Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Miscellaneous Shellfish

It's been a busy few days at Casa Flora y Enrico. A few highlights:

  • The arson investigators were back, and it turns out that the recent neighborhood arsons are NOT thought to be related. That's nice to know.
  • However, the nice investigator politely suggested we might "take this opportunity to make our property less arson-friendly." By which he meant we might clear the pile of broken-down chairs, cardboard boxes, and discarded cat scratching post out from our carport. (Yes I know, we've never owned a cat. Don't ask.)
  • Enrico has a new job! He will move from one municipal utility to another, hopefully for a signficant net increase in the functionality of the office, the decisiveness of the managers, and the intellectual curiosity of the employees. He will be a Senior Economist, which I think is pretty impressive since he (a) has no academic degrees in economics, and (b) is catapulting right past Junior Economist!
  • I actually talked directly to the city planner today about Garry. She knows all about him - oh yes, she has definitely heard from us, the common people, about that amazing tree - and she does indeed have the power to mandate preservation of the tree. She is requiring the owner to get an arborist's report on the health of the tree and what would be necessary to protect it. I don't know if she will actually use her great power to save Garry, but it's heartening to know she seems to be taking it seriously.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Photos from Enrico's trip

I may have mentioned once or twice or fifty times that Enrico has been out of town while I was here enduring many travails and surrealities. He was on a week-long trail maintenance "volunteer vacation" with the Washington Trails Association. The damage to trails, roads and bridges is absolutely astonishing from our December storm (which I may have also reference, um, once or twice or sixty times). Enrico was doing his bit to help out. He likes hard work and time out in the woods, so it's the perfect fit for him. They drove to Lake Chelan, took the forest service boat across the lake, hiked in a few miles, and had their food brought in by llamas. Then they spent every day clearing fallen trees and brush from the trail.

He took some great photos - something for everyone, where your taste runs to mountain vistas, flowers, llamas, or butterflies on dead animal carcasses (I'm not making that up). Check it out at Flickr.

If only my dogs could talk

Friday, May 25, 2007


For another day after The 24 Hours of Great Craziness, my life continued to exist on quicksand. Appointments cancelled and moved, things took longer than planned. I figured it was just the last waves playing out on the ocean of life after such a big storm. Thank heavens my business partners are so understanding because I completely blew a deadline.

Last night I sat on the couch, drank wine and ate carry-out, and channel surfed between some of the worst television imaginable. My evening was a collage of Maid in Manhattan (seriously, both Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes can really act, what were they thinking??), VH1's Top 100 Songs of the 1980s (oh, the nostalgia), and Shear Genius, a hairdressing competition reality show - I KID YOU NOT - which sucked me in with the "hair through the ages" competition that included an Elizabeth I grey-powdered get-up, a pink mohawk, and a Bridget Bardot kitten do. Had Pimp My Ride been on, my evening would've been truly complete.

But today, the last full day before Enrico returns, I am getting it back together. I think the blip in the universe has re-set itself, and I'm ready to knock off some work and get the house cleaned up too. And the yard - the front of the property is littered with water bottles and coffee cups from the firefighters, and I hear through the grapevine (our block now being the centerpiece stop on the House of Disasters Walking Tour) that the neighborhood arsonist favors houses with piles of flammable stuff readily available. I guess s/he is a lazy arsonist. So maybe I'll also clear the cardboard boxes and the old broken-down rocking chair off the front porch.

The dogs are really ready for things to return to normal. Dogs are creatures of habit, and the older they get the less tolerant they are of disrupted routines. So this has been a stressful week for them, but they're troopers. I've been telling them they're such brave and clever dogs, having raised the alarm about the fire (probably the only eye witnesses to the actual arsonist, too, thought that's no help to the police). Periodically they just come and nuzzle me, tails wagging, as if to say "Hey! We're still a team, so it's all good." Which it is. It's all very good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where to begin?

I guess I'll begin with the Check Engine light. Somehow in my mind, that's where it all started.

Our car's check engine light has been on and off for a couple weeks, and it's notoriously finicky so my usual policy is to ignore it for awhile, until it proves to me that it's serious. Which it did, last Thursday, when the Oil light also went on and I found the dipstick bone dry. I stopped for a temporary fix, which took up a whole morning on a busy day, but a permanent repair still loomed.

Enrico left town, Toby got his ear infection, and by Monday I decided I had to bite the bullet and return the car to a state of reliability. This entails a 90-minute commute each way to the mechanic and then to work, including two buses. But by 4:00 yesterday, I was on the first of the bus legs home and feeling good about getting things tidy. The car was fixed, and as always, the mechanics cleaned it to an unrecognizably shiny luster inside and out. Cousin Flora likes things tidy.

At home I found a note from the dog-walker suggesting Nelly might have another bladder infection, and after walking her myself, I reluctantly had to agree. Her last infection was exactly a year ago, when Enrico was also out of town, and in trying to make it through the night I ended up at the emergency vet at 4 am with Nelly, while Toby attempted to destroy the house back home in a fit of panic. Good times!

Fun as that was, I decided to head straight to the emergency clinic this time, in the hopes of wrapping things up by bedtime. I took Toby along figuring he could always wait in the car. I heaved a sigh as I heard Nelly throw up en route, all over my newly spotless car. But then the clinic was pretty empty and we breezed through, relatively speaking. Although they were unable to get a urine sample from Nelly - who after all had been trying to pee every 5 minutes for the past several hours - the vet took my word for it and sent us home with antibiotics.

When we got home I left some of the barfy mess in the carport to deal with later, gave Nelly her first pill, and had myself some dinner and a nice glass of wine. It was a long day, but both the car and the dog were dealt with. Life had thrown me a couple of logistical curve balls, but things were back on track.

I'd been asleep an hour when the dogs woke me up with their barking. At first it was a typical alarm bark, which I planned to ignore, and then suddenly, they amped up to a frenetic pitch I had never heard before, ever. I hopped out of bed and looked out the window. The house across the street was on fire.

This is the house across the street that was sold, and the lot is being subdivided, and whose temporary occupants were cleaned out by the police. The one with Garry the Exceptional oak. I called 911, and by the time the fire trucks arrived the house was engulfed in flames. Intimidated by the size of the blaze, I waited to step outside until I saw the fire trucks, and as I walked out onto my front porch I felt the heat of it hit my face from clear across the street. Dozens of firefighters descended on the place with hoses and chain saws and ladders.

The dogs were barking frantically inside and I realized they couldn't see me from the window, and all they knew was that I had stepped out into this hellish, terrifying maelstrom, and they couldn't find me. So I went back, leashed them up, and took them out to the front steps with me. At first they were interested and excited, but soon they just became anxious. The noise and the smells and the lights were overwhelming, disorienting. I took them back inside but it was enough to assuage their fears, to get to see for themselves where I was disappearing to.

Suffice to say we got very little sleep, because it turns out? Full-on house fires are loud, what with four fire trucks pumping, the firefighters yelling and clanking their oxygen tanks and ladders, the screaming chain saws, the roar of the fire itself, and the EXPLODING KITCHEN. The noise and the light made sleep impossible, and I was joined by a neighbor as we watched the firefighters do their jobs.

It made me sad to watch it burn, because for ten years I knew the couple who had lived in that house for 40 years, raised five kids there, and when their daughter died they raised a granddaughter there too. I know it's slated for demolition anyway, but it was somebody's home once.

I eventually got a bit of fitful sleep and awoke around 5 am as most of the fire crew packed up and left. Shortly, the forensics investigators showed up to do their thing. One of the remaining firefighters told me this is the latest in a string of arsons in the neighborhood, all at corner properties like ours. How lovely. I have a call into the community policing officer for our precinct to try to learn more.

I mainlined some coffee and took Nelly back to the regular vet - Toby in tow, again, because the dogs were just as jittery as I - to try to get the elusive urine sample (failure, again). By the time Enrico gets back I will have had two trips to the mechanic, five trips to the vet, and a sleepless night watching the neighbor's house burn.

Plus, I believe I may have appeared on Fox News in my pajamas, which is just the icing on the cake, really. Who doesn't aspire to that?

In short, I feel like I've come to the end of our own little action-packed episode of 24. I feel like I've lived several weeks' time since I stepped onto that #65 bus just 24 short hours ago.
P.S. Garry the Exceptional Oak is fine. A little singed, but handsome as ever. The firefighters were just as smitten with him as the rest of us and worked heroically to keep the flames away from him. Here's a picture of Garry, as requested:

Monday, May 21, 2007

I miss Enrico

I'm ok with being on my own, but it's a bit weird to be out of phone contact. Enrico owns no cell phone and even if he did he wouldn't have coverage where he is, and even if he did he'd find it sacreligious to use a cell phone while backcountry.

This brings home the fact that I've left Enrico in this state several times in recent years, not least when I was in Argentina and Chile with Megan, and Enrico had absolutely no idea where I even was half the time. I could have been detained by Chilean border guards (which at one point seemed like a distinct possibility), or eaten by rare Andean bears, or fallen into the Tigre River, or washed away by a Lujan flood (another theoretical possibility), and he wouldn't even have known where to find me. And I was completely oblivious.

Then there was the time I hung out in Italy for another two weeks after he came home. At least my cell phone worked in Italy, and I called home and sent back periodic random cell phone photos. But I don't think I really appreciated the how lonely it might be.

It's raining here, sheets and sheets of rain. I hope it's drier on the east side of the mountains, because I wouldn't want to be stuck in this rain in a tent for three days (though I have been stuck in a tent through worse). We're all thinking about you, Enrico! And in your honor, here are some random cell phone photos from Italy, from two years ago.

The view from First Terrace:
Lizard at the villa:

Flora from the villa:

Art lying around in the streets of Rome:

Waking up at the Fiumicino Hilton, ready to fly home:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The little man of the house

Enrico is off on an 8-day backcountry trip. It's just me and the beasties for a week. I think Toby knows he's temporarily Man of the House, and he takes the job very seriously. He has an extra spring in his step, a look of proud alertness in his face.

He also has an ear infection. We spent almost two hours at the vet this morning just waiting for him to have his annual checkup and shots. They were running behind schedule because of an emergency. At one point I saw the staff carry out a beautiful brindle dog, looking weak but alive, with its puffy-eyed owner following behind. The vet assistants kept coming into our exam room and apologizing for the delay, and I assured them it was no big deal. We were once the emergency, and Nelly would not be alive today if we hadn't monopolized everyone's full attention that morning. I'm sure lots of people waited because of us. I do not begrudge the brindle and his owner an hour of our time.

I thought about rescheduling, but by that point we were an hour in and I expected the checkup to be quick. Toby is always incredibly healthy. His ailments tend to be self-inflicted injuries of various exasperating sorts - consuming a bag of chocolates in their wrappers, getting bitten on the face by a rat, worrying a flea bite into an oozing wound, gouging himself while hurdling a log in the forest.

But warm weather has brought swimming, and Toby is prone to ear infections. Now I have the joy of flushing his ears out twice a day, squeezing the liquid in and then squooshing his ear canal around with my fingers - squoosh, squoosh - and then leaping back, eyes and mouth closed, as he vigorously shakes it all loose. Boy, will Enrico ever be sorry he missed this!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blogging: 1 Unit

Lately it has been feast or famine for me in terms of discipline. I've been self-employed for over 4 years now, which requires the ability to self-discipline in terms of time management. But lately I'm either incredibly focused and productive, or completely, utterly consumed by inertia. I have no middle ground. I know lots of good time management techniques, but they have all been failing me.

So, I've decided to treat this as you would any bad habit, and assume that if I can replace my undesirable behavior patterns with desirable ones for at least 30 days, the new behaviors will become the new habits. And for this, I turn to the movies for inspiration.

I remember virtually nothing from the movie About a Boy, EXCEPT that Hugh Grant, who for some reason is not obliged to work for a living, has a system for organizing his days which prevents him from slipping into a state of drooling sloth. He divides his days in to 30-minute "units" and allocates those units: Personal grooming, one unit. Exercise, two units. Dinner, two units. Etc.

So I decided to try the Unit-allocation approach to changing my behavior. I started today. First up, one Unit of planning, over breakfast, to allocate the rest of the Units. Exercise, two Units. Work for Client X, 6 Units. Work for Client Y, 3 Units. Meditation, 1 Unit (strategically scheduled before the phone call with the ever-maddening Client X). Housecleaning Task Of Choice, 2 Units.

I did ok, for a first try. When I realized I couldn't actually do 6 Units of work for Client X today - the ball is in somebody else's court - I replaced them with 2 Units of napping, and 2 Units of...leakage. I leaked 2 units. I have no idea how they were spent. I cannot account for them.

But I'm going to take the Buddhist approach here and simply observe this fact with non-judging loving-kindness towards myself, and curiosity. The good news is, I did in fact accomplish the 2 units of exercise, 1 unit of meditation, 2 units of housecleaning, and 3 units of work for Client Y. And in the midst of all that, I leaked 2 units. How interesting. Now I am like an auditor, searching for the missing Units on the great check register of my life, so I can fix the problem and balance the books!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Save Garry the Exceptional Oak!

Enrico delivered our comment letter on the proposed Notice of Land Use for the property across the street, and while he was down at City Hall, he picked up a copy of the rules on tree preservation.

Seattle does indeed aspire to preserve its trees. I would have been quite disappointed to learn otherwise, seeing as how our mayor single-handedly launched the movement of over 300 US cities who have pledged to meet the Kyoto Protocol's pollution reduction targets, even as the US government refused to do so. Trees mitigate carbon emissions, thus, trees = good.

Property owners are strongly urged, though not required, to preserve trees over 2 feet in diameter; but trees of particular historic, asthetic or ecological value may be designated as "Exceptional Trees" which cannot be taken down except in very specific circumstances. Certain species of native trees are to be considered Exceptional Trees in every circumstance. So, we asked ourselves, what kind of tree is the one across the street?

Well apparently we are not the only ones in the neighborhood who are paying attention to this matter! While walking the dogs last night Enrico heard from a neighbor that the tree in question is a Garry Oak, also known as an Oregon White Oak, the only oak tree native to Washington state. According to the City of Seattle, the Garry Oak is always an Exceptional Tree.

This is good news, though not a slam dunk for Garry. The city's rules do say that if, when push comes to shove, you cannot build on the property without removing the Exceptional Tree, you may remove it. So we need to make sure that the subdivision doesn't create a property lot on which poor Garry is an impediment to building. But I'm heartened to know some of the neighbors are on this too. Save Garry!

I've never tried being a pain-in-the-ass neighborhood activist before. This could be fun.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sometimes a cigar is a cigar? Where there's smoke there's fire?

The neighbors across the street? Whom I disparaged as white trash, while expressing some reflexive liberal guilt at buying into stereotype?

Apparently on Friday the police showed up with a warrant and arrested everyone in the house for posession of stolen goods and drug dealing. So sometimes the trappings of trash really do indicate the presence of trash.

Apparently there was also an arborist out the examine the fabulous tree to see if it qualifies for some kind of arboric preservation, which is cool. One of the neighbors seems to know what's going on with that, but it seems like a good sign.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Change it is a-comin'

The property across the street is up for subdivision. We always knew - or at least it dawned on us soon after we moved into this house - that this moment would come. Our neighbors were elderly, and the husband died a couple of years ago. Eva recently moved to a place closer to her kids. They had lived in this neighborhood for so long that she remembered the house that stood on our property before this one was built - in 1954.

It's a small house on a huge corner lot, and in this town, that means bulldoze and build up, baby! Every nook and cranny of unused land our neighborhood is being filled in by tall houses with little footprints, as the median house price in Seattle climbs well above $400,000. When little houses like this go on the market - they're goners.

I've always thought Eva's house would be fun to remodel. It's got an odd layout, kind of like a little villa with symmetrical wings off an open central area, and a big open patio off the back. She had a little orchard, grapevines, a rose garden, and a huge vegetable garden, at least until her husband got sick and she had no time to keep them up. She used to bring us homemade grape jelly and fresh green beans. The back yard has a towering old tree and an open view of the Rainier Valley, with the Olympic Mountains peeking over the top. I've had a vision for turning that little house into a Mediterranean-inspired sanctuary, modernizing the house within its open layout, maybe expanding it a bit, and bringing Eva's orchards and grapevines back to health.

But alas, there is a Notice of Proposed Land Use announcing plans to subdivide it not into two, but three lots, each of which would be 3/4 the size of ours - hardly spacious. I don't really care except that I'm worried you couldn't squeeze in three houses without taking down that stunning old tree, which would be absolutely criminal. We'll likely lose much of our view of the Rainer Valley with the Olympic Mountains peeking over the top, which is unobstructed by Eva's stout house but would be much diminished by three tall, skinny ones.

Soon, if we're not already there, Seattle is going to be a town where you can't buy a little house. At least not if you want to actually live in it.

In the meantime, there are some people living temporarily in the house, and - please excuse this terrible show of prejudice - it's like white trash central. We've gone from the quiet, elderly African-American couple with the meticulous garden, to a gaggle of young white guys who seem to make their livings fixing cars. There are literally a dozen beat-up cars up and down the street, and periodically a tow trucks will show up at 2 am to deposit a new one. We also hear hammering and banging at all hours of the night - are they stripping the house down for salvage? Or what? And why does it have to be in the middle of the night? They have a pit bull puppy, for heaven's sakes; it's as if they're trying to live a stereotype.

I know, that sounds snotty. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making your living by fixing up cars, it's an honorable profession. I just wish it wasn't so noisy. But, as Enrico points out - once the land use permit goes through, and the construction starts, this noise and street clutter will seem like nothing.