Spartan Existence

So, it’s been over a year since that comment in my last post about the renewed commitment to writing. I actually have been writing quite a lot, but only in my head where no one can read it. I don’t know whether I needed a new topic or whether it was the fear that no one ever reads my posts… I mean literally, not even my family.

What ever it was, I do have a new topic and so let’s see where it goes.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to own an Airstream, but new ones are expensive and old ones are scary. How would I know if I was getting a bargain or a nightmare? But still, I’ve looked at Craigslist ads every now and then for decades. So sometime, I think just over a year ago, I saw a Spartan Travel Trailer made in the 50s in Tulsa, Oklahoma I only found it because it was mis-advertised as an Airstream and it peaked my interest. So, I showed it to Russ and we were both bit. We looked and thought and learned. We looked some more. No, we’re not finished with the renovations on the house, not even close. We looked. We joined Facebook groups. We found great websites and lots of Facebook friendlies. For better or worse, we managed to neutralize the fear. We found an Avion. We went to Hilton Head to look at it. It was scary even for our new found bravery and we like Avions, but they aren’t Spartans and we didn’t think it was a price / condition match. We actually found several things we like. Boles Aero, Vagabond, M Class, and on and on. Trolley tops are really cool and there is some stuff out there that is just so awesome that I never knew existed. Each ad we saw represented a trade off between location, condition, price, brand and whether or not Russ could stand up in it. I had Craigslist alerts set up across the entire south east. Some how I couldn’t stop the Avion query from also giving me the frequent furniture ads by the same name.

I was up one night recently doing the late late night mucking about on the interwebs and I decided it had been some time since I had looked at actual Airstreams. I put in a search and there it was, an ad 15 minutes old for two local Airstreams, only 1 of them was a Spartan. The asking price was within reach and the wording said it was negotiable. This is the begining of something new and wonderful!

Diligence Due

Well, we’ve made it past due diligence and into the last stages of purchase on a house, but it sure was a coin toss for such an important and long awaited decision. I really appreciate fine workmanship. I respect time and old world craftsmanship, absent in the new standards construction and most other features of the house we’ve chosen. The positives are: a nice layout that’s good for short or long-term purposes, a good neighborhood, the right amount of space in mostly useful places and the right schools. It even has a beautiful (possibly solid mahogany) kitchen bar, but the house is covered in hard coat stucco that has cracks, messy old repairs and mismatched colors that show clearly, even in a low light photo.

There are decorator upgrades of personal taste, but widespread overdue maintenance indicating a total fail in the wise allocation of funds. With heavy pet allergens all the carpet will need to come out, and it won’t be fun for us as heavily committed DIYs. The house has potentially Money Pit qualities and it blew me away when due diligence exposed over 36K in unexpected expenses and repairs (those I didn’t allow for in the price), but the seller wouldn’t consider any price adjustment. I’ve had to consider the money I’d flush on 2 or more years renting to make myself move forward on this purchase.

And then there’s comparison to the home I lost. I like brick. It’s low maintenance (if it’s on all 4 sides) like mine was. That brick was straight and square and solid without any settling cracks. The old house had some irritating contractor short cuts. The original plumber had dropped the kitchen ceiling a foot and put the master bath vanity on a wall adjacent to the architect’s plan. I knew it didn’t belong there, and confirmed it when I stripped the wallpaper and saw the builder notes written on the wall underneath. The original plumber saved maybe $40 in copper pipe with these ugly modifications. I spent $5000.00 just getting a certified master plumber to restore the plumbing so I could then return the ceiling and vanity to the original plan. I despise these self centered short sighted short cuts, but the 1979 short cuts in that house were still less offensive than the newer short cuts that I’ll be fixing in this house.

As much as I want to be in a home that fits as many needs and wants as this new purchase, and to get on with normalizing life for my family, a feather could have changed my mind when the seller didn’t make any allowances for the problems exposed on inspection. None. Nada. Whether the seller already knew, or simply didn’t care, I remembered well why didn’t last in real estate.

I was offended, depressed and wrung out when I let the due diligence run out without the price adjustments that condition warranted. It may be the best decision I could make, given what I have to work with, but I rarely pay the wrong price for something and when I do I feel like I’ve been had. But, I was, I am, weary of the suspension of normal life and over ready to be getting on with things.

Friday night between midnight (when the due diligence ran out) and 3am or so when I finally made it to sleep, I was upset enough that I didn’t even want to sit across a closing table from the seller and I didn’t want to move our maple tree to the new yard. There’s a beautiful Tamukeyama weeping red maple that Russ planted in the old yard when we were dating. We’ve talked about moving it. He said it might take an entire weekend, given our equipment and making sure that it would live. It seems a lot of work to move a tree that’s been in the ground for 12 years, but I wanted the tree to move with us because Russ is the person who made me want to grow things again.

The part of this move that I’m struggling to get over is not that it unexpectedly became a seller’s market in my area just before I unexpectedly needed to buy. Life is a crap shoot and you take it as it comes. It’s not that I’m buying a fixer either. I wanted to restore something (if I can actually afford to restore this). I prefer to restore something old, solid and filled with grace. Not something that’s pretty new and only needs restoration because it’s been abused.

What’s bothering me is precisely that I’m tired of people getting away with having others clean up their mess. This seller bought a foreclosure at a fraction of market value, lived in it for over a decade (the decade that included the largest real estate meltdown in history), maintained it poorly and wanted sell for over 2.5 times the original purchase price. Neat trick if you can accomplish it right? Why shouldn’t anyone be happy about the same result?

But, consider this. If I am unable to make the purchase and repairs within the limits of a current market price, then the house isn’t worth what it costs me. If I pay more, I’m giving up future appreciation (that may or may not accrue). I’m giving my future to the seller, a seller who wants the big pay off regardless of having made decisions that don’t lead to that result, and regardless of who’s pocket it comes from. People who want others to pay their tab have always existed, but I think it is a disease, an epidemic drag on the economy and on our spirits that is reaching scarier heights with each passing day.

It’s the disease that killed my marriage. More importantly, it’s a disease that’s killing our country and I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic here. From building contractors to big banking, taxes to TV, environmental waste to drinking water, NIMBY’s to Pork Barrel Politics, people are maximizing small amounts of personal gain at a heavy and sometimes extreme cost to others, the exact opposite of Spock’s Law, rather than “The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few”, the accepted value sometimes seems to be “The wants of the one justify what ever you can get away with”.

It really seems like big business, big politics, big government and their marketing/campaign/”media”/”news” departments have been honing in on and amplifying the lowest common denominator in humanity for long enough to contribute significantly to debasing our society. The evolutionary brain’s survival technique of attempting to minimize effort while maximizing gain was pretty important when the challenge was to get enough calories to last the winter. Granted, it’s still pretty important now that we are living much higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy, but it needs to be channeled and enlightened. It is hard to overcome our baser selves when there are so many signals aimed at getting us to buy on impulse and maximize the rush, borrowing from tomorrow. When tomorrow comes the dopamine is depleted and it’s harder to get satisfaction.

Business, politicians and other entities constantly appeal to self-interest, they’re tapped in to the brain’s reward system and they use competition, salaciousness and tribalism to inflate the response of baser instincts. That makes us short sighted and easy to manipulate when we need take a long view and act with independent, conscientious thought. We need to be evolving in a changed world on crowded globe. Most of us, especially in the United States aren’t trying simply to survive anymore. We can afford ethics and balance, but too many of us have been worrying about how to get the next fix, anything from the newest cell phone, shoes, 3D TV, junk food, Facebook likes, extreme vacation or actual chemical drugs.

I’ve had a week to let my feelings about my new house and this national shedding of responsibility settle. The bigger, chronic problem is more troubling to me than my own personal run in with the latest reminder of the sickness, or even the one before that. I’ve been busy, so it’s been mulling around in the background, thankfully. Thinking about my own personal response to it all.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work on how I feel about the closing. I’m going to commit to this house. I’m going to make it the best I can with the resources I have and while it’s mine it will be maintained properly. I’m going to ask Russ to take that whole weekend and move that tree, out of the back from my old yard and into the front of my new yard. I’m going to combat the disease in my own way, in my own little space. And, if the time comes when I sell this house, I’m going to do my best to make sure it is a value.

A House, A House, My Kingdom for a House

That’s not exactly how the Bard wrote about King Richard III’s battleground predicament, but I’m feeling a bit of the same dilemma. Trying to find a home has certainly marked a winter of discontent (and rare winter storms). One of Shakespeare’s most misunderstood plays about one of the most controversial English regents seems a good thing to parody while I’m trying hard not to take myself or my situation too seriously.

Normally the decision to move comes at a natural break, a change in life or career that makes moving away or changing your home the natural thing to do. Mine came quietly in the wee hours of the morning with the sound of fire fighters who scarcely woke the neighbors while keeping the fire from spreading to their homes. My guiding change was only abrupt need.

A rush of decisions hit. First there’s triage, then there are bigger decisions. The decision about temporary housing had to be made before the long-term decisions. Conveniently staying near a major junction in interstates had advantages, but wasn’t convenient to the place I eventually decided was most important to find a home and, what turned out to be my primary goal and focus wasn’t anything I had even thought about before the fire. I knew that it would be hard to make decisions about small stuff before I made decisions about the big stuff, yet life moves on and the small decisions happen whether or not the big ones do.

I’m not so far from that time when many people downsize, and let’s face it. When you have just lost the house full of things you spent a lifetime collecting and inheriting, that does seem like a time to downsize. But I haven’t quite made the time when I can do that. My home needs to accommodate all the needs it currently fills. So, the house that fits this year, may not be the house I still want to keep in 3-5 years. I thought I really wanted a short sale or a foreclosure. The savings would help me to make up for the likelihood that I would be in the house for a short time and cancel out some of the extra expenses of a short-term ownership.

It’s a game for the big boys though. I’m looking for a home in Fulton County where those foreclosure auctions on the courthouse steps include the high value homes of Atlanta and its surrounds. Here, even a home that goes for pennies on the dollar can have way too many decimal places for me and even on the homes that do apply to me, the ruthless people who know what they are doing are competing for a decreasing commodity and they could swat me away with their little fingers.

My sweet spot would be getting a house that someone else got on the courthouse steps, but hadn’t remodeled yet. Something that still had room in the price for me to improve it and have a little reward for my work. I went to a meeting for investors who wholesale properties. I thought I might find someone who had a property for me. I wasn’t really comfortable there. There is a kind of respect that people are due and I couldn’t see it at this meeting.

It is true that people have to look out for themselves and their families. How one chooses to do that comes in every color, shape and size. I know a sales person who said “I looked at every sale that another man made as taking food from the mouths of my family.” He was successful, but in spite of how that sounds, he was also compassionate. People find their own ways to keep up the march and it is a struggle.

Some people have appetites that are never sated though. They lack appropriate respect for the resources they use. Some would take anything they can get and try to force a situation to squeeze out even more from people who are desperate and powerless. Do they need the win, the extreme TV or the power vacation? It’s about how ever they define superiority and superiority is not the hole I’m looking to fill.

The truth is that foreclosures are not distressed properties. They are the properties of distressed people and the choice to focus on the inanimate is just a means to help distance humanity. I want the good deal that helps to make up for some of my losses, both in the fire and in the future, but I want it to come from one of those careless people who doesn’t try and brought their trouble on themselves. I want it to come from the person who will never have anything because they go through life irresponsibly. I don’t want it to come from someone who lost their job through no fault of their own, or worse, lost their health. But I won’t get to choose and I may not know until their neighbors become mine. As much as I would like to take care of my own family in the best way possible, to find the best deal, to continue my march and fill our needs, I do understand that what I have been looking for could be heart wrenching if it actually comes my way and the search for any home at market or below continues as I weigh the prices and potential of what is available.

The housing market has changed since I was last paying attention. I’m seeing that trusted resources like Clark Howard recommend renting in the current market if you will be in a house for fewer than 10 years. I don’t like throwing money away on rent, but I’m not happy with my current options and I’m not expecting appreciation to make much headway over the short-term. If money is to be lost, loosing it without the additional risk of short-term market swings could be the lesser evil. Many of the houses that I can purchase have serious condition issues and the prices don’t seem to reflect that. I’ve drifted toward looking at homes that are far outside my budget to be ready if they become short sales, and kicked myself for missing it when a couple of them did. But, there’s no good way to know and my missing it was not through lack of effort.

This has been a winter of discontent, searching and storms, yet, I have still spent much of it grateful for the better than good bits and I continue to trudge through those other bits with faith that something will turn up.

The Weather in Atlanta Goes to Eleven.

by Russ

11 Alive is crackin’ me up.  Here’s how-

Our Atlanta area NBC affiliate, 11 Alive, has come up with a new marketing plan.  They have dubbed their weather department The Weather Information Zone. It starts off already sounding like the meteorologist has taped off a square on the floor of the studio with black and yellow hazard tape, bringing to mind Johnny Fever opening and closing Les Nessman’s imaginary office door.  This gives me a tiny inner chuckle every time I think about it.

But that wasn’t enough for them.  They had to go and develop a weather rating system, doubtless inspired by the marketing success of the Mellish Meter.  Fine, as a former hay farmer I object to someone trying to sum up the weather with one number, but I can get over it.  I am a city boy now, after all.  Why should they have stopped at the Weather Information Zone? Because the ‘logical’ name for their rating system is the Wizometer.  Yes, boys and girls, someone is publicly reporting on the Wizometer, and it has nothing to do with urine excretion: not quantity, not quality…no pee at all.

Still not enough, though.  The top score on the Wizometer is eleven.  As Enigo Montoya would say,”I do not think it means what they think it means.”  Seriously, what’s the first thing that goes through your mind when I say,”It goes to eleven?”  Did the marketing department never watch Spinal Tap?  Or are they so insular in their thinking that they only see how it applies to them? Every time they say today is an eleven, I laugh at them. (Not charitable, perhaps, but there it is.)

Someone please tell them up their on West Peachtree what’s really going on.  Or don’t; I could use the laughs.

LOL, Interupted by a Screech, or Not

Last week I heard about more “Driving While Texting” accidents than ever before. The problem has drawn heavy attention from lawmakers and law practitioners. Oprah is talking about it. The Georgia legislature is looking into the problem. A local news station is promoting pledges from its audience and running safety segments every time surf past.

We have evolved to this problem socially with emphasis on greater productivity, multitasking and multimedia ad nauseum. We took our children from one planned activity to the next with Gameboy in hand while also attending radio, video, conversation, whatever, . We used television as a baby sitter in the home and in the car. There is a constant feed of multiple stimuli in every aspect of life with no down time, constantly training us all to have divided attention. It is not surprising that we would carry that one step further to the operation of a car. The words usually used to describe a quickly growing problem like “epidemic” or “rampant” are so over used as to be meaningless, but the difficulty with divided attention and driving is growing at such a rate that “Texting while Driving” covers those concepts without any additional words to convey the magnitude or prevalence of a problem so large.

There is hope. Sometimes the solution to a problem lies in finding a way to accommodate a desire rather than trying to suppress it. There is a way to get commute time and down time or text time at the same time. Those kids in Japan wearing the school uniforms know the answer. It’s called public transportation, something we’re strangely lacking and strangely resistant to in the United States. On a recent visit to Japan I was invited to dinner by a Japanese family. The son travels a long distance to go to the better school and excused himself to go study. A friend asked “Do you study while you commute?” The mother interrupted protectively “NO, no no, that is his down time” and went on the convey that he uses that free time to relax, text, listen to music and “regroup” on the way home. Public transportation is magic. It allows one to do the impossible, to multitask down time. How great is that? And you won’t drive your car through someone else, their bumper or their living room while you do it.

I dream of the day when I can multitask my commute with down time or distractions without embarking on international travel, but unfortunately, public transportation is not practical from my home to anywhere else. The attempt to use public transportation from my home reminds of an old family story ” Lawd, you caint git there from here, yous gots ta go someplace else ta staart.” I’m also reminded of a neighbor who left Georgia saying that she felt like a prisoner of Marietta. She could never get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, but we can have our cake and eat it too. We don’t need to pave over paradise to put up a parking lot, or make more lanes to accommodate more gridlock. We don’t have to spend our mind space primed in anticipation of hitting the brake when 70 mile per hour, bumper to bumper traffic converts to gridlock in a hiccup. We can switch to seeing faces instead of tailpipes and and let someone else do the driving. When I hear the idea of public works projects as a means to stimulate the economy, I think of all the compound ways that investing in public transportation that the public can and will use pays off. It just makes so much sense. Some day maybe my dreams will come true.

How Cute are These Boots?

by Karen
Last Saturday morning our regular ritual was disturbed. Normally we go to the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market and run errands while listening to four favorite radio programs, “Martinis Con Queso”, “Wait,Wait Don’t Tell Me” , “Car Talk” and “Splendid Table”. Last week the farmer’s market was not scheduled to run and we got most of our errands done Friday, so, we were trying to decide what to do with the morning. I suggested that we might go to a local mall to watch the yuppie larvae do the Christmas thing at the doll store. I say that with fondness, humor, appreciation, cultural self-awareness and just a little bit of bite because I have such mixed feelings and recognize all of them when I make the suggestion.

I first became aware of American Girls character dolls from Pleasant Company when looking for gifts for my daughter. I was thrilled. Here was a set of old fashioned dolls complete with historical setting, old fashioned accessories, a book and an amazing wardrobe. It was a wonderful group of toys that allowed my child to be a child, to have a play experience that was wholesome, fun and age appropriate. One of the original dolls, Molly, had a story and accessories that were set during the time when my mother was a child. Molly looked like my mother looked, with braided pigtails and glasses and she carried a WWII nurse doll just like the one my mother played with as a child. After giving Molly to my daughter, I showed her my own mother’s nurse doll and she could see that her doll’s doll was a miniature that looked very much like her grandmother’s doll. There was a powerful thread of tradition in play when I bought this toy for my child and I felt really good about it.

The dolls and their accessories are expensive, but I was clearly not the only one willing to pay the price. Over time the line of toys has grown in every possible way. There are more characters from different times with different stories as well as non-character baby bolls. Mattel Inc. has bought Pleasant Company, and in select upscale markets there are retail stores with a party area where girls who are dressed like their dolls can have a tea party to celebrate a special occasion. Thankfully, Mattel Inc. left many of the features that make the dolls worthwhile intact, but the sheer magnitude of the current line is a bit over the top. There is a salon in the store where girls can take the dolls to have their hair done, part restoration, part theater.

Last year I was in the mall where the American Girls Store is located at Christmas when I moved into people watching mode. It was amazing. There were finely dressed little girls in their Christmas best with their matching character dolls headed to see Santa for the annual Christmas photo. Suddenly this grounded product line seemed to have carried the perfect childhood into the realm of the unreal, to a place where we might be in danger of meeting Veruca Salt. The scary part is that I don’t know where, exactly, the line lies between creating the perfect childhood in truth and creating the “perfect childhood” that isn’t, the one that has lifelong fallout.

Parenting is a mine field and the task grows more complex over time. The constant, independent of income, is that we want to protect our children from harm and to give them the best possible life; but with expanding economic expectations it is harder to define what the best possible childhood includes. Since the nineteen fifties parents have expected that life would be economically better for their children than it was for them. As a whole it has been. But, six decades later, the certainty of that expectation is beginning to weaken, the economic landscape is diverging and the reality is disquieting. Many people want it all and want it now, and they have lead a life that makes that desire a short-term reality. Some of these people have been on the top of heavily leveraged economic waves that left others paying for their choices and they are disconnected from the consequences. Pick any recent disaster of the financial systems and at the root there will be a group of people who tried to “outsmart” the system, to find a way to get spectacular returns over a short time span, or to live beyond their means. Frequently they move on to the next bubble just in time to let others pay the real cost of the last one. These expectations are fostered in childhood and grow up to send worldwide ripples in places like Dubai as well as at home. Over the decades, our ideal of the economic standard it takes to provide a perfect childhood have changed. Television programs about families depict those changing ideals and show the progression of expectation from the depression era setting of “The Waltons” through the post war boom setting of “Ozzie and Harriet” and on to today. Expectations increase steadily and as time goes by and become increasingly unrealistic. Like Lake Wobegone, “all the children are above average.

With all of this in mind, I watch the GAP commercial. Those are some beautiful kids. They are dancing and happy and wearing the cutest clothes. They are cool. What a perfect piece of marketing. Who wouldn’t want that perfection for their child? “How cute are these boots?” that song is in my head when I walk through the mall past the American Girls store. There I am in the mall again wondering where the line is. What constitutes the perfect childhood, what expectations are you planting for your children and what will they have to do in order to meet those expectations as they grow. How cute ARE these boots? I want them and I don’t even have a child to put them on anymore! At the same time, I can not imagine a childhood any better that the one in “The Waltons”. They did not have the material wealth that we think we need to provide for our children, but they did have everything that truly matters. When my family gathered for Christmas in Alabama, we filled all the bedrooms of my grandmother’s large antebellum home. The house was cold. Each room had a fireplace where a ceramic gas heater had been installed. We only heated the rooms that were being occupied and the heat would be turned down at bedtime. As we snuggled into the covers for warmth, invariably someone would call out “goodnight Johnboy'”.

Sweet SweetWater

by Karen

How many times can you say that you are a fan of a company when you don’t even use the product? I think SweetWater Brewery is great. I even like their motto “Don’t float the mainstream”. It is not about being different for the sake of difference, it just always seemed to turn out that way for me. But, it is not the motto that makes me a fan either.

I had seen SweetWater around in the grocery store and knew that it was a home town microbrewery, but hadn’t payed a lot of attention. Then one day we were at what was then our Tuesday night ritual. Trivia at Mellow Mushroom. SweetWater had a promotion selling paper fish to support the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper. We bought fish and participated in the contest. We won tickets to a brewery tour and party that had the potential to win us a trip to Montana. Thinking about Montana makes me all dreamy, “A River Runs Through It” is one of my favorite Book/Movies. I cross-stitched the closing quote from the book for my father. I love the setting too. I’ve been to Montana for a short visit. Occasionally I apply for ranger or other conservation jobs out there, and would jump at any chance to spend more time there. Russ hasn’t been and so a trip would be a new experience for him, and I just know that he would fall in love too. I’ve bee to a lot of brewery tours, especially for someone who doesn’t drink beer, but the cause was great and the prize one of the best we could think of, so we took our tickets and went to the tour.

The brewery tour was fun, and while I do not drink more than the smallest sample, I have many friends who both love it and consider themselves great connoisseurs. Russ’ favorites are the Blue and the seasonal, Festive Ale. The tour guides are the most laid back I’ve ever seen. I’d like to work for this company, but all the employees share one thing that I lack, an intense love of beer and I’m sure their product is better for it. I drink the occasional Shanty to be social when I am somewhere where people know what that is (lemonade and beer), but that is about it. The party was fun too. The Stonyfield Bus was there promoting the National Outdoor Leadership School and giving out yogurt samples. The River Keeper was presented with a check and the fact that we did not win a trip to Montana was the only thing approaching a downer for the evening.

Strangely, I keep going back. They have music at some brewery tours. Once there were these guys with electric guitars playing beach and surfer music. I was in heaven. I say that I’m there as a designated driver and I do drive, but I’m really just a fan. I didn’t go to the brewery this year, but there is an event I’m considering. They are hosting a clean up October 24th in SweetWater Creek State Park. The clean up will help with storm damage and other things. The park is one of my favorites and I would like to go, but it conflicts with something else. I’m not sure if I will make it, but if it fits in your schedule, I highly recommend it. SweetWater is serious about its beer and serious about its causes.

National Storytelling Festival, Day Two

by Karen

The first day of the story telling festival was the short program presented in sets of two stories per hour with half hour breaks between sets. It acquaints listeners with a variety of tellers. The second day is the long program where there is one story teller per hour, with half an hour break after every teller. On day two listeners can settle in with tellers they would like to know better. Some tellers tell a single long story, many tell two half hour stories. This is the big day. People who are attending only for a single day come for Saturday.

It is hard to decide where to go. All tellers are good, but we did discover some favorites on day one. An Irish teller, Niall de Búrca, was very animated on stage. One teller, Willie Claflin, used a puppet sometimes, but this weekend used music as the primary backdrop for his stories and his son Brian was with him for a special performance. They sang with the most beautiful harmony. Donald Davis told stories that made me think about my southern country roots. Many of the tellers have been featured on National Public Radio, but somehow I had missed those performances and most of these people were previously unknown to me.

As a first time attendee, I was definitely in the minority. Some people have come every year since their first year of attendance and for a lucky few that meant they had been coming since 1973. Many more people have come as often as they could. The festival is a gracious celebration of story telling and all of the tellers encourage those in the audience to tell their own stories. Though story telling is a natural part of all our lives, this was my first serious look at it as an art form and I was fortunate to experience that at the Mecca for story telling. Many in the audience come to learn from the best how to perfect their craft. Some tellers weave the telling of lessons into their stories, all include the life lessons they have learned in some form, often with humor and it is almost always moving.

I learned that our own Kennesaw State University has a story telling group, The Kennesaw Tellers, naturally. They were in attendance, participating at workshops and volunteering, all while wearing t-shirts advertising the February Festival.

Through talking to different people during breaks I understood that story telling like many of my other interests does, to some extent, defy categorization. In some universities it is studied in the English department, in others it is listed as historic in nature, in other it is a performance art. Some story telling is therapeutic and some is not even labelled as story telling. For someone trying to find the correct department in a college, the search can be trying as was confirmed when I was looking for the best link to provide information about the KSU tellers. Even as an attendee who was interested in the subject, my definitions were narrower when I arrived than when I left. I recognized that my favorite pastors over the years were the ones who were gifted story tellers, whether telling the stories straight from the book or stories of their own creation. There were other connections. For example, I enjoyed the story telling through music, but I did not anticipate it. I had been thinking of ballads as songs and forgetting that they were also stories.

Our day had the perfect October ending, scary stories in the park and then “home” to warm our hands and our marshmallows by the camp fire.

A Hum Tater Lecture

I was doing some internet research yesterday and ended up on the Georgia Organics web page. I checked the calendar just to see if there was anything interesting scheduled. A wild edibles lecture was listed for a different organization, Mushroom Club of Georgia. It had not been two weeks since I had attended a wild edibles hike in a nearby state park. It was conducted by the summer intern and she did a great job, but she was not local and she was still early in her education. I didn’t learn anything and that left me wanting. You never know, you could end up lost and hungry. Russ and I decided to go.

The visiting lecturer was Jerry Hightower, a 30 year veteran of the National Park Service and a local who grew up wandering the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area before it was a part of the National Park System. His lecture was a hum tater. That is a word he used to describe one of the refreshing beverages he was telling us how to make. “What does that mean?” he was asked. “You’re not from around here are you?” he answered, and then he said “Hum tater means that it is good”. And, by the way, I learned that acid content is what makes refreshing beverages refreshing and that there are several things you might have in your own backyard to make one.

Ranger Hightower had a great sense of humour and he was so jam packed with information that not even he could remember to say it all. Great questions from the room brought out even more. While the talk was given at a mushroom group meeting, none of his information was actually about mushrooms. He will give another presentation with a walk in the spring and promised to send us an email to let us know when. I’m looking forward to that.

The meeting was held at the Central Congregational Church in Atlanta, a very nice setting. Mushroom Club members were friendly and welcoming and there were plenty of well placed signs. The church has a long driveway that forks and other activities were also happening in the building. The signs kept us from needing to ask any questions anywhere along the way. Refreshments were served and there was a specimen table. I’ll definitely be going back.

Ranger Hightower had a table full of recommended books. Some of his recommendations are below. He cautioned that some of the books had great information, but were slim on actual identification (a pretty important part huh?). One book in particular had common names and was written from an European perspective, so that some of the common names were not the same as the ones that would be used here. It sounded like the best idea might be to get a few books and use the best parts of each. He said that most of the books were readily available from a number of sources, book stores, Dover. I didn’t hear him say so, but I expect they might also be available at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center.

Ranger Hightower singled out the next two books as recommended:

His version of this book was older and shared authorship with Dykeney

He also had several books by this author, including this one.

Canoeing the Hooch: An Elaborate Ruse

The time/money trade off is at the heart of the challenge in making it through a span of unemployment. There are things you would like to do, and there is time to do them because you can’t spend all of every day seeking that elusive next position, but making the emergency fund last as long as it needs to is the background stress making you wonder if it is really ok to take some time for fun. We thought a canoe trip would strike the balance. We already had the canoe, it was not motorized so no registration was required. It would cost parking fees and gas. We were going to canoe the Hooch, from Powers Island to the boat ramp Northridge Parkway Parking lot in West Palisades Recreation Area so gas would be minimal and parking would be $3 at each of two parking lots. This was the same route I had taken on an outing with the Georgia Conservancy in a raft with a friend from Missouri a few years back and I knew that it was a nice stretch. Russ had Monday off, so we had a plan.

It rained all evening Sunday and the forecast called for more on Monday. We talked about the effect on the river and and changed the alarm. Monday’s weather was looking better and about mid morning I said that I was tempted to go look at the river to see what it really looked like and Russ said that he thought we might as well take the canoe while we were at it. In for a penny… The river looked just as I expected it to, fast, muddy and high. I said I was 50/50 and he could push me either way. Russ wanted to go. We had taken separate rental kayaks on flat unchallenging water together, but had never floated together in a canoe. I had been out with my father as a child, but he always made all the decisions and did all of the paddling. There is only so much you can pick up through osmosis. So I said a little more, that I didn’t have the skill and couldn’t swim against the current, only at an angle with it, but I was happy to go if he felt that he had the skill to go alone and I would help as I could. He was confident. We dropped the car and headed up to Powers Island to put in. There was a put in on the narrower east side of the island with a course marked. We decided that was the least troublesome landing to use in high water and we were off.

Once you float underneath 285 there are a couple of apartment complexes and then things begin to look remote. There are hiking trails, but not much human activity until you near the take out ramp. Traffic sounds are quieted by the tree covered bluffs. Heron, ducks and other wildlife can be seen on the river and there is very little sense over this part of the river that you are in the middle of a large metropolitan area. We were having fun and getting used to paddling together. Russ was steering and giving me instruction the way we learned in previous raft trips. I was very comfortable. The things he was telling me to do were the things I would have chosen myself and we were working well together. We sailed through Devil’s Race Course and Russ decided we should pull out and look at the river ahead. We pulled out on the west side and there was a map posted on the trail along with a good view of the river ahead. We got back in and headed downstream again.

Things were going great until they weren’t. I’m not sure what turned us over or exactly where we were. I didn’t feel it when it passed underneath me so it must have been just a tiny unexpected bump as opposed to all the more seemingly risky things that we had passed through without incident. That little surprise and boom. As soon as we came up and both grabbed the boat and Russ said “This was all an elaborate ruse. I knew if I asked you to go swimming, you’d say no”. You’ve gotta love a sense of humor that is stronger than the current.

What we learned is that we work well together while wet and that we are actually able to right a pretty much sunken canoe and get back in it under less than ideal conditions. It took two attempts. During the first attempt I didn’t raise my end high enough and it didn’t quite empty. Russ’ Chapstick came out of his pocket. We both watched it float across the space between us and then away. Neither of us said a word. Neither of us was willing to let go of flotation, paddle or canoe to reach for it. It was a strangely quiet little pause as we both watched it pass.

I got to a higher rock. We righted and emptied the canoe. He held it steady while I stepped up still higher on the highest rock my feet could find, into the center of the canoe and then moved up to my seat. I knew that the canoe would begin to move downstream as soon as Russ tried to enter the boat. I looked straight forward and tried to be the best counter balance I could, but there was no need. I couldn’t believe it worked. I had prepared myself to take another dive. Not only was I surprised by the fact that we were under way and dryish, I was also surprised by the next thing I heard. Russ said “Ok, now this will really be a team building exercise because my glasses are at the bottom of the river. You need to be my eyes.” I hadn’t even noticed. We were also down to one paddle now.

I began to look for calm water and to direct him toward it. We used the standard clock type communication…”It’s at 10:00″ and so on. To make sure there were no hearing problems I began to confirm information with my arms like a cheerleader with big arm movements, left or right when he needed to go that way, then clapped together above my head for straight ahead. We looked for the paddle as we floated the remainder of the trip and never found it. Russ paddled alone for the duration. In a small tributary on the west there was a man with his dog. The man would throw float toys into the water and the dog was playing the happiest game of fetch that I think I’ve ever seen.

We got out at the boat ramp and both felt a little rush of gratitude for landing without further excitement. The trip was a good bit more expensive than planned with the loss of the glasses and the paddle, but all things considered we really weren’t too much the worse for the wear and we’re already talking about our next trip.