Squirrels in the Loft

So often my writing at 3 a.m. on Wednesday mornings is from the hub of juxtaposition. I perch criss-crossed atop the intersection of a funky fence that spikes out from under me in many directions. On a slowly spinning Lazy Susan, I see a myriad of uneven angles resembling those created by cow-path meandering streets of my neighborhood. They make no Midwest-grid sense but perfect early-New-England-get-your-cow-to-the-common-in-the-most-direct-route-from-your-barn sense. And this morning on my spin: squirrels. Down the fence lines, I'm juxtaposed by the sights. My barn. The farm in Iowa. The scope of a .22. The tree tunneled electric wire highway to the big chewed away corner of my barn. The sweet animals playing in the winter snow. The lack of squirrel nests in my maple trees. My barn in flames. (That didn't happen. That is from a futuristic vantage point.) The Chevy Chase movie scene with a squirrel adhered to his face. Opening my email using software titled "Squirrel Mail." The rodents that are anything but sweet. Merely rats with bushy tails.

All these have culminated with the necessary action of squirrel removal from a place that isn't rural to most, but with so many trees is rural to some. A place I call the city, but a place a friend who lives nearer to "the city" refers to as "not the city." A place where squirrel removal doesn't involve my brother's .22, but rather a live trap set by a 3rd party. A man who has a no-nonsense kind of tone to his work. "The radio in the loft won't do anything, unless you want to teach the squirrels to dance." From the state of the pulled down insulation in the barn loft, there were a few too many squirrel dance parties before I even set the radio up.

There are times one must throw money at a situation for it to go away. Tax time. Squirrel time. Forget who you are, where you grew up, or who you know near and far. Call the tree man and call the squirrel man. For we aren't in a timber where we can fell a tree with two people and a chainsaw nor do we have weapons in our home.

Perhaps after this when the dreams stop and the fear of the back corner of the loft subsides, we will take some well-deserved time off. It will be a stay-cation at our own squirrel-free property. The money for the vacation went out with the squirrels and down with the trees.

(Who is your farmer in the family?  One guess who mine is.)

Failure to Thrive on Social Media

My attempts at maintaining a presence on social media – Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest – ebb and flow.  I’m not yet sure how I am supposed to keep up with the 815 people I am “Following” on Twitter.  I only have a sprinkling of people following me on Pinterest, and I seldom go on that site as I’m focusing on Twitter, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Facebook. Last week I decided to put a little money toward building my Facebook “Likes” for Linda Malcolm.  I boosted individual posts: I paid Facebook to let my writing go farther than immediate people who like me.

For one particular post, I shared “The Red-Toed Crab.”  It was a very late night, and I couldn’t sleep.  So thought I would get some work done.  I chose which countries to promote the post.  Normally, I choose the United States and England, for I have readers in both countries.  I remembered I had another reader in Brazil, so for a change, I also selected that country.

Here’s what I posted:

“I'm five years out from the breast cancer diagnosis. MRI's and mammograms are clean. The uncertainty before each result phone call still ebbs and flows. But now, three years beyond the writing of the Red-Toed Crab, the crab is intact.” With a link to The Red-Toed Crab and this picture:

I’m naïve.  Perhaps I thought my words would be translated to Portuguese when that post flew the wires to Brazil.  In the end, approximately 19,000 people in Brazil saw the post; over 250 “liked” the picture.  Six comments were left in Portuguese.  After clicking "translate," I found that five Brazilian women love my sandals and one Brazilian man loves my red toes.

Honest to Pete, my writing self would’ve fit so much better into the 1900’s hard copy style.  Last week, Linda Malcolm failed to thrive on social media.

Today, I find hard copy mighty alluring.

Skiing Smuggler's Notch, Vermont

This is February school break week, and we are skiing at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont.  I booked the trip in early fall, superseding Bill’s trip to China this week.  He will make that trip early March instead. Good material for writing, but everyone in my family is within ten feet of me this Tuesday afternoon, so I’m writing in sentences.  Not stories.  Not even paragraphs.  Perhaps more fragments than sentences.

We skied in the northernmost part of winter storm Rex today.  Rex sat on top of the highest mountain here for most of the morning, looking like a gray mountain on top of the mountain upon which he cast his shadow.  That’s the mountain where Will and Bill skied.

I can be openly happy about snow here.  It’s a ski resort.  Happiness is snow.

There was no line at the entrance for the magic carpet (aka: conveyor belt up the bunny hill), so I skied the bunny hill after putting Liam in lessons.  Lessons that would take him halfway up the mountain with Rex howling.  I felt a little guilty about that.

I nearly fell over once, making my premiere entrance on the magic carpet.

After five or six times down the bunny hill, I nearly cleared out a class of 4-year-olds.  I felt a little guilty about that.  I crossed over to the chair lift.

New stress: Please, don’t let me wipe out my chair mate when I get off the chair.  I didn’t.  Manhattan and I rode up together twice.  His wife was on the same big mountain as Bill, and their 8-year-old son was in lessons.  We agreed skiing green runs is relaxing.  And this green was lovely and gentle.

I fell over once, tripped up the steps going to the condo to get my phone.  Ski boots work best in skis, not on narrow stairs.

Red-cheeked Liam was waiting with his instructor after my second and last run of the day.  Gloves off, Liam was eating snow.  This child has been eating snow since his first winter in the U.S., 2007.  I joined him last snowfall; I had forgotten how a big mouthful of fresh, white snow makes a snowball in your mouth.  Liam lies dazed on the ground sucking these as if they are the sweetest candy ever concocted.  While asleep, his vision of sugar plums must be pure white.

More fragmented thoughts from now, Wednesday morning.  At the dinner table last night, we shared highlights of our day.  Liam only ate snow after ski lessons; his group of 13 worked on turns, particularly j-turns which bring you to a stop if you are going too fast.  No, I did not make a special request to the instructor for Liam’s lesson.

Will skied through trees and needs poles.  He skied through the “glades” where you aren’t allowed to go unless there are three of you.  He knows triple-black diamonds are out of the question because there also need to be three people skiing together to go down those.  I don’t think he’s worked out why “three” is the magic number.  I just did.  Ski math.

Tonight, Bill and I are taking a chairlift to the top of Sterling Mountain and having dinner in a cabin with no power – a candlelit dinner heated with propane burners.  Then, we will snow shoe down the mountain.  40 minutes in the dark with floppy shoes.  I will find time and place to write that story.

Take a look at my "shredder" persona in Glamour Aside & the Recap of Smuggler's Notch.

Bill's Ski Goggles

Skiing. Less than an hour from our house we can ski hills. Under two hours we can ski foothills. Over two hours we can ski mountains. For you New Englanders reading, this is not scientific measurement, just a Midwesterner’s flat wisdom of a few slopes. We are under two hours away from Crotched Mountain – which we all agree was a very unfortunate name. We are pronouncing it Crotch-ED Mountain. An expiring timeshare led to a quickly planned weekend ski trip where accommodation space was available.

With a still tender back and little confidence, I held down the fort in the cafeteria as Bill skied alternately with Will and Liam all weekend. Will has become an adventurous skier with little fear of falls and with lofty goals of skiing all the runs on every mountain. As Bill said, “Thank goodness there are no double-blacks at Crotch-ED Mountain.” When Will came back Sunday morning and gave the low-down on the terrain park jumps he landed, I looked wide-eyed, questioningly at Bill. “No, I didn’t do them; my body can’t take that any more.”

After lunch on Sunday, it was Liam’s turn to ski with Dad. Being a visual person, Liam starts at Point A (the top) and skis to Point B (the bottom). Horribly tough to watch for me, he points the skis downhill and takes off like a terror, edging the skis to a slice of pizza only to stop at the bottom. Bill tried to point out the virtues of taking longer swoops around curves, but Liam successfully skied his path, so why would he do it any differently?

Liam and Bill gathered their equipment and headed out, leaving Will and I to the art of cutting out intricate paper snowflakes and playing Set. An hour later, Bill brought Liam back to swap skiers. Looking straight at me, a red-cheeked Bill says, “Are my goggles here?” Crumbs, I (equipment girl) may have swept them onto a chair before lunch. I rummage through the bag and find nothing. I look back to Bill and in his silhouette I see his goggles on his helmet. More specifically, backwards on his helmet so the lenses are looking behind him.

With a question in my voice, I say, “They are on your helmet…?” “But I asked Liam and he said they weren’t there.” Liam had been looking at Bill’s face when he answered, and the black goggle strap blended seamlessly with the black helmet. The back of the black helmet.

We now know that Bill’s helmet is – apparently – completely reversible.

Great to Be Alive

I’m still making my way in this “stay-at-home” mom role, not knowing what exactly that job description should entail, but striving nevertheless to be really good at it. That usually means constant movement through each day, normally to fortify the Malcolms and keep them afloat. I needn’t list the tasks, for we all have them. And perhaps like me -- no longer a farm girl who can count bales of hay put up or fields planted at the end of the day -- you have no idea where the day went or what you actually accomplished. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done things a little differently: put an “X” through two days a week to focus on writing; started a 21-day sugar detox; and exercised nearly every day. As a result I see more of what I haven’t done: 8 loads of dirty laundry scattered in the hallway and laundry room; more dishes and pans in the sink than normal; a loaded countertop of mail, packages, and breakfast dishes at 5 p.m.

After a bike ride Monday, I’m more OK with all of that today. With a goal of riding 112 miles over two weeks, I organized a bike ride for the four of us on Sunday. We rode 7 miles. Thinking I could get at least 25 miles done on my own, I drove out to the same bike trail Monday – really looking forward to knocking out a quarter of what was left. After 1 ½ hours, I dragged my pedaled-out legs and sore bum to the van, anxious for the total mileage. TWELVE miles? No. Surely more than that…

Red-faced and sore, I kicked the gravel stirring up some dust. I had parked near the bike trail in a quiet area of Groton, MA. Sunday the gravel lot was empty, but Monday several buses were parked next to a bus garage. They must have been on the road the day before. My quiet brooding over my lackluster accomplishment of 12 miles was snapped to halt when a bus suddenly revved up its diesel engine. I jumped and looked toward the roar. This is what I saw. Sometimes when I'm cussing under my breath while doing laundry, I lift my head up out of the sorting basket too quickly and catch it on the sharp, sharp corner of the cupboard. I take that as a sign: Less complaining. More grace. "GREAT TO BE ALIVE" was like that, only less painful.

I get it. Generally, most of us have been in tougher places than where we stand today. Considering three years ago this week I was focused on recovering from chemo and radiation, I would say 12 miles biked is pretty darn good.

Great to be alive. More bus ticker signs... fewer sharp cupboard corners. Please.

(Need a little inspiration? Try Baggage.)

phone charger cord for the car

(This little ditty was sparked taking inventory of my purse in "This Morning's Office"... ) In Massachusetts, I found the phone charger cord for the car as we left the rental house in Gloucester, so I tucked it in my suitcase to take to Iowa.  However, as I criss-crossed Iowa I rarely had cell coverage.  Not too shocking as no-service had become the norm this summer.  So my always-fully-charged phone rarely worked.  Perhaps T-Mobile is MA-based and can get power through buildings but not corn tassels.

While in Iowa, occasionally  I found 2-square feet to stand in to get 2 bars of coverage.  One of those times was on my sister's porch in the middle of Iowa at 8 a.m. when my phone rang.  "We are calling on behalf of Sprint to collect a bill you have not paid."  Never do I give a credit card number over the phone to someone who calls me.  "I don't have Sprint.  What service is it for?"  "I'm not sure, Ma'am, I just have the amount due that covers two billing cycles."

Crap.  It clicked: I do have Sprint.  At the beginning of summer, two billing cycles ago, I bought a "hot spot" so that wherever I go I can hook up to the internet with my lap top.  That is, wherever I can get cell coverage.  Which ended up not being at the house in Gloucester this summer.  So the magical hot spot went into a cardboard box, in the POD, in our driveway.

I have flashbacks of seeing "Sprint" in the subject of emails and not opening them because I don't have a Sprint phone.  I thought they were marketing emails... and I have fast delete fingers when it comes to those emails.  I had gone with paper-less billing for my Sprint hot spot.  Realizing that I actually did have a Sprint product and knowing I hadn't paid any bills, I grimaced and gave my credit card number and 3-digit secret code to this man.  Who called me.

Loading up the kids to go to Reiman Gardens in Ames, I felt a pit in the bottom of my stomache.  Even with the realization that I hadn't paid my Sprint bill, I shouldn't have given my card information to that guy.  The best solution for my panic was to contact a local Sprint office and confirm that the call was legit.  "Oh, Ma'am, that doesn't sound good.  What is your phone number?"  I don't have a phone with Sprint.  "Well, there is a number associated with the hot spot -- what's that number?"  That number is with the paperwork, in the hot spot box, in the POD, in the driveway, at our house, in Massachusetts.  "Well, there's no way I can look at your account without that number, Ma'am."  What about my name?  I know my name!!  "Unfortunately, we can't look up accounts by name.  You should probably call our 800 number for help."

I tossed paper and pencil to Will in the back seat and asked him to write numbers down as I repeated them from the Sprint lady.  She gave me two numbers to try.  I dialed the first one that Will had written down.  "Hello..."  Wow, that 'Hello' was way too sultry for Sprint customer service.  "We are so glad you called.  Are you looking for hot, steamy..."  Shock knocks the memory.  The Sprint lady gave me a sex line.  Or did Will write the  number down wrong?  I hit 'end call' and dared not call the second number.  I would go on faith that the collection agency that had called me was legit.

Later that afternoon, I heard the ping for an incoming text.  "Creamy chocolate or hot latina lovers r waiting 4 u.  $25 credit on your first call... or, do you want to SEXTEXT?"  No!  I really don't!!  And why are you sending this to me??  Ohhhh...  My cell number was captured after I called you.  By mistake.

That came in at 4:04 p.m.  "END" went out at 4:05 p.m.  My one and only sextext experience lasted less than a minute.

And to make sure there are no cliff-hangers: My hot spot is still in the cardboard box.  And the collection agency call was legit.

Need more endorphins freed up today?  Try this:  Finders Keepers