So we are back at work. Burt’s building a wood shed and I’m managing Portal Irish Music Week. Money is in and staff flights are reserved. We’ll be in OR for a week or so working and then another weekish visiting friends as we travel south to our next job in California. This has been a wandering summer and it was not planned.
Last year we committed to do a large job in this area. Ultimately that large job fell through but by luck and a large internet presence and our glittering personalities and BIG ONE HERE ability to improvise we put together enough jobs to sustain us for another year. Our friend Bruce (a highly trained professional) mentioned the improv. He suggests Life Improvisation should be the subject of a Gypsy Carpenters’ book. I say it already is if you read the blog. But for all of you following along here is a summary of how it works. The first rule of improv is: Yes, and…. That means you always answer with a yes and room to move. We’re pretty positive people around here and we try to ignore fear or at least not let it make our decisions. I wish there was more positivity and less fear for everyone. Really, I do.
I’m comfortable that we have enough. Make the pie bigger as my friend Bruce (a different Bruce) used to say.
After a smoke filled drive across the Northern Cascades we have arrived in Helena. It’s a jam packed visit with music, doctors, bridge, and fishing. I find myself deeply saddened by the state of the world. The west burns down around us. Fish are in trouble. People can’t find common ground. We are actually thinking nukes. WTF. It is a very sad and difficult time. I’ve been asked by others how I deal and I always advise, do what you love and look for goodness and beauty. It’s hard to do some days especially when my back hurts. It’s a heavy lift.
Following my own advice here are some lovely photos despite the smoke. I caught and released some fishes yesterday on my favorite river. I played some tunes with friends. I really sucked at Bridge. Again.
If you’re in Helena and want to see us. Do not weep. Next summer we’ll be here working. We’ve got a big job lined up. Perhaps the last big one before retirement. We can play music, fish, and eat good food then.
On the medical side Burt passed his physical with an A plus. I do not have hemochromatosis, yet. I may never develop it. This is good news. I go in for an upper GI test with a barium milkshake tomorrow. It’s probably all just gastritis. Or freaking stress about the state of the world. I’ll let you know what we find out. Tomorrow we depart for Kila and the kids.
I’ll admit it I got a little tipsy last night. It wasn’t on purpose. We went out for a pizza and a movie and the margartita was enormous and strong. I don’t normally enjoy the sensation of intoxication but it felt right in the moment and I’m fine today. A little tired and still sad but okay. Mimi had a seizure this morning on top of it all. She started having seizures about three years ago. They were rare until this month. So rare that we only observed three in three years. But this month we’ve seen three in a bout 5 weeks. There’s no telling how many we are missing when we are away. After a few minutes of convulsions and drooling she regains her composure and appears normal. La-di-dah, I guess I’ll go eat, I feel fine now that’s over. At 18 years of age it’s hard to take these as a crisis. I presume one day she might give it up mid seizure. She’s had a long and pampered life. She has been a bonny road warrior. It would be a fine and dramatic end to the creature I’ve spent more years living with than any other in the world. But also an enormously sad end. Of course I was relieved she came out of it today. It’s not that I’m ready, it’s that she’s so old I’m trying to accept it as imminent. Yesterday when I was messily bawling she rolled over and over and rubbed on me trying to cheer me up. The dogs ignored me. People that say cats aren’t connected are idiots.
I thought about a number of different objects for today’s writing. Mandolin, fiddle, iPhone? But this month I get more comfort spinning this ring on my right ring finer than playing music or surfing the internet. I pull it on and off. I fiddle with it a lot. As a child I always liked the magnitude of this wedding band. It’s grand and stylish. Purely of the age. My brother says there was a different one she wore before this. He’s probably correct. There was definitely one after this. The last one. A Dynasty-era engagement ring/wedding band amalgamation custom made to Mom’s specifications. Her large solitaire set in a sea of smaller stones. Flashy. Even heavier. She was always remodeling stones and pieces she found or inherited to suit her current tastes. Mom did this with houses, too. The ring I wear is the one I associate with her and it fits me style and size wise. She wore it through the seventies. I inherited it last month.
To me this ring symbolizes a long and dynamic relationship, a successful but not easy marriage. It represents the idea that things can change and not lose their relevance. It takes me to a master bedroom where we watched Star Trek and played with mom’s treasures. The room was small, the bed spongy. Mostly we lay on the floor. Mom kept the bed as her space. We all outgrew the gap between the foot of the bed and the dresser where the TV stood. Our feet climbing higher and higher up the drawers as our heads rested on the foot board. Mom had to walk over us to get to the bathroom. I felt safe in that space with the TV on.
The ring also represents the union that created me just 10 months after their marriage. The first accident. My brother Christian, the second accident, came thirteen months later. They thought she couldn’t get pregnant so easily. Both times. The last kid, Matthew, spaced 3 years after the second, was planned.
It’s my 51st birthday. Wahoo. A prime number is a good number. Well. it’s a combo of two primes, not not actually prime. I almost didn’t arrive. The last several days traveling up the Baja peninsula were uneventful but I almost died and we suffered a trailer breakdown. Life on the road.
So there we were. Driving north in our annual migration. We were traveling a little later than usual so the sights were different. Cirius cactus were up right instead of bent over because they’d increased internal pressure with the recent rains. There were leaves on some trees. Near Vizcaino the terotes or elephant trees were fuzzy with white blooms. The poofy white topped trees contrasted delightfully against the red-brown lava rock surface. I was inspired to photograph. Burt was inspired to stop but as so often is he case along MX-1 there were no pullouts. Finally on a long stretch of straightaway Burt simply stopped and put on the flashers. I hopped out and peeked down my side of the 48′ long trailer-truck complex to check for cars. Nothing. I RAN around the front end. The engine was roaring. My flip flops were waggling. I got to Burt’s side and nearly ran right into a red car blazing along at 80 MPH. It was a Wile W. Coyote moment. I wobbled on the center line as Burt issued a primal scream as the nearly-killed-me car blew by. I don’t know what stopped me at the edge of mortality. Was it the thought that I needed to check again? Did I suddenly realize the blind spot of our vehicle was massive? Was it the realization that I couldn’t hear anything over the massive diesel engine? Did I hear something over the engine? Did I hear Burt scream? Impossible to know for sure.
I think I felt Burt’s scream. The look on his face was devastating. He had nearly seen me run to my death. I did what the still alive but don’t know why always do. I laughed. Then I wobbled on my shaky legs and took this lame picture. I returned to the car and felt sick to my stomach for the next few hours. I have no recollection of a conscious thought telling me to stop. It was if an invisible wall just plopped down and I crashed into it. Burt’s wall of love.
So here I am. Birthday in LA. Happy to be alive. We’re going to visit the La Brea tar pits. We are going to replace the broken spring on the trailer. That’s the royal we. I’ll have nothing to do with the repairs. We broke the spring in a remote place in Baja. Mechanics repaired it as best they could with the wrong parts. It got us here. We are parked on friends’ street. These friends, Barry and Laura from Portal came to see us in Baja this winter. Barry is a former car mechanic and a retired rocket launcher. He has a lot of tools and knows how to fix things. How lucky are we? Yesterday Barry and Burt went off and ordered a replacement spring while I napped and Laura cooked. Actually, I called PIMW attendees and chased down money. I just said I was napping. The spring should be ready today. While Laura and I look for a new handbag, Barry and Burt are going to replace the spring. Wish them luck.
Breakdowns are a part of life on the road. They offer the chance to do things you might never have done. I’ll try to avoid another near death experience for a while.
Today marks one week since our arrival in El Pescadero. Things are going well. Our tarp blew out on day two. I can’t overstate how important the shade tarp on the trailer is to our general comfort. Shading the trailer on all sides makes it livable and it allows the propane fridge to keep working. We were using a massive but sun-degraded tarp left behind by Robin and Jen. It lacked integrity. The first mild breeze ripped the grommets and brought it down onto the trailer. Instead of shade we had a blanket. So we decided to run to Cabo ASAP to find a replacement. While we were at it, why not buy a bed? Our mattress was 11 years old. The peso is weak. WEAK. Really, really weak. 17.5 pesos to the dollar. It was 11.5 five years ago. In the last five years more luxury goods are also available. I presume it’s a post-crash investments by beach hungry gringos.
So, we decided to look for a bed. A run to Cabo, while much easier than it was a couple of years ago due to improved roads, requires many calls to neighbors to see if they need anything. In ten minutes I had a list of cat food, asiago cheese, and toilet paper added to our mattress and tarps. Three out of four calls yielded results. Our first stop was the bed shop. Mattress dealers the world over are notorious for the obscurity of their pricing. Mexico outdid the US. No mattress in the store had a price. When I asked how much a particular bed was I got a fleet of answers: Mexican Queen? U.S. Queen? Cama Matrimonial? Every number had a better number than the first number. This was the standard response: This bed is 17,000 pesos. Pause. But really it is 13,000 pesos. Pause.
This kind of haggling makes me crazy. Burt and I finally found a rather firm Simmons Beautyrest we liked. Have you shopped for mattresses recently? They are really thick. In a trailer every inch counts. We pondered the extra height. Would Burt hit his head during certain maneuvers? Could Mimi the cat make the leap with the added altitude? Having no alternative to the super padded slabs we decided we’d just have to take a chance. We settled on a price of $730 US. My mattress from 11 years ago was $1200. I felt like we’d made a good deal.
Humans are notoriously ill prepared to make decisions in the short term and understand the long term ramifications. I like to pretend I am exempt from this general flaw in humanity. I can defer short term enjoyment for long term benefits pretty well. Clearly mattress buying is my Achilles’s tendon. Burt and I told the guy we’d be back in an hour and a half to pick up our new American Queen sized mattress. Adding to our human nature for short term gratification is a thing called decision fatigue. Watch what happens. We left the mattress store and headed to Home Depot.
This excursion took place during a Mexican national holiday. The Home Depot was jammed. Una carambola. People everywhere. We just wanted a tarp. What is the word for tarp? It’s not what my handy phone dictionary gave me. SpanishDict dicked me over and gave me the word for tent. We persevered and found the tarps. We had to buy three tarps to match the size of the previously installed shade. Done. Now to Costco.
Costco was also overrun. We picked up asiago cheese and some groceries and dog food for us. We left to pick up our mattress. As we arrived at the mattress store we realized we failed to buy toilet paper and cat food. At the mattress store the salesperson said. I have your Queen ready but it’s 84″ long. Burt asked me what I though. I (will regret these words for a long time) said,”I guess that’s the standard length. What else could it be?” We paid for the mattress and packed it on top of the truck. We headed to Home Depot (oops, I forgot more rope) and Costco. Tequila was added to the toilet paper and cat food. Isn’t that a shopping cart for the ages? 36 rolls of toilet paper, 40 pounds of cat food, and a supersized bottle of tequila.
We made it home before dark feeling pretty good with our accomplishments. The next morning I went to yoga. Burt repaired the shade system. I walked up the hill from Prissy’s house ready to help Burt wrangle the new mattress into the gNash. I recalled the original mattress went it with much difficulty. Burt was 10 years younger and we had a big young guy helping (John Dendy). It was the proverbial hog wrastle. Burt and I are 10 years smarter if not as strong as we once were. And we have spent many years moving heavy things together. I was optimistic we could do this. I was right. The old mattress slipped out. The smart move was key. We screwed down the pneumatic lid to the under mattress storage area. Without the lid in the way everything was manageable. Barely, but we succeeded.
The old mattress was carried to the rumpus room for our daring, amiable, flexible, guests to use. The new mattress was hauled in. I took the low end and pushed while Burt steered and pulled. Mimi ignored the entire thing from her bedside nook. It all went so easily. And then we realized our great mistake. The altitude of the mattress was going to take some adjustment but the big problem we had just lost 4″ of our 22′ of living space. Gnashing of teeth in the gNash. There’s a mattress as big as a life raft in our tiny home. OMG. The sales guy tried to warn us and we didn’t get the hint. Ack ack ack.
My original motto for happiness on the road was, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Once again we quickly looked on the bright side. Mimi has a shorter jump!!! Olive’s bed is nearly invisible under the massive overhang!!! The shoes are well hidden, too!!! I LIVE in the bed. I have more space!!!
Through massive effort and my carpentry skills I was able to force a deep-pocketed regular queen onto this boat of a bed. I got on Amazon and ordered two new fitted sheets and sent them to friends coming in two weeks. We will adapt. The height thing has proven to be more annoying than the length. Instruments stored besides the bed are very hard to reach. Mimi’s nook requires her to belly crawl for access. Burt’s positional needs require his head to be in the window recess. I took bearings so I know where to be so his head has clearance to do what we both want him to do.
Last night we slept pretty well. The bed is more comfortable. Mimi was oddly restless and she walked all over us all night long. We think she was just getting the lay of the land.
Our every other day afternoon tennis game was rained out today and I finally have a chance to catch up this blog. Portal Irish Music Week 2015 was a success but it wears me out. Responsibility for 50 people’s welfare and good times is a heavy mantle for a natural introvert. I get tired of hearing my name even as I delight in the fact that it’s a successful event. As soon as everyone left town two dear friends from Helena showed up. Rosemary and Ed swung in to see us and Portal before their winter as campground hosts at Death Valley National Park. We paid them a visit last fall and they did us the honor of coming in to see us. RR and Ed credit (or blame) us for their recently adopted wandering lifestyle. RR does not miss her house one bit. A house we made rather lovely revisions to just a few years ago.
So these two dear ones show up just as the rains come in and I have to resume my duties at the Cave Creek Visitor’s Center. They came in and visited both days. One afternoon we did a bug safari. I’ve learned that bugs are the most reliable nature viewing you can do. They are everywhere. One must appreciate what is available. Since I’m tied to the VIC infrastructure I observe the insects that make the VIC grounds their home. Due to a great monsoon season and a diverse flower garden of local species we have a wide variety of pretty bugs to find. The yellow crab spider below is known to use camouflage to hide in the flowers and can grab a honey bee and disable it with a powerful venom in under a second. The male tarantula was walking about looking for a female dance partner. Alas, I saw no action with either spider.
Finally my day off arrived and we took RR and Ed and their humongous labradog, Bowman, for a leisurely hike. Being a Visitor Center volunteer is not a one way flow of information. I have learned a secret of this job: valuable information comes my way, too. So far I have learned about many things, most notably the edible acorns and the location of pictographs in the surrounding area. It is well known the Chiricahuas are full of Native American archeological sites. That is no secret. Finding these sites is another matter. Knowledgeable people are rightfully protective of the areas and rarely share what they know. In situ pictographs, petroglyphs, and Native American relics are frequently stolen or vandalized. I enjoy seeing these sites but I don’t usually seek them out. I’d rather some one say, “Hey, you want to see something?” Then I know the information was given freely. Recently people shared with me the location of a few of these sites. So RR, Ed and Burt and I checked out a spot on our hike. This is a different site than I visited with the clients of PIMW. Pictures below but that’s all you’ll see here. The four of us ate too much and enjoyed some wine and had a grand old time. RR and Ed are now on their way to Death Valley.
On the work front we are very busy. Our clients (Mom’s casita) have sold their home back east and are headed our way in just over two weeks. It would be nice to be out of their hair before they arrive but I don’t think we will be quite done. Meanwhile I have resumed demo work at the next job (Home office and dining room bump out). I had a pool to dismantle. I subcontracted the arduous sawing to Burt. He used a skill saw, a sawzall, and a grinder to break the pool up into pieces I could carry away. Free large item trash day is this Saturday and we want these heavy hunks of fiberglass to leave town. The pool’s fiberglass was thick enough for a boat and it was bolstered by a 4 x 4 timber running the length of two sides. It was partially submerged but so sturdy I think it may have been made to be freestanding.
Today we installed a tongue in groove ceiling in the casita. And now we are up to date.
A few days ago my friend’s dog took off after me when I left her home in the truck but I didn’t know. I only spotted the high energy herding dog as an oncoming car swerved to avoid her. She was running wild in my blind spot. I hit the brakes and opened the door and she jumped in my lap. Well, nice to see you, too. Olive pitched a huge snarling saliva filled fit but was roundly ignored by all. I returned her home. She was in big trouble. I was surprised this dog felt any attachment to me since when I frequent her home I am usually wielding a vacuum cleaner and she hates vacuum cleaners.
The next day Burt and I decided on an evening picnic on top of the mountains. We wanted to watch the evening clouds from Barfoot Lookout. Partway up the mountain road we found a dog staggering down the right of way. He was spent. It was immediately apparent that this dog was a cat or bear-chasing dog that had run to the point of exhaustion. He had a GPS and shock collar and a regular collar with his owner’s contact information. We watered him and asked him if he wanted a ride. He said yes but was too tired to get in the truck. Burt lifted him in. Olive snarled and spit some more but Elvis, in an uncharacteristically generous move, gave the giant hound all the room he needed to rest. Elvis looked just like Olive does when he hogs the back seat. Elvis sat all prim and erect, wedged in the corner. I guess Elvis could tell this was a tough dog.
Burt and I continued our drive but weren’t sure what to do about the dog. Perhaps his owners would find us with the GPS. We tried calling the number on the collar but we didn’t get through. The dog snoozed. Olive and Elvis stared at him. I think they tried to imagine where this enormous dog was going to spend the night. I was wondering the same thing. The trailer wasn’t ready for 100 pounds of bear dog. Up top we ate our sandwiches. I sat with the dog while Burt and the Olvis wandered around. I was feeling the heavy weight of responsibility for this worn out animal. What if we’d just carried it off from his owners? What if they had given up on him and had returned to Tucson? What would we do if he ran away while we picnicked? There was no reason to worry. He was too tired to move. I fed him the crusts of my tuna sandwich. I scratched his huge ears. He was gentler than my dogs.
On our way back down we ran into the owner looking for his lost dog. It turned out the owner had driven some people (stranded motorists) off the mountain and he was back looking for his dog. His GPS said we had him. Boo, his name is Boo, was not happy to see his owner. He wanted to stay with us. I felt ill. Boo was pulled out of our tuck and put in his kennel. What dog isn’t happy to see his owner? I know hunting dogs aren’t pets but this made me feel awful. Olive and Elvis were happy to see the owner. Boo was not. With no other choice we made a hasty departure. Now I’m sad all over again.
I’m sitting in my stinky trailer. It’s sunny and humid outside. The monsoonal rains have diminished. Bugs are showing up. Burt found a tick on his leg yesterday. A mosquito is visiting us every night at bed time.
Last night I went to a book group to discuss the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved this book despite the fact that it seemed nearly plot-less and drug a bit. You can read about it HERE. The book was not universally liked by the group. I really liked the window it afforded into a cross cultural experience I, as a white American, could never have. While the specific cultural experiences were far removed from my own specific life I could relate to the alienation from my attempts to make sense of our life in Mexico. I could also relate to the desperation of a young college student with no resources. My own college start was a rocky cultural transition and fraught with money problems. My first moment alone in my dorm room I was approached by the Resident Assistant and asked if I would have a problem with my as-yet unseen roommate. I was informed she was an African American. I was stunned. Why could that matter? I had been assigned this black person because I was from the north and they figured I wouldn’t mind but they wanted to check because they could make a change before anyone was the wiser. Well they were right that I didn’t care but I sure minded that there was a bunch of bigots in the other rooms on the hall. Carol turned out to be a perfect roommate for me. She was older, open minded and shared her clothes. She was full of sage advice and did not treat me like a child. So many of the young southerners in my dorm were provincial, uptight, virgins it was a miracle I made any friends. I wish I knew where she was now. Her name was so ubiquitous, Carol Williams, that I have not been able to find her.
Anyway, if you read the book and want to discuss, let me know.
It’s monsoon time in southeastern Arizona. Afternoon showers are regularly rolling in. Temperatures have eased up but the humidity is higher. While working we are drenched in sweat and at rest we are more comfortable than the 100+ days of a week ago.
Last night Burt noticed the oaks a buzz with insects. It was too dark to see more than silhouettes and we couldn’t catch any to determine what was happening. There was a deep buzz and an audible sound of munching. They sound resembled a far off airliner with a lot of people eating crackers. The wet weather wakes up many creatures. Spade footed toads and tarantulas (edible, btw) are looking for mates. Next door the fruit is coming on in the Fagan’s orchard. It’s a race to gather before the birds, bugs and bears take too high a tax.
It was a productive day at work on the former serpentarium. The vanity was and its sink and mirror, the A/C and seven overhead light fixtures were installed. Floor was grouted and the hot water heater was set in place but not plumbed. After an hour of knee work and two hours of over head work I was feeling pretty worn out. Thoughts of raising the retirement age terrifies me after days like this. On our way home we noticed Beto on his ladder in the orchard. We stopped in and had a fruit-filled, impromptu visit. Hours later I regretted consuming 5 plums, two peaches and an apple but they were irresistible at the time. Fruit hot and sweet right off the tree is a rare gift for anyone. This place is for sale. The pears should be ready in about a month. Five years ago we canned the pears from this orchard and we have been hoping to do it again ever since. Here’s hoping the birds, bears, and bugs don’t clean them out before we can.