Monday, August 31, 2009


August 31, 2009

I have to re-schedule the Lanyard Workshop/Planning Session set for this Friday (9/4). My aunt had a turn of bad health, and my mom and I decided to visit her this weekend. We will resume the following Friday (9/11). By then I will definitely need to re-stock the inventory. I took a dozen to Tomball on Saturday and will have 100 lanyards headed to Houston this weekend. I need to send another 25 or so to Indiana, and of course these don't include the individual orders we need to fill.

Thanks to everyone for all their help with these monster orders: particularly, Kristen and the PACAA workshop in Pennsylvania, Terri and Amy in College Station who help each other follow one of the mottos of Erin's Dream Lanyards ("Friends don't let friends bead alone."), Laura, the champion and record-holding lanyarder (who is personally responsible for making 100 lanyards over the past few months), Mary Ann, Madge, and Janice who have helped with the finishing effort for this collection. And thanks to all my other beaders and lanyard hustlers. We are making a big difference, and from what I can tell from messages I'm getting, many more people would like to figure out a way to pitch in.

I am working on ways to make that easier. In the meantime, email works great if you need lanyards, want to make lanyards or supply beads, need information, or have ideas you want to share.

Tomorrow is my first day back in the classroom since last December. Willie and Teddy have done their best to keep my mind off the return.

Willie noticed (wrong verb, but I can't think of a stronger one, perhaps tumbled to, discerned, discovered? Is there a verb form of Eureka?) that one of our neighbors--no, not Mr. Goat-keeper or Mrs. Emu-keeper--released a herd of domesticated bunnies into Willie's Wildnerness recently (I don't know why, but he does this occasionally when he gets tired of feeding the herd and cleaning their pens). Anyway, the nature area behind the pond where Willie likes to cavort and sniff good dogly odors has all of a sudden morphed into Willie's Wilderness Wonderland of Soon-To-Be-Feral Hasenpfeffers.

I took him out for a spin down to the compost pile the other afternoon, and when I turned left at the end of the driveway towards the compost pile, he bolted right. By the time I caught up with him, he had covered about 300 yards. I found him by following the huge scores left in the dirt as he gobbled up the ground in huge, galloping strides. He called it his "scratched earth" policy. I think I can still hear echos of his call to me from the distance "catch me if you can."

I will say that he has convinced me that he has overcome the disability caused by his recent cervical stenosis flare up. Those weeks of limping and subdued behavior were a front to get me to let down my guard.

Teddy's approach has been subtler, but no less effective. Her first form of misdirection to distract me from my impending return to work involved a purloined loaf of blueberry/peach bread. . .left unguarded out of sight, but not out of Teddy's range on the counter by the stove. I didn't even notice its disappearance until Wednesday morning when Walter wanted to know where I stored it when I put away groceries. I found scraps of wrapper scattered around back in Davis's room, but not even a crumb of breakfast bread. Every morning since then, Walter has looked down at Teddy and said "A little slice of blueberry/peach bread sure would taste lovely with my first cup of coffee, don't you think Teddy?"

Yesterday, I caught Teddy in flagrante delicto (see meaning number 1, not meaning number 2 in Merriam-Webster). I found her red-handed (red-pawed?) behind almost shut cabinet doors under the kitchen sink, trash can tumbled over, the powerful scent of canned tuna wafting through the kitchen. Only her plumed tail visible. Dogs in trashcan? Nothing new. Twelve pound dog in upended trashcan, wedged in tight space, with dog-protection rubber bands still around the doorknobs of the cabinet doors where the trashcan is stored? We have had dogs in the house for the entire twenty-five years of our married life, including labs, a rottweiller, and some pretty effective chow hounds. NONE OF THEM ever raided the trashcan under the sink, even if we left the doors wide open, much less had them snoot themselves past taut rubber bands holding the doors firmly shut. Does anyone sell burglar bars for the trashcan cabinet?

Actually, I think they have been watching C-SPAN a little too much. When Teddy saw that I had work clothes, not house shorts on when I came down this morning, she hopped onto my lap and presented my with a petition. She and Willie have demanded that I hold a Town Hall meeting so they can air their grievances. I think they just want to make sarcastic signs and harangue at me. I may just let them, though experience with recent townhall events tells me that they don't actually want to hear my explanation, and problably won't listen to me, even a little bit. Maybe I can postpone.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


August 27, 2009

I've fielded some calls and e-mails about plans for the weekly lanyarding workshop now that school has started back up (and I hope you all had a great first week back).

Here is the plan for this week:

I have between 125 and 150 lanyards from the Pennsylvania workshop and a local workshop that are beaded, but not finished, and three large orders to fill. Therefore, this week, August 28, I am having a finishing workshop. If you have a crimping tool and know how to use it, come on over--after school or after work.

Here is the plan for next week:

Lanyarding has spread significantly since Erin started our group last spring. Everyone who is interested in helping with planning is invited to come over on September 4 for a planning meeting. Again come over after school or work or as soon as you can. If you don't like to plan, but like to bead, you can come, too.

Here's the plan for the rest of September and Beyond:

Even though we are a little up-in-the-air about how often to continue our regular lanyard workshop (right now, I'm thinking of odd numbered Fridays, so in September that means the 11th and the 25th), I am currently scheduling workshops at your place on your schedule. So, if you have a youth group, scout troop, soccer team, margarita drinking club, or service organization who would like to make lanyards, give me an email (, and I'll coordinate schedules with you. Remember, September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.

Like I mentioned, I have a generous stock of lanyards so if you would like to carry some to your school or workplace to show off and stimulate interest, let me know.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


August 26, 2009

My Congressman, Chet Edwards, showed he was a patient, gracious, and I have to say, brave man. He stood up and answered all questions--some many quite hostile--for two hours in front of 1200 people and maintained his poise. If you don't understand what this means, you have probably been on vacation and had the national news off of several weeks. I had the amazing opportunity to introduce him tonight at the Health Care Town Hall he was holding.

When I visited with Chet backstage beforehand, he thanked me for my willingness to introduce him and apologized for asking me to do something so hard. I told him that compared with other things I've faced this didn't seem that hard.

Here's what I said and here is a link to the entire town hall first hour of the actual video (for my intro, skip the commercial and go forward into the video about 40 seconds) and here is the second hour.

Good evening and welcome. I’m Vickie Buenger, an almost lifelong resident of Brazos County. Many of you know me better as Erin’s mom. My daughter, Erin, died this April after fighting cancer for seven years. She was almost twelve. It is because of her that I am here tonight.

I have the pleasure, privilege, and honor to introduce to you a man long on credentials: he’s a nine-term U.S, Congressman, representing the 17th district of Texas, a senior member of both the House Budget and Appropriations Committees, and Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition, he serves on the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, as vice chair of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, and co-chairs the House Army Caucus.

You could get this information from his website or resume. I’d like to introduce the man I know through my daughter Erin with whom he shared warm respect and mutual admiration. She viewed him not only as her Congressman, but as a great person and a great friend. She admired him as an attentive listener and a caring and thoughtful person.

Here’s the story of the first time Erin and I met Chet, in her own nine-year-old words, which she felt compelled to send to The Eagle, so everyone else could know about their Congressman, too:

“I went to Chet Edwards’ office in Washington D.C. to ask for his help with a bill about pediatric cancer research. We were scheduled for a short meeting, but he gave us more time and even made people wait while we finished talking. He listened to me and my mother and took what I had to say seriously. He is good to me, and I bet he will be good to you, too.”

She left out the part that impressed her the most that day. He kept a big bowl of Skittles in him office and shared them with her as we talked.

As their friendship deepened and grew, we got to know many facets of Chet. He was a true family man and dad–Dining in the MSC at a pre-game lunch, between rapidly flowing conversation and clattering forks, Chet looked over and noticed Erin, sitting at his side, was eating everything on her plate, except her piece of roast beef. Without missing a beat, he reached over and cut her meat into bite-sized pieces for her and without a word about it, continued his conversation. Now, I don't think cutting other people's meat is necessarily a skill you have to hone to be a good Congressman (in fact, it might bother your colleague if you cut up his meat for him at a Congressional banquet), but it sure told me that Chet was a clued-in dad and that he cared about people.

As a fifth grader Erin was chosen to teach her fellow students about how a bill becomes a law. She wrote Chet for his advice, and learned that he would be in town the day she had to teach. So instead of advice, she asked him to come to her school to help her out, adding in her email to him “and you would be a great visual aid.” In fact, he did help her co-teach and was the best visual aid any fifth grader ever had.

We have this caring, thoughtful person with us this evening, Erin’s “Best Adult Friend” and our Congressman, Chet Edwards.

Monday, August 24, 2009


August 24, 2009

My sister has asked me to do an entry that features a topic that many of my readers who have connections to pediatric cancer will find familiar, and because that group has both experience with the topic and are, in general, made of hearty stock, they would not faint nor shrink away. However, some of my readers are, let's say, less experienced, so to protect their innocence as well as their squeamishness, I will speak (write) obliquely. You may still want to skip this entry entirely.

If I were to write this entry:

I would tell you about what happened when my fifth-grade self ate two and a half dozen batter-fried shrimp.

And about the night my freshman year in high school when I traveled with the varsity track team. We stopped at a diner for a late night supper. . .teens at one long table, adults across the room. I was pumped to be with the team (mostly very handsome, cool, fit, young men), but also uncharacteristically shy. At some point during the meal, I glanced towards the adult table and saw one of the men resting his elbow on the table and his cheek on his hand. He had a lit cigarette between "tall man" and "pointer." I've seen pictures of people with tracheotomies, smoking through the hole in their neck, but I had never seen someone smoking out of their ear. This cracked me up just as I took a very large swig of tea. I lost my breath and couldn't control my laughter, and in a matter of moments, I had blessed the table.

I also painted all the walls in our bathroom once, when in my great rush to make it in time, I ran, grabbed the doorjam for leverage, spun myself around, and managed to do what divers and skaters would consider a 360. I don't think a shotgun or machine pistol could match my range.

Not that all the stories I have about this topic involve me. I was once the designated driver for my friends who went to the hurricane races. On the way home, I checked my rearview mirror and noticed one of them had undressed and was holding all her clothes out the open window about to drop them out. Luckily, I had spare workout clothes in the trunk.

Davis had the inauspicious luck to get sick at school on the first day of fourth grade. I barely convinced him to go back when he felt better. At the time he thought he would prefer going through the remainder of his life with a third grade (plus half a day) education. I suppose that would have saved on college tuition.

Erin, of course, had her own experiences with "sharing" and her own way of talking about it. None, however, were as cute as my four-year-old niece's comment last week, when she explained to my mother that "There I was, and my beef stew just came jumping out of my mouth."

Okay, I'm sorry. I should have kept all this to myself, but I had to share.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


August 20, 2009

I know someone will visit this site today and need some inspiration. Try this and see if it helps.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hyper Miling/Hyper Smiling

August 19, 2009

Things are really heating up on all my fronts: health care, lanyard blitz, and oh nooo! the start of school. Luckily, I have a new wingwoman (an incidentally, I now know why those photographers that make art of new cars earn so much money and appreciation).

Now you know why I can hyper mile and hyper smile, simultaneously.

Monday, August 17, 2009


August 17, 2009

I'd like to focus today on the power of spirit (and glass beads). Earlier this summer I got an email from a woman I had never met. Kristen Smith wrote and ask me if it would be presumptuous of her to have a lanyard workshop in Pennsylvania or if making lanyards was reserved for Erin's "real" friends. I could only imagine Erin's joyous reaction to a college woman asking to be her friend and teach others how to make lanyards for pediatric cancer! I told her, of course she could host a lanyard workshop, and that I would help.

I wasn't sure how I would pull off teaching her the process, getting beads and lanyard starts to her 1500 miles away, or any of the other myriad details that running a workshop that was going to produce about as many lanyards in one night as our group had made all year. With a lot of help and patience, she pulled it off. A couple of weeks ago, in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, teen leaders from YMCA programs in six states convened, for camp, fun, and a little lesson in compassion and community service. Here's Kristen (on the left):

Here's her cause:

And here's what happened, in her own words (you can also read her blog regularly):

I would say that our Erin Dream Lanyard endeavor was a huge success!! The night itself was full of glitches, as most special events at PACAA are, however we ran things as smoothly as we possibly could. One of our biggest issues was the time constraint. By the third group that came through, we were smoothly churning out finished lanyards, but the first two groups that went through (which equals about 40 teens) didn't get to finish their lanyards because we were still working out the kinks. I am so thankful for my co-staff members who were down in that basement with me, sweating to death and attempting to direct traffic, dispense beads, tape ends of wire, organize finished lanyards so that they wouldn't get tangled, and pat my shoulder every once in awhile and say, "Kristen, breathe!" It was an amazing night, and I am so incredibly proud of those kids and the interest they showed in Erin, her fight against Neuroblastoma, and her fundraising efforts.

The night had a few touching moments as well. There was one group who's explanation got cut short when the demo lanyard I was holding slipped from my hand (I was holding the tape, and my hands were sweating so the tape just slide right off) and all the beads went EVERYWHERE. As about 5 leaders helped me pick up the beads, I asked if there were any questions, just to fill the time it was taking to find the beads. One boy asked, "Is Erin Dead?" I had carefully explained to all of the other groups that Erin had passed away in April, but I hadn't reached that part in my speech yet and his purely innocent and honest question caught me off guard, especially because I was flustered from dropping a lanyard in front of 40 leaders and 8 staff members. I answered, "Yes, Erin passed away in April. She fought her cancer for so many years and her body got very tired." I watched the boy who asked the question stare at the ground for a few minutes, and the two boys on either side of him patted him on the back. Later on, the three of them sat in the corner making lanyards and actually talking about pediatric cancer, and who they'd ever known that had cancer. It was a great moment for me, and really made me feel like I had made the right decision, to make Erin Dream Lanyards at PACAA. It was a lot of work, and I may have overestimated exactly how many we could make and how smoothly it would run, but I had two ultimate goals in doing it: 1. To help Erin's family stock up on plenty of lanyards. and 2. To show these teens that they can do something as small as putting beads on wire to be sold, and that can change the world. I tried to stress how incredibly important it is to raise money for Neuroblastoma research and family support, because it is a rare cancer and not enough attention is paid to pediatric cancer, let alone NB.

Unfortunately, because of the confusion, I needed the staff members who came through to help with organizing, so they didn't get to make lanyards - although a some of them did make them later in the week when we had some free time. This also cut down on our total number made, however, it was more important at the time for them to be helping me help the kids make them!

Numbers from the night:
316 = dollars worth of beads
170 = wire starts
160 = styrofoam trays
5 = staff members running/helping the station (Me, Tim, Dan B., Rachel, and Meaghan)
122 = teen leaders
6 = groups of teens
48 = finished lanyards
50 = unfinished lanyards
2 = number of times I teared up during the event
2 = number of times a lanyard was accidentally mishandled and beads rushed to the floor
3 = number of times someone connected on their own that Erin had the same cancer as Liam

Here are a few sneak peaks of some of the finished lanyards!

I've been working on those unfinished lanyards on and off for the last few weeks. It's actually pretty relaxing to just put on some music and string away. I also find it kind of interesting to see these unfinished lanyards, because I have to try to figure out where that particular teen was going with the order of the beads. Some of the lanyards are absolutely gorgeous, some are more manly, and some are kind of random. I saw so many boys making beautiful lanyards - which totally took me by surprise. I also saw some girls helping the guys pick out what would be great. One of my favorite quotes from the night was: Boy: "I don't know what colors to go with" Girl: "Choose colors that you think your mom would like" Boy: "Well, she doesn't have a favorite color" Girl: "Then make it green, since that was Erin's favorite color" ... I just liked that because it proved that they were actually listening when I was talking! :-)

So that's pretty much it! I was excited to discover a few days ago that there is a new facebook group for Erin Dream Lanyards, so I'm going to direct our leaders to that website, since an incredible number of them are on facebook. I also have a few people who took some unfinished lanyards with them, and they have them done now, so those will be coming in the mail soon.

All in all, the night was great, many lanyards were made/almost finished/started, and hopefully all of those leaders felt like they were doing something meaningful and amazing, because they were!

With September comes Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. It's absolutely time to spread the word. Arm yourself with facts.

Don't wait. Do like Kristen did and take some action. Let's Do It!

Friday, August 14, 2009


August 14, 2009

Have you noticed I don't twitter? Impossible. Nothing I could possibly say comes out in less than 140 characters. For one thing, I don't like to abbreviate. I can abbreviate, I just don't (NOTE: I'm not making a veiled reference to long-windedness here, which is another trait I hold in spades). Look at my class notes from college (didn't you save yours in the attic, just in case?). I write out all the words, not even an ampersand (&) instead of the word "and." Sometimes you will even see "United States," as if I might get confused about what I meant by "U.S." when I took my American history notes. My grocery list has toilet paper, not T.P. I sometimes believe I am just preternaturally disinclined to shorten words. Not a very good fit with twitter.

You may also note that I have a tendency to digress--another strike against twittering. Oh, well, as the twenty-first century passes me by, I'll just sit here with my buggy whip and manual typewriter and entertain myself.

If I did twitter, however, I would have had a lot to tell you this week. First, you need to click over to The Davhee Repore. He has issued a sudoku (speaking of digression, I have never spelled sudoku correctly the first time. I always write soduko, then look at it, pronounce it silently, backspace over it, and get it right the second time) challenge. Give it a try. Those of you looking for more photos and/or information about EVI, I'm sorry to disappoint. She was a lovely person and the perfect house guest. I hope we visit with her again soon, but you'll have to take it up with Davis or EVI if you want more information.

I have also had a lot going on within the health care arena this week. I have been frustrated with the rumors and misinformation that spread so fast. Just like I go to when I hear claims that I suspect are urban legends or old wives tales (for example, click here if you want to know whether your mom told you the truth when she said, "it takes seven years for swallowed chewing gum to pass through your digestive system."), I needed to find a place where I could check out assertions about the pending health care legislation. I have found the website, run by the Annenberg Center for Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, particularly helpful in deciphering the truths, half truths, and misconceptions that abound. I have added a link on the left of a few sample issues they have addressed. Walter used this site when he responded to an unresearched letter in The Eagle from earlier this week. I'll link it here when The Eagle updates its website.

I would have also twittered about finishing a draft of
the report I have worked on this summer thanks to the help of many Erin Home Page readers and their friends. If you are interested, leave me your email address in the comment section and I will send you a summary draft of U.S. Health Insurance Issues According to Parents and Families. Here's the gist of it, or what I call the Big Five:
  • Most people have insurance. Some people love their policies; others wish it covered more and/or cost less. No matter how bad their policy is, they would not consider doing without insurance.
  • For insured families with catastrophically or chronically ill family members, insurance seems to work for treatment issues, though not necessarily for drugs, devices, or ancillary services like physical therapy. Inadequate policies scrimp on comfort expenditures, like anti-nausea medicines or hearing aids. The need to maintain coverage creates enormous pressure on these families because loss of coverage would be devastating.
  • Costs are going up in every area and for everybody with no sign of slowing.This concerns most people.
  • Medicaid works for basic care, but has extremely weak record keeping and a difficult-to-navigate set of rules and forms for eligibility. Many doctors will see Medicaid patients once, then refer them elsewhere for follow-up. This makes continuity of care difficult, particularly for complex cases. Medicare seems to work better.
  • The uninsurable have few options. Most without insurance avoid investigating their health issues until they can no longer ignore them. They have poorer health outcomes.
We also launched a Facebook Group called Erin's Dream Lanyards (and Manyards) to spread the lanyard initiative a little further. September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, and we would like to use lanyards as a way to raise awareness and donations for the cause. Of course, we will continue to have lanyard workshops at my house on Friday afternoons at 3:00 for a while (though we may make a new plan once school starts). We have a couple of very large orders to fill and perhaps even larger opportunities on the horizon.

I am definitely available to come to your scout troop, service organization, youth group, or happy hour with friends to run a private lanyard workshop, or I can send you a powerpoint that shows you the steps to follow. I can also provide samples to you to show at your school or workplace if you think you know people who might like an artful or whimsical lanyard and who would like to support a good cause.

Finally, I have fielded some questions this week about the split between the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation and Lunch for Life. I have always thought of them as practically interchangeable, and it has saddened me greatly that they will not continue to work together towards the goals they share. I think they are still mired in the details of how to separate the two entities. In the meantime, I have linked the lanyard order process to the CNCF online donation system.

Well, I shouldn't have began the last paragraph finally, because here's another "finally." I have a secret that is currently on a boat from Asia headed my way. She is a new, Barcelona red 2010 Prius. It is the car Erin and I dreamed of and plotted to get since last summer. I'm trying to think of a name for her.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


August 9, 2009

With a Chipotle right across the street from Texas Children's Hospital, it seemed like a natural place for us to get takeout when Erin was in-patient as a five year old. To my surprise, she rejected every item from the menu that I brought her, and I had no clue as to why. Later, when she had a more nuanced vocabulary and a more experienced palate, I learned that she detested cilantro. I could accept that, but I didn't really understand it.

This summer I read an explanation that shed light on the subject. The local paper carried a syndicated story from the Baltimore Sun in the Food Section one Wednesday about cilantro, making a bold statement:

"Many people love the herb. Just as many, it seems, hate it. There appears to be no middle ground, and the reason for that just might come down to genetics."

Apparently, people who hate cilantro (did you know there are "I hate cilantro" haikus, t-shirts, and blogs) might have a genetically based inability to smell certain odors, which the body interprets as flavor when food’s involved. The condition is called specific anosmia. To this portion of the population, cilantro smells, and therefore, tastes like soap.

This seemed to explain Erin's aversion to Chipotle, since almost every dish comes with a hefty measure of cilantro. Yet, the solution bothered me. Why? Because I could hardly believe there were any odors that Erin couldn't smell. She had the most enhanced sense of smell I have ever observed.

An example:

I live on a private lake in Bryan, Texas. There are twenty lots around the lake and all but a couple have homes with families living in them. One day when Erin had just turned four, she, and my mom, and I were out walking the dogs. We had gone off the road and entered the trail. We spied a nondescript, white handkerchief caught on a yaupon shrub and wondered who it belonged to. My mom and I examined it closely, but could see no sign of ownership or even that it had ever been used. Erin reached for it and sniffed it. "This," she announced, "belongs to Marvin," a retired neighbor up the road. My mom and I looked at it again, maybe expecting to see his initials, but again saw nothing identifying.

"Are you sure?"


"How do you know?"

"It smells just like him."

Which led me to wonder what Marvin smelled like, because I had never noticed. I took a tentative whiff of the handkerchief, and smelled absolutely nothing. A few minutes later, however, when we showed him the handkerchief, Marvin claimed it as his own.

There are a lot of things parents burst with pride about, but having a child with super odor detection capabilities doesn't usually make anyone's top five list. When kids play superhero on the playground, they don't ordinarily choose smell intensity as their superhero superpower. Why, then, am I bringing this up?

I think she transferred her olfactory powers to me when she died. I used to have run-of-the-mill, if not a poor sense of smell. I didn't really notice bad odors unless they were overpowering. Heck, I live with dogs, who on any particular day might smell like pond scum, bird poop, or manly generic dog scent. If my nose worked well, I would probably throw up whenever I walked in my house.

Some time after Erin died, I started noticing smells I hadn't noticed before. One night I detected a whiff of peach on Walter's chest after we went to bed. He had eaten peach yogurt earlier, spilled a drop, wiped it clean, and then changed out of that shirt into his pajamas. I knew none of this, only that I could smell peach. I can catch a whiff of lightly scented flowers that I never noticed before. I can smell the biscuits in the oven about two minutes before the timer goes off.

I think it's kind of neat to have this trait? skill? talent? passed on from Erin. Or at least I did until the last couple of weeks. Recently, I haven't needed enhanced powers of smell to interact with my world. In fact, I have wished my old snoz worked less well. . .a lot less well. First, there was the ammonium nitrate explosion with its accompanying rank scent. Then, there was the time last week that I forgot to leave the dog protective device (rubber bands) on the cabinet doors where we store garbage can. The tang of salmon skin strewn around the house can overpower even mediocre smellers. The worst? A goat drowned in the lake on Friday (and Willie had absolutely nothing to do with it, I promise), and our neighbors (whom I have written about before) chose to store the carcass on the open ground right across the fence from us. Merriam-Webster's doesn't have a long enough list of synonyms for stench to describe what this is like. I have desperately been trying to dial back my newly acquired super sense of smell.

Unfortunately, I think it's here to stay. That's why I'm glad I didn't go with my mom and her friend Jo Anne on their birding expedition Saturday morning. They didn't spot any kites at the sod farm, but on the way they did shoot this photo (catfish heads, if you can't tell). I'm glad it's not scratch-and-sniff.

Did that make you say Hmm?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


August 5, 2009

What do you borrow from your neighbor?  An egg to complete a recipe?  Some other common kitchen item?

Today, I knocked on my neighbor's door and asked to borrow her vacuum cleaner, a somewhat startling request, since I own two of my own.  "The Princess," my utility canister vac had worked all day, sucking dog hair off furniture, spider webs out of corners, and dust off or hard to reach places.  We had used the crevice tool, the furniture brush, the small head (with and without the brush attachment), and had already stored her away for next time.  I switched to the "go to" vacuum in the house (who is in the platinum "frequent sucker" club, because we are dog owners who live in the country).  I plugged it in the usual outlet I start with, then changed plans, deciding to start in Davis's room and work my way forward.  I now know the true meaning of pull the plug--especially considering that when I pulled it, only one prong came out rendering it absolutely and completely unusable. . . at least today.  

I thought to myself, that is why I own two great vacuums.  I pulled "The Princess" out and got busy.  After a room and a fifth (20% of the room, not a measure of liquor), the beater bar on "The Princess" gave out.  Dang.

Why should this bother me?  We have a guest coming tomorrow.  It's a friend of Davis's.  I want things to look good, so I knocked on my neighbor's door at dinnertime and asked if she would let her vacuum come play at my house until lunchtime tomorrow.  Blessedly, I was able to arrange a playdate.

What's the strangest thing you've ever borrowed?  Please don't tell me it was a chicken.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chicken Out/Chicken In

August 3, 2009

As I considered ways to set up the punch line to the story I wanted to tell you today, naturally, I thought of chickens. And the more I thought of chickens, the more I realized how often they have appeared in my life, and how their appearance usually portended no good.

As a small child, my mom often sang me a cute, little tune from Guys and Dolls meant to make me feel warm and loved and happy:

I love you, a bushel and a peck!
A bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck!
A hug around the neck, and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap, and I'm talkin' in my sleep.
About you.
About you!

Since I knew very little about units of measure at the time, I convinced myself the song was about a chicken coming to peck me. It did not evoke particularly warm, loving, or happy feelings. Living on a farm when I was about five did nothing to acquit chickens. Admittedly, they weren't as bad as the guineas, who chased me while scolding me with their high-pitched and incessant jabbering. No, the problem with real-life farm chickens is that they regularly got their heads chopped off on the stump in the back yard and then our landlord's wife, Mrs. Boettcher, would just sit there in the shade, plucking out the feathers and chitchatting away, like it was perfectly natural to hold a warm, dead, headless chicken on her lap.

Chickens don't always attack children (although as a side note, Davis and I saw a painted panel on the Dentzel Menagerie Carousel on Ontario Beach in Rochester last week that definitely depicted a giant chicken or possibly a rooster attacking a small child, who had no recourse but to stand with his hands raised, wearing a look of shock and dismay), and since 1965 I have not had to carry on a conversation with someone holding a recently dead chicken in a feathered or unfeathered state.

That doesn't mean that chickens worked out for me as I aged. Of course, in elementary school, I always rose to the challenge of playing chicken at recess. At my school (for you locals, this was at College Hills) playing chicken meant that two competitors would approach each other from opposite ends of the monkey bars and kick or grab at each other until one fell off. My special move, that led me to many triumphs, was to move quickly across the bars, swing towards my opponent, and wrap both my legs around his or her waist, then bounce and wiggle until their grip slipped. In one championship, I had to face Danny Merkel, reigning chicken champion and largest kid in the grade. I was on the little, bitty side. Everyone thought I was toast because mass usually trumped agility in chicken. I struck so quickly that to his mortification Danny fell faster than a load of stones. He immediately said that championships were always best two out of three matches, which I cockily agreed with. Then Danny proceeded to use my own strategy on me. I ended up lying on my back on the brick-hard ground with Danny straddling my chest, twice.

As the years rolled past, chickens continued to play a small, but unpleasant role in my life. My father hosted poker parties at our house from time to time when I was in high school
(if you are an IRS agent, they usually played for match sticks, or if they played for something of value, my father always broke even). Once, when my mom and sisters were away, he let me hostess the party, which basically meant that I fetched plates of summer sausage and salty snacks from the kitchen and kept the, uh, malt-based beverages iced down.

At some point in the evening, one of the players got a hankering for fried chicken. He grabbed a handful of . . .matches. . .from his stack, handed me the keys to his car and sent me to Ron's Crispy Fried Chicken on the main drag. I protested that I was only 14 and didn't even have a learner's permit, and he waved me off, his concentration already deep into the next hand. I took the keys and . . .matches. . .and headed over to Gordon Street to Ron's. I parked without hitting anything (no drive through) and fairly quickly I had boxes of fried chicken in hand. It had gone so smoothly, in fact, that I thought I might just cruise the drag past the Dairyland parking lot, where all the extremely cool upper classmen hung out, before heading home.

Lo and behold, as I pulled out of Ron's and joined the flow of traffic moving down the street past the parked cars, driving with my right hand, letting my left elbow rest nonchalantly on the open window, and mightily hoping someone was checking me out, people at Dairyland started waving at me and making what I took to be "cool kid" gestures. I returned a gesture, maybe a thumbs up, and kept driving, thrilled that I had gotten noticed. When I got to the next block, turned off the main street and headed back to the neighborhood, I realized I couldn't see where I was driving. No headlights. Which I guess was the secret message the cool kids had been signaling to me.

In my first year of teaching at Vanderbilt, I finally got a handle on the negative encounters I had had with chickens over the years. I taught a business case about how to price contact lenses for chickens. You know that the concept of "pecking order" comes from chickens and other farm fowls who follow a dominance hierarchy which basically allows them to peck someone lower in the order bloody just because they can. In commercial flocks, farmers resort to beak trimming (a labor intensive, and possibly not fun job) to keep hens from hurting one another. The case's main question was whether you could manufacture and install contacts for chickens that would blur their vision enough to disrupt their awareness of the hierarchy (basically they wouldn't see well enough to recognize each other or any newcomers). Just the thought of contacts for chickens provided me with mirth enough to forgive chickens and move them to a sort of neutral plane where I didn't love or loathe them.

These days, I don't think of chickens very often. We eat chicken, but probably less often than the average American. When Erin was five and wanted her Aunt Jan to paint her toenails red, I did tell her that if she had red toenails, chickens would come and peck her toes. I regret telling her that and probably shouldn't have, even if I believed it. Recently, I injured myself slightly doing the chicken dance too enthusiastically, but I didn't hold a grudge.

Something happened last week that may increase both the frequency that I think of chickens and the esteem I hold for them. Some of you know that Walter has had a rough summer with his knees. He's a seven-day-a week workout guy. He gave up basketball, his true sports love, around the time that Davis had his tonsils out and had to stop running just a couple of years ago because of the stress on his knees. Since then, he has adopted a full range of other activities including swimming, using the elliptical trainer and exercise bike, walking, kayaking, and doing super-slow weight lifting. Over the past six weeks almost all of these activities started bothering his knees--even swimming. He tried every form of self-help he could think of: special knee braces (you can hardly imagine the number a variety of knee braces you can purchase on the internet), more and different stretches, and N-SAIDs. He iced his knees every evening to the point that I considered wearing a protective layer of flannel pants when I went to bed at night. When his knees became a vacation-limiting factor, he decided enough was enough.

He made an orthopedist appointment (something he had avoided because he figured an ortho would advocate surgery as a first option, not last resort) by phone from Cambridge. He went to the appointment at 9:15 on Friday morning and by the afternoon he felt well enough to hit the Rec Center. We all heaved a sigh of relief.

The miracle cure (here comes the punchline, and it isn't "Dismantle your phone. Put all the parts in a brown paper bag. Go out on your lawn. Swing the bag over your head and scream like a chicken" which was the punchline to a rather famous episode from the old Dick Van Dyke Show.) was that the doctor shot both of his knees full of CHICKEN COMBS to rebuild his synovial fluid.

I'm feeling better about chickens already.

Did you make it this far? I had to write a long story so you would scroll down far enough to see that I have added an online order form for those of you who now see the start of school approaching and haven't yet ordered your 2009-2010 school year lanyard. Order early! Order often! We have a great inventory, thanks to our growing number of local beaders and to Kristen Smith and the leaders and campers at 2009 PACAA.

Here is another reward. Erin's school photo from this spring (taken in mid-to-late February, I think). Remember to think good thoughts about Lifetouch when they hit you up for rather expensive pics of your kids this fall.