would never want my name to be Cruella.
I would never put a Chipmunk in my mouth.
And I would never want to live in a Cardboard box.”

I know several of you have waiting games you play with your kids. We have some time in the car coming up. It would be fun to have a bigger repertoire of games. Can you share your waiting game?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Bye, Honey. Be evil!"
"Ok, Mom."
"and be evil loud!"

Not my usual parting conversation with my 12 year old daughter. She has landed the part of the evil stepmother in a summer theater production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." She is delighted to be able to "brandish a knife."

What fun to play the villain with wild abandon, to be evil loudly, to make condescending faces and get praised for it. I'm a bit jealous.

When my daughter told her dad and his new wife about the part she landed, her step mother said, "Oh I have lots of good ideas for you!"

Pretty funny of her, huh? That's the first time she made me laugh. That's progress, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm up later than I want to be wrestling with my computer and printer. I'm trying to cough up some business cards for my first ever business networking breakfast. I'm nervous about it because I'm afraid everyone will know I'm not a real business woman. But my sister and my friends have been so encouraging. What's the worst that could happen? OK, I can imagine some catastrophes, but on the other hand, maybe I'll meet someone interesting. Maybe I'll even get some writing business.

So rather than bore you with my technical difficulties, I thought I'd make good on a promise I made over a month ago. I finally found the link to the article I wrote about my dad. I meant to publish it on Father's Day, but couldn't locate it. For some reason the sight that published it has deleted all paragraph formatting which I find a bit distracting, but I think you guys can handle it. I couldn't help myself trying to edit the article as I re-read it. I don't quite feel like what I write is ever totally final draft.

Monday, July 24, 2006

My son came home from summer camp all moony from his first romance. I think he is shocked and impressed at his own nerve of having asked her to the camp dance and actually dancing with her. I am so relieved that she said yes so that his first experience was positive and his courage was rewarded. Of course, why wouldn’t she say yes to such a charming young man? He is absolutely adorable. I am honored that he has shared so much of his sweet joy with me. He is only eleven. Maybe I should be worried, but there will be enough time for that in the years to come.

It got me thinking about my big summer camp romance. I suppose the statute of limitations has run out on this story. I don’t think my mom can ground me for this one now.

When I was 14 and at summer camp I loved a boy named Stan. Tall dark and handsome, he was at least six feet tall even at age 15. We could never find a private moment for a kiss on the camp grounds, although we did try. So he suggested that we sneak out of the cabins at night. It seemed like a reasonable solution at the time, so I agreed.

As the appointed hour approached, it seemed less and less like a reasonable idea. I had already told him where exactly my bunk was in which girls’ cabin. Lying there in the dark, waiting for the heavy breathing of my counselor, I chickened out. I decided I just wouldn’t go. I was sure it was a terrible idea. I would get in trouble with so many different people. I could get kicked out of camp. We’d never get away with it.

Inevitably the knock came at my window. (That reminds me of another story I’ll have to tell you soon.) I couldn’t fake sleep because the person on my bottom bunk was my counselor, Trudy. If I didn’t go outside and talk to him, either his knocking or the pounding of my heart was going to wake the whole cabin. I remember how slowly I had to lift the hook from the lock on the door in the hallway joining cabins C & D. I remember worrying about someone waking up and noticing the hook undone and resecuring it. Then we’d be caught for sure.

I intended to send him away, but he kissed me before I could speak. Then he took my hand and started running through the shadows down to the pond. I don’t remember if I said anything. If I did, it sure wasn’t enough to stop the ball that I had tipped from rolling. We were still quite innocent. We only lay in the grass and kissed and looked at the stars. I don’t remember how long we were there. I don’t remember sneaking back into the cabins. We never got caught – exactly.

Stan got poison ivy. I guess that wasn’t grass we were lying in. I have never reacted to poison ivy. I don’t know if it was the torment of the itching or just morning-after remorse, but Stan went all preachy on my the next day and said we ought to pray for forgiveness. He made me feel like it was my fault, like I was the seductress. That kind of sucked to delight out of our secret. We never snuck out again. I was kind of glad he got the poison ivy.

We kept in touch for a while after that summer, but ultimately, as most camp romances do, our relationship did not survive the school year. Now that I’ve confessed, I probably can never go back there again. That’s OK. The Recreation Director that we were terrified of is now the Director. He’s still scary.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I finally have made some progress in my closet, although I am using this interruption to blog about it, so progress is on pause. My problem was multiple. First, I only have a sissy 7 volt drill. I couldn't justify the expense of buying one for myself since the point of me doing it myself was to save money. I'll put it on my Christmas list. Second, I have very hard studs in my closet. I tried screwing them without pre-drilling. That was a mistake. Third, up on this ladder, I just am having trouble getting enough pressure behind the drill to sink the screws. Also I need to add a longer level to my wish list of tools. I never had a tool wish list before.

There is just so much to learn about screwing. I have learned that shortcuts are actually extra steps that don't work. More power is useful. If the studs are really hard, you have to drill them before screwing.

Back to work. Hopefuly this is the last shift.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Is this closet thing, this reclaiming of my personal space, a metaphor?
I think it is a good thing to get into your storage spaces and see what you’ve collected that you don’t use anymore. Some of my old clothes, like my thoughts from years ago, don’t fit anymore, or my style has changed. A lot of crap in there I can’t imagine why I saved. But then I found a $25 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse. Some things in there were more useful than I realized. Some good stuff I forgot I had was shoved behind my out-of-date styles. I am still saving some sentimental clothing of mine and my children’s. I don’t really know why, I just can’t bring myself to pass it on.

Sorting through it all and making the space useful again has been messier and taken longer than I planned. Change is often a mess. Hopefully it will be better when I’m done and can come out of the closet again. I don't want to spend too much time in there.

How’s your closet?

Friday, July 21, 2006

I started what I thought would be a simple project that has taken over my room and will last for days now. I hate when I underplan. I need my Construction Girl van of tools and supplies in the driveway and a team of Catholic boys to order around.

I decided to reconstitute my closet. I have friends with beautiful fancy closet organizers. I decided I could do it myself with shelving from the hardware store, saving money on labor and materials. So I measured my closet and went to the home store with one of my smart friends. We even tried to cut the wire shelves with gigantic cutters ourselves. I’m sure the teenage boy waiting on us thought we were nuts.

So, I honestly thought I could empty my closet, tear out the shelves, and slap the new ones up all in one day. (Are you laughing at me?) I forgot to account for driving my kids to playmates, stopping by the grocery store, fixing meals and cleaning them up, and the incessant laundry shuffle – not to mention e-mail checking, blogging, and phone calls.

Well, the clothing removal turned into a great opportunity to sort and prune. The shelving removal became tricky at parts because of some shortcuts taken at the time of original construction. Once emptied, I decided I needed to paint in there because I will never empty it again. Now it is almost 11pm and I have no coarse sandpaper or spackle. I also need my own pair of end nippers to get out some finishing nails. I have wanted end nippers since about March. Now I finally can justify it.

But tomorrow I retrieve my son from camp so most of the day is taken with that. So my hardware store run is delayed. So the spackle is delayed. So the painting is delayed. So the new shelving is delayed. So the mountain of organized and sorted clothing and shoes is going to prevent me from sleeping in my own bed for at least two more days.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I need your advice.
A friend of mine is designing a website for my writing career. On the website I will post links to articles I have written on-line, a sample of my technical writing, a sample of one of the personal essays I write, like the one I did for my friend's 75th birthday, the link to the sermon I preached. I need to write a bio. There will be a link to this blog too. I intend to include the website on new business cards.

My question is about my name.
I doubt I will use my current last name forever. I kept my married name so that my kids & I would have the same last name. Besides, I hate the hassle of changing everything. Another strike against my last name is that there is a famous writer whose last name is almost the same as mine. I've had a couple people ask me if that was me. (I wish!) So I've been thinking about a pseudonym. My maiden name seems boring. Construction Girl isn't a name. So I was thinking about a variation on my stripper name: Smokey Kingsfield. I like Kingsfield. My initials are A.M. I could be A.M. Kingsfield - which sounds like a completely different personality than Smokey. A.M. Kingsfield sounds like she'd be perky in the morning. Smokey Kingsfield sounds either like she would have a voice like Kathleen Turner or possible be a bear. Who would you be more likely to hire?

A follow-up question I have about Smokey is - how much do I have to use that name? Do I introduce myself as Smokey? My website designer has made a preliminary sight based on that name that looks fantastic. I love it. But all the article links will refer to my regular name. I am going to a networking breakfast where we pass out our business cards and hopefully make referrals for each other. Should I put "Smokey" on the inescapable adhesive name tag?

I've never used a pen name and have so many questions. I am open to your advice.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I understand that we are all mammals and therefore have hair. Some hair is good and some is bad. I don’t really care about baldness on men. Baldness is a sign of excessive testosterone which can be a good thing, can’t it? I always heard if you are bald in the front you are a thinker; bald in the back you are a lover; bald all the way back and you just think you’re a lover. Bald, balding, or full head of hair, it’s all ok with me as long as it’s the truth. I think trying to hide the obvious with a comb-over implies that you think I’m dumb, blind, or just shallow. While shallow may be sometimes true, I’m not dumb or blind. I can see if your part is two inches above your ear. The only thing worse is a toupee. I’d just rather men let it be what it is. I’d rather it be completely shaved than a comb-over or toupee.

Now I suppose this is entirely hypocritical since I “highlight” mine. As an explanation to my male readers, “Highlighting” means some of my hair is my natural color. “Dying” means it is all colored. After I had kids, my hair got darker. That’s one of the secrets of motherhood no one mentioned until after. I would have still had kids even if I knew that, it was just a surprise. So I feel that highlighting my hair is bringing it back to my original color. I don’t know how I feel about men dying their hair. I guess if it is a good job, it might be OK, as long as it looks natural.

Today though, I saw hair that was totally out of bounds. My daughter & I went to the eye doctor. I couldn’t help but be distracted by the piece of blue lint caught in his excessive, protruding nose hair. Unfortunately, it was difficult to avoid seeing the stowaway since my eye doctor kept getting close to my eyes. Then he shone a bright light into my eye and told me to look at his ear. I obeyed and saw that there was hair all over those too! It seems if you make your living asking people to look at your ear, you might look at it every now and then too. But I suppose if he had pretty ears, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about today. After all, we’re all mammals.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I am planning to go skydiving at the end of the month.
I used to have dreams of flying a lot. Sometimes I still have that sensation. So I always wanted to skydive. It seems it would be like flying. I tried parasailing and loved the view and the quietness up so high, but that was different. When I had kids, however, it suddenly seemed too risky. I just put it out of my mind and never thought about it again...

...Until a couple of weeks ago.
A friend of mine said he was going to try it and showed me the link of the company he was using. I watched the video and knew I really wanted to try it. I googled "skydiving fatalities" and learned that most injuries and fatalities happen to stunt divers. These people are pushing the envelope. I am statistically at greater risk when I drive my car than I will be skydiving. I won't be trying anything fancy.

I am going to try the tandem dive. I will be strapped to a professional. (That sounds interesting, doesn't it?) This way, even if I get scared to take that step off the edge, I'm going anyway. I hope I keep my eyes open. I hope I don't wet my pants.

I am getting the video. The videographer jumps too. What a job! If I can, I'll post it.

What should I shout when I jump out? Have any of you tried any extreme sports? Any of you tried skydiving? Why did you do it? I'm not really sure why I've always been intrigued by it. Maybe in one of my past lives I was a bird. Maybe I'm tired of playing it safe. I just want to feel what it's like to fly.

Monday, July 17, 2006

On the brighter side, the dating scene has provided lots of entertainment and adventure. Despite the fact that my various romances have not yet grown into lasting relationships, I’m glad, for the most part, that I have had them. I believe people come into your life for a reason. I suppose they exit your life for a reason too. The important thing is to learn, right?

As far as interesting flirtations and pick up lines, I have a couple of memorable ones to share. One of my first ventures into the dating scene post divorce was a singles dance for people 35 and older. I was with my married sister and her husband, and my friend Peggy who at the time wasn’t 35. So we were cheating a bit. I wasn’t brave or crazy enough to go to someplace like that alone.

Anyway, the hosting restaurant in DC was Mexican. The booths had large wooden carvings of horses on one side. You could see around carvings to the bar. Perhaps it was because I was sitting at a booth, or perhaps because one of our party was a guy, but no one had asked me to dance. I decided to take matters into my own hands. The four of us started looking around to find me a target. I made eye contact with a guy at the bar who I was discussing with my friends when he approached me with a memorable opening line.

Apparently taking his queue from the moment of eye contact, he put his hand on the hind quarters of the horse statue attached to our booth, leaned around toward me and asked, “Would you be interested in a horse’s ass?” Not your usual opener, but one that was humorous and ultimately honest. I appreciate honesty and humor, so we did dance. That romance had more length to it than many I’ve had since. I learned a lot, so it was worthwhile.

Another memorable pick-up line came at a local pub from a New York firefighter in town for a hockey tournament. We had already danced and were talking when my ride home tapped me on the shoulder. He said he wanted to talk to me again and asked for my number. I agreed and looked for a cocktail napkin that wasn’t too soggy to write on. Before I could find that, he whipped out a $100 bill and had me write my number on that. Then he pulled out a $50 bill and wrote his number on that and gave it to me. Pretty cool, huh? He did call the next night, but way too late. Hhmmm. What do you think he wanted? Eventually, I spent the $50. I suppose there is still a $100 bill circulating my number. Even though that encounter led nowhere, it was an impressive flirtation.

Do you have any lines that you’ve repeated? Did you ever have a dazzling first encounter, whether or not it turned into anything more? Maybe “dazzling” is too much, but memorable.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What is your opinion of a man-purse? Is it liberated or goofy? I suppose if it were the only flaw, it is certainly a manageable one.

I've been thinking of the growing list of... (I don't know what to call them - "ex-boyfriend" is too much)... dates that didn't pan out into continuing relationships. I have a growing list of turn-offs. I guess I really didn't know so many quirks were out there. I know nobody's perfect. However, once I decide that the guy isn't "The One," I seem to find a bunch of little stuff that irritates me - like the man-purse.

On one date I had a guy presented me with a copy of a letter of reference from a local politician for an act of kindness performed almost twenty years earlier. Weird huh?

So when I was first single again, my sister and a couple friends and I composed a description of the ideal man that had three columns: Requirements, Preferences, & Deal-Breakers. The problem was that I kept having to shift the items around. And like I said earlier, I kept adding to the Deal-Breakers column.

I deleted the file because it wasn't helping, but I can't help thinking about it. What leaps to mind as your Requirements, Preferences, or Deal-Breakers?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Music creates powerful memories for me. I can remember all sorts of inane facts if they are set to music. I tend to binge on music. When I get a new CD, I tend to listen to the first two or three songs over and over until I have all the words memorized so that I can sing it to myself later. This part of my brain is like an organic iPod. I may have a new CD for days before I hear song #4. Often the initial music binge will retain the memory of the events that brought the music to me. For example, the new Nickleback CD will always remind me of Bike Week in Myrtle Beach. Marc Cohn will always remind me of dancing with my children until we broke the coffee table. The Indigo Girls provide a whole language system for me and my friends Julie & Peggy. Pink Floyd's "Echoes" will alway remind me of skipping school during my senior year. All songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" remind me of my brother.

One of my favorite record album memories is Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell." The summer I was 14, I worked at a summer camp as Jr. Staff. "Jr. Staff" is a euphamism for free labor. My sister and I and one other girl, Pam, washed dishes three times a day. The kitchen wasn't air conditioned or even well venthilated. In those days, we had no machine other than the sink. It was a triple sink. The first held soapy water, the next rinse water. The third sink held water made blue by sanitizing tablets and kept hot by a gas flame underneath. We wore plastic aprons that literally melted in front of the third sink. I have never worked in such sweaty conditions before or since.

The cook that summer seemed so much older than us. John was probably 19. He worked under the head cook, Momma T, who loved him and the three of us girls. After the meal and the campers had cleared out of the mess hall, John pulled a stool into the sweaty kitchen and read to us. We handled the china plates as quietly as possible so we could hang on every word of the V.C. Andrews' "Flowers in the Attic" series. John was a fabulous story teller. We didn't work faster, but the miserable conditions were made much more bearable.

What does this have to do with Meatloaf? (I was jsut wondering that myself.) When John wasn't reading, we listened to his cassette player. Meatloaf was the tape of the summer. We would get into a little rhythm of washing & dipping the dishes to "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth." We would sing "Bat Out of Hell" at the top of our lungs. We would take turns with the parts of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" singing into spoons like microphones.

On road trips I still like to put in that CD, roll down the windows and sing loud. I still have most of the lyrics memorized. It makes me feel 14.

Do you have any good music memories?

Friday, July 14, 2006

I finally got myself to the movies to see "Pirates." As I sat flinching in my chair with my knees pulled up to my chest, peeking through my fingers I kept thinking - I let my 8 year old daughter see this? Between the creepy scenes and startling ones were hilarious ones. I loved the escape from the cannibals! Despite all the tension I felt during the movie, I'm sure I'll line up for "Pirates 3."

I've never been good with scary movies. I was a teenager of perfect babysitting age when I saw the first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" movies. I slept in my sister's bed for a month - lights and radio on, door locked. I never went back to check on the children I babysat after I put them to bed. I tried to find a place to sit in the house where I could not see any windows. I stayed on the phone until the parents came home. So I quit seeing scary movies. They still freak me out. I don't live with my sister anymore either but I could call her if I get too scared.

I feel a bit like Captain Jack, unable to see which way my compass is pointing. Would you rather be like Jack, without a certain heading; like Will, pulled by divided loyalties: or like Elizabeth, suddenly not sure of what she was once certain? Is anyone ever certain? Is it better to know you aren't certain or to make a certain decision and cling to it even when you are no longer sure of it anymore?

OK, if those questions are too much, how about this one:
On whose ship would you sail away: Jack's or Will's?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I enjoy talking to strangers. You never know if it will be a one time encounter, the beginning of a new friendship, or a difficult entanglement. However it turns out, I have heard some fascinating stories by talking to strangers. I have promised you one of them that I am finally delivering: the sledgehammer story.

Last March I had the ultimate Construction Girl vacation at the beach. If you have been with me for a while, you may have read about it somewhere back in March. I happened upon a construction site right on the beach and ended up having lunch with Jeff, one of the heavy equipment operators. He told me this story over pizza. I had to stop eating because my jaw was dropped open. (I swallowed first.) I saw him again when I went to traffic court and asked his permission to tell you this story. He had so many details that I’m sure it is true. Here it is.

Jeff prepared for his career as a crane operator as most heavy equipment operators do: he studied Art in college. One summer vacation in the 80’s, Jeff toured Europe with a group of college buddies. The young men took a ferry from Gibraltar, Spain over to Morocco to try their prowess at cliff diving. Jeff described Morocco as a beautiful country but a hole full of poverty. They landed in Tanger, Morocco, bright and colorful with a gorgeous fountain in the center of the plaza where tourists could buy all things Moroccan. The merchants always seemed to be shouting in Arabic. Quiet conversation did not seem the norm. Away from the tourist areas, the desert landscape of the Moroccan countryside seemed risky for tourists. Jeff saw a Dutch tourist poking at a cobra in the underbrush, ignorant of the risk his curiosity was creating. Tourists and cobras, however, were not the only ones at risk in Morocco.

The young travelers lodged with a variety of European tourists in an enclosed campground. The campground was surrounded by a high fence for the purpose of keeping the poverty stricken locals from nicking the tourists’ belonging. The fence wasn’t quite high enough on the night Jeff was there.

Exhausted from jumping off and scrambling up cliffs all day, Jeff and his buddies fell asleep shortly after nightfall. A commotion in the campground, more angry Arabic shouting, woke them around 10 o’clock. They left their tents and joined a growing crowd that had gathered near the main gate of the campground. The agitated campground owner was speaking excitedly to one of the nine Moroccan police officers who were guarding four men draped in native garb who were caught in the campground stealing from the tourists’ tents. The boys were the only Americans in the group and they tried to find someone to translate the angry shouts zinging between these Moroccans. Before they found a bilingual Spaniard among the onlookers to translate, Jeff witnessed the swift process of Moroccan justice.

Two policemen wrestled one robber so that the thief’s arm was stretched out over a log. The one officer not holding a criminal produced a five pound sledgehammer and approached the subdued tent raider. Without any ceremony, the officer held the sledge hammer low on its three foot long handle and swung the steel head in a full circle, landing a blow on the man’s upper arm.

It was the sound of the man’s arm being shattered, not the man’s screams that Jeff says he will never forget. The hollow wet thud sounded like a melon splatting on concrete. Without hesitation, the officer delivered another blow to the man’s lower arm and then again on his elbow. In the poorly lit campground, Jeff could not see any bones sticking out and remarkably there was little blood. He could see bends where they were not supposed to be. When the man got up, the arm hung at a sickening angle. At that moment Jeff knew that he was glad to be an American citizen. Jail looked extremely reasonable.

No one in the crowd intervened on behalf of the thieves. Despite the nausea from the repulsive scene, no one could look away either. Everyone was shocked.

The Moroccan officers dealt with the other robbers in the same fashion. Then everyone left. No paperwork. No jail time. I’m guessing no repeat offenders.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It seems that wherever I go I always get the last four squares of toilet paper on the roll. I expect it at my house because replacing the roll is a skill well beyond the scope of my children’s ability or even their awareness. What roll? I don’t really mind it at my mom’s or my sister’s house, but it seems to happen to me in so many different places. I must have some kind of karmic vibe going on the maybe doesn’t want me to have an easy time getting rid of my shit. (Is that gross? Sorry. I mean it as a metaphor.)

Some places it is easy to find the back-up roll. At the hairdresser’s today they had a cabinet with obvious extra rolls. Sometimes, however, I feel like I am snooping a bit when I look for the extra roll. I try to be real quiet with the cabinet doors so they don’t hear me and think I’m snooping.

When does looking for the extra roll become snooping? Have you ever seen something you maybe shouldn’t have seen in someone else’s bathroom while looking for something innocent? Or maybe they just left their medicine cabinet open because they just don’t care about hiding their prescriptions and you can’t help it, but you read the labels.

Is there ever an acceptable reason to snoop? Is it a smart way to learn about someone or a violation of privacy? Where is the line here? (Now any of my readers who have had me over to their home are wondering what I saw in their bathroom. Don’t worry, I have a terrible memory.)

Are you one of the people who leaves the roll empty – or with a useless few squares? Why do you do that? Do you see me coming?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tell me which of these jobs you’d rather have.

Job #1
On the last day of school this past school year, a neighbor boy missed the bus and I had to drive him home. When we got to his house, a guy from Verizon was in his yard marking phone lines. In one hand he had a tool like a metal detector. In the other he had spray paint in a tool that allowed him to stand up straight and spray on the ground. He seemed to be ambling along pleasantly enjoying the nice weather, beeping and spraying. The boy & I thought it would be cool to have a job where you could spray paint in people’s yards and not even get in trouble for it. I shared this observation with the worker who just smiled at me without comment, probably because his mind was numb from the boringness of his job. Still, it was a nice day and he seemed peaceful. His efforts were going to bring fiber optic internet speed to my home. I was happy to see him.

Jobs #2 & 3
I caught up with a childhood friend the other day. We haven’t talked in at least six months or more. The last time I talked to her, she had just gone down to assist in New Orleans through the Red Cross. I asked on our phone call if she was still working with the RC. She had parlayed the job into an important consultant working on the US’s pandemic response plan. (I’ve never been good at remembering titles, but hers was an impressive one.) The latest component of the plan she had been negotiating was called “Body Management.” It seems that our morgues are not equipped for pandemic numbers. So she had been running numbers based on the burning capacity of incinerators at equine facilities. For example, an equine incinerator can manage 2500 pounds an hour. (Did you know they burned dead horses?) She explained that if the average adult male weighed 180, a 2500 lb per hour incinerator could handle almost 14 bodies an hour or 333 bodies per day. I reminded her that in America she might want to kick that 180 up to 200. She continued to explain that to be efficient, children’s bodies could be disposed of in veterinary incinerators that had smaller capacity. I asked who would be the ones stuffing in the bodies. She was still working on that component. Her efforts would help contain a deadly virus. Although I’m glad she is working on a plan, I was not happy to hear about it. I guess those medical types can check their gag reflexes at the office door better than I can.

So which job would you prefer: mindless yard spray painter, grisly body manager, or incinerator stuffer?

Monday, July 10, 2006

The reward posters in the local stores seeking information on an as yet unsolved murder in my town have been replaced with ones that offer more money. Although the neighborhood crime rate has increased, I don’t think we’ve had too many murders – especially mysterious ones. My amateur opinion is that it was impulsive youth gone too far, not a serial killer on the loose. But I bet someone knows more than they are telling.

A friend of mine who worked for the FBI said that most crimes are solved because the criminal told someone who eventually spilled. There is something about us that we can’t keep big news like that inside- even bad news. Eventually we feel compelled to tell. Surely the person who murdered this teenage girl has told someone. I wonder if the confidante has seen how high the reward is now. I wonder how much the killer thinks he’s worth to his confidante.

It got me hypothesizing. What factors would you consider if turning someone in? I suppose it depends on your relationship with the murderer and the deceased. If, for example, it was my close friend and her psychotic ex, I doubt I’d spill the beans. If the murderer was my child I imagine I would keep the secret, I suppose depending on the victim. If my kids did it, I would guess the victim might have done something terrible to them. But what if your coworker confessed? Your boss? Your brother? Your spouse? How high would the reward have to be? Would you turn them in for 5 thousand? 50 thousand? Would you wait and see if the reward went higher?

The other influencing factor would be how bad you needed the money. Say you had a sick child in need of expensive treatments that insurance isn’t covering. You are sinking deeper in debt, coming perilously close to bankruptcy. The reward money would bail you out and create a nice cushion. Would you turn in your sister? Your neighbor? Your mom?

I was discussing this on a second date recently that turned into the second-to-the-last date. I asked him how high the reward would have to be to turn me in. He insisted he wouldn’t.

“Oh come on!” I contended. “Everyone has a price. You hardly know me.”
“I can’t answer that because then we’d just haggle over the price.” He was clearly not a free thinking individual. He was trying to find the right answer to please me. How annoying.
“I’d turn you in,” I declared with a smile.

He looked surprised. He should have been paying attention.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The drive home from West Virginia was just as pretty as the drive in – prettier in fact because it wasn’t rainy and more relaxing because I had done it before. I noticed an interesting restaurant that I hadn’t seen on the way in just east of Sugar Grove called “Fat Boy’s Pork Palace.” Wow, huh? Maybe next time we’ll plan a meal there. Too bad we passed it in the morning and it wasn’t open. You don’t get a chance like that every day.

I intentionally took a route through Harrisonburg because I had noticed a store on the way in where I wanted to stop. It was called “Harper’s Lawn Ornaments.” It was a significant sized lot jam packed with any kind of lawn ornament you could imagine. I’m not a very good gardener, so I felt the need of a garden gnome to add some color to my unimpressive flower bed. This looked like just the place to find one.

Harper’s crowded property presented a taxonomy of concrete and glass yard baubles. You could announce your religious convictions for you neighbors by decorating with statues of saints or Jesus or Mary. They had the Ten Commandments to soothe all those people who get outraged to have them removed from public property. They had several variations of Buddha which would have looked nice with their Japanese pagoda collection. There was a whole series of Amish farmers and children. If sorcery is your thing, a wide variety of wizards, nymphs, and dragons were available.

If you want to keep your religious affiliation to yourself, a plethora of other decorations were available for reasonable prices. Animals from all continents were represented. There was a colorful display of those reflective garden balls, all kinds of birdbaths and stepping stones and benches. There were pet tombstones and wisecracks for solicitors.

We settled on a medium sized painted gnome. We named him Keebler. He’s grinning out by the stonecrop in my flower bed.

Do you have any lawn ornaments? Do they have any good stories? What could we learn about you form your lawn décor?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I have a few tips for you to keep in mind the next time you find yourself in group sleeping quarters. On the Habitat for Humanity trip, our group stayed at the volunteer center. The facility was only about 15 years old, but it was constructed to meet basic needs. On the main floor were men’s and women’s dormitories divided by a large room that served alternately as a dining hall and basketball court. The women’s dormitory had two rows of about ten bunk beds on each side of the room. My shower had vise grips for a cold water knob.

Bunk selection depends on several of your personal needs. If you can’t sleep with the early morning light, you need to select a bunk away from the exterior windows. That doesn’t always make a big difference if someone in the bunk feels the need to enforce reveille by flipping on the lights and calling us to attention. If you are a light sleeper, you may also want to choose a bunk on the opposite side as the bathrooms. Otherwise you are plagued by foot traffic. The night time pee calls involve either flashlights or stubbed toes, so you have to weigh the limits of your bladder against the limits of your patience

Top or bottom bunk mostly depends on your age. Fortunately, our group was predominantly men, so there was plenty of room on the women’s side. Anyone who wanted a bottom bunk could have one. If you have someone bunking above you, hopefully it is someone with whom you have a respectful relationship. Since the upper bunks often house the teens and tweens, you might find muddy footprints and wet towels on your bed.

Another amusement in group sleeping is the organic nocturnal music. On this trip, the snorers were not too bad. I have dormed with women who were sawing logs with a rusty chainsaw in their sleep. This trip we had sleep talkers. Sleep talkers can be really fun because they often respond to your prompting. We had two girls who carried on a conversation with each other that they didn’t recall in the morning.

Otherwise you just have to negotiate the increasing mounds of used clothing and towels that don’t find their way back to their bunk or suitcase: the younger the crowd, the deeper and wider the pile. If you have to find your way to the bathroom after lights out, you would be wise to make a mental note of the piles before you hit the sack. No one is cleaning them up until departure day.

Our trip was damp. Not only was it simply a humid time of summer, but we had torrential rains the first two days. Everything felt damp. The worst was the bedding. It is difficult to feel cozy in bed when the sheets feel like they need 20 more minutes in the dyer. Even since the rains have stopped, the air has not been dry enough to pull out the dampness.

Then there are the public parenting issues. I don’t know if it is the mother or the teacher in me, but I can only tolerate bad behavior in other people’s kids for so long before I have to step in. I always try to allow for the parent present to formulate a response. However, if enough opportunities have passed with insufficient parental reaction, I will step in. I made it all the way to the fourth day this trip before I began my personal campaign of direct honesty. Perhaps I waited too long, but I’m just getting to know these people.

The compensations for these imperfect living conditions were twofold. We are in the deeply wooded areas of West Virginia in Pendleton County. You cannot find a place to stand that does not have gorgeous scenery. The verdant mountains have clouds clinging to them like burrs. The meandering highways follow the path carved by the rushing headwaters of the Potomac River. Deer grazing by the highway make a beautiful driving hazard to monitor. There are fields of lazy cows, sheep, and goats. It can take you 45 minutes to drive 10 miles on these convoluted mountain roads, but at least you are moving and the scenery is breathtaking. At home you are stewing in traffic. The night sky is spectacular. We are so accustomed to the light pollution of life in the city or suburbs that we forget how many stars there are. I even got to see several shooting stars as I sat on the porch at night. Absolutely beautiful.

The other compensation for the rugged living conditions is the satisfaction that you are leaving the County better than you found it. The Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity organization has their work cut out for them. They are trying to address a great need for simple, decent, and affordable housing. They offer repair work for only the cost of the materials. They house up to ninety imported volunteers almost every week between February and September. The staff in the office and the supervisors in the field were overworked and overwhelmed. They must love the high they get from handing over the keys to the new homeowner. So often our good deeds are not perceived, our efforts not realized. It is great to find a way to help that is so visibly beneficial. Sometimes less is more.

Friday, July 07, 2006

After my first day of work in West Virginia, I am a redneck – bright red. Long hair is new to me. Since I am single again, I am trying to appeal to the guys who went to high school with me when the Farrah Fawcett was the fashion. So I have a lower maintenance variety of that style now, kinda Farrah unplugged. I realized that longer hair is hot to work in, so I tucked it into my University of Maryland ball cap. Being a novice with long hair, it did not occur to me to apply sunscreen there. My hair had been providing a sun protection factor that I had not realized. So today when we began the day with a light, steady rain, I was relieved because my burnt neck was still stinging.

The work I was continuing on the exterior walls was physical and so I didn’t feel cold despite the rain. My pink tool belt served many on my crew who were not wearing tool belts or aprons of any color. The five most needed tools today were my tape measure, square, pencil, hammer and pry bar. Pretty soon, my team and nearby teams knew I was supplied. People would walk pretty far for my handy little pry bar. It is so easy to set down your pencil or tape measure and lose it. I was being very possessive and it was helping everyone around me. If I didn’t have the needed tool, I could often anticipate it and acquire it if not already in my reach.

There was one problem with my pink tool belt in the rain. It rained so steadily all day that everyone and everything was drenched. It was like working in a wet t-shirt contest. I was not the winner either. Neither were my shorts. When it was finally time to call it a day and I took off the soggy suede belt, the dark pink dye had bled over onto my shorts. There was no laundry option at the center, so the shorts just had to dry and sit for days before laundering. The change is permanent. It doesn’t look too bad. It’s not in the back. If anyone asks, at least I have a good story to tell them.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Construction Girl is alive and well. Today was the first day on the job site for my Habitat week. We are working on a twelve house sub division located on several acres in Sugar Grove, West Virginia. Two houses were under roof. One had its concrete foundation poured and ready to prep for exterior walls. One was almost ready for concrete in the foundation.

We woke up to steady rain that got steadier at times. Only lightening and thunder can end the day early, but we had none of that. Everyone was eager to work, rain or not. The rain prevented the concrete pouring, but the other three sites were ready to go.

Our group of thirty was joined by two other groups about the same size. Ninety volunteers are too many, so some of our group ended up going to the warehouse for inventory and clean-up to compensate for the lost jobsite. I did not volunteer for that even though it was raining. I know they still did meaningful work over there, but it sounded too much like housework which I find deadly boring. So I drove my van loaded with Presbyterians and tools over three mountains to Sugar Grove.

One of the other teams was an all-boy Catholic high school from Ohio. The few teenage girls on our team found themselves in great odds. The other group didn’t stay at the volunteer center, so we didn’t get to know them as well, but they were high school kids too.

My pink suede tool belt and work gloves from my previous life as Construction Girl were a hit. No need to be boring, right? At the end of the week when they handed out awards on scraps of lumber I got “best dressed on the jobsite.” I’ve never been accused of being best dressed before. I just hadn’t found my element yet.

I need to thank my former coworkers, Don & Stan, for the lessons with the hammer. Between my pink tool belt and my skill with the hammer, I managed to attract the attention of the only eligible bachelor on the job (not counting the Catholic boys, of course.) The strong armed supervisor later told me that the tool belt caught his eye, but when he saw me swing the hammer, he wanted to meet me. You know I have a weakness for strong arms. He asked me to be his assistant on a job later in the week where we were correcting some outlets and light switches that had been wired improperly by previous volunteers. I was happy to help him remove those shorts.

Anyway, back to the first morning. We stood in the downpour listening to the job possibilities for the day: siding & soffits, drywall, and something called “setting plates” that I raised my hand for. All I knew was that it had to do with the exterior walls of the foundation-only house. Eight of us were chosen to set the plates: 2 Presbyterians and 6 Catholics.

Lucky for me, another smartass Construction Girl was on my team. Because of our Catholic boy co-workers, we mostly we whispered our naughty comments to each other. I didn’t want anyone to think I was flirting with eighteen year olds. They at least need to be 21 for me. I have standards ya know.

Our team did end up dividing into four and four. One new graduate on our team was starting engineering school in the fall and was excellent at measuring and visualizing the end product. The other boy followed instructions very well, an excellent quality I think. Our team worked way faster than the other four. I’m not sure if it was because Construction Girls are less territorial about the cool parts of the job or because we were just more skilled. Probably a combo.

The sawdust created by the circular saw and the drills was kept under control by the constant rain. Once we had rimmed the foundation with our 2x6’s, or “set the plates,” we had to bolt them down. As Construction Girl, I had acquired some very useful tools that I and my teammates were frequently happy to have on this job. I got to break out my socket set to ratchet down the bolts. I wish I could think of how the write out the satisfying clicking sound that tool makes as it cranks down the nut. I love the sound of nuts being tightened. (See, that’s what we would whisper.)

The most fun for me was when I got to stand on a ladder and swing a sledge hammer. The exterior walls were different from any I have seen before. Once the plates were set, these big sections of exterior wall slid into place over them. These pre-fab walls called sit panels looked like giant rectangular scooter pies (moon pies if you are from the South.) They were two sheets of OSB board sandwiching six inches of industrial strength Styrofoam. Everything was wet, so we had to coax the pieces into place with a sledge hammer. (I still have a great sledge hammer story to tell you. Maybe after I get all this Habitat stuff posted.)

Even though sledging was a totally cool part of the job and there were all these eager eighteen year old boys around, I somehow got to climb the ladder and whack that panel down onto the foundation. Wow is that thing was heavy. Unlike the hammer, I could not swing it by the tail of the handle. The handle was too long for the weight of the head and the strength of my arms. It was great that everyone was willing to share the cool parts of the assignment.

The sun came out mid day, making it steamy for a while. We got two corners of the exterior walls in place before it was time to call it a day and go scramble for the limited hot water available in the volunteer center. It was fun to compare notes with my daughter about the tasks she got to perform. She had been on the team framing up studs for interior walls. I saw her swinging the hammer during parts of the day. She is a natural athlete and seemed comfortable with the tools. She looked good in her canvas tool apron. Next year, she will definitely have a pink one.

In fact, all the women on our team were talking about getting them for next year. Check ‘em out at That’s where I got the pink eye protection and work gloves. They have pink hard hats too. If you equip yourself, let me know and we can go on a build together. They even have an all-women’s build coming up this spring. I just might go. Wanna join me? We'd be happy to take along some guys to cook for us.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I have just arrived and settled into the Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity Center in West Virginia. That was an amazing drive. I kept thinking I must be lost or we must have passed it, but it was just a mountainous, winding road. I think West Virginia would be at least twice its size if you could smash it flat.

The rainstorms we were experiencing in Maryland are either everywhere in the Mid-Atlantic area or else they followed us here. I alternated between my driving glasses and my sun glasses. (I really need to go to the eye doc for these middle-aged eyes.) One moment it was sunny and squinty bright, the next it was a deluge forcing the bikers to huddle under the overpasses.

One highlight of the trip came just east of Front Royal when we stopped at The Apple House at the Linden exit. Here you can purchase wines from several Virginia vineyards, local jams, relishes, and jellies, pretty & marginally functional crafts, hamburgers dripping in greasy sautéed onions, and the best donuts you could probably ever find: the famous apple cinnamon donuts. Nutritionally speaking there is absolutely nothing redeeming about these delicacies. Deep fried white flour and sugar rolled in cinnamon sugar. The apple component is nominal, certainly no chunks of fresh apple. But every now and then you need something that is completely bad for you - especially if you have been good for a long time. You can't diet every day. I bought a cup of black coffee and a dozen of these gems.

Due to the lack of visibility from the rain, I accidentally exited early and drove through the booming metropolis of Harrisonburg, VA. We passed Harper's Lawn Ornament store on the outskirts of town. I made a mental note to stop there on the way home. That place was worthy of a blog of it's own. I wended my way out of the last "big" city in Virginia and quickly found myself in increasing wilderness.

The highway narrowed and the signs of civilization grew further apart. The trees crowded up to the edge of the road. I noticed three homes close together with brightly painted homemade signs reading “Don’t even think about turning around here.” I was wondering why so many people turned around there and what the local's beef might be with the u-turners. I didn’t want to risk any “Deliverance” style hospitality, so I proceeded without turning. I didn;t really think about it. Before long I realized that the narrow passage was really the last turn around available before you were committed to a serious mountain drive. It was two hands on the wheel, no fooling with CDs, eyes on the road. I felt like I was steering the roller coaster.

The last third of the trip had spectacular scenery. I woke up the girls in my car so they wouldn’t miss it. Because of the recent and current rains, the spectrum of greens was like an optic orgasm. My mother the artist wouldn’t have known where to begin. We were winding right up the side of these ancient rolling mountains on the old side of the continent. We literally had our heads in the clouds. We crested the state line between Virginia and West Virginia on Route 33 at 3580 feet above sea level.

I have been up Mount Evans in Colorado which, if I remember correctly, is a 14’er. That was spectacular in a whole different category – and much scarier. In Colorado, I actually passed a road called “Ohmygod Road.” I asked how it got its name. The guide said, “Just wait, you’ll see.” The drop off was terrifying for a flatlander like me. The difference is that I wasn't driving in Colorado.

The West Virginia mountains were not as menacing as the Rockies, but much more lush and beautiful. I was grateful I was not twisting up and down this mountainside in the dark. Concentrating to see around the bends in the road through the clouds we were penetrating, I don’t think I ever reached the speed limit. I caught one glare from a local for driving too slow. Too bad. He could see my Maryland tags.
My 4th of July party might have been the biggest disaster of a party I've had yet. The advantage of diasterous parties, however, is that they are so memorable. This one will live in my guests' memories for many Independence Days to come.

First of all, the guest list was a bit fluid. Who did I invite? Who RSVP'ed? I should really be more organized about stuff like that. Maybe if I updated my Palm Pilot. So how many were coming? How many burgers should I buy? (You didn't think I'd actually pat them out did you?) 48 burgers. 32 hot dogs. 16 Brautwursts. Who knew how hungry they'd be.

Everything started benignly (like my.... nevermind.) A few guests arrived an hour early, so the prep time got cut a bit short. That was no problem since my 11 year old son was so terrific about helping. (He's buttering me up so I'll buy him Halo2. Now I don't want to buy it because he's being so helpful and I don't want him to stop. How long can I stretch this out?)

Anyway, after most everyone was here - about 4o, and I was just firing up the grill, a big storm rolled in. What a doozy! It knocked down trees in the neighborhood. (damn Bradford Pears.) It was raining sideways. My noble brother-in-law, the marathon runner, martyred himself and grilled during this 30 minute typhoon. The lightening was dazzling and the thunder was eardrum splitting. You could feel it. We were in dead center of the storm cell.

My power went out. So now I have 40 dripping wet party guests huddled in my downstairs. Some kids are screaming with each boom, seeking shelter. Several ended up on the front porch to enjoy the organic fireworks. I did a quick excavation of my garage and some of the guests helped me haul in some tables and chairs for additional indoor seating.

When I finally sat down with a plate of delicious foods, a panicked girl burst through the garage door to report that my basement was flooding. I thought, flooding? Probably not. Oh shit, the sump pump and supplemental pump are electric. Buckets of rain. She's right.

I went downstairs where 10 kids were simply watching water pour under the door and soak the toys and blankets comprising their fort without thinking to move anything. They all had towels around their necks from the pool so I ordered them to drop their towels in the water. Once they comprehended the situation and understood that towels work well to soak up water, they reacted. We ended up forming a bucket brigade up the steps of my basement with me in the murky well passing up bail water. It's the newest rage in party games. I think they were delighted.

By the time the basement flood was averted, the rain stopped. The thunder kept rumbling, so the pool was still off limits. I broke out some of the sparklers and smoke bombs early. Then the "ground blossoms." No one even got burned.

The last guests left by 10:30. I drove my son over to a friends and stayed for a glass of wine to soothe my nerves. They had left for the fireworks in the city park. Her son told me I had the best party ever. It's all in your perspective, huh?

Monday, July 03, 2006

I started my 4th of July celebration on the 3rd today. I had a bit of an impromptu party for my family. I love it that my family all still lives in Maryland. I love it that my kids are friends with their cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We had steamed Maryland Blue Crabs for dinner: steamed crabs and cold beer in the back yard with people I love, listening to my new Paul Simon CD. What a great night. We practiced with some sparklers to get us prepped from my modest display of fireworks tomorrow night.

My eight year old enjoys a crab feast, but not really the crabs yet. I'm sure she will learn that. But tonight she just enjoyed a crab picking lesson. I pointed out bits of technical advice and she rewarded me with the meat. Then she enjoyed a rite of passage for a Maryland kid: she broke down a big claw and used it to pinch people at the table. I smiled to see her enjoying what she thought was new mischief.

My oldest has learned to enjoy both picking and eating. I checked her pile to see if she had left much for me to clean up. No, she's gotten pretty good at it. I was so proud.

What regional food specialties do you love?

I know I promised some posts about the Habitat for Humanity trip. I didn't get as much time up there to write as I anticipated. So I need more time to review my drafts and notes first. I've been so busy since I got home though. So I promise I'll get to it. It was so cool.

Enjoy the holiday tomorrow. I hope you see some sparks fly - in a good way.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I hope you all had a great weekend. I wonder who has to work this Monday and who is stretching out the 4th of July into an extra long weekend.

Last week was really a great week for me. I spent it with a group of volunteers in West Virginia helping build a house with Habitat for Humanity. I was out of internet range, but did take my laptop to write about the whole experience. I will be posting those in a series this week.

Have any of you gone on a Habitat weekend? If so, where and when and how was it? Do you volunteer with any other charitable organizations? I think these are much more important than going to church. Actions speak louder than words, ya know? It matters if you make a difference. How do you guys serve? When is the last time you were in touch with your inner do-gooder?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I have been picking up various dead animals lately. (You thought I was going to say men, didn’t you?) Now that the weather is nice and the critters in my neighborhood are active, my cats have been getting in touch with their inner predator. Lately it has been birds. I found the hind end of a mouse with its tail in the air by the back door. Although these small carrion are a nuisance, I prefer them dead than alive.

One day a year or so ago my cat came in the cat door with a bird in his mouth that was still squawking for help. When I realized what was making that sound, I kinda lost my cool. I didn’t want a bloody bird dying in my house. I didn’t want to touch it. My kids still use that as my extreme hysteria reference point, as in “Mom screamed, but not as bad as with the bird.” There was even a school friend of my son’s in the house who will reference it when I see him.

Not long after that incident I found a shredded bird on my deck. My friend Evelyn was sitting at my kitchen table when I came in, grossed out by the mess I couldn’t ignore.

“It’s times like this when I wish there was a man in this house to clean up the dead birds,” I complained in disgust.
“Believe me,” my wise friend said soothingly, stilling my arm with her hand. “It’s much easier to clean up your own dead birds.”

I think maybe she was right. I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t scream anymore but I still make a face when I pick up the carcass of whatever gift my cats have adoringly brought to me. I’m just glad the critters are dead. I guess I’m glad I clean them up myself. And I don’t step outside without looking down first.