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Archive for December, 2006

I have come across several ideas about what to do for a New Year’s Eve post.  I felt attracted by the one where you put out the first sentence of the first post of each month for the year.  Then I went and checked my first sentences of each month.  Egads, how dull.  How banal.  How un-indicative.  Anyone who wants to read them is welcome to visit my archives. 

Some people are talking about their resolutions.   I don’t make those any more.  The making and regular breaking of them is too depressing.  I count my blessings all the time, I don’t have to wait for the New Year to be induced to do that.

Really, I have found that I am a story teller, so I’m heading right for the story.

I’m over fifty, so I have experienced a lot of New Year’s Eves and Days.  Most of them don’t really stick out in my mind.   Oh, there was the year that our strong psychic connection resulted in both of us bringing home two identical bottles of champagne, so we had four bottles of bubbly that we felt compelled to try to drink.  The evening was giddy, the next morning hung over.  My resolution that year was something about not drinking too much the night before, not enjoying beginning the year with a headache.

And there was the year I actually scored tickets to the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve concert, attended in an altered state and had a profound religious experience.  That is a pretty good story, come to think of it. 

There have been numerous parties involving good friends, fireworks, and bonfires.  But nothing really stands out above the joy of greeting a “new year” with the people you love best.

But there is one New Year’s Eve that will forever stick in my mind.  Jim and I had been married for a little longer than a year.  He had managed to get promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and was scheduled for his regular duty rotation, which generally happens every 3 years.  There are all sorts of considerations when you start talking to your detailer about where you are going to go next.  He had been on a shore assignment, and had to go to a ship.  But which ship?  Where would it be stationed?   Where was he likely to go after that?

We had managed to build up a fairly sizeable credit card debt, and we wanted to get out from under it.   We wanted to save some money and use it to make a down payment on a house at our next duty station.  He wanted to have some leverage with his detailer so he could stay on the West Coast rather than have to move to the East Coast.  

Before he met me, Jim had spent a couple of assignments at Whidbey Island in Washington, and he really liked the Pacific northwest.  I had some experience with it myself, having lived for some time in Juneau.  So I was not averse to living in the Seattle area, in spite of all the rain.  Housing prices in Bremerton and Silverdale were not out of reach for us. 

An unaccompanied overseas assignment would garner us a little higher pay because of the hardship.  There was an assignment that was in an area that was considered dangerous, namely the Persian Gulf, so there was also extra pay for that.  I had a good job in San Francisco and would not have to move if he went to the unaccompanied assignment.   In fact, when he returned from it, the taxpayers of the United States, in the form of the Navy, would pay to move us to our new place.  And the detailer promised that if he went to the dangerous hardship assignment, our next assignment would be on a ship stationed in Bremerton, WA.

So, Jim chose the unaccompanied assignment, a ship called the LaSalle, which was the flagship of the Indian Ocean fleet.   He was to be gone for one entire year.  During that time, if we were lucky, he would get to come home for some leave. 

The USS LaSalle was forward stationed.   The port that she sailed out of and got supplies through was Manama, Bahrain.  She never came back to a United States port, but stayed out in the Indian Ocean until it was time for her next refit.  All personnel that were assigned to her were flown there, courtesy of the US government.  As I understand it, getting from San Francisco to Bahrain by way of Norfolk, Virginia and Rota, Spain was quite the odyssey.  But that is not my story, it is Jim’s.

When he got the new assignment, I had one of my first real tests as a “new” Navy wife.  He was ordered to be in Norfolk by 8 a.m. on the 1st of January in order to catch the military flight to Bahrain.  Needless to say, this cast rather a pall over our Christmas celebration.  But it taught me a valuable lesson in the importance of living in the moment.

Around Thanksgiving Jim had gone through his stuff and packed up the things that he wanted shipped out to Bahrain.   This included the dinner dress uniforms, which he was required to purchase since he was going to be on the Admiral’s ship and there were likely to be social occasions where he would need them.  You don’t want to know how much the Navy’s version of a tuxedo, with all accompanying insignia and miniature medals, costs.  And we had to buy TWO of them, one black, one white..   Actually, he did look rather splendid:

dinner-dress.jpg

Anyway, we decided that we wanted to spend as much time as possible together before he actually left for the overseas assignment, and so when he got his airline tickets, he got the last possible flight out of San Francisco that would get him to Norfolk in time to catch the C5A that would take him across the Atlantic.   It was a United Airlines red-eye leaving at 1:05 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Without going into too much detail, it was this particular assignment that taught us that you should not expect to have a real physical farewell when you are both under a lot of stress.  There were certain hydraulic and concentration difficulties on both our parts that made our planned ecstatic evening fizzle most depressingly.  We couldn’t drink to excess because there was a drive to the airport in the near future.  After our wonderful dinner, which I can’t remember after all this time, I watched him complete his packing chores.

I remember being astonished that he could put all the clothes and gear he needed for the next year (with the exception of those aforementioned uniforms), into one sea bag and a carry-on that would fit under the seat in front of him.  

The hour finally arrived, and we loaded up his baggage and headed off to the airport.   At that innocent time, you were only required to be an hour early for your flight.  Security consisted of walking through a metal detector, and anybody who wanted to could go to the gate area.  We wanted to spend as much time together as possible, and so we decided to go to the gate together.  Over the years we learned that the airport door drop-off is less stressful, but we were still new at this.

There was almost no one on the freeways as we drove to the airport.   It didn’t help my frame of mind any to know that all the people who were usually driving around were probably at parties: dancing, drinking, getting ready for the countdown with their loved ones. 

We got to the parking garage and found it nearly deserted.  Not surprisingly, there was an extremely convenient parking spot.  I had just gotten out of the car, and Jim was leaning over into the back seat, getting his bags out, when we heard all the taxis blowing their horns, and lots of ecstatic yelling from that direction.   We looked across the car at each other, and Jim said, “Happy New Year, dear.”  I returned the salutation in an equally unenthusiastic tone. 

Bags checked, boarding pass in hand, we went to the gate area.   All the bars in the terminal were closed, for some inexplicable reason.   So we sat there, holding hands, and not saying a whole lot.   The flight was called, one last kiss and hug, and then I watched him disappear around the corner of the flyway.  I stood at the window of the the terminal, and saw the plane button up, back up and leave the gate.

I turned to walk back to the car through the deserted terminal.  I made it a few gates down, and then I just sat down and cried.  It was January 1, 1987.   We got our bills paid by April, in spite of the amazing phone bills you incur when calling collect from Bahrain to san Francisco.  I didn’t see him again until July 19, when he came home for two weeks leave.  He returned for good from that assignment on January 11, 1988.

I’ll tell you, when young ladies complain to me about their husbands being gone over the week on a business trip, and they just don’t know what they will do with them gone “for SO LONG,” all I can do is sigh.  And I tell them, “You have it easy, honey.  I could do four days with both hands tied behind my back.”

  

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In 1980 the Libertarian Party in Alaska succeeded in having a candidate elected to office.  That would be Richard L. (Dick) Randolph, who was running for State Representative. 

The party decided that it would be most effective if we had a full slate of candidates on the ballot.  There was a pretty good Presidential candidate, Ed Clark.  My husband at the time agreed to be one of the six Fairbanks North Star Borough candidates for State Representative, along with Dick and four other guys, most of whose names escape me.  Sorry, it was a long time ago. 

The real goal of that election was for Ed Clark to receive enough votes in the national election that the Libertarian Party would no longer have to go through the petition process to get candidates on the ballot.  In pursuit of this goal the Alaska Libertarian Party felt that it was imperative that we have a campaign headquarters.  It doesn’t do any good to have a headquarters that isn’t manned, and since I was in between jobs and my husband was running for office, I volunteered.  In addition to manning the phones, I helped organize mail campaigns, I learned all the talking points, and interacted with the casual visitors to our rather spartan headquarters. 

When the votes were counted and we discovered we had actually won a seat in the State House, our elation knew no bounds.  Dick was entitled to have a secretary and a legislative aide.  He wanted someone working as secretary who not only was an excellent and experienced secretary, but who could also function as a legislative researcher and assistant aide.  The catch was, you had to relocate to Juneau for six or so months for the legislative session.  He asked me if I would like to have the job, and after I consulted with my significant other, I jumped at the job.

And thereby hangs a tale.  Of course.

The Alaska State Legislative session begins in January and lasts until May, unless there is so much legislation to cover that they can’t finish the session by then.  At that time, with all the Pipeline and Native Land Claims Settlement Act stuff going on, they rarely closed their sessions before June.  I needed to be down in Juneau and established in an apartment before the session began.

The only way to get a vehicle to Juneau is to drive it to Haines and catch a ferry from there to Juneau.  From Fairbanks to Haines is approximately 650 miles.  First you drive south to Delta Junction, then you head east to Tok.  You continue east, enter Canada, drive south to Haines Junction, and then go over the Chilkat Pass and then down into Haines.  Not a trip for the faint at heart in the dead of winter.

Lydia, Dick’s beautiful and highly intelligent wife, had already located a good place for them to live during the session.  She and Dick left for Juneau shortly after Christmas, and their 18 year old son Fred was detailed to drive their car down towing a trailer with the furniture that they needed.  His 14 year old brother Dean was to ride along with him, and I would caravan with them in my lime green Saab.

One extremely frigid January morning, we pulled out of Fairbanks and headed off down the highway towards Haines.  We had reservations for the ferry from Haines to Juneau the morning of the next day, and were planning to drive straight through.  It would be a long day, but it was doable.  The weather report was cause for some concern.  There was a pretty good storm coming in, but it looked like the pass might stay open. 

There were a lot of people who were headed for Juneau, and we didn’t want to miss our ferry reservation.  It could be a long wait for an opening if we did.

Things were going along really well.  It was snowing, but not blowing too bad when we stopped for gas in Haines Junction.  We took a break, had some lunch, filled our thermoses.  Conditions in the Chilkat Pass were deteriorating.  A Mountie had just driven through and it was snowing pretty hard.  But so far, the snow plows were keeping up and the wind had not risen too much, and they had decided not to close the highway just yet.

Fred and I decided that we had better hit the road before the weather got worse.  We were making pretty good time, and were congratulating ourselves on the fact that we would be in Haines so early we would have to stay overnight in a hotel.  Off down the highway we went, and entered the exciting territory of the Chilkat Pass.

The farther we got from Haines Junction, the heavier the snow got.  We were both experienced drivers; we had studded snow tires and front wheel drive, so we were feeling pretty confident.  The wind picked up, and our speed dropped to a crawl as the white out conditions started to settle in.  It was important to stay on the road way.  It was built up on a high gravel pad to keep the permafrost from thawing.  During the winter, the snow plows blew snow over the edge and the wind filled in the dropoff with drifts.  If you put your wheel over the edge accidentally, you would be pulled off into the deep snow.  The only remedy for that predicament was a friendly pickup truck with a winch or a tow truck.  We weren’t interested in that inconvenience.

We stopped to consult.  We decided to put Dean in my car.  I would lead, slowly, with Dean keeping a sharp eye out the passenger window to keep me from driving off the edge of the road.  Fred would follow my tail lights.  We drove slowly on.  Suddenly, I realized that Fred’s headlights were not in my rear view mirror.  Immediately I back tracked, and found him stopped, a half mile behind me.  Dean hopped out to see what was up.

What had happened was the wheel bearing on the trailer had gone bad.  He just happened to notice that the tire of the trailer seemed to be farther out than he expected to see it and had stopped to see what was going on.  The wheel was on the axle, but hanging on by about 1/8 of an inch.  If he had gone much further, it would have fallen off. 

We remembered seeing a road house about five miles back, and decided to go back there and see if they had a tow truck or a mechanic that could help us out.  Fred managed to squeeze into my back seat along with my household possessions, and the three of us left the trailer and Dick’s very nice Mercedes sitting on the edge of the road.

The road house did have a mechanic and a tow truck (which the mechanic drove), but he had gone into Haines Junction for some part or other and had not gotten back yet.  His wife plied us with coffee and pie, and we waited.  The snow fell.  We waited.  The wind started to pick up.  We waited.  Finally, several hours later, he finally got back from town.

Fred and he went off to investigate the trailer situation.  Time was still passing.  The ferry would not wait for us.  There was discussion as to whether the pass was going to have to be closed.   Fred and the mechanic came back with the car, but without the trailer. 

After a lot of telephone conferencing with Dick and Lydia in Juneau, and discussion with the mechanic and the road house hostess, this was what we decided to do.  Dean would come along with me and I would head down to Haines to catch the ferry.  Fred would stay with the car and trailer and get the trailer repaired, and then continue on to Juneau when that was accomplished.   The road house owners were happy for the business.

Dean and I got into the car and started off on our climb up into the Chilkat Pass.  The weather had not improved any.  It was snowing hard, and the wind was blowing quite hard.   This had its good points, as the howling gale was preventing the snow from accumulating on the roadway in any quantity.  Well, except for where the drifts were forming across it.  But at least you could see the edges of the road.  I figured there wasn’t likely to be a lot of traffic, and kept to the middle. 

Every once in a while, the whiteout got so bad, Dean had to open his window and hang his head out the window to see whether I was getting close to the berm at the edge.  Thankfully,  the wind dropped a bit, and I could see well enough that he didn’t have to do that any more.  At the same time, the snow started falling a lot more heavily, and it quickly became about 6 inches deep on the road.   Every once in a while we would encounter a drift that was a couple of feet deep, but these drifts were narrow and the car bashed through them pretty well.   I learned that the drifts were shallower on the far side of the road, so I aimed for that side when I saw one.  We sort of slalomed along in the broad valley that leads to the summit of the pass. 

I was grateful for the lack of other traffic, but I started to wonder where the plows were, and why the drifts were so pristine and untouched.  The piles of snow on either side of the road that had accumulated during the earlier part of the winter were about eight to ten feet high.  Solid ice, they reassured me that at least I didn’t have to worry about running off into the ditches.  On the other hand, they made a lee that was causing some very impressive drifts to form.

I looked over at Dean.  He was almost as white as the snow that surrounded us, and had a death grip on the panic bar on the dashboard in front of him.  I didn’t feel a whole lot more relaxed, but I also didn’t really want to stop and become one with the drifts.  So we persevered. 

I saw the sign that marked the summit, and figured that at least gravity would help us get through the drifts, which had gotten to the point that I was definitely afraid we were going to get high centered.   The road dropped over the edge of the mountain, and began to twist down into the valley where the US Border Station and Haines were located. 

It would have been a fun roller coaster ride if I had had rails to ride on and no responsibility for keeping the vehicle on the road.  Darkness had fallen as we proceeded through the pass.  Down the road ahead of me, I could see some sort of unearthly glow.  As I went down, it got brighter and brighter.  I wondered what was causing it.

I rounded a sharp curve and the explanation laid itself out in terrifying clarity before me.  Coming up the hill was battle line of three gigantic snow plows.  The glow I had noticed a few moments before was caused by the row of high powered lights across the top of their cabs. These impressive monsters were the sort of plows that have rotating blades to break the snowdrifts up.  The resulting powder is blown up and over the big piles that are already lining the roads.  Sort of like your little driveway snowblower on steroids.

They were working to clear the road of snow and drifts in tandem.  In spite of the fact that they were travelling up hill, they were making very good speed.  The one in front was in my lane, the second one occupied the middle of the road and the third one occupied the other lane.  They were all blowing huge clouds of snow down hill, and they were spaced about thirty feet apart.

My heart stopped beating, my breath halted as well.  Fortunately, my brain and driver reflexes went into overdrive.  I did the only thing possible.  I moved to the center of the road and headed straight for the middle plow.  As soon as I went past the first plow, I pulled sharply to the right in behind him.  Since he was spreading gravel as he went, the traction suddenly got very good, which was a really good thing because the cloud of snow the three plows were producing blinded me completely.

We continued on down the hill, the road miraculously clear in front of us.  The glow of the plows disappeared into the storm behind us.   I figured I might as well go on, since now I no longer had to contend with the drifts that had been making driving such hell only minutes before.  I looked over at Dean.  He had thrown himself back into the corner of his seat, his eyes were clenched shut, and he was as close to being in the fetal position as you can get when strapped into seat belt and shoulder harness.

“I think we’re going to be okay, now, Dean,”  I commented to him, once I could speak again.  He opened his eyes, and resumed a more normal posture. 

We dropped off the mountain, and the snow lightened.  After another hour or so, we reached the Customs Entry Station.  It was closed.  Since the Canadian Highway Patrol had closed the Chilkat Pass several hours earlier, the customs agent had gone on home to sleep and had left a note that he would be back at five in the morning.  So we waited.

He was quite astonished when he returned to his post.  We spent a few pleasant moments trying to figure out how I managed to be in the pass after the roads were closed.   We figured that the Highway Patrol’s final sweep of the road had occurred while Fred and I were trying to figure out what to do about the trailer, and when I took off from the road house they were in the act of closing the road at the far end in Haines Junction.

I know how I felt when I met the plows, I can only imagine their consternation to meet a vehicle coming through a closed road.  I imagine my heart was not the only one that stopped momentarily that night. 

The remainder of our journey was made exciting by the black ice on the road.  Granted, we weren’t going up and down hills.  Instead, we were twisting along the fjord that Haines sits on.  On one side of us was a cliff, on the other the cold black water of the Gulf of Alaska.  Dean was pretty much in shock by then, we had expended so much adrenalin by then there wasn’t any left.

We made the ferry, with minutes to spare, and slept all the way to Juneau.  Dean never got into my car again.

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We hold these truths

There is a blog written by a rather wise man who bills himself as a curmudgeon that I love to visit.  If you go to Archie’s Archive , and look on the right side, he has posted a long list of “Things that I have learned.”

I admire the idea, and considered copying it.   I may do so in the future, but I would not want to be accused of plagiarism.  Besides, I’m not sure that it is my style to put up lists.  Many of the things that Archie has learned are things that I have learned also.  Many of them came through bitter experience, accompanied by tears and lamentations, anger and fear. 

One of the things Archie has learned resonates so very strongly with my experience that I have actually formulated a Life Rule that relates to it.  Archie’s version:  “I’ve learned that you should never tell a child their dreams are unlikely or outlandish. Few things are more humiliating, and what a tragedy it would be if they believed it”  My version:  “Never tell a child they can not make a living doing what they love, especially if it is in the arts.

I was reminded of this rule the other day when Sam the Piano Man came to tune my wonderful piano.   A couple of decades ago when P. and I divorced, I received a property settlement. I was very good a frittering money away, and I didn’t want to just see that money evaporate.  One of the things I invested it in was a fine piano. 

I have always lusted after a Steinway piano, every time I have played one it seems to speak to me powerfully.  My uncle inherited a beautiful rosewood Steinway that I have always loved.  It lives in the Bay Area and should probably stay there forever since the humidity there is so beneficial to the wooden machine that it is.  In spite of the fact that I have always wished I had that piano, I would feel irresponsible to move it to a climate that would start to destroy it. 

My property settlement was not nearly enough to buy a Steinway, but what it did get me was a beautiful used Mason and Hamlin upright.  After Sam tuned it, I sat down to play it and realized that it had been far too long since I had put hands to keyboard, at least a piano keyboard.  I was very rusty indeed, and resolved to play more often in the future.

When I was a teenager, I played the piano incessantly.  It was an escape from a less than pleasant home environment.  But more than that, I loved the harmonies that came out from under my fingers.

When I was a senior in high school, I had the great fortune to study for a year with Geraldine Worcester.  She had been a student of Artur Rubenstein, and was forced to retire from her concert career by severe arthritis.  She could not play, but was a wonderful teacher who coached me, encouraged me, and cultivated my talent.

Her old teacher came to town while I was studying with her, and she took me to Mr. Rubenstein’s amazing performance one magical night.  After the concert, she took me backstage, where she was greeted warmly and embraced by the master pianist.

I stood to the side, bemused by the stature of the man who had drawn such powerful music from the piano.  On stage, he had seemed a giant, master of the huge piano.  In person, he was soft spoken, gentle, very short, very old.  After they had conversed for a short time, Mrs. Worcester drew me forward and introduced me.  She told him that she felt I had a great talent. 

He looked at me, gazed deeply into my eyes.  He said very little, but took my hands in his, and turned them back and forth, spreading my fingers and measuring my hand span.  He gave my hands back to me after a time, and told my teacher, “Her hands were made for the piano.”

Oh, she worked me hard.  I can’t tell you how many sonatas I memorized that year.  I performed in a recital almost every week.  I learned Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto.  One day at my lesson, she set up a tape recorder and made me perform for her.  A few weeks later, she told me that I had been accepted to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, if I wanted to go.  I had no idea what she was talking about. 

My parents had told me over and over again that I could not expect to make a living as a musician.  “No one makes a living at music,” they would aver.  It was stupid to even think about it, and if I brought up examples of people who DID make a living, like Heifetz or the Rolling Stones, I was contemptuously asked what made me think I was likely to be as successful?  I should figure out something to do that would earn me a good living, and I could always have music as a hobby.   This had been drummed into my head for so many years I never seriously considered being a music major, even though I loved it dearly.

So when Mrs. Worcester told me the incredible good fortune that had befallen me, my complete lack of excitement annoyed her quite a bit.   But, she assumed that my parents would understand the implications, and gave me a sheet of information to give to them.  

It was a very unsettled time on the Eastern Seaboard.  There were riots going on in many major cities.  The only caveat that Curtis had was that if I came to study there, there would need to be a safe place found for me to live.  My parents were not even remotely interested in trying to arrange for me to study piano.  I honestly do not believe that they had any more idea of the honor and prestige that winning a place at Curtis represented.  I was instructed to tell Mrs. Worcester that it was not possible to claim my place in that class.

I have no idea exactly how frustrated or angry she may have been at the incredible waste of talent that decision represented, she was far too professional to reveal that to me.  We completed the recitals that she had arranged for me to perform in.  Then she gently told me that she felt that my parent’s money would be better spent elsewhere than on piano lessons with her.

I play the piano now, and I see the remnants of a pretty fair technique there.  Who knows where I would be and what I would have achieved if I had been able to avail myself of that opportunity?  I will never know, it was many years ago and that water is long over the dam and down that river.

In spite of how much I love what I do now, and how rewarding it is for me, I cry for that loss as I write this.  That is why my policy is to never tell a talented creative person that they could never make a living doing what they love.  I never want to be the cause of such sorrow and loss for another soul.

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To blog or not to blog

Well, I got sucked in by the little headline on my dashboard and went over to the site of the minute.  I keep wondering why I am never a site of the minute or a top post.  I guess it is just because I am boring and normal.  I don’t diss Britney Spears or talk about her crotch much, and I don’t run around the blogosphere looking for the best most awesome blogs out there.  Actually, I scrolled through Bigchase’s posts about the 7 insanely great blogs and asked myself what was so great about any of them.  Places to look at clothes, t-shirts, art.  So what?

And I have just about finished reading half of the book stack I got for Christmas, only I had to stop reading Amy Tan’s book “Saving Fish from Drowning” in order to read “A Spot of Bother” by Mark Haddon.  A wonderful read, dipping into the lives of a seemingly normal English family and watching every part of those lives slowly unravel as the daughter plans her second marriage.  It all comes right in the end, you know, with the final word nailing home the message that your feelings and reactions are a choice and you can decide how your life will be.  I liked it a lot.  Laughed insanely, tried to read bits to my long-suffering husband and realized as I did so that they were only funny because of the context of the book and made no sense unless you had read the previous 100 pages.  I recommend it.

It made me wonder, why do I blog?  Why do I write here?  It takes time.  I get sucked into the world wide web and read fascinating stuff and boring stuff and completely inane stuff and very wise, funny stuff and then emerge an hour later with my hands freezing (because my computer is in a cold part of the house) and the laundry unfolded and a feeling of time passing by me like a hurricane howling.

Did a stupid drunk trick last Saturday with a log that was way too heavy for me, and now I am paying the price in badly pulled pectoral muscles on my left side.  Hopefully it will all have healed enough by Wednesday that I can start doing massage without reinjuring it.  Had a conversation with my husband about that last night as I was waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in so I could sleep, and he mentioned that I was having a very good time when I pulled my trick, and was that not worth the pain I was now suffering.  I honestly don’t know if it is true or not.  Maybe it was.  But this is perhaps why I don’t usually drink to excess, I don’t exactly relish the consequences.  Oddly enough, I never had a hangover from this episode. 

I have a new floor in my massage room, and once we get the last little painting of the trim done this morning, we will be putting everything back in there.  No more oil on carpet collecting dirt.  I am happy.

I have so much work to do.  But now I am heading off for my massage, and maybe Marlene can fix my shoulder.  I sure hope so.

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Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . 

 building-a-cabin.jpg

Well, maybe it was not another galaxy, but it was certainly many years ago and far away from here.  In fact, it was thirty years ago outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, to be exact.  The gentleman with his back to us was my husband at the time, who I shall refer to as P., and the other man was one of our very good friends.   What you see in the above picture is the inside corner of the cabin featured in this picture

We were young, idealistic, hardy and well educated.  Both of us also had a well of life experience to draw from.  We were blissfully ignorant of just exactly how shallow that well actually was.   We wanted a place of our own, and we felt sure that we could build it.  We were particularly certain because we had decided on building using the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  In addition, we had lots of friends with lots of advice and who were willing to help us.

We were committed to the idea that we were equal partners in this enterprise:  in fact we called ourselves S and S Enterprises.  We started by researching land ownership.  In order to own land together as tenants in the entirety, which would enable us to avoid any estate tax liability in the future, we either had to form a corporation or get married.  It was  a heck of a lot simpler and cheaper to get married, plus we didn’t have to have annual meetings and officers and keep minutes of our meetings if we were married.  So we decided to get married. 

In actuality, I believe that it probably is not that bad an idea to keep formal minutes of your meetings if you are married, but that is probably a completely different category than this post.

We had accumulated a certain amount of money while P. was working as a surveyor on the Alaska Pipeline.  I had a pretty good job as an organic chemistry lab technician working on campus for the Hydrocarbon Lab at the Institute of Marine Sciences. The plan was that we would spend all the money we had accumulated on building materials.  P. would build the house during the day and evenings, and I would work at IMS during the week and help on the weekends and evenings after work.

We were both in our early twenties when we got married one chilly March day.  P. went back to work for one more 10 week stint on the Pipeline, after which he was going to quit for the summer.  Then would move out to the small plot of land we had bought from one of my friends in Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and live on site while we built our place.

We had a fairly good sized tent for which P. built a platform.  It was just big enough for our double sized air mattress and a basket with our clothes in it.  Outside the tent, an open air camp kitchen was established.  We had a propane powered camp stove to cook on, and a preparation area with shelves for storing our staples.  We knew enough to keep everything in containers the mice and squirrels could not access.  Off on the other side of the driveway, in a sheltered part of the woods, another platform was built which would serve as “dead storage” for our rather meagre possessions.

The first order of business was to get a decent road in.  We had located a pretty good building site, and laid it out with the house facing south and a parking area on the east side with a y-shaped turn-around on the south of the house.  The house was going to be a rather small place, 20×24 feet with a full basement and a half loft.  We planned on building it out of 3 sided logs, furring it out on the inside and insulating the walls with 4″ of fiberglas in addition to the insulative value of the 6 inches of log, and there would be 12″ of insulation in the roof.

We had a real time crunch going when we built the place.  It generally was not possible to really start building until the ground had thawed out, unless you really wanted to use dynamite for excavation.  The deadline for being closed in was the beginning of winter.  We knew we could count on snow by the first week of October, and we were not really enamored of the idea of wintering over in a tent.

We had a backhoe operator lined up, and one day in late May he told us that the ground was sufficiently thawed and dried out enough that he could dig our basement.  He came and did the job in only one day.  I was very impressed by his expertise.  When he was done digging the basement, our job was to make it level enough to lay out our 2″ styrofoam insulation board.  Truly, it only took about an hour to do the finish leveling, the backhoe operator was that accurate in his work.

We spent the next couple of days laying out the vapor barrier, the styrofoam insulation, the welded wire mesh, and then the rebar that would be imbedded in the slab of concrete that would form the floor of the basement.  It was to be a monolithic pour:  all the footings and floor poured at once. 

We got all that work done before very late in the day before the concrete was to be delivered.  Our date with the concrete trucks was scheculed for 8 in the morning of my birthday.  We were well aware that after pouring and finishing the floor, we probably were not going to be in any mood to go out to celebrate, so we decided to go out that night instead.

I don’t know how redimix companies work nowadays in this part of the world, but at that place in that decade, you were allowed 5 minutes per yard of concrete truck time once he arrived on your property.  After that, you were charged $5 per minute for over time, which could add up pretty fast.  We had ordered 6 yards of concrete, so we knew that we had one half hour to get that out of the truck and send him on his way once he entered our driveway.  God forbid he should get stuck on the way up the hill to the building site.

We cleaned up at the showers at the gym on campus, and dressed for Dinner Out.  We truly had a wonderful meal, enjoyed some wine with dinner, and then betook ourselves over to the Palace Saloon to enjoy the show and have a few beers.  Properly relaxed, we finally headed for home. 

Imagine our surprise when we arrived there to find that we could not drive all the way up the driveway.  It was blocked by a very large pile of 6″ three sided logs, which were destined to form the walls of our cabin once the basement floor and walls were poured.  Delivery of the logs was not scheduled for a couple of weeks.  But the shipment had come in and the lumberyard thought they would do us a favor and bring them right on out so they would be on site when we needed them.  Since we weren’t there to tell them where to dump them off the tilt-bed truck, the driver very conveniently located them in the middle of our driveway so we would notice them when we got back.

I looked at P.  He looked at me.  I looked at my pumps and pretty dress, thought about the plans we had made on the way home. 

P said, “We have two choices.  We can go to bed and get up really early and move these logs before you have to head in to work, and hope we get them out of the way before the concrete truck arrives.  Or we can change our clothes and move them now.  I’m up for either way.  Of course, we don’t really know how long it is going to take to move these logs, you could be very late to work, and we could still be working on the pile when the concrete  truck gets here.  I’m not sure how prompt they will be.”

“They could be prompt like the log delivery, really early,” I replied.  We unanimously decided to shift the logs that night, and repaired to our tent to change our of our glad rags and into work clothes.   I sat on the edge of the mattress in the tent, lacing my boots, and wishing I had not eaten quite so much.

Then we got to work.  We moved every single log off the driveway.   Some of the logs were quite long, and a lot heavier than I believed I could manage.  At least they were all  well-seasoned pine.  I can’t imagine how I would have felt the next day if they had been the nice solid oak we grow around here in the Ozarks.  It was a good thing we decided to do the job that night, it took a long time, longer than we had originally thought it would.  We finally fell into bed around two in the morning, just as the twilight we had been working in began to lighten for dawn.

The next morning, I could hardly move,  and vowed to start doing more upper body workouts just as soon as I recovered from this one.  I dragged myself up, got us fed breakfast, and headed off to work.  P waited for the concrete truck, which I met coming out from town as I headed towards my day in the lab.  It was half an hour early.   

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Dragon haven

Quite a while ago, I promised portraits of some of the dragons that share the havens with us.  Here you are. 

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Tiger eye dragon.

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A macrame dragon from Bali.

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These are a couple of rather funky fellows that live in the plant area.

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This fellow is about 10 inches tall and carved from a citrine crystal mined at Minas Garas in Brazil.  The Ecuadorian artist who carved him told the guy who commissioned the piece that he would never carve another dragon, ever.  “I made a mistake,” he told the guy when he came to pick it up.  “I carved a mouth in him, and after that he never shut up.”  The dragon apparently told him in great detail how he wanted to be carved, which accounts for all the detail in this piece.

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My parents acquired this hatchling for me, back in the early 80s.

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I call this the Broody dragon.  She has been acquiring eggs for quite some time.

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This is our first dragon.  My sister bought this for me in Singapore back in 1980.  He is barely 3 inches long.

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This is the latest denizon of the  lair to arrive.  A mask by Jen, came here only three days ago and already looks like he has owned the kitchen forever.

So, there you have it, just a few of the many beautiful works of art that grace our home and bring us luck and wisdom.

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Home for the Holidays

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This is the morning after the night before.  We did not have our traditional Solstice bonfire on the night of the Solstice this year because we wanted to share it with Jesse.  So we did it last night. 

The family members of the Ozarks division of the Smiths got together at the Havens and enjoyed a little conviviality around a fire.  Our intention was to burn the huge pile of limbs that fell out of our trees a couple of weeks ago.   There was a pretty good sized stack of twiggy branches piled up on the bonfire circle, and lots more waiting off to the side.

Usually our bonfires take right off, but this one was an exception.  It required a lot of babying and nurturing and encouragement in the way of kindling and dry wood from our woodshed before it was really happy.  Ultimately, we decided that the wood supply that fell out of our elms because of the ice storm will have to season a little longer before we attempt to burn it.  So we contented ourselves with burning wood from the den tree that fell last year, and the pile of half rotted but extremely well seasoned stuff that Jim had brought home from a friend’s place several years ago.

I admit that I imbibed rather more fermented malt and hops beverage than I am accustomed to, so perhaps I was overly sentimental.  But I stood by the fire late in the evening and watched my father, my son, and my husband engaged in story-telling and playing with Ruby, and I felt incredibly blessed to be standing in that place at that time.

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I’m not sure what was so sweet about it.  Perhaps it was seeing the three men that are important in my life enjoying each other and the moment.  Perhaps it was the beer.

At the time I took this picture, my mother was sound asleep on my couch.  My parents spent the afternoon out in the woods with their tractor.  Apparently there was some sort of accident involving the hydraulic system and they had to repair it in situ because without trans/hydraulic fluid the beast would not run.  Picture my 81 year old dad and my 78 (79 in 3 days) year old mother wrestling around with a tractor, which my dad reports was intimately involved with a rather large brush pile at the time.  No wonder she was so tired.  I’m surprised Dad wasn’t exhausted too, but apparently he wasn’t.

It became a relaxed and convivial atmosphere as the three generations of men sat around telling stories, eating and playing with the dog.  I was puttering with the fire, and cycling back and forth from the backyard to the house, so I wound up outside their little circle and able to observe it.  I feel privileged to see the beautiful way the three generations have come to relate to each other. 

Tomorrow is Christmas.  Looks to be a good day.  Hope yours is wonderful too.

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