Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A thank you note

I got a thank you note from Iraq last week and frankly didn't know what to do with it. I certainly hadn't expected one. But there, in my hands, was a letter written by someone who had received the carefully packed snacks, diversions, and toiletries we sent. I cried. Then I forwarded the contents of the note to my friends who had also worked on the care packages.

It hurt to be thanked for caring about someone, and thanked effusively, at that. Reading a note that called blessings down on my head felt as though he should be thanking someone else, someone who could do more, someone who could make the people in power stop hurting others.

And then this afternoon, I heard the song Hero in Harlan by Tom T. and Dixie Hall. And found myself thinking of that note that thanked me for caring about a group of soldiers who had posted a request for food or anything that someone could send to AnySoldier.com. Sadly, I'm not giving away the identity of the group in question, as there are many soldiers requesting pretty much that. He says they're doing well, haven't lost anyone, though it can be hard to carry on. I found myself praying that we wouldn't get any more heroes - American, Iraqi, or otherwise. No more folded flags in exchange for sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends. No more.

He thanked me for thinking of them and praying for them, and I do. I pray for them all - for the end of this madness. I pray for the day when we will turn from this destructive path and work together in constructive ways. And I pray that these soldiers may find some peace.

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Tea and pie...

Mostly, I've been recovering from the grand camping adventure, taking warm epsom soaks and the like to soothe muscles inclined to complain about walking around a state park situated on a mountainside.

But on Wednesday, my husband and I decided to check out the new bakery near some friends' house. And we are not sorry we did. Handmade pies from locally sourced ingredients - we went with the peach, which the gentleman informed us would be gone in a couple weeks. Mmmm. I am a total sucker for peach pie, and this one was worth every cent. My only sadness is that he doesn't make pies in reasonable sizes for smaller households, so this is strictly for time with friends.

Another friend who was visiting brought her birthday gift: flowering tea - it's white tea that literally "blooms" when you drop it in the hot water. I'm so glad she shared. Mmmm. This one was jasmine scented and shaped like a basket of flowers - the handle was made from jasmine, and the flavor was lovely - but I like both jasmine and white tea, so there you are... (Or rather, I like *good* white tea. I had not suspected I was a tea snob until I tried to drink white tea from a teabag.)

With thoughts of tea and peach pie from the night before, last night I decided I *really* *really* wanted a good peach tea. Luckily, while we'd been camping, we found a small tea shop in the nearby town and had picked up an infuser that fits our camping mugs, along with other equipment (like say the teapot). So I pulled out a dried peach from the dried fruit stash, chopped it up and threw in a few hibiscus flowers and a pinch of dried citrus peel. Then threw the kettle on. (Oops - even with a superficial cleaning, the outside of the kettle still gave off a campfire smell when heated. Oh, well...)

Mmmmm.... Peach tea. Yum... And the advantage of this way of making it is that I get to munch on the rehydrated peach bits as a snack once the tea is brewed.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tiny Pretty Things: One Deep Breath

This weekend, I finally got the camping trip I'd been looking forward to for so long. Even including the heavy thunderstorm on Saturday night, it was lovely. There was a hummingbird that regularly visited the campsite, feeding at delicate orange flowers around the site (and double checking anything red in our gear - you never know, it could be meant for hummingbirds.) There was a really fat chipmunk that had made its burrow right next to the laundry line support that the park had set up, and there was a little skunk that drifted through the campsite at night to be sure that we hadn't perhaps left some skunk treats out. On the last night, he expressed his displeasure with our habit of cleaning up carefully after dinner by moving one of my sandals - although, to be fair, said sandals were under my tent's vestibule, next to a wild grapevine, so he could have been trying to get to a dropped grape.

Red Daddy Longlegs
Crawls over the tent at dusk
Looking for dinner...

Slim green walking stick
Strikes a vogue on my sandals

Black and white surprise
Waddles through campsites, wild trails
Looking for dinner.
Will he get chocolate chips
Or wild sweet concord grapes?

Iridescent green
Dancing in the morning breeze,
Drinking sweet nectar
Flicks invisible wings
To dance away again.

Tiny round head
Peeks out from the ground
Then is gone again
Doesn't anyone here
want to give me a treat?

Sunlight on purple
Round fat sweet grape bunches
Forest jewels.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Headed for the Great Outdoors

The car is packed solid. Tent, sleeping bags, extra blankets and pillows, first aid kit, camping mattress, folding water carrier, cooler, extra tarp, extra tentpegs, metal dishes and heavy mugs, rain slickers and hiking sandals, camping chairs, and all the rest of the paraphenalia to set up a comfy campsite, go hiking and swimming, and just hang out at a state park.

The little pocket in the car where I keep music is stocked with campfire music to sing along to on the way there. I've read the weather outlook for the next few days and packed some extra warm clothes since we're likely to have an afternoon thundershower or two while we're out. The banjo is neatly packed away in the gig bag I made, ready for campfire service (though right now, not in the car.)

The water bottles are nestled next to the small bottle of camping suds for the dishes and the liquid castile soap for us. And I'm off soon.

Have a good weekend everybody!

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Banjo adventures update

The banjo lessons have resumed after a break for my instructor to go on his summer vacation, and I've improved tremendously during the break. "Skip to My Lou" is playing smoothly and I managed to keep good enough time on it to do a duet with my instructor of "Skip to my Lou" on banjo and guitar. Woot! "Polly Wolly Doodle" is where "Skip to My Lou" was before the break - I've got the notes and the note values, now I need to work on smooth transitions and steady timing. Chord transitions are going better, too, enough so that I'm learning 2 more chords in preparation for learning "Oh, Susannah" perhaps as early as next week. And another chord or two, "just because".

And some of the "tricks" I've been learning as "breaks" from actually concentrating on getting those chord transitions perfect are really shaping up, too. I've got this cool blues slide that I've learned how to do on the banjo, but no song to put it in, which is a serious pity as it sounds so nifty that it's hard to believe that *I* made that happen. And the new chords are minor chords, so I got some musical theory thown into this lesson, which has made practicing my strumming that much more interesting. (And given me a couple of variations on the chords I already knew to play around with. Just messing around with open G can be more entertaining than I'd ever have believed when I first tried strumming out a song.)

The only bad part is that it is really hard to put the banjo down some mornings and get myself to work. I'm really looking forward to this weekend's camping with the banjo along. If the weather is nice, I'll be hiking and paddling about with a cheap pair of binoculars along for wildlife watching. And if we get confined to the lovely new tent, I'll be sitting in the vestibule, watching the rain and playing the banjo.

Just writing that last bit reminded me of the one and only time I've ever been to New Orleans. It was over 10 years ago, and I went there with my mom and my sister, visiting my dad who was on a nearby base. While I am so not a morning person, my sister is and so we found ourselves up and moving rather earlier than I might have chosen by myself. We decided to grab some breakfast at the Cafe du Monde (Menu: coffee, beignets - a sort of flat donutish pastry, and fresh orange juice. Mmmm.)

When we got there, the river was still covered in morning mist and the city wasn't really awake, but the great thing about the Cafe du Monde is that it is basically an open pavillion where you can people watch or whatever, so we sipped our chicory coffee and juice, ate pastries, and watched the French Quarter wake up. About halfway though, rain started to fall. It went from a few tentative drops to a deluge in about 10 seconds, and the next thing we knew, there was a sax player taking refuge under the overhang. And he was *good*. The rain was his personal rhythm section, and he played music that dodged between the raindrops, climbed to the clouds, fell to the ground, and became the mist wrapping us each about. He played the river and the city, the heat and the cool mist, the rain and the warm coffee. When the rain passed again, he began to gather up his case and his hat, but we made sure to get out there in time to leave our contribution to this artist.

Part of me, though, has ever since heard a sax playing bluesy jazz in every good rain storm.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Morning: One deep breath

Flat silver sun disk
Shines through soft grey morning fog
Dewdropped grass shivers

Waking birds chatter
Sweet hiccups of song echo
Among foggy trees

Coffee is brewing
Light drifts through city windows
But my quilt is warm...

Messy haired, groggy
I struggle to wake, need coffee.
Cheerful birds mock me.

Early morning dark
Daddy wakes me: come out back!
Watch raccoons steal trash

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Humanity and health care

My sister is going to nursing school, and that's meant a lot of sacrifice for her. She just barely made it to my dad's welcome home party earlier this summer. In fact, the day before the party, Mom had been mourning the fact that it didn't look likely that J. would make it until after everything was over. Luckily, at the last minute, she managed to convince the guy who arranges shifts that she *really* *needed* to go home for this one.

I'm from a medical family - my dad's a doctor and my mom's a shrink - so I know the kind of hours our medical providers put in day after day, week after week, year after year. I can remember my dad leaving the house in the wee hours for medical emergencies, and my mom coming back to the house, only to drink a cup of tea, eat her cold dinner and go to sleep. And now my sister, coming in from the halfway house where she works, drinking plenty of caffeine so she'll be awake for dinner.

When the whole family went on an extended vacation, my dad used to bring a phone and one of the early laptop computers, just in case one of his patients needed him. I used to object loudly. One of the things I like about my current job is that I can balance it with a healthy home life. I don't know a single health care provider who can say the same thing, except one nurse who made conscious choices that have limited her career mobility, but freed up time for her as a person.

This is extremely dangerous, not just for our health care providers, but also for anyone who needs medical care (that is, all of us.) While popular culture portrays doctors as uniformly rich with plenty of leisure time (at least to judge by the assumptions people make when I mention my dad's profession), how many have the time and rest to enjoy the fruits of their labor? As we were packing up from our stay at the cabin earlier this month, my mom was already making plans to stop in at the clinic on the way home. And of course, when they're working exhausted, people make mistakes, get curt, lose empathy.

I wonder whether the nurse who had my brother in law leave the surgical clinic before he'd recovered from his anesthesia had a vacation this year? Last year? I wonder how many other children of medical providers remember time spent with that parent as an incredible, rare treat. I think about my dad's residency, when he was so tired he would fall asleep the second he could get some time to himself. Our neighbors from that time remember him asleep more than awake, including once when he fell asleep on their couch instead of ours.

And I think about my husband's cousin, married to a doctor still going through his residency. She is pregnant with their first child, working with the difficulties of pregnancy while her husband is worked beyond any reasonable limit. I hope that we can learn that doctors are people too in time for this kid to know his or her father as she grows.

One Deep Breath this week


This week is a haiku train, kind of a cooperative effort, and it's looking good with lots of great haiku. Check it out.

Monday, August 13, 2007

And more "let's you and him fight"...

Why is it that ordinary people send their family members, but our "leaders" keep their children safe at home?

Give me a break.

Health care.

17 years and a couple months ago, I went to the hospital on a beautiful, sunny day. I looked at the sky and the grass and the birds and the trees and held them briefly in my heart, hoping to see them after my operation was over, but also knowing that my mother's mother had died after she had undergone surgery. My parents got to sit with me after I'd changed into an exquisitely ugly and embarrassing hospital gown, and then I was wheeled into a chilly room where an IV was inserted, and then the ice cold anesthesia hit my veins and I didn't wake up for hours.

When I woke up, it hurt, of course. It hurt terribly, like pain from a nightmare where you can't even open your mouth to cry. Eventually, my mouth worked and I asked for my mom. We had both been told that she could come to me in the recovery room. We had been lied to - Mom was not permitted to see me until I was in the room assigned to me for convalescence. When she finally saw me, she had managed to convince someone to bring lime sherbet - my favorite flavor then. But I was so exhausted from the surgery, the anesthesia, and the struggle to make myself heard that I fell asleep after only a spoonful had been given to me.

I was in the hospital for days, until finally the doctors were convinced that I could at least feed myself and look after my wound dressing. After I'd recovered, my doctor offered to do a second surgery to improve the look of the first. I refused, not wanting to have to go through that a second time. I never thought I would look back on those days and think of how much better they were. I was wrong.

Friday here was another such beautiful day, and I'd arranged to take the day off in order to help my brother-in-law get to and from his surgery. The first surprise was that this wasn't going to happen at a hospital, or even something that looked like a hospital outcenter. It looked like a doctor's office. We signed in, and I agreed to hold on to his personal possessions.

He went off, and I settled into a seat with my crochet and eyed magazines with covers about Harry Potter, pregnant stars, and the right sort of redecorating to have done last year. (Whatever happened to National Geographic in doctors' offices, anyway?) And waited. When I saw a parking space open near the clinic, I fetched the car, figuring that we'd be better off if it were closer. Then I ate my lunch. And waited some more. The Harry Potter articles (which all looked like the same article, frankly) began to look inviting, so I read them. I eventually began to think about reading the redecorating stuff. I considered tearing out all the crochet I'd already done and beginning over again.

Finally, someone came to get me, and I saw D. looking drawn and tired. He was still hooked up to all the monitors tracking heart function, blood oxygen, etc. As he lay there, semiconscious, a nurse quickly read his discharge sheet to me and had me sign it, then told me she'd change his dressing this time and that it would need to be changed more often after he began to wake up.

It was perhaps 45 minutes later that he was in the passenger seat of my car, still nauseated from the anesthesia, still needing a dressing change every half hour. When he was finally awake enough to have discharge questions, the office was closed. My husband arrived, and I was able to leave D. long enough to find a parking space on the street (the garage cost $10/an hour, but the street didn't.) and fetch the bedrolls from the trunk. (My brother-in-law lives in a lovely downtown condo with no guest room, but just enough space in front of the couch for a couple of bedrolls.)

We spent the next couple days providing nursing, and I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if we had not lived nearby. The office he had been in only had space for 2 beds in their recovery area, and a steady stream of patients in and out. There was not the faintest pretense of individualized care - D. had told the nurse that he was sick to his stomach from the anesthesia. Not even a sick bag, an expression of concern, nothing. The vet that cared for the animals on our land when I was a kid showed more compassion for her charges than anyone at that clinic. I was disgusted.

It's at times like this that I ask if this is the medical care system that politicians believe we must preserve at all costs. And as for wait, D. had put off this surgery for years, worried about the stability of his employer, and hence his insurance.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Shadow trees make fine lace
For a dancing moon.

Crickets and frogs
Sing counterpoint.

How can I sleep
Through such a party?





Morning dew filters
Through the summer forest
More loudly than you think.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

City evening: one deep breath

Evening sidewalk steams
Asphalt still breathes sun heat
Strollers buy ice cream

City neighborhoods
Beehives, stacked for honey
Oh, for a cool breeze...

Abalone moon
Southern city awakens
Sitting out on stoops.

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Evening: One Deep Breath

Canoe glides softly
Into evening eddies

Last bird calls echo
Crickets begin to sing
Evening in the hills

Mosquito lands
Ripples of water
Trout's dinner

Deck in the woods
Banjo in my hands
Evening whispers

This weekend, I went back to the hills to visit my parents and canoe down the same river I canoed down countless times as a child. I brought my sketchbook, but somehow just didn't even open it, preferring to sit out on the deck with my banjo, sometimes playing softly, but more often just watching the life of the woods around me.

On Saturday, we debated on whether to give up on the canoeing expedition and just go for a walk in the woods, but recommitted to the 7 mile paddle and headed off to the canoe livery, not getting there until the afternoon, and finding ourselves waiting. No problem: we watched the goats in a nearby pen wiggling through to get to the feedbox until our name was called, then headed upriver with a trailer of canoes.

Then we decided to explore a rock formation on public lands partway down the river, and lazily drifted for some of the trip. When we arrived near the end of the trip, I was exhausted, but happy. After my shower, as everyone else got ready for dinner, I again sat with my banjo in the gathering dusk.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Coveting banjos

Why is it that when I don't feel like I have time to *think* I can manage a few minutes to covet my neighbor's banjo? The wierd thing is the specific banjo is even the same type as my own - a Deering Goodtime. Yes, there are simply gorgeous banjos that I could drool over, including one inset with mother of pearl moon and stars, set into a swirling galaxy down the fretboard. There are antique banjos, some of which have simply gorgeous work in them.

But it's a little bit like when I was a very small child and went into a toy section with my Granny. I picked up a doll and started talking to it, but after a couple minutes, shook my head, said "too 'spensive," put it back, and got on with my life. (Leading my poor Granny to get it for my next Christmas, by which time I'd put it so completely out of my mind that I didn't even recognize it.) They're beautiful, but so far beyond my budget and skills that I can appreciate that beauty without any tinge of covetousness.

But to know that somewhere in the world, there is a bright pink banjo with a prism head (scroll down for the pictures), well... it looks like such a bright and happy banjo. I don't even usually *do* pink, but it's a pink *banjo* and that makes a lot of difference. And even more specifically, it's a pink banjo that is very similar to mine.

I find myself tempted to make a cardboard dulcimer and paint it sparkly green.

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Okay, I'm a total wuss

I admit it. But I stayed up packing last night, then got out the door by 6:30 this morning. I'll be working a full and rather busy day today (I already cleared the easiest stack off my desk, but others lurk in wait for me.) and then I'll be driving until Midnight? Only to turn around on Sunday and drive back.

Tomorrow, I fully plan to let the river carry me, paddling only enough to keep from being beached. Admittedly, in my opinion, this is the best way to go down the river, even if you aren't that tired. It lets you hear the birds, really *see* the trees and flowers and just kind of commune with the river and the land.

Luckily, I'll be passing through the town where I met my husband. I think on Sunday, we may stop by the deli we had our second date at and get some sandwiches and salads for the trip back. And I'm looking forward to seeing my dad under less stressful circumstances than his welcome home party.

But, oh, how I want to sleep in.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Memories of green shade
Soft purple phox trembing in the breeze
That tiptoes between the trees
Tickling the hair on my neck

Moss-covered limestone bones
Hold the prints of ancient years,
Beside the ironwood tree
My resting, hiding, me-place

Deep clay in the valley,
Carved by long-ago glacier waters,
Still holds Johnny Crick,
Cool water for restless feet

Tangled berry brambles,
Long meadow grasses,
Cows gaze in bemusement
As I embrace the summer wind

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

One Deep Breath: Contrast


Squishy plum fallen
Busy apartment walkway
Who stops?

I saw this plum while walking in my neighborhood last month, and was caught by how full and round it was, how smooth on the rough sidewalk, how still and self contained in a usually busy sidewalk. Not a big contrast, but an interesting one to me. I wonder which of the local wildlife ended up eating it?

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Banjo progress

In the meantime, I've been working away at learning the banjo. Pretty much I've got the melody lines down for "Skip to My Lou" and "Polly Wolly Doodle" and am working on the chords for accompaniment. *sigh* "Skip to My Lou" is coming along, and would probably come along better if I could sing that song anywhere close to where my banjo is playing. "Polly Wolly Doodle" is kind of chugging along behind.

On the other hand, I've practiced so much that I've worn out my strings, so I learned how to replace them. Woot! It was oddly gratifying to see the wear spots, including a place where I'd basically worn through the winding wire on the low D string. I left the used strings with my instructor, who has been known to use old musical strings in craft projects and other reuses. And the next night realized I wanted the old strings because I spotted a repair project I could have used one in. So it goes.

This weekend, I'm taking the banjo with me when I visit my folks. The place we're staying is pretty isolated, so I can feel reasonably confident that I'm not disturbing anyone when I take the banjo out on the porch to practice those darn chords. And next week, it can come camping.

It's gotten to be a very relaxing thing I do - just pull out the banjo, feel the comfortable feel of the neck in my hand, the light weight resting on my lap, the brackets pressing into my arm, the strap keeping everything in place. Tune. Okay, now tune again. Run a couple scales up and down. Hmmm. Play with the chords a bit. Double check that tuning. (The tuning was better for a while, but new strings need constant tuning, as I am rapidly discovering.) Play with "Skip to My Lou"... Now, the chords. Okay, "Polly Wolly Doodle" melody. (I love doing the "Fare thee well, Fare thee well, Fare thee well, my fairy fay" bit*.) Play around a bit. Chords, right, I should be practicing chords. "Skip to My Lou" chords. Play around a bit... and so forth.

*And I just realized that that's a bit that freaked me out less than a month ago - convinced I wouldn't get the timing or the change to the A note easily. But I did. And now, it's my favorite part of the whole song. There's probably something really deep in that. And the whole "Polly wolly doodle all the day" bit is a lot easier than it looks, too.

Steve Martin is right. It is just about impossible to be totally depressed while playing the banjo. There's something cheering about that ringing sound, even if it does want tuning every 20 minutes.

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"News" that isn't.

This morning on the radio, someone referred to "this year's presidential race." No, no, no. A thousand times No! Not only is the election *next* year, but the coverage so far has been a frightening amalgam of tracking who has raised the most money and who has made the best contacts with "wealthy donors" with the occasional foray into polling Americans on whom they like the best with minimal information available.

I think the reason the media has chosen to concentrate so much attention on *next year's* horserace is that we are in such a bad position right now, and we're looking desperately for a new path. Unfortunately, that turning doesn't come for more than a year, and even after the election, there are months left for further damage. No. That dog won't hunt.

Aside from these considerations, the rule of law has been seriously damaged in this country. We are slowly learning about the shameful spectacle of an attorney general not well known for his protection of civil rights being bullied into approval of something even he hesitated at while lying in a hospital bed. Enough.

Rather than waiting for Our Prince to Come, shouldn't we, the American People, be getting off our butts, turning off the idiot box, and demanding real coverage, real answers about the lies we are fed, and real action?

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