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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Is the Nature of Your Emergency?

The flight from Philie to Halifax was calm and beautiful with the blue ocean outlining curves of green land.  We claimed our rental car at the airport and loaded our luggage, removed it and loaded it again. 
My brother-in-law slid behind the wheel with my sister took shotgun, and Steve and I sat in the back.  When you rent a car, there are always those first frantic moments while you locate all the buttons and amenities.  At this point, we (well, my brother-in-law) were having some trouble locating the controls to adjust the side mirrors.  My sister said, "What about these?" as she pointed to a row of icons on the rear-view mirror.  Just as my brother-in-law said, "Wait!  Don't touch th . . . " she poked at them.
"You have activated your On-Star, on-line emergency system," a computerized voice intoned.  "I am connecting you with help." 
"No!  No!" was accompanied by frantic jabbings. 

"Push that power icon!" I recommended, never allowing being in the back seat to prevent me from offering assistance.  She pushed at it. 

Just as we thought we had it powered down, a disembodied, female voice spoke through the air.  She sounded just like the commercials, too.  "What is the nature of your emergency?"
"There is no emergency!" my sister yelled in a panic. "We turned this on, and we're too stupid to figure out how to turn it off."
"I can help you with that," and the system shut off, just like that.
We found the mirror adjustment buttons.  Eventually my brother-in-law discovered how to turn off the tushie-warmer, and a few minutes later their GPS Lady (theirs is English, with a very cultured voice) found herself and began directing us to our hotel. 
The next morning we came out of the hotel and, dragging our suitcases, repeatedly clicked "unlock" in front of a silver Malibu to no avail.  Hmm, wronbg car.  We meandered all over the parking lot looking for where we'd parked the night before, and I thought, that On-Star lady didn't take care of our emergency.  We're still stupid. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

A couple of weeks ago I was walking up the driveway with our newspaper.  I looked up from the headlines (political venom reaches its height) to see four robins and 11 brown thrashers pecking away at our yard.  It felt like it might rain later, so I though it was possible the worms were rising, an easy birdie breakfast.  Still, that was a lot of birds.

Another fifteen minutes saw me ensconced on the screened-in porch with the paper and *sigh with satisfaction* a cup of coffee.  I looked up from nuclear developments in Iran to see a caucus of crows gathering in the copse between our house and the neighbors.  The ruckus began.  Crows have loud and determined discussions in our hickory and pine trees at indeterminate intervals.  I can never determine when or why as the itinerary is never made public.  (Well, there was that one time, that crow funeral, which I wrote about a long time ago, but usually there’s no comprehensible  reason for their gathering.)  This day’s debate was loud and earnest.

Eventually the commotion died down, and I sat reading depressing bombings in Iraq.  A few minutes later, I heard another sound, vaguely like the chirping of a cardinal although the cardinals were conspicuously absent. The trees are usually rife with them, singing and flitting in and out of the pine trees that overhang our porch. Where were they? Exiled by an avian vote?

I looked around for the weird sound.  Nothing. 

I settled into a depressing article about famine, and the peculiar call started up again.  This time the chirping morphed into a clucking.  I looked around again.  Nothing.

Now I was into a local shooting, the chirping-clucking going full force.  Had my neighbors acquired some odd kind of chickens?  I folded my paper and went out the screen door onto the deck for an in-depth look.  

Elaine was sunning herself, stretched out in the corner of the deck, whiskers and tail at rest.  She showed no – I mean absolutely no – interest in the sounds.  She’s 16 and going deaf, but still she’s a cat; you'd think bird noise would have gotten at least an ear twitch.    

The noise momentarily abated, then resumed full force.  I looked toward it, and, rounding the trunk of the old oak-chestnut was a big squirrel, and she was pissed!  I have not seen squirrels on the deck since we took down the bird feeder (and that’s a story that I will have to relay in another blog), but this one was highly indignant.  The chirping and clucking and spitting were being flung at Elaine, despite her complete disregard for the performance.   

That’s when I decided to leave murder and mayhem and the “peaceful” sounds of nature.  I took the crossword puzzle and went inside, closing the door behind me.   

PS  This morning it was blue jays.  Four big, beautiful blue jays were conversing in the pine trees.  Blue jays are always so loud, I wonder if they're a bit hard of hearing.  Anyway, I love the myth that says they guard the house, and I always like it when they're around.  Still not cardinals.

PPS  My own computer is off having its screen fixed, and we are headed to Nova Scotia next week for two more weeks.  I will diligently try to blog, but if you don't hear from me for a while, don't despair.  I promise to soon write you the story of the raccoons and my bird feeder.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They Go To School

Northern Virginia schools started last Tuesday. There is a really stupid law in Virginia that prohibits them opening before Labor Day. For some reason, the Virginia legislature believes it’s better for children to be in school for most of June where they can reap the benefits of the distraction of the hot, humid Virginia summer with, perhaps, a few more days tacked on for extra snow and (this year) flood closures. It also means that by the time school begins in September, everyone is SO ready to hear the purr of school buses down the lane. (No kid in Fairfax WALKS to school. We are too good for that.  We discourage such behavior by our lack of sidewalks -- we like to pretend to be rural -- and 100% bussing.)

The start of school is a big deal in my neighborhood. The elementary school crowd and their parents meet at the corner at ten minutes to nine. I don’t have kids in elementary school, but I go out there every year to enjoy the view.

This year we covered the corner. There must have been 25 or 30 children in their new clothes and well-scrubbed faces. The sixth graders were looking blase and sophisticated, talking quietly with a cool veneer that will break down by the first full week when they’ll be running and screaming with all the other kids. First to fifth graders were simultaneously anxious and nonchalant, looking forward to the new year, to meeting the new teacher but reluctant to have their summer freedom -- such as it is in Type A NoVa -- curtailed.

But it’s the kindergartners I turn up to see. They are dressed in adorable clothes of their parents’ choosing, looking like a page from a picture book. Voluminous (if only in contrast to the size of the five-year-olds), deflated back-packs loop their shoulders. They stand close to their parents, holding their hands, looking out at the other children's chaos with both apprehension and longing. My favorite moment, folks, is after the bus stops and the long line climbs aboard amidst parental kisses and admonitions. As it pulls away, the kindergartners are sitting in the windows waving, waving, waving to beat the band. They are so proud. They are so big. They Go To School!

The bus pulls away, and -- ours being a conventional neighborhood -- the dads get in their cars and go to work. Then the Mom celebration begins as the women gather at someone’s house for muffins, bagels coffee and mimosas. Hey, we love our kids and all, but, thank goodness, they Go To School!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's All In the Shoes

At Summer’s start, we noticed a baked-on layer of pollen that blocked any light that managed to filter through the pine trees. It seemed to me that a good, solid rain would wash all that away. I kept hoping.

Well, we weren’t going to get a rain harder than Hurricane Irene now, were we? Branches fell and electricity died, but the layer of scum remained. I

t occurred to me that the dirt might be on the inside. How would it get on the inside? I don’t know. I got a mop and stood on the coffee table and swiped at the glass. No go. This meant someone had to climb up on the roof to swab down the skylights.

Someone meant me. My husband doesn’t like heights or ladders which are inextricably linked to heights. I, on the other hand, was a champion tree climber. I put on my cheap tennies and up I went. The tennies gave me no purchase whatsoever. I could barely scrabble two steps from valley where the house roof meets the porch roof let alone climb up to the peak.

Steve wet and wrung out the mop and handed it up. I lay flat on the incline, my toes pressing against the valley, my head poking over the peak and poked the mop over the other side. I was able to strong-arm a couple of smears, enough to prove the pollen and dirt were on the outside, but as to actually cleaning the glass, no way.

A couple of days later I got out my hiking boots. I bought these boots many years ago when we lived out west and actually hiking. Here in Virginia, all we’ve done are what I would rate as long walks, however, one does not throw out good hiking boots. Ever.

I dug them out of the close, admired their sturdy soles and wiggled my toes in their luxuriously large toe box. I aced them up and headed to the roof. What a difference! I tromped up the shingles and straddled the roof peak. Steve handed up the hose and an extension brush we’d forgotten we owned. I sprayed and brushed the skylights, no sweat.

It was glorious up there. I sat on top of the world with only green branches and clear sky above me. It was peaceful (okay, with occasional instructions being called up: “Get the lower corner again!” “There’s a spot in the middle.”). The job was finished in 15 minutes, but I sat up there a bit longer just enjoying it.

Looking back, I could say this exercise was a metaphor in life. Use the right tools. Act safely. Take time to enjoy both your sense of accomplishment and the view.

But while roof climbing, cocktail parties or ballet class -- everywhere really -- I don't so much think it's all about life, as I think a lot of success is in the shoes.
                                                                                                                  The roof is steep.