Posted in Family, Writing

A Swimming Chicken, a Filing Ferret, & a Knight Seeking Work

chickenidiots2
Yup, these would be OUR chickens. (cartoon courtesy of savagechickens.com)

Our chickens won’t be winning any intellectual awards.  Ku’okoa (aptly named with the Hawai’ian word for “freedom“) is brighter than the rest—she spends a fair bit of time outside the chicken-yard, but she always returns when she’s done adventuring. The other girls, though… Maybe I’m too much “Mother Hen” with them, but I just don’t trust their capacity to figure out where they’re meant to be.

Their general lack of imagination is evident in how INfrequently they get out, not to mention their behavior when they do. Last time one of the Stupid Chickens blundered out of the chicken-yard, she tried to return by running through the fence. Repeatedly. Like some kind of wind-up chicken-brained battering ram.

At left: Ku'okoa, the Least-Stupid of our chickens...
At left: Ku’okoa, the Least-Stupid of our chickens…

They remind me of nothing so much as a sleepy toddler who falls out of bed, too groggy to navigate back to the starting point. So when one of the Dumb Clucks “fell out” of the chicken-yard yesterday, I felt compelled once again to round her up and tuck her back in.

She sped away from me, dashing along a narrow stretch between our fence and the pond behind the house. I ambled along after her, confident that I would scoop her up where the fence and water converged to cut short her runway.

This is where she proved me wrong in my assumption about lack of imagination. Instead of the dithering disorientation I expected, she took to the air!

Clearly she can achieve enough lift-off to hop the short fence around the chicken-house, but I really didn’t think she had enough flight-power to make it across the water… And this time I was right. She managed half the distance, ran out of juice, and splash-crashed right into the drink. It was unkind of me, but I couldn’t stop laughing while this poor soaked, bedraggled, panicking chicken thrashed her way to shore. Ducks make it look so easy!

I looked up “swimming chickens” on the internet when I got back inside (the waterlogged and baffled bird returned safely to her enclosure) and found quite a few videos of serenely swimming chickens. So they CAN swim—but apparently someone needs to explain that to OUR chickens. Maybe I’ll show them the video…

In other animal antics… I’ve been in a fever of anti-packrat cleaning-up this week. Cleaning junk out of drawers, cleaning old documents off the computer, uploading photos into our online album (I learned that lesson when a laptop died and took a load of family photos with it!), filing the stacks of paper that have been accumulating on the kitchen counter where I drop the mail…

ferret in the files
we need a new filing system…

And I’ve had “help!” Our ferret Niele (aptly named with the Hawai’ian word for “nosy“) was particularly useful when she climbed into my accordion folder. Evidently we need a new filing system: “Kids’ school.” “Medical.” “Utilities.” “Insurance.” “Ferret.”

Filed in the category of “new knowledge”… Our son Christian has me reading the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series of books—great read, by the way!—and he brought home #4 and #5 from his school library for me this weekend. What an “aha!” moment I had when I got to this passage, about a knight riding through a snowstorm:

“His surcoat was white and his shield was marked with a blue fist, the symbol of a free lance–a knight looking for employment wherever he could find it.”

freelance writing... with more "help"
freelance writing… with more “help”

This freelance writer had never wondered about the etymology of the word that describes what I do! I exclaimed aloud at my discovery, and earned a look from my son—the kind of look that pre-teens have perfected. Half affection and half disdain, the kind of look that says “Duh” without a word spoken. “Seriously, Mom? You didn’t realize that? It’s kinda obvious.”

Well don’t I just feel like a Stupid Chicken!  :)

Posted in Family, Home, Writing

From Noah’s Ark to Yellow Submarine

busted pipes
an unwelcome sight beneath our home at two in the morning

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.

flooded
the remains of our “lake,” Sunday afternoon

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.)

Neighbor Bill, prepared to swim beneath our trailer

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 rock Keoni painted for Elena Grace, whose favorite song is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

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.

Posted in Family

Pushing Past a Comfort Zone

my sketch of Grandpa fly-fishing

I’ve been laboring under a peculiar species of Writers’ Block for the last two weeks. It’s not that I haven’t had the inclination or the material for writing, but there’s Something Important that I need to write about—that I want to write about—but am apparently not ready to write about. And I’ve felt like I couldn’t (or shouldn’t?) write about other things until I had addressed this.

I’m not meaning to be mysterious here—I’ll share the gist of the matter. My Grandpa passed away two weeks ago. There is SO much to say about this man, about this life… but I think while I continue to work my way up to that, I need to revoke my self-imposed restriction and go on writing about The Rest of Life.

In the meantime, I can imagine the scene with perfect ease: Grandpa and God, hip-deep in a divine trout stream, trading stories. I imagine that God is as good a storyteller as my Grandpa… And perhaps, after all, telling a story is, in itself, a fitting tribute to Grandpa.

Which leaves me with just one problem—after some weeks without writing, there are lots of stories to tell! (Even the kids have begun to comment whenever something makes me laugh: “That’s going into the blog!”) Shall I begin with the completion of the chicken-house, or the shooting class, or our son’s introduction into junior high, or our other son’s re-introduction to football practice after his knee surgery, or Keoni’s foray into football coaching, or the Petroglyph Project, or the latest installment of the sewage-moat saga, or…

Shooting—I’ll start with that.

my instructor emailed a few pictures he took with his phone during class…

Keoni bought me a place in a concealed weapons class (intended for Mother’s Day, though presented earlier because neither of us ever manages to wait for the actual Occasion to give a gift that was nominally intended for that Occasion)… The class coupon was good until September 1, so (being the accomplished Procrastinator that I am) I emailed the instructor in the last week of August to inquire about scheduling. No problem (whew)—he had an opening in Thursday’s class.

We stopped at WalMart to pick up ammo before the class, and in his usual sociable way, Keoni struck up a conversation with the fellow behind the counter (“Bruce Gordon—they call me ‘Flash'”), who, like Keoni, has worked in prisons for a couple decades. Of course they turned out to have quite a few friends in common, so they chattered away while Flash unlocked the cabinet to pull out a box of Winchester 40-caliber bullets. As he wound up the transaction, Flash brightly inquired, “So this is your daughter?” Always amused when people make the (understandable) error, we laughingly corrected him. “Wife!

this photo is my new screen-saver :)

I dropped Keoni to coach his football practice, and headed south of town to the military shooting range. Laughable as this might seem, it didn’t occur to me until I was driving to the range that I might be in the intimidating position of being the only female in this class… And that much did turn out to be true. As pickup-truck after pickup-truck pulled into the dusty bay beside my minivan, it became apparent that I’d be the only girl in a group of Idaho hunters. But I will say this: if ever a girl needed to bolster her Inner Badass, there’s nothing to accomplish the job quite so quickly as strapping on a belt with a holstered weapon.

It also hadn’t occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a bathroom anywhere nearby, and after a hot afternoon drinking quantities of raspberry-green-tea, I badly needed one. Just to make sure, I inquired of the instructor, who was discernibly disconcerted by the question, and who started trying to think where the nearest “blue lagoon” might be found. “That’s okay,” I told him. “I’ll just step around the hill here.”  He called after me to ask if I were sure, if I were okay with that, if I needed a tissue… I reassured him over my shoulder, “Nah, I’m an Idaho girl.” (Although I did come back to report that it was a new experience squatting in the sagebrush with a holstered weapon belted on…)

token soccer-mom in the line-up…

I will admit to feeling intimidated and uncomfortable in that group, but I put on my best act of nonchalance, hid behind humor, introduced myself as the group’s “token soccer-mom”… And then we got down to it. Four hours of drills and target shooting, and I believe I may say I acquitted myself quite well. More to the point: my instructor commented several times that I must be having fun, because I had a smile plastered across my face the whole time!

In some situations I might have replied that a smile is my “default setting,” but he was absolutely correct. I was having a kickass time.

The only thing kicking more was my weapon—and there was some discussion about the advisability of a 40-caliber handgun for someone of my size… But then, I didn’t tire out in four hours, as the instructor had dubiously predicted I might, and {grin} there’s that “badass” factor…

My target from class. Don’t piss me off.

Anyway, I had a good time. I learned things. I shot well. I earned my Concealed Weapon Carry permit. And I won’t lie—I pulled my minivan out of that shooting range feeling pretty pleased with myself. I brought my target home to show, and glowed under the compliments of my husband and sons.

Chatting with my instructor, it turns out that he’d paid a visit to this blog before meeting me, and is interested in having me do some writing for his website. He proposed bartering some classes for some writing—and I’m tickled by the prospect.

All in all, there’s something to be said for pushing past a Comfort Zone!

Posted in Travel, Writing

A Lesson on Letting Go

The tat that helped land a new client…

Here’s my GRIN for the day: I have a new client for my freelance writing, and the “job application” I sent him consisted of (1) a link to this blog, as a “writing sample,” and (2) a photo of my motorcycle tattoo.

I regularly refer to my tats as Stories, but had never considered this particular Ink in the role of Resumé or Credential… Here we are, though—I’ve just chalked up another regular client thanks (in part) to a tattoo, and for the foreseeable future I’ll be writing a daily blog about Biker Life over at the spanking-new BikerCraze site.

I won’t usually be “crossing over” with my posts there and here, but today I thought I’d post my inaugural biking-post in both places…

The First Ride: Letting Go

I’ve been anticipating the full launch of BikerCraze for a little while now, so I’m thrilled to see the site up and at ‘em! I was just browsing the online catalog, and have already mentally bookmarked the blue dragon decal, which would pretty perfectly match the blue dragon twining up my right leg…

The tat has a story behind it, of course—as does the motorcycle inked across my chest—and as I contemplate the birth of a biking community here, I’m also led to reflect on the story of my own beginning with regard to bikes. It seems like a fitting story to start with here.

My husband of four years has a long history with bikes (he had his motorcycle endorsement well before I was born), but when we met I’d never so much as sat on one. I’d hardly so much as looked at them, to be honest—it didn’t occur to me that I might be a Bike kinda girl.

But then… It also hadn’t occurred to me before that I might be an alcoholic kinda girl (we met in Rehab!), or an unemployed kinda girl (I’d made close to six figures as a school administrator before my crash-and-burn with alcoholism), or a married-to-an-awesome-Old-Guy kinda girl, or…

Well, in short… Life turned out to have a lot of intriguing opportunities open—once I Let Go and acknowledged that it was NOT going to look like what I used to plan for myself. It was my husband’s A.A. Sponsor who facilitated my first bike ride. He had an electric-blue Harley that nobody ever touched but himself—but for reasons unknown, he handed my husband the keys one sunny afternoon and told us to have it back to him by dark.

My husband was ecstatic. I was apprehensive.

I perched uncertainly on the back, unsure how the balance should feel, and suppressed a squeak on every corner he took. If it’s possible to strangle someone’s stomach, I was probably doing that to him as well, and he finally pulled over and told me to take a few breaths.

The First Bike Ride: I was hooked!

I realized that I’d been so worried about the bike that I’d been unconsciously trying to steer it with my butt! And everyone who has ever had a rookie passenger behind them knows just how helpful THAT is.

So… I Let Go. Consciously let go of my worry, and relaxed into the turns… As soon as I did, my husband could tell the difference in his ability to handle the bike. And oh my God, what a joyful ride! From that afternoon, I’ve been hooked.

And that ride has become an analogy for our life: when we try to steer with our butts, things just aren’t going to go smoothly! These days we Let Go… and enjoy the Journey, whatever it may be.

Posted in Family, Travel

Hill-Climbing, Hummingbirds, and Handguns

This evening, a particular piece of kid-art caught my eye. We have their notes and drawings tacked up all over the place—on the walls, on the fridge—but when something is always there you sometimes stop seeing it.

Elena Grace’s drawing of the family at the lake, one year ago

That’s the case with this piece , carefully dated 8-2-11 (almost exactly a year ago) with sticker-letters spelling out the message: “Mom, I wish I could see you more often. Love, Elena Grace.” It’s accompanied by her drawing of all of us at the lake, and her note reminded me with a jolt that just a year ago (due to our 2010 alcoholic relapse) we were only seeing the kids for a day here and there, not even overnights.

my scariest subscriber!

What a long way we’ve come (thank you, God!) that we have them for a week at a time this summer, and on the Fridays when their dad picks them up, we know we’ll have them back the next Friday. Christian’s parting words on his way out the door to his dad’s truck this afternoon were: “I’ll call you. Post something!” Scary as it may sound, my eleven-year-old now subscribes to my blog, and has even read through all the archives. Well, you can bet he’ll keep me pretty honest. (By the age of three, the signature phrase of Mr. Fact-and-Detail was: “Actually, Mom…”)

An aside to my child: Remember, Buddy, that Mom wears a t-shirt that says “I make shit up,” and that first and foremost I’m a storyteller. Cut me a storyteller’s slack, yeah? Love you!

Silver City, Idaho: the “ghost town” that’s still kickin’

This week we used our time with the kiddos not only for chicken-house-building, but also for a camping foray into the Owyhee mountains to the old mining town of Silver City. I wrote about Silver City last summer for an Idaho travel magazine (“reprint” of the article here), and on that visit Keoni & I stayed in the Idaho Hotel, which has been in operation for one hundred fifty years… I know that sounds like a new building to my friends in Europe, but here in the American West that’s about as old as it gets.

As we pulled into town this week, the hotel owner, Roger, was out front of the hotel putting steaks on the grill. Keoni pulled the van up beside him and rolled down the window. “I don’t know if you remember us–we stayed here last summer…” Whether truthfully or politely, Roger said he did, and Keoni went on to add, “My wife wrote the article for Western Byways.” Whether or not he remembered us, he remembered the article—and evidently with pleasure. (I wonder, in retrospect, if it’s a bit unnerving to be told there’s an article being published about your place, and not to have an idea which of your recent guests might have been the snoop writer…)

one of the drug store counters… Roger bought it, contents-and-all, and is working to restore it

We reiterated how much we’d enjoyed our stay last year (as if he hadn’t gathered as much from the article), told him we’d brought the kids up to camp (he peered into the back of the van and waved his barbecue tongs at them in cheerful greeting), and asked if there might be a possibility that he would unlock the drug store (which he also owns) at some point so the kids could have a look. He agreeably set a time for the next morning, and we headed on up the road.

Keoni had some “help” (and a duel?) with the tent…

We had intended to bypass the established campground just out of town and stake out a spot upstream, but the campground turned out to be entirely deserted, so we decided after all to claim a creekside spot there. Elena Grace gave Keoni a hand with the tent, and both kids disappeared up the banks of the creek.

disappearing across the creek…

I have to pause here and note that I’ve never in my adult life gone camping without being the person who packed for the trip. This was actually the first time Keoni and I have had the chance to camp together (thanks to the loan, from my parents, of two tents—including the awesome orange one that predates ME), and while I was frantically trying to finish up my writing Tuesday, he packed up the van for our adventure. It was a strange sensation for me to get into the vehicle without a single idea of what had been packed. He’s organized, OCD, and super-thorough (far more so than I would have been, in all truth), so I had no reason to worry. It was just an odd sensation. Yet another reminder that I’m with a man now who takes care of things.

Our Fire Guy at work with the flint & steel

And take care of things he did—the camp popped up around me in no time, and by the time the kids returned from their foray up the opposite mountainside, he had sausages on the grill and a fire ready for Christian’s flint-and-steel.

It’s one of the inescapable facts of camping—at least around here—that ninety-degree days flip in a flash into near-freezing nights. Not long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I was hurriedly trading my sweat-soaked t-shirt and shorts for jeans and layers of sweatshirts. (And yes, the kids both piped up that they were glad their dad let them take their warm sleeping bags.)

marshmallows & a fire—indispensable to camping

The marshmallows came out, of course, quickly followed by a perfectly full moon, rising from behind the mountainside the kids had so recently conquered. After several s’mores, Elena Grace climbed stickily into my lap and leaned back against me, gazing at the moon. “It’s just been shopping, you know,” she told me, matter-of factly.

Oh? Does the Moon have shopping bags?

“Mm-hmm.” She gazed some more. “It likes taking baths. And it always washes its hands after it goes to the bathroom.  It likes people… and fish. Golden fish!”

I think I may have a Writer here. I’ll have to ask her what the Moon shops for…

morning in the Camp… Including Mom (with coffee!) when she finally emerged

Keoni and the kids were up early, and I emerged from the tent for a few cold minutes before I conceded that my writing-until-five-the-previous-morning had caught up with me. Gravity definitely felt like my enemy—smell of bacon and coffee notwithstanding—I needed some more sleep. On my second attempt at emerging, the air had warmed, the coffee was still waiting, and Keoni was cleaning up what turned out to be the worst “disaster” of our trip—the aerosol whipped cream (for pancakes & cocoa) had deployed inside the cooler. When that’s the worst mishap of a camping trip, you know that someone has packed well!

We headed back into town, where we met up with Roger and his strongly-wagging tail, which is incidentally attached to his dog Kodiak… He and a friend were doing some work on the drug store this week (I believe he intends to open it for regular public viewing once the restoration-work is farther along) and he ushered us in to have our look around. When he bought the drug store, some of its contents had been untouched for decades. There’s a cabinet of unopened medicines, the newest of which is from 1903… A full dentist’s office with all the tools where they were left… Typewriter and shipping boxes, embossed order-forms (dated 1914) for opium, lamps and bottles and all manner of things. It’s purely fascinating, truly.

the fascinating Silver City drug store… And Kodiak, our tail-wagging “tour guide”

I think what’s so fascinating to me about Silver City is that there’s so much history still there—and the few folks who still live there (though only a couple of them year-round, as it’s snowed in through most of the winter) are maintaining and restoring and keeping the history alive.

trying our hand at gold-panning…

As Roger said to us, you can tell a Local in Silver City because they’ll go around with their noses to the ground after a rain, to see what artifacts might have washed to the surface. And indeed, when Keoni was digging around in the creek-bank by our campsite, seeking worms for Christian’s fishing, he uncovered rusted square-headed nails and even a rusted padlock embedded in the banks. The campground itself is situated where China-town stood, Roger told us, and it’s apparently quite common to find Chinese coins and opium bottles after a rain.

I confess to being a little bummed by the realization that I had a less-than-avid audience for the history-stuff in my kiddos. My own frame of reference is a childhood spent with a sister who was a History-Major-in-the-making by the age of six, and the two of us would easily have spent a full afternoon just in the cemetery, not to mention the rest of the town… But on the other hand, these two will happily entertain themselves for a couple hours with just a stream for entertainment, so I really can’t complain.

Christian reading in the tent. (Lessons learned: he needs more than 3 books for a 2-day camp-out, and she now knows that eBooks can’t get recharged…)

I almost did—complain, that is—when Elena Grace was throwing a temper-tantrum about her flip-flops being “wet and sandy” (of all things!) when she was trying to play in the stream… “I hate this place! I am NOT joking!” she shrieked, throwing one of her sandals on the ground. Can this seriously be MY kid, I was wondering… Until she finished her fit with this lament: “If I could just be barefoot!”  Oh Lordy, she is REALLY my kid!

Sorry, sweetie—I misunderstood the nature of the problem. By all means, be barefoot. (She was, for most of the rest of the trip. And I’m remembering a week-long canoe trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho in my teens—a week in which I didn’t once don any form of footwear…) Okay—so we need to work on the tantrum-part, but yeah. She’s mine.

Our Camp Cook!

After some down-time back at camp (despite the sleep-in, Mom needed another nap on a blanket in the shade), we poked our heads into the hotel again and asked Roger if he might have some horseshoes we could borrow—he did—and we walked down to the horseshoe pits in the town’s Memorial Park. Christian’s unique (but effective) style of horseshoes looks something like bowling, but his bouncing-and-rolling tosses land well. Keoni overthrew a couple into the creek beyond, and we ended the evening with new horseshoe-terms. In addition to “leaner” and “ringer” (Christian ended with TWO ringers on his last toss!), we now have “slider” and “creeker” (meaning one that lands in the creek)…

Back at “our” creekside, we had tied a couple of Elena Grace’s bright-pink socks to one of the tent-lines so we wouldn’t run into it—and we had the pleasure of a visit, during dinner, of a pair of hummingbirds determined to find food in them. Heaven help them if they manage to get sock-juice from those, was the general consensus around the campfire…

It has been a week of “firsts”… Our first opportunity to camp together, the kids’ first foray to Silver City… And the last “first” for the week: my first go with a loaded weapon. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a spot Roger had recommended for target-shooting, and set up targets against a steep hillside.  I confess I wasn’t prepared for the KICK of a 40-caliber handgun, but by my fourth clip I was taking out my targets consistently. And having fun. Look out, World!

Flash… and KICK! Aim… and ENJOY!
Posted in Family, Home

Budget Limbo: How LOW can we go?

Christian & Grandy setting up the backyard tent

Yesterday we made the six-hour drive back home from my parents’ house, and we hope that Grandy and Boboo are recovering from the chaos of their week-long house-full of US! The kids immensely enjoyed their week, though of course it went by too quickly for them—sleeping in a tent in the backyard, roasting marshmallows for s’mores, spending afternoons at the fabulous city pool with its water-slides, fishing for bluegill, beginning a new sewing project with Grandy  and a week-long game of “Axis & Allies” with Boboo (both of which incomplete undertakings await our return for another visit next month)…

Christian & Kapena sliding on a two-man tube

Staying with my parents means a week of unaccustomed chaos for them, but a week of time-out from Regular Life for us. And truthfully, that was precisely what we needed this week.

It took a few days for Keoni to recover from his workplace-heatstroke, and he wrote his resignation letter on the first day of our visit. Given his heart problems a couple years back, and given his pledge to stick around with us for a LONG time, that 118-degree kitchen just isn’t viable as a work environment. He got a respectful response from Chef, praising his work ethic as well as his cooking, and promising positive references… and a Last Paycheck.

Elena Grace, swimming-pool butterfly…

I spent most of the visiting-week glued to the computer with a sizeable writing assignment… The kids were bummed that I wasn’t joining in the swimming and activities, but from a practical standpoint, the timing of that big assignment (or rather, the paycheck that will come from it) is perfect.

Resting beside my computer all week was a piece of paper with our budget (such as it is: a 5-item list of monthly bills) scribbled on it. You could say this is my method of dealing with financial “limbo” and the uncertainties about income in the immediate future—trying to plan what we can

Boboo took Kapena on a campus tour of University of Idaho. Highlights, of course, included the football facilities!

Before I go on… The second-guessing Critic who lives in the back of my head wonders if I spend too much blog-space dwelling on our lack of money. My answer to that voice: Lack of Money is part of our daily life—so yes, the topic finds its way onto these blog pages with regularity. But that’s NOT because we’re unhappy with our life. It’s simply because I’m writing about our life.

Hell, Keoni and I each used to make more than seventy thousand a year, and we were each trying to drink our way out of the lives we lived then. Trying to drink our way Out of Life.

Today’s life couldn’t be more different. Our days are joyful, and I wouldn’t trade even an hour of Today for that previous life with my bank-balance (as well as my mood) in the black.

Sewing collaboration: Christian pins the pattern pieces & Elena Grace cuts them out (because Grandy doesn’t have “Lefty” sewing-scissors he could use)

Among other thoughts this week, I’m bemused to realize how flexible the concept of “necessities” can be, when it comes right down to it. Last fall when Keoni encouraged me to take the leap into writing full-time, not knowing how much money I’d be able to earn that way, it wasn’t because we felt we “didn’t need” that second income. It was purely a leap of faith, believing that somehow we could make it work. It’s true that we did re-apply for Food Stamps at that point (we had qualified for them even while I worked full time, but had chosen to discontinue them because we could get by without them on my regular wages). Otherwise, we were already on the lowest budget we could think of at the time.

Elena Grace, Christian, Kapena, & Keoni roasting marshmallows on Grandy & Boboo’s patio

And yet… A week ago, our list of monthly bills was a SIX-item list. We keep finding new ways to get creative. Keoni’s resignation was a no-brainer after last week’s heatstroke, but we’re looking once again at diminished income, and uncertainty. So… It occurred to me for the first time that we could do without our monthly phone bill. That’s what I mean about elasticity of “necessities.”  Our choice of phone carrier has been been limited because there’s only one company that gets cell reception where we live. We’ve been on that company’s cheapest, most basic plan for our two cell phones, but that’s still $125 a month.

We don’t use our phones much—we both hate talking on the phone, though we text a fair bit—but it’s just not feasible to be entirely without a contact number. We need to be able to take calls from doctors, our pharmacy, the kids’ schools, Keoni’s job application… It was the kids who gave me the idea of an alternative.

A sticky S’Mores kiss… (photo taken by Elena Grace with her iPhone un-phone…)

My mom and her law partner gave their old iPhones to Christian and Elena Grace this week—no SIM cards or phone service, but they work with wireless internet (like mini iPads) for every other function, and the kids are using them for email, cameras, game-playing, reading iBooks, and streaming music and video. It dawned on me that as long as we keep our internet (which IS on the “indispensable” list, since I work online), we can use our phones with VOIP and texting apps, no paid phone service. Sure, that means we’re limited to using our phones when we’re home or near a wifi hot spot, but you know what? We can live with that just fine. Why didn’t I think of this before now?

This evening I’m looking at our (shortened) list of monthly obligations:

  • the boys spent a morning fishing with my mom’s law partner, “Firefighter Bob”

    Rent on our trailer, $600. That’s the big one, of course. And at this point I’m holding off on making any more payment until our landlord does something about our septic tank and sewage moat. It’s been several months now since we first started asking for attention to the issue, and last week (armed with the applicable sections of Idaho Code) I mailed two pages of documentation, requesting a response of the “fix-it” variety. Still no response of any variety to my “Poo Letter,” so no rent money headed their direction at the moment…

  • Internet, $35. Not bad, considering that it covers my “commute” to work, among other things…
  • Electricity, $100 average. Mostly that’s heating cost from winter months, even though we turned the heat off whenever the kids weren’t home. We’re going to work on some weather-proofing before we get to winter again, and in the meantime I’ve discovered the nifty hour-by-hour graphic of usage posted online by Idaho Power—a great tool to help identify (and work on) the “power-sucks” in daily usage…
  • my dad’s OldTown canoe, coming home with us for a restoration job… This beauty is about 80 years old!

    Car insurance, $24. We’ve been so blessed in so many ways. Keoni’s parents stunned us a few months ago by sending me a brand-new Mac just when my old laptop was dying—this computer is my “office” and has enabled me to keep working from home as a writer… And this week my parents gave us their beautiful ’99 minivan. Wow. Those little words like “thank you“—as important as they are—seem entirely insufficient as a response to either of those acts of generosity. For the time being we’re parking my grandpa’s old Buick rather than keep insurance and registration on two cars (we do fine with just one)—and we’re absolutely loving the comfort and roominess of the van! We drove it home from their house yesterday, packed with the tents they’re loaning us (we’ve promised the kids some camping this summer), and with my dad’s old wooden canoe strapped on top… Keoni wonders if he now qualifies as a “soccer mom”…

  • Elena Grace and Grandy hit the library immediately after we arrived…

    And our one remaining expendable expenditure: Netflix for $16 per month. We haven’t had television channels for years, we don’t eat out or go to movies—so this online streaming of shows and movies is our only “entertainment” expense. And one we could drop if need be, though we certainly get our money’s worth of entertainment value from it.

So there we have it. Aside from rent, our lifestyle costs a whopping $175 per month, at least for the regularly billed expenses. Of course are the odds-and-ends like toilet paper, Christian’s lactose pills, catfood, gas for the car (although there won’t be much needed there until Keoni is driving to a job again)… But there’s the budget, more or less.

still relaxed…

Mentally running through that accounting this week has helped keep our minds settled in the face of Change. With Keoni’s last paycheck we paid ahead on our electricity bill, enough to carry us for several months. With my next writing-check we’ll do the same for internet and car insurance—and with that we feel “safe,” our Basics ensured for a few months. We’ll trust that my writing-work will be steady enough to have rent money ready when we need to resume paying it… Keoni will be looking for work, and we’re still praying about the Corrections job for which he had applied even before his heatstroke forced the issue…

It’s a game of Limbo, lowering the bar of our expenses while our income-expectations are in limbo themselves… And truthfully, even our challenges still fall in the category of “First-World Problems”—like limiting our phone-use to locations with wifi. In the grand scheme of things, that’s hardly a problem. God’s got our backs.

Posted in Family, Home

“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens…” (Part 1)

chicken house
laying out one end of the chicken-house… The scorch-marks are residue from our son Kapena’s ceremonial burning of a sweatshirt from his ex-girlfriend

Well, after tackling the political angle of backyard chickens and mustering our (mostly free) resources, we finally got our start on building the chicken house…  Or, to use the Hawai’ian handle, the Hale Moa (HAH-lay MO-wah).

We got through the framing today, so here’s our chicken-house-building (part one)—mostly in pictures, because I’m saving up most of my words for the 40K-word project I’m supposed to be doing now (and will actually have to get started on in a few minutes)…

So far the only item we have bought for this project is a box of three-and-a-quarter-inch sinker nails ($10.48 for a 5-pound box at Home Depot). All the wood we’re using was found, begged, or bartered—including the fortuitous find of the “house”-shaped pieces of plywood we’re using at the two ends of the chicken-house.

girls with power tools
girl with power tools!

We wanted to use four-by-four posts at the corners, but since our “finds” were all two-by-fours, we nailed two of those together for each corner post.  We measured out our lengths, and then I got to use the laser-sighted mitre saw that was my Mother’s Day gift a few years back (in the days when we did have money)… Hey, does Keoni know me or what?

Also, please notice and admire our nifty makeshift “sawhorse” of several stacked soda-crates (which we got for free from the grocery store) held together with zip-ties.

After measuring, cutting, and nailing our improvised four-by-four posts to each of the ends, we stood them up, propped one of them with a couple leaning boards, and nailed 8-foot two-by-fours along each side.

DIY chicken coop
nailing our measured-and-cut 2x4s to the end-piece
DIY chicken house
setting up the ends before adding the side cross-pieces

Keoni had to leave for work, but I wanted to keep playing (because, um, there were 40,000 words waiting for me inside—never mind that it’s 103 degrees OUTside), so I sanded down one of the cross-boards on the “front” end of the chicken-house, got out the kids’ paints, and labeled the project with a sign: Hale Moa.

chiseled-out cross-piece for the top

We’d talked about a single cross-piece across the top center, so I traced the apex of the house-shaped end, traced that onto both ends of a two-by-four, and chiseled out the shape on each end so it rests neatly on the top.

So here’s our first day’s progress; total cost so far just under $11. And Christian & Elena Grace are due to arrive any minute, so it will be fun to see what they think! I suppose I can’t put off those forty thousand words any longer…

Ta-da, the chicken-coop frame! I guess I could take that “temporary support” off the front now…