KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Cute Baby Blogging

These short video clips of my granddaughter, Ana, are dark and a bit fuzzy because they were recorded with a cell phone, but they're adorable. She's 3½ months old, and these are her first recorded laughs. Make sure you have the volume turned up. (I'd have used Blogger's new "insert video" capability, but my clips are tiny, and Blogger never got finished uploading the first one.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sisters and Polar Opposites

Ideologically, there are many, many reasons my younger sister and I don't get along.

There's her hatred of gay people ... and we just so happen to have a wonderful brother who is gay. As she says, in her Texas Southern Baptist fundie kind of way, "Hate the sin and love the sinner." Ick.

And there's her hatred of undocumented immigrants.

There's also her wildly mistaken belief that American soldiers are fighting for our freedom in Iraq. Her own son, now 19 and once a sweet child, has taken on her bigotry and her view of the Iraq war and George Bush. He signed up with the Marine Corps Reserve and is scheduled to ship out to Iraq at the end of September.

Over the years, she and I have come to realize that if we want to have civil conversations, we just can't bring up any political issues. (That makes for some pretty superficial talks.) But sometimes, she just can't stand not to e-mail me conservative junk:
Please join us in this FLY THE FLAG campaign and PLEASE forward this e-mail immediately to everyone in your address book asking them to also forward it. We have a little less than one week and counting to get the word out all across this great land and into every community in the United States of America. If you forward this e-mail to least 11 people and each of those people do the same ... you get the idea.


On Tuesday, September 11th, 2007, an American flag should be displayed outside every home, apartment, office, and store in the United States. Every individual should make it their duty to display an American flag on this anniversary of our country's worst tragedy. We do this in honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11, their families, friends and loved ones who continue to endure the pain, and those who today are fighting at home and abroad to preserve our cherished freedoms.

In the days, weeks, and months following 9/11, our country was bathed in American flags as citizens mourned the incredible losses and stood shoulder to shoulder against terrorism. Sadly, those flags have all but disappeared. Our patriotism pulled us through some tough times and it shouldn't take another attack to galvanize us in solidarity. Our American flag is the fabric of our country and together we can prevail over terrorism of all kinds.

Action plan: So, here's what we need you to do ...

(1) Forward this e-mail to everyone you know (at least 11 people). Please don't be the one to break this chain. Take a moment to think back to how you felt on 9/11 and let those sentiments guide you.

(2) Fly an American flag of any size on 9/11. Honestly, Americans should fly the flag year-round, but if you don't, then at least make it a priority on this day.

Thank you for your participation. God Bless You and God Bless America.

When she does send me this kind of garbage, I usually just trash it without sending a response. But this time was one time too many, so I wrote back:
You know me, ever the dissident. ;-) On 9/11, as on every other day of the year, I will be flying these flags on the flagpole (which is taller than our house) in our front yard:

Peace and impeachment flags

The top flag shows a peace dove and the word peace in multiple languages, including Arabic. The bottom one speaks for itself. Our American flag will go back up, along with the peace flag, when war criminals Dick Cheney and George Bush are out of office—and hopefully on trial or in prison—and can no longer do criminal things in its name.

No response. But maybe that's a good thing; maybe my sister will stop sending me e-mail guaranteed to annoy me.

What's So Wrong About Looking for Sex?

Yes, Idaho's Senator Larry Craig apparently solicited sex from another man, who just happened to be a police officer, in a public restroom. And yes, he's apparently a self-hating, deeply closeted gay man who is in extreme denial and has lived a straight man's life in public. He's also the three-term senator who has always said that no one who's not straight should be serving in the military and that same-sex marriages should never be allowed.

So he's a jerk. Does that mean that it should be illegal for him to ask someone in a public place about having sex? I would agree that he should have been arrested if he had been actually having sex in a public place. But just asking for it ... and not even saying that he was willing to pay for it?

Straight people do that all the time, at bars, on dance floors, and just about anyplace else. The law is set up to make gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks have to hide who they are.

And that's plain old discrimination.

Monday, August 27, 2007

We're Gay

Vandalism done to our car doorAccording to some Long Island homophobe, my husband, Ed, and I are gay. That doesn't bother us; it's not an insult to us. But having the 3-inch-tall word GAY scratched into the white paint on the driver-side door of our car is vandalism.

Ed just called from the periodontist's office to tell me that he went to the office parking lot to drive home and found the damage to our car. It's a 1991 Honda Civic, so it's not an expensive car, but it had had a complete paint job just before we bought it. It's our Equal Rights bumper stickerguess that the vandal didn't like our rainbow-hued "Equal Rights" bumper sticker. It shares the bumper with lots of other stickers: antiwar, anti-Bush, world peace, antigun, you name it. Perhaps those other sentiments were less aggravating to the vandal than the gay-rights one.

Ed's reporting the incident to the police as a hate crime. Our auto insurance may or may not cover repainting the car door, but we don't care about that; we're reporting the vandalism on principle. The periodontist, a Jewish man who's experienced prejudice, also wanted Ed to report the crime. He doesn't want the area around his practice to become a haven for hate crimes.

I guess we're an honorary gay man and an honorary lesbian.

Updated at 2:18 p.m., 8/28/07: A friend, hearing about this incident, e-mailed to say, "Congratulations! Yours must be the only gay marriage recognized by the state of New York! ;-)"

Cool! I hadn't thought of that. I feel like getting a T-shirt printed that says Honorary Lesbian and wearing it. In smaller type below that, it could say Some homophobes think that you have to be gay to support gay rights. Not true!

Updated at 9:59 a.m., 8/30/07: I've been corresponding by e-mail with Erin Davies, driver of the FagBug. She's posted our story on her blog.

At Last!

Yesterday, my family and I had the boat outing that almost wasn't. Ironically, our boat's name is At Last.

All we wanted to do was take our 21-year-old 21-foot inboard-outboard pleasure boat out on Long Island Sound. Saturday, Ed, my husband, and Neil, our almost-13-year-old, spent the afternoon giving the boat a checkup. The engine was a little sluggish starting up, but that doesn't always mean anything is amiss.

The next morning, we drove down to the local boat ramp, got the boat off the trailer and into the water, boarded the boat, and got ready to head out. Ed turned the key: Click. Click. Click. The engine didn't even turn over. We even have a backup battery, but apparently both batteries had died. So Ed hopped out of the boat, trotted up the floating dock and down the street, and came back carrying a new battery. Forty-nine wire hookups—or so it seemed—later, the engine at last turned over and we were on our way.

We didn't get far, not even to the inlet. A small U.S. Coast Guard interceptor gunboat, complete with sheathed machine gun on its bow, pulled us over in the harbor. Its occupants were checking every outgoing pleasure boat for boating violations.

Two Coast Guard officers, a good deal younger than Ed and me and all muscled and officious, boarded our boat and looked us and it over. We have good life jackets for the whole family, 2 boys and 2 adults, but the boys are age 12 and younger and weren't wearing theirs because the jackets were stowed in the boat cabin—2 violations. (I guess the idea behind that rule is that adults are old enough to be stupid and not wear life jackets, but children must be protected because they don't know any better.) Our type IV flotation devices were also in the cabin, not out next to the seats—1 violation. And the pièce de résistance: They asked us to show them our emergency flares. Ed dug them out. One of the boys—I mean officers—looked at them and said, with a straight face, "The expiration date on these was eighteen years ago." (They must have been the ones that came with the boat when it was new and owned by someone else!) Another violation.

One citation later, which we wonder whether it will show up on Ed's driver's license, which he was required to show, we were considered to have been let off lightly: The boy officer decided to list only the flares as in violation. Back to the boat ramp we went. Again, Ed hopped off the boat, trotted up the dock, and returned, this time with new flares. He'd gotten both the battery and the flares at the same store, and both items were the last of their type that the store had in stock.

The third time was truly our charm; we made it out of the harbor without incidence.

We decided to go out a good ways and trawl. Nobody caught any fish, but we had a good time ... until the flies that had apparently stowed away on our boat on land decided to come out for a look around. There must've been 30 of the little buggers!

By that point, I'd decided to go into the cabin for a nap, and Jared, our youngest, went in and out of the cabin a few times. Ed was letting Neil pilot the boat when we started going again in an effort to outrun the flies. My dozing off to the soothing sound of the running boat motor was punctuated by very brief startles to the thwap, thwap, thwap of Ed's sandals. He'd taken them off and was using one of them as a flyswatter.

"There! I think we got most of 'em," Ed said. There was a pause as he walked to the stern and looked over the end of the boat and down onto the swim platform. The smart little pests had all zoomed out of the way, landed on the platform, and were hanging on for their little lives as we sped along.

We kept going until we reached Bridgeport, Connecticut. The flies' legs must've given out somewhere along the way, because they were gone by then.

Finally happy with our boating day, we began heading back to Long Island; it was getting late.

As twilight began, Ed switched on our night-traveling lights, fore, aft, and midship. We rode along for a while, and then the midship and aft lights decided to burn out. We kept watch for Coast Guard boats; we just knew it would be our luck to get pulled over for yet another violation.

But we arrived back at the ramp safely and pulled our boat onto its trailer ... only to find that the trailer lights, which worked great when they were partially submerged in the water during boat loading, now had decided not to work on land.

We did manage to get home without being ticketed by the local police for having no trailer taillights or signal lights. At last!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cannon Fodder

My only nephew, 19 and newly married (way too young, I think), is in the Marine Corps Reserve. Because of Bush, rubber-stamp Republicans, and wimpy Democrats, it's highly unlikely that the Iraq war will end anytime soon. It's very likely I'll end up with no nephew at all, or at least a severely wounded one, after the end of September. That's when he finishes basic training and heads to Iraq. What a waste of a child.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vermont Tale the Third: Gaff Gaffe

In our previous story, I promised you one more camping adventure tale. Here is the final one:

It was our last full day in
Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont. My husband, Ed, wanted to get in some more sailing on Lake Elmore in our Glastron 14-foot racing-class sailboat. So did our oldest son, Neil, almost 13. (For some reason, we’ve never taken a photo of the boat, but this one looks a lot like ours.)

Our youngest, Jared, almost 6, isn’t fond of sailing because when the boat’s zipping along with a brisk wind, it heels way over. He prefers a more sedate boating experience. And anyway, he had a 24-hour stomach virus ... or maybe it was exhaustion from the previous day’s
mountain hike. I don’t know how to pilot a sailboat (and am not interested in learning), though I do love being a passenger, and our boat is large enough for really only 1 person. In the past, I’ve curled myself into a ball in our boat’s cockpit to avoid the boom while Ed piloted, but I no longer find that comfortable, so I had an additional reason to stay at our campsite with Jared.

Neil, having sailed with and been instructed by Ed for a few years now, has gotten really good at sailing. He can tack with the best of them, so for about a year now, we’ve been letting him sail alone, as long as we’re where we can see him and as long as we’re at a lake, not on the ocean. He’s not ready for that yet. Lake Elmore is the largest lake that he’s sailed on, at somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles from one end to the other. There’s a beach on the end near all of the campsites, and a free public boat ramp at the other end, accessible only by leaving the campground, driving on a local 2-lane highway, and finding the barely marked entrance.

Ed came up with a plan for the day that would allow both Neil and him to sail and allow him to have some time with Jared and me: He would drive to the ramp with Neil, where’d they’d launch the boat and then park our van and boat trailer. He’d then sail the boat, with Neil, a scrappy 5-foot, 77-pound string bean, riding on the bow and holding on to the mast. Once they arrived at the beach, Ed would visit Jared and me for a short while, letting Neil sail on his own, and then he’d go back to the beach, wait for Neil to return and tie up the sailboat, and head to the deli within the local
general store, which has been in business for about 200 years (really!), to get lunch for all of us. They’d return to our campsite to get Jared and me, and we’d all eat together at a picnic table under the fir trees at the beach, and then Ed and Neil would sail back to the ramp, trailer the boat, and drive back to our campsite, where Jared and I would meet them.

After they bought lunch, Neil talked Ed into letting him sail alone while Ed walked back to the campsite to get Jared and me. Ed even sat and chatted with us for a while before we all walked to the beach, to give Neil more sailing time. The 3 of us sat down and began enjoying our deli delights.

Ed and I scanned the lake for our sailboat, wondering how far Neil had gotten. Without binoculars, it was hard to make out much. But finally, we spotted the boat, all the way across the lake ... with its sail down and drifting toward a marshy area. The wind was whipping up, so why did Neil have the sail down? Had he accidentally pulled it off its pulley at the top of the mast? If so, he’d never be able to rig it up again by himself. And the boat was so far away, we couldn’t see him. Was he even on the boat? Had he been knocked unconscious by the boom and fallen off the boat and into the water? After all, despite his precocious sailing skills, he is only a child. And if Ed took the time to walk the nearly 4 miles down the highway to the boat ramp, it wouldn’t be a physical hardship for him, but he’d have to go all that way without knowing what had happened to Neil.

We didn’t want to panic Jared, so by mutual agreement, signaled by a meaningful exchanged glance, we didn’t tell him our fears. We just said we were wondering if Neil was having trouble with the boat. Ed knew that he’d have to be the one to rescue Neil, if it came to that, so he began eating faster and faster, jamming the last of his food into his mouth.

But how could Neil be rescued? The beach was of the swim-at-your-own-risk type, with no lifeguard on duty. And by then, in the late afternoon, it was past cutoff time for renting a canoe or kayak from the young adults from the
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps who staffed the beach office. Ed took the problem to the staff members, saying that he’d pay whatever they asked to be allowed to use a canoe or kayak to check on our son. The same young man who’d told me about the tornado warning the day before told Ed to take any kayak he wanted at no charge, because this was an emergency.

Ed launched the kayak at a run and leaped into it, paddling as fast as an Olympic athlete, the white oar blades flashing in the sun. A man on the beach, observing the scene, turned to me and said, “You’re husband’s going to be exhausted tomorrow, rowing like that.”

“No, he won’t,” I said. “He climbed Mount Elmore and went all the way to Balanced Rock yesterday. He’s in pretty good shape; he’s a cabinetmaker who’s on his feet all day and always lifting heavy sheets of wood.”

“I watched your son sailing. He’s good.”

“Yes, he is. That’s why we’re so puzzled about what’s going on. But then, he is only twelve.” And he does have
AD/HD, so maybe he just got distracted by something and is busy studying it, oblivious to time going by, I thought.

I watched Ed until I couldn’t see him anymore and then watched Jared as he played, unable to get any updates because our cell phones had pretty much no reception in the mountains. I knew that it would take Ed a good while to cross the lake and catch up with Neil—or with just the sailboat—but time seemed to stretch on forever.

Meanwhile, Ed was surprised to find that his kayak was taking on water. The back drainage hole was positioned so that an adult paddling alone in the kayak should be sitting in the front seat, but Ed hadn’t realized that and had sat in the backseat, which pushed the drainage hole under the water. He kept paddling carefully, trying to avoid taking on any water from the wakes of boats owned and piloted by people who lived on the lake. But physics caught up with him, and the kayak capsized. He rolled with it, holding on to it, and pulled it up upright again, this time piloting it from behind and outside, pushing it like a marine-show porpoise with a huge toy.

All this time, he still couldn’t see Neil, though he noted that the sailboat was now near the ramp. Whether it had drifted there on its own or Neil had paddled it there, Ed didn’t know. He was desperate to find Neil, and he realized that he was getting nowhere fast. Just then, an elderly couple’s boat roared his way, then pulled up short when the pilot realized that Ed was in the water. The man pulled the boat around, let Ed pull himself up and into the boat, and then helped Ed drain and lift the kayak into the boat. Once the boat reached the ramp, Ed climbed out and took the kayak with him, the rescuer having been rescued.

Jared and I could see none of this.

The young supervisor of the staff member who let Ed take a kayak out came out of the beach office building and told me that he was going to kayak out too, to see what was going on. This was the same guy who had
chastised the staff member for telling campers about the tornado warning the day before. I guess he wanted in on this hero stuff after all.

Meanwhile, I learned later, Ed had become hoarse from shouting Neil’s name as he’d been paddling across the lake; Neil didn’t hear his dad’s voice. Finally, Ed was on the boat ramp, where he found our sailboat pulled onto the cement. And there was no Neil!

“Neil!” Ed croaked, frantic to find out whether Neil was still alive.

Neil shot up from a crouch behind and on the other side of the sailboat, where he had been obliviously investigating something on the ground. “Daddy, why are you so hoarse?” he asked calmly.

“Because I’ve been yelling for you across the whole lake,” Ed answered, exasperated. “Neil, what happened with the sailboat?”

“The wind got too strong for me and the boat was tipping too much. I couldn’t control it, and the wind was too strong for me to paddle against, so I dropped the sail and drifted. Then I decided I’d better get over the to ramp where someone could find me. I knew I wouldn’t make it trying to sail back.”

Smart kid! He’d been taught that if we were all ever in a fire at our home, he was to get outside in front and wait there until we found him. He just translated that knowledge into a sailing situation. Ed was so happy and relieved that he hugged Neil as much as Neil would let him with other people around—Neil’s got that adolescent embarrassment thing going on already.

Finally, I saw the sailboat underway, heading back toward the beach, and two kayaks following it. Why didn’t Ed just trailer the sailboat and drive back with Neil, leaving the park staff supervisor to tow Ed’s kayak back behind his own? He’d left his keys to our van back in our tent, just as I had, so he had to first get back to the beach so he could then get the keys. I’d known that he didn’t have his keys, but Jared and I didn’t want to leave the beach to get my keys until we found out what was going on with Neil.

The wind was still whipping across the pond, constantly changing directions. That meant that Ed had to
tack like a madman to make it back to the beach, zigzagging all over the place. The kayaks arrived first, Neil in one and the staff supervisor in the other. With a wink, the supervisor said to Neil, “I guess you beat me.” He’d held back enough to let Neil have a small victory. I’m still not letting the guy off the hook for worrying more about campers’ money than their safety in the face of an approaching tornado, though.

Ed pulled up shortly in the sailboat.

I couldn’t hug and pet Neil enough after he’d told me how he’d come to be adrift. Sometimes I don’t give that boy’s decision-making skills enough credit. He’s growing up into an amazing person, and I know now that he’ll be all right on his own one day. He has heart, determination, physical prowess, good intuition, and one of the gifts of AD/HD—the ability to look at problems from unusual angles until solutions appear three-dimensional and fully formed in his head.

Will we ever go back to Vermont? You bet! We’re already planning a 2-week camping trip to the same campground next summer.

Vermont Tale the First: Skunked

Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Vermont Tale the Second: Tornado Mountain

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vermont Tale the Second: Tornado Mountain

In our last story, I promised you two more camping adventure tales. Here is the second one:

On our next-to-last day of our stay in
Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont last week, my husband, Ed, decided to take our sons Neil, almost 13, and Jared, almost 6, hiking up Mount Elmore, which has an elevation of 2,608 feet and whose peak is 800 feet above its base. It’s part of the Worcester Range.

Ed and I had climbed it 14 years ago, when we camped at the park for our honeymoon. Maybe it’s no big deal for real mountain-climbers, but to me back then, while I was still in good shape from
racewalking, it was a pretty stiff climb. (I just found out that at least one web site for hikers rates it as a moderate to strenuous climb. My estimation of my fitness level back then has just increased—a lot.) All these years later, I’ve just begun trying to lose all the weight I’ve gained through being a sedentary freelance copyeditor and bearing 3 children. I’m not yet in good enough shape for hiking up any kind of mountain, so I planned to stay in our campsite while mountain goats Ed, Neil, and Jared were scampering across the rocks.

It had been unseasonably cool all week, and early in the morning I had mentioned to Ed that it looked a bit like rain. This was nothing new; we’d already had a couple of days of torrential rain. Thank goodness Ed’s a fanatic about stretching plastic tarps above all our tents and tying them to trees. In 15 years of camping, we’ve never had a tent so wet that it was uninhabitable and we’ve slept quite well through plenty of rainstorms. But the clouds blew away and the guys headed out at about noon with snacks, water, and Ed’s cell phone. We’d had extremely poor reception on our cells since our arrival at camp because of the mountains, but we’d kept trying to use them anyway when we needed to communicate across a distance. We're used to New York State's sea-level Long Island, where cell signals are nearly always good.

I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon lying in the hammock we’d brought along, doing
word-search puzzles. Meanwhile, the guys hiked up the mountain, which was quite near our campsite, making it all the way up onto an old steel fire tower perched on the peak. Along the way, they encountered plenty of odd and fascinating sights, such as a tree shaped like a backward question mark and another one that had grown horizontally for years before starting to die.

I hadn’t heard anything from Ed by about 4:30 pm. I wasn’t that worried because Ed’s in great shape and would keep the boys safe, and I knew that with his and Neil’s
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, the three guys would lose track of time, finding lots of things to investigate before realizing it was time to head back to camp.

But then one of the many talented and dedicated young adults from the
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps who manage the park (under the aegis of the State of Vermont Department of Forests Parks & Recreation) showed up at our campsite: “I’m letting you know that there’s a tornado warning for the area. If you need shelter, you can come to the check-in building or any of the buildings at the front of the park” (where corps members live as long as they’re working in the park).

“Thanks,” I said. “Damn! My husband and sons are on Mount Elmore! And I can’t reach them by cell phone.”

“Let’s hope they take shelter,” the young man* said, and then headed off on foot to warn other campers. Some of his coworkers drove around the park in golf carts through the day-use areas (Lake Elmore, its beach, picnic areas, and so on) to notify all the day visitors.

I went to Ed’s and my tent to check my cell, just in case a text message had gotten through. It had: Got to top of mt elmore. It’s beautiful! 2:22 pm. He’d sent the message almost 2 hours earlier, and because of spotty reception, I’d only just then received it. Why weren’t the guys back yet? I found out later—but didn’t know then—that they’d decided to hike another mile or so along the ridge of Mount Elmore to
Balanced Rock, which Ed hadn’t gotten to see on our honeymoon years ago because I'd refused to hike any farther.

The first thing I did was channel Ed, putting into our tents all lightweight items, such as folding chairs, that were lying or sitting around camp. I looked around one last time to make sure all was as secure as possible, and then went into our sleeping tent to wait.

Rain began to come down in sheets, clattering deafeningly on the tarps above our tents. Only then did I begin to panic: Ed didn’t know about the tornado warning, and the guys might get caught out in the storm. I frantically typed in Tornado warning on my cell and tried to send it as a text message to Ed’s cell.

Message failed. Try again in 1 minute?


I tried 12 times to send that message. I stopped trying when I started to hyperventilate after an image of my 3 favorite guys, sprawled on the rocky mountain trail in death after being struck by lightning, stabbed its way into my head. I wondered how I’d survive without them.

Meanwhile, the guys had left Balanced Rock and gotten back to the fire tower, where they climbed up to take one last look at the lush valley below. But when Ed and Neil looked up, they saw massive black storm clouds, and Ed told the boys that the three of them would need to get down the mountain as fast as possible. They raced down, even little Jared being as nimble as a mountain goat despite almost running on rocks made slippery by pouring rain. At one point, Jared said to Ed, “The back of my neck feels prickly.” Moments later, the guys rounded a bend in the trail and found a large tree, just downed by lightning, across their path. They scrambled over it and then went back to nearly running down the mountain.

Just when I’d sat down on my cot and gripped its side bars in an effort to calm myself down, I thought I heard our van’s motor above the roar of the rain.

The three guys, completely soaked, burst through the tent, all talking at once. I collapsed on Ed’s chest, wailing, “There’s a tornado warning and I couldn’t reach you. I thought all of you might be dead!” Our soggy sons hugged both of us as we all sighed in relief.

There was an awful lot of hugging that night. And the feared tornado didn't come our way after all.

*Ed would later overhear a conversation from which he learned that that young man was chewed out by his supervisor for warning all the campers. Because of his warning, plenty of people left the campground, some temporarily for local hotels and some permanently. Hey, why worry about saving lives when you can keep people unaware and hold on to their money? We made sure to put in a written commendation for the young man.

Vermont Tale the First: Skunked

Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Vermont Tale the Third: Gaff Gaffe

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Before I post Vermont Tale the Second, I'll share these photos from our camping vacation in Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont. Enjoy! (Click on any thumbnail to see a larger version.)

Setting up one of our tents
Neil and Ed setting up
one of our tents

Our campsite

Our campsite

Even campgrounds need editors

Even campgrounds need editors: a little punctuation, please!

Heading down to the creek that ran behind our campsite

Heading down to the creek that ran behind our campsite

Waterfall in the creek behind our campsite

Waterfall in the creek behind our campsite

Ed and Jared hiking Mount Elmore

Ed and Jared hiking Mount Elmore

The mountain-goat brothers, Neil (left) and Jared, take a break from hiking Mount Elmore with Ed

The mountain-goat brothers, Neil (left) and Jared, take a break from hiking Mount Elmore with Ed

A tree shaped like a backward question mark

A tree shaped like a backward question mark

A horizontally growing tree

A horizontally growing tree

Scene from the top of Mount Elmore, at an elevation of 2,608 feet

Scene from the top of Mount Elmore, at an elevation of 2,608 feet

Lake Elmore, as seen from the top of Mount Elmore

Lake Elmore, as seen from the top of Mount Elmore

The boat ramp at one end of Lake Elmore

The boat ramp at one end of Lake Elmore

Old fire tower atop Mount Elmore

Old fire tower atop Mount Elmore, where, many years ago, a lookout kept watch for fires

Balanced Rock, about 1 mile along ridge of Mount Elmore after the fire tower

Balanced Rock, about 1 mile along Mount Elmore's ridge after the fire tower

Vermont Tale the First: Skunked

In our last episode, I promised you some camping adventure tales. Here is the first in a series of three:

One basic rule of camping is to keep food and garbage stored where animals can’t get them. My husband and I have been camping together for 15 years now; we know this rule well.

Every time we set up camp in a state or national park, we’ve found that the campsites have wooden picnic tables. Over a table, we always set up a screen tent; its interior becomes our kitchen. On the table or its attached benches or under or beside the table go

  • A small portable sink and a large container of water with a spigot—or a homemade faucet connection to the site’s water supply—for dishwashing

  • Our 2 large coolers, which snap closed tightly

  • Three or 4 small propane burners, in case it’s raining and we can’t cook over a campfire

  • Two boxes of stainless steel cookware, such as frying pans, big pots, little pots, burger flippers, plates, measuring cups, and tongs

  • Any spices and foods that are in strong metal containers and wouldn’t be tasty to animals

  • A large garbage bag, clipped to one end of the table

During the day, whenever we’re at the site, we also have some food items that are less well protected. Each night before we go to bed, we round these and the garbage bag up and lock them in our van.

One night early in our stay in Elmore State Park in northeastern Vermont last week, my husband, Ed, was the one clearing out the kitchen tent. He remembered everything except the garbage. Later that night, we were in our sleeping tent when we heard bang, bang, clunk, rustle, rustle, clunk. Ed, thinking that our almost-13-year-old son Neil was engaging in some late-night foraging, as he’s known to do at home, said sternly, “Neil! What’re you doing banging things around in the kitchen tent? At least get a flashlight so you can see what you’re doing and don’t make so much noise!”

Neil’s response from the other tent, where he’d been sleeping with his younger brother: “Wha-a-a-a? Flashlight?”

Ed unzipped one of the windows in our tent and peered out. He couldn’t see who was in the kitchen tent; it was pitch-dark. He picked up a flashlight. When he shined it on the kitchen tent, the little animal ripping at the garbage bag nonchalantly looked over its shoulder and lifted its tail high in greeting. Ed swore he could hear the black-and-white skunk thinking, Ya think yer gonna stop me? Think again. Ed turned off the flashlight, and the furry tail was lowered. Ed climbed back onto his cot, knowing he couldn’t do anything about the situation. That little bugger had a feast from our garbage bag—little bits of leftover hamburger that the boys hadn’t finished off, slurps of yogurt (his probiotic levels most likely were enhanced by those), dribbles of fruit juice, scraps of bread, a few pigeon peas, denuded corn ears.

And the lucky little fellow told a friend.

Ed told the boys the next morning about the skunk. About the time he’d reassured almost-6-year-old Jared that he wouldn’t have to worry about skunks coming around until at least dark, along came our skunk friend, with an all-white skunk friend, at twilight to prove Ed wrong. The pair figured that where there was food before, they’d find food again. But Ed had already locked away the garbage bag and vulnerable food items. He was in the kitchen tent, and the black-and-white skunk was nosing around the bottom of the back side of the tent, trying to find a way in. Because we generally keep the entrance at the front of the tent zipped shut to keep bugs out, Ed was closed in the tent. And he realized that once the skunk pushed in under the back side of the tent, it probably wouldn’t be able to push out as easily and might spray him. So he casually walked backward to the tent’s zipper and pulled it open a bit. And then he left the tent. I shined a flashlight on the skunk, and it and its friend left. It must be that I wield a meaner flashlight than Ed does. Who knows?

Of course, Jared was now sure that skunks would come hunt him down and spray him in the night while he slept, so he refused to sleep in the boys’ tent and begged to sleep in ours. Neil then decided that he didn’t want to sleep alone. So we dragged both boys’ cots into our tent, and we all slept crowdedly together. All food having been stored away, we heard no wild rustling that night.

The next evening, I remained at the campsite while Ed drove with both boys to buy firewood and kindling (hey—I never said we were total wilderness campers!) from the park staff. I sat contentedly by the fire that Neil had already started, listening to the evening sounds and the gurgling of the rushing creek that was behind our site. I glanced around the site and saw our black-and-white friend waddling toward the back of the kitchen tent from the outside.

Annoyed, I unzipped the front of the tent, aware of the possibility of being sprayed by a skunk who thinks there’s no escape, and then I said, “You’re not stinking up my tent, Mr. Skunk. No, you’re not.” I spotted our tall stainless-steel drinking cups on the table, and then spied a ballpoint pen sitting next to them. I picked up the pen and began a percussion solo on the cups. Mr. Skunk didn’t like the key that my improvised steel drums were tuned to, and he took his tail and himself off to the woods. Success!

Moments later, the guys pulled up in our van. I hadn’t moved from my perch in the kitchen tent, just in case Mr. Skunk had a change of heart and wanted an encore performance. As soon as Ed opened his door, I said, “Skunk! Skunk! Skunk!” The guys then knew to tread carefully. I told my tale of percussive skunk removal.

For the rest of our vacation, whenever we saw or thought we saw Mr. Skunk, we made those stainless-steel cups sing, accompanied by the spoken refrain, “Skunk! Skunk! Skunk!”

Vermont Tales Interlude: Photos

Vermont Tale the Second: Tornado Mountain

Vermont Tale the Third: Gaff Gaffe

Monday, August 20, 2007

Gratuitous Cuteness

I'm back from a terrific camping vacation in northeastern Vermont. I have plenty of photos to share and exciting adventure tales to tell, but those will have to wait until tomorrow, so I can get everything together. Meanwhile, I give you some gratuitous cuteness:

Jared, left, and Neil with Snuggles

My sons Jared (left), almost 6, and Neil, almost 13, with our oldest cat, Snuggles, 15

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Vermont Vacation!

You won't be hearing anything from me—unless Bush and Cheney are impeached in the next 2 days—for a little more than a week. I'm prepping for my family's second weeklong vacation of the summer. This time, we'll be camping in Vermont, at the campground where my husband and I honeymooned 14 years ago.

And now, back to my
work deadline. I have to get this manuscript off my desk before we leave!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hardly Fit for Duty

The headline on the Associated Press story about George W. Bush's annual physical reads:

Bush pronounced ‘fit for duty’ after physical

I guess the team of docs didn't check Bush's mental functions.

AD/HD Is Real, and Those Who Have It Aren't Dangerous

For those who doubt that there's such a thing as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD, formerly called ADD), two studies showing that it is real have been reported on in the August issue of the General Archives of Psychiatry: here (full article, available at no charge) and here (only the abstract is available at no charge). And here’s an article for the general public that explains the studies' findings in plain English.

[sarcasm]Golly gee! I guess I haven’t been imagining all these years that my father-in-law, husband, and one of my sons has AD/HD![/sarcasm] Those of us who live in the AD/HD world still have some way to go, in convincing others (1) that it’s a real neurological disorder that needs treatment and (2) that people who have it aren’t any more likely than non-AD/HDers to be dangerous to others.

Practicing psychologist Betsy Davenport of Portland, Oregon, has AD/HD, as does her 15-year-old daughter. She was appalled to find out about the April 2007 response by syndicated columnist Dr. Joyce Brothers to someone who asked about the existence of AD/HD in adults. I posted my letter to Dr. Brothers a while back. With Dr. Davenport’s permission, I now present her letter to Dr. Brothers:
Dear Dr. Brothers:

Regarding your [response to “D.D.” in one of your April 2007 columns, in which you wrote that AD/HD is for people who are
“... a bit of a hypochondriac,” that its symptoms are “so vague and widespread that just about anyone could decide that he or she is suffering from its effects,” and that some adults who think they have AD/HD may just want to “decide to muddle through,” without diagnosis, therapy, and medication]:

I must take issue with practically everything you say about AD/HD. First, let me register my shock that you are so ill-informed and that you pass along incorrect information to your entire readership. Surely you have a copy of DSM-IV handy? Surely your reading is not so narrow in scope that you have missed this: AD/HD is more heritable than everything except height. Among adults, fully 80% remain undiagnosed. Undiagnosed/untreated AD/HD is a significant risk factor for drug abuse, driving accidents, emergency room visits, teenage pregnancy, and a host of other awful consequences.

Those labels given out when you were a child—those are moralistic and pejorative. It is considered an improvement when we modernize and give a medical condition a medical name. Those old-fashioned ones don’t really point the way to how a person might go about improving their life. That is what treatment is for. People want to be more effective. Muddling through is a poor substitute for real effectiveness, don’t you agree?

It is kind of you to let people know they have choices, but you forgot the part about how to make an informed choice. You have to try both. Like ice cream. Let’s see, vanilla? Or chocolate? Gee, I don’t know. I never tasted vanilla. Does this make sense to you now? An informed choice about treatment for AD/HD comes after a person has had an opportunity to experience the altered cognitive and self-regulatory functions afforded by medications prescribed and taken properly.

Oh, also, could you point me to where you got your information about how people with AD/HD were “functioning OK” until doctors began telling them otherwise? If that’s so, a lot of doctors are in a world of trouble for it. I must tell you, though, [that] in my experience, there are an awful lot of doctors—and psychologists too, which is worrisome—who really don’t know very much about it. So if you have more accurate sources, I’d really like to know about them.

As for a definitive “test” for AD/HD, I wonder if it’s all right with you if, as with depression and anxiety, we let experienced clinicians diagnose AD/HD on the basis of a patient’s history, presenting problems, clinical observations and their own good judgment.

AD/HD is a neurological condition; you know, in the brain—the operating system for everything else. It is a real drag if you have it. Nobody wants to have it. It interferes with every area of a person’s life: academic, social, recreational, marital, vocational—did I miss anything? Oh, it’s often misunderstood, which means a lot of people think you’re faking it (like hypochondria) or using it as an excuse. Others think you just don’t care about doing well or being on time or knowing where your keys are or [remembering] your husband’s birthday.

That sounds like muddling through, and I’m not one to just say, [like you did], “What the heck.” The world is in desperate need of all the effective human beings we can muster. I’m sorry you think [that] it’s good enough to just muddle through. That is so disheartening.

Thank you for your attention to this important subject.

Dr. Davenport shared her letter with me after we both posted comments on Judith Warner’s August 4 Domestic Disturbances column, “The Columbine Syndrome,” in which Ms. Warner discussed the legal defense of a 26-year-old Connecticut man accused of sexual assault and murder. The man’s lawyer, pleading for leniency for his client, told the judge that the man had suffered from AD/HD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia as a child. In doing so, the lawyer fed the misperception that people with AD/HD are dangerous, capable of committing atrocious acts against others.

Disinformation is not what people with AD/HD need. They need to be allowed to be who they are. They need compassion. They need training and therapy and often medication. They need educational assistance. They need to have their talents recognized. They do not need to be unjustly demonized.

My 12-year-old son is not dangerous. He is kind, gentle, sweet, and quite creative, scientifically speaking.

My husband is not dangerous. He is kind, gentle, and sweet. He is a wonderful husband and parent. He is a talented cabinetmaker.

My father-in-law is not dangerous. He’s a little gruff, but that’s because all his life, no one ever offered to help him understand all the subtleties of social interactions. No one ever tried to accommodate his educational needs. As a child, he was called stupid and crazy. He’s neither stupid nor crazy, just different. He’s a terrific jazz and blues pianist and singer.

As Dr. Davenport commented about Ms. Warner’s column:
AD/HD is not a mental illness—it’s a bioneurological condition with its origins deep within the brain, having to do with structural differences and chemical differences. When we see undesirable behavior, we are seeing the expression in the external world of the disorganization of the internal, self-regulatory world. ...

AD/HD has always been diagnosed—with a moralistic label. We have finally got it more or less right: a medical diagnostic label and appropriate medical treatment are much preferable to the former.

It is the rare person who uses their AD/HD as an “excuse.” We are still responsible for our behavior, even though a fair amount of it wasn’t what we intended, wished for, or could help. ...

By and large, people with AD/HD are no more lawless than the rest of you, save reckless driving and drug problems. But they are not alone in that.

Another study reveals that among adults diagnosed and treated in adulthood with medications, a whopping 90% wish they had been diagnosed and given medication as children. At our house, we kiss the bottles of medication every morning and are grateful to live in a time when the kinds of help we so badly need are available to us. Others, without adequate health care, are not so lucky. They remain erratic, have poor job histories, marital and social problems, and an enduring sense of failure.

How much better it could be if all of us could be rendered more effective in our lives. We could even make contributions to the wider society and do our part for the common good.

I defy anyone who takes the moral high ground on something about which they have not troubled themselves to learn. AD/HD is a profoundly troubling and debilitating condition. Most people have no idea how domestic life is for us. Even with my advanced degree, personal experience, and early diagnosis for my daughter, careful treatment (with drugs—safer by far than aspirin, which kills many every year, which the stimulants do not), we live a herky-jerky life because the only really predictable thing here is unpredictability.

We are fully capable of love, commitment, perseverance, and prosocial behavior. ...

Get the facts, people, before you make assumptions or fall for myths.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Unaccompanied Kids

One of the e-mail lists I subscribe to has been discussing letting children play at parks by themselves. One woman wrote:
... but do you think there are really, objectively, so many more dangers awaiting unattended kids than there were when we were little? (I'm 41 and roamed around by myself plenty at age 8 or 9.)
I replied:
I'm 48. I don't think it's just that there are so many more dangers now; I think people used to be a lot more naive than they are now. Plus, people don't look out for one another and one another's kids the way they used to; there's more alienation and insularity now than in the past.

I live in a pretty safe suburban neighborhood. I've been letting my 12-year-old ride his bike, unsupervised, around the neighborhood for a couple of years now, but he must carry a cell phone with him. It's made specifically for children and can call only four numbers that my husband or I program in—our home phone, my cell, husband's cell, grandparents' home phone—in addition to 911. No way would I allow him to bike to nearby parks alone, even if they weren't on busy town roads. There are several registered sex offenders living in our area; we get the notices in the mail whenever one of them moves here. And we don't know absolutely everyone on even our own street.

My 5-year-old (almost 6 now) doesn't go anywhere in the neighborhood without being accompanied by me, my husband, or his big brother. When he will be allowed to depends on when my husband and I believe that his judgment and common sense have reached an appropriate level.
What do you think? Do you let your children play outdoors without supervision? Either way, what are your children's ages?


Why are we still in Iraq?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Birthday Present

Happy birthday to me! I'm 48 now.

My present will be getting to babysit my almost-3-month-old granddaughter, Ana, tonight for the first time while her parents go out to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. I get to snuggle a wiggly bundle of giggly softness and smell her baby freshness until she gets cranky because she's tired, and then she'll go home and I won't have to deal with that part.

How perfect is that?

Friday, August 03, 2007

NYC Hospitals Dump Formula Samples for Breastfeeding Aids

As a resident of New York State, I'm proud that New York City hospitals are dumping the infant formula samples from the gift bags they give new mothers and putting breastfeeding aids in the bags instead.

This new move is excellently timed; World Breastfeeding Week runs August 1 through 7.

It's wonderful to see some hospitals stop being two-faced. For several years now, hospital maternity wards across the nation have been talking up the benefits of breastfeeding and even offering the services of on-staff lactation consultants to help mothers new to breastfeeding get started ... and then handing them gift tote bags filled with formula samples donated by big bu$ine$$. The message has been "Breast is best, but don't worry about it too much—you can fall back on the crutch of formula even if your breasts function perfectly well and you have no problems producing milk."

Uh-huh. Ever read some of the many reports (and here) and books about how the donation of these formula samples isn't benign but is really a marketing move to make more money for the formula makers? These big bu$ine$$e$ even give away samples in poor nations, ostensibly to help poor women. But these women, whose breasts function just fine, try the formula and soon find their babies hooked on it. And when the samples run out, their breast milk has dried up, leaving them nothing to feed their babies. Or they mix the powdered formula given to them with dirty water, and their babies develop life-threatening diarrhea.

Now, the New York Post article that reported the NYC hospitals' new actions began with a stereotypically whiny lead: "First came smoking. Then there were trans fats. Now the nanny-like city's public-health crusade is taking on the baby bottle." I wouldn't expect straightforward reporting from that pugnacious rag, so I found it easy to overlook the article's undertones. But if it takes a little "nannying" to get society to do the right thing and make it easier and more culturally acceptable for women to breastfeed, is that such a bad thing? Nope.

Updated at 9:47 a.m.: I'm no fan of supermodels, but hey, maybe this'll help some new mother somewhere: Supermodels can breastfeed just like real women can.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ongoing Odyssey of Obfuscation

Testimony everywhere, all the time, yet no one's getting canned or charged with crimes. But at least someone in the Bush administration is sounding smart.

J. Scott Jennings, grilled today by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the absence of his boss, devious deceiver Karl Rove, said he couldn't really say anything about the U.S. atttorney general scandal: "I hope that you can appreciate the difficulty of my situation. It makes Odysseus’s voyage between Scylla and Charybdis seem like a pleasure cruise."

Well, now ain't that some purty talkin'? I'd far rather hear the unembellished truth.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

My Second Blog, for the Second Half of My Life

I'll turn 48 on Monday. That's 2 years younger than the age at which my father died.

I want to live way past 50, so I've begun doing something about that. To help me keep on track, I've begun a new blog, Editing My Body. I hope you'll visit me there and cheer me on.

Updated at 4:59 p.m.: Yes, I'll keep blogging here too.

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