Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review - The First Four Years

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Laura Ingalls Wilder ©1953
I read several reviews for this book and it was critiqued pretty harshly. People said the writing was poor and not at all like the rest of the idyllic Little House series. I, however, liked it—a lot.

First of all they're right, it is not a literary work of art. It was actually published from four notebooks, a handwritten rough draft, found after Laura’s death. But, what resonated with me was a feeling of authenticity. The other book I've read, Little House in the Big Woods, was wonderful, but felt censored—highly polished? For example, she’s afraid of being spanked by her Pa, but instead he curls her up in his lap for a moral story. Leaving me feeling that this man never, ever, lost his temper… Not even when his daughters disobey him, not once, but twice. But, if she was afraid of being spanked then wouldn't she have to have felt his belt before?

Laura and Almanzo are married early on in the story. Laura is nineteen and Almanzo twenty-nine. That's what attracted me to this story, I was twenty when I was married and part of me wanted to revisit those newlywed years and contrast them with hers. The comparisons in our daily lives are that there aren't any. I lived in a cozy little apartment in the suburbs and she lived in a government homestead in the Dakotas. However, Laura and Almanzo are immediately recognizable. Laura is still a woman/child, (like I was) who spends a snowy day playing and sledding, (like I did). Almanzo is an earnest, hard working man that doted on his young wife. (Like mine did.)

Laura has doubts (what? Laura has doubts!?!) about Manly's choice to earn a living by farming a homestead. She doesn't want to spend her life poor and broken from work. Infinitely optimistic, Manly convinces her to try it for three years. Each year their labor is devastated by forces of nature. Their wheat is filling out beautifully, then heat swoops in and dries it out. All that hard work was for naught. Plowing, seeding, tending… Done. Gone. The livestock, the prairie grasses (sold as hay) and Almanzo's strong back, provides just enough to get by and they try again the next year. Then Rose arrives.

Authenticity aside, I was a little relieved that Rose didn't arrive by stork. Although when Laura's labor began, the doctor arrived and then she fell asleep and the baby was here. Woah. I think modern medicine has taken a step backwards. Or she did a little creative storytelling to protect her modesty. I can understand that in a pioneer era woman.

The next three years are rife with disasters and oddities that can only be real, fire, losing a child, fever, Almanzo's stroke, their friendly neighbor who offers to trade baby Rose for a horse. Through it all, Laura never despairs and Almanzo never loses faith. After hail flattened $3000 in ripe wheat, money that would render them debt free with some to spare, Almanzo cheerily suggests they use the hailstones to make ice cream. Laura and I decline, and wonder if he’s a little touched in the head..

I understand why Laura, herself, never published this book. I also understand why she had to write it. Sometimes a writer is not in charge of what she writes. Sometimes a story becomes a nag, crowding out other ideas demanding to be written. So she did. However, she chose not to publish her doubts, trials and pain.

I am glad she wrote it. I’m glad it was eventually published. I'm in awe of their perseverance and hope. I'm in awe of their evident love for each other. I’m touched by Laura’s vulnerability and support of her husband despite her reservations. Perhaps their struggles bound them as a couple. In modern “me” times, it seems to tear couples apart.

Three ways I felt this book's authenticity:
  • Laura is not always happy.
  • The Dakotas are a scary place to live—weather wise. You could go out for a walk on a mild spring day, get caught in a freak blizzard, and be found frozen to a rock three days later.
  • I closed the book feeling admiration for what they endured, and wholly fortunate to live in modern times.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Story - Curious Berzo Gets a Haircut

(Inspired by a blog post describing Berzo's first haircut. Written in the style of the Curious George books wherein George is left unsupervised and gets in trouble, and by pure circumstance, it all works out to everyone's benefit in the end.)

This is Berzo. Berzo was a good little monkey and always very curious. Today Berzo and the lady with the blue hat were brushing their hair.

“Berzo your hair is getting long, let’s go to the hair salon for your very first haircut,” said the lady.

Berzo and the lady drove to the mall and found the hair cutting salon.

They went inside and talked to a lady behind the counter. “I’d like a hair cut for my monkey,” said the lady.

“Please put her name on the list. I’m alone today, but I’ll be able to see her in about ten minutes,” said the stylist.

“Berzo, I’m going to the next door to get a new pair of snowshoes. You can play with the trains while you wait your turn. Be a good little monkey and don’t be too curious,” said the lady as she left the salon.

Berzo could not believe her eyes. She saw chairs in the shape of cars and airplanes, a jar full of lollipops and a screen playing a movie about a princess. Toward the back of the room several ladies lounged in chairs with a funny looking space helmet covering their heads. Berzo watched as the stylist squirted funny smelling stuff on a woman’s hair and folded it in tin foil, while the woman sat with cucumbers on her eyes. Another lady with wet, funny smelling hair moved to a lounging chair and the stylist put a helmet on her head too.

Berzo was curious, could she style hair too?

Just then the phone rang and the stylist rushed to answer it.

Berzo grabbed bottles of color and squirted it on the lady’s hair and wrapped it in tin foil.

The lady started talking, “So as I was saying, I told June that she just doesn’t need to sign Roger up for so many sports. He needs that energy for his school work. But does she listen to me? Oh no…”

Berzo grabbed more colors and more foil. It was fun to be a stylist. Then she picked up the scissors and started to cut the lady’s hair.

She hopped over to the ladies under the helmet. She noticed a hole on top of the space helmets. Would those ladies like a stylist treatment too? Berzo was curious. She squirted in one bottle then the next, and the ladies didn’t seem to mind. They were busy chatting to each other over the whooshing of the machines.

The stylist hung up the phone. “Berzo, I’m ready for you now…” Berzo ran over to the fire truck chair and hopped in.

“How did you get these colors all over your hands?” She looked around. “Oh no!” the stylist cried.

She pulled up all the hoods and the woman pulled the cucumbers off her eyes… The stylist took the foil off—her hair was three different colors, and the cut? “Oh no!” the stylist cried again.

The other ladies hair frizzed and had splotches of red, blond, bronze, even purple!

Berzo was worried. Had she done something wrong? She had only wanted to help the nice lady while she was on the phone.

Just then the lady with the blue hat came back.

“Look at what your monkey has done!!” the stylist shouted.

The lady in the blue hat dropped her bag.

Just then the door swung open and a man in a funny looking suit and sunglasses came in.

“Helloooo, I’m Fabien from Fashion Forward magazine and I’m looking for a salon to feature on next month’s cover.”

“Oh, hello ladies!”

He flitted from woman to woman, admiring Berzo's work.

“Oh yes! Finally! Ma’am, you have created music for my eyes. Such originality! How ever do you come up with your ideas?”

“Oh, I had some help…”

“Mustn't be too modest now. I’d like to feature your salon in our magazine. Ladies, how would you like to model for the cover shoot?”

He turned towards the door and shouted, ” Get those photographers in here, NOW!”

“Berzo,” said the stylist, “you sure gave me a shock, but without your special brand of art, my salon might not have been selected. You can come back anytime, but leave the hair styling to me, OK?”

“ Now, let’s cut your hair.”

“Would you like a lollipop?”

Berzo did.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Curious Berzo Gets a Haircut

The morning snarl.
By the time I brought Berzo to Pigtails and Crewcuts for her first haircut last week, she was long overdue. Something in me just didn't want to face parting with those four little baby curls that finished her light-brown hair that flowed down her back—when it wasn't heaped in a snarl behind her head, that is… Coaxing her locks from the morning snarl began to involve more and more strategy…

I began to feel like a cheetah stalking a baby impala. I'd find the softest hair brush and begin following her. If she was running around playing, I'd hide the brush and feign indifference. Eventually, she'd tire and find a cozy spot to rest, such as by the fire reading a book. Haha! This is my moment. Silently, I'd approach from behind, very nonchalant, brush concealed, so as not to arouse the suspicion of my quarry. Then I'd ever so gently take her hair from under her collar and begin to work on the ends. A snag. Abort! Abort!

“Owww! Hey!"  She turns and looks at me, "Don't brush my hair.”

The chase is on.

Eventually, after much dashing about I corner her and pounce. She struggles, giggling, I walk her over to a chair, I sit down and use my legs to block her escape.

“Let me go!”

“As soon I get your hair brushed, you can go. I'll be extra, EXTRA gentle, I promise.”



Baby curls.
It's time... Time to let the baby curls go. With resignation I say, “Berzo, we need to get your hair cut kiddo.”

“No! I don't want to get my hair cut. It will hurt!”

“No, baby, it doesn't hurt. Let's just go check it out, and see if you feel better when we get there.”

Then we;re off to the mall. We go inside, it's a bright, friendly place and she goes over to the train table as I put her name on the list. I inquire as to the wait time, toddlers are not known for patience, and she says about ten minutes. We head down the stairs into the mall and walk a few circuits around the fountain then look in a clothing store. Soon our ten minutes are up and we head back to the salon. She starts to play again and within a few minutes, she is called for her turn.

“Ok, Berzo, it's your turn. What vehicle do you choose? The yellow taxi car or the airplane?  WooOOoo, sooo cool.” Why do I always say this? What kind of dork sells stuff to a kid with “Wooo, so cool!”? It never works; if anything it probably clues them in...

“No. No. I'm too scared.”

The stylist and I are patient and waited for her to get used to the idea but after about five minutes of coaxing we realized we needed to be more persuasive. I picked her up, she fought me a little, but went in the seat. She started to drive the car. Then she locked eyes with the stylist and immediately reached out to me and started to get upset. The stylist asked if we should offer her a lollipop now rather than after. I agreed. She offered Berzo the jar and she picked out a sour apple lolly and was instantly transformed.

“Mama, you open it?”

I undo the wrapper just a little and let her work it the rest of the way off. She pops it in her mouth and she's on board now, just like that.

Candy and TV notwithstanding, she's a little nervous when the stylist starts cutting. But she trusts her now, (candy) and is cooperative about looking this way and that, on command. The stylist hands me Berzo's severed ponytail. In my hands I hold the last vestige of Berzo's babyhood. My throat tightened...

Then stylist is all done cutting. The stylist picks up a round brush and starts to blow dry her hair. Berzo's scared again and pulls her neck all the way inside her body like a turtle. The stylist tries to show her that the dryer is harmless, but in the end decides to get it over with quickly.

Berzo's hair is silky and bouncy as my newly minted big girl swings her head from side to side. The stylist tries to get a picture, and we get a smile but eyes closed, then a smile with eyes looking sideways, then eyes on but no smile. Eventuall, we got a cute picture and the stylist takes a blond curl and prints the photo, and tucks both into a keepsake card.

I thank her, pay the bill with a generous tip for her extra care and patience and we leave. Unfortunately, I leave without Berzo's ponytail.

From there we headed to Pump-It-Up Junior, Berzo's favorite place to play, and Berzo dashes in the door exclaiming to the woman behind the counter, “I just got my hair cut!!” Then she swings her head side to side. The woman praises her cute cut and Berzo rockets down the hallway towards the play area.

I want another baby. No I don't. Yes, I do. Or do I?

The title of this blog post inspired me to write a Curious George style story about the experience.  I'm kinda wishing I was more artistic. I'd love to illustrate this to have for our family...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Amy - New Year's Reflections 2013

I started out 2013 resolved to write more, which was easy, because I like to write. Kind of like telling someone who likes to eat that they have to snack more.  I also find it therapeutic, as those of you with small children can relate, for much of the day I need to do an unimpressive form of mental gymnastics.  My thoughts race ahead then flip and twist, dash this way and that as I cook and parent, and play and parent, as I do laundry and parent, shower and parent, drive and parent, schedule an appointment and parent, teach, learn, screw-up, yell, apologize...

As soon as our front door swings shut, as I leave for my daily break, my thoughts spin inward and my eyes glaze over.  As I walk, my mind chases ideas, as colors, images, sounds, and smells swirl and evaporate again and again until one of them takes shape and my conscious mind grabs a hold. That's the one.  Then the words start to flow as I wander toward my destination looking for a warm drink and a table near an electrical outlet.
Soon I start to write, letters become words, words become sentences, paragraphs take shape as I paint with words, the pictures in my head.

It feels wonderful, like stretching after a strenuous workout.  I'm lost as the hands on the clock whir unnoticed. Sometimes my fingers outpace my thoughts and I pause to sip wondering how my drink got cool so fast.  I check the clock, I still have a few minutes, then a little more writing. Uh oh, I'm going to be late, I should stop... Just let me get this part out...

The rest of my day I spent as a typical wife and mama.

We have been lucky to have Oma and Opa over for overnight visits on alternating Wednesdays. It's wonderful to have company, and usually affords Charley and I time to go out together.  In fact, Boots, my former separation anxiety child, shoves us out the door to get more of Oma and Opa's attention for herself.

So that's my daily life, now for the highlights of my year...

In the beginning of 2013 I was facing my first mammogram. Not a big deal for most people, but with my family history, (100% of my maternal, female relatives have had breast cancer before menopause) it's a little worrisome. I've resigned myself to the certainty that I will get cancer within the next ten years, I just need to be vigilant and catch it early. My mom and grandma both survived, and I plan to as well.

My doctor wanted to start mammograms at age thirty, but because I spent my early thirties pregnant or nursing, it didn't happen. Now that we're done having babies, (*Sniff* Yay! *Sniff*) I had no more excuses for postponing it any longer. At my yearly exam, my doctor counseled me to wait for three months after weaning Berzo before scheduling my mammogram, putting me due for one in March. With CANCER heavy on my mind, I thought a lot about my life to date. I love my life and wouldn't change a thing, but it is much lighter on the adventure and travel than I thought it would be, and at thirty-five I had done very little. During a visit with my friend, Stephanie, I said in an offhand way that we should take a trip together sometime, like Hawaii or something, just us girls. To my surprise, Stephanie said, “OK, let's do it.”

I mentioned the idea to Charley in a joking way, wouldn't it be crazy if, and he said, “I think you should do it. And if you go, it'll have to be for a week at least, to make it worth the airfare and give you time to explore.”

“Seriously?” was my response.

“Yeah, seriously. You need to do this,” he said.

Feeling a little surreal, (a lot guilty, and little scared) we made the arrangements, spent the money and away we flew.

It was everything I was hoping it could be and more. We stayed in West Maui, on Napili Bay, and woke up to sights of humpback whales breaching through the bands of double rainbows. We snorkeled until our necks cramped and leg tendons ached. We went on a whale watching tour and saw dozens of whales; the first we saw was a mom and baby pair that were playing near enough to our boat as to make the captain nervous. Watching them play made me ache for my girls. Then amazing little swallow-like birds flew up out of the water then dove under, again and again. No wait—holy shit—flying fish!

Molokini Crater
Later that week we took a cruise to Molokini Crater & Turtle Arches to snorkel. The boat tossed and heaved, and so did many of the passengers, but Stephanie and I were too high on the thrill of adventure to feel anything amiss. Moored in the crater the waves still rolled and wind whipped. I was leery about jumping into such rough seas to swim, but I did anyway—of course. I bobbed around in the cool water feeling anxious, then I plugged in my snorkel and put my head under the water—it was pure peace; white noise filled my ears and the waves felt like a gentle rocking rather than a savage tossing. The water was clear, and brilliant little fish with unusual methods of locomotion swam around each person, their little eyes swiveling as they searched us over. Pacific Whale Foundation does not permit anyone to feed the fish, but clearly that rule isn't observed by all the boats that visit the crater.

After an hour or so in the water we were chilled, but we stayed in until they dragged us out. We then motored to Turtle Arches and I was so cold I thought twice about jumping in the water, but I did anyway—of course. We saw several huge sea turtles. They came so close it was tempting to try to touch them. We lasted for another forty-five minutes or so, before deciding to warm up on the boat. The trip back was rough waters as well. It was pleasant at Turtle Arches, but you could see the wind on the water out in the distance and the captain advised us to use caution and hold on. Sure enough, like passing through a door, the wind slammed into us and ripped at our clothes and hair as we searched the water for whales; it felt like flying. What an adventure!

As I got comfortable snorkeling, I learned to dive a bit, and a few feet under the water you could hear the whales singing clear and true from anywhere on the island. The pressure eventually perforated my left eardrum, but it was worth it, and it stopped hurting—bonus. We hiked, strolled, paddle boarded, shopped, got lost a few times, (I was navigator) drove a scary road around the northwest side of the island, sampled the World’s Best Banana Bread, dined, laughed, lounged, took thousands of pictures some of them underwater, and felt ourselves renew.
So fun!  I've been trying to convince Charley we need one for Oysterville.
The days flew by and Stephanie and I savored every last moment. However, when we got to the airport, we couldn't get home fast enough. It was a red eye that arrived at seven or so in the morning. The elation of hugging my little family again and breathing in their smells was like a hit from the best kind of drug.

For the rest of the year, I've floated on the notes of that trip.

Some of you might be thinking, "Hey wait a second.  Amy doesn't even work, [for money] how can she possibly go to Hawaii?"  And I would say to those people, you're absolutely right; it's not justifiable.  It was by pure grace that I got to do this.  A gift that goes beyond the expense to my family, Charley hates us to be apart even for a day and we have two small children to care for.  I will be forever grateful to my family and everyone else who helped, for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime gift.  Not a moment was wasted and I'll remember it always. Thank you.

Once back home it was time to face reality and get my very first mammogram. The results were negative. Whew! My doctor and I discussed genetic testing. He said the first step is to have my mom tested, because she was the one who had cancer. I've discussed it with my mom several times, and explained it carefully, but to no avail. I'll keep trying though, this not only affects me, but my girls' risk factors as well.

During our summertime trip to Lina's, Charley's brother-in-law, Dave, took out on the Wynoochee river to fish for steelhead. Which is another item I got to check off my bucket list. Although, now I've added, landing a steelhead to the list. It was fun driving along the river with Dave telling us who lived down many of the driveways, and which of their animals he treated, and what fishing holes are near their stretch of water.  He has permission to park and fish anytime of course. Our visit to Lina's was a wonderful trip. From there we headed to Lina's other house in Oysterville and spend the remainder of our vacation there.

Summer is the season of birthdays in our family, Berzo's comes in June, Charley and Boots' in July and mine in August.  It seemed like I was in a continual state of shopping, party planning and baking this last summer.  By the time mine rolled around, I was glad to have a non-party birthday; we spent a the day hiking.  It was the perfect gift.

Then summer reached its zenith with the Oysterville Regatta, wherein we see many people we only see there, and we cheer on our favorite sailors while peering through binoculars misreading numbers on the sails, and chatting up the other spectators. The girls pet the dogs and play in the bay water as the high tide pushes up towards Clay Street. After the races, we enjoy the amazing dinner catered by Lina and Carol, and watch the trophy and tee-shirt presentations.  This year, Lina's daughter, Caylin won the cup.  The first female to ever do so.  The celebration this year was crowned by a watermelon. The seeded kind. The oblong, seeded kind. The oblong, seeded kind, from Hermiston. The lost revered watermelon of Tucker's childhood. It was delicious.

The Summer glare faded and fall glowed. Fall has long been my favorite time of year. The sticky heat of the valley is blown out by the crisp notes of fall breezes. The trees put on their most beautiful dress as they get ready for their grand ball, then drop them like a courtesan, littering our yards and sidewalks with their gold, orange, and red sequins.

Fall brought back-to-school time for Boots and the aforementioned anxiety issues. I want to extend my thanks to everyone who sympathized and passed along their help and advice.  It was invaluable.

These guys look pretty tough, yeah?  I smoked them all.
Charley, Clark, Jason and I ran Warrior Dash together this year. This was the first year we had our girls with us. Jason, Clark and I ran in the 10 a.m. wave together and Charley ran in the 11 a.m. wave after I took over the girls. I finished well, having scooted by a line-up that cost Clark and Jason ten minutes—TEN MINUTES. They were not happy. I finished nineteenth for my age group. With better conditioning, (I have to walk the uphills) I might be able to move up a couple spots, but I don't think I could ever touch those women in the top ten. We won't know, due to the nightmare it is to get in and out of Horning's Hideout, and the pile-ups at obstacles, and crowds of people craziness everywhere, we're going to find new races to run. They're simply packing in too many people into a single day of races.

The Turner Family
We had Thanksgiving at our home again this year. It was lovely. We cleaned our house, baked a pumpkin pie, and supplied a few side dishes and hors d'oeuvres. My mother-in-law arrived around nine on Thanksgiving morning and put in the turkey. She also provided the stuffing, chocolate cream pie, sweet potatoes. My side of the family showed up around eleven. Ericka brought her amazing rosemary rolls and a pie. Clark's family showed up around dinner time and brought roasted root vegetables. Aunt Patti came and brought a jelled fruit salad. Many hands make light work—indeed.

I'm a ball player!
We had a total of six kids in the house ranging in ages eighteen-months to nine-years and they all got along beautifully. We played Wiffle ball outside, enjoying the warm fall weather, and the kids played well inside too. The dinner was delicious, the company and conversation was lovely. The only thing that would have made it better was if Lina and Dave could have been there too. Perhaps next year.

Having unloaded the dishwasher after Thanksgiving, I found myself thrust into the Christmas shopping season. I’m no Christmas shopper. I get dizzy and stressed out in crowds. So I made good use of the Internet and all those wonderful promo codes and free shipping offers. I was able to complete about ninety percent of my shopping online. The shopping I did in stores was relaxed browsing, oh-this-looks-fun sort of shopping.

I found myself really anticipating Christmas Day. I pushed to get our tree up earlier, and savored the whole process. I flopped on Christmas cards this year though, sorry!

The weekend before Christmas we took our annual family trip to Lina's house and had a wonderful time. Lina is an amazing host and it is fun visiting with Dave and their now-grown kids. Seeing these “kids” in their twenties reminds me just how not-twenty I am any longer…

Although we had Christmas Eve all to ourselves, we were craving a little company and decided to have an open house. We invited friends and neighbors to drop by whenever it was convenient for them. Charley got out his homebrew and we sampled and snacked, and had a lively visit. Clark's family came over, and Boots and Mimi were nowhere to be seen for hours. Charley and Clark, in effort to keep alive a sacred family tradition, ordered up some take-out Chinese food. We had dinner together and visited and laughed.
Christmas morning came and in moments the several hours spent wrapping gifts was reduced to a pile of shreds. As it should be. The girls spent the rest of the morning playing with everything. We got Boots several arts and crafts kits, we thought would last her weeks—maybe months, as she worked through each one. She did them all on Christmas day and was happy as a bee in a field of flowers. It was so much fun. I gifted Charley a CO2 kit and keg for his homebrewing hobby. He and the girls got me a new sewing machine; something I've wanted for years.

We spent New Year's Eve up at Oysterville with Oma and Opa.  We enjoyed the company and the very odd, very pleasant weather they were having.

And thus the year ended. 2014 is a blank page on which we'll write another story of another year.

And now for my resolutions...

Shift my perspectives...
See my failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn and practice.
See conflicts and misbehavior in my children as teaching moments.
Stop doing things halfway. I want to be fully present when I play and interact with my kids, and be 80% absent when we're not. Gotta keep my mom radar on—for safety's sake.
To feel guilty less and thankful more.
Be kinder to myself and more relaxed with my family.

And to make a little progress...
Make this year a training year for a half-marathon in 2015. Whoops, forgot, I suck at running.  I don't think I'm going to make this one anytime soon...  Maybe a 40th birthday thing.  When I have more time to work through my running suckiness...
Make more time for Charley and me (us), even when the girls are around.
Spend more time outside.
Develop my photography interest. (Apologies for the pun…)

And finally:
Be bold.  

Postscript...  I thought about creating a new post about our hopes and expectations for 2014, but since it's already mid-February I think I'll just make a list below...

  • Swim lessons for Boots—she's doing fantastic!  
  • Berzo will start preschool in the fall.  Just a one day a week thing at Gymboree Play & Learn, where she is comfortable and will learn to feel safe apart from our family.
  • Charley and I will be fixing up our kitchen, bathroom, stair case, and painting the exterior.  We hope to put our house on the market Spring 2015.
  • Camping the Deschutes this Spring around the salmon fly hatch.
  • Camping on the Mckenzie this summer.
  • Vacation in Oysterville.