Saturday, May 30, 2009

Thank Your Hound Day

Niece Melinda and I were exchanging emails this week: lasagna recipes, dungeness crab larvae, graduating parties, bedbugs...

Bedbugs?! According to Niece Melinda, bedbugs are spreading through the US. I tucked this gem of information somewhere in my head and gave it not another thought.

And then tonight I read an article about bedbug-sniffing dogs. Amazing. There is a trainer who trains bedbug dogs and then sells them for upwards of $9000:

Having had the experience of being detained in Chilean Customs by fruit-sniffing dogs (I mentioned this in a previous blog...), I am very fascinated by the training of these canines or other animals used in tracking/sensing/whatever. (Like truffle-sniffing pigs?) My Chilean experience was pretty interesting. I was standing at the luggage carousel waiting for my bags. I collected my first bag (which contained the 2 bags of processed prunes, one of which I had opened), and as I waited for the second bag to appear, this ADORABLE yellow lab walked up and sat down right beside me. How cute! And so pretty! And then, lo and behold, a matching yellow lab appeared on the other side of me! And sat there just as nice and pretty as the first! Like bookends! I smiled at them both, and looked around for the no-doubt proud owner.

It was then that the Customs official approached me and asked if I had any fruit in my bag. No, I replied, I had thrown out my bananas and apples while still on the plane. (That is, after all, what one is supposed to do.) Did I have any dried fruit, raisins, perhaps? Why, yes, I have two bags of prunes with me. (Note: We were arriving on an very early morning Sunday morning into a S. American country which I assumed would have no grocers or restaurants opened on our 3-hour drive south of Santiago, so I packed tuna and prunes simply to get us through that first 1/2 day in Chile.) Well. Apparently Chile's import rules state that in addition to fresh produce, no packaged and processed fruit may be brought through customs. Tuck this gem of information somewhere in your head. One hour and $63.00 later, I was released from the little questioning room and into the awaiting rental car. All was well.

But back to these bedbugs. And the prunes. And the dogs who, in a catastrophic situation, can perform search and rescue. What a service (hence the name, right?) these animals perform for us humans with the inferior olfactory sense!

Go pet a dog.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writer's Block

Wowee, I haven't gotten too far into my Summer o' Writing, and I already am stumped for subject matter. Granted, I just walked in the door and realized I have yet to do today's self-imposed assignment. So I will tell a tale of humility:

A few years ago I was getting dressed for church. Our family is like most American church-going families, and we were rushing around at the last minute as was par for the Sunday course. Dress on, black slingbacks on, I rushed through the living room and kitchen yelling, "Ten minutes! TEN MINUTES!" I must have learned this from my mother, because I have vivid memories of her running from the back bathroom in my childhood home to her bedroom yelling, "Twelve minutes!"

As I moved through the house wailing like a night watchmen, I thought to myself, only in the BACK of my mind, that one of my shoes felt looser than the other. And the thought was fleeting as I continued on my mission to get husband and kids out the door and into the sanctuary before the bells began to toll. (Our church really does have tolling bells, and if you are caught just underneath the belfry immediately upon the hour of worship, you can very nearly have a heart attack from the vibrating sound. It makes you quake and then you walk down the sanctuary aisle like a derelict truly in need of prayer.)

We got to church and I settled into some sort of meditation and attention to the sermon. When I sit, I tend to wiggle a foot. Either one, makes no difference. My Dad does it, too, as well as my brothers. I recall wiggling my foot, and then I re-crossed my legs. I glanced down at my foot. "That's not MY foot", I thought. Because THAT foot was wearing a black pump. Not a black slingback.


Everyone surely has a time in their life that they can't stifle a laugh without their shoulders silently heaving. I was DYING of embarrassment. I nudged one daughter, who nudged the other, and the three of us sat there in silent hilarity. (They, no doubt, were enjoying the moment; I was simply mortified at the prospect of going up to take communion.)

How is it I can walk out of the house with no attention to detail?! More importantly, how is it that the other four members of this family would allow me to walk out of the house without a thorough inspection? Omigoodness.

I walked up to communion with both daughters following (quite literally) on my heels in the hopes that noone would notice that I was wearing one black slingback and one black pump. The guys in the family? Oblivious to the whole thing.

This was once again a lesson in humility. I have lots and lots of these gems, these "humility" moments...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Thrill of Victory

I love competitions. It's not that I am some sort of bulldog or cutthroat, but competition is fun and I love to win things. But I don't win very often. For each Scrabble game, bike race, chess match or tic tac toe game I win, there have probably been a kabillion defeats paving its path.

A couple of years ago I raced in the Sunflower Games - a cycling criterium, 7 miles/laps around the Heartland Speedway which, by the way, is really a race car track. I got 2nd place in my division. Or last. Potato, potahto. The funny thing about this race was that the REAL car races were to start as soon as the Sunflower Criteriums ended. So we cyclists were sharing the parking lots with big trailers and noisy cars and race car drivers who started revving up their engines even as we were pedaling like MAD going around their racetrack.

Since there were only two women racing that day, the Criterium officials put us in the Men's race, just to speed things up. Those race car drivers were getting antsy. So zoom! off we go, and I was dropped right after the first of many, many curves. I quickly saw my race goal change from winning the race to simply not getting lapped - which would mean getting pulled from the race. I spent the next 6.75 laps pedalling like the Wicked Witch. The last lap was something I will not soon forget. No, I did not get lapped, but I did spend my last lap out there on Heartland Speedway riding my bike ALL BY MYSELF. Not many people have experienced something like that. It could have been embarrassing, and perhaps it SHOULD have been, but it wasn't. I started noticing, near each curve, these race car drivers standing by the track, cheering me on! Clapping! No doubt they were thinking, "Get this lady OFF our track!" But they were certainly nice about it.

So...even though I got 2nd place (or whatever), I did feel a teeny tiny bit of thrill. Victory? Perhaps. I had done something a wee bit out of my comfort zone.

What about someone who is really GOOD at what they do? That person who is gifted and works hard and earns their just rewards, whose end results generally end jelly-side-up? I suspect the thrill of victory for them is every bit as wonderful for them as it is for me. I suspect maybe their rarer defeats are harder to swallow than my frequently-occurring ones.
Defeat can be agonizing. What separates the "real" competitor, the "real" athlete from the likes of me, the one who is thrilled just to be racing around a track? The real deal gets back on the proverbial horse and makes it happen next time. Me? I think that "real" gene skipped a generation with me. I am just happy to be out there.

Malcom Forbes once said, "Victory is sweetest when you know defeat." Mr. Forbes knew what he was talking about.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

May Days

The boy is upstairs playing guitar and I am downstairs playing mah jong. The mah jong is slow-going because I am a beginner and I am still getting a grasp on the pungs, chows, and kongs. I comprehend the tiles quite well, thanks to my mother's tutorials some 20-odd years ago in the enjoyment of Mah Jong computer games. (It is a perpetual delight of mine, that my now-80+ year old mother can navigate her computer better than some 20 year olds.)

Husband Paul is due home from Kenya in 2 days. Yay. This trip, 3 weeks in duration, has shown an amazing improvement in world communication from what he & I experienced in our Year in Egypt in 1984. Then, he might be delayed out in the desert for several days and I, in Cairo, would be without so much as a phone call telling me thus. I frequently wondered if I was a newlywed widow.

Fastforward only a few years later to "the internet" and "cell phones", (and my mother's tutorials on Mah Jong), the likes of which are now looked upon as so archaic as what I might envision ringing the operator a la Sheriff Andy Taylor, "Sarah, get me Aunt Bee."

This month, I have simply called Paul w/ a quick 15-digit phone number, and his cell phone out in the middle of rural Kenya picks up my call from out in the middle of rural Kansas.

And now: back to the mah jong conundrum.

Monday, May 25, 2009


It's not so much that I am a morning person as it is that Mother Nature is. This week's Morning Saunters presented:

3 deer,
5 bunnies, Canada Geese,2 coyotes (chasing aforementioned geese),2 Scissortail Flycatchers, 2 orioles, a skunk (live! not roadkill!), 3.5 snakes, a fox, an indigo bunting...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

3 simple pleasures

What are three simple pleasures in my life? Hmmm...

I love the area of my yard I have affectionately named the Grotto. The Grotto is seasonal: here in rural Kansas I have made an oasis, quite literally, shaded by banana trees and shielded from the wind by a tall privacy fence stained "Bombay Mahogany". By mid-summer, the banana trees are taller than the fence, the small pond is stocked with small fish, and the fountain buffers the noise from passing farm equipment on the road nearby. By late summer, when most everything in the yard has turned brown from the heat and wind, the Grotto is a vacation spot: huge, deep green leaves casting shade on the mahogany wood, hummingbirds fly right by my head as they vie for the various feeders I keep for them. One can almost forget the unrelenting heat and wind, sitting in the Grotto in an early morning or a late evening. A simple pleasure.

We have a couple of horses, retired from hard lives of the race track and the ranch life. What in the world are they good for? A simple pleasure: occasionally one will walk up and stand right before me. They aren't "petting" pets and are inclined to walk away if someone tries to treat them like a giant puppy. But occasionally, one will walk up and stand there. Just to say hi, get a sniff, lay his chin in my hand. And after a minute or two, he will walk away and our simple moment is over.

The road in front of our house is a favorite for cyclists in our locale. What a simple pleasure to be sitting outside in the morning, sipping my strong (so people say) coffee, and first hear, and then see, the local pelaton coming over the bend. It is truly a case of "if you blink you will miss it" because these cyclists are serious about speed. It is thrilling! And then, they are gone again. A simple morning pleasure...
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