That Time I Was Chased by a Phantom Bear

Some adventures don’t go QUITE as planned. Take this weekend. I’ve been wanting to go snow shoeing for literally years, so finally we got a date on the calendar. And man oh man, I was excited. It would be epic! We’d tromp through a winter wonderland, nimble as deer! Experience the Great Northwest! Probably find an entrance to Narnia!

And then, we got up to Snoqualmie Pass, and it was raining.

Whomp, whomp.

Now, normally, I’d let this type of thing ruin my plans. But we’d driven to the mountain, Val had driven up from frickin’ Portland for this, snow shoeing WAS HAPPENING, dammit.

Onward!
Ah yes — rain, with a nice throw-in of wet snowflakes. 41

And you know what? It was great. Enter the power of positive thinking, I guess. I didn’t even notice that I was soaking wet until we got back to the car. It probably helped that snow shoeing is, you know, basically hiking, and I was distracted by all the huffing and puffing I had to do to get up the hill.

Byron and Audrey, forging ahead.
Byron and Audrey, forging ahead.

It’s really nice getting off the beaten track from time to time. I enjoy the outdoors, but you know, I’m also big on my creature comforts. So I tend not to venture out into the woods too often. It’s something I’m trying to push myself to do more of this year, because WOULD YOU LOOK AT THIS?? We live in a beautiful (if soggy) part of the world.

I was half convinced I'd fall into a tree well.
I was half convinced I’d fall into a tree well.
Nature, you crazy.
Nature, you crazy.

On our way back down the hill, Val and I started heading off through the trees.

“Don’t go that way,” Byron called from above us.

“Why not?”

“I saw something moving in the trees.”

“What did you see?”

“You should just come back this way.”

Nice and ominous
Nice and ominous

Let me tell you what is great motivation for moving quickly on snow shoes — thinking you are going to be eaten by a mutant, probably mama Grizzly bear. No, admittedly, Byron never said it was a bear. BUT WHAT WERE WE TO THINK? Val and I FLEW back up the hill and high-tailed it the edge of the ski slope. Audrey contemplated if you should stand your ground with a bear or run. Byron brought up the rear, saying he would stay back and sacrifice himself if anything were to attack. Um, which apparently was ok with me? Since I was a good twenty yards ahead of him.

Once we got down to the bottom of the hill, adrenaline pumping, I asked him, “What do you think it was? Do you really think it was a bear?”

Byron: “Oh no, it was definitely other snow shoers. I saw them. I just wanted to mess with you guys.”

GEE, THANKS BYRON.

At least I know I can be speedy on snow shoes, if need be.

Advertisements

“Happy Valentime’s!”

I know it’s gotten totally cliché to rant and say you hate Valentine’s, so I’ll simply state that I’m not a fan. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about Valentine’s Day is the 30 Rock episodes that have come out of it. But other than that… yeah, I’m good. I’m just not super thrilled about Red and Pink deciding to throw a month-long kegger and then proceeding to puke on everything in sight.

But in an effort not to be a weird bitter misanthrope (constant battle, yay!), I’m going to take this Hallmark-Holiday opportunity to list some of the things for which I’m grateful. And every time I see Cupid wings today, I will bite my tongue and mentally add to the list.

  • My writing group members, who always provide great feedback and support (and the occasional kick in the ass).
  • My blonde BFF, the yang to my yin, who pushes and challenges me.
  • This 30 Rock clip:

 

  • My husband, for making me breakfast tacos every Saturday morning.
  • Quiet mornings with a moment for myself.

Fellow Valentine’s non-fans, I KNOW YOU’RE OUT THERE. Join me in some gratitude   What are you grateful for right now?

Welcome to the Jungle

We have a BIG backyard. Grande. We figured out this weekend it’s about 4,200 square feet. And let me tell you, I have grande plans to match it. It will be an amazing sanctuary and adult play area, complete with hammocks, a fire pit with dedicated s’mores area, and of course, places to rest your adult beverages.

The only problem — this is what the yard looked like when we moved in:

Welcome to the jungle.
Welcome to the jungle.

Oh HEY there, crazy six-foot weeds! HEY ivy that threatens to take over everything! And oh, majestic cedar (fir? pine?) trees, feel free to drop your needles everywhere. Please, feel free.

I’ve been eager to attack this project, because did I mention HAMMOCKS? I realized the other day that spring is rapidly approaching, which means summer is hard on its heels… and damn it, I WILL relax in this yard come summer.

THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely...seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.
THIS is what I will look up at from my hammock. A lovely…seriously, I need to figure out what these trees are.

So this weekend we tackled the ivy. I’ve had a long-standing hatred of ivy, inherited from my father. It’s invasive in the area and takes. over. everything. I want it dead dead dead. I enlisted the help of a bored friend (REALLY bored) and my poor husband, who really just wanted to relax inside instead.

Sorry, Byron!
Sorry, Byron!

But over the course of two days, we got SO MUCH IVY pulled. We’re not 100%, but probably about 70% of it is OUT OUT OUT.

This is just SOME of the buried treasure we found:

  • Half a racquetball
  • A broken flower-pot
  • A ridiculously huge amount of rotting plywood
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Blackberries! Surprise!
  • Sheets of black plastic (which didn’t contain a body! yay!)
  • Crushed soda cans
  • Candy wrappers
  • The limbs of a felled tree

I mean, SCORE, right?? Thanks, former owners!

By the end of the weekend, we had gone from jungle to this:

Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.
Panoramic view of the backyard, with 70% of the ivy out.

Progress. Next steps will involve all sorts of fun stuff, like leveling and rototilling (I’m trying to get myself psyched for it).

Dad was laughing because THIS was how I chose to spend my weekend, rather than, you know, going to a movie or something. But you know what? This all feels like a new adventure to me right now, and I’m gonna ride that wave until reality comes crashing down. And it’ll all be worth it when I’m drinking a mojito on my hammock this summer.

Spring is coming!
Spring is coming!

“I Am In Love with the World”

It’s been an odd, bloated sort of week. Not bad, per se. Tepid. I’ve had a major case of space-cadet, my head firmly stuck in the fog. But I want to end the week on a good note.

In 2011, Terry Gross interviewed Maurice Sendak on the radio program “Fresh Air.” Christoph Niemann, an illustrator for The New York Times, heard it while driving and later turned it into this short little video.

This interview makes my heart swell. It is happy and melancholy and heartfelt and joyful. I listen to it and feel the need to go out and be. To appreciate all that is around. It is a tribute to the beauty in the world, the goodness — and the sad bits, too. Every time I listen to it, it makes me remember the loved ones we’ve lost — and it makes me sad, having lost them, but leaves me grateful at the end for having known them.

It’s a fitting way to end an off-kilter week. Remembering all we have to be grateful for, and heading into the weekend with Sendak’s words:

“Live your life, live your life, live your life.”

Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 2

Because I’m a nerd, I had a lot of fun putting together my Part 1 list last week. This week? More difficult. Somehow Part 2 felt more serious, more final — when I’d decided on one book, another leapt off the shelf and cried, “BUT HOW COULD YOU FORGET ME??”

To which I say — chill out, book. This isn’t the be all, end all. There are other books I enjoy, other books I love. These ones just make the cut today. (And shout out to the entire Harry Potter series, it’s getting the honorable mention of the day.)

5. The Razor’s Edge

My college pal and fellow creative writer Val guessed that this would be on the list. Maybe I’m transparent, or maybe it’s just a really good book.

The Razor's Edge

If you’ve read one of those “Best quotes of all timez!!” lists, you’ve read a sentence by oh-so-witty Maugham. His books are more somber than his one-line quips, though. The Razor’s Edge is difficult, too, because it’s not a super direct storyline. In fact, the heart-and-soul of the novel is set-up by this:

I feel it right to warn the reader that he can very well skip this chapter without losing the thread of the story

I mean, who does that?? That tells you what you’re in for with this book. Rather meandering, not much action, a large cast of characters, spanning decades and continents… and so worth it. Beyond the fact that the book is beautifully written, it dives into moral grey area and ponders the meaning of happiness. No, it’s not a light read, but if you’re looking to sink your teeth into something, I can’t recommend this one enough.

6. All Creatures Great and Small

As you can probably tell from the tattered copy, this is another book that I a) stole, and b) return to time and again.

All Creatures Great and Small

I loved this book SO much that for a long time, I wanted to be a vet. (That changed after a day volunteering in a vet clinic.) But guys, James Herriot makes it sound like so much FUN! Cute animals! Heartwarming tales! You want to know Herriot’s friends, you want to meet the farmers, you want to drive through pastoral England. And you know what else? Reading this, Herriot just seems like a good guy. You can’t say that about a lot of authors, so it’s rather refreshing. And speaking of, well, not the greatest of guys….

7. Selected Poems of Ezra Pound

Oh look — ANOTHER prick on the list! Not only a contemporary of Hemingway’s, but a fascist to boot! I really know how to pick ’em.

Ezra Pound

So, yeah, Pound may have been a TOTAL nutcase, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) his poetry sticks. I was in Rome the first time I read this collection, roaming Italian graveyards and studying expatriates, so that undoubtedly colored my reading of it. But over the years it’s still the poetry I pick up most often. Plus, it contains what is probably my favorite poem ever, “Erat Hora”:

‘Thank you, whatever comes.’ And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.

8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Let me just give you a brief overview of the physical places covered by this book. Nazi-invaded Prague. Brooklyn. The Empire State Building. Antarctica.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayI mean, guys, the hero travels to Antarctica during World War II. If that’s not enough to sell this book… oh, it’s not? But wait, there’s more! This book is fantastical. Surreal. Like a portrait of New York City dipped in technicolor and redrawn a bit. Its protagonists are comic-book artists, larger-than-life men (and women!) who become superheros of their own reality. There’s adventure and heartbreak and did I mention a battle in Antarctica? Many would argue this is Chabon’s best, and I can’t disagree.

10. 1984

This book… you know, it’s fine. I see the merit of it. I see why people always bring it up. But a favorite? Nope. I honestly had a hard time getting through it. But there’s a very specific reason why it’s on this list.

1984

The night I met my husband, he asked what my favorite book was. I said I wasn’t sure, too many to name, yadda yadda. What was his? Without hesitation: “1984.” He was flabbergasted that I hadn’t read it. Told me I HAD to read it. He was even more flabbergasted (and yeah, a bit annoyed) when, on our first date, I admitted I hadn’t purchased a copy yet. So this is the copy he brought to my door on our third date. Yes, my husband’s first gift to me was an Orwell book. I slogged through it, and it’s been on our bookshelf ever since.

If you didn’t chime in last week — DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE AT GLORY! What are some of your favorite books? Why? Let’s swap tales.

The Rambler: Cabinet Edition

The thing no one ever tells you about buying a house is that once you do, there’s a relentless pile of projects that must be done.

HAHAHA just kidding. EVERYONE tells you that. We decided not to listen and bought a house anyway. A 1950’s rambler, to be exact.

It’s weird, no matter how much homework you do, there are still surprises once the house is actually yours. We were walking around for weeks saying, “Huh. There’s a hole in that door.” Or, “Huh. There are staples around ALL the windows.” Or (my husband’s favorite), “Huh. There are sheets and sheets of moldy visqueen stuffed in this cupboard.” SURPRISE!

But two months in, we’re getting more settled as we continue to unpack, hang up artwork, and update. For the most part, we’re enjoying the projects — it feels good to invest time and energy into something that’s yours.

But this last week… it was kitchen painting time.

Do you SEE that horrendous-ness? FAUX BRICK TILES, people. Surrounded by dirty (LITERALLY dirty) black paint. Awful. AWFUL. I actually painted those bricks several weeks ago because I Could. Not. Deal. That still left us with the raw-wood kitchen cabinets to paint (advertised as “You get to pick your own finish!”). We knew that painting the cabinets would have to be one of our top priorities, as we didn’t want them to get all grimy and gunked up. So finally, finally, we got to it.

I won’t get into all the nitty gritty details, but needless to say, painting cabinets sucks. Lessons learned:

  • Ummm, WOW these cabinets are crappily made! We knew they weren’t the highest caliber before, but gettin’ all up in their grill really confirms it.
  • Oil primer takes FOREVER to dry. FOR-EV-ER. Since the cabinets were unfinished wood, the paint guy at the local hardware store recommended we use it. NEVER AGAIN.
  • Wet paint = magnet for cat tails.
  • No matter how much masking you do, there will always — always — be goof-ups.
The Disaster Zone
Primer done, waiting to dry. Welcome to the disaster zone!

After five days, all the cabinets are finally re-hung and…

Before
Before – blah.
After
After – woo hoo!

IT’S DONE. I’ve strategically hidden all the “this need a touch-up” spots. But you know, it works. For now, I’ll consider it one more project checked off the list. Completed ones so far:

  • Replace roof.
  • Replace the “will definitely kill you in your sleep” electrical panel.
  • Repair tub plumbing.
  • Paint kitchen cabinets.
  • Add weather stripping to the “can see sunlight through it” front door.
  • Add cat door to “The Once and Future Garage”.
  • Replace broken back door.
  • Insulate pipes in crawl space.
  • Add big-ass shed to the backyard.

Looks fairly impressive, until compared to our “to be done” list:

  • Install bathroom fan.
  • Repair drainage on the side of the house (will involve trench digging — fun!).
  • Paint ALL THE THINGS.
  • Replace the ghetto single-pane windows.
  • Convert “The Once and Future Garage” BACK into a garage.
  • Replace the “can no longer see sunlight but still ghetto” front door.
  • Repair sad and slanted front step.
  • Convert laundry room into a laundry room/2nd bathroom.
  • Tame and landscape the Jungle that is our backyard.

We’ll get it done, Rambler, one project at a time….

Top 10 Books (as of Right Now): Part 1

Before we get too far, be warned — I want to know what YOUR favorite books are, too. And why. Get ready.

I used to be a voracious reader as a kid. At college, I ODed on reading and fell off the wagon a bit. I never STOPPED reading… I just slowed to a snail’s pace. But I’m getting back into it. I’m rediscovering the joy of it, reading what I WANT to read, and telling myself it’s ok to give up on a book I don’t like.

All of which has gotten me thinking about my favorites. I want to clarify that this list is only current as of Right Now. Favorite books are a fickle thing for everyone, dependent on where you are in your life and, of course, if/when a new book bumps one off the list.

So here you have it, the first 5, in no particular order. Well, except for #1, which gets the place of honor…

1. Watership Down

Watership Down

Most people don’t really get this one. “It’s about rabbits?” Well, yes. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I get that — but it’s one of my all-time faves. My copy belonged to my mom, and after reading it for the first time, I stole it and will never give it back. The spine is now literally held together with tape. And I refuse to replace this copy.

Why do I love it so? Its main characters may be rabbits, but at its heart Watership Down is an adventure story. Escapes, raids, scheming, battles (YES RABBIT BATTLES). The story is well-paced, the characters well-developed…it’s probably one of the best-written book I’ve read, actually. And even just writing this, I want to re-read it again for the zillionth time. It was my first true book love. Our romance is one for the ages.

Malcolm X was quite the controversial figure (HAHAHA understatement), but his autobiography should be required reading at every school in America. Bold statement? Maybe. But this book really shows the power of accepting new information and experiences, and changing your worldview as a result of them. That’s a good lesson for any kid.
The entire autobiography was dictated to Alex Haley, and Malcolm X dictated the latter events of the book as they were happening. Which means that the reader gets to see the evolution of his thoughts in real-time. We get to see Malcolm X wrestle with new information, do some serious introspection, and evolve from a man largely driven by hate to this man:
“The next day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the passenger’s side, next to me, was a white man. “Malcolm X!” he called out — and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car, across at me, grinning. “Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?” Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green, I told him, “I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?”

 

3. The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time_Travelers_Wife
This book also happens to be one of my favorite titles. The first time I read it, I immediately fell into this weird depression that lasted for about a week. The only thing that cured it was re-reading the book.

Sounds fun, huh? Who doesn’t want a romping tale that leads down the spiral of depression! But that’s precisely why it’s on this list — it evoked a BIG reaction. Niffenegger creates this world that you dive into, a world that is at once familiar and surreal. The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it has an honest one. And that’s how I like my stories — maybe happy, sometimes gritty, but always honest.

4. McTeague

McTeague

Ok — this one’s MAYBE a bit of a cheat. The book itself — it’s good, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite. Dim dentist in turn-of-the-century San Francisco goes from bad to worse. Alrighty then.

But the ending is the best ending I have ever read. Hands down. It leaves you with a dropped jaw that turns into a grin. I’ve read that Norris actually tailored the entire book around the ending, which he dreamt up before the actual story. It’s a brilliant example of an ending that doesn’t completely wrap things up but is 100% satisfying.

5. A Moveable Feast

 

Moveable_Feast

Alright, let’s get this out of the way — Hemingway was by all accounts a prick. BUT. Homebody could write, and A Moveable Feast is undoubtedly his most charming book.

If you’ve ever dreamed of Paris, read this book. It paints a picture of a city that doesn’t exist anymore — and to be honest, probably never truly existed. Hemingway was clearly in love in Paris, and he casts a rosy hue over the city and its Bohemian inhabitants. His descriptions of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and other contemporaries are entertaining, but I think the true gems of this book are Hemingway’s brief, sporadic reminisces about his then wife, Hadley. Like the city, he views their marriage through rose-tinted glasses, and his nostalgia and regret is both poignant and real.

That’s a wrap for Part 1. Part 2 will come next week (edited to add: OMG Part 2 is RIGHT HERE — now with more books!) … but in the meantime, it’s your turn. What are YOUR favorite books? Tell me, tell me (and tell me why). The 2013 reading list needs to grow.