Unintentionally at One with the Universe

There's so much to tell you.

Last night, Mike took me to the Lindsey Stirling and Evanescence concert. It was almost completely awesome.

There was a couple that sat a couple of rows in front of us that vaped a thick cloud around at least eight of us near them.

If I'm going to smell smoke, it had better smell like burning wood or cigarettes.

Yes, I like the smell of cigarettes. Three of my grandparents smoked and so that smell, for me, was about love, eating pie, and camping.

But I do not like the faint odor of tobacco with raspberry overtones. I do not like cotton candy combined with nicotine. Or whatever.

If I'm going to get high, I want it to be a choice.

Yup, I got high last night. I felt mostly normal watching Lindsey Stirling dancing back and forth on the stage and playing her violin. It was amazing. She can play a tune while doing a layback and a high kick. I can't walk and text at the same time. I loved it.

But then, Evanescence began to play and I became hypnotized by the light show. I leaned my head on Mike's shoulder and pulled up my hood. I wasn't exactly dizzy, just .....

... you know when the Universe opens up for you a little bit, when things seem to be more cosmic, private messages just for you embedded into a light show.

It sounds great, doesn't it?

It was great, mostly. I listened with Mike. I held his hand. I thought about making a meaningful life. My eyes could not break from the lights on the stage. I forgot to sing along.

And then, it was over and the cotton candy cloud lifted as people stood up after the encore and all the bowing on stage.

Step were a challenge. Following behind people at the right distance was a challenge. The ladies room was too bright, too loud. I wanted to steal someone's blanket and cuddle up with Mike in a dark corner.

And then I got a bad case of the munchies. Thank God, we had some chili cheese Fritos left in the picnic I'd packed for the trip. Then, we watched tailgater partiers dance as we waited in our car for the traffic to clear. We talked. Meaning of life. We laughed.

Suddenly, Mike and I were a couple of kids in college and years of our mostly sober view of life, warts and all, fell away.

We got home at 1:30 in the morning. I had to work this morning. At dawn, warts reappeared. I had to look showered, to act rested, to be patient, to teach children. I had to pretend to be responsible.

I was totally unqualified to face my day.

Thank you for listening, jules

More Crabby than Not

Forget sleep. It's never going to be enough.

Every day something happens that messes with my time, with my sleep, with time I get to spend here with you, with the dog at the park and other dogs. Yes, I actually like going to the park with Teddy to see other dogs. They are so cheerful there.

On Monday, a holiday, I spent half the day cooking and cleaning for our friends who came to stay, and stay, and stay. Then, I spent the second half of the day sleeping and cleaning up after them again after they left.

I already told you about that, didn't I?

Sorry. I think I did.

I'm convinced that my main goal in cleaning after they left was to get the stink of their laundry detergent and deodorant out of my foyer and bathroom. They didn't leave a mess, just a smell.

Most people like those flowery and fruity smells that come in cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products. I don't. I guess I don't mind a mild citrus smell, but I try to keep the rest out of my house, along with the odor of wet cat litter. They both give me a headache.

Try having two cats and not have a wet cat litter smell in the house now and then.

Right, sorry. I'm back from my tangent now.

So on Tuesday morning, Nick came down with a cold and couldn't go to school. The fourth day of school and already I could imagine a day coming soon when he'd been out sick as long as he'd been back to school. Top that off with Mike refusing to kiss me good morning because he had a sore throat and didn't want me to catch it. You know, it's sweet, really, but I depend on that affection. I'd almost rather catch cold than go without it for a week to ten days while he spreads his germs.

I also hate calling the school attendance line to say Nick is going to be out. Why is that recorded voice always judging me? First, they list a bunch of things you have to remember, name, spelling of just the last name, reason for absence, birthday, the date you called. That last one is always the one that gets me. Think about it. It's 5:56 am. I have rolled out of bed after a night of waking up with a sick kid, checking on his breathing, making tea, hugging him. He is technically an adult now so I know he's sick when he leans in and wants me to hug him.

When I'm at that point in the recorded message, I have to try to remember what the date was the last time I noticed, then try to calculate if it's the same date or if midnight has happened since I then. So, I invariably hang up half way through the announcement, go check my calendar, then call back again. At the announcement, I mentally click off the list of stuff I need to remember, wait for the beep, and talk to the voice of the woman from the office, at least in my head. I picture her face, bored and bothered. She never did like me, so I get all nervous, spell Nick's whole name instead of just his last, pause on the birthday because I so often have to report Mike's birthday for insurance, and then ramble on about how Nick really needs this day off because his asthma makes every cold a misery of breathing issues. It's embarrassing that I go on like that. Then, I tell that answering machine, "Thank you," because when the woman in the office recorded the call, she said in a monotone voice, "Have a fantastic day."

Imagine the voice of the worm lady in the office of Monsters Inc., for the type of attitude you hear. Then, tell me if that voice will do anything to incur a fantastic day when you hear it. Face to face, this woman would say the same thing, no cheer in her eyes, no interest whatsoever in who I was or what I was doing, so that knowledge of the face-to-face never helped the picture that came to mind when I listened to her recorded voice.

Three times this week, I had to approach the task of listening to her before I'd had breakfast or imagined a mug of tea.

So, no. This is not my day yet. I do not get to sit down with a book. I do not get to dawdle at the computer. I do not get to sit on the deck with the cat to watch the chickadees splashing in the birdbaths like children at the community pool.

Thank you for listening, jules

Like the Forest or a Golf Course

I'm on vacation, staycation. We have a plan, to see Chihuly, to buy dinner at Pike Market, to ride the ferry to Friday Harbor. It's raining today, finally, and I'm going outside to pull some weeds, pull some weeds in the cool air until I fill the yard waste bin.

I always wondered about throwing away all that potential dirt. I don't mind throwing away the blackberries. Those things will grow from a dried up stick four inches long. I don't mind throwing away the nettles that come up easily but drop premature seeds with the disturbance and somehow manage to sprout in the same place anyway. Nettles grow whenever I disturb the ground.

But I hate losing the leaves that feed the trees what they've lost. I hate losing the grass clippings that could be piled up and composted to dirt for my flowers.

Go talk to Mike.

Mike and I have so very different plans and approaches to the yard work. He will clear out a patch of weeds, pulling bleeding heart that I paid fifteen dollars for, yellow poppy that I cultivated from seed, fox glove, columbine. It all looks like weeds to him.

When he's done, it looks nice to the untrained eye. Bushes trimmed into submission, bark blocking new weeds, a patch of stinky bob, Geranium robertianum, shaped and left to stink up my garden. Mike tramples and pulls the infants grown by our Japanese maple, the ones I try so hard to transplant and foster until they're big enough to plant by the driveway. 

Mike and I have such different plans that I end up giving up, hoping that he won't mow over something I recently bought at the local nursery. My method is so much more laissez faire, to get native plants to grow like the most beautiful places in the forest, bunchberry, maidenhair fern, Solomon's seal, huckleberry, snowberry, Western red cedar, Douglas fir, vine maple, thimbleberry, salmonberry, moss.

I love moss.

I keep buying scotch moss, Irish moss, sphagnum moss, peat moss and Mike keeps pulling it up. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to design houses. His had windmills, solar panels, and compost heating. Mine always had a creek running through the living room with moss instead of carpet and cushions. I would sit in a comfy chair like this one. I dream of having a lawn of moss instead of grass. Hey, you'd never have to mow. I want deep shade from Western red cedars, Douglas fir, and Western hemlock. In the undergrowth, I want Western sword fern, deer fern, maidenhair fern, even bracken. I'd encourage salal, Oregon grape, bleeding heart, trillium, and more moss.

Mike wants our yard to look like a golf course.

Nobody wins.

Thank you for listening, jules

The Effects of Wildfire Smoke

I'm trying to stay cheerful, but it isn't easy with all the smoke in the air outside and reruns on TV inside. I'm listening to loud music on iTunes in my earbuds, the perfect foil for a television show that would draw me in, draw me in, draw me in until I got lost in it.

I love my stories, but TV leaves me with a different feeling than audiotapes or books. And they're both different than hearing stories live or telling them.

I'm also tired. I think Seth, the old cat, has been quietly waking us all up because every morning this week, all of us has gotten up at the same wee hour.

Damn cat.

Damn smoke.

Damn TV.

I afraid I'm going to succumb to the siren call. I will sink into my recliner. I will be led. Someone will tell me a story. I could doze.

Any story I could tell now would be rife with wildfire, smoke lying from one end of the country to the other, smoke that holds people indoors, smoke that changes sunlight to an eerie orange glow, smoke and dry air that impels some of the grandmother trees near my trails to drop green cones as if letting go of all their hopes, smoke that fatigues everyone without them quite understanding why. I know we have to fight it, but I can't quite remember how.

Lyrics from Shinedown scream into my ear. I listen. "I created the sound of madness, wrote the book on pain. Somehow, I'm still here to explain that the darkest hour never comes in the night. You can sleep with a gun. When you going to wake up and fight? When you going to wake up and fight? When you going to wake up and fight? For yourself?"

The lyrics scream, but have to be set to flood my ears for me to hear them, have to repeat, repeat, and repeat the same message until I hear them, until I wake up.

Shinedown helps me turn a corner, the same way I did yesterday when I knew I had to change my attitude so I could encourage young children to learn. The smoke gets to them too. They're going to be the ones who solve this problem we bequeathed them. The least I can do is give them the foundations to find answers, math, science, and words that string together in a compelling way.

I'm going to make myself a mocha. I'm going to read a little more of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, more critical questions. I'm going to write poetry, quietly, and in another room. I'm going to water my plants and put clean water in the birdbaths on my deck. The birds have been lined up every day this week, for the gift of a cool bath.

I find solace in pouring new water into the bird baths, an ease from the drone of the TV, a shift from the strange light, a cleansing from the confusion of the smoke. I pour the water,

and look into the light it creates.

Thank you for listening, jules

Particulates

Ah well, after $750, we have water again. Worth every penny. You know, I'd planned to stand in the shower for forty-five minutes, but I did my ten minute thing and got out, refreshed.

I realized then, that I could do the environment a favor by utilizing my new water-conservation skills. No, I didn't have to take a shower in a half gallon of cold water, but I could reduce.

You know, reuse, reduce, recycle. It's harder to reuse water, but it is possible to reduce it.

Here's a question: do you take the time to rinse out recycled jars and bottles so the bear and the rats don't get interested in your recycle bin?

I do. I add a little dish soap and try to use water that's already running off my hands whenever I'm washing them. I like them to be clean.

Clean is an interesting concept, isn't it?

I try to be clean with potential hazards in raw meat in my kitchen, but I also ruminate about the condition of my sponge and dish towel.

Now, I change out the dish towel once or twice a week and I'm pretty sure the heat of the dryer kills germs as long as the cats don't lounge in the clean laundry before I fold it. I don't dry dishes with a dish towel, just clean hands. I only grab for paper towels with the dirtiest of jobs, but that goes directly against any food-handling permit training I've had.

The sponge creates a worse conundrum.

I hate when the sponge begins to smell after a week or so and I end up washing my hands with soap and water right after I use it. Yet, I'm reluctant to throw it out until it's no longer bright yellow.

I can cook it in the microwave, but that smell persists.

I used to know a strangely fastidious man, Fred, who surprisingly never changed out his dish towel. It always smelled like a rancid sponge, only in triplicate. So after I cook my sponge in the microwave, if it still smells like Fred's dish towel, I hot-potato that thing over to the garbage can. Then, I get a new one. I'd like to use it longer, but that smell kills me.

Reuse has some things going against it.

I tried bleaching my sponge, but they disintegrated. I tried washing them, but they'd end up clinging to my underwear and going into the dryer by accident where the panties would wrap around them until they were a unit. Even if I could separate them, I couldn't separate the image of the sponge I used on my dishes wrapped in my underwear even if they both were sanitized by the dryer heat.

What is clean, really?

I have a mental image of germs in my head. Raw meat germs are vicious little predators, e-coli and salmonella. A bagger recently put raw meat on top of my strawberries and that shit just pissed me off. Then, there are the less aggressive germs that can spread viruses and upset stomachs, like a flu, RSV, or listeria. And, there's the low man on the totem  pole of viruses like the common cold. Hierarchy is important with germs as is knowing that a certain amount of dirt strengthens our immune systems. I think about that when my students touch my arm after picking their noses.

So, before the water pump was replaced, I lugged all my laundry and half my dishes over to the laundromat along with a big bag of quarters. No, they didn't have a dishwasher, but they did have a sink I could use while my laundry spun.

When I got laundry running and brought in a basin of dirty dishes, some guy in a white medical mask wandered over to the sink to chat with me while I worked. I didn't particularly want to chat with a guy in a white medical mask in case he was contagious.

"The particulate level is high today," he said as if explaining his strange appearance. I guess I learned to appreciate a medical mask after our son was hospitalized with RSV when he was four and we had to gown up and walk through a wind tunnel into isolation to see him. There was also the time when H1N1 was going around and the news was full of people in Tokyo wearing masks, but the look never really caught on in the states.

"Yeah, the fires," I said not looking up. Eye contact just egged these people on. Words did too.

"Yeah, the news said the particulate level was high."

I wondered if he was high. I notice when people don't have much to say, they repeat themselves.

"Yeah," I said.

I wasn't going to give them any ammunition to continue the conversation.

"You know what?" he asked.

"What's that?" I said. I wasn't going to be a bitch about this. Still, I really wanted to do my dishes in peace.

"A lady came in yesterday and washed her dog in that sink."

Fuck, I thought. Dog-butt water. Was he telling the truth? I was bleaching liberally, but the visual disturbed me. I'm certain that my sense of clean is a mirage only disturbed by people like this who liked to throw me off. I shrugged, tried to act nonchalant.

"I hate when they walk their dogs out on that path."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because the dogs poop all along there."

"Yeah, it's good when they bag it."

"But when they don't, it dries out and then it turns into dust."

I didn't say anything, but I would have thought that was better than the alternative, stepping in it.

"Then, it's airborne and we breathe the particulates."

Oh man, I thought I was screwed when it came to the question of clean. This guy couldn't comfortably walk on an open trail and breathe the air.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Little Bit of Very Cold Water

Day four in the saga of the inoperable community well.

So, I have a question for you: If a product is under warranty, how long should a customer have to wait for the company that installed it to honor the warranty?

Really, we haven't had water for four days. I'm getting desperate. I like camping, but I love my hot showers, clean dishes and laundry, toilets that flush. I love being able to water my plants at the drop of a hat. I love watching the birds in the clear water of their birdbath. Now, the company that installed the pump says they're busy until sometime in September. Warranty my ass.

Imagine a whole neighborhood not having water for three to seven weeks, a neighborhood with children. We might all be more susceptible to road rage and going postal. We might begin to look like, and smell like, the homeless. We might suffer insomnia, dry mouth, and piles.

For the past four days, I've been using any public toilet I can find. The library restroom is nice, but it doesn't have a shower. At work, it's harder because I know I can listen to someone inside peeing, so I don't feel as relaxed when I'm behind that same door. Being able to run water to wash my hands is great though. Most grocery stores have decent bathrooms, but I don't like the stockpiles of cheap toilet paper and paper towels. The bathroom at the laundromat was nice enough, but the toilet paper was cheap. At the vet's office, they offered to let me use their shower, but the clinic cat's litter box is in there. You know, it was too awkward to say yes because of the litter box.

For the past four days, I kept wishing there were public showers at parks I visit when I walked Teddy. Do you remember when you could go to a park and it had a bath house there? Or maybe I always went to beaches and lakes when I was a kid and they had to have a place to wash the sand and dirt out of a kid's butt crack before tossing them, exhausted, into the car at the end of the day.

Tomorrow, wouldn't it be nice not to have to hang the sun shower intended for camping in the tub instead? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to wash with a minimal amount of cold water? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to worry about running out of water before the soap is rinsed from arm pits and hair? And the sun hasn't been out all that much, so that pouch of water is cold.

Thank you for listening, jules

Chocolate and Dry Salad

All Chatty thoughts seem to have been put aside at my house. See, we have house guests coming to visit soon so my vacation will be taken over with cleaning and cooking and being unnaturally cheerful instead of reading and lounging. Our water is still off because our new pump failed. The company responsible for the warranty can't come until September and some other guy who probably can't honor the warranty still can't come until Wednesday. It looks like a Yelp moment for our September plumber, don't you think? And now, we've got some kind of sewage smell downstairs coming from the sinks.

Downstairs is where our house guests will be sleeping for six nights. 

There is some karma in this story, isn't there?

I'm also feeling a little better because I'm eating chocolate along with my greens and cranberries, Lily's Dark Chocolate. No sugar, dudes. I'm not cheating. It's surprising how much dry salad a person can get through by alternating it with bites of dark chocolate.

Thank you for listening, jules

That Kind of Mom

Yesterday was hot.

It was my day off, so I sat in the air conditioning too long and watched Netflix with Nick. Since Nick got a job, I've been hanging out and watching TV with him before he leaves. Maybe I felt him slipping, slipping away.

We'd been chatting a little, mostly during commercials. I guess I wasn't poison ivy after all. My boy was actually hanging out with me a little. He's growing up. Maybe he felt himself slipping, slipping away.

House's doctors got busy resuscitating his patient while he watched. What an ass. I loved House, but there was no way an addicted ass like him would be allowed to remain in a position like his. Totally drawn into that same story, over and over. House, the hero. House, the maverick.

I have always loved Netflix too much. Nick had watched all of the episodes of House and was in his second run through. The problem with House was that I kept getting drawn in. I could almost believe that Hugh Laurie was an ugly American doctor. I needed to get moving. I really needed to get some stuff done on my day off. I thought that maybe it would work if I said it out loud.

"I really need to get going, groceries, dog walking, the library. Ugh. Too much to do."

I could almost feel the heat trying to seep into the windows to get to us.

"Mom," Nick said after a long pause. House had solved another medical mystery and, during the countdown, before the next episode started automatically, he said, "If you want, you can come get your groceries at the store."

Nick bags groceries at Safeway. After his first day, he said he liked bagging groceries. My dad used to bag groceries when he was in college.

"Sure," I said slowly. I wasn't really sure. I might embarrass him. "That's a good idea. I could see you at work."

His words opened a door in me, a possibility I hadn't considered.

Nick has a job now. I kept saying that in my head. Nick has a job. It was a big step for him and I was already pining for the days when he was home too much. Ridiculous, I knew. Just a few weeks ago, I kept telling him to go do something, to get up and go do something, anything. But suddenly he had a job and I was reluctant to ask myself, 'What do I do now?'

I had stuff to do. I really did. I needed to weed the yard, but it was too hot. I needed to delete stupid photos from my computer that I was never going to look at again, but it was too cold next to the air conditioner. The dog needed a walk. The dog really needed a walk.

So yesterday, after Nick left for work and I reluctantly turned off Netflix, I went on this long dusty and sweaty walk at the dog park. I tried to stay in the shade. I did. But to walk anywhere, you had to walk in the sun. I wore a black shirt. Why the hell did I wear a black shirt when it was that fucking hot? By the time I got back to the car, I had a thick layer of sweat all over me. It threatened to drip. One globule of sweat wobbled at each elbow. My scalp beaded with sweat. I hated when my head was sweaty under my hair, when the bottom band of my bra felt like it had been dipped in the pool, when I didn't need to lift an arm and sniff to know I reeked. As I walked, dust had lifted up so that I had a dirt tan on my feet and ankles. Teddy might have been happy after his walk, but I was hot and filthy.

When I finally got us into the roasting car and started the air conditioner, I looked into the rearview and I saw that the crazy curl I have on top of my head stood straight up. I pushed it down, but it popped back up, tilting at a jaunty angle. Great.

I drove home with the air conditioner blasting. Teddy lounged across the back seat. I absolutely had to take him home first before going to the grocery store. I hated those days, the ones so hot that I couldn't leave the dog in the car for five minutes, let alone an hour.

When we pulled up the driveway and got out, I didn't even bother to go inside the house. I just unlocked and opened the door so Teddy could go in. I felt the wave of cool air hit me. I knew if I walked into the cool foyer and up the stairs, I'd be asleep on the couch before House's new patient could pass out in a pool of his own vomit.

So then, I got back into my car and headed over to Nick's grocery store, a little further than I usually go. I was going to shop where Nick worked. I grinned.

The air conditioner and my audiobook, 'On the Move' by Oliver Sacks, did their magic. I was cooled off and thoroughly involved in Sack's story about the next brain-damaged patient.

I found a cart in the parking lot and brought it back inside so Nick wouldn't have to. Then, as I felt the wave of cool air hit me in the produce section, a smile came over my face again.

I realized that I could take a picture of Nick at his first real job without him even knowing. So, I hid behind the floral department and stuck my hand out after a customer got out of the picture. Then, I clicked a picture of Nick as he leaned forward to grab something the cashier had pushed his way. He didn't even know I was there. He didn't need to know yet, did he?

I took two more pictures, then went about my business of shopping for stuff we might need, food to feed Nick when he got home from work, his favorite stuff.

People kept smiling at me.

Then, I realized I had a grin on my face. I kept thinking about the irony of a seventeen-year-old boy working in a grocery store while his mom shopped for his favorite food there.

It was a nice store. The produce was good. Stuff was fairly well organized. The fish even looked decent. I didn't buy any fish. I filled my little cart, over-filled it actually. I kept going half way down the aisles and turning around rather than come out at the cashier end so that I could watch Nick furtively as he worked. I didn't take any more pictures. I knew I couldn't use them on Facebook or Twitter without Nick complaining, so the three crappy ones I got at the beginning were enough. I stood half way down an aisle and sent one of the pictures to Mike so he could see our boy at work. The guy I blocked while I texted my picture grinned back at me, shaking his head, after I apologized for standing in the middle of the aisle.

Finally, I'd gone halfway up and back down all the aisles and headed over to Nick's row. I wanted him to bag my groceries. I wanted to see him at work, up close and personal.

It was an express lane, fifteen items or less. Fewer, I thought, grinning. It should be 'fewer.'

Nick looked up and then squeezed his eyes shut and looked down at his shoes.

There I stood, still sweat-encrusted, dust-grimed, the single curl springing off the top of my forehead, grinning at him with a cart full of groceries in the express checkout lane.

Yeah, I am that mom. I am. I can't help it.

Thank you for listening, jules