Friday, June 30, 2006

This is talent?

Have to wonder... flipping through channels I just saw half of a promotion for what appears to be a national talent show. Fair enough. Clips of extremely beautiful people dancing, doing magic, possibly discovering the pathogenic profile of an entirely new disease for all I know. I can accept all of that but...

...honestly, is putting scorpions down your pants a talent?

Sing Darn You, SING

We moved out of Anchorage after less than a year. Our landlady decided to sell the house we were renting, and we realized we didn't really like anything we were seeing in the city. I think it was all part of Kirk's secret fish-centric thought process really. Anchorage=not good fishing. Out of Anchorage, fishing potential rises exponentially.

I was still not willing to give up proximity to the book store and New Sagaya (fantastic place. Honestly, if you move to Anchorage you have to head to this store. Unbelievable) so we were limited to what passes for suburbs in Alaska - Eagle River, Peter's Creek, Girdwood - that sort of area. Best thing we did up there. Eagle River is a wonderful little town. It has the necessary coffee shop (Jitters), the Safeway for late-night necessities, and of course a network of well maintained paths for hiking, mountain biking, and in the winter, cross-country skiing. Oh, and the schools are amazing.

There were two elementaries - Ravenwood and Alpenglow, and our kids went to the latter. I could rave on and on about the fantastic teachers, the incredible building and facilities, the setting... ah... but what I remember at the moment is the first performance we went to, starring Child 2. They lined up all the kids of the same age group on a set of risers, placed the teachers strategically to glare at miniature agitators, block the most obvious escape routes, or quickly scoop up anyone doing the potty-jiggle-dance. Then they all sang, starting off with the school song. (choreography in parenthesis)

The Eagle River RUSHES by
(rushing demonstration with arms. Shy types try to do this with their elbows glued to their sides, those with a good imagination or a desire to take advantage of any opportunity for mayhem are more enthusiastic and whack the kid to their left)
The sun is shining on the MOUNTain side
(arms raised in air to sort of indicate where the mountain might be. At least two fights break out over mountain positioning infringing on personal space)
In the valley where the cool winds blow
(more whacking because winds, you know, in valleys they blow pretty hard. One very loud 'STOP it!')
Is our school, Alpenglow
(vague sort of papal blessing thing happens, which allows the four little girls who clearly know exactly how it should be sung, and are getting really, really annoyed that everyone else is doing it wrong to glare around them at their peers of lesser intelligence and enunciate like crazy and perform their exaggerated blessing very clearly. Also allows several people to whack those in front of them for a change)
Aaaaalpengloooooow, Aaaaalpenglooooooow
(Repeat papal blessing)
A place where we can grow, Alpenglow
(Growing indicated by violent upward motions, at which point one kid falls off the back riser, three more jump down either to help him or poke at him since he's helpless, and the kids who have now been whacked four times in the back of the head turn around and whack their tormentors back, or just sit down and sulk.)

There were several more verses, and I'm shattered to discover you can't find them online, but trust me, they were great. There was stuff in there about learning teck-noh-low-GEEEE (with typing motion) and a whole section on conFLICT resolve using our minds and not our might (practically all the boys and half the girls doing their best Mighty Mouse impersonation, and the really excited ones breaking into mock fist fights just to show you what we don't do at Alpenglow).

I won't tell you what category of performer Child 2 fell in (whacker, whackee, or over-achieving perfectionist), but by the end of it Kirk and I were moved to tears. I can honestly say we had never until that moment enjoyed a musical performance more.

ETA: Child 2 informs me that to the best of its recollection at least one verse included the lines
'We learn to think and problem solve
(finger to temple, contemplative expression)
We learn about conFLICT resolve
(it can't remember what the motion was here, which should tell you a lot about Child 2)
We talk it out, we don't fight
(fight club reenactments here - not administration sanctioned I think)
We use our minds and not our might
(fists in the air like they don't care)

swing into chorus with anyone left standing.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Diplomacy - Liquid and Otherwise

There were lots of superb linguists in Kirk's unit, but all enlisted. So far as I know, Kirk was the only officer on base who spoke Russian fluently. So, even though you couldn't go lower on the officer food chain than where he was, he got tagged for anything that needed solid language skills and at least nominal rank. Mostly he just translated for the colonels and such who were meant to be doing the real talking, but he also got to go on all of the base and city tours, and help out for the most important bit at the end - when the Russian guys went to the BX to shop for their wives. He made one life-long friend by recommending Chanel no. 5 as a can't miss selection.

There was one misstep though. They took the Russians on a quick tour of Anchorage - out for dinner at the Crow's Nest, and then since they were right downtown, on to the 5th Avenue Mall. It's a pretty impressive looking mall really, particularly for a city the size of Anchorage, four stories tall and full of modern glass and mallesque nylon banners. Of course, when we first came they didn't have a Gap yet (when it arrived people were shaking with excitement. One woman came up to me on The Day and said 'I just bought a pair of socks! I don't even need socks, but I had to buy something from the Gap the day it opened.' Yeah, well, that's what happens to Alaskans during break up - gets a bit crazy), and the bottom floor was empty unless there was a ski sale, a Christmas mall, or a fishing event. The Russians got very quiet and grim there though. Took Kirk the best part of an hour to get them to tell him what was wrong. They were offended that the Americans thought they would be impressed by what was so clearly a government front building set up to wow foreigners. They wouldn't believe Kirk when he said it was, honestly and truly, just a mall. Things didn't thaw out until they all went to the Glacier Brew House and took the Russians three goes around the micro-brewery sampler selection.

Kirk was later asked to go translate when a Russian ship had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and was towed into harbor somewhere down south. He walked on board ship with two Coast Guard officers - the highest rank they could rustle up at short notice - and was met by the ship's captain and his two assistants.

'Welcome! We have tradition on Russian boat,' he said, and Kirk and the other two Americans were handed shot glasses, full to the absolute rim. Three more appeared for the Russians. 'When come on boat, we all must drink together.'

The six men drained the shot glasses together.

'Brave men! We have another tradition.' The captain pulled an enormous bottle of vodka out. 'Once bottle is open, we must finish.'

A few hours later the Russian captain and his men strolled happily down to the dock. Kirk and the other Americans wobbled slowly and carefully after.

I still have the shot glass - covered with a strange, pebbly pink transfer, and rimmed with gold. It seems a frivolous, feminine sort of thing for a Russian ship's captain to choose. But it took three large American officers down without a fight.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Good Morning Fish

I was woken up by a fish in my bedroom. To be specific, it was a King salmon, a Chinook, about 38 pounds (decent size but not exceptional by any means). Not quite sure what Emily Post would recommend in this situation.

Ship Creek runs right through Anchorage, and come the spring the salmon head up it regardless of the inappropriately urban setting. You can, in theory, watch them swimming upstream although my memory is of an extremely muddy stretch of water and a less than idyllic bridge. Still, it's a genuine salmon run of the largest salmon in the Pacific and the minute it starts hopeful Anchoragites are out with rods, casting away.

Kirk was there within days. Fishing had never been part of our lives before. We didn't even own a rod before this. We camped a lot, hiked all the time, he did archery and we both took endless outdoor photographs, but fishing? Nope. So I wasn't exactly expecting fish fever to set in so hard and fast. I didn't know it's inevitable in Alaska, and there's nothing to do but hunker down and hold on for the ride.

It was Kirk's first salmon season, and he hadn't yet made the kind of sourdough friends who would share the really important stuff. Sure Alaskans, and new military Alaskans, are a friendly bunch who are more than happy to weigh in on rod sizes, line poundage, cast weights and ideal tackle (I'm so proud to have produced that list entirely from memory and without resort to Google. And I don't even fish). They'll talk about waders (recommended) and bear protection (shotgun) for hours, but ask about the best fishing spots and you'll get a resounding silence. You have to have saved the family dog with mouth to snout recuscitation or donated a kidney or something before you'll get directions to their secret fishing hole.

Not that Kirk didn't realize Ship Creek wasn't exactly ideal. Like so many Alaskan creeks in the area the bottom and banks are often made of glacial mud - exceptionally slippery and sticky. Since it's in the heart of Anchorage it's combat fishing at it's worst as well; shoulder to shoulder crowds whenever the tide is right. However, it's a really friendly group who will happily haul you out if you get stuck, and there's always someone with a net nearby if you hook into one. And, of course, it's within minutes of the base and therefore almost irritistable.

I had suffered through two weeks of fish drought with Kirk. He was out there whenever his schedule allowed, throwing in his line. He listened to stories from the fishing veterans at the unit (there I was, hip deep in the mud and just hooked into a 50 pound monster...). He stood in cold water up to his hips and came home caked with slimy grey mud, all for nothing. The frustration was unbelievable. I felt for him. Really I did.

So, when he woke me up at far too early in the morning with a huge king salmon I honestly did my best. I squinted at the huge silver body (and didn't check to see if it was dripping), I nodded at all the pauses in the story of how he landed the thing (can't remember any of it), and heard gratefully that he had first taken the fish, in the car, back on base and up to the unit where they have their own fish scale just for weighing salmon. There he was thumped on the back and his fish was properly admired, everyone else trotted out their first salmon stories for comparison, and general amusement. At least someone had appreciated his moment.

I guess they figured he was blooded then, that he was one of them. Because the next day one of the sergeants took him aside.

'That was a nice fish you landed yesterday. But you know, Lt, you just can't do really good fishing down Ship Creek. Now, where you want to go is...'

Sorry, can't tell you the secret. I'm sure you understand.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Come the Thaw

If you're going to move to Alaska, do it in November. It lets you ease into the thing. Sounds insane to put it that way since you're right in the middle of the cold and the dark, but to us those things weren't where Alaska was extreme - it was the unrestricted, utterly overwhelming life of the place. If there is anywhere human kind is simply allowed on sufferance, anywhere nature doesn't pay us mind, it's Alaska. Sure, you can throw down a road, but leave it untended for a year or two and the green will already be gobbling it up again.

Alaskans have a quote about Anchorage - it's a nice place, and only a half hour from Alaska. It's the easy version of the North, the soft version. The roads are always scraped and sanded, there are Starbucks and Safeway stores, Walmarts with enormous packs of genuine toilet paper. And you do feel a bit removed from the rest of the state. The city lights block out the aurora, and some of the amazing amethyst skies in the winter nights. But that doesn't mean that you won't come around a corner to find a moose contemplating your ornamental tree.

Living in Anchorage, arriving at the start of the real winter, we were introduced to it all slowly, easily. Like the hard-core ducks. Even in the coldest time of year there was a creek behind the kid's school that never froze over, and twenty or so ducks opted to tough it out there rather than migrate. So how serious can a winter be if there are still ducks hanging around? Not to mention that ducks are a pretty cozy, domesticated sort of animal to come across in the wilds of Alaska. We fed them regularly, feeling like that sort of fortitude deserved a bit of recognition, even if it was only handfulls of corn. (yes, we were probably contributing to their delinquent behavior and encouraging all sorts of anti-social stuff. Undoubtedly they ended up getting flipper tattoos and little mallard mohawks) Of course Child 3 fell in and had to be hustled home to be rubbed down, swaddled and comforted with hot chocolate (and sympathy hot chocolate shared around naturally, to alleviate the mental anguish of the siblings).

But Spring came eventually. We didn't yet know what it would bring so we enjoyed the entire process, rather than feeling it was agonizingly slow like more experienced Alaskans. One day we were driving around the back of the base, on one of the small, rarely used roads that access the remote wild bits, when Kirk pulled quickly over and leaped out. He was back in a second, his hands cupped around something.

'Look,' he said, holding it out, 'just look at this.'

It was a handful of deep brown earth, covered with rich, dark green moss. It smelled of soil, and water, and freshness and after the arid desert tan it was amazingly beautiful. We examined it for a few minutes and then I felt guilty and insisted he put it back, quickly before it died. He carefully tucked it away where it came from and we drove away, marveling that right under the layer of snow there was so much life.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Elephant Cages and Jet Lag

Kirk was assigned to the 381st MI squadron at Elmendorf. It's a huge unit - somewhere around 300 people I think when we were there. They worked at the elephant cage - well, the elephant cage surrounded where they worked - up a hill, behind the flight-line. That worked well for Kirk. You drove in the front gate and past all the boring stuff, circled the flight-line where, quite often, the f-16's would be taking off, or a c-5 would be making an utterly improbable looking landing (and where there was a resident fox who sometimes could be seen bouncing above the fireweed looking for food), then headed up the hill, watching for moose on either side and hoping that the eagle pair who nested nearby would be putting on an aerial show.

He had to take a test when he first got there - no idea what it was about. He loped through it in a couple of weeks, and only afterwards learned he had broken some sort of local record by getting through so quickly. Once that was over he was, butter-bars and all, suddenly a commander. I think that's one of the things that made this such a highly prized position - the chance at command right out of school.

Slightly less enticing was the schedule. There were three flights that rotated the off hours of a 24 hour duty - a 12 day cycle. Four days were swings - 4 p.m. to midnight, four days were mids - midnight to 8 a.m., four days were off. It meant for over a year he would be in perpetual jet lag.

Worse, for four days he didn't see the oldest kids at all - during swings he missed them on both sides of school. Because he was always chasing his last sleep cycle we learned quickly that Daddy sleep was sacred. If he did manage to drop off, we all tiptoed around the house, or left completely in the hopes he could catch an hour or two. I don't think he ever slept normally again.

There was one benefit however. Child 3 had, as probably happens in families like ours, been the funny, charming, but quiet tagalong kid. It wasn't that it was forgotten or ignored, just that the older two set up such a constant chatter Child 3 didn't really get a look-in. When Kirk had his four days off though, and the older two were in school, we just took Child 3 with us to do errands and get to know Anchorage. I remember sitting in a restaurant one day, and looking across at Kirk while Child 3 contentedly informed us of important life facts in an endless stream of noise. 'You know what?' Kirk said, 'this kid talks.' It made us a bit ashamed to realize that this wonderful, intelligent, hilarious personality had been there all along and we hadn't known because of the surface babble. I think that was the thing we both found most fantastic about the crazy schedule - getting to know Child 3 as its very own person.

Of course, once it realized that it could talk and have an audience it hasn't actually stopped for breath since. But I'll take it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Excuses excuses

By the way... if I seem less than inspired the last couple of days its because I've finally given in to a stinking cold.

But I'm an optimist, so while hacking away I make sure to think those happy, sunshiny thoughts: 'Hey! Coughing is a really great abdominal workout.'

Yah. I'm going to have a killer six-pack in no time.

Chasing the Coolth

I complain about the weather a lot. Not out publically, just internally and to my kids who completely agree with me. It's nice to complain about something that is completely not my fault, that I can't change no matter what, something that won't get its feelings hurt if I shout about it.

So we're having a 'relief' from the heat which means that according to my outdoor thermostat it's 'only' 99 outside. I think it's not actually that hot, just the thermostat registering the sun and the reflecting heat coming off the wall. But when I think about it I realize that if the thermostat feels that way so will I, no matter what the 'real' temperature is.

We're chasing down cool. There's oooold U2 playing, child 2 is munching popcorn and reading in my very shabby comfy chair. I'm doing graphic work and fussing because this computer doesn't have Photoshop CS2, but convincing myself that it makes me more creative to strive against these obstacles (piffling PS7... ). And it's a lovely 70 degrees. Sure I'm so lame I take my kids to work on a Sunday, but right now we're all agreed it's a wonderful thing.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dread Pirates

Two weeks ago we were risking life, limb, and the neighbor's houses with coleman stoves. There was also a bit of archery, a fair amount of jousting (for granola bar prizes), and some disorganized bashing with padded swords. Middle ages of course.

This weekend we were pirates. Deal was all three kids had to come up with an appropriate pirate name and a story to explain how they became a pirate, how they acquired their treasure, and what caused them to have their horrific pirate injury. Then they could hide their treasure (goldfish crackers and rolos) and, when coaxed into forgetting themselves by imbibing too much sparkling green apple cider, reveal their map (actually, all three ended up writing cryptic clues instead).

Now, my children are extremely creative, but they have never bothered much with names. Stuffed animals in our house have gone by Mr Tiger, Elephanty, Bear-Bear and so on. In fact, only two ever got called anything remotely interesting. A small rubber rainbow trout was dubbed 'Cinderella Kissy Face Fish,' and a tiny felt mouse ended up as 'CheeseAppleMousePeeperSqueak.'

However, they didn't do too badly. We're now housing the dread pirates Dirty Jack, Tom the Invisible Slasher, and Nine-Toed Noodler (a pasta chef).

Next stop, the Spanish main.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Those Generous Alaskans

We settled in pretty quickly. We've moved so often we're really good at most things, but we never lost the tendency to rush the house-choosing process. At least this time there was an excuse - the long drive coming after an unsettled four months in Texas had made the 'temporary' in TLF a real problem. The place was reasonably large, and the daily maid service wasn't exactly a trial, but we wanted a home, a place to put our own things and be private again.

So we found a house - like many Alaskan houses it was a 1970's era split level - and, gulp, gasp, a school for the oldest two kids. Actually the school was directly across the street, but I still insisted on walking them all the way there for the first several months. However, I did not then stand in the front of the school and wave madly, shouting 'bye baby!! Have a wonderful day!! I'll be thinking of you all day long, and I'll have a BIG kiss waiting when I pick you up!!' Well, not more than once or twice.

It didn't take a week though to find out something amazing about Alaskans, even people who hadn't been Alaskans more than a year or two. Alaskans are unbelievably generous. Within a day or two Kirk was bringing home packages that people at work were not just giving him, but pressing on him with urgency, insisting that no, he MUST take them home! It was November, but we were eating wild-caught salmon almost every night, varied with halibut, or sometimes caribou. These weren't little dainty slivers of fish in polythene packages either - these were five pound hunks of meat double wrapped in industrial grade foil.

If you come from a land-locked area fish, even frozen fish, so long as it hasn't travelled hundreds of miles, is a revelation. This was the real deal - no injections of psychodelic pink, no flavor boosting brine. We couldn't get enough. Teryaki salmon, salmon with dill and lemon, salmon with a horserashish sauce... mmmm.... and halibut in butter sauces, cream sauces, tomato sauces.... all thanks to the amazing generosity that seemed to inhabit the Northern air.

Eventually we realized what was really going on. As soon as someone new moves in a sort of 'empty freezer' radar goes off in all surrounding houses. All through the summer Alaskans busily reel in salmon and halibut, and hunt for moose and caribou. That adds up to an enormous amount of meat. The salmon at least is fairly versatile - what isn't eaten fresh is smoked (with a great deal of controversy over method) or pickled (sorry, never tried doing it myself, but had some that was fantastic. Recipe is for reference) until the remainder is finally frozen out of desperation. But halibut, which is often caught at over 150 pounds, is much more delicate and has to be eaten just about as-is, fresh or frozen. Shamefaced halibut offloaders began handing us recipes as well to sort of soften the blow. No need. We gorged ourselves.

Of course, by the next summer we were catching our own salmon and scanning the naive faces of newcomers for the best mark, and they in return were marveling at the giving nature of even the most recently come Alaskans.

Here's what to do with frozen halibut, quick and delicious:

1 large chunk of freezer-clearance halibut, thawed and cubed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt

Fill a large saucepan 2/3 with water, add sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Chuck in the halibut (if you have too much work in batches) and rescue it when it floats to the top.

Serve with simple sauce of melted butter and lemon.

I Want To Move Back To Where They Think This Is Hot

On my yahoo weather dingus I have the places I would like to live, and at least one or two places I used to live, but not the place I currently live (heck, I know what the weather is like here!)

So I was really amused today to see 'severe weather alert!' for Portland, Pacifica, and our old home town - Moss Beach. Seems these folks are going to suffer a serious heat wave, with warnings about seeking out air conditioning, and drinking water (still or sparkling is fine, and just a hint of lemon mind). To make it quite clear, the panic is over this:

Note especially the overnight temperatures and the extended forecast.

Where I live we're all excited over a cooling trend that's giving us this:

We figure next week we'll be back around 99 or so.

In this crisis the West Coast is facing, I'd like to volunteer my services to go help out. Really. Just fly my family out there, and we'll toil away to ease you through your tough time. We're just really generous that way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Welcome to Anchorage. Mind the Moose

Elmendorf is a pretty base. It was built in 1940, and a lot of the buildings when we were there seemed to be from that era, or just post WWII. They were doing a lot of new stuff though - right next to the old bx (replaced in our final year) was a brand new log-cabin: 'look mom! Yellow icicles! Are they peecicles?'

We found the TLF (temporary lodging facility) registration place, Kirk established that we were indeed expected, and recovered the keys, and we drove around the base looking for the housing. As we drove past the bowling alley, a huge male moose strolled across the road - casual and unbelievably longleggedly graceful. A base mp car was tailing him at a safe distance to make sure he didn't come to any grief (or cause any). He looked like he had dropped by to bowl a few whatever-it-is-one-bowls, have a bag of chips with the guys, and was heading home before his wife got upset. Couldn't be more relaxed and at home with things.

But the best moment, the unbelievable, okay I think we might survive moment, was when we got to the TLF and found two entire floors - as in rooms on one level, then stairs, then rooms on an entirely different level. Without a word the kids headed into one area and the adults another. After two weeks on the road, two weeks in a tiny car and in single-room hotels, we still loved eachother, we just didn't really want to see much of eachother for a while.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pickles the Pig

We rolled out of Tok grimly. Last day. Last. Day. Sure we would be in temporary lodging on base and still have the fun of house hunting and settling in, but we would NOT be driving for hours on end looking at snow on either side.

So naturally in between the towns of Gakona and Gulkana (which I'm sure are both the same darn word in some language, and probably mean 'stupid cheechako who doesn't know enough to keep their nose warm') we came around a gentle curve and hit a massive patch of black ice. Strange moment - sort of like wiping out on a mountain bike or on skis, because mentally you're already anticipating stuff far down the road and suddenly everything is whizzing around at top speed and then nothing but white snow everywhere. It wasn't too bad really, the engine still worked just fine, the tires seemed to be in good shape, we were just well and truly stuck in the snow bank that had caught and saved us.

I did not call Kirk names. I did not say that he obviously was going too fast around that curve. I might have thought it, but I didn't say it. When you've been driving for two weeks and you've just gone off the road miles from even the closest small town, in the middle of a very cold Alaska November there are some things you just don't say. I pulled out the emergency blanket and tucked it around the kids (see! The REI folks were right! Of course, we put it away almost at once because it was crinkly and irritating, but it was comforting to know we had it) and Kirk started hiking back up the road. L. Frank Baum came out again and we began following the twee adventures of the overly gorgeous Polychrome. I tried not to think about how long Kirk had to go, or how cold it was. I giggled with the kids over how funny it was to go spinning around in the middle of the road and then POUF! and didn't calculate how long it would take just to get to the town.

Actually he was back within five minutes. Someone was driving up the road and had immediately offered to give us all a ride to Gulkana where we could find a tow truck. The woman gave the impression that she wasn't very used to talking to strangers, and all I can remember of the drive was that she was listening to Christian AM radio, and that she home-schooled her seven kids. She dropped us off at a restaurant (the Gulkana restaurant? Probably) and while Kirk went off to negotiate with the tow truck driver the kids and I headed in to get them some hot chocolate and something to eat while we waited.

And... and... what a wonderful day! Not only did we get a puke-your-guts state fair type ride in the car, but there was (deep gasps) a pig! A real live, big pink oinking pig! Right on the deck of the restaurant. They were thrilled. I could hardly get them in the door.

They were given pancakes (the only thing on offer) and powdered hot chocolate, and spent a happy hour drawing pictures of the pig and writing her love letters. Because, as the owner informed us, her name was Pickles. This was almost too much.

The restauranteer talked solidly the entire hour - about leaving a high-pressure, high-paying job in Los Angeles (in movies? Advertising? Can't remember now...) to uproot their overly materialistic teenagers and bring them up to Alaska to be raised the right way. Saved their souls apparently. (Oh, and let me tell you about the honeymoon bride who missed the stop sign and drove their brand new RV right into the field. Snow up to the windows. Time we dug her out she was in tears - husband was still asleep. Slept right through the whole thing and she didn't want to wake him up because he'd be so mad) Except none of the kids still lived in Alaska, they all went right back to LA as soon as they were old enough. Still (and let me tell you about the Russian choir boys who came through here on tour. Well, they weren't here on tour, and I can't remember why they came through, but let me tell you those boys could eat! I never made so many pancakes) they call us all the time, and they know there's a world outside of California.

Finally Kirk came back with our newly freed car (and his new friend Cletus - I swear - who had fallen SMACK on the ice three times just hooking up the tow truck to the Saturn, said it was the worst black ice he'd seen in years. [and so there you wife who thinks harsh words towards her innocent husband]). He paid for the pancakes, joked with the restaurant owner (in the brief pauses for breath), and managed to sweep the three kids past the pig and into the back seat.

I thanked the woman again, for letting us in even though she wasn't really open yet, and for letting the kids give her dozens of paper-napkin portraits of her pig.

'Yes, well she's a really nice pig, is Pickles. She's always been the friendliest thing.' the woman said, scratching the happy pig on the back. 'Glad you got to see her. We're butchering her tomorrow.'

As we drove away one of the kids said dreamily from the back seat. 'I just love that pig. Some day I'm going to come back here, and I'm going to move in right next door, and I'll see Pickles every day.'

'Okay, honey,' I said. 'It's a plan.'

Yet Another Parenting Award

Child 1 came into my room today.

'Hey Mom, you remember the ROTC family night?'

'yah...' Not enough A/C and a lot of giggly teens at my very own high school alma mater - what's not to remember?

'You know the senior slide show they did? How everyone had their own song?'


'Well,' Said Child 1, of the 4.0 gpa, of the ambition to become a pediatric oncologist and therefore suffer through 8 years of college. 'I know what I want mine to be.'

And Child 1 goes out the door singing Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Testify Child 1, testify.
I was asked recently if news like this, the two US soldiers kidnapped and killed, upsets me more than other people.

A. I can't answer that because I'm not other people.

B. It upsets me so badly I can hardly breath. But I should think most people feel that way.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Yukon, Birthdays, and Frozen Snot

It's very strange to write about the drive through the Yukon in November of 1996 while sitting in the heat of June 2006. Different world indeed.

About the third day or so it got to me. It was still beautiful, still wild with blowing snow, still the chance of ghosts of caribou drifting across the road ahead. But each day's drive was losing us more and more daylight, and the miles of snowy fields took on a terrible sameness. The kids were extremely good in the back seat, but it wasn't interesting driving all the time, and they were stuffed in with comforter wadded around their feet to keep them warm so they could hardly move. I read to them while it was light enough, with my best diaphragm supported stage voice, and earned myself a sore throat, a crick in the neck, and a lasting dislike of L. Frank Baum.

When we got to the only stopping place possible Kirk quietly took the kids and left me to recover sanity in the small hotel room. They came back in a couple of hours, the kids beaming and full of joy. Turned out a local guy was having a birthday, and the entire town (all 60 or so of them) had turned out to celebrate. Kirk and the kids were enthusiastically included and they had stuffed themselves on cake, sang songs (the only one they knew the words to was 'Happy Birthday' but that didn't stop them from singing) and decided that Canadians are the friendliest, most welcoming people on the planet. I was glad they had a good time, but happier that tomorrow's stop, Tok, was the last before Anchorage.

If you follow that Tok link you'll see the proud declaration: The Coldest Inhabited Community in North America. I don't know what the exact details are, and if they can back up the claim, but it's certainly what it feels like. When we stepped out of the car in Tok I took one breath and realized that I was going to die in Alaska. That simple, no drama, just death by unbelievable cold. After we had lived there a winter I found out that feeling is actually just the mucus in your nose freezing solid. Still it was our last night before Anchorage which meant only one more day in that tiny car. Life might just be worth living, assuming you could thaw out your snot.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ziploc Bags

We were a recycling kind of family. V-8 juice cans didn't just become bread baking tins. With a hole punched in each side near the top and a string run through they were instant stilts. We spent Saturdays hauling a wagon around the neighborhood to pick up everyone's newspapers, and family walks always included a plastic bag so we could score empty soda cans and beer cans along the way. I even learned to tell at a glance if the cans were 'good' or not by checking the bottoms. metal with smooth lines through it was fine, grainy looking surfaces were not. That's a skill that has served me nearly as well as a BA in History.

We were also a dishes-by-hand kind of family. I remember seriously telling a baffled but almost convinced neighbor that dishwashers were against our religion. Made sense to me - everything else was. I hadn't yet grasped the difference between religious and socio-ecological-economic convictions. They all manifested in my life with the same force so I didn't stop to consider the source.

But hand washing dishes and recycling met in a way I found exceptionally irritating - the Ziploc bags. Every evening my sister and I would slog through, starting with glasses and plates, moving on to the heavy stuff - pots and pans - and then inevitably rounding out with several crumb filled plastic bags. By now the dish water was luke warm, the disguising layer of bubbles had evaporated leaving a few yellow and greasy patches floating on the surface and exposing the grey, floater filled sink beneath. The bags had to be turned inside out and swished vigorously in the water. We used to fill them right up and hold them over the sink, hoping that a squirt or two, or even a dribble would say that finally this bag at least could be thrown away.

The ritual didn't stop there either, because the bags had to be carefully dried, first on one side, then turned right way round again and left out again. Even in our desert climate this took a bit of time, so our kitchen always had four or five bags draped around it. My mother eventually constructed a miniature line for them, and they would be pegged out over the sink.

I found the whole thing deeply humiliating. Not only did I have round sandwiches in scratched and wrinkled plastic baggies, but the evidence of this shame was stretched for all the world to see.

I deeply envied my best friend who lived in a pristine and modern-convenience filled house. She didn't eat crackers out of a black-and-white generic box, she got the really impressive ones with the elves on the package. In her home when you finished your school lunch you were expected to throw away what they considered 'trash' and no one stopped you at the door and demanded the return of your wrappers. I was sure she thought we were completely insane with our juice-can toys and plastic bag rescue center.

Recently I went to lunch with this friend - now with three kids of her own. We met at a local duck pond so her small son could terrorize the waterfowl with huge chunks of badly aimed stale bread. I watched as she carefully sorted out her trash and rescued anything that could be reused.

'I used to love going to your house,' She said, absentmindedly saving her son from an early and algae-infested bath. 'Just the other day I was thinking about how I thought the coolest thing in the world was to have your own plastic-baggie clothesline.'

Took a few years, but I suppose that small childhood wound can be counted healed now.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Diplomatic Corps Awaits

Child 3 announced its intention not to join Child 2 in attendance at a local fair (Child 2 will be working there and thus earning a sunburn when it forgets to lube up, even though it has now been reminded twice, and a free t-shirt) because Child 3 'really would like to have the house to [itself] for a while.'

Reponsible adult replied that this was, to say the least, a bit concerning. Family tradition dictates any children left alone must immediately do something, anything that is strictly forbidden by house rules. (we're a bunch of wimps. For my sister and me that just meant watching television with the sound down to nearly nothing so we could hear the tell-tale hiss of the car tires on the driveway and have time to switch off the television and assume convincingly natural positions with books and homework)

Reply? 'Why would I want to do that when I have to live in the house?'

Child 3 has the wide, honest eyes of the congenital liar. But it also has the finely honed skills of a seasoned diplomat. Well done Child 3. Making me proud.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Yukon trail

The Alcan starts at Dawson's Creek in British Columbia. You drive into the small town, and set your milage to zero because the milepost tracks everything from here. It's a satisfyingly dramatic way to head somewhere new. It's practical as well though because there are very few towns or other landmarks to base things from so it all goes off of exact milage. You can go page by page through the Milepost as you drive and find all the really important stuff.

Mile 467.1 - watch for loose gravel. Rocks thrown up by traffic have been known to break windshields, and you're 50 miles from the nearest body shop.

Mile 274.8 - Frost heaves. If your vehicle is over x length or y weight keep your speed down or risk breaking an axle. (Frost heave example here. I've seen much more impressive ones that look like the road machines had a huge case of hiccups)

Mile whatever - fill up with gas as this is your last chance for 100 miles...

But they point out the interesting things as well, the scenic areas and historic places. Great place to play the site the cabin game.

I've played that since I was a kid and read My Side of the Mountain. I defy any child to read that book and not plan to run away from home, acquire a peregrine falcon, and live happily self-sufficient in an enormous tree. In fact the only problem with that book was the hero (spoiler ahead) allows civilization to creep back in on him - at least a bit. Anyway, after reading that book I spent every car trip that went through mountains searching the hills for the perfect tree. Never discouraged me that New Mexico grows Ponderosa pines more than anything else and although they smell wonderfully of vanilla in the crevices of the bark, they aren't exactly large enough to house a small stove, a bed, and a hawk. (at least none that I ever saw)

Never lost the habit though - still always watch out for the perfect place to build a small cabin. Fortunately Kirk did the same, and we were usually able to agree.

This time we found Muncho Lake. It's a fantastically beautiful lake - the water is rich blue-green and in November the mountains around it were all covered with snow reflecting in the surface. There was a small island about half a mile off the shore - just large enough for a little stand of trees and a large chunk of bare rock. The profile bent in on one side to make a tiny, perfect landing place, and the rock made a natural ladder leading up.


Thursday, June 15, 2006


Sorry, people of Edmonton, but your city was a grey, grey place. Maybe in the spring it's all sunshine and brilliant flowers, and maybe summer is green and lush, but that November it was overcast skies, grey streets and a big grey hotel. Of course it didn't help that we were pretty eager to start the 'real' trip and put these sissy cities behind us.

Edmonton was also where we hit real snow. Not a Southwest blizzard - where three flakes sort of blow around in the air and everyone immediately slows down to 10mph and creeeeeeeeeeeeeeps along the streets stopping 20 feet in front of every stop light and then inching up just in case one of those flakes makes a suicidal dash for the pavement and causes potential slippage. No, this was real snow that started just early enough to melt on the still-warm tarmac and then freeze to ice while more snow fell through the night.

No panic though. We'd driven through plenty of snow in Germany and we had the Spider things! We were prepared darn it. We'd even practiced putting them on, although we hadn't actually driven on them out of fear the baked-dry surface of New Mexico wasn't ideal for these exotic items. Kirk headed out first thing in the morning and bolted them onto the special hub-caps while I coaxed the kids out of bed and into any two items of clothing that actually fit. Then we slowly headed out of the parking lot.

'It's a little loud.'







Anyone with any sense at all right now is wondering why the heck we hadn't gotten studded tires on the car in Montana or Edmonton. Yes, that would be the practical, the reasonable, the obvious thing to do except we were desert rats born and raised and hadn't ever heard of such a thing. So faced with the choice of caps-lock conversations all the way up to Alaska or death by skidding we quickly opted for death. The spider things were taken off before we left the town and didn't surface again. We were precarious, but quiet.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Overheard at Costco

Three favorites:

harrassed mother with very small child, said smiling through gritted teeth:
'Honey, it would help Mommy so much if you would just stop helping me for a little while.'

Woman at free snack cart:
'See, that's my problem, I just cain't [sic] say no to free meat on a stick.'

man on cell phone in produce area:
'Babe, do we want red peppers or those gay pride ones?'

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Fruited Plains

I wonder if there is a better way to learn America than by driving it. Maybe the pioneers and those early explorers absorbed it as well, but for me I think plodding slowly by foot over the trails I would lose the country in the hugeness of it all; I think it would absorb me instead.

Flying you see patchworks and glimpses, but if you drive you know the land you go through. The changing scenes get tucked away inside you mile by mile somehow, always part of you. We learned our country, length and breadth. We drove through mountains and deserts and plains - nearly every extreme America offers.

We saw Wyoming in November, all long straw colored grass and the dark brown humps of buffalo. We stopped at Little Big Horn in Montana and walked the battlefield to really understand where it all happened. The kids still just remember seeing the markers where each soldier was found, and looking at the few artifacts that had been recovered. We looked over the landscape and talked about the tragedy of a people who had always lived in that huge space and were being forced to leave. They could understand a little better the ideas of sacred land and ties to a home that wasn't a building when they had seen some of it themselves.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Today's Blog Called Due To Injuries

Darn real life... left off in the middle of Wyoming and you'll just have to wait to find out what happens next...

Child 1 has cracked a bone in its toe (having inherited its father's tendencies apparently)

Child 2 chose today to run a fever and vomit

Child 3 tried to develop sympathy nausea but was vetoed on grounds of exceeding the family health limits.

Me, I think I'm calling in sick tomorrow and we'll all just stay in bed!

ETA: Child 1 was told by its doctor to soak its foot thoroughly then ice it on and off. However Child 1 is a. hungry and b. creative so it is at this very moment standing in the kitchen with its injured foot in a tub of ice water, and making ramen noodles. Most people would walk in on a scene like this and have at least one or two simple questions. Me, I don't even blink. Situation normal.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Unmentionable Post

Friend: So, are you going to talk about farts on your blog?

Me: What? Why would I talk about farts?

Friend: Everyone does. Farts and poop. It's the lingua franca of blogs.

Me: I can't believe you just used lingua franca and poop in the same sentence. That's why I like you.

Friend: You haven't answered the question.

Me: I can't talk about farts. In my family we didn't have them. We didn't even pass gas. We had gas, we just didn't pass it. It was Unmentioned. Well, except for my sister. But she went to a liberal arts college, so there you are.

Friend: No farts. Well, what embarassing subject are you going to cover then? How about underwear?

Me: I told you, my family reads it. I refuse to subject my children to discussion of my stance on the thong vs visible panty line issue.

Friend: Okay, but like I said, everyone does it.

Me: So now I have to be a blogging lemming?

Friend: Just saying it's going to happen. Now that it's out there the Underwear Topic is going to haunt you until you post. Trust me.

Me: I can't trust you, you have visible panty lines! Hey, I just realized I can talk about some else's underwear can't I?

Friend: Naturally. In fact, that's even better.

Obligatory underwear story:

I had a college roommate who was an amazing woman. She was at least 5'10", blond, blue eyes and fantastically beautiful. She was also incredibly funny and owned a pair of Beige Briefs. I know I abuse capitals, but these things were proper noun Beige Briefs. None of us were quite sure where the BB's came from - rumor had it her grandmother donated them, but the roommate never divulged the source. She didn't confess to their existence right away; it took at least two weeks of getting-to-know you talk about really intimate things like the seven best ways to fix Ramen noodles, and how many of us could pick up pencils with our toes (all but two). But one night discussion turned to the strangest thing we had each brought to college, and out came the Beige Briefs.

Geni out of the bottle - no turning back. The Briefs once free from the drawer began an exotic life of travel and adventure. They were found coyly peeking around the front window curtain. They snuggled up to a stolen pair of boxers (no one confessed to that one) on the couch and were discovered in flagrante the next morning. They acquired legs (thanks to a slightly-run pair of pantyhose stuffed with a variety of interesting objects) and began appearing in various beds, on chairs, in closets etc. For a pair of off-brown, up above the navel panties these were some exciting underwear.

The magic couldn't last of course. Finally we received a note saying the Briefs had eloped with some tighty whities they met at an evening social. Don't look for me, they said, I've found my happiness. We all wished them well.

Two weeks later we got a picture of the Beige Briefs and beloved relaxing on a beach that looked remarkably like the sandy playground at the local school. I like to think they're still out there somewhere, those Beige Briefs. Probably getting on a bit now, maybe sagging at the elastic, but still exuding that air of savoir faire, and telling marvelous stories to the cluster of Disney Princess panties and glow-in-the-dark Star Wars briefs that gather around in the evening. We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Meanest Mom in the World

Just read this BBC article and I feel my right to announce that I oppress my children more than any other mother out there has been challenged.

Challenged heck - it's been overthrown and stomped in the dirt. I can't begin to compete. And there's a whole nation of these people!

I thought (and my kids doubtless agreed) that I was really mean because this summer I gave them a whole two days of pure relaxation (except for the cleaning the rooms and the den part) and then threw them into Summer Schedule. It's not really that hardcore. M-F they are taken to the cardio room and do 45 minutes to an hour excercise. First week I didn't really bother them with what they were doing, so long as it was long enough. This week they had to do 20 minutes without stopping on one machine (thus ending whack-a-mole version of things with all three popping up on one machine or another every five minutes) plus five minutes cool down. Then they have to do light muscle work on the resistance machines and fritter the rest of the time on the machine of their choice. Since they have to get up at 6:30 to do all of this there was a leetle bit of fussing over the idea, but when I pointed out it meant spending more time in the miracle of modern air conditioning they settled down.

Part two of Summer of Doom was that each one had to choose three topics to study, and then have something to talk about and/or show at the end (6 weeks broken into 2 week portions for easier digestion). This weekend we get the first reports. I didn't dictate the subjects, or even suggest. So, child one will be demonstrating a variety of nomadic structures (it wants to built its own tent), and children two and three will diagram the innards of a lock and talk about the fine art of lock picking.

I figure we're set now. If worse comes to worst we'll be able to construct our own shelter, and if it rains we'll just break into a house of our choice. And when the police come to drag us all away we'll be able to run for at least 20 minutes, making for a damn fine chase scene on COPS. Life skills baby.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Just a Few Deep Breaths

We started out easy. We stopped at home for Halloween to let the kids trick-or-treat and to buy some things we thought we needed for the way up. I can't remember now what kids two and three were that year, but kid one was a vampire wearing a red bodice hand beaded all over the front with silver beads. We still have that darn thing - it's beautiful but it weighs a ton. It's sort of a visible representation of what happens when you go from %150 busy to having nothing at all to do. ( Well, that and being a person who gets a brilliant idea of something interesting to do and thinks 'sure I could hand bead that! Sure I could paint that eggshell with a single hair and pigment ground from raw mineral! That sounds like fun...')

I think we were both a little more nervous about driving off into the arctic nothing than we admitted to eachother. We went to REI, and by the time we came out we had enough cold-weather survival gear to stock a small igloo. We kept asking the store people if they thought we needed this item or that, explaining that we were really truly driving up the Alcan to Alaska. What we didn't stop to think was that they knew all about the products they sold, but didn't know any more than we did about the actual trip. So they fed our fears by ooohing and ahhhing and sort of gathering around to listen in on the edges while their coworkers solemnly said yes, we probably did need an emergency thermal blanket - heck we probably needed two.

We took the Saturn to the dealership, repeated the story, and came out with a product that turned out to be utterly useless (although a really cool idea... wonder if they ever perfected those things...) - a set of things like the next generation of chains for tires. They called them 'spiders' and they locked into the hubcaps and gave a sort of octopus hug to the tires with radiating arms. Great idea, but it meant you couldn't go very fast at all, and they were incredibly noisy. They took up a lot of room in the trunk as well, but made us feel like we were more prepared. On a whim we also got an engine heater installed (can't believe they had one in stock in New Mexico) and that turned out to be a great idea; saved the day more than once on the trip. Got lucky really.

We bought a huge comforter that we stuffed under the kids' feet in the back seat. We hadn't exactly needed one in New Mexico or Texas, so it filled a lack, and it would hopefully be insulation for them. In fact the entire back seat looked like a sort of cocoon with three small faces sort of rising up out of the muddle. These kids weren't going to freeze... although they might have heat stroke before we got out of the Southwest.

We drove from New Mexico to Colorado to visit my sister who was living in Boulder at the time. We were going as straight North as we could, heading through Wyoming and Montana for Edmonton. Her kids are all younger than mine, and I hadn't really seen them before so we played with them for a while, admired the brand new baby, and then... and then the plunge.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Face to the Name

For those who didn't know him, this is Kirk. 1998, Alaska.


As though anyone hadn't seen this, but still.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Not a Road Trip - It's a Vacation!

Normal people would take the air force up on their kind offer to fly us to Alaska. They would count up the miles from San Angelo, Texas to Anchorage, measure out the size of a Saturn sedan, eyeball the three young children who would share the back seat, and they would humbly and thankfully accept the plane tickets, saying a silent prayer of gratitude for modern forms of transportation.

Normal people are sissies.

We liked road trips. The drive from Albuquerque to San Angelo when Kirk came to pick me up after I graduated was one of the best days we had had together up until then. When you're on the road everything else has to drop away, and you're left with simply getting from one place to another slowly and calmly with nothing to do but talk to the person you like the best. Air planes in contrast, at least air planes in company with little kids, are a hassle. Ours were always really well behaved actually - in fact after every flight we ever took with the kids when they were young people came up to us and thanked us for our quiet, polite children - but getting everyone there in time, wrestling with the necessary equipment to keep three children polite and quiet, hustling the whole crew from gate to gate and in and out of seats was no fun. And no matter how nice your kids continue to be, there's always the horrible feeling that they might suddenly begin shooting green flames out of their eyeballs or something so you can't really relax.

So we didn't really consider not driving. Besides, who could pass up the chance to drive the Alcan?

We followed someone's amazingly good advice and bought ourselves a Milepost, then plotted out our 3,000 mile trip. This was going to be good.

Monday, June 05, 2006

With Apologies to Unnamed Child of Number Not To Be Revealed

We had to invent a rule for this child, this child who comes up to you with a frightening gleam in its eye and says 'I have a joke.' Kirk invented this response after 'I have a joke' became such a frequent event combined with the most lame, ridiculous jokes you've ever heard (and occassionally laugh-until-you-lose function originals) that we really needed to reclaim our personal time. So now 'I have a joke' is answered by 'assume the position' which means this child (or any other child who feels the need to do the stand-up thing) raises its hands over its head and exposes ribs to full tickling availability.

The rule is, if the joke is good enough then the child isn't tickled, but if it's roll your eyes and groan bad, or even 'what the heck did that even mean?' bad then at least one of us is laughing and the other is entertained. The best part is that you hold your hands over the ribs with fingers all crooked and twitching just waiting for the joke to be horrible, so the child tells the joke squirming and wriggling in anticipation. Turns the whole thing into performance art.

Parenting. It's easier than it looks.


Sometimes it's easier to just choose one tiny thing that I'm sorry about instead of looking at the huge, unbearable mass.

There are movies Kirk will never see. We took the kids to all the Harry Potter movies (and read them all the books) and he won't see HP3 or 4. He missed the last Lord of the Rings as well. He had seen the other two with us, and just before he disappeared he had managed to get his hands on a really bad, probably pirated version of The Two Towers in Turkey and watched it on a lap top. He would have loved the battle with all the oliphaunts, and the horses charging in. I'm not sure if he would have enjoyed the really, really long ending, but he always liked a good battle scene.

I think he would have liked the Bourne Identity films as well, although it's hard to tell with that one. The problem with being in intel is you know too much for a lot of these films, and he would laugh at all the wrong moments in a movie that assumed a bit too much about the CIA or something. But I think he would have liked the ethical issues, the way they avoided universal bad and good and drew things down to individual people. Because that's the way he looked at things too.

Maybe he would have suprised the kids by taking them to see Corpse Bride the way we did with Ice Age. We hardly ever watch movies in the theater, but he just decided one day that we would go see that one. All the way there he spun this great story about how we were going to the mall to shop for a suit for him and the kids were really working hard not to whine and complain about how boring and horrible it was to shop on a fine Saturday instead of mountain biking or going hiking or surfing or something. Their faces were great when we pulled into the parking lot, because (since we usually park a long way from the door just so we can get in and out more easily or find shade or whatever) it took them a minute to realize we were actually going to see a movie instead and... YAY DAD!

So I'm sorry I can't talk over those movies with him, and argue about whether it was okay to be happy to see a book adapted really loosely for film but not be able to cope with inaccuracies in details no one without a security clearance knows anything about.

Tonight I'll grab the kids and we'll put on Clue or something and laugh really hard at all the stuff we find incredibly funny. We'll quote Madeline Khan saying 'I hate her so much.. flames, flames? Flaming... on the side of my face... heaving... breathing... breath...' and we'll have our feet up on the bed and squabble over who is in whose way.

Laughing is good.


Woops - somehow I ended up limiting comments to people who sign in! Sorry about that... I've reset it and hopefully it's all good now.

BTW, yes, I do moderate comments. My kids read this, my parents read this, my friends read it so if someone's going to say something nasty I'd rather not share it with them as well. I check the comments pretty regularly, but I do have a job and can't always get them published right away. And as I've already done, I'm happy not to publish a private comment if you just want to get something off your chest but not share.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

If not duffers, won't burn up in a fiery inferno

I come from a read aloud family. We're slightly book-centric really (I say slightly meaning my father puts up bookshelves rather than paint) and I was raised to believe that one does not venture anywhere - classical music concert, movie theater, heck probably even the library - without at least one book. There's a family legend that in a single bathroom house one of my aunts lost the dash to the loo but won first dibs because she had her book.

So I read a lot to my kids, and several years ago we discovered the Arthur Ransome series, starting with Swallows and Amazons. Brilliant books, and for several months semaphore messages littered the halls (yes littered - the Amazons draw theirs, thanks) and we were all convinced that the perfect place to live was Scotland on the edge of a lake.

That first book starts with what has to be the best message from a parent, ever. The Walker children have asked if they may camp, alone, on a small island in the middle of the lake (no ages given, but the general feeling is the eldest are around 10 or 12). The absent father (navy) when consulted returns the following telegram:

'Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won't drown'

And naturally the children head off to light fires, sail in the dark, and storm pirate ships without their mother apparently turning a hair. I have a lot of respect for that kind of disregard to life and limb of close family relations.

Our litigious habits have cast a terrifying light on every day experiences. Hardly any kids today would be allowed to do practical, if slightly dangerous things, on their own. (not to say they won't then go on and experiment themselves...)

But it's got to be good to be independent, right? To take a few perilous steps...

So out in the back at this very moment my three children are risking life, limb, and a nice pack of sausages on a coleman propane stove. They're making flatbread in a skillet and browning their sausages, and I'm not hovering over them to make sure they don't blow up the neighborhood... not at all...

I think I'll just go check...

edit: Swallows and Amazons, and the other books written by Arthur Ransome about the Walkers, Ruth and Nancy, Captain Flint and the others are all (Yay!) back in print and available through Amazon. Highly recommend.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Confessions of a Bread Squoosher

Weekends, I've discovered in my now enormous experience of a few months blogging, are in my opinion set-aside times for writing on totally non-related subjects, preferably completely trivial, that will in all likelihood be of little or no interest to anyone reading. That, I believe, is called a disclaimer.

My mother was a bread goddess. She didn't just make her own bread, she made her own whole-wheat bread. She made her whole-wheat, home ground in her very own mill, baked in recycled V-8 juice cans bread. That is bread commitment.

Grinding the wheat was great because the whole mill vibrates like crazy and makes your teeth buzz if you put your hands on the sides while it's going. Plus there's a metal plate with a hole in it that you pour the wheat on, and the kernels dance around like crazy so they look like they're doing a mad celebratory Mamba of Death as they shimmy towards destruction. And the flour at the end is soft and warm and begs to have fingers dug into it.

My mother made what seemed like dozens of loaves at a time so the amount of dough was monstrous, and very very tempting. Dough is like clay at school only you actually can eat it without getting blue between your teeth and demonstrating to the entire class that you're a freak clay-eater. (I never did. I swear.) Of course if you eat raw dough it rises in your stomach and after an hour what was a fill-you-up amount becomes a blow-out-your-ears amount and you belch yeast for the rest of the day. I never managed to remember that part.

My sister and I were given lumps of dough of our own to keep us out of the way. She would knead hers and pat it nicely and tuck it down in her little loaf pan to rise and doze into perfect bread happiness. I carried mine around, tore off bits to eat, thumped it, smashed it. stretched it into ropes and coils and wads of bread-dough turd, then smashed the whole grey mess into a small, dense blob at the bottom of my pan where, with the life beaten out of it, it refused to rise at all and baked into something too tough to bite into.

By the end of the afternoon the whole house smelled wonderfully of fresh bread, and we drooled outside the oven waiting for the first loaf to come out so we could have too-hot-to-hold hunks dripping with butter.

That was the good part. The bad part was being the only kid in school who brought in solid, round, whole wheat sandwiches with organic peanut-butter and partially crystallized honey.

In my mind there was nothing more desirable than real bread - white bread. The kind with the unconvincing yellow crust that came in a polka-dotted bag and smashed into pulp when you spread jam on it. When I grew up, I swore, I would have white bread every day. And CoolWhip. Not with the bread, just Cool Whip in a plastic tub. Come to think of it, it was a pretty pale food plan.

I like to think I compromise. I do make my own bread - but I don't grind my wheat, and the loaves are either free-form, or baked in a boring old loaf pan. But I do buy in-a-bag cheap bread (three kids = many many many pbj's and a LOT of bread). And I like to take two pieces, cut off the crusts, and squoosh the inner bit into a small, dense wad.

Blame it on the baking.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

I have long hair. I haven't had short hair since a misplaced comment resulted in an around-the-ears bob. What I said was that I had three kids, a job, and lots and lots of hair that I wanted to make look professional and stunning in under 10 minutes. What I meant was she should immediately hand over the bottle of whatever it is they use on hair models that causes eye-gouging shine and slow motion special fingers-through-the tresses effects. What she heard was 'please cut off all my hair and make me look like a Mom.' So I have long hair.

It's longer than it's ever been at the moment actually. When Kirk went missing I had one of those irrational impulses - I won't cut my hair until he's back. I knew it wasn't reasonable though. Growing hair isn't going to make things happen; his fate wasn't tied up with my follicles or anything. So I have cut it a few times. It's just that between time and resources I usually forget, so now it's past-the-bra-strap long.

Not a problem really except I live in a desert. Every summer I realize I've chosen to wrap my head, neck and half my back with an amazingly effective thermal insulator. As the temperature inches up the 90's I always think - briefly - about chopping it all off. Shorter than short - high-and-tight maybe. Throw a pink bow in there somewhere and it's still feminine, right? Then I take another look at my family heritage of distinctive bone structure and think... where's that hair clip?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fire and Ice

How do you choose between two extremes? Alaska and Hawaii dominated our conversations. We collected travel brochures, and went to the library. Inevitably Kirk would become convinced that Hawaii was the place to go just as I had settled on Alaska as ideal. Luckily my sister-in-law came to the rescue; she's a native Hawaiian. 'Are you crazy? Do NOT send your howlie kids to Hawaiian schools!' Decision made.

It helped that total strangers on base would hear that we were probably heading to Alaska and would immediately give us their name, contact information, bank number... anything if only we could help them get back up North.

Kirk was honor grad - top of his class. We all got to go to the ceremony. There's a bit of a tradition - how old I don't know - that each graduating class steals a ceiling tile and decorates it. The class had chosen their theme, and I put the tile together with real accessories. I'm not sure if they're all still up there, but if you ever get a chance to visit the intel school in San Angelo, you can easily find Kirk's class tile. They're the one's who were Going Postal.

ETA - Okay, not the best digital effort ever, and not even truly accurate. Basically I remember bullets and a post office envelope and that's about it! But the title stuck with me for some reason...