Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Walk Along a Swollen River

The park north of our house. There is a cement retaining wall that separates the swimming area of the river from a sidewalk and the benches. It's completely under water now.

The water in the foreground in the picture above, and seen below, is completely covering the walking path. Some tufts of trees are visible in the middle, with the river and the top of the island in the background on the photo above.

We expected to see fish in the water, too, but only ducks and seagulls on the path. The bike path is on the right of the picture.

A coyote across the river on the island. There was a small group of deer moving along the island behind him but he had eyes only for the swiftly moving water and us, on the other side of it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

For All That He's a Pre-teen...

he's still my baby.

A text message conversation with him, while he was at a friend's baseball game:

S: Spent all yor money mom... hot dog, corn nuts (tooth fell out), sno cone, seeds, and a bottle of water. Luv u

Me: Good boy! I love you too. Are you having fun? How's L's team doing?

S: There loseing by 1... Im having fun...

Me: It's losing, the e drops out with the suffix. Big kisses, glad you're having fun. Xoxo

S: Who cares mom, loseing losing same thing

Me: The Harvard application committee will care and so do I.

S: Ok wot ever... Luv u lots lol jk idk I luvz u mom xoxoxo

Me: U r fun E

S: Ur not good a thes im beter I hav pratice

Me: Freak.

S: I no id is 1

Me: Shut up and watch the game, goober.

S: L lost

Me: Big bummer. Sorry for him. Coming to get jammies? And a good night kiss?

S: And brush my teeth ok see u soon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Coyotes in Cities

On my way to the college this morning I narrowly missed hitting an already-dead coyote on the on-ramp. This particular ramp is close to an expanse of land that ties into the Yakima River Delta, a wild-ish area dense with trees, sagebrush, tall grasses, marshy parts with cat-o-nine-tails, and populated by otters, beavers, pelicans, herons, ducks, deer, all manner of birds, mice, marmots, ticks [shudder], and millions of other little critters. It's an amazing area, full of life, incredible smells, textures, sounds, all nestled between two freeways and poised at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers.

It's also a perfect example of the modern collision of cities and the "wild". Racing to school, thinking about the rushed morning rituals of showering, making breakfasts and lunches, squeezing in a little time to drink coffee over the paper, I glanced over and saw this beautiful, very dead coyote, and felt a huge thump down in my chest. Coyotes are generally vilified around here--where aren't they, anymore?--but they are still sentient beings with the same basic needs as us humans. Why the coyote was on the freeway is anybody's guess but it's to be expected. Nowadays there are constantly stories in the news about black bears, brown bears, snakes, wolves, deer--you can fill in the blank with any number of wild animals--coming into backyards and creating havoc. The stories mostly end badly for the animal. Heck, even here a cow can constitute a "threat."

A story ran in the local paper last week about an 8 month old bull-calf who escaped his confines and then, when chased by many different people in the middle of some businesses, was shot. Honestly, a calf? He was scared and running wild and confronted with modern life--cars, people, sidewalks, glass. How could he not to react and become aggressive, anything to get back to the safety of his field?

Ever since seeing that beautiful shaggy-coated coyote, dead on the freeway, I've been assailed by (or maybe just more open to seeing) these kinds of contradictions. Modern society and nature. It's an old saw, beaten to death in any number of books, both pro- and anti-nature, or pro- and anti-progress. We want our parks but don't want the rattlesnakes, squeezed out of their habitat, to show up in our playgrounds. We want our river front homes but not the really loud, messy seagulls who congregate there. We want to look at Bambi but we don't want Bambi eating our non-native, expensive, and carefully-cultivated plants.

This is not a touchy-feely anti-hunting, tree-hugging sort of post, here. I'm all for hunting for food. I wish more people did it and really knew where that meat they eat comes from. Or that more people tried to grow their own food and realized that there are plenty of critters out there who also want to eat, maybe even your plants.

No, this is about the inherent contradiction that we live with every day in our modern society. We want great big houses and vast expanses of beautifully tended lawns. We want our nature tame and somewhere else. Maybe in a zoo or something. But not in our backyards. We don't even know how to live anymore in balance with nature. Much better to kill off the scary spider than recognize the good it does in keeping down the insect population. Much better to kill off the brown bear or moose that accidentally stumbles into your yard, when you live smack dab in the middle of a place where you wouldn't even survive without the modern wonders of cargo planes and barges bringing necessary items into the "wild" so you can pretend to be some kind of modern pioneer.

I live in an area that wouldn't even work without the dams that line the Columbia from one end to the other. Without irrigation we wouldn't have agribusiness pumping money into our community. I'm grateful for that, truly; I love where I live. But how can I reconcile the loss of nature at the expense of progress? How can I even try? I don't want to go back to beating laundry on the rocks and growing corn just to keep my chickens going. I do, however, want to figure out how to live a balanced life where wild animals (and a bull-calf) are not seen as the enemy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Corraling the Girls

We have finally reached a compromise in the on-going chicken war. Okay, "war" might be exaggerating the situation a little, but sometimes it has felt like a constant siege of free-ranging, free-pooping chickens on the one hand and the irritated complaints of 3/4s of my household who like running in the yard barefoot or more strangely, stepping out onto the deck without going on land-mine watch.

I've been siding with the chickens. I like watching them out the back window as I do dishes or sit at the table with my coffee. I like how big and orange my eggs are, I like how healthy and happy the girls seem to be, free to run around, flip in the dirt, or doze in little spots of shade. And isn't chicken poop excellent fertilizer? Yes. However, as it keeps trying to move into summer here I'm finding that maybe there might be a grain of sanity in wanting to be able to sit out on the deck without tiptoeing around poop or having to kick chickens away from my lunch.

Like the good married couple we are, my husband and I finally reached a compromise which should satisfy all involved (well, maybe not the chickens, whose freedom has been severely curtailed, but oh well). And like all of our projects, it's a little funky, our solution. Better Homes & Gardens is certainly not going to be knocking on my door anytime soon to do a spread on us. It works, though, and I should finally be able to get some flowers in planters and herbs in the raised bed without fear of them being demolished by the girls.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Millions of little spiders about to be relocated as we work on keeping the chickens off the deck.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Countdown 2011

Nah, not for May 21.

However, June 19 is now just one month away. I have one month left in which to cram in:

--the last weeks of French 123, including a final exam on June 15;
--a baseball tournament in which the games appear (based on the first scheduled one) to be happening at the unreasonably late hour of 7:30 on a school night;
--nine days of Dave being gone for AP History grading, conveniently scheduled to coincide with the aforementioned baseball tournament;
--two kids' birthdays;
--as much sun, good food, and "leisure" as possible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calming the Monkeys

It's one of those days where I really don't have an overwhelming amount of work to do--just the regular chores--but I am still feeling oppressed by the chattering, cavorting, disruptive monkeys banging around in my head. My thoughts keep jumping from one worry to another, from one chore or task still undone to another, and they stop only long enough for me to get a vague sense of an unidentifiable emotion. So I have all this noise in my head, my emotions are being tugged back and forth from one extreme to the other, and I can't seem to slow it down right now.

What I'd like to do is put all of the monkeys aside and curl up with a good book or with my banjo. Neither is going to happen.

Instead, I need to once again remind myself to breathe. This influx of oxygen seems to quiet the monkeys a bit. Maybe if I just keep remembering to focus on one breath at a time, the monkeys will go somewhere else and I'll be able to concentrate fully on the remaining tasks of the day.


Monday, May 16, 2011

"Down in the Willow Gardens"

Gah, the act of filming oneself playing the banjo is truly a humbling experience.

Spring? Really?

I refuse to complain about our spring.

Just want to say that by now I'd be juggling sunblock and sun hats and struggling to keep the grass from drying out too quickly between waterings.

So, instead of complaining, I will just share my menu for the day:

Garlicky Lentils and Greens Soup
Rye Soda Bread
Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip cookies

Because, of course, rainy, stormy, hailing, thundering, windy, cold weather in mid-May calls for wintery food, no?


Les Glaneuses by Jean-Fran├žois Millet

I guess I am one of those "foodies" that are starting to get a bad name in the press. In my defense, I am a "foodie" in the sense that I love food, I think about food a lot, I spend a great deal of time making food for my family. I'm not interested in any of the precious movements that are out there right now--eating all parts of an animal, artsy presentations of exotica, etc--just interested in food and in people having enough quality food. There's my new favorite word, "enough." It's frankly really scary how many people do not have enough quality food.

I have spent much of this past year reading about food inequality and food deserts*, reading about different issues related to food at the website Civil Eats, thinking about getting better foods into the schools. I'm happy to see that to some extent there has been movement in the right direction regarding the last concern, at least at my daughter's elementary school. Local produce does show up on the menu. Whether it's cooked in an appealing or appetizing manner, as well as whether or not any child will actually reach out for those vegetables and fruits, is another question altogether. I don't think it's exactly an Alice Waters sort of kitchen there, but at least they're moving in the right direction.

Thinking and reading about these issues, however, does not get quality food into anyone's belly. I've known about a local non-profit called Fields of Grace for a couple years now, but always assumed I couldn't participate because I'm gone for such a large chunk of the summer. And then I finally had the "ah ha" moment when I realized (I know, how old am I??) that much of what is grown is not ready for harvesting until later in the summer. Duh. So I went to a training meeting last night and I am really really excited to finally be able to do something locally. There are two different aspects to Fields of Grace: gleaning at local farms and harvesting at a place called Giving Greens, which is made from four different families using easement land to grow food exclusively for a local food bank distribution center. Everything gleaned at the farms and harvested from Giving Greens goes directly to the distribution center and from there is sent out to the 27 food banks in our area.

I don't have a garden yet and frankly, I don't know anything about gardening. Isn't this a terrific opportunity to learn about gardening, local farm production, and to finally start walking the talk?

*I remember visiting a good friend in Baltimore in the 1990s and going to the local grocery store (in a very poor neighborhood) only to find no decent produce and scarcely anything unprocessed or not past expiration dates in the entire store. Some neighborhoods in the US don't even have that, residents having to rely on places like 7/11 for their groceries if they don't have means of transportation to a grocery store.

Monday, May 9, 2011

And Then There is Good in the World

A little Al Green on the iPod, homemade pita bread, tzatziki, hummus, a lovely Greek salad, towels smelling of sun (taken down with help from Tom), and a visit with the girls.

Beating Laundry on Rocks

No, I'm not beating laundry on rocks or scrubbing on a washboard. I only feel like it sometimes.

The title of this post has been knocking around in my head since my washing machine quit on me last week. I've been taking my laundry to my neighbor's to wash it, then hanging it to dry here at home (when the wind and rain let up). I have nothing to complain about other than a little inconvenience. I know this. I really don't mind waiting another week before my machine gets repaired. The excessive use of towels in this house is starting to bug me, but then I could be fighting to get the munchkins into the shower instead of trying to control the volume of showers being taken. I'm picking my battles on this one. And stealthily retrieving wet towels from unmade beds and hanging them back up to dry.

Actually, this idea of beating laundry on rocks has been bouncing around my head in conjunction with another couple phrases: "Make do." "Know what is enough." I don't plan on taking my laundry down to the river anytime soon (or sponging off the neighbors indefinitely). The question that arose last week, though, to repair the 12-year old machine or buy a new one, brought up all kinds of questions about modern society for me.

We live in a world of haves and have nots. This world (I'm speaking of a modern, capitalist society, aka The United States) is also one based on consumption: it's what drives our economy. When terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, the President admonished us to go shopping. The business report every hour on my radio station news lets me know if I should be worried because stock "A" is going up or stock "B" is going down. The price of oil is "x" amount. We hear about peak oil, environmental degradation, the end of the world coming on May 21. And still as Americans we want more and more. We have washing machines, toasters, computers, televisions, all kinds of equipment that "make our lives easier" but that are not made to last. When the toaster doesn't perform perfectly we throw it out and buy a new one. Every few years we have to get a new computer to handle all the new games, programs, connectivity.

I'm not trying to shout from a soap box. And I know that anything I'm saying here has been said many times over by writers much more eloquent and informed than myself. I guess I'm just one person feeling bombarded by all the survivalist stuff, end of world stuff, disposable economy stuff, all the wanting that swirls everywhere around me, and the intense dissatisfaction that comes of not having. It's not wanting the basics so much but all the bells and whistles (big cars--or extra ones--boats, big houses with multiple bathrooms, gigantic televisions, cable) that are supposed to improve our quality of life. I don't want to go back to having to make everything from scratch, including corn to feed the chickens or flax to make thread. I don't even have a garden for goodness sake, and nowadays just reading the local paper, you'd think a person without a garden was the worst of freeloaders.

Faced with a decision to plunk down nearly $500 to repair my Energy Saver front loader or else buy a new one, I found myself staring down this very real dilemma that all of us are going to face, at one point or another. If I junk this machine, I'll have to spend nearly double to get something that is energy efficient and water-saving. If I repair it, I face the real possibility that the machine will break again really soon, because it wasn't meant to survive years of constant use. It was meant to be replaced by the newest computer-driven washing wonder. I don't want to take on a new machine. I want to hope that I will have tricked our disposable society by repairing my machine, thereby eliminating one more machine in the landfill and one more machine made by someone in a factory in China.

The real costs of our disposable life are so incredibly enormous (I'm thinking here of The Story of Stuff) that it's hard to know how to live responsibly and kindly toward everyone and everything around us. It's hard to know how to make do, know when you have enough, know when you need to just beat laundry on the rocks instead of blindly perpetuating this cycle of consumption that is literally killing us, body and soul.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Frailing a Banjo

It's been a crazy busy week and I haven't practiced the banjo in too many days. Feeling lost and confused and just plain dispairing of ever figuring this out, I went on to YouTube and found this video by Patrick Costello. I have his book "The How and Tao of Old-Time Banjo" but really, you just can't learn a musical instrument from a book. Especially this frailing stuff. Or at least, I can't.

This video made me feel better about frailing, about music, and about life. How is that possible?