Things Worth Fighting For

The white flakes of ash float down all around me in the crisp November air. If I didn’t know better and if the smoke wasn’t thick in the backdrop of the landscape, I could almost imagine it is snow as it settles without melting on the headstones that chase up and down the steep hill next to Lone Oak Church. Tomorrow is veterans day, and the solitary grave marker of a soldier is in front of me with a flag being tossed carelessly to and fro by an undecided wind. The colors are right, but this is not the flag that I look for at a veteran’s headstone.

Another peculiarity strikes me as I read the numbers etched into the white marble: March 18, 1910. Adam Chariker was 81 when he died. Not a young man. And not a veteran of the great wars in memory… but then my slow yankee mind begins to compile the facts. These stars and bars are not Old Glory. They are the demonized symbol of an internal struggle so great that we still bear the scars more than 150 years later.


It strikes me as poignant, this banner of Civil War, placed reverently at the grave of a soldier, a veteran of combat in the defense of his country. A warrior for a cause he believed in deeply enough to fight and kill other men - his own countrymen. We awaken now in the hangover of an historic election that has divided our nation in a way that perhaps it hasn’t been in these 150 years. And this little rebel flag brings tears to my eyes to remember the thousands and thousands of men and women who have fought and died on both sides of causes that were sacred to them.

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day. It shakes me to think that in all of my respect and reverence for those who have served it is easy to overlook the American Soldiers who fought one another, brother against brother, father against son, in the bloodiest battles that this land has been forced to drink up, believing uto their last breath in what they fought for. It’s easy to discount their service because depending on which side of the Mason/Dixon line you live on, it’s too uncomfortable to condone their fight. To call a confederate soldier a patriot is as unpopular as calling a law enforcement officer a hero. Racists, right?

The civil war was not about slavery any more than modern violent protests are about racism or mass shootings are about guns. There is a deeper underlying issue that may be just as unsuccessfully resolved by modern lawmakers as it was by the blue and the grey so long ago. The battle between north and south was about self government, external control, and the fine line between too much and not enough of both. As long as we are human we will fight this fight, and the only battleground where we will find victory is the landscape of our own minds and hearts.

I stand along the fireline here in North Carolina, shoulder to shoulder with veterans of more than one war. I stand next to conservatives and liberals, libertarians and pacifists. I work alongside Yankees who will endure grueling hours and physical labor to save the goat barn of the descendant of a confederate infantryman from burning up. This is the great America - the people who break a sweat every day to fight the very real enemies. The teachers who insist on a generation more well educated than their own. The “uneducated” voters who changed the oil in your car and grew the kale you bought at Costco. The scientists and lawyers who battle in trenches, bathed in a different gore, for our protection and our salvation from perverse humans and pervasive diseases. The doctors, backhoe operators, linemen and priests who refuse to proliferate conjecture of the condition of our nation from their couches, but with the work of their hands and minds and hearts they generate change.

It is not about making America Great Again, because that so-called “greatness” was borne on the backs of slaves, of minorities struggling first to survive, then to succeed. It’s about being the Great America that we have always intended, and continuing towards the ever elusive mark. We are perhaps now as great as we’ve ever been, as states pass laws calling assault of a police officer a “non-violent” felony and replace the rights of individuals with a higher minimum wage. The war against racism is far from over, as is the war against ignorance, greed, sloth and corruption. We owe our veterans at least our best efforts to maintain a nation worth their fight. A people worth their hope.

Our president is a representation of who we are as a people, the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. We have cast off restraint after years of bowing to the strong arm of money and power and we now stand, naked and exposed, like the emperor in his new clothes. The real fight for American Liberty and virtue is not in Afghanistan or Aleppo, it is here in our own homes and on our own streets, and we have just run into battle with weapons that we have no idea how to control. But we can learn, and we must. And we can love, and we must.

Things About My House

I have a pretty magical house. I don't know if you know that, but I do. It's not just the WWII Bomber nose ceiling fan and the collection of stolen signage of felonious proportions. It's not even the homey aura of too many dogs, cats, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and various and assorted other known and unknown pets that make it magical, although that helps. It's not the silvery sheen of unicorn breath (dried bloodhound drool) on every arm of every piece of furniture. It's not the rainbow of ABC gum on the DVD shelf donated by high school students from every continent in the world. It's not even the archeological collection of candy wrappers from holidays long forgotten underneath the couches.

If I had to pinpoint what really makes my house magical, it's the eery and unexplained phenomenon that happen when you're least expecting. Like late at night, or even 2:39 AM when you've almost just drifted off to sleep after a long shift at work and aching feet have kept you awake. It's when you hear the mysterious tinkling joy of a 6 month old kitten who found a jingle bell ball that some sadistic child purchased for him at the dollar store. It's the realization that there are 18.74 square miles of hard, resonant, bare floor directly under your bed on which to roll the jingle bell ball. You had no idea such vastness existed in your domicile until 2:39 in the morning when Jim Halpert started rolling his jingle bell ball back and forth underneath your bed for miles and miles and miles, as if the rolling and jingling could just go on forever... I mean, if you had known it was there, you would have certainly utilized it for storing all of those clothes that are organized neatly across your bedroom floor in an easy-access schematic for any occasion dressing. If you had known there were nearly 20 square miles of bare floor, you might have bought a throw rug or two. Or an acre or so of carpet, so that Jim Harpert would have something to scratch up and pee on when his litter box got moved outside by someone who was tired of looking at it and cleaning it out and all of the things that one grows tired of with litter boxes.

Magic, my friends. Like the wardrobe entrance to Narnia, the bare floor under my bed holds endless and mythical potential.

My house is also magical because it does that trick where if you find one leak and fix it, another one instantly develops several feet away in an entirely new location. Ceilings, plumbing fixtures, animals... you name it, the minute you clean one puddle up, a new one appears to replace it.

We also mysteriously breed flies here. Whether it's the rotting carcass of a forgotten pet underneath the furniture (maybe they drowned in candy wrappers) or whether Frank the Bloodhound has a collection of putrefying artifacts he has salvaged from the garbage hidden out of sight, I am not sure, but there is an army of flies multiplying somewhere and it's a little unnerving as the temperatures drop below survivable degrees for these insects.

There are technically only three people living here now, along with 8 creatures (not all inside!) that have names and a myriad of giant spiders that we refuse to acknowledge, but somehow, the house always looks like 17 college students live here. It's almost like a haunting. There's never anybody home between work and school and sports, but the sink is ALWAYS full of dishes and there's never a clean glass in the house. It's supernatural. Sometimes I wonder if the dogs have parties while we are gone, mixing drinks and chilling on the couches like a bunch of frat boys. It wouldn't surprise me. It would explain what happened to that liter of Fireball that was in the freezer. It would also explain how we go through 2 gallons of milk a week and four boxes of cold cereal. Probably Jim Halpert instigates all of it, prancing around on his hind feet like he's a celebrity monkey-person, drinking cinnamon whiskey and making all the messes. Cats. SMH.

Any way you cut it, it's magic. Upright walking cats and garbage mongering dogs, we do magic here. We dirty every dish without ever coming home and we provide endless horizons for feline antics all.night.long. All the cool stuff happens here.

Things That I Just Can't Even

It's cyclic, ok. I get that. Every couple of weeks I can more or less guarantee a breakdown in my life of some sort - emotional, mental, physical, financial... The really exciting ones combine all of those factors into an abysmal vortex of darkness and mayhem. I think that's where I am right now.

Tomorrow is Halloween. Since the very first day of this month I have been trying to make time to do the fall appropriate activities. You know, corn mazes and pumpkin patches and all that stuff. FAIL. Absolute fail. Today was the last straw. The last ditch effort. The final grasp for seasonal success. I don't work until 4, which is practically like a day off for me, and I wanted to take the Few Remaining Kids I could wrangle and rush down to the pumpkin patch and get some jack-o-lanterns made. Turns out the Few Remaining Kids had other ideas. One showed up at 7:30 AM and roused me out of what was quite possibly the best sleep I've had all week to tell me that she was taking my car to Spokane. Just as soon as I got back to sleep the next one woke me up to tell me that she and her dad were taking my truck to sell some of her rabbits. (By the way, you parents of young kids who think that it will get easier and you'll get more sleep when they grow up: you're dead wrong.) All of this means I am down to one kid (who, incidentally, sprained her ankle at a basketball game yesterday) and no car.

Meanwhile the beautiful, festive caramel apples I made on Friday night (another unsuccessful pumpkin carving time slot I had hoped for) between work at the school and doing the ambulance standby for the football game are sitting on my counter like the empty tokens they are of a Holiday Season that promises to be a series of hollow promises and crushed visions of sugar plums.

To make things even worse, on the way home from work last night at some god awful hour, a black and white cat (that was very reminiscent of my niece's fluffy kitten named Cake) darted out of the ditch and into my tires as I sped by on the highway. There was nothing I could do but scream in agony and pray it died instantly. I sobbed for the last ten miles home. I am a murderer. Visions of Crookshanks and poor little Bijour and ALL of the horror of this spring just wrecked me. It was the worst. I am the worst. I deserve the death penalty. I cried for a long time. Ugly cried. And I am doing it again. Because I just can't even. All of the things.

I need to quit some of my jobs. I could keep one of them and go on welfare. It would be perfect. I could stay home in my sweatpants all day and watch Netflix and eat junk food I get with food stamps. I don't know why I am not. There is certainly no reward in working 5 jobs to barely pay the bills and miss out on every good thing while I watch my friends and family frolicking in corn mazes and making amazing Jack-o-Lanterns and having costume parties. The stupid thing is that with all of this working (between 50-60 hours a week, not counting newspaper obligations) I haven't had a paycheck over $300. How is that even possible? I make more than that in one day on a fire. I feel like I am losing my mind.

Sorry guys. This has been a total rant. And it sucks. I should come up with some upbeat life lesson out of it that redeems all of my complaining and moaning. But I got nothing. If you have some inspiring memes you can share with me about hope and things getting better, all that darkest before dawn crap, I'd be grateful. In the meantime I guess I will pull up my big girl Broncos undies and hope for a win there. Because it ain't happening anywhere else these days.

Things I Have Taught My Children

1) How to appropriately react to spiders: This involves glass shattering shrieks, full-blown emotional break downs and as many cuss words as possible. Also squishing them and hoping the cat or someone else cleans up the carnage.

2) How to be cool: This is manifest in the perpetual recycling of my entire wardrobe (INCLUDING UNDERGARMENTS) onto the bodies of 4 younger prototypes of myself. This is also exhibited in the following scenario:

ME: Happily unpacking and promptly donning the new deer antlers I bought during a wine-fueled Amazon Halloween Extravaganza at 1 AM two days ago so I can be a deer for Halloween.
TEENAGER: I need to borrow those for my deer costume on Halloween.
TEENAGER: Me and my homies are deers, and our BFs are the hunters. We decided ages ago.
ME: I don't have a hunter. Why you gotta always one-up me?
TEENAGER: I will be a cuter deer anyway.
ME: *teardrop emoji

3) How to be a food snob: Step one: make an entire Crock Pot full of perfectly decent potato soup Step 2: decide you hate it, feed it to the dogs and get pizza for dinner. (I really have no room to complain when they won't eat my food. I won't either.) (Why do I insist on cooking things I won't eat? Good intentions pave the road to dead broke and a lot of wasted food.)

4) How to get out of chores: If you have a bad enough attitude, somebody else will just do it to avoid having to deal with you.  Try: slamming objects, heavy sighs, and whimpering indiscernibly about phantom pains in random body parts.

5) How to set and maintain priorities in life: If you hate it, don't do it. If you like it, do it all the time. See also: Hedonism.

6) How to problem solve: Step one: procure Costco sized box of Oreos. Step two: milk. Step three: problem solved. Try also: wine.

7) How to attract visitors to your house: A) never clean B) decorate with as much dog hair as possible C) run out of toilet paper D) have snacks E) wine

8) How to make and keep friends: never say no. offer snacks. coffee. wine.

9) How to take care of pets: give up your bed. give up your couch. give up your food. give up your sanity.

10) How to value family: Everyone knows that family is represented by holiday traditions. Therefore, traditions must be observed at ALL COST. Which is why we will be carving pumpkins at midnight on Saturday, which is the only time that the Whole Family could do it. You're welcome to join. (see #8)

Things About Misery, and the Company it Loves

Allow me to share my headache with you.

In addition to working All The Jobs and Doing All the Things, I also happen to be responsible for All The Children and the various and assorted types of mayhem that they create. As in: "Mom it's three AM and my car won't start because I dropped the keys in an ice-cold rushing river so now what do I do?" and "Mom I have this weird rash all over my skin that won't heal and I can't get insurance because the website where you nearly completed my application for me is way too complicated so how can I go to the doctor?" and "Mom I forgot my shoes and knee pads and the league volleyball tournament starts in 15 minutes but you can get them from the locker room and drive 76 miles before game time, right?". You know, things like that.

Two nights ago, it was this:

"What is your access code?"

me: "for what? why? what is going on?"

"My iPad was stolen and I have to file an insurance claim."


"I was really careful all day."

"But I mean the stolen part."

"My window was down. And they were punks on skateboards."


After discovering that a certain phone company doesn't have 24/7 customer service and I apparently don't know my access code, I told All of The Children that I couldn't solve anymore problems until I had slept. And after two nights of quasi-acceptable sleep, I finally found the mental courage to tackle it.

So begins my headache.

It was a simple call to a certain phone company to find out how to file an insurance claim for a stolen iPad. It resulted in an upgrade to unlimited data upon the "shocking" discovery that we had, yet again, exceeded our data limit. Unfortunately for my moral high ground, the upgrade came at the cost of a two year subscription to television, which means A) I might accidentally catch part of this presidential election process (gods forbid) and B) FOOTBALL.

Once I sold my soul for a few extra gigabytes, I remembered why I called in the first place and asked about the insurance thing. "Oh sure," the extra-peppy-because-she-scored-an-upgrade service rep chirped, "I just need to transfer you to our insurance provider. Or you can do it online, it's super easy." Lies. all lies. From the pit of hell.

That was 2.5 hours ago. I am now on my 5th representative, I have been locked out of the website three times. I have been in two three way conversations with four different people from both the phone company AND the insurance company, and while almost everybody agrees (depending on the particular group I am chatting with at any given hour) that I do have insurance on my devices (which is pretty damn good since I am paying an extra $29.99 a month), there is a lot of confusion about which devices I have and how they are covered. But don't worry. I am sure that Raychelle and Matt can figure out what Paula, Carrie, Jaida, Roger, and that one dude in a "special department" I got transferred to that only spoke Spanish, haven't been able to in TWO AND A HALF FREAKING HOURS. And then there was the heinous witch who told Roger that she wanted to speak to his supervisor while we were in a three way because she wasn't allowed to be put on hold due to her job restrictions but insisted that I should call her back and wait on hold once the inept Roger got his sh*t together. For the record, that chick had her info more wrong than the whole rest of the troop combined.

OH! STATUS UPDATE! Raychelle took me off hold for a minute to tell me that  - wait, oh, no. It looks like not all of my devices are covered by the multi device protection plan. Only the ones that I don't want to file any claims on. Wait - she's double checking. Yep. Only the devices that are fine are covered.

I am about to send Aspen on a rescue mission for tylenol and wine. Except my phone is going to die soon so I can probably get my own survival supplies myself while I brace emotionally for calling the 1-800 number again for the 6th time, after I got hung up on once, transferred 8 times and then shuttled off to Jorge in Tijuana before I hung up to start over on my own prerogative earlier.

Well, all's well that ends well, right? Or never ends...It is now a quarter til six and I just got off the phone. I still have to complete a 2 page affidavit and scrounge up a proof of purchase (because I am SURE I saved that since March) and upload it all to the insurance company so they can replace the iPad. Please tell me it's worth it. Please tell me the zombies are coming soon.


Things About Doing (all the) Things

"You're such a jack-of-all-trades," she said, with what could be wantonly construed as a hint of admiration. "No seriously, you do it all!"

I shook my head, guzzled the last third of my Flume Creek/Honey Basil mix and sighed. "But I suck at every one of them."

The reality of this has never been more clear to me than it was as I stood raking dirt back into a hole that I had attempted to dig earlier in the week. The hole is big enough to park a Volkswagon Bug in, because I dug in the wrong direction exactly three times (which is how many you need to find all of the wrong edges of the septic tank) in order to begin digging in the right direction to find the second septic tank lid. I say begin because I let my strong, young daughter uncover the second lid much as she did the first one: efficiently and much more quickly than I could have. Being young is such a benefit in so many ways, I still regret my decision to get old.

Yes, I do all of the things. I teach school. I write words. I go on ambulance calls. I work on wildland fires. I pour beer. I cook. I clean. I raise children. I work out. I pay bills. And each one of them I do more poorly than the last.

Case in point: How many people have you met that have DESTROYED food in a Crock Pot MORE THAN ONCE? Like, obliterated past the point of recognition? I burned apple sauce (of all the easiest things) in a Crock Pot. Granted, it was cooking for about 4.5 days while I was carefree and forgetful at work, but the poor slow cooker has never recovered.

My housekeeping skills (or lack thereof) are fairly evident and have been recently and vociferously denounced, so I don't feel the need to dwell on that.

When I open up the most recent edition of the paper that I write for and see a multitude of apostrophe mistakes and there/their/they're faux pas, I quickly let my boss know that I am fired and she insists, in desperation, on rehiring me on the spot.

It's really desperation that saves me. A rurally isolated school desperate for substitutes, a volunteer-strapped first response agency that would LOVE to replace me, starving children who have to eat SOMETHING - I get by on the desperation of others. I'd like to brag that it's my universal skill set and remarkable capabilities that make me a "jack-of-all-trades", but it's really the desperation of myself and others that has propelled me to this level of quasi-success. I suppose all I am really lacking is a desperate man to put up with me for the rest of my life.

"Master of None" should be the title emblazoned on my office door. If I ever had an office, or a door. I suspect they gave me a Bachelor's Degree just so I would stop taking classes and turning in mediocre work. I suspect I get hired at jobs not because of my revolutionary work ethic or brilliant business savvy, but because I operate on just enough of a guilt complex to always show up (turns out that's a rare commodity in itself).

But the truth of it is, we are our own worst critics, and despite my lack of rip-roaring success in this lifetime (so far) nobody has died, either from my cooking or my parenting or my lack of housecleaning. Somehow even in my mediocrity we have made it (thus far) without evictions or homelessness or (very much) jail time. So I guess I need to bask in the glory of the little triumphs, like being reminded 15 minutes before my kids sports physicals that my kids HAVE sports physicals, and 15 minutes is definitely enough time to put the clothes on that I forgot I wasn't wearing when my pajamas just kind of hung around until 2:45 in the afternoon. And successes like getting out of bed at 8:00 AM without cussing at the kid who comes over to get my help with his college homework, because maybe, after all, I am a little bit good at something.

I really am not being fair to myself, because I do have a couple of landmark skills: eating and drinking. Really I am pro level at both. In fact, I am so dedicated to the craft that my calorie counting attempts all peter out at around 2:00 PM when the beer-drinking-cheese-eating frenzy begins in earnest for the day. OK 2:00 might be generous. Can we go with noon? I used to also be an expert sleeper but that skill seems to have waned along with youth and enthusiasm. Now I lie awake all night wondering what I will suck at doing the next day. The one beautiful thing about doing all the things is that I never know, day-to-day, which one I'll be doing. It's like a perpetual, exhausting surprise.

Things About Dirt

There's a good chance that the septic tank at my house hasn't been pumped out for over a decade. Truth is nobody can rightly remember the last time it WAS pumped, when the previous three residents are asked. There's also a good chance that the epic season of toilet overflowing two winters ago had something to do with the unpumped septic tank. If you're curious about those catastrophic events or would just like a refresher in why today is better than anytime between September and March of 2014-15, here are some good links:

The broken toilet
The third toilet flood
Basically 6 months of my blog posts are about poop floods.

Anywhoo... I made an appointment to get the septic pumped next week, before the snow hits and/or the ground is frozen solid. Trouble is, I have no idea where the lid to the septic tank is. I have a vaguely general idea where the tank itself might be, VERY approximately, but I beyond that, I am literally shoveling blind. Feeling energetic, independent and capable (which is ALWAYS a warning sign of impending doom), I started digging in the non-specific area that might lie above a septic tank. Well truth be told, first I had to pick up all of Aspen's stuffed animals that Frank had taken outside and scattered thoughtfully over the general septic tank area over the last few weeks. He has a special fondness for teddy bears and giraffes. There were at least 18.

I quickly realized two things: I am terrible at shoveling and I have no idea what I am looking for. So, after starting a handful of four-inch deep divots in my back yard, it became pretty obvious that a) there was no septic tank out there at all and b) someone probably needed to bring a backhoe over or something because dirt is hard. The dogs thought we were having the Most Fun Ever looking for something like a rock or dirt clods in all the dirt, but really whatever I was doing with that shovel wasn't nearly as much fun as getting balls out from under the couch or as productive as shoveling Frank's lovingly deposited and record breaking piles that also punctuated the dig site.

On the bright side of my unsuccessful "digging" expedition (which closely resembled Derek Zoolander's attempt at coal mining, but way less fashionably [rubber boots and sweatpants only look hot on Blake Lively]), I distracted myself in the tool shed and found a rickety ladder which I can use later to try to pick pears. If I am lucky I will fall from the top rung and break something so I won't be able to work in SPED any more. Lord knows I am never that lucky. I will just end up with a scratched up face to add to my already totally un-dateable status.

In the meantime, I am using the excuse that I need to get a Pulaski from Halle to stall my digging for now, while I think of a better excuse to never dig again and Google things like: "what does a septic lid look like?" And "how to avoid pumping your septic tank, ever". I mean toilet floods aren't that bad, right?

Also I think I got the black lung.

Things That I Read V

All right, here it is, the much anticipated annual event: What Liv Read During Fire Season. I know that you have all been waiting with bated breath since Things That I Read IV was published last October, because who doesn't want to read the pseudo-intellectual, poorly articulated, violently biased opinions of a homeschooled nerd with social deprivation issues about a lot of books that aren't even remotely close to new releases, best-sellers or critically acclaimed? I know I am curious what I have to say, because I will most definitely get into an argument about it with myself at some point. Hey man, without a significant other, somebody has to do the dirty work!

This fire/reading season got off to a rough start. Turns out I actually had to WORK on my first few assignments. First I was in Alaska working in the medical unit at camp all day where people actually notice if you are doing nothing, or even worse, expanding your mind with a book. Then I took a couple tours in my new fire capacity as a Public Information Officer where I had to do busyish things all day like prowl Facebook, rewrite press releases and socialize with other overhead people who also had no idea what was going on with the actual fire. There was simply no place for burying my face in a novel. But FINALLY, I got dispatched as a line EMT to a fire in a remote spot in Oregon, where not only did I have 14 hours on the line every day in a vehicle by myself, but there was NO CELL SERVICE, so my reading productivity was enhanced exponentially without the encumbrances of social media, email or responding to text-tattling from my offspring. Every once in awhile a safety officer or another medic would drive by and interrupt my progress, but overall I'd say I did pretty well...

Because I read A LOT, I will keep my reviews succinct. Also because it's been like 4 weeks since I read some and probably can't even remember what they're about. But I will try. 

The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey

I am a sucker for YA sci-fi fantasy stuff, so when Natalee got done reading this, I immediately needed to borrow it. Of course, that was last December and it took me until August to read it, while my other three kids and a couple of others kept asking me to finish it so they could read it. But call me a borrow-hoarder, I was gonna read that book, dammit, and I finally did, the first on my list this summer. I liked it. I like Yancey's writing style - much less overcommunicative than James Dashner (Maze Runner), but entertaining, easy to read and a great plot line that isn't just regurgitated Hunger Games material. And aliens. How can you go wrong with Aliens? Ok, a lot of ways, but the 5th Wave is a good alien story. I would say that the plot twists are a little bit predictable but it might just be my above-average skills of deduction and intuitive imagination. But seriously, read this one, and the rest probably. 

Resilience - Eric Greitens

This one I had in digital format - I had preordered it after Greitens was featured as part of the Wildland Fire Refresher this spring. The book came out in May but I didn't get around to reading it until I was done with the 5th Wave, because priorities, people. Resilience is perhaps one of the best books I have ever read. Like Deep Survival, which I read and reviewed last year after it changed my life, Greitens hits the mark as he helps another veteran friend find his way out of the dark recesses of alcoholism and PTSD. So. Much. Good. In this book that is as applicable to raising children as it is to special forces combat. Of all of the Navy SEAL books I have read (keep reading, there are a few) this is by far the most humble, approachable, and useful. Can't recommend highly enough. 

Lone Survivor -Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson

OK, so true confession: I am a special forces fangirl. I can't get enough. I watched the Lone Survivor movie after I was about a third of the way through the book (also a digital format for me) and both were awesome. Lutrell isn't really a brilliant writer, but he's ambitious and cocky and boy howdy he has some stories to tell. The book is much more in depth than the movie, but the film does a good job trying to capture the individuals that were lost in July of 2005. It's a good book and a good movie. 

The Martian - Andy Weir

My brother gave me this book for Christmas, and for all my good intentions to not watch the movie before I read the book, I slipped up and saw it just before I got shipped out to this fire. That being said, the book is SO much better than the movie (in true biblio-snob form). Really, it's Weir's characterization of Mark Watney that's so great in the book. I mean sure, Matt Damon gives it a college try, but when you have to cram ALL of that action into a movie based on a book that is actually 98% science and totally geek-out-cool stuff, something gets lost. Read the book. I would loan you my copy but I gave it to a Task Force Leader from Iowa who totally agreed that the book Mark Watney was way funnier than the movie Mark Watney. 

Dead Before Dying - Kerry Schafer

So Kerry is a local author, one I would even venture to call my friend (if it's on Facebook, it's real), and this is my favorite of her novels to date. She signed this one for me several months ago and it got put in the read-during-fire-season pile that I stared at longingly for ages. Dead Before Dying is super fun. It's a great, atypical paranormal mystery with a cool cast of slightly over-the-hill or maybe over-the-edge characters and enough plot twists to staff a roller coaster. Sometimes I think I'd like a peek inside Kerry's head to see where she gets all these crazy ideas, but maybe that's a pandora's box better left unopened? Read it. Last year I read her trilogy: Books of the Between - also fun, but this one really captured me. (available on Amazon)

Unbreakable - Thom Shea

Another day, another Navy SEAL book... Unbreakable is Shea's version of what it takes to be a Navy Seal. A lot of great, solid insights, fed by other SEALS and his "Spartan Wife", Unbreakable was written as a memoir to his children in case he didn't return from deployment. Shea offers advice and even practical exercises to harness your internal dialogue and overcome adversity. It's a good book, but lacks the humility and accessibility that Resilience has. But if you're into Navy SEALs and being mentally tough, it's a good read. 

Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls

So I clicked "like" on a friend's Facebook post about preserving the culture of reading and books and it turns out that I joined a chain-letteresque group wherein I sent one book (Deep Survival) to the friend of my friend, and then friends of my friends that liked my status would each send me a book. I got 4 or 5 books out of it, which isn't a bad deal! This was one of them, and it was a keeper. Walls is a story teller. If I could write like her I feel like I would have it made. This is the story of her rough-and-tumble grandmother growing up in the southwest during the depression. It was a yarn so well spun that I kept forgetting it was rooted in the true life memoir of a real person. I'd like to get Walls other book, The Glass Castle, which is loosely based on the life of her mother. Walls seems to come by her imagination honestly. A good book. 

The Bassoon King - Rainn Wilson (with a foreward by Dwight Schrute)

Oh Dwight...This book wasn't nearly as side-splitting from cover to cover as I imagined when I preordered it, but I was very surprised at the more serious insights that Rainn offered. Wilson's brain-child, SoulPancake, is an organization dedicated to bringing positivity and change to the world, and Rainn and his wife Holiday are excellent examples of celebrities who put their money and muscle where their mouth is. Don't get me wrong - it is funny as heck in many places, but I was really fascinated by Wilson's description of the Bahai faith (which I could totally dig) and his generally humility and candor. Basically Rainn Wilson reminds me of the EXACT opposite of a Christian Scientist in Hollywood - he's self-deprecating, intelligent, hilarious and believes in the power of pouring into others. He's just good people. And he lives in central Oregon, so...

Lost in Shangri-La - Mitchell Zuckoff

This book was an accidental/incidental read because it's one that Halle borrowed from my dad and then left at my house and then I found it and brought it along. It tells the story of a sightseeing flight over the New Guinea loaded with service members during World War II. After a harrowing crash, three survivors, including one female from the Women's Army Corps are stranded in a dense jungle with no way out - until the ingenuity of the US Air Force pilots and a band of brave volunteers jump into the fray to save them.  This true story is reported fastidiously by Zuckoff - a newspaper reporter in real life, who captures the survivors and their rescuers with gripping storytelling skills. Halle's gonna love it. 

Given Up For Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island - Bill Sloan

Also stolen from Halle's pile of books stolen from my dad, this one is the story of Wake Island and the heroic stand that an under equipped, under manned island in the South Pacific took against the earliest waves of Japanese attacks. On the heels of Pearl Harbor, Wake Island stood as a pivotal but eventually expendable way point as troops moved across the Pacific. The sailors and marines there sustained against overwhelming odds with no support for weeks. It's a riveting story, and well reported by Sloan. 

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

The classic World War I novel tells the story of a young German soldier and his classmates as they endure the horrors of trench warfare. Remarque captures the gradual demoralization of the men as their numbers dwindle and their cause begins to falter. Heart wrenching and thought provoking, this book was referenced repeatedly in Deep Survival so it's been on my list for awhile. It was sobering, but well worth the read. 

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

Because I was running out of books, and because this was a free download on iBooks, and because I had never read it, and because it's like 7,000 pages long - it seemed like an excellent option for a long day on the fireline. Austen and this novel did not come by their notoriety falsely. It's a witty read, endearing and infuriating and all of the things a novel should be, causing the reader to simultaneously love and want to slap the characters into some better communication and a little less propriety. I mean, get it together, Elizabeth, even Mr. Darcy needs a little leeway now and then... It's a good read for a gloomy winter. I laughed out loud. 

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

NO, I did NOT see this movie before I read the book. Actually, this is another book I got through the Facebook chain-letterish thing. It also got lost under the seat of my truck until the last couple days on the fire, but I was super excited when I found it because I was really looking forward to reading something that was sort of on a current bestseller list. Like, I am almost cool now... Ok. That's a stretch. But this was a good book. A tearjerker for sure. In fact I had to move my truck a few times so the Division Supervisor couldn't catch me weeping into my steering wheel. It's a heart wrenching drama of right vs wrong, tragedy and hope and despair and love. Stedman has a great storytelling voice, with a definite Australian lilt that made me read everything in an accent. Possibly out loud. When no one was driving by. Actually it's a horrible story and unless you like crying a lot or just want to feel better about your own circumstances, I am not sure I would recommend it. Or maybe I just prefer Navy SEALS. I don't know. 

In conclusion, I also read a western by William W. Johnstone that I found somewhere that was the worst ever. It was a 300 page novel written like a looney tunes cowboy cartoon. People like that stuff, huh? I mean, I am all for Louie L'Amour and Zane Grey, but this was just silly. I was embarrassed while I was reading it - kind of like What Doesn't Kill You from back in 2012. I guess those little detours are good to take to remember what bad writing really feels like. Although I can just turn to my own blogs for that, so... 

If you need a refresher, here are the links to my other Things That I Read:

Things That I Read I - highlights: Inside of a Dog, 50 Shades of Grey
Things That I Read II - highlights: World War Z, The Street Lawyer
Things That I Read III - highlights: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Born To Run
Things That I Read IV - highlights: On Writing, Deep Survival

Things That... Yep.

Coming home from a fire is like the best/worst thing in the world. It's exactly the same as going to a fire, but the opposite. All of the idealistic anticipation about how Wonderful Everything Will Be when you get to where you're going meets the relief of leaving all of the chaos and hardships of where you're coming from behind and it's like this bittersweet mingling of excitement and a Still Small Voice telling you not to be disappointed when it's not as awesome as you had planned. Because inevitably, when you get home, the bathroom will look like a troll habitat, the dog will have pooped in the dining room and Someone has definitely been sleeping in your bed.

Coming home from this last fire was a lot like all of the other homecomings and firegoings, but since it had been a 21 day assignment I was extra excited/full of dread. The dread was definitely offset by the anticipation of getting into my own bed, dirty sheets or not, after sleeping in the back seat of a crew cab for two weeks at spike camp. I didn't INTEND to sleep in the back seat for two weeks, but they kept telling me that I was only staying at spike for two days, so I never put my tent up, even after 7 different 2 day stints. It was probably a divine set-up to make me appreciate my bed all the more.

Anyway, on the way home, after 21 days, I decided to stop at Costco. Mostly because A) I knew we were undoubtedly out of dog food again and B) I wanted to see how much more stuff I could squish into my already loaded down SUV, so Costco seemed like the logical place to stop. Obviously I bought everything. All the things that Costco sells. One of each. I was feeling all perky and energetic and productive - as sleep deprived people with Lots of Caffeine on board often do, plus it was only mid afternoon and I was almost home. I crammed EVERY of the Costco items into the back of my car, even taking the time to shove the cold stuff in my cooler, which for some silly reason has "return to fire cache" stenciled on the lid. With All the Things tucked nicely away, floor to ceiling, in the back of my rig, I careened merrily out of the parking lot at Costco, right into that busy side street just before the light.

Some hideous crashing, crunching, grinding, popping noise happened behind me, and to my horror I looked in the rear view mirror and realized that the back hatch of my fire-mobile had flown open mid-careen into the street. A trail that involved the entire inventory of Costco Wholesale was strewn across the street behind me, along with a few well placed fire items. I watched as my two pack of milk gallons tumbled down the street nine times and three minivans full of screaming homeschoolers swerved around them. It was amazing. Somehow, I found my emergency flashers, which always seem to go missing from the dashboard in the event of a real crisis. I had locked up my brakes and watched helplessly as several Angry Faced City Drivers who were nearly killed by swerving minivans made their way around my entire pantry and assorted socks and underwear.

Out of nowhere, or at least the office building on the corner, three of The Nicest People In America came sprinting into the street, gathering up butter, cheese, commercial sized boxes of tampons and six jars of Nutella at a dead run. One of them was barefoot. I was much too concentrated on my salvage efforts to remember to ask her why she had no shoes on, but maybe she was Buddhist or something, but judging by her leopard print toenails, probably not. These Lunch Hour Angels even loaded my cold stuff back into the cooler and insisted on doing a two-man lift with me to get it into the back of my car (after we had pried it out from under the rear bumper where it had tumbled and wedged). I alternately apologized to and thanked my heroes profusely as I tucked my rank-smelling dirty fire laundry farther behind the dog food and toilet paper. Really they were so nice I almost cried. Miraculously, nothing was damaged. Not the milk, not the bread, not the 6 pack of romaine hearts. Nothing broken or lost - I have no idea how in the world that is possible, other than the cushion of my fire bedroll breaking some of the fall.

I drove home in mortal fear of a repeat event, starting out from every stop at the slowest imaginable pace, pissing off a whole new wave of minivans and Angry Faced City Drivers at every light. Thankfully, the rest of the trip was mostly uneventful, and I made it home with out airing any more of my dirty laundry - on the street at least.

Things That We CAN Do

My parents taught me two very important lessons growing up: 1) life isn't fair and 2) just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you should. The first one became very clear to me with little effort expended on their part, because when you have 5 siblings in a semi-isolated homeschool environment, basically nothing is fair, especially life. The second one was learned more gradually through a trial-and-error method that had my parents alternately scratching their heads and cursing the day that I was born - or sometimes both. Whether it was running away across the city of Portland at 7 years old to use the swing set at church, or jumping off the top bunk naked to land on a cold metal lunch box with my cousins and siblings, I was forever trying things that I COULD do, but definitely/probably shouldn't have. My parents used to say that if there was a line drawn in the sand, my oldest brother would wisely stay on the lawful side of the line a very safe distance from any possible infringement, while I would brazenly stick as many appendages across to see what would happen. My younger sister is the one who figured out the line the most to her benefit by denying it's existence and/or her knowledge of it in the first place. Typical third born.

Mom and dad were smart enough to know that at some point, external government wasn't enough. I think it was probably the 110th spanking when I wouldn't stay in my bed one night and ended up falling asleep in my bedroom closet in total defiance that really drove that home for them. So, to their credit, they pushed us from a young age to put on self-government. To make choices not based on what we could get away with, but what would bring the benefit we sought, whether that was "bringing glory to the lord", making and keeping friends, or not getting caught watching soap operas in the middle of the day when mom went out to coffee with her friends. Self government is something that I have tried to teach my own kids, with wildly varying results, but who are ultimately turning out to be reasonably well adjusted adultish type people. OK, so nobody is in jail or pregnant. It's a lot of win right there. Self government, y'all.

In light of recent socio-political events, the principle of self-government again and again seems to be the stress fracture where our world is breaking apart. School shootings, gang shootings, police shootings, protests, demonstrations, deleting emails and deporting immigrants... we live in a culture of doing things because we CAN. We CAN riot in our own neighborhoods in protest because freedom of expression, right? We CAN shoot people that we hate. We CAN say things without repercussion. We CAN get away with murder, sometimes literally, because nobody taught us that the actions we choose are bigger than the consequences that we might avoid.

There are more things out there on both sides of the fence that I disagree with than things that I really support, when it comes right down to it. I think people are crazy, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, white and everything in between. Bat. Guano. Crazy. The things that we will do to each other and ourselves, the liberties that we take (because we CAN), the actions that we justify, have gotten out of control. But the beautiful thing about where we live is exactly that: WE CAN.

We have this thing called the Bill of Rights that defines the liberty that this nation was founded on, and it promises us that we CAN do things. We CAN choose our own religion, or none at all. We CAN express how we feel. We CAN defend ourselves, need be. We CAN have privacy in our own homes... and on it goes. And no matter how much it angers me to see celebrities disrespect our national anthem - that flag and that song are the exact reason that those athletes CAN do that. People have fought and died so that Colin Kaepernick can have the right to express whatever opinion he wants to. People have fought and died so that Muslims can worship freely in this country. People have fought and died so that I can legally own as many cool guns as I want to. People have fought and died so that we don't have to live with an oppressive external government telling us who we can marry, which bathroom we can use, what we can eat, how we must live. I don't have to agree with Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Black Lives Matter or any other American, but we all get the same privilege of making our voices heard.

All of this CAN is powerful. And with great power comes great responsibility. Just as I don't take lightly the privilege AND responsibility of owning guns legally, neither should any freedom of expression be abused to harm and destroy communities, or exact some twisted form of vigilante justice through rioting, federal building takeovers or the murder of Peace Officers. Because we live in the Greatest Nation (without the help of a showboating political-celebrity hybrid) we have the ability and the charge of making the right choices in our actions to bring the benefit we seek: stronger communities, healthier families, safer schools and neighborhoods and a better world all the way around.

There are so many great things that we CAN do here, and so many terrible things as well. The culture of this country is entirely reliant upon the self government of its people. The choices we make as individuals define who we are as a nation, whether we are breaking out the windows of a 7-11 or candy striping at the VA Hospital, it's up to us. Whether we take a knee during the National Anthem or stand in the rain to memorialize a fallen hero, it's up to us. So while I won't defend Kaepernick, I will stand up for his right to express himself, and I will offer a nod of thanks to every Veteran and active duty Service Member throughout history that has guaranteed that right for him and for me.

What CAN you do? Or more importantly, what WILL you do with the liberties that you have? Voting this November is probably a good place to start...


(In case you can't read the picture)

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Things That Won’t Kill You (or make you stronger)

My underwear are inside out. I just discovered that when I made my first of what will be many forays into the ceanothus bushes on the side of the road today. In my defense it was dark and cold in my truck when I put them on, and also in my defense, at least they are clean. This fire assignment has been one of the ones where I break all of the rules, that, as a mother, are the cardinal guardians of health and propriety. Rules like:

Change your underwear
Don’t sleep in your clothes
Brush your hair
Take a shower
Call your mother
Wash your face
Put on clean clothes

Broken. All of them. I think of myself scolding Halle about her fire showering habits, and at ten o'clock at night as I stare at the line of grubbier-than-me firefighters waiting for one of the five shower stalls in spike camp, I decide that it’s just not worth it. I have deodorant. I have hardly broken a sweat in the last two weeks, except when I had that teensy-weensy fever the other day. I have been wearing the same shirt and pants for two weeks. I have changed my underwear, more than once, as well as my socks. We will leave it at that and allow you to extrapolate the worst. I have had three total showers since I got here 15 days ago. You do the math. And at night, when it’s dropping into the mid 30s and I know I will be waking up to sub-freezing temps, I crawl into my brand-new down sleeping bag in my two-week-old dirty clothes and drift off into a NyQuil induced coma, knowing I don’t have to wake up and struggle into freezing clothes in the morning.

This fire is also a little unusual in that I have absolutely no contact with the outside world. Apparently people in this neck of the woods have never heard of AT&T. I am a cellular outcast, watching with longing as The Others run up to lookout hilltops to call their loved ones and check Facebook on their Verizon devices. I had access to wifi at the incident command post when I would walk All The Way across camp (it’s far) and stand awkwardly in a hallway in the way of all the important ICP people doing important ICP things. But now I am at Spike Camp, where the only cellular activity is the faint hiss-pop of brain cells exploding after constant contact with ambient smoke for days on end.

I got a head cold from a Division supervisor who got it from a crew of unshowered snot bags on the line - one of which might have been my own daughter. It’s like a mosaic of viruses out here, a pretty technicolor blend of upper respiratory and intestinal symptoms that swirl in harmonic cadence to the rhythm of a dry cough. I have been in a sinus-smogged haze for a few days, thinking everyday it is a little better and then waking up with razor blades in my throat or dizzy spells that convince me it is not. Luckily I am part of the medical unit and have All The Drugs to fix what ails me. But not. For the record, DayQuil is garbage. What I need is real sudafed and apparently in Oregon, that’s a prescription drug. So I suffer in semi-silence.

Being The Worst Mother In The World, I also missed my kid’s first day of school. I have been entertained with arguments against myself about whether making enough money to pay all the bills is more important than big landmarks like that, and so far both sides are winning, so it’s safe to say my guilt mechanisms are alive and well. I have gotten used to talking to myself - a habit that comes in handy for a line EMT who sits alone, with no cell service, at a drop point for 14 hours a day. All of the things I think I need to tell The Whole World become trivial information I feed to myself. Also I have read 17 books. That’s a lot.

I am living proof that neither dirty underwear, lack of connectivity, parenting badly or a virus pot-luck can kill you. I am reluctant to assure you that any of the aforementioned will make you stronger, although I can feel my immune system rallying in the form of thick yellow mucus every day.

Things About Independence

I've been a single mom for some time longer than I have had a man around to fix stuff. I've learned a lot over the years about the things I can, and CANNOT do for myself, but it seems like it's a perpetually evolving process that needs updating constantly.

There are some real benefits to being a single woman and Doing It All Yourself.

For instance, during a recent invasion of slugs, and then when a hoard of Giant Hobo Spiders moved into my bathtub, I had the opportunity to up my bravery game and take on the pestilence, head on, sans male protector. I salted the heck out of 6 inch slime monsters and watched them melt like the wicked witch of the west, feeling powerful and courageous. And on TWO different occasions, I battled four massive hobo spiders in my bathtub, with only scorching hot water on my side. The horrific arachnids were so big they wouldn't even fit down the drain, so I had to muster my bravery and scoop them out of the tub and transport them to the porcelain aqua-mausoleum. TWICE.

GIANT hobo spiders. in my tub. showering has just become optional. 

And then there is the Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It" attitude that has me all cavalier and heading off down the road with my Thule carrier fastened to the top of my car BY MYSELF. Except it was fastened entirely upside down and backwards. Miraculously, the thing didn't blow off before I realized that it was on completely wrong, pulled over and reattached it almost completely wrong again. I feel somewhat brilliant that the right way of attaching the thing slowly came to me as I made a 500 mile drive, one step at a time. It's like rocket science, but easier. The 16 year old son-that-isn't-mine shakes his head in disgust at me.

The learning opportunities, folks. They're phenomenal. If I had some doofy guy around doing everything for me, correctly, the first time, think of all of the things I wouldn't learn.

My next undertaking is learning how to shoot. Guns. Real ones. All of them. And I feel kind of awkward about borrowing other people's husbands for lessons, so I am just gonna go out and teach myself. If this isn't the best idea I've ever had, I am not sure what is. I just have to figure out how to load the guns that I have to shoot. It can't be that hard. I will just YouTube dome do-it-yourself videos: How to load and shoot an SKS... What's the worst thing that could happen?

I mean it worked with plumbing. At least until I had to borrow someone's husband to finish the job I was botching royally. The text conversation went something like this:

me: *photo of toilet in pieces
Friend With Useful Husband: oh that doesn't look good
me: I think that one doohickey is the broken part, so Ima just switch it out. But I can't figure out where the whoozit in the left corner goes.
FWAUH: Hold on.
me: *girl from Ipanema instrumental
FWAUH: He says stop. Don't touch anything else. He'll be over after work.
me: I am pretty sure I can do it
Useful Husband direct text: STOP NOW
me: ok

Or there was that time that the hot water heater died. Like 8 times in a row. And I tried to fix it myself.

me to friend's useful husband (notice how the middle woman has excused herself): so if nothing is coming out of the hose and it's making a weird screaming sound, is that normal? Do water heaters ever blow up?
Useful Husband: BRT. Stop touching things.

Of course this is the same Useful Husband that I asked to check the trailer that I hooked up and was hauling home by myself. Guess the thing wasn't even latched on or something. Who knew?

Hey man, I tried.

Someday I should write a book called Useful Husbands and The Friends I Lost By Borrowing Them.

When I lived in Bend and all of my Friends With Useful Husbands were hundreds of miles away, I tried to rewire my dryer and in addition to nearly burning my rental down, I doubt I would have survived the 220 volts I tried to play conductor for. I placed an ad on Craigslist that went like this:


I tried to switch the cord on my dryer from a 4 prong to a 3 prong and I nearly lost my life and burned down the house. I am cramming food for 5 people in my tiny freezer because I don't have the means to tear out a bench to make room for my chest freezer. My six year old is dehydrating herself on a strike against drinking water because we haven't hooked the ice maker/water dispenser on the refrigerator up since we moved in and she insists that the only good water to drink comes from the refrigerator. I need a man, or a woman, who can re-wire my dryer without orphaning my children, make two ridiculously small cuts with a skill saw to take out a bench, and run the water line for my refrigerator. I will pay, or I will trade you for cookies and/or beer, and let you pet my dog, who feels severely outnumbered in a house full of females. If you need a really ginormous and comfy love seat, you could have that too, but either way I am terrified to make another attempt at being an electrician, and I just don't have the tools and/or time to do the other stuff. The last love of my life took all of my tools when he left, bless his heart. Please let me know if you can do these things for me at some ridiculously inappropriate time, since I work 7/ 10 hour days a week. I have the dryer disassembled, the new cord ready to go, and I have no idea what I need for the ice maker. Maybe you do. If you are lucky my 10 year old will give you her impression of a jump-roping pig while you are here. Someone licensed and bonded would give me peace of mind, but I am open to someone with experience. 

Please email me and let me know how much you would charge, and if I should make you dinner. 

thank you,

Out of that ad, I ended up getting a guy who ran a company called Aspen Building somethingoranother, and by his correspondence seemed less expensive than the only other email I got, from some licensed and bonded dude who, several months later, would end up being my next ex husband (that's a whole different tale to tell). Aspen Building dude charged me plenty for doing about 25% of the work, and proceeded to ask me out. Maybe I really missed something there. Or maybe I should have just tried it again on my own.

All in all, the fact that both I and my children have survived my solo flight as a "functional" adult so far is nothing short of impressive. I continue to learn, sometimes at great expense, and burn out friendships. Because the only thing worse than being a third wheel is being a squeaky one that needs to borrow your grease all the time.

In all seriousness, I am eternally grateful to the Useful Husbands and the wives who have loaned them with no grudge, as well as the brother-in-laws, dads, uncles, neighbors and friends who have saved me from my own independent capabilities more than once. I CAN do it, but it's much easier with someone who knows how.

Things I Learned in Alaska

Did you know that moose love bananas? It’s true. And after extensive research on the internet and a heated discussion between mostly rational adults from 4 different moose-harboring states, the final consensus was that bananas cause no great detriment to the diet of your average moose.

Recently on a fire assignment outside of Anchorage (my first time in Alaska, by the way), I was thoroughly educated on the eating, or more appropriately, snacking habits of moose across the world. In fact, a moose farm (who knew there was such a thing?) in Sweden feed bananas as treats, especially to a moose named Ludwig who has a special penchant for the tropical fruit. This piece of information wasn’t the only semi-useless thing I learned during my time in Alaska, which was riddled with torrential rain and gusting winds. I also learned that more people are hit by lightning in Florida than anywhere in the world, but the places with the highest density of lightning strikes in the world are actually Venezuela and the Republic of Congo. There was some speculation that the human strike statistics have something to do with the high rate of walker and metal cane usage among retirees in the Sunshine State, but it’s more likely the sheer numbers of outdoor recreators that contribute to the issue.

It seems like in the land of the midnight sun and eternal winters people have come up with a lot of interesting ways to kill time. Because time is one limitless thing in Alaska - either daytime or night time - it stretches on forever like the tundra under the horizon. During my week long stay, I was informed that we lost 7 minutes of daylight every day, which means by the time I left, it was “dark” almost a full hour earlier than when I arrived. Similar to experiencing the heat of the sun in sub-Equatorial summers, it makes one keenly aware of the celestial dance in which our floating rock is a participant.

In Alaska, they make things like Gyro Pizza, and Red Bull Smoothies, and put Apricot jam in really inappropriate places like pizza and hamburgers. (If this sounds tempting to you, visit The Bombing Blue food truck in Colville where they must draw on their formerly Alaskan imaginations in the kitchen.) I also noticed drive through coffee stands sprinkled generously though every area I drove past. As if drivers might have to jump from stand to stand to get enough caffeine to survive the extra long days and nights like a game of hot lava on the couch cushions.

Contrary to all of the horror stories I had heard, I never saw a single mosquito during my week in Alaska, much less falling prey to the vicious, piranha-like feeding frenzy that I was braced for. Of course I was in Anchorage, in late July, which is Alaskan civilization at the peak of it’s best season, and it was pouring rain. Like, torrential downpours. As if the good Lord just knocked over his titanic mason jar of rain water right over my tent and didn’t notice. Lucky for me I got a brand new tent and sleeping bag just before I flew out, so I got to take them for an honest-to-goodness test run, and they were AWESOME.

Really, Alaska isn’t that different from Northeastern Washington. I mean, rubber boots are still a major fashion accessory through all seasons in both locations, and I am sure our moose like bananas too. It’s a small town vibe that makes you want to leave your doors unlocked and make an extra huge pot of coffee just in case friends drop by. The beauty of the jagged peaks surrounding a stormy body of water are steady reminders that it’s the outside world that brings us all to these places - the drama and the beauty that far surpass our own achievement. And in small towns, we know drama AND beauty.

On my last morning in Anchorage, I saw a little black bear - smaller than the one that frequents my Stevens County yard, but a black bear nonetheless. I guess even though I didn’t get to climb ice falls and glissade down glaciers, or eat whale blubber or hunt seals, I still feel like I got a good taste of the 49th state and it’s wild appeal. The weather was as tempestuous as the terrain, highs and lows of sunshiny meadows and thundering mountains. I would love to go back and really explore, but I am grateful for the glimpse that I got, and I’m pretty sure it will be there when I have time to go back and learn some more nearly-useless trivia and really put my camping gear to the test.

Things About Slime

It all started so innocently. I came home late one night from work and saw it - a dark and ominous presence lurking underneath the kitchen sink as comfortably as you care, clearly making himself at home. It was a slug. Not a huge one, a smallish, dark green, garden variety slug. I am not afraid of slugs. They remind me of growing up in Portland and the dank undergrowth of rotting bark and fern leaves. In some twisted way, I almost think they’re cute. Like a beauty-challenged shell-free version of a snail, and who doesn’t love snails?

Thinking I was brave and tolerant, I grabbed the slug and tried to disengage it from my kitchen floor. I was rewarded with slime covered fingers. I don’t know if you’ve ever had slug slime on your fingers, but I learned very quickly that it doesn’t wash off. Not with soap. Or vinegar. Or scalding hot water… Nope. Only time and violent abrasion remove slug slime. Lesson learned. Revising my extrication strategy I grabbed the little bugger with a paper towel and pulled him off the floor. It was an experience similar to stretching melted caramel off of a surface, and reluctantly, at last, the slug let go his gastro-clutch on the laminate and was relocated compassionately to the out-of-doors.

In the wake of record hot and dry summers, this one so far is going down in the books as one of the wettest in recent history. It’s the only thing I can fall back on as an explanation for the sudden emergence of slugs at my house. I have lived for 20 years in the area and never seen a slug. A few nights after the first sighting, I let my dachshund out into the yard and watched her sniff another specimen on the porch with curious disdain. I was happy that she wasn’t more interested as I flashed back to my parents wiener dog who liked to eat them, and could never get the slimy goo completely off of his teeth. Ever. The whole process involved far more chewing than I would imagine is healthy, and resulted in terrible breath for an extended period of time. In Edgar the Dachshund’s defense, I learned recently in my investigatory research that slugs are actually part of the human diet in some cultures. Although they can also result in violent gastro-intestinal illness and even death. I hope they’re tasty with that kind of risk involved. *shudder

Some important things you should know about slugs: They are referred to as Gastropods,drawing from the root words Gastro = stomach and pod = foot. Which basically means they walk with their stomachs. Based on everything I read I feel like it’s safe to assume that MOST of a slug is the stomach, followed by a collection of even weirder anatomical parts and pieces. Slugs are also hermaphrodites, which means they all possess both genders and have successfully surpassed humans in the evolutionary race as we are still trying to decide amongst ourselves which gender we should be. Interestingly, slugs are REALLY good at two things: eating and breeding - I guess something else that they share in common with basic humanity.

In fact they are so good at breeding that in the event they can’t catch the whiff of a romantic slime trail, they can reproduce with themselves. How’s that for self-sufficiency? Catch up, humans. There are the drawbacks among certain species of slugs that involve mating processes that require the chewing off of genitalia and oh yes, cannibalism, but when you’re as highly evolved as a slug, who’s gonna complain about little things like that? They are also not choosy about their mates (as self-reproduction would indicate), and have been known to cross breed with other varieties of slugs, creating hybrid super-slugs of greater size and tenacity.

After the midnight kitchen invader and the porch sitting slug encounter, I figured it was a fluke thing, until last night, when my best friend went to visit my bloodhound, who had gone on a neighborhood walkabout while I was out of town. My best friend likes to visit my dog. Mostly because she enjoys the thrill of driving around town to find him, chase him and tie him up to his leash in the backyard where he should have been in the first place. It’s pretty much her favorite pastime. Especially at 11:00 at night. On the particular evening in question, as she hunted through the sketchy overgrown grass (remember I am out of town) of my backyard for a camouflage dog lead, she accidentally flashed her phone light up on the outside corner of my house. Four giant slugs were making their merry, slimy way up the wall and probably toward my bedroom window, because that’s where most small creatures go to die (a story for another day).

In my reading, I discovered that in addition to being prolific reproducers, because they are totally boneless (like chicken tenders?) they can squeeze through the smallest of openings. I have several smallest of openings around my bedroom window, I am quite sure, where even the largest and most tenacious super-slugs could squish through. All the grossness.

While my best friend enjoys tracking down my reprobate bloodhound in the middle of the night, she was not keen on picking ½ pound slugs off of my house, so by the time I get home my bed will probably be the local nest of feasting and revelry for six generations of giant slugs.

The main point of my slug research was to determine the best way to exterminate the wet-weather invaders, but mostly what I discovered was that they are impervious to many of the recommended remedies. Natural repellents supposedly include coffee grounds, egg shells and human hair (that one would be easy to supply out of my house), but most of the comments led me to believe they were less than effective. Of course, many of the online sources were gardeners concerned for their crops and not panicked defenders of bedrooms. When I was a kid I learned that salt kills slugs, and might have performed a scientific experiment or two on resident slimers. Most gardening experts don't recommend salting garden spaces as the salination of the soil can affect crops, but I am not against salting my bedroom. I seriously doubt it would be as salty as I will be if I come home to a slug-fest in the house.

So, as an alternative to burning the house down and starting over, I will probably be salting slugs when I get home if anybody wants to come witness the scientific effect of osmosis when slug meets sodium chloride. You’re welcome to stop by and help me scrape the gooey remains of fatally dehydrated slime balls off my floor. Or I can just send pictures if that’s better.

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