Jack Climbs the Beanstalk with Gloves, Luigi Decorates with Pumpkins, and Iron Man wears a Costume

Today I’m going to post my fairy tale pictures.

Apparently, I can only handle one outlet for creativity at a time, because once I started The Blog, I ran out of ideas for these fairy tale pictures, so I have only eight of them.

All but the last two pictures were taken on my first digital camera, which was a $150 Kodak point and shoot.  I call her Daisy Mae.  It took a lot of effort to get the pictures to look the way I wanted on such a limited camera.  The nice thing about my newest digital camera, Alex (a Nikon D5100) is that the pictures come out looking the way I want practically effortlessly, when compared with Daisy Mae.  That’s why an Alex costs more than a Daisy Mae.

Here we go:

Jack was glad he remembered to put on his grippy leather gloves before starting the climb up the beanstalk.  –Sept 13, 2011

This picture was inspired by the plant.  This plant hangs from my bedroom ceiling and the vines grow too long, and droop to the ground.  Which made me think of Jack’s beanstalk.  And one day, when I was putting off trimming the vines, it occurred to me that a Lego mini-fig’s hands were probably the right size to grab onto the vines.  That might be a cute picture, so I grabbed a mini-fig to see if he fit.  He did.

Then it was a matter of trial and error to figure out what angle worked best, along with having to work with Daisy Mae’s limitations.  For instance, she couldn’t figure out what I wanted to focus on, and kept trying to focus on the plant or the curtains–anything but Jack.  Very frustrating.

I also learned a lot about angles and distracting backgrounds.  I got the shot I wanted by getting close to the subject and closing the curtains behind him, which gave me this very simple image.

Once I got the shot, I wrote the caption, “Jack and the Beanstalk.”


But what could I do?  I had no other ideas for the caption.  And at that point, I hadn’t started writing The Blog and honestly had no clue that humorous writing would come so easily to me.

Also, it bothered me that Jack’s hands were black, but his face was white.  I considered trying to re-take the image, but I was worn out from all the photography that day and didn’t feel starting over again.  Really.  I’d been on the floor, standing on chairs, on the bed, moved the bed, moved the wardrobe, up close, far away, put everything back…tired.

I was staring at those black hands in the picture trying to drum up the energy to re-do the whole thing, when inspiration hit.  Jack’s hands were black because he was wearing gloves!  Of course!  If you’re going to climb something, it’ll make your hands hurt, so you need gloves.  I fooled around with the wording, until I got it right.


Luigi enjoyed the autumn season best, and would often decorate his humble home with pumpkins that he had grown himself. –October 20, 2011

Once Jack and the Beanstalk was done, I felt inspired to do more fanciful shots like it. This Lincoln Log cabin was decorating my house and I had a niggling feeling that there was something I could do with it. Maybe something about Little Red Riding Hood. But I have boys, so I don’t have any girl dolls.  And no red cloaks, either.  Every time I’d walk by this house, I’d stare at it for a moment, waiting for inspiration to strike.

One day, I noticed that this Luigi figurine fit nicely inside the house.  I took pictures of the house with Luigi inside it on my dining room table next to the pumpkin that was decorating my table.  Which made me think that if I liked to decorate my home with pumpkins, well, Luigi might, too.  And I just so happened to have little pumpkins in my shadow box.  (There’s a story behind the shadow box, but not enough room to tell it here.)

To make the picture more realistic, I took the cabin, Luigi and the pumpkins outside for a little photoshoot.  The rabbit seemed a nice addition as well.  I learned that sometimes you have to lie down flat in the middle of your yard to take pictures from the angle that you want, and I didn’t even care who saw me.  Or that the grass was wet and messed up my clothes.  Thus began the slippery slide into photography obsession.

I didn’t know what the caption would be, but I worked with the wording for a while, and soon it all came together.  I liked the idea of Luigi puttering around his house and growing things in his garden.  I pictured him living in the English countryside and wearing wellies and having sheep dogs for pets.


Tony Stark’s favorite holiday was Halloween and each year he wore a different costume. This year, he went trick-or-treating as a Jedi. –October 26, 2011

Just 6 days after my Luigi picture, I was inspired again.  This time, I was helping the boys clean their toys and noticed that Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi robe fit Iron Man nicely.  Halloween was just around the corner, and it popped into my head that wouldn’t it be funny if Iron Man went trick or treating in a costume.

But what made it even funnier to me, was to think that Tony Stark (who is the guy in the Iron Man suit) would put on his Iron Man suit, and then dress up as a Jedi before going trick or treating.

I found the little basket in the same shadow box that holds the pumpkins from Luigi’s yard and put some candy corn in it, taped the light saber to Tony’s hand (wish I’d hidden the tape better) and considered where to take the shot.  I knew I wanted the shot from below Tony, so he would loom large in the picture, and needed somewhere for him to stand without toppling over.

This is taken in front of my shed door at the top of a crumbling staircase leading to the shed.  The door is covered in dirt, so I love the color and texture it gives behind Tony, when it’s blurred out, and I also love the leaves around his feet.  You can tell that it’s October in the shot.  The steps leading to the shed are completely crumbled and I was kneeling on sharp shards of broken rock for the pictures, and in danger of the steps sliding out from under me.

I took the shot, and stared at the picture for awhile, and played with it on a free online picture editing software, and soon a caption came to me.  I worked with the words a bit until they were nice and concise, and voila.  In two sentences we have an entire story.  Tony loves to trick or treat and loves wearing costumes.  You can picture him getting ready to trick-or-treat, and walking from house to house and then going home and sorting through his candy.

I also like the expression on Tony/Iron Man’s face.  Sort of, “What?  So, I dress up as a Jedi and go trick-or-treating?  What’s it to you?”


No.  Wait.  No next.  I’m already at almost 1200 words and that’s too much for you to read in one sitting.

I’ll continue tomorrow with the picture of the Shoemaker and the Elves, Peter Rabbit, and some monkeys, and if there’s room, The Loch Ness Monster picture, which is by far the best.


Picture of the day:

I invited my family to Kevin and Brandi’s house this evening.

They were kind enough to accommodate my picky eating, and served chicken.  I guess they don’t mind that I invite myself and the family to dinner at their house, or else it would have been seal eyeballs.

And they purposely didn’t read The Blog this past week, just so we’d have stuff to talk about.  Because if you read The Blog, I sort of don’t have anything to say when you ask me, “What’s new?”  If you read The Blog, then you know what’s new.  And there’s nothing left to talk about.

It was kind of nice getting to tell my blog stories in person, instead of in writing, for a change.  And faster, too.



Death From Too Much Vigor, Hiding My Obsession, and Everybody Needs a School Uniform

I woke this morning to the whispers of concerned children outside my bedroom door.  Apparently, there was a million legger running around in the dining room.  From the children’s report, it was like a wild bull in a rodeo.  They didn’t want to get gored, so they were using their binoculars to keep track of its whereabouts from the safety of the living room.

Fortunately, Darling Husband has off on Fridays in the summer, so I didn’t have to avoid the dining room for the entire day.  By the time Darling Husband slumped out of bed to catch the million legger, it was just lying there, playing dead.  Or maybe it was dead.  The boys insisted it had been running with great vigor only moments before.  Maybe too much vigor, right on the heels of too many double cheeseburgers, did the poor thing in.  I’ve heard that high cholesterol and obesity are becoming critical issues here in America.


I was going to spend the day putting away last year’s homeschooling papers.  But then look at what happened:

Ahhh!  Friends with pools.  The boys made a new friend at the homeschool co-op this past year.  I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with his mom, but she called this morning and invited us to join them in their pool.

We spent the day lazing around on floating tube things.  I had elaborate plans of getting pictures while I was floating around the pool.  I had all sorts of ideas.  There was an old picturesque shed at one end of the pool with a bright red birdhouse on it and I wanted to get pictures of it from the pool.  Or another idea was to get pictures near water level of the kids at the other end.   But Alex has a fear of water.  He can’t swim.  Poor thing would sink right to the bottom.

Plus, in order to create my pictures, I’d have to involve the help of this mom to pull me all around the pool in the floaty tube thing and hold it steady.  Since I don’t know her too well, I didn’t want to creep her out with my photography obsession.  Not just yet, anyway.  Right now when I’m with her, I downplay all the picture taking I do.  But just give me a little time, and she won’t even bat an eye:  “Pull me back a little.  Now, hold the float steady while I frame this shot…Pull me to the other end now…Get me a glass of iced tea while you’re at it.  Extra ice.”


Just before sitting down to write this, I spent an hour assessing an essay.  This essay was on the topic, “Should school uniforms be mandatory?”  By the time I’ve pulled apart someone’s essay for an hour, I’m pretty convinced of their point of view.  Yes!  School uniforms are crucial to our success as a nation, nay, to the very survival of the human race!   I’m a homeschooler, so I have a school, right?  So, we need uniforms!  I don’t want the other students bullying my kids because of their clothes.

Actually, come to think of it we already have a uniform.  I’ve mentioned it in the past:  pajamas.  I’m telling you people, homeschoolers have the best schools;  gym at the skating rink, and pajamas for uniforms.

Girls Fart, Men Cry, and Where is my Sock?

It’s a cruel, cruel summer. Why?  Because I’m making the kids start school on July 2nd this year.  What?!  Why??  Because bored kids become annoying kids.

Plus, the science project coming up next week for Boy7 involves lining up 109 mini marshmallows in the diameter of a big paper circle to see how many Earths would fit in the diameter of the sun.  You can anticipate the happy outcome of that, can’t you?  That’s right: post-project Rice Krispie treats.  (eyebrow wiggle)


Today the boys planted some flowers in some pots.  I wanted the boys to have a living thing to care for.  Boys need something to nurture just as much as girls do.  In fact, people who think that boys and girls or men and women are completely different from each other haven’t taught a 3rd 4th and 5th grade girl’s class at church.  Those little girls farted and burped and jumped around the room as much as any boy ever did.  Oh, all the farting and burping!  And they’d laugh and laugh at each and every gaseous eruption.  Apparently, it just never gets old.

On the other hand, I’ve had more men get teary-eyed in front of me than women.  I won’t name names, and probably none of you know this guy, because I’ve never written about him, but I had a single guy friend a number of years ago who told me, all teary-eyed, “All I want in a girlfriend is someone to snuggle with on the couch, watching movies.”

I told his story to another single guy friend of mine from that same time, and he said, with a hitch in his voice, “That’s all any of us want,” and his eyes welled up and he sniffed and blew his nose into a hanky.  Sheesh.

I dunno.  I’ve subjected poor Darling Husband to endless musings on how different men and women really are from each other innately vs. how much we’re conditioned to be different.  And I think we all see what we want to see.  If you want to see the sexes as different, you’ll see all the differences.  But if you want to see them as the same, then you’ll see the similarities.  The truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

Which is why, if you remember, Boy7 chose a sweet pink and white bunny piñata for his birthday, but then gleefully joined in with the other boys chanting, “Kill the innocent bun-NY” as they all beat it with sticks.  We’re all such a mix.  And this is also why I bought the boys flowers to nurture on the same day I finally signed them up for their karate lessons.

If anyone asks, I can always say that I’m raising them to be like Samurai.  Tradition says that Samurai were the fiercest of warriors, yet the most tender of poets, and loved working in their gardens.  Which were fertilized with the crushed bones of their enemies!

Ok.  I made up that last part.  Maybe.  But I wouldn’t put it past them.


As part of getting ready for school to start, I tidied up the house a bit.  It wasn’t too bad, but there were a few piles of papers that were growing out of control and terrorizing the dust bunnies who were hiding under the hutch, and the bookcases were at it again with the wild parties.

Here’s a picture of me cleaning, taken by Boy9.

While the vacuum was on, I popped off the hose so I could vacuum up the Dorito crumbs from the edges of that piece of furniture there, when I heard a THMPH noise.  Huh?

I looked around.  What was that noise?

That’s when I noticed that the sock I use to dust with was …. gone.  See the cans of dusting spray in the picture?  Yes.  But where’s the dusting sock?  And note, in the picture, that the hose was riiiight next to the cans of dusting stuff.

Boy7 shone a light through the tube, and I checked for the sock, but it wasn’t there.

I looked in the vacuum bag, and it wasn’t there, either.  Or at least not on the top.  I guess it got smooshed deep in the bag from the force of the vacuum.  Who knows?  But it’s gone now.

Speaking of gone, I really should go and get in the habit of getting to bed early.  Because school starts bright and early on Monday, you know.

Picky Eaters Do Not Like Eating Seal Eyeballs

For a picky eater, asking them to eat something that seems normal and safe to you, is like someone asking you to eat a seal eyeball.

“Here.  Try the barbecue pork.  You’ll love it.”

Seal eyeball.

“Uh, no thanks.”

“Oh, c’mon.  It’s good!”  Holds it up in the air.

Seal eyeball.

“No, really.  No thank you.”

“I insist.”

Seal eyeball.

“Um…ok…gag, choke, gak.”

I’m a picky eater, not as bad as when I was a kid, but still picky, and sometimes I don’t even like my own stuff that I make.

For example, today I made some chicken.  I bought some sort of deboned chicken pieces and cooked them in a skillet with barbecue sauce.

They turned out really gross.  This is how gross they were:

It was as bad as having to eat a seal eyeball:

Ok.  It’s not really a seal eyeball, it’s a Boy9 eyeball, but I don’t have access to seals in the farmland of Pennsylvania.

I offered the chicken to the boys, as I offer them dinner every night, and they said a polite, “No, thank you,” and chose to starve instead, as they do every night.  Today, I could see their point.

I ate a bag of sugar snap peas, a handful of Fritos and a bowl of Cap’n Crunch for dinner instead.

Speaking of food, Darling Husband and I have a major problem.  Major problem.

You all know how much we love Li’s Buffet, right?

Well, the owner of Li’s Buffet opened another buffet on the other end of Gettysburg called JJ’s Hibachi Buffett.  (Where the old Mayflower Chinese Buffet used to be.)

And I have to say, we looooove the hibachi.  Not only do they have the hibachi, but they have these fake crab meat things on little clam shells dripping with butter.  Li’s used to offer them on the buffet, but they stopped a few years ago and oh, how I have missed them.  But now they’re back at JJ’s

But, Li’s has the better green beans and noodle-stuff that I like.

What to do?

The only solution is to start at Buffet #1 and get our favorite stuff as takeout, then head to Buffet #2, eating the takeout on the drive over, and then sit down to dinner at Buffet #2.

I love these Buffets.  There are no seal eyeballs on either buffet.

Vats of Slime, Thrown Under the Bus, and a Gracious Apology

Bridgette wrote a test-prep book that she will self-publish and has asked me to edit it for errors that she may have missed.

Which reminds me of a few stories.

When Claude was in the navy, he did some sort of work with nuclear stuff on some sort of ship.  I’ve never been exactly clear what he did with the nuclear stuff, but in my mind, he was working with big boiling vats of neon green slime filled with nuclear bombs that had lots of different colored wires snaking out of them.

In the event that there was some sort of attack, Claude (played by Matthew McConaughey) might have ended up pinned under the big round steam stack from the Titanic and would have had to use a walkie-talkie to walk the mess hall janitor (played by Chris Pine) through shutting down the bubbling reactor core before it exploded off the coast of St. Petersburg and started World War III.  (Yes, I know St. Petersburg doesn’t have a coast.  Leave me alone.)

As part of Claude’s training, he was taught how to give precise instructions if such an event occurred. For their training exercise, the trainees had to pair up and write a how-to manual explaining how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As each pair brought their manuals to their trainers, the trainers tried to follow the instructions to make the sandwich.  One pair wrote, “Open the jar of peanut butter,” but didn’t explain how to do that.  The trainers looked at each other, shrugged, and threw the jar on the ground to shatter it open.

Another pair wrote, “Put the peanut butter on one slice, and the jelly on the other slice.  Put the slices together.”  So, the trainers put the entire jar of peanut butter on one slice, the entire jar of jelly on the other, and slid the bread with the jars next to each other (bonk).

Claude and his partner were the only pair whose how-to manual resulted in an actual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, albeit a sloppy one.

What you learn from an exercise like that is how not to assume your audience has any prior knowledge of what you’re teaching them. Claude learned that in a training exercise, but I learned that in real life, as a corporate trainer.

When I was a trainer, I had to write training manuals.  I would think they were done, and would stand in front of a class and pass them out.  But inevitably, I would have made some sort of assumption that would confuse the class.  And oftentimes, you don’t even know the assumption you’ve made, until you’re standing there and the voices start up, ‘Um…I don’t understand the instructions on page three—what are we supposed to do?”

So, when our company bought new software and we had to re-teach the entire company how to use their computers, the other trainer, Mike, and I set to work writing training manuals.  Mike wrote the manuals for the Customer Service Reps and then ran out of steam.  So I wrote everything else.  When I was done with writing all the manuals, I asked Mike to review them for me.  I said, “Pretend you don’t know anything about the software and follow along step-by-step and see if I’ve left something out.”

Mike didn’t want to do that, and who could blame him?  It’s really boring editing training manuals.  Whenever I’d ask him to review my stuff, he’d just sigh and wave his hand around.  I’d like to think that he never reviewed them because he had such confidence in my considerable manual-writing talents.

When the first day of training dawned, Mike went to his classroom and I went to mine, both armed with the training manuals we’d composed.

Mike taught from his training materials and then was done with his and had to move on to the manuals I had written.  There he was, standing in front of his coworkers, who were anxious about the training and resistant to the new software.  And sometimes anxious, resistant trainees, to relieve their tension, enjoy playing Make the Trainer Look Dumb In Front of the Class.

On about page three, they ran into things in my manual that didn’t make sense; assumptions I’d made.  Open the jar of peanut butter—how?  By smashing it?  With their nerves and anxiety they were a little testy about not understanding the manuals and gave Mike a hard time about it.  So Mike said, “Well, I didn’t write these.  Jackie wrote these.”

Way to throw me under the bus, Mike.

This continued throughout the day.  Any time a trainee found a mistake, Mike would blame me and my dismal manual-writing talents, until the end of the day, when one of the trainees said, “So, Mike.  Jackie wrote these manuals, right?”

“Oh, yes.  Definitely.  It was all Jackie.”

“Uh huh.  So, uh, Mike…did you do any of the work preparing to train us?  Or did Jackie do it all?”

“Um.  Well.  Uh…”

Class: 1, Trainer: 0.  The class won that round of Make the Trainer Look Dumb in Front of the Class.

And I learned how to make a Gracious Apology that day.  Instead of hiding what had happened, Mike came into the office/training room we shared, looking sheepish and contrite.  He told me the story and then told me how amazingly awesome I was and how sorry he was that he hadn’t helped me write the manuals and how I was right to have asked him to preview the manuals and he was wrong not to have done so.

I’ve always remembered that.

And the day I threw him under the bus in front of our boss, and he angrily confronted me about it and then yanked the door open, ready to storm out of the room in a huff, I called after him, “Mike!  You’re right and I’m wrong.  I’m so sorry.”  And immediately, the anger went out of him.

We all do stupid things from time to time, even me, and when you do, ‘fess up, take full responsibility, and graciously apologize.

And now I’m off to edit Bridgette’s book.


Picture of the day.

Boy7 had a friend visit today.  We thought Friend was arriving at 1:00.  Friend thought he was arriving at 1:30.  Boy7 sat on the front porch, waiting for half an hour.

And then!  Friend arrived!

Slob Fests, Meteors, Dragon Eggs, and Surly Hair

It’s with great dismay that I’m realizing that my 6 month slob-fest really needs to come to an end.  Playing online until midnight and lolling about in bed until 8:00, while decadent, isn’t productive.

I realized this when I sat down today to create my Homeschool Plan for the 2012 –  2013 school year.

The Overly-Legislated State of Pennsylvania requires that homeschoolers instruct their elementary aged school children for 180 days each year.  At the end of the year, you must surrender to the state documents demonstrating that you have completed these 180 days of instruction.

In order to create said documents, you have to somehow locate a piece of paper—the state offers no guidance on where you’re supposed to find this “paper”–and on this paper, graph paper is best, you must draw 180 little boxes.  Over the course of a year, you must laboriously place 180 little x’s in each box.  It’s much like prisoners and their tally marks on their dungeon walls.

And, to make things very, very tricky, you are only allowed to count your 180 days between July 1st and June 30th.  Since I’ve already turned in my State Mandated Homeschool Scrapbook for the year, any educating I do this week won’t count.  Five entire days that won’t count!  You know how it goes.  This will be the week where the President of the United States stops by to personally give a lesson to my children on American history, a meteor will almost hit the earth, passing a mere 50 feet above our house, and we’ll find a dragon egg hatching in our backyard and I won’t be able to count any of it towards the children’s 180 days of instruction.

So, in anticipation of the official start of the educating year, which begins on Monday, today I made my 2012 – 2013 Homeschool Plan.  It was quickly apparent to me that in order to fulfill my grand educational plans, we need to start this year in 2010 and end it in 2014.  Either that, or do school for 18 hours a day.  I guess that would be ok, except when would I have time to take pictures, write The Blog, and grow out my hair?

Oh, you may think it doesn’t take time to grow out your hair, but you would be wrong.  I’ve entered the hideous hair stage where the hair isn’t short enough to cake with hair glue and spike up, and it isn’t long enough to gather into a ponytail.  It just sort of hangs there, half sticking out, half sticking to my head.

All of this means I’m having to spend a considerable amount of time wrestling with my hair each morning, in a desperate attempt not to turn people to stone when they catch sight of it.  Michele knows what I mean.

I used to work with Michele, and we became dear friends.  I don’t get to see her much anymore, since I moved away, but whenever I think of her, I can see her looking up at my hair (Michele is only 2’5) and pursing her lips, frowning, and slowly shaking her head.  My hair never met with her approval.

See, I used to save time in the morning before work by drying my hair with the air blowing out of the car vents.  I’ve always been a bit overly-logical and the way I figured, it made a perfect analogy:

hair dryer : air drying your hair ::  car vent : air drying your hair

Different tools, same result.  Of course, drying your hair by car vent tends to leave your hair lank and stringy. Ok. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it wan’t good either.  I could tell from Michele’s frowny face.

So, Michele invited me to her home one day.  That was the day our friendship bridged the gap from Work-Friend to Friend-Friend.  She invited me with the sole aim of Fixing My Hair.

She met me at her door with a resolute smile, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.  I felt a glimmer of hope.  Maybe, just maybe, she knew the Secrets to Good Hair.  Her sink was lined with Hair Products, and for two hours she labored with my hair, spraying it with water, applying product, smoothing, straightening, fluffing.

All to no avail.  Michele was utterly perplexed to see that my hair still hung there, lank and stringy, unmoved by her exertions.  Finally, she pursed her lips at it and frowned.  It was obviously Bad Hair and earned her staunch disapproval.  Michele and My Hair have met each other with chilly silence ever since that day.

I think I’ve written about it before, but my hair remained in that state until a few years ago, when I told my hairdresser, “Oh, do whatever you want with it,” because it couldn’t possibly look worse than it already did.  The hairdresser gave me a short haircut and for the first time ever, it looked neat and tidy.

And, as usual, I don’t have a clue what I’m writing about.  Something about how growing out my hair takes time from my day.  That’s right—because I’m determined not to let it get lank and stringy as it grows out.  So I have to take time on it trying to strong-arm it into place each morning.  A mighty battle fought, and I haven’t even eaten my pancakes yet.

Speaking of eating pancakes, if we would all stop eating, I think I could squeeze another 3 hours into our school day.  I’m kinda wondering what’s wrong with feeding the family cheese sticks, cherry tomatoes and Sonic’s Jr. Deluxe Burgers every day.  Dairy, fruit and veggies, grain and meat, right?  Oh wait, the kids won’t eat tomatoes.  Or burgers.  My cheese/tomato/burger plan is a no-go.

And the final point is this: since I have to feed the family, wrestle with my hair and educate my children, I need to get myself to bed by 11 so I can get up at 6:30.

Thus ends my 6-month slob fest


Picture of the day.  I could take a boring old picture of school books, but that would be, well…boring.  Or I could take a picture of my hair looking lank and stringy.  But I’m too vain for that.

So, instead, here’s a picture I took yesterday of Wendy.  She’s been waiting for me to take a nice picture of her, and here it is.  Finally!


My Seat Buddy

My church sends out an email whenever someone in the church dies.  I don’t usually read them, because I never know the person who has died.  But the other day I randomly opened one of the sympathy emails and read, “We are sad to announce…blah blah…Al Croft.”

Nope.  Don’t know him.

Then on Saturday I was at a church dinner.  The pastor stood up to say a few words at the dinner and spoke of Al Croft.  Apparently Al was a gentle man, who always had a kind word for everyone, salt of the earth, and we will miss him.  Al died last Thursday afternoon, while his daughter held his hand.

And this morning, at church, they announced to everyone that Al Croft had died.

And it wasn’t until halfway through the pastor’s sermon, that I suddenly thought…wait.  Al Croft?  I wonder if that’s my Al?

I’ll explain.

Every other Sunday I teach the preschoolers during the 8:00 morning service, while my family attends the service.  Then, they all go home and I stay behind to attend the 10:30 service by myself.

It’s a little odd to go to church alone when you have family that goes to church.  Families usually sit together, and it feels strange to send them off home, and then find a place to sit alone.  When I sit with my family, they like to sit on the side, 7 or 8 rows back.  I don’t like sitting there.

The one nice thing about going alone, is that I can choose where I want to sit.  My maiden name was Benson, so I’m used to sitting in the front row.  Schools assign seating based on your name, and Bensons are always at the front.  One teacher shook things up by seating us opposite from the usual, and I sat in the back for 6th grade science class.

I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class, other than the fact that when you sit in the back row, you get distracted a lot, and don’t learn a whole lot in class.

So, when I’m at church alone, I get to choose where I sit, and I choose to sit up front, where I can learn.  I sit in the second row, in the second seat, next to a man named Al.

The first time I sat in the second row, I sat on the very edge, so that I could lean my arm on the arm rest.  A man arrived at church and looked a little confused and then sat next to me, further in.  I realized from his reaction that I was probably sitting in the seat he normally used.  So I said, “Looks like I took your seat, didn’t I?” and I got up to switch and he gave me a grateful smile.  He likes the arm rest, too.

And every other week after that, for the past 4 years, I’ve sat on the second row, the second seat in.  Eventually, I learned that the man I was sitting next to is named Al.

Al’s in his mid 60’s, slender and not very tall.  Grey hair, lined face.  Very friendly and sweet: nice, nice man.  He is almost always in his seat before I am, and always makes a point of standing up and giving me a hug when I arrive.  “Good morning, Jackie!”  “Good morning, Al!”

Usually the service is lightly serious, but a few times a service, the pastor will say something humorous, and whenever that happens, Al gives a great big chuckle and turns to look at me while he laughs.  I like that.  Al makes a point of catching my eye, just so that we can enjoy our laugh together.

Sometimes, the pastor says, “Take the hand of someone next to you while we pray,” and Al and I hold hands.  Not always my favorite thing, because my arm ends up contorting in a funny way, and I want to let go of the person’s hand and wiggle my arm around, but I can’t, and then I end up completely not praying and thinking about my contorted arm instead.  But, I hold Al’s hand when asked.

Last time I was at the 10:30 service, Al’s family came to church.  I’ve never met them before.  They all sat in the 3rd row, where there was more room for them to spread out.

I thought how happy Al must be to have his family at church with him.  He certainly looked happy to have them there.  I saw that Al had a bandage on his nose.  I asked, “What happened?” and there was a flicker of “I don’t want to talk about it” in his eyes and then he grinned and said, “Oh, I fell down a couple of times.  Or…she did it!” and he pointed to his wife and they both laughed.

That made me remember a couple of months ago when the pastor talked with Al after the service and they both looked very serious.  I sort of wondered if something was wrong with Al.  And now that he was falling, I wondered again if something was wrong with Al.

But he obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and I was going to respect that.  After all, we’re just seat buddies, right?  I mean, I don’t even know his last name, even though we’ve sat next to each other and laughed with each other and held hands for the past 4 years.  So, I wasn’t going to pry.

I laughed at Al’s joke and he introduced me to his family, and they were very friendly and we all smiled a lot at each other and shook hands.  During the service, I heard them laughing together when something funny was said.

And that’s my Al.

So, it was with a bit of dread that I asked someone after church today, “Who, exactly, is Al Croft?”

“He was the man who always sat in the second row on the end.”

. . .

“Oh.  I see.  Thank you.  I sit next to him every other week, you know.”

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t always take things in right away, so after receiving the news, I went about my day.

But as the day has progressed, I’ve been feeling heavier and heavier hearted, thinking about Al.  Even though I didn’t know him well, it’s still sad when someone that you shared a seat with, and laughter with, and held hands with, and who was obviously a sweet and cheerful person is gone.  Sixty-four years old. No one should be allowed to die before 92, at the earliest.

I realized that there would be no room in my writing tonight for anything other than Al, so I went back to the church and took a picture of his seat.

I’m not looking forward to next Sunday.  Where will I sit?  On the end, in Al’s seat?  Or next to Al’s seat? Won’t it be strange to sit there alone?  I hope we aren’t asked to hold hands with the person next to us.

And who will catch my eye so they can laugh with me?