Sunday, July 31, 2005

I HEART my Sawzall

As I mentioned, I have been procrastinating on tackling the various home maintenance and improvement projects before me, because much as I like being handy, these particular projects just don't seem to have the right combination of creativity, learning, and visible payoff. (I mean, when will I ever admire my new roof flashing?) But this weekend I was forced into action, when, Saturday night, Enrico pointed out that there was something chewing loudly behind the washing machine. And in case I thought he was just imagining things, I needed only to look at Toby, standing classically on point as if he were straight out of a hunting illustration, with his nose wedged into the crack between the washer and dryer.

You see, back in January we had our house completely replumbed - that is, every inch of pipe coming into and out of the house was replaced. It sounds ghastly and it was screamingly expensive, but we knew it was coming; the original plumbing was 50 years old. It was time. On the up side, we can expect our chronic plumbing problems to be over now because there's not a single damn piece of plumbing left in this house, from water main to sewage line, that hasn't been replaced. I believe the plumber actually shed a tear when he left my house, thinking of all the good times he'd had here over the years.

What does this have to do with the chewing, you might ask, or my home improvement motivational state? Well, the plumbers left a large hole, roughly three feet high by two feet wide, behind the washing machine, which basically provides a big open gateway from the disgusting crawl space right up into our house. Kind of like one of those hellmouth thingies on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've been meaning since January to close it up with plywood, but for various reasons too boring to explain, the plumbers left the hole just a little bit harder to close up than it used to be. And so it has stood open, but easily ignored because it's, well, behind the washing machine. Which admittedly is right there in our kitchen, but really, how often do you look behind any of your appliances?

However, clearly a rodent with strong chewy teeth had found the hellmouth and the mind-blowing all-you-can-eat buffet that is our kitchen, and action had to be taken. Which caused me to get up first thing this morning, go to the hardware store, purchase a piece of plywood, and get out my trusty jigsaw. I love my jigsaw (sometimes referred to in the vernacular as a sawzall, because you can cut nearly any shape with it). It is so very fun. And I set up my little work bench, and I measured out the whole thing with the dips and holes for the pipes and the faucets, and lo! the hellmouth is now closed.

Enrico was busy packing for the week-long backpacking trip that he's starting tomorrow, and as much as possible I exempted him from participation in the hellmouth closing, because he hates that stuff. He most definitely does not love my jigsaw, or anything like it. That's ok, I come from a family where the women often pack the gluegun, either alongside or in lieu of our menfolk, and that's all right with all of us. As I threw open the door bearing my plywood prize, steam gathering inside my safety goggles and sawdust in my hair, glowing with exhilaration, Enrico just gazed at me and said, "Vive la difference!"

Anyway - I'm hoping this happy reunion with my jigsaw has whet my appetite for those other projects. Maybe a rat in the house was just the kick in the pants I need!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

An explanation for one of my many neuroses

My high school was small and odd in a lot of ways, one of which was that we had a student lounge with ratty, comfy furniture and big tables and a jukebox, where we could spend our free periods and where teachers were not allowed to enter, at all, ever. The Lounge was governed by a committee made up of two representatives from each class, elected along with the various student government offices. And let me tell you - screw class president, Lounge Committee Rep was a real public service job.

The Lounge Committee was charged with the physical and social maintenance of the Lounge, which included not just furniture but setting rules and policy, mediating disputes, and even, on rare occasions, discipline of fellow students. Monies had to be raised for repair or replacement of various and sundry things, although I'm pretty certain all the furniture had been left out on street corners with "Free!" signs.

The jukebox was both a source of income and expense - a real, old-fashioned one with 45s, a nickel a song. When I arrived in 1979, the jukebox had cruised along happily for a decade on the staples of the 1960s and 70s - the Beatles, The Who, Jimmi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. But the times they were a-changin', and the Lounge Committee spent a good deal of its time and energy deciding what music stayed, what new things could be added, and what would have to go to make room for the new. Grudgingly, one column was permitted for R&B - Earth Wind & Fire, the Commodores - and then, more grudgingly, another column for the bouncy pop music of the day (remember Duran Duran? Bananarama?).

There are certain songs and artists that I absolutely, positively cannot tolerate, due to pathological overexposure during my tender teen years. Some of these songs were actually victims of a nonviolent resistence strategy employed by students who wanted a song removed from the jukebox: Bring in a pocketful of change every day and play the song over and over and over until we all begged our Loung Committee Reps to take it off, TAKE IT OFF NOW. Turning Japanese by the Vapors was one such tune - when it unexpectedly turned up in the Charlie's Angels movie soundtrack, I nearly ran screaming from the theater. Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney was another.

Sadly, my taboo list includes quite a lot of music that Enrico really likes. It's not an aesthetic taste, I assured him when I 'fessed up in our early dating days, it's a conditioned response. The moment I hear the first few notes of Won't Get Fooled Again by the Who, I will lunge for the radio dial like I've just received an electrical shock.

Of course, there are also songs which send me into a happy nostalgic place instead of a traumatic one: Superstition by Stevie Wonder, Black Coffee in Bed by Squeeze, Rocky Raccoon by the Beatles. There's a beautiful, haunting B-side-only song by Prince, How Come U Don't Call Any More.

And then, a few songs were unanimously loved by all factions for their sheer eccentricity, like I'm Henry the VIII, I Am by Herman's Hermits, or Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Were Made for Walkin'. These songs, they made me believe in the possibility of world peace.


So very warm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How to have a quality midlife crisis

Today, I had coffee with my yoga teacher to talk about yoga teacher training programs in town. I don't really know why I want to take yoga teacher training, other than to get a better sense of how all the pieces fit together at the macro level (I'm a systems thinker). I may or may not want to teach, although I've enjoyed the little teaching I've done in the past (totally different type of teaching, of course).

Meanwhile, on Monday I went to an information session for a year-long University of Washington certificate program for private investigators. It originally caught my eye because of my aspiring interest in being a murder mystery author, but you know, it has also appeared on my list of imaginary lives for some time. There are apparently lots of ways that private investigators make a living, from fraud to criminal defense to civil rights to surveillance. I really liked the instructors - two investigators and a lawyer. To apply, I have to write 250 words on why I want to do it, and a 150-word description of an event I recently witnessed.

I do not require total clarity up front about what I might do with these skills in the long run in order to follow my intuition or curiosity about them. Besides, it never hurts to have a couple more employable skills. (Let's set aside for the moment, as my husband and parents are graciously doing, the fact that I already HAVE extremely employable skills that I obtained via a masters degree and ten hard-won years of work experience.)

The next day, I went to the pool with my friend Monica. I became curious about something that was taking place in the pool, involving an elderly man fully clothed in pants and long sleeves, who got into the pool under the supervision of a life guard and floated around for a while. What was he doing? Proving that he could still swim? Would they actually make someone demonstrate that simply because they were old? Was he taking a test of some sort? Applying for a lifeguard job at the age of 80?

I decided this could by my "recently witnessed event" for my PI school application. But I was also distracted by a man teaching a young boy to swim - probably his grandson - and they were speaking a language that was either Russin or Portuguese, and it was driving me crazy that I couldn't tell which. Hanging on my big foam tube in the deep end of the lovely saltwater pool, I was pulled between these two riveting mysteries. "It's definitely Portuguese," I'd say periodically to Monica, as the mystery pair passed back and forth repeatedly on their training laps. "No, it's Russian. Or maybe something other Slavic language. Oh, look, now they've tossed a life jacket to tht older gentleman - what's that about?"

"You see?" I finally said to Monica, who has known me since I was 12, "I would make a good PI because when it comes right down to it, I'm just damned nosy."

"Yep," she agreed amiably, floating cool and detached on her purple foam worm, "that's definitely true."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Top ten list

Top ten things I wish I could communicate to my dogs, once and for all:
1. You do not need to kick that other dog's ass.
2. Gnawing on my shoes while I'm putting them on will not make your walk happen any faster.
3. The furnace will not hurt you.
4. While we appreciate the sentiment, we do not need your assistance with grooming ourselves.
5. No matter how long we may go away, we will always come back to you.
6. Trust me, you don't want to actually catch a cat.
7. Your life would not be better if you were in charge of this pack.
8. Hugging is ok - nobody is trying to hurt anybody here.
9. The purpose of a walk is to WALK, not to sniff.
10. Don't eat bees.

Miscellaneous shellfish

If Enrico is Pig Boy, I may be Bird Girl. Lately the birds seem to be all around me. There's a pair of hummingbirds in the back yard, which is nothing particularly special except for how close they've been coming, feeding off the fuscia right on the patio, and even resting quietly in the tree. I don't think I've ever seen a hummingbird sitting still before. And then there was the woodpecker pounding away right overhead (again, notable for closeness rather than rarity), the Stellar's jay in the bedroom flowerbox, and the flicker who apparently lives along my running route. Northern flickers are particularly beautiful birds, related to the woodpecker but sitting horizontal instead of vertical, with incredible orange stripes on their wings, a lovely speckled breast, and a distinctive red spot on their head.

Under the watchful eye of my bird-friends, I have made a list of the desired home maintenance projects for my summer down time, and the estimated work days alone add up to nearly three weeks. That doesn't include time going to the hardware store for supplies, discovering I have the wrong supplies, returning to the hardware store for different supplies, etc. etc. I genuinely like doing home projects - they give me a feeling of accomplishment and I always learn something new - but this year's list is entirely un-fun, with the exception of painting the den orange. Other jobs include a drywall patch (ugh, sheetrock dust), removing the gutters to put in metal flashing that will keep rats out of the attic (woo-hoo, rats!), recaulking and resealing the bathtub (backbreaking), scrubbing the fence clean and re-staining it (shoulder-aching), and hanging a new screen door (which requires a precision that I sadly lack and thus is guaranteed to lead to much colorful cursing). Bleh. But, that's home ownership - I'd rather repaint fence and install the flashing than have to replace the fence or have my house eaten by rats. Besides, there are worse home problems - this week my parents are doing something that involves pipes, concrete, and drilling holes in their garage floor (I'm a little fuzzy on the details but it sounds ghastly).

Today, however, I am going to the pool with my friend Monica, because it's going to hit a scorching 83 degrees here in Seattle (that's 28 for our international readers). I know, elsewhere in the country you're recovering from 100+ days, but here in Seattle we like it mild and have no air conditioning. We also have only two outdoor public pools in the entire city, one of which (the one I'm going to today) is a heated saltwater pool, filled with (cleaned) Puget Sound water and sitting right on the beach - so it's like you're swimming in Puget Sound, only you're not hypothermic or smelling like low tide.

And last but not least, Monica and I have actually registered ourselves for the half-marathon, so barring injury - it's official. Victoria, here we come!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Another interrupted night of sleep

Every now and then, maybe once or twice a year, Toby howls. I'm talking a real, wolf-like howl here, not the yowling-singing kind of song that he makes when he sees a bunny or a squirrel. This is a wilder sound, from deep in his primeval wolf brain.

I know it's from some deep instinctive spot in his brain because he only howls in his sleep, and only during the night. The first time he did it, we were staying in a Best Western in Bend, Oregon, during a long and fabulously fun road trip that included some backpacking, camping, hotels and a wedding. Come to think of it, that was the first big road trip the dogs ever took, and the first backpacking trip. So perhaps his imagination was fired up by all that wilderness and change of scenery.

I remember one night on that trip, backcountry on a beautiful alpine meadow, Toby and I sat inside the tent after the sun dropped behind the mountains, and watched as a group of deer appeared and moved through the last, silvery traces of light. Enrico and Nelly were already asleep, and Toby and I sat silently side by side, watching the magical scene, hidden observers in our little nylon bubble. His head turned this way and that, following the movements of ghostly deer in the dim light, but he never moved or made a sound. Which is particularly notable, because every other time he has seen a deer, he has yowled and pulled and, if unleashed, taken off like a shot in hot pursuit. Only that one, beautiful night did he sit and admire them peacefully.

A few days later, he made his first howl. It's a hard sound to describe, not like the classic "A-Ooooooo" that we all imagine from wolves or coyotes. The pitch rises and falls, and the tone is incredibly eerie; a long, meandering, unearthly call into the night, sung once and only once. That first time, jolted awake by the spooky and unfamiliar sound, we clicked on the light and looked around. Toby was still sound asleep. Nelly was wide awake and staring at him with the same "what the fu...?" expression as us.

Nelly makes no such sound. The closest she has ever come was, in fact, on the very same backpacking route (albeit a different trip) in the Eagle Cap Wilderness in eastern Oregon - which, by the by, is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Rocky peaks, lush meadows, cold streams, glittering alpine lakes. Paused for a rest, we spotted a line of elk traveling a path high above us on the hillside. Staring at the elk, Nelly began making the most unbelievable noise, a high-pitched "aiiee-yaiiee-yaiee," as if she were yearning for the elk, calling to any and all nearby wolves to join her in the hunt, ready to abandon us and all our comfortable domesticated ways for the wild life. Two nearby hikers stared at her in surprise, and we gaped back at them, like, hey, don't look at us, we've never heard her make that sound before, or anything remotely like it. And in fact, we never have heard it since.

Anyway, last night Toby woke us up with a howl. It's even spookier than being awakened by the cat in heat. But I don't mind, I savor the howling nights. I love that such a thoroughly domesticated animal still has that little part of him deep inside, a wild and mysterious wolf.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

So very sleepy

For reasons that baffle us, our carport is THE hip neighborhood hangout for cats in heat and their many suitors. We don't know why we've been given this dubious honor, and it's not one to be envied, let me tell you. There is nothing quite like being awakened in the middle of the night by the following three sounds, in rapid succession:
(1) The warbling, vaguely disturbing wail of a cat in heat.
(2) The jarring sound of a catfight breaking out.
(3) The deafening sound of two 60-pound dogs howling, barking, and scrabbling their little nails frantically on hardwood floors as they search for a way out of the house.

And why, why does this always happen between midnight and 4 am? Don't cats in heat ever flaunt their stuff during the daytime? Eventually one of the humans has to drag our butt outside and scatter the cats, with the dogs howling in frustrated protest from the house. There's something spooky about seeing a whole gang of cats staring at you insolently from the top of the carport under the cool moonlight.

None of us regains a state of true restfulness on nights like this.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Grace in unexpected places

On Friday night, I went to a Seattle Mariners baseball game. I love baseball, and a friend of mine couldn't use her ticket, which I gladly snapped up.

It was "Ladies' Night" at the ballpark, which included free give-aways of cheesy pink-and-white baseball visors and (I kid you not) potted plants. The featured event on the big screen was the story of two women who were chosen for a special shopping trip to the Mariners' team store, where they received...wait for it...a makeover! Featuring pink Mariners' jerseys! The derisive comments flowed abundantly in my little group. Nonetheless, there were two redeeming features (apart from the baseball game itself, of course).

First, the initial pitch was thrown by a local woman who, having recently summitted Mt. Everest, is now the youngest person to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, at the amazing age of 20. That was pretty cool.

The second high point was, unexpectedly, the national anthem. The woman who performed it sang beautifully and simply. She spanned the famously difficult range of notes seemingly without effort or showy flourish, and her face had a radiant look as if she were singing for the sheer joy of it and not for the benefit of tens of thousands of spectators.

The U.S. national anthem has never really done much for me, with its story of waiting through a night of battle to see if the flag still stands. A musical celebration of "bombs bursting in air" seems almost indecent in the face of current world events and our country's troubling role in them. I've always thought it compared poorly to the proud, peaceful lyrics of my other national anthem, O Canada!, with its glowing hearts and lordly rivers (although to be fair, the French lyrics are completely different - Car ton bras sait porter l'epee, il sait porter la croix...yeah, stick that in Babel Fish and see what you get). Of course the U.S. is not alone in having a battle-themed national anthem - take the Marseillaise, after all: To arms, citizens! Form your batallions! March, march! Let the impure blood water our fields!*

But in any event, the almost transcendent performance of the national anthem on Friday night made me, for the first time in memory, hear the lyrics in a different light. I could imagine the glaring rockets and bursting bombs metaphorically rather than literally, as an assault not by physical weapons but by greed, intolerance, aggression and indifference. As she launched into the familiar final lines: Oh say does that star-spangled banner still wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave - I heard a new emphasis. Not, "Is our flag still standing after the night of battle?" but "This land, over which our flag flies - is it still the land of the free and home of the brave?" In other words, as we live through the dark night and look toward the dawn, the important question is not whether we will still be standing, but whether we will still have something worth standing up for.

Maybe this is what Francis Scott Key meant all along, and I'm just a little slow on the uptake. But nonetheless, as the singer hit and held the soaring high note on the word free, I confess I experienced an uncharacteristic welling of tears in the eyes.

* You think I'm making that up? Translate for yourself:
Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Sunday, July 17, 2005


Yesterday, I purchased and then read the new Harry Potter book. The entire thing, all 650 pages. I know, it wasn't a very original way to spend the day, since I probably had a couple million kids around the globe as company. But I really do enjoy the Harry Potter books, and burying myself in it took me pleasantly back to childhood summer days. The public library had a "summer reading club," in which children who read a certain number of books over the summer got a reward - I don't remember what, but this was the public library, so I assume it was something simple like participation in a modest party, or getting your name on a big gold star on the wall. Cousin Flora has read 15 books! There were rules to ensure that we read age-appropriate books, so a fourth-grader couldn't crank through Go Dog, Go! and Curious George just to nail a gold star within a week.

Of course I never did it for the party or the gold star, I just loved immersing myself in books. It's been said many times, but there's nothing quite like the joy of giving yourself over completely to a really compelling book. Many summers, I would evolve a theme, not by design but organically, as something caught my interest and took hold of my curiosity. I can certainly remember going through more than one magic phase, starting with Mrs. Pigglewiggle and later progressing through all of the Oz books, the Chronicles of Narnia and the Half Magic series by Edward Eager. I remember a girl-power theme, with all the Pippi Longstocking and Harriet the Spy books. Of course there were mysteries, including the adventures of Nancy Drew and her plucky friends Bess and George. Long after I outgrew the Summer Book Club, my summer reading themes included French swashbucklers (Count of Monte Cristo, Three Musketeers, Les Miserables), Russian tragedies (Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamozov, Doctor Zhivago), English gothic (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca), and then a curiously voracious addiction to biographies, with subjects as diverse as Marguerite de Navarre to Agatha Christie to Vivien Leigh.

So, curling up with Harry Potter for the day felt very familiar and comforting. It made me think of climbing the squeaky wooden stairs in the old public library of my home town, which was squeezed into a huge old, eccentric converted house, with shelves towering clear to the tops of the high ceilings. That library was replaced with a new, spacious, glass-encased building by the time I hit high school, but yesterday, the smell of wood polish and must came back to me, clear as a bell, and made me smile.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Well, who needs two control keys anyway

Today I went on the first "long" run of my half-marathon training program, long being only 4 miles this first week. And I felt fabulous, thanks for asking! I took Toby along with me, since he and I have finally become well-suited running partners. He had a great time and apparently, he has more friends than I do. We ran into three dogs that he knows - a Doberman named Ringo, whom we know from the park (so I don't really know his person), and my friend Jane's two dogs, PD and Koya, who were out with a dog-walker.

Now Nelly is none too happy about being left out of the fun, but I just can't run with the both of them and besides, she's slowing down more than he is. So when I got home, I immediately took her on a little walk by herself - just around the block, as my cool-down. But she was thrilled, you could tell.

Toby cannot be left to roam the house by himself. A complete extrovert, he absolutely cannot stand to be alone. When left alone, he responds by eating the worst possible thing he can think of, I believe on the assumption that if he does something really, really bad, we will have to come back at least to punish him, which is better than being alone. (Oh, the blogs I could write about the stupid things Toby has eaten...) The remedy for this is to shut him up in the den, where he generally sleeps at night, and where he stayed by himself whenever we went out during the first couple of months after we got him. He feels safe there, kind of like a crate. We actually even call the den "Toby's room."

And I figured, he just got the 4-mile run, he's tired, he's happy - it'll be no problem. I left him the water bowl and a little rawhide chewy as a bonus.

But oh, was he pissed. And he did what I always vaguely worried he would do but dismissed as one of my many unfounded anxieties - he jumped up onto the desk and thus, ONTO THE LAPTOP.

How do I know that he did this in my absence? The first clue was the fact that somebody had searched in Windows Explorer for "xxihenuyoei" (or something along those lines). The second clue was that one of the Control keys was (and alas, still is) detached from the computer. And the third was that the Internet connection was off, which turned out to be because the recycling basket had fallen onto the floor and landed very tidily on the switch to the power strip.

Yes, hell has no fury like a golden lab spurned. From now on, I'll be sure to close the computer before locking him in his room. And I've been meaning to start saving for a new computer anyway.


You know, I've been re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Enrico got it from the library in anticipation of the movie later this year)'s the one with the competition where the students have to successfully complete a series of tasks that test their wit, skill and daring. Anyway, maybe there's some inspiration there for my Lead-In Year rituals...getting past a fire-breathing dragon, retrieving something held hostage by merpeople...

Just a thought, anyway.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Lead-in Year has begun

As of yesterday I am 39 years old and the Lead-In Year to my fourth decade of life is officially underway. So many women have told me that the 40s and 50s are way better than the 20s (when you're trying to figure out what the hell you want to do) and 30s (when you're working your ass off trying to accomplish whatever you decided on), so I am pretty psyched about this whole aging thing.

The theme I've heard most often about why the 40s (and onward) rock is because you no longer care what people think. The longer your view gets, the less you give a crap about what anyone else thinks of your choices. I hope I am on my way to that mindset, having abandoned what most would say was an excellent career prospect for the great unknown, and just generally lost my attachment to jobs. I'm also much, much less inclined to sweat the small stuff than I used to be, although there is still room for considerable personal growth on that front.

The Lead-in Year is something I invented, wanting to arrive at the momentous 40th with mindfullness and joy. I haven't yet figured out what all it's going to entail. Hopefully a weekend birthday getaway with my two childhood girlfriends (since we all turn 39 within an eight week period). It also includes training for (and presumably running) the half-marathon in Victoria in October, so I start my second half of life in good physical condition - you can't take the old physical plant for granted forever, if you know what I mean. I'm thinking of signing up for a year-long yoga teacher training course, for something different and challenging.

I'm trying to think of some kind of ongoing ritual, perhaps for the 13th of each month, to keep the idea of the Lead-In Year alive and meaningful even as life gets busy with the day-to-day, but I haven't figure out what that could be. I like the idea of ritual, but I have a pretty low woo-woo tolerance - there will be no ululating naked under the moon for me. So I'm trying to find some ideas or examples of life transition rituals that are cool but not too cheesy - and I'm also not a big fan of just appropriating other cultures' rituals superficially without the cultural background that make them meaningful. You know, like when anglo New-Agers decide to go on a vision quest and find their animal spirit guide. Anyway, if anybody has any ideas - suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The $64,000 Question

As I've been out and about lately (and for some reason our social schedule has been unusually full), everyone asks me the same question: So, you're back from Italy! What's next for you? Are you looking for a job?

Enrico and my friend Joan have both suggested I should "kick back" for the rest of the summer, which I think begs the question: Kick back from what? My month in an Italian villa? Yeah, that was really rough.

But I see their point. Summer in Seattle is spectacular, so if the events of my life have left me with no commitments right now, why push it? People don't tend to hire consultants (or even employees) in August. It's a slow time. If something fabulous happens to come along, I can always take it.

The key for me will be to fill my time appropriately, by which I mean things that are (a) socially productive, (b) really really fun, (c) self-improving, or (d) contributing to a richer quality of life for myself and those I care about. So, there is the afore-mentioned plan to train for the half-marathon (self-improvement). I've spent a couple of mornings lending a second hand to my friend Joan and her newborn twins (definitely contributing to her quality of life, I have no doubt). But yesterday? I took care of the laundry and the paper in the house. That's it. An entire day, spent laundering things and and sifting through piles of paper. How can those tasks take an entire day? I just don't get it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Happy Monday Shellfish

Well it was an active Saturday and a lazy Sunday at Cold Comfort Farm, with a lovely hike in the mountains on Saturday, followed by the obligatory ice cream shake at Scott's Dairy Freeze in little North Bend, Washington, the purchase of some freshly harvested Washington cherries from a road-side stand, and dinner at a friend's house.

Sunday, on the other hand, was low on activity. The church is closed for seismic retrofitting. The weather was gray and cool. I did do yoga, and with the help of a little Internet research, I created a training schedule for myself for the Victoria half-marathon, which is a mere 13 weeks away. My friend Monica is considering going for the big enchilada, the full marathon, and is already up to 14-mile runs. Considering I haven't been running since before Italy, and I was running minimally at that, I'm cutting things a bit close. Most of the training plans were for 14 to 18 weeks, although there were a few for 12 weeks. I'm banking on the fact that I've always been a natural runner, if not a particularly fast one, and hoping the allergies behave themselves.

I spent the evening vegging in front of the TV for the first time since I got back from Italy, and I vow NOT to fall into that habit. It's just too boring. Not that vegging is an inherently bad thing, mind you, but it shouldn't be done mindlessly. My fellow packmates spent the afternoon doing some quality vegging, as you can see.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

It's a dog's life

The life of the #2 Dog can be humbling, although Toby is an exceptionally cheerful spirit and he bears it well.

Last week, the poor fellow was quite ill which resulted in the unfortunate disposal of one of the two dog beds. (Don't ask - let's just say that it was unsalvageable and that Enrico deserves a special merit badge for toxic waste disposal.) Since Toby is #2 Dog, he just lay where the missing bed used to be, while Nelly hogged the remaining bed. In other words, the moral of the story is: If you're the Alpha Dog, you get a bed; if you're the #2 Dog, you must settle for the imaginary bed.

I replaced the bed today, so that particular equilibrium is restored; but now a new trial has come along for poor Toby. His allergies are quite bad, and he will literally scratch and lick himself into a big oozing sore if we don't keep a tight watch on things. So, when the going gets tough - when I'm out of Benadryl (which he consumes in doses sufficient to tranquilize a horse) and I can no longer stand to hear myself saying "leave it, leave it, leave it Toby, STOP LICKING YOURSELF" - the dog wears tie-dye. And then has his picture posted on the Internet for everyone to see. Really, is there no end to the humiliation?

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Human Adaptability

You wouldn't think one month would be enough time to mess with deeply engrained habits, but I've been surprised by the ways that I find myself slightly off-kilter since returning from Italy. For starters, it took me a couple of days to re-adjust to my car's clutch, and to stop looking for the non-existant sixth gear, and to just generally stop feeling vaguely disappointed with the way my car handles. More than once I've looked for the stove knobs in the wrong place. For lunch I truly crave nothing but bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and cheese.

On the other hand, I've quickly regained the habit of wasting time on the Internet, which I will try to nip in the bud. Having a phone again took no adjustment whatsoever, and I feel no lingering urge to go grocery shopping

If the weather weren't so gray and cool, I might be missing my daily dip in a naturally spring-fed, chemical-free swimming pool with a view.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The amazing adventures of Pig Boy

Our lovely Italian villa was not actually a villa but a converted 400-year old water mill, built by monks to harness a mountain spring at its source to mill grain. It is high on a hillside outside of Orvieto, near a little townlet called Rocca Ripesena, which is notable enough to appear on the map of Umbria in the famous Map Room at the Vatican, thanks to an alleged stopover there by Lars Porsena of Clusium, an Etruscan king of the Romans.

But I digress.

One of the things that surprised me about Umbria was how much of it is still forrested, given that people have lived there for thousands of years. One day, Enrico hiked up the path into the woods behind our house, and returned with an amazing tale: He had encountered a wild boar, complete with tusks and a gaggle of little boarlets.

This is not Wilbur we're talking about here. Wild board have tusks, and are ill-tempered. We'd seen the tusks on the stuffed boars displayed outside butcher shops up in the walled town, purveyors of the regional speciality, boar sausage.

Enrico froze on the trail, admiring the piglets, until the mama appeared and let out a bone-chilling squeal-roar. Enrico looked for a tree to climb. But Mama Boar took off, followed by her many offspring, and Enrico hightailed it back to the villa, where he regaled us with this story.

The next day, I saw the proprietorof our house, Signore Bianco. Signore Bianco's father was an architect who had purchased the abandoned mill in the 1970s and converted it into a house, so S. Bianco had been playing in the stream and walking the woods since he was a small child. Is it common to see wild boar up there, I asked? He looked puzzled, so I explained about Enrico's meeting with the boar. We were speaking Italian, and his puzzlement was such that I confirmed I was using the correct word - cinghiale.

He shook his head in amazement. "It is rare, incredibly rare, to see cinghiali. Especially with babies, that many young, it is totally unheard of. For many years there was a famous boar hunt on this hill, and people came from all over Italy, so the boars are fearful of people." He himself had been charged by a boar on a coule of occasions over many years, and although he was on a mountain bike and was able to escape unscathed, the experience was frightening. He politely and delicately inquired as to whether my husband was, perhaps, prone to exaggeration? Quite the contrary, I assured him. Well, he said, he would pass on news of the sighting to a friend in the wildlife division who was tracking the return of the boar to the area. But this was a highly unusual event and we should not fear to hike up the trail.

The next day, Enrico hiked up again - and again, he encountered a boar. The next evening, he spotted one of the babies in our driveway right outside the house. Either the boars had become a lot less rare, or Enrico was a certifiable boar magnet.

The next time I saw Sr. Bianco, I updated him on the additional boar sightings. He shook his head in astonishment. "Truly, this is very, very rare." We were speaking English this time, and Sr. Bianco struggled to find the right words. "Your husband, he must do you say...the capacity of stop."

I laughed. It was an odd phrase, but I knew exactly what he meant: The ability to be quiet, still, non-disruptive. "Yes," I confirmed, "my husband definitely has the capacity of stop."

Funny thing is, before all of this started, we were all sitting on the terrace with our delighful Orvieto Classico Superiore wine and debating what role we would want to play on the reality TV show we would develop, in which everyone would live a medieval-style life on a single self-contained Umbrian hill for several months. Without hesitation, Enrico picked the role of Pig Boy. "The pigs are important to the community, so everybody needs Pig Boy," he explained, "but nobody bothers him because of the smell." Little did he know how apt that designation would prove to be.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Working backwards

"It will seem like the four-hour layover in Heathrow will never end," Enrico had said by phone to me after his return to Seattle, "but eventually, it does." Indeed, it did seem long, having gotten up at 5:30 am to start my 20-hour journey home from Rome. Heathrow Airport does not strike me as the most logical of operations. There are shuttle buses that take you on impossibly long journeys between terminals - surely they aren't really that far apart? Departure gates are listed only in the appropriate terminal, but finding out which terminal to go to in the first place is surprisingly challenging. Just to change planes you have to go through security again. Being someone who generally gives the benefit of the doubt, I assume that the people who run Heathrow are doing their best with an overtaxed facility, and that Britain, having joined in with the foolish American war, feels it cannot rely on the security measures of other airports and must re-screen incoming travelers for themselves. Fair enough.

As I passed through the metal detector, I heard a security screener saying to her colleagues, "He looks bloody good for his age, don't he?" How crass, I thought, to be sizing us passengers up against our passports. I expect to queue in Britain, I expect things to be bureaucratic, but I expect it all to be handled with the utmost courtesy.

Having forgotten which bloody terminal I needed to go to next, I moved from the security line to the British Airways check-in counters, scanning the many video screens. I craned my neck to see around the tall gentleman in front of me, engaged in a similar scan, but I found no information of use. Just then, a British airways employee stepped up to my neighbor. "Have you checked in for your flight yet, Mr. Cleese?" she asked in clipped British tones. "No? Right then, this is the spot." And she bustled efficiently off.

First I thought, wait, why isn't she helping me too? Then I thought, how come she knows this guy's name? And then I thought - oh, I get it, that's John Cleese standing next to me. Thoroughly unremarkable in jeans and a baseball cap, close enough that I could pick his pocket. Suddenly the surprisingly rude comment I'd overheard at security made sense - they must have expedited his passage to the front of the long, serpentine line, where somebody noticed him enough to note that he looked "bloody good for his age." I glanced up at him again, unobtrusively. He did look bloody good for his age.

But now here he was, queuing up with the rest of us - and seemingly just as puzzled as I was with the logistics of it all, although surely given his profession he has passed through Heathrow hundreds of times. I smiled, hauled my backpack to my shoulders, and headed off. As I stepped onto the escalator, I paused to look back. Hundreds of people bustled this way and that, but not a soul seemed to notice the famous John Cleese, standing in line at first-class check-in.

So I'll say this for Heathrow - it may seem illogical and inefficient, but also reassuringly democratic; a level playing field of baffled travelers from all walks of life.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Yes, they do have the Internet in Europe

...but, I didn't use it. I know I managed to blog almost daily on my trip to Argentina, but the Internet was simply not conveniently accessible to me from the rented Italian villa where I have spent the past month. It was awesome. I have many stories to tell, although most if not all of the people who read this blog were there for some period of time, and will know the stories. The few other readers presumably gave up on me weeks ago.

However, I have a few good tales, and some pictures to boot, and I will try to organize my thoughts and present them in a suitably entertaining manner in the days to come.

Today, I am still adjusting to the time change and withdrawal from the best freakin' tomatoes on Earth. Tomatoes aren't even native to Italy - but oh, what the Italians have done with them! Between Enrico and I, we brought home a bottle of unfiltered extra virgin Italian olive oil, some 12-year-old Modena Balsamic vinegar, a half-wheel of strong Umbrian pecorino cheese...and they are all heavenly, a reminder of our wonderful trip, but...the Italian tomatoes are definitely missed.