Archive for September, 2014

Hijacking a list

Scott recently traveled to Virginia to visit Katie and Josiah.  He flew United from Springfield to Chicago to Dulles, and was scheduled to arrive Dulles at 12:01 AM.  Knowing that he planned to rent a car there and being pretty naive on such matters, I had asked him (with surprise), “Can you rent a car at midnight?!?”

“Sure!” was his response.  And since he is a world traveler and I am not, I said nothing more.

The day following his flight, I received this email from him:

“I arrived and had no bags and my rental car company was already closed, so I had to take a taxi. Arrived at the hotel at 2:30 AM. Nice hotel though. Meeting Katie soon. I got this notice from United. ‘We are still working to locate your baggage and will keep you updated every 6 hours until we do.’ Now my bags are said to be en-route and should arrive in Dulles at 11:30 AM today.”

He must’ve communicated the same information to Katie, because she copied me on her email to him, with the subject line “Katie’s Rules of Air Travel.”

Given your recent experiences, I thought you might be able to use a friendly reminder of these basic rules.

1. Never fly.
2. If you must fly between December and February, don’t fly. Driving, biking, hitchhiking, and jetskiing are all better options.
3. Never check a bag, unless it is completely unavoidable, in which case you should find a way to avoid it.
4. Never fly United.
5. Never fly on the last flight of the day.
6. Peanut butter is a liquid.
You’re welcome.
This list made me laugh out loud! How well I know whence she writes.  O, the supreme agony of the cancelled flights, the delays, the cancelled flights, the overnights in Chicago, the cancelled flights, and the peanut-butter-to-Hong-Kong nightmare.  (Did I mention cancelled flights?)  And these are only a subset of the MANY flight-related hassles Katie has endured.

To the little mountain

I do so love to blog, but there are seasons when life seems to fly by too quickly to allow me time to write, and it seems that almost by definition, those “speedway” times are always packed full of the very experiences that make excellent blog fodder.  Sigh.  It’s just too bad that I have to choose between living life and writing about it – the frequent result being that I only find myself with time to write long after a noteworthy event occurred, and thus have a hard time remembering all the details and piecing them together in a fairly coherent manner.  Ah, the challenges of being a writer who lives fully!  However, this definitely beats the alternative:  itching to write, but having nothing interesting to say.

And now, because I don’t ever want to forget how wonderful it was, I shall at least give some highlights of my visit with Katie a couple weeks ago.

Friday night, I got to see Josiah, and it was so great!  I do miss that guy.

He was sporting casual garb (shorts, T-shirt, one crew sock, one ankle sock, and tennis shoes), and since this meeting preceded his most recent shearing, he did indeed look rather llama-like.  We ate at Subway, endeavored to play ping-pong (a sport that is especially good for conversation) but found the lights off and folks watching a movie in that lounge; attempted to play racquetball (a sport that is fun but unfortunately totally precludes conversation) but found the court closed due to a recent floor re-finishing project; and so took our borrowed equipment (one racquetball, two racquetball racquets, and one tennis racquet) out to the tennis court(!!!), where we conclusively proved that, when unimpeded by walls and launched at dusk with either a racquetball or a tennis racq1uet, a blue racquetball will bounce to an impressive height, travel a great distance, and be virtually impossible to see with the naked eye.

It should be further noted that just prior to that conducting that proof, somewhere in the bowels of BHC, we had met Dr. Spinney who had just completed his workout.  He was gracious as always and appeared quite pleased to see a quorum of the Roberts family all at once.  He was speaking highly of his recently-acquired indentured servant, our very own Stingray, who is providing some teaching assistance to him this semester.  I do respect that man.

I slept on a perfectly inflated air mattress on the floor of Katie’s room with a small blue fan blowing directly onto my face, and despite the fact that warm air does indeed rise from a first floor to a second floor bedroom, the whole arrangement was delightfully comfortable.  I enjoyed reading myself to sleep with The Phantom Tollbooth.

We were well-prepared to head out early Saturday morning for our mystery day trip.  Now, I was very curious about this, but I had not figured out our destination.  I knew it was a two-plus hour drive away.  I knew we would be both outside and inside.  I knew we wanted to get there (wherever “there” was) early enough to have time to wander around before our commitment at 2:00 PM.  I knew I was supposed to bring a small bag of no larger than certain very specific dimensions.  Other than that, I knew nothing, but I knew it was going to be great!

However, even before we could get on the road, I saw a long metal pipe and a big stick on the ground next to Katie’s car.  someone had vandalized several cars in her complex’s parking lot, and Katie’s rear view mirror had been smashed.  For no reason!!!  Aarrgghh!!!  There was no other damage, the car wasn’t broken into, and nothing was stolen, but it looks to be about a $350 repair, and that truly makes like a vacuum.

Leaving the mirror for the police and leaving the scene of the crime, we refused to be deterred.  We drove and drove and drove through the lovely countryside that is northern Virginia, and at long last I saw a small sign with the word “Monticello” on it  Oh, my!  I was so stunned and so overwhelmed that I started crying!  We were going to Monticello. . . and a few minutes later we arrived at The Actual Place!

It was all quite amazing.  I learned a lot about Mr. Jefferson, including why he was at one point in his life temporarily without books.  I loved the grounds, the garden (WOW!), the flowers, the house, the furnishings, and the amazing inventions.  What a mind that man had.

We had a very full day, and just after arriving back home, it rained like crazy while we played “Ticket to Ride,” and don’t even get me started on that!  That game is certainly worth its own blog post.

I got to go to church with Katie, and then I began my somewhat challenging trip home.  That trip – at least the part in the Dallas airport – is also worth its own post, but that shall have to wait.  So many words; so little time.  = )





At a premium

(written Friday, September 5, 2014)

I am in Virginia visiting with Katie for a few days, and as a bonus, I think we will also get to see Josiah tonight!

Today she had to go into work for a few hours, and she gave me the option of coming along, saying that there was some generally “mindless” work I could help with.  Since I am known to enjoy completing boring, repetitive tasks, I jumped at the chance.  Actually, I would have gone with her to clean bathrooms; any time we can be in the same place at the same time is a good time.

Katie works in – and right now has an extra-heavy amount or responsibility for – the marketing department of a fairly small non-profit corporation that deals with all the logistics of enabling federal and state employees to make donations to select charities through payroll deduction, and fall is the time of year when such employees make their donation commitments for the coming year.  The various charities that Christian Service Charities (CSC) services send in big boxes of give-aways (pens, decals, you know, all that promo stuff) to be distributed at promotional events in various states, to hopefully persuade federal and state employees to contribute.  So if some entity is having such an event, that entity may request CSC to send them a bunch of give-aways (a.k.a. “premiums”) for certain charities.  Thus, one aspect of Katie’s job in the fall is to load up certain numbers of certain promotional premiums and prepare them for the UPS man to haul to their destinations.

To make (Katie’s) life easier on the out-going end, all the in-coming premiums are manually loaded into one-quart zip-loc bags in lots of 25.  Katie can then pull out 25 Focus on the Family premiums, 25 Prison Fellowship premiums, 25 International Justice Mission premiums, etc. and box up the whole collection for shipment.

My job today was to make up (an infinitely small fraction of) those zip-locs.

Since I love to learn, I can truly say that I learned a lot today!  Here are some questions and answers for illustration:

How many filled-with-bubbly-blue-ink individually wrapped ball point pens that look exactly like hypodermic needles (!!!) can fit in a one-quart zip-loc?  Probably 42, but only 25 are allowed per bag.

How many such “needle” pens come in a case?  A number considerably greater than 400.

Which are by FAR the easiest-to-count items with which Your Friendly Neighborhood CSC volunteer dealt today?  Survey says. . . the filled-with-bubbly-blue-ink individually wrapped ball point pens that look exactly like hypodermic needles, hands down.

This brings up the obvious corollary question. . . which are the most maddeningly difficult items to count?  Definitely the three-inch square flat black magnets.  They come shrink-wrapped in stacks of 200, which must then be hand-counted into stacks of 25.  If you happen to be a 53-year-old wearer of tri-focals, even when you realize 150 magnets through the first stack that by fanning the stack and bumping the whole thing slightly diagonally they will be easier to count, the tiny fine line of definition between one flat black magnet and the next will be very challenging to ascertain unless you hold the whole stack extremely close to your eyes, in which case it will be out of focus.  I am quite sure that all flat magnets – black or otherwise – should be outlawed.

And furthermore, if the previous CSC volunteer already placed into one flip-top box a total of 29 completed zip-locs of red individually wrapped letter openers shaped like dog paws, PLUS an additional 23 loose red such items, and if while you are working on bagging a box of perhaps 500 (though it could indeed feel like 5000) blue individually wrapped letter openers shaped like dog paws, you spy in the blue box two (obviously renegade) red individually wrapped letter openers shaped like dog paws (O, Hallelujah!), and if you therefore put the two extras in with the 23 to make a supremely satisfying bag of 25, then WHAT ON EARTH do you do when you find three more reds in the very bottom of the box of blues?

And what shall I more say?  For the time would fail me to tell of easy-to-wrap-into-bundles-of-ten blue Angel Tree tote bags, easy-to-wrap-into-bundles-of-ten red Prison Fellowship tote bags, and virtually-impossible-to-wrap-into-bundles-of-ten blue (confusingly of the exact same shade as the Angel Tree version) International Justice Mission tote bags!

But I made a dent in the stack and I had fun doing it.  I also met Katie’s boss and a couple of co-workers (nice folks) and got a glimpse of how very good she is at some of the many things she does.

Only in Rockaway

The first curiosity actually happened while I was walking a couple mornings ago.

I have been walking on our local shoulder for a lot of years, and while I have come to recognize many, many “regulars” by what they drive – and is maddening for a number of weeks when they get new cars – I have lately realized that I can also identify quite a few vehicles by the way they sound.  Of course, I can always peg a school bus or a trash truck approaching from behind, but everyone does that.  My personal vehicular auditory sense is a bit more refined.

Our postmaster, Brian, passes me several mornings a week, and we always wave cheerfully to each other.  He drives a large (four-door) white Chevy truck.  Depending on where I am in my laps, he’s either facing me or behind me when he passes, and I’d say he’s usually going about 35 mph.  So Friday morning, when I heard a pickup approaching from behind me, I just figured it was Brian running a few minutes later than usual, but I could tell that something was definitely out of the ordinary.  In fact, it sounded like he was slowing down.  Wondering why on earth that would be, I turned briefly around.  Sure enough, it was a white Chevy pick-up, but it wasn’t Brian.

And he was definitely slowing down – a lot.  I was at the middle of the bridge, and right there on the bridge, right beside me, he came to a complete stop!  That was a bit unsettling to me and none too wise for the driver.  The middle of a two-lane bridge with concrete sides is not the smartest place to stop.  I wondered if this guy was having car trouble. . . and what I could possibly do to help if he was.

There was no other traffic at that moment, and his window was down, so I approached cautiously.

Me (from a safe distance):  G’Morning.

Driver:  Hi.  I wonder if you could give me directions.

Me (relieved):  Yeah, maybe so.  Where are you headed?

Driver:  I’m looking for. . . uh. . . (referring to the ad section of a newspaper in his hand). . . Walnut Shade.

Me (throwing my arms wide and grinning proudly):  Well, sir, I am pleased to inform you that you are smack dab in the middle of downtown Walnut Shade!

And so he was.  Actually our house is probably at the midpoint of the half-mile stretch of highway between the two “Walnut Shade” signs, so technically he was a skosh east of the geographic center of town, but surely close enough that my description of his location was not inaccurate.  Of course, Walnut Shade is an unincorporated area that stretches for several miles in all directions, but it does radiate out from a point very near where the driver of the white pick-up had stopped.

Turns out he was looking for Goodnight Hollow Road, and after I got him to pull up and get off the bridge, I was able to tell him how to get there.  (Hmmm. . . Brian lives on Goodnight Hollow Road, and he’s been trying to sell a lot of stuff.  Maybe that guy was looking for Brian’s house. . . )

So that little incident made me smile – you’ve gotta love “downtown Walnut Shade!” – but it couldn’t compare to what I saw a few hours later at the post office.

Brian was off that day (which explains why he hadn’t passed me that morning), so Connie was running the show, and there were two men ahead of me when I got there.  Now, a line at the post office counter is no problem.  The Rockaway Beach post office is kind of the center of the community, where people stop in for a few minutes to take care of business, chat, and catch up on local gossip whatever’s going on in the community.  Things move slowly and with much good humor at our small-town* post office.  The man ahead of me was renting a post office box, and as he stepped out to test his keys before paying his rental fee, I told him that he had made a good choice to rent a box in Rockaway.  I told him that we have wonderful service in Rockaway and the most cheerful postal employees.  He agreed, saying he and likes joking around with Brian.  Don’t we all.

While he checked his keys, the next man bought two stamps.  Slapping two letters and a dollar bill on the counter, he said, in typical Rockaway vernacular, “Gimme a couple’a stickers, Connie.”  Meanwhile, I looked out the window and waited patiently with my outgoing package of books.  I am beginning to sell off some of the homeschool stuff that we’re done with.  Don’t worry; I’m only converting back to cash the books we will never use and/or didn’t like.  And as I stood there, a man walked down the sidewalk toward the post office with a large, white bird on his shoulder.

I was so stunned that I blurted out to the man seeking the “stickers,” “Well, look at that!  There’s a bird on that man’s shoulder!”

He looked and said nothing, and Connie was too busy waiting on him to look up, but I was truly intrigued.  The bird looked a lot like this:

White bird - Cockatoo?

White bird – Cockatoo?

And he was of a good size.  I’d say nearly a foot tall, not counting his tail.  And he was perfectly perched on the man’s right shoulder, just sitting there looking birdishly noble as the man walked along.  Wow!

About that time, the sticker seeker went departed, passing the key tester as he came back in, and still amazed at and totally intrigued by the bird on the pedestrian’s shoulder, I pointed out the window and said to the gentleman renting the PO box, “That man has a big white bird on his shoulder!”  He noted the bird.  Connie also noted the bird and said, “I’m going to have to email Brian and tell him about that.  Only in Rockaway!”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “You could go to any of several thousand post offices anywhere in the U.S. this morning, and at any one of them you could buy some stamps, rent a PO box, or mail a package, but you’d only see a big white bird on a man’s shoulder at the Rockaway Beach post office!”  And just as I said that, the man walked into the post office lobby, collected his mail out of his box, and walked back down the sidewalk the way he’d come, all the while with the bird still perched on his shoulder.

I’m telling you, there’s never a dull day in Walnut Shade or Rockaway Beach!

* Rockaway is a small town, but I wasn’t sure how small, so I googled it.  In 2010, the city of Rockaway Beach, with an area of .69 square miles, had a population of 841.  By comparison, the unincorporated area of Walnut Shade, with an area of 40 square miles (and mental math whizzes will note that that makes Walnut Shade approximately 58 times larger – in area – than Rockaway Beach), had a population of 896.  However, we question the reliability of that figure, because two of the several  websites that gave the population of W.S. as 896 also said, “There is no 2010 Census Data available for WALNUT SHADE, MO.”  Hmm. . . In any case, in my book there is data available, and in my book Rockaway Beach qualifies as a small town with a great post office, and Walnut Shade qualifies both as a wonderful unincorporated rural area and as my home.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.