Bad Thing

I don’t know if I’ve ever told the story of how Halvah came to me.

It was the year 2000, and I had my first grown-up civilian job, doing PC support for a small company in Lyndonville, VT, not too terribly far from the town where I grew up. I got a full hour for lunch, so sometimes Mom would come by and pick me up and we’d go out to eat.

One day at getting-toward-lunch-time, one of the gals at the front desk called me and told me Mom was there. She hadn’t said she was coming, but I still wasn’t terribly surprised. But when I went up to the front to meet her, I found her practically wringing her hands, very agitated. “I did a bad thing,” she told me furtively. “Can you get away for a few minutes?”

Of course I said “of course,” but I was amused and bemused. I followed her out to the car, where she showed me the “bad thing” in the form of a cardboard cat carrier containing a little ball of beige and brown fluff that cried and cried in a gravelly voice.

It turned out Mom had wandered into the pet store in Littleton, NH, which back then occasionally had puppies and kittens–often local “oops” litters. There was a single Himalayan/Siamese kitten all alone in a cage there, crying and crying, and it broke Mom’s heart. She (the kitten) cost $250–a crazy sum of money for Mom–but she shelled it out and fled with the kitten, hoping against hope that I’d bail her out and keep the poor baby.

I mean, really, what else *could* I do? I named her Halvah, because her coloring resembled the sesame candy, and because she was so sweet.A few days later her voice changed to a more normal cry–she’d apparently cried herself hoarse.

In the long run, she turned out to be more sassy than sweet. She is her own cat, sets her own rules, gives affection under her own terms. She doesn’t mind a warm lap now and again, and she’ll greet me at the door, but woe to anyone who might try to pick her up, or pet her an instant longer than she prefers. MAJOR woe to anyone who tries to get her to take a pill or eat a food not of her choosing or deign to allow her nails to be cut. She knows how to strike like a snake, claw like a cougar, and wail like a banshee.

Select Halvah adventures include the time she somehow found a way to get from under the sink to under the floorboards at an apartment in a not-terribly-well-maintained old house, and then got stuck because she insisted on going forward and wouldn’t back up. My brother and I spent what felt like hours huddled on the floor in the middle of the night, calling and pleading with her, while Tam yowled frantically and wanted SO MUCH to go in after her. I imagined having to call my landlord at 2AM to explain that he was going to need to cut the house apart because my cat was too stubborn for words. (She finally grudgingly backed her pudgy behind to the starting point, and Jim and I hauled her out by the legs).

Then there was the time I moved across country. My sister Margaret rode along in the minivan as we transported all my belongings and the two cats from Vermont to Colorado. We discovered pretty quickly that Halvah would cry loudly if we didn’t have music playing, and we further discovered just how much of this country has almost no radio stations. I’d foolishly packed all my music away in an inaccessible box, so we were left playing two CDs my sister had on hand, over and over and over and over for thousands of miles: Clint Black’s Greatest Hits, and an Everly Brothers collection. I will forever think of Halvah and that trip when I hear those songs.

Age is starting to catch up to her now, and she’s showing some symptoms of the kidney disease that took Tam last year. In her case, I know treatment options will be limited: she eats only the food she wants to eat, you can’t trick her or force her when it comes to pills, there’s no way in the universe I could give her fluids. She has very definite opinions, and at her age, I guess I can only respect those opinions and hope she has some good times left.

She’s one of the more interesting cats I’ve known. And she’s still Mom’s little “bad thing,” and I love her for it.

Happy 17th, you funny little girl.

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Personal Log, Wintergrass 2017

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At the very last second, everything worked out for me to go to Wintergrass this year: the huge indoor bluegrass festival held at the Hyatt in Bellevue every year. These are some of my thoughts and experiences on the concerts and workshops. Buckle your seatbelts, this is going to be a long trip. It’s the closest thing I can manage to taking you to Wintergrass 2017 with me!

Thursday:

True North: a semi-local bluegrass/Americana band. Took us for a ride through all sorts of emotions. I think my favorites were the song they’d written about the festival’s move from Tacoma to Bellevue and how it’s a tough place for bluegrass songs (chorus: “it’s a hard place to suffer, and that really gets me down”), and this tear-jerker:
Be Here Now

Kruger Brothers! As I recall, they started out with a portion of Jens’ Appalachian Concerto. At Wintergrass, of course, it was just the three musicians–Jens Kruger, Uwe Kruger, and their bass player Joel Landsberg. But somehow they *still* sound like an orchestra. Exceptional musicians in every way. And a beautiful composition by Jens.

The Kruger Brothers & Kontras Quartet – Appalachian Concerto


Uwe also did People Get Ready, which is a crowd pleaser. We were pleased.

Kruger Brothers – People Get Ready


Darlingside – not entirely sure how to categorize these guys! Eagles meets Simon and Garfunkel meets I dunno? They sing tight harmony around a single mic, but are more folk rock than bluegrass. They used a kick drum and a loop pedal and build their songs up to a swirling crescendo that will drag you in. I’m not sure I entirely get their lyrics, and that usually means I don’t care for the band/artist, but their sound is so pretty!

Darlingside – White Horses

Friday:

John McEuen did an audio visual presentation on the history and backstory of the famous Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, starting with the history of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and continuing through the recording of the album itself. There were all SORTS of archival photos and clips and anecdotes, interwoven with live performances of some of the songs by the John McEuen Trio. So, so well done. Some people asked hopefully about a DVD version, but it sounds like it might not be possible. John McEuen *is* however working on a book covering the information, with lots of the pictures and all. It will hopefully be out next year.


Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore Family Band. I’d heard Mollie and Rich before a few times, including at little ol’ Traditions down here in Olympia, WA. Man, what a voice she has! Powerful. And he’s pretty nifty on guitar and harmony vocals. This time around, they had two daughters with them, leading to some tremendous family harmonies. I don’t see any of their family performances out there on the Interweb, but they do have an album! It’s called Daughters. Anyhow, here’s Mollie and Rich: Mollie O’Brien + Rich Moore – Train Home


Jeremy Kittel Band: these are one of the groups that helped support the whole “Bach to Bluegrass” theme this year. For any who loved The Goat Rodeo Sessions–taking bluegrass or Celtic tinged music and classical-fying or jazzing it up a bit, you need to check this group out. Virtuosos. Also one of the few hammered dulcimers I’ve seen at Wintergrass, and who doesn’t love that?

The Jeremy Kittel Band – Irish Tunes


Hot Rize: What can I say? This was my first time seeing my favorite ever bluegrass band live, and they didn’t disappoint. So much fun. Also, Bryan Sutton may be the best flatpicker in the world.

Hot Rize – Western Skies


Caitlyn Canty: wasn’t entirely sure how to take her stage presence/persona. Great voice. Her songs are lyrically rich–so many vivid images crammed in. Overall, not entirely to my taste, but she’s talented and I’m glad I saw her.

Caitlyn Canty – Get Up


The Kruger Brothers, Part Two: they were ON for that performance. Joking around, pushing one another, taking everything as far and as high and as deep as it would go, and it was magical. Every Wintergrass has a few moments that take on mythical proportions for me. This year, this was it.

Kruger Brothers – Beautiful Nothing


We were in the Cedar ballroom where they were broadcasting live via Concert Window. Now I really wish I could go back in time and tell ALL THE PEOPLE to watch. C’est la vie.


The Kruger Brothers ran late because they could (as Uwe pointed out with a big grin, they were the last act on that stage for the night), but as soon as they got out, I jogged over to the WAMA suite to hopefully catch at least a little of Kathy Barwick and Pete Siegfried‘s act. I was hoping against hop that they’d to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” when I was there, and when I walked in, Pete was introducing it. Further proof that someone loves me. I’ve heard a lot of people do that song, but I’m not kidding when I say their version is my favorite by a good bit. Pete has a marvelously expressive voice, nicely completmented by Kathy’s tasteful guitar picking and his own mandolin. I don’t think it’s out there in YouTube land. You’ll have to buy their Long Time Gone album. But here’s something of theirs to tide you over.

Barwick and Siegfried – Dusty Diamonds

Saturday:

Turtle Island Quartet: They can’t really be categorized, but essentially they are all fabulous classically trained musicians who do everything from classical to jazz in the form of a fairly traditional classical quartet: first and second violin, viola, cello. (This is the only thing traditional about them.) I am surprised we didn’t listen to them growing up, honestly–I think Dad would enjoy them if he doesn’t already know about them. Very fine musicians.

Turtle Island Quartet – All Along the Watchtower


Flatt Lonesome: this was about as traditional bluegrass as I went all weekend. As they put it, mostly a family band: twin brother and sister (he on guitar and she on fiddle), their older sister (mandolin), her husband on banjo, and then Dobro and bass. The Robertsons did the vocals, and man oh man, what vocals! 
Flatt Lonesome – You’re the One


Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg: these two were a big, big pull for me. I’m a big fan of classical music, and Caterina is one of the very best classical mandolinists in the world today. Mike Marshall, for his part, has brought classical music to a lot of bluegrass musicians. The two of them met and fell in love at a Mandolin Symposium a few years back, have two adorable little girls, and despite very, very different musical backgrounds, make beautiful music together. Which I enjoyed tremendously. As I said at the time, it made me want to play classical mandolin SO MUCH, but I think it would take decades to get there. Very complex music.

Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall – Bach Gigue in D Minor

Sunday:

Sierra Hull. She is so young, and yet has been a known musician so long, it’s hard to get your head around it. She’s a powerhouse. I got to see her live at Traditions a few months back. I confess, I think my favorite song of hers this time was Mad World, during which she fingerpicked a ’64 Mandocaster. What this says about my taste, I dunno. But man, this is good.

Sierra Hull – Mad World


Tim O’Brien, as in lead singer/mandolinist from Hot Rize and brother of Mollie O’Brien. Very good performance. Do wish he’d played more banjo, but ya know, you can’t have it all, but YouTube does, pretty much.

Tim O’Brien – You Were on My Mind


Oh, and at the end of Tim’s set, a bit of a dream come true for me: I love Mollie and Tim’s voices together, but I’d only ever heard them in recordings. For years I’d hoped they’d sing on stage together when I was there, and finally it happened!


The Wintergrass Youth Orchestra closed things out. Such a cool concept. Mostly they are local middle schoolers, and they work all year to prepare for this performance. Some of the performers volunteered their time to perform with them, so they did music with The Turtle Island Quartet, Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg, Tim O’Brien…and some others after we took off, though they were winding down. Really neat to see!

Slice

For a brief time when I was about 13, I had a contact lens.

Yes, that’s singular. As in one lens.

I have very poor vision in my left eye–unaugmented, I see a matter of inches. As it turns out, I’m actually nearsighted in my right eye as well, and eventually I got glasses. I still don’t see with both eyes together, but whatever.

But at the time, the doctor just wanted to see whether it was possible for me to use my eyes together and actually have depth perception. So they just corrected the left to bring it up to the same strength as the right.

It didn’t work. I saw double, or saw things shifted to one side so I’d go to touch something or pick something up and find it had disconcertingly dodged me. I ended up closing one eye or the other a lot of the time just so I could function. The whole thing rather put me off contacts.

BUT! There was one really cool thing. And I’m never sure why this isn’t talked about more. Am I the only one who experienced this? Is it supposed to be a secret kept by contact lens users? Do I risk being hunted down and silenced? I don’t know.

But here’s what I found: soft contact lenses protect your eyes from onion vapors. Usually I turn into a teary, snotty, miserable mess when cutting onions. I love them, but oh, they hurt. However, I could close my non-contacted eye and slice away.

For a few short months, whenever Mom needed help in the kitchen, I was an invincible onion-chopping cyclops. And that was SO VERY COOL.

Replay

I have a tendency to obsess over two or three albums or artists at a time. I’ll spend a month listening to almost nothing but Bach Cello Suites, for example, or play a particular 90s band’s albums on repeat for days at a time until I know what song is coming up next before it starts.

And then sometimes those albums get lost. I have music I’ve not listened to in years. It is the joy and the challenge of the modern world, I guess: gone are the days when someone might have just half a dozen records they know by heart.

As I was setting up a new device the other day, I started scanning through the list of albums in my digital library–so many old friends, so many brief but passionate flings, so many that brought back so many memories. And I decided it might be fun to take a weird little piecemeal stroll down memory lane. (Ain’t it funny how a melody can bring back a memory?)

I’m working my way through them, in alphabetical order, at least the complete albums, and skipping over a few of the Giant Box o’ Bach types. There are some odd juxtapositions (Ray Charles to monastic chant?!), and admittedly my tastes have evolved (and devolved) through the years, so not everything is going to appeal as much or in the same way as it did at one time, but I’m still enjoying the trip.

So far:

• 12 Greatest Hits – Patsy Cline (An auspicious start. Love me some Patsy.)
• 25 – Harry Connick Jr.
• Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet
• About Time – Don Stiernberg (swing mando!)
• Achtung Baby – U2
• Acoustic Phenomenon – Patrick Ross (GREAT Vermont fiddler)
• Advent at Ephesus – Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles
• Afternoon in Paris – Stephane Grappelli (Spent a LOT of time with this one back in the day!)
• Alive Again – Matt Maher (which I tend to sing along to and scare the dog)
• All The Good ‘Uns – Ian Tyson (man knows how to paint a word picture…)
• Amahl and The Night Visitors
• An Enchanted Evening With Jose Carreras (which makes me miss Mom, his biggest fan…)
• An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók – Jake Schepps (banjo!)
• An Spealadóir – Bua
• Anam – Clannad
• And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years – R.E.M (how to feel drunk without drinking–hefty doses of R.E.M. over tinny speakers)
• Angelina Carberry & Martin Quinn (Irish tenor banjo!)
• Anthology – Ray Charles
• Anthology: Chants & Polyphany from St. Michael’s Abbey
• Armchair Apocrypha – Andrew Bird

NaNoWriMo, My Old Friend

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2002 was not, shall we say, a very pleasant year for me.

For starters, the country was still reeling with grief and uncertainty over 9/11, and the economy was struggling. Tensions ran high at work even early in the year. At our sister company, employees who had worked the factory floor for decades were laid off, with no real hope of finding new jobs in the local area.

In February my mother–who was truly my best friend, for better or worse–finally went to see a doctor about feeling tired and sick, and that funny feeling in her throat. By April, she’d been diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer that had already metastasized to her liver. It was too far along for chemo or surgery. It was too far along for anything but attempting to say goodbye, really. She passed away on May 22nd, my brother Ben’s 20th birthday.

The summer went by in a sort of blur. I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, with three of my siblings and a small group from our parish. There were enjoyable, enlightening moments to be sure, but I also spent a certain amount of time hiding in bathroom stalls or facing into a window on the bus, crying because I couldn’t call Mom and tell her about the places we were seeing, the people we’d met, how much I was coming to love hanging out with my little sister now that she was getting all grown up.

For years, especially when I was overseas, everywhere I went, I tucked away facts and anecdotes to discuss with Mom. Now she was out of reach of even expensive long-distance phone calls. I couldn’t even write in my journal as a substitute–writing about real life brought me face to face with too many strong feelings. It was still too raw. It would be nearly a year before I started keeping a journal again.

And in October, I lost my job. There was a company draw-down and I was one of the group that was cut.

Just to add to the stress level, I had purchased a house less than a year before, with all the expense and responsibility that goes with that. The winter heat bills were starting up. And Christmas was just around the corner. And now here I was, in a rural area with a very limited job market, jobless and broke and with who knew how many weeks to sit alone contemplating my own dark thoughts.

And that was when a friend of mine told me about this crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the course of the thirty days of November. “You have to do it,” she told me. “It’ll be fun!” I wasn’t so sure, but I was intrigued, nonetheless. Could I actually pull it off? I was curious. And at least it seemed more positive than spending the month counting flowers on the wall and crying. So I agreed to join her (and other recruited friends) in the madness of NaNoWriMo.

And you know, it was a surprisingly wonderful experience. My plot that year was a sort of sci-fi / fantasy thing involving time travel and a sinister secret society bent on fixing history to their advantage. My main character that year was a guy who had recently lost his wife, and into that poor character I poured all my own sorrow and pain and guilt and anger. And I brought him through it. I gave him a happy ending. It was cathartic. The story? Eh. It was probably too big for me. It was most definitely not the Great American Novel.

But I finished the challenge. And, in a way, it pulled me through what could have been a much worse time than it was. By the end of the year, I’d had two job offers out of three interviews, I’d been able to go to a midnight opening of “The Two Towers” halfway across the state on account of not having to work the next day (coldest line party EVER at at least -20F, but we prevailed), and we’d managed to live through the first holiday season without Mom with more laughter than tears. And I could say I’d written my first novel. Life was looking up.

NaNoWriMo will never again be for me what it was that first year, but it’s largely because of that year that I keep coming back.

I really don’t know what I’m going to write about this year, but I think I’m in. I’ve signed up at the website, I have pens and notebooks ready. What I don’t have is a plot. Or a setting. Or any characters whatsoever. But hey, there are twenty one whole days left to figure that out, right?

Much of this post brazenly stolen from my past self at my old blog, Little Flower Petals.

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Cinders and the Saddest Toy Cat

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An early drawing of Cinders.

Once upon a time, many years ago, a newly 10 year old me got a kitten for my birthday and named him Cinders. I’d actually been visiting him for several weeks–his mother belonged to neighbors–and the whole period was thrilling. Overwhelming. So I did what I always do when overwhelmed and overexcited: I blogged about it.

OK, no. This was in premordial soup days, long before blogs. Instead, I did what people did back then, and what I still do much of the time nowadays: I wrote it down on paper. Mom gave me a notebook and I started a logbook about Cinders, recording dates and times and his weight and length and my impressions of everything all along the way.

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Neutering and death dates, too? OK, kid, you’re weird.
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A sample page.

Transcription of the above: Oct 16, 1986  When kittens are little (10 days to 6 weeks) their eyes are a milky blue color. Then they turn to the color they will be when they are an adult. Cinders is 6 weeks old. His eyes are yellow. Tomorrow he is coming to live at my house. I have everything ready. I bought him a brush, I bought him food and food and water bowls, I made him a bed, and I got him used to me. Everything is ready…

There weren’t cell phone cameras to upload pictures to Facebook and Instagram, so I drew him over and over again, memorizing every spot and splotch of his little black and white tailless self. (His mother also had no more than a powder puff of a tail, and the same went for many of his siblings. I don’t know if there was a Manx in his background or just an off genetic mutation, but there are still a handful of true-breeding near-tailless cats in the region where I grew up, along with polydactyl cats.)

He was an interesting guy. Followed me like a dog. Slept on my bed at night. And, as Mom wrote in this guest post…er, note, he had a pretty definite schedule.

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Transcription: Guest Notes 1/12/87  Cinders spend several hours last night playing with a tangle of pipecleaners. He seems to have developed a regular routine of sleep and play. In midmorning he always wrestles a stuffed gray cat with blue eyes. It’s quite a sight.   Mom

He thoroughly enjoyed beating the crap out of this little guy.

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This was, in a way, my first cat, from when I was really little. When Cinders came along, he decided it was his buddy. When I eventually moved away from home, he–now rahther the worse for wear–came along. I’d all but forgotten about him, but when I got the current kittens, one of them found the sad little grey fluff in the back of a drawer and gleefully yanked him out. They’ve been dragging him all around the house ever since. I’ll find him on the bed, or by the couch, or abandoned as they dash for the door to greet me.

He’s deeeeefinitely seen better days, to say the least. Not only has he been clobbered by at least three unkind kittens over a nearly thirty year period, he’s been washed and dried none too gently. His whiskers are…erratic. But in velveteen rabbit terms, he’s approaching reality. He has been loved hard. And I can’t help feeling like Mom is watching these new kittens and smiling. Who knows, maybe Cinders is, too.

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Advent Reflection: Finding Joy

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Early Wednesday mornings, I spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. As part of my prayer, I typically say a rosary, and since it’s Advent, today I said the Joyful Mysteries.

As I was going through them, it struck me: every “joyful” mystery also came with a double helping of sorrow or anxiety.

I mean, think about it:

The Annunciation
Mary is a very young woman, not even married yet, and first of all, she comes face to face with a VERY SCARY angel, who has to start off by telling her not to fear, and THEN tells her she is going to be the mother of God’s son. No pressure. Yikes!

The Visitation
Immediately after the above, while still in early pregnancy (not pleasant, from what I hear), she sets off on a long journey on foot to visit and assist her cousin. I mean, it’s wonderful that Elizabeth is having a baby, but…man, how tiring and miserable would that have been?

The Nativity

I imagine Mary preparing a space for the baby. Maybe Joseph made a beautiful cradle. Maybe she had little clothes laid by. And then? She ends up giving birth in a stinky stable, far from home, likely without many relatives around. Poor Mary!

The Presentation at the Temple
A few weeks after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph, as good Jews, go to present their child at the Temple. There they are reminded that they are poor (meh, turtledoves are fine–we know you guys are broke), and THEN hear a bunch of scary prophesies about their new son.

The Finding at the Temple
If you’ve ever been somewhere very crowded–the mall, an airport, a fair–and had a child disappear for even a few minutes, you can identify with Mary and Joseph’s panic. Except it wasn’t a few minutes! Jesus disappeared on them, and they searched for DAYS! Granted, they did find him, but…goodness!

Yes, there is also joy in each of these if you look deeply, but mostly the joy came not from the situation, but from their acceptance of God’s will for them, not getting riled up by the circumstances.

Advent can be tough for me. I’m single, I don’t have kids. I get melancholy remembering wonder-filled evenings as a kid when we’d light the Advent candles and turn off the lights, and read a prayer by candle light with all of us elbowing and jostling to poke at the candles.

I miss all the saint days for which we had fun traditions: putting out our shoes for Saint Nicholas on December 6th, making pinatas for Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, candles for Saint Lucy on December 13th.

I miss baking cookies as a family, making fudge, making Christmas decorations.

I’ve spent long years wishing I could see all these things through the eyes of my own children, which doesn’t seem likely now.

It’s hard.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it helps a little to realize that even some of the most wonderful happenings in all of time weren’t untainted by loneliness and anxiety and sorrow. It also makes me a little more inclined to look deeper at my own days, to find that kernel of beauty and joy that I might otherwise miss. I want to value the moments I do get to spend with family–nieces and nephews and siblings, instead of burying myself in envy. I want to pick up an Advent wreath and start a few traditions of my own, even if I do so alone. I want to value the freedom I have to stop by the adoration chapel before or after work now and again this month.

Sometimes, joy is where you find it.

Good Things, Random Thanksgiving Week Edition

1. I don’t do well in crowds. Never have. Trying to shop when there are lots of people around is an exercise in frustration as well as anxiety–if I feel like I can’t move, I get more and more panicky, and list or no, I forget to buy stuff, or buy stuff that makes no sense. For example, one fine day years ago, I went into a Wal-mart in search of some sort of groceries, and came out with nothing but a flamingo pink fleece hat that matches nothing I own, because somehow it made sense at the time. (I admit, it’s grown on me, and I love that stupid hat. But I digress…)

So I’m thankful that it occurred to me on Wednesday to go to Jay’s Farmstand for the onions and other vegetables and groceries I needed. At eight o’clock in the morning, I was one of only two shoppers, and shopping was a peaceful affair.

For the next month, if there’s anything I can’t get at Jay’s or the feed store or via Amazon, I don’t need it. I hope.

2. On the way home from work on Wednesday, while I was once again avoiding crowds, I took a route home that gave me a momentary but spectacular view of the nearly-full moon rising through the sunset: a gorgeous orange red ball in a darkening sky. It was brief, but fulfilling.

3. We had Thanksgiving at my siblings’ restaurant (Arista in Puyallup, WA–check it out if you live nearby!), which was cool. A highlight for me, aside from the great food, was getting to play music with my sister for a few minutes, she on fiddle and me on mandolin. There was a certain amount of “what do we both know?” as it’s been awhile since we spent much time playing together, but still…so good, though bittersweet in that it really made me miss other siblings back east. Someday, we’ll have to get the band back together, if only for a few minutes…

4. I’m thankful for warm fireplaces and warm cats on cold days, and the ability to obtain library books from the comfort of the couch.

5. One final good thing: I spent some time today doing a bit of polishing on a sort of historical fiction short story that was rejected this spring. This is the closest I’ve come to “real” writing in awhile, and I actually feel pretty OK about the story at this point. I need to find a new home for it.

Four Things I Learned From My Housewarming Party

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Woo-hoo! I survived my first hosting experience! I confess, I had never had more than about four or five people over before (OK, maybe ten counting small children), so this was scary new territory. I made it through, and even learned a thing or two. Or four.

1. Though it may not be ideal, parties can still work if you’re a socially awkward nincompoop who doesn’t really know how to introduce friends to other friends. Turns out people aren’t robots who stand silently against the wall waiting to be activated by introductions before they interact. They will even introduce themselves to one another and mingle much better than you do. It’s kind of cool.

2. No matter how much cheese you set out for a gathering, you really should set out some more. A few days ago I posted a note that I was “pretty sure I could drop about 5 lbs. this week alone if I gave up cheese, which would be a great plan, except it requires giving up cheese.” (Seriously, if Costco were to gauge household size on cheese consumption, they would likely think there are about eight of us, and we’re all two hundred pound mice.) Turns out I’m not alone in the love of cheese.

3. Cookies trump pretty mini cupcakes as party desserts. I don’t know if the cupcakes were just intimidating or what, but I still had most of them at the end of the day. On the other hand, everyone made short shrift of the one pack of cookies someone thoughtfully brought. We should get a grant and figure out the psychology behind this phenomenon.

4. My friends are amazing. Truly. I mean, I sort of already knew that. I said a few weeks ago that I felt humbled and grateful by all that people had done for me throughout this house searching and moving experience. That feeling continues to multiply. I am very, very blessed.

Relocation Redux

   I feel like this sums up so much…

I can’t recall if I mentioned it here or not, but I bought a house!

To begin with, the closing was going to be on Wednesday, but then it turned out that was just the funding part, and late Monday evening I got word I was supposed to sign the paperwork the next day. So Tuesday morning I arrived at work slightly late and utterly flustered because I had to ask for no-notice time off. I walked in the door and immediately started babbling inanely to the closest co-worker, who listened patiently for a moment (bless her), and then said, “Um, honey? Look at your feet.” Aw, geez.

But it all worked out OK, so maybe that was good luck. Got paperwork all signed, and got a free pen out of the deal. Sadly, I opened the pen because I was curious how much ink I’d used signing my name eleventy zillion times, and it fell apart and got ink all over my hands. Classic. Fortunately they had me come back Wednesday to sign a few more things, so I made off with a second pen. (And I lost it.)

Nothing really to say about Thursday except that we moved a ton of stuff, and I have some truly awesome friends who helped me through it, not just physically but mentally. We got the majority of the packed boxes and some of the furniture all taken care of.

 Friday morning, I had to take one cat (Tam) to the vet. He was there for all of about ten minutes, just to get his nails clipped (he’s old and doesn’t wear them properly) and a shot. However, any time at the vet means that Halvah completely FLIPS OUT when Tam gets home. It don’t know if she thinks he has become a pod cat or if she’s afraid of second-hand vetting or what, but she turns into a horrible bee-yotch for at least a day afterward.

So Halvah spent the rest of the day hissing at Tam, smacking him if he got nearby and grumbling to herself if he so much as entered the same room. Tam and Halvah rode peaceably together in a small carrier all the way from Fort Collins, CO to Olympia, WA, but–after vet contamination–there was no way she was going to ride in the car with him for fifteen or twenty minutes. So I had to make two trips. Which, on a busy moving day, is a lot of extra minutes. Gar.

Friday night was my first night in the house, and my first evening in the neighborhood, as I’d only ever visited the house in the daytime up to that point. It’s downright sleepy, generally speaking–there’s really no traffic aside from those who live on the street, and there isn’t big population from the party demographic.

Or so I thought. I was exhausted, so went to bed pretty early–like nine, nine-thirty–where I blinked in the darkness and listened to…drums. I don’t think it was even music, just what sounded like a drum circle, and it sounded like it was right in back of the house. For about half an hour I lay there thinking, “What have I done? What if this is what I have to listen to every night for the rest of my life?”

And then the drummers must have picked up and gone home.

I haven’t heard them since. Maybe it was a welcoming committee.

Saturday morning was my first morning in the house, and it started off pretty well! I woke up refreshed, found that the morning sun streamed beautifully into the front rooms of the house, found my coffee making supplies, and made a fine cup with plenty of real cream. Oh, light and luxury!

I’d made plans to meet back at the old house with friends later in the day to take a load of assorted junk to the dump, but the morning was mine, so I thought I’d lug some boxes in from the garage to unpack. Except…going back into the house with the very first box, I found that I’d locked the door behind me.

Yes, that’s right. Day one in my new house, and I locked myself in my own garage.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but Friday, while I was doing all the cat shuffling, I gave the keys to the house to one of the friends who was helping me move, and we both forgot about them until she was already home. I’d planned to lock myself out of the house when I went to do the dump run, and retrieve them then. I hadn’t intended on locking myself out ahead of time.

To complicate matters, I didn’t know how to unlock the garage door from the inside. Also, I didn’t have my cell phone, so I couldn’t ask for any help. And since the garage door was locked, I couldn’t very well bang on the door and get the neighbors to let me out, unless I sent one of them to call a locksmith, which would have been…awkward.

To add to the fun, I’ve been intending to see “The Martian” as soon as humanly possible, and my brain linked my locked-in state with that story (for the uninitiated, brief synopsis is that a guy ends up trapped on Mars with few resources and has to figure out how to signal for help–since he’s assumed dead–AND survive until someone comes, only it’s way more awesome than that sounds). Anyway, my thoughts started straying toward how I might be able to feed Cisco dog (also trapped) and myself, locate water, keep warm, etc. until help came, possibly not for days.

But I finally figured out how to get the door open, and after a momentary panic where I thought I was going to have to walk to the nearest store and beg random strangers to take me to the friends with the keys, I remembered I knew someone a few streets over, and she helped me locate the phone number. So it wasn’t really all that exciting after all. I just had to unpack boxes in the garage for awhile, and then they came and rescued me and we went and gathered up dump stuff.

Sunday was mostly spent cleaning out the old place, but also family came down to see the place for the first time, which was really fun–especially getting to hear and see about the place through the eyes of the kids. They particularly liked the mysterious lump in the back yard. 

I haven’t mentioned the lump, have I? When I viewed the house, we speculated mightily as to what the lump might be hiding–a hidden bunker, bodies, unexploded ordinances–but Friday night the neighbor who had been keeping an eye on the place returned his key (no longer any good anyway, since the locks got changed) , and told me a bunch of the history. Turns out the lump is just…a lump. Apparently the previous owner planned to landscape it or something. What a let down.

The Lump, in my shaggy backyard. It pretty much hasn't stopped raining since I got here, my?
The Lump, in my shaggy backyard. It pretty much hasn’t stopped raining since I got here, mmmkay?

Anyway, the kids liked it. Now I’m torn about demolishing it.

I’m slowly but surely unpacking boxes. This weekend I got most of the kitchen figured out, and my books at least on shelves, if not in any logical order. Those two things have done wonders toward making this place feel like home. I also sat and played banjo for the first time since I’ve moved in. Neighbors didn’t storm the house to stone me, so that’s positive.

Two of the great friends who helped me move also stopped by halfway through the week to provide a hot meal and set me up with the new rural style mailbox the USPS now requires (the old house boxes were grandfathered in to a point, but they’re phasing them out since carriers mostly deliver from the vehicle now). Isn’t this about the purtiest mailbox you ever did see?

Mailbox

And that’s my move!