Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pay it Backward

Yesterday I drove eight blocks or so out of my way to go to the Starbucks drive-thru because I was feeling so dreary that I didn't want to have to actually talk to anyone. The line was very long and I needed to get to work and I just felt lousy.

When I got to the window to get my Grande Latte, I was told that the car in front of me had paid for my drink and that I was the 23rd car in a string of people paying for the drinks of the car behind them. Wow! I said I wanted to continue the trend and she said great, that'll be $7.87. (My latte was only 3 something, but it was worth it.) I only had 7 bucks, but she took it and said that'd count.

It greatly improved my morning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Official

I guess I need to change the name of this blog. "Intra-Urban?" Maybe, "Post-Farm Urban Wife"?

We are moving back to the city as soon as possible. The commute has been too hard and too expensive. You haven't heard much from me here since I took the Swinery business manager job, and, well, part of that is because 10-15 hours of my week is spent commuting. Gabe goes in almost every day, so he's looking at more like 15-20 hours. Two ferry passes, $140 per week, and gas... The truck may be cool but it gets a cool 8 to 12 mpg, which means it's about a gallon each way, so what's that, $42 a week for him, about $15 a week for me.

We've been approved for a house in West Seattle, a far cry from this one, but nice in its own way. It's a 1927 Tudor, with cool built-ins and a full basement. The biggest down-side is that it doesn't have a dishwasher. We'll have to buy a portable. Yuck!

We go to sign the lease tomorrow and I'll take pictures then.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Afternoon, While the Kids are Watching Disney Upstairs

Does splitting
wood in the rain wash
blood off the axe?

"New agrarianism" sounds
pretty fantastic in print.
Feathers in the kindling,

new, chaotic red flowers
on my pink barn boots.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nightmare

I used to be in the habit of using the phrase "it was a nightmare" to describe an unpleasant situation. No more. Two nights ago I had the worst dream of my life. In short, it involved my preoccupation with the business resulting in the decapitation of one of my children. I will not go into detail but let me assure you that the dream was extremely graphic.

I've just written down the entire dream--first time I've ever done anything like that. I had one other horrible dream about a child's death once, a long time ago, and it still haunts me. (Same method, interestingly enough. I'm sure you wanted to know that.) I'm not saying that writing this one down made it any easier to deal with. I can't close my eyes without thinking of it, yet. But it felt right to do, and that's a start. I wrote it in a dark place, although I had considered posting it here for catharsis. I decided none of you need that kind of horror in your minds. Holding that image makes me feel dirty, but it won't go away.

Friday, October 16, 2009

And How Was Your Day?

Is everyone's life this surreal?

I mean, it's been a helluva day already. Crap you don't want to know and/or I can't tell you. From finances to smeared poop, it's been a doozy, okay? And I'm quietly enjoying my first moment of peace, halfway down a Mommy Magic*, when headlights paint the dining room and the phlegmy rattle of Gabe's Chevy sounds down the driveway.

I brought him a Maker's at the door, but he only took it and gave me a pained look and said, "I need your help," and backed out of the doorway again. I belatedly mentioned the chickens' considerate attention to our doorstep; it is covered in shit. Gabe looked dolefully at his feet and continued back into the yard.

Noelani remembered what was up before I did. "Can I see them?" she asked.

"Sure," came Gabe's reply from the darkened driveway--damn motion sensor light is burned out--and the details of our phone call 30 minutes ago came back to me quickly. I'd been in a flurry, between wiping bottoms and vacuuming up mouse-sized spiders, so no wonder I'd shoved it to the back corner of the brain.

A farmer had come by the kitchen this evening to drop off two veal cows and some mutton. And some ducks. Gabe had called him in a panic a few days before to add the ducks to the order. The farmer had asked whether we would pluck them. Having done this before (oh, god, that's a story), Gabe had hesitated, but agreed just this once.

The farmer brought the veal cows. He brought the mutton. And he brought the ten ducks, stuffed into a large sized dog crate... still quacking.

Apparently the scene at the kitchen, with our chef, Brian, screaming like a drill sergeant and our biggest, burliest apprentice in tears, had been comical and intense. The farmer volunteered to axe the ducks right there in the parking lot; having been turned down, he shrugged and left. Who the hell knows what happened between then and now, but here I was, mincing around chicken shits down the walk toward a quacking truck.

And then there I was, walking backward down our rain-slicked lawn, clutching half of the gawd-awfulest-smelling dog crate to my chest (the door latch was broken and the door kept flapping open otherwise), and then slip-sliding down the stone steps with said crate still so clutched. And then stepping gingerly into the too-soft straw in the chicken coop, setting the crate down, slapping open the door, and waiting for the ducks to emerge.

"Are you sure they're not dead?" I asked, referring to both the lack of motion within the crate and its hideous smell.

"I'm sure," Gabe said. Noelani stood with us and I was sure she shivered, thinking she'd just helped carry some dead ducks down to the chicken coop. But there was a stirring in the crate, and a muted "aahck," and then a progression of such, and soon the ducks were tumbling over each other, out of the crate.

From inside the chicken house came the indignant cackle of a very indignant-sounding hen.

"Let's go to bed," I said.

"Where's that drink," Gabe said.

"We're not going to kill them, are we?" asked Noelani.

"No, honey. We're not."

My Son the Super Villain

Me, upon tucking his red plaid Ralph Loren shirt (yes, Value Village) into his navy trousers: "Rhone, you look so handsome."

Rhone: "Do you mean I look... fantastic?"

Me, laughing: "Yes, you do."

Rhone: "Bella! Look at me! I look fantastic!"

***

In the car on a long freeway drive, Rhone suddenly began laughing the evil genius laugh: "Mwah-ah-ah-ah." He did this over and over again and then declared, "Mom, I'm a super villain."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah. And my name is... Yucky Man!"

"Wow, Yucky Man?"

"Yeah. And my super power is, I can spray yucky goo all over everyone."

Now where the hell did he come up with that? However, Yucky Man was short-lived. After he had covered me, Jezebel, Noelani, and all the passing cars in yucky goo, he had a personality alteration.

"I'm not Yucky Man anymore. Now I'm Dr. Shrinky."

"And what's your super power? Let me guess."

I couldn't help but wonder how Rhone had stumbled upon this fact of nature on his own at the tender age of three. Because I realized that it's true: after spraying the goo, all men become Dr. Shrinky.

Disclaimer: I swear to God (ok, yes, that's not super binding for me; how about swearing to my garden) that I did not make up anything about this exchange.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Palpitations

Are you supposed to be able to feel your heart whacking against your ribs at times of stress? I consulted WebMD and it seems I shouldn't worry unless I also can't breathe at the time. Right. I'll keep you posted.

[
Rhone, to me after I began singing in the car the other day: "Mom, I think you're a bad singer."

Me: "Rhone! That's not very polite. If you don't want to hear me sing right now, how about, 'Mom, I'd rather you didn't sing right now.'"

Rhone: "Mom, I'd rather you didn't sing right now forever."
]

Basically: same shit, different day. I discovered an enormous quilt-batting-looking cobweb (made by those elusive cob spiders, I'm sure) in my dining room today. But... it's still there, because I didn't have time to embark on a cleaning campaign.

Got another paycheck today, but can't cash it til the business has the money. Sucks being the one employee who knows those details. I only had 20 hours of overtime on this check, so it's getting better. Remember this was a part-time job.

I'm uninspired. No, beyond that; I feel numb, like I can't write or don't remember how. Usually phrases flash through my mind or at least I am struck by interesting words. Right now I feel insulated from that, and not in a good way. I want it back, but... I don't have time for it anyway. Just another depressing thing to add to my list.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting Older and Saggier

Wearing a new ("new" read: Value Village new) shirt yesterday, I asked Gabe what he thought of it. He got a very diplomatic face on and said "hmmm. I like it. I would suggest wearing a bra with it, though."

I said: "I am."

A Day Late and Lots of Dollars Short

I don't even have to take the first sip of coffee to get the bliss hit: just smelling it is enough. When making lunches or breakfast or otherwise diverting my attention elsewhere, I will sometimes pour a cup and wait until I'm in a peaceful enough moment to take the first sip so I can appreciate it fully.

It's a gorgeous day from the kitchen table. My view of the backyard shows that the grass is overgrown and lush; it looks like moss from here, with gold highlights where the sun is hitting it and deeper forest shadows elsewhere. The chickens are up and there's a very light breeze moving the rosebush and the lavender, which is confusedly blooming right now.

I'm sort of amazed how I can step back from writing to throw myself into other work and I don't really miss it. I don't feel any poems swimming around in my dark sea, trying to crawl up onto solid ground and be born; there's no urge to blog or jot down phrases or even read. I don't feel sad or bad about this--I know it will come back. More just wonderous that I can switch gears so smoothly. This old girl still has a good clutch.

These last few weeks I've been so overwhelmed with my to-do list for The Swinery, and trying to be as supportive as I can to Gabe in his last frenzy of holding the pieces together. It's tough to defend him against others who finally seem to think he's crazy; the other day I had to put my foot down on an old friend who just went too far telling me the connections between Gabe's personality and the demise of Culinary Communion. Bah.

Pardon me if, switching-gears style, I jump subjects here. Vashon has been so very good to us, and this home has been a healing place, but I miss my friends. Earlier this week I had a sort of emotional mini-crisis and texted a friend and got back "sorry, sweetie." I feel so removed from my support network. Maybe that's good, in a way; maybe I needed to learn to take care of and support myself better instead of relying on friends to always drop by and cheer me up. I'm relying on myself more now because I have to. (The increasing size of my butt, if nothing else, has been encouraging me to try to change my mental outlook myself without a little pick-me-up drinkie at the end of the day. So that's good too.)

Is there some sort of cohesive thread to stitch all these thoughts together? I don't know. I love the work I'm doing, I love working with Gabe again. The best moments have been when the two of us, and Damiana too because she's such a badass, have been working together in synch behind the counter and I am reminded so strongly of how we used to work together, quietly and with the same thought process, for CC. I've really been enjoying that. I love the other parts of my new job, too, all except for the lack of money part--it's hard to run a business that's broke, although now that we have an actual revenue stream I am enormously encouraged.

----
OK, this post has sat unfinished for almost two days. Sheesh.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Er, See Last Week's Post

Still too busy to think, let alone write anything. In the last 7 days I have logged 79.5 hours on the clock (for my "part-time" job...). Jeez, before taxes, that's almost enough for rent.

Sigh.

And more to do. I hope to emerge soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Loving My Job

Way behind on everything, from friendships to laundry, because we are full tilt toward getting the shop opened. After the plumbing fiasco last week, we're on track for opening this Monday, the 21st. I'd say "come hell or high water," but we've seen both, and I don't want to tempt the fates.

The chickens hate me, the kids are getting concerned about that horrid smell wafting from the kitchen, and I am way behind on my own publishing schedule for Eat Your Words. But working does feel really good, and I forgot the rush of being so busy you can't think straight. I have been feeling so swamped I'm wired--without coffee!

Will get back to blog when I can. Meanwhile, thanks for the support. Come down and see us Monday! I'd post the web site but it's not finished yet... ha ha. Here's the old-fashioned address: 3207 California Ave SW, West Seattle.

P.S. Maybe I mentioned it, maybe I forgot. This craziness is due to the fact that I agreed to be the Swinery's business manager. For at least awhile.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rags to Riches

I love going to Value Village and getting a great deal on used clothing. I love the idea of thrift shopping and reuse, knowing that I'm not directly paying for my clothes to be made by child laborers. I love the cool stuff I can find at the thrift store and the ability to try out different styles and learn something about what works for me, fashion-wise, for just a couple bucks.

But I hate thrift-store shopping with two small children, and when I have to go there because the kids have outgrown their shoes and we don't have any money, it gives me that lame feeling of being poor. I remember that feeling from being a kid, hanging from the railing at the checkout stand--or from the ceiling, more likely--while my mom paid for our groceries with food stamps. I remember learning at a young age what it meant to "pawn" something. It's a lousy feeling.

I felt that today as I left Value Village, one huge bulging shopping bag in my right hand while I held Jezebel with that arm and held Rhone's wrist with the other hand, marching grimly across the parking lot.

The feeling lingered in Costco, where I had only $110 (in cash) to spend and no more. Going through the store with both kids in the cart, I carefully added the cost of everything I was buying, including the $20 box of wine. The box contains 5.3 bottles, it says, so this makes wine cheaper than beer to drink; maybe I can start getting rid of this gut. (Yes, yes. I realize that teetotaling altogether would be cheaper and lower in calories. Have you seen my life? And no, I do not want to discuss whether that comment indicates any form of dependence whatsoever. I'm not defensive about this in the slightest. Really!)

I left Costco feeling good about what I'd purchased on my budget. (I love to look at other people's purchases and guess about their lifestyle. I admit I'm a bit catty. Well, perhaps more than a bit.) But in the car heading back up the freeway--we were heading home from our first Thursday visit to Olympia of the school year--I needed something beautiful. I didn't identify this need until I turned the radio on and got a Beethoven symphony, but suddenly that did it for me, and I was able to mentally match up the need that music filled with the hole eaten away at Value Village. How wonderful that we can turn on the radio and find the beauty that's floating unseen across the airwaves, through buildings and bodies and trees and hills.

So I'd recovered from my poor-white-trash funk before we got on the ferry. I'd promised the kids a snack on the boat and we went upstairs with some of our Costco bounty, and suddenly I found myself feeling rich as we snapped into our rosemary croccatini and I broke open a small wheel of brie with my hands. I doled out "cheese and crackers" for about ten minutes and the kids wolfed it down with much smacking of lips and appreciation. Outside, the sun shone brightly, Mt. Rainier stood like a silent god in a white-feathered cape, and the water sparkled sapphire. I thought, We may not be able to afford much right now, but damned if we don't appreciate what we have to the fullest.

There was one more definition on the spectrum of the afternoon. I took the kids up to the garden awhile ago because I'd seen lots of red tomatoes. Lately, having the kids in the garden is an exercise in self-restraint. Not theirs, unfortunately; mine. After a few minutes of their picking green tomatoes and stepping on plants I have to restrain myself from violence. It's been so stressful to take them in there that I've been neglecting the garden. (And, ok, I've also taken a job which has radically decreased my time for gardening, poetry, publishing, laundry, and dishes.)

But the stars were aligned today, it seems, or the light was slanting through the evergreens at just the right angle, or the wind was right. Whatever it was, the kids were mellow and restrained. When I asked Jezebel to stop picking green tomatoes, I got back a sing-songy "Okay." Rhone didn't pick anything without asking first, didn't break any branches, and even helped Jez through the thicker parts of the blueberry patch.

It went on. The raspberries are fruiting again--I've never heard of this--and I picked a quart of thumb-sized berries in five minutes. There are another variety of plums on the tree, and they're ripe now; sweet like candy and falling off the tree into my hand. There's a second dwarf apple tree I never noticed before, and its fruit are as big as softballs. Blackberries are dangling right at eye level from the impenetrable woods right over the garden fence, perfect for picking. The red tomatoes are neither all ripe nor all rotten, so there will be more for at least another couple of weeks unless it freezes.

Walking back from the garden I held two grocery bags in my right hand and Jezebel's sticky, plummy fingers in my left, and felt really, really rich indeed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm Sensitive / And I'd Like to Stay That Way

Wow. Forgot what it was like working and trying to raise two kids. Sheesh. Days thick with things/activity like pasta loaded with too much butter. Which is what I had for dinner. Goddamn venison pot roast seems to require approximately 9 hours more than I'd estimated. Still rubbery.

Rhone started first day of "homeschool" preschool @ neighbor's home today. Seemed to go well, Celina said he did great and was very attentive and responsive, but later today his attitude was shit. I seem to remember this from his other preschool. Worth it? Not sure yet.

Brian & Kian stopped by to play this afternoon. To the extent that one "stops in" when one's friend lives on an out-of-the-way island. I appreciate the effort. The boys don't play too well together, really, but it's important that they keep interacting, anyway. For both of them.

Worked more than I have since I retired today: at least 7 hours total. I used to think that sounded like a morning. Because it was. But that's just time I can legitimately charge to the business. Been up since 6:30, thinking about it constantly; where's the difference? Guess I'm used to being on salary. Think I need a higher hourly rate. Ha.

As you may have seen, took Noelani back to her dad's for the school year Sunday. Sucked. 'Nuff said.

BBQ at my brother's yesterday. Did I mention my little brother has bought a house? Ok, a condo. Do I own shit? Well, yes, lots of it! Do I own a house? No, never. Jealous? Of what--the "low-danger" lifestyle my brother himself says he leads, or the ownership, or the security, or the lack of kids, or the 48" computer monitor (his TV is bigger)? Um... not sure whether I care to and/or can answer that.

BBQ was great. Nice to see that my "little" brother's friends are aging just as I am. (Yes, I'm still feeling the sting of 37. I know I'll laugh at myself in just a few years, issue myself a "Fuck you" citation just as I did only a few days ago to my poor innocent childless friends, whatever. Still, it feels like another year of being neither Mary Shelley nor Melinda Gates.)

Also, very nice to see family at the BBQ. Haven't seen my dad in ages. Feel itch of guilt that he moved into a condo 8 blocks from my old place, then we lost that building in what now feels like a firestorm of assholes and assignations [my, that was poetic] and moved to a fucking island.

Also @ BBQ saw my aunt and her SO and my cousin, feels like the only place I ever see them is Costco. Well, because that's true. What's that say about me? [That's a Jewel song. My mind is clearly moving way faster than it should be.] Regardless, was nice to see them someplace with chairs.

Ok. Maxed out for words. Best news of day: As I type, fingertips of left hand sore from guitar strings. Backing up... got guitar for birthday. Ultra excited. Can finally [learn to] play Jewel songs around fire pit. And others. "And the leaves that are green / Turn to brown."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Last Sailing of Summer

draft 9/7/09

My daughter and I boarded
the ferry on foot and whiled
away the short

but so-long passage
with tic-tac-toe, using newly sharpened
Hello Kitty pencils from her snappy

new case, and discussion
of which teacher she hoped to have this year.
As the boat slowed we descended

and stood waiting on the tongue-
shaped rusty #2 end, arms
around each other, quietly,

in the post-storm breeze, until
"There's my Dad! HI DAD!!"
and the bump of the ferry's unknown

floating tons against the unmovable
creosote pilings, cars behind us rocking
on their springs. I walked her up the ramp

to the waiting other family,
kissed her firmly and told her to be
good. "Have a great first day

of school," and then paid the crotchety
old woman my single return fare.
Placed my feet carefully on the rain-

damp ramp back to the #2 end,
chin up and blinking briskly,
eyeing with envy the big red button

labeled "Tension Release Switch,"
for staff use only. All the return crossing
wanting to cry, I could not.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Falling Down on the Job

Last night as I was saying goodnight to Noelani, I said, "Honey, we only have two days left of the summertime before you switch back to dad's." My custody schedule has her with me most of the summer, and with him most of the school year, with once weekly plus every-other-weekend visitations by the other parent.

I drew her to me. "Noelani, could those two days please be days where I don't have to beg you or yell at you to do your chores?"

She looked up at me and nodded dutifully, but she looked like she wanted to cry. I thought I knew why, and smiled sympathetically. "Were you hoping I was going to say you didn't have to do any chores for the last two days?"

"No. I was hoping you were going to say you wanted to spend more time with me, not talk about chores."

The girl really knows how to drive a stake right through her mother's heart. She's gonna be quite a woman. I can just see her sucker-punching some boyfriend like that in a fight. Damn.

I replied honestly that I'd like to spend more time with her, too, but that the chore situation had me so upset that it was hard to want to. And it's true. She was quite good about chores at the beginning of the summer when we first assigned them, but since then it's gotten more and more difficult to get her to do them. On a good day I might have to remind her only 12-20 times for them to get done. On a bad day they never get all the way done. I get so tired of telling her, and reminding her, and dealing with her attitude.

I'm sure this is what she wants. Gabriel and several friends have told me they can see in her face when my back is turned that she is certainly capable of manipulating me. Now I wish we could do the whole summer over and I could lay down the law better, but I'm just learning how to do this. I feel disappointed in myself that I have been unable to create an environment with firm boundaries in which she did what was expected of her and we were both happy. At this point we're both unhappy, and I'm not sure how to fix it. But I know that setting boundaries is something she expects, even unconsciously, of me, and I didn't live up to it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Almost Birthday To Me

To all the childless friends I have who've thought they're "too old" on their 37th birthday, or thereabouts: FUCK YOU. Try it with two whining toddlers and a sulky ten-year-old. When you realize how far you have to go before your real "adult life" can restart, then you feel really old.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Three New Poems Up

... on Here & Now, the poetry blog of Allen Itz. My poems are about 1/3 of the way down the long page. The last one, "These Fourteen Years," I wrote about my grandmother about an hour before she died--she in Texas, me at home in Washington. I knew she was going any day, but still the coincidence gave me chills.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fascinated with Parenthetical Remarks

Well, it was a productive if exhausting and somewhat frustrating day. Got up at 7 to see Gabe off, and had just sat down to coffee and computer when a little voice called clearly: "Mommy! Up!" Jez has learned a ton of new words in the last week or so, "Mommy" among them. (I prefer "Mama," but she's headstrong.)

[Brief interruption in typing for first ice-cube-clinking moment of the evening. Deep breath.]

Still, this morning I managed to get off a blog post for The Swinery--as of yesterday I am its new business manager (!!!)--and publish the third issue of Eat Your Words, which I think is pretty good. And fold two loads of laundry--oh shit the red sheets are still on the line--strain and freeze the 3 quarts of chicken stock I made yesterday, and probably some other crap I can't remember.

Frustrated by kids all morning but, uniquely, this time mostly by Noelani. She seems to want to be dragged to chores by the hair, kicking and screaming. I am fed up to here with telling her to do them. Her computer cord broke, or I'd take that privilege away. I hate to take away books. Finally I made it clear she would not be going to Wild Waves with my sister on Monday if I had to tell her again to either do the chores or improve the attitude. Things changed miraculously after that. Too bad we can't afford to dangle Wild Waves in front of her every week.

Productive afternoon, too. During Jez's nap even I got an attitude shift. Put Rhone in his favorite spot--the couch in front of Curious George videos from the library--and went out to the garden. After a week of picking blackberries on the sides of roads, fighting nettles and thorns, I found they are dangling like grapes over the fence into the garden. Picked over a gallon, plus a few blueberries. Then Rhone came out to the garden and helped me stake up three tomato plants which were lying in the dirt.

(Rhone's newest word is "fascinated," but he uses it backward. "Those little chicks are fascinated at me," he said today. "And soon they're going to hatch," he added, at which I laughed because he's talking about the rockery plant called hen-and-little-chicks. Did you know the word fascinate has its root in magic? From the Latin fascinare, to bewitch, to cast a spell on.)

This evening I made cream of celery soup for dinner, because I accidentally bought too much celery. It was remarkably tasty, and I froze 5 cups for future use after we ate it for dinner. Washed and froze the blackberries I'd picked, talked to my mother-in-law on the phone, bathed the kids, and got them in bed. Ahhh.

[On cue. Brief interruption to soothe Jez and check on Rhone, whom I found half-under his bed trying to get hold of a kitten. Fresh cup of water. Goodnight, again. It has now been over 40 minutes since I put them into bed.]

I've been on quite a utilization kick this month. Comes from being too broke to frequent the grocery store much. Normally if I found that I'd accidentally bought two whole--heads?--of celery, which is far more than anyone needs for bloody marys and potato salad combined, I'd shrug and say "huh" and shove the second one in the back of the fridge. I'd find it a month later and discard it. Now my first thought is, "how can I use that?"

Goddamn dog is barking his bleeding head off again. When I started this blog I really wanted a dog. I should have looked into breeds' barking habits. I found him barking at an airplane the other day. No wonder.

It's going well, though. Overall, that is.

Oh, there's Jezebel again. "Mommy" is off the clock, kiddo. Yeah, right. :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Suddenly, After a Dry Summer

Sad sodden comforter on the laundry line;
wading pool overflows
with unexpected rain.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Smaug Poems

I picked up The Best American Poetry 1999 the other day cause it's what the library had. I'm enraptured. It's edited by Robert Bly, and I read his whole introduction; it's made me look at these (and all) poems differently. Bly talks about poems having "heat," which he doesn't really describe but lets you get to contextually; I'd say he's talking about a combination of passion, intensity, truth, and somehow a window to the divine, all wrapped up in the guise of words. It's the heat you get when the poem "brings the soul up close to the thing," allowing the reader to bypass the normal physical, intellectual, and emotional hurdles humans have when taking in new information. It's as if these poems, and any poems which have this quality of heat, are the rare arrows which fly straight and true to that one tiny paper-thin scale on the immense bulk of the whole diamond-scaled dragon, taking each poem's meaning straight to our hearts.

Like this:

Now in my dial of glass appears
the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

And look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

from Keith Richards' "How to Kill", written during WWII.

Or just this:

Outside, in the distance, the endless rain
of shells and sough of trains behind the hills.
The old world falling to its knees like an elephant.

from Chard Deniord's "Pasternak"

Or this:

Waving Goodbye

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

by Gerald Stern

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Done and Glad

Jezebel's going to turn two next month, and it occurred to me recently that she's already older than Rhone was when she was born. They look alike, but they are SO very different. Wow.

It also occurred to me, just now, that the last full 22 months I went without being pregnant began in 2003. Just wrapped up another... the beginning of a long string, you might say.

I love my children. I love being a mom: more specifically, the mother of three. Exactly three.

I know the nostalgia for babyhood will come later. It's not here yet.

Squirreling

I am enjoying one of my favorite summertime snacks: cold cottage cheese (Nancy's cultured) with a whole warm tomato chopped on top, then salt, loads of black pepper, and a generous sprinkling of tiny homemade bacon bits. Damn, it's good.

Cottage cheese. Nancy's contains skim milk, cream, nonfat dry milk, cultures, and salt. Darigold, of which I like the flavor also, contains cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, nonfat milk, cream, whey, salt, maltodextrin, citric acid, guar gum, carrageenan, carob bean gum, dextrose, polysorbate 80, acetylated mono- and diglycerides, natural flavor, enzymes.

Why? Is it somehow cheaper for them to make it with all that extra stuff? In the container, they seem very similar. Nancy's has a sharper flavor, and of course it costs more.

I want to be making my own: cottage cheese, sour cream, butter, mozzarella. (I bought some mozz from Costco the other day and it was just awful. Beautiful little pearls that tasted like cardboard.) Am I ready for a cow? I don't think so... I don't have a fence, for one thing--minor detail--or a barn. And I'm not sure if I can commit to milking every damn day. But I'm getting closer.

The plastic that's piling up in my recycling area is part of it, too. Out here we can only recycle #1 and #2. Cottage cheese containers and the like are usually #5. So I stack it all up and take it to my mom's, because their municipality (Lacey) can recycle all the different types. Even so, not using the stuff is a lot better than using and recycling it, anyway.

We bought a book several months ago called The Encyclopedia of Country Living. There's a section in there on raising cows. I think I'll read up on it.

Speaking of Country Living, I am starting to feel like a squirrel: there's so much to do around here before winter.

Gabe's been bringing home some of the scrap wood from the remodel of the store. Today Noelani and I started removing nails from the thin little laths and breaking them up to kindling size, filling paper bags with them. We got two full bags--I figure each one might last two to three weeks if we are making a fire every day, which I anticipate doing. We barely made a dent in the pile of laths.

There are more berries to pick. The blueberries are still coming, which is good because I don't have any in the freezer, and now there are blackberries on. I'd like to make another gallon or so of jam, then start doing pies for the freezer.

We don't have enough firewood to last the winter and I don't want to buy it. There are many big snags on the property, several close enough to the meadow that we could take them down and have most of the sawing-up take place in the clear area. This is not something I can do myself, though, at least not with the kids around! I need someone to help me take down several of the trees, and then I could cut them myself at times when Noelani could watch both of the little ones. Except that I only have Noelani here for a short time longer. School starts all too soon and then she's back to her dad's the majority of the time.

There's a hazelnut tree on the north side of the meadow, just at the edge. I want to clear all the brush around it so that it will be easy to gather the nuts. Like a squirrel.

Before I start more brush-clearing, I need to finish what Gabe and I have already started. A few weeks ago, just as the weather was spiking up to that record 103 degrees, he whacked down the blackberries, nettles, and other brush behind the play structure and the chicken house, an area about 5 yards back toward the woods and maybe 50 feet wide. Since then I've been hauling all the downed brush into one big pile behind the compost. (I don't want blackberries in the compost, they'll just grow up in the garden later.) As soon as I get that project done, I can buy a few fence posts and expand the outdoor chicken run area, and then we can get some more chickens. The birds we have aren't laying worth shit right now, and Negro is STILL broody, sitting on her nest most of the time and not laying.

(Brief rooster update here: Babe-raham Lincoln, the new rooster, is still not crowing and still lets the hens chase him around, so I can tell I'm not much closer to getting fertilized eggs. He'd better start earning his keep pretty soon or I'm going to start calling him Coq au Vin.)

Anyway, there's all this to do and much more before it starts to rain. Soon the apples and grapes will be on, and I'm sure I'll think of more in between. Also I think I want to start baking our bread instead of buying it. And there's the book to write... Clearly I sleep too much. Think I'll make another pot of coffee.

No, I will never go locavore enough to stop drinking coffee. I know, and I'm sorry; I recycle and reduce all the more to make up for it.

Rusty Chef

To re-inspire myself to keep working on the book, to keep myself honest, to tell the world I really am writing a book, and I guess just because I feel like it, I'm pasting in the chapter I just finished.

I've been hung up on this chapter for months. I avoided writing it, finally got started, and then put it off continually. It was a painful memory, but I didn't want to just skip this part and move on. It had become a blockade, and finally this morning I just made myself finish it. It's closing in on a year since I started this book and I'm not even close to half done, so I've got to keep going. I think now that I have gotten past this hurdle, I can do that.

So, here it is for the world to see. I don't care if anyone reads it. At least it's done. (Un-edited, yes, but the first draft's done.) Some names have been changed to protect the assholes.





Chapter 8: Rusty Chef



The business was getting off the ground slowly, but it wasn't enough. We were still scrambling for money at every turn. We offered as many classes as Gabe could sustain—ok, more—in a shotgun approach to bringing in as much revenue as possible. By late spring we were doing six or seven classes a week, and we were drowning.

The problem was marketing, and that was my department. Students walked away from classes raving; we had an enormous return rate, something like 80% within three months. People loved the product; I just had to make sure more people knew about it.

Gabriel hates the library; I'm not sure why. He says it smells moldy. I offered to take him to one of Seattle's many newly remodeled branches. He said they all smelled moldy, new or old; it's the books. So for research, we went to Barnes & Noble and curled up in their big cushy armchairs. He would flip through a stack of cookbooks, and I'd crunch food magazines or marketing books.

I was reading Guerrilla Marketing in just such a situation when I was struck by the idea for Rusty Chef. The book suggested throwing a charity event as one way to get the word out about your business. I squinted at it and thought, hmm, what kind of charity event would we be able to do? and suddenly it hit me, fully-fledged like Athena: "Seattle's Rusty Chef Amateur Cooking Competition."

The event would be a cook-off between two amateur cooks, regular people like our students. We'd highlight our services by giving each contestant a full day of training with Gabe. Then, at the event, they'd go head to head using a mystery basket of ingredients to create a 3-course meal in 90 minutes. We'd have local celebrity chefs do the judging, and Gabe would MC. Guests could mill about and watch the contestants cook, eat a buffet dinner, and bid at a silent auction. All proceeds would go to benefit FareStart, a Seattle charity offering restaurant job training to the homeless; the exposure with them would bring us lots of press.

Even though I am obviously a genius for coming up with such a brilliant idea in one split second, bringing such an event to fruition is another story indeed. Just as with all of Culinary Communion, if someone had told me in advance how much work I was getting myself in for, I probably would've chickened out. But I had never planned a major event. "I've planned two weddings," I told Gabe. "How hard can it be?"

It was significantly more difficult, and more work, than I could possibly have imagined, but I didn't realize that until it was far too late to pull the plug: we were committed.

The Savage appliance distributor, Sellway, had agreed to host the event. They had two working kitchens in their showroom and would get the opportunity for guests—we settled on 60—to meander among their products all evening. We publicized the search for contestants and did a random drawing of the entrants, resulting in the two contenders: Shellie Slettebak, who had been taking classes with us for months, and Shane Johnson, who'd taken one class.

Each contestant received a full day of training with Gabe—this was supposed to be eight hours but wound up being at least twelve. We had a student, Jeri Vaughn, who was in the documentary film business, and I talked to her about taping the event in the hopes of shopping it to networks as a possible show for the next year. "It will have to be gratis, this time, but hopefully next year…"

Jeri jumped on this idea and sent a cameraman to both of the training days. We staged the contestants' walking up to the door, the knock, and Gabriel answering in his chef coat.

For each training day we prepared two mystery baskets, each with twenty ingredients, just as the contestants would have for the real event. In the mornings the contestants talked through the contents of the basket with Gabriel, came up with a 3-course menu with his help, and then executed it with his assistance, guiding and teaching. We dissected the success of the meal over lunch, then cleaned up. In the afternoons the contestants launched into the second mystery basket. They designed the menu without input and then cooked it with Gabriel acting as sous chef, taking direction but not volunteering information or help. Each contestant was allowed an assistant during the actual event, and this was how the assistants would participate.

Meanwhile, I was at work on the rest of the event. I had never been to an auction of any kind, so putting together the silent auction was a stab in the dark. Fortunately, I had a lot of help from the events coordinator at FareStart, an incredibly sweet girl named Jayne who happened to know our friend Todd. Jayne looked just like Mary Jane, Spiderman's girlfriend; she was a knockout. She didn't seem to realize this, though, or that her natural klutziness just added to her charm. I was terribly intimidated when we first met, both by her looks and by her obvious competence in her job, but she immediately spilled her latte, breaking the ice. Before I got back to being afraid of her, I liked her immensely.

Jayne suggested I just ask vendors we worked with to make donations and that the auction would do itself from there. I started with Savage, moved on to the wine shop Portalis, and in total was able to procure about two dozen items of varying value. It wasn't a lot, but it was a start for the first year of the event.

I was also lucky enough to get all of the catering donated by Baci Catering, a company we'd sought a relationship with several months before. People were always asking us whether we'd cater their weddings or parties, and although Gabe desperately wanted to do this because it was so lucrative, he agreed that we didn't have time. (Licensing, schmeicensing. That wasn't a real consideration back then. Ah, what fools…)

Baci's head chef was a woman named Kären Jurgensen, whom we immediately loved upon meeting; we later hired her as our first employee. Once Gabriel was at a loss for a recipe to highlight duck confit and called Kären. She suggested a braised red cabbage salad with duck confit, goat cheese, and pine nuts. Gabe complained that red cabbage wasn't sexy. Kären fired back immediately: "What kind of Dane are you?" and hung up. He called back, apologized contritely, saying that his Gypsy blood must be polluting the sensible Danish side, and tried the salad; it was phenomenal and is still one of Culinary Communion's most popular recipes ever.

Kären's boss, Nola, the owner of Baci, agreed to donate all of the labor to cater the Rusty Chef event; we just had to pay hard costs for the food. I had no idea what a coup this was or how rare in the catering industry until much later. We really lucked out by hooking up with Baci.

Because the event was for a great charity, it seemed everyone wanted to pitch in to help. I got the sound system donated, with a cordless mike for Gabe and speakers to set up around the showroom. We printed posters at a discount, but did have to pay to have them distributed.

I wanted a panel of five judges, and the first five people I asked agreed to judge. The local celebrity chef was Jonathan Sundstrom, then the executive chef at Earth & Ocean restaurant in the W Hotel; this was before he opened his own place (Lark) and was named one of Food & Wine Magazine's top 10 chefs in the nation. Two members of the food press, Roger Downey of the Seattle Weekly and Cynthia Nims of Seattle Magazine, were judges. I'd hoped one of them would write about the experience; this didn't happen, but Roger did interview us for a story about Culinary Communion a few weeks before the event. That was better, anyway.

As soon as I opened my eyes on the day of the event I realized how very much stuff I still had left undone, and Gabriel and I were at a dead run the entire day. We arrived at Sellway fresh from Kinko's, with judging forms and menus hot off the press. Frank, the manager of the Sellway showroom, was peeved that we were late; I answered his ninety new questions as best I could while dashing back and forth from the car to the kitchens, unloading at a sprint. He followed as I went back and forth with a disapproving glare, and did not offer to lift a finger.

"OK, that's it," I sighed breathlessly, heaving the last bus tub of equipment up onto the counter where Gabe was setting up. We had been very careful to make sure that each contestant got exactly the same equipment; this had meant buying new stuff in some situations—we only had one Microplane grater, only one peeler—but we had really needed duplicates, anyway. It just made the event that much more expensive for us: the cash outlay for those items compounded upon the days we'd gone without classes for the training and preparation. We'd started wondering whether this event was worthwhile, but once again, it was far too late in the game to do anything about it.

"Except the cutting boards," Gabe replied, hurriedly sorting wooden spoons out from the entanglement of whisks.

I checked my mental picture of the back of the Explorer: empty. "You must have brought them in."

He looked up at me and we stared at each other for a moment. We already knew there was no such thing as a decent cutting board around; we'd been doing classes here since January. Without a word we split off in different directions, he to the other live kitchen and I back out to the car to look again. We rendezvoused only a few seconds later, both shaking our heads.

"I'll go," I said. "You have to set up the kitchens and the pantries." In addition to their mystery baskets, the contestants had identical pantries including staples such as flour, sugar, chicken stock, and onions—some 40 items in all. Gabe had packed these up this morning, but still had to label them and sort one per kitchen.

He nodded and we kissed quickly. "Thanks. Drive safe. And fast."

I brushed past Frank on the way out the door. "I'll be right back. Could you show the cameramen where to stow their stuff, and get the PA system set up? Thanks Frank." There was no point waiting for an answer.

I gunned the Explorer and made record time back to Queen Anne. The cutting boards were stacked neatly by the door; nothing about the rest of the house was neat in the slightest bit. Rather, it looked like a hurricane had blown through. I just shook my head at it and jumped back in the car. I waved at the lady next door as I roared off; she was the only neighbor who even remotely liked us.

The showroom was a totally different place by the time I returned; my "right back" had been an just under 90 minutes. I hustled the cutting boards straight to the closest kitchen.

"That was fast," Gabe said appreciatively. He had already put on his sparkling white, carefully iRoned chef coat and was rolling up the sleeves.

Kären's contingent had arrived and were bustling around setting up the buffet down the long line of washers and dryers along the west windows. I waved at Kären and she winked at me over Frank's head as she assured him that the appliances wouldn't be damaged if someone spilled. Jayne was in the fRont, setting up the silent auction down a long table. I picked up one of the auction forms she'd brought, just to see what they looked like. We hugged quickly. At least food service experience had given me enough event know-how to move like lightning and still be pleasant; knowing the people I was working with were like-minded was so reassuring.

"Jayne, you look gorgeous," I told her.

"Oh," she said dismissively, smiling. "Thanks for bringing everything! This is awesome. I didn't know about some of these items. The Mariners package is going to go big. You did a great job!"

I blushed. "Thanks!"

I'd hung my dress in the employee restroom, and now made a beeline for that before anyone else arrived. I'd shopped very carefully for this dress; it was unlike anything I'd ever owned. Gabe had been very firm about my needing to look fabulous tonight. He was the MC; I'd be the hostess. I'd derisively described my duties as "being Vanna." He'd laughed but nodded, with a little shrug. "Yeah, pretty much. No one watches Wheel of Fortune to look at Pat Sajak."

The dress was black and sleeveless, with a deep V at neck and back; it was clingy, but had little darts to shirr the fabric along the abdomen, so it wasn't too clingy for a girl who had no time to exercise beyond running from one day to the next. I slapped on lipstick, mascara, and some eye shadow in the space of under two minutes. A little "Short, Sexy Hair" gel did the trick on my head, and I was done. I slid into high but comfortable heels, kicked my backpack into a corner, and let myself back into the fray.

In the five minutes I'd spent in the bathroom, it seemed a bus had unloaded into the Sellway showroom. I saw Jon Sundstrom and headed over to say hi, placing a hand on Frank's shoulder with a quick "excuse me" as I pushed past.

He turned at the sound of my voice, still looking annoyed, mouth already talking. "I thought we talked about the buffet being set up on tables, not… You look nice." His expression was confused.

"Jeff agreed the tables would get in the way," I reminded him without stopping. "Hi, Jon, nice to see you again! Thank you so much for doing this."

It's the same in theatre as in the food business and probably every other kind of entertainment on earth: once the show has begun and your body is pumped with adrenaline, time seems to hit a Class 5 rapids and you're just along for the ride, loving every second. Before I could turn around, guests were pouring in the door. Suddenly I needed to get on the mike and start the show. I hadn't had time to stress about this beforehand and just picked up the mike, not really caring that I had not given a moment's thought to what I was going to say. This was my show and I knew it inside and out.

"Good evening," I said, allowing my lips to almost brush the surface of the microphone. Keeping the mike too far from your mouth is the biggest mistake of every amateur public speaker I've ever seen. My voice came back from the corners of the room, sounding professional even to me. The babble of the crowd died down. "Good evening, everyone, and thank you for coming to the first annual Seattle's Rusty Chef Amateur Cooking Competition!"

It was a blur. I whirled around the room, greeting people and finding napkins and pouring wine and trying to keep tabs on how the contestants were doing. We presented the mystery baskets, which Kären had selected so as to avoid any bias toward the contestants' skills or weak spots. The contestants then had fifteen minutes to write up their 3-course menus, which must utilize all the ingredients but one—they were allowed one discard. Then we began the 90-minute cooking period, and Gabe kept up an almost-constant running commentary on who was doing what, just like on the show IRon Chef (which we'd watched at a friend's house to make sure we were on the right track).

"Folks, don't be concerned, but it does look like Shane is trying to burn down the building," he announced jovially at one point. "I don't want to cheat, here, but I'd like to protect all our lives, and I do think that oil should be removed from the heat."

Guests ate and browsed around and watched the show and drank wine for awhile, but as the 90-minute clock ran out, the tension did escalate, and I was thrilled that people were getting into the contest. By the end, everyone was camped out in fRont of one kitchen or the other, watching as Shane and Shellie—with waves of stress rising from their kitchens like heat—put the finishing touches on their plates.

Shane finished just as the clock ran out, and with a flourish Gabe and I delivered his plates to the judges' table. Shellie was still running around her kitchen in a tense, silent frenzy, muttering under her breath to her assistant, frowning deeply. She finished a full ten minutes late, where each minute was one point off her total score.

The audience milled impatiently while the judges ate, but I had considered this lull beforehand; to divert them, we announced the "winners" of the silent auction. My mom had bought a set of Savage knives and the baseball package; she single-handedly upped the event's income by about $500.

By the time we were finished with the auction, the judges were ready. I noticed immediately that Shellie's plates had been scraped clean and that most of Shane's food was still on the plates. The judges called the contestants before them and asked a few questions about their decisions, making notations on their score cards as they went.

"And, just one more question… Shellie, which dish did you use the pepitas in?" asked Jon Sundstrom, casually leaning his blond head on one hand.

Shellie froze and seemed to stiffen. Red crept up from below her apRon and spread into her chest, neck, and then her face before she answered. "I—I forgot them. They're still on the counter." She looked down at her feet and I could tell she was trying not to cry.

Shane smirked. Failure to use all of the ingredients cost 25 points out of a possible 100, and Shellie had already lost 10 by finishing late.

Jon was just as surprised by this answer as the rest of us, and compressed his lips together. He leaned in toward Cynthia, and the other judges turned shoulders toward them to confer. Cynthia had started scribbling on the cumulative score sheet as soon as Shellie answered, and now she straightened up with a slight smile and pushed the results toward the other judges. There were nods all around.

Cynthia took the score sheet and rose. Gabe took his cue and turned on the mike. "OK, everyone, it looks like the judges are ready to make an announcement of the winner! Could I have everybody's attention please?"

He slid behind the judges' table. "Allow me to introduce again Rusty Chef Judge Cynthia Nims, food editor of Seattle Magazine." He handed Cynthia the mike.

"Thank you, Gabriel. And thanks to all of you for coming out to support FareStart. Both of these contestants have done an amazing job, putting themselves out there and doing some wonderful cooking for this event. The fact that they were willing to do this in fRont of an audience is just amazing—I know lots of chefs who wouldn't!" Both Chris Plemmons and Jon grinned ruefully and nodded. "This was a tough competition to judge, but we are thrilled to announce tonight's Rusty Chef winner…" She trailed off and looked around the room, smiling. "Congratulations to Shellie Slettebak!"

The room erupted in applause as Shane's face caved in. Embarrassment and bitterness flashed across his features. To have lost by at least 35 points was a crushing blow. Composing himself, he turned to Shellie and stuck out his hand. "Congratulations."

It didn't take long for the room to empty out after that. Jayne dealt with the details of the auction—receiving funds from people and handing out their "winnings"—and I spun around saying goodbye. Gabriel joked with the judges and with Shellie and Kimberly, but Shane and his assistant were quiet, puttering around their kitchen. We'd specified that both contestants would need to stay for cleanup, but Shane was so disheartened it seemed cruel. I'd recruited cleaning volunteers from among our students, and I whispered to Gabe that perhaps we should let Shane go. A moment later I saw him and his friend slink out the door, and that was the last we ever saw of him.

Soon the room was empty of guests and the rest of us were cleaning up as quickly as we could. The feeling of success was heady; I felt like I'd just inhaled a lungful of pure "YES!" The cleaning of two dirty kitchens and the huge roomful of discarded plates and glassware couldn't mar this at all.

Kären and her crew had the buffet picked up in no time, and the camera crew had left almost before the guests. Sellway's staff milled about, not helping with cleanup at all. Jeff Smith was red-cheeked and jovial, clapping Gabe on the back every couple of minutes. When Frank asked me to step into his office for a moment, I felt a flush of pride, knowing I fully deserved the praise I was about to get.

Jayne stopped me as I followed Frank back toward the offices. "Heidi, this was amazing. You did such a great job. I can't believe how well it went!"

I hugged her, grateful that she'd said so right in fRont of Frank. I knew she'd done it on purpose; she was savvy like that. "I'll call you tomorrow to figure out what we need to wrap up, OK?"

"Sounds good." She kissed my cheek and I turned away.

Frank was already seating himself behind his desk as I followed him into the office. I hated to sit down; I felt a helium pull tugging me upward, a bouncy elation which didn't want to be tethered to a chair even for a moment. I supposed it'd be worth it to hear Frank recant even a little of his earlier grouchiness.

"Could you close the door?" he asked as I began to sit.

I tilted my head. "Um…sure."

His face was not at all contrite or sheepish; instead he seemed to leer. Alcohol made the skin of his face a flaccid, like soft meat. I felt a flicker of confusion.

"I think you know what I want to talk about," he said.

"It seems like maybe we should wait on the debrief until after the event, or even next week," I returned, not at all sure anymore that I wanted to hear what he had to say. "This is probably something we should all discuss together." I turned back toward the door.

"No." He rose. "No, this is right now. You don't need to go back and schmooze and suck up all the glory any more. You think you can just waltz in here and let us do all the work for this and you can take all the credit?"

I turned back and was surprised to find his face red and bloated. "What? What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the way you just show up, willy-nilly, at four o'clock today when I've had staff here working since the crack of dawn on this. Do you know how many man-hours have gone into this event? Do you even know what man-hours are?" He lingered on the word man.

"You have no idea how hard we've worked on this—" I began. My spine had stiffened and my face was tight.

"Oh, I can see how hard you've worked," he sneered, and in a flash I understood what was going on. Like rabid animals just unleashed, Frank's eyes were all over me, slurping down the V of my dress, licking up my bare legs under the black hem. "Prancing around in that—yeah, that's working." His voice left no question of his meaning. His mouth was open a little. I realized now the look he'd been giving me all night was not just pissy but caged, waiting for this moment.

I put my hand on the doorknob. I had no intention of being trapped in here with him. I already felt dirty. "That's disgusting," I said, meaning his slavering demeanor as well as his actual accusation. "Gabriel and I have worked harder than you can imagine on this event; we've raised thousands of dollars for FareStart; you have no idea—"

"Yeah, right," he snorted. "FareStart."

Outright confusion replaced horror as my primary emotion. "What?" I asked, my face screwed up into a big question mark. "What are you talking about?"

"As if FareStart's going to see any of the money you took." I realized later he was just talking to keep me there, as he moved around the desk, but I was far more shocked by his implication than I had been by his lewd approach. "I know where that money went. I should tell that FareStart girl you've been pocketing it all."

He picked the wRong thing to say. Any fear instinct I had was gone, and I felt white-hot. The weeks of exhaustion we'd gone through to get Rusty Chef off the ground fueled my fire. I had carefully tabulated funds, begged for free stuff, put myself out on a limb to save a few dollars here and a few dollars there, all to raise more for FareStart. Implying I was a slut was one thing; calling me a thief was something else.

"That is bullshit," I spat. I felt suddenly taller and stRonger; I wanted to slap him, crush him under my shoe, kick him and see what ichor or noxious gas would come out of that bloat. I knew better than to get near him, though. "That is a lie. Every penny is accounted for."

"Anyone can doctor the books," he said, and now I was conscious that he was moving toward me. He said the words almost gently, and said them to my breasts, his face angled down.

I wanted to defend myself, not from his lecherous approach but from his accusation. Self-preservation kicked in, though, and without thinking about it I pushed down on the doorknob and back-stepped out of the room. I could see the surprise on his face as the light and noise from the hallway struck him like a slap. I wanted to stand and fight, but I could feel my knees shaking and my stomach rising. "Fuck you," I said, and fled.

He brayed laughter at my back. I had given voice to his desire.

Some hormone turned on the faucets at my eyes and I veered around the corner and into the ladies' room, furious with myself. Locked in a stall, I knelt over the toilet, sure I was going to spew, disgust and fear roiling inside. But nothing came up and as I angrily wiped hot tears away, I realized I couldn't tell Gabriel about this now. Not only would it ruin Rusty Chef for him too, but also he'd probably walk over and deck Frank, and that probably wasn't such a good idea right now.

I pulled myself together, checked the mirror to make sure my chin was raised and the tears didn't show, and walked with what I hoped was nonchalance back to the showroom, looking surreptitiously around for Frank. He was sitting in a small circle with Jeff Smith and some other Savage employees, and watched me as I walked by. I pretended to ignore him.

It took Gabe about two seconds of working beside me to ask what was wRong, but I just said that the day had started taking its toll on me and I was really tired. I threw myself back into the cleaning and it wasn't much longer before we were done. I stood behind the Explorer and fussed with the way things were packed into it.

"Let's go say goodbye," Gabe urged.

"Is it okay if I just wait in the car? I'm so tired."

"Sure, baby. I won't be long." He considerately tucked me into the passenger seat, kissed me, and closed the door. I watched him walk into the well-lit showroom, which had floor-to-ceiling windows along its entire length. It was like watching a silent movie. Frank watched him warily, but Gabe approached with open, loose body language. He stood for just a few minutes, talking mainly to Jeff, laughing occasionally. Then he turned and came back to me.

I practically held my breath until we were on the freeway, letting Gabe tell me about the experience from his end and some of the comments the judges had made privately to him. When we swung up the freeway ramp, I let out a deep breath and, on cue, my eyes immediately overflowed with tears.

Gabe heard the change in me right away. He turned to examine my face under the rapidly passing street lights. "What's wRong?" he asked. "You did a great job!"

"I know," I moaned miserably. In a rush I let it all out. The words tasted like vomit coming through my throat.

There was no visible change in him but when he flipped the turn signal switch it might have broken off, and the car began to speed up. As he turned to look over his shoulder I saw the set to his jaw. He changed three lanes in one movement and accelerated down the off-ramp.

"What are you doing?"

"Going back to kill Frank."

I sighed and sat back in my seat. Fresh tears came and I felt my face pinch up in misery. "Please don't," I managed. He flashed a look toward me, then returned his intensity to the road. He was turning around and heading for the on-ramp.

"I love you," he said.

"They're probably gone."

"Maybe."

I let out a shuddering, sobby breath and he turned again to me, while gunning onto the southbound freeway. "Are you all right?" he asked, more softly, moving one white-knuckled hand onto my thigh.

I nodded. "Please can we just go home?"

"In a minute."

There was no changing his mind. In just a moment, our headlights were splashing into the parking lot again. The plate glass fRont of the showroom was still lit up like a marquee, with the circle of good ole boys visible.

"What are you going to say?" I asked.

"I don't know." Gabe slammed it into park. "I love you," he repeated. He kissed me quickly and got out. "I'll be right back."

He was still wearing his chef coat and pants, but looked more like he was going in to a prize fight as he stiff-armed the door and strode toward the Savage guys. Jeff looked up with a friendly smile, obviously asking about what Gabe had forgotten, but his mouth quickly turned down. It was like watching a bad remake of the earlier, jovial goodbye scene. Gabe's back was straight and hard, his hands flat and stiff as he gestured like karate chops. Frank looked like a satisfied toad, spreading his arms, his shoulders shrugging languidly, shaking his head.

Gabe seemed to grow taller; I could imagine the deadly tone of his voice and his Scotch-colored eyes full of flame. Jeff's face reddened and twisted, but then smoothed back out. He sat back in his chair and sipped his drink. Gabe's shoulders lost their starch. The extra few inches of height drained back out of him. He half-turned and I could see his jaw still set in fury, but I knew it was over. He stood a moment more, casting as much vitriol as possible with a last remark, but Jeff's and Frank's faces remained smug. When Gabe turned and came back toward me, frustration and hatred wrote their cold poem all over his face. He held his head up all the way out the door.

The acrid smell of Shane's burned oil, and of defeat, clung to Gabe as he climbed back into the car. His lines were drawn from weariness. I just reached for his hand. He squeezed mine tightly, then started the car and again pointed its lights northward toward home.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Commute

For the first time, I'm not so sure about this island living business. The kids and I left the house yesterday at 4 pm to go to April's for dinner. Yes, we had to run one quick errand on the way; we got there at 6:15. That wasn't too bad, although we could've lived in Mt. Vernon and gotten there sooner.

No, the kicker was on the way back. We left April's at 9:25 to catch the 10:15 ferry. Arrived in plenty of time--unfortunately, the ferry didn't. It just didn't show. Finally its lights were visible at around 10:40; then it unloaded, and we were able to get on. Ferry ride, drive home, carefully carrying the sleeping children into their beds one at a time... Jezebel woke up and wanted her pajamas and bottle... I went upstairs to tuck Noelani in, but she wasn't there--she'd only made it as far as the couch... She's too big by half for me to carry, so I woke her again and she stumbled up the stairs...

I was crawled into bed at exactly midnight. Mt. Vernon was looking pretty good.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two New Poems Published!

I got the acceptance a week ago, but now the issue's online. I have two poems published in Gloom Cupboard. Scroll down, I'm the sixth poet listed. Yaay!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of Floor Care

DO keep your kitchen floor clean so that when spills happen, cleanup is easy. Floors which haven't seen a broom since before your vacation will have dirt, dog hair, cheese wax, bottle caps, dry grass, blackberry leaves, and all sorts of other detritus on them. These will get mixed up with whatever you spill, making cleanup all the more difficult.

DO keep enough clean towels handy to soak up almost anything. Having to run to the laundry room for towels with the spilled substance all over your feet will only increase the mess. Not exponentially, but something like that.

DON'T lift a bag of groceries while looking the other way and accidentally swing it into the glass bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, knocking the bottle over and breaking it so that oil and broken glass shower all over your three-year-old son's head and body.

***

Gabe was there, fortunately, standing right there. He rushed Rhone to the shower and then painstakingly combed all the glass out of Rhone's hair. Meanwhile, I attempted to clean up the glass-and-oil soup of the floor, made much worse by my failure to follow Rules #1 and 2, above. (The whole situation of course caused by my failure to follow Rule #3.) Despite a shampoo, Rhone's hair is still extremely oily. But we've combed through again and I can't find any more glass.

This could have been really, really bad if the jagged end of the bottle had fallen differently onto him. I literally shudder to think. He's ok, just one little scratch on the cheek. And our floor's clean now.

***

Appended the next morning:

DON'T, if you have a really stupid dog, leave the oily paper towels in the garbage unless you want to clean up a portion of the mess again the next day. Grrrrrr.

Poems I'm In Love with Right Now

I will update these as I think of more. Tune back in. They are in no particular order.

Michael Henson, "They All Asked About You," Pemmican Press.
Leslie McGrath, "Picnic" and "The Obstetrician's Wife," Gloom Cupboard (scroll down or search).
Frank O'Hara, "Animals."
Keith Douglas, "How to Kill." Watch out, this one's a doozy. Jesus.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Beach Photos




Watching Rain Sheet Down the Windows, from Inside with the Children

I wanted to go alone down to the beach
with a sound recorder
and listen to the rain.
Could I make my bare feet silent

down the sloppy boardwalk, their slap
covered by the splash of drops
into the many minute puddles formed
by each slightly concave plank? If I listened

hard enough, would drops hitting the rusty
nail heads be distinguishable as a subtle
melody describing the length and breadth
of the path's passage through scrub and seagrass

in an unknown tonal code?
I wanted to know whether, beneath
the bass persistence of frequent thunder
and the asymmetrical static stomping of the surf

I would be able to hear the patter of individual
droplets on the sand, each one striking
exactly where it was intended. Would the kiss-
pop-pucker of clams' receding be audible

under the din, perceptible as part
of nature's symphony? At the height
of the storm would I hear the thunderous subatomic
approach of the lightning bolt intended for me?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Night Swimming" --after REM

After the card game, the uncles and aunts
went back to their own beach rental,
our parents went to bed;
my brother and I had another drink, then joked
ourselves into a mutual dare, and went swimming,
leaving the sleeping next generation behind.

We slipped past the sliding glass
door into air warm as soup
and just as thick. The boardwalk felt
like crackers under our feet, sand-crusted like
saltines. The huge beach
smiled a wide swath of undisturbed sand,
unoccupied since cocktail hour began.

Splashing into the surf felt like grabbing
a whole handful of cotton candy,
and when we got up to our knees and I took his hand
time did a little back-step, two-step, we were both old
and kids again. We laughed
as the waves came, I let
my sun dress be drenched, its cotton
handkerchief around the high towers of my legs, I said
no, I don't want to go further, where I can't touch. We
shouldn't be swimming, drunk.

And it was transcendental, swimming
in the dark, with the moon
of our childhood beyond full, waning
toward the east. I said I have to get back
to the kids but I kept weaving
my hands through the water trying to read
the Braille of is language, to feel what it was trying
to tell me. The softness of the water boggled
me, the coolness of the air when I poked
my toes above seemed backward.

Another wave is coming, I said, another wave.
Where, he asked, and the moonlight filled up the road
of the sea like a streetlamp, and I pointed: there—
That's not a wave, that's the horizon, he said.
Yes. It's coming.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Mom! The air is like steam!"


Yesterday was the first day I can remember that I didn't check my email. Even typing this my fingers feel like they don't work, like they're a little rusty on the keyboard. Either that or maybe the R key is sticking in all this humidity.

Twenty-two hours is a lot of travel. Car to ferry to car to plane to plane to car to beach. Coast to coast, literally: Puget Sound to the Outer Banks, 2499 miles. (According to Google maps, this would take 39 days and 22 hours to walk. I'm not sure whether they're assuming sleep, though.)




Floating in the ocean opposite from home
with my big little brother who just
bought a house--I've never done--

the beach, its tiny people and receding
responsibilities, only visible between waves--

A loosening, unraveling of fossilized
internal knots. For a change,
I don't have to hold myself up.



Travel troubles or not, broke or not, missing Gabe even; I'm glad we came.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

P's

We're at the table eating the delicious stew I made last night. Meat, potatoes, fresh spring onions, and peas. We ate before Gabe got home, so it was just the three of us, because Noelani was still at her dad's. I'd been working on the stew all afternoon and it had turned out absolutely delicious.

"Pea," Jezebel says. She's looking down at the floor.

"Oh, honey, you dropped a pea? It's ok." I hear a delicate lapping sound. "The kitty's getting it already. Don't worry about it."

"Pea," Jez says again.

"It's all right, honey, don't worry about that one, there are more in your bowl."

The lapping sound is louder, like a whole bunch of cats are down there.

"PEA!" Jezebel yells. The lapping sound has become more of a gushing sound.

"Oh," I sigh wearily. "Pee."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Breakfast Burritos

When the kids seem to be playing reasonably well in the yard and no murder is imminent--it's more likely when 3-year-old Kian, son of your chef friend Brian O'Connor, is visiting for the day--sneak inside to make lunch. Get out

two boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

and set a pot of water to boil. You have to wash it first. Use the big one because the medium size was used for a sauce last night--Gabe did an awesome steak dish--and it'll take ages to clean.

Check your email while the water boils. That guy in Wisconsin is still waffling about whether he wants to buy the Tortuga. Hope he makes up his mind soon or that someone else jumps up to buy it. It's the 4th of the month and that sale is your rent money for August.

Fold the sheets, too. That way you can keep an eye on things... oh, gods. Jezebel is naked (you already knew that) and covered with sand (that too) and has now stuck her head into the water bucket which was in use in the sandbox to facilitate the building of sand-castles. Her hair is thick with sand, twigs, and dry grass.

Go stand out there and shake your head in disbelief. She's still adorable. As you watch she clambers out of the sandbox and starts toddling around after the "big" boys, who are wearing fireman's helmets and using badminton rackets as cross country ski poles. Hmm. Maybe her hair will just dry and the sand will shake itself out.

Finish the sheets. The water's up to a boil, but it can wait just a second. You've learned it's far wiser to go ahead and put away things that you've spent time folding, lest the kids unfold and drag them around the house.

OK, now open the boxes and pour in the noodles. Start to straighten up, but... isn't there some reason why you didn't want to hear that pitter-patter of baby feet coming into the house? Oh--! Quickly, take Jezebel back outside. An attempt to dust her off reveals that this isn't coming off easily. And her hair's a lot more thickly implanted with debris than you'd thought. How did she get it in there? OK, the bath's the thing. You can pop her in and out in two seconds.

The tub's dirty. Rinse it quickly. Jez wants to help; shoo her away 'cause it's pretty hot. God, how long has it been since the kids have been in the tub? Perhaps bathing them once a month whether they need it or not isn't the best philosophy. The kiddie pool's nice to keep dirt off, but it's probably been a bit too long since they've been shampooed.

It's hard to hear sounds with the bath water blasting and the toys clunking around the bottom of the tub as you scrub. Turning off the tap reveals what you've missed, though: a nice, ear-splitting scream from the patio.

Race out there. The kids are standing in a little triangle. Rhone looks concerned; Kian looks terrified; and you can't see Jezebel's face because it's mostly obscured by her enormously open mouth. Tears are streaming down her face like a creek in spring.

The situation is apparent--badminton racket is the smoking gun between the three kids--but it's good to start out with some intimidation. Kneel down in front of Kian, because Rhone doesn't look nearly guilty enough for it to have been him. With your deepest angry-mommy voice from down by the diaphragm, belt out the words, "What happened?"

Realize you've overdone it by half when Kian bursts into tears. Apparently laying the mommy's-really-pissed groundwork isn't necessary or effective with him. Back down considerably and ask him again what happened. After a moment he manages, "Bella's crying!"

This is actually no longer true; Jez has already stopped crying and is wandering back toward the sandbox nonchalantly. But that's not really the point. Say patiently, "Yes, I know Bella's crying. Why is she crying?"

"Because I hit her with the racket!"

Nod. This is about what you thought. Gotta follow through, even though Jez seems to have forgotten the whole incident and didn't even need a kiss from you. "OK, then, go on time out." A fresh bout of tears follows, but Kian marches obediently to the time-out corner and stands there, pressing his face into the corner, which thankfully muffles his wails a bit.

Snag Jez up and toss her into the tub. She adamantly does not want to have her hair rinsed. It always feels a little sick and wrong to hold her down by the shoulders and force her head into the water, but it's only the back of her head, and it's for her own good. Hair rinsed, she pops back up like a cork and wants to play.

"No, honey, this is just a quick bath because we're about to have--lunch!" Sprint into the kitchen as that sinking feeling--multitask FAIL--washes up your chest. The macaroni is happily bubbling away. Grab a colander. Grab the pot--it's hot! Grab a towel, then grab the pot, and drain the pasta. At least it's still in the shape of macaroni noodles. Sort of.

Pass Kian in the time-out corner on your way back to the bathroom. He's still crying. Tell him that as soon as he's done crying, he can be done with time out. For some reason this makes him cry harder. Shake your head. Take Jezebel out of the bath, dry her off, and get her dressed again. Kian is still crying, but more quietly now. Ask him if he'd like to be done and see how the tears get turned off with an almost audible snap. Talk to him about how hitting is yucky. He nods. (You pretty much overlook just regular hitting between the three kids, but hitting with weapons is another story.) He's gotten as much as he's going to get from this lesson; send him off. Within ten seconds, he and Rhone are cuddling with the kittens.

Return to the kitchen, dreading the congealed mass you know you'll find in the sink. Mmm. Poke one of the noodles cautiously. Yes, it's as bad as you thought. The noodle disintegrates with a little pressure from your fingers. Try to stir in butter, milk, and that powdered shit, and you'll wind up with a big bowl of starch mush. Mmmm.

Sag a little as you open the fridge. Mac & cheese was one thing you were pretty sure you could get Kian to eat. He doesn't like much: bananas, goldfish crackers, milk, and bacon. Hmm, bacon. You have a pound thawed. And there are a lot of eggs.

Quickly wipe out the cast-iron skillet and set it on the stove on high; line it with slices of

bacon, preferably homemade by your husband

While you wait to hear it sizzle, whisk together in a bowl

six small eggs
kosher salt
black pepper

since small is the only kind your hens lay. Turn the bacon down to low so it doesn't burn--this propane stove seems to have only high and low, without much in between. While you wait for the bacon, prepare a plate with a paper towel to drain it and then quickly set the table. Take the bacon out of the pan, pour off some of the fat, and then add eggs. Scramble quickly; cool on a plate.

Serve with condiments:

sour cream
salsa, which Rhone calls "Gorganic sauce" after hearing you mutter to yourself over the merits of buying organic salsa at Costco last week
grated sharp cheddar


As an afterthought, grab some leftover

flour tortillas

out of the fridge. Kids love tortillas, and you can use them to make fun wraps out of ordinary breakfast food. Turns out, all Kian will eat is a tortilla, so this is a good decision. Another weekday lunch saved.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Plum Good

a recipe for Plum Butter

On a very warm evening at almost bedtime, take the kids up to the garden and pick:

5 quarts small, golden-pink plums

where by "picking" we mean allowing the fruit to fall into your hands. If you have only brought a 4-quart container to the garden, bring back the rest in your skirt. It feels sexy to be so old-fashioned.

Leave the plums out on the counter all night if you don't have enough room in your fridge and/or don't want to make room. Make a halfhearted but doomed attempt to keep the fruit flies away by covering the plums with your last clean dish towel.


In the morning, once you have cleaned enough dishes to make the kitchen one (or more) step(s) above a toxic waste zone, rinse the plums in a bowl of water. Discard any that are rotten, hard as rocks, half-eaten by your children, or otherwise unacceptable. Telling the kids to pick up the windfall plums from the ground beneath the tree results in less than perfect results.

Put the plums into a stock pot or, if your husband has absconded with your largest stock pot (including lid) and then conveniently forgotten about it, your biggest soup pot. Add a bunch of

water

—not enough to cover the plums but enough so's you're not at all worried about boiling dry. Other recipes call for specific amounts of water; they're too scientific by far. Consider adding cinnamon as the recipe demands and instead get an avante-garde wilde hair and add

about 1" fresh ginger root, grated

Nod in a satisfied manner and bring to a boil over high heat. While you're waiting for water to boil, go push your son on the big-kid swing, the one he can't get onto or off of without your help. Remember the plums after about ten minutes and rush into the house, leaving the three-year-old on the swing, to turn them down. Race back out to the swing fearing tragedy, but Rhone's just fine, swaying away under the Madrona tree.

When you can get back to the stove, simmer the plums about 10 minutes, then drain, reserving the liquid because by now it's turned a lovely, tropical-sunset pink and you are sure it's plum full of flavor that you don't want to lose. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dilapidated plums against the bottom of your plastic colander until only a few skins and the pits remain. Turn those into the compost and return the squashed plums, along with the reserved sunset juice, to the stove. Add about a

cup of sugar

Simmer all day, returning to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan. Worry about burning, but it doesn't. The mixture slowly turns from that lovely pink to a deep orange-y mauve, the color of expensive lingerie.

As evening approaches and cocktail hour feathers in, as you're wishing you had some light fresh summery drink instead of the redundant, fattening fridge full of beer, look to the plum butter. It's thickened to an applesauce consistency; you just want a little more reduction so it's easily spreadable. Dip out a quarter cup or so and combine it in a cocktail shaker with some vodka and ice cubes. No, you're not that much of a lush; add some San Pellegrino and shake well. Be sure to have a towel handy because shaking sparkling water results in a shocking mess, especially in the hair.

Take the drink outside to enjoy with the kids, who are slurping on homemade apple juice popsicles. It's got a nice fizz, but the plum butter really needs some more sugar. Oh well: waste not, want not.

Get distracted making dinner for the kids and leave the plum butter on the stove, heat turned off, all night. Tomorrow morning, bring it to a good boil and stir constantly for five minutes to kill anything that might have started to grow in it. Shake your head slowly, incredulous that you learned this from a chef.

Reduce the plum butter a little more, adding

another cup of sugar and
about a half cup of honey

Taste it. When the tartness has diminished enough that it doesn't immediately make your salivary glands burn, decide you're sick of dealing with it and it's good enough. Scrape the entire mixture, now the color and texture of a mohair sweater you once owned, into a one-quart container, put it into the fridge, and forget about it.

Sweet Summertime in Photos

A couple of pictures from recent days. Here's a sunset from earlier this week, when Natasha was here for an incredibly lovely visit:

This picture of Jezebel was taken by Susan at her house a few weeks ago; April's holding Jez.

And here are the kids drinking from the hose:

A Striking Balance

There's something about the sound of Gabe's old truck charging up the driveway, the smell of the gravel dust he leaves in his wake, that feels incompatible with my computer keyboard. It's the wrong century. The last glimpse of the primer-orange fender going around the bend up by the rusty garden gate: it feels timeless. Or rather, it puts me into time, gives me a connection backwards to 1966 when that truck was new. And further still, to any time and any woman who's watched her husband drive out of sight and then turned, cinching her robe belt tighter around her, back into the house unnaturally quiet with still-sleeping children.

It's not yet 7 am and the air is still a little cool; it's gonna be a scorcher. I love saying that. Birds are singing in the Douglas firs and the kittens are playing around my nervous feet.

Speaking of kittens and birds, Jezebel came inside yesterday and walked up to me, holding something and saying "Poop. Poop. Poop." I thought she'd picked up a piece of dog poop, but instead the thing she brought to me was a fully intact dead bird. (Not sure why "poop.") She showed me where she'd found it: right on the patio by the back door. The kittens are already bringing down birds and they're only 12 weeks old.

Cats are predators. So why do they kill birds and then not eat them? I'm sure they would eat what they hunt in the wild, if they weren't being fed; so then why do they still hunt at all? Instinct. They can't help themselves. Killing is something predators do whether they need to or not.

Is that so different from mankind? We feed ourselves through agriculture now. Why then do we still hunt? Why do we have bar brawls and wars? Just to satisfy our predatory instinct?

At the basest level we are animals. We might try to forget this, but it's pure animal instinct that draws us to each other, that connects us sexually and perpetuates our species. In intimate relationships we must draw heavily on those instincts sometimes, let our bodies speak to each other when hearts and minds fail, in order to maintain that connection. Yet in other aspects of our lives we try to distance ourselves from our roots, rise above instinct and bestial impulse. Where is the balance between where we come from and who we want to be?

The driveway dust settling on my keyboard is part of a balance between past and present; wrapping my arms around my ribs and watching the truck drive away instead of twining those arms around my husband to keep him here is part of a balance between present and future, desperation and hope.