Friday, April 28, 2006


Last year - and years before - when I got this sick, I just went out of touch for a while. Weeks, months. Time loses all meaning for me and I just drift along, waiting it out. There's really not much else to be done, after all, besides the usual preparations for this annual siege. Just wait. Let time go by. The pollen levels will go back down again, and I can go back to the less limited life I get to have the rest of the year.

It's hard to explain, and hard to understand, how something as ordinary as allergies can do this to a person. Even the very extreme allergies I'm experiencing now.

But I want to try.

This year I want very much to not go out of communication again. And if there's anything positive to be gained from talking about it, then the time to talk is now.

I'm not the only one who gets desperately ill from extreme allergies. Of course not. The thing is, though, there are more and more people like me every year. That means there are lots of newbies. It took years for me to come to terms with it, even as imperfectly as I have. I think about those people freshly struck down and I hope I can help them a little bit, talking about what it's like.

If bad health news bothers you, I understand perfectly well. I understand if it's depressing or even irritating. That's human nature. If you do dislike it, the answer is NOT to tell me to stop talking. YOU, instead, should stop reading.

See, giving any comfort I can to others like me far outweighs any discomfort I may give to reasonably healthy people. Think about this: Choice. If you don't want to read it, then don't. You don't need to, after all.

OTOH: Whether you choose to accept this truth or not, people who are sick didn't get that way by choice.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Diver bit by alligator in Boynton Beach

First of the season!

The local TV news interviews are far more exciting than the news clip below. Our hero is a tall dark & handsome type, with a nice looking family too. Articulate. He could be a stunt double in a modern Tarzan movie.

He was minding his own business, doing his job - diving for golf balls, okay? - around the same gator he usually saw at this place. This time, it went after him. It grabbed his air tank, then got a good grip on his left hand. It pulled him toward the center of the lake, and he was hoping it would let go for a minute, to try for a better grip on him, so he went along for the ride.

But witnesses agree the gator - a big heavy strapping female - was just about to start the death roll. He felt it coming and knew he'd either have to fight back, get his arm torn off, or die. So he punched that gator in the eye. Gave it all he had. And got away.

His two beautiful little kids don't want to let Daddy out of their sight just now. He's home from the ER, still wearing his wet suit, left arm wrapped up hugely and hanging from a sling.

Now it's his kids who have a death grip on his arm. His RIGHT arm.

Apr 26, 3:55 AM EDT

Diver bit by alligator in Boynton Beach

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A diver hired by the city to retrieve golf balls from a lake was attacked by a 9-foot alligator that bit the man's arm, authorities said.

Stephen Martinez, 43, of Coral Springs, was treated at a hospital for injuries similar to a dog bite, said Palm Beach County sheriff's Lt. Rolando Silva.

"It's serious, but certainly not life-threatening," he said.

Martinez was under murky water at The Links golf course when a group of golfers heard him yell for help, said course manager Dan Hager.

The alligator apparently bit Martinez's air tank and tried to pull him under the water. Martinez grabbed a utility knife strapped to his dive suit and tried to stab the animal. That's when it bit his arm, Hager said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was investigating.

The alligator was trapped and will have to be euthanized, commission spokeswoman Dani Moschella said.
Information from: The Palm Beach Post,
©2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

AOL Again

When I called *AOL Special Features* to cancel the Privacy Wall on 4/17, the nice man said, Sure, no problem, we'll refund and never charge again. That was the person who switched me to the "regular" customer service people, the Sharks.

Next day, lo and behold, there was a NEW $3.95 charge! This one was at the FL bank!

8^0 !!!

WELL! and was I all over that?

Like white on rice.

When I called about the NEW $3.95 charge, Special Features now said they weren't empowered to resolve it, and told me to call the Sharks. My insistence that Special Features had already "resolved" an identical charge did not move them. They, in fact, told me that was impossible. Gee. I must be lying, huh?


The Sharks, at 800-827-6364, told me this:

They couldn't reverse the 4/5 charge because it didn't exist. There was absolutely no record of it. I offered to fax them proof from the bank. Not interested. They said maybe their Account Investigators would want that, later, and if so they'd ask me for it.

--You're not an Account Investigator?

--No. I'm just writing all this up for them.

A very, very, very slow writer. I bet he moves his lips when he writes.

The only charge they found was the $3.95 on 4/17. He said they could probably take care of that one pretty fast. Why? Because it was ALREADY refunded after my first phone call.

I firmly said this $3.95 didn't even appear until AFTER that call - and that first rep clearly saw the 4/5 charge in Utah, and agreed to refund it.

There really WERE two $3.95 charges! I stuck to my guns!

They stuck to theirs! I must be IMAGINING it!

This Shark was clearly both an idiot and a newbie, conferring with a trainer as he went. This all took him around 30 minutes. I played a lot of Free Cell and watched TV.

So: AOL has now spent 30 minutes of 2 staff members' time, just to take notes for Account Investigators to spend even more time, all to try to avoid refunding one $3.95 charge. We're probably talking at least 1 1/2 total manhours here.

I was told the $23.90 and $25.90 were for monthly service, and wouldn't be refunded because I'd used the service in the meantime. I said, it took me over a month to get through on the phone to cancel it. If you'd answer your phone it would have been cancelled long ago.

Ok. Maybe they would have refunded it but I used the account during that month.

I didn't need to, I have a free account, and if I'd known it would matter I'd never have touched this one.

Too bad.

I leave this issue for later.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why would you want someone who doesn't want you?

But most of us have, sometime or other.

Of course, if we do it a lot, it's probably that old Toxic Relationship thing rearing its ugly head. When that's what we've got, we have to put on the brakes and relearn everything we thought we knew about dealing with others - lovers, friends, family, customers, everyone we interact with, really.

Come to understand why we're drawn to toxicity, what are the appropriate behavioral boundaries for both our behavior and the other guy's, and how to appropriately enforce those boundaries. How to recognize and appreciate relationships that aren't toxic in the first place.

And - crucial, this - how to summon up the superhuman strength to say "No" when that siren song of a perfect and beautiful unhealthy relationship is trying to tug you under.

Meaning: Giving up what looks like the sweetest romance, and taking on a lot of icky drudge work.

Not a road most people want to volunteer for.

But it's required work, if we truly want to be happy.

Her willingness both to recognize this, and to tackle that job, are part of what makes us respect Livey so much.

Some of her posts remind me of this song. I hope she knows it, or knows how to find it and give it a listen. It's heartrending and beautiful and bull's eye on target.

Long Long Time
Linda Ronstadt

Love will abide
Take things in stride
Sounds like good advice
But there's no one at my side

And time washes clean
Love's wounds unseen
That's what someone told me
But I don't know what it means

Cause I've done everything I know
To try and make you mine
And I think I'm gonna love you
For a long, long time

Caught in my fears
Blinking back the tears
I can't say you hurt me
When you never let me near

And I never drew
One response from you
All the while you fell
Over girls you never knew

And I've done everything I know
To try and make you mine
And I think it's gonna hurt me
For a long, long time

Wait for the day
You go away
Knowing that you warned me
Of the price I'd have to pay

And life's full of loss
Who knows the cost
Living in the memory
Of the love that never was

Cause I've done everything I know
To try and change your mind
And I think I'm gonna miss you
For a long, long time
And I've done everything I know
To try and make you mine
And I think I'm gonna love you
For a long, long time

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Yes, wonderful things!

Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage before the doorway...Candles were procured - the all important tell-tale for foul gases when opening an ancient subterranean excavation - I...looked in, while Ld. C., Lady E, and Callender with the Reises waited in anxious expectation.

It was sometime before one could see, the hot air escaping caused the candle to flicker, but as soon as one's eyes became accustomed to the glimmer of light the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before one, with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another.

There was naturally short suspense for those present who could not see, when Lord Carnarvon said to me `Can you see anything'. I replied to him Yes, it is wonderful.

...Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe as the better light revealed to us the marvellous collection of treasures: two strange ebony-black effigies of a King, gold sandalled, bearing staff and mace, loomed out from the cloak of darkness; gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal; exquisitely painted, inlaid, and ornamental caskets; flowers; alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus device; strange black shrines with a gilded monster snake appearing from within; quite ordinary looking white chests; finely carved chairs; a golden inlaid throne; a heap of large curious white oviform boxes; beneath our very eyes, on the threshold, a lovely lotiform wishing-cup in translucent alabaster; stools of all shapes and design, of both common and rare materials; and, lastly a confusion of overturned parts of chariots glinting with gold, peering from amongst which was a mannikin. The first impression of which suggested the property-room of an opera of a vanished civilization. Our sensations were bewildering and full of strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of Tut.ankh.Amen on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh.

--From Howard Carter's diaries.

King Tut

I've been a King Tut fan since I was a tiny child. All things ancient Egyptian, really. I lived in the Chicago area after we moved there from California when I was seven. The Field Museum of Natural History had an Egyptian section, and I'd stay there fascinated for hours with the mummies and the golden treasures.

When I was in my late teens, Egypt brought King Tut to Chicago. And I missed it.

Now he's here in the US again. He's in just a few cities this tour. Ft. Lauderdale is one of them. I swore I'd do everything in my power to see him. Not so easy when you can't walk much and can't breathe around ordinary people and their perfume and clothes washed in Tide. And now the pollen is way high and I'm mostly housebound, especially after sunup. It's not so safe to try to do this alone.

Between this and that, we couldn't get it together to go there with my parents at Christmastime, or later with Walter. Today, Sunday, is the last night of King Tut's visit here.

And given the huge success of his stay, with attendance breaking records set in other cities, the Museum of Art of Ft. Lauderdale threw open the doors 24/7 for his last weekend in town.

I printed my tickets out from Ticketmaster. My entrance time is 4:00 AM. That's around two and a half hours before sunup.

No cameras or bags are allowed. I'll have to leave my emergency oxygen tank in the car, I think. I don't want to have it with me anyway. My bag has my pills and inhalers and Epipens, I'll talk to the doormen about that. Reports around town are that this exhibit is not particularly handicapped-friendly. But they say they have wheelchairs at the door, at least. That means I'll be able to take my own self around. Good.

Come what may, I'm going. One way or another, this is going to be an adventure.

It's time. I'm off. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

AOL at the Bank

While AOL's agreed to refund the $3.95 charges and investigate the rest, I don't trust them the tiniest bit, so I'll challenge all charges at the banks, too.

This was another adventure in customer service. We use several different banks. One's in Florida, where banks have famously bad customer service.

The other bank's in Utah. It's for truckers. Superb customer service, and many interesting features. If we didn't still need a local bank, it's the only one we'd have.

Here's what I aim to get reversed:

FL Bank:
4/12/06 $25.90
4/17/06 $3.95

Utah Bank:
4/5/06 $3.95
4/15/06 $23.90

The $3.95 is for the so-called free privacy wall; the other charges are for monthly service. Why charge $23.90? That's the old rate. HMMM. Oddly, AOL charged both banks in one month. HMMM.

I was out of town digging fossils, so I didn't catch the charges until I got home. The first one was the $3.95 posted 4/5 to the Utah bank. Not a fortune, no! But it's good to investigate even little Mystery Charges since they can lead you to much bigger problems you didn't know about.

Case in point, huh?

How a Customer Service department is trained and authorized says a great deal about a company's character, and its approach to financial management.

I call the FL bank.

I'm told I have to go into a branch to contest the charges. I explain that a physical disability makes this very difficult.

Ok. *sigh* I can do it over the phone with you, then. I'll fill out the papers on my end, and then mail them to you. You fill them out and sign the two affidavits and mail them back. If you don't send them back you won't get a refund. Allow 6-8 weeks for us to investigate it.

This phone call takes about 45 minutes.

The papers came in the mail today. I sign them as is, even though I see AOL has now refunded the $3.95 charge at this bank (one down, three to go.) When dealing with sharks, cover all bases, to excess.

The Utah bank is very different. They say to fax them the dispute and it'll be resolved in 3 days or they'll die trying. This call lasts a couple of minutes. I fax. Within an hour, they call me back.

One issue: This account is in Walter's name only. While the Utah bank has my Power of Attorney for Walter on file, they're not sure the Mastercard people will accept my signature for Walter's. Since there is no recourse once Mastercard denies a dispute - it's absolutely final, no matter what - they say it's best to have Walter sign it, not me. Also, even though AOL agreed to refund the $3.95, they don't have that info yet. So let's add it to the dispute.

Excellent advice.

And: since AOL is notorious, you really should think about cancelling this card and getting a new number.

I agree.

That phone call took about 10 minutes, including swapping AOL war stories.

I update the fax, pin Walter down at a truck stop, fax the dispute to him there, and he faxes the signed dispute to the bank. Done.

Re.: [name, account #]
Merchant: AOL
Transaction Dates and Amounts:
4/5/06 $3.95 4/15/06 $23.90

Dear [Good] Bank:

We dispute the referenced charges from AOL.

We are supposed to have free service from them for one year. The $23.90 was a monthly service charge on the old account that we cancelled. That charge is NOT valid.

The $3.95 was for a privacy wall that was supposed to be a free promotion. Again, as we would NOT have gotten that feature if it weren’t free, that charge is NOT valid.

They have been informed they are no longer authorized to charge ANY of our bank accounts for any reason. They have agreed to this.

However, [your bank] is kindly issuing a new card for us, since AOL has shown, repeatedly, that they do not keep their word.

Thank you. We greatly appreciate your help in dealing with this vendor.

[signed, Walter]

I see a Comment on my blog about killing the cards - mine are debit, not credit, but still. They're right. I call the FL bank and kill that card, too.

Okay. My little seeds are planted. Now - like my buddy BB says, Let's wait and see what happens.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Strange Menace


The spring pollen wave has hit me like a horse kick in the gut.

I'm switching over to nights. Cancelling doctor visits, postponing phone calls, sleeping sleeping sleeping. Down for the count.

For now.

Very quickly - a couple of days at most - I'll be adapted to my nocturnal life and functioning much better. The trick of watering the plants first thing in the morning is the only part that still gets iffy, so I'll just have to wait and see what happens. Going outside, where I'm exposed to a level of allergens that can be lethal, has to be done with caution.

I am now a virtual shut-in.

This is nothing new. It happens every year. I used to grieve over it. A loss is a loss. But I'd rather just be able to accept it as the *normal* part of my life that it is.

For a person who loves to be outside as much as I do, that's not so easy. But I never forget this: I am alive and I have found a way to function within these extreme limits of an unusual medical condition. So:

It's better than the alternative.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Goodbye, AOL, and Good Riddance...

I just had a long talk with AOL.

During which, I heard out two of the sharkiest salesmen I've ever run across. And that's saying something.

I've been trying to have this talk for several weeks. See, when we got the new laptop, it came with one year free AOL for Broadband. So why did we need to keep the old AOL account?

We didn't. But I did want to keep my old email address. At least for a while, until I could get everyone notified...and get myself used to having a new email name.

Taking these things in baby steps is what keeps me working around my technophobia. Laugh all you want. It's okay.

Still, it didn't seem reasonable to pay $25.90/month for an email address. I'd heard broadband AOL was cheap, so I figured I could just pay a little pittance to keep my name.

But I couldn't get through on the phone.

I did NOT want to do this over the internet. See, you can't negotiate with a computer. You need a human for that. And I like to negotiate. Not everyone does. It used to be how I made a living.

Besides...Tonight, despite killer allergies, I was *in voice.* Negotiating using the deep voice, the real one, is much more effective than the squeaky version. Fun.

Over the last several weeks, I called and called AOL. I got put on those long holds, 45 minutes, 2 hours, whatever. I put them on speakerphone and went about my business. Doesn't bother me a bit. I'm stubborn and I want to do this my way.

But sooner or later I have to go pee or something, which is always RIGHT when they answer; or the phone just cuts off...So I wait, and try again.

Tonight, talking to the bank, I found a charge from AOL for $3.95. ?!? Now I'm pissed. I see it's from *AOL Special Services.* With a DIFFERENT PHONE NUMBER! Halleluia!

I call. The charge was for an AOL Privacy Wall.

I really don't think Walter would have signed up for this if he knew it was $3.95 per month. Even if he did, I was pissed off enough by now that I didn't want AOL keeping $3.95 of my money that they didn't deserve.

See, when they make it impossible to reach them for a month, they get to charge you more money. That's an entire month's fee right there. They aren't dumb. This behavior - apparently only rude - is no accident.

The Special Services rep answered the phone pretty fast, and was very nice. He promised to take off the $3.95 and never to charge it again. Also, that it wasn't ever charged in the PAST. Just in case it slipped by me, ya know.

I explained how I'd been trying to call to change my service and not getting through. Oh! he can get me through right away! Please hold, I'll transfer you...

I was on hold again for almost exactly one hour.


When the extremely obsequious rep answered, I told him I really felt sorry for him. After not getting through for a whole month, and waiting on hold for so long, of course we customers would be really irritated. Naturally. And who would we take it out on? The only available ear: Yours. And you yourself didn't have anything to do with it at all! You didn't make this policy. Your employer is truly mistreating you.

He laughed and sort of agreed - clearly uncomfortable - and I said I knew he couldn't really answer that. So let's see if we can take care of my call, okay?

Now: I have a new laptop with broadband and a year's free AOL For Broadband. I don't need anything from my old account except to keep my old email address. How much will that cost?

Whereupon he immediately went into a sales pitch.

Fending off this barrage was quite a chore. What I'll write here is maybe 5-10% of the actual sales pitch stuff. And just to let you know, during this entire call, I did not raise my voice one single time. I got emphatic here and there, but by using my voice in other ways than yelling.

Fencing on specific sales pitches was pretty easy. The biggest drive seemed to be on security features; so if you're a stock market buff, you may see them going for increased profit margins on that.

I just let him know that security was Walter's purview, that I had complete implicit and explicit faith in his security measures, and wouldn't begin to know how to change anything even if I were willing to, which would never ever happen. I only had to repeat this three or four times. Good.

Otherwise, I mostly tried to refocus him. I used simple phrases like, --No, the only thing I want to discuss is how to keep my email address. How much will that cost? and, --No no. Not interested. What's the least I can pay to just keep my old address?

Finally!!! From the greasy depths of his slimy soul, I wrenched an actual number!!!

--$17.95/month! First month free! no charge until June 19!

--What? No. That's pretty steep, don't you think? Just for an email address? No.

--Can you please hold kindly for me while I speak to my supervisor? I see you've been a customer for 5 years and 8 months and...(blah blah blah...hold...he returns...)


--That's better.

--Yes ma'm and will you please kindly consider...

--Wait. Where's my free month?

--Oh! Oh yes, free until May 9!

--No, it was supposed to be June 19.

--Can you please hold kindly for me while I speak to my supervisor? I see you've been a customer for 5 years and 8 months and...(blah blah blah...hold...he returns...)

--Okay! Here's what I can do for you! Free service until June 29! Then continuing AOL service for as long as you wish! Now let me put you on with an independent verifier!


The sound of the words, *Independent Verifier*, are music to my ears.

Think on this. A person who is Not a Salesman. Oh, my poor ears!

The Independent Verifier tells me, --Free service until June 19, then $25.90/month.

--No no no. It was supposed to be $9.95/month, free until June 29. Two things wrong right there.

--Oh. Well, I'm just allowed to see what they give me, they gave me $25.90. I mean, I can't check what you're telling me, I'm not an AOL employee.--

Oh, music! This really IS an Independent Verifier. Only a lawsuit could have made AOL agree to this. Thank you, Goddess of Torts.

--Okay. Thanks. Switch me back to AOL. Wait -- I understood them to mean it was month-to-month, did they give you any info about a longer term contract or anything?


--Would they have to? For verification?

--Yeah, I'd think so, I'm pretty sure they would.

--Okay, thanks.

The next AOL rep was just as obsequious but not nearly as sweet.

I explained to him that I was pretty angry. --AOL just tried to screw me twice in a row: on the monthly charge, and on the free service period. I don't like that. No one likes to get robbed. Do you understand me?

Plus! I have a question: Was this also in conjunction with a long-term contract?

--No not really!

--Oh. So I can cancel any time with no penalty?

--Oh, only a small one.

--Excuse me? So there IS a penalty, huh? What exactly does this *continuing service* refer to please?

--Oh, only six months continuing service! very small time frame! But really we can make the penalty only very small! only $9 if you sign up for...

--Okay. Stop right there. Now I'm really REALLY pissed off, all right? Now AOL has just tried to screw me 3 times. That's it. No more. I've been a customer for 5 years 8 months and I will never, ever, ever pay AOL one single penny more, for the rest of my life. I'm quite serious about this. I'll also report AOL to whatever regulatory bodies govern them. But that's a job for tomorrow.--

Understand, he's squealing objections and Special Offers and Let's Discuss the whole time.

--No. That's it. Cut my service off. NOW. All I wanted was to keep my old email address for some nominal fee and you all took this as an opportunity to screw me.


--No. My patience is gone. It's all used up. That's IT. Cut me off, NOW. AOL is no longer authorized to bill me again, EVER, for anything. Got that? And if this means I'm now breaking some made up phony Continuing Service Non-Contract, go ahead and sue me. I will GREATLY enjoy ripping you people to shreds. I really will.


--Obviously there is. Because I'm telling you to CUT ME OFF RIGHT NOW AND DON'T EVER BILL ME AGAIN, and every time I say that you don't acknowledge it. Do it. Do it. RIGHT. NOW. THIS. MINUTE.

--but madam...!!!



--All right. Your service will be canceled and there will be no further charges.

--Thank you! There! you SEE? That was all I needed to hear. We're actually DONE! Finished! Yay! Now doesn't that feel better?

(gleefully dripping slow syrup in his wounds)

--But madam if you will just have the patience to listen to me...

--Excuse me?-- (I'm simply curious here:) --Are you actually going to try to sell me something again?

--No madam I must tell you some things in closing...

--You have precisely 30 seconds. Speak.

--Okay. But then please if you will listen afterwards to our recorded legal disclaimer...

--Okay. Speak.

--Okay. Even though you are severing your long relationship with AOL there are still some things that AOL will continue to offer. For instance you will still be able to access your email and other features as shown on our website, AOL.COM, at no charge...

I speak very softly: --Stop now. Are you telling me that my old email address - the only thing I was trying to keep - was going to be available to me for free? And you folks did everything you could to charge me for it? When I specifically asked what was the least I could pay to just keep my email address?

--Well it would seem that way, yes ma'm.

--That's the fourth time you folks tried to rip me off tonight. In one night. In the space of about a half-hour. That's it. I have nothing further to say to you.

--Yes ma'm now here is your cancellation confirmation number: 065-513-8471. Now please listen to our tape recorded legal disclaimer...

--Oh, you BET.

By now, I really WANTED to hear this legal disclaimer. This could be very interesting.

I heard a bunch of noises and shuffling sounds in the background. disclaimer. Finally the rep came back on the line.

--I'm sorry we seem to be having technical difficulties so you cannot listen to our legal disclaimer.


Fifth time in one night.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dig Those Fossils

I brushed away sand from a darkish piece of bone, and slowly uncovered the jaw and teeth of a cute little 3-toed horse from 18 million years ago.

No one had seen this creature for all that time, or touched its remains. For 18 million years, it was buried in this earth, silent, unrevealed.

There's no feeling like that. Nothing in the world compares.

The jawbone was lying on its side. The teeth showed to my left, my "west," the front teeth to my "north." That meant the other side of the jaw might be buried directly underneath this one.

Since these old bones, buried in damp soil, can be quite fragile, we need to be careful when uncovering something interesting. This one was good enough that it should be prepared to go back to the lab for those careful pros to finish uncovering, cleaning, and preserving it for the museum.

Which meant it needed a plaster jacket.

At most sites where non-professional volunteers are allowed to help dig, a plaster jacket means you're - courteously - shoved aside, and the scientists or technicians present take over. Here at the Fossil Farm, there are so many good things to get jacketed, and the volunteers usually experienced enough, that we get taught to do our own. Closely supervised, of course.

This is my first plaster jacket. I'm a little giddy. I catch a buddy nearby ducking his head, hiding his grin. I don't mind a bit. He remembers this feeling, I think. Ha! I'm about to lose my plaster cast virginity.

Erika comes to instruct me, bringing a plastic museum cast of this jawbone to show me what it looks like. See the model of a jaw here? You can estimate how far the fossil extends under the soil. Dig a trench a couple inches away from the edges of the bones. Dig away from the bone, point your tools outward so you don't accidentally crack the dirt or bone. Go straight down for now, don't undercut. Go down far enough to make a mound of earth that will contain the whole jaw. Call me when you're done with that.

Okay! Now we're ready to undercut just a little bit. Just enough to give us a little overhang, to lift it out when we're done.

There's a box of fancy plaster rolls, gauze permeated with plaster, the kind they use to put a cast on a broken arm. This is something I'm comfortable with: the backyard bricklayer in me recognizes *Mud* when she sees it.

We put a plaster roll in a bucket of water: just long enough to wet it through, then squeeze it a bit just to mix it - don't squeeze the plaster out! - and unroll it around the mound of earth holding the jawbone. Go quickly, it sets up fast. Smooth out the wrinkles and air bubbles. Don't worry, we have more, this will take two or three rolls.

The first roll goes around the perimeter of the mound, holding it all together. When that's done I feel a sense of relief. It can't fall apart now. It's safe. My pretty little jawbone is safe.

The next roll goes over and over the top, twist the roll after each pass, smooth it out.

This is fun!

After three rolls, we're done. I'm beaming. The Curator - the scientist running the dig - gently tells me I'm a little punchy, go take a break. I agree.

My first plaster cast. I race up the stairs into the pole barn to tell Laurie, the cook. She gets a kick out of seeing us get all excited about this stuff. She's another backyard bricklayer, and grins at how I'm smeared with bits of plaster from head to toe.

Once the plaster jacket sets, we'll write the *Magic Words* on it with a waterproof marker. The square it came from, the date and my name and all that. I feel famous! Then, we'll lift it out and bring it up the stairs into the pole barn, where it gets carefully placed with the other plaster jackets, to go back to the museum at the end of the dig. Except, since this is the first jacket of this dig, it goes all by its smiling self.

Days like this are why I go on fossil digs.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Back to the Beginning

Looking back, I see I started at the Fossil Farm. My first overnight dig, last year, was right after Walter opened my blog for me.

And I just got back from there, once again.

It started as an experiment in re-entering the rest of society. I've been isolated from others for so long, I wasn't sure I could do this. I was never very good at things like the social graces, and what little progress I'd made had disappeared after fifteen years of living the half-bubble life the fates had handed me.

But in the end, it was all right, after all.

It certainly helped that I love fossils and love to dig in dirt, and was surrounded by a small group of like-minded people and the great natural beauty of the Fossil Farm. Those people were what made the difference. Without them, the rest of it wouldn't have mattered.

Long ago, I hung around with a bunch of deaf people. There's an expression in ASL about mainstreaming, a sign language phrase called "out in the world." They talk about the deafie leaving the deaf school, looking for work, going out in the world. Mainstreaming.

So I guess that's what I did. In the small and limited way that I can, I did a bit of mainstreaming.

It felt good.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


I missed my own blogiversary. That's April 6.

But I'm not the only one! Livey missed hers, too.

Words, processing

I call Walter. Even though I really do remember he told me he was going to take a nap, not fifteen minutes ago.

--Oh. Are you sleeping? I ask quietly.

Like if I'm quiet enough, it doesn't really count.

--Trying to--, he answers sleepily.

ah, but sweetly, too. Good.

--I just wanted to tell you something. Something really wonderful. You know how you taught me to take the old Word Perfect 5.1 files and translate them into Word so I can print them? And then I wondered if that meant I could also copy them and save them in email? Well! It works! I did it!

--Sure. I could have told you that. I think I did tell you that. Of course that would work.

--Well, I know. I knew it all along. But that's different from actually doing it. From seeing it come on the screen in email. You know?

--Yes, I know. That's good.

--Yes! I'm so happy, I just can't tell you. It's just so cool.

--Okay. Good. (grinning, I can hear in his voice.)

--Okay. You can go back to sleep now. Sleep well. (giggling. Can't help it.)

--okay, good night. (laughing...quietly...) bye bye!

God above, I love this man. He's like a living prayer in my life.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Home Home Home!

Yes, I actually made it home again! And then was without the internet for a few days, and in the process of straightening out some paperwork this morning, pulled the heck out of my back, RIGHT when I was anticipating a far more interesting date with some daylilies...oh well!

I had a wonderful time, and there is so much to tell you all, but for now I hope this little note will suffice. Outside of those minor mishaps, everything's doing well. The poor lonesome cat gets his mama back, and SHE gets to play in the yard again any time now. And tell you all the interesting doings, too.