Thursday, August 28, 2008

Watching All the Deer Go By...

♪♫ Standing on the back deck, watching all the deer, watching all the deer, watching all the deer...go by. ♪♫

A summer evening in August, sitting in a deck chair, sipping a Diet Pepsi, eating a burger off the grill, talking with my husband and enjoying the smell of newly cut alfalfa - hey, what's that sound? Crunching. Munching. The deer invasion has begun again.

My husband was remarking tonight as the first doe stepped into our back yard that people in New York wouldn't know what to make of the abundant wildlife. I imagine he meant New York City (get a rope), because I'm sure upstate New York has its share of nuisance deer.

And I do mean nuisance. They're lovely to look at; in fact, I never truly get tired of the site of their graceful, red-brown, long-legged forms, sometimes with spots, sometimes with budding antlers. Visitors who live in the city (yes, I mean Spokane) usually get excited when we tell them there are deer right outside.

I remember when I was a little girl in small-town Lyle, Washington, going for a drive with my parents and sisters to "look for deer." It was one of my favorite things to do on a warm summer night. I doubt we went driving around looking for deer more than a handful of times, yet the memory is both clear and dear.

These days all I have to do to look for deer is glance outside the house most any time of day. Yesterday a doe and her fawn were under one of the apple trees. She was eating the fallen gravenstein apples while he napped. It was a lovely sight.

When I went to pick apples today, I couldn't walk underneath that tree without stepping into a pile of deer droppings. They look kind of like rabbit pellets, and they aren't very smelly, but I definitely don't want them tracked into my house. The lawn turns a nice shade of dark green wherever they've been dropped, but I don't dare go barefoot, and that's a hard thing to have to give up. Judging by the dark green spots all over our near-acre of lawn, we have had 5,000 deer visits this summer. That's approximate, of course.

The other day I looked out the front window and there, all alone among the flower beds, was a fawn. He was old enough to be up and running around, but I doubt his mamma would have approved his galavanting by himself. Fawns are normally told to stay hidden while their mothers are grazing. This little rebel wandered around the yard for a while, followed and tormented by two magpies. They used his butt as a trampoline, landing and bouncing off repeatedly. Wherever he went, they followed. Finally he got tired of the game and trotted back into the alfalfa field. He undoubtedly got a scolding when his mother found him. I was pleased to have this photo published in the Spokesman-Review's Valley Voice on Aug. 23.

Everyone who lives in deer territory knows how destructive they are to gardens, fruit trees, and ornamentals. I've suffered my share of devastation. I gave up trying to grow a garden without the seven-foot fence you'd need to keep them out. Sometimes we allow hunting on our property, although I think far more deer are killed on the nearby road than by hunters.

I do get frustrated when plants and crops are messed up by uninvited guests. But if I had to choose between a perfect, poop-free lawn and nibble-free yard or the privilege of seeing a constant parade of gorgeous wildlife, I'd take the deer. Fewer deer, for sure, but this is why we live in the country. I get to stay home and "look for deer" all I want.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Fifty Talks to Thirteen

I took a dear friend, V, to the movies today. I've known her for five years, and we always have a good time. At least, I do. I sometimes wonder what she's thinking while we're carrying on a conversation. V is going-on-fourteen. I am going-on-fifty.

The fact she cares to spend time with me at all is a wonder. I am quite old compared to her other friends. The first time we went somewhere together, V was eight, and her dad - my co-worker - and I were at a conference in Washington, D.C. I'd seen all the attractions on the Mall, and now I was dying to visit the National Zoo. My young friend-to-be had made the trip with her father, and she had nothing to do while Dad was in meetings. So I volunteered to take her along while I skipped out of the conference for a day at the zoo.

I had the privilege of sharing V's first zoo experience. I saw her take her first up-close look at living, breathing giraffes. Neither of us wanted to leave the giraffe house. Then we pressed our noses against the glass and could almost smell the gorilla sleeping on the other side, just inches away. In the small-animal house, V spied an animal she had never heard of and couldn't wait to ask her dad if they could keep it as a pet. Although it rained on us and we got cold and wet, she fell in love with zoos, and I fell in love with her.

After D.C., we developed a go-to-the-movies type of friendship. It gave us something to do and a way to connect, since we both also love movies. Neither of us is particularly talkative, so keeping a conversation going became a challenge for me. Having a movie to talk about helped.

Okay, so talking to an eight-year-old wasn't a major challenge. Back then, I could bring up silly topics or discuss just about anything and not worry that she would think less of me. I knew she had a dog and a couple of cats, and those were always subjects that got her going. According to her dad, she was a bit in awe of me at first, though I don't know why. Probably just because I was so much older and taking an interest in her. When I told her dad how comfortably we talked together, he was surprised. It wasn't typical for her to say much to adults.

Last spring when we saw a movie together, I looked over at her and realized how she had changed. I asked her if anyone ever told her she was becoming beautiful. She said only her parents. That's what I figured. She probably had no concept of the gift God had given her, and yes, I realize it isn't healthy to emphasize physical beauty over a good and godly personality. Still, I told her what I thought: the little girl I used to know has grown into a lovely young woman.

She also had grown into a teenager. They have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to communicate with, so I didn't know quite what we would talk about today, or if it would be awkward. I had planned more time for talk before and after the movie, because I felt strongly that if I wanted to stay in her life, we needed to develop a deeper friendship. It wouldn't work anymore to just chat for a few minutes on the way there and the way home.

Besides, our habit of going to kids' movies had developed a flaw: at thirteen, she was more interested in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants II than in Kung Fu Panda, but the "Sisterhood" type of movie wasn't G-rated enough to be acceptable fare. She was caught between not wanting to be seen at children's movies and not wanting to see the references to sex, drugs, and alcohol that creep into PG-13 flicks.

So I planned for us to hang out at Pig Out in the Park. We would listen to bands, eat, and talk. That plan fell through with the rain and winds that blew in this morning. Neither of us wanted to be out in that weather. We ended up going to Wall-E downtown. Yes, it was a kids' movie, but that didn't seem to matter to her this time.

Before and after the movie, we talked about anything and everything. The key, I found, was in asking V about herself and her experiences and sharing just a little about my experiences, when she seemed interested. Everybody loves to talk about themselves; this quiet girl was eager to answer my questions. From the basic questions about the upcoming school year and how her pets were doing, we went on to discuss the bravest thing she has done: rappelling off a 72-foot platform. That led to a discussion of how she is overcoming her fears. She is as afraid of roller coasters as I am, but she still rides them. She has my admiration!

I asked her about her plans for the future. Her older brother is already looking toward college; she can't see quite that far yet. I remembered how enthralled she was with the animals at the National Zoo and, later, at Spokane's own Cat Tales. Her dad has always said she's fearless with animals. I asked her if she had ever considered a career with animals. Not as a vet, she said; so I asked, how about as a zoo keeper? I told her about the amazing zoo keeper training program at Cat Tales. Who knows, maybe I've planted a seed for a future career.

I came away from our afternoon together liking this teenager even more and very hopeful our friendship can last through the teen years. After talking to her, hanging out with her, and having fun just digging a little deeper into who she is, somehow I don't feel almost-fifty. I feel a little more like a teenager myself. Thank you, V.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Luxury Cars and a Low Stress Life

I once thought it would be cool to drive a "nice" car. When I say "nice," I mean luxury, like a Mercedes or something. I don't mean so "nice" it's impossible for someone like me to afford (Lamborghinis are in that stratosphere), just "nice" compared to a Ford.

The closest I ever got to "nice" cars in my youth was riding in my friend's Mercedes when I was a kid. This friend was the son of the one and only local businessman who was doing well enough to buy a Merc, because he owned the one and only store in our very small town.

I remember feeling quite luxurious while riding in that car, because compared to my family's Rambler, it had style and class, plus a distinctive Mercedes smell I can still recall. I used to hide in the back seat when my friend's mom would come to get him, hoping I could be invisible enough to go home with him to their big house on the hill. Didn't work.

My family had upgraded to the Rambler wagon from a Studebaker sedan, circa 1955. To my dad, the car was just transportation; he liked to know his mileage, so he used to write it on the Rambler's dash with a grease pencil. I didn't aspire to anything high class when it was time for my first car, and the 1965 Ford Falcon my parents brought home seemed just fine. It was cute, quick, and fun, all attributes I didn't have as a high school nerd.

After I wrecked the Falcon in a ditch near Wallowa, Oregon, I went carless for a while. I was in college, and the small Eastern Washington University campus was easy to navigate by foot or bike. But when the opportunity came up to get a big ol' 1971 Chevy Impala for a paltry $700, I borrowed the money from Mom and suddenly became quite popular with the other students in my college youth group. I had wheels, and that beast could haul six or seven other kids.

Later, married to a man who equated "old car" with "great car," I traded downward (he thought upward) to a 1966 Barracuda. It was purple (mauve actually), it stood out, and 25 years later, people I used to work with still ask about that car. Yes, I still have it, but something died in it so I won't get in it anymore. Eldest son can't bear to part with it and tries to get me to ride in it with him. "After a while you don't even notice the smell, Mom. Honest."

During my first marriage I drove that old Barracuda; an old but classic Dodge pickup belonging to my husband; an old, and very ugly, dark green AMC Ambassador; an old Dodge Dart with the vinyl peeling off the top; and then, for many years, a Toyota Tercel wagon and a GMC Jimmy SUV, both of which became old well before I stopped driving them.

I remember how much our two boys hated the old Tercel wagon and how they screamed for joy when it pooped out on our way home from Priest Lake. It had pooped out before, but this time it seemed permanent. A whole new engine was the only thing that would get it going again. Their father, determined to get every last mile out of that (and every) car, slapped a Japanese engine in it and, by doing so, made his poor children cry.

Funny thing is, I never worried much about dings and dents in those old cars. I was careful, more to keep from getting in hot water with my late husband than because I really cared. Those cars were, after all, old. After he passed away and I remarried, my new husband offered up a novel thought: "You deserve a really nice car."

Who, ME? A "nice" car? Like, maybe, a newer-but-used Chrysler or Buick? Or a classic, restored car like the ones my eldest son favored?

No, he said, "nice" like a new Mercedes or Lexus. New as in not pre-owned or rental-returned or anything else except test-driven. I could barely grasp the concept of owning a car that no one else had ever owned, driven, or dripped ketchup in. Or one in which nothing had died.

The opinions of my sons differed vastly. Eldest thought my current car was just fine because, like his dad, he favored old-AKA-classic. Youngest was all for the idea and eagerly went for a test drive with us.

A few days later, my shiny new gold Lexus sedan was ready to pick up at the dealership, and for the first time in my life, I had a premium ride. For which, of course, I was paying a premium price; not just monetarily, but also in terms of stress.

Every parking decision had to be carefully weighed: was I far enough from the store that no one would park next to me? Was I far enough from the car next to me that I wouldn't get door-dinged? Would I remember not to door-ding the car next to me? Could I parallel park without scraping an expensive wheel on the curb or dinging my bumpers?

When the first disaster finally happened, my overwrought reaction was completely out of proportion to reality. My husband had perhaps, maybe, possibly put a couple of tiny, itsy bitsy, wee little scratches in the front bumper. Scratches one could almost not see with the naked eye. And I foolishly got hopping mad in front of my family, which embarrassed him and should have embarrassed me. That's when I began to hear the words, "It's just a car," ringing in my head. My husband was the most important person in my life, and the car was an object. A nice, expensive object, yes, but nothing more.

The perpetrator of the next disaster remains unknown. I was showing the car off to a friend while it was still quite new, and she said, "Oh look, there are dents in the hood. How did that happen?" It looked like someone had dropped something small and heavy, like the claw end of a hammer, on the edge of the hood. Who, how, when? I had no one to be furious at. But it was, after all, just a couple of dents in something that was just a car.

Since then, I have popped a very pricey Michelin tire on a curb, damaging the shiny and expensive wheel. I paid the price for a new tire gladly. Glad there was a matching tire still on the market and I didn't have to replace all five. Oh, and my wondrous, darling, amazing husband backed into a post and put some scratches in the back bumper. He was on an errand of mercy for me at the time, distracted and in a hurry. I wasn't furious. He is more important to me than any object.

I don't know what will happen next to my nice car, but my stress is less now that I know the mantra by heart: "It's just a car."

So when you see me driving around town in my sort-of-shiny gold Lexus with a scraped front passenger-side wheel and a scrape on the back right bumper, be sure to wave. Yes, it's a "nice" car. But it is, after all, just a car.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Kitchen Disasters Happen Only When I Have Guests

I make great babyback spare ribs, so good you'd think we picked them up from Outback. At least that's what I told our good friends when I invited them for dinner. Ah, the perils of boasting.

I rarely invite anyone for dinner because a) that means the house must be cleaned and b) I've always thought of myself as a lousy cook. These friends were coming for the first time, and although I didn't need to, I wanted to impress them.

I cleaned like mad to get the house ready. I hate cleaning, but for them it was time well spent. I love them that much. I shopped for ribs, spuds, and whatever else. I like shopping.

I didn't bother to get out my recipe for ribs, 'cause I thought I remembered it was 2 hours covered in foil at 400 degrees, then baste with sauce and broil a few minutes. And I thought last time I made them, the ribs turned out better with some extra time in the oven.

So I checked them after three hours - about 45 minutes before our guests would arrive. What I pulled out of the oven was a crispy, crunchy, dried out disaster. I was horrified to find there was no resurrecting these ribs, regardless of the gallon of Longhorn barbecue sauce I slathered on top. Nothing was going to make them edible.

I checked my recipe and no, it wasn't 400; it was 300. That knowledge didn't do me any good because the dinner, like a Broadway show, must go on.

Another thing I hate is disappointing people. If I promise my friends ribs, then anything less simply won't do. Yes, I had a grill and hotdogs on hand, but I knew my friends, and Outback babyback ribs are one of their favorites.

I was almost too embarrassed to confess this kitchen calamity to my husband, a grand soul who would never laugh at me and has always told me, "You're a great cook." Well, in comparison to what he had before me, maybe. But the only thing left to do was ask for his help.

He was sympathetic and hugged me. He only laughed a little, bless his heart. And he was willing to drop what he was doing and save the day, knight-in-shining-armor style. We agreed he would drive to Outback while I called in two orders of ribs, and maybe he'd be back with them before our guests arrived. It would be tight. Our home is in the country, seven miles from the nearest gas/grocery and a good ten miles from the closest Outback.

Off he went, and I called Outback, getting a promise of "20 minutes"; perfect! I didn't ask what it would cost, because I didn't want to know. Thirty minutes later, with ten minutes to spare, back he came bearing two big, white Outback bags. I hurried the ribs onto a plate and set aside the bread and fries they came with. I was annoyed to find later that we'd paid for them because at Outback you can't get "just ribs," even to-go.

The doorbell would ring any minute. Now came the question of whether to hide the bags and my secret, or come clean with who really made the ribs. Since I have a fundamental aversion to lying, even to save myself embarrassment, and God does say liars hath no part in heaven, and I am counting on being there one day, I chose the latter.

Ding-dong; they were here, and we welcomed into our home two of the most enjoyable people I know. I prepared myself to confess quickly, because those Outback bags were still on the kitchen counter, and soon I'd be outed anyway. Knowing everyone loves a good story, especially one wherein you make fun of yourself, I started off with, "You'll never believe what I did." When my sad-but-funny tale was told and they knew the ribs they were to eat were not mine, my friend Jo said something gracious and kind like, "Oh, you shouldn't have gone to the trouble or expense. You know we'd eat hot dogs." Well, yes, I knew that, but when you're ready for ribs, who wants dogs?

We gathered around the table, prayed for a wonderful evening of fellowship, and proceeded to have it. And to get quite messy eating those ribs. And you know what? They weren't quite as good as mine.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm Learning to Be a Homemaker

"Housewife" is a word I used to hate or, at the very least, misunderstand. For 27 years I had a career outside the home, and my identity wasn't "Dean's wife" or even "Jon and Jordan's mom." I was a publications specialist working in my chosen field, communications. I planned to work as a writer, editor, or web-updater until retirement because that's what Jenny did.

I couldn't understand what those women who stayed home all day did, exactly, while their kids were in school. I had only taken 6-8 weeks off when my own boys were born. Other than a three-month gap between jobs, I had never not worked since I was 22 and newly graduated from college.

My first husband, Dean, who passed away when he was 56 and I was 43, expected me to work. Yet I never felt my job was a burden; it was who I was, and we saved a lot of money with my added income.

Then came Scott. We were married not quite three years after Dean's death. Scott encouraged me to do what I wanted to do: work; quit; stay home; create a freelance career of editing or writing; finish all the novels rattling around in my head. Or simply be a wife and homemaker.

During our first year together, I felt strongly that my time of ministry as writer and graphic designer at a Spokane homeless shelter should end. The Lord apparently was encouraging me to open the door for people who needed to be on staff there, so, after five years of full-time employment at the shelter, I went part-time. Then I gave notice. In November 2007, one year after marrying Scott, I became a full-time homemaker.

I have not for a minute been bored and rarely have I felt lonely. With the accumulation of 25 years of stuff packed into this house, garage, and barn, I could spend eight hours a day simply sorting and still be hard at work this time next year. I've discovered a knack for organizing and categorizing; more surprising, I have shed my pack rat cloak and taken on the mantle of major donor to our local thrift stores.

The Jenny who claims to be a lousy cook (never had time to learn) has evolved into an experimenter extraordinaire. I made the best pumpkin-chocolate-chip bread last night after merging two recipes. Scott and I like coconut shrimp at Outback, so I'm going to experiment with a few recipes and come up with my own. I can now make babyback ribs you can hardly tell from Outback's. Oh wait, that's another story, an embarrassing one. More on that tomorrow.

I still hate to clean. Vacuuming? Dusting? Let the dust bunnies rule. I can always blame the clumps of lint and doggy fur on my inability to see clearly due to early development of cataracts. In fact, I might just ask my eye doctor to write up such a disclaimer; I will then post it prominently in my home. No one needs to know that my eyesight is actually pretty darn good. Or maybe I just think it is, and post-surgery the world will look as different as when Dorothy opens the door of her house to bright, colorful Munchkinland.

"Homemaker" describes exactly who I am now and what I do. There's nothing better for me, during this year of turning fifty, than to be Scott's wife, making a home that is comfortable and welcoming for the two of us and our grown children, grandchildren, and friends.

As for work, I claim to be retired, but I still work freelance from home - anybody got a book or two I can edit?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Take pity on me...or not

Pity me today. I'm alone with only my dog and the Olympics for company. My husband has been on the road since early Sunday, and it's another 36 hours before he comes home. Pity me because I'm facing a house that must be cleaned of dog hair (why? it'll only come back) and tidied up before a friend visits tomorrow.

Pity me because those I consider friends and who live close enough to visit have perfectly clean homes, so I hesitate to invite them because mine is never clean enough. Pity me because I've been too lazy to do more exercise that walking 1/4 mile every day to get the paper or mail, and I've added pounds I don't want, which contributes to being a hermit because I don't want to fix myself up to go out of the house knowing everyone will surely notice my big butt.

Pity me because I have two huge bowls of quickly rotting apricots on the kitchen counter that won't last another six hours, and I must bestir myself to halve, pit, and freeze them right now. Or throw them out for the deer and magpies crowding my back yard. Pity me because I have an attic full, basement full, garage full, and barn full of 25 years of accumulated treasures (?) that need to be sorted and discarded.

Okay, enough pity. Envy me because I have an amazing, wonderful, caring, funny, loving, sensitive, kind, generous, wise husband who has changed my life in the past two years, one month I've known him. What else does a woman need when she has someone like Scott?