The upsides to having only 10 readers are many. Nobody steals the domain name when it expires every year. When I go for a Too-Much-Information story hardly anybody reads it. Large scale cyber attacks leave us unmolested. Today much of the internet is ‘down’. Meanwhile, www.gypsycarpenters.com is alive and well. Work continues in the real world, too. All sides of the house have been power washed. Interior demolition has begun. One third of the windows have been replaced. The remaining two thirds are on order.
My friend BAlvarius is on the fast train out of this earthly realm. He’s keeping a fine blog about his imminent demise. The link is on our blog roll and it’s called Blogging from the Bootheel. Don’t be afraid to check it out. It’s cheery and personal and not too grim. BAlvarius’s colon has been rerouted to a bag and he will never poop again. He reminds us all how good it is to poop. In his honor I will now share TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Well that, and because you guys always get a rise out of poop related stories. All ten of you.
The day after BAlvarius shared his feelings over missing a good cathartic poop I found myself out and about after dark. Burt and I had gone to dinner and grocery shopped. I absentmindedly left the house sans panties and I was in a skirt. I meant to put a clean pair on after my shower but forgot. As Burt and I headed to home I said, “Ha ha, ain’t it funny, I have to poop?! I just realized it’s scary to not wear panties and be in a skirt and have to poop. There’s nothing between my poop in the world should….” And then I was overcome by a severe gut spasm. Suddenly it wasn’t an urge but an emergency. I started to whimper and at the same time laugh at the irony. In that moment all I wanted was not to poop and Bruce was way over in the middle of the US wishing for one more poop. I wailed. I snorted. I started Lamaze breathing. This poop would not be denied. Burt pulled into a grocery lot. I screamed, “I can’t get out of the car.” There was nothing to stop the poop from flying out in public. No panties, no pants. Just free butt cheeks. Burt screamed, “What should I do?” I wailed and panted. He pulled into a gas station. I still could not move. The world was going black. Noooo, I screamed. He pulled back into traffic. I gathered up a coffee cup and a shirt. Perhaps I could catch the poop in the coffee cup while we drove down the street. I could use the shirt as a kind of tarp. Back in Montana or Arizona there would be empty roads and lots of places to discharge what Dave Barry calls An Act of Congress unmolested. Here in Virginia several hundred people passed by the mile. Who was I kidding? Cramps like this were the harbinger of something much more massive than the volume of a coffee cup. I conjured BAlvarius. Help me! There in the dark was an empty church parking lot. Burt pulled in and parked next to dense shrubs. He ran out of the car and grabbed my skirt as I fell out my door and evacuated my bowels on the edge of the church lawn. The east coast’s abundance of people is made up for with heavy vegetation. As equilibrium between in and out was regained I said, “Yes, Bruce is right. A good shit is cathartic.” Burt’s move with my skirt was deserving of an Olympic medal. My breathing returned to normal and I was perfectly satisfied to leave my offering where it lie. I figured the lord would understand. I also believe I’ve learned my lesson. I will try to remember to put on underwear before I leave home.
Bridge was like stepping into a Truman Capote novel. Yesterday evening we arrived 45 minutes early to a small church nearby for a 6:30 Bridge game. Traffic was going the other way and our joint promptness led us to leave way too early. On the upside there was a cheap Chinese joint across the street and I made Burt get us some egg rolls. I was killing two birds with one stone. We passed the time and we could get a superficial idea of how good the Chinese food was. The egg rolls were hot. Hot like McDonalds genital burning coffee. When they reached a temperature that would trigger endorphin release but not peel the skin off the roof of our mouths (passing more time) we ate them up. I did not find anything but cabbage in mine but the oil was fresh and the wrapper was fried to perfection.
At 6:15 we headed to the game. Everyone was locked out. The Bridge director was caught in traffic. I guess he was traveling in the opposite direction as us. Finding yourself stuck outside a church waiting to play a game is a great social activity. We met the characters that inhabit this small club. There are some hot shot players and rank beginners. We also picked up the names of a window contractor and a transmission specialist. And people were very charismatic or memorably dramatic. As the newbies we were under quite a bit of scrutiny and direct questioning. Bridge, like music, gives a person instant credibility with their cohort. Sort of like playing Dungeons and Dragons when you were a kid, people are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and make you feel welcome. After all, two new players like us only improve their chances of doing well and gaining master points. As an example of some of the oddness see the impromptu puppet show given between rounds of play.
Unsurprisingly the game went very late. Then we got lost driving home. Then we finished a terrible movie (Chappie. Do not watch it). After all this I spent another sleepless night. I dozed off around 4 AM. The day was spent chasing windows all the way to Manassas. Manassas is only 30 miles away but an hour of driving. Burt wanted to go there because the National Battlefield Site of Manassas (or Bull Run) is there. He took two guided tours while I captured naps in the truck. I was too tired to even stroll the grounds. So here I am on night, what…7 or 8? without more than 4 hours of sleep. I’m hoping for a reprieve tonight. I can’t expect to remain lucid much longer.
Demolition can make a person nostalgic or philosophical. I spent a lot of time today pondering the transience of all we do. Mentally easy but physically demanding work makes a space in the mind for important thought. My friend Bruce is living out the last of his days in the wide eyed awareness that he is indeed dying. We are all on the same path but his is foreshortened and the end psychically imaginable. I have some things I want to say about Bruce but he’s asked me to hold off. This is his death and so I will. I won’t wait to say this though, this is the first loved one in my life that is facing the end without denial and I hope I can learn from him. I’ve known others (know others) with a terminal diagnosis but none acknowledged the end was near with me. So here I will say, thank you Bruce for not sparing us and sharing with us your thoughts as you consciously near the transition point. I can say this too because I told you when I saw you: You have been a positive influence on my life. A huge and positive influence. You are a positive influence still. You always will be. And I know you can appreciate the work we are doing here in VA since you so recently had an entire estate to manage.
Photos are not uploading. Perhaps in the middle of the night I will upload a few. I’m suffering a very intense bout of insomnia these days so I’ll try to put the time to good use.
Our 3 1/2 day across the U.S. was uneventful. New tires were installed on the gNash in Animas, NM and the transmission was mostly okay. We ate a lot of food. Italian, Amish, trailer made. I took no pictures of interest. At rest stop in West Virginia a man lost track of his wife. While we were sleeping they had an argument. We did not notice. Wife ran off into the darkness while man stewed. I presume he presumed she would return when she cooled off. A few hours later we awoke and she was still missing. The now distraught husband pointedly asked Burt if we had her in our trailer. Harboring an angry wife, like we have room for that kind of drama? The authorities arrived before we left. I hope she’s okay. I don’t think leaving a rest area at 4 AM in a stranger’s car is a good move. Take away for me is: Don’t argue at 4 AM in rest area. Just say, “Yes, dear.” Save any cross words for daylight and a Walmart.
Two days ago we arrived in Alexandria, VA for a home remediation and updating. The house we are working on is a 1965 split level located a half mile from the Potomac River and one mile from Mount Vernon. The property has been a rental for nearly 20 years and shows the standard wear and tear. You can guess how bad it looks by the fact that the neighbors are willing to have us park on their street while we make the property look better. The curb appeal was long faded and the house and yard are not up to neighborhood standards. In two days we’ve been buzzing about setting up window replacement and designing the kitchen. One big shocker had us very happy. Cabinets take two to three weeks to arrive after ordering. We’ve been in such small and/or remote places that we were used to waiting six weeks. Even more shocking is the granite counter tops typically arrive a week after measuring. These short turn around times take a lot of the pressure off us. There is time to enjoy ourselves and get everything done without rushing. At least it seems like that now.
Aside from talking to subs and designers we’ve been power washing the exterior of the house and demolishing an ancient wooden swing set and a child’s playhouse. The resident spiders are very angry. Here’s a fun fact: spider webs are more easily removed by broom than 1200 psi of spray washer. For real efficiency my sister-in-law advised, “the easiest way to remove a spider web is to use your face.” I can’t dispute her.
Other observations: There are a lot of trees here. There are a lot of people here. Traffic is very light in the middle of the day (not like LA). The weather is balmy so far. Children inhabit suburbia.
I am once again overwhelmed with the success of our camp. Democrats and Republicans come together every year and organize this thing. Our participants come in all political stripes and I want to say we can all get along. The people still have the power to do good things. Ignore the BS and relate to everyone as an individual.
I am so grateful for this camp and its continued success. Mitch and Loni, owners of the Portal Peak Lodge and Cafe, and their fantastic staff worked diligently and perkily to provide us with meals and a welcoming space to learn. The teachers at the camp continue to nurture and prod their students to be the best they can be. Marla Fibish, Brian Conway, Matt Heaton, Colin Lindsay, Pete Strickler, Isaac Alderson, and Brian Lanni were accessible and involved. They continue to push my dream of music for all, especially those picking it up later in life. And Burt was the friendly morning bird guide and afternoon hike attendant. We aim to provide a well rounded experience and Burt’s walks are a big part of the picture.
Thanks also to the people of Portal that help the show go on. Kathleen Talbot at the Library where we host public singing sessions. The Portal Rescue classroom that allows us to offer more classes. Barbara Roth’s whole house for instructors. Numerous friends that feed and print and errand run for us. We appreciate you all.
Our truck is out of the repair shop. There’s still a hope that the transmission is fine and a change of lubrication will fix the problem. Time will tell. In between trips to Animas to drop off and pick up the truck we’ve been hiking, birding, tennis playing, spider watching, and visiting friends. Portal Irish Music Week starts in three days. Ack. I think I’ve got everybody situated and carpooled here. Every year I wonder if there will be some big over sight. Somebody stranded at an airport. A missed plane. Sickness. Family emergency. I should stop thinking about what could go wrong. I’m going to give myself an anxiety attack. So far so good. Here’s hoping this year is just as smooth.
Our good friend Peg Abbott of Naturalist Journeys invited me to tag along on a guided birding trip as record keeper this week. I got to go out for two half days and we covered a lot of terrain and microclimates. The first day was rainy and gray. The second was a bluebird day, crisp and shining. The team, mostly Peg, spotted or heard 80 species. Burt came out the second day and we snagged a trogon. We were walking about 20 yards apart and we both saw the same bird. They are hard to spot this time of year and it was nice we could verify for each other. Sadly the clients did not see it. Bill and Susan were from North Carolina. Susan is career EPA and we became fast friends. She even encouraged me to return to public service. Who knows? Maybe I will someday.
Our hiking club trip took us up to the spine of the Chiricahuas. The main group went out for over 12 miles. I declined that opportunity but we walked around Fly Peak with blog follower and regular commentator Pat. I’ve posted an anonymous photo of Pat below.
This visit to Portal hatched a plan to join our friends on a tour of the Galapagos Islands. I’ve always wanted to go but the price is daunting. Burt was less interested but I swayed him with a photo of a blue-footed booby. This trip is guided by our buddies Carol and Howard and filled with other Portal friends. It was too hard too resist. And we spent so little money this past year that I realized after 7 years of working part-time and living very modestly we can actually afford to splurge on something amazing. Burt and I have traveled many places and done many once-in-a-lifetime type trips that I find the phrase once-in-a-lifetime a hackneyed expression but I think this Galapagos opportunity with our very knowledgeable friends really is a special chance. Life is short and we must grab it by the short hairs. None of us is getting younger. Besides, I have to feed the blog. So look out for a very special blog post about the Galapagos in November of 2017.
The Gypsy Carpenters are in Portal, AZ ahead of schedule. We were planning some more back country explorations but the wonky transmission flared up. Again. Our 2001 Dodge diesel is occasionally difficult to shift. This summer it started balking and we made an appointment at a specialist in Whitefish, Montana. We had a place to park and a car to borrow up there. Then the problem shifting disappeared, the parking place was less welcoming, and the spare car was wrecked by a deer so we cancelled the appointment. We drove a few thousand more miles and no trouble. Heads deeply in the sand. Call us risk-takers.
We high tailed it out of Montana and abandoned plans to fish in Yellowstone because of foul weather. We blasted through the park and made it to a glorious fall scene in Grand Teton National Park. That night we camped near Pinedale, Wyoming. As we approached Vernal, UT I made it clear I wanted to stop at Dinosaur National Monument. Burt was ambivalent. I insisted. We had been before but the quarry exhibit was closed for major repairs (4 years of repairs) and Burt had not seen the most awesome dinosaur display in the world. Well, the LaBrea tarpits come close but they aren’t just dinos. Just then the transmission started to balk. I feared Burt would scuttle the side excursion but he didn’t. Rain was headed our way and it was hard to enjoy the tour wondering why we didn’t get the transmission repaired back in Montana but it was worth the effort. Even Burt was amazed at the in-situ display of 149 million year old fossil bones. Take the trip if you are within 100 miles. That night we limped to a rest area south of Price.
I contacted my friend Berna and said, “Hey we’re coming to see you. Tomorrow.” Berna is always sociable and welcoming. We trained for several marathons and ultra-marathons together and once upon a time worked at EPA together. Berna was ready to see us. We spent two nights in Shiprock. We helped Berna attach reflectors to a road sign so her 80 year old Uncle Alex could find the turn into his road more easily. Maybe I shouldn’t freely confess what could be construed as defacement of public property but I admit it. All three of us were in on it. I suggested that 80 years and difficulty seeing at night might be ground to stop night driving. I was voted down. All of us had dinner at a restaurant called Nataani Nez. Nataani Nez was a Bureau of Indian Affairs boss in the 1930s. Alex told us a story about him and how his name means tall boss.
The next day we drove 400 miles looking for piñon pines. Burt is a natural hunter gatherer and Berna’s Navaho family took many expeditions to the mountains to gather piñons. Berna’s mom had died a few years ago and Berna had not been out since her mother’s death. We decided it was time. Too bad we couldn’t find a tree. We covered the entire NW corner of New Mexico. Finally through the use of Facebook and general perseverance we found a productive tree. One tree. After 4 hours in the car we spent 1 1/2 hours on our hands and knees collecting pine nuts. Between the three of us we collected over $200 worth of nuts. Even the dogs got into it. Olive says she prefers acorns to pine nuts. Burt’s driving annoyed Berna and Berna’s driving terrified us so I was voted in to drive us home. Me, the non-driver, was fast enough but safe enough so no one complained. That’s how I earned the name Nataani Nez. Tall boss.
In the midst of this Burt called out trusty Animas mechanic, Darren. Darren has done some major repairs for us and we can’t complain. He was ready to see us as soon as we could get there. With our crosscountry trip coming up we it was time to stop playing like ostriches and get the transmission fixed. We decided to head straight to Portal and get ready for Portal Irish Music Week. Here we are.
It’s fall in Montana. Leaves are turning. Trout are hungry. Stickers and burrs abound. Olive is caught in a Catch-22 of freeze or collect stickers. To take her outside with us with long hair is to invite a coat full of needles. To shave her is to guarantee hypothermia. Since we have no plans to head south soon we are debating a shave and a new coat or do we spend more hours cleaning her fur. Burr removal is a thankless chore. Olive hates it and resents every minute of our work. Yesterday we went fishing at the confluence of the Dearborn and Missouri rivers. There was an abundance of those football shaped burrs and some hound’s tongue for variety. After 2 hours of fishing we spent 40 minutes of de-burring. The fun to work ratio is pretty low. Anybody have advice? Should we shave? Should we keep up the removal? Mall walk? Leave Olive home?
Below is a raspberry tort I made for a dinner we had with Sue and Jay. Pea soup, salad and tort. The tort was from a recipe for Italian plum cake. The NY Times says it’s the most requested recipe in the history of the newspaper. I find that hard to believe since prior to this summer I have only known my grandmother to regularly make plum cake. I made one once a decade or so ago but I found the recipe on-line. I loved my grandmother’s plum cake but it was a rare seasonal treat. We probably got one piece a year. Burt’s daughter made one last week and like learning a new word the recipe was everywhere I looked. Facebook and the NY Times were filled with it. The benefit of the flood of commentary and news articles is I found the suggested variations. This cake is ready for anything you can throw at it. Since we had a bunch of Sue and Jay’s raspberries in our freezer we went that route. Soon I’m going to try the canned Portal pears. It’s simple and tasty. Give it a go. I used a casserole dish. The gNash is too small for a springform pan.
Also below is a helpful Public Service Announcement. Clean out the grooves on your log splitter before they fill with a rock hard debris. This log splitter had filled to the point that the splitter could no longer split. It took heavy application of hammer and chisel to remove the pressure hardened splinters from the groove. Team Gypsy Carpenter and Sue got the job done but we all agreed preventative cleaning would have been easier.
Today Burt and Jen are finishing up the bedroom wall texture at the Kila cabin. I was going to go but I didn’t have any work to do so I decided to stay here and catch up, read, shower, and veg out. Everyone has caught the last summer cold of the season or the first winter cold. I can’t be sure which. The cold caused work delays so here we are still parked in Whitefish working on a cabin on a hill in Kila. Tomorrow we depart towards but not to Helena. We will stop first in Seeley Lake and go grouse hunting with Pete. Friday we will resume what is the start of our southward migration to Portal Irish Music Week. Music camp is pretty much full this year. There’s been some last minute cancellations but they were fully paid and we (as do all viable travel businesses) have a no refund policy within 60 days of the event. I promised to refund the money if replacements were found but so far no luck. I kind of feel bad and I kind of realize this is a feeling I must deal with if the camp and my finances are to survive.
In between snotty heads and ceiling work we made a trip out to Glacier Park. We’d heard the remote Polebridge entrance is frequently unstaffed so we thought we’d take a peek at Bowman Lake. Unlucky us. The gate had a toll collector. SInce it was $30 just to drive in and see an alpine lake we decided to walk around the free Forest Service side of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Burt is just 9 months away from his $10 lifetime parks pass so we’re going to try and hold out until then on paying anymore park fees. Next week will be the last one. $30 to get into Yellowstone and Grand Teton. That will be a worthy one. Now that I write this I realize we will be surrounded by National Parks in Alexandria. Maybe we will buy one more annual parks pass. Writing as thinking.
Anyhoo. Burt fished and I stumbled along the log laden shore. The North Fork of the Flathead is a famously log chocked stream. Every year it seems somebody is caught in a ‘widow maker’ trap of logs blocking the channel. In fall the water is low and the logs are on shore. Burt caught a huge fish. He was pretty sure it was a Lake Trout but I had just read the warnings about the endangered Bull Trout looking a lot like a Lake trout, also called a mackinaw. When in Doubt Throw it Back. We discussed and we could not come up with the identifying features for one or the other fish. We were outside cell range so the internet was no use. Burt threw it back. That stung. No trout for dinner. Then Burt caught another. I informed him it was statistically improbable to catch two endangered species in 5 minutes. Not impossible but highly unlikely. That fish shook the hook as soon as we decided to keep it. Further research proved Burt right. It was a Lake Trout. The two are very similar looking but can be distinguished if you know what to look for. Now we do.
The Polebridge Mercantile is famous as an eccentric general store in the remote north woods of Montana. For 25 years I have heard rumors of its extraordinary bakery. I have been by on many occasions through the years but mostly in a rush to get somewhere else or in winter when services are reduced. Burt had never stopped. He hadn’t even heard the rumors of the bakery. Now I take good bakery rumors with a grain of salt. Good is relative. In general, the farther you are from civilization and the closer you are to a major tourist attraction the lower the quality of food. There’s a handicapping system. People will say food is good when it isn’t when they are far from home. Also, many people say that the Wheat Montana Bakery has good stuff and I think they are mediocre. The packed parking lot defies my understanding. Yesterday was the first time I ever had the chance to stop in and sample the wares but I was not expecting much. I have a healthy suspicion of all baked good recommendations. I was wrong. Again. I am glad I do not live near this bakery. I’d be a blimp and broke.
Burt and I, showing massive restraint, shared a Flathead cherry and chocolate turnover. What a delight! Buttery, flaky puff pastry filled with a thick slab of not too sweet cherry filling drizzled with real dark chocolate. “That’s the best turnover I have ever had!” exclaimed Burt. It was true for me too. It boggled the brain because it wasn’t just a one hit wonder. The bakery was filled with tempting delights. Savory scones, macaroons, huckleberry turnovers, chocolate croissants, warm sandwiches…We had to leave so I could still buckle my pants. We will never fail to stop in here for a snack again. Best bakery in the universe.
The Gypsy Carpenters are back in western Montana, taping and mudding the new bedroom at the kid’s place. Rainy weather made all non-paved roads in eastern Montana impassible gumbo pits. Our two-wheel drive Dodge was no fit for the backroad miles needed to get to good hunting locations.
The big news here is we are now officially internationally known musicians and nationally working carpenters. The western U.S. was pretty tied up with regular, loyal clients from Arizona, California, Oregon, and Montana. This fall we’ve landed a project in Alexandria, Virginia. Burt and I are looking forward to returning to work, seeing the DC area, and east coast family and friends. The job came about from a happy Helena client with property in Virginia. It was a big enough but not too big job. You can follow along here.
In the meanwhile we have a couple of turkeys we found yesterday. Our shots brought out the local game warden. Recent bear activity made him worry we might have been shooting at the bear. That was kind of funny. We’d never shot a bear unless it was self defense and maybe not even then. Best to play dead is what I’ve always heard. A little bird shot will just piss them off. The warden was delighted to see we had shot a couple of perfectly legal turkeys and there was no bear in sight. We think we might have scared him out of the brush while we were stalking and he was out ahead of us. Out of sight for us but in plain view of the local neighbors when he ran across a road.