Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aha's all over the place

I was struggling along with a bunch of different issues - changing relationships, personal challenges, the darkness of winter, the fact that it was 2 degrees outside, and trying to get a bunch of writing done last weekend in my quiet house. The writing wasn't going very well - I seemed to find a million reasons to distract myself, which only made me more frustrated that I wasn't completing things that absolutely needed to get completed. Then on the radio came a guy, Richard Moss, and he was talking about all the stuff that I know - I KNOW - I should be focusing more on. Quieting the messages my mind is sending me, the evaluations, the ego-driven ideas. Allowing feelings to have a cared-for place in your life. Being kind to one's self. All these things I know but don't often put into practice. But that night, it sunk in. I listened to the radio program three times that night, trying to internalize it all. Of course that's impossible, but still. I came away with some wonderful insights. I hope to develop them more in coming months. Look out - I may finally be moving into that Homer Deep Breather mode. Sigh. It was inevitable, wasn't it? I may even try meditation. Gack.

Another thing that happened this week is I noticed my eyes were starting to go. Liam held something up for me to read about a foot from my face and I could not read it at all. I didn't authorize this.

The kids are back tonight, the paper is out the door, and my life shifts on its axis once again. It's so wonderful to have them with me, these wonderful little love sponges. Tonight, they outdid themselves with laundry duty. Théa climbs up on the top of the washing machine and pulls the clothes out (a coveted position) and Liam shoves them into the dryer. Then, when Théa can't reach any more, the roles are reversed. They do all this without any help from me, including the part where Liam drags Théa onto the dryer - very funny. It's not a big thing, but it is. There's teamwork. There's kids doing their part. There's kids feeling like part of the whole. I think, but I could be totally wrong, that a large part of what I value about myself comes from the fact that my role in the farm on which I grew up was a real and valued part. We helped. With everything. It was not gratuitous. It was not optional. And all of that is a good thing. Mike's daughter wrote a piece in about what her family tradition was. She wrote about setnetting. Her dad has a setnet on the beach below their house and every day in the late summer, they go down and work the net. Ella grumbles a lot about this. But in the end, it's something she's obviously very proud of. Parenting. So simple yet so tricky.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving is really one of my favorite holidays. It's about food - good food - soul food from our harvest. But more importantly, it's about gratitude. If there are two things I take from the journey of the past two years, it is the power of forgiveness and the joy of gratitude.
Tonight, after eating a particularly yummy meal with good people, I drove up to my little house, gathered my mostly-sleeping daughter in my arms, and headed for the front door.
"Ooh Mom, look," a little voice said to me. "I am thankful for the stars."
I looked up and the sky was full of a million lights, crisp against the dark sky, more beautiful than the most amazing holiday light display man could ever muster. I stopped and stood there, and actually shed a tear, to think that somehow I might be doing enough to instill in my children a sense of amazement at this world around us. There are beautiful gifts at every turn - a snow-covered tree full of red berries with a flock of birds gorging themselves - the dazzling sight of sparkling snow that looks almost fake in its perfection - the exquisite scent of a roast and a pie cooking together in the oven. There are days that are frustrating, moments that are scary, and times when I wonder if I can get anything right, but in the end, my wonder at all my good fortune wins over, and I am reminded again how incredibly lucky I am to have all that I have and am aware and present enough to recognize it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Near and far

I can now say I have traveled above the Arctic Circle. Sadly, I cannot yet say I have actually set foot there. Last weekend, The Arctic Sounder crew flew to Barrow to get the lay of the land, meet some folks, etc. But the runway was snowed in and equipment was broken, so we flew as far as Pruhdoe Bay and turned around. Very disappointing. On the up-side, it bought me an extra day at home, which I squandered with vigor - painting all morning, running seven miles (huge victory since I haven't run much lately) and then joining Mike, Andrew and Judy to almost erect the first rafters of the high tunnel.
That night, we bid a sad adeiu to Judy and Oskar. It was wonderful having them here, and I hope things work out the way they look like they might and she'll be popping back through again soon. Tomorrow would work fine for me. It's so interesting that what used to be unbearably uncomfortable (having people stay with us) has become so natural, even preferred. It just seems to make sense - the whole idea of working together like that, sharing meals together, etc. I should have come of age in the 60s. I would have loved it.
Tonight, the kids came home after four days at Matt's. It seems like it must be more time than that. It's interesting how much more I miss them these days when they are gone. Maybe it's because they have gotten older, more interesting, less demanding. Or maybe it's just because I've grown up a bit and realized that raising my kids is where I belong, most of the time, anyway. At any rate, having them back was such a joy tonight. I got the fire roaring, made spaghetti and meatballs with Thea's assistance, of course, and did baths. Liam worked his way through his first try at twinkle twinkle on the fiddle, and when Thea got out, she danced to Celtic music in nothing but a hoodie towel.
Afterward, Liam asked me if he was part Irish. I think so, I said, a little. Well, he said, it's just that when I listen to Irish music, it's like I've heard it before. Interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winter has arrived

Two weeks ago, gloves were optional, snow formed into soft snowballs and it was pre-winter. Today, the thermometer on the car read 4F at McNeil. Yikes. Two layers of down are better than one and gloves are mandatory. The day we got those posts in the ground for the high-tunnel was truly the last day we could have done it so easily. the snow hasn't left once since.
Not that we've let that slow us down any. As the state dipped into an early pre-freeze, my friend Judy and her son Oskar showed up from Kodiak to help with the high tunnel. Oh my. Judy is one of those awesome Alaska women who can and will do just about anything. I love working with her because to her, what I'm doing makes perfect sense. Of course you are putting up a 2,000-square-foot tunnel. Who wouldn't?
So we bashed away at baseboards, lots of frustration, etc. Mike had found cable on craigslist and bought a whole bunch of it for rafter bracing like many other people have done. We spent one blustery day rolling out cable on the road and then drug it inside to assemble all the bolts and turnbuckles. Judy braved the snow and ice and relentless wind for several days tightening bolts and drilling holes. Things are moving forward, and I am so grateful for all the help. What makes a person show up and do something like that? I sure hope she buys that house so I can come reciprocate - hell, after this thing goes up, I'm essentially an indentured servant to a group of close friends for several months. But isn't that the best way to do things? I couldn't do it without the help - nor would I want to. I guess there is a wonderful feeling in knowing you did something on your own, but really, I'd rather dwell in the wonderful feeling of being part of your self-created community.
Meanwhile, the kids have been having a pretty good time playing. Oskar and Liam are about the same age and have always been good friends. Thea, well, she tries her best to keep up, with varying results. On Sunday, the whole crew came up and hung out at the house while we worked on the tunnel and Mike constructed a jig to properly fit the rafters before we tightened the bolts down.
The kids decided to sled down the road, but on the first run, I heard the tell-tale thud. Not good. They had run into the car parked on the side of the road and Thea was in the front. I knew it was bad right away - ran full tilt up to her, picked her up as her little mouth filled with blood,didn't look close until we got inside and I sat her down. Luckily, it was just her lip, her teeth are fine. But her poor lip - oh my. It swelled up like crazy. So the kids all got to watch a movie and by 3:30 she was ready to roll and we actually went skating for a bit. Strong girl!
Liam's so into the skating - he loves to zoom around. Getting pretty fast - though he still falls a lot. Got to get him on skis soon, too.
Anyway, another fun thing we did this week was dispatch two turkeys. That's how it is when Judy's in town. Things happen. Like two hours after she got there, she had arrived back at my house with two turkeys in the back of the subaru. Big turkeys. Hugomongous, actually. So we had to figure out how exactly to kill them. Ax? Knife? or, even better, a gun. I'm Canadian. We don't do guns. I did shoot a pumpkin once last winter, but that's another story. So Judy decides the best way to do this thing was to straddle the bird, holding its wings between her legs, and shoot it while I held on to the legs. Oh my. We did it, but wow. I dunno. It was something, really. The second one went better - not sure why. But Still bruised the wings. Then we plucked and gutted these hugomongous beasties. And that was the end of that day, by far.
One other thing of note - I've taken up racketball. Played four times, twice by self, twice with Mike, and it's great. Getting way way way better. Hard workout, though. And Mike kicks my ass.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Today, as I was lacing up Liam's skates, my hands seized up again, the fingers curling in toward my palms in a spasm that I could not control. As much chaos as I bring into my life, I do like to have some degree of control. After watching my mother's struggle with MS, her hands curled in just like mine today, it was not just my hands that were beyond my control - my emotions went there, too.
It's interesting having your entire livelihood rest on what your fingers can do. People are always commenting on how much I do and how rich my life is. Things like a simple curling of fingers, though, could undo it all. My success is built entirely on my ability to charge through the day with an intensity that exhausts me to my core. If I don't bring my whole self to every single day, it unravels.
This week is a perfect example. There was Monday - the hell day of Halloween X3 - a role in Théa's preschool Halloween party (wizard, of course), an event at the library for myself and 100 of the community's costumed and sugar-crazed kids, followed immediately by trick-or-treating with the Stineff crew - a tradition now the predates Théa's birth.
I love trick-or-treating with that bunch. It's grown each year and now there are dozens of kids swarming through the neighborhood - taking over the streets. This year, Liam was off and gone before I could even catch anything but a blurry image of his royal Luke-ed-ness (during the black period, whenever that was - feel free, Star Wars fans, to egg me for my ignorance.) Théa was princess Leia, though she would not wear the hand-crafted braid buns. She did have a great robe made from one of those crazy fuzzy blankets that I found at pick-n-pay last week. The robe flew out behind her as she ran - fabulous. Very Star Wars esque. Théa marched up to numerous doors and declared, "I can't have chocolate." Attagirl.
The best part by far though, is the fact that the kids take over the town. I remember that feeling as a kid - marching through the night with my team of fellow candy-getters, pillow case in hand, not turning back until every lit doorway was knocked on. For a hippie-spawn who was fed more sprouts and bulgar than anyone should have to endure, Halloween was as good as it got. All the sugar and crap I could get my hands on. Clue the singing angles, please. After the sugar-dash, all the kids returned to Matt and Andrea's house to count their loot, play and perhaps even eat a few non-sugar calories (yeah, right). Then home to try to unwind the unwindable, all the while feeling sorry for elementary school teachers everywhere.
So we survived that fiasco of a day, and then the kids went back to Matt for a night while I stayed up all night putting out another paper. Zoiks. This week was made all the more exciting by a wild wind storm on Tuesday that knocked off power for a couple hours, but luckily, it didn't take me off track at all. But...gotta get a handle on that scene. So much of my prep time gets eaten up by life, the library job, and the high tunnel. On an up-note, I hired a new writer and editorial assistant who is doing a great job - YAY!
Then, on Friday we got our first snow. About four inches of white stuff came down, just enough to remind me what a disaster would be on my hands if I didn't get things covered up. So Saturday morning, when morning finally got around to dawning at about 10:30 a.m., was all about cleaning up projects, pulling all the siding off the roof where it had been drying since, umm, August? and stacking it and covering it. Then off to shovel off the high tunnel parts before tarping them. I was seriously sore at this point. There should be a pre-winter shovel prep strength class offered by a nonprofit somewhere in this state.
But I promised the kids we would go swimming on Saturday. So we did that. It was awesome - Théa cannot stop grinning when she's in the water. She's just so happy and you can tell the sensation just blows her mind. Liam's getting to be a very good swimmer, too. Good thing - I've struggled with being a lousy swimmer all my life and it stinks. Théa got brave enough to jump off the side of the pool and go under water - she wears a floaty vest but it allows her to go under a bit, too. I could see the difference between the time I went in with them and when we got out. Very cool.
So today, Sunday, I woke to another six inches or so of snow. More shoveling. Yay. And I was determined to get some time in building rafters for the high tunnel. I had a goal of doing two before the promised skating afternoon activity. But then Mike and his friend Titus showed up. First Mike pointed out three things that I had done completely wrong because I had not read the instructions all the way through. How hard can it be, I thought. Harder than I thought, obviously. OOps. Note to self -read instructions more carefully in future. But then Mike's friend Titus showed up and the three of us got 15 done before I had to leave for skating. And they finished off the final four after I left. Heros. Total heros. What does one do for someone who's willing to devote oodles of their time to your effort. It makes me crazy - the inequity of it all. I hope he gets his own tunnel so I can reciprocate and if he doesn't, he's going to be swimming in veggies all next summer for his help.
So now it's the end of the day and tomorrow starts the newspaper marathon again... and I feel like I haven't even stopped fro a second. Tuesday, Judy and Oskar arrive, though, so that will help a lot. It's going to be great to see them, and get some help with the tunnel, and perhaps solve the mystery of why my birds are eating but not laying. Harumph. I'm always happiest with a full house, so it will be good.
Forward, MARCH.