Saturday, May 31, 2008

Maputo - Bob James & David Sanborn

I've had one of those gripey, annoying days where everything seemed to go out of its way to work my nerve, especially my children, and I'm still quivering from dredging up the mortifying details of my previous post.

Maybe it's the bass guitar, or maybe it's the memory of playing my first copy of this album until it warbled. It could simply be that a full listen happens to give me a seven-minute time out away from the "nerve workers." Whatever the reason, this song always, always, always makes me feel better.

Thank you, JS.

(If you can get away with headphones, wear them. In my view, not a single note of the bass guitar should be missed.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't go there!!

Some Things are Better Left Unsaid

I suspect that, once finished, this post will end up lurking as a draft for a long, long time.

As you may or may not have previously read, I moved out of my apartment on Valentines Day, 1991, and moved back home to save money for my future married life with The Oracle. Our wedding was set for the following July. Although my relationship with Mom was rife with conflict at the time, I sincerely believed I could "tough it out" until our wedding day.

In May or June, my mom and I were at home, probably playing Scrabble, when Mom starts the following conversation. For your reference, John is my former stepfather.

Mom: I've asked John to have a talk with (The Oracle).

Me: Why?

Mom: Well, with no experience, I think it's really important for (The Oracle) to know how to please a woman.

Me: Uh...what? (then it sunk in) No. Don't do that.

(Mom restated her case in some way, but my memory fails, thank God.)

Me: Mom, that's really not necessary.

Mom: You may not think so, but it is. I've already talked with John about it, and he agreed to do it.

Let me stop here for a second.

First off, the LAST thing any child wants to confront, outside of microbiology, is the means of how they arrived.

Secondly, when those means are now taking place with an unrelated party with your mother, it's even more taboo. I'll also confess here that in my teens I had the misfortune of opening their bedroom door at the wrong time and was greeted with a sight that I can't forget no matter how I try. Sometimes I hate my brain.

Third, the last thought I want running through my head on my wedding night is, "Gee, this is just how my stepdaddy does it!"

Lastly, at that point in my life, my virginity was nothing but a speck in my rear-view mirror. My mother staunchly believed otherwise; and she had assumed that The Oracle, being a good, devout Catholic boy, was the same way. We'd been up to all sorts of shenanigans by then, and I had no complaints, nor did we need any help from John.

Me: Mom, don't do that.

Mom: Why?

Me: Just don't. Don't embarrass me like that.

Mom: It's not embarrassing. I'm just looking out for your future.

Me: Mom, don't. I don't want John talking to (The Oracle).

This went around several more times when I finally forced myself to shatter her delusions. The grilling I got was worse than anything I'd experienced.

When? (Mom!!)

Where? (Mom, don't worry about it!!!!)

How was it? (Mom!!??!!) Yep. She really did go there.

Looking back, I had inadvertenly thrown The Oracle under the bus by not answering her questions. I've written many times before that I was an invertebrate when it came to Mom, and this instance was no exception. If I had told her the truth on when and where and who, not only would she have been thoroughly dumbfounded, she wouldn't have tortured The Oracle so mercilessly. Or maybe she would have found something else to pick on. Who knows?

It wasn't ended yet. The next day, I got a lecture from John on how I "really disappointed" my mother. Catholic guilt at its finest.

If I only had a spine...

At least I had enough spine that day to spare The Oracle a"tips and tricks" talk.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Dogs are disgusting.

Someone please, please, please tell me why, when given a choice, when no one is looking, a dog would prefer to snack upon the contents of the cats' litter pan and not the overflowing dishes of cat food!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Question for Today

What was your treasure?

My friend, SS, is involved in the sad task of going through her deceased grandmother's things. Having been there myself, I thought about that odd mix of feelings during such a task.

It feels like an odd invasion of their privacy even though they've gone on to better adventures.

This feeling hit me particularly hard when I went through my mother's bedroom (the only room in which I had an opportunity to do this, long story). Going through her dresser was the worst. As I opened drawer after drawer full of clothing, bits of jewelry, assorted mementos, and whatnot, I kept waiting for the slap I got when I invaded these same spaces as a nosy kid. I found a book of poetry and essays she'd written decades before, and I have yet to examine them. It's like reading her diary, and maybe there are things in there she didn't want her kids to know. If it wasn't my business then, why is it my business now?

"One man's trash is another man's treasure," or something like that. Now you've suddenly become the judge of what's treasure-worthy, trash-worthy, or useful enough for someone else to treasure. Your brain categorizes, keep it, give it away, throw it out. Who am I to judge all this stuff she felt important enough to keep, not give away and not throw out?

Before this post gets too depressing, the lighter side is finding something totally wonderful and unexpected, like the unidentifiable clay sculpture you gave her for Mother's Day or a letter you wrote from camp. It's wonderful to think that your handiwork is something somebody considered a treasure to keep.

My grandmother saved all the letters my grandfather wrote to her during their courtship. My sister saved notes she passed to her friends in high school, and the chain of bubble gum wrappers that she made in her preteens. It was several feet long. In addition to the usual mass cards that you get from funerals, my mom saved rosebuds from her grandmother's funeral (45 years ago), carefully drying them and placing each in its own tiny plastic box that once held sewing notions, complete with a slip of paper describing where they're from. I'm tempted to open one, but I'm afraid the flower will turn to dust if I do. (Hey, sis, I have two if you want one.) My uncle saved tons of junk, the most curious being a good-sized box of beer-bottle caps.

What was your treasure? What was that wonderful, sweet, or curious thing you uncovered in someone's left-behind life that you never would have expected them to save and preserve?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ford Explorer

The shop called and the Explorer is all better, and it isn't costing us a nickel. Somehow or other we managed to extend the warranty with zero deductible. I don't know how that happened, but I am counting my blessings.

I am also ecstatic because the puny rental can go back to Enterprise. It's a cute little car, a Nissan Maxima, but for me and The Oracle the thing is just too small. The Oracle shoehorned himself in there this morning for the ride to the train station, and I got a huge kick out of the way he folds/unfolds his body to do that. The doors are right up against our shoulders, and the steering wheel is only slightly larger than a Frisbee.

I can't wait for her to come home!

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Sibling" Rivalry?

We brought home the Pacifica almost a month and a half ago, and I'm now sitting through my second visit to the mechanic with the Explorer. Right before we went to West Virginia, I needed a repair from a nail in the tire, and now the "service engine soon" light is on. The first words out of the mechanic's mouth is that it'll cost $91 just for the computer diagnostic test.

$91 for a diagnostic test? Is this an auto mechanic or a medical lab?

I have to assume that the Explorer is jealous over the attention given to the Pacifica, because Explorer's wonderfully reliable attitude has been replaced with this negative attention-getting behavior. Next thing you know it'll be leaking fluids in the driveway or slugging Pacifica with its doors when I'm not looking.

Updated information: The computer diagnosis is something called an "evaporator purge leak," if I caught that term correctly. The mechanic says the only way to determine the cause and correct the problem is to "drop" the gas tank. Ummm... what about that extended warranty we bought on the powertrain? The guy says that the repair may or may not be covered depending on the cause. Crap.

One of their employees drives me to the train station so I can grab the Pacifica away from The Oracle and get Mighty B from school. I am sweating bullets, wondering what this repair could cost.

The guy called me back and told me that the problem is a bad hose, that the repair will be covered (Thank you, God!!!!), BUT they won't have the part until Monday. The warranty will cover a basic rental which I'll have to upgrade to accomodate my legs and my psyche. Never mind The Oracle's legs. I don't like puny cars.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Hey, whaddaya know, I survived!

Our optimistic 5:30 a.m. start turned into a reality-laden 10:30 a.m. As a result, we didn't arrive in Cass until it was quite late with two punchy children.

The bummer for me was that our cellular phone and internet service got spotty in the mountains and ceased to exist forty miles or so from our destination, but I was able to submit and bill for two transcripts before that happened, easing the pain of losing my tether to civilization as I know it.

It rained Thursday, but there was enough of a break in the weather so the kids could throw rocks in the river.

It rained Friday, again with an afternoon break, and by Friday evening the kids met some local children in the same age group and they happily played in the rain after dinner.

It rained Saturday, and that was the day of the train ride. Precious Daughter whined bitterly that she was cold and sleepy, and the ride -- almost eight hours of it -- was long and difficult until we found the toasty warmth of the coal-fired stove in the caboose. She and Mighty B. ended up sleeping on one of the cushioned benches for almost two hours.

It rained Sunday, but that's the day we left for home. The rain chased us most of the way. The kids were really, really good considering the length of the drive and lack of leg-stretching weather. It was pretty much pee breaks and food stops and that was that.

And despite my unwilling participation in this venture, it was nice having the kids and The Oracle all to myself. It's something I haven't had since -- well -- making this trip last year.

So do you think I'll be willing to do this again next May? I can't say. I really can't say, and I wonder if I'll even have a choice in the matter. Precious Daughter came home with a truckload of work for assignments she missed over three lousy days, and I'm amazed at how much work there is to do. Next year she'll be in second grade, and I don't see her workload getting any lighter. Maybe she and I will stay home and the boys can go play trains.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Aw, Man, Do I Have To?

I don't want to go. I really, really, really don't want to go.

Tomorrow morning, before the sun is up, we depart for mountains of West Virginia to visit the Cass Scenic Railroad. It's a special tour organized by a gentleman known for his "photo specials," where "foamers" (railfans) from all over the country and beyond come to take pictures of locomotives.

Cass is okay, I guess, but I'd like it a lot better if it were a day trip, which is impossible considering time and distance and traveling with two young kids.

The Oracle has been anticipating this for months. He has practically counted the days. He loves it there so much that this year we're arriving a day earlier than we did last year.

Now if you're a railfan, this is one excellent trip. The problem here, of course, is that I am not a railfan -- well, at least not to the extent that The Oracle is or that Mighty B is becoming. I like long-distance travel on Amtrak (gotta have a sleeper of some sort, though), and I enjoy the tourist railroads we visit from time to time. The one at which The Oracle volunteers is a lot of fun. That does not make me a railfan, though. For the railfan, the love of this stuff is almost an unquenchable passion.

When the wind blows the right way through my neighborhood, you can often hear freight trains on going by on the track that's a mile or so away. Sometimes Mighty B will pop out of a dead sleep to exclaim, "a train!" before collapsing back onto the pillow and picking up his dream where he left off.

Why am I so miserable and unwilling? Because during this time of year, there is no tourist season. We're in the no-man's land between the ski season which ended in April and the summer season which won't start until Memorial Day. As a result, there is nothing else for us to do. The other tourist attractions are closed until Memorial Day. There are a couple of little kitchenette sort of restaurants that sell hot dogs and frozen pizza; there's the large souvenir shop for the railroad; and there's another large gift shop place across the street from the Inn at Snowshoe, which is the recommended lodging for the photo special guests.

Worst of all, I won't have a cell phone or an internet connection. Considering how I live my life on this thing, having it taken away from me for several days is excruciating.

The Inn at Snowshoe is nice, sure, but it's the off season. There are no hotel services to speak of other than the hotel pool. The hotel restaurant isn't even open. Last year, the lady at the front desk let my kids use the pool while The Oracle was on the ride with everyone else staying at the hotel. The place was creepy and deserted, and I couldn't help thinking of The Overlook Motel. (Name that story!)

Since we're going for several days and need to feed our offspring something other than lousy frozen pizza and hot dogs, we're renting a cabin on the Cass Scenic Railroad property. The cabins are lovely and well supplied with cookware and gadgetry and such, but you still have to bring your own food. Packing several days' worth of food for four people is a pain in the butt, and I don't like cooking in a strange kitchen and cleaning up the strange kitchen when we're done. But, hey, at least I'll have something to do.

I am whiny and cranky and I don't want to go!! !! !! !!

Monday, May 5, 2008


Last week, The Oracle was sent by his employer to Washington D.C. Our kids happened to be off from school on Thursday and Friday, so on Wednesday afternoon we followed him there and squatted in his company-funded hotel room (thanks, Boss!) for two nights.

On Thursday, we visited the Smithsonian Institute's Natural History Museum and visited their special exhibit, Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution. The special treat of the exhibit (in my view) was the "butterfly pavillion," a mini tropical butterfly paradise chock full of dozens of butterfly varieties. It wasn't at all like a trip to the zoo where you may or may not see that critter hiding in the bushes. There were butterflies easily spotted on flowers, plants, fluttering about our heads, and landing on peoples' clothes. You had to watch your footing, too. It was the first time our kids willingly stood still all day.

If you find yourself out that way, it's well worth a visit. Admissions to the main museum and the exhbit are free, and there's a small admission charge (non member: $6 adults, $5 kids 2 to 12) to the butterfly pavillion. The website doesn't specify a closing date, but my guess is that it will run through June, because the next special exhibit starts in July.