Sunday, October 31, 2010

hell house

i'm sitting here flooded with halloween memories.  vague memories made fuzzy by the years and the candy- back then and now again.  i'm feeling nostalgic.  like i want every weekend to be halloween.  i want cat ears to be accepted accessories in the grocery store year round.  and i want my kids to feel excited going up to a neighbor's door that is glowing with jack o' lantern grins.

as i was chatting with katie- each of us gushing with snip bits of our past halloween adventures- she encouraged me to tell this particular tale.  it's scary, but not in the way you'd imagine.

i was in my teens- maybe 14.  it might have been my last halloween in torrance, ca- shortly after this i was brought, under protest, to the northwest.    halloween in california always involved some kind of haunted house.  the neighbors would convert their entire house or we'd go to knott's scary farm to be chased by creeps in costumes.  a group of friends had all decided to venture to a particular church to go to their haunted house.

i'm not sure if i knew what i was getting into.  there was a short period of my life when i went to a first assembly of god church with my friend and her mom.  so i knew the story of hell.  for a spell, i believed it.  i cried real tears because i knew my soul had been saved from that evil, dark place.  looking back, i have no idea what sins i had imagined i committed?  but by the time i was headed to "hell house" on halloween i had already figured out that i didn't need guilt to be a good human.

you may have heard about hell houses.  they are a big business now.  i've heard NPR do reports on them.  back then, they were just beginning.  so here's the premise: you die and go to hell.

here's what i remember.

my friend's brother or boyfriend had some connection with the place, so the door man relayed the message that we were to get the full treatment.  like dante's worst ring of inferno.  in southern cali.  from teenagers.

we had a guide for the tour.  the inside was pitch black.  we huddled close together as we were led down a narrow hall.  it had many turns, like a maze.  and then the walls started to get smaller and smaller.  until we were all squished together and trapped.  not sure how we got out of that.

i remember walking on a bridge with hands underneath us, grabbing at our ankles.

people jumped out at us from hidden spots.  flash lights.  strobe lights.  red lights.  black lights.

then we were led into a large room with a stage of sorts.  there we witnessed several skits about people who were now in hell.  i remember the person who killed someone drunk driving.  the girl who got an abortion.  the gay teenager.  at the end of the skit the condemned would whimper and cry out for salvation. alas, it was too late.

then folks came out to pray for us and our sinning teenage hearts.  i think i was offered a bible.  i didn't take it.

sitting here one click away from facebook, i am "friends" with one person from that experience.  i want to write to him and ask him about it because i wonder if i am making some of this up.  like if somehow bits of movies and stories and nightmares have all collided to form this memory that didn't really happen the way i think it did.

then i think sometimes its better just to remember your own hell house experience however you want. 


let's go back about thirty years.  i have long blonde hair with chunky bangs and large glasses.  i am shy but not shy enough to keep myself quiet.  i have one older brother who torments me endlessly- it's his way of showing love, i'm sure- hence the chunky bangs which he cut for me.  i have headaches most of the time.

i also have a smile full of smallish looking teeth that are firmly determined not to fall out and make way for the big ones.  i will have my last baby teeth pulled from my head in middle school.  stubborn is more than a disposition with me.  and it isn't until dentists start to question my slow-to-go teeth that they realize something is missing from my mouth.

lateral incisors.  both of them.  these are the teeth right next to your front teeth- between them and your canine.  my teeth had been evenly spaced and so no one noticed i didn't have these teeth.  my dad promptly blamed my mom's side of the family.

what then happened was years of braces.  years of them.  i actually remember the orthodontist removing all of the hardware and then reinstalling it a week later- all for the sake of insurance coverage.  the plan was simple- make space for where the incisors should be and then....well, go from there.

when i was 18ish, the go from there plan was two marilyn bridges.  which means they take the perfectly normal teeth and dig out the back of them, glue some metal brace-like things behind them with a fake tooth in the middle.  this is what we did.  i remember the technology of implants- where they surgically place a rod into your jaw bone and then built a crown onto that was experimental and not covered by insurance.  the life span of a marilyn bridge was about 10 years.  whenever i say "marilyn bridge" i think of marilyn monroe.  and then that elton john song starts in my head.

well, turns out the bridges lasted a bit longer.  in 2001, when barely pregnant with seren, the bridge on the right side broke during thanksgiving diner at ben's mom's house.  i remember i was eating this fancy pumpkin-stuffed filo triangles i had made.  the tooth broke and i looked hideous.  the fake tooth had just broken off from the metal bridge- so it just looked like i had a very rotten tooth right in the front of my mouth.  i remember the smell of the glue as the dentist glued the tooth back on.  it cost about $50 to have it fixed.

a few years later the entire bridge came out.  strangely i do not remember this at all.  i know i worked at the co-op because that halloween i dressed up as a rodeo clown- complete with pink wig and leather cowgirl hat.  the missing tooth added to the ensemble.

when it came to replacing the tooth my options hadn't changed much.  bridge or implant- neither were covered by insurance...still.  uw dental school told me that in order to have an implant i'd have to be in braces for a few years first.  there was some new technology in the world of bridges- which means an all porcelain bridge could be made.  which is good because metal conducts.  with so much metal in my mouth it was uncomfortable to drink really hot or really cold beverages.  plus i could sometimes hear radio signals if i wore cold necklaces.

turns out the bridge was spendy. could buy a good used car or travel comfortably through europe or live for several years in many third world countries.  fortunately, my dad paid for it.

there's a bit of irony here.  my dad blamed my mom's family for the missing tooth- and yet he paid to have it cosmetically replaced.  without the tooth- i looked....hillbilly-ish.  (that's the stereotype we have of people who don't have teeth- and guess what?  it's because dental care is expensive.) which is definitely from his side of the family.  not to say that my mom doesn't have that somewhere- it's just far enough in the past where we don't know about it.  my dad, however, grew up in rural ohio.  he tells me about drowning the barn cats in the creek and watching the chickens eat the baby mice from the nest under the feeder bowl.

speaking of missing teeth.  people react differently to you.  few people will actually ask what happened- even if they see you on monday with a full set of teeth and on tuesday with one gone.  i have found that usually it's children who will say with a horrified look on their faces "what happened to your tooth?!"  and it's really hard to be honest in that moment.  i admit- sometimes it just so entertaining to lie to children- another trait i picked up from my dad...and my mom, come to think of it...and so i often would tell them i got in a bar fight or the tooth fairy was desperate or i didn't brush my teeth.  plus, what 7 year old wants to hear about my dental history? 

kudos to you for sticking with this so far.

turns out- on friday- my left bridge gave away.  came out as i was driving.  no doubt on monday or tuesday the dentist will give me the same speech he did 5 years back.  this time around i think i'll be toothless for a while longer, so i've begun to think about possible temporary teeth replacement options.  beewax doesn't stick well to teeth, so i've been thinking about a fake tooth to wedge in there.  seren did offer me a pomegrante seed this morning to try.  he's been very supportive and in his honest-abe way.  he admits that i look hideous but doesn't keep him from loving me. 

i'm toying with carving a wedge out of bone, covering it gold  and putting a diamond in the  middle of it.   i think i could carry that look well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


there are so many parts of technology that i adore.  and some others that i abhor.   and still others that i find perplexing, for example- is this computer a time saver or a brain drain?

i don't know.  it gives and it takes away.  sometimes i feel like it takes too much though.

life is stagnant inside this screen and there's that comfort here, but it pulls me away from the kaleidoscope of real life here under my nose.  my boys growing up, the corn withering in the our garden, the geese flying by, the wrinkles deepening around my eyes.

at the same time, it feeds the part of me that fears too much isolation.  the keyboard keeps up with my rapid thoughts in a way my journal and pen cannot.  i can satisfy my curiosity of strange facts in mere seconds.  i can pay bills late without feeling the gal on the is condescending to me. 

over the years- especially as the boys get bigger- i have often imagined a life without internet and welcomed it.  i miss being bored, i think.  because out of boredom comes creativity and spontaneity.  i used to listen to more music, do more stretching, draw, sew.  ok, honestly, i probably don't do much of that because of my children and their natural desire to do whatever it is that i am doing.  yoga with a 2 year old clawing up on your back is not so peaceful.

the internet is the easy escape.  the simple solution.  the quick fix.  but it's not always so good for my family.  for me?  if i lived alone?  sure, my eyes could grow square and my fingers become even more adept at typing and correcting typos.  but for a group of people that should be connecting to each other- i'm not sure the internet does us any favors.

it's like eating a candy bar instead of a meal.  over the long haul it's bound to screw up things a bit.

of course, sometimes a candy bar is a really great thing.  like this blog for example.  i've always wanted to write and to be read.  maybe it's ego, maybe it's just human nature.  we crave witnesses- one reason why facebook is so damn popular.  we want others to see us in the hopes that they will understand us a bit more.  and through that they may understand themselves a bit more too.  for me, having an easy place to publish my random thoughts has been incredibly motivating and a snickers.

in any case, the time has come for my family to snip the cord of the internet.  there's still free wi-fi all over the place here.  and i can write and them go somewhere else to publish my blog or email my articles to the co-op.  i know it will be one more step.  who knows?  maybe we'll be plugged back in before thanksgiving.

thanks for you support and encouragement with my writing.  i'll keep at it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


one of the parts about being a mom i enjoy deeply- is watching my boys and wondering how their personalities are going to change, morph, grow, develop.  i wonder what little quirks will fade away and which ones will take root, hold on, flesh out.

sometimes i watch them doing something they really are into- like how seren is focused on drawing right now- and i imagine him as doing this throughout his life.  i'm curious about how his skills will improve, if he'll study it in school, if someday he'll have a drafting table in an office at his house where he draws comics or greeting cards or illustrations for food processor manuals.

or if one day he'll just stop drawing and take up some other hobby like raising guinea pigs.

i know, of course, that without a doubt some parts of their character will always be there.  their sense of humor, for example.  i' betting that farts will not be as funny to them as they mature.  but then i still think farting is pretty funny so i could be wrong on that one.

i'm pretty sure that they'll always have relationships in their lives.  of all sorts.  some even.....sexual in nature!

the other day me and my boys were eating lunch in the co-op.  as we sat seren had out his sketch book where he was drawing various weapons.  yes, the universe finds this hysterically funny that i, a passivist with bad gun experiences, would be blessed with two warrior sons.  no doubt, i pulled this fate to me like a magnet on steel.  in any case, seren was drawing spears and bows and knives and other things that he knows the actual names of but i do not, when a young gal- about 3 and her mama and the baby sister come sit next to us.  the 3 year old picked the table next to us because she saw kiddos and she was smart.  sit by people you find interesting- this should be a rule, well, it is her rule.  she sat next to seren.

she watched him draw.  seren was kind of vague when she asked him what he was drawing, "some stuff."  at this point cyrus grew tired of stagnation and went sprinting toward the mercantile department (but he was not the one who threw those balls all over the place, i swear....not this time anyway) so i took off after him.  when i came back seren had gone to get a to-go box as i had suggested once i realized cy was headed toward pre-nap melt down, and this young gal was drawing in his sketch pad.  she assured me that he had told her it was ok.

i noticed seren had shifted to drawing some faces he has been practicing in his cartooning class.  as i wrestled cy around, shoveling soup into his round mouth, i chatted with the mom about how two kids is a totally different world- and why hadn't anyone warned us!- and about all the baby stuff at the co-op now, and where they lived, and all that sort of stuff.  as i got ready to go i noticed seren scrawling on a scrap of paper and he asked me, "mom, what's our phone number?"

yes- he gave his phone number to this sweet 3 year old girl.

now i know he was just being his normal, friendly self- but i had this strange sensation like i was glimpsing into the future when he would actually know his own phone number, probably have his own damn phone! and be giving it to girls and/or boys all the time.  it made me giddy to think about.  and completely terrified too.

it's not the sex talk- ever since that day at the zoo when he said, "hey mom, look at those funny meer cats wrestling!" i have been upfront and honest with him about "mating" and the like.  really that's just all chemistry.  hormones and body fluids.  you can teach safe sex and kids understand that.  as a middle school teacher i sat through these classes all the time and answered strange questions from students without even blushing.

i think what the potential freaking out part is the heartache.  the fact that realistically at some point in his life someone is going to want him more or less than he wants them to.  and this will happen with cy too.  when cyrus was just a few months old a gal stopped me and said, "oh- he's going to be a heartbreaker."  i've heard this often of seren too.  and i'm pretty sure they don't mean that tom petty is going to have a reunion tour when he is 78 and happen to recruit my boys for their rocking guitar skills.

no, they mean that my guys are handsome and that folks will fall for them and be rejected by my sweet children and will be crying about it and writing mean notes and talking thrash; wishing evil on them, to boot,  just the way that you and i did to those mean people that rejected us in the locker bays during recess.

i believe in romance and i also believe that it takes a while to learn enough about ourselves to know how we need to live in this world.  it seems that we have to figure out some parts of that before we glue our hips, or any other body part!, to another human.  but we don't do that.  we don't wait.  or maybe you did.  maybe you still do.  but most of us don't.  no. no. no.  because that chemistry makes it all feel sooo good.  remember young love!?  admit it, if you had a bottle of that shit you'd be hitting it right now!

when it comes to love it's trial by error.  we learn what we want and need by sometimes getting what we don't want and don't need.  and running screaming room it.  or dragging our sorry butts home with tail between legs.

like my first boyfriend.  i should have never lurked on his facebook page.   just resist the temptation to look up your first.   i could have gone on believing that he was only in a downward slump during our short stint as boyfriend/girlfriend.  sadly, his priorities in life have not shifted in the twenty years since we were together.  and they aren't now, nor ever were, priorities like: 1. work to end hunger  2. decrease my carbon footprint   3. finish high school.   ok, so maybe he did finish high school, eventually.  at this point, i'd like to give you specific examples but honestly i am too embarrassed.  i'm cringing.

i'm embarrassed because i remember the intensity of that swirly-eyed, tingling toes, fuzzy-headed feeling like he was my soul mate.  together forever.  always and forever.  i'll always love you.  and every other bad love song from the late 80s with some few classics from the 50s thrown in there.  he was thee one.  i was done- in my mind with all that dating stuff, whew!  found him.  at 14.  yup.

obviously, in hind sight, that was not the case.  but at the time you, or my mom, could not tell me- even hint at- the smallest possibility that we would not be blissfully happy together for the rest of our lives.  i believe in him, in us, in the face of ridiculousness....until he found some other chic and didn't tell me about it so then i found someone else and then i knew for real- that guy, not the first guy, was my true soul mate.  i was then 17.

so we know they've inherited some good decision making skills in any case.

how do i survive two heartbreakin' boys?  and really, even though they are exceedingly handsome, there's no guarantee that they aren't going to be the ones with the broken hearts.  at least once.

it reminds me of the first scar seren ever got.  a small nick from my fingernail as i was carrying him.  he didn't cry- the small crescent shape of blood rising on his perfect skin.  his smooth skin grew crinkled just there in the smallest way that only i could, can still, see.  i felt horrible-  it had changed him.  and life is going to keep doing that to them, to us.

heartbreak does that to us too.  it changes us in this strange way that also makes us more of ourselves.  reminds me of a song that says something like "the heart has no bones, so it can't break.  the purpose of love is the pounding it takes."

so pound on strong hearts of young warrior sons!   no matter what shape your heart takes- i will hold it inside of mine always and forever, for reals.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

warm belly

our bodies have memories our brains do not- this fact has always astounded me.  my skin, my heart, my ears, my nose- all have recordings of events, of experiences that were either good or bad and they send me messages about these that i cannot always decipher.  maybe it's the same for you.  as a mom i think about this- that my children's bodies will have a reaction to things that their minds do not understand.  somewhere in their cells small bursts of "danger!" will issue out warnings that their memory will have no way to comprehend.  for me this happens when i am in a pool or a lake and i get water on my face, up my nose, trickling down the back of my throat.  my heart starts to race, i take gulping breaths of air, i panic on a physical level even as my mind is saying gently "you are in water that is three feet deep- you are not in danger.  just stand up."

for many years i attributed this reaction to memory i do have- i was about 8 years old in a pool at my dad's friend's house.  i was alone in the cool water- laying on a floating raft when it flipped over.  if i could have stood up it would have been fine- the pool wasn't that deep, but my ankle had gotten twisted in the ropes on the side of the raft so i couldn't stand up.  one of his sons noticed this and rescued me- after i had swallowed some water and was fairly upset.  this explained my anxiety about drowning, or so i thought.

one evening as i was having dinner with brother in vancouver we started chatting about our various quirks and different labels we could apply to them.  he decided he was mildly psychotic and i confessed i probably could fit on the autistic spectrum somewhere.  at some point i mentioned my swimming- i think at that time i was trying to actually learn how to swim- my fear of drowning had kept me from this- quite a feat for a girl who has almost always lived on the west coast.  my brother, rather casually said, "well, that's because you almost drowned that time."

"yeah- at pete's house.  i remember," i replied.

"no.  you were like three.  you fell into a swimming pool.  when they pulled you out you were blue."

even as i write this- sitting here without so much as a glass of water near me- i can feel fear creep into me.  i was completely shocked by this.  my brother is almost four years older than me and his memory has always been fairly good.  sure, there's a chance he is mis-remembering, attributing someone else's trauma to my life except that this instantly made sense to me.  it explains the way my body tenses involuntarily when my feet stretch through water to reach bottom and cannot find it.  it explains how when i am in water i feel emotionally incredibly alone and vulnerable even as i physically enjoy the relaxation of it.  it explains how i know what drowning feels like without having any words for it at all.

it also explains my own struggle with teaching my kids to swim.  maybe when my cells split into my sons' cells it carried some of that memory to them, or maybe they pick up on subtle cues- but both of my boys are cautious about water.  as much as they love to be in, play in it- they don't take risks in the water.  they don't fully trust it.  i've never told them about my experience and i'm not pushing fear on them.  i encourage them, tell them it's safe- but still they are hesitant.

we are enrolled in swimming lessons like so many families.  the last lesson we went to cyrus was very fearful about being in the water- he has never reacted this way before.  seren was bobbing about having a good time, even as he resisted getting his nose underwater, but cyrus was clinging and fussy.  the instructor thought maybe he was cold- the water was a bit chilly- and she recommended putting a shirt on him.  he calmed down a little bit but was still not at all at ease.

after the class the teacher showed me the little tank-style wet suit her two year-old daughter was wearing.  it had velcro straps along the shoulders so it could "grow with them" and it kept their body temperature up while they were swimming.  she said these cost about $35- and went on about how that was a good investment while i tried to envision spending $35 on any one piece of clothing, let alone on something that would worn maybe 2 hours a week.  she assured me i wouldn't be able to find any second-hand.  they were just a hot item.

i am fairly oblivious to much of the messages i get about what i "need" and what i "should" do.  this has caused some struggles.  but with this wet suit, it hit at a core spot in me: wanting desperately for my children not to fear what i fear.  seren has already described to me his nightmares- the exact nightmares i had as a child- watching a tidal wave come at me and sweep away all i knew.  so this wetsuit- if it could make cyrus more comfortable in the water- was maybe a good thing to buy.

of course, i set about trying to find one second-hand right away.  i searched craigslist, posted on craigslist, called consignment stores, went to consignment stores.  nada.  then i hit up ebay.  there were two in cy's size.  one hot pink, one neon green.  the pink sold for over $20 plus shipping- i never even bid on it.  and then i watched and waited for the final minutes of the green wet suit auction which was several days away.

meanwhile, i fussed a bit about this other feeling i sometimes get.  this frustrated feeling of not being able to afford things or experiences that i'd like to.  coupled with this tormented feeling about how i choose not to work so that i can homeschool and not put my kids in daycare.  most days i feel good about this.  i'm ok with living hand to mouth voluntarily if it means giving my kids my time and attention.  they pay me in ways more meaningful than dollars.  but on other days i daydream about what my family could DO with another $40K a year.  we could actually landscape our yard, we could build a shed, we could visit my aunts in upstate new york.  we could bring our vehicles into the shop the first time they made a weird noise and have it checked out instead of just vacuuming it and turning up the radio.  and i could buy a new wet suit for my kid instead of lurking on ebay hoping that the other bidders would be asleep during the final minutes of the bidding when i launched my bidding- which, i already decided would be no more than $15.

last night- i was suddenly struck with the need to go to goodwill.  this happens to me.  i can just see myself in the store and i know something is there waiting for me.  sometimes i am wrong- i admit.  sometimes i go and there's nothing but other people's junk.  but sometimes i find amazing treasures.  on a side note- you may live in a part of the country where thrift stores thrashy.  that is not the case here.  our thrift stores are organized like a department store and they get some high end stuff along with the strange assortment of dead people's items the families have rejected.

so i went to goodwill.  i even brought both boys which is a form of torture for me.  they cramp my shopping style.  as i walked about i noticed lots of cool stuff, things i might like, things i might use- but i passed by them all.  they weren't the item i was here for.  yes, thrifting is a spiritual experience for me- trite as that sounds.  i put requests into the universe and sometimes it delivers.

like last night, as i was looking at bike helmets for seren and i noticed this bright pink, spongy wetsuit?  yeah, just like that.  the exact wetsuit- in cyrus's size- for $6.99 waiting for me like the blessing it was.  i could almost feel the giggling of spirits around me- like they were saying, "see, nancylee, you got enough to get your boys what they need cuz we are here to help you out.  you need this to feel better about your boys swimming?  then, here it is, girl."  this morning the neon green old sold for more than $20 too- i slept right through it.

even though i can't remember much about what happened when i almost drowned- i obviously know that i did not drown.  that something sparked, a thought flashed in the minds of people near me- and they pulled me out.  that the air pushed water out of my lungs and has held me on this earth everyday since.  that when i needed someone, something- it showed up just like that warm belly wet suit in the mount vernon goodwill.

i need to write that again: when i needed someone- they showed up.

Monday, October 18, 2010


my second vehicle was an isuzu trooper.  the first stick i ever drove.  i learned this skill driving around my dad's house in gardena during christmas break.  eventually the cops pulled me over because the neighbors were getting suspicious- "this truck just keeps circling the block!"  even when i finally did master that art she was like an elephant that needed to be coaxed.  yes, she had a name.  basheba.  she had the personality to fit it too.

now you could really road trip with her.  you couldn't go very fast uphill, but you could pack everything you needed in it and stretch out to sleep.  before my grandma dorothy passed away- after i graduated from college- me and my boyfriend decided to go to ohio and visit her.  along the way we made many stops.  and each stop had it's own adventure it seemed.  and each adventure somehow thwarted our attempt to actually camp in the back country.

the black fly incident on one of the great lakes, maybe lake michigan, was hilarious.  i still believe that some old timer watched us throw down our packs on that pristine sandy beach and then laughed himself sore as we tried to outrun those biting black flies.  now i know what that old song means "i'll die with those flies picking my bones."  we spent that night in the trooper.

just outside of glacier national park we were all geared up to hike in and camp out.  that year the snow fall was heavy and even though it was summer the animals were farther down in elevation because of the snow pack not melting off quite enough for them.  everywhere we went there were bear signs...not signs of bears, but signs warning us "this is bear country!"  my boyfriend, being from alaska, was mostly nonchalant about this fact.  me, being from torrance, was clueless.

what i remember most about this hike was the alpine meadows of wildflowers and butterflies.  they rolled away from us to the snow covered peaks.  the sky was that luscious blue and the sun was shining but not burning.  there were tall trees and bushes here and there, so as you hiked along sometimes your sight was limited.  as we rounded a corner we almost smacked into a bear snacking on some bush on the side of the trail.  my boyfriend was in front of me, and i remember that as he started to try to scare the bear off- i grabbed his pack and started to pull him back down the trail all the while saying softly "don't eat us bear- we are leaving."  we paused to look back and saw the bear standing up on his hind legs sniffing at us with a very large nose on the tip of a blondish head. finding us uninteresting, he rolled around on the trail some and then disappeared.

we weren't quite sure what to do at that point.  he thought it was a brownish-black bear.   i thought it was a juvenile grizzly.  we decided to hike on while singing very loudly.  i remember doing a lot of "second verse!  same as the first!" because it's hard to thing or harmonize when you are singing because you think a bear is about.  we got especially nervous when hiking through tall grass.  we hiked down into a small valley and as we came up we crossed paths with two young men.

we were the first people they had seen since their bear incident.

they were our age- in their 20s with new coleman camping  gear and doughy faces.  they told us their story with the wide eyes of someone thirsty for an audience.  they went out camping the night before- to the very site we were headed to, cooked dinner and then tree'd their goods which is what you have to do in bear country.  i think they probably ate the stankiest meat product around, like a slim jim sloppy joe, and most likely slept in the clothes they had cooked and ate in.  no doubt they didn't tree their stuff very well because they woke up to the sound of a bear ripping through their stuff.  they huddled in their tent as the bear sauntered over and sniffed at them through the thin nylon.  they said the full moon lit up the night so clearly that they could see the silhouette of the bear and as it sniffed at them the nylon stuck to its nose.

imagine that.

when it was quiet out again they peered out.  seeing nothing, they snuck out.  they told us they went to the bathroom.  i think this meant they changed their shorts.  having a bear that close could cause anyone to have a weak bladder.  then the bear reappeared and charged them.  they said they grabbed their tent and ran through the woods to the  next camp site.  in the morning they came back to gather their shredded goods.  they still had that nervousness about them- that sense that they had scrapped through something they might not have otherwise. 

we decided not to camp out that night either.   on the way back we passed the guys telling their story to the next folks on the trail.  and then they passed us as we ate lunch so we had to hear it again the next time we passed them.   a gal who worked for the forest service told them "a fed bear is a dead bear" and was sad to know that someone was going to have to find that bear and kill it.  she said once a bear figures out that human carry tasty treats they'll just keep at it.  bears are all about the easy meal.  she kind of glared at them as she said this.  i don't think they realized that maybe they should have done something differently.

when we got down to the ranger station we looked at bear photos.  i was sure it was a grizzly we had seen, my boyfriend wasn't so sure.  i like to think it was the same bear those guys had fed- that he has wandered far away from that campsite.  i like to think that he didn't really care for slim jims, turns out, and that berries were more to his liking. 


Ann came to the center, max's place, almost every friday and saturday night.  i met ann when she was in her late thirties, i think.  ann had down syndrome, so it was difficult to know her chronological age.  her spirit though was vivid and boisterous.  we often describe that as being "young."  she had a short bob of blonde and gray hair with bright blue eyes that were magnified by thick glasses.  her eyes darted back and forth, faster when she got excited.
ann was consistent in many things.  she always had her nails painted.  usually pink or purple.  she wore jewelry with pride.  she hated potluck dinners at the center- i share this feeling too.  and she was always ecstatic to see me.  and i her.

she would greet me with a smile and exclaim "nancy!" as she hugged me.  then she would launch into a description of what she was most excited about in that moment.  it was often something about her family.  usually it was good news- sometimes not.  ann lived with her sister and her family.   there were children and cousins and friends about ann all the time it seemed.

when the center started to have karate classes, ann was the star student.  she took it seriously and would show off her skills to anyone who asked.  she always sang great old songs for karaoke even when she didn't know all the words.  she liked to play solitaire.  she always won and she would cheer for herself each time.  and she loved to dance.

there's this magic thing that happens in bellingham once a month that most "normal" folks have no idea about.  it's called a spin dance.  maybe i've told you about the first time i went?  it was halloween and i walked into an auditorium of over 200 people in costume, dancing and singing...all with some type of disability.  it will always be one of my fondest memories of my life.  i don't think i can do justice to explaining it right now- why it was life changing for me.  you might have to go to one for yourself to understand it.

ann came to the dances dressed to the nines.  she wore dresses and long necklaces.  some folks came to visit, some for the cookies, ann came to dance.  you could find her close to the stage surrounded by her friends.  i would saddle up to her several times during the night to dance with her.  when she noticed me she'd shout something i couldn't hear and i'd nod and smile.  she often would proudly point out to me the man she was dancing with.

when ann died i was very sad about it.  i had stopped working at the center for a while by then and i searched my memories for the last time i had seen her.  it was at the valentine's spin dance.  she was wearing a purple dress and introduced me to her boyfriend, who was maybe 20.  i remember dancing next to her.  i can still see her with her hands up in the air, shaking up the oxygen above her short body.  her hips are bouncing side to side.  her face is exploding in pure delight and joyful celebration.  i deeply treasure this imagine of her.

there are things i don't do well in life.  lessons i refuse to learn.  traps i set for myself and then stumble into dumbfounded and then look for someone to blame.  i can't seem to keep my house clean, can't seem to find things when i need them most... but i can dance.

i dance with abandon, with fierceness, with passion, with rage, with gentle sways and fitful stomps.
i dance until my body is broken and rebuilt.
i dance until my soul is jiggled loose from my ego's grip.
i dance until i moan, laugh, cry, breath.
i dance in my kitchen to make my baby stop fussing.
i dance in a steamy room full of old friends i have never met.

and when i die, hopefully many, many years from now- as an old woman, i want the imagine that my friends and family treasure of me to be one of dancing.

see me with my face uplifted toward the ceiling
that has given way to blue skies
arms stretched past the clouds
my smile drinking in the rainbows in every warm drop of rain
feet jumping and skittering to my heartbeat
and if you are sad, dance that for me
and know that i have danced that grief too

through dance i have found many treasures
i have played games with myself
i have won
i have cheered.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

broody hen

i want to have chickens.  they are, right now, the only pets i have any interest in for several reasons:

1. outside is where they live-  all of the time.
2. you take care of them, they give you eggs, you can eat these eggs
3. those squishy red combs on their heads 
4. i like how they look when they run- kind of a waddle reminds me of being pregnant and dinosaurs

of course, i've never really had chickens.  we did have ducks when i was a kid...and that turkey....and a seagull.  but chickens are new to me.  next spring i'd like to get some with odd names from a catalog and have the post office call me at 6 am to come pick up my peeping chicks.

several things have to happen before the chickens happen- like winter- and putting our fence in and up.  but i am optimistic that it will happen, eventually.  and so i am doing research so i can be a good chicken owner. 

part of that was listening in on a workshop about backyard chickens where i learned lots of interesting things- about chickens and myself.  for example, chickens will eat mice, baby slugs, kale, cheese- just about anything except citrus.  me?  i like citrus- won't eat mice or slugs.  so me and the chickens share a very similar diet- which is good because i can feed our food waste to them instead of the rats.  bonus.

chickens don't like cold or dirty feet.  me neither.  i get blissed out by washing my feet in warm water before i go to sleep.  this also have kept me somewhat flexible because i usually do this in the bathroom sink- balancing on one leg- i've seen chickens balance on one leg too.

and now i have learned about "broody hens."  it was described to me kinda like this:
a hen who gathers all bits of feathers and straw to make a good nest.
a hen who just wants to sit on her nest. 
 a hen who will not give up her eggs easily. 
a hen who will steal others' eggs to sit on. 

in short, a hen who has a mission.

i'm like this in a way.  not to say that i sit on eggs or that i want more children.  no no no.  but i brood over other things.  i like to gather cozy thoughts and sit with them.  i like to mull over other tidbits of wonder and hold on to them.  i don't like to be interrupted and certainly don't take kindly to being pushed off of my little nesting box of dreams and contemplations.

 like the broody hen in most backyards, broody hens that sit on unfertilized eggs that won't ever hatch, broody hens owned by folks who want them to produce eggs not incubate them- i am not often allowed to just brood.  i got people, big and small ones, wanting things from me, like food and comfort and attention.  i love these big and small people so i huff up and do what i need to do for them.  much of the time i enjoy it.

sometimes though, when i'm all settled down and snugged in with a good thought and they come at me i want to squawk at them: "let me be the broody hen!" and i want them to get it- that it's not a choice for me to brood- it's just the way i am put together- like that speckled chicken with amber eyes.  and i want them to get it  before i resort to flapping my flustered feathers in their face- cuz that takes away from my energy to brood properly.

when i have chickens, sometimes i'm just going to let them brood.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


if i were a superhero i would be What If Woman, and my superpower would be to switch up your reality with the possible realities that keep you awake at night.  because i know how debilitating that is.  it is something i am really good at.  i'd call it a game except there isn't really anything fun about it.  even the best ones "what if i won a lot of money?"  eventually end with the POP of reality...oh wait, i don't have that money.

i used to get so deep into this that i would wind up crying...with real tears streaming down my face...over a "what if" that wasn't happening.  see, i got this morbid streak.  i remember driving home late at night with nothing but my what ifs to keep me awake.  and then suddenly i'd go "oh wait, a plane didn't crash into my house and kill everyone i love!" <shuddering sigh of relief followed by worried analyzing of my psyche>

i recognized that this was not a healthy use of imagination.  it was like my imagination was a caged beast.  a muse gone wrong from neglect.  does yours get like this?

i learned not to make up stories about my life or about anyone in my life.  which got kinda boring, honestly.  there was - there is- so much material to use!  and my muse still tapping on the bars of her cage demanding to be let loose.

which is part of the reason i started this blog.  unleashing the muse with her wild hair and sneering laugh.  she's a good one, mind you, but not so easy to predict.  her comings and goings are random, at best.  damn sneaky some of the time.

it's also why i started making up stories in my head about different fictional characters.  they all start with a feeling i've had or with someone i knew at one point or a curiosity about mixing up people in odd situations or a place that creeped me out.  like rest stops along the interstate.

i once went on a road trip through many states in a trooper i called Basheba.  i saw things in rest stops, felt things in rest stops that just made my skin crawl.  and so i started to wonder, what would happen if a young teen girl, like that one student i had- the one who had no impulse control because she had fetal alcohol effect- what if someone like her was here in this rest stop in the middle of night?  what if her friends, hiding out in an station wagon, told her to try to steal a purse from that wealthy looking white woman going into the restroom with a coach bag?  what if the girl did try to do this, but ended up getting abandoned by her friends when they took off after the white lady inadvertently gave the girl a black eye by opening the bathroom stall quickly just as the girl was reaching over the door to take her purse off the hook?  what if that woman wasn't rich at all- but had to borrow her dead mother's handbag because she had lost hers in the airport on her way to her mother's funeral?  and what if these two characters wind up having to drive 500 miles together because the woman wanted desperately to try to save this girl and because the girl wanted just be somewhere else than where she was?

really- that is so much more interesting than "what if i had joined the peace corp in college?"

all i ever wanted to do was tell stories, write stories.  i've done lots of other things and enjoyed them- but right here, write here- this is how i process life, share life, enjoy life.  no one ever denied me this.  except me.

that's the real rub.

somewhere i decided that being a writer wasn't enough.  solid enough?  or that i wasn't good enough?  i don't know, but my muse mutated slowly over time so that instead of writing stories that fed my soul she just spun stories tearing myself apart.

i wonder if other people do this twisting thing to their gifts.  i wonder if the person who carves designs into their skin is yearning to sculpt marble.  i wonder if we hide from our passion because we fear that it will be too much, so we try to squash it down into something that fits this small vision of ourselves that we've been sold for so long.  this idea that whatever we do has to eventually be judged or have value.

the ways we flatten ourselves- and the ways we learn to grow back into that multi-dimensional being- those are the stories i love to hear, the stories i want to tell.   it is the story that i am living.  right now, write now.

lost hearts

this is a story of hearts.  maybe i have told this story already.  my memory is like that these days- what i have said and what i written gets all jumbled.  my hearts are like this too.  yes, i have several.  some reside in my body, others do not.  you can decide which i am writing about.

i was given a pair of heart earrings many years back.  they were cut from some type of stone- thin and less than a half inch in height and dyed bright red.  during a dance workshop i put them on the altar- hanging off the wrists of a figurine.  for me dancing is like that- my hearts on my sleeves- and that's a good thing.  we all need at least one place we can wear our hearts like that.  at the end of the weekend workshop i gave one heart away and kept the other.

then i lost it.  i didn't even know that i had lost my heart until it was found.  my dad pulled it out the coin trap in our impaired washing machine.  it was in the center of a large clump of hair, dirt and slime- a mush of dirty laundry sludge.  i remember the look of that small red heart in my dad's hand, cracked and red from a lifetime of fixing things.  i picked my heart out of my father's hand.

this red heart fit perfectly inside another heart that i had found at goodwill.  a small silver locket that i bought for myself one mother's day.  i had plans for this heart- it was the locket i always wanted.  i imagined small photos of my boys inside.   i wanted to have the word "open" engraved on it.  sometimes i need that kind of reminder. open my heart.  i'm sorry if you are singing that madonna song now- i am.  but i didn't get it engraved and no pictures landed inside.  i hooked it onto my purse and put the red heart inside of it.  it nestled in there snugly although i could hear it jiggle about a little bit.  like my heart was trying to escape from the cold metal case i put it into.

it did one day- maybe a kid opened the locket and walked off with my heart.  or maybe it just dropped on the sidewalk and bounced a little bit, got kicked into the street, ran over by a SUV.  maybe a bird saw it in the grass and brought it home to it's nest where baby birds saw it first thing when they hatched.  maybe it was the last thing they saw before they flew away.

my silver heart continued to grasp onto my purse- a piece of twine knotted and braided like an umbilical cord.  not long back, i sat in a bakery with some boys and noticed the smallest boy opening and closing my heart.  i could tell he liked the clicking sound and the way his actions dramatically changed the shape of my heart.   the locket had become dented and dull in the years it swung on my zipper.  it was empty now- still no words etched into its face, no pictures inside.  i thought about how i should take better care of my hearts.  how maybe they could use some intention, some attention, some adornment, some adoration.

we then walked to a nearby park where the board walk was being torn up.  much of the area was fenced off by chain link.  there was a portable on the grass and several boundary markers- wooden posts stuck in the earth.  as i followed the toddler to the bathroom i heard a small "clink" and a skitter as i, unknowingly, kicked my heart.  immediately i looked at my purse and confirmed my fear: my heart was gone.  i was standing on old planks of wood above the harbor.  i imagined my heart sinking into the water like that scene from the movie "the piano."  i gasped and all the boys turned around to see me staring down at the boardwalk.   the eldest boy peered down in the crack and his face lit up "i see it!" 

there was my heart- two feet below my feet on a heap of dirt and debris.  i scanned around, like macgyver, and found a piece of wire used to attach chain link to post and fashioned that into a hook.  i retrieved the dental floss from my purse and tried to fish out my heart.  but i needed more resistance in the line.  the hook just skimmed my heart- never caught it.   i needed a long wire or stick.  sadly, this park was free of any sticks- a downside of urban parks.  i noticed the portable and called out to a man there.

he was a nice guy, balding in a hawaiian print shirt. he wanted to help.  what he didn't understand was that all i wanted, all i needed was a tool to get my heart back.  i didn't need him to do it for me.  maybe i could have been more clear about that.  as i watched him hunched over the splintery wood i knew he wasn't going to be able to pull up my heart.  i was touched by him wanting so badly to give it back to me though.  i imagined him telling his wife about how he had helped this frazzled mom with kids running all over retrieve a lost locket.  we all want to be a hero.

and we all want a hero too.  i know i do.  too many cinderella

eventually he went away with an unrealistic idea that they could pull up the boards and get my heart.  that was a lot of work and noise and destruction for my heart.  i knew i just had to be more clever.  i looked around again with a more creative eye.  not far was one of the boundary posts- marking how far the construction would span- it was a one by two wooden stake.  i pulled it out of the dirt and twisted my wire hook onto it.

after a few attempts, my head pushed to the crack in the ground in a position like a prayer, i hooked onto the purple hemp string of my heart.  i held my breath and pulled up the stake- only to have it stuck.  the stick being too large.  i carefully slid the stake all along the crack until i found a place wide enough to pull my heart through it.  i put my heart in the small pocket inside my purse.  vowing to be more careful with it.

a few weeks later someone gave me an identical pair of red heart earrings.

and today my son dug out my silver locket heart from somewhere he had hidden it - or maybe i hid it there.  hiding your hearts is tricky business.  hard to know if you'll be able to find it.

now i'm thinking might  be the time to cherish my heart.  put it on a necklace, find some photos to tuck inside, maybe get it engraved finally.  i still think "open" would be a good thing to write on it.  but now i wonder if maybe my heart should say "found" instead.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


years ago i used to do things that i don't do so much anymore.  you are probably the same way.  especially so if you have kids.  ok, so there are those folks who continue to do everything they did before with their kids.  i haven't mastered this art, yet.  there is hope.  maybe one day i will go dancing with seren at rumors.  maybe not.

one thing i did more of was hiking.  i still go out into nature but i can't hike the same way i did without kids.  mostly this is cuz my kids don't have long legs like me and don't always get the concept of hiking to the top or for hours or until you can't hear the freeway and get a bit lost because you wandered off to look at an interesting chunk of moss.

plus my kids talk.  a lot.  i like to be silent sometimes when i'm out in the forest.  i like to sit still long enough for the plants and animals to forget i'm there.  i don't want to worry about my kids falling into the river or stepping on a hive or eating a bad mushroom.

let's be honest- i need to go to the woods to get away from my kids.  i know- that's awful.  but it's true.  i have facing some awful truths about myself lately and this is one: i need to be alone in nature in order to maintain my sanity.  not to say i wouldn't love other trips with my kids and husband, i would love that- after i get at least an hour with the moss and ferns and trees and chirping birds too small to find.

the other day i was escorted to the dike in edison.  you need an escort- so don't just so tromping through the fields.  you may get killed.  those small town folks are leery of outsiders.  and when we reached the dike wall i could have stepped across the water and sat on lummi island- it felt that close.  it was peaceful and still- and my escort and her mom both fell into the same bit of reflective silence that i did.  we just sat.

i looked up at blanchard hill, that popular perch over skagit valley of so many outdoor-sy people.   i wondered if/when the trees are going to be clear cut to the fund the schools.  i wondered if anyone has ever asked the students what they want: trees or books?  i wondered what it would be like if they just held school in the woods for a week.  what would the kids learn about the world?  about themselves? 

it reminded me of my first trip to the peak of blanchard.  this was during my college years- my boyfriend and i head up barrel springs road and then found a trail head and started up.  and up.  and up.  the trail was beautiful in parts.  we heard gun shots and worried a little.  we got bugged by the flies.  he warned me not to drink the water because i might get "beaver fever" and i started singing "fever!" with new lines about beaver fever- and no doubt i made some crude jokes.  i still laugh to think about it.

eventually we came out the top.  the sky was huge up there- it still is.  the valley spread below you like a quilt.   there is a road that goes all the way up to the top.  i felt a little gypped, i admit it.  there were several large vans and trucks parked about with men tooling about with expansive hang gliders.  the nylon wings were as colorful as any bird and the guys were jumping off the cliff like lemmings- but with more grace.

as i lay on the hillside and watched them circle above me- i couldn't help but wonder about flying like that.  to soar like the eagles, circling the land with a weightless heart.  it was epic to imagine.  how could you land and not be a changed person?  i made a comment to my boyfriend- something about how peaceful it must be to fly like that.  he nodded his head, watching several men circling above us, just as a loud voice erupted from underneath one of the helmeted fliers, "Hey asshole!  Get the fuck out of MY thermal!!"

see how nature changes people?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


the winds whips through our yard this time of year- and i love it.  wind has always been my favorite element.  there are so many types- the warm ocean breeze that kissed salt on your eyelids so that you sleep better, the stiff gust that sucks your breath out of your mouth and turns it to ice, the sideways sandy bursts of horizontal wind that pushes tumbleweeds into wire fences and pins them there for months.

the wind that gushes through our place is powerful with its force and its noise.  our two-sister white birch tree sits on the northwest corner of our lot and it's long tendrils reach almost to the ground.  the wind comes barreling at us from somewhere near the islands to push and pull at her long branches like waves in mermaid hair.  right now i can hear the rush of leaves trembling at the end of tree limbs.  the swoosh has a rhythm that comforts me with its chaos.

standing in the wind i enjoy the feeling of being handled by nature.  i like when my hair gets tossed in ways that make me blind to the world.  i like the way my skin tingles with blood rushing to the surface like it wants to suck up the fresh green oxygen swirling around me.  i like the way my clothes hug me in fear on one side and reach out to escape on the other.  i like that feeling of being handled by nature.

the wind rips limbs off of the trees and sends them into the neighbor's yard.  the toys get tumbled through the lawn into the tall weeds along the fence line.  the gutter drains tilt away from the corners of our house to let the rain run straight down.  everything shifts and moves.  there is no stillness.  there is no silence.  change. change. change.

the wind shakes everything up, giving all its got in short bursts and prolonged huffs until the weak and the dying have been carried away, leaving the strongest parts there to endure the winter- only then to return in spring to cleanse out any parts that have withered away in the cold night. 

the wind is the broom of nature- whisking out the dust, the dead moths, the hairballs, forgotten scraps of once important notes  that has accumulated into the corners of our lives.

it's time to go stand out in that cleansing, frenzy of wind.  wrap up in a blanket if you must- but don't be afraid of what she will whisk away from you.  you don't need it anymore.  it really is just weighing you down.

Friday, October 8, 2010


apparently when we moved into our house it had an electric stove.  i don't really remember it though.  we got natural gas hooked up just in time for them to increase the rates by 48% or something like that.  and if you have a natural gas furnace, why not get a stove and a clothes dryer too?  which is what we did.

being poor by financial standards- we are rich in so  many other ways- and conservative in the consumer realm- meaning about 90% of things that we buy are used- i was thrilled to find a small hand written note at the co-op for a gas stove for sale for $25.

we drove eastward to pick it up.  the couple were in their fifties maybe and now that their kids were gone off and having their own children the folks got around to remodeling their kitchen.  the irony being that they probably wouldn't be cooking quite so much, but in any case- they had a beautiful new red stove and an old tappan white and black one to pass on.  we were stoked.  not only that- they had a free couch in the hall which we took too.  so really the stove only ending up costing $12.50 if you do the math like that.

the other thing they had were beautiful sheep out grazing in a rolling pasture in a way that makes you think owning sheep would be nice.  it was the first time seren, about 2, had ever seen a black sheep.  they told him the sheep was called "jackie brown" and for years after that everytime he saw a black sheep- and there are lots of them in our valley- he'd yell "there's jackie brown!"  he actually has a stuffed black sheep too, yup- named jackie brown. 

in any case- the stove worked great.  except for the front right burner which was always low.  i shimmered on it often though.  i did notice that the oven started to act strange.  for example, when i turned it on nothing would happen for a while and then there'd be this loud "WHHHOOOOMPP!" sound as the large gas ball finally lit.  Then in July the oven just wouldn't get hot enough to bake a....gosh, there' got to be some kind of cute metaphor somewhere in my head.  can't quite find it yet though.  well, the oven just wouldn't get hot.  but it was july so who cares?  seren didn't want a birthday cake anyway.

months passed and the squash started to look so good.  i love baked squash.  i love warm muffins in the morning.  i enjoy one dish meals that also warm up the house.  so we had to figure out the stove fix.  trouble is when your 22 year old stove that only cost $12.50 acts up you gotta wonder if it's worth it to fix it.  i checked out other used stove options too, but then you don't really know what you are buying.  i did have a few new stove fantasies, i admit.  those built in vents and little beeps that let you know when your oven is preheated and ready to bake- a feature that could be applied to so many parts of my life. 

what it boiled down to is that moving out the old stove and installing a new stove would be a pain in the ass.  which would have not been my task- however, after my initial little snit about that reasoning- i came to agree.  the think about reducing (as in reduce, reuse, recycle) means to reduce your consumption as step 1.  if the stove could be fixed it would save lots of resources and that's no greenwash.

so i called bill.  bill is a fix-it guy from the phone booth.  i called him because he looked old in his picture.  i like old repair people better than younger ones.  i know this is prejudice, but i've found they tend to be more self-reliant and less likely to try to sell me something i don't need.  maybe because they've lived through more tough times or maybe cuz they don't need to make as much money off of me.  i'm not sure- but they also tend to say more interesting things.

the last repair guy was like that.  he even let cyrus- who was about 15 months at the time- "help" him fix the washing machine.  cy layed on the floor and stared into the dark motor with a flash light.  the guy would ask cy a question now and then and cy would answer in indecipherable baby babble and the man would reply "well, that's what i was thinking too."

but that wasn't bill although he was friendly and chatty.  bill showed up with a flippity-do hair style like what he probably did in the 50s when his hair was black and full.  i can trust anyone who holds onto a hair style that long.  he had glasses, work jeans and a tucked in short-sleeve blue work shirt.  his elbows showed his age to be in his late 60s.

in less than 20 minutes he had the oven fixed.  a bad igniter that just wouldn't get hot enough to spark the gas. this might be my trouble too.  all told it cost about $124 to have him fix it.  as he was cleaning up i mentioned the low flame on our one element.  he carefully checked it out and compared it to the 3 others.  he looked up at me and asked if i had a sewing needle.  he peered into the burner and poked the needle down into the center.  the flame came on full tilt.

as i watched him fix that it i was thinking about how i had tolerated that inconvenience for over six years and never once investigated what was causing the blockage.  i just expected that a $12.50 stove would have some kind of malfunction.  i wondered about being an optimist with low expectations- because that's what i am.  i see the glass is half-full and i'm ok with that even if the water is kinda funky tasting.  it's a good way to be for me- except every now and then i realize maybe with more spark i could really get things cooking much better.  like with a simple sewing needle fix.  see?  that's what i mean about the old fix-it folks, women included.

now i have 4 fully functional burners and an oven that gets to temp in under 8 minutes.  it is like having a new stove.  except that its my old stove still that works good as new fjust by giving her some attention.  and there's a lesson there for everyone.  i've decided to call her jackie brown too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

sing out

i remember as a young girl sitting in a rocking chair singing a song about a farmer and his family and how they were so poor they didn't have anything- not any clothes.  but they had a chicken.  i wrote it.  that feeling of carefree singing still makes me swoon.  i'm one of those people who does not like to be interrupted when listening to heartfelt crooning, and i find it offensive to be cut off as i serenade myself.

maybe because i cherish the human voice in song i am reserved about singing in front of strangers -as in karaoke.  in connected groups- my family, a women's circle, in front of jen's wii - or when moved by the spirit- on a beach, while shopping for crackers- i enjoy putting my sound out into space.  even more so if others are singing with me.

karaoke, though, as in being in crowded bar with drunk folks is not appealing to me.  for a long while this was the only way i had ever witnessed karaoke.  but then bobbi came on the scene.  she worked with me at the max higbee center and had a complete karaoke system.  not the one box units you buy at target-  a real system complete with thousands of songs from white snake to sir mix a-lot.  not to mention disney songs, ac/dc, elvis and the all the other songs you don't realize you know until you are singing into a light microphone.

so bobbi began karaoke night once a month at the center.  the center being a rec center for folks with developmental disabilities.  i worked there in college then returned later to run this inspiring bellingham non-profit.   karaoke night was the highlight of the event calendar.

if you've never been to the center it will be hard for you to full grasp the karaoke night's splendor.  the members of the center range from 13 to 70, from total independent folks who lived on their own, worked full time jobs and had personal lives as complicated as yours to non-verbal folks who did not interaction much with the world around them- who were completed dependent on another person for every thing they needed to survive.  singing brought us all together.

some of the memories that stand out most right now.

jill, completely deaf, singing along with some metallic song.  she screeched whenever she felt the whim- her eyes reflecting the glowing lyrics- she could read but paid little attention to as she scrunched up her face in a rock star sneer- and her mouth making random noises of varying pitch and sound.  she was ecstatic as her friends all watched her mesmerized and cheered wildly when the song ended.

singing doesn't have much to do with ability to talk or hear anyway.

fred, an amazing artist who could draw letters in such detail they looked computer generated, talking through a song.  he knew the words but there was no melody, no rhythm, no tone, no emotion in his voice as he sang some popular ballad from the 80s.   he concentrated on the screen and stood mostly still- making sure he was getting every word exactly right.  when he was done he marched back to his chair as his friends cheered enthusiastically.

sometimes the words are really important.

devin, was tall and lanky and preferred hip hop songs. although he also could be easily swayed to do YMCA, his favorite song was "who let the dogs out?"  his favorite part of the song was the barking.  usually he got so carried away with his dancing the microphone hung unused at his side.  he jumped and trotted and his whole body giggled with the moment.  his friends clapped and cheered every time.

dancing is often the best part singing.

the staff members- usually me and two other gals- had some songs we just had to do as trio.  we went through phases.  "walk like an egyptian" was popular for a while- we even did the hand moves and tried to whistle.  and of course, the essential "total eclipse of the heart."  we hammed it up big time- we each took on different verses and the crowd went wild.  we tried to do the falsetto "bright eyes" part with feeling. i knew that anything i did- even screwing up the entire song miserably- would be instantly loved and cheered on.

there are some feelings you can only experience by having an audience.  at max's place the audience is 100% on your side.  they are joyful to the point that you no longer doubt your own awesomeness.

maybe because i associate the song with that feeling of love and support, to this day "total eclipse of the heart" gets me singing for hours  it is an epic song that goes on forever and most of the lyrics make no sense to me, for example, "we're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks."  ok, so i get the metaphor but find it kind of outdated.  maybe that's not even what they are saying?

for a long while after i stopped working at max's place, i would drop by on karaoke night.  sometimes the other gals who worked there would show up too- like a reunion tour.   sometimes i was alone and would recruit other folks to sing with me like pearl.

 pearl was a mostly quiet gal who was blind.   she agreed to sing "total eclipse of the heart" with me one saturday

as the song went on and on.  i just kind of stopped singing so i could listen to pearl sing.  there was this tenderness to the way she sang the song- the way people sometimes get lost in a song so completely.  it felt odd though because the song is so corny and confusing in a way.  it's cryptic and melodramatic.  yet as pearl sang the lyrics they seemed strangely appropriate.   i was on the verge of tears as this young blind woman who lived at home with her family sang "once upon a time there was light in my life, now there's only love in the dark."  i wondered if she was born blind.

sometimes songs tell us about ourselves, our own lives and so we sing them all the louder.

sometimes they tell us about another's live and that's when we really need to listen deeply.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


my mom has a box of things from my school days.  some of them i remember like the white bunny i drew in pastels with a simple poem underneath.  other things i remember making but haven't seen them again, like the paper bag cat puppet made of coiled yarn.  but most things i do not remember making at all.

like this yellow envelope.  it's made out of a large piece of yellow construction paper folded so that there is a tab at the top that folds over.  on the front of it i have drawn in crayons a face.  two eyes in the shape of green flowers each with four straight black eyelashes sprouted out with dark green pupils.  actually i drew four eyes- a pair under the flap too so that her eyes don't disappear when you open the envelope- a detail that speaks about my nature still.   the nose is a green flower with a red center.  there are two lopsided circles for cheeks and a thin red smile.  i colored the entire face with an orange crayon.  you can get the point when i stopped scribbling with the tip and started using the side of the crayon to cover more space with each swipe.

here's the thing about this envelope.  it's not empty.  inside are eleven strips of paper each hand cut by me.  all except one has the faded purple ink of old ditto machines.  remember these?  how you had to crank the handle and the original would swirl about and copies would spit out the side?  i remember them and the chemically clean smell of them.  the way the paper was still damp, cool feeling not hot like copies from a laser printer.

on each strip of paper is a chore:
i will clean my bedroom.
i will rake the yard.
i will set the table.
i will feed my pet.
i will dust the furniture.
i will dry dishes.
i will make my bed.
i will take out trash.
i will water the lawn.
and the hand written one: i will wash the dishes.

not sure if that last one was one i made up or the ditto just was too faded.  i certainly washed dishes a lot as a kid.

so that's ten of them.  sure i did most of these chores in my life- except watering the lawn.  and i typically had about five pets to feed.  like most kids i didn't really enjoy chores.  i do remember enjoying dust mopping the wood floors.  i liked washing windows.  but for the most part i didn't like doing what i didn't want to do.  as a kid the world had too much to offer to do boring tasks.

now that i'm a mom i see the genius of this envelope, although i never remember using this as a kid.  i can see how it would almost seem like a game- what chore do i "get to" do today?  will you get a good chore or an icky one?  can you swap with your brother?  how many do you have to do each day?  it definitely would be more fun than the dreaded chore-list which is what we typically had at our house.

i go back and forth between wanting my kids to do chores and enjoy it- is that possible?  and just wanting them to do it whatever the cost.  i don't bribe as much as i threaten.  but not all the time.  i remind, i encourage, i help and then i break down and say something like "do you want ME to clean your room?  cuz i can clean it real fast."  my older son knows this is code for "goodwill, here i come!" 

so this envelope thing has it's appeal to do.  but the thing is that i still resist chores.  i try to see them as meditative opportunities:  i'm washing away past regrets as i scrub away tomato sauce.  my mind is clear like the newly washed floor.  ahh- the clean bed, the way the linens lay so softly- i will sleep well here tonite.

i have some mild success with this technique.

truth is i'd rather be making the chore envelope than doing anything in the chore envelope. art projects are my favorite.  and i have a broad definition of art projects which includes everything from being outside appreciating the designs on a spider's back to putting together a dashing outfit to painting the bathroom lime green to dancing in my living room to a janet jackson song.

but there is no slip for this in my yellow envelope. 
no- i will sew a skirt.
no- i will draw your face.
no- i will learn to knit.
no- i will photograph the trees.
no- i will construct a bird house.
no- i will throw a pot.
no- i will make a necklace.
no- i will write a story.
no- i will dance like a thunderstorm.

but there is one small slip that all of this fits into:

Today is my "free" day.

it is printed out in the small gentle purple ink and yet it holds so much more than the other slips.  this is the one we all would be wishing to pull out as kids.  the one we'd cheer and grin like a cat when we plucked it out.  the one we'd groan if our brother got it instead of us.  this is slip we'd search for with our small fingertips.

that feeling of release from obligation, from expectation, from evaluation- that is a free day.  the day when you can simple not do the things you don't want to do because you've gotten permission to do not it.  and as a kid you need permission before you can not do what you are supposed to do.  that part sucks- however- as a kid you know how to be free because that is usually your natural state.  at least, thankfully, it is for my kids.  i know that's not the case for every child.

but as an adult do we have to give ourselves permission to have a free day?  do we need a little slip of paper that tells us to schuck off the chore list and run wild?  i do.  which is funny to me because as much as i like the idea of having a free day- i also like the idea of "getting something done."  when did that happen, i wonder?  good thing art projects count as getting something done.

so today is my free day, i've decided, and i'm free to finish painting the living room or to try to figure out how to replace the bathroom sink.

after that- i'm adding some new slips to my envelope.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


every so often my dad shows up to help tackle our to-do list.  some people whisper to horses, my dad is part machine.  from family stories it seems he has always been this way- and sometimes he talks to people in languages they don't understand.  he communicates with machines in a silent way, squinting at wires, following pipes, tracking connections.  they know when he is near- and break down for his attention.  once within minutes of fixing  the door on the van which always thought it was unlocked and kept trying to lock itself in neurotic fits-  it blew a headlight just cuz it was feeling neglected by us.  he has taken apart almost all of our appliances at one point or another and fixed what ailed them from clogged coin catch to plugged drainage tube thingy.

on the his latest visit i convinced him to put the vent into the bathroom ceiling.  the black dots on the ceiling- while entertaining while bathing and starring up at them- kinda like stargazing, caused me to worry about black mold attacking the lungs of the people i love the most.  yes, we had no vent in the bathroom- but we did have a window.  in the shower.  with a wooden frame.  so that was kinda helpful, except that steam doesn't often travel horizontally.  maybe it did when they built the house.

in honor of the new vent i painted the ceiling. the walls seem envious now.  they are particularly lack-luster.

anyway.  i love the vent.  it has a special on-switch that is a timer.  you can set it for 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes.  it sucks the moisture and stale, stinky air out of the watercloset so damn quick you can almost feel your feet being lifted up.  sometimes i turn it on even though i don't need it on and it drains electricity from...wherever electricity comes from...and that's not something a green gal is supposed to do.  but since i was raised in los angeles county in the 80s i often revert back to wasteful self-indulgent habits.  like not recycling the plastic containers i find full of food so old i don't remember ever having bought it because i'll gag if i have to clean them out.  well, i probably wouldn't gag because i'm not from the valley but i still don't clean it out and throw it away rather than recycle.  just sometimes i do this.  don't hate me.

back to the vent.  we didn't get a fancy vent.  my dad picked it out.  it's the basic air sucking system.  it has no heat lamp or any lighting, for that matter, so good thing we already have a light in the bathroom.  it doesn't have any special rating for efficiency or noise level.  it's square and plastic and white.  pretty sure in elementary school it ate its lunch quickly and then went to the library because "the sun hurt its eyes" which was a lie creating to get the librarian off of its back.

it's kinda loud for a small, white, square, air-sucking plastic thing.  plus our house is kinda small, so i can hear it from anywhere in the house.  thank goodness for the timer. there is a way to turn it on without a timer, but no one does this unless they want me to yell at them to turn it off.  or unless they forget to hit one of the timer buttons. 

i've come to like the loudness though because when overwhelmed i retreat to the shower.  it's the closest thing i have to a sensory deprivation chamber.  i started doing this when working at the tribal school.  especially on thursdays when we had meeting about the details of children's lives that broke my heart and left blood streaming down my chest.  metaphorically.  so i'd come home and stand in the hot shower.  so hot my white skin would red like a lobster and sometimes i'd get faint-feeling and have to lay down afterwards.  i've only passed out once in the shower, but that was because i also had a fever and forgot your are supposed to bend over when feeling faint and not stare up at the black dots of mold.

once i became a mom the shower thing got less relaxing.  when seren was a baby i'd take a shower while he was napping- only to shut it off numerous times because i thought i heard him crying.   nope, no crying.  shower back on. wait....was that?  nope.  forget it.  might as well get out.

not so stress-relieving, as you can imagine.  cyrus doesn't usually like when i shower.  he stands there and screams at me to get out in a slobbery toddler language that would be cute if i wasn't already maxed out and needing a sensory deprivation chamber. 

but the vent drowns out all noise from outside of the bathroom.  phone, children, dishes breaking, strangers at the door, sesame street songs, the volunteer fire department siren.  obviously there' some safety concerns  here.  don't worry- i don't lock the door.  and cyrus can almost get it opened on his own.  it also masks the ringing in my ears which helps me to pretend it's gone away for good.

and the timer helps because with that stream of hot water and the rattling drone of the fan i'm like in a one-woman spa all of my own.  one without mold or crying babies.  and those are the best types of spas, in my opinion. 

so here's to loud, cheap fixes with unexpected blessings.  may you have one in your life soon.