The Yurt

You know that moment when your mouth opens and the words start pouring out and simultaneously your brain is screaming “Shut it! Hurry!” but it’s too late because the material is just so good that you have – in that very moment – made the unconscious decision to say the startling thing and let it just parade around out there in front of you and see what happens.

It’s something you could do with your siblings and not think twice.

They are quite entertained.

It’s dicey at best with someone who barely knows you.

You’re taking the risk that they will paste on a smile and fade slowly backwards into your past as quickly as possible before you say something else…

Your listener will either do that or frown a bit and ask the logical next question:

“Um, why?”

Because they are being polite. Don’t fall for it. It’s code for, “I forgive you for opening that up. Here is your chance to put it back in the box and squish the lid on.”

Oh, Jolie. I can’t take you anywhere.

“But I do know what a yurt is, because my dad lives in one,” said the voice in my head out loud.

Oops.

“Um, why?”

“Oh, well…he built it himself and he’s really good at building stuff, as a matter of fact, it’s what he does, makes aviaries and cages and things for his business from home. Do you have a pet?”

The diversion didn’t work.

“Where?”

“At our house, actually, the one we moved to when I was a teenager. My parents still live there after all these years and really, he always was going to build a house. When I was a kid, we had a pile of giant wooden triangles in the yard because we had five acres in New Mexico and he was going to build us a dome house on them.”

She didn’t take the bait.

“But your mom…”

“Doesn’t live in a yurt, of course, she lives in the house. She gets the inside of the house and he gets the outside and they are both happy with the arrangement. The yurt has plumbing and everything. He’s quite a talented builder. He just visions something in his head and his hands can build it. Mom is no way going to live in a yurt.”

I thought for a moment.

“I guess she didn’t want to live in New Mexico, either.”

At this point, the TMI crazy train has wrecked three times and my brain is staggering around trying to stop the leakage and find a way – any way – to segue to a screeching halt that doesn’t make me look like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”.

“The house is all paid off now,” I finished, shuffling sideways, intensely interested in something on the far wall, “Maybe he’ll hang some new curtains in his window.”

I knew questions were being shouted out from the studio audience in her head.

“Who does that? Was he pining away for a camping adventure, and this was as far as he went? Is he planning to patent his yurt design and just trying out multiple ideas to perfect it? Is he a mad scientist who experiments with chain link fencing, guitars, and bantams? Did he bury treasure out there and needs to guard it? Maybe her parents are secretly working for Elvis.”

I suppose it does save on vacuuming time.

She couldn’t know that, since our house didn’t have enough bedrooms in it, Dad had built me a room in the backyard after I graduated high school. It was painted and pink and girly and the only time in my life that I’ve ever had a room to myself.

I lived in the original yurt but it looked more like a single-wide.

Without plumbing.

I thought it was heaven.

There’s a show on TV called “Tiny House Nation”, and it just proves what we all know: there’s a fine line between a crazy person and a trend-setter.

Dad was just cool ahead of the yurt curve.

 

At Dawn

The rising sun is still a suggestion, painting a faint glow around the window shutters.

The house feels like calm clear water, a faint refrigerator hum, one sparrow singing his personal thoughts on summer flits off to another backyard.

Here in the darkness it is very content and warm and full of possibility, and for one moment, my mind merges with the babe about to enter this world today.

I sit on the couch and listen to the soft breathing of the two-year-old while her parents drive to the birthing grounds across town.

Watching her mama quietly prepare to leave, I recognized her aura…her knowing.

It is a purely female current that hums and sparks with purpose and courage, and it runs very deep.

The release of long days of waiting lifted from her shoulders and her back straightened with complete focus on the present.

A woman in labor is a formidable thing.

A woman in labor holds enough inner force and focus to stop an army in it’s tracks.

A woman in labor knows that there is only one conclusion to this event: the baby is out.

Quitting is not an option.

And everybody better get out of the way.

Or everybody needs to gather around.

Or both, every other five minutes.

As I sit here, there are more memories joining me than will have room on the page, because once you’ve had a baby you will never forget it. It had never occurred to you that you held that kind of power within your body; that your body could rise up and bring forth life like that.

You try to explain it to someone who hasn’t tried it, and they want to believe you, that their body has that level of strength too, that it lies within the mitochondria to kick into autopilot and explode into new life. The cells create new cells, another person’s cells, nourish them, protect them, and then force them out to exist as a whole separate being.

How this miraculous creation is taken so casually by everyone else not in active labor, is beyond me.

But we all do it.

Put a group of moms together and you will hear the inevitable birth stories and roll your eyes because if you wanted to hear so much TMI you could watch PBS at two in the morning.

They compare episiotomies the way a WWII vet talks about his war scars.

They want to know they aren’t the only ones who just went through that world-shattering event.

For mothers, the world will never be the same.

They wonder if they ever want to go through it again.

Mothers cannot believe that a womb can expand that much, and after the birth, they cannot believe that a heart can expand that much.

Mothers cannot believe how much a child can kick these organs and yet all of it remain intact.

A mother is one of the strongest things ever invented.

The sun has risen now, inevitable, changing the ambience of this home from waiting to fulfillment, and brightness fills the room as I open the shutters.

A single text pops up on my phone: baby brother has arrived.

The little one stirs in her big girl bed, dreams slowly giving way to thoughts of a new day and the marvels it may hold.

I will write more about this thing called ‘motherhood’.

But for now, all of my best memories must patiently wait while I make some tea and cuddle a toddler and lay claim to the humming deep in my cells.

 

Dear Class of 1986

The reunion check is in the mail.

I just can’t believe it’s been thirty years since we graduated high school.

I filled out your questionnaire and sent it too, but I admit that it took me, a writer, longer than expected to fill in the answers.

For example,

“Is there anything you know now, that you wish you would have known in high school?”

“Yes – to stop doubting myself and jump off more cliffs, because I really was meant to fly and breathe fire.”

Well I was.

Also wish I had invested every penny in a company called “Target”.

“Where will you be in ten years?”

This is the part where I just can’t help myself because I know we’re going to have to read this at the next reunion in ten years, and if I put something specific, I’m basically challenging myself to pull it off on a time line and that is WAY TOO MUCH STRESS.

“Changing the world, making a difference, and passionately parenting.”

That feels safe.

Vague, yet impressive.

I can pull that off in numerous ways and in ten years I’ll nod and say, “My writing/speaking/teaching/baking cupcakes has sure done that all right.”

And I just can’t think that I’ll be running out of parenting issues in ten, twenty, or infinity years.

Set myself up for success in that arena, anyway.

*eye roll*

*shakes pompons* because of next question.

“Favorite Quote:”

Attitude is Everything.

*weak smile*

“Favorite Book and/or Movie:”

My bible, trite as that sounds.

If you read the same book over and over your whole life, surely it qualifies.

Spoiler Alert: the book was better than the movie.

But seriously, what are we supposed to put there and why? Legions of books under the bridge, I really wanted to say, “The book I wrote, of course” but that’s a fib because I haven’t actually published one yet.

Rats.

“Anything else you’d like to share?”

“Yes! But I put it into my blog because there are way too many words involved.”

Right?

“Is there a favorite high school memory you’d like to share?”

Okay, this is where I got all kinds of conflicted. I put the pat answers instead of what I really wanted to say. It’s a reunion, after all, and people are trying to be all nostalgic and starry-eyed about a blip on their life timeline.

“Writing for yearbook, being the Pep Club at football games, graduation day.”

That last one is a hint.

Because for me, life started after high school ended, and when you live your life on “fast forward”, looking back makes me cross-eyed, not starry-eyed.

If you’re sitting there on the fence that now circles our high school and stopped off-campus lunches forever, let me suggest that our reunion is no longer a popularity contest.

You have permission to not look 18 anymore. You have permission to not act 18 anymore. You are encouraged to show your well-earned battle scars because we all have them. I will not notice if you have genuine Jimmy Choo on your feet; I will notice if you have genuine caring on your face.

I am more interested in who you are now than who you were then.

Some of our classmates didn’t need a reason to party and plunked their money down, no questions asked.

They remember all the dance moves.

Sure, I made some friendships that have lasted – oh, wow – over thirty years, and I got my diploma and have a handful of memories involving Homecoming and Prom and the way my girlfriend and I used to drive across town during lunch and see our boyfriends at the rival high school (we’re such rebels) and come back late to Mr Sodeman’s Civics class and bring him a donut so he wouldn’t mark us tardy.

And the way projecting MTV music videos onto the gym wall during dances made us feel so turquoise eye-shadow cool.

And trying to decide whether cloisonné or giant plastic jewelry was a better bet.

Legwarmers. Hair scrunchies. Knight Rider.

Remember going to the movies (Remember when Romancing the Stone came out?) and getting Fenton’s ice cream? Remember cruising down Valley, trolling for other cars full of teens? Remember wearing poison-green tights under a denim mini-skirt and hair bigger than a Buick?

Okay, maybe we’ll have some selective memory lapses. Good plan.

Whatever happened to the guy I was a library aide with? Was his name Steve? I’ll have to dig out the yearbook and check. Where did all my wallflower friends end up?

I hope they are somewhere flying and breathing fire.

I hope they come to the reunion and sit at my table.

Don’t let the oldies station on the radio fool you.

The 80s are far more than classic.

They were epic.

 

Loonies and Tunies

The dust is starting to settle from our road trip to Victoria, British Colombia and in one fell swoop, I would like to tell everyone all about it and how much fun we had and how I almost died.

If you followed my new Instagram during those two weeks, you already know what I’m talking about, but running that little social media experiment taught me a few things:

  1. If you’re on Instagram, you are under the age of 20 or (ahem) you are just trying to monitor your child under 20’s selfies. So you don’t care if I almost died, because your selfies are of you, yourself, trying to do it deliberately.
  2. If you’re on Facebook, you are over 20, heavily caffeinated and keeping up with the Kardashians. They seem like a nice family. According to what they choose to post. So you also don’t care if I almost died unless there’s a video of it happening, and maybe an interactive game that tells you your personality afterwards.
  3. If you’re still reading email, you’re getting older. But at least you can still read something longer than five words strung together, covered in hashtags and destroyed by third-grade spelling skills. You are fairly interested in my death if it involves plot twists and a fascinating setting, such as India.
  4. If you just started in on the new Pokemon craze, it was nice knowing you. I’m sorry you stepped in front of the bus while searching for a Pokemon gym, *sad face emoji* but face it, your death will be pretty boring because it did not involve the following real life stuff:

The first week was spent toodling through Oregon and Washington. We visited redwoods and Paul Bunyon and beaches and lighthouses and dunes and ended up along the Columbia River Gorge. We went jet-boating down the Rogue River and saw bald eagles everywhere. We drove past Mt. St. Helens and several other volcanoes in disguise.

Crater Lake lived up to it’s reputation: fascinating and gorgeous.

We loved the Tillamook cheese factory (because we are nerds) and spent half a day at the Bonneville dam waiting for something to go through the locks (because we are engineering nerds) and I found out this abomination exists:

Lamprays: long as your arm, living in rivers, and trying to give you the kiss of death.

However, the beauty of the pacific northwest will knock your socks off. I highly recommend the trip. Just stay out of the water.

Waterfalls everywhere.

Bridges everywhere. This one is six miles long, connecting Oregon and Washington. We drove it just for the shrieking fun of it.

Chuhily Glass Museum. A Seattle “must see”. I have so many photos from this!

Seattle from the Space Needle. That “cloud” on the right is Mt. Ranier. Honest.

Once we were in Canada, we packed even more into our days. We went tubing down the Cowichan and built driftwood forts on beaches and enjoyed bellinis on the bay and wandered farmers markets and rode ferries and camped on a deserted sand spit like Robinson Caruso.

Because a tent is inadequate…

We stared at First Nations totem poles and inhaled Butchart Gardens and hiked past radioactive green slugs. We listened to marimba bands.

But the place I almost died was called WildPlay. My boys got wind of this adventure and demanded we all do it. When it was over, they said it was the best part of our trip. Hmm.

 

My fam was pretty much in paradise. Each obstacle got higher and harder as you worked your way up between treetops. Zip-lines delivered you to the next terror. Er, challenge.

I understood that, as long as I was clipping my carabiner correctly, the mechanism would catch me if I slipped, a thousand feet up.

I was afraid of the first ten inches of free-falling until it caught. Maybe.

I was afraid of being “that guy”. The guy who slipped and had to hang in space like a pinata until the ten-year-old gymnast employee rescued me in front of everybody.

WildPlay Victoria: where the crazy people play.

The steps wobbled, the trees swayed, I focussed on breathing. I did not once look down.

I was most of the way through and proud of myself for neither throwing up nor freezing with my arms around a tree crying, “Hold me!”

But the bicycle handles were my Alamo.

I had to grip them and swing across the abyss to another tree but I couldn’t. My palms were too sweaty and my arms were so tired and I. Looked. Down.

It was the longest ten minutes of my life as my mind fought my body over certain death. Aloud, I insisted I would rather have a root canal. I would rather give birth unmedicated. I would rather do anything than trust my grip on those handlebars. Where’s the elevator? I’m DONE!

I did it.

There was kicking and screaming and denial and possibly tears, and when I finally got back to terra firma I was ready to kiss the sweet ground.

I’d like to see THAT featured in a Pokemon game.

I’m leaving you with one last photo. I like to photograph heights, not be in them.

 

Mt. Shasta on the drive home left us breathless in the best possible way.

I know this was long, thank you for sharing our trip. Ask me anything else in the comment box, and I will try to fill in the gaps. *happy face emoji*

Welcome to Victoria, BC

We crossed the border on Canada Day, which just sings with appropriateness, however unplanned it was. Already we felt Canuck. Slightly french, but with beer undertones.

Victoria is on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada, and unlike Hawaii, you can take a ferry to get there. On a map, the whole area looks like a crushed potato chip floating in a water glass.

With trees.

We took the longest ferry ride they offered and scanned islands in every direction, waiting in vain for explosions.

I can watch a dozen fireworks shows from the hill in my backyard on the Fourth of July.

Come on Canada, blow something up. It’s a party, eh?

 

Our hostess with the mostest baked this lush beauty for the occasion, so we had some party after all.

 

Our week was packed with shenanigans, and the very next morning we planned to get onto a(nother) ferry and head to Salt Spring Island for the day.

The girls took the van early, to get a good spot on the boat. The boys decided to take bikes for some manly fresh air. Somehow I missed the memo.

I woke to an empty house and a lone teenager who was assigned one job: getting me to the ferry on time.

Now there’s a good first impression.

By the time I was dropped off at the bustling docks, it was ten minutes to launch.

Striding down to the wharf in a manner that showed I clearly knew what the heck I was doing, it occurred to me that there were multiple ferries going to multiple islands, and none of them were labeled.

Vehicles began to snake their way along the asphalt. Where was ours?

I turned to the nearest orange-vested custodian of the seas, and asked which ferry went to Salt Spring. He pointed to all of them and I didn’t hear his reply because suddenly I realized:

  1. All of my people were on a boat somewhere right now and I was not.
  2. All of my people had a ticket. I did not, because I had been dropped at the curb.
  3. What if my people had my ticket but now they – and my ticket – are on a boat?
  4. My cell phone was internationally useless. I was on my own.

What is this nonsense? Who has to hop on a boat anytime they want to go somewhere? Where are the bridges? Why do we all need tickets? Where do you buy tickets?

It was five minutes to launch.

I must have babbled some of that out loud in a properly befuddled American tourist accent, because the orange vest then pointed in the opposite direction. I retraced my steps at a trot now, fondling the one thing that could save my bacon: a credit card.

The tiny office held a lone officer who was talking a tourist through something that was obviously not as important as my imminent hysterics.

Taking a deep breath, I tried to communicate my plight telepathically.

Manners are so overrated.

Just then, another officer walked through the door and I leapt into her personal space crying, “Ineedtogetonthesaltspringferrythatleavesrightnowandidonthaveaticket!”

“Oh, honey, I think it’s too late to sell you one, but I’ll just call up there and ask.”

Maybe they just like to watch the tourists writhe a little.

She sold me a ticket, one eye on the clock, and I flat out ran the entire length of the landing, past startled shoppers and through queues of moving cars and lounging coffee sippers and disapproving orange vests.

Dignity is so overrated.

The last vest pointed to a boat and breathless, I reached the gate.

There was the Hubbs.

He was standing on my side of the ferry.

An orange vest escorted us on board and closed the gate. The engines started up.

“What were you going to do” I asked, “if I missed the boat?”

“Stay here and have Tim’s with you,” he said.

I reckon that guy can pack the luggage in the car any way he wants, eh?

 

To Canada in a Tin Can

Put four people into one car for a week, and you tell me whether anyone will be snatched bald at some point between miles 800 and 850.

The first day is all pedal-to-the-metal so you can get as far away from home as possible. You can tell by your kid’s breath what the current snack is and his kneecap keeps drifting into your back through the seat, but you don’t care because you have places to go.

Half way through day two, you realize that no teens have been looking out of windows at all. They are sitting in virtual reality with a full arcade at their fingertips and earbuds that have not transmitted a single one of your, “Hey kids! Look! More cows!”

They are happy.

Your job is to find cows and snacks.

Your job here is to adult, and you are not allowed to substitute an alternate reality for your current one.

So you maintain a certain amount of presentness in the form of, “Slow down dear, I present to you: The Speed Limit: 70mph” and awareness in the form of, “I am aware that you can drive just fine, thank you, but I’m not comfortable with all of us landing in the Gorge of the River Hades today”.

On day three it dawns on you that Hubby’s insistence on packing the car each morning, sweet as it was on day one, is actually a sneaky bid for world domination.

There is only one way to pack a car: his way.

If you attempt to load your little carry-on in the wrong order and it lands between his gigantic hanging clothes bags and his shoe bag, you will be court-martialed and the entire car gutted so he can begin at the beginning.

I’ve got my smartphone, my passport, my turns-into-everything scarf.

It’s a jacket, an umbrella, a blanket, a hat, a pillow, a skirt, a knapsack, a neck warmer and also a baby sling if I happen across a wee abandoned orphan near the duty-free.

It says, “This woman packs three things for a two week vacation.”

This time, I went wild and added some moose repellant.

Hubby packs everything he owns.

“You just never know,” screams his luggage between tightly clinched zippers.

The man enjoys his options.

You sit on the curb with a steaming cup of bad hotel coffee in a paper cup and chug it while he plays Jenga with the baggage.

Day four: I am the only driver allowed. Hubby can take his map and his smarter-than-I-am phone and his every-five-minute traffic updates and stare silently out the window looking for unicorns.

Fidget, fidget, fidget.

Sometime in the middle of day five, I see Hubby’s hand reaching slowly towards the A/C button.

With eyes steady on the road and in a Chuck Norris voice meant for a room full of eighth graders I say,

“Touch that, and I will chop off your hand and slap you with it.”

When we finally arrived at the Canadian border, I may have been a little sassy with the passport lady.

Honestly.

Maybe we resembled crazy-eyed terrorists by then, but we had fully discharged our explosives somewhere over Oregon.

“Go ahead and search the car, sister,” I thought, “but heaven help you if you don’t repack it correctly.”

Homing in on our destination, the kids popped briefly into reality.

“Um, what does that speed limit sign mean, Mom? What’s 100 km/h?”

“I have no idea and I don’t care. I’m making it up.”

Which is fair. They make money up here that could be any amount. Any at all.

“You’ll go to jail.”

This I know to be false. Cops in Canada ride horses.

They’d never catch me.

I am all done adulting.

Time to wrap up in a scarf, drink tea, and melt into my own alternate reality.

And believe you me, there are no cars there.