turning the collar up, looks like I picked the wrong time to decide to shave my head

Bright and cold, the sun slaps down on the sidewalks and finds us much as we ever were, maybe here and there a little shabbier. Broken down businesses and those making their valiant try. More cars getting towed DIY-style lately, Ralph and I have both noticed this. I drive by my neighbors sleeping rough or living hard, hunched jackets against the cold in clothes that aren’t quite warm enough, walking with bottles that clink in thin black plastic bags, cheap fleece pajama pants.

My sister visited this weekend and went to some festivities around town. “Irish music and drinking, I know how much you love those.” She and my mother went ahead and did some of that. We also had lunch together Saturday and Jules and the kids and I goofed at the Halloween store, good memories for me. She always buys the children something sweet; this time, their Halloween Trick or Treat bags/pumpkin buckets.

I drive to Aberdeen in the afternoon and wonder why some days I feel in a panic. Nothing is wrong, I tell myself. Remind myself. I am sober, and safe, and mostly sane. We have wonderful friends and family and are surrounded by a great deal of love. My children and I have a roof over our heads and good food to eat. The kids are growing well and exceedingly happy, as far as I can tell. The cats lounge about. My house is tidy, I bought winter boots. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong. I have to talk myself down from the ledge now and then but the feeling passes after a while, like everything else.

Low Tide

“Low Tide” by Τϊζζ¥

More Hoquiam, WA.


you wanna fly / don’t want your feet on the ground


I get a rush when I bike long distances and today was no exception (I’m already used to the seat, by the way). I had a full day including picking up a refurbished New Home sewing machine (squee!), then later a wonderful coffee date with my sister, just the two of us. Afterwards she took me next door to the bike shop and bought my new head and tail lights, in addition to a very generous gift certificate for the family. What a wonderful gift for us and a real blessing.

But the highlight of my day sticking to me now was about ten PM when my friend D. who’s tended towards shyness in the past agreed to ride on the back of my bike there in west Aberdeen, and we did a few loops in the summer street while people laughed a bit, circling around a big bonfire while P. played Foreigner’s “Records” out the stereo of his impeccably-shiny Harley.

Or maybe it was an inadvertant poem I heard early in the evening: “Pray to be sane / drank a Hurricane”.

Or later as it was cold out, meeting Ralph and Cole for hot coffee and pizza at the Mia.

Either way, things seemed to work out real well all day long.

the Mia


nothing feels obligatory about it in the slightest

Just about every year for Thanksgiving we take in a person, or two, or three or four who either doesn’t want to be with their own family for Thanksgiving or doesn’t wanna, and we host them for the big dinner.  So yesterday morning my mom asked about this tradition of ours – if we were going to invite any “orphans” over.  I realized today – picking up the naval orange for one of my two cranberry sauces – that I don’t like the phrase “orphan” because it implies a sort of forlornness or wretchedness on the part of those who aren’t going to be with their relatives, and thus makes normative a certain type of family over other types – the latter chosen by will and intent, say, rather than just biology (to be fair, it was one of our “family-less” – as in, someone who had a family but didn’t want to be with them – guests who initially came up with the phrase “orphan”).

The holidays can be pretty damn painful for people.  Even when they’re mostly okay and things go pretty well, I know people sometimes feel deep pockets of sadness or lonesomeness or a descent into nightmarish familial patterns or a sense of wrongness.  Even if it is only an urban legend that suicide and depression rates are higher during holidays, it can sure feel the case (just today I received a message online looking for a man who’d driven away on Friday and who had friends were worried about him).

See, I know my mother pretty well, and I think her Thanksgiving isn’t turning out too awesome – yet.  Two of her three children aren’t coming up for it.  And although my mom is awesome in that she would never hint or guilt-trip them or even in the smallest corner of her heart think that her children “should” come up to see her (and neither do I), I also know that nothing pleases her more than when everyone does.  A thing to remember about my mother, sadly, is that even when she wants something it is very unlikely she would actually ask for it.  It’s taken me many, many years to really listen to what my mom really wants.  And to be honest, I don’t always listen, because sometimes I’m busy being directly asked for shit by my kids and husband, who are less likely to play the coquette.

Back to Thursday: my mother is not going to have dinner with her boyfriend in attendance, either.  They are still very much a couple (and are playing annoying hippie folk music upstairs as I write).  But he’s going to a place and she’s not going with him.  So, OK.

And all of this is okay, and no great tragedy.  And in the way of the suffering of many, many women I know, my mom’s little sadnesses generally don’t inconvenience anyone (ladies are good that way!) or even make themselves known to others.  In my mom’s coping and rarely-if-ever-asking-for-things-she-wants and always being so “laid back” (or at least, wanting to convey this appearance) one could forget she’s only been a widow for a little over a year.  You know, after being with my father for over 35 years.

I don’t really know the heart of my mother – although I suspect now that my dad is gone I’m the closest person who does.  For my part I plan to do my own, deliberate little bit to help her keep from a case of the Holiday Sadkins.  This morning I told her I’d like to cook all the food, if she would only buy the turkey.  She agreed to this with such alacrity I was immediately glad I suggested it.  (Let me tell you, this offer of mine did not come from an obligatory sense of rescue or my role as the matriarch to the family here at 6th and M.  It’s about 85% caring deeply for her emotional well-being and 15% because every goddamned year she annoys the ass off of me by saying, “And this year let’s make it a simple kind of thing, you know, not so arduous for us both.”  This makes me angry like a poo-flinging monkey because in no way do I find cooking a big meal arduous, I completely enjoy it! In fact no one has any evidence, anywhere, that I don’t really, really like to cook)*.

“Family” is a funny thing; we choose to be with those who comfort us, or feed us, or those we genuinely love. And before I was an actual mother to my biological children I thought a lot about myself and what I wanted. And now I think a lot about what other people want (even if I miss the mark a lot too – and I do).  I am not at all saying this post-natal experience of other-care is Natural or Universal (in fact, I think neither).  It’s just my experience.

Today at the store I stood in line behind a handsome man about my age dressed in fancy-looking tennis shoes, new jeans, and a North Face jacket.  He was well-groomed and quiet – his voice so low that when he turned and smiled and said something to my daughter I didn’t hear what he said.  I noticed we were fixing to have the same meal – spaghetti – for dinner tonight.  He was having a simple version – a small parcel of pasta, canned pasta sauce, and a loaf of bakery bread – while I had a basket full of parsley, baguette for toasting the bread crumbs in the meatballs, organic beef and pork, Parmesan cheese, crushed tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and butter.  In noticing his groceries I noticed he didn’t have a wedding band.  And I almost – almost – asked if he had a Thanksgiving plan, and if he’d like to come to our place to join us.

But I didn’t.

Who knows.  Maybe the guy isn’t single, just not wearing a wedding ring, and neither he nor his partner care to cook.  Maybe he’s happily single and that’s his favorite meal.  Maybe (likely!) he has somewhere totally awesome to be on Thursday.  Maybe he doesn’t give a fiddler’s fuck about the holiday.

Or maybe like so many other strangers I’ve offered a meal or a kindness to, it would have made his night just a little more pleasant to be asked, let alone attend in two days.  I will never know because didn’t get the ovaries up to check.

I hope at least he felt my friendliness behind him in the checkout line.

* No, really.  This is insane. Every year she talks like we’ll have a SMALL meal (we never do), and that whew-won’t-that-be-a-relief, when in actuality I look forward to cooking the meal.  Something I hate: when someone tells me how I feel – instead of listening to how I’m telling them I feel. Especially when they get it completely wrong. Especically when they’ve known me since I was born!

portland / pasta / perfect

Today at 7:30 AM Ralph has the van gassed up and loaded with bowls of breakfast (homemade apple pie and slices of sharp cheddar cheese), a fresh thermos of coffee, and the kids’ clothes in the home-sewn backpack; as I’m staggering out of the shower finger-combing my wet hair he tucks the sleepy children into their booster seats – swaddled in blankets freshly warmed in the dryer, I shit thee not. (The kids’ normal wake-up time is something around 10:30 AM – on the rare occasions we wake them early they love this breakfast-on-the-road procedure).

Ralph is our hero.

My foursome and my mother load into the van and we’re off on the road to Lacey where we catch the train. Our mission: to pick up my mom’s van in Portland and meet up for lunch with my brother and sister before returning home.

Nels was up a couple times last night vomiting. At midnight he is crying as I soap him off in the tub: “I don’t get to go on the traiiiiin…!” I tell him well, maybe, we’ll see how you’re doing tomorrow. Yeah, we’ve paid his fare and all but it’s more than that: he’s never been on the train before. I know he’ll love it.

Nels makes it up to Lacey with only a dry heave or two and we catch the train with about ten minutes to spare. The trip to Portland is sunny and beautiful, the view out the windows serene and fascinating. The kids are less interested in sightseeing: they clamber around the train, help themselves to the dining cart, and are completely at ease including scoping the efficient little bathrooms with their carefully stocked soap, paper towels, and warm water. As I was on vomit-duty the night before I am feeling a bit punchy, as well as edgy that it is possible my son may vomit again. Sure enough, about thirty minutes before our arrival and Nels darts up and runs to the bathroom, to make it perfectly in time to vomit without a speck of mess anywhere. A pro. Thus concludes any sign of an illness of any sort.

We catch a cab through Portland to meet my brother and sister at his place where my mom’s car is stashed. From there to an Italian restaurant where I enjoy butter and sage roasted squash, broccolini, a very dry martini (I cannot remember the last time I had one), and caprese salad. There are more pleasant things in life than good food – but the combination of wonderful fare and family is rather irresistible and it must be admitted, a favorite past time of mine.

We end our Portland excursion with a trip up to Sophie’s possibly favorite park of all time: Mt. Tabor. The kids are rather docile and sweet except for Nels’ choice to pull down pants, pull up shirt, and pee. On the top of a volcano. In a public park. Miraculously – due to his speed and a serendipitous and marginally talented “drum circle” that is keeping many park goers occupied in that general direction – no one seems to see him. Except my sister who always seems quick to point out the ways kids do socially unacceptable things. Since my kids in turn are quick to comply with craziness, this works itself out well.

We say our goodbyes to my siblings and load up in the hot car. The trip back up the highway the kids both fall asleep; having shed there summer clothes, sweaty, their cheeks flushed. The conversations with my mother are wonderful. We talk about my dad; there is never a lack of discussion material, there. We stop at Burgerville in Chehalis and the children revivte to devour large portions of cheeseburger, milk, apple slices, and strawberry shortcake. We are back on the road and the kids are fully restored.

At home and Ralph had performed the yard and garden work (and watered our tomatoes, the first of which will be ripening soon), and cleaned the house. Fleet Foxes playing and I run a hot bath to soak my bones for a bit.

It might sound a bit busy, but for me it was a really. good. day.

and upon returning i find the cats are truly disrespecting us, still

Our trip to Portland this last weekend proved a nice episode. I took my daughter, my car, and my bike. The idyllic roadtrip feeling did not last because my bike was a bit wobbly on the car and I ditched it at our favorite li’l hippie bakery for Ralph to pick up. Despite this sense of fail the rest of the trip went well. We arrived at perfect weather, I didn’t overdo it on the activities list, I made it to a dear friend’s bachelor party (or actually, I made it to one part of three of said celebrations), and most fun, I saw loads of my brother and sister and we walked most everywhere.

I felt oddly disconnected from my daughter most of the weekend. This was because I spent a lot of time with my siblings who are grownups, and I tend to wish to relate to them in grownup fashion. In fact when I’m around grownups I’m sometimes not “present” for my children which means I start to miss them. Many other adults are amazing with my kids and very sweet, but the only real grownups who don’t pull me off my kid-compass are Ralph and, to a slightly lesser extent, my mother, both of whom somehow integrate with me and the kids, and that’s a good thing, and I appreciate it (best sentence ever for far too many commas).

I missed Nels and Ralph so much. Coming home to them was the most calming feeling.

this sentence contains appreciation

I had a difficult time this last weekend. And what I want most when I’m having a difficult time is company. Not necessarily to talk about my troubles, not to do my dishes nor sponsor me in a spa trip or even drink with or have a shopping spree. Simply someone to talk with, recreate with, cook with or for (I love cooking for people), go out to talk over a coffee, and relax. Time is something my FOO gives very sparingly, with vague limits suddenly and mysteriously imposed, with reneging of original plans and a culture of denial that original plans even existed. I am probably the only of the four of us who is generous with their time in an open and honest way and a clear communication of boundaries. I also note that when someone is having a hard time, I love to help them. I appreciate all the times I’ve been directly asked because it’s hard for me to know sometimes when someone wants my help or to know how to give it.

There’s a fifth member of my genesis family – my half-sister Jules, who was raised for the most part by her father. I wasn’t thinking about company or family this weekend when I emailed her and told her I was having a hard time. However her immediate response was to literally drop everything, rent a car, drive from Portland and take me to dinner (all with very grateful and slightly overwhelmed thanks). It was at first hard for me to accept her offer because – I don’t know. Some part of me didn’t want to admit I wanted that time. Part of me suspects that some people make these amazing offers and don’t mean them (this is actually rare I think). But mostly it’s just that growing up and now my family didn’t work that way. They don’t seem to need help, expect it, or offer it. One result is I have trouble knowing for myself when I need help and what kind to ask for. I also feel sad asking for help and very sad being rejected. I am working to be different than the way I was raised.

The closer I got to expecting Jules the more excited I got. I began to realize I was going to have a night off from the family. I was going to have all the time to talk and listen that I could want in a visit. We were going to enjoy food or maybe rent a movie or go to a movie or stay up half the night. It was going to be open-ended. She wasn’t going to tell me she was staying until such-and-such a time then suddenly leave early (classic FOO behavior). She was going to tell me she was leaving Tuesday afternoon and that would be when she left. She was going to believe me and support me when I told her my troubles (not “hint” at how I should or could do things better or differently). A part of me even distantly surmised she was being so generous with her time because I myself had made the same priorities about twelve years ago as her relationship with her husband was faltering (they later divorced). I was a young college student who knew nothing about marriage and I don’t know how much help my advice or presence could have been. But I remember riding the bus as often as I could to hang out with her and do whatever she (or we) wanted to do. I remember spending so much time listening to her and caring very much about her and Mark. I realized I have this incredible gift in her and a few of my friends; true, adult friendship that is give and take. It would have been easy in some ways to say “No, but thanks.” I’m glad I didn’t.

Jules got here at 6 PM and as soon as my daughter’s swim class was over I found her and we went out. I hadn’t dined in the restaurant we ended up choosing in a long time – over a decade. We also immediately met and began chatting to two men on the Tour de Fat. I ate every single bit of my dinner and had a bloody mary. I started feeling much better. Ralph took the kids to my parents’ where they had a slumber party / video game night in the upstairs guest room. Jules and I stayed up until 4 AM just talking. I ate too much candy (I literally had a candy hangover the next day) but my sleep was deep and only cut short by the morning responsibilities of my own children.

One problem with taking half a day off: you want more! And I intend to get it. Everyone should try for it, if they can.

another Big Fun Weekend

Saturday we biked everywhere. It was great. To my parents’; back home, out to the Y for swimming; to Casa Mia (after an hour and a half of swimming in the pool, Nels ended up ala “Sleepy Nacho” at the table); then back home again. It was fun. At one point Ralph, happily exercising serpentine-like motions on the bike trailer, flipped it over. Yes, the trailer with my children in it. I was listening to my iPod (Steve Earle) and luckily did not hear it go over, but I saw it go over. At which point I pulled to the side of the road, calmly removed my earbuds, and screamed,”Jesus Fucking Christ!” at Ralph. A group of guys out in their yard working on their 4×4’s averted their eyes as we picked.

The kids were completely unhurt, unrattled and barely registered anything had happened. Ralph solemnly apologized, kneeling down to them (as I calmed myself) and the kids were like, “whatever, nothing happened.” That bike trailer rocks, by the way, and it turns out when you use safety equipment properly it really makes a difference. I shudder to think of them unstrapped.

Speaking of profanity, my sister visited for three days and nights. My children love her; Nels especially desires nothing more than for her to constantly watch his every move, many of them no less impressive than shoving a whole banana into his mouth or splashing in the pool. “Root at me, Aunt Juliet!” Anyway, she ended up buying me a shirt I’ve found completely hilarious since my all-time favorite blogger did a little satirical commentary on it over a year ago.

where you at

I’ve been wanting to visit my sister for a couple months now. So instead of coming home on Sunday with my family, I did just that instead. My father attempted to spoil my plan by refusing the necessary use of one of his vehicles (or sort of refusing – offering a mean-spirited grunt, is more like it), so I merely bought train fare, provided Ralph with a scant dozen list of friends to babysit Nels, packed a bag for Sophie and I, and asked my parents for a ride to the train station (which they kindly acquiesced to).

Amtrak is heading downhill from what I can tell. Shortly after I boarded there was a ticket kaffuffle, the train was late (and didn’t make up time; it never seems to try), and the two men in seats next to ours managed to drink a heck of a lot of beer purchased in quick succession in the “bistro” car. Both men were enamored of my daughter; the younger of the two showed Sophie pictures of his two-month old daughter and plied her with offers of food and finally, a “lucky rabbit foot” (which will be disappearing sometime in the next few days). An early instance of what I suspect will be many, many times my beautiful daughter will attract the attention and unsolicited gifts of older, slightly creepy, men. However these two did not cross any line of decency or courtesy, and my daughter held very impressive conversation with them. Our experience was just part of being a girl, I guess.

Sophie likes the city. Right after disembarking from the train and meeting up with Jules, she took us to a funky restaurant downtown that specializes in unusual Cajun-esque cuisine, communal tables with nice linens, loud rock and roll (Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi featured during our meal), awful, and I mean awful waiter jackets, and giant tinfoil sculptures for the wrapped leftover (Sophie got a “boxing bunny” made by a ten-year veteran server). We made it to bed about midnight, and Sophie slept the sleep of the dead beside me.

The next day after a cozy sleep in my sister’s apartment (my singleton friends and family’s studio and one-bedrooms fill me with such envy!) Juliet made us a lovely pancake breakfast. My daughter ate pancakes and cereal, milk and then, after a rather short neighborhood walk, stated: “I’m hungry”. Back to the apartment for fruit, cheese, and crackers. Then a scant hour later: Mexican food at an authentic, tasty, inexpensive restaurant.

In the afternoon the three of us met up with friend Reece and boyfriend Tristan at a slightly less exotic location in NW Portland. It was good to see Reece again; he is no longer the skinny, gawky boy who flapped alongside me as Uncle Growley (??) to my Wicked Witch of the West in our freshman high school production of Wizard of Oz (gee, and he ended up going fag. Who knew?) but rather a somber, beefy, bearded hunky man. Sophie behaved well as we discussed jobs (both boys have interesting ones, at least to my occupation-starved mind), children, Beyonce, housebuying, and Portland diversity. We say goodbye and head to a trendy market for dinner groceries (I’m cooking) before heading to her apartment for some downtime.

Buy, buy, buy – the city. I am being judicious – only buying things I already wanted to purchase before I visited (OK, and honestly, the list of my “wants” isn’t that long!). I don’t know how I’d navigate if I lived in the city; but indeed the choices might make my life easier. It is certainly wonderful to have a Portland veteran as my guide; I have only to say, “I’m looking for Aveda,” before she happily takes me there.

Sophie watches a nature show on VHS; my laundry tumbles in the basement downstairs in the complex. Time to get dinner started and refresh ourselves for more city life.