I'm Protecting My Job!

It's always made me wonder how it is that people on TV or in the movies never seem to have to relieve themselves. For a whole TV season, which is supposed to be a complete 24 hour day, Jack Bauer is never seen going in or coming out of a bathroom. There is no way that I could hold it for a complete 24 hours, no matter what the situation was! I mean, can people really go a whole day without visiting the little boys or girls room?

Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but when I'm at home, I don't always wash my hands after using the bathroom. I'll wash my hands before I handle any food, but if I washed my hands after every trip to pee, I would be classified as obsessive/compulsive since I pee a lot. Trust me, if there happens to be any hint of ...excrement... on my hands at all, they get washed. I mean, come on! I've had a lot of years of practice at this little ritual, and I do my best to avoid any sort of contamination! No pun intended, but I am anal about it. Heh.

What's got me going is that there is this sign on the employee restroom wall at my new job that goes above and beyond any I've ever seen posted on a restaurant bathroom wall. This one says something along the lines of "wash your hands to protect your job." Well, ok; I've been duly warned and that's just what I do. I wash my hands after every trip to protect my job. I don't quite understand how the two are related, but since this is a new job, I'll do what I have to do to protect it.

But, it's making me a bit ...nervous. I started taking quick glances around that little employee bathroom to see if I can spot any cameras that might be recording my hygiene habits. I don't do it in an obvious way. I don't want them to know I know! One time I tilted my head to the side and up while pulling up my pants to glance into the one corner over the toilet. I glanced fast and didn't get a good enough look to be satisfied that there wasn't a camera there. Another time, I leaned my head back quick, then gave a fast cough to look up into the corner over the sink. I'll have to come up with another way to check out that corner too because I didn't see well enough to be sure it was free of a camera.

Is Big Brother watching? I won't know for sure for awhile. Until then, I'll have to drown in hand lotion just to keep my skin from falling off with all this hand washing going on. I take that hand washing thing seriously too, just to protect my job. Up go my sleeves, I get a good handful of that disgusting pink soap, then I proceed to scrub like I was prepping for a surgical procedure. I scrub and scrub for a good 3 minutes, then rinse. I don't touch anything between the sink and the towel dispenser, holding my hands way up and away from myself all the time. Hey, I watch enough doctor shows on TV to know how to do this hand washing thing right, and dang it, I deserve a raise for doing it right!

You know, I'm more worried about Big Brother recording my hand washing technique than I am about someone witnessing my fat ass perching on the porcelain throne. If they record sound too, um, there are times when I put out quite a musical symphony. At least they'd be entertained, but who would have to watch those tapes? I hope the poor boy at least is treated to stereo sound to get the full symphonic effect! But seriously, all this just to catch me doing something that isn't protecting my job?

I declare, what I do in the bathroom is my own business! I'm protecting my job by going to the bathroom! Trust me, I am! I think I'll start saying that out loud every time I go in there.


Waking Up on the Right Side

I love my new job!

Sunday night when I went to bed, I was too wound up to sleep though. The first day on a new job has got to be the most nerve-wracking thing ever. Plus, I knew I had to cover a story Monday evening, so I was worried about getting enough sleep so that I could make it through the day. I managed to sleep a little, very lightly, with bizarre dreams to add to the pile of things keeping me awake. I think I made it through Monday on raw nerves alone. It was a great day doing what I love to do!

My no-alarm-clock days are over. It's not that freelancing didn't have its demands, it's that news stories happen when they happen, and not usually on any sort of schedule. I took full advantage of sleeping whenever I wanted, and when all was said and done, I would sleep in four hour chunks whenever I laid down. I'd never feel fully rested or ready to take on a big chunk of activity. I was good for intense spurts, and that's about it. That is not exactly leaving me at my best to work during the day and be ready for news that happens in the evenings.

What has happened in the past was having a job that I'd rather not have and fighting with time. The alarm would go off, I'd whack the snooze for an hour, then be faced with rushing through everything just to punch that time clock 30 seconds before I would be considered late. It meant more than a few bad hair days and pushing my luck breaking speed limits. After that kind of adrenaline rush, the rest of the day dragged on and on, and I'd be lucky not to fall asleep driving home.

Good thing there's no time clock to punch now! I love this job, and I love that I don't have to give up writing to do it. The best way to keep loving these two jobs is to make sure I get up in the mornings on the right side of the bed. So, I went searching for tips to do just that. Here's what I ran into:
  • Set your alarm to ring with music instead of an irritating, blaring, horrendous noise. I've got to say I agree with this one. Mine can do both, and I will set it back to playing the radio ASAP.
  • Don't get up right away. OK, sure. Do you mean before or after that sixth time I've smacked the snooze? Actually, the tip says to stretch and ease yourself out of bed instead of whipping off the covers and flying up onto your feet. 
  • Think of the positive things you'll be doing today. For me, this part is easy since I love my job. But, it sure wasn't when I had a job I hated.
  • Turn on more and more lights as you go through your morning routine. I guess the point to this one is to mimic a slow sunrise, but my 'routine' calls for lights to come on pretty quickly. With four dogs that tend to sleep in various places that are never the same, it's for their benefit that I don't walk around in the dark!
  • Step outside. That real sunrise actually communicates to your body and tells it to wake up. This is one tip I fit in on my walk to my truck from the house every morning.
  • Do a few minutes of easy exercise. One of the best things for me to return to a regularly scheduled day is that I do exercise. Without a set schedule, I had no time to exercise. My exercise routine takes about 30 minutes, and I can fit it into 20 if I'm a bit behind. For me, nothing is more uplifting than feeling good, and that's what exercise does for me.
  • Eat breakfast. This is a tough one. By the time I've done all my morning things, it's time to head out the door. I don't feel particularly hungry either, and I know I flush my vitamins down the loo taking them on an empty stomach. This is one I'll have to work on.

This short list of tips isn't very ground breaking or new by any means. I wonder if there's more? Do you have any tips to share to get the days going without an atomic blast?


A Turning Point

In the little over a week that it took me to write the eight parts to Becky's story, a lot of "other things" were happening behind the scenes, so to speak. As strange as life is, it all seemed to go up and down along with that story, giving me more than ample opportunity to process the emotions that came along with it all. In other words, I was double-whammied.

I've never been one to allow myself to feel content with what I know and can do. I stick with the philosophy that you never stop learning, there's always more to learn, and there's always, always room for improvement. I've also always been one to abhor cocky, over-self-assured, egotistical, self-aggrandized fools. Sure, over the years, that has dipped into a lack of self-confidence, but most of the time, it has been a healthy sense of humility. There is always, always more to learn.

With that in mind, it was a shock to me to be offered a position based only on what I showed of myself during a very brief - and unrelated to a job search - interview. From this very brief encounter, I was offered a position that I accepted. Starting tomorrow, I start this new position in an agency that I have wanted to work for ever since I can remember. It's on a part time basis to start, but I will have my foot in the door, and not only is there a lot to learn, there is a lot of room to grow. There were a few glitches during the two weeks it took to get hired, again, following the tensions within Becky's story, but in the end, it all came together.

When I called the editor of the newspaper to let him know that I took the job and would no longer be available to him 24/7, we got into a short conversation. His feeling is that the economy is going to keep the squeeze on his budget for this year, but should open up again in 2010. He wants me to stay affiliated with the newspaper because, when it all turns around, there will be a spot for me there.

While all this is coming down, my son announces that he is leaving the nest to go live with his girlfriend in an apartment in town. Of course I wish he had gone back to college while living here and working so that he could pave a better path for himself through life. But, he's 23 and knows it all and is content to settle for working the night shift on the floor crew of the local Walmart. In about, oh, 30 years or so, he'll be making OK money. What is a mother to do? You can lead a horse to water... and all that. It's a major change for me. For the last 23 years, it's been just him and I. I guess it's good that it's happening at a time when I'll be so busy and so focused on learning this new job that I won't have the time to feel alone.

So, tomorrow is the big day. Not only is it the first day on a new job, I have a city council meeting to cover in the evening. I love these people in this little town, and being around them will definitely keep my mood light.

In the end, I needed to write Becky's story. I hadn't realized that there were some things about that case that still needed resolution, and it didn't come clear until I was writing it. I fell into the same frame of mind I was in 10 years ago when it was all happening and put myself deeply enough into the story that I remember looking down at my feet to pick my way through the tall weeds heading to that trailer. That tall overgrowth was like driving in dense fog, and there was little to no warning of what was going to happen next. And, there are no holes in my memory about feeling driven to help Becky. I'm surprised I had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the power hierarchy and insist that things be done for her and that family. Yet, my own welfare was the last thing on my mind. You don't see squalor like that and not do something about it. That is something about me that I can readily accept.

Here is where my path divides, to run next to the highway like a service road, one foot in each while both going in the same direction and requiring all of me. It will keep my mind off my empty nest and looking forward and not taking so much of my time that I can't breathe.

Here I am a half century old, and I'm still learning about myself! I want to extend a special, heartfelt thank you to all of you that have been keeping me company and reading along. Somehow, I don't think I could do it without you.


Part VIII: Epilogue

Part II: The Girl
Part III: The Father
Part IV: Back at the Office
Part V: Interlude
Part VI: The Mother
Part VII: The Pact

I called Becky's assigned public school who insisted that she stay enrolled at the alternative school. I got quite an argument from the alternative school about bringing her back, but it was an argument that I won using the last straw I had to pull out of my hat. It was the law that a child of 14 be in school.

Driving Becky to the school the next day, we chatted about nothing for the most part. When I asked how she felt about returning to school, she just shrugged and changed the subject. Finally, she asked me, "What do I do if that asshole gets in my face again?" We went over the steps to taking a deep breath and thinking through alternatives. She grinned when I told her that by maintaining her cool she would actually win. She was good for her word, and I never heard of any trouble at the school.

I'd meet her after school once a week to run for a donut or just sit and talk in my car. We would talk about what she was covering in school, her friends, and she'd tell me about any situation that came up where she handled it differently than she used to. Best of all, she stopped stinking!

I never met the other caseworker assigned, but talked to him regularly on the phone. He said he made quite a bit of headway getting that apartment cleaned up, and his approach sounded pretty forceful. He also liked Becky, she did what was asked of her. The mother was pretty useless when it came to housekeeping, so it fell on Becky and her older brother to do most of it.

I held onto that case, kept it open and on my list. I was teaching a college psychology course at the time called "Counseling Theory and Ethics" and I used the case to highlight various scenarios for my students. They came to care about Becky as much as I did, and always asked about her. We did a lot of role playing that semester using the various characters in Becky's story while using the various techniques of the counseling theories. It was no surprise that I learned as much from them as they did from me!

Becky's case was still on my list when I left Social Services to teach full time at the community college. I worried for her about returning to the public school when the year started, but she was on solid ground. Our visits had already been fewer and farther in between, so our closure came easily enough.

During the summer of 2000, I worked as an enumerator for the census. I had to call my old unit when I found two very small children alone in a condemned house. My old supervisor updated me about several of my big cases after she took down the particulars of my call. Becky, in particular, was doing very well and was very active in several community efforts as a volunteer. She helped prepare the food for Meals on Wheels, worked at a few soup kitchens and at the food bank. Oh, she was still painting her lips and fingernails black and wearing that spiked dog collar and leather jacket.

Yep, she was still showering and still in school. Whew!


I can't help but wonder about Becky now. I Googled her name and found nothing. Perhaps she married, or maybe she joined one of those aid agencies that help the people in Africa or something. Her face appears in my dreams every now and then, and I can't help but worry about her a little. I sure hope she's OK.

In the beginning, she had my life in her hands, and in the end, I would trust her with my life without a second thought.

Dare I say it? Sure, why not.

The End.

(Would you believe this? I'm crying!)

Part VII: The Pact

Part I: The Call
Part II: The Girl
Part III: The Father
Part IV: Back at the Office
Part V: Interlude
Part VI: The Mother

How things fell together from this point on is fuzzy in my memory. I remember snippets here and there amid all the other cases, old and new, that were added to my case load. The way it was set up, my unit was supposed to get a case, assess what it needed, and move it on within 30 days. The problem with that was that helping agencies usually had a backlog of at least 6 months. I usually held onto my cases for at least three months, counseling them myself, mediating, advocating and getting families to problem-solve and set goals to keep them out of the eye of "the system." These families were already in crisis, and there was no way I would let them go without helping them. Besides, what else is a system for besides bucking it?

Becky's case was a little different in that the 14 year old was now placed away from the documented danger and back with her mother, so by the agency's protocol, I should have closed the case and got it off my list. I held onto it by pointing out that, by law, the girl was required to be in school, something that I insisted wouldn't happen if the home life situation wasn't straightened out. Pulling in more favors, my supervisor got another agency involved and one of their caseworkers assigned to work with the mother on cleaning up that disgusting mess. That left me to work with Becky and getting her back in school. Trust me when I tell you that if I ever went back into that apartment, I don't remember; but I do remember swearing to myself that I never would step into that place again.

I called Linda at work one day and got her permission to pick Becky up to go walk the mall. When I got to the apartment, Becky was outside waiting for me. We talked for awhile standing in the driveway there and once again, I was surprised. She was bubbly, pleasant and after a few minor attempts at intimidating me, to which I didn't react at all, she easily became open and genuine with me. I let her talk about the things she wanted to talk about, and she answered my questions without hesitation.

Becky said she got a kick out of watching people back down from her. She said she would never hurt anyone, but it was fun to scare them into thinking she would. The people at school were especially fun, and her pushing one teacher into the lockers at school happened because the idiot tried to manhandle her. I had her tell me how it all transpired so that we could role play and pick apart the situation and her feelings to identify alternate ways of dealing with the problem. She fell into this little exercise easily, said "but you didn't back down like he did," and her eyes lit up when she saw the benefit of doing things differently than she had been.

Becky was a good kid, intelligent and she had a big heart that hurt a lot. Knowing that her size and appearance separated her from everyone else, she hung out with other 'outcasts' that were supposed to be anarchists, goths, and who all volunteered at the local food bank and senior citizen center. She especially enjoyed the seniors who were always happy to see her. When I asked her about not cleaning herself up, she said it was a personal challenge to see how long she could go without a shower. She had made her goal of 60 days and took a shower the day before. Standing outside talking like that gave the rest of her time to air out before she got into my car.

We were babbling away like old friends when we got in my car to go, and when I looked into my rearview mirror to back up, there was that little, junky white car blocking the end of the driveway. Oh damn, the father. What the hell could he be doing here? He was standing at my door already, so I rolled the window down.

"Hey, what's up?"

"I'm on my way to court, thought I'd stop by to see the kids. Hi, Becky." No answer.

"We were just on our way out."

Some minor chit chat back and forth. I asked what court was about, he said to try to get his guns back.

"Oh, I'm going to show that judge," he said, then he literally ran back to his car, reached behind the front seat and pulled out something long. He came back to my car window.

Before I realized what this long thing was, he unsheathed the sword and pointed it at me.

"See? I'm going to show the judge this sword and tell him that it's all I have left to hunt with when the season opens next week."

What is it with these people always pointing weapons at me? It pissed me off. "Do you really think it's a good idea to try to walk into a court room with a weapon? What, you want to end up in jail? They are not going to let you in there with that sword, and if they find you have a weapon, that will be it for you."

His face fell like I was his mean mommy telling him he could not keep the stray dog he found. It actually looked like he pouted, hanging his head while putting the sword back in its sheath.

"I didn't think about that. Well, I'd better get going or I'll be late," he said, then got in his car and drove off.

Becky had never said a word, and when I started my car, I could see out of the corner of my eye that her legs were relaxing. She was looking straight ahead when I looked at her. Yes, that was fear and now relief. I couldn't read the expression she gave me when she finally returned my look.

It was time to get down to business. I told Becky that she had to be in school, it was the law. We talked about it while we walked the mall and got an ice cream. She talked about how the other kids hated her, how the teachers were stupid and caught them making mistakes all the time, and the principal was an ass. She talked about how all the other caseworkers weren't like me, they were stupid too. She liked trying out alternative perspectives on things. It was new to her, yet she took to it immediately. Good!

We were friends. I truly liked Becky, told her so, and let her know that I was concerned about the path she had chosen for herself, that it would not end well, and how that scared me. That earned me a surprised look, and she hung her head. I asked her if she could behave in school and get back on track. A little flash of defiance, "but it's so fun to scare those stupid people," but she agreed. The look on her face told me that she meant it and I could trust her on her word. I believed her.

Ah, folks. One more post to tie up the loose ends. OK?


Part VI: The Mother

Part I: The Call
Part II: The Girl
Part III: The Father
Part IV: Back at the Office
Part V: Interlude

I had always made it a point to use my drive home from work as a way of leaving work at work. I'd crank the radio and sing away while swearing at the other drivers to release any residual tension and stress of the day. But not that night. My head was reeling, not from what happened with Becky, but the response from the people back at the office. The Sheriff's had the guns, so what danger could I be in now?

As soon as I could shake off thinking about that, my thoughts returned to Becky. She appeared to be quite the freak of nature, and that had to be tough for any kid, even with the best of a home life. But, take the very large size and unattractive features coupled with extremely bad living situation, and there's no telling when or where her developmental train derailed. Besides home life, there's always peer influences shaping the personality and sense of self, but I had no idea yet how that might be going for her.

By the time I turned in my driveway, I had concluded that, for now at least, Becky was in a safe place, a place that would assess her mental status, and she was out of her father's reach. I slept like a rock that night.

In the morning, again using the drive to work to leave home at home and plan out my course of action, I decided that I would explore more of Becky's current life, find out why she was with her father, get with her mother, and visit with Becky at the MH home. I had also decided that the way to interact with Becky was by using a person-centered approach; meaning I would let her talk and reflect my understanding of what she said back without leading her in any way. I had to build and solidify her trust in me in order to help her.

When I got to the office, I called over to the MH home to announce that I was coming right over to visit with Becky. I was a bit puzzled when I got "Oh, good!" as a response. So, I headed out. It took about 20 minutes to drive there, and I was pleased to find it a very large and pleasant house in a good neighborhood, not a half block from a park.

One of the workers answered the door when I knocked, and another joined us as soon as I came in. The only thing I did was introduce myself, and the two women started filling me in.

Becky was brought there by the Sheriff as planned, and as soon as the officer left, she became defiant and unmanageable. She refused to bathe and change her clothes and she stunk to high heaven. She ate a huge meal one of the workers prepared for her specially since the usual meal had already been served. After she ate, they tried again to get her to shower and change, but she refused, this time slamming her hand down and using threatening body postures. Because she stank so bad, they would not let her sleep in a bed in a room shared with another kid, so they set her up with blankets and pillows to sleep on the couch in the living room.

When I had called, she was just finishing breakfast. By the time I got there, she was gone. Her father had come to pick her up, and since it was a non secure facility and Becky was once again using threatening postures, they let her go. The workers had called my office, but I had already left.

When I got back to the office, my supervisor had tracked down Becky's mother, and I was to call her at work. Linda was called to the phone and she told me that Becky was back at her place. She gave me the address and agreed to meet with me there when she got home from work.

Though I was not happy about not having a mental health assessment done, at least Becky wouldn't be going back to that horrible, disgusting trailer with that creep of a father. Surely the mother's place had to be better than that. Right?

The address given to me was a two story, two apartment home, rentals, and the building looked decent from the outside. Most of the homes on that particular side of town were built back in 1940s and 50s for the Polish and Italian immigrants, and they were built well. That was back in the days of true plaster walls and ceilings and real hardwood floors and woodworking. I parked in the driveway and walked toward the back of the building to the second floor apartment's entrance.

Sniff. Sniff sniff. Oh no. Again, the ripe and raunchy smell of rot met my nose before I got halfway down the side of the house. Where could it be coming from in town? As soon as I opened the door to the stairway up, that question was answered as the stench hit me in the face hard. A pathway up the center of stairs cut through hundreds of piles of dog shit, garbage, rotting food and spills of all sorts. How in the world could all this be in a stairway?

I knocked on the door at the top of the stairs and opened it when I heard "come in." The door opened to a kitchen, with the stove straight ahead. It used to be white. Now it was covered in grime, piled high with pots and pans still with food, old and rotted, in them. The counter tops were covered, the sink piled halfway up to the ceiling with dirty dishes. On the floor were countless Hefty trash bags overflowing their contents onto the floor. Pizza boxes with one or two shriveled pieces of pizza left in them, plates with goo and silverware stuck to them. It was gross, and it stunk the same as the trailer. A path led through the mess to the next room that looked much the same, only with a couch and a chair in it.

Linda stood at the sink, a woman in her early 40s, long stringy hair, coke-bottle glasses, my height and thin except for a huge set of hips. When she turned to look at me through those glasses, both her of eyes moved rapidly back and forth and never stopped. I don't know what she could see with her eyes flying like that. She never made any excuse for the mess.

Once again, a surprise. Linda was pleasant, spoke well and seemed educated. She told me that she and her husband were separated and she had a job that made enough to pay for rent. She was strongly affiliated with a man called Randall Terry, leader of a militant, violent right-to-life group, that she referred to as family. One of her sons volunteered for a local food bank that sent home food with him that helped out quite a bit. When she talked about Becky, she said the girl had been thrown out of the school and the alternative school for fighting and had given her so many problems at home that she let her go live with her father. Linda thanked me for getting Becky back home with her. She had been in that trailer by herself for three weeks. The father's job was so far away that he only came home one or two nights during the week and weekends. She knew there was no electricity, heat or running water to that trailer.

My hopes for Becky died right then and there. It was going to take a lot of work to straighten this mess out. When I got back to the office, I was greeted with many a wrinkled nose. I stunk. I gave my boss a rundown of what I had found and called it a night.


Well, folks. Reliving this story as I have been to write it, this is where I gave a very heavy sigh, almost of defeat. A few more interesting things happened, and I think I might be able to wrap it up in one more post. Do you think you can handle that? Maybe I should be asking myself if I can handle it!

One more time, to be continued...


Part V: Interlude

I had to refer to my resume to figure out just when the story of Becky took place. It was the fall of 1999. Writing it all out, it's amazing how clear my memory is. I'd say it's pretty well etched in there!

Reflecting on how the story is developing, there's a few things to point out so that you understand a bit more of my frame of reference and perspective.

1999 was pre cell phones. Oh, there were clunky, unreliable cell phones, and I had one. There was no cell phone service where we found Becky.

Working in different units, I didn't know Jane. I passed her in the hallway and we'd exchange hellos, but that was it. I didn't know what to expect from her, though I did expect a bit more self control considering that she was older and had many years of experience as a caseworker!

I had been a caseworker a little over a year, and though everyone in my unit was in the office that day the call came in, my supervisor picked me to go. I have no idea why. She was a by-the-book kind of supervisor and had years of experience, so she knew her stuff. Which doesn't explain why she sent me. I have a feeling it had to do with the fact that I'd tromp through the countryside without a thought, but the others wouldn't.

The thing that has kept me wondering all these years is how differently my reactions were compared to everyone else's. It wasn't until I started writing it out that I realized it was because I was in The Mode. When I'm in The Mode, I set myself up on my left shoulder, all my personal thoughts, feelings, as much of me as I can manage gets put up there to watch, to observe as the rest of me is wide open to empathize, relate, hear and understand as much as possible. In The Mode, I feel more of what the person I'm talking to is feeling than what I am. It's not until much later that I take myself down from my shoulder and process my own feelings. I was tuned into Becky and nothing else.

And that shook Becky up pretty good. I was not afraid of her size or her pushing into my personal space. I never backed up. I didn't react when she tested me further by pointing the gun at my chest. I told her the way it was, stayed real with her, and treated her like an equal. There wasn't much interaction between us, but a bond was forming. She trusted me.

Despite being in The Mode, I was repulsed by the father from the get-go, even before he opened his mouth to talk with that silky, suave voice of his. That's not something that usually happens with me, no matter what the circumstances. And for the life of me, I can't remember his first name! As far as I was concerned his role in what I would do with this case stopped at sperm donor.

I think I can relate to the writers of "24" now, as it's not difficult at all to fill up a lot of space with just one day's worth of happenings! Oh yes, there's more...

Thank you for reading!

Part I: The Call
Part II: The Girl
Part III: The Father
Part IV: Back at the Office

Part IV: Back at the Office

Read Part I: The Call, Part II: The Girl and Part III: The Father.

The drive back to town took forever, especially with Jane's excited voice constantly bouncing off the car's windows. Oh, that voice!

My reaction was different, the opposite of Jane's. My goal was to get Becky out of there, and that happened. But, where she was and where she was going was unknown.

I had to know what brought all this on. How in the world could a kid end up like that, living worse than an animal? There was no question the girl was trouble, and I felt her intelligence. It wouldn't take long to figure out that people, no matter how old or in any power position, would be afraid of this huge, ugly girl. And there was that spark of fear I saw in her when her father arrived.

It never once crossed my mind that Becky would actually shoot that gun at me. Besides, if she did, I wouldn't have survived, and sure as hell couldn't do anything about it. No sense in getting wound up about it.

All I had to do is think of those two Sheriff officers diving behind their car to become furious all over again. I broke into Jane's adrenaline jibber-jabber long enough to ask her about it, and all she said was that was how they're trained. They protect themselves. No sense in having them around then.

Once we pulled into the parking lot, my mind went to how I would write up the case notes. I was dug pretty deeply into my thoughts as we climbed the stairs to the second floor. Ahead of me, Jane pulled open the door to the bull pen and I was startled out of my thinking when the entire room burst into applause. What? I didn't even make it to my cubicle to take off my coat before my supervisor grabbed my arm. What? She dragged me into her office with all three unit supervisors following, and closed the door. Uh oh, what did I do that was so terrible? Boy, was I confused!

"Are you OK? What happened? I talked to the Sheriff's and they told me the girl pulled a gun on you? Are you OK? Do you need to go to the hospital?" What?

I started to give a brief rundown of the chain of events when the Big Boss, who I never met before, came in and asked me if I was OK. Why wouldn't I be OK? I was here, wasn't I? What the hell is the big deal? I started getting pissed again.

"Look, I'm fine. That girl is what's important. She was in horrible, horrible conditions and she needs major help. What can we do for her? Is there emergency placement available for her because I am not sending her back to that place! Where is she? The officer said he was taking her to the station for questioning and didn't know what would happen to her after. I don't want daddy anywhere near her until I find out what's going on."

Quiet. Uh oh. The agency boss stood there looking at me, my supervisor was looking at me, but I couldn't read their faces. Uh oh, I did it this time. I mouthed off to the Big Boss and my ass is grass.

My supervisor said, "There's the juvenile emergency home up at the State Hospital, but I don't know if I could get her in."

"I can. I'll make a call." The Big Boss turned around and left at quite a clip. She was a big woman, and how fast she moved startled me. I had never heard of this program, so I pumped out the questions. It was a non secure place, in a nice, large house outside the State Hospital grounds. Becky would get a controlled, quiet environment, she'll be fed, have a clean bed and clothes, and they'll start intensive counseling.

Big Boss returned, said it was set, the Sheriffs will deliver her there and I could see her tomorrow. Before she finished talking, the head of security came in.

"Until we know what is going on, you will be escorted to and from your car by security. They have your home address and will be patrolling often," said Big Boss. Whatwhatwhat? She stuck out her hand to me and said, "You did a great job today." Then she was gone again. Does she even know my name?

The head of security had a ton of questions to fill in some form, and I kept telling him I wasn't in any danger, that everyone was freaking out for nothing. He tried to tell me of other cases where caseworkers were attacked, but it didn't apply to me.

When I finally got over to my cubicle, the floor was empty and quiet. Everyone had gone home. Laying on my desk and chair were six huge expandable files, all the history of this family the agency had on file.

Well, tomorrow's another day.

Oh, there's more to the story...


Part III: The Father

Read Part I: The Call and Part II: The Girl

The little, beat up white and rust car sputtered before shutting off, and listed a bit toward the driver's side. What could be seen through the dirty windows was a bald-topped head and a big mustache on top of a round belly.

The county Sheriff officers had taken control of the situation at this time, so I observed through my anger. Thoughts of prison guard and juvenile detention center and extremely horrible living conditions kept swirling through my mind.

Now there was a sort of triangle of characters set up. Over to the left was Becky standing with the two officers, her arms crossed over her chest as she leaned against the porch, weight all on one foot with the other crossed over. Her body language said "smug," "cocky" and "no fear." Over to the right was the car with the father still sitting behind the wheel just looking.

When the father got out of the car, it was another visual shock. I got the impression the officers were expecting the same thing I was - a tall, monstrous man capable of producing monstrous Becky. He closed the car door and stood where he was. The top of his head was bald, shiny bald, and had brown hair from the bottom half down. Dark brown eyes, normal nose and a huge mustache that could easily be waxed and turned into a handlebar completed the face. He had no visible chin, it was hidden in the double chin that served as his short neck. He wore a leather jacket the same as Becky, only his was newer and you could still tell it was black. A brand new pair of blue jeans with the bottom of the legs rolled up into large cuffs was the first clue to the fact that this man wasn't much taller than me.

One of the officers called out, "Are you Mr.____? Is this your daughter?"

"Why yes, I am Mr. ____ _____, and that is my daughter, Becky. How may I help you gentlemen?" The voice was again another shock. It was silky, smooth, cadenced and articulated. It sounded to me like the voice of a bullshitter, a womanizer and a complete liar.

Becky's demeanor had changed. Now she stood straight up, hands clasped in front of her, her head hung down and she was frowning. A warning flag went off in my head. The change was too drastic, and there was fear there now. Someone as belligerent and cocky as she had been won't wilt like that without a good reason.

"Sir, your daughter tells us that you have several guns here. Is that true?"

"Yes sir, it is. I keep them locked in a camping trailer out back so that no one can get to them."

"We're here because it was reported that your daughter has been shooting rats."

"I don't know how that's possible, officer. The gun in the house is an antique with no ammunition. I don't believe it works. The other guns are locked up."

"Would you show us, sir?"

"The last time I showed the Sheriffs my guns, they confiscated them all. It's almost hunting season, and I will need them. Will you be taking them too?"

"I'm afraid we'll have to until this matter is cleared up. If everything goes well, you should have them back in a few days."

If time was creeping before, it now switched to fast forward. One of the officers walked Becky to his cruiser and put her in the back seat. The father started walking between the trailer and barn with the other officer following. Jane and I followed. It wasn't long before we were standing in a more open field with a tiny camping trailer all by itself.

"Well, there's how she got in. The window is broken out." The father opened the door and entered the trailer with the officer right behind. The second officer pulled in with another Sheriff car and popped the trunk of the car open.

It took both officers to haul out a huge anvil trunk to put it in the truck of the vehicle. Several other trips netted further shotguns and rifles and cases of ammunition. The back end of the car sunk lower and lower.

"My Colt .45 is missing. Where is my Colt? That's a great gun, and I can't find it. I bet Becky knows where it is." One of the officers went up to the other cruiser and brought Becky back along the same path we had taken.

"Becky, where's my Colt .45?" He had come down out of the trailer and stood in front of the girl, and the height difference was amazing. Becky towered over him by at least a foot.

She stepped into the trailer without using the two little steps, reaching in and up with her right hand. When she turned back around, she used the steps to come down and held the gun in front of her at shoulder height, looking very much like she was going to shoot.

In a flurry of motion, the father scooted around the side of the trailer. The two officers literally dove behind the cruiser loaded with all the guns. And Jane, well Jane grabbed both of my arms from behind and ducked behind me. Becky took two giant steps toward me with the gun still raised, meeting my eyes, pointing that gun square at my heart.

"Do you mean this gun? It was right where I put it." She stood there looking at me, into my eyes, with that gun pointed at my chest. Nothing moved.

The thoughts were flying through my head, back to fast forward: Man, that gun is huge! Those goddamn cops are fucking hiding! What good are they? Jane is hiding behind me and doesn't even realize that a bullet at this range would go through both of us, the stupid ass! And I was furious again.

"Becky, put the gun down before the idiot cops shoot you." I raised my hand up and pushed that gun down and away. I caught that smell again, that dark, dank stench.

"Oh!" That's all she said and her face was startled. Her father appeared and took the gun out of her hand, spun the cylinder and clicked the safety on. Becky met my eyes again, this time with curiosity. The two officers appeared, one to stand in front of Becky and the other to take the gun out of the father's hand. I had to shrug Jane's hands off my other arm.

Jane and I walked behind the officer and Becky back up to the road and our parked cars. I watched the officer put Becky in the back seat and then went up to him. I had to know what he planned to do with her. I was there for her, and I had to know that she'd be OK. He said he was taking her back to the station for questioning, and had no idea what would happen after that.

As soon as we got in the car, Jane was all excited and rattled on and on. I couldn't wait to get back to the office.

To be continued...


Part II: The Girl

Continuation of Part I: The Call

With a half smile on my face, I thought to myself, my, aren't these city folk jumpy. Don't they know about barn swallows? I looked at Jane and saw that she was half crouched with a hand raised and ready to grab my arm.

I walked past Jane and toward the one step out of four that remained to get up on the trailer's entry way. Rotted as they were, the boards were solid under my weight. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see a very old and dirty refrigerator and several pairs of large sized boots and sneakers. When I turned to tell Jane about the shoes, I bumped into her. She had silently followed me up the stairs.

I knocked on the door with "Is anybody home?" Nothing. No sound from inside at all. I reached down for the door handle and it was unlocked, the door opening toward me.

The stench slapped me in the face. Putrid, sour and overwhelming, the smell made my eyes water. It was a bit lighter inside, but all I could see was junk. There was so much junk, piled from floor to ceiling, that it was hard to identify anything in particular. Looking down to see where I could step, I saw a huge jar of pickled eggs.

Looking to the left, my eyes picked out a small stove and a pile of dirty dishes. Turning to the right and taking a step, I noticed a hole in the ceiling of the trailer, the source of the brighter light. When I looked down and under where the light fell, there was a very large head.

Black Hefty garbage bags fell to each side as this very large face on top of this very large and tall body stood up in the little path through all the junk and garbage. It happened so suddenly that I didn't have the time to startle. An even stronger wave of stench hit my face.

I once dated a man that was 6'3, and I used to fit neatly under his armpit. Based on how far I had to tilt my head back, I'd say that this person standing before me had to be much taller than that. The large head was topped with spiked hair. The face was small, it seemed flattened, with just as much chin below as there was forehead above. A black spiked dog collar topped a black leather jacket over a stained and grimy shirt not tucked into stained and grimy jeans. When my eyes returned to the face, a big smile was on it.

"I'm looking for Becky. Do you know where she is?"

"I'm Becky." The voice was girlish, young sounding, and completely at odds with the figure it came out of.

"Would you sit back down, please? My neck hurts like this." When she sat down, she was still taller than me. I introduced myself.

"I'm here because it seems someone's been shooting a gun around here"

"Yeah, that was me. When I get bored, I shoot at rats all the time."

"Where's the gun?"

"Oh, I put it back with the other guns."

"Come outside," one of the officers yelled into the door. Becky followed me closely out the door, and jumped off the porch instead of navigating the one remaining stair. Jane pulled me away as the officers took control.

She fired off one question after another. What did you see? Were there any guns? What's in there? Is she alone? I was listening to the officers asking Becky whether there were any guns in the house, to which she answered that her father kept an old .22 pistol in his room, along with a huge military knife.

"They called her father," Jane said, "He works as a prison guard in a juvenile detention facility in another county. He should be here any minute."

My fury was immediate. How could anyone who lives like this, who makes his daughter live like this, work around kids? Who would be so stupid as to put him in charge there?

As if on cue, a little beat up white car comes crashing through the weeds and brush to stop right in front of the trailer porch.

To be continued...


Part I: The Call

Late one cloudy, cold morning, a report came in to the Adult Protective Unit of Social Services. An old woman close to 90 years old had called in saying that she was frightened because her nephew's daughter was in the yard shooting rats with a gun and she was terrified the girl would shoot her next.

The second floor of the Social Services building housed the Adult Protective, Early Childhood and the unit I worked in, Central Intake. My unit handled the cases that weren't quite severe enough to be taken by the Child Abuse Hotline and the juvenile cases that came in through Family Court. I was in the office writing up case notes the day this call came in, and as usual, had no idea anything out of the ordinary was going on.

My supervisor called me into her office and that's when I noticed that people were flying back and forth between her office and the Adult Protective supervisor's office. She told me what was going on in the one sentence and told me to go with the AP caseworker, Jane. Sheriffs would meet us there.

Jane explained more as she drove. This little old lady lived by herself in the little house that she was born in and recently, her nephew decided to move into the old, abandoned mobile home sitting next to her old barn. It was news to her about the nephew's daughter, but she thought the girl was 14 and way out of control.

Jane turned onto a dirt road that looked like it hadn't seen a car in years. Dried weeds brushed the windows and barren tree branches scraped the car's roof. About a half mile of ruts and scrapes, we see a county Sheriff car and Jane parked behind it. The two officers looked at us, but didn't say anything as we headed toward the tiny house barely visible through the overgrowth.

A little old lady, bright-eyed with white hair carefully pulled up into a bun on the top of her head, sat with an afghan over her lap, her wooden chair next to the potbelly stove in the center of the small room that was her kitchen and living room. Sparse yet clean and warm, there was one other doorway that led to an even smaller room with only a bed in it. She smiled when Jane said her name and asked how she was.

"Oh, I'm fine. Now who are you, dear?" The old lady smiled up at Jane, but hadn't moved in her chair.

"I'm Jane. Do you remember me? I was here a few days ago and took you to the grocery store, remember?"

"Oh, I know a nice lady named Jane. Is that you?"

"Yes, that's me. We're here because you called earlier. Do you remember calling?" Jane, the patient placater to the end.

"Oh yes, I remember. My nephew's daughter was up here this morning with a gun in her hand. She told me she was out there shooting at rats and got bored. Thought she might come up here and shoot me instead!

"That damned nephew of mine. I told him he could live in that old trailer by the barn for a few weeks until he found a place for himself. That was months ago, and now he won't leave. Suddenly, his daughter is with him. She don't go to school or nothing, just does whatever she does all by herself while he's off working. She's no good, I tell you."

The old lady sat and glared at Jane, never once looking my way. But, the floodgates had closed again, and she didn't say anything else.

We told the officers what the old lady had said, and they followed us down a barely visible path, heading toward the roof of a barn we could see through the trees and brush. Turning a corner, the underbrush thinned in front of the barn, and on the right side of it was an old, dilapidated trailer that looked in worse condition than the one in the photo above.

Nothing stirred. It did not look like anyone could possibly be living in that trailer. There were no electric wires running to it. It listed to the side and bent in the middle. It sagged in places that said it wouldn't hold up to another snowfall. The open doorway on the front porch enclosure looked like a deep, dark hole with rotted boards as the welcome mat.

"Is anybody here?" Jane's yell echoed back from the maw of the barn and was answered only by the sudden flurry of bird wings flying through its rafters. A dual rustle of movement behind me made me turn to see that both officers had unsnapped their gun holsters.

To be continued...


What Happens Now?

I haven't been able to get the question out of my mind: What happens now?

I ran into an article this morning on Live Science that defines spirituality as feelings of purpose and value and have quality and depth in inter-personal relationships. Researchers have found that those that are spiritual are happy, and they also found that practicing a religion has no impact on the sense of happiness at all.

No, I'm not knocking religions. What I am pointing out is in support of what I said in The World is Ending, namely that there is a difference between feeling something is true or just saying it's true because everyone else does. That's why I think it's important to examine the rhetoric to see if it fits with what you feel.

Carl Jung would call this the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. In very general terms, an introvert looks inside to evaluate any given situation when an extrovert would look to others for clues on how they have evaluated it and then going with the popular. Like with just about everything else in the realm of mental health, it's the extremes that cause problems, so finding the right balance becomes the task at hand. (The great thing about Carl Jung is that he formed his theories after studying many varied cultures around the world.)

I got to thinking about all this again after reading that, though there are far more Muslims in the world, because they are generally uneducated, they have made few contributions and advancements, thus lost power in the world. I found this in-depth discussion on Windmill on the Hill., and I highly recommend that you read it. It frightens me to my core because here is a whole people that have no choice but to live as extroverts!

Which brings me to this thing with Gaza and Israel. All I can think of is to say, "Hey people, they are on a very different path than we are!" We can't understand or relate to that conflict, whatever it is, because we are free to dig in and decide for ourselves! We can educate ourselves, we can learn, we can evaluate based on our own past experiences, and because of all of that, we can use our conscience, our values, our morals, our sense of right and wrong.

It is no surprise that some react violently to the inhumanity of Israel's might in attacking Gaza. You have to wonder why Gaza would be so idiotic as to keep lobbing rockets, little, itty-bitty rockets at such a huge and powerful country. Does their fight become any more justifiable when it is so impossible to win? So, people around the world rise up in defense of the loser, the lost puppy, the weak. That is the way we are. We are a humane, giving and compassionate people who freely stand up for what we feel is right.

But, this humanitarian crusade is causing a deeper, even more devastating rift. Protests against Israel are happening everywhere, and they are violent already. It is the volatile beginning of social unrest, the one thing that could set off a chain of violence and death of many more than the people living in Gaza. The conditions are ripe for people to begin pulling out whatever weapon is handy and killing neighbors and strangers alike with this extremely stressful worldwide economic crisis.

Use your anger, indignation, compassion, frustration and fear as a signal to take action; not by raising your fist, but by educating yourself, problem solving and networking with others who wish to be active instead of reactive. Examine the rhetoric, evaluate the statements, tap into your spirituality, then go from there well prepared to make the world a better place.

Remember: Active instead of reactive, not kill or be killed.

Perhaps then my German Shepherd and I can relax our vigil a little.


Furry and Dirty and Fine

Now is when cabin fever starts to dig in, and dig in good. Beautiful, furry and dirty, Odin was, I think, feeling it too. The last few days, he had been mopey and listless, and not at all his usual full-of-himself, pain-in-the-ass self. It worried me, so I took this photo yesterday, with my iPhone, to send off to a friend for advice on what could be going on. Of course you can't see anything in a photo, you have to know him to notice the differences in behavior, and she sent back, "that's a nice photo of him."

I breathed a really heavy sigh of relief when I went out earlier today. He's back to himself. How do I know? Well, there's a few things that let me know. His head was back up, he was energetic - and he grabbed hold of my coat sleeve, then my pant leg, easily avoided my swat, then stuck his tongue out. He sticks his tongue out to let me know he wants to play.

Those that say that horses can't communicate don't know Odin, Mr. Personality himself! He let me know he's feeling better! I guess I'll suffer through cabin fever without his company now...


Living Ethics: It's all in the Rhetoric

We are obliged as Muslims to make the whole galaxy subservient to almighty Allah, who has created all living beings to obey him and worship him. ~Omar Bakri Mohammed
When I see or hear a statement like the one above, my hackles go up immediately. Words like "obliged," "subservient," "obey" and "worship" rub me the wrong way. When I think through my instantaneous, almost violent reaction, I realize that it is an instinctual survival response. I have the same sort of response when I hear of or see a child or animal abused or neglected. So, my response is not for my sake, but for the sake of the innocent, unknowing and vulnerable. Playing a huge role in my response is the undeniable, absolute truth of free will and freedom of choice.

As much as my reactions, my heart, have led me to respond  less than positively to such a statement, I turn to dictionary.com for the socially accepted definitions and meaning of the words, to look at it as objectively and logically as possible:
  • Oblige: to require or constrain, as by law, command, conscience, or force of necessity.
  • Subservient: excessively submissive; obsequious: subservient persons; subservient conduct.
  • Obey: to respond conformably in action to a command, restriction, wish, instruction, etc.
  • Worship: reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.
I almost soften a bit and calm down - until I read the definitions closely.Words like constrain, command, force, excessive, restriction, person and object just don't quite jive with free will and freedom of choice.

'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.'

Sure, I chose a statement made by a Muslim instead of a Christian. It was conveniently there and I grabbed it. I have the feeling that, perhaps, you would have slammed the door in my face if I did choose a Christian statement. But, these sort of statements are made often, vehemently, in the popular US religions. Christianity is not lacking in these kinds of man-made, control-imposing rhetorical assertions!

So, I will assert that today's organized and institutionalized religions have lost their originally intended purpose and meaning. They have lost touch with the symbolism and individuality of the sacred teachings and writings and have reduced themselves to literal interpretation. Today's religions are no longer alive and relevant.

What do you think?


Living Ethics: Take the First Step for You

Over the past year, I've written a lot about looking within to get in touch with a reality that we are distracted from on a day-to-day basis. It's an onslaught, this life and times we're living now, and though the most important thing to do is look within, there is very little energy left over at the end of the day to do much more than collapse. Who can think when completely exhausted?

Exhaustion makes us vulnerable. We're drained of energy just securing our basic needs. We worry, we fret, we're saddened and horrified of all the news, and we're frightened. We're angry and frustrated. We long to withdraw, to curl up in a ball and hide, and that becomes our self-defense. It's a hopelessness that seeps through our defenses, and keeps us exhausted and vulnerable.

The hopelessness and despair sends us seeking for something, anything that brings relief. The hopelessness and despair also hides from us our true source of strength and relief. Instead, we look outside ourselves and in our vulnerability, look everywhere and anywhere but within for purpose and meaning. Exhausted, weakened, it's a relief not to have to think things through, and that another's interpretation and perspective seems to work, so it must be the truth. But, this is an illusion!

Do you remember that saying, "I traveled the world only to find what I was looking for in my own back yard?" Your answers, your truth and your strength comes from within, not from something or someone outside of yourself.

No one else can think this through for you. You must define your purpose and meaning yourself. Only when you think it through does it become truth.

Psychology calls this process 'self-actualization' or 'self-realization' or even 'existentialism.' I suppose science would call it 'evolving.' Whatever you want to call it, whatever rings true for you, it's worth it. Beyond what day-to-day life imposes on us is so much more. It's an amazing, beautiful journey that begins with taking that very first step.

All through time's lengthy history, mankind has looked everywhere but within for truth, meaning and purpose. It's not an easy feat to learn to learn, to use that brain we all have. We all learn from everyone we encounter every day of our lives. Every experience is perceived in a way that meshes with everything experienced before, filtering out the stuff not understood or in conflict with the past. Brick by brick, your self is formed.

But, are they your bricks - or someone else's?

That is the bumpy path. The process, the journey begins by looking at each brick, one by one, and either polishing it and putting it back down as foundation, or throwing it out.

Here's an example of the sort of bricks we have to take a close look at. Jim over at Caledonian Comment found this today. Look at it, react to it, feel it, pick it apart and let me know what you think. Omar Bakri Mohammed said:
We are obliged as Muslims to make the whole galaxy subservient to almighty Allah, who has created all living beings to obey him and worship him.
I've created another topic and called it "Living Ethics." You'll find it over in the sidebar. I'll be confronting many more bricks that could be in our way of becoming all that we can. I hope you'll join me.


Wow... I Think

I will not.  I will not.  I will not start out with "I'm confused."  OK, sorry, I am confused.  A little.  I don't know what to think.

Actually, it's more that I don't understand.  Is that the same thing?

I just checked the Google PageRank for A Bumpy Path and eyebald.  Guess what?  They are both at 3!

That just doesn't sound so good.  I mean, if Bo Derrick is a 10, then I can accept that my body is a 3. That would be a most gracious rating.  At my age, the body is retired, see, with bikini days a thing of the ancient past.

But my mind still works!  My mind only rates a 3?

I think I'll take that 3 as an insult.

Um, what exactly does PageRank mean?


Looking Ahead Now

"The Best of 2008," "Top This and That of the Year" and whatever other version of looking in the rear view mirror has been all over the place. People like to reflect, I suppose, and that has its place in the grand scheme of things.

I don't need to reiterate that the year took a dive into the shitter. I don't need to tell you to look over both shoulders and watch your 6. Are we all holding our breath waiting for the next ax to fall? You're turning green! Am I?

For me, 2008 was the year I took off with writing. Not only did I build up A Bumpy Path, but I started eyebald in order to make myself some room to write about the bits and pieces of news that flew under the radar, stuff that could have much more importance than the amount of air time it got. This 'honing' came in handy as I branched into journalism and reporting for a local paper.

I've been greatly inspired by some of my favorite blogs:

Susan at West of Mars - The Meet and Greet wrote and published a book (congratulations Susan!) of her fiction and tells about her experiences while doing it. It is exciting stuff! Her characters are alive, and there are times when I find it difficult to wait for the next installment of her online novel.

Mike, the TEFL Don, at My Thai Friend, shares his day to day challenges as a non native living in Thailand, the Land of Smiles. On top of the language barrier are a host of cultural differences, small things that you wouldn't notice just visiting, that make the experience exciting, and in some ways, exotic. It's all punctuated by beautiful photos that take your breath away.

I find myself imagining what it would like living in yet another country with A. at A Changing Life. Wondrous photography of a magical place, explained just enough to whet historical curiosity and a yearning for more. It's like falling into the photos, instantly feeling what it must have been like to be there hundreds of years ago.

A good neighbor of mine is 'The Hawg!' over at The Natural State Hawg. He'll get me laughing with his follies, and his rants are priceless. If something ruffles his feathers, he gives a well-thought out list of points, pro or con. You've got to admire a brain like his! You can only take my word for it, but I talk to Ethan every now and then on the phone, and he is exactly the way he writes. He has been incredibly encouraging and supportive of my writing adventures, and I doubt I'd have gotten as far as I have without him. He has opened the door to Arkansas for me!

Pam's is another brain I admire, and you can find her at pamibe and beannachd. There are times when I'll write about something on my mind, only to visit one of her blogs and find she's been thinking along the same lines. She has her eyes wide open and catches nuances of things that have a broad impact. I've come to depend on her vision, let's put it that way.

It's pretty amazing how much your world can expand and grow just by reading. I've come to admire and respect Susan, Mike, A., Ethan and Pam through their blogs that I read just about every day. The mix of fiction, different places and vision of these writers brings me a focus I've never had before.

Mine is a life of flux. It always has been. But, I've got good company with my favorite blogs and my constant readers. It's an adventurous, bumpy journey, no doubt about it; and I'll keep my focus on looking ahead. 2008 is in the rear view mirror getting smaller and smaller.

Thanks for reading!