Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Second Time Around

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“How lucky to have been twice blessed in marriage! It has been my belief that one loves only once. I am happy to be wrong.” –Harriet Smith, Emma

***

This Saturday, my husband and I will be among the friends and family watching as my father-in-law, Mike, ties the knot with his new love, Yvonne. Theirs has been something of a whirlwind courtship, but when I look at them together, I have no fear that they are taking on this commitment lightly, no worries for their future. Dad’s eyes are glowing again, you see. I haven’t seen them lit up like this for … well, a long time.

Four years ago, after a prolonged struggle, we lost Paul’s mom to an especially aggressive form of breast cancer. She was an amazing woman. She lived with her whole heart, and her life was intertwined with those of all the people she knew. She prayed over them, worried for them, cried with them, and lifted them up with a thoughtfulness and fervor that left no one in doubt of how much she cared. There is hardly a person who knew her who didn’t receive at least one card, if not many, written in her flowing hand and full of hopefulness and encouragement. Of course, there are those who remember her as nearly perfect, but they are forgetting her quiet, mile-wide stubborn streak, and her rare, but impressive, fits of temper. These things, as much as any other, make her memory real and beloved to me, and the hole that she left when she went home still yawns wide.

After Mom’s death, Dad mourned in his own quiet way. I think he had started mourning a long time before, in the weeks and months of Mom’s illness, and when she passed on, a stillness descended, like the one that comes after a big storm, when the pounding and the noise have stopped and everything lays dripping in the sun. Somewhere in the midst of those days, peace crept in, and the sun rose and set and rose and set, and life stirred again.

Time passed, and Dad learned the ins and outs of being a bachelor, something he hadn’t been for over thirty years. Flowers appeared in his front yard, lines of color skirting the sidewalk in front of his house, and he took visible delight in rigging up an automatic watering system for them. He bought a small catamaran and began visiting the lake on every obliging sunny day, bringing back fish and no fish with equal satisfaction. Weekend camping trips allowed him to explore the backcountry around the Pacific Northwest, and he started returning from long weekends with stories and pictures from trails he hadn’t hiked since his boyhood. He took up motorcycle riding. He kept house. He was something to watch, this man, as he reached down inside himself and kept coming up with answers to the question: What now?

And he seemed okay. And he was. But something was missing. Bringing back pictures of glorious sunsets is all very well, but it doesn’t hold a candle to standing beside someone looking at the same sunset, sharing the experience.

What now? The answer was surprising, unexpected: eHarmony. In his same quiet, unadorned way, Dad prayed, reached out across the internet, and found Yvie.

When we first heard of her, it was several months after they’d met. In typical Dad fashion, he didn’t tell us anything until he was sure there was something to tell. They had visited each other’s hometowns, spent hours and hours on the phone, and sent hundreds of emails back and forth, and before we’d even had a chance to digest the news that he was dating someone, he mentioned, almost casually, that it was “pretty serious.”

“Pretty serious” is the Dad equivalent of skywriting and balloons and flashing announcements on the JumboTron.

So she came, and we met her, and I have to tell you: she is wonderful. On the day of that first meeting, she was nervous, and sweet, and the kids warmed to her instantly. (Well, almost instantly; Caleb spent a good minute and a half looking flirtatiously out from under my armpit before he decided it was safe to approach.) We spent quite a while talking, Dad and Yvie sitting close to each other on the couch, holding hands like teenagers–when they weren’t busy juggling flying kids. I kept sneaking glances at Dad’s face, which wore an expression that I would like to see a lot more of. And I think I will. After that weekend’s visit, Dad proposed.

So here we are, the week of the wedding. Yvonne arrived Tuesday, packed and breathless, and yesterday she and I spent the day together, running around buying punch ingredients and ordering extra cake and doing other last minute wedding stuff. She showed me her dress, which she sewed herself (I am in awe of that), and some of the gifts she got at a wedding shower her friends threw before she left. She was so excited and so in love that I don’t think her feet touched the ground all day. We stopped for lunch at Wendy’s and, while Caleb nibbled on a cheeseburger and played with the toy pig that came in the kid’s meal, we had the best talk. I realized then that we are going to be good friends.

Inside, I felt something let go. It might have been the very last trace of my concern.

Tomorrow, we’ll decorate the church and ready the reception room, attending to all the details of a simple, elegant wedding. We’ll drape the tulle, cover the tables, set out the guest book, and arrange the flowers. We’ll make sure there are enough chairs and that the sound system is in working order.

And the next day, a new chapter will begin in the lives of two people who know they’re not anywhere close to the end of the book. I wish them happiness.

Congratulations, Dad and Yvie!

5 Things I’ve Learned Today

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1) Those signs on the gas pump that say: “Please don’t top off your gas tank!” are there for a reason. Does anyone know how to get a petroleum stain out of gabardine?

2) I’m not low-maintenance like I’ve always thought. In point of fact, I am an undulating, mutating, inexplicable bundle of moods and neuroses. My husband deserves a medal.

3) You can teach a four year old to spit, but you can’t make him stop.

4) The statistical likelihood that company will unexpectedly drop in to visit you is inversely proportional to the cleanliness of your living room.

5) Only a fool buys an eight year old a joke book.

When I’m an Old Lady

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When I’m an old lady, I’ll live with each kid,
And bring so much happiness…just as they did.
I want to pay back all the joy they’ve provided.
Returning each deed! Oh, they’ll be so excited!
(When I’m an old lady and live with my kids)

I’ll write on the wall with reds, whites and blues,
And I’ll bounce on the furniture…wearing my shoes.
I’ll drink from the carton and then leave it out.
I’ll stuff all the toilets and oh, how they’ll shout!
(When I’m and old lady and live with my kids)

When they’re on the phone and just out of reach,
I’ll get into things like sugar and bleach.
Oh, they’ll snap their fingers and then shake their head,
And when that is done, I’ll hide under the bed!
(When I’m an old lady and live with my kids)

When they cook dinner and call me to eat,
I’ll not eat my green beans or salad or meat,
I’ll gag on my okra, spill milk on the table,
And when they get angry…I’ll run…if I’m able!
(When I’m an old lady and live with my kids)

I’ll sit close to the TV, through the channels I’ll click,
I’ll cross both eyes just to see if they stick.
I’ll take off my socks and throw one away,
And play in the mud till the end of the day!
(When I’m an old lady and live with my kids)

And later in bed, I’ll lay back and sigh,
I’ll thank God in prayer and then close my eyes.
My kids will look down with a smile slowly creeping,
And say with a groan, “She’s so sweet when she’s sleeping!”

–Joanne Bailey Baxter

Sticks and Stones

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I don’t know his real name, but around here they call him The Stickman. I’m pretty sure he’s some kind of superhero.

I first heard of The Stickman at Huckleberries Online, an internet gathering place for residents and friends of the North Idaho and Eastern Washington regions, where he and I are both regular commenters. He’s a colorful local personality known for the beautiful walking sticks he creates and gives away, and he can be found most days of the week at his home near the quiet end of the Tubbs Hill hiking trail, sitting and crafting in his garage workshop in an open invitation to any and all comers who might like to stop by and visit for awhile.

Yesterday afternoon, I took the kids to meet him.

As we drove by his house looking for a place to park, there was no question in my mind that I’d found the right man. He was sitting in a lawn chair, surrounded by sticks of all sizes and shapes, from small ones sticking out of pots on the floor to giant, twisty ones adorning the walkway leading from the front door. Still, as we walked up, I asked tentatively, “Are you … The Stickman?”

“That’s me,” he said, and with a smile beckoned us to come closer and see what he was working on. It was a small log, about four or five inches in diameter, hollowed out and decorated all over with hand carvings and stipples of paint in a lovely, native design. “This,” he explained, “is a didgeridoo. Have you heard of it?” We hadn’t, so he gave us a demonstration, explaining that it was an instrument made and used by the aborigines of Australia, and then holding it up to his mouth to create a long, deep, haunting note that seemed to hang in the air after he was done. I instantly recognized the sound from movies I have seen—Crocodile Dundee and Quigley Down Under. He also showed us a bullroarer, another aboriginal instrument, a flat piece of wood, elliptical in shape, decorated and attached to a long cord. When it is swung in hard circles by the player, it emits a low frequency, vibrato sound that is difficult to describe. It was beautiful.

The sign over the entrance to The Stickman’s workshop says “Sticks and Stones”, and it is a fitting name. The table inside was covered with small wooden bowls, each filled with polished rocks and shells. The kids squealed and shared discoveries as they looked through them, taking what they wanted at The Stickman’s invitation. He also encouraged us to choose our very own walking sticks from among the dozens lined up in a long, gleaming row against the garage wall. They were sanded smooth and soft, and decorated with an assortment of shiny stones. As we each picked one, he asked us why we’d chosen it. Katie selected hers for the deep reddish-pink stone on the end of it, while I chose one made of a gorgeous oak wood. Caleb’s was just the right height for his small frame.

The sticks and stones come from all over. The Stickman picks them up on his travels, and often wakes up to find anonymous donations of materials laying in his driveway, no doubt a gift in kind from those who have walked this way before.

The children were entranced by everything there was to see and to touch. Caleb, the proverbial bull in a china shop, narrowly avoided several spills, while Katie, my little princess, picked through each pile of rocks as carefully as an archaeologist examining precious relics. As The Stickman and I chatted, he would pause every few moments, hearing them admiring some newfound trinket, to tell them to keep it. They were in heaven.

Finally, we had to tear ourselves away to go pick up Paul at work. It wasn’t easy separating the kids from their freshly discovered wonderland, and by the time we walked back to the car, we were laden down with treasures: walking sticks, shells, stones, and a little wooden box carved to look like a beehive. Katie and Caleb wore grins as wide as their heads, and I was soaking in a delicious sense of love and goodwill for humankind.

We drove by The Stickman’s house one more time on our way out. He was standing in the driveway, bidding us farewell with a didgeridoo serenade while the kids laughed and waved. It was wonderful.

All was quiet in the car as the kids admired their sticks and examined their stones in the light of the sun. “I think The Stickman was a nice man,” Katie said after a few moments. “He gave us all this good stuff for free! I bet he believes in God for sure.”

I just smiled.

I didn’t ask him, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Conversations With Caleb

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On the way home from taking Katie to school, Caleb and I stopped at the Walgreen’s pharmacy drive-thru to pick up a prescription.
Caleb (yelling out the open window at the pharmacist behind the glass): I’d like some money, please!
Me: Shhhh … this isn’t the bank, sweetie. It’s the drugstore. They don’t have money here.
Caleb: Yes, that man inside the window do have some money.
Me: Well, he has some in his cash register, I guess, but he doesn’t give it away.
Caleb (disregarding my clearly erroneous information, resumes calling to the pharmacist): Hey! I need some ten dollars, please!
Me: What do you need ten dollars for?
Caleb: I need to buy a penguin.
(He later informed me that the penguin’s name would be Grayson and that they would be Best Friends Forever.)

***

This morning, while I was helping him get dressed for the day, Caleb made an observation.
Caleb: Mom, what is that fing on your tummy?
Me (looking down and pointing at the tie on my pajamas): You mean this?
Caleb (poking me painfully in the chest): No, that fing!
Me (trying to remain matter-of-fact): Those are breasts, honey. Grown up girls have them.
Caleb: Breff?
Me: No, breasts. There are two of them, and they’re private, so it’s not nice to poke them. Okay?
Caleb (laughing): There’s not two of them; there’s five!
Me (Finally losing the fight against laughter, and wondering just where four year olds get their information): Whatever you say … just leave them alone, okay?
Caleb: Okay.
(Sometimes ending the conversation while you still have your dignity is more important than strict factual accuracy, you understand. And just for the record, they’re not actually all the way down to my tummy yet.)

***

This afternoon, Caleb and I had lunch together at Carl’s Jr., where the talk covered everything from rockets to Grayson the Penguin. Good will abounded.
Caleb (grinning and holding up his cup of Orange Fanta): Cheers, Mom!
Me (“clinking” my plastic cup against Caleb’s paper one): Cheers! What should we toast to?
Caleb (laughing at Mom yet again): It’s not toast, silly! It’s orange juice!

***
Will somebody please hand me a copy of the script? I didn’t get one.

The Poetry of Pork

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Can you believe that I didn’t bookmark the original SPAM-ku web page back when I first stumbled across it, years ago, before the art of creating Japanese poetry based on potted meat grew into a worldwide internet phenomenon?

Me neither.

However, the true beauty of SPAM-ku (what some consider the SPAM limerick’s more cultured cousin), a form of haiku completely devoted to Hormel’s flagship meat product, lies in its accessibility to the masses. What started as a single whimsical website, the brain-child of some high-brow intellectual with low-brow taste in protein products, has ballooned into a virtual sensation, and examples of well written SPAM-ku abound across the reaches of cyberspace.

The tortured:

Formless spawn of pork,
Leers with gelatinous gaze,
Taunting my lean soul.
–William Bradford

The surprising:

I put my shoes on
But remembered far too late
My secret SPAM stash.

–Tom Elliott

The contemplative:

I stare, it stares back.
I long to know its feelings.
It demurs. Lunch, then.
–Drew Scott

The dramatic:

Three men in lifeboat.
No food ‘cept SPAM. Hour later:
Two men in lifeboat.
–Chris Fishel

The cautionary:

I sent her ninety
SPAM haiku to show my love.
She sent me a shrink.

If you cut open
A SPAM can with a jigsaw
The blade will smell weird.

Post-SPAM catharsis:
Peptic acid and pink chunks.
Floor-mount Pollock piece.
–John Nagamichi Cho

And I had to have a go, of course:

Full fat SPAM invites.
Cardiac arrest awaits
Dressed in sparkly gel.
–Katrina

Please, share your offering. After all, SPAM-ku is for everyone.

*Remember: 5, 7, 5
**For more inspiring SPAM-ku, check out the SPAM-ku archives.

Spring

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Spring has sprung upon North Idaho at last.

The evidence was all around me today while Caleb and I celebrated the sweet turn of the weather with a nice, long walk. I did the actual walking. Caleb rode along in the purple jogger stroller; this is the last year he’ll be able to fit into it without his long legs dragging on the ground, and the last year I’ll be able to turn up my iPod and escape into the streets around our home to walk and think and walk and think, until I look around and realize I don’t know where I am.

Today, while my feet were busy, I had the best conversation with God. He explained a few things I’ve been wondering about, and listened while I rambled on about this and that. He felt so close today, and that is a gift when it happens.

Today the breeze lifted my hair off of my neck, an absolutely delicious sensation, if a little forward. It filled up the canopy on the stroller like a sail, and carried the last of the winter grit down the streets before it.

Today I saw ants scurrying around underfoot, someone’s garden greens peering up through the freshly turned soil, and the sun. The sun! I’ve missed it, and today I could absolutely smell it warming the earth, and me.

Today may not have been the official first day of Spring, but it was mine.

Between the Pages

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I have a very vivid childhood memory of sitting next to my mother on our orange plaid couch, leaning contentedly against her shoulder with my eyes closed while she wove the words of a book around my head. It was My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, and as she read it aloud, I could picture every dusty ray of sunlight sifting down through the dark green trees of the Catskill Mountains, feel the icy cold stream water shocking my bare skin, and nestle into the warmth of a perfect tiny home carved out of a giant redwood tree. For years after we finished that book, I entertained a secret fantasy of running away and living off the land in a hidden, far off place.

Fortunately for all concerned, I never ran any farther than the creek that gurgled along in the woods behind my house, but that was far enough for my imagination. Together with my brother and sister, I lived out that fantasy across many lazy summer days—building rafts (most of which promptly sank to the bottom of the wading hole); digging forts between the tree roots, roofing them with sticks, leaves and copious amounts of red Georgia mud; and foraging for edible plants along the forest floor (without poisoning ourselves in the process, a minor miracle.)

The book and its magic stayed with me, and I know a part of that magic was the time that my mother and I spent together as we read it. That time, carved at great cost out of a schedule full of hard work and obligations, was an amazing gift to me and to my siblings. It told us, as nothing else could, that we were loved, and that in our house, reading was important. It’s a gift that I want to give to my kids, as well.

Right now, Katie and I are reading through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As we turn page after page, we travel back in time together to Wisconsin in the 1800s. I am a returning visitor to the Big Woods, but I keep my eyes on Katie as she turns round and round, examining the pieces of a long-gone and simpler life like a foreigner in a strange land, where people grow their own vegetables, slaughter their own livestock, and trade at the general store for what they can’t make themselves. Tonight we learned about sugar snow, and how Laura’s grandpa would collect the sap from maple trees and boil it down into maple syrup before pouring it into saucers to make thick, crumbling cakes of maple sugar. As soon as we placed our bookmark at the end of the chapter and carefully closed the book, Katie was on fire to try out the process for herself. It took me a while to convince her that I didn’t know where we could lay our hands on any maple tree sap, but inwardly, I smiled. The magic is working on her, too.

Katie is a strong reader in her own right, and though she enjoys our time snuggled up together on the couch with a good book, I know that one day she’ll grow tired of me reading aloud to her, impatient to know the end of the story faster than I can stutter through it, or just too busy with her own activities to steal away a quiet hour or two with her mom. When that happens, this particular chapter of our relationship will end, giving way naturally to whatever comes next.

In the meantime, though, I’ve started a list. There are so many books I want to share, bejeweled fantasies and riveting adventures just begging to be read aloud to a child beginning to see the world for all its amazing possibilities and its stories unnumbered. We’ll simply start at the beginning, and keep going for as long as it lasts.

As Kathleen Kelly, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, says so insightfully, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

I think that’s absolutely true.

How about you? What book made its mark upon you in your childhood?

Music Minute

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My sister, Amber, introduced me to the rock group Red last month, blasting this song through me with her car speakers while we were out driving around town. (I believe we had actual errands to accomplish, lest you imagine we were cruising up and down Sherman like a couple of teenagers, two grown women hanging out of our open windows yelling at passersby while the thumping bass line of this song mercilessly crushed all weaker-kneed musical opposition.)

I loved it immediately.

Red hasn’t been on the scene very long. In fact, End of Silence is their first nationally released album. This week I finally got a chance to listen to the whole thing when Amber loaned it to me, and I think I’m going to have to buy my own copy.

Red says it best on their website: “The songs on End of Silence deconstruct struggles that listeners face, while painting a picture of redemption in the midst of brokenness.”

In addition to “Breathe Into Me”, I especially love “Pieces”, “Lost”, and “Already Over.” (You can listen to “Already Over” on the player at Redmusiconline.com.)

Home Again!

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No one in my immediate family got knocked down by the thirty pound salmon hurtling through the air at Pike Place Fish, so in that sense, at least, our trip to Seattle was uneventful.

On the other hand, we gawked at aquatic mammals in the aquarium, sat in the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet at the Museum of Flight, and watched newly transformed butterflies emerging from row upon row of cocoons in the Butterfly House of the Pacific Science Center, so “uneventful” might not be the right word after all.

If you ever visit Seattle, I suggest that you bring good walking shoes. We walked all over that place, from our hotel in the shadow of the Space Needle to the docks at the heart of downtown. The ride-free buses that operate within the downtown area might have shaved off a few blocks here and there, but we still put some miles on our tennis shoes with all the running around we did on Saturday. By the time we got out of our IMAX movie (a special showing of “Happy Feet”; ironic, since mine were covered with blisters) at nine-thirty, we were all exhausted. There were no bedtime protests that night!


As a parent, I was so impressed with the Pacific Science Center. Almost all of the exhibits offered some kind of hands-on experience for young scientists. The kids experimented with liquids, learned how a toilet works, and played tic-tac-toe with a giant robotic arm. Katie loved the microscopes where you could get up close and personal with germs, tissue samples, and plant cells. We finally had to tear her away, but her reluctance was forgotten when we entered the bug village and discovered her favorite place of all: the Butterfly House! A controlled tropical climate inside this greenhouse-like structure sustains the thousands of butterflies fluttering around, on, and under the jungle plants inside. Plates of fruit and nectar attract dozens of these multicolored denizens for convenient viewing, and laminated information cards allow visitors to identify the various species of butterflies based on their markings. Guests must be careful where they’re stepping and sitting, since butterflies alight upon every surface, and before each person leaves the exhibit, a science center associate carefully checks to make sure there are no fluttery stowaways on his hair or clothing.


Caleb’s favorite part of our trip, by far, was the one hour, narrated Argosy boat tour around Elliot Bay and the Seattle Harbor. From the moment we told the kids about the trip, Caleb was fixated on “the boat ride.” “When are we going on the boat ride?” “Is it time for the boat ride?” “I want to do the boat ride now!” It did not disappoint. For Paul and me, it was a chance to give our overworked feet a rest and to enjoy learning a little about the sights along the harbor. For the kids, it was a thrill just to feel the wind (and rain) sweeping through their hair as they looked out over the railing and watched the passing seabirds. We had an unexpected treat when the captain sighted a cluster of napping sea lions piled precariously on top of one of the big buoys off shore. The tour guide’s hilarious sea lion impersonation through the ship’s megaphone earned us a few inquisitive, but fearless, stares from the hairy beasts.

One place I’d like to return to, without the kids, is the Museum of Flight. While the kids enjoyed trying out the WWII flight simulator and climbing into the pilot’s seat of decommissioned military planes, I was intrigued by the vast riches of historical material to be absorbed as we walked through the timeline of flight and witnessed its impact–on war, on transportation, on the modern world. There were so many fascinating stories to be read on the displays and watched on the numerous documentary films being played throughout the museum, but the kids didn’t have much patience for that. I would love to be able to come back some Saturday and really spend the time to take it all in.


We certainly packed a lot into one weekend. Thanks to the City Pass, we were able to enjoy the science center, the aquarium, the boat ride, the museum of flight, and an IMAX movie for half the price of paying at the door. Unfortunately (or maybe “fortunately,” since I have no idea how we would have fit it into the schedule), we decided to give the zoo a miss when the rain showed no signs of letting up.


I would highly recommend Seattle to anyone planning a quick family getaway in the Pacific Northwest. It offers so much to do and to see without breaking the bank. After three delightful days, we counted it up: nine hours in the car, tons of memories, minimal sibling rivalry, zero injuries (if you don’t count blisters), and a handful of change still jingling around in our pockets. Not too shabby!

We just might have to do this again.

If you know of any other fun family destinations within easy driving distance of Northern Idaho, we’d love to hear about them!