saga through the marionberry lane

Despite having a relatively adventurous streak as a Mama, I sometimes get stage fright before embarking on even the simplest of errands out. Another bike ride today, this time out and back on Preachers Slough via Monte. We’re supposed to leave by 9:30 but I dither about and check and re-check that we have a basket full of food, raingear (fifty percent chance of showers, which in Washington State always seems to amount to a hundred percent yes), water, my coffee, lipstick, car keys. We end up leaving the city limits over an hour later than I’d originally planned.

The trail itself is a deceiving, friendly little endeavor for the first greater part of a mile. Sophie, installed on her larger bike, complains a bit about the soft, gravel surface which differs quite a bt from town riding. Nels spots flora and fauna, expertly identifying the plants he already knows. “We passed some butterfly scat,” he says casually, and I almost fall off the bike laughing at his casual, knowing tone. Despite weather that alternatively heats up humidly and dips down into cold rain showers, he is a friendly presence huddled on the back of my X, hugging his arms around my waist and now and then disembarking to earnestly chase white moths.

The trail gets entirely rougher, becoming what would likely be a pleasant hike but serves as an irritating, sluggish ride. We soldier on, the kids accepting my, “Not too much farther”. The going gets worse, marionberry bushes and birch branches reaching out to lash us on the narrow trail (after one such snag I ask Nels if he’s alright and he replies, in the same casual tone as before, “It’s just some Old Man’s Beard [the type of tree moss most common here]”). We can’t be much more than 1/2 mile away from the west trailhead when the spongy ground gives way to golf ball-sized gravel slipping and sliding under our tires. I suggest to the kids we pull the bikes off the trail and continue on foot a bit, just to see what’s ahead.

We walk for a bit but my children are feeling hungry. I send them back to the bike and crouch off the trail to relieve myself. As I’m finishing up I hear a the roar of rain on the tree canopy. “OK, that sounds like real rain,” I’m thinking. Figures: here when we’re at the apex of our journey. Pulling up the jeans, moving back on the trail and scooping up my open coffee cup (yes, I bike while drinking) and I see that it isn’t rain splashing in the deep-brown of my beverage, it’s large-scale hail. Nels is thrilled; Sophie, back at the bike with her mitts in the lunch basket, pulls back and hunches, her braid forlorn over her shoulder, her body the picture of despair. As I get closer I see she is indeed crying. “Why do you do this to us?” she throws back her head and wails, blaming me not for the ride but for the precipitation.

The bikes are in a relatively dry spot; I pull the kids under the tree and hand out a few items for ther nourishment. Sophie asks for the soft, banged-up strawberries – “Those are the sweetest.” I sip my coffee and pack the bike as best I can; I know the three miles back is going to be mildly unpleasant.

At first Sophie’s tears continue as we slowly make our retreat on the now even-wetter ground. I am often at my best on our bike rides, perhaps because there are no phone calls or pets or laundry or messes I am beholden too. I don’t feel impatient or miserable but rather proud of my kids – knowing what they’re capable of, knowing what they will enjoy. Soon my daughter is no longer sad and I have forgotten the chill; she tells me when she’d like to get off and walk (“They shoud have paved this trail,” she mutters) and gamely gets back on when she’s ready to ride. During this trip she she has been learning to mount and dismount this larger bike, a skill earned while preoccupied merely with keeping old branches out of the spokes of her wheels. I tell the kids that getting to the car, we can turn on the heater and strip off our wet clothes, finish our lunch.

The only thing that makes the warm car trip even better is the back-to-back Queen songs on the radio: “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle”. Sophie sings along at the top of her lungs. We get home and the kids run into the house in their underwear; I haul in seeming loads of wet laundry.

Awesome: I… Biked That!

I ended up determined to bike from Vance Creek Park to the Satsop nuclear power plant today – the latter abandoned and now serving as some kind of odd industrial / half-assed business park, but infinitely more recognizable to those heading to the beaches as semi-iconic twin towers (my friend’s grandmother used to call them “ladies’ girdles”). My father had told me about this bike ride; Ralph and I had attempted it about a year or two ago (with kids in bike trailer) but after what seemed like a long slog we thought we’d gone off the track, so we cut it short.

I don’t know why I made this trip the point of our day. I know I wanted to find and finish the route my father had told me about. I wanted to get some fresh air and exercise. I wanted to be close enough to these giant towers – I’d never seen them in the flesh before – to touch them. I didn’t want to bike; I wanted a goal destination.

So here I set off with plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and my two children, the eldest installed on her own bike. I had no idea of my route or the distance required or if we’d turn around after only a couple miles. I remember my father saying something about “13 miles” – but I didn’t know if he meant round trip, or one-way. I’d also heard him mention an ascent for the last part of the journey – and this worried me. For my father to even mention a hill meant the hill was likely ass-kicking.

Sophie didn’t enjoy the first leg of the trip, an admittedly mildly-unpleasant run accompanied by the sounds of highway car travel. In just a mile however all signs of highway traffic had disappeared and we were in a lush farmland. The children exclaimed in joy – tree farms, cows, verdant meadows, the river, a huge group of pheasants gibbering and running about. Very few feral dogs, thank goodness. I kept saying, “See those towers? That’s where we’re going.” Sophie asked if we could turn around. I said, “No, I think we can do it.” After a while we both believed it.

The trip went on. And on and on. And then: up and up and up. I began to doubt my worth as a parent to drag my girl up this hill in the scorching heat. After a while I was saying, “We’re almost there,” because I could not imagine climbing more than we were climbing. Food trucks passed; Schwans, Fiesta. OK, so, wherever we ended up, there were other people there. The road was not busy but when people did speed past their faces were smiling or their mouths in an “o” shape – I swear my Xtracycle looks like a jalopy, loaded with tow-headed gap-toothed kids and a big grass basket and my body all muscle and fat rolls getting us up the hill.

At the last steep ascent, as we walked it in blistering sun, Sophie said, “When we get to that sign…” and I thought she’d say we were turning around, but instead she said, “I’m getting back on.” We rounded the corner and there it was – close enough to touch the tower, a monster, and a triumphant sail down and up the last dip, as fast as we could both do it. The kids loved how the tower burst out of the greenery; I had tears in my eyes. No photograph (and there are many online) can encompass the feeling of being dwarfed by these massive towers, or my elation that myself and my two wee children had made the trip on our own, the seven-year old on her own steam.

There wasn’t much else to look at, a few employees, a few forklifts. The view was incredible; we’d been biking steadily uphill for the last third of the ride and were surrounded by the mountains and the greenscape that make the area so lovely.

Just as we’re coasting triumphantly along the summit of the hill, about to settle at a picnic table for lunch, the unimaginable (or the shockingly predictable) occurs: Sophie’s back tire shreds. Which is funny, because my LBS practically gave me this bike and those tires were balder than a newborn baby’s ass, and I remember thinking, really? regarding the tires, but I trusted they’d be OK. Of course Sophie puts miles on her bike like no seven year old I’ve met.

As the kids ate (fresh fruit salad, black forest ham on french rolls, Doritos, water and more water, chocolate covered raisins) I pondered my options. I could find someone in the business park and phone Ralph, whom I could count on to find a way to rescue us; who would have bought us a new bike to return on had I asked. Better, though, to make it back on our own. Sophie obligingly got on the ruined bike tire to see if it could go – she said it “wasn’t much different”, but of course, it was not rideable. So it was down to me. Well, I could do it. Or have a really shitty time trying.

As the kids finished eating I put the front tire of her bike in my pannier and bungeed the stem to my V-rack. Sunscreen, extra clothes, water, basket – all loaded up – even more Joad-like than before, with a third wheel and extra kid clinging on. Then we were off. I painfully rememberd two large hills on the return trip; I couldn’t let them slow me down too much or I’d feel defeated. We went down the dips before the uphills fast; I put the bike into gear and cranked it, making a surprising amount of momentum for the uphill. Then when we’d be on the upswing my kids (unasked) would hop off and walk the few feet to the summit as I granny-geared it, then just when it was prudent for them to be on they would jump back on. I never had to stop. Sophie turned herself backwards to position herself for any oncoming cars (while on this trip the kids came up with a code – cars coming from behind us: “Incoming!”; cars travelling towards us: “We’ve got company!”). I may have done all the pedalling for the return trip but it was a team effort. It felt wonderful.

At about 4:45 we rolled back to the park to my mom’s old pickup. The best part of the trip is that the kids and I were still laughing as we finished. No trail of tears here; we’d made it.

All in all, we biked over 15 miles. My dad would have been proud.

i couldn’t think of a post title, but as i type this my husband is explaining the details of crucifixion to my children

Today I knew something about myself concretely: I will not be the mom who has a hard time with my kids growing up and growing older and getting a life separate from me.

No, but really. And this is a good thing for me to know.

Let me explain. Today’s trip to downtown HQX ended in a rather frustrated attempt at the bike shop: intending to order both riding gloves and a new helmet for my daughter, I had to leave after not being waited on for several minutes (this happens sometimes and I do not hold it against the oft-busy shop owner) and experiencing a exponential increase in douchey behavior from my secondborn. So fine: bike errands another day. Not a half hour after we return home I hear the children talking outside to some grownups and join them to see my daughter talking with our friends and sporting a new helmet. I am completely amazed at this and thinking – I did not even update my Facebook status to indicate helmet shopping. I didn’t even tell my husband! No: it turns out earlier today my daughter had called a friend of the family’s to invite him on a bike trip. Apparently they got chatting on this and that and Sophie revealed that A. she needed a new helmet, but B. she was sad to see her old one go as these friends had adorned it with a sticker she loved. So here our friends are, providing her with a lovely helmet with a second charming sticker – and she’s wheeling around in it, having manifested a own solution nicely.

I might not be able to explain this to the childfree – and perhaps even some fathers I know. But my life often revolves around the constant assessment of my children’s needs and acquisition of said sundries or provisions. Just before the cold weather set in this year I remember trying to explain to my mother how small I felt that most of my waking thoughts were on boots, coats, and gear for my kids to keep warm. She thought I was saying something I wasn’t (I think about feeling inferior in some way), becaus what I wanted to convey was a constant running preoccupation that borders on obsessive thought.

I cannot be alone in this. Everytime I pull a load of clothes out of the dryer I note the wear on the pant hems, the elastic popping out of the underwear’s waistline. Every time I open the fridge: how much milk is left? This is not because I am particularly fastidious, controlling, or even that excited about the mundane details of running the household. This is because seven years ago I hit the ground running with a newborn, the experience like a sledgehammer to the chest and suddenly altering my adult life of, Ho hum what’s my schedule today? into a sprint where you are required, at first, and for years, to meet every single need of a living, growing, high-energy lifeform – who by the way, makes your heart leap and your breath catch in your throat on a regular basis, running the gamut from an almost oppressive experience of deep love to the worst kind of worry a human being could feel – and one never knows when these staggering emotions may be invoked.

The acquisition of a helmet is of course, no big thing. But watching my children figure out their own goals and priorities and make these things happen is a pride and a privilege – and only a bit disorienting in that I’m hardly needed.

Next week we are considering sending the kids to a five day sports camp at the YMCA. The seven-hour-a-day program includes lots of sports activities, a field trip to a bowling alley, a day at camp, and roller skating (although I hope not at our local rollerskating rink where they’re likely to get knifed by a gang of mangy ten year old boys with shiv-sharpened peppermint sticks). If we put the kids in the program the amount of time I’ll have to myself will likely feel at first startling, then quickly be frittered away in my fashion. The camp is also $120 per child: no mean sum, even with my little paycheck as a sewing teacher at the college. I think it’s funny that many people use daycare or school to allow them to earn a second income; I decline such convenience, and here I am on spring break considering blowing $240 on my kids so they can have a great time. By “funny” I mean, occasionally I think I am completely stupid not to do things the way most people seem to, because by the dollars and cents, I don’t make sense.

More biking today. Cycling with my daughter is a delight. I realized today that it’s not just the lack of fifty-something pounds on the bike that makes our trips so much easier – it’s the fact she and her brother aren’t being annoying together on the snap deck (where about one trip out of five they piss me off so badly I finally “pull the car over” and chew them out, humiliating for us all since unlike a car anyone can hear me bicker). Nels’ persona on the bike is different now that he’s alone; he clings like a spider monkey, rubs his cheek against me, kisses me, watches for traffic, and sings songs of his own authorship. It’s lovely, really. I think if everyone spent more time on a bicycle they’d probably get along better, with everyone else.

make way for ducklings

When my children play together they often do this goofy narrative back and forth: each building on the other’s last sentence, a storyline that weaves in and out peacefully and organically. “And then you find out that I was really a dragon, and you jump up in surpise.” “And then we go to your cave, and you find out there’s another dragon living there, and he has stinky feet!” and so on, and so forth.

Today felt like that for me: a series of wonderful, imaginative and highly-enjoyable events I didn’t necessarily know I was in for. First, after breakfast, we all cleaned the kitchen – together. I still get a bit choked up remembering getting actual, concrete help in housework from my children. We loaded up on our bikes, determined to make the best of it despite the schizophrenic weather. Yes, I say “bikes”, as my daughter rode solo for her first cross-town trip, traveling from my house all the way to the bike shop and then the Deli and back. At the shop Terry set us up with a tweener-bike: something temporary in between the very small version my in-laws just brought us (more suited for Nels, who is now attempting to ride it) and the very large, very new bike that awaits a wee bit more experience and an indiscernable amount of arm’s growth (at Terry’s, after finding us a pink Huffy and spending twenty minutes fine-tuning it to Sophie’s size, I was charged $10 to roll the new bike out the door).

At the Deli I ordered the kids corned beef and cabbage: they had to at least try it. This also felt great – the perfect balance between an irritation that my kids aren’t experiencing something different, and a dogmatic, “You must eat this!” approach. They didn’t like it, much, but at least ate some (the rest was brought home for Ralph). It looked like fierce rain was on the way: back on the bikes and home for a bit of Darby O’Gill And The Little People. At 2:30 we headed out again to sewing class, where my children and a friend of our escort each sewed a pillow case – every stitch made by the children. The instructor told me Nels was the youngest, at four, to use the serger. She almost paid for it with her fingers, too. The sewn item in question is glorious, and looks like it was crafted by an adult. All three children did a great job and it surprised me how much I enjoyed watching them do it.

Here’s the thing: it was irrelevant to feel proud of my children today, watching them do what they do, precisely because it’s them, not me, who does it. My daughter’s bicycling ability was beyond what I could have imagined; not just the mechanics of balance and steering – but her traffic knowledge. “I’d like to get off and walk now – this doesn’t feel safe,” she tells me, turning back to look at me before crossing the trecherous Riverside Bridge. Traffic signal, sidewalk, highway crossing – she was the model of cycling know-how. And I realized at once that A. this comes from the fact I bike so much, and have been, with the kids on the back of the X absorbing the ebb and flow of cycling, and B. once again, there is no stress or worry required in thinking of how we might “teach” our kids a skill. Our kids learn these skills when they’re ready – and they learn them much more quickly than we can force it on them!

I experienced the Mama-duck bike moment – far less weight to haul on the X, as well – with more freedom than I would have guessed. Today we are a biking family, in a new way! And it’s not my agenda in particular. When we got home Sophie went outside and spent another hour on the bike. I wasn’t prepared for how touched and thrilled I felt that she likes it as much as I do.

the sun is in the sky oh why oh why

It felt like I kept running into beautiful people today. First, there was the trip to work with my kids:

Precious Cargo
Nels is all smiles about ten minutes before he and I had a huge throwdown involving taffy. Photo by Sophie.

Cat Wants In
Did I mention the cat rode on the trunk of my car a city block yesterday when I left? Here he has just been rebuffed in his efforts to join us. Packed in the bike: swimgear for three, embroidery project of Sophie’s, spices for today’s soup, my purse, various warm hats.

After I took this picture I pulled into the neighbor’s back driveway to get out of the way of the alley. The neighbor soon emerged and eyed me askance as I packed. I explained I’d be on my way in a minute but she looked unfriendly and unconvinced. Sometimes I think people are really boggled by the amount of kid-age on the bike; I get a lot of stares. 90% of them are friendly, but not always. I look forward to the day when many, many more people carry many more things on bikes on many more of our roads.

Kelly + Coffee + X = Heaven!
Ralph bought me a new coat; I’ve had the same outdoor coat since my marriage, given as a gift. I like this one much more. It certainly makes me visible! Photo by Sophie.

Riverside, HQX
We’ve had a series of lovely sunny days for much of winter. And here I’d been bracing for rain. Sophie again operating the camera.

Docs + Fishnets + Bike
Our footgear. We borrow a digital camera; I look forward to one day owning one, especially in light of what great fun the kids seem to have in clicking away.

Today's Destination!
About to embark on a very busy shift at work. This is another rare smile of Nels’ this morning as we had yet another fight inside. After work I took my boss’ boy K. to the YMCA; lugging even more weight on the bike. Ralph brought Nels over from school and the three kids swam and swam and swam. We got home well after five.

eat, bike, eat, sleep. work in cuddles and a ridiculous film.

Another beautiful day dawns sunny and bright. Last night I had promised my daughter I would not set foot inside my sewing room, devoting my time to her alone. This proves harder than I’d thought; but I keep not only my body but my mind sew-abstinent, as promised.
After taking my son to school my daughter is given the choice of where to go for our date; she picks, not surprisingly, our favorite diner. It’s busier than usual at 1 PM. For my help in running delivery and ringing out a few customers I am comped a delicious lunch: a beer-baked brat, potato skins, bacon and avo salad, mocha breve; my daughter a hot dog and watermelon Italian soda. Delicious, but a little filling considering I am getting on the bike right now to go across town.
Back home and geared up on our two wheels to pick up Nels. I am traveling against a headwind which does not feel nice, but I am consoled knowing I will have its help on the way back. (Note: if you take too much time in Aberdeen, the wind can switch directions on Cherry so you’re battling it both ways. My dad used to do a run on this backroad and testified to the switching).
Halfway down the strip another biking mama and intersect. She has a cute outerwear coat, a girlie bike with plastic basket and a trailer that doesn’t look secondhand. She smiles and says, “Hey!” in that way that tells me she thinks I’m someone else (isn’t it amazing how we can read tone and body language?). No; we don’t know one another, and the mistake passes with a good-natured laugh. But as we pass I introduce myself and ask for her name. There are, I don’t know, five of us in the bike “scene” around here. So I have secured more info in order to stalk her (first stop: Terry’s).
In order to be warm enough on the trip I have to put enough layers on I end up unhappily sweaty – there’s something about having a cold face and hands and hot neck and body that does not appeal. I have forseen this event so have also donned an absorbent cotton bra, etc, so I can strip the layers off when I get home. After picking up the kids (and talking chicknz with another mama) I take my kids to the park and try not to puke watching them on the merry-go-round (I have been prone to motion sickness ever since conceiving children, funnily enough).
My little bike contraption still gets a lot of looks. And mostly smiles and compliments. Sophie does me the honor of hopping off at the hill and jogging alongside, much to my amusement. I love time alone with her; it brings out the best in both of us. As we pass the alley behind the tobacconist’s she pipes up with, “Well there’s a beautiful couch!”, indicating a forlorn piece of furniture stacked up on a decrepit washing machine, out in a back yard. “There’s one cushion missing,” she adds, lest I should become swept up in envious desire.

preludes to a different nest

It seems oddly fitting that at night when I come upstairs to my rather austere master bedroom (actually it’s not just mine; the four of us sleep in one huge room, I love it) and find my perfectly tidy space now has a small cluster of Legos, toy dinosaurs, and a Christmas bow lying beside my bed with my current reading material (The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials). The little hobgoblins that live here constantly move their projects – drawings, “presents” (items from home Nels gathers up and wraps and gifts us with), comic books (Sophie), nature books (both kids), and clothes scattered here and there after forays outside to check for chicken eggs or play in the backyard with all its new wonders.

I am completely comforted by the presence of my children. Last night they stayed over with my mother; while I thoroughly enjoyed a night with my husband, I also felt a restlessness. It seems backwards; I require them to tuck me in at night and can’t settle easily if they do not do so.

Today in response to a frustrating sewing project we fled out on the Xtracycle; the sunny, fairly warm weather making it a possibility. All too soon the day draws to a close and I scoop laundry, return books to shelves, and try to convince my wee rascals to let me hold them a little while before they sleep.

back from the coast

Mittens May Hamper Agility(Big silly bike mittens).

We are back from our illustrious, four night and five day vacation on Cannon Beach. I was kinda busy most the time – cooking for the group, finishing my novel (I’m done!), and doing some special sewing for installment in a local gift shop.

My sister and mother seemed to feel self-conscious – or grateful, or something – for the bit of cooking I did because they repeatedly bought us our lunches and dinners (citing fairness) at many a divine restaurant. Face it, we made money on that trip! I did get lots of sushi. This was awesome.

We took a few beach walks, too:

Jacque "Le Rock" Grande
Sophie’s favorite rock (some size perspective). She took off her skirt, shoes and socks, rolled up her leggings, and ran off into the cold surf. She is a little spirit of nature.

Billy Will Call These "Elf Shoes"
Nels had a tough time – lots of coughing, a bit of fever, and five minutes before we left he whacked his left eyebrow on a sharp, sharp corner.

Jenny! Stop saying "Silflay" every chance you get
Bunny contemplation.

rebels without a tire swing

The last couple weeks we here in HQX have been blessed with thrillingly sunny late autumn days. Today, even though my husband and I are both suffering from a head cold, we simply can’t stay off the bikes. Our destination: the bakery (previously blogged by a local) new to downtown Aberdeen.

Our children seem to fare better, behavior-wise, when we go off on road trips and even more: bike trips. They are genial, their appetite is good, and their conversation entertaining. Ralph and I can usually get more uninterrupted conversation time, which keeps us from loathing one another too much. Today I tell him my novel synopsis; he tells me he plans a celebration for the family on Tuesday (the day, God willing, he gets his new guitar). We talk about our friends, our future plans. From the bakery to the grocery store for cat food and a few dinner items. Sophie pushes the cart, Nels rides underneath.

Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love biking for the opportunity to meet new people? As we leave the store we see a man jaywalking across the main thoroughfare (which is actually, regrettably, a highway) sporting a large beard, wearing an open coat, no shirt, huge gold chains, and talking to two big friendly-looking dogs connected not to him but to one another via fifteen feet of some kind of industrial cable tied around their necks. The dogs join us; the kids and I pet them. The man is cursing (gently) at them, trying to untangle their bi-leash. He compliments the bike. He looks unclean and cheerful, his chest beneath his coat smooth and muscled but also tragically scarred. The dogs look happy. We part ways for the now.

A few minutes later at Finch Park and the kids are gamboling on the playground while Ralph and I talk. As we sit huddled on the picnic table two teenagers enter the grounds, alike as two peas in a pod with hair in their faces, half-cocked hats, screenprinted hoodies, and jeans that hug low and tight on the hips and loose on the legs. Ralph points out he sees kids like this at the parks often, carrying themselves with a self-conscious stoop to their walk and remote body language; but who do, in fact, play on the playground equipment. “It’s a commentary on childhood, and how we don’t provide for kids this age,” he says (or something like that, it sounded smart to me). Sure enough, the two boys effortlessly climb up to the top of the rope-coned merry-go-round and swing on it a bit, clearly wanting velocity. I heckle Ralph to go offer a push and, given his refusal, finally do it myself. The boys bray laughter like it’s a joke but they concede happily. I push as much as I can, my daughter joining and clambering up along with the little pirates.

I return back to Ralph and as we continue our conversation I observe the youths have now freed themselves up to play on the large swings, the teeter-totter, goofing off. They are as joyful and full of mischief as the younger kids, and no one begrudges them their company. I often think of teenagers and young adults and how little some people trust or support them, especially if they have a cigarette in or bad language coming out of their mouths.

It’s nice to just watch them play.

i’m turning heads in good ol’ G of H

This afternoon I biked the kids all the way to Cosi to meet Ralph in time for Suse’s soccer game. OK, it’s only eight miles (she says, modestly) but it’s a rockin’ eight near bisected by the most horrifying, awful bridge I’ve yet had to navigate. <shudder!> I was so very proud of the kids, though. They are cycling experts who make me very, very proud to ride with them.

So in short, major PWNAGE. On all y’all who drove cars today.

Today I talked in depth to two different people about my X and several more commented in passing or yelled out (compliments) as I whizzed by. And this is just the pedestrians I saw – who knows what the car drivers might have been thinking (“Get your fat ass off my roadway!” is one possibility).

I’m also, humiliatingly, adding more bells and whistles (actually bells and lights) to the X and hope to build (or have a friend build, or help me with) a rain canopy to keep the kids somewhat dry in the upcoming Assy Weather Season. With these additions to our SUB I will be further regaling my community soon with my antics / heroics (depending on what your views are on human-powered transportation).