Saturday, June 25, 2011


Kurt Holmes is the Dean of Students at the College of Wooster and his presentation and Q & A period were for me the most informative hour and a half of the entire ARCH session. He talked about mundane things like FERPA and HIPAA, but also the Wooster Ethic, where my notes say, “= BRILLIANT.” He gave some of the most intelligent and level-headed advice about parenting college-age children that I have ever heard, “Please do me favor: don’t kill them.”
The child in question is quite satisfied with the schedule of classes he registered for, to begin in the fall.

We went to lunch at Omahoma Bob’s Barbeque, where I ordered a delicious pulled pork sandwich, cole slaw and a root beer. The interior is a cool mix of sand-blasted brick and homey diner styling. The cute young gal with retro bangs and a wide pink headband handed us a nested pair of Styrofoam cups for our drinks. I do not remember the last time I used a Styrofoam cup in any setting. To be honest, I thought they did not make Styrofoam cups anymore. You don’t have to spend much time on the beach to notice that tiny bits of plastic and polystyrene are floating all over the world’s oceans and washing up on shore everywhere. You don’t have to work at the National Toxicology Program to wonder if Styrofoam is bad for people, too.

Obviously, I have been living in Seattle so long I have lost touch with the rest of America—the part of this country where they still serve drinks in Styrofoam cups. Next week, in fact, one week from today, I am supposed to get in my truck and drive across the United States, all the way from Washington to New York, with my oldest son, a cat, and two dogs. I will not be surprised by the ice-cold air-conditioning, friendly questions about why we’d ever want to leave Washington, or Styrofoam cups.

Friday, June 24, 2011


One of the ways the College of Wooster deals with the anxious parents of its new students is to include them in a two-day registration event, held in late June. While students take placement tests and register for classes, parents are shepherded to a sequence of speeches and presentations on academic expectations and student resources, mostly unnecessary information from the perspective of the parent of a pretty independent kid, but reassuring nonetheless. I did point out to one of my fellow parents that the main point was "purchase confirmation:" private college today is incredibly expensive, and we have signed up for at least four year's worth, so it's a good moment to remind us what we're paying for. Of course, this aspect was unmentioned so far today and is simply my interpretation. 
My analysis won me a friend, though, who joined me at the end of the day at the parents' wine and dessert mingle for some pleasant conversation and helped me find my rental car in the dark. 
Regular readers know that we are in the process of cleaning up, packing up, and moving out of our house of almost 18 years, in anticipation of a move to New York. The timing of this short trip to Ohio falls awkwardly in the midst of one of the busiest few weeks of my life, but the worst thing that might happen is that I will run out of time, they pack my things in a disorganized state, and I deal with it at some future date in an as yet unknown location.
On the way here this morning I missed a turn toward campus, but as a reward for taking the (smaller) road less travelled by, we encountered a frolicking pair of (living) black squirrels. One of the recurring jokes of the movie "Up" is that dogs are pretty easily distracted, especially when it comes to squirrels. I have been known to interrupt conversations to notice unfortunate body language, remarkable spiders, or a particular kind of tree, so throwing my car into reverse to get a better look at black squirrels is not an usual thing for me. The neighbors seemed a bit puzzled by our behavior, but puzzling Ohioans has become a daily event now.
One thing that still puzzles me is that I have observed the squirrels in this town, both the special black ones and the ordinary gray, walking a slow, four-beat walk: step, step, step, step.  I do not ever remember seeing squirrels do anything but hop in that distinctive arcing motion.  I guess I usually walk with dogs, which inspire more motion from squirrels. I have also noticed that these squirrels seem willing to pose for photographs.
My grandfather struggled with squirrels, who waited until his tomatoes were nearly perfect and then ruined them all, taking bites out of every last one.  His solution was to trap them and take them to a park about a mile away and set them free.  There were so many squirrels in his neighborhood, this remedy did not seem to have an effect, and somehow my grandmother argued that the squirrels were not taken far enough away. My grandfather answered this question by spray-painting the tails of his trapped squirrels green before taking them to the park and releasing him.  No green-tailed squirrels ever returned.
One day, in about eight weeks, we will drop our middle son at college for his freshman year.  He is a tomato-lover himself.  We certainly hope he does return to us, even though we will have moved.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


The only non-stop flight from Seattle to Cleveland is a red-eye, departing Seattle at 10:50 pm and arriving about five hours later.  Even if I could sleep on a plane, which I can’t, five hours is not enough sleep.  I am pretty certain to be in a stupor for several days thanks to this experience.
Cleveland recently saw the completion of a large, glossy lavish car-rental terminal, in an industrial park about ten minutes from the actual airport.  The shuttle bus driver, hilarious in his own opinion, wanted to know why in the world we would leave Seattle to come to Ohio.  He also pointed out that we should enjoy the lavishness of the car-rental terminal in the five or so minutes we would be spending there.  I had reserved a full-size car, employing my husband’s strategy for “getting something decent.”  Of course, there were no full-size cars available, so I was offered an SUV for the same price. 
Navigating in Ohio is not especially difficult, though, and we arrived in the town of Wooster just about an hour after landing here.  Our “Modern Blue Pearl” Jeep Grand Cherokee, with 31,00 miles and a huge stain on the back seat is inoffensive from the driver’s perspective, although the tires screamed on most cloverleafs, and there was no figuring out the satellite radio.  As a position of principle, I find the entire SUV category to be rather offensive, being neither good to drive, good to park nor good to the planet, but my opinions are not interesting to many auto manufacturers.  I understand that even Mercedes has discontinued carrying wagons in favor of their uglier and mightier monstrosities (including, a RAV4 ripoff, some bulbous mini-van-ish things, and a military-themed assault vehicle started at $105,750).  Someday I would love to talk to a Mercedes-Benz strategist about what (if anything) they think goes on inside the car-buying mind of a wealthy American mom.
It was garbage collection day yesterday, which meant many piles of neatly bagged garbage on the curb, but also a few ripped-open piles of trash, and a bit of extra road-kill. We passed a gloriously fluffy dead red dog on the shoulder of a two-lane road, a recently squashed cat, a severed opossum, a flattened skunk and a matched set of gorgeous, gruesome giant dead rabbits being pecked at be an equally over-sized matched pair of crows.
It took three tries to check-in, owing to how early we were, and the front desk’s insistence that we were just too early to have a room.  We paid them back by parking in front and falling asleep in the Grand Cherokee, windows open, limbs hanging out.  When we were finally given access to our room, the manager had emerged to supervise the transaction. “What brings you to Ohio?” he asked.
I told him my middle son would be attending the College of Wooster in the fall.
“I have to ask,” he replied. “What would make you choose to come all the way from Washington to Ohio, just to go to a school like that?”
The middle son provided a thoughtful and honest answer.  I thought about roadkill.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Garage Sale

The last time I moved, it was 1994. We moved into the house we are now leaving, and did it with the help of a couple of friends.  This time, relocation specialists will be in charge, but we still have plenty to do.

Staying in one place for 17 years meant that we never had to be judicious in what we kept and what we got rid of.  We have a large basement that easily swallowed the dioramas, paper mâché birds, model boats, fishing poles, and old skis.  Our kitchen cupboards are home to our every-day dishes, two different sets of fancy china, some random old dishes, and a complete set of 12 place settings of orange stoneware.  When my mother died I ended up with those orange dishes and her collection of plastic Halloween pumpkin buckets, which I hung from the basement ceiling and pretty much ignored. 
Because we are running out of time, this was the only weekend we could hold a garage sale. I contacted some neighbors, and corralled some of them into holding yard sales on the same day, so I could advertise the event as “multi-family.” The forecast predicted the chance of rain for the day to be 80%.  In retrospect, I think it rained for about 80% of the day.

Given that the advertising had already run, and that we had no other day to choose from, we held our sale under a large tent in the front yard and up on our front porch.   My husband persistently grumbled, "This wasn't my idea," and had it not been for the arrival of a friend with lattes, it might have gotten even uglier.  

We priced everything as cheaply as we could: 25¢ for a whole basket of toys, free books, a free chair, etc.  While some things went fast and early, we didn't sell anything after noon. The fishing poles went for a song.  A guy with no car walked off with the free chair on his head.  Our oldest son did manage to sell the piano, which made him extremely happy but made me kind of sad and tired.  All of the things I had really hoped to be able to unload (the treadmill, which is top of the line and huge; the orange dishes; two large plastic light-up snowmen), I would have parted with at any price, and each of these things is still here. Given the weather, there was no way to sell bed frames or sofas at all.

In the parallel universe where I have patience for activities like participating in Craig’s List or eBay, I might have found homes for a number of the items at a fair price.  In that parallel universe, I have a lot more time to take pictures of plastic Halloween decorations, my IBM Selectric typewriter sits on the desk of a ransom-note writer still fond of mid-1980s office equipment, and even the orange dishes go to the highest bidder.

In this universe, we drove the household stuff to Goodwill, and the kid-stuff will go to Treehouse.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

No York

We have been let down by Delta Airlines in the past, so we treat them with deep suspicion. I can report that if you are on Twitter and make complaints about them there, @DeltaAssist will respond politely and promptly, and almost always more quickly than the grinchy incompetents they employ to answer their phones.  In fact, the only reason we flew Delta on this trip was because arrangements had been made on our behalf.  On our return to Seattle, we checked in at JFK Airport and the agent told us we had no reservation (she checked the wrong flight) and then told us we had only two tickets (all three of us were ticketed separately). I can say that over this long weekend, this tart check-in agent was a fitting spokeswoman for the attitude I have named “No York.”
To be fair, everyone we dealt with was friendly and upbeat and kind. We saw dropped toys retrieved by passers-by, we witnessed a group of friends applying a band-aid to the toe of their friend on the sidewalk, and we saw multiple people rushing to help a fallen cyclist on the streets of Manhattan.  Wading through a crushingly huge crowd of festive Puerto Ricans celebrating Puerto Rico day, we even got to ask a New York City police officer for directions. 
I discovered I was inexplicably able to hail a cab successfully on the first three tries, but can barely walk a straight line down a New York sidewalk. Also, I have blisters on every surface of my feet (probably because I can’t walk straight). At home I often walk three miles a day. I guess Manhattan’s sidewalks are harder.
We are working with a relocation company, and a set of professionals have been charged with the task of finding us a place to live temporarily, moving our stuff, storing our stuff, finding a place to live permanently, and helping us enroll our 13-year-old in a new school. So far, we have a temporary place to live. It’s a start.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yet Another Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message

I am not just cleaning out my house. The following email did appear in my in-box on the 9th. 
I am a little busy right now, but perhaps one of you, dear readers, will take up the good work of the lord. 

My name is Mrs. Natte James Ray am going on a cancer surgery my lawyer, Tell him that I have WILLED 14.258M to you for the
good work of the lord. quoting my personal reference number
JJ/MMS/953/5015/GwrI/316us/uk. I have paid for the state tax on this money
to be transferred to you.
My lawyer's Name: Barrister stacy miller
Attorney at-Law.
S.Miller & Associates LLP
11 Staple Inn Buildings,
London WC1V 7QH,
United Kingdom
Dear friend

That bit at the end really gets me. Interrupted? Copy pasta error? Artistic license?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Absolutely True and Completely Unexpected Message

Once again I have some email to share with you.  So many opportunities!

My name is Koh Beng Seng, Chairman of the Risk Committee,of Bank of China Ltd, HongKong. 
I need your assistance in executing a transaction worth $65.5MUSD intend to give 50% of 
the total funds as compensation for your assistance

This is the entire message. Was Koh Beng Seng interrupted? 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things I Find in my Basement #33

I believe I took this from a moving car in November 1980.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Things I Find in my Basement #31: A Winning Hand

I have a thing about playing cards. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another Day

Two weeks ago, news of my husband’s resignation from Microsoft came from Brier Dudley’s article in the Seattle Times, and included correct and incomplete information about what he is doing next. Yes, he has accepted a new job. No, it is not in Seattle. No, it is not at a start-up. No, it is not in California.  The job is in New York City.

Some of my friends are disappointed we are not moving to California. Before we lived here we lived in California, and we loved it. What’s not to love? A thousand miles of beaches? Nicer produce in an average Safeway than is available anywhere in Missouri? Yeah, yeah, earthquakes blah blah blah, mudslides blah blah, wildfires blah blah. I have reasons to admire San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Los Angeles.  I think the people who have that mentality that “Northern California is great but Southern California isn’t” need to go find someone to argue about Klingon grammar with and stay the hell away from me. Oh, yes and they have traffic but you can’t name a real city that doesn’t have traffic.  
Given what Otto has done in his career, we were right in assuming we’d be moving back to California.  It just happens that we’re not. 

Despite an endless, damp, gray 50F degree winter in Seattle this year, I have few complaints.  We raised three kids here. We learned to ride horses here. We enjoyed a ridiculous amount of great music here. We lived on the very best street in the whole entire city, walking distance to four great restaurants.  We made some incredible friends here.

Of all the many places I thought I might live someday, New York was not one of them.  Nineteen years ago, I would have said the same thing about Seattle. Twenty-seven years ago I would have said the same thing about Salt Lake City.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Things I Find in my Basement #30

When we moved into this house, it was 1994.
We had two kids and three pets (a dog and two cats).  Today we have three different pets (a cat and two dogs), and three kids.  

You can talk to your children about moving.  They can tell you about their anxieties.  You can figure out how you're going to deal with it.

Pets are affected profoundly by a move. They know something is up, because now we are spending a lot of time opening boxes, and putting things in boxes, and taking things out of boxes, and throwing things away. They have no idea what is going to happen, how far we are going, and what their next home looks like. And if they could ask me, I could only answer some of their questions. 

My family moved only twice when I was a kid, and I was too young to remember either move. As a young adult, I moved all the way across the U.S. three times, and on one occasion I moved up the street.  

By 1995 or 1996, when my oldest son started elementary school, I had already stopped feeling like I could move again.  Family moved to Seattle.  School felt like a good fit. We figured out where to walk the dogs, where to buy groceries, dentists and eye-doctors, and how to get rid of an old couch. 
In 1998, something impossible happened: my father died. He was never old.  He was working, and then he was sick and then he was dead. In 2004, a second incomprehensible thing happened: my mother died.  She was never old.  She was working, and then she was sick, and then she was dead.  For me, surviving things that I never envisioned opened up the possibility that other bad surprises were waiting for me.  It also made me realize that I could get through things I thought I could not handle.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Things I Find in my Basement #29

Sometimes I find small scraps of paper and I wonder why I saved those scraps of paper. 
Other times, I know why.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Today is my Birthday

Today is my birthday. Like many adults, I am ambivalent about my birthday. Of course, the alternative to having a birthday is being dead, so I'll happily take the birthday.  Hooray! I am officially one year older! 
I won't have a big party with a puppet show or a magician.  I will not be given a basket of kittens or a red bicycle with ape hanger handlebars and a black banana seat.  Anything I might have wanted for myself I might have gotten myself already (although a both a new bicycle and basket of kittens does sound fun right now).
One thing I always appreciate on my birthday is a home-made card.  This card is from a number of years ago.  It was made by an old and dear friend who is today a dog owner herself and is taking in some foster puppies from the animal shelter for a month.  She will no doubt have puppy poops in her house.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Things I Find in my Basement #27

I like to make lists. I think I have for a long time.