How to crash in a hot air balloon? Like this.

by Jason Tudor

Hot air balloons are like political pundits: they are filled with hot air and only governed by which way the wind blows. Both of those facts can also make for interesting endings. Case in point: a trip my family and I made to Cappadocia, Turkey a few weeks ago.

Among the many things the region is known for, including looking like the back lot to a "Star Trek" production, is an extensive network of hot-air balloon companies. In this region, there are more hot-air balloon companies then there are soft mattresses to sleep on. Trust me on this.

To make a sunset launch, one wakes up at an hour when drunks are usually returning home from bars. Now, I'm not a morning person in the same way Kim Kardashian is not a marrying person. That aside, the temperature hovered somewhere near "those pants kinda make you look fat" and "are we really going to your mom's house again?" Plus, I'd forgot to bring a jacket.

Like hostages, we were rushed in a van out to a dirt field where balloons were waiting. There were hundreds of people, huddled against each other abating the frigid temperatures. And we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And, after two hours ... we went home. The wind was too strong to fly. Try again tomorrow morning. The next morning, we managed to fill the balloon and get in the air.

Turns out, we were with 21 other people from Venezuela packed into the basket in the same way People of Wal-Mart pack themselves into Spandex. Also, one of them was trying to document the entire flight on video WITH HIS IPAD. Secretly, as he was hanging it over the edge of the gondola, I was hoping it would slip and shatter into a thousand iPod Shuffles.

The flight was breath-taking. The alien hillsides of the area were painted orange and gold from the sunrise, which did not let us down. Our Turkish pilot was capable and hovered us into valleys and ravines. The chase cars followed us all over the province of Nevsehir. We were aloft better than 45 minutes when the pilot told us it was time to land.

"Landing" a hot-air balloon is a little like the recent mortgage crisis: you a let a little of the air hiss out and eventually the whole thing crashes to Earth. Unfortunately, as the pilot deflated our balloon, a wild apricot tree appeared, ran in front of and managed to catch our balloon in its branches. After 25 minutes, we did manage to untangle from that and get on the ground. And that's when the fun started.

In order to get out of the basket, we had to wait for the air to be let out of the balloon. As this was happening, the balloon tumbled down and, as it did, caused the gondola to crash onto its side, turning 21 Venezuelan patrons, four propane tanks and my family into a stack of giggling human Lincoln Logs.

Zero injuries, glasses of champagne and a certificate of accomplishment rounded out the two-day adventure and fulfilled a lifelong dream for my wife. Can't have a more interesting ending than that.


500 Miles with a Kazoo

by Tricia Gillespie

Have you ever heard "Taps" played on a kazoo?

No?  Me either, until recently.  The tune is about as mournful and haunting as a kazoo can be, and believe me, I’ve been haunted by a kazoo for a quite a few years now.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mom, eyes wild with the look young mothers get when they are torn between selfless love and wanting to eat their young.
She stood above my brother and me, we must have been around five and seven, and held up my brother’s plastic kazoo.  My brother loved this kazoo like Mozart must have loved his grand piano.  The sound wasn’t quite the same as Mozart’s, but my brother was young.  He had years of fine tuning and practice ahead of him.  I’ll never forget the sound of the scissors chomping through the plastic.  I wanted to hide my eyes, but they were glued to my mother’s heartlessness as she sliced and diced until no tiny resemblance of “ka” or “zoo” was left.  We stared at the carnage.  My brother cried.

That’s why, when my son was old enough to blow, I bought him a metal kazoo.  Given my family history, I didn’t trust myself with plastic.

For a short stretch of parenthood, I thought myself better than my mom, but a girl can only listen to so many stanzas of “The Wheels on The Bus”, especially when played on the kazoo.

I didn’t want to repeat the carnage, though.  I wanted to spare my son years of pricy therapy, so I put away the scissors (metal cutters and sharp knives) and hid the kazoo.

We enjoyed happy and carefree living until I began packing for our road trip.  Over spring break we were going to drive from New York to Georgia to visit family.  When I went in search of luggage and tote bags, I discovered the long-hidden kazoo.  Chuckling to myself, I buried it deep in the trash.

I blocked out all kazoo memories as we set off on our trip.  Everything went smashingly until we wandered into a gift shop at the base of Stone Mountain in Georgia.  The kids disappeared in search of a keepsake while I wandered around, astounded at the price of chotchkies.  As I debated buying a new water bottle, my son ran up to me holding out his treasure.

“Mom, I found a new kazoo!  I lost mine a long time ago and I miss it so much.  Can I get it?  Please.”

Just when I let my emotional guard down, mom guilt came in the form of a kazoo.  I looked into my son’s excited face and said, “Yes, of course you can get it.”

Five hundred miles and four thousand verses later (alternating between “Amazing Grace” and “My Country Tis of Thee”), my husband looked at me and said, “Has anyone ever strangled a child while he was playing Amazing Grace?”

“You can’t.”  I said. “It’s my fault.  God is punishing me one shrill note at a time.”

That’s when my son switched to playing Taps.

Bio:  Tricia enjoys life with her husband, two kids, and a kazoo.  It’s rarely quiet at her house, but she’s learning to love her ear plugs children’s musical expression.  You can visit them anytime on her blog thedomesticfringe.com.


Bus on the Lot

by Bill Mullis

A couple of eons ago, I was enjoying a lazy summer afternoon playing on the grill at the local gourmet hamburger restaurant. As per normal for a slow afternoon, I was keeping a minimum of meat on the grill, three rows of four patties, keep ‘em moving, pop the leading row off when it gets too done and replace it with fresh, all on the off chance somebody would come in for a late lunch. The manager was doing paperwork in the closet they called an office, and the cashier was cleaning the dining room.

That’s when the bus pulled in.

We had a Standard Operating Procedure for buses. It did not start with waiting for the riders to come in and order. This particular franchise had a habit of timing the service from the moment the cashier hit Total to the moment the last item was placed on the customer’s tray.

So I yelled, “Bus on the lot!” and went into action. I loaded the grill with forty-eight patties, then turned a half-circle and dropped four baskets of fries. All told that took me about a minute. Meanwhile the manager had rushed in from the office and took over at the register, freeing Becky, the nominal cashier, to make sandwiches as the orders piled in. We were manned and ready.

Noticing a distinct lack of customers, I stuck my head out the drive-through window. The bus was still there, its windows dark, its diesel engine idling. Finally I could hear the pneumatics as the door opened.

“Here they come,” I informed the crew, and went back to my grill, where the first line of patties was ready to turn.

The dining room door opened, and a guy came in, walked up to the counter, and ordered a shake. To go.

I looked at the grill, where twelve pounds of fresh ground beef was slowly becoming burnt hamburger. I looked at the fry station, where four baskets of fries were about to go ding! I went to the drive-through and watched the man with his frozen dairy dessert board the bus. I listened to the engine rev and watched the bus pull away.

The manager joined me at the grill. He smiled and put his arm around my shoulders.

“Hope you’re hungry,” he said.

When he’s not responding to situations before gathering sufficient data, Bill Mullis lives and writes from the Upstate of South Carolina. Actually, even when he is responding thusly, he still lives and writes from the Upstate of South Carolina.


When in Rome...

Thanks to fellow Erma Jason Tudor for the photo.
 By Terri Coop

Me, the Internet, and stress are an interesting combination. During the day it will most likely be political arguments. However, if it’s after midnight, I often end up with plane tickets. My version of the fight-or-flight reflex.

That’s how, in the week before the Oklahoma Bar Exam, I found myself booked on a flight to Paris. I had originally wanted to go to Egypt, but knew Paris was more suited for solo wandering. I’d visited before, knew how to use the subway, and still had all my guidebooks. Other than that pesky language barrier, I looked forward to an uneventful week in the City of Lights shaking off the after-effects of writing test essays about the Uniform Commercial Code.

A secret about Paris: In August, the middle-class flees to the countryside, the tourists are in the Bahamas, and the city is blessedly quiet. Lines are short, and for a Midwesterner, the temperature is balmy.

Okay, most of the lines were short. On my obligatory trip to the top of Eiffel Tower, the queue wound round the second level. There may not have been many tourists in the city that week, but they were all determined to go to the top of the tower that day. The voluble French complaining also told me that a good number of locals were visiting as well. 

Two polite, but insistent, guides packed the elevators sardine-style with the sort of rude insistence that only the French can pull off with style. Shoulder to shoulder with my fellow travelers, I began the trip to the top. 

When I travel, my goal is to blend in as much as possible. No loud t-shirts with funny sayings. No obnoxious hats. No fanny packs. For Paris, I packed khakis, starched white shirts, and an array of silk scarves. When sightseeing, if it doesn’t fit in my faux-chic shoulder bag, it doesn’t go. Even my camera is discreet. (I know I’ve pulled it off when American tourists approach me, maps outstretched, saying, “See-Vu-Play . . .” with a pleading look.)

I evidently didn’t look too touristy that day in the elevator because my week became less uneventful when I realized there was a hand firmly planted on my backside. I shifted slightly and so did the hand. The hand wasn’t being overly obnoxious, but there was no doubt that this was no accident. 

I had a choice. I could go all American on the offender and raise a ruckus in a packed elevator, or I could cultivate my European elan a bit more and see what happened at the end of the journey. However, one minute and forty seconds is a lot longer when you have an unknown hand on your butt. I’m sure there’s something in Einstein’s theories about that.

When I left the elevator, the hand didn’t follow. I looked over my shoulder and saw a pleasant looking young European with his eyebrows arched in a question. That’s when I decided to channel my inner Parisian. I smiled, shrugged, shook my head, and got an adorable Gaelic pout in return. I took it for the compliment it was. 

In a city full of eminently grope-able women, I had made the cut.


On Kids and Dogs

By Steve Barber

I'd planned to write an amusing travel story for my second guest post, all about the funny things that happened while vacationing with my kids when they were young.  There had to be a ton of material I could mine out of those pleasant times, I thought. Then memories of those road trips bored into my brain.

Take, for example, this typical fun-filled backseat dialog between the two siblettes:

“I hate you.”

“I hate you more.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, at least I'm not adopted.”

“I'm not 'dopted neither. I'm bornded.”

“Nuh-uh. We got you from the Shelter. You were in a cage.”

“Was not.”

Lower lip begins quivering.

“Was too. They took you 'cause they felt sorry for you. You were so ugly nobody else wanted you.”


Much wailing and copious tears.


Obviously, these memories are too painful for me to write about. But since I already mentioned shelters and adoptions, I guess I'll write instead about Matilda, the dog Hunny and I adopted a few weeks ago.

The first thing you have to know is that Hunny's been whining about wanting a dog for some time. The second thing you have to understand is that Hunny is insane. I'm not going to dwell on it here, but anyone who has an unnatural hatred of crickets and who keeps the garbage in the refrigerator is not normal, you know?

Anyhow, Hunny has a way of grabbing an issue by the neck and shaking it until I eventually give in to her demands. Still, I tried to get me a few man points by telling her I'd agree to a dog but only if we got a male.

”I don't want a male,” Hunny said. “I don't like the way they pee.”

It occurred to me they probably wouldn't much like the way she pees either, but it didn't seem like a good idea to mention it, and I let it go.

So on April 1st I found myself in the lobby of the Humane Society. After Hunny made me pretend to admire every other cat in the shelter's Kittyville, I'd inhaled enough cat dander to send the allergies above Code Red. I quickly exited the building and parked myself on a bench outside, gasping dander-free air and wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

As it turns out, what I'd gotten myself into was a two year old Australian Shepherd.

Understand, the dog is fine. But Hunny isn't, remember? That's why we now have a $250 dog bed, three leashes, three collars (different colors for different days), five kinds of scientifically formulated treats, enough dog toys to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a bag of kibble big enough to feed a kennel full of starving Mastiffs for the better part of a month. And this food? It's not Alpo, no. It's some specially prepared combination of kelp, krill and squid, supplemented with mandrake shavings, ginseng froth, beta keratin and cod kidneys. At least it must be considering what it costs. Bottom line? As of today we're about $750 into supplies for a five dollar dog. It ain't right, I tell you.

I have a feeling that "Hunny and the Dog" is going to be an ongoing story. So, stay tuned for updates. And pray for me. Or send money. Both would be good.

Steve Barber is secure enough in his sexuality that he doesn't mind being called an Erma at all, but he does wonder if his writing makes his butt look fat. Check out his hardly-ever-updated blog at http://whatdoyoumeanishouldstartablog.blogspot.com/, and look for his short story, "Arkie Studabaker's Very Bad Day" in the soon-to-be-published anthology, No Rest for the Wicked (Rainstorm Press)


Unanswered Prayers

By Sara Spock

I decided to move to Florida to help my sick Grandpop about 10 minutes after I arrived home from living and volunteering in South America. I wasn’t prepared give up my freedom by staying under the proverbial parental roof and Pops needed some help. Many of my Peruvian adventures involved road trips with broken down buses, gun-point searches, cement jail cells, and old ladies with roving hands. A good ole American car ride promised to be much more pedestrian.

My little red Hyundai had a new transmission and was packed to the windows with all of my prized possessions with just enough room for a small passenger, my 10 year old sister, Lauren. My Dad and brother Paul were driving point in Paul’s pick-up truck when we headed south at the crack of dawn, stopping only for food, gas, and bathroom breaks. In a previous life, I must have been a long haul trucker because I can last about 18 hours before resting. After a brief stop over with friends in Hotlanta, we were cruising down I75 when the little red car chugged, sputtered, and nearly slammed to a stop. I popped that baby into neutral and coasted down a conveniently placed exit ramp in Arabi, GA. We landed at a gas station that’s only claim to fame was “dirtiest little bathroom in Crisp County.”

Within minutes, the gas station attendant, Bobby, determined my fuel pump died and it would take about 4 hours to replace it. My dad lit up a smoke and propped himself up at the counter to shoot the breeze with Bobby and my brother while Lauren and I sat on the curb in the sun. When faced with boredom, Lauren and I often amuse ourselves by singing show tunes, country music, and old time vaudeville numbers. We were about 10 minutes into Garth Brooks' Greatest Hits, over-singing our hearts out to Unanswered Prayers when a gas station patron interrupted us. He was going to berate us for subjecting all of Crisp County to our antics, ask us to please for the love of all that is good and pure, stop torturing the dogs with our high notes and the humans with every other note. We eyed each other nervously and waited for the tirade.

Instead, he pulled out a business card. Introduced himself as a record company exec and told us to call when we were ready for a career in country music. He turned around, got into his freshly fueled BMW, and drove off into the Arabi sunset. Time raced by: my car was fixed, we were back on the road, and landed in Florida before you could say “Yeehaw!” Somewhere between Arabi and Englewood, I must have lost that business card because it was nowhere to be found when I emptied the car, my glove box, my wallet, my pockets, my gas tank, my sister’s backpack, or my luggage.  I like to think maybe Zac Brown or Brad Paisley found it and went on to fame and glory. Yes, world. You can thank me and my pedestrian American road trip for discovering the next great country music act. 

~Sara Spock is a Mom, Wife, Penn State Graduate, Substitute Teacher, Freelance Writer and Chocolate Addict.  When she’s not inadvertently turning down multimillion dollar record deals, Sara can be found over at The Hero Complex where she tries to save the world, one. recipe. at. a. time.


Which Way is Up?

 By Amy Mullis

I have a terrible sense of direction. My dad, who served his country in the Navy during World War II, considers anyone who can’t tell direction by the stars an underachiever with communist alliances.

 I don’t even know east from west. Dad tried to deport me when I was born just because I got my Poles reversed and slid backwards into the world. I once asked him why, if port meant left, all the portholes weren’t on the left side of the ship. He said I was adopted and began to refer to me as Comrade.

 I’d once recklessly promised the kids I’d take them camping, and since children never forget a promise made while you’re asleep, one summer morning my sisters packed the compact car with snacks from the crinkly-paper-wrapped food groups, handed me a map, and expected to find the campsite while our clothes still fit.

Glancing at the map, I noted that we would be traveling in the direction known to me as “down and a little to the right.” I checked the snack supply, carefully folded the map, and gave the go ahead to proceed.

“Why do you always have to wad up the map like that?” my sister asked lovingly.

“Shut up and drive.” I answered airily. I checked the snacks again. We might need more chocolate.

We were going to a state park in the next town. The whole trip should take less than an hour, mostly by highway.

 By suppertime we had crossed the state line twice, eaten our snacks, and were beginning to eye the remaining Ho Ho like the last chicken leg on the plate at the family reunion. We traveled on roads that still had buffalo tracks. At least once I saw the bleached skull of a steer marking the path.

Sisters are good for a lot of things. Their clothes always look better on you than yours do. Their kids steal straws from fast food restaurants and make random animal sounds to make your kids look like keepers. And sometimes, just when you need it, they will say the stupid thing so you don’t have to.

As we crossed yet another state line in the direction denoted on modern topographical maps as “UP,” my sister peered through the windshield at the sun setting behind a string of dusky mountains designated on the map as “SOMEWHERE ELSE” and said, (I promise she really said this.)

“If we could see it, we could drive to it.” Silence settled in the car. Even the kids stopped kicking the seat and writing their names on the windows in drool. The radio stopped playing. Crickets chirped.

The mountain we were looking for was roughly mountain-sized, festooned with trees and threaded over with rushing streams, all-in-all standard as far as mountains go.

 One child leaned over to the other and whispered confidentially, “If we could see it from two states away, it would be the biggest mountain in the world!”

 “Well, Comrade,” I announced. “The world is round. We can keep going the way we came or we can turn this wagon train around and give it another shot.”

She looked at me and her lips curled back from her teeth.

 I don’t think the map will ever fold correctly again.


The Need for D!

By Jennifer Caddell

I live in an area that rarely sees the sun. In fact, if you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll see that over 150 days each year is dedicated to ‘liquid sunshine’. I would add another 100 days of cloudy skies to that number which only leaves us a bit over three months of sun. If you were to visit my neck of the woods, you would see plenty of white skin and a bustling tanning salon business. (Not to mention the occasional sparkling vampire or Grimm creature) So what is a Portlander to do with only a small amount of blue? 

Well most us living in Portland get a bit batty due to the lack of vitamin D.  We wash our cars in the rain and don shorts and Birkenstocks when it is 60F. Most of us drink lots of beer and coffee to help us endure the constant gray and have pedicures to disguise our webbed feet.  But there comes a time for drastic measures (usually around March) when we need to get the heck out! 

So, every other year (when we’ve earned enough miles on our card), my family and I like to hop a plane with other pale Portlanders and fly to that tropical miracle known as Hawaii.

We even bring the kiddos with us.

Yes, we are THOSE people.

And once we land, we spend the first day of vacation passed out on the sand as the hot rays from the sun smack our skin before injecting us with that happy vitamin D drug.  Our cheeks grow a rosy bloom (all four cheeks), and our moods swing up above those daily Hawaiian rainbows.

But of course we become greedy, addicted, and foolish with the glowing wonder drug and soon we find ourselves skipping the nice golden tan and heading straight to chili pepper red.  So much so, we find ourselves spending the rest of our vacation covered in a shiny layer of aloe and peeling skin off our bodies on the flight home.  But that one day: That blessed day when those beams of light fill our bodies with sweet, sweet joy.  Yes, that one day is worth the scowl from our dermatologists.

The only problem with these sunny trips is coming home.  Our bodies joyfully become accustomed to the sunshine and warm air.  But arriving back to wind and hail quickly throws our sun-soaked bodies into Post Nirvana Traumatic Syndrome.  The symptoms include an immediate feeling of depression followed by hours spent looking at job opportunities and houses in Hawaii.  Once we realize jobs in Hawaii are scarce and houses are expensive, we find ourselves curled up in our beds with the covers over our heads and slathering ourselves in mango-scented body lotion.  PNTS is no laughing matter and it can last for up to a month.  However, Hawaii eventually becomes a distant dream and our sun-deprived bodies give up the battle while hoping for a long, hot, sunny summer that will last through all of July and half of August. (Crosses pale fingers.)

Jennifer Caddell is often found in her office conjuring up science fiction stories,  writing poetry or hiding in a corner while her children are looking for her. She blogs about food, crafts, and writing at her new site http://colanderhat.wordpress.com


Honesty in Gift Giving

By Pauline Campos

A conversation about a family trip.

Me: “David called. He and Erica want Buttercup to be a flower girl in their wedding with her being their goddaughter, and all.”

The Husband: “How much does the dress cost?” 
Me: “$170.00.”

The Husband: “Where’s the wedding?”

Me: “Far enough away from everyone’s homes that they took it upon themselves to block off a bunch of hotel rooms for guests.”

The Husband: “What do those run?”

Me: “I think it’s $150.00 for the night.”

The Husband: “I need a new suit. You need a dress. She needs shoes”

Me: “Why don’t I get new shoes?”

The Husband: “Because we’re already broke and we haven’t even looked at plane fare yet.”

Me: “Actually, I just bought three seats on a plane landing in Detroit two days before the wedding.”

The Husband: “Do I even want to know?”

Me: “It was twelve hundred for the round-trip tickets.”

The Husband: “You should have just said, ‘No honey…you really don’t want to know.’”

Me: “Yeah, but then I wouldn’t be able to tell you that I booked the tickets out of the Phoenix airport and we need to figure in 115.9 miles worth of gas for the Yukon.”

The Husband: “But we live in Tucson.”

Me: “Very good. Here’s a cookie. But if we drive twenty minutes to the Tuscon airport to wait two hours for a plane that lands 45 minutes later in Phoenix because every flight out of Tucson seems to connect there, most likely 20 minutes later than planned and leaving us 10 minutes to race to the other end of the airport to catch the connecting flight that will take us to Detroit, I’ll probably kill you for not just letting me cut out the middle man and driving two hours to Phoenix in the first place, that’s why.”

The Husband: “Phoenix it is, then. How much more is this trip going to cost us?”

Me: “Well, we can’t show up without a wedding gift.”

The Husband: “Really? We’re paying for a flower girl dress, flying cross country, springing for a hotel room, and putting up with both sides of the Crazy until we get on the plane back to Tucson and it’s not considered socially acceptable for us to get a pass on the freaking wedding gift?”

Me: “You mean we can’t afford a $3.95 Hallmark card?”

The Husband: “We’re just getting them a card?”

Me: “I figured it was a nice way of presenting our plane ticket stubs, don’t ya think?”

End of conversation.


Still Seeing Fireworks

By Susan Corpany

Thom and I met in person on the 4th of July, after several months of getting acquainted online and over the telephone. I could have said that I saw fireworks the first time he kissed me, if he had kissed me that July evening sitting in a car overlooking the valley and watching the fireworks. Instead he told me how this was the first time he’d been alone with a woman since his wife had died and how he felt like he was cheating on her. He kissed me a couple of days later in a most unromantic setting, his best friend’s garage, there among the bicycles and yard tools. He didn’t say anything romantic as I recall. Instead he said “There!” as in “I had a distasteful chore ahead of me and I have accomplished it.” I understood, because I, too, had been widowed. I knew we had nowhere to go but up.

Therefore, we have stuck with the fireworks theme as opposed to the musty garage as a representation of our courtship. I have a silky black robe with fireworks on it. Whenever we stand for the National Anthem, he will lean over and whisper “They’re playing our song.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that fireworks follow us wherever we go. And he loves to travel, a wonderful bonus.

We’ve watched fireworks light up the Space Needle, the Washington Monument, and even the  banks of the Mediterranean Sea when there was a wedding held at our hotel in Tel Aviv. In Paris we took a boat tour on Bastille Day to watch fireworks from “la Tour Eiffel.” I was stoked, sure this would be the ultimate romantic event of my life. 

Instead, several of us ladies “oohed” and “aahed” together as our partners huddled together at the edge of the boat with their cameras, determined not to miss a single Kodak Moment. Towards the end, Thom finally came and sat down next to me. Offering a little help for the romantically challenged, and just a trifle fed up, I ordered him to stay put and be romantic, like in the movies. He still could not resist capturing a few more shots, but then, rivaling any leading man on the silver screen, he put his arms around me, looked into my eyes and kissed me, longingly, lingering, looking into my eyes. I let the moment wash over me. I reminded myself that I was no longer a sophomore in high school memorizing French dialogues about trips to the Musée Louvre and hoping someday to visit France. I was in a boat with the man I loved on the Seine River watching fireworks in Paris lit off from the Eiffel Tower. 

Then I heard him utter that surefire romance killer: “There!”
Even so, it was the most romantic adventure of my life. So far. If you do it right, thirty seconds of romance can make up for forty-five minutes of neglect. And we got some great pictures.


Back to School

By Angie Mansfield

Last month, our head honcho, Stacey, asked us to try something new, and then post about it. Well, I didn't get a chance to post my something new last month, so I'm using my new editorial prerogative to use last month's theme this month. Hey, this job's gotta have SOME perks.

Anyway, last month I decided to get back into music after far too many years away. I played the clarinet in Junior High, and sang in the choir in high school, but haven't really made music in quite some time. Since my singing voice leaves much to be desired, and I no longer have a high school choir in which to hide it, I decided the music would have to come from an instrument. First, I bought a thing called an ocarina. Those of you with kids who've played Zelda (or who are fabulously geeky enough to have played it yourselves) may be familiar with ocarinas. Mine looks like this:

And it sounds like this:

(Or listen here.)

Which is all well and good, and it's kinda cool to have an instrument that's almost indestructible (because I'm a klutz) and that you can stick in a pocket and take everywhere (because I get bored easily). But the higher-key one (as you heard in the recording) is shrill enough to set dogs howling all over town when I play it. The lower-key one is more pleasant to the ears, but neither has much of a range of playable notes, limiting the amount of music one can enjoy with them.

I thought about going back to the clarinet, but they're, like, expensive and stuff. At least, if you want one that is actually playable. So I went for the next-best thing: A recorder.

Yes, the thing you played in grade school. Shut up. There are professional recorder players. I swear. Look 'em up on YouTube.

I got the recorder two weeks ago. Yesterday, friend and newest Erma Steve Barber informed us all that he has a new dog, and that her name is Matilda. So, this post has been my long-winded way of explaining why I recorded the following tune: To welcome his new furry addition to his home. Enjoy.

(Or listen here.)


Now Boarding

By Carole Lee

In my perfect world, airports would arrange all gates for each airline in a central area. I’ve never known why I exit Delta and then have to pass United, Delta (again), three fledgling airlines and American to finally reach my Delta connection. I’ve determined that the distance between my gates is directly influenced by a few factors:

Is it earlier than 5 a.m.?
Have I had any coffee?
Am I using the same carry-on that’s had a broken wheel for three years?
Is the escalator or people mover I need broken?
Am I connecting at LAX or Charlotte?

If it's earlier than 5 a.m., I am sleepwalking through the airport with a scary case of bed-head to begin with. No flight should ever leave before 5 a.m. The very idea that I would be tracking down a connection that early means my Priceline Negotiator is working for the other team.

If I haven’t had any coffee, every Starbuck’s and burnt coffee pot at Airport Burgers R Us is a distraction, slowing me down. Deliberately walking past coffee retailers when my blood-caffeine level is sitting at zero is as vexing as walking through Disney World with my socks bunched up inside my shoes.

If my carry-on is broken, the Gods of the Friendly Skies are clearly up there sipping Mocha Lattes and placing bets on how many times the little rolley case will flip over as I drag it through concourse after concourse. They’re also laughing at my bed-head.

If accessing the next gate requires the use of an escalator or people mover that’s broken, its time for a good cry. But not yet. There is coffee to be had on the next flight. Well, it looks like coffee. Kinda.

If all of this is happening at LAX or Charlotte, I’m approaching meltdown. I am not, however, getting any closer to the gate in the next half hour. I may also require therapy later. Might as well throw in a blister on my left heel just to make it a good time.

Flying used to be fun. I’d show up early to watch other flights arrive and depart. Flight attendants would hand out whole cans of Coke to passengers and smile while they did it!

These days, I arrive at the airport early in order to set aside enough time for my free TSA physical. If I want a full drink, I’ll be handing over $4 to a vendor for an undersize bottle of Pepsi, but only if I have time between flights.

I don’t know what happened to the fun days of flying. Maybe post 9-11 really is the culprit. Or maybe I am just old and grumpy. I think airlines should be more like AAA. With each boarding pass, travelers should receive a map of the next airport with their concourse route and all coffee retailers along the way highlighted in yellow. Until that becomes a reality, I’ll keep trying to book flights at reasonable hours, I’ll have coffee on the way to the airport and I will not ever connect through LAX or Charlotte again if I can help it.

I should also buy a new carry-on, but that’s shooting kinda high.

Carol Lee is a caffeine-fueled writer, fiercely-protective mom, blissfully-devoted wife, formidable wielder of power tools and rabid legal research whiz who thinks everyone should strive for a little more music and hedonism in their lives. Stop by and enjoy a cup of crazy at her blogs, Irrational Propensity and Irrational Propensity Renovations where she babbles about writing, gardening, cooking (as a sport!), renovating her 121-year-old folk Victorian farmhouse, her two mal-adjusted dogs and finding her way as a stranger in this strange land called life.