Category Archives: Uncategorized

Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin

There are three men banging away at my roof right now. They’ve been at it for two days, and it doesn’t really look like they’re going to be done today either. This is obviously going to cost more than they quoted me. It could be a lot more. One of them, the leader, has a really scary mouth. His gums and lips are red and puffed up, so swollen they merge into each other. He says there’s a lot more wrong with my roof than what they’re fixing. He makes a red smile when he says that, even though it looks painful.

It’s very noisy – lots of banging, sawing, and strange noises I can’t identify. At one point I heard a crash, and it was a glass light fixture in the dining room falling on the floor. I don’t know why it didn’t break. I’m just glad I wasn’t sitting at the table when it happened.

At least they didn’t laugh at me about the roof repair that guy did last summer. I deserve to be laughed at for hiring that loser. That was so stupid I should lose my job, get kicked out of both Codex and Wyrm, and have my children taken away from me. If they weren’t both adults, anyway. But someone should come and take away my cats. Maybe impound my bicycle.

I kept working on store stuff for an extra hour I won’t get paid for, because I can’t concentrate on anything I really want to do with people up there. I know it’s stupid, but I just want them to go away. I don’t like strangers on my roof.

My cat is stalking me.

I was lying in bed and heard a THUNK against the door. This is a door you can open by pushing on it, without using the doorknob. Lately Mike has taken to bumping it open so he can get into my closet and sleep in a basket in there, usually knocking a bunch of stuff down in the process. I don’t encourage him to do this, but a lot of times I’m reading or writing and too preoccupied to deal with him.

Anyway, I was trying to sleep when Mike thunked his way in. I got up, tossed him out the door, closed it, and fastened the little deadbolt latch at the top. I could hear him thunking against it some more, even running down the hallway to thunk it harder, but I went back to sleep anyway.

When I woke up, he was back in the room again, having somehow made a hole in the door. When I unlatched and opened it, I saw he’d somehow brought a chair into the hallway outside. He must have climbed up onto the chair and clawed his way in. I covered up the hole with newspaper, sheet plastic and duck tape. I tried to get back to sleep, but of course it was no good. As I lay in bed, I could hear Mike rip through the paper and plop back down onto the floor of my room.

I’ve been dreaming more than I used to–once every couple weeks or so. Usually I only remember snatches and impressions, but this time it was freakishly realistic. When I woke up for real, I was surprised to find my door wasn’t even latched. I couldn’t stop looking for the hole, the chair, the cat-shredded newspaper.

Iditarod 42

This year’s race is why I love this thing.

Coming into White Mountain, the last big stop before the final 80ish-mile stretch into Nome, the first four positions were held by:

1. Jeff King, a 58-year-old guy with four Iditarod victories going back to 1981. A native of Northern California, he grew up close to Jack London’s house, now a historical museum. I used to visit there when I was a kid, too. He read everything by London, got himself up to Alaska as soon as he could manage it, and never looked back. He’s a very friendly guy, cracking jokes while he welcomes visitors to his kennel for tours. If he wins, he’ll be the oldest winner in Iditarod history.

2. Aliy Zirkle, a woman in her mid-forties, who finished second in both 2012 and 2013. She and her husband, Allen Moore, run a kennel and share the dogs (Or “dawgs,” as they’re universally called in mushing. It’s not a regional thing; mushers say “dawgs” whether they’re from Arkansas, California or Canada.): he runs the A team in the Yukon Quest, the other big annual mushing event of the year (which he’s won the past two years), and she gets them for the Iditarod. Aliy may be the most beloved musher of all time — she’s got a beautiful personality, is insanely in love with her dogs, and knows how to rock Facebook. If she wins, she’ll be the first female winner since Susan Butcher won in 1990.

3. Dallas Seavey, a 27-year old guy born into a mushing family, who won in 2012, making him the youngest winner ever. In 2013 he came in fourth running rookie puppies (not sure whether they were his dad’s or his own), which is just unheard of; top ten positions usually go to teams of veteran dogs, while the young dogs take it easy and get the hang of the trail. Dallas has his own kennel now, and it’s a strong one. Dallas, a former Olympic wrestler, is pretty strong himself. He’s known for mushing in running shoes, the better to run alongside his sled, to make things easier for the dogs.

4. Mitch Seavey, 54, Dallas’ dad. Mitch won in 2013, his second victory and eleventh top-ten finish. His dad was a musher, and all four of his sons are mushers. The Iditarod is pretty much what he does, and he does it awfully well.

So, they came into White Mountain in those positions, with something like an hour or two between them. There’s a required eight-hour stop at White Mountain. Usually, whoever gets there first wins the race. So Jeff took off an hour before Aliy as the presumed winner.

Boy, that would have been boring.

The route from White Mountain to Nome goes along the coast, part of it along a spit of land with water on both sides. It rained recently, so everything is covered with lumpy ice. The whole trail has been like that, and mushers have been dealing with slipping sleds, injured dogs, and crashes all week. Along the coast, the ice is interspersed with driftwood. Snow machines (as snowmobiles are called in Alaska) clear the trail and put down markers one time before the race; there’s no further maintenance to the trail. As it happens, this time, the lead mushers are running the final stretch at night.

The winds along that coast can be fierce, but this year they’re worse than usual, blowing at 45 miles per hour and gusting up to around 70. This is on ice, remember, with water on both sides. There’s just enough snow to blow all over the place and ruin what little visibility there was to begin with. The actual temperature is somewhere around zero, never mind the wind chill.

Jeff has a malfunction, and has to stop to fix it a few miles before getting to the halfway-to-Nome checkpoint called Safety. His dogs hunker down while he’s doing this, and by the time he’s ready to go they’re too cold to move. He puts his sleeping bag over them, lies there holding them, waiting for the wind to die down a little. But the wind remains lethal. He figures he’ll walk to Safety alone, maybe carry the dogs in one by one, but it’s just too cold; the dogs are in danger of freezing to death. He ends up accepting a ride from a snow machine to Safety so he can get help for the dogs faster, which disqualifies him from the race. The snow machines are blowing over too, and one rider gets blown off towards the water, but everyone survives. When he gets back to his dogs he’s just relieved to find them all still alive.

Meanwhile, Aliy has passed Jeff and his team without seeing them. She’s too busy getting beat up by the wind herself. It keeps whipping the sled sideways on the ice, which pulls the dogs off-course, and puts everyone in danger of getting blown into open water. Somehow she makes it into Safety and finds out she’s in the lead, but at that point she’s more concerned about keeping herself and her dogs from dying than with winning the race. She gets her dogs as comfortable as possible, then goes inside the roadhouse to drink coffee and wait out the wind.

She waits at Safety long enough that Dallas catches up. He doesn’t stop. He doesn’t even wait around long enough to find out he’s in the lead. Why? Because his dad’s behind him, and the last thing he wants is to lose to his dad. So he lets the vets have their required look at his dogs, then takes off out of there like he’s being chased by demons.

Aliy figures if Dallas made it through, the weather must have improved. It’s still brutal out there, but the winds have died down some from hurricane force. She takes off in pursuit of Dallas.

Dallas is running this thing like a maniac. He sees a light right behind him now and figures it’s his dad’s headlamp. Somehow his dad has caught up to him, he thinks, which means the old man must be running his dogs at an incredible pace. He’s going to get caught up at any minute, and he can’t let that happen.

At the finish line, Dallas comes into Nome running alongside his sled, looking over his shoulder as he sprints down the street and under the burled arch. As he catches his breath and goes to take care of his dogs, he’s still asking if he beat his dad. As far as he knows, Jeff and Aliy came in hours ago, and are sitting around somewhere enjoying hot soup while their handlers treat their dogs to steak dinners. It takes more than a minute for the finish line crew to convince him he’s won the race — in record time, at that.

A couple minutes later, Aliy comes in second. She made up some time on Dallas, lord only knows how, but not enough. An hour or two later, Mitch comes in third.

That. Is what I call a race.

Spring (or at least March)

You can tell spring is coming — the quality of the snow is different. It’s icier now, less flaky.

Actually, it got above freezing yesterday and the day before. Monday I think it got up to 50, warm enough to have the door open at work. It’s nice to have the fresh air, and the open door helps draw in customers.

Sometimes I’m not sure it’s worth it. The customers it brings in tend to be people just wandering around enjoying the warm weather; they don’t even necessarily have any money on them. One guy came in who appeared to be a homeless guy. He had all the teeth on the upper left quarter, all the teeth on the lower right, but not much else, dentally speaking. Alcohol on his breath, and he sort of reeked. It was early evening, and I was in the store alone.

He held out his hand and showed me two pennies. “Somebody gave me these. Any chance you could spare a little more?”

I emptied the penny dish into his hands, quadrupling his net worth. “There you go. Good luck to you.”

He thanked me profusely, but wasn’t in a hurry to leave. “I get paid tomorrow, then I’m going to come in and buy a couple rings. I want one with an OM and a pentacle. Maybe you could fit me for those now and put them aside?”

For somebody else I’d do it, but I’m not about to keep this drunk in the store any longer than I have to. “Nah, why don’t you just come back tomorrow and we’ll do it then.”

“Well, okay.”

“‘Bye now. And keep your eyes on the ground, with the snow melting and everything. I found thirty-five cents this morning.”

“That’s true. Hey, guess what I found on the ground this morning.”

The possibilities are endless. “What did you find?”

“Take a look at this.” He pulled a gun out of his jacket and set it on the counter.

I don’t know much about guns. It was black, and looked real enough to me. Like a pistol. I picked it up, thinking it would be light and plasticky like a toy gun, but it wasn’t. It was cold and heavy. “What is this?”

“It’s a CO2 gun.”

I’d never heard of a CO2 gun before, except for paintball markers, and the ones of those I’ve seen are larger, rifle-shaped and often colorful — and plainly are not real. I looked it up later and found out there is such a thing as a pistol-shaped CO2, but I’m still not sure what you’d want one for. Especially downtown, which I’m assuming is where a homeless guy would find it. It looked like the kind of thing you’d carry if you wanted people to think you had a gun, but didn’t want to get in trouble for carrying a real one.

“We actually don’t allow guns in the store. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”

Yeah, good luck on that one. He kept talking for another five minutes, while I kept trying to politely but firmly get him out the door. Drunks don’t respond well to tact, but I didn’t want the guy mad at me.

Finally he left, and no harm done, but I wonder if I should have called the police or something. The whole thing was a little weird.

A very long piece of thread

Yesterday when I was walking to the store, I noticed a piece of thread embedded in the snow on the bike path. It was used-to-be pink, and just kept going and going–it even crossed one street. After a while I picked it up and ran it through the groove in my glove between the thumb and forefinger, to make it easier to follow. I kept thinking it would end in a spool, but I never saw one. Eventually I found the end in the snow piled by the side of the path. It went on for a quarter of a mile.

Sledding, the anti-poetry

(This was written December 26, I just never got around to posting it.)

Danny and I went sledding. Not the best hill, but not bad either, and right by the lake too. The lake is white and hard all the way through–I walked out, but only a hundred yards or so.

Lots of kids on the hill, some with nice sleds and fancy toboggans, some with the crappy plastic ones like we’ve got that go a whole lot faster. It’s snowed the past five days (I think?), but the main part of it is packed, which makes it really fast. It’s like the thing about poetry being “physically as if the top of my head were taken off,” only the opposite way, where your brains sort of smack painfully into the top of your skull and don’t have anywhere else to go.

Some fall hikes around the Arboretum


This was an early morning walk, when everything was still very wet.


It gets very yellow at this time of year. They post short poetry on the busses, and I’m submitting this:

This week sugar maples unclothe,
drop handkerchiefs like Midas daughter,
and we walk in the golden land with
a thousand eyes around our heads.

Meh…at least, that’s where it stands  at the moment. I can’t seem to get the punctuation right. Or the words. Yeah. Back to pictures…



Where the leaves are still green.



I took a bunch of pictures of this little guy, trying to get a close-up. He was there on the way to the marsh, and I took a bunch of lousy pictures because I was afraid I’d scare him if I got too close. When he was in the same exact spot on the way back, I got more confident. Amphibians in fall, right?



The spring. Always have to stop here.



And this is why I always have to come here at this time of year. The sugar maples all change at the same time. It’s indescribable.

Birds seen: Less than before. The one sighting that I’ll remember is some birds with reddish breasts on the top of the visitor center. I couldn’t tell what they were at all, because I could only see them from the bottom, but when I looked them up it turned out they have to have been bluebirds. I couldn’t see any blue, though, so they looked so foreign.



Stupid, stupid, stupid

Okay, so I’m having all kinds of problems lately, but this one’s the stupidest.

I gave a check for $100 to a guy coming door to door who said he’d fix my roof. $200 for labor, to be paid after the work is done, but $100 for supplies, which he needed to buy before he could start. This was Sunday. Given everything I’ve been through, I should have known better. I actually do know better, but occasionally I trust people. I don’t know why. It must be some kind of vestige of childhood, when, not knowing any better, I was a good person.

He wanted to fix the roof on Monday, but nobody’s home that day, so we agreed on Tuesday. But he went straight out and cashed the check anyway. I know this because I got a call Sunday night when he took it to one of those payday loan places.

Then he was supposed to go to Home Depot for tar paper and shingles, which he’d bring over to my house on Monday around 9:00.

When nobody had showed up by 10 am, and I couldn’t reach anyone after a couple phone calls, I went over to his house. He lives in Transitional Housing, just a block away. His story is that he’s a contractor and New Orleans native made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. After that, he got a small business loan to get his contracting business going. I looked up the story online and it checks out. But seriously, he’s a contractor, and he cashes your check at a payday loan ripoff joint?

He was supposed to be over at ten today to fix the roof. I got a call around 9:15 from a woman who said he couldn’t come because of a scheduling conflict. She’d scheduled him to work in Sun Prairie and forgotten to tell him, she said. Sorry, so sorry, my bad, and all that. He’ll come over Thursday and do the work.

Well, Thursday it’s supposed to rain, so I don’t expect him till next week. If ever.

I can’t believe I was stupid enough to give this guy money. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, though, when he went up to look at the roof.

I’m never going to trust anybody again.

Cardboard Anthropologist

I’m going nuts in the garden this year. My yard is so big and so messy, there’s no end of projects. On my days off, especially, I’m spending hours at it. (Not that that’s all I’m doing–yesterday I drafted three-plus new chapters on my current novel.)

One of my projects is sheet mulching a couple of beds in preparation for new plantings next year. To sheet mulch an area, you cover it with layers of cardboard, weeds, compost, manure, leaves, straw, and basically whatever you’ve got handy. I had enough cardboard for the first bed in my own basement and garage, but then I was out.

So on recycle day yesterday I went around the block looking for more. Our recycling gets picked up every other week, so it’s not like it has a lot of time to build up. I thought I’d have to walk all around the neighborhood, and also check the dumpsters of the public housing. Nope. I found enough cardboard just going around my own block to cover every lawn in my yard, if I wanted to. It took five trips with the kids’ old red wagon, and two trips carrying stuff by hand, just to get it all home. One woman who saw me even called down from her window, “Looking for cardboard?” When I said yes, she ran down to bring me more, bubbling over with gratitude.

So what is all this stuff? The biggest and best pieces come from home furnishings: a huge box from, packaging from a set of patio furniture, something called a French-style desk. At one house, where they were throwing out a whirlpool bath, there was a lot of packaging from mobility devices like a disabled person might use. One place just had stacks and stacks of flattened cardboard of all sorts, held together with cellophane tape. Several people had food boxes, like those big ones they use to transport produce. Of course there were lots of boxes too, but most of those were small, bookish things I couldn’t use.

My theory is that the way people move around these days, especially in my neighborhood, has been a boon to the cardboard industry. You need a bunch of boxes to move, and then for years afterward you’re collecting furniture and other large items to fill the place up. Since the average house, I’ve read, sells every seven years, it’s likely that by the time you have your house furnished, you’re ready to move again.

And yeah, there was a ton of furniture out there too, even though it wasn’t large item day: a recliner, a bed, a bookshelf, that whirlpool bath–enough stuff to half-furnish a small apartment. I couldn’t use any of it, except for a nice big flowerpot which I snagged.

The problems of being a shortish female

I’ve lived in a bunch of different situations throughout my life, but I’ve always live with men. Since men tend to be taller, stronger, and braver than me, I’ve never had to clean out rain gutters. Oh, I may have mucked out the low ones on the workshop once or twice, but never the ones on the house. Being a widow is a great way to learn fascinating new skills.

One section of our roof is flat, and it’s got a leak in it. I figured cleaning the gutter would help it drain, and if I could get up there, I might even be able to patch it. Duck tape or something.

We’ve got three ladders: an old wooden stepladder we found in the trash which isn’t much good for anything, a two-part painter’s ladder we also found in the trash, and a nice aluminum stepladder I bought because I hated to see my menfolk risking their necks on the first two. The aluminum one is tall enough for me to reach the workshop gutters easily, but to get to the house ones I have to reach up over my head. I only got one side of the workshop and about a fifth of the house done this morning, allowing time to snowshovel into buckets the nasty brew of fermenting leaves, maple seedlings, and just plain dirt that came down. After that, I seriously needed a shower.

I would have liked to climb up onto the roof, but that would have required the much taller painter’s ladder–that is, if I’d been able to figure out how to assemble it. That’s another thing about men, they have this instinctive knowledge about how to put together ladders. I couldn’t figure it out, and I’m just lucky I didn’t take out a window or my head trying. I tried using one section of the painter’s ladder, but to get up to the roof it had to be placed at a pretty steep pitch. I was chicken to climb all the way up there without at least having somebody to hold the bottom for me.

Sam is only marginally taller and stronger than me, and I don’t know that he’s any braver. I suppose between the two of us, somebody can get up there once it’s dried out and jury rig something.

What this situation really calls for is Danny. That one was always looking for excuses to climb up high, so when he lived here was the go-to guy for gutter cleaning. He’d get right up there and shovel gutter goo down from the top, so he didn’t end up with it all over him like I did. And once when we had a hornet’s nest in the attic vent, for a few bucks he cheerfully went up there dressed up thick is the Michelin man and sprayed it.

I suppose I should hire somebody for this stuff. Who’d want their epitaph to say, “She was too cheap to hire a roofer”?