Saturday, July 28, 2012

Things I am Really Going to Miss

 Things I am really going to miss -

My goats. I will miss sitting outside on a sunny afternoon (like I am doing right now) watching the goats grazing, reading a book, or writing, or just thinking about things in a loose, unconnected way. I will miss observing my healthy, shiny, vigorous animals living their ordinary animal lives.

I will miss my ponies - the smell of them, mostly. How I love the smell of horse. I will miss leaning my back against Poppy's ribcage, warmed by the sun, and breathing in the sweet scent of her mane. I will miss blowing into her nostrils, and feeling her green, grassy breath blow back at me. Her strength, her solidness, and the incredible softness of her muzzle. 

I will miss my earth: this earth, and all the herbs that grow from it. I keep meaning to make a list of all the plant species I can find on my land; at least, the ones I can name. I haven't done it yet, but right here from this folding canvass chair in which I am presently parked, I can identify:

four species of pasture grass
white clover
red clover
bull thistle
canada thistle
lance leaf plantain and broad leaf plantain
common tansy
creeping buttercup
ox-eye daisy
German chamomile and Roman chammomile
bachelor's button
dandelion and false dandelion
canary grass
stinging nettle

Not including those I planted on purpose:

apple trees and plum trees
cherries, pears, and

A veritable poem of plant life.

I know this piece of earth and my animals inside and out, now. I know which of these plants the goats like to eat, and in which seasons. Right now they are eating the thistle buds, just before they flower purple, the only part of the thistle they will eat. They are eating dock leaves, which they ignore at other times of year. They are nibbling on the branches of the neighbor's pie-cherry which lean over the fence, and now is the only time that they may do this, because cherry leaves turn poisonous once they begin to wither in the fall. The clover is nearly done, and has become brown and unappetizing, but the blackberries are at the height of their deliciousness, hung with clusters of small green fruit. Tansy in flower is a natural anthelmintic, and the goats seek it out when bothered by worms. 

I will miss watching the seasons pass. In that tropical, nearly seasonless land there is no winter, no spring and no bright autumn, only the stark division between wet and dry. I will miss the mountains. As I sit here, in August, Mount Baker's wide white skirts are turning pink in the light of the lowering sun. My entire northern horizon is lined jagged peaks, glittering with ice in winter, cool and blue today. I will certainly miss snow, the magical way it transforms  mundane landscapes with mysterious shapes and shadows. I will miss my children's excitement at the first snowfall, and the homely rituals of Christmas. 

I could go on and on. I will miss services at my church, and singing out loud as one voice among many. I will miss my kitchen - oh how I will miss my kitchen, which I have slowly and organically arranged entirely to my own liking. I will miss my knives, my favorite soup pots, my grandmother's cast-iron skillet. I might miss my jewelry, a little, I suppose. I will miss espresso. 

But all of these are mere details, and a way of avoiding naming what I will most. I lapse into trivia because I am afraid to say that I will miss - terribly, frighteningly, horribly - my daughter Rowan. 
I will miss her help, of course, for she helps me a great deal, but more I will miss her silliness and her wittiness. I will miss her crazy curly hair and her dimples. I will miss her sharp and funny sense of style, her bravery and her whip smart insights. I will miss her company and her conversation. She has the most outsized, ridiculous laugh, and I will miss it rediculously. Rowan, my gorgeous, intelligent, funny child, I will miss you every day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crunch Time (Too Much House)

The house is nearly empty: there is nowhere to sit, nothing to cook with or eat off of, and nothing to sleep on. The horses are gone, off to my friend Brittany's house for the year. In the refrigerator, there is nothing but olives and mustard. We are eating frozen pizza off of paper plates and sleeping on the floor.

There is an expanding pile of trash, made up of used paper plates and recycling which we no longer have the energy or time to recycle; there is a constantly rotating tornado of clothing, clean and dirty, whirling in and out of the messy hedge of suitcases propping open every door. There is an unending stream of visitors, friends, family, and acquaintances, who all want to touch base before we leave. I have had overnight house guests for each of the last three nights. Each night included a toddler.

There is still a daunting amount of work to be done - right now Homero and Juan are up on the roof fixing the leak (see previous posts) and I am taking a break from scrubbing out the fridge and defrosting the freezer. I simply can't believe how much dirt and junk we were living with. I don't know about other people's houses, but around here, we seldom see the bottom of a drawer. It's always covered with silverware, or hand tools, or clothing, or old schoolwork and broken crayons. Turns out, when I emptied out the drawers, all of them were coated in a thick layer of grime, which had to be scrubbed off with bleach water.

The insides of my kitchen cupboards were undeniably disgusting. I am a pretty serious cook (if I do say so myself) and I am a collector of condiments, oils, spices, and chutneys. The shelves in my cupboards were laminated in a mixture of molasses, curry powder, sambaal oleak, shrimp paste, homemade blackberry jam, rice wine vinegar, and peanut butter. Sprinkled across this sticky mess and partially embedded in it was a blend of cloves, mustard seeds, and enough other spices and seeds to have made a medieval peasant rich for life. I've used up a lot of rags today.

The other thing I am amazed by is the sheer number of unidentifiable items I own. Mostly these are variants of the genus electronica: chargers for handheld devices which went extinct in the nineties; snippets of red, blue, and yellow wires; strange clips and snarls of wire. Homero is responsible for a metric shit-ton of small plastic and metal thing-a-ma-jigs such as fuses, tips for small tools to which we no longer own the handles, nearly used up rolls of duct tape, paint rollers, and so many other things which I can only stare at in bafflement. I have the sneaking suspicion that if I consulted him, Homero would press the case for keeping every single one of these nameless items, so I simply dumped them into a couple of hefty bags and put them out with the trash. Don't wince like that; he did the same thing with my kitchen drawers.

Speaking of which, nobody needs three different kinds of citrus reamer. Or two manual food mills, or indeed any food mills at all. I had an entire drawer devoted to plastic lids. There must have been two hundred plastic lids in there, but nowhere did I have the plastic containers to which these lids were once appended. And seriously, would I have needed two hundred of them if I did?

I think I see the problem here, and the problem is too much house. This isn't an enormous house by today's standards - it's about 2,500 square feet - but it's twice as big as the house I used to live in, and it has five times as much storage. Just about every room in the house is lined, on one wall or two, with built in cupboards. The bedrooms all have built in dressers and shelves, and the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room have more cupboards than you can shake a stick at.

Everyone remarks on this and says, "oh, how nice to have so much storage available!" It is, or I mean it would be, if I had real stuff I needed to store. But I don't, so my storage is not filled with, say, folded linens or grandma's china. The actual results of having unlimited storage space is that whenever I or Homero find ourselves with aomething in our hands and no immediate idea of where to put it, we simply open the nearest drawer and chuck it in. Multiply this scenario by ten thousand and you have our current situation.

I've procrastinated long enough - it's time to get up and start throwing crap away.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Famous Last Words

The house is just about empty. We spent two days boxing everything up, and then our friends Crecencio and Juan came and helped Homero clean everything out. We no longer have mattresses to sleep on, a TV to watch, or a kitchen table to eat at. In the kitchen, I kept one pot and one knife. We are eating off of paper plates with plastic forks from here on out. 

 The three men worked all day in the hot sun - and it was very hot - to pile everything we own onto the flatbed trailer. They sweated like pigs and (strictly for reasons of hydration) drank a whole bunch of beers as they worked. When the last box was on the trailer, they collapsed under the tree in the shade and lay there like dead men. It was about 8:00 at night and the sun was setting.

"Aren't you going to put the trailer in the shop?" I asked.

"Tomorrow," Homero groaned.

"What if it rains?" I asked.

"It's not going to rain," Homero replied. "Look at the sky."

I'm not sure if you can tell from this picture, but here are all our worldly goods, heaped onto the trailer and ready to be stored in the shop.... soaking wet.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Newest Mexicans

Last friday we woke up at 5 a.m. and drive to Seattle for our 8 o'clock appointment at the Mexican consulate to get Hope and Paloma their Mexican citizenship. It is a fairly long and annoying process, but my guess is less so than getting American citizenship for a child born abroad to an American father and a Mexican mother. I'm not even sure that the U.S. grants such children automatic citizenship.

Mexico requires the same documentation here that it requires in Mexico to issue a birth certificate: both parents must be present at the correct office, and they must bring two witnesses who will swear that the children actually belong to the parents. Parents must provide their own birth certificates and witnesses their identification, all with multiple copies.

Our witnesses were a friend of Homero's named Juan and his wife, Carla. Juan and Homero have worked together at the Seattle garage for years now, and are good friends. You have to be good friends with someone to ask them to get up early and spend four or five hours hanging around in a stuffy little waiting room with you. It wasn't until Juan was actually signing his name on the form, however, that Homero suddenly realized that according to longstanding tradition, he and Juan were now officially compadres, and Carla and I were now comadres.

Homero felt a little embarrassed, because also according to tradition he ought to have asked Juan more formally if he would like to become his compadre, but as it turned out, Juan was delighted. Now our families are related in a way, and have serious obligations to each other. For example, when Juan wants to get his daughter her Mexican citizenship, it will be our turn to get up early and hang around in a stuffy waiting room for hours.

Afterwards, we all went down the street to Mama's Mexican kitchen and had a big old enchilada feast.

Accomplishing this task is a big deal. It means that Hope and Paloma can be enrolled in school and that they will have access to Mexico's national health system. In the future, should they choose to, they can attend Mexican Universities, where tuition is a small fraction of what it is here. Due to Mexico's socialized educational system, Homero's mother, a woman raising five children alone who had only a seventh grade education, was able to put four of them through university, and her children are now physicians and engineers.

I feel that dual citizenship is one of the greatest gifts I can give my children (or really, that their father can give them). This upcoming year will give them fluency in the language and culture of their new country, and strengthen the ties to their Mexican family. I don't really know if it is possible to be "bi-cultural" in the way that one can be bilingual, but certainly I want my kids to have the opportunity to find out.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Setbacks (Frustration and Friendship)

After signing the lease, I was feeling pretty light and breezy. I thought we were just about home free. Now it's all about packing, I thought. And a few little things here and there like getting Rowan's apartment set up with some cooking facilities.

If only.

My disabled father was visiting us for a few weeks, giving his wife some long-needed respite. Last weekend I drove Dad down to Salem, Oregon to meet up with JoAnn (said wife) and do the Dad-handoff. Two of my best friends live in the vicinity, so I took a couple of days to visit each of them, and I had a wonderful time.

When I got back, I discovered that in my absence, the dryer had gone kablooie and the old roof leak had reasserted itself and Rowan's soon-to-be bedroom was all wet again.  The dryer is a minor annoyance - Homero can fix it, and the part only cost $28 from Sears - but the leak is another story.

This roof leak has a long and ugly history that I don't care to reiterate at the moment. Those who wish to hear the whole unsavory story of mold, racism, and multiple marital spats may do so here. And here. And, finally, here. The short version is that despite the employment of two separate professional roofing firms and a boatload of money, we still have a mystery leak.

I don't know how you find out the source of a leak like that. Get up on the roof with a hose on a sunny day and have someone else in the attic with a flashlight? Maybe. Tear the whole roof off looking for the damn thing? Oh great, imagine that - "Hi new renters who have already signed a lease. Come on in and look around. Oh the roof? What about it? What do you mean where is it...?"

The way we fix problems like that is to throw a barbecue. This isn't an approved method, but it generally works to invite over a dozen or so Mexican friends who collectively have about a century of roofing and carpentry experience. After feeding them all grilled chicken, potato salad, and plenty of cold beer, just tell the story. Within minutes you will have Mexicans all over your roof, pointing out problems left and right. That's what happened at our house a few days ago, anyway.

"Caray," said our friend Juan. "Este no esta nada bien." And: "Hijoles," and even "Carajo."

These are words you don't want to hear when your Mexican friend is crawling around on the roof. It either means he's found some really bad shit, or that he's fallen off. Juan had, indeed, found some bad shit. No flashing where there should be flashing. No "drip panels" along the gutters, whatever those are. No metal guard around a vent pipe, which is where he thinks the leak is. He said he could stick his finger right through the roof, and that ain't good. It elicited a hearty "Caramba" from Homero.

Allow me to indulge in a cliche for a moment. You can't find good help these days! What is it with contractors in this town? Does nobody do things the right way anymore? You pay through the nose and  get crappy workmanship, and if you dare to complain, it's all "I'm gonna sic immigration on you!" I know, those of you who didn't click on the backstory links are going "WHAT?!" Go on, click on the last link. I'll wait.

Our friends said that if we just bought the materials they would come back up next week and fix what could be fixed without tearing everything apart. Juan is certain he can fix the leak, at least. They won't hear of taking a dime. The very idea is insulting to them. These are the same friends who gave us presents to bring to their families, the last time we went to Oaxaca. We made a day trip out to their village and feasted with their mothers, sisters, and wives. We handed over the gifts of cellphones, earrings, and love letters, and brought back fresh photos and videos of growing young children singing happy birthday to their faraway Papas.

These friends are the same ones who help us with butchering the goats, and for whom Homero has crossed borders which they cannot cross themselves. Our family and this family have become, quietly and without fanfare, part of one of those circles of mutual aid and support which are so very Mexican. Crecencio and Homero are not formal  compadres, but the relationship between our families is beginning to seem like it.

Crecencio is bringing his family home to Oaxaca at about the same time as we are leaving. For a while there was talk of trying to caravan, but I don't think anything is going to come of that. In any case, I am so happy that we will have some friends within striking distance down there. Homero, of course, will have scads of friends, but I will have none outside of family. It's nice to think we will occasionally be able to visit our friends, and my children can visit their children, who are also friends.

Friends are good, in any culture.