Big Plans. Little Brain.

Sitting here in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn, Flagstaff, Arizona, with a couple of hours to kill before my train leaves, and finally I have the bandwidth to sit and blog a bit. I had grander aspirations of blogging my way through the book tour, but who did I think I was — Doris? I’m no diarist.
I did post a lot of snippets to Facebook, but those are int he moment. So here are some of the greatest hits of my book tour.

1) Meeting Facebook and Twitter and Compact and other email friends in real time — seeing their faces, getting to hug them and share a coffee or wine or beer or tasty snack with them. Finally, faces to the “voices” or words that I so often see. I loved that.

2) Doris on the road: People who had never heard of Doris have fallen in love. The highest percentage of any audience who had heard of Doris was about half. That means the other half walked away knowing about Doris. And sometimes no one knew who Doris was, and walked away loving her. Win-win!

3) Getting to track Doris in Portland. I saw the street she lived on, saw houses her father built, saw vistas she had seen. Of course there is plenty I did not see, but I found evidence of her in the library and at her former school, and that felt very validating. Also, digging into a trove of letters and photos in Albuquerque, as my Aunt Barbara (Doris’s niece) lent me more family documents and albums to look through. I have lots of work to do — and can’t wait.

4. Costumes! I wore several different costumes in my travels — flapper wear, day dresses, jewelry and head-wear. Sometimes others dresses up with me, and sometimes I was shockingly alone in my venture (such as the betting parlor I walked into, dressed as a flapper (not on Halloween), and was mistaken for a different kind of lady altogether). Exciting times, my friends.

5) Train travel. This is how Doris traveled back in her day — in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I felt a kinship when traveling through places Doris mentions in her diaries, and I felt connected with passengers who asked where I was headed, and then seemed delighted to hear of Doris. I sold books on the train, in both directions. Train travel is cool. No doubt.

6) Incidental tourism. I got to see lots of Portland, the whole length of Oregon, California and much of the Arizona and New Mexico high desert. I enjoyed a short visit to the Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles, saw petroglyphs in Albuquerque, Lynx Lake and the Dells in Arizona, and more thrift stores throughout the Northwest and Southwest than I should admit to. All good. All bonus. Loved it.

7) I’m a better speaker now than I was before I started. I like talking about Doris. I am enjoying the journey, literally and metaphorically. And Doris has been with me, somehow, along the way.

8) The tour was not without its bumps. A couple of places that were going to offer The Rebel Girl were unable to source the ingredients (I thought them easy to get, but I was wrong). One event was marred by rudeness and obstruction, but I smiled past it and didn’t let it ruin the night. Pouring rain did not deter history buffs in Portland, however. And being told I was not Stephen King did not bother me. I’m not Danielle Steele, either. In fact, I’m not even Doris Bailey. Just me. Happy to be so.

9) Real hang-out time with some good friends: Katy, Lisa, Jeff, Angela, Max, Kelly, Heather, Debra, Aunt Barbara — quick meals, late night heart-to-heart or car-time catch-up. All good.

10) The kindness of strangers: feeling welcome wherever I went (except that one place I won’t mention again), including train porters, hotel bell-persons, conductors, waiter-staff, concierges, drivers, friends’ family members forced to put up with me as a house guest, salon employees, train passengers and taxi drivers. Nice people out there — of all kinds. I like that a lot.

Good times. More to come — after I get home.

many changes instantly

Farewell, White House.

I used to work for MCI, one of the early long-distance companies, which came into its own after the breakup of the telephone monopoly. Sprint still exists, but MCI was bought up by someone else and is long gone. However, back in the day (this was about 1986), we workers of the early telemarketing plantations often received new edicts from above. So many that we said the company’s initials must stand for “Many Changes Instantly.”

So here we are, in MCI mode — many changes instantly. Three months ago I was enjoying a full house of offspring and a healthy husband, chickens, a lovely piano, 5 bedrooms and a lush garden, a clothesline, a compost heap and about seven different kinds of recycling and trash containers. Mr. Husband said that you needed a PhD to figure out what trash went where at our Big White House. Today, however, we’ve done a few backflips.

Mr. Husband had a pain in his back around Christmas that got worse very quickly and they eventually discovered two ruptured discs. With a quick change in employment and where the Boy is going to school next year, we decided we had better move sooner rather than in summer. Found an adorable 2-bedroom apartment in central Alameda and started packing. Our motto was “Everything must go!” With a full attic, a full garage and large yard, plus all those bedrooms, this was no small task. The chickens had to find a new home, as did the coop. The bales of straw. The tiki bar and all the decorations. The hammock. The piano. One of the three cats. Two of the daughters. Most of the holiday decorations. Our large dining table that seated 12. Dishes. Canning jars. At least two-thirds of my fabric and yarn stash. Everything must go. And off it went.

We rented a Dumpster, but put amazingly little into it. Instead, green-hearted gal that I am, I worked tirelessly to find homes for everything and everyone. We had a “free” garage sale, in which just about everything we had in the garage went out and was given freely. I donated to Goodwill, ThriftTown and Salvation Army countless times. Sold books, CDs, DVDs and albums. Sold anything relatively “antique” to a dealer in town. Donated books to the Friends of the Library. Gave tons of books and art/school supplies to local schools. Gave a single mom down on her luck just about everything she could want for setting up an apartment for herself and her daughter — dishes, furniture, clothes and more. Gave the piano to our neighbor with 6 children. We downsized our personal library by about 75 percent. Maybe more. Garden goodies went to several Freecyclers. Old blankets and towels went to the pet shelter. Empty boxes came from Freecycle and have since been given back to be used again.

Softball team to the rescue. Mr Husband crouching in pain,
with smart-aleck friend copying him.
(Self, center, which is where I should be.)

Through all this, we had one mishap after another. Daughter #4, just two days before moving out, had a Saturday night spill that fractured her elbow. The Boy got bonked in the head at school in PE, suffering a minor concussion. Right after that he got a horrendous cold. Mr. Husband couldn’t lift anything or even sit or stand without excruciating pain (but he moved things anyway. Stubborn as a burro!). I won’t even tell you how messed up my shoulder, neck and sciatica got. We were able to borrow a truck from a friend for a couple of weeks, which made short trips with boxes much easier. We corralled a dozen strong guys for the big moving day and it was over, I kid you not, in 2 hours. Had a few days of searching among the boxes, and then it was time for Mr. Husband’s surgery.

That was last week. He’s well, thank you, and improving daily. We take little walks and he starts physical therapy next week. Yay for modern medicine! We’re here in the new place (see photo of our living room below), with another 20 boxes or so to unpack, and a new more urban lifestyle to discover in our upstairs Victorian flat:  our Red House (since I like to name our houses).

How are things different?

1. No laundry line, at least so far. We have a plumbing problem with the washer and dryer that the landlord is going to fix. Some day. I went to the laundromat last week and hope I can get this resolved soon. Also bought an indoor clothesline but the critical bracket is missing so I have to return it. Grrr.

2. No compost or chickens to eat leftovers. That means I have thrown into the green waste can things which chickens would have eaten up — plate scrapings, cereal crumbs, stale bread. On the other hand, there are just 3 of us now, so there’s a lot less green waste overall. I wonder how bad it would be to feed the local ducks with old bread crusts?

New living room, with stuff still in
boxes and pictures awaiting a nail or two.

3. We have heat now, where we didn’t before, and that’s new and different for us. It’s delicious! But we’ll have to look at our usage and not overdo it. Not sure how insulated this (drafty) house is, for one thing, and then — well, global warming and all that.

4. Garden. There’s isn’t one here, but I have been paying attention to where the sun falls, and where it is always shady. I brought over several container plants (herbs) and there’s a lemon tree and a tangerine tree on the property. But how can I garden in a shady, compact way?

5. Shopping locally/walking everywhere: This will be possible, finally, with a small grocery store with sustainable meat and organic produce nearby. But I have hardly had a chance to walk around and see what’s what, what with surgery and moving and all. Looking forward to this greatly.

6. Living lightly. Not having to drive everywhere, not having to support such a large family, not having so much stuff — it’s all good. I expect to feel the impact of the move in our budget as well as in what we bring in/send out as trash. Life is different in a downtown apartment than in an outlying rambling house and yard.

It remains to be seen how green we can be here, and how can I/we make it ever more so. Keep me company while we figure it out, will you? (Oh, please, say yes!)

raising the roof

or, our fate is ceiled. More work at the Green House: look, we have a ceiling!

And then they (our dear friends Arturo and G) covered up that beautiful insulation with Sheetrock, and it looks like this (below), except with tape and mud over the seams; the ceiling awaits some love from a paint roller. Thanks very much to the efforts of Arturo and Guillermo, we are almost ready for — wait for it — prime time (painting joke there).
That’s on the inside of the house. On the outside, all is well. All our girls came up to visit and hang at the river last weekend, and here they are on the deck with Pa. (He’s the fourth Stooge, wearing his signature T-shirt.) This is the reason we wanted a place of our own — for family fun like this 🙂
However, they weren’t our only visitors. The neighborhood cat, Jax, thinks it’s his house, too. He has no qualms about coming in and sitting on the furniture. It is common neighborhood gossip that he is the father of our kitten. So — in that sense, he’s family.
In the past week or so we added more plants to the outside rock-lined flower beds — my mother gave me a bunch of strawberry plants, some yarrow and chives, and a tomato seedling had snuck into one of the pots. All were planted except the tomato, which needs a little more growing time in the pot if it is to survive in the wild. The only expense in the garden thus far has been the purchase of the eight lavender plants, at a cost of $20 (I couldn’t figure out how to get them for free). Patrick and I worked on creating steps from the road up into the “terraced garden” (euphemism for “rock pile,” so far). We dug and leveled and used discarded 2x4s to build the risers, with slices off a long piece of rebar we found behind the house. So far, it looks good; will post a photo next time.
I was looking at expenses, and we are below $1000 in materials and supplies — well below. Wood for beams, insulation, writing, nails and other hardware supplies, Sheetrock — not terribly expensive. Food for a work crew and eco-friendly paint are a little more costly than I expected. Labor, of course, costs the most, but since we’ve asked two friends to help, we don’t mind paying what they’re worth, and as a labor of love, these two fine gentlemen have gone far beyond what a random contractor would have. They are treating their handiwork as if it was their own home. Safety, fixing existing code violations, ensuring that the ceiling is water-tight and energy-efficient, talking to the roofer who didn’t want to do a certain task for us (so he did it!), etc. Can’t say enough about my two guys!
I must mention gloves here. I am a wearer of gloves — not for doing dishes (I rather like to play in the water), but for any kind of cleaning or other labor, I wear gloves. I also wear them on public transportation because I’m a little fussy about germs, but that’s another post. Anyhoo, as I was digging up rocks around the “terraced garden” (ahem), I dislodged not just one but three scorpions. They are about 2-3 inches long and look pretty nasty. At first they play dead, then they get mad and try to kill you. I scoop them into a jar and we carry them away and toss them into bushes and rocks away from our yard. They look like crawdads — too bad they aren’t edible. Alas, I think their bite is worse than their food value.
So that cemented it — our yard is a gloves-on affair. So — I wore holes in my gloves. Here’s my fix:

A good old ironing board, iron-on patches and 5 minutes of my time. I also sewed up the seams a little tighter, where they had been fraying. A $2 pair of cotton gloves will now last me another few months, if not longer. Don’t they look like something a clown would wear? Well, I’ll be your clown, and I won’t have to touch spiders or scorpions. For heavy rock work, I actually wear leather gloves, but these are for my basic gardening.

I am currently packing for an extended stay at our river cottage through mid-August — it’s Mr Husband’s annual vacation and we’re taking the Boy and his friend to hang out in the sun, water and rocks. No scorpions allowed. Fishing, floating, canoeing, and some hikes in the woods are on the agenda. For me, more wall-painting — because that’s fun for me 🙂 But also, lots of reading and puttering and daydreaming. I might even break out the poetry journal and do some writing.

When we get back to civilization (Alameda) again, we kick into high gear for back-to-school prep, plus one daughter is moving out and another moving in, and a foreign exchange student is set to arrive Aug. 22. So off we go. I look forward to a little calm and quiet before the crazy.

Peace out, homeys, until mid-August.

a little insanity for Mother’s Day

Don’t have plans for Mother’s Day, except … whee! we are taking a drive in the a.m. to go see the house we just made an offer on. If we get it, what a great Mother’s Day gift that will be.

I have become totally house-obsessed lately. Like, sleepless, racing-mind, forget-where-I-am-obsessed. I seriously need to be locked in a little box until a purchase is complete. I will probably torture my husband to death by suddenly stating something (to him) incomprehensible like, “brown and white checks, don’t you think?” or “Isn’t it nice how the dishes match the kitchen?” He’s like, “huh?” <-- kitchen that we don't own (yet), not the rented kitchen in which we live now.
Insane, I know. As if he would know what dishes I was even talking about. I am speaking a kind of flea-market-shabby-chic gibberish that he does not comprehend. He said, “Honey, it’s going to be a long 10 years if you’re going to talk like that all the time.” Ten years being the time we planned to work on fixing up a house til it was livable and we could move in, etc. I dont think it will take that long, to fix the house or to drive him crazy.

Luckily, I don’t think he listens most of the time. Kind of like me with his baseball conversation (who did what on what base? huh?). It’s our version of “yes, dear.” All lovingly meant.

Our latest bid is on tiny house, 650 sq feet (I exaggerate — it’s just 648 sq feet). Eat-in kitchen, living room with wood stove, two small bedrooms, a big bathroom which is also the laundry room. Potential for gray water system is high, easily done, with a tall above-ground basement level. Needs a new roof but with a good price on the house itself, we can get a roof done on such a small house for not so much more. Some drywall repair and carpet-tear out (there was a leak that came through and wrecked the ceiling and carpet). I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do with a used funky (moldy?) carpet besides the dump, is there? Suggestions? Same with crappy once-waterlogged drywall. I hate to throw stuff away if it’s useful, but what can you do with torn-out drywall? I’m all ears.

I’ve already planned where the apple tree, the compost bin and the laundry line will be (as well as what color to paint the bedrooms…). There’s a neglected side yard that can be terraced for veggie and flower gardening, and I think I will have room for a bee yard behind the house. I can also probably have chickens there (loose, but with a coop for night), once we are there full time.

Since the house is tiny, we will have to be ruthless about what to take. That means no piano, for one thing, unless we chose a piano instead of a couch. I’m afraid the piano will lose. That also means the boxes and boxes of holiday decorations in the attic will have to get passed on at some point (I’m trying not to grin from ear to ear about this one). The little area was once a Boy Scout camp, made into a tiny development from the cabins. So it’s cute and small — with a tendency to get a little overgrown/funky in an organic-hippy kind of way. I’m pretty sure the neighbor across the street has a hoarding problem. Or needs to go to the dump. Or is planning to … I don’t know. I have no other guesses besides the hoarding one.

Best thing about this tiny house is the location, walking distance to a beach at the river inside a regional park, with fishing, hiking, etc. Far enough away that it’s not likely to flood, and all the cabin/houses are on stilts anyway for that reason. Many, many opportunities for green living and Compacty goodness. Cute little local grocery store about a quarter mile away, and a small town (2K population) a 5-minute drive away — it’s bikeable, but all uphill to get there, so I will need to work up to riding my bike to town. At least the ride home would be downhill. . .
I could go on but I won’t. I’ll save that for Mr. L. S.  (Long-Suffering) Husband … Happy Mother’s Day to all y’all, including dads and fur-parents.

zucchini report #575, and news

New and noted

~My dear husband did some fixing of the plastic garbage can that the squirrels chewed, and did it in a most manly way that involved power tools and bleeding. He drilled holes, added lots of reinforcing metal and duct tape, and managed to slice open two fingers on the sharp metal edges. No stitches (I thought he needed them, but no, he preferred my home doctoring). I wonder if the smell of blood will keep the squirrels away? So far so good, three days later.

~Said squirrels are getting aggressive. Peanut addicts! They are resorting to threats and intimidation for their nuts. One nipped Patrick’s bare toe the other day (no blood) and another attacked my foot, scratching me and drawing blood (just a teeny bit). My patience is at an end. No more Mrs. Nice Peanut Lady. And btw, tree squirrels do not have rabies. They can get it, as can humans, but the instances are very rare. I do not have rabies. I just naturally froth at the mouth and fear water.

~We had hot weather — three days of glorious heat that soared into the 90s and maybe hit 100, but I can’t find our thermometer that used to hang outside. Probably stolen by a squirrel. The veggies have run riot. Finally getting a supply of tomatoes, more than the occasional red or yellow one. Big canning days to come.

~I think we are getting a German exchange student, and if so, she is arriving this very weekend, and that means I have to empty a room that was my office/art room and find a bed, and move all that stuff elsewhere, and then clean the house so it doesn’t look like all Americans are slobs. Which we are not. We just (still) have a lot of stuff from two houses smashed into one, and I have been ill and recovering so stuff doesn’t get put away, and also laundry has overtaken the living room, and one of these days I’m gonna mop, I swear. I think I may be putting too much pressure on myself. We’re American, dammit, and We Have Stuff Everywhere. [sings Glory Hallelujah] [tear trickles slowly down face]

OK, so the bedroom formerly known as my office that I never use (left) will be adorable when I finish, but it’s junk central just now. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But I haven’t been working, so it became a storeroom of sorts. Crappity crap. Well, that will make my Friday a busy one. The living room (right): laundry. Yep. Gotta fold and sort and get it out of sight. Uh huh. Gonna get right on that. [heaves big sigh]
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I had to deal with the zucchini that is piling up in the fridge. Today I made a zucchini relish recipe from an email friend that used up three of my ginormous mankiller-sized zucchinis, plus some red sweet peppers and onions from the farmers’ market. Turmeric and celery seed, plus white vinegar and sugar — 15 minutes to simmer, then 20 minutes in the water bath. Result: 6 pints of zucchini relish that is so freaking tasty, I regret having just the pickings in the empty pot to nibble. I will definitely make more of this. It is more like a fresh salad than pickle relish. Really delicious — sweet and tangy. Yum.
And after that, or actually as it was simmering, I shredded another zucchini (2 cups shredded) and made zucchini chocolate cake. I switched up the white flour for whole wheat, and ended up making a sheet cake instead of a Bundt or muffins, and skipped the frosting. But the nutritional value is way up there. I am not even joking. Vegetables and fiber. And fair trade chocolate. This cake may not last the day. Here it is, in the oven:

It is a crazy-early hour for me to be writing, but a certain daughter was banging around at about 2 a.m., probably rearranging her room. Because 2 a.m. is a great time for rearranging furniture, don’t you think? After asking her to stop, and getting up three more times to turn off the hall light which kept getting turned back on then forgotten by someone who was no longer restyling her room but clearly had other important business to manage, I finally got out of bed for real. And good morning, America, it is almost 5 a.m. and I have a deadline. Or two. Today. Extended from Monday, and no, I am not done writing yet, and I have a busy day ahead. Especially if I am getting a new teen-aged daughter on Saturday for five months.
Tell me again — what was I thinking?