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This weekend I was recovering from a procedure I had on my foot on Friday. Had to keep the foot elevated, but had I been as mobile as usual, the weather was not exactly encouraging to do chores or to do fun stuff. So I guess it’s time for a blog.
I moved to this house in the summer, but thoughtful housewarming gifts keep showing up unpredictably. This post is to highlight the ones I thought of today. I hope I don’t forget any, but if I do, I’ll just add them later.
I’ve got a few friends from the earliest of days, and I love that. One of them has been among my best friends since I was 16 and he was 17. He sent me my very first housewarming gift, a steel fish. I think it’s gorgeous and it was the very first thing I hung on my walls in this big place.
Another metal gift is one I have needed for ages! After the woodstove was installed, I found a nice-sized stick that I used as a fire poker. In its early life it was about four feet long. It kept accidentally catching on fire. I can’t tell you how many times I would have to run from the fire to the kitchen, to douse the smoking stick. One night I didn’t realize a tiny ember had remained on the stick and it smoldered and burned down about four inches while I slept. Yikes. Anyway, after a few months, my poker stick was only about 18 inches long. I complained about it constantly, but never found time to go shopping for one of those metal fireplace sets. You know, the ones with the broom and the poker that hang from a gaudy rack that sits beside the fireplace? I was complaining to my step-father while Tara and I were in Idaho the last time, and he jumped into action. He dug around in the shed and came up with a steel rod that had a few nuts on one end. It was too long, so he heated it with a torch and cut it, then bent and tapered the end. He heated the nuts into place, then filed them down smooth. I tell you: I was thrilled! This is a perfect fire stick. I never have to run to the kitchen blowing out flames anymore.
In the way that happens so often in the blogging world, it was my turn to be blessed with a gift from a blogger. Marlene, whose unceasing accomplishments astound us all who know her at insearchofitall, made this kitchen towel for me. She said it wasn’t just for show, and I was free to use it as a towel, but for now I like it hanging up. I washed it first, to make it look a little used. This gift is one that brings love into my world and makes home feel that much more like home, you know?
My Tara is in love with bees, you may recall from the brand new bee tattoo. Anything bee-related is good, so I recently received two beeswax candles that please their tastes as well as mine. From what I am told, beeswax candles are superior. I haven’t had the heart to light either one yet, but they smell divine. It’s like what honey would be if it were a gas. Omigosh sweet goodness.
My Pa said during one of our phone calls, “You know, I am sure I have a book about ponds around here somewhere….” Lo and behold, one day these pond books showed up. I am so excited to get what I can from them. Both are written for people who want to build a pond from scratch, so much text is dedicated to planning and engineering. However, I am sure that if I read them both, I will find reasons for the engineering, and that will give me an education. I really want to know how to take care of my pond. It is important to me to be a good steward to this land.
Another long time friend is one I met in college in northern California, before I transferred to Brandeis University. I took an honors Anthropology class, just because I was trying to take all the honors classes, and what a great decision it was because within a few weeks I had decided to major in Anthropology. I loved that class, the beautiful and intelligent professor, and this awesome chick who sat next to me every day. She and I even did a part-performance from the Vagina Monologues in that class, and I was in awe of her bravery for tackling the skit she chose. We have been friends ever since. Anyway, my friend now lives in Sante Fe, and sent a care package filled with wonderful things carefully selected from town, including a little burlap bag of garlic, canned roasted peppers, a sage smudge she wrapped herself, and a bag filled with pine nuts still in the shells. She also sent a two-page letter explaining the significance of each thing, and how she might come across them in a typical day. I have eaten everything that’s edible, but I still have some of the nuts left. They are good to munch on at work.
My last gift has to come with a story, so you can understand why I love it so much.
Out of the blue, I got a box from another friend from the early early days. I went to school with this kid starting back in 1980 and we graduated together in 1988. His dad owned “the” lumber/hardware store in our tiny Idaho town, called C&M Lumber Company. It was absolutely the only place to go for tools, for 2x4s, for paint, for glass, you name it. “C&M” we called it, was a hub, and I was like a kid in a candy store there. I belong to that quirky group that loves hardware stores (I know you’re out there!). Anyway, I have these beautiful, sweet, childhood memories of bemused adults interacting with me as a 14-year old customer, and treating me with more consideration than I’ll bet the adults got. For example, I wanted to paint my bedroom once, and my dad said it was ok. He wouldn’t buy me any paint, but I could use anything in the garage that I found. I found about five containers of mostly-empty, close-to-white paint, from different brands, who knows what it all was. It hadn’t occurred to me to tell my dad that I planned to paint with coloured paint. One of the containers was a 5-gallon bucket, and I dumped them all (plus a pale yellow one) into the big one, and stirred. Then I lugged that thing (it wasn’t full, of course) across blocks and blocks of dirt roads, all the way to C&M Lumber Company. Without any concept of how it was usually done, I explained to the person working that I was there to get it coloured. “We don’t usually do it that way…” the salesman began. But in no time, he had agreed to try to make it a shade of dusty rose I liked, and it was like a little chemical experiment, as he dumped in some of this, and some of that, stirred it, and then painted a bit of it, to see what it looked like as it dried. All totally FASCINATING to me, as I watched eagerly. I had money, and was ready to pay, but at the end I was released without spending a penny. I was oblivious. But what a great place, to put that much effort into a kid’s project. I ended up painting my room dusty rose with dark grey trim and proudly showed my Pa, who flipped out because it was a forest service house, and residents needed to get permission to paint any colour but white, pale yellow, or pale Forest Service green. After a few days, he relaxed, and decided that no one would find out till after we moved, since I had an attic bedroom.
There was also the time when I was into a kick of etching artwork into glass. I had found a thick, tinted, and huge mirror at the dump, that had broken into about six unwieldy pieces. I carried these carefully to C&M to get the sharper points cut off and cut in half so they would be easier for me to play with. This time it was the owner himself, my friend’s dad. He began the same way as the paint guy. “Well, we don’t usually…” and before I knew it, he had cut all the pieces for me. Then he took all of them to a power sanding machine and ground down the edges of every mirror piece so I wouldn’t cut myself. Again, my parents had no idea I was there. Again, I tried to pay and was shooed out the door. For years I understood hardware stores as places where you did not spend much. Funny, that’s no longer the case for me.
Today, my school friend runs the place. I haven’t been inside since I was a teenager, but I have been through town, and I have seen the brand new big building outside of town. It must still be as vital today as then. In the country, the hardware/lumber/tool/garden store is critical.
I did my friend’s son a favor a few years ago, and he promised to make it up to me. Viola! Favor returned:
In closing, I am including this short video of my woodstove. I tried twenty times to get a photo to show what I was seeing, but I couldn’t do it. I had to use video. What you see is not flames, but smoke, lit up orange from the coals in the back. Cooooooolll.
I’m sure you have heard the news about the rain on the U.S. West coast. Here’s our story.
On Tuesday December 8, despite the pouring rain I drove south to Corvallis after work to pick up Tara from college to come home for the holidays. We got home at 9:30 pm and I was so tired we didn’t visit, just went to bed. So much rain had fallen that day it had caused a mudslide that brought down trees and debris across Oregon Highway 30 near Rainier, my hometown. Wednesday morning I kissed Tara’s sleeping head, and hopped into the Jeep at 5:00 am like usual. I could not take the Highway 30 route into Portland because there was a roadblock, flashing lights, and police out there answering questions. I shrugged and turned the other direction to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Columbia River to Washington state. It’s my preferred route into town anyway. Both highways hug the river all the way to Portland, but the I-5 speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and the Hwy 30 speed limit ranges from 25 to 55 mph as it passes through half a dozen little towns.
During the day Wednesday the rain came down like a monsoon. Word spread through the office that there had been a mudslide on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle – my way home. I wasn’t worried at first, since that is a major route and I knew it would be a priority cleanup.
Tara sent a video taken on their phone. It showed our little Beaver Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded the whole bottom section of the property, flowed all across the land and into the pond. The video is blurry, but you get the idea. Since I moved here in July I have fretted about the low level of the pond, but in minutes the raging Beaver River filled it up and overflowed the other side. (Notice the sticks still on the railing after I photographed them for their ice formations.)
I left work and headed north on I-5 like usual, and right away I saw enormous highway signs proclaiming “Road closed, mile post 23. Use alternate route.” I kept driving because the mudslide was from the morning. Certainly the major highway would be open by the time I arrived. And besides, “alternate route,” that’s a joke. There is no alternate route. There isn’t a frontage road, or mountain pass, or even a little recreation road that follows the Columbia River on the Washington side. There is absolutely no other way to get through except Highway 30 on the Oregon side.
I was still about 10 miles away from the so-called “road closure,” but already the Interstate was slowing down. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic traveling around 15 miles an hour finally made me take the situation seriously. The big glowing highway signs stated “Take next exit.” I passed one exit, still not convinced. When we were down to 3 miles an hour, and still 8 miles from mile marker 23, I acquiesced and pulled off the highway, turned around and went back to Portland. I finally had to agree that the Interstate was truly closed.
Luckily I had a place to stay in downtown Portland, so I had a rather appealing Plan B. Serendipitously, Tara was at home and could keep an eye on the place, feed the cat and the chickens, and that was reassuring. I visited the hot tub on the roof of the apartment building where I stayed, and for an hour the rain let up and gave us this Christmas view of the city.
I wore all the same clothes at work Thursday December 10, though I was able to swap out my undershirt with a clean Incredible Hulk T-shirt, which I was carrying for the workout that never happened. You just never know when you’re going to need the help of a superhero, am I right?! My co-workers and I heard that Highway 30 was finally open at Rainier, but a couple hours later a new mudslide happened at the St. John’s bridge. Cleanup crews for the St. John’s slide accidentally hit a natural gas pipeline, which closed Highway 30 again. I-5 stayed closed. My co-worker’s wife called to tell him that a tornado dropped down in their hometown, and the schools were calling parents to come get their kids. A tornado!
I considered driving to the coast at Tillamook, Oregon, going north to Astoria, and coming in to Rainier from the back way. Yes, for reals, I was seriously going to drive to the coast just to get home. However, the same co-worker with kids going home for a tornado, has family in Tillamook. He cautioned me not to try it because many of those highways were under water as well.
Finally Hwy 30 opened again in the afternoon, and I left an hour early. I thought for sure that leaving at 2:30 pm would help me avoid rush hour traffic and make the trip home reasonable. I had not seen my home in two days, hadn’t said “hi” to my teenager or the chickens or the cat, hadn’t taken prescription meds, and I needed new clothes. I made up my mind to get onto 30 and just be patient if it ended up taking a long time.
All Interstate 5 traffic was routed onto 30 that day. Just imagine it: three lanes of Interstate traffic on two lanes (and for a large portion of the highway, only one lane) of country road. It wasn’t just a slow trip home: it was the worst ever. Six and a half hours it took me. I finally pulled into the driveway at 9:15 pm.
Friday morning at 5:00 am, I kissed Tara’s forehead in the dark again (I still hadn’t seen my kid awake for days) and headed back into town. Sadly, all the southbound roads had been open all week. Meaning, I could always get to work, but getting home was the problem. Next time I’d prefer to be trapped at home due to mudslides. At work we heard stories of how the Red Cross had set up tents along the Interstate for motorists trapped on the highway, unable to back out because of being penned in by other vehicles. They passed out silver heat blankets and bottled water, and people stayed the night in their cars. If I was religious, this would probably have been the time for me to send up some prayers. (I sent some anyway, just because I don’t let convictions get in the way of my gratitude)
After work Friday I went home on I-5 that had two lanes open at long last. I passed about a dozen abandoned cars beside the highway, where people had pulled into the ditch and walked back toward Portland two nights earlier. Thank goodness I had not been one of those trapped. I am so glad I decided to turn around. One of my defining qualities is the refusal to give up when things get difficult, but perhaps a sign that I’m maturing despite it all, is the fact that I am learning that sometimes the right decision is to give it up.
All is well at home. No one is allowed to worry that my house was ever in danger of flooding. We sit up on a hill and the whole Columbia Valley would have to fill up before the water would get to my house. Ironically, I currently have an application pending with FEMA to get the property removed from their categorization of flood zone, so I don’t have to buy flood insurance. Shh! Don’t show them the video.
After rain and clouds and fog and darkness, we’ve had a week of sunshine. Sun in November means there is no protective blanket of clouds and the ground is exposed to the frigid atmosphere. Lows in Rainier have been in the 20s (below zero Celsius) at night and warm up to around the freeze/ melt point during the day (most people saying “freezing point,” but meteorologist say “melting point”). Despite the cold, the sun makes me happy. And when it’s cold day after day, and you walk in the air and breathe deeply while chasing chickens or chopping wood, you get used to it in no time.
The chicken hussies (so-called because of their stubborn insistence on misbehaving) are periodically in their pen. I capture them, and I force visitors to help me wrangle chickens, so on occasion all four are inside. But they lose their patience and fly out within days. Or hours. They used to be content to scratch the dirt and eat the grass within feet of the house, but in the past month have decided that no distance is too far to roam. I usually have no idea where they are. Thanksgiving morning I walked down to the chicken pen to visit the only chicken in there at the time.
After chatting with Tawny, dumping out the solid block of ice and refilling her water dish with liquid water, I noticed something white that looked like paper trash down by the creek. It was not trash but the most amazing ice sculpture! I’m guessing that the cold temperatures froze the moisture inside the sticks, and when the ice swelled, it was forced to squeeze out of the sticks. Anyway, what do you think happened?
I have been worn out with my commute. I spend three hours a day in traffic, sometimes four. I can’t stand driving to begin with, so it really takes a toll on my spirit and my ability to get stuff done at home since I’ve been deprived of all that time. But the upside is, I am slowly learning my new job and gaining a tiny bit of confidence. In a few months I will probably be released to go back to working at home.
Hair care I find to be a menace, and once I have a hairdresser that suits me, I stick with that person till something drastic pulls us apart. When I lived in Boston, I continued to schedule haircuts for when I flew back to California, ha ha. Well, I have moved from Portland to way out in the country, and only recently made it back into the city to get my hair cut. I like it long in summer, so I can pull it back into a ponytail. I like it short in winter.
I was asked out on a date a few weeks ago, and he and I hit it off, which is CRAZY because this guy is proud to call himself a conservative Christian Republican. I may be nuts. I am proud to call myself a liberal atheist who refuses to align with any political party. In my Thanksgiving phone call to my Pa, he laughed and said, “Well, I’ll bet you two have some rousing conversations!” So… it could make for some future rants in my blog that could offer some real entertainment. Stay tuned. 😉
Tara has been home the last two weekends and I am *so* happy to have my kid at home. I didn’t realize how much of a hole there was until it was filled and I felt the peace of it.
Tara got their first tattoo yesterday. It was an event. Tara has wanted a tattoo for years, but I would not give consent. The kid is now 18 and I relinquished my right to say “no.” If the plan had been to get a tattoo on the face or neck, or someone’s name, I would have protested, but instead Tara wanted a honeybee on their thigh. I can totally live with that. I think the tattoo is beautiful. While I was there I showed the artist my sadly distorted faery on my abdomen (who looked lovely until I got pregnant), and she had some ideas for how to make her pretty again. I may soon go under the needle myself.
It’s the season for giving thanks, and I am so grateful. For having a perfect child and an open mind, for having a father I can call, and a stepfather who calls me. For the reminder that I am a woman that a man could love. I am grateful that it’s so cold I think about the weather, and grateful that I have chickens to worry about. I am grateful for a troupe of gorgeous dancers and their parents and siblings who hug me every time I show up. I feel lucky to have a job many miles away, and I know I am lucky to have a home that fills up when my Tara and my Racecar kitty are here with me. I am so grateful that I turned out to be a person who never ceases to be fascinated with investigating the world around me.
Yesterday evening was another one of those times when I am absolutely humbled and grateful for the beautiful people in my life who made it happen for me. Don’t you find that remarkable things happen as a result of collaboration? It’s always that way. Keep people you admire and respect close to you, and they will make your life better. 🙂
Though we see each other rarely, one of my favourite friends of all is A, who lives out in Southeastern Washington state. He was invited to a backyard BBQ and potluck party in Gig Harbor, Washington where our mutual friend, Marcus Eaton would be playing. A couldn’t make it, and asked that I be invited to the party instead. And I was. (giggly happy dance inserted here)
It was at the home of a luthier, A told me. A man who makes high quality guitars played by musicians including Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn, Graham Nash and David Crosby. It was a unique opportunity for me to be in the presence of real artists, and only two hours’ drive from our home in Rainier, Oregon.
I got up early and made jalapeno poppers. This involves carefully cutting open fresh peppers and removing all the pulp and seeds and stuffing them with cream cheese. The task is tricky to do without tearing the peppers, which you want to close back up once they’re stuffed, so you can roast them. The bigger problem is dealing with pepper juice on your fingers. It’s 24 hours later and my skin is still burning. I always think “Next time I’ll wear gloves,” and I always forget. At least I’m consistent.
The weather was wretched and that made I-5 treacherous. The four northbound lanes are usually bumper to bumper on the way to Seattle: that’s a given. So add torrential downpours causing small lakes on the Interstate, and the omnipresent summer construction zones. Yikes. We were grateful to pull onto Highway 16 and head west over the Tacoma Narrows bridge. (I received a text from my brother that the bridge was closed due to high winds after we arrived at our hosts’ home, but luckily it was opened up again by the time we all left.)
Our plans had changed due to the weather, so we arrived rather early. Tara and I decided to explore the town of Gig Harbor and calm our nerves a bit before we ventured on. From there, it was only 15 minutes to the house.
Mrs. McAlister was as gracious as could be, considering she had never met us, and ushered us both in, introduced us to the kids, pointed out drinks and food, and showed me how to work the oven so I could broil the poppers. I met other guests and was grateful that Tara and I were not the first. Marcus was already there, and introduced me to Roy McAlister the luthier, and he introduced me to his new guitar.
The guitar should get a dedicated blog post. Sadly, I am ignorant of the technical descriptions of instruments. All I can say is that – even to me – this guitar is sexy enough to make hearts pound. Roy pointed out all the pieces: the blonde front piece, the dark sides and back, the black wood border around the face. Each piece of wood gorgeous and patterned and quilted with variations in the wood. Even the ebony of the neck was striped with lighter colours. Stunning.
Marcus had just been presented with the guitar, and played with it for a couple of hours before people started showing up, because he was trying to “open it up,” and noted that he could already hear the difference after doing that. He was so pleased he practically babbled about his gift. He said that guitars peak in sound quality after 10 years or so, and he was dying to hear the future tones of this work of art.
I was honored to be invited to Roy’s workshop in the back, filled with carved and unassembled pieces, curved and shaped and waiting to be brought to life, first by the luthier and finally by the musicians.
Roy McAlister was revealed to me by the end of the evening to be an exceptional human being. When describing the guitar for us, I could sense his efforts to maintain a calm and humble presentation but it was easy to see how excited he was. Watching carefully as the evening progressed and he hovered at the edge of the audience, soaking up the sounds of the artists with his guitars, I could see the kid inside him, straining not to bounce around with glee. If he wasn’t proud of his accomplishments while watching the musicians, he deserved to be. During the party, he talked with everyone and made each person feel appreciated, even me and Tara, total strangers. Roy made jokes all night and when he got together with Marcus, the two of them were positively juvenile. It was pretty hilarious. I teased him about being the biggest kid in the house, and he took it as a compliment.
Marcus could not stop raving about his gift. It was better than Christmas. The guitar, obviously, is gorgeous. But Marcus was just going crazy about its playability the instant he picked it up. “I’ve been fighting my guitar for three years,” he told me. “This guitar disappears when I start playing. It disappears.” You could tell by watching. There was no adjustment period as he figured it out…he just sat down and made jaws drop. In between every song he took the time to rave some more. “Sick!” he says, “I want to be more eloquent, but that’s all I’ve got.”
The rain POURED and wind raged. It had brought down a tree in the yard earlier. There was no question of being out of doors. So the lovely hosts rearranged their home and brought the show inside. That made it very intimate, and I was glad, because I was able to hear every single breath of the new guitar.
When the house was full, the artists began playing. It was a full concert with personally invited artists. I have photos only from the beginning when the light was still good. When it got dark outside, the room was dark and my little Nikon with my poor night photography skills was not able to capture anything worth posting.
Terry Holder started us off, with some fabulous back-up by her husband Jerry. I had the chance to talk to them before the show and they are both truly genuine people with quick smiles and generous hearts. Terry’s songs are as beautiful as she is, and filled with a magical, hopeful quality that I noticed is also in her personality. “Put it out into the Universe,” she said a couple of times during the night, expressing her belief that good things happen when you are true to yourself.
Rick Ruskin was up next with his McAlister guitar. Rick’s funny stories were a great accessory to his exceptional playing. It was clear that he and his guitar had been close friends for years, and his picking was relaxed and confident. He joked about playing I Wish It Would Rain the previous year, and this year’s barbecue being rained out. He played it again, hoping to cancel out the effect, and then – just in case – held us spellbound with an instrumental Here Comes The Sun. I complimented him on his set, later in the kitchen. “I give it a B+,” Rick responded. Oh, pshaww. Maybe artists find it harder to admit to greatness when there are so many greats together. But I argue: wear the coat when it fits.
Then Marcus played a nice long set. For those who want to know, the setlist was Sunrise Lets You Down, Black Pearl, What’s The Difference, Flying Through the Fire, Reverie, I Will Be Your Shade, Better Way, The Sting, The Barbie Song, and Who You Are. His fingers fly when he plays. He sometimes watched the frets while his hands picked it out, and sometimes looked right out at us while his fingers danced and sparked like lightning. There were little gasps in the audience and quiet “wow”s around me. (I often wonder what it’s like for those hearing him for the first time) Though I have been mesmerized by his playing since 2006, twice I caught myself dizzy from holding my breath to listen. No matter how good the music is, I must still breathe. It was the first time I had heard Flying Through the Fire, inspired by a WWII messenger pigeon. “It’s about life,” said Marcus. The song touched me deeply. It’s going to have to be my new anthem. Sadly, I still don’t have the music, since it’s on Marcus’ new album. The album is so recently completed it hasn’t even been released yet!
As if that wasn’t enough music-from-the-gut, I was introduced to Keith Greeninger. First of all, his voice knocked me flat. In a good way. There is no better match of voice to songwriter ever. Each song has a message that is so profoundly beautiful it broke my heart. In a good way. I had to fight off the tears during Hop In the Truck, in which he played a mandola (everything else was on guitar). It is about American and Mexican construction workers building a border wall together because they needed the work to feed their families, and when it is finished all the foreigners get deported. The song called out politicians building campaigns by shutting out the laborers upon whose backs our country was built. After the show I found that Keith is …wait for it… deeply genuine and caring in person. He was eager to shake my hand and thank me for listening, when I was the one trying to thank him.
Every single person was wonderful, and funny, and interesting, and open. I didn’t even have a chance to meet them all, and trust me, I feel that loss. The bigger story is that I was able to meet many of them, and today my life is a hundred times richer.
It’s been a great week for people working their butts off for me. I only hope that I am worthy. In return, I’ve exchanged a big, wide-open door policy: you are all always invited. Plus, there will have to be some kind of official house-warming party. Tara and I are thinking maybe the 22nd of August. We will fit you in between J & T’s wedding, and Kumoricon.
It would be great if we are done scrubbing by then, or even done with primer painting. We certainly won’t be unpacked yet, but you will forgive us. 🙂
The person I bought the house from is not as clean as I am. He lived here for four years and I am pretty sure there are things he never did in four years, like clean the refrigerator or mop the wood floors. He also smoked inside the house, so the place reeked. Tara and I opened the windows and doors on our first day of occupancy, and they have not closed since. The place still stinks, but it doesn’t reek.
Obviously, Tara and I were in full agreement that we didn’t want to unpack our clean things into the filthy house. So we still have nearly everything in boxes, and we are scrubbing.
My friends who heard the story volunteered to come scrub with us – yay!
Last Sunday co-workers and spouses showed up. We all took on a different task, turned up the stereo, and worked hard. N soon found out that I had purchased a used riding lawnmower, and hinted until I realized she wanted to mow. Off she went and didn’t come back for about two hours. She is awesome! K didn’t want to clean but noticed how there were piles of trash at the base of several of the trees on the property. He put on gloves and began hauling old tires and rusted metal and rotting wood up the hill to the shed on the side of the house. G had lots of experience with scrubbing hospitals and felt most at ease scouring a bathroom, and went to work. Really? She wanted to clean my bathroom? I am humbled. B showed up with wife T and they brought a new chicken coop and got that set up for me.
Tara cleaned up another bathroom, and I continued the extended project of scrubbing the kitchen. The refrigerator took 3 hours earlier in the week, and this day I was washing cabinets. I found a melted KitKat bar on the top shelf above the sink. It took lots of water and a knife to gouge it out of there. “How did you know it was a KitKat?” Tara asked. “Because when I can get a large enough piece of the wrapper up, I can read it.” Eeew.
The following Wednesday, Marlene Herself, from the blog Insearchofitall, and son Tech Support came over. TS had moved wrong and hurt his back, so his name switched to Moral Support for the day. He brought his good camera, and the tripod was up on the back deck in about 5 minutes while Marlene and I made a plan of action.
I suggested that Marlene sweep the cobwebs off the front of the house and porch. The kitchen still wasn’t done, and that’s what Marlene felt comfortable with. She even insisted on washing our dishes from the day before. “I was going to wash those up real quick,” I said. “No, I will do them,” was the response. Marlene is not a woman to be trifled with.
So there was yet another friend, up to her elbows in Mr. Clean, washing out cabinets, the microwave, and ending by mopping the floor on her knees (I felt so bad about that and tried not to let her do it, but again I found it is very hard to tell Marlene what to do.) I went out to the front with a broom over my head, and cleared cobwebs, and spiders, and about 40 of those little white egg sacs (shudddderrrr) that were all over the front of the house and draping down from the porch roof. Then I swept it up and cleared away broken tiles and cigarette butts.
The kitchen is clean now so I have begun unpacking dishes and utensils and food – a priority! The bathrooms are clean now so we actually feel clean when we are done using them – another priority!
There is no way we could be this far along without the generosity of my friends. How amazing it is to let people help you. I have not asked for help for most of my life, but in the last couple of years have been practicing how to let my friends help me when I need it. I thought it would be humiliating to admit that I can’t handle everything myself. But I find instead that the greater result is that I am flattered over and over when people actually seem to like helping. And the friendships grow closer.
My lovely friend at Appleton Avenue nominated Conscious Engagement for the Sunshine Blogger Award! On this rainy October morning, a sunshine blog post is the perfect choice. Receiving a nomination is humbling and I know I can never fully convey my appreciation that someone would take the time to validate what I’ve been doing here at Word Press. My thanks will come out all jumbled and silly. It’s just… well… it’s so neat. The best I can do is graciously accept.
So thank you Appleton Avenue!! I love your blog for the way you convey your spirit, your honesty, you bravery in baring your real and personal life for all the world to see. You’ve got an irreverent streak that is irresistible to me.
The last time I was nominated for an award, I did some research to find out more about it. I like the way that post went, and was prepared to begin my next foray into researching blogger peer awards. I was stopped in my tracks by the very first post I read, in which Jo, my newly discovered blogger-of-like-mindedness, did all the investigation for me. This is what she found on her post, Blogger to Blogger Awards: The Sunshine Award Unveiled:
It appears that the Liebster Blogging Award and the Sunshine award may have been the same award at one time. I tracked posts to 2008 that had them intermingled. It’s not clear when they split off into distinctive threads but clearly it happened. The purpose of the ‘award’ hasn’t shifted too much over the years. It is essentially a virtual ‘pat on the back’ for a positive or creative blog that inspires others or brings ‘sunshine’ to their world. Typically it appears to originate from one post that really ‘shines’ on that person’s day.
Jo explains the downsides of blogger awards, including their similarity with chain letters, and the upsides, like online networking. And of course, I can’t ignore the greatest benefit, which is the opportunity to pat another blogger on the back and say, “Hey, I dig what you’re doing here.” Read the rest of Jo’s post, and get all the finer details.
Like every blog award, there are a set of rules. I especially like the part where I get to list 10 interesting things about myself. I am the Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac, and I tend to enjoy being the one making all the noise in the center of the circle, ha ha. In fact, that can be interesting fact number one.
I am also able to nominate others for the blogger award. The rules contained in the nomination I received say it like this:
- Present 10 deserving Bloggers with the Award – “who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.”
It’s not my style to nominate. But as I did the last time, I am eager to share with you the blogs I do like to read. In that way I can let the hosts know that they’ve made a positive impact on my life. Also, isn’t the word “blogosphere” kind of fun and spacey?
Ten things about me:
- I’m a Rooster (see above)
- I almost never make good French Toast, despite the fact that I can prepare a lot more complicated meals with ease. Can anything be more simple to cook, I ask you?
- I prefer audiobooks read by people with a British accent.
- I’m adamant about proper punctuation and spelling, so much so that when I read poorly written correspondence, I judge the person who wrote it more than I judge the content (I’m terrible, I know). If you find mistakes in my blogs, please tell me so I can edit. Except for the ellipses… I can’t help myself with those.
- I still miss my mom.
- I’m scared to death of riding a bike in traffic. I live in one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country, and people are always saying how I should bike because it wouldn’t hurt my bad knee so much and because it’s easy exercise, and good for the environment. But I remain irrationally afraid that the moment I’m on a road, I’ll be squashed by a car.
- I can still sing the jingle “Two all beef patties, special sauce…” by heart.
- My 17-year-old just registered to vote, and it was not my idea. I’m so proud.
- I love eating sweet stuff with my coffee, but can’t stand sweet stuff in my coffee. That’s weird. Right?
- I have house baggage. My next house must have a bathroom that will allow me to extend my arms in any direction (or better: two of them!), countertops high enough so I don’t get back pain while washing the dishes (are typical people really that short?), and a kitchen that can hold at least four people. At once. Without hugging. I know that exposes the spoiled American that I am, but there it is: I want a bigger place.
Blogs that I really enjoy reading:
- The Crazy Bag Lady @ Bulan Lifestyle (you saw that one coming!) But check this out: She found my blog because of my post about the other award, and we’ve been following each other since. Evidence that blogging awards are a force for good.
- A Tramp In the Woods. This blog is fun every single day. Fodrambler’s spectacular micro photos of insects are captivating, and his thirst for knowledge about all the woods-dwelling life forms would make even a teenager excited about science. Every topic is packed with fabulous information and non-stop wit. The guy can be hilarious.
- Nicholas Andriani writes about his travels. And specifically, about one amazing time abroad in which he explored north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East. He cares about the world and illuminates it with his skilled writing.
- Monochromia is a photography website for black and white photos. Together, this group of contributors display ridiculously good B&W photos. The photos are surprisingly varied and all remarkable. It’s a beautiful medium to display their art.
- Ram On is a great place to get one person’s take on “what it all means in a global sense.” Bruce writes extremely well and somehow manages to find a baseball analogy to nearly every story. His posts are thorough and thoughtful and exhibit his engagement with life.
- Corners of the World is without question a window into some corners of the world you didn’t realize you have been wanting to see. Aanchal simply exudes joy and a spirit of exploration as she describes beautiful places and documents her wild adventures.
Six is a good start, yes?
One more thing I need to say: I am writing this post because I realize I am delinquent on acknowledging blogger awards. AppletonAve is only the first blogger to nominate, and there are two more nominations in the queue. I have procrastinated in the hopes of doing them justice, and if you are one of those other two bloggers please know you are not forgotten.
I thank you – all of the people who are reading, and all of you who are blogging – and wish continued exploration for you in both the physical world and among this beautiful community of netizens.
The ranger at Mt. St. Helens National Monument said, “Well, in answer to your question I’ll tell you about our 6:15 rule.” And he explained that the doors of the Johnston Observatory are closed and locked at 6:00 p.m. In a Murphy’s Law type fashion, the clouds typically clear up around 6:15 p.m. “From what I hear, you have a good chance of seeing the mountain sometime between 6 and 6:30,” he said.
So I waited. I waved goodbye to all the rangers as they left. From the top of an observation hill I watched the parking lot clear out. I found a nice comfortable railing to sit on, beside a trail, with nothing but volcano gorgeousness in front of me… and I waited.
And it paid off.
Who is this great warrior? Me!
I admit it is awkward and unusual to think of myself as an Indian warrior. But if the Cherokee Principal Chief is comfortable with it, then there is no reason for me to hesitate.
I was given the tremendous honor of being nominated by the board members of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I am particularly grateful to our leader, David, who talked me into putting my name forward, when the idea of representing the group seemed like more of an honor than I deserved.
My Tara willingly gave up a dress rehearsal for her evening performance so that she could be there with me.
My Uncle Dwight and Aunt Joyce came up from Lebanon, Oregon and were able to see the ceremony.
Chief Bill John Baker presented me with a gorgeous framed certificate showing the Cherokee Warrior’s Memorial in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, as well as a medal he pinned to my blouse. Before I knew what was happening, he popped a microphone into my hand and said, “Do you want to speak?” Answering his question honestly, I answered, “No,” with a smile. “But since I have a microphone in my hand, I will.” And I thanked my Mt. Hood Cherokees for nominating me, and I said how much of an honor it was.
Chief Baker said to me as I approached him, “Finally, a woman!” And I thanked him for saying that. It may be obvious by my own comment above that even *I* have fallen into accepting the incorrect social stereotype that a warrior is not a woman. And that an honored veteran is not a woman. My own At Large satellite group is sending a message that we aren’t trapped by stereotypes, and I am happy to be the face of that message.
It was a great day for a Cherokee picnic. Many of our Oklahoma Cherokees came out to share information about Indian education and student scholarships, basket-weaving, and voter registration. They were assigning photo ID cards for Cherokee citizens (which I never signed up for: too much going on that day!). We had music from two traditional flutists.
I can’t say which was the best part of the picnic: receiving the warrior award, or seeing our storytelling friend, Robert, again. Both could have made my whole day on their own, together they just buoyed me beyond belief.
I’ve blogged about Robert Lewis in the past. His personal style of telling the tales of Cherokee history is to bring up audience members to tell the story with him. It’s engaging and funny and educational. Robert’s got a huge love of people and joyfulness, and his energy is irresistible. He’s an art teacher at Northeastern State University and has to miss the first day of school on Monday because of this trip to Portland and Seattle. I’m sure he’ll ease right into the school year with grace later on this week.
Then, we ran around and said goodbye to old friends and new friends and my Aunt & Uncle and off we went for the next big even of the day: Tara’s ballet performance at Washington Park! That post will come next.
I just heard the sound of a flame being pinched out by wet fingers.
My heart is in such pain over the news of the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Young, talented, and responsible for some of my most moving moments in front of a screen. Yesterday he was capable of bringing additional decades of mind-blowing art to us. Today he is gone.
We just saw him in Catching Fire. He was just on Broadway. What the hell, Mr. Hoffman? What did you do to yourself, and why, for god’s sake?
I was in my car tonight, driving to pick up my kid from a friend’s house where she had been house-sitting. The words from the radio slipped into my brain before I had the chance to defend myself. I literally gasped out loud and took my hands from the wheel to cover my mouth. I know, such a silly movie pose, but it was instinctive. I thought back through the two-sentence newscast. When I realized I had really heard it, the tears began. I looked at the people in the cars around me, desperately looking to connect, to share this shock and pain. None of them were listening to the same radio station, or were reacting.
Crazy, huh, when a total stranger means so much to you that you cry at their death. It happened to me with Princess Diana, and Kurt Cobain. It makes my response totally inappropriate because I didn’t know the person; I just knew the way they could make me feel. As a stranger, the only things that come to my mind are weak cliches like “What a loss,” or thoughts that are so obvious it’s just stupid, as in “Fucking addiction,” and “His portrayal of Truman Capote was phenomenal.”
Forgive me, Mr. Hoffman, for not having the ability to honor you well. In words, no less, which are supposed to be my medium. Thank you for the way you lived your 46 years. Thank you for choosing to put yourself out there for public consumption for over twenty years. If the point of art is to connect to people, or to make the people react, or to empathize, or feel childlike joy, or weep like a betrayed lover, or flush red hot with anger, or yell at the screen, …or any of a number of remarkable human responses to effective art…
You have done it.
Since my words aren’t working well tonight, I’m going to borrow from an old post that I wrote not so very long ago:
“Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favourite actors. Some actors can pull my emotion out of my gut the way Miller and Toole did with their writing. Hoffman’s characters can be wretched, pathetic, funny, fiercely strong, and always always achingly beautiful because they show us unflinching glimpses of what it’s like to be a person. Hoffman finds a core human soul in his character and translates it for us. He first got to me as Scotty in Boogie Nights. Didn’t your heart just break for Scotty? I know him, that Scotty. He’s been in my life in many scenes, and –as I felt when watching the movie- I just have no idea what to do with him.
“The two roles that friggin’ killed me were Phil in Magnolia and Rusty in Flawless, both 1999. As the empathetic hospice care provider, I was utterly convinced of him. “Oh, there’s no asshole like you,” he said. And it was not an insult, but an easy statement of fact, honesty, almost respect (but no respect really), that showed Phil had the courage and compassion to meet –at his level – the jerk who was dying.
“See, it’s not just the writing; it’s the actor who can make it come true.
“In Flawless… WHY doesn’t everyone love this movie? No one I talk to remembers it. In Flawless, Rusty was the real thing. Pain, love, anger, hunger, tenderness, bitchiness, mothering, beauty and ugliness all came together as clumsily and real as it does in life. PSH’s insecure drag queen playing off Robert De Niro as the epitome of a wounded arrogant asshole, gave me a reason to fall in love with humanity again. And since I saw parts of myself in Rusty – particularly the way a tenderhearted insecure person is willing to take abuse because of the faith that maybe the abuser can one day be reformed – I had a reason to love myself, too.
“I haven’t seen all of Hoffman’s work. But after Rusty, I have been a devoted, unconditional fan. It doesn’t matter what he shows me on the screen: I’m all in. Every time.”
Yesterday was my first full day working at home. It’s too early to report on whether this will be a fully positive, and thus permanent change in my life, but I suspect it is.
I really love the work that I do. If I described it, you may find yourself thinking it’s “BO-RING!” but…it is great work for me and my particular skill set. Plus, our customers have earned my respect and my desire to help them. However, I struggle with doing the job at my downtown office. That environment is crazy distracting and unhealthy for me.
To my delight, the positive changes yesterday were more than I had anticipated.
- Natural light! It was my favourite discovery of the day. No more banks of fluorescent lights blaring into my eyes from every direction all day long. For a sufferer of migraine headaches…this is huge. My desk is next to a window, and for most of the day, that was plenty of light to work by.
- Inspiring view. At the office, my view is of the Portland Police Bureau and jail. I work downtown among the high rises, so the view available to me consists entirely of the buildings across the street. I’m only on the 3rd floor, so I can’t even see the sky when I’m at work. Yesterday, I realized my view is of the bird feeders in the back yard. I saw how busy the birds and squirrels are here during the day, and how the yard is filled with sunshine at mid day. Every time I looked up from my work, something made me smile.
- Music. At work we do not play music aloud because at any moment there are a dozen people within hearing range who will probably not share our musical taste. Unfortunately, there is a co-worker next to me who is totally oblivious to peer pressure, and chooses to play his top 40 soul hits all day long every single day despite multiple requests for him to use headphones. (Come on, I *know* Stevie Wonder had more than two good songs. Is it too much to ask to play something else?) Yesterday I played my kind of music, and loud enough to sing along to. And I didn’t offend anyone.
- Warmth, point 1. At work, the HVAC roars all day long, blowing air through the building. Loose papers actually flutter. And I’m cold all the time. So even though the register states it is 68 degrees, it’s way too chilly for me at work. There are a few of us who wear fingerless gloves at work, and keep our jackets on all day. Yes, it is that cold. At home, I just bump up the heat if I’m chilly.
- Warmth, point 2. For a full hour, the sun came in the other window at an angle that allowed a sunbeam to fall across my back. It was amazingly restorative. I wanted to curl into a ball like a cat, and just soak it up.
- Rainbows. For multiple hours, that same sunbeam shone through crystals hanging in the window, and cast rainbows all over the walls and the computer, and my scratch paper. I love rainbows inside the house.
- A helper. Speaking of curling up like a cat, our kitty Racecar visited me multiple times for some lovin.’ She attempted to help a couple times, by lying down on some papers, but I had to put her back on the floor. It was thoughtful of her though, and I appreciated the gesture.
- Convenient facilities. So, ok. Our office building takes up an entire city block and we have one bathroom. I hate to sound whiny, but it’s a very long walk to the bathroom, which is on the opposite side of the block from the break room. Yesterday, I didn’t have to pack a lunch, or a thermos of coffee, and haul it on the bus with me, because it was right there, mere steps away. When I usually skip breakfast because I won’t have time to catch my 5:50 am bus, I had breakfast.
- Less sick leave. yesterday I requested 45 minutes of paid sick time to take my daughter to the dentist later this week. If I was at the office, it would have required 4 hours of time off to leave work early enough to make it out to Montavilla from downtown, pick up my kid, and get her to the dentist on time. Her appointment will be over before my shift is over, but by the time I took her back home, and drove all the way back into town, there would only be 30 minutes of the work day left. Not worth it. But now, all our doctors are just a few minutes from home.
- Short commute. It’s a 10 minute walk from my house to the bus stop, a 35-minute bus ride, and a 12 minute walk from the bus stop to the office. It takes an hour to get to work. Coming home can take longer, because it’s during a much busier time. Yesterday, I woke up and was there! I’m saving 2 to 2 1/2 hours of commute time each day.
There are disadvantages, but so far they are outweighed by advantages. I have to log in remotely to a virtual computer desktop hosted somewhere outside of Chicago, which makes every task take a l o o o o n g t i i i i i m e. When I need to ask someone a question, I can only ask whomever is active in Instant Messaging at the time. And the way I’ve used my reference tools on my computer desktop for the past 6 years is no longer going to work, because of the virtual desktop thing…so I need to come up with a new plan. I still have to go to work one day a week, and when I do I am required to take my car because the sensitive nature of the documents I carry with me prevents using TriMet. So that will cost me in vehicle maintenance, gas, and parking fees downtown.
I am fortunate enough to work for an employer (the Department of Veterans Affairs) who supports working at home for certain employees. Rumor has it that they want to eventually shift to 50% of the workforce at home. My specific job is processing disability claims, so it’s conducive to working remotely. On a typical day, I never see or speak to an actual veteran (other than my many co-workers who are veterans). Rather, I read pages and pages of medical records and scour VA laws and court cases and procedures manuals, and enter data and write up reports based on everything I read. All this can be done at home as easily as at work.
If things don’t work out for me, I can always go back into the office. To my (not) beloved cubicle sea. Where voices and telephones and radios and the HVAC and the cleaning crews’ vacuum cleaner all blend into a ceaseless din that drives me half mad some days. Where the fluorescent lights never stop their blaring. Where a dozen people a day ask, “How was your weekend?” and hope that I’ll ask them about theirs, when really all I want to do is get my work done.
Just between you and me, I’m pretty sure I’ll stay home as long as they let me.