Tuesday, August 5, 2008

“Orange You Glad I Didn’t Paint it ‘Banana’”

I like color… I like all colors. I am similar to my younger son in that way. When someone asks him, “What’s your favorite color?”
“All the colors.” Is his answer.
You see kids (and Gemini’s) don’t understand what the word favorite means. The rest of society realizes that favorite means #1… the top choice… it is liked more than anything else…numero uno. Kids and Gemini’s don’t like to be nailed down to a decision and they also like to reserve the right to change their minds (at any time).
HOWEVER… for about five years MY answer to the question “What is your favorite color?”
Five years is a long time for a Gemini.
My kitchen is purple (see picture) and now because of the fact that I needed to cheer myself up on Sunday, I painted the ceiling orange. Well, not orange, but Burnt Sienna. Great name, eh? It sounds like a name to a fall shade of lipstick from Avon or nail polish I would have worn in eighth grade.
Let’s go back to when I said I needed to cheer myself up. I was very frustrated on Sunday. I started researching what it would take to sell our house because of something that happens outside our house once a year.
I will take this moment to describe the community we live in. It is called “Quarry Hill.” It used to have other names like “The Commune” or “The Sex* Farm” or “The Fiske Farm.” We knew none of this when we bought the house five years ago. Oh, we sensed that “Quarry Hill” had stigma, we just had no knowledge of what that stigma was. Now, after a few years, I am beginning to understand the stigma a little better. I wonder if I would rather have the stigma of a ghost wandering our halls going “OOOOOHHHHOOOHH…”
Once a year, the first weekend in August, there is a birthday party here. It is always on a Saturday and people (lots of people) dress in costumes and dance all night. They yell, pound drums, play dance music, greet the sun and have blueberry pancakes. They also park in our way so we can’t drive to our house. Every year they do this because the person whose birthday it is never liked to sleep as a child. She is now 40-something. I don’t have a problem with that if I can turn on my air conditioner and close the windows if it is only one night… but this year it started on Thursday and has stretched itself until Monday night. It is Tuesday today. I don’t know if it will continue tonight or not. I just know that it is starting to make me cranky.
Let me explain the community a little further so that you get the whole picture. “Quarry Hill” was called “The Commune” because during a period in the community’s history, people lived together in houses and shared partners and responsibilities. People who lived here were artists and were drawn to the free thinking lifestyle and built an entire community around a few philosophies… to question authority, to treat animals with respect, and to respect children by not hitting them and let them stay up all night if they want to. When we closed on our house, there was a document that we signed that asked us not to kill animals or hit our children. For us, that was easy. We had found an amazing home for an inexpensive price, which in Vermont, is certainly not easy. There was also a mention of this party in the closing documents that we read and signed. It made mention of a party in August that would be occurring every August FOR ONE NIGHT- the first Saturday of the month.
Remember, I said there was drumming last night (Monday)? The drumming happened at 10:00 pm.
Do you want to buy my house yet?
Other people have it way worse than we do. People live by train tracks where trains go buzzing by every hour. Some people have airplanes landing over their house every fifteen minutes. Some people look out their windows to see block walls (like we did when we lived in Arizona.) I know this because I have lived it.
We have an amazing house. It is unique and solid and warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Each room has been painted the way I wanted to paint it over time- years of time… We have put in new flooring, too. Why would I want to put the house on the market? Because I am a Gemini.
Again… I will mention the Gemini thing. We are a cooky bunch. We like change. We like the act of painting the ceiling more than we actually sit down on the couch to admire it. The joy for us is in the design and act of changing something. We like the beginning. We like the “newness.”
When I woke up Sunday morning, after about two hours of good solid sleep, I was not in a good space. I wanted to sell our house. I even looked on EBAY to see if people sold houses like that. They do… check it out… www.ebay.com
My (rational) husband talked to me about it. He got me to compromise and we agreed that next year we will go on our family vacation during the first week in August. Now that makes sense, doesn’t it? Yes, I suppose it does.
Yes. It does because every other week of the year, I feel very happy in my home. I feel happy when I look out the windows. I feel happy at my kitchen table. I love the sound of the frogs at night in the Spring. I love that my sons can sled down the driveway in the winter. I love the fact that we can hear the brook roaring after there has been a rain storm. I love the town of Rochester. I also love quite a few of my neighbors… when they aren’t keeping me awake during the first week in August... I love that my mother is also one of my neighbors (she is 70 and goes to a Bed and Breakfast during the night of the party.) I also love that two of my neighbors have painted their doors… one neighbor’s is a bright yellow banana color and one neighbor’s is purple…
Our two doors to our house are orange… well, Burnt Sienna…
People who have come to our home (those who have known me a long time) say things like “This house was built for you.” And “How did you find such a perfect house for your family?”
I’ll answer that:
We found this house because we wanted to move “back east” from Phoenix. We decided on Vermont because my sister was here, well, not HERE… but nearby. She found this house because it was on the cover of “Picket Fences” because it was “For Sale By Owner,” go figure. On the very rainy day she tried to find the house, she came upon a map in the middle of the road. The map was opened to the right page and the area near “Quarry Hill” was circled in red. A sign?
My sister doesn’t believe in signs.
I do.
We bought the place after living in Vermont for one day.
That is how Geminis are. We are spontaneous. We make quick decisions and don’t ever have regrets. I don’t regret my decision, but I was wishing on Saturday night while the drums were pounding that I was a Libra, like my older son. He weighs things out. He can’t pick a flavor of ice cream without changing his mind three or four times. He looks at every aspect of the decision even though the cone will be gone in less than five minutes.
Maybe I’ll have him help us pick our next house, when we finally sell this one. I say finally, because now that I have painted the ceiling in the kitchen orange (Burnt Sienna) I feel much better. I could stay here for at least another 360 days until the party happens again. It is amazing what a nice coat of paint will do for a Gemini who loves all the colors but loves purple the best of all.
And to end my blog, I want to tell you a joke (now that I am in a cheery mood.)
(Whose there?)
(Orange who?)
(Whose there?)
(Orange who?)
(Whose there?)
(Orange who?)
(Whose there?)
(Orange who?)

Orange YOU glad I didn’t paint it BANANA?

Banana, like my neighbor’s banana-colored front door. I’ve just got to be different than my neighbors. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a neighborhood, would it?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow

To learn what happened before this, see http://www.amybraun.com/ to read my blog.

It’s been awhile, dear reader. Sorry. My last entry was written when I was knee-deep in My hematoma (yes, it was mine… I claim full ownership.) Enough time has past that I am no longer sore and the deep tissue bruise on my thigh is not even visible anymore. Since I last blogged, many things have happened. It has been about a month and a half of very busy days. I could take a lot of time to catch you up on the events, but I won’t. I will sum it up like this: (the list may not be in chronological order)
I finished out the school year with field trips every other day.
I planted 43 tomato plants and worked on planting in other the other gardens.
I (we) started the chicken coop’s frame.
We had about six trees cut down near our house.
We had a deck put on the house… (it is almost done.)
We adopted another member of our family.


This blog about Shadow is dedicated to Sue. I met Sue the other day. She is a care-giver to domestic animals from Vermont in need of love and a home. She runs this voluntary service out of her home/garage in Bridgewater, VT. She is married to a cabinet maker who made her some pens for critters in her garage when she turned forty (isn’t that cool?). That is one of the things that makes her special. But here is the most important thing: she gave us Shadow.
It all started on Sunday morning when we were relaxing at home and I was finally reading the Herald from the previous Thursday. In the FREE section of the paper was a small ad… FREE 12 cats to good homes… call this number… so forth and so on…
The ad popped out at me from the rest of the print and woke me up.
Now, I love all things FREE, but that wasn’t what caught my attention. It was the number of cats… 12. One dozen cats. That is a lot of cats in need of homes! We already have a cat named Timmy who my husband’s soul-mate (see picture). Timmy is a kitten when he is inside and a dog when he is outside. He is a predator of the forest and a bully in the neighborhood. I said he is my husband’s soul-mate… but I actually think Timmy may be more of an “alter-ego.” I love Timmy too, but I wanted a girl cat to join our family. I am the only girl because I have two boys, a husband and a male cat. I need some girl energy around the house… you know?
“Free C-A-T’s to a good home.” I said to my husband over the boy’s heads.
“What is C-A-T’s? My younger son asked.
I stopped myself. Thin ice. Bad parenting. I should not be talking about the prospect in front of my kids because they love all things “new” as much as I love all things “free.”
My husband said “Cats? Free cats?”
I love when I spell and he says the word I was avoiding. That’s okay. I really wanted a girl cat, so I answered him. “Cats. A cat. Can we get a girl? Puh-LEEEASE?” I suddenly became three years old.
I don’t really remember where the conversation went from there, but suddenly we were making a phone call and reserving a cat and getting dressed and climbing in the car and driving to Bridgewater.
“Are we there yet?” My sons asked every mile of the thirty-something mile trip.
“Not yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Not yet…”
I tried to change the subject (a little). “I want a girl cat. Can we get a girl cat?” I asked my family.
“Sure.” The kids said in unison.
“I want to name her Dorothy.” I said again.
We agreed on Dorothy Molly as a name for the girl cat. I was happy. At long last, I would not be the only girl in the house.
FINALLY we turned off the main road and drive up a hill and then turned into Sue’s driveway. We could see the cat cages in her garage from the driveway. Instantly I fell in love with a little gray face that peeked at our van. The cat had a notch in its ear. It was sweet… I could tell by its round little face that it was sweet. We met Sue, Emily and all the kitties. They shut the garage door to keep all the critters contained while we browsed. We checked out all the cats. We learned that this animal oasis was called Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals… it was an amazing place. They have a wonderful philosophy about animals: They “strive to improve all aspects of the lives of animals and encourage harmonious relationships between them and their human companions.” (A quote from their website)
It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Please check them out. If you live in Vermont and need a pet, check out their web-site or call or go see them. Or if you know someone who lives in Vermont and needs a pet, check out their web-site… I was impressed and I promised to write a blog and get the word out: it is http://www.vvsahs.org/
It was sort of like buying a car- (if you buy cars that try to stay in their pens because they are scared.) We tried a few cats on for size and learned some pointers for adapting and adopting them into our home. We were told to be quiet and move slowly (yeah, right- half of us were both boys and under the age of six). I learned that all of them (the cats) had their ears notched because a notched ear is the universal sign for a neutered cat (yes- girls and boys are both neutered… that is something else I learned.)
We settled on SHADOW, who was actually outside the garage, lounging in his pen in the sun.
NOTICE: I said HE!
Emily convinced me that Shadow would be playful and would be great with the boys. The boys heard the word “playful” and that convinced them! Shadow joined our family and rode home in the car. QUIETLY… I might add…
“Are we there yet?” My sons asked every mile of the thirty-something mile trip home.
“Not yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Not yet…”
Finally, we arrived home and brought Shadow into the house. He disappeared immediately behind the washing machine where he stayed for the rest of the night and the next day too! I finally pulled him out and put him on my lap to snuggle with him. He seemed very unhappy at first… but then he started to purr. And purr and purr and purr. If I stopped petting him, he bit me. So naturally, I kept petting him. Then, before the second day in our home was over… he was tearing around like he owned the place. And now, nothing in our house is sacred from Shadow. He chews on the kid’s toys, magnets from the fridge, pens… everything that that is not nailed down.

But what about Timmy? (again, see picture) My husband seems to think he is adjusting fine… but I think he feels a little bit “put out” by the whole situation.
Somebody (and by somebody, I mean one of the cats) deposited a cat present for me right in my usual spot on the couch as soon as they (the cats) realized we had two cats. Which one (of the cats) do you think it was?
Was it Timmy? Was he being territorial?
Or was it Shadow? Did he use the couch because he couldn’t find his new box?
Would a girl cat named Dorothy Molly “poop” on the couch?
Log in and give me comments. I will reserve my own opinion and wait for the results.

Truth is though… there have been no more “out-of-the-box” deposits since that first one… so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

“Weeeeeeeee!” I heard my own voice in my head as I coasted down the dirt road. It was fun. I felt 5 instead of 40 with the constant roar of the wind filling my ears and air washing over me. It was blissful until…
Brion (my neighbor) was driving out the driveway as I was coming in. There was just not enough room for both of us and his car was bigger than my bike.
Well, I didn’t want to collide into him, so I applied my breaks. Instead of colliding with him, I landed on my bike in a ditch and had an amazingly difficult time standing back up again. Light-headed, embarrassed, and in pain, I struggled to stand and then pushed my damaged bicycle up the hill to my house mumbling to myself, Ouch. That was bad. I am in pain. That was bad. Ow. How did that happen? That was bad. And I cursed a lot, but I shouldn’t curse in this blog, so I’ll simply assure you that I cursed a lot. I might get into trouble with the blog police, so I’ll simply assure you that I cursed a lot. I am fine. I told myself. It is “Step-up Day” at school so I have to go. Stand up and go… “Step-Up.”
“Step-Up Day” is a special day where all the kids go to the next grade to get to know their teacher and classroom in preparation for the next school year. I would have a new group of kids in my room, and so I had to meet them. I didn’t think it would be fair to them if there was a substitute there instead of me so I hobbled my way around the house, got ready and went to work- until lunch- when I called my step-father and got a ride to the hospital to double-check that nothing was broken.
A trip to the hospital and three X-rays later, I was told I had a HEMOTOMA. That sounds way more serious than what it really is… it is basically just a giant bruise which will hurt desperately for about a week until it breaks up and reabsorbs into my 40-year-old body. Nothing broken… amazing. But I have to take the next two days off from work and rest. I can’t wash dishes, cook food, or clean toilets or do anything remotely connected to moving my body. I must sit down, apply ice, and rest.
“I have to rest for a few days.” I told my husband.
“You are lucky.”
“I know. It could have been worse.”
“No, I mean you are lucky because you have license to sit around for the next few days.”
“That is your dream, isn’t it?’ I asked him.
“Well, yeah. But not the pain part.”
“Tell me about it.”
The right side of my body is sore because I think I landed mostly on that side. I feel like an idiot even though I know it was just an accident and I know it was nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or was I?
I have given it some thought (Since I have all this time to sit around and rest) and I think I was actually in the right place at the right time.
It could have been one of my kids that were hurt instead of me, any of the above listed horrible things could have happened to one of my boys.
Or, it could have been my husband.
But it wasn’t anyone else who crashed on their bike.
It happened to me.
And now it is me who has to sit and rest.
Sitting is hard. Resting is hard. I am not into “resting” because when I am sitting, I am usually sewing or reading or writing. I don’t like to sit and rest.
But that is exactly what my body needs. My body needs rest.
So I am going to go to sleep and write some more later.
No… I’m not. I’ll make a BLAG instead. (see picture)

Okay. Twenty-four hours later, I am perched on my couch and completely tired of day-time television. I have made some very clear distinctions about day-time television. Do you want to know what they are?
Okay, here goes: DURING THE DAY,
1. Sick people watch tv. (like me… people who are resting and are taking medication) and
2. Old (retired) people watch tv.
Here is how I figured this out. I watched the TODAY show. The hosts on the show told me what shoes to wear, movies to see and what to cook for dinner if I wanted to be like the rest of America. But then in between the hosts on the show telling me how to live my life, there were lots of commercials. Lots. Lots and lots and lots of commercials. There were more ads than actual show time, and ALL of the ads were for medication. There were ads for depression, bi-polar disorder, problems with your bladder, problems with your colon and so on. It was incredible. And after they showed the miracle cure (which always had a catchy name like “colon-prob-be-gone”) they would list the side-effects. Some creepy voice would talk really quickly.
Sometimes it is hard to tell the poison from the cure, you know?
So this is my conclusion: People who watch daytime tv would be better off if they turned it (the tv) off and listened to music on the radio or better yet, an ipod. Because by the end of the day, I heard about these horrible diseases so much I felt like I had depression, bi-polar disorder, and problems with my bladder and my colon because they told me about it so many times. I feel very badly for the people (sick and retired) who are sucked into daytime-tv-land. They are probably sick only because they have been told over and over and over and over that they are sick.
Which for me is a major motivator to heal.
I am actually looking forward to going back to work on Monday. I don’t think my body can take anymore rest. I might get sick.

Chicken Coop

Behind our house is a wooden slab. Before it was a wooden slab, it was the floor to a metal shed, and when we bought the house it (the metal shed) had a collapsed roof. I mentioned it is behind our house (which is the Northern side of our house), and in Vermont, people ignore the North sides of their homes –
Our house (see picture) has many windows, but there are only two windows on the Northern side. As a result of having just two windows on that side, we have not thought about the (the lack of) activities going on in the back of our house. It took about two years before we took the shed apart to reveal the wooden slab. We got rid of the metal and set up a little spot to have a cup of coffee and sit with the kids to have a snack. When the weather was perfect and there were no mosquitoes (4 days in the past three years) that spot was perfect for us to sit, have a special moment, and enjoy the surrounding forest and quiet hillside. It is a great spot.
I have emerged this spring a new woman. I have decided to make myself develop a green thumb and focus my energy on the outside of our home. Things really want to grow, so I figure it just takes a little work and some determination to make our yard become a garden that should be on the cover of Yankee Magazine or Country Living. How hard can it be? When the kids were younger, I spent every waking moment following behind them and making sure they didn’t choke on rocks, eat something poisonous, or hurt themselves somehow, but that isn’t the case anymore. I don’t have to stare at them and act like a “baby bodyguard” anymore. I can actually take my eyes off of my two boys and pull weeds; perhaps now I can actually ask them to help me dig holes or plant seeds. Our yard is really coming alive (in more ways than just dandelions and grass) and it has been a fun journey. A fan of perennials, I want to grow plants that return every year after all the Vermont snow has gone away. My favorite decorative aspect of our yard so far is the antique metal baby crib that is filled with purple bee balm, climbing vines and daffodils. It is a “flower bed”… get it… “flower bed”… ha ha ha… Our front yard is lovely… even pleasant. I feel proud.
However, behind the house, that isn’t the case, and I won’t stand for that now that I feel like I have time to develop my green thumb. We cannot have just a wooden slab. I have a vision. I see chickens… I see eggs… I see chores for my two young sons. I see this simple little slab becoming an addition to our landscape. I see a chicken coop… made entirely out of materials that we have already in our possession.
Can’t you see it too?
No? I’ll take you on the journey so you can see it too.
I spent most of one day one day gathering scraps of wood and old windows from our shed and basement. We also had a rather large piece of linoleum that could be attached to the current wooden slab to act as a floor that could be easily cleaned. We happened to have four large posts to act as the corners of the building and the base for a frame and other pieces to act as walls. I laid the supplies in the area where they would eventually become part of a building as if it were a big puzzle and proceeded to get bit by mosquitoes.
“That’s okay.” I told myself. “Chickens eat mosquitoes.”
I continued.
I am visual. I can already picture the building before it has become a building. Can’t you?
No? My husband cannot either. He is a good sport and he goes along with things. He is supportive because it is just easier to jump on and go along for the ride than it is to talk me out of it.
“You are going to love how you can feed the chickens all the compost.”
“Yeah, I will.” He smiled.
“You are going to love all the fresh eggs.”
“Yes, I will.” Again, he smiled.
“You will love how we can build the chicken coop entirely out of materials that we have lying around here.”
“Yep. I hope we will.”
He has faith because he has known me a long time. He knows that I am (after all) Pennsylvania Dutch and know how to make something out of nothing. When other people look at a piece of old rain spot, they see a piece of old rain spout… I see a trough for chickens to drink from. When there is a door that is leaning up against someone’s house and they have offered it to me for free, I say “ABSOLUTELY!” because the door happens to have a glass pane on the side and chickens need light in order to lay eggs. Why throw things away if they can be repurposed? That hefty door can be part of a wall. I am the queen of finding other purposes for things. I once lived in a barn and stored my clothes in an oven (no, it wasn’t hooked up).
Actually, is that a topic for another blog?
But I digress. Back to our yard…
I went to a garden stand and bought some starter plants for our garden in the front yard. I chatted with the proprietor of the stand as our boys (she has twins) ran around and played “Monster.” We (the other mother and I) talked about plants and then of course the conversation led to chickens.
“I’ll be putting in a chick order in July. Do you want to join me?” She asked.
I hardly knew her, but I heard myself answer. “Yes.”
“Great. I usually order a lot. Like 30 chicks. How many do you want?”
“Uh- me? Uh- well, not 30. Um, I was thinking more like 8 chicks. Is that possible?”
“Yes.” I know of a great place to get them. Reliable.”
So, that’s it. It has been established we will be ordering “reliable” chicks in July.
Ordering chicks?
What is a chick order?
And what actually comes first… do they come as chicks or eggs? I would imagines that shipping eggs would be a lot easier than shipping live chicks, right? Does the UPS man show up in his little brown shorts and hand me a box that says FRAGILE and THIS END UP? Will the contents in the box peep or crack?
I am imagining a chicken order is when you get together with some other people and share the shipping cost, although I am not sure. I imagine we purchase baby chicks and they somehow (I can’t wait to find out) are shipped to Vermont from God only knows where. Perhaps I should find out a little bit more information before I agree to these things. Me and my big mouth.
And so now, I actually have to follow through with this plan to build a hen house while getting bit my mosquitoes.
We talked further.
“Tell me about your hen house.”
“Well, my first hen house was simple. It was cute. I went to the Bowl Mill and got wood from their free pile and put clapboards on the outside. Then I painted it. It looked nice.”
Bingo. Free wood. Free clapboards. It will look great. I can see it already. Can’t you?
We discussed other details about hen houses and using the chicken “poop” from the chicken coop to help our plants grow as I began to love this whole idea more and more.
“We can use the chicken poop for fertilizer.” I told my husband.
“Yes. I know.” He smiled again.
So, now I had to call the Bowl Mill to arrange for free clapboards. I know the family who owns the place so I figured I could arrange to pick through their reject pile. At The Bowl Mill, they make gorgeous wooden salad bowls ($150.00 a bowl) and expensive wooden clapboards ($3.00 a foot); they have been in operation for over 150 years, and are known the world over. The bowls are cut right out of chunks of maple logs and what remains is the perfect shape for a chicken to lay an egg. If I were a chicken, I would want to lay my egg in a Bowl Mill Bowl remnant.
My friend Kristi answered the phone. I told her what I needed and we decided to meet after 5:00 so I could get my free wood.
“Chickens?” She sounded upset.
“Uh-huh.” I said softly into the phone.
“My mother says chickens and children are the meanest creatures on the face of the planet. But then again, you deal with children all day, so you will be fine.”
“You don’t like chickens?’ I asked weakly.
“Well, I am a bigger fan of dogs, let’s put it that way.”
“But they don’t lay eggs.”
“And chickens don’t sit and give you their paw.”
I visited the Hancock Building Supply to talk to my friend Ryan, who works there. Now, it is important for you to understand that I have a reputation at the Building Supply. They know me there as the woman who comes in for advice on crazy projects. I have made treasure chests, matchbox car ramps, an upside-down woman costume, and so on. But I think their favorite one was when I chopped a bed frame in half just to get it upstairs and then bought the supplies necessary to put it together again once I got it in the guest room. Should I mention at this point that our staircase was too small for a king size bed?
But that is a topic for another blog isn’t it?
After that one (the bed sawing and fixing), I always see them nudging each other when I pull in the driveway of Building Supply.
I can just imagine what they are saying to each other as I am crossing the driveway: “Here she comes.” or “What do you think she is up to this time?” or “Let’s see if we can sell her another gallon of mis-tinted paint.”
But seriously, the guys at Hancock Building Supply are great. They give advice for free and will also make cuts in pieces of wood for me on their table saw, though it is very annoying for them and time consuming. But as I leave, they say to me, “Have a good afternoon.” Which in Vermont I think means, “Okay. I have had enough of you. Please leave now so I can get back to my happy place.” If we were better friends, Ryan would probably buy me a table saw for a gift so I didn’t have to make him do all my “cuts” for me.
On this particular day, when I arrived at Building Supply, I brought a picture of my dream chicken house. I found a dream chicken house floor plan on the internet. What a fabulous resource for chicken house plans and ideas the internet is. I could hardly wait to get started. The three men who work there, gathered around me like employees at a water cooler in an office in New York City trying to get in on what was going on, but after a moment, Ryan was the only one who remained.
“Do you have to make it that fancy?” Ryan asked. “It is just a chicken house.”
“Well, yes. I am pretty committed to making it like this.” I held up the picture again. (see http://www.thefarm.org/charities/i4at/surv/poultry.htm)
“Okay then. Well, what do you need?” He asked politely.
“Air vents.” I said. “And advice on where to start.”
We talked about prices and made sure they had lots of chicken wire.
“Should I take the chicken wire today?” I asked.
“No. It’ll be here.”
“But there is only one 50 foot roll left.” I said desperately.
“You are not at that point in your project. Trust me…” He said calmly. “It’ll be here.”
He is good at keeping me on track.
Let’s go back to the part where I told my husband that we would be making this coop out of supplies that we had lying around. Just so you know, I wasn’t LYING. My husband and I agreed to purchasing chicken wire.
We passed a pile of wood.
“How much for that piece of plywood?” I love plywood.
“Eight-fifty.” Ryan said.
“That’s a good price.” I heard myself say.
Uh-oh… I am leaving my intended path and moving rapidly into dangerous ground. I am at Hancock Building Supply and making plans for a chicken house with Ryan. Stop me. Stop me now.
I have a “tab” at Hancock Building Supply. They write me a slip and I leave- I AM ABLE TO PAY THE BILL LATER… (that is dangerous ground)… (very dangerous ground).
In his defense, Ryan tried to steer me away from the chicken coop plans I was carrying, “Why can’t you simply make a box with wire and attach it to a coupl’a 2 x 4’s and set it on a few cinder blocks? That would last about 30 years if you used pressure treated wood. You probably have some of that lying around.”
I stared at him flatly.
He got the point. He is getting to know me better every time I come in and knows not to try to talk me out of things when I am carrying a vision I found on the internet.
We started my new tab:
2 end caps to rain gutter (to make a water trough)
2 hooks to hook the rain gutter to the wall
Silicone to seal the rain gutter so it can hold water
A box of screws
A bag of concrete to put into the ground to hold the posts

Which brings me to the end of this particular blog.
What I have right now in my scenic garden paradise is a pile of scrap wood, some Bowl Mill scrap clapboards, a few old doors, a piece of rain gutter, the top to an old table, some excess chicken wire, four posts and a box containing 2 end caps to a rain gutter, 2 rain gutter hooks, silicone seal, a box of screws and no concrete! I have still not put the plants in the ground that I bought the other day, and I don’t know where to start.
I am pretty sure I have to start with the posts.
And I can’t start because I left Hancock Building Supply without my bag of concrete.
I was in such a hurry to go get my free clapboards from The Bowl Mill.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and the answer to one of my earlier questions: Which comes first, the chick or the eggs?
Right now, I still have NO IDEA because I haven’t made anything for them to live in yet! I still have a ton of work to do. Or should I say “we” have a ton of work to do because I am pretty sure my husband agreed to this. I’ll keep you posted on OUR progress and how much we add to our tab at Hancock Building Supply.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Van Gogh

“Are we actually van people?” He looked at me with a shocked expression, clearing his throat.

“Yes. I think we are.” I said flatly.

“Is it really what you want?”


An ASTRO Van. Blue with a red and white patriotic stripe down the side. It was a 2000, the year we were married. It had enough space INSIDE it to play soccer or football on a rainy day and the kids really wanted a van.

“Well, okay. I guess I can live with it if that is what you really want.”

We walked around the perimeter, looked under it, checked the engine, test-drove and left the used car lot for the day without the van. We left without it because I had to practice a new art (for me)… restraint. I had to practice the act of thinking about things and not being too impulsive.

But, a few days later, the van joined our family. My kids were so excited. The first day we got the van we were at soccer practice. We opened the side of the van to show one person and suddenly there were six children crawling all over the seats (we only have two).

“It’s a party in the van!” They shouted. Though small, children understand things like leg room and views and the convenience of getting buckled in without having to walk around the car (oh, wait… that’s the part that I understand.)

I know what you are thinking… You are thinking that I did not grieve the loss of “Trucky” at all. You are thinking that I am shallow and cold and heartless to forget about my beloved Truck high up on that heap in Brandon. Well, I am not shallow and cold and I haven’t forgotten “Trucky.” I had to move on. I had to get into a Van and Gogh…

I embraced the idea of having a different kind of car… not a car at all… but one that has a door on it that slides open. I know a few people who absolutely love their ASTROS, so I figured, “Why not?”

Immediately I started to think of the most important thing when purchasing a new vehicle. While most folks consider gas mileage and insurance, I focus on the name.

“Van-Gogh.” My husband joked with me.

We sat around for awhile with the dictionary open to the VAN page and came up with some great ones:

VANILLAN (after the Beastie Boys’ coined phrase “You be illan.”)

This went on for days. I tortured friends, family and colleagues about what the van’s name should be. And then suddenly, it occurred to me that I should embrace the shape of the vehicle that I was buying. I could use the space to my ad VAN tage (ha ha)!

I bought a curtain rod and hung it up in the back to display MyBlagz and the name flowed off the tip of my tongue one morning.

“The van’s name is BLAGZ.” I said to my husband in the kitchen.

“Huh?” He hadn’t had coffee yet.

“Yep.” I smiled. “We’ll call her BLAGZIE. I’ll get a plate that says BLAGZ or MYBLAGZ and some magnets for the side that display our phone number. This will be my business on wheels.”


“Like big business cards.” (See picture)

And so it is… and so we have her… and so we have the magnets. They came in the mail yesterday.

No… I haven’t forgotten my TRUCKY.

And while I am at it, I will take this moment to remember all the cars I’ve loved before. Consider this blog as a memorial of sorts to my vehicles of the past:

I will go in chronological order, starting in the 1980’s, since that works best for me:

CUPCAKE (1966 White Volvo)
Nissan Sentra (Tan- cannot remember the year- cost $900)
Hyundai Excel (red) (Vin # 666--------) oooohhh
TRACKER (bright yellow and soft topped)
COW CAR (yes- white with cow spots)
The JEEP (Black) (not AWD- in Vermont- oops)
SHADOWFAX (Subaru- family car) (or SOOBIE)

And now… BLAGZ.

I am almost 40, so I guess my track record is not so bad. I have loved my cars and truck and now my van. I say that my vehicle has to be a “point A to point B” vehicle and that is because right now in my life, that is true. Living in Vermont, I bounce along on the back roads anyway, and so a brand new and shiny vehicle would not make any sense. I suppose the type of vehicle I drive changes as I do. I am a mom, so it would be irresponsible for me to pile my little darlings into a TRACKER with the top down to cruise the back roads in a snow storm, right?

So I am happy about the decision- (though we replaced the brakes one week after we bought BLAGZ because my husband put the parking break on and I drove around with it on- thus destroying the break system). Cars, vans, trucks… they are made of parts and pieces which sometimes require attention. We give them what they need and they, in turn, do the same for us.

Have YOU patted your car on the dash-board today?

Go on, give your car a pat… and if you don’t already have a nick-name for your car, think about it and give it one. It just might be fun.

See you on the road. I’ll be the one driving the blue ASTRO van called BLAGZ with the business card magnets on the side. I’ll give you the “Vermont Wave”: see the script of my radio segment on “The Vermont Wave” on http://www.vpr.net/. Click “My Vermont” and scroll down to Amy Braun on Friday May 9, 2008.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Not Kharma... Truckma

I have been driving my truck with an expired inspection. I am a naughty girl skating on the edge of danger. I have been warned by the law… three times. Admittedly, that is pretty ridiculous and immature of me. I am a mother and should behave better.
My truck is rusty. She has a plastic panel that has become rusty and peeled away, over her front wheel. I have tucked in the plastic panel (see picture.) She (my truck “Trucky”) is not that old, but she lives in Vermont and has seen 14 harsh winters. I don’t really care about the rust. She starts and drives well and transports us along back roads safely.
We have a constable in our lovely little town who has taken notice of my expiration date. I’ll protect his reputation and call him “Tim.” Tim is a good man… a really good man with one “pet peeve:” people who drive around with expired tags (people like me). And now he is on to me.
I will take you on a flashback journey to the past so you can understand my present situation better like they do the television show “Lost”… http://www.fusleage.com/ . Look out… because coming right at you are the capital letters “TRUCKY”, and the sound effects of a plane crashing. Climb in my truck cab and go back in time to just a mere 5 months ago before I actually broke the law.
I took “Trucky” to the nearby garage to get her checked out from bumper to bumper, and to get a right rear view mirror put on. I asked them to inspect “Trucky” too. It turned out that she needed so much more done than I could afford to have done to get that new inspection sticker. It was right before Christmas, and I knew that I could not afford to inspect the truck because paying for Christmas was more important to me. It just was… what can I say? I am guilty of wanting to put a few things under the tree and help give my children a happy Christmas and a memorable childhood. I don’t believe in Santa, I know the truth: it is my husband and I who pay for Christmas. So, I did what every mother would do: I decided to forget about the inspection and drive around in my truck with expired status. I blocked out the expired sticker and decided to take a few risks. After all, I live in rural Vermont, where I never see our constable Tim. He doesn’t have much to worry about and in fact he has never used his handcuffs. There is not a lot of crime, so he isn’t visible that often.
My truck joined the ranks of expiration on December 31, 2007. Happy New Year. The first day of 2008 is when I started to break the law. I guess he should dust off those handcuffs since the crime rate just went up.
“I’ll use the tax return.” I told myself.
Famous last words…
The first time he (Tim- the constable) told me my tag was expired, I played dumb… unaware… clueless… I acted like I didn’t really notice. I know it is bad, but I have theatre experience that I can draw on in times of need. And partially, I didn’t feel like I was breaking any HUGE laws because I only drive about 10 miles a day on very rural roads and pass (maybe) 20 cars… and I had good intentions of taking care of it. Good intentions mean everything when it comes to the law, right? I follow the speed limit and am very careful of pedestrians AND I wave to all my Vermont neighbors (see Vermont Wave blog because waving is important)! I am the model citizen. He (Tim) was directing traffic at the time around a large chunk of ice (road crews were working on it by the side of the road) and he waved me down and tapped on my window, “You need to get your inspection done.” He said seriously.
I smiled innocently, “Oh? Okay. Thanks. I will take care of it.”
Famous last words…
I chose to ignore the sticker even longer and while waiting for my tax return to come back so I could afford the visit to the garage. I already knew there was a large list, bigger than my Christmas list, of what had to be done to pass inspection: some welding underneath, a brake light with a faulty wire, a turning signal, the emergency brake, the rusty tire well, new tires… and on and on. I could afford it. “Trucky” travels from point A to point B each day and she simply needs to function very minimally.
And now it is April (flash forward) and I am driving around with an EXTREMELY expired tag.
As I mentioned before, I drive very little distance each day. I work 1 ½ miles away from home. I drive my son to preschool every morning. It is a four mile drive from point A to point B. I am always careful to follow the traffic laws and take the roads safely in the winter conditions. I may be expired, but I abide by the law in all other ways. Tim followed me one morning down Route 100 and I almost made it to school. Almost. He pulled me over to talk to me (again) about my expired inspection. I smiled (again), bowed my head (again) and behaved humbly (again).
I said, “I have an appointment at J & H Auto Thursday.”
“Today is Thursday.” He said flatly.
“Oh…” I thought fast with head bowed. I was panic stricken. “Next Thursday.” I am a naughty girl. It was a complete lie. I lied. I felt guilty. I still feel guilty about it. I don’t know why I lied. I think I was nervous.
He took my information and walked back to his car as I prayed to the universe for forgiveness.
My son’s little voice chimed in from the back seat, “Mommy, what is he doing? Why are we parked here?”
“He is checking mommy’s license.”
“Is he going to give us a white one?”
Now, there are moments when one of my children asks a question that I don’t understand. This was one of those moments. It is possible that I didn’t understand because my heart was beating too loudly and I didn’t hear my son properly or it could be that I just didn’t understand his question.
“What do you mean, honey?” I tried to sound calm. I knew I was going to get smacked on the hand by the law as Tim walked back to his car to check up on me.
“Is he going to give us a white license instead of a green one?”
“Oh…” I chuckled, finally understanding his four-year-old logic. “No…honey, we get to keep our green license plate.”
“We can keep our green one?”
“Yes honey.”
The human brain is so strange. It will go places that we never expect. It will drive down roads that we forgot were roads of our memories. The brain can experience a flash of memory, good or bad at any time and any place.
You need to look out again because here it comes. That flying word “TRUCKY” and the plane crash sound effects are upon you again. You are about to experience another flashback… but this time we are going way back... way back to the side of a road in my childhood.
My thoughts traveled at that moment from “Trucky” to a rural road in Pennsylvania. I about the same age as my son: “Daddy?” I asked my father as we drove over a bridge that looked down on a large Pennsylvania highway. It was dusk.
“Yes baby?” My father said.
“Why do all the cars on one side of the road have white lights and the other cars on the other side of the road have red lights?” Looking at headlights and brake lights on a highway, seeing cars going different directions, I was perplexed by their difference. I was in the stage of development where things had to fall into very clean categories (just like my son.)
My father chuckled, “Well, it may look like the cars have different colored lights, but every car has both red and white lights. They are just going different directions. The white ones are going north and the red ones are going south on the turnpike.”
I must have said, “Oh…” Or something like that and moved on with my thoughts.
Now please return with me to the present where I was about to get a ticket on the side of a rural Vermont road with an expired inspection. My son brought me back with a question, “Why is our license green?”
“Uh.” I gripped the wheel and glanced into my rear view mirror. “We live in Vermont, which is called ‘The Green Mountain State.’ That must be why they make the license green.”
My son notices little details. He once made an observation about cars with white license plates from Massachusetts: he said they drive fast on back roads. “They pass us a lot. They are in a hurry all the time.”
When we first got “Trucky” and registered to get a license plate, we received a temporary one made out of white cardboard. He was troubled by it and talked about it with me. “All the other cars and trucks have a green license. Why don’t we have a green one? Why is ours cardboard?”
“It will come. We will get a green one in the mail.”
“Okay.” He felt better. He paused briefly and added more, “Just because we have a white one doesn’t mean we go fast, right?”
“That’s right. People who drive fast get tickets.” I said.
Famous last words…
Here we were with someone (Tim) “checking my license” and since this is the second time he talked to me, I was sure he was going to give me a ticket.
We learn when we are ready to learn. I was in the process of learning and I am sure of it because it hurt. Learning happens when it actually hurts. I could have tried to explain the difference between a car license and a person’s license to my son because he was confusing them, but my son was already on to his next question, “Do I have yogurt in my lunch today?”
I love kids.
Tim came back and smiled at me. I smiled in return.
“I am going to give you a verbal warning. I feel like you need to take care of getting your car inspected because it is the law.”
“You are right sir. It is your job and I respect that.” I could have left it at that, but again, I was nervous. I continued to ramble, “The price of oil has made things extremely difficult this year for me financially. I will take care of it. Thanks.”
“When?” He stared at me. “You said Thursday. Did you mean today or next week?”
“Next week.” I lied nervously.
“Okay. Well, make sure you take care of it then.”
I bowed submissively and took my paperwork. He let me go without anything in writing, without a written warning. What a relief.
As I drove away, I began to get mad at myself about the lies. I didn’t have an appointment. I was a naughty girl. I never should have lied. I was only hurting myself and providing a really bad example for my son.
I dropped my son off in his preschool classroom and asked his teacher if I could use the phone. I called my husband and begged him to make an appointment for me at J & H Auto to get “Trucky” inspected right away. I had been spared but I had to take care of things. “Next Thursday. It has to be next Thursday.”
“Just do it.” I whispered the NIKE slogan severely into his ear.
He made the appointment for me and I went on with my day.
I want to pause for a moment and tell you that I have a sister who also has a blog on http://www.blogspot.com/ called “Chrionsgrove.” If You ever spent time reading her blog, you would discover a common family theme: we don’t do well with details in life like registering cars. We don’t get “bogged down” by things like that. It is a weakness. We are weak people in that one way, but hearty and strong in other ways.
But at least on that particular Thursday morning, I made an appointment to have “Trucky” examined (or should I say that I had my husband make me an appointment)? A few more days passed as I continued to drive around town with an un-inspected truck.
Let’s play around with the time space continuum for a moment and jump to the very next Tuesday. (Duck… here comes the word “TRUCKY”) My son and I drove south on Route 100 at around 8:30 in the morning and passed the local hardware store. I also wave (see earlier blog called The Vermont Wave) to whoever I see outside because it is a local expectation. I waved. I waved at a state cop and drew attention to myself and my expired inspection (I am an idiot). He turned out of the hardware store and followed me for three miles. Like a cat, he pursued me the entire trip while my mousey heart beat in my throat. I almost made it, but not quite. I saw the lights.
“Why are police always behind us?” My son asked.
“I am wondering the same thing.” I told my son. “But I think we have now managed to meet the only two policemen in Vermont.” I joked.
The whole scenario repeated itself again with a different man of the law. License. Registration. Insurance.
“I haven’t been driving this all winter.” I lied ridiculously. Police make me so nervous. I say whatever will get me out of trouble even though I know better. I believe in KHARMA… or in this case… TRUCKMA.
“I have an appointment on Thursday!” I said desperately.
“Really?” He asked.
“Yes.” This time it was true. I did have an appointment. What a responsible citizen.
We sat. We waited. I answered my son’s questions.
“Mommy, is he checking our license like last time?”
“What does he want?”
“He wants “TRUCKY” to have a current inspection.” I stopped myself because I figured my son was already wondering about the yogurt in his lunch again. I didn’t want to go into a huge explanation about the ways of the world that didn’t really affect him.
“What is that?”
“Inspection is a… a sticker on the window that is new. He wants us to have a new sticker.”
“I can make us a new sticker. Can we do that today after school? Can we make a new sticker?” My son has a sticker kit, obviously. How sweet. I wish he could make us a new sticker. It would be a lot cheaper.
The state cop returned to my window and handed me a slip of paper. “This is a warning.” He said roughly. “I am letting you go because you have an appointment. But you need to get it done.”
“Thank you sir.” I bowed my head again.
As I drove away, I again scolded myself in my head. Why did I lie again? I told him I didn’t drive “TRUCKY” all winter. It was a bold-faced lie. Why did I do that? I was making myself very afraid. I knew better than to act like that. Lying made things worse. I scolded myself all the way to my son’s school. I should be ashamed of myself. The fear of having to pay a fine cause me to become horribly manipulative.
Duck again. Here comes the word “TRUCKY” again. I will take you into the future to the fateful Thurday.
“Yeah, Amy…” This is John from J & H. I have your truck here and I can’t inspect it until you get about $1000 worth of work done on it. I wanted you to give me permission before I started to work on it. It needs a lot of work.”
“I’ll call you back.”
“I’ll leave her across the street with the keys in her if you want to come and pick’er up. I know that’s a lot of money for an old truck.”
“Thanks.” I hung up the phone, staring at nothing. I didn’t have the money for that, not that much money all at once.
The next few minutes were a blur of asking people I worked with for advice on what to do. One colleague knew of a “place in Brandon” that would “slap an inspection sticker on”- and then I could get work done on it gradually- maybe one or two things a month as I could afford to. I made an appointment (for the following Wednesday) and prepared to drive around for another week with an expired inspection sticker.
Here comes the word “TRUCKY” again and the music from the show LOST. Look out… I am taking you one week into the future to the following Thursday at Brandon Scrap Yard.
“This truck is very dangerous.”
“Rusty. Underneath.” The mechanic paused. “It can’t pass inspection. I won’t let it. It isn’t safe.”
The reality was there. I was faced with a huge decision on what to do next. “I can’t believe it.” I muttered. I loved my “TRUCKY.”
“I’ll give you $300 for it.”
And that was the end of the line for “TRUCKY.” She was put to death on a junk yard hill by a jury of her peers. I felt sad. I felt denial. I felt grief. I felt many things. I felt confused about it too… for how was I able to love something that was considerably sub-standard? My truck would not fit through the expectations set aside by the state of Vermont. She started (even on very cold winter mornings), and she got me from point A to point B (even on muddy roads). There I was, forced into letting her go on to become parts and pieces for many other trucks. There I was, giving permission for her to become an organ donor on a hill in Brandon.
“I’ll have nothing left to write about.” I whispered to myself. “TRUCKY” is gone. It is my fault. I never should have lied to two different men of the law. I deserved to lose my vehicle. I know better. It is kharma… or in this case “truckma”… To quote Desmond from the show LOST http://www.fuselage.com/ , “The universe has a way of course-correcting.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mud Season

It is finally raining in Vermont. Not snowing. It’s raining.
They say “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Yesterday was the last day of March and I really tracked the lion and lamb days this year by documenting the weather every day. According to the phrase about the lion and lamb, it was supposed to be wintry at the beginning of March and then mellow itself out. It didn’t quite go that way. It snowed… then rained… then it was warm and sunny… then it rained… then snowed. It was all over the place so I don’t think it was a typical lion/lamb transition. And they also say, “April showers bring May flowers.” Well, this year I am expecting a lot of flowers because on April 1st it rained so hard it felt like hail. I feel like we are really in for it. If the “April shower May flower” phrase is true, at this rate there are going to be an incredible number of flowers this year. It will be very colorful.
Let me pause a moment to explain that in Vermont we have six seasons. We have the four regular ones like the rest of the country and then we have “stick” season, and “mud” season. “Stick” season actually comes twice a year after fall and before spring when the trees look like sticks. “Mud” season comes when the snow starts to melt, the ground looks like undercooked chocolate cake and Vermonters make Maple Syrup.
It has been “quite a winter in Vermont” and we are all embracing spring. Even on days that snow still falls (which it does in Vermont in April,) people wear sweatshirts instead of coats and little children give up wearing their winter boots and wear mud boots, hoping that they can somehow control the weather. I am no exception in my Spring-like behavior because I don’t wear my hat indoors as often and I have made up my own catch phrase. Although it is not about lions or lambs or showers or flowers, it is about spring. So here goes: “Spring has sprung. The roads are mud. My sewing machine fell out of my truck with a thud.”
What do you think? You like it? Even if you don’t think my poem is catchy, my drive home on April 1st sure was ridiculous enough for me to take the time to document it. I’ll tell you all about… it is a great story. Well, at least I think so. As it happened, I even laughed out loud at myself and not just because it was April Fool’s Day.
I have a truck. We call her “Trucky”- see the “Trucky” blog if you want to know more about her… she is very special to our family. My friend Joyce was kind to “Trucky” and gave her a net to wear across her rear end. I refer to the net as “Trucky’s” fishnet stockings (see picture.) Although it is the sexiest black fishnet stockings money can buy for a pick-up, it is completely useless if you drive up hill on Fiske Road in mud season with a sewing machine in the back of your truck. Fishnets are all for show, I don’t care what anyone says. I suspected in my early twenties and I have now learned in my late thirties that fishnets may be fashionable in the bedroom, but they are not functional out on the road. If one relies on fishnets to hold back a sewing machine as a truck bounces around in ruts of mud and tries to plow itself through mud, they will be disappointed and the fishnets will be ineffective… especially uphill. Well, actually, let me rephrase that. “Trucky’s” fishnet stocking can hold back a box of sewing supplies (which it did,) but not a heavy sewing machine.
This is the same sewing machine I just got serviced at a place called Sew and Vac just a few days before! My husband brought it home to me on Friday and it fell out of my truck the following Tuesday. What can I say?
I just know that you are thinking to yourself, “What is wrong with you?” or “How could you be so stupid?” and “That could have been prevented.” and possibly even “What were you thinking putting a sewing machine in the back of a truck?” Excellent comments and questions… you are wiser than I am at the end of the day, for sure. But in my defense, I work a very long day every Tuesday because I teach a sewing class after school (thus the reason the sewing machine was out of my craft room in the first place.) By 5:00, my brain has heard “Mrs. Braun…” and “Mom” at least 795 million times and then some; children’s lovely little voices seem to become louder at that time of day. Actually I don’t know if they really become louder or I just think they do because I start to ignore them in order to survive.) By 5:00, I start to twitch and crave a cup of coffee just to have the energy to make dinner. And every Tuesday, I am just leaving school at 5:00, and all I want to do is get home so I can sit on the couch for three and a half minutes in a coma before I start to cook.
By the way, the sewing class I am teaching is called BLAGZ class. My husband is worried that I am giving away my secret about MyBLAGZ, but the girls I teach are 7 years old and very excited, so I feel it is worth it. Last week, I left class with a bunch of plastic bags of BLAGZ, and couldn’t find my son’s antibiotic. Yes, it was inside a plastic bag with someone’s BLAG inside a box. I didn’t sit on the couch in a coma or cook dinner right away because I had to tear everything apart to find a bottle of pink medicine. I am one step away from becoming a BLAG lady… all I need is a grocery cart. (But that is another blog entirely, isn’t it?)
So now it was April Fool’s Day (4-1-08) and I decided to wear a ridiculous hat to make my students laugh. I borrowed a grey top hat that belongs to my neighbor. It has things like seashells and peacock feather and buttons and fake fingernails glued to it (what every BLAG lady needs.). I wore it all day and received two different reactions from people: 1. “Nice hat.” (With the person looking uncertain if I was seriously wearing it…) and 2. “Nice hat.” (With the person’s voice dripping with sarcasm.) But I wore the hat proudly to keep in the spirit of April Fool’s Day, and I suppose it was a blessing I was in a goofy mood, because later on, I surely needed to be. I was dressed the part of a fool and in a light enough mood to handle it even a downpour and a muddy road that swallowed my sewing machine.
It began to rain just as my sons and I left school and it was raining hard. (Do you ever wonder why people describe rain like that? Hard? Can it rain hard? I have wondered that.) But anyway, it was raining hard. It made noise as the rain hit things like car hoods and puddles; it was raining enough that I felt it drenching me as if I were a wash cloth and wished that I brought an umbrella. I gathered up all the supplies and my regular entourage of kid backpacks and lunchboxes and wet socks and mittens (counting them and matching them as I walked along) and moved to “Trucky’s” rear end to load up.
Stop there.
I loaded things into “Trucky’s” rear end. That is a problem. I obviously should have put things in the front seat. But I was unable to do so because we had an extra passenger, a neighbor girl named Ember, whose mother had asked me to take her home after BLAGZ class because SHE (the mother) DIDN’T WANT TO TRUDGE BACK OUT INTO THE RAIN! I am not bitter, because Ember is a lovely girl and she lives about 400 yards away from me. I just see the humor of the situation and soon you will too.
“Trucky’s” cab was already loaded with two purple bins of recycling, two sand bags- (used to be three- another blog topic,) a pair of skis and boots, two fold up chairs, no umbrella, and little remaining room. The previously mentioned sand bags were frozen and very hard to move, so I set my box with stuff in it (duh) in front of a sand bag with about one foot of clearance to the fishnet. Have I mentioned it was raining? I could have moved everything, but I didn’t want to set the box down in the rain and take the time to rearrange everything because then my stuff could have gotten wet (ha ha.)(insert irony here-)
We buckled and moved along and had a sweet conversation about how everyone’s day was at school. We bumped along the dirt part of Churchville Road until we came to a giant pothole. I say that it is giant because it could swallow a small moose if a moose came along and tried to walk through it. I took my time passing through the pothole as Ember told me about how her mother goes slowly through this pothole too. Smart lady.
I will pause here and talk briefly about potholes in Vermont. It has become an epidemic this year. The local paper has even held a pothole poetry contest this week because the potholes are worse than they have been in awhile. I submitted a pothole limerick and a pothole Haiku. They were featured in the paper, I am proud to say.


I live in the Green Mountain State.
Where the potholes we grow are first rate.
But I sing a song,
As I bump along,
‘Cuz the views in Vermont are so great.

And Haiku:

That dreadful pothole,
The One on Bethel Mountain,
Is a sign of Spring.

In case you don’t understand, a pothole is formed by water freezing beneath the surface and lifting up forming a “frost heave.” Cars come along and bump over the “frost heaves.” The ground thaws during the day and occasionally collapses into itself forming holes, gorges and canyons. Sometimes it rains (like on April 1st,) and any dirt that may be filling in a pothole washes away and makes the hole deeper. We all begin to feel emotion about potholes… as shown in the two page spread in the local paper. As you can see, if you live in Vermont, you have to keep a sense of humor about these things. Potholes actually keep the road men busy in the summer. In the winter, they plow. In the summer, they fill in the holes.
I refer to this particular pothole on Churchville Road as “Vermont’s Back Road Grand Canyon.” Here’s the surprising part about this particular giant pothole on April 1st: we bumped through it, but my sewing machine did not fall out. I checked in my mirror because it occurred to me that it could be a problem. I looked back after we bumped through the pothole… but I left no trail of my belongings. Hindsight tells me perhaps the machine readjusted itself at that point; I think the sewing machine was gathering the courage to jump out of “Trucky” a ½ mile later. My windshield wipers squeaked and we all joined in with the squeaking in a silly song because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.
We prepared to depart from Churchville Road onto Fiske Road and were completely unaware of what lay in store for us…
Fiske Road is very steep. The road is dirt. It is the consistency of pudding and the surface of bread that has been pulled from the oven too soon. In other areas of the country, people have four seasons. Remember in Vermont we brag of six. We were beginning “Mud” Season (again that is when the snow melts before the grass and leaves grow- and most importantly, when the earth thaws and the mud forms).
On April 1st I experienced a first rate Mud Season ride home from work when I transitioned onto Fiske Road. “Trucky” started to climb and immediately immersed her tires into ruts of mud. I was in second gear (which is what I usually use to climb the hill), but I had to slow down to first gear and adjust my speed because of the ruts.
I should explain quickly about the mud. In the morning (when the ground is still frozen) the mud is not mud. It is frozen ground, and easy to drive on. Drive on… not in… but as the sun shines through the day, the ground thaws and becomes squishy and cars have to drive through it. The ruts become deep. But I also have to mention that the best part about this time of year is the Maple Syrup production. The main reason the Maple Syrup can be produced is because at night, the sap in the trees freezes and during the day it thaws and flows. It is a beautiful and tasty thing.
Okay. Back to the story… I downshifted from second gear to first and slowed to a crawl through the mud and “Trucky” was practically vertical. Ember said, “It must make you nervous to drive uphill like this with no back on your truck.”
Smart girl. I smiled and kept my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road, “Yes. Especially when my sewing machine is back there.”
Famous last words.
I have a strange belief system that drives my husband crazy sometimes. I think that when I say things like that, - things like: “Especially when my sewing machine is back there.” – I am challenging the universe. Some bored soul who watches humans from a cloud says- “Tee hee hee. Let’s make the machine fall out right…. Now!”
You probably don’t believe what I do about the universe, but you don’t have to. You can totally blame me because I was a complete April Fool and put my sewing machine in the back of my truck and drove uphill in the muddy rain. I made it happen on whatever level and I can write about it and completely make fun of myself. Isn’t that what is most important?
We drove on. I drove slowly with no idea that the machine fell out. There was no noise because the mud probably cushioned the fall. The rain pounding on the truck coupled with the squeaking windshield made enough noise I suppose that no one noticed.
We dropped Ember off… got mail… drove into our parking spot and started to climb out of “Trucky.” I moved to the back to grab my sewing machine and my heart skipped a beat at the sight of the fishnet stocking holding a box of sewing supplies and no machine.
I behaved much like a person on an emergency squad. I turned to my children and barked, “Get back in ‘Trucky.’ Mommy’s sewing machine fell out!”
I managed to coerce them into getting back into the truck and we retraced our path. I cursed the whole way (under my breath because I am a mother and I am supposed to behave myself, even in times of crisis).
They asked things like “Why?” and “Where are we going?” And they said things like, “I didn’t want to get back in the car again mommy.” And also “We just got home!”
I finally decided that I would talk about my nervousness with my boys. “Mommy is a little worried about her sewing machine. It is really important to her and it could be broken. I am feeling how you would be feeling if your train fell out of the back of ‘Trucky.’”
My older son is obsessed with trains and that made sense to him. He immediately became empathetic, I could tell. Well, we bumped along the road until we came to the steepest part, and right then I discovered the sewing machine on its side in a rut with water pouring over it, as well as the the gallon of milk I purchased earlier, a giant sized package of recess peanut butter cups, a few magazines and empty bottles from the recycle bin, a full (ready to explode) diet coke, and two BLAGZ (soaked with mud.) I parked uphill of the pile wishing instantly that I had my digital camera because a picture is worth 1,000 words. My boys stayed in the truck (easier) and I proceeded to gather balance and trek things in my arms. It suddenly occurred to me how funny I looked wearing the ridiculous April Fool’s hat and trudging up and down the muddy hill in the rain. The commonly used description “drowned rat” doesn’t even come close… I was worse. I was like a corn flake in the bottom of a bowl doused with milk and left to sit for an hour, (only I had a hat on with a peacock feather on the front of it so although I felt like a corn flake I didn’t much look like one). I grabbed the sewing machine first; it seemed more important than the gallon of milk and more important surprisingly than the recess peanut butter cups. When I began to gather the magazines, I noticed that Barak Obama on the wet cover of Rolling Stone laughing at me (at least it was better than George Bush, because that would have just made me mad). I took three trips back and forth huffing and puffing like the little engine that could while my children watched.
We went home (with the sewing machine in the front seat) and parked “Trucky” in her space at the bottom of the hill. I immediately went to my neighbor’s house to borrow their massive rainbow colored golf umbrella so I could bring my boys uphill dry, as it began to rain harder.
Making five trips up and down the hill, I dripped and laughed at myself. We have a hilly driveway that can park only one car, and it isn’t “Trucky.” The first trip up the hill was with the boys and they ran upstairs and started to play. The second trip was with the sewing machine and I plugged it in and checked it immediately (it still worked). The third trip was with the box of BLAGZ and snacks. The fourth trip was my laptop and work bag. The fifth trip was to return the umbrella and silly hat to my neighbors and bring home the assorted wet socks and mittens and other loose items. Everything was in a big pile on and around the wood stove and around the perimeter of that, a muddy puddle formed gradually.
Usually on a Tuesday, I am home 45 minutes before my husband and he walks through the door at 6:00, but on April 1st, he walked in just as I set everything down in a massive pile and took a deep breath.
“How was your day?” He asked.
I smiled and started to sit on the couch to type this blog before I fell into a coma. What else could I do? I couldn’t talk about it.
“It must have been bad if you have to write it down.”
I nodded, dripping, covering myself with a blanket.
“What happened?”
“The sewing machine fell out of the back of ‘Trucky.’”
He asked lovingly, “Oh, man… does it still work?”
I didn’t answer him with words. I glared at him and nodded, dripping.
“Well, at least it’s raining and not snowing” He assured me. “It’s spring!” He declared with his arms outstretched.
“No it’s not.” I corrected him with a cranky tone. “In case you haven’t looked at my pile of stuff… we live in Vermont. It’s mud season.”
“Well, is there a bright side?”
“Yes. I have a blog to put in those two muddy BLAGZ.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Vermont Wave

I have warned you about hats in Vermont. I have informed you that hats are a fashion statement too. I have told you that some people make a living making hats in Vermont. I have shown you my gigantic hat… and now I am going to share another hat with you (see picture.) This is Chet. Chet Baxter (Jr. or the III… I can never remember, and when I look his number up in the phone book to call him or his wife, I always second guess myself and call Chet’s father instead, every time.) Now Chet is what they call a “Real Vermonter.” He was born and raised here. His parents were born and raised here. It goes back pretty far, although I am not certain how distant into the past. He is also married to a “Real Vermonter,” and they have three “Real Vermonter” children… beautiful children. In fact Chet’s wife Nicole was the first person to be nice to me when we first moved here. She gave me insider information about the Cabot Hosiery Sock Sale to keep my family’s feet warm through our first winter. I have never forgotten that.
Did you notice his hat? It was made right up the road from where Chet lives in a town called Granville by a woman named Gert. This hat used to have four horns on it, but the front horn was removed because it sagged too much.
I have to return to my statement “Real Vermonter” that I threw around in the first paragraph of this blog. I never even heard that phrase until I lived here. This is basically what it means: the parents of your parents were born here, your parents were born here, and you were born here. None of these people ever moved out of Vermont, and in fact never even considered moving out of Vermont, because if you can’t find something in Vermont, it isn’t necessary to survive.
In my description, I only went as far back as parents of parents… there are those who believe it should go back even further. There are those who believe if your family wasn’t the first family who claimed the land when the United States was forming, then you aren’t a true “Real Vermonter.”
I know a woman who was born in Vermont in the late 1940’s. Her family bought land and she was conceived and born in Vermont. When I asked her if she was considered to be a “Real Vermonter,” she told me that the locals said she wasn’t. She quoted one man as saying, “She’s no Vermonter. Just because a cat has kittens in an oven, that don’t make them biscuits.” This same woman has a son. When I asked if her son was a “Real Vermonter,” she shook her head “no” quietly. “Maybe his children will be, but he can never leave the state if he wants that to happen, and he has to marry a ‘Real Vermonter.’”
You are probably thinking, “Who cares?” or maybe “What difference does it make?”
Well, it does make a difference, and here is why… because Vermont is a magical place filled with many special surprises that reveal themselves to you when you are ready to see them. There is no other place like Vermont for many reasons, but here is the reason I will share with you today: Vermont is the only place where a person can experience “The Vermont Wave.”
I did not notice for the first few years we lived here, but “The Vermont Wave” is an interaction that occurs among cars as they pass each other on rural Vermont roads. I call it “The Vermont Wave.” I am not certain if I didn’t pick up on it because no one waved at us until we lived here for at least two winters, or because I was too busy trying to keep my car on the road, or because I was too distracted by the beautiful scenery. But I never noticed the wave.
There are a few steps to “The Vermont Wave”: first the driver determines if the approaching car looks familiar, then they determine if the plate is green and white (Vermont,) then they figure out who is driving, and finally they decide if they should wave. All of this happens very quickly because there is a limited amount of time to wave on Vermont roads.
A friend (who lives in Vermont but came from Connecticut) asked me once, “What does the phrase ‘Everyone is famous in Vermont’ mean?”
I explained the best I could, “Well, when you go to the store, you always see someone you know. Every car you pass (especially on the back roads) is driven by someone familiar. Everyone knows everyone and their business, so everyone is familiar and thus everyone is famous.”
And that’s it, briefly.
I try to think back to when I got my first wave. The good news is that is has been happening for a few years now, so I don’t remember my first wave, but I do remember some classics, some waves that I would consider milestones. Read on, if you want to find out. I just think that getting a “Vermont Wave” means a lot. I feel honored. I feel lucky. I treasure each and every wave I receive.
It is important to notice which driver waves first. Occasionally, both drivers wave at the same time, which is probably best. It is also important to notice if both drivers actually did wave. If a driver waves to you, and you don’t wave back, they will think you are holding a grudge from the previous year’s Town Meeting (a topic for another blog.) I am new to the state (almost five years new now) and now that I understand “The Vermont Wave.” I always do it. I always wave. I wave to everyone. I wave to the guys plowing, I wave to every car with a green and white license plate that is coming the opposite direction, and I wave to the school bus driver (which by the way is the guy Chet whose picture you saw earlier.) I think I understand the whole “Vermont Wave” thing, but I am probably breaking some unwritten “Vermont Wave” rule written in a book somewhere. There is probably a book that I haven’t discovered in the library that I should have checked out five years ago. They are probably trying to all figure out how to get me to move to another county because I am way too friendly. I should actually wait until they wave to me first, but I can’t… though I do try.
I mentioned that Chet drives the bus. When he was young, his mother drove the bus. She probably waved to everyone too. He attended the same school he drives the bus for. One of his sons will be in my class next year (yes- we have a school next year- see my “Two-Room School House” blog.) I’ll be teaching a whole group of “Real Vermonters”, and that just doesn’t happen anywhere else other than Vermont, obviously.
I have to explain something about Chet and his waves. He has many waves. I figured it out recently and accused him of it. In true “Real Vermonter” fashion, he grinned and revealed nothing more to me. The “Vermont Grin” is a topic for another blog. And after a moment he did reveal a little bit more. He said he waves so much each day to every car that passes, that he needs one of those sets of hands that wave automatically so he can continue to drive the bus safely.
I have been using only one wave with people for each of the three years that I have been using my wave. I never realized that “Real Vermonters” like Chet have a different wave for each person they encounter on their trip down the road. My wave is simple. I lift my right hand off the wheel and hold it up. I don’t say anything, but I think to myself, “Hey… what’s up?”
Chet has the wave that he gives my husband every morning as they pass on Route 125: it is a “right hand completely off the wheel vertical wave.” Chet has the wave he gives to mothers who have children on his bus: it is a “both hands on the wheel but four fingers of his right hand are lifted off the wheel briefly wave.” Chet has another wave for my colleague Heather. She says she gets the “right hand straight up off the wheel wave.” And by the way to add to the whole “Real Vemonter” topic, Heather gave birth to her son at Dartmouth Hospital in New Hampshire and is “really bummed out that he was born 45 feet across the Connecticut River from Vermont.” So, her son does not have a chance to be a “Real Vermonter.” And by the way, when Chet drives his own family around in his own car, the wave is a “few fingers lifted up and wiggling and a slight nod of the head wave.”
But I should say no more about it because a “Real Vermonter” reveals nothing, except that he needs a plastic hand to wave for him.
And then it happened. Yesterday our vehicles passed each other near the corner store. I was trying to find a parking space and he was driving the bus south on Route 125. Before I even realized it was the bus, or that it was Chet driving, he took both hands off the wheel and waved violently as if he was having a seizure. I laughed for at least five minutes.
And that is what it is all about. I can’t wait until our vehicles pass again, because I just don’t think he can top that one. And I rejoice because I think I have finally been assimilated into the little community. Their bus driver has shown me another side of his personality.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I have a truck. I learned early in my life, that all vehicles should have an identity and a name. I grew up with “Car 13,” “Old Yellar,” “Cupcake,” and so on. My husband’s noble Subaru is named “Shadowfax.” So when I bought this gas guzzling 1994 Dodge Dakota truck, I immediately began to call her “Trucky.” I invested in the personal plate (see picture) because I figured a truck worth its weight in rust driven by a woman, should at least have a feminine name. She has served me well. And yes, my truck is a “she,” even though she is a standard vehicle and has a stick shift.
I used to walk to work from my house on the mountain to my school in the valley. These 30 minutes were one of my favorite times of day because I was alone with nature and could think about whatever I wanted to without anyone calling my name. But this year, my older child has to ride the bus and my younger child has to be driven to preschool, so I drive all of us down hill in “Trucky.” As a family, we shared “Shadowfax” (my husband’s white Subaru) and survived with only that one car for a few years. But that changed recently because I didn’t think I could manage to walk two boys down the hill with me on a consistent basis in a timely manner… and have I mentioned it snows in Vermont? And although I walked every day in the snow for years (uphill both ways)-(ha ha)- I decided that getting a point A to point B vehicle would be necessary. So “Trucky” became a loved member of our family.
She is old… 14 years old in fact… which for a Vermont vehicle is pretty typical, at least on the back roads. But on some early mornings, she threatens that she doesn’t want to start. I’ll turn the ignition key and she will groan and moan and try to give indication that she wants to begin her day, but that it is difficult because it is really cold outside. We talk to her as she tries to start, “Come on ‘Trucky,’ come on girl. You can do it. You can start… we know you can.”
“Rrrrr.rrr.rrrr…..rrr.rrrrrr…rrrrrrr…RRRRRR….RRRRR….” She says back.
When the engine turns over and rumbles, and we know she is set, we say, “Yeah ‘Trucky!’ Hooray!” We applaud and rejoice that she is indeed stronger than the coldness of a crisp Vermont winter’s morn.
People recognize “Trucky” as we drive by. It didn’t take long for word to spread about her through town. She is a conversation piece. I know this because I get what I call “The Wave,” (a topic for another blog,) which in short means that if you know the person approaching, you must wave to them or they will think you are angry at them for something- small town politics-. We move along through the snowy back roads without trouble 99.9% of the time. My “Trucky” has only met with one ditch (the same ditch that swallowed my husband’s car and neighbor’s car, same ditch, different day.) But as I said, most of the time, she negotiates the tricky snowy conditions very well because she is a four-wheel-drive, absolutely necessary in this area.
I will confess however, that there was a “Learning Curve” with “Trucky.” I needed to get used to being able to see out of both side mirrors, and I needed to understand the overall length and girth of an extended cab pick-up truck. I am very comfortable driving “Trucky” now, but in the early days I had to make a couple mistakes. One thing I remember clearly was backing into a rock down by the White River. I didn’t realize how long “Trucky” was in her tail end. When I smacked into the rock, I caught on very quickly, and never made that mistake again. Expecting to see some damage when I got out and looked, I was thrilled to see that not even a blemish appeared on my bumper because “Trucky” is amazingly sturdy. I feel like my children are very safe when they are in “Trucky,” because she is like a tank. And having said that, I always make sure the boys are in “Trucky” whenever she moves anywhere so I don’t run over them since I can’t see through the cab very well. I should actually say right here that I am getting better, but if you are short like I am and ever try to drive a truck, you would understand.
Here is another reason why I make sure my children are inside of “Trucky” before I move her… I ran over my husband’s foot once. I did. It was in the early days of “Trucky” when I was still experiencing the “Learning Curve” that I referred to earlier. Here is how it happened. My husband was outside of “Trucky” saying good-bye to us as we were heading to a birthday party. He tried to shut the passenger side door. He slammed it and it popped back open. He slammed it again and it popped back open again. He continued to do this for a time, thinking that the harder that he slammed the door, the more likely it would be to stay shut. Each time it slammed, he got angrier… and so did I, and yet, the door continued to pop back open.
Now, I will pause here to talk a little bit about my husband’s philosophy of cars compared to my philosophy of cars. I mentioned earlier that I believe that a vehicle should get a person from point A to point B. My husband wants a bit more. For him, three things are important: all wheel drive, a good stereo and good gas mileage. Before we moved from Arizona to Vermont, he wanted a good stereo, and that was about it. Before kids, a small compact car with good gas mileage was also important to him because he used to commute great distances across the desert in lots of traffic. So… he wants more out of a car than I do. He also expects that a car’s door should be able to shut. He asks a lot, doesn’t he? “Trucky” doesn’t have a good stereo. She has an AM/FM radio that gets one station. Enough said about that.
So back to the story… he continued to slam the door until I begged him to stop. He tried it a few times before he decided that the door’s latch needed WD40… some oil… the latch was stuck and wouldn’t click as it should. I decided that working on the door’s latch would be easier if “Trucky” was on flat ground instead of my slanted parking space on our hill.
“Fine.” He said and slammed it again.
Now “fine” is one of those words that married people use sometimes. When a person says the word “fine,” that is really not what they mean. Usually they mean the opposite. What he really wanted to say is, “I am angry at this door. I hate this truck. I am going to slam this door until I can force my own will upon it until it fears me, listens to me, and stays shut!”
But that is not what he said. Instead he said “Fine!”
And then I backed over his foot.
I didn’t do it on purpose. Really, I didn’t. I backed up to leave my parking space after I thought he had moved his body back far enough, but the wheel was turned too far I suppose. At that point I had only owned “Trucky” for two days and had no idea of the girth of a truck that carries around a V8 engine. Again, it was still during my “Learning Curve” time. Please forgive me. I am a bad wife. I am a bad person.
But at least at that point, the door slamming stopped and my husband hobbled over to “Shadowfax” to get some WD40, with a tire track across his foot and some blades of grass sticking out of his sandal. I found it quite bizarre that he could walk. I must have only grazed his foot or there must have been a hole in the ground or something because he was not hurt badly, and he probably should have been. He informed me that I ran over his foot, but then almost instantly, his foot puffed back up again as if he were friends with “Tom and Jerry.” And here’s the best part… he isn’t going to divorce me over it. In fact, he probably has forgotten about it by now unless he reads this blog and it reminds him of the event.
You see, he has his own problems with “Shadowfax.” The other day, the CD player stopped playing right in the middle of Bob Marley’s song “Stir it Up.” Also, the trip meter reads 0.0 miles, every time he turns the car off and then on again. The clock reads 1:00 every time the car is turned off and on again. The interior lights aren’t working either. So, he has his own problems, you see.
You must be thinking, “What the hell is wrong with these people?” And quite possibly you are also thinking, “Why are their cars so messed up?”
And if you asked those two questions, or even one of those questions, I have a simple answer, “Our house is on top of a hill, on top of a mountain, at the end of a back road, in rural Vermont.” If a car manages to survive that scenario without a scratch on it after one winter, I’ll eat my laptop.
As far as maintaining cars and accepting my frugalness, my parents taught me well; maybe you’ll remember I have mentioned in other blogs my “Pennsylvania Dutchness.” We PA dutch are thrifty. Growing up, my parents always went to the junk yard first to get a part before they would buy a new one because we also lived rurally. If something could be fixed with duct tape, they would rather do it that way because it was far more affordable. I am much the same way… in fact “Trucky” has a plastic strip that is “tucked in” right now because I didn’t know how else to solve the problem. At least the strip doesn’t flop along when I drive anymore. She’ll hopefully pass inspection soon. Maybe if I bring the mechanic some cookies, he’ll slap a sticker on for me. As long as the vehicle is safe, does it make a difference what it looks like?
I heard a comedian say once, “We can put man on the moon, but we can’t make a car that doesn’t break down.” I don’t even remember what comedian it was, but I do remember his words because they were good ones.
Which brings me to my whole point: cars (and “Truckys”) are a metaphor. Our vehicles represent the structure of our relationships and the nature of the world we choose to live in. To some, “Trucky” would be an unbearable prospect. To me, I choose to be grateful and love her for every mile of the back road she shares with me. The back roads are so pretty. For all of us, it is getting harder to keep cars on the road. Look at how much everything costs right now. At almost $3.50 a gallon, we struggle to afford to make ourselves go from point A to point B. We can choose what quality of gas we use, but no matter what, it is expensive to live right now. Cars need to be maintained just like we humans need to maintain ourselves and our relationships, but to me, I feel the priority is what is happening below the surface, and under the hood that matters. Although, I sometimes run over my husband’s foot in our relationship, he sometimes runs over mine. We love each other and even still we can’t get out of each other’s way on occasion. There is always a “Learning Curve” in an intimate relationship, right? At least that’s how I look at it… sometimes we slam doors and say things like “FINE” to each other, but the bottom line is, if we take the time to put duct tape on things, our longevity may join the ranks of a classic. And whether it is “Trucky” or “Shadowfax” or some other rusty jalopy, it doesn’t matter, as long as we know how to change a flat, or replace a wind shield wiper, or put some WD40 on a sticky door latch. Maybe one day, we may be more able to afford a fancier car and a bigger car payment, and we may work harder to keep it vacuumed… who knows? But I maintain that it truly doesn’t matter what something looks like. If we focus on the important things only, choose what to worry about, and pick our battles, in years to come, people will see us drive by and wave. They’ll see us as a unit, together, handling the bumps and frost heaves in the road, and we will get from point A to point B… together

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Size (of the Needle) Matters

I was about eight years old when my grandmother first tried to teach me to knit. She spent a good solid hour with me trying to get me to follow directions. It was completely futile, but not because of my grandmother. It was me. The problem was me. I couldn’t get it. Perhaps, it was my left-handedness, but I don’t think she realized it. She finally gave up. She had three choices: throw the needles across the room, commit suicide with them, or walk away. Since she wanted to be a good example to her youngest grandchild, she decided to gracefully get up and walk away.
It wasn’t until much later that I finally decided to come back to knitting. It was after moving to Vermont when I was in my mid-thirties. When we moved to Vermont, I spent the first winter in shock. But by about the next November, I started to notice that many women survived the winter with knitting needles in their hands. I was drawn to the fabulous fibers. The lovely knits that were created taunted me. I looked at hats and entered the world of design in my imagination. I can do that! I could make that! How hard can it be?
Well… it is pretty hard. But I can persevere.
It all began when my sister-in-law came to visit for Christmas, and she could sense that I was attracted to the idea of knitting. I talked about it and said that I really wanted to do it. She was supportive in my endeavor and sent me a package about two weeks later. She sent me a box with a gorgeous scarf in it and some knitting needles of my own. They were size 16… they were red… and really fun to hold in my hands. Once I got done playing with them, I opened up the little booklet of instructions she sent along, and set to trying to knit.
Trouble was… I was still left-handed. That part of me had not changed, but my brain had matured enough to be able to do things with my non-dominant hands. I actually learned to knit as a right-handed knitter. I became determined to learn. It was my new year’s resolution (I gave up on the “weight thing” ages ago,) “I will learn how to knit.”
It was all I did for days. I barely ate (though I made sure my family did.) I sat there and looked at the pictures in the booklet and followed along as best as I could. My mother told me that my first project should be a scarf. So that is what I did. I made a scarf. It was uglier than a baby rabbit, but it was my first scarf so I loved it. It was uneven, multi-colored and would frighten away anything. I mean it, but my sons took turn wearing it proudly (bless them.) Mainly they wore it because it is cold in Vermont and they were still pretty young and didn’t really know how hideous my first scarf truly was.
I moved on from scarves to other things, proudly and on a roll. I was a knitter, an official Vermonter. I was one of them, the knitting clutch, the girls, one of those who knew how to knit and belonged in the yarn aisle in the craft store.
But really, I didn’t belong, and unfortunately, I probably never will.
Here’s why.
Because I don’t follow directions! I skip the whole first paragraph about what size needle I should use. I skip it every time… though I don’t know why.
I informed you that I don’t follow directions because I am left-handed. I could tell you that I don’t follow directions because I am rebellious. I could blame it on my parents. Maybe I could even get away with blaming George Bush, because it has to be his fault somehow. But the important thing to know is that I don’t follow directions.
I tried though. I did pretty well making hats for my two boys. They wore them (and still do,) proudly. But then my husband wanted a hat. I had knitted all year by the time he asked for a hat. I was confident. I was strong. I was ready.
Here’s where I went wrong: I strayed from the pattern by using the wrong size needles. I should have followed the pattern exactly… but I didn’t. By this time, I knew that the bigger the needle, the bigger the holes, the bigger the project. But let me explain myself further. Before I started, my husband said, “Make it big. I want a big hat.”
If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that hats are a fashion statement in Vermont. Hats are part of the outfit. Hats are worn to bed. “Okay.” I said as we stood with our children in the yarn aisle in the craft store.
“No, really. I want my hat big.”
“OKAY.” I said again. I heard him, but I made no eye contact because when we were with our two boys in a store, time was limited.
It took over a month… hours and hours… to knit this hat. I followed the directions pretty well: I casted on as many stitches as I was told to, I knitted so many rows and purled so many rows… (I felt proud of myself.) The only place I strayed from the directions was in the size of the needles.
You are intelligent. I know you are aware of where this is going. It was the biggest hat ever knitted in the history of knitting. I took it off the needles on the next New Year’s Eve (one year later) (remember my resolution,) and began to laugh uncontrollably. I almost wet my pants because I was laughing so hard. My husband thought I was dying because I think I stopped breathing at one point. I could use this hat as a parachute if I joined the Marines. I mean it. My entire family could jump from a plane, and as long as we held onto each other and this hat, we would float safely to the ground…
I took a picture of my two boys wearing it, and I couldn’t actually see my boys. It covered them both like a blanket. In fact, I could have given it to someone as a blanket and they would be honored.
And warm. They would be honored and warm.
So, I did what any stubborn new knitter would do. I folded it over itself and stitched it… and folded it over itself again and stitched it again… and once more I did the same, until what emerged was somewhat hat-like and asked my husband to put it on his head. He put his hands together and chanted as if he was wearing a yarmulke.
Ripping it from his head, I decided to learn how to make a pom-pom and sew it to the top so I could wear the thing. Although it weighs about 15 pounds, and is very unusual, I wear this hat every winter since its creation. (See picture.)
Compliments? Yes… I get many. I have even had about 10 people ask me if I could make them one. But the truth is I don’t think I can. Have I told you I don’t follow directions?