Thursday, November 26, 2009

Places, spaces, and holidays

I've always been fascinated by the idea of place. It's a very complex and meaningful concept to me, and I suppose it has been, in some way, since I was quite young. Place ranks up there with family, friends, love, respect, and cheese in the things most important to me. I've been reading Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams recently. While it is actually about architecture in a major sense, it is also about writing and place, hence the reason I put it on hold and actually followed through with picking it up at the local library. Anyway, Pollan asks, "What is a place after all but a bit of space that people like me have invested with meaning?" I've rolled this question around in my head quite a bit, and whether I agree one hundred percent or not, he's definitely on to something. Where am I going with this? The holidays are definitely one of those times that we invest meaning in our spaces. And this year, in this new space, I'm happy to be continuing traditions and perhaps starting new ones.

As I think I mentioned before, it doesn't take many years for me to call something a tradition. I suppose it just takes the knowledge that I want to and will do something again and on a regular basis. (For those that know me well, this is a huge acknowledgement in itself!) So even though this was only the second year that I pulled out the Soroptomist gift list and tearfully read over requests for lotion, soda, salt and pepper, and Kleenex while watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, I was still happy to continue a tradition. Last year, The Boyfriend and I each picked out an oldster to buy a gift for after I read the entire list and cried because of the simple and basic items these people requested. This year, we thought about going in together for one oldster, since times are a little lean. But after wish list entries that were as simple as Kleenex and warm socks, or diet Pepsi and chocolate, I think we can spring for our own oldsters. And just to give you an idea of how great I think this list is and how much it puts me in the giving spirit, I'm even thinking of signing up for an oldster asking for an Oregon Ducks calendar. The week before the biggest Civil War ever, I think you'll understand the implications of this gesture. (Go Beavs!)

The tradition of alternating Thanksgiving between my mom and aunt's house continues this year, and it's Mom's turn. However, we're joined this year by my aunt and uncle from my dad's side of the family. I'm so excited to have both sides of the family together, especially this year. This Thanksgiving is going to be hard because of the year we've all had, but having more love, and more family, and more thankful faces around the table will make it easier. We'll laugh and we'll drink and we'll eat too much food like every year, and that will feel good. We'll miss those who aren't with us around the table, and that will feel good too because it means they're in our hearts. It means that love is strong and real and that we're present. The Boyfriend had to remind me once this year that being sad is good for that reason--it makes us know that we are here and we are experiencing life and love, both in the hard and wonderful times. I'm thankful for all that this year.

Will Thanksgiving with both sides of the family be a new tradition? Probably not, because I'm guessing my cousins will get their parents back for next Thanksgiving, but I'm hoping Jade's Chopstick on Thanksgiving Eve will be. What says Thanksgiving Eve like Chinese food in a strip mall? Apparently nothing, because the place was packed and I was happy as a clam to have someone else cook for me with spices and ingredients and meats that couldn't be less Thanksgivingish. Yes, Thanksgivingish. I even have leftovers, should I dare having a pre-Thanksgiving lunch. Right now, I'm trying to talk myself into a pre-Thanksgiving run.

Bring on the holidays--bring on the turkey and the beer and the laughter and . . . I was going to say tears, but I'm not trying to rhyme so we'll just leave it at that. I have so much to be thankful for today and always. I think I do a pretty good job of remembering that, but I'm willing to eat some pie and mashed potatoes for good measure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Last weekend I finally got the majority of my bulbs planted. I bought most of them a while back, but after the struggles of planting our perennial bed, I was lacking the motivation to do battle with the cement slabs, beer bottles, and belts of rusty nails that are buried just under the surface of our flower beds. However, The Boyfriend was in the garage fixing a dozen or so flat tires (I'm not exaggerating here either), so I figured I had some time to kill. Plus, if I was going to justify drinking a beer in the garage with him, I thought I should probably do some work to earn it. I don't call it a home-improvement beer because you get to sit on your ass while you drink it!

At first I was paralyzed with the decision of where to plant the bulbs. Where would the colors look best? Where would they not compete with the generously landscaped beds? What would those beds even look like in March? It seemed like a big decision, until I reminded myself I could always dig them up next year if I hated where they ended up. The Boyfriend made some suggestions and I dug in (pun intended). I was pleasantly surprised that the dirt in the front of the house was rocky, but otherwise fairly innocuous.

As most of you won't be surprised to learn, I had some bulbs to plant that were especially meaningful, which might account for some of my hesitation in deciding where to place them. I started with the irises. The irises came from Grandma Zada's yard almost a year and a half ago now. Last spring, I planted them at The Mini on what turned out to be the day that my uncle lost his battle with cancer. Last spring I waited and waited for them to come up, wanting desperately to see something beautiful spring forth from that sad, snowy day. Finally, little green tips pushed up through the soil, slowly at first and then surprisingly quickly. They didn't actually produce flowers last year, as Erik had warned me might happen. But they grew and they were alive and that's all I cared about. When I moved out of The Mini this summer, they were one of the last things to make the move. I dug them up and stashed them in a paper bag in the garage, where they've been waiting for their new ground--ground I hope they will occupy for quite some time. During that time, Grandma passed away, but while I was planting the irises on the west side of the driveway, I couldn't help but smile thinking how thrilled she would be that some of her flowers are here in Boise at our place. My Grandma Garden will be complete in the spring when I get some gladiolas in the ground.

Around the crazy tree in front, The Boyfriend and I both thought some tulips would look nice. I planted the little bed full of dark maroon and white tulips. The ones that didn't fit there went across the path in the hopes of creating a beautifully bordered springtime entryway. I even poured out all the bulbs on the sidewalk and mixed the two colors in an effort to combat my irrepressible urge to plant things in an ordered, symmetrical pattern. We'll see if randomness looks good next spring!

The final planting of last weekend was some daffodils that were in an arrangement I got following my uncle's funeral. You might remember this arrangement as the source of my hydrangea and azalea that we planted in the perennial bed in back. I only had three of these little guys, but I thought they would look perfect in front of a rock at the curve of the driveway. I dug these guys out of the arrangement, clipped the leaves off, and stored them in sawdust last spring, which in my mind leaves lots of room for error. Here's to hoping!

The only thing I have left to plant are some crocus bulbs. I bought these because there is not a more welcome sight in the world after winter than looking down and seeing those thin green harbingers of spring. When I lived in Corvallis, Mom and I would compare when the crocus came up as a sure sign that spring was in fact going to come again (Corvallis always won, for those of you who are curious). Crocus may be my annual Prozac, promising me that spring is around the corner even if many cold days will surely transpire between the first crocus and the breaking out of the flip flops. It's the promise that spring's coming that jolts me out of the doldrums of winter. Nevermind the fact that spring comes every year--I still need some green proof that this year won't break the mold.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Perfect Fall Afternoon (and Kickstands)

Sometimes things just feel perfect. I can remember a handful of moments in my adult life where I felt completely content, happy, and mentally there--when my thoughts didn't wander to other places, or my to-do list, or the six cookies I shouldn't have eaten for breakfast. But yesterday afternoon was one of those moments. The Boyfriend and I decided to take a bike ride--an Erica bike ride, mind you, not a Boyfriend bike ride. So we hopped on the bikes and headed out, I thought to the Optimist football fields down the road. I had secretly stashed a Frisbee in one of my panniers and attached it to my bike, a lopsided effect only possible with something as light as a Frisbee. (I tried it with groceries once, which didn't work out so well.)

Once we were on the road, The Boyfriend took a route I wasn't expecting. We headed out the rolling, two-lane road that I commonly refer to as Old Hill Road but is in fact just Hill Road. The fancy Hill Road Parkway relieved Hill Road proper of its thoroughfare duties a number of years ago, so we had the road to ourselves. We rode in the middle of the street, pedaling up the inclines and coasting the descents. When I was little, I thought if we drove the road fast enough it would feel like a "tummy-tickler" road I was once on in Arizona, almost like an impromptu roller coaster. Today, the rises and falls were just as much fun. In the years since I had been on that portion of Hill Road, the trees had enveloped the road even more, creating a shadowy tunnel. As we were riding west, the trees made the afternoon sun dance behind the fluttering leaves that would surely be gone in another week or two. I wanted to close my eyes and feel the sun flickering across my face, but I can hardly ride a bike with my eyes open, so I opted to just enjoy the view. The road cuts across the base of the foothills just a bit above the valley floor, so we could look down on farms and houses and horses. It was a perfect fall afternoon.

As we rode next to each other on the road, the leaves crunching and crackling under our bikes, The Boyfriend asked if I wanted to go up to the cemetery. I had only one question: was there a big hill to get there? No, he assured me, just a small rise. A small rise to The Boyfriend is a Mount Everest to me, but somehow, every time we're on the bikes, with the wind swooshing through my hair and the sun in my eyes, I seem to forget this. So we climbed up the road to Dry Creek Cemetery. I don't know how it is that I've never been up there, but if I have, I don't remember it at all. It was incredible. The single-lane road wound through the grounds, and colorful leaves punctuated the green lawns, along with flowers, memorials, and stately monuments. We didn't climb all the way to the Veterans' Cemetery, but took the road to the top of Dry Creek Cemetery. The view from the top was incredible, especially as the 4:00 autumn sun approached the horizon. It would have felt chilly if we would have stopped for long, but my muscles were warm from the steady "rise." We coasted all the way back down, only looking down long enough to avoid the occasional pothole.

As we came out of the cemetery and on to Hill Road Parkway, I was surprised to see we were right across from the football fields. We rode into the park, where I made a big show of parking my bike wherever I wanted, since I have a kickstand. After The Boyfriend assured me his next girlfriend would loathe kickstands as much as he does, he leaned his bike against the sign for field 3 (how inconvenient!) and I busted out the Frisbee. After two horrific tosses that sliced quite badly, the feeling came back to me and my throws improved. We tossed the Frisbee for 10 or 20 minutes before jumping on the bikes and heading home. Hill Road Parkway features one of the nicest, if most goathead-riddled bike lanes in town. It also, much to my delight, features a great walking path separated from the bike lane and road beyond by six-inch-high curbing. We waited for some real cyclists to pass by in the bike lane before riding home along the walking path. I thanked The Boyfriend for being kind (and dorky) enough to ride in the walking path with me. If any of those real cyclists did spot him and recognize him, I'm sure once they saw my bell and kickstand, that explained it all and he got a pass.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


A couple weeks ago I went out into the yard to pull some dead flowers out of their pots. I actually don't mind dead flowers all that much and am usually not in a big hurry to pull them out and admit autumn's victory, but I had a few that had turned to mush, and I was sick of looking at their slimy, depressing leaves. So I yanked them out, happy to think about what might go in that nice clean dirt next spring. Little did I know, something was going to be planted in one particular pot way before pansies in March.

A couple days later, I stepped out on the back patio to let the dogs outside to do their morning business. As I looked to the left, something caught my eye. It looked like a squirrel had already started digging in the empty pot and left a couple peanuts. I wasn't surprised; we had a small army of peanut burying squirrels that frequented The Boyfriend's pots at the townhouse. I was surprised, however, that this particular squirrel did not even take the time to bury its stash. The peanuts were just lying at the bottom of a nice deep hole. As I went over to either bury them properly or toss them out (I hadn't decided yet), imagine my surprise and horrific, immature disgust when I realized those peanuts were poop--big, fat cat turds. My already tenuous relationship with the neighborhood cats just took a decisive turn for the worse.

Over the past couple years, I had thought a lot about living in a real house and the responsibilities and freedoms that come with it. I thought a lot about our pets--enjoying their own yard, playing fetch, pooping off a leash (hey, after 4 years of dog walking, this is no small thing!). However, I failed to realize that we would be at the mercy of other people's pets. My first realization of this oversight came with our ventures out into the backyard and the humane society-esque greeting that came with them. Dogs everywhere: one big one and so many little ones I'd rather not take the time to list them individually. Collectively, they would still be drop-kickable. I probably hear two barks a month from the big one. The little ones, however, have become the soundtrack of my life, especially now that I work from home. Not wanting to feel left out, another, I would say medium-sized dog, has joined in from a couple houses down, and it might be the worst offender of all. Some of the dogs have started getting used to their new neighbors; others seem destined for eternal feuding. One dog must have recently acquired a bark collar, because now each of its high-pitched, temple-bursting barks is followed promptly by a beep! It actually is kind of funny, and I've started to admire the little guy's tenacity. In any case, that was Other People's Pets Lesson #1.

The cats, however, have collectively been Lesson #2. I know there are at least three cats who frequent our yard. I have no clue where they live, but from the looks of them, they're clearly from all different walks of cat life. One worked its way into my heart early. It's a petite, short-haired black cat with just a few white markings. It mews incessantly if it happens to join you outside, but is annoying irresistible. The Boyfriend and I have been too nice to this little guy, and perhaps our "peanuts" are what we have to show for it. The other black cat, however, has been best described by The Boyfriend as looking like it was lit on fire then promptly dunked in cold water. It looks like a walking comic strip and I probably wouldn't touch it with one of those Animal Planet catch poles and rubber gloves on. After the recent flower pot surprise and our dogs' particular affinity for finding and ingesting the "peanuts" they find in the flower beds, now when we see the cats in the yard we let the dogs out to chase. Any of you who know Kira will know that the success of this approach is dependent upon Apollo. Kira will give chase, but I think she's chasing Apollo with the hope that Apollo is chasing a tennis ball. Kira has been known to roll over when approached by a cat, so she's surely not tapping into her killer instincts.

If anyone has any cat repellent ideas, we're obviously in need.