Things I Can Give Up

It is the last day of 2015. It's monumental, I suppose, this 38th year of mine, a year full of change, turmoil and triumph, highs and lows, work and play... but it feels like a Monday. Like I have to get up and get stuff done as soon as possible. Maybe a night of heavy drinking will fix that.

I was researching the tradition of New Year resolutions for a story I am writing in the Silverado Express, and it was fascinating to see that the custom of using the beginning of the year to make changes, to repent and forgive, to purge and cleanse and start over, is almost universal, whether the new year celebration is on January first, on the Chinese lunar new year, or Rosh Hashanah. The underlying theme of new year resolutions is sacrifice - the giving up and letting go of anything that hinders us: grudges, bad habits, clutter... Even the sacrifice of pride that keeps us from owning our failures or forgiving the people who have hurt us, or giving up something we love for the greater good. This tradition is rooted in the Catholic tradition of Lent which requires church members to forego the eating of meat among other things for a period of time.

In the spirit of the season, I laid in bed for awhile pondering what sacrifices I would make this year (because it was a great excuse to lay in bed for awhile), at the beginning of 2016, to start the year off unencumbered and ready to get some shit done. So here is my list of things to give up. Things I don't need hanging off of me in 2016:

1. Ungratefulness - this is something that has come up for me again and again and again. I have so much to be thankful for, but I habitually resort to complaining about what I don't have. And it's ugly.

2. About 30 more pounds - which means leaving behind the bi-weekly habit of cheesy bread and beer. I am on the path... just a little more paring!

3. Anger at situations that I cannot change or control. I am pressing hard after a deep seated peace, knowing that I am exactly where I need to be to get me where I am going.

4. Worry about my growing-up kids that are no longer under "my protection." I need to trust them to the Arms of Someone more powerful than me.

5. Substituting things for people. I pacify loneliness by shopping, and all that results in is a whole lotta stuff and still nobody here to make me feel better. When the urge hits, I need to reach out to a friend or pick up a book. Hey - imaginary friends are better than credit card bills!

6. Fleas, lice, round worms, ringworm, and all other vermin. You are no longer welcome in this house. Find somewhere else to haunt.

7. Relationships that are false, shallow or lecherous. I don't need to be sucked dry anymore, and in the same token, I need to evaluate how I relate to others and always make sure that I am giving and honest.

8. Neediness: I have been given everything I need to be a whole person, without being dependent on someone else. I forget this every day.

9. Judgement - I have enough of my own failures to focus on without being distracted by the shortcomings of others.

10. Excuses: For the first time in years, I am virtually pain free. I am capable and I am willing. It's time to be the person that I want to be, without letting my laziness and apathy slow me down.

Things Unseen - Why to Believe, and Why to Push It

It isn't just that I've had a couple of gin & sodas. It isn't just that it's The Holidays. It isn't that my good friend who really couldn't afford it footed my bill at the bar, or that by some weird God-related coincidence some random weird guy at the bar knew that this entire day swirled around and came back to It's a Wonderful Life and referenced it to me. It isn't because I am a spoiled brat and throw a lot of fits. Even if all of those things are true, that's not what it is.

What it really is, is that It Matters. No matter how much I feel like in any given moment, that it doesn't matter what I do, what I say, who I see or talk to, it really does matter. Just like if George Bailey had never been there for Mr. Gower, you never know when just being there matters the most. And you never can tell how the one time you made cookies with somebody, or read them a book, or made them watch a ridiculous Christmas movie, could be something So Big in their lives that they never fully recover.

Tonight I was feeling sorry for myself after sending my kids off to their dad's house for a Christmas celebration, and then I got into an argument with kids that aren't mine about Santa Claus and Christmas and believing. Even my own kids chastised me this holiday season about being too relentless with the Christmas Movies and the Christmas Music and TRADITION. Other kids think I am just plain nuts in my Santa Claus dogma.

I don't know how to say all of the feelings in my heart. All of the frustration for the 8 year old who tells me Santa Claus is a lie, because his parents believe in the importance of  teaching him to thank them for the presents they paid for. Or because perhaps they are afraid that as he grows older he will think that his parents lied to him about a mythical being. Or the 17 year old who doesn't even the know the name of Santa's reindeer because no one ever bothered to tell him. I probably sound petty when I say that it seems horrific to meet someone who has never seen White Christmas or Holiday Inn, or who has never laid awake all night listening for reindeer hooves on the roof of their house.

What baffles me is how you can expect your child to believe in a God that you cannot see or hear but banish so completely the wonder and faith of believing in Santa Claus. If there is anything of value that we can give our kids, it has to be the richness of believing in what we cannot touch or see. It has to be the mystery of Christmas Eve and the wonder of Christmas morning.

Years ago, as I slogged through the mess of my own spirituality in the wreckage of my soul as I was living in a hell on earth, I wrote a poem for my mother. It was shortly after my Grandma had passed away, the Grandma who had told me stories of brownie kiss freckles, mermaids at Twin Rocks on the Oregon Coast, and stories of fairies dancing in the ferns around Multnomah Falls. She told me the legend of The Bridge of The Gods, the ancient Klickitat brothers who fought over a fair maiden and wreaked havoc on the villages and lands of their people, ultimately destroying the naturally formed bridge over the Columbia River. In Punishment, their father, the Great Chief, struck all three down and they became the mountains: Adams, Hood and St. Helens, standing as mournful sentinels of caution to the native people. My grandma, with all of these stories, taught me faith in ages that have gone by before me, belief in knowledge that can not possibly be proven, and she is the reason I will always love, and always believe in Santa Claus, and even more, God. Don't tell me that there is an unseen world but that you are the only one with accurate information about it, according to your badly translated book of stories.

Christianity is in such an all-fired hurry to shun traditions and legends that originate before the advent of Jesus, because of their "pagan" roots - which interestingly, are ALL of our roots. There is history before Christ, y'all. Deal with it. There were miracles and mystics, and if God is yesterday, today and always, then most likely he was hanging out with the pagans before Jesus wandered along. Our little box of religion that is a few thousand years old puts a lot of limits on an omnipotent God, who, incidentally created all of the cultures behind all of the legends and stories and mysteries.

Here is the poem I wrote, and the belief that I feel compelled to share with my children and any others that I come into contact with. Because this is faith. Because it probably matters. Because I think my grandma had it figured out.

I believe in things unseen
In brownie kisses and faerie rings
I believe in gnomes and elves
And pixies that disguise themselves

I believe in sprites and nymphs
Mermaids and mischievous imps
Little things we never see
That hide in toadstools, rocks and trees

I believe there is a world
Of unseen things as we’ve been told
With lots of different creatures there
Irksome ones, and some that care

Now I think I understand
Why Grandma told me faerieland
Was not something I had to see
But trust my heart and it could be

Although this world I cannot see
I know it is as real as me
This trust has grown throughout the years
Throughout the joy and all the tears

And things unseen have grown beyond
Faeries dancing on the lawn
To faith in God and heaven above
And giving unconditional love

for Grandma Schiffman, 1997

Things That Are Disgusting

I have decided that if there is anything gross in the world that it will happen to me. While I will spare you some of the more sordid details of my long past, I will bring you up to speed on the manifest disgust that I have had the pleasure of enduring recently.

It would be easy to just tell you to imagine the grossest things you can and then take it on faith that those things are going on at my house.

Say for instance, you imagined something as horrific as the idea of roundworm larva that live on the microscopic backs of fleas. And say for instance, that you imagined a demon-possessed kitten with the face of a miniature tiger that came to live in a house that was equipped with a dog door, and you couldn't actually keep the kitten out, but it brought these back-packing little parasites with it and shared them with All of The Dogs.

Then say for instance that the dogs, after a few months of chewing the obnoxious fleas off of their itching spots, swallowed enough with the happy little round worm larvae on their backs, that the little worm-eggs hatched out and then the dogs (and probably cat) all had round worms. And then say that the worms started crawling randomly out of your dogs anus on to the living room floor as he slept angelically. I mean just imagine that. Wriggling little white round worms on your living room floor. All around the vicinity of your dog's precious rear end.

And just imagine if the same cat who basically ruined your ENTIRE life, along with 30% of your Christmas tree ornaments which he flung wantonly off of the Christmas tree and into the waiting maws of a vengeful dachshund who got left behind on the last trip to town, imagine that this cat was also a fierce and ferocious hunter, and his favorite activity was bringing half-alive and all-the-way dead, and best of all, ripped-in-half baby rabbits and birds into your bedroom to tear apart and devour. Ripped in half, folks. Little furry halfs of baby rabbits. With fuzzy little cotton tails and hind feet. Under your dresser.

The carnage of an ornament. But slightly less gross and more photographable than anything else in my house. 

I mean, I am sure you've already heard the horror story of the people with the kittens who infected the Entire 12 Grade School with ringworm? And also the story about the poop floods at Christmas time.  Or even better the poop floods and head lice! Those things? They all happen here. All of them. And more.

All of these things are of course survivable, as is the bean soup that I fed the kids with the drowned fly in it. It's just that I thought that throwing a splash of "vintage cooking" wine (i.e. I opened it last summer and then left for fire season) in for flavor was a great idea. How was I to know there was a long-dead fly floating in the corked bottle? The internal moral debate that ensued was tumultuous. I could have thrown the whole pot out in a paranoid frenzy. Or I could calmly scoop the fly and surrounding soup out and let it boil for a very. long. time. Obviously I settled for the latter. Mostly I did it because one of my loving offspring announced to me recently that I am the only one in the house who likes soup anyway, and I have clearly been force-feeding this terrible slog to my children against their will. Who cares if it had a dead fly in it?

The good news is that nobody died from the fly-soup. The worms and the fleas have been routed (God willing!?!?!), and there hasn't been a trace of ringworm in well over a year. At least not here, which means things are getting less gross, right?

Things About Getting In Trouble

Of all of the things in my life that I am good at, Getting In Trouble is hands down my specialty.

It started when I was a nice little girl and all of the things that seemed like Really Good Ideas at the time ended up being exactly what my mother was not hoping for in a nice little girl. Like being mean to my even nicer little sister. Or cutting my bald-until-four-years-old cousin's hair off when she was five. Or sending fan mail to Christian Bale after I saw Newsies. Or running away on a black and hot pink ten speed bicycle to the payphone at Ronnie D's where I called my aunt and she sent me packing right back home on that hot mess of a bike.

It continued into my adult(ish) years in a religious community where my shirts were too tight, my house was too messy, my music was too sensual and I was an unsubmitted nightmare of a wife and mother and churchmember. It continued when I got the ambulance stuck in 2 feet of snow out meadow creek road, and when I qualified for a payment plan on a computer so I could start going to college against The Will Of The Lord. It went on when I got a divorce, then a boyfriend, then another divorce, and it hasn't showed any signs of slowing down.

Anyway, if somebody could make a living out of getting in trouble I feel like I could NAIL the interview for that job. Recently I have curbed my trouble-garnishing habits to less socially irresponsible things than boyfriends and bad credit. I have learned to invest my mischievous energy into Saying All Of the Wrong Things and probably soliciting certain death at the hand of either a terrorist, a republican, or my mother (they might have to leg wrestle for the privilege).

I recently wrote a blog post about Fear, and being the attention seeker that I have ALWAYS been, I used a bunch of tags like "terror, terrorist.." etc. The next day I had 900 hits on my blog from Israel. The country. I should be more concerned, especially after the  Boxcutter Incident, but knowing I have a brother who works for the NSA makes me feel reasonably safe that I would have a few mintues of warning if an attack was imminent, to make my way across the border into Canada and the polite safety of our Northern Neighbors.

As if beckoning international attention wasn't enough, with all of this political bruhaha smothering the food and beer posts right off of my Facebook feed, I might have inadvertently posted something not conservative enough, or much too conservative, which inevitably leads to a comment fight between my dad and my Most Liberal Friend, a smattering of  snarky comments from an assortment of cousins, and makes me want to delete my entire online life which would spell the end of my attempt at fame. You can take your pick of gun rights, #coplivesmatter, #idiocracy ala Donald Trump, Kim Davis, Syrian Refugees or Planned Parenthood, but there's a 102% chance that I will be on the exact wrong side of the fence from everyone. Not that I mind really, because it is a maddening world.

To top it all off, my friend Beth Woolsey, of Five Kids Is A Lot Of Kids fame, generously ran one of my old blog posts about Wetting The Bed, because if you're going to be exposed to a whole new audience of readers, it might as well be about one of the most shameful experiences of your life, right? Anyway, my poor Mom, God Love Her, can't understand why bed wetting needs to be mentioned ever at all. Here I go reverting back to doing All The Wrong Things Again. I have to say that she's come a long way in that she's able to love me unconditionally through my Poor Life Choices these days (really Mom, I appreciate your tolerance for reals). Plus I imagine she doesn't want to leg wrestle an Israeli or a Republican for the privilege of attacking me. (Now I will probably be in trouble for saying I was in trouble when I wasn't really in trouble at all. Story of my life.)

I would say that I am making a resolution to quit getting into trouble so often, but we would all know how grossly shallow that promise would be. And it's not like I ever run into mischief INTENTIONALLY. Well, not usually. But for the time being I will try to keep my misbehavior limited to using my cell phone in class, liking inappropriate memes on Facebook, and eating too much cheesy bread (don't tell my challenge group).

Things About Fear

Last week the world blew all to heck. Literally. I have heard reports from the towns south of me, I have seen the pictures on social media to support the claims. In the dark, cold hours of the night, I could heard the angry roar of the wind, like a bear unleashed from a long captivity, wreaking vengeance on his captors. I imagined the giant dying tree above my bedroom crashing down through the roof. I imagined what many people faced in reality that night.

I was afraid. I was afraid for the daughter who lives in Spokane, where she listened to perpetual sirens as the giant trees fell like blades of grass around the neighborhoods. I was afraid for my youngest daughter and the entire bus full of middle school basketball players trekking back from a match across a mountain pass in the violent storm. I was afraid for all of my friends and family who were at the mercy of the wrath of nature.

The word afraid means "to be filled with fear or apprehension." I believe that fear itself is a gift, but to be filled with it is death.

Fear is an unavoidable human reality. It is easy to demonize fear and make it the enemy, but fear is often the one thing that keeps us safe. Fear is the only reason we don't leap unprotected from skyscrapers or dive unguided into the darkest depths. Fear keeps us alive, but it can also keep us from living. Fear, left to spiral out of control, can dominate our existence and paralyze us from movement. When fear fills us up, and we are afraid, it can monopolize our time with useless worry and wasted days of what-ifs and but-maybes. It can be the still small voice that tells us which side of the street to walk on, or it can be the screaming howl of senseless paranoia. Fear is a gift, but like any gift without moderation, can cause death.

My two oldest daughters are heading off in a couple of weeks to a country in a different hemisphere from me. They will be "alone". Traveling teenagers with no supervision during The Holidays in South America, away from me, out of reach of any futile protection I imagine I can offer them. It brings me back to the place I was in 2009, when I lay on a bed under a mosquito net full of holes and I realized that from my location in Northern Uganda, it would take me no less than two days to reach my kids back home if something went wrong. In that moment I began to panic, to regret my decision to travel, to hate myself for abandoning my post as sworn protector. But in that moment I also had to find peace, and the only way I could do that was by reminding myself that they are in The Hands of Someone who has loved them much more and much longer than I have. That even sitting next to me at the dinner table, they are no more under "my protection" than they are 10,000 miles away. They do not belong to me, they belong to themselves and they world they were created for. They have a reason to be here, and their purpose as human beings is certainly not to sit "safely" by my side.

I have to remember this when Halle is working all night on an uncontrolled fireline. I have to remember this when MacKenzie rides the bus alone in Spokane. I have to remember it when Aspen is at the top of Sherman Pass with her classmates in a windstorm, and when Natalee doesn't come home from a sleepover on time. I have to remember this when there are kids being murdered on college campuses almost daily, our Protectors in Blue are being killed on the streets, and there are terrorist threats close to home.

My delusion of control and protection over the ones I love I owe entirely to the safety that they have been granted thus far by a Power far greater than me. I have not kept them safe. I have not prevented their harm. The One who made them has sheltered them, and will continue to do so until their purpose is served. There is no other way to live life with healthy fear and respect for the dangers of this world, than to believe that Someone Bigger is in charge. All I can offer is wisdom and prayer.

In this ugly world of terror, surrounded by human beings intent on destruction, our wisdom has to be grounded in healthy fear and our fear has to be driven by wisdom. I carry a gun not because I am afraid of the bad people, but because I know they exist and I am not afraid to counter them if I must. I wear a seatbelt not because I plan to be in a wreck, but because I know that no accident is planned and I have seen the consequences of not using that protection.

One of my best friends is a police officer - I do not fear the real danger he faces every day but I do pray for his protection every shift. One of my best friends is facing health challenges that could be terrifying, but I trust in her strength to overcome anything. The things that we fear the most: death, pain, suffering... are the things that none of us can avoid. Bad things happen every day, to good people. Our only choice is to embrace the purpose behind the things we suffer, before the things that kill us and make every step count along the way.

Which is why I am not harping (very much) on the girls' trip to Brazil. I am trying very hard to remind them to be wise, but to not nag them to quit living. This world is so vastly different from the one I knew as a teenager. More connected, more open, in some ways better, in other ways, immensely more dangerous. But again, they fly under the Wing of a Bigger Bird than me, and I am thankful.

I am not afraid anymore. I am not filled with fear. There are fearful things, to be sure, but they do not own me. Like that night in Uganda, there are moments when I have to make the conscious decision to put aside my fear for my faith. I have done it a thousand times before, facing the suffering and the struggle to find the joy on the other side of fear. I did it when I  left a destructive marriage and a damaging community, I did it when I pushed through the nightmare of getting a college education, of single motherhood, of starting over in a new town. I do it every time the pager goes off in the middle of the night or I see the burning forest ahead of me. Fear is always there, but I am not afraid, and because I am not afraid, I have oodles of stories to tell. I can only hope the same joy for the ones I love.

READ: The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. Both of these books have been game changers for me.

Things That Qualify As a Workout

I was the special education teacher today. (Chris Hoops, this means I am no longer your inferior. I am now your professional equal.) In case that doesn't mean much to you - which it should, because there isn't one person I know that hasn't been personally touched by the world of special needs, learning disorders, or other disabilities - it's basically 6.5 hours of explaining, affirming, re-explaining, affirming, patiently enduring  accidental insults and vague threats, affirming, explaining again, affirming, directing, affirming, redirecting, affirming, and on and on and on. The REAL SPED teachers that do this every day (like Chris, and Bethany [just kidding, I will NEVER be your equal]), are absolute educational heroes, along with the barely-over-minimum wage paraprofessionals that do all of this and more every. single. day. I see you. But seriously. It's a work out. I had to remember how to both add AND divide fractions, not to mention explaining why a cited source quote has to be verbatim and should somehow connect to the rest of the annotated bibliography. I mean seriously. I couldn't even do that in college!!! But dang it all, I NAILED it. And I even checked the answer book to make sure. I can teach math, you guys, and even some English. I can. Badly, and with questionable communication skills (I didn't swear any actual swear words), but I did it. I have the LCD and the GCF and the MLA guidelines DOWN. PAT. LIKE A BOSS. Because, obviously, I am.

Then I came home, and because all of that brain exercise wasn't enough, I decided to take on every single flea in my infested house in hand-to-hand combat. What this actually looks like is bathing 2 dogs and 1 cat. Anyone who has bathed a cat really doesn't need to read any further, because THEY KNOW. I look like a botched suicide attempt after Crookshanks tried to pull both radial arteries outside of the skin of my wrists. I'm not sure if you've ever seen anything other than a rainforest frog climb a window, or one of those sticky hands out of the vending machines, but Crookshanks succesfully climbed the window. And not the screen, as is traditional feline behavior. No, he made his way nimbly up the glass while Aspen was helping me apply direct pressure to my right wrist. Believe it or not, the cat got his bath AFTER I bathed the 85 pound aptly named Truck, who hasn't had a bath since last summer when a sun-warmed garden hose met its  doom at his perpetually extended claws. Ok, to be fair, it was a reclaimed toy hose from a fire somewhere that already had 37 leaks, but he contributed his share. Tonight he also ran away from the bathtub twice. Which was a 170 pound rebellion that my bad shoulder and Aspen (who weighs slighly less than Truck) were clearly surprised by. The good news is that all of the animals, myself, Aspen, and the entire kitchen were bathed in a mostly non-toxic dishsoap and vinegar solution that won't harm any of us if it didn't get ENTIRELY rinsed out.

Anyway, I was supposed to do a PiYo or PLYO or FYALL video tonight, except I can't help but agree with my shoulder that we have done enough. My brain has been stretched, my body has been contorted in every imaginable defensive position, as one will when cats are climbing windows. Truck says he's sorry, but Crookshanks still isn't speaking to me. The surviving fleas, however, are throwing a party on the carpet that I just vaccuumed with Borax in yet another Pinterested solution to the crisis at hand. All in all, it's a #winning day. I've earned this mason jar of wine, you guys.

Things About Being Crabby

Do you ever open your eyes in the morning just knowing that it's the Worst Morning Ever? I mean, it could be because you slept like crap, tossing and turning until 2:30 AM with aching joints and twitching muscles, which are alternately punishing you for working out hard all weekend and then not working out at all on the Longest Monday of Your Life. It could also be the constant, relentless gray frozen drizzle outside - the water sogged leaves on the ground and slippery mud underfoot.

I had to work hard to not snap at a certain 11 year old. First for hogging the bathroom. Then for coughing. Then for breathing. I had to bite my tongue to avoid using it to lash at a 15 year old for eating breakfast, and then daring to look at me. Even Dagny wasn't cute this morning.

My stupid prescribed supplement shake was cold and disgusting. My reheated coffee tasted like goat piss. Nothing was ok this morning. I was on the verge of tears when I had to face a classroom of students who had no idea how terrrible the world was. How ignorant can they be? And why is it the rule of classrooms everywhere to be kept at -45 degrees? Don't they know about the negative effects of hypothermia on the learning process, not to mention teacher's attitudes? Is it bad that I am somewhat relieved to be the second hand recipient of one of the reprobate students' too loud headphones playing angry, school inappropriate rap? Eminem just speaks my language some days. Mainly the cuss words.

It feels like a day to hate everything. I hate politics. I hate people needing to be "right". I hate religion. I hate methodologies and psychologies and pathologies and apologies and technologies and all of the ologies. I hate requirements and expectations and demands and standards.

I believe that today should be the Internationally Declared Holiday of Sweatpants and Not Talking to Anyone.

I want my heated blanket, my wiener dog and an unlimited supply of some sort of delicious soup, along with all-I-can-eat cheddar bay biscuits from Red Lobster. I want to marathon episodes of Arrow to restore my faith in humanity and the power of a well-defined 6 pack. I wish it would just snow already and make perpetual couch time socially acceptable. And I probably need someone to tell me to quit being a big baby.

If anyone tells you that you can't have PMS without a uterus, just send them over here, we can have words. In the meantime, hopefully this will help....

Things About Doing Veteran's Day

I was supposed to substitute teach today, but the teacher I was subbing for actually didn't have the training he thought he did, so when I showed up, you can imagine the awkward conversation that ensued about how much he didn't need me to be him.

So I came home feeling a bit lost and also a bit disappointed that I no longer had a good excuse for avoiding the Eternal Plague of Unattended Things here at my house. After a few minutes of staring at Facebook, wherein are found all of the answers to life problems, I dug into the pile of severely neglected stuff and tackled it, all the while thinking there must be a better way to occupy my mind than long wait times on the phone for insurance issues, googling green chile mac n' cheese recipes and pretending to balance my checkbook. (Is that even a thing anymore?)

Wednesday is Veteran's Day. Originally, the holiday began as Armistice Day at the end of World War I, but evolved over time into a day set aside to honor all United States soldiers, men and women who have served, at home and abroad, throughout history. Commonly confused with Memorial Day, the distinction lies in the recognition of every service member on Veteran's Day, vs. the fallen heroes we honor on Memorial Day. It made me start to wonder if there was a more tangible way to do this than posting a flag-themed meme on FB and saying something nice and poetic.

But there is a more tangible way. Several, in fact, beginning with the simple act of a personal thank you to the veterans that you meet all day long. There are 23.2 million veterans living in the United States today. That is SO many. That means you can't get far without tripping over one of them. Tell them you see them, and tell them thank you. I personally have many friends on social media who have served. A private message to them holds a little more weight than a meme.

My friend Justin Peterson has headed up a program since he was 9 years old, raising money to sponsor military veterans for honor flights to Washington DC every year. Since 2009, Justin has helped to send over 1100 vets to DC. You can help out through his website or directly at the Inland Northwest Honor Flight  site as well. (Justin takes no overhead/operating costs from his donations, FYI). What better way to recognized their service and sacrifice than by sponsoring an expenses paid trip to the war memorials in the Nation's Capitol.

Many national and local business offer discounted or free meals and services to vets on Veteran's Day. compiled a list of some of them, which is a great resource for our service members and their families. Additionally, while they might not be making any friends in the easily-offended-christian camps with their generic holiday cups, Starbucks announced an expansion to their college tuition program for veteran employees and their families, and that's a win in my book.

So in case you were confused about what Veteran's Day was supposed to be, other than a federal holiday that is a get out of jail free card from work and school, or in case you have considered DOING something about it...

Korean War Memorial in Washington DC

Things That Solve Everything

I just found the answer to one of life's most difficult questions: How do I muster up the internal fortitude to clean the dang floors?

Well folks, I am pretty sure that this is it, right here:

This little gem popped up on my Facebook feed like a shining beacon of hope in the darkness of housework drudgery. How Groupon and Facebook knew that I couldn't face the reality of my own floors is a mystery I might never solve, but somehow they captured my slipper fetish in a useful, practical and altogether stylish answer for the perpetually disgusting floor. 

Obviously I ordered three pairs. As well as some for all of my Very Best Friends for Christmas, because I want them to partake in the the solution of global concern as well. It's a big thing you guys. Now every time I go into the kitchen to mix a Moscow Mule, I will be cleaning my floor WITHOUT EVEN MEANING TO. It's as if the Lord smiled down upon all of my good intentions and made a pathway. 

I can't wait to get them and start accidentally cleaning. I am excited enough that I might actually even get up off of the couch to wear them occasionally. Or strap them on to Truck's paws. I would imagine Aspen would never take them off if I let her wear them. My floors will be so clean that I won't have profound guilt when my crawling nephew comes to visit. 

This is the best thing to hit the market since Pajama Jeans. I wonder if they make a vacuuming version for carpets? Googling now, BRB...

Things That Are Dirty (TMI) And Should Maybe Stay That Way

My guts, apparently, needed a cleaning. Like a thorough scrub down, rinse off, exfoliating wash. So I tackled this "3 Day Refresh" along with a 30 day challenge thingy that I am doing, to just give my body a little help in getting better at it's job, which, incidentally, involves not letting me down All Of The Time.

The 3 day refresh promised all kinds of things, like instant weight loss, newfound energy, reduced junk food cravings, blah blah blah, all without feeling hungry.

I must be doing it wrong, because in 2.5 days, I have gained about 10 pounds, turned into a slug and all I can even think about is cheesy bread. Oh, and also, I am starving.

I started out with fear and trepidation about the consequences of avoiding almost all food, cramming packets of fibery goodness down my gullet and waiting for the aftermath. I even chose days that I specifically didn't have to go anywhere, just so I could remain chained to my toilet. What I have discovered instead, is that if you cram enough packets of fibery goodness down your gullet, along with sixteen thousand gallons of water, and some shakes that taste like cardboard that sat under the snow all winter frosted with rancid vanilla, that all of that junk will just get together for one big "celebrate another sucker" party in Liv's gut. I am fairly certain the "fiber sweep" packets joined forces to turn the party into a lock-in so that nobody could escape the fun. If you tossed me into a pool of water right now I would sink like the rock that is in my stomach.

All of those skinny people with shiny faces on the packets? Yeah. They are liars. Don't trust them. I am hungrier than a bear in March, but luckily I have no room in my digestion tract to fit a single bite.

Maybe as soon as the fiber sweep nazis pass out from their non-stop partying I can look forward to an epic cleansing rush that either sends me to the hospital with a ruptured anus or at least relegates me to a full day of Netflix and bed. Most likely it will happen while I am subbing at school for the drama teacher all day. Oh what a lesson in acting that will be...

Once it all works out I will let you know how thin I have become. And how much better I feel about life. But if I don't come out of this weighing 110 pounds, married and rich, I will probably just be ticked off.

Things About Being Somebody Else

It's almost a lost cause. Seriously.

I have come to the long-elusive conclusion that self-esteem is probably a myth. As a child, I remember hearing about self-esteem and picturing it like some golden badge that one wears around and shows off. Like: "Look at my shining self image. I love myself!" I keep waiting for the badge to show up in the mail after I work out, or deprive myself of ice cream, or after some random dude says I am cute. But alas, no badge. And just the very second I start to feel that rosy rush of I-AM-PRETTY-COOL, I go and pull some stunt that sets me right back on my realistically normal rear end. Like, for instance, trying to dress up for Halloween.

I have always loved to dress up. Since I was a 15 10 year old playing house with my sister in the field in front of our house, I have jumped at any opportunity to be somebody other than plain old Liv. Theater was really nothing more for me than an excuse to play dress up...And then there is Halloween. For years, in a religious community, the opportunities for costume play were relegated to our cowboy skits and the thinly veiled "Harvest Festival" substitutions for Halloween, which I fought for year after year, just so I could be somebody other than me. After leaving the community, I immediately jumped back onto the Halloween bandwagon with my kids, forgetting momentarily that I was too old to be a socially acceptable trick-r-treater.

And then I discovered the adult costume party - you know, the one at the bar, where you dress like a fairy-tale-themed hooker and whoever has the best cleavage wins the $50 cash prize? Yeah. Never scored on that one. But year after year I have waited for the opportunity to play my heroes. Peter Pan, Rosie the Riveter, Annie Oakley, The Heartless Tin Woman - and I have to admit, some of the years have been less than successful, especially after I Do The Right Thing and take the kids trick-r-treating in the freezing rain and can't muster up enthusiasm for the rest of the partying.

But this year I was ready. I had my costume all worked up in advance, with of course, a few obstacles. I had shopped around for some invitations to some crazy fun parties and had my pick of places to go. It was happening.

I have been a Lara Croft fan for years. I mean, first of all she's a quasi-archaeologist who is a bada$$ with some big guns. Secondly, she's Angelina Jolie, or more correctly, Angelina Jolie is her. What isn't to idolize, right? Anyway, this was the year that I decided I was brave enough to rock the skin tight shorts and a thigh holster (even after my younger and hotter cousin did it first and better) and make my way to a grown up costume party, cleavage or not.  I had some issues finding big, bada$$ guns and had to settle for a mixed consortium of blue and neon nerf guns and a storm trooper blaster which I stole from my nephews. It wasn't right, but I thought it would get the message across. I was also hoping the freebie NREMT backpack that I stole from Aspen's Massive Pile of Junk would help to distract from the gun issues. Maybe the costume was terrible, or maybe it wasn't, I will never really know. I'd hate to read too much into the less-than-blown-away reaction of my 15 year old, but it might have been a decent indicator. If nothing else I gained a real appreciation for what those volleyball players go through at every game in the cellophane shorts they wear (who's the pervert that dreamed up the volleyball uniform anyway?).

Even so,  my excitement was evidenced in the fact that I had my costume on by 3:00 in the afternoon, knowing full well that I wouldn't even be able to take my kids trick-r-treating until nearly 7, after which I would end up showing up late to the party I was headed to. But I was excited to be Lara Croft. Or the nearly 40 year old version of Lara, after a few too many Krispy Kremes. I sat on my couch and counted the minutes until my kids got home from their basketball games, talking myself alternately into the bravery of wearing my less-than-fully-clothed costume out on the streets with the kids or wisely putting my street clothes back on for my parental duties. My passion for cos-play won out and I courageously, at long last, stomped my mayonaise-white legs out the door along with a flamenco dancer, Minnie Mouse,  a bumblebee, a cat lady, Ke$ha, and some version of a SWAT police officer in camo pants and hockey sweatshirt. That one was a little confusing for me, but hey, who am I to judge when most of the people I passed on the street confused me with either a geriatric Katniss Everdeen or Ma Kettle missing her skirt (turns out a thigh holster can look like a utilitarian garter belt in the drizzly dark).

As fate would have it, after a much longer than anticipated round of freezing rain trick-r-treat, and just about as I was headed off to most likely win whatever costume prizes were out there, I got called off for a medical emergency with a friend. So I never made it to the party, which means I can rock my costume next year, since the four middle schoolers who saw it this year really don't count, right?

I think as far as my self-esteem goes, having the balls to wear spandex shorts even for a couple hours around a lot of judgmental teenagers was probably good for me. The biggest part of a healthy self-image is the ability to laugh at yourself, to not take yourself SO SERIOUSLY that you can't appreciate the humor in the muffin top hanging over your gun belt. The whole point of dressing up is the idea of living out a fantasy for a little while, stepping outside of the safe and normal and treading gingerly into the scary and unrealistic. I didn't feel like Angelina Jolie out there, but I DID feel like Lara Croft, and that's pretty ok with me.

Nailed it, right?

Things About Being A Cow

The other day, I was driving through the rolling farmland of the Palouse, and happened to spot a lone black cow wandering morosely up a very long, very dusty hill. All of the other cows from the herd were lolling around in the pasture down below, but for some reason this cow was trudging dutifully up a two-track in the dirt, for what seemed like endless miles. I had nothing but sympathy for the cow. Oh honey. It reminded me of me. One more step. Just keep going.

And everything in me wanted to stop the car and wave my arms at her and yell across the barbed wire fence:

"You're ok, Bossy! You don't have to climb that hill! You can stay down below with your friends! It's only a few pounds! You're beautiful just the way you are!"

Because clearly the cow was climbing the hill for exercise, which is the only reason I think that anyone would climb such a long and terrible thing. And then I realized how silly I was for anthropomorphizing the cow, who was probably really headed to a watering trough that was vital to her existence. Why she was doing it alone, who knows, but again, probably for a very sound reason, like maybe she is a diabetic cow and very thirsty all of the time. Or perhaps she forgot to get a drink when all of the cows were up at the top earlier in the day. Either way, if I imagined that the cow had a Vitally Important reason for climbing the hill, it made more sense.

And then I realized that's what I should be doing - something necessary - to get up my big hills. But what could possibly be so vital in my life that it would make climbing a big hill really worth it. I could put water up there, but it would be awfully disappointing to do all of that work for just a little drink of water. Even a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I mean it's good and all, but not necessary. And if I woke up at 7:00 on a rainy morning and knew that a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup sat at the top of the hill, I would probably opt to stay in bed. Because priorities.

So after racking my brain for awhile, trying to think of ANYTHING that would be super important and worth going all the way up there, and the only thing that came to mind was my phone. WHAT IF I planted my iPhone at the top of the hill, and I couldn't even check my text messages, or Instagram, or anything until I got to the top? I got a little panicky at the thought and then realized that it might actually work. Which made me feel like a very shallow person and also slightly embarrassed.

But if you see an iPhone sitting at the top of the Great Big Hill behind my house, you'll know why. And don't bring it to me, because you're not actually helping. Well you are, but you're rendering aid to the wrong part of me. It's the part that wants to stay in bed forever and doesn't mind being soft around the edges.

Things About The Perfect Girl

Someone recently asked me if I was, in fact, The Perfect Girl. I quickly answered yes, if one is into moody, unpredictable people who drink too much. But if you ask any of the men that I have been with in the past, they would tell you otherwise.

The last year has been a winding trail of Dealing With All The Shit that I have semi-successfully buried for many years deep inside of my soul. I have been rooting out the lies and replacing them with truths, and every day it seems like there is a new one. Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged or bogged down in the endless, hopeless struggle, but sometimes I can look back on the progress I have made and I feel pretty damn good. Ten years ago, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with the string of lies that I have been fed. Ten years ago, I would have done anything to be whatever THEY wanted. But it's not ten years ago, and I don't believe the lies anymore. Not even the ones like these that have been spoken to me by people in my life:

"You're an underachiever. You could be so much more."

Wrong. I am fierce about chasing down what I want. Wrestling it to the ground. I have made concessions, yes. I could make more money, have a stable future, retirement, benefits, blah blah blah... But it's been a conscious trade off for the tangible liberty I have to do what I love and be with my kids and owe no one my soul. I am a mother. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teacher, an EMT, a writer, a hard worker, a partier, a pusher. And every day I go farther.

"You were irresistible when you were thin."

Wrong. I am irresistible now, you are just too shallow and insecure to be happy with anyone. When I lose "the weight", as you call it, as if it were a set of keys to be misplaced, I will be too good for you and your pettiness anyway. And the idea that you have that you got ripped off by having to endure fat Liv - it's garbage. Like you are.

"You're failing as a parent."

Wrong. I have made more mistakes than I care to recount. And one of my kids is barely speaking to me at this moment. But all four of my girls are brilliant and strong and capable and will be forces for the world to reckon with. I will not always be a best buddy to my kids, but I will always be the best thing that I can be for them. And all four of my girls love me. This is a confidence I never expected to feel. I draw strength from their love. That, my friend, is not failure.

"You're selfish and irresponsible."

Wrong. Ok, maybe irresponsible, a little, sometimes, but really, come on. I have been raising girls more or less on my own for over a decade on a shoestring budget. We've never gone hungry or cold or really without much of anything, and we have been blessed beyond measure to do crazy awesome things. I don't have much in my savings, but I can tell a pretty cool story, and so can my kids.

"You're a spoiled brat." 

Wrong. I can throw a mean tantrum, to be sure, but there is no question in my mind that things only go my way with a heck of a lot of persistence, determination and hard work. Yes, I like to have things my way, but I sure don't expect it to be handed to me.

"You destroy relationships."

Wrong. Meet my friends. My family, 89% of whom are speaking to me at any given moment. I am surrounded by people that I am committed to. Not people I agree with at every turn. Not clones of me with identical lives and tastes and experiences. I am rich with relationships that are non-negotiable in my life. That require work and flexibility and patience and tolerance in both directions.

"You're a lazy piece of shit."

Wrong. I am not even gonna dignify that with a reply. And get off my couch.

"You are crazy."

Wrong. Unless you mean crazy like, in a good, spontaneously fun and life-of-the-party way. I do not need lithium. I do not need a psychiatrist. I do not need you in my life telling me that my insanity is the cause of all of your issues.

I mean, when it comes right down to it, I guess I am The Perfect Girl. Not because I am flawless, but because I see my flaws, and everybody else's, as the choppy water that rubs the river rocks into smooth and graceful pieces of art. I have my share of weak areas and blind spots, but I am also hella fun. I like beer and football and trees and guns and wine and couches and sweatpants and long hair. I like food and music and traveling and learning and listening. I like doing, not planning. I like going, not wishing. I like to stay up late and sleep in later. I will never grow up. I like to kiss. I like to hold hands. I like sex. I like dogs. I like pretty much every animal I ever met, except a few humans. I like God - the real one in the rocks and trees and rivers, not the one in the Pink Churches. I like to dance. I like to sing, however badly. I like to make it up as I go, and while sometimes my life gets a little haphazard, it's made me a great problem solver. I am interesting and fun and often silly. What's not perfect about all of that?

There you have it, folks. Pure perfection. 

Things About (Almost) Being a Terrorist

Names have been entirely omitted to protect the guilty

Once upon a time, two sisters went for a little trip on an airplane. It was a short two day trip and so the girls only packed 7 or 8 outfits, and figured it was no big deal. One of the sisters is a self-proclaimed globe trotter and lives in many other delusions, but the other sister, who maybe doesn't fly as often, forgot about some of the rules, and had a big old bottle of lotion in her purse which caused the TSA guys at the airport a lot of stress and turmoil. In the end, after searching through her bags for a Very Long Time, as if they weren't sure that the lotion wasn't the only contraband she had, and as if they weren't sure what to do about the threatening lotion, the TSA guys took the bottle away and the sister was slightly disgruntled.

As the sisters sat at the gate, waiting for the plane to board, the sister who didn't travel as much started digging through her purse looking for something (obviously not lotion). She looked up at the other sister with big eyes.

"I have two box cutters in my purse."

The traveling sister gasped. "How did the TSA guys not find those? Was the lotion so overwhelming that they were paralyzed by it's discovery? More importantly, WHY?"

The other sister said she didn't know, but something about hay bales and cardboard at the County Fair in September.

The traveling sister, being savvy in Pretty Much All The Things, and after contacting a friend in Law Enforcement who knows All The Other Things, told her to go to the bathroom, wipe her fingerprints off of the contraband, and throw them away. Because if the box cutters were taken back to TSA to be turned in, either out of incompetence or embarrassment for incompetence, the TSA guys would surely call a full security airport shut down and the sisters would never be able to get on the plane. And if they were taken on the plane and say, fell out of her purse in the aisle, there was no question that both sisters would be flying leap-tackled by well-meaning citizens and probably killed vigilante style before landing.

The non-savvy sister trusted the traveling one and so she went to the bathroom and huddled in the corner near a sink, suspiciously washing the knives and wiping them until an innocent bystander happened in, at which the girl panicked and threw the boxcutters into the trash.

Moments later the sisters were on the plane, waiting for the inevitable moment that the airport janitor found the incriminating evidence in the trash and launched a full security airport shut down. While they waited, they texted most of their friends and family to tell them goodbye, in case they went straight to prison without a chance to call people.

Just then, the captain of the plane announced that the flight would be delayed because someone's oxygen mask had deployed spontaneously and had to be contained, and then documented. The sisters just knew it was a ruse, allowing the TSA time to contact the National Security Administration SWAT teams and raid the plane. They held their breath for the entire oxygen-mask-containment time, which was a very long time, as maintenance men who looked rather well-muscled and heavily armed came and went from the cabin of the plane.

Luckily one of the sisters had to share half of her entire seat on the plane with a Very Large Man who was selling some sort of Adult Stem Cells that would cure anything. Not only did he occupy half of the seat which was not his, he was a leaner, so that was a useful distraction from the girls' impending doom.

At long last the flight left, but the sisters knew that it was only because the SWAT team would be meeting the plane at the destination airport, which was larger and had more armed responders nearby.

The worst part was that the flight didn't even have free beer and wine, like some flights do - at least the ones on the small rattly planes that make you need beer and wine. And the girls could have used some beer and wine. Even if it was only 9:50 in the morning.

When the girls landed they had to wait on the tarmac for a Very Long Time. Presumably for the SWAT team. They never showed up though, so the girls went along with their short trip feeling watched the entire time.

Never know WHO you're flying with...

Things About #$#%#$# Exercise

I am committed, you guys. Like, I am totally doing it.

I am not sure what I am doing, but I am doing it for sure.

After a jaunt through hell with my brand new PLYO DVD yesterday, I woke up to what could be termed paralysis this morning.

Did you know that there is not a single movement of the human body that doesn't involve the muscles on the backs of your thighs? I didn't. Found that out today. I also decided that the small hill I jogged yesterday was actually a mountain in disguise.

But SOMEHOW I got out of bed. And SOMEHOW I put my shoes on and SOMEHOW I went for a "run", which we all know is code for a walk that involves a lot of panting, hopping in place, and good intention. I did almost two and a half miles, which is far, when you can't move. I went up the imposter mountain again, and came down in front of the school for the last quarter mile, where I tried really hard to jog and look cool and motivational for the kids. I think I heard some giggles and I realized I wasn't actually moving forward so I just gave up and walked home. By the time I reached my porch I knew I was in trouble. There are steps. Two of them. I got one leg up on the first step but that was all she wrote. I think I had to turn around and back up them on my bum, but I was in so much pain I don't really remember.

There is no position right now that doesn't make those muscles behind my legs scream bloody murder at me. I thought a hot bath might help, but once I had soaked for awhile I realized I had failed to consider the hurdle of getting out of the tub.

Putting pants on just isn't happening today. I apologize in advance, postmaster.

Working out to the point of uselessness every day has one definite perk: I am forced to lay on the couch and watch Netflix for most of the afternoon. If I could find a way to get paid for that I would be golden. I have a volleyball game to go watch tonight and the bleachers are already giving me panic attacks.

I am doing this 30 day challenge thingy that says I have to eat a small portion every three hours. I never. I binge eat every 8. It's just how I roll. It should be interesting. Not that I am against eating, ever. It's just all the remembering that I am really bad at.

Tomorrow we are supposed to tackle the REAL PiYo, so brace yourselves. Assuming I can get out of the bathtub by then....

Things About Getting In Shape

After a little research, I decided to order a PiYo DVD so I could start getting serious about working out. You know, really committing myself. And PiYo seemed like a reasonable answer to a self-proclaimed hedonist who wants to exercise as long as it's not Too Hard. 

So this morning, on the First Full Day I have been home in almost a month, I decided to whip that baby out and give her a whirl. First I went for a jog, which felt something like giving birth, since in the last 27 days I have taken no more than 18 steps on any given day. I started out running down the street with plans of conquering my three mile, up-a-giant-hill route, but at about .27 miles began to rationalize that if I really wanted to do my PiYo I should not be too aggressive on my run, so I turned around at .73 miles and after doing the up-a-small-hill route, and jogged back home. To be fair, it was my second fastest time doing a run under two miles (1.32 total), but my first fastest doesn't really count since I accidentally switched Runkeeper on when I drove over to the Middlesworth's last time. I will be hard pressed to beat that half mile in 2.01 minutes. 

Anyway after my run, and beginning to seriously second guess whether anything was really worth this much suffering, I popped in the DVD, unfurled my yoga mat and grabbed my water. I thought it was a little odd that the people on the video didn't have yoga mats. And they were all wearing shoes, which seemed rather un-yogaish, but not being super familiar with the Pilates side of things I figured I would just go with it. 

The DVD started off with some jumping jacks and running in place and some other spastic things that I am sure that I nailed. I was feeling pretty confident that I could keep up, but then I noticed the little banner at the bottom of the screen said we were in the middle of the three minute warm up. That was disappointing, to say the least. 

When the trainer started into the actual rounds of real moves, they were all these leaping squat things, and lunging-jump-twist contortions that weren't much like any pilates I have seen, but I was still up for being a good sport and kept trouncing along, sort of like an elephant on a broken trampoline. About halfway into the stupid thing I was still waiting for the yoga moves to kick in, and during one of the rest breaks I picked up the DVD case to see if these people even knew what PiYo was supposed to be. 

Turns out, in a fit of dyslexia, or maybe an Amazon ordering binge complemented by a bottle of merlot, I had ordered a DVD of a PLYO workout, not a PiYo routine, and my friends, let me tell you, the two are very different. In fact, as one google-question-answerer put it, they are completely opposite. Plyometrics operate on the principles of muscle confusion and aggressive bursts of high impact movement, whereas PiYo is intended as a graceful flowing low impact routine for core strengthening and flexibility. 

Not to be put to shame by my own silliness, I finished the DVD (except for the rounds that were all shoulder moves) and now I am pretty sure I will never walk again. But I am still interested in trying PiYo. Maybe I can borrow it from my BFF to avoid future ordering mishaps. 

Things That I Read IV

If you follow my posts about books, this would be the third installment in the annual series. For reference you can check out Things That I Read III and Things That I Read I  since I have such witty and interesting things to say about books.  There is no Things I read II because apparently I am terrible at counting.

This has been a good summer for reading. Like, really good. I have read a lot of books drawing from the farthest reaches of the spectrum of books. I'll tell you about the ones I can remember, in order of most recent to oldest, since I will be busy trying to remember the older ones as I go (this is not an exhaustive list, by the way, some slipped by...) (also, the first two book I list are the ones I would recommend for EVERYONE to read.)

Get it on Amazon

On Writing - Stephen King

If not number one, it's at least second place for books that made a Lasting and Useful Impression upon me this summer. King's rambling and somewhat discombobulated take on how to write was simultaneously an elightenment and a relief for me. After reading Lamott's Bird by Bird (see below) I was left with some good perspective, but less drive to write than before I read it. Not so with On Writing. King makes the process, even of rejection, seem like an exciting and necessary step toward arrival as an author. Truth be told, this is the first Stephen King book I have ever read, and I am ordering a bunch more. I like his voice. He is honest and relatable. He dispells long held myths that are the hallmark of writing, such as "write what you know", redefining the knowledge of the author to include imagination. King acknowleges the struggle while embracing it, and even with massive success is able to voice the same insecurities that the essay writer in the 8th grade feels.

Get it on Amazon

Deep Survival - Lawrence Gonzales

This book is RAD. I picked it up free somewhere, because there it was, free, and who knows when you need a book to read. It was low on my priority list since I had no idea what it was about, other than surviving, which always seems a little inconvenient and uncomfortable - not something I was much interested in making a hobby of. But this book seriously shifted several paradigms for me, confirmed several suspicions and was just a damn good book. So good, in fact, that I ordered a couple copies for people for Christmas. Mine is all marked up, but you can borrow it if you want. Gonzales weaves the story of his father, a WWII bomber pilot who is shot down over France and taken prisoner, throughout other tales of survival against extreme odds. He chronicles mountaineering accidents, river rafting tragedies, plane crashes, and the voyages of sailors lost at sea. He examines the mindset and actions of the people who survived and the ones who didn't. In the end, his well documented research points to the underlying quality of personal responsibility and protection of others (selflessness) as the compelling theme for survival. Everyone should read this book, the ones who have survived, the ones who are surviving, and the ones who will have to survive in every pathway of life. The stories ring true for abuse survivors, for chronic pain survivors, for survivors of small children and single motherhood, for survivors of divorce, for cancer survivors... Read this book. (but basically if you are in my family, don't buy it because I probably got it for you for Christmas.)

Inca Gold - Clive Cussler

Oh Clive... All of the good times that I have had with Dirk Pitt and his bevy of over-described antagonists, protagonists and supporting cast. Cussler is my junk food reading. It's always a fun time, although this go around I got kind of annoyed with Cussler's too-many details and lost interest toward the end. Unless one is a diving geek (Nokeses) or a car geek or a food geek, these books just have too many specifics. Cussler's description of Huevos Rancheros not once but TWICE, in the story, had me plotting unauthorized trips to town for some takeout. I had to keep envisioning Dirk as Matthew McConaughey in Sahara to finish the book, but it was, as always, an interesting story line and very true to Cussler form.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

Not sure how this one escaped me all of these years, but I came across a copy (I think, again, it was free) and figured it was overdue. Inside the paperback was a hotel towel claim form from somewhere in Mexico, circa 1987. I only wish I was the lucky bastard reading this book poolside in Puerta Vallarta. I loved this book. I loved the storyteller's perspective of the world as a giant agricultural combine and all of the wires and plugs that control us all, and how his haze was gradually lifted when Randall McMurty entered the institution. It was a short read that leaves one considering who, in this world, the crazy people actually are, and my money is on Nurse Ratched all the way.

A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson

One of the other medics on a fire recommended this one and so I downloaded it to my iPad. It was a good read - two middle aged dudes who decide to hit the Appalachian Trail with basically no experience, and the physical, emotional and psychological pitfalls that befall them. It's a funny book - lots of interesting environmental information and just enough redemption to make you want to lace up your boots and hit the trail. Bryson makes hiking - even long distances - seem almost appealing and doable in spite of the struggle. So who wants to tackle the PCT with me?

Rule of Thoughts - James Dashner

Ugh. Ok, here's the deal with JD. I like his stories, a lot. But I hate his writing style. I can't say that it's BAD writing, although I am very suspicious it is, and I am positive that Stephen King would agree. But much like Clive Cussler, Dashner over-describes almost everything, leaving nothing to the imagination of the reader. And his dialogues are awkward vehicles for delivering backstory in super unnatural conversations. Because none of us run around reminding each other of what happened in the last chapter in gory detail and for no reason. His characters say too many unnecesary things. They overplay their hand. Almost as if they don't trust the reader to keep up, which, I suppose if his target audience is 14 year old boys, makes sense. But the story of Michael and his friends trying to save the real world from a salient digital presence is pretty good. If you can slog through the awful dialogue or you are a 14 year old boy.

Eye of Minds - James Dashner

This is the first in Dashner's series that isn't the Maze Runner. Maze Runner was much better, even though, once again, I didn't love his writing style. But the MR series was a page turner that made the style bearable. This one... well let's just say I started it six months ago and lost interest... so... (sorry about the library fees, Aiden). I finally finished it and moved on to the next, with no better outcome. The third in this series is due out this fall, and really, I can totally wait for it.

SIDE NOTE: In Dashner's series as well as several other action/adventure/fantasy books I have read this year, I find myself getting really tired of the hero/heroine ALWAYS being beat up and exhausted. I am all for action, but how many times in one chapter can the poor bastards be barely able to hold their head up, or feeling like dead weight, with all of the life sapped out of them. I miss the resilient heroes of old who could take a licking and keep on ticking... again, some of this comes down to hyper-describing every scene... just saying...

Bird By Bird - Anne Lamott

This is another book on writing. Lamott's perspective is more melancholy than King's, which left me feeling kind of like killing myself would be more productive than writing. But in all seriousness, she had some great points, some laugh-out-loud spots woven throughout and it was a good read. Like most writing books/classes/workshops, Lamott lays out the rules: sit down. write. just do it. They're good rules, and valid, but I like the way that King throws them down, because he sees it as a passion - something that we GET to do, not as a compulsive thing that we HAVE to do as writers. There is a tone of gratitude in King's writing that was lacking in Bird By Bird - instead Lamott voices a "why me" sort of perspective as a writer. Certainly she captures the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and struggle that is writing, but other than a little sarcasm, I feel like she forgot to mention the reward (not financial, lest anyone other than Stephen King be confused).

A Few Jumper Stories - Rod Dow

OK, so Rod Dow is not a writer. He's a smokejumper. An old one at that. But he is full of stories, and some of them are even good. The best part about this weird little collection of campfire (or forest fire?) tales is that I had heard over half of them from the man himself when I worked with him a few seasons ago. Granted, the stories have evolved somewhat since then, but they were still entertaining. And if I ever get a book written that's available on Amazon, I sure hope my fire buddies all buy it.

A Picture Of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Here's another classic that I had never read. And another trip into the psychology of the human fixation with youth and beauty. Dorian Gray in effect trades his soul to retain his youth, and follows a path of despair that makes you really appreciate your wrinkles and gray hair. It's a thought provoking story, a quick and easy read that gives you a new perspective on life, and however short it is, that it is often just long enough.

The Time Machine - H.G. Wells

Wells was clearly sending a warning to his audience about the social trends of the time, the class seperation and the drive for comfort and convenience at every expense. His trip far into the future paints a bleak outlook for humanity, masquerading in a blurry utopian farce above the bowels of ugly reality. Similar to Dorian Gray, this story speaks to the human struggle for success and what that really looks like.

Voyager - Diana Gabaldon

Good Lord. Do I even need to comment on the Outlander series? I read the first one over the winter, and foraging my way though each 700+ page epoc is alternately exhausting and, er, stimulating. Clearly Gabaldon has a firm grasp on Every Woman's Fantasy, which is, in a name, Jamie Fraser. The story winds on and on and on across centuries and sagas, while really all I am looking for are the steamy love scenes. But she's a great writer, and they are great stories, and I have plenty of time for all of the pages.*

Dragonfly in Amber - Diana Gabaldon

*see above

Wildfire - Mary Pauline Lowry

This wasn't a terrible book. It was the story of a girl on a hotshot crew. And it goes pretty much how you would expect, unless you don't know what to expect, and then it might be kind of interesting. I thought when I ordered it that it was a memoir of the author, who was a girl on a hotshot crew, but after getting through two different burnover situations I realized that it was a very much fictionalized version of a memoir. I have no idea if any of it rings true to her experience...  but it's a good story and she's got a good voice as a writer. It's a borrower, not a buyer, I'd say.

Falls Like Lightning - Shawn Grady

This WAS a terrible book. And not just because it was a "faith based" romance and I am terribly jaded, but because it was just a terrible book. The story was silly, about a smokejumper pilot and her smokejumper sometime-boyfriend, her sick little girl and all of them praying while they are flying airplanes to various places where there are smokejumpers murdering each other for a big gold mine and blah blah blah... It was written by a firefighter (I assume structural) and paramedic in Colorado, so I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. I forced myself to finish it even though I was blushing visibly as I read, and giggling quite a bit at the total ridiculousness of it. Especially when they were asking the Lord to help them get away from the murderers. I mean Jesus Saves, but this got a little silly. I'd loan it to you but I would be too embarrassed to admit that I still have a copy. It will probably be triple wrapped when I take it to Goodwill. Or I might give it to an unsuspecting Christian friend for Christmas. Actually that's a great idea.

The Nothing - Kerry Schafer

Kerry is a local author (from Colville) who has several of the same friends I do, and I found out about her books through a kickstarter campaign to get this book, The Nothing, published. The publisher of the first two books in the series wasn't happy with sales and dropped it before the third came out, so Schafer boldly pressed on and self-published the last book, with a little help from her friends. Schafer creates an interesting storyline with likeable characters and a lot of twists and turns in and out of dreamworld as the heroine struggles to save reality from the closing darkness of sleep. Plotwise there were some interesting similarities to Dashner's Eye of Minds stories, although Schafer is a much better writer and the bad guys are dream characters instead of cyber characters. If fantasies involving dragons and penguins and giants tromping in and out of one's dreams aren't really your style, you might not like these books, but if you've got an active imagination and some extra time, they're worth the read. **

Wakeworld - Kerry Schafer

**see above

Between - Kerry Schafer

**see above above

Bust it Like a Mule - Caleb Mannan

The first book I read this fire season, and one of my favorites, Bust It Like a Mule was written by an old childhood friend that pretty much cornered the market on storytelling when we were growing up. His first (self) published novel does not disappoint, telling the tale of one Cotton Kingfisher who conquers his own demons as he takes on a small town in Montanta and some raging wildfires. Mannan's writing style is unique in it's complete absence of commas, but the steady stream of verbal traffic conveys the feeling of an unbroken spellbinding cast by a gravelly voice to a mesmerized listener.

Get it on Amazon

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