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27 September 2009

OUR GIRL


I've posted three photos of a Saluki puppy I've never seen in life (Precious was born in California and will go to a home that isn't ours in a few weeks).

I realize I haven't posted a photo of the dog who sleeps at the foot of our bed and on whatever furniture she feels like sleeping on.  Here is Yeti at 41/2 years.  

COUNTRY MOUSE



My husband has a very common name.  In our big suburban high school north of Seattle, his locker partner had the same name he has.  In college he was sued for divorce by a woman he’d never met and received a tuition bill for someone else’s education.  The UW campus police sent him notice that they’d impounded his car and wouldn’t release it until he paid the $127 in unpaid parking fines.  He called them and offered to pay if he could have the vehicle, but evidently it belonged to the other man with his name, a man we never even met. 

In 1979, my husband and I moved from Seattle to a tiny town on the Oregon coast where my family has summered and lived for nearly 100 years.  I’ve lived here, now, for most of my life.  I began teaching first as a sub in 1979, and later as an English teacher and yearbook advisor.  My husband went to work in a farmers’ co-op—a fair sized one that did business with most of northern Tillamook county (yes, the cheese). Gary and I have worked other places—Gary for the US census and in the Alternative School; me selling at the Cannon Beach Bakery and Center Diamond, drawing plans for architect Jay Raskin—but mostly Gary has been in groceries south of our home, and I’ve been teaching to the north.  We’ve come to know a lot of people as customers and students and parents. These are small communities.  And it’s true what they say about people in small towns knowing one another’s business.  We know family names and people know us. 

My dentist is a former student.  So is my electrician and optician and the contractor who replaced three windows for us last year.  If someone is tailgating me and it’s not a tourist, it’s probably someone I know.  I move over. 

A few years ago a stranger with my husband’s name (probably not the one from Seattle) was in a fight with another man a half mile from our house.  The other man died and the story was in the paper.  Most people realized immediately that my Gary wasn’t the one who was in jail.  That’s because they know us. 

There’s a story about Gary that become legend:  A man stops his car by the side of the road in the dawn to wait for a herd of elk.  The elk run right over his car.  In some versions the elk are bloody.  In truth the elk were unharmed and the car was not quite totaled.  Gary didn’t hit the elk—they hit him.  Once in a while someone tells him this story about himself.  But most stories are firmly attached to people. 

Local gossip is prime subject of conversation because we’ve known families for thirty years—we’re aware and we’re interested.  We like most of our neighbors, but we know families with issues involving drugs and alcohol, the families in financial trouble, the ones who have screaming fights, the ones who hit, the ones with illegal guns stashed in their attics.  I know all the girls washing cars outside the Chamber of Commerce and I know why they are raising money.  Every local person knows.  A thousand people might show up for a memorial service.  Together we celebrate weddings we aren't even invited to and sob over dying children we've seen around since they were born.  We tell the stories of one another’s lives not to be cruel, but because we find ourselves interesting.

Our friends from the city like to tease us that living in a small town is why people are strange and have the peculiar problems that make the best stories we tell.  I counter that if their next door neighbor were building a bomb in his basement, they'd never know.  

When I was a university student, I used to walk by the house where Ted Bundy lived in Seattle.  My husband worked with his wife.  When he moved to Olympia he worked with the man who performed Gary’s and my wedding.  He was killing young women who looked like me all over the NW and everyone thought he was a charming young man.  No one knew a thing about what he did on his days off. 
There are no serial killers in my county.  I know this.  It isn’t that there couldn’t be a serial killer here, but I know there hasn’t been one because we would know, we small-town dwellers.  

If there were a serial killer there’s a good chance we’d know right away who he was.  

Precious @ 61/2 weeks (She's not mine, but she's pretty cute.)

16 September 2009

SMOOTH


When we’re out with our dog, most people we meet do not know what breed our Yeti is.  She is built like the more-familiar-less-ancient Greyhound, but smaller.  Sometimes they guess she’s a Whippet or an Afghan.  Once in a while they’ve seen a television special and ask, “Is she a Saluki?”  My husband likes to tell people that the Saluki is the dog Noah took on the ark.  There is some basis for this claim.  The breed originated in the middle east, and are still kept and used as hunting hounds by Bedouins in the desert and have looked pretty much as they do today for a millennia or two.  They are beautiful dogs to my eye, though to some they appear too thin, too odd.  They are bred to hunt by sight and run down game.  They are very good at that, by any measure.  Twenty years before I ever owned a Saluki, I admired them when I judged field trials on the basis of speed, agility, endurance, follow, and enthusiasm.  [More about that some other time.]

Most Salukis have “feathers” on their ears, elbows, between their toes, and great plumes hanging from their tails.  Our Yeti is a “feathered” Saluki.  Other Salukis have a short coat all over.  They are called “smooth.”  Our first Saluki, Yeti’s great great grand aunt Aagah, was a smooth.  Here’s a picture of “Precious,” a four week old smooth Saluki. 

[There’s a photo of her a few hours after she was born last month further down in my blog.] 

I’ve been thinking about being smooth lately since I picked up an issue of Glamour magazine for the first time in years.  I used to read both Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines religiously when I was an adolescent.  There were quizzes—“Are you a pack rat?”—fashion dos and don’ts and advice about What Shape Glasses for Your Shape Face?  The August issue was packed with the newest styles.  There were stories and advice about dating, but in 1966 there was nothing inappropriate for a 14 year old to read. 

Flash forward a few decades. 

The vice-principal at my high school labeled Glamour “pornographic.”  I’m inclined to agree.  If I had an adolescent daughter, I wouldn’t want her reading it.  Here’s the article that caught my attention the other day:  According to Glamour most women choose to go smooth, removing most hair—where it doesn’t show.  A Brazilian wax removes all the pubic hair.  All of it.  There are no photos in this article, but too much information.  There are explicit explanations of why  women say they wax and interviews with men about why they like women to wax, about how much it hurts to have it done, and even a minority report from those who don’t wax at all.    

Oh dear.  I have to wonder why men want to sleep with women whose bodies, well, have been altered to resemble those of ten year old children?  And why would anyone allow a teenager to read an article that would make her painfully self-conscious about an aspect of her body that in any other generation would signal womanhood, something to be proud of.  And why would a woman suffer all that pain to achieve a look that is so unnatural?  Okay, I know the answer to that last one.  The same reason that leads to eyebrow plucking, nail coloring, facial painting, hair tinting, dieting, to say nothing of cruel shoes that ruin feet and backs, and underwear and pantyhose that cause yeast infections and bras that press breasts into impossible places and shapes.  Cosmetic surgery.  Dieting.  Anorexia. We could bind feet, weight ankles, lace up corsets while we’re at it.  Why not wax?

Because even smooth Salukis look like what they are.  They still have hair.  They have a “look.”  They have glamour and part of their appeal is that they can run and play and sleep stretched full length on the couch, belly up.   They are comfortable with their own bodies; they look like what they are—sleek hunting hounds.  

What happened to us as people that we can’t handle the reality of our appearance and age?  When I suggested to my sister in law, who is now in her fifties, that she was likely to live into her nineties, she was horrified.  How would she still look “young” into her nineties?  Who told her she needed to look young?  We need to face who we are.  We’re not young anymore.  We’re not prepubescent.  We’re mature adults.  Shouldn’t we act like it? 

Growing old, according to my friend Kitty, is like being pecked to death by ducks.  Maybe it is.  But I don’t want to be pecking myself to death.  There should be a line we don’t cross when it comes to pain and artifice in pursuit of beauty.  We should still look like who and what we are.  I’ll wear the feathers I was born with, the ones that grew on their own.  Next month I will be 57.  I’m not young, but I look like a woman in her fifties. That's what I am. That’s the truth. 

13 September 2009

DISTANCE

I read that the Aboriginal people of Australia believe we walk backwards into the future, facing the past, but an elliptical path, rather than a linear one, which always returns to a beginning.  This makes sense to me.  What we see is never where we’re going if we look ahead.  At best we can guess our path based on what’s already happened, while the future remains mysterious.

When I was in high school I imagined my future as one of Joni Mitchell’s "Ladies of the Canyon."  I wanted to be an architect and a world traveler and to live off the land and keep dairy goats.  I designed a sustainable acreage as a Botany project while attending the University of Washington.  My husband and I went hunting to buy property with two other couples, but that fell through.  Instead, the two of us bought a tiny house southwest of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.  A few years later, after receiving a modest inheritance, my husband and I nearly purchased a five-acre holly farm east of Seattle but ultimately moved to the family home on the Oregon coast, a fifty foot wide lot, and began our family.  My grandfather’s aunts left him the house when they died a month apart.  The property has been in my family for almost a hundred years—a long time in this part of the world.    

As a girl I thought I would travel to Arabia and Crete and Chile; I have managed Port Alberni and Alberta and New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Atlanta.  We have passports.  We plan trips overseas and then we do not purchase tickets.  We cannot quite imagine being in Ireland or Crete.   

I did not imagine I would publish stories and essays and poems, that I would live without a vegetable garden, in one house, for thirty years, that I would marry and remain married for thirty-five years now.  I never thought how it would feel to be the oldest member of my family with no grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, or even cousins…  no, this is not true.  I have second or third cousins someplace, whatever they would be:  the grandchildren of my grandfather’s sister—a side of the family my mother avoided for no particular reason except they had money and we did not. 

When I became a runner in 1994 on April 1st, Fools Day, I thought my knees might give out because I’d learned in a college class that women have weak knees.  Weak knees was the reason two young women on the Olympic Peninsula were denied the right to play football.  It was a test case from the beginning of the modern feminist movement.  The girls had bucked hay all summer and there were not enough players in their small rural high school for a team, but when the girls tried to sign up to play they were denied access.  This was before Title Nine, before a lot of things.  Back in the day when women could be paid less than a man for the same job and a legal reason could be “because you’re a girl.” 

Twenty years ago when I began teaching high school English, a girl in class was offended that her ASVAB score included her estimated aptitude for a number of jobs she had no interest in—garbage collector, perhaps—I pointed out that when I took a similar test in high school, it told me only that I might be a good secretary, nurse or teacher, not whether I could be an architect or doctor or engineer.  Women weren’t supposed to do those things.  People who didn’t even know me looked into my future and decided where it would go. 

I have not traveled the world or owned a single goat, but I have done many things even I could not have predicted—raised sons and dogs and cried for my students and the passing of my elders, woven carpets and stitched quilts and written essays about breeding coefficients, drawn plans for houses and supervised their building, loved the same man since I was 16.  Every day the sun comes up behind the mountains east of my house and sets later in the west behind the ocean horizon.  I never saw all this beauty coming.  I have backed into my place in the world. 

As I understand it, the Aboriginal people also believe that a person is born to their particular place in the world, that they are custodians of that location.  They belong there. 

I ran 103 miles in August, every mile on the long sandy beach in front of the family house.  When I started running fifteen years ago I did not imagine I would still be running in my late fifties.  I never imagined my late fifties at all, skipping in my imagination directly from youth to old age.  But now I can imagine both birth and death quite easily, and all the more precious is looking at everything in between.  It happens here.

08 September 2009

PRACTICE


This morning I baked brioche for the first time. It was a plan waiting in line at the back of my mind for a long time.  Brioche is rich, with a distinctively dense but light texture.  I’ve eaten fabulous brioche from Julie’s place down in Manzanita, Bread and Ocean. I’ve had brioche in Portland restaurants and from other bakeries. I love baking, but had never tried to make brioche before today.

The dough was too soft and didn’t hold its shape, though I followed the recipe. I rarely do my best while following instructions. A couple of years ago I tried to knit my husband a sweater. I checked gauge, following the instructions carefully, measuring more and more often and worrying because what was coming off my needles was nothing like what a man could wear. I tried it on him several times and eventually had to face that I’d knit an oversize tunic with a deeply scooped neck rather than a sweater for my husband. I ripped out and reknit the neck as a cowl, and knit elbow sleeves—a knee length tunic for me. I started over and knit an entirely different sweater from my own pattern for my husband, using the yarn I’d intended for myself. I wore the finished tunic with leggings into my local knit shop and told them I’d followed the directions perfectly but had to abandon the garment as a man’s sweater and recast it as something for myself. “Well, that’s what you get,” someone said, “for following directions.” They declared it beautiful and it’s truly mine.

So the brioche. Before starting, I reviewed recipes from Martha Stewart, Alice Waters, Paula Peck, Gourmet Magazine. I chose the most reasonable recipe with detailed directions and followed them. The dough was made yesterday evening, rose, was punched down and risen several more times in the refrigerator. This morning I rose at 5am to shape little rolls, let them rise a last time, and bake. Out of the oven they smell yeasty and good, are light as a feather, and a pretty color. But the dough was too soft to hold their shape. Though I have not tasted them, I know they will be good but not quite what they should be. I need to make my own instructions that work for me.

I’ll try them again, maybe this coming Saturday. Next time I will use yolks instead of just whole eggs in the dough. I’ll knead by hand before chilling the dough. Maybe I’ll tuck a little filling into the middle, something with ginger. I’ll let you know when I get my brioche right.
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