Friday, August 28, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

This is Graham and his dog, Bear. Graham got Bear in the fall of his kindergarten year.

And now Graham is off to college. I guess Bear will stay home and count the days till Christmas...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I had a jolly day today.

This morning I drove to the airport to fetch a former undergrad (Australia) and grad (OSU) college roommate of that Spouse o' Mine's, Mark - from Australia, now giving some papers or hoo-hah in Washington, D.C.

So, rewind to college years of yore: Mark, (and Paul and all the Aussies, I guess, ), were laid-back guitar-playing hippy types. In fact, that Spouse o' Mine was a real blonde, surfy-type, and a guitar-playing dude. I LIKED him!! And this is how I still see them all, 30 years later. I had told our three kids that Mark was this long-haired hippy guy who is so laid back and tons of fun.

Well! I met him at the gate, and I guess I forget to fast-forward all of us 30 years - here comes this professor-Sean Connery-looking guy in professional dress who has clipped grey hair! No Scottish accent, just the nice Aussie lilt of which I am familiar. He and I have had an absolute ball today, trying to recollect names and experiences. Either he recalls something and I don't, or vice versa. It was so funny! (Heaven knows WHAT his blog back home will describe me as...)

What is so nice, as my blog a few weeks ago which spoke about family reunions mentions - meeting up with Mark held no consternation; I knew Mark. Mark knows me. There is such fun in visiting with someone from That Spouse o' Mine's past who knows all the puzzle pieces of our life, and that Spouse's life in Australia, before me, and our life past and present.

That's all there is, tonight.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What the Future Doth Hold

The cicadas are doing their rant outside.

The humidity is more than I would like to take.

The morning sunlight is coming later this week, and the evening sunset seems in a hurry.

Could it be? Is autumn looming not far in my future? Oh, be still my soul. I am SOooo ready for winter wear and kicky boots. (I know, at 49, I need to be deleting the word "kicky" out of my personal wardrobe adjectives...)

But I am ready! Bring on the wind and sleet and snow and dark mornings and dark afternoons.

I am ready!

Postscript: a link!!

And this is why I love Niece Melinda (one reason) : she sent me this link: I an angry flower?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Punctuation Lesson Number 1016: (More or less)

OK, let's cut to the chase: the apostrophe is good for the following, and ONLY the following:

It is a punctuation mark which has two main functions:

It marks omissions:
e.g., do not: don't
e.g., it is: it's
e.g., is not: isn't
e.g., there is: there's
e.g., was not: wasn't
e.g., would not : wouldn't
e.g., can not: can't

Hopefully you readers can get the gist ad infinitum.

The apostrophe also assists in marking the possessives of singular nouns:
e.g., the girl's book
e.g., the peacock's feathers

If you have more than one girl or peacock, then:
...the girls' book
...the peacocks' feathers

Do not use the apostrophe if you are writing "its", as in "The racehorse gave its best."
If you do, it will say: The racehorse gave it's best. (The racehorse gave it is best.)

Good grief, this is not difficult to comprehend. This punctuation business has been going on for years! Decades! Centuries! But for some reason, the past decade or more has shown that punctuation rules have dropped so low as to make normal reading even of newspapers and internet dreary reading for one who adheres to normal grammar and punctuation.

A couple of years ago I emailed a Wall Street Journal advertiser who misused the words "its" and "it's". I received a not-very-nice email in return. But I suspect, given this writer's tone on reply, that I was not the only editor in the country who had written him that day.

So here is my rant.
Get with it, you English writers!
This is not difficult.
Follow the ding-dong rules.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ragweed: Ambrosia

Ragweed: Ambrosia

Ragweed! The bane of my autumnal existence.

The scientific name of the genus of this plant is Ambrosia. If I were a swearing person (and sometimes I am, but perhaps my readers are not...) I would say %!/^! AMBROSIA?!?! Food/drink of the ancient greek gods?! OK. Hell's bells and little fishes. There. I said it. Ambrosia, my eye.

There is a beetle, the Ophraella Communa, which is a leaf-eater. It has been proposed that this beetle could be used for effective biological control against ragweed. But herein lies the rub: the Ophraella Communa likes sunflowers as much as it likes ragweed. And I live in the Sunflower State. I guess that's out.

I would like to request that everyone slow their breathing. According to research, higher levels of carbon dioxide will greatly increase ragweed pollen production. So, slow it down, right now. Go practice yoga, if you please.

Funny - the Common Ragweed (of which I am speaking) is also called Bitterweed (probably because I am bitterly sneezing/itching/hacking) and Bloodweed (probably because it just makes my blood boil that something as simple as a simple weed can disrupt my sleep, my morning, my afternoon, and my evening.)

Ok. I have vented.

Enjoy your autumn.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On the Road

I wish I could claim this as my own, but it's not. But I think it describes me, to a "T".

On the Road to Buddhahood
by David Budbill

Ever plainer. Ever simpler.
Ever more ordinary.

My goal is to become a simpleton.

And from what everybody tells me
I am making real progress.

(from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Checkpoint Charlie


We have been watching the world track and field championships this week. I get such an enjoyment listening to these athletes; they are, for the most part, so well-spoken and it is a pleasure to listen to their interviews.

The meet is being held in Berlin, Germany. No longer East Berlin and West Berlin. Just...Berlin. Years ago, in October of 1989, I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin (at that time, both East and West). My companions and I, all flight crew flying a JFK-Frankfurt-Berlin trip, decided to cross over to East Berlin that evening for dinner. We wanted to see and experience the communist East Germany which we had heard so much about in our Land of the Free.

I had a professor in college who was from East Berlin. (One of my majors was German.) He would on rare occasion tell us a story from his childhood. They were never happy stories - he told of Russian soldiers knocking his father's teeth out with the butts of their rifles. Of his neighborhood having to slaughter and eat their horses because they were hungry. He, like most in his generation, had nothing good to say about his childhood. When he was a young adult, he had a job which permitted him travel between East and West Berlin on rare occasion. One day he took all the cash he had, put it into his briefcase, and boarded the train to West Berlin, where he claimed asylum. He left behind his parents without ever telling them his plans. In later years, after he became a citizen of the U.S.A., he did make a few trips back to his home in East Berlin, but, as he told us, never without fear. On his last trip to see his aging parents, the border guards at Checkpoint Charlie delayed him and questioned him to the point that he was afraid to ever return to East Berlin. That was such a sad story he told. He never went back.

On our evening at Checkpoint Charlie, I was the LOD for our crew - Language of Destination. That meant I was the person who spoke German for the others. This was generally a fun thing, and the perk was that I received $50 extra for any flight that I was LOD. Yippee! A tiny little payoff for all those high school and college hours I methodically studied vocabulary and grammar.

We entered Checkpoint Charlie with our passports, and the questions were pretty basic: Who are you, what do you do, why do you want to enter East Berlin, ( have dinner?)...As they stared at my passport, they asked me twice to remove my glasses. (I guess I was wearing contacts in my passport photo.) I was given rigid instructions (or so I felt ) as to what time that evening we must return to Checkpoint Charlie and leave East Berlin.

I have been through a lot of Customs corridors, have experienced interviews and questioning, and rarely does such bother me. But I recall being a little ill at ease that evening at Checkpoint Charlie. This was, after all, guarded by armed guards - so that the East Berliners would not try to scale the Berlin Wall. Impossible nowadays to comprehend.

We ate dinner (I had a duckling dish), walked around a bit, and returned to Checkpoint by our curfew. I remember all the cars were tiny. Like those tiny Yugos which never made it (from Yugoslavia - do you remember those?) The buildings were grey, and square, and ugly. It was late autumn, and things in general were grey. People in the restaurant and on the street were unsmiling. It was an unusual visit.

Well. Three weeks later - WHO KNEW?! President Reagan had uttered his famous words, " Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" two years earlier. WHO KNEW that three weeks after my travel to East Berlin, they would tear down the wall, and East Berlin was no longer.

Now! Fast-forward to just a few years ago, and that Spouse o' Mine and I were traveling through Germany. We traveled from Cottbus up to Berlin, and then back towards the western part of Germany. The travel from Cottbus up north was grey, square, and the same - just like what I had seen in East Berlin years ago.

So now we are watching the world championships of track and field this week, in Berlin. Hmm. History is so interesting, and history is not at all kind. Hearken back to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, when Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in track and field. Adolph Hitler was hoping to use the Olympics to to promote Nazi propoganda and Aryan racial superiority.

Thank God for Jesse Owens.

Germany. It has a long, long history, good and bad. As do so many countries and regions. I think - at least it is my wee opinion, that the recent (horrific) history of Germany prejudices most of us. Too bad. But it will be interesting for me to see what transpires in the next few centuries of Germany.

But, wait!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There He Goes!

There goes my baby.

He's running down the road, just like he has done every morning or every evening (and sometimes, both) for days, often weeks, sometimes months, sometimes a mile, more often 6-10 miles.

He's 18 years old now, getting ready to leave for university.

There goes my baby!

And here is my empty nest. I love the prospect of my empty nest. And I love that my youngest child is leaving, with love from both his parents, and his sisters, too. Words from my mother float to & fro, and now I hear her saying, "It's a blessing that your kids are capable of leaving, of going off on their own..." And so I, too, feel. It is a blessing.

I watch him run down the road most evenings as I am fixing dinner. My baby has an athletic physique now.

There goes my baby!

Where in the world did the time go?? The quiet toddler turned into the quiet nursery school kid, smiling at the goings-on in his surroundings...he must have been taking funny mental notes all along. When he met his grade school buddies, they "stuck" through high school. And funny, funny characters they were. They are all scattering this week, to different universities. I secretly hope they will keep in touch for years, but I know that is often not the case.

And there he goes, down our road, no doubt thinking of life beyond that rural road and into his new life, new friends, new teammates, new world.

And what do I feel?

Like a big long prayer is a'comin'.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Usain Bolt is a Jamaican sprinter. Today in Berlin's track & field world championships, he set a world record in the 100 meter sprint: 9:58 seconds. That is speedy. He is 6'5" tall and weighs around 190 lbs. This certainly does not fit the sprinter stereotype at all.

What must it feel like to know that you could outrun an elephant and a black mamba?

Usain Bolt

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Marital Bliss

I am watching some HGTV drivel about home renovation.

What a curiosity: the husband and wife are smiling and in happy happy conversation with each other. They are HIGH-FIVING each other as they progress through the jobs. Where did they find these people?

Ours is a "This Old House" situation, and rarely a day/week/month goes by that we don't have something household that needs attending to. There are tradeoffs to this to be sure - I love the unique charm and woodwork of this ca 1887 home. But back to the subject at hand: that Spouse o' Mine and I are not role models for wedded bliss in the home renovation business. (Small wonder HGTV has never knocked on our door.) He is a perfectionist and talented in the woodwork arena. I just want it done. Doesn't matter WHAT, I just want it done. Now. Or yesterday. He thinks things through to the 10th degree, sometimes to a fault, and I just want it done. Now. Or yesterday.

  • And I don't like to work in heat. He likes it.
  • He likes to JUMP out of bed on a Saturday morning and grab his coffee on the way out the door with his tools or saws or wood or whatever. I like to savor the weekend morning and ponder life for an hour or so.
  • He tends to "spread out" in his workspace, and maybe doesn't keep his tools neat and tidy like I would like.
  • I think that those holes in ladders are there for a purpose and one SHOULD put one's hammer/drill/screwdrivers in the holes, so they do not fall on one's head when one moves said ladder. I'm sure that Spouse o' Mine does not even consider those holes in the ladder at all...
  • Such is our home reno bliss, we each have our own tool boxes, have his & hers drills and jigsaws.

I could go on and on, but let's just leave it at this: those smiling nitwits I am seeing on TV are definitely not a "reality" show. I am living it right here...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ad Astra Per Aspera

I was at the State Capitol today, and I enjoyed a close-up of the sculpture on the capitol dome: Ad Astra.

It's a 22-foot bronze sculpture of a Kaw/Kansa warrior, aiming his bow to the North Star - appropriate to the Kansas motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera ("To the Stars with Difficulty"). The sculptor, Richard Bergen, completed the artwork in his Salina studio in 2002. On the trip from Salina to the state capitol (Topeka), the scultpure truck (I GUESS it was a truck) stopped at 35 schools along the way in order to let Kansas schoolchildren see the sculpture before it was placed on the capitol dome. Our Boy, then in 6th grade, got to see this wonderful piece of art.

Ad Astra by Richard Bergen

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nature Watch

Bird Watch:
If you attach a hummingbird feeder to your kitchen window, and then wrap little tiny twigs around it, you can watch hummingbirds up close and very personal when they stop for a drink and a rest. (They really like the little tiny twigs.) You have to hold very still when one alights, though, because they can see you just as easily as you can see them, and they aren't as fascinated in watching you wash the dirty pan as you are in seeing them at rest. They fly away. But freeze, and watch the hummingbirds drink and pause, drink and pause, and you will notice that they stick their little tongues out after a long sip, as if they are judging the bouquet of the red stuff: sip-sip-sip-sip! A hummingbird tongue looks like a string. The first time I saw one, I thought is WAS a string, stuck on the hummingbird's beak.

If I sneak outside, I can sit and hear them chirp and tweak at each other. They sit out on the trumpet vine and jasmine, and if you have a good eye, you can see them overhead in the big trees.

Caveat lector: Cooking dinner is sometimes slow-going in my kitchen. Factor in that on a heavily-trafficked hummingbird evening, I might freeze at the kitchen window for 45 seconds or more, every few minutes, just to see the different types and colors of birds that stop by. And to watch them vie for the twigs.

Bug Watch:

Praying mantises. I lOVE these guys. I am aware that the term "praying" is colloquial, (although I think that everyone calls them that, so how colloquial is that, I ask?) If we all had our PhDs in entomology we might delete the "praying" adjective, but then we would miss out on some language enrichment as well.

Last week that Spouse o' Mine brought a big, brown praying mantis into the house. "Oh!" I said. "Let's put him on the diffenbachia while we're gone this weekend and see if he will eat aphids!" I didn't even know if we had aphids, but opportunity was a knockin' on our door. So he set the mantis down, and our geriatric, million-year-old kitty promptly jumped up and pounced on it. Great scott, this cat never moves for hours or days on end; what triggered this erratic behavior?! We saved the mantis, placed it high in the plant corner, and left for the weekend. Upon our return, Mr. Mantis was still in the room, but on the other side from where we left him. I caught and released him, mentally thanking him for his services.

Tonight I spied a little green green green praying mantis on the lilac bush outside. I picked him up - he was only an inch or so long and showed him to that Spouse o' Mine, who was sitting on the chicken house roof. (That is another blog for another day...) Then I moved the mantis over to the cosmos garden to observe his activity. It was not altogether a simple task, to watch the little mantis allthewhile hearing that Spouse o' Mine yelling from the rafters of the chicken house about grabbing a 2x4 and holding the plywood sheet high above my 5'2" body (...oh, wait, that, too, is another blog for another day.)

When I got back to my task of mantis watch, I got to see him with part of an ant or an aphid in his mouth - and he was chewing!! Then he took the other half, which he was holding in his tibia or his tarsus, (his hand!), and put it in his mouth!! I snapped the cosmos stem and carried it (and the mantis) in to show the Boy. We watched the mantis move its head - some mantises can move their heads 300 degrees, and they have a good range of vision, with binocular vision and compound eyes. Mantises are so prehistoric-looking. George Lucas and his cohorts must have studied them before they set out to make their Star War movies. I love praying mantises. After watching the little mantis for a bit, I released him, too - out onto the cosmos again.

The Perseid Meteor Showers! One of my favorite annual events.

Back in my youthful days of flight attending, I was once working a flight across the Atlantic, in a 747. Those planes were my favorites to work on, and I usually bid for the Upper Deck - 16 business class passengers and the cockpit. Some flight attendants did not like the UD, did not like working so closely w/ the cockpit crew, but I really had a lot of fun with the pilots and this was my first choice of work stations, which could last for 5 hours (JFK-London) to 17 hours (JFK-Athens).

On the trans-Atlantic flights, one might imagine in one's mind's eye, flying straight east from JFK (New York) across the deep blue sea, holding at 40 degrees North latitude. But this is inaccurate; commercial airlines fly from JFK up to Greenland, over to Iceland, then down to Scotland, England, Germany, wherever. Why do they do this? Less time spent over the deep blue sea means more time in airspace near or over land, should one decide that one needs land on which to land.

Most of TWA's int'l flights took off in the early evening from JFK, flew all night and landed at their European/Middle Eastern destinations bright & early the following morning. As these flights passed landfall of Greenland and Iceland, the night sky over the ocean at 43,000' was as dark as dark could be.

One night, after we had completed the 5-course dinner service, (yes, those were the days, weren't they? - before peanuts and such), and just past Iceland, the captain came on and said, "Folks, there's a meteor shower going on tonight, so I am going to dim the cabin lights so you can look out and enjoy the site." WELL! I finished whatever it was I was doing, and made a beeline for the cockpit! I knew two things: The night sky was going to be dark as pitch, and I knew that the cockpit flew with no lights on during the night portion of their flights.

I grabbed one of the empty jumpseats up front, and spent the next half hour or so, watching the most amazing show of meteors I will ever hope to witness. They were zipping, one, maybe two, every minute. Incredible.

I still startle when I see a falling star. Out here in rural Kansas we get to witness them fairly often. And it will never, ever cease to thrill me.

Monday, August 10, 2009


So here's a continuation of a theme:

Not 24 hours after the Boy nailed his deer (and subsequently totaled his Jeep), I was driving down the highway with one of the Daughters and that Spouse o' Mine. He was fiddling with two pairs of sunglasses in his lap. What was he doing? What was he doing? What in the world was he doing with the two pairs of sunglasses in his lap? (This is the thought process which goes on in my a legible thought bubble perpetually running a conversation with itself...)

I moved my eyes back to the road, only soon enough to say "OH NO!!" and no sooner. BAM!

I smashed into a chest of drawers in the middle of the highway.

Uh oh.

But that's not accurate: it was a drawer to a chest of drawers. And it was indeed past tense, because the thing splintered upon impact. I looked over at that Spouse o' Mine, and he muttered SOMETHING under his breath, I know not what. I looked over the dials and lights on the dashboard which tell me everything and even MORE than I ever want to know about what is going on in, out, under and through the car, and nothing lit up or rolled back or came on to tell me anything. So I kept driving. (I think I might have said "Oops!", but I kept the conversation to a minimum.)

That Spouse o' Mine clearly had had enough of all things car that day (because early that morning we had to go fetch the dead Jeep out of the cornfield and tow it home, then put our wedding finery on and drive 5 hours to a friend's wedding.) So he was probably more in a state of escape than in actual fatigue when he fell asleep as I continued driving down the long long highway. Soon, I heard a flap-flap-flap-flap from under the car. That Spouse o' Mine woke up and frowned a large frown. I said, "Shall I stop?" And he muttered SOMETHING under his breath, I know not what. So we stopped and all three of us stepped out of the car, and lookie there, there was a long piece of something which had gotten knocked off the front of the car, just below the bumper. Uh oh. And I spied that large frown again.

We threw the car piece into the car and continued on down the road to our happy happy weekend.

I hope I am accurate in saying:


Friday, August 07, 2009

Kansas and family hoo-hah. Ugh.

Yesterday proved itself a somewhat cool, overcast, and non-windy day.


I spent the morning planting lavender and a kabillion irises. Out in the front yard, I dug and planted and dug some more, to plant the iris starts that I acquired two weeks ago, at the K-State Iris sale. (Thank you to my neighbor Mary!)

Whilst out in the front yard finagling the iris nonsense, I watched a car pull up by our house. Hmm...Coming off a wonderful family reunion in Oklahoma the week before, I thought perhaps these were close personal relatives. But... their faces did not ring a recognizable bell. Nope, noone I knew.

A man hopped out of the car, and said to me, "You live on my road!" And I replied, "Oh! And where do you live?" (Thinking of course that he was my neighbor out here in rural Kansas...) And he said, "No - I am a Wabaunsee!" and that's when I got it - he, his wife, their small daughter, and his mother-in-law were all Pottawattamie, here for the Pot. Pow Wow. We took pictures of them next to some Wabaunsee street signs in front of our house and then they were off.

Today, another car stopped by our house. Another family stopped, also Pottawattamie, to take pictures by our house - the county salute to their Chief, Chief Wabaunsee. Such an interesting byway in my life.

Tonight, the Spouse o' Mine left to pick up one of the Daughters at the train station, from Chicago. At the same time, The Boy left for a party/bonfire with some of his high school track friends. Soon after he left the house, my cell phone rang. It was The Boy: every mom's nightmare: he had hit a deer. His Jeep wouldn't start, blah blah blah. I headed his way, and called the landowners where his Jeep would no doubt be overnighting.

OK. OK. The police officer was kind, as were the landowners, That Spouse o' Mine is upset, but whatever. The doe is dead, alongside the Jeep, which we Armstrongs must move before we make our 5-hour drive down south tomorrow afternoon.

Yes, yep: I love my life. I am thankful for the well-being of our three kids. Yep.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Today is August 3rd!

There are 150 days left in the year! Fall is just around the corner!


Let's see...

Mathematician that I am, I know that 150 is the sum of eight consecutive primes (7 + 11 + 13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31). We all know that.

The last Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 150.

Gabon ranks #150 in world population. (We didn't all know that, I suspect.)

Bernard L. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for running his Ponzi scheme.

I am sure there are 150 million other concepts to attach to "150", but I have better things to write:

They smiled as they took their seats next to each other on the plane. Both women settled into their seats and said nothing. The preflight came and went. Shortly after takeoff the pilot came on with his climbout announcement. But this time it was not the normal good ol' boy chitchat thanking them for flying with him today. He mentioned storms and turbulence and staying in their seats with their seatbelts securely fastened.

His announcement ended and the turbulence began. The plane lifted and dipped and rose again - and then a split-second pause before it dropped again, there was just a fraction of smooth air: long enough for the passengers to gain hope that the clouds were behind them, before the next hop and sway of the craft. This play of the clouds and the plane continued on into the night.

Finally the sky cleared. Finally the women spoke.

(and that was 150 words!)

Sunday, August 02, 2009


My question is: how is it that family can be so comfortable?

How can I feel so relaxed, going into a weekend prospect of seeing people that I have not seen for years, and some of whom have grown from nursery school to college, and yet, we can be perfectly at home with one another? Where is nature's explanation for this phenomenon?

I am aware that all families do not experience this pleasure. That's a shame. And I am aware that perhaps the inlaws of our family are not as comfortable with our hoo-hah as we kin are. But kin we are, and kith we embrace as readily as our own, whether they like it or not.

Our family reunion this weekend was a delight! A celebration of life, ambition, trials, and successes! It was reassuring to visit with the elders of our family. A blessing to see the newest addition to our family, a baby girl, two weeks old. Inbetween, we had a plethora of college kids and college grads.

My hope for our extended family is that each of the younger generations can feel as comfortable and "at home" with each other as we cousins do now, in our middle age. Yes, they are more extended, but family is so important. I hope this next generation "gets it" - that blood is indeed thicker than water. They should be there for each and every "other"; close or distant relative. We can hearken to the tribes in the Bible.

I love that I can call on any of my brothers , and could call on any of my cousins for anything, and they would be there, no questions. I have never had to do this; I just know this is true. As that Spouse o' Mine and I would be for any of them. Any time.

So, this note is just a written celebration of my blessing - my family, my kith & kin. We love and are loved.
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