Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I was just at church, dropping off stuff for a rummage sale. My friend Sue was there planning Sunday school lessons so I stood and talked to her for a while. When I walked back downstairs to get another load, I could smell that someone else was in the church. It wasn't a good smell - sweat, cigarettes, and something else. I didn't like the something else smell.

I looked around, knowing that if someone had just walked into the church, I wanted to see who it was before I left my friend upstairs alone. No one was in the kitchen. No one was in the sanctuary. I walked into the nursery and saw a pile of things collected for the sale. The smell was stronger there. I was looking at the boxes of stuff, wondering if that's what smelled when I realized that someone was in the bathroom. I didn't want to get backed into that room with someone I didn't know in there with me, someone who carried that smell with him.

When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me as he drove that I should always look for the way through. He didn't like the Jersey barriers along a road's shoulder because it didn't leave him the openings that he wanted. He would have hated driving in New York and New Jersey. That idea, of looking for the way through, has saved my life on the road more than once. It turns out that if you have that mindset, your car generally follows the direction your eyes take. If you tend to look at obstacles, you're more likely to hit them. If you look for the route through, that's where you'll find yourself. Through.

I think that's how I see life too. I look for the way through trouble. Being in that room was not going to give me a way through.

So, as I headed out to the narthex, I saw a guy coming in that I knew. He's homeless, but he's been around for a while and he always seems to have a smile on his face. He might smell like a campfire and a bit like cigarettes, but he wasn't too bad. Mostly. I'm still cautious around him.

I walked toward my car to get another load of rummage.

"Hey, would it be okay if I got a granola bar out of the food pantry?" he asked me.

"I don't have anything to do with that. You'll have to ask the minister," I said. Then, I thought about food I carry for Nick in my car. I could give him something of mine. I opened the car door and leaned into my car to get the Ziploc bag out of my pack. Tuna salad and applesauce.

When I turned around, there were two men behind me, the guy I was giving food to and someone else. The someone else didn't have a smile on his face and he was the one with the wicked smell. Drugs. Alcohol. I swear, people begin to smell differently when they're addicted. Have you ever noticed that? I took a deep breath and pushed past them and firmly closed my car door. I had broken the cardinal rule. Look for the way through.

"I have stuff I need to bring back inside," I said.  I was still thinking of my friend upstairs. I didn't want to leave her alone with these two men.

"Do you need us to carry anything?" the smiling one asked.

"Uh, no. I'm okay. Uh, well, alright." It didn't feel as dangerous to lift a hatch as to get stuck inside an open car door. The two men stood while I loaded them up with bags. I grabbed a bag and decided the rest could wait. I slammed the hatch and locked my car with my key fob. I breathed easier to have these two walking ahead of me instead of behind me.

"There are some breakables in some of these bags, so be careful. And say hi to Sue when you go up the stairs so you don't surprise her," I said loudly enough for Sue to hear. I watched the guys as they put the bags down in a spare room. Something was going to be broken in those bags, I could tell but I knew I needed to let it go.

Then, the guy I had just met went to an opposite door and tried it. Locked. I can't tell you how much I hated that. What right did he have to check behind doors? He turned back to face me. He took two steps toward me and I wanted to back up a pace.

"Do you know who I could talk to about getting some traveling money?" he asked. The light in his eyes told me that he wasn't looking for bus tickets.

"I'm not sure if anyone here can help you with that," I said. He looked at Sue in the room. I didn't want him to go in there with her. I set down my bag and heard him asking her the same question. I was grateful that she had the same answer as I had. She also told them to check later with the minister.

After they'd gone back outside, I went back into the room with Sue and asked if she wanted me to hang around for a little longer with her or lock the door behind me.

"Oh honey, I carry my gun in this little purse. I'm good."

Well, church ladies sure can surprise you. I just hope she doesn't have to surprise the strange man with the dangerous smell.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, April 14, 2014


A few minutes ago, it was midnight, a full moon, and I stood with my back to the screen door on my deck surrounded by wild howls of coyotes. It made me think of the kill, of a gang running down a street, of Dante's Inferno, of the beginnings of so many horror flicks.

I stood outside, shivering in my light jacket, looking at the bright moon.

I can see where the stories came from. The call of the coyotes was not one sound. It was water flowing down a river, a woman screaming in ecstasy, mythical creatures transforming.

I have looked a coyote in the eyes. Granted I was in my car. That evening a few months ago, as I slowed to get a better look, he stared at me, through me. He took on a larger space that the limits of his physical form. He owned the space between us. I would not have wanted to meet him on foot. I would not have wanted to see him tonight, not even as I stood a foot away from the safety of my door.

It was enough to hear the group of them calling, screaming, laughing, first from one side of the house, then to hear that their sounds had moved to the other side. A shiver went down my spine. I wanted to run inside and lock my door. I stood with my hands at my side, fingertips touching my thighs the way they tell you to do when you're nervous during a presentation. I breathed in and out slowly.

I tried to howl, but it was false and weak. I told myself it was because I didn't want to wake my family, but that wasn't it. Not really.

I could not join into the howling tonight because I was afraid. I could never join them. I could never be that wild on my own. If I did, I'd risk becoming prey. Or worse, I could transform into that mythical beast and never return.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Arguments Against Going On a Canoe Trip

The other day Mike and I got an email from the wife of a friend of ours. Now, you might say that she is our friend too, but in all honesty, we don't know her very well.

She has decided to take her family on a four day/three night canoe trip outfitted for all equipment and food in the Boundary waters. We've been on lots of canoe trips with her husband, but not once with her. This trip, I think, is an homage to him. We haven't even seen either of them in the past eight years.

A lot can happen in eight years.

She wants to know if we want to go with them on this adventure.

My first thought was to jump up and down and say, 'A canoe trip! A canoe trip!' In that time, Mike sent an email saying it sounded interesting and that he would talk to me. He asked if the kids were going and said that Nick might be more interested if there are going to be other kids on the trip.

Her response was that if she had to go, then the kids had to go too.

At that point, my brakes screeched and I came to a complete stop with traffic swerving all around me. Well, not in real life, but it felt that way.

Do I want to be on a canoe trip with a middle-aged woman who doesn't want to be there? Do I want to drag Nick on that trip?

See, Mike and I are trying to stand on the edge of a dime here. Nick had fun paddling the canoe two years ago on Lake Diablo, but when I asked him, he said that his primary memory was that he was sick to his stomach and wanted to go home but couldn't. That doesn't sound like warm and fuzzies to me. I loved camping when I was a kid. No one had to drag me out. No one tried to make me like it. I just did. My memories of camping, any kind of camping, were of an overarching joy run through with being in a wet bathing suit all day. Heaven.

The worst thing we can do to Nick's love of canoeing is to make him go when he's not sure yet that he wants to go on another trek. He's a teenager. This will make or break it for him for life. How many times have you heard that story? The parents love a sport. The kid grows to hate it.

Plus, pushing Nick into this trip could result in resentful-teenager syndrome. Those symptoms can make a vacation a misery for everyone. If we're going anywhere, Nick has to want to go. Add to that a middle-aged woman and two other kids who don't want to be there and well ... Would you want to go on that trip?

Tonight, I told Mike that we also need to think of this from a safety standpoint. I've been on these trips before. Once we had a single guy who didn't want to be in a canoe and it ruined the experience for all of us. It was a big mess and could have been dangerous for the guy. He didn't like the taste of the water, so he wouldn't eat or drink. At some point, he really was sick. When he left the group, we were deflated. I remember having very little fun on that trip. And that was just one guy out of six.

So with this group, we would have three adults who wanted to be out there paddling a canoe for four days and sleeping on the ground for three nights. We're more fragile than we were, but I think we could still handle it. Add a woman our age who doesn't want to be there and I have no idea if she's even paddled a canoe. Still, that combination could work if we were nice to her. Now add three kids to the equation, thirteen, eleven, and nine years old, none of whom want to be there. You have a recipe for disaster, don't you think?

We'd have to have at least three canoes. I can't carry a canoe by myself any more, so unless our friend's wife can carry a canoe by herself, we'd only have two people who could manage all of the canoes for portages. I could manage a sixty pound pack fifteen years ago, but can I still? How much can the kids carry? Nick could manage a thirty pound pack, right? What about the other two? Kids don't seem to build real muscles until they're almost Nick's age and he's just beginning to get strong. So, portages could be a raving bitch.

That's just portages. How about paddling? Each experienced adult would have to be paired up with a kid, right? Could Nick manage a canoe with an unknown eleven-year old boy? I would be reluctant to set him up that way. We know that we have three middle-aged people who can paddle well and a boy with some experience but not what I'd call a lot. Add three more people and then what?

I see a lot that can go wildly wrong here. I've been to the Boundary waters before. High winds can blow water over the bow of the boat. I've been on that big lake with wild wind, dashing rain, waves coming over the gunnels, and lightning strikes in the distance.We had five experienced adults and three kids on that trip. When conditions became extreme, we ended up shortening the trip. Nick was having an uncontrolled allergic reaction to mosquito bites and the two other kids were cold and wet for too long. There is a lot of stress in knowing that everyone you hold dear is in this canoe. We were younger and healthier then too. Throw in man with a heart condition and a woman who is, for all intents and purposes, a diabetic? Whew!

I am not an adrenaline junkie. I love canoeing. I really do. I love the ache of paddling all day in the sun. I love the sense of strength in surviving in difficult weather. But I'm not ready to throw the safety of my whole family into a story with so many unknowns. I'm not even willing to risk that Nick will hate canoe trekking forever because of another foul experience.

I said as much to Mike tonight. He was quiet as he listened to me rant. Yes, I ranted against going on a canoe trip. I suppose I'll listen to his opinion about the whole thing tomorrow. If anyone can convince me that it will work, Mike can.  I wonder if he'll try.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Procrastinate Cleaning

I am procrastinating.

I have every right to procrastinate. I am entitled. The only thing that should be procrastinated longer, I think, is calling to have the septic tank pumped. I'm supposed to be cleaning out closets and drawers today. I was supposed to yesterday too, but didn't. Yuck.

One time, I ran out of conversation when I first met the mom of one of Nick's new friends. I can talk to almost anyone. I can talk to a door. Here is my greatest suggestion for how to stretch out a conversation: ask questions; learn to be a good interviewer.

"What do you do for fun?" I asked her at a lapse in conversation. That usually brings on an interesting subject, good for potentially hours of time passing time while kids play.

"I like to clean," she said.

"What?" I said. I suddenly knew I had become impossibly hard of hearing. Time to get those hearing aids, I thought.

"I like cleaning," she repeated. Cleaning.

"Oh, that's funny," I said, realizing that she could be one of those stand-up comedienne's that has slow timing, making a joke all the more hysterical.

"No. I mean it. I really like to clean," she said. "I vacuum twice a day because of our dogs." She looked totally insulted. Oh my God, she was not joking. I straightened my face, narrowing my lips and raising my eyebrows to make me look innocent, incapable of rudeness such as laughing at a woman's sincere love of her hobby.

"Oh, and what's your favorite part?" I asked, trying to find some gem in the sand of this conversation.

"I love vacuuming," she repeated, giving me half an evil eye. "And I like dusting too." Indignant is the word, I think.

I knew at that moment that this woman and I would never be friends. Our kids wouldn't likely make it past a certain threshold either. She should never, on pain of death, be invited into my house. It would be my worst nightmare, like when you find out your mother is coming tomorrow and you've been living like a bachelor for the past eight months. It would be easier to call the septic guy and ask him to come in for coffee.

Still, it's too bad I couldn't swallow my embarrassment and just have this woman come live here for two weeks. I think two weeks would do the trick. Maybe I could go somewhere with a pool and a sauna while she did what she loves best. My house might be ready for a visit from mom by the time this woman went home. 

Thank you for listening, jules