Resources during Coronavirus isolation

The Coronavirus is going to be with us for a while and since we’re practicing social distancing for all the right reasons, here are some resources for eating, staying entertained and some ways to hang on to some zen. Everything listed is a free resource unless specifically listed otherwise.

Well that grew more quickly than I anticipated. Everything has moved to topical pages for ease of use now:

The Migraine Fairy

Did you know the tooth fairy has a sadistic cousin called the migraine fairy?   Her wings are scaly instead of glittery and she wears spiked combat boots instead of slippers.  The tooth fairy visits everyone in their youth so we’re all familiar with her.  The migraine fairy is more selective in her clientele, and no one really knows why she picks her victims.  For the good of fairy investigations everywhere, here below is a letter describing one person’s encounters with the migraine fairy.  Additionally, it may also serve to explain to those who do not have migraines what the experience is like.  

There’s this sensation at first that something is vaguely wrong.  Almost like the creepy feeling of someone watching you: hairs standing up on the back of your neck, a prickling between your shoulder blades, a vague sense of unease.  As strange as the sensation is, I’m actually grateful for it: I like to imagine it as a friendly ghost, hovering just above and behind my shoulder telling me that a timer has been set and I have until it goes off to get somewhere safe before a lightning storm starts in my brain.  The scientific name for this stage is ‘Prodrome’ which sounds to me more like a futuristic military weapon than the first stage of a migraine.  Although, on second thought, maybe that’s accurate too:  “Prodrome launched!  Prepare for impact!  Battle stations! Battle stations!”   

<<Editors Note:  It is likely that the ‘ghost sensation’ is caused by the proximity of the migraine fairy.  She can be tricksy and is known to cloak herself with illusion, making her incredibly hard to spot>>

Depending on the sensation, I know I’ve got between 1 and 3 hours to stop the migraine or get home.  If the ghost is sort of vague and wispy, I’ve got 3 hours and a possibility that I can stop the migraine.  If the ghost is more solid and sort of urgent, I’ve got an hour and I’m not going to prevent the migraine, I’m just going to manage the pain.

The ghost analogy may sound a little odd if it’s a sensation you’ve never experienced, so I’ll tell you that science isn’t entirely sure what’s going on in the brain during migraines.  Since your brain is how you interpret all the world, when something interferes with it even a little, you get, well… bad data.  And you try and use it, because it’s all you’ve got.  Think of it like being on a runaway train just outside your home town.  You can control how fast you’re going by adding or removing fuel, but you’re on rails, so you can’t control where you’re going.  You’ve been on the route a thousand times before, so you watch the shapes whizzing by outside the window to get a sense of where you are.  Maybe the green blur that you just passed was a water tower, or a group of trees, but either way, you know you’re about 5 miles from town.  The ghost sensation is a just like that: a sensation you’ve experienced enough times to be able to guess how far from the migraine you are.

When I was a kid, my prodromes came with auras.  They appeared before there was any pain and made everything glow in a fantastic surreal fashion.  I could watch a person move and they’d leave a colorful wake of colors behind them.  It made the world look magical for a little while before the pain set in.  No, I couldn’t tell anything about a person from their aura: The colors were all related to what people wore.  The brighter the color they wore, the bigger the aura around them was.   And knowing that didn’t interfere at all with childhood fantasies of being psychic, or a sorceress or anything else while I briefly saw magical colors.  Sometime in my 20s, the auras faded away and were replaced by the ghost sensation.

The friendly ghost over my shoulder is sometimes the second warning I get.  Every once in a while, the night before a migraine, I’ll find myself compulsively cleaning the house.  I feel great, nothing in the world is wrong, it’s just really, really important that all the dishes and laundry are done and none of the detritus of a busy life is on the floor.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a tidy house, but I’m no Martha Stewart and I always have better things to do than the dishes and laundry.  Shoes get scattered on the floor, books are left in piles and the laundry basket sometimes overflows while we try to get the most out of any day.  Half way through one of these compulsive cleaning jags I’ll realize what’s going on and do what I can to prevent a migraine.  I don’t have any science for why this almost OCD episode happens, just a guess.  Something, somewhere in my brain knows that a migraine has been triggered and that I’ll be visited by the migraine fairy’s combat boots before I wake up in the morning.  So, I’d better do what I can to make my future sick room safe and comfortable while I still can.  For me, that means nothing in the house is out of place and in particular, there’s nothing unnecessarily on the floor to trip on.

Why is tripping a concern you ask?  Excellent question.  Just about everyone knows that migraines come with a pounding pain around your brain.  What most people don’t realize is that the pain is only one jagged piece of the whole messed up migraine puzzle.  There’s a whole bizarre raft of symptoms that can come with migraines: blood shot eyes, shaking limbs, difficulty breathing, nausea, photophobia, it’s a long and terrifyingly varied list.  And to make it really adventurous, every person gets their own special set of effects. No two people react exactly the same to migraines.  So we all get to learn our particular set of circumstances and no one can tell us what they’re going to be ahead of time.

Photophobia is one of my migraine gifts: it literally means fear of light, but it’s less fear and more agonizing pain.  Even small amounts of light feel like knives being jabbed into your eyeballs.  Fun, right?  So to avoid that, I walk around the house with all the curtains drawn, the lights turned off, sunglasses and a ball cap on.  To complete my outfit, I’m in whatever felt soft and warm when I was getting dressed: sweat pants, pajamas, my husband’s’ sweatshirts, mismatched socks.  You get the idea: colors and shapes are totally irrelevant.  As an added bonus, I’m white as a sheet for the duration of any migraine.  It’s really sexy if you’re into vampire zombies.  I’ve answered the door that way and scared the bejeezus out of petition canvassers.  Tragically, the LDS guys in their crisp suits and earnest smiles have never come by when I’m dressed in this fabulous style.  Occasionally, to amuse myself, I’ll moan ‘Braaaaaains’ and attempt to bite my husbands head.  Because humor is really important when you have a migraine, but actually laughing could make your head explode.

Another fantabulous symptom is a general shakiness and weakness.  A typical spoon goes from a negligible weight to at least 5 pounds during a migraine.  Everything feels like it weighs far more than it actually does and the effort to move anything is almost overwhelming.  Just walking up a flight of stairs at home leaves me panting for breath and physically exhausted.  The day before, I might have run down 6 flights of stairs at work humming the Mission: Impossible theme without changing my heart rate.

With my adapted vampire light control kit on and extra special shakiness, you can see why it’s so easy to trip.  I move very slowly around the house more or less by Braille.  If anything is out of place, I’ll find it with my toes and take a head first tumble into the kingdom of Everythingsucksmorenowvania.   

        The base layer of the migraine cake is the pain.  Not just the stabbing sensation that feels like knives going through your brain.  Any kind of pressure anywhere on my body hurts – being hugged no matter how gently is incredibly painful.  Which is crap, because when you’re sick, you want hugs and people concerned about you want to hug you.  And it’s awful.

The filling in the migraine cake is a layer of nausea that makes everything except crackers and cheese sound revolting and impossibly hard to eat.  Since crackers and cheese are both migraine triggers for me, that circumstance led to an unfortunate several months of triggering a new migraine before the previous one had even ended.   Now I choke down a piece of lunch meat while my brain perversely screams that I’m going to immediately throw it up.   10 minutes later, not only have I not thrown up, the nausea is pretty much gone for a few hours: If it comes back, I repeat the experience.  I’d love to know what the chemistry is for this ludicrous effect, but I haven’t found any explanations for it yet.

During the very worst migraines, I get a layer of icing on the cake that my husband finds particularly disturbing to watch: I get dumb as a brick.  If I wasn’t dumb as brick during the episodes, I’d be disturbed too.  I lose the ability to think through something simple like: “I’m hungry, there’s food in the kitchen, I’ll get some food”.  I know all of those things, I am capable of walking, but it doesn’t occur to me to get up.  And it applies to everything while it’s happening.  Anything more complicated than a yes/no question is just baffling.  And really, sometimes that’s too complicated.  To be clear, this is not the same as pain making it hard to concentrate and answer a question.  This is more like someone walked up to a section of my brain, closed the doors and hung up an ‘Out to Lunch’ sign before walking away.  For me, ‘Flowers for Algernon’ isn’t an academic exercise from High School.  It’s a terror in the back of my head every time I start a migraine.

Now that the cake is assembled, we’re at the hideous waiting part of the migraine and sleep is only sort of on the menu as an option.  I set up the adult version of the sick nest we all had as kids, because once I lay down and the pain ebbs, a burglary couldn’t convince me to move and start the pain up again.   Take whatever you want, just don’t make me move and close the door on your way out.  The necessary supplies are a bottle of water, a plate of bite size snacks, a giant pile of pillows and some blankets.  The pillows are really a placebo, I always feel like if I can adjust the pillows into the perfect position and get comfortable enough, then the pain will stop.  It doesn’t work, and I know that, but it makes me feel like there’s something under my control in the moment.  Now, it’s time for distractions.  No one understands me like my iPod about now.  It makes noises I can control, doesn’t make light, tells me funny things or sings me to sleep and it never gets tired of distracting me. Even the best husband in the world will eventually have to stop reading out loud to you so he can do trivial things like eat or sleep.

Every hour or two, I’ll slowly sit up and look suspiciously around for the migraine fairy.  If she’s still around, she’ll sneak behind me and kick me in the head with her giant combat boot when I get too close to standing up.  If I’ve out waited her, she’ll have gone to do terrible things to someone else and left me alone.  So I’ll stumble up and see how much she roughed me up before she left.  On a mild one, I’ll be a little tired for a couple of hours.  After a bad one, I’ll spend an entire day feeling like I just got over the flu – tired, achy and wanting real sleep.

The day after I recover fully, I will try to do everything, all at once: because I am so deeply grateful for simple things like being able to take a step without pain or count past 3.  Really.  The lack of pain is like a miracle that first day afterwards:  It borders on euphoria and everything is beautiful.  


<<Editors Note:  Considerations for future investigation: Is it possible that the migraine fairy’s’ job is to ensure that moments without pain are valued?  Does her intervention cause pain free times to be valued more highly after her presence has been removed?  Experiments to prove or disprove this hypothesis may be problematic>>

Into the Gloaming

I love the word ‘gloaming’ – it sounds like what it is.  A moment caught between between gloomy, glowing and dreaming.  In the early fall there are these moments in the gloaming when I get in the car and start driving with the windows down.  The usually black roads take on a surreal purple glow as the white paint dashes fly by.  Outside of the glow, it’s hard to focus on the distance – somehow it’s at too bright and too dark at once to convince my eyes to adjust to the available light.  Only the road and the things on it stay in focus as the warm wind whistles by outside the window and the smell of the city recedes into warm grass and swaying trees.  It feels like another world must be over the horizon, just over the this hill, right after that curve.  Some magical place there’s no other way to reach.  All the stress and tiredness from the day drifts away on the breeze and I feel like I could drive forever into that twilight road.

I wonder sometimes what will happen if I just keep driving.  If I win my sunset race with the gloaming will I turn that last corner and find Avalon or Shambhala?  Or is it the road opening up in front of me the magic instead of the destination.  Having lived in brick for a long hot summer, is it time to find somewhere new to be for the winter?  Am I racing the turning of the season instead of the turning of the day into night.  I can hear it whispering to me through my open window: “This is the way to the next adventure.  There’s something wondrous a heartbeat further down the road.”  In a few more seconds I’ll be able to see it.  
Some fall night, I’m going to follow the glow on the road and see where it takes me.  Don’t fret, if I find the road to somewhere new, I’ll come back and show you the path.  If I don’t find anything, well, I’ll just have to try again another fall evening.  I’m sure there’s something making that intoxicating smell and mesmerizing glow.

Set the Table!

Stepford wives, hair shellac and gingham, oh my!

I talked my best friend into entering photography at the state fair with me.  In a fit of inspiration and ambition, she went online the day registration opened and saw all the many, many other competitions at the fair.  One category said it had limited space, first come first serve and only 8 entries would be accepted. She grabbed a spot for us in the ‘Fanciful, Adult’ category.   For table setting.  Ok, why not?  I’m in.

I grew up going to county and state fairs, and I have vague memories of beautiful tables covered with vibrant table cloths, stacks of dishes, rows of sparkling crystal and elaborate centerpieces of dried flowers.  I remember the tables being the brightest, shiniest things in the enormous hall that all competitions are displayed in.  Every memory has the the top of the tables right at eye level for me, so I must have been 6 or 7 years old the last time I looked at those entries.  Based on my fuzzy memories, I thought we’d be setting a pretty table for 4-6 people and that it was a whimsical fun sort of thing to do.  The experience was so much stranger than we expected.  Putting fancy dresses and bowler hats on your pet lizard and thinking it’s serious business kind of strange.

First there are the rules to the table setting. You must supply a table no more than 3ft square and the table must be set for 2-4 people.  That’s a tiny table to put 2 people at much less 4.  But fine, we measured all the tables in both our houses and found one that qualified.  Next, you must construct a detailed menu for the meal.  Mind you, you won’t ever have to make any of the food or drinks on that menu.  Absolutely no food is allowed on any of the table settings.  So we decided on a princess’ tea theme and BF came up with a mouth watering menu complete with wine pairings supplied by Google.  Thankfully there’s no oral portion to the competition, because we still don’t know how to pronounce on of the wines.  It comes from Spain, and I think they export it to get rid of all the X’s in their language in one shipment.

The imaginary menu has to be displayed as part of the setting and it must be legible to the public from several feet away.  So we picked a fancy swirly font that was still easy to read, put a tiara on top and printed it out on irridescent gold paper.  It looked swanky and whimsical all in one go, so I thought we’d done pretty well.

Next came the settings. All the dishes that would be necessary for the menu you created need to be on the table.  I’d been at an estate sale a few weeks before and found a box of pink rose dishes for $5.  If we sort of shuggled things around, we could use those as the dishes, complete with tea cups and saucers.  We spent an evening trying out loads of combinations, and settled on something so over the top girly, I was sure we couldn’t have been the ones who made it.  Looking through the rules for what order wine glasses get set in, we found a layout of proper table setting for the formal category and decided we were quite happy not being in it.  There is (no kidding) an international standard for plate, silverware and glass placement that the formal entries are judged by.  We can’t agree across national borders on anything important, but we totally have international agreement on which fork goes where on a well set table.  When everything looked good, we took some pictures so we could do it again, and packed it all up into boxes for transporting.

A week before the fair, there are two 4 hour spots available for entrants to set up their tables in Salem.  Since I was camping that weekend, I raced off site at 8am, met BF and her husband at a parking lot halfway and we all raced down to the fairgrounds.

We walked into the cavernous hall and up to the volunteers doing sign in.  They checked BF in, but because their online form didn’t allow multiple names, they didn’t have my name.   They directed us to where our table would be and we headed back out to the car to get the boxes and table.  With all three of us laden with stuff, the volunteer led us over to our spot and gave us the admonition that only BF could set up.  Her husband and I could only supervise.  A little startled, we explained to her that we’d done it as a 2 person team which the posted rules allowed.  She tried to assure us that only one person could enter, but arguing rules with BF, BFs husband and me is maybe the most futile thing anyone on the planet could do.  BF had a copy of the rules in the box with all our gear that we handed over to the volunteer.  She reviewed the rules, checked in with someone else, then came back and told us we were right, we could have 2 people on the team, but the third person absolutely could not touch anything.  So BFs husband stood about 15 feet away watching us with some bemusement.  I have to give the volunteer credit, she was cheerful and working hard at being helpful the whole time.  Faced with the three of us early on a Saturday morning, that’s noteworthy.

We set up our pretty table next to the others that were taking shape.  I felt pretty good about it right up until a woman and her daughter came over to lend us their ruler.  They were setting up the little girl’s entry when they (I think it was the little girl) noticed that we’d forgotten our ruler and were very generously offering to lend theirs to us.  Because without a ruler, the plates and silverware can’t be exactly an inch from the edge of the table.  I had one of those grown up moments where I smiled at the kid and said “thank you” when what I wanted to say was: “What the hell kind of competition is this?! I didn’t forget a ruler!  Why would I need a ruler to set a table!  Who makes rules like that?”  

The kid and mom were awesome for noticing we’d “Forgotten” something and offering to help. But the feminist in my head keeps squinting through the aether at the mom and wondering whose idea it was to teach a little girl crazy formal table setting rules.  Why isn’t she in a science club on a Saturday morning?  And the rational part of my brain responds: “Kids are weird and maybe it really is what makes her happy.  God knows I did weirder things as a kid and none of those got me shiny ribbons”.  We finished adjusting the table, gave the ruler back and headed out through the smoke haze covering the Willamette Valley.

A week later, we came back to the fairgrounds to see how we’d done.   The rain and wind were so strong tents were being blown over, which made the population of the fair deliciously low.  We headed straight for the table settings and were disappointed there were no shiny ribbons on our pretty table.  I was irritated that someone had propped the menu up and knocked over the salt & pepper in the process, then I noticed our judging card and my eye started to twitch.

Every other competition at the fair has a plain, tiny white card next to the entries with the entrants name, the category and maybe the name of their entry.  Any feedback the judges choose to give the entrants is concealed behind the item.  Most of the time, there isn’t any feedback, but after talking with a friend of mine who’s a judge at a different fair, they’re careful to make the feedback encouraging and supportive because they genuinely want people to enter next year.

Table setting is whole different beast.  It’s so different, it may be a three headed marsupial from another planet.  In front of every table was a museum style display podium with an 8½ x 11” sheet in it.  Generally when I see podiums like these, they’re displaying a page that says something like “Leather coat worn by Flight Commander Yevgeniya Zhigulenko.   On loan from the Hermitage Museum”.  This time, however,  it had BFs name in bold pink script at the top, followed by a bulleted list of errors we’d made.  Honestly, I could hear the woman who made sheet saying ‘Bless your heart’ after every statement.  It was somehow worse that she’d taken hours to beautify the judging cards.  Every single corner of paper had a butterfly hand punched out and another butterfly glued somewhere on the center page as an accent.    


I came back a few minutes later and looked at the entries that had won.  Which left me conflicted – were they actually as ugly as I thought or was I just mad I hadn’t won?  First place, well, it was weird and unappealing, but ok, I can see that everything was very precise and with a really simple menu, there’s fewer pieces to put on the table.  Second place just baffled and irritated me though.  For highlights: There was a hand stitched quilt as the tablecloth, the menu was mostly stew and the centerpiece was a cast resin pheasant.  The kind of statue people put in their west hills garden to make it look rustic.  After a little more forensics at the other tables, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the judge

  1. Disapproves of purple.  It’s a bad color.  Maybe a naughty color depending on how you read the comments.
  2. Approves of dusty blues and thin line plaids.  
  3. Approves of anything that looks like it would fit into a swanky forest lodge that’s been decorated to be “rustic”.  I’m pretty sure their version of rustic comes from Perry Mason reruns.
  4. Took the time to put category signs with more butterfly cutouts over every single table.  In addition to the judging sheets.
  5. Wears starched blue gingham dresses and high heels at 5pm every night while sipping a martini garnished with olives on chilled silver toothpicks.   On further thought, I think this is true regardless of the judges gender.  
  6. Loves table settings in a way that may require an intervention from friends and family.  Step away from the Martha Stewart books.
  7. Probably throws epic dinner parties when it’s not fair season.

We’re entering again next year of course.  It was just too weird to not do it again.  And I’ll take table setting over quilting any day – those people are crazy!


County Fair Oddities

Entering into county fair competitions can lead to some very strange places. On a whim I checked out the website for our county fair on a Thursday morning.  I thought it might be fun to go that weekend, so I clicked around to see what was interesting.   After the usual pictures of rides, midway games and farm animals, there was a list of competitions with links to their entry books.  I clicked a few of them out of idle curiosity.  

There at the top of each category booklet was the date the entries for all the competitions had to be turned in  and it was that same day by 7pm at the county fairgrounds.  For Multnomah county, that means Oaks Amusement Park, 8 minutes from my house.   Naturally, I spent my lunch break that day at the local MegaMart printing out my favorite photographs and buying card-stock to mount them on.   I spent 20 minutes in the hot midday sun using the back of my car as a craft table picking out flattering colors of card-stock and taping pictures on them to ‘mount’ my pictures. It looked… weird and amateurish, but it met the criteria in the Official Officious Fair Photography Booklet.  I made it back to my desk after my lunch break with 2 minutes to spare.  The second I finished work at 5pm I jetted across town to pick up a beach bag as my second entry.

You may be wondering why I had a beach bag waiting at home to enter in a county fair.  It’s because I wanted something completely insane again and making it was the least infuriating option.  Last fall I went to Hawaii for a week and I wanted a beach bag.   Nothing elaborate, just something cheery that would do what *I* thought a beach bag should do: hold my swimsuit, towel, wallet, sunblock, iPod, book and a water bottle in a reasonable manner.  You know where this is going right?   I want my wet swimsuit and towel to go in the bag without ruining my book.  I want my phone, wallet and iPod to be easily accessible instead of sliding inevitably  under every other damn thing.  I don’t enjoy looking like a harebrained idiot fishing for gold in the bottom of my bag when I try to pay for something.  Also, if I get my bottle of water out of my bag, I don’t want it to catch on the leg of my spare underwear and slingshot it across the tour bus to land on the tour guides ex-Army-Ranger head.  What?! It’s hot and muggy in Hawaii, sweat happens and I am not putting sweaty underwear back on after I go swimming.  

Anyway, you absolutely can buy a bag that does all the ridiculously unreasonable things I wanted, but they cost between $400 and $1,000.  If I had that much money laying around, I’d be spending a second week in Hawaii.  So I designed a bag that did what I wanted and got all the fabric from garage sales and goodwill bins.  It was a fun quest to find materials that were both pretty and not so icky I couldn’t bear to touch them.  No, I’m not being squeamish, the Goodwill bins can be a biological adventure requiring gloves.  I spent about $15 on supplies and even scored a batch of heavy duty zippers from goodwill.  The bag worked great on my trip, but that’s another story.

Off I rushed to the fairgrounds through the remains of rush hour with my pictures and beach bag.  I pulled into the creepy empty parking lot and considered driving directly back home.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in the only car in a vast lot and looking into an empty, silent amusement park at twilight.  Well, there’s nothing quite like it outside of the opening minutes of a horror movie.  I kept hearing Sam’s’ voice from Supernatural saying “And Clowns can Kill!” as I wandered around the empty amusement park.  Eventually, I saw a folding wooden sign with “Entries” blazoned on it and an arrow pointing to the main hall.   Hoping it was, in fact, the county fair competition entries instead of the lure to the gory first death scene in the movie writing itself in my head, I went up the stairs into the hall. Inside was stiflingly hot.  It felt like hitting a heat wall going through the front door – there was no air conditioning, or event fans.  the only air movement was from people walking around.  Perfectly normal, alive, not-zombie people were doing frantic setting-up things all over the place.  I stood there sweating and reading the 2 dozen signs posted, hung or draped around the building trying to figure out where I was supposed to be.

All around the giant hall, there were volunteers sitting at paper covered tables surrounded by oddly organized piles of handmade goods.  Each volunteer looked like some kind of feudal lord surveying their crafted competition fief – complete with a cardboard sign hanging vaguely overhead showing the name of their particular estate: “Preserved Foods”, “Quilts”, “Textiles”, “Unknown organic items that took 80+ hours of work to do something unrecognizable as art”, etc.  With every second, it looked less like a killer clown movie and more like Green Acres.  Queue new mental soundtrack.

I approached the lady of the Textiles domain and after hearing my petition to enter my beach bag, she told me my entry would go better with sewing.  I rambled around the hall until I found a trio of women surrounded by piles of cheerful, but unidentifiable, fabric items.  They sounded like they were having a fabulous golden girls reunion and asked what I was entering.  When I described it, they popped open their newspaper print fair manual and huddled around as the shortest one ran her finger down the columns until they found the categories my bag was closest to; hand sewn bags or a reclaimed fabric category.  There was also a reclaimed yarn category…which i didn’t know was a thing and I’m intrigued by.  The merry trio decided I should enter the reclaimed fabric section and filled out the paperwork for me.   

When they were done, the golden girls sent me to the photography table in the center of the hall.  Four big tables with one frantic volunteer in a green 4-H shirt in the center muttering and trying to figure out where her predecessor had put all the paper work.  I told her I had photographs to enter and without ever looking up from the piles of papers she was shuffling, she handed me a form with a big 4-H symbol on the top.  I asked if she had any not-4-H forms and her voice got even more vague and confused.  We had a strange circular conversation about whether I’d filled out paperwork which started and ended with me saying ‘If you tell me where the form is, I’ll fill it out’.   She finally looked directly at me and in an annoyed voice said ‘are you a member of 4-H?’  Since I’m closer to 40 than 14,  I told her no.  After a thoughtful pause I told her the women at the sewing area had sent me directly to her.

With that flash of irritation that happens at every volunteer run event anywhere in the world she rolled her eyes and pointed to where the grown ups are supposed to enter their photographs.  Remember the vaguely hung signs?  For photography it was behind a constructed backdrop where no one could ever see it.  Because photographers are supposed to be psychic – I didn’t know until that moment, but I’ll do my best to fake it.

Inside the hidden photography section was a volunteer sitting quietly at a table looking tolerant.  It’s the look people get when they’re embarrassed by their family, but saying anything at all would just make the situation so much worse.  There were 3 women trying to put entry labels on their photographs.  One woman was sitting just a smidge too close to the volunteer – shared arm-hair-space too close.  Two giant tables, lots of chairs and she needed to sit that close.  He was frozen in place with his arms locked to the paper tablecloth while carefully answering all her questions about the photo tags.  The photo tags, mind you, get your name in the space labeled bafflingly ‘name’, a 3-5 word description of the photo on another line and a standard code for the category you’re entering.  Then you fold it in half and use that modern marvel cellophane tape to attach it to your photograph.  They’re just not complicated and she was working soooo hard at asking him questions.

The other two women were at a different table and trying very hard to be brave: terrified of trying something new and babbling in fear sort of brave.  Neither of them had ever entered a photography contest and were egging each other on to get all the tags filled out correctly.  They tried to get me to help, but their fright at getting something wrong started infecting me and I resorted to telling them to ask the volunteer.  I’d never bloody entered a picture before either and I wasn’t nervous about being judged until I listened to the two of them.  I’d have felt bad about redirecting them, but I figure the two frantic women were probably still better company than the too-close woman.

I got my entries tagged and turned in and escaped to the much cooler breeze outside.   Back through the empty amusement park to my lone car in it’s giant parking lot.  Either everyone else in that building rode their bike, or there’s a parking lot on the other side of that park that I never did find.  Or I did walk in and out of a horror movie and no one in the building was real.  Probably not though.

We came back that weekend to play at the fair and I felt like a little kid hunting for my entries all over the main hall to see how I’d done.  Past the dozen handmade aprons, after the biggest zucchini competition and opposite the chocolate cake display I found my beach bag and it had a big blue ribbon it!  There might have been a little dancing around while my husband laughed.  Then I wound around the temporary wall maze covered with all the photography entries looking for my pictures.  There they were among all those other lovely pictures with a red ribbon on one and a white ribbon on another!  It’s amazing how those little ribbons can make an adult giggle and dance like a 4 year that’s just been handed a giant lollipop.  We spent several hours playing around the fair afterwards, riding rides, eating terrible food and maybe once, sneaking back in to admire my ribbons when no one was looking.  

There’s a 4 hour window on Sunday right after the fair closes when all the entries have to be picked up.  I raced away from a lovely BBQ with friends to pick up my entries before they shut down for the night.  The volunteers were trying to be polite, but they needed a sign at the door that just said: “We’re exhausted, we don’t care anymore, please take your crap and go so we can get home and sleep”.  When I collected my photos after it was all over, that same tolerant volunteer guy was there.  He made sure to let me know that my pictures probably would have done better if I’d matted them properly.  I explained about the cardboard and the rule book and he sighed that volunteer sigh and said he knew.  He’d already fixed the rule book for next year.  I wondered how long he’d had to be polite to too-close lady on entry day, but I couldn’t think of any way to ask that would have him laughing instead of tiredly flinching.  

Off I headed home with my $10 prize money, 3 ribbons and an odd mini cross stitch kit.  I’m hooked on using fairs as deadlines to get craft projects done now.  I get shiny ribbons for doing things I already want to do.  Why didn’t anyone tell my inner magpie about this before?  I think I’ll try the State fair while I wait for them to mail me next years competitors handbook for the county fair.

The IT Cult

Working in IT isn’t a job, it’s a bizarre religion….Imagine a well shaft filled halfway with ectoplasm and dozens of vaguely ball shaped objects.  The balls are every possible size, color and density all constantly moving, touching, connecting, then sliding away into a new orbit.

The heavy balls are are always circulating below the surface where you can’t see them.  Their constant movements known only by the acolytes devoted to them.  These globes have sanskrit etched into them with words that sound like ‘Firewall’ or ‘Network connection’ or ‘Router’.  To see these mysterious bodies, you only have to drink the holy Kool Aid that lets you see and breathe below the surface of the ectoplasm.  Once you’ve drunk, the ectoplasm engulfs you as part of itself, and you’ll never rise fully above the surface again.  Years after leaving IT, you’ll be at dinner with your family and a look they’ve all come to recognize will pass across your face. You’ll start saying words like ‘BigIP’ and ‘Secure connection’.  Don’t worry, your family will politely ignore you until the episode passes, then clean up the green goo you secreted onto the Thanksgiving table during your little ‘moment’.   This is the order of the Network

Some of orbs are lighter and float partially above the surface.  The larger of these read ‘web’, ‘sql’, ‘iis’ and glow with a sullen hypnotic light.  Their glow encourages the uninitiated to fondle and move them about in the flow of the well shaft.  Members in the orders that care for these orbs can scald those interlopers with only the tone of their voice.  Their rituals are filled with scorn for outsiders and require hours each week castigating members of all the other orders.  These are the twin orders of angry Database and sullen Servers.

The smaller orbs floating just at the surface have tiny precise markings of ‘C’, ‘C#’, ‘Perl’.  There were once many marked ‘Java’ but few now remain.  These balls are hard to see.  Their ability to absorb all light making them uncomfortable for most to look at.  Their devotees are constantly smoothing and reshaping the balls to reach an ideal size and perfect roundness unaffected by all the other objects orbiting in the well.  It’s an impossible task, but never tell them.  They won’t understand.  This is the order of Programmers

Floating fully above the surface of the ooze is a solid layer of brightly colored balls.  The layer is so thick, it makes the well look much like a childrens ball pit when viewed from above.  Each of these balls has a humans first name scribed on it in puffy paint.  The newest balls could be read by touch, the oldest look tattered with only a letter here and there remaining.  This is the order of the HelpDesk.

Last week, a disturbance was introduced into the well.  Somewhere between the realm of the Programmers and the realm of the Network, something was different.  The mighty users far beyond the Order of the HelpDesk could not login to their beloved and thrice-hated precious artifact.  Each order said their ritual words and retreated to their own levels to reassure each other, the fault was not theirs.

Being the first to notice and foolishly, the first to raise the alarm, I was tasked with finding the cause and convincing the responsible order to rectify the damage.

I spoke with the Order of the Network and was told that though my code could not have caused the problem, it must be changed before they would allow me an audience.  The changing of the code would take weeks to percolate through each system though… so I must wait those weeks for an audience and an answer.

I spoke with the Order of the Database and was told that they were in consultation with the Bovine Gods of second lunch and could not have caused or seen the disturbance.  They retreated to their temple and with a whiff of fried potatoes, locked the doors.

I spoke with the Order of the Server and they had such great certainty that the Order of the Network was the cause that the retreated gleefully to find proof in their obscure ever changing tomes.  Their gaze has been so intense since that time that they no longer respond to requests.  Not even the sacred box of the ‘za lords wisping with the odor of pepperonis has been able to draw forth their attention.

I did not speak to the order of the HelpDesk.  For truly, telling them would bring chaos and panic with no incantation to offer them which they could read to the Users to calm their inner demons.

Days passed…One of the Order of Programmers confessed quite sheepishly to reciting an incantation at the Altar of Servers a full month early and without invoking the will of the entire Order of Programmers.  There was the rolling of eyes and the gnashing of teeth, but even this was not the true cause of the disturbance in the depths of the well.

So here I sit, a full week later.  No answers.  No incantations of healing.  No soothing balm for the mighty end users.  Just a sacrificial presence to be excoriated when the users realize their precious is still being damaged somewhere in the bowels of the well.

Batdog on aisle 1

Sometimes, BatDog happens on the way home from work.

It started when I got in the wrong line.  Again.  It’s as predictable as an ice cream headache.  I get in a line and it’s going to be the slowest line.  Usually in the weirdest possible way.

I was in Trader Joes a few nights ago.  It was busy and every checkout line was open.  I got in line behind a guy holding a basket and realized after a few seconds that the guy ahead of him had a cart with 10,000 small packages of frozen food.  It looked like he had meticulously selected one package of every single item in both freezer aisles.  That’s gonna take a while.  I glanced over and saw another line with only 2 women in it.  They had similar builds, identical frizzy henna red hair and were standing less than a foot from each other.  I guessed they were family – sisters, maybe mother/daughter, and they only had one half full cart, that’s got to be quicker than the line I was in.  So I switched.

What was I thinking.

The checkout guy was suuuuper slow.  First day on the job confused and slow.  Oh good, I’m in the new guys lane.  Fine.  It’s not his fault he’s slow and the next time I’m in, I’m sure he’ll be much faster.   I watched as he pulled each item out, checked every side for the bar code, scanned it, then set the item in oddly precise columns on the bench next to him.   Not in a bag mind you, but in columns on the counter.  Meanwhile, I’m hungry, my uncooked dinner is in my basket and my patience is wearing thin.

Ten minutes later, one of the women ahead of me left with her groceries without talking to the second woman.  So the second woman just spent 10 minutes standing disturbingly close to a complete stranger.  That’s not weird or anything.

Ok, maybe they’re family and not on speaking terms.  Two sisters go shopping for groceries together and one of them accidentally mentions in conversation that she’s the one who knocked over the bunsen burner in their freshman science lab igniting a beaker filled with ethanol, causing the antiquated fire sprinklers to go off in every room in the school.  Unfortunately those sprinklers went off while her sister was presenting her paper mache scale replica of ‘The Thinker’ to the selection committee for a summer scholarship to intern at the Louvre. She didn’t get the scholarship because all the committee saw was a gooey grey mass glorping slowly onto the carpet.  So the sisters part without talking at the checkout stand.

Yeah, I don’t think so either – that was a total stranger climbing all the way into someone else’s personal space bubble and hanging out so close they were sharing eyelash dust.

The lady who had no food to buy at the grocery store then proceeded to buy an $80 gift card.  Using one $20 bill, two $5 bills and FIFTY FIVE $1 bills.  Which the new kid had to count, face, then recount.  While I stood there watching everyone else in every single line checkout and left the store.  If you’re wondering why I didn’t change lines, its because something else would have happened in the new line.  Exploding bag of frozen peas, Lithuanian tourist paying with pesos, Confused PETA protester blocking everyone from buying frozen Tofurkey….really, it could be anything, but it would happen in the line I was in.

When the Bunsen burner sister finally left, the poor clerk started carefully examining and scanning my dinner packages before precisely placing each item into columns on his counter. Still not bagging anything.  A woman I think was a manager came over and started bagging my food while he finished scanning.  Briefly, I thought I was moments from leaving the store with the dinner I was beginning to wonder if I could eat raw.

But no.  Instead, BatDog happened.

The manager stopped bagging groceries and looked behind me at the entrance doors.  Her eyes lit up and she shouted 2 feet from my face: “He’s back! Our mascot is Back!”.  Then with extra volume still too close to my ears: “BatDog!”  She gestured behind her to another employee, then left my half bagged groceries and went outside.  To coo over the ugliest dog on the planet.

I paid the bill, finished bagging my own groceries and after a sympathetic thought for the completely flummoxed kid at the check stand, I left.  Or tried to.  The two employees and a passerby were blocking most of the door exclaiming over the dog.  As I shuggled my way between them and the outer wall of the store, I heard her exclaim “We call him BatDog because he looks like someone hit him in the face with a bat and he’s a dog!”  The cooing squeeing sounds faded slowly as I walked through the rain to my car.

My 5 minute errand on the way home turned into another 30 minute show in the theater of the absurd.  I’d worry something is wrong with me that this keeps happening, but I live in Portland and I like to write.  I think its the cosmos giving me what I want in the oddest way possible.  That happens a lot actually….

Circle of Life

When I’m forced to witness that whole ‘Circle of Life’ crap at high speed, I expect Lion King music at least.  If the universe can’t supply that, I’m going to need an ice cream sundae, a lot of hugs and a flapper dress.

My favorite aunt turned 85 last weekend.  I was going to race down before work on Monday and decorate her breakfast place with balloons, but instead I got a text on Friday that there was going to be a party on Sunday.  Since my husbands family was spending the weekend with us and helping us paint every-freaking-thing in the house, the timing was inconvenient.

But: Favorite aunt.  85 years old.  Yeah.

Instead of painting walls Sunday morning, I found myself snuggled up at the computer with my 4 year old nephew playing Guild Wars.  I steered our character around with the mouse, while he carefully found and pushed on they keyboard (ONE time) the letter or number I called out.  Together, we vanquished monsters, helped farmers harvest crops and explored the virtual world for about an hour.

A few hours later, I headed down to my aunts retirement facility to be a part of the other end of the spectrum of life.   We spent a little while decorating the social room under the erratic direction of the 6 residents scattered around the room when we arrived.  After we’d made the room suitably festive and garish, my aunt was wheeled into the room and immediately harangued by this guy I didn’t recognize.  He was tall with a full head of iron grey hair and a lean, hollow frame that outlined how muscular he must have been when he was younger.  His plaid shirt was snapped neatly up to the collar and matched the turquoise and silver ring that covered the entire first joint of his middle finger.  He and my aunt started the kind of rapidfire back and forth harassment that sounded like something out of a buddy-cop action movie.  If anything they said had been between strangers, there would have been flying fists and thrown chairs.  Instead, it was hysterical, naughty, and I’m positive it was ratcheted up to 11 because they had an audience.

As I walked around handing out diabetic comas in the form of sherbet filled punch cups and slabs of cake  overflowing the confetti patterned paper plates with enough icing to fill a pothole, I heard the funny old guy talking again.  He was looking down at the blue plastic party table cloth and said “Thats what the ocean looked like the day we bombed Hiroshima”.  And just like that, he had my full and undivided attention.  I knelt down at the end of the table and listened until my knees went numb and he was done talking. Every once in a while one of us would ask him a question and he’d be off on another fascinating story about his life.

In the Navy during WWII, the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he was on the ocean.  For 2 hours afterwards, he said the ocean was as flat and still as a table top.   He remembers animals from the islands being blinded and deafened.

He described the day he and his two buddies were manning one of the big guns on their ship during an attack.  They needed a different kind of ammunition to shoot at the planes and he was the one that ran below decks to get it.  When he came back, the giant gun was split in two and both of his buddies were dead and blown off the ship.

Not long after that, when he left the Navy, he bought 12 military jeeps still in their crates for $100 each and had friends truck them to where he sold them for $500 each.   He’d been in trucking before the war and still had friends in the business.  He remarked in a very irritated tone that you can’t even get those jeeps for $1,500 now-a-days.  I quietly wondered at the… “logistics” of a dozen jeeps owned by someone in Hawaii making their way over the ocean to the continent where they could then be trucked “somewhere”.

Back stateside, he started working as an animator for Walt Disney.  Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, he worked on all of them and he liked Walt Disney.  He loathed Walts’ brother – who took over after Walt died.

He worked in Hollywood for years.   His best girl is still Linda Carter – he has a signed picture of her on his wall today and swears she winks at him every time he walks past it.

When he was done with his cake and punch, he told my aunt happy birthday again and wheeled one of the other residents back to her room on his way.

After he was gone, I talked with some cousins I haven’t seen in years.  The trio of sisters are all retired now and having grand adventures they regaled my aunt with.  One of them drove a horse drawn wagon across Ireland – camping each night with people from around the world.  The horse was uncontrollable and they remember him only as ‘Red devil’.  Another cousin Volkswalked in Europe, Ecuador, every US state and she’s almost completed every US State capitol. All three have been visiting family across the country.  They brought my aunt her high schools’ yearbook from 1943 and we looked at  all the pictures of her husband when he was an athletic and very handsome 18 year old.  The whole conversation was fun, funny and filled with a zest for life.

As I was driving home, I kept thinking about my aunt and the man whose name I forgot to ask.  They aren’t angry about slowing down and getting old.  They’re present, and filled with treasured memories.  Even the memories that aren’t joyful have the weight of making them into the people they are.    My aunt likes hearing about my adventures but she doesn’t need them to live vicariously through.  She’ll tells me that she’s had a full life and a lot of memories.  She doesn’t regret anything because she seized every moment: every opportunity to experience life; every chance to meet someone new or try something different.  I grew up delighted by watching her horrify our family with her adventures and shenanigans.

When she moved into a retirement facility, she gave me one of her flapper dresses with a matching hat.  At some point in her 50s she discovered Jazz festivals.  That led to her and her best friend learning to make gorgeous flapper outfits complete with hats, boas, feathered headbands, ropes of pearls: the whole 9 yards.  They traveled all over the place wearing their fancy duds to dance to live Jazz. One of my earliest memories of her is at a Jazz festival in Old Sacramento.   A few days a year, OldSac packs every building, stage and alleyway with bands that play late into the night.  I remember being up long past my 5 year old bedtime and wandering from alley way to alley way seeing my larger than life auntie dressed up as a flapper as our guide to Jazz.

Her favorite phrase is: “Well, it’ll be a new experience”.  From the tone of her voice, I’ve never taken that to be defeatist or depressing.  I’ve always heard it as a celebration of life and gathering in its fullness – there’s always value in a new experience.   At the very least, it will be interesting, but until you’ve tried it, you won’t know if it will be spectacular.  That horrid phrase ‘It is what it is’ sounds like its antithesis to me.

So what about us my friends?  When we’re 85 will you look back with me and rejoice in all the things we did or bemoan all the things we could have done, but didn’t?  Put on your flapper dress or fancy duds, lets go find some shenanigans to get up to.

Rafting Madness

I met a river monster who feeds only on terror, and he was charming.

I’ve been white water rafting a couple of times before.  Lovely excursions on a sunny day with friends and family.  Always group trips with a guide who knew what we were going to see and do.  At no stage in any of those trips was I afraid.  I may not be a water person, but I know how to swim.  I know that if I fall into the river, I should try and stand up in the water before I even start considering panic.  So this latest trip, occupied the same space in my head before we started.  A relaxing, fun day with friends on a beautiful river.  They didn’t tell me about the monster traveling the river feeding on the terror of the unsuspecting tourists.

Outside the rafters shop, we started off with a lecture about safety and gear as the cars whizzed by on the road 4 feet behind us.  I should have realized right then that something wasn’t right about the whole set up.  Who lectures people about safety while having them stand with their back to a rural highway?  2 steps backwards and their clients would be doing smashed strawberry snack-cake imitations.  I was lulled into a sense of security and amusement by all the safety gear we were required to wear: full wet suit, wet suit booties, splash jacket, life vest and helmet.  Who needs all that stuff to go down a river in a giant raft with a guide?  We all got our load of gear and suited up on the lawn.  I’m not sure theres anything that can make me feel more ungainly, awkward and cause serious adolescent flashbacks than trying to put on a wet suit on a green lawn filled with frigging teenagers showing off their bikinis.  But, whatever: white water rafting with friends who are funnier, wiser, kinder and wittier than teenagers ever were.  So, fully outfitted and quickly overheating in our rubber suits, we boarded an ancient school bus and headed to the river.

Off the bus in a sunny park, we heard another safety lecture from a stout man who could have bench pressed the school bus.  Two things were really clear: 1)The leading cause of head injuries on rafting trips is the oars of other rafters and 2) ‘Aggressive self rescue’ is a euphemism for ‘Don’t be an idiot, if you fall in the water, start swimming’.  And with those two gems, we trooped down to actual water.

Three minutes after splashing into the river I was grateful for my silly wetsuit and splash jacket.  The water was in fact glacial even on a warm sunny July day.  The first hour was a joyous ride down a river surrounded by high stone walls  and the most amazing variations on water color.  Blue into grey into green and eddying back to blue then bright white where the rapids reflected the sun.  There was no sound of traffic or crowds.  I forget how accustomed I am to city noises to until they’re completely gone.  I could actually hear the light breeze rustling through the trees on the riverside a few times.

The guide for our raft was a slim tall man with red hair and a well worn set of gear.  He was charming and sounded like he knew what he was doing.  He even pointed out interesting things about nature as we went past.  We listened to him with some interest right up until he explained that the pipe crossing over our heads was a migratory tunnel to support nocturnal woodchuck mating patterns.  After a hysterical story from one of my companions about carnivorous water mammals (told with a completely straight face) he stopped trying to convince us he was a wildlife expert.

We went through some fun rapids and cold water splashes before we pulled off with the other rafts onto a muddy section so we could talk about going over the falls.  Up until then, I was convinced that ‘the falls’ was just a slightly bigger rapid that the guides were legally obligated to talk about.  Yes, I saw the falls as we walked past, but I didn’t understand.  It didn’t occur to me that you would take a raft over a 15 foot waterfall on purpose.

As I listened to the third safety lecture, I started thinking that this was insane and by the end I was completely convinced.

“Going over the falls is risky” …That makes sense…

“If you fall out of the raft going over the falls, you should swim to safety” …That’s sensible…

“There will be people on the shore with ropes at the bottom of the falls.  If you need them, they’ll throw a rope and pull you to shore.” …That’s a good precaution, I approve of the forethought…

“If they look right at you and don’t throw the rope its because someone else needs the rope more than you do, you should swim yourself to shore (Aggressive self rescue)”  ...well that’s mildly concerning, how often does that come up I wonder….

”Be aware that water recirculates at the bottom of the falls and if you fall out of the raft and get sucked under, you could get recirculated with the water” …Well that sounds bad….

“The smaller you are, the more likely that is to happen“ …uh oh….

“The only way out in that circumstance is to tuck yourself into a ball and let the water shoot you out the bottom, don’t struggle”… oh sh*t, I’m gonna die…

I looked around at all the calm happy people and thought, they’re all relaxed, the guides do this literally twice a day, it’ll be fine.  I’m panicking for no good reason.

For the next ½ hour or so, we practiced the “procedure” for going over the falls as we went through smaller rapids.  When the guide said “Get Down!” we each grabbed the rope around the outside of the boat in the same hand as our paddle, jammed one foot over and one foot under a strap that ran under the inflatable support in front of us, then reached over the inflatable support behind us and grabbed the strap the people behind us were  holding with their feet as we moved our buts down to the bottom of the raft and assumed a sort of frantic upright fetal position.  The whole thing should only take a second or two to do as we rushed towards the falls because we’d be paddling right up to the last second to build up the speed that would keep our raft from flipping as we went over.

When we got to the calm just before the falls, all the rafts pulled off to one side to let the people who wanted to walk around the falls off at the shore.  Then our raft rowed across to the other side to act as a sight line for the other rafts.  From where we sat, we couldn’t really see the falls, we could just see the bridge over them and a little white froth where they had to start.  As we watched the first raft in our group raced towards the falls, I heard the guide yell ‘Get Down’ then they were gone.  And a second later, we saw 1…2…3 ropes arc into the sky towards people who had fallen out their raft.  The ropes that wouldn’t be deployed unless people couldn’t swim to shore.  As I sat there, I was seriously considering jumping out of the raft and swimming across the river so I could walk around the falls.  Because who goes over a waterfall in an inflatable raft with nothing but a twizzler stick of a paddle and a thousand year old life vest as their only defense on purpose?!  Only crazy people do that.  And as I took a second look to make absolutely sure the water where we were wasn’t strong enough to pull me into the falls, our grinning funny guide said ‘Let’s Go!’.

I glanced back at him and saw an inhuman grin on the guides face as he pulled a green mouth guard out of his pocket and popped it into his mouth.  Why did he need a mouthguard and why didn’t we need one?  What the h**l was about to happen.  And with that thought, more adrenaline shot into my brain.  Then we were paddling as hard as we could towards the falls.  Not away from the falls like sane people would: Toward the falls.  I heard the guide say ‘Get Down’ and grabbed the rope and the strap and slammed into the bottom of the boat and screamed.  Because what else can you do with that much adrenaline?

Screaming while going over a waterfall is fine, but if you’re still screaming when you hit the water at the bottom, you choke.  Important safety tip for someone else to learn from.  I hope I’ll never need to know that little nugget of wisdom again.  While I was still choking and sputtering and swearing my undying love for blessed oxygen, I popped up and started rowing with everyone else because there was a flipping boulder on one side at the bottom of the falls and we were headed right for it.  We hit it and sort of ground along it for a few feet before we were into the clear water on the other side.

We drifted for a little ways down the river then pulled off to pick up the smart person who’d decided to walk around the falls.  While we sat there, in the calm water I was shivering so hard the guide asked me if I was cold.  Nope, not cold.  Just the totally predictable shakes that come from being completely convinced for a few seconds that I was going to die a bubbly frothy white water death.  As I glanced back at the totally relaxed guide I felt a spike of ice go up my spine.  I’d been merrily rafting down the river with a mythical creature for hours and not suspected it.  He wasn’t frightening to chat with.  He’s really quite charming.  And of course, no one ever suspects a gawky ginger of being a monster that feeds on terror.

We drifted quietly downriver for  a while, there were a few more rapids, then we were pulling in to the shore and hauling the raft back to the bus.  We rode back to the shop and peeled the wetsuits off before heading towards town and food and normalcy and away from the ‘people’ who run the rafting tours.  The next group of rafters didn’t see us leaving because their backs were to the road, listening to the ‘safety talk’ as we drove away.  The guides were standing around, smiling, waiting for their trips to start and their next meal on the water.

You’ve been warned.  Travel the rivers at your own risk.


When I was very small, I was a brownie girl scout.  The uniforms were tiny brown pinafores with wool beanies.  Even I thought they looked old fashioned and I was 4 years  old.  In hindsight, I think I assumed they were old fashioned because anything that made old ladies barely bigger than I was coo and talk to me like an infant had to be old fashioned.  There’s really nothing quite like going from reading Dune and wondering how to pronounce Kwisatz Haderach to being demoted to imbecile by a complete stranger burbling baby talk at you and attempting to pinch your cheeks.  I’m sure the found me just as disturbing as I found them so in the long run, I think we’re even.

Aside from the songs I learned as a brownie, the only other thing that really stuck in detail was the tale of the brownies.  I haven’t read it in years, so my recollections of it may have been skewed with time.  It  went something like this:

A nice old shoe makers business was doing poorly and he and his wife were about to lose their home.  They didn’t have any children so there wasn’t anyone in the world to help them.  One night he was finishing the last pair of shoes he had supplies for and he was making them as fancy as he could so someone would buy them.  He went to bed before they were finished.  When he woke up the next morning, the shoes were perfectly finished and fancier than anything he could have done.  The stitches were so tiny he and his wife figured a brownie must have done it.  The shoes sold for a great deal of money and he and his wife were saved.  Each night afterward, the shoe maker would start a pair of nice shoes and go to bed leaving them unfinished on his workbench.  When he awoke, the shoes would be beautifully finished.  Business boomed and the couple were happier and wealthier than they’d ever been.   When she couldn’t stand it anymore, the shoemakers wife hid where she could see the workbench at night and saw not one, but two tiny people wearing rags and sewing merrily on the shoes.  When she told her husband, they both wanted so badly to thank the tiny brownies who had helped them, but they knew they couldn’t – because if they thanked them, they would leave.  One day, when they’d saved enough money to live out the rest of their lives, the shoemakers wife made two sets of tiny tiny green clothing, put them on the workbench where the unfinished shoes had been.  This time she and her husband hid in the closet watching the workshop.  Long after dark, two tiny figures found the clothes instead of unfinished shoes. They put the clothes on, danced about singing in the candle light, then left.  Never to return.

I don’t recall there being a reason for the brownies arrival in the first place.  I’ve always assumed the details of who the people were was mostly irrelevant to the brownies.  They were just people in need who they could help.

Gypsy BearCute story right?  Well stories like that told repeatedly to small children will leave weird permanent scars on their psyche.  I’ve developed this hobby over the last couple of years and even I think it’s a little strange, but I can’t seem to stop.  I get stuffed animals and make teeny tiny ridiculously elaborate costumes for them.  Then I give them away to people who I think will be delighted by them.  The kind of delight that makes a grown up swallow a happy squeeing sound before anyone notices.  Getting anyone over the age of 12 to almost make a sound of unexpected delight feeds my soul, I’m convinced.  Under twelve is good too, but its not nearly so much effort.

The brownies convinced me when I was young and defenseless that no matter how old you are, magic can suddenly appear in your world.  You can’t ask for it, or expect it.  It can make you smile and dance and hide in the closet watching ‘til dawn.  And maybe most importantly, that It has to be freely given without any expectation of payment or thanks.

So the next time someone asks me about the bears, I’ll tell them the brownies made me do it.  They won’t look at me any less strangely, but I’ll know why I do it.  And really, being looked at strangely started with those old ladies, so I guess that’s fitting too.