No Accountability: The Best Reason to Get a Career in Weather Forecasting

Weather by Bryan Ward and Catherine Breese

This past holiday week a ginormous, terrible, and destructive storm was predicted by every weather person on the East coast. They even named it: Boreas. We were all told to hurry to the store for our Thanksgiving meal ingredients, leave at least a day early for travel, and prepare to sit motionless in miles of traffic stuck on icy roads. Perhaps some of you were detoured by the big scary forecast.

In our area of the country we were warned about ice, the most devastating weather condition known to man (if you want to drive a car with bad tires to a family Thanksgiving feast.) I heard about the storm and immediately turned on the Weather Channel where I learned from the gesticulating weather person that the lives of my family who were going to travel were in grave danger. Despite the handsome gesturing and a deep sexy voice, the man’s message was clear: we were all going to die. I called Bryan: “I don’t think you should come. It’s supposed to be really icy. I’m scared.” Bryan: “Turn off the Weather Channel!”

As the next two days unfolded and weather-people appeared on TV standing next to wet roads, or dry roads, or under the three fluttering flakes of the snow that fell in lieu of the 3 inches/feet that were predicted, there was nary a hint of humility. “Well, the storm is dying down now.” “Thing’s here in Pittsburgh are pretty clear for travel.” “We’re getting that good rain that we’ve been needing.” Where was the apology? Where was the admission of guilt? Where was the “mistakes were made” speech?

Being a weather forecaster requires a few things: a handsome and/or pretty face, good sturdy professional clothing, the ability to point and talk simultaneously, and–the most important element–drama. You’ve got to be able to dramatize all weather situations, highlighting the worst possible scenario. You must be able to ignore history and seasonal influences and deliver with a straight face the news that 12 to 18 inches of snow are going to fall in November in North Carolina. You have to be able to look America in the face and say “The Macy’s Day Parade may be cancelled this year.” You don’t need to worry about being wrong, because weather only has a future, no past. The last time a weather forecaster checked his own accuracy was never. Weather-people are just like ex-husbands–they ruin your plans and they never apologize.

The Weather Channel is clearly owned by someone in the French toast industry. As soon as there’s a snowflake in the forecast, the bread, eggs, butter, and milk disappear from the grocery store shelves faster than teachers flee a school building at 3 o’clock on a Friday in June. And if no one is panicking, then no one is tuning in to the news and weather to find out what’s happening. It’s nothing short of corruption.

How about a little honesty? I guess that since the big H has vacated the rest of journalism, no one cares if weather is all slant and exaggeration as well. Spin, spin, spin away. We’re all too embedded in the system to say that the emperor has no clothes.

Well,I’m done. I’m not going to do it anymore. Just as I abandoned the medical profession for WebMD, I am dumping weather people for NOAA. That’s the same place that the erroneously reckless weather community gets its weather information. Then, I’m going to look out the window, step out the back door and look up at the sky. My forecast is…there is a 100% chance of weather today.

Boreas Strikes Outer Banks with Unexpected Sunshine!

Boreas Strikes Outer Banks with Unexpected Sunshine!

Tell Us Why You Want To Work Here

by Catherine Breese

Today I had a job interview. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really love interviews. Failure looms large. Despite the fact that I have a great deal of experience, I still find some of the questions hard to answer. And since I was raised in the Midwest, I was taught never to brag or be boastful, so it is hard to sell myself like a Broyhill sofa on a showroom floor. Actually, I’d rather sell a Broyhill sofa. I had one once—it was a fantastic sofa.

But this particular interview was even more despicable. It was a video interview. Not a Skype interview where you can see and respond to the interviewer in real time; it was a video interview. The candidate records himself/herself answering a series of questions and then submit the answers. It is everything I hate about regular interviews, plus you have to look at yourself on the computer monitor and listen to yourself speak on the audio. There is no eye contact or physical cues as there would be in a real interview…just me, at my kitchen table, staring and my tired looking face and cringing at the sound of my Ohio twang that nearly 30 years outside of the state have not cured. Really, I can hardly name things I would rather do less than watch myself talk on video. I like the me in my head. That me is clever, creative, bold, and energetic. The me on the screen is old, and her eyes wander around when she’s thinking. And she looks a little mean. Yuck.

So here’s how a video interview works. The employer sends you a link. You log on, test your computer’s audio and video, and then start the interview. Oh, I forgot the step where you put on lipstick and mascara, change your clothes three times, and spend an hour or so adjusting all the lighting and sound in the room. But then, you’re ready to go. There is one practice question and then the interview begins.

A woman in a suit appears on the screen. She is seated in front of a bookshelf. She asks the practice question: “Talk about an accomplishment in your life that you are proud of.” Three, two, one. Recording… Uh, yah. That’s what I thought. You’re having a little trouble with this one, too. I’m sure you can imagine that I just cussed a few times and then pushed stop. It’s not like I can’t think of anything of which I am proud, but everything I can name sounds corny, boastful, or arrogant. I would rather be unemployed. I do know all the words to the Canadian National Anthem, but I don’t think that is the kind of thing they’re seeking. Anyway, I just said to hell with the practice question and forged ahead.

Proceed. The woman comes back. She poses the first question: “Tell us why you want this job.” Three, two, one. Recording. Well, of course, if everyone answered this question honestly, no one would ever be hired. Because nine times out of ten the answer is, I don’t actually want this job. I would rather do many, many things besides work for you nice people. I NEED this job. This is a job I think I can get? My car insurance payment is overdue. Actually, I want a much better job than this, one for a lot more money and better benefits, but you guys are the ones hiring. So yah, I’d really like to work here. This is just a dumb question, frankly. The company is asking you to blow some smoke up their skirt. If it were really a great job, then that question would be quite unnecessary. I bet Google does not ask this question in their interviews.

Don’t worry. I didn’t say any of that.

After you answer the question, you get to watch yourself answer the question. And ah, what a pleasure that is! Then you can try again if you don’t like your answer. You get one do-over and then you have to go to the next question. Seven questions later, it is done. Thank goodness. Then you click submit and your virtual interview uploads, where, I guess, a real live person watches it at some point. I don’t know though. Maybe it’s scored by a computer. If it deducts for eye movement, I’m out.

A virtual interview in a virtual world. If it is a virtual job, do I get a virtual paycheck? And does State Farm accept virtual payment?

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Cursive? What’s That? (Nerd Alert: Fonts Referenced Herein)

by Catherine Breese

So for the fourth time in my adult life and I am learning the nuances of a new word processing program. Fifth, maybe if you count the fact that all my college papers were typed on an IBM Selectric—you know an electric typewriter with metal keys, correction tape, and a backup button. The pressure to be accurate on the Selectric pencil picturewas pretty intense, so I usually hand wrote and edited most papers ahead of time, sometimes twice. Those were the bad ol’ days.

Then the digital age began and there was the bright green Shaston 8 font flickering on the monitor of my Apple IIE. Its compatriot, the dot matrix printer, went veep veep veep as it printed each line of text, dot by dot. Remember the paper with the tear-away edges? From there I went to work in an office where I learned Word Perfect. It was impressive in its day. Once you memorized some keystrokes and the function keys (those keys on the top row with the Fs on them), you could work extremely quickly. Everyone who worked in an office loved Word Perfect.

Then, I guess, Windows killed Word Perfect. (I researched this, but even I was bored by the story.) I was forced to learn Microsoft Word, which I remember not liking at first because all the keystrokes were different than the ones I had already memorized and it didn’t use any of the function keys. But Word got better and better—Oh, the shock and awe when the default font went from Times New Roman to Calibri—and eventually I became as addicted to it. I typed absolutely everything in Word and then pasted my work wherever else it needed to go. Once I could make a pdf directly in Word, I could see no other reason to ever use anything else. Ever.

Meanwhile, Apple came back into all our lives with their lovely lineup of I-Contraptions. They are amazing, and oh-so-fast, not to mention glamorous. So, once again, it is necessary that I learn a new word processing program, Pages. Despite my strong dislike of Helvetica I am finding Pages to be pretty painless. The touch screen thing is the biggest problem for my old brain. It must just be oh-so-funny to you younger people to watch us geezers squinting down our reading glasses, trying to grab something on the screen with two fingers and failing. You must just laugh yourselves silly!

Camera 360I have a keyboard for the I-pad, but there is still a lot of touching of the screen required, especially if you want to edit. But once again, I am slowly getting the hang of it. Steve Jobs got a few things right, for sure. Lightning speed, long battery life, and the fact that you don’t have to wait for Apple products to turn on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not leaving Word. I’m just slumming with Pages for her sexy tablet features.

Where is all this writing technology headed? I have no idea. For now, I am grateful that people are still reading and writing. You may or may not be surprised to learn that we have stopped teaching cursive handwriting in school. I have for several years now had high school students tell me that they can’t read what I write on the board if I letter in script because they never learned it. This was a shock. I get it, though. If everybody is going to do all of their writing electronically, then learning cursive is like learning to spin a basketball on one finger. It is a cool but unnecessary skill, even for a basketball player.

As far as I can remember, I spent most of third grade learning cursive handwriting and memorizing my times tables, something we aren’t doing much of these day either. When I asked a high school junior what 6 x 7 was, he replied, “I don’t need to know. There’s an app for that.” Spelling seems to have mostly fallen out of the curriculum as well. I am not too upset about that, though. I didn’t learn to spell very well until I was an adult. But what I am annoyed by is this: the hundreds of spelling tests that I was forced to endure as a child and then again, a generation later, quizzing my own children on Friday’s word list until one of us cried, usually me. I think that that sort of suffering builds character. And in real life, spelling does count.

And while I’m being a fuddy-duddy, let me just say that I don’t want those stupid Google glasses. I don’t want a chip implanted in my arm or brain. I don’t want the contents of a book zapped into my brain by Apple’s new I-Synapse. I don’t want to Think-type. (I’d be psyched for the flying car, but I hear that’s probably not coming.) If Word goes back to a serif font, I’d be okay with that. Otherwise, I’m on hiatus.

Burning Genius: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Four Burner Theory

By Catherine Breese

“Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.”                            –Frank Lloyd Wright

four burner stoveThe importance of living a balanced life is a common notion across cultures. It is so pervasive that no one really questions it. Through religion, philosophy, and literature we learn that excessiveness leads to negative consequences, moderation in all things is best, and yin assumes yang. The theory goes that when we don’t have balance we will be unhappy and unhealthy. Recently I read David Sedaris’s story “Laugh, Kookaburra,” in which his friend Pat explains the four burner theory of life. This analogy says that each of us is like a four burner stove: one burner is work, one is family, one is friends, and one is health. When we have higher aims in one area, we must turn down the heat going to one or more of the other burners. For example, a person who wants to move up in the company must spend extra time and energy pursuing career aims and this requires him/her to subtract that same energy from another burner. If the person wants to be really successful, then two burners must be turned down or shut off. It’s a nice little analogy because it is simple, and most of us can find a way to apply it to our own particular lives.

I think the analogy falters, however, because it assumes each individual is the master of his own universe and he/she is making decisions as the captain of the ship. Its underlying assumptions are that the career is one the individual loves or the family is not dysfunctional or that good health is something we can simply choose to have by focusing on it. Of course we can each choose to eat healthfully, live actively, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. We can each choose to love and to seek purpose and meaning in life. That is no guarantee that cancer won’t strike or you won’t be hit by a driver who is texting. The burners are sometimes adjusted for us.

Robie door B and WThen, there are those people who believe that it is prideful or arrogant to unilaterally captain one’s own ship. These people see suffering unhappiness as an elemental part of life and think we show a lack of character when we quit a crappy job or leave a crappy marriage. These are the folks that say that when life gives you lemons, you eat lemons. (I personally prefer the version my sister postulates: when life gives you lemons, get some tequila and ice and give me a call.)

Where the four burner theory appears to be accurate is the idea that expending energy on one part of life takes away from the others. And to achieve real greatness requires sacrificing that balanced life that is the cornerstone of the ideal. So, in the case of highly successful people, those individuals who really chart their own course, some burners must be turned off.

Let’s take a look at American architect Frank Lloyd Wright to see if the theory holds.

Robie 1If you are unfamiliar with the personal life of Frank Lloyd Wright, you are probably in the majority. On recent tours of his studio at Taliesin and the Robie House in Chicago, we were told much about historic preservation, architecture, and design, but very little about the personal life of the man. Certainly, he is known worldwide for his architectural genius and is often thought of as the father of American modernist design. His influence can be seen in buildings great and small and especially in the midcentury modernist movement that is enjoying an impressive revival these days. His Prairie style, Usonian homes, and love of clean geometric line and shape underlay a wide scope of American architecture. Organic style and open concept floor plans are Wright’s ideas. The Robie house and Falling Water, not to mention the Guggenheim, are beloved architectural masterpieces. However, his personal life is only for the curious. It’s pretty juicy.

Taliesin 1He was born in Wisconsin in 1867 as the son of a minister who was somewhat distant (as were most fathers; the idea of an involved, nurturing father is purely a contemporary concoction) and a mother who encouraged his interests and invited him to play with geometric wooden blocks. His parents divorced when he was 14. He went to college but did not earn a degree. He became a draftsman for several firms and finally apprenticed for renowned architect Louis Sullivan who was important in Wright’s professional development. He married a woman named Catherine (“Kitty”) and began a family in a house he designed himself. He was also a philanderer. At the age of 42 he and the wife of a client, Mamah, ran off to Europe for a year, leaving behind Kitty and his six children. Mamah’s husband granted her a divorce but Wright’s wife Kitty would not. When they returned to America he gave his mistress and her children a temporary home in Taliesin, a home built on property in Wisconsin purchased by his mother’s family. A horrifying tragedy struck when a disgruntled servant killed the mistress Mamah, her children, and a total of seven people with an axe after setting the house afire. Wright was not there at the time. The murderer swallowed muriatic acid in a botched suicide attempt and starved in jail. Wright went to work reconstructing Taliesin and got busy in his love life by finding Miriam. Kitty finally granted Wright the divorce and he married Miriam in 1923, and she turned out to be quite a handful. Their relationship was reportedly violent and Miriam was a morphine addict. The marriage ended in a year and Wright took up with Olgivanna. Frank Lloyd Wright and she lived together and had a child together in 1925. Wright was finally divorced from Miriam in 1927 and he married Olgivanna in 1928. He died in 1959. It was Olgivanna’s dying wish to have her ashes interred with Wright’s at Taliesin West in Arizona. Despite protest from family members, his body was exhumed and cremated, a full twenty-five years after it had been buried in Wisconsin. Even in death, a family life full of turmoil.

Camera 360

He was a busy fellow. Let’s not forget that while all this was going on in the middle of his life, he was simultaneously designing the most important architectural spaces in America. Yes, his behavior was seen as scandalous at the time and it is pretty easy, even by today’s social standards, to adjudicate him as an egotistical womanizing bastard. But of those charges, probably only egotistical ought to stick. Women may have had fewer choices in the past, but they have always had free will.

Frank Lloyd Wright was by all evidence a genuine egoist (perhaps rightly so.) When you visit the Robie House or Taliesin, they do freely admit this about his personality. Wright himself acknowledged his egotism saying “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” He aspired to be the single greatest architect ever, and perhaps it is because he believed this about himself that he was. His ego is as much responsible for his success as it is evident in his wild personal life. Undoubtedly, these women in his life nourished his ego. And perhaps Wright even gained creative energy out of the conflict. Clearly he had no interest in a quiet, normal existence involving neighborhood barbeques and school plays.

robie 3So, let’s look at the four burners. Friends: well, an architect makes a living though contacts and relationships with clients. He worked daily with draftsmen and other designers and students. His egotism aside, he must surely have cultivated many, many personal relationships. Maybe it’s a stretch to call these friendships, but maybe not. Health: Wright lived to be 91. I do not know anything about his spiritual or emotional health, but anyone who makes it to 91 must do at least some things which are healthful. Work: I think we have covered that above; he was a juggernaut of the Modern aesthetic. Family: Here’s where it gets interesting. If we use a more contemporary definition of family it seems as though his burner was pretty darn hot. He reinvented his family more than once during his lifetime. Yes, he was unfaithful. He left a wife and children for a lover. But he also designed and built several houses for members of his family and his mother. He fathered seven children and adopted one. He struggled financially at several periods during his life, but he never made the practical choice to take a regular job to pay the bills. He pursued his artistic and professional goals first and foremost, but he appeared to be almost as passionate about love and family.

It seems to me that Wright was flaming very brightly on all burners, almost inventing his own energy. He didn’t have the same stove that the rest of us do. A man of singular vision who adopted “The Truth Against the World” as a family motto, Wright was such an exceptional person that to expect him to live a conventional life just seems plain silly. His life was balanced, in a way, but also so much brighter a burn.


David Sedaris’s story “Laugh, Kookaburra”

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin

Taliesin Studio


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Because I’m Here

By Catherine Breese

You may have noticed that most of our recent posts have been written by yours truly. For fans of Bryan E. Ward, Jr., this surely must be a disappointment. The sad news is that, during our recent visit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he was offered a teaching job in Virginia. (When they called to set up the interview, we were actually sitting in folding chairs located ten feet from the Atlantic Ocean. The background noise must have been its roar.) Sad, of course, because instead of running around the country looking for unusual points of interest and writing about them, Bryan is trying to teach American government to some deeply uninterested high school seniors. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff was his topic for day one. As my friends in Charleston say, bless his heart.

Henceforth, I am more or less alone in the offices of Alta Blue Skies. At least until Mr. Ward figures out how not to spend every waking moment that he is not actually at work, planning and grading papers for work. He is a perfectionist, and teaching is really hard work that doesn’t stop at the 3:20 bell. I would say I miss him, but he’s still here every day; he’s just grumpier and he talks a lot louder.

The Alta Blue Skies staff will, of course, continue to travel and pursue the weird and wonderful. We are completely committed. And I will continue to steal and publish as my own at least two of Bryan’s jokes per week.

We here at Alta Blue Skies would now like to honor Bryan and his newly acquired employment with a toast. Here is a recipe that Bryan, himself, developed. It’s tropical and sassy, and perfect for a cinco de deciembre party or just an evening of yelling at the TV and eating bean tacos. Enjoy. And here’s to you, Bryan!


Howdenvale Sling

1 part Souza Conmerativo Tequila (or other good quality tequila)

2 parts fresh pineapple juice

Splash of seltzer Pineapple wedge to garnish

Pour tequila and pineapple juice over rocks in an old fashioned glass (rocks glass) and stir. Add seltzer and garnish.

Yes, I’m One of Those People and You Probably Are Too

By Catherine Breese

I really do not like anything at all about the holiday season that is upon us. But I’d like to venture a not-so-wild guess that a lot of you feel the same way. If you love Christmas and shopping and hearth and home and kith and kin, well, I can see why. Those are really pretty words. But after a number of interviews with friends, family, and strangers across a swath of the America Midwest, I purport that a majority of Americans face the holiday season with nothing short of dread and abhorrence.

Everyone knows that the suicide rate goes up during the holiday season. Not to minimize actual human suffering, but I usually utter the expression “Kill me now,” at least a hundred times between October 30th and January 3rd. I am not alone.

Let’s just start with the millions of American adults who are divorced or separated. And let’s also acknowledge that if a marriage is headed for the rocks, the holiday season is just the gale force wind to finish the job.

Divorced (and/or remarried) families with children have it the worst. Determining and fulfilling holiday child visitation rights are more painful than a root canal, impalement, breaking a clavicle, or ripping off a toenail with pliers. Why? Because all of those pains will eventually come to an end. The pain of child swapping during the holidays goes on for a lifetime. I have spent many Christmases crying alone in the car before or after swapping my children with the ex. Who doesn’t love to see their archenemy at every possible opportunity throughout the holiday season? Yay! Then there are the ample opportunities to see not only the ex, but the ex’s family, and maybe even your sister’s ex for good measure. Again, yay. If you have more than a few of these meetings over the course of a season, it is a wonder to me that you do not drive your car through a guardrail.

And it is not just us divorced people who share in holiday misery. Single people are made to feel lonely. Couples are made to feel angry and hurt. Children feel neglected and unloved, or torn between families. Older people are made to feel a nuisance. Really, the only people enjoying the holidays as far as I can tell are babies and people with Down Syndrome.

Camera 360Going into the crass consumerism that is the very essence of the holiday season isn’t even necessary. We ALL recognize it. You want to really see me lose it? Take me to a Wal-Mart between Thanksgiving and New Years at about 11 o’clock at night. (If there’s anyone who needs to be prayed for, it is the 11 o’clock denizens of Wal-Mart.) There are actually parents with small children in the store at this time of night. They’ve got a cart full of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew and three pairs of Duck Dynasty slippers. (Honestly, when that show first came on I thought it was kind of funny, but not in an I-want-to be-just-like-them sort of way. More in a Three Stooges way. Now, I’m disgusted.) Why or how handicapped and disabled people are in the store at almost midnight is beyond me, but there is quite a disproportionate number of people who fit that description. Last Christmas, I saw a thin greasy-haired woman wearing a pair of very shiny silver leggings and high heels on a late snowy night. She had one leg. (So I guess that’s heel.) She was hopping next to the cart—no walker, cane, or crutches. Then there’s drunken college-aged kids buying cheap crappy beer and old men shopping for space heaters and chubby dad-types filling their carts with giant plastic candy canes, hunting gear, and women’s lingerie. It’s really terrifying.

There’s a lot of pressure to buy gifts for people during the holidays. Of course, this is how people end up in Wal-Mart at midnight. This gift-buying burden is a negative force in the universe and thus a gift that anyone truly loves and appreciates is the exception more than the rule. I am not exempting myself in any way here. I have bought hundreds of gifts for people that I think weren’t quite right, or even terrible. But there was no choice. A gift had to be bought and given and this was what I could come up with under the constraints of time, space, energy, and economy. Sorry, everybody. My bad.

Camera 360Finally, there is the belittlement, degradation, and shame that only your relatives, family, and extended family can provide. (No, this isn’t about you.) At times in my past, I have spent ten months of the year giving myself pep talks and coaching my own head into an okay place, only to have it summarily knocked of within two minutes of a family gathering. “Oh, you’re not working?” My sister was once told by a relative that she was “aging nicely.” The sibling rivalry and inter/intra-family competition is utterly exhausting. Family holiday gatherings seem more about jealousy and animosity than about love. You can hardly blame anyone who is staring longingly into his/her smartphone under the dinner table. Add a little alcohol—upon which many people rely just to survive the holidays—and you have got the perfect recipe for a big ol’ fist fight in the front yard and visit from the local sheriff’s deputy.

I know I am not alone in my holiday terrors because I have heard it from so many people. If you have one of those families that plays board games and frosts cookies together without wanting to stab yourself or a family member in the face with a fork, consider yourself extremely lucky and extremely rare. Camera 360

I have some friends who are celebrating, genuinely celebrating, the holidays for the first time in many, many years. They are doing it alone, without any extended family—just the couple, their two children, and one grandma. And they are so happy. Over the course of the last ten years they have suffered through one dysfunctional, agonizing, and un-fun holiday after another. This involved driving hundreds of miles, and visiting with in-laws and ex-laws, always leaving with someone crying and everyone suffering. However this year, a divorce in the works has happily ended the final obligation to see people who make them appallingly unhappy. They are finally free to make their own sort of holiday, in their own home, in their own way. They are elated.

I should probably suggest that we do something about this problem. But I really don’t know what can ever change about any of this. I think it would be really super if we could just cancel for this year and take another twelve months to make some corrective course adjustments for the next one. Of course, the American economy is apparently, according to every media outlet everywhere, entirely dependent upon us all getting out there and participating with as much of our hearts and money as humanly possible. One year off and this whole house of cards could come crashing down.

I have read in multiple sources that you can make yourself happier and actually more grateful by purposefully practicing gratefulness. So, despite all of the above, I plan on surviving the whole ordeal by being grateful for it. There are worse things. I hear. And somewhere in all this gaudy crap there will be a moment or two of beauty and laughter. Not necessarily worth it, but still, worth appreciation.

Moving On

By Catherine Breese

There is just something about packing and unpacking everything you own to really make you wonder about yourself. Even at the ripe old age of middle age, I am still sort of surprised when I look at something I did just a few months back and I think “Who was the idiot that did this?”

I unpacked a box yesterday that contained three humidifiers, a mortar and pestle, and a bag of rocks.

Living out of a suitcase is really good, especially if you enjoy doing laundry (I do) and want to learn a lot about your value system. You must constantly assess the desirability of an object vs. its size and curb weight. Do I really need the eight ounce jar of wasabi raspberry mustard? Yes. I do. But I wish it came in plastic rather than glass because plastic is a little lighter.

There are thousands of similar judgment calls one must make when relocating to a new house. I have moved plenty of times as an adult, probably more than most. Every time I think I have it all figured out—how to be organized, how to pack, what to keep and what to give away or sell—well, I find out I am just not so very great at any of those things. Maybe nobody is. Or maybe I am just trying to make myself feel better about the bag of rocks.

Our new home has three stories. Luckily we had three high school freshmen boys to happily carry box after box to the third floor. Honestly, I’ve rarely seen such enthusiasm. It could only have been done by 14 year old boys. They unloaded a 26 foot truck in less than two hours. Once you hit the age of about 17, you stop running up steps.

But, now that we’re here, an awful lot of items that I want or need seem to be located on a floor where I am not. Up two flights? Ugh. I find myself thinking, how much do I really need that hammer? Maybe there’s an alternate object in the room that I can use to pound this nail in the wall. Like a rock, for example. Ah, here’s one right here.

Already I have sworn that our next move will be to a ranch style home. In the meantime, we’ll be working on developing powerful gluteus muscles and good stout calves.

In a related story, a second bag of decorative rocks was discovered in the very last box I opened this morning. An investigation is pending.

A Drug Dog Makes a Booboo

By Catherine Breese

Civil liberties are a big concern of mine. I don’t know how I turned out this way; I’m not a 1960s flower child. But somehow I have a deep concern for people’s human rights, especially those guaranteed by the constitution. These days I am not the only person concerned about the right to privacy, but I cannot help but notice that I seem a good deal more concerned than most people.

No, I am not going to write about the government reading my emails. I am not going to complain about the fact that every single store in which I shop and use a credit card or, worse yet, a shopper’s card tracks my purchases. (CVS can bite me.) I am not going to share the horrors of opening a new Internet banking account and seeing the mass of information that the banking system knows about me, some of it very old, through my credit history. I am certainly not going to write about Roe v. Wade or about drug testing welfare recipients. What I am going to do is tell a little story.

A few years back, in 2008, the Kanawha County School Board for which I worked decided that it would like to randomly drug test its teachers. Kanawha County is a politically conservative community and this policy change inspired more than its fair share of joy and praise. After all, if teachers weren’t using drugs, why should they be concerned? I saw it as an egregious invasion of my personal right to privacy and was utterly shocked that others did not. It is worth noting that the school board already could demand that a teacher suspected of using drugs be tested for such. But the idea of testing every teacher just seemed ludicrous to me. As an argument about privacy—why should my employer be privy to information about what prescribed medications I take or vitamins or disorders or diseases I might have that do not impact my ability to teach students? For that matter, beyond lewd and lascivious or illegal behavior, it’s not really their business what I do on my own time. They are my employer, not my owner. (Like I said, I’m a crazy fan of civil rights.)

When the school board opened up the board’s website for comment on the proposed policy, I wrote a brief statement against it. (I have looked for the statement in my computer files, but I cannot find it.) Basically I said that although I did not have any reason to fear a random drug test because I do not use illegal drugs, I felt the policy violated my civil rights. I may have suggested that the school board stick to running the school system and stay out of teachers’ urine. But I do not remember my exact words.

One week later, drug dogs were run through our high school building. Now this was a semi-annual occurrence, not an unusual one. Each time the dogs are used, the students and teachers go on “lockdown” and must remain in their classrooms until the search is over. Then one or two classrooms are chosen randomly to have the dogs go into and sniff around. You’ve probably already guessed that my classroom was randomly chosen for the secondary search. And, although I was unconcerned about the dog, some of my students looked a little less confident as we were asked to file out of the room and line up along the halls next to the lockers. (If any of this sounds like a military maneuver, you are not alone in your apprehension.) We were all asked to leave our belongings, purses, etc. in our chairs.

The dog and two police officers were in my classroom while we were out in the hall for a long time, much longer than I thought might be necessary to run the dog up and down the rows of desks. Then one officer came out of my classroom carrying a silver packet. I immediately recognized the packet as one used to dispense birth control pills, but the officer acted like he didn’t know what it was. He called a girl in my class by her full name, which he had evidently gotten from the ID in her purse, and she meekly walked over to the officer. He told her that the dog had hit on this silver packet and asked her what it was. She said, “Those are my birth control pills.” The officer began to grin, perhaps at his own ignorance, but I really don’t know for sure why he was smiling. He said that the dogs aren’t supposed to hit on those and handed the packet back to the student. Suddenly there was a hubbub behind me. I turned around to see several girls raising their hands, moving forward away from the wall, and yelping things like, “My birth control pills are in my purse, too,” and “Yes, mine, too.”

Oh, my heck. I didn’t know whether to be more concerned about their lack of modesty or their lack of common sense. “Girls!” I admonished, “This is not true confessions. Be quiet.” They followed my directions and returned to the wall. One girl said, “Well, I didn’t want to get in trouble, too.” Oh there was just so much wrong here I didn’t know where to start. I wanted to yell that at them that their birth control pills none of the officer’s business and none of anyone’s business for that matter. I wanted to yell that birth control pills are not against the law, girls. I wanted to yell at the officer for his apparent stupidity. And why were so many of them on birth control anyway? Geez. Hasn’t anyone heard of a condom? And did their mothers know they were carrying their birth control pills around with them, and to school? But I didn’t say or yell any of those things. I just took everybody back inside and tried to teach some Chaucer. Even now, the ridiculousness of this day makes me laugh out loud.

When I was 15 years old my dad taught me how to drive a car. He said that when you are pulled over by a policeman in a traffic stop it is best not to say anything unless the officer asks you a question. This always seemed like sound advice to me, even outside of a traffic stop, and I have always followed it. Keeping ones private life private is a sound practice that I would like to see utilized more often. The teens in my story had not yet gathered the finer nuances of adult civil discourse; they didn’t understand that we don’t share information about our sex lives with strangers. Perhaps some of the girls learned a lesson that day, perhaps not. The poor example that some celebrities set by parading their private lives around on television for money is not to be admired or imitated by people of substance and culture.

As for the Kanawha County School Board, they were told by a federal court that the policy of randomly drug testing teachers was unconstitutional. The judge on the case rebuked the board’s actions citing the lack of a pervasive drug problem in the county and asking why the board was not also randomly testing teachers for tropical diseases. If the ruling had gone otherwise, I was prepared to reject their request when my name was pulled (during round one, no doubt) and risk firing. But I didn’t have to do that because the courts protected my rights for me.

Having a private life is a luxury we are afforded as American citizens. I say, let’s do what we can to keep it that way. Like virginity, it is not something easily taken back once you lose it.