Posted in Family, Recovery

“Life”—a Revised Edition

Milton-Bradley's "Life" board game
Milton-Bradley’s “Life” board game: plastic cars and “people”-pegs and a straightforward, pre-plotted Road of Life

My sister and I used to play the Milton-Bradley board game Life, moving a plastic car along the predetermined path (adding pink or blue pegs to represent spouse and kids), and marking the “mileposts” of American living by paying or collecting money for various events. I suppose this game is intended to represent how life is “supposed” to proceed—go to college, get a job, marry, buy a house, buy insurance, buy stocks, get a dog, get a promotion, fix your roof, pay off student loans, pay property taxes, pay income taxes, pay for kids’ education… And eventually retire—either to the Poor Farm or to the Millionaires’ Estates…

In retrospect, it’s not a very interesting game. A player’s individual outcome depends entirely on the spin of the wheel (and the specific “events” on which the plastic car lands), rather than resulting from any choices or actions on the player’s part. What is interesting about this game (again, in retrospect) is the picture it paints of American assumptions—specifically, the events that are expected to compose a Life. (That, and the fact that a player’s success is ultimately measured in money.)

Life at 30: this pair of "pegs" in my back seat, and the rest of life looking pretty predictable...
Life at 30: this pair of “pegs” in my back seat, and the road ahead looking pretty predictable… Ha!

I didn’t question those expectations as a kid counting board-game squares with a game-piece populated by pink-and-blue pegs, and still wasn’t questioning them when I turned thirty. After all, I seemed to be squarely set on that standardized and circumscribed track—complete with husband, house, and a pair of “pegs” (one pink, one blue) in the back seat of my minivan… But this week (my 40th birthday!) I find myself reflecting on the unexpected twists my life has taken in the course of the last decade.

Ten years ago I probably imagined I could write my life-story, at least in its outlines, all the way to the end without waiting to live it. I didn’t foresee any drastic deviations from the proscribed path, and that vision didn’t vary much from the Milton-Bradley version. But God, in his infinite wisdom and humor, had other ideas. (As my A.A. Sponsor says: “If you want to make God laugh… Make PLANS!”) Instead of the conventional course I had calculated, my map of the last decade consists of curves and curlicues, spirals and swivels, U-turns and dead ends and leaps of Faith… I have definitely departed from the predestined path of the presumptive game-board.

winding road sign
so much for the straightforward road!

I’ve been entertaining myself today by imagining a game-board re-write to reflect the reality of my thirties. It’s altogether a richer journey than my designs of a decade ago, but not at all what I’d imagined… Here’s what some of the squares would say in a “Kana” edition of Life

[We begin at Thirty, with stay-home-Motherhood and two small children…]

  • You hit your limit on watching Sesame Street and decide to get back in the (outside-the-home) workforce. Take a full-time job teaching English and science for the state-sponsored online high school.
  • Spend a week aboard a sailboat in the San Juan Islands, earning your sailboat Skipper’s Papers. Charter a sailboat Christmas week in the British Virgin Islands with two small sailors-in-training.
  • Defend your Master’s Thesis in Creative Writing and publish some poetry. Discover that you prefer writing nonfiction! (Although your Master’s program doesn’t offer a “nonfiction” emphasis, this bit of self-knowledge will come in handy down the road, with the invention of the Blog!)
  • Move into an administrative job as Curriculum Director for Idaho’s online high school.  Fly around the country giving presentations, publish academic articles, co-author a book chapter, and establish a national reputation in your field.
  • Move out of your house and your marriage and reimagine yourself as a Single Mom.
  • barefoot at the helm... trying to take control of a new life
    barefoot at the helm… trying to take control of a new life

    Take your first-ever solo vacation: another live-aboard sailing week to earn advanced sailing certifications.

  • Buy a house of your own, to be christened “The Gingerbread House” by your kids. Demonstrate to your kids (and to yourself) that you can mow your own lawn, change your own flat tire, and generally Take Care of Things by yourself.
  • As Taking Care of Things takes its toll, your alcoholic tendencies get increasingly out of hand. You get sent home from work and suspended, pending a review by the Board of Directors after a month of outpatient rehab treatment.
  • Having been given a generous second chance at the job, you blow it almost immediately and get sent home again, this time with a termination letter.
  • Go to jail for Driving Under the Influence. (Do not pass “Go,” definitely do not collect $200. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card.) Embark on a year with suspended license (get to know the public bus routes!) and brace yourself for two years of Probation and peeing-in-cups.
  • a gingerbread house on Rehab-Eve
    a gingerbread house on Rehab-Eve

    Two days before Christmas, call your ex and ask him to take the kids so you can check yourself into an inpatient rehab center. Spend the evening building a gingerbread house with your kids and then drop them off with their Christmas presents. The artificial Christmas tree will never make it out of the box.

  • Check yourself into Rehab, subject yourself to a strip-search and confiscation of your toiletries (including feminine hygiene products—although why you need to be protected from those is a mystery). Meet the Old Hawai’ian Guy, introduced by the ward-nurse as “the guy who takes care of everybody.” Engage him in a gripe-session about having to ask a male nurse for your “female supplies;” because this is your first-ever conversation with him, he will dub you “The Maxi-Pad Lady.” Spend Christmas day constructing the exact same gingerbread house you just built with your kids, playing badminton in the hospital cafeteria, and singing a karaoke duet (with the Old Guy) of the Beach Boys’ Kokomo. Fall asleep clutching your childhood teddy bear, hating Rehab, and missing your kids.
  • HuakaiKapono
    “Spiritual Journey”

    Check out of Rehab several weeks later with no earthly idea what to do with your life. Offer to rent a room to the Old Hawai’ian, who needs a new place. Begin addressing the “what-next” question as a team. Get your first tattoo: a honu (turtle) with the Hawai’ian words Huaka’i Kapono—a reference to Recovery that translates loosely as “Spiritual Journey.” Realize that you love Ink.

  • After five months of fruitless job-hunting (your impressive resume no longer being worth the paper it’s printed on in the field for which you trained), you beg your parents for a business-start-up loan to open a Hawai’ian BBQ restaurant with your Hawai’ian Guy. Your parents are blessedly willing to believe in you despite yourself, your recent history, and your lack of business background (or, for that matter, kitchen skills; your mother had already given up on you in this regard when she sent you off to college with a cookbook titled “How to Boil an Egg”)…
  • Creativity, Desperation, and Determination seem to make for a workable business plan. Several months after opening, your new restaurant holds a top spot in the BBQ category of UrbanSpoon, and you begin catching up on your bills.
  • Call your Sister and your Guy’s best friend on a Monday night and ask them to meet you at the courthouse before work the next morning. Marry your Hawai’ian with those two cherished witnesses, and then head over to open your restaurant for the day.
  • 4ebcc7d6fc5888b7f96987651cd68f17_zps023309f6Enjoy the restaurant’s success, and family life, for a year before throwing everything away (not “losing it”—throwing it away) by picking up the bottle again. Your house goes into foreclosure, car repossessed, business gone, and (WORST!) you lose your share of custody of your kids.
  • Sober up again, find a trailer to live in, eke a living by freelance writing, and fight your way back to the most important thing: time with your kids. Learn how to blog. Find joy in writing, and in simple things that don’t require money. Practice gratitude. Remember, in this round of Recovery, to continue nurturing your marriage and praying with your husband—things that helped you both to stay Sober before.
  • After a couple years of bartering and scrounging and scraping by, your husband ages enough to cash in his retirement account (from the career he crashed-and-burned through drinking), and that it’s enough to re-open the restaurant. Immerse yourself for a year and a half in a second round of (successful) restauranteuring… And then remember again, just before your 40th birthday, that you love to write, and “dust off” your dormant blog…
Have I learned anything at 40? Maybe to "hang loose" and let God's plans happen
Have I learned anything at 40? Maybe to “hang loose” and let God’s plans happen

I suppose it’s a common enough (if self-indulgent) urge to take stock of your life when you hit a birthday ending with a zero… And I wonder if it’s also common for people to find themselves shaking their heads at the unexpectedness of their path so far. I’m betting it’s far more common than a “Life” boardgame (or a million other cultural and media messages) would have us believe. (And I’m damned sure that “more money” doesn’t constitute an automatic win.)

Sure, some of the events of the last decade are things I hadn’t yet planned at 30, but they at least fit with my ideas about myself (like the career in online teaching & the move to administration). But there are so many more things that I never, never would have believed (at 30) a part of my future. Divorce. Arrest. Career termination. Academic failure. And that “unexpected” category includes the positive twists as well; I would have laughed my ass off at anybody who foretold I’d own a restaurant!

If I’ve become any wiser in the last ten years, it’s a simple matter of acknowledging the Journey. I accept now that God’s plans are better than mine; that even trials and tough spots can contribute to growth and joy; and that (even when I think I have a plan) I truly have no idea what’s in store for me on the road still to come. Today, I’ll focus on today’s segment of the Journey, and whatever it brings. Huaka’i Kapono.

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Posted in Family, Idaho, travel

Full Circle: At the Wheel

leaning on my original "Scubaru" by Lake Pend Orielle in northern Idaho,1993
leaning on my original “Scubaru”—at northern Idaho’s Lake Pend Orielle,1993

Dad took me car-shopping my Senior year of high school, explaining that although he’d drive the new car for a while, it was intended eventually for my use. I pictured myself in a Jeep Cherokee: four-wheel-drive, room in the back for dive gear and camping kit, a rack on top for my parents’ old orange canoe, and plenty of under-carriage clearance for the treacherous Forest-Service roads I enjoyed exploring. Instead of a Jeep, though, we drove away in a 1990 Subaru Loyale wagon—less expensive (even new), and with the same 4WD, clearance, and room in the back for all the stuff I imagined packing for my upcoming Life Adventures.

As planned, my dad drove the wagon for a couple years, periodically taking me to an empty lot at the edge of town for lessons in driving the stick-shift.  And eventually—once I’d learned not to lurch around the lot or assassinate the engine—he turned over the keys.

Subaru canoe
Set for Adventure, 1996

I’d thought myself clever to come up with “SCUBARU” as a personalized plate—but someone else had beat me to it! With sailing, scuba-diving, and canoeing in mind, I settled on WTRLOGD for the plates… Still, I come from a family that names cars, and this one would always be “Scubaru” to me.

I loaded her up at various times with Forest Service maps, tent and camp-stove, hiking boots, canoe paddles, picnic blanket, books and camera and journal… And over the years my trusty vehicle & I ventured forth to “fill in” the Idaho atlas with tracks of where-we’d-been. A five-foot map of the state hung on my wall, with all my roaming & rambles marked in highlighter pen—and at every opportunity I interspersed those outings with forays to the Pacific coast.

Scubaru proved her worth over and over again. In a blinding snowstorm atop Washington’s Snoqualmie pass, when most of the cars on the road were either pulled over or slid onto the shoulders, I put on my chains and kept right on going. An ice storm in Oregon’s Colombia Gorge encased trees, signs, and roadway in inches of solid ice, but Scubaru crept cautiously all the way to Portland, accompanied by the explosive acoustics of bursting trees alongside the road.

Subaru Sawtooth camping
Camping “off-road” in the Sawtooth National Forest, 1998

After one particularly hairy drive in the Sawtooths (a pot-holed and washed-out dirt road, no wider than the car and without turn-outs for passing—just a sheer drop, inches from the passenger tires) I spotted a warning sign: “NO passenger vehicles.” (Oops. If there were a companion sign at the other end of the road where I started, I’d missed it!) I had to peel my fingers off the steering wheel to pat Scubaru’s dashboard and congratulate her with a heartfelt “Good girl!”

Of course, even four-wheel-drive isn’t foolproof. (Though Dad also taught me not to BE a fool; specifically, not to drive into tricky conditions with the 4WD already engaged—because if you get stuck when you’re in 4WD, you’re really stuck!) Nevertheless, I had to dig her out of a couple spots. I used a snowshoe to scoop a back tire out of a snowbank in the Boise National Forest, and in the Salmon-Challis Forest put my grandpa’s collapsible Army shovel to use, extracting her from a mire of mud where a beaver dam had flooded the road…

Subaru Washington beach
Washington Coast “beach highway,” 1997

When a downpour threatened a planned picnic along the Snake River, I popped open the tailgate and happily set my spread in the back of the car.  Sheltered by the overhanging door, I savored my strawberries & brie to the soundtrack of raindrops pelting the roof. On a couple occasions, with lightning storms too close for comfort in an exposed tent, I folded down the back seats and stretched out to sleep.

On the shore of Big Trinity Lake, I woke one morning to drifts of snow piled against my tent-corners, and had to chip my solid-frozen bacon from the cooler with a hatchet… but Scubaru scooted me safely back down the mountain, heater blasting.

Along the Washington Coast where stretches of beach serve as legally designated “highway,” I misjudged the incoming tide and dashed the last leg with waves licking the tires and wipers warding off wads of sea-foam blowing against the glass. Scubaru served staunchly through many a scrape and adventure.

With a little love and care, a Subaru will run forEVER. I drove that one for close to twenty years, and I might still be driving her… But when I departed my first marriage, I didn’t stop to quibble about any of the community-property stuff. Not long after I moved out, the wagon was also absent from her accustomed spot in front of my ex’s house… I never inquired about her fate.

2014: “Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ” license-plate holder on the NEW (old) Scubaru

Fast forward a few years… My husband started making noises this summer about the red 1989 Subaru Loyale parked in front of our neighbor’s house: I wonder if they’d consider selling it. I countered with “practical” negatives—we work together and don’t need a second car, they’d have posted a sign if they wanted to sell… But Keoni recognized what I hadn’t acknowledged even to myself: my affectionate nostalgia for that whacky wandering wagon.  In no time at all he had negotiated a sale-price, payable primarily in the form of a sizable certificate to our restaurant.

Subaru Scubaru
20-odd years later: the SCUBARU plates!

Next thing I knew, I was slipping into the driver’s seat of a car that felt as familiar and comfortable as a favorite old pair of jeans.

Keoni and our son Kapena are plotting “improvements” to the engine and paint and upholstery… Fixing her up will be a fun family project, but I’m content already. I’m “back” in my very first car, and behind her wheel I’ve come full circle. This time with the SCUBARU plates!

*************

Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Reading Reviews, writing

From Noah’s Ark to Yellow Submarine

busted pipes
an unwelcome sight beneath our home at two in the morning

I jinxed myself, no doubt about it. When I wrote last week about our growing tribe of pets and animals, I ended by saying I hoped we wouldn’t be floating away like Noah’s Ark. Just a couple nights later–Saturday night, to be specific, or rather, the “wee hours” of Sunday morning–Keoni woke me to say there was a distinct sound of gushing water beneath us. Oh, that can’t be good.

Bundled up in bathrobes and sweatshirts, we emerged from our back door with a flashlight, stepped over the rivulets of water streaming out from underneath the trailer, and pulled the skirting off the side beneath our bathroom. Sure enough, the main water line was in free-flow.

flooded
the remains of our “lake,” Sunday afternoon

Our favorite neighbor, Bill, is also the maintenance guy for our trailer park, so Keoni was knocking on his door as early as we deemed decent. (The sun wasn’t quite up, but the sky was light… All three of us realized afterward that the nation’s clocks had been set back during the night, so we really woke him at an earlier hour than we’d intended…)

Bill answered the door in his pajamas; Keoni greeted him brightly with the observation that it was Sunday at our house, and he just wanted to see if it were Sunday at Bill’s house too. Oh, and by the way… Our trailer was now sitting in a veritable lake, and could Bill come take a look?

Times like this, we’re glad that our home is propped up on cement blocks ABOVE the ground. We’re also glad we’re on a well, and not paying for all the water that was suddenly surrounding us. (Not even feeling guilty; it’s headed straight back to the water table it came from.)

Neighbor Bill, prepared to swim beneath our trailer

Keoni whipped up some French Toast for all of us while Bill crawled underneath to wrestle with our pipes (and modeled his sense of humor along with the life-jacket I jokingly fetched for him)… Before noon we had running water IN the house again, and our moat gradually began to recede.

I’ve had the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” song stuck in my head ever since. That’s absurd, of course, since our home was mercifully NOT “beneath the waves”–but somehow that song is sticking with me anyway. I think it’s not even about the flooding.

I have (at long last!) begun writing a book. A book of my own—which is a topic we’ve talked about every time I’ve been commissioned to ghost-write an e-book for someone else. Hell (we keep saying), if I can knock out a book on astrology or vitamins or the Foreign Exchange system (topics in which I really have no interest or background—just solid research skills), why am I not writing the book I want to write? So now I am. Working title: “Your Backyard Homestead: Sustainable Living, Wherever You Live.”

And still humming “Yellow Submarine”…

“…and we live a life of ease; every one of us has all we need…” I’ve always associated the phrase “life of ease” with affluence, but that’s not necessarily so. After all, I’m paying the bills by doing the one thing that comes most easily to me: wrangling words. And I get to spend my days in this home I love (moat or no), with my husband and our kids (and the cat and the ferret and the chickens and the mice)… I love my life. I am happy. No, more than that. I am joyful. The official U.S. “poverty line” is still a target way above our heads, but we have all we need. And right there we have the heart and the core of my book!

“…and our friends are all onboard; many more of them live next door…” I’ve been reading Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss. It’s a humorous and insightful look at the nature of happiness, and the things that actually make people happy. He observes, among other things, that people often say “money doesn’t buy happiness,” but then proceed to behave as if it did. Social science studies show that money does affect happiness–but only up to a point. And that point, he explains, is a lowly fifteen thousand dollars a year. With the basics of security (and, interestingly, dignity) taken care of, additional funds don’t translate into additional levels of happiness. This idea, too, fits in with the premise of the book I’m writing.

Weiner also illustrates that many factors that do add to people’s happiness are tied to social interactions. Trust. Family ties. Cultural connections. Community identity. Neighborliness. He observes at one point that when we get money, we tend to use it to buy walls. Richer people are likely to have taller fences, essentially–and poorer people may have known neighbors instead. Which of those things make us happier? Why, the people-connections! When I shared that bit with Keoni, he pointed out that the thought was exactly in line with a blog-post I write a while back, on the Dying(?) Art of Knowing Your Neighbors.  As I think about it, our neighbor-relations have also contributed substantially to our “homesteading” lifestyle—everything from our ability to scrounge and barter to our collaborative efforts last summer in Bill’s vegetable garden.

the rock Keoni painted for Elena Grace, whose favorite song is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

The “Yellow Submarine” song, after all, isn’t about getting overwhelmed or swept away by flood. It’s about living joyfully among other people in a state of satisfaction. Small wonder if that’s been playing in my head all week.

Come to think of it, even Noah’s Ark (the original “swept away by water” story) ended with a Rainbow of Promise.

Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Our Arc Afloat

autumn color
from our front porch in a rare (for this week) moment of clear skies

We don’t usually get a lot of rain here. We live in Idaho’s “high desert” climate, where it gets really cold in winter and really hot in summer, but we seldom get even an inch of precipitation in a month. Which makes the last few days unusual—we’ve had more than an inch of rain this week.

I do love Idaho autumn, though–despite the inescapable fact that winter will be following close on its heels. I don’t like the cold. Give me barefoot-weather any day! Still… The oversized old trees around us are ablaze with rusty colors, and there IS some satisfaction in snuggling under our down comforter when our windows are icing over…

Keoni and I have been joking that perhaps this week’s rain is not coincidental, given how closely our home is coming to resemble the infamous Arc of Old Testament story…

stacking firewood
Christian stacking firewood… Ready or not, here comes Winter!

For quite a while we didn’t have any animals (unless you count kids, which might not be a misclassification), but a year and a half back we rather unexpectedly ended up adopting my Grandpa’s cat. I had flown to Colorado with my mom to visit my grandparents, who had recently moved into assisted living, and discovered that the Big Family Question was what to do with Grandpa’s kitty, Suzy. Keoni had always declared himself “NOT a cat person,” but I called him from Colorado to feel him out on the topic of Suzy—which is how I came to find myself navigating the security checks at Denver International Airport with a stoned cat as carry-on luggage.

roosting hen
one of “The Girls” roosting out of the rain

Mr. Non-Cat-Guy fell under Suzy’s spell from Day One, and submits to her whiskery whims without even a pro forma protest. She has trained him to perform a number of Human Tricks—my favorite being the one where she cries for food when her bowl is still full. She’ll carry on until he goes to her bowl and rattles his fingers through her kibble, at which point she’ll settle in for a contented meal. He’ll get out of bed to do that, knowing full well that she’s not out of food.

dwarf egg
our first (dwarf) egg

So Suzy has been family for a while… And then, along came the chickens! (Or, as Suzy prefers to refer to them: “Kitty Television“…) The chicken-house gradually took shape over the course of the summer—the work of Keoni and our 11-year-old, Christian, who had put in the original chicken requisition last spring.

“The Girls,” as we call them, have turned out to be charming and entertaining—and they do a fantastic job of cleaning out all the kitchen scraps that used to end up in the trash. No waste in this household! And although we’re supplementing with commercial pellets to ensure they’re getting everything they need, it’s nice to note that the bought feed will stretch a long way while they’re eating scraps.

chickens eating watermelon
Chickens love watermelon! And pretty much every kitchen scrap…

One by one they have been earning names, beginning with Ku’okoa (tagged with the Hawai’ian word for “freedom”), who regularly asserts her independence by running around our yard outside the chicken-fence. When we go to feed the Girls in the morning, we just leave the gate ajar and she comes scuttling back into the enclosure to make sure and get her share.

The first hen to start laying earned herself the moniker of “Fertile Myrtle.” She started off by presenting us with an absurdly miniature egg, but she has followed up with a nice big brown one almost every afternoon since. (I always thought hens laid their eggs first thing in the morning! I still don’t know if that were a misconception on my part, or if we just have a confused chicken…) Whatever the case may be, we’re enjoying her output.

breakfast in bed
breakfast in bed—made with OUR eggs!

Saturday morning the kids climbed into bed with me, we queued up a rainy-day movie, and Keoni brought us all breakfast in bed! Crepes for Christian, pancakes for Elena Grace, and biscuits & gravy for me—all prepared with eggs from our chickens. How cool is that?

We did run into one hiccup when we brought the chickens home. Elena Grace had been excited by the idea of chickens, but when she came face to face with them, she didn’t want to chase them, catch them, or… well… touch them. In pretty short order, she felt left out—and started wondering aloud about a pet of her own.

girl with mouse
Elena Grace with Nibbles

First she floated the idea of a bird, but I confess (despite my mom’s amusing stories of a childhood parakeet with some embarrassing catch-phrases and a habit of riding around the house on the dog) that I’m not wild about the idea of an indoor avian. I suggested something of the mammalian persuasion instead—maybe a gerbil?—and promised that if she would do the research about gerbil-care, we could build a gerbil cage and get one. She proceeded to fill a small journal with gerbil-notes from her online research—she’s nothing if not thorough!

Keoni had noticed some likely building materials in a scrap-pile belonging to our neighbor Chuck, a disabled vet whose lawn Keoni has been caring for all summer. When he asked Chuck about them and explained the proposed project, Chuck told him to hang on a moment, disappeared into his shed, and wheeled out a moment later with a cage! Elena Grace wrote him an illustrated thank-you, and off we went to the pet store… Where both kids fell in love with the mice.

Christian with Whiskers

Welcome to the family: Nibbles, Whiskers, Climber, and Frogger (the jumping mouse). Suzy’s Kitty Television now had two channels: Chickens and Mice!

But guess what? We’re not done. Evidently on a roll, Christian proposed a ferret. And promptly found a guy on Craigslist whose landlord had ordered him to offload his ferret in 24 hours—so Christian counted up his saved allowance and got a crazy cut-rate deal on a ferret, a cage (more like a condo!), and a box full of ferret-care goodies.

And just for good measure, we had a surprise on our front porch when we arrived home: a hexagonal fish tank with a note from Chuck, who thought the kids might like this as well… Research is once again underway.

ferret in the couch cushions!

Allow me to pause here and observe one small irony about this growing menagerie. Our current custody schedule has the kids with us for just two weekends a month during the school year. (We’re on the verge of filing for a change, but that’s another story for another time.) So as the schedule stands, Keoni and I are the sole zookeepers for 24 of every 28 days. And we have zero regrets.

Last weekend the kids played with their pets for hours. I’m not a fan of mice in the kitchen cupboards, but in the kids’ hands they’re awfully sweet. And Niele the ferret (named with the Hawai’ian word for a nosy busybody) has enchanted all of us. She’s clumsy and playful and scampers around the house nosing into everything and chirping like the chickens, then collapses curled up in her hammock to recover from her exhausting adventures… She’s absolutely adorable.

ferret and shark
Niele the ferret meets Mano the shark (the family’s ‘aumakua or totem) on the dashboard of our van

We hope we won’t be floating away on a flood (despite all the recent rain, and despite our location on an island of the Boise River)… But a menagerie-count of five people, one cat, four mice, seven chickens, and a ferret would have been a good start even for Noah.

Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Chickens & Pickles! Autumn hits Idaho…

Rob, of Rockin’ R Ranch, with Christian’s special chicken

As of last weekend, our little Idaho “homestead” is up in population by seven, thanks to the adoption of seven (long-awaited!) laying hens for the chicken-house we’ve been all summer building.  With the kids incoming for the weekend, I contacted everyone on Craigslist who was offering chickens, and we lucked out by hooking up with Rob Newburn of Rockin’ R Ranch. He turned out to be a wealth of knowledge, and (bless his heart!) spent more than an hour with us when we arrived, showing us his various breeds (though we could only afford the $3 “black coppers”) and filling us in on all sorts of chicken-care nuggets of wisdom.

Hearing that our “chicken project” had been instigated at Christian’s request, Rob also rounded up a Barnevelder hen with beautiful brown coloring to her feathers, and presented her to Christian as a gift, to be his “special chicken.”

Keoni & Christian with the first pair of rounded-up chickens

We’d brought some U-Haul moving boxes from our shed (pre-printed on the sides with various possible purposes and rooms for movers to mark, but strangely enough, no pre-printed checkbox for “chickens”), and under Rob’s direction the kids took turns cutting air-slats in the sides before heading into one of his many hen-houses to pick out our chickens. After a quick demonstration on chicken-handling, Keoni and Christian rounded up six hens, helped along by Rob’s sage suggestions and bemused commentary…

Having taken up more than we’d intended of his Saturday morning, we bid Rob a very grateful goodbye and headed home, stopping just for a moment to scrounge some hay from the ground on a public easement by a horse pasture. (In case you’re wondering, this blog is NOT sponsored by the word “scrounge,” though I certainly wish someone were paying us for every time I use it!)

Chickens are home! (And please check out the awesome shingling-job Keoni did since I last posted photos…)

Back home, Christian distributed hay among the “nesting boxes” (kitchen drawers, scrounged—of course—from the neighboring trailer that was due for demolishment) and then we turned “the girls” loose!

Our neighbor Bill (happily for us, an old hand with chickens) came over to meet them, and shared with us how to clip the flight-feathers on their wings. This, in turn, led to my toilet-tweet (isn’t social networking wonderful?): “What every mom wants to hear through the bathroom door: ‘Mom, where are the BEST scissors you’d let me use on chickens?'” Out came the sewing-shears (what the heck, I know a guy who sharpens stuff!), and we clipped the wings on all seven hens.

“Ku’oko’a” on the roof. Happily, she always hops back INTO the chicken-yard when she’s done up there.

The “special chicken,” however, quickly decided that clipped wings were no impediment to flying up on the chicken-house roof! (Christian thinks her name might be “Freedom,” and we’ve been tagging her since with the Hawai’ian variation of ku’oko’a, while waiting on his final decision.) She’s definitely her own lone hen. We’re only beginning to learn chicken-culture, but the other six chickens huddled up in a heap in a single nesting-box that night, while she sat aloof in one of her own. Having watched the other six “settle” who would be on top and who on the bottom of that heap, there’s no doubt in our minds where the expression “pecking order” originated!

“the girls” settling in to a new home

The kids headed back to their dad’s house for the school-week, so we’re on chicken-duty in their stead, and sending updates (and photos) by email. I’m suddenly reminded of when Christian was about three years old and begging for a kitty. Before we made any move to visit the animal shelter, I had him go through the motions of cat-care (filling food and water bowls daily) to show that he was ready for the responsibility. He invented an invisible cat to go along with this ritual (named Clay, for reasons still unknown to me), and when we finally did visit the Humane Society, our choice was clinched by his excited exclamation that “THIS kitty looks exactly like Invisible Clay!”

Christian saying goodbye—till our next weekend!

I think our roles have been reversed now, and Christian has been training me up for chicken-care with the previous task of “feeding” his electronic reef-fish in the game on my iPad!  Hmm, I’ve accidentally let the reef-fish “die” on more than one occasion… No doubt he’s glad Keoni is on the spot!  And sure enough, I woke this morning to the sound of Keoni outside the window, calling “Hele mai, moa! Hele mai, moa!” (“Come here, chickens”) as he tossed out feed on the ground. Rob cautioned us not to expect eggs until they’ve had time to settle in, but hopefully they’re on their way to getting comfy…

In the meantime, we’re suddenly looking at the onset of Autumn here. Yesterday I was on the front porch with my book, perfectly comfortable in shirt-sleeves, and tonight we’re looking at our first hard frost. The sun has just called it a day and the moon is on the rise (seemingly magnified by the lingering haze from the summer’s forest-fires), and neighbors Bill and Anatoli are both out blanketing their vegetable gardens with tarps against the expected freeze.

last harvest before the frost—an unexpected bounty from a newly-met neighbor!

Earlier this afternoon, Keoni made a run to the mailbox (another adaptation of “Emma” in the mail!) and found himself waved across the road to meet a neighbor we hadn’t yet encountered. We watched his thriving roadside vegetable-stand all summer, and today he was trying to harvest and offload everything that was left, before the frost hit. At his urging, Keoni brought home a haul of peppers and cucumbers and yarrow and dill and tomatoes, and we feasted tonight on stuffed bell-peppers and fresh salsa.

a jar from Keoni’s first batch of pickles—a definite success!

Keoni has already turned out his first batch of pickles this week. Bill and Anatoli have both been sharing armloads of their cucumbers, so today we were able to reciprocate with mason-jars of home-made sweet pickles. Christian and I are looking forward to the next batch: dill pickles! Neither of us has historically been a fan of the sweets (though having said that, I did sample this batch, and was amazed to discover that I loved it)—but Christian has been known to eat a whole jar at a time of dills. (Cast-iron stomach, that kid…)

I’ve finished up my own little harvest—all of our lavender is now hanging to dry (mostly destined for our home-made shampoo & conditioner), and I’ve stripped the monster sunflowers (growing up around the bird-feeder) of their seeds. I’m saving about half of them to plant along the fence-line next summer, in hopes that we can keep both our neighborhood songbirds and our kids satisfied without resorting to “bought” seed. We’ll roast the other half when the kids are back for the weekend.

sunflower seeds!

Another fence-line already has raspberries planted—shoots we brought back from my dad’s burgeoning thicket. And Keoni’s potted kitchen-herbs (bedecked in the kids’ colorful artistry) are pulled in and tucked up on the porch. I don’t know if I’m ready for winter (despite the purring cat on my feet), but I think we’re at least ready for frost. And I’m thinking our first (modest!) summer of “sustainable homesteading” has been a pretty good success. Please pass the hot cocoa!

Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

The cook & his apprentice, collaborating on a [winner winner!] chicken dinner
According to my Urban Dictionary, the above phrase dates from early days in Las Vegas, when a standard gambling bet was two dollars, and most casinos offered a three-piece chicken dinner for $1.79. Anyone who won a bet would have the price of a chicken dinner (winner winner)!

One of our neighboring Idaho towns has put another spin on the phrase… Local legend has it that a farm-wife invited a politician to her farmhouse for a Sunday dinner about a century ago, and guided his arrival with “Chicken Dinner” signs painted with arrows. She had a scheme up her sleeve, though, and leaned on him to promise some road improvements before he was permitted to tuck into his apple pie.

Chicken Dinner Road, Idaho

She carried her point (“Winner Winner,” indeed!), and the resulting route is still named for her victory: Chicken Dinner Road.  One of the nearby wineries even offers a “Chicken Dinner red” in its honor.

Whether these Urban Legend-esque explanations are accurate or not, the expression itself is apropos for our last family weekend, involving both chickens and Poker-playing…

We did enjoy a chicken dinner, courtesy of Keoni and his kitchen apprentice, Elena Grace: Katsu chicken, a popular Hawai’ian dish, and a favorite with the kids. But mostly last weekend we were winding up our preparations for welcoming some live laying-hens to the family. Our big news: the Chicken House is finished!

(Previous pieces of the poultry play-by-play, if you’d like them: Home to Roost,  Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, and Our Little Patch of Plantation.)

There are a few more touches to add; Keoni intends to cut shingles from some of our scrounged cedar planking, we’ll cut a space for an air vent (one of the items we scrounged from the neighborhood’s due-to-be-demolished trailer), and the back side hasn’t yet been painted. But the house and its surrounding fencing (complete with a left-over gate scrounged from another neighbor’s re-fencing project) are functionally finished, and ready for chickens!

The construction crew, the painting crew, and the mostly-finished Hale Moa (“chicken house”)

Having seen similar structures offered on Craigslist for prices ranging from $200 to a thousand dollars, we’re very pleased with ourselves regarding our total project cost. (You noticed the repetition of the word “scrounged” above?) Thanks to our enthusiastic application of scrounging-and-bartering habits, our Hale Moa (the Hawai’ian words for “chicken house”) cost a grand total of thirty-one dollars. We purchased nails from Home Depot and chicken wire through Craigslist, but those were our only expenditures. We were scheduled to pick up the chickens themselves this weekend, but we had to postpone our adoption-day due to a medical emergency at the other end…

Elena Grace’s “mailbox chicken,” waiting to greet the incoming flock

In the meantime, though, Elena Grace thinks she might write a welcome-letter for the chickens, since we’re already set up for poultry-post… The mailbox beside the chicken-house is our joke with our son Christian. When he first proposed the poultry project, he asked if he could help out with raising and caring for them. I answered without hesitation that he could be in charge of them if he wished to be the official Chicken Wrangler.

His response? “Actually, Mom” [his signature phrase since his toddler years] “a person usually has to start a job at the bottom and work their way up to full responsibility. You start in the mail-room—isn’t that how it works?” Well, we still had the mailbox from our last house, so we installed it in the chicken yard to afford him the opportunity of “starting in the mail room.”

“Always wear sunglasses when you play poker”… now a Tyler Tradition

The weekend’s other highlight was some poker-playing. We taught Christian to play a few years ago, and we’ve been promising to teach Elena Grace so the family can play. We finally made good on our promise—Elena Grace insisting on playing without help after the first hand, referring only to the written-out description of the various scoring hands. Fiercely independent little cuss, this one. I did have to promise her a “clean copy” re-write of the list, though, because I had inadvertently switched the punctuation style mid-stream—a deviation that offended her obsessive-compulsive need for consistency

She added a “rule” of her own to the top of the list, after Keoni donned his sunglasses partway through the game. He was just goofing around, with the shades of World Series poker players in mind, but Elena Grace immediately declared the wearing of sunglasses to be a new “Tyler tradition,” and we rounded up all the sunglasses in the house so the kids could each choose a pair. Just for fun, I added a leather jacket to the look—a spontaneous idea that snowballed into half an hour of ransacking closets for an all-around game of dress-up.

Our game of poker turned into a game of dress-up…

Keoni and I didn’t say anything at the time, but I have to note that our eyes met (with matching raised eyebrows!) at her allusion to a Tyler tradition. The kids’ last name is not Tyler, but they have been applying it to themselves with increasing frequency…  When I married Keoni, I thought it might be important to Christian (age 7 at the time) to have his last name still be a part of Mom’s, so I asked him to choose whether I should hyphenate. I’ve been grateful ever since for his decision: “That would be unnecessarily complicated, Mom. You should just take Keoni’s name.”

glad she’s a girl—so she can get rid of her last name

I’m also remembering an irate phone call a few years ago from my Ex, who was objecting to the fact that we labeled items (beach towels, etc.) with the Tyler-XXX hyphenate. “The kids are not Tyler-XXX,” he complained, to which I replied that we weren’t applying the hyphenated name to the kids, but that the kids are members of the Tyler-and-XXX family. “No they aren’t,” he insisted with angry illogic.

I can just imagine his response if he heard Elena Grace comment that she’s glad she’s a girl, because she’ll be able to get rid of her last name when she marries. He’d really throw a fit if he heard Christian’s occasional remark that he might legally change his name when he turns 18.

As for us, we don’t make a fuss about the kids’ use of names, though we certainly note it.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Our smiles didn’t stem from the fact of Elena Grace using the Tyler name, so much as from the natural and unpremeditated way in which she employed it. It’s the meta-message that makes us joyful: the kids feel loved and valued and home with us. And that’s Christian’s comment every time they arrive at our house: “It feels good to be Home.” Given that they spend the majority of time at their dad’s house during the school year, that designation says a great deal. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner all around!

Posted in Family, Idaho

Pushing Past a Comfort Zone

my sketch of Grandpa fly-fishing

I’ve been laboring under a peculiar species of Writers’ Block for the last two weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the inclination or the material for writing, but there’s Something Important that I need to write about—that I want to write about—but am apparently not ready to write about. And I’ve felt like I couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) write about other things until I had addressed this.

I’m not meaning to be mysterious here—I’ll share the gist of the matter. My Grandpa passed away two weeks ago. There is SO much to say about this man, about this life… but I think while I continue to work my way up to that, I need to revoke my self-imposed restriction and go on writing about The Rest of Life.

In the meantime, I can imagine the scene with perfect ease: Grandpa and God, hip-deep in a divine trout stream, trading stories. I imagine that God is as good a storyteller as my Grandpa… And perhaps, after all, telling a story is, in itself, a fitting tribute to Grandpa.

Which leaves me with just one problem—after some weeks without writing, there are lots of stories to tell! (Even the kids have begun to comment whenever something makes me laugh: “That’s going into the blog!”) Shall I begin with the completion of the chicken-house, or the shooting class, or our son’s introduction into junior high, or our other son’s re-introduction to football practice after his knee surgery, or Keoni’s foray into football coaching, or the Petroglyph Project, or the latest installment of the sewage-moat saga, or…

Shooting—I’ll start with that.

my instructor emailed a few pictures he took with his phone during class…

Keoni bought me a place in a concealed weapons class (intended for Mother’s Day, though presented earlier because neither of us ever manages to wait for the actual Occasion to give a gift that was nominally intended for that Occasion)… The class coupon was good until September 1, so (being the accomplished Procrastinator that I am) I emailed the instructor in the last week of August to inquire about scheduling. No problem (whew)—he had an opening in Thursday’s class.

We stopped at WalMart to pick up ammo before the class, and in his usual sociable way, Keoni struck up a conversation with the fellow behind the counter (“Bruce Gordon—they call me ‘Flash'”), who, like Keoni, has worked in prisons for a couple decades. Of course they turned out to have quite a few friends in common, so they chattered away while Flash unlocked the cabinet to pull out a box of Winchester 40-caliber bullets. As he wound up the transaction, Flash brightly inquired, “So this is your daughter?” Always amused when people make the (understandable) error, we laughingly corrected him. “Wife!

this photo is my new screen-saver :)

I dropped Keoni to coach his football practice, and headed south of town to the military shooting range. Laughable as this might seem, it didn’t occur to me until I was driving to the range that I might be in the intimidating position of being the only female in this class… And that much did turn out to be true. As pickup-truck after pickup-truck pulled into the dusty bay beside my minivan, it became apparent that I’d be the only girl in a group of Idaho hunters. But I will say this: if ever a girl needed to bolster her Inner Badass, there’s nothing to accomplish the job quite so quickly as strapping on a belt with a holstered weapon.

It also hadn’t occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a bathroom anywhere nearby, and after a hot afternoon drinking quantities of raspberry-green-tea, I badly needed one. Just to make sure, I inquired of the instructor, who was discernibly disconcerted by the question, and who started trying to think where the nearest “blue lagoon” might be found. “That’s okay,” I told him. “I’ll just step around the hill here.”  He called after me to ask if I were sure, if I were okay with that, if I needed a tissue… I reassured him over my shoulder, “Nah, I’m an Idaho girl.” (Although I did come back to report that it was a new experience squatting in the sagebrush with a holstered weapon belted on…)

token soccer-mom in the line-up…

I will admit to feeling intimidated and uncomfortable in that group, but I put on my best act of nonchalance, hid behind humor, introduced myself as the group’s “token soccer-mom”… And then we got down to it. Four hours of drills and target shooting, and I believe I may say I acquitted myself quite well. More to the point: my instructor commented several times that I must be having fun, because I had a smile plastered across my face the whole time!

In some situations I might have replied that a smile is my “default setting,” but he was absolutely correct. I was having a kickass time.

The only thing kicking more was my weapon—and there was some discussion about the advisability of a 40-caliber handgun for someone of my size… But then, I didn’t tire out in four hours, as the instructor had dubiously predicted I might, and {grin} there’s that “badass” factor…

My target from class. Don’t piss me off.

Anyway, I had a good time. I learned things. I shot well. I earned my Concealed Weapon Carry permit. And I won’t lie—I pulled my minivan out of that shooting range feeling pretty pleased with myself. I brought my target home to show, and glowed under the compliments of my husband and sons.

Chatting with my instructor, it turns out that he’d paid a visit to this blog before meeting me, and is interested in having me do some writing for his website. He proposed bartering some classes for some writing—and I’m tickled by the prospect.

All in all, there’s something to be said for pushing past a Comfort Zone!