Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tis also the season for demolition

Last year on the day after Christmas we tore up the kitchen floor. Unlike the last kitchen floor we demolished, we only had to go down to the bare dirt in half the room. But also unlike the last kitchen floor, it was winter this time rather than the height of summer and we never had to pull out the old sill plate and prop the house up with a car jack. Ah, the memories. Asbestos dust, respirators, dust masks. Dry rot. Boring beetles as big around as my pinky finger ...

[Photo: This was our door to the kitchen and the outside world. Stella, our wood cookstove, turned out to be fully up to task of keeping us warm as long as the temperature didn't go below 25 degrees F. The kitchen's wall-mounted cupboard sat on two potting tables in the dining room. The refrigerator was at the other end of the dining room table. The chest freezer spent most of 2010 in the front hallway.]

It seemed to me that 2010 had been a slow year -- after the kitchen achieved a usuable state (NOT a finished state, that still hasn't happened), at the end of January. It took nine months to finish fencing the front acre and half for goat pasture. But we did tear the carpet out of the new 10' x 12' pantry (previously Peach's transition aviary and before that a bedroom) all in one morning. The shelves went up in the afternoon. All of this came much to the surprise of the teenagers who slept through the pounding and cling to the mistaken notion that people are supposed to relax on their birthdays, holidays, and weekends.

This Christmas break Matthew finished the goat fence and put up two trims boards in the kitchen. But all in all its been too much of a holiday. All this sleeping in until 7:30 is getting me down, although Matt seems none the worse for making it to almost ten o'clock once or twice. The dogs fill the house with narcoleptoids (drowse-inducing pheromones) and try to inspire us to lay around sleeping like they do, but how can we do that when every time we want to sit for a moment by the fire we have to shove, pry, drag, and otherwise forcibly evict from the couch or the chair a previously happy dog.

The house meanwhile, has achieved a state of maximum clutter (even for us) because we are preparing to expand the teens' room out into another section of the house and all that stuff had to go somewhere. This made now as good a time as any to implement another plan I have, which is to install floor to ceiling bookshelves in the sitting room and thereby get a look at what really is under all the Pink Chablis carpeting (ack!) in preparation for tearing it out some other Christmas holiday.

We started by taking down our fabulous tree. Then we shoved all the other junk lying around into other corners of the house and tore into it. And lo! Below the carpet lay an oak floor. One that previous owner of this house used as a dropcloth. I say, we may be uncivilized and gauche but using a hardwood floor as a plasterers' and painters' tarp definitely the wins the Yobbo Prize in my book. Which also makes yobbo the word of the day. It's Brit-speak for lout, yokel, hooligan, idjit. "Yob" for short.
But that's just my opinion. I am sure that, should this house survive us living in it, the next inhabitants of the Fujiko Farm manor will also spend a lot of time on many projects shaking their heads and wondering: why on earth did those yobs we bought this pit from do this that way???

Friday, December 24, 2010

A low-key way of getting a tree

Hard to write this piece while we're still waiting to know if Jay's seventeen-year-old son is going to pull through, and what the situation will be when Ben regains consciousness. But here goes ... cognitive dissonance ... 'tis the season.
* * *
"Did you get your tree yet?" my dad asked.
"Yeah, but I'm not telling you how. I'll send the story to you."
"You stole it," mom said.
"Hey! who ratted?"
"No one," she said. "I just figured."
* * *
Well, I don't know, was it stolen or wasn't it? Our next door neighbor said we could take any trees we wanted on his property. As in whole Douglas Fir trees sixty, seventy, eighty feet tall. In a year or more, we never got around to it. Matt complained that the trees were too wolfy to be worth the bother. Knotted and limbed all the way to the ground. Difficult, even as firewood.

Then it got to be near Christmas and we merry procrastinators still didn't have a tree. I was leaning on the goatshed door waiting for Joy to finish her food and studying the treetops in the neighbor's yard -- a yard now pretty much owned by Bank of America, foreclosure date, charmingly enough, February 14. When I saw one I thought would do nicely.

Matt also said it wasn't worth climbing a tree and cutting the top out of it because the tops of firs are rangy and you can take ten feet of a tree and only have three or four side branches. Oh, but not that tree right there. Right next to our neighbor's music studio. That tree had already lost its crown a long time ago and had a bushy, forked top.

Thus, in a moment of weakness, Matt was bullied into helping me get the tree this year. All the other years, Matt and Ronan got the tree together or Matt brought the tree home as part of some forestry job he was doing. Matt insisted on doing a proper professional job of topping the tree, despite that the thing so limby, I couldn't have fallen out of it if I tried, Matt insisted on doing a thorough job of it. He harnessed both of us up, complete with fliplines, safety ropes, prussock knots, everything but spurs. He also, gallantly, carried the saw up with him. I should have protested and brought the saw up myself, but it was just as well: there were so many tight spaces to squeeze through between all the limbs and the tree was soppy wet and slippery -- "Greasy," Matty called it -- that by the time I'd pulled my way up fifty or so feet to just below the spot I'd be sawing, I was already tired.

[Above left: at least one of us was partially dressed in seasonal attire. That would be Matt, in his seasonal oiled "tin jacket". My low-budget version of rain gear is having another set of clothes to change into when I'm done.]

Ronan was our groundman. She held the rope that she would use for lowering the topped treetop down to the ground. I put in a face cut. Matt helped with the back cut, turning one arborist's handsaw into a momentary misery whip. Then we pushed the top out of the tree and ... watched it hang up in all the branches about ten feet below.

Getting me and the Christmas tree down was more work than climbing up. My lowering rope kept binding in tight crotches and I had to swing out onto other limbs and dance around and jump up and down to get the Christmas tree to dislodge and fall to the next level of hanging up. But eventually it was on the ground.

We three happy tree poachers dragged our kill to the front deck where we trimmed it. When we got it inside and up (tied to hooks inbedded in studs in the wall to keep it from toppling over), I realized that the tree was not just a tree with two tops. It had bunches. In fact, it was a tree cup.

[Right: Tree cup. And a photo of a dog experiencing cognitive dissonance. Beta had just returned from an all night 12-mile hike with her previous person. Her she is back in her own house where she usually goes straight into the chair nearest the cookstove. But she feels guilty because she was so happy to be with Olive all night. Now she's back with both her favorite people and her best friend (Sophie, our other dog) and she doesn't know what to do with her feelings of divided loyalties. I gave her some counseling and invited her up into her favorite chair and pretty soon she was over it.]

It was such a beautiful tree cup that Ronan said she didn't want to put ornaments on it. Which is why we hung our presents as the ornaments -- our symbolic fruit would actually be harvested at Christmas, and then filled the big bowl at the tree's center with all the objects too heavy to hang.

[Here we have Ronan wearing her festive "Don't Talk to Me" shirt and looking like an elf with attitude.]

I would really like to get a picture with all seven or nine of us around the tree, but Pat is already gone visiting down south and the four teenagers in our lives are hard to track during the holidays. We've gotten the goats taken care of: they got a new pasture for the holidays. The dogs have our neighbors' too long leftover turkey to garnish their dinners. Now what can I get for the skunks under the goat shed?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

And sometimes there is nothing you can say or do

I thought about my friend Jay and his son, Ben, and his wife Renee when the little thrush plopped into and back out of our lives yesterday. Sometimes it's so easy. Sometimes even a stressfest like our goat, O'un, being pronounced "brain dead" seems like it was so easy ... only one week later and she was back. Not just back, her personality was back, too. When we nursed O'un back to life one blackberry leaf and knotweed sprig at a time I wondered what brain damage would like in a goat. But we never found out because O'un was exactly the same. The leader of the herd. A pushy matriarch but sensible for a goat, certainly no more stupid than before her near-death experience.

But then other times there is nothing you can say or do to heave things back into alignment. You can just wait.

Last Saturday my friend's son collapsed in front of him. An artery had burst in his brain. All week his parents have lived in a hospital netherworld and I have gone about my ordinary life of getting Ronan to school, doing a fundraiser for a Cambodian orphanage, going to another fundraiser for our river's watershed, milking O'un, doing whatever, I waited and wondered how things were going for Ben and his parents. On Friday I learned that eight hours of brain surgery on Tuesday fixed the arterial problem but Ben had yet to regain full consciousness.

Now I've been told by the friends-of-Jay grapevine that Ben has pneumonia and that they are having difficulty getting his temperature down. His parents wait helplessly there at Riverbend.
The family's friends wait helplessly wherever we are. Seven drops of water and a little snuggle time over a warm heart are not going to be enough to fix this. If there is a magic blackberry leaf for Ben, we haven't found it yet. We just wait. Tell Jay and Renee we're thinking of them and ... and ...are afraid to say anything else for how lame and helpless it all feels.

If you know Jay or have seen him play at the Art of Everything or at the Axe, he is posting any news there is to his facebook page from the hospital. Text messages or e-mail are preferred over phone calls. I don't know what else to say.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Seven drops of water, three poops later

I was talking on the phone with my co-teacher, Olive, setting up a time to do a work session on issue two of the The Mirror, when I looked out the door and saw a little bird sitting on the doormat with its wings spread. It was mouth-breathing.

Hung up. Picked the bird up. Gave it a drop of water from my fingertip. It swallowed. Gave it several more. The little thing kept swallowing. Good.

Got Ronan. Sat her in the chair by the fire with the bird on her chest. Fed Ronan tea and leftover cream puffs from the Watershed fundraiser last night. Ronan said, "It pooped on your shirt." Great!

Ten minutes and two poops later (one in Ronan's hand) and the bird was ready to go outside. Ronan opened her hands. The bird sat there for moment soaking up the morning sun, then flew off across the garden and up into a young fir tree.

Nice to have an easy fix sometimes in amongst the complications. Now on to making cranberry and walnut chevre and thinking about my Oregon Quarterly essay submission -- due January 15th. haven't started it yet. Oh, right, and then there's that magazine issue to publish. Isn't that what I was doing when this started?

Having a bit of a hard time maintaining focus lately, as you can see.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mirror - Chimera

Still catching up on past adventures ...

Last year Olive Delsol and I co-taught a creative writing class at Kennedy Alternative High School on a volunteer basis. The first term was mostly free-writing and Olive and I working to come up with prompts that would engage the students -- and coping with how the class was almost never the same group of people. For the second term we decided on a curriculum of reading and writing our way through the early history of storytelling (fables, fairy tales, myths, and legends). That term was also when we "teachers" spent a lot of time learning how to keep the class on an even keel while our students coped with their often tumultuous lives. For the third term the class decided to produce Kennedy's first ever literary magazine. Many deadlines were blown and Olive and I kept reminding ourselves that the students were working mostly in the dark, having never produced and held in their hands a final product like we were making. In the end it all came together: 48 pages of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and lots of art funded by ten donors in our Cottage Grove community. During that same push to deadline, Olive and I found out about a grant four days before it was due; we wrote up our proposal, hand-delivered it with at least 20 minutes to spare, and later received $2000 to continue our class next year and produce three more issues of the magazine.

About the photo: the first issue of The Kennedy Mirror was called The Chimera because of our myth and legend work. Also a chimera is a fabulous creature of disparate parts (such as lion, goat, snake) that can spit fire. Five students made the parts of the chimera and its fireball.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My story in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

I don't know why this achievement is so hard for me to talk about. Or why writing the bio blurb requested by the editor/publisher nearly crashed my brain's hard drive. But I'm all better now.

The story was purchased in spring of 2009 and appeared in the May/June issue of F&SF. If any of my friends and family reading this want a copy of the magazine, let me know, and I'll send you one. The local bookstore ordered fifty copies and we've gone through almost all of them. One or two can still be found, and if we order another twenty copies then Gordon Van Gelder will have reached the break-even point right there in terms of making make back what he paid me.

Loki's magic gumball

Our eldest daughter, Shaura, and her partner, Neil, arrived from Sheffield, England, a week and half ago -- tired, cranky with each other, and both recovering from recent visits to the dentist. They got past the tired and cranky quickly but the legendary problems of British teeth were not so easily vanquished.

Shaura had recently had a root canal; Neil had an abcessed tooth pulled the day before takeoff. Shaura did fine. Neil's abscess continued to fester and he developed dry socket, too. Both are painful and possibly life-threatening because of the close proximity to the brain. I went online to see what we could do and found a little bit of advice and much admonishment to call a dentist as soon as possible. Things weren't looking good. Besides that seeing a dentist on an emergency basis was beyond the financial capacity of all four of us combined, we were heading into the 4th of July weekend.

Improvisation was needed.

A friend volunteered a few Vicodin, which we split in half to make them last longer. I took the one piece of not-stupid-sounding advice found on google for abscessed tooth (put a tea bag on it) and combined it with my experience with honey. Honey is my favorite method for avoiding trips to the emergency room for stitches and other forms of medical torture -- I successfully reattached a nearly severed fingertip with honey and I still have feeling in it, too.

Honey is antiseptic and a growth stimulant. Every wound I have treated with honey has healed extraordinarily fast and with little or no scarring. Little cuts and burns that I can't be bothered to treat take much longer to heal and leave scars that last for years because I scar rather easily.

So, I combined the abscess-drawing property of the dry, powdered, black tea with the healing powers of honey by cutting the end off of a rolled up tea bag then wrapping it in a patch of gauze soaked and slathered in honey. Neil put the "gumball" in the empty socket at night and once or twice during the day. The tea, we found, kept the gumball in place (we'd tried just honey and gauze before I found out about the tea). Before the weekend was over, the abscess had drained and the socket was beginning to fill in with new gum-flesh. Despite that Neil was present when I cut my fingertip (he was helping me butcher a goat), he seemed as surprised as he was pleased that the gumball worked. But I trust that since he says his Facebook photo of himself with Peach the scrub jay perched on his shoulder makes for great storytelling at the pubs, that his gumball cure story will soon be up there in his favorite recountings of his adventures in the wilds of Oregon. (Unless, that is, he or Shaura has a close encounter with a mountain lion while she's doing her Vision Quest. She's going "up on the hill" as I write this.)

One final note: Neil says he thought the 1/6 teaspoon of tea in the gumball made it a little hard to sleep. This may have been jet lag, but if you have any concern about this, you can try finding decaf teabags should you ever need to try this remedy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It takes a village to graduate a Tanner

Also beginning in late February Tanner and Alicia moved in with us. They are students at the high school Matt works at. I volunteer there, teaching creative writing. (We won't go into the details of the whys behind their moving in, but contrary to jokes among the staff, we don't plan to take on two kids every year. The house is full up for now.)

At right is Alicia, catching up on some English homework, while Tanner does math.

After settling in, Tanner suddenly decided (in May) that he wanted to graduate this year after all, rather than after fall term -- a decision that required piles of work to be done: 180 pages of math worksheets, plus 28 hours logged on a computer for more math, two books read and two 4-page reports written about them, among other assignments. There was absolutely no way he could do it all without a set schedule that portioned all the work out into one small mountain to be summited each night. We all pitched in, including Ronan, who supplied us with math formulas for calculating percentages over and over again when we couldn't remember them from one problem to the next. Although Tanner likes science fiction, reading is not something that comes easily for him, so I did a "Story Time" every night for an hour or so to get those books done. I intend to pick "Story Time" back up and make it a regular family event ... starting maybe after graduation. Which Tanner is going to!! Saturday! June 12!!! He's not the only one counting down the days. [Above is Matthew taking a shift at helping with math.]

Tanner also has his first real job interview today, in just a couple of hours. For Oregon Woods. He wants to do wildland firefighting this summer (if it ever stops raining). He's all nervous ... and clean, and shaved, and dressed neatly. It's so cute. (Man, this is the way to have teenagers -- get them after they've done all their crazy rebellious stuff. ... or so we hope.)

At right is a picture of Tanner helping make pizza for dinner. Between rolling out crusts, he drew a picture of an oak tree in floor on the new stainless steel counter. He was taking a picture of his artwork.

Alicia is at least two years away from graduating. She'll be doing independent projects from home next year, studying writing, sewing, gardening, auto mechanics, math, and art -- for starters. We both hope we can make that work for her.

Haiti Benefit

Did this really happen this year? The benefit in late February seems so long ago. It was held at the Axe and Fiddle, so many bands playing in seven hours that we had to move each one on and off in about 45 minutes. Began with the Coyote Singers native drumming group -- which could be heard for a block down the street -- and ending with Fijian bluesman Inoke Baravilala. Other friends made Haitian style food to serve to people. There were raffles, etc.. Next time I think "Well Matt and I could send a hundred dollars to Haiti or we could spend a hundred dollars to have a benefit and raise more..." I need to remember the 60+ hours of coordination that went into it. But Partners In Health got over $1000 and everyone had a good time. Can't get the beautiful flyer made by Ivan Delsol to upload, possibly because it's a pdf file.

I've been planning to have a second benefit for Haiti this summer, specifically for the cinema school that was leveled. Show films from and about Haiti and from the film school. May wait for my daughter to get here from England with her partner so I can dragoon them into helping.

Floor is done -- on to the next thing

Been a long time and many adventures and misadventures have happened fast enough to keep me from keeping up with this blog. I'm trying to post a few updates in quick succession now.

Here is our kitchen at its worst. To the left of Kyle is the little orange heavy-duty jack that was all that was holding this side of a two-storey house up. We were reallly lucky that this particular part of the winter was mild. With just a double layer of blankets closing off the kitchen we were able to keep the house toasty warm with Stella (our cookstove) going morning and night.

Kyle DeBord here always comes to help out when we have gnarly construction projects that are two big for us.

Over two months after we started we finally had a floor and soon after that we could stop living with a refrigerator parked at the end of the dinner table -- although sometimes this was a handy location for it. Here is Ronan getting her only chance to skate on a smooth surface a country girl is ever likely to have. Even the paved parts of the Weyerhaeuser logging road are so rough that skating on them would jar even a young person's teeth loose.

Five months later we do have a sink and several counter- and cupboard-like items installed but the trim still remains to be done. (I say it this way because everything we've put in the new kitchen is easily removable, even -- or especially -- my gorgeous steel sink with both basins deep enough to get a five-gallon carboy under the faucet.) I never seem to have the camera on hand during the two seconds every few days that the kitchen is clean enough to have its picture taken. Nor have I had any time lately to brew beer or make wine, which was the whole point to the deep sink.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You Know You've been unemployed too long when ...

you turn in a proposal to teach a fiction-writing class at the local community college wearing the same clothes you milked the goats in.

In my defense I will say that Olive (my co-teacher and I finished writing the proposal the day it was due and I thought I was just dropping it off at Lane Community College office where it would be put in the director's mailbox until she arrived at work. I didn't know her hours, but I knew she worked some evenings. When I handed the envelope over to the receptionist, she said -- before I could escape: "Can you stay? She wants to talk to you." Uh oh.

I looked down at my shirt, a long-dead leftover from my last professional job. It had been patched with silk-screened swatches of reproductions of another friend's art. But still more holes awaited new art. The whole bottom of the multi-coloured flannel shirt had come unhemmed and I had stopped the unraveling by painting a border in black acrylic along the edge. I hastily zipped my jacket up to cover it. The jacket, though a red fleece, had some soot smears from the woodstove and many bits of hay and seeds that had worked their way into the fabric and won't be coming out until they dissolve in the wash some distant day. However ...

You know you're in Cottage Grove when:

none of this matters and the director greets you by name, never casts so much as glance at your clothes, tells you that you did your homework well in preparing the proposal, and gives you not just a handshake but a double-palmed handhug at the end of the discussion. She also said (from looking at the attached supporting materials) that she would love it if I were to offer a feltmaking class.

Oh dang, I was going to throw in a link for Cada's art but I have to load Joy into the truck for a trip to the vet. Later --