If you have ever joked that you’re “in danger of becoming a Cat Lady,” well… I’m sorry—you probably already ARE one!
But in case you’re still uncertain, I’m happy to offer this handy scoring system:
#1: PHOTOS. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you’re thinking of writing a “cat lady” post and go looking for photos to accompany it and realize that more than half the pictures on your phone involve your cats. +3 C.L. points.
Additionally… +2 C.L. points if this is true even though you also have human children.
+1 C.L. point if you can reach that “half-the-pictures mark” only counting your pictures of SLEEPING cats.
Oh, and let’s not forget… +1 C.L. point if you are (do you hear yourself??) thinking about writing a “cat lady” post! (As we say in A.A.: “normal” drinkers don’t spend time wondering whether they might be alcoholics. In other words: If you’ve asked the question...)
#2: BUDGET. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you haven’t paid for TV channels in a decade, but you have multiple birdfeeders (a.k.a. “KITTY CABLE“) in front of your window and purchase birdseed in eighty-pound installments. +3 C.L.points.
Additionally… +1 C.L.point if the UPS man secretly hates you for your quarter-ton monthly shipments of cat litter and cat food.
+1 C.L.point if you have ever uncovered more than two dozen cat toys by moving a single piece of furniture.
+1 C.L. point if you hang and fill a Christmas stocking specifically for a cat.
BONUS:+2 C.L.points if anyone outside your household has ever wrapped and shipped a Christmas gift to your cat.
#3: BATHROOM & BEDROOM. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you close the bathroom door not for privacy, but because a cat climbing your legs is more painful when your pants are down, and/or because a cat likes to pop up through the leg-hole of your panties to comment. +4 C.L. points.
+1 C.L. point if an industrial outdoor storage-tote serves as your litter box.
+2 C.L. points if your husband has actually constructed a tiled enclosure in your bathroom to contain said box and prevent the litter from getting kicked out all over the bathroom floor.
+1 C.L. point if you regularly find cats playing “hockey” in the shower with your hairclip / dental floss / chapstick / phone charger / prescription bottle / [fill-in-this-blank-with-literally-ANYTHING]
+1 C.L. point if the “other woman”—you know, the one sharing your husband’s pillow—is purring when she does so.
+1 C.L. point if your love-life may have sacrificed a smidge of spontaneity thanks to the prerequisite herding-everyone-out-of-the -bedroom.
+3 C.L.points if you and your spouse sleep together quite comfortably in a Full-size, but you recently bought a larger bed solely because you had insufficient room for the CATS.
#4: NOTORIETY. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…yours is the town’s most heavily-trafficked Foster Home used by the local shelter for harboring “found” kittens until they’re adoptable. +5 C.L. points.
+1 C.L. point if you have ever had more than a dozen foster kittens in the house at once.
+1 C.L. point if you have become the person folks call when they’re thinking about cat-doption, and you have used your fostering to “test drive” kittens and match up half a dozen friends with THEIR current cats.
+1 C.L. point if your neighbors know your indoor cats from their window-appearances, and/or if someone in your neighborhood has given you a “Cat Lover” mug.
+1 C.L. point if your mother emails you cat-related comics at least once a week.
+1 C.L. point if you have ever been handed a bag of cat treats by someone whose name you don’t even know.
#5: YOU MUST ADMIT. You are most certainly a cat lady if…
+1 C.L. point …if you sometimes know a kitty’s name the minute you meet it, and you know you’ll be keeping it even though you’ve SWORN you wouldn’t have more than [fill-in-this-blank with the number of cats you currently own]. (Exhibit A, Cat #4: Yoda, on the left. More than 50 kittens came through our house this spring—but THIS one was instantly mine! Also, instantly “Yoda.” Exhibit B, Cat #5: Footprint, below. Due to his weird ability to turn off his bones, we also refer to him as “kitty putty”…)
+1 C.L. point …if you don’t even flinch when you step on a mouse in the dark because you know there are probably at least eight dozen toy mice stashed around the house.
(BONUS:+1 C.L.point if you still don’t flinch when you realize the next morning it was an ACTUAL mouse’s head, because all you can think is: “What kind of crazy-ass, kamikaze moron of a mouse ventures into THIS house??”)
+1 C.L. point …if you have ever glanced down at your clothing in public and blurted the horrified exclamation: “I’m wearing my CAT!”
+1 C.L. point …if you keep a pump-dispenser of Johnson & Johnson no-tears baby shampoo right beside the pump-dispenser of Dawn at your kitchen sink, specifically for the purpose of washing CATS.
+1 C.L. point …if you habitually tip out your shoes before putting them on, because one of them is invariably hiding a toy mouse deposited by a CAT.
+1 C.L. point …if you and your spouse habitually refer to one another around the house as “Mommy” and “Daddy” when your only shared children are CATS.
BONUS:+2 C.L.points if you “do VOICES” for the cats!
BONUS PLUS:+3 C.L.points if you have your SPOUSE doing voices for the cats!
(No points for talking TO the cats, by the way. That one’s such a no-brainer it’s a freebie.)
Ready to score your quiz? Out of the 50 possible points…
My mother used to joke that as far as holiday cards were concerned, “the Holidays” should mean not just Christmas, but also New Year’s—and probably Martin Luther King Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day as well. In other words, if the holiday cards got sent out before the end of February, they shouldn’t be considered late. On reflection, it’s interesting to note how frantically guilt-ridden people can become about the Christmas-card “deadline”—particularly given that it truly isn’t a mandatory activity in the first place. It’s a pleasant one, though, and (especially before the advent of Facebook) it certainly used to serve as a way to keep tabs on distant acquaintances and relations.
There’s the potential down side as well: the “traditional” Christmas letter about which people joke (often with gritted teeth), the epistle in which a family boasts of how well everyone is doing, painting accomplishments in rosy hyperbole that leaves the recipients rolling their eyes or gagging… I’m actually blessed with a number of friends and family members who write wonderfully anecdotal and amusing annual letters, so I’ve largely been spared the competitive clashings of those clandestine Christmas combat-cards…
In my turn, I’ll shy away from Tradition by calling THIS our Holiday Card for 2012.
I’m happy to report that Keoni and I finished 2012 Sober (a little over two years now) and Joyful. We’ve been blessed with a great deal more time with our three youngest children than we were able to spend in 2011. If anyone wanted to see the antics we’ve been up to, I’d just refer them to the Kanacles (er, chronicles?) archive here… My only boast is that we keep finding fun in our life!
“Yet time, and showing up, turn most messes to compost, and something surprising may grow.” ~Anne LaMott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Keoni and I drove our two youngest kids north to spend Christmas with my parents—the first time in a decade that I’d been Home for Christmas. The kids were excited about this, but if it came to a contest of who was MOST excited, I suspect it was a tie between my mother and myself! She posted on Facebook: “The only thing better than going over the river and through the woods… is being the Grandma!”
My family is definitely one for Traditions, so I knew I could anticipate all the same things that made my childhood Christmases so special: baking my Grandma’s vanilla-with-home-made-apricot-jam sandwich cookies, the Christmas tree with all the decorations we picked up in our travels (memories attached to each one), my mom’s Coconut Orange rolls on Christmas morning, the fireside Christmas-caroling-party my parents host every Christmas Eve… And the added layer of enjoyment: watching my kids enjoy the same things.
A visit to my parents is one of the rare occasions when I don’t pack books for a trip—because I know there’s plenty of reading-material to browse at their house! I picked up Anne LaMott’s “Plan B” from my mom’s shelf (a book that’s on my to-read list but not on my own shelf) and enjoyed not only her insights, but the myriad of little ways in which my reading intersected with my life…
One of the topics that regularly features in Keoni’s and my prayers together is giving thanks for the opportunity to regain and re-earn my parents’ trust after our relapse of two-plus years ago—the chance to rebuild our relationship with them. It’s a process that takes time (and showing up), and a process only made possible by their willingness to forgive, and to accept us and love us now, even with our messy past.
My dad (a retired Professor of Agriculture and a dedicated gardener) used to have a hat that said “Compost Happens.” If I were to add a tag-line to that hat, it would say: Compost Happens. But look what can grow from it!
“Things are not perfect, because life is not TV and we are real people with scarred, worried hearts. But it’s amazing a lot of the time.” ~Anne LaMott
Breaking Out the Bubbly (no, not the alcohol)
“Another secret [of life] is that laughter is carbonated holiness.” ~Anne LaMott
I’m not a great fan of snow, but the kids adore it. We don’t get a lot of it at home (“high desert” climate–we don’t get much of any kind of precipitation), but 300 miles north we were greeted by a sizable dump of snow the day after our arrival. (Hmm, do you think my word choice—“dump“—reflects my own feelings about snow?) The kids, of course, were delighted, and asked Keoni if he’d join them for a snowball fight after they built forts.
He good-naturedly agreed, and we expected he’d have an hour or so of fort-building time before his snowball services would be called for. Five minutes later, little voices at the back door announced their readiness. Wait, what? You built snow forts already? Well, not precisely snow forts… They tipped the pair of patio tables on their sides, each of them standing behind one, ready to get right to the snowball fight.
Having grown up in Hawai’i, “snowball fights” were not a part of Keoni’s childhood memories. In fact, he shared at dinner that this was his first one. Thinking of the hour’s worth of giggling in the back yard, I once again blessed Keoni’s Hawai’ian-sized heart (and his arthritic bones) for his willingness to play.
“You want to protect your child from pain, and what you get instead is life, and Grace…” ~Anne LaMott
A Welcome Ghost of Christmas Past
“Here’s what the priest said: ‘I promise you it will all work out, in its own perfectly imperfect way.'” ~Anne LaMott
We lost my Grandpa this summer. I still haven’t been able to write about him—largely because there’s so much to say. Maybe I’m not meant to write a single, all-encompassing “Grandpa post”—maybe he’ll just find his way into posts-about-life. He was very much present this Christmas, maybe in part because so many of my childhood Christmases were spent with him (and of course my mother’s as well)… Grandpa was the son of German immigrants (didn’t speak English until he started school), so my mom grew up with delightful German Christmas customs. Real candles on the tree, her grandfather dressed as Santa (she says she never wondered why Santa had such a strong German accent), and O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht (Silent Night) sung in German. And the Christmas-tree pickle: a glass pickle-ornament on the tree, and whoever found it first would be the first to open a Christmas present. (Elena Grace found it this year.)
A number of years ago, my mom taught me a soprano descant to “Silent Night,” and the two of us have always sung it together at the Christmas Eve church service. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the high soprano notes carry so well that two voices are all that’s needed to make it soar through the whole church. The thought of Singing the Silent Night descant with my mom is the single thing that has made me most sad every Christmas Eve that I have not spent at home. This year the two of us knew that we’d be singing it for Grandpa—his favorite song, even in the English.
Things don’t always go the way we imagine them… “Silent Night” has always been done at my parents’ church with guitar accompaniment (it was originally written when a church organ broke), but the new music director used the organ—and at a pretty quick clip, too. We were a little breathless at the end, and pretty sure that we were the only people who could hear the descant with the organ drowning out voices. But hey, what we wanted—what we’d been looking forward to—was singing it together, for Grandpa. I’m sure he heard it.
Joy in the Little Things
“My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.” ~Anne LaMott
Our family enjoys a lot of Blessings–but “money” hasn’t been among them this year. Our gifts were of the home-made and hand-made variety, of necessity. But a couple days before Christmas, Elena Grace crept up to me with a distressed expression and whispered to me: “Mommy, I don’t have a present for Christian.” I asked if she could find him something he’d like if she and I went to WalMart with ten bucks. After a similar conversation in the other direction, we ended up taking both kids to WalMart, each with ten bucks for a gift for the other.
I confess I went on Mom-alert when Christian came back with a Beyblade—one of the battling tops he collects—but my suspicion (that he might be giving her something he wanted) proved entirely unfounded, based on her squeals when she opened it. “She’s always wanted one,” he told me, with a smug certainty that I admit he’d earned. She picked a Hot Wheels ramp that had him bouncing on his knees and swooping in for an impromptu hug (which he promptly disavowed—“You did NOT just see that”—so you’ll just have to take my word for it).
The two of them took off downstairs to play with the Beyblades Arena, leaving Keoni and me to reflect that—despite their day-to-day snarking at one another—they’ve each got a pretty good line on the other. That’s a little shot of joy right there.
Hamming it Up
The first essay in Anne LaMott’s book was titled “Ham of God” (a play on the “Lamb of God” lines of church-liturgy), in which she wrote of a day when she unexpectedly won a ham at her supermarket, and didn’t want it, but figured she shouldn’t turn down whatever God sent her way. In the parking lot she ran into a friend who had gotten Sober with her, and who was in tears because she couldn’t afford to feed her kids. LaMott gave her the ham.
The same day I read that essay, Elena Grace and I curled up to read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”—a favorite from my childhood. A family of six rowdy kids (the Herdmans) show up at church and bully the other kids into letting them have the lead roles in the Christmas Pageant. Unlike the kids who have been hearing the Nativity story their whole lives, the Herdmans are hearing it for the first time—and they have a lot of questions. They raise some good points. They end up reminding everyone of the human element at the heart of the Christmas story.
And when the three Herdman-Wisemen come down the church aisle, they aren’t carrying the prop-jars for gold and frankincense and myrrh; they’re carrying the Christmas Ham from their own welfare basket.
And as we were about to pull out with the packed minivan to head home again, Dad wondered if we’d like to take the extra ham from the freezer. Hey, we don’t turn down whatever God sends our way. God has sent us amazing gifts—starting with family. Ham is welcome, but family is wondrous.
I jinxed myself, no doubt about it. When I wrote last week about our growing tribe of pets and animals, I ended by saying I hoped we wouldn’t be floating away like Noah’s Ark. Just a couple nights later–Saturday night, to be specific, or rather, the “wee hours” of Sunday morning–Keoni woke me to say there was a distinct sound of gushing water beneath us. Oh, that can’t be good.
Bundled up in bathrobes and sweatshirts, we emerged from our back door with a flashlight, stepped over the rivulets of water streaming out from underneath the trailer, and pulled the skirting off the side beneath our bathroom. Sure enough, the main water line was in free-flow.
Our favorite neighbor, Bill, is also the maintenance guy for our trailer park, so Keoni was knocking on his door as early as we deemed decent. (The sun wasn’t quite up, but the sky was light… All three of us realized afterward that the nation’s clocks had been set back during the night, so we really woke him at an earlier hour than we’d intended…)
Bill answered the door in his pajamas; Keoni greeted him brightly with the observation that it was Sunday at our house, and he just wanted to see if it were Sunday at Bill’s house too. Oh, and by the way… Our trailer was now sitting in a veritable lake, and could Bill come take a look?
Times like this, we’re glad that our home is propped up on cement blocks ABOVE the ground. We’re also glad we’re on a well, and not paying for all the water that was suddenly surrounding us. (Not even feeling guilty; it’s headed straight back to the water table it came from.)
Keoni whipped up some French Toast for all of us while Bill crawled underneath to wrestle with our pipes (and modeled his sense of humor along with the life-jacket I jokingly fetched for him)… Before noon we had running water IN the house again, and our moat gradually began to recede.
I’ve had the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” song stuck in my head ever since. That’s absurd, of course, since our home was mercifully NOT “beneath the waves”–but somehow that song is sticking with me anyway. I think it’s not even about the flooding.
I have (at long last!) begun writing a book. A book of my own—which is a topic we’ve talked about every time I’ve been commissioned to ghost-write an e-book for someone else. Hell (we keep saying), if I can knock out a book on astrology or vitamins or the Foreign Exchange system (topics in which I really have no interest or background—just solid research skills), why am I not writing the book I want to write? So now I am. Working title: “Your Backyard Homestead: Sustainable Living, Wherever You Live.”
And still humming “Yellow Submarine”…
“…and we live a life of ease; every one of us has all we need…” I’ve always associated the phrase “life of ease” with affluence, but that’s not necessarily so. After all, I’m paying the bills by doing the one thing that comes most easily to me: wrangling words. And I get to spend my days in this home I love (moat or no), with my husband and our kids (and the cat and the ferret and the chickens and the mice)… I love my life. I am happy. No, more than that. I am joyful. The official U.S. “poverty line” is still a target way above our heads, but we have all we need. And right there we have the heart and the core of my book!
“…and our friends are all onboard; many more of them live next door…” I’ve been reading Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss. It’s a humorous and insightful look at the nature of happiness, and the things that actually make people happy. He observes, among other things, that people often say “money doesn’t buy happiness,” but then proceed to behave as if it did. Social science studies show that money does affect happiness–but only up to a point. And that point, he explains, is a lowly fifteen thousand dollars a year. With the basics of security (and, interestingly, dignity) taken care of, additional funds don’t translate into additional levels of happiness. This idea, too, fits in with the premise of the book I’m writing.
Weiner also illustrates that many factors that do add to people’s happiness are tied to social interactions. Trust. Family ties. Cultural connections. Community identity. Neighborliness. He observes at one point that when we get money, we tend to use it to buy walls. Richer people are likely to have taller fences, essentially–and poorer people may have known neighbors instead. Which of those things make us happier? Why, the people-connections! When I shared that bit with Keoni, he pointed out that the thought was exactly in line with a blog-post I write a while back, on the Dying(?) Art of Knowing Your Neighbors. As I think about it, our neighbor-relations have also contributed substantially to our “homesteading” lifestyle—everything from our ability to scrounge and barter to our collaborative efforts last summer in Bill’s vegetable garden.
The “Yellow Submarine” song, after all, isn’t about getting overwhelmed or swept away by flood. It’s about living joyfully among other people in a state of satisfaction. Small wonder if that’s been playing in my head all week.
Come to think of it, even Noah’s Ark (the original “swept away by water” story) ended with a Rainbow of Promise.
We don’t usually get a lot of rain here. We live in Idaho’s “high desert” climate, where it gets really cold in winter and really hot in summer, but we seldom get even an inch of precipitation in a month. Which makes the last few days unusual—we’ve had more than an inch of rain this week.
I do love Idaho autumn, though–despite the inescapable fact that winter will be following close on its heels. I don’t like the cold. Give me barefoot-weather any day! Still… The oversized old trees around us are ablaze with rusty colors, and there IS some satisfaction in snuggling under our down comforter when our windows are icing over…
Keoni and I have been joking that perhaps this week’s rain is not coincidental, given how closely our home is coming to resemble the infamous Arc of Old Testament story…
For quite a while we didn’t have any animals (unless you count kids, which might not be a misclassification), but a year and a half back we rather unexpectedly ended up adopting my Grandpa’s cat. I had flown to Colorado with my mom to visit my grandparents, who had recently moved into assisted living, and discovered that the Big Family Question was what to do with Grandpa’s kitty, Suzy. Keoni had always declared himself “NOT a cat person,” but I called him from Colorado to feel him out on the topic of Suzy—which is how I came to find myself navigating the security checks at Denver International Airport with a stoned cat as carry-on luggage.
Mr. Non-Cat-Guy fell under Suzy’s spell from Day One, and submits to her whiskery whims without even a pro forma protest. She has trained him to perform a number of Human Tricks—my favorite being the one where she cries for food when her bowl is still full. She’ll carry on until he goes to her bowl and rattles his fingers through her kibble, at which point she’ll settle in for a contented meal. He’ll get out of bed to do that, knowing full well that she’s not out of food.
So Suzy has been family for a while… And then, along came the chickens! (Or, as Suzy prefers to refer to them: “Kitty Television“…) The chicken-house gradually took shape over the course of the summer—the work of Keoni and our 11-year-old, Christian, who had put in the original chicken requisition last spring.
“The Girls,” as we call them, have turned out to be charming and entertaining—and they do a fantastic job of cleaning out all the kitchen scraps that used to end up in the trash. No waste in this household! And although we’re supplementing with commercial pellets to ensure they’re getting everything they need, it’s nice to note that the bought feed will stretch a long way while they’re eating scraps.
One by one they have been earning names, beginning with Ku’okoa (tagged with the Hawai’ian word for “freedom”), who regularly asserts her independence by running around our yard outside the chicken-fence. When we go to feed the Girls in the morning, we just leave the gate ajar and she comes scuttling back into the enclosure to make sure and get her share.
The first hen to start laying earned herself the moniker of “Fertile Myrtle.” She started off by presenting us with an absurdly miniature egg, but she has followed up with a nice big brown one almost every afternoon since. (I always thought hens laid their eggs first thing in the morning! I still don’t know if that were a misconception on my part, or if we just have a confused chicken…) Whatever the case may be, we’re enjoying her output.
Saturday morning the kids climbed into bed with me, we queued up a rainy-day movie, and Keoni brought us all breakfast in bed! Crepes for Christian, pancakes for Elena Grace, and biscuits & gravy for me—all prepared with eggs from our chickens. How cool is that?
We did run into one hiccup when we brought the chickens home. Elena Grace had been excited by the idea of chickens, but when she came face to face with them, she didn’t want to chase them, catch them, or… well… touch them. In pretty short order, she felt left out—and started wondering aloud about a pet of her own.
First she floated the idea of a bird, but I confess (despite my mom’s amusing stories of a childhood parakeet with some embarrassing catch-phrases and a habit of riding around the house on the dog) that I’m not wild about the idea of an indoor avian. I suggested something of the mammalian persuasion instead—maybe a gerbil?—and promised that if she would do the research about gerbil-care, we could build a gerbil cage and get one. She proceeded to fill a small journal with gerbil-notes from her online research—she’s nothing if not thorough!
Keoni had noticed some likely building materials in a scrap-pile belonging to our neighbor Chuck, a disabled vet whose lawn Keoni has been caring for all summer. When he asked Chuck about them and explained the proposed project, Chuck told him to hang on a moment, disappeared into his shed, and wheeled out a moment later with a cage! Elena Grace wrote him an illustrated thank-you, and off we went to the pet store… Where both kids fell in love with the mice.
Welcome to the family: Nibbles, Whiskers, Climber, and Frogger (the jumping mouse). Suzy’s Kitty Television now had two channels: Chickens and Mice!
But guess what? We’re not done. Evidently on a roll, Christian proposed a ferret. And promptly found a guy on Craigslist whose landlord had ordered him to offload his ferret in 24 hours—so Christian counted up his saved allowance and got a crazy cut-rate deal on a ferret, a cage (more like a condo!), and a box full of ferret-care goodies.
And just for good measure, we had a surprise on our front porch when we arrived home: a hexagonal fish tank with a note from Chuck, who thought the kids might like this as well… Research is once again underway.
Allow me to pause here and observe one small irony about this growing menagerie. Our current custody schedule has the kids with us for just two weekends a month during the school year. (We’re on the verge of filing for a change, but that’s another story for another time.) So as the schedule stands, Keoni and I are the sole zookeepers for 24 of every 28 days. And we have zero regrets.
Last weekend the kids played with their pets for hours. I’m not a fan of mice in the kitchen cupboards, but in the kids’ hands they’re awfully sweet. And Niele the ferret (named with the Hawai’ian word for a nosy busybody) has enchanted all of us. She’s clumsy and playful and scampers around the house nosing into everything and chirping like the chickens, then collapses curled up in her hammock to recover from her exhausting adventures… She’s absolutely adorable.
We hope we won’t be floating away on a flood (despite all the recent rain, and despite our location on an island of the Boise River)… But a menagerie-count of five people, one cat, four mice, seven chickens, and a ferret would have been a good start even for Noah.
When our son Christian started Kindergarten, the school called me up within the first two weeks to ask if they could move him to second grade. Eep! We compromised at the halfway point, and he skipped just one grade. I had no question that he could handle the academics, but I had fears for junior-high years, and how tough it might be socially for a kid to be two full years younger than his classmates when everybody else hits puberty. And I confess I wasn’t wild about having him graduate high school and leave home just a month after his sixteenth birthday…
I was also guessing at the time that he might end up small for his age—his dad is Filipino and not much taller than I. As it turns out, though, Christian has stayed near the top-end of the growth charts for his age, and holds his own physically even with a year’s difference from his classmates. He and Keoni were running errands recently and ran into the father of one of Kapena’s football teammates; the guy asked Christian his age and then commented, “You Hawai’ians sure do have size!” My bemused guys didn’t correct his assumption about heritage (Christian refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” but there’s not a genetic link there) but at least we can say that Christian passes for “Hawai’ian size”…
I’m glad of that, because here we are in the Junior High years I used to worry about. Christian commented casually a few weeks ago that he’s figured out how to deal with bullies: laugh at them. I’m tickled that he’s exhibiting more wisdom at eleven than I could have claimed even in college—but there’s also the Mama-Bear stomping around in my head with her hackles up, growling “Bullies?!”
Christian has an understanding sympathizer l in Keoni, whose comparative age relative to grade-level was almost exactly the same. Keoni really was big for his age (Hawai’ian size?)–by ninth grade he topped six feet and weighed in at more than 200 pounds. But he says his athletic abilities took a while to catch up to his size. In high school he was All-American on the football field and League Champion three years running for wrestling–but in junior high teams would pick him for his size and then leave him on the bench because of his lack of coordination or skills. Junior high was a pretty miserable time for him, and he remembers unpleasant social run-ins characterizing those years when classmates were ahead of him in everything but size…
Christian is remarkably solid in his sense of self, comfortable in his own skin, and unconcerned with what other people think—a combination of traits that’s truly a blessing at Junior-high age—so when he shared with me that his scalp has been really itchy and his curly hobbit-hair haunted by dandruff, he’s really much more bothered by the itchiness than about the “social ramifications” of dandruff. (At the same time, though, I’m thinking of my own 7th-grade dandruff issues, and particularly the locker-room bully who made sure everybody heard her proclamations that I was “dirty”… To her way of thinking, dandruff was an indication that I must not be showering.) No need to burden Christian with my baggage—but happily I think we can take care of both the dandruff and the itching. Time for DIY-Mom to re-open the shampoo factory!
We’ve been making our own shampoo for this household, so I asked Christian if he’d like me to research anti-dandruff ingredients and make a special batch that he could take to his dad’s house. He answered with a resounding “Yes, please!”—so here’s our first recipe… We’d already harvested the lavender we grew this summer, so I started by stripping a couple stalks of their flowers and using a mortar and pestle to smash them up in order to release the oils. I gathered the mashed blooms into a coffee filter tied up with a rubber band (my home-made version of a tea-bag), which went into a cup of water in a small pot, brought to a boil before I turned off the stove and let the lavender steep for thirty minutes.
Half a cup of the lavender-water went into the shampoo bottle (an old hand-soap bottle with a pump), and I saved the rest for conditioner. The remaining shampoo ingredients: half a cup of Castile soap, and 13 drops each of tea tree oil & rosemary oil. Tea tree oil acts as both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial agent, and has been clinically proven as effective in treating dandruff. Rosemary and lavender are also included on almost every list of natural remedies for dandruff; lavender is said to help balance the natural oils on the scalp, and both plants contain compounds that relieve itching. I’m not sure on the amounts with the oils–10 to 15 drops seemed to be a common recommendation, so I went with our lucky number 13. We’ll see how it works, and go from there!
The conditioner I made for Christian is a variation of the one Keoni and I have been enjoying for a few months now. Christian actually likes the smell of vinegar (a quirk we probably owe to his taste for salt-and-vinegar chips)—which is a good thing, since most of our home-made household cleaners have a vinegar base! It also helps here, since he doesn’t mind coming out of the shower smelling rather strongly of vinegar. (Keoni and I usually rinse it out when we use it, but it’s also effective as a leave-in conditioner.) This one is easy to make; I used the remainder of the lavender-water, mixed in a one-to-one ratio with apple cider vinegar, and poured into a spray bottle (recycled from its original incarnation as a hairspray spritzer).
And finally: the scalp scrub! This one is similar to the body-scrub I like to use on my arms & legs, but here I used coconut oil because it is not only a deep moisturizer, but also has natural anti-fungal properties. Coconut oil can be a little tricky to work with, because it’s solid at “room temperature,” but liquid in a warm room. My home-made deodorant, for example, has a coconut-oil base, and it’s much easier to apply it now than it was in the summer when our hot weather turned it liquid… In this case I wanted the oil to be somewhat liquid, to get that crumbly-wet consistency that’s easy to scoop out and apply, so I went half-and-half with coconut oil and vegetable oil.
I melted the coconut oil in the microwave so it would be easier to mix (I didn’t want to heat it after mixing in the sugar, because the sugar would start melting and lose its “sharp edges”), then stirred together the two oils and the brown sugar. I didn’t measure amounts for this one, just kept adding brown sugar until it had the consistency I wanted—clumping together in a crumbly mixture. The pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, & allspice) is just to make it smell yummy.
The brown sugar acts as an exfoliator, scrubbing away dead skin cells and semi-solid sebum (scalp-oil) build-up. Christian had showed me the white crud that collected under his fingernails when he scratched his scalp—and he commented that he’s glad he has a mom “who doesn’t get grossed out easily!” His comment brought to mind our recent trip to the dentist—Keoni needed a tooth pulled (Medicaid’s only dental “coverage” is for pulling a tooth when it gets too infected to leave in a mouth) and I asked the dentist if I could see the extracted molar. He hesitated, then asked if I get “squeamish.” I was about to answer that I was a biology major (thinking of all the dissections I used to do), but Keoni beat me to the punch with a more pertinent answer: “She’s a mom!”
When the kids arrived for their weekend with us, I had “Hobbit shampoo,” “Hobbit conditioner,” and “Hobbit scalp scrub” ready for a test run, and labeled with the nickname I’ve used since Christian’s curly hair first grew in. I suggested that he hop in the bathtub with his swimsuit on, and I’d give him a thorough scalp massage with his new scrub (and the additional tool of mom-fingernails!)
We’ll have to wait and see about long-term use, but the initial report on the test-run is positive—the gunky build-up was gone after scrubbing, his head wasn’t itching or flaking over the weekend, and even the scabbing seemed to be on its way to clearing up. When he headed out the door to his dad’s truck at the end of the weekend, he thanked me for his home-made hair-care products, and also for the head-rub. “I needed the Mommy-ing,” he confided as he hugged me. That’s definitely my favorite new word.
And on the topic of interesting words… We were quite bemused by the labeling on the Castile soap. I’d ordered the most inexpensive version I could find—“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” unscented baby-mild Castile liquid soap. The center of the label contains the usual ingredients and information: the soap is made primarily from olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil; it’s USDA-certified organic, entirely biodegradable, vegan-friendly, packaged with 100% recycled materials, and Fair Trade certified by IMO….
So far, so good. But that information takes up a small central section of the label, and the entire remainder of the bottle is covered in tiny print that has nothing whatsoever to do with shampoo—except, perhaps, for the maxim that “cleanliness is next to godliness”… I hardly know how to describe the rest of the text. It’s sort of religious, sort of a social rant, sort of incoherent, and sort of a bizarre writing-style, liberally sprinkled with exclamation points and incomplete sentences and repeated phrases and long runs of words strung together with hyphens…
The opening to one long section first caught my eye with its reference to my totem, the owl:
Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive: the female does not go into heat until she sees three full months of frozen food for her young ones to survive! Putting to shame our welfare-state, with its untrained masses, enslaved by Marxist half-true hate!
The text goes on to describe (sort of) the “God-Inspired Moral ABC of Mama Cat,” a list of 13 items introduced as the lessons every mother cat supposedly teaches its young. Who knew that our cat was such a complex creature, not to mention religious! Here’s #13, just to give a sample:
13th: Free, brave! No Marxist slave! Mama Cat’s ABC of Love and the Swallow’s Song inspired by the Kingdom of God’s Law! All-One! Above! Above! All swallows evolve united to perfect pilots by full-truth, hard work, God’s Law, trained brave! No slave! Brave! Always evolving-united, free in All-One-God-faith! Hardworking, self-disciplined, no parasite-blackmail, welfare-slave! Therefore, brave we live to teach-work-love-inspire-unite! All-One! Win Victory! Help get it done! Teach to unite All-One! All-One! All-One! For these are the days my friend, we know they’ll never end! We’ll work-sing-dance-love marching on! Marching on! We’ll teach how to Love God’s Way! We’ll fight for it, OK! For we’re young and sure to unite All-One! All-One!
I read the whole bottle in fascination, and there’s an underlying theme of love and inter-connectivity, both among humans and between humans and God. God would probably approve that message—but it’s a message that’s nearly buried in eccentric ranting and inexplicable tangents. I was curious enough to look up Dr. Bronner on Wikipedia, and wasn’t surprised to read that he’d been committed at one point to a mental institution, which he “escaped” after receiving shock treatments. (I wonder now if he wrote this before or after shock-therapy…)
His story is kind of a sad one—he was a third-generation Jewish German soap-maker who left Nazi Germany and tried unsuccessfully to convince his parents to do the same. The last he ever heard from his parents, before they died in a Nazi death camp, was a postcard from his father saying simply: “You were right.” Soap-making, to him, was secondary to spreading his “philosophy.” He lectured all over the United States (his sojourn in the mental institution followed an arrest for public speaking without a permit), giving away soap samples pretty much as an afterthought. When he realized people showed up for the soap and didn’t stay for the lectures, he started printing his message on the soap bottles themselves.
It seems that in some ways he acted on his love-messages with generous charitable donations from his soap company… But it also seems as if he only acted on a “big-picture” scale, rather than in his personal interactions—when his wife died, he put his kids in foster-care so they wouldn’t interfere with his lecture circuit.
Inc. magazine ran a fascinating article on the business, now being run by Bronner’s grandson David, who is described as “a ponytailed marijuana activist who drives a rainbow Mercedes that runs on French fry grease.” (“The Undiluted Genius of Dr. Bronner’s,” April 2012.) It’s a fascinating story of family and philosophy and marketing—and not a little madness.
Regarding our own soap-making, one of Christian’s bright ideas for our proposed Hawai’i Bed & Breakfast is a gift shop, where our guests could purchase items like our specialty home-made soaps. I think, though, that we’ll keep our labeling a little simpler!
As of last weekend, our little Idaho “homestead” is up in population by seven, thanks to the adoption of seven (long-awaited!) laying hens for the chicken-house we’ve been all summer building. With the kids incoming for the weekend, I contacted everyone on Craigslist who was offering chickens, and we lucked out by hooking up with Rob Newburn of Rockin’ R Ranch. He turned out to be a wealth of knowledge, and (bless his heart!) spent more than an hour with us when we arrived, showing us his various breeds (though we could only afford the $3 “black coppers”) and filling us in on all sorts of chicken-care nuggets of wisdom.
Hearing that our “chicken project” had been instigated at Christian’s request, Rob also rounded up a Barnevelder hen with beautiful brown coloring to her feathers, and presented her to Christian as a gift, to be his “special chicken.”
We’d brought some U-Haul moving boxes from our shed (pre-printed on the sides with various possible purposes and rooms for movers to mark, but strangely enough, no pre-printed checkbox for “chickens”), and under Rob’s direction the kids took turns cutting air-slats in the sides before heading into one of his many hen-houses to pick out our chickens. After a quick demonstration on chicken-handling, Keoni and Christian rounded up six hens, helped along by Rob’s sage suggestions and bemused commentary…
Having taken up more than we’d intended of his Saturday morning, we bid Rob a very grateful goodbye and headed home, stopping just for a moment to scrounge some hay from the ground on a public easement by a horse pasture. (In case you’re wondering, this blog is NOT sponsored by the word “scrounge,” though I certainly wish someone were paying us for every time I use it!)
Back home, Christian distributed hay among the “nesting boxes” (kitchen drawers, scrounged—of course—from the neighboring trailer that was due for demolishment) and then we turned “the girls” loose!
Our neighbor Bill (happily for us, an old hand with chickens) came over to meet them, and shared with us how to clip the flight-feathers on their wings. This, in turn, led to my toilet-tweet (isn’t social networking wonderful?): “What every mom wants to hear through the bathroom door: ‘Mom, where are the BEST scissors you’d let me use on chickens?'” Out came the sewing-shears (what the heck, I know a guy who sharpens stuff!), and we clipped the wings on all seven hens.
The “special chicken,” however, quickly decided that clipped wings were no impediment to flying up on the chicken-house roof! (Christian thinks her name might be “Freedom,” and we’ve been tagging her since with the Hawai’ian variation of ku’oko’a, while waiting on his final decision.) She’s definitely her own lone hen. We’re only beginning to learn chicken-culture, but the other six chickens huddled up in a heap in a single nesting-box that night, while she sat aloof in one of her own. Having watched the other six “settle” who would be on top and who on the bottom of that heap, there’s no doubt in our minds where the expression “pecking order” originated!
The kids headed back to their dad’s house for the school-week, so we’re on chicken-duty in their stead, and sending updates (and photos) by email. I’m suddenly reminded of when Christian was about three years old and begging for a kitty. Before we made any move to visit the animal shelter, I had him go through the motions of cat-care (filling food and water bowls daily) to show that he was ready for the responsibility. He invented an invisible cat to go along with this ritual (named Clay, for reasons still unknown to me), and when we finally did visit the Humane Society, our choice was clinched by his excited exclamation that “THIS kitty looks exactly like Invisible Clay!”
I think our roles have been reversed now, and Christian has been training me up for chicken-care with the previous task of “feeding” his electronic reef-fish in the game on my iPad! Hmm, I’ve accidentally let the reef-fish “die” on more than one occasion… No doubt he’s glad Keoni is on the spot! And sure enough, I woke this morning to the sound of Keoni outside the window, calling “Hele mai, moa! Hele mai, moa!” (“Come here, chickens”) as he tossed out feed on the ground. Rob cautioned us not to expect eggs until they’ve had time to settle in, but hopefully they’re on their way to getting comfy…
In the meantime, we’re suddenly looking at the onset of Autumn here. Yesterday I was on the front porch with my book, perfectly comfortable in shirt-sleeves, and tonight we’re looking at our first hard frost. The sun has just called it a day and the moon is on the rise (seemingly magnified by the lingering haze from the summer’s forest-fires), and neighbors Bill and Anatoli are both out blanketing their vegetable gardens with tarps against the expected freeze.
Earlier this afternoon, Keoni made a run to the mailbox (another adaptation of “Emma” in the mail!) and found himself waved across the road to meet a neighbor we hadn’t yet encountered. We watched his thriving roadside vegetable-stand all summer, and today he was trying to harvest and offload everything that was left, before the frost hit. At his urging, Keoni brought home a haul of peppers and cucumbers and yarrow and dill and tomatoes, and we feasted tonight on stuffed bell-peppers and fresh salsa.
Keoni has already turned out his first batch of pickles this week. Bill and Anatoli have both been sharing armloads of their cucumbers, so today we were able to reciprocate with mason-jars of home-made sweet pickles. Christian and I are looking forward to the next batch: dill pickles! Neither of us has historically been a fan of the sweets (though having said that, I did sample this batch, and was amazed to discover that I loved it)—but Christian has been known to eat a whole jar at a time of dills. (Cast-iron stomach, that kid…)
I’ve finished up my own little harvest—all of our lavender is now hanging to dry (mostly destined for our home-made shampoo & conditioner), and I’ve stripped the monster sunflowers (growing up around the bird-feeder) of their seeds. I’m saving about half of them to plant along the fence-line next summer, in hopes that we can keep both our neighborhood songbirds and our kids satisfied without resorting to “bought” seed. We’ll roast the other half when the kids are back for the weekend.
Another fence-line already has raspberries planted—shoots we brought back from my dad’s burgeoning thicket. And Keoni’s potted kitchen-herbs (bedecked in the kids’ colorful artistry) are pulled in and tucked up on the porch. I don’t know if I’m ready for winter (despite the purring cat on my feet), but I think we’re at least ready for frost. And I’m thinking our first (modest!) summer of “sustainable homesteading” has been a pretty good success. Please pass the hot cocoa!
When my sister and I were kids, we spent a good chunk of every summer with our grandparents in Colorado. We both remember fondly the traditions and rituals of those summers—the daily swimming lessons at their pool, the picnic pool-lunches (fingers coated orange by Cheetohs, and purple tongues from grape soda), the yellow slip-n-slide on their grassy back hill, the plays we acted out in their stage-like front hall, weekly visits to the enormous library with its statue of Eeyore standing on his head, and the sewing projects in Grandma’s cool basement…
Some of the rituals are different, but the tradition of summer-visiting has carried on to the next generation, with our kids spending a couple summer weeks each year with my parents (known to them as “Grandy” and “Boboo”). Their memories will include picking raspberries in the back yard, eating meals at Grandy’s breakfast counter,watching the bunnies that hang out in Boboo’s garden (and the cat-on-a-leash, also on bunny-watch), river-rafting trips, week-long games of “Axis & Allies,” visits to the library and used-book stores, afternoons at the swimming pool…
This week is one of those visiting-weeks (the second, with a rafting-trip planned, will be next month), and unlike some previous summers when jobs tied me to home, the “portability” of my current work means I get to visit too. In fact, we planned to make a whole-family trip of it, with Keoni asking for a few days off work and Kapena joining us for the first time. (Package deal—he got a bonus set of grandparents along with his Wicked Stepma…)
This weekend we wanted to arrive at Grandy and Boboo’s house (six hours’ drive from us in northern Idaho) early enough in the weekend to catch my sister Kadi and her husband Scott, who had also planned a visit, and who would have to leave this afternoon to get back to work. Keoni asked for Saturday off—the first day-off he’s requested since returning from his December surgery, but… No Go. When he got the (disappointing) week’s schedule, we decided to “bite the bullet,” so to speak, and make the drive at night, leaving town when he got off work around eleven p.m. on Saturday. I should add that nobody in the family was particularly wild about this itinerary, given the winding miles of mountain roads with unguarded drop-offs into rivers… But if we wanted any time with Kadi and Scott, night-driving would have to be the plan. Nor did we know when we’d have to return, because Keoni’s workplace posts a schedule on Sunday evening for the week starting the next morning. Combined with declined time-off requests, that makes it tough to schedule even a doctor appointment, let alone a family activity or road trip.
Perhaps you’ll remember the picture I posted the other day—Keoni had texted a photo from his phone in the middle of his work-shift, of his kitchen thermometer registering 118F at his work-station… He came home that night (after seven hours of fast-paced physical work in that temperature) shaky and exhausted, clammy and dehydrated with his sweat smelling like vinegar. We tried to rehydrate him and restore electrolytes, but he was up half that night with his legs seizing up in monster cramps—and then right back to the kitchen the next noon. Same drill, except he started in worse shape, so it’s no surprise that he ended in worse shape. He called me about an hour before his shift was scheduled to end Friday, and I could hear the strain and shake in his voice. He couldn’t stop throwing up, and he was trying to cool down and stabilize enough to drive home safely.
We both knew he didn’t have another night of that in him. We’d been intending that he would continue at that job for whatever time it takes to process his application at the prison where he used to work, but this just isn’t sustainable. He called in sick due to severe heat exhaustion—a call we knew wouldn’t be received well on a day he’d already been denied time off—but we also knew already that he’d be writing a resignation letter next. And in the meantime, we took advantage of the changed schedule (after he’d rested thoroughly) to leave mid-afternoon instead of midnight for our drive north.
About an hour into the drive, Christian commented from the back seat, “The best thing about living in Idaho—for road-trips, I mean—is being able to watch the scenery.” I couldn’t agree more! Our rural state has just a single highway between its northern and southern halves, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive (when you get to do it in daylight)—mountains and rivers and green valleys and something new every few minutes.
Having grown up in this state and made this same drive dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times, driving this road feels to me like reconnecting to where I’m rooted, to Idaho itself. The whole highway is a string of “this-is-wheres“… This is where my university biology class had nets spread across the river, all of us wading in up to our chests… This is where I stopped with a girlfriend to pick wild sunflowers, and take silly pictures of ourselves poking up through her car’s sun-roof. This is where a cop pulled me over for speeding and he turned out to be wrong about the posted speed limit… This is where the tire blew out on our way back from a camping trip… This is where I bought that bracelet at a road-side flea market… This is where Christian used to try to “skip” pinecones like rocks on the lake… This is where I was snowed in at the Catholic monastery for a weekend, with the bread-baking nuns… And (as we neared my old hometown) this is where the bus used to drop us cross-country runners and leave us to run the rest of the way back to town.
Knowing as we drove yesterday that we had made a Decision—that Keoni does need to get out of that kitchen—opens up the horizons of the immediate future in unexpected ways. Perhaps we should feel nervous (his was the “steady” income), but we don’t. We quietly tallied the immediately upcoming bills balanced against the writing-jobs I already have underway, we embraced the idea that the whole family can enjoy this week’s visit before we head back (all of us together!) for him to job-hunt, and he feels an unspeakable relief in the lifted dread that he had been feeling about his hours in that kitchen. God hasn’t dropped us on our asses so far, and we have faith.
In the meantime… Today we enjoyed some time with my sister and her husband—not enough time, and I didn’t ask the million questions I’d meant to ask about their trip to Europe last month… But it was truly great to see them, even for the space of an evening and a partial day. Kapena (who drove up separately today with some friends who are moving here for school) has just joined us, and Grandy has just fed him. Keoni is still not feeling well—shaky and tired and easily dizzy—but he’s in a place where he can relax and rest. We’re with FAMILY. And God’s got our back.