Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Promise

So I live in an older apartment complex in a neighborhood where people walk or run, have animal companions, tend to vote on the progressive side of things, and plant plants that bloom.  We're close to the library and the churches, so people still mind their manners, have their heads in  books, ride their bikes, or are bent over a computer.  Some of us have chickens in the backyard and gardens in our front yards.

I have a tiny, tiny yard, maybe 5 feet by 3 feet.  When I moved in, it was packed-down dirt, frequented by squirrels who were burying black walnuts and chasing down lots of spiders.  It still doesn't actually have grass.

Several years ago, I dug up some self-replicating violets from the back of the building and replanted them in that space.  Since then, they have taken over.  It's also invaded by Oregon Grape, a few daisies, some things I can't identify, such as tall, tall bushes with lots of parts springing up from the ground.  The Oregon Grape dominates the back fence, and clings to the screens of my bedroom window.  In the summer, I gather pots of flowers, maybe petunias, maybe geraniums.  Our tiny backyard is graceful, shady, deeply green, and overgrown.

The reason for this mild abandon?  My cats.  Both Pax and Obi love this little sweet rag-tag garden.  They hide there on hot afternoon under the broad leaves, cooled from the irrigation waters, and protected from big dogs.  Kitty heaven.

A few years ago, we got a tree.  It flew in on the breezes or maybe a squirrel planted it.  I spotted it when it was no more than a twig, watched over it, sheltered it, watered it, watched it as it threw branches, and cheered it on when the limbs started to develop and separate.  Our little tree is the cheeriest little guy.  He makes me happy.

We had a surprise this week.  Our little tree is covered in large, white, rotund blooms.  The newest member of the family is turning out to be quite the beauty.  A beauty that's kept it's promise.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Big Build

Sometimes life offers you the most extraordinary experience.  Saturday was one of those days for me.  450 of my closest friends and I framed two houses for two refugee families in about three hours.  Our partners in blessings: Habitat for Humanity and Crossroads Ministries.  I'd never heard of the Crossroads folks, but they do the organizing for events such house framings.  We loved all of them.

See, we have this newish pastor, Pastor Duane, and he has lit a fire under us.  His take on things:  Christianity is community, and it doesn't stop at the parameters of the church parking lot.  You'd best be about helping out your fellow men and women and kids.  It hardly matters if those fellow folks are in Africa, Mexico, or in your own neighborhood.  (And if you want to know what his Saturday was like:  he pounded nails and hauled lumber for 3 hours, then ran Robie Creek Saturday afternoon [a half marathon over the top of a mountain then down the other side—for my Russian buddies], then conducted 4 church services on Sunday.  Gives you an idea about his energy levels.  The rest of us are huffing and puffing to keep up.) 

Here was the surprise:  how many guys showed up to work and work hard.  Spirituality is one of those fussy aspects of life, open to interpretation and experience.  Hand a guy a hammer and a task.  Tell him he is directly helping out a dad with four little kids and a pretty wife, who all escaped from revolution, starvation, and war in a far off land.   Our men will be there—in spades. 

Highlights:  So my carpentry skills are miserable.  Didn't matter.  I could pound some nails.  I did find a calling:  picking up bent nails that might harm kids and unwary workers.  Gotta be a metaphor in there somewhere.  Tom, our team leader, was a hardworking guy.  So was 
Chip, a guy who spent some serious time in Iraq and is now equally serious about building houses of peace.  So were the dozens of other team leaders.  On task.  On time.

You sorta have to hear the sounds of 400 hammers, pounded hard against hard wood, to believe it.

Woody and Sharon bought breakfast for all 450 volunteers including a bazillion little kids and the volunteers from the Church.

The kids were the most fun.  We had five little kids on our team, under the age of five, carefully tended by moms, grandmoms, aunties.  The kids were furious pounders.  One little guy hardly hit the nails.  He didn't blink for an hour.  Fully engaged in the task.  Our kids worked at getting three boards pounded together.  The team leader would put an X on the board where he  wanted the nails to go.  Kids and I went to work setting the nails in place.  Pastor Duane's kid, (some kids have a high cool factor), came by and finished off pounding the nails.  Otherwise, we'd still be there.

The kids drew art work along the planks.  One of the most charming aspects of the whole day was that we could write words of encouragement and love on the house frame.  I don't know how many wobbly "God loves you" inside crooked little hearts there were.  Lots.  Another metaphor for the having.  One little guy on my team wrote  "good luk when you liev."  I'm not too concerned about his grammar and his spelling.  

He is 4-years-old.  Maybe a very mature three.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The New Basics

We all have basic recipes we can trust with our lives.  They always work.  They do in a pinch.  They taste great, even if you come at it with all of the subtlety of a weed-whacker.

Mine is a salad I've taken to countless potlucks, countless picnics, countless family get-togethers. It absolutely goes with anything.  Fried chicken.  Shrimpies.  A veggie Lasagna.   Pork and beans. Thai beef.  Hot dogs.

I love the English recipe for green salad:  simply bung everything in.  Keep calm and carry on.  We call this magic food green salad.  Not as original as you might wish, but there's a joke here.  Everything in it is actually green.

Green Salad

Some kind of lettuce:  An iceberg lettuce or a lovely leaf lettuce.  Put a little water on it and let it sit in the fridge for a half an hour or so, so it's really crisp.  Wash all the veg.

Cucumber, green onions, celery. Peeled, if you need it, and sliced thinly.  I use the inner parts of the celery and include the leaves.

Half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley.  Roughly chopped.  You can use more if you really like the parsley.  We do.  Surely, you can substitute other herbs to adapt to your own menu.

Salt and pepper, white wine vinegar, a good olive oil.

You can put it together in about 10 minutes.  Really, really fresh.  Really, really good.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Spring in the Pacific Northwest has it's nasty side, especially during the early part of the season.  The sky is blue with a few cotton balls for clouds,  in the 50s, not counting the wind chill.  It feels like 35 degrees.  How bad is it?  I wore anklets with my clogs and capris to the grocery store.

Just so you know.

Met with my home team for coffee this morning.  I might be the youngest of the bunch; maybe.  Last birthday I tacked on an extra year and told people I was sixty-six.  I was off by a year.  But these gals, they have more publishing credits after their 60th birthdays than before and even better memories.

Oh.  So.  Impressive.

The other thing that happens is that ideas just pop.  Somebody sets the original task, the original writing. That leads to another idea, and then another.

Our task this morning was to write from the point of view of a real historical personage, gleened from a old photograph.  Ellie wrote a letter to an imaginary sister in a mid-western state. The letter was the discovery of the depth of fun and freedom women were discovering West of the Rockies — and what  it meant to have a real place and a real function in our little city.  It was such a wonderful piece of work and so true to the spirit of the West that ideas on how to use it, how to present it bounced it off the tables and the walls right, left, and center.  

Stay tuned.

Or we could write poems about spring.

So Rita and I wrote poetry, poems being a momentary stay against confusion.  Spring poems.  Here's mine:


This spring, early days yet,
teases, without mercy,
like a reluctant lover,
fresh fleshed, eager,
and yet, and yet.

Some days are so cold,
today perhaps,
although the evidence is
yet to be.

The tulips have yet to open,
The daffies tilt their heads.

Yet to come: salted asparagus
and strawberries, unendurably sweet,
still a promise,
not yet a sigh.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Don't Mess with the Cat

Yesterday was a big day.  Workmen were at work on a project in my apartment and I had to leave for the day.  That was Ok, but any living thing had to go with me.  Plants outside.  CD and DVDs were at risk.  Make up had to go in the fridge.  There were bugs lose in the building and the whole dang place was going to be heated to 140 degrees.

So, off Obi and I go.  Obi is a beautiful kitty, a 15-pound, pure-bred Ragdoll, which is a kind of Siamese with electric blue eyes. We had a great day at cousin Julie's house, except for this:  she is allergic to cats and Obster had to spend the day in the garage.  Julie and I watched the Saturday cooking shows on PBS, and then Davis Cup Tennis, which hosted the most stunning doubles match, won by the Serbians.  Americans were beyond brilliant, but there was this one guy. . .  We lost in the last possible second by the slimmest of margins, after 27 matches in the 5th set.  

Obs was in the garage and I'd go out to visit him about every 40 minutes and since Julie's garage is FULL of mysteries and wonders that was quite all right with the cat.  A little after lunch Obi got fed up with being in the garage.  It was a little cold.  He wouldn't eat.  He wouldn't pee.  And then the little bugger found a place to hide and wouldn't talk to us, wouldn't come when he was called, wouldn't come and lace through my feet, his usual mode of communication.  For seven solid hours.  

We didn't know where he was, whether he'd gotten out and wandered off (not an unknown activity in cats).  But we searched for the better part of two hours, went through every hidey hole in the garage, banged on the hood of the car, called him and called him and called him.  Not a peep.  Not a meow.  Not a purr, a whimper, a sign.  

I have a new/old metaphor for silence — as quiet as cats.

We were saved by an unlikely hero, the local eight-year-old kid and his side-kick, the closing-in-on-adulthood CT.  Obi was still in the garage, but he was in the back part of the shelving behind piles of garden hose.  Austin, the 8-year-old, wrestled him out.  CT got him in the house.   I'd about given up with finding him and thought I might have to go home without Obi.  I walked into the house after a peruse of the garden, and there they were: Obi, Austin, CT, and Julie.  They were wrestling him into his kitty carrier.  Obi was just putting up a nominal fight on general principles,  so it wasn't a serious argument, so in he went after only a few bites and clawings.

Obi gets home, gets out of his carrier, utterly unperturbed and unrepentant.  But I can tell he is happy to be out of the garage and happy to be home.  He chows down, the first food he's had all day.

I got me a new hero.