Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving. Awoke with the first light, the sun rising over the Cascades. I lay in bed and tried to recall the last time my mother made a pie. When was it? Which decade? Probably some time in the late 1970's. When did she last cook a Thanksgiving meal? My older siblings took over, at some point, in a rented apartment or a first home, our family group getting bigger and bigger until we began to split off into our own smaller groups. In these later years I spent the day at my in-law's home, a beloved house whose back deck perches still above Thornton Creek. I miss these days most — the scents, my mother-in-law's Southern hospitality ("don't you bring a thing, Miss T.!). I've inherited her sterling tableware, with which I set my small table this morning for my sons and me. The long-handled spoon whose sole purpose is for reaching into the turkey and pulling out the stuffing.

Addition/subtraction: families. Births/deaths. Our numbers swell and recede, swell and recede.

We're eating early this year — both sons keep very early work schedules. No need for candles with this brilliant sunlight. And no long tables set out the length of the living room. We've dwindled to this small family, with two cats on scrap patrol. Three chickens in the yard pecking for bugs. One turkey, two pies. Enough — more than enough —of everything.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Fragments

Stapled poultry wire, slashed skin on the sharp edges.
Damn the blood, no band-aids, chickens on the run.
Gathered them back in, one under each arm,
shooing the third hen with my feet as if I knew how to play soccer.
Why do they always head for the one corner of the yard that isn't fenced?

Unwound bird netting, tangled it up, sorted it out.
Stood on a ladder and pulled it taut.
More staples. Gloves. No more blood.
Chickens secure.
Eggs gathered.
Leaves and bits of straw raked up.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

November Light

The light fades earlier now; sometimes the sun breaks through the ragged grey-silk clouds just at sunset. The windows of our workspace face west, and nearly every day I leap up at this burst of light in an otherwise wet and brooding afternoon, witnessing the colors I've wrestled with for hours, now emblazoned across the sky. My co-workers are used to this daily outburst, and oblige my entreaty to see for themselves.

And of course it's gone just as quickly as it appeared — ephemeral light!

I don't think I'll ever tire of this.

Later: the trudge through the dark to home.
No crows to keep me company.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Fowl Things

I went out to feed my chickens this morning, and coming back in I glanced at my reflection in the door glass, and had to laugh:
--red nightgown
--blue fleece jacket
--brown leather outback hat
--blue yoga pants, 15 years old, with holes
--pink fluffy socks
--brown clogs.

Not winning any awards here in fashion, and happy for it.

Anyway, who would've thought that I'd become so fond of three chickens? It's happened. I talk to them. I fuss over them. They follow me around the yard (making a scratched-up mess of the garden) and they bicker amongst themselves, argue with me, peck for bugs. Altogether a pretty cozy scene, all things considered. Fluffy pink socks and all.

And eggs! Usually three per day! I keep an eleven watt bulb lit from 5am - 9pm every day, so they're fooled, so far, into summer hours.

Maybe my urban days are waning. Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bad Pun-kins

By the time I arrive at work in the morning, after my brisk 15 minute walk on urban sidewalks, I'm ready to talk, for jokes, for commentary. Except there's no one there but me, for a good long while.

I make coffee.
I review the open orders.
Sometimes I feed the cat.
I empty the "kitchen kiln" of yesterday's cured glass.
I prioritize the day's tasks for the four of us.

Eventually the crew stumbles/drives/bikes in, and by that time I'm REALLY ready for interaction, and STILL I have to wait. For coffee to be sipped, for caffeine to take effect.

First world problem, I know.

But did you hear about the pumpkins who staged an uprising in an attempt to do away with the annual slaughter aka carving of their fellow citizens? It was a pumpkinsurrection.

Did you hear about the pumpkins in the nursing home? The pumpkinvalids?

Or the blanket made from woven pumpkin fibers? The pumpkin-patch-work quilt? (Thanks to E.P. for this one.)

Yeah, I know. Groan.

See what you're missing by not working with me?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Blackened, Sawn

No one blackens anything anymore but I blackened some tilapia for dinner and lamented the passing of food trends. Who cares about food trends? Certainly pas moi.

But that's what you eat after herding chickens all afternoon while constructing a garden gate from salvaged lumber and foraged bamboo.  (Lumber salvaged from my falling-down garage, bamboo foraged half a block away.)

Pleasure in hole-drilling, attaching the sawn (Japanese pull saw) lengths of bamboo to the 1x2 fir planks. All the while the feathered girls making a scratchy mess of my yard: pursuit of bugs. I seem to have forestalled my seasonal melancholy with my acquisition of poultry. And I gotta say, it's a complete surprise.

Cluck cluck.

What brings me joy?
—Dragging home 30' lengths of bamboo, scritchy-scratchy, all the way up the widewalk.
—Picking up a chicken (such docile creatures!).
—Making a clean cut with the saw.
—Seeing my gate take shape.
—No where to go but where I am.

Dear Reader, where do you find joy in your day?

Sunday, October 11, 2015


And so it has come to pass, after many months of nothing but talk and a little bit of construction SPREAD OUT OVER MANY MONTHS, that I am a chicken-mama.

This past week has been spent attending Chicken University, an online self-directed (and self-invented) course consisting of reading countless message boards, blogs, websites and YouTube videos on All Things Chicken, resulting in this:
I think I've done more clucking than the birds.

No names quite yet, but I thought Fallopia would be fitting. And possibly Ovaria. Gotta come up with three names for three chickens. But then again, maybe one name for all three chickens. Or rename them every week/month/equinox. Would the chickens care?

One thing that's become most evident in this new venture is how staid I've become in my routines, and how this small, feathered flock (with surprisingly menacing claws) has upset the chicken cart, as it were.

I've especially enjoyed watching them plucking and fussing at the straw when settling in the nest to lay an egg. Two of them apparently had the egg urge at the same time this morning and climbed all over each other to find the best spot. When I returned, about a half hour later, there was the gift of two eggs.

I'm not holding my breath for a golden egg that I could bring to the King aka Bank of America so I can pay off my mortgage. Or at the least, trade for a few magic beans. (But where would I go, climbing that magic bean stalk?) But who knows. Every new venture opens doors (and in this case, it's a coop door).

Funny — the cats are steering clear. And here I thought they'd be entertained unto infinity. I think it's going to be me who's entertained unto infinity.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Inventing Memories at My Fortieth Reunion

Forty years since I last walked the halls of my high school, and last week I attended a reunion of classmates, in a bar in my hometown across the lake. I was ambivalent about going, as I haven't kept up with anyone from those years. I had an exit plan in case it was dreadful.

I ended up staying for hours.

Of course, we're all different people from who we were at 18. I was exceptionally shy then (my sons refuse to believe this) and decidedly in the "nerd" category. Awkward, bone-juttingly skinny, editor of the school literary magazine, captain of the girl's track team, sang alto in the jazz choir. I could barely utter a single syllable to a boy without verging on panic.

Trailing this history, and with my particular interest in social interactions, I navigated the crowd with none of the social anxiety I'd once experienced. But most of the faces were completely foreign. Who were these people? Strange to realize that everyone looked at the name tag before the face. A quick browse through the couple of annuals on a table was enough to call forth the younger versions.

I engaged in a handful of substantive conversations, but mostly I mingled and observed, taking note of the old cliques thrown together again, the surfeit of massive man-bellies at every bump of the elbow, the handful of women who seemed not to have aged more than a day or two. (How did they manage this?!)

I was surprised that I enjoyed myself so much. Grateful not to be that gawky teenager anymore.

At one point I was sitting alone at the bar waiting for some food, and a man struck up a conversation, the husband of a classmate I'd barely known.

 "What do you remember about Mary?" He asked.

"I remember that in 7th grade she wore tiny round glasses and had a bowl haircut," I said.

"Yes! I can picture her like that! Tell me more!"

"Well, I don't really know anything else. We weren't friends."

"Oh come on! Tell me some things about her that I don't know. I know you can think of something."

"Um, not really. Like I said, I knew who she was, but we didn't hang out."

"COME ON! You gotta tell me something!"

He was starting to bug me, was leaning into me in a mildly threatening manner.
I didn't like his shirt, or the way his upper lip curled when he insisted I tell him something.
He kept at me, boorish and bullying, and I was waiting for my food and didn't want to leave, so I said,

"Okay then. I tell you what: I'll make some things up, okay? Like I said, I don't remember anything about her, but I can make up just about anything, if that's what you want."

"Yes! Yes! Tell me something!!"

Gah. The guy was a broken record, out for weird slumber-party girl secrets WHICH I DIDN'T HAVE.

And so my fiction commenced:

"In 9th grade, Mary wore pink footed pajamas to school, with a little fluffy white tail."

"Oh YEAH! I can see Mary in those! Did they have little ears too?"

"Yes. Little pink ears."

"Haha! I can just see her in those! That's great! Tell me more!"

"You sure? Remember, I'm making this up."

"Yeah, yeah. Just TELL ME MORE!"

"Alrighty then. In 10th grade, Mary started a food fight in the cafeteria, and no one could believe that she'd do such a thing."

"Really?" He looked confused.

"Yes, really."

"Okay. Tell me more."

I was beginning to enjoy this.

"In 11th grade, Mary had a sex-change operation, and then changed back to a girl."

His jaw dropped open at this, and nothing came out of his mouth.

"And in 12th grade, she joined a band of musical gypsies in Romania, but returned to school just in time to graduate."

At this point Mr. TELLMESOMETHING just stared at me, visibly confused, perhaps a little shaken, his mouth gaping open, his eyes bugging out.

I think he'd forgotten that this was all made-up.

Suddenly he seemed to come-to, shook his head a bit like he was exiting a trance, said, "NOW THAT'S ENOUGH!" in a scolding tone, and strode away.

HA! Finally got rid of him.
 But damn.
I felt more than a little smug.

Forty years ago I would've trembled and blushed at such an encounter, the words mumble-frozen on my tongue. Instead I came away grateful for these 40 years of living, with no desire to return to 1975.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Little House of Imperfections

In another life, we drove for hours around Connemara in the West of Ireland, with 16 different versions of Shenandoah blasting on the iPod. It was pure indulgence on the part of my husband, and I loved him for that. A mid-summer day, all sun and quickcloud bluster, a squall and a rainbow, and another rainbow. Down narrow lanes twisting past stone cottages and sheep, ending at the deadend of the sea.

Turn around.

The small bays and inlets of the Atlantic shone in turquoise and emerald, sometimes in concentric circles of color. I could never get enough of the wildly-shifting tones of the Irish landscape. What could easily look like miles of untreed rocky pasture appeared to me as an ever-changing sweep of amber and chestnut browns, of aquaeous greens and a sky-blue so deeply saturated it made me weep. It was a drug: more, please.

My favorite of all the versions of Shenandoah we listened to that day is this one, by the inimitable Richard Thompson:

In another life yet again — in this one, now, with yet more loves lost and trailing their remants of inseverable sinew — I wandered out into ebbing light, Shenandoah cranked up, windows and doors wide open to summer's last heat.

Streaks of russets on the western horizon —
Pots of rosebud geraniums in full-on coral blossom —
The hazelnut tree losing leaves already, a crackling —

How to give up loving those we love, who don't love us in return? One would think that after nearly six decades, all the answers would be easy. Sometimes love deadends at the sea, and the only options are drowning or turning around.

Turning around and ending up back where I am, in my little house of imperfections.

And yet despite this deeply measured sadness there exists a kind of joy, abiding and immutable, and acceptance of the duality of life. A longing — which I doubt will ever fade — for something greater than the here and now, yet acknowledging the utter perfection of the here and now.

Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river.
Oh Shenandoah,
I long to hear you,
Away, we're bound away
'Cross the wide Missouri.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


I traded homegrown green beans today for two pairs of earrings and a small outdoor turquoise table, traded with my neighbor R. who does hauling for a living and drags all his treasures to the parking strip once a month and sells stuff. He never lets me pay.

Besides finding the occasional curiosity, when I see his sign out on the corner, I know it's time for some neighborly conversation, so I walked down there this afternoon, pulled up a chair, and hung out.

There was an exterior door that looked promising, but he said it was an odd size. Too tall. I fiddled with a Makita drill — mine has suddenly given up the ghost. Oh, it's only probably 25 years old. There are three parts that can go bad: the drill itself, the battery, and the battery charger, and there was a good chance that this drill was in the sell-pile for the same reason mine is in the doesn't-work pile. I passed on the drill. His wife C. came out and offered me a pair of cowboy boots, but they were too big. Some leather Coach handbags appeared: not enough pockets.

I thumbed through a few books ("Russian Tea House Cookbook"). We discussed whether or not a wooden box was an old ammunition box, decided that it was more likely used to transport rifles. A conjoined pair of old school desks sat unsat-in on the grass. A green-painted hoe leaned against the hedge. There was much more to see, but I made myself stop. If anything comes into my house, something has to go out.

After delivering the sack of beans, I went back home to read, and from my skin rose the scent of tomatoes and dill. The garden is a little out of hand, things growing across the narrow paths into other things. I've let a few tomato plants sprawl out, and they've taken their liberties seriously: ripe red nubs poke out from between the variegated pinks of cosmos', and between bush beans, and from under the fan-like zucchini leaves which are fading with the usual late season mildew.

Gardening is, for me, about so much more than just the harvest. When the season is finished, and I'm driven indoors as the rains start up again and the temperature plummets, I'll miss these floating scents that stay with me after my daily vegetal rummage. Not that I want dill perfume, or tomato cologne, mind you. Perhaps just a hint, to remind me of these sun-woozy afternoons of early September, when tomatoes hung thick and heavy from the vine, everywhere in the garden.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Weekend Note

Saturday morning.

The wreckage of my body after a week of going to work sick when I should have stayed home but went because there were deadlines that otherwise wouldn't have been met. The absolute folly of that.
Will the owners of galleries in Ephraim, Wisconsin and Ogunquit, Maine (and Portland and Freeport) think of this and thank me when their orders arrive just in time for Labor Day Sales?

Well. Stupid question, that.

But here this morning there are clouds stacked up against the horizon and it's predicted to rain throughout most of the next five days. There was a buzz in the community about this yesterday, a welcome anticipation from even those most dreading the inevitable damp winter looming only a few calendar pages in front of us. We've all heard the news: hottest year on record. Frost's "Fire and Ice" plays unceasing in my background soundtrack, while the eastern half of our Evergreen State (yes, that's the state nickname) continues to burn: currently 1,150 square miles aflame.

Here, this morning, the hazelnut tree is buzzing with chicadees and juncos. All my windows are still flung open. Rejoicing in rain.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Peaches, Protestors and One Presidential Politician

I bought a 20 pound box of Elberta freestone peaches yesterday and made a peach pie so brimming with peaches that they actually broke loose out of the pie, as if the peaches were hatching. At the same time, my younger son was unloading the top half of the chicken coop he's been slowly building for me, a  chicken-wire and recycled-pallet affair with a cedar-shingled nesting box. He bought almost no new materials for it, which pleases me to no end. So, soon: chickens. Let the hen'n'egg puns commence. Pity my poor workmates!

But the pie: my older son took over prepping the fruit, and, wizard in the kitchen that he is, added vanilla extract and whiskey and brown sugar to the usual ingredients and my kitchen smelled like Heaven On High. Lawd, lawd. If I'd expired the moment I took a whiff I'd've expired blissfully.

On another note, I happened to be a member of the crowd last Saturday in downtown Seattle when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was upstaged by a group of bullies who demanded the microphone. I can't imagine you've not heard the story, but if you haven't, here's a link to a Washington Post article about it.

I won't get into it; while I love reading opinion pieces, it's my least favorite kind of writing to do. But I will say that I'm glad I was there to witness what went down. This singular event seems to have propelled Senator Sanders into the mainstream media, from which he's been noticeably absent since he announced his bid for the office.

At the larger event that evening (15,000 people!), I was fortunate to witness, for the first time in my years, a politician who represents a loving kindness towards humanity. And while sometimes it seems too good to be true, I'm convinced that Bernie Sanders is the real deal.

As was the peach pie, with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What I Thought About Today at Work When I Bit into a Plum

I plucked a crimson plum from the tree this afternoon and as I bit into the warm flesh, the juices oozing between my fingers, I thought of the small pit at the center of the fruit. I considered the golden, sugary, soft and nearly-pulsing flesh that protected the pit, the flesh into which my teeth had only just pierced, ravaged, bit a chunk from.

And this is where my brain landed: the flesh, with its tart skin wrapper, exists to shelter and nourish the pit as it grows to maturity. When the pit has fully reached its capability to go forth and grow a new tree, and eventually create its own coterie off plumlettes and pitlettes, it is released from the wholeness of the fruit. The fruit, essentially, births the pit — the seed — and is sloughed off, no longer necessary, its job done.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I came to the realization that when we are eating a plum, we are consuming a plum placenta and plum uterus.

It was hot.
It was late afternoon.
I'd hit a wall.
I didn't want to work anymore.
I was mighty grateful for the plum placenta and plum uterus.

And I don't know if it was the fructose or the notion that I was slurping up a warm placenta and uterus, but after that little fruity encounter, I perked right up.