I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing

So I just have to write this down. Of course.

This afternoon I receive a call and a fellow tells me he saw our fliers around town and he wants to know if there is a reward for the return of our cat. I say, uh well, I guess so, sure, kind of taken aback really. Then he claims he would go look for her and he wanted to know what I was going to offer if he found her.

I KNOW!

I’m gobsmacked. After a beat I ask him well, what do you think your time is worth. He won’t throw out an answer on this and (by now my brain is slowly cranking and I’m figuring he has my little kitty already), I offer him, with kind of amazed laughter in my voice, about half our weekly grocery money. He ups the price twenty percent and I say, Yeah, okay, thank you, and we hung up after he tells me he’s likely to find her.

Yeah, I KNOW!

An hour and a half later he calls again and says me he thinks he has my cat. I was out-of-home but Ralph was primed to make the transaction so I sent him off to do so with instructions.

And lo, it was our cat indeed.

Josie's Home (AKA

Yeah, that Josie. Looking a little off-kilter after five or so days away from home. Who knows where.

Maybe people won’t understand why today – this thing with our little creature – exhausted me, but I’m going to try to write a bit more about the episode then be done. I can think of about three ways this scenario might have gone down. The first is taking the fellow at his word: he bounty-hunts pets and charges for his time. I could spell out the reasons I think this is unlikely. But let me point out, times are fucking hard on the Harbor and that sort of thing is a possibility. There are other potential scenarios ranging from opportunistic to sinister.

What can one say when one is (potentially) scammed? My mom wrote the young man a check so we’ll be getting his name at least (I also have his phone number; adding to the potentially-sketch factor he refused to meet us at his house). Putting a stop on the check is an option but then as Ralph said, “Then who’s the bigger douchebag?” Because you know? We don’t really know what went on.

The whole scenario was bizarre, and now I’m left rather frazzled. For one thing, the anxiety I’ve felt over missing one of our critters has been like a constant tension string and in my very typical fashion, when the cat/child/chicken is safe I have a little breakdown (I’ll be back to normal soon, promise). After the first phone call, to agonize if I would see her today or if it was not her at all and I’d be left to wonder; to feel creeped out by the likelihood someone was using our vulnerability to their advantage. The little kitty is sleeping on a chair a few feet away, a couple scraps of beef in her belly and her fur smelling like strange perfume. And I’m so. SO GLAD. to have her back.

***

This evening J. and I hit Thrift City and, after an incident involving an old-school Argus Mini Palmatic 2 camera that still had film in it (and yeah, it was under $1, so we bought it and I can’t wait to develop it!) and hysterical harpy-laughter and a huge box of MINDWIZARD cards flying all over the aisle, I found the absolutely perfect writing desk. Very sturdy, solid wood, perfect shelf and drawer availability, the ideal height and width, and it amazingly matches my (favorite) overpainted and chipped green chair, and it only smells a LOT musty (ha). Wunderbar!

My Tidy World: These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

My favorite things: my “new” (and really, really sturdy and awesome) desk ($15), the smartphone and One Line A Day Five Year Memory Book from Ralph (Christmas gifts), moleskine & papermate (gifts from friends), vinyl purse from Pure Clothing in HQX ($7), silver James Bond-esque cigarette lighter (gift from same friends who gave me the moleskine), and my very trusted, rugged and quickly-headed-downhill Mac named “Balls” (purchased to the dime with an inheritance sum, about five years ago).

I’m very happy about the desk which of course precipitated a reorganization and cleaning of my papers. But my night isn’t near over. I have an incredible mountain of laundry to fold. Don’t worry. I’ll fill you in on every detail.

Partaking Of Love
(Small Stone #3*)

Steaming rice-fried-in-butter
Slowcooked beans and pot roast
At the counter, midnight,
Children warm their bellies

Small stone project

the living messages we send to a time we will not see

Ralph comes home and tells me, “I’m so glad I’m married – to you.” His tone of voice, I can tell he means something different than the other times he’s said it. He’s just returned from a quick trip to the kids’ friend T.’s house to check her in with her family. And now, the three kids out of earshot, he describes the fight he’d witnessed at the house (a place with a revolving set of grownups at all hours, noticeable substance abuse, and from what I’ve witnessed a running litany of distrust directed toward T. which is, of course, self-fulfilling) – involving grownups. The fight was bad, like bad-Scorsese-movie levels of verbal vitriol. F-bombs and gendered insults all in the living room in view of my husband while T. stared and waited and felt embarrassed. She didn’t need to feel this way, that Ralph or I would be scared off by what goes on in her home, but of course she did. On the way back to our house Ralph said to her, “It sounds like it’s not a happy house tonight,” and she acknowledged this. I am impressed with my husband as he relates this to me, his compassion and tact.

T. stares a lot. She starts a lot. She lies a bit, or more accurately, is duplicitous quite fluidly, over even minor things (I see this in many children I know). When she first visited, I’d walk in a room and she’d back away from whatever she was near, her big beautiful eyes flying up to my face. She behaves butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth polite around me, but I know she behaves differently when around other children and unobserved (or thinking herself unobserved) by grownups. One time she destroyed a little something in my house (deliberately but in that half-assed no-plan ways kids can evidence) and I was busy and I asked Phoenix if she’d be willing to send her friend home; Phoenix said yes and was quite grave about the whole thing. So was Nels. Both kids were firm in their conviction our possessions should not be broken deliberately. We didn’t see T. for over a week at which point I came across her in town and bade her a warm welcome; she was at our door not fifteen minutes later. That afternoon she explained she’d been sick.

She hadn’t been sick. She’d been ashamed; she’d been afraid.

Having so many children in and out of my life and hosting them at our house is a window to their precious and amazing lives. Their parents might voice aloud their kids’ Reputations or Characters, assign them and label them, but children have a life outside of parents and very much a life if they think they’re outside adult supervision. Given our circumstances and our lifestyle, I am able to let children Be as much as possible, and it works – even with the more troubled children who come around. Their behaviors are difficult at times but I recognize the occasionally angry reactions within me are directed by an old, old script authored by stale Fear. If I don’t “control” these children in my house, these children my children spend time with, Something Terrible will happen… I must take charge, make them see who’s Boss!

It’s a script I’m proud to say I can usually think past.

The sad thing is I suspect many, many parents would get a whiff of a child demonstrating T.’s problematic behaviors (which are pretty mild as long as one is paying attention to what’s going on in one’s house) or her family scene and these parents would just work, outright or insidiously, to keep T. away from their children and vice versa. People in my peer group, or families a bit higher up on the socioeconomic totem pole, working to keep T. and her family with “their own kind”. No one says it like that of course (gauche!). But it’s so easy for most adults to decide who their kids keep company with – at this young age. It’s easy because most kids are long-trained to not feel personal empowerment nor the rights to their own life, and most young children are happy enough to be around most any other kids, really. Deterring them from a few choice families is no major task.

T. loves my children, especially Phoenix, quite dearly. While she is here she draws pictures and drafts love letters that profess this; she brings them to me and I hang them up or put them on the fridge. In the last months she has calmed around me considerably and trusts me in some new way, but she is still quite nervous and agitated when my husband is home (another young lady who visits, who lives with a violent male in her home, is much the same). My calmness seems to have begat increasingly “good conduct” and a more settled mien from T., although I still observe troubling and occasionally heartbreaking behaviors; for instance, T. never asks for food unless she sees me preparing it and even then, she hints obliquely (which I am ashamed to say I sometimes find irritating). Tonight at dinner she gulps pasta and meatballs and waits inertly after finishing until I directly tell her she is welcome to seconds, whereupon she jumps up to get some. I remind myself, I have to do better, I have to offer her food often instead of waiting for her to hint.

Despite the fact T. often wants to be with our daughter and/or the family as much as she can, Phoenix hasn’t wanted to be at T.’s house for quite some time and now firmly resists sleepovers (unless they’re at our house) and even car rides from T.’s folk. She says T.’s family is “mean to T.” and they keep the television on loud all the time. I am again reminded integrity is not something we instill into children by regulating their actions and every move and social experience, but something we allow to develop. At age eight, so far, Phoenix is on-course in that regard.

Tonight when T. leaves she does not want a ride or an escort home. But it is dark, and Ralph and I like to take children home when it’s dark, especially if they’re on bikes and the weather is poor. Complicating this further is the fact T. has found herself in trouble for simliar conditions – her folks told us months ago they’re not the type to let their girl wander the streets at dark. So even though T. is adamant she doesn’t want Ralph to take her, my husband suggests a compromise: he will escort her but will not come inside the house.

I don’t know how long my kids’ friendship with T. will last, but the girl is welcome in my home for a variety of reasons, mostly:

She is a friend to our family.

spooks on second street

Death Stalks You
I live in an economically-depressed area hit hard – and not-fully recovered – long before the recent recession made the news. It seems every few days I hear of someone who’s lost a job through downsizing or is currently experiencing underemployment. Homes are lost to the bank and the proverbial belts are tightened. Nevertheless that didn’t prevent homes last night – even those here on “the flats” as opposed to (as my daughter’s friend’s mother called it) “snob hill” – from opening up and offering a bounty of candy; most houses did not do “one apiece” and more than I would have thought offered up full-sized candy bars. The children also came home with packages of the beloved Play-doh, a large pretty comb for each, a Barbie, and homepacked parcels of several selected candies in bags printed with adorably-creepy critters.

Littlest, Friendliest Ghoul

Really I don’t know why I was surprised at the generosity and openhanded nature of our neighbors; trick or treating in Hoquiam has always been deeply satisfying – very old school.

Ghast, Death

By the way, Nels eschewed his ghast costume this night and went as a ‘zombie’ – fully in character with his sounds and walk, but a treacherous ghoul indeed as there were no physical markers designating him as such (he wore clean, intact clothing and had no makeup – in other words, he looked just like Nels does every day).

One of my favorite things to observe when out on the streets are the many impressive Halloween displays and the talent involved in pumpkin-carving (and one day I hope to have a camera up to photoblogging these in their splendor). I complimented many a pumpkin and took many pictures, to the delight of their artisans.

Witch!

Web!

Teef

Friendly, Goofy Punkins

Phoenix is such a sweet, friendly little girl; nevertheless in her ominous garb everything she did had the effect of looking like a prescient vision of Death (here she is petting a curious cat):

Death Stops For A Cat

Una arana grande a la casa de mi madre, flotando por encima de la puerta:

Spider At The Fisher Manse

After trick or treating we set up a projector and sheet for movie watching. My mom prepared a lovely little cheese and veggie platter, wine, juice, and an altogether delightful spread for her guests (my foursome and our friends Steve and Kit). We hosted the last leg of Trick or Treaters, many teenagers. Later we got takeout dinner at Casa Mia and followed this by slices of a lovely pumpkin pie (made by yours truly and involving delicious home-roasted pumpkin) while watching The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra on the “big screen”.

Good times.

Won’t spent my time / Waiting to die / Enjoy the life I’m living

When things in my life start to unravel from the relative ease I know, I typically feel shame, fear, anxiety, and low-grade depression. The hardest feeling to disentangle Myself from is the shame, the feeling I am At Fault for scenarios that are embarrassing and public (whether I admit them or not) and proof of my failures and – this is the worst part – Could Have Been Avoided were I smarter, more efficient, had I worked a little harder. The car problems, the cats who have colds (Seriously. How can I blame myself for this? But I do.), the refrigerator cluttered, the table not set artfully for company, the sewing work that remains undone, the emails and messages from readers (and a few others) I have fallen behind on (perhaps not to recover), my unimaginative presence and my lack of beauty and worth, a wretch really. There is almost no point to talk about Failure as it is a fact I have failed on many accounts; and to do so, to be honest about my failure, risks the experience of those who’d rush in with Rescue or Advice. Even more scary at times is the knowledge of those who will step in with bona-fide Help. It is one thing to have someone do something nice for you when things are going well (“Thank you!”); it can feel miserable to have prostrated myself, even though done without goals of personal gain, to have someone hand you up and you know there is no repayment, it was merely a gift, simple and devastating. When I consider this I often just wish I could talk and have no one take action except to listen; but I also know I must allow people to follow their hearts and minds.

Releasing Control in my parenting and family life has brought a happier, healthier home and is nurturing children stronger and more joy-filled and humorous then I would have previously imagined. In the times I am weak I see how strong they are and nothing can take away the joy that re-ignites, wells up, inside of me. And after all, I am weak now but it was not always so and won’t always be so. My hard work, although spilled out and squandered and Done Wrong, has nevertheless reaped spiritual benefits both tender and tough. Within me I feel a deep love, an amusing and abiding love, and an interest in other human beings stronger than I’ve felt before. The table may have not looked lovely, but it was loaded with delicious and simple food I made with my hands. I may have been tired but I was still there. The house may only boast the meager (but beautiful) paper decorations of my children, colored with Walmart markers, and the house have little other ornamentation or beauty, but it is the dwelling of myself and those I deeply love.

Today I had the wonderful and simple experience of taking a walk in the sunshine down to the art gallery where my mother was getting off her gallery shift. I like walking in good weather more than ever; the watery light of the sun and deep draughts of our fall air is so familiar and soul-sustaining to me it seems amazing some day I will no longer experience it. At the gallery, the new pieces displayed and the Halloween accoutrement crafted by one of the artists were soothing and inspiring at once. My mother and I took her dog home and then shared lunch at the Italian restaurant – one of those meals so simple and satisfying. We talked and drank tea and enjoyed one another’s company and I felt an expansiveness, having at least done my work of house-stewardship and a breakfast repast for my (very happy-to-receive) children – homemade cinnamon rolls, bananas, and hardboiled eggs from Hoquiam hens. The mug of hot tea in my hand was a modest delight to my exhausted body.

Later I spent forty-five minutes volunteering at the Theatre (as we’ve been doing for a few years now). The conversations were normal and mundane and perfect; older fellows came through the door and flirted and I didn’t feel offended nor afraid.  I took tickets from two of my girlhood friends’ mothers; I was more happy to see them than they probably knew. I have a great caring dwelling inside me and it probably means very little and is worth hardly anything and maybe even it doesn’t show much because I’m afraid of showing it sometimes due to pride and fear. At times like this it is hard to be so public as I am here where I write. I want at times to be my tiny ugly little self and not be noticed by anyone but my family. They are in the final estimation the only beings I feel wholly safe with, as limited as this makes me.

Where do we go from here? Is it down to the lake I fear?

Last night Ralph and I were invited out to the pub where, unbeknownst to me, it was Trivia Night. Do not get me started in a trivia contest. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive because I can’t be assed to care if we lose – but I am rather good and I get hyper as hell (seven years of Nerd Bowl, most of them as Team Captain). Which is incidentally how I was during our wedding day too – hyper that is, I have it on film. So last night was a version of Name That Tune and I nailed about 90% single-handedly, “Love Plus One” by Haircut 100 and Gary Numan’s “Cars” and a handful of relatively obscure Bruce Springsteen songs and some old live Stones and Stephen Stills and Roy Orbison for good measure. And I had to do a little dance every time I got a song right (don’t worry, I varied the dance, for the legions of fans). I was a complete dud for the handful of new country songs that were played – fortunately a few other ladies on the team knew those by heart. We placed 3rd, 1st, 1st, then 3rd and won a shitload of candy which of course I had no interest in.

Today was kind of a little gift, a reminder of just how amazing people are who deal regularly with sleep deprivation and function at the same time. I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a solid six to eight hours under my belt; today I managed on about three and it hurt. My son and daughter spent the day hugging me and asking how I was doing. We had a friends’ kid over in the afternoon (and a sidewalk-chalk note from another girl who stopped by while we were out); in fact our little informal ritual of having from one to four extra kiddos during the day/evening/night is really a wonderful one for me. Today we took a late Thai lunch and I ordered for the kids and they were happy with my choice. They were such delightful mealtime companions; I don’t know if I’ve had better. Sun-dazzled and beat I drove home and had to ask them a few times to repeat themselves. My brain was a bit sluggish.

Ralph taught class tonight so I was on my own with the kiddos until about 9:30 PM. Tired as I was, it was a delight to sit in the car knitting and watching my daughter play quite energetically on the soccer field while my son wooed several other children on the playground. I waited for as long as the kids wanted to play. They were the last off the playground and we came home for a late dinner and a night in. Too tired even to knit, or maybe even drink.

Flow & Commerce

Even in my days where nothing happens, or it feels like not much, I guess I’m rather busy. Busy doing things I love more than anything. The time flies by.

Today I got up to find a Freecycler had dropped off two sets of bamboo knitting needles in sizes I didn’t have previously: 11s and 13s (I’m looking forward to knitting either some chunky scarves or hats-in-the-flat). I brewed coffee and finished laundry and dishes and sat down and worked on a wee knitting project (which is truly STELLAR; I will be posting pictures soon!). While still in sleepwear with my pillow-hair (very tangly) another friend and Freecycler stopped by with a dress for Phoenix (a lovely little import number) and I gave her my bellydancing practice skirt for her daughter to use for Halloween. Just as this woman left my mother called and asked me out to breakfast. Entirely thrilled with this I made ready and as she got here the kids stumbled out of bed all lovely and sleepy. My mom is always happy to have them along and she coaxed accordingly; Nels came with us while my daughter stayed at home. We went out to breakfast (it was really lunch) and had a long talk while Nels played PvZ and then at the questions of our server did indeed elucidate on the game and strategies (people, do NOT ask Nels about his computer activities unless you really do want to hear his answers!). I paid for lunch which made me feel all awesome. Usually my mother pays.

After my mom dropped Nels and I off at home I asked my daughter along to my errands and to my glad heart she said Yes (I was hoping to have time alone with her). I have the inkling to set up a little display of my sewn pieces in a shop or caf̩ around here so locals know there is a custom / homesewn seamstress around these parts. I have a few ideas about where and how to do this, and I have a few people I want to talk to. On our way to our first stop we talked with the proprietress of the local indie book store Рopening on Saturday!, and by the way, will be the ONLY bookstore in Hoquiam/Aberdeen with a population of 25,000 or so! Рand chatted for a few minutes. Phoenix introduced herself clear as day, stepping forward with her hand extended, her eyes clear and freckles popping.

In our recycled clothing shop I turned in a pair of Old Navy jeans and earned consignment to buy a new (to me) purse. Phoenix selected a lovely fall-color poncho and was very pleased with this. I bought her a burger on the way to picking Ralph up from work; the three of us then headed to the bakery in Aberdeen and I picked up a consignment form, coffee, and a cream puff.

At Thrift City we shopped, primarily with the goal of finding clothes for Ralph (and P.S. good sir, your total aversion to pleats is seriously hampering your choices). He futzed around in the electronics section while I came away with five pair of pants and two longsleeved work shirts for The Man, two trick-or-treat buckets for the kids, a pair of shoes for Phoenix, a few LPs selected by Ralph, and a – yes, a sewing machine, a vintage Wizard heavier than you can imagine. All of this cost $25. Doing laundry later today I reflected I’ve developed quite the system for our clothing, not formally or by design but in ways that make absolute sense for quality and frugality. I wear mens’ jeans and recycled clothing for cheap/sturidiness along with my trusty doc martens (and yeah, a big part of my Plan is to mostly just look a bit shoddy). For the kids, most of their gear is stuff I’ve sewn augmented by the occasional hand-me down and thrift store purchase. Ralph’s digs come from Thrift City as the men’s clothing there is well-made, great brands and in good shape. His socks we buy at Ross, his boxers I sew, his sunglasses he’s always losing and then buying new cheap ones (like we do here in the PNw).

At home Ralph made dinner while I resumed knitting and visited with a friend who dropped by looking for discussion/advice on her children’s schooling. Her preteen daughter sat at our feet and we all caught up together. After they left and I stitched my last on the now-finished project, Ralph and I walked down to my mother’s in the lovely fall inky-black night where I picked up some more yarn from my mother’s stash.

It really was a perfect night for a walk.

And of course, in addition to all this there were emails and tweets and IMs and reading articles and scratching kitties and a few other friends I ran into and wrestling and snuggling with my children while a handful of other kids ran in and out (in the evening Phoenix’s good friend S. came over and my kids went for a walk with her to a neighborhood fort).

If I had to pick, I’d say my favorite moments (so far!) were on my walk with Ralph, or even the moment he invited me – or maybe the hugs I shared with my face in Nels’ warm sunny hair – or maybe the minutes alone with Phoenix in the car. She was heart-achingly “appropriate” in the store; my used jeans had earned me $7.50 and she judiciously looked for pieces that cost under that – no hinting on her part for more, and no need for me to state that requirement (which in this case, I didn’t have). I told her to get what she liked and the knit poncho ($9) was something she was very pleased with. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail and looked at her beauty in the sideview mirror of our car and my heart skipped a beat. I wish when she was younger I’d worried less and felt less stress as a mother. Here she’s practically raising herself and she’s doing an incredible job.

So see there’s usually nothing particularly sublime to my days, or maybe actually everything about most my days really is phenomenal. I don’t know. Days like today are typically the way I spend our time – nothing especially exalted, but exactly the kind of bliss I’m used to regularly experiencing.

I feel very fortunate. It seems like life used to be a lot more work for me a lot more of the time.

tonight i’m strutting around with the Mick Jagger rooster walk

The washer’s been broke since Monday. The kids need bookshelves and a desk (their room is a sad little pile of books on the floor, fer realz) and now Ralph is worried we can’t do that because we’ve gotta do this other thing.

One problem, three sets of solutions:

Ralph’s solution is to go online and look up kits and DIY methodology for our errant Maytag. What’s the model number of the machine? Any diagrams? Where can I order kits and for cheap shipping? Many forums exist, many inexpensive kits, but one has to open the washer to see what the problem is…  The washer’s half-full of water which might make a mess. Ralph is balls-deep busy at work, busy enough he’s tired when he gets home (rare for my very energetic husband), and we need to be able to wash our clothes…

My mom’s solution (while I use her laundry facilities in the interim) is to offer her Sears card. She tells me happily we can go in and get a Brand New washer and just pay her off $100 a month, meaning this generous lady would carry whatever interest is charged and provide us with something nice and immediate and delivered-to-our-home.  I thank her for the offer. But:

I have my own solution. Yesterday I walk with the kids down through my childhood neighborhoods (carrying a wrapped coconut flour/zucchini/banana loaf, seriously tasty and full of nutrition, to drop at a friend’s) down to where Retired Maytag Man is, a man I’ve know most my life, he and his wife, dear friends and neighbors and community leaders. Retired Maytag Man is jovial and now quite pot-bellied, a cheerful clear voice and suspenders and a 50’s-fashionable coiffure and quick, calm speech from years of hard-working competence in his field. I used to help him do inventory at his hardware store every end-of-year and would get paid with a couple hundred dollar bills, a delightful ritual on New Years’ Night, and one year while there I remember answering the shop phone and nearly dropping the handset from pain as the volume on the device had been turned up preternaturally loud to compensate for his hard-of-hearing, a little story that makes me smile, the hardware store is long-gone now.

Within a few hours not only has the Retired Maytag Man looked at our washer and leaned against it while draining it effortlessly, he’s also given us a run-down of washer technology when we bought the machine and advised us not to put more money into it, told us we got more years than we might have expected, offered an older but better machine, a gift, gratis. Wow! Retired Maytag Man goes back to his football game to wait for Ralph and I send my husband over with $20 to ask for the neighbor boy’s help (the one next door, not that one, this one, he’s strong, he’s a good kid) and the boy isn’t home so instead the father helps Ralph, including this rather impressive washer-dolly borrowed from Retired Maytag Man and with a minimum of physical effort (especially on my part) we have the washer, and it’s just the same model but not avocado green that the Retired Maytag Man remembers from my own childhood, and he and I talk about my dad just a little bit, and I think how blessed I am to know such people, and the broken washer is on my deck where we will haul it to donate for refurbishment at the used appliance shop.

Ladies, I hope you’re reading. Not a week goes by I don’t get an email or a comment or a query, at-home parents (women) who feel they should go back to paid employment because in some way they don’t contribute to the Bottom Line, and it’s fine, work or whatever, but don’t kid yourself that while in the home you aren’t doing your Part even if that’s what so many people want to put forth. It’s not that I exactly knew Retired Maytag Man would gift us with a washer – that was a pleasant surprise and we are incredibly grateful – but I knew he’d have the exact expertise Ralph and I would want (to repair or not to repair? To buy and what to buy if so?), given especially we like to use old things, to fix and re-fix, not so much the brand new. And part of all this, truly, is the bread I bake and send to the neighbors and the conversations I have on front lawns while out with my children and the grocery store chats and the recipes traded. These are investments as well as being the joyous rhythms of our lives, the two are inseparable.

Because me? I got a good sturdy Maytag washing machine that is besides awesome also fucking adorable.

& I paid with a jar of refrigerator pickles.

***

Seriously though? The more relevant moral of the story is: Retired Maytag Man and his wife are amazing, wonderful people, and this was a lovely, lovely gift.

something needs to be done he said, as he looked about angrily

Today it’s caught up to me again, this ugly malaise, despite a day where a fair amount got accomplished and the sun shone (which always helps me); I had the honor to host a few extra kids in and out during the day and then watch my daughter play soccer while basting zippers into a particularly lovely sewing creation I’m now almost finished with. My husband had a hard day at work but he had a good time talking to me about it. He leaned against the fence and looked handsome but tired and Nels climbed all over him loving him up. Ralph and I approach our ninth marriage anniversary (one week from today) and are in the thick of our thirteenth year together. Our companionship and sense of humor and sense of purpose and connection and our love for our kids – there is so much goodness between us even though when we fight it is very ugly indeed.

Ralph and I don’t fight today, and the kids and I don’t fight, but something hurts and someting feels off. Little disappointments trickle in: a fabric delivery that will be late; late enough I have to push back a deadline perhaps – to talk to my client or hope for the best? Two packages I sent out got returned and needed to be re-delivered; my fault, I didn’t double-check addresses (Even then though, not all has been glum today as something wonderful arrived via post today which I will be sharing about shortly!). The house seems dirty and I lack the energy to clean (this is very rare). The washing machine still sits broken, half full of water which I need to do something about. My clothes are threadbare and our towels too, and I know I’ll prioritize Ralph’s workpants and towels over my own fare, and that’s fine but I hate it when it seems “everything” is wearing out at once (an illusion, I tell myself).

I deliver pickles about the neighborhood to stave off the gloom, pickles to neighbors and acquaintances, hoping to spread good cheer, I swear food helps people, I was sad last night my slow-cooked lovely fare was not eaten by my rather frail grandfather who is visiting, I remember the panic I felt two years ago when I could no longer cook for my dad because he no longer ate, the pain of not being able to gift this thing. So: pickles. If I can’t find the root of my odd feelings at least I can bestow kindness, something small but colorful and beautiful and zing! flavor.

My mother and I trade phone calls and favors and she takes the little ones out for a burger. Upon their return Phoenix’s soccer-mate I. comes over for a few hours and the girls enjoy the kitties and the chickens; neighborhood boys come and go to get an education on Nels’ impressive PvZ skills. For a boy so intent on and in love with the game he is most lovingly generous at showing other children the works, allowing them use of his netbook and his strategies, exhibiting none of the dull-eyed and single-syllable gruntings one might think would be the result of such saturation.

So the children at least live freely and happily. It would seem the neighborhood gang is attempting to suck the last few days out of their summer (school starts next Tuesday for Hoquiam kids); there is an air of desperation as they get up to malarkey (two older boys were BB-gunning the chickens today – tells me pop-eyed J. when I get home) and run about shouting and ride their bikes in circles long after the customary neighborhood sunset curfew.

Tonight I turn off the sewing machine and close up “shop” and check my salt brine crock (looking good and smelling lovely), wash my hands and sit at the table with my family and the lovely fare my husband has prepared. I’m tired, which makes no sense, but there it is.

Perhaps tomorrow things will be better.

the daily grind

A couple weeks ago my son looked directly at me and said, “I’m going to go over across the street and meet the neighbors.” This didn’t surprise me: other neighbors have been telling me how impressed they were with my children’s friendliness and directness. Our neighborhood has turned out lovely for kid-play because, quite simply, there are a lot of kids running about and our yard abuts several houses of (so far) chicken-friendly and (as far as I can tell) perfectly lovely people happy to have a chat. Many of the neighborhood kids end up at my house, some of them over and over during the day, and I’m not exactly sure why as we lack so many of the things I’ve heard today’s kids can’t do without, like television and Wiis and junk food and whatever. I’m not exactly a doting hostess either as I wander my way through writing and cleaning and cooking and sewing and grabbing a half-clove cigarette on the deck. The kids come and go and I guess I’m just kind of used to having kids around and I seem to suit this life (very funny as I grew into a decidedly anti-kid young adult, before I embarked on the adventure of having my own).

A couple days after Nels’ announcement I was walking through my living room when a small closely-shorn boychild popped out from under the table in the dining nook, grinning at me largely and wordlessly, then climbed on my couch and began to execute mid-air flips. Very nice, I told him. Soon his brothers were in and out of my house and after about an hour their uncle I. came over and asked if they’d been any trouble. Not at all. Today halfway through laundry I found myself amidst all four of these siblings running about and peering through the house. I figured a walk was in order so I asked them if they wanted me to take them out to ice cream. They said Yes but I had to spend a good deal more time rounding up their shoes and my son (who by then had climbed fences and picked apples and gone next door while I did the shoe-thing). I met the children’s parents and, wonder of wonders, retained all six new names – I am terrible with names (this family of six lives in Tacoma but visits often, as the grandmother, uncle, and a few others live here on first street). “Can you handle them?” their mother asked smiling; I noticed her hair was pulled into an elaborate coiffure with purple glitter strewn through it. I wasn’t sure if I could handle four kids I didn’t know well on a walk along a highway but I said Yes and it turns out I could.

Off & Away

We ended up taking quite the circuitous route through train tracks and back paths even I had never crawled over as a child. Kids loving climbing on abandoned trains and I figure it’s a birthright. The elder kids helped the littler ones (the age range was three to eight) and it was an amiable and energetic journey. As we left Adams street for the houses and trailers tucked in back lots I heard suddenly bright and vibrant yelling; a woman thirty feet away was calling to the children and so was her brilliant, preternaturally blue macaw – the animal’s voice very, very eerily like a human being’s. As one pack the children streamed over the tracks to sway, entranced, and observe the birds.

Entranced

M. & Her Birds

Cockatoo

I introduced myself and she told me her name was M. I don’t know if she lived in the trailer (I think it was for the birds) but as we talked her elderly mother drove up and parked and smiled and went inside the house. I asked M. if I could take a picture of her and the birds. I could barely get a word in edgewise and you know I’m a pretty talkative person.

M. Tells Me A Story

The birds were rescue animals and she told me a bit about how to know if a bird had been captured in the wild or bred in captivity. She was pleased when I recited I’d read 75% of wild birds caught died; she was clearly passionate about these animals.  I wished I’d been less occupied with the children and I was less photo-shy because I would have loved to focus on a better portrait of she and her birds to print out and bring back to her. Maybe I’ll do it all the same.

We thanked her and went on our way; a half a field later we came across a friend’s mother L. with her dogs and I caught up with her, sliding right into conversation as I helped children up and then off the railcars as they requested it. By the time I said goodbye to L. the children were clustered near one of the old Lamb’s buildings and expertly knocking out windows with satisfying splashes. I made them stop although it must be confessed I would have liked to do one in myself. Little by little and through a bramble patch we made it to the hamburger stand for hard ice cream. Three bubble gum, two rainbow sherbert, and chocolate brownie. The children didn’t mind at all sitting next to the dusty highway to eat.

Spoils Of War

The four neighbor children flagged a little on the walk back but we made it home okay.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I feel a little tired here in the summer with the extra responsibility of other people’s kids, a responsibility I take on willingly enough but is a different pace from even a month ago before the weather turned. In addition Ralph’s schedule is such he works longer days (ameliorated by a short Friday) and with only one car between us he’s either kept away from home for a period extended by bus schedules, or I’m at home on foot or bike with the kids.  Breaks for me feel few and far between. I’ve learned to be patient and wait; soon the perfect moment will come of calm and peace and only a few dishes before I can sew for even a few moments in the quiet.  Maybe one day we’ll even have both cars running or some extra cash. I’d love to buy the kids some more books and a couple of small desks or maybe curtain rods for our austere little Hotel de Hogaboom staying cool from the sun.

gin and chocolate and lots of splishy splashy

It’s 2 PM. Overheard in our house:

Phoenix: “Nels, it’s time for breakfast. A good breakfast. A frosting breakfast!”

Yeah. At 2 PM. And yes, that was pretty much their breakfast: cake and frosting, and  yeah, as soon as I’m done with my morning reading and writing I’ll pull them out of the cheap kiddie pool where they’re gleefully playing with a friend recently-returned-from-vacation and a handful of other kids, and well go off on bikes for lunch out, in the sunshine, all the possibilities of the road before us.

We stayed out late last night at a party our friends threw and I got up to some drinking. So this morning I was not so much sleeping off a hangover, as sleeping off the effects of gin. By this I mean at 5 AM I woke and was still a little stumbly.  I watched two movies on my husband’s laptop (Happy Accidents and The Man From Snowy River, both really wonderful, and no that isn’t the booze talking) and drank a lot of water and took a hot shower and soon felt wonderful. By the time I fell asleep again I’d had to peel two children and four cats off me. Four motherfucking cats.

The party debauchery was the cap to a wonderful day yesterday – my husband’s birthday. We spent it together as a family indoors/outdoors, grocery shopping for birthday cake accoutrement and then a late lunch/early dinner at our favorite HQX eatery, and the kids climbed on and off our laps and Nels talked our ears off sweetly about his newest and most favorite online video game, Fancy Pants Adventures (if you’ve never met us, you can play this video game and watch the animation of Fancy Pants and that is exactly who my son is in demeanor and speed and appearance). For birthday presents Ralph took the children shopping and bought them Legos (yes, he bought gifts for them for his birthday) and while they constructed these at home I readied us for the gathering we’d be invited to, whipping a mascarpone filling and baking three layers of chocolate cake to top with my favorite glossy, rich double-chocolate buttercream frosting. The sunlight filtered through the kitchen and a low chill began to form outside as I stacked the confectionary all up and pulled aside some homemade hummus for a hostess gift.

This morning my children are so very sweet; after waking near me and holding and petting me I tell them I need to sleep a little longer, I was awake in the middle of the night. So they rise and groom themselves and get glases of milk and read to one another and begin going outside, coming inside, bringing kittens out to play, and splashing in the cheap little kiddie pool where they currently are; four neighbor boys are with them, one white and three dark-skinned, all six children in a variety of states of dress and undress. My daughter comes inside and the first thing she says is, “Mama, did you manage to get some good sleep?” She is calm and paces into my arms, her eyes are serene and clear like a tiny fierce predator.

I honestly believe in many ways my children have such a wonderful childhood, which I do not provide for them inasmuch as I’m able just because I love them, but because I care about what they will in turn provide for the others they meet along the way. And – maybe this seems odd to some – my children’s joyful life is contagious, it infuses me and changes me for the better, daily. Their lives give me strength. Last night at the party a friend told me he respected how much I seek out and consume and write on activist subjects. I told him it wore me down at times and he said, “Well thanks for wearing yourself out for me so you can provide these pieces to me.” I wonder if maybe my children and the future they hold in their hands are my reason I do wear myself out, voluntarily so. If that’s true I also recognize how incredibly restorative they are to me.

My own little joy-capacitors, and we infuse one another with loving care and joyful energy.