Saturday, March 31, 2012

I was a G.L.O.B.E. Agent

I sat in front of the old WWII radio, headphones on, listening.

"Headquarters, come in, over," I barked into the microphone. "Agent Barton here."

I turned the dials to bring the signal in better. The radio crackled. "Enemy agents have been spotted, take appropriate actions to secure top secret information."

"Roger, headquarters. I will relay to our other agents and check back in at 2200 hours," I responded. "Agent Barton, over and out."

Standard issue GLOBE squirt gun.
I took off the headphones, shut down the radio, and checked my weapon.  My bright green squirt gun was full, my secret agent ID was safe in my back pocket, my spy glasses were well hidden. I carefully made my way through the cluttered garage, out the back door and up the stairs to the second story deck. My agent team was waiting.

"Ok, here's the deal," I said. "Headquarters has informed me that our enemies have been spotted. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to capture and interrogate the enemy in order to identify the location of their headquarters. Any questions?"

Paul raised his hand. "Can I go to the bathroom first?"

We were a tight knit organization called G.L.O.B.E., a name I spent hours creating. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was my favorite TV show at the time, so to be a bona fide spy organization we had to have an acronym. I picked the name first, then went through pages of the dictionary to find the perfect words to describe our spy club. I settled on Good Livid On Burly Espy.  Sounded good to me at the time.

We posted spies behind bushes on all four corners of the house, waiting for the enemy agents to appear. It wasn't long before they were spotted, stupidly exposing themselves at the ice cream truck.

"Now!" I shouted. Our highly trained G.L.O.B.E. agents descended on the ice cream truck in a flash and managed to capture one of the enemy agents. We took the unwilling captive to our top secret headquarters in the garage, an empty space behind a stack of boxes. I put the headphones on and contacted the higher ups once more.

"Agent Barton here, we have captured an enemy agent and will begin questioning." They were pleased.

UNCLE agents watching interrogation.
We interrogated our prisoner for minutes, trying to find out what top secret information he had.  But we were interrupted by shouts and screams from our guards outside the garage door.

"It's Brownie, RUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Oh no, not Brownie. The neighbor's giant 6 foot tall blonde Great Dane was known to have bitten every kid on the block at least once. I still have a scar on my hip where Brownie sunk his teeth into me one fine day. The only way to avoid him was to carry pieces of meat with you at all times. When Brownie came running at you, all you could do was throw the meat as far as you could then run like hell.

We released our prisoner and began our race home, trying to avoid the giant Great Dane that seemed to delight in terrorizing the neighborhood kids. Brownie ran after one kid then spun around and chased several more. Finally he trotted home, satisfied he had given us a fright. Fortunately every one made it to safety before becoming Brownie's Saturday afternoon snack.

I slipped back in to headquarters and once again put on the headphones.

"Headquarters, this is Agent Barton," I said, trying to catch my breath. "We have lost our prisoner due to an attack by a 6 foot tall Great Dane. Will resume search tomorrow."

"Roger, Agent Barton. Over and out."

I grabbed a hot dog out of the garage refrigerator and warily made my home, prepared for the flash of blond waiting to dart out of the bushes and consume me.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Most Beautiful Pages in the World

Collier's Encyclopedia was sold door-to-door in the US from 1902-1998. I wasn't home when the salesperson came to our house at 168 Cherokee Drive in Westerville, Ohio. The books just magically appeared one day.  Lined up on the shelf, they seemed to go on and on and on. I pulled Volume I from its resting place. A to Aland. I cracked open the pages for the very first time and inhaled. Oh god, the wonderful smell of an encyclopedia.  Intoxicating.

168 Cherokee Dr., Westerville, as it looks today. Exactly the same.
I read the entire set, from Volume 1 to Volume 24. I learned about aardvarks and mollusks, Rome and Manila. Cephalopods and Cromagnum man, gorillas and spores. It was as if someone had put the entire world between the covers of those beautiful red books.

But my favorite of all time was Volume 10, because in between Fiscus and Germanicus was Flower. Plate after plate of the most colorful, beautiful, magical flowers I had ever seen. Dutchman's Breeches, those little upside down trousers that dangle from a tiny green stem. Squirrel Corn with it dainty foliage. The three petaled Trillium, which turns pink as it ages. On and on they went. I had never seen wildflowers before that moment. My life was changed forever.

I opened Volume 10 daily, to smell those color plates, touch the rich deep blues, greens, yellows. Could such things really exist in the world? Well, if Collier's said they did, they did. Collier's knew everything after all, they had the whole wide world on those pages.

So you can imagine my delight when one warm spring morning my fifth grade teacher said we were going for a walk in the woods next to the school. We put on our little windbreakers and rubber boots and walked single file to the forest. We left the brightness of the sun and entered the into the shade of a spring canopy, and lo and behold, there before me, were the flowers from the color plates! Dutchman's Breeches danced in the wind. Trillium nodded hello. There were violets and ferns, lilies and sorrels. I was standing smack in the middle of Plate IV.

It is funny how the smells and colors from a page of wildflowers can stay with you for decades. I can still close my eyes and feel that heavy book in my hands, the fluttering of my heart when I first entered the forest and saw the blanket of white laid out before me. To this day whenever I see a wildflower, I whisper thanks to my young parents for giving their hard earned money to a door-to-door salesperson one 1968 day.

For the Beauty of the Earth

I grew up in a Methodist family and attended church every Sunday, except the days I feigned illness in order to stay home and go fishing. My favorite hymn was and still is "For the Beauty of the Earth", a poem written by 29 year old Folliotte Pierpoint, first published in 1864. It is said he was mesmerized and inspired by the beautiful English countryside that surrounded him. The poem was later put to a tune called Dix, composed by Conrad Kocher, and the hymn was born.

I remember the first time I sang this song, I felt like I was transported to the top of a mountain overlooking a beautiful valley. Poetry does that to me, more so than stories. I love to read them and I love to write them. Musical words that take my hand and lead me to places I didn't know existed. I'd like to share this beautiful poem with you in honor of Spring. I hope it moves you as it did me.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flow'r
Sun and Moon and stars of light
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child.
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
For each perfect gift of Thine
To our race so freely given.
Graces human and divine
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board

I don't know about you, but my childhood was filled with wonder. I had a magic set and held captivating and mysterious shows in our basement. The trick I remember most was the disappearing ball. There was this blue plastic vase shaped thing, with what looked like a plastic ball sitting in it. In all actuality it was simply a secondary lid that looked like a ball. I lifted the real top off the plastic vase shaped thing, said "Look at the ball! Now, I will make it disappear!". I would put the top back on and lift it off again, this time taking the fake plastic ball up with it. The outer edges of most magnificent magical prop were ribbed, so no one could tell I had an extra piece.

"Ooooohhhhh. Ahhhhhhhhh!" the crowd would exclaim, then break into thunderous applause.

Another ghoulish trick I read about in a magic book always drove my Mom crazy. I would innocently walk up to her with a small white box in my hand, you know the kind of box I mean. Palm sized, the one you usually get a necklace in if you buy it at Sears or something? Anyway, I would hand her the box and say "Open it!". She would smile and take the lid off and inside would be a severed finger covered in blood. Mom would fall for this every time. She would jump a startled kind of jump and then say in her Mom voice "Barbara Jean!". I would bust out laughing. The magic book said to cut a hole in the bottom of the box just big enough for your middle finger to fit through. Then, hold the box in your hand with your finger laying nicely on the bottom of the box. Stuff some cotton balls around it and strategically place bright red ketchup on the finger. And there you have it, a severed finger. It's a wonder Mom still talks to me.

I played with Ouija Boards, held seances, read tea leaves. But nothing compared to Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board. After a little research, I found that this "game" was played as far back as the 17th century during the plague in London. Here's how we did it. One person would lay on the floor. Usually we had 5-6 kids who would sit cross-legged around the body, one at the head, two on each side, one at the feet. Each kid would place two fingers from each hand under the body. The person seated at the head (me of course) would tell a tale of how the body died, usually by some fatal car crash. Then we would chant.

"She's dying," I would say. "She's dying," they would repeat.

"She's dead," I would say. "She's dead," they would chant.

"She's as light as a feather."  "She's as light as a feather."

"She's as stiff as a board."  "She's as stiff as a board."

"Let us lift her to her grave." "Let us lift her to her grave."

"Lift," I would command.

You could hear a pin drop, no, you could hear a hair drop the air was so still. Slowly, we would lift the body into the air, levitating our "dead" friend as high as we could. Then, just as slowly, we would lower her to the ground.

Wikipedia's explanation of this phenomenon is that when you have several people lifting a heavy object, the weight is distributed evenly and it is totally possible to lift a body. I would agree with that if each person is using their arms and hands fully. But only four fingers?

One night we asked one of the Mom's to be our "dead body". She happily obliged. We went through the ritual and lifted her up above the floor a good two feet. Easily. Someone giggled and broke the spell. We dropped her.

Now to all you non-believers, doubting Thomas, cynics, and skeptics, I am hear to tell you that we lifted this woman as though she truly was as light as a feather. There is no way under the sun you can lift 20 pounds with your index and middle fingers alone as though it was a piece of paper.

Seems to me I tried Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board as an adult at some point in my life. It didn't work. Perhaps it was because the rest of the participants were non-believers. Perhaps our "dead body" wore a plus size. Perhaps it is because there is some truth that children are more open to other worlds, not yet jaded. The reason matters not to me. I am a believer.

Let me know if you are member of the club and what your experience was. I am dying to know...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Oh Canada!

Do you remember the TV show "V", the one about the aliens who looked like lizards but disguised themselves as humans and started to take over Earth? I tell you, I think they have landed and are now disguised as right wing conservatives. It is freakin' scary, man.

I feel like this country is disintegrating right before my eyes. If the Supreme Court cannot vote objectively my friends, democracy with its checks and balances is gone, vanished, vamoose. If someone can shoot a young man dead and walk away without being arrested like George Zimmerman did, we are in trouble. What about this guy who is on all the talk shows and news programs standing up for his "friend" George? The guy is an acquaintance! Like, oh my God. What the hell is going on here? Have we lost our minds?

The latest threat to manhood.
I watched Morning Joe on MSNBC yesterday morning. Kira Sedgwick was talking about all the plastic pollution in the oceans. She was suggesting that we should avoid single use items like plastic grocery bags to minimize plastic use and reduce plastic trash in the environment. Kira recommended to the hosts they use those nice reusable grocery bags all the stores have now. One of the hosts, laughing, said "I am not carrying one of those in the store, no way". Really. His manhood threatened by a reusable Kroger bag. It was a joke to him. Talk about disconnected from Mother Earth. What has this world come to? Manhood tied to a Kroger bag.

And what about the assault on our right to vote? Republicans can't win fair and square because they have gone off the deep end, so they put every obstacle in place they can think of to keep away the folks that would likely vote for their opponent. Is this what America has become? Why are we not in the streets? Why are they still in office? Wake up people!

I am in the process of watching a conference online called Indigenous Voices on Climate Change. Tribal folks from all over the world gathered at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC to tell their stories of how climate change is affecting their villages. They brought videos and photographs of rising sea levels causing them to move their houses, leave their villages. Their cultures are threatened. One young girl cried as she spoke, pleading with the audience to please do something to stop this.

And he is worried about his manhood.

I am ready to flee this country and go to Canada. I can marry whoever I want there. I can have healthcare. I can say "ay" at the end of every sentence. I can see the northern lights. I can have winter for a long time. And I would be miles away from Rick Insane-torum and Mitten Romney and all the rest of the V crew.

Time to start packing.

I Will Not Comply with Your Time Management (Courtesy) Issues

There is an increasing pattern developing in our society regarding time management and courtesy. I was raised to be on time. If something started at 10 o'clock, I was there at 9 o'clock and 55 minutes, or maybe even a little sooner. Never on the dot, never a second later. That would be a direct insult to my host. Callous disregard.

More and more today compulsive tardiness is becoming the norm. I don't like it.

When we were in school back in the good ol' days, tardiness meant trouble. If you didn't have a slip of paper with a bona vide excuse on it, look out buster. You may spend some time in the principal's office, or get a note sent home to your parents. There were consequences.

If you showed up late for work you were either given a warning, had your pay docked, or maybe even given the boot. It wasn't funny. It wasn't amusing.

I have sat in meetings where people routinely show up 15 or 20 minutes late. People like supervisors, old enough to know better. And oh lord there are the committees. It seems being part of a group gives the sense that one can slink out of all responsibility, as if no one else would notice. Don't show up? No problem. Don't join the conference call? No big deal.

Then there is email, fast as lightening and slower than watching paint dry. If the email you spent half an hour writing doesn't get a response by day one it is probably making its way down the recipient's endless inbox email list, soon to go to page 2, page 3, page 4, never to be seen again. Lost in the ethernet. Meanwhile, the sender is impatiently waiting for a reply that never comes.

Oh, and the wonderful invention of call waiting. How many time have you been talking to someone about something important, when they abruptly cut you off and say "Hang on I have another call coming in, just a sec."  You wait three minutes, five minutes. They never come back. You hang up. They MAY call you back and say, "Sorry 'bout that, it was so and so". You want to wrap the phone cord around their neck but then you remember cell phones don't have phone cords. In fact the person you are talking to probably wouldn't know a phone cord if it WAS wrapped around their neck.

Can someone please tell me what is going on?

This lack of courtesy and time management gives me a headache. It gives me road rage when I am not even driving. It makes me want to enter the wilderness and never return. Although I always feel like that.

I am too old for this. It is my time to start smelling the roses, run a stick down a picket fence, spit on the sidewalk, wear purple. Not deal with folks who could care less about the fact others have a life, too. It raises my hackles and I don't like it.

On the news last night I saw a woman protesting at the Supreme Court, she apparently doesn't approve of health care for all. Her sign said "I will not comply". I like that. In fact I have been saying that's how I will respond to the wacky conservative proposals floating around the U.S. of A.

I will not comply is also very fitting in dealing with time management (courtesy issues). So from here on out it is my new strategy, my new policy, effective immediately:

1. If you put me on call waiting I will not comply. I will hang up and never answer your calls again.

2. If you are late for an appointment, I will not comply. The door will be locked, the car will be gone, the ship will have sailed. You will not be invited back. Unless you have a slip from you parents or your doctor excusing your bad behavior. You will be sent to the principal's office, or sit in a chair in the hallway to have time to think about why it is impolite to be late.

3. If you do not respond to my email or phone calls in a timely fashion, I will not comply. You will first be reminded of the value of remaining in my life. Second offenses will lead to severe consequences, including but not limited to temporary removal from all contact lists. I use the  three strikes and your out rule on this one.

Ah, I feel better already.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surviving Unemployment...Still

On February 18th, Michigan's federal unemployment benefits were cut. This meant 29,500 people lost their unemployment. Including me. I went down to their local office so that I could find out exactly how this would affect my bi-weeky checks. I was told that on the 18th I would no longer get a check, and that I could not get anymore unemployment, period. Oh, and he said he felt bad. I believed him.

Since then I have been watching the contents of my wallet diminish down to a few business cards and a Chinese fortune, which says my goal will be met in two months. I dated it the day I got it, February 15th. That means April 15th I should be fully employed and well on my way to recovery from the most stressful period of my life. I will let you know.

Yesterday I went back to the unemployment office for an unrelated though no less stressful matter, and the gentleman at the desk asked me why I wasn't collecting unemployment. I could feel the blood rush to my face. He said something about 20 more weeks. Really? You mean this whole past month while those who love me have been helping me eat and have gas in my car and pay my mortgage I could have been drawing a check?

I had images of storming the place with a water cannon, yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs. This social safety net, like all the rest, is so mired down in red tape and misinformed employees that it almost drives me to drink.  The safety net is really more like a fishing net, set up to tangle and drown you like a tuna. So you give up out of shear frustration. You give up on everything.

I maintain my sanity right now by making myself a study subject. I observe the feelings that come up when I receive yet another letter from a creditor accusing me of ignoring their requests for payment, after having sent them a letter several weeks earlier explaining my situation. I have maintained constant contact with them all along, trying to do the right thing. THEY don't care. THEY are computers. Can you spell F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N?

A time when honesty was valued.
I have realized, sadly, there no longer seems to be a "right thing". Perhaps being a stand-up gal is dead. People have been screwing the system for so long that everyone is now considered corrupt, dishonest, and incorrigible. Guilty and never considered innocent. The more honest and up front you are, the greater the negative consequences. So now I am left with a choice. Maintain my dignity and self respect (and be punished for it) or ignore my debts, cheat the government, live from a place of entitlement and have NO consequences for it, because that is what is expected by the corporations?  Hell of a choice isn't it?

Back to the study. I have observed feelings of shame, worthlessness, disenfranchisement, despair, anger, rage, and hopelessness in my self. I have also observed deep love and gratitude. But it is those first feelings that have the potential to destroy a Spirit. They are like a pebble in your shoe, always there, reminding you with every step you take.

I have developed coping strategies to deal with the constant stress of long term unemployment. I allow myself 15 minutes to melt down when needed. After that, I must get back to the business at hand. I breathe. I call my lover, my sisters, my Dad, my Mom. I tell myself that today I am OK, I have a roof over my head, my dog has food, my car works, I am loved. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, so I don't think about it. It may bring a job or it may bring foreclosure. I know my mind. If I let it go there, I know what it will think about. So I focus on the moment. Not one second back, not one second forward. Just the now. Because that is all I have.

Today is a milestone. I am more broke than I have ever been in my life. $8.46 in the bank and a few dollars in change sitting in the bowl by the back door. I have two weeks before I will get unemployment again, and there is a line a mile long waiting to snatch it up. Interesting. I notice that I look in the cupboard and fridge and take stock of my food. I look at my gas tank. I check my coffee and creamer supply. I open the lid on the dog food bucket and see how much is left. I check the toothpaste and toilet paper. I learn what is most important to me. Food, coffee with cream, gas, dog food, toothpaste, and toilet paper.

It was a beautiful smiling moon in the western sky last night, with the brightest star shining right next to her...Venus. Did you see it? Go look tonight.

These are the moments I hold on to. The beauty of the moon and a star, the sunshine, the tiny green buds now appearing on my apple trees, the twinkle in my dog's eyes. I know things will turn around. They have to.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mushroom Hunting Disorder (MHD)

Grandma was at the top of the stairs, greeting me as she always did. Her driveway wound itself around to the backside of "the mound", where I would enter the house through the basement door and walk up the carpeted steps into her loving arms. After a big hug and a kiss, Grandma took my hand and said "Come here, I want to show you something."

Hand in hand we walked through the kitchen, stepped out into the screened-in porch, and exited via the side door. Gravel crunched under Grandma's small, well-worn tennis shoes as she led me to a carefully stacked column of three little pieces of limestone gravel.

"Look what I found," she proudly said.

Beside the tiny monument was a black morel.

Black morel, the object of my obsession.
Grandma's yard was always full of black morels. Some springs were better than others, but most of the time I could count on them to bring me bliss. I would stand at Grandma's kitchen sink and look out her large picture window, searching the green grass for protruding objects. Past the bird feeding station, down the hill to the old burn pile my eyes would travel. I could pick out morels at 50 yards if the light was right. Grandma mostly ignored them, unless I called her and asked for a report. For some reason, on that day, she went hunting.

Hello, my name is Barb B. and I have MHD.

MHD (Mushroom Hunting Disorder) is an obsessive/complusive disorder yet to be included in the Physicians Desk Reference. Hereditary in nature, it was passed on to me from my parents, who got it from their parents, who got it from their parents. My case seems to be the worst the family has ever seen. Symptoms include sleep disturbance, obsessive thoughts, inability to focus, impaired driving (due to looking for mushrooms while operating vehicle), and compulsive lying. It most commonly occurs in people living in Michigan, although in recent years it has spread to surrounding states. There appears to be two forms of this disorder. Out-of-state residents tend to be obsessed more with profits than mushrooms. Michigan residents are obsessed more with mushrooms. Period.

My disorder begins its cycle in February, when my sleep becomes disturbed by dreams of morels...fields of giant white morels that are the prize of all mushroom hunters. The dreams continue until the trillium appear, at which time I am drawn by some unseen force into the woods. I cannot help myself, I cannot stop myself. I must find mushrooms.

Mom and nephew Rory, also affected by MHD. Notice characteristic facial expression.

I began to hunt morels when I was knee high to a grasshopper. Since then, I have learned many more species of mushrooms and my obsession lasts until the first snow flies.  Usually the cycle ended at the start of winter and I would have relief for a few months. Now, I have become acquainted with Chaga the birch fungus which can be harvested year around. I have no peace.

It is only March, and already I have been out seeking fungus. I went to my old haunts and there, growing on a dead log, were baby dryad saddles. I pulled out my knife. "No!", I screamed to myself, "Not the children!" I bit my lip and kept walking. Soon, I found some teenage dryad's saddles. The perfect size. Using my mushroom knife, which is characterized by its extremely sharp, curved blade and wooden handle with a compass on the side and a brush on the end, I sliced several of the mushrooms and reverently placed them in my bag. The season had begun.

Dryad's saddle.
Now I cannot concentrate. I watch the weather. I worry and get filled with anxiety if I see someone walking in the woods behind my house. Are they looking for morels? I grab my coat and walk as fast as I can to get around them undetected. I go into the woods and crouch low, searching the ground for those rare jewels of spring. If I find mushrooms I will lie to anyone who asks. I will say I did not find anything. Nothing. Nada.

I never lie. Ever.

Except when it comes to mushrooms.

So please forgive me for the next few months if there is a missed blog, a misspelled word, or a dangling participle. Its only because I am staring out my picture window into the grass across the street...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

JaJa reporting from Planet 92487b1 (Earth)

JaJa reporting from Planet 92487b1 (Earth) to Home Base on Pluto.

Home Base~

JaJa has concluded study of Planet 92487b1 (Earth). Observations began 130,000 Earth lunar cycles ago. JaJa and crew morphed into Two Segment forms during full and black moon phases and studied life form behaviors. Samples of Earth surface were analyzed during these visits.

Life forms on Planet 92487b1 have No mobile Segments, Two mobile Segments, Four mobiles Segments, or Many mobile Segments. There are also Root Beings. They occupy every available place. All forms are in balance except for the Two Segment species (humans in Earthspeak). Their population is overtaking the Planet. This is recent occurrence.

Early Planet 92487b1 dwelling, can be composted.
Early Two Segment species existed in mirror fashion of other Segmented beings. All tools and dwellings executed from Planet 92487b1 pieces. Once discarded, JaJa only found pieces of stone (hard Planet 92487b1 matter) or high carbon Root Being remains. Mirrors other Segmented beings' way of existence. No evidence left behind after departure.

6000 Lunar cycles later Two Segments moved out of balance. Two Segments discarded Planet 92487b1 pieces and made own. Liquids and other matter leaking from Two Segment "factories" (Earthspeak for production facilities) put by Two Segments into essential water system and Earth Crust. Many disease observed. Two Segments continue on trajectory.

Mountains of discarded Two Segment-created objects found in Planet 92487b1's crust. Species may have mixed DNA with one reduced Four Segment (called packrat in Earthspeak), as Two Segments have developed obsession for collecting non-essential items. Requires further investigation.

JaJa projects continued degradation of Planet as Two Segments continue trajectory of unexplainable behavior. Leader on one land mass seen Earthspeaking about Two Segments invading Planet Earth's moon. Recommend distributing data to other Planetary Protectors to prevent probable destruction of Planet 92487b1's Moon by Two Segments.

Also recommend rescue efforts be undertaken by Planetary Protectors to begin removal of all non-Two Segmented beings from Planet 92487b1 before mass extinction occurs.

Submitted Star Date 104568.
Observer JaJa
Science Vessel Gaia Watch

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tales from Edwardsburg - The Golf Ball War

My mom and dad were golfers when I was growing up. Dad still hits the back 9 every once in awhile. They even convinced me to take golf lessons. I had a set of aquamarine stained woods and the usual clobber clubs. Just wasn't my thing. But they seemed to love it.

I preferred to used golf balls for something to bounce. Before the Super Ball came on the market, golf balls were queen. They made a sound like a ping pong ball when they hit the pavement and bounced as high as the clouds. You could walk along bouncing a golf ball just like a basketball, but they had a mind of their own and were much trickier to catch.

Ever curious, I began to wonder just what was inside a golf ball that made them bounce. It must be something very powerful because it can bounce really really high even though it has a shell around the bounce material. So I asked my Dad.

"Tightly wound rubber bands," he answered. That made sense to me, rubber bounces right?

One afternoon the Grover kids were sitting on Grandma and Grandpa Roy's porch with me and my sisters and the subject of golf balls came up. "My Dad said golf balls bounce because they have tightly wound rubber bands in them," I proclaimed, a 13 year old know-it-all. "Well, MY Dad says they bounce because they have a hard rubber center!", challenged one of the Grovers. "Nuh-uh," I said. "Uh-huh," he said.





The line was drawn. The Golf Ball War was on.

The Grovers stomped off to their house across the street, the Bartons stomped off to their house next door. Tempers were high. Faces had scowls.

The first thing I did was to write a protest song. John Lennon's song "Power to the People" was a hit then and fit nicely for my cause. I simply changed the lyrics to "Power to the Bartons".  We went back to Grandma and Grandpa Roy's porch and began to sing.

Us kids didn't speak much for the next few weeks, each standing their ground on this most important kid issue. But after awhile I started to miss playing with my friends across the street. A truce was drawn and a golf ball was sawed open. Rigid rubber core, rubber band lining.

Traditional golf ball.
The Golf Ball War lasted two weeks. It wasn't about the golf balls, really. It was about loyalty to our families and what we believed to be true. It was also about the inability of children to understand there are different points of view and to accept others beliefs even if they are different from our own. And it also shows how blind faith can bite you in the butt.

You would think we would have learned something since then.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Time for Divorce?

I have often wondered about whether the problems in our society today are due to the fact there are so many people. Statistically speaking, the number of people who aren't playing with a full deck would increase proportionally with the population. For example, if the population numbered one million, 100 folks might be "out there". But now we have about 312,000,000 people and that would equate to around 31,200 folks who are, shall we say, different. We might never run into them when the population was low. But now? They can actually cause some problems.

There are some very obvious differences between liberals and conservatives. And it is biological, according to a study by the University College London.
"Liberals have more gray matter in a part of the brain associated with understanding complexity, while the conservative brain is bigger in the section related to processing fear," says the study April 2011 in Current Biology.

That explains everything.

Conservatives living in fear seem to have developed a case of untreated paranoia, and this is serious. They are changing laws, spreading hate, committing acts of aggression. Just watch Fox News. Listen to Rush. Hatred, name calling, personal attacks. They attempt to deny freedoms for others whom they don't agree with. Laws against abortion and gay marriage, for instance. Look at the recent anti-Obama bumper sticker, which is so reprehensible I will not post it here. It would remind you of the 1950's. All fear-based.

Liberals tend to pass laws to help others (think health care reform, civil rights). Pro-choice laws, gay marriage laws. Legislation to protect the environment, fund alternative energy. You see where I am going with this? Proactive versus reactive.

Liberals and conservatives see the world in a fundamentally different way, and given the biological basis, what are we to do?

I try to imagine the U.S. splitting into two countries (or three if the Independents want their own piece of the pie). I think the liberals would do fine. But what about the conservatives? I would worry about them devouring each other. They certainly would overpopulate their 1/2 of the country given their laws preventing abortion or birth control. But then again, maybe they would also outlaw sex. They don't want environmental regulations getting in the way of development, so they would soon pollute and destroy their lands. Most likely they would have a capitalist society, how would they deal with poverty amongst their own?

I am worried about the course of things in this country. We are becoming more divided and at a certain point I fear the pot will boil over and we will have another civil war. Many would say we are already in one.

Perhaps it is time to accept we are fundamentally different and have irreconcilable differences. Rather than staying together for the sake of the children, maybe we should think about divorce.

To Trayvon's Girlfriend

Dearest Child,

While all of the country is standing up against the horrible murder of Trayvon, I have been thinking of the suffering and anguish you must be going through. There has been little mention of you in the news except in reference to your phone call with him just prior to his murder. I want you to know that you are not forgotten. You, too, are an innocent victim of this terrible tragedy.

I am wrapping love around you and sending you all the comfort I can muster. I cannot imagine being on the phone with my beloved and know she is trying to get away from an unknown pursuer. I cannot bear to even think about what it would feel like to hear her being accosted and have the phone go dead.  I cannot bear the thought of not knowing where she was or what happened to her for three unforgivable days, only then to learn she was shot to death because of her race. I cannot imagine how heartbroken you must be. You are so young and should never have to go through this, not now, nor anytime in your precious life.

There has been so much progress toward ending discrimination and these things make my heart heavy. I remember when I was a young girl in the 1960s we went down south for vacation. I saw signs for "Whites Only" and worse things I won't disrespect you with. I heard the racial slurs, I saw the hatred. I saw Dr. Martin Luther King help to change things. I learned about Rosa Parks bravely taking a seat in a bus. I was shocked and angered by the lynchings and the violence I read about or saw on TV. I remember learning about Emmet Till.

I know we have come so far since the days of slavery, and the murder of your boyfriend shows us how far we still have to go. There are millions of people who are outraged by this, people of all races, religions, sexual orientation, classes, nationalities. We all stand behind you and your family, Trayvon and his family. We all stand against this hatred. There was a time no one would have said a thing about this. Today millions are outraged and making their voices heard. I hope in months to come that this gives you some hope for a better future.

As we make great changes in our society and become a more tolerant and accepting nation as a whole, those who wish to remain as oppressors and bigots will become more loud because they are a dying breed. Their hatred will boil over and there will be tragedy. I don't know what to do about that.

Please know that you are not forgotten and that I and many others are sending you our deepest love and comfort. I hope that you can gain some strength from knowing there are so many people who are with you in your time of grief and sorrow. Also know that I and many others will never stop fighting for change in this land, for equality and freedom for all.

I know you will never see this letter, but I believe that simply by writing and putting it out their for others to read and share, the love will find its way into your heart. Take good care of yourself. You are the child of all of us and we love you.

With deepest sympathy,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Man Killing Clam and Other Roadside Attractions

When planning your summer vacation this year, consider this. Michigan is peppered with some of the most awesome, bizarre, curious roadside attractions in the country. I love them. One of my favorites is a contraption someone set up on the side of a road.  Cars passing by can toss a bottle or can and try to hit a hole that had been cut out of a board, which was propped up between two 50 gallon drums. As long as you hit the board or the hole, your beverage container ends up in the trash can.

Another favorite is the Prehistoric Village in the Irish Hills, built in 1963. I only discovered this gem back in 2003, four years after it had closed.  Damn! You could take a little train back into the woods, where giant mechanized dinosaurs (sculpted by James Q. Sidwell) would roar at you and fake cave people would be posed as if carrying on their daily life. There was a waterfall, a smoking volcano, and a waterslide. Now, it is an eery abandoned, prehistoric ghost town. You can buy this gem for less than a million bucks. I am on a mission to save it and restore it to its former glory so watch for an upcoming blog on this very special place.

One of the most famous of Michigan's roadside attractions features nothing at all from Michigan. Sea Shell City was created in 1957 before the Interstate was even built. It has thousands of sea shells for visitors to ooohhh and ahhhhh over, and not one of them is from North America. But in the land of snow, it is a refreshing tropical escape, taking us to warmer places. The star of Sea Shell City is the Man Killing Clam.

The Man Killing Clam is placed just outside the men's bathroom. According to the owner, the giant clam does not eat men, it just clamps shut on their feet when they try to steal its body for the dinner table. Of course once the jaws of death are dropped, it is bye bye. Just what is this monstrous bivalve?

The giant clam (Tridacna gigas) is the largest living mollusk and is found in the shallow coral reefs of the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, and can reach weights of up to 450 pounds. Wow. It is also found in the Philippines (this is where the Man Killing Clam shell reportedly came from) and in the North Sea of China. It is gone from many of its former habitats and the remaining populations are highly endangered. With an average lifespan of 100 years or more, these clams have been over harvested because of their highly prized flesh.

After visiting the Clam, head on up to Mackinac City for some fudge, salt water taffy, and smoked white fish. Sit on the shore of the Straits and imagine the bottom is littered with giant Man Killing Clams, shooting up from the bottom and snatching Yoopers, Trolls, and Fudgies alike, dragging them to the depths of Lake Michigan, never to be seen again.  Delicious.

***Definitions: Straits - water between Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. Yoopers - people who were born in the Upper Peninsula. Trolls and Fudgies - all people who come up to the north from southern Michigan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gone Fishing

Gone fishing for a job in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. See ya tomorrow!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tales From the Gap - Feeding Spider

Orb weavers are a group of spiders that spin the familiar spider webs we all know and love. Their webs are designed to capture prey, which the spiders immobilize and save for a rainy day. This is a tale of feeding Spider.

There was a low lying area where I used to survey for butterflies. It was mostly filled with grasses and joe-pye-weed, and in late summer this field was splashed with the deep purple of ironweed flowers. And it was home to a whole village of spiders.

Photo by Barb Barton

Most every visit I made to this spot was in the early morning hours. The dew would settle on the tall vegetation and soak my pants clean through. Tiny droplets of water would hang from spider webs strung between blades of grass.

One particular morning I made my way into the field, and I noticed that most of the webs had small bundles attached to them. Upon closer inspection, I saw these bundles were grasshoppers and other unfortunate insects that had gotten tangled up in the webs and were subsequently wrapped in spider silk into neat, tidy bundles.

It took much agility on my part to wind my way through the field and avoid all those spider webs. I had watched Spider once construct a web from start to finish. I knew how much work it took. I was not going to destroy one web that day.

As I made my way through the wet vegetation, I saw that I had indeed walked through a web, and one of those wrapped bundles had stuck to my fatigues. I didn't want to waste this tender morsel, so I carefully took a small stick and placed the bundle on the end of it.

After a bit of searching, I found what I was looking for. A spider with an empty web. She was hunkered down at its edge, waiting for some action. I don't think Spider was expecting me.

I know that birds and squirrels and cats and dogs all take food from us humans if offered. I wondered if Spider would, too? I took my stick and slowly put the bundle that had stuck on my pants in front of Spider. "Here you go little one," I said to Spider. She backed up rather quickly. I remained calm and slowly moved the bundle a little closer. "It's OK Spider, it is a gift from me to you."  Slowly Spider moved toward the bundle and very gingerly took my gift. She placed it carefully onto her web, where it stuck like glue.

There is something special about the invisible connection that happens when one accepts the offering of another. It is a form of communication, a Spiritual touching. Thank you Spider, for that experience.

Blogging - From a Park Bench or Soap Box?

Yesterday I posted my 30th blog. One a day for the past month. I don't know what made me do it. Perhaps it was the coaxing by various people in my life. Perhaps it was the need to release an unhidden talent. I don't know. But here I am writing blog #31.

I thought I would kick off the second month with a blog about blogging. A new friend recently asked me, "What is a blog?". I thought about it for a second and replied "A blog is a website where people stand on a soapbox of self importance and expound words of wisdom and meaningless drivel."

I am good at standing on soapboxes. I can do handstands and back flips with a one and a half twist, all the while solving the world's problems. I have an opinion about everything. I can't help it, I am a thinker, a philosopher, someone who watches the world very carefully, looking for ways to improve things. I love to learn and am becoming more tolerant in my old age.

I also love to sit on the park bench, so to speak, and tell tall tales of adventure and misadventure in the life of a small town girl. Stories that speak about life in a little Michigan village, or of remembered home. Tales from places I have worked, or the odd things that have happened to me in my 54 years on this wonderful Mother Earth.

As half of my brain is science oriented, I must admit I have been watching the readership of my blog to see which stories people are most interested in. Do they like to read about beautiful Michigan sunsets, or Rush Limbaugh? Humor or serious commentary? Or all of the above?

The results? Nature stories ranked the lowest. Rush Limbaugh ranked the highest. Everything else fell somewhere in between.

So I am left with a dilemma, one I have grappled with my whole life. Do I continue to write a diverse blog covering everything from the Republican primaries to hairy monsters that dwell in the swamps of southern Michigan? Or do I focus on my sarcastic critique of politics and current events? Do I write for the sake of writing, or for the sake of my readership?

It is much the same as being a performer putting together a set list. How many originals, how many covers? What does the audience want to hear, what do I want to play?

When I was a disc jockey many years ago, I experienced the seclusion and weird sense of isolation a DJ feels when working the midnight shift, talking on a microphone to thousands of faceless, nameless people. You know they are listening, well, they are right? But how do you REALLY know? I played record after record, would get a phone call requesting a song or two once in awhile, but otherwise I simply had to trust people were out there somewhere. Certainly the morning I overslept and was late turning the on radio station (small town radio, what can I say?) I learned how many people were out there.

The beauty of a blog is that the reader can interact with me. They can leave a comment. They can contribute to a discussion, or share a thought. They can click funny, cool, or interesting. They can post the blog to other sites to share something they particularly like. Or they can do nothing but read it with their morning coffee much like the newspaper.

Go ahead, take a chance and leave a comment. What does this blog do for you? What stories speak to you most? And why do you like to read about Rush more than a sunset. Rush, sunset, Rush, sunset, I mean REALLY! Rush?????

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tales from the Gap - C4 and Lemons

Line transects are an ecological field technique one might use to look at plant cover.  You basically stake out a line of string, say 25 meters long. Then, starting at one end or the other, you stand directly over the string and slowly move forward, measuring the distance any given plant grows directly under the string. So you might end up with 4.2 cm of grass, 2.7 cm bare soil, and so on. It is a long and tedious process.

One hot afternoon I was conducting line transects on Range D3 at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania's military training base that rests against the beautiful Blue Mountains. Range D3 was composed of a battered old field bisected by tank trails. Paralleling  the base of the Mountain was a long, linear berm with a hidden tracked target behind it that would appear and disappear during tank firing exercises. And, like everywhere else on the base, the ground was littered with spent shell casings, flare shells, and small silk parachutes. That day, however, I found something new.

Scattered over the field were fragments of plastic lemons. I am sure you know them, the realistic looking plastic citrus you buy in the grocery store that are filled with concentrated lemon juice? Bits of yellow plastic dotted the field like small summer flowers. Most were melted. As we walked around the field, I discovered a golf-ball size chunk of the explosive C4 laying in the dirt. I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket, and continued patrolling my study site. There, in the middle of the field, was a whole, plastic lemon. An unexploded, handmade, lemon grenade. Hmm. Interesting.

As I did every time I found an unexploded something, I got out my bag phone and called it in to Range Control. I left the lemon grenade, walked 5 meters over to my line transect, and began the long process of counting plant cover.

I was about half way through when Range Control and the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) trucks appeared. Out jumped several uniformed military personnel. "Good morning, Ma'am," greeted the Range Control Sergeant. "Morning, Sarge". I replied, feet firmly planted on either side of my transect line. "This here's the Butterfly Lady," Sarge said to the bomb squad guy. In the five years I worked there, they never knew my name. I was simply the Butterfly Lady. "Nice to meet ya," I said.

I told them what we had found that morning and handed the bomb squad guy the C4 I had been carrying in my pocket. "S#*t!" he said, rather loudly. I then pointed to the lemon grenade not 15 feet away.

Bomb squad guy went back to his truck and put on his giant protective suit, the kind you see them wear on the news during a bomb scare somewhere. Feet still firmly planted over the staked out string that marked my line transect, I watched as he made his way back to the lemon grenade. He looked it over from a distance then slowly walked up to me.

"Ma'am, I am going to have to ask you to go back behind those vehicles for your own safety. We don't know how stable the lemon is."

"I can't go back behind those vehicles right now, I am in the middle of a line transect young man. The MIDDLE! I have to finish this transect first," I stated firmly. As firmly as my planted two feet, which had not moved an inch since his arrival.

"Well Ma'am, then I am going to have to position myself between you and that ordnance until you are done," he proclaimed. Wow, he was willing to risk his life for me to finish my line transect. I said thank you and continued my work, he placed himself directly between me and that little yellow lemon.

In the 15 minutes it took for me to finish up my transect, several more vehicles arrived. Men with jackets that had big bold letters across their backs "FBI" and "ATF". Uh oh.

I no longer argued when ordered into the back seat of the sedan. Question after question about where we had been the day before, the day before that, the night before, what are we doing now, what was I doing with C4 in my pocket? How did I feel about lemons? Were they going to wear me down, force me into a confession with their barrage of questions, confusing me? Do I like lemons or don't I? What time did I really get up that morning?

There I was, an endangered species biologist studying a very rare butterfly on a military base, with soldiers who loved to drive tanks, bomb, and strafe the butterfly's habitat. Of course I would be a likely suspect. I am sure images of the crazy Butterfly Lady in her kitchen whipping up Real Lemon hand grenades filled with C4 danced in their heads. We were, after all, dressed in fatigues. We did look like ecoterrorists, well, except for the butterfly nets.

Protocol dictates the EOD must blow up all unexploded ordnances, so charges were set. We all ducked behind the vehicles and covered our ears. "Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole!" the bomb guy yelled. Then, KABOOM! The lemon grenade was no more. In its place was a crater, the kind you see on the moon. I panicked for a second, but then was flooded with relief. My line transect was undisturbed.

After the FBI, the ATF, the MPs, EOD, and Range Control were convinced we didn't make the lemon grenades, they jumped back in their vehicles and sped off down the road.

I decided not to mention the unexploded ordnance we found on the tank trail. We just left that for another day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Me and Ron Paul

Barb performing a rockin' rendition of You are My Sunshine circa 1963

I was the first born child, grand child, great grand child, great great grand child, niece, and great niece in my family. With this came the expectation of perfection.

My Dad's nickname for me was and still is #1, much to my middle sister's chagrin. She would point out here, "See, you don't even use my name!".

I was destined for greatness, if you lived in my head. How could I not be? When you are the first born child, grand child, etc, everything you do is held up high for everyone to see.

Example, someone saw a hidden talent in the way I played the plastic violin with the little crank on the side when I was almost two. By the age of five or six, I was playing guitar at recitals. "Don't make people beg you to play," Grandma would scold me. "God gave you a talent, use it!"

School talent show.
Along came the Beatles and the Monkees, and the magic of electric guitars. Oh the joy of walking through a music store amongst the Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, and Rickenbacker axes. The smell of those guitars, the way the light glimmered in the chrome. It still gets to me.

When you are #1, what is more alluring than becoming a rock star?

I got my electric guitar and amp while still in elementary school. I had a band. We played "Steppin Stone" and "Little Black Egg" at the County Fair. I began to write songs about drugs and butterflies. It was the 60's after all.

High school was the garage band scene, drunk teenagers listening to us play "Wipe Out" over and over and over because the drummer just loved his drum part. Sometimes I would take my guitar to school and sit in the hall, playing Led Zeppelin or Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Oh that hair.
Early twenties ushered in the rock band era, when I played rhythm guitar and was a lead singer for the band Mahana.  We played the Corners Lounge in Sturgis four nights a week for a month straight. We played weddings and other bars. We rehearsed in our bass player's Charles Chips warehouse. We went to gigs in his Charles Chips delivery truck. We ate Charles Chips.

From my mid-twenties on I decided to go solo and focus on songwriting. I started with benefit concerts in Lansing and open mic night at the Ark in Ann Arbor, and turned into a folk musician rooted in rock-n-roll. By my thirties I was winning awards and selected as one of the first Resident Artists on Isle Royale National Park. I even shared the stage with Bill Danoff, the guy who wrote Country Roads. We stood side by side, he in his silk shirt, with me singing harmony and playing guitar on a little stage in Silver Springs, Maryland.

First concert of all my original music, 1984.
One time I even played a show where the girls were screaming. Really. Just like a Beatles concert. It was a rocking song, my buddy Hideko J. Mills was cranking out her incredible lead guitar riffs. And the crowd was on their feet, screaming. That was awesome.

People knew me, no matter where I went in my home town. Even in other parts of the state someone might recognize me. "Make me proud," I could hear my Grandma say. I thought I was on my way.

My mid-thirties and most of my 40's found me in Pennsylvania, starting all over with my music career. I made my way from Cape Cod to Atlanta, playing on weekends at folk venues and coffee houses. My favorite gigs were on the Cape. It looked like the UP.

To soon I entered my 50s. The age of digital downloads, smart phones, AARP, colonoscopies.

The job placement agency has special classes for "Over 50 Resumes". Hide your age, they say. Don't put in dates. And get rid of those wrinkles.

Attendance at shows drops to mostly friends. Ok, all friends. I am becoming a Beach Boy, a Mick Jagger, a Grace Slick. All five of my CDs show up on Ebay, and in thrift shops right next to Grand Funk Railroad and Steppinwolf 8 track tapes. An old press photo is found online for sale. "Veteran Folk Sensation" the heading reads.

I am officially a "has been".

Me with dear friend Annie Capps at last CD release concert.
What does this have to do with Ron Paul, you might ask? It struck me the other day that he and I have a few things in common. Our supporters adore us, think we are the best thing since sliced bread. They are the definition of loyal. And they are few. Ron Paul will never have the numbers that Mitt or Newt or Rick have. But he will always have a small loyal following to the end. Just like me.

Today I realized I will never be a rock star. I am sure at some point Ron Paul will realize he will never be a President. But neither of us quit trying.

When I look back over my life I am satisfied. Except for one thing.

I really wanted to be a rock star.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Might Have Been

Sisters. Diann, Little Kathy, and me. circa 1960s.

My Grandma Aldrich had arthritis since she was in her 30's, and lived with chronic pain in her feet, knees,and hands all her life. Her discomfort caused her to walk with a slight limp.  Through all the years I knew her, I never once heard her complain. 

One weekend my parents went out of town and Grandma came to take care of us. I was only 13 and not quite of the age to take on such responsibility, so Grandma was drafted.

I have two sisters, and back then I shared a bedroom with Dutchy (Diann). Little Kathy, the baby of the family and five years my junior, had her own room. Across the hall was my parents room, with a long dresser from which I used to "borrow" quarters, dimes, and nickels emptied from pockets at days end.

It was on that dresser one day that I found a letter addressed to my Dad. See, Dad used to be a cop when I was very young. Heck, HE was very young, only 21 years old. One night after a scary high speed chase he ended up in a shoot-out with the two suspects. He wounded one, and both were arrested and sent away to prison. This letter was from the one he shot, and held promises of retaliation once he was released from prison, promises that were severe and involved my whole family. I put the letter down.

After an uneventful day we had our supper, watched some television, and went to bed. I slept in my parents' bed, Grandma in mine.
At some point during the night a sound woke me. I laid there silent and still, listening to every sound, every breath.  Someone was in the house. I thought of the letter. I thought of my Grandma and my sisters innocently sleeping in their beds, unaware of the intruder lurking around our house.

I slowly got up and went to my parents' closet. Hanging in a holster was my Dad's 38 Special. Silently I lifted the gun from its leather holster and careful, quietly, made my way to the doorway. I peered into the darkness, checking to see if my Grandma and sisters were in their beds. They were. I knew what I had to do.

The intruder started making his way slowly down the hallway toward our bedrooms. I raised the gun and pointed it directly at the chest of the shadow walking down the hall. As I was about to pull the trigger, I noticed the limp.

I have remembered this story for 40 years but it was only today that I asked my Dad the two questions I have always wanted to know but was afraid to ask.

Question: Was there a safety on the gun?

Answer: No.

Question: Was the gun loaded?

Answer: Yes.

Me the age of this event.
I never told my family this story until today. And now, knowing what might have happened had one more second passed, I am chilled. One brief second was the difference between life as I have known it and a terrible family tragedy that surely would have destroyed us all.


Good Intentions

A long, long time ago people used their word and a handshake to seal an agreement. No need for lawyers, binding contracts, 10 page documents you had to initial 84 times. A person was only as good as their word, that was the saying.

What has happened to the value of our word?

Giving our word means making a commitment, an agreement with another person, group, organization. We give it with the intention of fulfilling a promise. Some folks hold to their word like it is a rare gem, others give their word as freely as they change the channel on their TV and its value doesn't last much longer than a commercial.

Many of us give our word with the best of intentions, but don't keep our end of a bargain. It can be for reasons of economics, such as losing a job or a medical emergency. Or it can be for reasons of time.

When I was a kid, I was blessed to be born into a time of no video stores, no internet, no cell phones, no iPhones, no "i" anything. No cable, no dish satellite, no Netflix.  Watching the Wizard of Oz was a huge event, as it only came on TV once a year. Now, I breeze right by it while channel surfing, I can see it anytime. No longer rare, it has lost its spell. My spare time was spent riding horses at the race horse ranch down the street, fishing, water skiing, swimming, exploring the woods and the cemetery, playing basketball, walking around a little burg with my friends. I had time. Lots of it. No pressure at all.

After school I had practice, volleyball, softball, or basketball, depending on the season. And as I got a bit older I had jobs - a paper route, working at the local Tastee Freeze, a cabinet factory. Still, I had time for the fun things I wanted to do.

I am not sure when it became vogue to pack our lives so full every waking second, scurrying about like ants whose nest has been disturbed by a curious child with a stick. Quantity over quality.

A typical life of a child today involves piano lesson on Monday, soccer on Tuesday and Thursday with a game on Saturday, intro to French on Wednesday, photography on Saturday morning.  That is in the fall.  Then winter comes and said child decides he/she no longer is interested in piano or photography and switches those days to trumpet and tap dance lessons. Then comes spring and they switch up again.

Some might say that all these experiences help a child learn what they like and don't like. Have you ever went to the paint store to find a can of white paint? You leave feeling more confused than ever. Quantity over quality.

By filling our lives so full of scurrying to and fro, our ability to live true to our word diminishes. I see this in the various groups and activities that I have organized over the years. Before we dove into the nest of chaotic ant behavior, people joined a group that was of interest to them and they participated in that group. They attended meetings, they contributed time, energy, and ideas to make the group a living, breathing entity that gave great benefit to its members. My Grandma and Grandpa were loyal members of the Moose Lodge for decades, all the way to their deaths.

In recent years, I find people are very enthusiastic about joining a group and maybe attend one or two meetings, then, just like children who lose interest after 3 months of piano lessons, they stop attending. Maybe they join another group that peaks their interest. Or they simply do nothing. The group loses energy and eventually fades away. And no one benefits. In fact, everyone loses.

There is a special feeling that comes when we belong.

There are other kinds of good intentions, but they often have the same result - a devaluing of our word. Some mitigate this by saying "I will try to...". Which leaves the recipient dangling in mid-air.

Energy exists in the world on a budget. It moves back and forth between all things. We can give energy and we can receive energy. We can lose energy and we can generate energy. If we don't replenish our energy, we become dull and lethargic, uninterested and unmotivated. We can become sad or depressed. There are many who live their lives like this every day, giving away all their energy to another person or persons, a job, a cause, with nothing coming back. They are usually very unhappy people.

Perhaps choosing to slow our lives would be a good thing. We would then have time for cooking good healthy food, spending time with family and friends, resting in a hammock watching the clouds float by. Perhaps we should be teaching a slower way of life to our children, so they don't grow up living in a world full of good intentions.

Perhaps we should choose quality over quantity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tales from Edwardsburg - Winstons

In our first house on Hamilton Street we had a basement which was divided into two rooms.  In room one was an unfinished something or another, perhaps a bench or maybe a planter.  Visualize a two foot by five feet wall of bricks that make a sharp right turn, stacked up maybe two feet tall. The perfect hiding place for something small.

I attended junior high school then and was a relatively good kid, unlike the "Hoods" we would see walking down the street in our small town, smoking cigarettes and saying naughty words. No, I wasn't like THEM.  During lunchtime, the Hoods would race out to Smokey Oaks, the forbidden woods next to the school, and smoke their cigarettes and do other unspeakable things. The buzzer would ring and you could watch them sprint across the big field, trying to catch their smokey breaths as they hurried to get to fifth period.

This was the 70s. Post hippie. That confused time between the groovy bell-bottomed, love beaded, velvet chokered 60's and the sweet mullet headed, glam band, Jersey haired 80's. I mean where do you go after a generation of free love, what is left to discover? For me, it was Winstons.

Why is it that TV jingles can stick in your mind for decades? I can sing you every cigarette commercial since 1958. As they say nowadays, OMG LMFAO!

"Come out for the Koooooool taste, the Koolest pleasure every time you smoke."

"You can take Salem out of the country BUT, you can't take the country out of Salem."

"Winston tastes good like a [uh uh] cigarette should."

It was this last one that got me. Cigarettes looked like they tasted good, my Mom and Dad smoked them (Virginia Slims, Kools, Salem), the Marlboro Man smoked them while riding horses, the Hoods sucked them down like I did Slo Pokes. So when I decided one fall day to try these delicious white sticks of tobacco, there was no hesitation. I would smoke the best tasting cigarette in the world. Winstons.

Now, how to get a pack.  Fortunately for me, just one block away was a gas station usually staffed by only one man. Whenever a customer pulled up and the bell rang, he would grab his red mechanics rag, wipe his hands, and walk out to greet his visitor. "Can I check your oil today?" he would ask. He would put the nozzle into the car, lift the hood, and check the oil. Then, he would drop the hood and clean the windshield until it sparkled. The customer would pay him, he would reach into his navy blue, oil stained trousers and pull out a wad of crumbled up bills, and give them their change.  A wave goodbye, and he went back into the station to his cup of coffee, cigarette, and newspaper.

Time from wiping hands to the wave goodbye, 5 minutes, 23 seconds average. Plenty of time for this toe-headed neighbor kid to put 45 cents of her paper route money into the cigarette machine, pull the shiny silver knob, and watch her brand new pack of Winstons drop to the bottom.  Push open flap, grab, place in pocket. Wait for man to start his return into station. Put another 10 cents of paper route money into candy machine, pull shiny silver knob for a Payday, and watch it drop to bottom. Push open flap, grab, tear open wrapper, and eat candy bar loudly to squelch suspicion. Cheerfully say "thanks!", and walk inconspicuously home. Mission accomplished.

Now, where to hide my brand new pack of Winstons. I had two snoopy little sisters, and two snoopy big parents. I know, the brick thingymajigger in the basement. I nonchalantly went downstairs, lifted out a few bricks here and moved a few bricks there, creating a nice little hiding spot. In went the Wintons. Tomorrow would be the day I smoked my first cigarette.

I arose earlier than the rest of the family, and sneaked downstairs to retrieve my new pack of Winstons. I stuck them deep in my coat pocket, ate my breakfast and headed off to school, a good mile away.

Damn, it was harder than I thought, sneaking a smoke on my way to school. Cars kept passing me. My town only had 900 people in it, so everybody knew everybody. "There is Barb Barton," I could imagine them saying. "Look, honey, is that a CIGARETTE she is smoking?". "My word!". Then my Mom and Dad would get a call and I would be grounded for at least two weeks, if not more. But I had no choice. That jingle was playing over and over in my head. "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should".

I made my move. I pulled the brand new pack of Winstons from my coat pocket, took off my mittens, and opened it. Tap tap tap, just like my Dad did. Why do people do that? Anyway, I pulled out my cigarette, put it in my mouth and lit it, hiding all the while behind my very large mittens. Car! Oh, what is that on the ground over there? I pretend to pick up something. They don't suspect. I am safe. I held the cigarette between my lips while putting my mittens back on, then inhaled. The world spinned. I felt, I felt, I felt....dizzy. I coughed. I puked. Winston's didn't taste good, they tasted horrible! What was that commercial talking about?

On my way home from school that day I stopped by the gas station and tossed my Winston's into the trash with the used blue paper towels, empty oil containers, and cigarette butts. I put 10 cents of my paper route money into the pop machine and pushed the button for a Dr. Pepper. I popped the top, tossed the metal ring into the trash next to the Winstons, and walked home, singing.

 "Dr. Pepper, so misunderstood, if everyone would try one they would know it tastes good."

Blessed Honey Bees

Last year about this time I discovered that I lost both my Bee hives. One colony died of starvation, they weren't able to store enough honey to carry them through the winter.  The other perished from Colony Collapse Disorder. They simply vanished, leaving behind a hive full of honey.

I bought two more packages of Bees and put them in the hives last May. We spent time getting to know each other, and over the winter I went out to check on them, putting on a stethoscope and listening to each hive for the low pitched hum. The ancient practice of Bee shamanism shares many secrets of beekeeping.  Things like the little known fact that bees love to hear stories. So I told them stories. I sang them songs. I prayed that they would survive into spring. And they did.

Today was the first warm day of the season, and the girls were out in full force. In the winter on warm days they will take "elimination" flights, I am sure you can figure that out. But these new flights had a greater purpose. They were foraging.

I look outside my big picture window and I see the naked landscape, no longer winter and not quite yet spring. The snowdrops are blooming in my backyard and the red maple trees have donned their blossoms.  But that is all I can see of spring.

The Bees, however, see much more. I was surprised to observe the girls flying in with large pollen sacs on their back legs, they had found flowers!  And they must have found lots of them, because almost every other Bee entering the hive was weighted down with large white bundles of protein-rich pollen. And with that pollen they bring nectar to make honey.  Spring has truly arrived.

I have two Bee hives, a traditional Langstroth box and a newer top-bar hive. I noticed fewer Bees going in and out of the top-bar, so since it was a nice warm day I decided to open it up and check on the girls.

Using a metal pry bar, I gently lifted each frame and marveled at the beautiful, free hanging honey comb.  The newest was ivory white, this year's comb.  They artfully build two heart-shaped combs side by side, then connect them, creating one large comb.  Honey Bees hold on to each others' legs and form Bee chains to measure by.  Simply amazing.

All seemed well in the Bee hive, with some combs beginning to be filled with brood as indicated by the raised cap on the cell of the comb.  Many combs were glowing with honey, that sweet, sacred liquid treasured by all. I asked the girls if I might have one comb, and after much bee discussion, they agreed. I cut the comb from the wooden top bar and placed it on a fine screen that seats nicely on my five gallon honey bucket.  Mashing the comb with a wooden spoon, the smell of fresh honey filled my kitchen almost immediately.  Pearls of golden ambrosia began to drip into the bucket.

It takes 5 million flowers to make one pint of honey. This morning I filled my mason jars with 10.5 million flowers worth.

Mind blowing.

Blessed Honey Bees.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fear Begets Courage

Fear is one of the most powerful, controlling emotions in the human experience. It can keep us from dying and it can keep us from living. This is my story of meeting Fear.

In 2001, I lived in state campgrounds with my dog, a Honda that started sometimes, and a cell phone that worked even less. I held a part-time job but could not save enough money to get a place of my own.  Every 14 days, I had to pack up my temporary home and move to another state campground 20 miles away, rules you know.  Back and forth I moved, all summer long.

Late one afternoon, my dog and I were driving back to the campground when I spotted smoke up ahead.  As I got closer, the source of this thick cloud became obvious.  An SUV had gone off the road and hit an old willow tree head on, which then fell on top of the car’s roof.  Flames were shooting out from under the hood and slumped over the steering wheel was a white-haired man.

I pulled my Honda off the side of the road and ran as fast as I could back to the SUV.  And in that instant I became acquainted with fear.

So many things went through my mind in a matter of seconds.  There was never a doubt about what I had to do.  But unfamiliar thoughts streamed into my consciousness. I never considered I might die in an explosion or be burned to death. Or that I would witness another human being lose their life in such a terrible way. I was afraid. No, I was terrified. More so than ever before in my life. I was not ready to die.

But it is a miraculous thing what our minds are capable of. I pushed that fear away and took action. Don’t get me wrong, I was still terrified, but I detached and set it aside like a cool cup of coffee and moved forward with my task.  If this sounds calculated, it was. My body moved while my heart and mind were filled with fear.

Another motorist drove up as I was making my way down the wet, slippery slope to the trapped man.  She motioned she was calling 911. When I got to the SUV, flames were growing higher and the smoke was getting thicker. The steep slope placed the car at an angle away from the road, so when I opened the car door I had to continuously hold it up with my left hand and work toward freeing him with my right. He was semi-conscious and kept mumbling about finding his glasses. I got his seatbelt unhooked and kept telling him he had to get out of the car. I pulled and pulled with my right arm, when finally he fell out of the car and on to the ground.  Seconds later the inside of the car went up into flames. And he began to very slowly slide under the car.

You always hear stories of people in these situations having an incredible rush of adrenalin, giving the person extraordinary physical abilities like being able to lift a car. As I tried to pull the man away from his burning vehicle, I remembered this phenomenon and was confident I could probably pick him up, toss him over my shoulder, and carry him to the hospital no problem. But it never happened. I have always been a strong woman, yet in that moment I felt as weak as a newborn. I yelled to him to put his feet on the side of the car and push, to help me get us away from the car. Remember, we had to go UP the slippery wet slope, and he was dead weight, figuratively speaking.

At last the other motorist, a middle-aged woman dressed as if coming home from the office, can running down the slope. She grabbed one arm, I the other and we pulled. We moved him maybe a foot. Again, pull!  Another foot. It was then a red pickup came to a stop up on the side of the road and a man came running down to help. “1-2-3, pull!” I shouted. Two feet this time. “Again!” I hollered, and we moved him another two feet. Windows and tires exploded and the black smoke billowed from the car. At last we came to the shoulder of the road. I wanted to keep moving him further away from the fire as I was afraid of an explosion. The man who stopped to help was afraid we would injure the motorist further and didn't want to be sued, so he got back in his truck and drove away. The five more minutes it took for the emergency folks to come were the longest moments of my life.

The fire trucks and ambulance arrived and took the man away. I later found out he had serious internal injuries and was in the hospital for several months, but survived. I also found out this same man had pulled a mother and her two children from a burning car decades earlier when he was a truck driver and came upon the accident. I hoped fate stopped right there.

And if that wasn't enough, I also found out the woman who came to assist had lost her husband in a car crash on that very same road some years earlier (he had a heart attack while driving and died instantly). She was a passenger in the car and helplessly watched as their car burst into flames. Firefighters were able to extract her husband in time. I can't imagine the fear in her heart on that day, nor the memories. She is a true hero.

She and I were given awards for saving the man’s life by the County Sheriff’s Department later that year. It still doesn’t seem real to me. But what is real is that I learned what courage means, the ability to face your fear and still do what needs to be done. And I take that lesson all the way. I now believe I can do anything, no matter how much fear or discomfort I feel. I just think back to that day and remember...set the fear aside like a cool cup of coffee and move forward.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.  We can truly stand in our power if we remember these wise words.