Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Don't call me Chicken!

When I was 8, or something, Big Rachel, the neighbor girl, had chickens and her dad, Greg, was fixing to butcher them. In the past, after it was over, I'd gleaned my favorite parts, to save in a super secret garage corner: chicken feet with their natural puppeteering tendons.

This time, Big Rachel wanted to watch the bloody show. I didn't. But she eventually cajoled my reluctant little self into it. As we recently recapped every obscenely vivid detail, she noted, "You really didn't want to watch. But we pressured you into it. We were like, 'Common! It'll be fun!' But you didn't want to. And then the worst possible thing happened." I've never phrased it quite like that. But I'm certainly not going to argue with the assessment. And I've hated chickens ever since. If you've known me for 10 minutes, you know THAT! But I'm happy to eat their "young", their eggs, that is. I consider it an ounce of prevention.

To be clear: I do not hold Greg or Rachel responsible in any way for the trauma. How could anyone have possibly foreseen this? Except me, of course.

Greg popped each chicken into a PVC pipe, head sticking out, one solid whack with the ax, hold, and done. All went well... for a butchering. And then there was this one. I think it was white. The head came clean off, but the body popped out of the tube. Blood pulsed, 3 feet straight up from the open neck.

And it was off and running. After me!!! I dodged right, it dodged right. I dodged left. It dodged left! I double back around. It doubled back!! I glanced behind me. Yes: there was not a single head on the neck. The head was indeed laying at the chopping block. It's angelic white wings flapping as it ran. I was screaming and faint. My audience gawked helplessly. I climbed the tree fort with my last bit of strength. And that chicken plopped over, finally dead, at the bottom.

I'm not sure what I thought it would do once it caught me. Peck me? Squirt me with blood? Lay an egg on my face? Trample me with wire feet? Scare me more?

My kids love this story. They've introduced to their peers a new type of tag. One person is the chicken-with-it's-head-cut-off and everyone else is little Sarajoy's screaming and running from them. It's actually really cute.

Our friends' chicken houses became my home style Fear Factors. I'd dare myself to enter the coops. 20 to 100 chickens pecking at my jeans. The rush! The adrenaline! Yikes! Get me out of here!!! Her 10 year old daughter escorts my crumpled resolve out.

I tell you this today because a life time of poultry-phobia and abject chicken hatred just flew out the window in all of .006 seconds.

I was at the feed store...I don't know why...the chicks were so cute... and within an hour I'd ordered five layers and a coop kit.

And I can't convince myself to cancel the order!!!

I don't think I had repressed chicken-love under all that hate. I just suddenly changed, without expecting to. Lately, my true desires keep jumping out at me: gorgeous couches, cutting off a guest from the alcohol, anger and frustrations, the dorkiest joy dances, or a sudden change of chicken heart. Here I am, popping out all over the place!

The chicks in the mail. The world is full of mysteries, and so am I.


Whew. Nothing like returning to the scene of one's childhood!

We spent part of every summer on Orcas Island, once a hippy backwater, now Martha's Vineyard West.

We returned. My parents, sister, and one year of myself, having lived there in adulthood. And thanks to those lasting relationships, we were able to stay on the beach, kayaking at will, swooning over orange and hot pink sunsets, bubbling in a hot tub, noshing seafood including a $100 salmon! and sardining ourselves into a cabin.

As usual, in my total and absolute excitement to arrive, I babbled endlessly. And hopped around like a puppy chiwahwah on five cans of Jolt (or the modern equivalent). Some of you have seen me do this. When Kate visited the hovel in Rock Island I ran aroundaroundaround nipping at her ankles until she barked, "DOWN! SIT! STAY!" (not really, but she should have!)

Unfortunately, I was so tired of my parenting job that I didn't play much with the kids. I took them out kayaking, and cajoled them around the lake, and kissed their booboo's but I didn't really play. This is sort of sad. But understandable. And now they are in Salem and so I will be ready to play again when they get back on Thurs. And we will play together all day, every day, for two more months.

And then, there's the family "of origin," as those feeling alienated always call it. Anyway, this is the revised version, because after all this, I'm still actually worried about feeling further alienated from them. You'd think I'd get over it. You'd think I'd LIKE to be alienated from them. But I'm apparently not completely ready for that.

An inexplicably sudden and strong emotional reaction to my emotions not being taken seriously was, without irony, met with laughter!

And also, the collapse is coming in the clouds to gather up the righteous. I will not be among them because I love ketchup and have an irredeemable tomato addiction, me and Pol Pot. This will hasten the collapse, obviously. Which is okay, because the righteous are looking forward to it. The only path to redemption is to skin a porcupine.

And also, when everyone trots off to their various entitlements and I suddenly discover myself alone, abandoned with my kids, I need to relaaaaaxxx and enjoy my usual responsibilities as a stay at home mom, on vacation, while the others are off kayaking, jogging, walking, and sipping coffee with friends and will return whenever, that's not important.

Okay. Okay. That's not ALL that happened. There were also crazy good times around the camp fire. Matt's hilarious stories about chopping wood (he chops A LOT of wood... and carries A LOT of water). Cocktails in town with my sister/confidant. My mom stumbled across a new band name: OCDC. A return to the classic family photo atop Mt. Constitution. And good times. I love my family. Sometimes it's an obvious thing and sometimes I don't know why. They can really confuse and infuriate me.

The last magical night, we were up late at the campfire fraternizing with our pseudo siblings and hosts Grant and Ronna, when we were interrupted by a strange cloppity flap flap below us on the beach. Further investigation found a swarm of miniature sharks (dogfish). The high tide crammed them against the shore. The summer's phosphorescence sparkled where the Sound flopped against the rocks. As far as the flashlight would shine, it was fins, flat glowing eyes, and tails plonking the surface, the song of shark infested waters. Enchanting and metaphoric!

Of course, no journey to Orcas would be complete without a psychic striking up a conversation with me while I waited for the departing ferry. Suddenly, she went into a reverie, and sheepishly mumbled things about my aura she could suddenly see. Things I'm learning to hate about myself. I'm a listener (when not overly excited to see you!). I'm listening to the background, to the things behind the visible.

She forgot to mention that to my family, however.

On the way home, I met up with Big Rachel. She's not actually big, but is older than my sister, Lil' Rachel. She's the neighbor girl from my childhood who constitutes 50% of my memory, and with whom Facebook reunited me. Despite epic communications problems including the death of my cell phone battery and the constant failure of the Orcas Internet, we did actually meet up. I was, again, as excited as possible and nearly jabbered my head off! Huck was there, however, and noticed it dangling at my feet, a few strands left to show where it had come from. And he handily popped it back on the neck-stand, and I was actually able to ask some of the questions I really wanted to. That was the first person that I've seen from high school. Except for the one I was briefly married to.

And now: Here I Am. In my house. On my land. I've lived here for all eternity. It makes me feel like a ghost. I'm Home. Alone. Finally.

update: for pics of the dogfish check out our hosts blog: http://myles-era.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Imagine you are an 8 year old girl. It's summer break. But what the heck, it's hard to break tradition, so you get up super early on Saturday. Saturdays are all about the butt-crack of dawn. Your going to pop on some clothes and run outside, before 6! You're changing your unders and that is how you discover that a tick has embedded its head in your crotch. It's legs are wiggling delightedly in the air. What do you do?

Obviously, you throw yourself on the ground, thrashing, wailing, kicking, screaming. That is, if you are alive, at all.

Imagine you are a mother. You are laying between your favorite sheets, entertaining wildly inappropriate fantasies of sleeping-in on a Saturday morning. Suddenly crazed shrieking smashes through your silky fog. You grumble and stumble across the "hall", croaking about how much blood you expect to see with screaming like that. When your eyes pry open enough to see the wiggling tick in your daughters crotch, what do you do?

Your body remains upright, tenses a little, and frowns. Your soul tosses itself on the floor with your daughter and thrashes and screams. You begin dialing 911, but accidentally call your husband, at work already, at the front of a 10day, 12hours per day, project in the field.

Imagine you are a father. You are at work in a field, literally, at 6 am with several large pieces of equipment drilling and testing around you. Although you are the newest guy there, you've been put in charge of the whole shebang. You are trying to not be stressed or inordinately excited. Your cell rings. You step away from the noise. It's your wife. She's says she's calling from the closet but she's screaming so loud you can't make out what else she's saying. Eventually the picture becomes clear. She needs to know how to remove a tick from your daughter's crotch. What do you do?

You yell, "OH MY GOD!!!" Recover yourself and continue, "For crying out loud, ask the interweb! And try to remain calm...er."

The mother boots up and googles, after ten minutes of the Mircrosoft theme song, of course.

The thrashing child refuses to go pee, but she really really has to. A CD of fairy tales distracts and the mother spends five blood-curdling minutes extricating the squirmy, wiggly bug. And then drowns him in rubbing alcohol and freezes him for good measure, because the interweb told her to do it.

And that, my friends, is how you tick...er...kick off a weekend.

The week's been too busy to report back until now, but I hope I'm in time to consult you for the coming weekend. Good luck creating your own tick-tastic adventures! If your not quite up for all that excitement, you should check all existing orifices of your wee ones for invaders every night before bed. Which is also just too much fun...really.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Doll House

Mine was a nondescript dollhouse. A donation to the pastor's family. It was sort of like a 1970's suburban split level made of thin boards tacked together, if that's not redundant. The furniture however, was AMAZING! Little plastic Victorian pieces that tickled and thrilled my imagination. Among them was a red couch, wavy backed and trimmed with ornate "wood". The Classic.

I've seen them from time to time. Huck's been with me as I've swooned at antique store windows in New Orleans, wondering how much delivery would be, when the couch itself was a month's wages. Ah. Dreams.

I wasn't really looking for a couch. On the list of large purchases we need to make (the '94 Cutlass Sierra S isn't going to go on FOREVER, and Jersey's in milk are expensive) a couch was really way down the list. Everyone hates the futon. I, because it reminds me of this past year. And everyone else because it's hellishly uncomfortable. But a couch wasn't in the foreseeable future.

I was actually perusing Craisglist for more vintage wicker, which I'm finding nice and cheap and is filling the solarium with an adorable, ornate wackiness. All I did, honestly, was just to type in "antique couches" just to see. Just so I could start casing the market. Just to see what's out there. What the prices are. Just to see.

And the last entry, the last one, was the couch from my dollhouse.

My mother-in-law was visiting and I showed the ad to her because she KNOWS antiques and is a hoity toity interior designer: "GASP! If that's in any kind of shape it's worth at least twice the price!!" But she warned it was likely uncomfortable and not suitable for a family.

I saw the conclusion. I could see it a mile away. And I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter. I hung my head and slowly trudged along this path I felt was predestined. I was pained. I didn't not want to spend money on a couch. I don't highly value couches in general. But I knew I had to see it.

After a few days, I called. A few days later, I visited.

It was a perfect, healthy, comfortable piece of furniture in exactly the right color. And she came down in price by a 1/3, which made it very hard to resist. I told her I'd sleep on it. But I didn't. I tossed and turned on it. For two nights. I hemmed and hawed. The expense. The kids. The cat. The imagining of a puppy. The beauty. The materialistic love. Wrong? Right?

I thought, Well, if I get this then I can't get that or that. But I caught myself. While Huck's salary is a modest beginning engineer salary, it's not like that anymore. That's a false choice now. Before, it was ACTUALLY true: if I buy a new swimming suit, we'll have to go without lunch for a week. But it's no longer true.

Where is the debriefing retreat from poverty? Why don't they have a little island you can go to with a counselor who helps you to understand: you are not on the verge of starvation any more, you can buy new underwear whenever you feel like it now, you don't have to search the seats for gas money, some old friends may despise you now, you won't feel like you deserve any of the material possessions you can now say yes to. But you must, you must move on from this humiliating place of deprivation.

It seemed that I was going to Just Say No to this couch, just because I have grown so unaccustomed to wild materialistic fantasies materializing.

In the meantime, Huck's birthday is tomorrow, so the kids and I went shopping for an afternoon on Perdition Road... er Division Street, Spokane's version of Aurora and the Guide... just a long strip of national chain hell. I don't know where to shop around here, and that was the most obvious place. I've had to spend three afternoons on that road since we moved in and each journey eviscerates my soul. Each time, I return home, exhausted, dirty, and icky inside and out. I hate it. The only cure I know is to read the Mystics.

So, I sat on my vintage wicker chaise (Craigslist/cheap/I'm madly in love with it) and read St. Terese of Avila and this is what she had to say about the material world:


I had a natural passion for fine clothes, excellent food, and lively conversation about all matters that concern the heart still alive. And even a passion about my own looks.

Vanities: they do not exist.

Have you ever walked across a stream stepping on rocks so not to spoil a pair of shoes?

All we can touch, swallow, or say aids in our crossing to God and helps unveil the soul.

Life smooths us, rounds, perfects, as does the river the stone, and there is no place our Beloved is not flowing, though the current's force you may not always like.

Our passions help to lift us.

I loved what I could love until I held Him,
for then - all things - every world disappeared.

On the way to see the couch the first time, a HUGE rainstorm hit, like I've never seen before. Rivers in the street. Rivers of God. I could barely drive through them.

As we drove home from that first meeting, a double rainbow arched above us. I know that rainbow was not just for me. But I felt it: our lives are going to be okay now. If I spend a little money on such a whimsy, it will be okay. This couch would not cause us to starve, nor return us to living in a garage. Our lives are on a different course now, one that a whimsical couch could not derail.

This week, I finished reading Marilyn Robinson's latest masterpiece, HOME. I finished it so intently today, that despite awaking with my very best intentions to uphold my cleaning duties, the house never got cleaned and in fact the kids made it way way worse while I was ignoring them with my book. Anyhow, I wept like a BABY, a freaking BABY at the end of this book. The whole point of the book is Home: being home, having a home, welcoming home, and accepting the good and wonderful things this life, and "god", want to give us.

When I finished weeping, I called Mary up and I told her I would buy her couch.

Tonight, as we drove home with it in bouncing behind us in the trailer, another rainbow grew up around us, and looked, from a certain angle, to sprout straight from our doorstep. And I know it's just an act of physics, but I couldn't help but wonder: the universe may just be longing for me lounge and relax on this, ANOTHER, amazing dream in my reality.

I've never said it before about blessings, but today I did: "What now?" I asked the rainbow, "What next?"

Well.... I've got a small list here... if you'd like to look it over....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Over-research: phase I

I'm in the over-researching phase of family cow ownership. This is the part where, despite having already made my decision based on the typical mix of rashness, bravado, intuition, and probably hormones, I pretend that what I am about to do is perfectly logical. Hence: the over abundance of post decision "re"search. This phase also provides ammunition for later remorse. No decision of mine is complete without the full set of self-doubts, regrets and a loaded pre-set my own "Told You So"s, ready to fire should the occasion present itself.

As part of this research phase, I took the kids to the local dairy.

Holy Shit.

It's a small dairy. It's a family thing. Exactly what I grew up around. I helped my grandpa every other weekend with his cows. Yet time erases all of the important details, except the green field with the rainbow and gramps at my side. So, I brought the kids to a dairy. A GREAT dairy. The cows are happy, artificially inseminated, and free of fake hormones. And they are really really large.

I haven't had anything bigger than a really really big cat in the past about 15 years (check that! time has passed! It's been 18 years!). Sure, I've been employed on a dude ranch. I've retrained a few horses. But that was before kids. That was... holy ovulating octopuses! nearly nine years ago!! Large animals have gotten larger in the intervening period, apparently. They are actually larger than kids! And they have big, hard, feet. And they have even more crap coming out of their butts than children! Cows are really big. Not lap companions.

I nursed for 6 years straight. Sometimes with a machine. There's this creepy familiarity to what those girls do. A mammalian recognition of the shoot-shoot-shoot sounds. And it's weird. It's like just reaching over a squeezing some other lady's breasts. So inappropriate! There must be some right of ownership, the familiarity of a proprietor to presume to just reach over and squeeze some mammals teets, like you own them, like their bodies don't belong to themselves, but to you. Absolutely mind boggling. I'd really have to understand that we are not equals. That I am their master. That I OWN their boobs!

I'm not sure I'm ready to be the top of the food chain yet.

The tour was amazing and wonderful and smelled like old times. And the woman of the farm even ground grain and made us cookies from it! To have with our big glasses of milk. And she sent us home with a gallon, cream still in it! Fresh from that morning! Coyote is already dead gone on the stuff and won't have anything else since we moved to Spokane. And I love it too! I had several tall glasses!

And now we come to the major unforeseen glitch in my little plan: milk makes me really sick! For decades, more than just a bit in my tea and little on my cereal has turned my insides into knots and these knots tell me things: you are going to die! Hari Kari is committed from the inside out! There is an alien trying to escape from your abdomen! Just to make sure, apparently, creamy milk addict that I am, I tried to guzzle even more milk the next day. Same near death experience.

So now I'm perusing cheese books. Camembert is unfortunately really difficult and they say I should spend several years in less worthy cheeses working my way up. Whatever. We all know by now that my best results are achieved when I'm in way over my head. As long as I carefully accomplish everything contrary to advice, it'll at least turn out. But - damn. It says to clean the kitchen first. And backwards or frontwards, that's my Waterloo.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eternally Damned

Dear Spokanticles,

It's come to my attention that most of you know where you are because you have lived here your whole lives. I think that's wonderful. That's what gives a place character and local flavor. Thank you, you stayers you.

Consider this, you've never been lost in Spokane. You've never been new here or anywhere. The one way streets, the curving, sudden dead ends, the roads that suddenly bridge to other states, these you know like the tiles on your bathroom floor. These are quirks you can't even see. But we newbies, we uninitiated, we lost folks just trying to get home before the school bus... to us, these things are not obvious. When you honk at the 24-way stop without street labels, all you are saying is this, "I know where I am! I know what to do here! I wish you did too!" Believe me, when I say this: I wish I knew too! I wish I knew where I was. I wish I knew what to do at 36-way stops. I wish I knew what you know. But I don't. And your honking isn't going to suddenly make it clear. You're simply crowing about how smart and special you think you are because you know all 'bout Spokane's streets. Big deal. You know this town you were born in. Good for you.

Spokane is a very old town, with very old roads, and very quirky paths. The map of South hill looks like root-bound chives. It may be hard to believe, but there was a day, a time, an era, when I loved new towns. When I was never lost because I was free to follow any path. But the Old me, the me without a child sitting on the front porch, locked out of the house because I've been lost for two hours, that old me couldn't get lost. How can one get lost when one has no destination? I bragged, perhaps even to you here: I've NEVER been lost, except once in a town in Mexico. It's true. I've an infallible sense of direction. And if I were a crow, I'd be in luck. But here. I'm driving North, and suddenly the road careens west, then east, then south and now North again. Yes, I am going North. But where? In Idaho? In Canada? And if I take this road, does it get me back to the neighborhood I need to be in? Apparently not. It looked like it would, but then it doubled back and I'm going North again, in Istanbul.

My mis-adventures have, as they always do, brought be to beauty I didn't know I was missing. Your town, your 130 year old boom town is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Jaw dropping architecture. Tear jerking ancient estates. I have already wept beneath arches and embellished wedding cake towers, and not only because I am lost, but because I have found buildings worthy of the resources and hours put into to them, buildings worthy to stand through time, testaments to the greatest potential of human imagination. Sooo... perhaps that's also why I'm drifting into your honking lane. It's the surprising grace of brick and the elegant curl of stone, these perfect oxymorons your eyes are likely numbed to, that prevent me from driving straight and finding my way home.

So, my dear Spokanticles, if I'm not quite driving between the lines, it's because I'm drunk on the beauty of your town. And if I'm lost at the 48-way intersection, it's because they just shouldn't exist. I'll be laying on the horn too, just to vent the frustrations of the foreigner. Consider it the sound of the eternally lost, the eternally damned.


Thursday, June 4, 2009


Welcome to the neighborhood!

Everyone is so nice here. You are going to love it! We just need you to get your house in a little better shape.

Look around. We all have gates around brand new houses which are prominently, ostentatiously twice the price (at least) of yours. We all have fancy fences. YOUR house is old with an old pig farm fence. Your house used to be the pig farm: teeheeheeheee. Pig Farm house! That's you! We just think that's hilarious. You won't mind if we bring that up a lot, I'm sure.

You love it? You are merely a young, ignorant fool. And obviously such, I'm going to tell you all about my Master Gardener degrees. If you don't have one of these, you know nothing about plants. Oh, sure, two years of land scape school...whatever, you're too young.

Just so you know, you are part of MY FANTASY! It's true! I have this prim rose business and I NEED the corner house to look way better. And then we also have this control-freak garden house that would like a better view. That's you. You are the view! Isn't that exciting!

You'll notice we all have flat, green, well mowed, fertilized, contained, trimmed, aerated lawns. And you don't. I'm sure you can see the problem. We won't mind mowing you on two sides, however. Don't worry about adverse possession rules. We'd do a better job with your lot than you anyway. So just don't worry about that. We can't have blow over from your wild flowers into our MAINTAINED gardens.

You're obviously the youngest and stupidest on the block. Am I repeating myself here? Do forgive me. You don't know a darned thing about classiness and pristinity. Look at your cars. The new one is a HONDA. We've all got Escalades and sports cars. REAL cars. Cars of Class and Establishment. You are still clinging to an OLDSMOBILE. Don't mind if we gawk.

Speaking of gawking, we will drop our jaws at your laundry on the line. Class is keeping your laundry PRIVATE, even if it is clean. You have so much to learn! So much POTENTIAL!

You love your house, I know. It's so cute of you. You actually tried to defend it to us. You told us it was perfect the way it was. You told us you loved it and it was the most beautiful house you'd ever seen. Honey, we can smell trash a mile away. This is the nicest house to YOU because you are young and from some level of poverty less than upper crust.

What I say stands however. I offered an olive branch you didn't seem keen on taking. Your house has POTENTIAL, I said, LOTS of POTENTIAL. Now why don't you like that? Why take offense? Everything has potential. Why, even I do! Lots and lots of untapped potential to be a gracious person. So, all is not lost, you see?


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