spring breaks hearts

When I tell people that we’re moving to Portland, they usually want to talk about two things: Portlandia, and the rain. No comment on Portlandia. But I do usually rush to say that I love the rain. I spent my entire desert-locked childhood dreaming of living in the PNW. There isn’t enough rain in NorCal to satisfy me. And so on.

All of which is true. Drizzly gray days are my favorites. But if I’m completely honest, I have found in the past couple of years that those endless weeks of gray don’t necessarily love me back. After a while, I do feel a little depressed. I do find it hard to leave the house, I do struggle to sleep well and I do tend to feel smothered and sleepy.

I just don’t realize this is what’s happening until the clouds lift and this happens.

(Yes, I did get a new lens and start using my regular camera again!)

an urban education

For a few days our egg situation has been a little questionable. They’re often dirty, and sometimes they’ve gone bad. So I took a look in the coop and sure enough, it needed attention. We use the deep-litter method for our birds, which is a great low-maintenance way to keep a coop clean and warm and dry, but it does have its limits, and we’d reached them. The birds were scraping deeper and deeper into the pile, leading to lost eggs that were later collected, mistaken for fresh, and broken into a ruined batch of waffles.

So I grabbed the rake and the pitchfork and went to work, scraping out months of old straw. Jeremy hauled a straw bale into the run and I spread it all over the coop floor and tucked it into the nesting box, then the chickens went to town on the rest. At the end there was a flock of happy chickens, a clean coop for the next few months, and straw in my bra.

When we first began keeping chickens, I was afraid of everything that could go wrong. On some level I believed that if they didn’t have a perfect coop situation — the more twee the better — they’d just drop off their roosts and die, and the books were mainly concerned with many dozens of diseases and deprivations. More than five years later I’m pretty cavalier about chicken tending. Unless you live in an area with weather extremes, they don’t need much in the way of housing — fencing is far more important. Health issues generally resolve on their own — through some 75+ egg layers I’ve only had to stick a greased hand up a hen’s vent once. I’ve learned to induce a broody hen to raise chicks that aren’t hers, have brought up several rounds of newborns under heat lamps, and have participated in the slaughter and dressing of dozens of birds. Chicken tending is something I feel very confident doing, along with growing big productive organic gardens, preserving the harvest, milking a cow, collecting a herd of errant sheep, and fending off a nasty goat. And all of that knowledge isn’t likely to be worth much in a few months, when we move to the city.

When I mention this someone always rushes to assure me that Portland is a homesteading-friendly city where we could probably find something akin to our situation here. And in the beginning, when it looked like this was the move we’d make, that’s just what I intended to do. I jumped on the Internet and looked up websites and message boards for urban homesteaders, scanned rental listings for ranch homes with big backyards and gardening permissions, and carefully analyzed the area using the terrain setting in Google Maps.

Essentially I was working to carefully dig a perimeter around our rural lifestyle, lift it straight out of the NorCal soil, and transplant it into a city of more than half a million people, without losing a single microbe or pullet or green pea shoot. But I think this might be the wrong approach.

Before we moved here, we never had a decent garden and we never had chickens. But long stretches of time passed without driving because we used public transportation. We biked to the farmer’s market every week. We spent huge chunks of time at the public library where we were exposed to an ongoing collective of initiatives in food, sustainability, and economic justice, which because of their urban location were focused less on individual self-sufficiency than communal interdependence.

At the time I didn’t appreciate many of these things because I wanted that individual self-sufficiency. I wanted the farmhouse in the woods, the half-acre garden under a billion visible stars, the pond and the orchard and the herd of sheep, the solar panels as a wall between myself and a wasteful, polluting population.

And now I’ve had some of those things. I’ve lived in a tiny house, coaxed growing green things from soil compacted by generations of cattle, rationed water, run a blender on solar energy, eaten animals raised by my hand, lived miles from another human being. All of these, an education, which is nowhere near complete.

But it just doesn’t feel right to transfer into the same program when we move to the city. Maybe the city has something else to say.

keep the car running

Hey everyone, I have some news.

The primary reason we visited Portland two weeks ago was because Jeremy had an interview at the Waldorf school there, and he got the job. We’ll be moving to Portland in four months.

This is fine. I feel fine.

(source)

Seriously though. This wasn’t in the plan. You know, The Plan! The one where you’re like, hey universe I want this. And the universe is like, you got it babe! Oh shit, that doesn’t exist? It doesn’t exist! We just prattled on our merry way thinking we had lots of control and nothing would ever ever change. Always good for a laff.

Clear up through December we did not expect to leave. We talked about it a hundred thousand MILLION times and every conversation went like this.

So hey maybe we should leave.

Yeah maybe we should.

It makes sense.

Yes it does.

It would be okay.

Sure it would.

Maybe it would even be great.

I think so too.

So we’ll just stay here then.

Yep sounds good.

But one day I had a thought. What if we made the decision based entirely on what’s best for our kids? And I know that sounds funny because don’t parents base EVERYTHING on what’s best for our children? Well, no. We actually take many things into consideration, and settle often for what’s good enough, especially when the kids aren’t immediately obviously suffering. And our children aren’t suffering. Sure, there’s only one other boy in Isaiah’s class of 7. Willow doesn’t have many chances to connect with kids who are a little more off-beat. But they are happy healthy children.

Still, when we decided to approach the question this way, the answer clarified. We’d give them as many opportunities as we could. Social opportunities, educational opportunities, cultural opportunities, environmental opportunities… We’d want their world to be as wide as possible (ahem, as wide as we can afford — world travel is not in the budget).

Let’s put it this way: Isaiah’s class is Portland will have 18 boys next year. Eighteen boys! You should have seen how Isaiah’s face lit up when he heard that.

Once we accepted that moving to a more populated and innovative area would probably be the best choice for our kids, we turned our attention to the benefits for us, the adults in the equation. Jeremy’s new position is in the math department for the junior high and high school. After graduating his current class, he’ll have a break from being a main lesson teacher (which is an enormous emotional investment), and he’ll get to pursue his first love of math in a professional setting. He’s thrilled, and I’m thrilled for him.

And as for me… look, I built my little meal-delivery business as an alternative to extremely limited job opportunities — because I didn’t want to cultivate marijuana for a living — because I felt smothered by office work — because there is no university here and even if there were, there are no jobs here in anything I’d want to study — not because I really want to cook for a living. As much as I love it, I recognize it as a compromise. In Portland I’ll have the opportunity to pursue work that is both challenging and meaningful.

Other benefits: public transportation, walkable communities, affordable mortgages, so many cultural events, tons of “ethnic” markets, a curvy yoga studio, bike lanes, a thriving Buddhist community (other than Tibetan), interesting architecture & history, cooler summers, places I can safely eat occasionally, NO DROUGHT, really great coffee, closer to family, and plenty of opportunity to overcome my latent fear of bridges.

I focus tightly on all of these wonderful things because the drawbacks include leaving our “logical family” (thank Maupin for that wonderful term!) and abandoning this incredible place. This will hurt.

For so long, I couldn’t even think of leaving because I thought we’d be running away, and I refused to run away. I refused to give up, or to give in to that grass-is-greener mentality. Before this point I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to instead just turn very slightly in another direction, to redirect, and not with fear and regret, and to willingly keep my heart in multiple places.

So there you have it. Four months. Goodbye Mendo, hello Portland.

three days in Portland

Last week Jeremy had a math conference in Portland, OR. The children had the week off from school, so I had considered tagging along, but decided against it since I’d already committed to taking a couple of days off from work next week. But then my stepmother popped up in Eugene — my parents are moving there next month — and since it’s been two years since my kids have seen their grandparents (because of my dad’s illness), it seemed like too many good things were converging to not take advantage of the time. So I quickly rearranged some responsibilities, packed up in record time, and drove to Portland.

It’s hard to believe now, but many years ago we actually tried to move to Portland. The most important thing to know about this story is that we were idiots. Completely and totally. Morons. Dunces. Stupid-heads. We didn’t know that, of course. We were just kinda desperate and desperate people do idiotic things. It’s basically a life rule.

I think our logic went like this: Jeremy had recently dropped out of college and decided to be a Waldorf teacher, and there was/is a Waldorf teacher training in Portland. At the time I wanted to go into childbirth services, and there’s a pretty good scene for that in Portland. I was 21, Isaiah was one year old, and I was freshly knocked up with Willow. Shortly before this trip we bought a used (VERY used) VW bus from a couple-a hippies in SLC. The bus was tagged up on every visible surface. Isaiah stayed with my parents for the week, and we took our three big, unruly dogs along with us. Also, Jeremy looked like this.

Yeah.

We went up to Portland hoping to find a cheap apartment. We didn’t know anybody in the city, we didn’t have any knowledge of the city, and we had no money. Seriously, I have no idea how we even afforded to make this trip. I think my parents might have paid for us to stay in a hotel one night, where we broke our dogs in through the window. This was definitely a low point in our shared life.

Anyway, needless to say we did not find an apartment, since we had no verifiable income and looked like street people. I have almost no memories of this trip. I spent most of the time sleeping in the back of the van with the dogs, because pregnancy sucks.

On the drive back to pick up Isaiah at the Utah/Arizona border, a cop pulled us over. Because, as I said, Jeremy looked like this. And our van looked like that.

Ostensibly our front license plate was missing. Okay.

Jeremy handed over his license, but the van was unregistered because we’d bought it just a couple of weeks earlier and were broke and stupid. After checking on the license, the cop asked Jeremy to step out of the car, where he was immediately placed in handcuffs and hauled into the cruiser. I was ordered out of the van, where I stood on the side of the highway with our three dogs on leashes, swaying with nausea and panic, while the cop went over the van with a fine-tooth comb, absolutely praying, I’m sure, that he would find something and really nail us. We were good Mormons at the time, but I was truly afraid the SLC hippies might have left something in the van. That would have really been the capstone to this little experience, but he found nothing.

However, Jeremy’s license was suspended because we’d neglected to pay a traffic fine (see again: broke and stupid). I seem to remember that the bills and notices kept going to our old address, though it’s equally possible that we knowingly didn’t pay it. So the cop took Jeremy to jail, the van was impounded, and I came along behind with the tow truck.

Jeremy’s parents bailed him out of jail (the proudest moment in life for any parent), and paid for a rental car so we could pick up Isaiah in Arizona (see again: low point). After losing our van to the impound lot because we couldn’t afford the $500 fee, we went back to Utah with our tails between our legs. Jeremy paid his fine, had his license reinstated, shaved his face, and wore a suit to court, and his case was thrown out. Slowly we got our shit together, and three years later we managed to finally move away.

But because of this experience, Portland has always conjured reminders of shameful irresponsibility, panic, desperation, and pregnancy nausea. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to actually be there again, but it was surprisingly wonderful.

A few highlights…

Caught a field of elk and an excellent coastal sunset on the drive up.

Day trip in the city with the children, while Jeremy was at his conference. We took the MAX underground (really cool core sample and geologic timeline down there), stopped for coffee (me) and chocolate “kwassaaahn” (kids) at Barista, shopped at Powell’s City of Books, had lunch at Block’s, visited Cathedral Park, and tried to walk across the Hawthorne Bridge at sunset (but thought better of it).

Processed with VSCOcam with g2 preset

On the way to Portland a pretty nasty case of poison oak sprung up on Willow’s face and arms, so bad that her eyes were nearly shut by swelling for a couple of days. She toughed it out pretty well, with the aid of Ivarest and Benadryl, but after a big day in the city I thought she could use a quiet day, so we drove to Mt. Hood and then looped back around along the Hood River (stunning!) and back into the city. Sadly, my phone really wasn’t up to the task of shooting the mountain and surrounding environment in the bright, hazy weather.

That afternoon we took the tram up to OHSU, and then Jeremy and I got a little date night in the city, which was pretty sweet. We drove through a bunch of different neighborhoods, then hopped on the MAX and had dinner at Bollywood Theater and dessert at the famed Salt & Straw (I recommend the tasting flight).

And then, back home along I-5 (Jeremy driving this time, thankfully), and… home!

 

the future of s+f

I began the year intending to post much more often, but instead, I’ve been quiet. Things are shifting, and until the future is somewhat pinned down, I have to just let the days and weeks go by without comment. I see a big change in the year ahead — no pregnancies, no divorces, nothing very significant to anyone else. Just a change. That has me considering this space I’ve built over the past year, and wondering where to go next.

I’ve been blogging consistently for 10 years! So much has changed, both in myself and in the blogging world. Blogging is big business now. I don’t begrudge anyone else doing so, but I’ve never gone down that road. I blog because it’s a way to share my writing and my pictures and small selections of my life with people who are interested in that sort of thing. That’s it. My life is pretty boring. I don’t travel. I’m not into fashion. My photos are mediocre. I can’t even capitalize on strongly-held, somewhat offensive opinions anymore. I have no “niche,” no target audience, and my stuff is too long and equivocating to go viral. I have tried really hard to just put myself forward as-is, and that means breaking all the rules of successful blogging. At any time I could have stripped away the clutter surrounding one central message or purpose or audience. Many times I thought it was the right thing to do. But not having sponsors or anything to sell and not having to promote myself in any way have given me the freedom to keep this space exactly how I want it, which is apparently in meandering but comfortable disarray, just like the rest of my life.

Some things, though, I am reconsidering. I think I’m going to leave the food blogging side altogether. I’ve been trying to hold on, but truthfully, I have nothing original to offer. Any recipe I’d want to make can be found on Pinterest in a hundred different iterations. My cooking is not new, interesting, or different in any way. It’s just basic home-cooking, and you can find that on a thousand other food blogs, with much prettier pictures, and better descriptions and cleaner recipe tabulations.

And the food writing side, too, is pretty much over for me. I’m not a food critic. I rarely go to restaurants. I don’t review products or promote cookbooks. I used to have a stack going at all times, but I can’t remember the last time I really relished a cookbook. I’m not trying to be published or looking for a position in a prominent food blog or magazine (though I did, at one time, delusionally consider both). I don’t do giveaways or link-ups. I just like to cook. I even built a business in cooking. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth writing about. Honestly, I really struggle to find something to say about my recipes when I post them, and I think it shows in the stilted language I use. Durr, food tastes gud. U shd mk it. Something about substitutions.

Here are the things I still enjoy doing as a blogger: sharing my photographs, and writing when the whim hits me. That’s a REALLY narrow range. But those are the pieces that still inspire me. So I will keep offering them, and if you get bored and wander away, I promise to not take it personally.

I do appreciate my readers. Thank you for coming back so far.

it doesn’t have to be so hard

A few years ago, on my old blog (which is now published as Sex Tender for Horny Women), I created a school lunch project called Real Food Lunchbox. The basic aim of that project was to make my life & family miserable by dooming every effort at creating wholesome, homemade school lunches to failure right from the outset thanks to impossibly exacting standards. That wasn’t the stated mission but it might as well have been.

I began each week with a menu that included entirely from-scratch ingredients compiled exclusively by me. Each meal & snack was a perfectly balanced, delicious, beautiful work of culinary art that only took 90 minutes or so to create each morning, not including shopping for the most perfect ingredients, running the meals through a nutrition tracker, and generally making myself crazier than I already was.

After a couple of weeks, I gave up on the project. A couple of weeks is probably generous, actually. And the sad thing is that I actually thought this project would make my life easier. I dreaded the process of making and packing lunches every day. Our mornings were frantic, frustrated, rushed affairs, and I wanted to change that dynamic. I thought all I needed was a little planning, a little focus, and everything would fall in place.

After going through the diet recovery process, I began to approach my kids’ school lunches in a different way. I allowed food items into the house that had never theretofore been considered… like flavored yogurt (not plain yogurt with an abstemious dollop of homemade low-sugar jam), packaged granola (not some bullshit “paleo” granola clocking in at $4 a serving), peanut butter (not almond butter, can we please just agree that PB is superior?), out-of-season vegetables (because ferrealz no human being wants to eat raw broccoli even if that’s all that’s available in January), even WHITE BREAD Y’ALL.

And an amazing thing happened… everyone relaxed. The kids had enough to eat, they actually enjoyed eating the things in their lunch, and I didn’t spend the morning screeching like a banshee. Jeremy graciously did not comment on the change.

I still make an effort to choose healthy options, still try to create a balanced meal, still include vegetables and nuts and other things with “staying power.” But I focus above all on them having enough to eat. And most things are now store-bought. For example, I’m not making my own long-fermented unsweetened organic grass-fed yogurt anymore — I just buy the Greek yogurt flavored with honey or lemon because THAT’S WHAT I WANT TO EAT MMMKAY. SHIT’S DELISH. It’s got tons of sugar and also tons of fat and protein. Win, win, win.

The hummus is store-bought, the peanut butter is store-bought, and you betch yer ass the bread is store-bought. And the kids are still alive to this day.

Y’know, things don’t have to be so hard. We just make them that way.

let’s go for a walk

As part of my self-care resolution, I’m trying to fit more movement into my daily life. I stand up all day for work, which is certainly better than sitting, but it’s not the same as actual exercise. I’ve had plantar fasciitis on-again, off-again all my life, and just recently it’s very on, sometimes severe enough to preclude me from working out. Bouncing around or walking on asphalt both tend to make the pain worse, especially first thing in the morning. This week I began kettlebell workouts, which are fairly low-impact but still send my heartrate through the roof and leave me hobbling around the next day (in a good way), and I’m walking Tuna daily or every other day, and slowly rebuilding to a daily yoga practice (probably the best thing I could do for my feet). I’ve realized recently that I really thrive on routine. If I’m knocked out of my routine I tend to tumble into a pit of inertia, especially regarding exercise. So doing something every other day or three times a week is not as good as doing something daily.

Today I packed Tuna into the trunk — he gets car-sick, so he does best in the trunk where he can’t see the road — grabbed Jeremy and the kids from school, and drove to the lake by our house for an evening walk. After kettlebells yesterday, I needed some movement. The best way I’ve found to deal with strung-out hamstrings and tight muscles is to just keep moving. Slowing down seems to be the worst way to compensate. We walked down to the lake, laughing at Tuna who wanted to sniff and pee on everything in the world at once, and talked about the kids and work and the future, which will be changing swiftly soon in ways that I’ll cover in the next few weeks. The kids ran up to the playground while we watched a paddle-boarder cruise around with his fiercely swimming pibble. After an hour or so we went home. Most boring story ever.