Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bud, part 5 of 5 - autumn leaves

It was a beautiful fall day, the kind where you want to get out and rake some leaves. So I did. The big sycamores in the back yard had lost most of their leaves. As I got the rake from the shed, I could hear Bud moving along on the lower property. I knew he'd been wakened from his nap by the sound of my activity and was heading up the hill to join me.

I worked for a few minutes, creating a satisfying pile of crisp yellow and orange leaves. I'd gathered them about six feet behind a parked vehicle so they'd be sheltered from wind gusts.

Bud appeared. As I worked on the leaves, he snouted the rake curiously. I chided him and continued working. He stood still - usually a sign that he's getting ready to take an unexpected action. And he did. He snouted around in the pile of leaves. Then, suddenly, he grabbed a mouthful and raced off. He tore around the yard and back, leaped into the pile of leaves, whirled around, and tore off again.

Alarmed at his frenzy, I reraked the pile, moving them away from the vehicle lest he hurl himself into it and injure himself. He raced back, leaped into the pile again, and fell over into it, rolling and snorting.

Several rerakings later, Bud lost interest in the proceedings and wandered off. I called a family member to come and watch, but Bud refused to repeat his performance. Naturally.

For the next couple of days, I raked that pile of leaves periodically. Bud displayed no interest. BUT each time, I noticed that when I returned to the area an hour later, the leaves were scattered on the ground. There was no wind, so I knew Bud's secret. He did his leaf jumping when no one else was around.

Bud's ashes arrived yesterday in a teak box. On Saturday morning we'll have our remembrance time, scattering him in the places he loved: near his house under the deck, in the garden where he rooted for potatoes, along the path to the neighbors' where he munched on dandelions, and, finally, under the big cedars in the side yard.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bud, part 4 of 5 - whistle stops

This is from 1996.

For Bud, our potbellied pig, the grass seems always to be greener on the
other side of the fence. Literally. He has already consumed everything edible in his area - not just the grass and other vegetation above the ground, but the roots, bulbs and insects under the ground as well. What was a grassy area last summer now resembles a newly backhoed lot.

So, in search of greener pastures, Bud has become an escape artist.

Household members are never home when Bud escapes. They return to find fencing that has been knocked down, dug under, wiggled under, or jumped over. The pig is found, sometimes with fence scratches on his back. The site of the escape is immediately blocked off, restaked, raised, or otherwise strengthened.

On his next escape Bud uses a different route.

Fortunately, he forgets immediately about the greener grass if there is something else interesting to eat instead. That means he can be lured back by the promise of food.

If Bud obeys the command "come here", he gets a treat - usually a piece of dog food or a bit of Oreo cookie. He's pretty good with that command. But there is another one that I didn't know about until recently. One of the kids had been whistling for Bud for months and rewarding him with a jelly bean or a piece of fruit when he appeared. It was done to establish a friendly relationship rather than to teach obedience.

One day, when the whistler arrived home for lunch, she looked around for Bud. He was nowhere in sight. She whistled. She heard a distant snort. She whistled again. Another snort, not so faint. One more whistle.

Then she saw him. Bud was sprinting up the street of our residential neighborhood, toward her. At her final whistle, he arrived at her feet, his 100-pound body heaving from exertion.

He got an apple that day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bud, part 3 of 5 - the camping adventure

I wrote this one in 1995.

We traditionally go camping with a large group over the Labor Day weekend. This year, I had another commitment, but Art decided to go anyway, and to take our potbellied pig, Bud, along with him. When I heard about his plan, I was skeptical. I said, "What are you going to do with him when you're sitting around the campfire?" Art replied, "He'll sleep at my feet." I said, "I doubt it. He'll want to explore outside. And where will he sleep?" Art answered, "In the tent with me." I said, "I doubt it. He'll want to explore inside." "Besides," I continued, "what about all the dogs
that will be roaming around?" After a few more questions, we decided to buy a large dog kennel so that Bud could be restrained when necessary.

As I pulled into the driveway at the end of the weekend, I could see that Art had gotten home before me. He'd pitched the tent in the front yard to dry it out, as it had rained on the last day. I was pretty impressed with his efficiency. As I headed for the house, I noticed a tear in
the netting at the front of the tent. It looked like it had been cut with scissors, and I was concerned that vandalism had been a part of the camping weekend.

Inside, I asked Art about the tear in the tent. He recounted the following story.

While Art was putting up the tent and organizing the campsite, he had tied the pig to a tree with a long line. In the space of 15 minutes, Bud rooted up all the grass and ground cover within ten feet of the tree. Since he'd already destroyed all the vegetation in his area on our property, fresh vegetation was a treat.

When the campsite was set up, Art untied the pig and let him explore the area while he went to get water nearby. He was gone less than a minute.

Finished with his initial rooting, Bud explored the campsite. There was a grocery sack inside the tent, full of food, but the tent opening was zippered. A loaf of bread stuck of the top of the grocery sack. Bud bit through the netting close to the sack, poked his head through the hole, and grabbed the loaf of bread by the wrapper. Just then Art, returning with the water, saw the pig doing his dastardly deed and shouted at him to get away from the food. A fruitless shout. Bud pulled the loaf of bread through the hole in the netting and started running. By the time Art chased him down, the bread was half gone.

Bud had an excellent time on the camping trip. Art has decided that next year he will get a pigsitter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bud, part 2 - the lad and the motorhome

Bud must have been about six months old, because he was pretty small. We took a day trip in our motorhome and had decided to take him along so he'd become a good traveler. Anyway, we took his bed and his litterbox - a catbox filled with pig litter. There is a difference, but I'm not sure what it is exactly. Bud rooted around in the RV and made himself at home, which included christening the fresh litter box.

At points north we stopped to visit a teenage son. The son came aboard the motorhome. This particular son was not familiar to Bud, and furthermore, he was a smoker. As we chatted with him, Bud whined and moved around the cramped space in an agitated way. We reprimanded him and he retreated to parts unknown.

He was back within a few minutes, quietly using the litterbox and doing his usual snouting around in the litter material. We continued to converse with the teenager. Suddenly, Bud made his move against our unwelcome guest. With his weight on his hind legs, he put his front hoofs on the teen's leg, barked, and rubbed his wet litter-laden snout on the boy's jeans.

The kid leaped to his feet and retreated down the steps of the motorhome. Since that time, when the boy comes to visit, he sits with his feet and legs tucked under him when Bud is around. The pig gets respect from the teenager.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A passing

Our 18-year-old potbellied pig, Bud, died in the wee morning hours of Thanksgiving. He was very, very old, and feeble. He enjoyed his food right up until almost the end. In half an hour the cremation guy will be by to pick him up. In a couple of weeks the ashes will be back and we'll have a little ceremony, burning sweet sage, and scatter Bud beneath the cedars in our side yard.

I wrote a few vignettes years ago about Bud. Here's the first:

My friend Nalyn got a pig first. She'd brought it to visit us and we were all enthralled by the little pig exploring the living room and rooting instinctively in our hands. The teenagers begged us to get one too. We laughed. We already had a cat that no one wanted to feed.

A week later, Nalyn stopped by again. This time she had an apple box in her arms. The box squeaked. She put it on the floor and opened the lid. Inside was a four-week-old black piglet with a pink nose. He must have weighed about six pounds. He immediately tipped over the box, clambered out, and set off on his own exploration. I found some cat food in the kitchen, then called the piglet. He came to me. The teenagers were thrilled. They begged to keep him.

I am pretty cautious about acquiring pets. We had NO idea what a pig ate or what its habits were. Nalyn assured us that a pig's care was easy. She told us about a vet in Woodinville who specializes in potbellied pigs. We were faintly encouraged. We agreed to keep him overnight and see how it went.

I set up a makeshift bed in the bathroom and found bowls for water and food, while the piglet entertained the kids in the living room. When I returned, the kids were lying on the rug on their stomachs and there was no sign of the piglet. I looked closer. The pig had found a warm, comfortable spot for a nap - between my son's legs, nuzzled up against his backside. The perfect "V" - just like a pile of piglets at home with their mother.

We were done for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More than I expected

My book has been proofed and corrected and is now in the hands of the printer. I didn't think it would look as good as it does. I got more than I expected.

On the other hand, my "marketing consultant" - not even listed as a feature of the package I ordered - has called me twice in the last two weeks. He wants me to spend $4,999 to have a UTube video made and then sold to a TV channel where, supposedly, many people in my target market will see it and order the book. For which I would receive a 25% commission and the publishing company would receive the rest. I said no thanks both times. These calls were more than I expected, and more than I wanted.

Thank goodness he wasn't trying to sell me a timeshare. I might have succumbed to that.

My time has opened up again now that I'm not writing and editing and correcting for hours a day. It feels like I wrote a very long term paper and the class has ended. On the other hand, I've had in mind to publish this book for six years. Now that I finally got around to it, I feel more satisfied than I had expected.

I will post information about the book when it's available online for sale. It's called "Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing".

We got all our money back on the Norway cruise we canceled. We'll apply it directly to the oral surgeon's bill for Art's implant. In the meantime, we're in the planning stage for a two- or three-week exploration, in April or May, of Appalachia, western Virginia and the eastern shore of Maryland. That will be much more economical and probably just as interesting as Norway - without the Northern Lights. I'm more excited about these revised plans than I expected I would be.

I've learned in recent years that, to avoid being disappointed, I should keep my expectations low. That way, anything good is a pleasant surprise. If I expect that none of the eight kids in our blended family will show up for Thanksgiving, I'm very happy that three of them will actually be there, with several grandchildren. That's more than I expected.

I hope all of you have a most satisfactory Thanksgiving. I am thankful for every one of you. When I started writing this blog in January 2010, I had no idea how important the blogging community would become to me. Much more than I expected!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Bag Lady thinks about money

My fear of running out of money was the motivator for me to create this blog in January of 2010. I was getting ready to retire, and I was terrified that we'd made a mistake in our calculations and that we wouldn't have enough coming in to live out our lives.

It's been 16 months since we left the workplace. So far, so good. We keep our eye on our investments and on the news swirling around Medicare and Social Security. For the most part, though, we've lived without giving a lot of thought to scrimping. We're frugal, but we're not scrimpers.

In the last month I've been considering how we spend. And yesterday I made a material decision.

We'd planned to take a cruise in March along the fjords of western Norway. I want to see the Northern Lights, and the Hurtigruten cruise line was an attractive option. We made a 20 percent down payment back in September. As I thought about the remaining 80 percent, and the airfare, and incidentals before and after the cruise, I wavered. A lot of money for a weeklong trip.

And then Art broke a tooth.

We have dental insurance through my COBRA, but our share of the oral surgery and subsequent repair will be close to two thousand dollars. And the COBRA coverage ends on January 31. Then Art will have mediocre dental insurance through Medicare and I will go without. Looking at the current bill, which is a known, and future dental issues, which is an unknown, I considered whether the mental anguish of future unknown bills was worth a weeklong cruise. Particularly since we've got other more economical trips planned for December, January and February. And, more significantly, Norway is not on my bucket list. An undeniably beautiful place, but not one of my "must sees".

So I canceled the cruise. And felt relief rather than regret.

We will still travel. We have several timeshares, and we belong to two home exchange clubs and two hosted exchange clubs. And we can do the Norway cruise another year if it's still appealing. Or we can see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks, Alaska, which is much closer and for which we can use our frequent flyer miles.

When I think about that, I feel relief rather than regret too.

I don't worry about being a bag lady any more. But I do need to be responsible.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Publisher, the Veteran, and the GPS

I've sent all the materials to the publisher: the manuscript, 16 images, a cover design, "about the authors", "about the book", and all my instructions to the people who will put it together.

We've been working hard for five weeks to get this book finished. I heard back from the publisher's check-in coordinator who's been working with me that my materials are complete and my communication very clear. I should get the proof within three weeks. Her grandfather is a vet and she's going to buy a copy of the book!

Here's the final, newest section of the book, written just this afternoon:

Me: "Art and I spent nearly a month working on the final revisions for this book. We talked often about his day of combat. I asked him what the impact had been of revisiting this experience."

Art: "It hasn’t been easy, not one bit. It’s going back there over and over and over. Remembering is not like it was at first, but it still has its trigger points, barbs, and head rushes.

I went on a retreat recently. It was one day dealing with Viet Nam, but I had a lot of backup, texting to friends at home and letting them know how it was going. And Ed Tick was on the retreat, and there were a lot of vets and other men who were very helpful. But this revision process was just a constant day after day going back there, and not debriefing, and it adds up. So I’ve been pretty wired. One night I was so agitated I punched the GPS in my Prius too hard and broke the glass! Then I talked to another vet, and he shared his experience with me, and it helped.

In spite of that, I’m glad we have written this story. The main purpose was to help other vets. I hope that talking about this journey of healing and how it has helped me – if even one person can get some good out of it and stop the nightmares and gain some peace, it will be worth it."

The rest of the story on the GPS incident is that I was busy making revisions so Art drove to a nearby community to pick up the beef we'd ordered from the butcher. When Art pushed the glass to get the GPS activated, the glass cracked. He pushed other options, and the glass cracked more. Now the glass over the electronic features looks pretty much shattered - like a frenzied spiderweb.

Art called our Toyota dealer. They said the part would be $4800!!!!! We had a quiet chat about how hard the last month has been on both of us as we refined the manuscript about our 2005 return to Viet Nam, where he saw combat back in 1968. We talked about what we could have done differently so he didn't get so stressed out over the process. We discussed canceling our planned trip to Norway in March so we can pay for the replacement part.

This morning Art confirmed that all the features no longer accessible under the dashboard glass -- except the GPS -- can be operated from the steering wheel. Since we're planning on driving the Prius into the ground over the next ten years or so (it's a 2005, so it's already six years old), and since he's the main driver, he may decide to just leave the shattered glass in there. Appearance doesn't matter a whit to him, as long as something is functional. We can take a hand-held GPS with us on trips.

So who knows about Norway?

At this point, I'm so thrilled not to be talking about Viet Nam every waking moment that I don't care.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blogger in the Sky with Laptop

We're taking a day trip to Houston. We left Seattle at 11:30 this morning, will lay over in Houston for an hour, and arrive home in Seattle at about 10:00 t0night. We need these flight miles to renew our MVP status for Alaska Airlines for 2012. I never had MVP until this year - an unexpected happening because of our frequent trips last year - and I like it too much to let it expire. Thus this very quick trip. When we get back from our December trip to Hawaii, Art will have flown 20,008 paid miles - eight miles over the requirement. I have a couple thousand more. We thought about staying over a day, but when we were in Houston in March we got very, very lost. I'd rather not repeat that experience.

This day trip is good, though. It gives me about eight hours of computer time. I've been working on the manuscript, putting in the maps and the photos. Drafting the document for the publisher on how I want things laid out (they're inserting the images into the manuscript, so they need to know how I want it to look).

I called my publisher's rep on Monday and found out, much to my relief, that their design staff will do the headers. I just have to tell them what I want and they take care of it. What a relief! I had read, in the instructions, "have the manuscript completely ready". I should have asked what "the manuscript" meant. Not headers, apparently!

It is very exciting to see the final touches come in. Art roughed out a map of a day of combat he describes early in the book, and my sister Alyx polished it up. It's now on a page of its own and boy, what a great addition it is! My neighbor Jason, a graphic artist, took a photo we took on the trip and designed a book cover. It's amazing what the professional polish is doing. I got to write a Dedication page at the beginning and an Acknowledgements page near the end. As I look at this I think, "Oh, my goodness. Look what we have done!"

I've read the comments to my last post. If you're a writer and you have a story to tell, don't be discouraged by the publication process. I decided against an agent and query letters and decided to work with a self-publishing company. They're doing most of the work. I paid a fee to sign up, which was fine. I'm not a bestselling author in the making. I'm not interested in huge sales and fame of any kind. I just want this story to be out there. It's my way to honor Art and all the other vets. And to say, "Yes, I'm a writer."

Fun and scary.

I think I'll be ready to send in all my materials on Thursday, the day after tomorrow. It has been a long slog for the last couple of weeks, and I'm ready to be done with this step.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Author's Rant

There's a difference between a writer and an author, and right now it's an aggravating difference.

I can write in my blog or my journal or my travel commentary. It's my choice what I say and how I say it. I can read it myself and offer it to others. That's kind of gratifying. It's all my call.

Here's what I've learned this week about being an author. I've written a book with my husband Art and found a publisher. They contact me every week to see how I'm coming along. Their goal is probably to keep me moving and maybe to provide encouragement, but what I'm feeling is guilt and frustration. For three weeks now I've said I'll have the materials to them "next week".

Issue One is format - my responsibility. So I spent several days selecting photos to be inserted into the manuscript - images with meaning to accompany the text. Then yesterday I realized none of the photos are 300 ppi (pixels per inch) which is required by the publisher. So I removed them all and am developing an accompanying webpage for people who want to see our experience in addition to reading about it.

When you remove something from a manuscript, all the text has to be revisited and any "widows and orphans" fixed. That's where you have the first or last line of a paragraph that turns up on a different page from the rest of the paragraph. The book has 190 pages, so the revisiting took a while.

If you've decided to have no ragged edges on the right, Word will set that up for you. But sometimes there are multiple spaces between words. Then you have the option of hyphenating words to fill in some of those blanks. I did that manually so I'd have more control over which words I hyphenated and which words I left alone. Sometimes, when I fixed the "widows and orphans" issue above, I had to remove hyphens I'd put in before or add new ones. Another revisit of 190 pages.

As a "final touch" you add headers - in this case, the book title on odd pages and the chapter title on even pages. There are four chapters. This requires inserting a "section break" -- which I have never done in Word -- and an advanced-user feature called a "field" so the correct chapter title will display. I will need to take an online tutorial to figure this out - probably this morning, since it's the only time I have available this week

Issue Two is finishing up the content. Art has drawn a map and I have given it to two graphic artist friends to clean up. One of them has a full-time job and a wife and two kids. The other is going to school full time. Both say they'll work on the map "when I have time, hopefully this weekend".

One friend read the manuscript and would like me to add a few pages at the end. It's an excellent idea but requires an interview with my husband, the subject of the book. She has the questions for me to ask, but hasn't had time to send them to me yet. She has a full-time job.

Then I have a niggling thought. What if the margins I set up aren't exactly what's needed for a 6 x 9 book? The publisher sent me the numbers, but I have a Mac version of Word and you never know what minor differences will turn up between the Mac and the PC version.

I tore myself away from the computer yesterday and went for a three-mile walk with Art, but almost everything else I normally do got set aside this week. This feels like working on a term paper with a deadline. I thought I was finished with that.

On Tuesday Art and I are flying to Houston and back. We need a few more frequent flyer miles to retain our MVP status on Alaska Airlines, and we've got a few trips next year where we can use the first-two-bags-fly-free perk and the first-class-waitlist status. We'll fly four hours, get off the plane for half an hour, and fly four hours home. I'd planned on taking a book, but I suspect I'll have the laptop instead. To work on the "section breaks".