Friday, August 31, 2007

Rocky Mountain National Park at 70mph

The amazing race started Saturday morning about 10 a.m. Friday marked my last day of training in Aurora, Colorado, and now I was ready for anything. Enough of this mile-high altitude--I wanted more.

My plan all week had been to rise early Saturday morning to take a leisurely drive through the mountains before catching my 6:30 flight out of Denver. This plan was somewhat altered by a pleasant bout of IBS which presented itself to me late Thursday evening and seemed in no hurry to leave in time for my extracurricular activities on Saturday. I didn't wake until a housekeeper knocked on my door at 9, at which point I hit the ground running.
No time for the hotel's signature blueberry pancakes, so I ran through a Circle K to grab some vittles to settle my still unsettled stomach. I had it in my mind that a couple of bananas and some grape juice would do the trick, but found these in short supply. Seventy-two brands of beer were available, but no grape juice. I grabbed a rootbeer (make that seventy-three brands of beer) and some pre-packaged banana bread that looked like it might have been created within at least the last two months and headed out the door.

Though I have a natural ability to get lost in my own driveway, this expedition seemed fairly straightforward. Drive towards the long line of mountains and eventually you would find a road to cross over them. All I had to do was drive a huge oval up and over the mountain range and I would find myself back at the airport where I started. In six hours. As I made my way through the valley at 80-odd miles an hour I passed an enclave called Commerce City which caused a very unpleasant flashback of time spent on Salt lake City. It was the smell that triggered it--a large oil or gas or other foul-smelling refinery puffing away right in the heart of the city. These lined the highway running north out of SLC and I nearly drove off the shoulder trying to shake the memory--and the smell.
This was partly my fault, as I had just been reading an essay by Bill Bryson in which he scolds Americans for driving with their windows up when they are out to enjoy nature. The weather was perfect, so I was giving it a shot. The refinery did not qualify as nature for me, so I decided maybe the windows could come back down once I got a little closer to the mountains. I was sure Bill would understand.

Fresh air or no, something I cannot travel without is music. Since I had decided to be adventurous, I was jumping all over Denver's radio dial. My first station save had been the alternative rock station, of course, which had already played for me the entire library of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in my two-minute commute to and from work that week. Though a change from the constant play of Disturbed on Madison's rock station, it was still tiresome enough to make me switch to a station playing a broad mix of country, pop, and Gregorian chants.

As I alluded to earlier, it was a beautiful day in Denver, and the bicyclists were out in droves. I am not certain as to the exact number implied by the word "droves," but in this case I use it to mean ten to fifteen bikes per car. There were some casual bikers (people in street clothes who looked like they'd rather be driving or riding the bus) but most were the serious sort--the kind with padded shorts and severely-peaked helmets. Most had water bottles or water packs on their backs, and I wondered if I'd see any further up with oxygen tanks.

After driving forty-five minutes I was still surrounded by civilization. Every time I thought I thought I caught a glimpse of a raptor I would discover a haze-obscured traffic helicopter. I finally reached Boulder, known worldwide as the home place of Mork and Mindy, but time constraints did not allow for sightseeing. Next time, I promised myself.

No we were getting into wild country, I thought. Down went the automatic windows. I passed another dozen or so bicyclists--all the serious type--and tried to remember to keep an eye out for roadside humans as I scanned the skies and rolling hillsides for wildlife. I came up on what looked like a scenic turnout but decided it was still to early--and I had too little time-- to pull out so far before the actual park. I caught a glimpse of the road sign just as I passed over my first wildlife sighting: a dead striped skunk. The turnout was Hygiene Road. Up went the windows again.

It was not long after this that I passed my first wild porcupine, lying dead on the side of the road. I was already past him by the time I found my camera under my pile of junk food in the passenger seat. That was when I had to swerve to avoid what may or may not have been a prairie dog. At one time.

But things were looking up: here was a sign advertising Big Elk Meadows. I scanned both sides of the road without luck. Either these elk were not nearly as large as advertised or the simply weren't home. I grazed several angry bicyclists as I strained to catch a glimpse of these invisible elk. I started to yell out an apology when I realized my windows were still up. They purred softly as I rolled them down again.

Ah, nostalgia. Here was the Estes Park Jellystone Park, an unexpected reminder of the Jellystone my parents used to take my family as I was growing up in Wisconsin. My single memory of that was the time that a tornado touched down in the park perimeter as we cowered in our VW bus. Good times.

I hate nostalgia. It feels singularly like heartburn to me. I hear some people actually enjoy the sensation. They are probably the same people who consider biking at elevations of 7,000 feet an enjoyable way to spend a free Saturday.

At last, Estes Park! gateway to the Rocky Mountains! Heeding a a warning I had read about gassing up before entering the park, I pulled into the only gas station I saw, which was situated just feet from several corrals filled with maybe fifty trail horses. The only thing I couldn't see were any trails--just tourist malls and cheesy hotels. The stables were fenced in by a very busy four lane road, so I imagined you simply paid $100 or so to ride around the in the parking lot of the adjacent Safeway. Again, time was my enemy, so I could not stay to investigate.

As I navigated the y-junction into the park, my eye was caught by one of my surest temptations: a petting zoo. Not JUST a petting zoo, but a petting zoo with a horse-drawn carriage! A Percheron in Estes Park! I careened back onto the road just in time to avoid a family of twenty in a biking caravan. Sadly, I left the zoo behind.

The clock in my Dodge Caravan showed 12:05 p.m. as I pulled away from the check-in post at RMNP. My goal was to make it back to the car rental parking lot by four p.m. That meant $5 per hour in the park, as the fee was $20 per car. The ranger had told me that in a voice that indicated I should really drive back down to Estes Park to see if I could find more people to drive with me. She had a point--the minivan they'd given me would have fit probably twenty-five, easily (thirty without their bikes). Still, I had no time to backtracking. Onwards and upwards.

The radio finally started paying attention to where I was driving, playing "Big Country" by Big Country as I regained speed. And then, live wildlife! A mountain bluebird swooped in front of my car. I was beside myself. Mostly about the fact that I had managed not to hit it. This was followed shortly by another important sign. "Bighorn Sheep Crossing--No Stopping."

Now this had me confused. Did this mean I should not expect the sheep to stop for me, or that I was expected NOT to stop should I see one in the road? I found this very troubling and was quite relieved when I saw no one crossing except more bicyclists--none of which appeared to be carrying oxygen.

Here was a turnout. I could see in my rear view mirror that I had climbed significantly from Denver and thought it was worth the time to stop for a photo. The turnout was about fifty yards up from the walkway, so I grabbed my camera and jogged down to the lookout. Very pretty.
Okay, time to jog back to the car. I made it ten steps and collapsed against the weathered timber railing. I could not breathe. Not only could I not breathe, but I felt as though my lungs were filled with tiny shards of glass. At that point another family passed me on bicycles. The mother rode a tandem with their daughter, while the father towed a tot in a bike trailer. I did not have the strength to take their photo. I seem to remember them smiling as they pedaled. I don't know, it was all hazy there for a minute.

Upon regaining consciousness, I crawled back to the car where I had left it at 9,000 feet. I was starting to wish I had hired a sherpa. I got back in and looked for the oxygen button. This was, after all, a Denver rental car. I couldn't find one, so I cranked up the air-conditioning. Freon would have to suffice.

My breath gradually returned just as the realization began to sink in that this park did not spend their revenues on guard-rails. On the radio, Patsy Cline sang "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray." All I could remember was that she died a tragic death crashing into the side of a mountain. Still, I comforted myself, there were worse ways to die than running off the side of a mountain listening to patsy Cline. Probably.

A sign told me I was now at 11,700 feet above sea level and would not be able to take another breath for at least 90 minutes, assuming I did not make any more stops in that time. I was averaging a safe 50 miles per hour at this point, worrying both that I might miss my flight and the next hairpin turn. Tall, naked sticks of pine lined the road every twenty feet or so, either to tell the snow plows where the road was or to give you something to grab for as you drove off the path. Maybe both. The wind was exceptionally strong up here, as one might expect, and I saw a murder of crows hovering about twenty feet above the road, flying nowhere at all. I slowed a little in case one stalled and fell out of the sky onto my rental.

As I progressed, I noticed signs for construction ahead. This would be interesting. The radio had moved on to Eddie Rabbitt's "Driving My Life Away." Feeling guilty again, I rolled down the windows--just enough to blow every map, receipt and miscellaneous piece of paper around in the car like a see-through vacuum cleaner. Up with the windows.

At this point I saw another sign for a roadside stop. Accompanying the traditional sign for a bathroom was a graphic of a human who appeared to be using a hula hoop. I have no idea what this signified, and I saw no one in the parking lot exercising in such a fashion. If someone can explain this to me, please do.

About an hour into the park, I reached 13,000 feet and road construction delays. We were well above the tree line, now, and I was a little concerned that I was winded when I had done nothing but steer and use the gas pedal for the last thirty minutes. Jesus, I thought. Even trees are smart enough not to come up this high. What the hell was I thinking? Several bicyclists passed by as I paused for a caution sign. The sign said "Be Prepared to Stop" but what it really meant was "Be Prepared to Drive Off the Mountain At Any Moment." Luckily I did not have the spare air to worry about impending death. In fact, all I could think of was the fact that the oxygen would only grow more plentiful as I plunged off the side of the mountain. There was something comforting in that.
After rolling through the construction, during which I wondered how fun it must be to drive large dump trucks and lowboys pulling excavators up this mountainside, I came to a stop labeled "Never Summer Mountain--10,120 feet." I stopped out of spite, as it was clearly summer. This spot overlooked Kewaunee Valley, where several lungless Indians once thrived. Kewaunee was explained to mean "coyote" in the local tongue. I probably don't need to point out that I saw no coyotes.

I kept checking the clock nervously. I had reached the peak and somehow translated this in my mind as being halfway. I opened my $20 map to RMNP and confirmed that I am indeed an idiot, and was very far indeed from both the airport and the car rental place. I threw the car into high gear and headed down the mountain. I still had moose country to go through, and I was not going to fly through that part. Moose make very effective road blocks--particularly when you least expect it. I drove at breakneck speed past Medicine Bow Curve and on towards the switchback known as Farview Curve. I would like to note that both of these "curves" were actually 180 degree turns so sharp one could slice paper with them. Still, I made moose country in record time (and in one piece) and looked for a turnout for more pictures. I found an understated pullout and did so, in as understated a fashion as I could muster. I was parked by a row of pine trees beyond which stretched miles and miles of willow-filled valleys. Ah--I could almost smell the moose.

But I couldn't see a damn thing for all these annoying trees. I had to get down into the valley. I saw no trail, but as I was unencumbered by any practical hiking gear, it didn't look too hard to scramble down the steep hillside to the creek and valley below. I put my camera on my wrist and proceeded to fall down the mountain. About halfway down I considered my chances for actually climbing back up. They were not encouraging, so I switched gears and focused on not tumbling head over heels into the lap of a waiting bear or mountain lion. Upon reaching the bottom, shook the dirt from my camera and scanned th horizon for the moose I knew were nowhere in sight. Sure enough, not a creature stirred. They were probably all sitting in the shade somewhere trying to catch their breath as they took in the scenery. And what scenery it was! But the clock was ticking and I had to keep moving, moose or no moose. I found the sapling that I memorized as my starting point to the car far above me. I realized this was the part where I remembered the wrong sapling and became lost in the mountains forever. I had also carried with me a pen and small notebook, and I imagined the movie they would make of the book they would write from the notes I would scribble during my last days on the RMNP. As long as someone got a book deal out of it--that was the important thing.

After about 20 feet of climbing, the shards of glass were back. I wrapped myself around a small, sticky pine tree and waited for the pain to subside. From this juncture, I couldn't really see the bottom, nor could I see the top. I considered how easy it would be for any moderately-sized animal to overtake me and have me for lunch, oxygen-starved as I was. I decided to continue. Upon reaching the top, I collapsed like a dishrag on the nearest stone that had no rattlesnakes sunning on it and gasped for air like a goldfish on the floor.

Three or four hours later I was able to complete the ten feet or so to my car and continue my journey.

Within minutes I had reached the Kewaunee Valley Visitor Center, notable mostly for its being the last gift shop within park limits. I had no choice but to stop. The clock read 2:13 p.m. Just had to grab something for my niece. How long could that take?

That could take twenty minutes. I managed to get out of there with a child's ranger hat, two books about moose (one for children and one for adults) and one stuffed, singing moutain bluebird. It was now 2:32 and I was approximately one million miles from the Denver International Airport.

To be continued... Read more!

I think I'm finally getting the hang of this electric mower. Tonight I finished off the front half of the yard--an area roughly 25 square feet--in just under 6 1/2 hours.

I think the trick is to mow under electric lighting instead of daylight. I have a 300 watt porch light, so I had little problem seeing when the power cord was wrapped tightly around both ankles and working its way under one of the front wheels, the other wheel having already fallen off. I think it was slowing me down when I could actually see what the robust machine could accomplish in the way of unintended tilling as I sculpted my lawn during daylight hours. At any rate, I'm sure the neighbors will be pleased tomorrow when they see the care I've taken to keep our neighborhood beautiful. Read more!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Barnes & Noble Are Slime-Sucking Crustaceans

Barnes and Noble has decided after all to carry OJ Simpson's book entitled "You Know I Fucking Did It--Wanna Hear About It?" To let them know how much you support this well-thought-out decision that has absolutely nothing to do with potential company profits, e-mail them at the link below.

Just another healthy reminder that we should all do our best to patronize locally-owned bookstores. And yes, there are still a few out there. Read more!

Now Where Did I Put Those Weapons of Mass Destruction..?

Dangerous Iraq chemicals found stored at U.N.
By Evelyn Leopold 1 hour, 12 minutes ago

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations found potentially lethal vials of a chemical warfare agent, removed from Iraq a decade ago, in offices near its New York headquarters but officials said on Thursday there was no danger.

Official U.N. response cited as "Oops!" Read more!

More Bad News

The exercycle works.

Damn it.
Read more!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

FEMA Forgets Pastries; City Shells Roads Again

FEMA showed up at my door this morning to assess damage in the county. I think they were more worried about incurring personal damage from Ginger. I made my report and they went on their way. I was not a little disappointed that they brought no cupcakes to cheer up the flood-weary residents of this town.

Now there is a huge excavator in the street in front of my house using an enormous jackhammer to tear up the street that was waiting to be paved when this all happened. He's gone through several feet of old asphalt. I assume they are headed for the sewer pipes. The sound is quite jarring at the front of the house so I am glad my office is at the rear. Ginger's nap, however, was interrupted, and she is not a happy pit bull. her barking has thus far not caused the workers to retreat. I might try letting her loose out front. That might work, at least temporarily.
She would not have been near as upset had they brought cupcakes. This government seems to have no clue as to what we really need to alleviate our suffering.

I can joke now because my losses have been cut from $8000 to around $2500. The washer, dryer and water heater are all working again--though for how long, I can't be sure. The furnace can be repaired for about $400. The exercise bike appears to be a loss so I am going to get very fat. I am going to keep the bass drum and play out of tune. How much worse can I sound than I already did, really?
Read more!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yahoo! Weather for 8/28

Tonight: Thunderstorms...locally heavy rainfall is possible. Low 66F. Winds light and variable. Localized flooding is possible.

Ya' think???? Read more!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Will Write for Food and Rent

Will write for chocolate and horse board. And dog food and Hostess SnoBalls. Would go so far as writing ad copy for new furnace. Would consider writing romance novel for used sofa set in fair condition. Will stoop to political stump speeches for premium concert tickets.

Please contact blog author for details.
Read more!

Friday, August 24, 2007

No end to the irony

I thought you might enjoy seeing the poster I hung in my basement a week or so before the floods. I am happy to report that it retained no water damage. Read more!

Trying to Keep a Positive Altitude

Yes, it is still raining on Harrison Street. My county (Columbia) has been under a flash flood watch or warning since last weekend, and it currently extends through Saturday. I noticed it is not one of the counties which has thus far been declared in a State of Emergency. Looks like my house will have to cascade down a hill of mud and debris to be taken seriously. We're not truly that anxious for that kind of attention.

Watching events unfold from my mile-high perch in Denver, I wonder if there is a way to move my entire house to a mountainside in the Rockies. Then I would only have foraging bears and curious pikas to deal with. It is thunderstorming here at the moment, but my feet have yet to get even slightly damp. They may have to change the old saying, "Location, location, location," to "Elevation, elevation, elevation." Read more!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Luckier than most

Am I the only one who sees the irony in this journalist's surname?

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer [Article abbreviated]

FINDLAY, Ohio - Firefighters and a volunteer armada navigated boats through streets awash in waist-deep water Wednesday, plucking neighbors and pets from porches as flooding that has swamped the Upper Midwest and Plains settled in Ohio.

The water forced at least 500 people to flee their homes in several northern Ohio towns. Rising water forced authorities to move about 130 inmates at the county jail in Findlay to a regional prison.
Many neighborhood rescuers showed up with canoes and kayaks wanting to help during Findlay's worst flooding in nearly 100 years. Three men in a fishing boat ferried a mother and her 2-week-old daughter along with the family dogs.

"That was the catch of the day," said Angel Sanchez, the baby's neighbor.

The Blanchard River was 7 feet above flood stage Wednesday at Findlay, the highest since a 1913 flood, and could rise another half-foot or more, the National Weather Service said.

"Reality is starting to set in about just how much damage there is in some of the flooded areas," said Tim Flock, director of the agency.
Gov. Ted Strickland declared states of emergency in nine counties in northwest and north-central Ohio, including Crawford County and Findlay's Hancock County.

The death toll from two storm systems — one that has spanned the Upper Midwest and another from remnants of Tropical Storm Erin in Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri — reached 22 on Tuesday when searchers found the body of a man tangled in a tree near Lewiston, Minn.

Flooding also continued in northern Iowa as thunderstorms dumped more heavy rain across the already water-logged region Wednesday. Three subdivisions along the Des Moines River near Fort Dodge were evacuated, and crews used rocks and sandbags to shore up a levee that had begun to give way, officials said.

The river crested at 14 feet, four feet above flood stage, and began a slow fall by midafternoon to 13.2 feet, said Penny Clayton, a spokeswoman for the city. She warned of additional rain, though.

Thousands of homes were damaged in Wisconsin and Minnesota as the storm swept through. A preliminary survey by the American Red Cross in Minnesota identified about 4,200 affected homes, including 256 complete losses, 338 with major damage and 475 that are still inaccessible, said Kris Eide, the state's director of homeland security and emergency management.

Preliminary damage reports in Wisconsin indicate 30 homes and 25 businesses were destroyed. Another 731 homes and 32 businesses were damaged.

In addition to the confirmed flood-related deaths, a man drowned Sunday in his mother's flooded basement in Iowa after being overcome by carbon monoxide, the state medical examiner's office said. And in Madison, Wis., three people standing at a flooded intersection were apparently electrocuted Wednesday when lightning hit a utility pole, causing a power line to fall in the water, authorities and witnesses said. Read more!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Musings from the Mile High City

Partially gone but not forgotten. Too bad I can't grow shit, because my bass drum would make a killer planter once I return. We already know it retains water well.

A replacement bass drum runs right around the price of a plane ticket to see Cornell in Seattle. The question is, can you have your Chris and beat it, too?

That did not come out right.

It is still blistering hot in Denver. I am reminded of Phoenix, as I plan to bring a towel to drape over my steering wheel tomorrow so I can drive to lunch with more than one finger at a time. I hear there are mountains in the vicinity, but one cannot see them through the city's haze. Rumor has it that if I drive 90 minutes towards that thick grey cloud, I will eventually run into some 14,000 feet mountains. I'll believe it when I see it--literally.

As for wildlife sightings, we have one white-tailed jackrabbit that tested the brakes of my rental on Day One, and a mountain cottontail that sat outside the office windows during a mind-numbing presentation this morning from Schering, which they tried to enliven by bringing in chocolate milk and frosted shortbread cookies. I don't remember what they talked about, but the milk and cookies were somewhat tasty.

All of this I try to focus on as I see from my Wisconsin weather channel that my county is once again under a flash flood warning, as well as a severe thunderstorm warning, which means little SodaPop will be cowering under the bed tonight. I guess as long as she doesn't choose to cower in the basement, we're fine.

I also have reliable reports that my bat has returned. Mom heard someone (?) bouncing off the attic walls as she sat in my office, which has a tightly-fastened door leading to my newly-recognized bat refuge. It's understandable: his regular haunt probably flooded.
Read more!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Public disasters breed compassion; personal disasters breed comedy. Read more!

Nancy's Helpful Homeowner Tips

Or as Chris Cornell sang in Audioslave, “Somedays just ain’t so easy.”

1. If your county has been under a flash flood warning for three consecutive days and at least one of your neighbors has begun construction on an ark then yes, you should start paying attention to your meteorological surroundings.2. If you have recently spent all your life savings to move into a charming 87 year-old Colonial with a basement that does NOT include a sump pump, either buy one immediately or become very talented at the act of hose siphoning. De-humidifiers are nifty appliances that can be very useful for watering the garden, but can only do so much in terms of keeping your basement dry.
3. Be open to the idea that there may be areas outside of New Orleans that are also vulnerable to flooding. This could, in fact, include your town. Do you have that sump pump yet?
4. No doubt when you spent hours going over the new home insurance policy for your charming old Colonial you elected sewage backup insurance. I don’t know why you wouldn’t have, unless perhaps you never lived in a house with indoor plumbing. Or maybe you were, in fact, raised in a house without plumbing and those daily treks to the three-walled outhouse in a foot of snow so stunted your intellectual development that you didn’t even realize this was a vital insurance requirement in today’s modern society.
5. If you own any items that hold value—either monetary or sentimental—choose wisely where you choose to place them. Take, for example, an expensive drum set. Yes, wood floats, but some wood maintains its worth much longer if never exposed to water or, say, raw sewage. Drums would fall into this category.
6. Though this is hardly a cause of concern to you, who I am sure are the proud owner of a sump pump, the general sea-worthiness of your other basic appliances might also be considered when examining the water resistant quotient of your basement. Luckily, if you haven’t gotten around to getting that sump pump yet, you can at least sleep soundly at night knowing that you have that sewage backup insurance. Good job, Homeowner! One would hate to think what might happen if 8-12 inches of disgusting bile immersed the motherboards of your furnace, water heater, washer & dryer, or that damn exercise bike you HAD to have last winter. Not to mention a rockin’ drum set. Oh, what a shame that would be!
7. Neighbors. Neighbors are a two-edged sword. You despise them for the pink pig wind kites they hang on their front porches, but they do often contain valuable information. So, say, should be walking you dogs early one morning and one of your neighbors offers you a salutation consisting of, “So did your damn basement flood, too?” you might consider all the facts before glibly replying that no, your basement is as dry as your niece’s fresh diaper. No need to alienate someone who may later prove to be a good source of hose extensions.
8. Almost hate to add this tip at the expense of sounding condescending, but if you happened to spend more than $100 on a vacuuming device, it would be best stored on the main level of the home. Better an eyesore than another hit to the wallet in case of damage. (But keep that shiny new sump pump in the lower level!)
9. All of these are important considerations, but it also bears noting that one should avoid scheduling travel during times of extreme weather. You can’t reap the benefits of that sump pump (I’m so glad you got that!) if you are not home to plug it in. You know the goddamn cat won’t do it.

As we are all aware (unless you are a policy-maker in the Bush administration) today’s climate is ever-changing. You probably noticed that community glacier has diminished noticeably just in the time that you moved into town. (Yet another reason for that wonderful sump pump you invested in!) That being said, it is only prudent to consider how to proceed should you see the unforeseeable one fine soggy morning.

Imagine, if you even can, that you neglected to insure your domicile against sewage backup—even though the local streets were torn up for construction and sewage system updates at the time of your move-in. Pretend you got so caught up in minor distractions such as not being able to conduct business due to more than a week of AT&T fuck-ups that you forgot to pick up that sump pump. Picture your new hometown as the latest CNN update on unexpected flash flooding. (There you are! Wave to Anderson Cooper!) Think of how you might feel if your prized drum set was indeed set up to rock your neighbors anytime of day or night right in the center of your basement, within a stone’s throw of your washer, dryer and more-than-$100 vacuum cleaner.

Consider the feeling in the pit of your stomach should you wake to discover that 8 or more inches of sewage has indeed killed your furnace and water heater. Your uninsured furnace and water heater. Now imagine your ever-cheerful canine companion chasing you back and forth from the edge of your newly-installed basement swimming pool with a brightly-colored tennis ball she’d love for you to toss for her. Her eyes sparkle with mischief. (Isn’t she adorable?) As you attempt to explain the severity of the situation to her, your other dog is standing hock-deep in sewage, lapping up as much as possible before you can throw a sewage-drenched towel in her direction to interrupt her disgusting new habit.

But why waste the mental energy. You did, after all, get insurance and buy a sump pump.

If only bats were your worst problem. If that plane you’re about to board for Denver for a last minute, absolutely required business trip doesn’t go down in spectacular flames, I strongly suggest you flush yourself down the toilet at 30,000 feet. There’s no question at this point that it would be the brightest thing you’ve done in the last six weeks.
Read more!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Proof Positive Pups Can't Pee Under Plastic Ponchos

SodaPop and Ginger Ale

I haven't had to break out the doggie raingear for more than a year, but tonight was the night. It's been raining since morning, and it's not that dainty Seattle rain, either. This is buckets being collected and subsequently dumped on your oh-so-suspecting head as you stroll under the 100 year-old maples of the neighborhood.

It's also cooler than usual, and I for one didn't want any more damn sinus pain than I have been having, nor did I wish to create two flu-ridden pups as I am about to leave for Denver. I know--being cold and wet does not cause colds. It does, however, make you believe you will catch a cold, and the cold you create for yourself is the very worst of colds.

So I fished out my fleece and rain gear, and found it right alongside the pups' ponchos. Soda was horrified to see those had not made it to Goodwill with the rest of the items I thought we'd never use again. Certainly Soda never intended to use hers again. She cursed herself for not informing me of this sooner.

So, all suited up, we went into the drenched and dreary night. But it was to no avail. We circled the block, jumping streams that had not been there yesterday, and Soda repeatedly ventured out onto lawns as if to do her business. But it was not to be. She would not be convinced that the sky would not fall should she pee in her poncho. Ginger eventually overcame her shyness, but as I dropped Soda's leash (as I often do when we walk because she prefers my company to squirrels and stays by my side, unlike Ginger the Great Squirrel Huntress) she turned tail (I assume, as I could see no tail) and headed for home. Her little yellow hood may have been pulled down over her eyes, but she knew where she was going: home. And nothing would keep her from it.

She could always pee tomorrow. Read more!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bats in the Belfry

[Icebat--not my bat]

And no, I am not referring to my recent decision to go see Chris Cornell at the historic Paramount Theatre in Seattle on October 3--though that certainly may fall under the same heading.

I am, in fact, referring to my new occupant in the attic, who made a surprise (and I don't think I can emphasize the word "surprise" here strongly enough) appearance this noon hour when I went up to turn on the window fan. I had already adjusted the fan and was examining the floor in search of stray nails from the roofing job when I took a few steps towards the windows, just enjoying the solitude that normally comes with being in one's 90 year-old attic. "Why do I come to my attic?" I was musing to myself. "Because no one knows I am here and it is so peacefu..." Right at this time a bat the size of a small pterodactyl came swooping down erratically into the interior space of the attic from the newly-installed vents.

Trying to keep in mind that I was a zoology major with an inherent love for animals, I tried to focus on the wild blur to see if it was a cute and cuddly sparrow or truly a bat.

Truly, a bat. And truly, it seemed to fly in one ear and out the other. I was ducking and squealing (which I'm sure it enjoyed) as I made my way towards the steps, which I knew were a very quick path towards a broken leg if I took them at a run. I never stopped moving, but I swear that environmentally-friendly creature has a wingspan of 12 inches. It was fucking huge!

The dogs were barking by this time, but were also smart enough to do it from the bottom of the stairs. Whatever I was experiencing, it didn't sound to them like it was something they wanted to get involved in. I stopped at the top step and paused, turning to make sure it wasn't following me. I saw it alight at the apex of the ceiling, by the vent, but I couldn't make it out very well due to the bad lighting. I took my cue and carefully descended the spiral staircase into my office, where I think my dogs were disappointed to see me emerge empty-handed.

My heart is still in my throat. I spent my entire lunch hour reminding myself that animals don't scare me. Animals have never scared me. Perhaps I was merely startled. Right.

And now what? Do I call the roofer and blame him for installing bat doors in my attic? Do I shut Ginger's cat up there with it and see who comes out after 24 hours? Do I call my accountant and ask for a bat tax write-off? Or do I just sell my attic and go see the Foo Fighters in Brighton, U.K.?

How much can one get for used attics these days? And I won't charge you for the bat... Read more!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Okay, so let's call off the dogs from the electric mower company. They're just trying to do their job, people. And it's entirely possible--okay, it is exactly possible--that I tripped a circuit because the outlet on my front porch is a tad outdated.

The switch was tripped in the basement (which I always enter as if I'm doing the dog paddle to clear out all the spiderwebs that appear within minutes of my having cleared them) but I won't have a chance to test my theory until after work.

Yes, I am working. Don't look at me like that. Read more!

Is it just me?

It's uncanny, but I think if Elvis and Priscilla Presley had a kid, she would look just like this woman:
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I hereby challenge all manufacturers of electric mowers to offer one under $250 that actually WORKS! My arms are still numb and/or tingling from having to eventually use a weed-whacker for my entire damn lawn last night after my mower crapped out. Complain here. Granted, it's a small lawn, but that was the whole reason behind getting an electric mower in the first place. And no lawn seems small when it is 80 degrees and 80% humidity.

Now my lawn looks like it was mowed by the Barber of Seville, and I feel like I spent several hours last night wrestling him. I am not happy.

And anyone who e-mails "I told you so" gets an electric mower up the ass. Lucky for you it doesn't work.

I'm getting a goat.
Read more!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Comedy Central Videos

Jon Stewart makes me laugh. Stephen Colbert makes me blow chocolate milk through my nose.

Colbert just honored Madison by mentioning our diapered renegade monkey--you know, the one biting drunk college students on State Street--on one of his shows. As many of you know, I retired my television at the end of May. Even if I did turn it on, I have no cable so I wouldn't see squat, much less diapered monkeys biting drunk college students. I simply can't afford that level of entertainment.

Luckily for me, someone alerted me to Comedy Central's website, which contains a plethora of video clips you are allowed to watch for free--unlike the free ones on YouTube, which will get you in big trouble, Mister! (See Viacom International, Inc. lawsuit)

Now, I am not going to waste valuable time here explaining to those of you in the slow lane why watching video clips on my computer is not the same thing as watching TV. You are obviously not going to get it, anyway.

Could someone please pass me the chips?

Comedy Central Videos

[Disclaimer: Monkey pictured above is not the alleged criminally-minded monkey alluded to in this story.] Read more!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Be careful what you wish for

Ginger and her cat, Sam

Yesterday I jokingly wrote that someone should take away my credit card to keep me from flying to Seattle to see Chris Cornell in concert there in October. Tonight I reached for my card to pay for my groceries and found it... missing. Having spent much of the day with Sarah, who knew of my ill-conceived plan to fly the coop for Cornell, I called her first thing to ask if she had "seen" the aforementioned card. She allegedly had not.

I really have been trying to cut back on spending lately, so I was on the phone interrogating Sarah when I realized where the card was. It had been days since I last used it; at the drive-through pharmacy. And where do they put your card when they send the product to you through the pneumatic tube? (Well, in this case they don't even have a pneumatic tube, but that's a story for another time. Picture a small monkey running from your car to the pharmacy window and back.) That's right, they drop your card in the bag with your prescription.

If you are anything like me--and here's hoping you are not, for a number of reasons--you no longer bother to read through the extensive print-outs that accompany your prescription. I have better things to read than how all my hair is likely to fall out from taking this drug, or that I may grow several extra toes if I continue to get refills for that one. As usual, I just grab the drug from the bag and toss it--warnings and all--into the trash.

I'd like to insert a bit of advice here. Some of you may have cats. I do not, but as many of you know, my Staffordshire Terrier owns one. The advice is this: If your dog simply must have her own cat, make sure that your dog knows to place all dirty litter in a separate plastic bag before disposing of this litter in your standard trash bin. This way, should you accidentally throw away your credit or debit card with the rest of the trash, you will not be forced to paw your way through composting cat shit in order to recover it.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

I knew there was a reason I chose not to live in Poland. Chris Cornell, having toured extensively since spring with the best voice performances I have heard from him in twelve years, has strained his vocal chords and is on doc-ordered medical leave for ten days. Accordingly, dates in Poland, Hungary and Austria have been cancelled. Now what the hell am I going to do with this ticket to Prague?
There is, however, a rumor of a concert date at the Paramount in Seattle October 3. Someone take away my credit card, NOW.

Read more!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Switching Gears

Dear God, my old hard drive sounds like a Model T as it tries to upload more music onto my iPod. Yet another drag about iTunes--once you've installed the program onto a computer, that's the computer you have to keep using. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but when I tried to switch over and do this on my other computer, which is much faster, it threatened to erase everything on my iPod and start from scratch. We can't be having that.

Today--and forgive me for not starting with this vital piece of news--Foo Fighters released the first single, The Pretender, off of their new album, Oats, Whey, Barley and Meal. I couldn't get to it until I was logged out from work but once I did I couldn't stop listening to it. I already had the lyrics from the Foo Fighters website so as soon as I leashed up the dogs I hit the streets, singing one of the worst karaoke versions of this song Columbus will probably ever hear. I was halfway up to one house, singing away, when I noticed some kind of town meeting on the elaborate front porch. I took out my ear buds to appear friendly and returned their greetings. One of the elderly ladies oohed and aahed over the girls. I kept thinking I'm missing the chorus! as my headphones dangled in my hand. I made it past the house and plugged back in. I wonder if I made it into the town minutes.

As soon as we got home, I headed straight for the basement. I had tried to work out the drum part during the walk but I knew I wasn't there yet. Sorry, neighbors. I tried to work it out quietly. Anyone ever tried practicing drums on the down low? Yeah, not so much. I played it maybe ten times, growing increasingly louder each time the chorus came around, which was the easiest part for me to unravel. There's still a recurring 4-beat bass part that is all half--or quarter?--notes, of which my poor right foot can only handle two or three, at the maximum. I have the same problem on Times Like These, which has a triplet I still haven't mastered. I keep telling myself I will NEVER be able to sit in as a guest drummer if I don't get these basic songs down, so STEP IT UP!

No pressure.

Foo Fighters' tour starts in September. I just got done telling sister Sarah that I'm having trouble following through with the decision to sell Jack, for the very practical reason that keeping him will bankrupt me, causing me to lose both horses. After listening, singing and playing this new single for the last few hours, I'm ready to sell the horse, the car and the house to buy tickets to every single show on the tour. Stop me if I'm being hasty.

I'm sorry, but this music is like good crack! And bad crack, as we all know, sucks rotten asparagus.

Foo drummer Taylor Hawkins, Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin, uberdrummer Dave, and Sully Erna, Godsmack lead singer and drummer. [Can someone please tell me where the goddamn umlauts are in this blog template?!] Read more!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hangin' with the Guys

Another quiet afternoon at work and I was itching for a reason to get out of the house for a bit. I hadn't seen the guys in a few days, so I thought this might be a good night to hang with the boys.

I didn't bother to call first--I knew right where they'd be. Just outside of Madison there's a little place we all know: The Round Pen. I knew they'd be there if I made the drive, and I was right.

Jack saw my car as I drove in to park and tossed his head in a greeting while Julian, as usual, stayed back with the other studs of the neighborhood, shooting the shit. Typical of him to wait that extra minute before acknowledging my arrival.

Julian's a big guy--always has been--and people find it hard to believe he's as sensitive as he is. Still, I have learned the hard way from my old friend that to open a dialogue with Jack before going over to slap Julian on the ass--regardless of whether Jack had already started heading in my direction--was a sure way to bruise this guy's fragile ego. This was not a guy you wanted to piss off, sensitive or no. No need to give Jules a reason to take out his social frustrations on Jack after I'd gone home for the night. Jack and Jules are tight, but Jules has nearly a foot on his companion and that indisputable power differential has always managed to worm its way into the dynamics of their relationship.

Salutations successfully completed, the three of us found our own space to occupy and soon busied ourselves regaling each other with tales of the week so far. Just outside The Round Pen, nearly oblivious to our presence, a cottontail munched contentedly on the natural clover growing in abundance there. Occasionally he'd stop chewing and watch us in typical rabbit silence. I couldn't tell if he was thinking of moving on or joining us. As the evening played itself out, he did neither.

I really only planned to stop in for a while, but the evening was cooler than I had anticipated, and the rains had yet to move in, all of which made it hard to leave. And though Jack was up to his usual antics, Julian was in an unusually passive mood, and the urge to take advantage of that overcame me. I had already curried and combed both fellas head to tail and still they clung to me instead of joining the rabbit as I expected. Working the lunge line through Julian's halter, I tied it in a large and unwieldy knot above his neck. Before he had time to object, I led him quietly to the side of the round pen, climbed three or four rails, and slid onto his back.

Like I said earlier, I didn't come out to ride. I was wearing shorts, tennies and a baseball cap, and lately riding has been more stressful than not, so I had left it off the plate entirely for the evening. Yet there I was, sitting bareback on my Percheron with my pony looking up at me wondering if he was next (he wasn't).

It made for a perfect evening. For probably thirty minutes Jules and I wandered around the round pen, always shadowed by Jack who took to grabbing at my shoelaces or nipping at Julian's large backside. We even got some "work" in, practicing some halts and turns. Julian was thrown by not being fully tacked, and behaved almost as if he were. I don't know that that would have held true in the larger pasture, but I wasn't about to risk that. Instead, we just ambled together, the three of us, in the cool of the evening with Peter Cottontail. Julian would stop occasionally to graze, but since riding lately always meant work for him, he mostly kept things moving, but always at a respectable pace. It was the most damn relaxing thing I have done in weeks, if not months. I tried to freeze the moment and, hopefully, I have succeeded. And even if we never have another evening like the one we just had, I will treasure it always. As far as I'm concerned, I finally experienced the perfect date.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Last Stop, Columbus

At the age of twenty-four, all I could think of was getting out of this city. At forty-one, I don’t believe I’ll ever want to leave it again—not for long, anyway.

In June of 1990, my father drove me from Middleton to Columbus, WI, a town I lived forty miles away from for much of my life but had not heard of before, to drop me off at the historic railway station. I remember my father trying to tell me something about its history, but I was distracted. I had met a man the summer before and fallen in love, only to learn he had plans to move to Seattle a few months later. He followed those plans and, a year after that, I was following him.

I have the pictures still—me standing impatiently in front of the station waiting for the train that would get me out of Columbus, out of Madison, out of Wisconsin. I could not wait to get out. I could not breathe here, not with my heart already more than two thousand miles away. I was certain I would not breathe again until I reached the Pacific Ocean.

The train did come, and I left my family on the platform, waving their goodbyes. There was no dramatic steam to obscure them as we pulled away from the station. At twenty-four, I was still disappointed when scenes such as this seemed in no way to resemble any movie starring Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall. But this was Amtrak, baby, and it was all about the speed. We were out of Wisconsin much faster than I anticipated.

Seattle is beautiful in the summer. Contrary to popular belief (and I am actually breaking an oath to reveal this to those who have never lived there) it does not rain every day in the Emerald City. In fact, one summer we went 73 days without rain, and the temperature never strayed more than a few degrees from 75. It was honestly the most perfect climate I had ever experienced of all the places I have lived. At night, you could leave your windows open regardless of the fact that they had no screens, because Seattle had no mosquitoes. I am not making this up. Fir trees, deciduous trees, flowering shrubs were everywhere, like a city built in a never-ending garden, yet the humidity was never even the slightest bit oppressive. Being fresh out of school, I had no money and no car, yet the city buses covered every square inch of the sprawling metropolis and, if it wasn’t enough like Christmas already, bus rides were always free in the downtown area. And I was in love.

I was told it rarely snowed down in Seattle (situated right at sea level) though Mt. Rainier and the Cascades were typically capped with white year-round. I am certain it was no coincidence that the year I moved to the mild Pacific Northwest from the frigid Midwest, Seattle experienced one of the worst snowstorms ever recorded. And while they had no mosquitoes, turns out they had no snow plows, either. (I’ll bet you never knew there was a connection there, did you?)

Luckily, the snow melted within a week or so from the San Francisco-like hills of the city, and life returned to normal. Summer also returned, idyllic and full of hope. Not sure of what he was waiting for, I asked the man with whom I planned to spend the rest of my life to marry me.

He said no, thank you. He always was very polite.

Seattle is a beautiful place to have your heart broken. Unfortunately, such picturesque surroundings tend to mock you when you’re miserable, and within a year or two, I left the city and the man behind. I have been moving ever since. I went as far as Egypt to forget Seattle, and Cairo did a pretty good job, what with her searing heat, pressing crowds, and mosquitoes the size of the European sedans which always threatened to run you over as you crossed the city streets. Cairo apartments have no screens, either. That is because the mosquitoes ate them for breakfast.

After Egypt, I tried graduate school in Utah, home of mountains and Mormons. And more mosquitoes. Quite accidentally, I met another man—one who did not say no when I asked him “the question.” We married and hit the road again. States, and years, went by in a blur; Hawaii, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Arizona... And the more states we saw, the more I missed the one I could not wait to leave back in 1990: Wisconsin. They say time heals all wounds, and if that doesn’t work, try travel. Some even suggest marriage. I tried them all. My ex-husband tried them all, too, including some I didn’t try. And so we learned together that two broken hearts do not make a whole one.

What time does teach you is how to live with the pain while re-discovering the joys that life has yet to offer. In 2005 I returned to Wisconsin, to Madison, to family. After a decade and a half of living, loving, losing, and learning, I needed peace. Peace mostly comes from within, of course, but a nice neighborhood never hurts, either. I tried Madison, then Sun Prairie, but still did not feel settled, though life was admittedly far more peaceful than the previous years. I decided I needed a home of my own. After a great deal of searching, I found it in an unexpected place, a few blocks from Columbus’ historic railway station. I am listening to the train whistle now as I write this, and I think of the circular journey that has led me to this place. This place I finally call home.
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Monday, August 6, 2007

Word of the Day

Can you say "gephyrophobia?" Can you say it while driving across a bridge? Read more!

If you play it, they will come...

Just heard the first single off of the Foo Fighters' next album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. The song is The Pretender and (let's see, how do we avoid a rock and roll descriptive cliche'...) IT KICKS ASS!

(So much for that.)

Read more!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Rockin' the Basement

Tonight's Setlist:

Cold day in the Sun -- Foo Fighters
D.O.A. -- Foo Fighters
Times Like These -- Foo Fighters
Generator -- Foo Fighters
Everlong -- Foo Fighters
Good Grief -- Foo Fighters
Resolve -- Foo Fighters
Re-Align -- Godsmack (partial)
Bad Religion -- Godsmack
Fell on Black Days -- Soundgarden

Black -- Pearl Jam

Not a bad show for this charming venue, though a tad shorter than last night's performance. Nancy's basement is always nice and cool, and just enough room for her audience of none. There were no fancy stick tricks tonight, but she didn't drop any sticks tonight, either, which was impressive. Re-Align didn't go so well, but she always shines on Cold Day in the Sun and Generator; and of course, Black is her signature closer.

After the set she hung around to sign autographs, which went very quickly as there was no there, then went up to the kitchen--I mean backstage--to have a nice cold glass of chocolate milk. The dogs came out from wherever they go to hide when she performs, taking off their Bose sound-blocking headphones and begging for her to throw her sticks into the audience. She declined, being on a tight touring budget.

This is the third straight gig Nancy has played at this venue, and she definitely seems to be getting more comfortable with her set. The neighbors have yet to call the police, which is also a good sign. (Her shows always close at a respectable 9 or 9:30.)

I'm sure some of you might wonder what rock stars like Nancy do for fun. I mean, playing music is every percussionist's first love, but even professionals need the occasional diversion. In a rare tag-along interview with this forty-something drummer, I learned a little about what goes on behind the stage lights when no one is looking (as opposed to under the stage lights, when no one is looking, either.)

As it turns out, Nancy's success in this business allows her to own two horses (as long as she buys little or no groceries for herself) which she boards in a neighboring town. When her tour schedule allows, as it did earlier today, she goes out to the barn and spends several hours in the company of horses. There is grooming to be done, and exercising the beasts, and then, if time remains, some recreational riding. Most times it is recreation purely from the standpoint of the idle observer, but there are times during which it is actually enjoyable for Nancy herself. Today was such a day. Along with the ranch owners, she took her 16.2 hh black Percheron out into the neighborhood to scare small dogs and children. It was refreshing to get out of the confines of the dusty arena, where Nancy usually spends much time schooling her reluctant rides.

Refreshing also was the light rain than began to fall as the threesome made their way back to the ranch. It has not rained in these parts in a dreadfully long time. Nancy turned Julian back out to pasture and brought up her second mount, a 13.2 hh pony named Jack.

Nancy and Jack sought the cover of the arena, where Nancy downed a quick mixed berry yogurt as Jack trotted aimlessly around the arena. Once he had calmed a bit (his Arab blood makes him a slightly hotter mount than the much more physically imposing Julian) she attached a line to his halter and lunged him for several minutes. The dust of the footing soon muted his dapple grey to an even tan, and coated the inside of both his and Nancy's lungs. This would be of greater concern to her if she were also responsible for the evening's vocals, but she is not. (Not that it stops her from singing, anyway.)

After tacking him up, Nancy spent another half hour slowly working on Jack's trust. Jack is a nervous Nelly, and the trick with him is to keep the engines from revving on a continual basis. It is something like meditation on horseback, and is simply fascinating to witness, I must admit. They trotted and cantered around the arena until the dust cloud made seeing them difficult, at which time she dismounted and untacked her small horse. Jack, being more dog than pony, stayed by her side until she led him out the door to join his pasture mates.

I think it is important to note that, being a simple person, Nancy eschews the need for assistants and carries all her own equipment, even going so far as to pick up manure left behind by her pony. It is tasks like these, she reveals, which keep her grounded.

With only a few hours left before the opening number, Nancy headed back to town in her VW Beetle--another emblem of her humility--to prepare for the show. The dogs still had to be walked, after all.

Stay tuned for more notes from this summer's sold-out basement tour! Jack Read more!