Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A small thing

I haven't posted in a few days. I'm kind of overwhelmed by recent world events and anything I can think to post about my small, comfortable, happy life seems a bit trite. Plus I'm working again so I'm busy.

However, I will report on one interesting thing I saw this week. I was running around Green Lake, which has a ~3-mile walking/biking path around the outside. It's right in the heart of middle-class Seattle, always full of walkers and joggers and rollerbladers and bikers, lots professionals straight from work and students from the nearby U and parents with their kids. As I was running, I saw two men walking the path together, one of whom had a white shirt with the words "SPANISH LESSONS" in big red letters across the front. As I passed them I realized they were, in fact, having a Spanish lesson. What a simple yet clever idea, no? Give people language lessons while exercising, and serve as your own advertising billboard.

The creativity of the human mind is really quite amazing.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Your mission, if you choose to accept it

My friend Megan called today to say she'd been visiting Joan and Paul and their twins, now a couple of months old. She wanted to give me the heads-up that she'd offered to put together a team of people to come babysit both babies so Joan and Paul can go out for an afternoon or evening together. Megan figures each team will need to be comprised of three people, one of whom has a documented, successful track record of parenting a child beyond infancy. "It won't work without a team," she said, "and those guys say you're pretty good with the babies, so even though you don't have the parenting credentials, I definitely want you for the team."

This crack unit's mission: Keep two tiny humans - collectively weighing less than 30 pounds - sleeping, eating and pooping for four hours. Hey, I'm not minimizing it, don't get me wrong. Team Twins, only the best need apply. Will we get pep talks and schwag? Secret agent names, like the black ops people on Alias?

Meanwhile, Team Get the Rats the Hell Outta My House has gone into action, testing materials and conducting trial maneuvers on the trickier aspects of the mission, like gutter removal. Turns out that this, our Tenth Anniversary, is the Tin/Aluminum anniversary, according to the traditional list, and the Leather anniversary on the modernized list. So, it's just perfect that we are buying ourselves a fifty-foot roll of hazardously sharp aluminum, and some leather workgloves to keep from shredding our hands on it. Isn't that just too romantic?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Further illustration of why I need that iPod

Today I did a seven-mile run, so I'm over the halfway mark for the half-marathon. Thanks to good city planning, I have 5 miles of flat lakefront trail that I can run along, plus an adjacent 2.5-mile car-free, waterfront loop at my local park. Which is great, because it's flat and scenic and safe running. Plus, because this route is used for so many races - including the Seattle Marathon - there are distance markers every half mile. In fact, I have recently realized that those good city planners actually put parks at exact one-mile increments along the lakefront.

For any run over about 3 miles, I play a lot of head games with myself. Ok, halfway to the turnaround point; now at the turnaround point, halfway done with the run! Last week I ran six miles, so this week I just have to do the same run, plus a one mile cool-down, no problem. Each additional mile is just one more half-mile tick up the lake. I watch my half-mile split times and use them as an excuse to do math in my head. I play little games with my breath - eight steps in, eight steps out; now try eight and six...And I've pretty much always done this, since I started running at age 13. It's a longtime habit.

Do other people do this? I keep thinking I should just be carried along by the sheer joy of running, instead of using all these mental gimmicks, because I really honestly do enjoy it. And even if it's an ok motivational technique for exercise, I sometimes worry that maybe I unconsciously mark my time through life like that. Ok, two months until I'm done with my job! $200,000 raised, only $50K left to hit budget! Six months until Italy! Eight weeks left of summer! That sort of thing. It seems wrong - you know, not living in the moment - and I it makes me wonder how many of life's moments tick by like mile markers along Lake Washington, appreciated only as a milestone and not for their inherent worth.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Whatever you do, just DON'T mention Canadians

As I recently mentioned, it turns out we have (through NO action or malfeasance on our part) been getting a bunch of free cable for, oh, about six years. Whoops. Which the cable company apparently figured out a few weeks ago, and cut us back to the channels that we actually pay for - a package so paltry that they don't even list it on their Web site as an option. I think they're legally obligated to offer it so poor people can at least get some television in a hilly city with crappy reception. You get the major networks, public television, the public access channels where people broadcast made-up shows from their toolshed, and the Weather Channel.

Anyway, we tried being all cultured and "maybe we don't really need to watch all that television" for a little while, but after about two weeks we said screw it, we want South Park back.

So I tried to order the service online, because I'm becoming more and more like my mother in my dislike of the telephone, and had a rather odd Internet chat session with a customer service guy. It went a little bit like this.

Dave: Hello, my name is Dave, how can I help you today?
Flora: Hi Dave, I want to order Basic Cable.
Dave: I see that service on your account.
Flora: [Thinking maybe we really are supposed to be getting 99 channels for $14 a month after all.] You mean you show that's what I'm ordering? Or you show it's what I already have?
Dave: You would like Basic Cable?
Flora: Yes, I think so. I want the one with, like, 77 channels plus the CBC. That's what we used to get, but we don't any more.
Dave: CBC?
Flora: Sorry, Canadian Broadcasting. It's channel 99.
Dave: [Goes away for a long time.] I'm sorry, I can't tell from here which package would have the CBC. If you really want the CBC, you'll need to check the listings for your local area on our Web site to find out which package includes it.
Flora: Ok, apparently I have made things overly complicated. It's a bad habit of mine. Let's back up. What service package do your records show I currently have?
Dave: Limited Basic.
Flora: Limited or Basic? Because those are listed as two different packages on your Web site.
Dave: [Goes away again for a LONG time.] Ok, see, you threw me with that bit about the CBC, because I'm in Canada, and I was just so surprised that anyone would want Canadian television.
>>>This chat session must be terminated because you left the chat screen. You may return to our Web site and start again.

I had not left the chat screen. I was waiting patiently for Dave to regain his composure, and sell me some damn cable channels. Apparently, my admitted interest in Canadian television was SO SHOCKING that it overloaded the system and spit me out.

Today I just phoned the cable company, the old-fashioned way. I mentioned absolutely nothing about Canada. It seemed best.

The big dig

I really don't mean to be one of those people who talk about nothing but their dogs. But they just do so many amusing and interesting things.

Tonight, as we were in the back yard encouraging them to burn off some energy together in a friendly game of chase-and-wrestle, Nelly abruptly abandoned the game, leaving Toby mid-tackle, and began to dig wildly. Nelly has never really been much of a digger - that's always been more Toby's schtick - but all of a sudden, the dogs have been working as a team on a big hole. Actually, it's not just a hole, it's a den. They are building themselves a den. It's a wide, shallow depression in one corner of the yard, and they have now started lining it with plant matter. They lie in it sometimes, and then make little adjustments here and there. They're constructing the canine equivalent of a bomb shelter in the back yard.

We normally discourage digging, but we're just too damned fascinated by this phenomenon to put an end to it. And why is Nelly, now approaching her ninth birthday, suddenly into digging? What about that saying, about old dogs and new tricks? Because I gotta tell you, the look on her face when we catch her expanding the Emergency Dog Bunker, sending a cloud of dry dust across the yard with her furiously flying paws - her face has the happiest, most contented little doggy expression I have EVER seen.

But hey, as Enrico always says - we all need a hobby.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I was preparing one of those long, pompous entries about world poverty and pseudo-Christians and the importance of the public library and so forth, you know the ones, where I pretend I'm a respected NPR guest commentator instead of a semi-employed introverted head case sitting alone in my living room, but I couldn't quite get it POMPOUS enough so I'm doing this instead: An ode to two people who have inspired me.

Because, I am proud to say that as of this week, the pace on my five-mile runs has dropped by a stunning 45 seconds per mile. That's right, in just seven weeks, my pace for a five-mile run has dropped from 10:25 per mile to 9:40 per mile. Still a good minute slower than my spring chicken days way back when, but I'm pretty pleased.

You'll recall, I started training for a half-marathon as part of my program to hit 40 physically fit, mentally spunky, and ready for the second half (hopefully) of life. I've been a lifelong runner but haven't been able to keep with it consistently since an injury five years ago. Two fabulous women inspired me to change that.

The first is my lifelong friend Monica, who despite being a nurse and a generally active and healthy person, has never been an avid runner and in fact until a few years ago was a smoker. Over the past couple years she's started running seriously with amazing results. She is my half-marathon buddy and her long runs are already up to 14 miles! So she's pretty much got the thing nailed. Go Mo! Thanks for talking me into this.

The second is my friend B. (I don't think she'd object to seeing this inspiring story in print but I haven't asked, so I'll just be cautious here.) Upon her 39th birthday last year, B. decided to make a change by 40. She was still carrying around extra weight gained from having three kids, the last of whom (wonderful though she is) came with a case of gestational diabetes for Mama B., which as you may know is a big fat risk factor for ongoing diabetes. B.'s mother had died suddenly at the age of 59 of complications from diabetes and heart disease, leaving a big gaping hole in her family's life, and B. was determined not to do this to her family. So, despite having a demanding professsional life and three small children, she has embarked on a fitness campaign which includes losing weight and training for the Seattle Marathon Walk in November. As of yesterday - a mere six days before the momentous 40th birthday - she has lost 48 of her targeted 50 pounds, and is up to 18 mile walks. She looks incredibly healthy and fabulous, and I'm so proud of and inspired by her.

Thanks ladies! You totally rock.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day One in the old office...

...and I've already heard the first "Hotel California" joke.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Screw the IRA, show me the IPod

My training for the Victoria half-marathon - a mere seven weeks away - is going quite well, thank you. I'm up to 5 miles for my short runs, and my long runs are at 7 miles and increasing by a mile a week up to the race. My pace is getting noticeably quicker, too.

However, it turns out that one hour is the longest I can run without getting truly, stiflingly bored with my own brain. Which is surprising, since in general I can happily spend a LOT of time in my own company. Way more time than most people I know. But after about an hour of running, my brain needs some distraction. I've just started a new consulting gig and although I had vowed that my top priority would be to fully fund my annual retirement contribution, I think that some of this first check must go for an IPod.

Fortunately, I'm charging this client a little extra per hour from my usual rate, because this is an organization that I have now worked for and left four times. How that came to be is a long story, but suffice to say, it got to be a joke. After a while they stopped having goodbye parties for me, thank goodness. I think the last one was like "Hey everyone, there's cupcakes in the conference room 'cause Flora is leaving again." And people went, "Cool! Cupcakes!" Each time, I had to send out a good-bye email, if only to remind people that they should stop contacting me and instead starting calling [fill in the blank with my replacement]. So when they convinced me to help out with this contract job, I just had to charge them a little extra, a premium for the hearty heckling I'm going to get, given that my fourth and last goodbye email was entitled: "Dude. Seriously. I'm leaving."

So it's kind of a Heckling Premium. Or, the IPod Premium, as luck may have it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

I'm sorry too! So now what?

Well now vacation is over (0k, about seven months of vacation) - and I'm back to thinking about what on earth I, a single individual, can do to make a positive impact on the incredibly sad and screwed-up state of the world. I know, I thought I had that all figured out with the "Hey! I'll run some worthy charitable organization!" plan. But it turns out that despite my modest successes in that department, running things makes me kinda crazy. Stuffing envelopes doesn't quite meet my criteria for mental simulation and clear payoff, so...still in search of the middle ground.

No answers yet, but - I was in Seattle's big independent bookstore with my parents when I saw this book, Sorry Everybody, which also has a Web site. It's photos from thousands of Americans apologizing to the world for the re-election of GW Bush. You can click through the photos, which range from very funny ("The people in this picture are much sorrier than they appear") to very angry, to simple and businesslike: "We're so sorry, world. We'll try to do better."

Now they are also collecting photos from people around the world, accepting our apologies. "It's ok, Italy forgives you." "We're sorry for you too." "It's cold here in Norway, but you're always welcome!"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Warning: Not for the rodent-squeamish

Apparently some of our readers would like more details on this whole rat episode. Ah, the reading public, always thirsty for gory details.

Our recently replaced roof has a slightly larger gap around the edges, providing more entry points into the attic. The rat population has thus grown noticeably of late, and we've been preparing a Rat Repulsion Campaign, including new flashing to seal off the roof. Since the attic is a bit stifling this time of hear, one rat family has set up summer housekeeping in the underbrush just on the far side of the fence, on our neighbor's property, adjacent to our patio and garden.

Although he has tried - Lord knows, he's tried - Toby had never actually caught and killed anything before. He's chased squirrels, chipmunks, cats, deer, moles, rats, seagulls and ducks, to no avail. So imagine my surprise when he actually caught this rat in the garden. Toby was back behind some shrubbery, where I couldn't easily get ahold of him, and he was immediately joined by Nelly, who wanted to see what he'd found. Envisioning a dogfight to the death over the Best!Toy!Ever!, I adopted my sternest, most urgent tone of voice, and started with Nelly. "Nelly, leave it!!" To my surprise, she looked up at me, so I seized the moment. "Come! Come here! Come on, girl!" She considered for a moment, then calmly waddled out of the garden and sat next to me. This was nothing short of miraculous.

Encouraged, holding Nelly by the collar, I turned my attention to Toby. He dropped the rat at my command, but simply could not bear to leave it there and come to me. He stood over his prize, quivering with excitment, and his wild-eyed look implored me not to make him abandon the best thing he's ever possessed in his whole life, EVER.

Clamboring into the garden I finally yanked him backward by his tail, which probably isn't good for him, and then dragged him out by his collar. I got the dogs into the house and disposed of the tiny animal, with yowls of protest in the background. Then I grabbed a tub of dog treats and began the process of reminding both dogs that, recent events notwithstanding, I am STILL the most interesting thing in their lives. No! Don't look over at that fence! Nothing to see there! Look, I have feeze-dried liver! Look at me, at ME!

It was right about this time that I noticed the bleeding cut under Toby's eye. Toby, the mighty predator, had managed to get himself injured by a teeny, tiny, mouse-sized rat in the process of hunting it. I think he's just not cut out for this killer instinct thing.

He's fine. No stitches required, and the vet was utterly unconcerned, albeit amused (especially since this was his second visit within a week). "Did he eat any of the rat?" she asked, "because that can cause problems. Salmonella, things like that." EEEW, no, I said.

But despite the EEEW factor, I felt a bit badly for the little critter, actually. I should probably have a stronger dislike of rats. Most people seem to shudder in horror at the mere mention of them, but I have to confess that the few I've seen have seemed kinda cute. Small, like a mouse, with white bellies, big brown eyes, and tiny little hands. What's the difference between that and a child's pet hamster or mouse? I understand they aren't very sanitary and they used to spread plague. I don't want them in my house. But it always seemed to me that rats got a bum rap, what with all the loathing and the laboratory experimentation and all.

And really - all those cats in the neighborhood, who torment our dogs and have parties and fights on our carport and prance around with their little tinkle-tinkle collar bells at all hours of the night - why haven't they done something about this brazen rat community, right there at ground level? Why on earth is my hapless dog doing their job for them? Sheesh.

Friday, August 19, 2005

How to impress your parents

1. While they are sitting out on your patio relaxing with a cold drink, a rat saunters past.
2. Your dog kills the rat, in front of their horrified eyes.
3. You leave them on their own at your house while you take your dog to the vet to check out the inch-long rat bite ON HIS FACE.

Classy. Very classy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

My trip to the blustery south

I'm back from the Oregon coast, which was spectacular but a mite chilly. Windy, really. A cold, biting wind. Following, just because, are the "pics of the day" that I took each day with my low-quality camera phone and sent to Enrico via the miracle of technology, to keep him connected with our adventures.

Day One: Darlingtonia californica, a carnivorous plant native to southern Oregon and northern California. Also known as the "cobra plant" because - although it's hard to tell in this crappy picture - it looks like a cobra rising up to strike. It eats insects, yum! Learn more from the Carnivorous Plant Society, because I know you're curious!

Day Two: Sea Lion Caves. Ok, I know this is a really bad picture, but give me a break, it was taken in a cave 200 feet below ground with a friggin' telephone. You are in fact looking at the largest sea cave in the US (and maybe the world, they seem a little unclear on this point), and that rock in the middle is covered with Stellar's sea lions, which can weight over 2,000 pounds. On that day, we also went to Cape Perpetua, which is probably my favorite place on the whole Oregon coast, and that's saying something. I know Ma got some good pictures of the spouting waves.

Day Three: The Dunes. Flora's Ma and Pa heading out for a hike on the dunes at Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, 40 miles of dunes as high as 500 feet, along with over 30 lakes, forests of various sorts, and of course, beaches.

Day Three: Horses on the beach. In the fog.

Day Four: Falls on Sweet Creek. A lovely hike on a waterfall-rich stream in the Coast Range.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The fog gnomes

Here I am, down here on the Oregon coast, and it appears that the fog gnomes have opened a branch office. The fog gnomes, Enrico and I hypothesized, are the creatures responsible for the absolutely unbelievable fog on the island of Kauai, whose ancient, sunken volcano crater is now the largest swamp in the world, or the wettest place in the world, or something like that. (Sitting in an internet cafe as I am, I don't feel like spending time Googling the precise superlative, but I know it's something like that.) Fog rolls out of that vast impassable swamp like a live, sentient being, moving and slinking as if it has a destination, a goal, a plan.

And such is the fog that we have here on the central Oregon coast this week. We wake up to it; it hangs heavy and thick until noon; and the rest of the day it allows us our sun, but it is always visible, hanging over the ocean, sending occasional little fingers inland seemingly randomly, as if to remind us that it can envelope us at any time.

The locals all say the weather is very weird this year. But we're having a nice time anyway. We saw the sea lions at Sea Lion Caves, and hiked the rocks and beaches at Cape Perpetua at high tide, watching the sea send thundering, sky-high spouts of water through the cracks and gaps in the volcanic rock. Today we're hitting the Oregon Dunes, 50 miles of freakishily huge, Sahara-like sand dunes that are sometimes three to five miles deep along the coast. I really do like this little corner of the world.

Things I should have packed but didn't - very atypical of Cousin Flora to be so scattered:

  • Any kind of windbreaker, which I am sorely sorry for most days 'cause the wind is from the north and damned chilly.
  • My watch.
  • Cliff bars, which I've now bought, which is a darned shame since we still have half a gross of them at home left over from Enrico's backpacking trip.
  • The wildflower guide book

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Examples of why Enrico is such a good egg

I leave for Oregon shortly with the following situations underway at home...

Toby's foot is now oozing yellow stuff, and Enrico will have to take him to the vet today and then most likely battle for six days over the application of topical remedies, restricted activity, and the donning of despised foot coverings.

Having lost access to the hellmouth, the ever-resourceful rats have set up housekeeping in the wall of our den.

There is no ice cream or frozen pizza in the house. There is booze, though.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Something to look at

Tomorrow I'm heading to the Oregon coast with my parents, and I probably won't be blogging. I know I know, you're crushed. To tide you over, here are some pictures from Enrico's Pacific Crest Trail trip. Here's a sample to whet your appetite. Truly, it's purty country up there.

And, because it was on the same disk, here's a picture of me with my beloved jigsaw, preparing to close the hellmouth. For your amusement, bien sur.

Flora Nightengale

When Nelly came to us at 10 months old, her behavior suggested that she'd been physically mistreated by someone in her previous life. (Surely there's a special circle of hell for people who abuse baby animals.) The vet recommended a routine to accustom her to being physically handled by us, because her health and safety would require that we be able to handle any part of her body in any way we felt necessary. So every day for weeks, I would get down on the floor with her at a time when she was relaxed and resting, and while petting her gently I would handle every part of her body. I'd touch all four feet, getting my fingers in between her pads and nails; I'd rub her whole belly, allowing her to stay in a less threatening position on her side; I'd gently work her joints and spine; and I'd check her teeth, nose, eyes and ears.

And it worked. Whatever happened to her as a puppy, she'll never fully forget it, and she is cautious about her body. I see her stiffen when other people touch her in an overly familiar way, and she will never be the kind of dog who flips over for a belly-rub at the drop of a hat. But she has always stood patiently while we touch and handle her, whether to simply towel her off or to deal with an injury or ailment. After she was hit by a car, we had to put hot compresses on a head wound, three times a day for 10 minutes. She sat in the bathroom, calm as can be, with a hot, dripping washcloth on her head, and a look on her face that said, "you know, this is really, really, odd, what we're doing here, but - you're the leader!"

When we got Toby, he was such a happy, loving dog, we didn't bother to go through this training routine. Big, BIG mistake. He loves being petted, loved, roughhoused - but he hates being handled, and he knows the difference. And since he has seasonal allergies, we've had to do a great deal of remedial work, getting him to allow me to check him all over, every day, for emerging hot spots, and then trim the fur, wash the wounds. Every year when I first bring out the scissors, he flails and snarls as if they're a branding iron. But slowly, carefully, we get to that place where he trusts me, and we sit quietly together while I gently trim back the fur to create a dry, healing space around his burning, itching wounds. It's actually very sweet and intimate, like when I used to sit with Nelly every night and gently go over her whole warm, furry body with my hands.

Toby especially hates having his feet or ears touched. I have always said - if this dog ever has an injury to his foot (as Nelly has twice), we will be in big trouble. Well, that day has arrived. I don't know what started it - if something lodged there or if it's just his allergies - but he's licked a big oozing spot between the pads of one foot, a place nearly impossible to keep dry.

I have informally become the household specialist in veterinary nursing, and if I do say so myself, I've become pretty adept and creative at it. But I've trimmed the fur between his pads, and cleaned and dried repeatedly, and applied various ointments, and put a sock on him, but alas: I've had to resort to the big guns. He just wouldn't leave that foot alone, so he's in the cone. He looks at me like he's being punished, and I try to explain that he isn't, and that in fact, he had a choice in this matter. But I don't think he believes me.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Miscellaneous Shellfish

For the past seven years or so, we have been getting a lot more cable channels than we pay for. It just happened one day. Instead of the minimalist 20 channels - really only a replacement for bunny ears in areas where reception is bad - we had 75. We didn't ask for them, but we didn't think too much about it. This week, the cable company noticed their seven-year mistake and took the channels away. We have no idea what brought it to their attention, but whatever. We're going to do without for a while and test whether we really "need" the added channels. I mean, how much television do you need in your life, really? The only things we regularly watch on those channels are The Daily Show, South Park, and Battlestar Galactica. The question is - are they worth $30 a month? Stay tuned.

The dogs had a fight this week. It happens rarely, but it does happen; they're both pretty confident dogs, with a complex agreement about hierarchy that even we don't fully understand. There was a toy on the ground, and that was a mistake, they don't get toys for exactly this reason...anyway, it's always highly unnerving, to see our cute, loving animals become snarling, teeth-baring beasts, making the ugliest fighting noise imaginable. It's deafeningly loud, the sound of a dogfight. It's generally just noise, but Toby actually drew blood this time. When that happens, I'm pretty sure it's by accident rather than intent, but still. Toby is by far the less belligerant of the two, but that also means that when he gets pushed hard enough to fight, he's also the last to back down, because by that point he's really pissed off. Nonetheless, once we get them separated and calmed, they are instantly friends again, while we're left with the jitters for hours afterwards.

I submitted my application for private investigation school!

I just re-read one of my favorite books, Sole Survivor by Derek Hansen. Hansen is an Australian/New Zealand author, and as far as I know Sole Survivor is the only one of his books to have been published in the US. I rarely re-read books, and yet I could happily read this one over and over. It's the small-town salvation story that I'm such a sucker for, and this one particularly draws me in. I loaned it to a friend a while back who was put off by the sexism in it, and I must admit that this time it got to me a little too; the story is set in 1966 and I've always been able to place the gender stuff within the context of the time (along with the attitude toward the Japanese by characters who are scarred veterans of WWII). This time, it stood out a bit more. Nonetheless, I was still sorry when I'd gotten to the end and had no more to read. Which is the best feeling you can have about a book.

The blackberries are ripe in the back yard, and boy are they good. Those blackberry vines are invasive and thorny and a pain in the ass, but around this time of year I'm happy we don't kill quite all of them off.

Now you're thinkin' like Flora

Today I actually have some billable work to do, for the first time since May. What a shock to the system. But it'll help pay my tuition for private investigator school, because yes, I am sending in an application. Of course, they could always reject me. Wouldn't that be a hoot.

It's somewhat too bad that the work is kicking back in just today because Enrico took yesterday and today off, after his big backpacking trip, just to hang around for a couple lazy summer days before going back to work. He is getting a taste of what my daily life is like - laziness, life chores, self-improvement, work, all mixed into an unpredictable ratatouille of a schedule each week. However, although he swears he's a person who needs the guiding structure of a regular job to frame his time, I suspect he's getting the hang of this whole gadabout thing. Yesterday, I asked him what he was going to do with his afternoon, and he replied thoughtfully, "I was thinking I'd go to Nordstrom's and buy socks."

Now THAT'S the way to think about life. When buying socks constitutes a productive afternoon. Well done, grasshopper.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Back to normal, whatever that is

Enrico is back from the woods. Saturday my friend Monica joined me once again for the shorter drive to the pickup spot, and this time I took the dogs too. There was no way I could have taken them to the dropoff - absolutely no way they'd allow us to walk away from a member of the pack and abandon them in the woods. The entire 2-hour drive home would have been one unrelenting chorus of "Hey, bonehead! You forgot Enrico! We have to go back! The pack is separated! Woof, woof!"

But Saturday they got to come, and I think they were just expecting a nice hike and were totally surprised to see Enrico standing there in the parking lot. Ecstatically surprised. And then we hiked a little too, back up the trail Enrico had just finished. And we made the ritual stop at Scott's Dairy Freeze in North Bend, WA for milkshakes. Gotta top off a hike with a stop at the Dairy Freeze. It might even be a law.

How did his trip go? Most excellently, according to him. [Note: The following is more of a compilation than a transcript...If I've made any errors, I'll let Enrico pipe in with comments to correct them.]

Flora: So, how was it?
E: Fabulous, it was great!

Flora: Was it pretty?
E: Of course! It was absolutely gorgeous. Every day brought new amazing scenery. It changed a lot.

Flora: Was there one thing that really stood out as most striking or beautiful?
E: No, it was all beautiful, and surprisingly diverse from one day to the next.

Flora: What was the hardest day? The first one, with all that elevation gain?
E: No...that was hard, but it helped that it was overcast and cool. On the third day, the trail came to a huge valley, and you could see where you needed to end up on the other side, but the trail skirts around the most enormous rock bowl all the way around. It was painful because you could see the destination so far away, and the hot dry rocks seemed endless, but it was also incredibly cool.

Flora: So what was your routine?
E: I'd get up as early as possible to get my walking in while it was cooler. As soon as I'd get to my stopping place for the day, I'd pitch the tent and set up camp, and try to nap. I took a refreshing dip every day in some lake or stream. Then I'd explore, and read, check out the birds and the wildflowers, take some picures. I was always in my sleeping bag by sundown.

Flora: So how did the food work out for you? [We had rather lengthy discussions about food before he left. Enrico did not want to hassle with the camp stove and dirty dishes, and was prepared to eat "bar food" (Power Bars, Cliff Bars) until he realized that the 2,500 calories necessary to sustain a man of his size for six days of heavy exertion would mean about 10 bars a day. Even no-nonsense Enrico couldn't choke down 10 of those sweet, dry things for six days straight. So I had made it my mission to diversify his food options, while keeping them nutritionally balanced and lightweight.]
E: [Laughs] You were right, of course, the thing I ate the least were the bars. I'd have some of that vanilla protein powder and a bar for breakfast; stop somewhere scenic for lunch for some salami and cheese, and the avocados while they lasted; and then just have bars for dinner. In between I'd snack on those sesame things and the soy nuts - too bland on their own, but great together! I had to make myself stop and eat during the day, I just didn't feel hungry.

Flora: Yeah, I never really feel hungry when I'm hot and exerting myself. Weren't you ravenous at night though?
E: No, surprisingly. I notice I've lost 5 pounds though!

Flora: See any critters?
E: Marmots, picas, squirrels, the usually assortment of small ones. No bears.

Flora: See many other people?
E: Up to the last day, I saw maybe a half-dozen a day. Then the last day was a Saturday, at the closest trailhead to Seattle, so it was much more crowded. I did meet some people hiking the whole PCT; they'd say, "Are you going to Canada or Mexico?" Which was pretty funny. There were a couple of guys running the whole thing.

Flora: Yeah, somebody was just telling me that people do that! That sounds insane, running a 2,000-mile mountainous trial. Did they have packs?
E: No, they obviously had support people who set up their camps and brought their food. I met one woman waiting for them with food, but she didn't speak English so we couldn't exchange much info. I'm not sure where the runners were from.

Flora: But not a lot of bonding or camaraderie on the trail?
E: No, just trail conditions and camp options and light chitchat. There were a few horse parties, they had specific campsites for pack animals.

Flora: Did you do a lot of reading?
E: I read Franny and Zoey three times.

Flora: Three times?
E: Yeah, it was all I had, so I just kept re-reading it.

Flora: Would you do this again? Make it a yearly ritual? Maybe do a different stretch of the PCT?
E: Would I do it again...sure, I'd consider doing something like this. Not the same stretch of trail, 'cause there are too many other nice areas to see. The other hikers were saying the stretch north of this one, from Stevens Pass up into Glacier Peak Wilderness, is really spectacular. Or there's also a couple routes across the Olympic Peninsula. We'll see.

Flora: Well, we all missed you. I'm glad you did it, and I'm glad you're back.
E: It's good to be back!

Friday, August 05, 2005


Ok, I'm still displeased about the pollution and the traffic and the screaming fighter jets over my house, but - Enrico is coming home tomorrow, and all in all it's been a satisfying week. I got all my runs in despite the bleachers and port-o-potties strewn in my way; I talked to some people about some work; I recaulked and resealed my bathtub; and I even managed to do dishes and walk dogs and cut grass and put out the trash and all those other quotidien things that my fine hubby normally takes care of. Plus, I managed to have some fun. My parents arrive next week for a trip to the Oregon coast. Life is good.

And you know - having fighter jets over one's house is a good source of perspective. When I say "over my house," I mean that the FA-18 pilots are supposed to stay at least 1,000 feet above the residential areas, but nobody I know believes they really do - those things are right overhead. The booms and zooms are jarring, but it's the deafening, high-pitched screaming of the engines immediately over your home that truly starts the adrenalin pumping, the brain frantically searching for some means of escape. And yet around the world, there are people who hear that sound all the time, for real, waiting for a bomb to drop or holding their breath as the sound recedes to see whether it's gone for real or simply preparing for another pass. There are almost certainly people in this very city, veterans and refugees, for whom these few days of "festival" trigger horrific memories or an episode of PTSD. I'm baffled as to how anyone can experience it as entertainment, but as lessons in perspective go, it's one of the best. My life, it is very, very good.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


DAMN YOU, fighter planes.

And damn you, person who puts the little tinkle-tinkle bell on their cat's collar and then lets the cat wander outside throughout the warm night, rendering the neighborhood dogs crazed and barking All. Night. Long.

Damn you all!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Because I know you're curious

Just because I thought you would be curious, here are some details of Enrico's Pacific Crest Trail trip this week. In case you weren't paying attention, today he is on Day Three.

Day One: Surprise Lake trailhead to Deception Lake
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation change: +3,800 feet, -900 ft

Day Two: Deception Lake to Deep Lake
Distance: 11.6 miles
Elevation change: - 500 feet, +1,100 feet, -1,200 feet

Day Three: Deep Lake to Escondido Ridge Tarns
Distance: 12 miles
Elevation change: -1,300 feet, +2,500 feet

Day Four: Escondido Ridge to Spectacle Lake
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation change: -1,900 feet, +2,500 feet

Day Five: Spectacle Lake to Ridge Lake
Distance: 11 miles
Elevation change: +1,000 feet, -300 feet, +700 feet, -400 feet

Day Six: Ridge Lake to Snoqualmie Pass
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation change: -2,300 feet

I wish I had one of those little tracking maps for him, like the kind they have on the screens on airplanes that show exactly where your plane is at all times. Or Harry Potter's Marauder's Map, that would work too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The invasion has begun, dammit

I hear overhead that the abominations of the military-industrial-entertainment complex have arrived - the Blue Angels, here to put on their annual air show as part of SeaFair next weekend. First, they will practice their routine 600 feet over my house for a week, rendering my dogs an anxious, quivering mass in the wake of their sonic booms. I'm serious, the noise is truly distressing, I don't have the foggiest idea why people like air shows. One of my friends who lives nearby says she tries to make the best of things by taking it as an opportunity to practice empathy for people who are bombed.

This also means my favorite running route along the lake will be blocked off all week with bleachers for the (equally abhorrent) hydroboat races; the park will be closed for two hours each day while the fighter planes practice; and by next weekend the police will require us to show ID with proof of address just to drive up our street.

And the weird thing is, Seattle is such a liberal, tree-hugging, peacenik town - where do all these people come from to watch this trashy, noise-polluting, air-polluting, millitaristic so-called entertainment? Why do we put up with police roadblocks in our neighborhoods? It's like the city is taken over for a week by podpeople. Ugh, I really dislike the first week of August.


It's odd to think that Enrico was out in the woods, all by himself in a tent, in the dark, with the sounds of the forest all around him. He's gone on solo trips before, but never this long and he usually takes a dog with him. So it was weird to think about last night.

This may have contributed to my weird dreams of intruders outside the house, which is very unusual for me. I have never once felt uneasy alone in the house so long as the dogs are with me. By bedtime, they had concluded that I didn't really lose Enrico, that he'll come home as we both always eventually do. The invitation up onto the bed wasn't even fully out of my mouth before they'd settled into their preferred spots on Enrico's side. If Nelly were still holding out hope for Enrico's return that night, she would have refused the invitation on principle, shooting me a withering, scolding look for my disloyalty at giving up on him so easily.

Today, putting my aspiring PI skills to work, I have been researching two properties that Monica and I noticed were for sale on our drive back from Enrico's drop-off point.

The first was a former church in a very quaint, 800-person town a little closer in to Seattle. Turns out the lovely, 100-year old white clapboard, complete with 4-bedroom apartment, can be purchased for a cool $600,000.

The second was a big building with lots of character in a tiny town, population 200, just this side of the pass. It has proved trickier and more intriguing. I learned that it was originally a boarding house for railroad personnel, and then was a hotel until 2000. I couldn't find any real estate listing for it, so I checked the county property records - last sold to a property management company in 2000, which proved a dead end. It is listed on numerous web sites devoted to ghosts, since it is allegedly haunted by a dead prostitute. I found the phone number for the local Chamber of Commerce, which is going to call me back with the scoop. (Clearly the "Chamber of Commerce" is just one of the 200 residents of the town who answers the five phone calls a year that they get about this sort of thing.)

Do I really picture us buying a haunted property out in the scenic boondocks and running the kind of business that occupies you 24/7? No, not really. Enrico would laugh, and laugh and laugh, and then laugh some more. But I can't resist checking it out, mentally trying things on for size every now and then. These are the kind of things that happens when I'm left to my own devices too long.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Into the woods

So, today, I drove my husband out into the middle of the Cascade Mountains and left him there.

No, this isn't because he's lukewarm about powertools. It's totally his idea! He is spending six days backpacking approximately 65 miles from Stephens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail. That's the trail that runs from Canada to Mexico, the western equivalent to the Appalachian Trail. When you put it that way, 65 miles doesn't sound so far, does it? HA - that's only because you didn't see the big-ass pack he had on his back. I believe today, his first day, was to be 10 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

My friend Monica and her 8-year-old daughter accompanied us on the two hour drive to the drop-off spot. We all hiked in with him for a mile or so - it had been raining and everything was green and lush and cool - and then we said our goodbyes and hiked back out, leaving him to his adventure.

I am to meet him Saturday at noon at a trailhead near Snoqualmie Pass. It reminds me a little bit of that time we rented a cabin on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and the floatplane pilot dropped us with all our gear on the little pond and said "ok, see you in five days!" A leap of faith.

Anyway, when I got home the dogs were totally like, "Dude! You LOST ENRICO, you big bonehead. Now, think back - where was the last place you remember having him with you?" This just confirms their suspicion that we really ought to take them with us at all times so they can help us avoid these sorts of sloppy mistakes.