Monday, December 31, 2007

Unwarranted Pessimism

I just spoke to the most pleasant, helpful customer service representative at the Seattle Municipal Court. That's blogworthy, right?

A man who bought a truck from us a year and a half ago never transferred the ownership into his name, and instead ran around without motor vehicle insurance, driving negligently and leaving the truck abandoned on the street, according to the helpful online ticket lookup system at the Seattle Municipal Court online lookup page. His tickets unpaid, they were sent to collections--where they were filed in my name.

I didn't find out until a month ago, when I decided to check my credit report online. I had a hunch about the likely source of the tickets, but I dreaded making the phone call. See, the thing is, I didn't file my seller's report within the five days mandated by law. I have spoken before of my inadequacy in the personal paperwork department; this is the very thing I was talking about. Since I filed my report belatedly, I was grimly afraid that somehow I would be legally liable for everything the purchaser did with the truck. When I had originally tried to file the late report, that's what the woman at the Department of Licensing indicated. Then she yelled at me for asking too many questions, and when I burst into frustrated tears (oh internet, do I overshare?) she hung up on me.

So I postponed any further investigation like a champ! Until today, when the little voice inside of my insisted, It's the last day of the year--gird your loins and call. Maybe it's all parking tickets that...all...happened to blow away from my car, anyway. Unlikely, sure, but best find out.

I called. I spoke to the nicest woman, who regretfully informed me that I'd have to pay the ones that the new owner incurred prior to my actually filing the seller's report, but was happy to tell me that all I needed to do was send them a copy of the seller's report to dispute the others.

Internet, this is awesome news. Yes, I'll have to pay $150 for tickets I didn't incur. But better $150 than $1000! And oh, I can't tell you how relieved I am to learn that I won't actually be liable for vehicle violations that villainous man makes in the future. This silly little nightmare of mine can finally be laid to rest.

Happy New Year, indeed!

2007 Books

Well, let's see here. I sort of got lazy sometime mid-September and quit writing down the titles of the books I read. Oops!

Here's my best reconstruction of the list of books I read in 2007:

1. The Outlaws of Sherwood: Robin McKinley was the first female fantasy author I read. I read this in junior high but remembered almost none of it.
2. Ethan of Athos: Yes, I am still working my way through everything Lois McMaster Bujold has ever written.
3. Riddle-Master of Hed: I thought I read this trilogy in elementary school, but I think I must have understood little of it then. Lyrical and magical; I liked it.
4. Heir of Sea and Fire, 1/20
5. Harpist in the Wind, 1/22
6. Parable of the Sower: I started this last year and stopped because I found it so dark. I found it still dark and disturbing.
7. Buffalo Gals and other Animal Presences, 1/27
8. Agent to the Stars, 2/1
9. Walking Home, 2/3
10. Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person, 2/12 : Oh, this was good. And then I googled the author hopefully and found that she died last October. But her comics are true, I can tell you that.
11. Od Magic, 2/14 : The book as a whole did not do much for me, but the initial description of Od took my breath away. Hello, goddess.
12. The Last Unicorn, 2/16
13. Homeland and other Stories, 2/20: One of my perennial faves.
14. Spook, 3/1: The summary at calls Roach a consistently funny writer...I got used to her incessant sarcastic little comments eventually, but they were something I expect more from an email from a friend than from a nonfiction book. Ever so astonishingly, this book does not solve the question of what happens to the soul after death, but it was a mildly interesting (and yes, entertaining) look at some of the historical fraud and conjecture about the afterlife.
15. The Face, 3/5: My first Dean Koontz book. I really did not like the writing style... The story was okay but I kept getting distracted and irritated by the endless exposition and description. Plot! Give me Plot! vanishes and this sells millions? One more bit of proof of the basic injustice of life. Hmph.
16. Walking Seattle (Falcon Guide), 3/10
17. Odd Thomas, 3/14
18. The Deserter's Tale, 3/17
19. Passage, 3/29: This book is going to haunt me.
20. Writing Down the Bones, 3/30
21. Doomsday Book, 4/3: Apparently I cannot finish a Connie Willis book without convulsive sobs. This makes two for two. I loved this book so much even as it broke my heart.
22. The Compass Rose
23. The House of the Spirits
24. Grass
25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
26. Stardust
27. The Foundling and Other Tales
28. Life of Pi
29. The River Why
30. The Sharing Knife: Legacy
31. Tooth and Claw
32. Silver Linings: Travels Around Northern Ireland
33. Freakonomics
34. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter
35. The Gift of Fear
36. The Secret Life of Bees
37. Eats, Shoots & Leaves
38. The Postman
39. The Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes
40. The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House
41. The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country
42. The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists
43. The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
44. The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables & Reflections
45. The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives
46. The Sandman Vol. 8: Worlds' End
47. The Sandman Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones
48. The Sandman Vol. 10: The Wake
49. Charmed Life
50. The Lives of Christopher Chant
51. The Magicians of Caprona
52. Witch Week
53. The Pinhoe Egg
54. Conrad's Fate
55. Assassin's Apprentice
56. Royal Assassin
57. Assassin's Quest
58. Fool's Errand
59. Golden Fool
60. Fool's Fate
61. The Golden Compass (re-read...)
62. The Family Tree
63. Sideshow
64. The Book of Three (re-read)
65. The Black Cauldron (re-read)
66. The Castle of Llyr (re-read)
67. Taran Wanderer (re-read)
68. The High King (re-read)

That's the list, then. I plan to edit it later with links to all the books in question.

I certainly managed to read a good bit more in 2007 than in 2006. Selling my car had a lot to do with that; all those hours I would have been driving, I was frequently reading on the bus instead. That's one of those intangible benefits to getting rid of a car--sure, we saved money on gas, insurance, and maintenance, but I was also given a lot more reading time. Another big factor would be the fact that in 2006 I spent scores of hours packing, moving, unpacking, looking at houses, signing paperwork for a house, repacking, moving, and unpacking. It's been a year, and still melt with glee whenever I contemplate the fact that I don't have to do that again for as many years as I want to stay here. Ahhh!

Favorites from the year? The six books by Robin Hobb that I stumbled upon in November (55-60, above). She vaulted straight to my list of favorite authors; I am delighted that there are still at least 5 of her books that I haven't yet read. Plus I will track down the ones she wrote under a different name, Megan Lindholm. Neil Gaiman's Sandman series was weird and wonderful, and Stardust was enchanting. Diana Wynne Jones wrote a slew of young adult novels that I somehow missed when I was a young adult. Fortunately, my cousin praised them in August and I was delighted to find that they were just as entertaining to read as an adult.

With five books already on my "to-read" list for 2008, I definitely plan to continue this project. It's been a fun and useful reference. In 2008 I think I'll follow meloukhia's example and try to be more detailed, give at least a perfunctory review of each book that I read. And I'll try to remember to list every book, whether it's a children's book I buy for a niece or something I re-read or a graphic novel or what have you. And I don't think 50 is a very ambitious goal under normal circumstances, but keeping in mind that I'll be traveling the country for an entire month by train, and likely more inclined to stare out the window and visit with friends and see the sights than to read all day, I'll leave it at that anyway and we'll see where I end up.

(edited to add other books I belatedly recalled to the end of the list)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Greyhound, part 2

When last we checked in with our intrepid passengers, they were heading north from Eugene on the day after Christmas with an irascible driver requesting directions from passengers to each station. I think he must have picked up a route guide in Eugene. At least, I think that's what he had open on the steering wheel, and was flipping through, as the bus barreled up I-5. (We only yawed across our lane a little bit, and I'm sure we didn't sideswipe anyone. Well, I'm pretty sure.)

Passengers guided him to the Salem station without mishap. Our stop was relatively brief, and as we made our way back to the freeway the driver got on the intercom. "Could the Woodburn passengers please come to the front?"

The three travellers who planned to disembark in Woodburn came forward--a young man and woman and a little girl, probably around 2 years old. I was close enough to the front to hear the driver's question for them. "Hey, I don't really know about going all the way to the Woodburn station," he confessed. "Is there someplace closer to the freeway where I can drop you off?"

The young man was remarkably agreeable. "Sure, there's a McDonald's just off the exit."

"And that's just off the freeway?" the driver pressed.

"Yeah, yeah, it's just right off the exit," the man said.

"And I can just drop you off there?"

"Sure," the man nodded, "that's all right."

Another passenger also overheard the conversation. She turned and caught my eye and grinned. "We're going to save so much time that way!" she hissed eagerly.

"Yeah, great," I said. Except for the poor folks who bought a ticket to Woodburn...

We pulled off the freeway, stopped at the McDonald's, let out the young family and their bags, and left them in the parking lot as we roared off toward Portland.

We arrived in Portland just two hours later than I'd originally been scheduled to get there--on a bus that had departed only one hour late, originally. (I did the math in my head--if we didn't lose any more time, I'd be home by midnight!) Our driver announced our arrival--"Portland! Everyone exit the bus so they can clean it, please!"--and then spryly hopped off the bus without giving any additional information for those of us continuing northward. He wandered around near the disembarking passengers for a couple of minutes, handing out re-boarding passes in an offhand way to anyone who claimed to be continuing north.

I hustled into the station, having no idea how long it would take to clean the bus. I had a pressing concern for my two checked bags. In Roseburg the harried ticket agent had loaded everyone's bags onto the same baggage cart. The baggage cart was then loaded on to the first bus--the one I didn't get on. I realized this just a few minutes too late to stop it. She told me I could check for my bags in Portland. Or in Seattle. They'd be in one place or the other, she assured me...probably.

The amiable ticket agent in Portland told me, "Oh, we wouldn't hold any bags labeled 'Seattle.' They'd go on up, we wouldn't hold them here."

"OK, so they probably just stayed on that earlier bus?" I asked, relieved.

"Yeah." He paused. "Or they might go on a later one."

I was too worried that my current bus would leave me in Portland to stay and puzzle through this logic, so I thanked him rushed back outside. The bus was just backing out of its spot. I yelped in dismay and ran a couple of involuntary steps forward. Immediately I was accosted by a stern security guard. "Ma'am," she barked, "Do not run after the bus. No buses are currently departing. Which gate are you supposed to be at?"

I stared at her. "I have no idea," I answered. "Our driver didn't tell us anything."

She found out where I needed to go, and directed me there to wait "until your bus is announced, whenever that may be."

I waited. I walked over to the concessions and bought a fast-food dinner. I bought a Coke. I text-messaged a friend. Just then my mother called to make sure I'd arrived safely in Seattle. I laughed hollowly at her optimism. I was that hopeful once, I thought wistfully. Those cheery morning hours seemed so far in the past, so impossibly far behind. I had matured since then; I was a harder, wiser person now. I swigged my Coke, and I waited.

Finally our departure was announced, and we reboarded. When the new driver asked for our reboarding passes, about half of the passengers who'd been on the previous bus with me realized in consternation that they'd never even heard of such a thing. Fortunately they didn't seem to be an actual requirement, as the driver peered at their ticket stubs and waved them onto the bus.

This leg of the trip soon promised to be far more pleasant for three reasons. First, it wasn't actually a Greyhound bus; it was a "Raz" bus contracted for the heavy holiday traffic. So there was more legroom and the seats were a bit larger. Second, only about a dozen passengers were continuing north on this bus. A dozen passengers on a 50-seat bus means double seats for everyone! And finally, we wouldn't need to make all of Greyhound's regular stops, because this bus was just for dropping us excess passengers off at our destinations: Vancouver, Olympia, Tacoma, and Seattle.

I sprawled out across my two seats, pulled my hat down over my eyes, and dozed off. Vancouver came and went. I woke up in Olympia to look out the window and watch as we glided past the capitol building. I fell asleep after that, but woke when the bus slowed again.

Assuming we'd arrived at the Tacoma station, I sat up and blinked around. We were driving up a hill on an arterial street. As I looked, disoriented, we took a sharp curve and slowly passed by an overturned shopping cart next to the road. We turned again, onto a smaller street. It got darker as we passed beyond the illumination of the streetlights on the main road. We passed a Taco Pronto! restaurant and a few auto body shops, and then we drove past small houses in the dark. Again we turned; other passengers on the bus had awakened and were beginning to mutter in confusion. I overheard one guy on his phone: "No, man, we're just in some neighborhood up here." He cackled loudly. "I think we're lost, bro! Naw, dude, I'll call you when we get to the station."

We must have really been lost, because we ended up in a cul-de-sac. The driver hauled the bus around in a U-turn and we headed back down the hill. Past the dark houses, past the Taco Pronto!, past the overturned shopping cart. I don't know Tacoma very well, so I was thoroughly lost myself. We found ourselves going under I-5; for a moment I thought the driver was just going to take the northbound onramp and skip on to Seattle in disgust. I kind of wished he would, actually.

At last the driver found his way to the Tacoma Greyhound station. This time my brother happened to call to be sure I'd arrived safely home. (So young! So innocent! May he never be as jaded as I had now become!)

We didn't get lost again (or if we did, I was asleep and missed it). The bus pulled into the station with the final six of us just before midnight (so, in the end, the trip took just about exactly twice as long as it takes to drive it--twelve hours versus 6.) I didn't see Mr. Thel anywhere, so I went on inside and began to explain the woman behind the ticket counter the story about my bags. She cut me off after a sentence or two and told me to go outside to the baggage claim area.

I went outside. There was a sign that said "Baggage Claim." Below it was a handwritten sign that said "Closed." But below that was an arrow directing me further on. I went on along the side of the building and found an open bay. Large signs sternly warned "Employees Only--Do Not Enter." I peered inside and hollered, "Hello?"

Nobody came. But as I looked around I spotted my bags on a baggage cart a few steps inside the forbidden bay. I glanced around again, hoping I wouldn't end this unforgettable trip with an arrest for trespassing, and darted inside. I grabbed my bags and nonchalantly strolled back out. Nobody yelled, nobody accosted me to demand my identification or denounce my trespass. Whistling cockily, cheerfully wheeling my duffel bags behind me, I strolled out toward the dark street to meet Mr. Thel.

Wildlife Rehabilitation

My mom spent a few years as a volunteer for a wildlife rehabilitation organization. All I can remember about it is the time she caught a bunch of baby mice and swiftly dispatched all of them so as to feed an injured owl she was nursing back to health. Plus I remember that she spent a week away up north somewhere just after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, helping clean the oil off of sea birds.

This morning Mr. Thel burst into the house and informed me that he and Chloe had just spotted an injured red-tail hawk down the street, flopping around on the ground. He found a large cardboard box and a couple of old towels to help capture it; I helped by tippety-tapping at the computer to find a nearby wildlife rescue group. It turns out that PAWS has a wildlife center open 7 days a week up in Lynnwood. Mr. Thel donned bicycle gloves to protect his hands and together we went back to the bird. The hawk was alert and definitely opposed to being captured, but Mr. Thel successfully managed to place a towel over it and gently transfer it to the box without much fuss. The bird's halfhearted struggle (and the way it sort of flopped over on its head in the box at first...) made me even more concerned about its condition.

We brought it back and left it in the driveway for a few minutes while I staggered about trying to find my glasses and get dressed. PAWS is across Seattle from us, but Sunday morning traffic was light and we were there in half an hour. They have this whole compound up there; I'd known of them as an animal shelter but had no idea they did rehabilitation and release of wildlife. The woman at the wildlife center transferred the injured hawk to their facilities and assured us that a vet would be out to take a look at him tomorrow or earlier. "When I transferred him to the cage he immediately clutched at it with his talons, so that's a good sign," she said. She took our address and the location where he was found, and said that if they can heal him they'll release him back here where he came from. "We'll send you a card to let you know what happens to him," she promised.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Northwest Wonderland

Recently I took a day trip with a friend up to the Anacortes area. It was grey, rainy, and chilly, but once you accept the cold and realize that you won't melt it's delightful to have a place to yourself the way you do on a winter day. These pictures were all taken in Washington Park outside of Anacortes, a spot which must be jam-packed with people during the warmer months. We saw only one other visitor during our slow trip around the loop road, and he looked as surprised to see us as we were to see him.

We stood behind this tree for awhile watching a seal pop up nearby.

On the other side of the headland the wind was much stronger; we only lingered long enough to admire the foggy view of the islands and this gnarled old snag.

Someone added a festive touch to the bluff behind the deserted beach!

Greyhound, part 1

I only bought a Greyhound ticket from southern Oregon to Seattle because Amtrak was sold out. I think, next time, I would rather ditch work for an extra day or two and hold out for Amtrak.

Now, mind you, I had purchased a bus ticket online five days previously, so I'd been pretty breezy about the prospect of riding Greyhound home. It couldn't be that awful for a 350-mile trip, right?


My first inkling that it would be a very long day came when I checked in at the ticket counter Wednesday morning, a full hour early as recommended. I'd wondered why the heck you'd need to arrive an hour early just to sit and wait for a bus (Greyhound doesn't bother with things like metal detectors and security lines). The reasoning became clear when the ticket agent informed me that buying a Greyhound ticket doesn't guarantee the purchaser a seat on any particular bus. But I had a ticket! And I'd bought it almost a week ago! Didn't matter: I'd be added to the list of passengers waiting for the next bus.

"Oh and by the way," she added, "the 9:00 bus was so full he didn't even bother to stop here this morning--so everyone who was supposed to get on that bus is now in line to get on the noon bus. Ahead of you. You're number 21."

When the noon bus arrived, wouldn't you know it, they had 20 seats available. I and numbers 22 through 35 watched forlornly as it filled up and pulled away.

Now, the next scheduled bus wasn't due to arrive until 4:30. I did the math in my head (something I'd do over and over throughout the day) and figured that would put me in Seattle at 1:45 a.m. That was assuming the 4:30 bus would have a seat open, of course.

However. The ticket agent, bless her heart, had been talking to her dispatcher all morning to plead for an additional bus to be sent down from Eugene to pick up us poor slobs who'd been getting left behind all day. Not long after my scheduled bus departed, another bus unexpectedly arrived, loaded eleven of us, and headed north.

This is where the fun really started, because our bus driver had no idea where he was going. Oh, he had no trouble figuring out the "north on I-5" part, but as we pulled out onto the freeway he said loudly, "Okay, which exit do you think I should take for the Eugene station?"

Those of us sitting close enough to the front to hear him looked at each other blankly. Fortunately the fellow in the very front had been making this trip frequently throughout the year to visit his spinal surgeon in Eugene. He directed the driver to take a particular exit, and take a right. Of course then other passengers who knew Eugene pretty well began to argue about which way was best.

"Naw, you don't want to go right here, you'll end up in Springfield."

"But I-5 goes down the middle, soon as you get under it you'll be in Eugene."

"This isn't the way we usually go."

"Shouldn't we take a left up here?"

"No, take a right."

The passenger in the front stuck to his guns and guided us in to Eugene. The driver announced that we'd have a five minute break--"Maybe closer to ten, but then we're gone," the driver said. I hopped off for a quick bathroom break and to stretch my legs, and then slid back into my seat. Most everyone else was similarly punctual.

Forty-five minutes later the driver reboarded the bus, a styrofoam leftovers container and Starbucks cup in his hands. "Okay, everybody ready to go?" he asked cheerily. I heard a few low mutters--I've been ready...We've been here...Man, if I knew we had time to go to Starbucks...--and then we were off. As we pulled away, the man in front of me (a new passenger who'd replaced the knowledgeable co-pilot) said to his wife, "Well, we'll be a little late, but that's all right."

The driver bristled. "Late? Late? Did somebody say we're going to be late?"

Everyone was quiet, so he persisted. "Who said that? Who was it that said we're going to be late?"

The guilty man protested, "Well, we are going to be a little late."

The driver shook his head fiercely. "Greyhound," he admonished us, "doesn't guarantee you anything."

Into the silence that spread out from this announcement, he lamely added, "Except safety."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Each Winter as the Year Grows Older

By William & Annabeth Gay

Each winter as the year grows older,
We each grow older too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
The verities we knew
Seem shaken and untrue.

When race and class cry out for treason,
When sirens call for war,
They overshout the voice of reason
And scream till we ignore
All we held dear before.

Yet I believe beyond believing,
That life can spring from death:
That growth can flower from our grieving;
That we can catch our breath
And turn transfixed by faith.

So even as the sun is turning
To journey to the north,
The living flame, in secret burning,
Can kindle on the earth
And bring God's love to birth.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
Brighten today's world by tomorrow's,
Renew our lives again;
Lord Jesus, come and reign!*


* I am unable to let this post stand without stubbornly pointing out that the last stanza isn't, in fact, a call for a triumphalist conqueror; that there's a beautifully oxymoronic quality to longing for the reign of a person who rejected traditional power so thoroughly that he even declined to resist his own torture and death; that the "reign" of such a God will be almost unimaginably different than what we expect a "reign" to look like; that it's an inverted picture of a kingdom, percolating from the bottom up rather than pontificating from the top down, beginning from the poorest and saddest and least...

Keeping all that in mind, this is a song that makes my throat close up a bit every time I hear it.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Dinner

Grandma's kitchen was abuzz with activity when I showed up on Sunday night. "What's going on?" I asked.

"Your cousin is cooking Christmas Eve dinner," Grandma told me.

My cousin, S. arrived from New York the weekend before and asked my aunt about the plan for Christmas Eve. "Well, I have to work, and so does [Thel's mom], so we're just going to have pizza," she was told.

Apparently S. announced that she'd be damned if she flew across the country to have pizza for Christmas Eve dinner, and that if nobody else could do it then she'd cook a meal. She spent most of the weekend in Grandma's kitchen, I think, making three varieties of cookies, fudge, two vegetable dips, potatoes, ham, cheese puffs, roasted vegetables, and a stir fry for her vegetarian husband. It was delicious, and more than a bit impressive to watch our mothers hover around the edges at loose ends. It seems that the Christmas Eve dinner torch has been officially passed to the next generation.

Unfortunately, as the next oldest grandchild, that means my family began claiming that next year it's going to be my turn to take charge. I think they should let S. keep doing it for a few years...or at least until I expand beyond a regular dinner rotation of spaghetti or lasagna; Caribbean beans & rice, burritos, or fajitas; chicken or potato soup; and that good old standby, the stir fry.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Train cohorts

He was a bit deaf, and the dining car steward put him off with his unexpected questions. When the steward had departed, the elderly gentleman bellowed across the table to his dining companions, "Why was he asking me that?"

"Asking what?" one woman replied.

"Well, he wanted to know whether I was in a sleeper car or in coach. What'd he need to know that for?" the man asked suspiciously.

"I think your meals are included if you're in a sleeper car," she answered. "So he would have needed your room number if you were."

"Aw, well, that's all right then," he admitted. "I thought it was so he'd know how good to treat me!"

None of the three at that table were travelling together, so they chatted about children and grandchildren across the country. He announced that he was 85 and that he'd been a skier until he was 78 years old: "And I'm proud of that, too. I wish I could say it was because I led a clean life, but I sure didn't."

The older woman looked up, startled. "What did you do?" she asked a bit mischievously.

He misunderstood her--or maybe he didn't. With a big smile he answered, "Well, I ran a corporation for fifty years."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Peace

I did get myself motivated, at 11:00, to catch the bus to Ballard and finish my Christmas shopping. I got the Traditional Socks for my mother, and at a dollar store next door I found the best White Elephant gift ever. Made in China (where all the best White Elephant Gifts are made), it's a plastic statuette of a little girl in a fancy, flowing dress and a jaunty little hat, seated on a triumphantly rearing elephant. At least, I suppose it's supposed to be rearing triumphantly. As it is, the girl is about four times the size of the elephant, and the elephant's belly is smushed down against the base of the figurine, so it looks like it's being horribly squashed by a gigantic, wide-eyed, nose-picking child. I mean I know she's supposed to be placing her finger contemplatively aside her mouth, but it honestly looks like she's going for gold in a nostril. While crushing a baby elephant.

It's awwwwwesome, is what I'm saying. I'll try to get a good picture of it before I gift it.

I bought a toy car racing set at the same dollar store (I never even made it to Archie McPhee, this haul was so perfect), emblazoned with starred suggestions like, "Try My!" and "First Enter!!" Then I boarded the 44 toward home (bus # 4171!), which turned out to have a tiny little despot at the wheel.

It was pouring rain, and about 40 degrees outside, and I'd been waiting in the weather for about ten minutes. After a few minutes on the bus I realized, hey...I'm not getting any warmer. A quick look around revealed the problem: all of the windows on the bus were open. Thinking I could easily remedy this problem on my own, I stood and briskly began closing them.

The driver's voice came over the loudspeaker. "Windows are open for ventilation," he said. "Do not close them."

"Um, I'm freezing, so I'll just close these three near me," I answered. Good as my word, I closed those three and sat back down.

The driver stopped the bus. Yes, really. He came back, reopened all three of the windows, and stood over me. "These are open for ventilation. I don't want fog on the windows. You sit in back if you cold."

I was in the mood to argue, but he seemed the type who'd toss me off the bus for backtalk (I don't really love the explicitly parental role some drivers adopt toward their riders), and I didn't want to stand out in the cold rain any longer. So I meekly shivered my way to the 48--which, I noticed, had all its windows closed and not a trace of a fog problem.

Then I did dishes and laundry and made dinner and wrapped presents and noticed that I had thrice as many hits here today as any other day, EVER, in Heavy Duty Power history. Just in time for me to turn the lights out for three days! I don't know if I'll be able to catch up for Holidailies when I return, though I'll give it my best shot.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, new friends and readers. May the final days of 2007 be full of reassurance and peace for all of you.

Olé! Maté!

When Mr. Thel and I lived in Ballard I ended up doing a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping at La Tienda one year. I bought these lovely squishy, soft socks for my mom and my sister, plus a pair for me so I could fit in. They adored them so much that I did it again the next couple of years. Having established something of a tradition of the Christmas socks, now I need to make a bus run up to Ballard today so as not to drop the ball. I may be able to find good socks elsewhere, but I also need to get a $10 odd gift for our Christmas Eve "White Elephant Exchange," and if I go to Ballard I can plunder Archie McPhee.

This is how I plan things now that I don't usually have access to a car: where can I accomplish a set of errands in the same small area, with the least number of transfers? It hasn't really been a burden so far, even in the rain. I missed one friend's party on Queen Anne because I'd have had to transfer at least twice in order to get there, but most of the time I am more clever than that. And so far this winter I've only been soaked through once while waiting for the bus; since that was during the deluge on December 3rd, the 3rd-wettest day in Seattle history, I'm willing to accept a bit of damp as my worst hardship from that storm.

I must admit, however, that I'm having a bit of trouble motivating myself to leave my cozy upstairs room to go out into today's downpour. The rain is rattling like a thousand tiny tapdancers on the metal roof above me, and I'm drinking my first cup of yerba maté. My friend bought me a little kit for drinking yerba maté, and although I'd never tried it I was delighted. I'd never have bought it for myself, but as a gift, sure, I'll sip that.

The gentleman she bought it from was apparently quite a fan of yerba maté himself. She told me that when she was looking at it in the store, the guy came up behind her, put his hand on the box, and looked at her gravely. "This," he said reverently, "may quite possibly be the most nutritious beverage in the world."

When I asked another friend if she liked it she said with great certainty, "I do not. It tastes like dirt."

A dirt-flavored nutritional beverage? Sounds like a winner! I brewed up a cup of it this morning to try it out. I stirred in a small bit of honey and milk, and I am pleased to admit that I am enjoying it. I can see how it tastes earthy--but it's more grassy than dirty, to my tongue. I have recently begun to admit that I prefer the taste of tea to coffee anyway, so this is perfect.

Now, to drain enough of this superbeverage to motivate myself to trudge out into the wet day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice

The other day Kimberly reminded me of a poem I've posted here before. It's the right day to post it, once again.

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Holiday plan alteration

So. Mr. Thel has this really abysmal client this month. Said client has, to date, been nothing but irritating and shady. I started to list them all out and after line item 3 I was starting to get angry on Mr. Thel's behalf again, so I'm not going to do that. Anyway, Mr. Thel originally agreed to finish the project by Christmas. It was going to be tight, but possible. Then when he showed up for work on Wednesday the house was all locked up. His tools were all locked inside. Nobody answered his doorbell-ringing or his phone calls.

Mr. Thel therefore lost an entire day of work. Still, he's so full of honor and integrity that he's going to try to get this project done by Christmas anyway. Mostly, I think, so he can shake the dust from his sandals and never deal with this asshat again. Even though - fun twist! - that means he won't be able to take the time to drive down to Oregon with me for Christmas as planned. I'll be travelling down there by train and bus instead. I feel guilty leaving him all alone for Christmas.

And yet, internet, I will confess: despite being frustrated at the client, and disappointed to be parted from Mr. Thel on Christmas...I'm still really looking forward to riding the train again. Hey, it's been a couple of years. And this will be a sweet precursor to the planned trip around the country this spring--for which my vacation request has officially been approved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fly, you fools

What are you doing here when you could be reading one of these blogs I've fallen in love with lately through Holidailies?

Music and Cats - I've been following the adventures of Lyra, Sasha, and Sergei, as well as Kimberly's beautiful and mouth-watering expeditions to the farmers' markets, ever since last year's Holidailies. Kimberly takes beautiful pictures and writes evocative posts. Plus, her posts about cooking make me want to jump up and head for the kitchen. Trust me, that's an accomplishment.

this ain't livin' - Meloukhia left a comment on one of my recent bus stories, and I slid over to see what s/he had to say. Clear, smart writing on all kinds of topics from someone who writes and edits for a living, so...yeah. I overcome my wistful envy and just keep burning through the archives.

Milkmoney Or Not, Here I Come - Schmutzie is a poet, an artist, a fabulous writer and another person whose writing makes me want (and try!) to be a clearer, more concise communicator. I keep forgetting to bookmark her, so here--let us bookmark her together, you and I.

There are tons more, but oh look, I got distracted in the archives of all three of the above, and now it is bedtime. I promise two things: I will make a real post, with my own words, tomorrow; and I do have more new favorite writers to gush about.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seasoned Santa

Saturday my friend and I were eating lunch on 45th in Wallingford. We were having a fairly intense conversation about her middle school students, and mental illness, and certain intersections of the two topics. Serious as the conversation was, I was startled when her voice trailed away mid-sentence. I glanced up sharply to see if she was, I don't know, overcome with emotion or something.

She was staring out the window behind me, smiling an enchanted sort of smile. "Thel!" she said. "Look at all those Santas!"

I swiveled to follow her gaze. Across the street from us, a ragged line of about 25 Santas trudged east on 45th. We watched in amazement as they all schlepped out of sight. It wasn't the last of them, either; throughout our lunch, smaller groups of Santa Clauses streamed east through Wallingford. It was a delightfully bizarre holiday sight.

On our way back to my friend's car we happened upon two more costumed women, dressed as loose interpretations of Santa. And I do mean loose!--they were a couple of stocking-clad, plunging-necklined, mini-skirted hot mama Santas.

"What's up with all the people in Santa costumes?" my friend queried them.

"It's a training for Macy's," one of them answered as they strolled away.

We got into the car and looked at each other. My friend raised her eyebrows. "Macy's?" I asked.

"Dressed like that? Not a chance," she scoffed. (Later investigation reveals that it was the procession of Santarchy Santas traipsing down to the U-District.)

The best part, though, came as we were driving away. We spotted one final couple walking up a side street toward 45th, festively garbed in matching red-and-white outfits. There was something different about their costumes, though; their suits seemed like patchwork quilts, not the traditional solid red with white trim. As we drew alongside them I gleefully recognized the material: it was dozens of red-and-white beef Ramen packets, flattened crisply and fastened together. They were actually tailored quite well! I really wish I'd had my camera with me; as it is, you'll have to trust me that I did not hallucinate Mr. and Mrs. Ramen Santa.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

I have a confession to make: I grew up in a rural household without a television.

It's difficult to explain the permanent gap this situation opened up between me and my peers, then and now. Their adventures were peopled with characters from video games and cartoons, and their soundtrack was Michael Jackson, Poison, New Kids on the Block. My sister and brother and I ran around in the muddy creek valley, brandishing sticks as swords and making up names for our warrior selves. Our only soundtrack was the oldies station that my parents listened to, or the records they occasionally played.

I have a vivid memory of making them play "Mr. Bojangles" over and over again, and being mesmerized by the melancholy that the song swept through me. That was around the same time that my friend Alethea confessed that she had a crush on Patrick Swayze. Who? I wondered. We were probably about eleven.

I was already introverted and shy, and I wandered through the hallways not knowing or asking what much of the imagery around me signified. Kids wore KISS shirts or put Achtung Baby pictures in their lockers, and it was all as meaningless as if I were a foreigner just visiting. In some ways I suppose I was: a newcomer to the land of Pop Culture. Our P.E. teacher that year at McGovern Middle School frequently wore a t-shirt with a funny drawing on it: an open mouth, with just a few oddly crooked teeth visible. I shrugged it off as one more obscure artifact in the insane territory of middle schoolers.

It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I finally saw the movie Batman, that I realized what the symbol really was. Ever since, the experience has served as a good metaphor for the feeling of alienation I still get sometimes when my peers reminisce animatedly about music and movies and cartoons from our childhood years. "No, guys, seriously: I just thought it was a mouth. How would I know any different?"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lazy like a fox

To briefly recap:

Wednesday evening I was out with a friend.

Thursday I was sick (terribly sick).

Friday night was the "Thanksgiving" party.

Saturday I spent most of the day with a friend. We went to a little art show in someone's house, and then had Thai food in Wallingford. When I finally got home Mr. Thel was restless, so we went to see The Golden Compass.

I'm not a social butterfly by nature, so I was thrilled and relieved to have no plans for today. I am not ashamed to announce that I spent the day doing small things of small importance, and that I couldn't even motivate myself to do any housecleaning. There's always tomorrow.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

May your words be merry and bright

Every workplace has its quirks and rough edges. I do try not to succumb to the "grass is always greener" syndrome when it comes to loathing my own workplace's particular oddities.

One of our particular oddities is our CEO's refusal to purchase random basic office supplies. Pens, for example, are on the "WILL NOT PURCHASE" list. Paper clips? OK. Post its? You're on your own.

Finally tiring of the pervasive hoarding of pens (and the frantic searching and surreptitious "borrowing" of others' pens), a co-worker and I have teamed up on a holiday gift: a box of pens for everyone in our department. Today I am working on printing out fancy gift tags for them. Ho ho ho!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thought, speech, and deed

Confidential to EVERYONE I WORK WITH: When you treat me like a child (and especially when you treat me like a child with cognitive delays), I have this funny urge to live down to your expectations and act as petulant as the child you seem to believe me.

It isn't a pretty cycle. I'm not proud of it. But there you go. Next time you carefully explain to me about the document you're expecting, and carefully outline exactly what it looks like and who it will be coming from, as if I am not the one who actually created and sent the damn thing in the first place...well. Just don't be surprised if I fling myself on the floor and begin screaming.

Repeated condescending treatment by multiple co-workers had me in a foul and antisocial mood by the end of the day. Fortunately, I still managed to drag myself to the party I'd agreed to attend...and it was exactly the right balm to my irritated spirits. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving-themed meal with a dozen or so other friends and acquaintances. Every last one of them was at least ten years my senior, yet they all still treated me with more jovial respect and appreciation than anyone at work had all day. It did wonders to make me feel and act like an adult once again.

Crazy bus lady

Yesterday I added my own tiny thread of crazy to the endless tapestry of bus stories in the world.

I stopped at a bakery on the way home and reboarded the next bus. Clutching a bag of crusty loaves, I maneuvered my way down the aisle to an inward-facing seat inside the middle, articulated section of the bus. One or two stops later I was joined there by an adolescent girl wearing brightly striped socks and talking on her cell phone.

Talking on your cell phone on the bus isn't, in my personal Book of Justice, an unpardonable offense. But talking LOUDLY on your cell phone on the bus, or at the bus stop, or in the grocery store is a rude intrusion. Rather than respond in kind, however, I responded by becoming a slightly crazy bus lady.

"HELLO?" my seat partner bellowed into her phone as if to her aged grandmother.

"Hello," I responded quietly, looking straight ahead.

"I'M ON THE BUS," the girl shouted after a pause.

I looked off casually toward the front of the bus. "Hey, me too," I softly agreed.


"That's where I'm at."


"I'm about there myself."

I kept my "responses" soft and casual, never glancing in the direction of my seat partner. After a few "exchanges" she hung up and sat sending text messages. I stared out the windows and hummed quietly to myself. Soon her phone rang again.

"HELLO?" she shouted, if possible even louder than before.

"Hello!" I said cheerfully.

"I'M ON THE BUS!" she said again.

"Me too!" I agreed.

There was a longish silence. I watched the sky through the window and waited. Abruptly my seatmate stood and stalked to the back of the bus, where she continued her conversation. Either she lowered her voice, or the noise of the bus kept the rest of her words from my ears. Inwardly I chuckled with passive-aggressive success; whether or not she had heard my crazy little dialogue, my goal had been realized.

Any question I might have had about whether my behavior had actually caused her relocation was soon answered when I again heard her raised voice. Speaking to one of her friends in the back, she explained in frustrated tones, "No, it was like she was answering me every time, you know? I said, 'I'm on the bus,' and she goes, 'me too,' like that."

I almost laughed out loud when I heard the response. Her friend, confused, asked, " she was on the phone with her mom, at the same time as you were on the phone with your mom?"

"Noooooo," the loud girl wailed. "Look, I'll try it again." I kept staring out my window, so I couldn't see whether she lifted her phone to her ear; all I heard was the familiar, "HELLO?"

I stayed silent.


I checked my watch and yawned.

I didn't catch any further conversation, so I don't know if she ever managed to explain our "interaction" to her friend. But we got off at the same bus stop, and she hopped into a waiting car. As I strolled back past the car I kept my eyes fixed off in the distance until just as the car began to pull away. At the last second I turned my head, caught her eye, and winked broadly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I am counting the days to the winter solstice. It isn't, I tell myself, a perpetual sense that the grass is greener in the season farthest from me. It's a human anticipation of the turning of the year, a gleeful faith that that other good season will come again.

Earth daringly leans away from Sol, our half of the hemisphere tilting into darkness until an overtoppling into permanent night seems inevitable. The small, bright strands of Christmas lights in windows and on trees seem almost like a beacon, a weak imitation reminding the sun that he is craved and beloved and that we beg him to return. We dig in our heels against the nights that loom and lengthen, we heave hard on the reins, and yet nothing avails us but these pale lights gleaming in our dusk, bravely beaming out our unconscious hopeful plea: return, return, return.

And every year, almost imperceptibly, it happens. The trump sounds. Arthur wakes. The cycle turns, and the sun returns.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Party Bullies

The two of them surrounded me at my desk last week. You'd think more than two people are required in order to fully surround another person, but between the two of them they still capably managed to convey a sense of siege. I shrank a bit from their intensity.

They glanced at each other, and J began: "Let's talk about the holiday party."

Each December as a company we pick a date and someone volunteers their home, and we have an informal little holiday party, just as countless other workplaces do. This year, oddly, there had been no talk of having a holiday party, so I figured that was the problem at hand.

"It's funny that we haven't heard the date yet, isn't it?" I mused aloud.

D ignored me. "Don't you think it would be more fun to have a nice party at a restaurant, for a change?" she demanded, looming over me where I sat in my stubby office chair.

J nodded vigorously and added, "Instead of just hanging out at someone's house..." Her perky nose wrinkled ever so slightly in distaste.

I tried to subtly scoot my chair away to give me just a hair more breathing room while I considered the suggestion. "Yeah, that would be fun," I agreed. "I mean, I always like having it at someone's house because, well, it's free, but..."

J didn't wait for me to finish. "See, I told you nobody would want to do it," she spoke over me. She folded her arms across her chest and looked meaningfully at D. "Everyone just wants to do the same old thing, year after year."

D returned her look, shaking her head in exasperation. "God forbid we try anything new around here!" she snorted.

"Um," I began, torn between feeling offended at the way they talked about me right over my head, and feeling terrified that they might rend me limb from limb if I didn't board the Fancy Holiday Dinner Train. (I can lurch my chair into D, and while she's off balance I can probably leap beyond J's reach and slip to freedom out the fire escape...) "I didn't say I thought it was a bad idea--"

J shrugged. "Come on, D," she sighed. "Let's see what B says." Together they turned and left me alone in my office.

Monday, December 10, 2007

King of Summer

Approximately 18 months from today, Sound Transit expects to begin offering light rail service from downtown Seattle to Almost-The-Airport. (They will begin offering service on the additional distance to the airport, they say, about six months after that.) With the addition of the light rail line down the center of MLK, the entire area has seen massive changes. The street, obviously, has been widened and improved. Streetlights, sidewalks, and landscaping have been added in many areas. Several of the future stations have small plazas with benches and trees already nearly completed.

About a mile north of our house on MLK, the sidewalk widens for a few blocks, becoming a broad pedestrian boulevard that could easily let four or five people walk abreast. Saplings have been planted between the sidewalk and the street here as along much of the route. You can imagine a summer stroll to the light rail station, ten years hence, in the dappled shade of tall oaks and maples.

For one short segment, you don't have to use your imagination. A huge old oak sprawls skyward above the sidewalk. The first time I walked that route I was delighted to see the smooth new sidewalk take a sharp bend to the left around the tree, squeeze out into the street parking area, bump up and back down over old roots, and swing back to the right to resume its straight course. Who knows how many other trees were torn out to make room for the necessary street-widening and sidewalk-adding? But this one, at least, stands impassive where it has stood for years, now nestled in the new curve of acquiescent sidewalk.

I try not to anthropomorphize the world around me too much. But when I pass, I find myself unable to resist reaching out to pat its bark appreciatively. I am glad the planners--for whatever reason--found themselves forced to bend their pavement to spare an oak for a few more decades.

You can see more about the light rail project over at Sound Transit's website.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Reusable Wrapping

Around the same time that I began pondering whether I could make a Christmas "tree," I decided I didn't want to give presents wrapped in paper--paper that would likely be destined for a landfill or a burn barrel. One of my friends has always given gifts in simple drawstring cloth bags, and they didn't look too complicated to make. I determined to copy her.

For about $5 I bought two yards of this lovely red costumey fabric covered in playful red swirls of velvet. It's been sitting in a drawer in the craft room for a month, so tonight I finally pulled it out and hand-stitched a small bag with a yarn drawstring. No doubt using the sewing machine for the rest of them will speed the process somewhat; still, I'm pleased with the result. The fabric was billed as Halloween costume fabric, but it's very Christmasy. Here's hoping most of the recipients will feel moved to reuse their drawstring bags for their own future gifts.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Anniversary, Shmanniversary

Not long ago a few of us at work realized that one of our co-workers would soon have been at Workplace for fifteen years. Such longevity being a rarity in our department, we decided the occasion merited some recognition, however informal. A card featuring carefully bland cartoon animals expressing slightly jokey cartoon sentiments was purchased and circulated for everyone to share their good wishes with our sincerely beloved co-worker.

One busy employee misunderstood the occasion provoking the card. Among all the scrawled lines of "Congratulations on fifteen years, Jill!" and "We're so glad you're here!" which filled the card was this short missive: "Congrats to you and your husband. May you enjoy many more happy years together!"

Friday, December 07, 2007


This afternoon found me short-tempered at work. I dismissed it, assuming I was letting work stuff get to me, but as soon as I left for the day I promptly got a migraine. That will teach me to listen more closely to what my body's trying to tell me.

Lucky for me, my "migraines" are almost always pain-free. (When they're not, of course, they are excruciatingly painful. All or nothing!) Attempting to read something will lead me to notice a small dark patch obstructing part of my vision. The dark part is usually flashing or glowing bright around its edges. It will grow in size until I can scarcely see anything that I focus on directly; I have to let my gaze sidle up on things using my peripheral vision. Luckily again, this strange flashing blurriness usually dissipates within about half an hour.

I don't get them terribly often, but the frequency seems to be increasing, which is why I'm musing "out loud" about them here, trying to keep track of when I get them, what I was doing just prior, food I had eaten earlier, and that kind of thing. (For the record: today around 4:30 on the bus; staring at a computer screen for most of the day; Triscuits and dried apricots, and earlier than that, half a leftover calzone. And I did have coffee that morning.)

The brain is a strange thing, eh? As much as I used to pine for some kind of mystical experience, I know that I'd gnaw it to death after the fact. I'm not sure I'd ever be able to trust that it wasn't just one more trick of my unfathomable brain. "Flashing lights! Dead pixels in the middle of your eyes! Jesus Christ enfolding you in a loving embrace!" Is one of these things not like the others? Am I certain of that?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Final Straw

It wasn't the night last spring that someone came to our door at midnight. We were both sleeping, and Chloe's furious barking woke us up. Muzzy-headed, I staggered into the living room and peered out the front window. A shadowy figure stood hunched up against our front door. "There's someone out front!" I hissed. Mr. Thel and I crossed paths as I retreated back into the living room, and he ominously strode to the front door. He opened the door about five inches, blocking the opening with his body. In a low voice that would've made the devil himself take a step back, Mr. Thel asked, "What seems to be the problem?"

The bulky stranger was nearly to the road by now, but he turned to say that he needed his car jump-started. In the same quiet tone, Mr. Thel calmly explained that it was midnight, that we were sleeping, and that he wouldn't be able to help just then. Then he gently but firmly closed and locked the door. (He then told me that he'd helped someone at the (alleged) crack house who needed a jump earlier that same day; he says this wasn't the same guy, but that he did watch this fellow walk back to the (alleged) crack house after we turned him down.)

But that wasn't the last straw.

It wasn't even the late summer night when we discovered them stealing our water.* Mr. Thel was at band practice that Sunday night. I was reading in the living room when I heard a weird rushing sound. I dismissed it and kept reading; a few minutes later Chloe sounded the alert, and at first I irritatedly shushed her for barking at nothing. Then I heard the quiet male voices just outside. A peek through the bedroom blinds revealed two figures huddled in our side yard, right up next to our bedroom window.

I will freely confess to you that I am, by nature, a timid person. Two men skulking in my yard after 9 pm? The phone was smoking from the speed with which I dialed 911. I kept an eye on them while I talked to the dispatcher, who took me very seriously and had a patrol car at our house within five minutes. But by then, I had watched the two stagger away carrying between them an obviously very heavy laundry bucket sort of container. When the police came, two excruciatingly polite and adorable fresh-faced young officers** had me show them where I'd seen the trespassers. The yard there squelched wetly, though we hadn't had rain for days. One cop ranged out to the street and remarked, "Well, there's a trail of water down the street here."

They strolled off following the wet trail. I watched it lead them unerringly to the (alleged) crack house. Quiet voices, no loud confrontations; soon the police trudged back. One of them told me, "We got up there and asked them about it, and they were like...'Water? Oh, yeah, we do have a bucket of water back here, but that's our own, we didn't take it from anyone.' I was like, 'Dude, we just followed the trail straight here.' We told them they can't be trespassing like that, and they said they were real sorry..." He shrugged. "You got the best alarm system around, though, with that puppy in there," he nodded approvingly.

The next day one of the residents of the (alleged) crack house came by to apologize directly. "Our water's been shut off, and I told them when I left for work that day that I just wanted the toilets flushed by the time I got home. But my God, I sure didn't tell them to go take water from our neighbors." She seemed genuinely angry with the men in her house--relatives or friends, who she said came to stay through a rough patch and hadn't yet hauled themselves out of the roughness yet--and embarrassed about the situation. And yet her best defense was that she had told them to take the water from the other blue house on the street, the one that didn't have anyonen living there. And the neighbors next to us say they had the same water-thieving situation a few nights later. (Mr. Thel cleverly shut off the valve to the outside spigots at that point. I wish I could say we've been merely happy, instead of retroactively disgruntled, by how much lower our water bill has been since then.)

But that wasn't the last straw, either.

It wasn't the constant foot traffic in and out of that house. It wasn't the steady stream of cars that pull up to that house for a minute, wait while someone runs out to them, conduct a brief exchange, and drive away. It wasn't hearing the neighbors' story of seeing one of the residents at the (alleged) crack house get beaten by several other men in the front yard, one of whom (allegedly!) kept yelling out, "Where's my money, man? Where's my money? Get me my money, man!" between punches. It wasn't hearing the neighbors tell us that the victim broke away and ran off to hide in our dark back yard from his assailants.

No, those things piled up, and we said to ourselves, "We need to start documenting this." We got used to rolling our eyes about the (alleged) crack house, and telling ourselves we should figure out where to report this kind of thing.

But a final straw has been detected. A five-gallon bucket, last seen tucked against the corner of our house, has disappeared. Water is one thing; water, after all, is life. Skulking around to steal it is Not Okay, but it's understandable. But setting foot all over our land and taking actual stuff? Even our cheap plastic car-wash bucket? Oh HELL no, y'all.

And that, my friends, was the final straw.

For your reference, the number to call is one of these:

Narcotics Section (206)684-5797 (8:00 am - 4:00 pm)
Non-emergency 9-1-1 (206)625-5011
Community Police Team:
North Precinct (206)684-0851
South Precinct (206)386-9180
East Precinct (206)684-4370
West Precinct (206)684-8996

More info here. The person you speak to will be interested and polite, if my experience is any guide. And it won't be an instantaneous process. I'll keep you posted.

*That was the same night that Chloe locked me out of the house. While I was out talking to the unbearably cute policemen, she was still amped up over all the agitation and excitement. She jumped up against the door several times. She knows the general principle of a doorknob, being foiled in attempts to operate them only by her lack of opposable thumbs. Failing to open the door, she managed instead to lock the deadbolt securely. Naturally my keys were still in the house. Fortunately Mr. Thel arrived mere minutes after I convinced the cops it would be okay to leave me there for the few minutes it would take him to get home.

**I know I sound like such a crone. But it's all true.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Oh Christmas wire, oh Christmas wire

I had a germ of an idea about a Christmas tree, this year. Our house has no room for a cut tree. In the past, purchasing a potted tree hasn't worked out very well for us either. (We neglect them to death.) Perhaps, my idea-seed whispered, I could make some kind of a facsimile of a Christmas tree. After all, I'm a crafty soul, am I not? Do I not have creativity a-bubble in my soul?

Having not planted this germ, nor thought further on it in any way, I found myself last Friday evening with the news that snow would probably fall on Saturday. Mr. Thel and I went out to see August Rush (an insufferable, cloying, eye-rolling, suspension-of-disbelief-puncturing blot of a movie that I am almost completely unable to recommend), and on the way home I made him stop at a Fred Meyer. I had a vague idea about using wire; couldn't find wire. Maybe coat hangers? Only wooden ones available. Frustrated and idealess, I wandered through the home section willy-nilly, hoping inspiration would strike. I paused at the live trees for a moment, feeling defeated, but a burst of defiance led me out into the garden area.

Aha! Madness and inspiration struck me like a hammer. I bought one package of something similar to these:

plus one roll of green tape. $8 later I scurried out the door, cackling and rubbing my hands with glee. Metaphorically.

Saturday morning, of course, the sketchily imagined project itself turned out to be a bit harder to create than I had airily visualized. No doubt buying a potted tree and plunking it down in the living room would have been several times easier and faster than wrestling with wire all morning. Nevertheless, I finally ended up with a roughly conical structure that let me wrap a strand of colored lights around it, hang all my ornaments on it, and even throw a star on top. Without falling over. And it never needs watering! Works for me. Ring in the holidays, my "tree" is decorated and proud.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 4

What Thel Saw

1. On my blog statistics. I had more visitors yesterday than any other day in Heavy Duty Power history, y'all. This pleased me until I realized that at least half of them were due to my excerpting a big chunk of news from KOMO's website, leading people interested in storm updates straight to this scraggly little corner of the internet. Oops. Sorry about that. But if you like occasional pictures of a wily German Shepherd, or rambling about about riding the bus through Seattle, do stick around.

2. On the bus. Scratched in a plastic panel, amidst all the gang graffiti and illegible scrawlings, is a well-done rendering of Homer Simpson's head.

3. At Real Live Preacher, some words that resonated with me:

Are you just ornery enough to stare down an empty universe and say, “I DEMAND that there be meaning in these skies.” And then you stare real hard and angry right into the Milky Way. Then you laugh because of how small and silly you are. You laugh at yourself, but you keep staring. You ARE going to stare down the universe.
I might stare for awhile, but then I crumple away and slink off in anger and terror. Still, something makes me keep coming back for another attempt at bending the universe to my will. Smart.

4. At home. Unfinished knitting projects compete with Robin Hobb's Tawny Man< series for my attention. Guess which group won? As if I could set down book 3 of the Farseer Trilogy and not be impatient to move on to see what happens next.

5. On the bus again. A boy of about 2 years plays with his sister, closer to 4, while their mother tries to get some paperwork finished. He darts away once too often, and mom has sharp words for him. She makes him sit still in his seat, and he sobs at the injustice of being unable to run up and down the aisle any longer. Then--I wasn't staring, I could see their reflections in the window--his big sister gathered him up into her arms, tucking him up onto her lap and patting his back soothingly while he cried softly. Aw.

Monday, December 03, 2007

And the floods came up

At last we bid farewell to December 3, 2007: the second-wettest 24-hour period in Seattle's recorded weather history.

I thought there weren't any signs of the extreme rainfall near my house as I approached tonight. But then I got off the bus and saw that I was wrong. Just around the corner from us is a P-Patch which has become a lake. The picture doesn't convey how deep that ditch is that leads down to the gardens. The corner of the new pond was spilling steadily over the sidewalk; fortunately the storm drain there was handling it capably.

Perfect use of the internet

It's no secret that, like many people, I get a little obsessed with severe weather events. Refresh, refresh, refresh on the local media sites.

The Seattle Times has set up an interactive updateable map of local areas affected by the recordbreaking rainfall today:

Not too many folks have updated yet (likely people with flooding houses don't have "update the internets with my plight!" at the top of their task list), but it could be a really helpful resource.

Down came the rain

Uh, holy Northwest hurricane, Batman:

Updated Monday 8:30 a.m.
Current Headlines: Winds easing a bit along the coast, but still over 60 mph. Peak gusts from 80-120 mph recorded. Almost all major roads along coast are blocked by down trees and power lines. Several local mudslides and urban flooding problems. Amtrak service suspended between Eugene and Vancouver. Flood Warnings continue for several rivers. Freezing rain is falling at Snoqualmie Pass. Heavy rain continues to fall across Puget Sound -- Seattle well over 2.5" of rain since midnight.

SEATTLE - The largest of three consecutive storms was moving through Western Washington Monday, bringing heavy rain, damaging wind, and potential for major flooding along Olympic Mountain-fed rivers.

The Washington and Oregon coast were severely battered by the storm Monday morning. Wind speeds have been clocked at 85 mph in Astoria and 81 mph in Hoquiam. (Hoquiam has since lost power, so we don't know if it's been worse.) Meanwhile, an unofficial report out of Bay Center, Wash. (near Long Beach) had a measured gust of 119 mph. (They stick out on a headland a bit and have a free shot at strong wind.)

But these aren't occasional gusts -- there have been steady gusts in the 65-75 mph range in those areas all morning. Meanwhile, weather instruments at Tatoosh Island and Destruction Island along the coast are reporting sustained winds of 70 mph, gusting to 85 mph.

Power outages and hazardous driving conditions have forced many school districts to delay or cancel classes. (See complete school closure list)

Grays Harbor County Sheriff Mike Whelan says the storm damage on the Washington coast is the worst he's seen in 30 years in law enforcement.

The Washington State Patrol says most major roadways in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties, including U.S. Highways 12 and 101, are closed or blocked due to high winds and numerous trees and power lines down across the counties. It is not known when roads will reopen.

Two Grays Harbor PUD power line workers trying to restore service were injured, one seriously in a 40-foot fall, when a windblown tree hit a lift truck bucket Sunday night, sheriff's deputy David A. Pimentel said. Both were hospitalized, one with head injuries and the other with back injuries.

Whelan says rescuers had to use chain saws and dodge falling trees to clear the highway to get an ambulance to the scene. One worker has been taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The other is at Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen.

Whelan is a storm victim himself. A falling tree smashed his truck in the driveway at his home. He had to be picked up by a patrol car.

Grays Harbor PUD says they have at least 33,000 people without power, but won't be able to further assess the damage until daylight. In the interim, they have pulled all their crews off the streets until the winds calm down.

Schools in that area closed for the day due to lack of power.

Problems were plenty in the Puget Sound area as well. Sounder service between Everett and Seattle was canceled because of some mud on the tracks. There are extra buses in Everett and Edmonds to help with commuters.

Mudslides halted north-south Amtrak passenger train service between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia.

In the greater Seattle area, heavy rain -- storm totals of over 2" since late Sunday night -- is creating local flooding problems.

A mudslide blocked part of Westlake Avenue North in the 2400 block. Another mudslide blocked one lane of Highway 99 near 14th Avenue South, and a sinkhole ruptured the road at Golden Gardens Drive NW and NW 85th Street near Ballard.

Standing water was also a big problem on all area roadways.

Several Warnings In Effect

Here are the myriad of warnings and watches in effect for the storm:

A HIGH WIND WARNING remains in effect for the coast, Admiralty Inlet area, northwestern Olympic Peninsula area, the greater Everett/Snohomish County area, the Hood Canal area, the lower Chehalis Valley, and the area around Port Townsend through 4 p.m. Monday.

This storm is expected to bring sustained winds of 40-50 mph, gusting as high as 80-100 mph along the coast and Sekiu/Clallam Bay, Neah Bay area. For the rest of the places listed in that warning, gusts are expected as high as 60 mph.

The largest gusts are expected until around 7 a.m. along the coast, then the winds are expected to abate a bit through the morning (still very windy though), and then perhaps another wave of wind toward late morning/midday, but not quite as strong as before.

As to why the seemingly sporadic locations for the Wind Warning, this storm is poised to bring out a local wind-generating effect, which I'll get to a little later in this discussion.

For the rest of Western Washington, including the greater Seattle-Tacoma (but not Everett since that's in the warning) area, A WIND ADVISORY is in effect for the same time frame. (A Wind Advisory is a notch below a High Wind Warning). Here, winds are expected to gust as high as 40-50 mph. Yes, while the coast is going gang-busters, this does not look like a big wind event for the I-5 corridor, save for perhaps the Snohomish County area, as the Olympics are providing a barrier to strong wind here.

A WINTER STORM WARNING remains in effect in the Cascades through Monday morning. Conditions have warmed considerably, but pockets of cold air near the surface means continuing snow for Stevens Pass, and freezing rain problems in Snoqualmie Pass.

FLOOD WARNINGS are now in effect for all rivers that feed of the Olympic Mountains. That includes the Bogachiel, Skokomish, Elwha, Dungeness, Satsop, Deschutes, and Chehalis Rivers. A FLOOD WARNING has also been issued for the Puyallup River near Orting, the Tolt River and the Issaquah Creek.

The information is fast changing so the best advice is to go to and bookmark this link: ( You might need to scroll down. Some of Portland's flood warnings will be listed there too, and it's listed chronologically by update time.)

That is the direct page to the National Weather Service Flood Warnings. It has specific details on all rivers under Flood Watch and Warning.

As much as 6-10 inches of rain are expected in the Olympic Mountains, and some Olympic-fed rivers could see record flooding with this event. If you live in this flood plain, take immediate precautions and finalize them as soon as possible. Flooding will likely begin Monday and continue through Tuesday and possibly into Wednesday as the water flows downstream.

The Cascades will also see rain approaching 5 inches, so flooding is expected on Cascade rivers as well, but hopefully not to the extent the Olympics will get it.

A FLOOD WATCH remains is in effect for all other mountain-fed rivers in Western Washington in anticipation of Monday's heavy rain, but many Cascade rivers could go on Flood Warning soon.

A HIGH WIND WARNING is also in effect for the mountains, where ridgetop winds could reach 80-100 mph gusts -- especially in the Olympics. This is not a time to be hiking or mountain climbing. Pass travel will also be very difficult.

A HIGH SURF WARNING is in effect for the coast, where seas have been recorded as high as 40-45 feet off the north Oregon coast, and 39 feet off the south and central Washington coast.

And in a related warning, a COASTAL FLOOD WATCH is in effect from Sunday evening through Monday evening for problems associated with high surf and beach erosion.

Finally, an AVALANCHE WARNING is in effect for the Cascades through Monday as conditions are very dangerous in the mountain backcountry.

Storm Stats So Far:

Wind: Peak Gusts So Far

Bay City, Ore.: 129 mph (Unofficial)
Bay Center, Wash: 119 mph (Unofficial)
Tillamook, Ore. (tide station): 100 mph
Florence, Ore: 91 mph
Clallam Bay: 90 mph (estimated)
Hurricane Ridge: 86 mph
Astoria, Ore.: 85 mph
Destruction Island: 84 mph (Sustained 65-73 for several hours)
Tatoosh Island: 82 mph
Hoquiam: 81 mph (Station went dark at 4 a.m.)
Tillamook, Ore (Airport): 74 mph
Aberdeen: 62 mph
Forks: 58 mph
Bellingham: 53 mph
Shelton: 51 mph
Oak Harbor: 49 mph
Kelso: 41 mph
Olympia: 39 mph
Rain: Storm totals since Midnight through 8 a.m.

Shelton: 3.71"
Seattle: 2.58" (About to climb into Top 10 wettest days ever.)
Olympia: 2.17"
Everett: 1.70"
Tacoma: 1.41"
Sequim: 0.18". (The Olympic Rain Shadow is in full force today. Take a peek at the radar and note the big hole over the northeastern Olympic Peninsula.)
The Rain Timeline

Heavy rain will continue through the day and into Monday evening before finally tapering off. As much as 2-4" of rain is expected in the lowlands, while 8-12" of rain are expected in the Olympic Mountains, and 4-6" possible in the Cascades.

Combine that with warm temperatures (highs Monday will be well into the 50s), and that's a classic recipe for major flooding.

And with that much rain in the lowlands, urban flooding is possible as well. You can help by trying to keep drains clear of leaves.

The Wind Timeline

For the areas listed in the High Wind Warning:

Strong winds will pick up along the coast in the wee hours of Monday morning, and continue to blow through the day. This is not a typical windstorm where we have the low center pass through and we get 2-5 hours of wind. This is an extended event where strong winds are expected from 6-10 hours in the areas listed in the wind warning.

So high winds are expected to blow through the day Monday and then taper off Monday afternoon or early evening.

For the areas listed in the Wind Advisory, it shouldn't blow quite as strong or as long, but it will still be a very blustery day.

Why Snohomish County for the Wind Warning?

As we mentioned before, this is not our typical windstorm where the winds don't pick up until we have a big area of low pressure passing through to our north. Those typically last, oh, 4-6 hours on the coast, and 2-3 hours inland.

This one is different, but difficult to explain in layman terms. Suffice to say, even though it's farther offshore, it's a rather large storm, and the way its fronts are aligned, it'll "open the door" to the winds to race out toward the low earlier than usual. That door will open very early Monday morning and won't "close" until late Monday evening, thus making for an extended period of strong winds.

Aside from that, we have something forming called a "lee-side low" or "lee trough". This is a very localized effect caused by large amounts of air rushing around a mountain. On the other side, it'll form an eddy on the back side of the mountains where the air is rushing. (You might see this on the beach, when waves rush past a rock, note how the water swirls in wake of the rock.)

In this situation, the lee trough is forecast to form around the northern Hood Canal area. This creates a localized effect where that low will cause a "mini-windstorm" and enhance the pressure difference over a small area. That area is expected to be that Admiralty Inlet, western Snohomish County, North Hood Canal and the northeastern Olympic Peninsula, like Port Townsend and Port Ludlow.

The other areas in the warning outside this area are just in the warning for "normal" winds to get strong. What a crazy way to start December!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bus fuss

I waited in the teeth of the wind as the daylight faded. If you wait inside the bus shelter, out of the worst chill, the bus will not see you; it will rumble past without slowing, and you will wait another fifteen minutes. Ask me how I know this. So I waited outside, hunching my back against the wind.

The bus, when it came, was warm, all the windows heavily steamed up from all the passengers. A couple of people stood in the back, and I resigned myself that all seats were taken and staggered down the aisle toward them as the bus lurched into motion. Just a few seats from the front, though, a young woman wearing a fuzzy white hat sat in the aisle seat with only her tote bag slung across the window seat. White earbuds plugged her ears and her head nodded rhythmically to her music. Stopping at her side, I waited expectantly.

She didn't look up. I cleared my throat. She finally tilted her head toward me. I pointed at her bag. She raised her eyebrows. I enunciated carefully, "I'd like to sit down."

Surprise flitted across her face. "Oh, um. Okay," she said. She slowly picked up her bag, drew it onto her lap, and turned her body slightly sideways, leaving a gap of about four inches between her knees and the seat in front of her. When it became clear that this was as far as she was going to move, despite my own body being slightly wider than four inches, I dragged myself through and flopped down heavily into the window seat. "Thanks," I said, and then I snidely added with a little smile, "I don't think your bag needs a seat all to itself!"

I wasn't sure she heard me; she said nothing, and soon her head began to bob rhythmically once again. But soon my conscience smote me mightily for my passive-aggressive little act. Once I'd gained the seat, there had been no call for further verbal barbs. An apology was in order, obviously. Or was it? On the balance sheet of our interaction, had my rudeness outdone her own so much that I had fallen into her debt? I wasn't sure. Yes, I'd been a sarcastic brat. But she had forced me into it through her own headphone-wearing oblivious selfishness!

She began to hum softly to her music. Probably not on the verge of sobbing, then. And now minutes had passed. Wouldn't it be obtrusive and weird to turn to her and abruptly apologize? No, an apology would be too much, now. It would draw us into a conversation that her humming, head-nodding ways were obviously meant to forestall.

Still, I had to do something. And it came to me. I determined to thank her when we parted ways. When at last she or I rose to depart, I would catch her eye and give her a humble smile. No, it would have to be not so much a smile as a wry look of slight regret, and shame. I would also manage to tinge it with gratitude and forgiveness.

I would fix this incredibly communicative expression on my face and softly say, "Thank you." And in those two words, I would pour out all the emotion in my remorseful soul. With that look and those two words, I would let her know that she had been oblivious, and that I had been rude, but that it was all behind us now. My face would make plain that we were two sisters on the bus, bound by our transit route, and the world stretched anew before us. Somehow my glance would make her resolve to be more aware, and would tell her that I vowed to be less snappish. She would hear my thanks and know that I was grateful not just for the seat, or for her forgiveness and her new intentions; she would know that I was grateful to be alive, on this bus, and that I wished her well in her struggles. She would feel a flood of gratitude for our human family, foibles and all.

And perhaps I could add just a slight twinkle of humor to my eye, to share my amusement at her increasingly loud humming--no, no, better not make any further comments on her behavior. No twinkle, then. Just the World's Most Expressive Look and Heartfelt Thanks. My mind made up, I mentally rehearsed this upcoming performance until we drew up to my bus stop.

I turned to her. She swiveled her legs, once again leaving me a scant few inches to squeeze out. Nevertheless, I strengthened my resolve. I looked her in the eye, and nodded. "Thank you," I said with a smile.

She ignored me. Putting her tote bag where I had been, she settled back into her seat and adjusted her earbuds.

Clearly my performance needs more work. Next time I also probably shouldn't roll my eyes and sigh loudly before I walk away.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Welcome, winter

Last year at this time we'd had snow on the ground for a week straight. This afternoon it began to fall again, heavy wet flakes blizzarding in the breeze. Mr. Thel and I strolled up to the taco truck for lunch, and the wait outside turned us into snowcones. Luckily my year-old wool hat, knitted at Thanksgiving last year, kept my head toasty. My khaki-clad legs were not so lucky; I was happy to scuttle back inside with my ginormous burrito.

Mmmm, carne asada. Mmmm, snow.