Friday, August 31, 2007

Pushing the Limits of Tact

Well, MY tact, at any rate. Sometimes, I get in over my head. Like most people, I prefer to run around spreading sweetness and light; applying the principles of tough love to members of my extended family is out of my comfort zone. Yes, I know: welcome to adulthood, Kate.

Let's see...How to describe my cousin, A.? God, I give up. I love her and I like her; she's a sweet person, but the last smart choice she made was probably in about 1983. At any rate, she called me from Seattle today to tell me that she is leaving her fourth husband, to whom she has been married for one month. Rehab didn't work (wasn't it romantic, though, when he wrote her that cute proposal from the rehab center and they were married two days after he got out?), he's still using meth and then...well, he's not hitting her, but.... I was standing in my office when she told me this and felt the desire to shriek, "I TOLD YOU HE WAS A F***ING CREEP FROM THE VERY BEGINNING!", then throw the phone into a file drawer and slam it shut. But, should I file it under "D" for "Decisions, Bad"; "J" for "Jerk"; or "O" for "Oh, s***"?


Instead, I went outside to my branch office (the broken kindergarten chair in the school parking lot) and kept listening. "Yes, the things he's doing to you are abuse.....Yes, if he's using meth again, you need to get away.... Yes, I agree that, since you don't know a soul in Seattle, you should come back to SLC...You could probably get your old job back, if you asked for it...Oh, you're tired of that kind of work....hmmmm....well, sure, maybe something besides customer service....????? want to stay with us 'til you get back on your feet?...Right...Sure, I'll talk to Simon about it...."

So, then. There's no question that A. can stay with us - she's my own cousin. But let's see... how to tactfully say things like:
  1. What does your soon-to-be-ex husband think of this plan? Is he going to follow you to my house, sit in his car at the curb and call you over and over on your cell? Don't tell him where you're going.
  2. So, he's using meth again, but what about you? We have some house rules: No meth smoking, no meth cooking. We also have a rule against "borrowing" checks, credit cards or cash to buy meth. We're just funny that way.
  3. You can stay for us with a week, but then you need to go stay with your friend Susan for awhile.
  4. How much money do you have? Are you aware that we don't have any to lend you?
  5. Are you taking your anti-depressants? Are you going to lie in bed for days?
  6. No, I really don't like the idea of renting out the downstairs to you long-term.
OK, who is the wisest person I know? Who will know what I should say and do to be supportive and loving, yet set limits and expectations? Who will tell me how to parent my cousin? I need my mom. "Please leave your message after the beep." A little later: "Please leave your message after the beep." Where is the font of all wisdom, the gatekeeper of tact? Shopping in Milwaukee? In the church basement, whipping up a batch of Funeral Potatoes? Getting her wash-and-set at the local salon? Mom, call me and tell me the polite way to let A. know that she can't bring a U-Haul full of stuff here and store it in my basement until she finds Mr. Right Number Five.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So, if Harry Potter isn't Sophisticated...

...what is?

Some of you who read my blog know that occasionally I like to ask questions and collect responses. I'm in that sort of mood today.

When I was in Wisconsin last week, my sister-in-law told me that she found the Harry Potter books disappointing because they lack "sophistication". For some reason, I enjoy bickering about books with my friends, but not with my SIL. There's not much point in contradicting her, since "sophistication" is strictly subjective; not defined in my Abrams' Glossary of Literary Terms. I love my SIL, but she can be a little pretentious at times. I felt that, if we delved into this topic too far, it would bring out her less lovable side! However, I spent a lot of time thinking about this comment afterward.

So, in your opinion, what qualities make a story "sophisticated"?

IKEA, Continued

Last night, I got home from work to find that the black inner-tube vaaahhzz is now filled with bright red sticks. He has said nothing, and neither have I. The popular idom regarding the "elephant in the living room" will be forever supplanted in my family by the phrase "vaahhzz in the front hall".

Monday, August 27, 2007

Glad To Be Back, More or Less


Three things absolutely did not happen on my trip home to Wisconsin: I didn't take the kids over to Lake Michigan. I didn't take any photos. (Not one. Didn't take the camera out of its case. This happens to me when I'm overstimulated.) I also didn't ask my parents any difficult questions. Mom and I drank a couple of gin and tonics; Dad and I took turns reading favorite A.A. Milne poems out loud to each other and laughing (one doesn't get to say the word "blip" very much when reciting peotry, except in the case of A.A. Milne). No questions. I was so laid back, so non-confrontational. I was mellow and just smiled, even when:
  1. My sister-in-law said that she didn't think the Harry Potter series was very "sophisticated". ("Snob!" I thought.)
  2. My nephew told me that he'd love the chance to shake the hand of a great person like Dick Cheney. (I told him that I had once scratched the belly of Millie, beloved dog of Bush the Elder. My brush with fame.)
  3. I found out my niece works for a big, bloated HMO. (This was a tough one. I repressed the urge to claw her face off. We were in a restaurant and I didn't want to be gauche.)


I DID have lunch with John, and a few short hours of fun conversation, spent with my toes trailing in the healing waters of Lake Monona. Thanks John! Both for lunch (next time, I'm buying) and for BS-ing me about how I still look good after all these years.

I DID go up to our cottage by Wautoma, visited with my aunt and cousins, and went swimming. It is a pity that there are scarcely any lakes in Utah that are really good for swimming. Any Wisconsinite would be appalled to hear my children asking where the chlorine is and why they can't see their feet on the bottom. I like to stand still and let the minnows nibble my legs...for about 20 seconds, after which I can't tolerate the tickling any more. A cousin was telling me about spas at which people can experience exfoliation by minnow. How could anyone stand it?

I DID run. Once.

I DID sleep. A little.

I DID weed, when Mom wasn't looking. I was not permitted to clean, except maybe the kitchen after supper.

I DID canoe, although not with Dad. My sister-in-law and I dragged one of the canoes out of its home under the cottage and hauled it down to the bay. I was up near the bow and we were moving at a fairly good clip, so as not to waste our momentum. The water is low this year, and so no one bothered to set up the pier. I was headed purposefully to the water line and almost made it before being sucked down to my knees in black, flaky, loamy, fish-scented mud. My SIL came to a screeching halt, trying not to get dragged in with me. It took a few minutes of wriggling and pulling to extricate myself - we decided that the kids couldn't get into the canoe there or they might all disappear forever. They went over to the sandy swimming beach to wait for me while I climbed in and paddled over to pick them up. I probably haven't been alone in a canoe in 20 years. The kids are lucky I came back to shore - I really didn't want to.

I DID rummage in old photos. I even got to bring a favorite one (of my great- grandmother) back with me. My parents are in give-away mode. If there's anything old and musty that you need, go over to their place. The ice cream freezer never came up, but I did score:
  1. A soft and snugly quilt sewn by my great grandmother in the 1920s or so.
  2. A blue glass butter dish and sugar bowl. I'm sure they are just Depression glass and anyway, they both have nicks. But they were on the table up at the cottage when I was little, and they remind me of my grammy.
  3. Some bathroom tiles painted with whimsical fish. I'll bet Grandpa picked them up at an auction or something, thinking he'd tile the cottage bathroom with them. I don't know what I'm going to do with them, either - I'll think of something.
  4. A couple of interesting old books: a school geography text from 1877 with my great- grandfather's name in the front cover; and an old atlas without a publication date. The maps are odd. The one of North America shows Wisconsin to be part of "French Canada", but Wisconsin has been a state since 1848. Western Canada is uncharted. Someone wrote the date 1748 on it, but that can't be right...I'm going to take it to an antique book dealer here in SLC and see what he can tell me about it.
I did show some restraint. I did not take Dad's boyhood bedspread, chewed and pooped on by generations of mice. After some deliberation, I didn't take the collection of microscope slides from his medical school days. They're cool, but they'd sit in my basement just like they sat in his.

Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of "Antiques Road Show".


1. My e-mail is being replaced by a new e-mail in a couple of days, and there are a few million people who need to know. Agony.

2. The peach tree needs attention. It's heavy with fruit that's not quite ripe. The weight broke a limb, in fact. Si went out to deal with it and told me that we'd lost 136 peaches. He counted!?!

3. Tomatoes. I have my umpteenth pot of marinara simmering as I write.

4. Simon was going deaf from listening to music at pavement-cracking decibel levels. Plus it was Supertramp. It's a good thing someone didn't kill him.

5. Simon also need to be stopped from any further shopping at IKEA. He's driving me up the f***ing wall with this. I'm serious. He keeps going to IKEA and buying decor. I got home and found a new rug in the front hall. OK, I don't mind it. But there's also a vase. Not a vase, a vahzzz. It's about waist high and resembles a stack of tiny inner-tubes. Or a skinny black bee-hive. It blows. I hate it. AND! AND! Ooooh, this pisses me off. OK, he has a place on the bedroom floor where he piles stuff. The Mound. I don't like piles of stuff lying on the floor, so I pick The Mound up and put it on his nightstand. At IKEA he found a little tiny folding table (about knee-high and about a foot square) (Only $5! What a steal!) He's got it all set up and piles his stuff there instead. He asked me what I thought. Pfft. An elevated Mound is still a Mound. Why can't he just put his s*** away? Maybe if I let him crank a little vintage Genesis, the neighbors will kill him so I don't have to.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Early Morning Plane

I like flying early in the morning. The kids and I leave for Wisconsin at 7:15 AM tomorrow. I've got everything packed except the toothbrushes; I've got "surprises" in my carry-on to keep the kids amused from SLC to Phoenix and from Phoenix to Milwaukee. And Harry Potter. And Uno cards. I can't WAIT to see my mom and dad, whom I haven't seen in about 18 months. I even get to see all three siblings, although not all at the same time nor in the same place. My mom has got it all figured out (she always does...). She called me on Sunday and spent about half an hour talking to me about how we were going to go here and shop there; see this cousin and that in-law. My brother wants me to meet his new girlfriend. My newly married niece wants me to meet her husband. My brother and sister-in-law want to see me, but we need to go to their place in Oshkosh...Round and round it goes. What I wish I could do is:
1. See my old friend John (actually, that's in the works).
2. Go to our cottage near Wautoma to see my aunts and cousins and go swimming (looks likely as well)
But then things start getting sketchier...

3. Go running so as to enjoy the rich oxygen of lower elevation and feel like Wonder Woman.
4. Sleep.

And even less likely...
5. Go to Lake Michigan for a day at the beach.
6. Do some house cleaning for Mom, or better yet, some weeding. I love weeding.
7. Go canoeing with Dad.
8. More sleep.
9. Dig through old pictures and convince my parents that the antique ice-cream freezer would be best off with me after they die. :)

I always imagine myself asking questions, too. Questions I've wanted to ask them for ages, but never get up the nerve. One of these days, they really WILL die, and then I'll never know certain things. Do you ever feel like this? My family is one that lets the past recede into the past. There have been some bad things that have happened, but we don't talk about them. Not the really bad stuff. And I'm OK with that, if that's how Mom and Dad want it. But I do get tempted to bring things up sometimes. A good example: my parents divorced when I was 8, after 20 years of marriage, because my father had an affair and wanted to marry his mistress. After 5 years, he split up from his second wife, and after 8 more years, he persuaded my mom to take him back. That was almost 20 years ago. So they're either coming up on their 20th anniversary...or just had their 50th, depending on how you look at it. What's amusing about this (well, it's all amusing, now that it's over) is that, they never talk about it. And we kids don't either. If anyone asked my parents directly, I'm sure they wouldn't try to hide the fact of their one-time divorce, but we're sort of...smoothing the icing of our family history over THAT hunk of broken cake.

So, sometimes, I imagine myself saying, "Well, Mom, do you realize that I'm the same age now that you were when Dad left?" or what about, "What did he have to tell you to get you to forgive him?" or, "Hey, Dad, would you chalk up the whole divorce thing up to mid-life crisis?"

Oh, boy. Or, maybe I'll leave them alone about it. It's their marriage after all.

I had better get to bed. First, an apology. I want to express sorrow at the fact that I have not been to visit my blog buddies very much in the last week or so. Computer upgrade at work. Yuck. And now I'm going to my parents' house, where there is no computer! OMG. I will see about the public library, though. My hometown is pretty small (pop. 1,360), but the library just might have Internet. If so, I'll try to post and also to be more sociable about visiting. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for coming to read, even though I've been negligent. I'll be good again soon!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

How Do YOU Spell Relief?

Caution: venting.

I don't blog about my job very much; at least not the office politics. I love my work and my co-workers. Really. There is more to my school, though, than just my adult English as a Second Language program. There's an infant/toddler program, a preschool, and grades K-3. The K-3 program is no longer going to be joined with a school district as it was in the past. Starting next week, it will be a state charter school - basically a district unto itself. This means there's a lot going on to get ready for the transition. Do I understand that it's stressful? Of course. Do I think it's OK for the people involved the transition to run around biting the heads off everyone else? There are people (I'll bet you know some) who think that they have cornered the market on stress. Because she is under the gun, Jane Doe (as we'll call my beloved but infuriating coworker) will ride rough-shod over everyone else, and expect to be forgiven, consoled, let out of jail free. The rest of us have to stay out of her way. "I have to ask Jane something. S***! What kind of mood is she in?" As far as Jane is concerned, I don't know what stress is. How tough can my little job be, after all?

I don't think my job is a lot more stressful than most. I do have a lot of responsibility and a long "to-do" list, but so do lots of people. Because of the educational model we use, there are times when it can be incredibly fast-paced. Sometimes, it can get a little crazy.

Thursday night class, from 7-9 PM, was one of those nights. In addition to the usual controlled madness that makes our program tick, I had emergencies. Nights like that, I wish someone else were in charge.

1. A student came running in, just as classes were starting and said, "I need complain you." Our students don't complain much, so I was all ears. Looking absolutely wild-eyed, she said, "Husband car here boy bicycle kill!!" I'm used to trying to understand things that are 90% incomprehensible, but...
"Husband car here boy bicycle kill!!"
"KILL!?" (I clutch her arm.)
"Yes!" She is pointing out the door toward the parking lot. OMG. I head to the door. On the way, I switch to Spanish: "Your husband hit a boy on a bicycle here in the parking lot and killed him?"
"WHAT?!" (only she says, "Que?", since we're speaking Spanish.) "NO!"
Then comes the pantomime part, after which I understand that there are some neighborhood boys who, as a prank, are riding their bikes right up to people's cars as they pull into the parking lot. Then they fall to the ground, screaming in agony that they've been hit. This student's husband had been a victim of this prank and it had scared the crap out of him.
Oooohhhhh! I get it! I don't have to scrape a bleeding body off the sidewalk; I just have to yell at some boys! By this point, I was rather in the mood for that, but several other people had beat me to it. All righty, then. Back to our regular scheduled programming. For a few minutes.

2. The babysitter came running in from the playground, gasping, "We need an ambulance! M. fell off the monkey bars!" I know why she's frantic. This happened about a year and a half ago, and turned into a fairly big deal. Broken arm, resulting in a trip to the ER; uninsured single mother with no money; surgery for the little girl; a claim on the school's insurance; visits and calls from the adjusters, trying to find an "i" I hadn't dotted or a "t" I hadn't crossed; and a pile of bills that the mother couldn't understand because of her limited English. Neither could I, really. I was on the phone dealing with it almost every day. All this ran through my mind as I ran to the playground, to find that little M. had just had the wind knocked out of her. Found her mother, got her a bag of ice for her bruises, and back to our regular scheduled programming again.

3. Nine o'clock rolled around, and I was feeling that it had been what we call "a busy night". That means a lot of stuff happened unexpectedly. Then, the student who had reported the "husband car here boy bicycle kill" appeared again, looking even more frantic than before (if such a thing were possible). I guess that, during the hullabaloo earlier, her purse had been stolen from her car. Money, yes, but worse - all of the identification papers for everyone in the family were in there. Well, shiiiiit! Call the cops; no one at dispatch speaks Spanish and they don't understand her English; put her on speaker phone and interpret; she absently picks up the handset and sets it back down, cutting us off. Call the cops again and start over. Finally, I sent her home, because the cops are going to call her at that number to get a more complete report. I told the cops that it would help if they found someone who spoke Spanish... By this time, everyone else had gone home; I took my flashlight and started searching the parking lot. You know how it is: sometimes, thieves just take the cash and throw the rest away. I searched behind the dumpsters, along the chain link fence, under the bushes and the sleeping school buses. Nothing. I returned to my office and sat for a moment, staring straight ahead. There was a rapping on the window at about 10:15. Same student, coming to tell me that it was a huge misunderstanding. Her husband had had the purse the whole time. She's sorry to cause me trouble. Tempting as it would be to hop up and down like an angry Rumplestiltskin, I squeeze her hands and tell her that's great! It was - those documents would have been hell to replace.

A bit of a roller-coaster, really, but it's not much more stressful than a normal night. At the moment, we have 93 students, 73 volunteer tutors, 20 children in the babysitting and 12 staff, so there's always something interesting going on. I mean in addition to studying English.

Why am I describing this night? I'm expected to have a high tolerance for stress. If I started freaking out about things that happen, I'd scare away the students, the volunteers would all quit and the staff wouldn't like working with me any more. Then they'd stop launching screaming monkeys at me, no longer put plastic spiders on my keyboard. That's how the adult education staff deals with stress a lot of the time. Practical jokes and chocolate. Beats the hell out of screeching at each other. I'm glad I'm going on vacation next week. Maybe when I get back, "Jane Doe" will have removed the hissing cockroach from her ass.

Date with Sara

Sara and I went to Beans & Brews on Friday. We do this once a month. I have a friend with a teenage daughter and she sets aside private time with her daughter so they can talk if her daughter wants to talk. "Start early", she said. At least for now, we don't talk about anything important. I always get an iced chai latte, and she always gets an Italian soda - different flavor every time, though. This was "cookie dough" Italian soda. I like to pick up the free copy of City Weekly, so I can read "Ask A Mexican". This is a weekly column that answers people's burning questions about Latino culture. I think the guy who does it is enlightening to read, but also tongue in cheek. I learn a lot of Spanish slang and obscenity this way. City Weekly is SLC's "alternative" newspaper. Lots of ads featuring women in g-strings, smoking hookas. There are actually hooka cubs. Who knew?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Harry Wh*re

I predict an unfocused posting today. Cause: sleep deprivation. Don't tell Simon - he can't believe how little I seem to need.

First of all, WHY do little kids like to eat such gross stuff? They asked so politely at the store yesterday, so I let them pick something from the bakery to eat after supper. They both picked cookies with neon supermarket frosting. I had a nibble - they taste like s***. (BTW, I'm relatively new to the Blogoverse; do we get sanctioned in any way if we swear? I get tired of all these prissy asterisks.) Back to the kids. Look at them: blue teeth, tongues, lips... chins... Nate wanted to wallow in that cookie so badly that he ate all his salmon (which he claims to hate). Either that or he hid it really well. Simon and I looked for it when we were cleaning up from supper, and couldn't find it. I asked him if he stuffed it down his pants - he just laughed. Suddenly suspicious, I checked; it wasn't there.

I'm experiencing that fragile, suspended sensation that comes with complete exhaustion. I can't put Harry Potter down. I was up reading 'til 2:00 AM. I even pretended to go to bed at 12:30, because Si gives me s***t (I mean s***) for not sleeping enough. But once his breathing evened out, I crept out to the sun porch and curled up with HP for a while longer. If I do that again tonight, I might finish it. Then I'll be sad because it's been over. I'm not good at pacing myself with engrossing books. Slurp, and they're gone.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chocolate and Malt Pudding

In yesterday's post, I mentioned this pudding, and there was some interest in it, so I'll share the recipe with you. I LOVE PUDDING! I have a few different kinds that I make, and this one is particularly easy because it doesn't require eggs, so you don't have to worry that it will curdle.

2/3 cup malted milk powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
4 cups 1% or 2% milk
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
(Optional, but recommended) Whoppers (or Malteasers, depending on what part of the world you live in) to use as garnish

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium, heavy saucepan, stirring well with a whisk. Add the milk to the sugar mixture, one cup at a time, stirring well with the whisk after each addition to get the lumps out. Place the pan over medium heat and bring it to a boil. Once the milk starts getting hot, be careful to stir-use the whisk to make sure the milk isn't scorching to the bottom of the pan. Bring the milk mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down a little, but keep it bubbling for a minute or two, until it thickens up (keep stirring!). Remove the pudding from the heat. Add the chocolate chips and stir until they melt and blend into the pudding. Taste. Burn tongue. Taste again. Stir in the vanilla. BIG taste.

Serving Suggestions
At this point, you can just stand there at the stove and keep "tasting" until you've eaten most of it, after which you remember that maybe someone else would like some. What's left can be served hot, if you like hot pudding. Tell everyone that it's a pity that it's such a small batch, and that next time, clearly, you need to double the recipe.

If you like cold pudding, pour the pudding mixture into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Actually place the plastic wrap right on the surface of the pudding. This prevents a "skin" from forming as it chills. When you're ready, serve it up with a couple of smashed Whoppers (Malteasers) sprinkled on top of each serving. Supplement with additional pilfered Whoppers on the side as desired. Serves 6, if you're good and don't eat it at the stove like I do.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Being Nathan's Mom

Being Nathan's mom wasn't easy this weekend. In spite of the fact that Simon finished painting his room...And he now has sandstone arches on his wall a la southern Utah...

...still, the boy was, well...crabby. Swathed in an old tablecloth and armed with a plastic saber, Nathan battled adult oppression all weekend.

Maybe he just needs a haircut. That took quite a bit if fight out of Sampson, after all. I need to get that taken care of before I go to Wisconsin next week, or my mother will see to it for me.

Things got particularly tricky at dessert time. I had made chocolate malt pudding; I guess Nate appeared in the kitchen demanding some and was told by Si that he couldn't have any unless he asked politely. Typical small child, he only heard the "can't have any" part and went away wailing. He came to find me in another room and sat for awhile, looking mutinous. Then he buckled on his sword with great determination and muttered,"We're going to settle this once and for all." He strode back to the kitchen, looking so dangerous that I followed him to see what he was up to. He drew arms and shouted, "Dad, I'm going to give you ONE MORE CHANCE! Are you going to give me the pudding or not!?" "Nathan, as I said, you can have pudding if you ask for it politely." "Oh. Well, can I please have some pudding?" "Yes, now you may." He was completely deflated.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I'm a goddess, did you know? Look out. I can shoot lightning from my eyeballs.

I didn't go to my regular job today. I took a vacation day so I could do some (more lucrative)contract work for the State Office of Education. They contract with me a few times every year to train teachers from all over the state how to give a particular kind of English as a Second Language test. The training is seven hours long, so I'm knackered. I have to be evaluated by the participants after each training and send the evaluation forms to the Center for Applied Linguistics in DC. One of the people evaluating me today said I was "goddess-like" . OK, so that isn't quite the same: not a goddess, just goddess-like.

There is nothing more to tell about this day. I was at this training all day, and by the time I got home, the kids had taken off to spend the evening with friends at the zoo. They've just arrived home and have been tucked into bed with a chapter of Harry Potter. I'm so tired, though; I was messing up the voices and making Hermione's lines come out of Ron's mouth, etc...

For lack of material, I will do "high point / low point". Play along if you like and contribute your high and low points for the day.

Low Point: Crying when I heard on the radio this evening that rescue/recovery attempts of the miners in the Crandall Canyon Mine cave-in have still yielded no results.

High Point: Lying flat on my back on the lawn for a few minutes, gazing up at the sky through the leaves of my tomato plants.

Pretty unremarkable. Surely a goddess could conjure a little more excitement than that...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Embarrasing the In-Laws

My dad. Bless him. Does Boy Scouting have a "Freak Out The In-Laws" merit badge? He's earned it, and I'll bet he has no clue.

A couple of postings ago, I was speculating about my dad meeting up with my in-laws when he visited England for the Boy Scout World Jamboree.

MIL and FIL e-mailed Simon to say that they had indeed spent a "lovely" day sightseeing around Suffolk, but that they were SHOCKED at Dad's get-up. Per my expectation, he did arrive dressed in full Boy Scout regalia, including neckerchief, uniform shorts and knee socks. I can only wonder if he wore his Silver Beaver medal and his wide brimmed hat... The in-laws were appalled, especially since, according to them, people approached my dad all day and asked him about it. This was exactly what Dad wanted, I'm sure. A chance to share the story of scouting! Proud member of the Bay Lakes Council of Wisconsin! Care to try the Boy Scout handshake, anyone?

It's all just very un-British.

Monday, August 6, 2007

King's Peak Trip

Otherwise known as "I Fought the Boots and the Boots Won".

First off, I want to say that I had fun, and the rest of it doesn't matter. Much. I didn't get to the top of King's Peak, but not because of the problems I expected (weather, fear of falling, etc...). It was my boots, lovingly referred to in earlier blog entries as my "Instruments of Torture". They had given me hot spots when I took them out on short hikes, and I figured I might get a blister, but I had no idea. There are blisters and there are blisters. Those are the kind I got. Oh, well.

We hiked up through the Henry's Fork drainage to the Henry Lake Basin, then crossed Gunsight Pass and camped in the area beyond, called Painter Basin. Ccamp was 10 miles from the trailhead, and I knew by the time we got there that my feet were messed up. Next day, I had to stay behind in camp while Simon climbed King's Peak, resting my feet for the hike out. The hike out on the third day was the only part of the trip that wasn't awesome. There's a picture of one of my feet near the end. If you squint a little when you get to that picture, you won't get grossed out.
This is the Quasimodo look. Si can say what he wants about my big poncho, but it covered my whole load. It rained, like, five times a day; hiking in on the firsst day was particularly wet. That's just how it is in the Uintas.

Does anything else matter if you have good trail mix? Those are DARK chocolate M&Ms.

Elkhorn Crossing, about halfway in to our destination.

This was the first view I had of King's Peak (center) and its surrounding range. By this time, we were up at the top end of the Henry Basin, in the Boy Scout zone. Loads of exhausted-looking scouts coming down from the climb, talking about how much they wanted to go to Papa John's for a pizza. About the time we started the serious climb to Gunsight Pass, the sun sort of came out.

By the time we got to the pass, the weather was really cooperating. This is looking back into the Henry Basin...
...and this is looking forward into the Painter Basin. A beautiful view. But I have to say I was privately a little bummed. By this time (the 8-mile mark or so), my feet were seriously screwed, and I had been thinking about getting into camp and putting on my Tevas. We looked down into the Painter Basin and realized that, if we were going to have any where to hang up food, we were going to have to walk down to the tree-line. See that smudge of green waaaay out there? It took what seemed like three lifetimes to get out there. We were like those people you see in cartoons, crawling through the desert, moaning, "Water!" The tree line was like a mirage, always in the distance, never coming closer... "The trees! Look at them! They're so beautiful..."

Major reward when we got there, though. This was camp in the Painter Basin. We never saw another person the whole time we were camped there. Gunsight Pass is that dip to the right side of the picture, and King's Peak is the mountain furthest to the left. Not very dramatic, is it? The Uintas are not very picturesque, at least in comparison with the Tetons, for example. God's gravel pit, really.
Trying out our new water filter in the creek.

Loads of deer. We were camped by their route to the creek, so they were always everywhere. Also saw 5 bull moose hanging out together for a little while longer before the fall rut starts and they have to beat each other up. Also tons of coyotes. No bears. That's OK.
We were ready, though, with this deluxe bear-hang.

John, if you're out there, this is my precious, outdated stove.
The kitchen.

When we were younger, we ate Rice-a-Roni and Tuna Helper. Now that we are more prosperous, we thought we'd try some of these elegant pre-made freeze-dried wonders. Just add boiling water and stir. No need to even get the pot dirty. This one was Thai Beef Satay. If you like Minute Rice and kind of chewy veggies, this was pretty good.

Yuuuumyyyyy. Well, he had just climbed King's Peak. Anything was bound to taste good.

In spite of the rain, we were able to find some reasonable sort-of-dry wood, which I coddled under my (did someone call is too big?) poncho... we were able to have a fire both nights we were out.

OK. King's Peak. I stayed behind. This was a big disappointment for me, but if I did indulge in a little pity party about it, I waited until Si was gone for the day. He left at 9:00 AM and was back down by 3:00 PM. There was lightning, but he was already off the summit by that time. This is a picture of how the talus/boulder field looked from the bottom. Frankly, I would have probably peed my pants from terror. Even Simon was scared. Now that he's done it, he said, he has no desire to try it again.

Here's the summit. At least my daypack and my water bottle got to the top. I have a cup that made to the top of the Grand Teton, too. A friend borrowed it. A separate blog entry - Kate's gear that has gone where she hasn't.

Now, about my boots. These are Asolos. Top of the line boots. Simon (wierdly) met a guy on the summit who is a boot-fitter for REI. They got talking and this guy thinks all I need are special insole inserts, and the rubbing that blistered my feet will cease. I'll try it as soon as I recover enough to put the boots back on. Right now, they rouse feelings of terror and loathing. All I want to do with them just now is throw them against the garage door. At any rate, in this picture, I was showing the boots who's boss. The boots were being outwardly obedient and doing their job. But,

this is the better of my two heels, before I started the hike out yesterday. By the time I finished the 10 miles, they looked twice as bad as this. I marched along without complaining the whole way, but when we had driven as far as Evanston and I got up the nerve to look at my right heel, I cried. It was (is) truly disgusting. I'm going to have to do something about the damn boots. Because, in spite of the blisters, it was a great trip and if I ever recover and can walk like a normal person again, I'll be right back out there.
In the meantime, it's a good thing I have a lot of shoes with nothing across the heel.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ready For (Almost) Anything

Haven't I been a good boy scout?
I paddled your canoe, I taught you mouth-to-mouth.
For a good turn daily,
Baby, I'll be prepared.
That's courtesy of local folkie Doug Wintch.
Well, this is my last posting before my trip; I'll be back on Sunday or Monday, hopefully with nice pictures. I'm hoping that, if I take good photos and show myself to be heroic and resourceful, Foul B**tard will hire me to join his new corporation of slackers as backpack porter. Really, David, you don't want to strain yourself with anything that's heavy, and you need your hands free to grab at...what was her name?
Well, before I head off on any adventure, I always like to document my expectations, so I can compare them to reality when I return.
1. We will find a great camping spot, but it will not include a good tree in which to hang the food up. We will hang it less than 5 feet from the trunk of the tree and a bear will get it. That happened to us once. It even ate the sunscreen. ALTERNATIVELY, we will find a really great tree to hang our food in , and hang it up so well that we can't get it down again. That also happened to us once before. Simon had to throw rocks at the food bag to dislodge it, and we ate crumbs and pulp for the rest of the trip.
2. We will be written up in People magazine's "Worst Dressed" feature because of our darling matching hats. I want to say for the record that I needed a new hat and picked one out; then Simon copied me and got the exact same hat, in a slightly lighter shade. Now we look one of those cutsie couples who wear matching sweatshirts and stuff. It was my hat first.
3. The fashion police will venture even into the deepest wilds to arrest me for wearing my old, bright blue down jacket. On John Denver's Greatest Hits (so, circa 1975?), he's wearing this same jacket. Except mine is rattier and grimier.
4. We will nickname back-country trail #170 the "Scout-o-Bahn", because it will be packed with Boy Scouts on their August High-Adventure trips. This is bad because we will have to camp in close proximity to them and listen to them all night ("Dude! I can fart the ABCs!"); this is good because, when one of them kicks a rock down on my head while goofing around on the slope above me, he will be able to patch me up, thereby earning "First Aid" merit badge.
I have to pause here to say that my father is a career Boy Scout, if there is such a thing, and is presently in England at the Boy Scout World Jamboree. He got in touch with my in-laws, of course, and I guess they're getting together today. Simon pointed out that they don't know each other very well, and that they haven't seen each other in years. "No problem," I said. "He'll be wearing his uniform. How many other 76 year-old guys will be standing in the pub in a neckerchief?"
5. We will get to the top of King's Peak and I will be photographed holding a string of Tibetan prayer flags aloft in triumph. This can't happen, actually, because I don't have any Tibetan prayer flags; but they somehow seem to work their way into all of my "get-to-the-top" fantasies. ALTERNATIVELY, we won't get to the peak, it will piss with rain, and we'll spend most of the trip huddled in the tent, reading. Not HP, I'm afraid. I've conceded to the excellent advice of the Blog-iverse won't be taking it.
Regarding reaching the top... Simon and I went to see "Mama Mia" at the Capital Theater last night. Very, very funny and fun if you like shaking your a**to ABBA now and then. At any rate, we were sitting there in the mezzanine during intermission and Simon said, "So look from the orchestra the chandelier. That's about...100 feet. We only have about 8 times that height to climb up the talus and boulder field." Thanks. Thanks very much for pointing that out.
6. I will "get blood", as my children say. I usually manage to cut, abrade or contuse myself when backpacking. For once, we are actually taking a first aid sandwich baggie with us, though. There was a hike in the past when I gashed my leg open, realized I had no Band-Aids, pulled my sock up over it and tried not to think too hard about it 'til the hike was over. Kind of a bloody, sock-fuzzy mess - I still have a scar. This time, we even have gauze and s***. So organized!
Have a great weekend!