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, 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.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Enchanted Wood

So, I told you about John and Jackie trekking across 520 miles (math-wise that's 1,040 round trip) of soon to be frozen tundra to come help us with our temperature troubles, our warming woes, our heating hullabaloo, our climate conundrum, our degree debacle, our...
Sorry.  You get the point.  

  While John and Guy were busily cutting a large-ish hole into the wall of the house, Jackie and I took a jaunt into Jackson on official business dropping Addyboy at work, and sort'a accidentally stumbled into The Hub, to show Jackie where my kiddos have classes. Then whoops!, we tripped and fell into the Hein & Company Bookstore.  It's an amazing Harry-Potter-esque place, that sucks you in and won't let you leave. 

So you see, 

Certain delays simply could NOT be avoided.

We staggered around helplessly, completely subject to the whims of old book smells, rustic romantic lighting and ancient dust.  It happened that just then my husband called.  As you know, any time a fix-it project is begun, about 15 minutes later a run to the hardware store will be required.  The menfolk needed doohickies and whatchamabobbits for the heater installation, and we were tasked with finding them.  I believe the conversation went like this:

Guy: "Are you on your way home?"

Me: "Something like that."

Well, technically we were going to end up home, so we were on the return leg of the trip. Somewhat.

(shhhhhh.  Don't tell.  He'll find out when he reads this).

We headed to the Jackson big-box hardware store, and much to our mutual dismay, we could not fit a 16 foot long piece of lumber, the only option for what we needed, into Guy's Hundai.  We scooted over to a place called Meeks, and the nice fellow there thought it seemed silly for us to have to buy a whole 16 feet of wood when we only needed 4 feet, so he just cut a bit off and gave it to us for free.  That's Jackson hospitality for you.  It wasn't the first time, and it surely won't be the last.

Guy called and let us know that they had decided to see if the little Pine Grove hardware store had the other baubles they needed, so we were off the hardware-hook.  We then felt it was only prudent to stop by the little town of Volcano, because IT WAS THERE.

I showed Jackie the Volcano Country Store, the oldest continuously running store in the state of California, built in 1850.  Cute owner Debbie  was as sweet and welcoming to Jackie as she was the first time we met her.

The shelves are mixed with modern and vintage products, some for sale, others for display. 

Well, we tore ourselves away from Volcano to deliver the 4 feet of wood we had acquired, and offer our help to the men.  As our husbands are quite manly men, we were not needed.  Shucks. 
What do you do when you are with your bosom friend and the children don't know you are home?  You run away into the woods, of course!  (quickly! Hurry, before they catch your scent!)

Jackie and John live with their three girls and sundry dogs, cats, chickens and horses in a beautiful house (well people and pets in, hourses and chicks out) on what I would call a "prairie" (though Jackie calls it a desert).  Much to Jackie's chagrin, there are only a smattering of trees there.  Jackie was smitten by our woods, and in a new way, so was I.  The rain over just two days had been like a magic spell, waking patches of dry, brown moss into lush green shag rugs on the trees and rocks all around.   

Jackie was particularly amused by our autumn leaves the size of dinner plates.

She managed to find about 7 uses for a leaf.

Here, you will enjoy seeing her reenact several scenes from history, accompanied by various British-y voices. 

We tromped all around our little wood, and seeing it through Jackie's fairytale lens made me see it with the little thrill I had the first time we saw the house.  All the inspections and documents and approvals had quite smothered my enthusiasm about our lovely wood.  

I wish you all could go on a walk in the woods with Jackie.   She sees magic everywhere.   She makes you realize that you really actually DO believe in fairies and such, but that the rude old world has snuffed out the candle of your imagination.   But luckily, Jackie carries imagination matches.

Alas, one cannot stay in the woods.  
Moss is not excellent toilet paper. 

Jackie went to my dad's place to visit him.   He was convinced she had grown several inches since college, which is very tricky of her.  It was fun to listen to them catch up.  I heard him tell stories about their mutual childhood stomping grounds in Montana that I'd never heard before. 

The gentlemen worked quite late into the evening,  but when all was done, there was a gorgeous little stove burning away in my dad's place, and he was toasty and content.  We stole away to one of the few places that is open after nine in Jackson, and enjoyed dinner and conversation, both, rich and sweet.  We talked about hard things that both our families have been through with our children, and I felt so understood,  so loved.  The time was over, far, far to soon.

They left the next morning.

After Jackie left Sunday morning, we texted back and forth pretending that they forgot something and simply must turn right around and come back.  It's the only way I could cope knowing they were getting further and further away. 

After they left, Jackie sent me the link to her pictures from the trip.  It was so interesting to see my world through her eyes. Even the mess in my studio seemed to carry the mystique of purposeful-clutter, rather than neglected-haphazardness.  I think it was Natalie's little shoes.  Children's outgrown shoes are precious relics, after all.

And then there were the books.  I've told you before that Jackie and I gift each other with books.  Well, Jackie snuck and hid two sweet books in our house, one on my painting easel, and one in the window accompanied by a sweet fairy door.

 Better than the books were the notes inside them, too dear to share here, but ones that will be sought out and read on future cloudy days, when I'm having trouble feeling the magic of our enchanted wood.

At least now John knows the way to our house in the woods. 
 Maybe he'll make his way here again, 
and maybe he'll bring Jackie with him.