Thursday, March 30, 2006

Felix Natalis

Look who's 30.

When I was born (when you were 3), you weren't sure about me.
We made friends fast.
You looked out for me. Right from the start you shared everything you had.
When you started school, you came home and taught me everything you learned.
You told me your secrets and kept mine.
You played elaborate tricks to make sure I believed in Santa for as long as possible after you found out he didn't exist.
You let me ride on your back when we played horses, and borrow your tapes and clothes- even your favorites.
You let me drag you into the weedy part of the lake even though you were scared. I was scared, too, but I felt brave because you were with me.
You never complained when I got something you didn't.
("Like this?" *Spit*)
When you learned to drive, you took me with you. And when nobody was around, you still played dolls with me.
("I made it, no thanks to you!")
When I dare to dream, you push harder. You seem to believe that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. On more than one occasion you have been furious on my behalf, but you are never disappointed in me.
When I am in trouble, you rescue me. Whenever my heart breaks, you fix it. You never ask to be thanked. You never ask for anything at all in return.
You probably won't even mind that on your birthday, I've made this entire post about you all about me. I just wanted you to know what I notice when I think about my life: you're beautiful, you're gracious, you're clever and silly, you're fattening, patient, strong, wise and kind.
You're simply the greatest sister in the world.
And no matter who's around, if we're together after 9:00 p.m., everything is still funny.
("How was she blinded?" "Lightbulb!" "Oh, I thought it was me.")

Happy Birthday, Morgan

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Floc drives in motion.

Almost too pretty.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Money on the Little Guy

The telephone alarm bleats in the main basin, blue spark flashing in case we can’t hear it. We always hear it. Jeff plants his palm against his hip, anchoring the keys that swing from his belt, and lopes down the concrete walk between basins. I’m left holding a wrench and an aluminum cake pan full of dirty oil, watching him bounce along at a steady pace -- one hand in a fist at his waist, head high, back straight -- and it occurs to me that I’ve never seen him run before. Now I know why. He’s a very animated person, so I often see him spin quickly or rock on his heels in agitation, but running is not something extremely bowlegged cowboys do gracefully. I wait, tapping the wrench until I hear him return, all whistle and jingle at a jaunty amble.

I find everyday things about Jeff amazing. Candace says the new bay (horse) they bought gets a little rowdy with her, but she described how Jeff handles him. “He just knows how they think, and he just thinks one step ahead of them. When the bay balks he just grabs him by the jaw and gives him that look, and he settles right down.” Jeff talks about “working in the barn” and the rain today making his “anvil slick,” and sometimes when it’s quiet at the plant he sharpens a knife the likes of which I have never seen, a thick, tapered, hammered thing with a vicious hook at the end. He buys eight different varieties of nails and buckets of toxic chemicals and sometimes the vet calls him instead of the other way around.

He’s been complaining lately that his new Wranglers are too tight because Candace bakes almost every day and he gets no exercise in the winter. Today he made over a dozen appointments to shoe horses before the weekend. He’ll be back in those skinny jeans in no time.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Rites of Spring

I got Taco Bell (#3, no tomatoes, Code Red Mountain Dew with six cubes of ice) at the TA truck stop Saturday afternoon and pulled under the freeway to Bigelow Road to enjoy a spectacular view of the Uinta Mountains with lunch. I figured since I was already there and facing south I’d take the back roads instead of getting back on I-80. It didn’t occur to me until I was plowing across the plateau through mud up to the Cadillac’s fenders that perhaps crossing the Bigelow Bench to Bridger Valley wasn’t such a good idea.

Melting snow cascaded in opaque rivers across the dirt road, and playful 4x4 trucks had churned foot-deep trenches in the viscous red clay. The Caddy faltered only once, on the switchback dropping down to the valley floor, where I gave her a little too much gas at a sensitive spot and we went sideways for ten feet before getting straightened around just in time to pass through a gate with a cattle guard. I had washed the car the day before and found it freshly baptized with an aesthetically pleasing spray of terra cotta. I never regret getting muddy.

The evening revolved around Kindra June’s junior prom preparations and the actual event, which, in rural Wyoming, involves the family to such an extensive degree that admission is charged ($5.00 per individual, $15.00 per family- judging by last night’s attendance, the class of 2007 must have raked in some serious revenue). Brian suited smartly up for the daddy-daughter dance and I suppose we were all reminded once again how lucky they are to have found each other, since by Brian’s own admission he knew he loved Kindra – who was then three years old – long before he loved her mother, and without that initial attachment we wouldn’t have an Abbie or a Britan and life would be much different (and, I imagine, a little sadder).

We’re in the throes of the dying winter, blizzard one minute, thaw the next. The wind was so ferocious through the night and into the day that town is littered with cardboard, plastic bags, and tarps that broke free. The streets are bare except for the ragged blanket of sand the City dump trucks doled out in copious measure over the winter. I stood at the window of the control room today and wished to be somewhere tropical.

There are three new tenants in the house and three new businesses coming into town and this summer we will elect a new mayor to replace the remarkable windbag we’ve had to tolerate for three years that passed so fast I can hardly breathe when I try to remember how I spent them. All this makes me feel as if I’m running after the wind, a futile pursuit even now when I feel I’m so close to knowing what I want and getting it, too.

I’m pensive tonight and a little apprehensive, but I remember thinking as I traveled along a sunny ridge yesterday – sure, even as I floundered in the mud – that my life has never been better.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Every Second Counts

I'm watching Chip Foose and the gang OVERHAULIN' a rusty Mustang, looks like maybe a '65. They're pranking the owner, pretending to be cops and telling the poor guy they're monitoring a possible chop shop where they think they've found his stolen pony, and for the reveal they lay the crew down in the parking lot (bound with industrial plastic zip-ties, I love it) and ask him to see if he can identify the car thief. The witness blanks when they haul our hero up by the scruff of his neck and has to be told he's been overhauled, but it's worth it when he sees the Mustang, unbelievably transformed, glossy and growling with a big Ford Racing engine. He promised his late father he'd keep the car on the road, which made his giddy excitement all the more endearing.

Maybe Chip could help us with the Pontiac.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fluff with Fork

And just like that, I'm fine again. Maybe not fine, exactly, since I'm running on the fumes of Sunday night's tank of high-octane slumber. (I slept very peacefully because, you know, darling, scruffy, witty Denny didn't make lucky number seven slated to die in the OR, and Lizzie dumped Alex-the-jerk and kissed Denny even though he's her patient. May someone save me from addictive television sagas.)

We have a presentation- the first attempt utilizing our new Dell laptop instead of my adorable Vaio- tomorrow at the high school. I remember being only slightly worried in the days leading up to my first presentation. Then I recall thinking it wasn't a matter of life and death, and nothing but a little embarassment could come of it if I blew the whole thing. It turned out fine, better than fine.

I was volunteered to judge the Young Authors contest at Aspen Elementary next Wednesday. There's that May test to study for and the application to send before April, the looming spectre of spring runoff hitting the plant and the irritation of treating Sulphur Creek Reservoir water. There's that poster to design (sketches to do, meetings to plan, painting and printing and framing) and the dubious June reward of the Renewal Ball. There are short stories to write for a group I've been invited to join and a great idea stewing for something even bigger. And I've been thinking that if I survive this spring, I just might reward myself with the desert balm of Vegas, even if I have to head for the neon glow alone (like a moth to a flame).

The pH of vinegar, by the by, is 4, which makes it an acid. (The further from neutral 7 you get, the more acidic or base, acidic being 0-6 and basic being 8-14.) I know because I used a slip of litmus paper to test it today while I was cleaning the lab, and I also tested baking soda, which turned out to be an 8. Then we ran the rest of the bottle of vinegar through the coffee machine in the break room, and it did wonders to remove almost three years' worth of stains and residue. What a useful tip that turned out to be. But hot vinegar reeks.

Travis and I thoroughly wiped down several miles of aluminum railing today. I was tearing along at my usual breakneck cleaning pace- enjoying the lemon-fresh steam and the glow of polished metal- when he sauntered up and stilled my rag with a latex-gloved hand. "Slow down, or we'll have to wash the windows and vacuum, and then we won't have anything to do tomorrow." So I tried, I really did. But it felt good to clean, almost as good as it feels when somebody invites you to complain all night long and actually seems to enjoy listening to it.

And now, because I'm in a tremendously creepy mood that Eric Idle only enhances, The Galaxy Song from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown
And things seem sad or tough
And people are useless, obnoxious, or daft,
And you feel that you've had quite enough...

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour.
It's orbiting at ninety miles a second, so it's reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me, and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
Through an outer spiral arm at forty thousand miles an hour
Of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars,
It's a hundred thousand lightyears side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand lightyears thick,
But out by us it's just three thousand lightyears wide.
We're thirty thousand lightyears from galactic central point,
We go round every two hundred million years.
And our galaxy is only one of millions and billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whiz.
As fast as it can go, that's the speed of light, you know;
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space
Cause there's bugger-all down here on earth!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Varis Leta Facies

I've been positively irate for two days and no reason. It seems to be something I have no control over, this rage, and I also apparently have no control over the weather or automatic doorlocks or the people I work with, one of whom should have known better than to move my stuff. NEVER move my stuff for no reason. It upsets me.

I'm going to blame this on PMS because I refuse to dig any deeper. I can't disappear for a while; I have too many obligations. It sure seems like the minute I think I've got a handle on every single thing, another facet spins out of control. And that makes me crazy, and ferocious, and I refuse to accept it.

I'm grinding my molars and making fists and thinking the worst. And the scary thing is, I'm enjoying it.

The merry face of spring indeed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Friday, March 17, 2006

Lucky Charm

Wearin' o' the green, for me, consists of a four-leaf clover under glass and over opal. I've never felt luckier.

The Week in Pictures

Just for Fun

Kym, Hope, and Tonetta in I.B., circa 1996.

Kym and Tonetta, circa 1997 (Hope and Kenny in the background).

A and great-grandmother LoraLee Skinner, on Licorice (Grandpa Bartley has his ring- 1981 or 2?).

A in a field (at what, Mom, two? And was I always eating?).

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Today I received an email that nearly caused me to have a seizure. I want to hunt down whoever originally generated it and beat them with a dead mackerel.

The subject line featured the message "Fw: Fw: Time?" and I wouldn't put it past the gal that sent it to have forwarded it without even reading it. It's not unusual for her to send a block of over a dozen emails at once to everybody in her address book. We love her, so we forgive her and joke about it when she's not around.

Lately I've taken to deleting every email in my inbox that includes the words blessing, friend, happy, love, buddy, cute, sweet, and/or special without even opening them. Ditto if I see brighten your day, Maxine, Garfield, Christian, this is funny, please sign and forward, thankful or prayer. I know what they're going to say, and I'm not about to inflict them on ten people. I'll just have to do without that mysterious phone call that's supposed to happen the instant I hit send, the warm fuzzies I'm supposed to get or the miracle that will occur in three days ("I didn't believe it, but I sent it to ten people and within an hour Ed McMahon was at my door!").

I also trash anything that requests I send it back to her. (It always claims I will "know why" when I "read it," but this has never been the case. Nope, still baffled as to why anybody would want to see that crap twice.) Luckily, Mom wades through these ghastly time-suckers and sends me the ones that are really worthwhile, usually because her WebTV won't play .wmv files or anything made in PowerPoint.

Anyhow, today's message included some terrible poetry, the words "If I don't get this back, I will know you really didn't read it," and the following image:

Does this remind anybody else of the Chicano paintings featuring Popocatepétl and Iztaccihuatl? Is that a signature down there in the corner? Good thing I can't decipher it. This piece of artwork irritates me on so many levels. The proportion sucks. It's tacky. It's a Christian cliche. The colors are hideous. It's not remotely believable. I think symbolism works best when it's subtle, and its obviousness makes this image agonizingly juvenile. I think I'd feel a little better if the ectoplasmic Saviour was carrying a librarian in gray tweed and orthopedic shoes, instead of an actress in a satin slip. What's with the D-cups and the gold bangle? I know God loved even Popocatepétl, but please.

I wasn't going to post the rest, but I'm in a truly foul mood and I want to inflict it on others. Check out the clever title:

I knelt to pray but not for long,
I had too much to do.
I had to hurry and get to work
For bills would soon be due.
So I knelt and said a hurried prayer,
And jumped up off my knees.
My Christian duty was now done
My soul could rest at ease.....
All day long I had no time
To spread a word of cheer
No time to speak of Christ to friends,
They'd laugh at me I'd fear.
No time, no time, too much to do,
That was my constant cry,
No time to give to souls in need
But at last the time, the time to die.
I went before the Lord,
I came, I stood with downcast eyes.
For in his hands God! held a book;
It was the book of life.
God looked into his book and said
"Your name I cannot find
I once was going to write it down...
But never Found the time"

Now do you have the time
to pass it on?

"Too bad that the person who sent it to me did not know ten people who would admit to knowing the Lord.

If I send this to you (you mean, at this point I still have a choice?), please send it back so I will know that my friends do know the lord.

I know ten people.
Do You Love Him?

This is a simple test:


If you want to keep me in the fold- flimsy as my faith is- don't create guilt-inducing emails featuring hideous art, ridiculous poetry, and terrible grammar.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


A flock of tiny brown birds has taken up residence on the slope above the plant, consuming the seeds from the dry grasses the wind sweeps bare of snow. Every time a vehicle enters the gates and tops the knob, they flutter up in the hundreds and sweep across the road and down over the parking lot in a dramatic quivering cloud, desperately battling the constant wind.

I would never claim to be fragile, but the residues of winter sometimes make me feel I could shatter if buffeted by anything more substantial than the everlasting wind. I remember this season in Kemmerer, iron-flavored gusts over the starched brown grass of the sloped park I spent every spare moment exploring. Leaf buds on cottonwoods emerged from sharp husks that grazed my
flushed and brittle cheeks as I dodged between them, climbed among their bare limbs, scored them in return with a rusty pocketknife to make sure there was green beneath the dead gray.

In this climate, spring seems more cruel than winter, as it punishes
with freezing rain and dry dawn frost the feeble green things fighting to emerge. In my own way, I am fighting to emerge, with as much determination at least as early sprouts cowering against the earth. No matter how fierce spring is, no matter how gray the sky or bitter the nights, spring still means renewal, resilience, commencement. And even during the blustery throes of March I sense that winter is yielding to this effervescent season, the earth becoming pliable, rivers breaking loose, the irrepressible cycle of seed and stalk eager on the brink.

This spring my life is waiting in the wings, an instinctive rehearsal fueled by conviction and joy. I live for spare moments. It never before occurred to me to take them.

Monday, March 13, 2006

You Smell Like One, Too

Happy birthday to Lenny, whose birth date couldn't have been more appropriate. I really hope 27 is the year all the good stuff starts happening to you, because I'm tired of listening to you whine. (I jest.) Good luck on your interview. At least it's not a Friday.

Oh, and happy belated 37th to Bubba, whose second childhood should begin any day now.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Damage Control

This morning I raced a train to work, catching glimpses of three brawny engines and an endless string of double-stacked red “K-line” cars between the buildings on the north side of Front Street as I traveled eastward. When I climbed the hill and turned southeast onto City View, I glanced in the rearview mirror of the Cadillac and saw the tail of the train snake around the bend, along the river and out of sight.

I have always had great affection for trains. I’ve always lived close to them, in communities dependent on industries that have a necessary and simple symbiosis with them, mines and various varieties of agriculture and manufacture. I love their sounds and the scents that surround them: diesel exhaust, hot iron and steel, and the acrid tang of creosote. I love the symmetry and order of the tracks that crisscross my world, the steel bridges spanning rivers like spiderlace, and tufts of white smoke disappearing into tunnels blasted and hacked through solid rock.

I love the storied history of trains, particularly the way they shaped the American West. Growing up I collected rusty spikes and pennies set on the tracks for the 135-ton locomotives to instantly pulverize into paper-thin copper ovals and fling into the brush. On summer afternoons in Kemmerer, Wyoming, I would sit in the weedy shade of the cottonwood trees behind the butter-yellow metal building where my mother was the director of a senior citizens’ center. I would memorize the engine numbers of the coal trains that passed by and watch the loading and unloading of freight- coal, lumber, machinery and mail. I understood early on that the network of tracks across this country is our economic circulatory system.

Trains are potentially deadly if people are careless, and diesel engines pollute the air with a concentration of carcinogenic compounds. The French-born Dr. Rudolf Diesel, who originally patented the diesel engine, disappeared from a ship en route to London in 1913. (His body was found in the English Channel days later. His death was ruled a suicide due to the cross penned as his journal entry the day of his disappearance, but another theory holds that the Germans- who were manufacturing diesel-powered submarines- wanted to ensure that the British would never obtain the diesel engine design.) I suppose one might say that trains have an ominous stigma of danger and power.

I don’t think of these things when I see trains. I think of progress, history, and tracks across the starched brown prairie or perilously strung along the windswept crags of sheer granite cliffs. I think of the pure bliss I felt one midnight in December of 1986, seated on a plush red seat next to my sister and mother (who was dozing in the dim orange glow). We rocked gently side-to-side while the wheels audibly ground the fresh snow on the steel rails, and as much as I wanted to see Dad (who was waiting for us at the other end of the tracks), I fervently wished the journey would never end. I wouldn’t have minded rumbling on forever, with the bitter black night outside the window of our Amtrak passenger car.

I can’t recall the very first time I saw a train, but I am certain I loved them instantly, and I know that for me they will always symbolize adventure, freedom- that which never comes without a price- and the solitude I seem to thrive on.

Friday, March 10, 2006

March Lets Me Down

Get a load of this.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Musing and Math

The Big Cat and I are sharing a can of peas and surfing the Internet (because everybody else has friends and I had three hot toddies at Kate's). BC is not so much eating his peas as batting them around on the kitchen floor, but I think he may have consumed one or two. If not, I'll find them all under the oven in a few months. We used to do this at our apartment in IB, only it was kidney beans and video games. Special K just chewed us out and left the room so she didn't have to witness such a frivolous waste of time and canned vegetables.

I have things to do, really. Just nothing I feel like getting after. Maybe I'll go to bed. Yeah, that sounds good. I read three chapters on Fluoridation today. I have words like hydrofluosilicic acid and gravity feed floating around in my head. No wonder I can hardly complete a sentence, much less make one up that would be enjoyable to read.

And now I've decided to tell you how to come up with the amount of fluoride (sodium fluoride) a hypothetical plant might use in gallons per day. You take your daily flow (for instance, 6 million gallons per day), multiply it by the desired dose (1.2 mg/L or 1.2 parts per million, either way), and divide the result by the concentration of flouride you're using (a solution of 20% fluoride, say). You're going to need 36 gallons of fluoride a day, and that's going to cost you.

Say you decide to fluoridate your water (despite the astonishing number of anti-fluoridation organizations whose pages you can access on the Internet, and no I don't know if they're right or wrong- all I know is I have fantastic teeth and no detectable adverse health effects to speak of after growing up drinking fluoridated water). You need to know how long it's going to take that fluoridated water to move through your plant. You need to calculate detention time! That's right. Say you have a sedimentation basin that's 200'x140' and 11' deep. That's 308,000 cubic feet. Multiply that number by 7.48 to find out how many gallons it holds (2,303,840). Do the same for your 12 filters that are each 10'x20'x8' (1,600 x 12 = 19,200 cubic feet, x 7.48 = 143,616 gallons).

So altogether your plant holds 2,447,456 gallons of water at any given time. Say you have a flow of 3.5 million gallons per day. Divide by 1,440 (minutes in a day) to get gallons per minute (2,430) and divide that number into your total capacity (2,447,456, remember?). Did everybody get 1007? Divide by 60 (minutes in an hour). It's going to take that fluoridated water 16.8 hours to move through your plant. You'd better be there when it does to check your fluoride level; send overdosed fluoridated water out into the distribution system and you're going to have some serious explaining to do.

One more thing, because I'm on a roll. This morning I had to check the dosage of polymer (Polyaluminum Chloride 8157) we're treating our water with. I timed the feed and got 110 milliliters. I multiplied that by 1.26 (specific gravity of 8157), multiplied that by 1440 (minutes in a day), divided that by 3785 (converts milliliters to mg/L or ppm) and divided that by our flow, which is about 1.8 million gallons per day. Anybody? 29.2 mg/L. Which is enough to handle the milky water coming in from the river, which is thawing open now. Do you know how much cow manure is in the water you drink before somebody bothers to take it out?

Like Bekah said
the other day when I mentioned how vile cows are: "I don't care; I love beef. I hope there's beef in heaven. Beef and chocolate." She has a point. And clearly, motherhood agrees with the woman.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good Times, Noodle Salad

My left shoulder has been killing me lately, and I realized that the pouch that attaches to my 3 lb. laptop in its black neoprene case seemed rather heavy, so I made an inventory of its contents. Three shades of lip gloss, six pens, several folded scraps of paper, my miniscule Olympus digital voice recorder, a paintbrush, a small bottle of lens cleaner, two watches, laptop charger and cord, wallet and checkbook, a mini mouse... and finally, squirreled away in the pocket where my Olympus camera usually rides, I discovered the $10 roll of quarters I traded Jeff for weeks ago. That explains that. But now I have no excuse not to do laundry and wash my vehicles.

I used to love opening rolls of quarters at the gift shop. I would whack them on the edge of the counter and empty them into the register drawer with one hand like I was cracking an egg dramatically into a bowl. People went nuts over it.

I stopped by Mary's business to pay my rent tonight, and during the course of our conversation, she said, "I wish you and my son would get together, because I like you both." I had to laugh. She found a hispanic couple with a little girl to rent the groundfloor apartment. I have no problem with kid noise, but I'll throw a hissy fit if they play Joan Sebastian at high volume all the livelong day. In my life I've been forced to endure more than my share of banda, and I won't take any more.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Deus Ex Machina

I spent last week plunged into consuming impressions at every turn; my imagination has never produced more vivid images. I’ve never been more aware of my environment, or of the possibility in every day. But I’ve also found myself frustrated and prone to weeping, fearful and apprehensive. When they claim that nothing in life comes easy, They aren’t kidding.

Who is “They?” “They” are society, civilization, America, the world. They are everybody I’ve ever had a conversation with. They create the black and white rules it seems I am expected to live by, then bend and break those rules every day until I rebel and slip into a gray area that suits me and few others. And at this stage of my life, I find myself face to face with them at a 9”x6” rectangle that emits an ethereal blue light.

I could survive without the Internet; I did happily for nineteen years. But there is no question that it is the entity that defines my existence this decade. Over half the people I interact with on a daily basis I have never even met before or haven’t seen in years. Many of these near strangers have no idea how great an impact they have on my life. Far more often than I call, I email or instant message family and friends, and a few make time to read the blog. (And yet, you rarely comment. Don’t be shy, people. This is the best way to get my undivided attention.)

I get over 95% of my information from the Internet. Most days my sole contact with other people is the eight hours I spend with my three male coworkers, whose lives revolve around (in addition to the plant) a wife and three sons, a rural homestead, and a bar, respectively. We never discuss politics. We rarely discuss the news. We never delve into the arts. I usually talk to one or two people on the phone after work, but these conversations rarely venture past the mundane, however essential. (These trivial things are, after all, the facets of life we can’t possibly ignore.)

In short, I can’t imagine my life without the Internet. In a large way, it’s creating me. It’s presenting opportunities for education, fellowship and enrichment I would never have otherwise. Maybe it's offering more; I don’t know. I can only hope it doesn’t eventually do me harm. But I am certainly interested to see who I am in twenty, thirty, forty years, and to what degree the World-Wide Web influences my life.

Here’s to the proverbial god in the machine.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Drive to the Intake