Stepparent of the Year?

This is the kind of stepparent I am:

Last summer, we went to a wedding for one of Matt’s cousins. Ethan, then six, looked dashing in his suit. We accepted that he would play in it and get it dirty, so there was only one problem: the clip on tie.

Apparently the metal of the clip was touching his neck and irritating him. We made it as comfortable as possible but it’s not like we could loosen it.

After the pictures were taken, I got an idea. I told him, “you know, if you clipped it to your back buckle loop, it wouldn’t touch your skin. And it would look like a tail!”

Ethan was delighted and he wore it on his butt the rest of the wedding, which delighted others as well. But Matt was not pleased. I’m not sure his parents approved either, though usually Ethan can do no wrong.

“He’s wearing it!” I protested. “I’m a genius!”

No more was said about it, but next time I guess I need to go through Matt before I make any more of my costuming compromises.

Pottery Show Pics

If I could make a living making things with my hands, that would make me very happy. I would sell pots and plates and knitted blankets and baked goods. I would make things all day long.

Unfortunately, I don’t make enough money with these things to even cover the cost of materials and studio time, let alone to generate a surplus. But even if I did, I want to keep paying my mortgage on my house with a yard. And I want to go to restaurants that serve Brussels sprouts on small plates cooked in some new delicious way that no one has thought to cook a Brussels sprout before, probably involving bacon and for an average cost of $3 per sprout.

So… it’s the 9-5 life for me. Until I find a way to get people to spend $100 on a hand made mug, that is.

Meanwhile, I dabble. My pottery studio had an open house event last weekend and I showed off my latest creations. Here are some photos I took of my stuff. I sold a bunch, including all the owls (which I am calling “planter buddies,” the idea being that you put them in with your plants), several bowls, and all the blue succulent planters.

This was the first time in a while that I went in and made this much new stuff for a show. It was great because I reminded myself just how much I really love working with clay. Which is great because I sold enough stuff that now I need to get back in to the studio to start making Christmas presents.

Writer’s Envy

For most of my life, I used the words “envy” and “jealousy” interchangeably. Sometime in the last year, however, I learned that there is a distinct difference between the two emotions.

Envy is the feeling of inadequacy that one feels when faced with another person’s success or status that you wish you had.  Jealousy, on the other hand, is the inadequacy you feel when faced with the threat of losing something you already have (such as a partner or a position) to someone else.

In short, they are both crappy feelings that derive from a sense of insecurity. But they are not quite the same crappy feeling.

I learned yesterday that I friend of mine got her memoir published. I don’t mean that she got a book contract, mind you. I got an invitation to a reading and book signing event next week. So… that shit’s for real.

I want to be happy for her. On some level I think I am. She’s a wonderful person who has lived a hard life and has taken those breaks and bruises and courageously made them into art. I have loved what I have read of her manuscript in our workshops. It is funny and heartbreaking and written with stark beauty and raw power.

And yet… I am also a writer. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find I’m totally vulnerable to feeling this kind of covetous burning, but I’ve been feeling it. Envy. Ugly and viscous envy, stinking and as slow to push through as primordial pond sludge.

I’m in a lot of writing groups and I have, over the years, seen many people break through various layers of success. They land agents and book contracts. I even have another friend who is on book tour right now, as a matter of fact. I haven’t felt this way about them, though, and I’m trying to figure out why. My best guess is that those friends don’t write in my genre, so I never felt like I was competing with them in the first place.

A funny and heartbreaking memoir, on the other hand? That’s what I am going for. Maybe I feel like there are only so many of those that will get published (which is not untrue) and that gap just narrowed a bit for me.

The last time I felt this way was about four years ago, when someone I know had a play produced through a local theatre company. I knew him back in my twenties when we worked together at a large national chain bookstore. Based on that two-year experience, you should just assume that most of the people who work in bookstores are aspiring writers of one genre or another. Back then, this guy was a journalist and I was a playwright. That said, imagine my surprise when, fifteen years later, I saw in the paper that he had written a comedic play about disgruntled intellectuals working at a large bookstore during the Christmas season, which was totally a play I was totally going to get around to writing one of these decades!

It hit me like a punch, but I swallowed my pride and went to see it. (After all, didn’t Liz Gilbert warn us all about what happens when you don’t act on inspiration?) About half way through the play , there was a bit where the brainy booksellers are having a deep conversation in the break room and you hear a girl ask for back-up at the “cash/wrap.” As in, cash register and wrapping area at the front of the store. They ignore her and keep talking. The third time we hear her voice, she says, “Cashiers to the cash/wrap, for the love of God, cashiers to the cash/wrap.”

That was me! I totally did that! And it was perfect, because it made all the cranky holiday shoppers in that long-ass-line laugh, which is exactly what the moment called for. And then, once they got up to my cash register, they were so nice to me because they saw how hard I tried to get them out the door as quickly as possible.

I did get in a little trouble with my manager. I didn’t get “written up” or whatever. But he did give me one of those eye-brow defined expressions and a stern voice that said, “Not funny, Rachel,” the next time he walked by. But it was. It was really funny. In fact, it was funny enough to make it into a comedy written fifteen years later, and I don’t mind saying, it got a good laugh from the live audience.

I got home from the performance and I sent the playwright a message through Facebook, ostensibly to congratulate him on his accomplishment, but mostly to take credit for the line I contributed.

He wrote back an hour or so later to say thanks but that he didn’t remember me doing that. He kindly added that of course that didn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it was such a long time ago, and maybe it just lodged itself in his subconscious the way things do.

Which is, I am certain, the truth. It was not, however, what I wanted to hear. Then I switched over to his personal page to do some Facebook stalking while I was at it, because why not? I was already obsessing. Might as well do it properly.

I knew he was married to an adorable wife with an adorable toddler and had another little one on the way. The discovery I made that night was he had just surprised his little nuclear family with the world’s cutest puppy as an early Christmas gift, and the photos of his toddler and the puppy were beating me over the head like a yule log, which was quickly getting covered in blood and hair.

To add a little context, at the time my relationship status was in limbo. I was with a man who moved in with me and then had to go back to South Carolina to work things out with a property he had there, “for a little while.” That was the previous March. I held out through the summer without any clarification, and then the summer turned to fall, and the temperature steadily dropped. Suddenly, it was the holidays I was forced to accept that I had been abandoned. I wanted to break up with him and get back on the dating market, but my 1,500 square foot house was chockablock full of his shit. Not only that, he left two cars in my driveway. I tried to think of a story that would make sense to some dude that I brought back to my place to explain my excessive love of automobiles, but I hadn’t come up with a good one yet. And I needed to get laid.

In addition (and needless to say) I didn’t have a new play or a baby or a puppy or any such bundle of joy to keep my mind occupied that Christmas. I had a mortgage and abandonment issues. Also, I had the new revelation that even when I do manage to do something truly funny, I’m so forgettable that people assume that they, themselves, must have been the one to come up with it.

Oh, envy. You are so gross and mean. The worst part of that envious feeling, that ugly swamp hag trying to pull herself out of the bog feeling, is the fact that the person I was losing to wasn’t even aware that I thought I was competing with him! He was too busy reading his play reviews in the newspaper, most likely by the fireplace in a wing-backed chair with an ottoman and matching plaid robe and slippers, with the stockings hung on the mantle and robust puppy snores rumbling at his feet, like a goddamned Norman Rockwell illustration from 19 fucking 26.

Or maybe he did suspect. God, that’s actually worse. Writer’s envy is common. He must have been tuned in to it. What if there was an edge in my message that he picked up on? I wonder if my friend with the upcoming signing suspects me or any of her other writing friends of covetousness? That would make me sad.

It is a rainy afternoon and as I write this I am sitting on my couch ruminating on envy and the way it seems to come up in different situations, and I’m strangely remembering something long lost in memory.

Many years ago (though after the bookstore years), my ex-husband and I bought a house. I remember the first time my parents came to see it, I was excited to show my mother the kitchen because it had this beautiful view of the Wasatch Mountains. It also had a convection oven and a marble island and loads of counter-space, but I wasn’t thinking about those things. Not until Mom walked in, took it in, then had to walk back out to another room to hide the tears in her eyes.

My parents have lived in a Victorian house from the 1850s my entire life. My dad worked as an architect and was always “going to get around to fixing it up,” but somehow that never happened. My mom, therefore, has spent the last fifty years in a house without a functional oven, range, or dishwasher. The plumbing barely works for Chrissakes. The thing that makes me really sad, something I learned just a few years ago, was that she was still working in Oregon back in the 70s when my dad came out to Utah to look for a job and he bought the house without consulting her. By the time she saw it, they owned it. I think she hoped it would be temporary, but they still live there as I write this in late 2019.

I’m sure on some level my mother was happy for me when we moved into that beautiful house. But we can’t control the emotions that come up in those situations, any more than I can help feeling the way I do about my friend’s book. I don’t like it, though. Which is why I’m writing this: to work through the silliness of it and maybe to confess my sins. Regardless, I know I’m in the wrong. And for the record I plan to be over it soon so that I can be earnest in my elation for my friend at her reading. It is really important to me to go and help her celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

Unless she also gets a puppy. If that happens, that bitch is dead to me.

An Ode to Turning 42

Happy Birthday to me,

My chest has a “V”

I’m older than the internet…

And it’s hard to not pee.

Suburban Jungle

Ok guys, gotta warn you before you read on: there is grossness ahead! (Gross as in dead rats… nothing pervy.)

We had a rough week for the wildlife in and around the house.  Don’t panic; Wensley is fine! But we’ve had some other issues.

It started with the rats, actually. I love backyard birding, but feeders attract rodents.  That’s been an issue ever since I first moved in to the house and invested in my feeders. I don’t mind the squirrels, which I realize is basically a form of rodent racism. But they are cute and rats are not. So the squirrels can stay. The rats have to fuck off.

I have tried all the different types of traps that they have at Home Depot and the only kind I have had any luck with are the old timey Tom and Jerry wood and guillotine wire ones.  I bought a big one because these rats are huge.  Actually, I bought several because I looked out the window one morning and saw that I had a whole family crowding around under the feeder, picking through the seeds that the birds dropped on the ground.

I quickly discovered that rats don’t eat the part skim mozzarella that I buy for snacks to try to keep the calories down. They insist on the good cheese because apparently, I have snobby rats, like Patton Ozwalt’s character in Ratatouille.  Only if they do decide they want the cheese (because it is quality locally sourced sharp cheddar), they will find a way to grab it off the trap without triggering it. These are seriously smart rats!

Maybe I should have invited them in and asked them if they could cook and then hire them and live happily ever after. Only, there’s no way because I couldn’t even get past that idea when it was just a cartoon. I sat through the entire movie feeling like I needed to wash my hands. By the end I needed to take a bath in hot Purell. Then, shortly after, I heard that Peter O’Toole died, and I am still convinced it is because those chefy rats gave him the bubonic plague.

After the good cheese, I decided that I needed something messier. I took a small cut of an apple and I smeared it in peanut butter.  That was tricky to set up and the trap snapped closed on me. I didn’t lose any fingers but I did invent a new type of cluster bomb that spreads peanut butter from hell to breakfast. If your enemies have peanut allergies, it would be quite lethal. I’m still finding spattered globs on the backyard furniture.

I did finally manage to get the trap set up. Unfortunately, the ants ate all the peanut butter off bait before the rats got to it.

That was about mid-week and Matt had the idea that we should go out that night. He got tickets to a Bees game, our local Minor League Baseball team.  Ethan is seven now and loves going out to games. He especially loves the Bees because they have a nice playground and he can’t sit through a whole game.  Of course, it turns out that none of us could. Sit through the whole game, that is. It was hot as hell and the innings were taking forever. We finally left just after the seventh inning stretch because it was after 10 pm and we needed to get the kiddo to bed.

Back at home, Matt made a terrible discovery while Ethan was changing into his pajamas.  “Oh no!” he yelled, making all of us stop in our tracks. “I think Kaa is dead!”

Back when the boys moved in with me two years ago, I had only one reservation, and that was the pet snake, Kaa (named for the python in Rudyard Kilpling’s, The Jungle Book). He was a twelve-year-old corn snake and he was humongous. Here is a photo I took when we first got his terrarium set up in Ethan’s new room.

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And here is a photo of Matt holding the last skin Kaa shed.

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I never measured Kaa, but Matt is over six feet tall.  You can see what I’m talking about.  Big. Ass. Snake.

Once he moved in, I completely forgot about him.  We actually had to write his feedings on the calendar to keep track of them, or we would have forgotten. Matt fed him a frozen rat (thawed, of course) once every two months or so.  Then shortly after that there would be a slimy reptilian turd to clean up.  Matt once told me that if I was bored I could take care of those for him.  I laughed. Like it is possible to get that bored. I told him, “I will clean up every accident Wensley ever has but I’m not touching that stuff.”

Other than that, Kaa was the easiest pet on earth.  I never bonded with him.  I couldn’t even make myself touch him.  I knew he wasn’t dangerous, but I couldn’t make my hand go near him.  It’s like there was an instinctual imperative – something hard coded in my DNA – that just wouldn’t allow it.  But God Damn I didn’t want him to die!

I went into Ethan’s room to give him a hug and that’s when the smell hit me.  Matt has a terrible olfactory sense.  We’ll be driving along and I’ll say that I smell a skunk and we will have to go another five miles before he will smell it.  I started clawing at the window to get it open. As I mentioned before, it was damn hot and we had turned the A/C down before we left to be green. Not realizing, obviously, that Kaa would decided to buy they farm and start the decomposing process.

I pinched my nose closed and walked over to the terrarium. I guess I wasn’t expecting to be able to tell that he was dead by looking at him, just by the smell. After all, snakes have no faces. It didn’t occur to me that they could have tortured facial expressions. I was wrong. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. His mouth was wide open and his little onyx-black eyes – once his only “cute” feature – were sunken and dried.

“What are we going to do with him?” Matt asked.  I knew exactly what he meant. It was nearly eleven at night and still ninety-five degrees outside.  The smell was overwhelming. We just couldn’t put Kaa outside or in the garage for the night and then bury him in the morning.  The smell would attract racoons, or worse.  I decided that we had to do what my biologist sister would do.  I went to the kitchen to clean out some space in the freezer. A lot of space.

I grabbed Ethan’s sleeping bag so that he could sleep down in the basement with us, away from the stench. At first, Matt protested, asking if that was really necessary.  Then, as he picked up the lifeless snake with a garbage bag like you might do with a giant dog shit, the smell finally hit him. “Oh my God!!!”

The next day we had a little funeral.  Ethan took a nice river stone he had collected on one of our hikes and made it into a headstone. It had a grass stain on it because I had thrown it at a rat a few days before, but we decided that Kaa would appreciate that.  Then we buried him in a nice spot under the bird feeder.  We talked about what a good snake he was, and mused out loud that he might enjoy being near the birds and the rats.

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It gave me an idea, in fact. That night, I went back out with a trap loaded with a peanut butter smeared cracker.  This time, instead of just setting it below the feeder in plain sight, I buried it so that the wooden slat was hidden and only the bait was visible.  The next morning, I went outside with Wensley on his early morning constitutional and saw that I had caught something.

I pulled the trash bin into the back yard and grabbed my shovel from the shed.  It wasn’t until I got close to the trap that I realized there were two dead rats in it.  It was the two juveniles of the family. They must have got to the bait and the same time and were both caught when the bar came down.  I started to feel heartless for having done this, and so I reminded myself that I didn’t kill them to be a dick. They aren’t safe! We have a dog and a second grader! Neither of whom need rabies or the plague! I had to do it!

“Ug,” I said out loud as I lifted the rats and trap with my shovel, refusing to get any closer than that. “Sorry guys.” And then I dropped them into the trash bin and closed the lid.  Then I went in search of some Purell.

That should have been the end of the story, but there’s more.  Just a few days later, my younger sister and her family came to town for a visit. We were all hanging out at my older sister’s house. One of my nephews came running in from the yard yelling, “There’s a dead thing! It’s a chipmunk or a rat or something! And it’s gross! I can’t play back there!”

I gave the universe this look:

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Then I said to the other adults, “It’s okay, I got it. I’ve been training for this.”

I grabbed a plastic shopping bag out of the closet and followed my nephew out to the yard.  It was not a chipmunk. It was a juvenile robin.  It didn’t have a head but I was able to identify it by the scattered belly feathers.  “It’s just a bird,” I told my nephew.  “Looks like a cat got it.”

He took a few steps back as I wrapped my hand in the bag and then took a hold of it. There was a stick that had fallen on top of the bird so it was awkward to grab. I ended up having to flip it over.  As soon as I did I yelped in horror. A golf ball sized mass of writhing maggots pulsed in the open chest cavity, like a new myriad chambered heart.  My nephew moved to look but I warned him off.  I flipped the bag inside out, capturing the entire “disgusterous” (to quote the BFG) mess and disposed of it the same way I had the rats.

We went back inside and I (you guessed it) washed my hands for fifteen minutes.  I even made my nephew wash his hands and he hadn’t touched it. My mom asked what was going on and I ended up telling her the whole story of my crazy week of death and decay.

That is when Mom told me that when she first got married she used to re-use mouse traps to save money. “I’d just open up the wire and toss the dead mouse out, and then I’d use it again.”

That blew my mind.  For just one second, cleaning up that gross dead bird for my nephew, I felt like an adult. That is a rare feeling for me.  Sometimes I still feel like I’m twenty, but only until I spend a little time with someone who actually is in their twenties, and then I’m like, “Nope. I’m forty.” But even after all these years of having a real job and making mortgage payments, I never feel like a bona fide adult.  Then my nephew asked for someone to protect him from a dead thing and even though I hadn’t particularly wanted to, I stepped up and I did it. Like a grown up. Then I tried to picture myself pulling back the wire on one of those traps and taking the limp mouse out because my family needed to save that dollar… and I realized that I will never be that adult. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Tube Scarf: Finished!

At long last! It took all summer, but the tube scarf is finally done. (I wrote about the failed attempt back in this post.) These little stitches are no joke, my friends!

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I really like this pattern.  And not just because it is free, but I am cheap AF so that certainly is nice. I love how there is only a public side (or “right” side, as most knitters say) and that makes it soft from every angle that touches your skin. When I first started working on it a few people asked me what the heck I was making, with a raised eyebrow and a doubtful frown, as it didn’t look like any kind of scarf they had ever seen. But now that it’s done I think it’s nifty. I’m even proud of how even my stitches are… though when I go back and look at the photo on the pattern I’m amazed at the work. How do they do that? These are not knitters, people.  They are wizards!

 

My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

NOTE: Sorry for the re-post, but I do love this one! Happy Pioneer Day or Pie & Beer Day! And if you do not celebrate either because you are a normal person, I hope you are having a great Wednesday!

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

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My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

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The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Proof of Life

I had better luck today! I didn’t get as close as I would have liked because I didn’t want to scare him into the basement again. I feel confident that it is my same old owl because he has the same asymmetrical left “ear” tuft.

It’s weird, but it really hurt my feelings when he hid from me the other day. It was a flashback to those early tween years when you realize that life isn’t like the movies; your crush doesn’t always (or ever) crush back. That’s the “crushing” part.

I guess that’s why I love dogs so much.

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He’s Back! (And so am I)

I took a hiatus from blogging for a bit. I’ve been traveling for work and for fun and it’s been difficult to write. I’m home for the foreseeable future, however. So here’s to getting back into the routine!

More importantly, Owlbertson is back! I saw him in his tree a few days ago! I stopped to get a photo of him to post here, but as soon as I got out of my car he jumped down into the hole he likes to perch in and disappeared. So maybe that’s why I haven’t seen him in such a long time; it turns out he has a basement!

So, no photo. Sorry about that. Instead, here is a description of a conversation I had last night with a ten-year-old.

I went to see the Avett Brothers with some friends.  They were playing at this huge venue here in Utah called USANA, which is far away from downtown Salt Lake City, near the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains. My friends each brought one of their children, which was fun. It also made us behave a little better than we sometimes do when we go to see live music when we are completely off Mom duty.

It was between sets and I suddenly smelled a cloud of marijuana funk wafting over from nearby. I could see on the kids faces that they registered the stink, and for some reason I decided to tell a fib about it. Maybe to protect their innocence just a little longer.

“Oh no,” I said. “Smells like there’s a skunk!”

“Yeah,” said the ten-year-old girl. “But where could it be?” looking around at all the people and wondering how a skunk could possibly be mingling among us without a mass freak-out.

I pointed toward the mountains just beyond the stadium. “Out there, somewhere, I guess.”

“Huh,” she said. “Must be. But the funny thing is, I went to a country music concert a few months ago, and there was a skunk there, too!”

“That is a coincidence!” I said.

It’s a lot harder to protect kids from the “skunks” of the world now that it was when I was growing up. Then again, I grew up in Utah County, the capitol of Mormondom, in the 80s, and we truly did have more skunks than joints. *Sigh.* It was a simpler time.

 

Dark Wings, Dark Words

Things that have been getting me down, in order of least importance to most importance:

1.) It has been raining a lot.  Like, A LOT.

2.) Game of Thrones is over.

3.) I haven’t seen Owlbertson in weeks and I’m starting to accept that something has happened to him.

Yes, I know. We need the rain. Shows come to an end. And it is never a good idea to name a wild animal. One must accept these physical laws or face certain heartbreak. But… still.

I have one of those constitutions that is susceptible to influence of dark weather. The winter ended some time ago and tomorrow is the first day of June, which I consider “real summer,” not just the technical summer that starts after the equinox. And yet, you wouldn’t know it.  Here is a photo I took of a parking lot a few days ago:

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I’m not kidding.  Those ducks are floating in parking spaces. It’s been intense. And I live in a desert, so… not what I signed up for. But I heard a report on NPR yesterday that our reservoirs are full for the first time in years and that’s good for both urban and wild ecosystems, and so I’m dealing.

As for the Game of Thrones thing,  I won’t give spoilers or bore you with my assessment. There is nothing original left to say. And it wouldn’t matter anyway.  Let’s say that I loved the last season and the finale, and it gave me everything I was hoping for. It’s still a bummer.  Remember the last time you turned a page on the last Harry Potter novel and you knew that was it? There was no more? It’s like that. There are no new twists or reveals coming from that world; it’s done. And I’m mourning it like the loss of a long followed but never known personally celebrity. You didn’t care about me, but I cared about you, and I’m sad that you are gone.

The owl is a completely different matter.  The owl is someone that I knew personally, if not intimately. In fact, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t like me very much. But once I spotted that owl the first time about a year ago, I became obsessed.  It was the highlight of my walks and I looked for it every time I went passed that tree. It was so exotic and amazing to be able to see an owl in the light of day! And it was something that I looked forward to during the sometimes very lonely hours of working from home.

It is fortunate, therefore, that – after many years – I was sent in to my company’s headquarters in New Jersey for a few days this month. I had a chance to interact with my real co-workers face to face and I underestimated just how much I miss that, working from home. I was delighted to see that, coincidentally, my coworkers have their own wild companions attached to their wing of the corporate office.  They call it the raven’s nest.

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This is the story that I heard while I was visiting.

Our company’s CEO, who doesn’t have a name (weird, right?), but let’s call him Maximilian Von Richypants for the story, also has an office in this building. One day, he came to work after months of jet-setting and big-deal-making, and discovered that two besotted ravens had begun to build their honeymoon home outside the window of his office.  The nest is one thing… the poop which accompany’s it is quite another. There is also a considerable amount of noise. Maximilian snapped his fingers and a butler in a tuxedo appeared (I don’t actually know what happens at my company). The butler was instructed to “deal vis zees birts!” (My CEO is actually not a German commandant.) The butler clapped his hands twice, causing a flurry of activity, and then used the pristine white cloth draped over his arm to blot the sweat of Maximilian’s brow, telling him that everything would be alright, “sir.”

Some version of this happened. Then, the following Monday, my lowly co-workers came to work to discover that the birds, reacting to the destruction of their nest, had decided to rebuild on the other side of the building.  They rebuilt quickly and soon there were eggs.  I had heard about the ravens and the “baby watch” on a few of our conference calls. There was quite a celebratory mood on the line when the two hatch-lings made their first appearance. Any yet, seeing it for myself was special.

By the time I arrived the “babies” were four weeks old and indistinguishable from the parents, each of which was larger than my Yorkshire terrier. Ravens are quite intelligent and one of my coworkers demonstrated this by tapping on the glass, spurring the “baby” (seen above) to tap back in imitation.

In fairness to my CEO, the poop streaks are no small distraction. And there is more than just poop. You can make out parts of rats and mice, for instance. There is nothing sterile about it. And in pharmaceuticals, sterile is the name of the game. Imagine having the owner of a startup company over to your office to discuss a buyout and having that mess behind you while you try to convince her that her brain child and labor of decades of love will be in good hands here.  There’s comedy value there, but it’s not very practical in this world.

Except imagine the delightful Forbes article about the CEO who actually loves science and biology, to the extent of keeping a rookery outside his office! I would read the shit out of that.

I went for a walk in the park yesterday and enjoyed a few minutes with the new Canada goslings. They are ridiculously cute.

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I hope that Owlbertson migrated or found a better tree without a mega-fan watching his every move. But it is good to be reminded that life goes on. The rain gives life and there is also death, and it is all they way that it is supposed to be.  I’ll find new wonders in my environment and remember the importance of keeping those human connections alive, also.

Now, let us all join hands and sing “The Circle of Life” together.