16 December 2011

Hang Time

It's almost a straight shot from the kitchen, through the living room, and down the hall. At first you just hear the thunder of whippet feet as they race through the kitchen, then the skratchel of their nails (whippets are hell on hardwood floors) as they accelerate towards the bedroom and gather themselves to leap…


I've had this post partly written, in my head, since about the time I put up my last post. I just didn't want to write it. The longer I waited, the more I felt I should write something. I started to feel kind of bad about it. My initial intention of having a blog where I could scribble down the casual observation du jour had become an obligation where I felt compelled to submit a tidily packaged essay. An obligation!

Well, that does it. Time for a blog sabbatical.

I don't know how long it will be. Setting a date for my next post feels kind of obligation-y, so I'm not going to do that. If I'm not back before the holidays, whatever you celebrate this time of year, have a wonderful, festive season.

I'll be back.

17 November 2011

So Stop Dithering, Already!

From the moment that envelope arrived, I knew it would be trouble. It lurked, sullen and threatening, on the far corner of my desk, until I finally acknowledged the inevitable, and set Scarecrow to work on it with a very pointy letter opener.

Back in June of 2009, when I officially retired from gainful employment, December of 2011 seemed unimaginably far in the future. I had no idea how I would patch together some kind of spiderweb of health insurance coverage that would last until I finally became eligible for Medicare. Somehow, between the COBRA subsidy, Tuffy being a university student, and Scarecrow losing one job and immediately finding another, we seem to have managed it. Now I'm simultaneously extremely relieved, and very apprehensive. I've spent the last couple of weeks, off and on, trying to figure out Medicare.

The following probably won't be of interest to anybody who's already on Medicare, because you already know all this. And it won't be of interest to anybody who's not on Medicare, because you don't need to know about it. It won't even be of interest to anybody currently sorting through their Medicare options, because you probably don't have the same choices I do. But blogs aren't about what you want to read; they're about what I want to write. And I need to sort this stuff out. Just so you know.

So, Medicare.

My first option, as I understand it, is to do nothing. Being a lazy slime weasel, this has a certain appeal. If I do nothing, I'm automatically enrolled in Medicare part A, the original major-medical-type Medicare, and Medicare part B, which covers outpatient-type stuff. There is a premium for Medicare part B, which is automatically withheld from my Social Security benefit. This option has the advantage of being easy, cheap, and I can go to any doctor who is willing to accept what Medicare is willing to pay them. The downside is that it leaves some significant gaps in coverage, not least of which is that there is no limit on out-of-pocket expenses, and no prescription drug coverage.

Another option, almost as easy, would be to supplement regular Medicare parts A and B with what they call Medicare part D. This is a policy sold by a private insurance company to cover prescription drugs. Different companies offer different policies, covering different drugs, with different premiums and different co-pays, so figuring out the best choice for the drugs you take today, and for the drugs you may be prescribed in the coming year, is no small undertaking. Still, once you do your homework, this has the advantages of unadorned Medicare, and it covers drugs. It also leaves Medicare's coverage gaps, including the lack of limit on out-of-pocket expenses.

There is something called a Medigap policy, which sounded like what I was looking for: Medicare, with some of the gaps filled in. Turns out this is something insurance companies only need to offer to you if you qualify for Medicare by turning 65. If you qualify for Medicare when you're younger than 65 – like because you're disabled – most states don't require insurance companies to offer you this kind of policy; Washington doesn't, and they don't. Next!

OK, now it gets complicated. Medicare part C, as I understand it, is a policy sold by a private insurance company. It replaces Medicare part A and Medicare part B, usually with some additional coverage, maybe including drug coverage but maybe not. Some policies limit you to providers in their network but some don't. They have different premiums and co-pays and coinsurance and drug formularies and a million other moving parts. The Medicare website offered to help me compare the 53 plans that are available in my area. It took a while, but I finally managed to narrow it down to two. The major difference between them is that one plan limits you to providers in their network – and it's a pretty small network. The other plan has a very large network of providers, including the family practitioner, neurologist, rehab specialist, physical therapist, and occupational therapist I've been seeing for the past couple of years, and is somewhat more flexible if you don't find anyone you like. It would also probably cost about $1500 more a year.

So after all that comparing, and what-iffing, and back-and-forthing, and endless dithering, it comes down to this:

You get what you pay for. And you pay for what you get.

15 November 2011

Might As Well Start Now

If you say you'll laugh about this one day, you might as well start now.

After yesterday, I've been laughing so much my ribs hurt.

It was one of those days. It started out with getting packed up to go into Scarecrow's office at Gloria's Books and Adult Day Care. He has mostly been working from home, which is amazingly wonderful for a number of reasons, but occasionally a little face time is required. As usual, I was going along, to hang out in an empty corner of the warehouse, entertaining myself and generally staying out from underfoot. Since my laptop is what I use to keep myself busy and out of trouble, I was trying to be unobtrusive about watching Scarecrow pack it up, to make sure that the earbuds and microphone and AC adapter and other bits all made it into the bag.

The commute to the other end of town wasn't too bad, all things considered. Even in Seattle, a little rain can do bad things to rush-hour traffic. It was only after we got there that Scarecrow realized that he had left my carefully-packed laptop at home. (Carefully-packed lunch, too, but it is possible to get lunch in Renton, if need be.)

Well, without my laptop, I'm pretty much screwed. Ironically, at one time, a day in a book warehouse would have been my idea of a really good time. Now, although I'm surrounded by books on just about any topic you can imagine and some that you can't, I can't pick them up, can't turn the pages. Screwed.

Not only that. I use the laptop to IM Scarecrow when I need his help; like for a bathroom break. Screwed.

Well, whatever. I can use the time to practice meditation. I've been meaning to do that. Or I can do some serious napping. Whatever. It's only eight or nine hours. No big deal.

So as I pulled into the wheelchair lift to negotiate the 4 feet between the parking level and the warehouse door, I was chatting with Scarecrow, secretly congratulating myself for not going postal over the carefully-packed laptop still sitting next to the front door at home.

"We're not there yet," I said, when the lift stopped halfway up.

Scarecrow pressed the button again. He turned the key off and on, then pressed the button again.

"It's not going," he said. "It's stuck."

He checked to make sure the doors were closed, and the power appeared to be on, and the other obvious stuff. Nothing. It was going just a minute ago. It was working fine. It just stopped.

OK, a couple of minutes ago, when I thought I was screwed? I really wasn't. Now I'm screwed. 

The maintenance guy who takes care of this kind of thing wasn't in yet. I'm sure this was just the kind of thing he was looking forward to on a Monday morning – a medium-sized old lady in a 300 pound power chair stuck in the lift.

I have to say he took it very well, particularly considering that this wasn't the only disaster awaiting him; one of the conveyor belts in the warehouse was stuck, too. After messing with some fuses and circuit breakers and other obvious stuff, he conceded that he had no idea what the problem was with the lift. He called the company that serviced the thing, stressing that with a medium-sized old lady stuck in the lift and it looking like it was about to start raining any minute, this was a problem of some immediacy. They said they'd be there in 10 minutes. Maybe 15.

It probably wasn't any longer than that, but I've got to tell you it feels pretty stupid, being stuck 2 feet up a 4 foot lift, waiting for the rain to start.

The lift guy used a 1 1/8 inch socket with a nice long lever to crank the lift up manually, about an angstrom at a time. Whatever works.

Once we were inside, Scarecrow set me up with a movie on his iPod Touch (have I mentioned that I'm easily entertained?). That was working fine, until a reminder popped up, stopping the movie and taking over the display. And bonging. And bonging. And bonging. And bonging. And bonging. Now, Scarecrow is pretty hard of hearing, and he's got that alarm set so it'll get his attention if the iPod is in his pocket. I was getting it through earbuds. Since I couldn't dismiss the pop-up or take out the earbuds, this went on for 15 minutes, bonging, and bonging, and bonging, until the device finally gave up.

After the bonging stopped I got some time to practice my meditation, or maybe I was taking a nap, when Scarecrow stopped to check in. He dismissed the pop-up, and restarted the movie.

Five minutes later, the reminder popped up again. He had obviously hit Snooze instead of OK. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.

The next time Scarecrow stopped in, he said he was going to talk to Bob (of Bob's Books and Adult Day Care), and then we'd call it a day. Since he was only going to be a few minutes, he packed up the earbuds, set the iPod on the desk, and went off to talk to Bob. Five minutes later, the reminder went off again. Bong. Bong. Bong.  Now I remember – there's no such thing as a short conversation with Bob. Bong. Bong. Bong. By now it's really pretty funny. And as long as it's not going off right my ear, I can laugh.

Might as well start now. I know I'll laugh about this someday.

The little rodent who had built a snug little nest inside the lift machinery, only to find out there was a good reason that nobody lived there? Well, he had the worst kind of bad day.

31 October 2011


Samhain is said to be the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is thinnest.

I wouldn't really know about that.

Lots of cultures have some kind of Day of the Dead, set aside to remember family members and friends who have died. That seems a reasonable thing, to me. It's not inherently creepy or evil. It's more like an acknowledgment that death is as much a part of life, and as necessary a part of life, as birth. It's a time to think about the ending of things, accepting losses, coming to terms with them, getting ready to move on. I'm down with that.

So I'm thinking, and accepting, and coming to terms, and getting ready.

And wondering.

Why the heck don't we ever get any trick-or-treaters?

29 October 2011

Typhoid Tuffy


Tuffy came down sick last weekend. I mean sore throat, goopy chest, nasty cough, staying-home-from-the-gym sick. Bad sign. For this kid to stay home from the gym, she has to have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. She says she's feeling some better, but still sounds terrible. She's got kind of cough that hangs on forever.

Scarecrow came down sick a couple of days later. He took off work for a couple of days, and Scarecrow never takes off work. He took off work, even though he's been working from home. That's how sick he was. Even thought about getting somebody in to take care of me, he was that sick.

Me? I'm feeling like an opossum in the middle of the road, trying to ignore the headlights.

24 October 2011

Looking for Sparklies

Two of my blogger buddies have asked where I'm getting all this stuff about stalking dead people. Since two people probably constitutes a supermajority of the people who normally read this blog, it's like an invitation to write about something people might actually be interested in. What a concept!

Before I jump in, I should emphasize that I'm no kind of rigorous, by-the-book-type genealogist. In fact, I'm no kind of genealogist at all. Those are people who meticulously document the blood relationship between descendent X and ancestor A. I don't do that.

A Family Historian tries to understand what life was like for people in their family; where did they live? who did they live with? in what kind of house? what kind of work did they do? what kind of clothes did they wear? what did they eat? That's a little closer, but I don't really do that, either. Not in any systematic way.

I'm more of a magpie. I go after the sparkly bits. Rather than following one person's life from start to finish before starting on another one, rather than starting with my parents, then going to my grandparents, and carefully working my way back from there, I jump from wondering why my grandmother had her picture taken on a farm when she was 17, to wanting to know how much stuff a typical voyageur canoe held and how many men it took to paddle it, to being tickled to find that in the late '20s Willys-Overland Motors made a car called the Whippet, even though I don't think anybody in my family worked there at the time. Or wait. Maybe they did…

Nope. My paternal grandfather worked there (as a woodworker!) in 1918, but by 1920 he had a grocery store. My dad and my uncle Willie weren't there until later – Willie, the older brother, didn't graduate from high school until 1937. So, no.

You see what happens? In checking to see what years various forebears might have worked at Willys-Overland, I ran across a photo of a jeep in a museum exhibit that looked like it might've been designed by a place I used to work. The museum exhibit, I mean, not the jeep. Of course, I had to see if the place I used to work actually designed that museum, but the museum webpage didn't say, and the place I used to work is out of business now. So that was an hour spent chasing after something totally unrelated. And I never did find out.

It's not that I mind. I don't have any place I need to be, or any time I need to be there. I'm just not very focused about this, I guess is what I'm saying. I can't tell you how to do genealogy, or how to research family history. I can only tell you about being a magpie.

And a disabled magpie, at that. At some point, people doing this kind of stuff usually wind up going places, like libraries, or archives, or courthouses; and opening books, or turning pages, or scanning microfilm; and writing stuff down. On paper. I don't do any of that. If it's not online, I can't get to it, so I don't bother looking for it. I don't collect paper copies of documents, because I couldn't file or store them if I had them.

So, after all that, where do I find all this stuff? I've got to tell you, there's a ton of stuff out there, with more appearing online by the day. In true magpie fashion, I have about a million bookmarks, organized in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of sense even to me, most of which would only be helpful to someone whose family happens to come from the same places mine does. There are, however, a couple of good general places to start looking:

Cindi's List probably comes as close as anything to inflicting some kind of organization on the bewildering amount of genealogy information available on the net.

FamilySearch is the genealogy website of the LDS church. In addition to a lot of how-to information, it gives you free access to a lot of genealogy database resources.

And as always, Google is your friend. Cindi's List even has links to information about how to take advantage of it.

So, that's a lot of disclaimer for not very much information, but there it is. I don't know How It Should Be Done. I just look for the sparkly bits.

18 October 2011

Medicare for Dummies

OK, I need to buckle down and do this. After two years of scrambling to patch together some kind of health care coverage that we can more-or-less afford, in December I finally become eligible for Medicare. Apparently there are decisions to be made. I'm a little apprehensive about this.

Fortunately, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provide a little (147-page) booklet:

Medicare and You 
This is the official US government Medicare handbook

Yes! Documentation! A user manual! As one of the infinitesimally small number of people on this planet who actually read these things, I find this very reassuring. It's filled with pictures of such happy people. If they've done this Medicare thing and they're still so cheerful, how bad can it be? Aside from the gray hair, most of them don't even look all that old. In fact, they look about my age. What's up with that? The print is comfortably large, I guess so they don't have to produce a separate large print version – accessibility and all that. Well, maybe not. On the back cover, it says it's "also available in Spanish, Braille, Audio CD, and Large Print (English and Spanish)." I wonder how large the print is in the large print version?

So I start reading. They put the index in the front, which seems odd. I don't know if I like the idea or not. On page 58, I find:

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Medicare Coverage

Excellent. This sounds like exactly what I'm looking for. They followed this with a bunch of questions:

Are the services you need covered?
Are you eligible for other types of health or prescription drug coverage?
How much are your premiums, deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and other costs?
How much do you pay for services like hospital stays or doctor visits?
Is there a yearly limit on what you pay out-of-pocket?
Do your doctors and other health care providers accept the coverage?
Are the doctors you want to see accepting new patients?
Do you have to choose your hospital and health care providers from a network?
Do you need to get referrals?
Do you need to join a Medicare drug plan? 
Do you already have creditable prescription drug coverage?
Will you pay a penalty if you join a drug plan later?
What will your prescription drugs cost under each plan?
Are your drugs covered under the plan’s formulary?
Are there any coverage rules that apply to your prescriptions?
Where are the doctors’ offices?
What are their hours?
Which pharmacies can you use?
Can you get your prescriptions by mail?
Do the doctors use electronic health records or prescribe electronically?
Will the plan cover you in another state or outside the U.S.?
Are you satisfied with your medical care?


The Socratic method is just not working for me here. How the f#@k should I know? Isn't that what I'm trying to find out? If this is an FAQ, I've got the Qs. What I need are the As. And the $$. I need to know about the $.

Aside from the gray hair, I do not resemble the smiling, happy people in this booklet. Maybe I shouldn't have started in on it when I was already cranky about MetLife terminating my group life insurance because they aren't sure I'm still disabled. I wasn't really feeling open-minded and positive and cheerful.


If I put off dealing with this until I'm feeling open-minded and positive and cheerful, it'll never happen. That's just a fact. Aside from the gray hair, I never look anything like the smiling, happy people in this booklet. Maybe I'm going to need to grit my teeth and slog through this stuff anyway.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow.


14 October 2011

<Your Name Here>

“Block Card 902 Locust Street, c1937, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.” 

I just found this picture of the building where my dad's family was living when he was born. Turns out the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library has an archive of photos of buildings, many taken in the 1930s by the WPA for tax assessment purposes (and to give people jobs). This was obviously the same building that was there in 1920, when my dad was born, and the U.S. Census said the family was living here. Cool, no? Amazing, what you can find on the Internet.

My dad never liked the name Ezra. It always startled me a little when his brothers called him Ez, because nobody else did. Everybody else called him Charlie, after a trumpeter who led a big band in the 1940s. As long as I knew him, he introduced himself as Charlie. He used E.C. in correspondence and such like, but Charles wasn't his middle name. He didn't have one. He just picked Charlie, I guess because it was better than Ezra.

For those of us trying to untangle the limbs of the family thicket, a distinctive name like Ezra beats the heck out of a Charlie. In Scarecrow's family, I'm indebted to those old Puritans who gave their offspring names like Hachaliah Brown, or Preserved Reade. Or Philo Dibble Bates. As it turns out, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Connecticut were way more creative in their choice of names than their contemporaries north of the border. How pathetic is that?

You'd think, with the big French-Canadian families of the previous couple of centuries, that you'd see a large number of very imaginative names, just to keep them all straight. I wish. What happened was that the first boy got his father's name, the first girl got her mother's, the next couple maybe got the grandparents' names, then they'd start handing out names of aunts and uncles. So even if 15 kids had 15 kids apiece, they were all drawing from the same pool of 15 names, generation after generation. They might be in a different order, but every family had an Antoine, a Joseph, a Pierre, a François, and so on. To further confuse the issue, everybody wss Marie-something or something-Marie. This was so common that they'd sometimes leave the Marie part out, without feeling the need to mention it. And they sometimes recycled names, even within the same family. If Jean Baptiste or Marie Louise died young, the parents may bestow the same name on a later child. So you frequently got several people with the same name, living in the same place, at the same time.

The cultural peculiarity of assigning dit names makes it both easier and more difficult to track down individuals. As I understand it, it was common in the military of 17th-century France to give soldiers a sort of nickname. Gilles Couturier, for example, might become Gilles Couturier dit Labonté, or Gilles Couturier called Labonté. Since many of the early residents of New France came from the military, it was a common thing. Another Couturier might use a different dit name, perhaps Couturier dit Verville, which would help tell the different Couturiers apart. Or not. It turns out Gilles might be referred to as Couturier, Couturier dit Labonté, or just Labonté. One (or more) of his offspring might adopt the dit name, or not. Or they may choose a different one. I guess you had to be there to understand it, because I sure as heck don't. In addition to spelling being flexible in a largely illiterate population, it's sometimes not clear, at least to me, what name they're trying to spell.

On the other hand, at that time women in France – and New France – typically kept their father's surname after they married. So there's that. One Pierre Couturier might be the offspring of Joseph Couturier and Gertrude Maugras (hopefully not Gertrude-Marie or Marie-Gertrude), and another Pierre Couturier the son of a different Joseph Couturier and Marie Allard. If they were both Mrs. Couturier, I don't know how you'd ever sort them out.

So it's a puzzle. Some future family historian may get stuck trying to figure out what happened to Ezra, who was born and lived with his family and went to school and then seemingly disappeared. And where did this Charlie-person come from, anyway? It will be a puzzle. Dad would like that.

And I don't blame him. I wouldn't want to be called Ezra, either.

03 October 2011

How Much Does an E-Book Weigh?

As grateful as I am that e-books became widely available just about the time I began to have trouble managing regular physical books, some e-book features require this elderly canine to attempt some new tricks.

I've been reading regular books for a long time, you understand, and I'm pretty well accustomed to that way of doing things. For example, just about any e-reader gives you some way to tell how much progress you've made through the book, and while I know the slider bar on the edge of the screen (or whatever) is conveying that information, it is not (yet) as intuitive as comparing the difference in thickness between the pages on the left side of the open book with the thickness of the pages on the right.

I also seem to have a heck of a time remembering to note how many pages are in an e-book. With physical books, it's obvious, isn't it? The breadth of the spine, the weight when you pick it up — it's not something you have to remind yourself to do. E-books, on the other hand, all look pretty much the same. It was only after I got started onCryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) that I noticed that turning virtual pages seemed to have remarkably little effect on the position of the slider bar at the edge of the window. I guess it wouldn't. Turns out the darned thing is 1168 pages long, although admittedly that includes what they call "e-book extras".

If I'd been paying attention, I would've realized that I didn't need to check out any other books at the same time; particularly not The Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin, 835 pages) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami, 640 pages). The Game of Thrones returned itself to the library when I was part way through it, thoughtfully sparing me any overdue fines. I had to put it back on hold, and I'm waiting for my name to get back to the top of the list.

Format aside, I guess it's a good sign when you finish a really long book, and would look for other books by the same author. Cryptonomicon is something of a classic in its genre, and deservedly so. Parallel storylines, engagingly geeky characters, elements of the theory and history of cryptology — it took me a while to get into it, but it was a lot more fun than I expected.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle… not so much. My English-major daughter recommended the author, so I expected it to be challenging. Opaque was more like it.

Just because I knew you'd want my opinion.

27 September 2011

Stray Parsley

I'm not usually one to badmouth written instructions. I spent most of my working life writing technical documentation, and apologizing for it. I know how hard it is to explain something in a way that will provide all the information anyone would need, and be totally clear to everyone who might read it.

Maybe the problem is that I expected this to be confusing, so I'm making it harder than it really needs to be.

Or maybe I just assume that anything having to do with the healthcare delivery system is going to be a pain in the butt. You start with healthcare, then throw in insurance and the government, and it's got to be bad. Wouldn't you think?

Maybe I just don't want to be doing this. Well, that part's true, for sure.

But I've got to tell you, trying to figure out what I need to do about my upcoming eligibility for Medicare, and how it may or may not coordinate with the insurance I'm buying through Scarecrow's employer, is giving me a new perspective on what it must be like to live with a learning disability. I can still read the words. I can still understand each of them individually. At least I think I can. I'm just having trouble extracting information that might be encrypted in those words, arranged in that order. I read them slowly. I read them multiple times. It's like reading a webpage that Google has translated. Each of the words is right, but they're just… not… coming… together.

I was recently reading a page that was originally written in Russian. I don't know any Russian, so I don't know how good or bad the translation might have been, but I thought I was kind of getting the gist. Then I came across this:

"But as in all of Russia, the big crisis came to Bobruisk, in connection with the attitude of the Jewish population to the Russian school in the 70's. This crisis was, as is known, connected with the executing of the law of general military service in Russia (1874), which gave great privileges to people with Russian education and origin--shorter military service. It was a stray parsley! Even in extremely religious circles the "fence-breakers" multiplied."

It was a stray parsley!

20 September 2011

Questions I Should Have Asked

I ran across a list of questions I've been meaning to ask my dad the next time we spoke. Nothing of world-shaking importance, no grand questions about life-lessons learned. Truth be told, my dad and I did not often agree on the message to be taken from those life lessons. I didn't expect him to impart great wisdom from the perspective of one who has lived  a long and eventful life. They were mostly just questions that came up when I was rustling around in the family shrub. Why did your dad never tell you what his name was before he came to the United States? What year did you buy the house you live in now? What was the first car you ever bought? I kept putting it off.

Dad died August 26.

It wasn't a tragic sendoff, as these things go. It was not unexpected. He was almost 91 years old. He finally accepted some drugs, so he wasn't in pain. He was home, with his family, the way he wanted. It was time. He was ready. Everybody should be so lucky.

Like most of us, I suppose, he didn't finish everything he meant to do. He was always going to write down what he remembered about his family, but he kept putting it off. He'd get distracted by trying to pin down exactly when the family moved from one house to another, when plus or minus 5 years would have been plenty close enough. He'd go chasing off after details, or get frustrated because he was such a crummy typist, and he never got around to telling the whole story.

Family history is all about the stories, isn't it? I'm not much interested in genealogy. My lineage is not so illustrious that proving it beyond all shadow of a doubt makes any difference to anybody. I don't need three original sources to confirm every detail. I don't agonize over getting every source citation exactly right. I don't really care all that much. I'm just in it for the stories. It's all about stories. It's history, the way it happened to one family. It's getting a sense of ordinary lives, the way ordinary people lived them.

Knowing that Louis Badaillac dit Laplante was born in Sorel, Québec in March of 1680 and died in Detroit in 1703 doesn't really say much about who this guy was, except that he was only 23 when he died. Finding that he accompanied Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, when he went off to found the city of Detroit, one might be tempted to imagine a rather heroic figure. Finding that between that convoy and his eventual demise he was busted a couple of times for "fait la traite de l'eau de vie avec les iroquois" and for "causé un bruit public", he starts to look a little grubbier. Not pretty, maybe, but more like a real person. (Did you know, by the way, that Cadillac had a really big nose? He was nicknamed the Falcon, and often compared — presumably behind his back – to Cyrano de Bergerac. Hey, I read it on the web, so it must be true.) See what I mean? It's all about the stories.

I need to write down what I remember about my dad. As best I can, I need to tell his story. I'm not religious. In the metaphysical sense, I have no idea where he went, or what he's doing now, besides a literal, obvious fact – he donated his body to science. He made arrangements for that years ago. Some med students at UCLA will get a skinny old white male cadaver. They will get to know my dad in considerable detail. In a different sense, he's here as long as someone remembers him. Those stories he told over and over? I should know them well enough by now to be able to inflict them on someone who never got a chance to hear them from the source.

I've been wondering whether this blog is the right place to do that. I initially set it up as a place to dump MS-related stuff. Going off on a family history tangent seems pretty seriously off-topic. I even got as far as setting up a template for a new blog, called "Out on a Limb" (get it? Am I witty, or what?). Then I decided it was a pretty stupid idea. If I had two blogs, I would post even less often on either of them than I do on this one now. Besides, the topic of this blog is whatever I want it to be. Whippets don't have anything to do with MS, as far as I know, and I write about them all the time. So I'll be stalking dead people, and I'll be doing it here. It's too bad, though. The new blog was looking pretty cool.

There's a barbecue/potluck/celebration of my dad's life/excuse to put away large amounts of tequila planned for this weekend at the old home place. I won't be able to make it down for the festivities, but here's the story I would tell if I were there:

So many times when I was a kid we'd ask, "Dad, do you have a ____ <fill in the blank with the most bizarre item you can possibly imagine>?" He'd think for a minute, disappear into his garage, rustle around for a while, and reappear holding said bizarre item.

I thought everybody's dad could do that.

18 September 2011

A Moment of Silence

27 November 1920 — 26 August 2011

I'm not sure how a moment of silence would work on the Internet, but my dad was not a religious guy and I'm not sure how else one might mark his passing. I'm also not sure how long a moment would last, on the Internet, but I guess we'll find out!

13 September 2011

25 August 2011

Time Passing

I published the first post on this blog two years ago today. Having recently retired from my day job, my intent was to document the process of applying for SSDI, which I expected to be a long drawn out and frustrating experience. Six weeks later my claim was approved, and I was officially out of stuff to write about. Not having anything to write about does not appear to have held me up much.

I started out posting every day. That lasted about a week. Then it was every other day. Then a couple of times a week. For the last couple of months, posting once a week or thereabouts seems to be a comfortable compromise between feeling obligated to write something, and not having anything to say.

As if to mark the anniversary of the blog by reminding me of its initial purpose, I got an envelope from the Social Security Administration the other day full of stuff about applying for Medicare. I haven't been able to work myself up to look at it yet. It's sitting on the corner of my desk, looking ominous and threatening. I tell myself that applying for SSDI was a lot easier than I expected it to be. Maybe signing up for Medicare won't be that bad. Maybe.

Several times over the last couple of years, we thought my dad was dying. Each time, he defied the odds and confounded the authorities, stubbornly refusing to relinquish the place on the planet he has occupied for almost 91 years. He wasn't ready to go. Now, I think he is.

Spending so much time lately climbing out on limbs of the family shrub, I find myself thinking about all this birthing and dying stuff. I mean, duh? Although I may well think about it differently when I'm confronted with my own imminent demise, at least from this vantage point, dying doesn't seem all that scary. Pain, now, pain is scary. But if you can die without pain, you know, you've got to go sometime. I don't remember being afraid wherever I was before I was born, why should being dead be any worse? Dying is just part of the deal. It's inevitable, and while I guess it's always a little painful for the people you leave behind (at least you'd hope somebody is sorry to see you go), it's not always bad.

Stalking dead people in the parish register of Sainte Genevieve de Pierrefonds from 1782, so many of the burials are for babies only a few days, or months, or years old. Early census records note the number of children each woman bore, and the number currently living. The two numbers were rarely the same. And the record of a baby's baptism sometimes preceded that of the burial of a young mother. That's a different kind of death altogether. Those deaths are tragic. Although I don't know those people, reading about what happened to them makes me sad. And then there's what looks like a hastily-scribbled note stuck in the pages of the register that records nine names, "tué par les Iroquois." That doesn't sound exactly like a peaceful sendoff to me.

For my dad, dying is a process. He's getting ready to go, but in his own time, on his own terms. At home, with family and friends around him. He's not eating or drinking much. He refuses pain meds. He seems to be aware, at some level, of what's going on around him, but doesn't respond much (other than to spit out the pain meds). He likes sitting in the sun in the afternoons. Last weekend, his grandson's new bride brought her viola and played for him. He liked that. He is dying. We will miss him, but this death is not a bad thing.

My dad always said he wanted to live to be 100, and be killed by a jealous husband. I don't think he's going to make it to 100, but who knows? I guess it's still possible that a jealous husband will show up and send him on his way. He would like that, although I'm not sure my mom would be so crazy about it.

19 August 2011

Maybe It Was a Day like Today

I don't know who these people are — the photo is just labeled "Paiement family." "Mount Royal Park, Aug 1908" is written on the front. Although the Paiements I've been stalking had left Montréal for Michigan by this time, becoming Payments in the process, they still had plenty of kin in the Montréal area. Mount Royal Park was probably a nice place to spend a summer afternoon.

I don't know anything else about this picture, and I don't really care if I can figure out who's in it (although I'll probably try, just for grins). It just makes me happy to look at it.

17 August 2011

Record Straight-Setting

Looking back over my last post, hoping for a blinding flash of inspiration which, in case you're wondering, totally failed to materialize, I realize I've been somewhat unfair. Dragon NaturallySpeaking isn't really as bad as I made it sound. Not nearly.

That's not to say that it didn't record the stuff I attributed to it last time. It did. But none of it was while I was dictating something I expected it to transcribe. It recorded most of those examples when the microphone was listening to me talk to someone else, or someone else talk to someone else, often in a different part of the house, or the radio talk to nobody at all. Sometimes I left the microphone on by accident, other times it turned itself on spontaneously, which is an annoyingly frequent occurrence.

Voice-recognition software really is pretty amazing. I use it, with head tracker mouse software, all day, every day. I use it to work on the desktop, clamber around the web, and use programs that don't know anything about voice-recognition, and I spend a lot more time doing that than I do dictating text. Although I sometimes get tangled up in too many layers of technology, for the most part, with a little patience and creativity, I can do whatever I need to do you dog wants you to do anything she's trying to be polite but you're not paying attention these are you think it's bug in the meantime I'll let you know

Sorry. I was talking to Scarecrow, and the microphone turned itself on.

Sometimes Dragon NaturallySpeaking really does misrecognize what I say. This can be either funny or annoying, depending on my state of mind, and the kind of mistakes it attempts to attribute to me can be devilishly hard to find. But really, most of the time I get caught writing something stupid, it's because I wrote something stupid. Without any help from anybody. Voice-recognition software can be a pain in the butt, but without it, I'd be in a world of hurt.

So, there's that.

It appears Tuffy is going to survive her latest medical adventure. What is it with this kid? She had a small sore get infected. It was looking pretty bad, and considering that she spends half her life on pestilential wrestling mats, I suggested she have a doctor take a look at it. It must've really hurt, because she did. The provisional diagnosis was MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which sounded pretty bad. The doctor drained the owie, put her on antibiotics, and told her to come back every day for the next four or five days. Turns out it wasn't MRSA, just garden-variety staph, which is bad enough. It's healing up surprisingly well, considering how bad it looked. The doctor says she won't even have much of a scar.

So, there's that.

04 August 2011

Stalking Sparky

Sometimes, I swear, if I didn't have vicarious adventures, I wouldn't have any adventures at all. Pathetic, I guess, but there it is. Fortunately for me, my brother Sparky (the electrician) is off on quite the adventure, and thanks to modern technology and his unhealthy obsession with electronic doodads, he's taking me along.

Having recently married off his number two son, Sparky took off on a motorcycle trip. The first leg of his trip took him from Southern California up here to Seattle, mostly following Highway 1 along the coast. An 1100 mile warm-up, shakedown kind of thing. He spent a couple of days here, checking over his bike and messing with his GPS, then took off on the real adventure. From here, he's off through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, to Yellowstone and the Continental Divide Trail, and over the next couple of weeks, somehow, back home.

The techie stalker thing comes in because he's wearing a little doohickey (my voice recognition software, about which more later, suggested "too geeky", and while it's not what I was after, it's eerily apt) that tracks his location and displays it on Google maps in near-real time. (I don't mean to shill for this place, but if you're interested, it's this.) So I know, for example, that earlier today he got a spot at Norris Campground, then he stopped at the Canyon Visitor Education Center and the Canyon Village Gen. Store, and now he's at Old Faithful. And at 8:44:32 a.m. on Wednesday he was at the Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho. Not really. He probably stopped for gas. At a gas station right next to the Bordello Museum. But still, is that creepy, or what?

Now, I'm all about technology. I'm sitting in a power chair, talking to my computer, using a head-tracker mouse. I'm first in line when it comes to taking advantage of technological advances, but I'm sometimes confronted with the downside. The same technology that I use to stalk dead people makes it possible for me to stalk my brother. The same technology that I use to talk to my computer makes me write really stupid things.

Here, for example, is my latest batch of Dragon-isms, collected over the last couple of days:

a guy is a will is will is a you will you as a is will is a you will you as a all will is a you all you as you rule is a you a you as their root, you will will will show you will you will a you a you a you as you as you as you are a you a you and you as you you he is cool you are you as a will is a you is you are you are a cool day and a you and you and you as you are you as you rule to the city a is a more is that I and you and you shall know a you as you as you as he is in is cool and he is a is a you he you a you as you you as you shall know he is a you a a a a a a a a you and a you as you as you as you are you will you and will you know you are you are you a woman will be

as I will you will you go. On the road and would very very short or will she will will will a a will and a you are you are you a you  are you will you as a you as you have is a oh

worries what will is router that was just a West is losing the Yankees you pull my copy of where to reach a good sleep it' Or actually warhorses for. Are you a

Woodruff: well for you as you and the

A save you a you are you are you will and you as a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a a you as you are you are a is a and he is is is is you will a a a you he is a you and a you and I and. I and you are you I will and I and is he is an and he is a y and I and you as a you and a a a you a will is there is all I is a you will you a a a a a a is is him and you as a a a a a a a a a a a a a little while you as you are in a a will and a you and you and you as a you and you and you and you and a a a a a a a a a a a you know is will you are you are you as you are you are you as you go is a a a a a a a. A a a a a a a a a a a a a is a you are you in and I are you are you a you a you are you are you a you will you will just a you a you are you will you will you will you a will all go a and are you as you will will will you and you and I and is is is is is is is is is a on a Ou as you will soon is a a a a a a a a very a a a a a a a a a a is a law is is you as a way

in K she growls item you were when you now am I haven't find are OK of them could you L controllability of the details you will are you getting ready to go are you OK


My world, and welcome to it.

28 July 2011

Standing out in a Crowd

A couple of days ago, I found myself looking over my dad's side of the family shrub. It doesn't take that long; there's my dad, and his parents. That's all I know. Well, almost.

Investigating my mother's side of the family offers so much more in the way of immediate gratification, and me, I'm all about immediate gratification. The Catholic Church keeps such obsessive records, French-Canadian women kept their father's surnames, I can almost read the original documents – well, I bet I could almost read them, if it weren't for the obscure handwriting and archaic language on scanned images of 300-year-old documents. With all the information available on the Internet, you sit down to trace a family, and 15 minutes later you're back to the flood. It's almost too easy.

Scarecrow's family is pretty much the same, easy-wise. Not only did the Puritans keep pretty close track of who married who, and who was born to whom, but the documents are even in English. Kind of seems like cheating. They didn't seem to make much use of those records to avoid consanguinity, though. I found at least one marriage between first cousins, which I've been telling Scarecrow explains a lot. < snrk! >

My father's family is more of a challenge. His parents were among the eight bazillion people who immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe in the first decade of the 20th century.

Beyond not having much to go on, everything seems more foreign, somehow. Even when they're written in English characters, the names of people and places sound so… ethnic. It's farther away from here, both geographically and culturally, but it's more than that. I can imagine 17th-century Québec, but a village in Minsk in 1900 eludes me.

I know nothing about my grandmother before she turned up in Chicago at her wedding to my grandfather in 1913. In contrast to the embarrassing abundance of documentation for my mother's side of the family, she didn't know for sure when she was born. She told my dad the name of the town she was from, but she couldn't write it in English, and by the time he told me what he thought she said, it could've been anything. Same thing with her name, when you get right down to it. It could be spelled any number of ways which, taken together, become the local equivalent of 'Smith.' I don't know when she came to this country – only that my dad said she called my grandfather a greenhorn, because she was here before he was. OK, I give up. Maybe I'll take another run at it next Mother's Day.

With my grandfather, I have a little more to go on. Not much, but a little. From Ellis Island, my dad procured the passenger list from the SS Petersburg, which made the crossing from Libau to New York on 27 December 1906. There's a name on it he believes is my grandfather. I don't know why he thinks that. The name doesn't match, but, like a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, we know he changed it when he came to America. We don't know what it was before.

According to the passenger manifest, the person my father believes to be my grandfather was 23 in 1906. In 1913, his marriage certificate gives his age as 26. Seven years later, he's only three years older. I wish I knew how he did that.

Here's what else the passenger manifest to us about him:

Birthplace: Karpilovka (a town in what is now the Ukraine, pretty close to where my grandfather said he came from)
Occupation: joiner (cabinetmaker, which is what my grandfather was)
Height: 5'2"
Eyes: blue
Hair: blue

If this is really him, I have no idea how he got from New York in 1906 to Chicago in 1913, or how he met my grandmother, or why they wound up in Ohio.

Really. How hard can it be to track down a little guy with blue hair?

25 July 2011

Can We Just Not Talk about MS for a While?

Sometimes I go through a stretch when I just don't want to think about MS. As much as I care about the well-being of my blogger buddies (you know who you are), I don't want to read blogs about MS. It's not denial. I did my usual checkup with the neurologist, which was unremarkable, as usual. She wanted to do some lab stuff, just to make sure that, other than MS, I'm generally healthy. So I did that, and I am. (That whole concept never fails to crack me up, but there it is.) I took my power chair in to the shop a while ago to find out what's wrong with it, and taking it back tomorrow to get it fixed. I do what I have to do, MS-wise. I just don't want to give it anymore of my attention than that. And since much of my own blog is about MS, I don't much want to look at that, either. So I've been doing other stuff.

For one thing, while Tuffy was in southern California for a family wedding, I've been stalking her on Facebook. Creepy, I know, but fun seeing the pictures she and her cousins took while she was down there. She did the obligatory grand-parental visit, and the folks look good, considering. Dad's wearing his Toledo Mud Hens baseball cap. Where does he get these things? She's back now, says she had a blast, but was ready to come home.

I've been stalking dead people in Scarecrow's family, too. Like my family, they're mostly just regular folks, but fascinating for all that. You just never know what will turn up.

For one thing, there are some great names. Jehoshaphat Prindle. Perseverance Johnson. Ebenezer Dibble. And a good thing, too. With surnames like Bates or Whitman, it's easy to get lost in all of the Johns and Daniels and Sarahs. A name like Philo Dibble Bates gives you something to hang onto.

And then there are the Puritans. Finding that Scarecrow, militant atheist, is descended from a bunch of Puritans, is more than a little amusing. I first stumbled over this sometime last week. My ribs still hurt from laughing.

Richard Palgrave and Anne Hooker came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630, part of the first major European settlement in New England after Plymouth Colony, and part of John Winthrop's effort to establish the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill."

Anne's brother Thomas Hooker was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, who founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts.

Richard and Anne are Scarecrow's 10th great-grandparents on his mother's side.

They are also the 14th great-grandparents of George W. Bush.

Hey, I read it on the web, so it must be true.

13 July 2011

Going South

Tuffy left for LA yesterday morning. One of her cousins is getting married on Saturday, and I guess she thought that was a good excuse to hang out in southern California for a week. Could do worse. She had to buy the plane ticket, but once she's down there she can stay with my brother Sparky (he's an electrician), and mooch food from various relatives. This is not the first time she's traveled on her own – she went back to Michigan for a wrestling tournament when she was in high school – but it's still an adventure.

Grandma and Grandpa will be happy to see her. Spending time with my brother's boisterous, rowdy, somewhat overwhelming brood will be… different… They're all good people; they're just very… large. They're big people, with big personalities, big voices. When you get several of them together, they really fill a space. She's an only child, from a generally quiet family. She can hold her own, I have no doubt. It'll just be different. Which is good. What would be the point of going someplace if it's the same as the place you left? Besides, other people's weddings are always fun.

Scarecrow and I get to try out the whole empty nest thing. It's still too soon to say how we're going to like it. She's only been gone a day.

05 July 2011

Oh Say Can You See…

Oh say can you see
By the dawn's early light…

A day late and a dollar short, as usual. I hope any blogger buddies in the US had a festive fourth of July weekend, and I hope your dogs have recovered from the fireworks.

Our narrow dogs seem pretty blasé about the whole fireworks thing, which is odd considering how they can be totally wigged out by much more commonplace occurrences. Like running the vacuum cleaner. Or the power washer.

The other day Scarecrow was using the power washer to blast the moss off the roof. We knew Bareit had issues with this device, but his last experience with it was a while ago, and we thought he might've settled in to where it wouldn't be a problem anymore.

It was still a problem.

After Scarecrow went to work with the power washer, he realized Bareit was nowhere to be found. Even after the latest round of repairs and improvements, it seems he can still get through the fence whenever he wants. So Scarecrow went off to look for him.

A few minutes later, Bareit wandered through the office. I figured Scarecrow found him, let him into the house, and went back out to find out how he was getting through the fence.

A few minutes later, Scarecrow came in. He came back from looking for Bareit to find the click front door standing open, and both Bareit and Jasmine running around in front of the neighbor's house. Apparently, Bareit came home, let himself in, and in doing so, let Jasmine out. Fortunately, they were both very relieved to see Scarecrow, and raced him to the door.

They're never boring. And at least they're not afraid of fireworks.

As Dragon NaturallySpeaking interprets our national anthem:

José can you see
By the dawn's early light…

02 July 2011

O Canada!

O Canada!
Our home and native land!

A day late and a dollar short, as usual. I hope all you Canadian blogger buddies had a festive Canada Day. Happy Canada Day. Merry Canada Day. Whatever greeting is appropriate on the occasion.

In Scarecrow's youth, his family always spent summers in a cottage his grandfather built on the north arm of Lake Gowganda in northern Ontario, making an annual trek up from Florida. We went up to the cottage a couple-three times when we lived in Michigan, although I'm afraid Tuffy was too young to remember. Since we could only manage two weeks of vacation, we tried to predict (with only limited success) when the wild blueberries would be ripe, and schedule our trip to coincide with the height of the season. What do you think? Late July? If they haven't had much sun, maybe they'll ripen late. Maybe early August would be better? We haven't been back to Gowganda since we moved to Seattle, distance and logistics and disability issues being what they are. It comes to mind this time of year. We can visit vicariously, but it's not the same.

As it happens, I've been Stalking Dead Canadians lately.

Scarecrow's mother's family comes from Ontario. After some digging around, it was starting to look like some of them arrived in Canada when British loyalists decamped from the colonies around the time of the American Revolutionary war. Thinking that was kind of cool, I told Scarecrow what I'd turned up. His response left something to be desired on the shock and awe front. Apparently family lore said something to that effect, so he wasn't surprised. Seriously. When I tell you I managed to track down a guy named "William Bates" in Burlington, Ontario, in 1800, you could at least pretend to be impressed.

I got to tell you, it's a little weird reading about the French and Indian war from the French perspective, or about the American Revolution from the Canadian point of view. Refreshing, and interesting, for sure, but weird.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!

21 June 2011

Summer Solstice

and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin',
cotton is high
Your daddy's rich,
and your momma's good-lookin'
So hush, little baby,
don't you cry

I always feel like I should celebrate the solstice by being up in time to watch the sunrise. That would mean getting up before 5 a.m., but considering that for years – decades – I got up at 5:30 every morning to go to work, it shouldn't be that big a deal. Still, I haven't managed it yet, and didn't do it this morning.

I can probably still be up to watch the sunset at 9:10 p.m. That will have to do.

Kind of thin, as celebrations go, but from here on in, the days are getting shorter. Why would I want to celebrate that?

Today is very nice, though. Blue skies, 68°, lunch outside on the deck with a really good book about the Canadian frontier and the last brownie left from a mini-late-birthday visit with a friend last weekend.


18 June 2011

The e-Library

The thing I really like about checking an ebook out of the library is that when it's due, it just goes away. No pestering Scarecrow to return it, no overdue fines, nothing like that. I'm ashamed to admit that it's saved me a chunk of change. This is a very fine thing.

The thing I really don't like about checking an ebook out of the library is that when it's due, it just goes away. Even if I'm part way through and really want to finish it and I can't renew it because I know there are holds on it so I know this is evil but I want to just pay the fine and hang onto it for an extra day. Or maybe two. But I can't. When it's due, it just goes away. I have to put another hold on it and get back in line. By the time I can check it out again, I'll have forgotten where I left off.

On the bright side, if you'd call it that, by the time I can check it out again, it'll be like a brand-new book. I must've liked it, because I wanted to finish it. So there's that. I don't know that my pathetic reading retention is an MS thing. I'm more inclined to think it's an easily distracted old lady thing. In either event, I can reread my favorite books, and enjoy them all over again. I can even reread mysteries, and not remember who done it. It's a silver lining type of thing.

Also, getting back to ebooks, the whippets have yet to come up with a way to chew them up. It's not that they're all that bad about chewing up books. They've only totally decimated one hardback, and nibbled around the edges of a couple of paperbacks. The commute to Scarecrow's new job way down at the other end of town makes for a long day for them to be all alone, poor dears. Of course the paperbacks were ours. The hardback was a library book.

Where was I going with this?

In a comment on an earlier post, which I know I should respond to but rarely do, Donna at Arranging Shoes wanted to know how I manage the reading thing anyway. Here's the scoop.

I used to use the eraser end of a pencil to turn pages on a real paper book. Sometimes, at a good time, on a good day, with a cooperative book, I can still do that. Sometimes I have to ask Scarecrow to turn pages for me, and amazingly, sometimes he's willing to interrupt what he's doing every minute and a half to do that. I've got to say that struggling to turn a page, or having to ask someone to turn it for me and waiting while they do that, does not do good things for my reading comprehension. Yeah I know, excuses, excuses. But some books just aren't available in a digital format, and won't be anytime soon. You do what you gotta do.

For digital books, I really like the whole eReader idea. Books and gadgets – what's not to like? I wish I still had enough manual dexterity to hold one and make it go, but I don't.

Audio books can be nice, especially when they're read by somebody good. My problem with them is that when I'm distracted, or stop paying attention, or fall asleep, the reader goes merrily on without me. Finding where I left off has not been easy. With a real paper book, or even an ebook, I can always pick it up where I stopped turning pages.

So mostly I read ebooks on my laptop. And wait to get to the top of the library hold queue.

15 June 2011

Three O'clocks

Must be a good day for bugs. Or maybe a bad day, I guess, if you're a bug. A brown creeper and a red-breasted sapsucker have been working over the tree trunk in front of my window. There were showers last night and it's still damp outside. Bareit's head was all wet when he came in from the yard. I wonder what he was doing out there.

What is it about three o'clock, anyway? At three o'clock in the afternoon, I can barely keep my eyes open. Not that it matters – one of the few cool things about not having a day job is that if I fall asleep at my desk, nobody cares. It's more of a problem at three o'clock in the morning, when I'm wide awake. And thinking about, you know, stuff.

Getting up is not an option. I'd have to wake Scarecrow up to do that, and he does have a day job. It's bad enough that I wake him up a couple of times a night to turn me over; let's not make it any worse. Since I can't toss and turn, I'm not going to wake him up doing that. So I'll just think about stuff.

I didn't have anything monumental, or even all that interesting, to think about. I usually don't. We recently watched The Triplets of Belleville, which is a French animated feature. No subtitles required, even for those of us whose French aspires to inadequacy – there's no dialogue. A synopsis of the plot sounds pretty wacky: a woman helps her grandson grow up to be a bicycle racer. When he is kidnapped, she rescues him with the help of his dog and three women she meets. It's about family and friendship, and what people will do for those they love, and all that stuff. And it has the coolest soundtrack ever! We watched it twice before we returned it, but I want to watch it again. Maybe I'll get it for Scarecrow for Father's Day.

I'm bad that way. I admit it. On festive occasions, Scarecrow usually gets gifts that I want myself. I was going to get him a coffee roaster, but decided that was a little obvious since he doesn't really drink coffee. Ditto the birdfeeder, since he's not much into birds. The DVD I think I can get away with.

I could think about something to scribble on my blog. I could write about waking up at three o'clock in the morning; the implications of having my circadian rhythm reversed, because I'm asleep at the one in the afternoon and wide-awake at the one in the morning. That's the kind of idea that seems pretty clever at three o'clock in the morning.

Later in the day I find it doesn't seem nearly so promising.

07 June 2011

The Odd-Fish

"As an Odd-Fish, it is not my job to be right", said Sir Oort. "It is my job to be wrong in new and exciting ways."
-- James Kennedy, The Order of Odd-Fish
I need to read this book. I don't know anything else about it, but I obviously need to read it. I mean, really, how could I not? I've never heard of an Odd-Fish, but Sir Oort is obviously talking about me.

So many books, so little time.

The problem with sites like goodreads.com, and with the King County Library System online catalog for that matter, is that there are so many books! I can spend hours browsing, hopelessly adding even more books to my already hopelessly long list of things to read, using time I could spend reading to make an already hopeless problem even worse. Clever, no?

So I have a gloomy afternoon with nothing much else going on. I think I'll spend it making my Books to Read list a few pages shorter.

04 June 2011

Stalking Dead People

I was wrong. I don't often admit my mistakes – I'm kind of bad that way – but I was wrong, and Uncle Al was right. My attempt in an earlier post to assign a different gender to my Aunt Ginny was pretty much a total failure. My cousin said Aunt Virginia, who is his godmother and whom he has known well all his life, is definitely the third urchin from the right in the photograph, and definitely a girl.

My cousin sent along another photo, which was obviously taken the same time, at the same place, of the same kids.

In this one, the child in question is standing up. She's still wearing shorts and my cousin admits she still looks like a boy, but he says he's seen many pictures of Virginia as a youngster, and that's definitely her. Hard to say. Kids that age are kind of androgynous-looking. But I'll take his word for it.

A picture of some of the same kids, cleaned up and dressed up, taken a couple of days later, is a little more convincing, although I can't help but wonder how long it took to get them cleaned up and how long they stayed that way.

This one, just so you know, is my mom, Aunt Virginia, and Aunt Alma. Uncle Chuck, the oldest of the kids, is sitting in a chair on the porch.

It turns out Uncle Al had an advantage when it came to dating the photographs; my cousin said the date was on the back. Duh.

I've been kind of obsessed with old family stuff lately. It started as a half-assed interest in constructing a family tree. When I knew I was going to have to retire from my day job, I started putting together a list of things I could do to keep busy if I got bored. Really, it was no stupider than a lot of other things on that list. Then, because I'm lazy and it was easy, I followed my mother's family back to 17th-century Québec. And got stuck there. Not so much who is related to who, but what was life like in New France in 1650? What did they do? Where did they live? What did they eat? What did they wear? Why would anybody in old France want to go there?

Tuffy calls it Stalking Dead People.

For example, the Louis Badaillac dit Laplante mentioned on this marker is our seventh great grand uncle. He must've been quite a character. In February 1701 he was banned from Montréal for six months and had to pay 200 livres fine for selling liquor to the Iroquois. In 1703, he and his brother (Gilles, our seventh great-grandfather) were in court again for the same thing.

I know. I really need to get out more.

25 May 2011

The Physics of Whippets

Bareit – formally known as Summit Grin and Bare It – is four years old today.

When he came here, he was not yet two years old. He'd been in five different homes – all kind, loving homes, but that's still a lot of different places to live in two years.

He was a little anxious and clingy; understandably so. Ernie, our unflappable greyhound, was a steadying influence and helped him settle in.

When Ernie died about this time last year, we became a two whippet family. Jasmine is sweet, charming, submissive, insecure, a little neurotic, butterfly-brained, and in constant motion (we call her Brownie). Bareit became the older dog, the one showing the new kid how things are done. He has grown into the role. He's handsome, confident, secure, and not nearly as naughty as he used to be. He still likes to roughhouse, which Jasmine does not, and he likes to play Chase Me, which Scarecrow was never very good at but Jasmine enjoys very much. He still likes to take his toys, and the occasional odd item of clothing, outside to play with, and leave wherever he happens to lose interest.

Bareit is still teaching us about the whippet concept of space and time. I don't understand how a whippet can be on either side of a fence, seemingly at will. We're still working on that.

Whippets believe it is possible for two bodies to occupy the same space at the same time. It wasn't possible to demonstrate this concept until we had two whippets, because Ernie wasn't having any of it.

We don't understand it, but find it hugely entertaining.

Happy birthday, little buddy.

24 May 2011

Seeing Red

There's been a lot of traffic on the trunks of the black cottonwoods outside my window. Seems like everyone's wearing red today.

There's the male Robin who was driving the whippets crazy a couple of weeks ago. He finally stopped attacking the bird reflected in the kitchen window, found a mate, and built a nest in one of the trees on the west side of the house. They've been a pretty constant presence, busily doing the baby bird thing.

A Red-breasted nuthatch put in an appearance. I haven't seen (or heard) them around here much before. Their red breast is more of a pale rusty color, but whatever. They're very handsome little birds, and they have at least as good a claim to a red breast as a Robin, whose breast is more of an orangey brown. Or maybe a brownish orange.

Then there was a Red-breasted sapsucker, a bird I don't remember ever seeing before although I don't know why not, because they're common enough around here. Now that's red, sure enough – candy apple red – but you don't notice it on his breast so much as all over his head. I guess the name "red-headed woodpecker" was already taken.

The Hairy woodpecker who showed up to work over a gnarly bit of trunk is a fairly regular visitor. It was the female this time so she didn't actually have any red on her, but a male would have some.

Ditto for the female Anna's hummingbird who has been around from time to time lately. A male Anna's would have some serious red.

Makes me want to go put on my University of Georgia T-shirt, the one that says "Junkyard Dogs." I bought it 33 years ago when I was in Athens for an American Society of Mammalogists meeting. I'm pretty sure I still have it – I don't turn my closet over very often, I guess. It's old, but it's very red.

It would be a good day for one of our Pileated woodpeckers to stop by. I haven't seen one, but the day's not over yet.

(I wish I had great photos of all these guys, but I don't. I don't even have not-great photos. The best I can do is to send you to All About Birds. Lame, I know. Sorry.)

Maybe tomorrow will be chestnut day. There's the Rufous-sided towhee who has been picking disgusting looking things out of the leaf detritus on top of the shed, and the Chestnut-backed chickadee, my new favorite bird of all time. On a scale of cute from 1 to 10, they're an 11. And maybe a Rufous hummingbird. It could happen.

You've got to get excited about the little things, don't you know.

22 May 2011

Uncle Al Must Be Nuts

Ever since my previous post, I've been studying (some would say obsessing over) that picture of my mother's brothers and sisters. The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that my Uncle Al can't be right. Those kids can't be who he says they are.

If you're bored by my fixation on old family photos, now would be a good time to go read something else.

For one thing, it looks to me like the third kid from the right in that photo is a boy. Uncle Al says it's my Aunt Virginia, but if so, she's got a boy's haircut, and she's wearing shorts. If this is 1927, give or take a couple of years, girls don't wear pants, even to play outside.

Another reason I think Uncle Al must have his siblings scrambled is that there's another photo, with some of the same kids in it. I don't know when it was taken, but I'd guess maybe a year or so later. In this one, I'm pretty sure I know who's who.

In the center is my grandmother, Helen Catherine, looking, if I may say so, like a woman who's had twelve children. Around her, clockwise from the top:

Marie Helen (my mother)
Virginia (scowling at camera)
James Carl
Harriet Ann (sitting next to g'ma)
Corrine Audrey
Pat Mae (on grandma's lap)
Alfred Paul

The Alfred Paul, in this picture, looks very much like the third kid from the right in the other photo. The one Uncle Al said was a girl. I don't think it was a girl. I'm thinking it was Uncle Al.

If that's true, the other picture couldn't have been taken in 1927, because Alfred Paul wasn't born until March of 1928. So I'm back to not knowing who the kids are in the other picture, but here's my guess: let's say, instead of 1927, it was taken around 1934. Let's say all the kids in the picture were siblings, not neighbors. And let's say that the girl 4th from the right, scowling at the camera, is Virginia, because my mom says that in every family picture she ever saw, Virginia was scowling at the camera. I'm pretty sure the girl third from the left is my Aunt Harriet, and despite Uncle Al's assertions to the contrary, the boy third from the right is Alfred Paul. The others might be:

Pat Mae, about 1
Fred (about 18)
Harriet Ann (17)
Marie Helen (13)
George Francis (15)
Virginia (11)
Alfred Paul (6)
James Carl (8)
Corrine Audrey (2)

This still doesn't quite work. Some of the ages don't look right, and some of the kids in the first picture don't seem like they could be the kid in the second picture just a couple years later. But that's OK. I'm not sure I'm ready to have the mystery solved. I kind of like looking at the picture and wondering who those kids were.

I really need to get out more.

19 May 2011

Another Exciting Day

OK, I give up. Waiting for something exciting or noteworthy to write about – even if I set the bar for "exciting" or "noteworthy" pretty low – makes for a pretty sparse blog. Never let it be said that not having anything to say kept me from saying anything. You've been warned.

The latest issue of the Greyhound Pets, Inc. newsletter is off to the printer. I wish this was a project I could get more excited about. Maybe I just don't play well with others. Still, the point is not to have a good time, it's to help out GPI. Other people seem to be happy enough with the result. So, OK. That's done.

Some while ago one of my cousins sent me a photo of some of my mom's siblings when they were kids.

I had never seen it before, so I sent it to my mom to see if she could tell me who was in it. My mom couldn't remember where the picture might have been taken, and wasn't sure which kid was which. In her defense, she really can't see very well anymore, and it was a long time ago, and 11 siblings are a lot to keep track of. I tried to figure it out starting with the birth sequence (boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, girl, girl, girl, boy, boy, girl, girl) and the difference in ages, but just couldn't make it fit.

It remained a mystery until my cousin, who still lives in Ohio near my (our) Uncle Al, found time to visit him and ask about the picture. According to Al, it was taken September 9, 1927. At the time, he said, the family lived at 1525 Milburn Ave. The photo was taken in front of the neighbor's house, at 1523 Milburn Ave. The reason I couldn't match all of the faces with names on the family roster is that they don't all belong there – two of the kids in the picture were neighbors, and two of the kids in the family weren't in the picture. They are, from left to right (because I know you really want to know this):

James Carl, 1 yr.
Edward Lewis, 13
Harriet Ann, 10
name and age unknown, neighbor
Verne, age unknown, neighbor
Marie Helen, 6 (my mother, since I know you're wondering)
Virginia, 4
George Francis, 8
Alma Louise, 2

At the time this was taken the other two boys in the family were Charles Ernest, who would have been 16, and Fred, who would've been 12.

In the years after this moment was saved for posterity, my grandmother had three more children, rounding out an even dozen, and replacing the original mystery (who are these kids?) with another. My Uncle Al wasn't born until six months after this picture was taken. So how did he know all this stuff?

If this is what passes for exciting, I think maybe I need to get out more.

08 May 2011

The Mom Thing

For the last couple of days, I've been watching a family drama taking place outside my window. A fledgling Black-capped Chickadee has been trying to convince a parent that it really still needs to be fed. It's a pretty good flyer now, and it's as big as the adult, so it's not very convincing when it sidles up next to the adult (I find myself thinking of this as the female, although I know both parents feed the young), flutters its wings, opens its hungry little mouth, and gives it the sad little starving Chickadee eyes.

The adult obviously thinks this has been going on just about long enough. Most of the time, the adult hops away. The fledgling follows, with more gaping and begging. The adult flutters to another branch. The fledgling follows. Occasionally, with an air (I know I'm being anthropomorphic here) of exasperation, the adult stuffs something into the gaping fledgling maw.

Seems like if the youngster spent the same amount of energy rustling up its own food as it does begging, it would get more to eat, for less effort. But you can't tell a kid anything.

I know what it's like.

Yesterday, Tuffy asked me how they charge for text messages on her cell phone. Um, beats the heck out of me?

She waited for me to continue. I resisted the urge to do so.

At one time, I was the one who sorted through all the eight bazillion combinations of cell phones and plans and carriers, tried to guess which would work best for us, signed us up, and paid the bills every month. Eventually, however, I stopped using my cell phone at all, and Scarecrow only used his in emergencies, at which time he would inevitably find that he had either left it at home, or forgotten to charge it. Since Tuffy was the only one using the darned thing, it seemed reasonable that she should take over its care and feeding. She can get whatever phone she wants, whatever plan she wants. Not my problem. That was a couple of months ago.

At one time, I'd have offered to track down the information she needed. This time, I didn't do that.

I finally explained that if she wanted to find out how she was billed for text messages, she could do the same thing I would do – rummage around on the carrier's website.

She whined (it was subtle, but it was definitely whining) that the website was confusing. Imagine the fluttering wings, hungry little mouth, and sad little Chickadee eyes.

Yup, I said. It can be confusing. We waited to see who would talk first.

If you still can't figure it out, I said, pick up the phone. Call and ask somebody. You're a clever girl. You can do this as well as I can. I wasn't born knowing how to do stuff, and I didn't take care of these chores because I enjoyed them; I did them because they had to be done. There's a lot of that in life. You can do it.

That fledgling Chickadee is still out there harassing its mom (I know it's the mom; I just know it), and not getting much for the effort.

I guess one of the hard things about being a mom is learning to let go; teaching them they can fly without you. As Mother's Day presents go, realizing that your kid can do that is the best one ever.

02 May 2011

Mayday! Mayday!!

Hal an' tow, jolly rumble-o,
Leap an' caper all befor' the day-o!

Oh wait. That was yesterday.

Well, I really did imagine pulling out the old Morris kit, putting on the vest, tying on the bells, and dancing the sun up. I must've done a good job of it, too, because we had a beautiful spring day yesterday. Today, of course, it's back to being gloomy and gray and leaky. And I've got the Fools Jig tune stuck in my head. Appropriately and, apparently, permanently.

Scarecrow spent the weekend ridin' fence. I always thought that was a chore associated with containing livestock, but maybe the phrase 'little dogies' pertains to whippets, too. They had all day yesterday to test his repairs. Of course they didn't, because we were home. They were quite happy to hang out in a sunny spot in the yard with the rest of the pack. Today will be the test.

When Scarecrow came in, grubby and sweaty, from working in the yard, I realized how much I miss being able to do that. Not fixing fence – that's never a fun job – but generally grubbing around outside, getting dirty. Running or hiking or riding a bike, and coming in sweaty enough to have to quarantine my clothes. Pulling weeds! Death to blackberries! (If you're not from around here, Himalayan blackberry is an invasive species that is attempting to use the Pacific Northwest as a base from which to take over the planet.) Death to English ivy! (Ditto.) In addition to being cathartic, ripping out weeds is a great way to get dirty. Planting vegetables and herbs and flowers. Watering and weeding and sticking my fingers in the dirt for no reason at all. Having to leave muddy shoes at the door, and use a brush to scrub the dirt out from under fingernails. It's hard to come up with a way to get really dirty these days. I'll have to work on that.

Happy belated Bealtaine!

30 April 2011

It's Not Just Me

My calendar has lost a couple of days. April ends on the 28th, which is a Thursday. The first of May isn't until Sunday. Aren't there supposed to be 30 days in April?

I'm so glad it's not just me.

Before I had to retire from my day job, it was hard to get too far out of sync with the rest of the world. Five days of work, two days of weekend. I might have to stop and think about whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday, or whether it was Wednesday or Thursday, but it didn't usually happen that whole days went missing.

Even when I was just tagging along with Scarecrow to Bob's Books, he worked a pretty regular Monday through Friday schedule.

His new job has a lot more potential for working at home. In fact, in his first month, there's only been one week when he went in to the office every day. Last week, he only went in one day out of five. While this is great for a lot of reasons, I find it easy to lose track of what the heck day it is.

It doesn't help when the calendar is missing two days. I looked at that darn thing for an embarrassingly long time before I realized that it wasn't just me. The calendar was wrong.

It's OK, really. I only get it for the greyhounds. I buy a Celebrating Greyhounds wall calendar every year from Greyhound Pets, Inc. They make a little money, and I get to look at nice pictures of greyhounds all year. It's a way to get my greyhound fix, since we (temporarily) don't have any retired racers hanging around the house. If I just wanted to know what day it was, I could always check my computer.


20 April 2011

A Lesson You Don't Want Me to Learn

I think it was last December that I noticed the control on my power chair was acting a little wonky. It took me a while to convince myself that it wasn't just my imagination. Mike the Wheelchair Guy first checked it out in January. He confirmed that it was, in fact, wonky. After fiddling and plugging and unplugging and much head scratching, he decided that maybe Mike the Permobile Guy better have a look at it.

So, OK. We made an appointment with Mike the Permobile Guy. He confirmed that it was, in fact, wonky. He fiddled and plugged and unplugged and scratched his head, and decided that the problem was the control unit. Unfortunately my chair, a 2007 model, uses older electronics than they're putting on newer chairs, and it might take some time to come up with a replacement.

That was in January. Now it's April.

I started sending polite e-mails requesting status updates last month. The first polite e-mail to Mike the Wheelchair Guy got an auto-reply saying he was on vacation for a week, but would contact me when he returned. Not wanting to be pushy, I waited for his reply for another week after he got back, but never got one. Hey, I've been there. Your e-mail box can get pretty full when you're out for a spell. Stuff gets buried. It happens.

So I sent another polite e-mail requesting a status update. This time Mike the Wheelchair Guy replied, saying that Mike the Permobile Guy had finally found a control with the older electronics, and he would be calling me early the following week to set up a time to try it out. Mike the Wheelchair Guy would be seeing Mike the Permobile Guy at a conference in Las Vegas the following weekend, and would "remind him of his commitment to getting this problem resolved." Yeah, right.

So it gets to be Thursday of the following week, and I haven't heard anything. I don't want to be pushy. It probably takes a couple of days to recover from a Vegas conference. But on Thursday I sent another polite e-mail, asking if there's anything I can do to get this moving along.

Mike the Wheelchair Guy replies by cc'ing me on an e-mail he sends to Mike the Permobile Guy, asking what's going on. Very helpful. I don't know if Mike the Wheelchair Guy got any response from Mike the Permobile Guy, but I sure didn't.

When I still hadn't heard anything by Tuesday of the following week (that would be yesterday), I was starting to get a little cranky. I pointed out to both Mikes that we started working on this problem in January, and now it's April, and my chair is still broke. My insurance is different now, which is going to make all this more of a pain than it would otherwise be. I'm tired of being nice. I'm ready to start rattling cages.

I got a call from Mike the Permobile Guy a couple of hours later. He made an appointment to come and try the new control box the following afternoon (that would be today). The timing is fortuitous, because Scarecrow was planning to work at home anyway, so we won't have to take time off work to get this done. Finally.

Wait wait wait… not so fast. The appointment was for 2:00. Around 2:45, he calls and says he's running late. Can we do this tomorrow?

Um, not really. We're not usually home in the middle of the day. It just happened that we could do it today. Tomorrow is not a good day.

Mike the Permobile Guy has no idea how lucky he is that Scarecrow answered the phone instead of me. (Actually, it's a pretty good bet, since I can't physically answer the phone unless it rings on my laptop, and he was calling our home number. So scarecrow always answers the phone. But still.) I'm tired of being nice. You have no idea how much of an effort that is for me. I would have used Discouraging Words. I would have let him see the real me, and friends, it would have been a conversation he would not soon forget.

I don't know the end of the story. I don't know whether Scarecrow can arrange to work from home tomorrow, or if we have to try to find another time to get the chair fixed.

I do know that the lesson I take home from this is that as long as you try to be nice, as long as you're polite, as long as you're not pushy, you'll be at the bottom of everybody's priority list. It's only when you speak up, make it clear that you're tired of waiting around for people to get their fudging thumbs out of their ears, that you expect them to get their butts in gear and get it done, that things start to happen.

Don't be so nice. That's a lesson I can learn, but trust me, it's better if I don't.

18 April 2011

Purpose in Life

I have never spent much time worrying about my Purpose in Life. I have no philosophical bent, and I'm not religious. And, I admit, it's partly because I'm shallow and intellectually lazy. But I like questions that I can answer, or at least questions that can be answered, by somebody. The Grand Imponderables are not something I'm inclined to spend a lot of time pondering. I don't know if there's a Purpose or a Reason. I'm here. I'll just go with that. It works for me.

Imagine my amazement to realize that I do have a Purpose in Life. I occupy an important place in the grand scheme of things. I play a role in the great cosmic events that determine the direction of the universe.

I allow Scarecrow to use the HOV lane.

In case you're fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with Seattle traffic, it's a mess. A lot of cars want to go the same place at the same time, and where ever you are, there's water between where you are, and where you want to be. Scarecrow's new commute takes him through the thick of it. Every day. Twice a day.

The HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, reserved for transit vehicles or cars carrying two or more people, has so few qualified users that these fortunate few can zip past the numberless horde, as they wait more-or-less patiently in line to reach their destination. If it weren't for me, Scarecrow would be waiting in line with the rest of them.

You might think this is a job that can be done by one of those life-size inflatable dolls, but the requirements are, in fact, considerably more rigorous, as many drivers with inflatable passengers have found out. The police expect a high occupancy vehicle to be occupied by at least two people who are breathing, and have a pulse. I can do that.

I have a Purpose in Life. Who knew?