Seattlelandia: Episode One, “Ladies on the Loose”

Sometimes life is too much like Portlandia.

The scene begins with a morning trip to the neighborhood artisan bakery for a scone for her and a ham and cheese (excuse me, ham and gruyere) croissant for him. On the way, he throws the chickens a yogurt tub of chicken food and lets them out to run freely in the yard.

Only much later, as she takes a break from working on her tortured masterpiece of fiction and eats her artisan bread/organic butter/homecanned tomato/sustainably-caught-sardine lunch concoction does she notice that the back gate is open. Dunh dunh dunh…. She rushes down into the yard, the dog at her heels. Ruba, Diamond, and Licorice Chick are gone! Only Puff remains, brocking a lonely brock in the empty dirt.

Soon they are both searching the block for the lost ladies. “Excuse me, have you seen any chickens?” they ask again and again.

“I know how to hold a chicken rully rully good,” says a proud child on a pedalless bike (which, like all modern and trend-setting children she rides instead of a trike so that she will never have to use training wheels).

“We had two hundred chickens when I was a kid,” says another neighbor, who now has three small free-ranging dogs. “If I find yours I’ll chuck ’em over the fence.”

Next thing, she’s putting up LOST CHICKEN signs and he’s wandering the alleyways. Then she has to abandon the search to go to a bodywork appointment, which she has strategically timed so that her drives sandwich rush hour (this is Seattlelandia, after all). When she gets out, walking regally and in pristine balance through the golden Wallingford air, a text: They’ve been found! Someone read a sign! Someone called! Diamond resisted capture, but he prevailed, and the ladies are home!

She drives home listening to an obscure band sing about saber-toothed tigers and drinking water (as instructed) from a reusable glass juice jar. There is traffic on the University Bridge. Two cops have pulled some people of color over on her street. She feels incensed and drives on by, then uses her turn signal on her driveway, just in case the cops care. The chickens pace in their run. He cooks dinner. She walks the dog. Happy violins play and the sun sets behind the construction site.

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I’m Alive! You’re Alive!

YOUR FLU SHOT IS WAITING, said the sign outside Bartells, when I drove home from work last Friday. Ha! Who needs a flu shot, I said, through a tickle in my throat. The next day, that tickle was a mild cold. I went hiking. The day after, it was a bad cold. I played Scrabble on the couch. The day after that, it was the full-blown flu, and I slept except when I was blowing my nose or rolling over or groaning. Nate made me tea and drew me a bath and put my pj pants on me like I was a toddler. He rubbed garlic and oil on my feet and put plastic bags and socks on over. The garlic made its mysterious way up through my feet and into my breath, loosening my lungs on its way — my dad’s most folksy cure.

The next day, things got better, and it was like the whole world was new. Tiny things became incredible. I ate a tangerine. Kazam! The perfect orange sweet flesh zing. The rain fell on my hands. It was cold and I didn’t scrunch away from it. Alive!

Hedgelaying

Yesterday I was reading an article about hedgelaying, which is the craft of maintaining hedges. Some hedges have been around for a thousand years, and they aren’t just a row of bushes — they are periodically cut and woven together into a living fence that then grows up providing berries and shelter for birds and voles and weasels. Anyhow, the whole subject was pretty fascinating.DSCN3474

Afterwards, I walked to this little biodynamic farm called Velwell Orchard, and who should I meet but a hedgelayer! Turns out they guy who runs the farm, Jeremy, makes his living building walls and laying hedges. The farm itself isn’t a moneymaking venture. Instead, it’s worked by volunteers (some of whom also donate money) who then get the produce. Jeremy says he ran it for three years as a commercial farm and lost 8000 quid, and has run it as a community venture for two years and hasn’t lost anything. Instead of being a model where everyone is trying to get the best deal, his is a model that is based on generosity. He gives people veggies, and they give their time. 

In my case, I helped him turn a big compost pile. Then we had tea. I went home with a wealth of raspberries, tomatoes, beans and zucchini (er, excuse me — they’re courgettes here). It was interesting — I felt shy taking it all, and wished I could have worked more, given more. Whereas if I’d spent two hours worth of money buying those veggies, I’m not sure if I would have felt like I’d gotten a good deal. And back home, the generosity continued, as I felt no hesitations sharing the raspberries with my housemate here.

Jeremy and I had an interesting conversation about invasive species. I’ve always felt like people’s intense hatred of them is a projection of our own guilt, as Western culture is the most invasive presence of all. Of course, it’s not quite the same in England, where there are thousand year old hedges. In the US it’s hard to find a way of living that really feels right — some kind of middle ground between concrete strip malls and primeval forest. It’s so easy for things to feel like a pose or a starry-eyed experiment. Here, though, there’s another story. Take the hedges. A person could trim them with a machine, which makes them so patchy they have to be lined with a wire fence, and trims off the fruiting wood. That’s the modern way. Or a person could let the hedge turn into a row of trees, and then a swath of trees, and then a whole wild woodland. Or there’s that old middle way, hedgelaying, which makes wildlife habitat and farmland, and can also pay a generous young farmer’s bills.

Swimsuit Season

You guys, I bought a swimsuit without having a panic attack. Sure, I did it through the mail, but I’ve tried to buy swimsuits through the mail before and nearly died of shame in the privacy of my own bathroom. The first time I bought a bikini — in a Southern California boutique while my boyfriend at the time did laps around the block in his van because if he turned it off it probably wouldn’t start again — I really did panic. In general, I like buying clothes and I like my body, but that day in the dressing room I remember hyperventilating and wishing I could melt into the floor.

It’s no secret that swimsuit shopping freaks a lot of people out. Things that feel perfectly great to wear underwater on a hot day are much less flattering in the hard light of a dressing room. Or a bathroom, for that matter. Also, it’s actually really hard to find a bikini that’s comfortable when you have breasts. They make most of them halter tops, which keeps them from looking like bras, but means that all of your breast-weight ends up hanging from a thin string tied around your neck, like when you go blueberry picking and they give you those tin cans to pick into. Having full can boobs myself, I think this is no fun. I’ve gone so far as to make my own swimsuit, which worked ok, but wore out eventually.

Anyway, this spring I wanted a new swimsuit. I wanted a great swimsuit. I wanted to buy summer and sunshine and sexiness and the feeling of diving into cold water and I wanted it to not hurt my neck or fall off or feel frumpy or unflatteringly revealing or cost a million dollars. See why this whole swimsuit-buying thing is so hard?

But this time around, the experience was so different. Partly, I wasn’t twenty-two in a string-bikini boutique in SoCal. And partly, I had Nate. He really should be some kind of volunteer swimsuit consultant. It would be a serious kind of community service. I showed him a LOT of swimsuits. He considered them patiently. He vetoed some and liked others, but his vetos were things like “that one makes it look like you’re trying to cover up something you don’t need to cover up.” See why I like to have this guy around?

In the end, I found a good suit. It isn’t quite summer-in-two-pieces, but what is? Summer, after all, isn’t something you can buy.

 

Sweet!

Hey apologies for not being a very friendly moth. I’ve been busy with boring things. Like: I’m not eating sugars and starches for a couple of months. Hopefully, this will help reset my metabolism, and I will no longer break down like a toddler in a grocery store when dinner is twenty minutes later than my body wants it to be.

In the mean time, I’m getting inventive. Last night, I just really wanted some dessert. So I melted butter, coconut, and cocoa powder together.

“Do you think it will taste ok with no sugar?” I asked Nate.

“Butter is sweet,” he said.

“Yeah! Butter is pretty sweet,” I said. But my concoction was bitter.

“Add some almond butter,” he suggested. I did, and some salt, and it was pretty ok. Then we sat on the couch and I learned why Nate says “Super,” whenever there is soup. (Hint: 1980’s TV.)

But that is a measure of how things are around here. I’m eating butter for its sweetness.

Hike!

How about them Seahawks, huh? Let me tell you. Actually, I’m the least qualified person ever to do that, because I a) don’t understand football, and b) didn’t actually watch the Super Bowl. But I’m just not going to let that stop me.

Recently, Seattle has been pretty Seahawks crazy. Everywhere you go, there are people in Seahawks gear. It’s kind of like being in Boston on an average day. Only the Seahawks. The obsession even hit the homeschool crowd.

“How do you spell Russell?” asked one of my students.

“Wrestle,” I told him. Poor old Wrestle Wilson.

And then there are all the 12’s. I have no idea what they mean, except that they are suspiciously footbally. The construction crane hangs a 12 flag during its off hours. Our neighbors made a 12 from Christmas lights in their window. I don’t understand it, but it’s friendly-feeling, like a big snowstorm. Like we’re all sharing something.

I did watch some football earlier this year with my friend Scout, who’s a fan. At least, we got burgers and beer and the game was on, and she kept trying to point out the hot quarterback — Marshawn Lynch, Google helps me remember — and I kept missing the hot moments when he had his helmet off, and with helmets on they all look like wind-up warrior ants to me. Finally, I saw a good shot, where he was wiping the sweat off his face and breathing hard. Totally hot. Totally heroic. Is that what football is about — drinking beer and objectifying guys in tight pants? If so, we got it down.

Anyhow, that was all the football watching I did. During the Super Bowl I went up in the Cascades with Nate and Squinch. We hiked in the snow, and it was still and quiet. When we got back, it was over, and the internet showed us pictures of so many people dancing in the streets it looked like Obama had been elected on New Years. We walked around our neighborhood. A drunk man lifted his coat and flashed his jersey at some cars.

“WHOOO!” he yelled. “BEEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEP,” they honked. WHOOO. BEEEEP. WHOOOO. BEEEP.

Then we went home.

But you know, even when I was off in those quiet woods being a bad Seattleite, guess what color my hat was. Seahawks green.

A Grateful Run

Running through the fog today, in the pre-festivity Thanksgiving morning lull, I started thinking about how grateful I am to have work that I love. Frog Hollow is pretty much my grown-up equivalent of unschooling; I get to share what I am passionate about with people who are bright-eyed and passionate themselves. It’s pretty great.

 
And I realized that homeschooling was what gave me the confidence and the trust to invent my own perfect job and make it real. This led me to feeling grateful (for the zillionth time) that I got to homeschool. There were the practical benefits, for instance that when I applied to Stanford homeschoolers were admitted at twice the general admissions rate, but beyond that, there were all the life skills I learned.

We had a class when I was miserably attending middle school that was called Life Skills, of which I remember two things: people being sent out in the hall for drawing on themselves, and a painful sex-ed video where a camera followed the journey of the sperm only everything was blue and there was bad synthesizer music.

Homeschooling, on the other hand, I learned a basic life philosophy, and I learned it through experience, without a synthesizer sound track. I learned what it feels like to follow what excites me and to trust that whatever crazy place it takes me is a good place for me to go and that if it ceases to be good, something new and exciting will open up. This is a huge life tool for someone as indecisive and hesitant as myself, and the times when I have used it have been some of the best.

Operating from that kind of inner motivation is a profound skill, especially in a culture as grade/prestige/image oriented as our own. It makes both success and rebellion authentic, and I believe that it is the source of most deep positive change in the world.

I feel grateful to have been raised with many role models and the encouragement to develop that in myself, and I feel incredibly lucky to do work that not only allows me to keep following my passions, but where I can encourage that in another generation of young people.

(This post appears as well on my new blog about teaching writing to homeschoolers. Most posts on that blog do not overlap with The Friendly Moth, so if you like what I write, check it out! You could even subscribe!)