Wednesday, October 28, 2015

not for the faint-hearted

So, last week entailed a project-team meeting in Louisiana.  The shore is lined with chemical plants, refineries, giant warehouses, and power-generating complexes.  It’s really very ugly with all those atrocities to the eyes, but also they are marvels of modern technology.  The greatest marvel is that we don’t blow ourselves up with all that shit running 24X7.  Intermixed with all that technologiae are swamps and fields of sugar cane and rice.  Yes indeed, let’s mix our food with toxic chemicals and oil.  Is it any wonder our chromosomes and genes are getting all mutated and confused about what’s supposed to be turned on and off?

The travel was surprisingly on-time, coming and going!  It was amazing because that hasn’t happened in a very long time…to actually have a flight leave or arrive within 60 minutes of what was scheduled.  Coming back was no tiptoe through the tulips though.  In fact, it was one of scariest flights I’ve ever been on.
It was a newer plane, so my expectations were high.  The plane was very small; 12 rows of 4 seats, the 13th row had 1 seat.  That’s 49 passengers, and it was full.  To make matters worse, I’m a bit of a claustrophobe and I had a window seat in the 12th row.  The aisle was so tight on this plane model that most people had to turn sideways to walk down it.  Anyway, all was well until we were about 20 minutes into the air.  I started to smell plastic burning.  The pilot announced something but nobody could hear because those little planes are super noisy.  The guy sitting next to me reeked of bourbon; he asked me if I smelled something burning.  He stated that an engine was on fire and we would be turning around soon.  I speculated something was on fire in the cargo area.  He pulled two little bottles of Makers Mark out of his jacket and offered me one.  I declined and he sucked both of them down right out of the tiny bottles, one right after the other, and tucked the empties into the seat pocket where the safety brochure stays.  Within minutes, the cabin got very smoky.  At least it was white smoke; black smoke would have sent me into a bigger panic.  The steward stood up and picked up the phone.  People turned on their air vents which helped.  The plane took a hard right and we descended a bit, then the smoke cleared out.  Whatever it was that caused it, I don’t know.  Somebody said they thought a laptop fried.  It sure didn’t help having drunk guy saying he hoped we could land in time, and he hoped we didn’t crash (over and over).  His daughter was getting married next day and he had a rehearsal dinner to attend.  He started his celebration early, obviously.  I wondered if he was going to drive himself home…drunk driver.  I learned yesterday that in the U.S., somebody dies in a traffic accident caused by a drunk driver every 53 seconds.  I wonder how many die from somebody on a cell phone?

This morning, I had a dentist appointment.  I am one of those people who HATES going to the dentist.  Hate it, hate it, HATE IT (in all caps)!  I don’t even like getting a haircut, so put yourself in my shoes in the dentist chair.  It gives me squeemies just thinking about it.  So the festivity scheduled for today was to replace an old filling…one of the back molars that was probably filled when I was 12 years old or so.  At my last cleaning, the dentist observed a bit of gray discoloration around the filling and a hairline crack.  He actually found two fillings that need replaced, but I didn’t want them done on the same day (which means I get to go back for a repeat performance next week). 

Anyway, my dentist is awesomely talented in comparison to other dentists I’ve been to.  He was done with the needle/numbing business in no time – that’s always the worst part for me.  That big-ass needle scares the hell out of me, but it didn’t hurt at all.  NOT AT ALL!!  Non-event!  For 15 minutes, he sat and chatted about his adventures in Germany while he was in the Army so the novocaine could took affect.  Then he and his assistant started to work with drills, and the water blaster and the sucky thingie, and all sorts of metal tools…it was a flurry of hands in front of my face.  All of a sudden, something flew out of my mouth and the dentist exclaimed “Whoa!!”.  Not something I (or anyone) wants to the hear when it’s your mouth being worked on.  He said, “Looks like a giant hole in your tooth; you’ve just lost half of it.”  Shit!  Definitely not what I wanted to hear.  He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.”  He put two screws into my tooth to hold the filling.  Start to finish, I was out of the chair in under 35 minutes.  Whew!  Pain free dentistry, for real!
I have to go back next week for the other tooth.  It has a leaky old filling, but no crack.  Hopefully it will be no worse than today.

Erin is coming home for the weekend.  We have pumpkins to carve for Halloween.  It should be fun.  I hope our weather is good.  I’d love to get my kayak out before all the leaves drop.  The maples have shed most of their leaves, but the oaks and hickories are still hanging on to their leaves.  The red and orange from the maples is mostly gone, so now the hills look bronze, rust, and gold.  Still lovely!  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Once upon a time...

The weekend was a fairy-tale.  It really doesn’t take much to make me happy – I’m lucky like that.  I slept in late two mornings in a row with Gracie, took my kayak out, went for a long hike, watched The Walking Dead, and baked a cake.  It was but a brief fairytale, however.  The ever-after didn’t happen.  Monday draped its ugly blanket of despair over my world as all good things come to an end. 
Dogs are wonderful.  My dog, although two of my daughters will disagree (probably because they are jealous), is the best dog on earth (for me anyway).  She prefers to stay in the house in the mornings when I go off to work.  I say good-bye to her, give her one last scratch on her head, then make my way to the car.  This is what I see every morning when I’m backing my car out of the driveway.  She always runs to the window and watches me go.

Sweet Gracie

For the first time, I took my kayak to Clifty Creek, a stream that feeds into Grayson Lake in Carter County, Kentucky.  Grayson is by far my favorite place to hike and kayak, but it’s about a 50-minute drive.  With nothing else scheduled for Saturday, I loaded up and made the drive.  It was a phenomenal adventure.  A fabulous day, and next to nobody out there at all, I paddled for nearly 90 minutes in the direction away from the main lake.  It was windy, so it was hard work, but such a beautiful place with all the cliffs and trees beginning to change color.  On the return trip, I came around a bend and saw a heron wading.  I froze.  He saw me and gave me a good stare down, but I stayed completely motionless – not even a blink.  Finally, he went back to business.  He was walking the shoreline looking for dinner, no doubt hoping for fish, but also inspecting the weeds along the edge perhaps hoping a frog or snake would present itself.  Step by step, very slowly and deliberately he searched.  I pulled out my phone and took a video, hoping he would catch something, but he didn’t find anything and I finally drifted out of range.

The water slaps the rocks making interesting sounds

It's neat to see how the trees grow right to the edges of the cliffs

Saturday evening, I made a large pot of spaghetti sauce and baked a cake.  I am working out of town this week, so Someone will eat spaghetti a few times and appreciate the cake.  If only it were that easy to keep Gracie happy when I’m gone.  She will not eat for days and will refuse to come inside the house.  After a few nights, Someone will bribe her with cheese and get her to come in – even so, she will sleep against the door to the outside and not take her usual place at the foot of our bed.  She is not herself when I am away.  Poor baby, but she bounces back quickly when I come back.
On Sunday, after a nice morning of lounging in bed with my iPad and sweet dog, I did my teacherly-duties: answering emails, posting announcements, and assigning work for all my classes.  It’s nearly time to make a video again – University #2 expects me to post at least one personalized video per session.  Some things are better left to the imagination (in my opinion), but I will comply and video myself rambling on with some sort of reminders.  Only a handful of students will watch it anyway. 

Sunday was cooler than Saturday, but still a sunny, spectacular day.  Someone and I took Gracie to Greenbo Lake State Park and hiked some of the Michael Tygart trail.  It’s a lovely trail – it follows the shoreline of the lake in some places, and then takes you back away from the lake through some flatter ground and very old abandoned log cabins.  We did not hike far enough to see the cabins, but I hope to do that someday.  It’s a lot of uphill and downhill in places, but the scenery is worth it.  Also there are many tree roots and rocks to watch out for.  It will not be a good walk when more leaves are down – we would be tripping all over ourselves and a fall could result in a long tumble down into the lake.  According to my Fitbit, we walked a little more than 3.7 miles before turning around.  We saw many deer and squirrels, but also a great heron, at least twice the size of the one I saw the day before. It was sitting on top of a pine tree that had uprooted and was laying over the water.  

Greenbo Lake as seen from Michael Tygart Trail

sapphire October sky 

I am leaving my job before long.  That makes things a little more tolerable.  Tomorrow, I head back to Louisiana for meetings.  If I had more time, I’d drive into New Orleans and visit the French Quarter again.  Alas, there is no time for anything but work on this trip.  It’s OK.  Two to three months from now…a new life for me.  The real fairy tale begins.       

Thursday, October 15, 2015


It’s another glorious fall day in my world – brilliant blue sky, unseasonably warm for October – nearly 80 degrees.  Last weekend and this entire week has been  equally as beautiful, but I hardly remember last weekend when I try to reflect on all the events.  We buried my brother Saturday.  Just as when we buried my grandfather in that same cemetery several summers ago, the sky could not have been anymore blue.  The most memorable difference was that the day we buried my grandfather, it was beastly hot (in July). Saturday was mercifully cool – around 70. 

View from my office

We expected 12 people or so in total for the memorial service.  It was to be very informal and thrown together…well, that part came true as planned.  Just a few hours before the service, I printed off a short prayer to open with and the 23rd Psalm because what else is there for funerals?  My mother wanted to sing a hymn – Be Still My Soul; Emily was going to play piano, and Sarah was going to sing and play viola with Emily for one song.  I wrote up some brief notes to remind me what to say about my brother’s life…in hopes that if I invited others to say something about him, somebody would.

As it turned out, we had a good 30-35 people who showed up.  Many of his friends stood up to speak about him.  The music was lovely.  I was hoping we could stretch it out to 20 minutes long; but I think from the time we started until we left the church, it was well over an hour.  I had no idea my brother had so many friends who cared enough to come.  Afterwards, family drove to the cemetery and buried the ashes between the graves of our grandparents.  Before we left, I planted crocus bulbs around the headstones of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and my favorite great aunt.

The oddest thing about the weekend for me, besides carrying my brother around in a heavy little wooden box, was seeing my parents together in the same room for the third time that I can remember.  Once when I was young (maybe 5 or 6 years old), their visits overlapped by a few hours.  Neither visited often, so to have an overlap was a rare (indeed, one-time) event.  Both attended my doctoral graduation, and now this – my brother’s (their first son’s) funeral.  After the cemetery, we all went out to dinner together.  It was notable to see both sitting at the same table for dinner – just as we did for my graduation.  I remembered that the last time I ever had dinner with Richard was also the last time my mother had dinner with him, and how the last time I had dinner with Mike, it was in this restaurant where we were all sitting together like one big family.     

That is how the whole weekend went.  My mind was slipping forwards and backwards in time, and as I reflect now on the weekend, it’s like I wasn’t even there.  I drove my mother back to the airport Sunday.  Her flights were horrible – 6 hours delayed coming in on Friday night, and a 6-hour delay going home.  It was a direct flight for a trip that she could have driven in six hours.  Driving home from the airport, I saw this giant deer in the back of a pickup truck.  Taxidermy is popular around here because so many people hunt, but who wants this standing in their home?  Not me.  Thank heavens we don’t stuff people to preserve them. 

poor deer

My mind is not on work lately.  Obviously not on work…I’m writing a blog post when I should be analyzing data for discrepancies, among other things.  I’m traveling back to Louisiana next week.  My thoughts were to decline the meeting notice, but I will go.  Two hops down, two hops back, but an all-day ordeal each way with the driving added to it.  Planes are never on-time these days.    

If I could have tomorrow to live as I want to, I’d take my kayak to Grayson Lake and paddle far away from anything that sounds or looks like civilization.  Perhaps if I went far enough, the world would seem right again.     

the right way?