According to NBC’s Rossen Reports, if someone sells their iPhone or any smartphone, for that matter, without erasing their data, the next owner (or hacker) is able to access text messages, apps, shopping activity, banking information, you name it.
Jeff Rossen, NBC investigative reporter, even found some previous owners who had sold their phones online to let them know that their information is still “out there” on their old phones. They were all surprised. Why? Because Apple doesn’t quickly/easily/freely tell you anything.
If I need to know how to fully use my iPhone, why must I instead search for the online owner’s manual, or find an online forum or go to the FAQs? Wouldn’t a nifty printed manual be easier? It would. Of course, it would.
Maybe my idea is old-fashioned (yes, it definitely is), but I would really appreciate a printed manual with my $600 iPhone. True, Apple might have to reconfigure the packaging to modify the clean, edgy minimalist look we all know and love, but Apple should do it anyway. I shouldn’t have to scour the Internet — or rely on Jeff Rossen — when I need to learn how to protect, of all things, my privacy.
I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ was sent to Earth to save humanity from its sinful nature. He did save us. It is finished. There is nothing you can do to earn the grace of God provided by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. It is freely provided to you when you repent of your sins and accept Christ.
Yes, it sounds too good to be true. That’s why so many of us reject its simplicity. But salvation, eternal life and joy for this life on Earth can be yours.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Tad liked to play with matches and fire. He enjoyed other boyish pursuits, such as baseball and fishing, but he definitely had a peculiar attraction for fire. I always assumed that fires and the red-tipped sticks that started them attracted Tad chiefly because his parents had forbidden him to use them inside their modest ranch home. On the other hand, maybe his parents banned these items precisely because they knew Tad was so enamored with them in the first place. Then again, maybe they knew something I didn’t about their son.
Eventually, Tad found a way around his parents’ rule: he played with matches outside the house when they weren’t around. Whenever his parents pulled their burgundy Chevelle onto the main road to leave, he would wave to them from the driveway and they would wave back. As soon as he could see the dust rising from the gravel road through the tree row, he would gather his supplies. I didn’t understand why Tad hid this activity from his parents. After all, he wasn’t breaking the “no matches in the house” rule. Maybe he waited for them to go because he didn’t want them to worry. Maybe he waited because his father was six-and-a-half feet tall. Or maybe he knew, deep down beneath his worn flannel shirt, that he was courting danger.
When he played with fire outside, he would use the stray lid of a 55-gallon rusted steel barrel, the type of barrel that people who live beyond the city limits use to burn trash. He would light little fires on the lid, watching the sparks, feeding them tinder, twigs, and a few handfuls of hay he had gathered from the barn.
Gently and with great care, he would watch in wonder as his newborn fire developed into a child. With precisely timed puffs of breath and prodding, Tad would coach, “There you go, you can do it!” As his creation rolled over and then sat up, he would use his hands to shield the flames from the breeze and whisper, “You got it! You got it! Go!” Finally, his baby fire would stand to the height of a toddler.
At that point, Tad had won and he would stand, hands on hips to block the wind, and stare at the flames, just stare, mesmerized by the miracle on the rusty barrel top. His eyes would fixate then, and enlarge to show his mind wandering off. I never knew where his thoughts drifted, but I suspected they went to Jennifer and the trip to Wyoming he had taken with her family a year before. He had told me several times on the way home from school about that trip.
“I wish we could go back, and that I could stand with her again on the boardwalk over those geysers,” he said. “I wish we could do that again.” Their relationship had ended after that trip, and even though I was friends with both Jennifer and Tad, I never was able to discover what exactly had gone wrong. As he stood next to the fire, staring, he would lilt to one side and the toddler fire would keep growing to the size of a kindergartner until I snapped him back to earth. All I had to say was, “Tad.”
Building a fire in the open on a barrel lid was often hard to do for one reason: the Kansas wind. Time and again, when Tad had just nursed a flame into existence, the wind, which never really stopped blowing, would gust suddenly and snuff out the growing flame. If one wasn’t prepared for this, and hadn’t readied sufficient tinder off to the side of the barrel lid, any fledgling flame would have a slim chance. If you could just get out of the wind, things would change, and that fire might prosper. On a Kansas farm, the best place to get out of the wind — but still be considered, technically, outside the house — was the barn.
So one steamy July day at Tad’s place, the afternoon soap operas came on, and his cousin Mike, who was visiting from Nebraska, suggested we make a fire in the gravel driveway. Apparently, the two of them had already made some fires during Mike’s week-long stay. Perhaps Mike, however, did not understand Tad’s fascination with fire.
Tad felt it was safe since his parents were gone. They had driven to town to pay the assorted bills that accumulate over the course of a month. It would be a while before they returned.
In the driveway sheltered by towering catalpa trees, Tad hovered over his supplies as Mike and I sat off to the side, drinking root beer from sweaty bottles of Mr. Frostie. Tad sparked and lit miniature flames on the barrel lid, fighting with the wind to start his fire, coaxing the flames into small blazes barely stable enough to roast a marshmallow. He directed the flame paths with his hands, then used the side of an old cardboard box to fan some more. His eyes lit up as a meager blaze leapt into the air. The wind came up again and extinguished it. He then knelt, leaned forward, and blew again on the pile of sticks and straw at just the right moment, only to see the ensuing flame wither and die in another unexpected breeze. After thirty minutes of this, Tad gave up on the driveway setting. “Let’s do this in the barn . . . get outta the wind,” he suggested.
“That’s a bad idea, Tad,” I said. “It could catch fire.”
“It’ll be all right. I’ll watch it like I always do,” he countered.
“Let’s do it,” Mike said and that was all that Tad needed. He knelt and lifted the barrel lid from the driveway with both hands, and then, like a waiter in a fine restaurant, elevated the loaded tray above his right shoulder and walked hurriedly to the barn, leaving Mike and I to finish our root beers.
“I’m goin’ home,” I said, knowing where this could lead. Tad nodded his head, but never slowed down. Mike followed after him.
An hour later, from my bedroom, I heard the sirens. I bolted upright, tied my shoes and ran from our house, through the yard, across the county road. I stopped at the mailbox at the end of Tad’s driveway. I watched the black clouds of smoke billow against the royal blue sky, then headed toward what had been the barn. Tad, Mike, and now a small crowd of neighbors stood, open-mouthed, wiping their brows, shaking their heads.
Mike told me that by the time the fire department had arrived, there had been nothing much to put out. “I wish I had thought to set up the hose or at least get a bucket of water ready,” he mumbled. Standing in the hot sun, we watched the huge heap of charred timber smolder and smoke. Piles of ash diminished with each gust of hot wind.
Mr. Ivy, whiskered and old, from the next section over walked up to Tad. “What were you thinkin’, Tad?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think it would burn like that.”
“They always say, ‘Don’t play with fire.’ You ever heard that one before, Tad?” Mr. Ivy pressed.
“Yeah, Mr. Ivy, I’ve heard that one before,” Tad said, smearing his forehead with his sweaty, dirty hand. He stood, angry and embarrassed, studying the sputtering coals. He didn’t have that far-off look in his eyes this time. Instead, he appeared to hold fast to this one horrifying moment and the worse one to come when he would face his father returning from town.
When his parents did show up a little later, I backed away from the crowd. His father parked the Chevelle by the house and ran to the crowd and the smoky remnants of the blaze. His mother stayed at the car, put her face in her hands, turned, and walked steadily back to the house.
His father approached him, looked in shock at the fire’s remains, then turned to Tad. “What happened?”
“It got out of hand, Dad,” Tad replied.
His father looked for a long while at Tad. He said nothing, but stared deep into his son’s eyes, down to to his cheeks, chin, and back to his eyes, inspecting the product he had created. Then, with both of his long arms, he shoved all his weight against his son’s shoulders, and the boy crashed to the dusty ground. The neighbors and remaining firemen hushed their quiet conversations.
Tad, lying in the dirt, looked up at his dad, and wiped ashen tears from his eyes. His father shook his head and walked away, thrusting his hands the size of snapping turtle shells into the back pockets of his Levis. Twenty feet further, he stopped and studied the ground for a short while, and then turned and strode back to Tad.
Gazing down at him, he sighed and then said quietly, “Well, it could have been worse.” He pulled his hands from his pockets, hitched up his jeans, and knelt down, looking squarely into his son’s eyes. “Do you get it now, Tad? Does it make sense? Why you can’t just drift off to her?”
His dad held out one hand. Tad took hold, and with a heave, his father pulled him up and into his chest. Most of the neighbors had quietly slinked away, allowing a family in turmoil to right itself without their oversight. Tad and his father embraced and I realized that perhaps Tad’s father remembered what it was like to be young. To be figuring out how to keep your feet on the ground, even though your heart is a million miles away. Many naturally learn this lesson without notice; it comes easily. Others absorb it reluctantly, as the carefree days of youth give way to adult deliberation and practicality.
In the end, Tad and Mike each had to work off $18,000 to pay for the loss of the barn, the burned hay, and the hay the cattle would need for the upcoming fall and winter. At five dollars an hour, Tad kept busy for the next two years learning his lesson the hard way. There weren’t many opportunities to think about Jennifer during that time.
When I was six years old, I had a friend named Sheila. Sheila wore dresses every day. Her favorite one was the color of a mimosa blossom. A magenta satin sash with a rhinestone placed in the center accented her waist, but also got in the way when she lifted buildings. One late summer afternoon, Sheila lifted – a full two feet off the ground – the garage behind the United Methodist Church downtown. She strained and grunted to hold it up for about five seconds before gently setting it back down.
Even though Sheila and I were good friends, no one else had ever met her. I had spoken proudly of Sheila and her weight-lifting feats to my mother and my older sister, but they never had the pleasure of meeting her. She was my own secret, elusive – and muscular –friend.
Two months passed after she lifted the garage. School started and Halloween came around again. The Saturday before Halloween, my mother, sister, and I went to Whitson’s Grocery. As we drove down Judson in our big, red Bonneville, I saw a house I had never noticed before. I blurted out, “Sheila’s grandma lives in that house.”
My mother turned and looked at me intently. “She does?”
“Which house?” she asked.
“That one. The plain one.” Peering from the back seat, I pointed to a small, white bungalow sitting squarely in an unkempt yard. The shades were pulled in the windows and an empty swing hung at one end of the porch. I justified the home’s bland appearance. “Her grandma is really old and likes plain houses. And she uses a cane.” My mother rubbed her forehead as she stopped at the corner and checked for oncoming cars. I decided to press on.“We should go trick-or-treating there on Friday.”
“Well, I guess . . . we could do that,” she hesitated, and then glanced over her shoulder to my sister riding next to her in the passenger seat. My sister shook her head.
The week continued and the thought of my impending visit to Sheila’s grandmother’s house crossed my mind often. Friday arrived. We donned our hand-me-down clown and hobo costumes that we had dug out of the trunk in my mother’s sewing room.
At dusk, we followed our regular trick-or-treating route, walking door-to-door to neighbor’s houses, then driving to our friend’s houses beyond our neighborhood. As I climbed back into the car after our last stop, I reminded my mother that we still needed to visit Sheila’s grandma. “Well, let’s go before it rains,” she said.
Just then, a gust of wind rattled the leaves in the oak trees, the cool freshness of an approaching storm entered the car, and I suddenly dreaded the idea. Sheila’s grandmother was a real person, after all. We ventured down Judson anyway, looking for the plain white bungalow in the dark. “There it is,” I said.
My mother applied the brakes, pulled over to the curb, and put the car in park. “Make it quick.” Thunder rumbled from east of town.
My sister and I climbed out, carrying our bright orange plastic pumpkins. We trudged across the yard. My plastic clown mask, still wet with sweat from our last stop, dangled around my neck as we strode up the sidewalk and ascended the steps. The windows were dark, but the porch light was on. Apparently, Sheila’s grandmother did not observe Halloween. There was no jack-o-lantern. No colorful fall cut-outs taped to the windows like we had at home.
Standing on the porch, I looked down at our car to see my mother leaning over in the seat watching us. I pressed the doorbell. We waited. The house was quiet. My sister rolled her eyes, set her pumpkin down, and crossed her arms. She had had enough. “Sheila’s grandmother doesn’t live here,” she said aloud. “Come on. This is dumb. Sheila’s not even real.”
But then the porcelain knob rattled and the door opened. A woman stared blankly back at us. “Yes?”
“Trick-or-treat,” I said meekly. My sister was silent, forcing me to follow through. Without a cane, the woman stepped toward us over the threshold, into the glare of the porch light. Her thin lips glowed an unnatural poppy red color. She wore a gray cotton house dress and her hair, stiff and dark and streaked with gray, was fashioned in a youthful flip.
“Oh, I don’t have anything to give you,” she replied in a no-nonsense way, her eyes studying our tired, well-worn costumes. She craned her neck forward, and squinted beyond us to the street to see who on earth had brought us to her home late on Halloween night.
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Well . . . bye.” I decided not to mention her granddaughter and our unique friendship. My sister swiped her pumpkin off the porch, pivoted, and ran down the steps to the car. I followed. Behind me, I heard the woman close the door, and turn the deadbolt with a click. I tumbled into the backseat, relief washing over me.
“She wasn’t ready for trick-or-treaters,” I said.
My mother smiled knowingly and shifted the car into drive. “You girls have plenty of candy anyway. Let’s get home and sort it out. Hot chocolate sound good?” We both nodded.
As we headed back toward home, I stirred the mound of candy in my pumpkin, feeling the crinkly foil, plastic, and paper wrappers, envisioning how much floor space it would occupy when I dumped it out later on the carpet.
It was the first and last time I ever saw the woman I called Sheila’s grandmother. Over the next month, whenever I passed by the plain white bungalow, I thought of how meeting her had allowed me to separate from Sheila. Sometime around Thanksgiving, I just told everyone that Sheila had moved to California. I haven’t heard from her since.
One day in 1992, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We had seen the house from a distance and had admired its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete masonry. It was intriguing and beckoned a closer look.
Wright originally designed the 2,200 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952. We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. We can’t even recall her name now. Maybe she was renting it or acting as caretakers while the owners were away temporarily. We accepted our acquaintance’s invitation to visit the historic home and stopped by one sunny afternoon for a tour.
Perched near Camelback Mountain, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical. It was also trashed. Our acquaintance, who was fortunate to occupy Wright’s last residential masterpiece named ironically, “How to Live in the Southwest,” was, in short, a slob.
Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded. All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a winding walkway ramp; Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture; ubiquitous concealed built-ins; custom carpets; a rooftop deck; panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain. Without a doubt, we had seen it at its worst and even then, it was beautiful.
As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular structure, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her — and the house.
Not too long ago, I was curious as to the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year later. So I googled the house while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences. Yes, the house did survive that messy time.
And somebody, many people in fact, care about the house’s existence and condition today. After their deaths, the Wrights passed on the house to a granddaughter, who later sold it to a developer who wanted to demolish it. Concerned citizens stepped in, and the house was eventually saved. In fact, another developer is now devising a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours, weddings, and cultural performances. It seems a fitting purpose for the architectural gem now known as the David & Gladys Wright House. Still, there is controversy surrounding the whole ordeal, which I likely don’t fully appreciate or understand, since I no longer live in the area. To find out more, go here. As I understand it, the developer wants to expand his concept and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are upset about the increased traffic and congestion they expect to occur.
I hope, even though they disagree on a number of points, that the developers, area residents and preservationists are united in their gratitude that the house previously survived a greater controversy: the disrepair and poor treatment it received when it was in the care of our acquaintance.
Mildred Sneigel liked dogs. She had always owned at least one dog, even before her husband had died. Her dogs tended to be lapdogs, smaller, terrier-sized breeds that she could easily care for, groom, and converse with. Cats were another story and the two little girls who lived across the alley knew it.
One morning, on the kind of lazy summer morning that allowed them to stay in their pajamas longer than they should have, the younger of the little girls was playing with her older sister in their backyard when they heard the old woman across the alley talking.
They dropped their spoons into the mud and crawled on the damp grass each to the base of a skinny poplar tree. They listened.
The old woman said “Good doggy,” and “Be a good little doggy.” She carried a shovel and took small steps around her own backyard in her gray rubber rain boots and long, floral raincoat. Her head bobbed among the wisteria and rose bushes and was enveloped in a clear plastic headscarf, the kind that folds up into the size of a business card and then has a little snap to keep it all together.
The girls, who were not naturally inclined to torment others, nevertheless chose to torment Mildred Sneigel on this particular morning. If only they had known her better.
Their plan: crouch beneath their respective poplar trees, send meows into Mildred’s backyard, wait for her response.
At first, the sounds they made were the tiniest, tenderest of mews, the sort you might hear from a three-day-old kitten. Mildred gave no response, continuing to scrape at the topsoil to the right of the iris patch with a rusty, claw-shaped hand rake. No fun.
Then, their mews became bolder, less tender, akin to the sounds one might hear from a gangly, mildly dissatisfied teenage cat. With this, Mildred paused and looked into the branches of the elm tree above her. That was better. The girls’ eyes met and they stifled their mouths into shrugged shoulders.
Then, the older sister took the lead and lobbed the final grenade. What began as a tiny kitty mew lengthened into a quite realistic, prepubescent meow, which evolved into the gruff, gravelly howl of a geriatric feral tomcat. The duration of the meow was impressive. Its tone rose and dipped and curlicued around the older sister’s tongue, into her chest and then out through her mouth, which guzzled with silent laughter as she collapsed into a ball on the dewy grass.
By that time, her younger sister was also engulfed in secretive, red-faced laughter. Her cheeks streamed with tears. Dirt plastered the two sisters’ knobby knees and legs, grass clippings mingled in their bangs, and tears and dew dampened their pajamas.
That final lob did the trick. Mildred’s eyes tore over her shoulder, she raised her claw, and she stomped in her rubber boots to the back edge of her yard, headed directly for the girls’ poplar tree seclusion. She scanned the length of the lot, and stooped to peer into the darkened rows of shrubbery, weeds, and decrepit lawn ornaments frosted with molds and lichens.
“Out of my yard, you cats!” she barked. “Out.”
Seeing no feline trouble-makers, she stood back up, transferring the hand rake to her other hand. “Just leave,” she spoke quietly into the shade.
She returned to the iris bushes and settled to her knees. She patted the soil with her hands, and leaned into the earth. The girls, who had by then righted themselves to their spying positions, watched Mildred pull two wooden paint-stirrers from a nearby bushel basket. She arranged the slats into a cross and then held it together with one hand, while the other rummaged through the basket and pulled from it a length of wire and a pair of wire cutters. She wound the wire around the center of the cross several times to secure an “X” and then with a click, snipped the wire in two. She gently submerged the base of the cross near the far end of the little plot of soil. “Good doggy,” she said. “You were such a good little doggy.”
The girls watched in silence, then glanced at each other. Their glee turned to regret, and grief, too, since they had remembered seeing Mildred’s little dog prancing about the yard following its owner.
They stood, brushed off their dirty knees, straightened their pajama tops, and went back inside their house to change. They left their spoons in the drying mud.
During my growing-up years, I had always been taught by good parents to be aware of my surroundings — whether at home or out on my own. And while I heeded that advice, I needed my parents to complete the thought. I needed to hear why: because bad things really do happen to unsuspecting women and if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, someone might take you away from us. I finally figured that out after college when I was living on my own and running daily near my apartment in Topeka, Kansas and had a “close call” with a stranger in a car.My route, which I ran alone and required about thirty minutes to complete, took me through a recreational complex across the street that contained what was known then as The Gage Park Zoo and a well-landscaped public park. My route then continued on into an adjacent neighborhood clustered with middle-class homes, and finally back to my apartment community. Everyday without fail, I would get up at 6 a.m., walk through the zoo and park, run through the neighborhood, have some breakfast, shower and get ready for my 8-to-5 job at the Kansas Press Association, which was a short five-minute drive away.
One fresh, quiet morning as I entered the park, I noticed a car in a parking space near the front edge of the zoo. As I walked by, I saw that a man was sitting inside the car. Strange, I thought, for six in the morning. Suspicious. It was light out, but barely. A humid haze hovered over the park grounds and the only sounds you could hear were the whir of traffic on the distant freeway, the chirps from a few songbirds, and the drowsy mumblings of teenagers catching up on the previous night’s news at the park’s swimming pool.
I continued to make my round-about way through the park: past the central square lawn, right at the rose garden, then another right back down the other side of the square lawn. When I rounded this last corner, I noticed the car again. It was backing out of its space. Good, I thought. It’s leaving. But then, instead of turning toward the way out, the car turned into the park, and made a right onto the lower edge of the square lawn. Our paths would intersect, I knew, if he made a left at the corner of the square lawn. Which he did. Now it was inevitable: we would meet. He was up to something. Was he going to stare at me? Was he going to kidnap me? Would this be an abduction?
Keep in mind that this was in 1989. Before cell phones. Before pagers. If there was trouble, there was no way to contact someone. These were the days of the pay phone, but I was unaware of any pay phones in the park.
With the car approaching, I glanced over at the pool and knew I could cut across the lawn and find refuge there. But my independence didn’t allow that. I stayed on the paved road and continued heading straight toward the car, which was now approaching me. I eyed the car. I told myself to make eye contact with the man. Make good, solid eye contact when he gets here, I thought. Even though I was terribly afraid, I was not going to appear to be that way. So I would maintain my stride, look him in the eye, and keep walking. I would walk strongly, confidently, quickly. This is what I do everyday of my life, mister, and you aren’t going to stop me, I grumbled under my breath.
Soon, the car was upon me. Driving slowly. Five miles per hour, if that. The muffler on the older, metallic, olive green sedan hummed and coughed. All too quickly, he was upon me. We made eye contact. I looked at him clearly, intently, and held my stare. He was white, unshaven, sun-tanned, with hazel eyes. His gaze met mine for a long, tense moment, all the while driving slowly, window rolled down, his left arm lazily resting along the top of the door. He drove on by. I had previously decided that I would not turn and watch him continue through the park. Didn’t want to provoke him. Didn’t want to make him suspicious of what I might do. So I kept walking and heard the car gradually accelerate behind me. And he was gone.
I never saw the man again, but I did change my routine. I started running in the evenings around six o’clock when there were more people out and about. Before the incident, I had known that keeping to a set workout routine (same route, same time everyday) was ill-advised for a woman, but I obviously didn’t take that advice seriously enough either. At least not seriously enough to change my all-too-predictable behavior. Again, perhaps I wasn’t told exactly why I should vary my schedule. After all, it’s hard to do, and in my opinion, an unreasonable expectation for women.
Wasn’t it enough to just be aware of my surroundings? Apparently not. Because even though my parents had already taught me that, my Gage Park “close call” taught me the point of that advice: because bad things really do happen to unsuspecting women and if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, someone might take you away from us.
My husband wants to pick some blackberries, so he gets another bucket from the shed and heads to the ten or so rows of blackberry bushes toward the less-frequented part of Persimmon Hill Berry Farm in Lampe, Missouri. I wait for him under a cedar tree at a picnic table with our two one-gallon buckets brimming with the blueberries we just picked. It’s a sunny, humid day. Among the rows of Collins, Northblue and other varieties, the air is thick and still. Oppressive. But while I sit in the shade, a gentle breeze chills the dampness on my neck and arms. I observe and listen to the mid-morning activity of blueberry pickers.
A mother walks purposefully by. She is wearing a stiff, white Anabaptist bonnet and a long, navy blue cotton dress that covers her neck, shoulders, arms. Its hem reaches to her mid-calf and draws my eye to her footwear: hot pink, sparkly flip-flops. Her son wears long shorts, a plaid shirt, and a gray cap. They chatter in a loose and quiet German. The woman’s daughter, about four years old and the younger of her two children, wears a burgundy dress in the same style as her mother’s. Her blonde pigtails bounce with every step she takes in her sandals. She lags behind her mother and brother, dawdling to carefully study three little girls sitting at the picnic table to my right. Like baby birds, they perch atop the table, lifting their freckled cheeks to their mothers to be evenly coated with sunscreen and dutiful vigor.
The bonneted mother turns for the daughter and curtly calls her to hurry. Drawn to attention, the little girl’s eyes dart upward and her mother grasps her hand, pulling her alongside. The girl stumbles, hops, and dances to catch up to her mother’s long, deliberate strides. They turn into a row and disappear among the bushes near the far-end of the acreage where the berries are at their heaviest and sweetest.
My husband returns with a bucket half-filled with shiny, bumpy blackberries, many the size of elongated golf balls. It won’t take many to make a pie, which is what he intends to do this evening. We gather up our buckets and head for the house to pay our bill. I glance back across the valley of blueberry bushes. I see the mother’s starched white bonnet hovering over bushes and I appreciate her determination to accomplish the day’s tasks with her two little ones in tow.
This is a photo of a kiln shelf. It’s a one-inch thick, 12-pound shelf made primarily of mullite high-alumina clay that will withstand the 2,350+ degrees (F) of a gas-fired kiln. The shelf holds pottery and other items that are ready for their second and final firing. In the photo, the brown “paint” is actually kiln wash that I painted onto the bare spots of about 20 kiln shelves today. After firing, it will appear white as shown in the photo. Without this kiln wash, the glaze on the pottery would adhere to the shelf during firing and then likely chip from the pot as it is removed from the shelf after the firing. I say likely because before you set pots into the kiln, you must sponge off the excess glaze that lingers on the foots of bowls, plates, cups, vases. However, occasionally, a small drop or drip or smear of glaze escapes the sponge and necessitates applying kiln wash to the shelves.
I’m a middle school language arts teacher, but during the summers I often find myself back in my husband’s ceramic art studio, doing some of the unglamorous tasks involved with, but absolutely critical to, the making of ceramic pottery, sculpture, and the like. Many think that “making pottery” primarily involves that spinning thing (the potter’s wheel) and paint (glaze), and clay. However, the behind-the-scenes work of a potter is much more mundane, complex — and more quietly beautiful, even — than those moments that some readers may recall from the movie Ghost.
She ran her finger down over her knee and felt nothing. What’s going on, she wondered. Why did she have this numb, yet tingly feeling just below her knee? She followed the vague sensation down her shin. It continued. How strange, she thought. Probably nothing, but she Googled it anyway, so she could forget it later. As a result, she discovered that others about her age had experienced this same phenomenon. One website told her what she wanted to know: if the numbness was not accompanied by other symptoms, it should be acknowledged and noted, but not feared. She pondered it for a moment, tracing a circle over the numb spot, turning off her phone. Could turning fifty, which she had done six months earlier, be one of those other symptoms? Should she worry?
A car blared below, pulling her back to the moment. She decided to follow her own advice, doled out so many times over the years to her kids when they suffered mysterious stomach aches, spontaneous rashes: just keep an eye on it.
Turning off her concern like a faucet, she grabbed her phone and took some photographs of the scene outside her downtown Hanoi hotel window: layered apartments painted in royal blues, marigolds, and dusty whites were punctuated with balconies that dripped with trailing plants and vines. Evenly stacked window air conditioners hummed and hovered over an alleyway. A bicycle, three scooters, and a gleaming black car darted below. It was time to go, to venture out into the alleyway, and explore this city. Life was too short to wonder about something she couldn’t feel.