Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Renounce your foreign princes

Our summer was nearly neverending because our teachers went on strike.  They were on strike for good reasons and we supported them -- go teachers, get 'er done, we love you, etc. etc. -- but what was coming out of my lips did not necessarily match what was happening in my head.  My head was more "please school now please school now please school."

After an extra week of summer, the strike was settled.  My kids are now happily back in the classroom and I feel like revisiting some significant summer happenings.  Don't worry, I'm finished talking about the road trip. The dog story was the climax of that tale.

Speaking of Natani, let's play a game.  It's called "Find the Dog" --

She truly believes I cannot see her under there.
She goes there when she's done something awful, which is often.
She is wide-eyed and surprised when I "find" her.
She thinks I am a Magic Lady.

The kids took more swim lessons over the summer, which was exciting because I got unexpected beer --

The best part of this photo is not the beer
It's the yellow frog pool float in the background
screaming its silent panicked frog scream

Our swim teacher holds swim lessons in private backyard pools all over the city.  There aren't many private pools in Seattle so you usually end up in the backyard of a very wealthy person. This particular wealthy person was the first we've encountered to offer beer to the parents.  In his world, swim lesson time = party time.

In other big news, Alex is now an American citizen. 

Rejoice, Americans, he's all ours.

The U.S. Naturalization ceremony is solemn and emotional because there are newly naturalized Americans crying all over the place.  Many people fight hard to get here and stay here. To them, the day they become a United States citizen is the culmination of a long-pursued dream.  It's beautiful to witness.

But to our family, it's more a technicality than a life-changing event. Alex has lived and worked here legally for over 15 years.  The official American status wasn't going to change much in our daily lives.  Plus Alex is Canadian, which is already like being American only less aggressive.

Our more relaxed approach to citizenship allowed us to sit back and embrace the humor of the event. Alex raised his eyebrows at me when part of the pledge asked the new Americans to renounce their allegiance to "foreign princes."  We also made the newbies promise to take up arms and fight for their new country if necessary.  I enjoyed picturing the 92-year old Ukrainian woman, who could not stand without the help of an aide, holding a machine gun.  Maybe she can at least toss a grenade or two.

U.S.A.!  U.S.A.!

That's Alex, second row back near the column,
pissing off Canadian Princes by renouncing them

We had an AMERICA! themed dinner celebration that night with some friends.  They brought Alex American-themed presents like a pair of American flag flip-flops and a six-pack of Bud Light.  We grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, made mac-n-cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato salad, apple pie.  I even suspended fruit in jello -- that's being a true American -- and sent everyone home with a Hostess Ding Dong party favor.

Welcome to my country, Alex.  Our food is not healthy but our hearts are full of love.

Alex and I spent a weekend solo in Portland for the MusicFest Northwest music festival.  Portland is lovable in a pretentious hipster kind of way. One young woman brought a bag of knitting to The Helio Sequence show and knit through the entire set.  Another woman seated next to me at the Beirut show wore a prairie style dress complete with casually askew tied bonnet.

One woman stopped me as I walked past to tell me she loved the fabric of my shorts.  I said "thanks" and she said, "Did you make them?" I replied "Nope, I can't sew, I bought them" and immediately lost her respect.  Her mouth turned down a little and she turned away from me without another word. Only in Portland is the default -- and the preferable -- that you made your clothes instead of buying them.

The next time someone told me they loved my shorts (they are unarguably amazing shorts with a teal and orange Birds of Paradise pattern) I didn't wait for her to ask, just immediately said I made them.  The woman brightened and said, "Well yeah, sure, right on."  I'm a fast learner, you see.

I also told them I wove my own hat
out of vegan straw
on a loom used by my great grandmother
who was gluten-free before it was cool
and was a fan of that one band before they went mainstream

I convinced Alex to stand in front of the stage for over an hour to secure a front row position for The Tallest Man on Earth.  It was Alex's first time in "The Front" at a music festival and he soon discovered how tense it can be as people jockeyed and jostled into position.  People were so nasty standing in front of that stage, I'm starting to think the "making-your-own-clothes" and coy Laura Ingalls get-ups are brilliant covers for how brutal those Portland people truly are.

Alex, despite his claustrophobia and general disinterest in music festivals, was a trooper.  He held his ground and we threw elbows together, beating rabid Portlanders back until The Tallest Man on Earth took the stage.  We were so close to him we could look straight up his nose.  He played the best set of the weekend so it was worth the hassle and general snottiness of our fellow concert goers.

Speaking of rabid and out of control people, our annual "last hurrah of summer " weekend happened again on Guemes Island with the usual suspects.  We were 20 people in all, tents pitched on the beachfront lawn of a friend's property, refrigerator stocked, coolers full.  We were all set for relaxation and easy living. Nature, however, had other plans.

Our annual hike up Mount Guemes began nicely enough.  We saw the dark clouds approaching when we reached the top -- word on the island was a windstorm was headed our way -- so began our descent very soon after our ascent.

that sky looks all kinds of pissed off

Almost immediately, the trees towering above began swaying like drunkards on a dance floor.  The sounds of creaking wood and breaking branches from a hundred feet up are not welcome when you're on a heavily forested trail, trust it.

I was hustling down the trail with Seattle Mom and Seattle Mom 2 when we heard a loud *crack* overhead.  Seattle Mom and I took a leap backwards, Seattle Mom 2 a leap forwards just in time -- a large branch from way up yonder crashed onto the path between us.  We stood in shocked silence for a beat until Seattle Mom yelled "Let's get the f*ck out of here" and we began to run.

Our group had spread out on the mile-long path on the way down.  No one knew for certain where their kids were, or where anyone was for that matter.  We just yelled through the forest to MOVE IT, PEOPLE, MOVE IT and hoped like hell everyone hustled.  The relief was palpable when the last kid, the last Dad, the last Mom tumbled out of the forest onto the road below.  We were still in danger but at least we were in danger all huddled together in one big wide-eyed group.

We funneled everyone into cars and took off for our cabin.  We didn't make it more than a couple hundred feet before we encountered a giant tree down across the road.  We then gunned our caravan of cars in the opposite direction and sh*t -- another tree down, this time lying on what appeared to be a power line.

It's interesting to see how people you love respond in a crisis.  Some get anxious and frantic, some get quiet and focused, some get deer-in-the-headlights, some rock themselves quietly in corners and talk to themselves, some get pissed off, some decide it's hilarious and an opportunity to party (I'm looking at you there, Seattle Dad).

No matter our instinctive reactions, we all pulled our sh*t together enough to convince the kids "everything's fine! So fun and exciting!" and eventually made it around the downed tree on the power line (some locals coming from the other direction threw rocks at it, touched it, licked it, whatever their machismo directed them to do to determine there was no power, then nudged the tree slightly out of the way with their pick-up truck) only to get stuck farther down the road by yet another big downed tree.

We surrendered and decided to park on the road near the water -- no trees, for the love of god, no trees -- to wait for help to arrive.  It was a relief to be away from those wildly swaying death bombs but only slightly more relaxing to be fully exposed to the windstorm.  It rocked our cars hard; I passed the time trying to guess which friend would tip over first.

I'm betting on you, Seattle Dad

One Mom stayed back at camp that morning because she wasn't feeling well.  She wanted a nice quiet leisurely morning, a hot shower, a nap in an attempt to cure herself of her ills. WELL TOO BAD, SEATTLE MOM.

We instead got text after text from her saying our tents had collapsed and were blowing down the beach and she was trying her best to keep them in the area by throwing lawn chairs on top of them. The situation was dire and she was in need of backup.  We explained the tree situation, told her to do her best, that we understood if she couldn't save everything, and mentally prepared ourselves for the loss of all our stuff.

She sent this photo and said, "Guys, this is happening right now!"
And we were like, "that is actually kind of hilarious."

Eventually the island emergency crews arrived with chainsaws and bulldozers and got to work on the trees.  Our tents were no longer where we left them when we got back to camp but they hadn't wandered too far away. Our family's tent had blown into a thorny bush. The resulting bent poles and giant holes ripped in the sides rendered it useless forevermore but at least we were reunited with the stuff inside.  We thought we'd lost you forever, favorite camping lantern.

The brutal winds continued for hours. We dragged the remains of the tents into the garage.

(Fun fact: Al, Lucien, Coco and I slept on top of all that stuff in the garage that night.  
There was nowhere else for us to go.)

Then we sat on the back porch of the cottage, drank margaritas, hugged each other and watched a speedboat anchored offshore capsize.  You can't take your eyes off a capsizing boat, it's pathetic yet majestic as it tips bow-up, then slides slowly down into the water.

The winds eventually died down.  The sunset was amazing.  We were happy to be together.

All 20 concur; this was not our most relaxing weekend together.  
But it was perhaps one of the more memorable. 

We'll see you next year, Guemes Island.  
Please don't pull that crap again.

I forgot to mention something earlier about Alex's swearing-in naturalization ceremony day.  Coco went to a Jump Start program for Kindergarten that morning so couldn't attend the ceremony with us. Alex kissed her goodbye as she headed out the door and said, "Good luck at Jump Start, Coco" and she replied, solemnly, both hands on his shoulders, "Good luck being American, Daddy".

Speaking of which...
I'm sorry I ate one of your American Flag flip-flops, Human Dad.
I'm glad you can't see me.

Neverending summer has finally ended,

Friday, August 21, 2015

Natani the Navajo Dog

I was reluctant to leave the state of New Mexico even when given three other solid options at Four Corners National Monument.

Nearly three weeks in, the Annual Mother/Children Road Trip was drawing to a close.  It was time to head towards home where "real life" impatiently awaited with crossed arms and tapping foot. Can't escape it forever, though I sure would like to try.

perhaps if we hide out in one of the cliff-dwelling abodes
at Bandelier National Monument...

Alex flew back to Seattle after our week together in Santa Fe/Taos and the kids and I jumped back into our trusty duct-taped car.  We pointed the vehicle just slightly north because let's not be too hasty.

The first planned stop on the drive towards Seattle was a sunrise visit to Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation.  We awoke at our hotel at 5:30 am and were soon thereafter on the long, empty road headed towards the entrance.  The road to Monument Valley at dawn is well worth the early wake-up call, the several cups of crappy hotel coffee and the hours worth of yawns to follow from all parties involved.

It's peace in your face

I missed the entrance road a couple times thanks to the sun rising in my eyes.  When I finally turned onto it, and exclaimed at the magnificent landscape rising all around us, I spotted something in the middle of the road.  I slowed down, assuming it was a coyote and feeling excited for the nature we were about to experience.  But as we drew closer, I realized it wasn't a coyote.  It was a lot smaller.  It was more of a.....more of a...... it was a puppy, a stupid little puppy in the middle of the road running straight at our car.

I pulled over to the side of the road and got out to scold the puppy. "You stupid puppy!" I said.  "Get out of the middle of the road before you get hit by a tired person driving a car! Now go find your people!"  I picked her up and carried her to the side of the road where I made emphatic shoo-ing motions with my hands then turned back towards the car. She pounced, wrapped her paws around my ankle and began biting it, tail wagging.  She was very happy to spend some quality time with me.

I shook her off my leg, picked her up again and released her further into the brush.  I then jogged back to the car but when I opened the driver's door to climb back in, I looked down to see her face staring up at me.  She'd caught me.  Her long tail wagged like a windshield wiper in a very heavy rain.

I ignored my children's delighted cries.  I told them I was going to start driving and hopefully the puppy would get out from under the tires and run back to find her people.  I rolled slowly and she darted away.  As the car picked up speed and the kids assured me she was well away from the wheels, I breathed a sigh of relief.  I did not want to deal with a dog, I only wanted to drive my kids through Monument Valley at sunrise.  That was the plan.  I like plans.

I picked up speed but a nagging feeling compelled me to look in the rearview mirror.  And there she was -- running after us as hard as her little legs could carry her, tongue hanging out of her mouth, eyes fixed on our retreating vehicle with a desperate wildness.

"Mom!  Mom!  Stop!" began the hysterical cries in the backseat.  She'd been chasing us for over a quarter of a mile when I surrendered.  She needed help and she'd chosen us to give it.  F*ck.  I took my foot off the gas and put it on the brake, hard.

I chucked the puppy into the car.  She immediately fell asleep in Lucien's lap.

She was bone thin, no collar, and quite dehydrated judging by the dullness of her eyes and the cracked dryness of her nose and mouth.  But I still told the kids, "OK, we're going to help her find her owner" because I am delusional when I really want something to be true.

I rolled up to the Monument Valley entrance station and greeted the Navajo woman working within. "Well hello there!" I said cheerfully.  "We just found a puppy in the middle of the road.  May I have a list of campsites so I can drive around and find her owner?"

The woman looked at me with a mix of pity and regret and said slowly, "Ma'am, I guarantee you that dog does not have an owner."  She told me the Navajo reservation, Monument Valley in particular, has become a depressingly popular place for people to abandon unwanted litters of puppies. The wild dog population has exploded.  Judging from the looks of "our" puppy, she was either dumped there or was born of the wild dogs already dotting the landscape.

My mind reeled as I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitors Center, which was not yet open given the early hour. We were the only people in the parking lot save a group of hikers strapping on packs for what looked to be a days-long trek through the valley.

I walked around the parking lot holding the puppy, debating what to do and chatting about the situation with a few of the hikers.  The German woman leading the hiking group suddenly approached me and said sharply, "You cannot take that dog."  I was a bit taken aback by her tone and asked cautiously, "What do you mean?"  She responded, "You must put her back where you found her.  She is wild, it's just how it is here."

It seemed ridiculous to call the small puppy chilling in my arms "wild."  "She's just a puppy.  I can't leave her where I found her. It's a desert, there are coyotes," I said.  The woman shrugged and said "There have been many puppies and many coyotes before her. Take her back where you found her right now, maybe she'll find her mother and maybe she'll survive. It's all you can do."

I gripped the puppy more tightly as the woman spoke in an increasingly angry voice.  She was really passionate about abandoning puppies, it must be one of her hobbies and she pursues it with impressive vigor.  Her heartless response ignited a stubborn combative fire within me.  Do not tell me to leave a puppy in a desert.  Do not tell me it's all I can do. Because that is bullshit.

A decision was made in that second.  Because yes, "maybe" she'll find her mother and "maybe" she'll survive.  But she will absolutely survive if she comes with us.

let's get out of this drab hellhole, puppy

I walked away from the woman and whispered to the kids, who were by then wide-eyed and near tears, "Is the mean lady still glaring at us?"  And they whispered back, "No, she's putting on a backpack now" and then I whispered, "Get in the car fast, before she sees us and starts yelling again." The kids hustled into that car faster than I've ever seen them move and I tossed the exhausted puppy back onto Lucien's lap. "This is our puppy now" I said as I climbed back into the driver's seat, peeled out of the parking lot, and pointed the car Dead North.

And that's how we got a new dog.  I soon texted Alex the following: "We found a puppy in Monument Valley and I'm bringing her home."  A couple very long minutes followed in which I could feel Alex's initial shock then hear a long deep sigh before receiving the response, "Of course you are."  He then requested pictures.  Alex, despite his outward bravado, is also a soft touch when it comes to animals.  Thankfully.

The trip back to Seattle was....eventful.  At one point the puppy jumped into the back of the car and pooped on top of our suitcase.  That's tough to do at 70 mph on a twisty road but she's a survivor and probably used to less-than-ideal pooping conditions.

she slept a lot, which was preferable to the pooping

The hotels I'd booked in advance did not accept pets so the kids and I became co-conspirators for a greater cause, speaking in hushed voices and smuggling the dog into rooms in our emptied-out cooler.  The dog accepted this situation without complaint.  I think she knew we were trying to help her so she trusted us completely even when I (loosely, I'm not a monster) closed the lid.

The hotel staff thankfully never questioned why I kept carrying a cooler in and out of the hotel past the front desk.  If they had asked, I would have told them it was my "therapy cooler" and I needed it to get me through a difficult emotional time.

that's our puppy in a cooler
she was remarkably "chill" about the situation
ha ha ha ha

We managed to stop briefly at Bryce Canyon but didn't do the hike I planned because dogs aren't allowed in national parks and leaving a dog alone in a hot car is dog murder.

we'll be back someday
hopefully with no dog
but you never know

We named her Natani, a Navajo name for a Navajo dog.  She's a sweet dog but is also a total pain in the ass.  The most commonly heard sound in our house these days is a loud, "Natani!  NOOO!"  Then she goes streaking past with some forbidden object in her mouth, like a shoe or a cleanly chewed through laptop cord.

She is desperate to please yet she's not very good at it yet.

She digs holes the size of Texas in our yard.  She's eaten our sunflowers and pulverized our watermelon plant.  She's not yet housebroken.  She's eaten several socks and one pair of underwear. She broke the vase Coco made me for Mother's Day.  She jumps on all the furniture with dirty feet.  She sheds like crazy.  She's drawn blood from all of us with her sharp little puppy teeth. She scavenges and eats whatever she can find, especially if it's inedible.  You'll be like, "Hey, Natani, stop eating that plastic bag, it will definitely kill you" and she'll be like, "NOM NOM NOM." 

On top of all that, Oscar is very unhappy with the situation.  As a schnauzer of 14 years, he is not into this puppy bullshit.  She tries to play with him and he tries to rip her head off.  It's like a toddler constantly jumping on a crabby old man.  It's not a good match and we've managed so far with several baby gates to keep them separated.

Natani is making it her life's work to get on the other side of that gate and play with that damn schnauzer.  Lots of hurling her body at the gate, chewing on the gate, attempting to jump the gate and falling backwards.  Oscar, in a silver lining, has more pep in his step than we've seen in years.  He now lives for his white-hot hatred of her.  He's got renewed purpose in life and it's REVENGE and DESTROY HER.  He spends most of his time growling under his breath and plotting.

She's kind of a nightmare, I ain't gonna lie.  Alex just ran past the window outside, pointed at me sitting in here at my desk and yelled, "We did NOT need a puppy in our lives right now!" It appears Natani's gotten a hold of the garden hose and is having the time of her life.  Yikes.  

She's the worst.  Truly.  But she's home.
(And she's awesome)

Over 3800 miles traveled, three weeks, seven states, one dog.  It was an immensely successful road trip this year.  I'm not sure how I'm going to top it next year.  I may need to rent the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile and bring home a bear.

See you next year, New Mexico

Goddammit, Natani!  NOO!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Andrew and The Pueblo Prince

If I could live half the year in New Mexico, I would.  I love Seattle and am not willing to give it up entirely (even though it's changing rapidly and starting to suck a little bit) but the lure of New Mexico is intoxicating.  There's something in the New Mexico air that feels like a hug, something in the ground that wafts up through the sagebrush, envelops me in its arms and rocks me like a tiny baby.

That sounds like the premise for a horror movie but I promise it's not scary.  It's more warm and cozy.  Yet wild and rugged.  The light is just different there.  Plus, enchiladas.

Taos, New Mexico is quite possibly the only place where I'm excited to enter a church...

...and equally as excited to stare at the back of the church.

We stayed with a family friend in Taos.
She has a home with expansive views of mountains and sky.
She is doing something right.

A sweet new low maintenance pet

Step off, what the hell is that.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I first visited the Taos Pueblo on a family vacation when I was 16 years old.  We met two young Native American men during that visit who have since held significant places in our family lore.

The first was someone I'll call "Andrew."  We met him at the Taos horse ranch where he led trail rides for out-of-towners.  Andrew was my age, maybe a year or two older.  He was confident, cocky, funny.  He told us he was content with his life because he had everything he needed to be happy -- a horse, a house, and a rifle.

"Andrew" circa 1991

Andrew for some reason decided my family knew a lot about horses.  The truth was we knew what horses were but beyond that our horse smarts were a little fuzzy.  Andrew nevertheless led us on a very challenging mountain ride; our horses ran up narrow paths and jumped dry creek beds and sagebrush.  I dropped my reins and clung to my horse's mane at one point, screaming with fear.  Those were good family times.

Andrew repeatedly looked over his shoulder and yelled at my mother to keep her horse moving.  Mom disrupted our ride with her inability to control her animal.  "Don't let her stop to eat!  Don't let her stop to eat!" Andrew yelled but Mom could only throw her hands up helplessly as her horse wandered off the path into the brush to eat as if her stomach had no end.  We could no longer see Mom but could hear her disembodied voice say things like, "Well come on now, horse, stop that."

What did he expect when he put my mother on a horse named "Grandma"?  Everybody knows grandmas don't listen and are quite ornery.

My sister visited the Taos Pueblo years later and found Andrew still at the horse ranch.  She recounted our family's experience years prior and he laughed, then took her and her British friend, who had never been on a horse in his life, on the same "advanced level" ride.  More running through mountains, more jumping, more screaming with a few very British hollered "Oh dear Lord"s thrown in for international flair.

The Taos Pueblo
A many centuries-old UNESCO beauty

It's been over 15 years since my sister's return visit but I was still hopeful I would find Andrew at the ranch.  I carried the above photograph of him on my tour of the pueblo but didn't need it -- as soon as I mentioned his name, people smiled.  He's well known, well liked, but no longer conducts trail rides at the horse ranch.  He's moved on to other things, like starting foundations and such.

I was happy to hear he was well but also crestfallen.  I would not go on another memorable horse ride with Andrew as my fun yet slightly irresponsible guide. It's probably in the best interest of my kids' safety my reunion hopes were snuffed.

My disappointment did not abate upon returning to Seattle.  On a whim I looked him up on Facebook and there he was. It was the same big enthusiastic smile but now he was surrounded by a large and equally enthusiastically smiley family.

I sent him a message.  He messaged me back.  He's happy with his life and happy to hear he gave my family such fond memories of our time in Taos.  Andrew and I are now Facebook friends and I've done some reading about the foundation he started, a foundation to preserve Native American languages and teach them to young people.  Great job, Andrew, but tell me, do you miss yelling at my mother?  You must.

There was a second significant man at the pueblo back in 1991.  We never caught his name but he was our tour guide. He was also young, maybe eighteen or nineteen, beautiful with long dark hair in a ponytail all the way down his back.  He was articulate, soft spoken yet passionate about the pueblo and his tribe.  His goal was to graduate college and study Indian Law.  I was so smitten.

My family made merciless fun of me in the aftermath of that tour.  In retrospect, they were quite insensitive to the workings of the teenage heart.  I couldn't stop talking about him.  My family drove me back to the pueblo the following day in the hopes of seeing him again but he was not there.

Anyone seen this person?  
The Native American one, 
not the rest who can't take their eyes off his beauty 
while wearing their early-90s high-waisted pants.

My family and I began calling him "The Pueblo Prince."  The Pueblo Prince set my 16-year-old soul afire with injustice.  I returned home to Ohio after that trip and wrote letters to the editor of our local newspaper about the issues facing current day Native Americans -- sky high rates of alcoholism and unemployment, extreme poverty on many remote reservations where we forced them to live, a loss of sense of identity and high rates of depression and suicide for starters.

(I received some fan mail for those letters to the editor -- a few people thought it was great a sixteen-year-old cared about such things.)

The struggles of current day Native America continued as my theme throughout college.  I gave impassioned presentations to my less enthusiastic classmates.  I wrote intensely melodramatic pieces in creative writing but it's possible I laid it on too thick -- I remember one essay returned with "I'm rolling my eyes, MJ, give me a break" scrawled across the top in red pen.

That teacher probably celebrates the white man's triumph over Native Americans every night before he goes to bed.  If you don't give me an "A" you're part of the problem.

Upon graduation, I decided I wanted to do something different, something volunteer-oriented, before getting a "real" job.  Would I have thought that way if I had not been introduced to people screwing other people over at a young age?  I'll never know but I can guess.

I signed up with a volunteer organization.  I hoped to work at an AIDS clinic with Native Alaskans but that position was taken by the time they interviewed me.  Instead they asked me to move to Seattle to work with adults with developmental disabilities.

And the rest, as they say.....

the way we are
because Alaska just did not happen

that is a f*cking amazing church

I wish this next part was happier.  Unfortunately it ends the way I should have seen it ending.  I sent Andrew the above picture of the Pueblo Prince and asked him if he knew who he was.  He did, in fact they're good friends having grown up together on the reservation.  He told me his name.  It's weird he actually has a name.

I couldn't find the Pueblo Prince on Facebook so instead Googled him.  I wish I hadn't.  It became obvious very quickly The Prince has fallen prey to issues I used to expound upon in class presentations.  He didn't finish college.  He never came close to practicing Indian Law.  He is instead, from what I've read, a "well known alcoholic" in his tribe who's been regularly on the wrong side of the law.

I found a picture of him but I can't believe it.  There's no way he looks like that now yet at the same time there's little doubt.  It's him, and it's as heartbreaking to see as his beauty ever was.

It's cruel irony the man who inspired me to learn about issues facing current day Native Americans now suffers several of them.  I've asked Andrew to wish The Pueblo Prince well for me, and to tell him I remember him and he made an impact with his message.  Andrew has promised he'll pass my sentiments along next time he sees him.  I hope it makes The Pueblo Prince feel good, no matter how briefly.

Look at that.  Still no dog story.

But the dog did not happen in New Mexico.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Like the aisles can't hold us

Lord Huron is a necessary soundtrack for blog posts about trips across the American Southwest

Let's go.

Life post-roadtrip is depressing.  Last week we were waking up to the stunning scenery of Monument Valley.  This week I'm waking up to the equally imposing yet not as inspiring monolith of laundry piled halfway up my closet wall.  That thing is insurmountable.  I'm considering leaving it there as a plaything for the kids, a soft yet slightly crunchy jungle gym emitting the faint aroma of sweat and desert and fun times past.

I am not spontaneous in my daily life.  On the contrary, since becoming adult-ish I like things planned, like to know what's coming around the corner.  I keep a Calendar That Must Be Obeyed and don't care for surprises. If you surprise me, my immediate impulse is to karate chop to the eye socket.

But I undergo a personality transformation on the road.  The planned itinerary says Canyonlands National Park but I'll wake up that morning and think, "not feeling that today, let's go to Monument Valley**."  It's a good feeling to wake up and know an infinite number of things are possible.  It's also good to know that spontaneous part of myself still exists, the part that can switch it up, listen to the inner stirrings that are telling her to f*ck that plan and bail.

**The Monument Valley-for-Canyonlands substitution really happened this time around and it was a fortuitous change of plans for a certain small dog.  More on her in a minute.

After our time in Denver, my parents joined us for a couple days at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The Great Sand Dunes are nature at its most confused.  Nature went and built itself some giant sand dunes in between some mountains and some wetlands.  Nature, go home, you're drunk!

The plan was to sled the dunes but we soon discovered the snow sleds I'd hauled from Seattle were useless on soft sand.  You could make it to the bottom but it was at a pace slower than Lucien on an alpine slide.  And that is pretty damn slow.

It looks thrilling.  It wasn't. 

A nearby shop rented "sand sleds" and that's when the fun really began --

Giving Grandma a shove on a heavily waxed sand sled.
Grandma flew then wiped out.  It was glorious.

The fun began, that is, until the fun ended, which is about the time Coco got sand in her eye.  The wind kicked up and began blowing sand around our legs, which felt to Coco like little sand knives stabbing her skin and rendering her life impossible to bear.  There was some crying, some blubbering, some sitting on the sand refusing to move.

We now say about the sand dunes, "they were really really fun until they weren't fun at all."

That's Coco, the little windbreaker-covered ball, refusing to live any longer until we made the wind stop.

We said goodbye to my sand-covered parents and drove onward to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Santa Fe is a special place, a favorite of my family for decades. It's full of art galleries, old adobe buildings and quirky characters -- like the guy who stood in front of the automatic doors of the grocery store and said, "OPEN SESAME" in a booming baritone whenever someone exited.  We also encountered a woman playing guitar and singing in the park.  She followed people as they walked past and sang more loudly if they didn't acknowledge her. Some tried to run but she ran after them with her guitar and sang even more loudly. She was very aggressive with her songs.

One thing I've never understood about Santa Fe is how a city centered around art and artists can be so expensive to live in.  Artists are not known for having millions of dollars on hand to buy a small adobe casita.  Are the rich people housing the artists in their garages?  Are artists living in caves just outside the city limits?  I hope the artists are getting enough to eat living on the fringes of the vibrant community they helped create.

An artist cannot afford this house.  
Actually, the vast majority of people cannot afford this house.

I spent a significant amount of time browsing the galleries of Santa Fe.  I was pegged as a serious buyer in every gallery I entered and schmoozed mercilessly, a rare occurrence.  I think it was because I was wearing a hat.

I love browsing art galleries but I hate talking to gallery employees about the art therein. When you're a serious hat-wearing art buyer, however, they want to talk to you a lot.  I rarely have the "right" words to discuss the art.  I often sound like an idiot.

If a gallery worker asks my opinion of a piece of art I'll usually conjure some gem like, "It's so blue and gloppy."  Or I'll say, "It looks like bubbles, so very whimsical" and the gallery person will respond, "He was actually commenting on the physical pain he feels taking his first breath each morning in a world full of bombs and starvation." and then I'm like, "Well, shit."

I would like to browse art galleries without being approached by people.  I only disappoint them.  Next time, I will not wear a hat.  I will wear denim overalls and Crocs.  That should buy me some gallery alone time for sure.

This is not a gallery.
It's Lucien at the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe.
Which I also love very much but don't wish to discuss.

"It's so blue and hole-y"

Alex met us in Santa Fe for the week.  We drove to the airport to pick him up in the middle of a hailstorm definitely sent from God to punish me for my earthly sins.  I stayed outwardly calm for the benefit of the kids but I was freaking out.  It sounded like an angry mob attacking with baseball bats.  The road was obscured by the mess of rain and hail pelting our car (which still bears hundreds of dents as a souvenir).  I was sure the windshield was about to shatter, causing me to drive off the road. We'd end up in a ditch with a bunch of artists who live there because they can't afford to live in Santa Fe.

We made it to the airport but not without getting reacquainted with God a few times.

After Alex arrived we did an overnight trip to Taos, New Mexico. I visited the Taos Pueblo 24 years ago on a family vacation.  It was one of the most formative experiences of my young life and led me to care deeply about the issues affecting today's Native Americans.  This early interest in social justice led me to Seattle after college to care for adults with developmental disabilities.

this place, man, this place

It's therefore not too far-fetched to say my visit to the Taos Pueblo at age 16 led me to this very day, this life, this exact chair I'm sitting in now while stuffing my face with yogurt covered raisins.  If I hadn't visited the pueblo back when I was young, I'd probably be stuffing my face with yogurt-covered people right now because I wouldn't care as much about them.

My kids were not as profoundly moved by the pueblo as I was but I'm going to fault their age and not their characters for that.  I will make them return year after year until they understand just how badly the Native Americans got screwed.

Coco, get back here and care

I have more to say about Taos.  I also said I would talk about the dog in Monument Valley but this post is getting long.  A three week road trip does not boil down nicely into one blog post.  Or, apparently, two.  It probably won't even work in three.  Regardless,  I'll return to finish the road tale soon.

In the meantime, I will return to a boring life full of drudgery.

False.  These people would never let that happen.  

This is us attending a Macklemore concert a few nights ago.  That's me on the left.  We got yelled at by stadium staff for standing in the aisle up next to the stage.  So we left that aisle and stood in a different aisle.  They found us there and yelled again but there were lots of aisles and we stood in them ALL.

Being aisle outlaws was, frankly, more entertaining than watching the show.  Macklemore, you lost us when you donned a David Bowie wig and sequined cape.  What the hell were you thinking.

We'll put our hands up like the aisles can't hold us.
Literally, the aisles can't hold you.
Get out of the aisles. You're a fire hazard.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The happiest time of year, now with duct tape

Coco's a preschool graduate.  Now that I've successfully launched my youngest child into Kindergarten, I believe my parenting here is done.  It's time to relax, learn to oil paint, maybe retire to Boca Raton.

It may be cynical but I think the concept of preschool graduation is akin to congratulating the tadpole on becoming a frog.  The frog didn't really do anything to earn the advancement, just kind of lived a little bit more and got older and aged out of his little tadpole body.

But sure, it was sweet and admittedly eye-watering to see Coco sitting there proudly in her self-decorated paper graduation cap.  I dabbed my eyes and blew my nose loudly, then apologized to everyone around me -- "I'm sorry for being so emotional, it's just she's the first in our family to graduate from preschool."

Lucien "graduated" from 3rd grade but there was no ceremony so I guess no one gives a rip about that achievement.  It's an unfair world, son.  Struggle with fractions for a year and no one bats an eye but survive "playtime" a dozen times a day and voila, here's a diploma and a gift bag.

The kids and I are in the wind right now, bumming around the Western U.S. on our annual road trip.  I cannot adequately express the joy this trip brings me every year.  I fly down the open road, usually alone and surrounded by breathtaking landscapes.  My favorite music plays loudly in the front and my kids laugh in the back and count cows, horses and train cars.  There's a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in my lap and an iced coffee in my cup holder. It's magical.

I've done this trip enough times to know the roads and anticipate what's around the corner.  I love it when I hit the rolling hills of I-84 in Washington and Oregon, love it more when I see the craggy mountains of Utah in the distance while still driving through Idaho.  I'm always amazed they're all still there, right where I left them a year ago.

We meet again, Utah

Being on the road give me an overwhelming sense of peace.  It strips life down to its most important parts, takes it back to the basics.  Life in Seattle is big and busy and detailed and complicated but when I hit the road I realize it's so simple, that everything I need to be truly happy is right there in the car with me. We're a self-contained happiness package hurtling through the Rocky Mountains.

That's not to say our trips go without a hitch.  I would be disappointed if they did; hitches are the spice of life.  Hitches make you feel alive, like when you're flying around a bend in central Idaho at 80 mph and you suddenly realize everyone in front of you is stopped cold.  There's a wildfire burning uncontrollably at the side of the road and the highway upon which you are driving has been closed.

I screeched to a stop (there was screeching both from the tires and my mouth) just in time, as did everyone behind me, but what followed was an uncomfortable "very trapped" feeling as I realized there was a wildfire burning ahead and bumper-to-bumper traffic behind.  All you can do in that situation is hope for favorable breezes and well rested firefighters.

Tiny figures in the distance battled the fire successfully and the highway eventually reopened.  As we rolled past the smoldering devastation, the kids and I had a chat about the terrifying nature of nature and how road trips can turn on a dime.

Get us out of here

I mentioned awhile back my run-in with the landscaping truck at Lucien's school that left a small piece of my car loose and wiggly.  It wasn't an alteration that bothered me so I quickly forgot about it and never took the car to be fixed.

That small cosmetic issue became a larger issue at 80 mph on the highway.  The piece of loose car caught the breeze and bent backwards.  As it bent back further and further, helpless against high wind velocity, the length of the piece grew longer and longer and I thought, "Holy hell, the force of the wind is going to peel the entire panel off the car,"

I pulled up in front of a convenience store in Jerome, ID and ran inside to buy duct tape.  A couple pieces of duct tape were applied to the problem area and I hit the road again, confident in my Macgyver-like vehicle repair abilities.

Half an hour later I looked in the side view mirror to see the piece of plastic had returned, flapping in the wind without a care in the world, two pieces of duct tape fluttering from the end of it.  F*ck that.  I pulled into a hotel parking lot and applied SIX pieces of duct tape and once again felt naively confident the problem was solved.

An hour later, the piece of plastic was back, this time trailing six pieces of duct tape like a squid joyfully waving its tentacles.  It seemed to be enjoying our road trip to the fullest.  My fellow travelers squinted with concern at my car as I passed them.

It's hard to enjoy your road trip when you're worried a part of your car is fixing to blow off.   I pulled into a truck stop and dispensed the rest of the roll of duct tape, applying it in a criss-cross pattern in several layers.  I attracted some attention at that truck stop because I was wearing my favorite bright blue tie-dyed maxi skirt and ripping off pieces of duct tape with my teeth while kneeling on the ground and muttering.  The truckers stared and stared but gave me wide berth so we cool.

The good news is the tape didn't come loose for the rest of my trip.  The even better news is people give you lots of room on the road when there's duct tape on the side of your car.

You jealous of my ride?

The kids are cheerful the majority of our time in the car but Lucien was in a sour mood by the end of Day One due to a Kindle malfunction.  Sometimes when Lucien is crabby I like to annoy him even further.  I lobbed a few "Turn that frown upside down, son!"at him and played "Don't Stop Believing" at high volume, singing along and inserting his name into the lyrics.  Don't stop believing, Lucien. Hold onto that feeling, Lucien.

He scowled in response and threw a piece of wadded paper from his sketchpad at the back of my head.  I yelled at him then because that was not cool; you don't distract the driver when she's doing 80 mph in a car held together by duct tape, even if she is being kind of a d*ck.

Coco got carsick as we headed through the mountains of Utah on Day Two.  Lucien scrambled for plastic bags in the back and reported there were none left so I pulled into a strip mall parking lot to assess the situation.  A woman dressed in a fashionable tennis ensemble pulled up next to me and I blurted, "I'm sorry I parked so crooked, I just pulled in here for a minute to deal with a carsick kid."

When she heard that, Fashionable Lady sprung into action. "The same thing happened to me on a road trip to California with my son last month.  Don't worry, I got you."  She took off jogging (so sporty!) across the parking lot and rounded up several more plastic bags from a bagel shop.  She delivered them along with some wet paper towels, wished me luck, told me to hang in there.  She waved goodbye as I drove off.  That's your daily reminder that people, when you really need them, can be awesome.

Coco made it through the mountains and we made it to Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah. The quarry there features hundreds of fossilized dinosaur bones still embedded in rock.  It's not crowded, the landscape is stunning and there are petroglyphs visible from the main road.  The place is so great I don't have anything to make fun of, which in my world is quite a disappointment in itself.

you jealous of my ride?

Now we find ourselves at my parents' house in Denver.  Big things have happened here, such as Coco's dream of meeting a unicorn finally coming true --

We made an error and went out to dinner one evening at an old Denver establishment called Casa Bonita.  Casa Bonita is the only Mexican restaurant I've visited that seats 1000 people (seriously) but none of those 1000 patrons are Latino.  That is always a glaring sign you've made a terrible mistake.

Have you ever tasted salsa that has absolutely no flavor?  I didn't know that was possible but apparently anything's possible at Casa Bonita.  The food was cafeteria style in that you had to grab a tray to go pick up the food and drinks you'd already ordered, then balance them carefully as you wound through 1000 non-Latino people to your table.  It's a bad scene.

The "good" news is there's a full schedule of dinner entertainment.  Casa Bonita has a real waterfall in the middle of the restaurant and a show that involves cliff divers as well as a staged gunfight between what we think was a cowboy and a pirate.  This picture of my parents may best summarize our reaction to the show --

It's blurry but it still makes me laugh

Here's a cliff diver --

Is he OK? 

We had no idea what the hell was going on at any given moment at Casa Bonita and left the restaurant traumatized and unwilling to discuss the experience further.  If you ask, we will deny having been there.

My parents drove us to Golden, Colorado yesterday to ride the alpine slides.  Alpine slides feature prominently in my childhood memories; my family could never turn down an alpine slide even if we didn't plan on riding one that day. "Is that an alpine slide over there on that hill?  Screw that visit to Grandma today, let's go!"

What a treat to finally share this beloved family activity with my children.

Coco on the chairlift

Upon viewing the track snaking up the side of the mountain, Lucien expressed some trepidation but agreed to try.  Coco and I went down first and enjoyed our ride immensely but as we waited....and waited....and waited.....at the bottom of the slide for Lucien, who had been in line right behind us, I grew increasingly nervous. Where was he?  Had he gotten scared and refused to come down?  Had he tipped over somewhere along the track?  Was he hurt or maimed in some way?  I was desperate to catch a glimpse of him as the minutes dragged on and on and on.

I was about to jump out of my skin when I finally saw a small person turning the corner up high on the track.  Thank God, it was him.  But then.....oh no oh no oh no.  There were twenty to thirty additional heads right behind him, all in a cluster, all barely moving.  The group of them looked like a centipede snaking along the track at a snail's pace.

I cringed.  I willed my cautious son to move faster in my mind but he didn't receive my telepathic message.  Lucien continued to hold up every other rider on the track (grandma and grandpa included) as he steadfastly refused to move faster than crawl.  When he finally pulled up at the bottom, I ran forward, hugged him, then urged him to run and hide for a few years.

But on the other hand, I felt proud of him.  Lucien enjoyed that ride completely and was beaming when he finally came around the final turn.  He's always done things his own way, on his own time, regardless of what others are doing or want him to do.  It's an admirable trait, one that I have always (usually) loved about him, and hopefully one that will come in handy during adolescence.

And as Mom pointed out, "It really gave everyone a chance to check out the scenery on the way down!"  My mom is a cheerful optimist.

We took another couple rides after that first one and switched up the order so Grandma and Grandpa could also get some good fast rides down the mountain.  Coco rode with Grandpa and I rode behind The Loosh --

He got bolder, but only marginally --

No worries.  Keep on being yourself, kid.

We've still got well over two weeks left on the road.  I can't wait to see what else happens.

It's roadtrip heaven out here.