Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Yes, We're Open!

The very first time we drove down the winding lane and the long, tree shrouded driveway that led to our someday-house, it was only to see if the commute for Guy would be tolerable, if the house was too far away from civilization, and if we could even "see" ourselves living there.  It was late, after sunset, and the wooded lane was sinking into darkness.  Natalie wept, "Dis is scawy, I don't yike it here."  The little voice in my heart-head that protects my children from all harm decided right then and there, if this place scares my baby, we can't possibly consider it.

But somehow that first of first impressions disappeared when I saw the place in the daylight; green slopes and mossy boulders, pines and oaks and deer trails. As possibilities solidified into plans, we began telling people about our new house and I found myself saying, "Well, it's an hour away from Sac, in the woods, but we can be to Walgreens in 20 minutes, and to the nearest little market in about five."  I had to prove to myself, by way of convincing others, that moving this far away from what was familiar was somehow a safe and, dare I say, good idea.  It's like pretending to enjoy green beans so your kid'll try 'em; oldest trick in the book, in reverse.

One of my big worries was that there would be nothing to do here once we settled in.  I pictured Little House on the Prairie, listenin' to Pa' play the fiddle on Saturday nights.  I was looking at harmonicas and wool long-johns on Amazon, and whittling tutorials on Youtube. 
Boy, was I wrong.

I am just amazed at how much happens here.  I think when we lived in the city, we were so surrounded by hustle and bustle that it felt busy.  Sure, we did an occasional gallery hop, or attended a summer concert in the park, but since moving here we have enjoyed so many new experiences.  Small town life is slower, it's true, but it takes itself seriously, and folks are dedicated to their hometown pride in a new and unexpected way.  Shop keepers tell you about their secret swimming hole ("Shhh, don't tell anyone.  This is for locals only," the owner of the antique store had said.  *GRIN*, she called us locals!), neighbors wave as they drive by, and yes, some places will even offer to carry a tab for you.  There are parades of all sorts, and car shows, and craft fairs, and golly, Winthrop, sometimes I feel like I'm in The Music Man.  No joke.

One of our new explorations has been to pick a town (there are about 10 in the area) and stroll the main street (not on Monday... or Tuesday... or sometimes-but-not-always Wednesday, and certainly not after 5pm, or 4 maybe.  Or lunchtime...)

...and wander through shops.  We don't make a day of it, doing a whole street in one go.  We just do a few shops at a time.  Ancient hand-hewn stone buildings that used to be banks or jails are now antique stores or boutiques.  One Monday (oops, we hadn't got the No Mondays memo yet) we took the kids to Jackson to wander down main street, a particular gem/bone/Native American shop in mind, only to find it closed, of course.  Wandering along we looked through picture windows and remarked, "Wow, cool!  We'll have to try to come back to this one..."

I whispered to Guy that I knew there was a candy shop down the way a bit.  He gave me a nod, and we headed there in hopes of an OPEN sign. 

Yay!  Bless you, Train Town Candies!


We told the kids they could get an ice cream or a bit of (slightly pricy though worth it for the ambiance) candy.  It was hard to choose!



The shop keeper told us that this used to be a toy store, specializing in wooden trains, balsa-wood plane kits and other unusual toys and puzzles.  He has every kind of cookie cutter you could possibly Ever Need.  But once the Walmart moved in a few miles up the road, he almost went out of business.  He and his family began making fudge and selling candy to try to stay afloat.  It must be working.  I've been in there three times since our first visit, and there is always a little crowd.


Well, a big crowd, if you include us!


The big boys, busy with big-boy responsibilities, don't usually join us in our wanderings.  I wish they would.  I love marching into a store with all six of my kiddos.

*****  

I told Guy the other day that I am really starting to like it here.  It only took a year.  To be fair though, my new responsibilities have taken time to get the hang of.  Just like an old train, I started out slow and took a while to get my rhythm.  

I think I can.

I think I can.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What makes me smile


This.

This makes me smile.

Every stinkin' time.

I don't get excited about a whole lot of technology.  Most of the stuff the kids use kinda' bugs me.  But this here weirdo filter smacks a smile on my pout almost as wide as, well, Ellie's.

It's on my phone's home screen.  
It makes me giggle right out loud sometimes. 
 Out of nowhere.  
I turn on my phone and just...
well...

 look at it! 
Tell me you're not smiling!


*****
Are you a naturally happy person?  I'm not.

  I guess there is fruit that is naturally sweet and other that is just super healthy.  And then there are lemons.  And bread fruit.  Oh, and durian.  I'm not that bad (If you've never had durian, just rub your hand in your armpit and then lick it.  That, my friends, just tasted better than durian).

I'm not sour, really, or nasty.  Bland, maybe.  

One day on my mission my companion and I were walking FOR-E-VAH on a long country road in the Costa Rica heat.  Our supposed destination was much further than we had been lead to believe, and this was back in the day before everyone carried a designer rain barrel full of water everywhere.  

We were parched!  No, way more dry than that.  Crazy dry.  Sahara-mirage-in-the-dessert dry.  Just before the hallucinations set in, we saw a grove of huge trees hanging with some sort of giant citrus fruit.  They were a glowing yellow, and as big as a grapefruit.  We didn't know what they were, and we didn't care.  We ran to the trees and grabbed a low-hanging potential-water-bomb.

I ripped into the flesh with my nails and was blasted by the most intense lemon smell I'd ever experienced.  My dry mouth pointlessly tried watering, but those weird "sour sensors" in the back of my jaw, you know, the ones that make you cringe when you see a baby suck on a pickle (the ones that are tingling right now as you read this), wouldn't give my throat the satisfaction.  I paused, wondering if I could possibly get through the face-punch of acid that was about to come, all for the sake of moisture.  My desperate fingers found the pith to be about an inch thick, and after a struggle, I finally held a much smaller orb of the palest yellow in my hand.  

My eyes watered at the Pledge-like aroma as I pulled off a translucent wedge, and both bravely and desperately, popped it into my mouth, bracing myself for the explosion of eye-squinting and shuddering.

Nothing.

Well, almost nothing.  The slightly dry membrane held what could be likened to very, very watered-down, warm lemonade.  It was so simple and bland that it was perplexing.  My sensory system felt lied to.  Either my nose was broken or my tongue was. 

But otherwise, it sort of did it's job.  Attacking the tree, we downed 3 or 4 apiece, and though we didn't feel quenched, we were held over till we finally reached the next house on the eternal road.  As still-thirsty young missionaries, we were bold, of course, and fearlessly knocked on the ancient wooden door. 

A squat little woman with a bowlegged walk and a dear smile met us at the door.  She wore a print skirt and a different print blouse.  A towel-turned-apron held on for dear life around her plump middle, and exhausted, dusty flats clung to her feet, her ashy, foot skin bulging in complaint. We skipped right over our usual introductions, and asked very frankly, "Pardon, Senora, could you please gift us some water?"  (Yes, that is how you say it in Costa Rica.  Isn't that lovely?).  Her surprise at seeing two American girls a foot taller than she on her porch, with no other motive but thirst, called out the old mother in her, and she did what all good mothers do; she took us to her kitchen.

We sat in a cool-ish, red tile-floored, whitewashed kitchen at a large, plank table, very unlike any place I had seen in my 5 months in the country.  We were presented with two mismatched glasses of, ironically, lemonade.  Sweet and tart, it teased us for having enjoyed the bland water balls in the orchard.  A painfully thin old fellow sat quietly on a chair near the stove, his sun-faded clothes drapped loosely on his leathered skin, and listened as we visited with the little old mother.
And that is all I remember.

All but one thing... we told her of our impromptu harvest (and apologized for taking fruit from what we learned were her trees), and shared our confusion over the strange fruit.

"Limon Dulce!" she told us... sweet lemon.  That's what we had eaten.
The name seemed oddly wrong, but yes, I guess they had been sweet... ever so slightly.  I was just glad I hadn't known the name before tasting them.

*****
So I guess bland isn't a terrible thing.  It's a beginning point, at least.  I'd love to be a cheery strawberry, bright and bold.  Who doesn't smile when they see a strawberry?  Or a peach, just pushing it's way to the front of the happy little fruit parade with is kitten fuzz and it's humorous booty.  You can't have a peach-juice-dripping chin and take yourself too seriously.  Even the banana, though bordering on silly, seems like the comedian of fruit.  It's even shaped like a smile.  But alas, though it will never shine from a well lit stack in a grocery store, a limon dulce will bring comfort in it's own weird, neither particularly spectacular nor disappointing way.  It does the job, though it might need encouragement to bring out a smile.

Encouragement... 
like that funny face
 at the top of the page.




Sunday, February 25, 2018

Knowing Blair


It came like most bad news comes, in a random moment on an otherwise nothing-special day, turning it into one of those days on a short list of days in your life that remake your personal history.

First was the call that something was wrong, and 12 hours later, Blair was gone.  His day had begun like most, with breakfast and busy tasks, and then he sat down on the sofa and his sweet little heart stopped.  

 I don't know why I have suddenly begun calling him Blair.  For 23 years and 2 months he has been "Dad".  I started calling him Dad when Guy and I became engaged.  It was an easy shift.  Blair was a cheerful, spunky little guy with boundless energy.  He had lots of stories, and always met me with a smile and a hug.  I actually got to know him in little doses in the halls of the church over a few years.  I knew him a long time before I fell in love with his son.  I remember just at the beginning of my relationship with Guy, before we were even sweeties, Blair and I stood chatting in the hall at church when Guy came up and casually joined in.  His familiarity with Blair sort of surprised me, until I realized this was his son.  Bonus points for Guy.  Great genes.

And now, after 23 years in this family, a proud member of the Holman clan, I thought I knew Blair.  But I didn't. 

Guy and I were given the opportunity to help with Blair's Eulogy.  We were sent a few paragraphs prepared by Blair's brother, Doyle.  And to be honest with you, Blair himself pretty much wrote the rest.  Guy found Blair's life history that,, sadly, we had not gotten around to reading yet.  Gosh, I wish I had.  In reading it, I had so many questions.  I learned so much.  I had NO IDEA what an amazing person this tiny man was.  A-MA-ZING.

And I want to share him with all of you.

This was Blair.
But to me, 
he was Dad.

*****

The Eulogy of Blair C Holman - Given by Doyle Holman at Blair’s Funeral on February 12th, 2018

Blair C Holman was born January 27, 1931 in Sugar City, Madison County, Idaho, the second of eight children, to Darwin Rider and Ethel Ellen Gardner Holman.  He was blessed on May 3, 1931 and baptized on May 6, 1939.  His siblings were: his older brother Max, Lueen, myself, Larry, Deanna, Viola and little Brenda, who passed away at age three.  As a family we were sealed to our parents on September 25, 1946.

Blair attended elementary school in Sugar City and went to Sugar Salem High School, where he was Junior class president, the 1949 Student Body President, and competed on the debate team.  I remember the box full of topics he had prepared, so that when called up to debate a subject, he was always ready.  As the school served a large farming community, Blair was a proud “Beetdigger”.  During High School, he played many sports, including track, baseball and basketball, sometimes running directly from one practice to the next.  But he really shined in football.  Yes, he was quite small in his #1 jersey, but he was featured in the newspapers for the amount of yardage he ran every time they gave him the ball.  When people couldn't understand how it was possible, he replied, “When you have those big tough farmers on the line and they open up a hole big enough to drive a mac truck through, it's easy to run up yardage.”   It didn’t hurt that he only weighed 115 lbs and could slip between the other players easily. They won the sixth district championship two years in a row, once with a score of 378 to 59!  That year the students danced down main street in celebration.  Blair lettered in both football and track, and was the fastest runner on the track team his senior year.  But little known to most, he was also in the Thespian Club, and acted and was on the crew of a few plays and even an opera, and for a spell even took up the saxophone.  He was a true Renaissance Man.

As a youth, Blair was a hard worker.  He built a few muscles on his uncle’s farm weeding sugarbeets, and would sometimes help his father to finish his mail route after harsh winter storms.  He worked in the fields in the fall, and at the cheese factory in the summer.  Of that job, he said, “I didn’t date much during these summers because the smell of making cheese would get into your system and it was hard to get the smell out.  We didn’t have cologne to cover up the smell!”  One summer he worked herding turkeys on the sand dunes, where the boys lived in a tent and would take the turkeys out each morning to scrounge for crickets.  Blair reflected, “This was probably the worst job I did during my lifetime.”  Perhaps it was because the boys would gobble up their week’s worth of food too quickly, and he always felt hungry.  In high school, and at only 115 pounds, Blair worked as the potato bagger on the back of his uncle’s combine, bagging 2000 - 85 lb sacks of potatoes a day.  Usually a job for a grown man, after Blair undertook the task, it became common practice in their area for a youth to operate the bagger.  

Blair attended Ricks College in Rexburg for 3 semesters on a scholarship for prospective teachers, where he dove into sports once more, winning the 125 lb. wrestling and boxing championship.  He was endowed in the Idaho Falls Temple on January 3, 1951 in preparation to fulfill his mission call to The British Isles Mission, which included all of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  He entered the Mission home in Salt Lake City and was set apart as a missionary by Spencer W. Kimball.  He had the amazing privilege of traveling to and from England aboard the famous luxury ship, The Queen Mary.   While on his mission, a sister in the ward where he was serving was organizing a choir, and insisted that Elder Holman join.  He tried to tell her that he couldn't sing, but she believed that everyone is capable of singing, so he went to the practice.  Fairly soon, she told him that he didn't have to be in the choir, after all!  Blair asked why she had insisted he be in the choir, and she replied that since he had legs like a canary, she thought he must sing like one, too.

Blair was drafted into the Army after his mission, and was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington.  Though it was from 1953-1955 and during the Korean War, he counted it as a huge blessing that he was never sent to Korea.  In fact, he was one of three returned missionaries who were the only soldiers in their divisions not to be sent to fight. In his life history, Blair said, “The best thing that happened to me in the military was finding my sweetheart and wife of these many years”.  While stationed in Washington, Blair first saw a pretty, 16 year old redhead named Myrna at the Olympia Ward.  Some time later he asked Myrna out for a date to the stake dance in Tacoma, however on the way to her house, he got lost and arrived late.  Then after picking her up, the car broke down.  They ended up hitching a ride with a bus load of soldiers, and after the dance was over, Myrna had to get a ride home with someone else.  After all that, she still agreed to see him again.  It was, appropriately, at another dance, the Green and Gold ball in 1954, that Blair proposed to Myrna, and she accepted.

Blair and Myrna were married August 17, 1954 in the Idaho Falls Temple.  As Myrna was endowed at the same time, it made for a really long day!  Blair and Myrna had Kahri, the first of their five children when they had been married 5 years, and it was another 5 years before Kathi joined the family.   Both times they had already begun the process to adopt a child when they learned they were expecting.  Karen, Guy, and Greg followed in the next seven years.

After leaving the army, Blair had begun work in the Banking and Loan industry, a field he would work in for 30 years. He attended the American Institute of Banking, where again he excelled, achieving all three certificates offered there with honors.  He went on to work as a teacher of Consumer Lending for the institute for several years. He attended many continuing education courses in the banking field, waking very early on Saturday mornings to complete his studies so that it would not interfere with his time with family.  He graduated, of course, with honors.  He eventually finished his associates degree at Citrus College in 1988.  

Blair was ordained a High Priest on May 29, 1962 by Alvin R. Dyer and later as a Bishop on September 17, 1967.  He was asked to preside as a Stake President on September 19, 1971 by Gordon B. Hinckley, and later as a counselor in the Arcadia Mission Presidency .  Blair was set apart as a Sealer in the Los Angeles Temple by Robert D. Hales, and later served as a sealer in the Redlands Temple, working almost 20 years in these assignments.  As a temple sealer, he had the opportunity to perform the marriages of two of his children and three of his grandchildren.  He was passionately committed to his temple service, and rarely missed a shift. At different points in his service in the church, Blair was also Elder’s Quorum President, Stake Clerk, Gospel Doctrine Teacher, High Councilman, and High Priest Group Leader.  But in all his church service, he felt that his 73 years as a home teacher was the most rewarding, and he always tried to achieve 100% of his visits.

I remember while Blair served as Stake President, the church was hosting  Know Your Religion Series, held at stake centers in the area.  I cannot tell you how many times as I attended one of these meetings, while waiting for the meeting to start, someone would mistake me for Blair.  I would have to immediately inform them that they were not talking to the Stake President and I was his brother!

Blair served for 2 years as a City Council member while he lived in Baldwin Park. He also established himself as a real estate broker, property developer, and in his later years as a commercial properties manager.  Blair retired from his job just this past December.  Somehow, amid all of this, he managed to serve for 27 years on the executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America San Gabriel Valley Council, serving 3 years as the Chairman of Scout-O-Rama. For his many years of dedicated service to the Boy Scouts, he was awarded one of the highest honors of scouting; The Silver Beaver.

Blair’s children remember his dedication to his career and his many callings, but they also have cherished memories of waking up on Saturday mornings to a box of fresh donuts and the croon of The Sons of the Pioneers singing Cool Water.  They remember family work time on Saturdays, usually followed by a trip to the movies, mini-golf or a restaurant.  Blair made sure the family gathered for games on Sunday nights, and always took his sweetheart out on dates each Friday evening.  Family vacations were important to Blair, and they traveled to most of the western states during these adventures.  On these trips, he always made sure to find a motel with a swimming pool, and if they arrived too late to go swimming, he would wake the children early the next morning, even in the freezing cold, so that they could swim.  Family Home Evening was a time when his children enjoyed his company uninterrupted by outside calls and responsibilities, full of games, music sung around the piano and lessons followed by treats.  His kids remember that after Family Home Evening, he sometimes sent them off to bed one by one playing, “Penny, Penny, Who’s Got the Penny”.

Blair loved puzzles, country western music, sports, running - at age 73 he was still running 3 miles a day-, huckleberry pie and listening to his sweetheart sing, and play the piano and organ.  He built a religious library of over 800 books.  But amid all this, he sums up his own life by saying he would never have been able to fulfill all of that he had “except for the great support of a loving wife.  She has shouldered the major responsibility for raising the children.  She has been the major influence in my life, and all that I am I owe to her...”

Blair is survived by myself, our three sisters Lueen, Deanna and Viola, his sweetheart, Myrna, his five children and their spouses, 19 of his 20 grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren, who will all miss him greatly.  He was a good man.

*****

I loved Dad. I will miss him very much.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Little Boy with the Cupboard


Jonah boy is an amazing little kid.  He is what I would love to have been at his age but probably wasn't.  He is gentle and kind, the type of boy who would give you the best seat or his last gummy worm.  He asks delightful questions, like "how long would it take if you could walk to the moon?" and "who invented bubblegum?".  He will try new foods, pack lunch for his little sister, and go along with it when you try to make a game out of cleaning his room, even though he knows what you are up to.  I don't even know about half of the times little Nano has cried about a hurt or disappointment, because he comforts her himself (only moments ago, they both came in crying.  She was sad about not watching a movie with grandpa, and Jonah had called her to him to comfort her, whereupon she accidentally bonked his lip with her melon head, and given him a bloody lip).  He is a tender and artistic child.  Every night he draws scads and scads of amazing pictures before bed with the discipline of an Olympian.  The boy inspires me.

Also, he still likes to cuddle.  He's the whole package.

Jonah and I have been reading books together, but up until recently he seemed only vaguely interested.  Then we began the book The Indian in the Cupboard, the tale of a young boy who is given a magic cupboard that would make small plastic toys come to life.  Suddenly, my own boy came alive.  He couldn't wait for us to read each night.  Every evening he would get himself and his sissy ready for bed quickly so that we could read together.

As Christmas approached, I got the idea to create a cupboard for him like the one in the book, complete with a little bronze key. Of his three gifts, Needful, Joyful and Meaningful, this would certainly be his Meaningful gift.  I put the word out on Facebook and in just one day, had the offer of a perfect little cabinet, free.  "I just put it out by the trash last night.  I'll go bring it back in," the poster said.  One night while reading our book, I asked Jonah what he would do if he had a magic cabinet like the one in the story.  He thoughtfully told me about the different things he would bring to life, and those he would not, because it would not be kind or safe.  Next, I asked him my most important question... "what color do you think the cupboard was?"


"White!" he said, as though it was a fact.


In the evenings after the Littles went to bed, I worked on the cupboard, sanding, painting and then distressing it to make it look old and well loved.  I ordered a sweet little bronze lock with a skeleton key, because as anyone who has read the book will know, the key is almost another character in the story.



 Next, I set out on a quest to find a little plastic Indian for "Little Bear", hopefully like the one in our story.  I looked high and low online and in stores, but had no luck.   They don't make cowboy and Indian toys anymore, because of the disrespect it implies.  But having read the book, that treats the Native American culture with great care, I knew Jonah would play lovingly and respectfully with the little toy, if one could be found.

On the night I waited for the family to arrive to the Christmas light parade route, I had wandered the shops, enjoying the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers, and the carols that were the perfect sound track for the moment.  I wandered into an antique shop with toys crowding the the shelves and  sought out the shop keeper.

"I'm looking for a little plastic Indian figure, like they made in the 70's."  He glanced off into space at some memory of a hiding place, held up one finger, and then with a nod of the head that told me to follow, turned and dashed off toward the back of the store, weaving between the shoppers.  I followed and arrived to the stairs where he stopped and stooped down over a little set of wooden drawers.  He pulled open a small, ancient drawer and retrieved a plastic bag, promptly dumping its contents out onto the bottom step of the wooden staircase.  "Ten dollars for the bag," He called as he buzzed around looking in other corners for other possible options as I sorted out the little figures.

There I found him, cast in shiny red plastic, a bow and arrow poised at the ready; the Little Bear I had been searching for.  I examined the other figures in the bag and chose a well worn horse to go along with him.  "I'll give you twice what they're worth if you'll let me just buy these two," I said, smiling.


"How 'bout three bucks?" he nodded, returning the smile.

"It's a deal!" I said, feeling ridiculously proud over my little accomplishment.  I layed $3 on the pile of antique books on the desk by the register and tucked my treasures into my sweater pocket.

Wanting this cupboard to be about far more than the one book we were reading together, I thought back to our last book, Charlotte's Web.  A pig.  I needed a sweet little pig.  You would think a pig would be a much easier acquisition, but without dropping ten bucks on a whole barnyard cast, with a fat sow, her teats heavy with milk, no pig could be found.

Asking around, a fellow at church gave me a ray of hope.  "Go to Tractor Supply," he said confidently (as though I would know what and where the heck that was!), "Up at the front, by the register.  They'll have one."

So I did.

And they did.

I was so tickled!  I held my little pink pig, admiring the carefully painted face and teat-less belly, as one would hold a little bird fallen from a nest.  I had to tell the cashier of my conquest.  In typical Amador Counrty fashion, she beamed and shared my cheer.



The lock finally came in the mail, and I worked away on Christmas eve to drill out and install the lock, but heartbreakingly both screwheads broke off before they were completely in, leaving the posts jutting out from the wood.  Having no other screws to use, I grabbed glue and tried to fix the lock in place, at least temporarily for Christmas morning, until I could get new screws.  I kicked myself for not having finished the cupboard sooner, feeling heavy with failure.




The next morning I rushed ahead of the children to the living-room, feigning that I needed to put on the tree lights and light the fire.  I knelt down by the cupboard which I had hidden beside the couch, and tried the key in the lock.  It was stuck.  I fought with the lock for a moment, and then opened the cupboard to find the hasty glue job still wet.  The lock fell off in my hand.  Defeated, but knowing that Christmas must go on, I hid the cupboard again and called the children to come see their stockings.

Christmas unfolded (or unwrapped) as most do, until the moment we gave the "Meaningful" gifts to each child.  Ellie loved her new recipe book, and Tessa her horse sculpture, but I worried that Jonah's gift would be a disappointment.  I brought out his gift, set in a large bag under tissue, and sat it in front of him.  His eyes were huge as he only half-listened to me explain that I would need to fix something on his gift.  He pulled away the tissue and I helped him lift the cupboard out of the bag.  After a little moment of confusion, his face melted into a huge smile of surprise! "It's from our book!"  He beamed, opening the door to reveal three little bundles on the top shelf.  Carefully, he unwrapped the first.


"Little Bear!"  He glowed, reaching for the second tissue bundle.  "I know who this is!" he proclaimed, only to stop short as he opened the horse.  "Oh, I thought it would be Boone." he hesitated  (Oh, no!  I hadn't thought like a 7 year old!  Of course he would expect the other character in the book to be there!).  "It's Little Bear's horse.  So that means this is..." his little hands worked on the tissue of the last small bundle.

"Whaaa...?!  A pig?" he blurted.

"Not A pig.  Wilber." I said, then jokingly added, "He's Some Pig!"

A look of realization came across his face as I put words to what he was beginning to understand.  "This is a special place to put a little memory from each book we read together."

He didn't miss a beat.  "We need a Dribble!" he said, naming the turtle in the book we had just begun, having finished The Indian in the Cupboard only days before.


He got it.  And he loves it.  And it was indeed Meaningful,  for both of us.

 ****

We went back to the antique store after Christmas.  Jonah couldn't let go of the idea of having a Boone to keep Little Bear company.  Luckily, he agreed that the trapper we found amongst the little plastic figures would have to do, as no cowboys could be found.



I am sculpting him a little green turtle for Dribble.  Who knew it would be so hard to buy just one pond turtle?

 (but if you want to know where to get sea turtles by the dozen, gim'me a call)

We are reading Where the Red Fern Grows now, and I am now on the prowl for a pair of Redbone Coonhounds.  

I think I may have started something here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Oh, Tannenbaum!



When I was a little girl,sometime between The Bee Gee's and The Bangles ...(que harp-y flashback music)..., we would sometimes head out to the industrial areas of Los Angeles, and there amidst the train tracks and giant warehouses was a strange Christmas tree farm. Behind the dusty cinder-block walls, under a pollution grey sky, rows of dull green trees grew out of the flat, ash colored soil. I remember all of us wandering in this central-city forest, searching for "The" tree that would be this year's living room celebrity, and my mother commenting on a crooked top on this-one, or a bare spot on that-one. I could never understand how bears had managed to get over the cinder block wall to claw or rub bald "bear spots" on the trees, but I believed her when she said it, always keeping an eye out over my shoulder for illusive urban wildlife.

Flash-forward a few dozen years. Guy and I are married and heading out to look for a Christmas tree, and inevitably keep winding up back at Home Depot. Every year the cycle would repeat... I'd start talking about a tree-farm-find, but then sometime in the second week of December we would find ourselves back and Home Depot, digging through the piles, cutting the trees lose from their twine straightjackets, and scrutinizing them. There was always a flaw; a crooked top here, a bare spot there.  Guy and I accuse each other of being tree snobs. He's worse than I am, of course.  

I once saw a guy walk in, pick a tree still bound in twine up off the pile, and take it right up to the register.  Pretty hardcore, if you ask me.  I wish I could be like that, but you know... tree snob (ok, he's right.  I'm worse).  

Each year, we'd finally settle on a "good enough for tired people with whiny kids" tree.  Still, my longing for a good old fashioned tree-murder has never gone away.  It's the closest I'll ever get to slaughtering my own Thanksgiving turkey. Moving to the woods had seemed like the perfect arboreal answer, but alas, our wee little acre-and-a-third is covered with giant pines and their scrubby babies.  No go. 

So on the one mid-December day we had free, we took an adventure out to the State Park to cut down a live Christmas tree!  (hey, I have already confessed my slant toward shrub-icide. Back off.)
There would be a parade that night in Sutter Creek that we had decided we wouldn't miss, but as I drove Adam to work that morning, I found folding chairs already lined up on the parade route. I threw a blanket out on the curb to save a spot for our family, dashed home to grab an armload of folding chairs and headed back to the parade route.  I had received a text from a friend giving me a heads-up that there was snow up in them-thar'-hills, so while I made the chair drop, Guy patched together mismatched mittens and random beanies, layered up sweaters and jackets, and scrounged for old rubber boots.  We headed out.

A stop at the ranger station and $10 later, and we were equipped with the pink carnival wristband that would take us from forestry felonists to law-abiding citizens, and a map to the best picking grounds, according to Mr. Park Ranger.  One more stop for at the country hardware store for a hacksaw, and we're on our way!


We interrupt this timberland text to bring you some cold hard facts:

#1 - When getting ready for the snow, sometimes it's about the cold, but sometimes it's about the wet. It is important not to forget about the wet.

#2 - Number three. Small children do not like being cold and wet.

#3 - A hand saw is a poor choice for cutting down a Christmas tree, a point which will be punctuated by the roar no less than 5 chainsaws elsewhere in the forest, no doubt maned or womaned by persons in warm, waterproof gear.

#4 - In the woods, gravity can either be your friend or your enemy (subpoint: Trees can't walk).

#37 - Probably you should not park a minivan on half melted, very muddy snow.

Now back to our story.


Piling from the van, Jonah and Natalie delighted in their first sight of snow. I, a veteran of seven Provo winters, was a woman with a mission. I had to get back to that Parade route after all, and we only had three hours to make this thing happen.


 I coaxed everyone along but we found the icy snow difficult to navigate. It was the type that was frozen on top, and soft just under the crust. With one foot you sank only a few tidy inches, when with the next you might plunge through up to your knee. As I was trying to help Natalie down an embankment, I lost my footing and took a tumble head first, smacking my knee, hitting my forehead on a log and bending my perpetually sore thumb backward.  Hmmm.  Strike One on wild tree cutting.


Undaunted, though slightly crabby, I trudged off down the hill. Yes, you heard me, down the hill (refer back to fact #4). Soon I was joined by Guy, and nearby I could hear the kids playing. But I could also hear poor little Natalie, who had started crying about 5 minutes after arriving and hadn't stopped. Guy and I purposefully-wandered from thicket to thicket, scrutinizing tops and bare spots, looking for the One Perfect Beauty.


After about a half mile of walking, I called out to Guy that I found a suitable tree. I was no longer looking for a perfect tree, I was looking for a "What ever will get this over with" kind of tree. We agreed it was fine-ish, if not slightly wonky, got the thumbs-up from Tessa and Jonah, and I began sawing away at the bottom. I'm not good with a saw. It was taking a very long time. I tried this way and that, and finally surrendered the saw to Tessa and Guy so I could go rescue Ellie from a wailing and sobbing Natalie.


When I found them, three thickets away, Natalie wasn't the only one crying. Ellie's eyes were red and she was very distraught. Dragging a miserable four-year-old through a foot of crunchy wet snow as she bellowed had delivered Ellie to her limit. She was so upset later to learn that we had already begun cutting a tree (which I don't think I'll be forgiven for several years to come).  Returning to the scene of the tree-crime, we found Guy still chewing away at the tree ankle  Eventually, much to our relief, there came the tell-tale waiver and wobble of the treetop as it began to tip slowly to the side, and then finally flop down rather ungracefully onto the snow.  Pflumbp!

Though it was under the 20 foot limit outlined by the park ranger, it was clear to me that it was far too long for our living room.  I voted that we leave a few feet, not to mention pounds, of tree behind. 

Natalie had persisted and crying and just needed someone to be with her. I offered Ellie the choice, carry the child, or carry the tree. Trees don't walk, but they also don't cry.



I made my way with the whiny wee one, following the footsteps we had made on our way down the hill, fighting gravity toward the van. I carried Natalie a longish way, and realized if it was this hard carrying a child, the tree-toters were going to need more help. Tessa volunteered to carry little Natalie the rest of the way to the van, at least a good quarter mile more, and I headed back down towards our stumbling, lumbering lumberjacks.


Ellie and Guy had been making steady progress, but they were already exhausted. I found a long branch, and put it under the heavy end of the tree for Guy and I to carry between us, while Ellie wrangled the rear.  We clumsily navigated our way the half mile back to the van, falling in holes, stumbling over fallen branches hidden by snow, and trying to figure out the least cumbersome path through rocks and trees.



As we got to the last leg of our hike, we came across the utility road we had crossed earlier. Guy figured that it probably wrapped around to the place where we had parked the van, and went to see if we couldn't just get the van closer instead of carrying the tree up the last steep hill. Ellie and I waited with the tree, panting and sweating, eating handfuls of snow to quench our thirst. We joked about how this was our first and last wild-tree-hunt, we were sure. Neither of us figured there was much chance of Guy ever wanting to do this again.


Guy appeared on foot around the bend and told us he got in the van as close as he dared drive on the snow packed road, worried about getting back out. We carried the tree on the utility road until we reached the van, and sweaty-cold and tired we then tied it to the top.


The road was nicely gouged and torn by earlier four-wheel drives into a churned up slop of brown mud and snow several inches deep. Guy tried to get the van going, but at a certain point on the road it just stopped and the wheels spun. Not wanting to dig us into a deep pit, he backed out and try it again. Then again, and again. After the 5th time he turned and looked at me and said, "Well, that's it. We're stuck.  We're just stuck."

I had been holding out on volunteering to try until this moment. It's a delicate thing, like offering to open a jar after someone has given it their all, knowing you might possibly, hopefully succeed.  I asked if it would be okay with him if I gave it a shot. "Be my guest," he said, his tone heavy with doubt. He got out in case he would have to push from behind, which worried me. I pictured him slipping and me running him over.

I backed the van far back and up on the shoulder of the road where not many vehicles had traveled, leaving the snow relatively unscathed, and then threw our silly little two-wheel-drive into 3rd gear. Without spinning out, I gave it as much gas as I dared, building up speed as quickly as I could, and then started dodging the puddles. I wound between them as fast as I could, and when I finally hit the dreaded deep spot, I just plowed right through it and miraculously got to the other side. I pulled safely ahead to stable ground, and then stopped the car and got out. I walked back to Guy grinning sheepish. No girl wants to show up her husband, but I couldn't help being a little bit proud.  He gave me my victory with a sportsman-like "You did it!"



Though it felt like we'd been gone for 5 hours, we were at about two and a half hours, right on schedule for me to make it to the parade route.  Law-abidingly, we scurried home and I jumped from the van to the car, parade route in my sites.

*****
The parade was home-town-y wonderful.  An Elvis impersonator crooned Christmas songs that echoed through the bustling street, and window shoppers poured happily in and out of shops adorned and lit for the season.  As no one was really guarding their chairs along the route yet, I freely joined the flow of cheerful shop-goers wishing one another Merry Christmas as they held bell-clad doors for each other.  In one shop, I was thrilled when the shopkeeper answered my request for a certain special item for a gift for Jonah by digging through a drawer and producing not one, but two of my tiny hunted-for objects (more on this in my next post).  I handed over my $3 and slipped my treasured acquisitions into my pocket, then just strolled the gold town walks, people watching.

Two hours later,  my family found me behind my book, bundled in sweaters and coat, scarf, blankets and hat.  They filled the seats I had placed and saved for them and we ate pizza as we waited for the parade to begin.  We enjoyed dozens of decorated vehicles, homemade floats and troops of scouts and baton twirlers, as they trod down the Sutter Creek Main Street in the chilly air.  I clapped and cheered, and waved back at the folks on the floats.  I even got choked up, as I always do, when the Military Veterans float, a truck full of heros spanning 5 decades, passed by. "Thank you!" I called, sincerely and gratefully.  About halfway through the parade, I leaned in close to Guy and said, "I guess we can stay."

"Well, the parade isn't over until eight."

"No, I mean stay here, in Amador County."

"I know what you meant." he smiled, giving me a quick kiss.






(if my camera hadn't died, these would have
 been this year's pictures.  Thanks internet!)


*****

And finally, our hard-won dead tree in it's final resting place...




And no worse for the ordeal.  
But my head still hurts.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Harvest (A Fall Photo Album)


Jackie says I need to write about our adventure with our Christmas tree, and I will but this post has been waiting it's turn in line, and is rather delayed by the planning of the church party and the making of much fudge and such.  So please consider this an appetizer...

*****

There is a nip in the air, and giant leaves have fallen from our trees as though it were a race to get to the ground.  The crickets have gone quiet, and in the dark evenings as I walk outside, usually from the van after an activity "in town", the cheerful return of the creek's chatter is the only sound besides that of my own feet hitting the soggy leaves I should have raked before the first rainfall.

It's a blessing that there are a cluster of celebrations and holidays between now and January, because it gives my heart a net to keep it from plunging into the darkness which now comes far to early each afternoon.  I count the days until the solstice, when at least I'll know that the sun will linger a few minutes longer each day, even if I can't see it yet.

Another first in our new house; first Autumn.  The two apple trees that we pretty much ignored all summer have not taken it personally, and have given us quite a bounty of fruit, first one tree, then the other.  The kidlets did the harvesting and had such fun.  Besides eating as many as our bellies could hold, I made a couple of pies and desserts and the kids made apple sauce.  






On Halloween I made our annual Candy Corn Soup, to be consumed before trick-or-treating.  If you are new to the concept, or disgusted at the idea, each year my Candy Corn Soup is actually just some form of pumpkin or sweet potato or butternut squash soup, topped with 3 candy corns, because (sing with me...) "a spoon full of sugar makes the healthy soup go down" before the candy deluge.  


I forgot to get bacon, so it was vegetarian style this year (though not vegan, 'cuz I like me some cream and buttah!). 

The last holdout in the soup department.  All she wanted was cornbread. Note the crumbs.

Here you witness the kiddos in various stages of costuming, fulfilling the command "Eat your candy corn soup or NO CANDY for you!"
Steampunk Jonah

 The Jensens joined us, and though we tried like crazy to get out early, we still didn't hit the road till 6:30.  I had planned to take the kids down main street in Jackson to the shops that stay open late for trick-or-treaters, but we were too late.  So we tromped up to a nearby neighborhood, but quickly learned that ours were the only children that that neighborhood had seen all evening.  We had been told that certain neighborhoods get hundreds of kids, but apparently we didn't land in one of those.  The kids were met on those sleepy streets with enthusiastic homeowners who nearly emptied their bowls into the kids bags.  It felt strange though, to be the only families still on the streets at only 7:30 pm.  We've learned our lesson, though.  Next year, out by 4pm!

After tromping around until well after dark, we came back to our cottage in the woods and watched To Kill a Mockingbird.  I fell asleep halfway through, but it's okay... I have the whole thing memorized.

It was a great night.


The Photo Album
*****
In other news, earlier in the week Guy and I had our first Halloween party at the new house, and enjoyed the company of both new friends and old.  It was awesome.



Guy doing his "dead face".  Yes, he does sometimes make that face the split second before I turn out the light at night, just to creep me out.  To see how that works, look at his picture and then real quick shut your eyes.  Creepy, right!?


This was my mother's Halloween costume that she wore over 50 years ago.


Ellie at the church Trunk-Or-Treat with new friend McKenzie.  The kids have been so welcoming to our kiddos. 


Velma, Shaggy and Scooby.  Apparently, there is no such thing as "too old to go trick-or-treating".


J boy in full makeup and Ninja Ryan


 A darlin' lil' Cheetah.  The cutest wild life in our neck of the woods.


I guess I've always loved Halloween because for just one day, you get to be someone else.  But when you move, you really do become someone else for a little while.  You are the new person.  A person who suddenly doesn't know anyone.  A person who is starting over.  

And that, indeed, is a little bit scary,

But that was way back in October. A lifetime ago in your first year in a new place.
 I know some folks now.  
Real nice folks.
It's feelin' more like home all the time.