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World Not Ending After All

Yesterday morning I was packed and ready for my trip to Columbus, Georgia in good time and not wrapped around the axle about it, and much to my surprise, the world did not end.

I’ve had a travel phobia since I was three years old and (a) Mom divorced my father, (b) she brought me from the only home I knew in Pocatello, Idaho, down to her family in Alabama, where (c) we landed in a family ruckus about my grandfather being not only a terrible-tempered old man, which was no secret, but unfaithful, as in, down the road in town there was a nearly grown, hitherto unsuspected half sister to Mom and her siblings, and (d) that secret clawing its way out of the family closet was emotionally damaging to Mom, coming on top of her divorce, and pushed her into depression that lasted for years; (e) she considered her marriage dead and buried, and her ex-husband pretty much the same, and made it clear without so many words that I had best feel that way too so (f) I never saw my father again.  There was some vague plan for me to go see him after I graduated from high school, but he had a fatal heart attack when I was 14.  Mom didn’t send me back for his funeral.  I didn’t see  Pocatello again until as an adult I resolved to go up there and find my father’s second wife.  She was the most gracious and wonderful woman imaginable, and she did the next best thing to giving me my father back.  She gave me photos, heirlooms, her recollections and those of something like twenty people she took me around to talk to about my father.  Thank you, Kate; live forever in the nearer of presence of God.

So I had plenty of good psychological reason for a bad travel phobia.  The prospect of going away to college in Texas nearly flattened me with dread and anxiety – but it turned out in a wonderful way when I loved Rice University and Houston.  For years, though, I stayed afraid of trips in general and especially trips in a southeasterly direction.  I hated pine trees, which reminded me of the South.  But I traveled anyway to various locations in the US from Northern California and Washington State to Washington DC and across the southern latitudes from Miami to Los Angeles.  I’ve traveled cross-country with pilot friends in small airplanes.  My pilot friend Kristin is well acquainted with my travel phobia and maintains that it makes me the most meticulous travel planner she’s ever known.  The phobia loosens its grip as soon as any trip actually starts, so I enjoy travel and I’m a good travel companion.  And every time I get home it’s like a reprieve from death and doom. I’m so happy that my home unexpectedly still exists:  it hasn’t been destroyed by fire or another ill fate after all!!! – that I’m on a post-travel high for the better part of a week.  Above all else life has shown me that a phobia (or depression or general anxiety or chronic fear) is not a thing that tells the truth.  It tells lies.  If you shake off or plow through or pray through the terrible feeling, the actual outcome may be glorious.

Not having the phobia kick in at all is a novel experience of the sort where deep down you think, This is too good not to be corrected by something really unpleasant like the world ending. But at last report, the world did not in point of fact end. Yesterday’s flight from Houston was fine. I’m in Columbus staying with cousins whom I really like, and I’m on my way over to the assisted living facility where Mom lives now.   Things change . . . and not always for the worse. It can just take time and experience and grace to iron out the early imprint of a traumatic change.

Two Moons

Nature News online and print and television media report a new theory that the early Earth had two moons, and the small one pancaked into Luna, accounting for the remarkably rough texture of the far side compared to the near side.  My eye was caught by a riff at the end of the article in the Houston Chronicle (from Associated Press with the byline of Seth Borenstein):  The moon plays a big role in literature and song. And poet Todd Davis, a professor of literature at Penn State University, said this idea of two moons – one essentially swallowing the other – will capture the literary imagination. It long since did that in science fiction and fantasy!  How many short stories, novels and comic books have put a second small moon in the sky to show that a world is Earth-but-not, or Earthlike-with-differences, or Earth-of-prehistoric-humanity-and something-eventually-happened-to-the-little-moon?

thanks, Mom

My mother saw me fly in a sailplane exactly once.  That was when I drove her up to the  Mid-Georgia Soaring Association to see gliders and see me launch and land in a demo ride with one of the club pilots in an ASK-21.   Mom declined a demo ride for herself, but really liked the whole idea and has been totally supportive ever since – even now.  Eight years after that summer soaring day, she has moderate Alzheimer’s and can’t remember what we said three minutes ago nor  remember the house she lived in for thirty years until three years ago – but she still likes the idea of me flying gliders.  Today I called from Texas to wish her a happy Mother’s Day where she lives in Assisted Living in Georgia.  I told her that I’d had a wonderful flight an hour and a half long this afternoon with an instructor, knocking off rust from the years when I had to be inactive in soaring.  She enthused.   Thanks, Mom, more than I can say.


Best-ever food for a long day at work with no lunch break, or a long flight or sailing trip or hike:  peanut butter and raisin on homemade whole wheat.  It’s good for those who fortunately have no wheat or nut allergies, tastes good, and keeps you going for a l-o-n-g time.   I think it would even work for a long glider flight.  I once heard a pilot say that peanut butter and honey on wheat is good flight food, but honey gets around, and I can just imagine a sticky control stick, trim tab, water bottle, spoiler handle, and radio push-to-talk button.   If you spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread for PBR, the raisins tend to stay put.  Not perfectly.  After the flight you’d want FOD control.  That’s foreign-object damage control in aerospace speak.  Find the stray raisins before the ants do!


This from the pages of the Consumer Reports Money Adviser. To be specific, it was in the  February 2011 Tightwad Tod column under the title “Save by Cutting Waste.”   Tod cuts it pretty fine in this piece, explaining how you rescue the broken flakes in the bottom of the cornflakes box to use as crumbs;  how to flatten a toothpaste tube to get the last smidgen;  and how to salvage a sliver of soap by using sudsy water to glue it to a larger bar.  Hah – I can remember my farm-wife grandmother saving up slivers of soap and gluing them all together with boiling water, resulting in a motley bar that worked fine and looked much more interesting than ordinary soap to my four-year-old eyes.  Waste not want not was her motto.   That kind of frugality goes out of style and then, when times are tight again, it comes back.

Pigeon population control

The local pigeons think my balcony is a rookery.  Which it was last summer, and which was fine by me, a fascinating process to watch.  The dragontree plant whose pot harbored a pigeon nest appreciated the fertilizer and ever since it has never been greener and happier.

But baby pigeons are incredibly messy until such time as they fly away.  The other pigeon nest was in the opposite balcony corner, and a conspicuous mess.  Once all the babies started walking all over the balcony pigeon poop fell everywhere.

Today I found an egg in the dragontree pot.  Population control will soon be implemented.  Not pigeon omelets on the menu.  There’s a trick I heard about from a friend who has parakeets and cockatiels.   If your pet birds lay eggs, it doesn’t help to just remove the eggs.  Birds feel compelled to try again.  Instead you carefully remove the eggs, hard-boil them, and replace them in the nest place.  The birds will follow their instincts and faithfully sit on the nest until the eggs never hatch and the urge finally fades.

That’s what I’ll try and see if it works.  That and a few flashy, hopefully scare-pigeon pinwheels positioned in the planters-!

Visiting Mom

I’m in Georgia again, visiting my mother again.   She’s in better shape than the last time I came this way.  That time she’d had a couple of falls and was in a wheelchair.  This time she’s getting around with a walker and thanks be to God, she’s once more smiling and laughing easily.  Alzheimers or not, good humor makes for good company.  That being the happy case, we never run out of conversational topics.  I can always recycle a topic because she forgets we covered it.

Mom is 89 years old.  All in all, I think she’s had a good life and in part a very interesting one.  She joined the Womens Army Corps during World War II, and liked it well enough to stay in for nine years, reaching the rank of Master Sergeant.

Kind of like a three-dog night

By Houston standards it’s very cold and blustery tonight, again.  A lot of people will be trying to feel warm and safe against more than the usual odds.  I’m saying a prayer for everybody for whom a warm safe night is in doubt.  I feel thankful for every kind of comfort be it predictable or unexpected, but especially the latter.  Here’s a conversation after church last Sunday with a fellow parishioner, Louise, who has a disability such that she uses a wheelchair much of the time.

Me:  “Did you get through the cold snap OK?”

Louise, with a big smile:  ” Sure, I just put on more clothes.  One of the rats curled up behind my neck and the other one snuggled under my knees.”

Me:  “Ah, did you say rats?”

Louise:  “Yes, when (mutual friend) moved to California, I took in her rats.”

Me:  “I guess it would be awkward to go through security and tell TSA that a box contains two rats.”

Louise:  “They were supposed to be food for her snake, but the snake wasn’t hungry and she didn’t want to drive to California with the snake and the rats both in the car.  It would have scared the rats all the way.  So I took them.  I’ve found them to be wonderful pets.”

Me:  “I’ve heard that from other rat owners, that they’re really smart, fun pets.”

Louise:  “Are they ever.  Mine like to ride around on my shoulders.  I’ll say, ‘Come on, girls, road trip!’ and they’ll both climb up and each of them takes a shoulder.”

Thank  goodness for a two-rat night,  a two-cat night, a multiple-dog night, a house-full-of-assorted-pets night, for an everybody-made-it-home-safe-night, and even for a fourteen-plant night.  All over town, garages are stuffed with potted plants.  Garageless plant owners have dragged the prized tropicals and ordinary foliage and leftover poinsettias into the shower or the living room.

The green contingent  takes up rather a lot of prime domestic real estate.  My aloe happens to be about a yard across and is a VERY prickly entity to share a writing desk with!  Nonetheless, it feels right, responsible, and comforting to have them all safe indoors.  The aloe, by the way, having been brought into the nice warm house before the cold wave a week ago, seems to have decided that spring is at hand.  It has put up a flower stalk about four inches tall as of today.

It's a jungle in here!

Cool tools

Yesterday we had a layer of ice on the roads, a thousand or so wrecks even with most people staying home like the Mayor told them to, and cool stuff like this icicle on my balcony roof.  It was a 3-footer.

And here in the Kanas-winter-experienced hands of Marcel LaFlamme, Circulation Assistant extraordinaire, is what you really  need when ice and snow cover a  car.  This tool dislodges ice with 2′ of leverage and brushes off the frosty residue.  Houstonians tend either to not own ice scrapers or to have misplaced them since the last time they were needed.  Parking lots all over town yesterday had people resorting to credit cards to scrape ice off  car windshields –  scritch-scritch-&%#@!!-scritchscritch!! I give myself  a passing grade for being better than totally unprepared.  My ice scraper is AWOL but I have a glove-box stash of hotel and motel key cards for just this reason. Scritchscritchscritchscritchscritch!

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

When I lived in Berkeley, I learned that Chinese New Year is a big deal in the San Francisco Bay Area.   There was a big parade in the City with everything from dragon dancers to bagpipe groups to Gay Pride contingents.   Everybody of every cultural stripe learned how to say Happy New Year in Cantonese:  Gung Hay Fat Choy.

China and Vietnam are two of many worlds that intersect in Houston.   It just seems fitting to salute the Lunar New Year by having swept the house and bought some citrus fruit yesterday;   and by making a good effort to live harmoniously and ethically today, to set the tone for the year to follow.   In the Chinese zodiac it’s the Year of the Rabbit.  In the Vietnamese Zodiac, it’s the year of the Cat.  Either way let’s all hope it’s kinder and gentler than was the outgoing year of the Tiger!