School started Monday in our district, and words cannot describe how much I am enjoying the "pieces of quiet" (Michael phrase). Michael himself is not quite as thrilled to be back in the hallowed halls of education. We went to pick up his new glasses at Dr. Austin's Wednesday, and Joy the technician asked him, "How's school?" He dolefully replied, "Still going on...."

Better Living Through Chemistry Dept: I am pleased to announce that after various additional interventions, we seem to have turned the invading horde of fleas into a few isolated guerilla bands. Thanks to all who wrote with suggestions and advice!

SALUTE!: The flags of Australia and Sweden have been added to our "Where In The World?" web page of countries where NNNN subscribers live. You can get to it from the NNNN webpage by clicking on the flashing neon sign that says 'Links!'. Enjoy!

It's been another week with high points that might not seem all that lofty to people who aren't us. But I actually did a little capering this week, though I am no longer as inclined to caper as I was in days of yore.

I'll tell you why. We have a dog named Duke who is part Lab and part Rottweiler, with a dash of Chow and apparently just a little Chevy station wagon thrown in. He holds the title of Our Most Massive Dog Ever, easily beating out our late, lamented Beau, the beauteous Borzoi. I once hoisted Beau up on my shoulders in a calf-carry (I was 10 years younger, stronger and healthier then) to discover (after weighing myself alone, then doing the math) he weighed 105 pounds. I wouldn't even think of trying that with Duke! Not because he would resist in a non-dog-gentlemanly way--he's fairly tolerant of our various Human insanities--but because I couldn't possibly explain the result to the emergency room personnel....

Anyway. Duke gets his personality mostly from the laid-back Lab side of his family, and he's also an older dog who likes to maintain his dignity. But every now and then, we break out a really good dog treat, and he...capers.

This is just as amusing yet alarming to watch as if it was his alleged ancestor the station wagon capering. The floor creaks audibly and anything in the general vicinity not actually nailed in place is likely to succumb to a sudden attack of gravity. Plus he looks very silly. Observing all this, and knowing I am quite a bit heftier than Duke, I took the pledge and swore off capering. Except under the influence of genuinely exciting events.

(The rest of the story is pretty much an unpaid literary announcement. Thought it only fair to warn you in advance.)

I'm sure most of you reading this have a favorite someone. (I don't mean in your personal life, although I hope you have them there too.) Someone who acts or teaches or draws or cooks or dances or writes, and utterly delights you with what they produce with their art. I've got several such. One who I share with a large number of people is a writer named Lois McMaster Bujold.

For some months now, science fiction fans have been making regular virtual pilgrimages to the Baen Books website, where a small portion of Ms. Bujold's newest Miles Vorkosigan novel was being posted every week or so, to whet appetites for the book's release. On the email discussion list dedicated to her writing, strategies for acquiring the book as soon as it was humanly possible were being bandied worldwide. Once the new book, A Civil Campaign, began actually appearing in bookstores and mailboxes, list members in half a dozen countries chimed in with almost-hourly bulletins announcing which stores in what cities still had how many copies, plus who had THEIRS!. Sort of like election returns, but more cleverly presented, and promising lots more fun.

When I spotted a big ol' box in our mailbox, I tried not to get my hopes up, since we do get a fair number of packages. (One of the on the job hazards of being an eBay seller is that because of doing "market research" in between listing things [that's my story and I'm sticking to it!], you end up being an eBay buyer pretty often too....) But when I pulled it out, I saw it was from The Space-Crime Continuum. (Thanks to the internet, our local independent bookstore is in Massachusetts.) And right there on the dusty shoulder of our one-lane blacktop road, with the neighbors' horses staring over the fence, I did a brief but extravagant caper.

Was the book as good as I thought it was going to be? Definitely! 100% caper-worthy! But I had an odd thought: maybe I enjoyed it even more than I otherwise would have because of the fun of anticipation, and sharing that anticipation with all the others on the mailing list. Pleasure is definitely increased when it is shared.

It's funny, sometimes I can hardly remember life before the internet, even though it was less than 5 years ago for us. People who think it is decreasing the level of personal interaction between individuals just aren't hooked into the right lists!

Caveat: I think it would be perfectly possible for someone who is not already a regular Bujold reader to enjoy A Civil Campaign. But I think it would be even better if you started at the beginning of the Vorkosigan saga and capered your way through. The first two books have just come out in one volume, called Cordelia's Honor. Or you could pick up (if you can find it--limited edition!) the special $1.99 paperback version of Borders of Infinity, 3 fabulous short stories that will properly introduce you to Miles. Your local library is also a good place to start. Lois's books are multiple award winners, and any library with a halfway decent Science Fiction section ought to have them. Surprisingly, in this instance eBay is not a good bet, because Lois's books are hardly ever found in the secondhand market.

That should tell you something right there!
I'm starting a new thing, a Quote of the Week, which if possible will have some sort of relevance to whatever story I've been relating....

"The renown which riches or beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession." --Gaius Sallustius Crispus,86-34 BCE
Here is your 'Pic of the Week' URL:

Photographer's nightmare!

When Damaris and her kids were down here for the county fair, it so happened there was a visiting photographer at Wal-Mart. I had the brilliant idea of getting a picture taken with all 5 kids in it. The photographer was a monument to Self-Control, and I apologized to him profusely afterwards. (What was I thinking?) Nevertheless, we got some good pictures out of the experience. Here's the group shot of Mike, Zachary, Marisa and Morrissey, and little Alexis.


All The Dirt

I want to clean out my wellhouse.

For my urban readers, that's a small shed out back--NO, not for that! We have perfectly good...well, almost-perfectly adequate, anyway...indoor plumbing. A wellhouse contains a pump which produces non-metered, non-treated water for watering lawns, gardens, cows, what have you. The rest is storage space. Many years ago, ours was the rabbit maternity ward for the big kids' 4-H projects (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Susan's Bunny World). For quite a while now, it's just been a big junk pile. Kind of like an outdoor closet.

The obvious solution would be to merely go clean the darn thing out. The trouble is that I suffer from 'But First' disease. (This is not the same as Butt First Disease, where people habitually back off from troublesome situations, only to get poked in the keister [I hope that's spelled right--can you believe it's not in my spell-check?] by reality. Though, now that I think of it, the two could be related....)

Fellow sufferers will recognize the symptoms. You want to cook dinner. BUT FIRST you need to clear off the counter. Which reminds you, as you carry the laundry soap off, that the whole household must convert to nudism tomorrow unless you wash some clothes today. So you go in the bathroom to get the dirty laundry and find the cat has hacked up a hairball on the carpet. While searching for the little carpet spot cleaner-upper, you realize if you don't start dinner now, it's pizza again....

The reason I have not been able to start cleaning my wellhouse for the past month is that I couldn't drive my pickup into the driveway that leads to it. I couldn't do that because it was full of dirt. (The driveway, not my pickup.) Really full. 25 tons worth of full.

You see, big son Sterling is currently working for a local construction business, overseeing the scale at the gravel quarry ("Big Dirt Place" in Michael-speak). Ever since the last six major rainy spells (the kind we never have here on the high dry plains of southeastern Colorado), we'd been meaning to fill in the places in the driveway that become swampy puddles at the least little downpour. Sterling's new job seemed like a golden opportunity to acquire a lot of cheap dirt.

(But first...) We spent June and July moving rocks. Some years back I happily purchased, at a local auction, the sandstone wall (knocked down and on pallets) which once surrounded the Lamar softball field. I think I placed two or three into what never did become an attractive retaining wall to reduce the slope of lawn away from the front of the house so grass could grow more easily. (OK, so I have a problem with finishing projects. I admit that.) The rest have sat around in various piles ever since.

Last summer I partially lined the auxiliary driveway with a row of rocks. The work of dragging them around a stone at a time was offset by my delight at getting them out of the way in such an attractive manner. So before we took delivery of our dirt, I decided we should line the big driveway as well. Then when we brought in our bargain Road Base #3, it would stay where we wanted it to, instead of spreading out and killing what little actual grass we have out front.

So of course when the guy (our next door neighbor Jim, as it happened) came with the huge belly-dump trailer, he and his son had to move about half of one row of rocks to be able to get the truck in. Then Jim started backing the trailer up our driveway. Caro, Mike and I stood on the porch in the backwashing diesel roar, watching it creep towards us like a particularly unlovely glacier. On wheels.

Caro and I, not being able to make ourselves heard, instead began to make those little hand signals which seem to be genetically hard-wired into the human race; the ones that instantly pop out to give non-verbal assistance whenever someone is watching someone else back up a vehicle. Michael responded much more sensibly to this dubious event by jumping off the porch to move his bicycle from the middle of the path that runs from the driveway to the house. He put it safely twenty feet away, in the middle of the path that runs from the house to the auxiliary driveway.

When Jim had the trailer part of his truck inserted fully into slot B, he released the catch on the hoppers and began to pull forward again. Within minutes, Michael had the biggest sandpile in the county, 5 feet wide, more than knee high, and almost 50 feet long. Unfortunately, Jim had miscalculated slightly, and about 20 feet of dirtpile stuck out into the road. The biggest speed bump in the county.

So I fired up Trackie, my friendly garden tractor/riding lawnmower, put on his cute little blade attachment, and got to work. This work has continued, in an extremely off and on sort of way, ever since the beginning of August. Happily, the county road grader came by on its regular rounds just a few days after the dirt delivery and kindly put all our dirt into our driveway where it obviously belonged. We then had a big hump in the middle of Mike's Giant Sandpile, but what the heck. Trackie and I could handle it.

I have to admit, it was rocky going off and on, with the surface being so uneven. In this locale, rides like that are traditionally preceded by an announcer calling, "And now, comin' outta chute number five--" And there are clowns to pick you up afterwards.

I had to remember to restrain my ambition and not try to scrape off more than Trackie could drag with his brave little 18.5 horsepower engine. And also not to attempt the really big ups and downs. Or at least not twice. Not after the incident that caused headlines to flash before my eyes: "Dumb Local Woman Dies in Totally Preventable Garden Tractor Rollover Accident When She KNEW Better Than To Drive Up That Degree of Slope."

But the driveway is now a Monument to Flatness, kind of like most of this part of the state. Sterling is coming over tomorrow to help me put the mowing attachment back on (a two-person, multi-profanity task) so I can demolish a month's worth of weed growth.

And after that, I can start cleaning out my wellhouse. Unless I find something else that needs doing first, of course....

Quote of the Week:

"No one who ever lived has ever had enough power, prestige, or knowledge to overcome the basic condition of life: you win some, and you lose some." --Ken Keyes

Here is your 'Pic of the Week' URL:

The End of the Internet

I won't tell you what it is, but I will tell you it cracked me up. Short and quick to load. Whoever came up with this is wonderfully nuts!


Death By Auction

We welcome a reader from a new country this week, Singapore!

Up to now, I have been working on the NNNN well in advance of the Sunday night deadline. Tonight I am sort of winging it. The exciting event of this past week was the long-looked-for arrival of my daughter Damaris, her husband Nigel and three of my four gloriously clever and beautiful grandchildren. Nigel works for Schwann's, the frozen food company, and he has arranged to be transferred down to the southeastern Colorado region. Now they live only 10 minutes away, instead of 3 1/2 hours, and I am quite pleased!

So we were all kind of busy, but it was thankfully not the kind of move that makes a good funny story. This weekend, on the other hand....

Friday was just one jolly activity after another for me. I had a flat tire. Tried to fill it up with one of those cans of air and goo. It was defective, and I ended up with air-propelled goo all over me instead. Once I got the tire inflated (with a different can), I discovered the truck was out of gas! And that was all before 8 am! The day did not improve significantly until it was almost over, when I got to snuggle back into my good old friendly bed.

Michael, who is also ecstatic about the return of our prodigals, spent the night at Damaris's, so Caro and I were on our own for garage sales Saturday morning. This meant no active little helper (he runs ahead to open up the car for us, and very occasionally helps carry things), but we bought a lot fewer 25 cent toys than usual too, so it kind of evened out. Garage sales are winding down for the year, and bargains were scarce. "Well, at least we're saving money," I told Caro. Little did I know....

There were two auctions being held in our area Saturday, and we chose to go to the one in Wiley because that's the little town Damaris and her family have moved to. I figured that would make it convenient to pick Mike up afterwards. And I thought maybe most of the other dealers (those dastardly folks always trying to buy the stuff we want!) would go to the big antique auction an hour's drive away, leaving the few little goodies which had been donated to the church benefit auction for us.

Which leads me to my story this week, "Death by Auction":

As some of you already know, I am self-employed as an eBay seller because I can't work as a nurse anymore. About three years ago, I got sandbagged by the bizarre disease that goes by the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. By now I have figured out how to gauge my energy reserves day by day, so I don't overdo and 'crash'. I accept that I have limits beyond which it is not wise to push. Unwisely, I still push now and then anyway. I've always been that type. I expect I'll find some way to be a pushy corpse.

Caro and I have been going to auctions for quite a few years, enough to make us pretty blase by now. We read the notices to each other, and murmur languidly, "That one might be good." But what with one thing and another, we don't go to nearly as many as we used to. (Which is a good thing, because if we did, we would have had to spend the summer sleeping in a tent, as our house would be crammed to the rafters with Stuff.) Occasionally, though, we are tempted beyond the bounds of human endurance, not to mention good common sense.

Saturday's auction, being a church benefit, ought to have been a very mixed bag of donated junk containing a few hidden pearls. Instead, there were pearls by the bagful! So instead of just popping into the fray now and then, I snagged one of the folding chairs put out for the crowd, and dragged it with me as I trudged along at the crest of the buyers, taking every chance I could to sit down. Caro trudged back and forth to the car and truck, stashing our haul. At one point I did have to get up and walk around for forty minutes, when I noticed my truck keys were missing. Happily, we eventually discovered that I'd accidentally handed them to Caro, along with a handful of necklaces I'd stuck in my pocket after a successful bid.

We got hot. And sweaty. And thirsty. And tired. And I felt like I'd pushed my loaded pickup the 10 miles home, rather than driving it. And...we spent a little more than we intended to. But we got a lot of great stuff, and also managed to get it all home, then carried inside, before we collapsed. A good hot soak quieted my aches and pains, and I spent most of the evening horizontal with my feet propped up, encouraging my energy levels to bounce back as much as possible.

So this morning, although a large percentage of my body was complaining bitterly, I figured I would be able to get through the 'brief' Sunday afternoon auction. I probably wouldn't even have gone, but it was a going-out-of-business auction for a combination pet shop and sports card store (!), and my dear son-in-law Nigel collects Denver Broncos stuff. (That's the American football team which won the last 2 Super Bowls, for my international readers.) I had promised to try to get him some more choice items for his collection.

The plain truth is auctions are addictive. Sure, I was already feeling the first little hints that I was inching over the line into risky territory, health-wise. I already knew for sure we were challenging our budget (which does not so much balance as careen, almost evenly, between affluence and insolvency). But it happens every time--as soon as I start inspecting the goods for sale, I begin to quiver like the Taco Bell chihuahua spotting a swimming pool full of Nachos Grande. My ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors urge me on--and I think there are a few old pillagers back there as well, pointing out the nicer bits of plunder. And we won't even mention my ever-so-slight competitive streak....

We arrived at the auction at noon, a little tired. We went home exhausted eight hours later in a pet accessory shop on wheels, richer by many thousands of sports cards.

If I was smart, I would stay in bed tomorrow. Instead, I'll probably try to coax my body into accepting a compromise where I just sit down a lot.

What's life without a challenge?

Quote of the Week:

The art of living consists in knowing which impulses to obey and which must be made to obey. --Sydney J. Harris

Here is your 'Pic of the Week':

Do you remember the M*A*S*H episode where Radar got a 16mm film from home? Gary Burgoff played his own 'Mom' to make the 'home movie'. I think the anonymous lady in this picture we got at some auction looks amazingly like s/he did!