A Different Path

Here's a little thing I wrote at work yesterday.  I was sitting there and had a fleeting thought wash over me.  Every now and then I notice with peculiar intensity all the things I'm surrounded by.  The noise, the grit, the smells, the air quality, the temperature--you name it.  I wonder to myself:

"Where would I be right now if I would have went to college?"

A Different Path
here I sit.
I can't quite shake the feeling;
Wondering long,
"Where'd I go wrong?"
and staring at the ceiling.
Much more I'd earn
if I had learned
way more while back in school;
I'd likely be
well off and free
had I never played the fool.
The money goes
to all of those
that prove that they were scholars;
If high school's tops
and the learning stops
we'll never see big dollars.
I can't go back
to change my track
and right my stupid wrongs;
Instead I sit
and reflect a bit
writing melancholy songs.
Rick Williams

Maybe I'm just a tortured artist in my own right and I need my substandard surroundings to really shine. Maybe if I was a successful white collar worker I'd be even more dissatisfied than I am now.

Yeah, just go with the flow I guess...

Looking Back at the Christmas Weekend

For the working person, it's a little weird when one of our major holidays falls on a weekend.  When Christmas falls on a Thursday, we (I'm speaking for my place of employment) get that day as a paid day off of course, and are also usually forced into taking Friday off.  In other words it's a free day off, but it's without pay.  When the company is closed you don't have a choice.  If Christmas falls on a Friday I believe they tend to pull the same thing--giving us Thursday off as an unpaid "bonus" day.  When Christmas falls on a Saturday, that's when things really seem to get hectic.  A lot of people work right up until Christmas, and because of that, Christmas eve day is the funneled madness day of filling in the shopping gaps.  To me it's the worst scenario as far as bringing out the madness and the surliness in shoppers that are already pushed over the edge by the "season of giving" in general.  They have to do their end of week paycheck/banking stuff, their last minute grocery shopping for their holiday meal or food shopping in general, AND they still have to fill in their gift shopping gaps for presents or stocking stuffers.  Given those day-off scenarios, I think I prefer the way it fell this year.  When Christmas falls on a Sunday it gives people Saturday as an "extra" shopping day to search for that one last item on their list, more time to prepare for their fancy feast, or more time to travel.  One factor that changes with a weekend holiday is which day off you get with pay.  I think this worked out the best having Monday as our paid holiday. Extending the weekend one day further into the work week is better for people mentally I think.  Throw all of the previous notions and discussion out the window if you work in retail though.  They get little respect for holidays.  For them it's holiDAZE.  I feel sorry for them sometimes.

So what did my weekend consist of?

Saturday morning we drove to a few stores to see if I could find something in the way of a hand-held electronic game for my dad.  He spends so much time sitting in his easy chair barking requests at my mom that I thought it would be nice to see if I could find something he could actually use his brain on.  I didn't expect to find anything, nor did I really care if I did or not.  After all--it was an afterthought.  We hit Fry's in Renton, Radio Shack in Factoria, Toys R Us in Bellevue, and Walmart when we were back in Auburn.  Nada.  I did pick up a couple goodies for my parents though:  Coffee for mom and chocolate for my dad.  The good news was that we were out and back home before traffic was impacted, and also before the store clerks ran short of smiles and good attitudes.

Since it was Christmas Eve Day (hmm... that doesn't look right all capitalized) it was also the day that my family all gets together at my folks' house for gift exchange and dinner.  I waited until the last minute to wrap the few things I had to wrap.  I'm going to say it's because there is no tree to provide me with a visual incentive, but in truth I was just lazy.  It was a good gathering.  For a change, my parents just gave me stuff to eat.  Finally, no weird stuff I will never use.  I know they mean well, but you're supposed to give gifts for the sake of giving.  That means they can be anything.  A couple bags of my favorite potato chips?  Excellent!  There was a good turnout of people there, and as usual Jackie was the one with the interesting stuff.  She gave my folks a calendar with childhood pictures of them on each month.  She also brought homemade things, and had a grab bag.  She is just always like that--thinking a little outside the box.

Sunday morning.  A day like any other for the most part.  I left for Sarah's house at about the same time Suzie left for Meeting.  As usual, she was surrounded by quite a pile of gifts from her mom.  She is one of those people that shops all year long, and by the time the giving day arrives she is lucky to find them all or remember she even bought them.  Sarah bought me lots of good snacks.  I got candies and nuts, and lots of them.  A couple movies too.  I gave her a new (duh) GPS unit for her car.  This year has been a year when she has become a lot more mobile.  She was constantly having to go places that she didn't know directions to and would have to Google directions or ask me.  Having a GPS in your car is a major step in independence that we never had the luxury of when we were young.  I think she'll use it a lot.  I was only there about an hour so I was back before Suzie was.

We rounded out Christmas Day with a photography trip to downtown Seattle.

The weather here at home was nasty and we had to force ourselves to go, but we are so glad we went.  The closer we got to Seattle, the better the weather was!  It was so weird though.  The city was practically deserted.  Imagine being able to stand in the middle of 1st avenue and take a picture of a street that was empty as far as you could see.  It really was weird.  We took lots of good pictures and had a great time.  I'd say it was the high point of the weekend for sure.

Yesterday?  Eh... Boring.  We took one shopping trip out just before lunch, but I didn't feel all that enthused about doing anything else so I just hung out the rest of the day.  Sue went out again on her own though, so she was more productive than I was.  Of course, that's almost always the case.

Back to work.  At least it's a 4-day work week this week and next...

Suddenly, Mom and Dad are OLD

It's hard to see parents aging.  Growing up, our parents were our providers, our nurturers, and our safety net.  They were our rock.  We could look to them for anything we needed help with.

I used to think that maybe I was one of the lucky ones because my parents and I are fairly close in age (my mom was 17 and dad was 18 when I was born), but I don't think so.  If anything, our ages were too close and caused us to butt heads too often.  I don't think watching my parents get older is any easier to watch from the 'close age' perspective either.  If anything, it just means it's right around the corner for me.  I'm next.  I'll be first to tell you:  It's already well underway with me too.  I'm aging pretty quickly myself.  A lot has changed in my last 5 years.

My dad has not been the fearless leader he appeared to be when I was growing up.  He was always the opinionated disciplinarian, but mom has been making the intelligent decisions for several decades now.  He didn't always listen of course, but many times he had no choice.  She would be adamant.  In the last couple decades he has been a shell of what he once appeared to be.  His erratic thought patterns, his physical health, and almost everything about him has caused us to not be a bit surprised if he was suddenly found to be in the past tense.

Mom has a tremendous work ethic and always has.  When my dad decided that he couldn't or wouldn't work any longer about 20 years ago, it apparently didn't matter much.  We all shook our heads and rolled our eyes, but she took it in stride I guess.  She had a good job with the Auburn School District.  She retired from there with good medical coverage and that sort of thing.  In other words, the Auburn School District was a good thing to retire from (or with).  Even after retirement, she was always cleaning, painting, arranging--something.  There was always something on her list.  I think she painted their house inside and out every year or so.

Now there is a new development.

Both of my parents have had issues in the last couple of days.  With dad it was that he fell out of bed (apparently misjudged something as he was getting up) and hurt himself pretty good.  I guess he actually had to go the hospital for it.  What's irritating is that I never hear about these things from my parents themselves.  It's obvious that because they are both only children they don't understand, but when they have a health-related issue of any kind, they need to tell us.  I can count the number of times I have actually been informed of anything like that on one hand.  It just never happens.  Nowadays, I find out stuff on Facebook.  What's wrong with this picture?

But I've digressed.  Back to the newest development.

Apparently mom had a back issue that has reared it's ugly head.  She called it more of a Sciatica (I call it psychotica) thing because that's where it affected her.  When I heard (again--indirectly) that she had to go the ER the day before because of it, I stopped in on the way home from work.

What a shock to see mom using a walker.  It was a blow to be sure.  Mom is tough, and to see her like that was so strange.  Dad "slid" to his current condition slowly, but mom just got whacked upside the head with it with little or no warning.  She seemed to be in good spirits.  She was talking about how much easier it was to walk with it than the cane she was using when she went to the ER.  She had to walk with that using both hands in front of her she said.  While mom is telling me all this and navigating the clutter that is their furniture arrangement and living room lifestyle, dad just sat there, indifferently thumbing through his car magazines and other mail of the day.

Anyway, I tried to get them to understand that we're only about 10 minutes away, and if they need anything to give us a call.  Anything.  Will they call?  Probably not.  Things are going to be hard for them now.  They have a washer but have never had a dryer.  The washer is in the basement.  Translation:  Stairs.  Dad can do simple things, but she will need to give him full instructions, and I guarantee he will not do everything willingly.

You know what really sends a shudder down my spine?  Losing mom before dad.  I would have a hard time with him if that happened.  We all would.

Old People Smell

When do people start to smell like old people?  When we do, will anyone tell us?

There have been lots of times when I was smacked right in the olfactory senses with the smell of old people.  Sometimes it was relatives, but usually not.

When I was young I spent 4 years delivering newspapers here in this sleepy little town of Auburn, and the route I had was in a fairly well-established part of town.  I didn't have many younger customers.  I figure there were either not many young families in that area or just that only the older citizens liked subscribing to newspapers.  The only times I ever actually went into people's houses were during the times I went door-to-door collecting for their monthly subscription bills.  I usually waited outside the front door while they went to find their money, but occasionally a customer would invite me in during the rainy or cold times while they got their payment together.  I was always very polite and stood still on the rug near the door like people are supposed to do.  I don't think I ever noticed anything really odd about any of them.  Well, except for one woman that had tall stacks of newspapers filling her entire living room.  There were so many that she had to navigate her way through carefully groomed pathways.  But that's another story.

Some people's houses had a smell.  It wasn't a bad smell, but it was a pervasive smell.  I can't quite put my finger on what it smelled like.  I just call it Old People Smell.  I don't know if it's from the age of their furnishings or carpets, the degree of housekeeping that they kept up, or the people themselves.  Sometimes it's seemed to be directly related to mothballs.  I hate mothballs.  Maybe the Old People Smell I keep recalling is nothing more than a person's trust in that age-old vermin remedy (probably passed down by apothecaries in the days of yore).  Maybe in addition to repelling moths, those stinky, disgusting orbs of mystery are also used to repel young people?  If the sense of smell in old people has declined as much as their eyesight or hearing has, maybe they figure the odor of mothballs is worthwhile to endure if it can be depended on to keep young people away from them.

Let's say it's the people themselves that develop a smell.  Nobody ever told me that it would happen.  Nobody ever sat me down and said, "You know, one day in your future you are going to start to rot.  People around you will probably notice but not say anything.  There's nothing you can do about it so I'm not sure why I'm even telling you this."

How do you know when it hits?  Does it happen slowly or is it a sudden thing?  Does it eventually happen to everybody?

Sue's youngest son, Keith, still maintains a bedroom here.  He splits his time among our house and others, but basically he is here often.  His room has a smell.  It smells alien to me.  Odd somehow.  I figured it's because he keeps it closed tightly most of the time.  Recently, her next older son, Dane, moved back home.  Now I notice a smell in that room when I go in there that never used to be there.  My shirts still hang in that closet, and when I get one out and put it on I smell it on me then.

Could it be that I'm smelling a NON Old People Smell?

Dane was talking to his mom the other day.  He told her that when he visited his fiance' Chelsea she said something to him like, "You smell like your mom's house".

Could it be?  I have Old People Smell?  We have Old People Smell?  Why the hell didn't anyone tell us?

Hmm.  Maybe when people say that someone has 'aged like a fine wine' they're actually referring to the degree of fermentation that is emanating from their bodies.

Seasonal Pressure... It Still Festers Within

It's that strange time of year again. The time when people feel pressured--pressured to buy too much, eat too much, and do too many things when there is not enough time to do them in. We are surrounded by gatherings, events, sales, lights, and music everywhere we go. In addition to our own lives (that we may or may not be in control of), we feel a strange requirement to embrace the other people in our lives on a more personal level.

Lemmings? Peer pressure? Superficial culture?

I no longer live with any Christmas spirit in the house. I'm fine with that. I look at it like I'm just downsizing my life a little. Sure, I miss the things of my past that signaled the onset of the season. I've written about them many times before. The lights, the music, the scented candles, the baking, the smell of pine--all of these things that I associate with Christmas. I don't miss the pressure to buy so many things for so many people. That itself relieves me of having to figure out what to buy, how many, watch the sales, and physically hit the stores and deal with the traffic and crowds. I like to consider myself to be a good shopper. I consider myself to be conscientious about what I'm buying for somebody. It's not my style to just buy for the sake of buying. This way of thinking leads to worry, pressure, and a host of other things that weigh on me mentally. I like gifts I buy people to be thoughtful, and I want them to be appreciated, and the best appreciation comes when they're unexpected.

It occurred to me that I still have the worry in my head this time of year though. I think it's almost a Pavlov's Dogs kind of a thing now. I have been a part of over 50 Christmas seasons, and after all that time, the same feelings are still there in the back of my mind: Did you do this, did you do that, make sure you don't forget this or that--It's there. It apparently lies dormant all year and is triggered by something--I don't know. My parents' anniversary is today--maybe that has something to do with it.

I think another part of the pressure and unease I have this time of year is triggered by the cold. People that live in warm climates probably can't relate, but here it's another thing for me to worry about. My parents have a woodstove but it causes my dad a lot of grief with his breathing, so they use their oil furnace. Their heating oil costs them well over $1000 each time their tank is filled. For us we just have to make sure we have enough wood. Still, it's always there in the back of my mind--nagging me. Every time we bring more wood from the pile and put in the house a small voice in my head says, "What day is this? What month is this? At this rate is it going to last as long as we need it?"

Still another pressure thing is also weather related. It's ice, snow, and traffic. I have to drive to work in the dark every morning (and sometimes home too). This time of year I have to scrape ice off the windows. When I get going, I then have to be conscious of ice everywhere on the roads. Traffic moves slower because everyone else is in the same boat. All these things have the potential to make me late for work. If you have to add Christmas shopping into the mix, it's going to be done during non-working hours so it will be dark, cold, and icy.

It's weird. By the fact that my family has grown and people have gotten older within their own families, I've slowly tapered off buying presents. Even though I've removed myself from many of our societal Christmas 'requirements' over the years, I still fell stressed.

Salt and Photography

I really wanted to have a different blog title than the one I chose, but good ol' Blogger doesn't let you alter title text format in any way.  No italics, bold, or any other font adjustments.  See, what I really wanted to have there was Salt and Pepper Photography.  Just pretend that a strikeout of the word Pepper is there in the title and you just can't see it.

This is the time of year when there is not a lot going on.  Our amazing lives are willed with such wondrous things as watching movies, appreciating the accelerated clicking of a nice, hot woodstove, or writing about all these things on the computer like I am now.

One of our favorite movies is The World's Fastest Indian starring Anthony Hopkins.  We loved the story, and it kind of opened Suzie's eyes to the strangeness of this place in our country we call the Bonneville Salt Flats, just outside of Wendover, Utah.  They have an event there every August called Speed Week.  It's when record-setters descend on it from all parts of the world, hoping that they can shatter the previous record for flat-out top speed in their class.  My family went once when I was young--maybe 12 years old or so.  I don't remember a lot about it, but I remember it being unlike any other place.  My brother, Denis, went with a bunch of guys from his place of employment last year.  He posted a bunch of cool pictures and that clinched the deal.  Suzie said we should go.  Timing is everything in a place where the only town for miles and miles has only a handful of motels, but we did manage to snag one.  No, it certainly wasn't cheap.  We will be there for one full day and two nights.  I guess we're lucky because we actually forgot about it.  The last time we thought about it was several months ago.  Anyway, Monday of Speed Week will be our day on the salt, and we plan on being there to see the sun come up.  The salt flats are blindingly white, and it's August during that event.  And it's a desert in Utah.  Translation:  It's hot.  We will need plenty of water and sunscreen to help the experience go smoothly.  We plan on taking our usual multiple thousand pictures while there.  It should be a pretty exciting event!

Suzie is working on a special photography project.  She has this visual in her head involving tea light candles hanging in trees at nighttime.  Yesterday she spent some time making a bunch of little captive hangers to put them in, and while it was still daylight went out and arranged them out in the woods behind our house.  After dinner she dragged me out of my chair to be her [somewhat] able assistant and help her with her project.  She had them all over the place, and as we lit them they illuminated a "dummy" she had there in the center of the area that consisted of an old dress draped over a shovel stuffed into the ground.  It was an interesting effect to be sure.  As we finished up and were heading back to the house I made an interesting observation.

"It probably looks pretty weird to see two people walking out of the woods at night carrying flashlights, a shovel, and a woman's dress."